Data and Games

I play a trading card game called Magic: The Gathering. You’ve probably heard of it in some way or another. It is complex, deep, and rewarding on many levels, while playing and beyond the game itself.

My thoughts on this might cover some of this stuff in greater detail in the future, but let me say that games with large competitive scenes run on data. Match-ups, top strategies, metagame shares, new decks, rogue one-off decks, shifts in the metagame–all of that is observable through data, if you can find it and sift through it. Having raw data allows you to actually paint a picture of what the game is actually doing in a given format.

Wizards of the Coast, however, doesn’t believe this. A lot of their reasoning is that too much data reinforces pre-conceived notions, which, okay sure. But after greatly restricting decklist information from online events, the Standard metagame coalesced around two decks and their third-tier counterplays. Which informed players intuited, and then had confirmed when cards from said decks were banned with data backing up their assertions.

I don’t think less data makes a better game. Less data in these situations just makes you look stupid when you try to spin your actions.

As always, let me know what you think in the comments.

(I might try writing more on this at a later date, with more links and other information, so you’ll just have to let this sit for a bit.)

2 thoughts on “Data and Games

  1. (without diving too far into the weeds on the topic of Magic the Gathering and it’s Standard format…)

    I was listening to a lecture by the lead designer of Civilization 6- a thing he said, to paraphrase, is that too often 4X games are only fun while you’re learning them. Once the optimal path(s) to victory are known, player boredom sets in. The player is no longer getting the “sugar” of learning the game or experiencing new history-spanning alternate historical narratives, just minor variations of the same path over again.

    Playing and watching the game online allow players to play/spectate many, many more matches than if they had to drive to events. The advent of streaming allows any player, not just enfranchised ones with dedicated groups to “test” with like the pros, to quickly study up on the metagame and listen to top level commentary about possible lines of play, while they can see the boardstate as plain as if they were in the chair. No matter how even the power level you tried to print Standard sets at, the pool is large enough that there are going to be a handful of cards and lines of play that are statistically better.

    According to this line of reasoning, and the move to all “large” sets, perhaps the solution is to promote Set Constructed over Standard as the entry level format- to foster more regular shakeups in the metagame, more opportunities to have the fun of learning, and to feature more cards; but there are a lot of reasons this wouldn’t work well in the Magic community.

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    1. I think Wizards was simply in an unwinnable situation, caught between poorly designed sets and cards, and a player base that had already sussed out the winning strategies. Restricting data didn’t make that situation go away, it just allowed Wizards to obscure what people could intuit from what was being presented to them.

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