The winner of the Battle Hardened Leeds, Francesco Giorgio, rose to victory in a tournament that included not one, but two National Champions. While Francesco has been playing TCG's for eleven years, he's new to Flesh and Blood, playing the game for the first time just two and a half months before winning his first major tournament.
"I'm Francesco Giorgio, originally from Italy, and I've been living in UK for eight years now. I'm playing TCG for about 11 years, and playing competitively since 2014, including a World Championship; I've been the captain of the English national team for a World Cup in 2019. I don't really enjoy it much playing on digital platforms. It takes a lot away from the game, and in any case, having played for a while on my own, my friends like sort of gravitated around the game, so playing online doesn't really... I was playing the game mostly for the gathering part.
I started hearing about Flesh and Blood I guess at the time of the UK National Championship. I was living in Cambridge at the time, and there wasn't much of a scene for Flesh and Blood there. Then I moved to Southampton recently, and here there's a bigger Flesh and Blood scene. I knew Sean Knowelden was one of the top eight competitors at UK Nationals. He taught me the game. So I started playing January this year."
Francesco quotes Flesh and Blood's in-person, community-based focus as the major drive behind getting into the game. After watching other card games turn to the digital platforms, and after competitive play around the world was put on pause by the pandemic, he found himself wanting to return to a competitive scene that prioritised in-person play.
"Flesh and Blood seemed much more focused on paper play, and it also had a lot of organised play... Pro Tours, Callings, a World Championship... and I was hearing a lot about Legend Story Studios as a company — that they cared about the community, and I mean, the fact that we're even talking now is a testament to that I suppose. I was reading about it a lot."
Like many competitive players in Flesh and Blood, Francesco returns to the conversation around paper play, and how it affects competitive tournaments like Battle Hardened, Calling, and Pro Tour events. A focus on organised play underscored the majority of our conversation, and when I asked, Francesco said that the competition itself was the biggest appeal.
"Playing for high stakes, and everything that comes with that. The fact that you have to prepare, work with other people... there's a lot of bonding in that, and a lot of people putting in the effort to prepare and play. The tournaments themselves are just a wonderful experience. The bigger ones I've been to, there's thousands of people, and everyone's quite- everyone is excited to play, to travel. You get to see many, many places. It's just a wonderful experience traveling around and playing, and seeing the world."
While there was a season of ProQuest events running throughout February and March, these events were Classic Constructed. Battle Hardened Leeds was set to be the first major Blitz event of 2022. So how does a competitive player, new to Flesh and Blood, prepare for a large tournament?
"I didn't prepare much, I suppose, because up until then, I was playing CC because of the ProQuests. I mean, getting into the competitive scene was my objective in the first place, so I started playing ProQuest even when I didn't really know what I was doing. The first couple of ones were a bit of a trial by fire, just thrown into it and see how it goes. Then I got more used to playing, and to the deck. I was playing Guardian, so those were the cards I had, so then I just made the Oldhim Blitz deck. In terms of preparation, I didn't really prepare much. I just found the list online, changed the cards I didn't like, and it was more some theorycrafting around what decks would be expected to do well. What do you have to do around them? I spoke with some people who were more experts than me, and then I just went and played."
He said his main goal for the Battle Hardened event was simply to see how well he could do, and how far he could get in the tournament.
"Just to try to do well and not make a fool of myself, I guess. Just play decently, then see how it goes. I don't think I've ever played a tournament where I'm like 'okay, I'm gonna go there and win'. I always think 'I'm just gonna do whatever I can, play as well as I can, see with a bit of luck what I can get'."
With the fresh Blitz format, following a season of Classic Constructed events, the floor was open for a hero to take the stage and set the tone for the year to come. While Bravo, Star of the Show had been doing well throughout the ProQuest season, no adult hero can steal the show in Blitz. So what made Francesco decide to bring the older Guardian, Oldhim, for the Battle Hardened?
"I suppose you could say that my other choice would have been Bravo. But- from playing Bravo, Star of the Show in constructed, I liked the appeal of elemental cards and most importantly, the elemental equipment. Having only ever played decks with Crown of Seeds, the way you play the arsenal is completely different, and I'm sure that the first time I have to start playing without that card, it's going to be a completely new experience. So I wanted to play the Elemental shields, Crown of Seeds, Channel Lake Frigid... all the elemental cards. I thought they would be better than just playing Guardian with those base Guardian attacks, so I thought Oldhim would be a better fit overall.
And for the matchups... the decks I would have thought would be the bigger ones would have been Kassai and Kano, though Kano ended up not really showing up. Because in Leeds, there were two tournaments to play in. I only played the Sunday one, but there was another tournament on Saturday, and at that tournament, Kano didn't really show up, but then there were four Viserais in top eight. I thought I should play more aggressive cards after seeing that, so I cut some defensive cards, because those are not very good against Viserai anyway, and play Enlightened Strike, and so ended up with the more aggressive version."
Now that he's won the Battle Hardened Leeds, Francesco is ready to attend the Calling in Krakow; beyond that? His sights are set firmly, like many competitive players, on the first Pro Tour, where he intends to use the PTI he won - a goal that he'd already had even before attending the event, courtesy of fellow player Sean Knowelden.
"Next up is going to be the Calling in Krakow. I wasn't quite sure whether to go at the start, but then after winning a Blitz event, I thought okay maybe the list's actually pretty good, might as well play another one- and also the [PTI] for the Calling as a prize, so I thought 'well, might as well now'. And then there is going to be the Pro Tour in New Jersey. Well, actually I was going to go anyway. So Sean, the person who taught me the game, actually was going to give me a PTI... so essentially, I won his one back, in a way."
With a long history in competitive TCG's, he says one of the things he's most looking forward to at the Pro Tour, besides the competition itself, is catching up with players that he used to run into on competitive circuits for other card games.
"And then also, again, having the feel of a lot of people with this specific purpose of doing well, everyone well-prepared, just gonna have lots of interesting games."
In a little over three months of events, he's won a Battle Hardened, winning the final match against the UK National Champion. I asked whether he had any advice for other Flesh and Blood players new to the game who are hoping to enter the competitive scene.
"A big thing would be to not undervalue the difficulty of just simply playing a long-term event. So this was a ten-round tournament- Well, with top eight, I ended up playing 13 rounds. And this takes a toll on you. You don't get to play round 10 in the same way you played round 1, you're going to get tired. You should take this into account, even in your deck choice. If you play a deck that always goes close to time, then you're not going to have any time between rounds. So it's something, you know, maybe people start with Armory [events], those will be a few rounds, they don't- you don't really get used to the long day. So be prepared for that. And so you know, stay hydrated during the day, try to actually not be just playing the entire day, so that I suppose might even affect your deck choice."
"Thanks to the Southampton crew - that would be Sean Knowelden, Joe Whetter and Jack Raven, they essentially taught me the game, and gave me lots of advice for the event. David Calf as well, he gave me a few tips, and I played him in the quarterfinal, that was quite a tough match."