(The Vital Information series explores a variety of important topics related to the UniVersus CCG – things we think you should know about!)
How do you create diverse and exciting gameplay in competitive card games?
This is a question that’s been present since the first Magic: the Gathering tournaments began. “I want to face the same deck, over and over again, in every tournament,” said no player ever.
The first, and most obvious answer, is to ensure balance in your game on the development level. We trust (or at least hope) that the designers and developers will keep card effects on an even pace with each other, and ensure that for any powerful combination of cards, there exist counters, or equally powerful strategies, that a savvy player can employ in order to claim victory.
As any seasoned TCG player knows, though, sometimes things don’t exactly pan out that way. And that’s often inevitable – games are complicated beasts with many moving parts. Sometimes a few small over-tuned numbers can snowball into a great threat. Other times, one card gets a little too powerful for its own good, and the deck built around using that card gets to take advantage of it. And sometimes, cards are just…bad!
No trading card game is immune to these effects, but there is at least one game with a built in safety net – the UniVersus CCG and its “Diversity Rule”.
For those unfamiliar, a brief primer on UniVersus: Each player selects a character and typically builds a deck around their powers. You start the game with that character in play, and that character grants you access to a pool of cards based on 3 of the game’s 12 “resources”, a particular hand size, and a certain amount of vitality (that’s where the name of these articles comes from!). Players take turns playing foundations to build up resources and effects, and attack cards to attempt to deal damage to their opponent. The right mix of effects on your character, foundations, and attacks can help guide your attacks to hitting and dropping the opponent’s vitality – while the opponent will be using their effects to potentially stymie that process, and will play cards as blocks to try to stop the damage entirely.
(There are a couple of other card types in UniVersus, but it’s not worth over-complicating the article describing them here – they are much less common!)
Often, players build their entire deck around using particular effects of a character, while sometimes they just like a character’s unique card pool and hand size/vitality numbers – but often it’s a mix of all of the above. What this means is that while there can be a massive amount of variance between individual decks of a character, the playstyle of any 2 decks for that character will usually share some important similarities.
In practice, this usually means you can sit down across from a player in a tournament and immediately have some idea of how their deck is going to play. Again, there’s plenty of room for them to surprise you given the ~1400 cards available in the Standard format, but often that gets narrowed down to just 1 of the character’s 3 resources, with perhaps a small splash into another, so as soon as you see the first few cards you may be able to start to figure out what fraction of those cards that player has chosen to build around.
Now this is about where most TCGs stop – OK, you built your deck, great. Now go beat all the other decks and claim your victory! Players endeavor to come up with the best character, the best build for that character, and scramble their way to the top cut, often fighting many like-minded players along the way. Most card games have a meta-game at some point that features a vast majority of the same decks making it into that top cut, again, when the inevitable happens and a few effects look just a bit too powerful for their own good. And from there, it’s a matter of who gets the better die rolls, better draws, and has the most skill to try to take out the “mirror matches”, avoid the “counter decks”, and claim ultimate victory.
In UniVersus, this is instead where it all begins, because now that you’ve got your character picked out and your deck built, and you enter in the tournament – you have to be prepared for The Diversity Rule.
“The Diversity Rule” means this: When possible, the top cut of any event will never feature two of the same Starting Character. If a player ranks within the top cut with a particular Character, but another player ranked higher with that same Character, the lower-ranked character is removed from Top Cut (and given bonus consolation prizes!) and the next unique Character is brought into Top Cut.
Now, when you prepare for a major event in UniVersus, your goal is a little different than in most card games – you want to be the absolute best player of your chosen character with the absolute best list – and if you aren’t going to be that player with that list, you are going to want to consider playing a different character. In other games, you could squeak by into top cut even if another player is better than you, and then chance it on them getting a bad matchup, or you getting all the luck in your mirror match. In UniVersus, you don’t even have a chance to do that if a better (or sometimes luckier!) player ranks higher than you.
You may think this means that, in top cut for UniVersus events, a lot of players are getting cut, but the reality is that this rule usually only drops a fraction of the players. That’s because the way this plays out in reality is that a lot of players simply don’t force a good deck if they don’t think they can beat the best players at it. It means more players stretch into rogue decks, less popular characters, and unique strategies. And that means that, instead of having a handful of unique decks (and a smattering of 1-off rogue decks) entering an event, you have meta-games where you and a friend, in round 1, have, at best, less than a 5% chance of facing the same deck.
Rather than taking my word for it, let’s see how The Diversity Rule impacted the most recent event – 2020 UFS Worlds (and the last major event to use the UFS name).
With 150 players, there were 61 unique Characters used. That’s one unique Character per every two and a half players (whatever a half-player is!).
What’s a little more sneaky is to look at how low the curve is – the most commonly played characters, Nightmare and Cassandra, were played at 7 copies each. Again, that’s not even 5% of meta-game. And it only goes down from there!
The majority of characters (40 of 61) had at least one other player playing them, but nearly a third of the metagame are one-off characters, who had no concerns about being dropped due to diversity – they only had to make it to the top! And two of those characters – Zasalamel and Tournelouse – actually did make it in, with the former being because other players were dropped for Diversity.
In total, there were 4 players who did get that Diversity drop – two additional players playing the World Champ deck, Cassandra, along with a second The Dark One (a character who only became legal a week prior!), and a second Kotal Kahn. These drops paved the way for entry to the top cut for the best performing Rando, Taki, and Ken 2 decks, along with the aforementioned Zasalamel who had no mirror opposition.
That both of the players playing The Dark One made it into top cut placement is a big deal – we can expect to see more players tinkering with that build in the future, but we can rest assured that only one will ever make it in to the playoffs! The loss of two of the three Cassandra decks is also interesting – the deck is likely overperforming and we’ll see if Jasco decides to issue any errata, ban, or restriction. Another great benefit to this rule is, as mentioned before, this acts as a Safety Net – clearly the Cassandra players hedged their bet on what could be an overly strong deck choice, but the Diversity Rule net kicked in and ensured that only one of them could make it to Top Cut. For players who like to play TCGs in teams, the common wisdom is to settle on one great deck and have the whole team play it, but that has to be thrown out the window entirely because only one team member can Top Cut with it – again, ensuring diversity in the format when possible.
Of the characters who made it in due to diversity, the Rando deck actually made it in to top 8, so if they made a gamble to play a more unique character rather than playing the metagame, it paid off well, as did the Tournelouse and Zasalamel players who ended up with no competition for their character’s placements. This kind of rule is encouraging for players who like to play their favorite characters or pet decks – if you can win enough matches with it, you always have a chance to sneak into the top cut with a record that would normally keep you out, and give your deck building prowess a chance to shine!
All of that considered, the Diversity Rule is clearly doing its job – it’s rare to see TCG metagames as diverse as they are in UniVersus, and it’s exciting to have a greater opportunity for clever deck builders and meta-players to sneak their cool new creations into the top cut. Nobody wants to see a stale metagame, and while card balance is still of utmost importance, as a UniVersus players, it’s reassuring to know that the Diversity Rule will always be there to keep tournaments interesting and, of course, diverse.
What do you think about the Diversity Rule? Let us know in the comments below, and share this article with your friends if you’d like to see more TCGs with metagames like this!
Until next time, Maniacs!