Casual Players Alliance Latest Article Replies:
   The Comboist Manifesto Volume ... - by Spiderman (Sep 18, 2:29 PM)
   Whatsthepoint-Fireball: Huh? - by Spiderman (Apr 21, 7:41 PM)
   The Counter-Column: Making it ... - by Turgy22 (Apr 1, 12:06 AM)
   The Counter-Column: Making it ... - by Stephen Bahl (Mar 31, 6:23 PM)
Submit An Article!

 Community Forums
 Mission Statement
 Voting Booth
     Weekly Articles
     Issues & Rants

Get free email!

A Timing Attack on Modern Theory
By Dan Freagarthach
It occurred to me that one way to potentially solve for theory in Modern and other formats is to use the specific context "performance in sanctioned tournaments" as both metric and defining premise for 'competitive.' This would render our theories about competition in official tournament paradigms, and in relation to the decks one would compete against there, rather than Magic as a complete game, even within any particular format. One of the larger truths I have been attempting to point toward is that theories of that nature leave out more of the totality of Magic as a game than they address. If we were to hold a local store contest in which a rule was that no decks appearing in any published tournament results could be entered (minimum difference required being a dozen cards), such a theory would be silent on what decks to bring and why.

This is not to say that tournament theory does not have utility! On the contrary, the tournament scene is a large and important part of Magic as a game, and there are good reasons why that sort of limiting context has been used to get better play results. What I have been concerned with to this point, however, is whether there are ways to construct robust theory for Magic as a game in its entirety, to account for and explain any interaction that might arise and even make predictions on probability of outcomes given a particular set of variables (those of two decks for which we have no tournament data, as an example).

The following is another instance of a case which I believe demonstrates the idea that any comprehensive theory of Magic that encompasses the Modern format cannot be significantly more concise or informative than a full exposition on the rule set itself (due in part to necessarily obviating basic elements of that rule set in certain cases - see 106.1). This deck exiles {all cards players began the game with} at instant speed, meaning that the exile zone contains {all cards players began the game with} and every other zone is an empty set for all players. What makes that interesting from a theory perspective is that the impact on the game outcome is not determined by what has happened - the outcome is determined by when. Not only does a theory have to allow that a player may render all play zones except the exile zone an empty set, it also needs to account for the fact that the game continues from that point with no player having access to any cards. The level of detail required of such a theory cannot be limited to player turns, it must incorporate the specific structure and implication of phases, because exiling all cards during an opponent upkeep or end step is a distinction that determines the outcome of the game for each player.

A person might ask the questions, "Does instant speed have a practical impact beyond choosing to lose? What makes this different than using a single main phase with the choice to concede?" The answer to that is succinctly, "Rift Bolt." In more detail, another fascinating point that theory is required to account for is that even with all cards in the game existing in the exile zone, the game continuing over time means that the rebound and suspend mechanics can change the game state despite no player having access to any cards as an initial condition. This means that Ith, High Arcanist can still make an (awesome) appearance from the exile zone onto the stack and then battlefield, and the player who is choosing to exile all cards at instant speed can allow a Rift Bolt or a Staggershock to resolve before doing so and thereby not lose as a result of Worldfire even if another mechanic like ingest has already exiled both Life Goes On and Pull from Eternity and thus removed the means to gain 8 life after Worldfire resolves or interact with exiled cards directly.

A player utilizing the rules structure of the game itself at instant speed to determine win or loss for each participant over time without any player having access to any cards is one further example of the challenging technical complexities inherent to crafting a complete theory for Magic at the Modern format level, in my view.

Author Note (10/30/17): On playtesting, I realized that Chronarch can also create the rare case in which all players have perfect information about all zones and decks within a game of Magic while it remains in progress independent from the outcome for each player.

Chronarch, Modern legal deck (60 cards)


16 Forest
5 Plains
3 Sunpetal Grove


4 Oasis Ritualist
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Teardrop Kami
4 Wall of Mulch
4 Wall of Omens
4 Wall of Vines

Spells (revised 10/30/17)

1 Bitter Ordeal
4 Enduring Renewal
1 Enter the Infinite
1 Leyline of Anticipation
1 Life Goes On
1 Mnemonic Nexus
1 Pull from Eternity
1 Purify the Grave
1 Worldfire

Comments and discussion can be made in the forums here

Read More Articles by Dan Freagarthach!

 - Wednesday (July 18. 2018)
 - Thursday (May 17, 2018)
 - Tuesday (Aprl. 24, 2018
 - Monday (Apr. 16, 2018)
 - Friday (Apr. 6, 2018)
 - Wednesday (Apr. 4, 2018)
 - Monday (Apr. 2, 2018)
 - Friday (Mar. 23, 2018)
 - Thursday (Feb. 15, 2018)
 - Thursday (Jan 25, 2018)

Voting Booth

Privacy Statement
Copyright © Casual Players Alliance.