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Generic Confusion

When you leave, my blog just fades to grey
Nu ma nu ma iei, nu ma nu ma nu ma iei

News? Check. Politics? Check. Music? Check. Random thoughts about life? Check. Readership? Ummm.... let me get back to you on that. Updated when I feel like I have something to say, and remember to post it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Seeing what you want to see

About ten years ago, Wizards of the Coast created an online version of its popular Magic: the Gathering collectible trading card game. While the basic rules of the game can be taught fairly easily, the detailed rules run dozens of pages. Each of these rules is faithfully coded and debugged. With hundreds of new cards introduced each year, each possibly interacting with old cards in unusual ways, that's an impressive endeavor.

There's one element of the game that's not complex, however. Each player plays with a deck of virtual cards, and these decks are shuffled. The shuffling algorithm is a basic function, and is no different than coding the randomization of a 52 card deck for a game of poker. But if you play online, you'll hear players complain about the shuffler, as if it's some evil program designed to make them lose.

In Magic: the Gathering, a type of card called land is used to allow you to cast your business cards, and you can play one land a turn. Generally, these cards have no direct effect on your opponent and don't directly allow you to win the game. But you need to use mana from lands to cast the spells that will win you the game. Players use the terms "mana screw" and "mana flood" to refer to not drawing enough lands to cast your spells, or drawing too many lands instead of cards that will help you win.

Typically, a deck is 40% land, and you might expect to see three lands in an opening hand of seven, possibly four. Both of those are good results, but any number of lands from zero to seven is possible. A hand with 0, 1, 6, or 7 lands is typically mulliganed, and 2 or 5 is iffy. If you keep the two land hand and don't draw the third land until your fourth turn or later, you will not be able to cast many spells, and will be behind in the game. If you keep the five land hand and draw several more, you'll find yourself in the same position, for a different reason.

Say you're a person who believes the shuffler is broken. You will remember all those improbable opening hands. You will remember all the instances of mana screw and mana flood. You won't remember the opening hands with 3 and 4 lands, and you won't remember the hands where you draw the cards you need when you kept a marginal hand.

If you have already reached the conclusion, then your mind will only record the evidence that supports your conclusion. That's not a wise way to live. Try looking at the actual evidence instead. You'll see it's not so black and white.



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