The Eternal Struggle: Risk vs. Reward

cvhHow's it going, everybody? I know it's been a few weeks since my last article, but before I jump right into this one, I have to give a quick plug to a series of videos I've started on the ARG YouTube channel. The Kaijudo Duel Series, which I've started putting up in the last couple weeks, will feature a five game series between two high-tier decks in the meta, with the players offering insight on their hands, thought process behind plays, decks, and overall matchup. For an example, check out the latest installment below!

The topic of today's article goes hand-in-hand with what we discuss in the Duel Series, and is something that ever player has to take into account in literally every game: the concepts of risk and reward.

Risk vs. reward can be applied to specific plays, card choices, and deck choices, but let's talk about it in terms of plays. The "risk" involved is basically the chance that something can go wrong or interrupt your strategy, and the "reward" is how much of a payoff you get when it goes perfectly. The next step? Deciding whether or not the play or sequence of plays is worth it.

For this example, let's say I'm running Dragons - any variant will do. I'm on the play, and I summoned a Lux on turn two followed up by a Nix on turn three. My opponent hasn't made a play yet, and I have a Herald of Infernus and Lyra, the Blazing Sun in my hand as potential follow-up plays. Based on my opponent's mana zone, I infer that he's running a five-civilization Haven control deck. Now, do I decide to make the aggressive play and break a shield with my Lux, or simply pass?

Breaking a shield with Lux begins to put my opponent on a clock, since he now knows I have a hand that can put him on the defensive in the coming turns if everything goes right. This isn't a typical line of play for Dragons and the element of surprise could indeed get me there. If both my Fire Birds stay, I have a Lyra, the Blazing Sun to come down and tap a blocker my opponent might play, and draw me a card off Nix. The reward is pretty high, but so is the risk.

Since my opponent would only be going to three mana on his turn, his hand is basically out of the equation (I can answer any blocker with Lyra next turn and those control decks usually don't have turn three removal spells. Toxic Fog and Snake Trap could also be threats if you know they're being run). The risk comes entirely from his shield zone. There are a plethora of Shield Blasts that I could hit with Lux that would immediately get rid of my Nix to destroy my chance of gaining cards in the next few turns, or worse yet, get rid of both of my birds. Bone Blades, Drill Storm, Tendril Grasp, Terror Pit, Tornado Flame, and even Piercing Judgment are all scary cards that could put me far behind in the game. Drill Storm is probably the most dangerous in this situation because it can clear my entire board and leave me with no follow-up plays.

In this situation, since I already have a decent hand as long as my Nix can live for another turn or two, I don't think I'd take the risk with the Lux shield break and the element of surprise could turn around on me with one timely blasts and probably result in me losing the game; however, if I draw a Keeper of Laws next turn, we're going to have to analyze everything again!

In Card Choices

Examples of people using risk and reward are everywhere in the KMC top eight decklists. When I decided to use LWD Kalima Control for the Winter Championship as opposed to the more traditional LD Kalima Control, I knew the risk was directly related to my chances of missing with Queen Kalima. I was sacrificing that type of consistency for the reward of getting to run a few Light/Water dual-civ cards and Crystal Memory that I deemed necessary for the event.

Risk vs. reward can affect even small decisions, like whether or not to run that one tech card for a specific matchup. I personally use the argument a lot to explain why I'm not a huge fan of Crimson Wyvern. Wyvern, used in a few 5-civ Haven decks as tech against the mirror match, really doesn't do a lot against anything else, and is essentially just a land against aggro or tempo. The reward is obviously pretty huge in that one matchup, being able to clear multiple Eternal Havens from the battle zone, but is the risk of it being dead in almost all other matchups worth it?

In this particular example, there are other things to take into consideration, such as the abilities of Squillace Scourge and Cassiopeia Starborn to have a similar game-winning function against boards filled with Eternal Havens. If Crimson Wyvern was truly the only way to get past multiple Havens, I'd say it was important, but since the reward can be fulfilled with less risky cards like Squillace and Cassiopeia, I think the risk of playing against other decks weighs too heavily on Wyvern.

Metagaming isn't just limited to specific card choices. We decide what decks we want to run at any given event based on what we think will give us the best matchup against a perceived field of decks, and this whole process is about risk vs. reward. If I walk into an event expecting a ton of giant control decks, I know a good tempo deck has the potential to slice right through them, but I have to be wary of the potential bad matchups; depending on the tempo build, I wouldn't really want to play against aggro or Dragons. If I think the field is only going to be 10% bad matchups, I'll be likely to take that risk because the reward could be an easy path to the top eight, whereas if I think everyone is going to flock to mono-Fire, I'll be more likely to choose something with a better matchup to aggro.

It is understandably hard to weigh risk against reward in many of these decisions. Relaxing and taking a deep breath or stepping away from the decision for a while if it's about deck-building can help, as they help in most stressful moments. Risk and reward don't really have concrete rules surrounding them in Kaijudo or in life, but making the safe play or the good play is all about analyzing when the risk just isn't worth it. Hopefully, you all found this article helpful and can use some of these strategies in your upcoming Kaijudo Master Challenges! Remember, until next time, Play Hard or Go Home!