What I Really Learned at Worlds 2

Posted in NEWS on August 30, 2002

To read all about the Worlds storylines that captivated Fanboy Buehler, click here. To see what lessons Developer Buehler brought back from Australia, read on . . . .

Quiet Speculation

Most of the players I talked to seemed pretty disappointed with Odyssey Block Constructed. On one hand, Quiet Speculation wasn't nearly as problematic as it was originally thought to be. (Zvi Mowshowitz actually titled his deck "I'm Sorry" because he wasn't running any copies of the card, which he had originally claimed required an emergency banning.) On the other hand, though, there were only two basic decks that seemed viable (blue-green and monoblack), and a lot of players felt that game results were essentially random.

As I watched the Block Constructed day play out, the format didn't look as dire as I had been led to believe. There were a decent number of white decks running around (most based around Battle Screech), and they seemed to hold their own against the two format-defining decks. Also, it's not really fair to call blue-green "one" deck because there seemed to be an endless variety of ways to build it: the madness version, the threshold version, the turbo-Wonder version, the Quiet Speculation version, the card-advantage version, and many versions in between.

The results of the day also contradicted the claim that game results were nothing but "coin flips." If that were the case, there wouldn't have been as many undefeated players as there were. Clearly, the good players (and/or the players who were prepared) sat down with an expected chance of victory well over 50%.

Still, I take it very seriously when players tell me they don't enjoy a format. Even if it was more skill-testing and more varied than players were initially saying, I care if it isn't fun. I think part of the problem is that some cards were simply too much better than the other available options (Nantuko Shade and Wild Mongrel come to mind). We also underestimated the madness mechanic, and Wonder was probably more important to the format than we intended it to be. I think the format was less fun than some previous Block Constructed formats because the defining decks were so much better than the tier-two decks that players felt obligated to play those defining cards and decks. In the future, we will try to make sure there are more cards and more decks at the same power level so no one feels trapped into playing a small subset of cards.

Odyssey Block Booster Draft seemed to work out pretty well. Players seemed to enjoy all the graveyard themes (threshold, flashback, Incarnations, etc.) and none of the commons were so good that they caused problems.

The unbalanced color distribution was not something that we would want to do every year, but it seemed cool to do it this once. Torment and Judgment probably gave players fewer options when drafting because players really couldn't fight their left-hand neighbors for black or their right-hand neighbors for white because the good cards of those colors all came from those directions. We do like to throw new twists at players all the time and force them to adapt, however, which was something that played out pretty much the way we expected. So, like I said, my final verdict was "cool, but not something we should do all the time."

As for the Top 8… One thing to keep in mind when looking at the Top 8 is that those weren't actually the eight best Standard decks. Since Worlds is a 3-day competition, some of those decks are just whatever Standard decks happened to be played by the players who did well in draft and block constructed. My real point is that 'Tog didn't deserve to be 75% of the Top 8 and there was more going on than just 'Tog and Opposition. 'Tog was certainly format defining with almost half the field choosing to run it, but it's overall record was only four games over .500 and one could make a case based on the Day 1 data that the best deck in Standard didn't even appear in the Top 8.

Arrogant Wurm

Check out the breakdown of the 20 decks that went 5-1 or better:

  • UG Madness - 6
  • UB 'Tog - 4
  • RUB 'Tog - 3
  • Opposition - 1
  • BRG Braids - 1
  • UG Threshold - 1
  • Hunting Grounds - 1
  • RU Madness - 1
  • RG Beats - 1
  • Red Zone 2k2 (aka RGW beatdown) - 1

So 'Tog was 50% of the field but only 35% of the top of the Swiss and UG madness actually probably put up the most impressive weekend (it's overall record was 94-66-2 to Tog's 318-314-52). In addition, there was quite a bit of variety amongst these decks -- dramatically more than you would expect if you just look at the Top 8.

Worlds was my first real chance to see Judgment in action up close and personal. The set didn't solve any of the existing problems, but other than that it seemed to work out pretty well. I particularly enjoyed the impact of the Wishes. Three of them saw significant play in Standard (Living Wish, Cunning Wish, and Burning Wish), and all three led to interesting deck designs. Watching players debate the merits of having sideboard slots or having cards to Wish for was a neat change of pace.

The green-white Judgment theme was somewhat apparent, but perhaps not as strong as it could have been. It seemed like the good green cards outnumbered the good white cards, but green was already the second-best color in Standard, so it just got further ahead--and white didn't get enough juice to catch up. Glory is good, and Anurid Brushhopper requires white mana, but we probably should have made more good white cards.

Elephant Guide

If I could go back and do it over, I would almost certainly turn Elephant Guide into a white card. I'm not sure if it would still make a 3/3 token creature or if it should instead give, say, +2/+2 and flying and then put a 2/2 flier into play. Either way, though, it was a fairly cool, fairly powerful card that could have added some sauce to white decks, but was instead lost in the shuffle among all the other powerful green cards.

Another change might have been to make Wonder a white card. One could make a case for Genesis or Glory being the most powerful Incarnation in Sydney, but that honor seemed to go to Wonder. We knew it was decent, but we didn't quite realize how important Wonder would be. Both the green-white Judgment theme and the decision to make white the best flying color in Constructed support that conclusion. The problem is that if the white uncommon Incarnation gave flying, what would the blue one do? You can't just swap with the existing white one because Valor gives first strike and first strike is certainly not a blue mechanic. In fact, the simplest, most elegant blue ability is clearly flying and that's why Wonder wound up in blue. I'm not sure what we should have done, but somehow I think we should have found a way to get the power flying Incarnation into one of the set's power colors.

That is mostly just another example of how Judgment had some cool cards, but didn't actually solve any of the problems that already existed. Psychatog was still the best deck--in fact, running either Cunning Wish or Burning Wish almost certainly makes it even better. Blue-green also got better thanks to Wonder, Quiet Speculation, and a couple of other less-important cards. In general, blue and green were already the best colors, and they got more goodies. White probably got more from Judgment than blue did, but it started out so far behind that the impact on Standard wasn't huge.

Wonder

We know blue is too good and we've been trying to react to that knowledge. But it's tough to predict things accurately a year in advance. We did know a year ago that the blue in Invasion was quite saucy, and as we were developing Odyssey block we tried not to make too many good blue cards. Of the cards from this block that surprised us by turning out to be better than we thought, however, a disproportionate number of them have been blue. I don't know if this is random chance or some systematic error on our part, but we're definitely studying the problem and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Meanwhile, our reaction is already in place, and the upcoming block rotation should helps things a lot. It'll still take another year to flush out Upheaval, Psychatog, Circular Logic, Deep Analysis, and Wonder from the environment, but without Fact or Fiction, Nightscape Familiar, and Repulse, those cards won't be nearly as good. (It's also about time to let Flametongue Kavu and Fire/Ice head for Extended, where there are other cards at their power levels for them to compete with.)

All-in-all, I thought Worlds was a really good tournament. There were a bunch of compelling storylines and none of the formats were totally awful. Block Constructed was mediocre, but it was still better than the all-Rebel Masques block or the all-cards-that-needed-to-be-banned Urza block. Standard has flaws--in particular it's too blue-heavy--but the people playing Standard seemed to be having fun and there seemed to be a great variety of interesting blue decks to choose from. Looked at with a historical perspective, Standard seems decent and the 'Tog deck isn't that different from the "Fires" deck or the Rebel deck. Judgment wasn't the miracle cure for all that ails the game, but it seems like quite a nice set anyway. Most importantly, I think the flaws in Standard are going to start getting better once the Onslaught set comes out this fall.

Results of Last Week's Poll

Should anything be banned in Standard?
Yes 1532 41.1%
No 2192 58.9%
Total 3724 100.0%

This Week's Poll

Continuing down the same path…


Randy may be reached at latestdevelopments@wizards.com.