What do all of the cards shown below from the upcoming Kaladesh expansion have in common (aside from their being published in the same set)?

image002image004image006image008image010image012

If you answered ‘scales well in multiplayer games’, you’d be right. Even Chandra, who looks pretty decent in a duel scenario, gets better-er with more opponents at the table. But you don’t have to be a Cube or Commander player to get a chance to witness the multiplayer possibilities first-hand, because the Kaladesh One-Day All-You-Can-Play League is going to be held at Face to Face Games Montreal on October 2nd, and the format will be MULTIPLAYER STAR! And you can take part in the insanity.

Today I’m going to talk about the new format for the Kaladesh league, all the changes that were made, and the rationale for making them. Let’s get right to it!

First things first. Here’s the new ruleset in all its glory:

image014

1) Player registration. The start time for the Kaladesh one-day all-you-can-play league is 10 AM, Sunday, October 2nd, at Face to Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $25, payable at the store counter, which includes the price of 6 packs for the starting card pool and prize support of 2 packs per player. The event closes at 5 PM, which means that no new games started after that time will count towards the final results (games already underway at that time will be permitted to conclude).

image017

2) Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Kaladesh to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. There is no trading of league cards allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.

image018

3) Playing matches.

A) There will be chairs numbered 1 through 5 in a queue, each corresponding to seats at the table. After deck construction is complete, players enter the queue to play multiplayer games of Star format [5 players] on a first-come, first-served basis. Once all five chairs are filled, a game of Star launches.

B) Winning: In this variant of Star, you win only when the two players sitting across the table from you (your opponents) are eliminated (it doesn’t matter if you do the deed yourself or not), while you yourself are not yet eliminated. You cannot attack the players to your immediate left or right (your allies), although you can target them, their permanents, and their spells, with effects under your control. The winner of each game of Star gets a free ‘Reward Pack’: they may add the cards contained therein to their league card pool and improve their deck for subsequent games. In the rare case of a draw (e.g.: two active players’ win conditions are simultaneously triggered by the elimination of their sole remaining opponent), players take turns drafting their cards from the Reward Pack.

C) Losing: Players who are eliminated are free to return to the queue immediately for the next game, which will launch as soon as all the chairs are full again (there’s no need for eliminated players to wait around until the game finishes, as in this variant of Star only non-eliminated players can win). Before that, each loser of each game of Star may open a ‘Punishment Pack’: they may acquire and open an unopened Standard-legal booster and add the cards contained therein to their league card pool and improve their deck for subsequent games. This is not strictly required, but it will make the odds of winning greater.

image020

4) Prizes. The Kaladesh league sponsor, Face to Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2 boosters for each participating player. Most of these packs will go to players during the tournament in the form of Standard-legal Reward Packs. The remainder will be given to the Top 8 players based on performance. Final rankings will be determined on the basis of League Points (LP): each game win during the day is worth 3 LP; each draw is worth 1 LP. In the case of a tie for a final ranking, players will play a single best-of-three duel with their decks to determine the winner. First place will have their name written on the league trophy, which will be displayed in the store’s trophy case.

Why Multiplayer?

To answer this question fully, we have to look back at the league history books. Over the summer, I organized 2 one-day leagues that happened within a week of each other. They looked like this:

yorke26a

Two very different events, and each a success in its own right. Except that CN2 league was, if numbers are any indication, twice as popular as EMN league. And immediately after CN2 league, players were very excited, and requested that I host a similar event in the near future. Everyone had a ton of fun. So, for the first answer: Kaladesh league is multiplayer due to popular demand.

The second part of the answer relates to the cards themselves. As noted above, there are a good number of cards in the set that play nice in a multiplayer environment. Some, like Ghirapur Orrery, are hard to imagine playing outside of multiplayer, while others like Shrewd Negotiation and Dubious Challenge go from borderline unplayable to near-bombs in the format.

Thirdly, the flavor of Kaladesh, a brightly-lit world of inventions, invites laid-back multiplayer experiences in the same way its cousin plane of Fiora does. It’s a feel-good place, and multiplayer (in its Star format incarnation, at least) is a feel-good way to play with others. The set is seemingly not themed on heavy conflict or combat, but looking around in wonder and trying out new things . . . The slower pace of multiplayer games will allow league participants to do just that.

Why Sealed (Instead of Draft)?

One of the (few) downsides of CN2 league is that we had to be very strict on the starting time, because the whole event kicked off with a Double-Draft of 6 CN2 boosters [N.B.: I’ve had to invent the new term ‘Double-Draft’ to describe the practice of drafting with 2x the recommended amount of product; this is very different from ‘MegaDraft’, which means drafting with 1 booster of each Standard-legal set, up to a limit of 6 boosters. MegaDraft feels much more like a Chaos Draft while Double-Drafting does not].

Moving to the Sealed format means that people can join the event at any time during the day, and eliminates the feel-bad effect of possibly having asymmetrically-sized drafts firing, which may have the knock-on effect of making one pod’s decks better than others, and so forth. No time-consuming drafting process means that there’s also more available time for multiplayer games to take place in, as well. That is all.

Why Have Both Reward Packs AND Punishment Packs?

This one is relatively easy to respond to. People like winning, and they like it even better when they win something they like, or need more of. And they really enjoy winning something if the prize is immediately useful, possibly leading to them being awarded even more prizes at the end of the tournament. In short, in CN2 league the Reward Pack mechanic was very popular. So we brought it back.

Reward Packs are for (Game) Closers
Reward Packs are for (Game) Closers

On the other end of the story, well, let’s just say I didn’t do very well at all during CN2 league. I only got to bust one Reward Pack, and I had to share it with another player. So I had to play the same lackluster deck all day, with very little hope of improving my pool. In other words, I would have killed for a Punishment Pack.

Punishment Packs, as enfranchised league players well know, alleviate the sting of a loss with the promise of a stronger pool, and the excitement of cracking a pack. The only downside being that that you have to provide them yourself… but if you don’t have the resources, nobody forces you to open a booster. Hey, you can’t expect the sponsor to give a free pack to every loser (AND every winner) of every game, right?

Who Won the Last Leagues?

For those keeping score at home, here’s the results table for all F2F league events to date:

yorke26b

That’s right, the last three leagues have basically been Peter Sachlas’ dynasty, only briefly disrupted for one week by the daring David Yeung (and where Peter still snuck in at 2nd place!). A helpful visual aid follows:

SOI League Winner
SOI League Winner
EMN League Winner
EMN League Winner
CN2 League Winner
CN2 League Winner

Who will make Top 8 and have their names fill in the question mark slots below the KLD league column? Will a new ruler step up to take the trophy and end the bloody reign of Peter ‘The Tyrant’ Sachlas, or will his grip on the blind eternities only tighten? Join us on October 2nd to find out!

Bonus Content: Evaluating New Cards

With the release of each new set, Kaladesh being no exception, there is a concomitant need for players-league players included-to evaluate the relative strength of the individual cards in it. Because so many new cards look like versions of old cards (an unavoidable vice for a game as long-lived and prolific as Magic), players tend to make mental shortcuts, e.g.: “That’s a more expensive Lightning Bolt” and “That’s a bear with upside”. While this practice is helpful in gaining a rough understanding, it can also cloud your vision and stop you from seeing what a card really is and what it can do.

Since no card exists in isolation, I recommend a technique of evaluation which considers synergistic strength, or strength in relation to other cards, as opposed to what we might call absolute strength, or the raw power of the card considered on its own. For an example, let’s examine a few varieties of the classic 2/2 ‘bears’ that Green is famous for:

yorke26c

On this method of evaluation, a card gets +1 for every positive interaction, and -1 for every negative interaction with your other cards, with the resultant number giving us a rough estimate of a card’s synergistic strength. Let’s look at a few examples from the table above.

For a baseline, let’s say that the classic Grizzly Bear has a raw synergistic score of 0. It doesn’t interact with multiples of itself, any other cards of mine, or those of my opponents. Grizzly Bear is pretty much as insular as a card can be: hard to get excited about in terms of synergy.

Timberpack Wolf, on the other hand, cares about how many copies of the card are in play: the more, the better. So +3 for the Timberpack’s synergy if I’m running the full pack in my deck. Let’s say that also in my deck are two copies of Clone (I’m all in on the Wolf plan), so Timberpack potentially cares about +2 of my other cards as well. So, even though the card doesn’t mess with my opponent’s cards at all (0), each Timberpack Wolf will get a high synergy score of +5.

Finally, we give also points for discordance (anti-synergy) with the opponent’s cards, and take away points for discordance with our own. Humble Budoka’s shroud ability, for instance, might blank 4 pump spells in my deck (-4), but it might also blank 8 pieces of targeted removal in my opponent’s deck (+8), for an overall score of +4.

For similar reasons, legendary creatures start out with negative synergy scores if run in multiples, and the discordance value of creatures with protection of any kind will vary wildly, depending on the disposition and concentration of colors in the opponent’s deck.

With the release of Kaladesh, another ‘bear’ is set to join the roster:

image046

Using the axes of evaluation given above, we can see that Longtusk Cub doesn’t interfere with any cards that the opponent might be holding. It does, however, care about other copies of itself, in that an unblocked Cub can provide the energy required to buff another Cub sitting back on defense, and it obviously gets waaay better in decks that are running other cards that (1) use or provide energy and / or (2) care about +1/+1 counters. These factors will give Longtusk Cub a medium to high level of synergy, the precise value of which will depend on the composition of the rest of the deck it inhabits.

Now, thinking synergistically in terms of card evaluation isn’t a revolutionary proposal; however, proposing a calculus for assigning a precise value to a card’s synergy is. My hope is that by applying some creative thinking and mathematical rigor, players will be able to use the technique of evaluation outlined above to make their deck designs even stronger. Try it out with your Sealed pools on Sunday, October 2nd, and let me know how it worked for you!

Discussion