I’m shocked at the size of things I consider revelations. They’re not exactly "Book of" revelations, I don’t mind telling you. To be frank, I’m quite a ways away from any sort of actual uncovering. Luckily, I’m good at keeping bad news at arm’s length. Being in the business of lying has made that an everyday activity.
So it’s no surprise that I tackle anything that might be the dawn of understanding and wrestle it to the ground Greco-Roman style (All Torso!). Top of the shop this season has been "Mania makes it tough to get stuff done."
Second on this pathetically short list is that I’m just not that good at the game we call Magic. Having been separated from my team for the better part of four months had taken its toll on my play, to the point where oversights and miscalculations rule the day.
Instead of wallowing in my mediocrity, I hit upon the novel idea of actually doing something to step up my game. My first move was to play more. That’s nothing worth waking the neighbors, I know, but it’s an important step. I’ve realised that I spend way more time thinking about Magic than actually playing the game. Unfortunately, this has given me a false sense of my own abilities. Just because I’ve won my share of games does not make my play unquestionable. Monday, I’ll post my Grand Prix Detroit report and demonstrate.
Next, I tried structuring my playing more, the better to get feedback and look at places I need to improve. However, I soon realised that I wasn’t getting very far. I didn’t seem to be getting any "normal" games in. Something would always skew off in one direction. A bad draw would go worse, or the one and only card that could kill me would float to the top of my opponent’s deck.
Not hard to see, now, what was going on. I was taking the whole of my play and placing under the domain of misfortune. Small wonder that I wasn’t becoming more observant.
So I needed to improve my attitude toward the random element of the game of Magic. This, of course, is everyone’s favorite footnote. I’ve been cautioned many-a-time to remember that this game can come down to the drawing of cards, and as a result, just might jam you.
Personally, I rarely heed that warning. For one thing, it’s just not fair.
If it wasn’t so darned useful, I’d condemn the whole of Statistics as pseudoscience. It’s definitely the Classic Burglar that’s confused me about the place of the random in Magic. Leading the full-scale tomfoolery is the Lie of Expected Value. You know the one; ten Forests in my draft deck means I have one in my opening hand 89% of the time.
Don’t get me wrong, the problem here is entirely in my own perception of what Expected Value means. I stand by my externalising of faults in an effort to keep up appearances. Still, it is I who puts undue emphasis on the Expected portion.
I’m in the habit of misreading the Expected Value as what’s likely to happen. That’s nonsense. Expected Value is some sort of idealised partition on an infinite number of independent tests.
That’s all well and good as a guide, but it’s far from a promise. Let’s say you want to flip a coin until you hit ten heads. Expected Value tells you that you’ll probably need to flip twenty times. So you start flipping. The first five flips all come up tails. How many flips does Expected Value say you need now? Twenty. There’s a reason it’s called the Gambler’s Fallacy.
Awful as it may seem, the same goes for Magic. Just because you have to mulligan Game 1, you’re not going to have an acceptable seven-card hand in Game 2. Extending this, you just might have to mulligan four games in a row. This is why I shouldn’t complain when stuff like this happens. It’s not like I’m being treated unjustly.
It is Nick Page in Game Three of the finals of a Masques Block PTQ. He’s playing Some Blue Deck. He is at two, with four Islands in play. His opponent is at one, and has a 2/2 on the board. Victory is guaranteed by drawing one of two Rath’s Edges, and all but locked up with a draw of Stinging Barrier, Ribbon Snake, or Drake Hatchling.
"And it is the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just ‘something that happened’. This cannot be ‘one of those things’. This, please, cannot be that." — Narrator, "Magnolia"
Which is exactly how I feel. This was too important to be shrugged off by an abysmal set of cards. And yet it was. Isn’t that too much? Shouldn’t these things not happen? Shouldn’t we all be on some sort of even playing field. I’ve decided that we are, in a perverse sort of way. It’s just an even field that promises downright evil results every once in a while.
What’s more, and what I’m sure has been brought to my attention only to be dismissed in my arrogance, is the fact that I bought into the whole package when I picked up my first boosters. If there had only been some sort of End User Licence Agreement, like:
"The user of this product fully accepts that s/he will lose a number of important matches to an absent fourth land, or the lightness of those lands causing twelve to stand at the top of his/her deck, or to the one and only card that could beat him/her, or to the best five successive topdecks ever. Moreover, s/he thinks it’s a great idea, otherwise s/he wouldn’t play a game in which this is so fundamental."
The best part would be the change such a warning would effect on the culture. Someone would come up to you complaining about their ill-luck in the 11th Hour, and you’d just point them to the package.
"These strange things happen all the time." — Narrator, "Magnolia"
Wow, they really do.
Might not sound so hot on the surface, sure, but this can also be liberating. Instead of thinking "Well, I’m almost guaranteed to get a land in three draws," I can think, "Remember, The Game told you that it wasn’t going to play nice. Don’t expect any favours." Not that they won’t happen. Heck, look at Matt Vienneau at GP: Detroit. It’s just that fortune calls you up, not the other way around.
This idea doubles up to help keep me objective when I lose. If I think that the cards aren’t particularly likely to go any way whatever, then I can concentrate my energies on things within my power: Why I played the way I did, and whether or not it was the best line.
Which is really the point of the whole thing. I’m going to lose some of the time, and in the worst way. I even tacitly accepted that in choosing a game with a random element. To work from diffent expectations is to set myself up for bitterness.
"Losing’s not so bad. You can’t win all the time. You can’t lose forever, either." — Randy Chang, "The Killer"
The full range of "losses" covered by the first sentence of that quote becomes clear at the film’s tragic close. The whole business serves as a reminder that sometimes things are going to be ugly and brutal, and were never promised to be otherwise.
"Every death, even the cruellest death, drowns in the total indifference of Nature." — Marquis de Sade, "Marat/Sade"
Now with SHOCKING PARALLELS!