It’s been a year since we blew Twitter up with a rolling discussion about EDH and casual play. This a topic that I have been pondering on hard for a while. I’m of the school of thought that good philosophy cannot be rushed; it has to be thought through and analyzed.
A year ago Cassidy posted his thoughts on the subject and this got me thinking, and then pondering and meditating on this train of thought. (By meditating, I mean drinking Irish coffee and rifling through stacks of cards.) Now, the nature of friendly discussion is that we do not have to agree all the time, nor do we have to approach the subject from any specific viewpoints. The nature of a discussion is to have a dialogue about a topic, wherein all parties can understand the other parties views and (if relevant) debate their various merits and flaws.
Where I am going with this is that Uncle Cass asked a question:
What exactly *is* Casual Commander?
Now, if you are expecting me to answer all of Cass’s questions, I’m not just doing that here – what I am doing is attempting to look at the question from a different angle. From what I can see just rapidly scanning down the comments of that article, there are various ‘yays’ and ‘nays’ and reasonings to the questions that Cass has asked.
From these responses and my observations, there are two data points I can take away here:
Casuality = ? (Capability x Intent)
I would postulate that the degree to which a deck can be defined as casual is somehow mathematically proportional to the capability of the deck components, multiplied by the intent of the deck design.
Here is where this now turns into a bit of a mind-bending exercise. (I’ll also freely admit I was never super good at this, and that is probably why I majored in Chemistry as opposed to Physics.) I want to try to break down Capability into its baseline units; I do not feel that we need to break Intent into baseline units, because I feel intent itself is irreducible – you either intended to do something or you did not.
You may remember doing something like this in school. Remember those classes where you had to take a unit of measurement and break it into length, mass and time? As a quick reminder example, miles per hour would break down as ‘length and time’, while force (which is mass by acceleration) would break down as ‘mass by length by time’.
That is precisely what I want to do here. To do this we need to define what our irreducible units are.
I define the irreducible unit of time as “How quickly can my deck do a thing?” As an example, a Sol Ring as a turn one or two drop is a dramatic change of time, as opposed to a turn eight Sol Ring. That early game Sol Ring could lead to accelerating out an Explosive Vegetation on turn two, which means opening turn three with equivalent mana to turn seven plays under normal development. Unlike the other irreducible variables, time should be considered in the inverse, as the fewer turns used to end a game are generally considered to make for a less casual environment (excepting the point where the game has gone on long enough that it just *needs* to end).
A tricky one to define. I class this as “How many ways do I have to get this ‘thing’ on tap?”. This can refer to physical cards in the deck that do the job at hand (Llanowar Elves, Fyndhorn Elves, Elvish Mystic) and/or how many ways the deck has to go and find this ‘thing’ (Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Diabolic Tutor). The more ways one has to access a ‘thing’ the higher its rate of redundancy will be.
Last but not least. “How bad is that threat I’ve just windmill-slammed onto the table?” This is the unit that has to differentiate between a Blightsteel Colossus and a Darksteel Colossus; that is to say, the difference between ending a player’s game as opposed to just hacking a big chunk off their life total. Power also needs to take into consideration other cards in the deck – A Kozilek, Butcher of Truth that is riding on a pair of Lightning Greaves is a higher power rating than one without the opportunity for haste and protection.
This means our equation expands out as follows:
Casuality =?(Intent x Power x Redundancy X Time)
As I have, I expect most of you have stumbled on the obvious problems with this – first, the assignment of numerical values, and then what the nature of the operator is in this relationship. In terms of the operator, I’m not a super theoretical maths wiz, so I’m going to skip to the chase here around proofs and the like. I feel like this should be an inverse relationship; however, after playing with Excel for a while I have decided to use a square root function to get reasonable numbers to output.
Regarding assignment of numerical values, this is more so a conundrum given we are all individual creatures with our own wants, needs and ideas. As such, one player may assign different weightings on a card than another player.
A Proposal to Define Variables
This is not the be-all, end-all of this mental exercise. What I am going to do here is try to explain how I would assign values based on my perspective of “Casual Commander”…and if you agree with me? Great! If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this as well, whether it comes in the form of an alternate equation or just a different way of thinking about it.
Intent: I like to think of intent as degrees to binary – either you did or you didn’t intend to do something. That is not always the case for everyone; some people may mash cards into the 99, but only intend to ever use them some of the time at best. To represent this, I have been using a number between 0.1 and 1 to represent how intentional a play was – 1 being “My game plan all along was to slap you silly with Exsanguinate”, while a 0.1 may be “Oh, I just chucked that in there because the art looked sweet…I didn’t realize it could do that”.
Redundancy: A straightforward variable to analyze. How many ways can you do or find a thing? Take haste enablers, for example: you have Swiftfoot Boots, Lightning Greaves, Maelstrom Wanderer, Hammer of Purphoros and Mass Hysteria. That’s five quick ways to make a creature hasty just off the top of my head, so I would consider that alone to have a redundancy value of 5. However, if you were to throw in Demonic Tutor, Worldly Tutor and Enlightened Tutor…well, it is given that all of these cards have the ability to fetch up one or more of our haste enablers, so they count just as much as a haste enabler; thus, our redundancy factor would increase to 8.
However, we also need to consider the graveyard as a resource. Just because something has been milled, discarded or destroyed (or even put into exile!) does not mean it is out of reach: adding in recursion effects like Regrowth or Reanimate can quickly add up as well. Those two cards alone change our redundancy value to 10.
Power:I find this much easier to assign. Perhaps this comes down to some of the game play theory I take for granted as a Vintage player, but nonetheless I shall endeavour to be somewhat concise. I am considering power as a proportion of the ability to one-shot a player out of the game. If we were to assume resources on turn 1, a player has 40 life, 92 cards in their deck and 0 poison counters. While there are multiple ways to make a player lose, the most common one is to reduce their life to 0. As such, I want to assign power based on 40 life points. Extrapolating out a standard Commander pod to four players, this means that to one-shot a pod, you need to do 120 in damage. Therefore, a lethal Exsanguinate would have a power of 120, while a hasty Blightsteel Colossus would only have a power of 40.
In the event of assigning power level to a card that cannot one-shot a player, we need to be a little more creative. An un-boosted Progenitus as a general (assuming you are playing with the ‘general damage’ rule) would only account for power 20, as it is 50% of a kill, while a Sorin Markov ’s ability to set a player’s life total to 10 would count as power 30.
You may then ask, “How do I assess the power of a non-obvious life threatening play like Explosive Vegetation ?” To this I would ask you what the outcome of the additional mana would be. What is the relative lethality of those possible plays? From there, consider the change in time that the additional resources allow for that play
Time: In playing Magic, the fewer turns you can do something in, the more competitive the play is considered. Many Commander groups that utilize a point system generally penalize elimination of players before the sixth turn or so. Also, many groups consider that beyond the 10th turn of the game, pretty much anything goes – you’ve had your chance to build your position and play. To replicate these observations with my equation, I am taking time to be a value from ‘1’ through to ’10’. A 10 here would represent the action happening on turn 1 of the game, while a 1 would represent an action being possible from the tenth turn or beyond. If the action happened as an “acceptable kill” on the sixth turn, I would use the value ‘4’ for this equation.
From here, going back to the play of a Sol Ring or Explosive Vegetation (which I alluded to when discussing power) is where I would consider time to be a factor in how casual or not it is to make a play such as, say, Omniscience. As a vanilla play, Omniscience cannot be played until you have ten mana, thus assuming that if you achieve all your land drops, it cannot happen before turn ten. If you happen to have a Sol Ring, you immediately make this a turn eight play. If you happened to cast Skyshroud Claim, you have knocked another two turns off down to a turn six play. Adding a Mana Vault, we’re now down to casting Omniscience on turn four.
Alternatively, we could just Show and Tell the bloody thing on turn two, but that would really not be casual…now would it?
Quod Erat Demonstrandum
Hopefully, I’ve not lost anyone here in all that theory. The idea here is to assess card choice and plays both individually and holistically with the deck. If this has been done right, you should end up with a number. From my testing of assessing cards and plugging numbers into the equation (like I said, I’ve been screwing around in Excel for the last few days), I’d like to explain what the outputting numbers mean:
The lower the number, the less cut-throat and competitive the play, and hence the more “casual” it is.
The adjusting the power of the play, the time it takes to enact, or how many redundant points of access you have to it will vary the casuality of the play. However, the single biggest contributing factor to answering the question about “what *exactly* is casual Commander” can only be answered by you. So I ask you dear reader…..
“What is your *intent* behind your choice of cards?”
Whether you agree with my assessment or not, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to hit me up in the comments or on Twitter: