Yorke on Games #29 – League Update: From Aether Revolt to Amonkhet

With Aether Revolt, we returned to the 5-7 week campaign model for league at Montreal’s Face to Face store. We wrapped up the one-day series of leagues with Kaladesh (won by Diego Santos) and C16 (won by Primo Capaldi), which-while popular-didn’t capture the epic scale and pathos that only league play can bring. Today, I’m going to discuss how this move worked out via my personal tournament report for Aether Revolt, and finish with a preview of the new Amonkhet league rules.

Aether Revolt League: A Tournament Report

As always, league began with opening 6 packs of the latest expansion and making a 60-card deck.

In my starting pool, I was delighted to find this:

Not to be confused with Tolstoy’s equally intimidating ‘Book of War and Peace’

Most of my other rares were fair to middling: [card]Oath of Ajani[/card], [card]Peacewalker Colossus[/card], and [card]Pia’s Revolution[/card]. However, I also had [card]Baral’s Expertise[/card], [card]Rishkar’s Expertise[/card], and [card]Greenwheel Liberator[/card] in the mix. Since both blue and green had low-curve creatures for Sword-wielding purposes, and blue had a [card]Trophy Mage[/card] to go find the masterpiece (effectively making a second copy of it), I went Simic for the initial build.

I swept the first three matches with ‘hard wins’, and the fourth with a ‘soft win’. An encouraging start.

Here’s a little vocabulary to help understand what I mean by these terms, which I use to keep track of my performance at tournaments (keeping in mind that ‘no significance’ matches can’t really happen in league, since with untimed rounds and self-arranged matches there are no ties or byes):

However, since I was winning all my matches, that meant I couldn’t add any new packs to my pool. Only players who lose matches may add a so-called ‘punishment pack’ of any Standard-legal set to their league pools for each loss (up to ten-then they are eliminated from the tournament on their 11th loss). Soon, I found myself outclassed and took two losses (one ‘hard’, one ‘soft’). On the upshot, I was able to open a [card]Saheeli’s Artistry[/card] and (less impressively) a [card]Sanctifier of Souls[/card]. It was time to rethink my build.

I couldn’t play anymore that week, even if I’d wanted to. Each league player is obliged to play at least 3 matches a week to stay in the tournament, but they can only play 3 matches over the minimum. Week 1 is therefore typically the busiest week, as people are excited to ‘bank’ extra matches (though they can still play each other player only once a week). As I was maxed out at 6 matches, I had to focus on redesigning my deck.
Staying in blue was a must, as [card]Baral’s Expertise[/card] had proven to be a game-winning bomb, and [card]Trophy Mage[/card] was the key to fetching my other win condition, the [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card]. The Sword had fantastic synergy with both Expertises: Baral’s filled my opponent’s hands and cleared blockers for huge attacks with extra damage triggers, and Rishkar’s filled my own hand for life gain shenanigans. But the green cards in my pool, though powerful, generally lacked interactivity.

Looking to black, I had a [card]Fatal Push[/card] and a [card]Vengeful Rebel[/card] in my pool which gave me greater flexibility in dealing with problem creatures, and two [card]Renegade Map[/card]s (plus [card]Baral’s Expertise[/card]) to trigger Revolt. [card]Cruel Finality[/card] and [card]Die Young[/card] helped round off the removal package. I was ready to engage the enemy in Week 2…

The new Dimir color combination worked out beautifully. In the game against Gabriel, I remember casting [card]Saheeli’s Artistry[/card] to copy both my [card]Bastion Inventor[/card] and the [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] that was equipping it. That match ended soon after. In my grudge match against Richard, the life gain provided by my [card]Gifted Aetherborn[/card] and Sword allowed me to survive a 20-point trample attack from his [card]Aetherwind Basker[/card] and still come back to win the game. The deck was running hot, so it didn’t need fixing before Week 3.

Amir (a former fellow Team Battlezone member and one-shot ‘Resolves’ YouTube show co-host; he can be seen in Yorke on Games #9) had basically become my personal punching bag for three weeks straight, and I could tell it was wearing on him. He worried that he wasn’t going to make the Top 8 for the Megadraft finals. This was the main prize of the league: a chance to chronologically draft one pack from each Standard legal set and make a huge 60-card draft deck, to compete for the remaining packs and the league trophy. While Amir had my sympathies, at least he got improve his deck: mine had to stay the same for yet another week.

Around this time, I was quietly informed that certain players had adopted the strategy of avoiding playing me, on account of my daunting win percentile and of course THE SWORD. I mention it here because this will begin to affect my (apparently questionable) decisions in Week 5 of play.

My week of reckoning had come. I finally lost a match to Amir, having forgotten that the protection from white granted by my [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] could have removed the [card]Caught in the Brights[/card] and [card]Revoke Privileges[/card] that were detaining my creatures in the deciding game. Richard had completely leap-frogged my deck in terms of quality, and I remember having absolutely no chance against him at all. (On the other side of the league, Tim-who I never had the chance to play-became the first player to get eliminated.)

It was time for me to open some more punishment packs, and add them to my league pool. I suspected that I had made an unwise choice of sets previously in KLD and EMN, so I worked out a little algorithm for figuring out which set I should be opening, given my current build. For each Standard-legal set, I went through the visual spoiler, and assigned a value of ‘1’ for each common I would like to open, a ‘0.3’ for each desired uncommon, and ‘0.1’ for each relevant rare (ignoring mythic rares and Masterpieces in the equation). Then, I took each set’s sum and divided it by the # of cards in that set, not including basic lands. This gave me a % of expected value for opening any given pack, which made the selection process a little less arbitrary. Given the importance for my deck in opening [card]Aether Poisoner[/card]s and additional [card]Aether Swooper[/card]s to help along my improvise theme, as well as the potential to luck into perhaps another [card]Fatal Push[/card], [card]Gifted Aetherborn[/card], or [card]Trophy Mage[/card], my expected value for opening up AER was a solid 10% [a desirability score of 18.4 out of 184 possible cards], so that’s where I headed next.

In my punishment packs, I luckily got to open some on-color (albeit low-impact) rares in [card]Merchant’s Dockhand[/card] and [card]Quicksmith Spy[/card], further cementing me in blue. I had also opened multiples of [card]Prey Upon[/card], which gave my green pool some interactivity, on top of the higher raw power level it already offered over black. In the face of these developments, for Week 5 I was compelled to move out of my previously successful Dimir build and back into a modified Simic configuration. I wasn’t sure it was the right move, but I felt my deck needed to evolve somehow.

Richard put up a decent fight, but in the end I bested him. To me this served as vindication of the choice to switch colors. At the conclusion of our match, he muttered a curse that has happily yet to take effect.

Johnny, on the other hand, had artifact hate lying in wait for me: [card]Natural Obsolescence[/card] buried my Sword in game 1, when I had my [card]Aether Swooper[/card] equipped and ready to make hay in my early turns. Shortly after, his [card]Lifecraft Cavalry[/card] arrived, proving to be too much for my army of 1/1 and 1/2 creatures to stave off; I died before I could cast my in-hand [card]Trophy Mage[/card] to go find the Sword again. Game 2 was a similar rout, with Johnny showcasing more of his deck’s degenerate +1/+1 counter theme this time. At least I opened up a [card]Scrap Trawler[/card] in the resultant punishment pack, which gave me a legitimate reason to put [card]Snare Thopter[/card] back in my deck (potential Sword recursion).

It was at this point I realized that I was buying into the perception that my deck was a one-trick pony: if I got the Sword to stick, I won; if I didn’t, I lost. The whole deck-perhaps the whole league, if reports were accurate-was getting warped around this one card. I decided to comb through my deck to make it more synergistic and less one-dimensional. So began the grand Azorius experiment.

Given my knowledge that certain players were avoiding playing me, I was compelled to play everyone I could in Week 5 with my poorly-tested new deck, just trying to bank as many matches as possible in as little time as possible. I had minimal regard for the outcome of those matches, as I thought it was better to take rapid losses than to risk elimination for inactivity in future weeks, when matches would be even harder to come by due to players being eliminated. I figured that my win percentile was good enough thus far to ensure me a Top 8 position, even if I stumbled a bit.

With this mindset, I went and lost three more matches in dismally rapid succession, opening [card]Fumigate[/card], [card]Confiscation Coup[/card], and a [card]Blooming Marsh[/card] in the process. I finally came to the realization that life on the Dimir side might not have been so bad after all. Azorius had given me nothing but bad beats.

My backsliding was rewarded by a close win against Amir. Both games I won were due to the one-two punch of [card]Aether Swooper[/card] equipped with Sword, which is exactly what the deck is built to do (and not much else). After the match, I took the winner’s privilege and graciously helped him redesign his deck. I insisted he maindeck his sideboarded [card]Aid from the Cowl[/card] to take better advantage of the heavy revolt theme (the key combo of his deck was a pair of [card]Renegade Map[/card]s being recurred by a pair of [card]Renegade Rallier[/card]s).

Later the same day, I faced Richard again. I felt confident, as he had been the only player I’d been able to beat with my relatively weaker Simic build the previous week. In game 1 I was forced to mulligan down to 4 cards, but still managed to give him a decent amount of resistance. I was much more confident going into game 2, however Richard curved out beautifully, ramping into two [card]Ridgescale Tusker[/card]s in turns 4 and 5, buffing his whole team far beyond my deck’s ability to deal with it. I opened a punishment pack filled with [card]Fatal Push[/card], an irrelevant [card]Release the Gremlins[/card], and… well…

I’m probably on a government watch list now simply for Googling this image

Masterpiece #2!! I had opened 15 packs for this league, and got a statistically incredible 2 Masterpieces in my pool. This meant that my rate of opening masterpieces was 13% per pack, well over the average odds of 0.7%. With so many Masterpieces in my league deck, I was ready to petition UNESCO to have it declared a World Heritage Site. I trolled our Facebook league discussion thread by stating as much.

In a 60-card Limited deck, I had two Modern-format staples, five ways to get additional draws, one way to tutor a Masterpiece directly, one way to recur them from the graveyard, and one way to copy them on the battlefield. Assuming I didn’t draw one in my opening hand, every subsequent draw would yield a roughly 15% chance of getting one, or at least produce an intermediary step in delivering one to me. I was pumped to try this new build out.

I would never get the chance to do so. The week that I bookended my league experience by opening my second Masterpiece was the same week that the main tournament abruptly ended. Sufficient eliminations had taken place to cut to the Top 8 and the MegaDraft finals. (As it turned out, the tuning of Amir’s deck had gone too well, and he had taken out Richard later that evening; which ended things earlier than expected.)

Here’s what my own personal ‘health bar’ looked like at the end of the action:

In the MegaDraft finals-the BFZ-OGW-SOI-EMN-KLD-AER draft after the main tournament-I cobbled together a sloppy Orzhov mash-up featuring [card]Stone Haven Outfitter[/card], some equipment, and a weak vampire tribal theme. It flopped horribly. I lost my first round to Johnny Mariani with his Simic good stuff deck, who eventually won the whole tournament. It was like trying to beat back an avalanche with a dishrag. I was lucky to claw out 4th place overall.

Johnny, looking deservedly smug with his beautiful league trophy

Amonkhet League: Looking Ahead

The Aether Revolt league was a lot of fun-it was probably the most enjoyable league I’ve organized at Face to Face so far. And not just because of what I opened, but also because of the high level of friendly yet competitive play across the board, and how the final constitution of the Top 8 was impossible to predict until the very last moment of play. The weekly standings were a puzzle that we as a group tried to individually and collectively crack for the six weeks it took to play itself out.

Other players seemed to feel the same way, as in an online poll the vast majority voted to keep the ruleset exactly the same for Amonkhet league, with one small tweak: less harsh penalties for underplay. In the past, people who failed to make their minimum number of league matches were summarily eliminated: starting with Amonkhet league, underplay will be penalized with match losses up to the minimum number of matches the player ought to have played (we call this the ‘Johnny rule’, since the change was his suggestion).

The full ruleset can be found below. It should answer any questions new players might still have about the format. Hope you’ll join us for Amonkhet league, which launches at 10am on April 30th, 2017, at Face to Face Games Montreal!

1) Player registration. The start date for the Amonkhet league is 10am, Sunday, April 30th, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the price of the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until May 10th, with the understanding that outstanding matches not resolved by 5pm Sunday, May 14th will count as losses.

2) Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Amonkhet 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). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games (this should also include a player’s email address in order to receive essential league updates). 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.

3) Playing matches. Players are required to play at least 3 minimum best-of-three game matches per week, up to a maximum of 6-but never more than 3 in excess of the current minimum required number of matches for league players. This means that in Week 1, the maximum total number of permitted matches for any player is six; in Week 2, nine matches; Week 3, twelve matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per week. Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with match losses for any missing matches, starting at the end of Week 2. Players who exceed their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will have those matches struck from their record, opened cards related to those matches deleted from their league card pool, and will be issued a warning. If a player’s overplaying behavior is not corrected after one warning that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, unsportsmanlike or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning or be immediately eliminated, depending on the severity of the behavior.

4) Reporting matches. The winner must complete a match report slip (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match reports must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. The loser of each match must take a ‘punishment pack’: that is, the loser must open an unopened Standard-legal booster pack in the presence of the winner, and add the contents to their league card pool, which the winner records. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published via the Facebook group and/or email list, along with a list of remaining players, and those players’ win percentiles to date.

5) Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination). Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of permissible match losses.

6) Optional formats. Optional formats, such as ‘Two-Headed Giant’ and ‘Best-of-Five Games’, are supported for regular league matches as well, if agreed upon by both players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decided to play an optional format.

7) Top eight. League winners are determined by elimination. When only eight players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event (in the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week resulting in less than 8 players remaining, tie-breakers will be decided first by [A] total # of games won, and then [B] total # of 2-0 records if necessary). The precise date of the finals is decided when a consensus is reached or, if this is impossible, a date is approved by a 75% [6/8 player] supermajority of the Top 8 (any other proposed in-tournament alteration to the ruleset may be approved by the same percentage of players). In the finals, the top eight players will retire their league decks and receive a free MegaDraft, drafting one 1 booster from each standard-legal set (alternately passing packs left, then right). No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their MegaDraft pool and play three best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store counter at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their matches and will not be eligible for additional prizes or higher ranking.

8) Final prizes. The Amonkhet league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each participating player + 24 packs toward the final MegaDraft in the league finals. Most of these packs will go to providing the cards for the MegaDraft; the remainder will be distributed among the top eight players according to their final rankings [in a 6:4:2:2:1:1:1:1 ratio, or as close as possible].

Yorke on Games #28: Strike Two: Drugs in Magic

Inspired by a Dec. 29th 2016 tweet from Steve Rubin—which stated that several of his fellow Magic Pro Tour players use Adderall during competitive events—the First Strike podcast team recently broached the issue of performance-enhancing drug use in professional magic. Listening in on their debate made me think that the issue of drug use in Magic was an interesting one, and one that could benefit from a more extensive treatment. In what follows, I will try to provide a framework for a community discussion on this topic that goes a bit deeper than the First Strike hosts had time to.

May I see your prescription, please?

The Sport / Game Distinction
Before we begin, I should note that although I ground my understanding of the fundamental arguments for and against doping on “Drugs, Genes, and Enhancing Performance in Sport” (Chapter 4 of Robert L. Simon’s Fair Play, an excellent primer in sport ethics), it is important to make clear that there is an crucial distinction between sports and other games, and that those differences will have implications for the doping debates that surround them.

In “The Elements of Sport”, Bernard Suits defined a sport as a kind of game that (1) requires skill (i.e., is not a matter of pure chance), (2) that the skill required be physical (i.e., games that couldn’t be played simply by expressing intellectual choices, such as chess), (3) with a wide following (i.e., not played only by one person), and (4) that the following be stable (i.e., there is an institution surrounding the game, and roles like coach, critic, and archivist exist, which separate it from a mere fad).

On this account, Magic is not a sport, because it fails to mean criterion #2: it is perfectly acceptable if you are disabled, for example, to convey your choice of plays to an assistant who will place the appropriate cards on the table for you at the appropriate moments (one can see how this play-by-proxy would be impossible in a sport like volleyball, by contrast). Computer games which bill themselves as E-sports have a greater claim to this title, as reaction time and dexterity are both physical skills that are tested by these games.

Since sports are the kinds of games that are specifically physical, it is easier to quantify the effects of doping in sports than other games. We can easily observe, for instance, that without steroids, baseball Player A hits the ball an average of X yards, and that with the aid of steroid use, Player A hits the ball an average of X+Y yards. This is a strictly empirical matter, and anyone who does too well in a given sport in this day and age, relative to the performances of their peers and predecessors, is bound to come under a certain degree of suspicion regarding the possible use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In non-physical games of skill like Magic, the effects of doping are much more difficult to detect and quantify. All we can really go on are win rates, and since there is a good deal of randomness at work in card games, it could be very difficult to determine whether a player is ‘running hot’ because of using a performance-enhancing substance, or just because they’d gotten lucky in their match-ups, or in the order of cards as they were drawn from their deck. It is difficult to assert a hard causal relationship in such a scenario without having access to quite a lot of data which is currently unavailable; partly because substance use is often stigmatized and thus hidden, and partly because research into this aspect of the game’s culture has simply not been conducted yet.

In the absence of such empirical data in Magic, we might look to similar games for precedents in how they handle the issue of doping. As both the World Chess Federation and the World Bridge Federation have banned Adderall after due consideration on the matter, we will proceed under the assumption that Adderall makes intellectual tasks easier to perform, and thus victory at non-physical games more likely for its users. If that turns out to not be the case scientifically, then readers can safely ignore the rest of this article—but this outcome seems unlikely.

So the question, as it stands, is this: If you had access to a magic potion, which was not against the rules of a game to take, and which was very likely to improve your performance at that game, would you take it before an important tournament? Why or why not?

It’s a well-known Gallic tradition…

The Arguments for Doping

Briefly, the best arguments for using Adderall to play better Magic can be enumerated as follows:

1. Adderall use is not currently explicitly proscribed by the rules of the game.
2. Other players are likely already using Adderall, and thus using it merely ‘levels the playing field’.
3. Strategic Adderall use is unlikely to cause harm (i.e., it’s not as dangerous as steroid use).
4. It’s a matter of personal liberty whether or not one imbibes any given substance.

I’ll address the apparent weaknesses of each of these arguments in turn.

While it’s true that no substance has explicitly been ruled out for use by the DCI, or any other branch of Wizards of the Coast, just because something is legal does not mean that it is moral. While non-prescription ingestion of Adderall might not technically be cheating, it certainly jars with community values enough to raise eyebrows, and start a discussion which will presumably lead to an eventual ban. It’s clearly not ‘in the spirit of the game’, as vague as that phrase unfortunately is, and does not constitute sportsmanlike behavior. So if ‘the game as it was meant to be played’, or the concepts of ‘sportsmanship’ or ‘community values’ have any appeal to you, then you have reasons not to take performance-enhancing drugs while playing Magic.

The adage ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ applies to the defense of taking Adderall in light of other players’ apparent usage. In other words, the behavior of others is no justification for degrading your own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong to do. Just because you can do something that benefits you at the expense of others, doesn’t mean that you ought to, and that includes juicing up before a competition. You can’t assume the worst of all other players—that literally everyone else is already juiced—and then behave as if that worst-case scenario were a fact as a kind of self-protection strategy, because then your choice will likely impact others who are innocent, and haven’t even contemplated juicing (this mirrors the logic of the gun control issue).

Regarding harm: perhaps Adderall is unlikely to harm you if you take it recreationally—I’m not a doctor, so I’m unqualified to say whether or not this is the case—but assuming that there are no lasting aftereffects with carefully moderated recreational usage, I would argue that harm to others is what is morally relevant to consider here, rather than harm to oneself. For it is others who are harmed if I unfairly impact on their chances of success in a game (whether or not prizes are on the line, but more so if there are) by helping myself to resources that they don’t have access to. And that is exactly what happens when one player takes an unfair advantage over another by doping before a match.

Finally, there’s no doubt that one can claim a personal right to imbibe whatever one likes. But asserting one’s personal liberty over social conventions is exactly what cheating is; by contrast, strict obedience to conventions is what makes playing a game possible in the first place. Currently, it is not the general social convention to dope before a Magic tournament—it is a very small (and, arguably, poorly-regarded) minority of players who do so. Analogously, in golf, I have every personal right in the world to take the ball in my hand, walk up to the hole, and drop the ball in the cup. However, if I choose to engage in these completely voluntary unconventional actions, then I am no longer playing golf. The issue of personal liberty is not decisive when considering what actions I can defensibly take in the context of playing a game.

I’ll be a lock for Top 8? Well, okay then…

The Arguments against Doping

After careful review, the best arguments against doping appear to be:
1. By making the game easier, Adderall reduces difficulty, and thus the value of achievement.
2. Using performance-enhancers puts pressure on all other competitors to use as well to ‘keep up’.
3. Adderall use makes success contingent on how well a body processes drugs, rather than skill.
4. Doping provides a bad example to vulnerable player demographics.

I’ll outline below why these are sensible worries to have.

There’s a very real sense in which we value things that are difficult more highly than things that are easy. For example, I (rightly) value getting my PhD over tying my shoes, and view the former as a higher achievement than the latter. By this logic, anything that makes success easier simultaneously decreases its value for us. If Adderall is as effective as we have presumed it to be, then Adderall-assisted victories are simply something we should be less proud of than non-Adderall-assisted victories, and any records set through Adderall use ought to be struck, or at least have an asterisk placed by them, because of the difference made by the drug. Through doping, players thus inadvertently rob themselves of the good of achievement.

Further, unregulated performance-enhancing substance usage creates an ‘arms race’ between players, who will then be under pressure to find more and better drugs to keep themselves competitive. Clearly, this race has very little to do with the game itself, and distracts from the original purpose of the activity. At this point, the real game becomes ‘identify and initiate the most effective doping regime’, rather than ‘Magic: The Gathering’. The culture of the game would be significantly degraded by this, to the detriment of all players.

People are possessed of different physiologies, and these physiologies process drugs in different ways. For many people, Adderall will presumably have significant cognitive benefits; for others, there will be no effects at all; and for a minority, we might expect the drug to negatively interfere with cognitive processing. Now, if Adderall use is normalized in the Magic community, and if it has the anticipated effect on performance, then the outcome of a good many games can be expected to come down to how well your body processes the drug, rather than your native skill level. This is a problem if we think of the game of Magic as a test of certain set of skills, such as mathematical calculation, memory, concentration, endurance, and strategy. It is not desirable that a simple test of body chemistry should come to replace these more valuable metrics.

Another important factor to consider is the ‘role model’ effect. If pro players implicitly endorse the recreational use of prescription drugs through their own use of them, it is likely that younger, or other vulnerable and impressionable sectors of the Magic-playing community, could come to see doping as an acceptable course of action for themselves as well. If, on the other hand, the Magic community universally condemns Adderall abuse, and overturns tournament results wherein the outcome was found to be the result of doping, then this sends a clear message to children playing the game that this behavior is inadvisable to imitate, which is in everyone’s clear interest.

These arguments apply equally to ‘Sharp Blue’

Conclusion

It should be remembered that the above discussion above does not concern valid, doctor-prescribed Adderall use (nor does it deal with issues in medical misdiagnoses or overprescribing). Also, it doesn’t address other reasonable concerns with inequalities in the game, regarding financial means for purchasing cards and travelling to tournaments, or inequalities in social resources, like coaching or teammates’ advice. What I have hopefully done today, however, is given a passable sketch of the philosophical cases both for and against doping in Magic, and given you the tools to make an informed choice of your own. Which, if you agree with my line of thought on these matters, means that you’ll stick to having a double espresso before your next PPTQ.

Yorke on Games #27 – Twenty-Seven Short Theses About Games

Today’s column is written in the tradition of “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould” and, derivatively, the more popularly-known Simpsons episode “22 Short Films About Springfield” (we’ve split the difference at 27). What follows is a collection of thematically related but stylistically diverse reflections on theoretical and practical issues about games: some of which I’ve touched on or hinted at previously, and some of which strike out in new directions. And, as a first for this column, there’s even a poll at the end.

image002

#1: Winning Is Not the Point of a Game
The point of a game is not simply to win. Your opponent contracts only to play you, not to let you win. Perhaps you play because you want to win, but without playing there is no winning, in the robust sense of the word. Thus, the point of a game is simply to provide an opportunity for play. Winning is epiphenomenal to play. In other words: play causes more play, and play causes wins, but wins do not cause play, nor more wins.

image003

#2: A Tournament without Opponents
Imagine a tournament wherein all of your opponents concede to you as soon as you sit down (let’s say that this is because you are known to have the bubonic plague, or another deadly and highly infectious disease). The tournament organizer (in her Hazmat suit) declares that you won the tournament, but you didn’t win by playing. Was that satisfying? Did you do what you intended to do when you set out for the tournament venue? Most people will say ‘no’. Let’s think about why we might have that response.

image004

#3: The Symphony Analogy
As Bernard Suits writes in his article ‘Aristotle on the Function of Man’, “a Beethoven symphony is not simply for the sake of getting to the final chord, for if it were then the orchestra could play the last chord to begin with and save everyone a lot of time.” (p. 31) The point of a symphony, in other words, is the enjoyment of the entire performance, not just the ending. Analogously, the point of a game is not just to win (although winning typically marks the terminus of a game), but to enjoy the process of getting there.

image006

#4: Games are Unscripted
Now obviously, games and performances are different in that performances are scripted: their endings are known well in advance, and that does not detract from their value. In fact, we praise musical performers for how well they stick to the score. Alternately, if the ending of a game is known well in advance, we would say that the game is ‘fixed’ or ‘rigged’, and it would detract greatly from its value. And its players would be blameworthy to the extent they stuck to the ‘script’.

#5: The Value of Spontaneity
What is admirable or otherwise valuable about games must, then, have some relation to the extent in which they are unscripted. The joy of surfing at least partially corresponds, for instance, with the unpredictable nature of the ocean and the variety of responses it demands from surfers in real time. If the beauty of play derives from its spontaneous nature, though, we must also consider a game like chess, where ‘spontaneity’ comes to mean something like ‘planned on the fly’, rather than ‘instinctive’. By extension from this position, it might be argued that life itself, if bound to a pre-planned routine, is less beautiful, and less valuable, than a playful life. Which seems intuitively correct.

image008

#6: Unscripting Life via Games
In Yorke on Games #13, I outlined how the decision-making mechanism of ‘flipism’ could be used to break down entrenched patterns of thought and behavior (‘flip the script’) and make one’s life more spontaneous. Basically, the idea of flipism is that when you’re confronted with a meaningful choice, you should simply assign one decision branch to ‘heads’ and the other to ‘tails’, and then choose between them based on the outcome of a coin flip mini-game. On the surface, though, it may seem that flipism is a disproof of my proposed relationship between spontaneity and beauty; some rather ugly moments can arise from the disjunction between one’s authentic desires and the dictates of a coin flip.

image010

#7: Flipism Is Actually a Form of Scripting
I would counter that flipism is not an expression of true spontaneity, but rather a principled adoption of means for randomizing decision outcomes. These two attitudinal outlooks are as different as freestyle dancing is from a randomly-generated Dadaist performance. Without the prop of a coin, the committed flipist is deprived of their script, and is existentially paralyzed. Additionally, since a coin flip is limited to binary [H/T or Y/N] decisions, it is far too simple a mechanism to adequately navigate the complex courses of action required in an average human life.

image012

#8: Diceism
A related position, ‘diceism’ (a toy philosophy roughly based on The Dice Man by George Cockcroft, under the pseudonym Luke Rhinehart), addresses this concern by advising that dice should be employed as a decision-making tool when making decisions which are more robust in terms of options (or to probabilistically weight binary decisions), the results of which one would rather keep arbitrary. The benefit is a fuller menu of possibilities (from 4 through 30 sides on a single die, or really any number at all with combinations of 10-sided dice), and the added functionality of favoring certain outcomes by assigning them multiple numbers (‘1’ could represent a disfavored outcome on a 6-sided die, while the rest of the numbers could be used to represent a strongly-favored outcome). This could be a promising line of ludic therapy for people who feel trapped by the weight of their own entrenched attitudes, behavioral patterns, or overly-strict life plans—a half-way house between a rigidly structured existence and a life of authentic spontaneity (wherein the existential crutch of dice-rolling could be discarded entirely).

image014

#9: The Dice Bar
In Tokyo’s Shibuya district, I went to a ‘Saikoro Izakaya’ where you pay a flat fee of $5 for a drink, but the specific drink you get is left up to the roll of two 10-sided dice (unlike the photo below, which gestures towards the idea but does not capture the complexity of the ordering event). Some of the drinks are listed as up to $100 on the regular menu, and others are as low as $1, though most hover around the $5 mark. For the majority of outcomes, you end up trying drinks you would never normally order—some disgusting and some sublime; some unknown and some unthinkable—and having fun with your friends in the process. This strikes me as a delightfully gamified commercial variation on diceism.

image015

#10: The Random Feeding Machine Thought Experiment
Most people, however, are wary about altering the fundamental patterns of their life in the manner which a philosophy like diceism demands. They would like to BOTH craft the menu of possible actions AND retain the autonomy of choosing items from it. Life, for the majority of us, would be more arbitrary and less meaningful if we lacked the power to (at least partially) design and choose our own experiential paths. Imagine if what, when, and how much food you ate was determined at random by a computer. You could, for example, be woken up at 3am and forced to eat 20 avocados. We can all agree a priori that enforced compliance with this random feeding machine would produce an absolutely miserable existence.

image017

#11: The Magic Circle
By contrast, the ‘magic circle’ of the game delimits a temporally and spatially restricted space wherein most people feel comfortable letting a little chaos seep in; they can momentarily let go of their ordinary concerns and constraints, and partake in imaginary freedoms. Sometimes, in the context of a game, we will let choices literally be made by the outcome of a dice roll or a coin flip. In other words, we (paradoxically) delimit a specific place and duration of time where we allow unplanned things to occur.

image018

#12: How Is a Joke Like a Game?
Peter McGraw’s ‘Benign Violation Theory’ of humor (pictured in Venn diagram form below) may give us some clue as to why Shibuya’s dice bar game is enjoyable, but the idea of a random feeding machine is horrific. McGraw says that something is funny only if it is both benign and a norm violation. So eating when you like is absolutely normal, and thus not funny. Being forced to eat when you don’t want to is torture, and thus not funny. But being dared by friends to drink the strange random beverage that you yourself paid for (but might not want to consume under any other circumstances) is funny: because it’s a benign violation.

image019

#13: Suits, In Three Pieces
Analogously to the diagram above, Bernard Suits’ concept of ‘game-playing’ occupies the overlapping area between the circles of ‘voluntary’ and ‘unnecessary obstacles’. Simply volunteering for the Red Cross, for instance, is not playing a game. And overcoming unnecessary obstacles that are placed in one’s path, without one’s choice in the matter—like trying to get to work the morning after a vandal flattened the tires of your car—isn’t a game either. But game-playing is the combination of these two elements: the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles. No one’s forcing you to play Mario, for instance, and you don’t need to jump on a Goomba outside the context of the game. What makes game-playing enjoyable is both the fact that we chose that particular set of obstacles, and that they have the potential to be too much for us to handle—defeat must be a live option.

image021

#14: Professional vs. Amateurs
Assuming we accept Suits’ definition of game-playing, we still have to contend with two dominant and conflicting attitudes towards play, both of which have different approaches to taking a loss: the ‘British Amateur Ideal’ [BAI] and the ‘American Professional Ideal’ [API]. According to BAI, game-play is for pleasure and demonstrating a well-rounded character, and thus one should be a good winner and a good loser to one’s opponents. Oppositely, adherents of API hold that the point of game-play is to win and to best one’s opponents, and thus being a bad winner and a bad loser are entirely appropriate. Part of the difference can be understood by looking at a factor that is outside of the game: the stakes. Stakes exist for a professional, but not typically for an amateur, and these greatly influence the way these two kinds of players view the game.

image022

#15: Winning Prizes is Not the Point of a Game
It should be obvious from Thesis #1 above that I heartily disagree with API. And if winning isn’t the point of playing a game, then winning prizes cannot be either. Suits agrees here: in his “Tricky Triad” article (1988), he suggests that professionals cannot be rightly said to ‘play’ games, because games are their vocation. It might be more accurate to say that professionals ‘work’ games. This is an example of the institution surrounding a game perverting that game’s original intent.

image023

#16: Five Magic Circles
As I’m committed to BAI, occasionally I try to organize amateur-friendly tournaments with no substantial prizes, so that players can enjoy the game in its purest form. An example of this was this summer’s ‘Magic Olympics’: for a full schedule of those events, you can read Yorke on Games #25 . The important detail for our discussion today was that of the five events, only two had prizes. Players attended the two prize-supported events (the day-long leagues), but nobody other than myself attended the other three non-prize-supported events (the ‘medals’ for those were mere slips of paper, as pictured below). I was the only one, for example, who submitted a card to the card design contest (my card, ‘Sigil of Chaos’—a riff on the Urza’s Destiny common ‘Sigil of Sleep’—illustrates Thesis #11 above). I was disappointed that people didn’t share my enthusiasm for the game as an amateur enterprise, absent the lure of prizes.

image025

#17: The Institution of Magic
I started thinking about the institution that surrounds the game of Magic, and I realized that as long as you’re playing for packs, it’s impossible to play as an amateur. This is because whenever you play at a shop, you’re playing for prizes, and this means that the focus of the games becomes winning those prizes, which means that most tournament Magic reduces to ‘working’ the game like a professional does, and not playing as an amateur. Because all of the people I’d met at my local shop became acquainted with me while we were playing tournaments in our API mode, it was decidedly unlikely that they would join my BAI-style tournaments, which were more like ‘kitchen table Magic’ than what they were accustomed to (or would claim to want).

image027

#18: Expected Value is Not Equivalent to Actual Value
More insidiously for the culture of the game, many Magic players typically rate tournaments in terms of their expected value [EV]. As my Magic Olympic events were very low in EV, having no prizes at all, they were unpopular with EV-calculating players. But while EV is a fine tool for making intra-game decisions—which are the best bets to make on a roulette table, for example—it is often inappropriate to use EV to make extra-game decisions, like who to marry, how often to visit one’s parents, or whether or not to take up a new hobby. This is because expectation is just that—expectation. It has nothing to do with the actual value [AV] of an object, event, or experience. Sometimes you go to a party that you think will be awful, and it turns out to be amazing; other times, you go to a party that you think will be great, and it turns out to be a waste of time. Those who guide their actions entirely on EV miss out on a lot of AV because they are afraid of investing their time in a risky proposition. But every proposition is risky: just ask your local actuary. That’s just how life works, and some of the most beautiful experiences, events, and objects are discovered completely by accident, giving you no time to waste calculating their EV in advance. Which brings me back to the subject of spontaneity.

image029

#19: Games as ‘Bounded Spontaneity’
While I stand by what I’ve said thus far, I want to slightly qualify my earlier unbounded praise for spontaneity. I’ll begin with an uncontroversial premise: that a fairly good indicator of one’s sanity is the predictability of one’s actions. We don’t trust people whose behavior is completely erratic; nor should we. This is why the Batman villain Two-Face comes across as a moral monster. We expect certain kinds of behavior from the people we know, because we believe that their behavior is somehow bound to a more or less stable base of character, and when that behavior deviates from the pattern we are familiar with we are instinctively suspicious. The same is true for games. We praise spontaneous play, but only insofar as it conforms to a ruleset which binds it within certain previously agreed upon set of parameters—i.e., the rules. Spontaneous cheating is still not morally praiseworthy, simply by virtue of its spontaneity. And the highest in-game praise is reserved for instances wherein spontaneity is channeled toward tactically or strategically advisable avenues of play. This is how gameplay differs, for example, from free jazz or performance art: activities wherein spontaneity may go largely unbounded.

image030

#20: Tournaments as ‘Bounded Games’
Now let me qualify my seeming praise for boundedness. As I’ve said above, the point of a game is to provide opportunities for play. To the extent that the institution surrounding a game limits those opportunities, that institution is corrupt and self-defeating. And so it goes with tournament structures, undeniably one of the chief organs of any game’s institution. Tournaments, as a way of binding together groups of matches, can occasionally (but not inevitably) damage or even destroy the games they were intended to service. Such was the case during the 2012 Olympic Games, which traditionally were a celebration of the amateur ethos in sports. The Chinese women’s badminton pairs team (among other teams who apparently followed their lead) was disqualified from the 2012 games for strategic concessions of exactly the kind that is commonplace in contemporary tournament Magic. They were considered to be partaking in a form of match fixing that was “detrimental to the sport”, which ran contrary to the spirit of the tournament (though perhaps not its rules as explicitly written).

#21: Repairing the Institution
Wizards’ Organized Play department has recently taken steps to change the rules of their tournaments—with specific reference to remedying the player ‘culture’ of Magic—such that intentional draws or concessions are no longer a strategically viable route to the Top 8 of their Pro Tour series. This will ensure that more matches of Magic are actually played instead of cynically manipulated for the sake of winning the tournament. Such change is highly laudable, at least from a BAI perspective, wherein it is understood that the point of a game is to play it.

#22: The Lifecycle of a Game
However, it could be argued that professionalization is simply part of the lifecycle of any game. The game is invented, then it is enjoyed and popularized by amateur enthusiasts, and finally it is perfected by professional players when the game reaches the point of having a stable institution. If a rules loophole or omission exists in a game or in a tournament structure at that point, then the pros should find it and exploit it, and doing so should not be perceived as morally offensive. The inevitability of such professionalization is the underlying theme of many articles written in defense of API.

#23: The Strange Case of Living Games
Where this neat picture breaks down, however, is in the instance of living games. Living games, as I define them here, are games with living rulesets—rules that are not ultimate, and can reasonably be expected to change periodically in the future, perhaps with no end to that process in sight. Magic is a living game in this sense: both the individual pieces and the comprehensive ruleset get regular overhauls. Does it even make sense to speak of an ‘institution’ with regard to such games? My initial thought is that is does, except that we need to be aware that such institutions are moving targets, rather than static entities, and understand that the set of ‘professional’ players of such games might be less stable as a result of these constant changes. We might need to make a distinction between ‘living’ and ‘dead’ game institutions and, accordingly, research the cultures of these two types of game institutions for their salient sociological differences.

image031

#24: Chess is Boring
Some games, like chess, have seemingly stable institutions, though various tournament rules or the criteria for awarding the title of ‘Grandmaster’ might shift slightly over time. However, there is not a lot of popular excitement for chess, in the manner that most professional sports and a few select eSports have captured the public’s attention and the vast majority of corporate sponsorship deals. Simply put, chess is a known quantity: it is ‘dead game’, when placed in contrast with living games, and all the institutional stability in the world can’t help us get excited about it.

image033

#25: Chess Expansion Packs
Now, imagine that I told you that every three months from today until eternity, my company WizardsoftheYorke™ would be releasing new chess pieces with novel sculpts and abilities. There would be chess pieces that could teleport, pieces that move according to their own algorithms, and pieces that could cast spells to reanimate other pieces or protect them from capture. In addition, you could play on larger or smaller boards, with specific rules relating to those board sizes, and read flavorful backstories that justified these expansions and alterations. I propose that if this were actually the case, that quite a few former players, and a good deal of new ones too, might become (re)interested in chess.

image035

#26: Bringing It All Back Home
Living games are a relatively new phenomenon, facilitated by the historically recent explosion of leisure time and increases in disposable income. They can expand to fill any amount of time allotted to them, and are thus a superior choice to dead games for those who have enough opportunities for leisure to appreciate their indefinitely-expanding scope. While the institutions of these living games are in a constant state of flux, this is superior to the traditional lifecycle of dead games, wherein amateur play is often squeezed out of the picture entirely by increasingly restrictive institutional pressures in favor of professional play. Amateur play in its ideal state can be parsed as a form of bounded spontaneity, taking place within the magic circle of a game, and expressing values of beauty, pleasurable immersion, and self-determination. The alternative, playing professionally for the sake of prizes, causes players to miss out on these amateur goods by placing an exclusive focus on winning.

image036

#27: The Poll at the End
I include here as the final thesis the assertion that an interactive column makes for a more immersive reading experience. As promised in my opener, here’s a chance for you to directly engage with the column, by helping to shape its future direction. I hope you’ll take a moment to fill out the following poll, either by clicking here or choosing the options below. Let’s play again soon!

image037

Yorke on Games #26 – Kaladesh League

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 [card]Punishment[/card] 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 [card]Punishment[/card] Pack.

[card]Punishment[/card] 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 [card]Timberpack Wolf[/card] 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!

Yorke on Games #18 – Why I Pissed Myself Playing Ms. Pac-Man

I come from a town
Where there’s
Nothing to do
Nothing, really
Nothing to do…
Build and relish games
We used to
Build and relish games
Nothing to do
Nothing, really
Nothing to do
– Preppy Relatives, “Cruising You”

In this article, I’m going to examine a series of rather embarrassing episodes from my childhood. Through various pain-filled failed attempts to establish a sense of identity and self-worth in my pre-adolescence, I arrived at video games as the best way I knew of to make a name for myself, by getting the initials ‘CCY’ in the best scores display of as many machines as possible. One day, I found my personal breaking point, after which my obsession with posting good results got tempered with a healthy dose of perspective. I hope that this confessional helps other compulsive gamers out there avoid similar outcomes, while still appreciating the value that healthy gaming practice can bring to one’s life.

Awkward Is as Awkward Does

I grew up in Five Islands, a small village of some 300 souls, although it seemed a lot smaller because there wasn’t much going on in terms of community events. It was a lonely, isolated existence, punctuated by lively family gatherings. There was no Internet in those days, and I couldn’t even call anyone in Economy (the neighboring village) from our bulky rotary landline phone without incurring prohibitive long distance charges. Too young to drive a car, I would have had to bicycle for at least four hours to get to the ‘big town’ of Truro. Furthering this sense of being cut off was the fact that I was a sensitive, introspective soul who didn’t fit in well with the rowdy country kids I grew up around. In the vernacular of the time, I was a ‘nerd’.

I tried out for team sports to help remedy my social situation. In my first real hockey game in front of spectators, when I was around 7 or 8, I remember getting cross-checked so hard that my head bounced off the ice. I just laid there on my back, sobbing, until my father came down from the stands and carried me out of the rink. I couldn’t face my teammates after that humiliation, so my hockey gear laid rotting in a garbage bag in our basement for years after the fact, a moldering reminder.

Later, when I was 10 or so, I tried baseball. All I remember is that I was assigned to play left field due to my lack of talent and interest in the game. When I got bored waiting for stray balls to come my way, I would actually sit on the ground rather than stand, and hum old rock n’ roll standards to amuse myself. I lost my place on the team when I was caught in the lotus position singing the Everly Brothers’ version of “Wake Up, Little Susie” instead of chasing a grounder (as I should have been doing).

The final nail in the coffin came when I was substituting for an absent player for my junior high school soccer team during one of their away games. At 12 and on the cusp of puberty, I put all of my efforts into proving myself on the field… and, amazingly, scored the goal that sealed the game. Unfortunately, it was on my own net. To quote Will Smith, in his previous incarnation as The Fresh Prince: “That was a hard ride home / I don’t know how I survived.”

From then on in my life (apart from a limited successful stint with intramural college volleyball much later), team sports were off my radar. As a loner from the sticks, this meant that my options for meaningful social interactions were extremely limited. It wasn’t long before I found myself killing time on the arcade games at Corbett’s General Store, the only actual store in my community, conveniently located directly across from my grandparent’s house. My destiny beckoned.

image003

Pity Party

Paul Corbett, the proprietor of Corbett’s General Store, always had one or two coin-op machines at a time in the back room of the shop. I guess I spent so much time back there that he started feeling bad for me or something, because he took an active interest in my case. I remember that he congratulated me when I rolled Solar-Warrior on a single quarter:

This, in itself, wasn’t a great accomplishment, because once you figured out the patterns of all the knock-off Star Wars villains and machines in Solar-Warrior, there was less than an hour of playable content under the hood. Everything moved fairly predictably, and the controls were extremely forgiving. But it was good value for twenty-five cents when there wasn’t much else around worth doing or seeing. Things changed substantially, though, when Paul acquired Capcom’s 1942:

After I’d gained basic competency in 1942, Paul started to offer me cash rewards for beating my previous high scores. He never turned off his machines, so high scores would be retained indefinitely. In the beginning, it was only a dollar or two, but soon he was giving me a bounty of $5 hard cash for each new high score. I would always play with good effort against my previous bests, but I remember thinking that it was illogical to push myself any harder than I had to. Just a few thousand points over the top score would win the prize and maximize the value of my burgeoning talent by allowing for an easier win the next time. So the game, really, was this: Do well, but not so well that I could never do better in the future. This life lesson in underachievement has stuck with me to this day.

Just like me, except with feathered hair, no glasses, better-looking, older, taller, with a nicer trailer
Just like me, except with feathered hair, no glasses, better-looking, older, taller, with a nicer trailer

Fantasies of Relevance

It’s difficult to explain to people of the 21st century what the culture of video arcades was like in the mid-80s. You generally gamed alone, if you were serious about it, but an outstanding performance could mean that a small crowd might gather, and all of a sudden you’d be playing in a feature match. The Last Starfighter scene in which Alex (the protagonist) rolls the fictional ‘Starfighter’ game is obviously exaggerated (animals didn’t generally flock to the scene, for example), but it captures a slice of some of the contemporary enthusiasm for the activity:

The Last Starfighter represented a fantasy trope that I could get on board with as a pre-teen. A trailer park kid with a go-nowhere life spends his free time obsessed with an activity generally perceived as worthless, but—Aha!—playing arcade games turns out to be an activity of ultimate value in the end, the activity that everything else actually depends on (in that the universe would have been destroyed if his abilities were not honed through gaming). Alex just needs to be discovered, recruited; and then his true worth and purpose as an individual is revealed to all.

I suppose that these images were in the back of my mind when I started travelling to neighboring towns—any arcade I could find bigger than Paul Corbett’s back room, really—and pitting myself against the best players (represented by their initials in the ‘High Score’ displays) that I could find. Oftentimes, these were covert missions. Slip in mid-afternoon, undetected, beat the score, and then flee the scene. Come back next week, and repeat if necessary. Other times, the arcades were full of patrons, and things got more interactive.

Unfortunately, it was one of those latter occasions wherein I found myself in the small town of Parrsboro, Nova Scotia, trying to beat a particularly resilient Ms. Pac-Man score. It was late evening, and I was about 13 years old. Old enough to start noticing girls. And to feel shame.

The Site of My Shame
The Site of My Shame

Man versus Machine

Ms. Pac-Man is not a cutesy game with a meager hour of content that you can roll and then get on with the rest of your life. It boasts 256 levels, each of which takes at least a couple of minutes to complete. But as I said before, there was no Internet then, so folks had no way to know this other than the testimony of other gamers (and there wasn’t a solid group of gamers gathering and sharing information in my area). So your average arcade player, including me, had no idea whether the game looped infinitely, or whether I was one screen away from beating the machine.

As it happened, I was well over an hour into a very promising session of Ms. Pac-Man when I became cognizant that I urgently needed to use the toilet. I was playing alone, but there were enough people around that I’m sure my toilet dance didn’t go completely unnoticed. What would Alex of The Last Starfighter fame do? Would he give up on the cusp of his grand victory and run to the washroom? Or would he just bite his lip and soldier through the experience, ignoring the mundanity of biological functions until after he had completed his historic mission?

I was at war with myself for a few more minutes. I was doing so well, better than ever before with this game, that it would have been a shame to terminate my performance when I was running so hot. At the same time, I’d reluctantly donated my game-in-progress to other arcade denizens in the past for pee breaks, and in turn benefitted from unused credits left behind by other anonymous benefactors; perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad to permit myself this indulgence. In the end, though, I decided: “No. Mind over matter. I’ll go to the bathroom when it’s convenient for me, and not a moment before. My body will have to fall in line.”

The wet warmth spreading over my thighs wasn’t long in coming, and with it the attendant relief of a deflated bladder… though this fleeting sense of animal well-being was quickly overridden by panic and cognitive dissonance. Suddenly, the relative insignificance of my in-game achievements were put in sharp contrast to the real world predicament I had put myself in. I’d thoroughly soaked my jeans, and if I was discovered, I’d be “that guy who pissed himself playing Ms. Pac-Man” forever.

I concluded that I would have to abort my great attempt at Ms. Pac-Man immediately regardless of my previous intentions, and then was struck by a feeling of absolute stupidity on top of the very dominant sense of shame. For, if both of my binary choices—‘continue playing’ or ‘stop playing’—each resulted in the same outcome, ‘stop playing’, then I had pissed my pants for literally nothing. Either way, I was heading for the toilet—either to relieve myself like an ordinary human, or to clean myself up for not behaving like an ordinary human.

It’s my firm belief that I managed to quickly slink out of the arcade before anyone could see or otherwise detect my folly. I walked back to the house I was staying at, muttering to myself, and threw my pants in the bathroom sink to soak. I vowed to myself that I would never again let games overcome the dictates of common sense. Until today, I hadn’t told anyone but close friends about that incident. Why would I?

The Point

I grant that the tale is unflattering. At least in “The Ballad of John Henry”, the hero of the song beats the machine before he dies. In my story, the machine beats me and I end up pissing all over myself. No one’s going to write a tune about that ignominious episode.

However, there are important themes in it which have overall relevance to the lives of many gamers, including those who find themselves drawn to tournament Magic in an effort to prove their skills or overcome a sense of isolation. They spend a lot of time engaged in activities which look pointless to those outside of the game, hoping to be vindicated by a big tournament win. They fight against daunting odds because not fighting means giving up; surrendering to the mundanity of a disenchanted life.

While I’m not here to valorize the act of soiling oneself, certainly there is something noble and heroic in fighting against limitations, whether these are machine-generated or organic (compare the futility in attempting to roll Ms. Pac-Man against the futility of trying to resist your natural urge to urinate; or the double futility of trying both simultaneously). However, there is also something quixotic about quests to achieve the impossible: you have to know where to draw the line, or you risk losing yourself. Setting limits for oneself that aren’t worth fighting against, which are there to protect you, unfortunately requires the kind of knowledge and perspective that young people ordinarily lack.

On the other hand, there is undeniable value in trying to organize a life which lacks meaning on other axes around an aesthetically pleasant experience, contemporarily known from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as ‘flow’ (a word with admittedly unfortunate connotations in our present discourse). Through flow, players transcend the ordinary and discover something new in the world, and in themselves. This state of total engagement is one that both gamers and sports players alike share.

Unlike sports, though, new games bring with them an additional process of discovery, in figuring out how the rules operate, and what the parameters of experience are within that framework. It was that feeling, that I could uncover a piece of the unknown, along with the flow of immersive play, which kept me standing at the arcade console much longer than I, as a responsible citizen, should have. Perhaps that’s also the reason that I keep tinkering with decklists long after the best combinations in the format have been discovered and published all over the web: maybe this time, I’ll be one who finds the right mix of cards to break the metagame wide open. Or leave a GP with a big wet patch on my slacks. You never know.

Games are a technology for producing experiences and developing talents that simply would not exist without them. For people like my younger self, who feel that regular sports are like war—equal parts boredom and brutality—games offer the most reliable and accessible sources of achievement, wonder, and feelings of self-worth. If there were more and better games and gaming communities available to me in my youth, I probably wouldn’t have been so hard on myself for being awful at sports, and thus probably wouldn’t have overcompensated by engaging in endlessly repetitive primitive electronic entertainments, legs all a-twitch. It’s a brave new world, and I’m grateful for the new possibilities and wary of the pitfalls that are open to this generation of misfits.

Yorke on Games #25 – Aristotle, Virtue, and the Magic Olympics

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had a very simple and compelling theory about moral goodness: doing good things makes us good people. He writes that “it is our actions that determine our dispositions” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book 2, p. 57); and further, “a man becomes just by the performance of just, and temperate by the performance of temperate, actions” (p. 62). It is an exercise model of virtue (p. 55): the more good deeds that we do in the world, the more virtuous we will become.

In this article, I will show that the games we play, by their reinforcement of certain patterns of behavior, have the potential to become Aristotelian exercise machines, making us morally better as we play them. It is only a matter of isolating the values that we want to promote, and seizing the autonomy to (re)design games which bring out those values in the course of playing them. Using Magic as a sample game for this discussion, I designed the ‘Magic Olympics’, a series of interconnected tournaments which will take place between August 21st-28th (inclusive) at the Face to Face Games store in Montreal, to demonstrate the point. The flavor of each of the five events correspond to the values expressed on the game’s ‘color wheel’.

The Values of Magic
The Values of Magic

What follows is (1) a little philosophy, (2) a little introspection, and (3) a schedule of events for the upcoming Magic Olympics.

A Little Philosophy: What Do Games Make Us Do?

To isolate the virtues and vices inherent in any particular game, you need to stop and think about what actions that game compels you to do: what behavior it elicits and reinforces via its rules, with special consideration given to the influence of the institutions that support and promote it, and the culture that hosts and surrounds it. Self-awareness and reflection is key here, as game behavior can quickly become internalized and be performed unconsciously.

This introspection is of particular importance and urgency, given that some unscrupulous game designers and game publishers may have more of an interest in selling more copies of their titles or in-game upgrades than the mental, spiritual, or physical wellbeing of their players. The ‘Skinner Box’ style of games that seduce their players into meaningless repetitive actions (and, ultimately, repetitive purchases: see Farmville or Mafia Wars for instance) are incredibly popular due to easily-accessible carriers like Facebook, and are therefore profitable and attractive for game producers to make. Unhappily, they turn their players into mouse-clicking duds with no opportunity for robust moral agency.

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Click Here
Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Click Here

Returning to the example of Magic, let’s consider what kinds of behavior (and thus, according to Aristotle, character) this game typically produces in its player base:

  • Collecting: An enfranchised Magic player’s house will often look like an episode of Hoarders.
  • Deck-Building: The point of collecting cards is to have the resources to build a deck to play.
  • Competing: Players often equate wins to social status, as well as a means for collecting cards.
  • Grousing: When the collecting or competing activities don’t go as well as expected or planned.

Those are the main species of actions I’ve observed in my own behavior, and in my interactions with other Magic players. But how can we tell whether those behaviors are desirable or undesirable; whether they will produce virtues or vices in our characters? Once again, Aristotle has the answer.

Aristotle wrote of a ‘Golden Mean’ with regard to virtue. He theorized that virtuous behavior is situated between two vices, one of which is a lack of the virtue, and the other of which is an excess of it. We can see this point clearly via the analogy of strength, which “is destroyed by too much and also by too little exercise” (p. 58).

Collecting and competing might be considered candidates for virtues on this model, as we can see positive aspects of them—there wouldn’t be libraries or museums without the practice of collecting, for instance—and we can also intelligibly identify their accompanying vices:

Profligacy (not enough collecting) >> Collecting << Hoarding (too much collecting)

Trifling (not competitive enough) >> Competing << Bellicosity (too competitive)

Viewing collecting and competing as virtue-building ‘Golden Mean’ activities makes sense. With reference to collecting: throwing away all of your cards would be wasteful and silly; while keeping all of your extra cards would be greedy and obsessive. Similarly, with competing: not taking the game seriously is immoral because you’re effectively wasting your opponent’s time; but taking it too seriously, to the point that you disrespect your opponent for the sake of a win, is equally despicable. For pattern completionists, we could do a similar (though less elegant) analysis with ‘strategic preparation’ as the activity which best captures what occurs in the process of deck-building. I’ll refrain, however, for the sake of clarity and time.

Grousing (also known as ‘griefing’ or ‘getting salty’), on the other hand, is clearly not a candidate for being a virtue. This is because there is no such thing as ‘not enough’ grousing—no one’s asking for more, and in fact any amount of grousing is too much. The Stoics, Aristotle’s immediate intellectual descendants, got things right in this regard: emotional detachment is the correct response to factors outside of your control (this includes, but is not limited to, the revealed contents of any particular booster pack, or the result of any match in a high-variance game like Magic).

Snoopy telling Charlie Brown how he ‘should have won’
Snoopy telling Charlie Brown how he ‘should have won’

A Little Introspection: Why Am I Writing About This?

Recently in this column (specifically in Yorke on Games #18-#21), I’ve been focusing on describing what’s wrong with games and player behavior, instead of encouraging what’s right. For balance, I needed to examine what virtues could be unlocked through gaming, rather than nitpick the vices that are sometimes exhibited. I needed a ‘Gallant’ to counterpoise the kinds of ‘Goofus’ I was describing, but without being cloying or overly didactic. The trick was to provide an aspirational model, rather than merely condemn without offering alternatives.

Goofus quits in a huff when he has to mull to 5; Gallant calmly reshuffles his deck and hopes for the nuts draw
Goofus quits in a huff when he has to mull to 5; Gallant calmly reshuffles his deck and hopes for the nuts draw

I had a bit of a breakthrough when I converted “Magic in Utopia” (the topic of Yorke on Games #6: see http://manadeprived.com/yorke-on-games-6-magic-in-utopia/ ) into an academic article for my PhD supervisors to give me feedback on. They suggested that I submit it to the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport conference, and enter it in the contest for their essay prize. Recently, I was informed that I’d won the only prize (called the R. Scott Kretchmar Student Essay Award, in case you’d like to apply for it next year), and free airfare to present my work at the world’s biggest conference on the philosophy of sport. So this September, I’ll be an invited speaker at the IAPS conference in Olympia, Greece: the site of the ancient Olympics! It’s the academic equivalent to winning a blue envelope.

This set my mind racing to the actual Olympics, and how there are ‘Olympic Values’ which serve as a guide to sportsmanlike conduct. What if there were an Olympics wherein the values didn’t (only) serve as constraints on behavior, but where the choice of games themselves generated the desired behavior? What would this utopian Olympics look like?

In the past, most games developed organically over time, with little or no attention paid to the underlying values they expressed. Sportsmanship is essentially a ‘patch’ for these flawed games, whose rules implicitly (and sometime explicitly) permitted or even encouraged bad behavior. Ideally, utopian games would be consciously designed so that being successful at them would require the possession of a certain set of excellences or virtues: sportsmanship would be built into the event, rather than being added on as an afterthought.

In the course of pursuing these ideas, I soon became aware that the next actual Olympic Games would be held in Rio de Janeiro from August 5th-21st of this year. The end date for Rio 2016—August 21st—is the same day I’m organizing the Eldritch Moon One-Day League at Face to Face Games. It’s a figurative passing of the torch.

Sadly, Booster Draft Isn’t an Official Olympic Sport Yet…
Sadly, Booster Draft Isn’t an Official Olympic Sport Yet…

I’d been kicking around the idea for a Magic Olympics or similar series of events for a while, but never quite knew when would be a good time to implement it. Recalling that I was also organizing the Conspiracy: Take the Crown league on the next weekend, August 28th, it clicked. What if, throughout the week between these two events, we had a few other tournaments, which tested other skills, and brought these together under the banner of the ‘Magic Olympics’?

…You’ll Have to Wait Until August
…You’ll Have to Wait Until August

This would give me a chance to try out my idea of a tournament that linked abstract virtues to actual gameplay, before I gave my presentation at the philosophy conference in Olympia. It would connect my two one-day all-you-can-play league events together in a larger framework, and capitalize on the excitement generated by Rio 2016. All the stars were lined up to make the Magic Olympics a reality.

The Magic Olympics: Schedule of Events

As I mentioned previously, participants in the Olympic Games are expected to embody ‘Olympic Values’, such as the pursuit of excellence, fair play, and the balance between mind, body, and character. Some of these have to do with the self, some with one’s performance on the field of play, and some with the relationship between the athlete and his or her community. In this tournament series, I turned this idea on its head and had each event represent the core value of the colors from the Magic color wheel. To succeed at each event, you must internalize the core values of each different color. For instance:

image014

Roughly speaking, these Magic Olympic values can be translated into the more general virtues of having respect for others in one’s community, challenging oneself intellectually, playing excellently, taking joy in one’s efforts, and growing creatively. These are the most positive elements of our game, and what ought to be celebrated more often and more explicitly at tournaments of all levels. By exercising autonomy in our design and choice of formats, it is my belief that we can help shape positive player behaviors in these directions, and therefore transform our gaming communities for the better.

The full schedule of events below demonstrates how I’ve mapped these core values to the various events:

image016

As in the regular Olympics, in each event players are playing for various types of medals / metals (these will be represented as certificates in the Magic Olympics):

Gold = 3 points
Silver = 2 points
Bronze = 1 point

Points will also carry over from each event into the overall Olympic tournament, and at the end of August 28th we will tally all of the points and name the overall Gold, Silver, and Bronze champions. The two main tentpole events, the one-day leagues, will have prize support from Face to Face Games, while the three minor events (including the Card Creation Contest) will not. However, the winners of the series will have bragging rights, and the experience of having played in an absolutely unique tournament. If all goes well, maybe next year it will get support from the store. Let’s play and see!

For those readers who are intrigued, and wish to take part in the Magic Olympics, I will quickly go through the rules for each event:

1. Eldritch Moon One-Day All-You-Can-Play League (Sealed): 10am August 21 [$25]

There is an entire article devoted to the rules and strategy of this event. See Yorke on Games #23 for details:
http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-23-go-mad-eldritch-moon-one-day-can-play-league/

2. Bachelor’s Format (Constructed): 6pm August 24 [FREE]

Bachelor’s Format is, quite simply, a constructed format wherein the legal cardpool consists of the last 12 sets that were released in Standard. For the tournament on August 24th, that will include EMN-SOI, OGW-BFZ, ORI-DTK, FRF-KTK, M15-JOU, and BNG-THS. This format is largely untested, so it will be interesting to see what players bring to the table in terms of decklists. For ease of reference, I’ve set the parameters on Gatherer to fit Bachelor’s Format: click here.

3. Secret Santa Draft (Constructed Booster Draft): 6pm August 25 [FREE]

The Secret Santa Draft, on the other hand, has seen action before at the shop and it’s a ton of fun. Players design their own boosters from their own collection of cards, wrap them in tin foil, mix them up, and draft them. The only restrictions on building packs are based on rarity (1 rare or mythic, 3 uncommon, 11 common cards) and color balance (must contain at least 2 cards of each of the five colors). There is an entire article devoted to the rules and strategy of this event. See Yorke on Games #11 for details:
http://manadeprived.com/yorke-on-games-11-the-secret-santa-draft/

4. Create a Custom Card (Contest): opens today, closes August 14th, results August 28 [FREE]

A recurring feature of this column is the introduction of custom cards. Primarily, I love tinkering with Magic formats, but designing new cards is a close second. Well, now I’d like to see what the ManaDeprived readership is capable of creating. Here’s how to participate:

a) Go to this site: http://www.mtgcardmaker.com/
b) Design a new card.
c) Save the card image to your computer.
d) Attach the card image to an email, and send it to christopher.yorke@gmail.com with the heading “Custom Card Contest” by August 14th, 2016 (limit of one card per competitor).

‘Fuse’ is so much catchier than ‘Meld’, right?
‘Fuse’ is so much catchier than ‘Meld’, right?

Once all submissions are received, they will be reviewed for originality (anything copied from MTGSalvation, for example, will be disqualified). The remaining cards will be anonymously posted in an upcoming Yorke on Games, where the public will have a chance to vote online on their favorites. The cards with the Top 3 number of votes will have their creators’ identities revealed, and they will be awarded the Gold, Silver, and Bronze certificates for this event in the Magic Olympics closing ceremony on August 28th.

5. Conspiracy Take the Crown One-Day All-You-Can-Play League (MegaDraft): 10am August 28 [$30]

There is an entire article devoted to the rules and strategy of this event. See Yorke on Games #24 for details:
http://manadeprived.com/yorke-games-24-watch-back-conspiracy-2-one-day-can-play-league/

Conclusion: Play Better, Get Better

As I’ve implied above, I think that Magic can be a ‘good’ game in all senses of the word—well-designed, morally defensible, and capable of producing positive player experiences—and therefore that playing it can help make us better people, along Aristotelian lines. But the cards themselves are simply pieces; they are atomic ideas that can either be used in ways that have been prescribed by their publisher, or reconfigured into new forms to create what Bernard Suits called “games unthought of today”: utopian games, which make better people of their players. We cannot be afraid to try out new combinations of these pieces—combinations unintended and unanticipated by their designers—and seeing what comes of our creative enterprises. I hope you’ll join me, and challenge yourself and the other participants in the Magic Olympics, this August 21st-28th. The exercise of wrapping your head around multiple new formats and seeing how you fare will pay off in dividends unknown to those who stick to the well-trodden path of Standard—Modern—Draft, week in and week out. Come play, and feel the results for yourself!