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Hex Blindspots and New Year’s Resolutions

We are getting near the New Year and this is the time when people establish resolutions they hope to follow in the fresh, upcoming year. Traditionally, I am not one for making New Year’s resolutions as I did not want to set goals that I was statistically likely to break. If I want to make a change, then I should just make that change; however, a common reason for people to fail achieving their yearly goal is by creating a resolution that is unrealistic relative to their willingness and/or capabilities. In Hex, though, there are small things we can do to improve our game and each of these small steps can serve as an important resolution to a better game.

Sam Stoddard wrote a classic article in 2007 detailing his steps to becoming a better player in Magic: The Gathering. He came back to the game after a break and was doing much worse at the game than he had previously. His initial reaction was to do what many competitive players do in any game (e.g. Hex, League of Legends, or Poker) and go through a phase of mixed rationalization and denial where he externalized his performance (being unlucky, opponents were lucky, etc.) before eventually coming to terms that his losses were his own. This kind of realization pairs well with understanding that the only constant in all of your games is you; as such, work on the one constant you have control over.

To become a better player, Stoddard inventoried his weaknesses, publicly, and set forth to work on them. Our Hex resolutions, likewise, can come in two parts: resolve to inventory our weaknesses and resolve to work on some of them. Ideally, we want to plug all the leaks in our game that are costing us long-run expected value as well as causing us to be in the top 16 instead of the top 8. In this fashion, here is a partial inventory of my own with some details as to how they matter for my performance:

  • Play more Hex, less Auction House – This rule is not unique to the Auction House, but the AH is certainly a good symbol of time better spent improving my game. In addition to enmeshing myself in the minutiae of market trends, I do a bunch of community related projects (Fiveshards, 2TA, Reddit, etc.), do organized play for Hex, and post Rick and Morty references in team chat. In all, the amount of time I spend on Hex-related activities far outnumbers the amount of time I spend playing Hex. Having more game time is important.
  • Take more time – One of my good friends was an early backer of Hex and was a strong deckbuilder in the game. I have mentioned Eljer plenty of times early on, but he is not an active player at the moment. Besides deckbuilding, he is known in our playgroup as the guy who takes forever on each and every decision. This behavior is true in every game we play that has a turn-based component. However, when he does make a move, he is often making the right move. I, partly out fatigue or boredom, will make moves rapidly without too much thought. Enough times, the immediate move is not the right move and I should give more thought to even routine moves on a consistent basis.
  • Stream more – The best part about streaming is that I have an active audience to watch and catch my every mistake; while this may lessen my own profile as a player, it certainly helps readjust my thinking and helps me see where my leaks may be. Often, our own routine mistakes are hidden to us because we routinely make them with no visible impact. However, if others see suboptimal moves and point them out, we can see them for what they are.
  • Personalities do not matter – Sometimes,  I get caught up in who I am playing against and attempt to derive information from that. This is not typically useful, except in maybe general ways (this person prefers aggro). The name on the screen does not matter, the cards they have in play and in hand are the things that matter.
  • Know my numbers – For being a numbers guy, there are shortcuts that I take in deck design that I should not rely on. Often, whether I go 16, 17, or 18 shards in a draft or sealed deck is done more by general appraisal than concrete math. This has been true for my constructed decks as well. Establishing my own set of criteria is trivial to do, so I should do it instead of relying upon what I feel to be right at the moment.
  • Sleep more – Even though I am writing this at 1:30am during the middle of a Invitational Qualifier, it is an important problem. Our best performance usually occurs when we are well-rested and not distracted (work, movies, podcasts, etc.). If I want to play my best, I need to be in my best mindset. In terms of multitasking, there is some level of EV gain by doing two things at once even though we know that we are doing both things inefficiently; however, if my goal is to maximize my performance, then secondary EV gains (such as watching that new TV series) may be less important.
  • Sometimes, the basics win – I went through a slump in set 3 draft and I attribute this partly due to overthinking my choices and trying to construct elaborate endgame victories. Once I caught myself, reverting to something more simplistic as just picking the best cards helped to shore up my winrate. Further building upon those basics allowed me to better evaluate what I ought to be doing in Set 3 drafts. As such, the basics are never too basic to go back to even for advanced players.
  • Sometimes, your deck is the 3rd or 7th pick – I often get too wedded to my initial pick in draft. Most players do this, but I do it far more than I should. Sure, Phenteo wins games, but it does not mean I should force blood.
  • See more connections/interactions – I have discussed this publicly before, but I am not a cutting edge deck designer and part of this stems from my myopic view of cards. I often discover interconnections from seeing other people use them, not from just looking at a pile of cards and putting the obvious links together. Thinking more deeply about these interconnections during a draft or when a new set launches will be pivotal for my growth as a player.
  • How does your deck win? – This question has always helped me in sealed and I need to make sure I ask it every time I look at a new pool of cards. Is my deck just a pile of cards, or do I have a plan to win the game? Is my plan just turning troops sideways? Which troops matter?

This list is far from exhaustive, but it is a good start. Picking a few of these to start the New Year with will likely bring better results in 2016.

Michael Allen is a competitive HexTCG player, co-host of the 2 Turns Ahead podcast, and founder and moderator of the Hex Subreddit.

1 Comment on Hex Blindspots and New Year’s Resolutions

  1. If you want to do yourself (and your audience) the biggest favor, make it a weekly column and address your progress on select goals. Its the easiest way to make sure this creates lasting motivation and not only short term inspiration. And I suggest small weekly over big monthly, just because of how our brains work and how easy it is to neglect things too far in the future. =) cheers

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