(Metagame Archives) One Game Match Analysis and Decision

By Jeff Donais

Today, Upper Deck Entertainment officially announced a decision regarding the one game match policy. In this release, Jeff Donais explains how this will affect tournament play, and goes over why this policy was created. One game matches should remedy a lot of the time issues that have come up since the start of competitive Vs. While there can often be resistance to change, this new policy should make tournaments more fair and enjoyable, and I’m confident that the vast majority of players will embrace it.

– Toby Wachter

One Game Match Analysis and Decision

September 28, 2004



One of the things we pride ourselves on at Upper Deck Entertainment is being the best.

Our goal is to design the best games, run the best events, and always think of ways to improve everything we do. We like to think outside the box and challenge every assumption.

When we had a chance to launch a new tournament program from the ground up, we introduced a lot of innovations and improvements such as the “no draws” policy, the Pro Circuit Credit system, the improved Elo rating equation, the personalized judge certification system, and so on. We will continue to innovate and improve to serve our players the best we can.

Over the last few months, we identified a potential area of improvement in the three-game match system. We noticed that with three-game matches, tournaments run very long, and there are problems with extra turns and games decided on endurance totals. For a company like us, the situation wasn’t acceptable.

We originally chose the three-game match system mostly out of tradition. Since other TCGs had used the three-game match system for years, we stuck with the “status quo”, even if wasn’t the best thing to do. We did give tournament organizers the option of running one-game matches at their local tournaments, but we used the traditional three-game matches at premier events.

However, we at UDE want to remember to challenge everything and ensure that we’re making the best decision. That’s the beauty of a company where the decisions are made by long-time players—you can challenge a system and make a change if it’s the best thing to do for the players.

We considered many factors in this decision and conducted a huge amount of research, both theoretical and practical. Many local tournaments and leagues have been running one-game matches for the last few months, and we’ve been in close contact with select locations to monitor the progress. We had several organizers experiment with one-game matches at the local level. This has always been an option in the UDE Tournament Policy since the launch of the game.

We read over 1,000 messages on the topic on email lists and message boards, and talked to hundreds of players and dozens of tournament organizers. We looked at many options, including different end-of-turn procedures, different round lengths, and so on.

Ultimately, we decided there were three main options to consider:

Option 1: One-game matches. Thirty-minute round length. Extra rounds added.

Extra rounds added to the Swiss portion of the tournament, allowing players with worse records to make the Top 8. The main appeal of this option is that it allows more rounds of Swiss to be played, uses time more efficiently, and almost completely avoids using endurance totals as tiebreakers.

Option 2: Two-game matches. Sixty minutes. Current number of rounds.

Each player chooses initiative for one game during each match. The main appeal of this option is that it allows each player to play one game with the choice of initiative. The main weakness of this option is that it creates sticky situations very similar to draws.

Option 3: Three-game matches. Sixty minutes. Current number of rounds.

The main appeal of this option is that it’s the “status quo” and doesn’t require players to adapt to a change. This option also provides a sense of “completeness” to some players.



Evaluating the Factors

We considered six main factors and many secondary factors when deciding which option to choose.

Factor #1: Impact of Skill

This was the biggest factor in our decision, and this is the area we spent the most time studying and testing.

As most players know, Vs. System is one of the more skill-testing TCGs on the market. The luck factor in Vs. System is less than in most TCGs. When you win a Vs. System game, it’s usually because you made better plays than your opponent – not because the opponent got bad draws. Bad draws still happen, of course, but because of the Vs. System game design they happen less than in most other TCGs.

With one-game matches, you can add more Swiss rounds to a tournament. This has the effect of reducing the luck involved with bad. You play more rounds, so you challenge your deck does against a wider range of decks. Every round added to a tournament increases the amount of skill required to do well in a tournament and reduces the luck of extremely favorable or extremely unfavorable matchups.

One-game matches tend to end before the time limit or within the extra turn, which means matches are not decided on extra turns or endurance totals. This reduces the luck factor of those methods of deciding matches. This is a positive for one-game matches.

With one-game matches, you have no chance to “make a comeback” by winning games 2 or 3. This is mostly balanced because you can afford to lose more matches in the tournament, since more rounds are added. With three-game matches, a player in a PCQ who loses two matches would be out of contention for the Top 8. With one-game matches, a player can lose two matches and still make the Top 8 cut. This is very important is reducing the effect of bad matchups and compensating for the inability to recover from a game 1 loss.

To summarize:

  • Vs. System is highly skill testing.
  • Luck is more of a factor in deck matchup than in having a bad draw.
  • A one-game match system enables more matchups (with the added rounds).


Impact: Positive for one-game match. Neutral for two-game and three-game matches.

Factor #2: Efficient Use of Time

The three-game match system does not use time efficiently. Some matches are over in 20 minutes, while others go to 90 minutes using extra turns. Two-game matches are slightly more efficient, but one-game matches are the most efficient because they cause players to end their matches much closer to each other. Most one-game matches are done in 30 minutes, leaving extra time to run more rounds of Swiss

Because of the efficient use of time, one-game matches are superior to two- or three-game matches when considering this factor.

Impact: Positive for one-game match. Negative for two-game and three-game matches.

Factor #3: Initiative


We considered the impact of initiative in our decision. One-game matches and three-game matches are essentially the same in terms of initiative. For three-game matches, a player will decide initiative twice and another player will decide initiative once. One player will be forced to decide initiative for game 1, before seeing the opponent’s deck. This is roughly equivalent to one-game matches. The initiative factor is balanced with two-game matches, as each player would get a chance to decide who has initiative.

As a secondary consideration, we want to reward players who build their decks so they can win regardless of who starts with initiative, and therefore we consider this factor as neutral in our decision.

Impact: Positive for two-game match. Neutral for one-game and three-game matches.

Factor #4: Stalling

Stalling is a potential problem for any TCG. One-game matches hold an advantage here because stalling is much more difficult and much easier to spot with one 30 minute game. It’s very likely a game will come to its natural conclusion with a one-game match and stalling would be almost impossible to pull off with a judge watching.

Impact: Positive for one-game match. Negative for two-game and three-game matches.

Factor #5: Control Decks


We considered the impact on control decks. We studied how long it took a control deck to win, assuming a player with moderate experience played it. We also studied what would happen when two control decks were played against each other. It was obvious that most control decks could win within 30 minutes if played by a moderately-experienced player. The $10K Championship in Sydney tested one-game matches, and control decks were very successful.

One-game and two-game matches allow a full 30 minutes for each game, whereas a three-game match allows only 20 minutes for each game, giving control decks a slight preference for one- and two-game matches.

Decks that require more than 30 minutes to win are generally not healthy for the metagame and would not properly complete a match under any timing option.

One-game matches are helpful to control decks since they usually avoid the problem of unfinished games going to the time limit and being decided on endurance. Control decks almost never win matches determined on endurance.

Impact: Positive for one-game and two-game matches. Negative three-game matches.

Factor #6: Scouting

Scouting is a factor, regardless of the number of games played during a match. Scouting affects one-, two-, or three-game matches. If an opponent knows the matchup thoroughly, he or she could gain a slight advantage in the first game of any match.

Scouting is a part of the tournament system and has an affect on matchups. However scouting a player’s deck is not effective without actually testing against a player’s deck and understanding the matchup. It’s not enough to know what your opponent is playing, you must have prepared yourself to beat the deck and practiced strategies, otherwise the information received from scouting will not be particularly useful.

In our study, we found the impact of scouting alone we not meaningful enough to affect the decision either way.

Impact: Neutral for one-game, two-game, and three-game matches.


The Decision


Evaluating the six main factors above and taking into consideration many smaller factors, the clear conclusion is to move forward with one-game matches, at least with a very serious testing phase.

We have decided to do just that, move forward with one-game matches at the premier event level, while still giving organizers the option to use one or three games matches at local tournaments and leagues.

Testing Period


The next three months, October to December, will be a testing period for one-game matches. All PCQs, $10K Championships and Pro Circuit tournaments will use one-game matches for Swiss rounds beginning October 1. If all goes well, then we’ll continue using one-game matches for all premier events.

Local tournament organizers are welcome to use one-game or three-game matches for their tournaments or leagues, whichever is best for them considering their attendance and available time.

We will be carefully analyzing data from premier events and ensuring that this is the correct decision. We will gather data such as unfinished matches, win percentages of certain deck archetypes, length of tournaments, and so on.

Single-Elimination Top 8

We’ve decided to keep the single-elimination final rounds (usually the Top 8) under the three-game match system. We did this mostly for the dramatic effect and for purposes of tradition. Top 8 rounds can also be longer or be completely untimed without having to impact all the players at the tournament.

Using three-game matches in the finals also reduces the chance of someone losing a huge finals prize due to a bad draw. While this isn’t so much of a problem during the Swiss rounds, it’s obviously something to minimize during the finals, which are single-elimination.

Extra Rounds Added

We will take this opportunity to add extra rounds to the Swiss portion of tournaments in conjunction with the one-game matches. This will provide an opportunity for players to suffer extra losses in the Swiss part of the tournament, but still have a chance to make the Top 8 of the tournament. This is one of the best parts of the one-game match system.

The number of rounds added will be carefully calculated based on the type of tournament. Premier organizers will be sent guidelines for PCQs and $10K Championships. UDE will ensure that sufficient rounds are added to each tournament to allow more losses to be suffered and still make the Top 8 in comparison to the three-game system. The actual number of matches will vary, based on the attendance of the tournament and number of days in the tournament.

For Pro Circuit #2 at Gen Con So Cal, we are strongly considering running at least 21 rounds total (9 Constructed + 9 Draft + 3 Top 8).



Fear of Change


As we know, people fear change. People are sometimes uncomfortable considering new options and trying new things. It’s generally this reason that causes people to argue against one-game matches without testing them thoroughly.

Vs. System has only been released for six months, which is very early in the life of the game. Upper Deck has a lifetime commitment to Vs. System, so we are comfortable making improvements to the tournament structure now, while it’s still in its infancy.

Our research shows that once players actually play in a tournament with one-game matches, they are very receptive to the idea.



Side Decks

This one-game system does not affect our possible plan for side decks. If we ever add a side deck function for Vs. System it will be an “in game” mechanism of some kind that won’t be affected by 1 game or 3 game matches too much. Our R&D team is working on some interesting ideas for this, but we are in no hurry to introduce a side deck concept.

Tiebreaker System

In addition to the 1 game match system, we have a new and improved tiebreaker system that will be used starting with the MANTIS 2.0 release planned for late October. More details about that system will be published in October.



J. J. Jameson

J. J. Jameson was not a factor in this decision. We talked to J. J., and he doesn’t mind if one-game matches will make one version of J. J. useless for high-level tournaments. We did promise him that we would make another version of him sometime in the future.


Although not everyone will initially agree with this decision, I hope everyone will appreciate the amount of time and effort the UDE R&D and Organized Play departments put into study and analysis of this situation. We greatly appreciate the hundreds of players who sent in opinions on the subject, including those with a strong statistics background who supplied a huge amount of data and analysis for us to go over.

At this point, we are certain that using 1 game matches is the best choice for Vs. System. We will continue to evaluate the situation for Vs. System and we’ll continue to consider new and interesting options for other game systems we release in the future.

Thanks very much for your continued support of Vs. System; we will continue to support you as much as you support us.

Many thanks,

Jeff Donais

Director, Game Development Group

Upper Deck Entertainment


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