June 24, 2013

The Illusion of Symmetry

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Written by: Rapkannibale
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I remember how confused I was when I opened a Revised booster pack of Magic the Gathering only to find a card that would bury (destroy) all creatures in play. That card of course was Wrath of God. I went to one of my Magic playing peers and asked: “Does this mean all of my creatures will get killed as well if I play this? Why would anybody want to play this card?”

At that point in my trading card playing life, I was completely unaware of the finer nuances that come with a complex game such as Magic or Hex and had never even heard of the context of symmetry withing a TCG.

A symmetrical effect in a game like Magic or Hex, refers to effects that affect both players equally. Wrath of God is such a card in Magic and Extinction is such a card in Hex. When you play Extinction, all troops are destroyed, and that includes all the awesome troops you may have on the board.

And so I come to why the title of this article is “The Illusion of Symmetry”. The fact of the matter is that any so called symmetrical card, is only so on paper. In reality they rarely end up actually being symmetrical because you as the player chooses when to play the card. In addition you have the possibility of building a deck around such a card, to skew the symmetry in your favor.

In Magic, decks built around Wrath of God, usually had very few creatures in them. They were full on control decks that had alternate win conditions not necessarily based around killing your opponent with creatures (although that was still an option). The key was to wait until your opponent played a bunch of his cool creatures, only to then destroy them all with a well timed Wrath of God, gaining you huge card advantage.

Let’s look at three cards that have been spoiled that have symmetrical effects: Extinction, Emberspire Witch and Judgement.


Extinction JudgementEmberspire Witch


Extinction – Even though the currently spoiled cards in Hex include a lot of troops (the equivalent to Magic’s creatures), it has been mentioned by the developers of Hex that it will be possible to create competitive decks with very few or even no troops in them. In such decks Extinction stops being a symmetrical card and just becomes a card advantage machine. If we only look at the mechanics, this card is pretty much identical to Magic’s Wrath of God. This means that it is pretty much an auto-include in any control deck that plays Blood. The kind of card and tempo advantage you gain with a well-timed Extinction is very hard to recover from. Imagine your opponent manages to pull off a powerful combo with Replicator’s Gambit just to be blown out by Extinction. Not only they they lose 7 creatures, they also spent a turn shuffling the original creature back into their deck.

Emberspire Witch – This is another Hex card with a seemingly symmetrical effect. While this troop is in play no champions may gain health and that includes your champion. This means that abilities like Lifedrain and cards like Terrible Transfer and Life Siphon lose much of what makes them potentially good. At first glance this may seem like it is a negative trait added on to the card in order to balance it, but in fact, this will almost never be a disadvantage to the person playing this card, if used properly.

First of all this is a Ruby card. From what we have seen so far, Ruby is all about killing your opponent as quickly as possible; that means that preventing your opponent from gaining a bunch of extra health ties directly into this shard’s most common strategy. If your opponent manages to stall you out long enough, you risk running out of steam and not being able to react to your opponent’s late game threats. The Witch is very aggressively costed, giving you a 2/2 troop with Swiftstrike for two resources and a Ruby threshold of two, which makes it a perfect troop for a fast aggressive Ruby deck. In addition it is a perfect sideboard card against decks based around gaining health. The low resource cost will allow you to get it out quickly, making sure early health gain cards like Adamanthian Scrivener become pretty much useless. Of course whether or not you will want to actually take up sideboard slots with this card will largely depend on the meta game, but if health gain decks are prominent, it may very well be a viable choice.

Judgement – Now this card is a really interesting one that also has a symmetrical effect, although it makes it easier for you than Extinction to skew the balance in your favor. You could for example build a control deck with a high resource curve (see Magic’s mana curve for more info), meaning you have a lot of highly costed cards in your deck (ideally with the same resource cost). This would make it more common for your opponent to lose more cards than you to a Judgement. Another option could be to build a Sapphire/Diamond deck around a very expensive but powerful card such as Argus, Herald of Doom. Argus allows you to reveal it to lower it’s cost, but in this deck you wouldn’t want to reduce the cost too much. Instead you could put in some Journeyman Technicians and any other resource acceleration that may be available to try to get Argus out earlier and then play a Judgement to clear pretty much all of your opponent’s in play cards. Of course this deck may not end up being viable in the competitive environment, but it could be a fun deck to play anyway.

In conclusion, don’t dismiss cards that have symmetrical effects because you think it will affect both players equally. This are usually great cards to build decks around, trying to skew the balance as much as possible in your favor so that instead of an effect that effects both players equally, you gain a significant advantage and your opponent is left with a defeat.


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