Phosphor

Dumbass Enby Says Words

Many, many people have spent longer time than I will documenting and debating over the core differences between Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: the Gathering. However, I thought it was important to look at an oft-forgotten aspect that is crucial to both games, frames. Frames are the base layout of a card, they're what the information is, where it is, and how large it is on the card. As an introduction to frames I would recommend you watch Rhystic Studies' fifty minute video dissertation, “Framing 25 Years of Magic”, a video entirely about the history of the Magic: the Gathering card frame, and it's multitude of changes throughout the game's quarter century history, and direct inspiration for this article.

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As I sit here, I'm listening to YouTube's automated mix for me. A journey through the algorithm to to see what it thinks I like. For the most part, it does a good job. It's got Black Hole Sun on after Everlong, and it's got Killing In The Name after that. You start somewhere, close your eyes, and navigate a new auditory landscape every time, even if it's just the same songs over and over again for the most part. However, sometimes, it brings you into something new, exciting, and powerful.

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Austin McConnell is a video essayist on YouTube with a semi-substantial following of about 540,000 subscribers at the time of writing. McConnell posts about a number of subjects, from the fast food industry to sports scandals and far more in between. He's also a noted stylistic plagiarist, so I don't take to kindly to him on that premise. However, he recently released a video about Hearthstone's Shudderwock deck titled “When Card Games Break”, and by doing this he has stepped into territory of which I can rip him limb from limb for.

Now before we get into the meat and potatoes of this article I urge you to go watch his video linked here. It's a heaping pile of shit but I'm a person of fair representation of what people say.

NOW, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO, LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMEONE WHO HAS NO IDEA OF WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT.

Now after the starting Squarespace ad (no judgement, dude's gotta eat and that puts money on the table), we move into a story about how his school year Yu-Gi-Oh! group ran into problems because of a 2 card FTK. This is understandably a problem with a local play group, however any group wanting to take the game remotely seriously must have known that at the time, one of the combo pieces called Magical Scientist was banned. Now while it's easy to say “Oh, they're just kids, there's no way they'd know about the F&L list,” and put the fault of the meta on the players not following F&L, instead he blames it on the game design.

After this he moves more into talking about Hearthstone, and says

It seemed amazing to me that, over a decade later, some of the same design mistakes continued to plague the world's most popular games.

This statement is bold, sweeping, assumptive, and false. After this he asks the focal question of the video

What happens when you break a card game?

Well, what does happen, Austin? Generally when I think of things that break card games I think Jace, The Mind Sculptor enters standard and turns the entire scene into a minefield of Draw-Go mirrors, or I think of Android: Netrunner Haas-Bioroid decks with Cerebral Imaging as it's ID, allowing for an easily gained flood of resources to devolve into holding your entire deck with 50 in the bank and your servers so covered in ice it makes the glaciers jealous. But what about our tour guide into the world of card games, what does he think is so deserving of the title of “breaking a card game”?

Shudderwock Shaman in Hearthstone.

Now I will admit, when Witchwood first came out Shudderwock was absolutely dominant. Or was it? Well eSports team Tempo Storm does frequent Hearthstone Meta insights, and their ones from the release of the Witchwood expansion in Hearthstone to June 8th have generally settled upon having Shudderwock decks at Tier 1. Now that sounds crazy! A Tier 1 deck? This must be out of control, right? Well it shares the honor with four other decks, and for a good few weeks wasn't even considered tier 1. This deck, by no metric, broke anything. In fact, it made a slow, steady creep up the ladder starting at the third worst spot on the first meta snapshot, now working it's way up to third. However, Austin rants and raves that in the first month of this deck's existence it killed Hearthstone, a sentiment shared by none of the top players and all of Reddit's r/Hearthstone.

Austin's core arguments, that I gathered, as to how Shudderwock broke Hearthstone goes as thus:

1. Shudderwock is a non-interactive turn 9 kill

2. Shudderwock actually procing its battlecry was slow

3. Shudderwock got “nerfed” by doubling its animation speed and capping its battlecry effect

4. The deck didn't feel fun to lose too because of point 2, and the deck didn't feel fun to win with because of point 1

Let's dissect these point by point.

Shudderwock is a non-interactive turn 9 kill

This is true. There is nothing disprovable about this statement. Shudderwock either kills you on turn 9, or creates a board state so un-outable that you lose next turn. However, non-interactive kills does not a good deck make. The combo of Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood in Magic: The Gathering is incredibly well-known, yet no one uses it. Why? Because the deck can only do it from turn 6 onwards. And even fast combo decks, like the modern format's “Cheerios” decks, a deck that could theoretically win on your turn 2 before your opponent can use much of anything that interacts with the board, are bad because of consistency. Combo decks need a perfect blend of consistency, speed, power, and protection to be good, and Shudderwock had all of these but speed. This means the deck is weak to aggro, or the constant problem plaguing combo decks of just not drawing your pieces.

Shudderwock actually procing it's battlecry was slow

This is somewhat true, but isn't helped by the fact that Austin does not know one of the golden tricks of Hearthstone. He brings up that the animation of the battlecry was in essence a ctrl+c ctrl+c of all the other battlecries played that match. However, there is one, minor feature of Hearthstone that resolves this feature. Whenever an effect is proced, including the battlecries replicated by Shudderwock show a little animation with the card flying on screen. Now if you click the card during this animation, you speed up the animation of the card and it's effect drastically. Point number 2 is one that he frequently comes back to, and it's painful to watch him just sit there and take far longer than he should have to resolve Wock.

Shudderwock got “nerfed” by doubling its animation speed and capping its battlecry effect

Now this statement sounds like a nerf, no? It's battlecry got capped, that should be it, right? Well Shudderwock on paper only needs about 4 battlecries to win a game: two Lifedrinkers, a Saronite Chain Gang, and a Grumble, Worldshaker, and Shudderwock's battlecry limit was set to 20. This is a non-factor for the most part, because after you get Chain Gang and Grumble on the Wock, you constantly create Wocks that create a clone of themselves and bounce them back to the hand for an astronomical price of One mana. This card was never nerfed, and more received a quality-of-life patch. He then goes on to say “players who spend money trying to get a card should be compensated whenever it gets nerfed or banned” and that “cards in paper games have never been nerfed, that's just absurd.” The first one is preposterous for a hopefully obvious reason, Wizards of the Coast doesn't have the money to give people hundreds of thousands of dollars if they decide to ban a card like Karn, Liberated. The second one makes sense at first, but now we get to go back to Yu-Gi-Oh!, where cards like it's infamous Sangan and Crush Card Virus were nerfed in their paper versions. Also, at this point he uses a graphic of the back of a Magic: the Gathering card, but with sixth colors of mana, back when R&D had playtested a possible sixth mana color all the way back in 2007. He continues on this rant about it essentially being unethical to nerf a card without compensating the players without ever saying that Blizzard compensates when a card is banned or nerfed. See, cards in Hearthstone can be converted into dust, a currency that can be spent to buy copies of an exact card. And when a card gets banned or nerfed, that card can be dusted for its full value. But, as we know, Shudderwock wasn't nerfed, so people didn't get compensated. So, in essence, a large portion of this video is spent complaining about a problem that doesn't exist.

(Deep breaths, Kiran, you can get through this.)

The deck didn't feel fun to lose too because of point 2, and the deck didn't feel fun to win with because of point 1

Heavens above. Okay first things first, no deck is fun to lose to unless it's stupid meme combo shit, and even then not sometimes. In most card games, the act of a loss is antithetical to fun. Sure what can happen in a lost game can be fun, but seeing your Arbitrary Skill Stars go down is never a good time. Secondly, and this is an outrageous thought but stay with me: if you're playing a deck that you don't personally find fun play

another

deck. Holy shit it's like fucking magic. Who would have thought. In a game with a million-billion possible deck choices, you can choose to play another one of the million-billion instead of bashing your head into a wall with a deck you don't find fun and saying “THIS IS A FAILURE OF GAME DESIGN”.

i quit

(As a footnote: Austin uses the term “he or she” at some point in his video. More of my thoughts on that in a future post, keep your eyes to the ground)

Disorganized Thoughts About Card Games: Volume 1

Control: Shadowverse, Magic, and The Structure of a Turn

When designing a card game, one of the most important things to do is to account for players looking to play the slow game. Make your game look like a race at breakneck speeds and you'll steer people away who think it's about playing solitaire and hand dumping until your opponent's life hits zero. However, to promote games to last too long leads to matches of “nothing happening”, where players spend ten turns playing draw-go before a spell gets played that can make new players think the game is incredibly boring. The balance of control and aggro is one that has always plagued card games, but the matter has almost always come down to the structure of a turn.

Magic: the Gathering is bar none the most important card game to the genre's history. The game drew people in with its fantasy aesthetic and kept them playing with its intense skill requirements and resource management. It's easily the most popular competitive card game in the world, with storied players taking the world by flusterstorm, and with twenty-five years of play names such as The Deck, Cryptic Command, Force of Will, and Lightning Bolt strike fear into the hearts of people who forgot the player across them left mana open. Control in Magic thrives around one aspect: instants and cards with the keyword “Flash” can be played at any time in response to an ability or card the opponent plays. This one rule is what forms Magic, and allows its control decks to shine. Without it, the game would lose so much of what makes it unique. However, with the advent of mobile games, ventures into the world of card games without interaction on the opponent's turn have sprung into prominence

For a game where people complain day in and day out about aggro, Shadowverse manages to do many things right. Its aesthetic is anime, and it's from the same people who made Granblue Fantasy, so it's drawn in crowds that way. The evolve mechanic is incredibly fun and a powerful toolbox for certain decks, pushing the balance of wanting to push damage, or wait for strong effects on evolution. However, I believe the game exemplifies one of the things control players in Magic looking at many other card games see, especially through its only strong control deck, Artifact Portalcraft. Control decks in most games outside of Magic try to achieve the same end goals as those in Magic do, that being grinding out board and hand advantage before dropping a game ending bomb, but it's the approach that matters. Magic does it primarily through counterspells, forcing the opponent to spend resources before saying “Oh no you don't,” and draining the soul from your opponent's unresolved Krark-Clan Ironworks. Most other games do it by focusing on denying the opponent board presence after things are on it, usually by trading or spells. However, this causes control to falter in three situations, all of which are demonstrated in Shadowverse as it is today.

  1. Creatures are not played for their stats, but their enter the board or leave effect.
  2. The format revolves around spells, which cannot be countered in a game such as this.
  3. Problematic cards are nigh impossible to remove.

Evidence of the first is Midrange Swordcraft. A deck that has been top of the rotation format food chain for a while now, Mid Sword is known for having powerful spells-on-a-stick with strong alpha strikers like Arthur, Knight King and Sky Fortress. The second is prominent in Roach Forest, a combo deck that doesn't care about interaction because it just OTKs you. The last manifests itself in Tenko Havencraft, which revolves itself around a permanent type called an amulet, which has little viable removal in rotation. While it is definitely possible for control to exist in a game like this, over time it will only get more and more difficult.