Hello readers, this is Sam Dando and I wanted to provide you with a brief introduction to this amazing blog. As you may know, Michael Feng and Brodie Spurlock joined the MinMax family in 2023 as Brand Ambassadors! We have been very proud and excited as we've witnessed them represent the "M" all around the world. In this article, they will provide a retrospect of their competitive season, travel experiences, and favorite FAB moments of 2023. We all know they are incredible pro players but this provides a sneak peak of what happens behind the scenes when they are not sitting at the top tables. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I did.
Peace and Cold Foils,
Sam "DripDrop" Dando
Our Top Three FAB Memories from 2023
I had so many awesome memories this year traveling and playing Flesh and Blood! My goal at the beginning of the year was to Top 8 a Calling and I did that immediately at Calling Auckland. Calling Auckland was also amazing because Brodie and I traveled together, along with Yuanji, Dave, Leslie (my wife), and Shar (Brodie’s mom). We also were graciously hosted by Sean Yang’s family - his sister and father - who even took us to a park and grilled meat for us!
Calling Birmingham was also a Brodie and Michael adventure. Neither of us made top cut, but we did have an epic Sunday with Michael Jaszczur. We played in a side event Outsiders Team Sealed and spent the evening with laughter (honestly more like cackles) and pizza at the hotel lobby playing CC.
Lastly, Pro Tour Baltimore will be a weekend I’ll likely never forget. I feel like most of the important parts have already been documented, but I want to especially mention that Baltimore is where Leslie’s parents live and I would not have won without their support - from feeding me, driving me to the venue, and encouraging me. They say it takes a village to raise a child; I feel like I have a village of people supporting me!
3. Calling Dallas
One of my favorite weekends this year was Calling Dallas-Fort Worth in October. I live in the DFW Metroplex, so my house became a Wolf Pack testing house in the days leading up to the event. A few teammates stayed here with me, and several more came over during the day to run drafts, get last minute CC testing in, eat, hangout, and even play games other than Flesh and Blood. My favorite was Blood on the Clocktower - a social deduction game that has become a tradition for us at big events and might be my favorite non-TCG game of all time. Michael Feng ended up making top 8 of the Calling playing Lexi, along with Merrick Kemp on Dash who wasn’t even officially in the Pack yet, but he was one of our good friends and we added him to the team not long after.
2. World Championship Barcelona
I had so much fun at Worlds this year!!! I stayed in an Airbnb with about half of the Wolf Pack members in attendance, and once again the other half joined us for testing and discussion during the days before the tournament. We balanced our time between drafting, testing final CC matchups we needed more games of, and discussing both formats to catch each other up to speed on any conclusions reached. The tournament itself obviously didn’t go quuuite as well for us as last year, but we had a great time competing and cheering each other on during day 2 when we had a few players still hanging on to a chance at top 8. None of us made it in, but Michael Hamilton, Mara, and I all placed in the top 32 and took home a PTI.
My favorite part of the week in Barcelona was after Worlds was all said and done: Sunday night, a group of us at the Airbnb stayed up playing various card and dice games all night long. Most people had early morning flights they had to catch (and got to sleep on!) after that, but Mara and I went straight into a day of touring the city with some other friends who were still in town. She was smart enough to get 4 hours of sleep before that started, but I was having too much fun hanging out so I ran 36 hours straight with no sleep. Here’s a fun video of me reviewing Iberico Ham about 32 hours into that adventure: Brodie Spurlock Reviews Iberico Ham.
1. Pro Tour Baltimore
My favorite memory of all time playing Flesh and Blood is Pro Tour Baltimore. It all started in early April: the Wolf Pack was working hard to figure out the still-fresh Outsiders CC format after ranger had jumped from the bottom of the barrel to tier one. We were mostly split between Lexi and Oldhim players, probably testing that matchup more than we’ve ever tested any other. For almost all of this preparation period, I was learning Lexi. Flash forward to the week before PT, and I was panicking. I felt good about my practice piloting Lexi, but I was not happy with my performance into the Wolf Pack Oldhims in our recent testing. I didn’t know how to consistently win that matchup. Because I still needed to work on Outsiders draft and planned to devote most of my time in Baltimore to that, I decided to lock in a switch to Oldhim and leave my Lexi cards at home.
I was committed. I got to Baltimore and was asking the Oldhim experts on my team questions to catch me up to speed on different matchups and plans. Thursday morning, the day before the event, I was talking to Michael Feng. At some point he stopped me - the questions I was asking were not questions someone who’s planning to register Oldhim in a Pro Tour the next day should be asking. It just so happened that Michael had recently decided he was going to switch to Lexi for the event, despite not having much practice on the deck. We went upstairs to my hotel room to play one fateful game, after which we both realized we were making a mistake. I knew how to play Lexi, and Michael knew how to play Oldhim. So we switched back. Michael let me take the Lexi deck he was planning to play, and we went back downstairs to focus on draft.
Two days later, after 13 rounds of swiss, Michael and I found ourselves paired against each other at table 1, both locked for top 8! He pointed out that his cards had found their way back to each other at table 1, since he brought both of our decks. Even cooler for the Wolf Pack was that table 2 had teammate Andrew Rothermel vs soon-to-be-wolf Mara Faris. It was an incredible showing for our team. Michael went on to take the whole thing down, cementing himself as a titan of the game. Baltimore was also the first time I got to hangout in person with almost everyone from the team at once, and I got to bond with many of them throughout the week. It also happened to be the event that Alex from Tales of Rathe asked to hangout with our team and film a documentary on our journey for the tournament (BREAKING THE LIMITS of Flesh and Blood). I’m so proud of Michael and will never forget the incredible experience of Pro Tour Baltimore.
Top Three Lessons Learned in 2023
Honestly 2023 was a standout year for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to replicate the results I achieved. However, I still ate a lot of humble pie. My main learning is that losing is one of the best ways for me to learn. Nothing sears in my memory “how to play”, “what not to do”, “what to prioritize” more than losing, particularly when there’s high stakes. My second lesson this year was learning to accept and be okay with adequate testing. For so many years of TCG play, I would attend tournaments feeling “I wish I tested more.” That feeling would end up making losses feel worse. I realize now that it’s only human to be lacking, and that I can put in a reasonable amount of time testing and hope that it is good enough. In other words, I don’t strive for perfection, but I strive to test enough that I feel okay and at the very least not unfamiliar. Last learning this year was time management. I drew so many times at elo-rated tournaments; I drew at Worlds this year! I was looking at the clock and saw we had 2 minutes, but then time was called. Apparently, I was looking at the time for the Calling which was happening simultaneously. My lesson is that managing time during rounds is my own responsibility, and I hope to have fewer time issues next year.
One of my biggest learning moments this year was at US Nats in August. I felt extremely prepared for the CC portion of the event, especially because I was playing Lexi after months of taking her to tournaments, but I didn’t have enough experience with Monarch draft. That disparity of practice showed in the tournament, where I performed very well in constructed but went 2-4 in draft. I realized after the tournament that if I plan to devote about half of my testing time to constructed and half to draft, I’ll end up with a lot more constructed experience. This is because I’m constantly traveling to Battle Hardeneds and Callings, most of which have been CC, so I’m automatically getting reps there and spending time thinking about CC to decide on a decklist to play each week. For Nats, I didn’t even spend half of my non-event time on limited, which led to disaster. That motivated me to put a much higher priority on draft practice for Bright Lights at the World Championship, specifically finding ways to draft in person with different groups, which I did a much better job of. I felt prepared by the time the tournament came, and I performed much better than at Nats in the draft portion. Going into 2024, making sure I’m spending enough time on limited and drafting in person is a top priority for me.
Another lesson for me this year was that it’s more important to pick a deck and learn it well than spend more time searching for the best deck. While I do feel comfortable switching heroes and always try to play the best deck, it can be very difficult to identify what that deck is in time to adequately prepare with it. Pro Tour Baltimore is a good example where I had one strong deck I knew well, but I almost switched at the last minute to a hero I didn’t have enough practice on because I thought it might be a better deck. Thankfully I ended up playing Lexi, which was the right choice for me. In 2024, I plan to lock in my hero at least two weeks before any major tournament, so I have enough time to flesh out my matchup plans and finalize a decklist.
The biggest improvement I’ve made in 2023 is my mental and physical state outside of the Flesh and Blood itself. I feel like I’ve finally mastered keeping my emotions under control while playing for high stakes and focusing on the game itself rather than what it could mean to win or lose. I’ve also increased my focus on eating, sleeping, and exercising well to keep myself in the best shape possible to perform. My least favorite losses are the ones where I made a silly mistake just because of a lapse of judgment or brainfart, and I think taking care of my body is the best way to prevent more of those in the future. This is at the absolute top of my priority list heading into 2024.
Favorite Heroes Played in 2023
My favorite hero made this year hands down is Teklovossen. He is the most fun I’ve had playing a hero since the original Prism, Sculptor of Arc Light. I also enjoyed watching both Wizard heroes win against opponents without Arcane Barrier. The games are fast-paced and I think deck building and hero choice are decisions that aren’t appreciated enough in this game.
I spent a lot of time playing Azalea this year, starting with the release of Outsiders in March, and I really enjoyed the process of learning the hero. She is an extremely fun sequencing deck that involves a lot of probability with the top of the deck and now-vs-later decisions with your arsenal. It feels pretty awesome to shoot a massive arrow for 17 dominate when you know your opponent has no chance of stopping it and all those on-hits attached will connect.
Illusionists are the most fascinating class in the game to me. I love playing and playing against Dromai because of how difficult it is to evaluate the value of permanents on the board. It breaks the normal FaB math calculations, and I think all of Dromai’s matchups reward experience because you often can only know how much a dragon is worth if you’ve been in a similar situation before and seen how that game played out.
1. Dash I/O
My favorite hero I played this year was Dash I/O without a doubt! I picked her up toward the end of the year for Battle Hardened: Pittsburgh, then brought her to the World Championship the following week. I love how many cards you get to see every turn and how you have to constantly consider the risk of fatigue. Balancing more than one axis of risk in an already complicated sequencing deck makes for such a fun challenge.
Honorable Mention: Viserai
I have to shoutout Viserai since he’s my favorite hero of all time, so technically he’s #1 on this list, but I didn’t feel like he belonged since I barely played him this year. I hope I get to play Viserai at some tournaments next year, either in CC or maybe even Living Legend!
Coolest Three Places Visited in 2023
I’m the worst type of traveler. I rarely make time to explore the actual cities I visit. The coolest places I visited were just my favorite places, which were: (1) Dallas - because I really like American BBQ and I can stay at Brodie’s house!, (2) Baltimore - because traveling there is low cost for me and relatively affordable, (3) Columbus - because we often never have to leave the building when we stay at one of the hotels attached to the venue (for me, the Hyatt Regency.)
My trip to Calling Taipei in October was super memorable for several reasons. It was my first time traveling internationally without my mom, which was a little bit scary since I was going somewhere I’d never been before and I didn’t speak the native language, but everything went smoothly once I got there. I had a great time seeing the city and even trying new foods, which I’m not known to do a ton of, but I liked almost everything I tried! The best part of the trip was that it was my first Calling Top 8 ever and my last major finish with Lexi before she LL’d.
In June, Michael and I made our way to Singapore for their second Calling. It was one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited - the architecture was amazing and featured a lot of nature mixed in with structures, there were several cool tourist spots I got to check out, and above all the people there were so friendly and welcoming. I was in the country for a little over a week so I got to play several armories, and just in that short time I made some great friends with the local FaB players. Shoutout to the Singapore community!
(Dando: Quick shoutout to our homies at 1Collectibles who are also pictured above. Some of the best in the business)
The most amazing place I visited this year was Auckland, New Zealand for the Calling in February. Michael and I got to stay with our friend Sean Yang’s family, who graciously hosted us and answered all of our questions about how to get around and how things worked in Auckland. I had an amazing time exploring the island and going to the beach for the first time in my life, and my favorite thing about the city was that it’s where Flesh and Blood originated. I got to play an armory in the first store to ever host a FaB event and interact with LSS employees and players who have been around since the beginning.
Three Favorite Foods We Ate in 2023
Well, I don’t really explore too much cuisine and my standards for food are quite low. However, I did enjoy: (1) BBQ in Dallas at Heim BBQ - tasty and relatively economical, (2) pizzas at the Moxy Birmingham - tasty and so convenient, can be ordered and served while playing CC in their lobby, and (3) the meat pies at the cafe before you go into Hobbiton Movie Set Tours in Auckland - highly recommend!
I describe myself as having “the food taste of a 5-year-old,” and I usually stick to foods I know I like. But in my adventures around the world, I’ve been pushing myself (and been pushed by friends) to try new things, and I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy some of them! Two of my favorites are Hot Pot and Korean BBQ, which I think I first tried in 2022, but I’ve definitely eaten both this year. My #1 food from this year is, of course, plain ham sandwiches! Those things fueled me at every tournament I played in 2023, and somehow I still haven’t gotten tired of them. I usually bring five or six on every tournament day and eat them throughout the rounds. Always having food and water handy has definitely improved my tournament performance.
Favorite Flight/Airport Experience in 2023
Haha! Favorite flight was definitely the time Brodie and I flew back from Melbourne. We sat next to each other for over 10 hours and learned how to play Minesweeper and also a game called “Five in a row” or Gomoku. We felt so accomplished once we started solving the more difficult Minesweeper puzzles, though we never really got good at Gomoku…
My favorite flight was definitely the one Michael mentioned above, and during that same trip we stopped for a layover in the Nadi, Fiji International Airport. We got separated on our way off the plane through customs, then reunited at the food court inside. Michael got himself some Burger King while I waited in line for fresh baked pizza only to discover they weren’t serving it! So after that quick detour I returned to get my own Burger King, and Michael tweeted the picture below of us “trying the local cuisine.” :P The other notable memory from this food court is that Michael and I played one of our last Lexi mirrors ever in it, and after seven months playing the deck I finally felt like I knew the best way to navigate that matchup.
Favorite Limited Experience in 2023
Okay so every time I get to play Team Sealed it’s always an awesome time, however, I did want to highlight a separate experience. The context was Monarch draft at Sean’s Farewell Armory in Silk Road Gaming in Chinatown, Manhattan. A picture is worth a thousand words, so here goes:
Yep, that’s right, I am getting attacked with Rouse the Ancients with Phantasmaclasm and a blue Herald being revealed. Want to know how many poppers I have in my hand? None. And yes, I am totally playing with BGS graded cold foil Hero and Weapon tokens. Lastly, my opponent’s name was Lexi (okay, spelled Lexie)! How awesome is that?
Battle Hardened Baltimore in June was a super special weekend because it was a team event with two of my favorite people in Flesh and Blood, Michael Feng and Dave Lin. The three of us stayed together and ultimately won the Outsiders Team Sealed Battle Hardened, facing three of our teammates in the finals. I’ve had such a fun time at every team tournament I’ve played, and I hope we get even more of them next year. Honorable mention to the Outsiders Team Sealed side event that Michael and I played with Michael Jaszczur in Birmingham - that was a blast too.
Three Things We’re Most Proud of in 2023
I am most proud of the Charlotte weekend where I won the Battle Hardened with Oldhim, then I gave my deck to Brodie, gave him maybe 10-15 minutes of advice, and he won the PTI tournament the next day. Keep in mind Brodie had never played Guardian in CC before. I felt proud because I felt like I had been saying Oldhim was on the easier side of the spectrum to pilot and felt vindicated. Second to that is when I made Top 8 at the Melbourne Calling with Lexi, Livewire. I ultimately didn’t advance beyond the semifinals, but it was the last tournament I was able to compete with Lexi and I felt that I finally had begun to understand how to play her as a hero - that feeling of “I finally, finally feel comfortable” paired with doing well, it’s the best feeling. Third is earlier this month when Brodie won the $20k and I won the $10k at the Realm Rumble. I feel like Brodie and I have had such an amazing run this year playing FABTCG competitively and that was such a great way to end the year. (Okay, Brodie ends up winning two more PTI’s back to back at Dreamhack Atlanta, but that’s besides the point!)
One of my proudest moments this year was winning the $20k Invitational at the Realm Rumble. I started off the competitive year by taking down the Realm + MinMaxGames Chicago Brawl in March with Azalea, and it was an amazing feeling to come full circle and win the last major event of the year on the same hero. I’m also super proud of my teammates Michael Hamilton and Mara Faris for making top 8 of the $20k and Michael Feng for winning the $10k!
The biggest moment for me this year, and of my entire Flesh and Blood career, was making top 8 at Pro Tour Baltimore. It felt so rewarding to put all that time and effort in and have it pay off at the highest level of competition. To have two teammates in top 8 with me and watch one of them take down the entire Pro Tour solidified Baltimore as my all-time favorite weekend in FaB.
A big development that made me proud outside of tournament results was becoming a MinMaxGames Brand Ambassador! My interactions with them as a customer have always been overwhelmingly positive, and I have a lot of respect for the people behind the company, so I’m honored to represent their brand everywhere I go. I’m excited to carry the M into 2024 and beyond!
I’m going to cheat and do 4 instead of 3 here, because the thing I’m most proud of in 2023 is my growth as a player and person. I’ve made so much progress in staying relaxed and focused in my games, and I’ve learned a ton about what it takes to succeed at high level tournaments. I turned 18 this year, and I know it’s stressful for my mom to let me do more things on my own and travel the globe by myself, but I really appreciate her letting me grow up while still giving me guidance and supporting me. I’m so grateful that I get to have these incredible experiences meeting so many people and traveling the world as I venture into adulthood.
What Are You Most Looking Forward to in 2024?
I’m most looking forward to all the new heroes and cool design decisions the dev team will serve us next year! The heroes don’t have to be competitive for me to enjoy playing as them, to have fun with them, and to appreciate all the design and lore elements that go into creating them.
There are so many things I’m looking forward to in 2024! 2 Pro Tours, more events to travel to, a bigger prize pool for FaB OP, and the list goes on. But one thing in the near future that I can’t wait for is the Celebrational and Calling Queenstown in January!
One Personal Goal in 2024
I would like to win a Gold Foil Extended Art Balance of Justice. As a collector, each of these Gold Foil Extended Art Legendary cards have become “grails” for me. If I’m not able to win one I am definitely in the market to purchase one!
My biggest goal for 2024 is to not punt. My least favorite losses are the ones where I had enough practice and information to make the right choice, but for some reason I just didn’t. They are the most painful because I put in so much time and effort to improve as much as I can, and there are still so many decisions that are hard to make correctly, but I lose because of one I should have known for sure was wrong. Taking good care of my brain and body before tournaments is my #1 priority for 2024, and nothing would make me happier than making it to the end of the year without ever making a silly unforced error.
One Piece of Advice for Others in 2024
I’m going to steal Flake’s statement here, but, you’re not losing if you’re learning. I’m going to expand on it and say become a better loser. I’m serious about this. Losing is where I’ve learned most of my tips and tricks with FABTCG. Sometimes the learning is that the deck I’m playing, or the hero I’m playing, just isn’t that great - and that’s fine! Sometimes the learning is that I am not evaluating how to play a matchup correctly. Sometimes the learning is that the matchup in particular just has more variance. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to lose, don’t feel bad about losing, and don’t get frustrated with losses. Each loss is actually a golden opportunity for you to work on so many things besides learning. I particularly find losing a game to be one of the best ways I make new friends in FABTCG, and I admire those who are able to gracefully congratulate their opponent after losing. How one handles a loss quite often reveals a lot about their character. Let’s strive to be awesome losers in 2024!
One tip that I find very helpful when preparing for tournaments is spending a few games piloting all the heroes you expect to face, even if you never plan to bring them to a tournament yourself. It can be eye-opening to view a difficult matchup from the opponent’s perspective and start to understand what their hands look like, what situations are awkward or easy for them, and what drives them into a winning or losing position. Whether you play digitally or borrow cards or test with proxies, find a way to pick up each hero for at least a few games. The other piece of advice that I attribute my tournament success to more than anything else is to have fun - when I let go of the stakes and pressure and remember that I’m here because I love playing FaB, I always perform better. It’s a never ending puzzle, and I make so much more progress when I forget about the prizes and glory and focus on the joy of putting the pieces together.
-Written by Michael Feng and Brodie Spurlock