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Lars Grams’ Deck Tech Series – “Decision making”

Dear FoW Community, I hope you had a nice Christmas time. Here is my present for you, the second article of my Deck Tech Series. If you missed the first one, where I talk about Singleton and how to build a Ragnarok Deck, you can find it here.

This article is about “How to make better decisions and therefore improving your gameplay”. In the first part of the article, we will dive into theory and define some terms to explain how we make decisions. Afterwards we look at an example game situation. Thus, the agenda for this article looks like this:


Contents

What is a good decision?

Steps towards better decision making

Available, Public and Hidden Information

Information analysis

Finding the optimal play line

Summary

Example gameplay situations

Introducing the example and collecting information

What actually happened

Analysing information and making decisions

Conclusion

Last Words

Before we start, I’d like to emphasise, that the points mentioned are based on my personal opinion/experience. You may disagree on some of them, but that’s OK since getting better at playing Force of Will is an ongoing process. Maybe this article includes some points which will help you improve your own gameplay.

Have a good read!


(The following part is quite theoretical. If you want to skip this, you can directly go to the Summary)


What is a good decision?

To evaluate if a decision is good/effective or bad/ineffective, we need to define a goal that we want to achieve. The goal we want to achieve in a game of Force of Will (besides having fun of course) is winning the game. So every decision which makes it more likely for us to win the game is a good decision.

It’s important to always have the bigger goal in mind (winning the game), because sometimes the decision to attack with a resonator and lower the opponent life points (bringing him closer to 0 life = closer to win the game) might be a good decision at first glance, but also makes our resonator vulnerable to attacks/certain removal, which on the long run could cost us the game.

Therefore always have the global/bigger goal in mind and don’t fall for small/local achievements. Additionally, we want to call a decision effective when the goal can be achieved with minimum resource investment.


Steps towards better decision making

Now that we know what defines good decisions, it’s time to take a closer look how we will be able to achieve them.


Available, public and hidden information

Let’s define three kinds of information; available, public and hidden information.

Public information includes all cards on the field, cards in both graveyards and cards you know your opponent has (maybe you’ve seen their hand by using a discard chant).

Available information includes everything you can see and use to make your decisions. In addition to the public information, this also includes all cards in your hand.

Another very important point to mention is the understanding of the game rules and how cards/card effects work/interact with each other. The information when to be able to activate certain cards/effects is accessible to every player… but I’ve witnessed many situations, where people didn’t know how certain effects worked, even at GP tops.

For example, let’s take the mythic trigger of a regalia. “Mythic” is an automatic trigger we can put onto the chase first when resolving a second copy of a certain regalia. This allows us to resolve the triggers of our Ruler first, grabbing a stranger for example and using this extra information to decide which colors of will to float with our regalia, BEFORE the mythic trigger resolves and banishes it, to make the best plays.

Hidden information includes everything we do not explicitly know. How does that help us you might ask? Well, one important part of getting better is also knowing which cards we can expect our opponent has and what the game plan of our opponent’s deck is.
For example, if we play against Rezzard (AO3-BaB-3) // Rezzard [J-ruler] (AO3-BaB-3J), we should expect cards like Deathscythe (AO3-065), Mikage Reiya (AO3-046) and Sigurd, the Covenant King (AO3-082). When the opponent ends his turn with open will in the first few turns, it’s likely that he will quickcast a Mikage Reiya at the end of our turn to play a Sigurd in his turn, which then gets a black addition like Schrödinger (PofA-105), Cage of Mother Goose (PofA-085), The Road to the Undead Lord (PofA-075), etc.


To summarise:

  • Public Information -> Cards/Rules both players know
  • Available Information -> Public information + your hand
  • Hidden Information -> The rest


Every decision we make should be based on a logical rationale as much as possible. Therefore, we should focus on the “available information”. I’d define everything that belongs to gesture/mimic/bluffing/body language as hidden information for now. This topic deserves its own article (editor’s note: for chess lovers, there’s a funny booklet which covers exactly this topic: “Chess for Tigers” by Simon Webb).

Information alone does not help us make better decisions though, we have to analyse the information to derive good decisions.


Information analysis

This step is probably the hardest. Everyone has different experiences and therefore might comprehend the information in a different way, which in the end leads to different plays. Most likely though, there is only one optimal play in every situation, so let’s define some kind of model to help us analyse the information, in order to find the optimal play for a certain situation.

I will use I1, I2, I3… to describe the actual information state of a game and A, B, C… to describe a decision.
Here’s a short example to help explain this concept:

  • It’s the main phase of the first turn
  • Our opponent has energize
  • You have called a magic stone but otherwise the field is empty
  • Both players have 5 cards in hand
  • Both graveyards are empty
  • Both players play Rezzard as their ruler


All information we have at this point in time is called I1, the first information state.
Let’s say we choose decision A, which is playing Yggdrasil, Heroic Spirit of the World Tree (PofA-121). Yggdrasil resolves, we search Deathscythe and pass the turn.

Now we define I2 as the new information state:

  • It’s the end of your turn
  • Our opponent has energize
  • You control Yggdrasil and a magic stone
  • You have a Deathscythe in hand (public information now, because you searched it)
  • Both graveyards are empty
  • Both players play Rezzard as their Ruler


Theoretically the information state changes after every priority sequence, but we will not go into that much detail.
Therefore, the model for our example above looks like this:

We observe a certain information state I1, and making a decision A changes the previous information state to a new one I2.

If we take 100 players and give them the example above, each player should come to the same result what I1, I2 and A are, given the fact that they are all using the same available information. If this is true, then why do different plays, given the same available information, occur?

The model is missing something, which is a possibility to evaluate how much a certain decision brings us closer to our goal.
Let’s call this reward R; making a decision increases or decreases our reward. Good decisions which bring us closer to winning the game yield a high reward and bad decisions yield a negative reward. Let’s assume that we win if the sum of all rewards (after making many decisions) reaches ∑R = 100 and that we lose if the sum reaches ∑R = -100. At the beginning of the game, we define the starting reward of both players as ∑R = 0.

The new model now looks like this:

In order to answer the question why people make different decisions when given the same information, we will use the model to look at a generic game situation.

We have 2 players (red and green), each with different decisions (arrows with AF) and each decision being playing a card or activating an ability for example.


We also have several information states (yellow circles), which change depending on the decisions made.



Before we actually make a certain play, we ask ourself: What might happen if I play this card? Visualising this process with 3 possible starting play lines and 3 different levels of thinking (depth), will look something like this:

(play lines 1 and 3 were split into two options each, because of their different depth level)


Every option starts in the same state I1 our initial reward is R = 0. To get a feeling how to read this model, let’s take the 4th option as an example:

Given that we are in information state I1, if we play C, we get a reward R = 80 which means we are close to winning the game (Winning: ∑R = 100) and end in I3. Our opponent now plays E, which is very bad for us (R = -120), leaving us in I4 with a worse position than where we started with ∑R = -40.

This is very theoretical, so let me translate that to a practical example:

We play an Aggro deck (Lilias, Last Descendant of Dragonoids (EDL-031) // Lilias, Last Descendant of Dragonoids [J-Ruler] (EDL-031J) for example) and our opponent only has 1500 life points left.

We also know the card we draw in the next draw step will be Thunder (AO1-035) and we have The Last Secret Sword (AO3-085) in hand. We play it for its alternative cost and discard our whole hand and banish everything, except for one stone. The card resolves and burns our opponent to 500 life points, and we know that we will draw Thunder (AO1-035) next turn to win the game (R = 80).

However, our opponent plays Healing Gimmick (Stranger) (AO2-057) during his turn and gains 1000 Life (R = -120), which brings him out of Thunder (AO1-035) burn range and we have no good follow-up plays the next turns, which leaves us in a bad position (∑R = -40).

Let us add some axes to that visualisation, the result being displayed in the image below:


We can see that the x-axis describes the decision depth for a single play and that the y-axis describes the number of different play lines. If we just look at level 1 depth, we might come to the conclusion that option 5 is the best, because ∑R = 80 is the highest reward at that level. So, play line 3 is the most optimal one.

Now let us look at level 2 depth. We see that play line 2 now gives us the best outcome with ∑R = 25.

If we go one level deeper, level 3 depth now gives us a reward that out-values all other options at that level (∑R = 30).
Therefore, the optimal play line should be play line 1.

With this model we can explain why people make different plays. Everyone thinks with a different level of depth (x-axis), assigns rewards differently, and the number of different plays (y-axis) people are able to see also varies. We have a higher chance of finding the optimal play once we increase our level of depth, the ability to recognise different play lines, as well as the ability to determine if a decision results in a high or low reward.

Next, I’d like to point out ways, that helped me doing that.


Finding the optimal play line

The first advice I want to give you, which shows results quickly, is to slow down and ask yourself:

  • Why should I play that specific card/ability?
  • What could my opponent play in response?
  • What will be the result of playing that card?


If you take your time and think about each possible play and its consequences, it will greatly increase the quality of your plays. Once you get more familiar with this thought process, your plays will become faster and you will be able to evaluate more situations with a higher level of depth in a shorter time.

The second advice I would like to give you, is to play as many games against as many different players and different decks as possible. This way you will see more different plays and game situations, which helps you recognise different play styles, plays and game plans. This prevents you from getting surprised by certain game continuations, because those are often a source for misplays. Also, playing more games gives you the experience to determine if a certain decision yields a higher or lower reward, which is necessary to evaluate different decisions.

Since this section was pretty much theory and model-based, the next section contains a short summary about how we can make better decisions and, as a consequence of that, improve our gameplay.


Summary

Here you will find a short summary about the theoretical section above.

Every player has different experiences and cognitive abilities and therefore analyses the same information differently. To make the right decision that leads to the optimal play, three areas of improvement can derived from the previous section:

  • Having an overview of all possible decisions with the current information available (analysing information and different play lines)
  • Planning ahead with as many decision steps as possible (level of depth)
  • Learning how different plays/decisions support your game plan to help you win the game (determining the reward / evaluating how good a decision is)



To improve in those 3 areas, the following steps might help you:

  1. Slow down and take time to analyse every information
  2. Be sure to know when you’re able to activate cards, what your cards do and how they interact with other cards
    (know the rules, especially card interactions and priority sequences during a turn)
  3. Steps 1 and 2 will help you find playable cards
  4. Plan ahead: try to look at the position of your opponent point-of-view and think what your opponent might have in response to your plays and how this might affect your next plays/turns
  5. Play as many games as possible against different people and decks to be prepared for as many different play lines as possible. There is no better practice than playing the game (practice makes perfect)


Example gameplay situations


Introducing the example situation and collecting information

In this section we will take a look at a practical example. We will rebuild a crucial turn from a TCG Scrubs match where they played Reflect (AO3-BaB-2) // Refrain (AO3-BaB-2J) vs Lenneth, the Priestess of Vell-Savaria (AO1-BAB) // Lenneth, the Priestess of Vell-Savaria [J-Ruler] (AO1-BABJ) (NF with AO3 Format):

I rebuilt the crucial turn of game 3 on untap.in, where the field looked like the image below.


Some general information:

This is Game 3, the Reflect player knows, that the Lenneth deck is a combo deck, which tries to win with the Resistance of the Twelve Protective Deities (AO3-078) & Ouroboros, the Reincarnating Light Serpent (AO1-010) combo

(playing Ouroboros at Reflects players end of turn setting his life points to 2000 and attacking with Ouroboros for 2000 damage for lethal in the following turn)

It’s the Reflect player’s main phase. Cards in graveyard/RFG are not relevant in this play line.

Before we think about playing a card or doing anything else, let’s analyse the game state, starting with the available information:


Since our opponent’s plays are limited to Caduceus will only, hidden information are cards he might be able to play in our turn for example. Knowing that he plays Lenneth and knowing which cards are available in the actual card pool, our opponent will most likely have the following cards:


(the Resistance+Ouroboros combo, or Light of Raze and Revive (AO1-059), which he can use to remove one of our resonators)

We collected all the available information and were also able to get some hidden information based on the possible answers our opponent might have to our plays, due to our opponent’s limited amount of available will (and therefore playable cards).

Before we continue to analyse the information in order to find the optimal play, let us look at what the Reflect player actually did that turn, and how that paid off in the end.


What actually happened

The turn looked like this:

  1. Attack with Regulus (opponent at 2300 life points)
  2. Play Spirit of Passion (AO3-025) with stone, get 2 counters (Ruler inverts), make red will with the regalia, invert back to red side and play Red Illusionary Hero (AO3-021), his ability triggers, target Spirit of Passion for +400 and First Strike
  3. Spirit of Passion attacks for 1000 (opponent at 1300 life points) and he proceeds to end phase
  4. Opponent casts Resistance at end of turn, putting Ouroboros into play (what we predicted), reducing the Reflect player’s life to 2000 and wins in his turn, by removing the last blocker with Light of Raze and Revive


That did not end very well for the Reflect player… Let us go back to the start of the turn and see what could’ve been improved and what the optimal play for that turn would look like instead.


Analysing information and making decisions

The first question that comes to mind, is whether to attack with Regulus before or after playing any other cards. Normally you attack first, because that leaves your opponent with less information about which other cards you still have.

—You always want to reveal as little information as possible to your opponent—

In this case though, we must not forget Regulus’ effect: if he is dealt damage, he deals that much damage to our opponent. So, if our opponent puts a big blocker into play at instant speed (Resistance into Ouroboros for example), you can attack into that blocker to inflict even more damage to your opponent than Regulus would do with his normal attack (more on this later).

Leaving up Regulus is the best option for now. The best card to play is either the regalia or the Spirit of Passion. Be careful though to not cast the Spirit of Passion with the regalia will, because the enter ability would invert your Ruler, which prevents you from dealing 600 damage to your opponent by playing the regalia. If you cast Spirit of Passion with your stone though, you can use the regalia to invert your Ruler back to the red side and play the regalia afterwards to deal 600 damage to your opponent.

Thus, the optimal first plays would be:

  1. Casting Spirit of Passion with will from the magic stone, which inverts our Ruler
  2. Invert the ruler back to the red side with the regalia and cast the second regalia, inflicting 600 damage to our opponent (2700 life points left) and floating a red will. Mythic trigger forces you to banish the rested regalia

Now we have two more cards to choose from, the Red Illusionary Hero or a second Spirit of Passion. Also remember that Spirit of Passion has a nice synergy with Regulus, dealing another 600 damage to our opponent by targeting Regulus with its effect.

Before we decide what to do next, let’s take a look at the actual game state (remember we also have one red will floating):


Now let’s do some quick math and evaluate some play lines.


Play line 1: Assuming our opponent has no interaction

Actually, we have 1000 + 600 + 600 (burn Regulus) = 2200 damage on board. Thus, it doesn’t matter if we play Spirit of Passion or Red Illusionary Hero, because both are able to deal more than the missing 500 damage.

Result: we win


Play line 2: Assuming our opponent has Light of Raze and Revive

To be able to deal the maximum amount of damage, correct sequencing is important here. If we attack with Regulus now, we force our opponent to remove Regulus, because he is the biggest source of damage at the moment (potential 1000 ATK and 600 burn), and if we use the burn effect in response by removing two counters, our Spirit of Passion will attack for 200 less damage. That’s why we should attack with the Spirit of Passion first, if we do not play another card beforehand.

If we play a card beforehand, I would prefer Red Illusionary Hero in this play line, because he is more will efficient (we used all our will for that turn). Damage-wise he is able to deal as much damage as Spirit of Passion (800+400 buff vs 600+600 burn on Regulus). But since our opponent is most likely to remove Regulus with Light of Raze and Revive, Red Illusionary Hero is the better choice in this case. You can even play it before attacking with anything, to give Spirit of Passion +400 to spread out the damage a bit more.

Result: if he removes Regulus before we attack with Spirit of Passion and if we burn Regulus in response, we can deal 600 + 400 + 800 + 400 = 2200 maximum damage. That leaves us with two resonators on board, one with lethal attack, while also having another swiftness resonator with enough ATK in hand.


Play line 3: Assuming our opponent has Ouroboros + Resistance

The last play line, and even though it seems like the best option for our opponent, it is quite the opposite. The key to winning is to attack last with Regulus, because if he plays Ouroboros earlier and blocks any of our other resonators, Regulus can attack into Ouroboros for 2000 damage. It matters a lot whether you play Red Illusionary Hero or Spirit of Passion:

If we play Red Illusionary Hero and buff him or Spirit of Passion, we can attack for 800 + 400 + 600 = 1800 damage, leaving our opponent at 900 life. If we now attack with Regulus, he can cast Ouroboros before damage happens to set his life points back to 2000. This way we are only able to do 1000 (Regulus attack) + 600 (burn) damage total, which leaves our opponent at 400 life points.

However, if we play Spirit of Passion instead of Red Illusionary Hero, we get to attack with 600 + 600 = 1200 damage first. If we attack with Regulus now, the opponent has no window to use Ouroboros to safely heal out of burn range. If he uses Resistance into Ouroboros before Regulus attacks, it would heal him to 2000, but regulus attack and 2 burns on Regulus for 1000 + 600 + 600 = 2200 damage. If he puts Ouroboros into the field after Regulus’ attack did damage, we can burn Regulus in response to deal the final 500 damage (2700 – 600 – 600 – 1000 = 500 life left).

Result: we win!


Conclusion

As you can see after evaluating the three play lines, the first and third play line yield the highest reward (winning), while the second play line leaves us in a pretty good situation (playing Red Illusionary Hero over Spirit of Passion in this play line has little impact on the end result). The only difference between the second and third play line is playing Red Illusionary Hero over Spirit of Passion. Thus we can say that the third play line provides the most optimal play.

In the end we came to the conclusion that the Reflect player had a very good chance winning that final game. He just had to put some time in analysing the information, looking at all possible plays he had and what plays his opponent could’ve had in response.


Last Words

In this article I tried to write down how I developed my decision process, which helped me drastically improve at playing Force of Will. I hope that some points mentioned in this article will help improve your gameplay.

Remember to start slow, take your time, and don’t be disappointed if you do not see an immediate improvement. It takes many hours of practice and also remember; everyone has a different learning speed.

If you reached this point and read the whole article, “Holy Guacamoly” thanks for your time investment. It means a lot to me 😊
(editor’s note: if you liked Lars’ article, be sure to give it a 5-star User Review rating below!)

If you have any questions, critiques or suggestions for future topics, you can add a comment to the article below. That, or shooting me a message on Discord (Largio#1476).

Special thanks to Dennis, JPK, Sascha and Adrias for helping me with this article.

Stay safe and I hope to see you all again next year!

Lars

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About the author

Pl0x

29 years old
From Germany
Playing since 2015
Attended worlds twice 2018 and 2019

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