• PDH Home Base

Tabletop Warfare

Architects of Will, by Matt Stewart, owned by Wizards of the Coast © All Rights Reserved.

A number of months ago, I had released an article discussing tools to use when building your very first deck. In pursuit of finding new topics to discuss, I decided to review this piece, and see if I had missed anything, or if there was something I wished to correct. Although I do not disagree with the steps I had presented, I have indeed spotted one flaw in the very first step. The step isn’t incorrect, but I had failed to place a much deserved amount of weight on this step.

Let me explain a little more in depth as to what I mean. I had before said pick a commander based off “what speaks to you.” In this statement alone, I have realized not only that such a statement is astronomically vague, but when observing this idea deeper, I have come to realize that this entire subject spans far beyond you as a player, and reaches to how you interact with your opponents. Such a subject demonstrates an inevitable chaos, but can be observed from a much more academic lens than I had previously appreciated.

In an expansive attempt to rectify my lack of weight placed on the “Step 1” of your deck building process, I will be attempting to show you that not only will your choice of commander and 99 not only be scientific and political, you can observe every opponent around you through a very fine lens. Through this article, I will present several ideas to further solidify this argument.

  • Assumptions that you are safe (and very much not safe) to make, supported by quoting Mark Rosewater’s Psychographic Profiles, and by highlighting the fundamental uniqueness of the Pauper EDH format.

  • Tactical profiles and play styles under set assumptions, supported by analyzing existing archetypes in MTG, as well observing the political structure that exist within multiplayer variants.

It is absolutely essential for you, not only as a player, but a deck builder, to understand that despite any shifts in the Meta of PDH, the scientific and political structure that solidifies PDH as a format will absolutely allow you to observe such shifts through a lens constructed with pieces that will not alter. Such philosophy must be understood, to not only optimize how you build, but what you build, and how you operate such a machine. With such an ambitious thesis outlined, we may now proceed.

Part 1

If I am to classify the base of PDH players, I’m going to need to start by breaking down what it is that makes PDH unique in its own right. This will seem rather trivial, but it is absolutely necessary that we set this ground now.

  • It’s a variant of EDH: This implies a few things immediately. This is not intended to be a competitive format, nor is it intended to be a 1 vs 1 format. The luxury of such a format gives a wider range of home-brewing potential.

  • It’s a variant of Pauper: A commons-only format means that this is (compared to most other formats), budget-friendly. Although there exists a ceiling on overall power level, players have access to “Legacy Worthy” game play, within an affordable means.

With this all in mind, it’s now easier to give a clearer definition as to what truly makes PDH and its player base unique. PDH allows political game play, with the luxury of an incredibly wide window of unique brewing possibilities. What is special here, is that no player is constrained by a budget. Every player has the luxury of constructing their optimal vision, every player can play at their best.

Part 2

From here, we will need to reference the work of the great Mark Rosewater, and his theory of Psychographic Profiling. For those unfamiliar, Rosewater groups all players into structured profiles, based off how a player approaches and plays the game. With this analysis, we can lay out very firm and safe assumptions that we can (and should) make about the PDH player base as a whole.

Personally, I thoroughly enjoy this concept of profiling different gamer types. This article will only be observing bits relevant to us, so I encourage you to take some time and read more about Rosewater’s work here. In the meantime, let’s discuss where amongst these three profiles (Timmy, Johnny, and Spike) you can find a PDH player.

Timmy: Players enjoy large creatures, large spells, and a magnificent win. A “stroke of luck” win doesn’t count. The enjoyment comes from the overall quality of the game.

Johnny: A win is the goal, but you’re not going to find any net-deckers here. These players seek to be creative, and find a dominant deck anywhere undiscovered. The design of the deck must be efficient, but expressive.

Spike: The aim of the game here is to win. Play the best deck, push the boundaries of competitive play, and be the best. If a deck doesn’t win, then it goes back to the drawing board and refined until it is the best.

Among these profiles, where does a PDH player exist? First of all, let’s recall one very important factor: Money isn’t a problem here (or at least, within reason). You’re not going to have a player hindered because they can’t afford to buy (for example) that Gaia’s Cradle they need. Everything is affordable. It may not be feasible to build 5 or 6 decks at a time, but we are safe to assume that a player can build at least one deck that they truly want (and can make adjustments as they see fit over time) without monetary boundaries.

Why does this matter so much? Let’s use an example to highlight. Suppose you are investing in a modern deck. This is a huge chunk of change. Now let’s ask an important question: who plays a game with the expectation to lose? If you’re going to invest hundreds of dollars (edging around $2000 to play a staple archetype like Jund) this needs to be worth your time. That means, to drop on average $1000 into a home brew that has the potential to be unsuccessful isn’t exactly a wise decision. If you’re going to invest, you’re going to want to play what you know shows results. Experimenting with a unique creation in a non-budget format isn’t financially responsible for the average person.

So, observing from this lens, we see an immediate positive point about a budget format. You can comfortably enter the format with a home brew. This exact point is incredibly appealing to one type of profile in particular. A “Johnny” player works to win, but needs to win with their own ideas. When a format allows you to experiment without a financial boundary, this is incredibly appealing. A Johnny likes a challenge, and a commons-only format presents a very unique challenge; “You can do anything with a limitless budget and access to every card. Show me what you can do with only commons.”

I’m proposing that PDH Players are primarily defined with “Johnny” profiles. However, although dominant, this isn’t strict and exclusive. Elements of the other two profiles do have an impact on understanding the player, and how the player will apply their efforts.

Let’s discuss the impact of a Spike profile first. A Johnny is interested in winning by their own terms, but let’s not forget, the goal is to create a deck that wins. Where a Spike is entirely focused on winning, they will observe a game almost like a sports event. More relevant to us, is the observation of the game after it’s finished. A Spike will do a breakdown of what went well, and what didn’t. They will assess what could have been prevented by simply using better judgement during a game, and will observe where the deck itself was lacking. A Spike will spend much time fine tuning their weapon.

This element of constant fine tuning can be quite expensive, given the format. Once again here’s the appeal to a budget format. A PDH player will always be excited to play with something that they’ve created, but these post-game assessments are a part of the experience. PDH players go in to a game looking to perform at nothing less than their best.

Now let’s observe the impact of the Timmy profile. The Timmy needs to have fun, and if they’re going to win, it needs to be awesome. If they don’t win, that’s fine, as long as how they lost was also epic.

We have spent a lot of time discussing the impact of finance on this format as a motivator, but there’s a new question to ask. “Pauper Constructed is a budget format, with a low price point entry, and also allows you to experiment and fine tune with very minimal financial barriers. PDH players want to play at their absolute best, while doing something unique. Why not play 60 card constructed?”

To answer this question, let’s think back to what is important to a Timmy. EDH is essentially a playground for a Timmy. You can use big creatures or other big spells. Games normally have 4 players, creating a diverse, political, and unpredictable environment. Board states can get out of hand, with insane combat phases and absurdly large combos that are simply impossible in a 60 card constructed format. Apply this thought process to a PDH player. The goal is to win, and win with a unique creation. However, the goal does not define the full quality of a game for the player. The interaction with other players, the insane board states, the crazy combos that can’t exist anywhere else, and the opportunity to witness the originality of your opponents.

When we think about everything discussed above, we can pinpoint a PDH Player in a few short statements. “Gameplay needs to be exciting, board states need to be epic, and political interaction amongst players adds flavor that optimizes the quality of the game. The PDH player is here for fun, but make no mistake, this is not a casual-level player, and this will not be a casual game. Every player in the game is going to bring their best, and push the boundaries of everyone around them, with tricks yet to be seen elsewhere. This is truly a vicious battleground fit for Kings, each with their own identity.”

Given the above evidence, I am proposing to you that the above statement stands as an umbrella definition for ALL PDH players. No true PDH player is an exception to the above. We now have a statement that groups all players together, and gives us assumptions that we can (and will) make when observing a player closely.

Part 3

I must confess to you now that this article will not be self-contained, but the stepping stone for observing new realms of game play from here onward. To contain the following thoughts into a mere few paragraphs would simply be myself repeating the same mistake I had made before, and we will fail to paint the picture we desire to present.

For the next step of this research, my direction of study was heavily influenced by The Command Zone podcast, specifically an episode they had produced about “Lessons to learn from War.” I am so thankful for them taking the risk in making an episode like this, as it has helped me further develop the ideas that we will observe below. Although players will all be applying their highest level of skill, this does not imply that all players will be playing the same way, or using similar play styles. In fact, the combination of observing archetypes with multiple player politics creates a very unique web of study.

Let me explain further what I mean. Observing more competitive formats, we are very well aware of different archetypes that are utilized within a game. For example, I’m referring to things like aggro, tempo, mid-range, control, etc. These overall philosophies behind building a deck, understanding how they work, and understanding their weaknesses are incredibly important when it comes to performing at an optimal level. However, there’s one important proposition that I wish to offer.

“Constructed format Dynamic games and the individual strategic play styles of each player are dictated by: (a) the archetype of each players’ deck, and (b) players having knowledge of their opponent’s deck archetype, either immediately or as the game progresses. This statement is supported two underlying assumptions. The first being that there are, in fact, two players, nor more, no less. The second, being that as well as assumed knowledge and intent, rational behaviour may be assumed at all times.”

So, how does PDH complicate observing a player simply by the deck archetype? Well, reading above, I have proposed that two assumptions support the foundation of defining a player strategy. By the nature of PDH, the first of these two is immediately contradicted. These are not two player games. There is not simply one other source of competition, but several other fronts. Adding an addition dimension adds a layer yet to be observed. We can no longer safely assume that deck archetypes alone dictate the players’ behaviours.

With this being the case, it is essential for us to develop a new understanding as to how a player operates within a game. With that being said, that’s not to say previously discussed elements no longer apply.

  1. The deck archetype, and knowing how to operate your deck, as well as recognizing weaknesses.

  2. Recognizing the archetype of all other players’ decks, either immediately or as the game progresses.

I’ve claimed that these elements alone are no longer valid to explicitly explain how a player operates, but that doesn’t imply they add no variance whatsoever. In fact, it’s this idea that we will hold when we return to our second of the original assumptions. In a 1 v 1 game, where the direction of all actions are intended to be unilateral, all forms of focus and decision making are in response to a single source. In a 4 player game, a player’s pure focus is divided into three separate directions, adding a more complicated view of the game. Let’s observe how this is the case.

  • First of all, when a player makes a particular move, not only is it crucial to understand how much it impacts you, but you must also acknowledge whether or not it will have a heavier impact on another player other than yourself or the caster.

  • In the event that an opponent will be affected by a move to the same extent as yourself, which of the two players will accept the damages, and who will expend resources to prevent potential damages.

  • By recognizing deck archetypes, it’s also crucial to predict their level of desire for other players in a game. For example, players can recognize other players to be a potential problem and wish to remove them first. For others, it may be ideal to have the game progress with all players as long as possible.

The second of these factors will begin to venture into our world of political profiling. An element that will vary from player to player will be level of risk aversion. If a threat arises, is it worth removing the threat, or should you save resources? There are two particular reasons that you would accept a particular threat that does indeed impact you. The first, being that you predict that something of a higher threat level may appear. The second (and this the start of our venture into irrational expression and interpretation of said expressions) will be your feelings on how likely it will be that another opponent will remove this threat for you.

This will now introduce to us our third factor for politically profiling a player.

  1. The deck archetype, and knowing how to operate your deck, as well as recognizing weaknesses.

  2. Recognizing the archetype of all other players’ decks, either immediately or as the game progresses.

  3. Assuming a player’s ability and willingness to accept risk, with intentions of short term and long term gain.

To give another example of risk taking for players, will be “bluffing” with untapped lands. Here is a trait that tends to be quite effective for players playing blue. I’m not going to explain bluffing, but I am going to state that such dynamic game techniques very much do exist in PDH game play. Let’s observe a case study below, demonstrating an example of a game.

So a very large decision by player 1 revolves around a certain question. What is the probability that a player is bluffing? Well, that’s quite a difficult thing to measure. Furthermore, in the case of someone who is risk averse, they won’t engage in this game whatsoever. The safe decision to make here is to assume that player 2 isn’t bluffing (Pr = 0).

I will accept one counter argument to this discussion above: “Can’t you argue that this principle also applies to 1 v 1 constructed formats?” I do not wish to elaborate, or back up this point further, as the arguments are irrelevant. However, I will respond with, “Yes, this can absolutely be argued.” If that be the case, then we will need a new case study to acknowledge a unique element multiple-opponent game play. We will not disregard the above, as it still applies. However, an additional dimension of imagery is necessary.

For those that are looking at the above and thinking to yourselves, “Yeah, I’m not going to read that. Just cut the crap and say your point,” that’s fine. The above is primarily evidence to support my point below, but it isn’t exactly enjoyable. So let’s just get to the good stuff.

My point is, multiple opponent game play introduces a unique dynamic that can be observed. First of all, a player observing three claims will understand that the probability that all three players are bluffing is quite low. However, depending the state of the game, certain risks may be seen as worth taking. Let’s come back to this shortly.

Let’s now consider the opponents. What decides who goes first? Well, that’s easy. Who’s playing blue, and who isn’t? Blue is the realm of counter spells, so they will go first. Among those playing blue, observe who has response priority. We now have our response order. From that, we can observe who is obligated to respond. We can do that by first acknowledging who won’t respond. Acknowledge who these opponents are. If you know all opponents wish to respond, and predict they’re not bluffing, you can pass the response of burden on, depending on where you stand in the order.

For example, if you’re first in order, but you know the other opponents will respond, you can get what you want without using your resources. You can force another opponent to act. However, if you have reason to believe the following players can’t (or won’t) respond, now the obligation is back in your hands.

The most important part of this entire analysis comes down to risk. The million dollar question remains: “are you willing to accept risk?”

From discussion above, there is a way to understand rationally if someone will take on risk. However, observing games in the past, we all understand that emotions do indeed play a part in how we react. Not only do our emotions apply, but individuals who understand this can create a persona that manipulates perceptive integrity of other players. Players can be transparent, or players can be quite deceptive.

This will now introduce to us our fourth and final factor for of politically profiling a player.

  1. The deck archetype, and knowing how to operate your deck, as well as recognizing weaknesses.

  2. Recognizing the archetype of all other players’ decks, either immediately or as the game progresses.

  3. Assuming a player’s ability and willingness to accept risk, with intentions of short term and long term gain.

  4. Emotionally observing and understanding how a player will be impacted emotionally impacted by decisions, and how they will use this to shape how they are portrayed.

These four areas of observation will become the key breakdown for how specific profiles will be built. What does a player use? What decks are they weak against? How do they portray themselves, and how do they emotionally respond? Do they take risks? From this point onward, these are the fundamental question you must ask. You know already they will bring their best performance. So what does that mean specifically? How do you analyze that? These are the question you need to ask yourself.


I said this before, this subject will not be a self-contained article. When I began this work, I didn’t quite understand the size of the box I was opening. Now I do, and oh boy, there is much left to discuss. With that being said, this does stand as the beginning of ongoing work, helping you to more efficiently identify your opponent, and better understand all aspects of your own style.

When it comes to that Step 1 we talked about right from the very beginning, and you are looking through potential commanders, you know exactly which questions to ask yourself. “What archetype am I interested in playing?” “What are the weaknesses?” “How willing am I to take on risk?” “What personality do I wish to portray as a player?” Answer those questions, and then you can ask, “Will this commander suit my needs?”

Over the next while, I will begin to develop an analytical overview for very common profiles you will see in a game. I’ll be honest, this will take some time. This will take many games, many surveys, and a whole lot of research. This won’t be a small feat, but it will help many people improve their gameplay, and ability to pick the commander that is best for them. I am looking forward to getting another chapter of this series out, as we learn to observe the enemy. Stay tuned for the first chapter of the follow-up series to this article, Tabletop Warriors! Until then, keep playing, and think about what makes you the player you are.



#Archetypes #Profiling #Multiplayer


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