[All] Don’t position against a wall (without good reason)!

Today we return to the site’s roots, looking at a general strategic idea that exists across the gaming world: “Don’t position against a wall!” I’ve most recently remembered this idea from reviewing and playing Overwatch games, but it has cropped up many times before. Sometimes the wall is physical, sometimes it is metaphorical, but by definition it limits your available moves. This is a gift to the opponent! It makes their job easier. We want to do the opposite. As I’ve put it before, we want to “put the onus on the opponent.*” We want to make their job harder, to give them opportunities to misplay or guess wrong. Let’s look at some examples.

(11:54-12:18) First I’ll take a look at an Overwatch clip, though the ideas extend very naturally to games involving realtime movement prediction. It’s here that the concept of not positioning flush against a wall most recently returned to my thoughts. Here is a brief example that cropped up while I was reviewing and analyzing a set of replays from a player’s run to diamond rank. The Ana, by positioning right up against a wall, takes hits from all 3 of Genji’s shuriken. If she had a little more leeway to play with, she could force Genji to divine her movement, putting the onus on him to guess correctly in order to land his damage:

The example above has analogues in other FPS and also arena games, like League of Legends. For example, a Thresh chasing down a champion towards a wall will wait to hook until the enemy is up against the wall, reducing the directions they have for juking But you might be surprised to realize this idea comes up even outside of real time movement-prediction games. In chess they often say “A knight on the rim is dim,” referring to the weakness of the knight when on the edge of the board. A centralized knight could move to 8 squares, but on the edge will have only two options. It’s so bad that the rim knight can be completely “dominated” by a bishop, as presented by YouTube commentator MatoJelic in this clip:

(19:58-20:26) In the Overwatch example the wall was a physical wall. In the chess one, the wall is almost physical, consisting of the edge of the board. Now let’s look at a Magic: the Gathering example. In this clip from the recent Week 7 of Vintage Super League season 7, Rachel Agnes highlights a good example of a metaphorical wall restricting a player’s options. Rodrigo Togores has only 1 life left, making him unable to pay the alternate cost of Force of Will (card image below clip) without losing the game. Having even one more life would require his opponent to play around the possibility of a no-mana-cost counterspell, but as-is he’s against a wall. The opponent knows that if he does have the Force, he must pay the full 5 mana for it or not use it at all. Rachel goes on to share the amusing tale of a past an opponent of hers who threw away a winning game by needlessly paying their last point of life to counter a spell unnecessarily:

* Aside: In the past, I’ve used the phrase “put the onus on the opponent” to talk about minimizing risk while comfortably maintaining a gamestate where the opponent is disadvantaged, where if nothing changes the status quo will bring you more advantage or a win, forcing the opponent to take on risk in trying to “make something happen” that might upset this trajectory.

[MTG] What’s in a Gush?

It looks innocent enough, but this little card is a format-warping powerhouse. Against the backdrop of that very morning’s non-update update to Magic’s ban/restricted lists, Vintage veteran Dr. Rich Shay argues eloquently for Gush’s restriction. Lend Rich your ear for a spell (heh), then read to review the subtly powerful synergies driving the Gush engine.

Gush. The card, the art, and the Magic: the Gathering game are all property of Wizards of the Coast and are featured here under fair use.

Continue reading “[MTG] What’s in a Gush?”

[MTG] 3 Vintage Super League match commentary higlights

Rachel and Randy, commentating on a Vintage Super League match between Davids Ochoa and Williams, start out with a discussion of Williams’ hand. Williams, playing a Monastary Mentor deck, has not drawn the explosive mana pieces that sometimes lead to enormous early pressure. His hand will not speedily play out Mentor, but it does have ways to buy time towards finding one. He holds two 1-mana removal spells with many targets in Ochoa’s artifact and creature reliant Workshop deck:

Unfortunately for Williams, while he does find time to draw two copies of Mentor, he does not draw enough land to combat the Workshop deck’s soft-lock mana denial elements. Williams loses game 1 of the match with Mentors stranded in hand, an example of “threshold of effect” that I introduced last week. Williams, due to not mulliganing his opening 7 and also playing card-drawing spells, has access to more cards than his opponent, which is abstractly an advantage. However, without the ability to actually play the cards, their contribution is illusory. Despite Ochoa mulliganing his opener to 6 cards and not once actually drawing extra cards, he effectively has the card advantage:

Finally we have an interesting discussion of how recently printed magic cards have influenced the Vintage metagame. Vintage is a powerful format, and it’s fairly unusual for new cards to be strong enough for the Vintage context. New “toys” for Vintage decks have included Monastary Mentor (for a cheap spells deck), Paradoxical Outcome (for some storm decks), and Walking Ballista (for Workshop decks). Rachel favors Mentor, partly because Stony Silence is an effective hoser against both Outcome and Workshop decks: