Bent Or Broke

I am back to fairly regularly following the V:TES forums (at vekn.net).  I just don’t have the same level of enthusiasm for arguing about CCGs as I once did.

The arguments about problematic cards, how to fix things, etc. are the sorts of things I would have been all over back in the day.  I think I gave up at some point on specific fixes because I went from having some say in a CCG to having none.

However, there’s an interesting philosophical element to fixing CCGs that I want to spend some characters on.

Where do you draw the line between metagaming and fixing?

Not really the best example, perhaps, but an example of this is whether to fix Giant’s Blood or whether to play more (master) counterspells (Sudden, Wash, et al).  The extreme case in all of CCGdom that most readily comes to mind is Necro Summer – when the Magic metagame was defined by Necropotence decks.  While the horribly warped metagame produced amazing tech such as the Turbo Stasis deck, such extreme environments don’t have broad appeal.  Magic saw this again with Mirrodin block where Affinity and other features of the environment turned people away from the game.

CCG environments that are dominated by a limited number of archetypes or even dominated by one archetype with various anti-decks are clearly environments that need fixing.  V:TES should, in all likelihood, never have this problem.  While V:TES has a lot more power cards than it used to, hardly surprising with a CCG that doesn’t rotate out cards, individual card plays are still far less impactful than individual card plays in other CCGs.

While not apparently at the top of complaints these days, I’d rate Imbued as the most justified source of a discussion over whether fixing or metagaming should be involved.  Now, to be fair, Imbued did get fixed with the bannings of Edge Explosion and Memories of Mortality, so it’s not the same discussion as might have happened prior.  The one good thing I thought Imbued did when they were unleashed was to shake up the game and force people to metagame.  Except, a lot of people never did.  They still don’t.

I might not want Imbued in the game, but their brokenness is questionable.  The baseline of Imbued decks might be far better than the baseline of a lot of decks people want to play and they may provide matchup issues, but there are plenty of answers in the game that don’t get used.  Do the answers weaken decks against other decks?  Sure, but, then putting in Delaying Tactics weakens my decks when no one calls votes.

There’s a line.  Maybe a line isn’t the best way to look at things, but it’s the easiest.  If some element of a CCG becomes so problematic that the line has been crossed, then fixing is the answer, whether that fixing is banning, errata, rules change, or whatever.  Where that line is often subjective, largely because it’s incredibly hard to prove anything with CCGs.

One of the things that CCG companies have realized is that it’s not all about what’s fair.  It’s about what’s fun.  There may be answers to obnoxious decks, but the answers may not be fun for people to use.  I enjoy metagaming.  I get that some people love taking what is and not into wishing for what can be.  On the other hand, I enjoy variety.  Metagaming might get pushed down such narrow lines that the game is lacking in variety.  Creativity might be expressed by the techmasters in their metagame tech, but the more casual players just lose interest, not being able to express their interests.

I’m a big fan of banning cards.  I don’t like that there are cards that can’t be played.  But, that’s exactly why I’m in favor of banning cards.  CCGs are all about vast swaths of cards being unplayable in decks making good faith efforts to be competitive.  Now, where that competitive threshold lives varies immensely.  With V:TES, it’s rather low, so you can toss Eyes of the Dead in a deck and be little impacted in your probability of winning a tournament.

First of all, I was always confused by people who argued against banning a card by saying they never saw it played.  Well, um, so banning would have … no impact.  Then, there are those who believe that everything can be fixed with errata.  No, not really.  Some cards are structured in a way that they will always either be too good or useless.  I’d argue that Shock Troops is this sort of card.

Anyway, there are two different axes to look at whether something should be fixed or not.  The first is, of course, whether something is so overpowered that the environment gets way out of balance.  The second, and more common situation since people will eventually metagame (at least the people who don’t quit playing), is how much more fun an environment could be if something were fixed.

Unfortunately, only CCGs that have market research can truly say what will impact the popularity of their games.  The polls up on vekn.net are interesting to see what a dedicated segment of the playerbase thinks, but I’ve also found forums to be questionable in terms of what they represent of the playerbase.

Would V:TES be better with changes?  Better for whom?  The reality is that no two groups play CCGs the same way.  Striking the right balance of fixing only what would impact the masses is not an enviable job.  I know that when I called for many changes in Precedence games it was from the viewpoint of a playtester who owned all of the cards and who played with top players.  That’s such a different view from the casual player who wants to be able to participate in a sanctioned event.  Not that the playtesters agreed much, either.  We constantly argued about what was a problem in the game and what was unfun in the game.

So, how to decide?  Create some criteria?  A criteria I can believe in is to look at what gets played at major tournaments.  As far as I’m aware, every CCG management team has done this.  I recall a table where one player played Break the Code.  The next two players discarded Break the Code on their turns.  If only it were that easy to identify what’s broke.

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One Response to Bent Or Broke

  1. My target list for cards that deserve scrutiny are those that people consider are “must includes” in low numbers.

    So the easiest targets become:
    Pentex Subversion
    Carlton van Wyck

    Other cards that have a strong effect *and* see frequent play (in one or many deck types) are those that may also warrant scrutiny. They are cards that are likely to be ‘shoehorned’ into all sorts of decks because they are readily available and comparatively powerful. Cards in this list would probably include: Deflection, Voter Captivation, Conditioning (and other parts of the Dominate-Bleed Family), etc. The more problematic cards are those without commonly available counter-strategies or counter-strategies with high opportunity costs. Voter cap rises to the top of that pile for me, with Deflection a close second.

    Deck types that are distorting the metagame should be those that are frequently seen past their ‘fad date’ (i.e. I suspect Girls Will XYZ may lose steam in the future showing that the Meta has adapted to that deck, but Weenie DOM and Weenie PRE still turn up over and over). So we should investigate their driving/facilitating cards in those decks or cards to facilitate a change in the Metagame against those problem deck types.

    I do not mean to target cards for instance like Fame, cards that can facilitate deck types. Creating more of these cards that facilitate pool destruction (preferably more targeted than carpet bombed) by alternative methods should be encouraged by us to the Design Team.

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