The Field Report – Pacing the metagame!

The Field Report is back, and this time we’re looking at the pace of the major players in the Standard metagame.
If you’ve seen me write about deck abstraction before – and liked it – you’ll love this edition of TFR. In addition to the usual metagame roundup, I’ve done a big ol’ compare-contrast across all the major metagame choices.
Just in time, as the editorial blurb helpfully notes, for the SCG Invitational and Open in Richmond this weekend.
Click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter to let me know what you think.

Magical cheating sauce

I write about narrative a lot.
Narrative is, briefly, the thing we do where we come up with an explanation that “sounds good” and then don’t fact check it at all. Typically, this means the narrative is overly simplistic as well – “The NASDAQ went up today as investors regained confidence in tech stocks following a solid Black Friday showing.” Things like that.
In fact, the easy narrative option can even overshadow genuine, valid “simple” answers – “The NASDAQ went up today because Apple stock went up, and Apple is a disproportionately large share of the NASDAQ index.” (That’s true, by the way, it is a pretty big chunk of the NASDAQ.)
I mention this today because Luis had to make a hard decision this week following Saitou’s DQ in Florence – Saitou will no longer be writing for, at least for the foreseeable future. You can read Luis’s explanation and a plethora of follow-up comments here.
Feeding the comment trolls…with truth!
Among the earliest comments was the risible suggestion that Saitou was just the first member of “team ChannelFireball” to be caught cheating, but now the DCI would get all of us!
This is, of course, an extended dance mix version of the “all successful players cheat” fallacy that I talked about here. This is a nice little narrative that lets a player off the hook for being bad at the game – or, at least, not as successful as they’d like to be.
After all, if everyone cheats, then losing becomes your marker of integrity.
Of course, this accusation just makes me feel as if I’m being cheated out of the magic cheating sauce that makes Luis, Brad, Josh, David, and many other writers at CFB so successful at the GP and PT level. What do they call that magical cheating sauce again?
Ah. Practice. Right.
But it can’t be practice, can it? Then we could all do things to improve our success at tournament Magic, and it wouldn’t simply be that other players are cheating their way to victory. After all, Brad and Luis must be cheaters – that’s why they do so well on MTGO, right?
Oh, wait. You can’t stack your deck and mark cards on MTGO?
Crap. Well, that’s a second try at that narrative down the drain.
Less sarcasm, more action
My paired Magic mantras these days are “Be good to each other, and call a judge.”
The former because this is a game with a community, and when we’re good to each other, we all win. This includes not short-changing yourself and hurting others by randomly accusing everyone who experiences an ounce of success with cheating (I bet these folks love a band right up until it signs with a major label, and then whine that they “sold out” too…).
The latter because it removes opportunities for conflict spawned by confusion (“How does this card work?”) and brings light into dark places where cheaters fester.
This has been a week of Theodore Roosevelt, oddly enough – from some twitter traffic about the man with Trick Jarrett through talking about him with family over dinner today. It is the essence of “speak softly and carry a big stick” to be warm, welcoming, and friendly to the community at large while reserving harsh and immediate responses for those few people who genuinely try to spoil the game by cheating.
I don’t have a handy politician to stand in for what our forum troll was trying, but it assuredly is the opposite – sort of “bark loudly and then refuse to back your claim.”
More Roosevelt, less of that. Please.

Slow play, stalling, and enforcing the rules

In case you missed it, Tomoharu Saitou, fellow ChannelFireball writer, Hall-of-Famer-elect, and generally skilled player was disqualified without prize from Grand Prix Florence today.
Here’s the announcement.
In this case, Saitou took the hit for Stalling, which is, essentially “Slow Play with intent.”
We’ve had hearsay about Saitout being a total clock watcher in the past year, most notably at GP Columbus, and this seems to play into that idea. Given that Stalling is an intent-based offense, there will naturally be a follow-up investigation, which could put the DCI, and subsequently Wizards, in the odd position of having a player who can’t attend his Hall of Fame induction because he’s actually on suspension right then.
This differs from Bob Maher and Olivier Ruel, who both had their suspensions done and out of the way before being inducted. Of course, Saitou was in that position of having his suspension “out of the way” as well…so if he picks up a second one, that’s bonus unpleasant for everyone involved.
One thing this brought up over in the resulting twitterstorm is just how underenforced clock penalties are. One of the issues here is that they’re a little more subtle than obvious problems like spells cast on the wrong mana or running a double nickle cheat. The other issue, of course, is that players don’t think to call a judge on slow play, either because they’re shy about calling a judge on their opponent or because they’re simply used to thinking that play takes as long as it takes.
Two of my favorite events of all time include some serious Slow Play (we’ll capitalize it now, since we’re talking about the actual tournament rules offense here):
The first is Mihara in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2006, in which he actually does pick up a Warning during his incredible recovery turn, but quite probably should have picked up a second Warning, leading to game loss.
The second features this guy:
…taking about a million years to consider each play in the quarterfinals of Worlds 2005. I love that match, but if you’re going to watch the video, make sure you do it in the background, because Frank’s play is glacial.
Now, the important point here is that both of these are instances of Slow Play. When I wrote most recently about Mihara over at Channel Fireball, a couple people suggested he should have been disqualified – but that’s not right. Mihara is clearly not Stalling, which is burning the clock with intent. After all, he’s not even in a timed round. He’s just trying to figure out how to not lose, and, well…picking up a Warning or Warnings for Slow Play in that case is pretty much fine. What’s the worst that can happen?
Right. Two Slow Play Warnings, the second one upping him to a Game Loss, and he’s out of the quarters…but not disqualified!
Now, I was talking about this match with local L2 Judge and rules guru Eric Levine a little while ago, and we both agreed that Mihara probably should have received that second Warning, escalating to a Game Loss and thus being out in the quarters…but there are some reasons it probably didn’t happen.
First, it’s incredibly hard to knock someone out of the final stages of a big event based on a seemingly prosaic series of Warnings. We can all understand this – it’s like telling Lance Armstrong he has to lose because he wore the wrong color jersey (or, perhaps, like not being able to run for office because your paperwork was misfiled).
Second, the rule of thumb for judges is that if you’re bored, it’s slow play. So, if you’re fascinated by how Mihara (or whoever) is going to get out of this sticky situation, you don’t realize you’ve been watching him for minutes at a time.
…and, of course, it sucks for someone in Paulo’s position, because as much as Magic players like to complain that Mihara took too long, you know you’d be calling Paulo even worse things if he’d called a judge to get his opponent Game Lossed out of the the top eight.
But nonetheless, it probably should have happened, just like Karsten probably should have picked up a Game Loss against Leung — and a Warning during the match, instead of between the quarters and semis.
But that’s all Slow Play. What does that have to do with Saitou?
Well, I think that the degree to which we don’t tend to enforce Slow Play opens us up for Stalling, which is what earned Saitou this DQ, and earned Max Bracht:
…a suspension.
In reading what other people have to say about slow play generally, it seems to me that in the Northern California area we’re pretty intolerant of it. I don’t know if you’ve seen people Game Lossed out of events for accumulated Slow Play warnings, but I have. I’m also a relatively brisk player, but I’ve nonetheless been given the “hurry up” by our judges more than once when I paused too long during a single turn.
It’s possible that they just don’t like having long rounds. I think it’s more likely that they dislike seeing pace of play abused, so they tend to crack down on pacing issues regardless of intent.
As we’ve seen with a lot of the other cheats out there, the more you clean up a general area of the game, the more obvious it is when someone cheats. When you follow rigorous drafting procedures, it’s harder to monkey with the cards. When you make players shuffle each others’ decks at competitive-level events, it makes stacking and marking harder to pull off.
Similarly, if you make sure to keep every opponent on pace, it’ll be glaringly obvious when someone is Stalling rather than simply falling victim to Slow Play.
And you know, to paraphrase Zac Hill, “It’s fun to finish games.” I don’t really have a lot of room to spare for analysis paralysis in casual, non-tournament games, whether we’re playing Magic, Axis & Allies, or checkers. It’s actually rude to the other players, and makes for a boring time for all. So I definitely don’t enjoy having it both spike the fun in tournaments and open up opportunities for stalling.
Short version – call a judge on slow play, everyone has more fun.

This week’s In Development – I don’t so much like Limited, but I like PTQs

It’s In Development time yet again, and this week is a rare occasion. I’m talking about Limited.
But it’s not advice for the Limited aficionado so much as it’s ideas for the Constructed player who’d like to hit up a Limited PTQ anyway.
As a spoiler, no, I didn’t win the PTQ.
You can click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter to let me know what you think.

Sean’s Boros dilemma

So, here’s a cool way to ask for advice about your deck:

Over on twitter yesterday, Sean asked for advice about his current Boros build, and posted a link to the video above. I’m about to head out to a PTQ, but I had a chance to watch the video, scribble some notes, and offer my thoughts about the deck.
If you haven’t watched the video yet, you probably should, or the notes won’t make much sense.
Click through to the extended entry for the notes.

Continue reading

Kelly brings the rationality

If you’ve been stewing in self-righteous fury over the cessation of the Magic Player Rewards Program you might benefit from reading Kelly Reid’s article on ManaNation this week.
Or it might really anger you. Hard to say.
Either way, I appreciated Kelly’s pleasingly titled How to Overreact, where he addresses the reality of why Wizards might want to change away from the old MPR model, and how we might need to pull back just a bit from being focused on just how awful this is for us.
Also, this is pretty much a classic #firstworldproblem, so I appreciate Kelly’s rational discussion.

This week’s In Development – Card types, card roles, and picking card to solve my problems

It’s In Development time again (notice how that happens each week?).
This week I expand on something I mentioned in last week’s In Development – how I referred back to the Ghazi-Glare deck of Worlds 2005 to figure out what to do with my current Fauna Shaman build. More generally, this week’s topic is about finding the right card by role, while avoiding being mislead by card types.
Or, in other words, finding a Jitte in Standard.
Click here to read this week’s In Development, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Magic phrase of the week

This week’s Ideas Unbound from Max McCall, titled The Process of Actually Killing Someone on Turn One, has one of my favorite Magic phrases in a little while:
“An apt metaphor for the Tendrils mirror might be two players swinging wildly at one another with sledgehammers. Eventually, someone connects.”
Actually, the whole article is pretty good, being an in-depth analysis of Ad Nauseam Tendrils in the current Legacy metagame. Max recommends it, since it stomps the current Legacy boogeyman, Survival, and that seems like a solid plan.

This week’s The Field Report – Putting Valakut in a blender

So, I handed in another metagame analysis over the weekend, and like magic, The Field Report appears again.
This week I cover a fascinating shift from the metagame I reported last time (hint – it has something to do with the column title) and then run an experiment, comparing Premier-level Valakut decks to those that merely grind through to a 4-0 Daily result.
And I think that experiment bore some pretty interesting fruit, with pointers to how to make the “best” Valakut deck. At least for now.
Click here to read this week’s TFR, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Instead of science analogies…science!

So, if you read my columns, you’re used to having a lot of science wrapped into your Magic.
Want some science wrapped in science?
Like Adam Styborski, I’ve learned that writing about things is part and parcel to thinking about things. In that vein, I wanted to share some of my love of science – both biology, the area in which I work, and the rest of the awesomeness that’s out there – by writing.
So, if you’re even vaguely interested in that, you can check out my ongoing science writing over at the easy-to-remember The first post is about Margaret Oakley Dayhoff, an innovator in bioinformatics, and a small but essential piece of ‘tech’ she introduced to the field.