Monday, November 26, 2012

Shadow Era: Bluff the Stuff

Psychology is a tricky subject, but it affects every aspect of daily life in some form. After all, the world is what we make of it.

Competition is no exception, and hobby gaming especially. Take chess, for example. Your optimal move might not necessarily be based on game mechanics themselves, but how your opponent will react to your decision. The 'best' move isn't necessarily the right one, whereas an unorthodox play might catch them off their guard.

All tcgs are the same way.

A prime example is Magic: the Gathering. Because there are so many cheap forms of disruption that one can play on the opponent's turn, a few unused lands can force players to do something other than what they want, regardless of if the defending player actually has an answer or not. Any long-term player will tell you that a pair of untapped Islands is the most demotivating thing to sit across from in the game.

Nope, Chuck Testa.
Yu-Gi-Oh has this, but to a lesser degree. Trap cards are efficient and can easily swing the game in one's favor, but must be played face-down before use. Bluffing becomes a huge factor, since one can choose simply not to use their trap even if the conditions are met and keep it hidden. One player has to do things in such a way that they still profit if they spring a trap, while the other is trying to wait for an opportune moment without waiting too long and missing their chance.

Get ready for a torrent of hard decisions

The point is that your choices as a player are about not just what's best for you on the board, but also how the opponent could react. By performing certain actions, you can convince the player across the table that you either do or don't have certain cards. This technique is often called 'representing' in card game circles because you're  representing a different hand then what you actually have. Essentially, it's a tricky sort of bluffing.

The hero in Shadow Era that does this the most and the one I'm also most familiar with is Zhanna, so that's the example I'm going to use. More specifically, the card Tidal Wave.

Everyone knows what Wave does. Everyone expects priests to have it in their decks.

But in their hands? That's a different matter.

By taking different actions, a good Zhanna player can trick the opponent into acting improperly to play around or into a Tidal Wave that may or may not be there.

For example, say I'm in the 8th turn against Zaladar. I have a Jasmine, Tainted Oracle, and a near-dead Aeon, my opponent has a Molten Destroyer I keep charming. I have shadow energy, so my opponent can clearly see I have the ability to heal Aeon. Also, all three of my allies have already made their attacks for the turn.

He would expect me to use my 3se heal on Aeon, maybe perhaps a Healing Touch. Instead, I opt to use a Retreat to reset Aeon's health instead. This is also a fine option, but I then make a point of not playing him back out, even though I have the resources to do so.

My opponent, clearly, will think my hand must contain Tidal Wave. It's the only reason why I would take this act. I clearly must be waiting on him to play a second fattie just to smack him for five, wipe the board, and run out a new threat. So, instead, he plays a Mind Control or ability+DMT, tries to gun down my Jasmine. When I respond with a second Retreat and a Raven instead of the wipe he thinks I had, he may have just lost his chance to fight back.

He doesn't have the ten resources to play two large threats and I'm able to drop a full health Aeon next turn to protect a Raven, alongside the SE to keep the Raven afloat after being burned, even if the Aeon isn't doling out pumps and I fail to find a Healing Touch.

I've represented a Tidal Wave, then retreated instead and now my opponent used up their precious removal on Jasmine, handing me the game.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, say it's turn five and my opponent has out Brutalis, Thaddeus, and a Wulven Tracker.

I could play the Tidal Wave in my hand, get a three for one and net me some gain. If I do that, though, he can just play out a fattie and, unless I draw a Retreat, it'll be difficult to advance my own board. Even with Retreat, I can't afford it alongside a large threat until at least turn seven, meaning after the wave I'm more vulnerable than my opponent would be.

Alternately, I could run out Armored Sandworm. My opponent will beat my face in for five, something I'm not too worried about in Zhanna, and then either play removal on my worm or play a fattie of their own to try and deal with it.

If they play the removal, that's cool. I got it out of their hand, so now when I wipe on t6, not only will I have the resources t7 to Retreat alongside a five-drop ally, but it'll be far less likely for him to maintain post-wave control. If he plays the fatty, same difference, only with the added benefit of the Worm smacking in for two. Who knows, maybe I draw a second Sandworm or an Aeon and decide to push for the current board instead of wiping, too. Nothing's wrong with keeping my options open, even if I don't end up taking them.

Technically speaking, the correct play for my opponent, if they were omniscient, would be to do nothing at all. Just keep beating face, let the current board connect for highest possible value before running out removal, a larger threat, or both, and forcing the wave from my hand then. However, that's not going to happen. Because they became less worried about Tidal Wave after the 5th turn and more concerned about the current board, they wasted cards to keep asserting it, which in the end only served to help me profit.

Be aware of your ability to falsely represent your hand, and also be on the lookout for obvious ploys by your opponents to do the same.

Sometimes, the threat of removal is more powerful than the removal itself.

Mind games are good, but will only work if both competitors are playing the same game. You can do great things in serious, high-end events, but for more casual or quickmatch games, your subtlety won't matter if the opponent simply isn't paying attention. You might even consider making a 'feeler' bluff, maybe saying something in chat to see how responsive your opponent is. This could tell you whether or not they might fall into a trap from overthinking. A player responsive in chat is more likely to be paying close attention to the game, but one who doesn't is more likely to be occupying themselves with other things between turns.

With that thought, our time is up. You keep pretending you have cards in hand, and I'll keep pretending I get money for writing these things.

Until next time,



  1. haha awesome. Thanks so much for this! very informative. I guess having been out of MtG for SO long has made me forget just how much of a mind f*** these games can be. I think this will open up a whole new level of play.

  2. Great article. To me the most intriguing concept you introduce is not just "representation" but using representation as a tool to extract threats from you opponents hand at a time when they have diminished value.

  3. nice job again friend. Zhanna is about the only opponnent that I actually pay attention to the whole time during QMs.

  4. I've said elsewhere that I think that the "no interrupt" mechanic is absolutely right for this game, because of its primary platform, but this whole concept shows how much depth the game loses without it compared to something like MTG. Attacking into open mana (especially if it's blue!) can be an extremely complicated thing in MTG and playing around, or learning when not to play around, all the possible tricks gives the game huge strategic depth. At the moment, if your opponent just leaves up RW in MTG, that can represent a huge number of possibilites - searing spear, unsummon, essence scatter, snapcaster mage or perhaps just a think twice, and your response to each of those could well be different. And possibilities multipley hugely once your opponent is leaving up 4 mana including 1 white.

    Mind games and reading your opponent are a fundamental part of MTG, and a skill you need to use almost every turn. The number of times that it becomes relevant in SE though is very, very small. Well done for finding a couple of examples, but it's not something that will come up very often.