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Everything you need to know about 'Madden NFL 18' Ultimate Team Mode

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Though many Madden fans focus primarily on Franchise mode, there’s another significant and fun playing option in Madden NFL 18 — the card-based mode, called Madden Ultimate Team (MUT). First added in Madden NFL 10, the core premise of Madden Ultimate Team is simple: Collect player cards to fill out, and create a fantasy roster that can crush any other.

Ultimate Team has evolved in notable and exciting ways over the years, and you can find an enormous amount of depth in assembling and tweaking a juggernaut squad. It’s more complicated than the rest of Madden, and can be a bit daunting for new players. To that end, we’ve put together an explainer that breaks down each component of this year’s Ultimate Team mode. While seasoned veterans may know much of this, Ultimate Team works a little differently in Madden NFL 18, so you may still find valuable information here as you embark on your quest.

Overall levels

For starters, Madden NFL 18 Ultimate Team features a team-wide leveling system. As you progress through solo challenges and head-to-head matches, each player will gain MUT experience points that increase your rank. You’re always gaining experience in Ultimate Team, no matter what action you take. You earn rewards every time you level up. Often they’re MUT coins, but you’ll occasionally receive cards and packs, which can further improve your squad.

Overall ratings

EA Sports modified the way overall team ratings are calculated in Madden NFL 18, widening the gap between ratings. More so this year than in years past, the difference in performance between a team with a 70 rating and another rated 71 is significant. Most players, even superstar-caliber players, have relatively low ratings to start out. Our Marshawn Lynch card, for example, had a 58 overall rating. That’s extremely low for a player of that caliber. The change puts more emphasis on overall ratings. While your initial squad will feature players with ratings around 60, once you start to replace players with others with slightly better ratings of 61 or 61, your team will noticeably improve.

Coins, points, tickets, contracts, and items

Next to your overall rating and MUT Level, you’ll see markers for coins, points, tickets, contracts, and items.

You earn MUT coins by tackling and completing objectives in Ultimate Team. Those coins can be turned in for new items and card packs, whether via the store or through the auction house. You can also use points, obtained with real cash, to buy new card packs and items. Some packs can only be purchased with points, which is frustrating, but you can still assemble a quality team without them.

Tickets get you into Ultimate Team tournaments and events hosted by EA Sports. You can buy tickets in the Ultimate Team store with coins or points. Beware, though, they are a bit pricey.

Each player you acquire comes with a 25-game contract. When a Contract hits zero, not only can you not use that player on the field, but you cannot trade him in for coins or to another user, or auction him off. Basically, it’s a dead card until you add some new contracts. Make sure to keep track of the contract counter and re-sign players when it gets low. You can buy contracts to assign players using MUT coins.

Items include player cards, coaches, stadiums, uniforms, playbooks, and collectibles. Out of the gate, you’ll have one playable stadium and one team’s playbook. We picked the Browns so we have First Energy Stadium and the Browns’ offensive and defensive sets. Uniforms, stadiums, and coaches can be acquired through card packs and as rewards for completing challenges. Collectibles include cards with MUT tips and player-specific tokens that can be used to level up players (more on that to come). You can check out all of your items by viewing the Item Binder.

Card tiers

There are four versions of every standard player card in Madden Ultimate Team — Elite, Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Bronze-tier players typically have ratings in the high 50s to low 60s. Silver-tier players are rated in the mid to high 60s. Gold-tier players have ratings in the low to mid 70s, and Elite tier players have ratings in the 80s.

Some cards fall outside of the standard “core” cards. There are Legends, NFL Stars, Longshot, Kickoff Challenge, and more. All of these, and others designated as NAT cards, cannot be traded to other users or auctioned off.

You can “quicksell” these types of cards for paltry amounts, but we don’t recommend ever doing that with cards. Just know that you cannot auction or trade these. To upgrade them, especially ones of the bronze and silver variety, you’ll need to combine them into sets, which we’ll cover later.

Complete solo challenges

You can spend dozens of hours in Ultimate Team without ever playing a human opponent. Solo challenges place you in scenarios that, if completed, net you coins, card packs, and other items. We suggest completing some solo challenges before competing against other players. While some of the solo challenges can get a bit tedious, it’s the best way to give your team a fighting chance against human opponents without spending real money on points. EA has been adding time-specific challenges each week since launch, so there’s always more to do.

Complete Longshot mode

Madden 18‘s story mode is fantastic, and you should play it no matter what, but you definitely need to play it if you want a quick boost for your Ultimate Team. By playing Longshot, you’ll unlock cards for its protagonists, Devin Wade and Colt Cruise, who both have mid-70s ratings. Once they’re unlocked, you can play through a set of Longshot-specific solo challenges that will push their ratings even higher. You’ll also get NFL legends Dan Marino and Chad Johnson, who are both rated in the 80s. Right out of the gate, they will be your best players.

Auction house/Trades

Opening card packs is pretty thrilling, but we don’t think it’s a smart use of your coins. The occasional card pack purchase, especially on players that can be leveled up, is fine, but you can get much more for your money buying cards at the auction house, where you place bids on players in real time.

You can get incredible deals at the auction house, or get completely ripped off. We purchased a 75 overall Gold player for 500 coins after watching that same player go for 10 times that amount just an hour earlier. Like any auction house game mechanic, the key to success here is discipline: Don’t chase after the players you want, make smart bids, and walk away the price gets too high. You won’t get every player you want, and progress might come more slowly, but you’ll be using your hard-earned coins well.

When auctioning your own players, you can check and see what the same card has been going for on the market. Along with putting it up for bidding, you can place a “Buy it Now” price, just like you can on eBay.

In addition to the auction house, you can browse and put players on the trading block, which lets you swap players instead of spending coins. We recommend using the trading block when you are stacked at one position, but weak at another. For example, if you have four gold QBs but only one gold WR, search for wideouts and offer up one of your QBs. If there are specific players you want to trade, simply toss your unwanted players on the trading block and wait for users to approach you with opportunities.

Upgrading sets

As mentioned earlier, some cards cannot be auctioned or traded. To turn underwhelming cards into better ones, you can use “Upgrade Sets” — a wide-ranging tool that lets you turn a group of junk cards into a single better one.

Using a set to upgrade a card is called an “exchange.” In an exchange, you turn in 5 to 7 cards with the same general rating and tier, and you’ll get back one random, higher-rated card. For instance, you can trade in five low silver cards for one high silver card, or five high silver cards for one low gold card. While the value doesn’t sound great, if you have a bench filled with low silvers, getting a potential starter of high silver caliber is worth it.

You can also upgrade sets to get new stadiums, uniforms, playbooks, and coaches. Each upgrade you make here can go a long way toward increasing team chemistry. Tom Brady plays better in a Patriots uniform than he does in a Browns uniform — it’s just a fact.

You can also upgrade certain individual cards marked as “NFL stars” by combining the card with tokens, which are found in packs or purchased at the auction house. For example, we upgraded Chargers running back Melvin Gordon from a 70 to a 75 using a silver token. You can upgrade any NFL star card up to five times via a combination of silver, gold, and elite tokens.

This is where Madden Ultimate Team becomes an addicting time sink, as it can take a lot of time to acquire tokens. If you really want to upgrade a specific player, you can exchange a bevy of players for a team-specific token as well. We don’t recommend doing this until you have earned a fortune in coins, as this is one way to quickly deplete your roster (you typically have to give up 10 players for one token).

The same system applies to “Level Master” players, though they have a separate set of tokens. For instance, we purchased LaDainian Tomilson from the MUT store, and then proceeded to earn Level Master tokens to upgrade him from a 72 to a 74. He can be upgraded up to a 92 overall using more tokens.

Team chemistry

Your starting lineup has a team chemistry rating. Generating your best lineup takes the positives from each team’s chemistry and compiles them together. You can also generate a lineup solely based on a specific team’s chemistry, which provides additional stat boosts for player’s hailing from that team. We don’t recommend doing this unless you have all four or five tiers of one team completed. We targeted a specific team chemistry to further boost a star player, but our overall team rating actually went down. But feel free to tinker with team chemistry settings, as sometimes you’ll be surprised at the effects it has on your overall team grade.

As you collect more cards, you’ll receive increased chemistry options and boosts. As you can see above, we received boosts for players on the Bengals, Broncos, Bills, Browns, and numerous other teams. Often, these boosts increase awareness on offense and play recognition for defensive players. The more players on that team that you have, the more boosts you’ll receive. Ultimately, filling out one team’s pie chart leads to higher overall team ratings.

Head online

Once you get the hang of all the moving parts in Ultimate Team, you’ll be ready to go head-to-head against human opponents. Playing in ranked and season modes can earn you impressive coin and card pack rewards. However, we recommend you fill out your team with at least high silvers before jumping in online. Due to microtransactions, many players may already have extremely formidable teams. In the meantime, if you’re itching to play against a real opponent, your best bet is to play against a friend who doesn’t have a killer lineup yet.

For more Madden NFL 18 tips, check out our offensive guidedefensive guide, and kick-blocking guide. Madden NFL 18 is available now for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Will Tom Brady avoid the Madden curse? Check out our detailed history of the Madden curse.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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