On Speed, Mass, And Force

Posted in Serious Fun on September 12, 2006

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As it is the beginning of this week's upkeep, I am removing the last time counter from my preview and revealing the card immediately:

Before you go much further, you might want to check out the Rules-in-a-Box that I've helpfully enclosed. While many readers may feel they've come to understand suspend based on the glimpse of Lotus Bloom a week ago, 99 percent of those readers can still learn something from the new rules established.

Why Anthony Hates Physics

When I found out this week's preview card was Wheel of Fate – an obvious update on the blockbuster Alpha card Wheel of Fortune – I thought it would be really cute to do a piece that would borrow some simple physics to parallel Magic strategy. You know, how much speed do the two Wheels have relative to each other, how much does each "force" your opponents' hand…you get the idea.

So I scan through an old textbook, and flip around the web…and give up in disgust. Because the simplest sentence I can find that relates force to speed and wheels (or circles) is this:

For any object moving along a circular path, the force provided by the outside world must be just large enough to equal

You know what? This is the kind of crap that makes me want to punch the next guy I see wearing a pocket protector. Or Mark Gottlieb, because I'm pretty sure he knows what this means, since I think it was part of his article during Puzzle Week last year.

Now, don't get upset. I don't mean "punch" in a mean, bullying sort of way. I mean "punch" in a "you're-annoyingly-smart-and-I-deeply-respect-you-so-let-me-show-you-how-much-by-demonstrating-my-own-force-and-speed-equation-with-my-fist-and-your-shoulder" sort of way. Seriously, how do you Physics students deal with this stuff? I read Feynman's Six Easy Pieces and my eyes didn't de-glaze until I had flipped the back cover.

Well, anyway, bless you physics geeks for knowing what you're doing. This article may or may not adhere to your notions of accuracy. But I'm sure we can all agree that some of the more obscure concepts of physics, like gravity, are completely disputable anyway. So I'm going to use some poetic license here, while you all go on out there and save the world. Put another way:

For any mistake regarding the laws of physics that Anthony makes during this article, the amount he cares equals:

(AA cares) = ((Number of days left before September 19, 2006)*(Speed of my brain))/(Number of nit-picking physics geeks)

You'll notice we have two numerators, both of which are rapidly approaching zero.

Reinventing The Wheel

Wheel of Fate, simply put, will change multiplayer Magic games. I don't mean that in a small, game-by-game, hey-look-there's-a-Wheel-of-Fate-and-that-changes-the-whole-game sort of way. I mean that if your group has one or more red mages who are serious enough to track down four of these things, you will need to change the way you play Magic for a little while.

The original hand-sweeper – Wheel of Fortune – is restricted in Vintage (and every other format it's ever been legal in) for a reason. It blows up hands that players carefully craft (and often mulligan for), while replenishing the hands of those who have already spent out their resources. Good control decks that watched speedy red decks run out of gas cried "unfair!" when Wheel of Fortune came down and gave them another deluge of seven enemy cards to deal with.

A large part of what keeps Wheel of Fortune (unfair) is the large, sweeping effect it has on hands for a relatively low cost. By turn 4, most players haven't had the chance to develop their mid-game. And now all the hands are changing? There's fun and wacky, and then there's relentlessly difficult to play with. Restricting Wheel to one copy per deck was a fine solution.

Note the ability has re-emerged once – in Dragon Mage – since then. Dragon Mage is a bit expensive, but I loved the effect it had on some games. (It also worked just swell in my dragon-reanimator deck.) For reasons I can't fully understand – perhaps its cost – Dragon Mage didn't become as popular a choice among the Magic-playing public as it could have. I was bummed, because I figured that would be the last we'd see of Wheel of Fortune.

Until today. The new Wheel, which relies on fate rather than fortune (and who wouldn't rather do that?), represents a slow burn to the desired effect. Rather than surprising everyone with a mass hand dump and refill, it sends the players around the table three critical gifts: a signal, a reason…and a countdown.

Three Easy Pieces

The first gift, the signal, is all about mass. I live a good deal of my life in political spheres, where how you say something is just as important as what you're saying. But even in delicate situations, it's important to send a clear signal. Nineteen times out of twenty, pussy-footing around with big words and contorted sentences doesn't get done what direct, polite dialogue can.

This definitely applies to the game of multiplayer Magic. If you're trying not to get noticed, you don't say much. But if you're going to tell the board something, you say it. You say it clearly, and you put some oomf behind it.

That oomf – or mass – is what makes people sit up and pay attention. If you stood up in the middle of your second turn and announced in a loud voice…

"IN FOUR TURNS, I'M GOING TO PLAY A 1/1 GOBLIN TOKEN!"

…well, people might not care.

"EVEN IF IT HAS HASTE?!"

Yes, even if it has haste. But if you kept your seat and suspended Wheel of Fate…

"IN FOUR TURNS, EVERYONE LOSES THEIR HAND AND GETS SEVEN NEW CARDS!"

Now that you have everyone's attention, whatever in the world will you do with it? Which brings us to the second gift. The good thing about the second gift is, it's really a gift for you.

The second gift, the reason, is all about force. Let's talk incentives and motivations here. It's turn 2 and someone just told you you're going to lose your hand and draw seven new cards… in four turns. What do you do?

Nine times out of ten, you're going to play out as much of your hand as possible and draw seven cards.

Multiply that logic times several players, and turns three through six are likely to see a lot of action. So on to the next question – what will happen with all of that action? One of three things.

1) People will just play out their hands and sit there, locked by game state or indecision. This shouldn't happen as often as it does – it generally results from players being afraid of making the first move, when they shouldn't be.

2) People will play out their hands, and then someone will sweep the board. We'll get back to this – you are, after all, playing red!

3) People will play out their hands, and then they will engage each other. For a red player, this is generally the most desirable outcome. Red wants to see hands empty and blood spilling on the board.

No matter which of the three scenarios you experience, you cannot deny that they are powerful outcomes. Lots of creatures suddenly sitting on the board, lots of creatures dead, lots of creatures raging across the board – all of them are very different from how many groups play their first six turns.

Note that an early Wheel of Fate is much better than a late one. Why is this? Earlier on, people have more cards they'll want to play out. You'll see a bigger rush to the board, with more interesting results. Later on in the game, there's not much of a signal to send (beyond the card-drawing, which is certainly nice). No one will play very much out, since they're all holding extra lands anyway. Cards and action… signal and reason… force and mass.

The third gift, the countdown, is all about speed. In this case, a pretty slow speed. Going back to my "animal elements" of multiplayer, Wheel of Fate isn't exactly what you'd call a "spider" card. It's a "gorilla" card with some "plankton" mixed in. But regardless of what animals we list, the bottom line is that you aren't surprising anyone with this card. You're not trying to. You're trying to set up a slow, methodical countdown.

Why would you do this? Because in Magic, knowledge is power. Opponents holding back spells limits the information you have. Opponents with all their cards on the board (or better yet, in their graveyards) gives you all the information you need.

Ironically, the best kind of deck for Wheel of Fortune may not be an aggressive deck with lots of instants and comes-into-play effects – but rather a more controlling one, which still contains fairly cheap creatures, but relies on them having repeatable effects that will outlast the suspension, play, and resolution of the Wheel. Tahngarth, Talruum Hero; Ohran Viper; Visara the Dreadful; Adarkar Valkyrie; and Heidar, Rimewind Master all have one or more powerful control elements. They all impact creatures that are likely to come out while everyone races the Wheel of Fate. And they all remain on the board to give you a path to victory.

Comparing Wheels

Putting all the physics together, it can help newer players to see the two wheels laid together on the same axle:

 Wheel of Fortune Wheel of Fate Signal/Mass Makes the hand exchange happen immediately Threatens the hand exchange in several turns Reason/Force No opportunity to change the board A clear effort to change player behavior for a while Countdown/Speed Fast enough to surprise A slow, deliberate churn

Some inexperienced players may try to tell you Wheel of Fate and Wheel of Fortune are the same card. When they do that, remind them of this chart.

But Wait – It Gets More Fateful!

Having listed a pretty darn good path to victory for a Wheel deck – strong, efficient creatures with repeatable effects – I do want to throw out a few more ideas readers should consider when building for the first time around this card.

First, I think Firestorm would be a riot, at least once or twice. You play the Wheel on turn 2, all visibly excited about the potential. Then, as you stock cards in your hand and flick off time counters, you shake your head sadly – you're manascrewed! You'll never get to play out your hand! How awful! Your opponents, gleeful at your misfortune, lay down as many creatures as they can…and then, with the Wheel's last-counter activation on the stack (or even the spell itself), you Firestorm for six, discarding your hand.

Speaking of discard – the second key synergy is madness. By turn 6 or later, you should have plenty of mana available to make for a good Violent Eruption or drop down an Arrogant Wurm. There are other madness cards in Time Spiral that may be even better – I just have no idea what they are yet!

The third strategy to consider is hellbent. Yes, you draw seven cards when the suspension's over – but if you blew through seven cards in six turns without any trouble, chances are you can do it again. Add discard outlets (see Firestorm above, or something gentler from Odyssey block like Wild Mongrel) and you should be fine. A super-aggressive hellbent deck with Wheel of Fate refueling it would be kind of fun to try. If it's a disaster in chaos, you can always convert the deck to a flank offering in Emperor games.

The fourth strategy would take advantage of the fact that everyone's playing really cool stuff. Wouldn't it be fun to screw around with them? Why not play a Thieves' Auction, an Insurrection, a Warp World? I'll tell you why not – these are expensive cards and you may get trapped with one of them in hand just before a suspended Wheel goes off – but it can't hurt to include just one copy of one or two of them. Can it?

The last strategy I'll offer today would mix black in for stuff like Megrim and Underworld Dreams. I expect, given such decks are already popular online without the Wheel, that the Wheel will make an appearance in many such decks once Time Spiral is available electronically. Be prepared!

Rolling Into A Tournament Near You?

A portion of card preview readers is always interested to learn (or in some cases, just predict loudly) how well a given card is going to do. When the card's as cool as Wheel of Fate, even a casual player like me enjoys thinking about it and offering his own analysis.

Wheel of Fate is too reminiscent of Wheel of Fortune not to get a good, hard look from serious Constructed tournament enthusiasts. It costs you two mana to set up an effect that red mages have considered powerful for many years. The suspension is uncounterable. For an aggressive deck that wants to play out its hand anyway, the "drawback" of waiting four turns for the spell to see play isn't that bad a deal.

If despite these advantages the Wheel doesn't make tournament decks, it will be for two reasons. First, a lot of aggressive decks that might enjoy seven new cards by turn 6…well, they like to play a creature on turn 2. That's how beats happen!

The second reason is a single card: Remand. Remand, already a top-notch tournament card in Standard environments, gets better when facing suspend cards. As I said above, knowledge is power in Magic, and suspend gives the opponent knowledge. The control deck can strategize around your spell's timeline, and then set the entire thing back to the beginning while drawing a new card. It's a potentially disastrous tempo swing, especially if the Wheel's controller really needs those seven new cards.

Of course, there's nothing stopping the controller of a suspended spell from saving his own tricks for the turn her spell resolves. While Overmaster and Boil aren't Standard legal anymore, they're in the right ballpark of ideas. A red mage using Wheel of Fate will want to think about the one or two instants you're not afraid to hold back until the last, fateful turn. Then, if an opponent has an "answer" to Wheel of Fate, you'll have a reply of your own.

In Limited formats, Wheel of Fate's value will depend on the type of deck you're drafting (or building in your sealed pool). Many people will overvalue it – remember, it's not a creature, it's not removal, and it doesn't win games on its own! But it's still an intriguing tool. It will be worth consideration in most decks since countermagic is not a great Limited strategy; but aggressive decks will enjoy the Wheel more. In particular, be careful if you have any "bombs" that cost over six mana. You don't want to play the Wheel on turn 2, draw your bomb on turn 6, and discard it at the beginning of your turn 7 upkeep!

Last week, I put clues about this week's preview card in the ending paragraphs. I even told you in the header: The Second Card's Fate. As my articles wind down, I am trying to sneak all sorts of stuff past the editors. Who knows what they'll let me get away with next time?

But I don't wanna talk about next week just yet. I want to talk about last week. Last weekend (as I write this, so I mean Labor Day weekend), my beautiful but devious wife MaryJanice and I went to Atlanta to enjoy DragonCon. With thousands of fantasy and science fiction fans all gathering to have a good time, it was quite the event! Thanks to those of you who recognized us and said "hi". Many thanks as well to the huge group of volunteers who run that event – it's a mammoth undertaking, with everything from art shows to autograph sessions to a full-scale parade to organize. For the record, my favorite costumes were worn by the group that came as Marines from the movie Aliens, complete with battle-worn helmets and eye-cameras, beeping motion detectors, and even plush-doll spider-spawn attached to their body armor! Good stuff.

Like MaryJanice at a writer's panel, next week's preview card is highly effective in crowds, durable under pressure, and tons of fun for most people to be around. Unlike her, it occasionally smacks itself for no reason. It's my favorite of the three Time Spiral previews, and possibly of all the previews I've done.

Anthony Alongi has been playing various Magic formats for over eight years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His latest book co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson is THE SILVER MOON ELM, available in June 2007.

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