Flesh and Blood over the last year has completely transformed out of its original base in Discord events and Tabletop Simulator tournaments which were prevalent in the COVID era. The recent shift to more competitive gameplay and larger tournaments has been a welcome addition to the community, allowing people to come together to play in a celebration of gaming. However, for a game that prides itself so heavily on its competitive base, there are still many possible improvements that could be taken to reduce variance at tournament scenes and allow for the best and brightest to consistently rise to the top. What I’m currently speaking to is the format(s) in which modern competitive Flesh and Blood is played at a high level.
Currently, competitive Flesh and Blood play has focused on a simple tournament structure. Most events which are above Armory level are still held with a Swiss format leading into a cut to top 8, which is single elimination. Although this is a solid structure for many games, I don’t think it does Flesh and Blood any favors, and in my view a format change is the biggest next step the company could take to elevate the game to new heights. Let’s look at what the current format does and doesn’t do well, why a format change could be helpful, and what that could materialize like in the future.
Swiss events are the best bang for your buck when looking to jam lots of game in little amounts of time versus many players. For local scenes and general Armories, it is inarguably the best way to play the game for people who are usually stopping by for a break in a busy workweek. In simple, the Swiss format allows for players to be continuously to be paired with players who have similar records to them. As a result, players who are winning will play others who are winning, and vice versa. Swiss events hence sort out players to a decent degree of capability and allow for a quick and easy timetable for events.
These events are not without their faults however, as the system for calculating your ranking and Swiss, and some of the more random elements to the format, can spell disaster. Regarding the former, the current algorithm for Swiss punishes early losses more heavily than later ones. This means that two players who both could be 4-2 in an event could find themselves on opposite sides of the top 8 cut due to whether they lost in round 2 or round 5. The logic behind this is that due to the pairing system, you’ll be working your way up in difficulty throughout the day, and hence the earlier losses come to “easier” opponents, whereas the later ones come to “better” opponents. This logic is of course flawed. Since original pairings for rounds 1 and 2 are still highly variable, it’s very easy to get paired up with extremely strong opponents, or simply a bad matchup for your hero in these rounds. Either one of those two scenarios is extremely punishing in Swiss, and essentially forces you to win the rest of your rounds going forward should you wish to secure top 8.
Look, I’m all for single elimination in extremely low variance games. I think the excitement and stakes in games such as chess, football, hockey and more is merited and great to watch. However, for a card game, no matter how low variance, it is extremely difficult to justify the single elimination format as the correct way to determine higher skill players. Although Flesh and Blood is extremely low variance for a card game, it is still, at its core, based around the random number generator which is your deck. Poor draws at the wrong time, met with good draws for your opponent, can be detrimental, especially in aggressive formats like the past three. Even when we deckbuild as players, everything we do is to increase consistency and sameness from game to game. We calculate out ratios, map out percentages and game plans, and even pitch stack so we may have zero variance on our second cycle. However, at the end of the day, card games can simply high roll you, and that’s fine, but it just means that the format surrounding the game should support that; single elimination does no such thing.
Before I get into alternate format suggestions and such, I want to note that I understand why single elimination is important for Classic Constructed. These games can easily last 40 minutes (or more if playing against a control hero) and decision making at the top tables takes time and focus. Currently, to allow for more time to players, the time cap on top table games is removed, and they are allowed to play if they wish if they can keep the game moving. However, as I’ll introduce below, I believe there are better ways to play achieve the same results, and subsequently ways that foster a much stronger legacy for Flesh and Blood tournaments for years down the line.
Double Elimination is my favorite way to allow for players to duke it out within a reasonable time span. Due to the great design in Flesh and Blood, you may get high rolled once and lose a game, but twice is unlikely. Rather, if you are to lose twice, chances are there is a relevant decision tree you could have taken within those two games that could have helped you win one of them.
How a double elimination bracket essentially works is that a player must be defeated twice to be eliminated from the event. That means winners will continue in a “winner’s bracket,” whereas losers will continue in a “loser’s bracket.” At the end of the day, there will be one player who will emerge undefeated from the bracket on from the winner’s side, and one player who will be X-1 from the loser’s side. The loser’s player must defeat the top player twice in the final to win the event, whereas the winner must only defeat the loser’s bracket player once to win the event. Personally, for events like Road to Nationals, Pro Quest and above, this should be the standard format in the top cut, and allows for the best players to come out on top much more than the current formats do.
In this format, the main critique is that logistics can be a bit tricky. However, I think this is more so an issue to tackle on the software side than anything else. This sort of tournament style has been successfully implemented at previous Callings and could easily be transferred on to local stores as well for their more premium events.
The other team format, and my personal favorite, is a continuous mesh of three games mixed into one. This involves a team (three players for example), choosing one of their players to start a CC game with one another. Once a player is defeated, the second player for that team comes in and takes that spot, starting at 40 life. However, the winning player from the opposite team stays at the life they finished at from the previous game. For example, a Bravo, Star of the Show could beat a Rhinar, Reckless Rampage with only seven life left. The Rhinar player would then swap out for their second hero, say a Dorinthea Ironsong, who would start fighting fresh at 40 life against the Bravo’s 7! This continues until a team no longer has any more players to swap in, and the team able to stay on the board last wins (a team can only use a single hero/character once per match).
A format of this manner offers Flesh and Blood a completely new level of intricacy of gameplay where positioning of your heroes and stronger/weaker players is extremely important in your lineup before the match, and information about the other team and their players comes is a premium resource. In addition, this adds another level of interest to fans of the game who simply enjoy the game. Fans can now have favorite teams, rather than simply root for players, and in an already low variance game, adding in a bigger sample size (inherently three games’ worth) reduces the overall effect of variance in a single match. With most top professional TCG players practicing and playing in teams already, I sincerely believe this is a very solid format that has shockingly not been fully supported yet by any modern TCG.
LSS have proven to be a company willing to try new things and lead the next generation of TCG’s. As they’ve shaken up the industry with their modern game design in Flesh and Blood, so can they do the same with nonstandard formats. Bringing in better formats than Swiss in their already fantastic 1v1 gameplay, and team formats would be a welcome addition to a game already brimming with potential. What do you think about new formats coming into the game? Comment down below or feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @a_dedanwala.