Lessons from the Clash Royale Tournament Scene: SMC Season 1

Clash Royale Tournament - SMC (S1) Leaderboard

Supercell’s recent announcement and detailed explanation of their vision for the Clash Royale tournament scene has made HUGE waves across the eSports world. The news has prompted in-depth discussion on Reddit and fueled additional speculation from gamers who can’t wait to sink their teeth into this new game mode. Precious little is known about the feature: It unlocks “close to the Tournament Rules level,” offers tournaments that are “free to join, but will cost Gems to create,” and rewards “almost everyone who placed in the top half of the tournament leaderboard” with a Tournament Chest–the largest of which will contain “a whopping 15,000 cards!” With the upcoming Tournament Week starting July 4th, what can you do to prepare for this massive update? Read on for insights from a tournament veteran and some of the top competitors from Season One of the Super Magical Cup!

The Super Magical Cup

The Super Magical Cup is an open-entry, online Clash Royale tournament held weekly that brings together “top-tier commentary and high-stakes competition to craft the most accessible and competitive community tournaments for the fledgling Clash Royale scene.” And the competition really is fierce–some famous entrants include Jason (champion of the 1st Official Clash Royale tournament), yarn (of Orange Juice Gaming fame), nickatnyte (the YouTube sensation), and Mats (whose account “Zed” in the clan “LONGINUS” currently sits at #3 on the Global Leaderboard). Want to see for yourself? Check out the SMC YouTube page, which features every tournament in its entirety as well as highlights of some of the best games so far. The tournament is run by a team of dedicated admins and co-hosted by Rainy and TheRumHam (another Global Top 200 Leaderboard player).

After the ninth week of this 128-player tournament, the top sixteen participants were summoned to compete in the Super Magical Invitational (SMI-1). I earned my first place spot from six Top 4 finishes in seven weeks played, having won SMC-1. The rest of the field was filled out by some of the best players in the Clash Royale community. After a grueling round robin group phase that eliminated half of the field, I advanced to quarterfinals for a rematch with Mats, my nemesis from the first SMC. From this stage onwards, every match was worthy of a spot on TV Royale. In the end, the dark horse Clyde fought all the way from the bottom #16 seed to take the gold medal, edging out Mats in the final match. TheRumHam has since offered his expert analysis on the gameplay and in-depth commentary on the Top 8 decks.

What Differentiates Tournaments from the Ladder?

On the surface, there are only two differences between gameplay on the ladder and in tournaments: First, tower and card levels are capped at 9/7/4/1; second, overtime lasts three minutes instead of just one. However, after playing through several weeks of tournaments, I began to pickup on differences that were not so apparent. For instance, success in tournaments requires you to defeat every opponent that you face. This means that you can’t just eek out a draw when you’re up against a deck that dominates yours. As SMI-1 champ Clyde put it, the tournament structure ensures that “the most well-rounded decks will win.” He adds, “Tournament gameplay is more cautious, and players play more defensively, because you have 3 minutes in overtime so small chip damage will make an impact over the long run.”

When the stakes are high, Clash Royale becomes a game of minimizing your own mistakes and capitalizing on those of your opponent. Rarely will a brilliant tactical maneuver win the match when up against top-tier players who have mastered their defensive gameplay. As SMI-1 participant Nater$ put it, “you go into a match assuming these guys are so good that your typical plans A, B, and C aren’t going to work against them — they will play the most stifling defense you’ve ever seen and you’ll rarely ever get an easy win because they understand the game so well.”

But it’s not just how you play the game that sets tournaments apart from the ladder. The three-minute overtime opens up space for different deck archetypes and can enable an early advantage to snowball into a massive lead. Nater$ continues, “the tournament meta is different from the ladder meta mostly due to the extended overtime, which makes playing stifling defense and chipping away at them over time a more viable strategy than building one big/uncounterable push.” The massive-push playstyle does have its place in the Arena, but tournament competitors have found that earning chip damage, just a few hundred HP at a time, is often what earns them the win. In fact, over half of the 32 decks used by SMI-1 participants relied on cycling cheap, efficient cards for defense and then converting their elixir advantage into Hog Rider or Miner pushes on offense.

How Can I Prepare for Tournaments?

Successfully jumping from ladder gameplay into the tournament scene will require more than just mastering gameplay fundamentals. Understanding how different cards interact is always useful, but unless you calibrate that understanding to the Tournament Rules level of gameplay, that knowledge will be almost useless. For instance, you should know exactly how much damage spells deal to crown towers. You should also know how much elixir you can deny your opponent by blowing up their pump. You should know every interaction for the troops you use (e.g. the buffed P.E.K.K.A will one-shot Barbarians). In short, you must readjust all of your expectations from ladder gameplay so that they fit the new standard.

Moreover, you should re-evaluate the effectiveness of cards that you had previously deemed unusable. You need only unlock a Legendary card to use it at the Tournament Rules level cap. That Level 1 Ice Wizard may feel underwhelming up against Level 11 Commons, but reduce their level by two and that same frigid fellow will be much more powerful by comparison. The same principle applies to Epic cards and Rares, to an extent. While underlevelled for ladder play, non-Commons are as popular as ever among tournament veterans. Your opponents’ unfamiliarity with your Lava Hound or Poison spell may spell their downfall.

Tournaments also differ in the function of cards that “ramp” their power up over a long period of time. Think of Elixir Collector, Goblin Hut, Furnace, and other spawner cards. While these function very well in the early- and mid-game on the ladder, they drop off in usefulness toward the end of the game when you would no longer benefit from their full duration. However, with the extended overtime, your opportunity to snowball your lead expands even further with these cards. Thus the tournament metagame has developed to favor these cards as well as those that counter them. If you think Miner is annoying on the ladder, just wait until you see one burrowing toward nearly every Elixir Collector you play–and if it’s not a Miner, it could be the dreaded Rocket. With two extra minutes of overtime, direct spell damage comes at a premium when all you need to do is cycle two more Rockets to knock a tower down.

What’s Next?

With the release of the in-game tournament mode less than a week away, competitive players will be champing at the bit to discover the strategies and secrets that work best for them in the format. Knowing how tournaments differ from the ladder will give you the upper hand against opponents just now learning how Tournament Rules work. You can prepare now by crafting a well-balanced deck that incorporates the suggestions in section above. Studying how those cards will interact with your opponents’ and watching high-level tournaments are two great ways to develop flawless mechanical gameplay. When you crush your enemies and see them driven before you, keep in mind that it’s just a game–a simple “Well Played!” says it all.

Woody is the leader of the clan Reddit Alpha and finished first-place on the Super Magical Leaderboard for Season One. You can contact him on Reddit and tune in to his Twitch stream!

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