The Indifference Curve

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How Reality TV paved the way for Game of Thrones

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(Warning: spoilers for like, everything on earth follow.)

Twice now, in Game of Thrones, the audience of home has reacted in horror as one of the series’ many leads was cut down in cold blood.  They were shocked, dismayed, and upset.  But secretly? They were also exhilerated.  Narrative conventions thrown out the window. Complete unpredictability.  “No one is safe.” Author George R.R. Martin has said that he’s written these books as if writing historical fiction where the audience doesn’t know the outcome.  It’s one thing to be watching a war movie where we know the Nazis lose.  It’s quite another to be watching one where you have no idea who’s going to come on top.  But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen audiences blindsided by a show turning the tables on their expectations.

On May 31, 2000, Survivor premiered.   As it aired its initial slate of episodes, viewers steadily increased, and a pattern emerged in the editing.  Viewers were given a logical reason for why someone was voted out, and the editing was sure to make viewers understand why the group did what they did, even if they didn’t fully agree with.  In episode 1: Sonja got axed because she was old.  E2? BB, cause he was obnoxious.  3- Stacy-Annoying. 4-Ramona- Sick.  5? Dirk, too religious.  6, Joel, too chauvinistic.  It was essentially a social morality play, one where viewers didn’t know the outcome.  But in episode 7, the rug was pulled out from everyone when the merge turned the game individual.  Gretchen, the castmember who you’d most want by your side in a real survival situation, was voted out because they perceived her to be the biggest threat to their chances to winning the game. There was suddenly no moral compass, no justification given to the vote other than “you win or you die.” Audiences were stunned.  Shocked.  Outraged.  And they came back for more, as ratings for the finale nearly doubled that of Gretchen’s boot episode.

Long before Game of Thrones came on the air, Survivor introduced audiences to the world of “reality TV.”  But a better name for what Survivor is would be the “Serialized Game Show.”   Survivor penalizes the viewer for missing episodes, because each episode is intrinsically linked to the events of the prior one.  Although you could usually pick up what was going on, missing an episode of the show was like skipping a chapter in a book.  Shows like Survivor trained audiences to make TV shows a habit, rather than something you could flip on and off at any time, like Law & Order.   They also expected more out of their audience’s attention.  Because they’d start with a cast of 16-20, it was important for the editors to be able to help the audience learn who these strangers were as they started battling each other in the TV arena.  Shows like Survivor helped change people’s perception of what viewers were willing to tolerate.  They required viewer investment and rewarded those viewers with thrills you simply couldn’t get elsewhere.

There’s a reasons Survivor fan fics always suck:  the real thing is just straight up better.  Survivor is a show that kills a character every episode.  Each episodes builds on the tension and dynamics established in the previous episode, and each episode closes with a tense (or edited-to-be-tense) vote where the audience is shock/relieved/indifferent to find out who’s getting their head chopped off.  The very nature of the game- it’s unscripted nature,  is what makes the show so compelling.  Arya stark states that “Anyone can be killed”, and on both Game of Thrones and serialized game shows, that’s definitely the case.  In the case of reality TV, history is literally unwritten, and in Game of Thrones, it’s written as though it weren’t even written.  We learn to understand the motivations of each of the characters, even if we don’t like them, and when the audience’s hopes are dashed, broken, and bloodied, we always understand why. (In the context of the story.)The very things that made a show like Survivor work helped pave the way to show people that it really could be possible for audiences to fall in love with a series that tends to kill off the audience’s favorite characters! 

However, over the years, some of these shows have taken steps to try and insure that a happy ending almost always occurs, and have hurt themselves in the process.  Later this week, I’ll have an update into how some of these evolutions have actively worked to actively make reality TV competitions worse, and how I think the situation can be rectified.

Written by kirblar024

September 17, 2013 at 12:53 am

Grand Prix KC Modern Postmortem

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Modern, as a format, is in much better shape than it was a year ago. But it’s still not “there” yet. Here’s where I think it’s having issues and needs improvement.

1) Commentary is a huge issue for coverage

The commentary (Marshall Sutcliffe and Ben Swartz) was simply not up to the task. (Don’t take this personally if you read this guys!) They’re obviously familiar with the broad strokes of the format, but they don’t know the intricacies or interactions very well, and so it just gets infuriating to listen to after a while. You actually need to be familiar with the past 10 years of magic cards and how they interact in a competitive setting, and the lack of actual hands-on experience showed in the booth. You can teach a coverage guy the general deck archetypes. But you can’t teach him hours upon hours of play experience. WotC really needs to step up coverage where formats like Modern/Legacy are concerned and get players to commentate who know their stuff and who can adequately explain complex board states to viewers. This format’s not easy, and has a lot of very odd cards in it thanks to the Time Spiral era. Explaining broad strategies, why someone might choose a certain line, why someone would risk tapping out vs. Twin, etc. All commentators will make mistakes. Finding players who are available, commentate well, know the format, and will give up playing a GP won’t be easy, but if you can pull it off, it’ll be a huge benefit to introducing players to the wonders of Eternal and almost-Eternal formats.

2) Modern has an “Oops I Win” problem

I really like Modern. But, after having a relatively balanced metagame for a while, we’re now seeing a shift to a metagame consisting of 50% combo decks. The problem isn’t so much that more people are playing straight-up combo decks. The problem is that all sorts of tradtional midrange and control decks are now adapting combo finishes. Pod, a midrange deck in Standard, now plays either a GY recursion kill engine or a Kiki-Jiki engine. UWR control decks have adapted to having a bunch of value guys +Splinter Twin/Kki. And other combo decks have moved into “normal” territory – Living End now plays a LD suite it hardcasts. Scapeshift imitates a control shell that seeks to just blast its opponents when it hits 7-8 lands. Dedicated control decks and aggro decks are just left in the cold right now as they can’t keep up with the arms race. Note how Affinity’s just not a deck right now. The metagame’s pushing decks into directions (better be able to beat infinite life bro!) that seem very unhealthy, and Chapin’s prediction that “more bans will be necessary” seems likely to come to fruition. The scapeshift/UWR match was the perfect example of what this format could be, and was unique because the endgame resembled an actual game of magic rather than a concession to an onboard kill. That kind of tension was missing throughout the coverage, and when you saw it there, it served as a reminder of what the best games of magic are really like. We need more of those and less invisible trigger chains

3) Ban suggestions/food for thought

This is going to be me spitballing, but here goes. We all knew the ban list would need to be worked on. It seems likely that it’ll need to be tweaked some more. These are cards that I think merit consideration. I’m throwing out my thoughts on them. Some I think are good ideas. Others probably aren’t.

Simian Spirit Guide
– This card only shows up in dedicated combo decks. And they’re the sorts of decks which are generally going to routinely be violating the “T4” rule. (Goryo’s Vengeance/Breach, Living End.) In a format where Lotus Petal would be “too good”, this guy is essentially a Lotus Petal you can’t even interact with, and who helps strategies (on the margins) that you really don’t want to be giving the help to. It was doing some really gross things all day, and unlike a ritual or mana dork, you can’t interact with the ability pre-emptively

Birthing Pod– I’m actually a fan of this card. I don’t think banning Pod itself really solves any problems though. It’s a very good enabler, but the interactions it enables already exist elsewhere. Case in point:

Melira, Sylvok Outcast
– The interaction between her and the persist creatures is hugely problematic. The misguided templating on her ability is unfortunately not errata-able , and so we’re stuck with a not-so-difficult to assemble infinite life combo that’s relatively resilient. Even with Pod gone, you end up with a deck that looks like a totally bananas version of Junk Aristocrats. It’d be a weird ban for sure, but they’ve banned weirder.

Kiki-Jiki– I actually think he’s fine. 5 mana 2/2? Sure. Not a problem. However…

Splinter Twin– The phantom menace of the format. Splinter Twin is a very oppressive card, in that the deck/strategy’s existence warps everyone else’s consderations of what to play since you need to be able to prevent the T3 EoT Exarch, tap a land, T4 Twin play on the draw. The deck does a lot of awful things to how you have to approach the format, and KOing its consistency (making it have to rely on only Kiki) would, imo, greatly improve people’s willingness to play more “tap out” type archetypes that are currently just shut down because of this dumb card’s existance. Speaking of really stupid cards…..

Emrakul, The Aeons Torn– This card sucks to play with. The Commander team knew it. Market research shows it. We know it. It’s not fun to play with, it’s not fun to play against. In Legacy, there are many, many more lines of interaction, mostly due to SnT and Karakas. In Modern? Not so much. The Goryo’s Vengeance deck is really cool, but Emrakul is the part that turns it from cool to miserable. None of the other cards involved are all that overpowered, even Mr. Grislebanned, and I’d really like to find a way to keep cards like Vengeance and Through the Breach in the format without having to deal with “lol you can’t do anything about it.”

So, those are my big 4. I do think that Modern needs tuning adjustments at this point. All-Combo-All-The-Time is not really going to work in the long run, but I don’t think we need huge changes that eradicate archetypes altogether. I think SSG, Melira, Splinter Twin, and Emrakul all leaving would contribute to a much healthier format. But I’m curious what other people think. Sound off below or hit me up on twitter.

Written by kirblar024

July 8, 2013 at 2:37 am

Rising Waters, Sunken Hope

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Have you noticed it? It’s creeping up all around you. Prices have been slowly climbing to untold-of heights. First Innistrad block started shooting up. Now Legacy’s starting its climb. And soon, in a few months, we’re going to see the effects hit Modern when PTQ season starts. The entire MTG price floor is rising due to increased demand, and we’ve just started to feel the impact.

Some people have been calling this a bubble. Those people are wrong. This is not a bubble. This is the end result of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 and Return to Ravnica. The sold-out prereleases nationwide were a harbinger. The player base has expanded dramatically in the course of a few months as players both old and new have entered (or re-entered) the game’s player base. This is going to have enormous implications for all three major constructed competitive formats.

First off is Standard. This is going to be the one least affected by these issues. The cards pre-RTR are simply just going to be annoyingly expensive until they rotate out of Standard. That’s all. We’ve seen this happenen with Scars block last year, but this is hitting harder due to just how large the player influx was this year. RTR block, however, should be priced at a point that makes sense due to the ability of prices to hit “Box Equilibrium” from dealers simply cracking product and redeeming MTGO collections. You think the prices of Shocklands are low now? Just wait a few months. You won’t believe how low they go.

Next up is Legacy. Don’t believe there’s a demand increase? Just go take a look at JTMS, Polluted Delta, and The Abyss. Oh, and Underground Sea. The format’s edging ever closer to that point where it shuts out more people than it’s worth, but unfortunately I don’t think Modern’s in a position yet to take the “Eternal Format of Choice” mantle away if the PT results are anything to go by.) I’m very curious how the attendance disparity between SCG D1/D2 will evolve this year, as at some point, the barrier issues in the format are going to start creating issues trying to run a tournament series half-based on the format. The manabases are the critical issue, and while reprinting fetches would help, the duals are just going to keep going up up up, and at some point, the players “sitting on the sideline” will force a change. The question is just how big that untapped player volume is right now.

And finally, we get to Modern. If you thought prices were bad now… you have no idea what we’re in for. What’s happened to Legacy courtesy of the SCG series will happen to Modern, courtesy of PTQ season, and I have every expectation that we’re about to get a severe price shock to the format’s staples. Players are going to be eagerly awaiting the impact of MTGMM on accessibility. It’s going to be viewed as the format’s salvation, in a way.

But sadly, I don’t think it’s going to be enough. Tarmogoyf is already around $85-100. I expect that price to rise. And with it, I expect Modern Masters to both a) quickly sell out and b) not have the market impact they’re hoping for due to the unexpectedly massive player influx from RTR. This product was planned out before they could have know that was coming, and I strongly suspect that it’s going to underperform in re-adjusting the market, at least with that particular Green Llhurgoyf.

So what,as players, should our reaction be to all this? Simple- if you need it, get it now. You’re already late to the game if this price level rise is new to you, but luckily, most people who aren’t dealers haven’t quite caught wind of just how seismic this shift in demand is. With any luck, you’ll be able to get what you need before the rising price tide puts a severe damper on your ability to pick up a brand new deck.

Written by kirblar024

October 22, 2012 at 10:40 pm

Cavern of Souls and the “Counterspell Problem” in Standard.

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Cavern of Souls, in the matter of less than 24 hours, has created an enormous amount of discussion and outcry. Some believe that people are over-reacting, and indeed, they probably are in a format like Legacy, where Wasteland is there to punish greedy manabases. But the outcry over the card has more to do with how R&D’s recent decisions over the past few years have led to a place where countermagic, despite their best intentions, has become the best method of interacting with opposing cards, despite their public desire to see it diminished in effectiveness. And thus, with the prospect of a card that completely blanks any card with “Counter Target Spell” on it is legitimately terrifying to people.

But what exactly has led to this point? The issue here really starts not with Counterspells, but with R&D’s stated goal of “Making Creatures Good”. At the beginning of the game’s history, Creatures were, indeed, underpowered relative to other classes of cards. Over time, R&D has slowly been ramping up the power level of creature cards to get them on a level equal to the other card types.

In addition, R&D discovered that counterspells were frustrating to a large portion of the player base, as it felt “better” to them to have a creature taken out by Wrath of God or Doom Blade instead of a dastardly Counterspell. This led R&D to attempt to gradually scale back the power level of countermagic. They’ve printed less of them and made them less efficient, so that decks consisting of 20+ counterspells are no longer really viable in format. However, there have usually been a few decent ones kicking around each format, so that the threat of a counterspell is always there.

However, in recent years, the push to make creatures better has begun to work at cross purposes with R&D’s other goal of reducing the prevalence of weakening counterspells. Two methods in particular have increased the marginal value of countermagic relative to other forms of removal, and in the process, forced decks to lean on the few counterspells they have even harder in order to interact with their opponent’s cards.

The first trend that has led to this has been a steady increase in in the power level and tonnage of “187” creatures with “Enters the Battlefield” abilities. First introduced in Visions, and quickly adopted and expanded upon in future Magic expansions, these “Virtual Vanillas” have spell-like effects when entering the battlefield. Cards like Cloudgoat Ranger, Sea Gate Oracle, or Acidic Slime all leave their controller up a “Card”, even if the creature is subsequently removed with a spell like Lightning Bolt or Doom Blade after it enters the battlefield. Because of this, the relative value of Countermagic compared to other types of traditional damage or destruction-based removal has actually increased because of the added marginal benefit of keeping the creature’s “spell effect” off the battlefield as well. The cycle of Titans is the best possible example of this. If you take out any of the cycle (Except Frost Titan) out after they enter the battlefield, your opponent is still “up” 1-2 cards, and if they’ve attacked? 2-4! Because of this, players in Standard have had to rely on countermagic as the primary means of fighting this attrition war.

But card advantage isn’t the only reason that players have reacted so strongly here. The introduction of mass amounts of Hexproof creatures into the Standard environment over the past four sets has created a situation where again, players have been conditioned to use countermagic over other forms of removal if they want to interact with these creatures. With Hexproof creatures, they are unable to be targetted by an opponent once they enter the battlefield, blanking cards like Doom Blade. But unlike the Shroud creatures like Blastoderm, that previously graced the battlefields of Magic, who were able to be chump blocked for days, the Hexproof ability allows the creature’s controller to attach Auras and Equipment that provide evasive abilities to their Hexproof creatures, making it nearly impossible to interact with the creature once it resolves without an instant speed disenchant effect and a handy blocker. This natural resistance to both blocking and spot removal again creates a stuation where counterspells become the simplest answer to a creature with Hexproof, as the chances of interacting with the creature while it is in play are then restricted mostly to sweepers, which are relatively narrow, often inefficient, and have a great deal of issues in the current standard environment due to mechanics like Undying.

And thus, is it any wonder that a large number of players are immediately concerned by Cavern of Souls? The move towards strong 187 and Hexproof creatures has created a situation where the value of the ability to interact with a creature before it hits the battlefield far outweighs the value of attempting to interact with it once it resolves. Despite weakening counterspells overall, R&D has steadily increased their marginal value relative to other forms of removal and interaction over the past year. And now, with many players seeing them as the*only* defense they have against the hexproof and ETB creatures in the format, suddenly a card appears that threatens to shut that entire line of play down without a single non-land card slot being used up in the process.

Is it any wonder that panic has erupted? R&D has, despite their best efforts, steadily increased the marginal value of countermagic even as they’ve reduced the power and number of individual counterspells. Now, with players perceiving that the best class of interactive spells is about to be rendered obsolete, they fear that Standard may become a format where you are simply playing “at” your opponent, trying to race or out-trump them , rather than a format where you can expect to interact or interfere with their gameplan in any reasonable manner. And given what we’ve seen of Standard lately, with control decks on life support, I do not believe that fear to be unwarranted or irrational.

Written by kirblar024

April 18, 2012 at 12:39 am

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Cube Draft #1!

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Written by kirblar024

April 8, 2012 at 3:18 pm

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Cube Draft #2!

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Written by kirblar024

April 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm

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The 9/20 Modern B/R Updates- My take

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September 20th is going to be a very interesting day.  Not only will the B/R updates be out, but the Innistrad spoiler will have launched the previous day.  This is likely going to result in MAJOR upheaval in all 3 major constructed formats on October 1st, as Legacy is almost certainly seeing a Mental Misstep ban, Standard is going to see a rotation, and Modern is certainly going to have some adjustments to the B/R list.  In addition, Aaron Forsythe has mentioned that they are going to be much more liberal than usual with Modern bans and unbannings in order to try and adjust various facets of the format and keep it from becoming stale.  That means we likely have big adjustments on their way after the combo-dominated PT: Philly, and a potential for sweeping change.  So, as we prepare for the oncoming wave, here’s what I think should/will happen to the banlist in the format.

Unbans:

Ancestral Vision

This one is a no-brainer.  It doesn’t appear as though this card would even see play in the current format, and it doesn’t appear to be particularly dangerous without Bitterblossom around to provide a way to stall out the game.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

The primary reason for his ban was to avoid a PT: Jace scenario, which the switch from Extended was designed to do.  After seeing the results of the PT, it’s highly unlikely the format would allow that to occur, given the speed of many of the decks.  And what better way to drum up excitement than let one of the most notorious cards in history loose once more.

Bans:

Cloudpost

There’s no way around this one:  the post has to go.  With the concious decision to scale back the power of Wasteland/Stone Rain effects in Modern design, the card is simply too good, too fast, and too  difficult for other decks to interact with in this format.  If you want people to be able to cast “their spells”, you need to ensure that “their  spells” are of a reasonable casting cost.  The Urzatron will still exist, and feed into a much slower, fairer, and interactive deck.

Blazing Shoal

This one saddens me, but there’s no good way around it, and it’s because of the same issue Cloudpost faces- with no Wasteland or Force of Will effects, the deck is simply far too fast for the format.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Emrakul’s problem is simply a lack of ways to interact with him.  When cheated into play, say via Through the Breach, there’s nothing you can do other than to attempt to counterspell the Breach.   Once he’s in play, there’s nothing you can really do to interact with the big stupid spaghetti monster.  He’s been banned in EDH for being “un-fun”, and I suspect a similar fate awaits him in Modern.

Pact of Negation

Pact is here because it has only one purpose- protecting Combo decks the turn they go off.  It’s a free counter that only works in the most dominant set of archetypes in the format, and really does nothing positive for the format.  Disrupting Shoal is a much, much fairer version of the same effect.

Splinter Twin

This will get hit to slow down the Twin combo decks by forcing them to rely on Kiki-Jiki, a much more fragile combo generator, instead.  The deck’s incredibly oppressive, and this would allow more decks the ability to interact with them favorably.

Rite of Flame

T1 Ascension is a problem, and this slows the speed of U/R storm combo decks considerably.  It’s very possible that they might hit more of the Storm cards as well, but this is one I’m fairly certain won’t survive the bannings.

Written by kirblar024

September 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Posted in Uncategorized