Pygmalion Effect

I recently saw a discussion on whether or not higher rarity cards provided any kind of real advantage. We’ve all heard the ridiculous claims like “you draw higher rarity cards more often,” that have no factual basis in reality, but today I’m going to argue that there is a real advantage to be gained by using higher rarity cards.


kurazLet’s say you have two copies of the same Monarch deck. All cards in the deck are the exact same. The only difference between the two decks is in the rarity of the cards. One of the Monarch decks is lowest rarity, comprised almost entirely out of three structure decks. It has common Returns, common Tenacity’s, common Kuraz, and common Stormforths.


The second Monarch deck has all the same cards and all the same quantities in the deck, but this time it is max rarity. In this version of the deck the Returns are ultra rare, the Tenacity’s are rare, the Kuraz is super, and the Stormforths are gold. If we assume that everything else is equal, then we would think that both decks have an equal chance of performing well, right?


Pygmalion Effect: The phenomenon whereby higher expectations lead to an increase in performance.


That may not be the case at all. There is this scientific phenomenon called the Pygmalion effect that says higher expectations lead to an increase in performance. Now it should go without saying that really wanting the top card of your deck to be that one card you desperately need has no bearing on what that card actually is. Playing higher rarity cards doesn’t make you any more likely to draw what you need than playing lower rarity cards.


What it does do for you, however, is make you more engaged in your games. Playing these higher rarity cards makes you pay more attention, because you expect to do better. When you pay more attention and you are more engaged in your games, you’re going to make better plays. When you make better plays, you will perform better.


I don’t think anyone would argue that being more engaged in your games would do anything but make you play better, or that playing better leads to better performance overall, but I’m sure some people would take issue with the premise that higher rarity cards makes you more engaged. After all, why should the amount of attention you pay to your game depend on the way your cards look? Doesn’t it seem like that shouldn’t matter? Like you should be able to pay the same amount of attention using a lowest rarity deck that you would be able to pay using a highest rarity deck?


That certainly seems like how it ought to work, but how things should work and how they actually work are two separate entities. We’re not playing a game of robot against robot, where the robots are unaffected by factors outside of game play. We are individuals and things like rarity do impact how into a game we are.


wind-up factoryWhat if instead of common Return and ultra rare Return, we were talking about ultra rare Return and a proxy of Return? If we’re just play testing and don’t actually have the card, then we might want to use a proxy. What if we chose a Wind-Up Factory to be our proxy? Are both Return of the Monarchs and Wind-Up Factory not just a representation of a concept of what the card does? We know what the card does and we can do a quick search if we need the exact wording, so are does actually having the card have any bearing on the game?


Wouldn’t Wind-Up Factory be an adequate proxy to represent Return of the Monarchs? Not only are they both spells, they’re both continuous spells. It doesn’t seem like too big of a leap to use one to symbolize the other. And perhaps it’s not too big of a leap to have one card representing a concept of an in-game action represent another card representing a concept of an in-game action. Isn’t it the in-game action that matters, not the physical card?


What if instead of using Wind-Up Factory as a proxy for Return of the Monarchs, we used Nightmare Wheel as a proxy for Return of the Monarchs? Here again we have a case of one card representing a concept of an in-game action representing another concept of another in-game action. Now Nightmare Wheel may resemble Return of the Monarchs less than Wind-Up Factory resembles Return of the Monarchs, but are they all not representations of the same thing? The ability to search for a 2400/1000 or 2800/1000 monster when you tribute summon? Are common Return of the Monarchs, Ultra Return of the Monarchs, Wind-Up Factory, and Nightmare wheel not a representation of this in-game action (assuming we’re play testing an proxies are fine)?


Would you then suppose that you could maintain an equal level of engagement regardless of which card you were using to represent searching when you tribute summon? Or would you suppose that you might be more engaged in the game if it were Wind-Up Factory rather than Nightmare Wheel? What about a common Return of the Monarchs instead of any Wind-Up Factory? Well, how about an ultra rare Return of the Monarchs, instead of a common Return of the Monarchs?


  1. Higher rarity cards make you more engaged in your games.
  2. You play better when you are more engaged.
  3. When you play better, you perform better.
  4. Higher rarity cards leads to better performance.


While all these cards are just physical representations of a concept of the in-game action of searching when you tribute summon, it’s hard to say that you would be able to maintain an equal level of engagement. It seems more likely that you would be the most engaged using the higher rarity version of the card than you would be with all other versions. This higher level of engagement would subsequently lead you to make better in-game decisions, which would increase your overall performance.


As such we can conclude that higher rarity cards lead to increased performance as an application of the Pygmalion effect. I hope to see everyone at this weekend’s Circuit in Pittsburgh, PA! Until next time, play hard or go home!

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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