‘Who’s the Beatdown?’: How to Determine Your Role in a Matchup

The misassignment of your role in the game often leads to losses - know when you're the 'beatdown' and when you're the 'control'.

The original question and concept of “Who’s the Beatdown?” traces back to the famous magic: The Gathering strategy article of the same name written by Mike Flores in 1999.

Flores states that in any given matchup, one deck plays the role of the “beatdown” (aggressor), while the other deck plays the role of the “control”. In other words, one deck is always trying to end the game quickly, whereas the other deck is trying to prolong the game. Matchup tables are ultimately determined by how well a deck can play one of these two roles against other decks.

Furthermore, the deck playing as the control is said to have “inevitability”, which is a property that a deck possesses when its likelihood to win increases the longer the game goes on. Another way to frame this idea for LoR is as follows: if the game reaches turn 10 and both players have the maximum amount of mana per turn at their disposal, who wins? If your deck wins in this scenario, your deck is said to have inevitability, which also means you should be playing the role of the control.

Understanding these concepts is extremely important because it influences how players should approach a given matchup. Decks that play the role of the beatdown are generally incentivized to make proactive plays, be mana efficient, and take necessary risks. On the contrary, decks that play the role of the control are generally incentivized to be reactive, take passes, make their opponents play into them, and be as risk-averse as possible. 

Flores says it best in his original article: “Misassignment of role = game loss.” In other words, choosing to play the wrong role (i.e. playing as the beatdown when you are supposed to play as the control or vice versa) will lead to players losing games that they otherwise may have won. 


Determining Your Role

While role assignment is often done on a case-by-case basis, there are some general guidelines to determine which role you should play in a given matchup at the beginning of the game. I have listed some of them below:

My deck is the beatdown if:

  • it reaches its win condition faster than the opposing deck;
  • its units have worse stats on average (meaning that combat becomes less favorable/profitable over time).

My deck is the control if:

  • its units have better stats on average;
  • it wins by creating leads in card advantage, often through card draw/creation or efficient removal (access to AoE is often a good sign);
  • it plays towards a win condition that cannot be stopped by the opposing deck or takes longer to set up than the opposing deck’s win condition.

For example, let us examine the matchup between Miss Fortune Quinn Scouts and Trundle Lissandra Control (TLC). Who is the beatdown and who is the control?

Well, Scouts is much faster than TLC and often threatens to swing for lethal on turn 6 or 7 if its threats (Miss Fortune, Quinn, Genevieve Elmheart, or Cithria the Bold) are left unanswered. Meanwhile, the earliest Trundle Lissandra can execute the Watcher combo is turn 8, and it often does not do so until turn 9 or later.

Thus, Scouts is the beatdown and TLC is the control, and the Scouts player should be aggressively trying to end the game before the TLC player can obliterate their deck with Watcher or overwhelm them with a leveled Trundle. Furthermore, Scouts has traditionally been regarded as one of TLC’s worst matchups because of how efficiently it can deal damage while countering TLC’s AoE removal – thanks to units such as Miss Fortune, Grizzled Ranger, Vanguard Bannerman, and protection spells like Ranger’s Resolve and Sharpsight.


Role Shifts

It is important to note that roles can sometimes shift over the course of a game and the role that a deck plays at the beginning of a match is not the role it should play indefinitely.

For example, let us consider the Thresh Nasus versus Draven Ezreal matchup. Thresh Nasus often starts out as the beatdown, forcing Draven Ezreal to play as the control and stabilize against strong early-game plays of Baccai Reaper, Cursed Keeper + Ravenous Butcher, Blighted Caretaker, and Merciless Hunter. Tools like Mystic Shot, Thermogenic Beam, Culling Strike, and Statikk Shock allow Draven Ezreal to do this somewhat well.

However, these decks often swap roles in the mid-game (around turn 5). This is because Thresh Nasus can run out of steam after its aggressive starts and its early game plays often do not scale very well into the mid to late game. Despite this, Thresh Nasus still has inevitability: if it can survive until turn 10 and bank 3 spell mana, Nasus + Atrocity combo is the finisher that can not be answered by Draven Ezreal.

Meanwhile, the mid-game is often the time when Draven Ezreal’s threats of Draven, Ezreal, Sump Dredger, a buffed Ballistic Bot, and Tri-beam Improbulator come online. These threats either deal enough damage to end the game on their own or pave the way for a lethal Captain Farron.

As a result, Thresh Nasus now assumes the role of the control by attempting to stabilize against this aggression, digging for combo pieces with Spirit Leech and reactive Glimpse Beyonds, looking for an opportunity to safely launch a Nasus at the opposing Nexus. Meanwhile, the Draven Ezreal assumes the role of the beatdown as it is trying to kill the Thresh Nasus player before it reaches this state of inevitability.

Role shifts are especially prominent in mirror matches, where the role that a player plays can change on a turn-by-turn basis (or even action-by-action basis), and the role that they begin with ultimately depends on the strength of their opening hand.

For example, consider an Azir Darius burn mirror where Player A’s opening hand consists of two Legion Rearguards, a Legion Saboteur, a Baccai Reaper, and a Legion Grenadier, while Player B’s opening hand is a Legion Saboteur, a House Spider, a Legion Grenadier, a Noxian Fervor, and a Ruin Runner.

Player A’s hand is much faster than Player B’s hand, so they should be the beatdown while Player B should be the control.

This may incentivize Player B to take a defensive Noxian Fervor on one of Player A’s early units in order to minimize early damage and save some health – especially given how the Spiderling created by House Spider is a prime Fervor target for this purpose. 

At some point, however, Player B’s Ruin Runner will take over the game as a beefy Overwhelm unit and Player A’s path to victory will be top decking enough burn (Noxian Fervor, Decimate, Ruinous Path).

In order to reduce the likelihood of Player A topdecking their way into a win, Player B is incentivized to kill Player A as quickly as possible. Thus, Player B is now the beatdown, while Player A is the control and is attempting to reduce the amount of damage they take in order to see more topdecks. The roles have shifted once again.

The existence of role shifts is why I believe it is important to constantly ask yourself which role you should be playing and whether or not your role has changed as a result of a given play. Asking yourself these questions at the beginning of each turn is a good habit to pick up, as correctly identifying your role and playing it accordingly will lead to a significant increase in your winrate, whereas misassignment of role = game loss.


Further Reading

The original “Who’s the Beatdown” article is incredibly popular to this day and has been the subject of constant discussion by the general CCG community over the past two decades. If you would like a greater understanding of the concepts presented in Mike Flores’s original work, I have linked some resources below that further expand on the topic:

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Morppadorp

Angus "Morppadorp" Lam, or simply Morpp for short, grew up playing Yu-Gi-Oh! during his teenage years. While he would eventually lose interest in the game, his love for competitive TCGs and CCGs never truly disappeared. As a writer for RuneterraCCG, Morpp aims to share his knowledge and passion of card games with the rest of the world and help players of all skill levels step up their game. When he's not competing in LoR tournaments, Morpp can usually be seen behind the analyst desk, working towards his Media Production degree, or rooting for his hometown Toronto Raptors.

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