Exclusive FIFA 17 Ultimate Team tips - developer EA Canada spills all the secrets

Worst kept secret in the world: FIFA 17 is out this week. (September 27 in North America, September 29 in the rest of the world.) Slightly-better-kept secret: I went to Vancouver a fortnight before release to make a headstart on the review, and talk to developer EA Canada first-hand about modes such as The Journey and Ultimate Team. The end result is this selection of tips for FIFA’s best mode, direct from the team that made the game. Like Semisonic, on the surface it’s all about chemistry – but these are the nuances that’ll turn you from Mickey mediocrity to Ultimate warrior.

Use the Manager Tasks

A straightforward one to begin with: quell your instinct to ignore any kind of instruction manual, and work your way through the new ‘Manager Tasks’ feature. “It walks you through the basics of setting up your team, using the transfer market, how to use chemistry, and so on,” says Ultimate Team producer Garreth Reeder. “The tasks take you though these steps without forcing you into it. You can do it at your own pace.” 

Each of the 14 tasks has a specific reward, such as a rare gold player, and it took me around three days to complete them. It was in this manner than I earned Mario Gomez for a seven-game loan spell in which he banged in 11 goals, and permanently acquired 81-rated French left-back Benoit Tremoulinas. 

Get hooked on Squad Building Challenges 

My big time-sink other than playing matches in FUT has been the new ‘Squad Building Challenges’ feature. This enables you to trade sets of cards – sometimes in small numbers, sometimes a full team – in exchange for rewards. The simplest invite you to swap, say, an all-bronze team for a bunch of silver cards, but the mode goes way way deeper. For instance, exchange complete teams for all 20 MLS clubs and in addition to individual rewards each time you trade one in, you also earn a special 86-rated Giovinco card and 20,000 additional coins. It’s unbelievably moreish, and rewarding in every sense. 

“We’re going to have a wide range of difficulties and rewards,” says Reeder. “There will be a few that will take people back a little bit, where people think, ‘I knew how to put chemistry together, I thought I knew all of these players… but this one has me stumped.'” 

Look out for Ones To Watch 

There are three types of new card you need to be aware of this year. Over to Reeder again: “We’ve got that new item for Squad Building challenges – kind of purple-pink. We’ve got some prestige items in FUT Champions, so if you do well in that mode you have the chance to get a prestige version of a player, that shows anyone else that you had success in FUT Champions.”

“But the big one is the Ones To Watch campaign, which starts on September 30. That’s a squad of the top summer transfers. The cards for these are black with highlight stripes of bronze, silver and gold. They’re wild cards in a way. If you get one of these items, every time that player is in Team Of The Week for the rest of the season, he’ll automatically be updated [with a stats increase]. But you might get a player who, based on your football knowledge, you don’t think has a chance at TOTW, so decide to put him on the transfer market. There’s a big risk-reward element.” 

Think deeper than Messi and Ronaldo 

At time of writing, the cheapest you can find Lionel Messi on the FUT transfer market is 2.3million coins. Cristiano Ronaldo is 3.2million. Unless you spend hundreds of real pounds/dollars/Euros, or get a lottery winner’s luck in a random pack, there’s no point even trying to acquire those megastars. And nor should you need to: you can get players of close-to-similar calibre for much, much less (real-life, or in-game) currency.

“Dimitri Payet for West Ham was always one of those players last year,” says Reeder. “There was a time last year where people said, he’s the poor man’s Mesut Ozil. You could find him at a relative bargain price, yet the delta in attributes was not far off the elite players within the Premier League. Now, people catch on to that very quickly, so it’s going to be different in 17, but there’s always players like that. I love Deulofeu at Everton.” Sure enough, Payet - rated 86 - can presently be bought for less than 25,000 coins, while Deulofeu - 81 overall, with 91 pace and 87 dribbling - is a snip at 2,900. 

Want a Premier League side? Go French 

With English football massive across the globe, literally hundreds of thousands of FIFA players make an all-Premier-League side their Ultimate Team priority every year. The problem with that is it drives up the price of top-tier cards such as Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane. On my first day of play, I saw a Vardy card listed at a Buy It Now price of 8,000 coins – and wish I’d coughed up there and then, because his 93 pace and 82 overall will now set me (and you) back at least 47,000 big ones. 

Instead, if you do want to build a Premier League team, give it a Gallic flavour. “I’m an Arsenal supporter, and Francis Coquelin is one of those players who you wouldn't think to build around, but with high work rate and solid tackling, he’s a good, affordable signing," says Reeder. "Payet we’ve talked about. If you can then add Koscielny at centre back and Giroud up front, there’s a good spine. And you have two French keepers to choose from now - Lloris at Tottenham and Mandanda at Crystal Palace. Although Lloris has traditionally been expensive in terms of Prem keepers.” With those parts in place, you can then add names such as Bacary Sagna (Man City), Younes Kaboul (Watford) and Loic Remy (Palace) to easily build a team with 100-rated chemistry. 

Diamonds are forever 

Formations are super important in Ultimate Team, as in real football – and the trusty 4-1-2-1-2 (2), to give it its exact FIFA denomination, is a winner this year. “I like a diamond shape,” says Reeder. “Skill moves are not my forte. I don't fare well with wing play - I just tend to try to play triangles all the way up the pitch, maybe from watching so much Arsenal. It’s a good formation for patient build-up play, and with the gameplay changes this year I’m loving it. I can play physically, but also retain possession. And it’s different from a lot of what you see in Ultimate Team. Last year we saw lots of players using 4-3-3. With this formation, you can try to dictate the play and make opponents react to you.”

It’s an easy formation to buy players for, too, because CDM is the most unloved position in FIFA. For a Buy In Now price of less than 500 coins – essentially, one decent victory - you can nab Lee Cattermole, Jack Cork, Ryan Mason or Gareth Barry to anchor the engine room and protect your back four. An excellent starting point if you are insistent on an all-England Prem XI. 

Don’t base anything off last year’s stats 

“Football is an all-year thing,” says Reeder. “Our final ratings and attribute content came in quite recently – we have a big push just before the season, and it’s an insane job, to re-rate players. There’s a lot of sleepers who’ve had attribute adjustments in 16, who are going to be the new Payets in 17. Look at Paulo Dybala of Argentina and Juventus, for instance. He’s looking like a beast out of the gate this year, where his initial attributes are only slightly off the really elite players. He might be an initial bargain until people realise how special he is in FUT this year.” 

Actually, fans have already cottoned onto Dybala’s brilliance - his starting price is already around the 120,000 mark. The good news is you can unlock him as a 7-game loan player if you’ve reached Level 29 of the EA Sports Football Club, by dropping a relatively meagre 2,900 FCC.  

Be a Hunter gatherer

This one is a GamesRadar+ tip rather than EA Canada's. Be sure to play through the entirety of The Journey mode – not only because it's better than it has any right to be, but also because you unlock Ultimate Team rewards along the way. There are five in total; mostly loan players, but the best is what you get at its climax: a rare, 75-rated Alex Hunter card affixed to the Premier League side you played the mode as. With 77 pace and 74 shooting, he's a more-than-useful back-up striker.

To read GR+'s detailed impressions of EA's latest football effort, be sure to check out our FIFA 17 review.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.