Ok, so I’ve seen a couple of metas now. There’s always a top dog, or set of them. There are always a few new players. And then there are a few guys who play the top dogs and mostly don’t win. The thing that struck me about this is that you can leave the meta and come back a year later. Their factions will be different, their casters will be different. PP will have released the new models. Doesn’t matter. The losers will be losers. The top dogs will be top dogs.
This is really weird. I mean, in general, the games that happen are top dogs vs. losers. Thus, they have the same amount of experience. They are playing in the same meta, so its not like there are secrets and surprises that are tripping the losers up. Game after game they show up, set down the latest incarnation of their lists and lose to the same guys. It’s pretty absolute, too. I bet Keith could play Crump (with whatever lists), beat him, and then they could swap lists and Keith would win again. (I’m presuming that Crump is his local group’s punching bag from the social dynamics on the MoM podcast. It might not be true.)
I don’t have an actual explanation for this, but I’ve got theories. Maybe one or more are correct. So here are some features I’ve observed in local punching bags.
#1: Actual, orthodox, Sirlin-style Scrubbery: I know guys who won’t play the best stuff, because it’s too good. They complain about their opponents power pieces instead of mitigating them. They are always complaining about Tartarus or Choir or MHSF or whatever, and you never see them take proactive steps to handle their problems. I saw a Karchev player show up for a Steamroller tourney with just one list, get MHSF’d by Mastershake, and then repeat a month later. There was an Old Witch list sitting unused in his bag. They don’t mind losing as long as they can claim some sort of imaginary moral high ground.
Skilled players don’t do this. The Shield Guard nerf is widely loathed, but I took 3 Watchers to Adepticon and all of the good players I played were turning their shooting models to be unable to see Shield Guards. Good players play the game PP gave them, bad players play an imaginary game.
#2: Bad maths: This has many flavors. We’ve all met the guy who thinks every roll will be a 7 or 10.5, and is shocked when he misses half of them. People boost attacks that they don’t need to, or boost damage instead of buying attacks. I had someone, a Pressganger, in fact, tell me yesterday that Forced Evolution was huge offensively on an Angelius because armor piercing 16 is amazing. An Angelius is a beast with one initial. As long as you are dealing > 0 damage Forced Evo is going to deal +2 to damage on every hit, no matter what. It’s (offensively only) better on a Scythean, Carnivean, Typhon….pretty much every other Legion beast.
Not understanding the game’s subset of math translates pretty much into being unable to evaluate your wins and losses. If you don’t realize that making tough checks three times consecutively is unlikely you don’t know that your assassination was a good idea, and you might not try it again on Troll casters. If you can’t tell when an outcome was unlikely vs. when it was dependable your tactics are essentially shaped by your most recent experiences.
#3: Getting thrown by events in game: I think everybody does this, to an extent, but it’s bad. If you have a list of things to get done in a round, and either a mistake or a set of bad dice causes a portion to fail, you need to calmly reassess and continue playing. Same goes for a bad rules call from a judge, a stroke of luck on the opponent’s part, or a dispute about charge range. If you are thinking about something that has already happened you are not planning your next turn/activation. I have a bit of trouble with this, some of my gaming group have suggested that I might not be the calmest guy in the world during a game. (slander most vile, of course).
The best player in Atlanta plays like a robot. The guys who I always see at Conventions tend to be relaxed and calm. At this year’s Adepticon I am not exaggerating when I say I saw a guy whose eyes were so wide I could see white all around. He was shaking with rage. He played a miserable game and got creamed. After the game he erupted in a litany of complaints about his opponent of the last round who, he felt, had exploited the death clock to win. All I could think was that he’d basically been Deathclocked so hard he lost 2 games when it ran out.
#4: Play with uncertainty: I don’t claim to know every model’s every rule. I doubt many folks do. But if I see a name I don’t recognize in a list, or I see a model I’m unfamiliar with across the table I’ll ask to see the card. I don’t play the game without knowing what my opponent’s models do, because that’d be trusting to luck that I’m not going to just auto-lose because I fail to understand what they are up to.
At Adepticon I had 2 games where my Watchers were entirely unfamiliar to my opponents. Not, ‘they aren’t sure which wold those are’ unfamiliar. No, I’m talking about ‘Oh-that’s-a-warbeast’ unfamiliar. Dude thought it was a solo. Second dude though it was ‘that teleporting thing’. You’ve got to read the other team’s cards if you don’t know what they can do. This can take a while (Shae!), but it’s crucial, or you risk a nasty surprise.
I’d like to finish up this post by saying that I’m not about blaming every defeat on some deep internal defect. Sometimes you lose because of dice. Sometimes you lose because your local meta doesn’t have something, and you are encountering it for the first time. Sometimes you lose because you made a dumb mistake. (Last night I lost one because Kreuger1 feated to devastating effect, and then I activated another model instead of advancing him away). Nor am I trying to claim some sort of gamer superiority. I’m 0 for 3 against Neut, for 1 for 4 vs. Watt. There are guys who beat me with the same regularity I kick around the local punching bags with.
If you are unsatisfied with your winning percentage, then the thing to do to win more is to understand why you lost. If you see a pattern, try and take care of it.