My name is Alex Truell. I'm the editor for the Rathe Times. I'm a casually competitive player living in the U.S. who was fortunate enough to come across Flesh and Blood before Crucible of War (and therefore, before the game exploded in value). I was hooked fast in no time.
Strategically, I try not to follow trends, instead fixating on cards and tactics just outside the mainstream. I play Cintari Dorinthea, Boost Dash, and continue to explore Bravo Encore builds (somehow I'm gonna get 2 attacks out of Bravo!)
Thoughts and Baubles is an editorial space for the Rathe Times, where I discuss the game and respond to the community. Now that you know a bit of my background, you can view my thoughts through the proper lens. As a player who cares about the competitive environment, but doesn't have to live in it. As an optimist who loves the game, but can take a step back to critique it. And as a deckbuilder who revels in novelty.
For the inaugural edition of Thoughts and Baubles, I'll open with an intended recurring exploration of the state of the game, move on to the recent announcement of online Skirmish tournaments, and touch briefly on Monarch and the community.
State of the Game
It's been 6 months since Crucible of War released, which also marks the beginning of the Blitz format push. For those fortunate enough to have a thriving tournament scene while the rest of us struggle with the pandemic, that's 6 months of the same card pool. And while a statistical analysis of tournament results would still come back sorely lacking in data points, I suspect that those experiencing it in person feel it's pretty conclusive at this point: the Blitz meta is firmly Ira's.
Results from The Calling certainly point to that conclusion. And while I'd be cautious to read too much into the high density of Ira in the Top 8 (Ira had the most representation, after all), it's the well-rounded performance across the field and inability for even counter decks to halt her momentum that really reinforce the theory. She was the known threat going into the event, and when faced with 'play her or counter her', one of those options proved vastly more successful.
Ira was the known threat going into Skirmish.
Does this mean the meta is solved? I'd caution against thinking that. Trends are often self-reinforcing, and we have enough data to say that Ira is a strong contender. Any player looking for results in a Blitz tournament can feel comfortable with choosing her, and with so few tournaments happening, I'd expect that's what we're seeing: players looking at their one shot for glory, disinclined toward taking risks.
I'd speculated that Ira's reign over the predominant tournament format of CRU is likely to end in one of two ways. The most likely result, in my opinion, comes soon: a prominent player gets it in their head to decisively counter Ira, and the tournament landscape shifts toward this new trendy deck. Already, Warrior is looking to be a promising counter, taking wins in several Skirmish events in the first week of tournaments.
Dorinthea and Kassai are bringing hope, but for most players Ira remains the boogeyman of the format. This method of 'championing' Warrior is likely to lead to imitation across a rapidly growing tournament landscape, and at a certain point this reaches a tipping point where Dorinthea, not Ira, is the deck to beat.
The other option is the one most likely to leave a sour taste in players' mouths: Monarch ends the Ira meta with a fresh infusion of cards that either counter or out-perform her. Unfortunately we're still more than a month away from Monarch's release, and if Ira can hold onto the top spot for that long, it may jade players against the extended release cycle LSS has been utilizing.
Let's hope the Light of Sol prevails.
Skirmish and the Online Tournament
I'm a huge supporter of LSS' warm embrace of online play. Not only does this provide a way for the community to grow during a pandemic, but it also creates a low-barrier entry for people curious about the game. We've had Flesh and Blood on Tabletop Simulator for almost a year now, a platform that requires minimal investment of time and money. Now they've taken it one step further and plan to support online tournaments with the same prize support you'll find in stores, mailed directly from LSS to you.
As a father of two living in rural Wisconsin, I appreciate having an avenue for competitive play. I've played many collectible games over the years, but I've competed in very few of them due to the time and travel required. It's not an exaggeration to say that LSS is truly breaking new ground in the world of TCGs, and it shows massive faith in and goodwill toward players that they'll meet them where they're at. For a game whose very name summarizes the goal they set out with- to get people together in the flesh and blood- this is truly radical love for the fan base.
For a game whose very name summarizes the goal they set out with- to get people together in the flesh and blood- this is truly radical love for the fan base.
I had two concerns as I looked forward to the upcoming season of online Skirmish events.
- The first is the platform. LSS gave their blessing to the Tabletop Simulator mod for Flesh and Blood, and it's been the longest running method of play. However, their announcement for Skirmish did not mention this platform, instead citing webcams and Discord. It turns out that there's a good reason for moving formal, competitive tournaments away from TTS: programming issues have led to incidents of players being able to look at the other player's hand. But that doesn't mean that there still aren't potential problems with the new method. I have concerns about relying on players' webcam setups for clear visibility. In TTS, I'm in full control of the camera, and can enlarge cards to a size where they can easily be read. On webcam, I'm at the mercy of their lighting, their setup, their camera quality, and their responsiveness to my requests for clarity.
- The second is that these events may be packed! Remove time commitment and travel arrangements, and you have very few barriers of entry for serious players. It's very possible that one player will register for three Skirmish events in a weekend, every weekend. If that player is highly skilled, it could lead to a lot of foregone conclusions. If that player is a poor ambassador of the game, it could lead to a lot of negative interactions. The whole glory of online tournaments is that you can participate no matter how far you live from a venue, but that could easily become a double edged sword. Worst case scenario sees groups of dedicated players filling up available slots in multiple tournaments and crowding out the players who can only make time for one or two events.
Overall, however, I'm feeling very positive about the impact the Skirmish series will have on the community. It has huge potential to cement interest in the game with those who have thus far only dabbled. Their decision to treat all prizes as participation prizes lowers the pressure to do well, and means a newbie could end up with some really cool swag after getting swept all day. And then there's the Ira trend, which is showing signs of cracking during this widely expanded series.
The Skirmish series has huge potential to cement interest in the game with those who have thus far only dabbled.
I did participate in CompetEsports' week 1 Skirmish event, along with 63 other players from across the U.S. It was an amazing event, well-run from start to finish, and I was fortunate enough to play 6 different heroes in my 6 rounds of Swiss. This is a testament to the incredible balance of the game, and a testament to the values of this incredible community. Risk taking, individuality, and a focus on walking away from a competition with a good story over a good record- these are my kind of values!
Skirmish is likely to be the final push for the Blitz format, which has dominated the landscape for the past 5 months; for many, this is the only format they've ever experienced. There's no doubt in my mind that this alternative to the original format was a stunning success, and that it will continue to hold a place in tournament play going forward. However, after 5 months of a fast, unforgiving format, I'm ready for the slow, strategic interactions of Classic Constructed. (Not to mention a format completely devoid of Ira!)
The Madness of Monarch
There's no question that Flesh and Blood has surpassed all expectations and emerged from its first year strong and well-positioned for incredible growth. That's in spite of the trends that define the TCG world, in spite of supply chain issues, and most daunting, in spite of a worldwide pandemic. But you might not know that if you wander into a fan community right now. All attention is on Monarch, and most of it isn't optimistic.
Now there's certainly justifiable concern about supply of Monarch. The preorder market is unbelievable, and no one's really certain if they'll get all the1st Edition they ordered- or if they'll get 1st Edition at all. The recent reveal of Unlimited Edition a mere 3 weeks later has been met with a mixed reception. Some see this as all but confirming the sell-out of 1st Edition, while others worry that they'll have to wait for Unlimited to hold release events due to supply.
While the distribution issues are a very real concern, it's an understandable problem for a game experiencing such explosive growth. And the fact of the matter is, even if 1st Edition is already spoken for, even if most players have to wait 3 weeks to start opening Monarch with Unlimited's release, ultimately there will be enough Monarch for everyone. It just might be a bit of a wait first.
Ultimately there will be enough Monarch for everyone.
Setting aside the 'good problem to have' that FaB is too popular to stay in stock, there's plenty to look forward to with Monarch on the horizon. All eyes are on LSS now; it's time for them to prove the game to the masses. LSS has said that their first 5 sets were designed before Welcome to Rathe hit the market. They've also described Monarch as the full vision of their game. All that signals an exciting new depth of gameplay and an intentionally-planned environment. Monarch needs to stick the landing, and if you're happy with what you've seen from LSS so far, there's every reason to believe they'll do just that.
Arcane Rising introduced a second type of damage and doubled the number of classes. Crucible of War multiplied the options available to each class and fleshed out the concept of equipping your hero for the strategy you want to execute. Monarch has been said to build on the Pitch system- and the four new heroes may very well bring with them new classes, giving us a third widening of deckbuilding options.
I also expect that Monarch will reintroduce us all to Classic Constructed. Of course, Sealed events will be a huge draw in the early days, a format we weren't able to utilize with CRU. But after the initial buying frenzy passes, Sealed will give way to constructed events- and while Blitz will continue to hold sway in local venues for its speed, it takes Classic Constructed to truly experience everything each class has to offer. I expect players will be eager to put the new heroes through their paces.
Monarch will succeed because Monarch must succeed. After all the hype surrounding this game, after all that LSS has invested in it, there's no way they let this fail. Anything that does go wrong will be outside of their control, and you can bet they'll be doing everything within their power to make it right. We almost certainly will find supply shortages, but in the long-term LSS won't let that hold back the game's momentum. And it's almost impossible to think that after 3 impressive releases, this 4th set would bomb from a design standpoint.
Monarch will succeed because Monarch must succeed. After all the hype surrounding this game, after all that LSS has invested in it, there's no way they let this fail.
What it comes down to is us. How will we, as a community, respond to the challenges that accompany massive popularity? How will we handle our frustration with rising prices that we, in part, have reinforced? For sure, Monarch's release won't look like any this game has seen before. We may have to become more comfortable with Unlimited editions. There's every probability that we'll see a storm before we see smooth sailing. But it's important that we weather it with grace, lest we be the reason that Flesh and Blood stalls out. If you love this game, you can understand why so many others do too. Try not to resent your fellow players; we're all invested in seeing this game succeed!
Alex Truell is the editor for the Rathe Times. Alex is a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI. Alex is a player who cares about the competitive environment, but doesn't have to live in it; an optimist who loves the game, but can take a step back to critique it; and a deckbuilder who revels in novelty.
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