Ask any top Flesh and Blood player and they’ll all tell you the same thing: you learn far more from your losses than your wins.
Losing in any card game is never a good feeling. I consider myself to be a competitive player and play to win in any given setting, whether it be a local Armory event or a tournament with thousands of dollars on the line like The Calling. Despite this, I’m here to convince you of the importance of losing in FAB. I’ve lost a ton of games in my time, but I’ve almost always learnt something (big or small) from each loss that has helped me improve my play going forward.
What Makes Losing in FAB Different Than Other TCGs?
Flesh and Blood is a game that, by design, has a lower degree of variance relative to many other TCGs. Outside of extremely bad matchups, the better player will win most of the time. There are a number of matchups that you’ll often hear referred to as “50/50 skill matchups” where the decks are evenly matched and it all comes down to play skill. Unlike a game such as Magic, where there’s not much to learn from a game where you drew one land over five turns and lost, there’s pretty much always at least a few turns in a game that you can go back and reflect on whether a different line of play would have yielded different results.
In FAB, more so in Classic Constructed than Blitz, both players will usually cycle through their entire deck at least once. This process allows you to gain an insight into the overall strategy of your opponent’s deck, even in a losing game, and gives numerous opportunities to deal with specific situations that will reoccur in the future. Things as simple as getting a read on cards that your opponent has kept in their Arsenal for multiple turns, or figuring out the math on blocking a Warrior player’s Dawnblade attack and potential attack reactions, are examples of small insights that accrue over the course of a long game. Taken as a whole and combined with the right attitude, losing a game of FAB (particularly when you’re learning the game or even a certain meta) can be a positive and fulfilling experience.
Getting the Most Out of Losing
There are a number of small steps you can take to ensure you’re getting the most out of losing and growing as a player from the experience.
Don’t Blame Luck
To me, this is the most important element of benefitting from losses. Sometimes your opponent will get lucky, or you’ll get unlucky, at certain points in the game. Try not to get hung up on these situations! I have played a lot of Classic Constructed games and I can tell you with confidence that almost no games are lost due to luck alone.
Consider the following situations:
- Your Warrior opponent gets a turn one Dawnblade counter from an attack you couldn’t block.
- A Guardian opponent gets off a turn one or two Spinal Crush with dominate attack against your Ninja deck.
- A Mechanologist player drops an Induction Chamber on turn one.
- A Brute player intimidates three cards from your hand and gets through eight damage on turn one.
All of the above are basically worst-case scenarios to start the game. What do they all have in common? I’ve been on the wrong end of each of these and still won the game! I’ve also lost games that started like this before. A few unlucky turns doesn’t help your chances of winning, but it certainly doesn’t push it completely out of reach.
The key takeaway is that if you focus too much on things outside of your control, you can easily throw away a full game worth of learning opportunities by blaming your loss on an “unlucky start.” These turns don’t even necessarily need to occur at the start of the game. Your opponent may get a number of strong turns in a row, putting you on the backfoot. Adjust your strategy accordingly and do your best to stay in the game. Going “on tilt” and resigning yourself to a loss can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to a negative experience for everyone involved and being a waste of your time.
I once lost a close game on Ninja against Brute where my opponent’s Scabskin Leathers rolls went something like 6/4/5/3/4/5. It’s very easy to look back and think “if only they hadn’t rolled well on one of those turns I would’ve won!” Hey, that’s probably true! However, when I looked back at the critical late game turns, I discovered that I had misblocked on the second to last turn, leaving me one damage short of forcing my opponent to block with an additional card on what ended up being their lethal damage turn. That was something I could learn from and execute correctly in a future game.
When I’m testing or learning a new deck, I actually enjoy playing against my opponent’s best draws. I treat these games as a “trial by fire” – if you can navigate a difficult game against a good opponent and keep it close then you’ll learn a lot about your decks strengths and weaknesses.
Take Mental Notes of Key Turning Points
When you’re playing a game of FAB there are usually at least one or two key moments in the game where you can start to feel the momentum noticeably shift. These are the turns that you want to take note of to go back and reflect about what you could’ve done differently.
A basic example is playing against Katsu. The game is fairly close with both players exchanging damage, until the Katsu players manages to get off a full Surging Strike line and connect with Mugenshi: RELEASE, dealing a bunch of damage and shuffling a lot of threats back into their deck. Take a note of the turn and after the game, go back and think about how you could have blocked differently. Maybe you could have let the Surging Strike go through in order to ensure you had enough cards to block the Mugenshi: RELEASE. Maybe it’s something as simple as forgetting about Breaking Scales, or not taking into account that your opponent had resources available for a Razor Reflex (or a card in Arsenal representing Ancestral Empowerment). Another example might be taking two Kodachi hits then relying on a Sink Below (Red) to block their Leg Tap (red), only to get blown out by an Ancestral Empowerment triggering their Mask of Momentum. Next time you’re in a similar spot, you could instead block with Equipment and a defense reaction in order to play around this and ensure you get to play out the hand you wanted to keep.
A common mistake against Ninja is misjudging the power of their hand compared to yours, and getting to a point where you’ve taken a lot of damage and are still forced to block with multiple cards. Consciously taking note of situations where this occurs will increase your knowledge of these spots and help you to avoid this trap in the future.
The same can go for Warrior decks as well. Perhaps they were very fortunate that they drew their final Singing Steelblade after already playing two previously, allowing them to search up a Glint the Quicksilver and force out multiple blocks on the second Dawnblade hit. Equally, however, you could look back at the game state and discover that had you simply not blocked (thus triggering Reprise), you could’ve taken up to six damage from Dawnblade and the attack reaction. In this situation, you come out way ahead by keeping a four or five card hand and piling on the pressure for the next few turns.
These are many, many similar examples to the above. A simple Command and Conquer + Pummel combo is sometimes enough to set you back three or four turns and let your opponent wrest control of the game. This is something you can look back at and think about the most effective way to block and potential signals that it was coming. Did your opponent take more damage than you’d think to keep a two card hand and Arsenal? If they pitch a blue card with three counters on Tunic to play a Command and Conquer, that’s probably a good sign they were setting up this particular play. Maybe your block was fine and you just had to risk the Pummel – that’s a totally reasonable conclusion a lot of the time! But also think about whether you would’ve been better off taking the full hit, Pummel or not, to keep at least three cards in hand and pressure your opponent back the next turn (instead of double blocking, taking four and being left with one card in hand with no Arsenal).
In terms of Blitz Constructed, these concepts can be applied when playing against common Tier 1 decks like Ira and Kano. Saving your defense reaction for too long against Ira and having it stuck in Arsenal can be a small tempo loss that has flow on effects for future turns. It also may lead to a forced block on Command and Conquer to avoid losing value, or even being unable to block it and losing the benefit of using it on their second Kodachi hit. Equally, playing the reaction too early can leave you vulnerable to a “break point” attack like a Soulbead Strike (Red) or Torrent of Tempo (Red) which you’re then forced to block with two cards or equipment. Sometimes you simply have to take your best guess and live with the consequences. If you feel like you could’ve played the turn differently, go back and consider the information you had available to you at the time and whether that indicated a particular line of play was likely to occur. Another common example is when you play a go-again attack and they block with Flic Flak. Playing a Command and Conquer as a follow up here allows them to block with one card and Breaking Scales, giving them huge value and allowing them to keep pressuring you on the next turn. If this happens to you, think about whether it would’ve been better to instead play a lower damage attack and save the Command and Conquer for a future turn where it would have a greater impact.
Playing against Kano actually gives you a lot of chances to learn from mistakes. Using up all your pitch cards to block a vanilla damage attack like Chain Lightning or Snapback, only to get hit by the follow up Sonic Boom, is a teachable moment that you can apply to future games. Even paying attention to the order in which you Pitch cards, so you can bluff that red card in hand is actually a blue, is a small thing that can make the game much more difficult for your opponent.
Assess Your Overall Strategy
Sometimes you might do everything right and still lose. In these games, you want to consider whether the core strategy of your deck is actually viable or whether changes to your deck or strategy are necessary to make it work. Playing a deck like Brute, it’s usually not enough to simply run out all your Barraging Beatdowns and Bloodrush Bellows in the early to mid game and hope it’ll be enough to win. Using up all your good cards in the early game can leave you without the necessary punch to set up a late game combo. Brute requires a specific set of circumstances to actually get through damage. Relying on drawing into these hands via random chance is not viable when playing many rounds of FAB at a high-level tournament.
If my Guardian deck (Classic Constructed) is looking to play a slow grindy game and I find myself consistently losing to Dash Midrange, there is likely a wider problem than making a few gameplay errors. The value my opponent is getting over the course of the game from their Induction Chambers is just better than I’m getting out of Anothos and the occasional big dominate attack. Furthermore, I might be having trouble against Ninja and Warrior by giving them too much to set up big turns that my deck can’t always deal with. Changing up the deck to include more proactive cards like Command and Conquer, Pummel and even Energy Potion to be able to constantly bluff a Pummel over the course of the game might help to give you a viable chance of winning games.
A more general example might be a deck like Runeblade. If your deck is based around Runechant-enhanced attacks like Consuming Volition, Meat and Greet and Rune Flash, you need to have enough ways to generate Runechants and be conscious of when you’re using them. When I played Runeblade Aggro, I often found that I could get out to huge 10 to 15 life leads, only to eventually stall out and lose in the late game. A good opponent is well aware of the interactions between cards in your deck and is happy to take damage early if it means they can win late. After losing multiple games in this fashion, I knew that it wasn’t “unlucky” that I’d have consecutive off-turns in the mid to late game. If I wanted to make the deck work, I needed to adjust the way I was playing the deck and play cards that would mitigate the deck’s weaknesses.
Be a Gracious Loser and Talk to Your Opponents!
Finally, talk to your opponents after losing a game! In my experience they’re usually happy to discuss particular turns, or even your play over the course of the game, to help identify places you went wrong. This is especially true if you’re having trouble figuring out why you lost the game or when playing against a particularly strong opponent. They might not always be correct, and don’t feel like you have to accept all their advice uncritically, but a healthy discussion about the game will be beneficial for both players. I’ve learned many things from casual Armory events and new players that have helped me improve my game. If you’re unsure why your opponent included a certain card in their deck or played a turn a certain way, politely ask them after the game. You never know what you might pick up!
This ties in to being gracious in defeat. If I win against someone who’s been complaining all game about my good hands and/or their bad hands, I’ll certainly be less inclined to give advice or go through the game afterwards. It’s fine to be self-critical and point out your own mistakes, but try to do so in a manner that doesn’t take away from your opponent’s victory. I hate losing games as much as anyone and I’m not perfect myself in this regard, but I’m always conscious of trying to balance identifying my own errors while congratulating my opponent on all the things they did right to win.
I hope these points will help to make your next loss a slightly more enjoyable experience that you can ultimately take something out of. Don’t blame luck, try to identify errors in your game and be gracious in defeat.
Get out there and live, laugh and lose!