Thoughts on the March 1, 2012 Forbidden/Limited List – Part 3
Welcome back! Today, we’re going to talk about some of the hidden elements to the F&L List that aren’t immediately obvious to the general observer.
The “bandwagon effect” is a documented psychological phenomenon wherein the more people are doing something, the more likely other people are to start doing it, too. (Other names for this include “groupthink,” “sheeple,” “keeping up with the Joneses,” etc.)
Today I’m going to talk about how the bandwagon effect applies to the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG, and specifically about how it can distort appearances of tournament performance, and how that impacts our decisions on the Forbidden & Limited Cards list.
For starters, let me set a couple things straight right off the bat. (This repeats some comments I made in Thursday’s article):
First, just because a card is popular does not mean it will appear on the F&L List.
Second, just because a card is powerful does not mean it will appear on the F&L List.
But if these two things come together, AND a card or Deck is – or looks like it will – negatively impact deck diversity, then action may be warranted.
The trick is that if a deck performs well, or has a lot of hype behind it, it can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This can inflate the impact of a deck beyond its actual power level.
Here’s how it works:
1. A deck or card has a winning streak, or gets a lot of hype.
2. More people expect the deck to win as a result.
3. Therefore, more people play it. (They “jump on the bandwagon”.)
4. Now the percentage of people playing that deck in every tournament goes up.
5. Sheer weight of numbers means that deck is more likely to win more tournaments.
6. Now others see that the deck is winning more, so they start playing it, too.
As a result, you can have 2 equally powerful decks, but if one has a bandwagon effect building up and the other doesn’t, the first deck LOOKS stronger just because more people are playing it – which leads to more wins, and even more people playing it. In fact, the second (non-bandwagon) deck could be winning 90% of its head-to-head match-ups against the first deck, but the first deck might still top more tournaments just because so many people are playing it.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation. Suppose a Hot New Deck comes out. Everybody decides that this is the new Deck to win with. At the first major competition after its release, 6 of the Top 16 spots are the Hot New Deck. The Hot New Deck also wins the event.
An outside observer might draw the conclusions that the Hot New Deck is, in fact, the deck to beat. And that everybody should start playing it, because it’s the wave of the future.
But there are a lot of things the outside observer might not be aware of:
*Maybe the Hot New Deck was played by 1 out of every 4 Duelists at the event (25%!).
*Despite this huge number, maybe it only squeaked 6 decks into the top 16. Meanwhile, another deck that was outnumbered 10-to-1 got 3 decks into the top 16. Meaning that the Hot New Deck actually under-performed, and just got through with sheer numbers.
*Maybe the Hot New Deck lost every single head-to-head match-up against the Dreaded Deck X, which landed 4 decks in the top 16 even though only 5% of the players ran Deck X at the tournament.
*Maybe the Hot New Deck avoided losing to the Dreaded Deck X in the finals because the top-finishing Dreaded Deck X duelist got bumped off at the last minute by Barney Burndeck or Lenny Lonewolf, with their 1-of-a-kind trick decks that ultimately lost to the Hot New Deck in the final rounds.
We’ve seen all of this happen in tournaments. And a lot of veteran tournament watchers understand that this is what’s frequently going on just under the radar. But a lot of people don’t look too deeply underneath the final results, and jump to conclusions that “this deck/card is overpowered”.
And that assumption can make a certain amount of sense, IF you don’t have all the information about what happens at every YCS and regional event in the country. And of course, the average player doesn’t have that information. But we do.
Since we have data on who is playing what at tournaments, we are able to spot these trends, which are often invisible to the outside observer.
So how does this impact what ultimately happens? Well it can have a few effects, several of them going in different directions. Sometimes, between 2 decks, 1 is actually more powerful than the other. But if nobody’s actually willing to play it, then there isn’t much point in putting it on the F&L list, is there? Conversely, a deck that actually isn’t that good can be spiraling out of control because everybody has decided they have to play it because it’s winning – ignoring the fact that it’s only winning because everybody is playing it. In that case, it might need to get pruned down a little just to splash some cold water on everyone and get them to take a fresh look at their decks. On the other hand, just because you SEE a lot of decks at a tournament doesn’t mean that deck is actually one of the most popular – and certainly doesn’t mean the deck is performing well, or even performing up to the level you would expect given the percentage of Duelists who are running it.
All of this has to be considered.
Remember: One of our main goals with the F&L List is to prevent any one deck from rising to total dominance. This sometimes means we have to “nip it in the bud” if it’s experiencing a serious bandwagon effect.
Just because a card is powerful is not a reason to add it to the F&L list. Just because a card or deck is popular is not a reason to add it to the F&L list. The tipping point comes when a card or deck starts to have such a disproportionate influence that it forces you to make choices about your deck that you don’t want to make.