Friday, July 22, 2011

Bad cards

A few weeks ago in a Commander game, (Me playing Garza Vol, opponents Zedruu and Karador) the Karador player wipes the board with a Hex.

"That," I say, "is a bad card and you should get rid of it."

"Why? It just wiped you two out."

"And you," I reply noting his empty board. "The card is bad and you should put in something else when you tweak it."

"Have you played it?"

"Yes," I say, "In Commander-and it came up twice and neither time did it help me."

"You can't judge a card based on it only coming up twice," I'm told--which begs the question; how many times does a card have to be bad before it's bad? But moving on:

"I'm going to look at Gatherer because I love it," my opponent says, as though Gatherer's approval somehow invalidates me.

"It's bad and it will be bad," I say, as he shows me the smartphone with the card: 4 of 5 stars. Seriously. (That was when the vote was 12 people-it's down to 3.5 now with 17 voting.)

"So that's just your opinion, that doesn't mean anything,"  I'm told.

See, now here's the problem, one that works on a societal level I think; my opinion is just my opinion backed up by nearly 16 years of playing Magic. A lot of Magic. More than if you combined my opponents time spent playing and then tripled that number. The people voting on how good Hex is are voting on what as their criteria? Nobody knows; they may like the art or the theme or any number of things--nothing tells you if that card is good or not, just that it's approved.

So, just like a scientist's opinion is just his/her opinion on something they've spent nearly two decades working with, it may be just 'opinion' but that doesn't mean it's invalid or somehow incorrect and shouldn't carry some weight.

However, the crux of the issue is: What is a bad card?

I used to think I knew answer to that question but years of playing, being wrong, right or coming around to a new way of thinking has given me a pretty solid answer on this question.

A bad card is a card that cannot help you effectively deal with the situations your deck will be confronted with.

The important thing about this definition is that under it, every card can suck, and many cards can shine. Island can be a bad card, if what you need is a Counterspell.

However, the better the card, the more situations you will be able to deal with. Or, the more focused the deck, the better a card can become because it will provide via design, situations that the card can become useful in. In that case, many cards can become better, because they've been given synergies to work with.

Let's take the Hex example: Hex destroys creatures. Six, to be precise. No more, no less, so it cannot be cast if there are five targets and if for any reason there are seven or more creatures that need to be killed, you can't scale the destruction up to match.

So let's compare this to Day of Judgment, which destroys all creatures.

Day of Judgment does what Hex did for two less mana in the situation above. So in any situation where you have six mana (minimum two white and two black) and need to destroy six creatures, Day is better. It's cheaper and more effective.

Or look at it this way:
If the gray box represents all the times you need to destroy multiple creatures, yes, there are situations where Hex is useful and even better than Day of Judgment. Unfortunately, everything else in that gray space represents places where Day is good and only those two narrow elements demonstrate Hex's usefulness.

Even if you come up with a deck such as Karador where Hex gets to show off (and make no mistake, Karador is precisely the kind of deck Hex is there for) Day of Judgment is still a better card most of the time-it is only in the narrowest element where the green line is, that Hex is actually better.

That green line represents situations where you are able to destroy your opponent's creatures and leave yourself in a beneficial board position-usually with creatures on the table but there might be the occasional other. Making Hex be the key removal card in your deck means that now you have to build entirely around this card-which you can do! 

I want to be clear about that because I used to hold to the idea that certain cards sucked and can't be put into decks. That idea is wrong.

It's one of the great things about Magic; you can build a deck around anything. But now you've got another limitation entirely being imposed on you; can this deck work with Hex as my main source of removal? How many cards can I use that will be useable with Hex and give me an advantage? What do I have that will up the creature count to six if I need that and what do I do if there are more creatures than I can destroy?

This is what I mean whenever I talk about a bad card vs a good one; in the situations that I deal with, how much of that box will it fill with 'good' situations instead of 'bad' ones.You can replace the box with any situation you'd like (enchantments needed to destroy, cards needed to discard, creatures needed to win the game, blockers required to hold people off, enhancements to creatures to make them threats, etc, etc, etc.) but the question is; how much of that box does this card fill up for me?

I don't care how many people vote against me or insist that my opinion is just my opinion, man; my experience has shown that I want fewer cards that fall into the Hex ribbon and more cards that fill the box.

Which is why it's the first card that should be replaced in the Karador deck.

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