(Metagame Archive) Totally Freakin’ Broken: Finite Endurance

By Jason Grabher-Meyer

I bet that when you saw the title of this week’s column, you figured I’d be talking about card groups that somehow interact with endurance. “Finite Endurance?” Time for a six-parter covering every card that causes endurance loss when played, via both cost and effect!

Strap in for the next month and a half as I look at over a hundred cards in blazingly minute detail! It’ll be a proverbial log flume of rippingly monotonous mathematics and nitpicking! Get ready for the pointless tech article to end all pointless tech articles!

Okay, so . . . not really. In fact, this week I’m going to abuse the knowledge that the site needs somebody to fill my posting slot by completely ignoring the fact that I’m supposed to write a fairly rigid technical column. Instead, I’m going to talk about a very simple fact—Luke Bartter conceded after game 1 of the finals in the recent Melbourne $10K, handing Ben Seck and his “Make Batman Really Big and Hit You With Him Repeatedly” deck a prestigious win and, in effect, a bag full of money.

Now, don’t get me wrong . . . I know Bartter came off of a PCQ earlier in the weekend, and for all I know, he and Seck had a prize split. I also think Seck deserved the win that he got, as his deck looked really, really cool and, well . . . Batman rules. Bartter’s concession because of exhaustion, however, is the tip of a very large and unfortunate iceberg that has been with the Vs. System since its inception—a lot of people don’t have the endurance to compete as well as they’d like to.

There are a lot of reasons why Vs. has gained a reputation for being incredibly fatiguing at the money level. The game system is inherently challenging—its complexities, and the escalation of difficulty as turns progress, make for a pretty sizable cranial strain. Your brain is at its most vulnerable when it’s changing gears, hopping from mindset to mindset. No matter who you are, that’s tiring. It’s been said that a game of Vs. is more like a sequence of mini games, and that’s definitely a statement that I agree with. A good game plays almost like a comic arc—it starts off slowly and then rises until it reaches the grand finale. There are some ups and downs, but generally, each decision gets increasingly more difficult as the stakes get higher. This happens not because a decisions made on turn 6 is inherently more important than a decision made on turn 2, but rather because the decision on turn 6 is riddled with more caveats and considerations than a similar decision in the early game.

As a result, a good player is constantly moving from one mode of thought to another. Thus, he or she will get fatigued.

In addition, a great deal of the playing population is relatively new to TCGs. Several industry veterans were predicting that very few dedicated Vs. players would make it to the Top 8 back at Gen Con Indy, strictly because veterans of other TCGs would have more drafting experience. Though the prediction proved to be mostly true, fatigue was arguably the average PC competitor’s greatest downfall, not a lack of drafting experience.

What else is to blame? The proliferation of online play. Online play (be it through specialized programs or simple chats) is an exceptional tool for deck testing, no doubt about it. For many players, it is the primary source of competition¾they forego local level tournaments and leagues for the convenience of sitting at home. I’m a cheerful recluse myself, and am currently relishing the fact that I’m writing this article without the “business formality” of pants. But I’ve talked to a lot of players who have turned primarily to web options for their Vs. goodness, and they always seem so shocked when they go to premier level events and make absolutely boneheaded decisions in the last third of the day.

Here’s a little equation to keep up my tech-specific rep: great player + no endurance = blazing failure at premier level events.

Playing in a competitive in-store environment does wonders for your endurance, whereas online play does virtually nothing. If you’re one of the gifted few who don’t suffer mental fatigue, then hey, go for it. Stick with playing online and emerge from your mountain cave only to compete in PCs and $10Ks. But for the average players who knows their stuff, and yet still can’t believe some of the mistakes they make when the pressure is on, local-level play is probably what they’re lacking. Even if your local league is extremely easygoing, play hard and play a lot. You don’t need to run a tier-one deck. You don’t even need to win reliably. The point is to train your mind to switch gears quickly without slowing down.

If you really want to jumpstart your mentally ability, there are some exercises you can do. Most of them are as simple as changing your routines. Take a different route to work. If you’re right handed, start doing things with your left hand. Memorize numerical sequences left to right and then memorize them from right to left. Sounds crazy, but it works. The game-specific application of these exercises is to vary your play experience. Trade decks with opponents and vary your formats. Don’t compromise the quality of play, but don’t limit yourself to the same deck and format day in and day out.

Training your mind is only half of surviving a PC or $10K, of course. Remember that your body is subject to the same rules and laws of reality as everyone else’s. If you bussed in the night before the event and partied instead of sleeping, expect to see the vomit on your shoes repeatedly as you hang your head in shame with each loss. Partying is good. Not sleeping is not good. For PCs in particular, try to fly. If you’re in North America and book your flight far enough in advance, it’s hard to imagine being forced to pay more than $150-$200 bucks, regardless of where you’re flying to. Shop around to find the best fares—it only takes a few minutes, and if you’re going to be travelling with a team, you can always job someone as the “flight guy” and make him or her do the work. Road trips can be a blast and can promote team bonding, but understand that you’ll be competing against both people who flew (and are thus quite fresh) and locals (who barely needed to travel at all).

In addition, be sure to eat. No one can do a fourteen-hour day without eating, and if you can, you’d still probably do a lot better if you kept your blood sugar up.

Simple knowledge of the game isn’t enough to put you in the money at a major event. If you can’t back up your raw skill with endurance, you won’t get very far. Balancing aggressive online playtesting with local play and mental exercise, as well as actually getting some sleep, isn’t always easy. If, however, you can find a combination that works for you, you might do exceedingly well. The thing that sets pro level players apart from really good non-pro players is an understanding of the game outside of the game. While Vs. itself is your main focus, you also need to pay attention to judge interactions, the metagame, how best to attack the mental strength of opponents, and your own mental strength. The latter is the most important of the four elements. If you can keep your mind strong, the rest will fall in line.

So, to recap, a player can do the following to build and maintain endurance:

  • Play in “real life” competitive environments as often as possible.
  • Perform mental exercises, game-oriented or otherwise.
  • Get rest.
  • Eat well.
  • Know when an opponent is consciously attempting to wear you down—often, the ability to recognize mentally offensive tactics is enough to stymie them.

 

Should disaster strike and you find yourself mentally fatigued, the following tips can help you out:

  • Breath deeply. Increased oxygen flow to the brain calms the mind.
  • Take a break if you have the time. Removing your mind from whatever is wearing on it is a good thing.
  • Eat something sugary. Alternatively, if the venue is ridiculously hot and you’ve been sweating, make sure to replace the salts you’ve lost by eating something salty.
  • If your exhaustion manifests as headaches, have some sort of solution on hand. Ibuprofen is pretty hard to come by in a tournament hall, so bringing your own is recommended. Caffeine gets medication into your bloodstream faster than it would on its own, so take stuff with cola or coffee instead of water.

 

If you’re an expert-level player who has been looking to take your game up a notch, these pointers could really help you. Stressing over them would, of course, be counterproductive, but if you can work even a few endurance-enhancing habits into your life, you will see tangible rewards in your results.

Tune in next week as I analyse and compare every card that has an ATK between 3 and 8!

. . . Just kidding.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer

Feedback? Comments? Hate mail? Marriage proposals? Email me at Jason@metagame.com.

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