1) Learning basic rules
This is basically the same for all the games. You learn basic stuff, play your first game in which, half of the time, you do not know what is going on and how anything works. In this case - basics are phases of turn, taking actions, reactin etc. First few games are only about this. We all have done this and there is not much more to say about this step.
2) Getting to know your first deck
This actualy comes very soon after the first phase. Some of players ( same as me, when I started) may play there first games with borrowed deck, other simply use some PCD. It does not matter - in this phase you probably now, which of your cards you may or may not play in given situation and you are starting to learn about whether it is beneficial to play your card or save it for later. You are probably sticking to this one deck and when clashing with other players, finding new and new interactions - strengths and weaknesses, which your deck has and you are trying to do your best with it. (I remember my like tenth game with my brujah high cap combat, when I played lightning reflexes for 7 additional strikes, just to torporize my preys minion and he just played Skin of Steel at superior and I was like: "What? What do you mean by all my strikes? Something like that exists? Is this legal?") With this, and for some of us little after this, comes the next step.
3) Expanding your rules knowledge
The more games you play, the more rules you will encounter. Titles, contesting, sects, anarchs, scarce are few examples of rules, which you do not need right from the start, but you will need them as your gaming career will progress. You will probably not learn all of them, before the next step comes.
4) Constructing your deck
Some players may start with this sooner, than others, but actually constructing first deck is a big deal.You have to think about how cards interact, which ar good at any situation, which are not even worth playing. Usualy at this point you do not have as large selection, to build deck exactly as you want, but you will update it as time goes and your opinions abut it will change as well and you might probably end up inserting different cards, than you wanted in the begining. In my opinion, the longer you stick to one deck play, the better for begginer. You will know the cards you play very well and you are free to concentrate on others decks, table interactions and new cards, which bring us to:
5) Expanding your knowledge of cards
When you start with your first deck, you will probably look for cards to put in. This begins a neverending quest to find perfectly fitting cards, finding new combos and optimizing your selection. At first, you will expand your knowledge of cards you will need to upgrade your deck and vampires, that you can use. You will know more and more about cards, because you will meet new and different decks played by others. This is actualy phase in which I have attended first local tournament and it was bad. But it was good experience for me. I have seen new people, new cards, strategies and dealbreaks.
6) Getting better at deckbuilding
This is a next step when you are playing for some time. You are now pretty close to perfecting your deck, or starting to build another one, or even more of them. Trying to play something new greatly expands your horizons as player - learning about mechanisms from other side - you may have encountered them before, but now you are actualy playing it and that is something else. You may notice, that somethings looks simple and strong just because it was perfectly executed or you did not know how to stop some strategy. And you will also notice, that playing something you thought was strong, can be pretty dificult.
7) Getting to know other players decks
Knowing more decks and cards brings you to noticing, how important is to know, what you are standing against and what is that deck capable. Of course, you know from the start, that SB deck will probably bleed you at stealth, but you start noticing more superior disciplines - probably no elder impersonation from that one. Secondly you start noticing numbers - you are starting to notice how many bounce cards is everyone playing, how much stealth heavy are decks you play against regularly and so on. Some people start to notice sooner than at this point, but i do believe that this perception is fully evolved after trying more than one deck with different strategies.
8) Perfecting knowledge of rules
At this point, most of the players have experienced different strategies, encountered most of the regularly played cards and there is not much, that can surprise them. At this point, everyone should perfect their knowledge about card interactions. Ok I know in VTES there is almost impossible to know every interaction, but I am talking about those classic like solving effects of DI, or Rötschreck and psyche interactions, enkil cog interactions and so on. Some of these, you will encounter sooner, some of them later, but in the end, everyone should know, how to solve these at least in most situations.
9) Knowledge of tournament archetypes
This knowledge is important, when you are regularly attending tournaments and actualy trying to win some of them. Yes of course, if Carna is the first one out, you may expect some kind of blockish tremere deck and Owain and Blackhorse are also telling you something, but actually looking at some tournament winning decks gives you more knowledge about contents of that deck and you will be more prepared what will happen on the table. You may always encounter something new, or modified, which will surprise you, but in most cases, this knowledge will be pretty handy.
10) Metagaming (and master deckbuilding)
If you are attending tournaments in other cities or countries, matagaming goes in place. Our meta was always very combat heavy, so each deck tend to pack excessive ammount of combat cards or combat defense. Of course not every metagame is this way and research and modifications of your deck are on of the skills you have to master to be more successfull. Chosing your deck and modyfying it accordingly to metagame you will attend will be always problematic, since you will probably be testing it in your meta - with different enviroment.
I would say, that if you successfully master this skill, there is not much you can learn in deckbuilding. At this point every player should be very good at building deck, that is effective, (of course if he wants to, nothing is preventing him from building some crazy clan impersonation madness) and if he is able to adjust it to be more competitive in other metagame, I would say, that he is a master deckbuilder.
11) Table balance
Some may argue, that this step comes before metagaming and I tend to agree if you are almost exclusively playing at your meta, but for other players, I would say, that this is the skill above them all. I think, that it is nearly impossible to master - one eagles sight you play may win, or lose the game for you. Even one intercept you give from your KRCG news radio or even one point from your Kine Resources Contested, which you have carelessly assigned to your grandprey out of habit - those are just minor things, but they can change the course of entire game. After that we have backousting, cross-table ousting or preventing someone from ousting, which all are great deals and should be always considered with great caution.
I bow to everyone, that is good at this. At this point, I think that being good at ballancing table is like my Everest. But I will not try to rush there. Even when I know how important this skill is, I believe that trying to experiment with it too soonis very bad for a player and even for others at same table. Trying to overly influence things at the table may result in very bad results, which would not happen if player simply try to go for oust after oust and get his game win instead of trying to prevent someone else from getting it.
Just to clarify - I know, that every card you play somehow changes ballance on the table and I hope everyone knows what I mean by putting table ballance at this place. To this day I remember my malkavian toolboxy bleed which I used to balance table - I had like 10 coppies of kindred spirits there, so I have been bleeding different metusaleahs to balance the table and I ended up losing in the end (gaining maybe one VP), which was pretty horrible, since I could won the entire game if i tried just to go forward. Each time you put a card in deck, which lets you do something out of ordinary, you will be tempted to play it other way, than it is regularly used (cross table kindred spirits, cross-table eagles sight or even classic DI) - and I am not saying, that this is always bad, just that it is very hard, to do this right most of the times.
Once again I have written a lot and not sure if there are valid points there. I feel, that it is very important for each player to go through this phases in order to be really good and try to not jump ahead much, because he might just skip something, which will be missing later. Three lines just separate these steps into three groups - 1) begginer phases, which are important, when learning about the game, 2) playing phases, which you need if you play regularly and casualy and of course 3) tournament skills, which are important for competitive play. This is probably all for now, although I just want to say, that Cause & Effect season 3 episode 2 - guys did a great job on table ballance and backousting and etc. so I greatly recomend this episode and of course all others. Ok, this is really all for now.
See you next time...