• Level Up: Quadrant Theory Visualized

    Evaluating cards is so important when building a deck, when a new set comes out, or when you sit down to draft. When it comes to card evaluation, I like to utilize something borrowed from other games called "Quadrant Theory." For those who are new to Dice Masters or haven't read or heard our previous posts or podcasts on the subject, let me explain.

    [top]Quadrant Theory

    Quadrant Theory identifies four board states that are going to be in just about every game of Dice Masters that you play. These are by no means the only four that exist, but they are the only four that you are likely to find yourself in with remarkable consistency. The four game states are: Setup, Parity, Winning, and Losing.

    Setup: This is the early part of your game. You're making buys and using globals to help you ramp dice and get ready for what is to come. Cards that are good here are solid early buys and globals, and cards that you are happy to field early that might help you do other things once they are fielded - Elf Thief, perhaps.

    Parity: The game is at a bit of a stalemate. Both players have tools to thwart the other's attacks and/or damage. No one has a clear advantage. In this case, you need a card that can disrupt the stalemate - perhaps a Prismatic Spray to blank their counters so that you can gain the upper hand. You also want to make sure that your opponent can't do the same.

    Winning: You are almost there, but you need to close the door. How can you get those last few damage through? Cards that are good in this area allow you to do that. You generally want to avoid cards that are only good here. Those are the so-called "Win More" cards and do nothing for you otherwise.

    Losing: You're behind and it isn't looking good. You need to turn this around, fast. A good card when you're losing helps you get the board back to parity so that you can regroup and find your plan again.


    Ok, so that's what they all mean, It's pretty easy to implement from there. We can apply it with a card like Constantine: Hellblazer. Now, we know that this card is good. It's been around a little while and it shows up on a lot of decklists. We can say "Oh, this card must be good because a lot of people use it", but what good is that? We haven't learned anything by looking at a list of meta cards for constructed, or a tier order list for draft other than what other people think. To be students of the game, we have to understand for ourselves. You have to know why. You'll see some ratings below. To give an idea, 5 is "this does the job on its own", 3 is "maybe with some help," and 1 is "doesn't do it."

    Constantine is a good early buy; two-cost, cheap to field, and can be disruptive of your opponent's setup. 5/5. When the board is at parity, it can stop your opponent from fielding something that would allow them to get ahead, though it does little to put you ahead other than being a character. We'll give it a 3/5 here. When you're losing, it can buy you a turn to regroup - this is critical, as when you're winning, you don't want to give your opponent an extra clear and draw step, so getting one when you're losing can be crucial. 4/5. Finally, when you're winning, it doesn't do much other than be a character; maybe it buys you time if you're having trouble closing the door. 2/5. So Hellblazer is great in two places, average in another, and iffy in the last. No wonder a lot of people use it!

    This is fine but can be very abstract. Let's use a tool called a Radar Graph. If you've played racing games or are just an Excel junkie, you've likely seen these before. Here is how Constantine: Hellblazer looks on a radar graph:

    This is what a graph might look like for a pretty good card! But what about a less good card? Generally, you want to avoid things that look like this:

    I chose to make it spike only on winning, but this could work in any category. Very occasionally, it's fine to have a card that works well in just one category, but it has to work extremely well to be worth it. Otherwise, it's better to have a slightly lesser, more consistent choice. A card that might look like the one above (and one that I rag on a lot when this is discussed) is Hulk: Annihilator, who allows you to roll and maybe field extra Hulks when he is fielded - provided, of course, that you bought them first. An army of self-replicating Hulks may well win me the game, but he does nothing at any other time nor is he worth the effort!

    Here are charts for a few other "meta" cards - click on it to make it bigger, if you need to:

    Green Goliath is a "4" in those three categories because while he is excellent and can trigger those things from a block, he is most useful with the addition of a global like Magic Missile or Slifer the Sky Dragon. Jinzo, conversely, gets a five because he can break parity on his own, enabling you to use globals and your opponent to do so only with a penalty. He gets some points on "losing" because, depending on where life totals are, his ability can be an impact. Guy Gardner loses out on some points in multiple because his ability says that he must attack, and so requires some help to close the door and lacks the ability to impact parity.

    Let's examine an upcoming card that I've seen called "broken" on Facebook: Captain Marvel - Kree Powered. For 7 , she does this:

    While Captain Marvel is active, you may have a second attack step immediately following the first (you must attack with at least one character in each attack step, and Captain Marvel must remain active at the end of your first attack step).
    Setup: Might buy her late in setup, but doesn't actually contribute to setup. Predictably a 1.
    Parity: Attack steps clear your board if damage goes through, two of them doubly so. Your characters that make it in the first one will be in used for the second. You don't want your board to be clear after parity unless you went from parity to win. You can't do that without a lot of energy and some combat tricks. 3.
    I'm Winning: How does she help me get the last couple of damage through? I'm not sure. "When Attacks" abilities like Cheetah or Black Widow combined with distraction may allow this, but that takes a lot of energy. Things like could go in the first one to absorb sidekicks, then the second attack could be my main force. She could also work with overcrushing Ultron Drones. Every possibility, though, has to do with getting other characters out there.
    I'm Losing: You are in no position to attack when you're behind. You likely don't have the pieces to come around and win with this if you're behind. At least you can block with her. 1.

    And, her chart:

    She's average in the categories that she impacts. Why? Because she doesn't do anything on her own. It's possible that she enables some shenanigans, but she can't win without help, and "help" isn't easy with seven cost characters - the only ones that have really seen play are Red Dragon and Colossus. This doesn't mean that she won't be anything, but it does mean that she requires a wide win condition, which have been much less consistent in this game than narrow win conditions.

    [top]Using Quadrant Theory in Draft

    In all cases, it helps to look at a card and think first, "what kinds of things do I want to do in this part of the game?" and think second, "how does this card help me do that?" The cards that we rank highly in draft are typically the cards that do at least one of these well and are at least average in two other categories. You also want to have a mix of strengths. Your whole team shouldn't be equivalent in all categories. You want a team that, in aggregate, covers as many of the four categories as often as possible. This process can lead you to consistent quality drafts and, with good piloting, consistent quality play.

    Hopefully providing a means of visualizing this information makes approaching it more accessible!
    Comments 14 Comments
    1. pk2317's Avatar
      pk2317 -
      Yay for Data!
    1. The0retico's Avatar
      The0retico -
      I've been thinking about quadrant theory in DM for some time. I became familiar with the concept through Magic. In DM I am a bit skeptical about its actual merit. The point of this theory in Magic is, that it allows to evaluate cards on average of the scenarios you could draw them, because you cannot control when you will draw which cards. Players are naturally drawn to considr best case scenarios for cards to take advantage of them, but realistically in Magic, you have to realize, that those scenarios don't occur all the time. Quadrant theory provides four types of scenarios, so you can better recognize when a given card won't help you. As a corollary of this theory, the bigger, the surface on a radar graph, the better a card is on average. In DM however, you decide when you put a die in your used pile and you have many tools to control when it will enter bag, when you are going to draw it, prep it or roll it. So if you have a character, that is only good in setup, it doesn't matter, because that is the only time you would draw it. When you have a good win condition which is good only during parity and when you are winning - you don't care, because that si when you are going to get it. To describe it more in generally, one corollary of quadrant theory is, that if two cards have the same surface in radar graph, they are equally good on average. In Magic this holds, but in DM, there is no reason to run character, which are average in every quadrant, if you can have a chracter, that is great in only one quadrant.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      But a big difference here is that we are dramatically limited in the cards that we can include in our decks. I am generally not going to slot a card that is only good in one place when that is taking up one of the eight spots that I can place a character card in.

      There is validity to the "I don't know when I am going to draw this" facet to the concept, but in general, what you need to do is understand how and why a card is going to impact different parts of the game.

      And in general, if you look at the best cards in the game, and the worst cards in the game, this pretty well holds.

      It comes down to building a team with purpose, especially during draft.

      Further, dice manipulation only goes so far. It is not a sure thing, nor is it something that your opponent is unable to manipulate.
    1. The0retico's Avatar
      The0retico -
      I don't think that is entirely true. In DM, we run characters, which are good only in specific situations - e.g. counters, which are usually bad according to quadrant theory. In Magic you run those only in sideboard, because you cannot afford to spend slots for a thing, which can harm you if you draw it at inappropriate moment. In DM you easily spend few slots for counters, because you use them only if you need to. This doesn't only hold for counters, but also various ramp globals - see how Bard Blitz runs a lot of ramp globals, just to increase consistency. Many aggro teams run removal, because it won't hurt their setup.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      I think you're looking too narrowly at it. In DM, there generally aren't single-purpose counters. Ramp helps us in multiple stages of the game. BEG is ramp, and it's prepping dice, and it's KOing my Grundy, and so on. PXG is fixing my bag at all stages of the game. So is FUS ring.

      I don't care so much about the extrapolations that Magic takes from quadrant theory - I care about looking at a card and saying "what do you do for me and when?" You're looking at the "best practices" that Magic can take from quadrant theory and trying to apply them to DM, and I'll agree that you can't do that.

      I think the theory and the MTG-specific conclusions feel so tied together because MTG created Quad Theory, used it, and said, "Ok, here's what we've learned about MTG." I'm sticking with the theory. Not conclusions; we'll make our own conclusions for DM as we go on. I think the application of the quadrant is the methodology and we'll get different conclusions in this game because of the differences in structure.

      Interesting discussion, @The0retico ! I'm glad you brought it up.
    1. IsaacBV's Avatar
      IsaacBV -
      Great read, great article Dave
    1. StrangeBrew's Avatar
      StrangeBrew -
      Another way to visualize how to purchase and use cards/dice. Thank you very much.
    1. The0retico's Avatar
      The0retico -
      Thank you for having patience to argue and discuss with me. I am not a native English speaker and I am quite stubborn, so I can imagine my comments might appear aggressive, but I just want to improve and find out if my opinions are wrong and why.

      I've got some more examples of thins that see a lot of play and would do poorly according to quadrant theory: Relentless, Doomcaliber knight: Fiendish Fighter, Mera, Lantern Ring, Gobby.

      I think I understand now, that you use quadrant theory more like a framework for evaluating than evaluation tool.
      Thank you for the content!
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      @The0retico Absolutely! And I think that if you evaluate those cards just within the framework of the theory you might feel differently.

      Gobby - cheap to buy and field. Good in setup. Parity - starts chipping your opponents life away. Good. Winning - gives you the last few damage to close the door. Losing - cheap field and the damage he can do demands a response. I'd say he's great in every category.

      Relentless - not much to do in setup, but can be an early win on the right team. 3/5. Parity - eliminating blocking can break it up! But your opponent gets it too. 3/5. Winning - need to close the door? Now your stuff can't block. 5/5. Losing - probably hurts since it can easily be used against you. 1/5.

      DCK - nothing in setup, solid at helping break parity, when winning it prevents your opponent from doing things but only if you have attackers, may hurt when losing.

      Mera is often overrated, so it wouldn't surprise me if she performed poorly.

      Lantern Ring is a win con. If you get it out it can destroy parity and also help you close the door on a win.
    1. JasonG's Avatar
      JasonG -
      Great read! Thank you for this interesting article, it will define my future team drafts. I have zero experience with MTG, so this is a new concept to me. What I learned from this article is, while maybe not as groundbreaking as the Theory of Relativity, the Quadrant Theory really helps visualize all team builds, whether you are aware of it or not. Keep up the good work Dave, I really enjoy the articles.
    1. andkrous's Avatar
      andkrous -
      Nice work!

      Now if you could just upload all of your data so I can download it...
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by andkrous View Post
      Nice work!

      Now if you could just upload all of your data so I can download it...
      I certainly didn't do that for every card! That'd take forever. Rather, this is something good to do as you approach a new set or sit down to draft - or even just want to visualize existing cards.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by SarkhanMad View Post
      @Dave Do Sangan: Zealous Supporter
      Interesting choice - a card that I've waited to see someone exploit (though I don't have many positive ideas) or at lest, you get to use it next turn. However, his utility comes entirely from effective used pile management and the presence of BEG (or relying on your opponent to attack and then KO this character while you have something worthwhile in used), which hurts him on some accounts.

      So, off the cuff:

      Setup - 3. It's a cheap character, so huzzah, you can buy it! It can help you get something bigger out - at the cost of your Sangan, and not until the next turn. Can't do it without a BE global, which hurts.

      Parity - 2. Grabbing a more powerful character can definitely break parity! But again, he doesn't do it on his own, nor does he give it to you immediately. Good parity breakers do it now, not in a turn.

      Winning - 2. Unless you have a big character in your used pile, this has limited utility when winning. Even then, you don't get it until the next turn and, of course, it has to come up character.

      Losing - 1. You need more characters when you're behind, not less. Dropping a Sangan for the chance of another character when you're behind is a risk. You'll find lots of times when you simply can't do anything with it because you can't afford to KO the Sangan.