Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Play to Win: The Time Value of Cardboard

A long time ago, in the days of curves only Ari could love, I wrote a blurb on Bandai about the importance of playing a frontloaded curve. My argument, though clumsy and not articulated clearly, was that it was important to maximize the value gained from each turn by making a drop. Missing a drop, I wrote, was akin to giving the opponent a free turn – a highly inefficient way to try to achieve victory.

This article is going to build on the basic theory advanced by the concept of a curve – or more specifically, the higher end of the curve. Too often, when people explain their decks, I see them categorize ninjas as “solid X drop,” where X is the particular turn cost of that card. That is particularly shoddy reasoning that leads to inefficient deck construction, and we all know inefficiency leads to game losses.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s take a look at some cards – a vanilla Sasuke and a 4th Kazekage. Which card creates more value?

Well, taken at face value, of course the 4th Kazekage is more powerful. It’s bigger, it has a stronger effect, it has a higher rank… and it only requires one wind card as a cost, right?

What must be remembered in this situation is that cards have more than one cost – turn cost is perhaps even more relevant than hand cost. When you play a card like the 4th Kazekage, you aren’t just investing a ninja onto the board and a hand cost for it. You’ve already invested 6 turns into waiting to get it operational.

Barring any outside influence, your Kazekage will start accumulating value for you on turn 6. However, vanilla Sasuke can start accumulating value for you on turn 0. Intrinsically, the Kazekage has more value – but that assumes both start accumulating value at the same time. Of course, you’re going to see diminishing returns from your Sasuke each turn – but those returns come at a cost of just 1 turn and no hand cost, versus 6 turns and 1 hand cost. Thus your overall percentage return from that Sasuke could turn out much higher.

Furthermore, if you draw a Kazekage in your opening hand and the game ends on turn 5, essentially you received negative return on your investment. Not only did you not play your Kazekage, it also served as a pseudo-mulligan since you couldn’t play it. Basically you held the Kazekage for 5 turns in order for it to cost you a card.

This is why I never liked Gaara IP and the deck built around him. In the 40 card format, the deck often played 3 Gaara IP, 6 of his jutsus, 3 One Morning, a few other 4-5 drops, and some variant of Tsunade. In the 50 card format, it often went up to 9-10 jutsus as well as late game missions like Fellow and Loneliness. That means for the entirety of the deck’s existence, often 40% of the deck was composed of cards that required 4 turns of investment before they could come online – and even when they came online, they often required other cards to be useful.

So on paper, the deck looked super efficient, with Gaara IP not requiring a hand cost and all the aggressively-costed jutsus present in the deck. But in execution of a more detailed analysis, we find that 2 out of every 5 cards drawn don’t have any use until turn 4, and some won’t have any use without other cards. Thus the true cost of Gaara IP and his buddies was a lot more than just a 4 drop.

Does this mean we shouldn’t be playing 5 or 6 drops since they represent such variable return for such a huge time investment? Of course not – what this article is trying to explain is that for late game cards, you should only be playing cards that can win the game by themselves (or have Ambush, as Ambush gets around the problem of holding late drops in your hand). For example, cards like Itachi GiG, NVS, Jiraiya IOTHT, Yamato CBF, etc. – these are the types of game-winners that provide adequate return for the turn investment placed in them. Cards that provide the return of a lower drop but at the cost of a high drop should never be considered.

Going back to the beginning of the article, another concept I argued for back in those days was the concept of threat diversity – the idea that people should play ninjas with many different names in order to avoid missing drops (due to having a ninja with the same name in play). This was far more relevant in the 40 card format, but lessons can still be learned from it today. What’s important to understand about card costing is that each card also has an opportunity cost – putting card X into your deck means that hundreds of other cards won’t be put in instead. If card X has a comparable power level to those other cards, it might be worthwhile to diversify that drop. However, if card X is so good that the opportunity cost of playing it is minimal, you would want to maximize the copies of that card in your deck.

To summarize:

Turn cost is highly relevant when evaluating cards.

Don’t play a high drop if you can get the same value out of a lower drop.

Keep in mind the turn cost of jutsus. When will all those Trigrams and Mangekyos actually come online?

Don’t play too high a concentration of late game cards, unless you like drawing 6 card hands that are actually 4 card hands.

Your late drops should be game winners.

Threat diversity is important, but maximizing your best cards is more important.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Great article.

This is exactely why I would play Goal or Destructive Hallucination over GiG, because of ambush.

You never want to be in a situation where you have to hold on to a turn 6 in your hand for a long time.

High turn ninjas ( 5 and 6 ) for the most part will be bad come set 17.

Not only is lightning incredibly fast right now in set 16, but fire will be very fast in set 17.

Let's not forget that set 17 brings some nasty generic rush cards like might guy, the fool brothers, and sakura.

And then once 15-18 block comes, shino and vanilla sasuke will be gone, and the ability to stall games out to turn 6 will become very hard.

Anonymous kirby said...
thank you for making this
now for the real nubby decks i can just link this article

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Vanilla Sasuke will still be legal i believe, just fyi

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Unless you know something I don't, vanilla sasuke is set 13 and is not on the block list of reprinted cards.

Anonymous Lady said...
Sasuke [-] was reprinted in the set 15 starter deck.
Proof: http://www.bandaicg.com/naruto/showthread.php?t=74247

Anyways, good show Josh! You helped me out with a deck of mine just now. ^ ^

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Ahh the reason its not on the block format list is that they haven't included set 13 and 14 reprinted cards yet.

It's gonna be really annoying to plan 15-18 block decks until they include it...

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