In Bridge there is a rule that states that you must try to win. This sounds simple enough, but there is sometimes a cut to Top 4 after the Swiss, so in the last round if your team is a lock, it can be to your advantage to throw the match so that you end up with a more favorable pairing in the Top 4. This is a legal play because you have tried to improve your odds of winning the tournament, even though you didn’t try to win that particular match. Gamers gotta game.
In Magic events you don’t so much care about where you are in the Top 8, as long as you are there. With the new play/draw rule there is a small motivation to improve your position, but not enough to risk missing out entirely. Got to be in it to win it.
It is this all-important cut that creates the phenomenon of the intentional draw or ID.
When I was first offered an ID at a local games day I thought it was something very scandalous. You can agree to draw in order to win a slot in the Top 8? Can you even do this? Of course you can. We have all done it. I guess the reason it’s allowed is that in Magic, a match does not have to have a winner. Draws happen. If intentional draws were disallowed, people would just slow play a match to a draw, and policing such a rule would become a headache for judges.
What has been shocking me recently is how many people are managing to ID themselves out of contention. Even when it’s not for Top 8, people are drawing to try to guarantee a certain prize payout and are missing out. This should be easy to avoid for the most part, which I will elaborate on below.
There are many motivating factors to intentionally draw in the final rounds, aside from the obvious one of guaranteeing your shot at the prize. If you are IDing into Top 8 then you get a round of rest. Big tournaments are exhausting—chances are you have forgotten to eat and drink, and this provides a chance to re-charge before the all-important final rounds.
The other use of this time is to scout the opposition—finding out who else is in the Top 8, what they are playing, who you are likely to face in the quarters, and how to sideboard. This kind of information is invaluable to success. If you ID and have an hour to focus your thoughts and consider strategy, then you are much better off mentally than the person who had to play. I wrote a couple of months ago about the importance of the mental state to your chances of success and the value of this break cannot be underestimated.
If you are simply trying to ID into a certain prize payout, then you may be drawing so you can get home earlier or are tired of playing Magic (how is that possible?). It gets interesting when you can draw into Top 64, win into Top 32, but if you lose will finish out of the prizes. Most people would draw, but what if you happen to know what your opponent is playing (because a friend played them earlier in the day) and it’s favorable, do you still ID? Most people do, but why?
Probably for the same reasons that people who aren’t a lock for Top 8 will draw anyway. I’ve been trying to work these out, because I have never ID’d myself into 9th, nor do I ever intend to. Here are some ideas I have come up with:
IDing is cool!
Getting to ID in the last round then strut around like a proud peacock is quite a nice feeling. You get to say, “look at me, I did better than you so I got to draw this round AND I will be in the Top 8.” It’s a power-trip—everyone loves to be noticed. Of course, you look silly and have to go hide when it turns out you drew into 9th, but never mind.
Not all these points apply to everyone, but I’m sure most of us are guilty of being lazy some of the time. Right now, for example, the washing up needs doing. It’s not getting done for two reasons 1. I’m writing this for your enjoyment and 2. because I’m lazy and I don’t need those dishes right now so they can wait (cue kitchen jokes in comments). If I can make Top 8 without having to play yet another round (especially with how big PTQs are getting), then I’m all aboard the not-doing-anything-this-round train.
It’s the “done thing”
Kind of similar to “it’s cool,” but slightly different. I get the feeling these days that you ID the last round, regardless of whether you can actually make the cut or not by doing so. This seems shockingly, well, lazy. Just looking at the standings and doing some simple math can tell you whether your strategy is doomed to failure. We aren’t talking metagame analysis and prediction here, we are talking about what is right in front of you. Yet I have seen tournaments where the top five tables ID. Think about it. That means 10 people think they ID’d into 8th or better… yeah, sure, that’ll work out.
Just recently I was at a tournament where the actual math of who could ID and who couldn’t was really complex, but one thing for certain was the bottom X-1 on only 43% OMW really, really couldn’t. He was about 10% off the rest of us at X-1, and yet his match ID’ed. I was a little shocked, so I prodded his opponent who could, most likely, ID to find out if he had twisted the guy’s arm (not unheard off). To my shock the guy that couldn’t afford to draw had actually offered the ID—maybe he had just assumed X-1-1 was a lock, but I can’t blame his opponent for taking that sweet deal (and yes, he did not make Top 8).
Paying your money and taking your chances
Sometimes taking an ID isn’t a lock but it’s odds on. In Texas Hold’em poker it is rare that you have a hand guaranteed to pay out, but you work out the odds that you will get beat and cross your fingers. Just because you should profit 66% of the time with this particular holding does not mean that you will this time. Over time your wins should outweigh your loses.
When you sit down to play the final round of the Swiss at a PTQ, what do you think your odds of winning are? That is dependant on a large number of factors: what you and your opponent are playing, who your opponent is (he can’t be that bad, he’s in contention for Top 8), if you have a headache, etc. But you often have a feel for how it’s going to turn out, even if you can’t put an actual number on it.
Let’s say I play against my arch-nemesis Stephen Murray who I have never beaten in a PTQ and, because we are friends, I actually know what he’s playing, and it’s an okay but not great matchup. I’m going to put my odds of winning at slightly less than par. Now, the ID math has said Stephen is a lock for Top 8 on a draw, but I might lose out if the results from table 5 and 6 both go the wrong way. With either match going right or both going right, that means 3 out of 4 outcomes from those two tables are good for me, which could be interpreted as 75% odds for me to make it if I ID. So I may well take the ID even though I could end up 9th. Of course the 75% is artificial as I don’t know the matchups, maybe I’m betting on the two guys that have unwinnable matches. It’s easy to see why you might ID in this situation, but I guess you have to ask yourself if you want to be the master of your own fate or leave that up to someone else (for reference, I would not actually ID in this situation. Sorry Stephen).
Here we come to the Number One reason for people IDing themselves out of whatever position they were aiming for. For a game that uses math a fair amount, I am endlessly shocked by the number of people staring at the standings board going, “Can I ID? I have no idea, somebody help me!” What’s worse is you have other people giving out the wrong advice “yeah, you can ID” or “no way mate, you gotta play it out” which muddles everything further. I’m hoping to give you a guide here to working out if you can ID into Top 8 so that we can stop all this confusion and mess. I don’t want to hear about another person not making the cut after taking a draw.
“Should I Play or Should I Draw? If I Play There Will Be Trouble, but If I Draw It Will Be Double”
I’ve used the standings after round 9 of GP Costa Rica as an example. Imagine instead that these are the standings going into the final round of one of the toughest PTQs in recent history. Now let’s work through the logic of who can draw.
Ben can draw as only Hugo could reach 28 points and that is who he will be paired against. Importantly Hugo can also draw. To work this out, you simply consider how many people could reach the same (or greater) number of points that he will have after the draw, in this case, 26. So if all the 24s play, then 4 (or 5 if two are paired down to the 22s) of them could reach 27 points, adding one for Ben, gives us at most 6 people that can beat Hugo.
So if 1st and 2nd take the easy option (we’ll come back to that) then our Top 8 now has 6 remaining slots. Can the 24s ID? Well, there are eight of them so simply no.
The 22s also complicate things. We don’t know how they will be paired, though most likely they will play each other, but as they definitely can’t draw, it adds another 25 point finish into the mix. If they are paired down and both win that’s two additional 25s.
If you want to be safe, everyone other than the Top 2 need to play. It’s that simple, but gamers gotta game, and some people like to play the OMW lottery. So let’s look a little closer.
In the final round, pairings are done top down, so if you are an odd number in the standings you will play the person directly below you, unless there is some fiddling with the pairings above due to people having played before, but this is unusual in the Top 12. So, Shuuhei should be playing AJ Sacher, they have the best breakers of the 24s. They also have better breakers than both the players on 22 points, so if they draw they are unlikely to be beaten on breakers by anyone else who finishes on 25 points.
But will they make it? Well, they won’t beat Hugo and Ben. If the other 24s play there will be at least three more people on 27 points (if the unusual happens and two 24s get paired to the 22s, then there could be as many as four), so they should be fine and have ID’d themselves into 7th and 8th. If more people decide to ID, then they are even more safe since their breakers should make them good.
As you work down the tables drawing gets more and more dodgy. If table three (Josh and Max) also draw then we have six known results (28, 26, 25, 25, 25, 25) the other tables have to play in order to beat those scores. That leaves 28, 27, 27 , 26 and four 25s… and the two players on 22. The draws are always the wild cards in working these things out. We don’t know how they will be paired, but they should give us one if not two additional 25s. In this example, Josh and Max have better breakers than the 22s, so they “should” be safe from losing out to them in the tie breaker lottery.
But you cannot guarantee what will happen to the OMWs, they can often go down, sometimes significantly. You can take you chances with the ID or you can play. Do you want to make your own fate or leave it in the hands of others (including those you already beat)?
There is one last thing to consider in the case of Josh and Max (and also Ben and Hugo): the new play/draw rule.
How the New Play/Draw Rule Should Affect Your Decisions
That your swiss position determines who wins the die roll in the Top 8 should affect the decision-making process in regards to IDing. This does not seem to be happening yet, if it ever will, but let’s consider why it makes a difference.
Let’s look at people who are choosing to ID based on their “chance” of making the cut. These are the people who are close on breakers like Josh and Max, but a swing in OMW will cause them to lose out. These people have chosen to ID based on some chance rate in their head. Doesn’t need to be an actual number, but they think it’s their best odds of making the cut.
However, the new rule should alter this. If they had played, whoever won would very likely have come second in the swiss (due to all the other IDs going on). This increases their chance of success in the Top 8 as they get to play in probably every match. Alternatively, if they do manage to sneak in on the draw, they are likely 7th or 8th—meaning they will lose all of the die rolls. Depending on the deck, the difference this makes could be extreme. I know the Top 8 I made, having won the Swiss felt amazing. Getting to play first in every match was a huge boost.
The logic of drawing into Top 8s (even on a lock) is that you have to be “in it to win it.” This is a fair sentiment, but if what matters is winning the overall tournament then surely your best shot is to win the swiss, thus gaining an edge in the Top 8. This is why Hugo might not want to actually draw (as I hinted at earlier). He may well make the cut if he loses anyway, since some people on 25 will make it. If he wins he greatly increases his chances in the Top 8. I don’t think you will ever see people not drawing to ensure a guaranteed slot, because making sure you’re there, even if you do lose all the rolls, is important. However for the corner cases, I strongly believe more people should be playing to increase their chances of success.
“To Sleep, Perchance to Dream (Crush)”
Did you know the original quote is actually talking about suicide?
Back on topic, dream crushing is a really horrid term. If you haven’t met it yet, it refers to someone taking an action to deny another success.
This really irritates me. Not the so-called “dream crushing,” but the assumption one should concede rather than “crush.” Some people don’t go to tournaments to win the big prize. They go to enjoy themselves. Going X-2 overall would be a big deal for them. Maybe it is their best score yet. What right does anyone have to demand a victory from their opponent based on what it gives them? Beside, most of the time when you get given your “due,” what is actually happening is someone else’s “dream” is being crushed in the collateral damage.
This situation occurred at a PTQ I attended. The standings going into the final round were almost identical to the ones in the example we were considering above. I was at the bottom table of the X-1s and had to play for my place. The X-1-1s were both paired down. Because of the numbers and the fact I had to play (worst tiebreakers ever), one of them could make it if they won (or the top X-2 if they both lost). One of them talked a quick concession out of his opponent, which crushes the hopes of the top X-2.
Meanwhile, the other player tries the same trick on his opponent but fails. If he had succeeded, then he would have the better breakers, so his opponent would effectively be dream crushing the other X-1-1 and yet he gets accused of dream crushing since he can’t possibly make Top 8. The guy looks somewhat overwhelmed and simply tries to explain that he came to play Magic. Good for him! Please, let’s stop this once and for all. One man’s loss is always another’s gain. There aren’t many situations (especially with the new play/draw rule) where one can truly be dream crushing at no expense to anyone but the target.
Let’s put this to bed. Stop expecting people to hand you your victories and go win your matches the hard way. Concessions really irritate me and they happen all too frequently. If you don’t actually like playing Magic, maybe it’s time to find a new hobby.
Okay, my gripe for the week is over. I hope you have found our trip down ID avenue enlightening. It’s not a simple topic. I sat down to write this thinking that it would be a nice easy article and I’ve spent hours agonizing over how to phrase each bit so I don’t just wind up with confused readers. I hope I have been successful. Please, for me, don’t ID into 9th. See you next week and say hi @onionpixie.