Throughout the last Skirmish Season, one name consistently featured at the top of the event rankings. Week after week, Dante Delfico put up results with his Ira, Crimson Haze deck. Playing in online tournaments hosted by stores across the world, Dante pulled off the massive feat of reaching 1,000 XP, in one season of play! Today marks the first in a series of articles introducing the other players to have accomplished this impressive landmark.
We caught up with Dante a few days before Monarch spoiler season kicked off and asked him to talk to us about he first go into playing Flesh and Blood.
“I’ve played other TCG’s… I just kinda went to my LGS and I had a lot of fun, just like, with friends there, and playing - I went to regionals and stuff, but I was never really competitive... When I went to university, everything stopped; I was more focused on school and getting a job, and all that stuff that you focus on at that time in your life.
“So I wasn’t playing TCG’s, I didn’t really have time to go to an LGS and play anymore, and a friend of mine actually- he sort of was planning on moving to New Zealand, but he was sort of just travelling there for a year? And when he was in NZ, he picked up- he started playing FAB at LGS, and I remember he sent me a text, and he said - ‘I have the most fun game you’ll ever play, I can’t wait to come back to Canada and like, show you this game.’”
That game was, of course, Flesh and Blood… and the friend?
“His name is Dimos Kaloupis… He used to be registered as a New Zealand player, actually, but he recently got it changed to Canada.”
Like Dante, Dimos also became a regular in the Skirmish event series, frequently appearing in the Top 8 lists with his Rhinar deck.
“We sit down at the dinner table one day, he busts out the Flesh and Blood cards, and that was it! After that, I was hooked. I loved everything about it. It was just so much fun- the most fun I’d had in a really long time, especially just playing card games and hanging out with my friend, who I hadn’t seen in so long. And that was it. From there, it was just like - ‘okay, well, I need to play more of this, I hope you have more decks!’ He showed me all the cards he had, we each built a deck…. Our decks were complete and utter garbage, but it didn’t matter, because we were having fun playing them!”
But how did Dante progress from playing FAB at the kitchen table, to becoming the first Canadian player to reach 1k XP? According to Dante, he’d never been much of a competitive player before he broke into the Flesh and Blood scene.
“I just kinda went to my LGS and I had a lot of fun, just like, with friends there, and playing - I went to regionals and stuff, but I was never really competitive; I never really got that good at it.”
So what drew Dante in to Flesh and Blood, and ignited that competitive spark? Dante spoke about his early experiences in FAB, attending Armory Events with decks built from the cards they had at hand.
“We had no Majestics, no Supers, it was commons and rares only… I remember, I was facing somebody who had all of the majestic equipment, and they were like - they were known as the best player there. And by some miracle, I don’t know what it was, but I ended up beating the guy… and like, my jaw fell to the floor. There was no way that I ever got - I probably got super lucky, but from there, that was it for me. It was like- I loved the game and that was it, I was just head over heels. I couldn’t stop after that.”
As he began to get some XP under his belt, Dante took a look at the leaderboard, and noticed some of our most active players - particularly Cayle McCreath, who was the first to hit 1k XP.
“I saw that you guys had put out that article when Cayle McCreath hit 1000 XP, and I was like ‘WOW, this guy’s the GOAT, how did he hit 1000, that’s crazy? I just hit like, 87 and I’m feeling good about myself -this guy’s at a thousand?’ And I thought that seems very unattainable, but wouldn’t it be cool to be the first guy in Canada to get there.”
From there, Dante’s mind was made up.
“It’s kinda hard to explain ,but even in just video games in general, any time that I’ve played on anything, if there’s a leaderboard, I almost feel like I have to be on that leaderboard… The guy at the top of the leaderboard at the time for Canada was at like, 86 XP I think it was… And to me that seemed like it was a mile away- it’s a million miles away, there’s no way that I will ever get there, because this guy’s the best. How am I going to catch up to him? But, you know, through tournaments - and people are saying you get 3x XP for an Armory Events. “
In fact, perhaps one of the most impressive things about Dante’s achievement is the short timespan in which he accomplished this feat- Dante’s first Flesh and Blood event was in September, meaning that he has managed to accumulate 1,000 XP in just seven months. In fact, as of the time of writing this article, Dante has actually accumulated over 1,500 XP. But how did he pull it off?
“I started focusing on the 90 day leaderboard, basically, and I was playing in all the Canadian events, and I started seeing that I was getting up there slowly… And then I went on the main FAB discord [server] - the international one - and I saw that there were tournaments in the UK that were open to international players, and that got me thinking… I was like ok, tournament in the UK, what time do I have to wake up for this...? Then there was a tournament posted in the Canadian discord, and it was basically happening right after the tournament in the UK would be ending. So I was like great, I guess I’ll be playing 12 hours of FAB today. And that’s basically what all my weekends became, like how many tournaments can I fit into this weekend, essentially, or how many can I get in during the week?
There would be days where I would take days off work so that I could play a couple tournaments on a weekday, it’s just - I have a like, a calendar - I wish you guys could see it; I have a calendar of all the Skirmish events and Armory Events that are happening in March, and it’s basically just full because I would - I schedule it so that I can play in as many events as possible.”
Here, Dante laughs.
“It’s a bit of a grind, but it’s... I’ve never had so much fun doing anything in my life, so. It’s just - it’s been a blast.
We took a moment to talk with him about some of the specific tournaments that he’d played in during his quest to reach 1k XP. One of these was the Red Riot Games tournament, an armory event which was upgraded to a $2000 USD prize pool tournament. Dante placed third in the event, but beat Jacob Pearson in the finals, something that he was still riding the high from when we spoke to him.
“I was put in a pod that was at like four o’clock p.m. my time, and there was a Skirmish at that exact time, so I asked Steve if I could switch pods, and he was like ‘okay, if you switch pods, you’ll be in pod one, and that’s Jacob Pearson’s pod.’ And I was like ‘oh nah, not like this! ...I just told them - put me in the pod, and I guess I have to beat Jacob Pearson.”
While he came out on top in the finals, Dante did lose to Jacob in the initial rounds of the tournament, a loss which he describes with a laugh.
“He completely crushed me, but he told me that he thought I played well, and that was all I needed to hear! Never in a million years have I felt that good when Jacob said ‘I thought you played pretty well actually.’ I was like, oh, my heart! He was awesome. He and I had a little chat, and he’s just a super friendly guy, you know, he’s so nice. And then we ended up meeting again in the Top 8 where I was able to turn the tables on him, so to speak.”
In our article with Jacob Pearson, we spoke about Jacob’s testing process, and how he prepares for a tournament. How does Dante prepare for his games? Does he have any testing partners?
“So I’d say there are probably three… and those are just like, my three friends that I have - so, Dimos Kaloupis, Michael Caronchia, and Eric Lerer are like, the three people that I probably play with the most. I wouldn’t say that we have - like, I feel like in New Zealand, I’d say that there’s the Matt Rogers, Jacob Pearson, Nick Butcher testing team, and those guys are like, every single night they’re just grinding away games, recording gameplay and analysing, seeing what they can do better. With us, it’s more like, we play some games, we figure out cards that we like or don’t like, we talk strategy - but most of our testing just comes from playing - most of my testing, anyway, just comes from playing in as many tournaments as I can.
“Playing against people from all over - I think that the problem with playing against, you know, your friends all the time is that you kind of figure out… so it almost becomes like- why are we playing against each other when I already know everything that you’re going to do, everything that your deck does, your exact list; there’s no surprise here. So I think that’s kind of where [the tournaments] work, because I’ve been playing people from all over. I have a bunch of friends from the UK, Sweden, Denmark… most of my testing just comes from entering a tournament and seeing if I do well or not.”
On the subject of Skirmish tournaments, we asked Dante about his hero of choice. Dante’s Ira deck has been a staple throughout the Skirmish season, so what made him decide to begin playing Ira in the first place?
“Yeah, so, there was one very specific moment… I was watching the Blitz-a-thon stream… Chris Gehring was on Ira, which I thought was interesting. I’ve never really seen much of Ira, I haven’t really played Blitz much at all, and a lot of the decks that I was seeing throughout the day looked pretty cool, but I don’t know, that one caught my eye at one specific moment where he went Kodachi, then Command and Conquer for 7. That was it, once I saw that [move]... I just watched his gameplay more and more, and I saw when he was playing with the Needle, and I thought ‘oh man, this seems pretty cool…’
Because I was able to get my hands on an Ira starter deck, I had a lot of the cards that were in the deck as well, and out of the cards that I had, I also just happened to have the Mask of Momentum, too. So I was like ‘everything is kinda just falling into place for me to play this…’ So, I tried that, and it was like - the first Blitz tournament that the Canadian discord was putting on, and I went undefeated in the tournament! And I was like wow, this is really cool, this is a lot of fun…”
A lot of fun, but also successful - Dante numbered among our Top 8 lists for every single week of Skirmish events. Perhaps the best example of this was the feat of going undefeated in Channel Fireball’s Skirmish event, which hosted 127 players from all over the globe. As we turned the conversation to the developing international meta, we asked Dante if he thought there was a skill gap between New Zealand players and those from other parts of the world.
“As bad as it feels to say, yes, I think that we still have a lot of catching up to do… That being said, I think that when there are more competitive events in North America, that people can go to in-person… That's when a lot of the testing groups and stuff will come out. I mean like if, if I had things my way, I'd be playing you know all the New Zealand players every night so that I could just refine [my skills] and get better at the game but that's not really a possibility because of the time difference and stuff like that.”
So what about the future of the international scene, when the first Flesh and Blood World Championship is held? Is Dante aiming to qualify for Worlds?
“Oh for sure, you bet I'm going to! I’ve got to try and win Worlds... That's the number one goal! I mean, can you imagine winning Worlds? I think that Worlds is going to be just- just awesome, it's- it seems like a million years away right now, but even if you just like, talk to any player, it's always something that comes up. I just think it's going to be really cool to get everybody together, all the best players in the world together, playing Flesh and Blood… It’s like a dream come true, to be honest with you!”