What does a draw represent to you in Flesh and Blood? On the face of it, the answer is pretty simple: if time (and in some cases three extra turns) runs out and the game is not finished, the result is a draw.* The real point of contention in the community over draws is whether, and to what extent, a draw should be considered more valuable than a loss.
I believe it’s important to note at the outset that draws are extremely (and increasingly) rare in high-level FAB tournament play. As players become more experienced and play more games, I fully expect draws to become an extreme outlier in terms of game results in the future. To give an example, at The Calling: Auckland (2021) there were 157 players and 10 rounds of Swiss. Even accounting for players dropping, there were approximately 650 to 700 (or more) rounds of FAB played and no more than five draws in the entire tournament, or roughly one draw per 150 games.
Before examining the different positions, I’ll give a brief overview of some relevant sections of the LSS Tournament Rules and Policy. Feel free to skip this section if you already know this! I wanted to include it to provide a foundation for players who aren’t quite sure how the current system works.
*Occasionally there are other ways to draw, such as ‘double fatigue’ where both players are unable to finish off the other.
Draws and losses are both worth zero points. The current policy is that draws are effectively counted as losses in terms of primary tiebreakers. While draws are sometimes relevant as a secondary tiebreaker, this has very rarely come up in tournament play so far. At Professional level tournaments, draws are treated differently than losses for the purposes of ELO calculations.
The current policy is that when time is called at the end of the round, there are three additional turns. If no result has been reached at the end of this, the game is a draw.
The trial policy used during The Calling: Auckland was that when time is called, the active player completes their turn. If no result is reached, the game is a draw.
The current policy is that concessions at any time are allowed.
The trial policy that was in effect during The Calling: Auckland is aimed at preventing concessions from being used to avoid draws. This may be adopted into the official Tournament Policy Guidelines by LSS if it enhances tournament play. To summarize:
- A player can concede a game before presenting their deck without consequence.
- Conceding at any point after presenting your deck will result in being dropped from the tournament (at the discretion of the Head Judge or TO in the event of an emergency or something similar).
- Asking for a concession after both players have presented their decks will result in a Match Loss penalty for the next round.
The primary tiebreaker policy is fairly simple. The player who has taken their losses (and draws!) in the later rounds of a tournament will have better tiebreakers. What the primary tiebreaker looks at is which player most recently had the most points at the end of a round.
Example (7 rounds of Swiss)
- Player A is 5-2, with losses in Rounds 4 and 7
- Player B is 5-1-1, with a draw in Round 3 and a loss in Round 7
- Both players have five points at the end of Round 7.
- Player A had three points at the end of Round 3. Player B had two points at the end of Round 3.
- Player A has the better tiebreakers.
This illustrates why draws are not generally relevant to tiebreakers, but they aren’t totally irrelevant! In the above scenario, if Player B had drawn their game in Round 4, then secondary tiebreakers would come into play. This looks at Player Match Loss percentage (PML). Player A’s PML is 2/7 = 28.5%. Player B’s is 1/7 = 14.25%. Therefore, Player B would have the better tiebreakers in that scenario.
More information on secondary tiebreakers can be found here.
The following are some views of the community that I’ve encountered both online and in discussions with other players. It’s worth noting a couple of things before continuing on.
It’s impossible to get a full picture of how prevalent some of these views are in the global player base and the level of support for each side. These discussions often take place across different platforms with varying levels of participation. The intention of this article is to address both sides of the arguments and give my own thoughts on the issues involved.
Draws Should Be Worth 1 Point
- In most games that utilize a Swiss point system, draws are worth more than a loss. For Magic, a win is worth three points and a draw is worth one. In Chess, it’s one and 0.5. FAB is one of the few TCGs where you’re generally not rewarded for drawing a game as opposed to losing it.
- Drawing a game is objectively a better result than losing. A closely fought game that results in a draw should not be counted the same as a blowout loss. Navigating a difficult game state for multiple turns to cling on and survive is an example of player skill and should be recognized as such.
- Factors outside of your control, such as slow play, can lead to a draw and are particularly punishing without the consolation prize of getting one point for a game you were clearly winning.
- Ultimately, it defies logic that a player with a better record in Swiss should miss out on Top 8 purely because “draws are the same as losses.”
The philosophy of LSS has consistently been that games should be played to win and to discourage draws. The game and tournament structure has clearly been designed with that philosophy in mind. The game was tested for many many years before release with thousands of games played between different decks across multiple formats.
Presumably, this data was analyzed and led to a consensus that 50 minutes (or 30 for Blitz) is enough time for a game to be completed when both players play at a reasonable pace. There may be some strategies (either now or in the future) that are simply not viable based on these time limits, but this is the case in a lot of games! I’m inclined to put my faith in LSS and consider this to be a conscious design philosophy, rather than a lack of understanding of the consequences of zero-point draws and the frequency at which they would occur.
It’s not as simple as looking at Magic’s treatment of draws and concluding it’s strictly better than FAB. Competitive Magic is played with a Best-of-Three format. If I had to guess, I would say most Magic draws (outside of IDs) occur when the match ends 1-1.
In this situation, each player has actually won a game, so a split result of one point each might be viewed as more reasonable (particularly when accounting for factors like post-game sideboarding). In FAB, with a Best-of-One format and pre-game “sideboarding,” it’s more difficult to justify each player getting one point when no conclusive result has been reached at all.
It’s also certainly not an absolute truth that drawing a game indicates a higher level of skill than losing in FAB. Flesh and Blood requires skill to survive in a tough spot in order to identify a window to potentially come back and win. At the same time, blocking out an opponent’s attacks with four cards a turn for six turns in a row until time expires is not exactly the epitome of skill.
In most games that end in a draw, the player losing at the time (whether on life or tempo) would generally go on to lose the game if it was to be played out to its conclusion. I question whether it is fair to reward a player with a potentially tournament-defining tiebreaker point for simply “not losing.”
Looking at it from a different angle, in the absence of egregious slow play, why should a player in a winning position be rewarded for being unable to close out a game? FAB is a game where the best players are able to play towards particular game states and break points to win games. The lack of points awarded for a draw is a reflection of this principle.
Regarding slow play, I acknowledge this is a bit of a grey area when it comes to enforcement. Whilst you are entitled to call a judge if you feel your opponent is playing slowly, this can be difficult to enforce at a large tournament with a small number of judges.*
Ultimately, I would encourage players to try and get comfortable with first giving your opponent a friendly request to speed up, then calling a judge as soon as possible if the slow play continues. There’s no point telling a judge your opponent has been playing slowly for the past 20 minutes when they have no way of establishing the truth of it. One method to help avoid feeling confrontational is a friendly conversation when shuffling up along the lines of “time can be an issue at tournaments and draws are worth zero points, so if you feel I’m playing slowly please let me know and I’ll do the same”.
The idea of a “better” Swiss record (4-1-1 vs 4-2) missing out on Top 8 seems to stem from applying Magic-style scoring systems to FAB. First, as discussed above, it isn’t easy to objectively describe any given draw as “better” than a loss in this game. Second, the tiebreaker system seeks to provide an objective metric of which player had the more difficult path to achieve their record in the event of a tie. Consider the following example:
- Player A goes L-W-D-W-W-W-W for a record of 5-1-1
- Player B goes W-W-W-W-W-L-L for a record of 5-2
Some may argue that Player A has the better Swiss record and deserves to make the Top 8 over Player B, but I would find that very hard to justify. Player B had all their matchups against opponents with better records from Rounds 2 to 7. Their two losses came against opponents who were 5-0 and 5-1 respectively, who were presumably some of the best players in the tournament.
Player A obtained their five points by playing against objectively weaker opponents. This may be a slight oversimplification as I don’t know the exact details of how the GEM pairing software works, but I do believe it helps demonstrate that a 5-1-1 Swiss record is not objectively better than 5-2. Far from defying logic, I actually think the current approach towards draws makes a lot of sense from this perspective.
* This is particularly true for online tournaments, however it appears these are only intended as a temporary measure due to Covid restrictions and thus this issue will hopefully be irrelevant soon!
Another idea that has floated around is that in-game tiebreakers should be introduced to reduce the chance of draws.
The argument here is that if draws are going to be treated as losses, there should be some form of “in-game” tiebreaker to ensure a win/loss result in every round. The most common suggestion I’ve seen is that when time is called, the player with the highest life total wins. It’s difficult to think of another possible tiebreaker, outside of something like cards remaining in deck.
I strongly believe that this proposed solution would be a negative change for a number of reasons. Allowing someone to win a game based on highest life total risks fundamentally changing how the game is played and opens the door to time manipulation much more so than currently.
A player ahead on life but losing the game could look over at the round timer towards the end of a round and slow down their decisions (but not to the extent of slow play) and adjust their strategy to a point where they’re fairly confident the game will not end on time. This type of behavior is very difficult to police, particularly at a large tournament.
Under the current system, this strategy is effectively pointless as the treatment of draws highly encourages players to do their best to find a path to victory. With life tiebreakers, the path to victory could often become finding a way to stall out a game while preserving an otherwise meaningless life total lead.
Picture the final turn of a game: a Dorinthea player on three life attacking a Viserai player on one, who proceeds to think for a short while before blocking with the last four cards in their deck. Viserai then plays a Sigil of Solace from Arsenal and wins the game.
Does this seem like a good outcome to you? It’s true that the Viserai player could work towards this game state under the current system, but there’s little reward for doing so. With life tiebreakers, they’re heavily incentivized to make it happen.
I can see the intent behind a life tiebreaker is to grant the victory to the more “deserving” player. If I’ve got my opponent down to one life on Ira and Kodachi-locked out of the game, why should I get zero points when time is called despite my opponent having no chance of winning? I’ve been in similar situations myself in the past and can certainly sympathize with this mentality. Despite this, however, the perceived benefits for a very small number of games just don’t seem to outweigh the negative impact this will have on the game as a whole. For every situation like the one above, there could be another where the player about to lose sneaks out a win leaving at least one person unhappy.
Another suggestion is that chess clocks should be mandatory, similar to Magic Arena and Online.
One method of precluding the possibility of a draw is doing away with the current time system. Give each player a chess clock set to 15 minutes and if you run out of time, you lose the round. The key issue with this proposed solution is that FAB is not a game like chess where a turn, and thus passing “time priority,” is based around a single move.
This idea could work in theory with automated timekeeping (such as Magic Arena), but would be extremely difficult to implement in real life to the point of being impractical. In many turns of a FAB game there are just too many instances of passing priority for this to work. Consider the following:
- Player A attacks with Dawnblade
- Player B defends
- Player A plays Stroke of Foresight
- Both players need to pass priority for it to resolve
- Player A then passes priority again
- Player B plays Sink Below
- Both players need to pass priority for it to resolve
- Player B then passes priority
- Player A then passes priority
- Damage is calculated
In this one (relatively simple) turn, both players would need to hit the clock six times each. Six! Now imagine a complicated turn involving multiple chain links/activated abilities/triggers (Kano and Katsu come to mind) or, even worse, multiple Induction Chambers, and a picture begins to emerge of why chess clocks wouldn’t work in FAB. The amount of time lost to repeatedly hitting the clock would decrease the amount of time available for actual gameplay, distract players and lead to an overall worse experience (not to mention issues with people forgetting the clock all together).
There are also issues around phases, such as the start and end of turns where priority is not always clear. Technically players don’t have priority at the beginning of turn, so do I still lose time while putting a counter on Tunic? For putting an Enchanting Melody into the graveyard? Probably right? But these then become an exception to a priority-based time system, with the potential for more examples to show up in the future as the card pool grows.
One concept that’s been offered is that concessions should be allowed if a draw is effectively a “double loss.”
This argument is based around an assumption that the concession rules trialed during The Calling: Auckland will be adopted into the official Tournament Rules and Policy going forward. If this doesn’t happen, then the whole debate around concessions is irrelevant, but I wanted to include this topic as it has generated a lot of discussion.
The most common argument I’ve seen for this position is that a strict “no concessions” rule takes away the agency of players who want to “do the right thing.” There were certainly strong feelings about this policy amongst NZ players, including myself, when it was first announced. If I’m clearly about to lose a game and I feel that my opponent deserves the win, why shouldn’t I be allowed to concede? A draw in the early stages of a large tournament can leave you in a spot where every round becomes a must-win due to the nature of tiebreakers. This can be particularly tough in “win-and-in” situations where a draw would result in both players being eliminated from Top 8 contention. There are, without doubt, situations where this policy can lead to a result that neither player is happy with.
The main problem with allowing flexibility surrounding concessions is that it’s very easy to create exploitable loopholes. The optimal strategy is to simply never concede, no matter how badly you were losing. This is completely fine if everyone takes this approach, but in reality, it doesn’t always play out this way.
Voluntary concessions create opportunities for players to feel intimidated, coerced or simply feel social pressure to concede. A newcomer playing against a high-profile or popular figure in the community might be put in a position where they’d rather concede than risk facing a potential backlash (real or imagined) for not “doing the right thing.” While it’s often clear who’s going to win the game when time is called, this is not always the case. New or just naturally introverted players might be talked into conceding a game on the basis of “you were going to lose anyway,” “you’re already locked for Top 8” or “you can’t make Top 8” in positions where it isn’t necessarily true.
Outside of these examples, situations also tend to arise where neither player wants to concede but knows this will result in a double elimination. This can lead to extended discussions about their deck’s chances in the metagame, potential Top 8 matchups or coded talk about prize splits (which is illegal and will result in DQs).
Clear rules that disallow in-game concessions removes these grey areas in the game while helping to ensure the most fair, skill-based outcome for FAB tournament play.
There is no perfect solution for the treatment of draws in TCGs generally. Ultimately, this can come down to a question of personal preference and depend on the objectives that the creators/developers wish to accomplish.
LSS has been clear from the beginning in their stance that awarding points for draws detracts from the overall tournament experience. It can lead to bad sportsmanship as well as anti-competitive behavior by incentivizing players to ID the final rounds of Swiss to safely lock in a Top 8 spot. I believe the current Tournament Rules and Policy, including the trial policy concerning concessions, are consistent with these views and result in an overall better tournament experience for the vast majority of players.
The intention behind this article is not to look down at those in the community who have brought up concerns regarding the current system, nor is it to portray myself as the perfect role model regarding these issues throughout my time competing in FAB tournaments. A number of the concerns raised in the international community mirror those raised by some NZ players in the early stages of FAB and in response to policy announcements.
While ultimately I disagree with most of the points I’ve seen raised online, I acknowledge that they’re coming from people who want to see the game succeed. I have, on two separate occasions at semi-competitive events, become a bit frustrated with opponents who insisted on a draw, when in my opinion at the time I believed I was very close to winning. With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I look back at these with some regret.
While I can honestly say I have never asked for a concession at a Professional-level tournament, I have had two games go to time over the course of 30-ish Swiss rounds at these tournaments, both of which resulted in my opponent ultimately conceding (when this was allowed). It’s important to take some responsibility when this occurs and look at what you as a player can do better.
I’ve been on the receiving end of a couple of slow play warnings in my time (“Kieran, you need to make a play” is a bit of a classic meme amongst some players here in NZ!), and have made a conscious effort to improve the pace of my play in response to this. While I still have room to improve further, I’m now extremely confident that I can finish a game in any given format in the allotted time. I guess the wider point here is if you focus on the things you can control in FAB, often the problems you’re running into will sort themselves out!