Thursday, April 7, 2011

Designing a YuGiOh Forbidden/Limited List using logic

Its been almost a year since the last post and I apologize for my inactivity.

I felt that the March 2011 F/L list was a failure. Not because of their individual card choices, but because it was clear that Konami did not use logic behind their decision making. They made knee-jerk changes that they felt would be seen as popular without actually trying to improve the game.

So how does one make a "good" Forbidden/Limited list?
The goal of any banlist for any game, is to maximize player satisfaction.
Happy players = paying customers
Profit is the bottomline. Without it, the game dies.

The player base of ygo is defined by the yugioh brand. The brand is in turn defined by the cartoon, animes, mangas, etc.
In those medium, the characters use power cards. They use large "boss" monster cards and game breaking spell and trap cards.
The players want to emulate these characters when they play the game. People who don't like this concept, don't like YGO in general

However, one cannot make a game of ALL boss monsters and game breaking cards. In fact, it would make no sense because power level is relative to the card base. If everything is "incredibly powerful" then in the end, nothing is powerful, relative to the other cards.

The inclusion of power cards adds variance. This is generally perceived as a bad thing by competitive players. This means that weaker players can beat better players because they drew better cards and can nullify the skill gap.

[I'm going to define the term "variance" for those who are unfamiliar. It is an unpredictable chance-driven variability that occurs within a game. In a game like Trouble, the dice roll is the source of variance. In a TCG, the cards drawn (and the combinations within those) would be the source]

As a competitive player myself, I know how frustrating that can be. Nonetheless, it HAS to exist, in this game. If weak players knew they had zero chance of ever winning, they stop playing. That means less sales. The game of yugioh cannot survive on the sales of competitive players alone.

In an idealistic format where sales are not integral to the health of the game, variance is pointless and if anything, a detriment.
The classic example is chess, where there is essentially no variance.
In fact, there is only 1 point of variance in the ENTIRE game, and that is the randomness of which player starts the game (plays white). After that, skill will determine the outcome of the game.
Chess thrives because the "money in chess" comes from competitive play and events related to such (endorsements, etc). FIDE doesn't make their money selling chess boards or game clocks. They don't have to worry about that aspect of the game, they can focus on organized play.

The importance of variance is often under rated. The "spoils" and "VS" were games that tried to minimize variance. I havent played either but I've heard they are excellent games to play. Games whereby the better player usually won. And by usually, almost always (this what I heard, as I said, I've never played them)

Where are the games now? Dead. And imo, there is no "reason" other than the fact that the lack of variance killed organized play.
Look at VS. Its a game based on Marvel and DC superheros. How do you get a better marketing base than that? Who plays fantasy card games - comic book affiaciatos
You almost have to try and make the game fail to blow that. IMO, UDE did.

Back to my philosophy

-the game has to have some variance
-the game's best way to add variance is the inclusion of power cards
-power cards cannot be too common place, or else there is no relative power
-there are cards that are TOO powerful (re: broken). These cards degenerate the game to being all about them, which makes the game "stale", which makes people lose interest
-cards that are not too powerful should not be restricted. This means that if a theme is too powerful, changes should be made to the theme, not individual cards
-too much variance is not good either. You cannot develop an Organized Play program with too much variance (and essentially a game entirely decided by chance) and OP is important as a selling tool for the product

My philosophy on list placement is very simple and yet effective. I really wish Konami agreed with this instead of idiotic knee-jerk restrictions on cards that are currently "too popular"
Here's the doctornik philosophy:

Forbidden - The card is broken. This means that the card is so powerful that it warps the entire game around it.
For monsters, players end up building their decks to get their broken card out first and to stop their opponent from getting out their broken card
For spell/traps, players that open with the broken card generally have an insurmountable advantage to the player that does not open the card
Also included here would be consistent solitaire decks. YGO is designed to be PvP. Solitaire decks do not belong in the game. For the record, I consider game-winning "infinite loops" to be solitaire (ie. gearfreed-elma-spell absorption)

at 1: Power cards. Power cards are overpowered. At multiples, the game becomes a joke. At 1, there is some variance with an advantage to the player opening more power cards, but at the same time, variance is limited and many power cards require some set up as opposed to broken cards that generally require none, or minimal. "Short cuts" also get included here because short cuts essentially copy power cards, which should only be at 1 in the first place.

at 2: Cards with self interaction or specific card interaction (ie. card trooper-machine duplication). And that is pretty much it. Power cards should never be at 2, it makes no sense. In a game of 40 card decks, the difference in variance between opening with a "2 of" card vs a "3 of" card is actually fairly small. The difference of opening with a card being at 1 vs 3 is one-third. Putting the power card at 2 does not adequately deal with variance.
The cards at 2 should be a short list, in fact, the shortest by far. When I look at konami's F/L list, the semi-limited list is a testament of their failure to create a logical list (I'm looking at you Judgment Dragon).

at 3: Everything else.

Even within these confines, there is still a lot of subjectivity and debate. What makes a card broken vs powerful? When is it powerful enough to warrant restriction?
Individual card power will vary with the current playing environment(ie. the metagame) but there should be some sort of overlying quantification of card power that can define a cards placement on the list.

To use a simple example, lets look at card draw, specifically, cards that draw 2 for the cost of 1.

Pot of Greed - the grand-daddy, is too good. The player opening PoG is at a tremendous advantage to the player that does not and that has been deemed an unacceptable level of variance (by the players and konami)

Pot of Avarice - Draw 2 but only when you meet and can fulfill certain conditions. Returning 5 monsters to the deck seems generic enough. Almost every deck plays 5 or more monsters. But not almost every deck plays PoA. The reality is, it is not an easy condition to meet. The decks that run PoA specifically use cards that fill the graveyard quickly so that PoA is not a dead card. PoA has been at 1. It has been at 3. Does the power of the card warrant a restriction?
IMO, at this time, the answer is no. I like to use the analogy of, "if one player has the card in their opening hand, does it give then a large advantage over their opponent". Opening PoA does NOT give a huge advantage (at this time). One must open PoA AND effects that can send monsters to the graveyard in order to use the card. It is very difficult to use PoA on one's 1st turn. This is what makes PoA "fairer" than most draw cards.

Six Samurai United - Draw 2 with the condition that you have summoned 2 Six Samurais. Previously this was not an easy task. Outside of Grandmaster of the Six Samurai, players were not likely to be able to use SSU turn 1. A card that has to sit on the field for 2 turns to gain its full effect is very precarious. It really was not a consideration for restriction at all.
Then STOR happened. Now summoning 2 samurais turn 1 has become the norm. In fact, the samurai player will summon 2 samurais on turn 1 much more often than they do not. So now we have a draw 2 card that CAN be used consistently at the very start of the game (my recent estimations are about 75%). I'm not sure if players or konami are recognizing this but that is too powerful. The card will end up being restricted at some point, not sure if it will end up ban worthy. Yes its as powerful as PoG, but its "themed" and players don't like to see themed cards forbidden, until it completely destroys the metagame. But the card deserves and will receive restriction, though I suspect konami will drag their heels on this.

I've always been fascinated with card design and the F/L list designed to keep that card pool in check. Its unfortunate that my favorite game is run by people that design cards haphazardly, without considerations of power or metagame effect and the lists they make afterwards to clean up their mess is designed without logical consideration. After the last list, I couldn't hold back my frustration. Someone had to call konami out on their "dartboard" lists. Thanks for reading.


  1. Would love to see you post more often. Don't just limit yourself to dgz

  2. Greatly written article. I agree with your, especially the part about themed cards.