• Richard Zapp

Become a Meta-Master: How to Predict Events for a Competitive Edge- Part 1

Updated: Oct 10, 2018

Today’s article is part one of a two part article. In today’s article, I am going to discuss the paradigm that I use to best understand a metagame. Once we have a deep enough understanding of what a metagame is and the different models we can use to understand the meta, we can make better predictions on how future events will play out and how to make deck selections based on those predictions – but we’ll save that for part 2.

*Disclaimer – I reference previous metagames throughout the article. Many of these matchups and from recollections and are up for interpretation or debate, I encourage you to not distract yourself in those debates and instead focus on understanding the concepts at hand.

What is a Meta?

‘Meta’, a prefix developed in 1800’s Greek literature, translates to “beyond, behind, or after”. In modern time, ‘meta’ is commonly used in psychology to discuss the act of understanding an act. For example, metacognition is the act of thinking about the way that we think. A metatheory (this article) is talking about how we generate a theory. A metagame, is the field of understanding how people play a particular game.

In Dragon Ball Super, there are millions of possible 51 card deck combinations. But time and time again, we see people that do not interact, coincidentally bringing almost identical cards to the table. When we are trying to explain why so many people brought a similar pile of cards to an event, we are trying to understand what a “meta” is. When we are trying to predict what others are going to have in their decks, we are “metagaming”.

It is important to understand that a “metagame” most generally refers to a specific event. Your local and my local are going to have different people playing different ideas – two different metas. You may think it’s really weird that I play Dimension Banisher Fu over Scientist Fu in my main deck for my locals, but Jimmy thinks Scientist Fu is much better. Perhaps the reason I have Dimension Banisher in my deck is because my local has a lot of people that use decks based on Grand Evil Absorption Majin Buu and I need DB Fu to KO it. I’m making an accommodation based on my meta. When we are metagaming, there are no right or wrong answers; just predictions on what will be most likely to win based on what matchups we expect to have.

Three Metagame Paradigms:

The first time I met Dusty, we were in an airport on our way to San Jose for their first regional event. While we were shooting the breeze, he explained the way he looks at game design – it helped evolve my way of thinking and better understand how to meta-analyze as a player. The way I look at preparing for a metagame, Metagames tend to fall into one of three brackets: “The King of the Hill” “The Rock Paper Scissors (Lizard Spock)” and “The Revolving Door”:

King of the Hill: If you never played the game as a kid, I feel horrible for you. Really simple game. Someone stands at a specific area. If another person gets pushed out of the circle, they are the new king of the hill. If you get a kid that’s big and tough enough, they never get out of the circle. We’ve seen that in DBS before. . .

In a “King of the Hill Format” there is an archetype that is very clearly dominant. Depending on how granular you look at a format, that can be based on color scheme, combination of cards, or generalized based on a specific leader. During the pre-errata Mecha Veggies/ Mecha Apes format, 95% of the population was adamant that only two decks were viable, and they both played Mecha Frieza. So many matchups were invalidating because of the speed and interruption the leader had going for it – even if you found a deck that had a positive matchup against one version, it often couldn’t manage both.

A few decks were able to “keep up” with Mecha Frieza. While many decks like Danny Hype’s RBY SS3 and Masked Saiyan had even or slightly unfavorable matchups to the Mecha variants, you had to work so hard (and get lucky) to compete.

In card games, I tend to describe matchups in one of six ways:

-Very Favorable Matchup - Even with an unfavorable dice roll and/or a poor hand, the player with the favorable matchup will usually win, even if the opponent outplays them. AKA ‘The auto-win’

-Favorable Matchup – Given comparably playable hands, a favorable matchup will usually be won regardless of the dice roll. However, the margin of favorability is small enough that drawing a relatively poor hand, losing the dice roll, or playing against someone with a better understanding of the matchup will often lead to a loss despite the matchup advantage. AKA ‘The 60-40’

-Even Matchup – Given comparably playable hands, it is difficult to predict who would win. Matchup knowledge is generally the deciding factor when luck is removed, regardless of a favorable or unfavorable matchup

-Coinflip Matchup – Given comparably playable hands, the matchup is consistently determined by who wins the dice roll to be competitive. Going first or second is so imperative to the matchup that differences in skill or quality of hand do not consistently affect the outcome. (Note, this does not suggest that winning the dice roll means the matchup is favorable, simply that losing the coinflip makes the matchup Very Unfavorable)

-Unfavorable Matchup – Given comparably playable hands, an unfavorable matchup will usually be lost regardless of the dice roll. However, the margin of favorability is small enough that drawing a relatively strong hand or having advanced matchup knowledge compared to your advantage is enough to make the matchup winnable. AKA The ‘40-60’

-Very Unfavorable Matchup – Even with a favorable dice roll and a strong hand, the player with the unfavorable matchup will usually lose, even if they outplay the opponent. AKA 'The auto-lose’

These terms are pivotal in understanding how to identify what type of metagame a format is in. Let’s pretend that SS3 is a coinflip matchup (needs to go first and resolve Chain Attack + Zen-Oh on time to win) and Masked Saiyan is a slightly unfavored matchup (you are relying on surprise factor and matchup inexperience to gain an advantage). Every other deck in the format seemed so far away from competing with Apes/Veggies that you were clearly hindering yourself. In a King of the Hill Format, your path to victory is to either find a way to beat the oppressive deck, or master the mirror match.

Indicators of a “King of the Hill Format”

- One omnipresent archetype or deck that has dominated multiple events - Said deck tends to be “unfair” in the sense that it takes a mechanic or combo and push it to an extreme; it’s often either too fast to compete with, or has so little counterplay it struggles to compete. - When building any other deck for a competitive event, your primary goal is finding a way to beat said specific list -When looking at a “King of the Hill” deck versus the new deck, matchups tend to be significantly influenced by either winning the dice roll, or having a very specific play/progression to win the matchup (Coinflip Matchups) -Diversity within the format tends to revolve less around major archetypes, and more so in unique choices and tech options designed to create subtle advantage through surprise factor

Revolving Door:

In my meta-analysis of the pre-WMAT tournament format, I discussed that, once SS3 was able to reliably counter Hirudegarn storm, the format mostly revolved around playing variants of SS3 – however they were all vastly different in card choices. From changing the second color to occasionally cutting back on “staples” such as Unbreakable Goku, people were scavenging for the technology to compete with the other variants. What we got, was a revolving door meta.

While this circle may seem obvious at a quick glance to anyone who played through that metagame, it was at the people that could see this circle while it was happening that prospered. Blue/Red SS3 lost to Blue Yellow because it couldn’t run enough cards to defend against Bardock/Goten spam. However, the Blue Yellow SS3 decks couldn’t generate enough card advantage to consistently get around cards like Trio De Dangers Bergamo. Bergamo had a weakness to removal, which brought the advent of the Blue Green SS3 deck featuring Kami’s Power Piccolo and Combo Killer Analiza – Battle cards featuring Barrier that were countered by Chain Attack + Zen-Oh the Plain God. The loop comes around full circle. The players that were most successful at events chose whichever of those four decks would be most favorable against what everyone else was doing.

In a Revolving Door format, your goal is to properly predict which deck the majority of players will be using so you can make a more informed decision on which deck will give you the best matchups. Trying to diagnose where in that circle the playerbase would be in a particular event will be covered in part 2 – what’s important is understanding how to identify it.

Indicators of playing in a Revolving Door format: -A format has 2 or more archetypes that have had success at previous event, -A deck that has had repeated success across multiple events in the format clearly has at least one Very Favorable and one Very Unfavorable Matchup -If you compare results of decks that won over weeks, there tends to be a large influx of change – mainly in one deck decreasing in popularity and another deck increasing proportionally. -Results of an event are relatively diverse in relation to the previous event of the format, but not necessarily as diverse in and of itself.

Rock Paper Scissors Format:

Slightly different from the Revolving Door format, if a format is able to be balanced and well-designed enough in which multiple decks can compete at a high level and generally have a healthy matchup spread. Typically, like the acclaimed Set 2 Format, multiple decks were capable of winning events because of healthy matchup spreads:

At the beginning of the format, Cell chain was incredibly popular, being recognized for checking Vegeta and Trunks aggressive decks that could generate 10+ cards in hand at almost any time. However, the reliance on the Cell Chain combo sometimes made matchups against Cold Bloodlust leaders difficult. The addition of Draft Box 1 to the format introduced the game to Mecha Frieza, and players were able to use free Objections and Whis’s Coercions to quickly awaken, defend themselves without using many cards, and implement powerful late game strategies. However, the Mecha Frieza lists couldn’t always deal with Critical damage early game with combos like Vegeta leader + Furthering Destruction Champa.

However, none of these matchups were very favorable or very unfavorable. Cell decks had the ability to be very flexible and not rely on Cell chain to close out game and still compete with Mecha variants. Vegeta decks could use Unyielding Spirit Trunks, Senzu Bean, or Objection to make multiple plays on turns 2 and 3 and mitigate the impact of the impeding Cell chain. Mecha Frieza was able to find tech in cards like Full Power Energy and Crusher Ball to have a decent shot of winning games against each other.

What was fascinating about this format in particular, is in how it evolved. Once the Vegeta/Cell/Frieza RPS was fully developed, people started exploring ways to still exploit the powerful cards that made the aforementioned three decks strong, while finding ways to compensate for bad matchups. The final product were three additional decks to the format that attempted to fill two roles at once.

Android players now had an even or better matchup against Mecha then Cell decks because they could ditch Cell chain strategies entirely and focus on Android beatdown. Blue Yellow Golden Frieza still had the unique and impactful Cold Bloodlust, but ran even more defense then the Mecha Frieza deck to ensure the Vegeta matchup could be won. Soul Striker Goku was another deck that prospered with late game strategies, and had more powerful bombs then the Cell deck could manage. What’s important to note here is that the diversity was not rooted in the leader choices or the card choices nearly as much as the diversity of strategies being used to win the game.

The advent of these new decks put the RPS paradigm on it’s head. How does Mecha compete with Golden Frieza? How does Soul Striker do against Androids? While the metagame did not exist long enough to fully find out the answers to those questions, we see how the RPS metagame evolved into the “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock” type of model, in which more then 3 (in this case 6 or more) decks were all viable at winning competitions at the highest level. Because of the variety of relatively even matchups, the goal in a RPS format is to fully understand every expected matchup, and use advanced knowledge and understanding of those matchups to create a decklist and game strategies that allows as many matchups to be favorable as possible.

Signs of an RPS Format

-A format has 2 or more archetypes that have had success at previous event, -Decks that have repeated success across multiple events in the format clearly have many Favorable, Even, or Unfavorable matchups, and very few Coinflip, Very Favorable, or Very Unfavorable matchups -Results of an event are relatively diverse both from week to week and within the event itself. -All or most decks in the format clearly have strengths and weaknesses. -Diversity tends to be on a macro level (variety of deck types) as well as a micro level (finding ways to mitigate unfavorable matchups

In Part 2, we will discuss how you can apply these ideas into your metagaming theory and how to use that information to better prepare for events. In the meantime, I encourage you to think about the current metagame at the time that you are reading this? Which category does it fit into? Why do you think that is?