Taking the Initiative: When and Why to Take First Turn
In a game with "perfect information"- meaning that all players have all options and knowledge of the game pieces at all times, there is a clear advantage to being the first mover. In Chess, the player with the white pieces will usually win between 52 to 56 percent of the time. In Go, the player who makes the second move of the game is awarded between 5.5 to 7.5 points for free (called Komi) to offset their disadvantage.
However, as we move to games with "hidden information"- like Poker- the best players understand that being last to act in a hand is better than being first to act. Acting last is preferable because the player who acts last has the most information available before they are forced to make any decisions, thus minimizing variance.
These concepts apply to Flesh and Blood in ways that should inform our decisions on that opening dice roll: the inherent advantage of going first, the game mechanics designed to offset that advantage, and the value of watching your opponent play out a turn before you do.
First Play Advantage
When deciding to play or draw, the first thing to consider is, what are you trying to accomplish on your first turn? Some decks like Chane or Botlyn want to accumulate resources like Soul Shackles and cards in Soul. In other decks, your first turn is a lot like every other turn: you plan on just playing some cards and trying your best to get some damage through. Going first for these decks can be a considerable disadvantage.
Let's imagine the following matchup:
- Dorinthea is on the play and pitches a blue to attack with Dawnblade.
- The defending Bravo blocks for 9 with 3 of their 4 cards.
- Dorinthea can't push through any damage against that hearty block, so she puts one card in the arsenal and draws up to 4.
- Bravo also draws up to 4 due to the second player consolation.
Dorinthea is already at a disadvantage, and Bravo hasn't even attacked yet! This is because if Dorinthea blocks any of Bravo's attacks, she doesn't get to draw back up to 4 cards like Bravo did after he blocked. Bravo should comfortably keep a substantial life total and tempo advantage in this example.
So when does it make sense to choose to take the first turn? When you can make progress on your game goals that your opponent's free hand of blocks can't prevent- or when your opponent could, and you don't want to give them that opportunity.
- Your hero wants to build resources that last longer than one turn cycle. Prism wants to get some Auras in play, for example; and Viserai wants to start accumulating Runechants.
- Your hero has a lot of mixed or hard-to-block damage. Ice Lexi can land an opening hit effect with Dominate, dealing damage while being disruptive; and Rhinar minimizes the use of a free blocking hand through Intimidate.
- If you're looking across the table at a Rhinar, then, you may choose to take first turn, even if it does little for your own strategy, simply to give them one less turn to damage you with.
The common link: you are trying to minimize the benefits of your opponent's drawing back up to 4 cards. However, there is an additional trade-off when you attack during your first turn and allow your opponent an opportunity to block. If your opponent has a mopey hand that cannot present much threat, an attack allows them to dig for better cards.
If your opening 4 cards are unlikely to push through the damage, it is always better to accrue what resources you can for later turns and arsenal a card instead of allowing your opponent to improve their first turn of the game. Consider the merits of pitching to repeatable effects- such as Bravo's hero power or certain reusable equipments- then arsenal-ing without attacking.
Sideboarding and Initiative
The outcome of whether or not you are on the play or the draw also affects how decks should sideboard in certain matches. Let's look at the start-of-game procedure quickly:
12 Start of Game Procedure
12.1 Each player places their hero card face up in their hero zone.
12.2 A random method is used to determine which player will choose who will be the first turn player.
12.3 Each player who controls a hero chooses the equipment and weapon(s) they will begin the game with.
12.4 Each player chooses the cards from their registered deck that will become their deck they will begin the game with.
12.5 All other cards not chosen during section 12.3 or 12.4 become your sideboard.
Because determining first player occurs before sideboarding, you can use this information to make decisions on your deck and equipment for the match.
In the current meta, Prism usually wants to play Genesis when going first, but should be more wary of playing it when going second. This is because once Prism falls behind in tempo, she can have trouble going into her turn with cards in her hand to make use of Genesis’ ability to put a Light-Illusionist card into her soul, making a Spectral Shield and drawing a card. Of course, you can't guarantee whether it shows up in your opening hand or not, but with the influence of first turn on tempo throughout the game, you're simply less likely to be in a good position when it shows up, and consequently may choose to side out this aura in particular.
Going second against certain heroes can also incentivize a hero to play more than 60 cards in their deck. If a hero finds themselves on the draw against an Oldhim or Bravo, Star of the Show, they are incentivized to play more than 60 to make up for the extra cards they are effectively discarding by blocking out any attacks on the first turn. This was especially true in Tales of Aria limited, where players often just played as many cards as they possibly could in an attempt to not be fatigued by Oldhim’s mighty defensive abilities.
Flesh and Blood is an incredibly complex game with countless decision points that affect the outcome of games. Deciding to play or draw is an important decision and one that should constantly be evaluated based on your hero and what the metagame is focusing on at that time.
Roger Bodee is a competitive-minded cardboard collector, a lover of fine puns and even finer freshly-cracked Fables. Roger is hoping to finally realize his TCG dreams playing the great game of Flesh and Blood.
Great article, this is always my trouble at the start of every game I win the die roll in… should I go first or second?
Fantastic article. Love the parallels drawn to classic games and how it’s different with hidden information. I learned a lot from this. Thank you.
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