Now, I know I am not supposed to be writing articles anymore, but I couldn’t help myself on this one. I finally figured something out that I have been thinking about for a long time. I need to get this off my chest, so I figured I would cheat just a little bit and do a fast article on the subject. This is going to be less in-depth than a lot of my other articles, so you should not expect the same level of analysis you see in my other pieces.
This thought came to my mind while watching one of the many renditions of the debate around whether ladder results matter. There was a pretty impressive collection of accomplished players having a full force debate on whether ladder results mean anything. This is a topic I have always struggled to adequately express my thoughts on, since there are a number of interlocking pieces that we need to hold in our mind at once. Finally, it occurred to me, this can just be expressed mathematically!
Ladder Points = Games Played x Player Skill x Deck Choice
Let’s start with this basic version. To be totally clear, I have no special insight into the mechanics of DWD’s Ladder points calculations system, and I am not attempting to recreate that. I am instead trying to just show how these various elements of ladder success have a relationship. The above equation makes a lot of intuitive sense. Two players that are of similar skill levels playing the same amount will favor the player with the better deck. If your player skill is really low you cannot effectively climb since that variable falls to 0. Skilled players can climb even with decks that are a little sub-optimal. There are a lot of implications to this equation, and I am not going to explore all of them, but ladder success must be attributed to one of these factors. If not, how is someone climbing?
It should be noted that “luck” is not a factor here. I suppose you could include it if you are looking at only a small sample size it is possible to run hot or cold, but we are focusing on large sample sizes.
I want to explore “Deck Choice” a little more, since I deliberately choice this term over something like “Deck Quality” or “Deck Power Level”. I think it can be broken up into its own equation.
Deck Choice = Power Level x Consistency x Metagame Bonus x Rogue Bonus
I think this is very useful to understand the success of a specific deck on ladder, especially if you cannot explain the success as being a function of player skill or just playing lots of games. Power level of a deck could just be described as the absolute quality of the underlying cards. Obviously evaluating the power level of a deck is a whole topic in-and-of itself, so I will not spend much time on this, but this is simultaneous a measure of the absolute power of the deck and the synergy of the cards. Next we have the consistency factor. I think it is impossible to argue that a deck like 4F Revenge is underpowered, since the underlying strategy is clearly trying to do something pretty impactful, but the consistency is where it loses a lot of its points since it has strict influence requirements, and an awkward curve. The metagame bonus is a function of what you are facing. Every deck has a counter no matter how powerful, and skilled ladder players know that they need to adjust their strategy in response to what they are seeing, because if they don’t they will quickly fall behind.
Finally we have the “rogue bonus”, which is a factor that many people undervalue. Do your opponents know what you are up to? Do you have spicy tech cards that counter the most common decks? Do people even have the correct counter cards in their deck? This is both an informational discrepancy and a card choice discrepancy. This factor is highly volatile. The more you play the deck the smaller this bonus becomes. Good players also become better at guessing what is in your deck based on available information, further diminishing this factor. Still, this advantage is real at least for a time. Although some jank brewers who swear off ever playing meta decks might overvalue this variable, many others might forget it all-together when trying to explain ladder results.
All ladder success must be attributed to one or more of these factors. It is really just that simple. “Bad” decks that make high level master often have good pilots and high rogue bonuses, despite lower overall power level or consistency problems. Unless the results can be explained by a good player grinding like a freak, the must be something good about the deck if it is getting results. Often decks that make it into the “LMFAO! MADE TOP 100 W THIS PILE!” type posts are dismissed as being too inconsistent or low power, but people somehow miss what this is telling you about the metagame. At the same time, just because a deck does make high level it doesn’t mean that it is both high power and sufficiently consistent. Maybe slight changes to the meta and a diminished rogue score will totally erode the results. Just because it is hard to figure out what ladder results always mean, it is wrong to say they mean nothing. A simple example of this might be VSarius’s recent post about Feln without Bloodcasters. Personally, I am convinced that having Bloodcaster is slightly better, but the real lesson than many people figured out was that Sabotage has been wildly undervalued as of late. Although I feel the pendulum may have swung a little too far in the other direction, that was an important piece of information you could figure out from VSarius’s list.
To end I wanted to share this quote from Buckwheat. I am very quietly a MASSIVE Buckwheat fan. Aside from being a talented deckbuilder and player, he is subtly profound, extremely self-aware, and embraces a nihilistic perspective that I love. This quote was truly exceptional, as I think it summarizes some important issues with a brevity that I admire.
Ladder success must come from somewhere. Why are some people consistently at the top? Why are some of the “top decks” able to find so much success all the way down the meta? New brews may not be perfect in their construction, but whenever a deck does well on ladder you need to figure out what it means, and it would be a mistake to ignore it entirely pretending that ladder results are just random. It is worth discussing how DWD should reward players based on the various elements of the equation listed above, and how they could implement that. For example the current system biases towards players that jam a lot of games, and we could debate whether that effect needs to be toned down. That being said, claiming that ladder results “mean nothing” is hogwash.