Getting Nasssty – Duplicate Magic


Luck can be one of the most frustrating elements of Magic. In Constructed, luck can determine the decks you play against, the skill level of your opponents, your tiebreakers, and the draw of the cards. In Limited, and more specifically Sealed, one also is affected by the cards one is lucky or unlucky enough to receive.

There are some things you can do to try to limit the effects of bad luck. In Constructed, you can play consistent decks with stable manabases. In draft, you can stay flexible with your early picks. However, a big portion of Magic is going to involve luck no matter what you do, and there seems to be little that one can do about it.

Solving Randomness

Interestingly, other luck-based games have made efforts to solve this problem. In bridge, one set of partners–North/South–play against another set of partners–East/West. The cards that each partnership receives is determines solely by luck. Higher cards are better than lower cards, and the distribution of suits within the partnership is very important. Some days when you play bridge, you and your partner will run into weak hand after weak hand, and therefore have no chance of winning.

In order to avoid the effects of luck at tournaments, most bridge tournaments are run using a format called “duplicate bridge.” In
duplicate bridge, you and your partner are always either “North/South” or “East/West.” If you are part of a North/South partnership, you are evaluated only against other North/Souths, and similarly for East/Wests. In the tournament, each North/South pair and each East/West pair start out by playing Hand 1. After a hand is played, each East/West pair moves to another table and each table then plays Hand 2, moves again and plays Hand 3, etc., until every North/South pair has had an opportunity to play each East/West pair. After the tournament is over, each North/South pair is evaluated only against other North/South pairs, and similarly for each East/West pair. Using this approach, there is no luck associated with the cards you or your opponents receive or the quality of your opposition. All that matters is how well you bid and play your hand as compared to the other people with the same cards playing against the same opponent.

It’s provocative to think about how this might work in Magic. For example, the tournament could require each player to play various decks against various decks. Imagine an eight round tournament. 16 players would be in a pod, with one player in each of the first round matches closer to the front door (“close” players) and one player farther from the front door (“farther” players). In Round 1, all of the players sitting closer to the front door could play Jund against Red Aggro. In Round 2, the “farther” players would rotate to the next seat and the match would be Blue/White Control against Mythic. This would go on for eight rounds with varied decks and combinations. At the end, one could compare across pods to find the “close” winner and a “farther” winner.

This approach would limit the importance of deck construction; it would be a test of a number of skills. First, this would ensure that winning players were well-rounded. While Wafo-Tapa would be a heavy favorite playing Blue/White, could he take Red mages down with Jund? Second, it would ensure that people would not have bad luck with respect to matchups: sometimes one ends up playing three times against one’s worst matchup even if their nemesis is only a very small part of the metagame. Third, if the decks were pre-shuffled, each player would have the same manaflood or manascrew problems, or would find the right card at exactly the right time (of course, shuffling during the game would still introduce some luck). Finally, this approach would better equalize the quality of player’s opponents.

Unlike Duplicate Bridge, there are a lot of logistical problems with Duplicate Constructed Magic. In bridge, there is clearly a metric of success: tricks relative to bidding. The more accurately you predict the number of tricks that you will win, the more points you receive and the more successful you are. In Magic, although there is a winner and loser, the need for more precise tiebreaks is problematic. For example, one could look at life totals, but this would encourage bad play like chump blocking. Conversely, board position would overly discourage chump blocking, even if it was the play that might save you. In addition to these, cards in hand, cards in library, cards in play, the quality of cards in one’s play or library, etc., could all be considered metrics for success in a game. Honestly, I can’t really see how to make this part of the Duplicate Magic idea work for Constructed formats.

Sealed formats, which are normally thought of as the most luck-based, might be ideally suited for a duplicate approach. The usual proposal to make Sealed formats less luck-based is to turn the Swiss part of sealed PTQs into draft. However, the logistics of this are very hard with large events: running 20 or so draft tables with a small staff for judging is impossible.

A second possibility would be to have two card pools: one for the “close” and one for the “farther.” However, players would eventually learn the combat tricks of the opposing sealed deck and play would become routineized and overly draw-based. If you tried to fix that by having people keep rebuilding, it would take too long.

Duplicate Sealed

Here is how I think a Duplicate Sealed PTQ could work without too much trouble:

The players in the PTQ are randomly divided into 8 groups; each member of a group gets the same pool. You are competing against the players in the same group as you for a spot in the elimination rounds. Players in the same group do not sit next to each other. Each player in the same group receives the same sealed deck. In each of the seven rounds, the players in a given group play against a player from a different group based on the Swiss system of pairing. One could then put the top one or two players (using the normal tiebreakers) in each group into a Draft Top 16 (Top 8 would lead to x-1s missing out): this would be a completely manageable draft.

Obviously, this does not completely eliminate the luck in Magic. One could still get manascrewed or flooded, or mulligan into oblivion even if they build and play their pool much better than their counterparts. Because every player does not play against every other player, there would still be potential for being paired against better players. However, it would certainly be much less luck-based that traditional sealed formats.

Eliminating all the luck from Magic should not be a goal: there are games like chess for people who hate the idea of luck having any influence on a game. One of the great things about Magic is that there is luck: Joe Schmo can beat Luis-Scott Vargas. Conversely, in chess, an average player will lose to a master 100 times out of 100.

Duplicate Sealed is the perfect compromise. It takes some of the luck away from one of the most luck-intensive formats without completely eliminating it. It allows the best people to feel confident that if they play well and get a little lucky, they will make Top 8, without taking away all the hope from good old Joe.

39 thoughts on “Getting Nasssty – Duplicate Magic”

  1. I agree. This is like the chess clock idea, in that it’s probably unworkable in paper (what happens if one of the pools contains a chase rare? Is the tournament organizer going to have to go out and buy a pile of Baneslayers?), although it might conceivably be possible in the online PTQs.

  2. “The players in the PTQ are randomly divided into 8 groups; each member of a group gets the same pool.”

    Hmm, why are Sealed tournaments played anyway? Oh, that’s right! To dispense new, unopened product! A pre-selected pool would have to be (randomly, I guess) selected from a pile of available opened product.

    So, while an interesting idea, I don’t really see this as a realistic option… well, anywhere. In addition, you mention that you’d be giving the same _deck_ to each player. This completely negates deckbuilding and increases the effects of scouting.

    And if you had pre-shuffled decks (it can be done, within reasonable time even), you’d run into another problem: REALLY boring tournament reports. Basically at that point the only thing you would take out of that tournament was the winner. And even that might be mangled with some warnings/game losses from tired players at the start or the end of the game.

    And besides, would you really like to live in a world where you eliminate luck only to find that in every PT you have the exact same top 32?

  3. I don’t mean to be(Well… come off as) a major dushebag (I’ve actually shared some of your thoughts for a while) ((Have you noticed that when people give a disclaimer they are usually about to violate it))

    (at least) 2 problems with the premisses of your idea. How would that work with tutoring/in-game shuffles?

    Also, in tournament bridge your opponents hands are always 2×13 out of the 39 unknown cards. Your bid gives everyone at the table information about your hand. If your opponents are in doubt they get to ask your partner what your bid ment. After bidding the partner of player winning the bid reveals his hand. This means that top level players almost know the exact distribution of cards after bidding.

    In bridge there is no pool of cards that are unknown to everyone.

    Magic is different from this.

    I like skill tests thogh and draw inspiration from bouldering tournaments(rock climbing). Bouldering problems usually only have one or two cruxes)

    We had a magazine in denmark called manapool (it might still be around) and they posed a play-challenge from time to time. Stated some board position, hand, life totals and how many cards the opponent had and you then had to make the optimal play. Usually you could win the game in one or two turns regardless of what the opponent had.

    10 or 20 or 30 such unknown(to the players) problems/situations could be posed and winning solutions could be timed as a tiebreaker. This way tutoring and fetching scenarios could be predicted or avoided and the same deck would be presented to every player after the shuffle.

  4. This would of cause be a new “format”; not a way to remove luck effect from existing ones.

  5. While this may be an interesting conceptual idea, since Magic is a Trading Card Game, it doesn’t seem plausible to detach ownership from card for a tournament.

    It seems like a type of format that would be right at home if they brought back the Invitational.

  6. Seems bad. No more deck building? Now people have to learn how to play “tournament magic” after learning “kitchen table magic”? Forcing people to play decks they don’t like? Matt, stick to writing about elves.

  7. An Idea:

    Allow the loser of game 1 and game 2 to decide who uses who’s deck. So the players might switch. Everyone knows everyone’s elses deck.

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  9. This is not a new idea. Duplicate sealed has been around for a while.

    The easiest way to do it is with three cheap precons, My friends and I have done this with Bomber (7th ed) Sky Slam (8th ed) and Lofty Heights (9th ed). It was relatively cheap, about 20/person. The main problem was that all the decks were pretty similar. You could definitely tell who didn’t have the greatest card evaluation, but the good players had near identical decks.

    I’ve known others who did more work and set up real duplicate sealed. The main problem (as someone who plays duplicate bridge) is that you can’t have the person who set up the pools play. If you do, they just have too huge an advantage. It just doesn’t seem quite fair to ask someone to do all that work and then ask them not to play.

  10. Jesus, this was just terrible. I consider myself to be quite open to new ideas but this… this one doesn’t make any sense.

  11. I think the best way for this proposed format to work is the following:

    Give each player a deck with 6 Lightning Bolts, 1 Shock, and 13 Snow Covered Mountains.

    Let’s see who the better player is now!

  12. Ummmm…. No.

    Like the concept, as I have losing to a much worse player/normally great matchup because I have to mull to 3 from not seeing a land (in a 25-land deck) in any opening hand, but there is only so much that can be done to mitigate luck. Mulligans, random pairings, constructed/draft/sealed, do their best to mitigate this, but if you tried to strip it out this just wouldn’t be MTG.

  13. What if your allowed to start with one basic land from your deck in your hand and you draw six to complete your seven starting cards.

    The basic land has to create the color that is most commonly used by the other lands in your deck as to avoid easy color splashing.

    The bridge idea is interesting…but half the fun of playing a tournament is trouncing people with your own unique deck or twist on an archetype. It would totally kill one of the most enjoyable and biggest drawing points of the game to the majority of the players, creating a sick new deck that wrecks everyone in the room!

  14. I completely agree that the Duplicate Magic idea is not particularly viable. I through that out there as food for thought. It is intersting to consider how luck is important to Magic and consider how it possible could work. I completely agree that this idea is close to impossible, and even said as much in my article.

    As far as Duplicate Sealed, I truly believe it can work. I’ll try to answer everyone’s concerns about it.

    @ijs: I’m pretty sure wizards could make Duplicate Sealed product without too much trouble. They would just build 8 different pools for each PTQ.

    @MH: The product would still be unopened and people would still have to build, just one out of every eight people would be building the same pool. This doesn”t mean it would be any easier to build (and you would avoid heaving people with the same pool sit near eachother.

    @Mike: You would still own the cards you opened.

    @Jack: Wizards of the Coast could create the Duplicate Sealed decks and take setup out of people’s hands.

  15. It’s always good to see players with a critical eye of the tournament structure and how that affects in-game play and tournament outcome. I agree with some of the other posters that these measures might be cumbersome, but I appreciate the open thinking!

  16. The idea of porting this “Duplicate Bridge” over to constructed magic is absolutely absurd. It completely eliminates deckbuilding as a necessary skill, which (interestingly) is the EXACT skill that you are testing with the limited version (by giving everyone in a group the same pool).

    The idea of 8 separate sealed pools is, however, worth discussing more in depth. There are, however, inherent problems to this, as well.

    First, if Wizards puts together the pools, they COULD NOT be random. In the event of a random pool, you would see something that you currently see in sealed: the possibility of an overpowered deck. Now, in an 80-person tournament, 10 people would have an overpowered deck – a baneslayer, two condemns, lots of flyers, however you want to envision it. How many games will those 10 players lose vs the rest of the field with decidedly worse decks? You could therefore reach the point where over half of the pool goes undefeated, since the structure cannot be a true Swiss. Are you going to deny top 8 or top 16 to someone who is undefeated? Hence, you cannot have random pools. This adds a new difficulty, and a new set of problems.

    Overally, I doubt that the cost is worth it. Sealed may be the most luck-based format that exists, but that fact that someone like Watanabe (sp? sorry) can top 8 two of three M10 limited GPs, and that you see similar names making day two and top 8 at limited GPs makes me think that the “luck” factor is certainly not something worth bending over backwards to fix.

  17. SOOOOO many logistical problems with this idea, as has been pointed out. I’m not going to talk about those, though.

    Luck is a good thing in magic. Even in tournaments.

    Consider: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4t0pzLnSWw0

    Moments like that don’t happen when you stack the deck.

    Yes, mana screw is frustrating and yes, it sucks when things don’t go your way, but that’s the nature of the beast. If it’s too much, there’s always chess. If you take the luck element from magic, you take away one of the ingredients that make the game so tasty in the first place.

  18. I guess that there allready is a way to combat the luck-factor. Training hard, preparing correctly and being overall good increases your chances of winning. That’s probably why we recognize some names in multiple top eights and other high finishes. Or as a soccer saying goes: “Good players have luck on there side.”

    I think this is because they have the skill and will to get maximum value out of every situation. One could just blame it on luck and surrender some of one’s capabilities or accept that they could have done something differently.

    a unicorn bleeds to death and a deaf blind orphan gets hit by a volkswagen bug

  20. @ertai
    that was a NASSty comment
    u arent worthy enough of denouncing the great nass
    u might as well go home and lie down and never get up
    and then stick ur head under a moving vehicle
    love u

  21. This is the dumbest thing I have ever read in my life. I’m not trying to roast, but how horrible is this? A huge part of Magic (and the biggest part to many players) is building your own deck. How do you even determine the best decks in the format if all the decks are built for you? Or when a new set comes out, who makes the upgrades to the decks, and what if I want seige-gangs, but you want Broodmates? This is literally the stupidest idea I have read on this website, I’m not trying to be mean, but I don’t know anyone who would enjoy this. Why take luck out of it? it isn’t a huge part, but it IS part of it, just like poker. If it was a huge percentage of luck, we wouldn’t see the same people winning Pro Tours, or Poker tournaments. That is what makes the game fun (which I know many pros are not really concerned with). The fact that a random kid with a soldier deck and no sideboard, beats you at a FNM sucks, but is what makes the game great! Same with poker, I could sit down with some of the best, and win, and that makes people want to play. Please never mention this again, because it makes you look foolish. Let’s all pretend this never even happened.

  22. I love the idiots on this site who read half the article and then post flaming comments.

    At no point does he suggest that one player in each group is given the same deck, hes suggesting one player in each group is given the same pool.

    This is not a logistics nightmare at all, it would be easy for wizards to make 8 roughly balanced pools for PT events. This would also cut down on the time it takes to open your packs, list all the cards then organise the switch.

    @ the people saying this takes away from the skill of deckbuilding, are you nuts? If you have the same pool, and are only measured against others who have the same pool, then the way you build the deck is going to be crucial. 10 players can open the same pool and unless there is a colour combination that is absolutely absurd (which if wizards were making these pre set sealeds there wouldnt be) you would end up with 10 decks where none are the exact same 40 and some are completely different colour combinations.

    Yes this isnt the type of article you usually see about magic, good on Matt for thinking outside the damn box. Everyone is quick to jump in and say why it wouldnt work, instead of thinking about what controls could be put in place that actually make it work. I think the idea has legs, I would much prefer to play in a sealed event like this, rather than one where the guy who hits foil insane bomb + regular copy of same insane bomb in one pack gets an easy run through the swiss.

    He’s not advocating this for all sealed events either, he’s saying at a professional level, it makes more sense to eliminate the I ripped 6 bomb rares in 2 colours.dec from the field.

    Keep up the good work Nass, those who can’t think laterally can never understand the rationale of those who can.

  23. I was not speaking on Sealed at all, although I still think it would be a terrible idea (if you don’t like the luck in sealed, don’t play sealed), I was talking about constructed, which really wouldn’t be constructed since some random people make all the decks and you just play them. Wizards did make a format for those who want to play like that, it’s called Duels of the Planeswalkers. Not letting people make their own decks in a format how they see fit is the DUMBEST thing you could do in Magic, that is what people are saying.

  24. Duplicate Sealed is neat, and they’ve done some cool things with it at Invitationals. However, in those situations Rosewater et al have carefully crafted the pools to make things really interesting. With a random pool given to everybody, the metagame will be degenerate and boring. With 8 different pools (or some other reasonably small number), the returns to scouting during deckbuilding are absurdly high. This is far short of a fatal flaw, but it could lead to some pretty awkward situations and unfair advantages.

    Duplicate Constructed kinda defeats Richard Garfield’s vision for the game: the ability to customize your own deck of cards is the spark of genius that made Magic a smash hit. Eliminating that element seems like a bad idea; perhaps food for thought, but not very tasty food.

  25. For constructed this idea is offcourse crap but you pretty much pointed that out yourself. Not only is deck chosing and building a far more important skill then playing it’s also unpractical to implement. Also playing magic is quite easy, so with same decks etc. almost everyone would get the same result. As far as the game itself goes for example bridge is 10x harder then magic, deck building and selection however is different and does take more skill.

    For sealed or draft I do like such a idea though, how you implemented it for sealed seems good and doable. offcourse it’s not likely to happen as it wouldn’t be the traditional way of opening product but it’s a nice idea.

    Also why do people always bring up that chess is not luck based? There is still a luck factor in chess as even though it’s a game of ‘perfect’ information there is still some random stuff. The opening your opponent does is one for example, if he does one you know well you got lucky. Also the lategame impact of various early game moves is often not exactly known to the players and thus involves quite some luck as well. Also sometimes players play aggresively in the hopes their opponent fails to ‘counter’ their moves in hopes of getting a win instead of draw which offcourse requires luck as well etc. If there wasn’t any luck in the game you could determine the outcome of the game beforehand which offcourse is far from the case and it’s hard to believe ‘being in shape’ is as important in chess as in other sports. I’d even go as far in saying that luck is more important in chess then in tennis, just by looking at how often you see a ‘surprise result’ in both sports.

  26. I think they could probably make enough balanced pools to have 8 distinct ones for each ptqs. If one is slightly better than the others it’s not too bad. As far as people who say luck is important I completely agree. This is part of the reason I don’t think Duplicate Magic. However, as Sealed goes, I think it is a little high on the luck involved. It is a PTQ format and a Grand Prix Format, and I think trying to make it a little less luck based while allowing limited to still be useable at large events would be quite nice. There are some logistics problems for Duplicate Sealed too, but I think with enough thought and effort it could be viable.

  27. @ Neo337

    I wasnt actually responding to your comment because i began typing mine and then got distracted and came back to it and in the meantime you had posted. Although yours is one of the more pointless comments. As i said, he never suggests this should be implemented in constructed, he makes the comparison from bridge to magic then mentions why it wouldnt work in constructed before moving on to say that it could work in sealed if done a certain way.

    The line that says he cant see a way for it to possibly work in constructed should have been a tip off.

    You say if you dont like sealed dont play sealed. This is all fine and good, but the article is about competitive magic and if you want to play competitive magic your going to have to play seaeled events in PTQ’s and a PT.

    You clearly missed what he was trying to say “this makes you look foolish”

  28. @sabugo: You are only compared against the other 9 people opening your pool.

    @Mark: There is no luck in chess. You can’t see very many steps into the future because a) you are not good and b) there are too many possibilities (for a human!). It is /infeasible/ to play perfect chess, but not computationally impossible.

    @everyone: He already said duplicated constructed seemed like a poor idea. The main idea that he was proposing was duplicate sealed, and he even described a reasonable implementation.

  29. Neo stop being an idiot and use your brain. Just because he didn’t outright say not using it for constructed, it’s blantantly implied. You’re an idiot if you think otherwise.

  30. Barbara Levitt

    I think Matthew’s ideas are very provocative. How about borrowing the golfing concept of giving players handicaps to equalize the playing field?

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