I was listening to the Limited Resources podcast the other day (http://www.mtgcast.com/topics/mtgcast-podcast-shows/active-podcast-shows/limited-resources) and they were talking about results oriented thinking. This was a topic I found really interesting and drafting tonight has made me think about it.
Results Oriented Thinking is a psychology term, often used for Poker, which describes the human condition whereas we closely link the outcome of a task to how well we did the task. So if we are successful when employing a particular strategy, then often the next time we will use the same strategy. Equally, if we use a strategy and it doesn’t work, then we avoid that strategy. The problem with this when applied to a game where luck is a factor (such as Magic or Poker), is that the decision we made may have been the correct one and we lost, or it may have been a weaker play and we won. We then carry this “win” or “loss” onwards and employ the same tactics again, possibly to our detriment.
My favourite example of this is to do with Mulligans. In Magic, the widely accepted mulligan system is where you shuffle your hand back into your library and draw a new hand with a card less. So, imagine the following 2 situations:
You look at your opening 7 cards and you only have 1 land. You have the choice to mulligan or keep. There are the following possibilities
i) you mulliganed and win
ii) you mulligan and lose
iii) you keep and win
iv) you keep and lose
This is a fairly common situation. Sometimes you will keep a one land hand and win, sometimes you lose. Say for example you decide to keep and you win. Hurray! You got lucky, mathematically it is probably more likely that you would lose keeping a one lander but it didn’t matter, because you won. Next time the situation comes up, what are you going to do? Your brain associated keeping the one land hand with winning, so even though the maths says that you stand a high chance of not drawing a land, because it worked last time, you are likely to do the same again. You are making a bad decision because of the result that happened the last time you did it. You might win again, but in the long run, you are likely making a bad choice by keeping that hand and this will make you more likely to lose at Magic. Obviously there are other factors, some hands are fine with just one land, but you need to be careful to analyse the decision whether to keep the hand or not based on that hand, not what happened last time you did it.
The same can happen the opposite way. Say you mulliganed away a hand with 2 land and you win with your 6 card hand. Next time you draw a 2 land hand, you might remember the time that you mulliganed the two lander and won, so you mulligan again, this is just as bad as not mulliganing enough, by being too cautious you give your opponent a better chance of winning.
The lesson here is that you should evaluate every hand as though it is the first time you have mulliganed. Evaluate the hand properly, because this kind of randomness has no memory. What worked last time, might not work this time so you need to give yourself the best chance.
The same can happen with individual cards. This is especially true in limited. Fog is a great example of a card that people rate too highly. It doesn’t do a lot, except stall for a turn most of the time. Most of the time, you are about to die, you fog, stall for a turn and then die the turn after. Once in a while however, fog will blow the opponent out and you’ll win because of it. This is when you remember it and this is when you make the mistake of drafting it. For every 1 blowout you may have 9 times where it does nothing, but because that one time you totally wrecked your opponent because of it, your valuation of the card is much too high. 9 times out of 10, it has done nothing useful but once you have it set in your mind that a card is good, it is difficult to change that opinion. My personal card for this from m13 was Battleflight Eagle. I won a game because of it and I feel that this meant I rated it too highly. The card is not a terrible card, but I think I overated it for quite a while before realising that it was not too great. All this because I won once with it. It is this kind of critical thinking that makes the difference when drafting between winning and losing.
Another area that this is important is when playing. Sometimes you will take a deck you think is great to FNM or a tournament and it will be terrible. You know it’s a good deck, it was good in testing but you went 1-3 with it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you played wrong, that the deck is bad, it could just mean that you got unlucky. This is something you have to be careful about though. Sometimes a deck loses because you played badly, sometimes your deck loses because it floods or screws mana and sometimes a deck loses because it is not a good deck. The trick is being able to tell the difference between these 3. Even the best pros have a win percentage around 60%, because Magic is still a game of chance at it’s heart, the decks are random (hopefully) and sometimes the deck works for you and sometimes it does not. You need to, as a player, sit down and analyse what happened. Why did you win? Why did you lose? Were you lucky with your 1 land keep and should you have played differently? Reflection is a critical area of your game which is needed to improve you as a player of the great game of Magic the Gathering