I called Matt just after 3pm. He was driving. How have you been? Good good. Very good. What’s new? This project. That store. This event to run. That meeting to attend.
He sounded relaxed but excited. Flat out but calm.
We briefly spoke about work, life and loved ones. Matt was sincere in his questioning amidst the controlled chaos that is his world. I wanted to know how he made cardboard excellence appear so effortless. What he felt in the heat of battle. I wanted to know how he felt it and why.
Matt Rogers is the reigning and inaugural New Zealand Flesh and Blood champion and of course The Calling Auckland 2021 champion. That is what we spoke about today.
I wanted to gain some insight into the unique cerebrality that Matt is known for. I asked about his mindset.
We chatted about his goals from The Calling. What do you give a kid for Christmas who already has everything?
I had my eyes set on the trophy! The calling trophy being the biggest achievement available in competitive FAB this was my goal. I had not won a Calling and after losing the finals of one a year earlier to Hayden Dale it was the one that had multiple times escaped my grasp.
He laughed as he spoke and I sensed almost some kind of relief in his voice.
The pressure is felt in Flesh and Blood when there is a lot on the line. Hundreds of hours of preparation. Endless theory crafting. Countless discussions into the wee small hours... So I asked Matt what kind of pressure he felt. From the Flesh and Blood public who know his name around the world. From his teammates and testing partners. From himself.
I didn't feel a huge amount of pressure. I try to go into these events with a lot of confidence and dedication but try not to put too much pressure on myself or take on a lot from others. I find it hugely important to get into a good mindset and know that I will work as hard as I can to optimise my outcome but the chips may not always fall in my favour and I will mess up a bunch of spots but I am human and can’t expect to be perfect in every game and spot.
I couldn’t figure out how Matt runs multiple stores, another business, a record breaking Flesh and Blood worldwide charity tournament, maintains a social life and makes time for friends and family...and still found a way to tune out distractions, focus on The Calling..and win it.
So I asked him.
I try to live my life very structured. I have a lot of priorities to balance but I need to make sure each of them are treated with some level of importance so, I try to divide my time and the time I do spend testing I need to make sure is very productive. I set times and juggle everything around but make sure I still get in those times I set, even if they are pushed out.
Matt talked about structure, division, balance and productivity. Our conversation intentionally but naturally made its way onto topics more methodical and specific. I asked him how he prepared for The Calling.
I did about 10 drafts and five or six sealed events. Most of my preparation was theory crafting. Opening packs and deciding what I would take after three or four top cards were removed and discussing what information I had from what I had been passed. Understanding signalling and reading a draft table and being very aware of what most seats around me are doing and most likely to do was very important, so a lot of effort went into strategising around that.
Matt is a very consistent Top 8 finisher in Flesh and Blood, regardless of time, place, goings on or format. We discussed ways for players to improve their limited format in both the strategy and mentality realms.
The best advice I can give is to be efficient with your testing. You will learn things over time so it is important to have notes or videos to go back on. If you can record yourself doing a draft and talk with a teammate after, discussing things you did right and wrong and what you would have changed, you can learn a lot for when similar scenarios arise.
With a seemingly endless array of victories in constructed formats, Blitz and Classic, it could be said that due to the power levels and consistency of these formats, someone as intentional, methodical and prepared as Matt was always going to rise to the top. So when Matt finally climbed to the top of the sealed and draft mountain my curiosity was aroused as many say that limited formats are much occupied by the randomness factor, the infamous ‘RNG’. Matt was able to shed some light on this narrative.
Sealed has a decent amount of RNG because you cannot control what you open and have to build around the strategy you are given. Overcoming that variance is a very important part of competitive gaming though, so it's important to optimise the tools you are given. Draft on the other hand is very low variance, you have such a massive amount of decision making at the table itself and there is a depth of information and strategy to go into. I believe draft to be the most skill intensive format in Flesh and Blood.
With a format such as sealed, some say it’s difficult and almost counterproductive to aim to choose a hero before the card pool is seen, others will swear by the strategy of having exposure to as many pools as possible in an attempt to gain a familiarity of what is to come. I was not surprised when Matt revealed he had a plan for all scenarios.
Sealed I was hoping for either a solid Prism or Levia deck or a completely nuts Chane or Boltyn. The ceiling of the latter two is very high so if the stars align that's where I want to be but otherwise just something solid in Prism that isn't weak in the mirror and allows me to go long and that is what I got.
With more insight into the nuances and specificity of draft and sealed, what can and can’t be controlled and why, our conversation began to traverse into the core of The Calling. Matt shared with me his perspective on the tools used to attain the trophy.
Sealed deck was Prism with a few generic six powers for the mirror. Nothing standout or bomb worthy, just solid deck that could block and maneuver well which allowed me to play a long game with most of my opponents and grind for gradual advantage from spots, very much a midrange prism deck
Draft 1 I was Levia. Being the only brute drafter at the table I got full equipment with Hooves, Ebon Fold, Brocade and a Gauntlet which is my favourite setup. I had 13 six power attacks, multiple Dread Screamers, Unworldly Bellows and Zealous Belting, so the exact Brute deck you plan to get.
My draft 2 was a very midrange 35 card Boltyn with a bunch of block threes. This was very unlike traditional Boltyn decks and is a style I like to draft where I can play conservative and block often, while setting up my pivot spot and then outputting enough damage to force their hand for multiple turns and finally fatigue them.
The Top 8, my third draft was a 40 card Chane deck of wild power. I was the only Chane draft at the table so I had everything I wanted and my deck was just pure power and likely the best deck I have ever had or will ever have.
I was slightly taken back by what Matt said about the Chane deck. Not because of its unreasonably wild power, but because of the language Matt used when expressing its potency. Best. Ever. He is not one to superfluously speak of superlatives. This truly was a Calling championship winning deck we were dealing with here. How did such a deck even come to be?
I had very little preference in draft, I felt comfortable in all classes but I wanted to veer slightly away from Prism as I think she is a little overdrafted and didn't want to end up as one of three prism drafters at a table. My three drafts were one each of the other three heros so it ended up working out. Draft is always a lot of fun. There was a spot in Top 8 draft where I saw two red Take Flight and a Boltyn majestic in the same pack and was thinking “yikes, someone will take this majestic and then the next person and the person after that will both be passed red take flight and this could end up a real train wreck for some people.”
Matt’s read on the table was absolutely right as well. What had started out as a table with six Shadow drafters, in the end turned into quite the opposite; four players read the signal that Light was open and made the switch leaving Matt as one of the two remaining Shadow drafters. And the only Chane player. He had read the signal perfectly, and figured others would too.
It had become quite evident to me at this point in our conversation why people say the things that are said about Matt. He had shared the ‘whats’ ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of a championship mentality. So much has been said to, by and about Matt Rogers and Flesh and Blood so I asked him; “What do you want to say?”
We’re only human.
Matt’s pace slowed as what he began to express was evidently extremely meaningful to him. One of the biggest challenges he faced at The Calling which is a constant in all high level tournaments, is mental fatigue. With 12 rounds of swiss and three more games in the Top 8, Matt expressed honestly how large of a factor mental fatigue is. He told me much of his success is because of the awareness, understanding and ability to mitigate this ‘second opponent’. He spoke of how this element can be and is the downfall of many at the tail end of an event. We shared thoughts and empathised with each others’ views on this topic and Matt’s pace excitedly picked up when we spoke of how to defeat this enemy.
Ground yourself. Between rounds; take deep breaths, splash water on your face, psych yourself up. Be prepared to come back from mental fatigue. Find a way to win.
I then recalled how in the final against Kiki, just before sitting down, Matt asked the judge to go to the bathroom. The commentary team spoke of understandable pre-finals nerves. I now believe Matt was up to something else in there. Matt confirmed my hunch when he said he was looking at himself in the mirror, splashing said water on his face, psyching himself up, jumping up and down and speaking what he wanted to become into his life.
The Calling Auckland 2021 champion.
With such an incredible weekend in the books, it was always going to be nigh impossible for Matt to choose one standout moment. Alas, we gave it a shot.
The standout moment for me was after the Top 8 draft, when I went up to my close friend Kiki who I was passing to in the draft and asked "Have you done it????" and got the "Yup, I think I can win this". I was so happy as I was almost certain we were the only two shadow drafters in the pod and both of our decks would be completely absurd.
I got my trophy and got to play against my close friend and teammate in the finals. I wouldn't change a thing.
To wrap what could’ve easily been an effortlessly endless interview up, we spoke of the future. His picks of Kiki Labad to take the 2021 Nationals crown, Nick Butcher to win an upcoming Calling and wherever and whenever it may be, his pick of Matt Rogers to be the first Flesh and Blood Champion of the World.
Despite being the nexus of such prestigious trophies, projects and in a sense, almost having a myth of unbeatability surrounding him, Matt signed off with an unsurprisingly balanced hope.
I just hope there are just many more awesome weekends with friends and great games to be had in Flesh and Blood in my future.
We’re only human.