Who’s the Beatdown?
Hey everyone! We’re happy to have Master player (peak #3 NA), Toephur, back to share some card game wisdom. Be sure to check him out at his Twitch stream.
The question of “Who’s the Beatdown?” was introduced by Mike Flores, one of the early and more influential writers for Magic the Gathering. The question was meant to point to an essential principle in every card game, that in any given matchup one player will be favored in the early game and one will be favored in the late game.
This is important because understanding the fundamental nature of the game you’re about to play will make it much easier to have a consistent and appropriate strategy as you play the game.
My friend, an experienced MTG player at the time, once asked me how many turns I think ahead when I play a game of Magic and I gave him the only reasonable answer for a card game, all of them.
When you’re playing a game of Runeterra you should be thinking about the scope of the entire game, not just your plan for what to play this turn.
As soon as you load into the game you know what your opponent is playing, so if they’re on Freeze Ezreal and you’re playing Spiders, you know that you have to play as fast and aggressive as possible, you have to make sure that you’re taking advantage of every combat step in the early game because once the game goes late the Ezreal deck will have a huge advantage on you.
What about a less obvious matchup? What if I’m still playing Spiders and I queue into Discard Aggro? Now both decks focus on the early game, so how do we as the Spiders player decide what lines of play to take?
Because of Discard Aggro’s ability to reload their hand with Augmented Experimenter and Jinx we can conclude that they are favored in the late game, especially because if the board stalls with units on both sides they’ll have more burn spells that can deal direct damage and finish us off.
Knowing this we’ll decide that we are obligated to try to put more pressure on the early game and fight aggressively to finish our opponent off before they can reload their hand multiple times and gain a lot of value.
The subtle difference between the two of these scenarios is how much we want to value Tempo or Value, two well-established maxims in card game theory. Value is when you gain card advantage on your opponent, think of Ezreal decks using Progress Day to draw 3 cards for 8 mana, the Ezreal deck loses the tempo of their turn but can use the 3 cards drawn to fuel their late game plan.
Control decks are constantly attempting to gain value and set themselves up for winning in the late game. Tempo on the other is the idea of who is ahead on the board at any given moment, who is currently winning the game.
Aggro decks are based around Tempo, they commit cheap efficient units to the board in the early game and want to push their advantage as quickly as possible to win the game before their opponent can set up whatever their deck is doing. To understand tempo think of an aggro deck using Will of Ionia offensively.
As a Demacia/Ionia Elites deck if it was my opponent’s turn and I had several weak units on board while my opponent used all their mana to play a Soul Gorger to stop my open attack next turn, I could use Will of Ionia to bounce the Soulgorger clearing the way for my open attack.
The play would cost me value, because I’m using a full card to merely return a card to my opponent’s hand instead of killing it permanently, but it gains me a lot of tempo because it shifts the board in my favor allowing me to attack unopposed and try to finish my opponent off quickly.
Back to our game as Spiders against Freeze Ezreal. Once we see the matchup we know that we have to go as all in aggro as possible. In other words at every opportunity of the game we’ll sacrifice value for tempo, we’ll look to attack in order to push damage even if our opponent can set up favorable blocks on units we would rather survive.
We know that as Spiders in this matchup we’re a huge dog when it comes to the late game and we’re massively favored in the early game, so instead of trying to make trades for value and maximizing our card advantage, we need to be pushing as hard and as fast as we can to end the game, even if it means sacrificing value along the way.
A very real example I saw of this while leveling my second account through lower tiers was Elites decks refusing to attack with their Battlesmiths for fear of losing them to my blockers.
They wanted the value of their Battlesmith giving their units +1/+1 but at that point they didn’t need more value against my Freeze Ezreal deck, no buffs would let them keep up with me in the late game, so instead of value they needed to play for tempo and try and kill me quickly before my deck came online.
Returning to our matchup as Spiders against Discard Aggro we still want to seize the early game and play for tempo, but even though it is similar our game plan isn’t exactly the same as it was against Freeze Ezreal.
While we do have a slight advantage in the early game and a slight disadvantage in the late game, neither are as substantial as against Freeze Ezreal.
Therefore while we need to ensure that we are always playing for tempo and trying to push aggressively to win the game instead of control it, we can’t afford to sacrifice too much value along the way.
The reason for this is that the Discard Aggro deck is capable of keeping relative pace with us through the early and the middle of the game, meaning if we throw away too much value early on we’ll run out of gas later.
The subtlety of playing the match up properly is the difference between killing your Ezreal opponent before he can stitch together his combo, or dying with your him at 1 health because he froze your units just long enough to draw his first Ezreal 35 cards into his deck, another example from reality.
It’s the difference between maintaining a small lead on board against discard aggro and finishing them off before their Jinx gets carried away, or dying to multiple Mega Death Rockets.
To take it to another level, it also informs us of what we’re willing to play around. When you’re lining up attacks and wondering whether or not your opponent has the answer to your all in attack and whether or not you should go for it, one of the main factors to consider is whether or not you have the luxury of playing around their card given the tenor of the matchup.
If we play around their answer and it forces a late game scenario can we ever win the game that way? If the answer is no then you may as well play as if they don’t have it, and just concede whatever percentage of games they do.
In games where we avoid making obvious misplays sometimes the outcome will be determined by things beyond our control like RNG, but many times by thinking a little differently about our overall macro strategy we can adjust some subtle lines of play that we take throughout a game to put ourselves over the edge just barely.
(A brief PSA on the subject of going for it and misplays. If you’re an aggro player and your opponent is playing a deck that has removal in it and they have mana up, don’t pre commit your buffs during your attack, seriously don’t do it unless they’re killing you next turn and killing them now is your only way to win)
I think the question of “Who’s The Beatdown?” is especially applicable to Runeterra because of the system of passing priority back and forth to play cards. When you’re trying to decide what to do on any given turn it’s usually an advantage to know what your opponent is going to do and then formulate your strategy based on that.
However, in Runeterra it’s risky to pass priority to your opponent without playing anything first, because then they could just pass to the next turn and burn all of your unused mana.
The decision of whether or not to risk a pass usually depends on 3 factors:
- How much mana you each have available
- Who is ahead on board
- Who is favored in the late game
The mana is usually equal because this is happening at the beginning of the turn, so let’s just assume that factor is tied. The 2nd factor is who is ahead on board and by how much.
The easiest way to determine this is the hypothetical: if both players passed and the active player open attacked next turn, would I be at an advantage, disadvantage, or neither. Knowing how much of a disadvantage is tolerable or how much of an advantage is required depends heavily on the 3rd factor, who is favored in the late game.
If I’m Control playing against Aggro then I’m heavily favored in the late game, meaning even if they have an unblocked open attack, if it’s just a small one, then I can safely risk a pass and see what my opponent does.
On the other hand, if I’m Aggro playing against Control I can’t risk a pass without a strong board presence, otherwise, my opponent will just take a pass also and the game will go into the late game where I’m at a disadvantage. Sometimes the distinction of when to risk a pass is obvious, but sometimes, when decks are more similar, it’s not.
It’s important to understand not only who is the beatdown in each of your matchups, but how severely each deck is favored in the early and late game, that way you know how much to push for tempo, versus how much to acquire for value as you make decisions throughout the match.
Thanks for reading!
If you missed my intro in the other article I recently published I go by Toephur, I’ve played tons of card games like MTG, Hearthstone, and Artifact. I recently hit #3 on the NA ladder playing Ezreal and Lux/Karma Control and wrote an article about that which is also here on Mobalytics.
Since then, I put a secondary account into Masters, Masters MMR system is a bit of a bummer right now and thought these concepts would be really relevant to a lot of players based on my experiences on the ladder.
If you’ve got any questions, comments, or want me to talk about other specific matchups just drop a comment or come by my Twitch channel where I’d be more than happy to take a deep dive into whatever you’re curious about. Best of luck!