Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: points

Playgroup Evolution: Prize Structures

Welcome back to Playgroup Evolution, readers! This time we’re looking at league prize structures. Prizes need to: find a balance in awards, work within a good league structure, reward more than just winning games, and not break the store’s bank. Ready to go?

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Evolving A Playgroup – Evaluating Enjoyment

Welcome back!

From the title, you can infer today’s article is going to be about a pretty subjective topic. How do we evaluate the enjoyment people are having during EDH games? There are many different ways to determine “fun” during games; for the competitive player, this often means playing as well as possible and winning.

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The New Year at GDC: ‘Points-Style’ EDH, and a grumpy old man complains about traffic…

Happy New Year and welcome back to GDC!
I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season.  I’m excited to be back; I love a good holiday as much as the next guy, but I’ve managed to max out several comfort thresholds, such as the “No more godd@#m car trips!” threshold, the “The hell was I thinking, going to the mall during Christmas?!?!?!” threshold, and the ever-important ”credit limit” threshold.  It’s a good thing you don’t actually have to pay these things off, right?
Er…moving on!
Seems like a pretty clear-cut poll result this time.  This is how you get your hands on your cardboard addiction:

66% – I buy from online stores
22% – Mostly trades
11% – I buy from my local store
I think these results fall almost exactly where I thought they would.  While I miss the old days of epic trading, it’s pretty clear that the internet has revolutionized yet another aspect of our daily lives.  Some of you are still able to crack open binders on a regular basis, and mad props for that; thanks for keeping the “collectible” in our CCG.  But for those of us who are unable or unwilling (or are just too damn lazy…you know who you are.  And by ‘you’, I mean ‘me.’), it’s a godsend to fire up a browser, make a few selections, and wait for the mailman to arrive.  I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome our new PayPal overlords – thanks for making it so easy for me to spend the grocery money on some more s&#t I don’t really need! 
Good times…
(Remember that House Of Pain jam?  Nor should you…)
One of the things I’ve referenced in the past is that my regular Wednesday EDH game at the local store uses a ‘points’ system.  For those of you unfamiliar, this idea was largely pioneered by Armada Games and well-documented by resident player and EDH Godfather Sheldon Menery in his Star City Games articles.  The idea behind the system is to take the emphasis off of winning the game and place it on enjoying the experience the game provides.  As a result, a list of achievements are created for reaching certain goals or completing certain requirements; the ‘winner’ of the game becomes the person that amasses the most points in a game, rather than the person who is able to take out the other players.  It encourages game-play and interaction, and discourages players from making non-interactive plays and creating decks designed to win quickly and efficiently. 
My first experience with Wednesday EDH night at Worlds Apart in Amherst, MA was a few years back.  I remember it very well; I showed up, paid a $5 entry fee, and was seated at a table with four other players.  I don’t remember what I was playing, but I recall facing Rafiq and Jhoira.  I also recall that the game ended in about five total turns; the first three involved most of us ramping up our mana production, at which time Jhoira suspended Obliterate.  Rafiq immediately untapped and killed the Jhoira player in one swing.  The Jhoira player flew into a rage, complained about how “cheap” the Rafiq deck was, and grabbed his cards and left.  (He never came back to my knowledge)  Rafiq then played Finest Hour, countered the feeble removal the rest of us could muster, and finished us off in the next two turns.  I felt like I’d been robbed.
It didn’t take long for the wheels to start turning.  I knew I wasn’t going to be subjected to that week after week, but I didn’t know what the alternative was.  I also knew that I wasn’t alone, and the attendance at the store was falling off in the face of this regular occurrence.  Fortunately, at about this time EDH was blossoming on a global scale, and Sheldon had begun writing about the Armada league.  It seemed like a natural fit, so I brought the idea up to Patrick (resident #1 friend to GDC), and we drafted a list, presented it to the store.  The following week, Patrick took over running the Wednesday EDH games, and the first revision of our list was implemented.
I’m happy to report that the store has maintained a regular player-base of EDH players ever since, and the list is and has always been a big hit.
(Note: I can’t stress enough the props that are deserved by Armada Games for the system and Sheldon for bringing it to the masses.  We straight-up stole the original list from you guys (including many of the names for achievements), and the credit goes firmly to you.  Thanks much!)
(Jesus…it’s raining terrible songs in here…)
There are three major tenets (in our experience) that go into creating a points list:
1)      Reward players for making interesting things happen, not just for winning.
2)      Reinforce the desired play environment through positive and negative points.
3)      Recognize what works, what does not work, and do not be afraid to adapt.
The first tenet is the meat of the list.  You clearly need to reward a player for being the last person standing at a table, or for being responsible for eliminating another player.  Therefore, some basic achievements need to be in place:

+1: Eliminate another player
+2: Be the last person left in a game
The catch is that some players get the most enjoyment out of watching their deck run rampant over another player, or being able to survive an onslaught of several other decks and remain standing.  Since Magic is based on this understanding to begin with, it is critical to speak to this.
From there, it’s important to look at what else can happen in a game, and to try to tailor rewards to match these things:

+1: Prevent a player from being eliminated.
+1: Be the first person to deal combat damage to another player
Some decks like interaction, while some like aggression.  It’s easy to get carried away in EDH with huge creatures and expensive spells, so why not make a nod toward the little guys?  It’s great to see someone targeting a creature that isn’t attacking him with Maze Of Ith, or watching someone play Sakura-Tribe Elder and keep it alive long enough to attack with it. 
We also ramped up the reward for achieving harder goals:

+2: Control five permanents with consecutive casting costs.
+2: Deal combat damage to each other player in a single attack step
We also included some off-the-wall options as well, to keep people trying for different and interesting game-states:

+1: Eliminate a player with exactly enough damage to kill them.
+1: Exile an indestructible permanent
+2: Successfully put your general into play from at least three different areas of play.  (Areas include command zone, hand, graveyard, exile, and library)
It’s all about keeping things interesting.  You want to make sure that everyone can score points somehow; maybe the agro player can clean up with damage-based achievements, but another player can interact with the game by leveling up a creature, or activating the ultimate ability of a planeswalker.  Different strokes for different folks.
The second tenet is all about tuning the environment to fit the expectations of the group:

-2: Eliminate a player with an infinite combo.
-2: Eliminate a player before the sixth turn.
-2: Control an effect that destroys or removes all lands a player controls.
Point deductions are critical in preventing the same things from happening that caused us to go to a points list to begin with.  Through trial and error, we discovered that no-one enjoyed losing to an infinite combo, and people generally were unhappy if they were forced to lose all of their lands and thus be unable to play the game.  (The important takeaway here is that these work for our group – I’m not suggesting that they work for everyone.)  Deductions need to be significant in order to be a significant deterrent, which is why we have assigned elevated values to them in most cases.  
It’s important to balance the negation to make sure that you aren’t completely closing the door to a particular strategy, even if it is one that your group doesn’t want to support; We’ve had players take deductions for certain penalties in order to open the door for gaining enough positive points to still win the table.  
The third tenet is also important to take into consideration.  Sometimes, what seems like a good idea doesn’t pan out in actual practice; as a result, it’s critical to recognize what doesn’t work and move away from it.  
A great example on our list is “Over-Overkill”-

+2: Deal 100 or more damage on an attack step.

The problem here is that we also have a similar achievement in “Overkill”:

+1: Eliminate a player with at least 20 points of damage more than is required to kill them.
The other issue is that in practice, Over-Overkill tends to encourage players to utilize combos that provide infinite mana to pump through an enabler like Kamahl; this opens the door to questions about overlap with the “infinite combo” deduction.  In essence, the achievement creates more headaches than the rule is worth.  This one is on the way out. 
It’s worth touching on the fact that using a points system is a tool to keep your play environment fresh and exciting.  To that end, don’t be afraid to tune things however you see fit, and don’t overlook player suggestions either.  The goal is to maintain and grow a player base that is excited to play the game week in and week out, so groups should decide what is and is not part of the scope of the games they want to play.  Take an occasional poll on what is and isn’t working, or ask players to suggest a new rule, or identify one rule they dislike more than any others.  
It’s a great system.  It’s safe for me to say that I might not be playing the game today without it.
Next up: Play-By Play day – Sisters Of Stone Death, and Kresh hits the ground running after a slight facelift.  (Dude needed some work done…)
The current list used by Worlds Apart Wednesday Night EDH (Red denotes some potential cuts/changes):
Condition to be met
Point Value
Fatality-Eliminate another player.  Awarded once for each player eliminated.
Last Man Standing-Be the last remaining player in the game.
Right On The Money-Deal damage to a player that is exactly enough to eliminate him/her. Can be awarded multiple times per game.
Back at You-Eliminate a player with a source he or she owns. Can be awarded multiple times per game.
Buzzkill-Eliminate a player through use of an infinite combo.  Points deducted for each player eliminated in this manner.
Just Getting Started- Eliminate a player before their sixth turn. Points deducted for each player eliminated in this manner.
I’m Out – Be the first player eliminated from the table.
First Blood-Be the first player to deal combat damage to an opponent.
First Blood Part 2– Be the first player to deal non-combat damage to an opponent. Loss of life does not count.
Not Afraid of Dirty Work-Deal combat damage to each player with your general.
Making Friends-Deal combat damage to each other player during a single attack step.
Overkill-Deal 20+ more damage to a player than is required to kill them.  Can be awarded multiple times per game.
Over Overkill-Deal 100 or more combat damage during a single attack step.
Do NotPass Go-Take more than 2 turns in a row. Can be deducted multiple times per game, and is deducted for each additional turn after the first two.
Operation: Mindcrime-Resolve a “Mindslaver ability” targeting an individual player more than once per game. Can be deducted multiple times per game.
Condition to be met
Point Value
Ramp It Up-Control 20 or more lands during an end step. 
Straight-Control 5 non-land permanents with sequential mana costs during an end step.
Voltron-Control a creature with 5 or more Auras and/or Equipments attached to it. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Diversity Training – Control 5 or more creatures where no two share any creature types during an end step. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Cramped Quarters-Control 20 or more non-land, non-token permanents during an end step. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
I Brought My Own Friends-Control 3 Planeswalkers during an end step. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Limited Filler, What?-Control 2 non-token creatures with no rules text in their text boxes. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Big Game Hunt – Destroy or exile an opponent’s creature that has power 15 or greater. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Not So Tough – Exile an indestructible permanent. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Really Tough-Destroy or exile a Sensei’s Diving Top you don’t control. Can be awarded multiple times per game.  Good luck with that.
Armageddon-Control an effect that destroys or removes all lands another player controls. Can be deducted multiple times per game. Points deducted for each player whose mana base you wreck.
Fifth Times the Charm – Resolve your General 5 times in a single game from the Command Zone.
All Over The Place – Successfully put your general into play from three different areas of play in one game.  (Areas of play are Command zone, Exile zone, library, hand, and graveyard)
Get There – Cast your general when total cost is 20 or more.
Only There for its Color – Finish the game without playing your General. If a player did not have the ability to cast their general during the game, they do not receive this deduction.
Salt In The Wound – Control an effect that causes a player to discard or exile their entire hand of more than 1 card. Can be deducted multiple times per game. Points deducted for each player who you force to discard.  “Draw 7” effects do not cause this point deduction to happen.

Condition to be met
Point Value
Seems Reasonable – Counter a non-creature spell with mana cost 7 or more. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Buyback is the Enemy-Play the same non-creature spell 3 times in a game. Can be deducted multiple times per game.
Tutors are For Losers-Go an entire game without searching your library.
Swing and a Miss-Play a Tutor effect and fail to find anything. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Get On With It – Shuffle your library 4 or more different times in one turn. Can be deducted multiple times per game.
Full Grip-Have 20 or more cards in hand. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Generosity – Make another player draw 3 or more cards in one turn. (Having Howling Mine and Font of Mythos in play does not give this award.)
My Draw Engine Is My Draw Step- Go an entire game without drawing more than one card per turn. 
BAFFROOM! – Activate Level Up on a creature enough times to make it its strongest version (aka its 3rd line of levels.) Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Worst. Expansion. Ever.– Play a card from the Homelands expansion that does not have the words “Serrated,” “Arrows,” “Merchant,” or “Scroll” in its name. Can be awarded to each player once per game.
Block Party – Have a permanent in play or spell present on the stack from each set of any block. The blocks are Ice Age, Invasion, Kamigawa, Lorwyn-Shadowmoor, Masques, Mirage, Mirrodin, Odyssey, Onslaught, Ravnica, Shards of Alara, Tempest, Time Spiral, Urza, Zendikar. Basic Lands from those sets do not count.
But I Felt So Good-Be eliminated from a game after having more than 100 life.
You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me – Be involved in a combat exchange where a creature that has Horsemanship blocks a creature that has Banding. Both creatures’ controllers receive the award.
I’ve Got Your Back – Save an opponent from taking lethal damage. This can be through prevention or redirection of damage, killing unblocked attackers, the use of life gain, etc. Can be awarded multiple times per game.
Die Already – Survive after being attacked for lethal damage 3 different times.
Near Death Experience – Be at one life with an empty stack. Can be awarded to each player once per game.

Gross Threat Mis-Assessment, part Deux

Sorry for being MIA this weekend, folks.  The Great Halloween Nor’Easter of ’11 has kept me off the power grid since Saturday.  New England weather FTW.  (Or is it FML?  I always get those mixed up…)

Anyway, this topic has generated a bit of a response, both here and on the official forums, as well as an excellent post by Viperion on his blog,  so I wanted to follow up on it.

One of the responses on my original post  got me thinking this morning.  From “Anonymous”

So you learned a valuable lesson: next time think twice about eliminating him. I think what he did was, while incorrectly motivated, perfectly acceptable.
Whenever you step blindly into a meta, assessing the players is also an important skill.

I actually agree on all fronts save the bolded one. (Well, not the ‘stepping blindly into a meta’ part either…it’s my regular meta, so I’m pretty familiar with it; only the offending player was new.  So two disagreements.  This is turning into a Monty Python skit…)  Typically, I would agree to that as well; I have a pretty strong opinion that EDH is more about the journey rather than the destination, and I’d rather lose the game  to keep it alive for everyone involved for a longer period of time.

What I didn’t really delve into is the circumstances in the *first* game that led to me taking out ‘Teysa Guy.’  I’m wondering how this should change perception of what went down on his part, or my own for that matter.

As I made a slight reference in the post, we use a ‘points’ system for determining prize structure in the first game of the night on Wednesdays.  Patrick and I have spent many hours crafting these points (based again on the excellent Armada Games system that Sheldon Menery has detailed in his Star City Games weekly article) to create an environment that prevents people from running infinite combos and ending games quickly.  To that end, there are point negations for things like eliminating a player with an infinite combo, taking more than two turns in a row, and eliminating a player before a certain number of turns has elapsed.  Again, after the first game is complete, we tally points, and everyone gets one booster and a promo, and those with the most points get either a second booster from what is left in the prize pool, or a better choice of promo.

The pertinent points in this case are the ones that pile up for eliminating players; specifically, the following:

+1: Eliminate a player from the game.
+1: Eliminate a player from the game with exact damage.

By the time the offending elimination had occurred, the first game had gone on for roughly ninety minutes.  It was a four-player game, and the lead had swung all over the place.  I had amassed two points: one for drawing ‘first blood’ (I was the first to deal combat damage to a player) and one for a ‘straight’. (five permanents in play with consecutive converted casting costs.)  I had dipped to twelve life, with Teysa at sixteen, and the other two players (Vhati il-Dal and…hrmm.  Patrick, what were you playing in game one?) both well over 30 life.  On my turn, I drew into Cauldron Dance.  I had a Dragon Tyrant in my graveyard and the ability to play the Cauldron Dance and pump the dragon twice for exact lethal damage to Teysa.  He had no flying blockers, and I was convinced that four points would be enough to take one of the top slots for the night, so I made the play, even apologizing for taking him out, while also explaining why, and noting that we’d have time to play another game as soon as this one was over. 

I ended with the four points, took the top slot for the night, and got the extra pack.  I was also immediately eliminated by the next player in line, who was then eliminated shortly thereafter, ending the game early enough to start a second ‘fun’ game.

I need to reiterate that this is not typically a play I would make.  I tend to prefer keeping other players alive, and I usually tend to try to get points like “+1: save another player from elimination.”  In this case, the writing was on the wall, I was nearly eliminated myself, and I was left with the late-game play that offered me the means to gain maximum points before I was taken out. 

So I throw myself before the mercy of the court.  Does this justify my case any further?  Did I break a part of the social contract?  Was Teysa Guy justified in what he did in retribution during a subsequent casual game?  Am I a condescending jerk?  Or was I within my means?  Should I plan to fight fire with fire and show up this week with the full intent of playing Kresh and Fling-ing a lethal Hamletback Goliath at his head as quickly as possible?  😉


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