Seasonal Tournament: Thoughts on Preparation, Performance, and Lessons Learned
Hi, Random7HS here again!
I had a great time playing in the Monuments of Power Seasonal Tournament. I entered it with the line-up of Feel the Minah, Anivia Control, and Twisted Fate Go Hard, finishing Day 1 Open Rounds at 4-1 record. Despite falling just short of the top 32 playoffs, it was still an awesome experience – a couple of my games were even picked up by the official stream and cast by Phreak and Pastrytimes. I also had a lot of fun watching the playoffs in EU and NA.
In this article, I wanted to share how I prepared for the event, including how I came up with my lineup and how I modified my decks for the tournament. I hope this reflection on what went right and wrong for me in this event will help all the players out there who strive to do well in LoR tournaments.
Figuring out a Lineup
A few weeks before the tournament, I started looking for decks that I thought might want to play. I came up with these as my pool of possible choices: Deep, Twisted Fate Go Hard, Feel the Minah, Leona/Diana, Fiora Shen, Ezreal Draven, Shadow Isles Feel the Rush, Anivia, Hecarim, Zombie Ashe, and Spooky Karma. These were decks that I was either extremely comfortable playing or I could not easily discern many bad matchups for.
Then, based on what I’ve seen in community tournaments and on the ladder, I created a list of decks that I thought would be popular. I came up with Ashe Sej, various Targon decks, Fiora Shen, Ezreal Draven, Shadow Isles Feel the Rush, Anivia, Twisted Fate Go Hard, Viemer, and Fearsome Aggro.
I know many people use Mobalytics stats for a view of the meta. However, when looking at ladder stats, we have to keep in mind that decks that fit in multiple lineups, like Ashe Sejuani, are much more popular in tournaments.
My first thought was to make a lineup to counter Fiora Shen because it was one of the most popular decks at the top of community tournaments before the Seasonal. However, I shied away from doing so because, in this large of a tournament, I thought it would be unlikely to face Fiora Shen every round. And indeed – I ended up playing against exactly zero Fiora Shen decks throughout the event.
My next thought was to bring decks that were both as consistent as possible and had as many even-to-good matchups as possible. About a week before the tournament, I came up with the lineup of Twisted Fate Go Hard, Anivia, and Feel the Minah.
I felt that Twisted Fate Go Hard was unquestionably the best deck in the meta and I don’t need to protect it with a ban. Instead, I could simply ban Anivia’s and Feel the Minah’s worst matchups – Scouts and Fiora Shen.
On the other hand, I believed that if I played well, all three of these decks would beat Ashe Sejuani, Fearsome Aggro, Ezreal Draven, various Targon decks, Twisted Fate Go Hard, and Veimer. This lineup would also do well into less popular decks such as Elites, Swain variants, and other midrange decks.
I was not initially completely sold on this lineup after coming up with it. I was worried about lineups targeting Twisted Fate Go Hard and about Anivia’s ability to beat Commander Ledros. However, after discussing the matchup tables and testing other decks on my initial list, I felt that Twisted Fate Go Hard, Anivia, and Feel the Minah had the least overall number of bad matchups.
I saw many people asking for Riot to implement a permanent ranked best-of-3 mode to help them prepare for tournaments. I actually disagree that playing best-of-3’s is the best way to test a 3-deck lineup.
The problem with playing best-of-3’s is that it often leaves you with less practice with whichever one of your decks that gets banned out most often. And if you always ban the same decks yourself, you’re not going to actually test matchups you perceive as bad. Testing bad matchups is important, however – this way you’ll get validation about whether your ban choice is correct or not.
Instead, I think it is much better to find a partner and repeatedly grind out specific matchups you are unsure about. For example, from ladder results, I suspected that Twisted Fate Go Hard was favored against Fiora Shen even with Nopeify, but I was not completely sure. After playing it out repeatedly, I came to the positive conclusion that Twisted Fate Go Hard would usually beat Fiora Shen, but Fiora Shen’s good hands would beat Twisted Fate Go Hard’s good hands.
Grinding specific matchups is also one of the best ways to practice a deck. In a given session on the ladder, you generally queue into a subset of decks that may not be representative of what you would expect to see in a tournament. I find that it is much more valuable to spread out my time practicing different matchups I expect to see rather than repeatedly queuing into ‘mystery’ decks.
If you do not have a practice partner, grab a second device, and play against yourself. If you don’t have a second device, grab some dice and playing cards and assign each card to act as a particular LoR card. In some cases, I’ve found practicing by myself to be more even more eye-opening than practicing with someone else because it becomes easier to visualize what both decks are trying to accomplish. This unfortunately has the downside of being a bit more boring and slower than practicing with someone else.
I do concur though that there is some value to practicing best-of-3 sets. Once you learn the matchup tables of various decks, playing best-of-3’s allows you to learn how other people might ban against your deck and see more unique decks that you might not necessarily think of.
For testing best-of-3’s, if you have the time, I would highly recommend signing up for community tournaments. They are not only a great way to practice, but also to meet new testing partners – and even win a bit of prize money. A collection of links to such tournaments can be found here in this Reddit thread.
It is important to understand that tournament decks, in general, need to be built differently than ladder decks. The main reason for this is that in tournaments, you can inspect your opponent’s lineups (and often full decklists), and ban a specific matchup.
High impact one-of’s are significantly better in tournaments compared to the ladder. Many players dislike one-ofs because it leads to less consistency. Additionally, on the ladder, your opponent has to be wary and play around every reasonable card from your regions anyway.
However, in tournaments, they know exactly what you run. By playing a one-of, you force your opponent either to awkwardly play around a single copy of a card that you don’t even have in your hand, or… when they opt to ignore it while you do have it – it could potentially win you the game.
For example, in Anivia, I chose to run one copy of Flash Freeze, one copy of Harsh Winds, and one copy of Icequake. All of those are high-value cards that can swing a game in my favor if my opponent did not play around them. In Twisted Fate Go Hard, I played one copy of Crumble and one copy of The Ruination for the same reasons.
As mentioned earlier, many players disagree with playing one-ofs because it leads to less consistent hands. However, the one-of’s I played are extremely similar to other cards in the deck. Still, my opponent has to play around them in slightly different ways.
Harsh Winds and Flash Freeze are almost identical to Anivia’s Harsh Winds – except they can be played without Anivia. Icequake can either be treated as a fourth Avalanche or a third The Ruination depending on the matchup. Crumble is essentially a third Vengeance that can be cast for 5 mana. The Ruination is the only exception here because it is powerful enough to make some players constantly play around it and can win the game if not played around.
Being able to ban a specific matchup also allows you to build your decks ignoring cards that help to beat the banned matchup. For example, my original Feel the Minah list I used for laddering included 3 copies of Harsh Winds and 1 copy of Flash Freeze. However, I knew going in that Fiora Shen was a high-priority ban target for my lineup. So, I was able to cut the Flash Freeze and a Harsh Winds as I no longer needed tools to counter Concerted Strike and Single Combat.
On the flip side, knowing your opponent has a ban phase also lets you remove cards intended against lineups that would definitely ban your deck. Going off of my earlier example, my ladder Feel the Minah list ran 3 copies of Minah Swiftfoot and 2 copies of Will of Ionia. These cards were really good against Feel the Rush, Anivia, Deep, and Kench/Soraka. However, if my opponent brought any of these decks, Feel the Minah would still be extremely favored against the aforementioned decks and as a result, would still be the highest priority ban target.
Mistake #1: Playing a Deck Without Enough Practice On It
I think this is the biggest mistake I personally made while preparing for this tournament. I assumed I could play the decks I chose correctly with minimal practice.
This was true for Anivia and Feel the Minah, because I had been playing those two decks for weeks before I started prepping for the tournament and they fit my playstyle like a glove. However, this was not true for Twisted Fate Go Hard. My playstyle generally involves spamming the spacebar while I blissfully scroll through social media. Anivia and Feel the Minah fit this playstyle – while Twisted Fate Go Hard does not.
I ended up deciding on my lineup at about 11 PM the night before the tournament. At this point, I played Twisted Fate Go Hard for about two days on the ladder, and for about two hours in scrims – totaling about 6-8 hours. I thought I was good enough with the deck because while playing the deck on the ladder for those two days, I only lost one game (in which I managed to cast a Salvage having just four cards left in the deck).
However, I failed to consider that at that time, most high Masters players were not playing in order to preserve their LP. I also did not think too carefully about what decks I was playing against at the time. If I did, I would have noticed that I almost never queued into the mirror.
This ended up costing me a Seasonal Tournament run. In my series against AETHER8781 (who eventually ended up in the top 32), I lost with Twisted Fate Go Hard twice – to both a Fizz/Twisted Fate/Pick a Card/Go Hard deck and Ezreal Trundle.
I realized afterward that I spent too much time debating my lineup and I didn’t have enough time left to practice. Alternatively, I could have picked a lineup consisting only of the decks that I was already proficient at, but I didn’t. If I either played a deck I was more comfortable on (like Deep) or spent significantly more time practicing Twisted Fate Go Hard, I almost definitely would have performed better.
Mistake #2: Not Spending Enough Time Considering Bans
Going in, my ban strategy was very simple. I would prioritize banning Scouts first, then Fiora Shen, and then Tahm Kench/Soraka. If my opponent brought none of these, I would then ban decks that were un-interactive, like Pirate Burn.
However, I realized that I should have dedicated more time thinking of what to do when playing against a more obscure lineup that did not include any of these.
For example, AETHER8781 brought Aurelion Sol with Deny and Nopeify, Fizz/Twisted Fate/Pick a Card/Go Hard deck, and Ezreal Trundle.
I ended up banning Aurelion Sol, which another player, Garretz, later helpfully explained to me was incorrect. Targon in general is really bad against all of the decks I brought, but I was worried about the Ionia cards he ran with the Deny. If I spent more time thinking about the Aurelion Sol matchup, I would have realized a few things.
Twisted Fate Go Hard usually can beat Aurelion Sol decks without ever resolving a copy of Pack Your Bags because they have almost no removal for Twisted Fate. Anivia also usually defeats Aurelion Sol decks because Anivia’s attack ability removes SpellShield allowing Vengeance to remove the Aurelion Sol. I was worried that Vengeance might get Denied. However, the Aurelion Sol deck would still have to deal with infinite Anivias, The Harrowing, more copies of Vengeance, and The Ruination.
I was also fairly certain that my opponent had to ban Feel the Minah because it had a very good matchup into his other two decks and can win against Aurelion Sol even through Deny. With this in mind, I probably should have banned Ezreal Trundle because its mid-game threats are very hard for Twisted Fate Go Hard to answer without either Pack Your Bags or The Ruination.
Thoughts about the Format
Many players, including the ones that made it into the top 32, have expressed displeasure that this high-stakes Seasonal Tournament had a single-elimination structure.
Before going further, I want to make absolutely clear that I felt that the player I lost to, Aether8781, definitely deserved to qualify for the top 32 over me. Aether8781 likely caught many players off guard with his lineup, and, unlike me, knew how to play Go Hard mirror. None of what I say here is meant to disparage his or anyone else’s well-deserved results.
That said, many players, since the tournament format was announced, criticized the single-elimination format. Most physical card game tournaments of this size would instead have 9-11 rounds of Swiss followed by a cut to a single-elimination top 32. In that format, the players with one or fewer losses would make the cut, and some number of people with two losses would also make the cut. For the people with two losses, ties would be broken by their opponent’s records.
As someone that grew up playing Yu-Gi-Oh!, this is generally what I expect card game tournaments to look like. A format like this is preferred by many players over single-elimination because it does not rely as heavily on matchmaking and it reduces variance.
For example, in single-elimination tournaments, if the second-best player played against the best player in round 3 and lost, we would have no way of knowing if that player was actually the second-best player or not. Similarly, if a player who brought a lineup that countered 80% of the lineups played but queued into a lineup that countered his round 1, he would get kicked out due to bad luck.
Swiss style tournaments also reward players that make fewer misplays on average across a larger sample size. Meanwhile, single-elimination tournaments heavily punish making misplays in the earlier round compared to making misplays in later rounds. To put this into perspective, a player that wins 80% of matches only has less than a 33% chance of going 5-0 in a single-elimination tournament.
One complaint about ‘Swiss into Top Cut’ tournaments, however, is that it still cuts into a single-elimination bracket, which means that someone that went 10-0 in Swiss could be knocked out by someone that went 8-2. Some suggestions I’ve seen to alleviate this problem is to make the top cut double-elimination, award some of the prize pool based on Swiss performance, or not have a top cut at all and give all of the prizes based on Swiss performance. The last suggestion would also allow Riot to keep the tournament capped at 10 rounds and require the winner to remain undefeated throughout the tournament.
Despite my reservations about the format, I thought that the tournament was extremely well-run, with only one major bug found involving animations and turn timers. I was very impressed by the in-client tournament mode feature and the overall production quality of the event.
As for my performance, I felt very good about how I tested decks and came up with my lineup. I was taught a lesson in using ladder results to gauge how well prepared I was to play a specific deck.
Thanks for reading and good luck in your games! Please let me know on Reddit or Discord if you found this helpful if there was anything I could improve on or if you have any questions I can answer.