Saturday, 9 April 2016

"You can't win, but there are alternatives to fighting" - A Magic perspective on Draws in X-Wing

There has been a disturbance in the Force; a recent update to the tournament rules contained one hugely important change: Intentional Draws (IDs) are now legal.


Previously, agreeing with your opponent to draw a round of X-Wing was considered to be collusion, as both players were agreeing to fix the result of a match to their mutual benefit, hurting other players in the tournament who might otherwise have finished ahead of whichever player lost in their meeting, but now both will draw.  The changes to the rules make it entirely legal for players to agree to do this, helping each other out at the expense of players on worse records who might have otherwise hoped to squeak past them at the final hurdle.

This has caused huge controversy among many in the X-Wing community, highlighting a rift between a growing number of serious competitors and those who prefer to live by the game's unofficial straplineof "Fly Casual".  The back and forth has been quite unpleasant at times, for those unaware of it, but I think I can sum up the pros & cons of the argument quite succinctly:

Pro Intentional Draws
  • Being able to take the safe bet of an Intentional Draw to guarantee a prize is a 'reward' for the best players who have won all their rounds so far.  If you didn't want to lose out to players who have taken an ID then you should have avoided losing.

  • If it wasn't possible to agree to Draw then players could just play to create a draw anyway, eg. by flying in loops around the table for an hour without shooting at each other.  It's going to happen some of the time anyway, so you might as well make it legal.
  • Allowing IDs are how some other tournament systems run, most notably Magic: The Gathering.  If it's what Magic does then X-Wing should do it too.



Against Intentional Draws
  • Intentional Draws are elitist and make it easier for groups of friends/teammates to conspire to fix the results of a tournament.  They help the two players who get the draw but they hurt far more people who might have had a chance to play for a prize, and are now certain to finish outside the prizes.

  • This is an X-Wing tournament, where people come to play X-Wing.  Rewarding people for refusing to play a game of X-Wing is rubbish.  Worse still, you're rewarding people for basically being too scared of losing to play X-Wing.

  • Fly Casual.  This isn't Magic:The Gathering.  There isn't $25,000 on the line.  Don't be a dick.


As so many of the people in the Pro-ID camp have invoked the argument that IDs have existed for decades in Magic tournaments, I decided to call on some of my friends who are among the most prominent players and personalities in the Magic: The Gathering (and other TCGs) community to ask them for how they felt about IDs.



Neil Rigby
- 10+ Pro Tour appearances, 3 Magic World Championship appearances.  Contributer to The Blue Envelope Podcast

"I think IDs are left over from when judging and play was much more lax and whilst I obviously take advantage of them when possible would be fine if they were no longer a thing. There is the difficulty of policing it still and that's what would need the most looking at.  IDs are awful for the spectacle of the game with final rounds, that should be most exciting, meaning less."



Glen White
- Gordian Knot Games, tournament organiser for premier Magic events & European Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix

"My understanding for Magic is that they are allowed because they are difficult to police. In all other ways they feel unsatisfying. It should be noted that in some other TCGs they aren't allowed. However, I receive very few complaints from people about IDs so my inclination would be to allow them. They don't really ruin any spectacle, just change the focus to other tables. The real spectacle comes in the top 8 anyway.

As a judge my thoughts go to the person who has to make a call about an illegal ID. I'm guessing this would entail a DQ for two people just about to make top 8. That's a difficult trigger to pull for an experienced judge let alone a store owner running a fairly small event."


Rich Hagon
- Magic: The Gathering coverage supremo


"I don't honestly see how this isn't a straightforward issue. I genuinely don't believe there's much debate about those answers in terms of IDs not being ideal. The arguments are well-rehearsed, including being rewarded for NOT playing the game they're there to play, willful manipulation/perversion of a system that rewards winning more than losing, but occasionally rewards not playing even more than that, reducing the enjoyment/opportunities for everyone at 3-1 etc...   And, outside the world of Expected Value, the whole idea of IDs is entirely alien to an outside audience:  'What are you playing?' 'Nothing, because we're good at playing, so we're not.' 

It's hard to imagine a games company ever saying, 'hey, you know what would be cool? If we could get people to not play our game, and stop other people who are playing our game from continuing to play our game, making them go home instead while the people who aren't playing our game wait to play our game a bit later. Then the people who were forced to stop playing our game, potentially prematurely, can go home and tell everyone what a great time they had.' 

I don't believe the arguments that IDs are a net good are remotely valid. BUT, the policing issues are problematic for sure, and I can well imagine a company really struggling with this. In the 'real world', in part because of the existence of gambling, 'IDs' or their equivalent are harder to complete without actual criminal proceedings, since collusion is fraud, plain and simple. In gaming, the 'victim' is the 3-1 player, and the two 4-0s colluded to defraud them of the chance to win a prize. For the record, I did this at the 2HG prerelease, agreeing to split the final, thus guaranteeing my share of the first two prizes, and ensuring that nobody at 3-1 could possibly get to second. (We won the 'exhibition final', thanks for asking.) There was 'money' available to the best 'players of the game', and we decided not to play (officially) in order to ensure we got that 'money' (boosters).  As the rules stand, we would have been dumb not to do this, but nobody could seriously imagine this was all marvellous. 

The bigger question is whether IDs are a necessary evil, not whether they are somehow inherently a good thing - they are not."


Rob Wagner
- The Blue Envelope Podcast

"People will largely play to the tournament structure they're in. Swiss rounds with a top x seems like it'll invariably lead to situations where IDing is a better option for both players. I think allowing them is better than trying to make people fight human instinct in an irrational way.  I'd like to point out that I'm saying "given this tournament structure, I think it'd be difficult to not have IDs". I'm not saying "IDs are a good thing". I don't know what a tournament structure looks like that doesn't make IDs attractive or even an option."


Oliver Gehrmann
- One-man coverage whirlwind for Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh and formerly WOWTCG

"I truly hate intentional draws (as someone who's played a game that didn't have them, another game that did have them and a third game that didn't have them and that later added them to the game).

I prefer games that don't have draws whatsoever.  If you allow for draws, but try and prohibit intentional draws (this is what YGO has done), you're running into the issue of the judges having to decide whether the draw was intentional or not and that can be extremely hard to do. It is "less than ideal" and that's the nicest way I can put this.  So yes, at the end of the day, it's more a policy issue than anything else as it's hard to argue whether they are a "good thing" in the first place. They are not."


Craig Jones
- Magic: The Gathering Pro Player & coverage writer

"The game should do whatever gives everyone a level playing field. If players have the incentive to draw and it's easy to play in a way that results in that outcome then players are going to do it. Then you have an awkward situation of trying to get players to behave in ways that are detrimental to their tournament success without being able to enforce it. (Cheating is easy to identify and punish. Players colluding places an extra burden on the judge to read the game and is far too easy to get it wrong - for Magic anyway, might be different for X-wing).

IDs place everyone on a level playing field - if the best possible tournament play is to ID, everyone can take that option, not just the people with teams that are savvy enough to know how to engineer it with team mates.

That said, it always looks horrible to onlookers.

Personally I think the way to fix the problem is to get the incentives to line up with what you want the players doing. If you want them to play rather than draw, then make it an incentive to do so. Magic has done more of this recently. The player going first has an advantage, so giving the choice in the elimination rounds to the person who finished higher gives some incentive to play in some circumstances (which happened in the last round of the last Magic Pro Tour.)

The other way to mitigate the "lockout" problem of IDs is to do swiss properly. It used to infuriate me at swiss-only tournaments in the past where TOs would only run enough rounds to get to the point with one player standing alone at the top of the rankings. That is not a swiss tournament, that's a single elimination tournament. The same applies to swiss with a cut to top 8. If you're having scenarios where the 8 players with 4-0 records are able to lock out everyone else by IDing the last round, the tournament did not have enough swiss rounds.

My rule of thumb with any swiss system is that a player should be able to lose the first round and still be able to win/make the cut for top 8. Otherwise you might as well just have single elim."


An Unintended Solution to Intended Draws

So it turned out that they pretty much all agreed on the subject: IDs are a bad thing, but in Magic they're a necessary evil.  This is because in Magic it's relatively common for games to play to a draw anyway - each round is 'Best of 3' and if you run out of time at 1-1 then, well, it finishes 1-1.  If IDs were banned in Magic then you would have players trying to engineer them during games to try and ensure they ran out of time with the scores even, and asking judges to tell which players are doing that on purpose and which are innocent victims is far too difficult.

However, as the discussion wound down something interesting happened.  Being games addicts the Magic players weren't going to settle for just talking about the problem of IDs in X-Wing.  They were going to try and solve it.

The one piece of information I had given them about X-Wing was that drawn games are actually very rare, particularly relative to how often they occur in Magic.  So if IDs were bad, and if the reason you had to have IDs was that you couldn't tell them apart from genuine drawn games... then what if there weren't actually that many drawn games already?



Thomas Harle

- Magic: The Gathering veteran

"If unintentional draws are incredibly rare in x-wing then can they just not create a decider (most damage dealt etc.) then remove draws from the game entirely?  Obviously MTG is complex enough that a tiebreaker based on damage would favour aggro decks over control/combo but it isn't that much different to the current modo clock system that favours quicker to pilot decks over slower... if that change was made in MTG people would moan but the game would still be effectively the same thing, just with a slightly worse gameplay experience and a slightly better tournament experience, imo."




Tim Willoughby
- Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour coverage presenter

"I'd be more inclined, given the rules set that Dave outlined, to either produce a rule to completely eliminate draws, or to create a strong disincentive to draws (like them being worth zero points). 

It may sound crazy (and may in fact BE crazy - I haven't played X-Wing, so I don't really know), but what would happen in X-Wing games if there was a rule to say that in the case of a tie on points, whoever went first loses, or something like that? At that point you have slightly diminished the advantage of going first, and created a clear incentive for one player to be aggressive if you ever have a weird castling mirror. Assuming that a castling player can't realistically hold a match to 0-0 easily, it at least forces action. In a more regular game each player knows what they need to achieve - it's just that the player who started with an advantage (obviously you can switch it so the player going 2nd loses if going 2nd was clearly better without the rule) has a little more to do.

R&D at WotC have said on multiple occasions that if there were a way to reasonably eliminate draws from competitive Magic, they would. However, that would require so major a set of changes to the rules that it is unlikely ever to happen in paper Magic. If the adjustments needed in other games rules sets to get rid of draws is small, I think it almost always makes sense to do so"



Craig Stevenson
- Former Magic: The Gathering UK National Champion, former editor of Starcitygames.com

"I agree with the consensus, and agree that it's pretty much impossible to avoid them in Magic as policing is impossible.  I also agree that eliminating draws completely is likely the best solution for x wing (I have played both mtg and x wing, so glad to see the latter thriving). 

In my PTQ grinding days, I once was refused an ID at 4-1 and subsequently lost the match and top 8 spot. My entitlement was huge. I was LIVID. Even today I still hold a grudge against my opponent, despite knowing it's an irrational thing based on a wholly ignorant and asinine viewpoint that I no longer hold. My point is that the ID system in mtg is flawed even for those ultra-competitive players who see a top 8 slot as a god-given right after an x-0 start."


Wrapping Up

I really like Tim Willoughby's suggestion about using 'who goes first' as the decider, although I would adapt it to be Initiative that decided the winner, in event of a tie on MOV.  Initiative already has a role in the game of deciding what happens first in event of a tied game state, and the decision of who takes initiative is already one of balancing pros and cons, and that's after you've made other decisions about how much initiative matters to you and if you need to come in under 100pts to ensure you get to decide.

Tim might have no experience of X-Wing, but he's a smart man who knows his games and his organised play, and he could well have hit on a workable solution.  IMHO


Anyway, I'll give the last word to one man who probably knows better than any of us what the issues are that FFG have faced in making the decision to allow Intentional Draws in the first place, because he's been in those boots before with several other games...

Ben Drago

- Former Head of Organised Play for Upper Deck and Cryptozoic

"Intentional draws: 
1) Give an advantage to groups of players because it's easier to manipulate pairings/standings
2) Overvalue earlier rounds of tournaments
3) Hurts growth and legitimacy because explaining IDs via coverage is very difficult 

However, I don't think asking tournament staff to evaluate if a draw is intentional or not is a good idea. That is very hard to do perfectly, and friends who get paired together are much more likely to force a draw that benefits them. 

I agree that the best solution is to eliminate all draws. It didn't break Vs. or WoW, and eliminates the advantage of friends getting paired together and being able to choose the optimal result."



4 comments:

  1. Played in a historical tournament with timed games and to avoid negative play the following scores were used 3 points for a win, 0 points for a draw and 1 point for a lose. Seemed to work well.

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  2. Xwing needs a better way to rank players that rewards play. The most drastic way to do this would be to rank loses above draws. I know it sounds weird, but if someone that went 4-2 was ranked higher than 4-1-1, players would be motivated to play. Or, you could rank draws in later rounds differently than earlier rounds. I know these are left field ideas, but I think xwing will need that to deal with IDs.

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  3. The only thing I don't like about the idea of no points for a draw is if you manage to take your opponent down with you and both destroy 100 points. I've only ever done it once, killing an IG with Emon as we were both PS6, and his reaction when he destroyed me and I declared my attack, and the tension I felt when I rolled decently but not amazingly given his three green dice... to cut a long post short, if it were x points (5? 3? 5 full and 3 mod as it is now?) for a win, 1 for a loss and 0 for a draw, I would suggest adding a special case of 2 points for a 100-100 draw as it's a very different thing to nothing lost to either side, or even the freak case of the same points destroyed by each.

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