Patriot Games

Friday, 5 October 2012

Limited Understanding Part 2

This is the second half of Mike Radford's article on playing limited, the first half can be found here.  Thanks once again for this Mike, the feedback has been very positive, you can come again!  Should I mention at this point that we are still waiting for a guest blog from Rob Tinsley about side-boarding?  I am sure it will be coming up soon.  Don't forget we will have rolling 8 man draft pods this weekend with a 4-2-1-1 prize support for just £10.  I'll be back next week, enjoy Mike's words of wisdom.

Another piece of "good removal" as mentioned last time.

Today I want to discuss a concept that I heard about on the excellent podcast, Limited Resources.  The idea of ‘results orientated thinking’ sounds like some complicated psychological theory, but it’s deceptively simple.  Simply put, it’s basing your card evaluation on results.

Wait, basing card evaluation on results is a bad thing?  Well, yes, it can be if you let it.  Last time I talked about card evaluation we were discussing mana curve and deck synergy this time, with the help of some examples, we’re going to discuss pure power.
Lets start with one of the examples that separates a new drafter from an experienced one. 

The only way I could make this card look interesting was with the Alpha version...

Fog is one of the biggest hurdles for new players to overcome, because even a brand new player can grasp the idea that “not dying” is pretty important.  This becomes a pretty toxic idea, especially if you happen to win off the back of a Fog because your opponent swung with all his guys, leaving himself open to a lethal attack when you prevented all his damage.  This is a pretty common story, and if you don’t look at the bigger picture you will continue to play what is actually an awful card.

The problem is that because winning off Fog is a pretty cool story, your mind will remember that over the times where it did nothing.  The fact is that nine times out of 10, Fog does nothing but buy you a turn – it’s essentially a lifegain spell, which you should already know is not something you should be playing.  The value of that extra turn is completely random: if your opponent still has lethal damage on the board next turn you better be drawing something amazing on your bonus turn or all you did was waste time.

Heroes' Reunion
Slightly better than Angel's Mercy but still not good - stop it, these spells are BAD!

The real issue here, though, is the value of a card.  There are several different resources in Magic: mana is the obvious one, life is another and your deck completes up the trio of obvious resources.  But each individual card also has a value, and it’s important that you try and keep that value as high as possible.  In limited, a creature is almost always more valuable than similarly powerful spell because it does more.  Last time I spoke briefly about the importance of removal, but a creature can be removal (by blocking), it can be damage (by attacking) and it can be lifegain (by blocking – or by making a smaller creature unable to attack).

Inaction Injunction
3 little words that spell value - Draw A Card!

Why is that relevant when we’re talking about Fog?  Well, Fog is a spell which only has one of the three modes of a creature.  But on top of that, it is the worst part of a creature – the lifegain part.  Fog will never win you the game; it will only stop you from losing.  That has some amount of value, but not much at all.  Honestly, a vanilla 2/2 for two is better than Fog in almost every scenario.  At worst, it blocks and prevent some damage – in other words, the worst thing a 2/2 can do is roughly the same as the best thing a Fog can do.  In some instances, Fog will do this more flashily, but what actually happens in the “fog for the win” scenario is exactly the same as in the “fog and pray” scenario.

Mind Sculpt
"I see you making better draft picks because you read this article..."

Mind Sculpt is another example of a card that new drafters can trip over.  Winning in non-standard ways can be fun and milling is the most common of those.  It’s usually around in most limited formats with varying degrees of viability.  In M13 it seemed pretty viable thanks to Sands of Delirium, Vedalken Entrancer and Mind Sculpt.  Two of these cards are actively good, the other is unplayable in all but the most dedicated mill decks – guess which is which.

First up, lets work out exactly what Mind Sculpt does.  Since your library is essentially your life total against a dedicated mill deck, some basic maths tells us that Mind Sculpt is the rough equivalent of five damage.  Five damage for two mana seems really good, right? Except there are no other damage sources following it up.  Unless you’ve got an Archeomancer or two, Mind Sculpt is a one-shot, fire-and-forget spell.  Creature damage is helping you, and you can’t redirect the mill to deal damage to remove an opposing creature.

A card that only does one thing can be fine, of course, if that thing is worth a card.  Mind Sculpt falls short again here.  If you’re running one or two of them in an otherwise vanilla deck, stop.  Randomly milling cards achieves nothing.  One argument that newer players state is that “I might mill their bomb.”  Well, you might not.  I don’t mean to be flippant, but unless you actually succeed in milling their bomb away, all you’ve done is made them draw it faster.  Let that sink in for a moment: the odds of you milling away something good are the same as the odds of you helping them to draw their best card faster.  A WoTC employee and limited guru (Ryan Spain) backed me up on the maths of this but it was a bit too long for an already lengthy blog.

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