GMing Mistakes 10 – There’s a Chance You Don’t Get Probabilities

Okay, so, there’s thief in your group and they want to infiltrate the tent of an officer from an opposing army. Its in the middle of the camp and you want to make it hard, but from your point of view, it would be a good thing if the thief was able to do it.

So, lets suppose the player rolls 2d6 and has to get at least 7 to succeed. They get +2 from their.. skill. Whatever. First, you want them to roll for moving into the camp. Then you want them to roll for moving through the camp. Then you want them to figure out where the tent is and roll for that as well. Then you want them to roll for entering the tent. They’re pretty good at what they do, so this should work, right?

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Oath of the Gatewatch Brews, pt. 7 – Jund

Today’s the release and as currently unemployed, I’ve had the time to think about what to play. The ideas are pretty endless, but the problem is that I won’t have access to everything today, so I’ve used what I have been able to trade for (and I’ll actually get some of the cards I’ve bought later today, because it pays to be close to a professional seller).

So, after a lot of consideration, I decided to have a test run with Goblin Dark-Dwellers.

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The Clockwise Puzzle (Thief 2014)

There was plenty of puzzles in Thief, but only one of them was interesting. Otherwise they were just poking around and moving stuff around. This one was found in a house that wasn’t very big, but took time to navigate due to moving walls. This one is in the basement. Its in the Clockwise sidequest, where you need to locate a part of an automaton for a mad inventor of sorts.

I guess this one can be completed in the very same manner, but I didn’t want to do that. Instead I approached it differently.

Here’s what the puzzle looks like:

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The idea is that in the beginning each of the pieces is in the outer position. When you push a piece in or pull it out, each piece next to it also switches position. You need to get all pieces in.

I found a five move solution, but I was wandering whether less would do. I doubt it, though. My solution after the break.

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Structure of an Adventure

Couple of years back I bumped into this video:

If you don’t care to watch it, I fully understand. The basic message is this:

During the time it takes for you characters to rise one level, they should encounter the following:

1 easy combat encounter,
3 standard combat encounters,
1 hard combat encounter,
1 very hard combat encounter,
2 skill challenges, and
2 roleplaying challenges.

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Vikings: A Division of Mechanics

New mechanics in a set tell us something about the world and more importantly, they affect how the set feels when playing the game. So, lets look at how often do we see different mechanics in different colors:

White> Blue Black Red Green Gold & Colorless
Bestow 4 2 4 2 3
Devotion 2 2 5 2 4 1
Heroic 5 3 2 3 3 2
Monstrosity 1 2 2 4 4 3
Scry 3 11 1 6 1 8
Total 15  20 14 17 15 14

Including Flamespeaker Adept, because it says something about how scry is seen by different colors.

The same weighted on many you’ll pull on average from a booster:

White> Blue Black Red Green Gold & Colorless
Bestow 0.26 0.15 0.26 0.15 0.17
Devotion 0.06 0.02 0.27 0.06 0.17 0.02
Heroic 0.31 0.22 0.07 0.17 0.17 0.07
Monstrosity 0.02 0.07 0.07 0.17 0.17 0.03
Scry 0.25 0.77 0.1 0.5 0.05 0.2
Total 0.9 1.23 0.77 1.05 0.73 0.32

No heroic in mythic rare. That’s sort of interesting. Perhaps you’re supposed to think those really great heroes were built up from something rather than starting from there.

Of course, there are other considerations, such as blue has quit a few scry-effects, which give their controllers multiple chances to scry, whereas the other colors generally have to rely on scry-effects stickered on instants. Also, you’ll notice I put gold cards into their own category, whereas they are also strong indicators on where certain things fall, for example, both gold monstrosity creatures are half green and both gold heroic creatures are part white.

Summing the totals, you’ll come to the conclusion that on average, you’ll find in your booster five cards (out of 14) referencing one of these five things. And by the way: this number is exactly five (not counting foils and my rounding of the numbers), so I don’t think its an accident. MaRo talks about “as-fan” every once in a while. As-fan is what your set looks like when you open a booster and fan the cards out. In this case, about third of the cards are going to have one of the mechanics on them, meaning they have a very strong presence.

We can also see that blue is generally a bit of an outlier. In this case, it doesn’t do well in any category until we get to scry. On the other hand, we have “as-played”, which stands for how often we see these cards in action. In standard, we see a lot of devotion, especially both of the blue cards, one black common (Gray Merchant of Asphodel) and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. We see some monstrosity in Polukranos, World-Eater, Arbor Colossus and Stormbreath Dragon, although I hardly see the the last one actually becoming monstrous. In limited you see all of these mechanics abused, which means its a pretty good set.

So, in Vikings, I’d like to have about a similar number of mechanics. Four or five will do. But I also need to find ones that can encompass all colors about equally. I’m going to try and find something you can put into each color at least once, but I’m also going to try and find something especially for each color, so that each color can have its distinct identity. Although, in some cases (see heroic or monstrosity above in black), the same mechanic can have a very different feel in different colors.

Also, if possible, each color combination should have a distinct feel to it. This shouldn’t be as strong as the individual cards, but this can be as simple as blue-red wanting to cast instants and sorceries and getting extra benefit from them (see Spellheart Chimera and Flamespeaker Adept.

So, as I’ve stated prevously (in some forgotten post), I’ll be using Landfall from Zendikar. This will occur mostly in green, as I’ve already made green the exploration color. Of course, I’ll have to look closely at Zendikar so that I won’t tread the same waters, but there seems to be plenty of design space there.

Next, were going to have berserkers. I have two distinct ideas here: berserker could be a keyword (actually an ability word) which lets a creature grow and become indestructible when blocking or blocked, but it often (but not always) has a an additional cost, such as sacrifing the berserker at end of turn. These will probably be mostly in red, but again, at least one for each color. Even white and blue.

An example:

Arnulf’s Berserker
Creature – Human Berserker 1U
Berserker — UU, this creature gets +2/+2 and gains indestructibility until end of turn. Target player puts the top five cards of his or her library into his or her graveyard. (You may only active Berserker once per turn and only if this creature blocks or is blocked)

The other idea (which I might put under a different name and use anyway) is having many of the other cards have an activated ability involving discarding it and giving bonuses to a creature. A bit like bloodrush, but its not limited to being a creature ability. This way it would probably be more of a white thing, but its easy enough to find suitable abilities for all colors. This would also mean I could put pretty narrow cards into the set, and the narrowness would be mitigated by this ability. These might be hard flavorwise, though, although I am once again confident that I can come up with something.

An example of this kind of a card would look something like this:

Secret Location
Sorcery 1G
Search your library for a basic land card, reveal it, put it into your hand, then shuffle your library.
{Mechanic title} — G, discard Secret Location: Target creature gains hexproof until end of turn.

I’m guessing this is actually Channel, but Channel (and somewhat similar Evoke) are creature abilities. I probably could just call this Channel and be done with it, although there might be some rules concers, which aren’t really my problem. I like this because it lets you put all sorts of effects into you deck without necessarily compromising your combat capabilities, which are very important in limited.

Blue is always hard, since this is a somewhat combat-oriented set in a combat-oriented game, and blue tends to be stronger outside of combat. I’m not going to use scry, as Lauri suggested, because it was just used so recently, even though it would fit here very well. Of course, another problem I have is that I’m trying to keep the fantasy in this first set pretty low key, which means no effects with effects that are too far from what could happen in the real world flavorwise.

These might be a bit farfetched or hard to get a handle on, but at this point these are only ideas anyhow:

Perhaps redirection within cards.

Well-Aimed Arrow
Instant 2W
Well-Aimed Arrow deals 4 damage to target attacking or blocking creature.
Redirect — If this card would be countered because it no longer has valid targets, you may pay R to assign it a new target.

That would probably need some clarification, but seems fine. Don’t know if there’s enough design space.

Another could be named something like “Omen”. These cards could be either cheaper or they could have an additional effect if you’ve done something during this turn.

Example:

Bloodeagle
Instant 2B
Destroy target nonblack creature.
Omen — If a creature died this turn, the destroyed creature can not be regenerated

or

Call of Home
Instant 1U
Return target creature to its owner’s hand
Omen — If you have drawn a card this turn, you may target any permanent instead.

I like the latter much more and it feels like there’s much more design space there, so that’s probably what I’m going to go with. It should be easy enough to come up with things for blue with this mechanic.

This leaves black without a signature mechanic, but that might be a good thing, because black is my favorite color and therefore it’ll be easy enough to find uses in black for all of the above.

.. and of course the Grandeur (at least for now), which is not a major thing, because we only have the five big boys, who have it. Although, I may add a land with the same ability into the set. Even then, six mythic rares with an ability don’t do much for the feel of the set.

Fun with Names (Warning: Math Involved)

There’s a method for making “fonetic” random passwords. Well, there are many, but this one is a bit more interesting, because you can produce passwords, which feel right for your language. Of course, whenever there are random elements involved, things might not go quite right, but that’s just part of the fun.

Here, instead of making passwords, we are making names, which sound like they could be names from a certain language, or culture. PHP-code included (sadly, no indents, as the WordPress can’t display them properly). Below, I’m doing names for my Viking set for MtG, but it can be used for fantasy worlds as well, if you can find a good list of names. No offense to the Mongol people, but their names made a very nice basis for goblin names.

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Value of Scrying

This is going to be one of those mathy articles again.

A note on the probabilities on this article: Obviously, the probabilities should change dynamically as we see certain cards. After drawing or looking at each card, we know more about what exactly we have in the deck, but I’m trying to keep this simple, so we use simpler, although not as accurate probabilities. I think they work well enough to make the point.

Lets suppose you have Thassa, God of the Sea in play. You have scry 1 for each of your turns, just before the draw phase. You are in need of land and will put on the bottom any and all cards that are not lands. If you have 16 lands in your 40 card deck (you got Thassa, in your pool – nice one), that means you have (on average) a 40% chance of drawing land, leaving you with a 60% chance of drawing something else.

This means that your chances of drawing a land are (the probability of the top card being a land) + (the probability of you drawing the next card instead) * (the probability of the next card being a land) or .4 + .6 * .4 = .64. That’s pretty good. Far from certain, but if you are desperately looking for lands, finding three among the next five is much better than finding two.

On the other hand, after we have the lands we need, we are not in the business of drawing more. Therefore, with the same deck, our chances of drawing gas are .6 + .4 * .6 = .84. Drawing a land only once in six cards is great when you don’t need one.

Worldclass players do their best to conserve even the smallest differences in probabilities to their advantage. After all, in a game of high variance, even the small edges will add up over time. You don’t know when you manage to eke out a win through them, but any one win can mean the difference between Gold and Platinum levels (the difference being free flights and accomodations, plus much better appearance fees for the Platinum level pro, all in all benefits of maybe around $15,000 a year, maybe more), as those who manage to get just around the number of points they need for the Platinum level (45 pro points per season)

Scry can be hard to use. This is a simplified example, but sometimes you need something other than land or nonland. Sometimes you scry, put the card on the bottom and then draw a card that would work very well with the card on the bottom. These situations can’t be avoided, but knowing your deck helps. Also, this is where math skills come in handy. This is after all something where experiences can leave impressions in our minds, which are not necessarily right, since we don’t necessarily see what would have happened had we done something different.

Frank Karsten, My New Hero

Frank Karsten began writing for Channel Fireball pretty recently. He had been away from MtG for a while in order to write his thesis, but apparently he’s done with that and is making his return, including joining the Channel Fireball team itself (bringing their total number of hall of famers to six after BenS and LSV are inducted, still one less than Team SCG, even without Budde).

Personally, I’m sort of excited about this. After all, this is a guy who is a hall of famer, but has a totally different perspective on the game. He was known for designing decks based on statistical data taking a bunch of versions of a deck and calculating the best possible mix of cards. Later, he would go on to play highlander and monocolored decks for the for the hell of it in Pro Tours. Clearly, a man after my own heart.

And then there’s this: Frank Analysis – Finding the Optimal Aggro Deck via Computer Simulation. In short, Karsten simplifies aggro decks down to five different cards and tests each possible configuration by goldfishing. This way he found the optimal aggro deck in a vacuum.

Obviously, there are limits to the usefulness of this data, since generally we won’t have enough of really cheap and efficient creatures in a format, and it completely forgets about your opponent, who will generally want to do something during a game too. On the other hand, research like this isn’t done enough. Of course people do calculate odds and will make deck design decisions based on them, but they are still often based on intuition more than anything else. Since CFB already has limited specialists, innovators, honers, combospecialists and so forth, just like their competition, Karsten’s addition will bring them an edge, because no-one else is doing what Karsten does. At least not as visibly.

This is obviously still pretty preliminary research. Magic is a complicated game, so going deeper will be hard, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Finding the right way to abstract the game (such as Karsten’s way of bringing it down to five cards) will be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. Hopefully we’ll see more from Karsten in the near future (and we probably will).

Maybe I should try it.