Sunday, 25 October 2015

MTGO: Lions, jackals and wildebeest

The classic nineteenth century view of the African savannah was this:

The lordly lion, King of the Beasts, makes a kill on a hapless wildebeest. Jackals, vultures and hyenas slope towards the feasting big cat and watch from a safe distance until he's done and it's safe from them to wrangle over the leftovers.

But that's not usually how it works.

You see lions are both powerful and lazy and quite often jackals or hyenas will make a kill, the lion will smell it, saunter over and - because the other animals won't fuck with a lion - settle down for a nice lunch, the smaller predators watching from a safe distance until the big cat is done.

Magic players were categorised in a classic Mark Rosewater article into 3 types: Timmy, Johnny and Spike. For this analysis we're looking at Spikes. Lions are the competent successful Spikes and Jackals are the Spikes who are just starting out or who have simply plateaued where they're doing all they can to optimise but just aren't that good.

Magic is a hugely successful competitive game. It's a zero sum game, in fact worse than zero sum because the house takes a cut. In order for someone to have a 64% win rate like me there needs on average to be someone who's happy with a 36% win rate or two people happy with 43% win rates.

The game has appeal though to other types of player than the min/maxing optimiser and that's what keeps it successful, those people and the enjoyment they get from the game are so important to its success.

If Magic were only for optimisers it would enter a death spiral of the worst players leaving because they have terrible win rate and subsidise everyone else, then the next worst tranch of players becoming the new bads because the pool quality went up and the players they used to feast on all left, etc.

So unless Magic enters a death spiral (which it's certainly not doing now, it's growing) there will always be Timmys and Johnnys, the wildebeest for the game's predators to feast on.

An inferior predator like a starting out Spike or an African jackal needs to hunt the prey without having top predators in the vicinity.

A Jackal needs to ask what do Lions like?

Lions like good EV and fast turnover. The Standard Contructed Daily tournaments offer good payout, have the payout slanted to the top so it particularly favours winners over losers and are 4 games. The 8 player Single Elimination format probably beats Leagues for these players. A 70% win rate player makes $4.16 from an 8 player Single Elimination event or $4.59 from a League. On average he will play 2.16 games per Single Elimination event, he will always play the full 5 games in a League. So for this player he makes about the same profit in under half the time.


2 player matches are so flexible that anyone might play them and I've read that the good players will play these while simultaneously playing the more significant events. But they may be wildebeest country, I'm not sure.

So that's my surface impression, my educated guess, about how the event demographics work and where it might be easiest to break into the daunting world of competitive online Magic.

Go gentle, there be Lions out there!

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