5 Ways to Become a Better Competitive Player

Force of Will is just a new game in the Philippines, being only nearly two years old (or 11 months, if you’re a Grimm Cluster baby like me), yet just like other trading card games, the competitive spirit eventually ignites inside every new player – a drive to become stronger, better, and eventually rise through the ranks. Here are five tips to help one become a better competitive player – mostly dealing with methods and mindsets rather than specific, technical play.

1. Study the Comprehensive Rules.

While the basics of FoW is easy to learn, there’s still a lot to master beyond that. One of the major differences between a more knowledgeable player and a newbie is that the former has more ideas regarding where and when to play specific cards and effects, while the latter might be completely unaware of it. Windows to respond to during each phase of the turn, holding and passing priority, moving through the combat steps, and mastering the chase are all essential parts of competitive play, and it helps a lot to be informed about how each of these works. They might be small benefits, but they add up throughout the course of the match, and will be essential for victory.

2. Playtest with purpose.

There’s nothing wrong with playing for fun – in fact, I’d go as far as to say that it is the best way to enjoy the game. Brewing and playing combo-wombo, janky decks are also my idea of a good time, but in competitive play everything changes. Certain standards have to be met for every new deck that you or your teammates bring to the table:

  • Can it beat the current top deck?
  • How are its matchups against the known metagame?
  • Is it off the radar and can catch everyone by surprise, or attack in angles that most players aren’t prepared for?
  • Is it the best ruler/attribute for that certain type of strategy or are there better options?

These are some of the important questions to ask when preparing for a tournament, and oftentimes the answer simply lies in putting in lots of games, analyzing the results, and making the appropriate changes. It might sound boring, and I kid you not, it truly is. However, nothing compares to the feeling of confidence knowing that you came into an event fully prepared, having exhaustively studied all of the available options and picked what you think is the best deck based from both quantitative, and qualitative testing. Many players just play a couple of games and see how their deck works and call it a night after some wins, yet somehow expect themselves to get into Top 8. Don’t be one of those guys.

3. Losing is contextual.

This applies to a lot of situations, but I’ll focus more on how it applies to playtesting.

Losing is generally considered a negative emotion, and most players are quite averse to it for various reasons. Maybe it hurts their pride. Maybe they feel worthless, or that they think their efforts didn’t pay off. Maybe losing to them meant failing themselves because they’ve set high expectations for their performance. Whatever the reason, it’s probably the single-most element of the game that most players would want to avoid (which is funny given that losing is intrinsically part of every game). And this inclination to avoid loss no matter the circumstance can sometimes manifest as negative behavior – some players lose their temper, or become harsh on themselves (or worse, on others), become impatient, argue, quit the game, etc. All of these are counterproductive, and won’t help you grow.

However in terms of learning, there’s no better way to improve than to lose a game and analyze why it happened.

What less experienced players fail to grasp is that losing is contextual, and the weight of its impact should only be decided by looking at what’s at stake. For example, it’s perfectly okay to lose during playtesting. In fact it is highly encouraged because it increases the efficiency of your play by being to identify the ones which are less than ideal and weeding them out. Likewise it helps you streamline your deck (or scrap it altogether) since you can identify which cards work, and which don’t. Winning on the other hand does very little for improvement, since the data that you’ll gather from there is that the deck is good, and that you’ve played well – very few people review their less efficient plays after winning.

In such a case, does losing make you a lesser player? No, in fact it actually makes you better.

When the stakes are low and there is a lot to learn, lose. Lose and learn. Lose some more and learn a lot. Experiment and lose. Play conservatively and lose. Go all in and lose. If you feel bad from losing and nothing’s at stake, then you’re doing it wrong. Lose some more and learn until all you look forward to is the learning part. When that happens, then you’re prepared to win.

4. The only way to interact with the metagame is to solve it.

The metagame is already a set of rules which are created by existing cards and the way that players have analyzed and played with them. There will always be a top deck, a tier 1 roster, a tier 2 roster, and a bunch of unplayable decks (for tournament play at least). There will always be strong cards and powerful game mechanics where tournaments will revolve around. Complaining about, and refusing to play certain cards or mechanics because they seem unfair or overpowered from one’s personal point of view does nothing but decrease their chances of winning because they’re giving themselves a handicap needlessly.

It’s like those fighting game players who complain about being thrown repeatedly and saying that it’s unfair just because it goes through blocking, or those who kept being ambushed by the opposing team in DoTA and saying that it would have been different if it were 1-on-1. You’re making up personal rules that the actual game itself could care less about. You’re interpreting, and ultimately playing the whole game wrong.

Think of it like this: The metagame is a puzzle that’s meant to be solved in order to win. The solution however, will never be fair to the rest who can’t find it. It will always be stronger, it will always be better, and it will always give you a greater chance of winning than anyone else.

And if you want to be on top, your job is to find and accept it – no matter how unique or generic it appears to be. Leave game balance to the company’s R&D.

5. It’s the opponent’s job to put pressure on you, not yours.

One of the frequent scenarios I encounter during tournaments is when a newer player gets matched against a veteran, there’s almost always a comment from the former about how he or she is just new and probably won’t be able to win against the supposedly better player. Now it can be one of a few things:

  • If it’s modesty, there’s no need for that. Chances are your opponent won’t care about your backstory anyway, so you might as well focus on the game at hand.
  • If it’s respect, there are better ways to express it rather than self-degradation.
  • If it’s false modesty, you’re just wasting your energy. As I mentioned above, your opponent probably doesn’t care and they’re just being polite about it.
  • If it’s some part of some fancy, disarming mind games, you’re better off concentrating on your game instead. Plus experienced competitors can smell bullshit when they see one, so it’ll just hurt your reputation in the long run.

I’d like to concentrate on the first two cases – where there’s a genuine feeling of inferiority when matched against a better player. No matter the circumstance, it’s not your job to talk yourself down, blame your luck, or decide that you’ll lose anyway. All it does is put an unnecessary burden on your mind, which could affect your performance throughout the match. If it’s well into the second game and your mind’s still thinking of your bad luck of being matched with a strong opponent, then you deserve to lose on the spot.

Why? Because you don’t respect your own efforts, you don’t respect the time you’ve spent testing, and most importantly you don’t respect that fact that you, yourself are also capable of the same level of competence that they’re in.

The same thing applies on the game itself. It’s not your job to (genuinely) think and declare that you’ll lose (and possibly go on tilt) after drawing a bad hand – that’s for your opponent to decide. Until the actual game state reflects it, play your best and go down fighting.

Or better yet, win.

So there you have it – some of the many ways to improve your game. I hope you’ve learned something worthwhile, and see you around in the tournament scene!

Until then!

Photo taken by Pete Girrard Tan

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