4 Reasons Why I Am Terrible at Trading Card Games
I love trading card games. I know they are also called collectible card games, but I’m just going to keep saying trading card games (or TCGs for short) anyway. I love everything about them. I love how they require careful strategy. I love how they encourage you to customize your deck exactly how you want it. I love the imaginative mechanics and lore associated with the games. It’s all great. A+. So why am I so completely horrible at them?
That was the question on my mind ever since I attended QuakeCon in early August. That’s when I first played Elder Scrolls: Legends in front of Bethesda staff and made a public fool of myself. I dove in headfirst with a default deck, admired the gameplay, and lost handily to a handicapped AI. But that didn’t discourage me. It’s a TCG: it takes time, strategy, and study to get good at, right? So I buckled down, downloaded the game on my home PC, and decided that I was going to play it consistently for an entire month. Then, I’d finally be good at it. Then, I’d redeem myself for all of my Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone failures. That was the plan, anyway.
It’s a month later, and I can say with confidence that I was completely and utterly wrong. I challenged hundreds of players. I built dozens of decks. I brainstormed tactics and strategies. I paid attention each and every time I was beaten. But it wasn’t until today, after my fourth consecutive loss of the day, when I realized I will never be good at Elder Scrolls: Legends. I will never be good at any TCG. And I think I know exactly why.
1. I’m Bad at Studying
Trading Card Games take a ton of studying. Did you know that? Seriously, just think about it. From my count, there are about 390 different cards in Elder Scrolls: Legends. I have no doubt my count is off, but I bet it’s not off by much. In order to have even a basic understanding of the game, you pretty much need to learn each of these cards and what they can do. But it goes further than that. Much further.
You see, it’s more than just figuring out which 50 cards are the best. If it were only that, then everyone would have the exact same deck just before the game disappears from relevance and memory. In order to study the cards, you have to study how their effects play off the game and each other. Not just in your hand, but also when used against you. That way, you can plan for a contingency against the tactic, as well as a contingency against the contingency. And I haven’t even begun to tear apart the Russian Nesting Doll that is TCG strategy.
In the end, all of your studying is worthless unless you know what to do about them. So now you have to know 390 cards, uses for each card, counters for each card, plus any given combination of cards that play off of each other. My problem is that I always get stuck just after part two. I can build a deck with useful cards, but no matter how much I plan for strategy, they always seem to be unrelated cards mashed together. Which brings me to my next point.
2. I Can’t Build a Cohesive Theme.
There are tons more cards in other trading card games, but let’s stick with Elder Scrolls Legends (ESL) for now. We’ve already covered how there are about 390 different cards in ESL. Only about 22 of those are “unique” (only one copy can be in a deck at a time). Other than those, the rest can have up to three copies in a given deck. That’s 1,126 possible cards (with repeats). And in ESL, you can have from 50 – 70 cards. I’m not doing that math. For all intents and purposes, let’s say there are endless deck possibilities. However, the vast majority of those fall apart when up against the few decks that follow an actual theme.
No matter what deck I build, it doesn’t seem to hold up to the decks of others. And don’t get me wrong, I try really hard to build really good decks that play well as a team. I noticed a huge strategy going around the ESL community was waiting until you had enough power to kill your opponent in one turn before doing damage. That way, they couldn’t benefit from the cards they drew from losing health. In response, I built a “Vampire” deck. Nearly everything in the deck was focused around getting me more health. That way, I can keep stringing my opponent along until I get a comeback rolling. It was doing well at first. Really well, in fact. But remember what I said about 4 consecutive losses? Each one was with my “Vampire” deck.
The only thing I can think of is that I’m missing some fundamental concept. My brain must be incapable of building a deck with real strategy. I say this, because I tried with each of the few dozen decks I’ve built. And yes, I made sure to test each one about a dozen times each before either making changes or building a new deck. Either there’s some memo everyone got that I missed out on, or I just don’t get it. Speaking of not getting it.
3. I Refuse to Spend Money
This is lower on the list, because I don’t actually think this has near as much of an influence on trading card games as the others. This is especially true considering physical games (like Magic: The Gathering) absolutely require a financial contribution. And before I continue, I want to be clear about something else. I’m not against spending money on this game. I have played countless hours on ESL in the past month, so they more than deserve my money. The reason I won’t spend any on this particular game is that I’m in love with the concept of slowly earning cards as you progress.
When I reach a new level and earn a new pack, I get excited. Even when all 6 cards are common cards, I feel good about it. I earned those cards through hard work. I had to grind for them. And since I’m apparently a sucker for punishment, I love grinding. I did grow up with 90’s JRPGs. Then again, it’s scientifically proven that we all love grinding for uncertain rewards. And while that most of those I’ve faced probably haven’t paid a dime for their decks, I can’t shake the feeling that others have dropped serious coin for some of the rares they’re dropping on me.
Again, this is low on the list. But I did feel it needed to be mentioned. Every step in the game, the thought is in the back of my mind: the idea that my deck is inferior because I haven’t paid for it. But when you really think about it, that seems like more of a personal problem. Speaking of personal problems.
4. I Love the Lore in Trading Card Games
I really like getting into the lore and story behind the games. It’s really easy with ESL, because it’s all based on a fully established universe already. It was also pretty easy with Magic: The Gathering. Back in the day, I was introduced to Magic by a friend. One of the first things I remember saying is, “I want to make a Vampire deck.” The response was an apprehensive, “okay,” before I started. I bought packs, traded, and even Ebay’ed my fair share of vampire cards before my deck fell to pieces. But why?
A lot of your are shaking your heads right now. That’s fine. I deserve it. If you’re not shaking your head, allow me to explain. You can’t just shove a bunch of lore-related cards together and expect them to jell. That’s just not how it works. Lore can be cool, interesting, and fun, but that’s pretty much it. Game designers don’t have to take that into consideration when making cards that work together. Sure, lore-related cards may share a keyword or actually do well in the same deck. It’s just that it takes more than that to make everything actually come together. If it weren’t that way, then everyone in ESL would just have a deck of Orcs and be done with it. And, once again, there’s just something about this idea that somehow escapes me every time.
I can’t stress this enough. I love trading card games. Whether digital or physical, they are awesome. And I’m not going to stop playing them all because I’m not very good. There has to be a “below average” in everything. Perhaps I just need to accept that I’m below average at trading card games. That’s not so bad, right? Right?