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What defines the metagame?

Started by Tokimo, December 18, 2009, 09:11:36 PM

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I'd love to hear other people's insights on what makes the metagame in magic like it is. Also your thoughts on what affects other games to give them more/less complicated, better/worse, more/less diverse, or otherwise different metagames.

Magic has a standard rotation of two years which massively affects Metagame (Jund being the absolute beast at the top right now, but within a year Jund will be gone even if everything in Worldwake and Rise of the Eldrazi is trash). Magic also has the legacy and extended metagames which are different (blue being a weak color in standard and king in legacy). Just examining magic we might conclude that a greater variety of cards produces a less absolutely uniform metagame (more relatively uniform), and a greater barrier to entry. We might also conclude that faster card rotations forces the metagame to change fundamentally more often.


You pretty much hit a lot of it right on the head, except Jund isn't necessarily numero uno anymore, it was just really hard to beat in the beginning. I've been playing Vampires and doing pretty well. I'm going to make some decks in lackey, hopefully we can play soon :)

Usually the metagame is first defined by the most powerful deck built before the first Worlds event after a block rotates out. This time around it was Jund. The next step is usually Worlds, at which many players are either playing that biggest deck, or something that they think can beat it easily, such as Naya, RDW, and other decks that came out at Worlds this year. From there is where things get more interesting because players see that the deck they thought was the deck to end all decks really isn't, and a whole variety of decks pop up because you no longer only have to fear the "top deck" but also all the things that were discovered that can beat that deck, and do fairly well against other decks. This is, of course, only really the case in Standard.


what does this mean? : we might conclude that a greater variety of cards produces a less absolutely uniform metagame (more relatively uniform)


-less absolutely uniform (a wider variety of decks are/or being played and more cards are used competitively, mainly because there are just so many cards that exist)

-more relatively uniform (the variety of decks and cards being used competitively is a smaller subset of all cards available) Consider this: Blighting and Standstill are two extremely popular cards. I'll make up some numbers, let's say 20% of decks use Blighting and Blighting represents .1% of all cards in standard. Standstill only is used in 10% of decks but makes up .005% of all cards in legacy. Usage/Representation will peak at higher values and have more zeros the larger your cardlists are.

The reason for the higher relative uniformity is that as you get more cards, more cards become obsolete, and more cards have better alternatives. Consider Grizzly Bear: Not a terrible card, but it's obsolete. Muscle Sliver, Kavu Titan, Oran-Rief Survivalist, all of these creatures are just flat out better than poor Grizzly bear (unless you have some way to exploit the bear type, which is unlikely). Now, consider in a bubble some of these against each other: 4 Oran-Rief Survivalists in a deck with no other allies is not as good as 4 Muscle Slivers in a deck with no other slivers (unless you have a way to exploit the come into play aspect, which is possible). Consider Kavu Titan against either of those and he's probably the strongest of the 4 1G 2/2s mentioned so far (assuming you're not playing a Sliver or Ally deck), since he can kick himself and be bigger than 2/2 without needing you to find a 2nd one in your deck (statistically very unlikely in Legacy since the games are often so short).


Although we can assume this is a true of magic because it has a good design team (most of the time) it isn't necessarily always true, because if a game had 8000 cards playable in its most popular format, but literally 60 of them were in every way better than the other 7940, then the metagame would probably all be that deck. This is of course assuming they are better in every way, like if they printed 60 cards that cost 2 and are 2/2s and 7940 cards that cost 2 and are 1/1s, all with no abilities.

So I don't think its a golden rule, if that is what you are getting it in terms of design theory. Although in general that is why I think games whose first sets are larger end up being more successful games because players have more choices and a developing metagame right off the bat.


Good point about the excessive obsoletion. Your conclusion was in a similar direction as I'd been going, that a larger initial set will provide a generally richer metagame (sucky games which pad their set with inferior versions of other cards excluded). I suppose I hadn't internalized these thoughts, but I've always been thinking for 300 minimum cards with a target of 500-600 cards in my initial set as I felt it would give the game a kick start on deck building options instead of needing to wait 2 years for extra expansions.


building a reasonbly small opening set will let you test the waters and see what gameplay changes need to be made. playtesting will only get yuo so far, there will be people who have no sympathy for your efforts who will attempt to break it. throwing out 300+ cards without having solid experience of what will or will not work might be bad if yuo dont anticipate every major combination of cards put togethr. you will also be able to give yourself time to pause and look at what new mechanics you can exploit and are inspired by. meta-games dont need to work right off the bat. for that matter, neithr does your game on the first set. but out of the two things to work on and experiment with, its usually better to stick to the second

your also forgetting that magic doesnt work this way. you not only need to balance cards effect-wise but also cost-wise, colour-wise, combination-wise. flatout obsolesenc isnt usually the main factor in a card not being played, theres usually the fact that theres a better card for more situations than the current one. your game wont be magic, it will have a different series of things that might need to be checked - costs, thresholds (which magic has none of as a part of the game system), availability of play, deck construction rules (concerning your house heros)

while it is true that more cards will give a kick to deck building options, that doesnt have anything to do with obsoleting old cards. any given deck will have a certain number of cards in it. if your game has copies, each unique card is just a fraction of the whole. that fraction out of your whole set is what is being played. with a larger set but a relatively fixed amount of unique cards, the number of unplayed cards only rises. it will only fall if the number of copies reduces to closer match the whole deck amount. for example, you play magic. your deck is 60 cards. but your land coutn can be, without loss of generality, 24 cards. this means you have 36 cards left. assuming you have not 4 but 3 of every card, you have only 12 unique cards in your deck. a first set is usually 300 cards. five decks in the metagame means you have 72 unique cards. even if you adjust the numbers, the larger the first set, the smaller the % of cards that are actually played.

first sets with a good amount of cards might do well because people who pick it up for a first time are amazed with -

a)the flavour. there are casual players who dont play competitively. there are people who dont mind doing both. making calculations based on the people who do play for keeps usually leaves out these people, who are still important
b)the mechanics and design of the game. some games are simply inspiring and they connect with people on a level they usually wont admit to. the fact were using m:tg as an example so much is probably evidence of this
c)they like the mechanics of this game compared to another game. i know of a few people who like wow because it 'fixes' certain problems magic has, like lands in the beginning game (even though duel masters did this first). others like m:tg coming from yugioh because yugioh hasd no cost system and they feel m:tg is more balanced
d)probably more, ill add if i can think of any
out of the first three, all of them have to do with getting the system down right. you can release a big set with an untested game, and if it works, itll be awesome. but if it doesnt, you just sank all your effort into nothing because there are few cards that will actually keep working the same way with a change in system.

my advice would be to stop worrying about whatll happen if your game works and try and focus on making it work. games are tricky like this. the concept can take a few hours to think off. the tweaking will take you months


lol, i didn't say "make a bigger set and don't test it, that'll make your meta-game better"
i'm saying if a game is well tested, then a bigger set is usually a good thing to establish more deck ideas. For awhile 360 cards was the basis for most "base" sets. I have made 200+ cards for my game and tested it only minorly, so I know any of those 200+ cards could need drastic changing. So I know I have a loooong way to go.
First you'll want to playtest with basically un-named cards that represent different ideas for mechanics that you have. Make sure everything works the way you want it to. After the rules playtesting is done, THEN you'll want to playtest the actual cards that make up your first set to make sure none of the cards are too under/over powered.


Interesting points. I don't really want to degrade this into a conversation about Mahoujo because I think some of the game theory might be useful to other people thinking about their own metagames. All I can say Ripplez is "I'm aware of those concerns and I'll try my best".


they will still apply to other games.

you will not get everything on your first try. the first set should be about atracting ppl to the game and showing that its possible to be taken seriously

the meta is usually defined by what works best at that point. it usually works on a combination fo cards rather than individual cards themselves, even though thats the basis. its the whole is greater than the sum of the parts when it concerns the meta



Quote from: Ripplez on December 20, 2009, 07:35:42 PM

why would you be sorry man? as soon as that stuff comes into play it becomes less of an intellectual argument or more of internet butting heads. i wasn't trying to discredit what you were saying, just offering my counter points. i actually think you're among the most insightful members of this forum, so keep bringing on the knowledge and opinions!


   A large initial release could increase the diversity of cards used, but is that necessarily a good thing?
On the opposite end of the spectrum of only one deck would be a large supply of cards, where every single card is equally usable.In this situation, there is as good as NO metagame, because if every card is equal, then the chance of any card appearing in a certain deck is equal. This means you either have to memorize the power and use of EVERY SINGLE CARD in a 300-400 card release, or simply make a deck that you like, and ignore what other people might play. Whether this state is desirable is up for debate.
   No game designer wants to build multiple cards specifically to be useless. Maybe that is why games that have meta games also represent every level of power in their cards. Magic, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Pokemon, for example, have many extremely weak cards as well as strong cards.
   Unfortunately, a small designer, already having difficulties finding artwork for the good, creative cards, cannot easily spend time on a large number of weak cards.


I think even if every card is useful you will still see a metagame form. Examining Magic I see that there is an interesting effect where a non-trivial number of commons are actually terrible. This realization actually bothers me quite a bit, I never realized they did this. I still think that strategies form regardless of those cards.

I guess another factor that defines the metagame is then the quality of the cards. Quality of course is all relative, so perhaps we should describe this as the relative power between cards. In magic you're not going to use a Runeclaw Bear or Grizzly Bear because there are just plenty of 1G 2/2s that have something else going for them (in standard this is true, but especially in extended or legacy).

So yes, I think printing Grizzly Bear decreases the variety of the metagame due to the 'real' size of the card set being smaller than the actual number of cards printed.


if your talking about the weak cards with mountainwalk and so on, they do that for sealed and drafting i think. those cards have a better use there


I define a useless card as a card which has no situation in which it is preferable to another card. I define a terrible card as a card which has no likely situation in which it is preferable to another card.

An example of a useless card: Runeclaw Bear in Extended. An Ashcoat Bear (1G 2/2 Flash) is just flat out better than poor Runeclaw.

An example of a terrible card: Runeclaw Bear in Standard. An Oran-Reif Survivalist has a counter to get it to a 2/2, but a Vampire Hexmage isn't going to be used to weaken it (and it's unlikely although possible that your opponent will rite of replication your survivalist). If you happen to play two though you have a 3/3 and a 2/2 instead of 2 2/2s that you would have had with the bears.