Thursday, March 31, 2016

Intentional Concessions in Magic: the Gathering

There's an interesting controversy in tournament-level Magic these days around the concept of "intentional concessions".


Tournaments in Magic follow a standard format: X rounds of Swiss, followed by a Top 8 playoff. In Swiss matching, players with the same record in the tournament so far are matched with each other. For example, for Round 4, the players who are 3-0 play each other, the 2-1's play each other, etc. So you're always playing an opponent who's done roughly as well as you are. The top 8 after the Swiss portion go to the playoffs.

In the past, in the last rounds of the Swiss portion, the players who are at the top often "intentionally draw". With the draw, both players' records are good enough to qualify for the Top 8. And they get to save some time and the possibility that a loss might knock them out of the Top 8. Though getting knocked out is pretty unlikely, due to the way tie-breakers work.

The intentional draw is regarded as a fact of life in tournament Magic. It may not be the best scenario, but it's equal on both sides and has a fairly neutral effect on the tournament on the whole.

Current Controversy

At the pro level, some players are now asking for intentional concessions in certain situations, where one player deliberately takes a loss, not just a draw. For example, say Alice is 8-0 coming into the final Swiss round, and she gets paired down with Bob, who is 7-1. A player will need at least an 8-1 record to get into the Top 8. So regardless of whether she wins or loses, Alice is a lock for Top 8.

Bob, on the other hand, must win this round. Even a draw, which will bring him to 7-1-1, won't be enough. Bob asks Alice to intentionally concede the match, since it makes no difference to her.

Now, the non-Pro community is strongly against Alice deliberately losing. It is completely against the spirit of competition. It screws over Carl, who ends up in 9th because Bob got a "free" win.

However, the Pro community is a bit more torn on the issue. To see why, you can think of them as being in an iterative Prisoner's Dilemma where they can co-operate or defect. The optimum strategy in these types of situations is to cooperate. After all, in next tournament, maybe Alice will want to ask someone to intentionally concede. If she defects first instead of cooperating, she can expect future partners to defect to punish her. And hardcore gamers are the type of people who will very strongly flock to the optimal strategy in a Prisoner's Dilemma game.

It's also really hard to outlaw intentional concessions. For example, there are good reasons to concede. Maybe you need to leave, so you concede the current match. And it's really hard to tell when someone is deliberately playing badly. Gamers are very good at obeying the letter of the law and completely evading the spirit.


In my view, the main reason this is a problem is because seeding in the Top 8 does not really matter. It's really hard to predict who your first opponent in the Top 8 will be. Plus the 8th person's deck is only slightly worse than the 1st person. That difference would be swamped by the variance in the game of Magic itself.

If seeding mattered, Alice would be hurt, perhaps significantly, by taking a deliberate loss.

Right now, the Top 8 playoffs are a best-of-5 match. My suggestion would be to give the higher-seeded player a game in hand. So the higher seed only needs to win 2 games, but the lower seed would need to win 3 games to take the match and advance.

Of course, this significantly slants the matches in favor of the higher seed. But that in turn makes it vital to get as high a seed as you can in the Swiss portion of the tournament. Perhaps this solution could be toned down to only apply to the first round of the playoffs, essentially giving the Top 4 an advantage over the 5th-8th place.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Diablo 3 Season 5

I recently went back and finished leveling my Season 5 Barbarian in Diablo 3. That makes 5 of 6 classes done, leaving the Witch Doctor for Season 6.

The newest element in Season 5 are Set Dungeons. As you complete the goals of Season 5, you are rewarded with pieces from one of the class sets. For Barbarians, it's the Might of the Earth set. Each set has an associated Set Dungeon which requires you to complete tasks utilizing that set.

For example, the Might of the Earth set requires you to kill a Frozen enemy every 10 seconds for 1 minute. Now the only way a Barbarian can normally freeze an enemy is by using one of the Earthquake variants, which has a 60s cooldown. But the 4-piece bonus of the set has your Leap trigger an Earthquake when you land. So to fulfill that requirement, you have you take the Earthquake variant, and then Leap fast enough to kill enemies quickly.

There is another requirement as well which similarly takes advantage of the set's properties. The set dungeon is timed. 

One thing that wasn't clear is that you only need to meet one of the requirements to complete the dungeon, not both. I unnecessarily quit several times when I failed a requirement early. But in the end I decided to explore the whole dungeon, and it turned out that I was successful enough to finish the Set Dungeon and qualify for the season's rewards.

It was an interesting piece of content. To be honest, it's aimed at the crowd that runs a little higher than I do. I think I've only collected one other full set, on my Crusader.

All in all, though, it was a pretty enjoyable season.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dippling a Toe Back Into WoW

Hearthstone has a promotion where you can get Lady Liadrin as a hero if you level a new character in World of Warcraft. Despite the fact that I am not actually playing Hearthstone, I decided to take the opportunity and level a new character. You can level to 20 without a subscription, making it very easy.

I created a Night Elf Druid, and mainly quested until 16, and then did a few dungeons to hit 20. Leveling to 20 was not a particularly fun experience. Here are the major issues as I see them.


The Time-to-Kill for most mobs was really short. I didn't have any heirlooms, so I was just in quest greens. It's one thing to make the game easier for new players, but almost everything died in 2 global cooldowns. Very often only one if the first ability crit. It's actually kind of annoying because I was Feral, and it seemed very hard to get into the rhythm of using combos. Rake, Shred, and the mob would die before I could use a finisher.

It's one thing to have a short TtK in a game like Diablo, where you're pretty much spamming your mouse button. But in a game where you have an actual rotation where abilities work with each other, you really should at least get to use a full rotation before the mob dies.

If you want to make the game easier on new players, the better path would be to reduce mob damage, but keep a decent time to kill of at least 4-5 GCDs.


I've said this before, but heirlooms are a mistake. One thing I didn't realize before, though, is that make group play for the non-heirloomed character singularly unfun.

I switched to Resto for the dungeons. The other players were in heirloom gear so they charged through the dungeon at max speed. I tried to heal, but my heals did so little because they had so much health and I had relatively few stats. But because they were pulling everything at once, they sometimes took enough damage to make things dangerous.

I think a lot of issues I have with group play in the current version of WoW have their genesis here. If people get into bad habits early, it's a lot harder to get them to "accept" proper play much later.

And that's not even getting into PvP, which I imagine must be horrific for the new player without heirlooms.


The revamp of the old world in Cataclysm was another mistake. It's been years since I played through Darkshore, and I don't remember the original zone very well. But the current Darkshore feels like it expects you to have played the old version. It feels like a continuation of that story, and it's kind of disconcerting to be dropped into the middle of things.


In some ways, the current early game of World of Warcraft feels hostile to new players, despite the fact that it's so trivially easy mechanically. You get all these neat abilities that combo together, and you can't get the satisfaction of executing a combo successfully, because the mob dies when you sneeze on it. Playing with other experienced players is like playing with cheaters because they're so far above you. And all the stories feel like you started reading a book in the middle rather than at the end.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

First Impressions of The Division

I picked up Tom Clancy's The Division on the weekend. It's a pretty interesting game.

The Division is an RPG 3rd-person shooter. The setting is near-future New York, after a smallpox outbreak causes the city to descend into chaos and anarchy. The Division are a bunch of US government sleeper agents, who are activated for this emergency and sent in to restore order and fix New York.

The graphics are quite nice, and they did a stellar job with New York. It's laid out nicely, and feels like a real city in breakdown. There's garbage everywhere, thugs roaming the streets, wild dogs and rats, and civilians trying to survive. There's all sorts of atmospheric details.

The game is online-only, and is sort of multiplayer. Basically, it makes intensive use of phasing. Normally, you're in a separate phase by yourself, so it feels very much like a single player game. But safe houses and zones are a shared phase, so you see other players running around there.

You can also search for a group, either in general or for specific missions. If you do, you're pulled into the group's phase, and only your group exists there. I haven't grouped very much, but it's a nice system for beating a mission you're having trouble with.

Combat is pretty standard shooter fare, with lots of taking cover and moving from cover to cover. Only with results based on your gear and stats, as in an RPG. So far, I've found that if your weapon is decent, the game feels like a shooter. If you're behind the curve, it feels a bit weird to be emptying multiple clips into a normal hoodlum. And like RPGs, there's random loot with stats, as well as abilities you can talent into.

So far, The Division is a pretty decent game, with an excellent setting and production details.

Random Thoughts
  • I'm pretty early in, but I find the entire concept of the Division (the organization) kind of weird. What's the point of embedding sleeper agents in your own cities? Why not just stick with the Army reserves or National Guard? The game makes a big deal out of Division agents possibly being someone you know, or "even your friends". I can't help but wonder if this a symptom of the widening gulf between social classes in the West. Maybe the university-educated gentry class finds it more likely that their sons and daughters would join a clandestine paramilitary organization, rather than joining the actual Army.
  • Or maybe they just wanted an excuse for the characters to wear civilian clothes and have multiple civilian outfits.
  • Most of the tech seems believable, if slightly in the future. But there's one element, which lets you build a holographic image of the past with sound, that seems really fantastical to me. I suppose it gives a very immersive sense of what happened to New York, but it just screams "magic" to me, and jars me out of the world they've created.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Play Diary #6: Ennui

I haven't actually been playing much over the last week.

Blade and Soul

BnS has been the game I've played most. The warlock patch came out, and they gave you a free character slot, and you get a costume if you level to max before the end of Mar. So I rolled a Blade Master, and have been leveling that steadily.

It's interesting playing a melee character focused on blocking. There's a lot less movement involved than with my Force Master. The Force Master relies mostly on kiting.

However, I think I'm nearing the end of my time with Blade and Soul, as I am starting to lose interest in the game. Still, it was an interesting experience, with a lot of interesting design choices.

The Old Republic

We have a few people on vacation right now, so raiding is curtailed for the next couple of weeks.

Truthfully, I kind of want to quit TOR. I think we're pretty much at the edge of my skill level. There's no new Operation content on the horizon. The current operations are accumulating bugs and becoming broken. For example, right now a bunch of bosses have visuals that no longer match what happens. For example, a death beam goes from Point A to Point B. The beam still goes from Point A to Point B, but visually looks like it is going from Point A to Point C.

Truthfully, I think Bioware has given up on group content almost entirely. They seem to want the game to be a "single-player" MMO, where you generally play by yourself or with a partner, but don't actually form groups as we traditionally think of them.

I don't know. Maybe it's time to cut my losses, acknowledge TOR's change of direction, and find a new game to focus on.

Black Desert Online

The new hotness seems to be Black Desert Online. Normally I'd at least give it a try, but I'm not feeling inclined to. It reads a lot like Archeage, up to the whole PvP'ish endgame. I really would like to see someone do a comparison and say why BDO is better or worse than Archeage.

The other barrier is that everyone seems to be discussing and complaining about the cash shop. There doesn't seem to be much talk about the game itself. I find that a little weird and off-putting.