Hello again, Lars here with another article.
Many times I have heard people complaining about the lack of diversity in FoW Meta. I asked myself, why are there only a few good decks in an existing Meta? Would it be possible to logically deduce, with the help of some base assumptions, that the number of different Decks in a Meta is limited?
I will try to answer these questions in this article, while also giving a general overview of what a Meta is and how a Meta works. Before we start our journey, I would like to thank JPK and Heiko for their input to this article.
Have fun reading.
What is a Meta
There are different definitions, of what “Meta” means. If you write it out, it means something like “Most Efficient Tactic Available”.
META: Most Efficient Tactic Available
For the purpose of this Article, I will define Meta or Meta Decks like this:
Meta decks are the decks with the highest win rate among those decks, which have a significant higher win rate versus most of the other decks.
The following graphic makes this cryptic definition clearer:
In the above graphic I am using the “>” operator to indicate that certain decks have a higher win rate and therefore are better than other decks. For example, “Deck A > Deck B” means Deck A is better than Deck B.
My definition from above is quite generic and for this article, when I talk about Meta, I mean the best deck independent of what people are playing at a specific tournament.
Thus, you can say that it is possible, that something like “Local Metas” exist and those can be different from the actual “real” Meta. For example, one GP can have a high number of Pricia (SDAO2-028) // Pricia [J-ruler] (SDAO2-028J) aggro decks, so it can be said, that the Pricia decks dominated that specific tournament.
At the same time at another GP there could be no Pricia decks in the Top 8, but for example a lot of Machina (AO2-BAB) // Machina [J-ruler] (AO2-BABJ) decks. In later tournaments, Machina decks were consistently beating Pricia. Therefore, we can say that, while Pricia dominated the one GP locally, the better deck and therefore Meta deck was Machina.
Why there is no Deck Diversity in a static Meta
What do I mean with “static Meta” and what is Deck diversity? With „static Meta“ I mean the Meta at a specific point in time. Deck diversity in this context means, the different deck(archetype)s that are playable in a Meta and therefore have the highest chances of winning a tournament.
The non-existence of diversity is quite a claim. In the following section, I will start with some assumption that made me come to that conclusion.
In the following we say, one deck A is better than another deck B, if the Matchup is in deck A’s favor, so deck A’s win rate vs deck B is higher than 50%.
Now let us assume, that two decks A and B, only have a 50-50 matchup if A and B are the same decks. This implies, that there is always a favored deck, if deck A and deck B are different. I think this is a reasonable assumption given the fact that there will always be matchup specific cards which can give one player the upper hand in that matchup.
To visualize this better we can write the matchups of n Meta decks in a (n x n)-matrix. Each element xij of the matrix is an indicator of the win rate of deck i vs deck j, for example xAB shows the win rate of deck A vs deck B. Furthermore, we say
xAB = 1, when deck A > deck B (deck A better than deck B)
xAB = 0, when deck A < deck B (deck B better than deck A)
xAB = 0.5, when deck A = deck B (deck A and deck B are the same)
As an example, take a look at this matrix with n = 3 different decks.
In the example matrix above we can see how our matchups vs certain decks are. The red field xAB = 0 means if we play deck A and our opponent plays deck B our opponent will most likely win. Contrary to that, the green field xCB = 1 means, that we will most likely win, if we play deck C and our opponent plays deck B. We see, that each deck has the same number of 1.5 expected wins, which can be calculated by adding up the scores for a deck in a single row. This matrix could be an example for a triangle Meta (A < B < C < A…)
A triangle Meta consists of three decks A, B and C, where deck A beats deck C, which beats deck B and deck B again beats deck A.
An example of such a Meta was seen during early Grimm times:
- Liberator of Wind (MPR-064) // Scheherazade, the Teller of 1001 Stories (MPR-064J)
(or Ebony Prophet (TAT-079) // Abdul Alhazred, the Harbinger of Despair (TAT-079J))
- Grimm, the Fairy Tale Prince (CMF-005)
- Falltgold, the Dragoon (TAT-026) // Bahamut, the Dragon King (TAT-026J)
What can we deduce given these assumptions? Let us take a closer look at the example above:
The sum of the diagonal, which equals half the number of decks in the matrix (3 x 0.5 = 1.5), is exactly the number of wins every deck need, to have an equal win rate among the decks, which therefore results in a diverse Meta. If a deck achieves more wins than the diagonal limit of 1.5, then another deck must exist which must have less wins than 1.5.
Due to our Meta definition, that deck would then no longer be part of the Meta, since other decks exist with a higher win rate.
What happens, if we now increase the number of decks? Let’s see how the matrix will look like if we take four decks instead of three:
As we can see, the diagonal limit is 4 x 0.5 = 2. However, this means that given the assumptions we made, we will never get an equal number of expected wins across all four decks, because there is always that 0.5 from the mirror match. Thus, we will have decks with more than 2 expected wins (deck C and deck D), which are therefore better than those with less expected wins (deck A and deck B).
We can then use this to reduce the matrix by those decks i to which the statement Wi < 2 applies. In the example above, we eliminate the decks A and B, because they have less expected wins than C and D. Therefore, we will then gain this result Matrix:
We can now apply our statement Wi < 1 again to those decks which are left. Which identifies deck C as the best deck to play.
It is also a rational to remove the deck, which has the worst matchups vs the “new” better decks in a first step. In the above example that would be deck B, because deck B loses to deck C and deck D. This leaves us with a 3 x 3 matrix again:
And suddenly a new stable triangle meta emerged. Where deck D kicked deck C out of the existing meta.
This kind of reduction is always possible, if we start with an even number of decks. Therefore, we can say, that it is not possible, to have a balanced static Meta with an even number of decks.
So, we need an odd number of decks to achieve an equal win rate across all different decks. How does such a diverse Meta with n = 5 decks look like? Let’s build the Matrix and visualize it.
We see, that it is possible for every deck, to have an equal number of expected wins when we start with n = 5 decks.
Visualized it looks like this:
In the graphic above you can see the relations between the different decks. The arrows point to the decks you are winning against. The colors are just there for a better visualization, they don’t imply any attribute related advantages or disadvantages.
As you can see, the equilibrium of 5 is quite instable. If only one deck of the 5 improves a specific matchup to get one more win, that deck will end up being superior to the others. This instability increases even more, if more decks are added to the initial matrix.
Therefore, it is very unlikely, that there will ever exist a static Meta with more than three decks. Most likely it will be a triangle Meta with three deck(archetype)s (e.g., Scheherazade/Abdul vs Grimm vs Bahamut during early Grimm NF), or a one deck Meta (e.g., Rezzard (AO3-BaB-3) // Rezzard [J-ruler] (AO3-BaB-3J) during AO + Saga1 NF).
That sounds very depressive, but in the next chapter we take a look, what it takes to break that circle.
How to bring Diversity into a Meta
In the last chapter we concluded, that it is most likely a triangle (or single deck) Meta we will be facing at a tournament, so how can we use that information to sneak in and attack that Meta from the outside?
Breaking the Meta…
One thing to understand, is that a Meta itself is always changing or evolving. Let’s take a look at a three-deck Meta like before. We now need to discover a new deck, which has to focus on beating 2 of the existing Meta decks. That way we will have 2.5 expected wins with our new deck, while two decks of the previous triangle Meta only have 1.5 expected wins. Which therefore might cause a change in the meta, like we saw in the examples above, where we added deck D to the existing triangle meta of decks A-B-C.
It is easy to just theorize like that, but in practice it is quite hard and needs a lot of time investment and good game understanding to not only find such a deck, but also playing it perfectly. I recommend reaching out to other players and brewing together, since this way you will get more input and it will be more likely that you will find such a deck.
If players cannot come up with such a deck, many get frustrated at this stage and will curse the existing Meta. In the end they end up playing one of the existing decks or might want to ban specific cards.
Banning cards though is no real solution, because after the bans a new Meta will form, and there might be other decks on top, but it will still be a limited number of around ~3 decks.
…just to become part of it
Let’s say you found your new deck, which breaks the existing Meta. What happens now? People will be aware of your new deck and adapt their lists or deck choice to your new deck. So now the cycle starts over again. The only difference is, that your deck is now part of the Meta and kicked out an existing deck.
Is that bad? Hell No, because now the creative journey for searching innovative decks starts again. Meta decks are more or less always cycling in and out, some stay for a longer time, some might only work for one event. The surprise and unpredictability factor plays a great role when playing at a tournament with a new deck no one is expecting. The opponent has most likely not prepared for that matchup and might make wrong decisions, because he doesn’t know, what your deck is capable of.
The whole process can be explained in the following graphic:
As we can see, we get the same picture as before, but the arrows indicate the rotation of different decks becoming part of the Meta, and those decks which are leaving it.
Comparison to Magic the Gathering
I’ve heard many people say, that in other games it is definitely possible to have more diversity in a Meta. In my opinion those games are most likely quite different from Force of Will, and therefore I would say you can not compare those games regarding the diversity of Meta decks.
Let us take the juggernaut of trading card games Magic the Gathering for example.
Differences und Conclusions
There are several differences between Force of Will and Magic the Gathering.
- One major difference is, the inclusion of your lands in the main deck, contrary to Force of Will. This leads to hands which are not playable at all. And therefore, you might lose games even if you are playing the better deck. Finally increasing the variance of your deck performance.
- Another difference is the mulligan system. In MtG you shuffle your whole hand into the deck and draw a new hand with one less card. The mulligan in FoW puts the cards on bottom and you draw new cards from top without shuffling. That way its not possible to draw the “bad” cards you put to the bottom, which is an advantage.
- Also, the player base is of course much bigger, and therefore there are way more people building decks.
- The combat system is way less complex, compared to Force of Will.
To summarize all those points, you can say that not only does more randomness exist in MtG gameplay, but it also has a much wider player base with more deckbuilders. Those factors can lead to a more diverse Meta.
In this article I explained you my view why I think the number of decks in an actual Meta is limited. (We also never had a Meta with more than 3 decks to my knowledge)
However, this does not mean, that there are no decks out there that can break into that Meta and kick out the existing decks. They exist, and they are waiting for us to be found.
Finding such a deck is not easy and takes time, but it is much more rewarding to achieve a good position at a tournament with a deck no one had on the radar, than with one from the existing Meta.
Needless to say, this article is pretty theoretical, people are not always playing the “best” deck(s) to win. Reasons might be card availability, personal preferences and others. Also, the skill level of players is vastly different, which means that even though I play a deck which in theory is better than the deck my opponent is playing, I might still lose, because my opponent is the better player. Of course, randomness also plays a role, but I would say its impact is quite low compared to other games if you don’t play a certain deck type of which success is based on randomness (e.g. Melgis (SDAO1-028) // Melgis [J-ruler] (SDAO1-028J) hitting the right stranger on judgement).
As always, let me know what’s your opinion on this. How do you attempt to break the Meta?
Cheers and till next time!