• Old Dog, New Tricks: Anatomy of Loss

    I looked at my last entry, and realized that it's only three weeks ago. It feels like six months, since so much has happened between then and now. I was brainstorming about a blog entry focused on team construction, when my mother contacted me. My father was passing. This was not unexpected, he'd been ill for some time, but you're never ready for it. I feel like I slipped into a pocket dimension of hospice, family, and grieving for two weeks while we managed both his passing and the funeral.

    By the time I got back, and was able to go to a Dice Masters event at a local store, I needed it. Really badly. Not only for the distraction, but also to get rooted back into my life, and the things that matter in it. A thing like a game may not be important to some, but--we're gamers. I don't need to explain it. You know what I mean. But that isn't--and is--what this blog is about today.

    Because, a curious thing happened while I was between the worlds, so to speak. And, no, I don't mean the release of Age of Ultron, which happened after I got back to Earth-Prime. It's something that goes back to why I started this blog and the mounting frustration I had been feeling after suffering loss after loss in my local tourneys. I think I'm starting to understand this game; how it works, why it works the way it does, how to build better decks, and how to play them more intelligently.

    So, I'll set the wayback machine for the Saturday before we left for my father's passing. I was in a Saturday event with 3 other players, and it did not go well. This has been par for the course, so far. I'm rational and objective enough to say that my 3-16 record at that point was largely due to my own inexperience, coupled with a variety of other factors--not the least of which is that my local play group has some very strong players. I go swimming with sharks every Tuesday night. Anyway. My frustration was glaringly evident and I just didn't get why I wasn't doing better.

    This is when my other players--who are the best players of any game anywhere ever--stepped in and intervened. It was really simple. They just said: "Dude, relax. We know it sucks, but you have to be patient. Winning comes in time. When you can walk the rice paper and not leave a footprint, then you will have learned." I just had to acknowledge that they were right. It was like when I first played Magic. I got my butt handed to me for a solid six months before I won a game. Then followed comprehension of the game, on a metagame level, and more wins.

    The next event at my Tuesday group was a D&D only event, and that's not a set I'm involved with. So I took the night off and...disappeared for a few weeks. The break turned out to be a great thing, at least as far as my Dice Masters play went. I had time to really sit back and reflect on my experiences with the game so far, and start sorting out exactly why I was losing. I came up with two main reasons.

    1. LACK OF FOCUS ON WIN CONDITIONS. I looked at what I was building, and realized that my fellow players were right, I have at least some basic ability to pick good cards and do decent builds. But. Looking at what I had been playing, I realized that I wasn't focused on my endgame enough--those cards and dice that will push me over the top to victory. This was confirmed when I listed to THE ATTACK ZONE's podcast on resources, which I think was the July 6th edition. Anyway, I won't belabor the point. I needed to start focusing on the endgame and how I get there. I heartily recommend that anyone who wants to start winning at this game listen to that episode, and that podcast generally. It's the [CENSORED] [CENSORED] bomb.

    2. BE ONE WITH THE META. I realized that you cannot build a deck for your local tournament events in a vaccuum. You have to account for local weather conditions. I'm not saying that you bring hard counters to everything everyone else is playing--which is impossible--but that you have to keep that in mind as you make choices. Where it's raining Tsarinas, or you have a Cheetah infestation, you have to account for it. It's only my own fault for not doing so. The meta doesn't change just because we think it's unfair, or allows for certain (allegedly) broken combinations. That's a set of conditions that exists in every game, from Warhammer to Heroclix, to Magic to Dice Masters. Just deal. Be one with the meta, absorb it and even if you can't play it, you still have to account for it. There are plenty of cards in these sets that do the things that Gobby and Tsarina do--maybe not as efficiently, but most anyone can at least approximate, or account for, the effects of powerful cards. My mistake was resisting, and somehow expecting the meta to bend to my idea of what the game should be, instead of dealing with reality.

    On that second point, I love the treatment of those discussions on all the Reserve Pool podcasts. Shameless plug.

    And how did all of this work out? Did I learn anything, and did things improve? They did. Dramatically.

    My first event after the funeral was a solid outing for me. I went 2-1 and made Top Four. I lost to a really good deck in the last round, but I wasn't concerned. I would have been happy just to go 2-1, but making Top Four for the first time was truly special. I felt like I'd earned it. The next event was our Age of Ultron release tournament, and I broke even at 2-2, and finished in 5th place. I was still very pleased and proud. All the games were close, and hard-fought. Props especially to John for a real slobberknocker that I would have won except for Phil Coulson's untimely arrival.

    I'll get you, John, and your little Phil Coulson, too. Mwa ha ha.

    Now, my point here is...only partly to pat myself on the back and be proud of doing well the last few times I've played. My real point is that loss is real, personally and in the game, and we all have to learn from it. But, the difference between moving forward to a better place, and staying mired in old patterns, comes from how we approach and integrate them into ourselves. I was resisting them, instead of meeting these experiences humbly and focusing on what I could learn and gain from them. This meant putting aside my suffering and my sense of entitlement, and anything that got in the way of treating the game and my fellow players as equals, teachers, and friends.

    That's also something my father taught me. One of his taglines--which I hated, hated, hated forever--was "what you want and what you get are two different things." I always focused on the negative of that. But I've reconsidered that, and realized that what he was saying to me was that I have to focus on what is here, now, and deal with the conditions I am confronted with. It isn't useless to wish for things, or want things, but we have to be grounded in reality and (as Teddy Roosevelt said) do what we can, where we are, with what we have.

    And just because you didn't get what you want at first doesn't mean you won't get it later, if you approach the world with appropriate respect and persevere steadily toward your goal. On that level, there's no fundamental difference between winning at Dice Masters and getting that job you want, or finishing school with high marks, or whatever you want to do. Start with what you've got, and make what you want out of it. That's what my father taught me.

    Namaste, my friends. See you all next week.

    This entry is dedicated to my father, Raymond, 1930-2015, and all that I learned from him. I love you, Dad, and you're missed already.
    This article was originally published in blog: Anatomy of Loss started by The Ancient One
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. jevansfp's Avatar
      jevansfp -
      Thanks for a great analysis of your play and recent experiences. I jumped back into gaming after losing my sister-in-law to cancer and it was hard to explain, but it was something I needed. I was fighting pretend demons in D&D to make up for the battles I couldn't win here on Earth Prime. Along the way I made lots of good friends in a fun hobby full of generous spirits. It has been mentioned for over a year now, but this game has attracted, for the most part, people with great attitudes who are fun to play with and want to help you have the best experience you can have playing a game with some random luck to it.
      Podcasts have helped me as well. I listen to some of them twice, usually in the car, wishing that I could be taking notes. TRP has a great stable of podcasts, including the Prep Area with @RJRETRO and @Shadowmeld - I always listen to that one twice. I liked the first 6 or 7 Dice Anon podcasts - they leveled up my game as well. Find the "Who's the Beatdown?" TRP podcast if you haven't heard that one yet.
      Don't let losing get you down. Let losing be a lesson that teaches you what you did wrong, what your opponent did well, and where the dice just wouldn't roll your way. Use that to improve your play, incorporate new strategies that you see (life is a resource that can send your opponent's dice to Used), and accept the swing of the dice - play enough games and they will swing your way about half of the time.
      After a loss, if there is time and your opponent is nice, ask him/her, "How could I have played this team better?" "Is there a card I didn't bring that would work better with this team?" They might have a suggestion for you. As you get better, you'll be answering those questions for other players.
      I am sorry for your loss. I'm glad that gaming can be part of the peace that you will find.
    1. Vapedaveb's Avatar
      Vapedaveb -
      First off, I am sorry for your loss. My Father passed two years ago and you are doing better than I did. Also I think your head is in the game more now. and I appreciate the advice.

      So Thank You.
    1. RJRETRO's Avatar
      RJRETRO -
      What a wonderful blog post, and some great comments here as well. Thanks for sharing, and I sincerely hope things are going well for you otherwise.
    1. The Ancient One's Avatar
      The Ancient One -
      My thanks for the good wishes. Things are about what you'd expect--grieving is really weird, and I'm just trying to accept what comes with it. Jevansfp, I'm sorry for the loss of your sister-in-law, and totally get what you are saying. That was very much my experience. Having the chance to get back into my favorite game was a welcome dose of "normal" after a few weeks of turmoil. I think that falls into Aristotle's notion of katharsis, where winning and losing in the game allows us to raise and process strong emotions. It's ultimately a healing thing. And I will check out the podcasts for sure.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Amazing post. I hope your family is at peace and your father as well.