I know I’m kind of the “finance lady,” so it may come as a surprise that I’m actually mostly a Spike with occasional Jenny tendencies when I’m playing games (I disagree often with Mark Rosewater on design, but the player psychographic profiles are a significant piece of game design history that have set up permanent residence in my brain). Actually, maybe it isn’t that weird. After all, making money off cardboard is its own sort of competitive endeavor. At any rate, I’ve arrived at this weird place where I’ve been into FAB for over a year, longer than the average US player for sure, but I also have relatively few games logged at this point (maybe 30-40 blitz games and a dozen or two in Classic Constructed). I decided to skip the Las Vegas Calling, and, while there were a variety of factors that played in to that decision, including needing to be in Maryland on the 9th, the fact that I didn’t think I’d have enough time to get to the point where I could make a realistic run at day 2 definitely worked to seal the deal. Sure, I could go, play in some side events and then actually meet some of the people I’ve been talking to online for the better part of a year, but, I am, at my core, a competitive person. I want to win at games of skill; it’s one of my favorite things. Also, you might have noticed this, but I’m kind of bad at doing things by half measures hence why I’m writing about FAB for two sites -I tend to either go all in on things or not at all. This piece is a sort of reflection on my struggle to try to expand my scope from writing about the money and flavor aspects of the game to also being a competent player.
Putting Things Off
One of the weird outcomes of getting into FAB was that I ended up also getting back into Magic. As I’ve mentioned several times in the past, Magic is really the thing that got me into a lot of nerdy tabletop hobbies back when I was pretty young. After selling my Legacy and Vintage collection in 2013, I assumed I’d never play Magic again because of cost to buy back into Legacy would be too hard to justify, even if I had the money. But it turns out that it seems a lot more reasonable to that sort of cash on Reserve List Magic cards when you can finance it with FAB cards that you’re selling at 50-100x what you paid for them (thanks again, big pile of $2-10 cold foil commons!). While this has been an absolutely exciting byproduct of my engagement with FAB, it’s also acted as a way for me to weasel out of getting good at it. I would characterize myself as a fairly good player in most of the card games I’ve spent time with, but a step below actual top tier players. In terms of things I’m actively playing, if it’s a month where I’m actively playing Hearthstone, I’m usually at Legend, but not in the top couple hundred. I’ve won my fair share of small 40-50 Magic person events, but I’ve also whiffed my share of win-and-ins for the Top 8 at Pro Tour Qualifiers or for GP Day 2’s. I don’t know how dated those references are since Magic’s competitive structure has changed a lot in the past decade. If it helps for people who play Magic and FAB, I was ranked 35th in June on Magic Arena via Standard constructed play. It was my first month playing constructed since 2013.
Earlier today I played in the Qualifier event that that monthly ranked finish funneled into and turned a 6-1 start into a 7-2 to close out the event and make Day 2. I doubt I’ll win through into the championships since I haven’t had a ton of time to play after the latest expansion shifted the meta around, but I feel like it’s already a solid performance no matter what happens. And that right there is a big part of my problem. I have years and years of experience playing Magic covering thousands of games, and, even after nearly a decade off, I managed to finish 35th in my first month playing constructed, and then Day 2 the first big event I attended. Again, I’m certainly not a pro or anything, but I think I would at least qualify as a good player.
Beyond my MTGA engagement, I attended a few MH2 (a recent expansion) prerelease events where, aside from one truly terrible pool, I did quite well. I then ported my MTGA deck to paper for an FNM (not a super serious event, obviously) and went 2-0 all night. And while that’s all well and good -winning is fun-, it has not helped motivate me to jump into playing more FAB. There is a lot of appeal to just putting up good results on Magic vs the likely outcome of getting ruined in FAB for a couple months while I get up to speed. In addition to that, Magic is so much more accessible. I can go to a store a couple miles from my place, on any of 6 different days a week, and get into an 8-25 person event (which will likely be even bigger if COVID restrictions are ever lifted). Contrast that with the nearest store that runs FAB even once a week being an hour away (which means I can’t make start time for weeknight events), and despite my efforts, it seems like anything closer is still a hazy prospect. On the digital front, MTGA, for all its faults, is a vastly more seamless experience than playing FAB on Tabletop Simulator. It’s much easier to just hop on Arena and play a couple ladder games at any hour of the day than set up a game of FAB on TTS with someone and then muddle through TTS’s quirks. So the fact that I’ll probably have to accept losing for a bunch of weeks is compounded because I’ll also have to jump through a bunch of hoops to do it. If it was easy to play games, I think it would, likewise, be easier do go lose a bunch and get the process of improvement underway.
If I’m being honest, this all plays into one of my major personal weaknesses: I am awful at taking chances on being bad at things I care about. I’m probably kind of bad at Flesh and Blood right now. Magic, meanwhile is a comfy sort of place to be. I don’t think I’m PVDDR or anything, but I know that I’m relatively good at the game, and I don’t usually go into games worried that I’m about to embarrass myself. Meanwhile, I know that I’m going to make a lot of bad plays as I get up to speed in FAB. Part of it is kind of daunting just because of the initial barrier to finding my footing. If I lose a game of Magic, I can usually pick out things I should of done differently or, in some cases, know that I just wasn’t going to win a game because my opponent got there quicker than I did (hello, game one Winota mirror). For FAB, I know that it’s going to take a while to sort out what I’m doing right or wrong in the matches I win or lose. Granted, the people I know who I could play with are better and could likely point things out to me, but there is a real mental struggle with gearing myself up to be in that space.
Not So Much in the Flesh and Blood
When I first got into the game last summer, it was with the intention to play. I thought I could get in on the ground floor own all the cards for not a ton of money and enjoy something that filled the gap that selling out of Magic and Netrunner’s official support dying out had left. So, of course, I wanted to be sure that I actually liked the game. To that end, I spent a lot of time grinding games on Tabletop Simulator, but I got burnt out after 6-8 weeks because I kind of hate TTS. It’s a messy program, but I also have to use it all the time for my game design side-gig (I’ll talk about this someday). Thus, I really don’t want to spend my leisure time on the platform. That seemed like reasonable approach under the assumption that, when in person play started up, I’d catch up. However, as you can tell from the preceding paragraphs, not only has in person play taken way longer to spin up than I thought it would, but I also don’t have access to it, personally.
I gave webcams a spin with Team Covenant’s league, but I found it to be an even worse play experience than TTS. Most of the time you can’t read the cards your opponent is playing, so if you don’t know all the rules text off the top of your head, you’ve got to either ask them to read everything to you or you have to do what I did and keep a bunch of tabs open in your second monitor with all the different FAB sets so you can pull cards up to read them constantly. It’s just not a very fun experience. Even with all of those obstacles, I was still thinking of making a run at a bunch of the US Callings. It would be sub-optimal, but I know good players who I could grind away on TTS with and then show up to the big US events in the fall with some significant games played. Now we’re in an awkward space because it looks increasingly like we’re headed towards more bad times with COVID via the delta variant. Seeing restrictions being put back into place and business extending work from home timelines, in person play looks more and more suspect to me. The main issue stopping FAB from happening at my local store is that they’re at reduced play space due to COVID precautions, so things getting worse in that respect probably bodes ill for FAB’s chances there.
Although I doubt that the US callings will be cancelled due to COVID, I don’t know that I personally want to be showing up to giant events in Republican-controlled states. Florida, in particular, is a trash fire politically especially in how they’ve handled COVID to date, and I can’t imagine showing up to the Calling/Nationals there if things get even modestly worse between now and then. For international readers who don’t follow US politics too closely, essentially COVID became a political issue because our country is dumb as hell. So, if you’re a Republican, part of performing that political identity for a lot of people means claiming some bundle of dumb shit like COVID being a scam, not actually that bad, vaccines are putting microchips into you so the government can track you, etc. This means that Republican state leaders have done incredibly dumb stuff to maintain support from their dumbest voters, like Florida deciding kids don’t need to wear masks to school or Arkansas passing a law that prevented local municipalities from mandating masks. (I know talking politics is not “the done thing,” but honestly, if you support a party that doesn’t want my marriage to be legal, I don’t really want you as a reader). Anyway, politics rant over.
What all of that means is that I don’t personally think it’s smart to make travel plans several months out for locations that are almost certainly going to handle a COVID resurgence poorly. People can sort out their own comfort levels on this, but I tend to be a bit on the cautious end. Thus, while I haven’t 100% given up on the post-Vegas Callings, I’m not booking lodging and travel, which also makes the thought of going seem less material. I’m not mentally committed to attendance since it’s a situation where, “well, if x, y, or z happens…” I wouldn’t go. And so I find myself once more in the position I was in last fall: nowhere to play, and no clear timeline on that changing. What now?
Seriously, COVID Though
Please indulge this brief diversion. I know that Flesh and Blood was created on the idea of physical play, but sometimes things change and you have to make adjustments. COVID massively derailed 2020, and it’s looking like it’s not done with 2021 yet. Part of me wonders if LSS has reconsidered a digital presence at all. An actual purpose built platform for FAB would do wonders – even something fan-made, like a FAB analog for jinteki.net would be enough to get me grinding FAB online. The latter seems more plausible – free ambitious fan projects have a bit more latitude than paid first party efforts because the community is often a lot more forgiving of bugs being ironed out of a passion project than a service they paid for. As much as it’s cool that LSS wants to focus on in person play, especially after WotC backed away from that space, it sucks when you don’t have a realistic way to play regularly in person. Even ignoring COVID, as a New Englander, there were zero Calling events in driving range to begin with.
A Bit Lost
At the end of this, I find myself somewhat aimless as to my future vis-à-vis competitive FAB. That’s not to say I’m moving away from the game or anything. I have plenty of non-gameplay/non-finance stuff that I still want to write. The financial end of the game continues to be a fascinating space to watch too. I’ll be putting out something either here or at the Rathe Times in a week or two on my whiffed unlimited Shiyana prediction, which has been a really interesting card to follow and has made me really question some assumptions I had about the market (any way you slice it, I think the market is valuing something wrong). No, I’ve still very much interested in the game and plan to continue creating content related to it; however, I’m unsure of how I want to go about playing. It’s starting to look like in person is not going to happen for me this year, and TTS is still a trash platform that I hate. I should say that I want to make it super clear that my issue is TTS itself and now owensd’s mod, and I’m not just saying that because he recent reminded me how cheaply I bought his CF Tunic last fall. No, TTS is just a “better than nothing” solution to any game that doesn’t have a purpose-built digital platform, and it brings a lot of its own issues regardless of what you’re playing on it.
That said, I realize that the “fix” here pretty much involves me getting on TTS and accepting that it’s as good as it’s going to get for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, I’m leaning towards kicking things forward to Tales of Aria. I’m definitely not making any major events prior to its release and TOA sealed is the format for the Cincinnati calling, which is the one I’m most likely to go to. Waiting until TOA comes out and then just playing sealed with people who are better than me at the game has definite appeal because at least we’d all be learning new cards at the same time instead of them having better fundamentals AND a much better knowledge of the cards. In the meanwhile, if someone wants to build demonastery.net, know that you’ll be my hero -I was going to say metrix.net, but it looks like someone already registered it and then did nothing with the domain. I feel like a little kid at an amusement park – like, I want to ride the rollercoaster, and I know I’ll probably enjoy it once I do, but the real challenge is overcoming the scary first step of getting on the ride. Or, in the case of FAB, forcing myself to hop on TTS and lose a bunch of games so that I can start getting better.
*Header Image: Consuming Aftermath by Vito Vivodka