The Anatomy of a Slump (TCG Blues)

Whether a professional or an amateur, and a fan of MTG, Android: Netrunner, or League of Legends, we’ve all been in a slump at one time or another. Maybe you’re getting unlucky more than usual, maybe you’re a little behind the meta, or maybe you’re just making subpar decisions without knowing it. Regardless of the system or reason, a slump feels bad, and can cause a player to fall victim to “Tilt”, resulting in worse play, and cycling into a spiral of losses and feel-bad moments.

Breaking that loss streak is often difficult, requiring introspection and a level head, the absence of which is often the cause of your troubles. As with all things (especially GI Joes), knowing is half the battle, so today we’re going to look at the stages or frames of mind that come with a troubled period in your tactical play, and how best to work through them. It is worth noting that a lot of these attitudes resemble the typical Seven Stages of Grief; don’t read too much into this, as these are just descriptors of negative emotions.

TableFlipMemeDenial/Anger – “This isn’t my fault!”

In the most obvious stage of the slump, players will find themselves fighting to deny their part in the string of losses taking place. Some seethe quietly, some rage quit the tournament (or even the game for some time) and some are explosively upset, hurling vitriol at their deck, luck or themselves. Obviously, none of this is healthy behaviour and is seen as unseemly or quite childish. It’s likely to lose you friends and future allies, so should be avoided if at all possible.

The Solution: Be less emotionally reactive. Okay, that doesn’t help. It’s likely that nothing I can write here will help you in this stage. You’re emotional, you’ve got your angry eyes on, and you’re looking for just why you’re so damned unlucky. If you can, take a step back and breathe, and remember that (though it’s obviously important to you), you’re playing a game for the purposes of entertainment. I personally find it therapeutic to have a go-to activity for when I feel that cloud of frustration wash over me. I play the original Spyro, you may find calm in Rocket League, or Solitaire, or even just reading. Learn to recognise the early stages of tilt and seek out a happier place before the toxicity sets in.

pulling hair out cartoonModifying/Tweaking – “Well maybe if I…”

In this stage, players will find themselves trying to find a solution to their problem through adopting new strategies or builds. While it’s normally encouraged to tweak and modify decks and playstyles, decisions made in a poor frame of mind can often lead to worse outcomes. For example, if an MTG player finds themselves short on mana often enough, they may compensate by adding more to the deck, which can lead to the opposite problem where too much mana is drawn.

The Solution: Ultimately, the results of this stage are reversible, decks can be reverted and builds can be reworked. The worst consequence of this stage is to fall back to anger or progress to depression when whatever new strategy you adopted is found to not work. Aside from this, it is beneficial to stick with a demonstrated strategy for some time, in order to see if the issues are the fault of the player or initial designer. There is quite a lot to be said for developing an affinity for a strategy, and often, amateur players will win more from gaining skill through repetitions than from using an overtly powerful strategy to which they are new. Basically, don’t give up and change everything, at least not on impulse.

340_Depression Cartoon_JackieDepression/Quitting – “I’ll never be as good as…”

Possibly the most harmful of the stages is depression. Some players may feel that they simply can’t keep up or bring themselves out of this rut. Caustic thoughts enter your mind. You question what the point of playing is, you’re throwing away money and time and not improving, and you’re certainly not enjoying yourself, getting thrashed all the time. You watch streams of professional play and the gulf between their skill and yours yawns in front of you. You can’t be that good, you can’t even beat ‘Silver Rank’, so why even try? Some players take extended breaks, and some even take such drastic measures as selling their collection/account or deleting the game.

The Solution: Much like Anger, Depression needs careful emotional management and a level head. Perspective is important, realising that since you’re not a professional earning a living through this medium, life goes on. Again, having a second hobby or interest helps greatly, especially one that you can’t fail at, like watching a film. This helps to even players out emotionally, serving as a reset and allowing them to enter the next game with a clearer view of things. If you are in danger of quitting permanently, it is often healthy to take a medium length break from the game. Effectively coming back fresh may even help you discover a piece of information that may have eluded you beforehand.

Luis Scott-Vargas

Luis Scott-Vargas

Research – “Well <pro> does it like…”

The first of the truly constructive stages, research sees players actively sourcing answers from reliable sources and groups. Rather than modifying, where players seek an answer for right now, in this stage players look for solutions from reputable persons (like professionals) or will crunch the numbers themselves. This is also the stage where temporary or emotional band-aids applied in modifying are undone or integrated into the build going forward. In some games, usually those with large elements of teamplay, this step may not immediately yield satisfying results, but over time, having a well-researched game plan or solution will always earn a player some number of wins that they otherwise would not have achieved.

Moving Forward

By this stage, most of the impulsiveness has been worn out of the player, and they can return to level-headed play. There is always the threat of sliding backwards into one of the previous stages, but once a player begins implementing the results of research, they often find a few wins and their outlook improves significantly. Play patterns resume as normal for the most part.

Hopefully you have found this article helpful; as someone who has had their fair share of rough periods of play, I know that navigating these times can be difficult and tiring, but with a good network of friends and comrades, there is always a light at the end of the slump.

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One Comment
  1. February 1, 2017 | Reply

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