You’re Doing it Wrong

John Wright from the very competitive SoCal meta replaces Aaron as one of our regular contributors every other Monday.

by John Wright

Last Tuesday morning, I woke up, drank a cup of coffee, flipped through the Thrones Discord chat, poured myself a second cup of coffee, and sat down to play my weekly OCTGN Tournament match against Dennis H. It was a very good game, and Dennis was awesome to play against. Although I was behind the whole time, I felt like I was perpetually about to turn the corner and swing the game back in my favor. Then, suddenly, in the middle of the 6th round, I realized I had lost. There was no coming back. Soon after, our game was over.

Now, I generally try to be good natured about winning and losing games. I try to keep perspective that we’re playing a card game; as much as I like to win, there are no real stakes. And yet, this loss hung with me. I found myself stewing over it during my lunch break. Fortunately, Dennis had recorded our game, so I was able to masochistically watch myself play and lose again later that afternoon. I saw that I had made subtle (and no-so-subtle) play mistakes in throughout the whole game while Dennis’s flawless play had propelled him to a convincing victory.

A few hours later, I was asked if I would consider writing articles for this site. I agreed, and decided the best way to make sure no one would ever take me seriously here would be to show everyone what I bad player I am. So, I went back and painfully watched the game again, this time going through slowly so I could take notes. It is my hope that with this act of public self-flagellation, I can finally put this loss behind me.

Dennis’s recording can be found here:

I am going to try to avoid too much narrative description because it’s all there for you to watch. I have provided time stamps if you’d like to follow along, and some relevant quotes from Dennis’s excellent in-game commentary.

9:50 – “I hope he forgets to trigger Arianne.”

So, I have a problem when I play sometimes, and that is that I like to make somewhat tricky, convoluted play moves. Something like, say, bouncing in an Arianne duplicate mid-challenge in order to make a Varys trigger less meaningful by having two duplicated characters on the board. Dennis, of course, sees that I have an Arianne stuck on the board and he can lock her there by skipping his challenges, which he then does.

There are two things that kill me about this move. First, I think that technically was the right play to make – it does, after all, result in Dennis making no challenges against me. However, it is also a bad play decision to make a sub-optimal play decision, while relying on an opponent’s error to make your choice worthwhile. Second, and even worse: it was later pointed out to me that Arianne’s ability is an Action, not a Challenges Action, so I could have still made the play in the Dominance phase. I’ve been playing Martell seriously for several months, but I clearly have never actually read one of their best cards. Ugh.

End result: instead of being able to keep either Arianne or Tyrion on the table after the Varys/Marched routine, I allow my board to be wiped, giving Dennis the upper hand in spite of my superior economy and hand size.

15:10 – “I need to let the Caleotte challenge through, whatever that is.”

At the start of the game I had a singular goal: get ahead in hand size before the board reset. Thanks to a green-bordered Calm over Westeros, followed by Heads on Spikes, I was in the place I wanted to be, even though I was now behind on board position due to Yoren. However, in the second turn I failed to transition back to a more aggressive strategy.

I make a single challenge, kneeling Caleotte for an intrigue challenge. I do this because I still am thinking card advantage. I leave Arianne standing as a deterrent to his returning intrigue challenge. This play is a pretty bad error – Edric has Stealth, and of course he is going to make a military challenge first. If I want to defend his intrigue attack, I have to let Caleotte die.

Of course he initiates that military challenge. Again, I am overly-focused on maintaining a lead on cards in hand, so I make one of my favorite “tricky” moves out of Martell: I pull back Arianne for a surprise Bastard Daughter and get to discard another card from his hand. My board now knelt out, Dennis is able to pick up two easy challenge wins in intrigue and power.

The correct order would have been to use Arianne in either intrigue or power on attack. Then, rather than fool-heartedly attempting to push my card advantage further, I could have used Caleotte on defense to stop Dennis’s incoming power challenge. Most of all, though, rather than putting a Bastard Daughter into play for card advantage, I should have put down the Rattleshirt’s Raiders and won the military challenge made by Edric. Because I was not able to alter the focus of my game plan in this second round I lost two more challenges than I needed to. Worst of all, I let myself be forced into a position to have my board wiped again with Dennis’s second Marched to the Wall.

27:05 “Now we got a game.”

In spite of my misplays, the board is fairly evenly matched here (mostly due to how good Nymeria is). This turn, my primary goal is to try and steal Edric back via Ghaston Grey – and I’m successful. However, at this point I start to play scared about board position for some reason. Perhaps I have realized too late that I am in danger of falling too far behind. And so, rather than using The Hound on offense and relying on my stronger economic base to keep characters on the board, I freeze and don’t do anything. Dennis breaks this decision down on the stream very well, but I needed to get some kind of use out of Sandor, even though it would have weakened my on-board presence. I believe, for example, that even something as simple as getting rid of his duplicate on Yoren would have made my next turn a lot more effective.

32:00 – “What’s he gonna do?”

Dennis’s plot catches me off-guard, and I definitely regret not having The Hound in hand as he is knelt down. Still playing a weak defense, I decide to go second this turn, which allows Dennis to lock my Kingsroad down for a second turn, which, in turn, really hurts the Ser Jamie Lannister sitting in my hand. If I’d been more aggressive with The Hound the turn before, I could have really pushed my board position this turn and still been somewhat effective on defense. Instead, my waffling play and decision to drop two locations stalls the game slightly, but doesn’t actually help my board position at all. (Dennis zeroes in on this fact at 36:00 in the recording).

Ironically, I decide that this is the time to start trying to reclaim board state, and the military challenge I make this round is extremely ineffectual. As Dennis mentions, it would have been better to intrigue Asha from his hand, leaving him with just a single power icon to play with in Theon and possibly opening a window for me to close the gap in the power sitting on our faction cards.

41:00 – “At least I’ll be able to get some chud out.”

This marshalling phase I miss a trigger. I have a Treachery! in my hand and Jaime on the board. I know Asha is coming back out, and I am trying to figure out how I can use my Treachery to my advantage in challenges to prevent Dennis from winning outright this turn. Because I am skipping ahead, I miss one of the best possible uses of a Treachery!: hitting my opponent’s economy. When he uses his Sea Tower for a Fishmonger, I let his second reduction go through – only later realizing I could have left Asha stuck in his hand.

Now, this mistake is not the one that ultimately cost me the game (pick one of the errors discussed above – that may be the one that caused me to lose); however, I do think it reflects the consistent error I made throughout this match of focusing in on a certain element of the game while neglecting other, more integral components. My lack of flexibility and my persistent delay in adapting to board-state left me well behind an opponent who was not making the same mistakes.

(As it turns out, Dennis had a Raiding Party in his hand, so the cancel would actually not have hurt him. Still a mistake, though.)

55:50 – “Wow. That is a horrendously bad choice.”

I know, Dennis. I know.

You always want to go second, except when you need to go first. I needed to go first here to have a chance to live another round. My only possible excuse: I had subconsciously given up already, so this decision counts as my brain unknowingly conceding the match.


Concluding Thoughts

If I can’t draw some teaching moments from this, I am really only embarrassing myself and it would have been better to remain silent. So, here is a list of things I did wrong:

  1. Stuck with my initial strategy too long after it was no longer relevant.
  2. Tried to be too cute with flashy plays rather than safe, consistent ones.
  3. Consistently failed to protect my board position.
  4. Played scared in the mid-game, waffling between making challenges and trying to hold back for defense.
  5. Chose the wrong moment to make an aggressive military challenge.
  6. Was not aggressive enough with non-kneeling Jaime.
  7. Missed triggers.

The above list all summarizes as allowing Dennis to dictate the flow of the match, rather than forcing tough decisions upon my opponent. Because he had total control of the board, the extent to which I attempted to pressure his hand really did not affect him at all. Furthermore, I frequently waffled between initiating challenges and holding back on defense, ultimately failing to accomplish much with either tactic. That does not mean that I think you need to go blindly swinging into military challenges…just that sitting back without forcing any sort of hard choices on the person you are playing against will get you nowhere.

Finally, I never won any impactful power challenges; so, even though I slowed down his pace, he was able to slowly amass a winning power total.

Actually, scratch that, I just went back to check and I did not win a power challenge that whole game. So, even though I was sometimes able to hang close on board state, I was never able to build any momentum towards the game’s one and only win condition.

No wonder I lost.

**Special thanks to Dennis for a great game and an excellent recording.**

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