The Posture of a Fighter: How to Approach Your Game
It begins as we sit down to a match. The opponent greets us and shares that first piece of information.
"I'm playing Briar today."
Instantly we begin to put together a gameplan. We all have good and bad matchups, and if we have experience into the hero presented before us, we're bound to fall back on that to predict what we're facing. Some strategies are just more popular than others, and using knowledge of those matchups to inform our early choices isn't wrong.
But a match is a learning process, and one where we should actively attempt to replace our general assumptions with specific details we observe in the game playing out before us. From here on out, everything is 'pending further investigation'.
Testing Their Skills
Justin Wong, a popular competitor in fighting games such as Street Fighter states in his video “How to Get Better at Fighting Games” that you should never make assumptions about another player unless you have fought them before.
Everyone tries to play their opponents with this respect that they know as much information as you. You're not supposed to do that. You're supposed to challenge their information by doing something and seeing how they react to it. -Justin Wong
I have been a Lexi player for a long time, and I've come to recognize Endless Arrow as one of the most complex blocking situations I present. Usually, I can make the first Endless Arrow connect, and from that point on, they know it's available to me. I will send Endless Arrow last until they have the idea they should hold their block for the Endless Arrow coming at the end of the turn.
Once I see they have made that connection, I will respond accordingly by either:
- not firing the Endless and moving to arsenal for a big turn next time,
- firing it with a buff in hand, or
- firing it anyways because I need them to have less cards in hand.
Justin says, "You never stop doing something that works until your opponent shows you they can get around it." Always plan your sequencing, force a response (or lack thereof), and evaluate how/what your opponent reacts to.
The arsenal can be a very telling strategic variable. If a player has an longstanding card in arsenal, they may be looking for a window that just isn't there. Crippling Crush or a Maximum Velocity may not be great in your arsenal if you are near lethal or unable to play the card. As their opponent, take note of a card finding a long-term home in arsenal, and try to repeat what you've been doing that's kept it locked down there.
Testing Their Decklist
The oldest example of testing what your opponent can do is Dorinthea. If you never play a card from hand to block, then her reprise abilities do not trigger. Defense reactions from arsenal or blocking with an equipment are easy ways to combat her card pool. Until you see a Run Through, Puncture, or some other kind of raw buff without reprise, she needs to prove to you that she can respond to unblocked attacks.
Pro Tip: Look through their graveyard and check pitch constantly. It's not just the played cards that can give you information!
You should always be evaluating the interactions that have taken place. Whenever your opponent blocks or plays a card, take note of the effects that card has. Most players will have built their deck to have some synergy to their gameplan. Note whether cards block 2 or 3 and the cost of each card. If you see a lot of high cost cards, then finding ways to deplete their hand will be effective. If you find your opponent does not like to block, note the cards that force them to block.
Testing Their Control
Matching against a Bravo, you may have the assumption that Crippling Crush is in their deck. (You can insert X hero and Y card you you don't want to see into this example; we all have our bad matchups.) While you are in a state of advantage (life up, adequate hand on your turn), start thinking about what the player has to sacrifice to be able to send that attack. Your job as a player in an advantageous state is to make sure the opposing player cannot get the tempo back, and one of the best ways to prevent that is to prevent them from playing out that key nightmare card. If you have cards that would force a discard or block (Pummel or Pulsewave Harpoon, for example) try to set them back on the turn that they are looking to sneak back into the driver's seat.
Likewise, if you are in a state of disadvantage, you need to look for a window to take your ground. If you continuously take 1-2 damage but block out with all of your cards, then we can expect 1 of 2 outcomes:
- constant blocking will lead you to constant disadvantage, or
- one of you will draw a bad hand and be unable to adequately interact.
In the end, taking control and coming back on your terms will put you in a better position than leaving the situation to chance and hoping for a whiff. After all, you're blocking with your cards as well and lowering the number of tools in your toolbelt.
If you are unable to plan your turn, your opponent will plan for you. Flesh and Blood is an interesting game because it gives you the option to defend first before you are on offense. Before you respond to anything from your opponent, consider what you can sequence on your turn. Once they play their first attack, evaluate cards that they have left in hand. How much damage could they output here and you'd still be ok? What cards could be left? Is there something more important to block than what is in front of you? Never slip into, “I've taken this much damage, no point in blocking now!” Carefully consider all of the implications of your actions.
Being open and testing your opponent shouldn't leave a gateway to take advantage of you. All testing should be with the thought of dipping your toes in the water; you're not jumping in head first.
Testing Their Composure
Pay close attention to your opponent's body language. Do they look composed, or panicked? You can easily see patterns that may come through based on how your opponent feels. They may try to get in any damage that they can, even when the exchanges are unfavorable. They may look uncomfortable in a position of constantly blocking. These clue you into what they think they're supposed to be doing - and what they would be doing, if your gameplay wasn't a factor.
You also need to be careful you are not exhibiting any strong behaviors that tip your opponent off. To help combat this, I will take a brief pause on the reaction step on my last attack. First, I use this time to look back over the chain and find any mistakes I have missed; then I reassess how my opponent has interacted with what I have done. It's not a bad idea to take a moment here to review your graveyard, to get an idea of what is possible from your upcoming draw. Take this breather and ensure you are calm before proceeding.
The True Purpose: Testing Yourself
You may feel very different before and after a match, but both positions have just as much impact on your growth as a player. Going to events is one of the key points for growth. You don't go to the gym when you are fit, you go to get fit. In the same way, attending any event - whether it be an Armory, Calling, or Pro Tour - should help you grow as a player as long as you carefully evaluate yourself and your performance through socratic questioning.
Daigo Umehara wrote in his book The Will To Keep Winning, “Tournaments are a playground for people who practice for growth. It's where they show off their achievements. Once I made that realization, I finally started making continued growth toward my goal, rather than winning. Games enrich my life by allowing me to grow as an individual, and that's what motivates me to keep going."
This is the gold standard for how we should feel attending any events. Our goal coming in needs to be toward getting better and not winning every time. A focus on winning puts the focus on ourselves and takes away from how we can best adapt to interactions. Approach events responsibly for yourself - and if applicable, for your family. Make sure your budget is in line and don't stretch yourself too thin. You want to be at that tournament with no reservations hung up in the back of your mind.
Showing up at an event isn't by itself a recipe for success. Make sure to leave your matches with a clear head. After each match, ask yourself a series of important questions and what they could mean for you.
- Do I feel going first or second affected the outcome of the match?
- What was the turning point of the match? When did control drastically switch?
- When you were forced to commit to decisions, with the knowledge you have now, would you have made the same choices?
- What impact would other cards in my sideboard have?
- Are there cards I didn't want to see that game?
- Do I feel like my resources were adequate?
- Did I make an incorrect call on a card to arsenal?
There are many more questions to ask yourself, and some questions are specific to your hero. Moving forward, make sure to be honest with yourself and don't let emotions cloud your judgment as you seek to find answers. Everyone who plays will go through some peaks or valleys; your climbs and tumbles may not look the same as someone else's, but they are there all the same. Be careful about becoming jaded if you don't feel you measure up to where you should be.
The most important aspect, as many others have said it, is to have fun and look to grow.
Andrew (The86) is an aspiring competitive Ranger player with a background in fighting games. Away from the TCG table, he enjoys biking, climbing, and kayaking.
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