Sunday, April 21, 2013

How The Metagame Is Gaming You

Recently I read this blog post from August 31, 2011: The Wisdom Of Crowds Turns Into Madness.

Read it; you won't regret it. Here is a brief excerpt:
People following the herd would be boring but not disastrous, except for the other finding.

Since the guesses converge, since other people are converging with you and you can see that, the confidence in these guesses goes up: a false belief of collective accuracy with no increase in actual accuracy. "It's unanimous!" Yikes.

Also remember, these people weren't being given an expert's guess to converge to, just other (regular) people's. As the authors point out, they didn't even attempt to measure group leader effects, persuasion, talking heads on TV, or twitter.

This is not a trivial problem. It isn't just saying that the beliefs converge; it is saying that since the beliefs converge along with greater confidence in their "truthfulness", it becomes more difficult for any individual to not converge as well-- and feel confident about it.
Groupthink, defined and demonstrated using data.

Now think of the way this applies to your average everyday.

I'll give you one example: metagames.

The vast majority of Magic players cannot say for sure whether one deck is better than another. They can look at tournament results, MTGO results; they can read articles from players who are better than they are; they can test matchups; they can think about it from a theoretical, abstract point of view; they can use the instincts they've developed over years of playing.

But there's still uncertainty there because of how complex the game is and how many different choices there are. Many people don't want to be stuck wondering, so they look to the players around them for confirmation.

The more confirmation they get from the people around them (especially from people with a lot of clout), the more confident they will feel in their own knowledge about the metagame.

"Looks like Jund is the way to go."

"Everyone keeps saying Junk Reanimator is the best."

"Ah, Delver must be the best deck out there."

Once you reach a certain confidence level about it, you're going to stop looking for alternatives. You're going to think you have the "answer"—even if it's a little silly to presume there is only one answer to any metagame.

I'm going to propose something that sounds backwards, wrong, and crazy: Don't put all your trust in tournament results.

If a deck wins week after week, it's very easy to assume that it's because it's the best and that no one can find a deck that beats it. But the more it wins, the less people try to beat it. Especially people tuned into that information (i.e. above-average players).

Once the snowball starts, the momentum is difficult to stop without an equally powerful force in the opposite direction.

Why did WotC take down most of the MTGO results? Do they hate freedom?

Or did they just realize that the "wisdom of crowds" was really the crowd's tendency to go along with what everyone else was doing without putting in the time and energy to verify what they were seeing?

"This deck is winning all the Dailies, and nothing better has come out in a while... Wonder how many tix I have?"

I get it, man. You just want to play the best deck. Like everybody else.

"If there were a better choice, someone would have found it by now."

Are you sure?

No offense to brewers out there, but in my experience, most of them aren't good enough players to back their brews with results, or they can't tune their rough ideas for a specific metagame.

Typically, the exceptions to that write for major websites already, and they spend most of their energies brewing for Pro Tours and Invitationals. During the off-season, they tend to stick to their favorite archetypes: green-based aggro/midrange for Kibler, blue tempo for Gerry, control for Wafo Tapa, etc.

If you think you're one of these exceptions and not writing, you should probably find a website to write for, or at least, I dunno, get a Twitter account and share your knowledge with people!

If you are a brewer who brews good decks but can't get the results you need, find a good player and feed them your decks / ideas. Ideally, you'll develop a stall of good players who you ship decks to. This is one of the best, symbiotic relationships you can start building for yourself. Just make sure they give you the proper credit when they get called to do a deck tech / interview.

But you see why it's hard to inject metagames with new life. It's a ton of work to build a deck, test it, tune it, get it out there, and then convince everyone of its worthiness. And most people still won't be convinced if it doesn't start winning a bunch of tournaments right away.

That is a process that most people aren't willing to go through.

So they pick up whatever won the last Open Series and just fucking run with it. And then they tell everyone else how good that deck is because they want further validation for their choice, and more people playing it must mean their choice is more correct. And slowly the wisdom of crowds starts a feedback loop.

The thing about a deck putting up a lot of Top 8s: Sometimes it's because the deck really is just beating everything else. And sometimes it's because there are so many people playing the deck that it becomes statistically likely that it will put up at least one Top 8.

Hard to tell the difference.

Obviously if a deck wins a lot, it is good. It is a good deck. But it might not be the best deck or even the second-best deck possible.

Deck innovation is not something that just "happens"; it's not like Faerie Rogues are putting decklists underneath people's pillows as they sleep.

OK, unless it's this guy.
Someone has to put in that work, and if it's not you, then how can you be sure anyone else is?

Certainty seems like one of those commodities that can be bought and sold for free, but you're paying something every time. You are closing off other certainties, other lines of thought—the same way you can't cast two cards from your hand with the same mana. You can't believe two opposing things about a metagame. Therefore, the more confident you are that Deck X is the best, you take the risk of not only being wrong but harder to convince of the truth.

Be aware of what you may be costing yourself, and you'll be on your way to being a better gamer. And to be perfectly cliche about it, you'll be a better you.