Dragons Maze, Limited Resources, and my review process

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me and I haven’t been able to update this blog as often as I would like. Hopefully I’ll have time to post some Dragon’s Maze stuff here over the next couple of days, but I thought I would throw up a short post about Dragon’s Maze and limited.

Marshall had me on the Limited Resources podcast this week as a guest commentator and I got to participate in the marathon Common and Uncommon set review. It was a blast to do and we got pretty deep into the set, but even with four hours of commentary there’s still a lot to be said about this limited environment and about how to evaluate cards in DGM. So, for your amusement/edification, I’ve listed some of the points that I didn’t get a chance to cover in the podcast below, disconnected shotgun bullet-point style. I’ve also included a link to my prep work/notes, right here, in case you want to get an idea of what I do to get ready for one of these shows.

  • I think this is a 3 color format, with 80% or more of the decks being an evenly distributed triple color. The format just rewards you so heavily for drafting gold cards that it’s hard to skip out on an entire pack of cards by going two colors. Simultaneously, having zero 5-color fixing in the first pack makes it harder to draft 5-color good stuff, although having Verdant Haven, Axebane Guardian, and Prophetic Prism in the second and third packs does help.
  • That said, I do think there are two color decks that are draftable. I’m sure straight Boros is draftable, given that there are fine low drop creatures and Dynacharge waiting in the Return to Ravnica pack. I also think that Azorius, Orzhov, and Gruul are probably draftable two color decks, given that none of them are particularly synergy driven and can just be traditional core-set style good stuff decks. Rakdos would normally fall into this category too, but I think it’s too hard to get solid, resilient creatures in red and black in the Dragon’s Maze and Gatecrash packs, where there are very few commons you would actually want.
  • I expect Selesnya and Populate to be much worse in full block draft, as it requires a critical mass of token producers, which are both expensive in DGM and GTC and are uncommon (Knight Watch and Sunspire Gatekeepers are not the token enablers you want).
  • The tokens you do populate will tend to be bigger, however, with Urbis Protector, Trostani’s Summoner, and Miming Slime giving you reasonable access to good 4/4s. So I think Selesnya will be a good complement to guilds that can slow down the early game.
  • I expect that WRB will be the best aggressive deck in the format. It has access to strong choices in the curve in all three packs, the mechanics all stand alone well, you get access to lots of removal, and none of the themes work at cross purposes.
  • A BUG control deck that focuses on the Defender and mill subthemes should probably be a thing. Given that Cipher is not a particularly good mechanic and that Evolve is unlikely to be good in this color combination, I expect that this is probably the dominant thing to do in this archetype.
  • The removal in this set continues the block’s theme of being lackluster and conditional, particularly at common. Your X/4s are usually safe, casting a bomb creature and riding it to victory, especially in sealed, is still a viable strategy.
  • Having only one pack of Cloudfin Raptors hurts the Evolve deck a lot. I think RUG will be the best Evolve deck, but the mechanic has gone down in strength.
  • In general I think Populate, Evolve, and Battalion have gotten worse. Scavenge and Cipher have both gotten marginally better, but are still in the bottom half of mechanics. Bloodrush, Extort, Detain, Overload, and Unleash have all stayed about the same, mainly because they’re generic good stuff mechanics that you don’t need to draft around to get the full utility from them.
  • My very rough ordering of the quality of the three color decks, from best to worst, is: WBR, Jund, RUG, Naya, Bant, Junk (WBG), UWR, Esper, BUG, Grixis. I am very prepared to be proven wrong on this ranking though.
  • I think you want to pick Guildgates very highly. They are the best fixing in the format outside of Prophetic Prism, the power level of the DGM cards is not so high that you are giving up a lot, and it will suck to go into the Return to Ravnica pack needing to pick up three color fixers, unless you’re a base Green mana ramp deck that is hoping to max out on Axebane Guardians and Gatecreeper Vines.
  • I think all of the token makers that produce multiple tokens are going to be good in the Junk deck.
  • Something like 20-25% of the commons in DGM are unplayable blanks. This is made up for somewhat by the land slot being very good instead of a blank, but, combined with people being color flexible, makes it important to make your early picks count, as you can count on the last 3-4 picks not going into your deck.

April goals

A new month, a new chance to think about what I want to accomplish. I’m pretty happy with my fitness goals and will be running them back with a few small modifications:

  • 8,000 steps per day
  • Average a 1,000 calorie per day deficit and maintain a calorie deficit every day
  • Work out three times a week (currently 3x sets of squats, push-ups, and rows)
  • Track weight and calorie intake every day
  • Track other body measurements (waist, chest, etc) weekly and take semi-monthly progress pictures

I’m upping the difficulty on my step goal slightly, and I think this may actually be challenging to complete. I have plenty of 10K+ days, but I also have had a fair number of days where I’m getting my last 1K steps in right under the wire. I’m really happy with my gym routine and diet, and while I’m continuing to make small adjustments to specifics, the overall goals are still very good.

I’m not quite as sanguine about my lifestyle goals as I was at the beginning of March – there were enough hiccups that I’m no longer super confident in how I’ve organized my tasks and scheduling – but I still feel like I’m where I want to be and just need to keep on with maintenance mode.

  • Call my parents every weekend
  • Improve the cleanliness/clutter level of my apartment every week
  • Once a week have an explicit cleaning task
  • Continue to organize my life along a task oriented methodology
  • Don’t have shut-in, depressive days

I’m switching the focus on my activity goals to be much more poker centric as that’s where my interests and time has shifted in the last month. As such I’m eliminating some Magic goals and tweaking some things.

  • Get 120 hours of poker in
  • Set aside specific times to study poker each week
  • Accumulate 30+ drawing tickets during the first week of the month
  • Write at least one blog post a week here
  • Do thorough preparation work for SCG Seattle tournaments I am doing commentary at
  • Write a specification for my MtGO Agent project and do initial research

Review of March Goals

Now that we’re winding down the month it’s time to review the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the month. These goals can be roughly broken down into health goals, life improvement goals, and activities goals.

For the health goals, which were the most important set of goals for me, I achieved all the goals I wanted to meet. Early in the month I decided that it was impractical to track my sleep cycle and water intake – I thought I had fine systems for doing this, but my methods were untested and ended up being infeasible. Empirically I’ve been sleeping less than I used to before starting this whole fitness routine and anecdotally I feel like I’ve been sleeping better and have more energy. I don’t actually have anything actionable I can do with sleep data at this point, so I’m happy to cut an extraneous measurement process. I might try to re-up the water measurement process at some point, but I need to rethink how I’m going to track that data before I try it again.

I met all of my step, workout, and calorie deficit goals and completed all of my other tracking goals , which I am really happy with. Next month I’m planning on running back all of these goals, with a slight difficulty increase for steps.

I also met all of my general life improvement goals for the month. There were a few hiccups with my task management system, mostly technical, which I may discuss at some point, but I was able to keep on track with everything.

My activity related goals took a bit of a hit this month, and I think will require some re-evaluation for next month. Poker went really well this month – both in terms of achieving goals and in terms of results – and I feel like the effort I’ve put into playing more and setting aside time specifically to study and improve is paying off. I was also pretty successful at keeping involved with this blog – I wanted to write a blog entry a week and I ended up writing seven total entries for the month. I was a bit more haphazard in my scheduling than I would like, and I’d like to work on getting into a regular writing schedule next month.

I fell down a bit on my Magic goals, however. I played in one real life PTQ, in Spokane at the beginning of the month, but I had zero play on Magic Online. I find it hard to engage in Magic Online – I like having physical cards and being able to see my opponent, and the visceral feel of playing in a tournament, and for some reason the convenience of MtGO has simply never clicked for me. I was also a bit crunched for time this month, as I unexpectedly started dating again, which I hadn’t really planned on doing until at least a few months down the line. This took away from time that I had planned on using to play Magic and work on MtGO Agent in, which is fine, but needs to be something I consider going forward.

Overall I’m happy with how the month turned out – I didn’t achieve everything I wanted to, but I feel like I did a good job prioritizing where I wanted to spend my time, and I’m very happy with the results I’ve achieved so far.

Quitting as a skill and a hand

I had a short session at Tulalip tonight, which I ended abruptly after losing a big pot where I got my money in very good and decided to stand up rather than continue to play in a moderately good game.

I like to think I have a pretty strong mental game – I’ve lost enough pots to runner-runner outs and I’ve lost to enough improbable Magic topdecks that it’s no longer novel, I’ve never been an angry or particularly emotional person, and I’ve internalized and really believe in the importance of variance in these games for them to be profitable and popular. No matter how much you’ve seen, however, I think everyone is prone to tilt at times. It happens infrequently for me, but it does happen, and one of the ways I’m improving as a player is I’m getting better at recognizing the warning signs and taking action on them.

Quitting a game is an important skill in poker – playing your best game is important and exploiting other players that are off their game is a key skill to develop an edge. Being able to quit a game is a luxury you don’t get in Magic or in tournament poker so it’s a relatively new skill for me which I’m still working on developing.

Here’s the last hand I played in my session:

  • A player limped in from middle position and I made it $25 from the cutoff with xyz9h. The button and small blind fold, the big blind calls, and so does the limper. We’re $500 effective starting this hand.
    I don’t usually play offsuit ace-rags – a while back I cut them out of my preflop range entirely because I was concerned about domination issues and wasn’t confident I could play them well post flop, since then I haven’t figured out how to fit them profitably into my game but it’s an area I am working on. In this case the limper and the players behind me were all weak players that tended to fold too often post-flop and played fairly transparently, so raising in position with a wide range and then continuation betting appropriate flops is going to show a healthy profit.
    I haven’t played with the limper before tonight, who is a white dude in his late twenties/early thirties who has struck me as being a weak player. The big blind just sat down the previous hand and is a weekend regular that I have played with a number of times before. He thinks a bit about what his opponents may have, but only in the most superficial of ways, he’s generally pretty fit or fold, is prone to overvaluing his hand, and doesn’t think about what his opponent’s bets and calls mean.
  • The flop comes As9d2c. The big blind and the limper both check, I bet $40, the big blind raises to $120 (he takes a moment to figure out what his raise sizing is, but he pretty clearly was intending to check raise), the limper folds, and I call after fake agonizing for a moment.
    I accidentally bet a bit too small of this flop – I forgot that I hade raised to $25 preflop and so I thought that the pot was $58, not $73. I prefer betting two thirds pot here – I think most aces are going to be fairly inelastic to bet sizing when they make their calling decisions. I’m betting the flop to get value from other aces – there shouldn’t be many pairs between tens and kings in my opponents ranges, I don’t expect there to be many nines in my opponents ranges (particularly because I have a blocker), and I don’t expect to get value from most other hands. Even though there are only two aces left in the deck, most players’ preflop ranges are heavily biased towards calling with any ace, so they show up much more often in post-flop ranges.
    When the big blind check raises me here he should have a pretty narrow range that I’m solidly ahead of. I don’t expect him to have many bluffs in his range – there aren’t any good draws to semi-bluff with and he’s not the sort to start out a session on a stone-cold bluff. While sets are in his range we can discount them as he’s going to slowplay a lot of the time. He shouldn’t have a set of aces in his range (I expect him to three bet pre), there’s only one combo of nines left, and three combos of deuces, we can probably discount this to one combo total that he would play this way. I’d expect him to play two pair this way and I’d expect him to play ace king and maybe ace queen this way too. That’s around twelve combos that I’m an 85/15 favorite over and a couple of combos that I’m chopping with.
    So we’re happy getting our entire stack in against our opponent and our primary concern should be figuring out how to do that most effectively. I think calling here is the best way to accomplish our goal – the pot is $300 and we have $360 behind, which means pretty much any turn bet from our opponent is going to commit his stack. He might not be willing to get it in on the flop if we shove, letting a turn card peel off is unlikely to kill our action, and he’s unlikely to improve on the turn.
  • The turn is the Th. He bets $150, I pause for a bit, then raise all-in for $200 more. I spend some time refusing to make eye contact while he talks how I couldn’t have ace ten, then talks himself into a call.
    The turn goes pretty much as we planned out – he bets less than half pot, but it’s “a big bet” and I don’t expect him to actually know the pot size, so I don’t think the sizing means anything.
  • The river is the Ks. He flips over AhKc for the rivered two pair.

Hands like this sometimes set off the tilt in me, and I felt it a bit tonight. I was already planning on making this a short session since I have Sunday morning plans and I kind of wanted to go to the gym anyway, so it was fairly easy to stand up. In the few hours since then I’ve been feeling frustrated and I keep thinking back to the hand – quitting was the right play for me and hopefully there’s a bit of catharsis in writing about it too.

Illustrating the comprehensive rules with a minimal set of cards

Jon Loucks presented me with an interesting question this weekend – what is the minimum number of cards you would need to be able to demonstrate every rule in the Magic Comprehensive Rulebook? I think my guess at the time was around 200 cards, but the more I think about it I feel like it’s probably a smaller number – there are lots of places where clever reuse of cards could potentially cut down on the number of cards you need.

It’s probably overly ambitious, but I kind of want to find out, and I figure it might make for a fun series of blog posts. So, over the next few months I’m going to try to go through the entire Comp Rules and build up a list of cards that can be used to illustrate them all. Feel free to follow along at home and provide suggestions on cards that will be useful examples for multiple rules.

Here are some cards that I’m looking forward to using:

Stealing initiative on the flop

I’ve been thinking about continuation bets for a while now. The theory behind continuation bets is that you only make a pair on a flop (with an unpaired hand) 32% of the time, so in a heads up pot about 46% of the time neither player will flop a pair and a bet will frequently take down the hand. Traditionally a continuation bet is made by the preflop raiser, but if we’re out of position and we were not the preflop aggressor, there’s no reason why we can’t make the equivalent of a continuation bet on the right board.

I’ve been thinking about adding this move to my repertoire for a while now and had an excellent opportunity to try it out in a session this week:

  • I’m in a medium-soft seven-handed 3/5 game. The table is pretty weak passive with fit-or-fold tendencies post flop.
  • The player under the gun limps and so does a player in middle position. The guy in the cutoff is about to bet $20 (his standard raise in all positions) but stops, re-evaluates, and decides to bet $25. The button and small blind fold, I call with 5h 5d (we’re deep enough for this to be standard) and the two limpers call.
  • The flop comes 8s 6h 4d
  • I decide to lead out for $60. The two limpers fold quickly, the original raiser looks annoyed and hems and haws a bit, but folds fairly decisively

There are a few things going on here that make it a good spot to donk out and either seize the initiative or just win the pot outright.

  • The original raiser is unlikely to have connected with this flop. The standard bad players at this level are unlikely to raise two limpers with suited connectors (even though at this table it’s pretty profitable to do so) or low pairs, so the only hands he’s going to have that connect with this flop are a suited A8, pocket 8s, and overpairs. I’d further discount the big overpairs (QQ+) because I think he would have thought a bit more preflop and maybe bet a bit more. So we’re ahead of his range.
  • We have some equity if we get called, but not enough to call the original raiser’s continuation bet. We have a pretty easy time bet folding if we get raised, but the original raiser is likely to only do that with overpairs, which is a small part of his range. When we get called we’re probably still ahead, but we also have six outs to catch up. We wouldn’t be able to call any reasonable continuation bet with the 12.8% draw equity we have, but it’s a useful plan B for when we encounter resistance.
  • There is a decent chance one of the two limpers is ahead of us, but they’re unlikely to have connected strongly enough to call our bet. The limpers’ ranges should mostly be suited connected hands and small to medium pocket pairs, which means there are going to be a fair number of single pair hands, but super strong hands are going to be rare. Our line looks pretty strong and the fact that the original raiser has yet to act has to look a bit scary to them. In general when people lead out on flops into the original raiser they tend to have medium strength one pair hands, e.g. top pair medium kicker, so we may see hands as strong as 89 folding here.
  • We maximize our fold equity against the medium strength part of the limpers’ ranges that beats us with this line and we minimize it with a check call line. If we take a check call line we make it really easy for a limper with 67, for example, to call, since they can justify it to themselves that the original raiser is just continuation betting and our hand looks like some draw or something else unthreatening.
  • Taking a check-raise line risks a lot more money and may have even less fold equity than a donk bet does, since the original raiser may become attached to the pot because he’s already put money in. There’s definitely something to be said for making it psychologically/behaviorally easy for our opponents to make the decision that we want them to make.

I like this little weapon, and while I’m not going to make a ton of money with it, I think it’s probably going to turn a tidy profit. There are some things I want to keep in mind when using this in the future, however:

  • It’s important to use this mostly on flops where the original raiser is unlikely to have connected strongly. I don’t want to do this on most Ace high flops, for example, unless I have strong evidence to put my opponent on a pocket pair.
  • I generally don’t want to be out of position but not be the original raiser – in a vacuum limping is not optimal, so I want to make sure I’m only doing it when I have a good reason – so this is more frequently going to be a play I consider when I call a raise out of the blinds (which is also something I hate doing).
  • This play is something that depends heavily on my opponent – I definitely don’t want to run this against completely unthinking players, against stubborn calling stations, against maniacs that like to play back at me, etc.

What I want

It’s important to keep the final vision in mind. It’s easy to get caught up in minutiae and make decisions based on local reasons instead of global goals. To that point, I want to state what I want to get out of self-improvement project:

  • I want to go skiing in the winter and finally take advantage of the geographic diversity of the Pacific Northwest
  • I want to go kayaking in the summers and learn to go out on the open water instead of just dinking around on Lake Union (which is still awesome)
  • I want to not feel guilty when I get stuck in the middle seat of a plane
  • I want to stop feeling a sense of dread when I’m about to go up a few flights of stairs or an inclined walk in the company of others
  • I want to be able to run a mile
  • I want to have more energy, to wake up each morning wanting to get out of bed and start my day
  • I want to feel comfortable inviting people over to my house and I want to feel connected to people around me
  • I want to feel like I’m a good brother and a good son
  • I want to feel like future girlfriends aren’t compromising their physical attraction standards to go out with me
  • I want to have my shit together – making excuses sucks and is bad all around
  • I want to pursue positive relationships in all aspects of life, to make things better than when I found them, and to make myself happier through the things I do
  • I want to be able to concentrate and not be a slave to my emotions when I need to, but to also have an outlet for my feelings and people I trust to share them with

I like who I am. But I want to be a better person.