Saturday, February 20, 2010
Play to Win: Being Mike Alpers

Morning, ladies and gents... time for another edition of "Play to Win," the Naruto CCG column that tells you why you're a loser. And laughs at you for it.

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It's ok, we can't all be Mike Alpers. But even Mike Alpers needs help with Naruto sometimes!

(Quick note: I expect, Naruto CCG-wise, that many of you are in the same situation as Mike is in. Very talented, good experience with the game, instinctual grasp of what mistakes are being made, will make the right play most of the time - but just needs that small push to get into the "lower-tier pro/will top events more often than not" range. That's what the real purpose of this column is - to help you tighten up your game to make sure you'll be playing on Sunday.)

So let's take a look at that Chunin I posted about earlier this week. We'll try and find the details in our hero's inglorious defeat that will help us improve ourselves. I've separated out 5 mistakes that I think deserve attention, so let's go over those:

Mistake #1: Fixation in Deck Construction

For this event, I had decided that Bashfulness was one of the better cards in the game to fight against the expected Fire and Water-heavy metagame. For initial preparation, we just threw it into every deck imaginable, including updated Greedy.dec (the Sannin-winning deck with A New Squad). Mike had decided he wanted to play that deck, and we played for a few hours testing that deck against various others.

The first thing I noticed was that the deck wasn't performing as smoothly as it had at Sannins for some reason. The reason for this was that the deck had originally been built to minimize dead draws - a lot of the times the deck would be stuck with Bashfulness in hand with no Earth to use it. Of course, the deck could still win even with the dead card due to the raw power of Puppets, but this relied more on the opponent drawing dead than anything else. Whereas if Bashfulness had been a combination of Arbitration and Misunderstanding as originally planned, this would allow Mike to turn those close games into absolute blowouts - even if the opponent did topdeck relevant cards, the game state was so far gone by that point that a comeback was highly improbable.

Furthermore, by not playing Bashfulness, a lot of the underperforming Earth cards could be cut. This would allow the deck to be a lot more consistent in general.

But when it came to tournament time, Alpers decided he was going to roll with the Bashfulnesses anyways. He told me, "I spent good money on those cards and I'm not going to let it go to waste."

Lesson #1: Ignore sunk costs. It doesn't matter how much you spent on your SRs. If they're not the right card for the situation, don't go to battle with them. Always play the best deck for the situation, not the one that optimizes how much money you spent preparing.

Mistake #1.5: I was partly responsible for Mike making this decision. At one point I was actively concerned about "wasting the playtesting we had already done with the deck," and I figure Mike caught onto that. That is essentially the same mistake that Mike made! Time/money/energy are all sunk costs - and sunk costs do not change your probability of winning the game. No matter how much time you put into testing a deck, if it's terrible it will still be terrible.

Mistake #2: Confirmation Bias in Deck Construction

Confirmation bias is one of the most common problems I see in preparing for events. Naturally, players fixate upon certain combos and cards they really like. That's fine - of course there's no problem with liking those things. The problem comes when that feeling starts influencing your deck decision to an inordinate level.

Confirmation bias is when players fixate on playtesting results that agree with their viewpoint and dismiss results that don't agree with their viewpoint. In Mike's case, it was the Naruto/Hinata squad. Greedy.dec could consistently get the squad out - but it usually required LAR or Substitute to do so. The problem was that Greedy.dec was definitely not a particularly fast deck, and rarely could capitalize extensively on the pressure provided by the squad. I told Mike this, but I could already tell that he was thinking back to the few blowouts in testing that the squad had occurred and not the 75% of the time it hadn't really brought him closer to winning the game.

Lesson #2: Take playtesting objectively. Understand when a card isn't getting the job done, no matter how much you like it. Your end goal is to win the game - if a card or combo you like isn't bringing you closer to that goal, put it on the chopping block.

Lesson #2.5: Swallow your pride. As my teammates will readily attest to, I was suffering from mistake #2 (and somewhat #1) early in the process. I had convinced myself through confirmation bias that Bashfulness and Naruto/Hinata was unbeatable - but failed to recognize that it screwed so badly with the consistency of Greedy.dec as to be unplayable in that deck. Eventually I managed to figure out (mainly through watching Mike play) that I was making the loser choice, and last-minute audibled to something that had solid testing backing behind it.

Mistake #3: Misassignment of Role in Game Play

An intro to this subject: "Who's the Beatdown?, by Mike Flores"
http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/article/3692.html

Beyond random piddling mistakes, the biggest mistake I saw in Mike's games that day was how he played the deck. Unless the opponent gets a horrible draw, Greedy.dec is never going to be the aggressor. Instead, you just hit your drops, remove a few of your opponent's key ninjas at opportune times, and then slowly turn that bad position into an unwinnable position with huge teams. It is very much a control deck.

However, Mike played the deck like an aggro deck. He'd use up his hand Substituting and LARing for Naruto/Hinata or Shika U, while splitting up teams and trying to steal BRs at the cost of injury or taking BR hits on the backswing. Essentially, he was trying to force an aggressive game plan when nothing was there. His opponent would ward it off, stabilize, and then play out the jutsus they had been holding while Mike would be left with nothing in hand and no plays for the late game.

Lesson #3: Misassignment of role = game loss

If Mike had just been patient in his control role, spent his Subs/LARs on getting Shino/Kiba or fat ninjas, and spent his removal on ninjas that could use jutsus (although this point is sort of moot since Bashfulness got boarded out nearly every game after he realized he didn't have enough Earth to use it)... he definitely would have gotten that last win he needed to top at some point during the day.

Mistake #4: Lack of playtesting

This couldn't really be helped. We are all incredibly lazy. But those piddling mistakes I mentioned that Mike made (and I was making all day)? Those could have been fixed if we had just playtested enough.

Lesson #4: Don't be lazy. If it really matters to you, playtest!

Mistake #5: Lack of sleep

Mike didn't sleep the night before, then had to drive the two hours to get to the Chunin site. That is not a good way to start the day off.

Lesson #5: Get a good night's sleep. If you're nervous - remember, it's just a card game. And no one expects you to do well anyways. ;)

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Despite all this, Mike was one win away from making top cut at a Chunin featuring some high-caliber players. I feel as if you, dear readers, are at this level of skill as well. You have all the tools - you just have to put them together through 5-8 rounds to get into that top cut.

In that case, here's one of the most important takeaways from this article for you:

Josh Lu's #1 Rule of Naruto: Don't beat yourself.

You are good enough to beat at least 90% of the Naruto players out there - but not if you screw yourself over before you even start.

Until next time,

-Josh Lu post signature

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3 Comments:
OpenID Ulquiorra said...
Loved the article. Poor Alpers... XD

Blogger Tristan Medina said...
way to put alpers on blast...

Anonymous Mike Alpers said...
Yeah, way to put me on blast!

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