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Subject: Where's the skill at? rss

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Scott
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Well I've played Magic several times now with some pre-built decks and I'm wondering when the skill comes in. It seems like there is a lot of just waiting around to see who plays the powerful combo first-luck of the draw.

Now I'm not trying to provoke any arguments here but when does the strategy come in? Many people comment on the depth of this game but I'm not sure I see it. Does the depth and skill mostly come in when you start building decks? Because it seems to me that if you have to evenly matched decks duking it out that it's an almost entirely luck-based game.

Please enlighten me because I really love the theme and this game seems to have great potential.

*****Please note: I'm not trying to be rude or insulting about this game at all. I'm just trying to learn more about it.

Thanks
 
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Patrick Korner
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Well, the easy answer is that the skill comes in building your own deck instead of playing with preconstructs. But there's more to it. As a reformed Magic junkie, I'll try and explain:

- There are two distinct skill sets that MtG requires. The first is deckbuilding skill, the second is play skill.

- Deckbuilding means putting together a set of 60 cards minimum, with enough land to make it run, that has a cohesive 'path to victory' that is reliable and consistent enough to come to fruition on a regular basis. That path can be one of many different possibilities, but the trick is in deciding which cards complement each other well (this is known as synergy), which cards are flexible enough to be useful in various situations, and the number of times (no more than 4) each needs to be present to be drawn often enough to make a difference.
(Note that since the advent of the 'net and the plethora of competitive decklists now available, many lament deckbuilding as a bit of a lost art).

- Play skill means knowing what to do in a given situation. Blindly playing everything in your hand leads to ruin most of the time. Picking your spots, laying traps, making use of the rules to get the most out of your cards and combos, mind games, all of it comes together to make the same deck a very different weapon in different hands. There are some decks out there (typically the World Champion ones) that are very complex and require a lot of skill to play correctly. In other words, even though you've got the same pile of cards that a top MtG player did, you'll have a harder time making it run than he did.

If you're interested in more, I'd recommend checking out places like www.starcitygames.com. BGG tends to have little CCG debate since it's not intended as a CCG forum.

pk
 
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Dave Kudzma
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There will always be luck of the draw, but there are many cards that can turn that around i.e. by letting you search for specific cards, triggering when a certain card type/race is played etc.

I will say that skill is definately in the deck building. Using multiple copies of cards you want to draw increases your chances of doing so, and having cards that work together (have synergy) is one of the most imprtant aspects of Magic.

You will have games that luck of the draw, for better or worse, dominated the game, but the majority of the time the game will be won by they who's deck is the most efficient, and has the most flow/synergy.

On a side note, there are cards and abilities of cards that allow your to get more mana, get cards into play cheaper and/or free, or reuse cards.

Take time out on magicthegathering.com under the gatherer section. The more you know about the different cards, the more you know about the game, and the easier it will be to make more flexible and versitile decks.
 
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Eliot Hemingway
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I agree with the previous posters. The skill is first and foremost in deckbuilding, followed by the skill of figuring out the best play for each moment. The latter requires knowing what the threats from your opponent's deck you are likely to face, and the answers or counter-threats that your deck can produce. For decks that use "tutor" cards (cards that can search your deck for a card and put it in your hand, with various restrictions and/or costs), the skill element is especially key.

But in my opinion, the best way to play the game is called Booster Draft. If you don't know it, look it up sometime. The basics are that each player opens a pack, takes a card, then passes that pack on and takes another card from the pack they get passed, and so on until each pack is depleted. Do this three more times, then build a 40-card deck out of the cards that you drafted. The format does have luck, as does any card game, but you simply cannot win without skill. It typically costs a flat $15 to enter a booster draft turny, so the money that any one player pumps into the game doesn't effect the outcome. Plus you get to keep the cards you draft, and it's quite possible to get lucky and pull a rare that'll single-handedly pay your entry fee (though not guarentee victory!).
 
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Scott Russell
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I always thought it would be fun to have a tournament where each person builds a deck, then randomly decides who plays with what deck. There would be a prize for the winner and the person that built the winning deck.
 
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Mike Giro
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Yeah definitely mostly in the deck building. A well constructed deck will absolutely maul a thrown-together or starter deck with precision and speed, even with bad draws. Best Magic players will often win drafting/sealed deck tournaments. Where as richest kid on the block often wins preconstructed tourneys. My opinion.
 
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Steve Hope
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There's a lot of skill in deckbuilding.

There's also a TON of skill in the play of the game. If you think the game is luck-based, you may not be playing with people who are exposing you to better play. I'd recommend either:

1. Entering a sealed-deck tournament at your local game store or

2. Trying out Magic: Online.

Either one will likely expose you to high-level play, and by asking questions of the other players you're likely to start developing an understanding of the niceties of the game.

Once you've gotten a basic understanding of the game, one low-cost way to play with your friends is to have a league of some kind where you buy (say) $50 worth of cards to share between 4-6 people and each person builds a deck or two with it. You can play for ante and keep score, then after one person wins a certain number of matches, you can throw all the cards in a pool and start again.
 
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Jason Mackay
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I disagree that the skill is in the deck building.

There is a HEAP of skill required in the playing of the game. Otherwise any kid with the lastest NetDeck* would win the tourny's. But time and again it's the experienced, skilled, players that win. (Much like how there's tonnes of luck in Poker, but the same players manage to win time and again...)

The first area in which the "skill" comes into play is KNOWING THE RULES! This might seem obvious, but there are a LOT of little things that can help you out considerably. These are mostly about TIMING and types of effects, and how they properly interact.

For instance, knowing that your opponent CAN'T respond to what creatures you decide to attack/defend with can be huge.

Other aspects of skill come with knowledge. Knowledge of the card pool, and knowledge of what your opponents deck may contain. The most simplistic example is knowing that if a Blue Mage has two Islands untapped, and you're playing with Counterspell, that he may/probably has it his hand and is able to counter pretty much whatever you cast. Further strategy comes into play with knowing how to play around his spells!

Learning your opponent is another important aspect. This can get a lot more complex/subtle, but it does add another dimension to the game. For instance, I had a friend who consistantly enjoyed winning in a grand fashion, laying low, putting out little inoccuious cards until BAM! he put out one more key card and pretty much won it there. Knowing this, I learned to counter/combat the potential "combo" cards while allowing the more obviously menacing cards through. This is partly about knowing his deck, but more about knowing my opponent.

Having said all that however, if you truly want to feel the depth of the game you'll have to build your own decks. If you don't have the money, or don't want to spend the money, go out and buy either a couple other pre-con decks, or just a whole bunch of commons and play draft games with those. (Look up drafting online).

BTW, you can also play Magic for free! Check out:

http://www.cardfloppers.com/

Use the chat room to get the complete skinny on it from others. Legal issues prohibit them from posting on the site.

Enjoy your new found addiction!

* NetDeck - Decks that won championships that other players copy from the internet rather than building their own.
 
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Lucas Emery
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PatK wrote:

- Play skill means knowing what to do in a given situation. Blindly playing everything in your hand leads to ruin most of the time. Picking your spots, laying traps, making use of the rules to get the most out of your cards and combos, mind games, all of it comes together to make the same deck a very different weapon in different hands. There are some decks out there (typically the World Champion ones) that are very complex and require a lot of skill to play correctly. In other words, even though you've got the same pile of cards that a top MtG player did, you'll have a harder time making it run than he did.

pk


Exactly! I think Wizards still makes World Championship precons, don't they? To understand the amount of skill needed to play Magic competitively go and get yourself one of those and try to make it work against any player of moderate experience with the game.
 
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Dave Glorioso
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I remember when first getting into MTG a friend bought a tournament deck and I took cards we had and made a standard deck. He never beat me and the more I constructed it the more badly I beat him. He got bored and was frustrated that he couldn't beat me. I fell in love with the game as I started to realise the incredible stategies involved. I had several incredibly fine tuned decks. Meaning, they could handle any color lands or combo of lands and they had several card combinations that triggered wins and they had the right amount of cards so that I had the right amount of plays throughout the length of the game. once you understand those concepts you will find yourself addicted. I used to play online for free and found that developing decks became such an addiction that I had to quit. I couldn't wait for a new expansion so that I could build a cool deck before someone else had the same idea. I understood why it is called Magic the addictive. Until you start building your own decks, you won't understand the strategies.

If you have the time it is worthwhile to give up a segment of your life to this brilliant game.

Dave
 
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Yaron Racah
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Corbeau wrote:
the best way to play the game is called Booster Draft... It typically costs a flat $15 to enter a booster draft turny, so the money that any one player pumps into the game doesn't effect the outcome.


And that, of course, is the problem: I don't want to pay $15 for each gaming session...

Fortunately, the solution is simple enough: just "fake" a draft by arranging your own cards into "starters" and "boosters", and play with that. It's just as good, and costs you nothing extra.


 
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Jason Mackay
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JeremiahClayton wrote:


You just contradicted yourself in a span of three sentences. If someone didn't have the skill to build the deck that everyone wants to copy.. it wouldn't be copied.


Um... no I didn't. The person who originally made the deck obviously has very good deck building skills. That's irrelevent to the statement however.

The point I made quite susinctly was that if the Netdeck players had the same level of PLAYING skill that the creator did, they'd be winning tourny's with the same consistancy as the pro's. This doesn't happen because Magic requires a lot more than simply deck building skills.

comport9
 
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Stephen Tavener
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OK, a quick summary; there are a lot of different formats of magic, and several skills that apply.

A. Drafting
Sending and recognising signals from the other players; prioritising your picks, getting the right balance of creatures and utility spells, etc.

B. Deck construction
Getting a deck to play consistently as you want it to play is a skill all to itself, and requires a lot of discipline, hard choices, and testing. Even a good deck can lose consistently in the wrong environment though...

C. Metagame analysis
In a draft, which colours are likely to be overdrafted? In a constructed tournament, what net deck are you going to play,or are you going to go rogue with your own design? What cards should you have maindeck and in your sideboard to deal with the other decks you are likely to meet? Assuming you have successfully identified the 'best' deck for the current environment from the web, your main challenge will be to win mirror matches, where you are playing someone else with substantially the same deck.

D. Playing
As noted, there is a lot of skill to playing; this can be as simple as knowing when to attack and with how much, or whether to commit your mana to a big spell, or hold back some mana for a counterspell. Some decks require considerably more skill than others to play correctly; in particular, if you are running a deck with counter spells, you cannot reasonably counter everything, so you have to target your counter magic at the key cards in your opponent's deck; which often requires you to infer their game plan from very little information.

E. Sideboarding
After the first game, you have the option to swap in cards from your sideboard; knowing what to take out and what to put in requires accurate knowledge of how your deck works (not true of many folks who download a net deck), and what knowledge you have managed to glean about your opponent' deck from your previous game(s).

The main tournament formats are:

Sealed deck (tests B, D, E)
Drafting (tests A, B, C, D, E)
Constructed (tests C, D, E, and possibly B)

... personally, I avoid constructed competitions, since I like playing my own decks, and I don't have the time to test my own designs thoroughly against the constructed environment.
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Stephen Tavener
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Oh yes, I should have mentioned; in each of the main formats (constructed/sealed/draft), you see the same people winning over and over again. Individual games come down to luck, but over a series of games, superior skill really does show.
 
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John Rodriguez
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To the Original Poster:

I hightly recommend you play drafting leages or tourneys as they are relatively cheap (well comparatively), you get to keep the cards and you will learn alot.

It's even better when you draft or join leage with friends who are on the same competitive level as you are, rather than with strangers.

The starter decks are more aimed at teaching the rules rather than giving you in depth repeatable playings.

Unforunatly, what some think is "depth" is really just being familiar with the card and the latest set rules. You have a huge advantage in simply knowing what every card does and what all the good combos can do. This is why most casual players should stay away from hard-core magic players. Unless you dedicate yourself to memorizing or becoming very familiar with the latest cards and thier combos, you really don't stand a chance - no matter how good a player you are.

 
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Ken B.
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I played Magic competitively for two years when it first came out (owned Juzams, two of the Moxes, Black Lotus, Ancestrall Recall....all the goods). I also played again for awhile during the heyday of "Fires" during the Invasion block.


Magic is roughly 40% ownership (of the "right" cards), 50% deckbuilding, and 10% play. You can't build a deck that wins without owning the cards to do so. You can't win even with your pile of good cards without a solid deck. The last 10% separates the good players from the average. Anybody who sets their mind to it can acquire the cards via $$$....and netdecks are out there in force. Skill matters, but only as a high-end differentiator.


Give a jank deck to the best player, and he likely won't win the big event, not even for all his skill. Don't believe it? Try it.


I love the Magic system, I feel it really is a great design. The $$$ issue eventually grinds you out. It's tiring to have money be one of the big reasons one player does better than another. It would be like not being able to choose certain roles in Puerto Rico if you hadn't pulled yourself a copy from a booster pack, or not being able to use the Witch King in War of the Ring until you did the same. It's a silly way to pick winners and losers, all other things being equal.
 
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Stephen Tavener
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Quote:
Magic is roughly 40% ownership

Ken, this may be true of constructed, but is not true of sealed deck or booster draft formats, by definition. It may/may not be true of casual play depending on your social contract.

Link for the day: the Wizards web siteruns an article on better play...
http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/columnarchive&co...'sTheThing

 
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Ken B.
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mrraow wrote:
Quote:
Magic is roughly 40% ownership

Ken, this may be true of constructed, but is not true of sealed deck or booster draft formats, by definition. It may/may not be true of casual play depending on your social contract.

Link for the day: the Wizards web siteruns an article on better play...
http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/columnarchive&co...'sTheThing




Good point, Stephen. My comments were colored by my primary experience with Magic, and viewed through the prism of hardcore competitive play.


But Magic has a way of doing that. We geeks are compulsive, addictive types by nature. (Why else do we own tons of games we have no time to play, all the while collecting more?) Once you get "bit" by the competitive bug it's very easy to be sucked down into the money pit.


Even for many who choose to play it casually, it still can be a test of will not to go out and buy "just a few more packs". As you say, you really need to iron this out firmly with your playgroup, so that each of you can keep the others honest.
 
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Stephen Tavener
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Quote:
Once you get "bit" by the competitive bug it's very easy to be sucked down into the money pit.

Well, I won't argue with that. For reference, these are my estimates of the cost of an average tournament deck:

Vintage (all cards allowed, some restricted) around $3500
Legacy (restricted Vintage cards banned) around $300-500
Standard/Extended (last few sets) around $100
Sealed deck/booster draft; cost of the deck/boosters - $10-20
 
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Stephen Tavener
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mrraow wrote:
Link for the day: the Wizards web site runs an article on better play...
http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/columnarchive&co...'sTheThing

Link corrupted by BGG try this:

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/authorarchive&au...
 
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Alan Faller
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Interesting post - I would agree with the majority here and say that the skill is definately mostly in the deck construction.

In fact, I would say that if you don't get at least as much pleasure from the deck construction as you do from the actual play then this probably isn't the game for you.

Constructed decks needed be the most expensive either. I have to admit that I haven't played in a couple of years so I am out of touch with the current metagame, but back in the day one of my most successful decks was the cheapest I ever created. It is referred to as a "Sligh" deck in Magic circles, and it relies on almost exclusively red fast cheap common cards with a carefully calculated mana curve (i.e. if you manage to bring out mana each turn from the start, you have the creatures available to get something to the table each turn as well - each of them slightly bigger and nastier than the last). The deck was creature heavy with some other instants for utility and protection and some direct damage for clearing blockers and finishing off.

Like I say, there are probably cards and decks out there now that would make mincemeat of this type of deck and it probably isn't the best way to go to try and replicate the concept in anything other than casual play - but back in the day this deck was a revelation in tournaments.

N.B. Before anyone points this out - Yes, the "Sligh Deck" is an archetype and I copied the idea behind it. In my defence though the majority of the cards were different and I had to create alternative strategies to make up for not owning "Hammer of Bogarden".

Copying a Netdeck wholesale takes all the skill and fun out of construction. Taking the concepts behind a Netdeck and changing them to make it your own is a good route becomming a good deck constructor.

(Which I probably still am not).
 
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Scott Russell
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I agree that building a deck is a large part of the skill.

Depending on your temperment, it may or may not be a large part of the fun. For me it was, until I realized how many boardgames that I could get if I sold out. (Around 5% of my collection was probably financed by dabbling in Magic.)

Now I only play sealed deck (occasionally) and Zen (even less often).

Zen is my favorite, though. You buy a random pack, possibly add a booster or two and some sets (one of each) land cards. Then you play for ante with other Zen decks. So the only way your deck changes is by winning or losing games. Zen owners usually track their wins and losses and we also initial (in ink!) the ante card that is won. Unfortunately, I haven't played Zen in a while, but still have a few Zen decks of Ice Age vintage.
 
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Eliot Hemingway
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yaron wrote:
Corbeau wrote:
the best way to play the game is called Booster Draft... It typically costs a flat $15 to enter a booster draft turny, so the money that any one player pumps into the game doesn't effect the outcome.


And that, of course, is the problem: I don't want to pay $15 for each gaming session...

Fortunately, the solution is simple enough: just "fake" a draft by arranging your own cards into "starters" and "boosters", and play with that. It's just as good, and costs you nothing extra.


True. But if you want to get into the game in the first place, I'd still say go with some an official drafts. After all, you get to keep the cards. Nice way to begin amassing a collection that can be used for your own drafts, if you want.

The gamestore I used to play at would host weekly Magic drafts for under $5. The secret was that they were made up out of the metric ton of cards donated by the store manager. Most were not valuable. But that didn't keep it from being fun (I wound up addicted to banding, as I was still an exclusively white/green player - Benalish Infantry forever!).

I only started playing normal Drafts in the past year or so. It's a better play experience, since the designers of the new sets actually keep draft in mind now (unlike in the days of yore, heh). You can also do it for more like $10, if you're willing to get 7 other people to pitch in and buy a box. I know a friend who has done that before, plus he's gotten free boxes for doing judging at official turnies that allows him to make a profit from the turny.
 
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Corbeau wrote:
yaron wrote:
And that, of course, is the problem: I don't want to pay $15 for each gaming session...

Fortunately, the solution is simple enough: just "fake" a draft by arranging your own cards into "starters" and "boosters", and play with that. It's just as good, and costs you nothing extra.


True. But if you want to get into the game in the first place, I'd still say go with some an official drafts. After all, you get to keep the cards. Nice way to begin amassing a collection that can be used for your own drafts, if you want.


Agreed. Drafting is the way to go, for several reasons:

1. you get a fairly cohesive set of cards to keep as opposed to completely random packs, a great base to start building a normal deck with

2. you (and everyone else in the draft) are forced to use a lot of cards you wouldn't normally use and often discover new ideas or reevaluate cards

3. level playing field. the whole "whoever spends most will probably win most" issue is set aside.

4. if you do it at a store and/or play with a couple experienced people, it's a great way to accelerate the learning curve. Playing 1-on-1 or in a small group of new players is a great way to learn the rules wrong and develop bad play habits.

5. you were probably going to buy some booster anyway! might as well get a draft game out of them.

6. it's cheaper! an 8-person draft pretty much uses up a whole box (definitely does if you throw in some packs for prizes). The price per person for a box is $10-$12, as opposed to $15-$18 to buy 4.5 packs individually.

 
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