[Classic] Who’s the Beatdown

Who’s the Beatdown?” is a 1999 Magic article from by Mike Flores that introduced the ideas and terminology of the relative beatdown and control roles. The concepts are strongly relevant to other games (e.g. this OTC match) and still alive in Magic analysis today.

The heart of the article is:

The most common (yet subtle, yet disastrous) mistake I see in tournament Magic is the misassignment of who is the beatdown deck and who is the control deck in a similar deck vs. similar deck matchup. The player who misassigns himself is inevitably the loser.

In similar deck vs. similar deck matchups, there are a couple of things that you want to look at to figure out what role to play:
1. Who has more damage? Usually he has to be the beatdown deck.
2. Who has more removal? Usually he has to be the control deck.
3. Who has more permission and card drawing? Almost always he has to be the control deck.

If you are the beatdown deck, you have to kill your opponent faster than he can kill you. If you are the control deck, you have to weather the early beatdown and get into a position where you can gain card advantage.

Misassignment of Role = Game Loss.

Critically, Flores points out that even in a match between similarly fast aggressive decks or slow controlling decks, one of the two will be a bit more aggressive or more controlling than the other as a static gamestate element, via the cards each players put in their deck.

The beatdown (or aggro) should play aggressively in pursuit of a shorter and more resource-scarce tempo-oriented game. The plan is to force the opponent to deal with immediate threats and minimize the time and resources they can afford to use investing for later. When the op does invest resources towards non-immediate ends, the goal is to go for the throat and punish, reaching critical pressure before the investments yield returns.

The control should play defensively in pursuit of a longer and more resource-rich value-oriented game. The plan is to survive while preparing for the long term, turning the tables as the op runs out of steam. The goal is to fend off short-term defeat with as few resources as possible, investing with as much as the op’s pressure allows.

Use beatdown (aggro) vs control roles as a lens for thinking about other games. Correctly determining your relative role will let you make better choices, nudging the game in a direction that favors your setup.

[OTC] Tourney match featuring aggressive pressure against lategame potential

Here we have the best of 3 Offworld Trading Company (OTC) match between players blackmagic and DeathTacticus with excellent commentary from philothanic and Zultar. In this match, we see cross-game ideas such as the strength of controlling the center as well as a race between early and lategame strategies.

Game 1. It's best to search for ways to get in your opponent's way while advancing your own gameplan. Here Blackmagic cancels an iron claim to the east and instead takes 2 iron tiles adjacent to DeathTacticus's base. This play does not lose as much tempo as it would seem, as he could not claim those 2 tiles earlier as they were protected by the timeout from DeathTacticus' own found there. These two tiles stifle the expansive opponent's options, walling DeathTacticus off from the open space northwest of his base and reducing his options for later building placement. Expansive colonies have a large tile footprint that can make it especially difficult for them to design their bases in tight areas. They face the competing incentives, wanting to connect production to the base to avoid shipping but also wanting to avoid over-clustering of buildings that increase the value of the opponent's EMPs and Power Surges (both of which randomly spawned for this game's black market):

Both players are in the top center of the map away from many of the map's resources. Zultar discusses one attractive alternative found location nearer to the center that went unused. Controlling the center of a game map (LoL mid tower, chess center squares, etc) is very strong because occupiers have the shortest average travel distances to other points on the map. In this case, reducing shipping distance to every other point on the map would help because shorter shipping lanes are cheaper to operate. Playing to shorten distances is as important here as in other map-based games, as we saw with Planetary Annililation. By founding in a particular spot, players make a (mostly) static choice about shipping costs for the map's resource patches:
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