Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Magic 2014 - 11/20 hours

Looking back at the last five hours, the main impression I'm getting is more of an emotional reaction - I think I hate control decks. Both playing as them and playing against them.

Alright, let me back up and explain Magic: the Gathering theory for those not in the know. Give the thousands of different Magic cards out there, you can design a virtually limitless number of different decks, but unless you're just putting cards in at random, your deck probably fits into one of three categories - Aggro, Combo, and Control. The categories each represent a different philosophy about how you try and win the game. Aggro decks try to do as much damage as quickly as possible, and usually rely on small, cheap creatures. Combo decks rely on an interaction between cards to try and create a massive, unanswerable advantage. Control decks try and play defensively and shut down other decks until they can bring out a decisive late game victory.

It should come as no surprise that Combo decks are my favorite. I like setting up complicated card interactions, carefully building up an invincible fortress, infinite mana engine, or impossibly massive creature and then unleashing it in one glorious moment of triumph. Which is to say, I lose, a lot. It's just a thing. I'm used to it.

But Control decks are definitely my kryptonite. Because they specialize in removing cards from play, or countering cards as they are cast, they tend to take a wrecking ball to my decks, punching holes in my beautifully intricate multi-card mechanisms, and forcing me to scramble against time to salvage some alternate means of victory once my main combo becomes impossible. Strangely, even when I win against a Control deck, I find it a less satisfying gameplay experience than when I lose to virtually any other type of deck.

I think it's because when I'm being assaulted by creatures or beaten to the punch by a superior combo, I can blame the luck of the draw. I was defeated while my deck was in the process of powering-up, and if I never got to see the payoff, it's only because certain necessary cards came later rather than sooner. Maybe next time. Whereas, if key pieces of my infrastructure get blown up prematurely, then order is replaced by chaos. What was destroyed can never be rebuilt, and instead of having a concrete plan rendered untenable by circumstances, I'm thrust into a situation where I have no plan at all. It's very unnerving.

I also discovered that my unlocked cards may have been doing me more harm than good. It turns out that for some reason, some of my extra cards have been added directly to my decks, instead of going into the reserve supply like the rest of them. That means that practically since the beginning, I've been trying to win with 70 card decks. That's kind of a huge problem.

It may not sound like much, but 10 extra cards, even if they are good cards (and some of the unlocked ones aren't) reduce your odds of drawing what you need by about 15%. In an environment where all the decks were presumably balanced against each other by professional designers, that 15% can translate to a huge win/loss deficit.

What I should do is go into the deck manager and tune all the preconstructs to remove the extra cards and swap in the best of the unlocked alternates. This will be a long, tedious process in which I have to carefully examine cards one at a time, to determine whether their effects are worth the mana and opportunity costs that come with including them in a deck.

I'm seriously looking forward to it.

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