What does it mean to be “competitive” in Thrones?

by Roy Rogers (fauxintel)

The nature of competitive play has been one of the hottest topics in the Thrones community as of late. With the controversy over intentional draws, accusations of cheating and unfair scouting, and the “competitive post of the day” by our very own Greg Atkinson, the nature of what it means to be a “competitive” or “serious” Thrones player has stoked the internet fires. Acrimony abounds with words like “jerks,” “casuals,” and worse being thrown around by all sides of the argument. With regional season in full swing and nationals season (along with GenCon) right around the corner, there is clearly a key set of questions for our community – so important that lead designer Nate French chimed in on The White Book a few episodes back.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been mulling over these questions and talking with a lot of self-described “highly competitive players” and come to a general sense of what it means to try and play Game of Thrones at the highest level – at least to the sort of players who frequent big events like GenCon, Worlds, and Stahleck. This column, I hope, will serve as a primer for people who are interested a general sense of how these sorts of players approach the game. It is not meant as a final word on the questions; of course, folks are welcome to disagree with some (and all) of the conclusions I lay out here. Rather, I’d view this article as the beginning of a conversation, a sort of brochure we can hand out to newer players looking to up their competitive game or people interested in some of the ways ultra-Jaimes approach the game.

Competitive players test a lot: This point is the most straightforward and least controversial. Competitive players test a lot, particularly in the run up to larger tournaments. Not only does this practice give them a great sense of game fundamentals but it also gives them a great sense of the meta-at-large. Many create playtest “gauntlets” of top decks (usually ones that win store championships or regionals) and test against them. This practice gives such players a leg up against those who only test against random people on OCTGN or just whatever the flavor of the month is with their friends and meta-mates.

Competitive players will do anything within the rules to win: If something is legal by the tournament rules – either in the Rules Reference Gguide or the official supplemental tournament rules from FFG – competitive players will take advantage of it to win. Even if those rules are not fun (from a certain point of view) or fair (from a certain point of view), which is only then complicated by the discussion of intentional draws. To many, “gaming” the system by taking a draw to guarantee one’s place in the cut is entirely reasonable and necessary, which, of course, many not be fun (one did not get to play a game) or seemingly fair (it may have knocked out someone from the cut who did play a game) but it is legal – at least for the moment – and gave the player an advantage. Under this logic why would one not take advantage of intentional draws.

Do not expect “take-backs” or other quarter from competitive players: So it is better to not even ask. When competing at the highest level, this sort of player, more often than not, are going to show no mercy. They will not ask for take-backs nor will they remind you of non-forced triggers. Such players attempt to play at their very best and expect the same of their opponents. If someone makes a play mistake – from marshaling in the wrong order, strategic mistakes in the challenge phase, or missing a key trigger – a highly competitive player wants to take advantage of this misplay. The goal is for them to play optimally. If his or her opponent is doing the same, then all for the better! Such games are more challenging and fun. But if an opponent isn’t playing at that level, then all for the better as well. To such players, wins are wins in a tournament setting.

The fun is in winning: The goals of the highly competitive players are (not necessarily in this order): play Thrones to the best of their ability, get into the cut, and take home the prize. If first place eludes them, then placing highly in the cut is the secondary objective, which is not to say that highly competitive players get nothing out of the tournament experience if they don’t win. They do – seeing friends, playing the game, checking out the tournament’s meta – all have value and are a huge upside to traveling to big tournaments like GenCon or Worlds. But, at the end of the day, the goal of highly competitive players is to win – as much and as often as possible.

All of that should give everyone a much distilled, highly general sense of where highly competitive players are coming from. Now, not every competitive player will agree with the above nor think it applies to them. Each Thrones player is unique, much like their Valyrian Steel blades. That said, I do believe the four approaches listed above are more common than not. Taken all together, however, those approaches highlight some of the many complaints from the players who aren’t hyper-Jaime. Highly competitive players place a higher priority on winning for its own sake than others.

From my point of view, however, such disagreements can be mitigated, if not altogether avoided, if all player types are taken seriously. I plan on addressing the motivations, concerns, and challenges of less hyper-competitive approaches to playing Thrones in future columns.

I would like to end this column with two questions for the community:
How do you approach the game when you are seeking to play “competitively” (however you define it)?
What other approaches to tournament play do you take withing you to regionals and other large Thrones events?

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