(Metagame Archive) Two Turns Ahead – Playing Control

By Tim Willoughby

I am writing today’s article on Valentine’s Day. There are all sorts of potential links that I could easily let myself roll into that would be perfectly entertaining, but I’m pretty sure that by now, Geordie Tait (Metagame.com picture wizard, incredible writer, and all-around nice chap) is pretty bored with including pictures of Lanterns in Love and Pleasant Distraction.

There is more to Valentine’s Day than love, romance, a card, and possibly some dead flowers. The lines between love and hate are sometimes easily crossed. With passion and conviction, one can achieve great things—great and terrible things.

I have heard the expression that “revenge is a dish best served cold” more times than I have had hot dinners. In actuality, I think that this sentiment can quite easily be applied to any number of other powerful motivating emotions.

The thing that makes humans a step above animals is our ability to control our instincts and primal urges. There is nothing innately wrong with being aggressive, forceful, and impulsive, but without any reasoning behind such actions, they can get you in all sorts of trouble.

In my experience, there are a number of different types of Vs. System and TCG players. A lot of the time, players get classified by the style of decks that they play, or the field in which they have experienced the most success. This is easily done, but it isn’t necessarily very useful when looking to improve your own game. I’m sure there are plenty of players (and spectators) who have long since written me off as a “writer” who has more interest in spinning a good line or two than winning games and stringing those wins together to win tournaments.

But here is the news: Writing is what I do. A gamer is who I am.

Everyone has some motivation for playing Vs. System, or indeed for doing anything else. For some, it is the potential financial rewards. For others, it is the opportunity to excel at something, and the fame that comes from winning on an international stage is reward enough. I would sincerely hope that everyone who plays Vs. System at any level has a whole bunch of fun in the process, though for some, this fun will come from the pressures of competition, and for others, it will be through making some crazy plays against some good friends.

These motivations will in turn lead players to conduct themselves in particular ways. I, for example, have as much fun with the personal interaction of the game, be it joking with people or messing around with their heads in mind games, as I do with working out the best play and making it in order to win the game. This can lead me to putting myself into situations where my potential to win the game is put into jeopardy. If it weren’t for the fact that I love the pressure of playing for higher and higher stakes as I perform better in events, I probably would not do very well at TCGs.

As it is, I try to collect wins more fiercely than many I know collect their Extended Art rarities. I’ve seen other players who conduct themselves in such a fashion that it seems clear that they are more concerned with not losing than they are about actually getting the win. They play with a fear of committing to plays that can eventually make losing a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are simply looking for good times, you can have nearly as much fun losing the game as winning, and if you don’t like the pressure of playing for the top spot, I can see why losing might not seem so bad. Finding joy in losing isn’t something I really like to do (and being an Englishman, I do like a good whine), but I’m aware that there are always some people having a ball on the bottom tables. More power to them.

There are a few common traits that I have noticed about the best players, which might be worth trying to cultivate if one is looking to succeed at the highest level. The top players tend to be intelligent and have a good grasp of the game’s finer strategic points. While it is tricky to spin intelligence from nothingness, I am of the opinion that with appropriate motivation, practice, and study, Vs. System is straightforward enough for anyone to learn to play at a very high level.

Unfortunately, there is more to being a champion than knowing how to play.

A good friend of mine once told me that being a champion is something you feel in your gut. You know inside yourself that you are a champion, and it is simply a question of proving such to everyone else. At last count, my friend had won easily $100,000 playing TCGs, and I have every confidence that he will win even more.

People are all different, and top players too will conduct themselves in various manners. Even at his most businesslike, Dave Spears has a nasty habit of being “good times” while playing. Josh Wiitanen has repeatedly proven himself to be a talker, whether winning or losing. Andre Muller typically plays at a brisk pace, while the Matthew Tatars and Eugene Harveys of the world are taking their sweet time in their pursuit of the win.

While the Kiblers and the De Rosas are definitely a lot of fun, they also have the capacity and tendency to realize when situations require more thought, and they will do whatever it takes in order to find the right play. When it comes to the crunch, these players can control their initial impulses so that they don’t let things run away from them. Passion and desire are definitely there, fuelling moments of aggressive or seemingly impulsive play, but they are kept in check and used only when necessary.

When the Germans played Squadron Supreme in Los Angeles, it felt like a control deck. When Mike Dalton played Sinister Syndicate/Marvel Knights beatdown in Amsterdam, he was beating down but still seemed in control. Be a control player. Control your own destiny. Passion is your motivator. Win the way you want to. If winning means having fun, you will play differently than someone whose “win” is to beat all comers. Find your level and make it your own.

Until next time,

Tim “Puts a Fire in Your Belly” Willoughby



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