You CAN Play Type I #149 – The Interactivity War (Oscar Forces Interaction With Mike Flores)

After graduating Law School, Oscar Tan is back with his theoretical thoughts on the Theory of Interactivity (or something). In fact, Oscar and Stephen Menendian go head to head on this subject today in dueling theory articles, both designed to answer Master Magic Theorist Mike Flores. Peep both articles for yourselves and tell us who got the better of the debate in the forums!

Oscar graduates!

Finally. After four years, I’m set to graduate from the University of the Philippines College of Law. It was a liberating experience to walk out of my last law school exam, and I finally disposed of every last paper and legal aid case last week.

I feel like the world has been lifted off my shoulders. A lowerclassman asked me if I was excited, and I replied I was simply too exhausted to be excited.

Finishing everything was actually underwhelming. While I was passing my last papers, a college classmate got hit by a truck and I had to go to the wake. Then, I had to lay the groundwork for a legal aid case, and I had to interview a 17-year-old rape victim for two hours.

Seriously, I can’t think of many things more emotionally draining than asking a teen-ager to recount, in front of her mother, how her underwear was removed, and then move to the next detail and then the next.

Now all I have to do is review for the national bar exams (which is why I disappeared for several weeks, sorry).

Many readers have commented that I look different after four years, and here’s the law graduate me at my last fraternity ball as a student:

Flores grabs a piece of Tan

While I was sidelined and finishing off my last exams, Mike Flores (see “Interaction 101“) really socked it to my last article “Trinisphere, and Does Fun in Type I Mean Interactivity?“.

In fact, he responded in not one but two columns (see “The Limit of Skill and Other Topics“).

In case you haven’t followed the articles, it all began when Mike Flores and Mike Clair wrote on this concept they call “interactivity,” and the term featured prominently in Wizards’ explanation for restricting Trinisphere

Mike Flores, “The Limit of Interactivity” (Premium) [Free now! – Knut]

Michael Clair, “Interactivity and the Common Man

Aaron Forsythe, “Eight Plus One

Oscar Tan, “Trinisphere, and Does Fun in Type I Mean Interactivity?“

Mike Flores, “The Limit of Skill and Other Topics” (Premium)

Mike Flores, “Interaction 101” (Premium)

Star City Forums, “Discuss Interaction 101” (posts by Steve Menendian, Mike Flores, and myself)

The interactivity war

Twin clouds of dust rose from opposite ends of an unnamed, desolate plain on the outskirts of Ravnica. Soon, two mighty hosts marched towards each other under the rising sun.

From the east comes an army of goblins and Zvi-ling clones from Misetings.

From the west comes a gaggle of ManaDrain.com groupies with briefcases of Lion’s Eye Diamonds, Doomsdays and Star City’s surplus of foil Mind’s Desires.

From the east comes the self-proclaimed Bad Player.

From the west comes Type I’s Mr. Turn 1 kill himself.

The armies halt in the middle of the plain, and all movement ceases as the two generals stride forward.

Steve Menendian speaks first, and shouts, “How can you say that Trinisphere is an interactive card?”

Mike Flores retorts, “You misquoted me, I have no opinion on that card! I was editing The Dojo when you were still in diapers, who are you to question my authori-taaaay?”

Steve folds his arms on his chest, his expression mirroring that of an Ohio State student told that Michigan has a better football team.

He smugly replies, “A lawyer!”

They are soon lost in a sea of battling peons. The groupies sac the Diamonds and start asking who grabbed the Tendrils of Agony. The goblins attempt to force interaction.

Okay, so minus strained fan fiction and plus my standing right in the middle of the battlefield, that was what you saw on the Star City Forums some time back (see “Discuss Interaction 101“).

And yes, it all began with how Trinisphere is played in Type I.

This isn’t just about a bunch of egotistical Featured Writers fighting over who is valedictorian of Sunday School.

You have to understand that Trinisphere was restricted using a new criteria, and it was indubitably not broken by Top 8-dominance standards. This wasn’t a Type I-only problem as well, because some of that reasoning was seen in the banning of the artifact lands – yes, common lands! – in Type II.

Type I players in particular want a precise articulation of the concept, since it might be used to restrict something again.

(Oscar: Hey editor, please flash Aaron Forsythe exact words again!)

(Knut: Bah, I don’t take this abuse for non-Premium articles!)

(Oscar: Oh, go insert some parenthetical comment if it makes you happy.)

“Trinisphere is a nasty card, no bones about it. It does ridiculous things in Vintage, especially combined with Mishra’s Workshop. As I’ve said in a previous column, we almost restricted it before it was even released.

“Now that it has been floating around for a while, the Vintage crowd understands that the card does good things for the format, and bad things to the format. While it does serve a role of keeping combo decks in check, it also randomly destroys people on turn one, with little recourse other than <Force of Will>. And those games end up labeled with that heinous word-unfun. Not just “I lost” unfun, but “Why did I even come here to play?” unfun. The power level of the card is no jokes either, which is a big reason why I don’t feel bad about its restriction.

“Vintage, like the other formats with large card pools, always runs the risk of becoming non-interactive, meaning the games are little more than both players “goldfishing” to see who can win first. <Trinisphere adds to that problem by literally preventing the opponent from playing spells. We don’t want Magic to be about that, especially not that easily. If combo rears its head, we’ll worry about it later. But for now, we want to people to play their cards. Really.”

This is applicable to far more than Type I, so stay with me as I review the last four articles on interactivity here on StarCityGames.

Hey! I’ll be talking about what Premium articles said, so the cheapskates among you listen up!

The Flores definition of interactivity

Interactivity is, on the surface, a simple concept.

Michael Clair articulated, “anything that lets two Magic decks play on the same field as the other.” (see “Interactivity and the Common Man“)

He added: “Non-Interaction, however, is when two decks are playing on different fields. Usually they are parallel fields in that they will not intersect until the game is over, and most games end up being a race not for interaction, but for each deck to go off before the other can complete its plan.”

Both Mikes used Extended Red Deck Wins facing combo decks as an example. Loosely speaking, RDW wants to lay a couple of Jackal Pups, then hit the opponent with a Wasteland and more mana denial. Ideally, the opponent will be unable to stick to his original plan, and will no longer have the luxury of ignoring the Pups nipping at his ankles and bringing his life total down fast.

The plan fell apart, both said, when the combo decks could still function under mana denial, or in other words, RDW failed to force interaction.

This is a simple but elegant description.

It’s not completely new, too.

I remember how Eric “Danger” Taylor commented years back on the Meridian Magic e-group that the best deck in a format is ideally the combo deck, and that when it emerges, the best deck will shift to a controllish combo deck that can defend against other combos. (My personal example? Consider how those post-Urza’s Saga mono-Blue combos suddenly splashed Red for Pyroblast.)

Again, however, the simplicity was lost when we Type I aficionados tried applying interactivity as defined to the Trinisphere restriction.

Mike described cards such as Wasteland, Tangle Wire, and Sphere of Resistance as interactive, and his main example was mana denial. Trinisphere is right up that alley.

However, if Trinisphere is an interactive card, your common sense tells you that Type I decks that induce you to pull your hair off after Trinisphere hits are non-interactive decks.

(Nitpicking alert: Or, as Steve Menendian would rather categorize, Trinisphere must be a non-interactive card outright. Either set of semantics is fine – interactive card in a non-interactive deck or non-interactive card – so long as you’re consistent with it.)

Simply, calling Trinisphere interactive sounds like “Ah did not have sexual relations with Miss Lewinsky” using the Clinton defense team’s definition of sex.

Or, something equally curious straight out of the footnotes in an Enron accounting statement.

Interactivity is not so simple after all, apparently.

The Tan breakdown for interactivity

I might not think interactivity is as simple as Mike claims, but I’m a lawyer-to-be, so I won’t complain.

I mean, I hope to feed at least one family off making things more complex than they are, right?

Nevertheless, from my unifying theory article “Counting Shadow Prices,” you know that I prefer to relate every theory that comes along to Magic’s fundamental rules. The four most important are the Time Walk breakdown:

1) one card draw per turn

2) one land drop per turn

3) one untap phase per turn (in practical terms, you can only have mana equal to, at most, the turn number; for example, you normally have only one mana in Turn 1, two mana in Turn 2, etc.)

4) one attack phase per turn

Breaking the first gives you card advantage and, loosely speaking, breaking the last three give you tempo advantage, following Eric “Danger” Taylor’s linking tempo to mana (see “Counting Tempo“).

The way I understood it, interactivity is largely about you disrupting an opponent’s tempo when you cannot win before he does, and it’s futile to devote resources towards trying to win at that point.

This definition captured the examples from Mike’s original article (see “The Limit of Interactivity“). Wasteland cuts an opponent’s mana, and Windswept Heath hedges against Wasteland disruption. Sped Red’s mana disruption didn’t work against Mono Brown’s artifact mana.

It also fit right in with my definition of an aggro-control deck, something that puts out cheap but powerful creatures and then uses disruption to push back the opponent’s fundamental turn so that its beatdown can win in the window it creates (see “What IS Aggro-Control?“).

A lot of the categories of interactive cards Mike identified dovetailed neatly with categories of aggro-control decks which are clearest in Type I. You have counter-based aggro-control packing Force of Will (Growing ‘Tog, Fish), discard-based aggro-control packing Duress (the old Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought decks with Unmask and classic Suicide Black), and Mishra’s Workshop-based decks packing Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, and other artifact mana disruption.

In my last article, I summarized my thoughts in a simplified reinterpretation of Mike’s classic “Who’s the Beatdown“:

1. Count your deck’s fundamental turn and your opponent’s deck’s fundamental turn.

2. If your deck goldfishes faster than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Beatdown and move to win while ignoring your slower opponent.

3. If your deck goldfishes slower than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Control and move to disrupt your faster opponent’s tempo.

So, I figured, if you can’t win before your opponent does, disrupt him a.k.a. force interaction.

Mike’s second article: “The Limit of Skill and Other Topics

I remember this old Yogi Bear cartoon where a chef served Yogi a steak, and your not-an-average bear licked his lips, put some ketchup on it, and wolfed it down. The chef felt mortally insulted because Yogi visibly enjoyed his steak but put ketchup on it while doing so.

For what it’s worth Mike, I enjoyed your original article!

Anyway, in his second interactivity article, Mike said:

“Many pundits point to interactive Magic and try to say that it all boils down to ‘disruption,’ whatever that means.”

(A Google search of interactivity articles tells us “many pundits” translates as “that shifty-eyed bastard with the raccoon on his head a.k.a. Oscar Tan.”) [Oddly enough, both are Filipino. – Knut]

In this second article, Mike pooh-poohed “many pundits” by saying that interactivity is really about virtual card advantage. He gave a 1997-era CMU Blue opening grip of Counterspell, Counterspell, Forbid, Rainbow Efreet, Whispers of the Muse, Island, and Quicksand. Lacking a second Island and noting that Quicksand will soon trade for an opponent’s creature, he argues that this opening hand is really a two-card hand of Island and Whispers of the Muse.

Thus, he says, “Your goal, when playing interactive Magic, is to turn the opponent’s grip into a hand like this one.”

Going back to RDW, he explained further: “Wasteland or a Rishadan Port (or both!) would put The Rock in a position where it basically had a zero-card hand. At some point, after playing four or five more lands, The Rock’s hand would suddenly ‘activate’ and it would be a game… a game where one player had less than 10 or less life to start. This is a lesson in Virtual Card Advantage: when you can’t cast your spells, it’s not that different from drawing blanks.”

Interlude: Virtual card advantage and revisiting T.H.E.F.U.C.C.

Mike’s discussion about gaining virtual card advantage through mana denial is interesting because the logic appears correct and the discussion seems to capture the situation perfectly.

“Seems,” I said.

You mean you think it’s a man under that dress, Oscar?

Seriously, it’s easy to write up a new description for something and present a situation where it seems to apply perfectly, but the challenge is to make sure it applies to everything the most skeptical reader can think up – look up those pesky Options Theory articles I criticized by asking if they meant Dromar’s Charm is more powerful than Mana Drain because it has more “options.”

Virtual card advantage was integrated into “Tan’s Highly Educated Formula for Uber-Card Counting (T.H.E.F.U.C.C.)” as “Rule 3,” or “Dead card = -1 CA” (see “The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution“). It’s “virtual” because CA shifts without hand size or number of permanents actually changing.

In short, when a card is practically useless, count it, as Mike says, like a blank card, or like an Ace of Spades or a Noble Panther. Or, like something as good as discarded.

Rule 3 can be as simple as drawing Disenchant against an all-creature deck, Swords to Plowshares against a creatureless deck, Pulverize against a deck with no artifacts, or using good money to buy Inquest Gamer. (see “Public Service Announcement“)

It can get more complicated and more subtle, and you have the basic example of a big blocker or wall nullifying your attackers. It’s trickiest in combo decks, and Mike already showed you how a single Duress or Diabolic Edict can make an entire Extended Sneak Attack opening hand “dead” under Rule 3.

Rule 3 gets tricky because “dead” depends on the context.

If a Type I player goes Turn 1 Mox Sapphire, Forbidden Orchard, Oath of Druids on you, all three are “live” cards. But what if it’s not an Orchard, is Oath “dead” under Rule 3 and live only it comes up?

This is readily defensible. For example, if you’re playing combo, that Oath may not activate before your Tendrils of Agony or Goblin Charbelcher does. If so, you’ll ignore it and write it off as “dead,” saving your disruption for his Force of Will.

But if not? It’s harder to deal with Orchard, a land, than Oath, so it might be too late to hit Oath when it actually goes “live.” Thus, if you need to deal with Oath, counting it as “dead” under Rule 3 while waiting for Orchard might be as misleading as watching American Pie to learn what to do at the Prom.

Thus, the “context” depends on the window you want to talk about, and we go back to fundamental turns from where the game is at that point. Unless we’re talking about very small one- or two-turn windows – and there are a lot in Type I and Extended, as Mike himself has shown extensively – counting a lot of “dead” cards means a lot of cards will flip-flop and go “dead” or “live” each turn.

Unless you’re Mike Flores, that might be too confusing for you – don’t forget that the ultimate goal of theory is to teach the game better.

The problem of seeing interactivity as virtual card advantage

Let’s go back to Mike’s Islands.

When you count “dead” cards that aggressively, you tell yourself, “All my cards in hand are blanks but my first Island is like an Ancestral Recall.”

This follows because if you say destroying land is as good as making the opponent discard, then you also say that playing your first lands is as good as drawing. Again, this might get confusing, and it might even get misleading and American Pie-ish.

Consider: Is it better to Armageddon when your opponent’s hand is full?

You’re not really looking at his hand size, are you? Further, if you start thinking of Armageddon as a virtual discard spell, you might even mislead yourself into waiting till the opponent’s hand is full, as an exaggerated example.

This is why I’d rather stick to my “Counting Shadow Prices” outline and just say a Wasteland sets the opponent back a land drop, and keep cards and mana as two distinct resources.

I’d like to raise two points about Mike’s second article, then:

1) Outside a very narrow window, whether or not you count a card as “dead” under Rule 3, it will become “live” again so you get the same dog with either collar. Mike’s discussion is neither wrong nor right since it works perfectly so long as you’re consistent. My concern is that it could get confusing, and theory must teach.

2) Regardless, the second article doesn’t seem to talk much about interactivity, does it? Mike just proposed that successful interaction nets you virtual card advantage. He explained the virtual card advantage but not the interaction, and the cart went before the horse here. The interaction is still a lot of examples of land destruction from the original article.

Mike’s Third Article: “Interaction 101

In Mike’s third and last interactivity article, he made it clear he was tearing Oscar Tan a new one, while your hapless coon-capped Asian was buried under his last law school exams. Mike said:

“What The?! Apparently some Internet writers don’t know the difference between interactive and non-interactive cards.”

Ouch. “Some Internet writers”? That hit my ego like a sledgehammer!

Seriously, Mike’s third article now distinguished interactivity from card advantage, talking about Peek v. Duress and Deep Analysis v. Fact or Fiction (the latter are interactive).

That discussion ended with a Zvi story on bluffing piles for an opponent’s FoF.

Do you get my concern now? In three articles, Mike talked about everything from mana disruption to counterspells to virtual card advantage to bluffing. The discussion is beautiful, make no mistake, but when you put it together, the interactivity seems stretched so thin you don’t know where to apply it anymore.

And after all that, I still haven’t been enlightened on my original problem: How does Trinisphere fit here? (which, again, explains how interactivity might justify a restriction)

Reinterpreting “Who’s the Beatdown”: Tan’s interaction framework

As an aside, Mike addressed one part of my last article, though, my interactivity as a reinterpretation of “Who’s the Beatdown“:

1. Count your deck’s fundamental turn and your opponent’s deck’s fundamental turn.

2. If your deck goldfishes faster than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Beatdown and move to win while ignoring your slower opponent.

3. If your deck goldfishes slower than your opponent’s, you must generally be the Control and move to disrupt your faster opponent’s tempo.

Simply put, Mike didn’t like it, and gave two counter-examples.

First, he said “Who’s the Beatdown” was aimed at matchups between similar decks. What do the “Tan bullets” teach you when two decks have the same fundamental turn, he asked, and gave the example of Deadguy Red against something with Fireslinger and Hammer of Bogardan instead.

Well, I figured you can’t swap slower but more controlling cards in without making a deck slower. But even between two identical decks, the opening hand and plays will put one in a more aggressive, dominating position, and the other will have to knock him out of that position instead of wasting time trying to win at that point.

Second, Mike argued you can’t apply the “Tan bullets” to the “Maher-era” Draw Go v. Oath match, since Oath had the longer goldfish yet correctly assumed the aggressive role by slipping Sylvan Library then Abundance past the opponent’s counters.

Okay, “fundamental turn” is not a turn you want to associate with long control mirrors. But when you consider the first important advantage instead of the actual winning Morphling, wouldn’t it be reasonable to say that Draw-Go of that era would have to play defensive because it can’t match Sylvan Library in the early game?

(Caveat: Apologies in advance if I simply don’t understand Extended as much as Mike, I was just dragged in here from my tranquil Type I discussions.)

I honestly think Tan’s interaction framework (sounds smarter than Tan bullets I hope) is a useful simplification. I’d use it to explain why you slip control elements into an aggro or combo deck, or when you play a control deck like aggro-control (see “‘The Deck’ is Now Aggro-Control?“).

Of course, since it’s a simplification, it can’t cover everything, and perhaps the more distinctive interactivity discussion will come in the areas it doesn’t.

The loose ends of interactivity

Like I said, after Mike’s third article, I felt I was still where I started with respect to the Trinisphere restriction. Coincidentally, Steve Menendian echoed this point on Mike’s forum thread. Here’s how Steve framed the discussion:

There may have been flaws in Oscar’s article, but Interaction is not nearly as simple as you suggest, either in terms of how we analyze decks or cards.

In your last article on Interactivity, you talked about Sphere of Resistance as a tool you used in Mono Black to force the combo decks to interact.

Under your definition of interactivity provided in that article, the following play is Interactive:

Mishra’s Workshop, Trinisphere

But every Type One player knows that is an absurdity.

That is the spirit of Oscar’s piece. You can define interactivity, but there is a deeper spirit to the term that Trinisphere does NOT meet despite meeting the letter of the term.

I have much to say on this matter and hope you respond.

Stephen Menendian

One of the things Mike ended with in that thread was: “I don’t know what the purpose of your bit on the exposition being vague is, but the goal of my articles has never been to feed your ability to codify Magic.”

I don’t know if my law journal editor mode is just on, but I think we’ve been trying to codify Magic theory since The Dojo, to teach people. Like I said, I myself was getting confused at how the interactivity discussion covered everything from mana denial to bluffing. At the same time, we need to relate interactivity to concepts from tempo to inevitability.

If by “codify” we mean relating all these theory discussions, then hell yes we better do it, or we get a confusion of overlapping discussions where a newbie might think everyone is just talking about his own thing for the day.

With due respect to Mike, I think the clearest interactivity discussion so far was JP MeyerInteractivity and You“, and he emphasized the tempo or “clock” aspect of the discussion. He also broke down the specific points for mutual disruption in Type I ‘Tog v. Control Slaver to an art, on the level of Ben Bleiweiss‘ ‘Tog mirror coverage of Patrick Mello and Kai Budde in the 2002 Type II San Diego Masters.

However, JP’s article doesn’t leave me completely satisfied with the theoreticals of interactivity, either. For example, to resolve my counterspell dilemma, he proposes that Force of Will is generally interactive, but it becomes non-interactive when it aims to counter mainly other Forces.

As I already discussed in the previous article, I still don’t think the hard interactive/non-interactive card dichotomy is all that useful to develop interactivity discussions. Remember, the Trinisphere restriction is smack in this sort of categorization, since if you can draw the line for counters, you can do it for artifacts, too.

So where does this months-old Trinisphere discussion fit in?

In the end, I don’t think the restriction announcement itself really does.

Aaron Forsythe might just have been trying to find the right words to explain a very curious restriction, and the term “interactivity” was beginning to get mileage. Nevertheless, that discussion stands and you never know when it might get picked up and used for another restriction outside the brokenness criteria.

Still, no one has yet been able to answer whether Trinisphere itself is an interactive or non-interactive card, and that opened an entire can of worms that’s still unresolved.

We still have to sharpen the interactivity discussion. Trinisphere revealed so many of us were confused as to what the essence of interactivity really was what the bounds of the discussion were, and how to apply it. And, the underlying concepts are not themselves new so we also have to link it to better-defined concepts, from tempo to aggro-control.

‘Til next week! I hope!

Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)

rakso on #BDChat on EFNet

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