Responses: What is the point in competitive MTG?

There’s just too much luck in the game. Not even talking about my own play experiences, if you just watch the videos on channelfireball or SCG, the best players in the world struggle on to win a consistent basis. Owen and Huey just recently did those couple of BTT drafts and got destroyed. Two of the best magic minds in the world, probably several times better than their opponents, and it doesn’t matter because of luck.

The only reason the pros are able to place at events is because they go to tons of them. If I show up at a PTQ of 200 people and have an 80% chance to win every game, I still probably won’t even top 8. You have to really grind out lots big tournaments to even start placing a few times a year.

MTG just does not have enough choices for you to make to consistently allow you to win events. Every deck has a matchup where there’s just not much you can do because your opponent’s cards match up very well against you. In fact, MTG rewards playing non-interactive strategies because the less your opponent is able to do, the better.

MTG is a game where you flip a coin, if heads, you get to make a meaningful choice that improves your position in the game. Then you flip another coin, if heads, this choice actually matters. Why does anyone put up with a game that has so much randomness in it?

I feel like part of the problem too is that the MTG community is very outcome oriented. There’s a lot of pressure to put up straight wins both in the swiss tournament structure and in general the player culture judges you based on the results you put up. This is kind of exacerbated by the fact that everyone walks around bragging about their wins but shuts up about the time they went 1-3 and lost to some little kid playing a green deck. But WOTC also can’t change the tournament structures to be more permissive of losses because then tournaments would go foreverrrr and it would be an implicit admission that there’s a ton of variance in the game so you have to play a hundred matches to find out who truly deserves #1.

Overall I feel like MTG is marketed and perceived as being a lot more skill oriented than it really is. I think people would have a lot less incentive to play it if they had to really internalize how much luck their is in any given match. MTG players seem to sustain themselves by patting themselves on the back when they win, and blaming luck when they lose. While it’s true that you will occasionally get the opportunity to make interesting and game altering decisions, more often than not, the monoblack mirror comes down to who can draw underworld connections first. I’ve seen Turtenwald lose to some scrub who forgot his Erebos was active on camera because his opponent had UWC and he didn’t. Owned Turtenwasted.

I guess I’m just dumb for feeling like you should always be able to win a strategy game against opponents who have a double digit IQ.


Today, I read a forum thread that I found really interesting. Someone was making their case for why Magic is too dependent on luck and that there’s no point in playing competitively because “MTG is a game where you flip a coin, ….”.


This intrigued me, because if you look at the Hearthstone forums, half the posts are about “luckstone” or people lamenting their ten game loss streaks. However, though variance is a integral of every card game, Hearthstone has randomness as a very, very prominent part of the game. Hearthstone designers take full advantage of the fact that Hearthstone is a computer game that can do things such as generate random numbers or summon random creatures (sort of like Momir).

As for the actual forum post, his first point is that even good players are victim to luck when they aren’t presented with good draft picks or their opponent’s are presented with especially good ones. Though it is a valid point that at a certain point skill can’t overcome luck, I don’t think it’s as pressing as the post says, “best players in the world struggle to win on a consistent basis.” Though they may fall victim to the “coin flip”, their level of skill can help negate or fight through some amount of bad luck.

As for his second point, he says that the only reason pro players place is that they make up for luck by playing in tons of events. Though pro players play in many events and don’t place well in most of them, their average win rate is definitely higher than the average player. It can’t be that pro players are only pro players because they grind really hard. There are plenty of heavy GP grinders that will never set foot in a higher level of competition.

However, he does have a good point when he talks about the Magic community being too results oriented. Instead of understanding why they lost, too many players just get salty and don’t think about if they could’ve played better to their outs, or if they played as well as they could and just lost because their opponent got lucky or they got unlucky. I’m probably not the best person to talk about this, but you can check out this article by Owen Turtenwald on the subject of result-oriented thinking.

Lastly, there is the topic of how to make MTG less luck-based. Limited is inherently a format that relies on luck, but in constructed, and in MTG in general, there aren’t many luck based cards, besides the basic randomness of deck shuffling that is associated with any card game.

This person has some nice insights, though I think he might be stretching a little bit to make a point. Limited is a very high variance format, and I think he’s trying to point that out. Limited is just not a format for all people, and he just might not be the kind of person who enjoys high variance formats such as limited.

Do you like this kind of post? If so, tell me in the comments below! In addition, a big thanks to ChannelFireball, who included me in there “This Week in Magic” article. It’s a great big help!



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