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Strategy Session #1

Sun Tzu – “The Art of War”

My name is Tom Lafleur, and I have been playing CCGs  (collectable card games) for over 6 years.  Some of the games I play are MTG, Pokemon, Star Wars, Middle Earth, and Legend of the five Rings.  This is the first of many strategy sessions that I will post Pojo MTG page – some of you will definitely benefit from the words of this great Chinese Master.  Sun Tzu was a general and a philosopher who lived 2,500 years ago, and revolutionized ancient warfare.  His maxims are still taught to military students today – and for good reason!  My goal is to take the wisdom of this great strategist and try to explain it to you in terms of deck building, tournament preparation, and general CCG training advice. 

A CCG player is just like a general.  Your forces are the creatures and spells in your deck.  To be a good general, Sun Tzu says that you must follow the 5 constant factors:

Sun Tzu’s CCG Advice

Know all the rules of the game

Improve your physical condition

Know all the cards and popular deck types

Build a deck and rehearse

Your mental state

Let’s spend a minute talking about these 5 bits of advice.  First, to be an effective player, you must know the rules of the game.  This means reading the latest rule book  and checking on-line with the latest rule changes.   When you practice with your friends, you must play by the rules.  That way, you will always play as if you were in a tournament. 

Your overall physical health is very important – if you are in good shape physically, you won’t run out of gas in the later tournament rounds.  Remember that the tournament gets tougher with each round, and if you are tired and hungry, you will be more likely to make bad decisions and lose games.  Keep up your energy with healthy snacks – bring them with you in your backpack to snack on between rounds.  The food for sale at most tournaments is mainly quick energy snacks – candy, sodas, chips.  This type of food will give you a burst of energy, but you will crash even harder in the next round.  Bring fruit, juice, nuts, a sandwich, granola bars, celery, carrots, and stuff like that. 

You have to be an expert at the most popular and most effective decks in order to win.  Let’s face it, some players will just take a deck off of the internet and play it in a tournament and lose horribly.  They won’t understand why they lost, when someone else won a whole tournament with it.  The main reason is that they don’t understand how to play the deck most effectively.  This leads into the next point – rehearsing your deck.  Play your new deck against as many of the most popular deck types you can.  Strive to play against the best players in your area – that will be the kind of player you will face in a tournament, and the bigger the tournament, the tougher the competition.  When your deck does well, note the cards and combinations that worked.  When your deck does poorly, write down the cards you wished you would have had.  After about 20 games, take a look at your piece of paper and add some cards and take away cards that didn’t work.  You have just tuned your own deck!   This is when you really take a good look at your sideboard.  The cards that only work against a specific deck type are cards  you should consider for your sideboard.

Finally, your attitude can make the difference between winning and losing.  It is easy to be happy when you are winning, but you must be positive even when you are losing – especially when you are losing.  With a properly built deck, even a hopeless situation can be turned around with a lucky draw.  Think positively and keep your spirits up.  When you lose, lose gracefully.  Shake his hand and tell him ‘good job’.  Make your opponent earn the victory, and when he does, congratulate him on a great game.  You really do learn more from the games you lose than from the ones you win!

Sun Tzu also said that we must rely on our own abilities, not the opponent’s lack of preparedness.   This means that we must strive to be the best we can be, and to treat each opponent as the hardest player we ever fought.  That way, we are using all of our skill to defeat him, and are really trying hard not to make mistakes.  If we assume that the opponent is weak, we will make more mistakes and play more sloppily.

Sun Tzu reminds us of the 5 faults of a bad general:



Hasty Temper



All these things will cause you to lose a game.  If you play too fast, using your creatures once you draw them, you may be playing recklessly, and your opponent could wrath them all away.  You must wait for the right time to use your spells…but Sun Tzu also says that if you are afraid to try a bold or risky move, then you will surely lose too!  He knows that there is the right time to play your spells, and only through experience will you realize when that time is.  That’s why you have to playtest your deck so much – to be able to see the point in the game when things can take a major turn for the worse or better by your actions. 

One of the worst things you can do after losing a game in a tournament is to dwell on it.  When you are angry or ashamed about a loss, you will keep thinking about that game, the one you lost, instead of thinking about the one you are currently playing.  This will lead to mistakes, and maybe another loss.  Finally, don’t spend too much energy worrying about your next opponent – especially if he is a really highly ranked player, or someone who always beats you.  Remember that any given deck can be beaten with skillful play and a little luck.  You must always think positively!

Remember, Sun Tzu said that if you know your deck, but you don’t know your opponent’s deck, you can win half of your games.  If you know your opponent’s deck, but you don’t know your own, you can also win half of your games.  It is the master who knows his own deck (playtest, build it properly, good mental and physical condition) and knows his opponent’s deck (know all the cards, know the rules) who can win all of his games! 

Next week I will finish up with the rest of Sun Tzu’s lessons for CCG players.  Good luck and keep playing!




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