Trail Stories: Alison

After a week-long hiatus, Trail Stories is back and better than ever! The flames of the campfire have been stoked, the marshmallows heated up, and I have been listening to your requests. At least once for the past few weeks I have heard a single name whispered in the darkness or yelled at me from the mountaintops. I name I had never heard before. I am talking about the up-and-comer Alison! I am really glad I listened to you all because this was a really fun interview! Pull up a seat, grab a tasty beverage of your choice, and let’s hear ourselves a story!

AGE: I am 18 years old – I will be turning 19 in December.

Birthplace: I was born in Singapore.

Team Affiliation: Team Queensguard. We are a team of non-men, meaning that women and nonbinary people are included. We aim to introduce more gender diversity into the Eternal competitive scene by getting more non-men into tournaments.

Most Notable Eternal Achievement: Top 8 in the TGP Invitational.

Playing Since: April 28, 2018.

Do you consider yourself a Builder, Tuner, or strictly a Pilot: I consider myself a little bit of everything. But I’m better at some things than others – coming up with small refinements or tech cards to be added to a deck, or coming up with new deck ideas is a lot easier for me than optimizing power bases. I will say that most of my tournament decks are net-decks (with maybe one or two card changes), so make of that what you will.

Favorite Deck Archetype: I’m a pretty serious competitive player, so I’ll play whatever deck archetype is the strongest. But the archetype that I enjoy playing the most is the really torturous control decks where you can do everything, your opponent can do nothing and can only wallow in their own helplessness while you leisurely secure your own position and then kill them. Temporal Control is probably the most relevant example of this archetype, and it is my favorite deck in the game.

Favorite Card: The Last Word

Most Disliked or Damaging card to the Game: Black-Sky Harbinger. I don’t think it’s overpowered or damages the meta. I just don’t like it. I get angry every time someone plays it.

Eternal Wish: A “permission” relic that locks down the opponent by making them unable to play certain cards while it’s in play. Like “the opponent can’t play fast spells”, or “the opponent can’t summon units with a cost larger than 3”. I’d love to experiment with such a card in control decks. Yes, it would be horrible towards my opponents and the meta in general. But what’s important is that at least one player out of two has fun.

Personal Mantra: Tsuyoku naritai!

If you could have one Custom Eternal Card what would it be:

MantidMan: Alison, thank you for joining me this week on Trail Stories! Normally I will say things like “I am a big fan, so glad you are here.” or “You have had a profound impact on this aspect of the game for me.” But in this case my introduction has to be a bit different: I know very little about you, but you have been recommended to me as a guest for Trail Stories by multiple people in the community. You have really struck a chord as an impactful community member for a bunch of people and I am genuinely curious as to why, though I have already started to get an idea from our brief interactions before we started. I request this next bit with absolute sincerity, can you tell us a bit about yourself? Where did you come from, what got you into Eternal, and who exactly are you?

Alison: I really like strategy games. To me, there is something really powerfully satisfying about beating someone in a mental contest as opposed to a physical one. For that reason, I’ve usually been attracted to games that prioritizing the strategy aspect over the mechanical aspect – like executing combos or aiming. Also, I have a strong competitive spirit and really enjoy feeling like I’m improving and sharpening my play in games. When I was a kid I used to play chess to satisfy this drive to compete, but I lost interest and quit when it became clear to me that I started too late and because of that it would be exceptionally difficult for me to ever play chess at a grandmaster level. What keeps me going in competitive games is the need to be the best player and excel over all others, so when it became obvious to me that this would never happen for chess, I also lost my drive to keep training in that game. I didn’t abandon it completely, I just stopped playing it seriously.

Although I also play a number of other strategy games seriously (such as BattleCON Online, which is one of my favorite games), Eternal caught my eye for a few reasons. Firstly, it was pretty simple to play mechanically, but there is a surprising amount of depth in it. Even until today, I am noticing small mistakes in my sequencing, or in my threat spacing and every time I make a note not to make that mistake again and I am rewarded by seeing my rank climb higher and higher. Secondly, there’s a lot of room for creativity in the open-ended nature of CCGs, and I often feel that a player can really express their playing style and their soul in the kind of decks they build and pilot. That’s really cool to me. Lastly, it’s a very generous game, and I didn’t feel compelled to spend money like I did in Hearthstone. I finished the tutorial in late April 2018 and started Eternal proper in early May 2018. Although I took a one-month break from late June to late July to focus on my studies, I came back afterwards and was all the more eager to continue my Eternal career.

If we’re talking about the kinds of things that define my experience in Eternal or that drew me here, it’s probably the community. The Discord especially was really nice and helpful to me when I was starting out and helped me do things like draft picks or complete my first constructed deck (Rakano Aggro that threw in Plate as a curve topper, took me to Diamond III all the way from Bronze). If I had to pick one thing that I really, really liked about the Discord, it’s the ratio of seriousness to helpfulness. Basically, many of the people there are really good players who have very useful insights about the game, but they’re also willing to explain even very basic concepts to newbies.

One thing that I find really attractive in people in general is passion. It can be about anything – a game, a profession, even a particular subject. A lot of people get bored by stuff like this, when someone who’s really knowledgeable about a particular niche starts to go super in depth into it, but personally, I find it to be super awesome. When someone who’s very passionate about a subject talks about it, it’s almost as if you’re seeing a whole different hidden world. To you, something can appear as simple as just a piece of bread, but when a bread expert looks at it, it’s like they see so many factors and details about the bread that you never even knew existed. It’s really cool to think that maybe there’s two toilet paper enthusiasts out there talking about the difference between 2ply and 4ply with the same enthusiasm and depth that we might talk about the matchup between Temporal and Rakano Valkyries. If there’s one thing that I love about the Discord, it’s that it’s dripping with that sort of passion, but it’s expressed in a way that’s welcoming instead of elitist or exclusionary.

Besides the way that Eternal satisfies my competitive drive and the awesomeness of the community, I think a big part of the way I’ve engaged with the Eternal community is by talking and thinking about the gender balance in it. This is something that I’ve spoken a lot with Kaelos and others about, and it’s a big part of what drove me to help create The Queensguard, a team of non-male players; that is, women (including transwomen) and non-binary individuals. Before I say anything else, I’d like to emphasize that I don’t think the Eternal community is at all sexist or exclusionist. Ninety-nine percent of the community has been nothing but welcoming and accepting towards me and other female players, and I don’t even know of any complaints about bad behavior towards a player because of their gender. Of course, there are a few bad apples but they don’t represent the community and have been largely laughed out of every Eternal community space I’ve seen them in.

There is, however, I think a bit of an automatic assumption that people are male. When someone is talking about their online opponent and they don’t know the gender of that opponent, the default is to use male pronouns (eg: “My opponent is batshit insane, he’s running both Commando and Rule in the same deck”). On the whole this is an understandable assumption to make – it’s an objective fact that the majority of Eternal players, both in general and in tournaments, are male. On the other hand, I also felt like people should use language that is more considerate towards a wider group of Eternal players – and I think that Eternal community members have been doing an excellent job of respecting this, especially during tournaments and feature matches where casters will make an effort to find out and use the correct pronouns. That’s really great to see, and I’d like to keep that ball rolling to hopefully create a scene that feels more comfortable for women to participate in. It’s a marked contrast from other gaming communities where the toxicity can be really bad.

A big part of TQG’s efforts is also centered towards introducing gender diversity in the tournament scene. This one is less about getting other people to use inclusive language and more about providing opportunities for non-male players that may feel intimidated by the tournament scene or by the male-dominated top 8s, invitationals and streamers to help to break into the scene. We do that by doing things like helping out players with tuning their deck lists, accompanying them to their first tournaments so they have someone close by they can ask questions to or solicit advice from, and just trying to create an environment where playing competitive Eternal is something that is fun and comfortable. Our ultimate goal is this respect is to try to get non-male players into the World Championship. I think the stereotypes about women in gaming have largely shifted away from “women don’t play games” to “women tend to enjoy the more sociable and creative aspects of a game – they aren’t Spikes”. As a Spike myself, I would really love to prove that perception wrong. (It helps that Spike is canonically a female by the MtG design team.)

I think that most people would know me from the weekly tournaments I attend. I would say that during tournaments I strive to embody a spirit of honest competition. By this I mean that I keep the salt level to a minimum and try to be polite to my opponent, especially if they lost the match and are not feeling too good. However, I also believe – and this is maybe one of the more disputed opinions – that it is disrespectful to an opponent to go easy on them or play anything less than optimally. For me, I wouldn’t think of something like “this opponent is weak” or “I have a good matchup against this deck, so I’ll go easy”. Instead, I’ll try my best to play as effectively as possible and maximize my chances of winning at every stage. Even if I have a huge advantage, I’ll try to avoid becoming complacent, because it’s like saying to my opponent “I don’t think you’re strong enough to punish me if I play carelessly”, and I feel that is quite disrespectful. It’s more obvious in fighting games like BattleCON Online where I’ll attack them violently even if I have a large advantage because I don’t want to release any pressure.

One thing I have always felt is that I try to avoid the mindset of thinking too much about variance. Obviously, I acknowledge that some draws are better than others and I will complain as much as anyone else if I get high rolled or my opponent drew the exact two cards they needed in order to win the game. But other than in the most obvious or one-sided cases of sheer luck, I think it’s pretty boring to subscribe too much of your game results to variance. The view I adopt towards Eternal is that it represents a game of inherent luck, and the job of the player is to control and manage that luck. Just like a casino can engage in a game of chance with you and still walk away with more money 9 times out of 10, a good player can sit down in a game of luck and control the risks or manage the variance in such a way that they win more often than not. So, whenever I think that a game was decided by variance, I think the correct follow up is to ask what I could have done better to control that variance in my favor. Reading the opponent’s hand, using proper sequencing to eke out small advantages and playing around your opponent’s cards are ways in which this can be done, and 99 times out of 100, if I think back to a game that was seemingly decided by luck, I can identify an instance in which I failed to optimize my strategy properly. I pride myself on not making the same mistake twice, so I’ll avoid that failure in the future. I have said before that this is why I love Temporal Control so much. Because the right line to go for is so dependent on matchup, you will almost always find ways to improve and small optimizations to make in your play as you get more familiar with the deck. I love the feeling of constantly learning and growing that this affords me.

If you want to know who exactly I am as an Eternal player, then I’d say that I’m someone who aims to be the best Eternal player, both in terms of playing skill and in terms of improving the community. There’s a lot of strong players and important contributors, so it’s not easy, but I’m sure I can do it if I work hard.

MantidMan: That is an excellent insight into a lot of different things. If you do not mind I would like to dive a bit more into TQG. Do you think (or know for a fact) that non-male players feel this intimidation to even attempt to compete in the streaming space or tournament scene? Our community is very small (by game community standards) and if it is a problem the time to act is now, as you are.

Alison: I won’t speak for other people, but I know that I was personally intimidated when I first tried to get into competitive Eternal. Like I said, I think Eternal is actually really good about gender equality compared to other gaming communities and I think that is to the credit of the players within it. I think it’s better to see TQG not as an organization that attempts to solve the problem of sexist players – there aren’t many – but rather as a team that aims to provide opportunities to less established players. We give help to anyone that asks in our server regardless of gender.

MantidMan: The world needs more people that are willing to just help, that is for sure. So, the next thing I wanted to know about is much more straight forward, you expressed some quick disdain for Black-sky Harbinger. Not because the card is unfair or actually a problem, but because your heart just sinks when it is played. Can you expand on that and do any other cards fall into this category?

Alison: When I first started Eternal, I played a lot of aggro decks, especially Rakano and Stonescar aggro (the variant I played back then was more about Grenadins than 4/x Charge because they were cheaper, so they were affected even more by Harbinger). At the same time, I ran into a lot of Feln Control as it is the most popular control deck at low ranks. These two facts combined means that Harbinger blew me out of the water a lot of the time, gaining 4 or 5 life and a fat lifesteal blocker in the sky while also clearing half my board. It had a frustrating tendency to come down right before I was going to deliver lethal as well. Although I now play decks that are a lot more resistant to Black-Sky Harbinger and I understand that it is not an overpowered card overall, the memories of it causing me to lose have caused me to permanently despise it. I still sometimes get beaten on decks like Skycrag Aggro if the opponent plays consecutive Harbingers and then I get horrible flashbacks and bile rises in my throat.

If we’re talking about what other cards fall into this category, Rizahn probably serves as a more popular version of what Harbinger does and the two share many similarities. Beyond that, cards like Worldbearer Behemoth or Shadowlands Tyrant make my heart sink if I don’t have an answer, and I just loathe seeing Endurance fatties when I am on aggro. Although I haven’t had as much bad luck with these cards as Harbinger, and certainly none of them are overpowered, they still fall into the mental category of “I spend the whole game praying that they don’t draw these cards and let out a groan when they do”.

MantidMan: That is Tsuyoku naritai? It is not something I am familiar with and it’s more fun to ask rather than look it up

Alison: It means “I want to become stronger”. It’s a phrase used in order to express the determination to improve and strive for greater heights.

MantidMan: Fantastic! Well you know what is really weak starting out and then gets incredibly strong? Last Word! Is that why you like it so much?

Alison: Nope, although I really like your interpretation of that! I like Last Word mostly because I think the design and flavor is really cool. It’s like a legendary weapon that can kill even the mightiest of heroes with a single shot when its true potential is unlocked, and the name is really badass as well. Also, I’m a big fan of alternate win conditions in games. I don’t play Yu-Gi-Oh (Eternal is my first card game), but if I did, I’d definitely play Exodia decks only.

MantidMan: I cannot fault you on any of that logic, it all checks out. If you enjoy the alternate approach stuff so much do you have any other win conditions you love executing? Are you a multiple Mask of Torment player?

Alison: I have not found any consistent alternate win conditions that don’t seem overly janky (like Nightmare Scattershot). But I have played and enjoyed Mask decks, although I don’t consider them to be alternate win cons.

MantidMan: I guess I can get behind that sentiment, I personally just like summoning 2 or 3 Tormentors and going to town after healing to 50 or more. This last part is my favorite, the open forum. You have been an outstanding guest and someone I had no idea what to expect anything from. I have come out of this with some different views and some cards I want to look into personally. But now is your time to go anywhere you like with this. The floor is yours to promote or talk about something you are exceptionally passionate about. Anything you would like to say?

Alison: Honestly, I think the interview did a great job of covering everything I wanted to say! Thank you for having me, and if anyone wants to talk about strategy games they can find me on Discord at A/I/R#4694.

MantidMan: Alison, you were a great guest and I am looking forward to some big things out of you a TQG. Good luck in the coming competitive season and in all of your endeavors!

Alison: Thank you!

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1 Comment » for Trail Stories: Alison
  1. SlothFacts Ashley says:

    Just wanna say, yeah, as a girl I feel intimidated entering any kind of gaming community, too. For every good story of my time in any community, there’s also *at least* one really bad one. The Eternal competitive community’s commitment to using they/them pronouns for players is actually what encouraged me to start joining tournaments instead of just playing ladder. It’s such a small thing, but does so much to make people like me feel welcome.

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