Eliminating First Player Advantage

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Post by Mookie » 6 months ago

A while ago, the Command Zone podcast collected a set of statistics for various things related to Commander games, such as how often different colors win and how valuable an early Sol Ring is. One statistic that particularly bothered me was the number they collected for going first - in a four player game, the first player has an approximately 30% chance to win, compared with a 23% chance to win for players two, three, and four. Since then, I've tried to keep an eye out for times that I have been affected by being earlier or later in the turn order, and it has definitely come up many times.

For example:
-getting locked under an opponent's turn 3 Blood Moon before I can cast a Cultivate in my hand
-getting my board removed by a turn 4 Wrath of God before I can draw a card off Mentor of the Meek
-hitting a non-blue opponent with Thada Adel, Acquisitor and stealing a Sol Ring before they can play a three mana blocker

These benefits can be less pronounced in a longer game, but as a general rule, being the first player to act is always an advantage. This benefit particularly bothers me because of three factors:
-it comes up in every game played (someone has to go first)
-players have little control over it (first player is usually random)
-it is extremely unlikely that new cards will be printed to deal with it

Anyway, in the interest of generating discussion:
-how do people feel about the first-player advantage?
-are there actions which could be taken to mitigate this advantage?
one potential solution
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I do not have numbers for the win percentages when going first in other, two-player formats. However, unlike other formats, Commander does not have any downside associated with going first, which usually entails skipping the first player's draw step. This is because Commander utilizes the general Magic rules for multiplayer. As a result, as one potential solution, I would propose amending the associated rule, 103.7c.
103.7. The starting player takes their first turn.
103.7a In a two-player game, the player who plays first skips the draw step (see rule 504, "Draw Step") of their first turn.
103.7b In a Two-Headed Giant game, the team who plays first skips the draw step of their first turn.
103.7c In all other multiplayer games, no player skips the draw step of their first turn.
103.7c (new) In all other multiplayer games, the player who plays first skips the draw step of their first turn. They may instead scry 1 at the beginning of their first upkeep.
I will end with the following calls to action:
To WotC: make more cards like Surveyor's Scope which benefit players later in the turn order
To players: keep an eye out for situations where turn order matters, and incorporate who goes first into your threat assessment

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Post by umtiger » 6 months ago

I think it's just a part of the game. Kind of how you can build a good deck, randomize, and still need to mulligan.

No one tries to make basketball an even playing field between taller people and shorter people.

Some of these things that are viewed as "negative/bugs" are actually "positive/features" of the game.

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Post by Cow31337Killer » 6 months ago

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Post by Mookie » 6 months ago

Cow31337Killer wrote:
6 months ago
Happy Birthday

Aeon Engine
I actually didn't think of that card in this context. Now I sort of want to test it out. If we say that we're playing a 4 player game, then if I'm player #3, I could see a situation where the turn order goes:
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 (activate engine) - 3 - 2 - 1 - 4
This effectively makes my position (#3) into the first player, since I get my second turn first. On the other hand, things still suck for player #4, who gets their second turn last. Indeed, no matter when we reverse the turn order, #4 will never have the most turns - #1 will always have at least as many as them (barring weird situations involving multiple Aeon Engines).

...of course, there isn't anything stopping the first player from playing the Engine either.
1 - 2 (activate engine) - 1 - 4 - 3 - 2
This is actually particularly brutal, since player #1 will be up two turns over players 3 and 4. So, still appears to favor positions higher in the turn order.

Still, it's an interesting card to think about!

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Post by ISBPathfinder » 6 months ago

The first player advantage is one that is compounded on by the faster your games are. I have actually seen a VERY big uptake in this issue with faster formats like modern as well. The less competitive a group is the less it really seems to be an issue. I have seen very similar results from how important fast mana like Sol Ring is as well.
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Post by Dunharrow » 6 months ago

Rather than eliminating the first draw of the game, I would prefer player 2 gets to Scry 1, player 3 gets to Scry 2, and player 4 gets to scry 3.

Or a small life total buff.

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Post by Morganelefay » 6 months ago

Dunharrow wrote:
6 months ago
Rather than eliminating the first draw of the game, I would prefer player 2 gets to Scry 1, player 3 gets to Scry 2, and player 4 gets to scry 3.

Or a small life total buff.
Life total buffs are a poor idea in a format where the starting life total already is too high for certain archetypes to even think of competing. The Scry option, however, seems a lot more interesting.
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Post by tarotplz » 6 months ago

Morganelefay wrote:
6 months ago
Dunharrow wrote:
6 months ago
Rather than eliminating the first draw of the game, I would prefer player 2 gets to Scry 1, player 3 gets to Scry 2, and player 4 gets to scry 3.

Or a small life total buff.
Life total buffs are a poor idea in a format where the starting life total already is too high for certain archetypes to even think of competing. The Scry option, however, seems a lot more interesting.
It's difficult to know how far ahead a Scry 3 would put you though. Last thing we'd want is to simply reverse the problem to where player 4 has the advantage.

There's also the issue that Scry benefits some strategies more than others.

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Post by Myllior » 6 months ago

There is a stepping stone between the current rules and a scaling Scry approach, which would be a scaling Halimar Depths effect. This way you get the advantage of potentially being able to draw in a better order but don't get to remove any dud draws from your first few turns. (Edit: Typo).
Last edited by Myllior 6 months ago, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by MRHblue » 6 months ago

Love it!

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Post by BOVINE » 6 months ago

I'm still not sure why Sol Ring is allowed in this format. Let's not make this a ban discussion but player 1 gets a free mulligan, goes first, still gets to draw turn 1, and can drop Sol Ring et al. I do like the scrying equal to your place in the turn order. I'd add that doing said scry before your first draw step would be the way to go. It would at least let you see how the first turn cycle is developing. There are too many factors involved to allow such a rule though imo. If people are playing "fair" magic do you still give the scry advantage out? Everything likely should remain unchanged for now. Don't forget about House Rules.

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Post by Mookie » 6 months ago

With regards to the suggestions for a scaling scry (or Index) approach - my initial reason for suggesting that the first player skip their initial draw was based on the original data (the first player has a distinct advantage, but players 2/3/4 all have the same probability of winning). As a result, it seems like a scaling solution may not be necessary. This definitely isn't an intuitive thing though - one would assume that player 2 has an advantage over player 4, even though the data doesn't show that.

One other thing that would be interesting to see data for is how total game length impacts the effect of going first - it seems like it would matter significantly more in a shorter game than a longer one. I wouldn't expect it to ever even out though - in slower Limited formats, going second can be advantageous if the game goes long enough for both players to run through all their cards, at which point the extra card the second player gets becomes important. However, that isn't present in EDH, since the first player still draws.

Life total buffs could potentially cause a lot of issues. I'll specifically point to memory and tracking issues for things like Anya, Merciless Angel, Chalice of Life, and Torgaar, Famine Incarnate, but there would also be concerns for black life-as-payment effects and mechanics such as Dethrone.

Interesting to see the different solutions being suggested though!

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Post by Dunharrow » 6 months ago

It fight our common sense to think that turn 2 doesn't have an advantage over turn 4.... but if we accept that to be the case, then perhaps we can just have all players except for the one starting have a scry 1.

Would be interesting to have the CAG bring up this discussion point.

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Post by bobthefunny » 4 months ago

Mookie wrote:
6 months ago
With regards to the suggestions for a scaling scry (or Index) approach - my initial reason for suggesting that the first player skip their initial draw was based on the original data (the first player has a distinct advantage, but players 2/3/4 all have the same probability of winning). As a result,
This does not seem correct. If the game ends on Player 3's turn, Player 2 will have received an extra turn of play compared to player 4. Every example given in the OP can still happen to players 3 and 4 even if player 2 does them, while player 1 would be 'immune.'

It's possible that Player 1's advantage simply overshadows this to such an extent that as long as the P1 advantage exists, that the P2 advantage is negligible. Or that P1's advantage negates P2's ability to gain that same advantage (as P2 would be the largest threat to P1, who already holds the advantage). This means though, that modifying Player 1's advantage could easily remove those restraints and show the cascading effects among other players.
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I hate this card and everything it stands for.

It is terrible design, and is just a %$#% extra turn card made to screw over a single player. As a point, it is crucially missing the "use only on your turn" clause, which means you can use it on the following player's turn to get back to your turn sooner. Alone, this is perhaps still not godawful, but once you start making tokens of it, you can bounce turns between the person on your left and right, getting two turns for each of their one, and leaving player 4 in the abyss.

Even used 'fairly' in a multiplayer game, it just makes one person sit and do nothing for a longer amount of time, while only causing complications and confusion any time someone says "pass the turn" for the rest of the game. Put it this way: if every turn takes a minute and a half, typically in a 4 player game, you have to wait 4 and a half minutes until your next turn. Now, the turn you use this, what would have been the next players turn has been waiting those 4 and a half minutes already, and now you just doubled the amount of time they're sitting there waiting to do something - on top of giving everyone else an untap in front of their turn.

Then you add in that we are so conditioned to going clockwise, that in a long game this effect will only be an annoyance as people have to pay extra attention to whose turn it is, since you can't go by habit.
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Post by darrenhabib » 4 months ago

I like the Scry option. I don't think it's too good to give any real advantages over having turns bfore other players, not even close. At the end of the day the most powerful advantage in Magic is taking a turn before another player.

The number of games where I would have won if starting before another player are numerous. Literally the roll of the die determined the outcome of those games.
You can either say that's part of Magic or you can try and balance it out, even if it's just a little bit.

Player 1 : Scry 0
Player 2: Scry 1
Player 3: Scry 2
etc

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Post by Mimicvat » 4 months ago

My playgroup has been using random rules from a set that Sheldon said were "being looked at" as commander rules. The Scaling Scry rule, exactly as explained here, is one of them. Have found it to work extremely well in off-setting first player advantage and the bad feels (and/or disadvantage) of going last.

Having the guy to your left go first, but you scry 3... everyones pretty happy tbh.

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Post by Sheldon » 4 months ago

I think I might ask the gang in the (not limited to R&D) Commander League here in the building if they're interested in testing out the scry 1-2-3 idea.

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Post by cryogen » 4 months ago

Sheldon wrote:
4 months ago
I think I might ask the gang in the (not limited to R&D) Commander League here in the building if they're interested in testing out the scry 1-2-3 idea.
Can you try out the Monarch idea Shivam had as well?
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Post by Sheldon » 4 months ago

Let's not throw too many variables into the pot at once. Maybe we'll get the Tuesday night league at Wizards Keep Games to do that.

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Post by 3drinks » 4 months ago

cryogen wrote:
4 months ago
Sheldon wrote:
4 months ago
I think I might ask the gang in the (not limited to R&D) Commander League here in the building if they're interested in testing out the scry 1-2-3 idea.
Can you try out the Monarch idea Shivam had as well?
What's the monarch idea? I'm all for anything monarch (he says, always playing creature decks)
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Post by Mookie » 4 months ago

3drinks wrote:
4 months ago
What's the monarch idea? I'm all for anything monarch (he says, always playing creature decks)
Shivam's suggestion (from the Command Zone summit) was that the monarch starts in the game in a neutral position, and the first player to attack gets it. Which... seems like it would very heavily favor players earlier in the turn order. I've heard alternate suggestions for 'the last player in turn order starts with the monarch' which would make more sense.

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Post by Sheldon » 4 months ago

Mookie wrote:
4 months ago
3drinks wrote:
4 months ago
What's the monarch idea? I'm all for anything monarch (he says, always playing creature decks)
Shivam's suggestion (from the Command Zone summit) was that the monarch starts in the game in a neutral position, and the first player to attack gets it. Which... seems like it would very heavily favor players earlier in the turn order. I've heard alternate suggestions for 'the last player in turn order starts with the monarch' which would make more sense.
Slight correction--first player to deal combat damage, which still favors early players, but only those with mana dorks instead of rocks.

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Post by 3drinks » 4 months ago

I do like me some monarch..............
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Post by schweinefett » 3 months ago

I think in a format where I look at it in a more casual way, the whole first player winning 7% more often than other players is such a negligible number that I don't really see it as a problem. I also don't think that the "winning" part of the game is nearly as important as some of the other posters here too. For me personally, i have other 2 player formats that are actually better balanced for my wins to actually feel earned.

that being said, I would think that the scaling scrying seems like a good idea. It would give the players further down the turn order a better idea of their turns 1, 2 and 3, whereas the first player would have the better tempo advantage of the game.

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