Clearing the Cache

A Marvelous Year in a Snap

Marvel Snap surprisingly dominated my gaming attention this year. I started in January and I have played over 300 hours. It’s a casual, competitive card game that is easy to pick up and play, but it also has nuance and variety to reward a deeper investment. More than the game and its Marvel theme, I found lessons in its game design and how they can apply to my life.

How to Marvel Snap Plays

From my collection of cards, I build decks of twelve cards that have effects that ideally complement each other. Each card has an energy cost, a power output, and an ability that is thematic to the Marvel character the card is based on.

I play against random strangers on the internet (and occasionally computer bots) who have a similar collection size and matchmaking rating so that the matches are competitive. 

At the beginning of the match, there are three locations that my opponent and I are competing for. There are six turns per match and each player chooses one or more cards to play on any of the three locations. The goal of the match is to have a higher power on two of the three locations.

Marvel Snap is similar to Poker where each player enters the game with an ante, a “cube” in Marvel Snap. The winner wins the cubes. And like Poker, you can raise the stakes by “snapping” when you feel like you have an advantage, which doubles the winner’s take. The other player then also has the opportunity to snap back to double the stakes again.

The snap mechanic elevates the game to a mind-reading battle of wits and proficient players utilize this to progress faster in the leaderboards.

Each month, players battle each other for the cubes to climb their rank, with the goal of reaching 100. Every player drops 30 ranks at the beginning of the month. There are new cards available throughout the month and adjustments are made to existing cards to balance the game.

What I Liked

Before I get into the lessons, here are other reasons why I was hooked on Marvel Snap:

  • The matches are short, at around five minutes, making it an easy distraction while waiting for the kids at their weekly activities. 
  • The game is designed to be played on phones, which I always have with me. I can play whenever I have a moment to spare.
  • The artwork is a good mixture of artists from throughout Marvel’s history, each with their own distinctive style. Each character with a card also includes variations by different artists.
  • I am introduced to Marvel characters that I’ve never heard of and that expands the number of characters to look forward to in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Winning a game for eight cubes (my opponent and I both snapped) are satisfying triumphs as I correctly sized up my opponent.
  • Playing against strangers provides me a place to feed my competitive side and exercise strategic thinking.
  • There is no text chat in the game. The players can only communicate by a specific set of emojis, which reduces the toxicity plaguing online multiplayer games. I’ve found that most players are cordial and show positive sportsmanship.
Marvel Snap. Illustration: Second Dinner/Nuverse

Lessons Learned

Have Multiple Win Conditions.

When I first started building decks, they were optimized for a specific sequence of cards to be played to win. I lost many times before I learned that the randomness of the game prevented me from drawing the cards in a specific order. I needed to have different cards that allowed me to win so that if I didn’t draw into one sequence of cards, I had an alternate way to win.

The lesson for life is to make sure there are multiple paths to achieving a goal. When there are setbacks or unforeseen circumstances (and there always are), I’m not stuck at a deadend.

A similar analogy in chess is playing into forks, where a piece has a choice of two pieces it can capture. One might be a better play, but both options are a net gain.

Perfect Deck ≠ Perfect Draw.

A deck is twelve cards for a six turn game. You start the game with three cards and draw one card per turn. Outside of the game locations and card abilities that affect card draw, you effectively only draw nine of your twelve cards shuffled in the deck.

And each match has three random locations to compete for. And any or all of the locations can be more of an antagonist to your deck than your opponent.

As a planner, I find security and peace in a plan and set schedule. But life rarely runs exactly to plan. A plan is still important but it’s more important to be adaptable. And sometimes, the altered plan comes out better than the original.

I Only Have to Win Two of Three Locations.

In my greed, I’ve spread my power across all three locations to give myself multiple options. However, that often loses me the game because I spread myself too thin and I didn’t focus on what’s more important: winning two of the three locations.

This lesson reminds me to always prioritize, even when I don’t think I need to. Or else I will spread my resources too thin and everything I attempt is mediocre or worse.

I’ve also given myself permission to “lose” in one area so that I can “win” in two other areas. We can’t be everything everywhere and this allows me to be worse at something so that I can be better at other areas in my life.

A Deck Is Twelve Cards.

As my collection has grown, it became increasingly hard to pick just twelve cards. I have to find a balance of cards that provide the power necessary to win locations and cards that help me defend against my opponent’s card abilities and location effects.

This is another area where I have to prioritize what my deck is good for and it can’t be everything everywhere. Finding the balance between offense and defense, which isn’t half-and-half, changes over time, depending on what other people are playing.

I find this analogous to balancing my life. Balance is an ongoing act of adjusting to my own changes and the changes around me.

Snap Aggressively And Don’t Fear Retreating.

When I set out to reach level 100 for a season, I struggled to gain levels because I would not snap in games that I would win and stayed in games where my opponent snapped and I could not win.

I was walking on the road of taking one step forward and then two steps back.

It was a very frustrating experience that almost got me to quit the game because I got emotional about it. I would spend an hour playing to gain five levels, only to lose six levels in ten minutes.

After watching YouTube videos from higher-level players who shared their insights, I started to learn when to snap and when to retreat. As I played more, I started to recognize when the cards I had in my hand gave me an advantage. I still made a lot of mistakes, but snapping in earlier turns allowed me to progress faster.

This is the skill I wanted the most. My tendencies are cautious and highly-calculated. I want to be better at not just calculating how bad it will be when things go wrong, but also how good it will be if things go right.

Know When I’m Tilting.

“Tilting” is a term I heard from a pro player, Lamby, when he describes the moment when a player gets emotional in the game and it results in poor decisions and big mistakes. Giving this moment a name helped me understand when I need to stop playing the game so I wouldn’t further damage the progress I’ve made throughout the month.

I fell into the trap often where I would have several big losses and I continued to play in hopes of recovering. I never did and learning how even the pro players get into this trap helped me recognize it and avoid it in the future.

How this corresponds to life is when I can reach a state of mental fatigue, it’s time to take a rest. Or at least recognize that I’m highly likely going to make mistakes and be aware of the risk of continuing.

Losing Is Part of the Game.

Even the best decks in the game only win a little more than half of the time. When I look at the win rate for the best decks and see this statistic, it’s a good reminder that losing is part of the journey and losing doesn’t define the destination.

Don’t Always Spend What You Have Right Away.

For each turn of the match, a player has that turn number’s energy. For example, on turn two, both players have two energy to spend. All cards have an energy cost to play, and it’s normally advantageous to play cards that cost the amount of energy for the turn.

Playing a two-cost card on turn two when you have two energy seems like an obvious choice. But that two-cost card can also be played in the future for combinations.

Sometimes it’s hard to end a turn without playing any cards and have the confidence that the card is better suited for a later turn.

This realization helped me be patient and recognize that an opportunity in front of me doesn’t have to be seized immediately. It does take wisdom and experience to know the difference but exercising a mentality of waiting is sometimes as important as acting immediately.

Don’t Immediately Switch Decks On a Losing Streak.

Another trap I repeated during my earlier seasons is switching decks when I had losing streaks. Instead of considering my mental fatigue, what the popular decks were played, or bad snap judgements, I would blame the deck I was playing.

So I would switch to another deck and continue to lose.

The problem wasn’t necessarily the deck. Switching decks had a mental cost as I needed to rethink what cards I had and what combinations would be good to play.

Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses.

Knowing the matchups to predict when I’m likely to lose and can retreat early. Most decks specialize in a playstyle and tend to have at least one other playstyle that can counter it. Good games have that in their design or else everyone plays one way.

As I played more, I began to recognize decks based on the cards played. This helped me prepare for not only what I’ll be playing, but anticipate what my opponent will play.

Find Inspiring Influencers and Community.

I wouldn’t have learned several of these lessons if it weren’t for the players I’ve watched play on YouTube. Or at least it would’ve taken me much longer to learn subtle nuances.

Each Monday, I enjoy a podcast by Cozy and Alex who discuss various topics around Marvel Snap, such as upcoming cards, their favorite cards, their hated cards, etc. I equate it to listening to sports pundits, but they are both very kind and generous and their show gives me something to look forward to on Mondays.

I’ve gotten deck ideas from Cozy who is great for combos and he’s great at teaching how to use the deck he’s featuring.

KMBest gets deep into the meta, which are popular strategies that the community are using. I found his insights unique and his deck designs have helped me reach level 100 several times this year.

KMBest also does a weekly podcast with Lamby, a top-level player who I’ve gleaned important strategies from, several of which are mentioned in the lessons above.

Success is in the Cards.

I look forward to seeing how this game continues to grow next year. It’s been a very fun year learning and playing.

The lessons I’ve learned will help me in other areas of my life and I hope that sharing these insights inspires you to play and consider how the games you play influences other areas of your life.