Out Of Focus

I was reading an article about a Magic deck someone was promoting as the best metagame choice for some upcoming tournament.  In the comments section, someone said that the deck is trying to do too many things.  That has quite a bit of resonance with me.  Not so much because it reflects a common problem with my deckbuilding but because it’s a common enough problem I see others run into … and sometimes I run into the problem, as well.

My most common question when offering suggestions with V:TES decks is “What’s important to this deck?”, which is a bit of a broader question than “What do you want this deck to do?” but in the same vein.  Usually, someone wants to build a deck around a particular concept.  That concept can be broader or narrower.  Sometimes, someone wants suggestions for how to tune a known archetype.  Sometimes, the interest is in making a specific card – crypt or library – work.  And, a whole host of other concept types.

Frequently, though, it’s not clear what the important concept is.  Without knowing the goal of the deck, there’s no way to productively suggest ways to change or build a deck.  For instance, it’s common for people to post a deck list for a weak strategy in a weak clan.  Is it the strategy that matters?  The clan?  Both?

My most common goal with tournament decks was to figure out the best way to win with a crappy or underplayed clan.  The essential feature to the deck was that it had to be a clan deck.  Not the TWDA’s definition of a clan deck.  My definition, which is a minimum of 50% of the crypt being a clan, no other clan being 50%, at least two members of the clan in the crypt.  Note that my goal has nothing to do with the library.  I don’t care about what a clan is supposed to be good at or what clan cards they have or how to best use their clan disciplines.

A perfect example of focusing on my goal was !Salubri vote.  !Salubri aren’t nearly as bad nowadays as they used to be.  Valeren and clan cards did nothing that contributed to winning, so I moved on to figuring out what a mostly weenie Sabbat crypt with no disciplines could do that would oust people.  I ended up treating the crypt as overcosted Embraces that could become archbishops.  To add some synergy to calling votes with no extra stealth, I added the Saturday Night Special, Concealed Weapon, Dragon’s Breath Rounds module to discourage blocks.  After all, I had plenty of slots available.  Would such a deck have been strictly better with a Presence crypt?  Of course.  But, the goal wasn’t to build a weenie vote deck.  The weenie vote deck arose out of having no better option available for achieving the goal of building a winning !Salubri deck.

Taking an actual deck as an example:

Deck Name:   101214  Nagaraja Obtenebration Qualifier

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 12, Max: 30, Avg: 5.41)
2  Anarch Convert                     none           1  Caitiff
1  Bartholomew                        AUS dom MYT NEC obt8  Kiasyd
1  Beatrice L`Angou                   aus dom MYT nec5  Kiasyd
1  Ian Forestal                       AUS DOM THA    8  Tremere Antitribu
2  Kanimana Belghazi                  AUS DOM NEC pro7  Nagaraja
2  Le Dinh Tho                        aus dom NEC    5  Nagaraja
2  Raful al-Zarqa                     AUS dom nec obf6  Nagaraja
1  Valois Sang                        AUS DOM nec tha6  Tremere

Library: (90 cards)
Master (25 cards)
1  Anarch Railroad
1  Anarch Troublemaker
1  Archon Investigation
3  Blood Doll
1  Direct Intervention
1  Erciyes Fragments, The
7  Obtenebration
2  Path of Lilith, The
1  Powerbase: Los Angeles
3  Storage Annex
4  Villein

Action (10 cards)
1  Computer Hacking
5  Descent into Darkness
1  Far Mastery
1  Gear Up
1  Scouting Mission
1  Shadowed Eyes

Action Modifier (13 cards)
1  Bonding
1  Call of the Hungry Dead
1  Conditioning
2  Foreshadowing Destruction
1  Leverage
2  Shadow Play
2  Shroud of Absence
2  Tenebrous Form
1  Trochomancy

Reaction (25 cards)
1  Car Bomb
4  Deflection
2  Delaying Tactics
1  Eagle`s Sight
5  Eyes of Argus
1  Friend of Mine
1  Obedience
4  On the Qui Vive
1  Redirection
5  Telepathic Misdirection

Combat (5 cards)
1  Shadow Body
4  Spiritual Intervention

Ally (2 cards)
1  Carlton Van Wyk (Hunter)
1  Mylan Horseed (Goblin)

Equipment (4 cards)
1  .44 Magnum
1  Bowl of Convergence
1  Deer Rifle
1  Seal of Veddartha

Event (1 cards)
1  Scourge of the Enochians

Combo (5 cards)
4  Spectral Divination
1  Steely Tenacity

My general belief for quite some time has been that any deck I build to 90 cards is sloppy deckbuilding.  In casual play, I’m more inclined to let it go, though below I’ll address this in more detail.

Yes, this was meant for qualifier play.  I didn’t play it in the qualifier.  I did play it in the other tournament.  This is a case of my trying to do too many things.  Having tried lots of Nagaraja decks, I was getting cute with trying the Descent into Darkness gimmick with them which I had previously tried with Salubri and Trujah to no success.

For me, this qualifies as a stealth bleed deck.  I’m sure those who are used to 10 Governs and 8 Conditionings will wonder where the bleed is.  The only thing the deck actually does well is bounce.  Perhaps someone remembers what happened in the second round from my post from December 20th of last year.  If not, at one point, rather than bouncing or reducing, I ended up Archoning a vampire.  See, this is where I can’t get that annoyed by stealth bleed decks – there are plenty of easy answers that don’t exist for other decks.  Just play bounce, baby.

All sorts of low yield tech.  Steely Tenacity for repeatable bleed.  Car Bomb for random screwage.  Gear Up for one-time recursion.  Bah.  Even though the deck “had” to be a Nagaraja deck and “had” to do the Descent into Darkness thing, it didn’t have to try so hard at being clever and passive-aggressive.  To reliably pull off DiD, it should have been no more than 80, probably couldn’t get much below that and still do anything that interested me, but I really didn’t bother tuning this.

I’m not an evangelist for playing smaller decks.  I really don’t care if people play 90 card decks.  In theory, it only helps me if I think 90 is suboptimal, but I don’t even really believe the deck is all that important to success, so whatever.  However, a comment I made a long time ago is still quite memorable to me.  I was playing star Magic – five players, monocolor decks, try to eliminate the enemy colors – when someone brought up how his casual decks were often over 60 cards or bigger than his tournament decks or something.  I quickly rejoined that my casual decks are smaller than my tournament decks.  I went on to explain that my casual decks are typically trying to accomplish something specific that goes beyond just trying to win.  In order to accomplish this side goal, I want it to be as reliable as possible.  Now, with Magic, assuming a 60 card minimum, there’s no way to make a casual deck smaller than a tournament deck as every tournament deck is going to be 60.

However, with this game, we can find examples of the “casual mentality” in a deck like this one from 2003:

Deck Name:   Transmission Overload

Crypt: (12 cards, Min: 19, Max: 27, Avg: 5.83)
1  Agrippina                          OBF pot        4  Nosferatu
1  Beast                              ani cel OBF POT7  Nosferatu Antitribu
1  Calebos                            ANI cel OBF POT8  Nosferatu Antitribu
2  Christanius Lionel                 ANI OBF pot    6  Nosferatu Antitribu
1  Grendel the Worm-Eaten             ani OBF pot    5  Nosferatu
2  Olivia                             OBF POT vic    5  Nosferatu Antitribu
2  Ox                                 ANI OBF POT    6  Nosferatu Antitribu
1  Tusk                               ani OBF pot    6  Nosferatu
1  Tusk                               ani pot OBF    6  Nosferatu

Library: (75 cards)
Master (17 cards)
1  Barrens, The
6  Blood Doll
4  Charisma
1  Coven, The
2  Direct Intervention
1  Nosferatu Kingdom
1  Rack, The
1  Shanty Town Hunting Ground

Action (15 cards)
10 Computer Hacking
3  Psychic Veil
2  Scrounging

Action Modifier (22 cards)
16 Cloak the Gathering
2  Elder Impersonation
4  Mask of a Thousand Faces

Combat (11 cards)
1  Sacrament of Carnage
4  Thrown Gate
2  Thrown Sewer Lid
4  Undead Strength

Ally (10 cards)
10 Courier

While not just doing one thing, what with the Potence combat, the deck is still not trying to do too many things.  I enjoyed this deck once and not so much more than once.  What it’s trying to do isn’t that boring.  What’s boring is how little ability it has to interact with the table.

My point wasn’t all that sharp.  No doubt this is due to starting this post on one day and finishing it on another, losing some of my initial thoughts along the way.  I believe I wanted to say something about knowing what your goals are when building a deck and how it’s okay to do everything you “need” to do but realize that what you decided you need to be able to do is often less than what you end up trying to do.  Also, that if you seek assistance with tuning a deck, make sure you are clear on what the goals are and what the deck must be able to do.


One Response to Out Of Focus

  1. Azel says:

    Yeah, I subscribe heavily to that philosophy. When in doubt, define the primary goals and reduce the ‘noise.’ Apparently it’s also a common viewpoint in business management currently…

    Anyway, I do find isolating one’s goals important because then you don’t get confusion or unhelpful comments like, “why don’t you just build another bleed/combat/vote deck the same as everyone else?” When you can articulate that, no, you want to play with said loser card to see how much it loses, then you can articulate expectations for both yourself and outside commentary. That can lead to less commentary and blank stares of confusion, but that’s par for the course.

    And about less cards in the deck, especially during experimentation, that’s something I believe we’ve spoke of many, many years ago. The principles of statistical probability — and the hypersensitivity of competitive M:tG & L5R players to such truths — shouldn’t really change, even for V:tES with its different card draw mechanic. Less stuff getting in the way of the combo is still less stuff getting in the way of the combo.

    Which goes right back to articulating your goals. If the point of your deck is not long term survival for end games, but instead to see the utility of a particular combo, then smaller casual decks makes perfect sense. That this example further extends to reducing what was a typical 90 card V:tES decks to now a more generally prevalent tournament 80-ish just goes to accentuate an additional idea, that of noise reduction improving efficiency.

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