Examining the New Tournament Payout Model for Magic Online

syndic-of-tithes-art-wide

Magic Online (MTGO) has needed to fix tournaments payouts for a while now. In the last two years the economy has literally fallen apart with a consequent decrease in tournament attendance. The reasons behind this decline are hard to evaluate but I think this article gets pretty close to the truth.

Magic Online is not a free-to-play game. On the contrary, it is quite expensive, so the possibility for players to even partially repay themselves by playing well is crucial in order to maintain a large crowd of active non-casual players. I think a change was necessary, and I believe that with this new policy (you can find the announcement here) Wizards of the Coast is also stating that there is a problem that must be fixed.

The direction WotC is taking seems quite promising, though there are a couple of problems that I want to discuss with you all.

With this article, I will walk you through my thoughts, analyzing the pros and cons of the new and the old system. Before going deep into my considerations, though, I want to introduce you to a base concept that I often use when I need to analyze MTGO tournaments. That concept is called Expected Value, or EV.

Expected Value (EV)

Let’s assume that a friend of yours asks you if you want to play a game set like this: you pay $10 to roll one dice; if the number that comes out is between 1 and 4 you lose, if it’s 5 you earn $20, and if it’s 6 you earn $30. You might want to know if it’s worth playing or not. Tossing aside whatever gambling inclinations you may have, there’s a parameter that is possible to calculate that can estimate if such a proposal is worthwhile or not. This parameter is called expected value and it determines how much you can earn on average each time you roll that dice.

Considering the odds of each number as 1/6, we can make this table.

Buy-In = $10

Numbers | % | Payout
1-4 | 67% | 0
5 | 17% | $20
6 | 17% | $30

The EV is calculated by adding all these numbers together using this formula: EV=P(1,4)*(Payout(1,4)-Buyin)+P(5)*(Payout(5)-Buyin)+P(6)*(Payout(6)-Buyin)

We can plug the numbers in our table above into the formula to get this: EV=4/6*(0-10)+1/6*(20-10)+1/6*(30-10) = -1.6667

You can see that the final EV in this scenario is negative 1.6667. So what does it mean that you have a negative EV?

It means that on average every roll is making you lose money. In this case, over the long term, you would be losing about $1.67 every time you rolled the dice. Of course, it’s a game of probability so while it remains possible to win in a short run, in the long run you will almost certainly end up with less cash than when you started.

How is EV related to MTGO?

MTGO works the same way as the example that I used above: we can calculate the EV for every tournament we decide to participate in to help us understand if it is worth playing in them or not. Let’s understand how we can compare it with our dice experiment. We can try to draw the same table we did before, for instance we’ll look at an MTGO Daily Event (DE) with the old system.

Buy-In = 6 tix

Results | % | Payout
x-2 | ? | 0
3-1 | ? | 6 boosters
4-0 | ? | 11 boosters

As you can see the only thing missing is the % likelihood of each result. This probability is related with our win rate.

What’s the win rate, you might ask? Well it’s the probability of winning a game of Magic against an unknown opponent. It is not possible to calculate this number in advance, but we still can evaluate how daily events compare to other tournaments by looking at a variety of win rates to understand which events are more convenient, or simply to try and determine if the new system is better than the previous one.

On of the factors to consider is that the higher is the payout, the less we need in terms of win rate to have a positive EV. The opposite is true as well; the lower the payout, the higher our win rate should be, assuming the same buy-in. Let’s see how is possible to calculate the probability (P) to make a 3-1 or even a 4-0.

  • Winning a game of Magic on MTGO is like flipping a coin; you can only win or lose. The only thing different is that the probability of these two events are different so while the odds of having tail or heads is 50% the chance of winning is WR% (win rate) and losing is 1-WR%.
  • Calculating the chance of making a 4-0 is pretty simple, you just have to toss your coin 4 times hoping that you win the roll every time. Therefore
    P(4 wins)=(W〖R)〗^4.

  • We have 4 different ways in which we can achieve a 3-1 (WWWL,WWLW, WLWW, LWWW) so the formula is P(3 wins)=(WR)^3*(1-WR)*4.
  • The rest of the cases are the X-2s but we don’t care to differentiate those as much, so the probability is calculated like this P(2 wins or less)=1-[P(3 wins)+P(4 wins)].

The same formula used to calculate our EV before is still applicable for our DE:

EV = P(4w)*[Payout(4w)-Buyin]+P(3w)*[Payout(3w)-Buyin]+P(2w or less)*(-Buyin)

Let’s fix three different values for the price of booster packs (3 tix, 2.5 tix, and 2 tix), and see how the EV is different with a change in our win rate and/or payout.

mtgo-ev-01

As in our previous example, this graph could be read as follow: with an 80% win rate in the 3 tix curve we will expect an average 15 tix gain per daily event; or at a 53% win rate in the 2.5 tix curve the EV will be 0 and we will break even. As you can see the higher our win rate the higher the EV, but the less the payout the less the EV. The more value we see in our booster packs (payout) then the lower our win rate can be while still maintaining a positive EV.

Now that it’s clear what Expected Value is and how it works, I’ll continue my analysis comparing Daily Events and 8-man tournaments in the old and the new structures.

Daily Events – Old vs New

Let us first look at Daily Events with both the old and new models.

Old System

  • Buy In = 6 tix
  • 3-1 finish gets 6 boosters, 4-0 finish gets 11 boosters

Dailies are the backbone of constructed Magic on MTGO. They retain the highest EV possible and for years (I assume) they have worked well. The boosters a player won could be sold on the secondary market for tix. However, in the last two years the market was saturated too quickly with unwanted boosters and consequently the prices of those boosters plummeted.

mtgo-ev-02

This is the price trend of KTK boosters over time between their release and the release of Dragons of Tarkir. The price went down from 3.9 to 1.4 tix and significantly lowered the EV of daily events. For simplicity let’s consider only the period of time when dailies where paid with KTK boosters only, from October (3.9 tix each) to February (2.2 tix each), and see how the EV decreased over time for 3 different win rates.

mtgo-ev-03

As you can see the 55% win rate curve was earning 5 tix per event in October but by February was merely breaking even. Any win rate lower than 55% was losing money by February! The system needed a fix. Let’s see how things will change with the new system.

New System

  • Buy In = 12 tix OR 120 Player Points
  • 3-1 finish gets 3 boosters + 180 Player Points, 4-0 finish gets 6 boosters + 360 Player Points

This new system features the introduction of Player Points: an untradable way of paying for tournaments. This appears to be an attempt to fix the variable EV of daily events caused by booster price fluctuations, but is it really that convenient?

mtgo-ev-04

As you can see this system will cause you to lose less money if boosters are decreasing in value (the slope is less high), but in the end on average has a lower EV than the old system.

This is not, however, true for all the win rates. In fact, for win rates higher than 64%, this new system is actually more profitable. I believe this is due to the fact that increasing the buy-in and consequently the payouts really helps players with a higher win percentage.

mtgo-ev-05

Overall, though, this new Daily Event system should be revisited. Let us see, for instance, what could happen with a different payout. What if a 3-1 finish gets 3 boosters + 240 Player Points while a 4-0 finish gets 6 boosters + 480 Player Points?

mtgo-ev-06

mtgo-ev-07

This payout system gives you a lower EV for Win rates under 52% and provides a lower risk of losing money if booster pack prices drop extremely low. I think it’s a better transition from the old system because it keeps the same EV for average win rates while decreasing the difference in EV between release dates.

Moving on from daily events, let’s take a look at 8-man events.

8-Man Events (5-3-2-2) – Old vs New

Here is what the buy-in / payout breakdown looks like in the old and new systems.

Old System

  • Buy-in = 6 tix
  • 3-0 finish gets 5 boosters, 2-1 finish gets 3 boosters, 1-1 finisher gets 2 boosters

New System

  • Buy-in = 6 tix OR 60 Player Points
  • 3-0 finish gets 2 boosters + 140 Player Points, 2-0 finish gets 1 booster + 60 player points, 1-1 finish gets 60 players points

Let’s take a quick look at our EV in daily events vs 8-man events in the old system.

mtgo-ev-08

The problem with 8-man events is that when boosters are less than 3 tix each your first win no longer allows you to repay the buy-in for your next event. Looks like WotC had this problem in mind when reshaping the payouts. In fact, so long as you win one match it’s guaranteed that you can join another tournament.

To evaluate if this new system is better or not we have to consider three different booster pack price scenarios: booster prices under, equal to, and over 3 tix. Let’s look at EV based on pack prices of 2.5 tix, 3 tix, and 3.5 tix.

mtgo-ev-09

Looks like WOTC really nailed it! The EV in the new system is far less dependent on the booster price and is even a little bit higher than in the old system. I guess now we will be encouraged to play 8-man events a little bit more.

Other considerations

There are a few other considerations that I want to point out in conclusion:

  • Doubling the Daily Event buy-in is beneficial for grinders (who tend to have a higher win rate) because the payouts are also increased. Having higher payouts means that other tournaments like PTQs and Drafts are actually cheaper in proportion. This change is detrimental for casual players, however, who tend to have a lower win rate and now they have to pay double the price they were paying before.
  • Adding Player Points as a reward will decrease the number of boosters packs in circulation and will hopefully ensure that they will better maintain their value. This might actually be bad for single card prices but I’m not sure yet which factor will be dominant.
  • Not having Player Points available for trade means that really good players will have a stock of actual junk, because they will earn too much compared of what they need. WotC should implement more ways for players to transform their player points into something with value, like boosters in the store, promo cards, or something similar. Finally, with less tix at our disposal and a plausible increase in card price, it may become more costly to collect the single cards needed for constructing decks.

Magic Online is a complex financial system, and instead of doing nothing I’m actually glad that WotC is trying to shake up things a bit. Based on the changes they’re making now, it is my opinion than daily events still need some revision while 8-man events saw a substantial improvement.

Thanks for reading, and that’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed the article!

Until next time, Mattia

PS: You can find my excel sheet with all the calculations here.

Narrowing Down Play Possibilities

thoughtsieze

My last article talked about making the right play analyzing all the possibilities, today instead I’ll talk about how to narrow them down! It might be counterintuitive at first, but one factor that makes the difference between good and great players is managing signals.

The signals we are looking for are everywhere, from the first land we play to the last card we pass on a draft, being keen about them is crucial to get an edge in the match. Magic, as we all know, unlike chess, is a game with an unknown component, reading the signals (and of course avoiding sending them) is a way to decrease this grade of uncertainty.

Reading Opponent’s Signals

To explain better what a signal is I’ll walk through some examples with Standard, Modern and Limited. From now onwards a * will be used to address unlikely scenarios given the context.

Standard – OTP [c]Llanowar Wastes[/c], go

What does this mean? Well first of all we have to try to understand which deck we’re up against.

In the current Standard the options are Abzan aggro/control/whip*, Sultai control/whip*, GB whip*, others**. Usually GB based decks have at least 6-7 scrylands + 3-4 [c]Thoughtseize[/c]. Should we assume then that he doesn’t have either of those? Of course not. Scryng is far more valuable when you know what your opponent is playing and firing [c]Thoughtseize[/c] on the play, especially if you are not curving out perfectly, is not a good idea in Standard.

So far then we have different scenarios, we can’t be sure about anything but it’s worth to keep them in mind for the next turns. If next turn our opponent will play another untapped land and say go again we can put him on a light land hand with no [c]Thoughtseize[/c] (since a scryland would be already in play at this stage).

Here comes a much stronger signal, why did he keep his hand? Turn 1-2 plays often define the actual seven a player keeps, so what should we expect?

Assuming the opponent kept a reasonable hand we can put him on a strong hand but light in lands so if we see a [c]Courser of Kruphix[/c] on turn 3 we already know if it’s worth killing it or not. On the contrary if the opponent goes t2 scryland + [c]Thoughtseize[/c] we can’t deduce anything aside the fact that he knows what is doing. This might helps us in case we would be in doubt about bluffs or plays that could appear as a mistake.

perilous vault

Standard – GB Constellation against UW Control

This happened to me while playing before Fate Reforged was out.

UW Control has never been a great deck in the meta so I didn’t have a solid grasp on what it might play. I already won game one and game two I had a [c]Pharika, God of Affliction[/c] in play and I was unsure if I wanted to commit more on the board by playing [c]Whip of Erebos[/c]. I was well used to playing against UB Control, a match-up pretty tough for the presence only of [c]Perilous Vault[/c] and I wasn’t sure if my opponent was also running a couple of those alongside [c]End Hostilities[/c].

I didn’t see any sweeper game one but he removed a permanent through [c]Banishing Light[/c]. That was a clear signal of no presence at all of [c]Perilous Vault[/c] because of the clear nombo between the two cards. I went for the Whip and took the game.

wurmcoil engine

Modern – Abzan vs. RG Tron

I won game 1 and game two my opponent is under a severe beating from my lone [c]Siege Rhino[/c] (I guess is around 9 life or something like this). He has been in top-deck mode for a couple of turns and he has plenty of mana, while I was holding 3-4 cards. One turn he went [c]Wurmcoil Engine[/c] + [c]Oblivion Stone[/c] with four mana up. I gently played [c]Path to Exile[/c] on the Wurm and [c]Maelstrom Pulse[/c] on the Stone and attacked with Rhino again. It looks like a normal turn but my opponent didn’t read a signal I gave him a couple of turns earlier.

With my [c]Liliana of the Veil[/c] I discarded a [c]Path to Exile[/c] because I had three of those stuck in my hand, so I must be a total idiot* to discard my only solution to one the most problematic card in the match-up. In the end he lost to my Rhino that could have been easily dispatched by [c]Oblivion Stone[/c] without playing [c]Wurmcoil Engine[/c] that turn.

Using Signals – Bluffing

Giving the wrong signals to the opponent sometimes might be very rewarding. I’m not saying we should bluff every time but there are clear situations where bluffing gets us a real advantage.

deceiver exarch

Modern – Playing UR Twin

Usually I have played against Twin and them having three mana up was a nightmare for me because I had to spend the entire turn being afraid of the combo.

I recently started playing the other side and at first I didn’t realize how important this factor was, and if I didn’t have the combo I was just progressing my way through [c]Serum Visions[/c] or other spells. After a couple of games it was clear to me though that representing the combo is a huge factor and also a pretty good strategy to gain some tempo, although be aware of the fact that you shouldn’t auto-play your third turn, sometimes you need to deviate from this rule.

Just be aware how important it can be in a scenario to represent a turn four kill.

prophet of kruphix

Triple Theros Limited – Playing UG against White-Something Heroic

This happened in a team draft against one of my closest friend and Limited specialist. I have to say that I’m really proud of the logic of this play even if it might seem pretty standard.

It’s my third turn and I’m facing a freshly-cast [c]Fabled Hero[/c], and I have absolutely no way to deal with him especially if pumped with an aura the next turn. My only drop in play is a [c]Voyaging Satyr[/c] and I don’t have a two drop to bluff a [c]Voyage’s End[/c], so the choice is between playing a drop or keep up mana to bluff a [c]Griptide[/c].

Usually this is a pretty bad play because he can simply untap, bash, and cast something else getting us virtually time-walked and unless we play the all the game with four mana up he just need to wait the proper time to enchant his creature.

In my hand though I had [c]Prophet of Kruphix[/c] so I could easily represent [c]Griptide[/c] for the rest of the game while advancing my board at instant speed. I declined to play anything and pass with five cards in hand representing my four mana bounce spell and he bashed and passed without adding anything to the board. I slammed my [c]Prophet of Kruphix[/c] and developed my game from that point after. The game slowed down to a point where I was able to stabilize and threaten to kill him but unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any solution so before he died he went all in with a [c]God’s Willing[/c] naming green on the Hero and taking the game.

cavern of souls

Modern – UR Twin against Amulet Bloom

This happened during the coverage of Gran Prix Vancouver. Paul Cheon is playing Twin and during game one passes his turn after a tapped [c]Steam Vents[/c]. The opponent replies with a [c]Cavern of Souls[/c] naming Merfolk and passes back to Paul who casts a [c]Serum Visions[/c]. That’s a perfect example of free misdirection since the plan is to get the Cavern back with a Bounce Land anyway.

Aside from the fact that Paul might have wasted already a [c]Serum Visions[/c] scrying the wrong cards, he also might be inclined to tap out knowing he can’t counter opponent’s Merfolk and lead the way open for the [c]Amulet of Vigor[/c] + [c]Summer Bloom[/c] combo.

Wrap Up

As I showed you there are a lot of situations where we can collect free information that can really help us making the better play and can save us some cerebral energy; yes, at the end of the day even that is a factor. At the same time we have to prevent giving away too much information to our opponents, the less they are uncertain the more we can navigate towards the game.

About bluffing I think with should not spend too much time into it, I do believe that right technical plays are still the best but sometimes it doesn’t cost anything to misdirect our opponent.

Until the next time,

Mattia

Technical Play: Analysis of a Turn

While Standard and Modern are taking shape with the recent bans and the addition of Fate Reforged, I decided to write an article about technical plays and how you should walk through a turn with multiple choices. I will use as an example a turn that I believe is challenging in terms of decisions but also really easy to analyze, and I will show you the pact that I (should) use during a game of magic.

The situation is taken from my last daily recorded for this website. Check out the video below.

 

Around the 19-minute mark this is how things are going.

In the previous turn I got my courser threatened by [c]Act of Treason[/c], he saw a land, played it off the top, and there’s another land on top of the deck so we know at least that he will draw a blank next turn. So how should we play? To answer this question we need to proceed in 4 steps.

one-turn-01

Step 1: What do we want to do?

This is the base, the beginning of our thought process. Understanding our role in a matchup or a given situation is really important, it sets how we evaluate our priorities and motivates our plays. It’s probably the least mechanical of all the steps and comes down on a experience / intuition level. The more you are accurate in this phase the easier it will be make a decision in the end. If you want to go deep on this path I suggest you read one of the most important article in magic theory ever written, Who’s the Beatdown.

In this case, though, what we are trying to accomplish is simple as a concept: staying alive in the best shape possible at the end of his turn.

Step 2: Considering all you options

Caught in the moment I have to admit that I’m usually a very hasty player, I base my plays on intuition and this is mostly bad. There are great players in the game that use intuition as a driving force for their tournaments (for that I know LSV is one of those) but I still think that a slowly analytic approach is far better if you are not a mastermind of this game.

This step is, for the most part, easy. We have to consider every line of play that we can make.

Here we have substantially four possibilities since we can’t play more than one spell: whip a courser, whip a satyr, whip an eidolon, play an eidolon. We have also an attack phase in which we must consider if it’s worth attacking with a courser; so we end up with 8 scenarios.

We can swipe away a couple of those, though: whipping a courser is significantly worse than whipping an eidolon since we don’t have any lands to play. This holds true, as well, for playing the one in our hand. We can clearly cut these two options and we are facing now only 4 possibilities.

We should go a little deep though and ask ourselves what are the consequences of whipping one or the other creature: in the deck we have still 4 [c]Jungle Hollow[/c] and 1 [c]Radiant Fountain[/c] so we might consider the possibility of netting more than 1 life with a single land drop.

Here are our life points considering the situation in which we attack or not with courser. This will come in handy when we will need to analyze which play is the best.

one-turn-02

Step 3: What our opponent can play

Now we focus on what our opponent might play next turn. First of all we start having in mind a stock list of mono red aggro. The cards that we might face are these:

[c]Stoke the Flames[/c]
[c]Lightning Strike[/c]
[c]Titan’s Strength[/c]
[c]Coordinated Assault[/c]
[c]Hammerhand[/c]
[c]Act of Treason[/c] (looks like it)
[c]Monastery Swiftspear[/c]
[c]Searing Blood[/c]
[c]Wild Slash[/c]
[c]Mardu Scout[/c]

or a one mana non-haste creature.

Even in this case we can eliminate some options: since he played the land off the top thanks to our courser and passed with one mana up we are pretty sure there’s no CMC1 spell in his hand.

The remaining cards are these:

one-turn-03

Substantially [c]Mardu Scout[/c] and [c]Searing Blood[/c] are worse [c]Lightning Strike[/c]s so I won’t consider them.

Step 4: Making a decision

Now that we have analyzed what we can do, what our opponent can do, and in which perspective we should act, it’s time to make a decision. Eidolon or Satyr? Let’s see:

2-4/3-5 life: We are dead to both [c]Act of Treason[/c] and [c]Lightning Strike[/c] (and of course [c]Stoke the Flames[/c]) – this is not the best scenario.

4-6 life: We can stay alive if our opponent is on [c]Lightning Strike[/c] or [c]Act of Treason[/c] but not [c]Stoke the Flames[/c]. The problem is that we also have to chose if we attack with courser or not; attacking will let us survive if he has Act but we’ll be dead if he has Strike (and vice versa if we don’t attack). I will put more on my opponent having Strike (that is a 4-of) rather than Act so I’m not inclined to attack.

5-7/6-8 life: We are alive no matter what our opponent does.

Basically, now we want to go for the play that gives us the best odds of reaching 4-6 life for further scenarios. Unfortunately, we are not machines. It’s pretty hard for me to make this calculation now, writing this article and with all the time in the world. Much harder when we are mid-game, so I won’t present my results.

What is important is the method used to reach what we assume is the right play. Just for reference I went for Eidolon because I thought it might gave the best odds of reaching a higher life total. My opponent scooped. To be honest, Satyr might be a correct play also because we are around 90% chance to hit a land and play Hornet queen the turn after.

Wrap Up

This is how, in my opinion, we should elaborate and process information during every turn of a game. Of course sometimes we do that without being conscious of the fact, but learning how to proceed faster during these four steps will definitely improve your game. I would love to say that I’m doing this myself, every time, but sadly I haven’t quite reachd that level yet.

Hope you enjoyed the article and found it useful!

Until next time,

Mattia

Understanding Variance in Magic: An Introduction

“Oh man I was so unlucky, I got crushed game one and game two I mulled to five and I lost.”

“I was at 3 and he was dead on board but he drew lightning bolt for the win, such luck!”

How many of you have ever heard at least once this kind of sentence? Blaming bad luck for your losses is typical for an inexperienced player. What I want to talk you about today in my first article is what I believe is one of the centerpieces of being a great Magic player: understanding the role of variance.

What is Variance

It’s probably better to start with some mathematical concepts. Quoting Wikipedia: “In probability, theory, and statistics, variance measures how far a set of numbers is spread out.” This means that for every event, there’s an expected value called “mean,” and how the values are spread around the average value is measured by variance. For instance, an average value of 6 is reachable with two 4 and two 8 but also with two 1, one 3 and one 19. Variance in these cases will be different.

That’s all we really need to know to define variance. The problem, rather than being mathematical, is how this concept affects our mental state. Magic is a game closely related to probability and to explain it better I will provide an example using the most hated permanents in the game, land.

The number of lands that a deck plays is strictly in correlation with what it wants to accomplish and with how many lands it can operate (aka its mana curve). The magical number in limited, for instance, is 17 lands. We usually take this number for granted because our fathers taught us that we want to play that many lands and that’s what we will teach to our children, but have you ever considered why?

17 is the minimum number that guarantees you a reasonable chance of getting 4-5 lands around turn 5. Of course we could use 18, 19 or even 20 to have a better chance to hit land drops but that will cost us in terms of a higher chance of flooding out.

Let’s put down some numbers to explain better what I mean. Let’s assume a limited deck of 40 cards with 17 lands. We are in our fifth turn on the play which means we have already drawn 11 cards. I made a graph of the chance of getting from 1 to 11 lands in our 11 cards.

variance-image

As predicted 4,5,6 lands are the most likely cases but the sum of those is not over 70% which means in the remaining 30% (3 games out of out ten) we are or screwing or flooding out on turn five. Of course 0,1, 9, 10, 11 lands are really remote cases (<1%) but remember, in the long run this is going to happen. Statistically speaking in a hundred or a thousand games you will face cases like that.

How our mental state is influenced

Have you ever felt anger, frustration, or sadness for your bad draws / opponent’s good draws? Well I’m here to tell you that a good understanding of this article may bring you a better peace of mind. In a perfect world, the perfect player that has no emotions and deals with variance in an objective way would be perfectly fine with losing to a mull to four G1 and G2 of a match, even 5 matches straight. The perfect player probably would like to play chess rather than Magic, though. A part of why we love the game is variance itself, the thrill of topdecking. The chance of defeating a better player is something difficult to find somewhere else.

Variance is both love and hate.

In the end I’m not saying that we should become robots and I’m not claiming to be perfectly fine when something bad happens to me, but I trained myself to be less influenced by dark thoughts that might be detrimental for my future games. Just understand that bad things happen, to you, to me, and to everybody. On this matter we are equally lucky so more or less we will screw or flood or get topdecked in the same way and we will lose as many games due to our flood as we will win games because our opponent is flooding out.

What getting angry does is take away our focus from two things: what we could have done differently to give us better chances to win, and; what we have to do in order to win the next game.

I saw dozen of players tilting badly after they got unlucky and literally throwing away games because in their mind the only thing they could think of was, “Why I’m so damn unlucky.” I also saw them keeping bad hands because, “It’s already the Xth mulligan today.” I played hundreds of competitive matches in my life, I took mulligans countless of times. I’m proud to say though that I never lose hope, I usually stay sharp, keep going, and I can remember happily winning with even 4 card hands. If you can wash away those negative thoughts you are putting yourself in the best position to win.

There’s a saying: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade” (and don’t get mad because they are not oranges). The importance must be in doing good with what you have, not throwing out blame that you are not in the best spot possible to win. You will face screw, flood, better players than you, and bad matchups, but you have to keep playing. Blame is simple and is easier than focusing and fighting your way back into the game.

A helpful mindset is changing your goal: if your goal is just to win, and it doesn’t happen, you are going to blame bad luck. If instead you set the goal as “doing the best that I can,” it doesn’t matter if you are under bad circumstances, if you know at the end of the game that you did your best despite what happened in terms of variance you will still be happy for the loss, or at least not sad nor frustrated nor angry. Winning for you will become a consequence of doing the best you can do and losing won’t be about being unlucky.

Achieveing such a Zen condition can be pretty hard but also very rewarding in terms of self improvement and inner peace, and I will give you some examples to better understand that variance is a part of the game and that we have to embrace it as it is.

Understanding the role of Variance

Thinking in terms of the long run. I can’t say I’ve been frequently to casinos but what I got from watching people playing roulette is invaluable. Electronic roulettes are amazing because they provide you all a bunch of useful data such as last 100 spins. Once I saw a streak of 8 reds, roughly 0.4% chance that this might happen (without considering the 0). If you are betting on black numbers you simply end up in a bad streak, but statistically speaking considering a high pool sample, what’s going on is legitimate. The spins are like your matches, the more you play the more you will face weird things, like mulligan streaks or continuous floods / screws. It’s part of the game, we have to face it at some point.

“But you have to be in a position to be lucky.” -Kai Budde

This is one of the most important sentences in building you mindset regarding luck and variance. If you are playing a Standard match with Mardu and next turn you are dead you can still topdeck some points of burn to finish him off. If he’s at 4 you can still draw your remaining copies of [c]Stoke The Flames[/c], if he’s at 3 you have more chances by drawing also [c]Lightning Strike[/c], if he’s a 2 even [c]Crackling Doom[/c] would do the job! The point is if you bring your opponent within range because you played better, then you are in a better position to get “lucky” by topdecking the right card.

Look at this video

 

There’s no doubt that Craig Jones was extremely lucky. His chances were probably not more than 10% but his part in being lucky was the decision to [c]Char[/c] Olivier’s face instead of the creature or make some other plays. He saw that there was no other way to win expect with a topdecked [c]Lightning Helix[/c] and he worked for it.

The Concept of Deserving the Win

This is one misconception that I heard a lot from players. It’s not chess where the better player always win; in Magic there’s variance that can fill or widen the gap between the two player’s skills. A Magic game is always won due to the sum of variance and skill. A player can play badly but still win given the cards drawn by each player.

The Perfect Mindset

Once we have washed away all the dark thoughts, what we can do is think about what we could have done differently to win the game. Usually we have a certain degree of responsibility in our losses, so doing the best to understand what went wrong despite variance is an important exercise. One thing to avoid, though, is being obsessed with the fact that we are always at fault. Sometime we just can’t win. Sometimes we aren’t able to get a good enough perspective on our own play to tell which decisions we made might be questionable. Sometimes we make the right decisions the entire game and still lose. Usually I talk to people that I know are good and can give me a helpful outside perspective on my plays.

Wrap Up

Understanding variance is fundamental to achieve a good level of plays because it let us focus on being a better player. Also it’s better for our minds and for the overall enjoyment of the game. I hope you can toss out all the bad feeling that drawing outside the mean value might provide you and keep playing your best games of Magic.

Mattia