Quite often I see people say:
The shuffler is broken. I drew all lands or not enough lands. I didn’t physically shuffle well enough. I drew all lands or no lands.
Even if you understand why this is not the case, let’s still continue to consider implications on the game.
The thing is randomness doesn’t equate to a proportional land spell mixture. In other words, a hand with a playable land spell mixture is not guaranteed by a shuffle/shuffler. A shuffler provides a bell-shaped curve in land spell mixture over a large number of games. 2-3 land openers would be at the middle of the bell curve, occurring most frequently. At the same time, the law of large numbers essentially guarantees there will be a small/smaller number of games where you get 0 lands or all lands.
So, you could say, in a way, getting mana screwed is built into the game, as the game is built on randomness.
Do we always want randomness? We typically think randomness is good in games. We don’t want every game to deterministically play out the same way. Certainly, there are elements in a game that should be random. But randomness in a land spell mixture, means there are times where you randomly don’t get to play the game!
Does this really matter for competitive magic? The thing is, a player’s overall win rate should still correspond to skill level. The chances of losing to mana screw are the same as chances of winning by opponent mana screw. Hence, the number of games lost by mana screw, are offset by the number of free wins from opponent mana screw.
But… skill and win rate considerations aside, the other factor is having fun. Playing a game should be fun. Do we want to play a game and randomly not have fun sometimes, and instead experience frustration? Interactive games are fun, and we’ve all experienced the frustration of mana screw. In fact, we even sympathize for opponent that get mana screwed. Don’t we want to guarantee that each game is fun? Or at least interactive?
We even see some games taking out unfun elements. Games like OverWatch, supposedly takes out searching for ammo, since searching for ammo is deemed unfun. Perhaps we could see some of the same in Magic.
What are some possible solutions? With the idea in mind that experimental formats are a thing, I have 2 considerations in mind. These are maybe far from realistic, but maybe fun to try with your friends:
10-card starting hand – A larger sample size means less variance. This pushes the bell curve more towards the middle. The most frequently occurring case, should occur even more, while the less occurring case, occurs even less. This will mitigate some mana screw, but some number of mana screw cases will still occur.
(Digressing a little – The are some interesting implications on a strategy to play proportionally less lands, while hitting land drops the first few turns, and less consistently as the game goes on. To illustrate, does a 20 lands in 60 cards deck become 14 lands in 60 cards, and favor a 2-drop curve? Considerations for another day.)
Separate lands and spells – Let me start by saying, if we can have a commander zone… why not a land zone? Draw lands and spell separately from each pile. Yes, this is quite an extreme deviation from how Magic is normally played. But guaranteeing a resource each turn is the only way to eliminate the unfun case of mana screw. Moreover, we see this implemented in other cards games. /muffled/ like hearthstone /end muffled/ Yes, there are certain cards that are invalid in this context. Most can be adjusted as has been done in the command zone case. Specific cases can be another discussion.
There’s are definitely some interesting implications on how much mana a spell is actually worth. Whether a spell of x-cost is actually playable will shift. Playing bigger spell has meant not only delayed effectiveness at later turns, but also meant having less spells in a deck, to make room for lands. Whether this deck building dynamic is desirable or undesirable aside, this certainly changes.
(An aside for newer players – in a low curve Red deck vs Control match up, you can take advantage of this fact of less lands in your deck to survive 2 for 1 trades, and come out ahead to win the game)
The game print cards at this rate of a 6/6 creature cost 6 mana, while this rate is certainly not meta playable. Hence many high mana cost cards end up as bulk rares. However, in a format, that guarantees a resource a turn, smaller spells become less effective over turns, as bigger spell become more free – this should steer towards the direction that a 6/6 creature is actually worth 6 mana, and perhaps open up card playability and deck building creativity.
I first played a FNM during the original Mirrodin block in 2004, 16 years ago. I’ve played at 1 pro tour since. I’m on most socials as FireSourcery. https://twitter.com/FireSourcery Aside from Magic, I post memes and maker projects.
Thank you for reading the long post.