@joshuabrooks by that rationale the question of why someone takes offense to be calling lucky also applies. Self confidence has just been propped up so much it's an affront to their persona when not praised for "skill"

@Stormanimagus I don't know about that. People get lucky or unlucky all the time while playing magic. I don't think you're supposed to acknowledge this every single time you get "lucky" in a game of magic. It's simply part of the game and should not frustrate anybody.

Ahhh. One of my favorite topics of all time.

This is actually one of the most complicated topics in Magic, and there are many.

The fundamental problem is that the framing of the question suggests a zero-sum dichotomy - that as luck increases, skill decreases, and as skill increases, luck is reduced.

In fact, the relationship between luck and skill in Magic, and Vintage in particular, is far more complicated. My view is that the presence of luck actually makes Magic a more skillful game than if Magic were entirely deterministic. I don't have time at the moment to get into it too much, but the basic reason for this is that many of the "Skills" in Magic - or the traits that we regard as skill - would not exist if Magic were deterministic.

Not only have I written several Starcitygames articles on this topic, but there are huge posts on the old themanadrain in which Kevin and I broke out the various elements that people regard as skill (mulliganing, in game decision making, metagaming, etc.), and demonstrated how almost each depends on random elements.

If this analysis is correct, then it suggests that the presence of luck or variance doesn't make Vintage less skillful, but rather more. Obviously, this may be a matter of degree, because of the luck element was too much, then it would be hard to call Magic a skill game, but I think Vintage is almost always determined by skill, even when luck is involved.

The main problem that people have - and the reason they get frustrated - is because when they lose because of a bad top deck, they fail to recognize that there were other decisions they could have made that would have rendered that luck irrelevant (like deck choice).

last edited by Smmenen

What if a player rolls 7 times mana crypt and gets hurt 6, when he has lethal on board? and if your opponent has T1 twister against your fowless (playing blue) hand and new hand has 0 manasources? And if your only out to BSC is swords and you draw it from the top, without manipulation? Or when you are playing MUD, all the lands you draw are ancient tombs?

Magic is a game of probabilities, and if you get killed by your own crypt is because there is a chance you can die to it, or if you draw swords from top is because you are playing it. In some way, when you win, you have been lucky enough to draw the right cards for the win. If you mull to 1, you have been probably unlucky. But if that card is a mindbreak trap and your opponent wastes all his resources on a T1 lethal tendrils without duressing you, you actually have been pretty lucky.

Our decisions when choosing the 75 cards, when mulliganing or not, in which order we play our threats or keep mana to interact, affect the game. Gitaxian probe gives more information, sensei divining's top filter your draws, reducing uncertainty. But there are times when you cannot rely on anything else than that 3% of chances to draw the right answer. And if you succeed, you have been lucky. And if you need a third mana source and you don't draw it after 6 turns (assuming normal manabase), you have been unlucky.

I don't quite understand how the whole luck vs skill works (seems very complicated). What I've found however is, that it is very humbling to acknowladge it's there and learn how not to get frustrated by it. It's one of the most challenging things I've experienced playing magic. Obviously, people are different and approach this issue differently. But ultimately, I believe one has to learn how to deal with that to enjoy magic properly.

@Juggernaut-GO thanks for clarifying. The reason I wrote the post was that I think a bit of introspection on my part was in order. There's been many times I know I get lucky e.g. Winning crucial mana crept flip, hail mary gush intro fow or using last point of life to draw the one card you need of bargain, and I'll be the first to acknowledge it.

In this case the difference was, at the end of the game I didn't feel lucky. By listing plays I was not trying to imply it was skill that won that game. I was doing a thought experiment - given your sequence of plays, were my draws particularly unlikely ie lucky. I think I concluded that yes if you define a luck as a sequence of events occurring more often than would be dictated by chance in that sense I did get lucky. And given it was the opening 8 that won it I could even work out the odds of that happening. Sorry it came across the other way.

There is also nice recording from Magic Cruise 2012 with Dr. Richard Garfield on topic "Luck Versus Skill" : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSg408i-eKw

There is also the whole concept of turning nominal draws into SKILL. ie, a skillful player would know to bluff or something where as an unskilled player would do nothing with his nominal draw and ultimately the "hidden" information that the opponent does not have.

Its minor things like these, as well as capitalizing on every incremental advantage you can get. Vintage, in my opinion, is some of the tightest unforgiving magic one can play. Because of that, if one wants to do well, they need to turn incremental advantage into momentum then use that momentum to cripple an opponent, often in a quick fashion.

The opponent may look at this as he got lucky with his draws or I got unlucky with my draws etc etc however, after looking at matches, I found that most often enough, the loss/win can be tracked and for the most part directly correlated to the amount of incremental advantage (basically CA in general terms, includes trading other resources for opponents resources such as life or cards in deck)

Let me spin this another way for a second. How do players feel when an opponent admits to luck? For instance ("yeah, I drew that wasteland last turn," or "lucky you didn't have FoW, I just decided to go for it," or "yeah, I'd be dead next turn if I didn't draw this Tinker."

Is this annoying, validating, or helpful. Just curious.

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I generally dont pay much attention to anything an opponent does, comments on etc etc. From what I found, not caring about them and focusing on the game is better for me to focus.

When i do get lucksacked, i usually acknowledge the loss and take it like a man. Shit happens what are you gonna do.

@joshuabrooks I don't like to pay attention to how lucky my opponent got. It's very easy to ignore all the mistakes you made in the game if you focus on the fact that your opponent got lucky. In general, I find it helpful to just accept that there is variance and to take every loss as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.

@joshuabrooks I take it like small talk. It does sometimes help to know how the choices should have been made better or worst, but most of the time it doesn't matter when he drew Wasteland. His deck is just a black box that produces Wastelands at a certain rate... at some point, given enough time, we're going to see a Wasteland. So it happens... in the end, its a little bit like talking about if it's going to rain tomorrow. Which isn't to say its pointless... its just chit-chat about the game we like playing. Cool man... nice Wasteland. I file this in the same category as when people play with really pimped out decks... nice foil Japanese coolness. But whatever, lets play some cards.

(I think the difference in your scenario is that the other player isn't using the concept of luck to detract from, or to devalue the choicemaking elements of the game.)

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@JohnCJonesJr Add to that the skill required to create the opportunities to capitalize on lucky draws. Like when you see the game change to be not in your favour and start making calculations about that the most likely outs to top deck are and then setting up the opportunity for that top deck to still matter. Last time this happened to me was at the SOI pre-release. I looked at the game state, realized that Triskaidekaphobia off the top next turn was my only out and attacked sub-nominally to ensure that outcome was still possible. I got lucky 🙂 skill was still a factor. Made for an epic outcome for the audience I'd gained by then (It was the last game of the last round)

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I don't think this is really a conversation about luck or skill. You played against someone, you beat them, and they insulted you. It could have been about luck, they could have said something about your skill, they could have said your deck is boring/awful ... they could have said something racist or sexist or otherwise unclassy. It won't be the last time.

I've had people make fun of me for netdecking when I was playing an archetype that I invented. Setting the record straight wouldn't have helped me any.

I've had people make fun of me for topdecking a counterspell when I had it in my opening hand - it just didn't occur to them that I might not care about the bait spell he played the turn before. I could have told him, but that just means he might play around it next time.

I can't count the number of times people have made fun of me for running unexpected cards, right after that card beats them. Why defend the choice and have them sideboard for it next time?

Every game you shuffle your deck and every game you make decisions.
Do some games involve more luck than others?
... Who cares.
... Your opponent?
Good. Let him.

If you're just trying to have a good time, you're going to have to learn to ignore angry opponents, no amount of skill or luck is going to stop someone who's tilted from finding something mean to say.

If you're trying to save face with other players - talking about luck basically always looks bad. Whether you're saying that you didn't get lucky, or your opponent did get lucky ... it doesn't matter if it's true, it doesn't come across well, and people remember when talks about it all the time

If you want to get better at the game, it's in your best interest to think that ALL of your wins were lucky, and that ALL of your losses came from play decisions. Even if that's not true, it benefits you to believe it.

@Smmenen I feel like we should distinguish between luck and variance here? What do we mean when we say luck? It seems that there are at least 3 definitions in this thread alone.

Luck, a noun: by which we just mean variance, or the width in the variety of outcomes given a choice or a game state. "Man this Oath deck is really luck dependent."

Luck, a noun: an unknown, but supposed source of results that verges on the mystical. "Tom had really bad luck today."

Luck, a noun: A concept used as a defense mechanism to offer an alternative way of understanding competition, as opposed to other methods, like pragmatism. "This is bullcrap. You just won because of super lucky topdecking."

I agree, this is a fascinating topic. It's so good at getting to the psychology of competition. While nodding to the fact that I could yammer on about this for hours, I'll just say that I think variance can be just about known... within reason. Obviously, there are unknowable things at the margins of our understanding, or just information that we know exists but can't ever actually know what it is, but in general, the meaning of the word luck that means variance, I would say, is pretty well understood. Almost solved even... (to the extent that Godel will allow.)

The reason I think this topic comes up, again and again, that it will perennially return to conversation, is that luck as a concept is incredibly fit memetically. It's a really easy heuristic for players, especially young ones, to understand. All the forces beyond understanding within a given system... they are luck. Sometimes luck rears up an bites you, sometimes it drops you pennies from heaven.

But of course, belief in luck of this kind is in itself a superstitious act. I'll say again. I really try to not say luck at all. I'll say variance, but I really try to maintain the belief that luck is a human fiction. To your point, we can't really know. The core of the problem is epistemological as much as anything else. We can't actually know to what degree variance causes us to win or lose. (Over time I'd say we can get a reasonable idea of a player's real skill though, and then reverse engineer a variance number Bayesian style.) But I would venture to say, that when one is asked to what degree they think luck plays a factor in their outcomes (at least for games), its really a psychological questions more than a statistical one. What one is really being asked, is to what degree they are willing to believe that forces beyond one's own control should be held responsible for one's outcomes. If we agree that the best course of action is to focus on optimization of one's play, answering 0% is a pretty good answer... especially given that we can never really know anyway.

@Topical_Island said:

We can't actually know to what degree variance causes us to win or lose. (Over time I'd say we can get a reasonable idea of a player's real skill though, and then reverse engineer a variance number Bayesian style.) But I would venture to say, that when one is asked to what degree they think luck plays a factor in their outcomes (at least for games), its really a psychological questions more than a statistical one.

It's not just Bayes. If Alpha Go has shown us anything, it's that machines can reproduce human-like behavior in high-dimensional games. Certainly in Poker we can quantity luck vs variance (IF we only let them see one another's in-game actions and not body language or other communication).

@AmbivalentDuck For the poker statement, define luck and variance.

@Topical_Island You (as an observer) know the exact odds of winning for each player as well as the exact best estimate of other players' odds given the information the player has.

@AmbivalentDuck So isn't that just information? What does that have to do with the proposed existence of luck?

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