How to Lose

Whether it’s an Olympic athlete, professional gamer, or the best player at your local game store, we all have one thing in common. We’ve all lost. A quote by author Stephen McCranie that has always stuck with me is:

“A master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.”

Although failure is never our goal, it provides the greatest catalyst for positive change as long as we approach it with the proper mindset. Anyone at the top of their game will tell you if you want to win, you have to learn how to lose.

Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

What do I mean by learning how to lose though? Of course I don’t mean intend to lose, but rather to take a loss and use it to improve our game. Simply losing a hundred games won’t improve your play, you have to ask yourself why you lost. Anyone who has ever played a trading card game, whether at your local game store, a competition, or just at home with your friends has undoubtedly heard these reactions before: “I would have won next turn!” or “They got really lucky” or possibly even “If they didn’t have ‘x’ I would have won that game.” Unfortunately all of these reactions have the same root problem: they assign the blame to something else. Like the old saying goes, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.”

Obviously sometimes these statements are true (and they certainly always feel true,) but they don’t promote the kind of critical thinking that will help improve your game. What can you can do to change what happened so it doesn’t happen again? It’s easy to look at the last few turns of the game as the deciding factor, but more often than not it was choices made during the early and mid-stages of the game that had the largest impact. If there were two plays you were stuck between, what would have happened if you chose the other one? Are there plays you might not be considering? For example, sometimes it is better to hold a play and let your opponent score uncontested damage so that you can make a play with more value later on.

In mono-ice lists, Jihl Nabaat (1-193S) is a very popular card for good reason. She has the powerful ability to freeze two of your opponent’s forwards. Let’s say you are going second and Jihl is the only backup you have available to you, while your opponent played one forward on their turn. Many players will put Jihl down for no effect just to play a backup on their first turn, but what if we chose to wait instead? It’s almost certain your opponent will think they can take an early advantage when you don’t play a backup and swing into you for an early point of damage. Next turn the same Jihl play has twice as much value because we predicted an opponent’s move and decided to be patient. While it may feel like we are behind a turn, by playing Jihl one turn later we actually disabled our opponent’s forward when we otherwise wouldn’t have, and we kept additional cards in our hand to make a bigger play next turn. Taking damage can also trigger EX bursts, or activate certain effects like Cecil (1-108H) or Steiner (4-129L) that might help you gain an advantage over your opponent. Decisions like these pop up every time you play, and identifying the different paths a choice can create is an important way to get better at piloting your deck.

Counting Cards

Remember that every card in your and your opponent’s deck is a deliberate choice. If you find that you often “get unlucky” or “draw dead,” maybe the problem lies in deck construction. Lay out your deck and evaluate your choices. Resources like help you keep track of helpful statistics like your cost distribution, number of EX bursts, and number of cards. Do you have too many high-cost cards, giving you a higher probability of bad early hands? Do you have too many situational cards that you always draw into at the wrong time? Is there a way to search for a card that is critical to your strategy and are you utilizing it? It's also possible you are trying too many different strategies at once. When your opponent rips that game-winning card off the top of their deck or has a perfect answer in their hand, rather than be surprised ask yourself if there was anything you could have done to prepare for it. Many elements have powerful answers you can predict ahead of time such as Shantotto (1-107L) or Odin (1-124R).

Even if your opponent isn’t playing these cards, being prepared for them still puts you in a better position. Don’t be afraid to check your opponent’s discard and count how many copies of popular answers they have already used. What are the chances they are holding the counter to your next move? By changing the order you play your cards in, you might even be able to get your opponent to use a big answer on one of your smaller plays. If your opponent is running a fire element deck and hasn’t played any Bahamut (4-016R) cards, you shouldn’t be surprised when they use one to answer your next big forward. When you find yourself on the receiving end of a surprise summon or ability, ask if there was any way you could have seen it coming. If you give yourself honest, constructive criticism and try new approaches, you foster growth in yourself as a player!

Easier Said Than Done

Of course taking a step back after a loss and analyzing your play isn’t always easy to do. It’s only natural to feel upset after a defeat, especially if you have invested a lot of time or effort into playing the game. Personally I used to always be one of the players with an excuse for why I lost. I soon realized that the top players around me would suffer crushing defeats with much more on the line than me, and rather than sap their confidence it would inspire them to seek new, innovative solutions to their problems. All of those players had one distinct advantage over me though; they had all lost more games than I had ever even played and therefore had that much more knowledge and experience making the decisions I was still unsure about.

It’s never easy to admit you could have done something better, or made the wrong choice. When you take the time to analyze your play, losses can start to feel like an opportunity to grow. Sometimes what excites you most about a close match will be the thing you feel like you can change to win next time. Of course luck is always an element in any competition, and for there to be a winner someone must always lose. How we handle a loss not only defines who we are as a player, but who we will become as we continue to invest time in the FFTCG. If you want to level up your game, you have to learn how to lose.

by John Schreiner

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