Elevating Your Game

24th Mar 2022 Matt di Marco

We've invited some guest writers to contribute to fabtcg.com for the Skirmish season. Matt di Marco is known for both video and written content, including interviews, articles, and most recently, broadcasting. We're pleased to bring you the first in his series of articles, discussing how to improve your gameplay and enter the competitive scene.

Elevating Your Game From Casual to Competitive

Part One: Making the Change

As Flesh and Blood rapidly approaches the first Pro Tour competition in New Jersey, happening from May 13 to 15, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that your opportunity to score a ticket to participating in the highest tiered tournament has long since passed. The invites have been dished out, won by a field of competitors who toiled over many months to earn the right to sit at those very exclusive tables. [Editor's note: it is still possible to qualify for the Pro Tour: New Jersey via PTI's, which can be won at events like the Calling and Battle Hardened.]

The good news, however, is that a second Pro Tour will be happening in France this summer. If this is on your radar, the time to shift gears from casual card slinger to competitive threat is now. With Skirmish Season kicking off March 26 through April 17, you’ve got plenty of opportunities to begin shifting gears.

Major events spring up every month, with high-level tournaments such as Callings and Battle Hardeneds peppering the calendar. Watching these events unfold can be an awe-inspiring experience for the weekend warrior player who attends the local Armory events hoping to score a flashy playmat or sparkling new cold foil. The level in which these matches are played can often seem other-worldly, seemingly unattainable for the average Joe or Judy whose ambitions don’t typically stray beyond throwing their hat into the ring of their nearest mid-tier tournament. What I want to dig into in this series of articles is that the chasm between casual and competitive is indeed vast, but it is hardly insurmountable. You, too, can win a Skirmish event, and I’m going to help get you prepared.

Skirmish Season 4

Expectations and Reality

Watching a major Flesh and Blood event can be exhilarating. I am privileged to be able to call the action at the most competitive tournaments in the world, having cast Callings, and National Championships. I have a front-row seat to the show, and fully appreciate just how refined and sharp the gameplay is. These individuals who make a Top 8 are, without a doubt, on a different plane of existence. I, too, feel intimidated amidst the four-dimensional strategies they employ to ensure victory. I wondered if there was ever a reality where I could be on that level and stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world.

As a self-proclaimed casual myself, I dismissed any ideas of ever being that good, digging my heels into my strengths: broadcasting and creating narrative. What I came to realize after being around the best in the world is that their journey to becoming great was not written in the stars. It wasn’t a wish granted, nor was it divine intervention. It was very secular, even pedestrian. It was about hard work.

My suspicion is that the vast majority of you out there aren’t professionals. Attaining professional status is a discussion tossed around while you’re shuffling up in the X-2 bracket of a draft held at your local game store. Realizing that the idea is attainable is hard to digest, given the sheer amount of meat on that bone. Your expectations of your Flesh and Blood career trajectory will tend to sputter out when put up against your performance history of scrubbing out of Pro Quests and Road to Nationals tournaments locally, but that rocket ship you’re cruising in doesn’t care about the past. It’s time to get you refueled and pointed in the right direction.

The reality is only as such in any given moment. Don’t let yourself fall into a pit where you believe you’ll never change your course. You’re never mired in a situation forever, so banish that thought like you would Sonata Arcanix after it crushes your dreams by flipping all your key attacks. Improvement is always possible. It just isn’t easy. If you want to become a competitive player, you’re going to need to put in the work. You’re not a virtuoso. Being a better player is going to take a lot more than luck.

Commitment, and Taking The Leap

I’m well aware that part of my job as a broadcaster is to pump up the drama and really fan the flames of a good narrative. I want to be absolutely transparent here when I say that the transition from a casual to competitive Flesh and Blood player is one you’ll have to consciously weigh and pull the trigger on. Your free time is valuable, and real life has a way of throwing you a knee-buckling slider when you’re expecting a fastball down the pipe. Pivoting from spending an afternoon now and then to play Blitz with your friends is leagues away from the devotion you’ll need to become a perennial threat on the tournament scene. Make sure you’re ready to spend more time in the lab working on your game.

Commitment to the change is more than just saying it aloud to friends who wonder why you’re suddenly playing more. You’ll need to be prepared to truly grind. If your intended destination is to win a Skirmish event, or ultimately Top 8 a Calling, it is a journey that will be different for each individual. The only consistent variable that seeps into everyone’s game plan is that time and hard work are key elements you’re going to have to fuse together. The game’s meta will shift and sway, and taking time off will often leave you lagging behind that evolution. You’ll need to ensure that your level of commitment doesn’t wane over time, and your work ethic doesn’t succumb to distraction or emotion. Progress can be a swift current, but abandoning ship when the waters get choppy is a surefire way to never make it back to port.

My first foray into the competitive landscape was during the Road to Nationals tournament season out here in the Toronto, Canada region. To some, this region is a murderer's row of heavy-hitting card players who regularly lay waste to even the seasoned card players who dip their toe in the shark tank. What I found was that despite having over 23 years of card game experience under my belt, it gave me no advantage beyond being able to sleeve my cards quickly, and understanding basic etiquette. Today’s performance and results don’t come from past glory, so relying on the good old days gets you nothing but cool stories to tell on the drive home. Your investment towards improvement has to be consistent. Even Calling winners from a year ago will get left in the dust if they don’t continue to grind through the process. As a casual looking to enter the competitive arena, you have to be ready to devote time and effort to convert that burning desire into tangible results.

Iyslander Cover

Align Yourself, The Stars Will Follow

Unless you live in a giant shoe, life isn’t a Fairy Tale. If you do live in a shoe, do you use giant socks as insulation?

What I’m getting at here is that you shouldn’t rely on outside forces to determine your fate. This can be easier said than done, given the amount of unpredictability thrown at us on a daily basis, but you are firmly in the driver’s seat. The path may be long and winding, but being well aligned and prepared will keep your grip on the wheel firm, and your vessel steady. Though the Pro Tour is off in the distance, you should take the time now to get your ducks in a row. Skirmish Season is a much more digestible target for your first leap into the field. Preparing for the shift from casual to competitive is in itself an important aspect. You already understand the time you’ll need to invest in the journey, but being pointed in the right direction is critical too. You may be all-systems-go, but if your spaceship is pointed at the Sun, it won’t make for happy landings.

Set your course. Find out the tournament schedule in your area, or as far as you’re willing to travel. There will undoubtedly be regular Armory events, and these are great to keep you fresh and connected to the pulse of the game. The real target should be finding those bigger tournaments where the stakes are high enough to lure the bigger fish out of the depths. Skirmish Season will provide that climate in which you’ll need to acclimate. Having a proving ground that you can step foot into will be a great gauge of your progress, and also give you the level of competition you’ll need to test your mettle. Traversing into the competitive landscape means you’ll want to play against the top dogs. Seek out the tough matches. You don’t want easy wins.

Once you’ve got the calendar loaded with events, start evaluating how much time you can truly devote to improving your game daily. Your responsibilities will always come first, I fully understand that. I would never condone someone skipping doctor appointments or other commitments to their well-being in order to goldfish their Levia deck. What I’m suggesting is that improvement in one domain will require certain sacrifices in others. You only have so much time in a day, and once you’ve made the commitment to entering the competitive coliseum, you might have to skip your daily binge of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I know, I know, it sounds blasphemous, but the Enterprise will still be there after you score that sweet Gold Foil.

Figuring out where you’re willing to shift your time to Flesh and Blood will also give you a clearer picture of how long your journey may take. You may only have an hour a day to truly dig into the game, and that is absolutely okay. Not everyone can dive into practice for four hours every evening. You may only have a few hours a week. Knowing what you have to give can set realistic expectations as to what your progress will look like. Keep that in mind when you may doubt yourself and the pace at which you’re improving. A healthy approach to your journey will soften the blow of potential hindrances along the way. The important part is that you work at it. Progress isn’t always linear or even immediately apparent. Sometimes it will take time for you to realize that you’re getting better.

Aligning yourself properly will make for a shorter, less arduous trek to success. You’ll be surprised how lucky you get when you’re prepared.

In part two I’ll explore what it takes to win events, including evaluating the meta, networking, and building a team. Don’t forget: you’re not losing if you’re learning.

Matt di Marco is a competitive Flesh and Blood player and author of content relating to gameplay and strategy. The opinions expressed in the above article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Legend Story Studios.