Welcome to the sixth installment of Level 0 – the column that explores the basics of strategy in Weiss Schwarz!
Next article: Turn by Turn
Previous Article: The Art of Losing
Author’s Note: This article is less about WS and more about attitude when approaching the game, especially when it comes to deck building and brainstorming.
Rewind the clock and go back to 2011. Magic: the Gathering has just gotten a new format called Modern, and the game’s top professionals are all gunning to make the best decks. A video snippet of a behind-the-scenes look at a team’s testing shows a player admonishing another for his dogged adherence to playing a certain deck the next day.
The conversation flow is something like this:
A: “I know for a fact I’m going to be playing XYZ tomorrow.”
B: “Why do you say that? You don’t know that it’s going to be the best deck. How can you say that when you don’t even know?”
A: “I know that XYZ is strong, it’s not even a question.”
B: “But still, you just don’t know that it’s going to be the best.”
Add in internet comments and suddenly, you have a small angry mob ready to assassinate the character of a known professional player, simply for forcefully telling a teammate that his assessment of a situation is wrong. After all, how dare this player rebuke this professional with such force! What makes him think he can say something like that? Was that guy even good?
(Sound familiar? For those that play Magic: The clip is between now-Hall of Fame inductee Luis Scott-Vargas and his teammate Owen Turtenwald, preparing for Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011. LSV was certain he was going to play Splinter Twin, but the team ultimately arrived at a 4c Zoo ‘Counter-Cat’ list which eventually went to the finals, piloted by Josh Utter-Leyton. Though Twin (ironically) ultimately won the match in game 4 in a best of 5, it was not the ‘best’ deck at the PT. Actually, Sam Black’s Infect list was widely considered the best deck, and was a large factor in having Blazing Shoal banned in the format. And yes, both players are actually that good.)
Now fast forward to present day.
In a classroom in Ohio, a music teacher stands in front of her class, pencil in hand and clipboard up. Her students have their instruments in hand, and many tap their feet silently on the carpeted floor as they mentally prepare to have their performances evaluated.
Meanwhile, in a rehearsal hall in California, another music teacher stands in front of his class, with his hopeful gaze turned to them. His students anxiously grip their seats, and breathlessly hope that their solo feels like a mercy killing rather than a public execution.
One by one, each student in both places gives his or her solo.
Sour notes crack through the textures. Catch breaths turn into gasps. What are supposedly musical phrases turn into run-on sentences that seem to end with a question? And at the end of it all, both instructors are met with puzzled looks as they turn to their classes and say, “Good job. Thank you for making those mistakes.”
Mistakes are a vital part of the learning process.
Don’t discredit. Discrediting others creates an environment where ego matters more than learning and the learning process itself. There are ways to state opinions or assert facts without making others look stupid.
Let’s take an example from our teacher in Ohio. A student jumped for joy when he figured out how to play a three-note sequence. If she told the student, “Your counting was off, and your finger placement was not precise,” there are very few words that she could say after that that wouldn’t kill the poor student’s desire to continue learning.
This kind of thing is no different than your average beginning card player who is very excitedly talking about her first deck. If the first reaction from an experienced player is a curt, “You’re wrong,” that player, at best, may feel a much lower desire to continue playing the game. At worst, the player will leave the game and encourage others to do so. Unfortunately, if that worst case scenario was to happen, that player would indeed be justified in harboring that view of the players of the game, even if it is just one player!
Though listening to others is not necessarily an altruistic act in a vacuum, doing so while in front of others, is. A single bad teacher can throw an entire school into question. A single angry or wayward player can become a potential embarrassment for any and all players of a game.
A common reaction to hearing this kind of thing is, “Oh, well, that person should be less self-conscious. Obviously they weren’t mature enough to handle the truth.”
This kind of evaluation, though potentially factually accurate, is still wrong. Why?
Blaming the listener leads to some very nasty one-sided discussions, riddled with ad hominem attacks.
“Bad players are just bad, and they stay that way.”
“If you’re a bad player, you’re just an inferior human being.”
“I don’t understand why people don’t get why they’ll never be good at a game.”
This kind of feedback, when rejected, causes a loop.
“Why aren’t people as smart as I am?”
“If I am correct, why aren’t people smart enough to know? This is completely unjustified. Why can’t they figure it out?”
If it goes on unchecked, the ultimate question might even be:
“Why are people so dumb?”
Every person who belongs to a cause or organization is a representative of it.
Being proficient at something does not mean that you can teach it well. On the flip side, if you can teach well, your proficiency will increase noticeably faster. 90% of learning is teaching.
The bully pulpit is a precarious spot. Use it responsibly!
Fun fact: the term ‘bully pulpit’ does not mean that one is the center of attention wherein he or she has the power to ‘bully’ people around. While it can certainly sound that way, the term ‘bully’ in this case was used by US President Theodore Roosevelt as a term to mark something as remarkable or wonderful.
What does this tell us about how we can approach the game?
After all, WS and its community are very different from some other major card game communities. WS is missing some major components that are held by other games, but it also isn’t without its unique aspects.
Let’s look at what WS does not have at the moment:
- Fully sponsored content backed by 3rd party organizations (i.e. by a company other than Bushiroad and its subsidiaries)
- Dynamic card database & search functionality (See: Gatherer, HearthPwn, etc)
- ‘Professional’ players (where professional is defined by individuals who make their living playing the game)
The list could go on, but these are the biggest three.
The lack of fully-sponsored content means that there are very few incentives for people to write about the game for a long time. Due to legal issues with translations, doing articles/videos on full sets is also restricted. One of the barriers of entry to WS, is and will almost certainly will be, knowing Japanese, and in particular, being familiar with the terms in Japanese that are used in the game, the EN game notwithstanding.
Cards are difficult to organize and sort by effect. Third party apps have been developed to try to fill this need, but any solution that has been presented has either been incomplete, or been issued a legal challenge to its existence. One major source of information, Heart of the Cards, has been on record as sending C&D (cease and desist) orders to individuals who have tried to scrape information from its database.
Lastly, WS is not available as a sole profession for anyone. Bushiroad has been quoted on-record as stating that it does not wish for people to actively seek monetary gain from any game that they sell. This is clearly stated in its prize structures across its many games; no cash reward has ever been paid out to the champions of WS, Chaos, or Victory Spark, for instance, and no such prize ever will.
But wait! All those things that the game is missing is used mostly by “competitive” players!”
And that is true! A lot of the tools used by players in other card games to improve such as articles, databases and pro player voices are indeed used by people who want to play the relevant game competitively. However, it does point out something else that is unique to the game:
There is a distinct stigma toward ‘competitive’ players.
WS is often touted as a ‘waifu’ or ‘casual’ game. After all, in the absence of huge monetary incentives, why would anyone want to actually want to play to win?
As much as we as players might want to wonder about this question, here’s a hard fact about it:
It doesn’t matter “why” someone plays.
People will play the game for any reason they choose, and as long as they do not turn the platform of the game into something malicious, it’s OK.
Competitive or casual; the reason is irrelevant. It is no one person’s decision to make as to how another player approaches the game.
Now with those points addressed, we can circle back to the first point – being wrong.
Being wrong is OK.
Whether it’s about card choices or in-game decisions – make mistakes and make them often. The quality of feedback you receive for being wrong about something will inevitably vary based on your forum of choice. Private conversations will often yield more constructive feedback than a public “HALP” post. However, don’t take discouraging circumstances or even mistakes as signs you should quit. Remember, there might be a wealth of players who are ‘better’, but that does not necessarily make them all good teachers!
Use statements such as “X is strictly better than Y” with caution.
You might be wondering why a conversation was brought up between two Magic players earlier, especially because the conversation, under the lens of ‘being wrong is OK’, is not a shining example of applying this mindset. However, this does not mean that statements that state absolutes are banned from conversation. If they must be used, they should be used in context where there are a lot of givens understood by the involved parties (game knowledge, expertise, etc). If used outside of that context… well, you get fights!
Unless someone is talking about something that is not possible in the context of the game, he or she might have something to offer. Remember, even the student teaches the teacher! (If someone is talking about something absurd like playing only level 3s, yes, you may be trying to get juice from a rock, and sure, those can be dismissed. There are limits!)
Learning does not have a cap.
INT is a stat that we can max in games. Life is not that simple. (Oh man, and if it was…) The only time you stop learning is if you stop trying. The game is not a high-risk arena. Be daring!
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