Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"Pushed" Cards and Player Skill

As some of you probably know, I have been playing quite a bit of Eternal, a great digital card game by Direwolf Digital that is currently in closed beta. Today, I read an excellent article discussing the concept of pushed cards and why they are good for the game. Given all of the recent discussion around whether or not to ban Self-Assembler, I thought the concepts presented in this article were very timely. I certainly encourage you to read the whole article, but today I want to highlight certain key points and briefly discuss how they might be relevant to our discussion.

What is a pushed card? NeonBlonde, the author of the article, defines it this way:

A good definition of the term might be “a card that is obviously and deliberately powerful”, or maybe “a card that is significantly above average on purpose”.

Even in an all-Commons format like Standard Pauper, we certainly have had our share of pushed cards: Kor Skyfisher, Ghostly Flicker, and Treasure Cruise, just to name a few. Interestingly enough, I believe at one time or another players called for each of these three cards to be banned.

Now the argument could be made that such cards are bad for the format. That the very fact that they are so much better than the rest of the cardpool warps the metagame in unhealthy ways. Doesn't it make the game less skill intensive, since it all comes down to either who draws these cards first or who plays the best answers to them?

NeonBlonde suggests just the opposite:

An environment where there is a variable power level becomes much more skill intensive. Firstly, deck building becomes more challenging. Of course you want to jam as many pushed cards into your deck, and leave out the weaker cards, but there is a limit in the number of excellent cards that are hanging around. You need to identify what is best, which becomes harder and harder as you move down the list. In addition, you need answers to the best cards from your opponent’s deck. It isn’t enough to just have a random sample of cards that are good, since your opponent’s best cards may be much better than your answers if you are not careful. Game play becomes more interesting too. The value of cards will tend to move up and down much more depending on what is happening in the game. In flat power level world the most important cards will generally just be the highest cost card in play. In variable power world, this is often not the case, as context becomes more important. The skill of the game goes up as a result, since you must keep track of what matters and why, rather than just following what costs the most. You are also forced to come up with creative lines of play when you draw your less powerful cards and you opponents draw their more powerful cards. Sure they have the advantage, but is their a way to combine these low power cards to actually counter my opponent’s strongest threats? That leads to some of the most interesting games.

So in my opinion, this is the best question to ask about Self-Assembler. Does the fact that this card is so good contribute to increasing the skill level required for success in Standard Pauper? Or does it in fact lower the skill level, since games are truly only about either drawing Self-Assembler or finding the perfect answers for it?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to comment below.

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