Thinking it Through

Thinking it Through

Fact: Intentional draws are lame. The 1% takes full advantage of their power position and coasts into the Top 8. Instead of the top players actually knocking each other off, they agree to help each other secure playoff positions by avoiding any losers. Without anyone winning a game, they all remain “winners.”

Let’s say you’re Eric Spoelstra (head coach of the Miami Heat). Your team is up 20 points with two minutes left to play. Not only is your team locked for the playoffs, but they can’t lose the first seated position. Assuming he isn’t on the verge of breaking any records, would you play or bench Lebron? How would you feel if the NBA had a rule that forced your top paid/performing athlete to play so many minutes? What if in those forced minutes King James incurred an injury?


Fact: Not allowing draws creates Machiavellian paths to victory.

In the WOW TCG the policy was after each player exhausted their extra turns in time (or  completed their remaining turns after time was called) a winner would be declared as the person who had taken the least amount of damage.  This wreaked havoc on the game. Clearly going last in extra turns was imperative, and tournament players did unscrupulous – but legal – things to ensure they had the last turn. One such tactic was abusing the one-minute time limit on shuffling.

When I played in the 2008 WOW Nationals, it was game three and my opponent ended his turn. I saw there was a minute left on the clock and said, “End of Turn, activate Preparing for War for three.” I went through the motions of shuffling three cards from my yard into my deck, exhausting the full minute I’m allowed. The clock beeps and time is called. I presented my deck to him for a shuffle and cut, which he did, then finally declared that I was done activating effects at the end of his turn. Since it was still his turn, it counted as one of his two extra turns in time. I would have lost the game and the match if he’d had one more turn.

No, my actions were not the “nicest”, but we’re not playing on my kitchen table with chips and soda. It was Nationals, and each round had the potential to cost or earn you thousands of dollars. There are always some people at these events that will always do what it takes. By no means do I mean to encourage a player who wants to keep casual at a tournament to change his play style, temperament, or even ethics; however, that player is naïve if he thinks that people at a high-level event aren’t going to use every legal means necessary to win. Some people travel well over four hours for a KMC, and it’s not with the intention of just hanging out.

Fact: Intentional draws are a necessary evil.

Could you imagine a world where quarterbacks couldn’t take a knee to run the clock out? Outside of the shot clock and back court count, how would you change the policy in basketball to force a maximum amount of time a single player could dribble? Is it even possible?

Yu-Gi-Oh! allows for draws, but its tournament policy forbids intentional draws. The problem: the resources necessary to police this don’t justify the policy. As a scorekeeper for large events (Regionals and YCSs), I see this happen all the time. Judges watch players to prevent intentional drawing. Each player can legally choose not to play a removal spell, or forget to attack, or take the allotted time to shuffle – so how do judges identify a legit attempt to orchestrate an intentional draw. Worst of all, while these judges police this policy, they are not handling real problems: rule questions, collecting slips, and watching for bribery.

Fact: Incentives can minimize the lameness

In recent years, WotC has introduced a policy that really improves the lame factor of intentional draws. In Kaijudo specifically, they made it so a draw doesn’t improve a player’s rating, so that player has to play to win if he wants to improve his rating. The best incentive applies to Kaijudo and MtG: standings determining the die roll in the playoffs. Instead of rolling a die to see who goes first, the higher seeded player gets to choose who goes first in Kaijudo and MtG playoffs. There is a significant incentive to play it out), because going first in the playoffs can be such a huge advantage.

Taking the risk to play versus draw depends on your deck and the decks that you might play against in the top 8. This will require studying people’s tie breakers and scoping out what they’re playing on a case-by-case basis. But if you’re curious how the math works out on when the undefeated can draw in, use the following model:

q/2R ≤ 8 – t

q = Players who are X-1

t = Players who are X-0

R = rounds left in the event

At the end of the day intentional draws will always be lame. But I would rather have the ability to draw than pay a higher entry fee or have prizes cut because of increased expenses to have staff watch players to prevent intentional draws. Or deal with the situations that arise when a winner must be declared in time after extra turns. If you still disagree with draws, let me share one final reason for intentional draws: since anything can happen in the playoffs, I take solace in the fact that the top 8 players who go X-0-2 and X-1 almost always achieved the same win streak to get there.