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Note: This page having got rather confused I plan to refactor it (but it might be Sunday before I get the time...).  If anyone has any complaints with this please tell me :)  -- Senji
No complaints; please do refactor it.  I was considering doing so myself. --AlexChurchill

Second rant topic: The fact that, to a huge extent, the outcome of the game (given even marginally clueful play) is almost always decided before you even deal.  Not entirely true - but in 90% of cases.  Or has this gotten better?

Hmmm.  I'd set the actual-playing-skill required rather higher than "marginally clueful".  And opinions vary as to just where there's more skill, in deckbuilding or in gameplaying.  I tend to reckon there's more skill in deckbuilding, which means I agree broadly with your point.  Although I don't view it as a problem.

I'd strongly disagree.  Watching someone (albeit a cambridge student, so brainer than the average bear) pick up the game after having only played four games a few years ago, take a 'technical' black/blue denial deck up and win a tournament with it simply because he got decent draws and had a deck that was good against the majority of extant decks.  Including beating the creator of the deck.  The actual playing of the game is, for most deck types, obvious - and even for the 'technical' decks merely 'hard' - it's certainly not strategy on the level of Go, or psychology on the level of poker (or even NetRunner).  Not no skill, I admit that was hyperbole, but far less skill than the deck constructing and the MetaGame.  Not necc bad - it was a fun MetaGame - but a horribly expensive one.

There's also the fact that certain deck types (eg "big green/red creatures") need very little in-game skill (and possibly need more in-game luck), whereas others (blue tricksy types, black judgment-call discards, etc) need a lot more in-game skill.  And you can build decks which rely very much on luck, and other decks which are much more robust against the luck of the draw.  I would argue that this, too, is part of skill at playing Magic.  --AlexChurchill
Agreed.  Deciding whether to build a fragile or a robust deck is an important decision.  The problem I see is that it is a single decision, you conciously make it weeks before the game, and then you play and either win or lose based on it and a handful of other decisions.  Although I do find it amusing that your skill at TopDeck is ranked and spoken of at least as (if not more) highly than your skill at actually playing.  Heck, whole episodes of certain awful anime (YuGiOh) are based upon it...  -- Vitenka

Hmm.  I guess the fact that it's so popular in YuGiOh at least demonstrates that TopDeck is a skill/problem (according to taste) which afflicts much more of the CCG genre than just Magic.  It also affects some (all?) card games which aren't Collectable - see the SettlersOfCatan/CardGame, for example.
However, it would be just false to say there's no fun in the playing.  People have taken to asking to borrow one of my decks, and playing me with it - so it was me who constructed both decks.  That doesn't stop those games being fun, for both of us playing.
I think we've got fairly similar opinions here, we're just putting the emphasis on different bits.  Would this be a fair summary?
Simply because a game is not a good or deep strategy game does not mean that it is not fun.  It does, usually, mean that the game will not stay fun for as long.  As for TopDeck affecting non CCG games - this is true, but mitigated.  A hand of poker takes far less time than a match of most CCG's - many of which last for hours.  The Catan CardGame is a bad example for me - I loathe Catan - and the fact that bad luck can wreck your chances early on simply leads me to SpoilerPlay GriefPlay and KingMaking.
Whereas, in Catan, I tend to play catchup after bad initial luck - and, assuming robust choices of initial placement (since being confined to bad areas of the board really can wreck your chances), tend to sit there quietly amassing a civilisation in a corner. It certainly doesn't always work, but I do regularly pull off wins from those circumstances. Not having everyone conspire against you is an advantage. Anyway, the Catan CCG is two player, and distinct in style from the board game. -- TheInquisitor
My point (originally) was that Magic has such a fast moving one that it presents a relatively high barrier to new players - and worse, it presents a financial one (since todays killer deck is tomorrows bullseye (/FinancialTradeoffs))  I (generally) enjoy playing a good MetaGame and analysing my opponents next action to try and pre-empt it.  But when the MetaGame is too slow (usually because the trials - the actual game - take longer) it becomes boring.  I don't know much about FussBol?, but I suspect that its MetaGame has reached something of a plateau.  Hmmm.  Posisby further-further meta discussion ought to go elsewhere?  I'd love to go on about how an active and stable MetaGame (that's it!  It's the CONTINUAL introduction of new cards - and an overfilled and not brilliantly designed set of cards at that - which makes the MetaGame unstable and thus cost more and more money) present a good game.  Magic's MetaGame is both unstable and has such a high effect on the actual game that it is almost not worth playing the main game - if you beat your opponent at the Meta then you win the Main.  In FussBol? - the opponent may be initially surprised by your 9/1/1 offence, but they CAN counter during the game.  In Magic - no way, even a 15 card sideboard is insufficient.  (And so people turned to carrying around multiple decks - more cost)
Now, what is it about the "instability" (loaded word - how about "constantly-changing??") of the MetaGame that you dislike?  I'd think that if any game stayed unshifting, the MetaGame would hit a plateau.  Is it automatically bad if Magic is a game for NeoPhiles??
And PLEASE stop generalising that there's no Main game!!  Even with Tier 1 tournament decks, matchups which are generally "unfavourable" to deck A can still be won by it, by skill, luck OR both.  Maybe it was the case with Arabian Nights cards that "if you beat them at the Meta you win the Main", but that's just not true at the moment.  There's skill and fun in playing an unfavourable matchup, in the choices you make during it, and it's still fun even if you do end up losing more than 50% between those two particular decks.  Isn't that the point?  --AlexChurchill
When I see a 'killer combo' deck beat a 'blue denial' deck by anything other than luck, or when I see a 'creature swarm' deck beat a 'fast burn' deck by other than luck (or similar comments about whatever the current environment is) then maybe I'll stop generalising.  When I played (which yes, was some time ago) this simply was not the case.  With the exception of incredibly bad luck, then as long as you could follow a script you would win every matchup of most given types.  (Yes, some deck combinations - white heal versus creature swarm, for example would present fun games)
Okay.  On the one hand, there is an acknowledged oversimplification in Magic articles, "ControlBeatsComboBeatsCreaturesBeatsControl?".  In other words, at a sufficiently abstracted level, the game becomes RockScissorsPaper.  However, there are of course more than three decks; most decks have elements from (at least) two of those three categories; and there are MetaGame choices of what cards you put in to handle a "mirror match", ie coming up against someone with a broadly similar deck to your own.
You present extreme examples, and ones that I'm not sure are current.  And if WizardsOfTheCoast have adjusted the game to address issues which were problems six years ago, I'd rather discuss the way the game is now, for obvious reasons.
Of course, it's sounding like you've not looked at recent tournaments.  If I'm to take you at your word when you say "when I see X beat Y then I'll stop generalising", but you're also not going to look at any recent games, there might be a problem here :) --AlexChurchill
Secondly - apologies for the 'loaded' word.  I often forget that other people associate negatively with RandomChaos?.  ConstantlyChanging? is fine.  But my argument was that this:
* Presents an entry barrier to new players.  (Is this what you mean by NeoPhile)
I propose we move discussion of /BarriersToNewPlayers to its own page --AlexChurchill
* Requires you to know what the environment du jour is - and thus, effectively, have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all available cards so that you can understand which environment each card thrives in.  Which was the very comment that sparked this whole discussion.
If you have the time, (and for magic; cash) then yes, a constantly evolving game can be wonderful fun.  It has certain disadvantages (such as the entry barrier - the difficulty in even re-entering the game after a break)  My objection is that the MetaGame spoils the game as a normal game.  What it creates in its place can be fun - but requires certain commitments (mostly time) to be able to experience.

I think you're shifting the goalposts.  We've both oscillated between discussing tournament play and casual play.  I think it's a given that a tournament player will have invested a certain amount of time in the game, so presumably your objection is in the context of casual play.  And in every casual play group I've heard of, nobody minds anyone playing with old cards; and Wizards these days are taking care to balance their cards so that no deck can be too powerful, even compared to one with a lot of older cards.  (The exception is Urza block.)
No, wrong, absolutely not.  Each new expansion is DESIGNED to be a 'must have' (with the exception of a couple of 'themed' cock ups - which were only made essential by a still later set) - if you play using the older cards then you lose.  Over a LONG cycle yes - those old cards become useful again.  The problem is minimised if you have cards from a lot of sets over a long period (which, oh look, takes even MORE effort)
This is a frankly ridiculous claim to make.  It's just not true.  Masques-block decks would beat Invasion-block decks more often than not, and that's probably true of Odyssey-block decks vs. Onslaught-block too.  Do you use the word "designed" in capitals to suggest there's an official Wizards statement to that effect, or that it's "common knowledge" that that's what Wizards do, or is it just your opinion?
It is just not true that "if you play using the older cards then you lose".  What context would you say this in?  For similar reasons to below, I assume casual play.  And it's just... not the case... that older decks lose to newer ones.  It might be 49%/51%.  (And please stop exaggerating with generalisations like "then you lose".  It makes it harder to have a reasoned discussion... :(  )  -- AlexChurchill
I would say that in any context.  Newer decks are designed to beat (the majority of) older decks - decks which do not (and don't have some other consideration, like being exceptionally pretty or containing a particularly funny joke) tend to fail and fall out of the environment.  The card cycle is designed to encourage people to, well, buy new cards.  I don't have a URL for an official statement of this handy.  There is an exception to this - the mechanism to retire sufficiently old cards (except those which get reprinted) allows the environment to be cyclic - so a sufficiently old deck might end up being a deck comparable to the 'next' deck.  But in general no - older is weaker.

I'm sorry, I just plain disagree.  Newer cards are designed to have interesting interactions with each other.  So Onslaught block has lots of things which do things with creature types, because they interact interestingly with each other.  Odysseyblock has lots of cards affecting the graveyard, which interact with each other in intriguing ways.  Invasionblock had lots of cards relating to creatures' colours, and so on.

Now, are Odyssey's cards to do with the graveyard particularly stronger than Invasion's cards to do with colours?  Not especially.  Are Onslaught's creature-type cards particularly good against Odyssey's graveyard-related cards?  Not noticeably.  Are Onslaught's creature-type cards (see MTG: Artificial Evolution) strong against another deck of Onslaught's creature-type cards (for example MTG: Daunting Defender?  Yes, absolutely.  So my claim is: They make new cards to relate interestingly with each other, and not "older cards".

Note that this also encourages people to buy new cards - but through making the new cards fun to play with, rather than making it that people can't win with their old ones any more.  With the exception of a few broken combos, most Onslaught-only decks, Odyssey-only decks, and Invasion-only decks will be of roughly the same strength. --AlexChurchill

Sorry about formatting.  My other contention is that the ratio is closer to 90% than 51%.  That it exists at any noticable level (and every new player notices it - first with 'my starter deck can never beat your prebuilt one' and later with constructed decks of their own) is what I have a problem with.  (Obviously a slight but unnoticeable bias would be unimportant.)  It means less time spent playing 'the game' and more time spent playing the 'design a deck' game.  And this game is just less fun.  (Not necc. so - it just happens to be my opinion that it is so for Magic.) This is largely because deck design is cheifly a solo activity.
AlexChurchill: OK, I can see that if you don't enjoy designing decks, then you're not going to enjoy Game Style B where you spend a large amount of time thinking about, building, and tweaking, your deck construction.  I'll agree that if people have preferences like you, then that isn't a good game for them.  But how about the game where you borrow a deck from someone else and play it against them or someone else, borrowing a deck also?  Sure, you have less control over your deck, but control over your deck seems to be precisely what you're arguing against.  This is how a number of people play MtG at GamesEvening: they'll borrow one of the 20 or so decks brought along by a couple of us, and play someone else playing another deck from the same deck pool.  They can always swap deck for a different one if the matchup is bad.  Would that solve all your problems?
Seperate contention: The presence of 'deck building' guides (complete with whole deck lists) fools a lot of sub-par thinkers into exceedingly boring play, and makes the game less interesting - although it does provide a hand up for skilled players who are trying to get a grip on 'where the game is' again.  Does that sound fairer?  Yes, "sub-par thinkers" is me being elitist again - but I mean the kind of bozo you meet too often who blindly follows instructions they downloaded from the internet.
I know the kind of person you're describing.  I don't actually personally know anyone who has the kind of investment/trading group/cardpool to build any random deck off the internet, due to the large amounts of expensive rares in most of them.  But I'm certainly aware of their existence.  Umm... I don't know quite what you're complaining about, though, or contrasting this to - some other less popular CCGs?  --AlexChurchill

Precisely what context is your objection above in?  If you're wanting to bring along an old deck and play it against someone's new one, at a casual setting like GamesEvening: there shouldn't be any problem.  If you're wanting to build decks with new cards: it's not surprising that you'll have to buy some new cards.  If you're wanting to play semi-regularly with a casual play group: such groups tend to be self-adjusting.  There's very little MetaGame in casual - it'd be unheard-of (and frowned upon) to play Circle of Protection: Red unless you had some use for it in your own deck.  "Make sure you have a few enchantment-destruction cards" is about as far as it goes.  If you're wanting to introduce a new player: see /BarriersToNewPlayers for my arguments against a problem there.  --AlexChurchill
Ok, I'd argue that 'no using circle of protection red' is an incredibly out-of-game rule.  The evolution and enforcement of such rules is another thing which would ake ages to discuss - and involve me abusing the word 'meta' again. ;)
It would be interesting.  But I'd actually like to retract that example - it's a bit fuzzy, and I've realised it doesn't apply as often as I thought.  On retrospect, I don't think it's true that "there's very little MetaGame in casual", so ignore that bit. --AlexChurchill
Secondly, I'd love to see a use beyond "It lets me win against red decks" :)
Oh, really?  Let me introduce you to MikeJeggo sometime. *evilgrin* Cards like MTG: Earthquake, MTG: Citadel of Pain, MTG: Orcish Artillery and others, make it very useful to have MTG: Circle of Protection: Red in the same deck. :)  --AlexChurchill
Ah, self destruction for the sake of just plain destruction.  I thought they'd errata'd all of that sort of thing to be 'Sacrifice' thus preventing you avoiding the cost?
Um.  Why would they errata Orcish Artillery... it deals 2 damage to a target and 3 damage to you.  Not itself, you.  So you can use it repeatedly, but painfully... unless you have your /CoP Red handy.  And just how would you errata a sorcery which deals X damage to everything to use a sacrifice instead?  It could be "X damage to all creatures, and all players lose X life" - to circumvent the damage-prevention issue.  But they want the damage-prevention to be possible... because BreakableSymmetry is fun :)  --AlexChurchill

(answer from Vitenka to "What environment?" question) Casual play in a fixed environment (all cards provided by one person, or maybe a sealed league) is a different (and in my view less interesting) game.  But yes - it does avoid the problem of needing total knowledge (the things you need to know about are fewer) and time/cash expenditure.  I'm talking about 'semi-serious' play, the kind where you are friendly, but want to win (and are willing to buy cards to do so) - where maybe you play a tournament or two.  The kind that I suspect most players who buy more than a single deck are.

Okay - so like GreenOpal and his friends play.  Thanks.  I recall your objection also has the prongs of requiring /EnvironmentKnowledge and raising /BarriersToNewPlayers - I'll discuss those on their own pages.  Here we're talking about MetaGame.
So MetaGame in "semi-serious casual" like you describe: I still assert there's very little.  Unless your deck starts winning most of the games it plays, people won't metagame against it.  If they do, then you'll already have seen the options they have available :)  You'll want to try to ensure your deck has something it can do about nasty enchantments, about big scary creatures, and about people destroying your cards.  And those are just sensible considerations anyway.  Beyond that, I don't think there's much MetaGame required in semi-serious casual - and certainly not requiring you to spend much money.  Do you disagree?  --AlexChurchill

I think we are seeing something of a metagame in our own 'play circle'. The simplest justification for this statement is the general tendancy towards people loading up on copies of MTG: Disenchant - simply because pretty much every deck which is doing well could be notably hurt by this.

Also for consideration are the genaral lack of speed, and the general lack of board-clearers (StuartFraser's white weenie deck, with added MTG: Armageddon ought to be rather good as a result. The envronment is also much more creature-heavy than most (this, I contend, is a feature of Onslaught being the block many of us started/restarted in.)

Certainly, the above considerations were things I took into account when building some of my decks - and I'd hope that it will show, as they do well. (Of course, if lots of other people have been tweaking decks over Easter, then it'll come down to who second guessed who better...)

I guess my point was: If everyone treats it like a metagame, it becomes one. (Oh, and I apologise for building an Astral Slide deck that vaguely resembled a successful Type 2 deck (although it doesn't all that much) - I've decided that works, and will be rebuilding it as R/W land destruction soon...) -- TheInquisitor

(Huh? Circles of Protection are frowned on now? Why? --Stark?)
I was overstating my case.  Please ignore the above comment, I retract it.  --AlexChurchill
(Oh goodgoodgood, my red/white deck is safe. If I ever find it again. Wish I hadn't got rid of that second MTG: Serra Angel, though.)

Is it really MetaGame?

Is 'metagame' really the right word? I mean, to play Warhammer you have to know about the types of army you're likely to face but that's not a 'meta-game'. Or is it? -- SocietyForThePreventionOfCrueltyToThePrefixMeta?
No - just knowing is not a metagame.  But knowing that last tournament everyone played skaven, and that these are the likely strategies for beating that army - and thus will likely be prevalent, and so this deck (which beats those counter strategies) is liable to win more games than it loses (given equal play) is the right one to use...  That seems like a game to me.  And it's certainly based upon data ABOUT the main game.  This same thing does not exist to such an extent in, say, chess - where there is far less inital setup.  (Though, even so, you might wish to look at which openings your likely opponents prefer and which they are weak against and prepare yourself appropriately)
It's by no means unique to magic, though. As you say it happens in chess: one type of opening will be popular for a while until someone works out a counter and then it becomes effectively unplayable. It happens in sports like football where you look at the strategies teams from certain countries use. It's just part of any competitive activity, findng out about your opponents.
Agreed - MetaGame's are everywhere.  That isn't my point of contention. 
I agree with everything you've said about Magic! I was simply questioning why you called it a 'meta'game when it seems to me that choosing cards is just part of the (non-meta) game, a setup phase if you will, and no more 'meta' than choosing where to position your forces in Warhammer or how to open in chess. Otherwise you seem to be saying that all strategy is 'metagame', which is an odd definition.
Well, I've given my definition on another page.  The acty of choosing a good strategy against a known range of likely strategies is part of a normal game (though I guess yes, I'd classify it as meta in a sense)  What I am REALLY calling MetaGame is the turnover of these strategies - the fact that choosing a strategy does not occur once in isolation.  The knowledge of what happenned last time, and pre-empting your opponents counter before they make it is the meta.  A second difference is that these games happen blind.  Whereas in chess you can see what opening your opponent is using and react accordingly, in MtG you have done all (or most) of your reacting before the game starts.  Compare it to prisoners dilemma being a setup for then playing a quick game of draughts - with the loser of PrisonersDilemma having a piece disadvantage.  Pretty minimal meta there.  But if you have repeated prisoners dilema, with memory then things get very different and much deeper.
Still I don't see how it's 'meta': choosing a strategy, whether once or before every bout, is just part of the game, surely? The games consist of various parts, selecting  strategy, implementing it, respoding to your opponent's strategy... that's all part of the game, I'm not sure why you want to call any of it 'meta'.
I name it so that I can talk meaningfully about it.  Call it "Repeated Strategy Decisions" or whatever you like.  I am seperating it from the game solely to discuss it.  Yes, strictly, it is a part of the game (or at least a part of the environment in which the game lives)  I call it a 'something'game because the repeated trials and decisions is as much of a game as the game itself.  That is, if the game was just a little black box that returned the final score given the strategies and a bit of randomness - you could still play the 'something'game and it be a game.  (In both the strict and the fun sense).  I call it 'meta' because that's todays buzzword - and again seems to be the right one.
I guess it depends on how you define the main game. I would treat the main game here as consisting of SelectDeck?, PlayHand?; or in some cases SelectDeck?, PlayHand?, Sideboard, PlayHand?, OptionallyRepeat?. If this is how you're defining the main game then I can see arguments both ways. It's the "SelectDeck?" bit that's under consideration, and I've defined it as part of the main game - but your choice of deck is going to be affected by previous games you've had, and games you've seen the opponent play. Bringing that knowledge in is using information from outside the current main game, and so is not, in a very real sense, part of the main game. Thus I think the use of "meta" is warranted. - ChrisHowlett

Hmm.  What you say may be correct, Chris, but it's not the way the phrase "MetaGame" is normally used in MtG contexts.  You may define the "main game" as including SelectDeck?; the general Magic community doesn't.  Whether or not "meta" is a technically accurate term for the SelectDeck? aspect of Magic playing, it's so strongly entrenched that I don't see it changing any time soon.  So using "metagame" to mean anything substantially different in MtG contexts is setting yourself up to be misunderstood.  They also agree that your results in tournaments are strongly affected by these collective SelectDeck? choices, but certainly also maintain there's huge amounts of playskill involved.  (See the discussion at the bottom of [this article] for examples of tournament-level decks and how to play them against each other.)  --AlexChurchill
In which case, surely, if the main game doesn't contain SelectDeck?, then the use of "Meta" is even more warranted?

And so ignorance and buzzwords triumph again. Synergise!

Yes, meta is an overused BuzzWord - but it has become so because it is useful.  It identifies an overlapping problem domain which can usefully be considered in isolation - even if such a separation is not entirely correct.  As for ignorance - I don't agree.  The 'playing the hand' phase of the game is far less skilled than the phase of choosing which cards to play with. (Picking which sideboards to use in your second and third rounds are somewhere in between, IMHO)
There is some skill differentiation - top play will almost always show you a way that you COULD have won from a given situation, especially if you want to start doing stats on how long you have to wait for a given card to show up.  But that differentiation is minimal compared to the differentiation shown by choosing the 'correct' deck.  Again - some deck matchups show interesting play.  Others do not.  And yes, reporting vastly overgeneralises because even a card by card play doesn't shed much enlightenment unless you are there.  (Then again, I still maintain that the average deck construction oversimplifies and minimises player involvement at the game level - you can build decks that make play interesting and which stand a good chance against all forms of play - but the average deck builder chooses not to.  The 'oh, this is in theme - in go four' rule is far too rigidly adhered to.)  --Vitenka

But it is frequently correct to put in four of whatever it was - because the deck would work even better with 6 or 8, or whatever, but 4 is the most one is permitted. Generally, you have two classes of card: A 'unique' one, the deck needs to play - in which case, running fewer than 4 is just silly. Or, alternatively, one for which many smilar alternatives exist ('attacking creature' being such a class, normally) - usually, then, you might want (say) 10 members of this class, and you'll want the best ones. Since it often is possible to assign a 'best', putting in fours until you run out of space is the way top go.
Yes, there is the other school of deck construction which says 'put in one card which will utterly defeat each other possible strategy out there, and some cards to find them' - and such decks are indeed built (and are allegedly very hard to play 'well' - but devestating when they are) - however, in most formats of Magic, Wizards have gone out of their way to make this archetype impossible to build/use, because it is rather frustrating to play against. (Type 1 is the obvious exception - with decks either being built like this, or built to win despite this sort of deck). Finally, if you have a 'consistent' deck construction, you can make useful guesses about the probability of the card you need being one of the next (say) five cards you will draw - and hence about your chances of winning if you just keep going and hope. With just a single copy of the card, you're back to blind luck, really.
I contend that playing a deck which produces truly random draws (something containing just 1-2 of any given card) requires a *little* more skill in playing the cards in your hand, since the selection will be wider. However, playing one where you can get useful information about the chances of finding the 'solution' you need in time, and similar calculations, gives you more information to work with, and a decent chance of the correct decision having a better outcome than the incorrect one - that would seem to me to reward skill. Of course, constructing a deck so as to contain the right number of various things requires skill, and would seem to me to be the metagame aspect of Magic. (How many disenchants do I run so as to be able to slow down serious enchantment-based decks, without having too many dead draws against creature rush decks? Seems like a metagame question to me... How many people *run* enchantment heavy decks? Depends on the local metagame...)
Having said all that, if you know nothing about the metagame, you can still build a good deck. If you are unlucky, it will be of a type everyone else was expected to use, and hence a type most decks there are designed to do well against. If you are lucky, nobody will be expecting it, since it was illogical, and you will do better as a result. I suggest that people probably pick the 'correct' deck type on purpose more often than they do by chance. -- TheInquisitor

I can unerstand this (and think it a flaw in the game that a four card limit is required to balance it) - but I still think it is taken too far.  When two cards are almost the same for your main purposes, far too many people blindly take four of the 'best' one, rather than splitting it.  Making the split gives you more variance, the chance of having a better match - even keeping your opponent mentally off balance is an advantage.  Of course, you don't want to sacrifice your intent completely - but I think too many players create decks blindly.  Then again, that's the fault of too many net guides and many top players not giving away 'tuning'.  The sideboard, being smaller, is generally tuned better.
Also, only certain decks play with the probabilities - those designed to run the game a medium length of time.  Short games obsess over it (put in four of these because I *need* one in my starting hand) but generally try to stuff the deck to the gills with seek.  I think the loosening up of the restrictions on seek is a good thing.  Long games, of course, know that the card will come up, whatever it is :)
I'm not arguing that putting four of everything is sometimes (even usually, perhaps) the right thing to do - I just think that far too many people take it to extremes.  Playing against such people in other games is nothing short of a joy, their play is simple, predictable - and though they rely upon a powerful strategy and have the numbers on their side, you can see it coming a mile off and spoil it.
Also, I wasn't really talking about pure spoiler decks - and utterly despise cheese strategies with a single break card (they lead to MetaGame 'do I play with this in case someone tries the cheese?' type play) - or, possibly worse, to games in which both sides play past each other, aiming for their goal with minimal interference and just trying to win first.  Instead I meant gameplay where your activities are not wholly predictable ahead of time.  I guess the closest magic can get is a mixed burn / combo deck.  Do damage until you can get the combo set up, or just throw the combo into the burn - it gives you more gameplay options.  Building 'pure' decks sacrifices that flexibility and should make you lose more, but does make the game less interesting.  --Vitenka

Okay, example: I've built a deck which has the interaction between two enchantments as its centerpiece. It's designed to shut down creature decks, especially tribal ones. Because I want to get them out fast (I can't defeat a creature rush if they've already dealt 20 damage, after all...) I basically *need* to run 4 copies of each. I also added the only tutor I could find, and four cards designed to search through lots of cards fast (yes, they're all the same. I happened to have only 1 suitable card, and four copies of it). Add to that some land (some of it selected to allow me to get lots of mana in either colour, and most of the rest designed to let me run thorugh the deck fast - as many of each as I could fit in) and I have about 20 spaces left.
What's the obvious killer? Disenchant. It's so annoying that (since I'm running blue) I basically have to be able to counter it. 8 counterspells (four of which are the next best thing to a counterspell I could find) give me a good chance of having one for every disenchant the opponent draws, assuming they have 3-4, which most people do. What to do with the rest of the slots? I started by putting in lots of fun tricks to use when the combo was partially set up - but found that once it was set up, the game was mine, and a 'win more' card was useless. Thus I've put in some smallish creatures, with the intention of getting in the way of early rushes (which often got to me before I could get mana and cards together), and possibly for beating up people who were totally creatureless (since I can counterspell/disenchant their own strategy for dealing with creatures). I'll try that against people, and see what to do next. The creatures are in nothing like sets of four, but the rest of the cards are pretty much inserted four at a time (I did retain a few of the better tricks, at one card each, because I could). I don't think anything else would be justifiable.
As for 'break cards' I mean things like MTG: Wrath of God. If you're using lots of creatures to attack someone, and they dig out Wrath, you have problems. If you then set up a combo, and they find from somewhere a Counterspell on a key component, they've broken your strategy. These aren't cards which are cheese strategies (arguably), but they are ones which can turn 'lose' into 'don't lose' if you can find them. Pack a deck with lots of cards like this, and you have a solution to every deck you face (in theory) - so you win by default. That's different from exploiting an actually broken combo - and is also rather harder, since you have to work out what your opponent is doing, then find your solution to it.
As to your combo/burn point, if I have a combo which means I win when it goes off, why am I better off adding burn to it, instead of cards which make it go off faster/better/more reliably/despite inteference? If I had the combo set up anyway, I win, so the burn is irrelevant. And if not, half-hearted burn won't do anything except delay the inevitable against an opponent who is going all-out for his strategy (creature rush, say). Flexibility is good, but I'd be better served in making my combo more flexible than I would in adding an attempt at another win condition. -- TheInquisitor

That end there is exactly the logic I am fighting against.  If a deck can do only one thing, it is fundamentally less interesting than one that can do lots of things.  Magic is very ill suited to this, which makes it a poorer game IMHO.  Combo and burn is about the only thing I can think of that does actually work.  You've got something similar with your 'little critters and combo' - and the logic is basically the same.  The burn or critters let you win before the combo comes off - and against someone going slower to stop your creatures, you get time to pull off the combo.  Obviously, having the combo capable of becoming part of the burn, and vice-versa, is best.

What you are calling break cards are more interesting than direct combo stoppers (BabylonFiveCCG? is particularly bad for having those) - but they do allow people to design decks with obvious glaring weaknesses and simple 'oh - this card covers that' fixes.  This I think is less fun than havinjg to build things which cope (to a greater or lesser extent) in all situations.  I am envisaging some kind of game without such global 'shut down strategy n' cards.  Of course, magic is balanced precariously enough that the MetaGame would probably implode if you were just to remove such things.  --Vitenka

It's a blue/white deck, so burn really isn't going to happen. But yes, there is definite synergy between the combo and the creatures. I think the basic problem with Magic, from that point of view, is that being good at everything is impossible, so one must specialise, in order to be succesful. However,  have to admit that if every deck 'had' to contain weenies, burn, combos and control - and the only variety was in how you emphasised it, and how efficiently you packed it all in, you'd lose a lot of variety in deck construction.
Certainly the player should be good at all of these, but it is part of the appeal, to me, to be able to build a deck which just focuses all out on something specific. This will naturally leave glaring weakneses - so the existence of strategy hosers (a more usual term for them than 'break cards', I think) allows for this. Whatever deck you build has to be able to cope with whatever the opponent's deck does, but it does not need to be able to win in every possible way - just one (or more, but 'optimal' decks tend to have just one). I don't think there's ever been a CCG in which this wasn't the case: Defence/holding action on most fronts, while pushing for a win in a specific direction.
Many of the strategy hosers were put in specifically to rebalance the metagame, and yes, it's precarious. MTG: Tsabo's Decree is a classic example (being added after Rebel decks absolutely dominated for a few months - with 'every deck either being a rebel deck, or being specifically designed to beat one'. So yes, it's a badly designed game, in many regards. I'm just impressed it works at all. -- TheInquisitor

Well, I'd say it doesn't work - it just (usually) falls over slowly enough that the next expansion is ready in time to set it falling the other way in time.  Then again, the same can be said of walking.
The problem (to my mind) with hosers is that they are very generic and require little or no thought to use.  I have no problem with choosing a single attack direction and defending in all others - I have a problem when that is the ONLY viable strategy, and when such defence consists of, in principle, saying "neener neener - that can't hurt me".  The byplay of many such defences is better than that - but equally others are fairly literal.  (The evolution and acceptance of 'I win' combos is a big bad example)  And, worse (or at least, more germane to this discussion) they are usually decided in the metagame.  Will this defence work against that opponent?  Depends whether they drew sufficient to counter it.  Did they?  Depends what they built into the deck.  How can you improve your defence?  Rebuild your deck... And so on and on.  --Vitenka

MTG: Circle of Protection: Red is perhaps the best example of a strategy hoser - it totally shuts down a monored deck, and is commonly included in sideboards to ensure an auto-win against these decks. (Red has no way of dealing wit enchantments, and is much better stopped than Black by this card). You'll notice from comments above that it is quite seriously frowned upon in casual, because building a red deck around it is very tedious (but can be done, as demonstrated by every red deck to actually be played seriously).
There are other viable strategies - so-called 'aggro', where one works to stop the opponent doing anything delicate, via forced discard, land destruction, and so forth - control will generally work, of course - and finally, there's 'win faster'. Of those, aggro is the most 'interestng' game-wise (although some would argue that bluff/double bluff/etc of control decks going at each other is an interesting game - IMO, it can be, but is a different game - not that this is an automatically bad thing), and does lend itself quite well to winning, as well - without being too specific in what it does.
As for 'I win' combos. They're not really much worse than someone playing a 10/10 trampling creature. You either deal with it, or you die. The trouble comes when they are played on turn 2, and people can't deal with it, due to not really having begun, yet. Because combos rely on card interactions, it's harder to avoid making them. (As demonstrated by their existence).
But yes, there is a metagame element to it. If you can find a new and exciting combo which nobody else has, and which can be set up despite defences against other strategies people have prepared for, then you will likely have an easy time. This seems unavoidable.
I, personally, rather like the way games can shift significantly in tone - the same deck might easily switch from racing the opponent to get to 20 damage first, to trying to bluff it's way past a wall of counterspells, to trying to decide which of those three elements is critical to the forthcomng combo, and must be removed (given just a single burn spell). Most other CCGs are rather more constrained (e.g. Netrunner. You will always be making runs, using your icebreakers against their ice - there is no way to avoid this, and you must try to do it well.). Variety is good, but a necessary part of it is broader defence being necessary. It's still fun, despite problems - but winning tournaments requires lots of metagame knowledge as a result. C'est la vie - I can cope without tournaments... -- TheInquisitor

AlexChurchill: Vitenka appears to still be arguing against the way MtG tournaments worked 5 years ago.  Wizards have got rather better at balancing sets to make (even tournament-level) games genuinely fun to play since then.  I'd urge everyone who thinks there's no gameplay (or even no non-metagameplay) to go and read 5 articles on current tournament decks before you come back saying "it doesn't work" when you mean "it didn't work 3 years ago".
And re the having-multiple-different-tricks thing: I recently discovered I'd built one of my "wacky" decks in such a way that it's got three completely distinct ways to win.  It aims to play MTG: Mortal Combat and meet its condition; but even if all 4 of them end up in its own graveyard, it can either kill the opponent with damage from a giant MTG: Revenant (I have 2 in the deck), or it can deck the opponent with the single MTG: Ambassador Laquatus, MTG: Traumatize, or one of the two MTG: Dreamborn Muses in the deck.  And it's the most fun deck to play I've built in a while.  My point is, how many other CCGs even give you a hope of finding 3 completely different ways to win like this?

I should observe that I've been reading about Type 1 rather more than about more 'updated' formats, of late - which has probably coloured my view somewhat. I'm trying to build a deck which doesn't win via "Establish total control of the game. Opponent generally resigns, but failing that, bash them with a random creature until they die, or something..." (My Clerics won via one of: Test of Endurance, Creature swarm via having more creatures, Creature swarm via Akroma's Blessing (everything gets throgh for a turn), Doubtless One, with protection from the opponents' colour - or, finally, being impregnable, and decking the opponent (this has never happened, but resignation on the grounds it was inevitable happened quite a lot). Slow improvement to that deck would eventually remove at least two of those win conditions, were I aiming for maximum win ratio.) -- TheInquisitor

{Short, will explain view later} I agree that I am out of touch with the actual game, but don't think tourney reports would help one iota.  I agree that magic probably has more ways of winning than other games - but I think that much of the gameplay is in choosing which one to go for, and very little is in the actual doing.  Personally, I think that the game is worse off for this.  As justification I suggest NetRunner - which actually had four weays of winning, only one of which was really viable at first.  Then they added more, and the metagame took off - and, well, it just wasn't as good as the smaller game.
Then again, one of the advantages of meta, as suggested earlier, is that it prevents the (gradual, inevitable) evolution of the one 'best' deck - which would then itself lead to the evolution of 'best' play.  This would be very dull.  Having the environment large enough that you have to learn more than one strategy is a good thing.  --Vitenka

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