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Saturday, January 29, 2011

FreeRelease: Mirrodin Besieged

That's right folks, no typo there. I used a $25 store credit to pay my entry, and despite not opening any super chase cards, I still managed to open or trade for $32 in cards specifically on my shopping list. Of course, that is in addition to the $11 in trade-bait rares I added to my binder, and the more then 70 un/commons for my personal collection. This was a definitive win value wise, unfortunately that did not translate to match results.

It has long ago come to my attention that Sealed is not my format, having not produced a winning record since the release of Xth edition. Yes really, it's been that long. My seemingly limitless lack of skill, coupled with my need to maximize my value/cost relationship of my Magic efforts, I tend to not play in these events unless there is a clear value added. This most often comes in the form of the special foil promo card distributed for participation. The card of this event, Hero of Bladehold, having a $10 value and already being on my shopping list, made this an event worth entering. In addition, I got to play Eternal formats for roughly 6 hours waiting for midnight to roll around, and had the well enjoyed opportunity to share food and libations with good friends. Not a bad evening in my opinion, even if I didn't find my bed until 5am.

One of the unexpected shifts when they reintroduced basic lands into packs, and dropped the common count by one, was the reduction in removal options in sealed. It has been the most frustrating aspect of recent sealed deck evens for me, and many others I've spoken with. Assuming the construction of a 2 color deck, the expected playable on-color quality removal options has statistically been reduced from 3 to 2. True, this is only a reduction of one quality card for your deck, but from another perspective, it's a 33% reduction in your good removal. This not only leads directly to lost games and matches, it is an obstacle which I have yet to overcome. The inclusion of a common colorless quality creature removal spell in each set would solve this problem for the majority of sealed pools. This "artifact" block has yet to provide a single one. What the heck Wizards? It's an artifact block, and we don't get good colorless removal. What more of an excuse do you need?

The last issue effects Sealed, but is far more visible in Draft, pertaining to the print/pack runs of commons. Players have long since known that Wizards R&D develops cards with several play options in mind. Maro has described these as Limited, Constructed/Niche, and Skill Testing cards. With 10 commons in the pack, the ideal would be to have 3-4 of each type per pack. This would give each pack very normalized playability. There is nothing more frustrating for a player then opening a pack in limited which adds little to nothing to your optimal deck. When there is not enough attention given to the print/pack runs, it creates pockets of above/below average cards. You get packs with 5+ very playable cards in them, and even worse packs with 0-2 playable cards. A sub-par pack means that in an 8 man pod, at best, only 25% of the players are happy with even on of their picks. This is an easy opportunity to shift from a recruitment stand point, to one of retention. I can't imagine many things more likely to blow a player out of a draft format then for any of there first 3 picks to be total crap.

While this issue may be harder to spot in Sealed then in Draft, it is far more devastating. Now we aren't talking about 1-2 wasted picks, you could be looking at 14 wasted cards! Lets look at a couple of different players potential pools. Lets assume an above average pack has 5+ highly playable cards, and average pack has 3-4, and a sub-par pack has 0-2. In addition lets assume an average pool contains 2 of each pack type, yielding an expected 16-22+ highly playable cards. I think most any player would feel good about having opened that pool.

Now lets look at what happens when poorly designed print/pack runs shake up the normal pool a bit. First up lets look at a lucky player, who gets just one of his sub packs replaced by an above average pack, thus yielding a pool of 21-25+ highly playable cards. Yes, they may have to cut highly playable cards in order to run enough basic lands, and still come in at 40 total cards. Now lets look at the poor unfortunate who gets one of his above-average packs replaced by a sub-par pack. It yields a pool of 11-19 highly playable cards. Still not to bad at face value. This does mean that a player with as few as 11 playable cards may well sit across the table from the guy with 25+. A poor pool could easily be 15-65% worse then a good pool. Numbers like that can be impossible to overcome.

Do you think, all else being equal, that both of these players are having the same level of fun? Do you think both these players are equally likely to be repeat players at these types of events? It's an issue. It is effecting playability of your product. It can't be that hard to fix, since card types are pretty much already identified in the development process. It can't take that much time to provide a better balance to print/pack runs. Get on it Wizards, this is an easy fix that will have positive impact for your players, product, and sales!