Thoughts & Baubles: March 2022
My name is Alex Truell. I'm the editor for the Rathe Times. I'm a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI.
Strategically, I try not to follow trends, instead fixating on cards and tactics just outside the mainstream. I view this game through the lens of 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.
Thoughts and Baubles is an editorial space for the Rathe Times, where I discuss the game and respond to the community.
The Pro Quest series has given us all plenty of time to critically evaluate the metagame. We've watched Bravo's star rise, rediscovered the power of Prism, and verified that Viserai and his Runeblade compatriots will always find a path forward.
But while the Pro Quests have asked for our very best, it's important that we also maintain an environment where it's okay to go rogue.
The local scene is the absolute foundation of this game. No one got to the Pro Quest without going through a local scene of some sort- whether that was formally through a game store or informally with friends in your own home. It's here that you honed your skills and refined your decklists. And it's here that your aspirations for the greater stage developed. But having said that, it's important to recognize how much you learned before you narrowed your focus- and respect that the local scene is a very different place than the competitive circuit.
The local scene is the absolute foundation of this game.
When I pitch Flesh and Blood to a prospective new player, I like to start with their background in gaming. Have they played a trading card game before? If not, what sorts of games have they enjoyed? What strategies from those games have resonated with them? What play patterns do they find enjoyable? I start here because, when I dig into our complementary decks (constructed from our extras using Joey Senart's guidelines), I want to hand them a deck that I know will give them a satisfying first experience with the game.
What I'm pitching them is this:
"Flesh and Blood has a deck for you."
Which is notably different than this:
"Flesh and Blood is a game for you."
See, what makes a collectible game stand out among games in general is the degree of personalization that goes hand in hand with a wide breadth of strategic options. If I like bluffing games, I can play Sheriff of Nottingham (or, more generally, Poker)- but only with other players who also like bluffing mechanics. But if I pick up Flesh and Blood, I can bluff with Dorinthea while my opponent plays an engine-building game with Dash. Heroes have different styles, classes utilize different strategies, and the game is robust enough to encompass them all.
This is exemplified in the local game store, where the excitement of a freshly-pulled card leads to experimentation with a new deck which leads to a varied and constantly changing meta.
If we stopped there, a lot of players would be perfectly content. Ultimately, we're all playing because we're gamers at our core; and there's a purity in a good game that we find fulfilling, even if our specific definitions of a 'good game' aren't always the same.
But for some, there's a drive to push farther, to climb the mountain and see the view from the top (or perhaps, to be seen at the top). To do that requires dedication, practice, and experience.
If you read the tone shared between those words, you may have noticed a stark contrast with where we ended the previous section. To get to the top tier, you need to put in the reps.
If one guy at your local scene is putting in the reps, it probably doesn't change much. In fact, having a constant at your tournaments can end up putting that player at a disadvantage, as they've broadcast in advance who they intend to play. This gives players room to tech in counters, adjust their decks to improve their chances, and even predict lines of play in-game.
But if half your local scene intends to 'go the distance'- perhaps they're forming a competitive team to make a run on an upcoming Calling- the local meta can effectively freeze. After all, these are presumably some of your strongest players, and now they're locked into playing out the same decks in pursuit of an optimized decklist.
There's a reason we don't pitch games with competitive play. The gameplay loop of "play X, or slowly improve your matchup against X until you can beat it" isn't for most players. Which is why it's critical we don't allow our locals to mirror regional, national, or world-level events.
Keeping it 'Casual'
Have you seen the ad where Charles Barkley gets drafted first in a schoolyard pickup game? I'm not saying Charles Barkley can't play basketball on the block. And I'm not asking him to hold back. But if Barkley knows he can rebound over the top of every one of these kids, drive the hoop, and guarantee a win, maybe he should try shooting some threes instead.
Similarly, the weekly Armory is not the place for you to flex your top tier skills. This is a place for you to challenge yourself. Diversify your skills and your experiences. Get ahead of the curve by learning the classes that aren't there yet. The best players in the world can adapt to a changing meta quickly because they've already developed competence in other decks. Look at Matt Rogers, who in the last 12 months has reached the finals in major events with Chane, Ira, Dorinthea, Dash, and Oldhim.
Keeping it casual doesn't mean shooting yourself in the foot. But if you're honest with yourself, you have gaps in skill and knowledge. Shore those up! Play heroes you're unsure about. Build decks that seem like bad ideas. Pursue strategies that scare you.
Yes, there are prizes- but they don't change week to week. Once you've won your Cold Foil, switch gears.
Remember that, once you've climbed the mountain, you've still got to come back down- even if it's only to bide your time until the next climb. If you burn out your locals on the way up, you may not have a home to come back to.
Being the best player you can be means more than winning. It means losing gracefully- and not wasting the learning opportunity that comes with a loss. It means nurturing the players around you; the more players you surround yourself with, and the greater their skill, the better you can become. It means standing as a pillar of the community and serving as an example.
Be a hometown hero- or you risk becoming the villain we all cheer against.
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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