Overwatch's Ranking Point System

Overwatch team: great job and all. If you want to listen to an hour of me saying great job, here's a podcast about that.

You should probably re-think the current system of gaining/losing rank points though. Specifically, adjusting the ranking based on individual performance rather than just win/loss is pretty dangerous.

Elo for Team Games

Elo is a standard ranking system. You gain points for winning and lose points for losing. Furthermore, you gain more points for beating someone ranked higher and you lose more points for losing to someone ranked lower. Elo is designed for 1v1 games though, not team games.

To generalize Elo to team games, there's two factors you'd use. First, if your team's AVERAGE ranking was lower than the opposing team's average ranking, then you should get more points for winning. Second, if your PERSONAL ranking is lower than your team's average ranking, you should get more points for winning than your higher-ranked teammates who also won. As far as I know, all of this is true in Overwatch and makes sense.

But what about your individual PERFORMANCE during a game? For example, you lost but you played really well and your stupid teammates caused you to lose. Should you lose FEWER points for this loss because you personally played well? This is dangerous territory. If your instinct is to say yes, then at least consider that this requires you to gain fewer points for a win if you happened to not play well. That's really the least of our worries though.

Before we get into adjusting ranking based on individual performance, does Overwatch currently do that at all? The answer appears to be yes. Here's an excerpt from this article:

Cloud9 carry Lane “SureFour” Roberts was the first player to hit 80 Skill Rating when Competitive Play launched, queuing almost exclusively with his professional player teammates. When Roberts finished his 10 placement matches, he received a 77 Skill Rating, commensurate to his talent as one of the best players in Overwatch. Cloud9’s support Adam Eckel, who played the exact same 10 placement matches as part of a Cloud9-stacked queue, only received a 67 Skill Rating. His tank teammates hit 71. Derrick "reaver" Nowicki, the team’s other carry player, hit 74. All of those numbers rank in the top one percent of Overwatch players, according to MasterOverwatch, but that’s a pretty big discrepancy for players who contributed to winning the exact same games against the exact same opponents.

So what happened here is controlled test where a team of 6 players only ever played with each other and necessarily had the same win/loss record against the same opponents. Because they ended up with different ranks, it looks like individual performance really does matter in this equation. There could be some other explanation maybe, but it's highly likely that their individual performance metrics is what explains the difference in ranks.

Microsoft TrueSkill

Generalizing Elo into a system that handles team games isn't new. That was exactly the purpose of Microsoft's TrueSkill ranking system over a decade ago. TrueSkill intentionally and explicitly does NOT use any individual performance metrics. Their argument is that no matter what game you're talking about and no matter what metrics you measure to determine how well a given player did, it's necessarily imperfect compared to using only win/loss. The point of trying to guess if a player did well or not is how much they contributed win/loss, but the win/loss stat is the most accurate measure, they say. You'd introducing error by adding ANY other metric.

In addition to introducing error, you're warping incentives. For example, if you measure "damage done" as one metric, then it means players will attempt to maximize "winning AND damage done" rather than just "winning," which is not great. You can also very easily accidentally do a lot worse: you might accidentally give incentive not to play support heroes in a game where you really need support heroes on your team. (It seems this is already true in Overwatch.)

In many cases, it's almost hopeless to even devise a metric. If a character's role has to do with healing, you can't actually use how much they healed as a measure of much. If you did, it would penalize a healer on a team that played so well they didn't need as much healing. Or even worse is a character like Mei. Her ice walls can do a lot, her slow and freeze effects can do a lot too. But to actually quantify that into a metric correlated to win-rate? That's a huge error effect waiting to happen. My friend suggested the best metric how effective you were with her is to monitor the opponent's chat to detect how much they are cursing about Mei.

Yet another issue is that it's easy to accidentally create competition within a team for no real reason. For example, if number of kills is a metric that affects your rating, then your teammate killing an enemy that you could have killed essentially "stole" ranking points from you. That's clearly a bad dynamic.

I think Microsoft TrueSkill's reasoning makes sense here. It's a good case against ever using any individual performance metric when adjusting ranking points after a win or a loss.

Tangent: Another Thing about TrueSkill

You can skip this section if you're just here for Overwatch stuff. I just wanted to note that I'm not fully behind the REST of what TrueSkill does. The main idea behind TrueSkill is rather than assign a specific ranking number to a player, behind the scenes its assigning a bell curve probability distribution of what it thinks about your ranking. So two players might both be ranked in the 54th percentile (about tied) but the system strongly believes that's correct for player1 while for player2 it has a wide bell curve showing very low confidence in that ranking.

In theory, I see how this would allow it to converge more quickly to a good value. And in empirical tests done by Microsoft, it did converge faster than a more Elo-like system that didn't use the probability stuff. But...it just seems wrong anyway.

Specifically, if I beat a player way better than me (according to our ranks), I expect to go up a LOT of points. If I go up very few points "because the system is very sure of my current rank," that feels like total bullshit. And I have had this exact experience before. It's confusing and frustrating. As a player, I actually resent the system claiming it's so sure about me and dampening my rank gains when I go against its expectations. I think that feels debilitating and doesn't work well in cases where players really do get a lot better.

Anyway, I don't think Overwatch is doing this.

In Favor of Individual Performance Metrics Affecting Rank

Even though it sounds like a bad idea to count individual performance metrics when adjusting ranking points, is there some reason to do it anyway? Yes, I think there's something in the plus column here. The two main plusses I know of are "good outweighs the bad" and "assistance to escape Elo hell".

Good Outweighs the Bad (??)

Yeah it's imperfect to add any metric at all that gives you a bonus for kill:death ratio or whatever rather than just win/loss, but maybe it helps more than it hurts. For a character like Reaper, kill:death ratio is a relevant metric. It's not a perfect one for sure, but if you did amazing on this stat, chances are fairly likely that you played well. There are times where this indicator is wrong, but we might beat the baseline of "never count this stat" more often than we'd be steered wrong if we do count this metric for Reaper. I don't know that to even be true for real, but that's an argument someone could make.

I think the trouble here is that it's playing with fire. It's very easy to mess this up, so the downside is clear. If you mess it up, you get situations like the Cloud 9 example above where support players appear to be punished accidentally due to the workings of these behind-the-scenes algorithms. Is that risk really worth it? The upside is helping your rating converge to a good value more quickly, but maybe that's less important than avoiding these potentially very bad downsides.

Elo Hell

A related point here is about the urban myth of "Elo hell." This is the phenomenon where players with bad ranks in a team game can't rank up, even though they are actually much better than their current rank says. Their bad teammates make them lose so much that they can't rank up.

Is this a real phenomenon or just a myth? If it's real, then don't we actually place a lot of value on having individual performance metrics boost these decent players out of their unfairly low ranks? After all, they are playing great so they deserve some ranking boost.

I think Elo hell actually is real...sort of. Let's start by looking at the part of it that just can't be real though. If you are actually much better than your rank, then in a 6v6 team game you'd expect on average to have 5 "bozos" on your team, which is one less than the 6 bozos on the opposing team. So...just play enough games and your ranking will climb. Surely you are providing an advantage to your team in getting wins, because that's the very definition of what you being good means. If you find you can't get over 50% win rate, it sounds like you are actually as bad as the other bozos?

Mathematically, that makes sense. But let's look at this in the form of a story to truly understand it. You are playing as Reaper on a payload map. You decide to teleport behind enemy lines, then sneak up on various players. You're trying to flank them, catch them unaware, and get in kills. The more successful you are at this, the easier you're making it for the rest of your team. You aren't at the objective here because it's not your job. Your job is to make it so your teammates at the objective have a really easy job.

You get 3 kills in quick succession and you don't die. How are you doing? I think you're doing incredibly well. Your plan makes sense and your contribution is very large. If you had killed just one player, you might have pulled your weight at least, but by killing 3 there are now only 3 players left on the enemy team. Surely because of this, your team now has control of the payload.

You look at the payload indicator UI, expecting to see three arrows from your team pushing it forward. Instead, you see one arrow of the opposing team pushing it back. You wonder how this is even possible, so you go to the payload. What you see is a single enemy Reinhardt standing on the payload, totally unopposed, with no other players on either team in sight. Welcome to Elo hell.

You end up losing this game. The situation described is pretty unreasonable though. Your stupid teammates should have capitalized on the advantage you gave them and taken the payload. Instead they chased down butterflies or whatever and failed to get any real value out of your contribution. It's actually quite easy to imagine situations like this happening over and over such that even though you do amazing stuff, you still only in around 50-50. So in this sense, yeah Elo hell is real.

I think there's more to the story though. If we try to address this by rewarding you for your good individual performance and to get you to your "rightful" rank, we run into a couple problems. As stated earlier, if we reward you for number of kills, or K:D ratio, or damage done, we also introduce warped incentives. Now your incentive is something OTHER than just winning. Now you're fighting with teammates for kills, etc. So even if we wanted to help you out here, it's dangerous to do so.

But even beyond that, SHOULD we help you out? If we do, the result is that you are going to gain rank for doing things that...didn't help your team win? Yeah it SHOULD have helped your team win, but it didn't. It's a bit weird that you'll then keep playing the same, keep not actually making your team win (even though it's their fault), and we reward you.

Here's the real truth about this Elo hell stuff I think. The example Reaper situation above really is good play, it really is something that should help the team win...if you were a higher rank. The higher rank all the players involved, the more easily your teammates can convert advantage you provide into a win. If your teammates are so bad that they can't convert the advantage you gave into a win, then you should do some completely different things. Yeah it sucks that the thing you did SHOULD help, but in truth, it didn't. Work with what you have. Work with your generally uncoordinated or lower-skilled teammates and provide them whatever they actually DO need to win.

In Overwatch, I think what players generally need in these situations is "babysitting." What I mean is, it's probably more important to have few deaths and to generally be on the payload than it is to achieve impressive stats that "in theory" allow your teammates to be on the payload.  You have to carry them, so you'll have to refrain from strategies that, at higher rank, are very good, so that you can provide for the most basic needs of your team. You don't have to do that in the exact way I said, but the point is if you play in the (sometimes pathetic) way that your team needs, you can contribute more to your team's win rate than if you play in an incredibly impressive way that they are unable to capitalize on, because they suck. Yeah that's frustrating, but THAT is the way out of Elo hell. Having the system give you a ranking boost for strategies that aren't resulting in a positive win rate isn't a good solution.

I don't now the reason Blizzard chose to have individual stats count towards rank (or even 100% that they do, but they sure seem to). I'd advise against it though.

 

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 16: Overwatch

We discuss Overwatch, Blizzard's first-person shooter. It far exceeded our expectations and we attempt to explain how it manages to do that. This isn't a "review," but rather us analyzing the design decisions involved, trying to define the secret sauce of Overwatch's success.

Hosts: David Sirlin and Matt "Aphotix" DeMasi

Overwatch's Competitive Mode

Dear Jeff Kaplan and the Overwatch team,

I think your game is great and it's not lightly that I rate it a 10 out of 10. Respectfully though, I think you're a bit lost in the woods on how the competitive mode should work. That's understandable because it's a complicated problem that's nearly unsolvable given your constraints.

While this post by Kaplan is excellent about sharing thoughts from the dev perspective, I'm concerned about the specific thoughts laid out there.

Draws

"right now we’re exploring ways to allow for matches that would otherwise result in Sudden Death to instead resolve in a draw where neither team wins or loses." —Kaplan

You should not consider adding draws to the game. In a tournament setting, it's simply not acceptable. For single and double elimination tournaments, a single winner must advance for the tournament to work. In a swiss tournament (especially if there is a cut to top 8 for a single elim portion), every ounce of draw that exists causes problems. I think explaining what those problems are is beyond the scope of my post, though I'm happy to do it if needed. For my own tabletop game tournaments, the rules make match draws impossible (though game-draws within a match are still technically possible, since it's match-draws that are the real issue).

Anyway, draws range from bad news in swiss to literally infeasible for single and double elimination tournaments. If you implement them, then tournaments will use some other system, and probably one you won't like. You should feel GOOD about the format used in tournaments though, and it's best if they use the same format you come up with for the in-game competitive mode.

The Fundamental Issue

The reason why this is all so hard, as you know very well, is that a competitive format wants an ODD number of rounds, such as 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 5, but the asymmetric modes you've created want there to be an EVEN number of rounds so each team gets the same number of chances on offense and defense.

The other issue, as you well know, is that there is a Venn diagram of "what actually works" and "what people will accept." We have to find the intersection and unfortunately reject things that "actually work" if people won't accept them. Which brings us to the first try you had at a competitive mode during the beta.

The King of the Hill Tie-Breaker

People kind of didn't like this, but your dev team thought it was good because it worked. Actually, you might have drawn the wrong conclusions from this? People had various different objections as you laid out in your post, but consider these two issues:

1) It shouldn't be "sudden death"
2) People don't like that it's "a different map"

The King of the Hill tie-breaker was framed as "a tie-breaker" and "sudden death" but it really shouldn't be. Remember that the fundamental problem is that a competitive format wants an ODD number of rounds, so it's probably best if our solution has that. That means the king of the hill thing is "the third round", NOT sudden death. It should be as long as a full round and given equal weight.

One complaint I heard was that some players thought it was stupid that they might barely lose round 1, then win round 2 by a landslide, but then lose the match by barely failing at the tie-breaker, and it felt stupid. My initial reaction to that train of thought is that the complaint itself is stupid. After all, in that example, the complainer did lose 2 out of 3.

There's an important principle that "a win is a win." That means it's generally bad to count "different kind of wins" (such as win by a lot or win by a little) because it's too game-warping and generally leads to crappy dynamics. Strategies that barely win should be just as viable as those that happen to win by a lot sometimes. That alone is reason enough to make sure that there aren't extra stats attached to a win, but even beyond that, if you do actually win, it feels really crappy to be penalized that it "wasn't by enough."

So the complaint here, at first glance, it stupid because it's actually advocating the opposite of "a win counts as a win." But looking more closely, the real source of that complaint isn't that. It's that round 3 was not a real round. It was way too short and felt unfair to lose based on its outcome. I think this particular complaint evaporates if you frame it as a real, full round 3 (and design it to actually be that, too).

Another complaint is that it feels bad to be transported to a different map for round 3. Yeah ok, that's valid. Have you noticed that no one complains that you're transported to different maps over the course of King of the Hill rounds though? Each one of those takes place on a totally different map, but the trick there is that the graphics and theming make it FEEL like it's "all the same map." It's all "Nepal" or "Ilios" or whatever. Maybe if you made king of the hill maps that looked like they were part of each other map, it would have gone over better (for example, the king of the hill version of Dorado, etc.)

If you made round 3 a full round and you themed it so it felt like you were on "the same map," there are still other problems that remain. First, it's a different game mode still. And second, some people think king of the hill is too chaotic and wish that it wasn't what round 3 was about.

Yeah ok to both of those, but our constraints are so big here that maybe that's the best course anyway. Perhaps you could devise some OTHER symmetric round 3 that isn't king of the hill if you wanted to address those.

Current Competitive Mode

Moving on to the mode that's in the game now. This one uses an asymmetric mode for the "tie breaker". As you have seen, people don't really like that. I'm totally with you that it can work and be balanced on the razor's edge of 50-50 fairness. I have no doubt about that. But we're dealing with people's perceptions, and it might be they will just never accept this thing about a coin flip that then puts one team on offense for the final round, even if it were fair. So for this reason alone, you might have to abandon the current system.

But the point I'd like to make is that there are two OTHER problems with the current system.

1) The tie break system is really inefficient.
2) It's game-warping

Remember that the entire thing we're hoping for here is a "round 3" so that we can determine a winner if rounds 1 and 2 fail to do so. But This current system adds a round 3 AND round 4, basically. Then it can sudden death after that? That's a long way to go, having 5 different starts, when the thing we actually want is 3. Also, it's just pretty confusing. I watched a streamer who had been playing *8 hours* straight of competitive mode, and he failed to understand if winning or losing a certain round was going to determine the match win or loss, or if there'd be more gameplay after. I confess I also couldn't follow it at first either.

About the game-warping thing, consider the stopwatch method. That's the thing where team A completes a round in 4 minutes 20 seconds or something, then team B has to beat that time. You don't like that. I don't like it either. It's violating the "win is a win" concept and it's favoring certain strategies in a boring way. Strategies that are meant to waste time without killing are X powerful already, but their power level increases quite a bit if the clock is very short. In other words, wasting time without even killing the opponents is naturally sort of good, but usually it can't go on forever. Opponents can eventually overcome it. But if there's only 2 minutes on the clock to begin with, it's a huge boost to those lame tactics. You don't really want your game to be all about Tracer harass time waste + double Winston time waste.

The current in-game competitive mode HAS that same crappy property of stopwatch though. That's what the "time bank" system is. If you complete an objective very fast, but your opponents complete it slowly, then round 3 and round 4, one team will have to play at a huge time disadvantage. So "a win was not a win" there, and also we get game-warping surrounding time-wasting techniques.

Basically, the current system is falling pretty far short of just having a round 3. If it did that, it would shorter, it would be less confusing, it would preserve "a win is a win", and it would not be game-warping.

As an aside, I'd like to say that the overtime system used by all modes (an extra bit of time if anyone on your team is on the objective, even when the clock ran out) is fantastic. It's exciting, it feels good, it allows comebacks, it prevents "lame duck" situations where one side can't possibly win in the time remaining, and allows more possible strategies by not overly favoring those that try to win fast. Thumbs up on all that.

Minimizing Tie Breakers

Another concept here is minimizing how often you need a tie breaker in the first place. I saved this for last because I think it's the LEAST important part. Unless tie-breaks are minimized to literally 0%, it means we still needed the entire discussion we just had anyway. So let's consider these two cases:

1) We actually do minimize tie breaks to happen 0%
2) We don't go down to 0%, but we still want to minimize them as much as we can.

To have tie breaks happen 0% of the time, that means after round 1 and round 2 are played, we'd always know the winner. The stopwatch system is the obvious way to do that, but it's just not a good solution. Anti-climactic, usually not great to watch, and game-warping. But...there kind of isn't another way? If both teams complete the objective, and you can't decide a winner based on time, and you can't call a draw, then you'd have to break the tie based on some other "score" which is always going to feel wrong.

Moving on to minimizing tie breakers (but not forcing them to happen 0% of the time), you're actually kind of stuck here too. There'd be less need for a round 3 if payload maps were 2 or 3 times as long (or the payload traveled 2 or 3 times as slowly). That way it's far more likely that tie can be broken based on how far you get. That's kind of immediately bad though, because your maps already have around a 50-50 win rate on offense vs. defense across your player population. So making the competitive mode into like 10-90 (favoring defense) intentionally just to minimize the chance that both teams will complete the objective is really screwy.

In other words, you're kind of destined to forever have at least as many ties as you do now from the specific case of both teams completing all objectives. The only real way to make headway here is to minimize the ties in the cases where NEITHER team completes the entire objective, and you've already done that. Incidentally, this violates the "a loss is a loss" principle, but somehow that seems more acceptable than violating "a win is a win," so I have no objection here. While getting a win (even by a narrow margin) feels like it should "fully count", if you get "half a win" (aka, a loss) against someone that got even less than that, it feels legit to beat them.

Closing Thoughts

Here's the TL;DR

  • Draws are bad and should not be considered.
  • You're probably forced to have a symmetric way of resolving ties, like it or not. It could be king of the hill, or a new thing you create.
  • That symmetric thing should be a full round 3, not a "tie breaker" or sudden death thing that's really fast. It should have the same duration and weight as other rounds.
  • It should use the same map graphics as the map you played in round 1 and 2, even if it works differently.
  • The current system has an asymmetric resolution (that people don't like, even if it works), is inefficient at producing a winner quickly, confusing, and also game-warping.

I'm sure you guys will figure out something good since the rest of the game is so superb. It's a difficult problem.

 

Fantasy Strike Expo 2016

Announcement!

 
 

The fourth Fantasy Strike Expo will take place June 3rd-5th 2016 near the San Francisco airport. It's a tournament series and casual play event showcasing the Fantasy Strike video game and tabletop games. Come compete, watch, and make new friends with other Fantasy Strikers. Last year's event was really fun so don't miss out.

Registration link: www.fantasystrike.com/fsx

Location: 
1350 Veterans Boulevard, S. San Francisco, California 94080 USA
(A new location from last year.)

Discuss Fantasy Strike Expo on the forums.

Tournaments

All tournaments will take place Saturday and Sunday June 4th and 5th. Tournament finals will take place on Sunday, June 5th.

Tabletop tournaments:

Yomi (2nd Edition)
Pandante (2nd Edition)
Codex
(All available at sirlingames.com)

Video game tournament:

Fantasy Strike (fighting game, pre-alpha stage of development)
(Available ahead of time to $25+ patrons on Patreon)

Get a sneak peek at our fighting game! It's easy to learn, so you can try it out in casual play for a couple days then play in a tournament on the last day.

Who should come?

Really anyone who enjoys these games should come, if possible. And it's not just about the games either, but rather the community of enthusiasts who create a great atmosphere.

Note that this is not just a local event. It's located right next to the San Francisco International Airport to make traveling as easy as possible. There's even a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel.

One reason to come would be if you're actually good at any of these games. You don't want to let some shmoe win do you? That said, all skill levels are welcome. Attending a tournament is usually quite a learning experience regardless of your skill or lack of it. Even if you don't enter any tournaments at all, plenty of casual play is encouraged as well. It's fun to be in an environment with like-minded people and to make new friends, so you might be interested in attending for the social aspects alone.

3-Day Passes

Keep in mind that three day passes are only available for early registration, which runs until April 30th. After that, only single day passes are available. Sign up now.

Sirlin on Game Design, Ep 15: Heroes of the Storm

We discuss the design of Heroes of the Storm. It's a bold entry in the MOBA genre and impresses us greatly. We cover the many things is does differently than the rest of the genre that we view as improvements. No last hits, no deny, shared XP, talent system, 20 minute game length, map variety, and more. Sirlin then complains about a couple annoying things about controlling your character.

Hosts: David Sirlin, Richard "Leontes" Lopez, and Matt "Aphotix" DeMasi

Codex: Future spec

While the mystic historians of the purple faction look to the past, another part of the Vortoss culture is about looking to the future. The prospect of building newer and better technology drives engineers like Vir Garbarean, purple’s Future hero.

 
 

Vir can see a little bit into the future by knowing the next card that you’ll draw. For just 1 gold, he can realize that future by putting the card in your hand (at the cost of losing another card). When he reaches level 5, he can do even better by allowing you to play the future card without even putting it in your hand first. That saves you 1 gold, but it also saves you losing a card. You’ll be able to play one extra card per turn this way without reducing your card draw. (In Codex, towards the end of your turn you discard your hand, and draw however many cards you discarded plus 2, but capped at 5.)

At max level, Vir gets a ridiculous 6/7 mech token that’s untargetable...but it’s forecasted. He’ll get that mech 2 turns later. Vir is a pretty great engineer, and this monster of a mech is proof of that!

The forecast mechanic involves units from the future arriving in our time. Here’s a purple starting deck card that has forecast:

 
 

A 2 cost 4/4 is way too powerful for a starting deck card, but Plasmodium starts off in the future and takes some time to get synced up with our timeline. Once the strange beast arrives though it gives you a lot of beatdown power.

You can speed up your forecasts by finding some way to remove time runes, such as this purple starting deck spell:

 
 

You can also use Time Spiral to add time runes to your fading units to keep them from fading away so fast, and you can even add them to Present tech II's Tricycloid so he can fire his time cannons more, but the most powerful use is probably in speeding up your forecasts. Here’s another way to do that:

 
 

Tinkerer loves playing with new technology. His ability to add or a remove a time rune is so powerful, that he really is a must-kill unit. It might not look like much to spend 2 gold for a 1/2 at first, but your opponents can’t let you activate him turn after turn so playing him really forces them to respond.

Vir Garbarean’s spells show his mastery of technology. He can use this advanced cloaking field:

 
 

This powerful spell lets any unit or hero (it works on heroes!) slip past patrollers. The invisibility effect even lasts until your next turn, so you can use it to make something untargetable and unattackable by your opponents for a turn, too.

 
 

There aren’t many ways to destroy an upgrade in Codex. Dealing with ongoing spells and building cards can be tough too. Midori can trash unnatural things with Nature Reclaims, but Vir Garbarean can do even better: he incorporates the opponent’s technology into his own. Remember red’s Firehouse building and Bloodburn upgrade? Blue’s Censorship Council building or white’s Mythmaking upgrade? You can Assimilate all of that and more.

Vir also shows his mastery of the Future with:

 
 

He can pay for the here and now with gold from the future, but you can’t violate the inegrity of the timeline or you lose the game (and also destroy the universe). Promise of Payment is best used with something really expensive. That way, you’re getting a big threat one turn before you’d normally be able to. That’s what the Future spec is all about, allowing you control over the timing of your offense and defense.

 
 

This ultimate spell lets you take an extra turn, which if you’ve ever played a card game before, you know is totally crazy. You probably don’t need me to list the ways you can use an extra turn to do ridiculous things, so I’ll leave that to your imagination. Just keep in mind that it’s a very expensive spell. You’ll need your hero to be max level, which is already a total of 8 gold for Vir (2 to summon, 6 more gold to level to max) and then Double Time costs 6, so that’s 14 gold total and then you still have to wait for the spell to resolve. But when it does, oh my, that will be your sweet day.

As a general rule for ultimate spells, you need to have your Future hero in play at the start of your turn and already max level in order to cast this. Then it’s forecasted and you’ll have to wait a few turns to get it (though probably you’ll cheat it in pretty fast with some sort of time rune nonsense). Your Future hero does NOT need to still be in play when this spell finally resolves, only when you initially play it to the future.

Now let’s look at some Future tech I units.

 
 

This is a tricky card to play. Forecast generally lets you trade tempo at one point in time for another. Here, you’re spending a card and getting no additional patrollers in the early game. That’s a big drawback and you’ll need some other form of defense (which luckily the purple starting deck is pretty good at providing). If you can suffer through a bit of tempo disadvantage, you get a huge boost later with a 4/4 for 0 gold. 0 gold is really amazing here and that he has resist 1 is even better because he can end up making your opponent spend even more gold to get rid of the thing you paid 0 gold to produce.

 
 

Gilded Glaxx is a much different unit. A 3/4 for 3 gold is generally very powerful at tech I in Codex. So if you’re willing to pay 3 in the early game (which can be a little tough), you get a really solid unit. His ability is unique in that it makes him immune to all sorts of stuff that works on other units. As long as you have any unspent gold, no one can kill him with red’s burn damage or white's Shurriken Hail or purple’s bounce effects like Undo or even Ebbflow Archon’s. Don’t forget Necromancy’s Doom Grasp spell, one of the best removal cards around, but it won’t work on Glided Glaxx if you have just one extra gold laying around.

Notice that these two tech I cards are the opposite ends of the gold cost spectrum for tech I cards. One is free, and the other is 3 gold, which is high for a tech I. This reflects Future’s theme of helping you choose your timings and shift your resources across time. If you don’t have much gold now, you can still be powerful later (forecasted units are inexpensive, but powerful). If you do have gold now, you can pay a lot and get something that’s unusually technologically advanced.

The tech II units follow that same pattern. Here’s an inexpensive one with forecast:

 
 

An untargetable 9/7 is totally crazy. And he costs 2 gold?? The catch is that forecast 6 means you either have to wait a really long time, or you have to spend a bunch of other resources to speed up the process. That gives you a ton of flexibility though. You do have to pay for this enormous unit one way or another, but it doesn’t have to be directly with gold.

 
 

You won’t have to wait quite so long for a Reaver. Reavers are terrifying because of their splash damage. They may be slow moving, but they fire energy bombs with a big enough blast radius to kill TWO workers or even TWO units and/or heroes. Just to clarify, a single Reaver shot is capable of dealing 6 damage to a hero and 6 damage to a unit, all in one activation. Or 6 damage to two different units, etc. If you need to dominate the battlefield, Reavers will let you. If you already have a handle on that, the tempo gain from killing 2 workers per turn will become unbeatable really fast.

Future tech II also has really powerful units without forecast. One colossal unit can walk over anything that would get in its way and shoots lasers all over the place in the process. But I want to bring your attention to the Future’s airships.

 
 

Void Stars deal so much damage that they can destroy a tech I, II, or III building in one attack. Remember that flying is very powerful in Codex, and that fliers can usually attack ground units and heroes without even getting hit back. Void Stars can also charge up their beam cannons to do a whopping 9 damage. That’s so much damage that you can use them as finishers to demolish your opponent’s base.

While Void Stars are amazing, they can only attack one thing at a time. Enter, Hive:

 
 

Hives are enormous airships that carry many smaller Stinger units inside. They deploy 5 of these 1/1 Stingers when they arrive. Spreading out your attack power can help a lot in some cases. You could kill 5 1/1 frogs or something in one turn and still have all your Stingers. You could patrol a bunch of Stingers to clog up the airways for opposing fliers. You could kill a hero with 4 hit points and not waste the 5th point of damage as overkill (have the 5th Stinger attack something else).

Hive is also a pretty durable threat. Losing individual Stingers isn’t a big deal, and you can replace them for just 1 gold each. Opponents really need to destroy your Hive itself, rather than the Stingers; Stingers can’t function without the coordination from the Hive command ship. A Hive has 6 hit points though, 2 more than a Void Star, so it's tough to kill. Hives also have resist 1, which makes them cost more to target.

Both of these airships are expensive to use. Hive’s effect stacks if you have a second one, so you might even want 2 Hives so you can have a whopping 10 Stingers, but that costs a total of 12 gold and 2 cards in addition to having to build your Future tech II building. That said, remember that your Future hero has the Promise of Payment spell. You can promise to pay for a Hive or two even a turn sooner than you can actually pay for it, then the opponent is faced with taking down an armada they probably aren’t prepared for.

With such air superiority, you might be wondering why you should bother going to tech III with Future. These tech IIs are certainly capable of winning the game, so you don’t have to reach to tech III. In general, the jump in power to tech III can help you break any stalemates that might have developed, and it can reduce the number of turns you need to win. In this specific case though, your tech III can help you cover what might be a weakness of your gameplan.

One potential problem with an air superiority strategy is that you’re basically engaging in a race. You have to be sure to actually win that race. You can fly over enemy patrollers, but they can also attack under your fliers. If your opponent has particularly strong ground units, or if they can easily kill some of your units, they might end up winning that race.

Here’s something that can change that math:

 
 

The moment a Nebula arrives, it can fire its powerful death beam (which costs 0!) to take out the opponent’s best tech II. That alone gives you some breathing room and might have bought you a turn. You’ll continue to destroy their best unit each turn too, so this really slows down their side of the race, while adding 7 flying damage per turn to your side. You also get Nebula’s awesome cloaking field. Though Nebula itself isn’t invisible, all your other units are. Opponents won’t be able to target or attack any of them unless they have a detector. A timely use of Nebula can shut off the opponent’s only hope for a comeback.

The Future is full of amazing new technology and untold power. The Future comes to those who wait, and also to those who cheat it into play with time rune antics.

Codex: Present spec

Through his temporal research, Max Geiger made contact with the Vortoss race and is now their emissary. Ever since he was a boy, Geiger loved fiddling with watches and other timepieces, so it was a natural field of study for him as he grew as a scientist. While the Vortoss race has become unstuck in time and is both in our future and our past, Geiger is in the here and now. He is the Present hero of purple’s faction.

 
 

Geiger helps you get to new technology faster by discarding the old, and drawing a new card. At max level, his ability is pretty tricky and has several non-obvious uses. That’s kind of a theme of the purple faction though: requires a lot of clever tricks to be able to play well.

One use of his max level ability is that you can attack with a unit, then trash it and return it to play so you can patrol with it. As a general game rule, when it comes back into play it’s treated as a totally new, fresh copy so it arrives ready (not exhausted!) and loses any extra baggage it might have had. That means it gets cleared of any damage on it and it clears off any -1/-1 runes it might have had too. If you have a unit with haste, you can attack with it, trash it with his ability, then return it to play and attack with it again. Or if you have a unit with runes on it (time runes for example), then you can trash it to immediately get it back with however many runes it starts with.

Geiger is very much about doing things now, in the Present, as opposed to the past or future. Because of this, the Present spec has more access to haste than any other non-red spec. Even the starting deck has this:

 
 

Nullcraft can be a headache for some opponents because it threatens to deal 1 damage to anything you want every turn and will rarely get hit back by what it attacks. Only ground forces with anti-air can hit it back, or other fliers. It’s even immune to lots of spells that opponents would like to use on it. The Tower add-on can hit it, but Nullcraft will still get to deal its 1 damage at the same time.

This spell of Geiger’s is also about being Present and ready:

 
 

Readying one of your units means you can attack with it, ready it, and then either attack AGAIN or patrol with it. That alone is very powerful, but this spell also catches opposing exhausted units in a time web that keeps them from attacking, patrolling, or using exhaust abilities for a turn.

 
 

This one requires a lot of thinking and planning to use well. You’re bouncing one of your units to your hand and playing another. There are a bunch of uses you can get out of that bounce, and a bunch of uses you can get from something else arriving. This is a great card for combo players who want to do ridiculous things. Also notice that the card you play here comes from your codex, not your hand, so a) you don’t even go down in cards overall from playing this and b) you can use your entire codex as a toolbox to get whatever you want instantly, without even waiting to draw it. Notice that you DON’T have to meet the tech requirements for the incoming card, it just has to be the right tech level and cost. So for example, you could return a Present tech II unit that costs 5 to your hand, and you’d be able to put a Future tech II unit that costs 5 or less into play, even if you can’t normally play any Future tech II units at all! I’ll leave it as an exercise for players to discover all the many uses of this card.

Geiger’s ultimate spell is another combo player’s dream:

 
 

Research & Development should get you all the cards you need to do whatever you want. You might need a certain combination of cards that have incredible synergy. You might just want a whole lot of cards that are cheap to cast. Either way R&D is a superstar.

Some rules notes about card drawing will help you understand what R&D does and doesn’t do. When you play a spell, you do what it says THEN that spell goes to the discard pile. So it can’t draw itself as part of its effect. Also, as a general game rule, when you reach the end of your deck, you reshuffle your discard pile into your draw deck and keep going BUT you can only do that once per main phase. The upshot of that is if you have 2 copies of R&D, it’s actually possible to play any card in your deck as many as 4 times; any given card can have 2 copies and you can potentially see each copy twice in a turn by drawing enough to cause one reshuffle.

Now moving on to tech I units:

Your starting deck has a Fading Argonaut, but at tech I you get the real deal. A 3/4 for 3 is the gold standard at tech I and this one gets to attack and patrol on the same turn. Sentry costs 1 less but has more specialized uses. It has anti-air to beat fliers and it protects your patrolling units and heroes by reducing spell and ability damage that would be dealt to them.

And now for some really cool effects at tech II. This one is unique in the game:

 
 

Chronofixer is a pre-emptive counter to your opponent leveling their heroes and casting ultimate spells. He’s also untargetable, so opponent’s can’t easily kill him with spells or abilities. He can really screw up your opponent’s gameplans if they’re relying on heroes. His art even looks like he’s trolling you.

 
 

This guy can summon just about anything through his warp gate. Amazingly, he can get any non-tech III unit from your codex and put it into play for just 1 gold. 1 gold! It’s even crazier that you don’t need to meet the tech requirements for it, so you’re not restricted to just tech II Present units. Warp Gate Disciple is a must-kill unit; if opponents let him live the one turn he needs to get going, they’re probably going to be sorry. If he lives two or three turns, you’ll get overwhelming advantage.

 
 

How about a 5/5 that can’t ever be killed? Opponents have to deal 5 damage to Immortal just to exhaust it and get it out of your patrol zone for one turn. Immortal is expensive, but well worth it considering you get one of the most durable units in the entire game.

 
 

Tricycloid is a tricky unit. The purple faction does not have any direct damage effects outside of Tricycloid, so the ability to deal 3 damage exactly where you want is pretty handy. Even after you do that, you still have a 3/3 left. The real value of Tricycloid is getting even more runes out of him. Try using up his runes, then getting him out of play and back in somehow. Geiger’s max level ability can do that, and Temporal Distortion allows you to bounce out one Tricycloid in order to get another. Also take note that Tricycloid’s runes are “time runes,” which are the same kind used by fading on Past’s units and forecast on Future's units. Anything that can add time runes to those things can add them to Tricycloid too.

And now for tech III:

 
 

Present’s mighty tech III is, of course, an enormous war octopus adorned with battle armor. In true octopus style, he costs 8, is an 8/8, and has an ability that costs 8. If you could afford Octavian, then the following turn you should be able to afford his ability. If you’re allowed to actually use that ability, that should be game over. Disabling 8 units and/or heroes is enough to lock down their entire side of the board, and it will remain locked down forever because you can do that every turn. Purple’s late game power does not disappoint!

Geiger is Present and he’s ready to beat you right now

Codex: Past spec

There’s a myth about an ancient race that had powerful magic as well as advanced technology beyond even our own, but then they disappeared from the realm. They are called the Vortoss. While some thought it was just a story, we now know that the story is true.

The Vortoss culture is fixated on time, what it means, how it flows, and how we are at its mercy. They sought to harness time and bend it to their will. One sect of Vortoss are mystic historians who were focused on looking back. Others are engineers and futurists, focused on looking forward.

The scientist Max Geiger accidentally made contact with the Vortoss during experiments he conducted on the nature of time. He was able to communicate with them, learn about them, and even develop some of his own technology based on theirs. Geiger is the link between our timeline and theirs, so the Vortoss call him their emissary. They are now able to exist in our time, which shifts the balance of power in the realm significantly.

Before we meet Geiger though, let’s start with Prynn Pasternaak, the Vortoss’s hero of the Past. Pasternaak is a historian who wants to record the Past as well as preserve it. The Past tends to slip away from memory, and it takes constant vigilance to keep it in view. Pasternaak herself is slipping away into the Past, as we can see from her hero card’s first ability:

 
 

The fading ability means that she arrives with 4 time runes, you remove one each upkeep, and if you remove the last then she dies. If she really does fade away this way, the ripples in time disrupt your enemies too. They will be stuck with the same cards across two turns, unable to draw more.

Pasternaak’s max level ability is a powerful way to gain tempo. It can get rid of ANY unit—even a tech III—but this effect is only temporary. When Prynn Pasternaak herself disappears, any units she sent to time-prison will return. The idea is that if you can temporarily get rid of one of the opponent’s most powerful units, that will help you gain control of the battlefield before it returns. Make sure to attack each turn with Pasternaak so that she gains a time rune each turn, and use other means to add time runes too. The more you add, the longer you can banish an enemy.

The purple faction’s starting deck has a unit with fading too:

 
 

Fading Argonaut is a 2/3 for only 2 gold, but his drawback is that he usually only gets to attack twice before he fades away. You can play around that drawback pretty easily and just make sure he dies for your cause in a helpful way.

While the purple faction has a variety of strategies, they excel at late game power. To help them survive to that late game, they have one of the best defenders in any starting deck:

 
 

Moxen are generally very valuable, and I think you’ll find no exception here. While Hardened Mox is expensive at a cost of 3 gold, it’s INDESTRUCTIBLE. It can patrol for you turn after turn after turn. If your opponents would kill it, all that really does is exhaust it and remove it from your patrol zone. They’ll have to deal with it again next turn. This helps you turtle up and get to the late game, though you won’t be able to keep your Mox once you have a tech II unit—it says so on the card that you can’t.

Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with late-game control decks is that they want card draw. Your starting deck provides that too:

 
 

At the very least, it draws 1 card, but it’s really not that difficult to draw 2 with it. Drawing 3 cards with it takes some setup, but it’s doable sometimes.

Pasternaak’s spells are geared towards control and they each help you answer different kinds of threats. She has one of the most reliable ways to get rid of a unit in the game:

 
 

For just 3 gold, she can bounce any non-tech III unit to its owner’s hand. Your opponents will be worried about this spell if they even see her on your team. Keep in mind that Undo is getting you behind on card advantage though. After you use it, you go down in cards by 1 (because you used the Undo card) but your opponent actually gains a card in hand (the one you returned). You can usually more than make up for that by setting up favorable combats, or putting the opponent behind in gold (Undo an expensive unit of theirs), or by using the tempo to generally get ahead of them in board position. Also, if you Undo a token card it will straight up kill it because tokens can’t actually be in a player’s hand.

Undo gets rid of units, but heroes aren’t classified as units. Pasternaak can take care of heroes too with this:

 
 

Ever wondered how a hero started out? It started out weak, without any buffs, and at level 1. When you tell the Origin Story, the hero returns to the command zone and goes back to that original state. (That’s a general rule about heroes in command zones; they can never have any levels or buffs, etc there.) Origin Story is especially great if you use it on an opposing max level hero. That means you made the opponent waste all the gold they put into leveling up a hero. The mere threat of this will make them wary relying on max level heroes or ultimate spells.

 
 

Vortoss Emblem might not seem as splashy as Undo or Origin Story, but I’ve said a lot of times to playtesters “You know, you wouldn’t have lost if you had Vortoss Emblem there.” The cost of 0 is pretty attractive, and the fading 3 part is hardly a relevant drawback (it even powers up your Temporal Research card draw!). The point of it is that it basically “pre-counters” anything that would target your stuff. For example, afraid of an opposing purple player’s Undo? Attach Vortoss Emblem to THEIR best unit and now that’s the only thing they can Undo for 3 turns (which might as well be forever). Afraid of the Necromancy hero's Doom Grasp that might kill your hero? Vortoss Emblem helps you there too. Even though Doom Grasp can target a hero, it can ALSO target a unit, which means it will have to target the unit with Vortoss Emblem on it rather than your hero.

Pasternaak’s ultimate spell is a powerful reset button:

 
 

If you’re behind, Rewind can get rid of all the units on the table, giving you a do-over. You can hopefully play a few units of your own afterwards that same turn. Rewind works especially well if you have any units “in the future,” but you’ll have to read the article about the Vortoss’s Future spec to understand that. Rewind is also one of the only ultimate spells that you can play without telegraphing it. It’s possible to summon Prynn Pasteraak from your command zone, level her to max, then play Rewind that very same turn. This helps you make a comeback if you’re getting overwhelmed—a thing not usually possible with ultimate spells. They usually require you have to have a max level hero that lives one turn before you can cast them.

At tech I, your Seer can manipulate time:

 
 

Adding or removing a time rune can come in handy, and you get a 2/1 unit as well for just 1 gold. This makes Seer a staple card that you’re often happy to replay, especially if you have any Future cards with forecast (again, see the article about the Future spec).

 
 

A 2/3 is a pretty solid unit, and that comes along with the effect of removing one of the opponent’s early game units. That’s a great overall gain in battlefield position. That said, you can use Stewardess of the Undone to return your own units too if that somehow helps.

Now let’s look at Past’s tech II options. First, you have a really efficient flier and a really efficient ground attacker too:

The drawback is that both of these fade away. You can probably get a lot of value out of a 1 cost 3/4 flier or a 3 cost 6/4 before that happens though. And both of these have a built-in way to add a time rune if you really want to keep them longer.

Are you still afraid they’ll fade away anyway though? Your fading units can get a Second Chance:

 
 

Second Chances will save the first unit per turn that would die to anything as long as it’s not combat damage. That includes fading as well as sacrificing or destroying units.

If you think fading is still a sad drawback to have, yeah it really is sad when things fade into the past, forgotten completely. But Rememberer flips that around. As careful historians, Rememberers remember those in danger of fading away:

 
 

That’s a ton of value right there. Every turn, you get a FREE unit with fading from your discard pile. You do have to meet the tech requirements for that unit, but it can be anything from tech 0 to tech III! A Rememberer can even remember another Rememberer!

Here’s a completely different way to get ahead on tempo:

 
 

This affects you as well as your opponents, but the effect is actually way in your favor. This is partly because it affects your opponents before it affects you, but also because Past is geared to have cheap units. Your 1 cost 3/4 flier is looking pretty hot right now compared to some 8 cost thing that your opponent can’t even play at all under Slow-Time Generator. If you’re already a little ahead on tempo, this card lets you “cash in” and pull way ahead.

Finally, here’s Past’s tech III unit:

 
 

Ebbflow Archon is a mind-bender. He has fading, but he actually gets BIGGER as he fades, not smaller. He can clear out the entire board instantly, which also makes him BIGGER, but he’ll die sooner as well. Time is a mind-bending thing to deal with, so make sure you have the brain for it before using Ebbflow Archon. When you use him right, he should be able to clear away just enough stuff so that he’ll still live long enough to take advantage of the mostly-empty board state he creates.

Those who don’t remember Past’s tricks are doomed to lose to them repeatedly.