Food For Thought: Make Stages Matter Again

Hey everyone!

In the past we’ve gone over a few different things that seem to have gradually slipped into the background of the game, and could really be brought back to the forefront to help with gamplay as well as potential balancing issues.

Today, I wanted to focus on one in particular that I feel has really been ignored by-and-large, Power Stages. More specifically, making things cost power stages and a more physically oriented meta.

Now before we even begin, I’m sure many people will likely be thinking of decks like Broly and saying to themselves “well if you want to play a physical deck…here you go.” What I’m trying to establish is the fact that Broly is the exception to the rule these days, rather than the acceptance of it. More often than not, the decks that have been doing well in the meta are focusing on Life Card damage, with a majority of their offense costing little to no stages, or leveling so fast that stage costs mean very little. You may also find yourself saying “well if we go back to a physical based meta, none of those attacks cost stages, so what are we really talking about here?” Hopefully we will be able to dive into all of this today.

Why Stages Should Matter

For anyone who has played any other card game out on the market, something you probably have noticed shared between nearly all of them is a resource system. For those of you unfamiliar with this idea, a resource system is a mechanic in a game which both hinders and progresses the flow of a game by limiting the amount of actions or effects one is able to use at any given time. Mana in Magic: the Gathering is by-far the most iconic of resource systems. The amount of mana a player has on any given turn can drastically change the course of actions that player can take in order to achieve victory. Without mana, a player cannot cast their spells, and therefore cannot mount an offense to defeat their opponent.

Power Stages are in essence the top resource to manage in DBZ. Certainly the arguments of “Number of actions”, “Cards in hand” or “your anger level” could be seen as other resources to manage, but Power Stages typically correspond to attacks (paying them for Energy Attacks, and losing them from Physical Attacks), and since attacking is the most straight-forward way to win the game, Power Stages should be the most important resource to keep track of.

Yet, for some reason, as the game developed further and further, power stages became much less important, giving way to Life Card heavy attacks, aggressive leveling and Energy Attacks that cost no stages to perform. Somewhere along the line, stages became a passing thought instead of one of the key defining features of the game. But why is that?

To me, this is likely from the attempt to speed the game up. For any of us that remember Season One of Organized Play, one of the biggest setbacks to enjoying the game was the fact that a large amount of competitive strategies played at a snail’s pace. Because of this, draws were incredibly common, causing many issues due to the tie-breaker system that is a part of OP. I think that in order to help alleviate this situation, the game began to see more and more Life Card Damaging attacks (both Physical and Energy), with the Energy portion of these cards costing very few stages (if any at all), unless there was a powerful effect associated with the attack. In this sense, players taking more Life Card Damage should mean that their deck is being hit harder than before, causing games to jump from the early to mid-game faster, thus handling the draw problem during the OP Season.

The big issue here is that we attempted to solve one problem of the game by creating another. Suddenly we are thrown into a game where resources outside of “How fast can I accomplish X task” no longer matter. Which I believe brought about the next issue. One that we have discussed at length (and likely will be doomed to for the foreseeable future).

Leveling is Too Easy

Because Pandora’s Box was opened, we started to see other cards being designed to help other aspects of the game ramp up in speed. The biggest culprit of this is Leveling. Not just Unleashed, but leveling as a whole (I’m looking at you, Orange Retribution Mastery!!). Because leveling became so easy to accomplish, stages took an even bigger nosedive in importance for the game.

Did you get hit with a huge attack? Don’t worry, you’re about to level!

Leveling (and MPPV in particular) used to have a great feeling to it during gameplay. The constant tug-of-war between you and your opponent to keep each others anger in check made for fun and strategic gameplay. Now with cards like Unleashed, Orange Retribution Mastery and Red Ascension Mastery (though to a lesser extent), leveling has become so easy, that it no longer has the same impact on the player, though typically a much greater impact on the game at hand.

Reading all of this, you might find it hard to believe that MPPV was once my favorite archetype in the game (for both ScoreZ and PanZ). However, given the current state of things, I find myself trying to explore different avenues of the game in hopes of sparking up interest and creating discussion about aspects of the game that can be fun, but need more attention before they can be considered competitive.

Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect

Long passed are the days where I looked forward to rogue brews of Red Enraged Villain Vegeta or Black Devious Tenshinhan actually being able to contend in Set 3’s meta. Instead, I find myself constantly corralled into Retribution Mastery if I’m thinking of a deck that wants to focus on leveling. I miss the days where nearly every style felt like it could accomplish great things. Instead, I feel constantly barraged by the same few decks over and over with no real creative authority.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that unique and interesting decks aren’t out there. Nor am I implying that they can’t do well. I think our TC101 lists have produced a few hidden gems that I would not have thought up on my own had I not been tasked to sit down and come up with them from our polls. The major problem is the game is starting to bog down in the putrid waters of “same-ness” felt across many of the styles.

Because we have been pushed in a particular direction for the sake of speed and efficiency for the game, we are left feeling as though our Stagelock decks are cute at best, and not actual contenders. Any deck worth its weight simply doesn’t care about their stages anymore, so why should you?

Slow Down – Construction Zone Ahead

Hopefully this has helped push across the fact that it’s okay to put reliance on Power Stages. In fact, it might actually be necessary to try and turn things around. Anti-anger and level hate tech still exists in this game. However, if you are not able to pressure your opponent’s stages after locking them down on their current level, these tools are just a speed bump at best, instead of a dead end strategy.

Not only do we need to see more stage damage, but we really need to see more stage costs on powerful effects. And not just Energy Attacks, but Physicals as well. Any card that makes your mind start to race about the possibilities they unlock really should come at some cost to you as a player. Without this cost, we will forever be locked in the state of perpetual motion hurtling towards the wrong aspects of the game.

Do I enjoy games that are fast and can be played over and over again? Of course I do. But not if the games are so fast that I feel as though nothing substantial has occurred before they came to a crashing halt. I want to feel like every game of DBZ I sit down to has weight to it. I want to feel pressured, to think on my feet and find the weaknesses in my opponent’s armor. What I don’t want is to feel as though both players are thrashing about basically ignoring each other trying to race towards the finish. That’s not DBZ, that’s barely Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

So let’s tune down the speed and bring the game back to a nice cruise control. Let’s bring back stage damage strategies and powerful effects with costs. Let’s pit our minds against each other and try to figure out when the right time to go for the big play is. Let’s play DBZ!!!

Speed Limit Heavily Enforced

Thanks for checking in! I hope the discussion helps bring about some much needed perspective on what the game is all about. Without a balancing force, we are doomed to push further and further into the darkness of space, never to return. So let’s reel it back in and remind ourselves just what the core mechanics and driving forces of the game are supposed to feel like.

Don’t forget to check out this week’s poll for TC101. Every vote counts, so go pick the deck you’d most like to see for next week’s article!

Until next time, FanZ Warriors!

 

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About DArtagnanMF

Your Friendly Neighborhood Kreitzman
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