Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Old Stuff Day: Analysis of a Competitive-Casual Player

For Old Stuff Day I'll be taking a look back at a piece that wrote about a year ago. I was in the middle of an Escalation League. I had been infatuated with Valkyries and decided to go Air Cav for the League, but my decision led to me feeling uncomfortable going against the majority of other lists.

I think my opinion on competitive play has changed a bit in the past year, but I still think that making sure that both parties are geared up for the same level of game is important to both parties having fun.

Enjoy the article, and let me know what you think about the competitive/casual debate.

The past couple of weeks have not been terribly good ones for the hobby. My latest round of Escalation Leaguing left me with no need to model anything new and not a whole lot of enjoyment tactically either. It got to the point where I actually began to dread coming to the store as I simply disliked the list that I was stuck with. When this lead to me losing a game simply based on mental fatigue, I knew that a change was in store.

I had been trying to do "competitive" lists based on the most competitive things in my collection- my Valkyries, Chimeras and other tanks. But this MechVets approach didn't work with the things that I find most enjoyable about the game- namely, reserving everything and striking at you from all sides. And the lack of any modeling work to do sucked any impetus that I had built up to sit down with my supplies and create something.

Image used without permission from Wizards of the Coast

This necessitated a bit of self reflection as to why I play games at all. I'm what you might call a "casual-competitive" type of gamer. Back when I played Magic my friends and I actually believed that buying singles (or buying individual cards as opposed to simply buying packs of random cards) was a heinous sin- your collection, like it or not, was filled with all of the random things that you opened. This, combined with a healthy amount of trading, allowed us to have an artificial limitation on how good a deck could be, as we all had the same problem, namely limited selection. You might have a couple of copies of the super broken rare but having four of them (the maximum number of a single card in a deck) was almost unheard of. These powerful cards became legends in their own right, and we would dread the moment that the Super Card would rise to the top of the opponent's deck. And if you did somehow have four of them, you likely traded other equally powerful cards to get them, keeping the balance.

Now while these decks weren't as good as the decks being played in competitive magic, we were still trying our damnedest to beat the competition. The limited card pool forced us to adapt, find cool new synergies between cards of radically different sets and find the one broken combo that would grant us victory... at least until the other players cottoned on and adapted. Much like the trials of Hive Fleet Gorgon we had to adapt regularly to get around opponent's familiarity with our decks and pull out a win.

During college I received four of a kind of a powerful Soldier Lord (a card that benefits other Soldier creatures in my deck) as a birthday present and quickly added it into my Soldier deck. It wasn't the best deck in the world before, but I managed to pull out a regular win with it thanks to the rampant, at times tenuous synergy between the individually underpowered cards. With the addition of the Lords it became unbeatable- I smashed face with it again and again and again. Soon after I retired the Lords and went back to the old deck.

The reason I did that was because I now had an unfair advantage- a significant part of my deck was no longer out of the randomized chaos of packs and that, combined with the power of the Lords with the rest of my soldiers made it too good. Now of course if I had somehow managed to pull these Lords out of packs the same thing could have happened, but it would have felt different. I probably would have had to trade cards of similar power to get all four, ensuring that we all had relatively similar power levels in our card pools. And, because I wasn't having fun with this advantage, I decided to take out the cards that I had been pining over for months to restore balance and tactical enjoyment to the game

As you might have guessed, my feelings about the Air Cav style lists are similar. While I won't say that they were unbeatable super lists (I went 1-4 last round and 2-1-1 the round before) I felt terrible playing them. When I won, I felt like I was beating up on a little kid with all of my lascannons and cheaty super-fast transports. And when I lost, I felt like the dice gods had cheated me out of victory or that I was too wool-headed to see the obvious way that I could have won.

Now, I don't want to turn this into a listhammer rant or a decrying of the competitive sphere- I fully appreciate what those guys are doing and I can definitely see myself gearing up for something like that in the next couple of years. After all, I didn't have anything against netdeckers when I played Magic or against the tourney scene- that's just another arena with fewer unspoken rules. I just know that for me the joy in playing this or any other game is to take a step off the beaten path and play in a style that has me coming from an unexpected corner... which in the case of my Al'Rahem list is rather literal half the time :) I think that I kind of have the feel that the stalwart Silent Requiem over on B&C has for his Grey Knights- it's not the "best" list but it plays to what I know and love to do.

That's my idea of "competitive casual"- willing to throw plenty of tactical acumen into the field while still holding to the unspoken gentlemen's agreement of a fair chance at victory. Now, this is not to say that I will intentionally make bad lists- I'll just try to stay away from dark avenues of unfun power. I'm sure there will be a time when I head off to tourneys and have to tool up to do so, but for now I am fine with my friendly local metagame.

So, for round 3, it's back to my roots with a slight new twist thanks to some new toys that I have. There'll be a fair bit of conversion work for this round, but thankfully they've extended it to a third week, meaning that I'll hopefully have time to finish it all.

Until next time, take a look at your recent games and think about what makes it fun for you.

Thanks for reading, and check out the other old posts today!


Von said...

This is genuinely excellent, on-the-ball stuff. Your remarks on the early days of your Magic experience ring especially true for me, and they prove something I've recently been thinking rather a lot: how you play the game is only important in that everyone you play it with should be playing it the same way. Whether you're 'top tier', whether you're 'competitive', whether your forces are 'optimised' or 'battleforcey'... doesn't matter as long as your playgroup are all on more or less the same page. It's when someone races ahead or falls behind that the trouble stards...

warhammer39999 said...

At first glance, an army that goes 1-4 might seem overpowered...

I definitely see what you're getting at though. I find it interesting that you felt compelled to tone down a list that you didn't seem to dominate with (I would expect something like that from a 'lords deck' list, but it's surprising to see it from a less succesful endeavor). But I agree with you. Though I might not always win with particular units, it's still clear to me that they're above the powercurve, so I try not to use them overly often.

Thanks for the read.

Zenos said...

I understand your point. However I do feel that the net has led to this situation and like all things net related has to be taken with a grain of salt. I think a lot of posts written about this stuff is done by the more competitive players (that's not aimed at you, but the greater community), hence what is really the casual point of view? Where do you draw the line? I have always designed my lists around themes, never tactical or strategic plays. Yet I do model and play regularly. So am I just as competitive yet casual? The million dollar question! Nice read though. Thanks.

Max said...

@ Von: Thanks! The problem with Warhammer is that it is much more difficult to reach that balance. It can be done with some agreement ahead of time, but if you like the more powerful stuff and someone else likes the aesthetics, the balance of power can change quite dramatically. Finding that balance is a trick that I'm working on still.

@ warhammer39999: Thanks! I think the reason I thought it was overpowered was that it pretty much won solely on the strength of its units. I had also done much better in previous games. And when I did win it felt dirty, like I didn't deserve it. Strangely the same with losing, as I should have been able to win with those ridiculous units.

@ Zenos: Thanks for reading! Finding that line between casual and competitive will be something that I will need to discover as I create my next army that is hopefully a bit more toned down than my current tourney list.