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Gitting Gud: Learning to Understand a Loss

Introduction

Noah here to teach you about how to learn from losing. One of the most frustrating parts about playing games is losing. Nobody likes it. Some may dislike it a bit less than others, but ultimately, most of us want to win. Even when we "don't care about winning or losing" we still tend to prefer the highs of winning to the lows of losing. Winning a game can often leave us thinking "Man, I played that really well." and we start to feel as if we're learning from our previous games and becoming better players. The best players are players who not only glean information from a won game, but who can look at a lost game objectively and understand where they went wrong and how to avoid that problem moving forward. In this article, we're going to go over some ways you can learn to look back at a loss and understand the information it presents about your failure.

There's really no simple solution to this, though. I can't tell you that there are "5 EASY TRICKS TO NEVER LOSE AGAIN!" or that there's a hidden button combination that makes your opponent concede. However, as someone who has lost more than his fair share of games, I can tell you that there is hope for me (and you) yet! We're going to break this down into 3 sections. The first will look at some valuable lessons you can learn by knowing what questions to ask yourself before you review a game, followed by a section on the specifics of replay review and how to use it to answer those questions, and we'll conclude with a Rings of Immortality spoiler as my thanks to you for putting up with the first two sections.


What Can Losing Teach Us?

Before we can start to look at a lost game and point to specific mistakes we've made, we need to understand what we stand to gain from doing so. You wouldn't start running a race if you didn't know where the finish line was. This part of the process is a bit tricky. We don't like to acknowledge and dwell on our past failures. The key to this process is to take those failures and make them into successes later.Dan Heisman, a chess master, once said "Don't be afraid of losing, be afraid of playing a game and not learning something." and this approach definitely lends itself well to the rest of the ideas presented here.

There are three questions I try to answer when reviewing a lost game.

  1. Was my loss a direct result of my own negligence?

  2. Did my decisions actually matter?

  3. Did I make the right call at the time?

Was My Loss a Direct Result of My Own Negligence?

This is often the easiest of these questions to answer. Did you forget an Infuse and put your opponent on 1 life? Did you not read Scion of Pride before slamming a Racer in Shadow into it? There are many times that we get into a complex gamestate and fail to realize some secondary or even tertiary outcomes of a given action. Not slowing down and thoroughly thinking through the chain of events a certain action leads to can kill us. Remember to always think through a line thoroughly before committing to a play.


Did My Decisions Actually Matter?

This question is one that's impossible to answer in the moment and glaringly obvious in review. It's also simultaneously the hardest pill to swallow and the easiest one to use as a dismissal of your own previous mistakes. Did you play around Daring Trapezists by dropping a Security Phalanx instead of a Zen Archer just for them to have been holding Ignition and Trapezists? Did you position your minions to avoid getting 2-for-1'd by a revealed Magmataur just for them to have Magnus in hand as well? These situations will often leave you feeling like there was nothing you could have done to prevent your loss.


Did I make the Right Call at the Time?

Answering this question is not always as easy as one might hope. Much like the last question, this one is hard to answer in real-time. Unlike the previous question, however, this one is deceptive on review. Could you have reasonably expected them to be holding both Trapezists and Ignition? Should you be banking on Magnus being in their hand on curve? Card games are games of probabilities. One of the biggest advantages one can have in decision making is an understanding of what they should and shouldn't reasonably expect their opponent to play at a given time.

This is an interesting question to answer because it can also lead you to a detrimental mistake in review. Don't forget that you don't have perfect knowledge while playing the game and that even disadvantageous outcomes in hindsight may have been the correct call in the moment.


How Do I Answer These Questions?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what questions we want to answer, we can start actually reviewing our games. Mythgard's built-in replay feature is a fantastic tool to help you better yourself. The ability to go back and watch any game at any pace you like is one that players of plenty of other card games ask for often. It's important to make use of all tools at your disposal when learning. How does this tool help us answer the questions we've laid out for ourselves?


Was My Loss a Direct Result of My Own Negligence?

When you watch a replay, you should try pausing and looking through the ramifications of every single line you could have taken at any given point in the game. Not being bound by a timer lets you look for lines in complex gamestates that you simply may not have found when you played the game just because you were still stuck on a different decision when you started to run out of time. Perhaps you missed a lethal that only became apparent to you after 5 minutes of looking at the game in a paused state.

How do we learn from this revelation and apply it moving forward? This is the part of the game I personally struggle with most while playing. Learning to identify the problem is great, but if we're not growing from it, what's the use?

If you find that slowing things down in replays is opening up better plays than you were making in-game fairly often, you should work on running through your different lines faster without sacrificing thoroughness. Try pulling up a replay and pausing at a random turn to start analyzing play options against a timer you set for yourself. When your timer is up, look through the lines you found in that time and see if there are any unexpected outcomes you missed when trying to speed yourself up.


Did My Decisions Actually Matter?

The hardest part to accept in some losses is that there are times where no matter what you did at the time you lost the game, the game was lost. We hate to feel powerless and often see wins as a direct correlation to the expression of skill. Losing in a situation where we lacked immediate impact on the result can make us feel like we're playing incorrectly or are less skilled.

There may be times where you think to yourself "Had I just played this card over here instead of blocking their minion to get value traded by Hysterical Strength, I could have raced them and won." but a replay review will show you that your opponent drew Volition and double Hysterical Strength in their first 3 or 4 turns, allowing them to kill you if you didn't block.

These things happen. It sucks. The game is ultimately out of your control at some points, regardless of how much control you had over it at others. Does this mean that such situations present nothing to learn from, since how you played doesn't matter? Not necessarily. Learning to accept this is fairly hard. I think we often learn the phrase "If they have it, they have it." in card games without fully appreciating that this sentiment is very much a real thing and is, at times, just something you have to learn to accept.

While there are bound to be times where your decisions didn't actually matter, these are likely enough to be so few and far between that seeing them arise semi-regularly could just mean that you need to rethink your deck a bit. If you are constantly left in a state that no matter what you do, your opponent just simply always has the perfect cards to beat you, you may be playing with cards that aren't as effective as you might like them to be. Consider changing up your deck some and you may find better cards that leave you dead to fewer hands.


Did I make the Right Call at the Time?

One of the biggest advantages of the replay system can also be one of the biggest pitfalls for someone trying to get better at making the right decisions in the moment. Having perfect knowledge of a situation absolutely influences our decision making. Learning to differentiate the results-oriented approach that perfect knowledge presents us from the conclusions we have to draw from likelihoods in real-time is a very important skill.

It's easy to look at a replay and say "Man, I'm such an idiot. They had the card in hand to punish this play and I still did it." There are some things to definitely consider here that lend themselves to the idea that just because you got blown out when you could have avoided it, doesn't necessarily mean you were incorrect. You couldn't have known for certain that your opponent had the punishing card without the perfect knowledge the replay grants you.

This is not to say that without perfect knowledge, there is no consideration to be made for potential punishes. While in the moment, you should stop to consider what cards your opponent could have that punish your play. Does Magmataur punish you? Is your opponent playing R/O midrange? It's not unreasonable to suspect they may be holding a Magmataur and playing around giving them any more value than necessary is the right call. Is Temptation the only card that really punishes a play you're considering? Most decks that might be playing Temptation might only be playing a single copy. Have you already seen them burn the Temptation? It's not unreasonable to think that they may not have drawn, burnt, and redrawn a card you expect them to only have one of.

In the above examples, getting blown out by Magmataur is more likely to be a direct result of your own negligence than getting blown out by the Temptation would be. The most important part of this aspect of the replay review process is understanding the difference in reasonable expectation you should have when you don't have perfect knowledge of a situation. Learning to make better reads in the moment can lend itself well to finding less replays where you watch say "I played right into their card and I should have known better." but understanding that in the absence of certainty, logic-based assumption can save you is often the key to not beating yourself up over being blown out by decisions that are only incorrect in hindsight.


Spoiler Time!

With all of my rambling out of the way, I suppose I should give you a Rings of Immortality spoiler for your troubles.


Conclusion

Learning to draw success from defeat is a skill that will greatly help you improve as a player. Learning how to actually process information you can gain from watching your previous defeats will make you a better player moving forward. Dedicating the time to do these things is like making an investment in yourself and winning more games down the line is your payoff. I know that I definitely lose enough to have a lot of examples to learn from and hopefully my approach to doing so might just help you in doing so as well.

I want to thank Kryptik Gaming for giving me a space to share these thoughts with you. There is a lot more content here that can help you learn to be a better player and I fully encourage all of you reading this to absorb the information they've made available to you.


 
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