(Metagame Archive) Ask Not What Your Card Game Can Do For You, Part 2

By Ben Kalman

When there is a community the size of the current Vs. community, and one that is growing as quickly, there is a natural inclination to test one’s skills against those of one’s fellow community members. Tournaments allow for this to occur. This article is a do/don’t guide to tournaments—what you should and shouldn’t do, how you should present and carry yourselves, and what to expect from “tournament life.” There have been one or two articles on this subject in the past (including one by metagame’s own Matt Hyra), but few of them really looked at the audience as a community, so I implore you to ignore everything you’ve ever learnt about CCG/TCG “tourniquette” and start afresh as Vs. community members.

And so, I present you with eight things to think of while preparing for and/or playing in a Vs. tournament.

1) Do Unto Others . . .

I like to think that Vs. is a smarter, friendlier game than other card games. There is less of a vicious streak among the players I’ve played against, in big and small tourneys, whether local or out of town. There is a difference between being competitive and being inconsiderate, between being a player and being a cutthroat. Remember that winning a tournament doesn’t mean you’re not a loser in the end, and vice-versa.

When you sit down across from your opponent, ask his or her name. Shake hands. Wish him or her luck. When you beat someone, say he or she played a solid game, and offer advice on how he or she could do better. Shake hands and thank your opponent for the match. When you’re beaten, take the loss gracefully and with a smile. Even though you may be upset about the loss, don’t take your emotional response out on your opponent, who is trying as hard as you are, and worked for his or her win.

The bottom line is respect. As I mentioned in my article last week, you should return the respect that you command from others. Being arrogant, snarky, or unfriendly only serves to cause tension and make the match unbearable. I once again quote Tom Selleck, in Mr. Baseball, “It’s a game, and games are supposed to be fun!” Even if you’re on the Pro Circuit and looking for the green, be thankful that you are in a position where you are able to play a card game based on men and women in spandex—and for money, no less. Win or lose, it’s still a game when the night is over.

2) Help the Newbies

Do you remember your first tournament? Many people are calm and collected their first time out—they hide their jitters well. I was not one of them. My first tournament was in the mid-nineties and involved a Brand X card game (a colourful game, yet one that is inferior to Vs. . . . but I digress). I made more mistakes than I care to admit in that tourney, but I was very lucky in that I had opponents who were more interested in the game than in winning the tournaments. They called my mistakes and advised me on certain stupid moves I had made. They advised me on which cards I should leave out of my deck in future tourneys, and told me what to substitute,

I still got stomped, but I learned two important things that day. The first was that I had a lot to learn about the card game, but that I would be able to use the advice I’d received to my benefit. The second was that the game I was playing had a great group of players; I’d never felt so welcome in a competitive arena prior to that. I was eventually able to master the game to the degree that I was winning local tournaments, but without the guidance of fellow players, I would likely have never reached that level of skill.

So when you’re sitting across from the noob, who just started playing the week before and is bungling his or her way to a record loss, offer some advice. You don’t have to hold his or her hand to victory over you, but at the very least, you can mention after the fact what he or she did wrong . . . offer a reminder about reinforcement; ask for the reasoning behind attacking the wrong targets; remind him or her about activated powers; explain the chain and how it can be used; and point out mistakes in formation and order of play.

And, most importantly, don’t spit on them because they’re noobs—everyone is a newbie at some point, and just because a player is a noob doesn’t mean that he or she has less of a right to play than you do. I’ve heard people ask, “Well what are they doing playing in a PCQ if they’re so bad?” Good or bad doesn’t make a difference. They paid their entrance fees just like you did, and they deserve to be accorded the same respect as Vs. players that you do. Not everyone can grasp the complexities of the game quickly, and not everyone has wide playing and/or testing circles, so tourneys are often the only chance certain people have to play. Anybody who gets angry at someone who has “the nerve” to play a game is the one who doesn’t deserve to be in the tourney. Period.

3) Don’t Be a Rules Lawyer

In tournament play, everyone is nervous. If someone tells you they’ve never been nervous, or felt even a twinge of anxiety—especially in a tourney with money on the line—don’t believe it. Nervousness is an inherent characteristic in human beings when they are in competition of any sort.

When one is nervous, one is more prone to mistakes. The more nervous one is, the more likely he or she is to make those mistakes. My job, sitting across the table from you, is not to let you win by allowing your mistakes to cost me the tourney. My job is, however, to make sure that I don’t win a match due to technicalities. Don’t nitpick every little move your opponent makes, don’t pull out the magnifying glass to check for marked cards, don’t pull out the Comprehensive Rules and quote, “In Rule 16543.544A, it specifically says that if you sneeze during the first match, you forfeit.”

I’m not saying that you should let your opponent get away with murder—it is a tournament after all. I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep a watchful eye on your opponent—there are cheaters out there, and one should not get suckered by one.

What I’m saying is that life is too short to be a passive-aggressive jerk on the battlefield. This is a community, and within a community we should accord each other a certain level of civility when we are face-to-face. If your opponent starts to attack, then changes his or her mind before anyone has played anything, LET IT GO. If your opponent drops an illegal drop due to a forgotten resource, LET IT GO. If an opponent plays the wrong card accidentally from his or her hand and switches it for the proper one, LET IT GO. When the day is done, you’ll feel better for it. After all, do you really want to beat someone due to that technicality? Or due to your skills as a Vs. player?

4) Don’t Cheat

This one should be self-explanatory, and those who do cheat will likely not listen, but if I can turn just one head in my direction, I’ll consider this a success.

Don’t cheat. Why? After all, you can win stuff and be a champion and be cool, right? Wrong. If you cheat, yes, you may receive a tournament prize, but you haven’t won it. In fact, you haven’t won anything. All you do by cheating is lose—your dignity, your self-respect, your pride—because you have forfeited them by being dishonest and disrespectful.

As well, if you get caught, not only will you be banned, and possibly for life, if it’s serious enough, but you will be forever branded a cheater and untrustworthy. My grandmother used to tell me, “It takes a lifetime to build up people’s trust, but only an instant to lose it.” My grandmother was a very smart woman.

So, rather than cheat, why not prove yourself a true winner, and show your skills. You’ll feel better for it, and people will admire you for it.

5) If You Have a Problem, Call a Judge

That’s what they’re there for—to be at your beck and call when problems arise. Judges keep order, enforce rules, watch out for cheating, and so on, but they also answer questions, solve problems, and ease your mind as a player.

If you have any concern, don’t hesitate to call a judge over. Are you unsure of a rule, even though your opponent swears up and down that he or she is correct? Did your opponent make an illegal play? Do you suspect that your opponent is stalling? Cheating? Is your opponent being verbally abusive towards you? Are those viewing your match being verbally abusive? Are there people interfering in your match? Making you uncomfortable? Helping your opponent? Call the judge!

You’ll regret it if you think that it will take to long, make your opponent impatient, or ruin the game, and you may end up losing the game/match/tournament because of it. What’s the worst that can happen if you call a judge over? You’ll be wrong. At least you’ll know for sure, and it won’t gnaw on you later on. In my last PCQ, I called for a judge to ensure that the move I was about to make was completely legal—I was fairly certain it was, but my opponent was a new player and didn’t understand what I was attempting. It took about five minutes to get a ruling from the judge, but we were both satisfied that the move was legal and that the game was kosher.

And remember: If it takes time for the judge to get there and make a ruling, you can always ask for a time extension, and nine out of ten judges will grant you at least a few minutes extra at the end of the round to make up for lost time.

6) Respect Your Opponent’s Right to Call a Judge

Picture this: You’re in a tight match, you’re cruising with the game swinging in your direction—and your opponent calls you on a rule. You know that he or she is wrong, but insists otherwise and calls for a judge. You feel the slowing of the momentum you were basking in, and impatiently tap your fingers on the table, waiting for the judge to tell your opponent the inevitable and let you continue on your merry way. You get frustrated, irritable—maybe make a mistake. You take your anger out on your opponent, by being cross or by bad-mouthing him or her to others after the match (“and then this monkey actually called a judge! Of course I was right, but I almost lost the match because of it . . .”)

The only person in the wrong in this situation would be you. You have to respect your opponent’s right to call for a ruling, even if you know in your gut that you’re right. Now, granted, if it’s a silly question (“What do you mean I can’t attack your protected character!? I have range . . .”) then you’d have a right to get irritated with the person asking it—after all, h or she should at least have a basic grasp of the rules before playing in a tourney.

But I’m not referring to a no-brainer. The comprehensive rules are no cakewalk, and some of them are hard to get one’s head around. Just because you think you know the game back to front doesn’t mean that you do, and even if you do, it doesn’t mean that everyone else has (or should have) the same level of knowledge you do.

Your opponents need to be comfortable, and should not be put in a position where they are unsure of the situation or are made to feel inferior or useless simply because they want official reassurance that the situation is correct. So if your opponent insists on calling a judge, relax and take the time to strategize. Don’t allow it to get to you—you wouldn’t want your opponent to get miffed in the reverse situation.

7) Respect the Judges’ Decisions

When you or your opponent does call for a judge, you must both abide by the judge’s decision. This can be tough, as judges are only human, and the game is still young, with rules constantly changing and being tweaked. There will be mistakes made. In most cases, however, the judge will rule properly, and more important, will rule fairly.

Remember, as well, that in most events, especially the higher-level events, that there is a head judge whom you can appeal to if you feel the decision that the judge made was wrong, unfair, partial, or something of that nature. The head judge will listen to all sides (the players and the judge(s) involved) and will make a final ruling.

However, this ruling may not always be in your favor. I lost an elimination Booster Draft at Origins due to a judge’s decision. I didn’t lose my temper, however, and I still back his decision percent, even though it cost me the tournament. The simple fact was that he made a decision that he decided was the fair and proper decision, and I, as a player, am bound by that decision. I do not have to agree with that decision, nor do I have to like it, I only have to respect and follow it.

So, whenever you call a judge or appeal to a head judge, be prepared to have the ruling go against you. And if it does, suck it up and continue playing with respect and a positive demeanor.

8) Sporting Conduct

This is the sum total of everything I’ve said up until now. The bottom line is that you should conduct yourself sportingly at all times. Even in the face of adversity or wrongdoing, do not fall to the level of the one who is in the wrong.

When the entire community begins to realize this, the overall conduct at tournaments will improve, and the game—and tournament play in general—will become so much more fun! The root of enjoyment is respect and self-satisfaction. If you know you’ve worked really hard, and you have a strong rapport with your opponents, you’ll end the day feeling good about yourself regardless of your performance. After all, what’s more important? The health of the community? Or some pretty cardboard in plastic sleeves?

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