Monday, January 7, 2013

GP Denver: A look at Marked Cards, LSV's DEC penalty, and My Personal Highlight

So this topic came up on Twitter, when I said that I don't understand why players will complain or argue with a judge when they receive a penalty, simply because they weren't aware of the policy before they entered the event. Policies are publicly available (The IPG, the infraction procedure guide, which instructs judges on what penalties to apply in various situations), and while I don't expect players to know them perfectly, I do expect them to be prepared to accept their penalty if they receive one, and further to understand that arguing with a judge about it is useless. We don't have the option to change the policies on the spot, we just enforce them.

Some defended those players citing unfair or unintuitive policy. So I posed the question which policies were unintuitive, and got some interesting discussion out of it which I'll talk about here. Further, I'm going to give my opinion on the LSV ruling, which I will dub" the GL heard 'round the world" (although I was working at the event and didn't hear about it until afterward, so maybe only "the GL heard in the feature match area and on the interwebs".

The first policy brought up was by @lowbeyonder, (a great person to follow too, a Vintage specialist, also a certified judge). A link to a portion of the conversation is here. We talked about Tournament Error - Deck/Decklist Problem. The default penalty for this is a Game Loss, and James feels in certain cases this is too harsh. The IPG does give an option for the HJ to downgrade in one case, that the player uses a truncated card name but the HJ feels it is obvious what is meant. However, the case where a player leaves off basic lands only, was suggested as an additional downgrade option. I don't agree in this case, because it allows the player to swap the assortment of basics they are using from game to game, or perhaps they just realized they made a deck building error, and want to adjust what they originally submitted in the middle of an event. If we are going to try and hold people to the decklist they submit at the onset of the event, we need to have a complete list of their main deck to do so, and assessing a severe penalty of GL is necessary to offset the potential for abuse, in my opinion. James did bring up an example that I agree could have a downgrade clause offered in the IPG. If a player submitted a list with 64 cards, for example, because they listed 4xThoughtseize twice on their list, and this is the only error in their deck. We could downgrade there, because there is no potential for them to abuse here. If their physical deck has more copies than are legal of a card, that is a different story, but this is a clerical error that has literally no way to provide advantage unless the player is actually presenting an illegal deck. Perhaps the clause might read: "If a players decklist shows the same card in the same quantity written more than once, but the deck and decklist are otherwise matching and legal. Correct the list and downgrade to a Warning". I'm glad James brought this up, as this is something I want to discuss with other judges and perhaps pose to policy makers. If I'm missing a reasoning as to why there's some potential advantage here, I'd love to hear it.

With regards to the GL LSV received on Day 2 of the Grand Prix, I have a number of things to say. You can find text coverage of the feature match here. First, if you aren't familiar with what Game Play Error- Drawing Extra Cards is, I'd suggest giving it a quick read at this link. As stated, what he's done certainly falls in this category. To be very clear, we don't use this penalty if we think he intentionally took the extra card, that would be Cheating- Manipulation of Game Materials; with that said, this is the penalty assigned when we believe the extra card was drawn by accident People's complaint about it seems to be, that since he calledit on himself immediately, that this penalty is too harsh. The problem with that, is once he brings those cards to his hand, there's literally no way for anyone to verify which card draw was the extra card. Even if we believe the player who has committed the error, he could be incorrect, especially in the case that multiple cards were just drawn at the same time, and they could be wrong about which order they were drawn. The IPG gives the philosophy:
 "Though this error is easy to commit accidentally, the potential for it to be overlooked by opponents mandates a higher level of penalty. If the identity of the card was known to all players before being placed into the hand, and the card can be returned to the correct zone with minimal disruption, do so and downgrade the penalty to a Warning."
 In this case, the card was not known to all players. Even though he called this on himself, as no one else noticed the error, it is also possible he could continue with out noticing either. If that were to happen he gains significant advantage, and in these cases we have to provide the appropriate penalty. I understand that some people would say, that since he would be drawing that card via a legal play in the immediate future, that this could be forgiven, and that is a logical connection to make. However, it is impossible to make policy so that it takes into account future actions of players. As is, we already don't take into account the matchup or the gamestate or the format (unless decklist issue). Reason for this, is even if the error seems obvious, you're expecting the judges to make decisions based on perfect knowledge of a format/game in progress/strategic information and, that the players involved were also aware of some future strategic line of play, and there would be simply no way to enforce such things equally in all scenarios. We do allow the Head Judge of an event to deviate from the IPG policy, if they feel it's appropriate, and especially at Grand Prix events, which typically have HJ's who are of the most Senior of levels (who can more comfortably use the latitude given to HJ in the IPG without scrutiny). This is a Professional REL event on day 2 of a GP where as on Day 1 it is a Competive REL event. The IPG is what governs these two levels of event, and they are extremely similar. The differences mostly govern the presence of spectators but also how lenient the HJ will be with downgrades. That being said, had this been on Day 1, this would unlikely be downgraded either. If this guy wasn't LSV playing in a feature match, and was just Grinder Joe sitting accross from you, do you really thing anyone would second guess if what was done deserved a deviation from typical policy? It seems much more unfair to me to assess penalties inconsistently, just because we want to be nice to a well-known pro who is especially gracious even in the face of a severe penalty, who is on a feature match against another well liked pro. The issue is viewers on coverage don't always have a good grasp on what is going on from a policy standpoint, and that's a resource I think could be easily accounted for at most any event that runs video coverage. i'd love to see support for @marshall_LR and others so that they can quickly inform viewers about the philosophy behind these policies so they don't appear to be mere technicalities spoiling someone's chance at a top finish in the event. I Want to thank Marshall for giving me some really good insights about how these things appear to spectators.

Since I started writing this, I was pointed at a post by Toby Elliot, a Level 5 Judge who manages a majority of the DCI policy, and i'm glad to know that upon review of video, LSV did indeed put the extra drawn cards into his other hand, even though he didn't remember doing that. I like that he emphasized that even though when the players disagreed on what physically happened, its not that one person was lying. This actually perfectly illustrates what I said above about how we can't just go by what the player says he did, or these potential other "feel good" fixes, but by a fairly strict policy. I highly suggest reading his post, which comes from much more experience and knowledge about why the IPG is the way it is.

The reason this is important to me, is I want to lessen the barrier between players and judges Players often feel bad about calling judges because they don't want to "seem like a dick". or they fear that they will be punished. Remember, we're here for fair play, and its our job to enforce penalties evenly and fairly to all players, while no one l ikes receiving a penalty, how would you feel if you found out someone won the event and had been able to skirt some penalties because your other friend played him in a earlier round and neglected to call a judge. You later got paired with this player and lost. These sorts of things actually ruin the integrity of the event, even if you don't know that they happen. When players don't receive the appropriate penalty for their errors, while other players are, there's an inequity there. We want to assign the penalty, but we as judges, also want to educate the player on how to avoid that penalty in the future if it was indeed unintentional.

Separately from all of this, I got to judge my first GP this weekend, and it was awesome. I had one incident I'd like to share, that really made me glad I was a Judge. I was working at a side event on Sunday (Sealed Super Series, Competetive), and I observed a match where a player was being overly fidgety, whistling, singing/chanting, and bouncing in his chair. I saw another judge over his shoulder observing, and I watch closely too. As I observed, I learned that this player was anxious because he was upset his opponent was playing slowly. After the other judge moved on, i continued to watch, and his commentary got more and more angry and aggressive. I sat down at the match, mostly to ensure the player wasn't playing to slowly, and also to monitor the interaction between the two players. As the match was ending, the player started directing his commentary at the opponent for his reaction, rather than more chanting/mumbling to himself. At which point I said, "Verbally abusing your opponent isn't the best way to deal with Slow Play." (There's certainly an argument that I could have given an Unsportsmanlike Conduct-Minor, which is just a Warning, but I did not.) After their match ended I pulled the player aside, and had a talk with him. I felt pretty good about that conversation, because during his match he was saying things like, "I'll never play live Magic again! I want my chess-clock back! {referring to MTGO, of course]" As we talked, I could feel his tension release a little. He told me how early in the the GP day 1 he had a match go to a draw and he said he conceded so he could stay out of the draw bracket to avoid the Miracles deck [likely a sub-optimal choice, IMO]. He said he also drew again late in the day, and he felt both of these time issues weren't his fault. I told him a bit about how I love to play competitively too, and in order to help yourself succeed in those situations, you need to approach things differently than what I observed. (At one point in his chanting/mumbling during his match he had even verbalized "That's what I get for playing fast to compensate for a slow opponent." he was excusing himself for punting) Instead,  Bring a judge in. I told him after I made my presence known at his match, his opponent was playing at a reasonable pace, and if he had been playing slower previously in the round, just bringing a judge over to watch often solves the problem.. He said he didn't wan't to do that and appear to be like a jerk. I raised my eyebrows and said, "Do you think the alternative you chose was better? In all seriousness, you may simply tell the judge you'd like to ask a question away from the table if you prefer. We really encourage you to call us for these things. It helps us finish matches on time, which is important to everyone in the room." His face changed and I could tell he suddenly came back to reality and realized what went wrong. He apologized to me and I saw him go apologize to that opponent.
 [And Pro Tip? That's like a judges favorite call to take, a "watch this match for pace, please.". A reason to sit down and watch Magic, and an opportunity to issue a slow play penalty without feeling bad about it. Slow play penalties are really hard for judges to give, because its up to their discretion. You don't want to be a dick, and you don't want to be unfair, so most judges err on the side of no-infraction.Giving a penalty that has a cut and dry description in the IPG is easy, but judging for yourself how much time to give a player to act is delicate. If you're worried about sounding like a dick, you can always say "can i speak to you away from the table, and then ask the judge].

And after we talked, I saw him later in another event joking around with friends. Talking that player back from his metaphorical cliff made me feel pretty good about making the trip to Denver, and more so about devoting more time getting involved in the judging community.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Let There Be Fog

This weekend I played 3 events, I punted my way out,of a PTQ and top 8d two Game Days. After months of tinkering with TurboFog it's as well positioned as ever. There are some people who have an aversion to decks like TurboFog. Don't play it. You won't like it, you won't play it well, and you'll do it poorly. There are people who hate on me for playing bizzare rogue decks constantly (Pyromancer Ascension anyone who has been reading my blog for a while). I have the following to say about TurboFog before you read on: This is one of the most difficult decks to play correctly I have ever played in Standard. That being said, it's a Rubick's Cube, for the most part. There is nearly always a solution within the deck to win. Even as a very experienced pilot (at this point) I find plays I made wrong that cost me the game/match that take me lengthy discussions with spectators to really flesh out. There's two reasons why now is the time to play TurboFog, even if you're not obsessed with Johnny decks like me.
  1. Delver is seeing much less play, and most lists abandon Geist of Saint Traft making the match up much, much better.
  2. Green decks can't interact favorably with you in any way, and they are hugely popular.

The List: 

TurboBlunt (** indicates slots I'm changing going forward, this is the exact list I played this weekend)
4x Rites of Flourishing

4x Snapcaster Mage

4x Ponder
3x Temporal Mastery

4x Fog
1x Clinging Mists
2x Blunt the Assault
1x Blue Sun's Zenith
2x Negate
2x Beast Within

3x Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
1x Jace, Memory Adept **

1x  Otherworld Atlas**
 2x Pristine Talisman
 1x Witchbane Orb

2x Evolving Wilds
4x Hinterland Harbor
1x Reliquary Tower **
1x Alchemist's Refuge **
10x Island
7x Forest

1x Beast Within
2x Witchbane Orb
1x Clinging Mists
2x Flashfreeze
1x Negate
1x Dissipate
2x Autumn's Veil
2x Lunar Mystic
1x Surgical Extraction
1x Steel Sabotage
1x Visions of Beyond(**?)

About the Deck

I've been playing versions of TurboFog ever since Pyromancer Ascension rotated from Standard. During that time, I've also run U/W Control, U/B Control, U/W Delver (also Delverless), W/R Humans and Mono-G Aggro. So while I have my FNM deck that I'm loyal to, I'm certainly not afraid to take a netdeck to a big event if I'm not confident with my brew. However, I put this deck back together for a final PTQ run and some Game Day events this weekend, and its better than ever. So much so, that I'm considering going back to Arizona for another PTQ this weekend, even though I had sworn off the entire state after my last two visits. (You think I'd learn after twice, but we'll see)

** The Changes I'd make going forward

+1 Jace, Memory Adept, -1 Otherworld Atlas
I hate Jace. I hate hate hate him. In many previous versions of this deck I'd leave him out, or board him out a significant portion of the time. But now that the deck runs Temporal Mastery (a huge boon to the deck), you can no longer rely on Rites of Flourishing to deck your opponent before you. There are other solutions to this issue, but Jace is the right one. I've been resisting adding a 2nd one for some time, but I now have no doubts it's correct. It's good in all the same matchups as the Atlas, and I've been boarding out the Atlas in every single game over the last 20 matches this weekend. Atlas is a decent engine, but it's so slow and clunky you need a few fogs of value before it does much for you anyway, and by then Jace would have just won the game. When you're behind, the Atlas can't draw you a card immediately, and Jace can. While that's not his ideal usage, it happens, and it works. I've even used Jace's +1 to fix my deck after a ponder, milling away the card i didn't want and drawing the one i did. 

+1 Reliquary Tower -1 Alchemist Refuge
The Refuge was cute. I've used it to some benefit, by flashing in Rites EOT, I've even hard cast a temporal EOT, Pondered into a miracled Temporal EOT, and much much more. There's certainly value here. The problem is, most of these things are just fine in your mainphase, and worth it to save the mana. Rites is the exception, but you rarely can wait till 6 mana to cast it EOT, and even if you could, you need some of that mana for fog/counter and then you end up not able to cast your engine. Some might add a colored source, or another Evolving Wilds, but I really want a 2nd Reliquary Tower, because you want it every single game, and also, having it be Ghost Quartered in your End Step when you weren't prepared to make discarding decisions can be somewhat brutal. I had mine Beast Withined after drawing 6 with a Tamiyo, casting another one and drawing 6 more, and promptly had to discard 10 cards. Being the only colorless lands in the deck, 2 is fine.

Other stuff:

I'm certainly not tooting my own horn here, because I do understand that low level LGS tournaments aren't a big deal (and they aren't) but I've now developed some fanboys running my list (or close to it) at our store. They lose a lot. They watch my matches, and ask me for tips. For the most part, its their basic misunderstanding of what TurboFog is all about, and it really just takes grinding game after game after game to really understand it. If you've played it before in other builds, or have a decent understanding of the whole mindset of the deck (See: Not real MtG) you're probably okay in this regard. However, obligatory obvious tips: Don't fog until you have to. That means, don't go below 3 life against any non Red deck, unless you have no other option, and against red try not to go below 6. Until then, please do not Fog, unless your opponent gets a Sword trigger or threatens to kill a Planeswalker that is important to your current line of play, or something corner-casey. Also, know your matchup (i'll talk about the most of them below). What cards are dead against them? Do they have any marginal utility at all? If so, you have to save those cards for those marginal uses. absolutely have to. Negate is not expected to be a strong card against aggro, but against R/G aggro its 2 out of 3 of your maindeck outs to Bonfire of the Damned (the other being Witchbane Orb, if you already have that, you save your negates to protect your damned orb). So you grip your goddamned Negates for Bonfires, and nothing else (unless you'd otherwise lose). Clinging Mists is a wincon. Ideally you don't play it until you have to g1, when you can get the full pollen lullaby effect out of it and possibly gain two turns. Once they've seen it, treat it as a normal fog. You don't really want them playing around it by attacking with less creatures, as it makes your tamiyo much worse.

"Why aren't you playing White anymore?"

I used to play Bant for Gideon and Day of Judgement. There's a couple reasons why this isn't necessary anymore. Tamiyo is actually better at Gideon's job than Gideon, because when you have fogs, forcing attacks with gideon isn't really all that exciting, it's only amazing when he acts as your fog when you don't have one. When you fog with Tamiyo in play, it usually equates to draw 4+ cards the next turn (which should just win you the game, really). The consistency in the mana base is absolutely awesome, and there aren't any creatures I care about beyond my ability to Fog them in the format where Day of Judgement is neccessary. Especially in a world of Restoration Angels, Blood Artists and Geralf's Messengers, Day of Judgement is not the type of Fog you want. I understand White has a "better" fog than Clinging Mist/Blunt the Assault in Safe Passage. Safe Passage "counters" a Bonfire, which is nice, but it can't Fog for your planeswalkers. #awkward It's certainly not "better enough" to warrant playing lands that come into play tapped on almost all of your early turns. No matter how good it looks on paper, literally hundreds of games i've played have taught me otherwise, two colors, please.

"You mulligan a lot."

Yup. I mulligan a lot in general. This deck is certainly no exception. Especially Game 1, you must have action against an unknown deck. My hand should have some combination of the following, Ponder, Rites of Flourishing, Fog. You want two out of three. THere are some cases where I'd keep a 3fog 4 land hand, but typically if i have a good read on my opponent as to what type of deck they are playing. And yes, I trust my reads on this pretty strongly in paper Magic. I win games from 5 cards with this deck a lot. Don't be scared to mulligan. Once you get a Rites down, your hand will fill back up. You need to find it, you need action early.

"Why did you cast fog there when you could have snapcastered a fog. That way you save your "cheaper" fog option when you might need the mana later."
Two reasons. You always save the Snapcasters if you have another choice. Snapcaster is an instant speed demonic tutor in this deck, after ~turn 5, so use them later! Also, if i have so much mana that I have the option to snapcaster something, especially if i have a planeswalker in play, i'm not goign to have mana problems for the rest of the game anyway. I punted my way out of the PTQ making this elementary mistake on turn 4 of extra turns that turned a for-sure win into a loss->drop. Like i said before, this deck isn't easy to play. Often times you have lots of options, and it involves planning not only how to stay alive now, and next turn, but also as far as multiple turns after that, or as far as your current line of play to win would indicate.

"Why didn't you miracle that Temporal mastery?"
Sometimes I do early game, sometimes I don't. When I'm setting up with ponder, its not a "OMG A TEMPORAL LETS MIRACLE THIS NEXT TURN" all the time. Sometimes, of course, but not always. You want temporal because you play Rites of Flourishing and Planeswalkers. Taking an extra turn without those, acts as an explore, and that is sometimes absolutely perfect for what you want, but if its turn 2, and you ponder, perhaps you have the option to set up a miracle for turn 3, but that would preclude you from casting rites of flourishing. i set the miracle one card farther down, so I can cast rites turn 3, and miracle turn 4 with the rites in play. Same goes for a blind miracle turn 3, if you have the rites, you're better off just casting the rites; you'll get to 7 mana soon enough, and the extra card+extra land drop and the likely planeswalker (and corresponding activation) you'll have by then is often worth the wait. If you don't have the Rites or a planeswalker that you plan to play in the coming turns, feel free to miracle as an explore, and enjoy it. I'm not bagging on that line, but look for more value if possible.

General Gameplan

So, you use our face as a shield as long as possible while you amass permanents like Rites of Flourishing, lots of lands, and hopefully a Planeswalker. Surprisingly enough, people still don't really know what's going on with your deck for the most part, and you get tons of free wins from people just being bad. I'm ignoring that. Otherwise, you want an early rites, and you want to be drawing more fogs than they have attack steps. Once you get a 2nd rites in play, this shouldn't be an issue at all, and Pristine Talisman, Tamiyo and Beast Within can all act as tools to buy you additional time if you don't have fogs. Manage your lifetotal very carefully. Blunt the assault is a life gain spell, and clinging mists wants you to be at 5. If you have the luxury, use these correctly to both stay alive, and maximize value. Remember, the later you cast your fog effect, it's likely fogging more stuff, and hence, inherently more powerful/efficient. Fogging 20 damage on turn 10 for a single Green mana is much better than fogging 7 damage on turn 3 with the same card/mana. Eventually they'll be locked out of the game as you collect snapcasters preparing to re-play fogs and counters as you hardlock them with either a tamiyo ultimate (holding a fog + counter) or protect jace for 2-3 turns depending on how many cards they've drawn.  You'll also often have the option to simply X them out of the game with Blue Sun's Zenith. If it takes you a while to find Jace, or perhaps they all get countered. You will deck out before them thanks to the extra turns. As a result, don't forget the Rites of flourishing all trigger separately, you can cast blue sun for 0, shuffle it in to your empty deck, cast it again, draw it, cast it draw it etc. depending on mana availability  and cards in library you can also try to X them a bit with each cast. Overalll, your Game 1 win% is fairly high. Depending on their board options (which will be limited, and they may not realize what tools they have are good agianst you) game 2 will also be fairly swift. The scary part is losing game 1, ESPECIALLY, if the game runs long. Winning both games 2 and 3, especially after a long game one is nigh impossible. This means, scoop up promply g1 if you're certain you don't have a way out. An example of this, is that if ou go to our draw step where you have no Rites or extra "draw" spells, and you MUST draw a fog to survive, you basically lose. You'll fog next turn if ou draw it, but then you MUST draw another fog, so on and so on. It's going to depend on the composition of our hand, sometimes a top decked tamiyo can draw you enough cards to catch up, but just be aware when you're beat and scoop. This being said, NEVER board out ANY Jaces if you lose game 1. Jace is your only mechanism for actually ending a game quickly if needed. Sometimes, especially in Game 3, you need to take a riskier line and slam a jace and hope to just race them in order to finish in time. Going to turns is very rarely in your favor (unless you're up a game, and its only Game 2).

The Matchups

Traditional U/W Delver:
This is your very worst matchup. The reason being, a Delver, into a Geist presents enough damage that you may need to fog on turn 4, and you can't fog through double mana leak on turn 4 without Fog+Fog+Negate, which is obviously narrow. Even if it doesn't kill you, sitting at 1-3 life against them is scary when you can't afford to cast Snapcaster Mage without dying to Vapor Snag, or god forbid the Gut Shot->Snapcaster-> Gutshot for the win from 2 life. Luckily for us, this deck is disappearing. Your main goal is hope they don't flip a delver, or at least can't threaten lethal until turn 6+. If you can get to this point in the game, things are going to end fairly well. As with most Matchups you want a Rites of Flourishing, followed by a Planeswalker, and then start fogging.  Sideboarding, in general, -1 Witchbane Orb, -1 Atlas (or the 2nd Jace if you make the reccomended switches), -1 Beast within (DO NOT SIDE OUT BOTH, they will bring in ORings if they have them, and you need that out to it in your deck and later to snapcaster), -1 Blunt the Assault -1 Pristine Talisman, +1 Negate, +1 Surgical Extraction, +1 Dissipate +2 Autumn's Veil +1 Visions of Beyond. Sometimes I'd board in Visions of Beyond, sometimes not. If they are a pike deck, it comes in for sure. What you take out for it depends on your read on the player and how they attack your game plan. It's usually the 2nd Talisman.

Mono U Wizards/Delver/Talrand whatever.
This is a much much easier Delver matchup. They cant apply enough pressure early to be too scary. Both of you durdle around mostly during the early turns. It's like the U/W matchup, but you get a free pass to turn 5-6. Sideboarding is mostly the same, but you can typically afford to board out all your Beast within's here as they are very unlikely to have ORing in their board.

R/G Aggro
Matchup is nearly a bye if you have some experience with it. Game 1, they likely have no way to interact with you other than to bonfire, potentially an acidic slime main, but not usually. If you manage to find your singleton witchbane orb G1, things look pretty good for you, otherwise, you want to manage your life total carefully if you don't have a negate for their bonfire at the ready. This means using blunt the assault proactively to gain life to stay out of bonfire range. Sideboarded games: Bring in 1 additional witchbane, not both unless you feel naked without it. Flashfreeze comes in of course, and i usually board out at least one negate. The extra Clinging mists comes in. Talismans go out. THe atlas/Jace slot goes out. Beast Within usually comes out too. Post board, you're protecting yoru permanents from acidic slime (and green sun) using flashfreeze. Nothing is worse than casting a rites of flourishing, your opponent drawing an extra card from it and then destroying it before you get yoru cards form it. Don't. Let. This. Happen. If you manage to do that, you should be fine. Just don't draw bricks :P

Zombies (all varieties)
This is a pretty tough matchup game one, which is dependent on finding the singleton witchbane orb. If ou can slam one of these, their creatures just aren't exciting enough to race yoru fog plan. The trigers from the messengers and blood artist aren't foggable, so this is an important piece. You will lose G1 to this deck, fairly frequently, but you also will steal some with an orb early. G2, all the orbs come in, and so does the extra fog, i usually cut a negate for a dissipate, and board out a Jace/atlas, some number of beast within and perhaps one talisman if i need the slot. Mulligan aggressively to a strong rites start or a castable witchbane orb and this matchup gets easier. just protect yoru orbs, or resolve multiples (barring a ratchetbomb sighting) and this matchup because laughable. If they are R/B zombies, i bring in flashfreeze just to combat the artifact hate, especially if tey saw the orb g1.

Another amazing matchup. I would be holding counterspells for GSZ where X is 5 or more. The elf deck does a lot of ramping in the first few turns, which doesn't affect you at all. Maybe they attack for a little bit but that means they aren't using their mana dorks to progress their plan. I'll beast within a land in this matchup if htey miss drops, or perhaps a mana dude, but just try to avoid the acidic slime debacle. Some play a singleton as a gsz target g1, and you just dont want them gaining huge tempo by blowing up your rites or even a land. Post board, flashfreeze is enough along with the extra fog to combat the additional artifact/enchantment hate, removing the 2ndjace/atlas and at least 1 talisman. Keep in Beast within here. They will likely have either Grafdiggers Cage or ground seal, both which are annoying enough to want to hit with a beast within.

Do these decks even exist anymore? Meh, not really, but there's a gameplan here. The have the most permission/relevant non-creatures, but our negates really shine here g1. Not to mention Witchbane Orb stops a lot of planeswalker abilities, as well as Bonfire of the damned. Against these decks the clinging mist comes out as well as one blunt the assault, and the lunar mystics come in. Against most of these decks you'll want to board out some nubmer of rites, as you don't really want to cast one until you have a nicely sculpted hand, and allowing them the tempo of getting first free land off the rites (and the higher likely hood of ORinging it or otherwise destroying it before ou draw) is not ver beneficial to you. Lunar mystic does a nice job of this, and these matchups give you plenty of time to abuse it. Depending on how deep they go on their sideboarding (remember? somepeople are really bad) you can actually go on the offense with Snapcasters, Mystics and Beast Within tokens if the stars align. I once chained together a win usign temporal masteries using tamio to tap their blockers and just attacking with Mystics and Mages. not ideal, but it's a win. The sideboarding here is tough to give a good guide because the builds vary so much since the decks just aren't played much. For the most part the matchups are good with the exception of esper. Sun Titan recurring ORings and ratchetbombs is just about the biggest nightmare onth eplanet. Extraction has to come in, and dissipating an oring out of the board is like the bes tfeeling in the world. Same can be said for nihil spellbomb, but remember witchbane orb protects you there. Witchbane orb also stops  mindslaver from the trading post decks, and various other Control type wincons. you'll essentiall always want the maximum counters, and autumn's veils too (at least against blue) and simply look at what part of our deck list least helpful. Remember, don't get greedy and board out too many fogs, most of these decks still actually win by attacking, and you'll need a way to interact with that. The exceptio nis the old U/B control that ran drownyard, but they really cant do much about witchbane orb.

The weekend

I played in a PTQ Saturday, me and some buddies drove up to Riverside to game. I brought Fog as i hadn't tested much else, and I loved its place in the meta. At FNM the night before I decided to increase blunt the assault to 2, and changed the deck name to TurboBlunt :).

I played an awful Delver player R1, and beat him handily. he simply didn't know what he was playing against, even after i beat him game 1. He seemed to think that i won like that accidentally and my deck was actually trying to do something different. i dont expect he made it much farther in the tournament than i did.

THe next round I played a zombie deck. I lost a very quick G1 on a mull to 6 where I had a good keep, but didn't get a witchbane orb down in time to beat a killing wave + blood artist.
In game 2 i slammed an orb and since he didn't see it game 1 he didn't have an answer and i locked him out of the game almost immediately as i was gaining life with a talisman. Game 3 he smelted my first orb, when i was forced to tap out to cast it having missed some land drops on a rough mull to 5. I drew another one, but i couldn't afford to cast it and not hvae mana to fog. I ended up losing to double brimstone vollye that turn.

In Round 3 I played a strong Delver player I know from SoCal grinder scene of days past. We played a long G1 that I won fairly handily, and it was apparent to me he quickly adjusted his lines once he realized what deck i was plaing. He was attacking carefully to mitigate cards i would draw with tamiyo, and trying to collect a fist full of counters to fight one big war over a fog lategame, a war in which negates trumped mana leaks and i won. (this is however, the best hope for him once the game goes longer)
G2, I had a nice keep with a rites and a ponder, but he revoked my first rites and i didn't get another good engine going to keep up with his geist.
G3 I punted in a very sad sad manner. We go to extra turns on my Turn 0. I had just cast a Jace as time was called,  and multiple Snapcasters in play. I didn't have a rites, as he had just removed it the previous turn, and he had 33 cards in his library. If you're doing math at home, that's just enouh cards for me to mill him 10 on turns 0,2,4 and him to draw 1 card each on 1,3,5 and not lose the game. At this point i had a fog, a snapcaster and a negate, i didn't expect losign to be a factor at this point, just avoiding the draw. After i did some math, i asked my opponent directly, "If you have no cards in your library and you can't kill me, would you concede?" He said no, he'd be okay with the draw, and i started tanking as quickly as i could about possible ways to win this game. Obviously a blue sun's zenith or a rites of flourishing would do the trick, so would a temporal mastery on any turn but turn 4, and ponders (or snapcaster to repla ponders) are very very live. Keep in mind i have under 20 cards in my library, so there's really  i high density of outs here. I mill 10 this turn, fog on his turn Turn 1, he passes back, I draw a brick mill 10 ship. He draws, swings, i fog, he mental misteps, i'm staring at a land, a negate and a snapcaster mage. I tank for what seemed like only a moment when the judge asked me to make a play. This actually disrupted my thoguht process pretty severely as I eyerolled at how slow my opponent had been, and how unfortunate that one turn might cost me a draw here. I ultimately let the misstep resolve, snap my fog back, leaving negate up for another counter if needed. Fog resolves. I draw a land on turn 4, double check his library.... 11. I look at my hand. Negate + land. "Wait." I thought. "How am i going to survive next turn. Shit. I needed to save the snapcaster to fog on turn 5 considering i haven't drawn another yet. Now i really need to win this turn, or at least draw a fog somehow so i can at least force a draw." I look at the board, tank a bit. Decide my only hope here is to + my jace, and pray to hit a fog to draw, or hit a blue sun's zenith for the win. That's what i do, and whta do i draw? Rites of Flourishing. In disgust i sign my slip, drop and walk out of the room.

I'm sitting out side the venue kinda tilted, and a friend says, yeah if you had negated that misstep, you could have snapcaster-fog on turn 5 and draw. And i said, yeah, that was obviously better than what i did, but i would have likely dropped with a draw anyway. I'm pissed because i missed an auto-win. Had i negated the misstep, i can play the snapcaster mainphase on turn 4, to ponder into the rites of flourishing, cast it, mill 10, and he has to draw 2 on turn 5 and would lose the game. Not to mention, even if the rites wasn't there, the likely hood o fme hittin ga fog or another snapcaster or a blue sun instead is really high, and i still get a shuffl eif they are all bricks, and even then i can plus my jace to get a 2nd blind card post shuffle and still force a draw. I basically chose the only method i could to lose that game, but in the 20 seconds to think i had in the moment the options seemed really close. For someone who designed this deck, and has played it a lot, it's moments like this that make me actively love this deck. The decisions trees are deep. new interactions come up all the time, and you get to play on a plane that no one else does.

If there's interest in even MOAR turbo fog info, i could possibly record some games on MTGO. I'm not set up for this very well, but in an effort to promote Johnny's everywhere, i'd be happy to do it if anyone is trying to learn the true ins and outs of this deck and doesn't just want a list to play around with.

The real question is... do i go to another ptq next weekend.... in ARIZONA... *sigh*

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why (and When) I will Mana Leak a Ponder...

Today I made an innocuous comment about how I don't think enough players are using their Mana Leaks on Ponder. 

I really didn't expect much of a response, and moved on with my day. I got a couple responses though, and it appears some people feel that Mana Leaking a Ponder is "Almost always wrong". I didn't get detailed explanation of their reasoning, but what I did gather by reading their posts as the conversation continued was that the counter should be saved for the threat that follows. I get that logic, but think it doesnt dig deep enough. Late in the game, I'd agree with this, they cast a ponder, you'd rather save the leak for a counter war over a big threat or removal spell. But most U/W mirrors (and i mean when both players are playing the blue tempo shell of Snapcaster, Leak, Ponder, Probe, Snag, so any combination of U/W delver, or U/W Midrange matchups) are won on the very early turns when one player gets ahead. Think of all the scenarios when you even have the opportunity to counter an early ponder.

Let's say you're on the play with U/W Midrange against the mirror. On turn 1 you could either open on a Ponder, Probe, both, or neither. I'm going to exclude all cases where you open on a Probe because by looking at their hand you can determine what line you would like to take. With this deck, I'm not typically probing turn one anyway, more likely on turn 2/3, closer to the time I'm actually trying to resolve threats. If you open on a Ponder, then your turn two is typically empty, while you're trying to set up Blade Splicer in to Angel.  They have to deal with it before you can untap or you'll have Angel protection that they have to play around whether you have it or not.. So turn 2 is empty for you, unless you have another ponder. If you ponder again here, there's likely a good reason. You either need land, or action, and that will drive your line of play in that case, otherwise its likely the first ponder did enough to get you through the first few turns. So the situation where you're shipping turn 2, and your opponent's best play is to play a ponder, think about what is happening here... Why is that person Pondering here, let's assume they're at least decent at this game, and they ponder before they play their land so that you dont know if they have land to play. In the mirror, this means their tapping below leak mana on turn 2, leaving free path to resolve a Splicer. This means they either don't have a Leak, don't have a land, or don't have a plan at all. In my opinion, decreasing their ability to see up to 4 new cards while you go on the offensive is a pretty serious blow.

Now lets say you're on U/W Midrange against Delver.
If you open on Ponder, and they open on Delver, sure them setting up Delver on a turn 2 ponder is an additional reason to leak it, but again, not the only one. Resolving a Blade Splicer before they can resolve a Geist of St Traft is a huge lift in that matchup, and if they allow it when they are on the draw they are asking for pain.  This means you can often attack with your golemn, and still hold off the geist even if they snag the token because they'll need to play around the angel It will be easy for this deck to deal with the lone delver once they untap with their splicer+token. The bonus of them losing the opportunity to force a Delver flip is all the more reason to do so.

What about Delver Mirrors. Here the sitution is a little murkier, as it will likely depend if you opened on delver, and if you did, did they open on delver... did either player already gutshot the other delver? Were there mulligans involved? The Mana Leak on the ponder is an instant 1-for-1, which when two tempo decks bash each other in the face is a great play when you're already ahead. If you opened on delver, and you blind flipped, and they didn't blind flip theirs? I'm counter that ponder. Stop their flip, maintain your advantage. The entire turn cycle is deleted, and you're still ahead. If you blind flip, and they also blind flip, i'm less likely to counter a turn 2 ponder, but would depend on a ton of other factors. What else is in my hand? Am I going to tap out for Geist then Angel the next two turns? If so, lets make the tempo play now. If no, then save the leak because the opponent may pull ahead otherwise. What if I have a geist and a snapcaster? Same story, I want to leak now, so on turn 4 i can snapcaster->leak to protect my geist, and keep attacking. If you don't have a geist, /and/ you didn't get an early delver draw, then I wouldn't counter the ponder, I'd save it for a scarier threat, but the fact is, you're probably already pretty far behind if you don't have either one of those plans early in the game. To me, /that/ is the corner case, that your only hope of winning is mana leaking their first threat and drawing out of a land pocket before they find a second one. The deck plays removal and snapcaster.

What about on the draw? Welp, on the draw, I am usually boarding out some number of mana leaks, as so I didn't really consider that this is something people would be arguing or even considering. The same rules generally apply, but the thing is you are always behind one land on the draw, and counting a ponder on turn 3, leaves them 2 land to leave up and still prevent your turn 3 play. This is why mana leak sucks on the draw, and less (if any) copies are needed.

What am I missing here? Is there a rule that says you may only counter Ponder if you are certain they don't have lands, or you're certain they're digging for answers? (Perhaps, via Gitaxian Probe?) Can anyone, within the framework of how these Standard matchups play out explain to me why it's wrong to choose this plan? In my opinion, saving the mana leak means you lost your turn, and they didn't. You chose not to do anything on your turn, and they got to ponder.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Internet is a Bridge

This post is not about Magic the Gathering. If you normally read my blog to hear about me rant about card values, format changes, draft strategy, constructed failings or other analysis, come back next time. This time i'm going to talk about myself as a person. I expect to get some negative feedback from some of this. Fine. Sometimes you just have to say what you need to say to be honest and open about who you are and what you're about.

Most people who follow me on twitter (or read my blog for that matter; did you know that about 95+% of my closest friends don't even know I have a blog? They know i have a twitter but dont follow because they have no interest in Magic.) haven't met me in real life. Those who have, haven't spent much time with me, and don't know much about who i am as a person. I'm okay with that. I like engaging with people and the experiences and e-friendships gained in the process have been extremely valuable to me, but thats not how it started.

Many of you started following me within a day or two of me joining Twitter. I had only recently branched out from the curious kitchen-table player who was relearning the game after 10+ years away. I had joined StarCityGames premium service, and read Patrick Chapin's, Next Level Magic and at that time was my first realization as to how much strategy there was to the game, and how much high level competition was actually available to gamers. This stage carried on for about a year. I started drafting a ton, and really learned the ropes, spent a lot of time reading, practicing, asking questions, and just straight drafting. Eventually, I felt like I was knowledgable enough to actually get involved in the SCG forums instead of just lurking. I didn't really consider myself "trolling" at the time, and I really don't think I was a troll in general, but Ocassionally i'd leave a snarky remark here or there, usually mixed in with a post that actually had content I thought was relevant. One day, there was an article on SCG about PTQ structure, I believe authored by a PTO. In the forums people were ranting and crying about the profiteering that the PTO's engage in during PTQ seasons. While I don't agree with that stance at all, many did. Steve Menendian maybe didn't take it that extreme, but did go on to rant about a variety of changes that would improve PTQ experience/quality over all (in his opinion). Initially, I disagreed with some of his points, and tried to engage, but i wasn't really getting a response from him. He was focused on picking apart trolls arguments labeling them as Ad Hominem attacks or Straw-man arguments. Eventually some notable pros started chiming in, and before the end of the day, the entire forum was name-calling and essentially shunning Steve and everything he had to say. Someone must have advised him to take the conversation off-site because, to put it bluntly, you shouldn't shit where you eat. Steve picked the conversation back up at salvation, and once i heard about that I followed, and the trolling (see: Bullying) continued. By the end, I had a twitter account, and was rabblerousing people to chime in on the corresponding forum conversations that were going on, and I also was using the same forum posts to promote my newly founded twitter account in the signature. That day, i picked up a handful of followers, and a few of them were influential enough that likely created that chain that is the reason why you follow me now, whether you knew this or not.

From then on, I used twitter as my dump for my commentary on all internet content regarding Magic. As a result, i met some people, and learned that Twitter is really much more than a forum. There was a day after about 6-9 months on twitter, when I was notified i was nominated for some award on some blog i hadn't heard of (and dont remember). There was an "Angriest MtG community perosn on twitter" or something like that. I was nominated, and so was @dr_jeebus. At the time i was shocked. Angriest? Me? and I started looking over my post history. Someone not knowing me readign this thinks i'm an angry troll. It turns out they were right. I see a lot more of my own life than the people on Twitter see, so I didn't really judge myself based on my twitter feed alone. But looking at it objectively, there was no other way to describe me. This also coincided with a time when @marshall_lr (@marshalllrcast at the time) asked me why my real name was not listed on my account. it all kinda struck me at the same time. i was using the internet anonymity to personally separate this awful side of me from myself! As long as I felt other people didn't associate that behavior with the "real me" i didn't associate it that way either. I rationalized it as "I dont want people to find me and see my M:tG obsession out of context." or "Employers might see this..." (Jeebus used this one today) there were plenty of others. At that time, i decided to put my name on my Twitter. And I did. Immediately, my behavior changed. It took little to no effort. The key is: I DIDN'T WANT TO BE THAT GUY! And I didn't think I was. As an anonymous person on the internet, I thought i was filling the void of what people wanted. I thought it was entertaining. While I dont think i was actively /mean/ to anyone, i was behaving in a way I never would in any other context, and that didn't make me feel good. Now, Twitter is a pretty awesome place for me. I've met local players via Twitter, also people globally that i hope to meet at future events, and even total jerks that I just enjoy reading their thoughts. This change happened a long time ago, and i'm comfortable with the fact I made some mistakes, but have moved on.

Separately from all of this, I've been doing a lot of introspection lately. A lot of stressful things have been culminating for me, and also some skeletons are crawling back from my closet, among other things. I've been reading a book about Authenticity and Shame, and it reminds me of the type of behavior I experienced in my early Twitter days. I remember how inauthetic that person was, and how shamed I felt when I realized that I didn't want that behavior associated with myself. I dont know what @Dr_Jeebus is goign through. I've never been a fan of the guy, and I'm not saying whoever outted him was wrong (or right) in doing so. Maybe none of this phases him. Maybe he's really 100% troll all the time, and its not just an anonymous gag. But my gut is telling me that he's either having (or will have) a similar realization now that his "bully/troll schtick" is now associated with his "Real Self." Is he comfortable with that? Maybe he is. I wasn't, and it made me feel like shit. Super shit. Like that most uncomfortable, musta-ate-something-rotten shit. And I feel for him. I feel for him, whether he feels this way or not. I empathize with the realization that anonymous behavior is still something you, as yourself has done. And I empathize with the courage it takes to admit that "I am Chad Havas, and I did things on the internet anonymously that I am not proud of, and would never endorse with my own name." Maybe he's not ready to do that. Maybe he is. But this blog post is about me, and not him. In either case, the internet is a bridge for everyone. I stopped living underneath it like a troll, and used it to connect myself to places that were otherwise unavailable to the real me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Cavern of Souls, Ponder, Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage....

Today there's been quite the stir on my Twitter feed, in response to Master Deveoloper @zdch's article. I chimed in a couple times, but mostly been soaking in the awesome discussion. I do have some thoughts on the matter, and it goes something like this:

"Delver/Snapcaster are not the problem in Standard, it's Ponder/Mana Leak"

This is both true and misleading, in my opinion. Sure, Ponder and Mana Leak may be making Delver and Snapcaster much stronger respectively, and the inherent powerlevel of Ponder specifically is much higher than of Delver of Secrets in most formats. So if we want to solve the Ponder + Delver = Unfair problem (and maybe we don't, but if we did...), you'd need to remove either Ponder or Delver. My contention is while Ponder is the much stronger card, Delver would be the one that can go. Delver can't really function as a card in Standard without Ponder, otherwise we have a 1/1 way too often, and a deck with such a low threat density would never be able to close out a game. Ponder on the other hand, is a very good card for a lot of decks. It itself is not broken, it simply gives you tons of choices and as long as those choices don't interact with Ponder in a broken way, it actually increases the diversity of the format allowing for more deck types to be possible. While at the same time, many decks that play Blue don't even need Ponder. So yes, the power of Ponder is what turns Delver of Secrets from an awful card into a reasonable threat in Standard, but without cards like Ponder, Standard as a format (with such a limited card pool) is extremely boring, slow, inconsistent and unbalanced.

"Mana Leak is too good. Creatures should be resolving, and late game threats are important to force through to be able to go over-the-top of Aggro-Control."

Ugh, this one is a tough one for me. "Too good" is a tough statement to support. Mana Leak is arguably one of the worst cards in all the control decks that play it, but one of the best cards in U/x Delver variants. Mana Leak is a perfectly fair counterspell for control decks. Control decks want the game to go long so they need a flexible answer to a variety of threats from turn 2-5 until they can stabilize via Wrath, at which point their plan is to halt the game with a Planeswalker, Utility Land, or large protectable creature. The drawback, is since they intend to take the game long, there's no doubt these Mana Leaks will lose tons of value when drawn later in the game, and they are also unable to deal with spells cast on Turn 1 (and even Turn 2 when on the draw, or when dealing with awkward manabases that don't allow an untapped land all the time on Turn 2). Aggro Control on the other hand, is trying to do something very different. They want to apply a aggressively costed threat and protect it from the control decks using Mana Leak, forcing the control decks to survive until turn 6 or 7 to safely resolve a Sweeper. At the same time, against all-in aggro decks, they can turn the mana leaks into removal once they have advantage on board to prevent additional threats or problem permanents from hitting the board. Since these decks want to win the game before either play hits 6 mana, these Mana Leaks are always amazing for them. It solves every problem they could face, and it does it for a very low cost. The fact that their main source of damage against a control deck comes down on Turn 1 before Mana Leak, and then can be protected by Mana Leak for at least 3-4 turns from spot removal, and even longer from sweepers is why its such a perfect fit in those decks.

I personally prefer reactive control decks, as a result, I get scared when I hear developers say they want to nerf counterspells and blue style control in general. I understand they have metrics that dictate what types of mechanics to buff/nerf  based on sales (among other things), so I have to have some faith that they do these things intelligently. I will say, the more frequently I hear someone from R&D say "We messed that up..." I'm less likely to just blindly trust that this game will still be awesome in a couple years. For quite a while, I never questioned it, but in the last couple years especially, we have Jace, the Mindsculptor, Stoneforge Mystic, Mental Misstep, Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage all as cards some R&D member has said shouldn't have been printed. Even more so, there's been some reprints that have been mistakes (Titans repeat...) Now, none of these individual "mistakes" are damning to the R&D team (they are obviously awesome), but if it becomes their echoing claim, "Hey we make mistakes, sorry..." I'm going to become a much more skeptical consumer. Especially when you combine that with the fact that they've determined nerfing the major section of the types of spells I personally prefer.... and who knows. I'm not jumping to any radical conclusions, or slipping down any slopes, but it's something to consider. For me personally, if we're going to lose cards like Mana Leak (which already are not that amazing in decks I like to play), I'm hoping I at least continue to get access to the more narrow hard-counters, like Negate. I love Negate. Negate solves tons of problems, yet is extremely efficient. Control decks get sweepers to deal with multiple creatures and they often net huge card advantage. But battling against Planeswalkers is a Control deck's nightmare, and Negate is just the stones against it. Especially with Snapcaster Mage in the format, I'm much happier to have a toolbox off efficient narrow counters that I can use with Forbidden Alchemy/Snapcaster Mage, using other control elements to stop creatures that are "immune" to sweepers (like Primeval Titan or other ETB effects) as there's /tons/ of other ways to build contorl decks to mitigate that power and card advantage.

Who cares?

This is why it matters. If there is no fear of your spells resolving, defining the best deck in the format is just a calculation of which deck can deal 20 damage the fastest. Sure, there will be variance in draws, but ultimately, there's less choices to be made. R&D's Future-Future-League is disadvantaged in the sense they have a limited size to their Developing team. While they are very skilled, the MtG hivemind gets to run through deck iterations at alarming rates, and tuning a deck becomes a consequential detail that a majority of players never even think about. It scares me that if the toughest decision someone has to make is which haymaker to throw, and not how to play around the counterpunch.

Thanks for reading and thanks to everyone who participated in this conversation today.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


So, i went to GPSeaTac this past weekend. And let's just say, the experience was quite different than my last GP. The last one was my first and was local, and I had no byes, and i was alive to make day 2 until round 9 which had an anti-climactic end. This time, I travelled to Tacoma, had 2 byes, and then immediately lost 3 rounds in a row in surgical fashion. My pool and deck were atrocious, i likely misbuilt it, i may or may not post the pool, it just really sucked. I initially built a R/U deck, that didn't quite have enough aggression, and ended up in a durdly G/R werewolf deck. Removal just wasn't deep enough in any of my colors, and my deck didn't have answers to simple commons like Chapel Geist.

However, this GP experience was awesome, instead of running around the site checking on all my local crowd and their results, i was meeting new people at every turn, and constantly playing magic! I got to meet lots of twitter folk for the first (or even second) time, and that was awesome!

I met @fatecreatr Chris McNutt, which was really cool. We've connected through stuff early on, and stayed in close touch even though he's no longer actively working with the site. He put up a good run Saturday, but missed Round 9 to go 6-3, sounds like my local GP in San Diego. maybe its the local's curse?

I also got to chit chat with @marshall_lr briefly a couple times, he was obviously swamped with coverage stuff, and what i did see of it from the hotel room during breaks was spectacular, I hope thye sign him on for more of this.

I also got to meet @jonloucks, and get some LR stickers, which was pretty cool too!

I got to spell sling against Ryan Spain @modogodot former host of Limited Resources and now WotC employee. This was actually my only prize earned of the weekend! *sigh* It was cool to just shake his hand and say hi.

I got to meet one of @thebg_d's friends Drew, @generalfish, as he smashed me in Round 2 of a Legacy win-a-box, but i got some good tips from him for beating Delver in the future.

I ran into @tom_martell a couple times at the Hotel, bought him a drink with his $napcaster mage money, and he said something to me that i've still been pondering since then. "...I x-2 (edit: fixed) or better ever Day 1 sealed at a GP anyway, so sealed is just sealed." That really stuck for me. I hate sealed, I have very Feast/Famine success with it, and made me wonder how bad at building pools i really must be. :/ not really sure how to work on this. I practice building pools a lot, but there's not really a great way to get feedback on if you built it correctly or not, aside from tournament results, so re-building pools over and over again only really gets you so far.

I also met @inkwell_looter! we just so happened to sign up for the same 8-man draft! he recognized me, and we chatted a bit before our event started. A really really friendly guy, and good competitor. i didn't get a chance to play with him, but we were both defeated by the same opponent. It was also kinda late on sunday at this point, and i didn't get a chance to try out his "Potluck" format afterward. His Draft deck looked pretty sweet when I peeked at it. He also gave me some of his awesome wolf tokens! Gonna put them in a Mayor of Avabruck deck, I think. Always refreshing when someone who you suspected is pretty damn cool actually turns out to be pretty damn cool.

It's really hard to actually hang out with people at these events, people all have different schedules and priorities, and everyone is also trying to play their event(s). It sure feels good to meet these people in person, but i had envisioned this giant dinner where everyone would drop everything and want to do some big get together. Not really sure how/why i thought that would happen, but was definitely a bit dissapointed Saturday/Sunday night when i was still just hanging out with people I already knew from prior to the weekend.

Aside from Magic, I got to do some pretty cool sight-seeing in both Tacoma and Seattle, and I had a blast both at and away from the GP site. Fun trip, hopefully I'll Q for PT Seattle later this year so I can return.

After feeling pretty confident in this format, and putting together a somewhat respectable run at my last GP, i figured the 2 bye's i had earned would help me make the bump to Day 2, and when I couldn't even win a single round, i was a bit dejected, but after that passed, and i started just playing magic for fun and exploring the city, the trip turned out great. I'd love to be able to do more travelling to these sorts of things, but it's a bit insane the more I think about it. Even if i had done well, it would have been impossible to recoup my costs unless I won the event or qualified for a flight to barcelona, and of course, everything always turns out more expensive than what you'd expect. in retrospect, if I had made it to 9th place (for arguments sake), I likely would have had a much worse trip. Sure, i'd recover a decent fraction of what i'd spent, but have not much else to show for it, and not nearly as much time to adventure around the city or meet new poeple like i did after i dropped from the event.

Thanks to all of you who helped make it an awesome trip for me!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Game Theory for Gamers

This week I have been covering Game Theory with a chunk of my students. They take a course called "Management Science" as required by the Business school at University of San Diego. In this course they do a very loose survey of many topics related to Management Science, one of which is Game Theory. I was a Management Science major in school, so basically each "module" of their course was a entire course or series of courses for me. This is how I ended up with the tutoring gig. I attended UCSD, and had friends at all the neighboring universities. One friend (may or may not have been an attractive female) asked me for some help with her Management Science class because, "That's, like, your major, right?" Well, we got her through that class, and the next semester some of her friends needed help, and I started charging a nominal fee. As time went on, and demand increased, pricing and marketing plans changed. Now, 8 years later, I get approximately 20% of the students taking this course meeting with me at least once a semester, most on a weekly basis.

Earlier this week, I tweeted a link to an example I covered this week. I saw that a solid handful of people "favorited" it, maybe because they wanted to explore the topic further at a later time. Since I didn't get any direct feedback, maybe the example was too simple, or maybe they never got around to it, or maybe it was too unfamiliar or challenging to warrant a comment or question. I want to give those people a little more of this type of content, and maybe spark interest in others. Today, I thought, "Why is it I hear so many Game Theory terms in Magic, but so few actual Game Theory discussions?" The linked example has some pretty good parallels to Magic, and I want to talk about them. Part of that, will force me to discuss the linked example to some degree, so you may want to scope it out, but if academic minutia is absolutely abhorrent to you, you could probably get the gist by reading on.

Game Theory models typically are presented in a matrix (or grid) as shown in the linked example. Each row represents a strategy that you may select once the game begins, and each column represents a strategy your opponent could select. Where each column and row intersects, we see the outcome that you would receive. In the linked example, If the row player (you) chooses Strategy A, and the column player (opponent) chooses Strategy C, you would receive an outcome of +13, while your opponent would receive an outcome of -13 (because this is a zero-sum game, anything you gain, your opponent must lose, and vice versa).

While, I don't intend on exploding about "strictly better" here (like i've done previously), there is a good example in this problem. For the Row Player, Strategy B is dominated by Strategy A and also by Strategy C. Meaning, that Strategy A is strictly better than B, and C is also strictly better than B. Regardless of what the opponent chooses, the row player will always prefer the outcomes in Row A or C to those in Row B. Once you identify Row B as a dominated strategy, you know you won't take it as the Row player, but the column player also knows you won't take it. It could essentially be removed from the matrix, leaving us with only two rows (A,C) and 3 columns (A,B,C). This is where the commonly used term "Next Level" comes in. If we know what our opponent won't do, we plan our strategy around that, and plan for what they will do.

Now let's look at what options the column player has, with that row removed. Now remembering that each outcome represents the gain to the row player, the column player wants a smaller (or preferably negative) outcome. After removing Row B, there are no negative outcomes, only Positive, so Column player will want to get the least possible outcome for the Row Player. With the Row B values eliminated, Column C is now dominated by Column B. All of the remaining outcomes in Column B are now lower than the remaining outcomes in Column C. We can now eliminate this column from our matrix, as both players are aware of this.


Now, we have a simple 2 options for each team, and it can be left to a guessing game (or not) what is the best choice. In reality, with some algebra, we determine that a mixture of strategies is best. In magic that might mean a portion of your team chooses A while the other portion chooses C (as the row team).

Academic Aside
To those interested in what this academic solution looks like, it takes a small amount of algebra, and also some assumptions about Gaming. The assumptions we make is that both sides are equally intelligent and have the same information available to them. This is rarely true in Magic. Especially with Pro Tours typically following the release of a new set, there is always the possibility one team or player is considering a deck that no one else is considering. Further, there's always some type of discrepency in general intelligence and in-game skill. Regardless, we want to determine what % of our strategy should be commited to A and what % to C. We'll assign Probability 'P' to selecting A and therefore (1-'P') to selecting C. We also assume our opponent is doing something similar, with what we'll call Q and (1-Q). Using weighted averages, we find the best solution is to select A 5/9 of the time and C 4/9 of the time. While our opponent will select A 1/3 of the time and B 2/3 of the time. If anyone is curious enough to want to see the algebra behind this, let me know, but I fear I may already be reaching the TL;DR threshold.

In Magic, the initial Grid is actually much simpler, with each row/column being a deck option. Each outcome (or payoff) is the win% against that opponents choice. I've always been most interested in the fact that a format (or metagame) can be "solved" in Magic. And given enough time (a lot), man power (a lot), and resources (a lot), I think a team could realistically test enough to get statistically significant win% (as opposed to Mr Derp saying, "I'm 75% against RDW" because he won 3/4) for each individual matchup. Then if the team had, lets say, 10 people, they'd be able to mix their strategies approximately according to the appropriate mix that the Game Matrix solution provides for a given Pro Tour Event. While Game Theory provdies some untrue assumptions, these can actually be exploited slightly. As when it comes time to assign each team member a deck according to the suggested ratio, personal preference and playstyle can be used to put people with better skill at that particular strategy holding the appropriate deck. I dont know how closely this resembles what the "top teams" do in preparation, but i'm sure it has some paralels, even if not approached using the same academic means.

Game On!