The Unified Theory of Grand Funk Railroad
Here is a compacted version of the Flores/Sloppystack/Kelly podcast about Michael’s Grand Unified Theory of Everything.
Please note that THIS IS NOT A TRANSCRIPT. It is a pretty good summary of what was said. Some things were pretty hard to hear, especially over the cross-talk, but this just about captures it.
I wanted to lay this out to give a better idea of what Flores was talking about. I’ll put some thoughts at the end.
Please note if Sloppystack is talking (or Kelly – I can’t tell the two apart, and so they’re all Will to me), the line is preferences with an SS. Otherwise it’s all Mike, all the time.
I’ve left out a bunch of analogies, side discussions, and other stuff I felt unimportant to the summary. Mike, Stack, if you’re reading this, feel free to ping me with any complaints.
Where you see something in brackets, that’s generally a note I’ve made to clarify a position. These are all my own assumptions.
Top8Magic Podcast Summary
Synergy is just stupid.
Linears are free value, as long as the cards are good.
We can’t just play Cruel Ultimatums because we’ll die before we can cast it.
What we can do is play the best cards that we can with the amount of mana we have to cast them.
There is only one mertric that matters in Magic – how much value you’re getting out of your mana.
This is not ‘make the most use of your mana every turn’. Doing the most you can get out of your mana is often horrible.
I’m talking about a metric, not a philosophy you should have.
It’s easiest to explain in extremes.
Dredge. A dredge deck may only have total access to 3 mana.
If I flip over three Narcomeobas and flashback Dread Return, I’ve already got UUU3BB2. Therefore ten mana, and then I get my Flamekin – therefore another 4 – and the Bridge From Belows have created Zombie tokens.
A Zombie Token could be seen as B2 – but more like G1 – I think it’s fair to say it’s W.
Therefore I’ve gotten 24 mana worth of value, and you’re dead. And the reason is I’ve got 24 value and you’ve got zero.
SS: A simple way of explain this, is if you gave a red deck 24 worth of mana on T2, you’d be dead.
Another extreme – a sealed deck game.
If you’re not doing anything in the first three turns, here’s what’s happening. T1, I lost a mana. T2, I lost 2 mana. T3 I lost 3 mana. I’m down six mana. The fact is I’m fallow for six mana.
This explains two things that are the most frustrating things for Magic Players.
1. Mana Flood – If I can play land but can’t do anything with it, it’s like having no land.
2. Mana Screw – I’m getting the exact same amount of value as a mana flooded player.
Let’s combine the two theories.
Ben’s theory is ‘play the best cards’
Playing the best cards allows us to distill a real use of mana into the most effective packages.
So I can play G1 and play an Elvish Visionary. What’s an Elvish VIsionary worth? It’s probably worth .5G + U. I think it’s probably worth U plus .5U. So U.5.
What if I play a Grizzly Bear? We can say it’s worth 2, right? It’s really worth W.
I’m benchmarking with a realistic cost for a tournament playable cards – what is the benchmark for a tourament playable X. Hound of Konda is W, so a Grizzly Bears is worth W.
If I cast a Grizzly Bears, I’m losing a mana, because it’s only worth a W.
Let’s talk about Wild Mongrel. It’s probably worth more than G1. I’m not sure how much more.
When I cast a Tarmogoyf, It’s probably worth GG2. For the cost of G1, I’ve got the value of GG2.
Why is Swords to Plowshares iconic? That effect really costs BR. Why is Path to Exile different? It’s probably worth U.
A U is worth more than a W. That’s a given.
If you look at who wins a game, the all the mana that one player spent is more than the other in value.
What’s a Kitchen Finks really worth? It’s way more than SS1. Probably 4 more.
SS: Let’s break it into what does 4 life cost, what does a 3/2 cost, and what does a 2/1 cost?
A 1/1 cost 1. 4 life costs 1. A 3/2 cost 1G. So it’s probably 4 mana, maybe 1 mana more.
People have been taught to value card advantage.
Card advantage gives you more options, more options gives you one thing only: more opportunity to spend mana.
Literally nothing else other than mana value expenditure matters.
SS: To what degree does the metagame affect the value of a card?
Metagame doesn’t matter at all.
SS: I’m going to stop you. But what about Relic of Projenitus. For some matchups, say against Dredge, it’s
going to be worth 23 mana to you, because you’ll undo your opponents 23 mana. But of other matchups it’s not.
For others it’ll be worth U. You’re paying 2, to get U.
Don’t talk about what it’s worth over the course of a game. Talk about what it’s worth over the course of a tournament.
SS: Then you’re accepting the fact that the metagame matters.
The metagame matters.
When do you use your your relic / tormod’s crypt. I use it when my opponent’s beginning to generate mana. Unless my opponent’s flipping over Narcomeobas for Dread Return, I don’t pop it.
How much does it cost to destroy your opponent’s graveyard? Zero.
How much does it cost to draw a card? U (eg. Peek, Brainstorm, Ponder).
So you’re paying 2 to get the effect of U + zero.
My deck (Lightsaber) is designed to hit all my land drops. It gives me the opportunity to dump my mana so I have no fallow mana.
I’m playing Think Twice. What’s the value of both sides of a Think Twice? It’s only UU. But in order to get that I have to spend five mana. That’s bad, but what other options have I got? I’ve got to have something that ensures I hit my land drops, and 2 is an okay amount of mana to pay for a cantrip. It’s just slightly below average.
SS: Whispers of the Muse costs UU5 to draw 2 cards, whereas Think Twice is UU3.
Think Twice is guaranteed card advantage.
SS: Your fallow mana is worth zero, so whatever value your getting out of it is better than zero.
I wanted to play a much more efficent card, which is Ancestral Vision. But Ancestral Vision is way worth than Think Twice, because it does nothing to hit your third land drop, and Think Twice is tremendous help.
Once you’ve got three land, and you can Think Twice again, you’re going to hit your forth land drop.
SS: See, that’s Borderland Ranger.
I’m also playing Spell Snare. I thought it was the best card in Standard. Can we agree that Spell Snare is not just the best card in most models, but in my model it’s clearly a great mana, as you spend one mana against your opponents’ two mana every time.
That’s a best as you can get.
SS: Can we agree countering a spell is worth UU?
Or worth U. (Such as Force Spike; Mike goes back to UU by the end of the podcast. I’d say UU was a fair assessment)
What if my opponent has no 2 mana spells in my deck? Spell Snare’s not very good. But over the course of a tournament, can’t we say that this is a card we’ll generally get more value than it costs?
SS: But it’s still format specific, because you wouldn’t maindeck Relic in Standard. I think you have to agree there are some cards that are format specifc. For instance, if you play graveyard hate, you play Tormods Crypt, which is Zero for a zero-mana effect, or Relic, which is 2 for a Zero + U effect.
Playing a Relic and immediately removing a graveyad and drawing a card is worth 1 – because of Scrabbling Claws.
SS: So we’ve established that there’s no loss of mana for playing Relic? Because sometimes it’s worth 24 mana, and sometimes it’s worth 1 and U.
Let’s talk about Sword of the Meek.
SS: Sword of the Meeks upper limit of value is only limited by the amount of mana you can put into it. What’s the value of the Thopter/Sword combo. Whats a 1/1 flyer worth? U, or G.
It’s it’s worth G, or W, the worst mana.
SS: What’s 1 life worth? .25 W?
It’s worth a fractional amount.
If WotC made a 1/1 flyer ETB Gain A Life, they would make it 1W or something.
You get one Holy Strength for your team.
SS: You can just dump all your mana and get 1.25 for each 1 you spend.
Stop thinking about Card Advantage.
SS: It’s a fuzzy term, it doesn’t have any definition. Is a token a card?
Card Advantage doesn’t even make sense, in the way that we would talk about it.
It was Runeblaster when I recognised the value of this theory.
XXXX had a clutch of Maelstrom Pulse, which in theory puts him in a great position.
Andre plays a Runeblaster, destroying XXXX’s Savage Lands.
You know what happened? He wiped out his hand, made him have fallow land. Yes, he has lands in play, but he can’t cast any spells, because Andre killed his Savage Lands.
By keeping him off a colour XXX had no utility for his lands.
Instead of spending 12 mana, he spend none, and had no value.
One of the things I attempt to value a lot now are CIPT lands.
CIPT lands are really, really fuzzy.
I’m not going to say they’re bad.
Because they come into play tapped, you’ve used your resource of ‘play a land this turn’, but you’ve got no value.
SS: We payed 1 for a zero. But it gives us an opportunity to convert mana for the rest of the game.
If we’d played a forest, we’d have payed zero for the same thing.
Remember the context of having the mana to be able to play it.
People were lining up Lightsaber with Jund.
Line the two up.
You know what the problem with Jund is. All of it’s cards are Gold. So if you deny any of the colours, it can’t cast it’s spells.
Lightsaber has no cards, other than Bloodbraid Elf, that is Gold. That’s tremendously advantagous. You deny me of one colour, I cast spells of another.
You can’t mana screw Lightsaber by taking a single mana out.
Life is irrelevant
Cards are irrelevant.
Life is important because as long as I’m alive, I can keep tapping lands for mana.
SS: Not being dead gives you the ability to keep using mana in the most efficient way possible.
Whoever spends the most mana (efficiently) is the one who is going to win.
SS: I’m spending mana, if you’re not you’re going to be dead soon.
I think it will be more than an 80% correlation. I’ll be playing a thousand games to test it.
Kelly says to me to play Mind Rot over Cruel Ultimatum.
I presented my answer in a mana contest.
What if I had a card that costs R6, it nugs my opponent for 5, draws 4 cards, and kills a Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Would you play that card? Obviously you would.
Cruel Ultimatum is already R1 (Incinerate) and a B1 (Cruel Edict) and draw 3 is UU2. And then you’ve got Disentomb, which is B. And then I have gain 5 life, which is W. And then it’s discard 3, which is what, BB? That’s the most mana efficent card there ever was. You have to play this card. It’s the poster child for my theory.
SS: So what you’re saying is any deck that can cast that card should play it and find ways to cast it.
A card I play in States, a very good card, is Zektar Shrine Expedition. It costs R1. It’s worth RRR1. It’s worth twice as much mana as it costs. (Note: this is when I started to wonder if Mike was punk’n everyone. Zektar Shrine? Seriously)
SS: And it’s got things like surprise factor…
I don’t care about those things. I care about mana advantage.
I can play Magic better or worse than someone else. But I can guarantee you, if someone is playing twice as smart as I am, and I’m spending twice as much mana as they are, they will be defeated.
When someone with that deck connects with a card that costs RRR it’s going to be highly efficent. Because the deck has cards laced together in a way that are highly mana efficent. A deck that has Ball Lightning is going to have cards in it that are RI for 5 damage. It’s going to be attacking their life total.
But when I spend RRR to hit me for 6, and you spend R to get me back, you just juked me on mana. You used one mana for my three. That’s the best thing you can do.
SS: And you can’t evaluate that with card advantage, because it’s not a 3-for-1.
It’s a 1-for-1.
SS: But I spent RRR to do something, whereas you spent 1R to play Zektar Shrine Expedition, played a land to put the counter on the Shrine, then used the mana to do something different, that’s way better. I’ve always had a loose concept of use all your mana, play your cards…
You don’t always want to blanket tap all your mana every turn. It’s playing predictably, and you can do stupid things.
Say I’ve got creatures in play and a Wrath of God in my hand. In a very efficient way I can play the Wrath – but that’s got to be bad for me.
SS: It’s very efficent. Destroying all creatures has got to be WWW1.
I think it’s established at 2WW. But, when it’s timely and advantageous, I think you’ve got a mana advantage out of it.
But when you’re destroying your own creatures you’re going deeper in the hole; it’s not a very good use of your mana.
SS: It’s like giving your opponent mana. And it’s reducing your options.
Let’s talk about being tricky, with-holding mana useage and cards.
I think when we use those tactics its with the goal of gaining massive mana value in the future.
If we do nothing for a while, let our mana be fallow, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But if we do nothing, and our opponent makes some big committment, and we counter it in a highly mana efficent way, that’s good.
Let’s talk an example.
Say I have three lands, and Kelly’s swinging into me with his Grizzly Bears. And I flash in Benelash Commander and it destroys his Grizzly Bears. Then that Belelash is worth five mana.
SS: Four mana, because Grizzly Bears is worth W. But it’s still five mana because he overpayed for the Grizzly Bears.
I think this is an easly way of being tricky, and passing on your mana, but then using a combat trick to gain advantage is a good one.
SS: You’re also gaining two life by not taking two damage. Sometimes I’ll put a colossal wall out to stop the beats.
And you get a free R.
So that’s a really good point.
We can look at play as a context, because opportunity also matters.
I haven’t figured out the maths entirely.
What about Treetop Village?
Kelly asked, what would we pay for a 3/3 trampler?
Kelly wants to use this mana to stop me to play this. He has a counterspell in his hand, which is worth UU. By playing Treetop we have found a way to deny him using his mana.
Let’s say he has a Volcanic Hammer in his hand. He also cannot use this card to kill the Treetop because it’s a Sorcery.
So there’s an example of overspending in context, but also making our opponent’s mana fallow.
A Terror could be mana neutral against our 3/3.
The example is not to show Treetop Village is bad, it’s to show it can be good. It’s good more often than it’s not, because in situations where we play Treetop Village our opponents often have Wrath of God, Counterspell.
SS: A Treetop Village is a Llanowar Elf who cannot be targetted (by Sorceries) or Wrathed. Sometimes they get blown out by an instant speed removal spell, and sometimes not.
And that’s the Grand Unified Theory of Magic.
Some Thoughts About the Podcast
* The main theory here is an addition to Ben’s line that ‘You should play the best cards’. Perhaps Ben’s line should now be “You should play the best cards well”. But that’s probably an oversimplification of Mike’s argument. Mike’s theory is that ‘He who plays spend the most mana the most efficently will win the game’. But I assume this to be trivially true, and look forward to seeing the 1000 games Mike will play to prove it.
* Mike has clearly put a lot of thought into what ‘the best cards’ actually means. His best work here is a framework for understanding why some cards are better than others. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done about what things cost and why they cost it. I can understand why drawing a card would cost U. But it’s not really U – it’s U and a card. To draw a card without spending a card, it’s generally 3U. Mike’s argument that a card archtype ‘eg. 2/2, or ‘Cantrip’ seems intuitively that it can be solved, but will prove to be very difficult. A 2/2 may cost W, but in Standard you can get a 3/3 for G. Or 1G. Or 2G.
* Mike clearly thinks some mana is worth more than others. It seems to be U > B > R > G > W, though I would need confirmation of this from Mike.
* Mike shifted very quickly away from ‘the metagame doesn’t matter’ to ‘the metagame matters’ I would argue that context is everything in determining card value. There was also a lot of confusion about value within a game and value over a tournament. During a game is when a card proves it’s worth; over the life of a tournament is where a card proves it’s consistency of value.
* Mike dismissed synergy quickly, but then admitted that synergy increases mana efficiency. Dredge is a deck built entirely around card synergy. Of all the examples talked about Dredge produces the most mana efficiency AND card advantage and it’s done through Card Synergy. Nacromeoba is a terrible card without the Dredge Framework around it. The same is true for the Foundary/Sword of the Meek combo; the synergies and interactions between these two cards are what create the mana efficiency, not the cards by themselves. I think Mike needs to rethink the value of synergy in a deck.
* Mike’s going to have a lot of fun figuring out keyword mana efficiency; lifelink, trample, flying, shroud – each will need an associated value to make the framework work.
* Mike’s theory is dependent upon tempo. In fact, it may be the best argument for the theory of Tempo ever created. The same is true for Card Advantage. A couple of Mike’s examples used Card Advantage as example some of the best ways to gain Mana Efficency. By dismissing both Tempo and Card Advantage as unnessary, Mike does his theories a grave disservice.
* Mike’s theories also ignore many other resources at hand, but the one that frustrates me the most is Time. Suspended cards are, by their nature, highly mana efficient. Mike crows about the ‘suspended’ card Zektar Shrine Expedition, but dismisses Ancestral Recall. However, under Mike’s framework, Zektar is worth RRR (really) and Ancestral Recall is worth UUU – and if U is worth more than R, surely it’s the better card. I’d like to see a resolution to how Mike resolves paying one cost for a card/permanent/effect (mana) and other costs (time/life).
I think it will be interesting to see where Mike takes the theory next. It’s currently got a lot of gaps and going by the discussion, there’s a lot of internal conflicts Mike has to resolve within his own head. Is a 2/2 worth W or G? Is a U really worth more than a G, or only when counterspells are actually useful. Is a Lightning Bolt more mana efficient than a Wild Nacatl? And can any of these demonstrations of value be taken out of context – and if not, is the theory useful at all?
Surprisingly, Mike has also given us a framework for measuring the efficiency of Synergy. We can now start to measure the difficulty and cost of putting a combo together vs the outcomes it gives. This may be the area in which Mike’s framework for mana efficiency assement makes the most gains.
I don’t disagree with Mike that the player that playes the spend the most mana the most efficiently will generally win the game. However, at this point, I think that’s a general truism that does not add value to Magic theory. I’m very interested in Mike’s framework for measuring mana efficiency, but it clearly has a long way to go.