by John Wright (handshaker6)
First of all, I want to say thank you to Dejan Delic for allowing me to use his artwork for the new “Doing it Wrong” header. He’s got a great style and a lot of wonderful pieces on his website. He also has a predilection toward House Martell in his work, which we all appreciate here. Check his stuff out at dejan-delic.deviantart.com/
(Also thanks to Buzz who was so offended at my first efforts in Paint that he took over photo editing for me.)
This one is for the new players, but first a note to “veterans”:
A lot of what I’m writing puts the onus on us to continue to be welcoming and helpful to anyone who is joining us; it also means that we as a community need to find a way to disagree with choices without labeling players or their card choices “bad.” Communicating through disparaging comments is not a way to build a player base.
I’ve held off writing an “introductory” piece for a while, partially because I feel like it got covered really well when Second Edition launched, and partially because I still often feel like I am a newer player (I play with guys who own CCG cards from a decade ago!). However, as we move into the serious portion of 2.0’s first tournament season, I think we might be due for another influx of new players. Moreover, I have recently realized I am not the young pup I thought I was: I’m pushing 30, and have been playing this game for over two years now.
So, I’ve been going back and thinking about the things that helped me when I was still starting out, and I’m going that share them with you. Here are my tips for the newer player who wants to be competitive:
1. Be kind.
Particularly online, but also just in general. I know this is probably not the first thing we think of when we imagine competition, but it really makes a difference. You’re going to see that a lot of the things I’m suggesting are community-oriented, so you’re going to want to get along with people. If you’re someone I’ve had to block because of constant negativity or repeated use of derogatory terms, then there’s no way I’ll be able to respond if you ever want to ask for feedback on a deck.
Moreover, one of the main reasons we travel to larger competitive events is to meet and visit the people we know largely from online interaction. If your interactions are largely antagonistic online, then it is likely you are not going to get the warmest reception at these gatherings. (That said, the Thrones community is not one for out-and-out blacklisting, so you probably have a lot more leeway in this than you should.)
2. Quit bringing up Magic: The Gathering.
(This one is a personal pet peeve. But I do think it will make online interaction go smoother.)
We don’t like it here. It’s a different game, and we aren’t really concerned with a Pro Series.
That said, in general, game theory and card game strategy is interesting, so you should feel free to bring any insight to the game you’ve gotten from other games. I just get tired of the “but in Magic we do it like this” argument.
3. Listen to podcasts.
And read articles. There is a more content than ever right now, and that is a boon to all of us. There is a lot of card-game wisdom that is being provided free-of-charge to the community, particularly in the major podcasts that are run by veterans with a long history of success. I use these casts as a way to keep my brain interacting with the game when it would otherwise be doing something menial: driving my commute, treadmilling at the gym, sweeping off the porch, etc.
As I’ve said before, Thrones is a game that rewards preparation. Immersing yourself in the metagame will help lead to better tournament results. For me, the early episodes The Beyond the Wall podcast were eye-opening as I began playing. More recently, listening to John Bruno and Aaron Glazer debate plot choices really changed the way I was approaching 2.0.
4. Ask for advice.
Generally, the members of this community are the most open and sharing players I’ve ever met. You should take advantage of that.
My first good deck was a Baratheon Maester build. But, when I first built it, it really wasn’t any good at all. However, about that same time, Ben H. won the German National Championship with a Bara TMP (The Maester’s Path) build. I sent him a humble PM asking about what he had played. We struck up a conversation, he helped make my deck a lot better, and it led directly to a Store Championship win for me.
5. Take advice given.
That’s not to say that you have do exactly what someone else tells you to do, or that you’re not allowed to question what I or anyone else tells you to do. But, if you do ask for advice, you should do it from a place willing to take input – not from wanting to pick a fight defending your card choices.
Plus, one of the major perks about getting advice from another person is that it opens you up to a perspective outside your own. Give any suggestions a shot.
6. Get a small, regular playgroup together.
Not to be exclusionary or anything, but having your own testing group outside of your meta will make you better – a group you talk decks and test builds with, generally working as a team to make each other better. Give yourselves a cute nickname like “The Wolfpack” or something.
I started playing AGOT with a small group of friends playing a weekly melee game Sunday nights. These guys are still my go-to when I need advice or feedback on deck types or plot choices. Having something as simple as a group text/chat to throw ideas around is extremely helpful.
7. Play the same deck. Play with every faction. Play a lot.
You want to get a high number of repetitions with any deck you’re planning on bringing to a tournament. But playing some games with each faction will help you get a feel for what your opponents will be doing in a tournament setting. So, you should really be doing both. Having your small group will really help with accomplishing this.
8. Get on OCTGN.
Especially the tournaments run by our own Lauren Fitch. It’s the best way play against top players across the world and gain exposure to deck types beyond your local meta.
9. Use the Winning Deck lists section on this site.
Or, similarly, the website Thronesdb.com. Both are amazing resources we never really had in 1.0. The habit of posting and sharing decks is a fantastic way to help players of all skill and experience levels come up with new deck ideas, or refine decks they’ve already built.
You also should not have any shame in using the outline of a deck you see online – although it is always good form to give credit wherever credit is due! The fact is: no one builds good decks alone in isolation. The best decks are generated through conversation, and these websites are one form of the same debates and cooperation you can have when building a deck with your friends.
But, as you use and play these decks, also work at understanding what makes them work. Look for trends in deck construction: how many events, locations, and expensive characters, etc. It’s just like homework – you can copy someone else’s project and probably get a decent grade, but if you don’t take the time to learn you’re never going to be able to do it yourself. You’re stunting your own growth. Plus, the kid you’re copying is going to get really annoyed.
10. Play a deck you enjoy.
And one that fits your playstyle. There is pressure to bring a “T1” deck to competitive events. But these tournaments are long, drawn-out affairs. Endurance is a factor, and you don’t want to spend eight hours playing a deck you don’t enjoy. Furthermore, if it is something you are not comfortable playing, you are far more likely to make play errors as the day goes on. So, don’t just jump on the hot new deck just because it is supposed to be good.
11. Memorize the timing charts.
You just need to.
12. Consider playing rush decks.
When I started out, I knew that the guys I would be playing with were better than I was. My theory was the following: the longer the game went, the more decision points there would be and the more opportunity my opponent would outplay me; therefore, if I could keep games shorter, there was a higher chance I could steal a win.
Early on this strategy worked for me, and as I got more comfortable with the game, I was able to branch out to the more control-oriented builds that I enjoy.
To get better takes time and practice, and it is really hard to do it alone. So: make friends, play cards, and spend time thinking and talking about the game with them.