Play-style and Preference in TCGs

cvhWelcome back, duelists!  Last week, I discussed the controversial topic of netdecking and why I'm of the mindset that it should stop being considered so negative.  This week, I'll be going in a different direction by taking a look at a couple terms I feel are actually overused in certain contexts: "play-style," and "preference."  They both obviously have their place, but I feel that they're used a lot of the time as a cop-out answer; if players look beyond these terms and find better reasoning, I'm sure it will have a positive effect on them as players.  Though I wrote an article a while back on the importance of good decision-making in deck-building, in which I talked about "preference," this article will be more general and also focus on making specific plays and analyses.

To start, I think it's important that I go over my opinion on what it means to play a card game, or any game for that matter.  In my mind, we all play because we want to become better; specifically, the best we can be.  We want to continually grow and find the most optimal lines of play for a given situation and the most optimal deck to run at a given tournament.  There are a lot of things to take into consideration in order to achieve these goals, and in my opinion, chalking things up to preference or play-style doesn't really get you there.  Let's take a look at specific plays first.

"That's just my play-style."

If we're really all looking to find the best play in any given scenario, I don't think the above statement has any merit.  All the time, players chalk up certain plays to play-style instead of thinking about why they were actually made.  Personally, I believe that there is one correct play in any given situation along with a number of other plays of varying degrees of wrongness.  It's incredibly difficult at times to find the correct play, but our job should always be to strive for it.  Playing a certain card at a certain time because of "play-style" shouldn't be enough for us; when considering a potential play, we should really weigh all of the options and do our best to come as close as possible to that optimal play.

For example, I saw a match where people were hardcasting the now-retired [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd] at every opportunity even if there were other decent plays in their hand.  There was obviously some discussion that followed about the match, and some people chalked those plays up to play-style.  This doesn't really make much sense to me - would a certain type of player be more prone to making a risky Bottle play?  Would a more aggressive player be more prone to attacking at a certain point in the game?  People aren't going to be able to make the correct play the majority of the time by going by these strict definitions of play-styles.  Bottling isn't always correct, just as attacking isn't always correct.  This translates to all aspects of the game, and each specific scenario needs to be assessed differently.  Instead of being the "aggressive" player or the "risk-taker," focus on being the "good" player who can adapt to any situation and make whatever type of play the situation calls for.

I also think play-style is an overused term when it comes to actually deciding which deck to run.  A lot of people place unnecessary restrictions on themselves by saying they're "aggro players" or "control players."  If there's one thing you should never do in a card game, it's limit yourself.  I remember thinking I'd never play rush for a major event because I think control is the better option so much of the time, but come the 2013 Summer Championship, I made the last-minute meta call to run with mono-Light rush.  I didn't just randomly feel like picking up the deck; there were legitimate reasons for running it that had to do with the metagame and the deck's matchups.

When people limit themselves to a certain style of deck, they're putting themselves at a disadvantage whenever it's not the best deck to run for an event.  Instead, what they should utilize is a copious amount of playtesting and theorizing to decide on what strategy has the most potential for a given tournament.  If it's true that there's always a best play to make, there is also a best deck to use, and running a certain deck because you think it's your style isn't going to help you become a well-rounded player who can adapt to any situation.  Instead of falling back on our comfort zone, we should constantly be looking to expand what we're comfortable with so we can choose based on the situation, much like I mentioned how we should be selecting our plays.

Instead, when deciding what deck to use, the main factor we should consider should be the metagame.  If we don't back ourselves into a corner and limit ourselves to only one option, we can choose the best answer for the meta.  For more tips on proper deck-building, be sure to check out Corey Gordeau's upcoming article.

The Comfort Zone

There is one valid exception to this rule in the case of new players.  New players are at a distinct disadvantage in all trading card games due to two things: they lack the knowledge of every card and deck out there in the meta, and they also generally lack the abilities to build these decks.  In the case of these players, it's more important to stay within a certain comfort zone.  The gap between familiarity and unfamiliarity is too high to take something else to a major event.  If you're just starting out, there's no shame in taking a simpler deck or the one you learned with to an event; you'll probably do more better with the worse deck you're familiar with than the "better" deck that you have to learn as you play.

Don't get me wrong, comfort is important.  I did feel a little uncomfortable playing rush because I knew I had more experience playing control-oriented decks, but the feeling of having the right meta call outweighed that for me.  In a perfect world, we'd all be completely comfortable with every type of deck so we could just choose whatever one fits the situation and pilot it perfectly, but I concede that that's just not possible.  The purpose of my article is to make sure we all at least recognize that as the end goal, however far-fetched it may seem.  If we're always looking to find the best decks and the best plays, we force ourselves to grow as players and get the most out of the game.  That, to me, is where the real fun lies.

Hopefully this article was eye-opening to at least a few people out there.  Remember, always ask the question "Why?" when you're finalizing your card choices or even making a play.  If you force yourself to come up with adequate answers for that question every time, you'll get away from using things like "play-style" and "preference," and really start finding reasons for all of your decisions.  This is one of the most important things to do in order to continuously grow as a player.  Be sure to leave a comment below with any thoughts you have on the subject, and until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!