Understanding the PoxNora Metagame Part 2 A few weeks ago I made a thread discussing the Pox metagame and basically defining what a metagame is, how it works on the basic level, and what it looks like in action. (In case you missed it, here's a link to Part 1: http://forums.poxnora.com/index.php?threads/understanding-the-poxnora-metagame-basics.18724/) Today I'm back to talk about one of the fundamental sources of metagame shifts, even in games with no design changes or developer interference: the presence (or lack of) counterplay. What is a counter? Simply stated, a counter is any game mechanic which provides an inherent advantage against another specific mechanic. Counters can take many forms: from an explicitly stated and intentional counter like Shatter is to equipments to an incidental or even situational counter like Confusion to Swampguard Crusher. There are also a few common variants of the term that warrant mentioning. Hard Counter - a specific counter that eliminates the threat or advantage of another rune almost entirely or with very little room for reaction from the player on the receiving end. Hard counters usually either completely neutralize another rune's core mechanics or remove it from play entirely. Examples of hard counters would be things like the ability Severed Summons, the UD spell Shatter or the FS spell Erode. These runes not only punish the use of another type of rune; they remove summons, equips or relics (respectively) from the game-state immediately upon use. They're also fairly easy to pull off, with Severed Summons having a long range and the spells being available for cast anywhere one has spell presence. Soft Counter - a counter, usually non-specific, that generates an advantage for one player in response to the presence of a mechanic chosen by the opposing player, but does not completely negate the advantage provided by that mechanic. A soft counter will help you against certain runes or bg's, but won't remove the necessity of a learned skill-based reaction to those runes/bg's. Examples of soft counters would be things like AoE abilities (to cheap champions, phalanxes, or summon spam), Loss of Life (to tanky champs with damage reduction), or Rebuke (to AP generation). Keep in mind that soft and hard counters are fairly fluid definitions and may be up to interpretation. Most counters exist along a spectrum where there is some interaction involved, and there's an abundance of runes that fall into a middle ground between soft and hard countering one or more other mechanics. Another term the game design community has latched onto recently is counterplay, which is a big idea in MOBAs and strategy games especially. Counterplay is the existence of meaningful options and the opportunity for skill-based decision-making on the part of the player encountering a mechanic. This means that when you play a rune, your opponent should ideally have the opportunity to mitigate the effect of that rune through some means available in the game, if they make the right decisions. This term can be a little bit contentious as some players have taken the idea to mean that all mechanics require explicit counters, whereas other players argue that most mechanics should have general play-based methods of prevention or mitigation. In either case, most people agree that counterplay is healthy for a game and generally makes the game more fun, since players want to be engaged in making meaningful decisions throughout the course of a Player vs. Player experience. Matchups Now that we've got an idea of what counters are, how do they affect the metagame? The first layer, the individual game experience, might be at least partially explained by what we've discussed about counters above. The second layer, then, would be matchups. What is a matchup? A matchup is an experience of playing against a specific deck or bg type while using a certain deck or bg type. In other words, a matchup is the type of game that occurs when a specific deck plays against another specific deck. Zombies against Moga, for instance, or Fire Amp against Frost Amp. A matchup is always influenced by players' assumptions about the way the decks involved work as well as their (and others') prior experience with playing as one deck or the other. Why do matchups matter? There is an unwritten assumption on the Pox forums that every deck needs to have answers to the mechanics of every other deck, but this is an impossible ideal. As much as I'd like to beat a global damage FW attrition deck by using a deck based off Moga pup generation, it isn't feasible to think that that should consistently happen. What can happen on the competitive scene, however, is the acknowledgement that individual matches are often decided by matchups rather than player skill. Take an incident like a game between two high-ranked players. In many players' minds, two players of equal rank should have equal chances of winning any individual game, but this isn't how things work in practice. Maybe one of the players has recently designed a deck that accounts for the mechanics that she has seen in the other player's deck. Player 2 casts Sabotage against an FW player because she anticipates that that player is about to use the Dark Rising / Sac Altar combo, for example. Or maybe one of the players is playing a deck that is strong in general, but has a weak matchup against a specific (but underplayed) deck. Something like a deck that relies heavily on relics encountering a deck that includes a Siege Lord. There are also more subtle examples. Barbarians tended to do well against an Electricity deck that I was playing a few patches ago. The central mechanics of Barbarians don't have any specific interaction with Electricity damage, but Barbarians do have access to runes like Fury of the Storm and Barbarian Huntress who have immunities or resistances to electricity. They also have the IS faction bonus, Spell Resistance, which mitigates the effectiveness of Electric decks' Lightning Storm or Bane Blast combos. Another example might be Leoss against DMZ-heavy FW decks. Leoss decks tend not to run Ice Storm (Leoss don't have Arctic) or Earthquake (they would hit their own champs), so they often rely on single-target or small aoe spells for support. DMZ is most effective at protecting champions against these types of spells, since it restricts the targeting of spells rather than their general use. This would be an example of a disadvantageous (but not by any means unwinnable) matchup. Format Definition This is, in my mind, the broadest category that affects the counter-related metagame. Before I get into what format definition is, I should note that in Pox, we may need to use a different term, since we don't actually have formats. In other card games, a format defining mechanic is some gameplay element that is so unique, strong, or otherwise dominant in the metagame that it necessitates having a response available in nearly every deck until the format changes. The equivalent in Pox would be a rune that is so broken on a specific patch that almost every competitive deck needs to either include it or plan around it in order to have a decent measure of success. These runes would be patch defining in the sense that they dictate the choices of players to a disproportionate degree (until they are changed or another element is introduced to mitigate it in a new patch). Examples of format defining cards might be Dr. Boom in the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion of Hearthstone, or AP Tryndamere during his reign in League of Legends. A patch defining card in PoxNora could be something like the original Kanen Slipped, which basically forced people to memorize the Manic reverse knockback chart, or the original Dragoleeches, which completely removed nora generation from the metagame for a few patches. Why does format/patch definition matter? This is probably the most controversial thing I'll say in this post, but the Pox community may be a little short-sighted in this regard. The main reason why I think "I just lost to this, please nerf" threads are bad is because they do not take into account the role of counterplay, and thus pressure developers to change designs without considering whether factors other than inherent power are contributing to the strength of a deck/rune/mechanic in the current metagame. This may not seem like a big deal, but this mindset probably contributed pretty heavily to the current state of the game in which many are complaining that everything "plays the same" and lacks faction/theme identity. How can any faction or theme retain a unique identity when all unique mechanics are nerfed out of the metagame before they can be properly assessed and integrated? The logical developer design response would lead to homogenization: making champs that are packages of slight variants of the same abilities used by other champs of their role, since those types of champs are safer from customer dissatisfaction upon release. Hence we get lots of "if X is true, gain Y stat" abilities rather than abilities that introduce genuinely new gameplay mechanics. We get Nefari Infiltrator and Draksar Pursuer instead of things like Dragon Engine or Aspects (all of which were complained about a lot upon release and are now largely absent from the game). Whether you agree with those specific examples or not, I think there is something to be said for the importance of patch-defining mechanics being unique. I remember exactly what it was like when Skeezick Rebellion dropped and Skeezick Rioter was everywhere, but in a few patches I doubt I'll remember whether Frostwing Hunter was from Ronin, Coalitions, or PoD.