• Level Up: Metagaming and Deck Selection - Take Two

    This article is part of a series of topics intended to focus on developing high-level technical play and, in general, improving your playing skills. "Level up" topics go deep on a timeless aspect of the game, concepts that are unlikely to change even as cards do. Sometimes external, sometimes internal, but always about Dice Masters.

    Ok, I had some fun last week, but let's get down to business.

    There are lots of opinions out there about what deck to take to any kind of tournament, be it a major constructed event, something local, or even something in a unique format like Little Cup. Many of these approaches are quite valid, but unless you are a strict adherent to one of these strategies, they can lead to more confusion when trying to make a decision. Compounding this problem is that of the broader meta, the game outside of the game, which tries to influence your decisions as well. Ultimately, we want to play well, we want to make the top eight at least, and the path there is often bumpy. Can we make deck selection a less bumpy part of that process? Maybe. Let's try to simplify things a bit.

    [top]Metagaming


    The trouble with paying a lot of attention to the metagame is that it is very easy to second guess yourself about where certain strengths are, what is weak to what, and how much protection you need for your own stuff. I've been there; I metagamed a nearly wholesale deck change once prior to a tournament just because I let myself go. I reined myself back in afterward, but that just proves a point - it's scary where your mind will go if you let it.

    The problem with metagaming is that it often exists at a conceptual level, so it is difficult to trust the information that you think you glean from it. Let's say that there's a fictional Captain America deck that has been very dominant. Someone is desperate to find a way to beat it, and develops an Iron Man deck to counter it; maybe it has even seen a little bit of success. Well, you think, People love that Captain deck and will bring it, so I'd better take Iron Man.

    It's easy to settle there, but more thoughts can creep in... perhaps others will make that same adjustment and take Iron Man. What will you do then? Take a third deck that can beat Iron Man!

    Oftentimes, though not always, that Iron Man deck was never actually that great against Captain America. Its status as a counter was pushed forward by some wishful thinking, the desire for a counter against a dominant strategy, and perhaps some mild success in testing that can't always be replicated. Maybe it did well in a tournament - but did its opponents simply netdeck and play our fictional Captain deck (common with dominant decks), or did they take their time to learn the ins and outs?

    And, of course, a tournament provides an incredibly tiny sample size anyway.

    Further, it is very easy to misread the meta when making meta calls; this is why it is often the best choice to take what you think the best thing is rather than what you think the safest thing is.

    [top]Testing


    Testing is rightfully your bread-and-butter, but it is not the be-all-end-all. You can have lots of success in testing with a deck that just won't work out. The amount of random elements that coincide in a given game of Dice Masters for both players is so great that you must play hundreds and hundreds of games to know anything about a given team, and that kind of time may not be available to you. While you may want to take a hard look at things if you find yourself getting trounced again and again when testing, don't be too results oriented. That goes for victory as well. The results of your testing, win or loss, doesn't always tell the story of the deck.

    There's a part of testing that is about the "feel." Things may go well consistently, but are you getting better-than-average rolls? Are there things about ability interaction that putting you in an advantageous spot that you'd otherwise not be in? Maybe your opponent isn't playing the other deck as well as he or she needs to. There are any number of situations in which things just might not feel quite right and you need to listen to that. Part of what controls that "feel" are the cards that you put in your deck.

    It's really easy to look just at ability and not consider where things fit in your purchase strategy or how easily you can come back from a poor roll with it. While the abilities are what we use to interact and make things difficult for our opponent, they only tell part of the story; if the cards they belong to end up being difficult to purchase, field, or both, especially if coming from behind.

    While prepping for 2015 Origins, we put together a few concepts that we felt would fit the metagame at the time, essentially a shield control team. It used some truly good cards, several that I still like now and have certainly seen competitive play. Together, though, they weren't perfect. Purchasing order and strategy was clear with decent or ideal rolls, but not always with lesser rolls. From a conceptual standpoint, the deck was sound, but from a real-world standpoint, it didn't allow for tactical moves within the game. In testing, things went very well and we saw where the deck had potential. At Origins, the deck was unable to pivot around certain situations and fell flat. Live and learn!

    In truth, I was hesitant in testing at times. It didn't feel like the success was always well-earned but rather eked out. It made too many meta calls and didn't have the flexibility for the more-diverse-than-expected set of decks that we ended up seeing at that event. If testing is going well but you feel uneasy, you may just be too nervous - something I am prone to occasionally. But consider the source of those thoughts nonetheless, because they may be due to some systemic issues that you're missing. Show the deck to an objective third party and let them dig into it a bit.

    [top]The Best Deck


    This is often subjective; really what this means is to bring what you think is the best deck, avoiding some of the meta calls and embracing good internal strategy. Sometimes these decks that threaten to upset the meta are actually that good! The pre-banning Bard Blitz is a great example of that, and we knew it was that good because of our own testing and its use of inexpensive means of energy and bag control. Oftentimes, though these decks that would purport to make a mark are not quite as good as advertised, and sometimes not as good as testing might suggest.

    Push those thoughts aside and consider what you feel is the best deck; the deck that can win on it's own and is not reliant on a weakness of what sits across from you. Many times you'll get to a tournament prepared to play against one thing, see that there is a lot of that one thing, and end up getting paired with a lot of people who are playing something else. That's the nature of Swiss. If you are playing not the best deck, but rather something that needs to exploit another deck to win, you are unlikely to find the success that you desire.