Embracing Variance

Variance is a tricky mistress, at singular events it is very intuitive but when It comes to large numbers our intuition is seldom correct. The result of this dissonance hurts us when it comes to gaming, since almost every game we play has random elements embedded in it. I’ll try to make this point clearer with an example from TESL.

Say you are running an awesome midrange warrior deck and you’ve played over 100 games with this deck, winning at a 70% clip and crushing your way to Legend. Suddenly you just can’t catch a break and you lose 5 straight games. Your intuition rightfully tells you how unlucky you are, you played well and you just could not get anything to work for you.

Its pretty easy to calculate the odds of this happening due to variance alone, since each game is an independent event the chances of losing 5 straight would be 0.3^5 or about 0.25%. this is a very unlikely event, right? It would only happen once in 400 times and it happened to you twice in one week!!! The game must be rigged against you or your archetype. Or maybe the game is programed to not let you make legend.

Or maybe this sort of thing happens all the time.

Because we don’t really consider other people we have this tendency to look at ourselves without taking into consideration the other players in game. Simply put if a deck with a 70%WR has a 1:400 chance of losing 5 straight games, how likely is it to happen to someone today? Well, since thousands of people are playing at the same time, it is going to happen to several people every day, you just happened to be one of them today. And since these events are completely unrelated it could also happen again tomorrow and would still not indicate that anything is in any way wrong.

The effects of this are very real and very important for our success playing these type of games, because if we fill pissed off at our misfortune, if we don’t embrace variance for what it is, Three things are likely to happen:

  1. We may reach the wrong conclusions about our decisions – We have the tendency to judge our decision based on the result. If a play worked out and we won the game it must have been the right decision, if we lost we made a mistake. That is absolutely false, the success of an individual event say nothing about the accuracy of our decision. The only thing we want to know is what would have been the right decision had we made this decision an infinite number of times. In other words, what is the expected value of each decision?
  2. We may unjustifiably change our deck or even give up on our deck – To get a real feel for a decks’ WR we need to play a lot. We’ve already shown how easily you can go 0 for 5 with a great deck so I think its pretty easy to understand now that going 15-5 with a deck does not mean it is very good (or any good TBH) and we may go 5-15 in a deck that is actually pretty good.
  3. Tilt – Your worst enemy. The feeling of injustice from a unlucky streak often makes us play suboptimal. Our emotions get the best of us and we try to win back what is rightfully ours. We play angry and without noticing we make bad decision because of that.

Embracing variance is of course easier said then done, it is not easy not to get upset when bad luck strikes. but over the years I have found things that help me out. Other people have other methods of dealing with this but finding a way to that works for you will surely improve your results. A key is to understand that playing angry is bad for you, after a bad loss or an unlucky streak I would just step away from the game (even for just 5 minutes) and remind myself this is just variance. I’d usually play a game of solo arena to relax and get back to the ladder when I feel ready. I also made a rule for myself to only change my deck after a fixed number of games and usually only following a win. (I’m not changing this deck for 20 games, I’ll see how it works against different archetypes for 20 games and decide if changes are needed after I’m done, no matter how badly it goes).

Please share if you have any of your own tips for dealing with variance, we would all benefit from it.




  1. I try to level out my tilt on bad games by remembering the great top decks I windmill slam. Variance works both ways so don’t let the bad ones get you down.

    Liked by 1 person

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