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Old Dog, New Tricks: "If you can play Magic..." and other fallacies

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"If you can play Magic, you can play Dice Masters."

How many times have you heard that? Or said it? Or thought it?

I'll admit, I thought it when I first got into this game, and that I've said it at the gaming table. And, frankly, I don't think that I or anyone else who says this could be more wrong.

The problems with that statement begin with the assumption that as a CCG, Dice Masters must be like Magic. And, from that, we assume that the skill set developed by a Magic player will translate over to Dice Masters with minimal difficulty. Now, I've been playing magic for about fifteen years, casually. I'm not a tournament player, by any stretch. I build and play decks around a card table with friends, head-to-head or multiplayer. But anyone who plays the game consistently for that long is going to build a skill set. You learn to evaluate cards; you learn to build decks and work out combinations; you figure out your early-game drops, mid-game drops, and your closers. You learn what a meta is and how to handle it.

But, does that necessarily translate to Dice Masters? Well, sure. All of those principles are useful, at least generally. They provide frameworks for looking at the game, but: you have to put aside the factual and metagame information from Magic, and deal with the factual and metagame information for Dice Masters, exclusively. As a new player, I think this is absolutely crucial, and it's a mistake I've made more than once. My point is that while many of the same principles apply, being competent or good at Magic doesn't make you a competent or good Dice Masters player. To make an analogy, it's like saying that if you can ride a ten-speed like a pro, you can ride a Harley like a pro--which is clearly not the case.

As a new player--I started with Dice Masters in May this year (2015)--I think that I fell into the "If I can play Magic, I can play this" mindset based partly on the fact that the game's been out for a year, and has already accrued a strong fan base which actively discusses the meta, deck building, and all the things that you see for regular Magic play. It was released with the internet in full bloom, unlike Magic. Dice Masters information, decks, tournament results, winning combos, card and set previews and so on--all of that is available and posted so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with.

What the phrase really is, in those circumstances, is a crutch. It's there to give a certain degree of confidence that, yes, I can learn this game. I learned to play Magic and watch the meta, and learn what the cards can do and how the game plays. Which is fine, up to the point where one assumes that you can simply port over your skill set--which you cannot.

It's back to those dice again, which is the first of several Hulk-size differences between Dice Masters and Magic that I want to get into. Actually, three. These are the things that I think, at this point, are unique to the meta of Dice Masters and are the chief differences that I have to get my head around, if I want to start winning games and building tournament-contending decks.


Who doesn't like rolling dice? Who doesn't like rolling LOTS of dice? Anyone whose sense of a game's flow relies on the regularity of knowing that you have, and will always have X amount of mana to spend on your Magic creatures and spells. There is a regularity and flow to a Magic game that comes, intrinsically, from how you build and manage your resources. Generally, you drop a land each turn and you can count on that. Unless your enemy is playing shenanigans, that is. Anyway. My point is that this is so not the case in Dice Masters. You roll dice. You get energy, character faces, action faces, and so on. You will get great rolls and rolls where you can't get what you need to save your life.

This is something you have to be ready for, and it is a crucial difference between the two game systems. One thing I've noticed in my game play, is that I manage each of my turns as I know that I'll have X amount of energy the next turn for buying dice and fielding them. So I make two major mistakes: I don't build enough ramp into my decks, and I haven't gotten my head around the fact that with a sidekick die, I've got about a 1/6 chance of getting what I need, and even more variable odds with the character die. There's no regularity to it, as you have in Magic. Hence, the importance of ramp, which can make a crucial difference between having what you need and going without--and I see it working for my opponents, because...they've gotten their heads wrapped around this in ways that I haven't until now, when I sat down to write this thing and really thought it through.


I lost two games last night, because my opponent used my $#@%! global. Outside of redirection shenanigans (I'm looking at you, Blue), the idea that an opponent could essentially play your sorcery and instant cards is anathema to Magic. But, it's par for the course here. I'm learning that I can't look at the globals and my basic actions in terms only of what they do for me, and my team. That's how I think when I build decks for Magic; what will get me life, or buff a minion, or do the crucial task when it's necessary. Actions and Globals do this in Dice Masters, but I have to be aware that Action Dice and Globals are essentially common property.

My opponent can play mine, and even more importantly, I can play theirs. That's the part I keep missing, honestly. I'm so used to the my side/your side with Magic, that I don't think enough about the fact that the battlefield in Dice Master has three areas--my area, the opponent's area, and the common space where we can buy any of the actions and use whatever global abilities are on the table. It completely shifts so many aspects of the game, and pushes Dice Masters into being its own thing and not just a rip-off of Magic.

What I need to do is get my head around two facts: one, that I need to select globals and basic actions based on what they can do for me and what they can do to me; and two, that I need to monitor what my opponent has brought to the table. It's easy enough to see what basic actions are there, but I need to look at their globals and figure out which of them will work for me. If I know that, then I can maybe use that stray bolt or fist for something, and turn my opponent's globals around on him/her. It's a completely different dynamic from playing Magic, and needs to be understood on its own terms. I'm on it.


"How many cards do you have in hand?" is a common question in a Magic game. There's a certain math that I have to do, based on how much mana my opponent has, and my best guess as to what he or she has drawn, or has been holding onto. It's also not a math skill that works as well in Dice Masters, where everything is on the table from go. You have nothing in hand; all you have is your plan for how the game should go, and how that is altered by your opponent's play and the entropy of the dice.

On the one hand, it's a distinct advantage to know exactly what an opponent has on the board, albeit mitigated by the fact your own deck and such is on full display as well. But it creates a different type of math--you have to look at the board and try to figure out what the opponent may do with all those goodies. That, like counting cards in Magic, is a skill that only develops over time. I can kick myself over and over for missing a combo, or mis-timing an ability's use, or any other number of new player mistakes that cost me games.

Or I can accept that this game has a level of absurd transparency. Everything is on display, and if you know the cards and the rules, you can gain a lot of valuable insight about your upcoming match just based on what your opponent lays out on the board. And, they can do the same for you. So don't think that you have some sort of edge based on this. I know that I've made that mistake--not remembering that my opponent sees and can figure out just as much as I can. The playing field is level that way.

Which makes proper timing of events even more crucial. There is a limited bag of tricks in this game's decks, and it shifts with each match. You have to be able to time things and know what you can do when. That's purely a meta thing, knowing how the game flows, and when priority is shifting, and so on. But these are things that come with time and experience, and I have to be patient with myself and try to enjoy things as much as I can, while getting my butt handed to me.

The phrase "It's a learning experience" comes to mind, as well as "thank you, sir, may I have another?"--because that's kinda what it is. I have to accept that I'm at the low end of a steep learning curve. Most everyone else in my play group has been in the game since AVX, as near as I can tell, and they have a lot more experience and intrinsic knowledge of the cards and dice than I do. So, I'm going to lose. A lot. And I have to learn a certain humility toward the game and my opponents, and use these as ways to learn what the game can do, and how I want to play it.

Okay, that's all for now from the tomb of the Ancient One. If you've read this far, thank you, and I hope that something I said here is interesting or has utility for you.

NEXT: "Deck-Building for Dummies"
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  1. Necromanticer's Avatar
    That's an interesting take on the seemingly ever present adage that if you can play Magic that you can necessarily play Dice Masters, but I think you're coming at it from the wrong perspective. When people say that, they don't mean that the games are the same, but rather that you can use your skills from Magic in Dice Masters with great efficacy.

    Sure there are differences, but the core ideas and concepts (and even many mechanics) are the same.

    Coming from a background in Magic, you're already going to understand how combat works. You'll intuitively know that bigger is not always going to mean better if you can't pay for it. You know that you need to build not just to your own benefit, but also to fight against your opponent's strategy with removal and the like. You will know that knockouts aren't necessarily a bad thing and can see how the extra resources may help you. All of these things are an imporatant part of playing Dice Masters that you will have gained from a background in magic.

    Now, you will have to acclimate to the lack of hidden information, the difference in timing for responses, and get away from the excelsior attitude of ever always resources, but that's not a tall order.
  2. fun4willis's Avatar
    Not having played Magic myself, this was an informative description of the transition from one game to the other.

    Might I suggest that that your Magic experience has brought the above to light potentially that much quicker then had you previously played neither.

    Going forward the general phrase could be reworded to "If you can play Magic, you can learn Dice Masters."
  3. The Ancient One's Avatar
    Necromanticer--those are great points and thank you for your response. I think you make the point quite well, and that's much more along the lines of what I really wanted to say. I should have made that clearer, Maybe, also, I should have clarified that maybe it's not as much of a case of the skill set translating over, but a case where one shouldn't assume that it will. Meaning that you do have to make certain adjustments to the way that Dice Masters flows as a game, how you manage your resources, and so on. But thank you for your thoughtful response.

    fun4willis--you know, I think you are right. I may not have picked up on some of these things without having played the other game. And I like how you rewrite the phrase.
  4. Basementcuts's Avatar
    It is a dice game, the official mantra.
  5. The Ancient One's Avatar
    Now it's a real game, it has a mantra!
  6. Osprey's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Basementcuts
    It is a dice game, the official mantra.
    I used to say that, but people countered with "Then we can proxy whatever cards we want as long as we have the dice". Since that would make the prizes for OP's, cards and packs, nearly worthless, I've changed my explanation to "It's a dice game with a few cards".