Dreaming of Happy Draws
Warning: This article contains little strategic value for the advanced competitive player.
In the fall of 2000, I drove through the night to my parents' house to visit for Thanksgiving. Arriving on Thanksgiving morning, I decided to take a nap. My mother comes to wake me up for Thanksgiving dinner, and while I began to wake up I was simultaneously conscious and dreaming, which is why I can remember the latter part of this dream.
It was an odd dream since there was very little visually, and my dreams are almost strictly pictorial. Not odd for me, my dream was from the first person but I was not myself. In this case I was a deck of Magic cards, except that it wasn't a deck. It was an abstract system. And it did not include cards, only abstract components which could not be described individually. None had any significance alone.
When my mother told me it was time to go upstairs, I was going to explain to her that I'd be up as soon as the artifact-based, mana-producing combo centered in my legs began functioning fully, but I had to wait for the untap step so a small, catalystic component would be available to re-ignite the process. Not fully aware of reality, I was also lacking in eloquence, and she couldn't understand what I was trying to say. She asked me to repeat, but just then I snapped back into reality and realized I had better shut up before my mother becomes even further convinced that I'm addicted to Magic.
So now you think I'm a lunatic. Maybe you're right, but the fact that I have very strange dreams isn't the point of this article.
When retelling this story to a friend, I commented on how strange it was that it wasn't even a deck. What a weird way to think of a deck! And how did I know that's what it was, anyway?
A day or two later, I started thinking about that silly way of visualizing a deck, and realized it's not entirely wrong. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had been wrong. Prior to this, I always saw a deck as a pile of cards. Deck X was defined solely by the 60 component cards. The more I thought about it, the more I began to theorize. I came to the conclusion that it isn't the 60 cards that defines the deck, but instead the interactions between those cards. It wasn't a pile of cards any more, it's a system; a machine if you will. I started doing something really strange. I would lay out all the cards of a deck face-up, and try to see the deck as a whole, not considering the individual cards. Then I would make a change, and see the new whole. Previous to this I had compared the card I was considering removing with the one I was going to replace it with. Sure, I would think about interactions a little, but I didn't really ever see the big picture.
What about interactions with your opponents' cards? Sure there is something to be said for pure utility, synergy aside! I knew this to be true, both logically and intuitively, but how was I to reconcile this with my new understanding?
The answer came fairly quickly and it was simple. The deck itself isn't the system of interest, it was the combination of the two decks that formed a larger system that was the concern. Concentrating solely on the inter-workings of a deck is folly, for an absolute answer to which play and which card choice is correct one can only look at the system known as the matchup. The idea of two systems coming together to form one larger one was fairly easy for me, as I was a physics major at the time. The matchup is a closed system, comprised of two closed systems.
Magic strategy had always been about guessing for me, but I wanted my educated guesses to be better. I longed for a deductive path where I could see objectively which decisions were correct. I began trying to apply my new concepts to strategic thought. I soon realized that guessing would have to continue, as deductive reasoning through millions of possibilities simply takes too long. I still had hope, though, since knowing what made a decision correct and where the balances must be struck should give me insight and make my guesses more educated.
It was about this time that I saw a Magic site was accepting unsolicited submissions. I stayed up one night, and began organizing my thoughts. I found it more difficult that I expected, since every time I wrote something, something else seemed to pop into my head. I also began to see places where my theories were lacking, or simply incorrect due to things I hadn't considered.
I submitted it anyway. The site never responded. I made a revision or two, as things kept jumping into my head. I submitted it to another site. No response. Finally I submit it to MagicAddict.com, who gleefully accepts it, but they won't post it because the Greek letter Sigma (which was a part of some of the equations I used, used to mean "sum of all") doesn't quite fit into HTML.
What I had come up with was the Happy Draw model of deckbuilding, so named because it intended to maximize a deck's potential to have Happy Draws (drawing the most helpful cards in the given situation) given a particular field of competitors. I've included that article at the end of this one, for humor purposes.
Several months have passed since then, and I decided to give it another shot. This time, I've realized one key thing, though. Simplicity is of the utmost importance when speaking in generalities. So here are the general tenets of the Turpish School:
1) All gameplay decisions can be broken into binary (yes or no) questions. If you don't see it email me at EmpSchao@aol.com and I will try to explain it. This is done for simplicity of explanation.
2) To determine the value of making a particular decision during gameplay: take the probability that you will have a favorable outcome if your answer is yes, minus the probability that you will win if the answer is no. Compare that difference to the values of all mutually-exclusive decisions that could be made, and answer yes to the one with the highest value. This is more difficult than it sounds, because for the complete thought process one must consider every bit of information one has at one's disposal, including each of the 60 cards in your deck, what zone they are in, any of the opponent's cards that have been revealed to you and their zones, life totals, etc. There is also extrapolation to be done about information not granted, such as the identity of the unrevealed cards in your opponent's library and/or hand. Favorable outcome typically means winning, but if you've won the first game and in the second game there is an Opalescence in play with no other creatures, playing a Dance of Many (to cause the game to draw) is favorable since it causes you to win the match.
3) When considering an individual card, consider what options it grants you in what situations. For instance, Call of the Herd grants me the option to play it if it is in my hand and I have 2G available, as well as granting me the option to flash it back if it is in my graveyard and I have 3G available. Then consider every situation possible in a given matchup. At this point you should see why I say guessing is still necessary. For each situation, how likely is that situation to come up? Do you have an option due to Call of the Herd in that situation? If so, what is the value of the decision it is facing you with? You can compile the answers to these questions to see how useful Call of the Herd is in the average situation in this matchup. Consider how changing that card to another will affect the usefulness of other cards in your deck in this matchup. With these considerations you can see which cards are useful in this context and which are not.
4) How likely is this matchup to occur, in other words how many people are playing that deck? What are your odds of winning? Trying to keep the highest average odds of winning based on the entire fields is admirable, but also consider that the standard deviation is a consideration. Being able to brutally massacre 60% of the decks in the field while folding to the other 40% is a bad plan, since two losses will usually keep you out of the top 8. It would be much better to have 60% odds of beating every deck in the field.
5) Compiling 3 and 4, consider the alteration of a card choice for each matchup, then weight the value of that alteration in a given matchup by that matchup's probability of occurring, compile it to see the value of altering that card choice in the overall field.
And that is how I tune decks. Doggone it! I forgot about the sideboard again. Well, it's the same basic process, so I won't insult your intelligence by getting into it now.
Lucky Draw Magic
There is no need to shuffle your deck before the game begins. Players begin the game with no cards in hand. Instead of having a natural draw, that is the draw that occurs as a result of the game rules during your draw step, you have a natural Demonic Tutor. This means that at the beginning of your draw step, instead of drawing a card, you search your library for a card and put that card into your hand, then shuffle your library. If you do not put a card into your hand this way (usually because there are no cards left in your library) you lose the game.
Deckbuilding is considerably different, too. Instead of having a minimum deck size, there is a maximum. You don't want people to come with a shoebox full of cards and claim it to be their deck. The maximum is not necessarily a number of cards though. Let me explain.
The typical restriction of cards, that one may not have more than one copy of a card in one's deck, is not very helpful in this format since your chances of getting that card into your hand are still fairly high. Instead, when the play group feels a card is too strong, they increase its point value. Every card not restricted as a result of its power has a point value of 1, even basic land. Then you total the point values of all of the cards in your deck. This total may not exceed 100.
No sideboarding, that would get ridiculous.
This is a major break from your typical Magic experience. For one, luck is significantly reduced. Mana screw is optional, unless your opponent's strategy is to encourage it (e.g. land destruction decks). Strategies that would never work in a normal game are just fine here and vice versa. Mana curves tend to be tighter, and keeping the contents of your deck secret is more important. If I think you'll be playing a white weenie deck I may include a single Anarchy in my deck and simply choose not to draw it against my other opponents.
Overall, I'd say it's a great format. If you prefer constructed over limited I think you'll like this one.
May you find what you seek.
Addendum: Happy Draw
Happy Draw - by JohnB Turpish
IV. Card Choices
V. Making card choices for one's deck based on Happy
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