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Neal's Last Words


Neal's Last Words

by Byron "Neal" Massey

Tournament Equality for All

The Netrunner mailing list has been busy with discussions on how to run a fair tournament. This week I'll try to explode some myths and offer some opinions on the best Netrunner tournament methods.

I began playing Magic almost 8 years ago. At that time, a Magic tournament was usually run using a single-elimination bracket. Store owners (the only people running tournaments) would sometimes include a "loser's" bracket so that half the players wouldn't be done after one round. Each round consisted of a best two-out-of-three games. Sideboards were important for the second and third games (sideboards are cool in Magic but haven't found a place in Netrunner).

Soon, the level of Magic competition rose and players began requesting a more fair tournament structure. The Duelist's Convocation International (DCI) fumbled temporarily and then borrowed the tournament format of the United States Chess Federation. It's called the Swiss system. The DCI didn't fully understand it at first, and I played in a couple regional tournaments which had several Swiss rounds, then the top players were funneled into an elimination bracket. Go figure.

Another problem with using the Swiss system for Magic was the three-game match. The Swiss system works well when each match produces 1 point for the winner, and no points for the loser. With three games of Magic, a simple solution would have been to award the first player who won two games a point. The DCI was committed to playing all three games, however. In addtion, a player who finished 3-0 received an extra point for sweeping the opponent. Soon the pairings were mixed and mangled.

A factor that helped these Magic tournaments run smoothly was the large number of participants. The more players, the more forgiving their system was, and in general, players were happy. I have no idea what system is used now, I haven't played Magic for at least a year.

Anyone want to buy a Black Lotus or some Mox? How about a complete set of English language Legends?

When Netrunner first burst on the scene, WotC was careful to announce the Swiss system as the tournament format of choice. Unfortunately, Netrunner doesn't fit conveniently into a Swiss system, and the draft of the rules from WotC was contradictory and difficult to understand. Basic problems became apparent. Myths sprang up as central arguments for ranking a Netrunner tournament.

* It is better to play the Corp first. In the early days, the Corp dominated the scene, and this lingering myth was spawned. Despite the fact that Runners and Corps are now considered fairly equal, the myth has remained.

In match scoring, where each game winner receives ten points and the loser gets points equal to the AP scored, a match is decided by the total number of points in the two games. The myth says that if you can win as the Corp in the first game, your Runner game is easy because you know exactly how many points are required to win the match. You can play recklessly and not worry about winning the second game. It's all true, of course.

The myth is that this is a Corp advantage. The exact same thing holds true if the Runner wins the first game. The second game will feature a reckless Corp that is only trying to score a single agenda, at any cost, heedless of how many points are given up in the process (as long as it is less than seven). Apparently the Corp psychology of many players doesn't include recklessness, but the Runner psychology does.

I once played a sealed deck match where I installed a Nevinyrral out in the open, unrezzed. The next turn, I installed a Marine Arcology, rezzed the Nevinyrral, and advanced it three times, scoring it. There was that Nevinyrral, though, waiting to be trashed. I just let it happen, because in the first game of the match, I won 10-0, and all I needed was that single Arcology to win. Myth destroyed.

* Game scoring is better than match scoring. Counting the total number of games won in a tournament does give a good indication of how successful a player was. But so does counting the number of matches. An additional benefit of match scoring is that the Swiss system fits nicely with the pairings and rankings. In game scoring, the Swiss system produces a large number of ties in the pairings, which is a headache for tournament directors.

The main argument for game scoring is that is prevents a reckless second game (one like my Nevinyrral example above). I don't agree that this is a bad thing. Either side may dominate the first game and have a chance to play recklessly in the second game. I see that chance as a reward for dominating the first game. Remember, the object of a match is to determine who played the best as both Corp and Runner. If my stack dominates your Corporation, but your stack is an even match for my Corporation, doesn't that mean I am better overall?

Of course, we play Netrunner for fun. It's not fun to get wiped out in the first game of a match, knowing that your now-reckless opponent is going to try to score a few points with no regard for winning the second game.

I've run some simulations and thought about this problem a lot, and here are the general rules I believe the Netrunner tournament system should include:

* The winners should be determined by the same kind of points as those used in the pairing system. If you pair the rounds using "games won", the winner should be the person with the most "games won." Likewise with matches or agenda points.

* The tiebreaks should use the same points as those used to determine the winners. It's not fair to score a tournament on the basis of "games won," then break a tie on the number of agenda points each player scored. During the tournament, each player had a single goal, to win each game. If they accomplished this goal, they should not be penalized for scoring few points in their losses.

If we have an automobile race and we tie, the winner should not be determined by the best gas milage. That is not the purpose of having a race.

The chess tiebreak system is quite good, and only considers the number of games won. It compares the opponents each tied player faced, and uses their records to see who played against the most difficult competition. This form of tiebreaks should be part of the Netrunner tournament system.

The Games/Matches point (GMP) system suggested by Scott Dickie is a nice compromise between ranking by games and ranking by matches. Using this system, each round pairs two players who play two games, one on each side. Each player receives one point for each game, and the match winner recieves an addtional point. A match tie is worth half a point for both players. This is very similar to the system used for Magic tournaments above.

The pairings are difficult, though. With enough participants, the Game/Match points make nice pairings. Most Netrunner tournaments are small, however. A compromise is to divide the GMPs of each player by 3 after each round, and round this quotient to the nearest whole number. This whole number can be used to pair the next round. This system preserves most of the Swiss system pairing advantages without favoring either games or matches in the scoring.

Some might protest that doing this division complicates the system. Here is a chart:
# of Game/Match points: paired using
0-1: 0
1.5-4: 1
4.5-7: 2
7.5-10: 3
10.5-13: 4
13.5-16: 5
16.5-19: 6

This system should give fair results, allow players to understand their goals in each game, and be simple enough for tournament directors (copy the chart if you need to). I think the system should be called the "Dickie-Game/Match point, Neal-rounded-pairing tournament System." Or if you prefer, "Netrunner Tournament System" (NTS).

Mail me if you want to talk about tournament scoring or any other Netrunner ideas.