This is the first serious article I’ve written in awhile, so bear with me. If you’re after terribly irrelevant anime gifs and jokes about 90s’ kids pop culture, go read literally any other article I’ve penned. I want to address an extremely divisive issue in the WS community, and that is the skill levels needed to play WS. I’ll get my personal stance out of the way first.
WS is a skillful game with an extremely high range of skill amongst its ‘competitive’ playerbase, but the current sanctioned format does not display skill to a consistent enough degree to allow the game to truly be competitive.
The way I want to address this is by hitting all the common criticisms of WS as a skill-based game. This could get long-winded, so strap in and prepare to wonder exactly how much BSR must have paid me to rep their game like this. You might even get offended along the way, which is great. I’d love for someone to tell me how wrong I am, because I may well be wrong.
I must reiterate, the big bolded points are not things I believe in: they are common criticisms and I am systematically addressing them.
#1: WS is a luck-based game, and you can’t consider it as anything but a lucksack simulator.
It’s true. WS is a luck-based game, as most TCGs tend to be. It is a game with a lot of variables, a lot of things to consider, and many things you want to try and optimise. However, it is hardly ‘a lucksack simulator’. That implies all that ever happens is one or both players spinning the wheel, hoping to hit a string of jackpots, and that’s really not how it is at all.
WS is a game so inundated with luck that the effect of luck is actually diminished because of its prevalence. Consider it like flipping a coin. Say you want it to land on heads. If you flip the coin once, the chances of getting heads is just 50%, but if you fall in that 50%, good for you. Now, say that you flip the coin twice. The most likely scenario is that you get one heads and one tails, which evens out your wins and losses. The chances of two heads or two tails is much smaller in comparison. The more times you flip the coin, the less likely it is that any particular side (heads or tails) completely dominates. This is the situation in Weiss Schwarz. You assess ‘luck’ so frequently that the chances of it going drastically towards one person are, simply, quite low. Luck exists, and it exists in droves. However, the overall effect of any given instance of luck is diminished significantly in the long run. You will quickly figure this out by playing any long set with someone of a similar skill level to you.
‘Well ok, sure,’ you say. ‘But my issue is that WS has so much more luck than any other cardgame!’ I feel that this is only partly true. Personal perception plays a pretty significant role as well. WS has the most obvious reliance on topdecking of basically any cardgame, because its deck is also kind of like its life total. Not only that, but a good portion of the deck is milled through the course of a normal game. It’s important that, unlike ChaOS (which also uses the deck as ‘life’), you don’t get the option of stonewalling your opponent or nullifying damage. You can’t stop the topdecks from flowing freely. Because of that, it’s so much more obvious what your topdecks are, and it is so much more obvious what your opponent’s topdecks are. You go through something like 8 cards per turn cycle, if not a lot more, which means you get to see exactly where your climaxes were, where your 1/0s were, and where your finishers were. Because of that, you are able to (hell, you are actively encouraged to) compare your luck with your opponent’s, which adds a whole new dimension of ‘luck’ to the game. Basically, you aren’t limited to your own bad luck – you now get to whine about your opponent having good luck in comparison!
There is, of course, true bad luck, but I feel part of the salt derived here is based on the fact WS is generally quite resistant to awful luck. High level WS has an enormous amount of zone control – over the hand, over the discard, and over the deck itself. This breeds a sort of privilege – an expectation that you will always get what you want. It’s true. You usually do get exactly what you want on the field. That, of course, engenders the issue of the exact opposite occurrence. Whenever this does not happen, it is regarded as bad luck, and man, do people moan. Failure to draw your searchers, failure to draw your crisis management cards, failure to draw your 4-of climax, or worst of all, unfortunate success at drawing most of your climaxes themselves – these are all trumpeted as terrible game-losing problems. The rancor this inspires in WS is a lot more than you see out of MtG players for not drawing lands, even though it’s honestly pretty similar (there are obviously local differences here and your experiences will vary, but I make this observation based on broad observation of both playerbases). The difference is speed. A lot of MtG formats allow you to miss a land or two and still catch up – most draft formats, most standard formats and a lot of the low-end high-power formats can afford to miss some mana turns. Sometimes your opponent is in a similarly sticky situation. WS, however, is a fast and consistent game, where a missed turn of attacks is both rare and often very damaging to your midgame situation. The fact that WS is normally a game where you can engineer your board position means that anyone who fails to do so may start slipping behind. It’s a bit like the Pokemon Trading Card Game – failure to find supporters or draw engines will put you behind by a ridiculous amount.
Yes, WS is a luck-based game, but the luck is extremely manageable, and you can pull off a gameplan quite easily. Yes, you have to rely on cancelling here and there, but literally every cardgame has a reliance on something. In Yu-Gi-Oh, you need to have a hand that actually does something. In MtG, you need to draw a good combination of lands and spells. In Pokemon, you need to draw gas to get your field going. If you ask me, WS is no worse off than most cardgames out there, and the fact that you get to flip the proverbial coin so many times means that it is in fact more resistant to awful luck than most.
#2: WS has no instant-speed interaction, so it’s a low skill game.
Yes, I’m going to bring up Magic: the Gathering now. This is actually a large umbrella of criticisms that all fall under the awn of ‘this game lacks something MtG has and is less skillful because of it’. I will start by saying something. Magic was a revolutionary game, and its mere existence is a significant reason why heavily-randomised hobbies can be regarded as skillful and competitive. I have huge amounts of respect for those who play MtG competitively, and I play it a lot myself. I think it is fun, interactive, and definitely a worthwhile pastime. I might even agree with the oft-stated adage of Magic being ‘the best game ever made’. However, it is not perfect, and just because it is good, does not mean everything should aspire to it.
Magic is, as many people know, a longrunning card game with literally 20+ years of history, cementing it firmly as the premier competitive cardgame, and the automatic competitive standard to which any cardgame is compared. This is the basis of so many fallacies regarding cardgames in general. MtG may be a good game, but saying a cardgame lacks skill simply because it lacks one of MtG’s skill-testing elements… that doesn’t fly. There are many, many skills in TCGs, and failing to include one that MtG has included (this is a short-sighted notion in its own right) means little to nothing if there is appropriate skill to replace it (and believe you me, there always is).
Take the most-often cited reason as to why MtG trumps games like Pokemon or WS. Instant-speed interaction. Let’s ignore the fact WS does actually have opponent-turn interaction and bite into this perspective. This is, in my opinion, a completely misrepresented argument. Yes, instant speed interaction makes MtG more interactive and more fun. However, a lack of instant speed interaction does not automatically make a game worse, and it certainly doesn’t diminish the game’s skill requirement. In the same vein, its presence in a game does not automatically provide irreplaceable depth or skill. To begin with, I want to break down exactly what makes instant speed interaction a good thing.
The first reason is simply the additional level of interaction. Actually having control and the ability to respond to your opponent’s actions is wonderfully empowering, and most importantly, it is fun. It is a pillar of MtG design, because it is meant to be a fun game. Not only does this add extra options (which are good in multiple ways), but it provides the framework for the priority system, which is a big part of MtG’s super-interactive game engine. Interaction (aka. actually doing things) is really fun. Bear with me though, as there’s a lot more to it. Occasionally, the provision of ‘more’ options actually makes gameplay interaction far, far worse. If everything strong was instant speed, the game would devolve into a staring contest, with draw-land-go turns until somebody has the audacity to actually do something and make themselves vulnerable. Instants only foster more interaction because they are a counter-foil to creatures, sorceries and the like.
The second great thing about instants is that they open up game design, which in turn broadens the depth of options in both set development and actual play. This is a cornerstone of MtG, as there are many well-balanced cards that only work by virtue of activating on your opponent’s turn. It’s far more interesting than YGO or Hearthstone’s trap card systems, adding a full level of bluff mechanics to the game. That being said, you don’t need to answer something as it is thrown at you. It is overwhelmingly easy to pre-empt plays and ‘counter’ them beforehand. There are plenty of good lockdown decks in any cardgame you care to name, including the cardgames with no Instant-speed interaction. In fact, this limitation can often force players to think a lot more about allocation of resources and cards than if you have a catch-all counter ready to blank the next relevant threat.
The third reason that instant speed actions are so good is that you can interfere with your opponent’s solitaire gameplans. It prevents them from simply going off and winning, but insane combos like this only exist because the game’s design department intended for them to exist, or were unacceptably lax in regulating them. It’s not normal for a game to have insane game-winning combos. It should never be normal. However, it is therein that the beauty lies. Instant speed interaction is so strong that it allows other strategies to ramp up in power level, thereby creating super strong and diverse strategies. It is because checks like Doom Blade exist that MtG is able to print cards like Giant Growth, which are broken in their own right. It is because catch-all answers like Counterspell exist that combo decks can be printed in part and not immediately banned. The existence of a supremely powerful mechanic like this allows the rest of the game to get similarly powerful, and doing powerful stuff is, without a doubt, extremely fun.
Now that we’ve worked out why instant speed interaction is great, the next question is: why is this irreplaceable? What is the skill being tested? Saying instant speed interaction adds a huge level of skill to a game by itself is a poorly reasoned statement. Once you’ve reached the point where you know the phases of the game and when best to deploy your spells, there really aren’t many skills setting you apart from the next competent player. Yes, instant-speed interaction is a good mechanic. No, it is not supremely skill-testing. Magic players like to say it is, while in reality it really doesn’t add actual meaningful decisions. If anything, sorcery-speed spells are the real skill-testers, as they require commitment on your turn and require you to read your opponent as having or lacking answers. More options do not actually raise the skill requirement, because in these scenarios you often just pick the option that gives you the most flexibility. Why would you tap mana to kill a Goblin Guide on your turn, if you can pass and represent any number of things with that mana (and bolt it as they attack for the trigger)? That is not a meaningful decision at all. There is no doubt that individual instant speed cards can be extraordinarily skill testing (Lightning Bolt, Gifts Ungiven, Brainstorm, etc, etc), but rarely is the skill inextricably tied to the spell’s nature as an instant.
Ultimately, instant speed interaction merely creates more options one needs to keep in mind, which is hardly a skill unique to MtG. People think that choosing to play something on your opponent’s turn constitutes skill by itself, and I think that’s overwhelmingly incorrect. In fact, more people make the mistake of leaving mana up for instants instead of just deploying a threat when it is certainly the best play, which is extraordinarily ironic.
Now that we’ve covered that, I move to say that games without interaction on the opponent’s turn can be extremely skillful by their own rights. Pokemon is a supremely non-interactive game, but the same man has won Worlds 3 times in 3 relatively different formats. The same Nanoha player from Singapore makes it to worlds basically every year. Hell, even at your locals, I’d bet my right molar that there are a couple people who consistently hit Top 4 (or even straight up win). This is not something that happens by accident – there is plenty of skill in games that aren’t MtG, even if the hardcore Magic elitists like to pretend theirs is the only skill-based card game. I’ll be moving on to the actual skill (or lack thereof) shortly, so just hold your horses.
#3: I’m playing the game optimally and I’m still losing all the time! Skill-less sacky casual game!
You’re not playing optimally. Nobody who plays optimally has this mindset, and nobody playing optimally will be losing all the time. You might be playing in a way you think is optimal, but chances are you’re missing something that other people haven’t. Literally every action you take in WS has meaning, and if you don’t derive meaning from it, your opponent probably will. The amount of time spent thinking about a play, the card chosen as clock fodder or discard fodder, the card chosen as your level zone marker – hell, the really ambitious players will often know most of your deck simply by seeing what you drop at the very beginning of the game. If you aren’t thinking at this base level, you aren’t even close to playing optimally.
That’s another thing about this sort of complaint. The very fact that people focus on their own play moreso than others’ actions is a testament to a lower average level of skill in WS. However, that’s fine. The game is very young, and the competitive community is still growing. You cannot expect everyone to know the basics of every competitive deck, and it’s even less realistic to expect playing experience against a wide range of decks. However, if you do not have an appropriate knowledge base, there’s no way you can properly apply skills of evaluation, deduction and risk management, because those are things you need to be applying from the very first action of the very first turn.
Looking at what your opponent is doing on the very first turn of the game can give you plenty of information about your opponent’s playstyle, their deck’s contents, their hand, and even their overall skill level. Very few people actively do this, and even fewer people have the ingrained habit of doing so. Let’s run an example, shall we? We’ll use Nisekoi, since everyone seems to have played against (or with) it at some point.
If your opponent drops Marika, Promise of Date into their discard at the very beginning of the game, that should immediately tell you several things. If you want to think of some and compare them to what I gleaned, go for it… I’ll be waiting.
First, they’re running the stock+soul, meaning they are probably not running 2k1s or bounce, that they are either very conservative with their stock use (or possibly the exact opposite), and that they are probably still stuck in the mindset of needing to use a climax’s combo pieces to ‘maximise value’. Additionally, this tells me they probably aren’t running the 3/2 yellow Chitoge, and that they may be running fewer of either 3/2 blue Kosaki or 2/1 level support Marika as a result – it’s not like you have infinite space in the deck. The other possibility is that they just have fewer slots lower down, so I shouldn’t be too surprised if they trigger more soul than normal.
I’ll be prioritising winning the Level 1 game as a result – having Level 1 cards remaining means that any further use of the 2/1 may hopefully be wasted on one of my remaining Level 1s, as opposed to a significantly large Level 3 or 2. It is very unlikely that they’re running anything but the 1/0 Marika climax combo as their other main climax combo. Because of that, the power level I’m most concerned about hitting is 8k after counter, because that’s what the 1/0 Marika hits after a Natsuiro Chitoge buff. Finally, I don’t want to clock myself too liberally, because a soul rush will be coming at me courtesy of the gate combo, so I’ll play as if they are going to use it at a moment’s notice.
That took me about 2 minutes to think up and type, and I regard myself as an above average player at best. If you aren’t thinking to at least this level, then that’s fine. You can always learn, and there’s no better time than the present. However, if you aren’t thinking to that level and still insist on judging the skill required in WS, I’m not sure you’re really qualified to comment appropriately. If you *are* thinking to this level or deeper and you still think WS is a game without much skill involved, then you and I have extremely different definitions of skill.
If you really think that WS is a game with an extremely low skill ceiling, I would invite you to upload a video of you playing, preferably verbalising as much detail about your thought processes as possible. I refuse to believe anyone who has actually reached a significant level of skill in WS can also say the game requires little to no skill, and I have no doubt that I would be able to pick plenty of arguable misplays in anybody’s game. Consider it a challenge.
#4: The game is designed to be casual, so it should only ever be taken casually.
This argument actually makes me angrier than any other one for a few reasons. This attitude is literally the reason that the game fails to pick up in many places, and is absolutely a huge part of why people never have the drive to do better. Someone will throw a couple hundred dollars at a deck, feel confident that they have reached the pinnacle of WS, then lose a few games in a row. At this point, no matter how many more times they win, they will start proclaiming that the game is a sacky casual game with no business being taken competitively. Screw those people. Humans are not bloody sheep. We interpret things how we want, we organise things how we want, and we change things to our liking. Things are only as competitive as you make them, regardless of how you feel about mechanics or the like. The creator does not dictate everything, and should never expect to. The beholder dictates the beholden.
The clearest example is Super Smash Brothers Melee. A game that was slated as nothing more than a party game. A game whose creator despised the idea of competition. A game that is now one of the premier competitive fighting games on the international stage. The community was passionate and dedicated, and continues to be so. That’s all it takes. A bit of passion. A few extra miles gone.
There is absolutely no reason to abide by a potentially-mistaken assumption that the makers of WS don’t want the game to be competitive. If that was the case, there would never be banlists. There would never be comprehensive competitive rulesets. There would never be competitive play, period. I’ll say it again. The game is only as competitive as we make it. If you want to keep it as a non-competitive waifu game, sure. Be my guest. Just don’t go mouthing off to everyone else about your complete disdain for the game’s competitive side, because it’s you people keeping the average skill level down.
If you actually care to take WS seriously, you need to speak with your actions. Teach new players. Promote the game. Actively rebuke anyone who says the game is lacking in skill. The casual mindset is already endemic, and the only way it’ll ever be quashed is through the effort of people passionate about the game.
#5: The only major skill in WS is shuffling.
I’m still not entirely sure how people can make this argument. It implies that ‘better’ shuffling will give you a better series of cancels, which is absolute bollocks for several reasons. Firstly, ‘shuffling to a better distribution of climaxes’ is effectively the same thing as stacking your deck. It doesn’t matter how long you randomise for, unless you are absolutely aware of where everything is in your deck (this is called cheating), you cannot know how randomised your deck is, so it’s a totally moot point. Secondly, your opponent’s triggers, cancels and climax plays completely alter any theoretically ‘correct’ shuffle. Hugely. You can predict to some degree when your opponent will play a climax, but you cannot predict triggers, nor can you predict exactly how many characters with how much soul will be played. Ergo, you can’t do jack about that without actually being psychic. This is just a terrible argument that literally makes no sense, and is generally only used by people who declump their decks and slot climaxes pre-refresh.
Thoughts on the Tournament Format being Bo1
Anyway, enough moaning. I want to ramble a bit about the official format in which Weiss Schwarz is played, and why it is awful, despite HotC’s attempts to tell us otherwise. I’m going to directly address each of their conveniently separated arguments for the Bo1 format.
1. Tournament time limits. A Best of Three Tournament takes three times as long as a Best of One. This may limit venues from running tournaments for large numbers of players.
This is the legitimate argument. It’s basically the only argument they need. If they left it here, I would leave them alone, because time limits and budgeting are extremely real. The fact they listed more is, to me, an invitation to rip their other arguments to shreds. If we want to expand to a Bo3 format, we will definitely need tournaments to go over multiple days. WS isn’t MtG. They aren’t raking in cash by the bucketful and the organisation and management executive are disjointed and scattered. It’s very difficult to arrange multiple days of tournament hall rental, much less convince the distributors around the world to splash out on fees for doing so. The other alternative is enforcing unrealistically short time limits on rounds. While many people play quickly and would be fine with short Bo3 rounds, that doesn’t really mean anything. There are many, many factors as to why slow play is perfectly excusable for a cardgame written entirely in Japanese, especially since there are many factors that intermediate/newer players need time to work with.
2. It preserves the Japanese ‘meta’. In a Best of One tournament structure, techs that work two out of three times are much more potent overall. It allows players to ‘get away’ with more variance, as they will have a free ‘loss’ in every matchup. As such, certain builds are more powerful in a Best of Three structure – perhaps in a way that differs from the original imagining of those cards in the overall game.
3. It prepares the eventual winner for the World level. Players who build and are victorious in a Best of Three structure will not fare as well with similar deck and playstyle in a Best of One tournament. We want our National Representatives to be as well-prepared as possible – and as a Heart of the Cards Representative won Worlds against dozens of other international qualifiers, we feel this shows that our format works.
These points are basically the same. They’re just paragraphs of meaningless fluff, written there because they wanted to talk about the US taking Worlds that one time. It’s fine if you’re just following the JP format, but that just means the problem lies with the JP tournament format in the first place. That aside, this reasoning is nonsense. If you’re playing a cool tech that does THAT much, you deserve to win based on reading and reacting to the meta. That’s what Rafael Vigo did, and HotC has no issues standing by him. There are approximately no ‘techs’ of this sort in Weiss Schwarz anyway – if a card deserves the moniker of ‘tech’, that implies it is oftentimes bad, or does nothing in some matchups. If it’s good against the whole field, well done, you just cracked the goddamn format. I mean, MtG actually encourages this with the sideboard system. I’m very confused that they actually bring up the idea of ‘a tech that only works 2 out of 3 times’ being more potent in a Bo3 match. Why is this relevant? That’s not how statistics work at all, and it certainly isn’t good logic in relation to the flow of any normal WS game.
4. Players learn to counter decks as they play them, not after they lose to them. Instead of losing to a deck, then adjusting their play, they must adjust their play within the bounds of the game they are playing. This leads to a higher degree of skill required to succeed.
This is absolutely ridiculous. Have these people actually played WS? You can rarely ever stabilise in this game, and if you can, it was your gameplan to do so to begin with. There are very few hard counters to a deck, and since WS has no sideboard, you either had those cards to begin with, or you didn’t have them and it doesn’t matter. There is no reason to advocate ‘in-game adaptation’ versus ‘post-game adaptation’, especially when both players are afforded the previous match to learn about the matchup anyway. That aside, what are you even adjusting your play to? A super secret tech? An alternate Level 1 play to the norm? If there’s something so out-of-the-ordinary that it needs a completely different playstyle to tackle (eg. Do-Dai), then what this format really does is promote the power of these decks. It promotes the power of rushy gimmick decks that drop consistency for burst power. It doesn’t increase the requisite skill level at all, and practically every argument for skill, adaptation and deck choice in a Bo1 format has a corresponding argument in the Bo3 format as well.
Let’s not even get into the fact that this strongly favors players who finish their games quickly and have the chance to scout the room (or have their friends do so). WS is a game played in a real-life scenario, and if you have a good grasp of what others are playing, there goes the whole ‘skill of adaptation’ they’re talking up.
5. It does not necessarily change the eventual match victor in an individual match. While this is not a stand-alone reason, but we wanted to show that we have done our ‘homework’. We ran a number of mid-range events in 2011 with Best of Three rules, and only 25% of the games went to the third match, which resulted in the winner of the second game winning the match only 30% of the time. This shows that, for our results, the Best of Three winner was different than the Best of One only 8% of the time. While this is 8%, be aware that statistically, for every win you ‘should’ have gotten because of a Best of Three, you lose one that you ‘should’ have gotten because of a Best of One.
Ancient trial with undocumented skill subsets, deck choices (in the Railgun-dominated meta, to boot), and sample sizes. If the sample size was significant, I’ve no doubt they would have trumpeted it in this paragraph, and they definitely wouldn’t have used the wishy-washy term of ‘mid-range’. The Bo3 winner was only different 8% of the time? Well of freaking course, WS is a game laden with variance. What do you think is easier, winning one game while on a high, or winning two in a row coming off a loss? This 8% merely represents the fact there is variance in WS, and who knows, it might represent a few comebacks by skilled players who fell to bad luck in game one. It’s terrible experimental design with no real control or control of variables. Who’s to say people didn’t play differently, knowing they had a Bo3 safety net? Why are we taking this seriously, again?
Best of 3 is absolutely the best way to lower variance. Not only is there more of a chance for poor luck to even out, but if you actually believe skill exists in WS, then it will definitely show itself more clearly over a longer set of games. There is a reason poker is played over hours instead of single hands. There is a reason all fighting games are run in sets, not single games. There is a reason we play Swiss, and not bracket elimination. There is a reason every other logistically-supported cardgame plays Bo3 or Bo5.
Logistics is the only actual excuse. Don’t fool yourselves into thinking otherwise.
As always, comments below. Criticism below. Feedback on relative lack of memes below.