(Metagame Archive) Interview: David Leader

David Spears

Pro Circuit Champion David Leader needs little introduction. Everyone knows that he spearheads a team with multiple Top 8 Pro Circuit and $10K appearances. His team, FTN, probably works harder than any team out there, and that preparation paid off in spades at Indy, where David beat his teammate in the finals with a deck that defined the DC Modern Age format.

I’ve known David for a long while now. He’s beaten me in many other games, so it’s no surprise to see him tearing up the competition at Vs. I sat down with him a few weeks ago and picked his brain about the state of all things Vs. System. This is what he had to say.

What’s it feel like to win a Pro Circuit?

One of the greatest feelings in the world is realizing that all the hard work you put into something has come to fruition. This is no different. It really made me feel great, and the accomplishment has really helped me when trying to achieve all of my other goals. I look forward to continuing to compete on the Pro Circuit and hope that my teammates and I are able to keep the level of success we showed at Indy.

Your team did amazing things in Indy, with three players in the Top 8 and another winning the $10K. To what do you attribute this dominance?

Teamwork and practice. In the Constructed portion of the format, we labored on a huge variety of decks before realizing the dominance of defensive cards in the GLEE mirror. Once Dalton discovered this, we found ourselves extraordinarily advantaged against any Prison GLEE decks, and that led us to exceptional Day 1 records.

Draft has always been one of FTN’s greatest strengths. We practice regularly and give lots of feedback about Draft orders and picks. Every time before a Pro Circuit, I organize a Draft list for our team and we have meetings to discuss where others feel the Draft picks should be. These lists have always worked extremely well for us.

What makes a good pro Vs. player?

An open mind and a lot of practice. If you keep a closed mind, you will not be able to accept others’ ideas and will be stuck testing in a vacuum. To do really well as a Vs. player, you need to explore all avenues and trust your teammates when all of them agree. I’ve seen a number of teams where people allow their personal opinions to weigh more than the majority, and these teams always tend to do poorly.

Beyond that, you need to learn Sealed Pack play. Vs. certainly has the most diverse and complicated Sealed Pack game of any of the TCGs I’ve played. To do well in it, you really have to study and understand the archetypes well and be able to adapt yourself from format to format.

What’s HippoDraft?

“HippoDraft” is the code name for the drafting program FTN uses to do Draft analysis. It’s a browser-based Draft program created by Chuck Bell with options for extensive review. It got its name because the original team name for the Atlanta-based players was the “$40 Hippos.”

What changes would you like to see made to the Pro Circuit?

More formats would always be nice; I’d love to see a “Rotation” format added that would cover the past five or six sets. It would be an excellent compromise between the current Golden Age format and the Modern formats (which tend to limit options perhaps a bit too much). I think it would be a fun format.

I would also like to see a Pro Circuit emphasize Sealed Pack play, with Sealed Pack on Days 1 and 3 and Constructed on Day 2. There are more consistent Sealed Pack players than Constructed players, which would lead me to believe that Sealed Pack is the less luck-based format.

What cards would you like to see made? Characters?

As far as new teams, I’d have to ask for some independent sets at this point. My favorite teams have pretty much all been covered from DC and Marvel, but where are my WILDCATS?

What team would you like to see made stronger?

Well, Arkham would need a total revamp to become stronger, so it would be hard to base on the current card set. As far as other teams, I’d have to rule with Squadron Supreme. Squadron is very, very close to being Constructed worthy, but it isn’t quite there. I’m really hoping that UDE gives them some good legacy support in the X-Men set. Squadron could be a power to be reckoned with in the future.

So, how’d you start playing Vs. System?

My friend Trevor Bradly called up Russ (Pippin) and me and told us a new game based on comic books was coming out. He explained that they were going to have a Pro event that would dwarf Magic’s, and it seemed like a really fun game. We played, we tested, and we enjoyed it. Though Trevor dropped out of the game, Russ and I continued to do work on it and built up a team and created the first version of the Common Enemy deck, which qualified us (and our quickly added teammate, Chuck Bell) for the Pro Circuit.

Do you have any interesting Vs. stories?

Ah, too many to count, and most of which involve myself or my opponent making bumbling errors on the Pro Circuit level. At PC Indy, while playing against my teammate Michael Dalton, I played a turn 2 Hector Hammond. He responded by playing Major Disaster. I flipped up Prison Planet and began to declare an attack against Major Disaster. I stopped when I saw Dalton trying his best to keep a straight face. Beside me, Russ just lost it and started laughing. Suffice to say, my Prison Planet left the table and I proceeded to lose that game horribly.

Do you have a Vs. arch-nemesis?

Most people I’ve played have been really great. There are a few jerks here and there, but I haven’t really developed any rivalries yet.

Who do you think is the best Vs. player right now?

Have to go with my teammates Michael Dalton and Jason Dawson. Both have brilliant minds for the game and consistent finishes to show for them. I think a number of my other teammates have a lot of potential, but they simply haven’t realized it yet.

How do you prepare for high-level events?

I practice, make sure I get the perfect deck, get our Draft lists in order, and listen to rumors and details to find out what the metagame is like. Once we get our deck together, we have everyone learn it inside and out and make any final tweaks.

Any advice for aspiring PCQ players?

Listen to what everyone has to say. Arrogance is the best way to ruin your game. If everyone tells you a certain way to do something is the right way to do it, they are probably right and you are probably wrong.

Beyond that, anyone who seriously wants to compete should form a team of sorts. Having a group of teammates you can trust is paramount to becoming a good player. A person testing in a vacuum is going to do far worse than a group of open-minded individuals discussing the flaws and merits of a strategy.

Finally, learn to respect when it’s time to get serious. Playing your fun deck at a league or a store is one thing; playing it at the Pro Circuit is entirely different. If you want to get better, you need to accept that if you can’t build something to beat the metagame, you will have to do some tweaks to a net deck and run with it.

Tell us a little about you personally. What is life like outside of playing TCGs professionally?

Dave is a gamer through and through. I love games of all sorts, including
video games, poker, and role-playing.

Outside of gaming, I also am a huge movie and anime buff, and I work out fairly regularly. I also have my job as webmaster of XINNIX, the mortgage training academy.

How often do you play the game?

Play Vs. System? Maybe ten hours a week—three sets of the week’s Draft, plus I have Draft club on Thursday, and I usually try to get some Constructed in here and there.

What’s your favorite part of playing Vs. System?

I love the strategy. Everything is so complex and there are so many things to think about. The game is a lot more skill-intensive than most of the other card games I have played—especially the Sealed Pack environment.


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