A Modern TCG story

TCG’s were always disenchanting to me. Not only did most of them seem like excessive money grabs, but I never understood the obsession people had with them. As someone who is somewhat younger in the card gaming sphere, I didn’t really grow up on card games like MTG, Pokemon or Yugioh. Now, I had experienced the ‘Big 3’ on their online platforms before, but they all seemed like games with archaic design and gameplay compared to modern board games or other online TCG’s. New games, whether tabletop or on a console, were just far superior in terms of controlling variance and simply delivering the fun factor in return for my time put in.

I don’t mean to simply dunk on these old games. I will absolutely admit that there are moments in these games which are incredibly fun. Building your perfect board state, figuring out some obscure combo and outsmarting your opponent are all incredible feelings. However, these moments were always too far in between for me. What’s worse is they would be intermittently interrupted by poor card draw, mana screw and flood, and simply frustrating hand combinations. Even still, I would continue to play these games on their online platforms.

However, I kept running into the same problem: repetitive gameplay. Once you would have invested the time and effort to get your deck to a certain level, the gameplay was very repetitive. The best decks would be able to essentially create ‘lock out’ moments, where beating them is close to impossible. You would hence build something similar with your deck, and eventually the process to get to your win condition and the win condition itself were extremely similar. This made the climb up to get to that point in your deck building and gameplay fun, but eventually all roads would lead to Rome, and you’d get bored in the same way as every other TCG.

One of the other issues faced by many prospective young players today of FAB is simply an age gap. Entering a paper game of an intellectual property with so much history is extremely daunting. Not only are most players of paper MTG and Pokemon usually quite invested in the game, but they seem to trend above a certain age range. Now there’s nothing wrong with older players, but playing with others of a similar age range, especially when starting a game young, can be extremely helpful to enter a TCG smoothly.

Finally, there was the money factor. As a university student, I’m by no means free flowing in cash. Although my income is growing, a TCG would have to really provide a large value proposition for me to consider throwing my money at that market instead of additionally investing spare cash for my later years. However, even with this, I don’t think money is the biggest issue for young players. While I understand there is a budget everybody abides by, I think what modern TCGs always struggle with was the value proposition they threw out to the younger audience, which was cards with low return on investment, high variance gameplay and a business, design and release model which was clunky and outdated.

Taking the ‘Wrong’ Leap

Being a gamer, we’re always looking for new and interesting design philosophies and games. This is when I found Keyforge, which at the time was riding high on an incredible hype train due to Richard Garfield’s name tag behind it as well as an interesting new system in which decks were premade right out of the box. “What a peculiar idea!” was my first though to this. Taking deckbuilding out of the equation completely removes financial barrier to the game as well as creates an entirely different culture around optimization. So here comes a game with no financial investment, removal of the secondary market, a competitive scene brewing and a unique design space made available by modern AI and technology. With a quick hop and step, I had ordered and received my first Keyforge decks in the mail. I invited some friends over and introduced this new game to them, which seemed to be a hit. The excitement of opening an entire deck brought about a lot of joy as it always brought alongside it a feeling of curiosity and adventure in each game. In addition, Keyforge was swingy, and this is coming from an ex-Yugioh player. It was in fact so swingy that entire tablefulls of cards would be wiped off the table almost two to four times a game. This made the game almost comical but in a very deliberate and enjoyable sense. All in all, I had concluded that Keyforge was an incredible game for casual gaming and would be my TCG of choice for some time to come.

…If it were not for a small company from New Zealand

Taking the Right Leap

I’ll start this paragraph in the same way as the previous one. Being a gamer, we’re always looking for new and interesting design philosophies and games. Just because I had found Keyforge doesn’t mean I was done being interested in games, I simply thought I was done buying them for a while. However, I caught an interesting pack opening video on Alpha Investments for this fancy new game called Flesh and Blood. At the time, Crucible of War 1st edition had just been released, there were a lot of price swings in the market of that game that was making people gain and lose a lot of money. This is when I realized how much I missed collecting. Keyforge was fun, but it was too casual, and having my cards be worthless outside of the game isn’t something I realized would make me miss it until it was too late. However, outside of collecting, the art of Flesh and Blood was incredible and had a great spearhead of design. It was clear there were design philosophies and goals with each class, and although artists were able to be creative, this clear goal and high fantasy theme helped the game sink its paws into a player who adores high fantasy stories and classic tales of good versus evil.

For those of you who have watched Alpha Investments, you’ll know that most of his content isn’t play-based. However, since I was intensely intrigued by the game, I went over to the official YouTube channel of Flesh and Blood and was met with an intricately produced learn-to-play video that absolutely sold me on so many aspects of the game. The reaction phase was extremely thematic and exciting to me. The cards being all action and verb based, such as Head Jab and Rising Knee Thrust, allowed me to visualise the battle between two heroes in an incredibly detailed manner. And finally, the amount of love and care put into the production of this learn-to-play, especially for a small startup company, showcased an innate level of love and passion from the producers of this game towards its players and its growth.

Mechanically, the game was unlike anything I had ever seen. The gameplay was clean and easy to look at, with no board state to build and the combat chain being the focus of all interaction between you and the opponent. I love the tangible sense of offense and defense, completely removing the idea of keeping pawns on the board and rather stripping cards directly from your hands. In addition, realizing the cards are simultaneously the offensive engine, defensive engine and resource base for your deck was incredible. This finally felt like modern design. No hiccups, no impossible turns and design that looked to reduce variance at every corner. It felt intentional, deliberate and smooth. The game was incredible to watch as well. The board state returning to a clean slate after every non-attack action or turn end made for palatable gameplay to consume outside of when playing. Watching others play on YouTube and clearly understanding what was going on was one of the biggest reasons I was fully ready to commit when I eventually moved to make my first purchase.

The First Purchase

When I first bought into FAB, nobody in my town sold it. In fact, I was the first player in my city to even procure the product, which I did from another LGS many hours away from my hometown. Since procuring product was not easy physically or from a supply standpoint (early supply of FAB was scarce), I went all-in on my first purchases to buy starter decks of the WTR and ARC heroes and some booster boxes of Arcane Rising and Welcome to Rathe. Before I knew it, Keyforge was set aside, and my eyes were on Flesh and Blood. The game just felt much more complete than any TCG, and the swingy nature of Keyforge, which was fresh on my tongue, highlighted Flesh and Blood’s best properties - controlled, midrange gameplay.

Soon enough, I had my friends over to play Keyforge for the day. However, this was just a disguise to get them over and latch onto Flesh and Blood. Alongside the Keyforge decks, I had carefully placed the FAB ones I had premade so that my friends would stumble upon them. Once I heard the curious question of “what’s that game?” from one of my buddies, my sly self pounced on the chance to introduce them to what would eventually become the staple of my entire gaming group.

There’s a peculiar moment of teaching my first FAB game that I keenly remember. I was playing Rhinar and my opponent Dorinthea. As we were finishing up the first few turns, my opponent went to draw up after blocking. I remember stopping him saying “Hold on, the draw only occurs after attacking, so the cards you’re left with are all you can attack with until then”. Seeing that realization dawn on his face and hearing him say “ohhhh” as he realized the innate crux of magic that balances Flesh and Blood was incredible and was the moment I realized that I wasn’t wrong for seeing something in this game. It was truly what it claimed to be: the next classic TCG for a future generation to hold onto as their own. Quickly, my other friends picked it up and my personal collection grew larger and larger. I started playing and winning in online events, paying off a lot of my cards in the process and allowing me to purchase more booster boxes (singles were not sold widely at the time). Eventually, the collector in me was equally rewarded. On my third box of FAB, I opened an Eye of Ophidia, which I have duly kept as one of my favourite cards to this day.

Where I Am Now

We’re now just on the fringe of Uprising, and it feels like eons since I first started playing. My collection has grown enormously, and my gameplay level has risen to points I never thought were imaginable. Deckbuilding and Playing in this game are by far my favourite pastimes and it’s incredibly deep. I’ve put in countless hours into that Rhinar deck and taken it to multiple Skirmish wins and top 8 finishes in high level events.

The low amount of variance in this game still shocks me. I haven’t missed a top 8 in an event in ages, and any time I’ve lost it’s always been in good spirits and left me with a sense of curiosity as to the capabilities of the other player and how far I still must go to master my hero. Levia is my new deckbuilding puzzle and my consistent wish to figure out and play Kano has shown me the game has so much more to give than I thought possible. I am incredibly happy to see my collection retaining value should I ever need to leave the game and adding various cold foils Legendaries and Fableds to my collection binder has been something I’ve been proud to do and enjoy. The game has equally helped me financially, as writing strategy with ChannelFireball has helped not only finance my game expenses, but allowed me to put further money away for my education. In all ways, FAB has been a boon to my life.

The Next Season

This season, due to time constraints, I was only able to attend one ProQuest in which I finished second, barely missing my spot to the New Jersey Pro Tour. However, going forward, as more events reach Canadian soil and my personal schedule opens, I hope to participate more in competitive Flesh and Blood. In a Canadian Calling or Battle-Hardened event, I’d love to be calling games and interacting with the best of the best players. For me, as a young player once disenchanted by TCGs, the journey is just beginning.

Autor: Abbas Dedanwala

Abbas is a lover of strategy, board, and card games. He avidly enjoys strategic planning and designing for many TCG's; with a strong emphasis on Flesh and Blood.