@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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@Prospector

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?

@Topical_Island If you can know the exact odds, you can also know whether or not someone is beating the odds.

@AmbivalentDuck But we agree that nobody beats the odds over time right? I mean, if someone is beating the odds we know that it's just too small a sample size for us. Sucking out on someone and skill are not at all the same thing... right?

@Topical_Island "Kai Budde doesn't lose on Sundays." Some people have beaten the odds for extended periods of time.

@AmbivalentDuck But I mean... are you really saying that luck is a thing? That it's out there in the universe? If Kai had to topdeck a Lotus to win right now, and he had thirty cards left, and it was Sunday... you wouldn't bet that he really has a more than 1/30 chance... right?

It seems to me the conversation has degenerated into splitting hairs and nit-picking. We're really off track when the conversation simply boils down to, "I define this event with this word because I don't believe that word you use is appropriate." It doesn't matter. Does luck exist? That's a red herring question.

There are 40 cards left in my deck. I NEED to draw a mox saphhire to generate UU(1 from academy, 1 from the mox) so I have enough mana to execute game plan X. I draw it. Was that luck that at the exact time on the exact turn I needed it I drew it or was it skill that I knew to include it and build myself in-game to a situation where its beneficial?

To be honest, its both. This gets back to what I was alluding to in my first response and what Smmemen was talking about. Whether you label it luck or skill is irrelevant. Call it blurble for all I care. You built the deck. You put the cards in 1 deck to have certain interactions that help you win. You built the game state to the point where one of those interactions could happen. It takes skill in both deck building and game play to accomplish that (the degree of skill is debatable). But considering in that situation you had a 1:40 chance of getting the only card left in your deck that could seal the deal - yes there was a bit of luck, blurble, whatever involved there, too (unless of course you cast vamp tutor before your draw. But we don't need to dissect that situation and what part of it is luck vs skill do we? hah). Luck is just the end of result of random factors. Good luck is when those random factors end result is in your favor. Bad luck is when those random factors are not in your favor.

But lets look at the skill vs luck thing a little more. You know you need UU on your turn to win. You have a 1;40 chance of succeeding (black lotus was drawn earlier). You have no cards in hand so its pure luck of the draw with a 1:40 chance of success.
You have sensei's diving top on the table. Do you draw then then top for 3 or do you top for 3 and then draw? That is a skill decision that increases your odds of success (I'm not going to sit and calculate at this point the exact odds because they aren't relevant). Either way the odds increase in your favor. There is a skill to deck building when including this card and there is a skill to game play on when to use it. So skill exists outside of this situation that affects the outcome. There is also a random variance of which you have no (or very little control) over. That end result is luck. Whether you believe luck is an active force (a mystical or real phenomenon that affects the outcome) or reactive results (the event happens with no outside influence the final result is what it is) 'luck' as a word is as good as any to describe the situation of drawing the card to see if you got what you needed or not. Furthering defining it as good or bad is just nice clarification. And both exist in the game of magic. Both influence the outcome of games. And in any 1 game, any 1 play decision, any 1 draw - luck and skill have varying degrees of influence.

@Prospector In my opinion luck is a huge factor of the game, but there are ways to minimize how much luck is needed, the main way is card filtering and card draw, but even so luck is ever present, sometimes you draw a pocket of lands, sometimes you get all the wrong answers, it happens, so to answer your question, you can never eliminate luck, but it can be reduced, but only slightly, but again this statement, and the topic in general, is peoples opinions.

http://noosphere.princeton.edu/

I'm going to leave that here and slowly back away.

@AmbivalentDuck Dude... awesome! That is a great post. Wow. Metaphysics for the win! I want to mail you a foil copy of the Tao Te Ching autographed by Lao Tzu or something... (Unfortunately my I only have one copy and I keep it in the little library beside my toilet... which, if you've read it, is exactly where the Great Master would have one keep it...)

last edited by Topical_Island

@Khahan I agree that to some extent this is a semantic discussion, but I think that's kinda the nature of the beast here.

For me, I don't agree that what we call it... or rather, how we conceptualize it in our deeper belief system... is irrelevant at all. How we conceive of things in language absolutely has tangible effects on our behavior, on the pattern of our thoughts. So again, I'm saying that worse players (more specifically, players who don't play quite as sharply, talk much more about... and waste much more time thinking about... luck. Which as I've said, at least for myself, I believe in like I believe the Orphic Mysteries... not at all. But its a cool idea... Sweet cosmological Princeton websites aside.)

@Brass-Man Completely agree with this post.

Several times I've had opponents snark about how lucky I was with topdecks, Mana Crypt flips, etc... and as you say silence is the best response.

I think there is benefit to comments like, "it worked out for you this game, but in general I think it is a mistake to make play X against my deck; past opponents have had more luck doing Y," but I'd only make such remarks to opponents I know and trust to take them constructively.

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