Monday, May 7, 2012

Rekindling the Competitive Fire

I haven’t made much secret of the fact that I’ve lost all competitive fire for Warhammer 40,000.  The local scene is hopelessly non-competitive, and the national scene provides no reward for competition.  The best reason to go to a GT is to see friends and have a laid back good time.  Unfortunately, I only know a small handful of national players as ‘friends’ and having a laid back good time doesn’t exactly mesh with competitive play.

I’m not saying that being competitive means being a dick and having unfun games at all.  What I am saying is, if my intent is to be competitive with winning as the goal, my games will be high-stress by definition.  Anytime you are emotionally invested in the outcome of the game, your games will be stressful.  And stressful games are the antithesis of having a “laid back good time.” 

So why not just go and be competitive?  Simply put, the rewards aren’t there.  Winning best general at a GT doesn’t come with a large cash payout that would be an incentive to emotionally invest in the outcome.  The only real incentive to winning is bragging rights, which I don’t value because unlike some bloggers out there, I don’t pretend I’m the best player.  So clearly the only point to a 40k GT is the people and the culture of a national GT, neither of which are particularly enticing.

As far as Warhammer Fantasy goes, there never was a healthy local tournament scene and there is no competitive GT scene.  As big a revolution as the NOVA 40k format is, Fantasy GT’s are still in the Stone Age.  There is even less reason to go to a national GT for Fantasy.

But I am a competitive person by nature!  I enjoy the endorphin rush of competition, winning a close game/race or even losing a close game/race.  Competition and adrenaline are a fantastic feeling.  Luckily, I have road bike racing as a competitive outlet; but as great and primal as physical competition is, I like having a mental competitive outlet. 

Once upon a time, I was a competitive Magic the Gathering player.  I was at every Florida Pro Tour Qualifier tournament, and quite often drove out of state for them.  My accomplishments were relatively modest, I made a few PTQ top 8’s, and won one.  I Top 8’ed the Junior Super Series (and took home a very large scholarship prize) and top 8’ed the Florida State Championships.  My ‘career’ peaked when I played in the Pro Tour in 1999.  I’m especially proud considering my local Magic scene was below average and card availability to make decks was always a problem.  In those days before Magic Online, people played using the Apprentice and Netdraft programs and found tournaments and games on mIRC.

The point is, I didn’t have a large team to playtest with and the tools to do it online were primitive and not widely used.  So in that respect, I’m lucky to be as good a player as I was.
I stopped playing when I went to college, because I had way less money and far different priorities.  After college, I got back into 40k rather than Magic, because I was working full time and wanted to play a game that wasn’t hyper-competitive and allowed me to be a weekend warrior of sorts.  But I always kept my toes in Magic.  I never sold off my collection when I stopped playing, and when a new set would come out I’d check out the cards and read the reviews on strategy sites.

Magic in the last 5 years or so has undergone a bit of a renaissance.  The amount of players has exploded and the number of tournaments has greatly expanded.  In addition to the Pro Tour Circuit, the Star City Open tournament circuit has exploded.  So literally 46 of 52 weekends a year there is a large national tournament happening somewhere in the U.S. attracting competitive players.  Additionally, the matches at the big tournaments are all covered very well on live streams with good commentary.  Despite the fact I hadn’t played in anything resembling a tournament in 8 years, I found myself browsing the web with the Magic tournament streaming in the background. 

The more I watched, the more entertained I was.  Watching a cool deck or a great game made me want to play myself.  So about two months ago, I went to one of the local booster draft tournaments in order to see how it felt to play again.  Despite a new group of local players I didn’t know, who turned out to be fairly decent, I managed to win the first tournament.  I was definitely very, very rusty.  I made stupid mistakes I know that I wouldn’t have made back in my heyday.  Looking critically at my game, I sucked.  My technical play was still strong, though, even if my decisions weren’t great. 

I have played in several local booster draft tournaments since then, and I’ve continued to do well.  I’m still very rusty, but I’m seeing the improvement.  I’m still so far from where I was: I currently make the right decision most times, but only after consideration.  I don’t have the ability to trust my gut and make the right call instinctually yet, but I’m getting there.

As it turns out, there is a Star City Open tournament in my area in two weeks.  I have a deck for the Legacy format put together that I believe has a reasonable chance to win games, so I think I’m going to play.  Sure it’s a lark, and I’ll probably get crushed in most of my games, but it will be a good experience.  Either I’ll play and realize that I no longer have the desire or the ability to get to a competitive level, or I’ll love it and my inner fire will be rekindled.  I don’t see myself ever being a Pro Tour player or even a PTQ grinder like I used to be, but I could easily see myself playing in the 2 or 3 Star City tournaments that comes through Florida every year.  Heck, I have enough friends in Atlanta to make a road trip up there worth doing. 

I’m going to get as many games in between now and the SCG: Orlando tournament on the 20th and hopefully get as much rust off as possible.  While I’m sure most of you don’t care a great deal (or at all) I will discuss my tournament preparation over the next week, and I’ll discuss my results afterward.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Questions?


  1. As another player who went from MtG to 40K and then back to MtG because there wasn't a competitive scene in sight, I've just got to say...

    I hear ya, dude.

  2. Wow- from drafting to Legacy? That's a rough curve. The Legacy format now is....... it's brutal.

    Most decks have win conditions met by turn 4 at the latest. Many guys I know that play regularly can tell by their hand whether they will win or not.

    I am not trying to discourage you at all. I am just trying to share information; which in MtG is pretty much as important as the actual player and decks involved.

    Can I ask what deck you intend to play? What color is your strong suit? Which one gives you fits? Are you familiar with activated abilities and their order of operation? The stack is EASY- but activated abilities and world/board effects and how they interact with each other are super important to get right. Also essential to understand Planeswalkers. (JTMS is out but Tamiyo is getting thrown into TONS of Legacy decks as his replacement.)

    They don't mess around at Quals- a misplay can be a warning or even a DQ. But they are definitely a good way to learn.

    If you don't have one, I cannot encourage you strongly enough to get a Premium subscription to StarCity for content. They have several excellent Legacy writers that are keen analysts with a nose for new trends and playstyles.

    I can't wait to hear more about how you get ready for this. I'd be glad to offer advice/ideas/comments if you like- I am not a competitive player, but I have sponsored some, and know enough players to get good info for you.

    1. I'm not unprepared. I've dilligently watched the coverage of the Legacy Opens and I have a good understanding of the metagame and the top decks.

      like I said, my technical play is good, I wont be getting any rules violations.

      I think you have the impression Im a newbie but that isnt the case at all.

  3. also, you might want to check out Cockatrice. It's a free online MtG emulator with different types available to play... ie Standard/constructed, Legacy, Commander/EDH etc.

    Have you played ANY Standard? Because drafting and constructed are very different animals....

  4. I play both 40k and MtG in the competitive effort. Competition is inbuilt into my gaming blood, and I doubt it will ever work its way out.

    I find myself, honestly, more stressed about MtG than I ever do playing 40k. I am not sure why, but I feel that the competitiveness of Magic is so far worse. In addition, some of the people who play Magic at my local game store are NOT friendly players. I have more Magic assholes at my local club than 40k assholes across 3 game stores.

    In addition, Magic is strictly about the cards in your deck. Nothing more. There are generally correct ways to play the cards and decisions to make about the cards, but in the end, it has little strategy involved. Putting $500 dollars into your 40k army does not mean you will increase your chances of winning; in magic, $500 decks tend to perform better than a $100 deck.

    1. My experience is once you hit a certain competitive level, everyone has a good deck. The difference comes down 100% to experience. Both total experience, and specific deck playtesting.