(Metagame Archive) Pro Circuit Blues

By Ben Kalman

GenCon is right around the corner, which means that the very first Vs. Pro Circuit stop is about to get underway! And so, I thought that I’d give a little Amateur’s Guide to the Pro Circuit from someone who is certainly an amateur—and who is prone to stupid mistakes. This is an article on what to expect from the Pro Circuit, some preparation tips, and what not to do once you walk through those doors.

For those of you who have never played in a tournament this big—especially those who have never played for money—it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Every time I enter the Realm of the Unknown, be it a new game, a new job, or a medical appointment, I tend to choke somewhat early on. In fact, whenever I play a new card game—or even a new level of tourney within that card game—I have a habit of breaking down in my first game(s). For example, I bombed my first Vs. PCQ, finishing 1-4. However, I finished third out of a field of more than 40 people in my second PCQ, after the initial brain-cramps wore off. This has happened to me in other games as well, where my first tourneys would yield devastatingly bad results, and then I’d get better and better until I was winning. Case in point is a certain comic-related miniatures game where I finished dead last during my first few tournaments a couple of years ago, and now I’m on a 6-tournament win streak.

So, whatever you do, do not hold high expectations. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hope to win or even expect to do well, especially if you’re done considerably well in $10K events and PCQs, but keep in mind that the higher you raise the bar, the more disappointed you become when you fail to reach that level. The PC will have dozens of players you haven’t encountered yet, and will likely reveal many surprises, as people bring decks and deck ideas that nobody has played up until now. As well, the metagame is thrown wide open with the DC Comics set, as we haven’t really gleaned an idea of what decks are truly dominant in the tournament scene outside of Marvel Origins.

The best way to counter the surprises in a tournament is to practice, practice, practice. And make sure to work on your drafting in addition to Constructed. In Draft, you can practice by attending Draft tournaments; buying packs and holding mini-drafts with your teams, friends, and testing partners; and simulating drafts using box breakdowns. You can test Constructed by putting your deck against net-decks and various other deck ideas (it’s usually a good idea to test against Top 8 decks from $10K tournaments and PCQs). The more you test, the better prepared you’ll be, and the better idea you’ll have as to what cards you need in your deck, what cards you don’t use, and what cards and decks you’ll have to worry about. If you choose to ignore either side of the coin, you will likely get schooled when it comes to that portion of the PC. Since there is a day of Constructed and a day of Draft before the cut to Top 8, players who perform well in only one of the two are at a major disadvantage. Disadvantages will only hurt your chances of a strong showing.

While you’re testing, you must make sure to get to know the cards. First off, you should know every card in your deck, and the ins and outs of the game text on each of those cards, as well as how they perform in relation to one another. I still kick myself for losing the first round of the X-Men #1 tournament simply because I didn’t properly remember how Annihilus worked. Sleep deprivation was a factor, but it was more of a dumb mistake than anything else (for those who are curious, I forgot that Negative Zone only had to be in play, not under my control, for me to avoid damage). There is no excuse for mistakes like this, and no room for them if you wish to win. This mistake cost me the game—and led to more mistakes, which cost me the tournament. If you don’t know your deck inside out, you will likely falter when it comes down to the wire.

You should also know every card in the game and have an idea of how they work. Now, it’s easy to forget what cards do. You should never hesitate to ask to see a card—take the time to read it carefully and make sure you understand how it works. You should, in theory, be able to test against just about every card at some point while you’re testing your deck, but there are times, under pressure, when you simply forget or your mind blanks. Do not be shy or allow an opponent’s irritation at your caution to hinder you. It is hard enough to face the unknown without being blind while you do it. It’s better to beat an irked opponent than to lose to a smiling one.

And, speaking of taking time, you should also take the time to strategize. I’m sometimes prone to rushing, and this is a very bad thing to be. Do not rush—it will only cost you in the end. Think things over, work out different possible outcomes, and prepare yourself for all possibilities. Do not worry about the time limit. If you’re down a game, you don’t want to run out of time and lose on time instead of skill, but the more you rush, the more mistakes you will make. My second glaring error in the X-Men #1 tournament caused a loss in the second round, when I put Annihilus and Blastaar in the wrong formation, and my opponent beat me by only 2 or 3 endurance. Every mistake you make can be costly, as an opponent needs only to exploit a single, stupid mistake and capitalize on it for the win. I should have been 2-0 in the X-Men #1, and instead was 0-2. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Take the time to think over your formation, your attack strategies, your defense strategies, whether or not to play a card, and what cards to play. You’ll thank yourself for it at the end of the day.

While I’m at it—sleep deprivation, as I mentioned before, really did have a negative impact on my play. I had finished a booster draft in the early morning hours the night before the X-Men #1 tournament, and wasn’t able to get back to where I was staying. I didn’t manage to get any sleep, and I got very little rest, so I was playing without a clear head. One should never go into a major tournament without a clear head. You should get at least six hours of sleep the night before, make sure to eat breakfast (and orange juice is a very good thing to drink lots of . . .), and you should make sure to have a bottle of water with you during the tourney. It’s also a good idea to either bring something to eat around lunchtime, or to have someone who can fetch you something. It’s hard to concentrate on the game at hand when your stomach is rumbling. You shouldn’t gorge yourself, however, especially if you have a particularly nervous metabolism. It’s also hard to perform when your stomach is churning and you’re running to the bathroom between every round.

You should also beware of the cutthroats and jerks who try to psychologically destabilize your game. There will always be people who stall on purpose, who are ultra-anal rules lawyers, who are insulting, condescending, rude, and/or anti-social—all of whom will do anything short of actually cheating to win. Remember that you can call a judge if ever you feel your opponent is being abusive or playing improperly. However, don’t fall to their level—you should not get impatient if your opponent is strategizing or reading your card, you should be pleasant and polite to him or her, and you should never be a jerk or a rules lawyer. Remember that this is the Professional Circuit, and you should therefore act professionally. While everyone should be familiar with the game and cards and be on a Pro level of gameplay, this game is still young, and many of the invitees—and even some of the people who qualified the hard way—have not had time to have truly mastered the game. Each player on the PC has earned his or her first ticket, whether he or she is involved in the community, has a strong history in another game, or qualified the old-fashioned way. We all deserve to be there, so let’s treat each other with the respect we all deserve. This is a time for celebration—it’s the first Vs. PC event! We’re a part of history, so sit back and enjoy yourselves. While there will be other PC events, there will never be another first one, so keep your focus, and, at the same time, keep your dignity. Play with pride and poise, and play to win—but not by being a jerk. So get out there and play, and good luck to everyone!

I’m looking for questions and concerns from the community—if there’s anything you’d like answered or addressed, please send me an email at kergillian@hotmail.com.


Also known by his screen name, Kergillian, Ben Kalman has been involved in the Vs. community since Day One. He started the first major group in the online community – the VS Listserv through Yahoo! Groups, which now boast well over 700 members! For more on the Yahoo! group, go to groups.yahoo.com/group/Marvel_DC_TCG


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