Hello and welcome back to TheBoxer’s Corner! Today I’m going to give you my take on the classic question “who’s the beatdown?” First asked by Mike Flores and then Zvi Moshowitz. The theory states that victory is determined by correct assessment of roles in a match-up. Flores focuses on the more traditional idea of one deck being the aggressor and the being control. Moshowitz abstracts this idea by focusing on the idea of inevitability and what happens if the game goes arbitrarily long. Both are amazing articles that you should read if you have knowledge of Magic: The Gathering, however they are not absolutely necessary to understand this article.
Definition: An endgame is a possible outcome of a matchup.
Definition: A player is said to have inevitability if as time goes on, more possible endgames lead to their victory.
An important distinction between my definition of inevitability and Moshowitz’ is that in my definition inevitability for the matchup is not determined on turn 1. Some matchups have a kind of path dependence that leads to non-deterministic behavior. An example of this is Stonescar aggro vs Unitless control. If the SS aggro player is able to get the control player down to a low enough life total (probably 3) before the board is stabilized then their Flame Blasts and Torches will give them inevitability. The Unitless player must act to end the game quickly because the likely endgame is them getting burned out. As time goes on, being burned out is the more likely outcome.
Definition: A critical point is an action that causes a change in inevitability.
One example of a critical point is the scenario above. The Unitless player going to 3 life is a critical point. Other critical points depend on resource allocation. A topical example of a critical point is a Xenan Strangers player playing out their only copy of Strange Navigator on turn 2 against FTJ control. If this unit dies then the inevitability shifts from the Xenan player to the FTJ player. A third example of a critical point – and one that will lead us into our next topic – is in the FJS midrange mirror in Throne. To be specific, by the word mirror, I mean the 80 card mirror. If player one uses Display of Ambition early on as a removal spell, then player 2 gains inevitability.
Critical points can happen even before a card is played. The texture of some matchups are determined by what hands each player keeps. Keeping a hand without a 1 drop can be a critical point. Ark of Sol is a card that has made opening hands without 1 drop cultists be a critical point for some matchups.
Definition: A resource is some kind of advantage that may be spent to make game actions. Examples are life, cards, power, opportunity, time, and information. However this list is not exhaustive.
Definition: Resource allocation is the choice to devote resources to move the game towards a certain endgame or set of endgames.
In some sense each player is paying resources to give a weight or pull to certain endgames. Certain endgames are more costly to weight than others, and certain resources are better at paying for this weight than others. Life is an important resources in many aggro mirrors and can be used to influence how the game evolves to a great degree. However in control mirrors, the payment of 1 card may be the same as 5 life (this of course is not an exact number, just one that I feel gives the correct intuition). By spending a resource you instantaneously change the value of all other resources both you and your opponent have. Critical points are often induced by correct or incorrect allocation of scarce resources. Mirror matches in particular often revolve around specific cards that dominate the game, and incorrectly assessing if your opponent can answer them at will cause you to lose. An example of resource allocation is an FTP player using Ice Bolt on their own own Merchant. in order to play Heart of the Vault a turn early. They are allocating resources to push the game towards a “tempo victory.” They realize they do not have inevitability and so they must end the game as quickly as possible. A weird example of resource allocation is mulliganing to 6. You are paying a card in order to increase the weight of certain outcomes. We can now define “the beatdown.”
Definition: A player is the beatdown if the correct strategy for them is to allocate resources towards endgames that become less likely as the game progresses.
Resource allocation inherently involves hidden information. Each player values resources differently based on the cards in their hand and deck. By allocating resources, a player gives their opponent information about how they value resources, and how they see the state of the game. This in and of itself is a resource that changes in value depending on the shrewdness of a player’s opponent. Bluffing is an allocation of resources that depends on meta-information (not the same as information about the metagame) knowledge about how your opponent sees the matchup changes the costs of allocating resources to specific endgames.
So you may be asking, “how do I use this information to help me win more games?” In this last part of the article I’m going to explain the big takeaways from this theory – specifically how it helps you think about matchups. When practicing/strategizing a matchup you should brainstorm a list of likely endgames. Next you should ask what has to happen for each of them to happen, what critical points should you be weary of and how valuable each resource is. You should have these in mind when you are making mulliganing decisions.
Another important point is that “the beatdown” is non-transitive. If deck A is likely “the beatdown” against deck B, and deck B is likely “the beatdown” against deck C, that does NOT imply deck A is likely “the beatdown” against deck C. In last expedition format, TJP control was “the beatdown” against AP mid, and AP mid was “the beatdown” against FJS mid, but TJP control was NOT the beatdown against FJS mid. The reason for this non-intutitive idea of non-transitivity is the value of resources depends greatly on how threats and answers line up, and inevitability depends on the value of resources and how they are allocated. This is why is dislike getting too caught up in the idea of pedantically classifying a deck as aggro, midrange, or control. Being fixating on naming conventions we deprive ourselves of a deeper understanding of how individual matchups, and the metagame as a whole work. Certain matchups can be really weird and are often only winnable if you think about them in a more abstract way than you normally would.
I hope you enjoyed my two cents on this classic card game theory topic, I’m always looking to write more articles about theory, so if you have any classic theory ideas from Magic: the Gathering that you want me to give my take on, tag me on Twitter, ping me on Discord, or comment on this article on Reddit. My next article is going to be about Carver decks in Throne, a topic I’m very excited about. Tusen takk for at du leser (thousand thanks for reading)!