On Riding a Dark Horse to a Big Tournament

Azaela silhouette for the memes.

In my history of playing card games competitively, I have always been the kind of player to play off-beat, tier 2 decks—particularly when I feel that my deck is an absolute silver bullet to the top meta deck(s). Today, let’s examine the pros and cons of trying to surprise the field and target the meta.


Assuming that this deck has managed to create a significant advantage against the tier S/tier 1 decks, then you can assume to play favorably into a sizeable portion of the decks represented at the tournament. For example, SCG Con takes place March 18-20 in Indianapolis. The Flesh and Blood meta has been largely solved through the Pro Quest season yielding a clear top 2 decks—Bravo, Star of the Show and Prism, Sculptor of Arc Light.

Hypothetically, a deck that has a positive assumed win rate against these 2 decks should do well in the event. There are several known decks that have been trying to dethrone the newcomer, Starvo, and the returning Light hero, Prism. According to the data, these heroes are Chane, Viserai, and Lexi. Some other notables include Briar (the star of the previous meta), Katsu, and Oldhim.

Piloting one of these lesser-known decks can give you a nice psychological boost over your opponent. To start, they have likely not practiced much against your deck this season. Second, they may not have a definitive gameplan and sideboard strategy for your hero. Lastly, your opponent is going to be playing with the assumption that this will be an easy win for them since you’re not top deck X or top deck Y.

So, while they may not be prepared to face your hero, you are certainly prepared and practiced against them. Top decks become top targets that are just begging to be taken down a peg.

Discovering the secret sauce that can level the playing field in a meta brings me so much personal joy—it’s really the high that keeps me coming back for more competitive tabletop gaming. However, dark horses come with their own set of risks as well.


In my personal experience, the biggest con to entering a meta-countering deck into a tournament of unknown opponents of any quantity is that absolute lack of guarantee on what you’ll face throughout the day—especially in round 1.

In each of the major Panini Dragon Ball Z CCG tournaments that I went to, I always brought what I felt would be a great call against the top of the field. A couple of those instances led to some great success for me, but in others, I was stuck at the bottom tables getting shredded by lower-tier decks that I hadn’t traveled to face up against. Most notably, my FanZ championship run with the prior-to nearly unplayable Supreme Kai. You can read about that here.

In Flesh and Blood, in particular, losing early is devastating to your chances at making day 2 or the top cut. In a field of dozens or hundreds, you could really get paired against any kind of deck when everyone’s records are even. For me, personally, I never fail to get paired up against the deck that I hadn’t teched for in round 1. As an example, at my most recent Pro Quest tournament in St. Louis, I brought a Bravo, Showstopper list that was finely tuned to absolutely destroy Bravo, Star of the Show. I, of course, didn’t face a single one the whole day. The same could be said for some Dash/Katsu players who are targeting Prism, or, in DBZ, a blue control deck finding themselves across the table from a speed Dragon Ball Victory build. Your pairings are so far out of your control, so you have to be prepared for anything.

If you are able to win early, then you position yourself to funnel into the majority of the player bracket that is playing the on-meta decks that you traveled to confront. This has to be your goal—win early and often to prove your theory correct on the big stage.

If not seeing the top meta decks that you’ve prepared for is the biggest con, then the next one would probably be the potential in-flexibility of your deck. If you are too teched for a specific matchup, then even lower-tiered decks can find their way to victory against you. Be sure to have a sideboard guide and an overall strategy for as many potential opponents as you can.

But what if you lose to the deck you prepped for? This kind of loss can be devastating. However, when you’re up against some of the most competitive players in the game piloting the most efficient decks, things happen. You have to learn from the loss, wipe it out of your mind, and engage with the next opponent.


Playing the dark horse deck should be fun. If you don’t enjoy piloting your deck, you really shouldn’t be playing it. Many of the decks that I feel that I’ve discovered in my history have been tremendously enjoyable to sleeve up and play—so much so that I usually wish that I had found them earlier to have gotten more reps with them before the meta inevitably moves on.

With Flesh and Blood, I always told myself that I would play closer to the meta than in games past in order to really showcase my abilities as a competitor. However, once that dark horse finds you, it’s hard to pass them up for the latest and greatest steed in the stable.

See you at the Calling. I’ll be the one with the Collision Point sleeves!

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