I hate losing
During my teenage years, my parents and I would take a trip every summer down to Kent to visit our relatives. It was an exciting time for me. My cousins had a soft-modded Playstation and a huge collection of pirated games stashed inside a thick CD wallet. We’d compete in games like Crash Team Racing, Street Fighter Alpha 3, and Track and Field. It was fun and games for my cousins, but for me, it was a chance to show off my video gaming skills.
I wanted to win at every game and crush my cousins at any challenge they threw at me. I thought I had what it took because of the countless hours I spent at home playing video games, but it was apparent to me that, as much as I hated it, I would eventually lose to them. I got extremely salty every time I lost, and it made me feel even worse when they started trash talking me. It was a traumatic experience that made me fear losing. I didn’t want to be embarrassed or mocked by my opponent, and it got so bad that, even a decade later, I would make up excuses to avoid playing against my friends.
“Hey Colin! I see you bought Starcraft 2, wanna practise together?” Sorry, I’m just learning the game…
“You got into the Hearthstone beta? Wanna play?” Sorry, I don’t have any cards, I’d probably lose…
“Wow you have an arcade stick! Wanna play me at Street Fighter 4?” Sorry, I’m just learning to use the stick right now, maybe next time…
It was only after I spent hours and hours practising a game on my own that I was mentally prepared to take on my friends. After all, isn’t it normal to get good at a game before challenging others? It made sense at the time, but it disconnected me from the process of learning together with my friends. It took a long time for me to realise that my friends weren’t challenging me to a serious match, nor did they have some sinister agenda—they just wanted to have fun playing video games with me.
Shadowverse is probably the first game I’ve played where I’m more than happy to take on friendly challenges. It’s a game where I can play against my friends and be completely immune to the effects of losing that I used to experience with my cousins. Ranked play against randoms, however, is a different story. It awakens a competitive spirit inside of me, a drive to succeed and progress in both the ranks and as a player.
Climbing Shadowverse’s ranked mode started off as a struggle. I was losing to combos that I had never seen, and I continuously drew cards that had absolutely no effect on the state of the game and didn’t synergize with the rest of my hand. My deck was a complete mess, and my lack of knowledge showed every time I played right into a board clear or spell that destroyed any chance I had of winning. Frustrated with the slow learning process and losing streaks, I decided to turn to the internet for help
I felt no shame in netdecking
Netdecking, the act of copying an established and successful deck from the internet, gets a lot of flak in most card game communities. While it’s true there’s no creativity in copying a deck list, I found netdecking to be a quick way to learn the cards that each class has, and also to understand the current state of the metagame and which decks were popular.
One of the most frustrating hurdles to overcome when playing CCGs is the lack of card choice in the beginning. Shadowverse lavishes you with dozens of card packs and rewards to get you started thanks to the missions and achievements to complete. For the best start, you can even re-roll your account to open all the starting packs again and hope to pull legendary cards. While it’s a valid strategy to get a good start, I was far too lazy to restart over and over again.
I wanted to pick up the game as quickly as I could, so instead of spending time on crafting my own deck and testing it against other players, I decided to look for ideas on the internet. I discovered that Swordcraft was one of the cheapest classes to build a decent deck for, so I experimented with the cards and managed to build a low-cost and effective aggro deck to play in ranked. I couldn’t copy the entire card lists that I found on the internet—even the “budget” ones required some expensive cards, but it formed a solid foundation for me to build my deck and playstyle around.
There’s a lot of satisfaction in creating your own deck and slowly evolving it to adapt to the metagame, but it’s a lengthy trial and error process that’s made even longer because of time it takes to obtain certain cards. It’s expensive to gamble on card packs, and it’s risky to craft cards that may or may not be useful. There’s no shame in looking online for resources like successful decks, useful cards to keep, and which cards to get rid of for more vials. If someone’s already made that information available, it’s not lazy or uncreative to use that advice—it’s being resourceful. As long as you try to understand why each card is being put into a deck and how to use them effectively, netdecking is a quick way to become competitive.
Living with RNG
Watching my opponent top-deck a board clear to crush my chances of winning is one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever experienced in a video game. But on the contrary, top-decking lethal makes me giddy with joy, and I can’t help but laugh at my opponent’s misfortune. I don’t usually gloat, but it’s impossible not to crack a smile and throw in a “I’m sorry” emote knowing that I lucked my way to a win. Perhaps that’s the kind of euphoric feeling that gamblers get at the casino.
It took me a long time to accept that RNG was an untameable beast. It didn’t matter if I had 3 copies of a card in my deck—sometimes I’d never draw it, and it didn’t care for the amount of low-PP cards I had—RNG would always find a way to make my opening hand unplayable 4 turns in. The ridiculous losses I had were few and far between, but they echoed the loudest in my memories and clouded the occasional win-streaks and good luck I had.
I decided to create a simple spreadsheet to track my wins and losses for each deck that I played. I understood that RNG was a big part of the game and that I would eventually get an equal amount of good and bad luck, but I wanted to visualise how much my skill was actually affecting the outcome of my games. I got off to a great start—4 losses in a row due to a combination of bad plays on my part and luck favouring my opponent. Despite the terrible start, I continued to play and went on an 8 game win-streak and ended at 13-7—a respectable 65% win rate. I even rose a division and was now bordering on the next rank.
While 20 games at a low rank isn’t a large sample size, it felt great knowing that my win-rate was well above 50%. It felt like my decision making was pretty decent, and I was well on my way to improving my CCG knowledge and skills. Coping with RNG was difficult, but fighting the fear of losing that was instilled in me at a young age and accepting the fact I couldn’t win all the time was key to helping me grow my skills.
Gitting gud feels great
I recently wrote a post about rhythm games titled 10 Reasons Why You Should Give Rhythm Games a Try, and I mentioned that feeling and seeing progression is extremely satisfying. Shadowverse is no different. While there’s no high scores to beat or a need for twitch-reflexes, I can feel my brain browsing through all the different possibilities on my turn, and the cards that my opponent might have, at a much faster rate than I did a few days ago.
I used to pay no attention to the amount of PP my opponent had, and there were plenty of times where I played new followers straight into a board clear and completely drained my hand of anything useful to play the next turn. Now I make sure to keep constant watch of my opponent’s PP to make sure I can at least play around their board clears. Several of my recent games have been won by holding onto cards before those turns. My opponent wipes my followers, but I quickly replace them with more to continue my assault and win the game.
I’ve also started to recognise patterns within my opponent’s plays, and make educated guesses as to what style of deck they’re playing. When a Havencraft opponent plays a follower with a self-healing fanfare, I know they’re likely playing an Elana’s Prayer deck which focuses on buffing followers through self-healing. Knowing this, I immediately go aggressive and force my opponent to use their heals early on so that they can’t buff their followers on later turns.
The knowledge and experience I picked up over the hundred or so ranked games I’ve played so far has really helped on my journey to B rank. Although B is a mid-point between the lowest and highest ranks, I feel like I’ve grown a lot as a CCG player over the past couple of days, and knowing that there’s plenty of potential left in me is a great feeling that motivates me to continue playing—maybe I’ll even shoot for Master rank!
Am I gud yet?
I’ve made more progress than most of my friends, but I attribute that to my motivation and drive to improve at Shadowverse. Most of my friends haven’t turned to online resources for help—and there’s no reason they should. They enjoy the game for what it is, and their experimental nature helps to increase their enjoyment of the game.
My personal long-term goal is to master new games, or at least become proficient at them, in a short time frame. I’m not satisfied with a mid-level rank, and I feel like there’s a lot more to explore at the higher levels. I’ll definitely be continuing this adventure in Shadowverse, but it’s getting to a point where my budget decks are no longer cutting it, and I’ll have to invest more time (or money) into building stronger cards before I can advance to A rank.
Am I gud yet?
Not gud, but I’m gitting better.