Essential Magic Articles


Magic Parsimony

by Solpugid

When conducting scientific research it is widely accepted that a simple way of performing an experiment is better than a complex way. As long as they yield the same results, the process with the fewest steps is the best. This is the scientific definition of parsimony. But this doesn't just relate to science. People experience it all the time in everyday life. If you walk out of your house hoping to get to a car, or a mailbox, you take the shortest route possible to get there. If you want to open a can of soda you use the little metal tab, not a can-opener.

This same principle applies very well to competitive Magic (especially constructed formats), but a surprising few people have nailed it down. After many years of playing (until about a week ago) I hadn't really understood it myself. This article is designed to put this "rule" in simple terms that explains why it's so important, and why its neglect has caused so many problems.

Magic formats are usually defined (at least in larger events) by a standardized metagame. This is the group of decks that are supposedly the strongest, or at least most resilient, and have thus risen to the top tiers. I won't argue that these are always the best decks, but simply ones that have proven they have the capacity to win events. As a good example, there is the Dragonstorm deck running around right now that abuses the namesake card to power out a bunch of angry dragons (mostly Bogardan Hellkite) and win the game on the spot. It's powerful, and quite resistant to hate if played well (which has earned it a spot in the top tiers).

Now, continuing our discussion of the dragonstorm deck, we need to examine what the deck is comprised of. Besides the dragonstorm itself, and the dragons to win the game, the deck has card draw, mana acceleration, and a few control elements. It's a good deck, but some people aren't satisfied. I've talked to quite a few people around me, and online, that want to "fix" the deck. One friend said something along these lines:

"Yeah the deck is great, but it just relies on that one card. What if you don't draw it? I think I'm going to try it with four dragonstorm AND four Ignite Memories."

At first it seems like an okay idea. More ways to win, less chance of losing before you find your win condition. But what would you take out of the deck to make room? If you took out draw you would eliminate some of the advantage of having more win conditions. If you remove mana acceleration, you would increase the chance of being unable to storm high enough, or unable to power out the dragonstorm if that's what you draw. Take out the control elements and the dreaded Trickbind is often all an opponent needs to stop you. Beyond this, ignite memories might not even win you the game when you play it.

In attempting to "improve" the deck, in this case by finding extra ways to do what the deck wants to do, my friend unknowingly weakened it. The simpler deck was definitely the better one. This is Magic parsimony. The example above is only one of many I've come across.
I've also seen people try to combo Donate with cards like Steel Golem or Thought Lash. The problem here is that, while both of those cards combo quite well with donate, this deck idea has been done in a simpler (and better) way. I'm speaking of course of adding Illusions of Grandeur to the deck.

Countless people have decided to make five-color sliver decks, in order to use "all the best slivers". The issue is that in playing that many colors you set yourself up for losing games you shouldn't. You could have the perfect mana base and still get screwed by a Wasteland taking out your only sources of, say, green and blue mana. Sliver decks are much more effective (as has been proven by many a play-tester) as 2-4 color decks.

Last edited 3/22/2007 1:16:53 PM Page 1 of 2  Prev  Next  Go to page:

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