Understanding “Who’s The Beatdown?”

Understanding Lorcana is a series that helps new Disney Lorcana players to better grasp core concepts of competitive Lorcana play. This series should help you to understand how to evaluate your cards, optimize your decks, and become the best Disney Lorcana player in your neighborhood!

Here’s the 60 Second Summary ⏱️ (or TL;DR):
In any given game of Disney Lorcana, you’ll need to quickly identify which player (you or your opponent[s]) benefits from the game lasting longer (e.g. The game is going on for more turns. Stalling would not actually confer an advantage in this regard, and is against the rules besides!). Once you’ve identified this, you should quickly pivot into the role – Beatdown (aggressive, fast, linear), or Control (adaptable, slow, branching) – and stay in that role to maximize your chances of victory.

Today, we’re going to attempt to unravel one of the more intriguing layers of Disney Lorcana and Collectible Card Games (CCGs also called TCGs or Trading Card Games) in general by zooming in on a classic bit of TCG philosophy: Mike Flores’ classic Dojo article “Who’s the Beatdown?” (you don’t have to have read that article first, but if you haven’t read it, it’s definitely worth your time).

“Who’s the Beatdown?” was written in January of 1999, and it immediately made waves in Magic: The Gathering, but guess what? Its ideas extend to every corner of the TCG world, including Disney Lorcana.

The quick and dirty idea behind Who’s the Beatdown? is this: In a given game or match, one player is incentivized to make the game go on longer, and one player is incentivized to win as quickly as possible. This can change from game to game inside of a match, and is even relevant in quote-unquote mirror matches. It has a lot to do with the way our decks are optimized and tuned, but it isn’t entirely divorced from individual play style. Just because you’re playing an aggressive deck doesn’t make you The Beatdown (For example: You’re playing an Aggressive Amber-Steel Songs deck and your opponent is playing a more aggressive Amber-Emerald Deck).

Imagine a TCG match as a dynamic debate or conversation between two players, each vying to lead. One seizes the initiative as the aggressor, throwing down challenges and setting the conversation’s tone and rhythm—the beatdown. On the flip side, the defender, or the control player, takes a more defensive stance, countering threats and patiently waiting for the perfect moment to strike back.

Now, let’s talk about why this matters. Recognizing when to play the aggressor and when to defend is like being well-practiced in your opponent’s arguments. When you’re able to get it right and identify this early, you can see the lines of play your opponent plans to take, and prepare for the pitfalls and mistakes they’ve opened themselves up to. Get it wrong, and you might miss out on game-changing opportunities.

Some players choose to unburden themselves from this mental exercise in identification by always being the beatdown, or always being control. This means making sure your build of a given deck is the most aggressive or the most controlling deck in any possible metagame. To be sure, this is a reasonable shortcut, but I’d put my money on the more adaptable player just about every day.

A good, kinda-hidden example of games where identifying the beatdown is critical is, surprisingly, in control mirror matches. In games like Magic: The Gathering, where access to resources on your opponent’s turn mean that you can interact with them using instants and activated abilities, it’s often said that whoever makes the first move is the player who will ultimately lose. This might seem counterintuitive, but in a control mirror, you don’t want to be The Beatdown. Being The Beatdown (by making the first move in a control mirror) means that you’re not playing your control game plan, and instead you’re letting your opponent play their game while you fall victim to any potential counters or traps they may lay.

The same can be true of aggro mirrors, where the player who gets too caught up in early challenges will frequently be the loser. This is because your opponent is focused on getting as much lore as quickly as possible, and instead of trying to outrace them with your deck (which is aggressive and built to get as much lore as quickly as possible, too!), you’re trying to take them off their plan which is simply keep questing. This isn’t as hard-and-fast as the control mirror, as Lorcana’s lack of interaction means that challenging is the only way to keep from losing, but if you can win a race, you should strive to see the lines of play that will get you over the finish line, and those lines of play should be intrinsic to your deck and strategy.

Chess players often talk about thinking several turns in advance. With only 9 unique game pieces and 36 total pieces with restrictions on action, this is less of an ask than in TCGs (note: Chess is hard, and thinking in advance is harder!). But that doesn’t mean that an analogue can’t be drawn from that style of thinking for Lorcana or Magic or any other TCG. We call this playing to your outs, and I could write a whole article about how people have misinterpreted “playing to your outs” to mean “never concede under any circumstances” and how dumb that is, but I’ll save that digression for another time.

In a new TCG like Disney Lorcana, knowing or even intuiting these kinds of strategic models confers an enormous strategic advantage to a player; it’s one of the reasons that people who have previously competed at high levels in games like Magic are also doing well in Lorcana (Todd Anderson and Harlan Firer of The Lost Boys are great examples of this). I encourage you to watch gameplay videos from tournaments, listen to commentary from high-performing players, and read what you can to make this less of an action you’re taking each game and more of a heuristic, e.g. something that’s second nature. It’s a hand up to “leveling up” your game, and climbing the ladder to being ready to conquer any game that comes your way.