TaKtiX: Chris Dyer

Chris Dyer is a lead playtester for Warlord, has been UK Champion in both Open and Campaign formats at the same time; he placed 2nd overall at his first KoHIT (2004) and highly in the second KoHIT (2005).

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bluffing

A lot has been made in a number of posts on this site about the mental side of the game. (So many that I'm not going to bother linking them: trust me, they're there.) The gist of all those articles boils down to this: You're not just playing two decks against each other, you're playing your opponent as well. This is an incredibly wide topic, and there's a number of ways to use the mental side to give yourself an edge. For example, I'm fairly sure I've won a couple of games based purely on reputation.

Anyway, I'm going to focus on one specific side of the mental game: bluffing.

Now, I'm going to get a bit Rumsfeld here. In any card games there are known factors and unknown factors. Bluffing relies on convincing your opponent that one of the unknown factors is something it's not. Looking specifically at Warlord, there are two factors that could be unknown. The first one is playstyle.

Think about it. You're at a big tournament, and sit down opposite your opponent. You've never met him before, so you've got no idea what his playstyle will be. Does he like to take risks, or is he very calculating? Is he impulsive or not? Those factors will affect how he plays, and consequently, affect how you should play him. However, if you don't know how he plays you should try to play your natural game. On the flip side, you can try and stop him playing his. Make his choices hard. Make him believe you're willing to run your Tepheroth to rank 1 to slap his Warlord if you need. It doesn't matter if you're far too a cautious player to do that in reality: if he believes you might then it'll make his game harder to play.

While there is an element of bluffing in the above, the big part of it is in the second unknown factor: your deck. This works two ways. First of all, all your opponent sees at the start of the game is your starting lineup. Imagine that you sit down and see Caitlyn the Free behind two copies of Amadousi's Wrath and three Brine Fiends. From that start it's almost impossible to deduce what the deck does. It might be spell blitz. It might be a Medusan Lord's Gambit deck. It might even be dragon ranching, or a mixture of two tactics. The way you play will always be affected by the deck you're playing against, so keep your opponent guessing if you can. Keeping him off balance is enough to give you an edge.

Right, I've dallied around the fringe enough now. The big area that you've got the potential to bluff in is what you hold in your hand. Rather than plunge in to a rather large theoretical monologue, I'm going to throw out a couple of examples here, as is my habit. Hopefully, they'll illustrate my point.

First one is from Gencon UK 2004. I was sitting at a Morrigan challenge against Vince Turner with my latest Jacqueline Windson Great Crossbow sniper deck. I play a lot of challenges against Vince and we'd been through this game a few times. In previous games he'd played Blink to cancel my three wound shot. In this game I'd constructed my first shot and seen it cancelled in the same way. Fair enough, I thought, I 'll just have another shot later on. But Vince held a card at the end of the turn. Not obviously, in fact I asked to make sure. And he held the same card at the end of next turn. I'd convinced myself it was a Blink, and so I waited until I could find a copy of Countersong. About four turns later I finally got the shot off, Countersonged his Blink, only to run straight in to a second copy. I lost pretty soon afterwards. After the game, Vince mentioned that he'd drawn in to both copies that turn. He'd spent four turns holding what turned out to be a copy of Shatter, accurately guessing that I'd believe it to be a Blink. That bluff cost me a Dragonlord.

The second example is from KOHIT 2005, where I was playing with Vince in the World Doubles Championship. We were playing the latest version of our double Deverenian fu, Inquisitor Chyre and Karkos Tzin. In the third round we came across Ar'tek and Dezi'crah. We took Ar'tek out pretty quickly, but then my Chyre got hit with a Zaina's Treachery and Black Steel Dagger strike, leaving just two players left. Karkos had a wound on him from an exploding Muddflekk or something, and was sitting in rank 2 with a steed, while Dezi'crah was spent on rank 1 with one card in hand, as well as one wound. (At this point I'm going to throw out a big up to Vince, who is a highly accomplished Doubles player. When we play together we can communicate very easily without saying very much at all, which definately helped in this situation.) Vince couldn't move forward and attack, because if that card was a second copy of Zaina's we'd lose the game. We were prepared to sit it out until next turn. Then the player made a big mistake. They played the last card in hand, which turned out to be an Ac'vuk. Vince waited for him to attack, moved forward and killed Dezi'crah, confident that we couldn't lose that turn. The smart move would have been to keep that card in hand and bluff: failing to do that cost the game.

So what is there to learn from here? Firstly, it's easier to bluff that you're holding a card and make your opponent worry about it if he's already felt the ill effects of it being used against him. Once you hit Ar'tek with your first Infinties End he's going to worry about the same happening next game. Who knows, if you've spooked him enough and you bluff well enough he might not even move forward twice that turn.

Secondly, knowing someone better can make it both harder and easier to bluff. It's a lot easier to get inside the head of someone that you know well and have played multiple times. For one thing, they have more awareness and thus will worry more about the cards in your decks, and secondly you should know what cards or strategies they find difficult to cope with. At the same time, however, they're more likely to be able to deduce what's in your hand after multiple games against you.

And most importantly, bluffing is a very important weapon in a Warlord players arsenal that can help win games. Use it wisely, but watch out for it being used on you as well.

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