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Balance, Nerfs, and the Treadmill Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

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Have I made the overused Electric Boogaloo joke before? I always think about using it when I hit two or more part article series. I’m basically a dork. Anyway, before I get started on the last three things which beg addressing I want to expand just a bit on a point I made in part 1 which may actually be the most important bit… Which only by accident actually stayed in.

I am riding a very fine line here between pointing out what I feel are legitimate issues, and just making personal gripes about stuff I don’t like. I tried to take an even further step back than my first draft and the throwaway section on non-interactivity almost hit the trash can with a bunch of other stuff in an attempt to de-personify the whole thing.

Noninteractivity is a huge huge deal and it comes from two different sources. Rey with her action cheating ways took the brunt of the blame until Maz came along, but ambush and ambush-like effects are only half of the deal. If you can only affect something on your turn, and an opponent has a million more things to do during a round than you do, at some point you’re going to stop interacting. And right now, that’s the REAL killer, it just so happens that there are a couple decks which do both in a moderate amount.

I touched on this a while ago without realizing it, in calling a primary winning position a decks Critical Point. Any deck, in any format, has it’s Critical Point pegged on the turn in which they go non-interactive. Hero vehicles with Rally Aid out, a way to draw cards on the field, and money in the bank for removal? They’re non-interactive. Maybe not until half-way through the turn, but they’re non-interactive that turn and there isn’t actually much any deck can do from a neutral or already-losing position to affect it. Sabine/Obi with three money is non-interactive in degrees only limited by the rate at which they draw Hyperspace Jump or their own particular flavor of ambush cards. Meanwhile, OTK gets to wait until the perfect turn to go non-interactive and settle the match on the spot and Boba/7th attempts to make their first two turns as non-interactive as possible to get out so far ahead of you as to make all your future interaction just ways to lose slower.

I will never again call a deck too fair. A much more accurate way to phrase the intent is to say “Vader/Raider is too interactive to win these days”. That’s how you win. By being able to manipulate the ways your opponent is interacting in such a manner that benefits you more than the ways they’re making you (not) interact with them.

“There wasn’t anything I could do about it” is the single most common phrase I hear to explain a loss these days. This is in stark contrast to a year ago where the most common phrase I heard was some variation of “Dice rolls man, dice rolls”. And even if we tell Bruce to get out of our heads, there’s a serious element of truth to the phrase these days.*** When was the last time you heard any dice complaints? And I don’t count playing with Elrathion, I think the fact I even have dice at all is a personal offense to him…

***That article is required reading. Seriously. I know Rizzo has a stream of consciousness writing style to rival Hunter S. Thompson, but it’s worth the effort. My own babbling can wait.

I always bounce back to MTG analogies, but for those of you who follow my thought process, think about Vintage format for a second. Those games are decided on a given players turn 3 at the latest, turn 2 most commonly, and even on turn 1 a not-insignificant amount of the time. Sound familiar? MTG gets a pass on that in my eyes, they have more years worth of cards than Destiny has set symbols…. Times 4. And just like here, it’s because of all the ways you can go non-interactive across MTG’s 94 printed sets. If rounds are analogous to turns, Destiny is only one turn behind MTG in speed with a fraction of the options. Something needs to change, both in set design and the way we approach what is acceptable.

Have I mentioned how much I’m looking forward to the AWK/SoR/EaW rotation?

With this in mind, the ways I’ve been evaluating cards has been really changed in the last 24 hours. Maybe I’m way behind everyone else just stumbling on epiphanies that every other competitive player had months ago? I don’t know.

What I do know is this. Free anything even if it’s not guaranteed just got a huge bump in my eyes, paying for single die removal is terrible, and any way I can cling to the slightest bit of interaction outside the normal realm of what is commonly seen is going to be a huge factor in winning moving forward. If I’m going to spend resources on something I want to either remove multiple dice or ramp. Everything else? Hand me a copy Hidden Motive, Suppression Field, Sound the Alarm, Doubt, HDLY, or even Confidence and Unpredictable while I throw my Flanks and Misleads in the trash.

I promise this won’t be a three-parter. I’m going to rant about a few other things then go pack for SXSW.

Special Chaining

Is it Broken?: It was, then it wasn’t, but it might be again. The end of EaW had people pulling hair out due to Poe2 special chaining into things like Lightbow or Force Throw. When we saw Yoda get spoiled, the sky was officially falling. Legacies was (mostly) legal in Portland and it was special city… Until even more non-interactive things were found. Now it exists in a quasi-unfair state that no-one really cares about because it isn’t quite as common or reliable as the Running Interference or Maul’s Saber decks. Afterall, why pay 3 for a chance at getting a max damage Force Wave if for the same price you can get the same amount or more as a promise?

How to Fix?: I… I don’t know. Refer back to part 1. I’m not a game designer. The instant one or more of the issues in part 1 get tackled or rotated away, special chaining becomes the new big bad. I think that’s better for the game overall because it’s inherently more interactive but uh… Treadmill effect.

I do know that Yoda/Poe/Aayla is having or will have a chilling effect on neutral and hero force powers, along with the more esoteric other upgrades. Ever wonder why Roguish Charm costs two? Combine with Holocron not being good enough any more (if only I had a time machine) and it’s going to be a harsh winter for abilities.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Special Chaining is the treadmill.

A.) Specials nerfed, non-interaction nerfed: Welcome back to tier 1 5DV! Your friend Talzin is waiting! And to a lesser extent, Jedi Temple Guard and AWK Phasma come back around.
B.) Specials nerfed, non-interaction left alone: Why bother?
C.) Specials buffed, non-interaction left alone: Well I was never a huge fan of Vintage MTG, but I like Destiny enough to make it work. At least my rounds won’t go to time right?

Tutoring

Is it Broken?: I’m going to be blunt. These three cards should never, ever have been printed. Quick math time! You have a ~53% chance of starting the game with at least one copy of a card that you brought two of in your opening hand if you hard-mull for it. If you count Lightsaber pull as an additional copy of whatever that card is, that probability goes to ~68% with one Pull and ~78% with two. That’s… Not okay. Investigate and Boundless give you the top 5 of your deck to look through, which if you’re looking for a card you haven’t seen in the bottom 25 (turn 1) gets you from ~53% off the mull to ~66% and increasing to ~81% if done on turn 2.

Enough Whinging, is it Broken or Not?: Boundless is, but more on that in a second. Investigate and Pull are half-heartbeats away from being broken beyond repair because of their interaction with The Force is Strong. And seeing the new Luke from the WoF set reveal? Umm… That heart may be beating before we realize it. I’m not saying that all card draw needs to be banned, I think two for a buck is pretty reasonable, and even Award Ceremony is fine because to use it for 3+ you have to jump through hoops that limit its actual benefit.

How to Fix?: Rotation. Nothing truly bad for the meta is happening right now solely on the back of these cards, and hopefully everything stays that way for a while longer. But man. So so close.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Award ceremony takes Boundless’s place in OTK which is a huge blow to the deck, but perfectly sustainable if nothing else was touched. Messing with Pull and Investigate at the moment wouldn’t actually do anything at all, but would certainly confuse a bunch of people to my amusement… And excitement for a new set.

 

Resource Differential

    

Is it Broken?: In order; No, No, Probably Not*, Maybe, and Yes.

*Certainly not now, but even if it were legal as printed would it be an issue? Money is easy, and three-cost upgrades is the place to be regardless. #MakeEmpireGreatAgain

Everything is a resource.*** Boundless ambition is the pointy end of the spear when it comes to my earlier point about going non-interactive. Five cards, one of which you might play, the other four to reroll unimpeded. And responding to an aggressively minded Boundless with a defensively minded Boundless gets you nowhere*** because your proposed interactions in every deck that has ever used Boundless primarily as a vehicle to reroll or deal damage probably cost money, while rerolling remains free. And that’s if you didn’t claim, and instead decided to give the likely more aggressive deck a tempo advantage! Lose-Lose.

And even if you take the stance that FILP is a balanced answer for it, you’re only correct if you’re already winning. If you’re behind, and they have other options in their hand to keep you behind, you just came out neutral in cards and behind in tempo. Good luck.

***More required reading. Hop to it.

CQA is barely acceptable in my eyes, but it’s hanging on because the ultimately fair FILP can grab it, and good players will plan for and around it in the relevant matchups. Rey/Aayla is the current best user of the card, but it’s no slouch in Boba/7th. So long as we don’t see melee dice spam greater than that in the future it should be fine.

Probe and FILP are pretty fair in a vacuum, but Probe is yet another reason I believe OTK is the best deck in the format and why I think it should be nerfed. Good OTK players commit to nothing until they know they can get away with it, or are forced to by impending doom. Probe not only lets them make that determination accurately, but actively clears the way. Then follow it up with the boundless? Brutal.

Other aggro decks not running red can get a partial effect, in some ways better in some ways worse with FILP. It’s no surprise that it’s auto-include in decks that have a need for it, but ultimately a good thing because it keeps people honest with redundancy.

How to Fix?: Ban Boundless and keep an eye on CQA. Total domination of the available lines of play is supposed to be the end-game of a control deck, not the turn two and three of the aggressive ones. Tiny Grimes called it, we saw it at Worlds 2017, we saw it in SoR, we see it now. Boundless gives too much for too little. I don’t want to see it any more.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Once again, Award Ceremony. Other decks could also run Ancient Wisdom for the guaranteed effect, or any number of the other advantage-neutral or meta-dependent card choices. If taken too far, nerfing option-denying and resource differing cards would lead to a control deck dominated meta. And I don’t think anyone wants that.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong. Not everything needs to change all at once, and if I wanted pure luck to decide winners and losers I’d go play craps. Balance is the single hardest thing that goes into any game, and it is both a learning process and never really achievable. The treadmill is real. Finding the perfect shade of gray between chess and craps is a moving target, and as we see the general skill level of the Destiny community move up over time it’s only become harder.

It’s pretty easy for me or anyone else to sit in some comfy sweats and throw shade at FFG or playtesters. It is much much harder to get it right, and too often in games you see the designers say “screw it, just balance it by making the other stuff stronger”. I’m glad that FFG isn’t taking that approach with Destiny, and I’m glad that they don’t appear to have done so in any of their other games.

If you’re in Austin make sure to come say hi this weekend!
-Agent Of Zion