Copyright Nigel Buckle ©2003
Edited by Nicholas H.M. Caldwell for The Guild Companion
Many articles written about MECCG detail decks and possibly where to play the resources and how to use the hazards. However not much has been said about actually playing the game. In my opinion, a good deck is only half the battle; a good player using an untuned deck can often beat a weak player who has a strong deck.
Unlike some card games, MECCG has a hand-replenishing mechanic, and you draw cards in your movement phase and your opponents'. This means players often have to discard cards - and I believe it is this that many players find difficult.
The rest of this article is split into six sections:
- Resource Play
- Hazard Play
- Untap, Organisation, Long Event, Site&End Phases
- Character Draft
- Sideboard & Tournaments
Parts 1-5 have been covered in previous months. This month, we will look at the sideboard and playing in tournaments.
I've covered constructing a sideboard in a previous article (September 1999), so I'll assume you have a sideboard and this article will just suggest when and how you should access the cards in it.
For some decks, you will have cards in the sideboard that need to be brought into the deck – most likely resources and probably close to the end of the first deck cycle. Your deck will have cards to access the sideboard – or you'll be planning to tap your wizard (or Ringwraith) to bring the cards in. When you do this, is going to depend on your deck design, but holding a sideboard access card (such as Long Bottom Leaf) for multiple turns is poor hand management. Unless there is a really good reason to wait, I suggest sideboarding the cards as soon as the opportunity presents itself rather than wait.
Some hazards will be in the deck to plug holes in your hazard strategy, or to combat specific decks (such as One-ring). You need to know how to spot the signs that your opponent is playing a deck that you need to sideboard hazards to stop. Sideboarding slows the deck, by adding cards, so you need a very good reason for doing it – and facing an opponent who you can't touch with your hazards might be good enough (unless you can win the game with your resources). In this case, again it's best to sideboard as soon as you realise it's necessary, otherwise the game will be over before you have a chance to stop (or slow) your opponent. This is one reason that One-ring decks can work so well, if you wait too long to sideboard in hazards then your opponent can assemble all the parts needed to destroy the One, play them and win the game before you have had the chance to play your specialist anti-one ring hazards.
The other use of the sideboard is after the deck cycles. At this point, you can swap out 5 cards for 5 from your sideboard. Unless you can't afford the time to do this (because you're behind and time is close to being called in a tournament for example) you'd always want to do this, as there are bound to be cards in your deck you don't need. The additional copies of your wizard/ringwraith will be useless and can be removed, hazards that are just not going to work can be removed, as can resources that you no longer need. What you add will depend on your deck design and how the game is progressing. If nothing else, it's worth putting in a few corruption cards as it's likely the game is going to end soon, and putting corruption on opposing characters just before the Council is called is very effective. I've seen games won (or lost) when a character has failed the end of game corruption check (and run off with a valuable item or caused the discard of their only ally).
If you have hazards that allow you to sideboard in hazards, it's worth considering doing that rather than recycle a hazard from the discard pile – your opponent has seen the hazards you've already played (and may have adjusted their play accordingly), bringing in something a little different might be enough to throw your opponent off-balance. For example, say you've been quite successful playing Cave Drakes and Cave Worms on your opponent and you draw An Unexpected Outpost. You might be tempted to bring back one of the creatures – however your opponent may have changed the sites they are going to visit (or kept back some combat cards) having seen these creatures being played. Instead, if you sideboard a hazard, such as a Lure or Call of Home, your opponent, having not seeing that sort of hazard yet, might take a chance that you can exploit. In the case of a Lure, your opponent might load up the characters with weapons (which carry corruption) and your Lure might be enough to corrupt a character. In the case of Call of Home your opponent might be running the risk of low General Influence, as they have not seen you play any hazards that exploit that. Also players often assume that you have multiple copies of cards in the deck (or a theme so more of similar cards) – so playing a corruption card might spook your opponent into worrying (unduly) about more corruption cards and alter their play, to your advantage.
The sideboard can also be a lifeline if things are going very wrong – if your opponent has played all your resources first, or you've had key characters (with essential skills) discarded/eliminated then you can always get a replacement or two from the sideboard (assuming you have a way of accessing the sideboard). Alternatively you could put support cards that help influence attempts in the sideboard (such as Old Friendship, Wizard's Voice, Muster etc.) and sideboard them in and then go and steal those resources your opponent played first away from them.
What you don't want to do is waste time and cards sideboarding in cards that you end up just discarding later in the game – if you are going to the bother to sideboard make sure the card you are bringing in is really worth it.
Playing in tournaments can be a lot of fun. You get to meet players you otherwise would not, see different play styles, trade with new people and maybe make new friends. However you need to realise that a tournament could be a vastly different experience to your usual MECCG games.
Tournaments nearly always run to a time limit – if you're not used to playing to a time limit this can be a real shock, and if you play too slow your opponent may accusing you of stalling deliberately (cheating). It also means you might not get the chance to play your deck properly because either you never finish games or you rush yourself and make mistakes. I recommend that you practice playing to a time limit so you have an idea of how fast you can play and still play well.
In tournaments you will often play against people you don't know (and you might not even speak their language). Don't expect your opponent to be forgiving of your mistakes. In a casual game your opponent might let you change sites, tap a different character etc. – in a tournament often your opponent will not let you back up to correct a mistake. Similarly you should watch what your opponent does, in case they make a mistake or an illegal card play.
Often in casual play you will be very familiar with your opponent and the decks that are played – this is not the case with tournaments, expect to see different decks and have the game played a different pace than what you are used to.
Remember that tournaments will typically last all day – so make sure you aren't too tired before you start (so staying up all night before rebuilding your deck probably isn't the smartest move) and make sure you eat and drink (but probably not alcohol!) during the tournament.
Practice your poker-face. It's amazing how many players will give their opponents information about their hand/position with their behaviour. If you have a bad draw and no useful hazards, still spend a few seconds looking at your cards and then place one on guard – rather than say "ugh, I only have resources, I'm playing nothing". Your opponent doesn't know what cards you have (unless they've looked at your hand), so why help them by giving them more information?
Check out the rulings/errata before attending the tournament. It might be that the rules you've been playing in your local group don't quite match what will be played in the tournament. The tournament organiser should have these, and most tournament run to the old Council of Lorien rules which are available on the web and use the old ICE 'Collected Rulings File' (CRF for short) the latest one is #15. Some websites for this sort of information are listed at the end.
Try to enjoy every game (it's hard if you're not doing well, or your opponent has a particularly boring deck), as you've taken the bother to attend the tournament, and probably a few hours preparing for it (by building decks etc). If you lose, try to work out what went wrong (don't just blame poor dice rolls!) so you can avoid the same mistake(s) next game. Remember even if you lose a game, you can still do well in the tournament, and if you lose a game early then chances are you'll be facing weaker players in later rounds (or those who've been unlucky ...).
Similarly if you win, try to be considerate to your opponent, and still think about where in the game your play was weak, so you can learn and play even better next time.
Remember, it's just a game.
Useful Web Sites:
The Council of Elrond (coordinators of the MECCG World Championships)
The Dutch Council (great site for MECCG in general, spoilers, rules, CRF etc)
The new Council of Lorien
And Chris Cable's trade site for getting that crucial card you need for your killer deck: