Insert Column Name Here – Beta-Testing The Wisdom Of Crowds

Read The Ferrett every Monday... at StarCityGames.com!Tuesday, October 28th – Is it a good idea to give strangers power over your life? The Ferrett asks for your feedback while he asks your help to test a new feature on StarCityGames.com! Also, some Shards of Alara thoughts!

Is it a good idea to give strangers power over your life?

Now, keep in mind that we’re not talking about a stranger, or even a small group of wizened overlords. But what if you didn’t know what to do, and asked a group of people, “Say, what should I do?” and did whatever they asked you to?

It sounds crazy, I know. But there’s a book called “The Wisdom of Crowds,” which states that basically, groups of people are way smarter than you give them credit for. Individuals err, but the group as a whole is usually pretty close.

In The Wisdom of Crowds, he gives some pretty terrifying examples of groupthink that works. Supposedly, if you ask people “How many jelly beans are in this jar?” the average of all answers will be pretty damn close to the actual total. Likewise, there was a lost submarine that had gone down somewhere in the ocean, and they polled people to ask where it was. Again, if you took the average of all the answers, it was within a stone’s throw from the actual location of the submarine. And the Hollywood Stock Exchange (which is a favorite site of both Evan Erwin and me) comes pretty damn close to predicting the opening weekend of every movie.

Now, this is not to say that every crowd can solve quantum physics. If a group is too homogenous, as in “Everyone believes the same thing,” then groupthink turns sour. Likewise, if it’s difficult for dissenters to be heard, whether because of corporate culture (“This space shuttle is just fine“) or division (“The CIA needs to share information with the FBI? Why would that be necessary?”), then the whole thing collapses.

But the question remains: Should we ask folks to make decisions for us?

I say yes. And I say it in a way that introduces a new feature here at SCG:


Yessiree, starting now, authors can ask you questions, and you can answer them! (Well, you can if you’re logged in as a valid user with an SCG Shopping Cart account, anyway.)

This isn’t a huge deal — I know, Magicthegathering.com’s been doing it for years — but it’s been one of those features I’ve been meaning to add. And it’s also our first serious test using any sort of AJAX functionality — which is to say that we’re using JavaScript to allow you to vote dynamically from this page, and have the results returned to you automatically.

Allow me to nerd out for a moment and say that JavaScript is a PAIN IN THE ASS. It doesn’t work the same in every browser or operating system, and is prone to failing at just the wrong moments, and it often requires a site to be perfectly compliant with HTML standards… Which, though an admirable goal, is probably not something we’re going to be able to do until our next big revamp, which is (sadly) a ways down the pike.

So I’m going to try this and see whether it works out. If you can’t vote, please do me a favor and contact me at [email protected], telling me what browser and operating system you’re using, and I’ll bang my head against the keyboard and swear a lot. If this goes smoothly, then we open up the possibility of lots of other AJAX-like improvements along the way (and yes, we’re overdue, I know).

But my original point was this — I’m asking you a large question:

What should I concentrate on in my writing?

Look, I’m not a great drafter — I’ve done probably ten, fifteen drafts with Shards at this point, but I’m much better at discussing Sealed, where my options are limited to the cards in the pool. (If I lose at Drafting, is it because I picked the wrong cards, misbuilt what I had, or just plain sucked? It’s hard to say there.)

At the same time, discussing multiplayer is difficult because, frankly, there’s not as much of an interest here at SCG, a site that makes its bones on the latest tourney results… And it’s hard to discuss multiplayer politics lately, because it’s mostly been me playing with the same three people.

The end result is that I’m not sure what I should concentrate on — or even if I should concentrate on anything. So let me ask:

(Note that this poll expires on November 1st, after which you will not be able to vote any more. It’s a little early, sure, but I gotta know before I write my next article, nu?)

Oh, and while I’m at it (and just to put two polls into the same article as a test), let’s ask this, which I’ve been kicking around lately:

Again, feel free to debate this in the forums.

In any case, just to provide some actual strategic content for an article that’s largely a “Hey, try out these new polls!” section, let’s discuss the few things I have learned in my limited drafting experience with Shards:

Drafting Becomes Impossible When Your Draftmates Are Sub-Par.
One of the delights of the new sets is how deep the drafting strategies are — with each set, Wizards finds some way to reward the clever and punish the dim. Speaking as one of the dim, I generally am pretty happy with this; no, I don’t like losing, but I do like feeling that there was some strategy involved in the winning, even when the winning in question isn’t me.

Unfortunately, with Shards, we now have approximately seventy thousand shards to choose from, and six colors, and if the guy upstream from you isn’t terribly good, well, good luck figuring out what you’re supposed to be in.

That’s always been the case, of course, but my best Shards drafts have been with competent folk who knew what to choose, and my embarrass-o-rama decks that degenerated into a horrid “I hope I can tie together these colors” mess found me playing against folks who thought that Viashino Skeleton is an awesome card.

Which leads me to the larger question — namely, is this confusion good for Wizards, or bad? Of course, the experienced players love it, because it’s deep and complex and cool…. But if you’re just starting to draft, is this what’s going to encourage you? They tell you to read signals, sure, but reading signals in a mushy set like this isn’t easy for mediocre players like myself, let alone guys who just realized that hey, you can cycle that Resounding Silence at his end of turn!

I dunno. The more complex Wizards makes the sets, the more fun it is for me… But I don’t always think about just me. Is it fun for novices, or just hopelessly confusing? Yet I digress.

The Format? Not That Slow.
I keep hearing how someone can draft an uber-quick deck with two- and three-drops and just steamroll me. Now, admittedly, there have been games where I’ve been on the back foot…. But there’s been nothing to rival the speed and consistency of, say, Shadowmoor’s mono-Red deck.

Most of my games are over at around seven to twelve turns, with the occasional ping-stall into twenty turns. Sure, you get the Cylian Elf annoyance factor, but it’s not so fast that you can’t expect to cycle a Resounding Spell or two if you get the mana.

Everything Old Is New Again
Speaking of slow, what this format reminds me of is a slower Onslaught Block. Onslaught, too, was dominated by stupidly large creatures, and not quite enough removal to handle it all. Onslaught was considerably faster because every other creature could be laid down as a three-mana 2/2 thanks to morph, making this kind of an irritating format.

I’ve won when I lucked out with a Battlegrace Angel or a Broodmate Dragon that my opponent could do jack-all about. I’ve lost to Empyrial Archangels and third-turn Woolly Thoctars. It just seems like the removal in here pretty much ends at three toughness, and that gets to be an issue.

I dislike the feeling that a lot of my wins are due to lucky plucks. And though that’s often Nick Eisel MO, I’m not as good as Nick.

Exalted Is Kind Of A Pain In The Butt
I don’t mind dealing with the Grixis shards, or the infinite-artifact aerial onslaughts. I do, however, find it really hard to deal with one guy attacking with some gigantic dork while keeping his boosters at home, risk-free. As I noted in my first article, it seems to be a difficult tactic to answer — either waste your removal on the attacker, which still leaves all the Exalted guys back on defense, or waste the Exalted folks and eat attacker.

It gets even worse when you throw in Deft Duelist. And Hindering Light. Both of them seem to be responsible for about 75% of my losses to Exalted strategems, which is vexing.

On the plus side, when I draft Exalted properly, I’ve gone straight to the finals every time.

Naya Can Die-A
One of my favorite drafting strategies is, naturally, Naya. And why not? I’m a multiplayer nerd, I like big dumb monsters. And there’s just something that gets me all giggly when I’m like, “Cast a Cavern Thoctar, do two damage to you with Exuberant Firestoker, draw a card thanks to Drumhunter.”

But the problem with Naya is that it’s really fragile. If you don’t get at least a copy of Soul’s Fire (and preferably two), it kind of collapses. You need a Mosstodon, and you need a Firestoker and a Drumhunter, and if you don’t get those it doesn’t work.

And that wouldn’t be so bad — just pick ‘em high — except that the good Naya cards also work in other decks, so they get poached. The Grixis “I’ll sacrifice everything and kill you with a Hissing Iguana” strategy, though it shares Blue and Black, doesn’t really have that much overlap with the artifact strategies. So you can get out unscathed.

However, if someone’s going for Exalted, why wouldn’t they want a happy Mosstodon to go with their Green splash? Everyone likes fatties. Likewise, a lot of people will splash for a Bull Cerodon. So a lot of the time, you wind up first-picking the enablers because you need them, and not getting fatties, or you let the enablers go and then someone else gets into Naya.

When it works, I love it. But I probably shouldn’t try for it.

I’d like to say I’ve drafted a good Esper deck. But honestly, I’ve never even tried. The problem is that the really good Esper cards are two or three colored mana, and I don’t like committing that early, so I’ll let them go… And by the time I’m like, “Hey, maybe I should have picked them up,” someone else is in there.

I probably should just start forcing. But that rarely works well for me. I’m just not that alpha male, I guess….

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]StarCityGames.com
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy