Prognostication – A meditation on metagame prediction.

Predicting the future is the ultimate goal of human knowledge seeking. Both science and magic have devoted considerable effort to developing ways in which we can impose a meaningful order on the chaos that will allow us to tell what will happen next. Through controlled experimentation or looking at patterns in bird guts/tea leaves/ the songs that pop up on your random shuffle, both groups, so seemingly opposed, really want the same thing.

Of course, the greatest problem with predicting the future is that we are active actors in it. In physics, they have the Uncertainty Principle. The more mythologically inclined (Be it Greek Mythology or Dr. Who) point to stories where we create our futures by trying to prevent them from coming to pass. The core problem – when we act upon the world, we invalidate our own predictions. Sometimes our involvement causes only a miniscule ripple, sometimes it causes a tidal wave.

In Vs, and indeed any CCG, predicting the future is a powerful tool in succeeding at competitive events.

I am of course talking about the Metagame.

The metagame is a highly complex creature. The variables that go into producing it are many and complex, and highly fluid. Some of the identifiable factors involved in defining a metagame are:

Historical Factors (What has gone before, and shall come to pass again?)

The “Most Played Deck”

The “Deck That Beat the Most Played Deck”

Any unexpected ingenious wild cards.

All of these factors are pretty much the first thing that people look at when trying to predict a metagame. The decks that did well will often see plenty of play in future events, obviously enough. But unfortunately, it’s not that simple, as we’ll see.

The “Dynamic Factors” are far more complex and interactive, and as such, not so conducive to a tidy list. They are where the unpredictable flux in the metagame comes from. These dynamic factors involve such things as:

Discussion in the community about the metagame

Any new additions to the card pool yet to be observed in competitive play

What people put in their gauntlets

How people alter their strategies in response to their gauntlet testing

It’s those last few that make the whole thing really complicated. Because to really judge a metagame, you have to predict how people will react to the known factors. And all those people whose behaviour you’re trying to predict? They’re trying to predict yours, and everyone else’s.

Everyone guesses what everyone else is doing, and builds a gauntlet to represent it. Then they test against that gauntlet and tweak their deck against it. But wait, if other people have seen your deck coming, will they have tweaked to face it? Should you be optimizing the decks in your gauntlet as you go, to try and predict changes to those decks as well as work on your own? It all depends on trying to predict what everyone’s doing, and your own effort to predict distorts the effect that you will ultimately have on the metagame – and everyone else is doing the same thing.

The act of trying to predict the future changes the future. And even more so when it’s happening on a large scale.

I’m going to diverge from my strange meanderings to consider some slightly more concrete examples of predicting a metagame.

From past experience, we know that Rock.dec was the most popular deck in the last comparable event. However, at that same event, some clever sorts who predicted Rock.dec’s dominance came along with Paper.dec and won the day.

So what do you play here?

To make that decision, you need to predict whether people will stick with Rock.dec (So you bring Paper.dec) or if people will switch to Paper.dec to beat Rock.dec. (So you bring Scissors.dec), or indeed if people will ALL decide to go for Scissors, in which case you should stick with Rock.dec.

And to make things worse, CCG’s aren’t even that simple to predict. Rock.dec could be modified to have a better game against Paper.dec, but that might correspondingly weaken it against Scissors.dec.

And even worse, you’ve got all these guys who chuck the Rock/Paper/Scissors Thing and come along with some wildly unstable thing that does something crazy that you never planned for (Well call it Nitro) This is a particular concern at Worlds, because there is a whole lot of potential unknowns with the involvement of MUN.

All in all, it’s a very complex set of things to consider.

Metagames move in cycles, yet it’s the speed of the circular movement that’s hard to predict.

And, so does this article, sort of.

In that the inherent uncertainty of the metagame is one of the main sources of my argument against tech such as PA and “silver bullets.” (see my last post)  – You don’t want to wind up packing a wooden stake against a werewolf, or silver bullets against a spectre. I think this argument is particularly strong in the context of Worlds. Worlds is an uncertain metagame. In an uncertain metagame, tech is weak. The deck that wins world will be one of two things – the product of a mind that can see the future in the pattern of his Randomly Shuffling iPod, or a deck that is solid, focused, and not reliant on silver bullets.

Of course, I could be completely wrong in this prediction. Maybe the uncertainty of the Worlds metagame will cause people to fall back on old reliables, making it more predictable than I thought. But judging by the excitement generated by MUN, I’m thinking there’ll be a significant number of people willing to bring something no-one saw coming.


~ by Anthony on April 30, 2008.

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