During gameplay, the quality of the information and the probability of a particular trajectory for the current course of the game increases. The quality of the information corresponds to the relevance of a simulation with the given information.
Imagine the in-game information as a diffuse cloud that may be reduced by reading the right parameters to optimize the decision-making process.
Figure 1 – Reduction of available information to relevant information
Relevant playlines may be estimated from a variety of parameters. The opposing reaction is the great unknown. Matchup experience helps to anticipate the opponent’s early plays and to foresee the associated options while during the further course of the game – and the increasing available Mana – the prognosis becomes much more difficult/complex. The reaction itself may be limited by the knowledge of the opposing deck and the possible hand cards, even if these are not known and other possible actions resulting from the current Boardstate, deck cards, Graveyard, etc.
The most important factor to precisely narrow down the opponent’s option is the open Mana and the Mana she/he is likely to build up in the following moves. From all possible cards or effects, it is possible to filter out information irrelevant for the decision making of the selected playlines or even included information in the simulation as a worst-case scenario for the selected playline.
Compact reduced information can now be extracted from a large amount of possible information. Often the density of information can only be meaningfully limited by provoking reactions of an opponent. A selected sequence is especially advantageous if the opponent is pressured, whilst keeping as many options as possible. Proper sequencing is the tool of choice.
We can choose one option with the possibility for your opponent’s interaction and end up at the next crossroad, which requires us to decide again. Often, we get to different outcomes, but decisions might also cause no meaningful impact on the overall game situation and two or more different ways end up in the same exit situation (here illustrated with the X):
Figure 2 – Decision-tree converging for 2 different sequencing options
Some options lead to dead ends, others perhaps a little further. A card or effect is played, or an attack/block is declared and if we keep it binary, the opponent chooses to react or let it happen.
Figure 3 – Binary Sequencing building a Playline
A quick reminder:
There is always a priority sequence in each segment where only the turn player can use his priority to play cards, or use effects, and when the turn player passes priority, the opponent is given priority to play cards and effects. If both pass priority consecutively, then we move on to the next segment. E.g. in the main phase the turn player may simply play another card and the process repeats.
How does this effect the state of valid information? Your opponent, like you, has only limited options but almost always has more than one, and with each option he uses, his radius of action becomes smaller, especially since his available mana usually shrinks. If the opponent had n options, he usually has at least 1 option less after his reaction.
Figure 4 – n available options to react!
Let’s take a closer look at the final of GP Munich 2018. The example is particularly pleasant to analyze because the course of the game is quite narrow and Lars as an Ayu, Lunar Swordswoman (ADK-060) // Ayu, Shaman Swordswoman (ADK-060J) player has two clear goals: to survive the turn of Fridolin and to win the game in its turn with the combo of 2 Souls and Resuscitating Will (WOM-016). Fridolin as a Kirik Rerik (TSW-045) // Kirik Rerik, the Draconic Warrior (TSW-045J) player should realize 2 possible trajectories for the match: either he wins the game in his turn, or he must prevent Ayu from having the OTK in the next turn.
There are situations where Fridolin is simply going to lose, independent of any chosen playline. However, we might as well see if there is a playline more advantageous than the one Fridolin chose.
Fridolin himself decided to answer Ayu’s God’s Art with just one Laurite, Seven Luminaries Astrologian (TSW-094) in hand and to pass turn. This reactive response has a crucial drawback: Lars has far more options in his turn, for he has 3 Mana (if the Mana for the Resuscitating Will is subtracted: 2 Mana), instead of 1 Mana available.
Maybe you recall my statement about Combo decks: cheap hand disruption and Counters are excellent to secure combos. This coincides with a clear problem for Fridolin’s chosen playline. The option he has chosen can be outplayed with a variety of common cards in the Ayu deck (Faerur’s Spell (ACN-096), Keez’s Call (ACN-069), Thought Control (TSW-143), etc.) and only based on the assumption that he does not have the Resuscitating Will or one with only a single Soul in his hand.
The possibility that Fridolin has not pursued is to destroy Ayu, or to provoke her God’s Art. While the concrete destruction of Ayu is almost impossible if the Ayu player does not let it happen intentionally as long as her God’s Art is still available, nevertheless, high damage directed towards Ayu could reduce the Souls in Lars’s hand and delay the OTK.
Let us dive into the critical situation from the first game in the final: Fridolin has fought Lars down to 1400 life points and Lars only has one Mana open. The possible interactions of Lars may only consist of any card for 1 Mana, due to Severing Winds (ENW-063) as a free counter if Fridolin plays a second card, as well as Ayu’s block/effect and God’s Art.
Fridolin with potential 4 Mana has plenty of options.
The beginning of Fridolin’s decisive turn
Sequence step 1:
Fridolin decides to attack with Hoelle Pig (ACN-050). I do not agree with this sequencing decision, because of Shackles of Ice (VIN003-040). Fridolin cannot respond to a block by resting Kirik to generate ‘Strength-Counters’ and sacrificing Hoelle Pig to recover Kirik. I guess Fridolin just forgot about Shackles of Ice.
The right choice would be to call for Stone, so any response to Hoelle Pig could be answered by sacrificing it. What would be the worst-case scenario for my proposed sequencing step? After a declared block Hoelle Pig could recover Kirik. The recovering could only be prevented by Laurite (an unlikely choice) which could be answered by Fridolin’s own Laurite. Fridolin could perform Judgment and go lethal with Pialle Eille, the Flaming Fist (TSW-048) and Piggy, Hoelle’s Great Hero Pig (TSW-049). This scenario is so disadvantageous for Ayu, that there is no way Lars would declare a block.
However, nothing happens. Lars remains calm and decides to spare the Ayu block for Pialle Eille, because she represents the most damage. Correct sequencing is important, but sometimes different sequencing just results in the overall same outcome.
Sequence step 2:
Fridolins declares attack with Pialle Eille and Lars declares a block. There is nothing more to say. This decision is fine for me, because it opens the possibility to crash Piggy into Ayu to force a reaction. I will note that attacking with Piggy first, successfully provoking a block, would lead to a higher damage output and the opportunity to gamble on the presence of Faerur’s Spell against Heaven Sundering Dragon Palm (TSW-040) to force a God’s Art.
Sequence step 3:
Fridolin plays another Pialle Eille with a Laurite in response. This is quite unfortunate, because now the damage from Piggy will be blocked and Fridolin can’t threaten his Judgment, because he lacks 1 Mana. I think it would have been better to choose one of the following options:
1. Attack Lars his life total with Piggy, gamble on Welser, the Archmage of Fire (WOM-042)‘s God’s Art (with Laurite backup) and Heaven Sundering Dragon Palm to provoke Ayu’s God’s Art. This approach only works if Piggy is not answered with available counter plays like Keez’s Call, Faerur’s Spell and Severing Winds (if Lars opts to answer Welser’s God’s Art with Laurite, forcing Fridolin to play his own Laurite).
2. Crash Piggy into Ayu and provoke a Response. Judgment Kirik and provoke further responses by applying damage to Ayu. This should force Ayu to discard Souls reducing the OTK potential. This options mandates the lack of Flourishing Hope (TSW-008) // Burgeoning Despair (TSW-008$) in the hand of Lars.
3. Judgment Kirik, applying damage to Ayu to reduce the amount of Souls and sparing Piggy as a potential Blocker.
Figure 6 – Lars plays Thought Control to discard Laurite
Sequence Step 4:
Fridolin plays Hoelle Pig and passes turn to answer a possible God’s Art via Laurite.
As previously discussed, this end up in Lars playing Thought Control and winning the game.
I hope this little case study helped you to learn something about the quality of information and the evolution of playlines. I want to stress that I am far from criticizing Fridolin. I bet he played an extraordinary tournament and as I mentioned his playline was not incorrect, but a little risky towards the end, especially regarding the options of the Ayu deck.