Comboist Manifesto as Magic Theory Kernel

Discussion in 'General CPA Stuff' started by Psarketos, Oct 29, 2017.

  1. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Oversoul, critique my analysis of your Comboist Manifesto if you would!

    There are five different outcomes for a game of Magic, divided into two sets.

    The first set can be turn based or on stack resolution:

    Set player life total to zero or below for loss.
    Set player poison counter total to ten or above for loss.
    Set player access to drawable cards to zero for loss.

    The second set is only on stack resolution:

    Set player state to win or lose the game.
    Set game state to draw.

    Each deck is a combination of cards that achieves one or more of the above outcomes. Analyzing the performance of decks in relation to one another is a matter of determining the probabilities regarding which deck determines an outcome when the decks under analysis interact.

    Is that a fair outline of your Comboist Manifest as a kernel on which to build Magic theory? Are there necessary elements I left out? Interested to hear where you would take my take on your ideas :)
  2. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Interesting. My first reaction is, "I didn't describe The Comboist Manifesto as a kernel, did I?" And really, I'm not sure. I've seen the term "kernel" used in different ways in different fields. It's entirely possible that along the way that I gave the impression that a kernel or something kernel-like was my intention. I don't think that I was thinking of it in that way at the time I wrote the articles, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the concept doesn't work at all. I think it's a possible point of analysis. Off the top of my head, this would seem to run into a few roadblocks...
    • My theory articles were, occasionally explicitly, building on existing Magic theory material that I'd encountered elsewhere. Sometimes I implicitly rejected more established Magic theory and attempted to replace it with a system of my own devising, in order to better represent the way I saw things, as in the case of my "ABC" model. But mostly I assumed that some school of thought had a "good enough" version of Magic theory for discussing the cases in my articles. With that in mind, I don't really think that The Comboist Manifesto provides a kernel unless prior Magic theory already constituted a kernel. Did it?
    • My writing on theory was haphazard, covering topics that popped into my head. I doubt that it is inclusive enough to build a kernel.
    • For all of the articles I can remember right this second, I was operating in a more specific frame of reference than the highly generalized set you've outlined. Sometimes I was talking about a specific decklist and other times I was talking more about a category of decks, but I don't think I ever zoomed out enough to start mapping out the ways a game of Magic can end. Not that I wouldn't ever do it (I think that there are some important insights to be observed from a more general scope), just that I don't remember doing it.
    I want to return to that topic at some point. I find it puzzling, but I'm curious to know more. Anyway, moving on to your list...

    The most obvious point might be that you really only need your second set. Either Player 1 wins and Player 2 loses, or Player 1 loses and Player 2 wins, or the game ends in a draw. Those cover all possible cases in a two-player game under ordinary circumstances. Extraordinary circumstance: I use Ring of Ma'Ruf to obtain a worn Fourth Edition copy of Tempest Efreet, and I use its ability. You do not have 10 life to pay and refuse to concede the game, so you reveal a random card from your hand, which turns out to be a 1994 "Summer Magic" Hurricane. I pass the turn and you cast Braingeyser, forcing me to draw more cards than are in my library, which means I lose the game, which means you won the game. But did you? However, I think we quickly exhaust the dubious "extraordinary circumstances" and the point is of only minor interest. No, the part where it gets tricky is if we include your first set.

    So let's say that Player 1 has Phyrexian Unlife and goes to 0 life. Player 1 activates Mirror Universe targeting Player 2. Player 1 wins and Player 2 loses. Under the rules, it's clear that Player 1 won and that Player 2 lost. But if we try to apply that first set, we see that Player 1 went to 0 first, but did not lose. Player 2 later went to 0 life and did lose, so the condition applied in the second case and not the first case. Now, you did stipulate "for loss" in there, so that's fine. But given only this example, we'd conclude that "set player life total to zero" is irrelevant. Sometimes players at or below 0 life lose, and other times they win. It depends. In the vast majority of Magic games, this is silly and a very extreme exception. We'd be ill-advised to conclude from the example that player life doesn't really matter. But this sort of silliness is part and parcel of The Comboist Manifesto. In one of my articles, I talked up Burning Wish in combo decks and at one point concluded that Void Snare was just a way better card than instants with similar effects because Void Snare can be fetched by Burning Wish. I then claimed, "Grapeshot is a really good. It's a sorcery. Scattershot is bad. It's an instant. My crazy notions are now validated. Thank you, Burning Wish."
  3. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Well your last point is the easiest to show as false! Vapor Snag is strictly better than Void Snare and shows that instants are superior to sorceries, both because it can be fetched with Cunning Wish, which is not only amazing in itself but can power a Snapback or Disrupting Shoal countering Unlicensed Disintegration while Burning Wish can only alternately power a Pyrokinesis (which is an amazing card but inherently less flexible), it can also win the game against an opponent at 1 life who has an Angel's Grace in hand ready to cast! :)

    You are right about the first set - on reflection, Legacy has a lot of ways in which turn based loses can be thrown out the window, which leaves the second set as a more vague outline even that my original formulation.

    As to distillation, I was thinking primarily of the premises underpinning your ABC formulation of thought. What I have for now after your initial feedback is something like, "Each deck is a combination of cards that achieves an outcome from the following options: set a player state to win or lose, or set the game state to draw. Analyzing the performance of decks in relation to one another is a matter of determining the probabilities regarding which deck determines an outcome when the decks interact." Still a kernel with some utility for starting a larger theory from, though as you say, extremely broad and vague in its inclusiveness.

    Also, though I do not wish to incur your wrath, Tempest Efreet now technically lives outside the main rules for the game in an "optional variation." ;)
  4. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Well, Void Snare can be used to kill a 0-life opponent who has Phyrexian Unlife on the battlefield. Vapor Snag cannot do this. Ergo, another win for sorceries. :p

    While that does seem to be true, the first set is still more informative. Sure, if I'm being pedantic (which, knowing me, seem likely) then I can state that the "running out of cards" route to ending the game can be thwarted if I control Yawgmoth's Bargain. Once I'm out of cards, I simply neglect to every pay life in order to draw more cards. I skip my draw step, so I don't lose. But even that isn't a complete answer: you could target me with Ancestral Recall, forcing me to draw cards. Ah, but if I have Pursuit of Knowledge, I can replace each of those draws with putting study counters on it, so no matter how many effects you generate that would make me draw cards, I'll just keep replacing them with meaningless study counters. Well, if you destroy my Pursuit of Knowledge, then you can get me to lose the game by drawing cards. Except that doesn't work out so well for you if I have Laboratory Maniac, because then instead of losing the game, I win the game. Fine then, destroy everything on my side of the board. I have no cards that skip my draw, I have no cards that replace my draws, I have no cards that prevent me from losing the game. Well, then I guess I would lose—if it weren't for your Abyssal Persecutor!

    With all the exceptions and nuances, we could just stipulate: "If, as per Rule 104.3c, you are required to draw more cards than are remaining in your library, then you draw the remaining cards and, the next time a player would receive priority, you lose the game." Technically correct and to the point, but a little weird.

    This "ending the game" business and your mention of Legacy reminds me of the "Four Horsemen" deck and the ensuing rules issue. The issue may be over and done with, but that was a matter of tournament protocol and if we're speaking about Magic theory outside the scope of a tournament setting, then that tournament-specific aspect doesn't necessarily apply. This is another potential "extraordinary circumstance" that could be excepted from your second set of game outcomes. My qualm with that is that I don't think Four Horsemen, as an exception, is realistic: playing the loop out might theoretically take more time than the players have, but that feels like a lame out because realistically it won't take more than a few minutes (extra long shuffling sessions aside). But Four Horsemen isn't the only possible loop that runs into this issue: it's just the only one that saw tournament play.

    Not knowing who all is reading this thread and what they do or don't know/remember about Legacy decks, I should go over the combo in the Four Horsemen deck. I won't talk about the whole decklist, which evolved over time and had various advantages and disadvantages. Strictly looking at the combo kill...

    The deck aimed to get Basalt Monolith and Mesmeric Orb onto the battlefield so that it could mill its own library one card at a time, at will (tap Monolith for mana, use the mana to pay for Monolith's ability to untap itself, mill one card due to Mesmeric Orb). It would then, going one card at a time, attempt to get at least 3 copies of Narcomoeba onto the battlefield in preparation for a Dread Return. Next, it would continue using the Basalt Monolith + Mesmeric Orb engine to mill cards and get Dread Return, Sharuum the Hegemon, and Blasting Station all into the graveyard while the singleton copy of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was still tucked away in the library. If Emrakul showed up before all three were in the graveyard, then the player would have to shuffle up graveyard and library and try again, but you had infinite self-milling available so that wasn't a problem. Eventually all three cards would hit the graveyard (in whatever order) before Emrakul showed up, at which point Dread Return put Sharuum on to the battlefield and Sharuum put Blasting Station onto the battlefield. The final step was to self-mill repeatedly to put Narcomoebas down, untapping Blasting Station, then sacrificing the Narcomoebas to Blasting Station for damage to the opponent, and then Emrakul shuffles everything up to reload. A point in the deck's favor was the it could easily use Narcomoeba with Cabal Therapy to punch away at combo-hate cards. But what the deck was famous for was the amount of setup to get that final infinite combo. This cause a bit of a controversy because some judges allowed the deck to go off in tournaments and others cited the players for slow play (I think "slow play" was the official term but I cannot remember) on the basis that they were not really doing anything. The idea was that this was different from a traditional infinite loop because in the traditional loop, all of the variables are known. I sacrifice Ornithopter to Fallen Angel and Enduring Renewal brings it back. I sacrifice Ornithopter to Fallen Angel and Enduring Renewal brings it back. Over and over. Same thing every time. So I specify that I'll do it X times and that's an acceptable shortcut. But with Four Horsemen, I don't know how many iterations it will take. I might hit all three of the needed cards on the first try. Or I might hit Emrakul before hitting the last of them 10 trillion times in a row. Ridiculously implausible, but theoretically possible. People did probability analysis on this, they used real trials and showed that the time to complete the loop was averaging on the order of a few minutes. But the sticking point was that uncertainty. Sure, if your library randomizes so that you get all three of those cards before you get the other one, then you win, but you cannot say when that will happen, so you can't shortcut it. And if you can't shortcut it, then executing the loop deliberately is apparently, under tournament rules, not allowed. Eventually, some mandate from on high ruled that shortcutting wasn't permissible for this and that the loop was slow play (or whatever), killing the deck. I'm not much of a tournament player and do not feel qualified to speak to the rightness or wrongness of the ruling. But rulings aside, this presents an interesting case, conceptually, of a situation which, until resolved, has neither playing winning or losing. The game is "stuck." In practice, this loop is unlikely to remain stuck for very long. Like I said, it really should only a take a few minutes.

    But that's tournament Magic! I'd bet, somewhere out there, it's possible to get a configuration of cards that takes a lot longer, a loop that could theoretically win, but one that's too cumbersome to pull off. In fact, I encountered something like this by accident, which I'll relate at some point.

    As far as I'm aware, it does not and there is no such thing as "lives outside the main rules for the game." It is a black/white bordered Magic card from real Magic sets and is perfectly legal. It's banned from tournament play, of course, but I was talking about outside of tournament play. It also instructs you to take it out of your deck before playing if not playing for ante, but in my silly scenario, the card was never in my deck. I fetched it from outside the game with Ring of Ma'Ruf. In tournament play, Ring of Ma'Ruf can only fetch cards from one's sideboard, but same deal, blah blah blah. Casual play has no built-in protection against the use of Ring (or a Wish card) to bring Tempest Efreet into a non-ante game. Opponents would then have to pay 10 life, concede, or make the exchange. I have even made token copies of Tempest Efreet and attempted to trade those for my opponent's cards (opponent didn't go for it).
  5. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    Playing for ante is an "optional variation on the game," is what I meant, as per the Comprehensive Rules, which means that your opponent can choose not to "opt in" and thereby effectively ban Tempest Efreet from being a card used in the game. Or at least that is how I am reading this:

    407. Ante
    • 407.1. Earlier versions of the Magic rules included an ante rule as a way of playing “for keeps.” Playing Magic games for ante is now considered an optional variation on the game, and it’s allowed only where it’s not forbidden by law or by other rules.
    Very interesting stuff with the multiple recursive loops. I would personally say that theory should account for such loops as long as one can demonstrate that they will halt at some point. As with Infinite Chess, one need not create an actual board with an uncountable number of spaces to show definitive mathematic truths, so should a robust theory be able to handle extended yet halting loops in Magic. Interesting just in how one could formulate opinions on that question, however.
  6. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    The key part of Rule 407.1 there is "playing Magic games for ante." If I'm not playing for ante, Tempest Efreet can't go in my deck (the card says so). But Ring of Ma'Ruf only stipulates "a card you own from outside the game." The bit about removing the card from my deck before playing doesn't apply because the card wasn't in my deck, but was brought in from outside the game. In this scenario, no one is playing for ante, so Rule 407.1 has nothing to say on the matter. Games played for ante have distinct features (notably the initial placement of a card from one's deck for "ante") and this game wouldn't fall into that category. The Comprehensive Rules don't (or didn't, but I assume they still do not) have any text voiding the rules text of Tempest Efreet in non-ante games because the only way to get it into a non-ante game would be to bring it in from outside the game, and all of the cards capable of bringing cards in from outside the game have this special ruling...

    So you'd have to be playing an unsanctioned game anyway and all of the cards with rules text that involve change of ownership give opponents at least two outs anyway: usually it's taking a 10-life hit or conceding the game. But I haven't seen anything about being able to "opt out" of playing according to the rules as pertaining to the "ante" cards, just rules about their inclusion in decks.
  7. Psarketos Metacompositional Theoretician

    So looking into this further, it seems that is indeed the case - which is why Tempest Efreet is banned in all formats. You have to be playing unsanctioned Magic without a format type to play it...and I am not sure I would ask any theory to go beyond Vintage in terms of what it was required to describe. I understand that is a subjective line though, and one you would probably disagree with ;)
  8. Oversoul The Tentacled One

    Hm, I hadn't thought of it in that way. I do think that for theory purposes it makes sense to draw lines somewhere. Like, if you developed a really robust, succinct version of Magic theory that was applicable in nearly all gameplay, but it didn't really work for Vanguard formats or Planechase, my reaction would still be, "That's awesome" and not "It's incomplete and therefore uninteresting." If something works just for sanctioned Magic and not for "beyond Vintage" that's covering a lot of ground. I do like Vintage, but I don't know that I'd want to draw the line there, as much of the Magic I've played and seen doesn't, strictly speaking, qualify. The example that immediately comes to my combo-obsessed mind is Mind's Desire. The card was recognized as too broken for Vintage play before it was even released, and has been restricted in Vintage for its entire existence. But that's on account of the numerous 0-drop mana-producing artifacts in Vintage, and that concern doesn't apply so much in other environments. I had friends who built decks with the card, which might have even been Standard-legal, and the experience of chaining Mind's Desire into Mind's Desire was fascinating and unique, something that wasn't possible in Vintage because the card was restricted. Such a concept was later successful in tournaments as "TEPS" (The Extended Perfect Storm), but the format in which those decks operated is long defunct. By itself, this one case isn't that remarkable. I just don't think that it should be beyond the scope of theory on the basis that no sanctioned formats support it. The Vintage restricted list keeps things sane, keeps Magic at a point where people get to use their cards from throughout the game's history but without everything devolving into Mox-dropping first-turn kill festivals. But the format is meant to have its own balance and doesn't or can't always necessarily make allowances for lines of gameplay that could be perfectly acceptable in other contexts, and which indeed used to be mainstream. I mean, I remember when Mana Vault hadn't yet been restricted, and for years after that it was still legal in Extended. The decisions to restrict/ban it were entirely justified and probably a bit overdue. But I don't think that the gameplay that happened in that era lies outside the bounds of analysis for Magic theory.

    But really, I'm not even saying, "Don't draw the line at Vintage." Like I said, it makes sense to draw lines somewhere.

    Interestingly, while most of the cards that do something with cards "you own from outside the game" are essentially tutors and potentially have some sort of tournament application with the "Wishboard" concept, at least one card other than Ring of Ma'Ruf was clearly designed with the a more casual, non-sideboard focus: Spawnsire of Ulamog. No one in a tournament is going to want to fill a sideboard, where space for shoring up bad matchups is at a premium, with Eldrazi. But Timmy sees that ability and thinks, "If I can get to 20 mana, I can cast this whole stack of Eldrazi from outside the game!" And I'm sure that someone somewhere even bought or traded for copies of all three original Eldrazi titans just for the prospect of casting them with this thing.
    Psarketos likes this.

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