Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, ‘bots and ‘cons! This one is a little strange for me to write. At VectorSigma.info we focus on the competitive side of the game, and normally try and discuss concrete concepts, not always abstract. Either it is event results, specific decklists, single card strategies, etc. For this article though, I want to discuss something that is a little fuzzier, something a little more personal.
To preface everything, I'm not a psychologist. I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, but I believe there is merit to having a discussion about how to prepare correctly for a tournament, and obviously these are just my own thoughts on the matter.
I’m sure other VS team members will weigh in with their own ideas over time but as my initial attempt allow me share a short anecdote in order to set the stage. This was a brief conversation I had maybe a couple months ago at the time of writing this, paraphrased of course:
Me: “Hey are you still buying collections?”
Them: “That depends, what’s in it?”
Me: “Well considering it is my collection basically play sets of everything”
A little shocking? Given my position in the community I’m sure it is: I co-host the only weekly podcast about the Transformers TCG; I am a member of the best team in the game. What on Earth could compel me to sell my collection? The short answer that I was not having fun.
Presumably that also comes as a surprise. On one hand to many people “fun” and “competitive” aren’t even in the same sentence, but also how could I be so invested and fall out of love with the game? Well for the first point, that’s an entire lengthy discussion for another day. Quickly so as to not leave it completely unaddressed: there is NOT a mutually exclusive relationship between fun and competition.
The second point allows me to segue back to this article’s purpose. Let’s get back to the root of the matter: not having fun. At the end of the day this is a game and whatever way you enjoy it, you should be enjoying it. Otherwise what’s the point? Jump-cut to the end: the absence of enjoyment caused me to be in the wrong frame of mind. This negatively impacted every other facet and reinforced the lack of enjoyment. Mentally realigning myself gave me the opportunity to step away from the edge.
Everything, for me at least, is very cyclical. Forgive the crude diagram but this is kind of how it works in my brain: An increase in any of the 3 parts (performance, enjoyment, or investment) spurs the others forward. Conversely if one lags behind then I either need to work even harder to make up for the failings, or as mentioned above and in dire circumstances, consider moving on.
Some elaboration is in order. If you look at my personal results from the Rise of the Combiners meta, it was at best an intensely weak showing. I won a very early event and then didn't really put up any relevant results following that initial tournament. One might think that started the cascade, but in my case that was merely the symptom. The fact that poor performance wasn't the destination and not the origin leads to the important question:
My purpose here isn't to whine about the fact that I wasn't having fun, but instead examine the problem solving relationship. The "Why?" question is pivotal in that role. It is the question you should be asking when it comes to a variety of aspects for competitive gaming. In fact, the question of “Why?” may be the most important questions you ask yourself when trying to improve. It’s easy to chalk something up to bad beats, a rough match-up, or any of the usual excuses. Yes, it is true that sometimes there is “nothing” you could have done: they really did have "the nuts". That is an easy trap to ensnare yourself in though as it soothes the ego without needing further reflection. Of course there is variance in card games, of course there are bad match-ups, but you must come back to the important question:
Why did I sleeve up that card? Why did I attack in that order? Why did I sideboard in or out those cards? You need to understand the fundamental questions at a basic level: Why did I win? Why did I lose?
You really need to be honest with yourself because otherwise there isn’t much to gain and you'll be lucky if you end up treading water in the skill department. Maybe it is true that you did actually play perfectly, but c’mon, are you really being honest with yourself?
Back to the original example, why was I having no fun? What relevance did it have whether I was enjoying the game or not? Well my attitude needed to change. I was not as invested as I should have (and wanted) to be and it poisoned not just my play in tournaments, but also my testing and general preparation. I went into each event with a very negative “who cares?” attitude. There was at least one instance where I wanted to drop at 2-0!
Who does that?!
For example, let’s say I lost a game because I left a key character exposed to my opponents attacks too early in the combat round. Say I misevaluated the instant gain of early damage on what I perceived to be a high value target before I was able to play cards that enhanced the attack, with a preconceived notion that this was my only opportunity to get a “free attack” in round one on said target. So say I did six damage to my nine hit point target, there was not an adequate opportunity to do the remaining three before the next turn cycle (where I may not even own “the zero turn”). So after that line of play bit me in the behind, I did not perform it again, except the next time I had a three damage ability (or combination of effects) in my hand, so while THIS TIME the line of play was formerly incorrect was instead correct, I was on auto-pilot like a flow chart: do not attack with Character X into Character Y first. Two wrongs certainly did not make a right!
There’s a saying “practice makes permanent” and that is absolutely true. In my case the mental state I allowed myself to exist in hindered a lot of things and it showed. A misplay here, a bad gamble there, or even just staying attached to decks/cards far longer than their shelf life.
Forgive me another cliche, but this hopefully illuminates my previous point further. Saying "I made a mistake" and correcting an individual play error is akin to giving a man a fish. It's important and solves the immediate issue, but teaching that man to fish would directly address the underlying cause. In this case it could be threat evaluation when you sit down against something unexpected, or you could be sifting through piles of cards and weighing one card against another. Alternatively it could be choosing between what you know versus what you know you can perform with as opposed to something you just don't quite click with but might be a higher power level.
Identifying that base problem is half the battle in correcting an issue (Editor’s Note: we all understand that “Knowing” is the other half, yes its the same thing..). Otherwise you are just treating symptoms which only gets you so far. In my case, as the situation evolved I needed to find what provided enjoyment when engaging with the Transformers TCG and adjust my expectations accordingly. Pivoting in this way gave me a new outlook and renewed interest for diving into the Siege meta. In the end it was a matter of motivation and I was able to find a spark to ignite the passion again. While finding this epiphany was an arduous process, it was necessary because I knew, I truly knew I wanted to play the game and that I could be performing better. It was a matter of trying to figure out what the roadblocks were. For you dear reader, you have to assess each game and each play testing session as objectively as possible. Whether your decisions at the deck building or game play stage are helping advance you to those goals. After each major decision point question yourself as to why you decided to go that route. Is there a through-line from your turn one decision to the outcome of the game? Was it expected? How would it change if you went a different path or saw a slightly different set of cards? Was the lack of or overabundance of an effect (burn, upgrade type, etc) outside the norm of what should happen? Try and learn from each experience and carry the knowledge forward so you can adapt to new match-ups.
In the end I doubt many people will encounter the specific issue I was struggling with. However the process is the more universal answer. Identify truthfully what is impeding your improvement, then evaluate what changes can be made to correct the situation. Question your existing axioms and assumptions.
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