Pivot turns are if not the most, then at least one of the most interesting topics in Flesh and Blood. As a concept, they are both simple and yet as complex as they come. The expression “says easy, does hard” springs immediately to mind whenever someone talks about pivot turns, and I often find it hard to explain to people the more complex ins and outs of the pivot turn or turns in just a single sitting because of how deep the concept really is. You just pivot right? Yet, in reality it isn’t so easy. However, never one to shy away from a difficult task, today I bring you an in-depth look at pivot turns in Flesh and Blood – how to setup and execute your own as well as identify and even disrupt an opponent’s.
At a very basic level, a pivot turn is a turn in which you as a player swing a large amount of tempo to your side, forcing your opponent on the back foot or sometimes effectively ending the game on the spot because of how far behind they will be post the “pivot.” At a more complex level, a pivot turn is where game plans or a phase in the game shift. This could be periods such as early or mid-game changing to the mid or late game. This often happens via one player making a set of decisions to begin the process of deploying their end game strategy. It can also happen where a player expends a significant amount of resources (like life total) to get their game plan back on track after starting on the back foot.
Taking its essence, a “pivot turn” is a point in the game where the status quo changes. The game changes, or indeed the point is for the game to change… Pivot turns aren’t always successful, but more on that latter.
The easiest way to explain Pivot Turns is simply to use examples.
Pivot Turn One
Player 1, a Bravo in a game of Classic Constructed is up against a Katsu player on the offensive. Turn after turn, the Katsu player is stringing together large turns of combo chains, a barrage of Leg Taps into Rising Knee Thrusts and threatening Mask of Momentum hit triggers. The Bravo player has found themselves defending out most turns using up all four cards in the turn cycle purely to preserve life, with the odd blue surviving in hand to get a swing in with Anothos. The life totals now sit at 28-24 in favor of the Katsu player.
The Bravo player draws up at the end of a turn in which they simply put their last card, a Pummel (Red) which they decided not to defend with, into Arsenal. The Katsu player has four cards in hand with no Arsenal set and is ready to throw more damage. The Bravo players looks at their new four-card hand and sees three blue cards and a Spinal Crush. Smelling an opportunity, they decide to defend the second Kodachi attack with their Ironrot Legs and then take the seven damage from an Enlightened Strike, falling to 16 life with the Katsu player setting their last card into Arsenal. This is the Bravo players time to enact a pivot turn!
They’ve drawn up to a strong five-card hand and found a somewhat off-turn from their opponent, taking just eight damage to keep their full hand. The Bravo player is almost certain there are no defense reactions in the opponent’s deck and with access to nine resources this turn starts by making a Seismic Surge token off Tectonic Plating, pitching the first blue. The Bravo player then activates their hero ability and plays Spinal Crush with dominate, pitching the remaining two blue cards. Bravo opts to leave the Pummel (Red) in Arsenal for next turn, knowing that this Spinal Crush will either hit or take a card plus their Mask of Momentum and likely be an effective pivot turn. The Bravo player knows that with the Seismic Surge token and a Pummel in Arsenal, their next hand will likely allow them to keep the front foot momentum after this pivot.
Pivot Turn Two
Our second example sees a classic Blitz showdown with Kano against Ira, Crimson Haze. The Kano player is on 10 life staring down the Ira player on 12. So far, the Kano player has had to defend a bit and get in some chip damage here and there with red line Wizard non-attack actions. It’s the Ira players turn and they come in with a Kodachi that hits, followed by a Leg Tap (Red) for five thanks to Ira. The Kano player currently has in hand two blue cards, Chain Lightning and Voltic Bolt (Red), they also have a Forked Lightning in Arsenal that they’re now searching for their pivot turn to finally setup and execute.
The Kano player feels that this might be their best opportunity to start putting pressure back on the Ira player with a solid hand and Arsenal set. Kano wants to keep a blue plus the Voltic in hand for their pivot turn decides to simply take the five down to four. Ira plays a Pounding Gale for five, no resources left and one card in hand. Kano player defends with the two cards they’re happy to throw away, and on their turn simply play the Voltic Bolt for six. Ira pitches a blue and prevents three with the three Nullrune equipment they’re playing, falling to 12.
Kano draws up and sees exactly what they’ve been playing for – a Stir the Aetherwinds (Red) along with two blue cards and a Lesson in Lava. Ira pitches a Flic Flak (Yellow) on their turn to come in with a Kodachi, two cards in hand and one in Arsenal. Kano thinks if they can survive this turn or get the opponent to two or less available resources for Nullrune, they can deal 14 damage right now and win!
The Kano player decides to not defend and the Ira player throws out a Razor Reflex (Red) from the Arsenal in reactions and forces the Kano player to go off, pitching the eight resources in hand to activate Storm Striders, Stir the Aetherwinds and Crucible of Aetherweave into Forked Lightning for 14. The Ira player reveals two red cards in hand and the Kano has taken the game after a timely pivot turn to draw the only blue out of the opponent’s hand with a lethal combo ready to go.
Pivot Turn Three
For a really great visual example of a pivot turn that you can follow along with, check out the video below from two of Flesh and Blood’s developers at Legend Story Studios. Watch developer Jason Chung on Levia control the early game, set up their graveyard and pick their spot to pivot the game on a turn just after the 10 minute mark coming in for 11 damage. Jason also sets up to ensure that after the pivot turn they have the ability to keep the pressure on. It’s a really good example of setting up the pivot turn and knowing how to see out the game from there, not allowing the opponent to re-pivot with their own key turn.
There are a few main ways pivot turns get setup or come about. The first is pretty simple: you just draw into them. During some games you could find yourself on the wrong side of early draws, with things not quite coming together for you, awkward hands and so on. On the other side of the table though, your opponent is able to play out turns presenting damage and furthering their game plan. A common way a pivot turn happens from here is you simply draw a good four or five-card (Arsenal) hand finally while the opponent draws a weaker hand. This is where you can use your life total as a resource to enact that pivot turn, by taking small damage thanks to the opponent’s weaker turn, then getting on the front foot with your much better turn.
It’s important to note your pivot turn has to be able to, in some way, change the game state, otherwise it simply won’t be successful. For example, if you take eight damage to present 10 and your opponent can defend with one card taking seven damage then come back for 10 on their turn, that very likely isn’t a successful pivot unless they’re now within range to die, for example. You can work that out with basic math. The best advice I can give is that not every four or five-card hand is created equal. To successfully pivot, you need to either force your opponent to defend with significant damage or by presenting relevant on-hit effects, or coming in with enough damage that it won’t allow them to come back with big damage and just force you onto the back foot again.
You can also have much more planned pivot turns like we saw with the Kano player in Example 2 or with Jason in the developer gameplay video. Both players had been crafting a game state and managing the game until they could execute their pivot turn and swing the game in their favor. Jason’s turn was less risky than the Kano player, who was very low on life and didn’t have guaranteed lethal yet. Sometimes though, you just have to go for the pivot turns before it is too late! Leave it too long and you won’t have enough life left to play with to keep cards or your opponent will be ahead enough to just manage you out of the game with tight play.
In the last example with Jason’s Levia and Callum’s Boltyn, we see Callum tries to keep momentum and trade his life to negate Jason’s pivot turn. This is a great tactic that you can try to employ in order to avoid losing the tempo when your opponent goes for their pivot turn. By using your own life total as a resource, you can keep your hand to try and create your own pivot turn or counter a pivot turn as it were.
However, when trying to negate pivot turns like this, you need to actually have a hand that can force back significant damage or force the opponent to defend. It is the same principal as the core pivot turn, just in reverse. Otherwise, they can just do the same to you and now you’re in a racing situation, except you’re on the back foot now. In the video example, for Jason, the pivot turn had its desired effect and Callum’s counter turn isn’t enough. This allows Jason to defend with one to two cards a turn from there and still present a big threat that will leak damage or at least win him the turn cycle, knowing Boltyn plays poorly off two-card hands on the swing back.
Countering pivot turns is really important. Against good players, they’ll always try and set these up and play to these turns. You need to be aware of what these turns will look like and how you can counter them. Often leaving an important piece in Arsenal or knowing if you pitch some good cards early to set late that you can negate a pivot turn with significant pressure. But how do you know a pivot turn is coming?
One of the best ways to know if or how a pivot turn is coming is to know what your opponent’s core game plan is and how they want to win the game. Take the Kano example from earlier – the Ira player should’ve had a fairly good idea that a pivot turn was coming because the Kano player decided to take so much damage, even falling to four, on that turn. Another way the Ira player could have known is by noticing that the card in Arsenal had been there for three turns, and there were multiple opportunities for the Kano player to utilize that card if it was simply a four or five arcane damage card.
There are many signals to look for, including the way opponents pitch their deck. You can often know a pivot turn is coming because an opponent’s cycled back through to power cards in their deck, or they’ve defended inefficiently. A common thing that happens when players are trying to setup pivot turns is defending somewhat inefficiently or holding one card back to Arsenal, like in the Bravo example. If a player keeps one card, doesn’t defend with it and doesn’t play it, very likely that card is of high value for an impending pivot turn.
Once you identify these turns, you can work on how to either counter them on the way back (e.g. by utilizing your own Arsenal) or by preventing them from ever happening. If you know an opponent is setting up for a pivot turn, there’s often things you can do to force them to defend differently than they would like to.
A good example of this is having a turn where an opponent doesn’t defend your attacks and you’re left with Snatch (Red) as your last card in hand on Katsu, with the opponent declaring no defense on a Scar for a Scar (Red) with no go again. Often, the best choice here is Arsenal the Snatch and pass, but if you know the pivot turn is coming because the opponent kept all their cards, you might instead attack reaction use your Snapdragon Scalers to gain go again and come in with the Snatch to force a card out of their hand or gain massive value that could be enough to keep the tempo for you next turn. Sometimes, it’s best to play differently or inefficiently to force the opponent into plays.
One of the most overlooked skills that the top players in this game have is the ability to identify pivot turns and react, which often results in odd looking sequences of plays or turns. All done in order to keep an opponent off their pivot turn. So, in your next Armory or testing session with friends, start thinking more about the pivot turn. Be cognizant of your own and your opponent’s pivot turns and see what happens. Happy pivoting!