Sullivan Library - Deck Discovery and Collective Intelligence in Magic
A lot of this article has been mulling around in my head for a long time. Some of this article owes a great debt to academia (notably Pierre Levy and Henry Jenkins). Some of it is owed to Magic history. But I think the largest portion of it is inspired by conversations I’ve had recently with Richard Feldman about my Grand Unified Theory of Magic as well as my preparations to enter graduate school. It’s a long one but well worth it. I hope you enjoy it (and wish me luck)!
Ecology and Environment
One of the most exciting things about Magic is the way that it is a living breathing system. If you examine a lot of games it is fair to say that those games are static. Cribbage or chess are static – the rules and the game will stay the same. The means to play against an opponent of any kind of particular play style similarly can be permanently marked out.
Even a game like poker which in many ways is the most popular widely known competitive game in the world is static. Any particular poker variant has rules that can be mapped out. In Texas Hold ‘Em AA doesn’t always beat AK but about 87% of the time it will play out that way.
Poker is an interesting example because of the purity of the game it does develop its own in-game kind of metagaming strategically like a Rock-Paper-Scissors. If you can tell your opponent is playing loose the best way to beat them is to shift to a tighter game. If you can determine if your opponent is playing very tightly playing (slightly) more loosely is apt to steal pots from them.
There is a kind of elegant beauty in the pureness of the game but it is something entirely different than a game like Magic which is nearly infinitely more complex. It is this appeal I think that helps make Magic almost a lifestyle to so many players; once they’ve invested the intellectual and emotional energy into learning the game well enough to be competitive few players walk away forever. Witness the resurgence of old-school pros who have started showing up more often to Grand Prixs; for as long as there is an organized play for the game they will visit the game anew if not come back fully for good. (Watch out world here comes Randy Buehler!)
Magic is more akin to a living breathing thing because of the nature of how the game is constantly changing. New sets come out with astonishing regularity and they fundamentally alter how the game is played. Zac Hill recently wrote about his mediocre Shards Sealed experiences. It seems clear that in other sealed formats he felt more than at home but this new one is confounding. If you know Zac you know that he is an incredibly smart guy and yet even so the nature of how Magic works has shifted.
I’m not 100% certain who first described Magic deck "building" and "invention" as actually a process of discovery though I believe it was former R&D member Randy Buehler. The objects that constitute the legal universe of a format are finite and countable. Standard is currently comprised of 1486 cards Extended 5036 Legacy 9886 Vintage 9938 the last PTQ Block 897 and the most recent Block Shards of Alara 234. This pool of cards that deckbuilders create from exists before the deckbuilder even sits down at the table. If we were to wipe everyone’s minds and give them the spoiler for all of Standard the decks would again be "found."
An ecology begins to enter the picture because of the metagame. As a format starts it is generally wildly undiscovered and fairly weak decks can actually do quite well as they act as predators on the still weaker decks. Deck discovery will lead to stronger and stronger decks both in the theoretical-vacuum-sense and in the relational-metagame-sense which will further eliminate from contention those decks that are weaker. In static unchanging formats like old Block formats this can mean that there is a final "best" deck (Teachings in Time Spiral Block seems to be the consensus "best" deck for example) but in dynamic formats often this will continuously change before we can actually get to a "true" best deck. For those of us who have been building decks for a very long time it is likely that you remember the time that you created a deck that was "just perfect" only to have the format rotate out from under you.
In the dynamic ecology (metagame) of Magic while the game might not be theoretically fully discoverable/explorable as poker or chess it can be described by theory.
Theories of Crowd Wisdom and Collective Intelligence
Theory is not just important it is actually critical – at least for most of us. The chances are high that you are not as good a player as Jon Finkel Kai Budde or Bob Maher. Having a decent grounding in theory can provide you guideposts to making good decisions though that will help you get to the decision-making space that these players can often access without knowledge of articulated theory. I may not be anywhere near as good as Finkel but I’m still batting over .500 against him because I was armed by enough theory that I had a fighting shot.
The best models of theory also can be given to others so that they can apply it too. You can have a model for how the game works that is correct accurate and that you can apply to games but it has a limitation to its utility if you can’t give it to others to play with and make use of. I know that I’ve talked to many thinkers in the game of Magic who have a particular theory that I’m confident actively works but it has so many exceptions and requires so much intuitive thinking that is already successful Magic playing that it really loses a sense of utility. Jon Finkel might say "Focus (only) on what matters" and he would be right but it really doesn’t do you or me or most people all that much good unless we already understand what matters. If Finkel were to be able to articulate in simple elegant rules some aspect of how to make the kinds of decisions that help us play Magic that would be good theory.
One of the best contributions that I think that Patrick Chapin has ever made to the game is his article "Information Cascades in Magic". In it Patrick argues convincingly that Ghost Dad was a deck that saw play not because it was good but because people convinced each other that it was good. It was in his mind an excellent example of what economists term "information cascades" epitomized by groups interacting in such a way that they convince each other that a thing is good. (I highly recommend this article as a fantastic example of how theory can be applied to Magic and be useful in understanding the game*.)
His article was inspired by James Surowiecki’s influential The Wisdom of Crowds. In Chapin’s article he writes:
Groups are better at deciding between possible ideas than coming up with them. Innovation is an individual enterprise. We have already seen how intelligent imitation can be useful but how can we avoid slavish imitation when few will admit that they're mindlessly conforming or herding?
This is a very important concept. In essence a part of Surowiecki’s thesis that Chapin is drawing from is that groups do excel at discerning certain things. Groups collectively can figure out some information in ways that is truly surprising.
The example that Surowiecki gives in the opening to his book is the guessing of a cow’s weight by a crowd at a county fair. Averaging the crowd’s guesses actually came up with a much more accurate weight for the cow than those that any expert individually could come up with. To Surowiecki this anecdote clearly illustrated how the independent assessments of many in aggregate could be used to great success.
This is a similar but fundamentally different concept than Pierre Levy’s idea of collective intelligence. Levy a communications professor and "cyberculture" expert first brought up this concept in his 1994 book Collective Intelligence in which he explored "crowd wisdom" in a very different fashion than Surowiecki. For Levy it is key that individuals communicate with each other (more on this in a moment). We must talk to each other and in communication in correction and in deliberation you come to a consensus understanding. For a real-world implementation of this go to Wikipedia. Any entry is liable to be more or less accurate so long as people have talked a lot about it. The outliers are truly contentious issues (see entries on George W. Bush or William Jefferson Clinton) tend towards less accuracy not because people have things wrong via collective intelligence but often because people are choosing to "vandalize" the entry.
For Surowiecki crowd wisdom would come out of the aggregate – you could simply gather up the various different perspectives that were out there and so long as you had enough perspectives the average feeling of the crowd would be correct. As often as you bring a sufficient number of people to bear you can do more than predict the weight of cows. Studies have shown that the total average opinion of 30 gamers (who do some homework) can come to the equivalent pathologist when diagnosing cancer. No really. I’m not kidding.
There is a lot to be said for Surowiecki’s idea here in a purely abstract sense but it has deep limitations. Taking a poll cold of a room of people playing in the pre-release of Conflux probably would get you to the consensus "best" cards in the new format. But in the cold light of day something happens. People talk to each other.
In this closer model to the real world the charismatic and the influential affect the decisions of people around them. We can’t get a cold read on the format because of this. It is simply impossible. If we take the "average" opinion it is inevitable that many of the people will be basing their viewpoint based on what they heard was good. This is a part of what causes the information cascades that Chapin talks about in his article.
MIT Professor Henry Jenkins brings up a discussion of this real-world failure of "crowd wisdom" in his blog post Collective Intelligence vs. The Wisdom of Crowds invoking a dialogue between Surowiecki’s concepts and Pierre Levy’s. A big part of the key difference is where they operate. Where Collective Intelligence (like on Wikipedia) requires deliberation between as many people as possible Crowd Wisdom falls apart if people speak to each other. He quotes Xbox’s David Edery:
Crowd intelligence can fail (and fail spectacularly) when there's too much information passed between members of the crowd. Members start to alter their opinions based on the opinions of others which skews the results. The online communities that build up around any popular game would seem to promote exactly this kind of skew.
Jenkins will note that Edery is actually imprecisely talking about Crowd Wisdom. That aside if you’re like me the first thought I had upon reading this was a resounding "Yes!" followed by contemplation of the various degrees of metagame inbreeding that I’ve both seen (and been a part of).
What is perhaps one of the worst dangers of a playtest group? It has to be inbreeding. Suddenly rather than working to beat some imagined idea of what the metagame actually is you’re attempting to defeat Brad’s Five-Color deck or Jason’s take on Demigod Red. When you get to the event you’re absolutely prepared for the "obviously best" answer that Jason had to your deck but no one else got the memo and your perfectly honed response falls flat.
Another key point brought up in the discussion on Jenkins’s blog notes is that Crowd Wisdom operate on quantitative levels. He quotes Raph Koster (of Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies fame):
You can summarize the core phenomenon [of Crowd Wisdom] as "given a large enough and varied population offering up their best estimates of quantity or probability the average of all responses will be more accurate than any given individual response."
The "educated" guesswork on gamers diagnosing cancer works largely because of the miracle of statistical averages. Outliers cancel each other out. A large part of it though is simply this: they are pointing on medical charts to where the cancer is. When you ask them to make judgments ("How should we treat it?") things fall apart. An example of this in Magic is easy: "What approach to Merfolk is best?" Here you really need to have access to quality judgment. The good-old-fashioned approach to this knowledge is to test test test test especially with a playgroup. More and more however (often unconsciously) accessing collective intelligence can be a way to not only achieve many of these same results but even have a better idea of the current ecology of any given Magic environment.
Crowd Wisdom in Magic could have theoretical application but it would be incredibly hard to harness and be of limited application (the quantitative largely). Things being what they are what we really really want to be tapping into is Collective Intelligence.
Magic History Applying Collective Intelligence and Our Sources
Magic is too dynamic for a Wikimagica to be anything other than a history textbook. "What is the best way to fight Standard Faeries?" could best be read usefully as "What is the best way to fight Standard Faeries on December 3rd 2008 in a metagame that I perceive to be heavily dominated numerically by Kithkin and Vengeant White Weenie where the several top tier players are likely to be split evenly between Demigod Red Faeries and Five-Color?"
How on earth would you try to encompass that kind of knowledge in a Wiki? The resources for something like this all in one place don’t seem like they exist currently (and for many reasons seem unlikely to crop up). But we can think of how this knowledge is out there and how it is distributed. This does require a little bit of Magic history though.
Back in the deep deep Dark Ages of Magic play a Pro Tour was won by one Michael "Loco" Loconto. This deck has been revisited a few times recently and truth be told the deck was Not Very Good. What must always be remembered is that Magic was very very young. This was still the age of USENET and the place that people were getting their information was at best rec.games.trading-cards.magic.strategy. The month that Loconto won over 3000 posts hit that USENET group; it would peak in a few months at over 6000 posts during the World Championships.
This was the era when I was first cutting my teeth in Magic writing but then again so was nearly everybody else. Mixed in between all of the Poison and Pestilence decks was a thread started about UG/w control by future Cabal Rogue member (and Squandered-Stasis co-creator) Craig Sivils with a reply from none other than Schools of Magic author and future Cabal Rogue member Rob Hahn. I crafted Cabal Rogue out of people like this who seemed to have some know-how who largely weren’t already on the Pro Tour but were thinking about the game.
These were rough times strategically. Very few people were actually producing quality ideas. There were occasional gems like these but really there was no one to pull out the information and do something with it. If you merely were looking on whatever forums to the game that were out there you had a huge edge. Going into hiding was a way to keep that tech edge. If you wanted to win you damn well didn’t want other people to know what you knew. When Frank Kusumoto started the Magic Dojo at first people didn’t know about it and if you did your edge went nearly exponential. All the site was at first was just a "best of" collection of USENET but it was deeply deeply important.
The issue was this: people that weren’t in that first era tapping into all of the pure unfiltered information of USENET were simply always having to reinvent the wheel. The much more filtered Magic Dojo was like a supercharged injection of USENET knowledge – soon it was rare that anyone won a tournament that wasn’t reading the Dojo. In the game of Magic knowledge is the all important currency and at the time there weren’t many places to go to and get it.
By the time I was working at the Dojo as Managing Editor under Editor-in-Chief Mike Flores competitors had spawned and there were many many sites to go to for information. Even so the vast majority of the best deckbuilding was happening in secret enclaves where teams and think-tanks would hoard their knowledge to bring out for the big fight. I’ve quoted Aaron Forsythe on this before but I think it bears repeating:
"Tech wants to be free." - Paul Barclay
"My ass." - Aaron Forsythe
Charles Manson wants to be free. Tech doesn't want anything. Tech is to be distilled in basements and stored in sun-proof bottles and traded for diamonds missiles and real estate. Tech is to be guarded for months and then unleashed upon scores of hapless players in a scourge like a biochemical bomb. If tech was free it wouldn't damn well be tech. And tournament Magic wouldn't be nearly as intense.
If you know something good that other people don’t know that is tech. Applying your technological advantage in a tournament is the stuff that wins are made out of. This used to be the stuff that all of the gurus would be (usually) the sole guardians of. No longer. Now we are entering the era of something entirely new. The age of MTGO.
By chance Brian Kowal and Joel Priest (again more old Cabal Rogue people) stopped by my place and delayed my writing of this article (sorry Craig!) to shoot the proverbial uh stuff. Joel lives in Washington D.C. and had tried in vain to make it to Madison for BK’s recent wedding and the two of them joined me in a conversation about the Old Days.
Ah the Old Days. Where the three of us and a few other people scattered through the U.S. and Canada would make decks and have a huge edge over everyone because we worked together on Cabal Rogue and our collective knowledge and work would be pooled into something potent. It wasn’t perfect but we made a ton of decks that were deeply influential.
I still remember Brian saying something about that recently during one of the most recent times that he quit Magic:
"It’s hard to have an edge these days. The Hive Mind figures out everything so quickly."
The Hive Mind that Brian was referring to is Pierre Levy’s Collective Intelligence in action. Its form isn’t captured in any single one website (no not even this one) or MTGO or face-to-face games or Magic Workstation but rather it is found in the collective findings of it all in aggregate. MTGO is the swinging moment in catalyzing Levy’s Collective Intelligence because people are constantly striving to win at Constructed in active competition against each other. Any individual win is not necessarily of much meaning because of the impact of chance because of the potential irrelevance of a matchup because of a bad player or any number of other factors. The sheer combined weight of this applied knowledge though inevitably plows out things that are of quality.
In a practical example let’s look at Elves from PT: Berlin. Elves prevalence (and success) for this Pro Tour was completely based on Collective Intelligence operating at a high level. While it is completely possible to recognize pure parallel development the deck as best as I can tell started as a glimmer in Alan Comer’s eye: he played a very weak but intriguing Elf deck at PT: Hollywood and spent hours gunslinging with it once he was knocked out of the tournament. From there it’s probable that many people started working on it all over the place (not even beginning to count the people that were independently on the trail of discovery) when at least one player or playgroup successfully ported the deck into Extended powering it up hugely with Birchlore Rangers. Again as best as I can tell several Japanese players were playing it in various tournaments on MTGO and with each opponent that they quietly bested knowledge of the deck was dispersed.
Soon it had disseminated all over the place. You wouldn’t see any big articles proclaiming it on the front pages of websites (at least not that I can remember) – remember tech is not Charles Manson! But it would be in the background of people’s experience on Workstation on MTGO and in the smoke-filled back rooms where people would begin aggressively testing it as soon as they were made aware of it. It is important to remember this was not an immediate dissemination. It would take a while to catch on even in the most diligent of playgroups and some very smart groups never really got the memo.
Part of the problem in tapping into Collective Intelligence (at least at its current level of dissemination in Magic) is that it is hard. It’s a lot of work. I’ve visited this concept in the past but it bears repeating: if you want to know what’s up before the big event like Berlin you need to tap into a huge variety of sources.
We’re getting our information now from a lot of places. This phenomena is not unlike what Jenkins is getting at in his book Convergence Culture. It’s not just that there are so many media to be getting this data we need it’s that if we want to understand the world that we’re now entering into we must get involved with all of it. To my mind the best places to go are first and foremost StarCityGames (and no I’m not just towing the company line) but then after that you have to step out into the world of networking. Talking to people that are playing in MTGO queues looking up the results of Magic League going to the Mothership and reading every single result that you can find… If you can knowing people that are in the know in secret groups. All of these things matter.
Let’s recall the David Edery’s comment above about too much information exchange within a crowd and how it skews (inbreeds) results. A big part of this is the social power. If Patrick Chapin tells you that a deck is good you’re likely to believe him. With an absence of alternatives if someone tells you Ghost Dad is good and it is kinda good you’re likely to believe them even if (as Chapin contends) it wasn’t.
The solution to this problem Edery notes is exactly the kind of diversity of information that you need to be listening to tempered by competition. The competitive framework is what allows us to get that quantitative information that Crowd Wisdom is so good at ("Faeries beats Reveillark X% of the time") by giving us the average information the common wisdom to work from such that even if it isn’t completely accurate the Collective Intelligence (Brian Kowal’s Hive Mind) gets to plug away at it.
Failure to try to tie in to diverse potentially silly paths is that you won’t recognize that something is of value until it is already known. I’m immediately reminded of Kowal’s most recent deck that had a fantastic showing at the most recent StarCityGames $5K. It is listed in the results as "Reveillark" but BK’s deck (BK Boat Brew to some) finished in 8th 9th and 11th piloted by Osyp Lebedowicz Calosso Fuentes and former Madisonian Ted Renner respectively. Amusingly Kowal gave the list to some people weeks before the $5K but was widely ignored. Weeks later one of them exclaimed how much they liked "Osyp’s" list from the $5K oblivious to the fact that it had been made available to them not only privately by Brian Kowal but by no less that three articles published on November 20th.
In many ways the amount of sources that we have to turn to make all of this no easy task. We can’t simply go to The Dojo and get everything. Our sources aren’t simply articles they are those pesky decklists gleaned from sites to be sure but also gleaned directly from places people are playing like MTGO and Workstation. Some people have caught onto this to the point that people like Paolo Vitor Dama da Rosa feel that they no longer have the secret private playtesting playground that they once had. But even beyond having to tie into this information mediated to us by specific game platforms we have to dip our feet into the realms of multi-media exemplified in Magic currently by Evan Erwin.
Take this WotC video: "Pro Tour-Berlin Deck Tech: Canali’s Standard Concoction". By watching this you can see Pierre Canali and Sylvain Lauriol’s Red/White deck that was developed quite independently of the Brian Kowal (via John Treviranus) Red/White deck. An important thing for us to do is compare notes on the four decks (the French list Kowal’s initial list Treviranus’s list and finally the build Kowal gave Osyp for the $5K. *Phew*. That’s a lot of lists!
Here they are presented as best as I can tell in chronological development sequence:
2 Stillmoon Cavalier
2 Voice of All
3 Knight Captain of Eos
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Murderous Redcap
3 Galepowder Mage
3 Ranger of Eos
1 Loyal Sentry
2 Kitchen Finks
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Mind Stone
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Rugged Prairie
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Knight of the White Orchid
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
4 Ajani Vengeant
4 Mind Stone
4 Windbrisk Heights
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Rugged Prairie
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Mind Stone
1 Burrenton Forge-tender
4 Figure Of Destiny
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Knight Of Meadowgrain
4 Mogg Fanatic
3 Murderous Redcap
4 Ranger Of Eos
3 Siege-gang Commander
4 Ajani Vengeant
4 Battlefield Forge
3 Reflecting Pool
4 Rugged Prairie
4 Windbrisk Heights
The Canali list seems clearly completely independent of Treviranus list but they have some very important considerations in common in the main. They both run Oblivion Ring Galepowder Mage and Voice of All. Voice of All is the card from Treviranus that seem to have been abandoned initially by Kowal until they were picked back up again by Kowal and Lebedowicz in collaboration.
If you are consuming enough different avenues of data the approach to picking back up Voice of All (and adding in Stillmoon Cavalier) seems like a reasonable one. If we want to trust Pierre Canali he does claim that his deck is good against Faeries which seems like a reasonable thing to believe if you’re packing Voice of All in the main. Having access to Canali’s work though demands that you actually watched that WotC Deck Tech video from YouTube. The reward on the other hand is that you don’t have to constantly be re-inventing the wheel.
Canali spoke about his deep struggles with Five-Color decks but the conventional wisdom on the Treviranus-descended decks is that they are very good against that deck. What is the main difference between Canali’s experience as compared to the rest? Canali did not run Ajani Vengeant. For the future Osyp has other changes that he thinks might be valuable but to be tied into them you’d have to read the right blog or watch the right YouTube video.
With data streaming into us from everywhere it can seem deeply overwhelming at times to be able to stay competitive. One of the things to remember is that it also is a means to save you a ton of work. It becomes reasonable to use the Collective Intelligence model for example to realize that certain sideboard cards work because you can see evidence of their having worked come streaming into you from various media. You don’t have to do that work now if you stay tied in.
It also becomes worth noting dissent when it comes to understanding the Wisdom of Crowds. As Chapin noted you can get caught in an information cascade if you simply follow like ants the people leading in front of you. You need dissent to discover new wonderful decks (like BK’s Boat Brew). At the same time Crowd Wisdom can absolutely be an incredibly useful measure for rough ideas of the conventionally understood. We "know" that Faeries is in trouble against (most) Red decks because the average understanding of the matchup can tell us that this is the case. We don’t have to do the work to know that.
At the same time with innovation we can attempt to find ways to change that dynamic often as a result of necessity. Perhaps the metagame exists that Demigod Red is the best deck against anything that isn’t the (unfortunately) most popular deck in the format. While convention tells us that Demigod Red might lose to this mythical popular deck and be accurate convention doesn’t tell us that there isn’t a way to change things to make the matchup change. This is a part of the problem I have with Gerry Thompson’s most recent article regarding Control decks.
While yes it is true for example that in its ideal form Control decks don’t want to waste slots on victory conditions they often live in a contingent world. As far as the Strategic Archetypes go the best control deck (the "controlliest") would have any kill condition be nearly an afterthought – it would be as controlling as controlling could be. Mike Flores’s "tap out" control decks started moving around the circle towards Midrange Control simply because a "true" control deck really didn’t exist well enough in that contingent moment to fight what was going on from its enemy decks. It needed to employ cards that made it less pure to compete. This phenomena is usually why Midrange decks (both Midrange Control and Midrange Beatdown) end up springing up – they might prefer to be more pure (and thus more powerful by some measure) but they have to do something to have a better result in their particular metagame.
Take Chameleon Colossus or Cruel Ultimatum in the various Five-Color decks. I’m not going to claim that either card is somehow implicitly correct in Five-Color. I am going to claim that theory shows us (again in examining the Strategic Moments that happen in the Five-Color/Faeries matchup is enlightening. Five-Color the Control deck (archetypically speaking) squares off against Faeries the Hybrid-Control deck. Faeries can often quite easily take the Strategic Moment that places it in an Aggro-Control space which not shockingly is death for most Control decks. As Richard Feldman said "Aggro-Control is the one archetype that when it is playing its Role is most able to win a game." And its role is best crafted in a matchup against Control.
For Five-Color to turn this match around it cannot just live within the pure control space that it wants to. From the analysis frame that Thompson is using he is 100% correct: Colossus and Cruel Ultimatum are not the cards that you want to be seeing in a Control deck. They just don’t jive with the archetype.
But we live in a contingent living breathing game. Five-Color has to be able to deal with Faeries. It has to. If those solutions make the deck less of a pure Control deck (the kind that Thompson is very very well known to favor) well then so be it. It might not be the exact Strategic Archetype that Thompson wants the deck to be in its most pure form (and that the deck quite honestly performs the best as – just so long as it isn’t sitting across from the popular Faeries deck) but it has to do something if it wants to survive.
With enough access to Collective Intelligence culled from the huge array of information we have flowing at us we have the best chance of finding that new way before everyone else necessarily realizes that it is out there. It is absolutely possible that it simply does not exist. Maybe there is no way to build the archetype of Five-Color such that it can beat Faeries. I would wager however that there is. Someone just needs to discover it. In fact it’s possible that someone already has you just have to read the right forum post watch the right YouTube video read the right article or sit down with someone who has done those things. Where in the past teams and friends and collaboration were a vehicle to discover the truth actively on your own now they are there for that but far more than that together you can sift through all of the everything out there data mine it and come to the kinds of conclusions that will be demanded of you if you want to remain competitive in this information rich time.
These days working on decks in your own corner of the universe is not enough. You have to tie in to all of the work that is waiting there for you if only you’d click on it.
Until next week
P.S. Congratulations on your wedding Brian once again.
P.P.S. - Good luck to all of the Madison players and all of my friends competing with Worlds! I wish I could be there in Memphis with you play the game and enjoy some ribs!
* Here is a collection of links to those theory articles that I’ve contributed via StarCityGames.com. Theory is hard to write. I talked with Luis Scott-Vargas about this problem recently and he mentioned that it was one area of writing that he shies away from simply because it is so hard. While some of them are practical theory others (marked ‘$$$’) are largely pure theory that I feel are deeply important so much so that reading and digesting them will have a large positive impact on your ability to understand Magic and thus win more…
$$$ - Overcoming the 4-1 Dogma in Numbers – An introduction into how to determine the amount of copies of a card to play in your deck (and a rebuttal of Mike Flores/Randy Buehler’s overly dogmatic insistence that the "best" decks run 4 or 1 copy of a card).
$$$ -Distinctions in Strategic Archetypes – The article that helps paint the distinctions between Aggro Control Midrange and Aggro-Control (which is not the combination of Aggro and Control).
$$$ - Good and Bad Magic – An article dedicated to explaining the utility and limitations of "results oriented" thinking exploring empiricism and theory and how they apply to what is "good" and "bad" in Magic.
$$$ - The Big Lie of "Good" Cards – A rebuttal article to Tom LaPille’s misguided claim that running the "best" cards leads to wins and "better" cards lead to more wins.
$$$ - The Strategic Moment – In this article I introduce a sixth Strategic Archetype and explore how decks behave outside of their archetype in what I call "Strategic Moments".
- One – A further exploration of when to use only a single copy of a card in your deck.
-Math Chance and Winning – An article that breaks down the nature of chance in Magic and how it impacts you positively.
- Learning from Outside Sources – A brief discussion of how I apply my knowledge base from outside of the game (rhetoric Machiavelli Ellison Algorithm Design Pirsig and a probability course) into helping me play the game and how you can do the same with your knowledge base.
- How to Do Your Very Own Metagame Analysis – A short article that explores how to practically craft your own metagame analysis of a specific tournament.
(Sadly the two articles that I’ve written that I think might be the best articles I’ve ever contributed to the game in terms of theory are not readily available online and my computer’s death destroyed my only copies.)