Approaching Losing and Making Improvements

cvhThink of your worst losing experience in the past few months.  Maybe you're a competitive player with experience who attended a KMC and went 1-2 drop.  Maybe you're depressed because you missed the top cut at a local tournament.  Maybe you're a new player who traveled to your first ever Kaijudo tournament, or your first tournament for any trading card game period, and got completely rocked in nearly every match you played.  Now that you have that experience firmly in the forefront of your memory, ask yourself, "What did I learn?"

If your list of knowledge gained during that losing experience is nonexistent, this article might be for you.  In truth, it's for everybody, since we all have losing experiences and there's always something to learn if you're willing to look hard enough.  Out of the three sample scenarios I gave above, all three have happened to me in the last few months.  I missed out on a local top, I went 1-2 drop at the KMC in MA a few months back, and I even drafted MTG for fun one night and went 1-2 in matches played.  Each of these experiences imparted different lessons to me and further proved that I'm always growing as a player.  Specifically, the local example reaffirmed my already-strong belief that Megabugs had a terrible rush matchup back when I was considering the deck for the Seattle championship, the MTG draft taught me a few things about that game that aren't really relevant to this article but were new to me nonetheless, and the 1-2 KMC record, which was by far my worst record of the season, came as a result of underestimating certain cards.  That particular loss came when my control deck was unprepared for the mirror match, and I played against a deck that was pretty dedicated to that matchup.  The loss was actually very helpful; for the next KMC I played in PA, I also expected those types of decks to be in full force, and teching incredibly hard against the mirror allowed me to do very well and claim my invite.

Don't Be Afraid of Losing

Over the past few weeks, I've started to notice people being scared of losing, which is why I'm writing this article.  I actually witnessed a player not participating in a local tournament because he was convinced that he couldn't beat at least three of the players there.  It wasn't even that he thought they had the advantage, he just thought he could never win which we know, in a game with some level of chance, is a bogus statement.  Besides, even though all of us should have a healthy drive to win every game, the much more important drive should be to get better at the game.  This is what really counts and will lead to those wins.  I personally get excited when I have a strong local to play or am able to go to a larger event like a KMC with more solid players than I usually get to play against.  When there's a small turnout and low competition, it actually becomes boring.  Kaijudo truly becomes fun when you're able to see yourself improving and learning, and though you can learn from a win, everyone has to take their fair share of losses in order to get better.  Attending and playing in tournaments thus becomes crucial, and to miss out on the experience just because you're scared of potentially learning from mistakes is just silly.

Recognizing Why You Lost

This is the part most people skip, which is a shame.  Losing can be very rewarding, but only if you make it that way.  If you don't actually take time to look at your losses with an open and honest mindset, it really is just taking a loss for nothing, and it will probably lead to more losses.    The most common way to dismiss losses is to blame them on luck.  Luck plays a factor in all games, but Kaijudo is more about how we play and adapt to the random scenarios that each game throws at us.  Upon looking more in-depth, you'll be surprised (and maybe a little frightened) how few losses have to do with just luck alone.  Try to stop yourself the next time you blame a loss on luck; instead of saying, "I played too many bad matchups," say, "I didn't prepare enough for this matchup."  Instead of blaming an untimely Shield Blast, ask yourself if you should have even been attacking, or better yet, if the Shield Blast would have been as devastating if you had made different plays throughout the game leading up to that point.  Instead of saying, "He had every answer," contemplate whether or nor you should have anticipated your opponent having those answers and what you could have done to prevent them.  There are a few questions you should ask yourself after every game that should hopefully help with this.

The first question is, "Were there any misplays made that lead to this loss?"  This is the most obvious question, and it's a tricky one.  If we were amazing at spotting our own misplays, we wouldn't make them.  After a loss, it's important to go back through our plays and firmly analyze everything we did.  Were there any turning points in the match?    Could they have been averted if you held a certain card or played one of your turns better?  Some of these misplays might be evident the moment you make them, but most of the time they will require some retrospection.  I still remember a loss I suffered to mono-Darkness during the Evo Fury meta that was almost entirely caused by me putting Tendril Grasp in mana early instead of holding it. It was very depressing because I saw the severity of the misplay take hold of the game as I was playing it, and I was convinced I would have won had I not made that play, but it was also a very good learning experience for that very reason.  I was able to clearly see my mistake and I learned some very important things about that particular matchup that might not have been so strongly ingrained in my memory had I not suffered the loss.

Of course, just because you lost doesn't mean you made a misplay.  There's a chance, however small, that you made all the correct plays based on the game state at the time and still wound up taking the loss.  At this point, if you honestly can't find anything that you might have been able to do differently in-game, it's necessary to ask, "Was this just an inherently bad matchup?"  Running a hefty 55-card control deck, for example, might not always give you the best chance of taking wins off an efficient tempo deck like Megabugs.  Now, just because you might have made all the right plays leading up to your loss in this scenario, you can't discount it and say, "there was nothing I could do, it was just a bad matchup."  Why did you choose the deck for that particular tournament?  Did you not properly anticipate the metagame?  These things are just about as important to take into consideration as your in-game plays.  The strength of your plays is important, but playing well with a deck that has too many unfavorable matchups in the meta is a mistake in itself in my opinion.

Now, this is where things get tricky.  I see situations occur a lot where someone will lose and then get hung up on one of the above questions without paying any mind to the other.  Remember, the easiest problem to fix isn't always the one that needs fixing.  If you lose week after week, blaming your deck for every loss and changing it to something else immediately, chances are the end result you'll achieve is a lot of poor records with a very diverse array of decks.  Every now and then, you'll play the wrong deck or make the wrong card choices for a deck and get punished for it, as I did in MA, but that can't be the only thing you take into consideration.  I always see people blame the most preventable of losses on a single card choice that didn't really have any relevance on the match's outcome, yet they spend so much time worrying about that specific change that they don't even bother looking at their plays throughout the match.  It might be easy to say, "Oh, I changed one card, now that loss won't happen again," but the truth is you have to have the right combination of cards and be able to recognize and correct sub-optimal plays.

The final question, and the one that really wraps everything up, should be, "What did I learn?"  Sometimes the answer is obvious, and sometimes it isn't.  In my previous example of losing to mono-Darkness, the answer was pretty simple: I need to hold mass removal when using this deck against mono-Darkness or similar decks.  Sometimes the answer will be to use your [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd]s or other removal more conservatively to deal with the most important threats, and sometimes the answer will be to be more or less aggressive depending on the matchup.  Sometimes, the answer to this question will just be specific valuable insight on how certain cards interact with each other in your deck and against the meta.  Putting even a small, inconsequential tournament like a local under a microscope like this could lead to some very valuable lessons if you approach it the right way.  View everything as a play-testing session; sure, we all want to win, but in order to improve, we have to turn our losses into positive learning experiences.  In addition, you aren't the only one who can help you improve.  Ask for help!  The Kaijudo community is a great one, and chances are there will be people around you after the match who will give you their take on how events played out and possibly open your eyes to things you could have done differently.  Perhaps, upon being asked, your opponent would give his or her take on the game.  There is no shame in making mistakes; they only become shameful when we ignore that they exist.

Everyone plays at different levels, and we all have our "on" and "off" days, but coming to terms with some of these ideas can greatly improve your overall record.  This is especially important for newer players; if you're scared of jumping right into your first local, your first KMC, or an ARG Circuit Series event, don't be!  We all have to start somewhere, and the experience will help you more than anything.  Others have mentioned it, but be sure to check out the details on this site for ARG's upcoming Circuit Series, which will have its first event in Dallas/Fort Worth in just two weeks!  I'll be judging the Kaijudo event, and in addition to the quickly approaching season of Kaijudo Master Challenges, it looks to be a great boost to the competitive scene and I'd love to see as many people there as possible. Hopefully this article brought up some ideas that could benefit you in your upcoming tournament experiences of all kinds, and until next week, Play Hard or Go Home!