I’ve been waiting for the right time to write about the role of luck in Weiss Schwarz and guess what, today’s the day! Strap in, grab your waifus, you know the drill – we’re about to see if skill matters in Weiss or if we’re all just a bunch of noobs flipping shiny cardboard around.
Just so we’re clear, for the most part, this will not be a ramble about my personal opinions on the topic, nor will it be a barf of tables and figures that only those with a Statistics background could understand. The goal of this post is to discuss the luck factor in Weiss as objectively and as factually as possible while still keeping it simple, and in order to do that, I first need to assign concrete definitions to some of the terms I’ll be using:
- Luck will be interpreted as randomness, because I believe that’s what most people are referring to when they use ‘luck’ to describe card games, and because randomness is actually a concept we can factually discuss. In these terms, fully luck-based is a synonym for truly random.
- Meta isn’t what always wins but what is more likely to win, because I don’t have the time or the will to entertain the idea of a hypothetical deck with a guaranteed, undeniable 100% win rate.
If you happen to disagree with these definitions – that is, you interpret luck as something other than randomness or you believe that a good deck should win 100% of the time – you can leisurely close this tab and go back to enjoying your day. Of course you’re still welcome to read on, I just don’t want the comment section to be filled with disagreements based on contradicting understandings of these two basic concepts (we can’t have a productive discussion if we’re talking about completely different things after all). That being said, if you’re still in for the ride, these are the things I’ll go over:
- Our Reference Point: A Truly Random Game
- The Curse of Everything That Isn’t Chess
- The Side Deck & Best-Of-3 Debate
- How Weiss Handles Its Luck
- “A good player is always lucky”
Our Reference Point: A Truly Random Game
Luckily, I don’t have to invent a whole new game as a reference, because such a game already exists: a coin flip. When flipping a coin, there are two possible outcomes (heads or tails) and, assuming the coin is fair, both outcomes are equally probable. We can’t influence the outcome of the next toss and we can’t predict it based on the previous toss, but after observing a large enough number of coin tosses, the distribution of results will tend towards a 50-50 ratio of heads and tails.
Of course, the question isn’t whether Weiss is a truly random game – or at least it shouldn’t be. But since there are at least some people out there who insist that Weiss is “nothing but luck”, I’ll take a moment to show that in terms of randomness, equating Weiss with a fully luck-based game is asinine.
Usually, the argument used to support this idea is the fact that a trial deck can win against a meta deck. And that’s correct, it can – but that doesn’t make it a reason to argue that Weiss is purely luck-based. Because if it were so, the trial deck’s victory and the meta deck’s victory should be equally probable. Heck, not just a trial deck, any legal deck with 8 climaxes should have the same chances of winning when compared to a meta deck – meaning that if you were to play 100 games of AOT vs. Kyubey-swarm, each would have about 50 victories at the end.
I’m yet to see a continuation of this argument after the equal probability requirement is pointed out, but if you’re not satisfied and wanna test the above scenario for yourself, be my guest … and please get back to me if whatever joke deck you choose to experiment with gets more than 20 wins. Moving on, we now get to tackle the real question of how much luck is there in Weiss Schwarz, or better yet, how much does it matter?
The Curse of Everything That Isn’t Chess
Just because Weiss isn’t 100% luck, it doesn’t meant that its luck factor is equal to zero either, but that shouldn’t be news to anyone. Weiss is based on luck, of course it is, we all know that – I mean, we’re playing a game where the central element is a randomized deck of cards, aren’t we? I believe that only few would argue Weiss doesn’t rely on any luck, just as only few would argue that it doesn’t rely on anything but luck – and that’s because those two extremes are really only useful as reference points in the discussion of the middle. Once we acknowledge that Weiss’ luck factor exists somewhere between 0 and 1, we then get to discuss what its value actually is.
And with enough games observed and variables accounted for, we could probably calculate the luck factor of Weiss Schwarz as an exact number – but that’s beside the point. What most people are interested in is of far more practical nature: what impact does the luck factor have in this game? How much of it is predictable, how much of it can be influenced, how much is left to chance? Does skill actually matter, or does the game’s inherent luck outweigh any rational input by the player?
If you’re only playing the game for fun, that question might not matter much, but it comes up more and more the closer you are to the competitive side of things. In general, I’ve seen it debated in 3 different circumstances:
- Sometimes, people bring up the question of randomness directly and it spawns its own debate. This post is essentially just another iteration of that.
- Especially in FB groups, when potential new players inquire about the mechanics and the meta of the game, there’s always at least one comment about how it’s all rng, grab a trial deck and go win worlds gg ez (exaggerated, but you get my point).
- For reasons beyond my comprehension, supporters of the “it’s too much luck” argument also love to pop up in strategy discussions to let everyone else know that Weiss can’t be competitive because it’s luck based.
And honestly, if it were just about the first circumstance, I wouldn’t be making this post since I rarely feel compelled to weigh in on things that have already been debated numerous times. It’s the second and third circumstance that drive myself and many others up the proverbial wall, and that’s what I wanna address here the most:
Weiss Schwarz isn’t chess, but it doesn’t have to be. A game can be based on luck while also being susceptible to skill, because strategy and randomness aren’t mutually exclusive. Just like many other card games, this game invites us to manipulate its luck factor with our own strategies: you could almost say that every game of Weiss is played against the randomness of the game itself just as much as it is played against your opponent.
The Side Deck & Best-Of-3 Debate
Just in case any of you are new to TCGs or happen to only play Weiss: a bo3 format means that each match consists of 3 games, and you win when you get 2 wins against your opponent. Games that utilize this format usually also make use of the side deck: cards you bring along your main deck so that you can swap them in after the first and/or second game of each match.
These two features are used in games like Magic to mitigate the game’s luck factor and to help account for the unfairness or one-sidedness of some match-ups. When talking about the luck factor of Weiss Schwarz, many people bring these anti-luck measures up in an attempt to show that since Weiss doesn’t utilize either of them, it’s defacto a luckier game – and that’s a pretty horribly twisted argument.
Let me put it this way: in terms of mechanics, each TCG is a different story. The bo3 format and the side deck work for some, but not for others, and clearly not in Weiss Schwarz. When trying to determine whether Weiss is too luck based, the fact that it doesn’t utilize the same anti-luck measures as other games should not be an argument because … well … Weiss isn’t some other game. Weiss is Weiss, and we have to judge it by what it has to offer in the context of its own mechanics, not the mechanics of other games. But before I get to that, I wanna make sure we’re all on the same page about the (ir)relevance of side-decking and bo3 in Weiss, so I’ll first explain why neither of those would work.
The problem with the side deck idea is that Weiss doesn’t have a massive card pool available for all of its decks. You want to allow swapping cards in and out of your deck based on each of your match-ups? Congrats, Bang Dream is now the best deck, forever. Realistically though, some titles have only one set, some have two or three while a select few like Bang Dream or SAO have four or more. Titles with more sets have many different options of what to put into their side deck (various anti-changes, different suiciders, other advantage combos, alternative finishers, ect) while a title with less support might not have all or any of those options to try out. As little as 12 cards could give some decks a huge advantage while changing little to nothing for others, so in our case, having a side deck wouldn’t level the playing field at all. In fact, as far as the impact of strategy vs. luck is concerned, it would do the exact opposite.
Consequentially, a bo3 format also needs to be discussed without the added value of side-decking. It could be argued that even so, having 3 games with the same decks would eliminate a lot of randomness, and I absolutely agree with that – but the thing is, it’s just not feasible in Weiss Schwarz. Magic rules (Appendix B) recommend 50 minutes for a bo3 match, with the required minimum being 40 minutes, while Bushiroad Floor Rules (section 4.2) recommend 30 minutes for a single game of Weiss Schwarz – and if you’ve ever been to a bigger tournament, you’ll know that even then, there’s at least one match going into extra turns every round. Time-wise, there’s no way a bo3 format would work out in Weiss – maybe in top cuts, but even that is a big maybe.
But as I’ve said, in the bigger picture, these two are not the features we should be looking at because Weiss is a fundamentally different game than Magic, if I continue using that as an example. We don’t need (or wouldn’t benefit from) side decks and a bo3 format for many reasons, like:
- we have a built-in draw and hand-fix engine in the form of clocking
- we go through our entire deck two or three times in the course of a game, so it’s much easier to get our hands on the cards we need (while in Magic you have to specifically play tutors to get out something that’s stuck in the bottom of your deck, and if you don’t draw either the thing you need or the thing that fetches the thing you need, you’re shit out of luck).
- Weiss overall has far fewer interactions with the opponent than Magic does, meaning you’re more likely to have a game of Weiss where each player is just doing their own thing for the most part (especially in the current EN meta with such a high preference for non-interactive combos).
- That also leads into the fact that in Weiss, there are almost 0 match-ups where your deck just doesn’t do anything (and I mean that literally, not just in the sense of your finisher not going off), but in Magic, such lock-downs aren’t that uncommon.
- And finally, the mulligan system in Weiss is quite forgiving of bad starting hands, not to mention that it can also be used as a strategic tool in and of itself, because whatever you discard to your waiting room can feed your early-game effects like salvage Rikis or Standby triggers.
So now that we’re on the same page about how only Weiss’ own anti-luck features should count towards the judgement of its luck factor, let’s have a look at what those are – it’s about damn time at least!
How Weiss Handles Its Luck
In the shortest, most concise terms? Deck manipulation.
A Weiss Schwarz deck might be part of the game, but it’s also a game in its own right because of how much we can influence it and how much that, in turn, influences the flow of the game. So many times, I hear people say that a game with this kind of cancelling system is too lucky, but … like … I don’t understand, do those people think their deck is an unmovable brick? While a cancelling mechanic that relies on revealing one of eight specific cards from a properly shuffled deck really is random, it becomes much less so if you’re able to influence it. And there are so, so many ways in which Weiss allows us to influence our decks!
Card effects aside, just using the core mechanics of the game, anything from keeping clean stock to having a full board to minding what cards you clock and how many cards you’ve got left before you refresh can help your second deck have better compression than the first one had before refresh. At face value, board presence and damage output might be the two most obviously important things in Weiss, but the concept of deck manipulation is often under-appreciated even though it’s easily just as important, if not more. Sure, the goal of Weiss is getting your opponent to level 4, but it might as well be getting yourself to your first refresh ASAP with as many climaxes as possible.
If you only focus on damage and board, Weiss feels a lot luckier than it actually is, and that’s because you’re not utilizing your deck manipulation options to their fullest extent. A good deck is all about finding balance between those 3, and a good player is all about finding ways to maximize the value they can get out of a good deck in any given moment of the game. For example: a brainstorm, at face value, is a way to fill your board with characters, but if that’s all you see it as, you’ll hardly be able to get the most out of your brainstorms. It’s not just about using one to get cards to play, it’s about using one to manipulate your deck into a more favorable state – like milling when you know you’re out of climaxes.
And it’s not just deck manipulation we’re in control of as players – there are tools for virtually every other aspect of game-play consistency as well. Drop searches and Rikis to grab your early game pieces, triggers and effects that grab climaxes, alternatives you can prepare in case your combos don’t go through as planned and so many other things. I can’t possibly go over the list of all the effects we have at our disposal to make the game less random, but my point is that Weiss is a very technical game with plenty of opportunities for strategic plays, and arguments reducing it to just luck of the draw say more about the person making those arguments than about the actual state of the game.
At the end of the day, I’m not trying to say that if you have the best deck and make all the best plays, you’ll never lose – you will, because it’s a game based on luck and sometimes, you’ll get screwed over no matter what you do. But, and this is the important part, your win ratio won’t be 50-50 as it were if there was nothing but luck to this game. Getting screwed over occasionally doesn’t mean that skill and strategy don’t play a role in Weiss Schwarz as a whole, not in the slightest!
On a tangentially related note, since I’ve come so far in writing this, I also couldn’t ignore the question of what actually makes strategy so hard to acknowledge and luck so easy to fall back on as an explanation for everything good that happens in a game of Weiss. I thought it was an important question to answer, not just to satisfy my own curiosity, but also because I believe that understanding our own thought processes helps us be more constructive when expressing different opinions, and that’s what I ultimately want to see: less pointless squabbles about how lucky everything is, and more actually worthwhile discussions about the role of luck in Weiss Schwarz.
“A good player is always lucky”
To answer my question, I have to go back to chess for a moment. I think the above quote from Capablanca, a former chess world champion, lends a good explanation as to why some people are so insistent to deny strategy in favor of luck. Contrary to how it appears at first glance, the quote isn’t saying that good players are good because of their luck but rather that in a game, be it chess or Weiss or Magic or whatever else, a good player will continuously make good moves until an opportunity presents itself in which the tact of those moves pays off – and in that moment, having the upper hand really can seem like luck to the observer or the opponent.
For example, lets imagine a game against a meta Kantai build (no real significance as to why this particular set, it was just the first to pop into my mind). A good player will know the key pieces of the deck they’re facing, and they will be able to adjust their play style accordingly. They will position their level 0s in a way that counters their runner so that it can either reverse or run, but not both. They will save level 1 suiciders in hand to deal with Prinz immediately after its combo goes off. They will think twice about whether or not playing down their early plays gives them enough value since it’s highly likely they will be answered the turn after they’re played. At the very end, they will plan in advance to avoid multiple Kashima reverses, and if their deck allows them to, they will also set up a way to prevent their own finisher being denied with the Compass. And when these carefully thought-out plays lead to victory, it might as well look like luck to those who didn’t pick up on the strategies involved along the way.
And here’s where I do want to bring some of my opinions into the matter. Personally, when I hear people say that this game or other card games are too reliant on luck, that just tells me they’re bad players. And usually, that doesn’t even mean they’re inherently bad at the game, just that they never bothered with actual strategy and are limited in their play-style and options as a result.
In our case, Weiss is a rather easy game to learn, but tedious to master because there are just so many different interactions that become more and more meaningful the more time you spend poking around the game mechanics and familiarizing yourself with other sets and their card effects. I myself have had a number of those “waaaait … shit …. I’ve been playing that sub-optimally the whole time??!” moments in my first year or two of playing, and none of them came from my own matches – instead, I learned those things by observing other, more experienced players, by reading up on whatever Weiss content was available and by posing questions about how I could improve to just about anyone who would listen.
That thirst for knowing more about the inner workings of the game is not a mandatory part of being a Weiss Schwarz player though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m by no means looking down on casual players. I think that joke decks, waifu decks, trial deck mash-ups, wacky builds and decks that have long ago succumbed to power creep are all legit ways of enjoying this wonderful game. Even if you get yourself a max-rarity meta deck because you like the set and you only take it to locals once a week to have fun, or if you honestly don’t want your misplays pointed out and explained by other players because you’re not interested in more complex plays, that’s fine! It’s just a game after all, and it can be enjoyed at different levels and different paces.
However, if you want to discuss the role of luck and strategy in Weiss, then a deeper understanding of the game is an absolute must. Without that, as Capablanca’s quote implies, you run the risk of seeing a moment of luck, but not the many prior steps of strategy that have enabled that moment. And that’s kinda my gripe with most players who insist that there’s too much luck in Weiss Schwarz: they focus on all the aspects of the game in which luck plays a major role, but are at the same time unable or reluctant to see and acknowledge the strategies available to influence that luck. In the end, the conversation often boils down to either “if this weren’t luck, X should always win” or “if strategy mattered, we would have Y and Z mechanics that other games have” – at that point, it’s hard to get anywhere productive, so I’m sure a lot of us don’t even bother anymore when we see a passing comment about how Weiss is all about luck. After all, changing the mind of someone who is upset that their meta deck won’t carry their lack of experience or someone who blames their losses on luck instead of their lack of interest to improve is pretty much impossible.
But on the positive side of things, for those who are willing to lay off the luck glasses for a bit and see that even though they will never control 100% of the game, there are still many things they can improve in their decks and many skills they can work on as players, Weiss Schwarz can be a really cool and satisfying game. All things considered, some people will never change their minds about Weiss being dominated by luck – but don’t worry about them. In the end, they’re the ones missing out on the best this game has to offer.