8/13/2013 SF: "Don't Get MAD, Get Glad"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Serious Fun, which goes live Tuesday morning on magicthegathering.com.

Excellent article.

This is an issue that's plagued every Magic playgroup I've been a part of to vering degrees. This type of thing can regularly ruin games, but nobody really wants to talk about it. It doesn't help that it's a really effective way to win a lot of games of Magic, at the expense of everyone else's fun.

I think the 'just talk to them' solution is really quite good. I believe most players will respond well to that type of conversation. If they don't, you can always end that conversation with the angle that their strategy is too effective to ignore, and they should not be surprised if MAD-in-reverse happens. That off-the-table-talk will have an effect on their in-game behavior, and should bring things in line for the most part.

Although I will say, if you haven't ever tried being the Sacrificial Lamb, I highly recommend it. It sounds lame, but it's actually really fun. In fact, I call it "The Enforcer," because that's a more accurate description. I have a U/G deck that's full of basic disruption such as [CARD]Unsummon[/CARD], [CARD]Naturalize[/CARD], [CARD]Cancel[/CARD], and other basic permission spells. I actually built it a while back because instant-win combo decks were taking over our group and making matches unbearable, so I decided to make a deck that was fully committed to breaking that stuff up. Turns out it works really well against the MAD player as well. Nowadays, whenever I win a game, I spend the rest of the night playing my U/G Enforcer deck, and I can tell you from experience that there is no better or faster way to become everyone's favorite player. Whenever you [CARD]Naturalize[/CARD] an [CARD]Ashnod's Altar[/CARD] that's about to go off, you save a game of Magic. I literally received a standing ovation from the entire table a few months back when I countered one player's third [CARD]Cyclonic Rift[/CARD] of the game (the first two resolved). You can also save a game from being unfun by poking the bear and attacking the player using MAD, because you free everyone up to play a terrorist-free game of Magic (remember, MAD involves complete commitment to throwing the game away if you get attacked early, in order to develop a fearsome reputation for future games). Yeah, you'll probably lose, but you'll have more fun doing it than you could possibly believe.  Hitting the MAD player and starting a war is like trolling the troll, and it's the most satisfying thing ever. As a bonus, if you can beat the MAD player one-on-one, everyone else usually respects what you did for the game and gives you a few turns of respite to recover, so winning isn't impossible. Spending some time being the enforcer means everyone else gets to play normal, fun Magic, which is always great. 

On a personal note, this article is basically a direct response to an email I sent Bruce a little over a week ago that basically amounted to "please write an article about the kamikaze jerk problem." It's great to see him respond to a topic request quickly and effectively. Keep it up Bruce.
Great article, and great post by ToadYoshi too. Thumbs up!
Nice article on a common play problem/psychological issue in free for all multiplayer games.  I think the whole psychological aspect of multiplayer is an area that has potential for a lot of future discussion.  People have talked about politics and deck building, but really this sort of psychology of play/metagaming aspect is very important.  Thanks, and I hope to see more like this in the future!  I also like the way you are using fun as a guiding principle, rather than winning.
One of the problems a lot of gamers have with the kamikaze is that it's no longer treating the current game as the entire context - the default assumption for many gamers is that everyone should play to maximise their chances of winning the current game, though more serious players will take account of past history and other players' demonstrated ability levels.

If embracing MAD yourself doesn't sound like fun, then there's a simple in-game answer to MAD play - just ignore it. There's even a plausible justification for it - so long as they stay MAD, you're not going to win, so your best chance of winning games in the long run is to not let their threats of disproportionate vengeance affect your play - you're doing the same thing they are - sacrificing games in the short-term to try to improve your win-percentage in the future - with the key difference that their argument relies on a prediction that is not coming true - that people will avoid attacking them so they'll win more games - while yours relies on a prediction that is coming true - so long as that player plays MAD, you won't win.

It can be viewed as a form of sacrificial lamb, or as a logical extension of MAD (MADDER - Mutually Assured Destruction Deterrence by Enduring Recalcitrance?) - either way, it doesn't replace talking to that guy, but it does strengthen your position when you have the talk - his claim to win more games that way kinda crumbles when faced with an impressive lack of wins.

Ultimately, of course, the goal in a casual multiplayer group is not to be the best and win every time, but to evolve a balanced metagame where everyone has fun - sure, everyone knows that when Dave pulls out his '98 Worlds deck, he's going to sweep the table, but when he reaches for his red chaos deck, no-one knows what's going to happen. And if everyone's having fun, you're going to play more, which means you're going to win more in absolute terms, even if your win percentage drops. When everybody wins sometimes, everybody wins.
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The only thing wrong with Bruce's theory of dealing with MAD players is the assumption that their main goal is to win, rather than simply take down another player before they go out. As the great Michael Caine said in The Dark Knight, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."
The only thing wrong with Bruce's theory of dealing with MAD players is the assumption that their main goal is to win, rather than simply take down another player before they go out. As the great Michael Caine said in The Dark Knight, "Some men just want to watch the world burn."



I agree that in a casual multiplayer game setting people arent always playing to win. I would get that there are two basic flavors of MAD players: those employing it as a diplomatic strategy to increase win %, and those that simply enjoy its effects on a psychological level, for this type it is win/win; they either score a mental victory by dissuading an attack, or they get to suddenly not worry about complex diplomacy and are able to embrace a simple vision: destroy their attaker.

If they are the 'play to win' type simply getting the table to agree on a gang attack if the other person promises to employ MAD seems like a reasonable counter. If they realize the strategy is detrimental to their win % and they want to win, they will stop. Its nothing personal, they just attempted to use a diplomatic strategy to increase win %, and the other players, not wanting to lose %, employ a counter strategy. Obviously people can get stubborn and dig in their heels, but most reasonable people (that want to win) will accept these arguments as long as they are presented "nicely". Its also possible other people brought decks that would benefit from a player using MAD, in which case you cannot employ the counter. If its a 4 player game you might split into 2 against 2, which may be balanced and fun in its own way. Its possible that everyone else feels MAD is reasonable and will not help you counter. In this case, MAD is a valid strategy, and I would recommend not attacking. 

If they are the 'watch the world burn' type then I agree having an out of game conversation is best. Obviously in a 4 person group with players A B C and D, if player A suicidely attacks player B with no intent to win, just to elimiminate player B, its not really fun. If they find this playstyle is just the most fun for them, warn them that gang attack is the likely counter. It could be that even if gang attack is always the counter, they will still continue to employ MAD because they arent about winning, they just have fun seeing how much damage they can cause before they go down. Depending on the group, this isnt necessarily a problem. Let them have their fun, you attack, they employ MAD, group gang attacks, they are eliminated and you are presumably still in the game. If one player is somehow stronger than the other 2 put together at this point, they win, otherwise the game becomes an ordinary multiplayer game with typical diplomacy at this point. You are still alive and the MAD player got to have his fun, everybody wins.

If they are a 'watch the world burn' type that ALSO cannot stand being gang attacked and eliminated AND cannot be reasoned with outside the game, its true, this player may leave your group. However, such a player does not seem to are about the enjoyment of others in the multiplayer game, and their loss may simply be necessary.

 
I have found a better way to deal with this strategy is to play cards that force them to get off the sidelines. Either spiteful visions or uba mask will put pressure on people to not just sit there amassing cards. These cards don't technically pick on anyone directly, but they do target sit-and-do-nothing strategies.
My preferred method of dealing with this is to not create the incentive in the first place, by playing team or team-ish formats (e.g. 2HG for 4 players, Star for 5/7, Emperor for 6/8, 3-way Emperor for 9). The real problem is inherent in the chaos format, and asking players to deliberately play "suboptimally" by abandoning MAD might not be as fun for them. If you just change the format instead, then everyone can still try their best to win without creating these sorts of distortions, or at least without having them be as big.

This was a good article, beacuse the approach of "just ask them to stop" is certainly more effective than people give it credit for. Still, I would rather have seen some suggestions for alternative formats as well, since that's the solution my group has been using for many years and we have found it to be very effective and fun.
I don't like the argument that the least threatening player shouldn't be attacked. That's the best argument FOR attacking them. You want to get rid of them before they become a threat so you have less work to do later on. Plus, if you just attack the most threatening player at the table, there's a good chance they'll knock you out before you get a chance to set up and take over the table. So quit throwing fits about people attacking you and either build a better deck or form an alliance for protection.
My preferred method of dealing with this is to not create the incentive in the first place, by playing team or team-ish formats (e.g. 2HG for 4 players, Star for 5/7, Emperor for 6/8, 3-way Emperor for 9). The real problem is inherent in the chaos format, and asking players to deliberately play "suboptimally" by abandoning MAD might not be as fun for them. If you just change the format instead, then everyone can still try their best to win without creating these sorts of distortions, or at least without having them be as big.

This was a good article, beacuse the approach of "just ask them to stop" is certainly more effective than people give it credit for. Still, I would rather have seen some suggestions for alternative formats as well, since that's the solution my group has been using for many years and we have found it to be very effective and fun.





I definitely agree with the format change approach. 95% of the games that my group plays are essentially FFA but with the add-on rule of only being able to attack or burn highest life (can attack a planeswalker regardless of its controller’s life total). We have found that this almost completely eliminates MAD. This also limits the Gang Tackle shenanigans; as such we also ban infinite combos. We find that this format allows anyone to play any type of deck and still stand a chance at winning. This also lessens the chance of someone having to sit around for longer than 30 minutes just because they were the first one to die. All of this tied together means that almost everyone has fun in every game and we eliminate the need to “have a talk” with a problematic player. All in all, we find this the holy grail of play formats. We often get new people showing up and they almost all universally love the format as well.

In general, the idea of having people voluntarily agree not to do something that the rules of the game allows, in order to keep it fun, has a basic problem: it runs against the fact that games are normally competitive. So the idea of changing the format instead, so the rules push in the right direction, appeals to me.

However, multiplayer games are inherently tricky; there's no real way to win, since everyone can gang up on any player. Attacking only the lead player turns the game into something very different, but that may be OK for casual play.

Coming up with weird ideas to make everyone happy since 2008!

 

I have now started a blog as an appropriate place to put my crazy ideas.

I don't like the argument that the least threatening player shouldn't be attacked. That's the best argument FOR attacking them. You want to get rid of them before they become a threat so you have less work to do later on. Plus, if you just attack the most threatening player at the table, there's a good chance they'll knock you out before you get a chance to set up and take over the table. So quit throwing fits about people attacking you and either build a better deck or form an alliance for protection.



It depends on how you define "threat" - back in Invasion block, one of my friends had a deck that essentially did nothing for 5 turns, and then started dropping a dragon every turn - that player was the most threatening despite just playing lands, and maybe a mana-elf.

Assuming the goal is to win the current game, it's usually the correct play to attack the player who, given the current board position and what you know about their deck, is most likely to beat you if you don't attack them...
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