Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pool Management, Part 1: Direct Blood Conversion

Here's the second in of a series of posts in which I tackle pool management mechanics, starting with an effect contained in a large proportion of deck designs.



Definition: Moving blood from one or more minions in play directly to a player's pool, with no intermediate steps or repositories.

Crypt-based Example: Ramona (merged)
Library-based Examples: VilleinMinion TapVesselBlood DollTribute to the Master
Limitations:  Nearly all direct blood recursion relies on a Master Phase Action (MPA).

This technique is most people's instinctive choice for "pool gain." In reality, the first application of the mechanic is almost always a simple (and usually incomplete) recouping of an investment - not a gain in any sense of the word.

Note on Terminology

I've been struggling with terminology for the last couple of days.  If "recur" means to occur again, then the proper terminology would reference the resource into which objects are recycled.   "Pool recursion" would be moving blood into pool and "library recursion" would be moving cards from the ash heap to the library or hand.  Well and good - I originally called this mechanic "Direct Pool Recursion."

The catch is those situations in which "pool recursion" tools" return more than the original investment, creating a true gain.  We see this effect in typical "Cap and Tap" designs.  After the blood converted exceeds the vampire's capacity, the pool counters aren't "occuring again" - it's all new blood turning into pool that didn't exist - it's occurring for the first time.  So it's not really "recursion." 

With this in mind, I changed my terminology to "Direct Blood Conversion" - transforming blood into pool with no intermediate steps.  This namenclature seems to apply in more situations.  Since the terminology is used in a context of pool management, I'm comfortable with the word "pool" not appearing in the description of the mechanic.


It's time to introduce another term......and this one is just as tricky to name properly the first one.

I think of a players controlled region growing in one of two ways.

  • Vertically:  a few large minions.  If permanents are being played, they are distributed across only these few minions, so the play space grows upwards from the minion cards.
  • Horizontally:  a lot of smaller minions.  These minions are oriented across the play space, stretching it side-to-side.  Each minion tends to have fewer attached cards, so the general effect is a left-right growth.

Conceptually, returns from DBC scale the same way.  They are inextricably linked to leveraging the minions in play space.  Conversion is therefore either vertical (one minion converting more than one blood when triggered, as with Villein) or horizontal (each contributing small sums, as with Blood Dool, usually with more than one minions contributing from multiple permanents in play).

Some might suggest either trickle/bolus (small/large), fixed/variable or transient/permanent as more appropriate functional classifications.  Certainly I could make a case for these being valid designations, especially the transient/permanent one (transient would also imply bolus, a nice side-effect).  But I think horizontal and vertical are less generally ambiguous and more functionally descriptive.  For example:
  • Tribute the the Master is trickle/fixed from a minion's perspective, but is bolus/variable from a Methesulah's perspective.  Since we're talking about pool, I would opt for the Methesulah's viewpoint, but it still feels clunky.  Tribute clearly scales only horizontally (never more than 1 blood per minion, from each minion), so that terminology is unambiguous.
  • Specific deck designs might stack horizontal tools on a single minion, mimicking vertical scaling (or creating a bolus from several trickles, if you prefer).  For example, it is fairly common to see a wall deck with 2 Vessels stacked on a minion targeted by The Rack.  This creates blood conversion which is permanent, variable and situationally either trickle or bolus - so we still can't avoid nomenclature which gets muddy.  Even in this case, I expect these DBC tools to spread horizontally in addition to stacking on a single minion, so the proposed terminology remains accurate more often than not.

Deck Design Ramifications

There are three design factors which play into selection of DBC tools used in a given deck.

1.  Minion Capacity

In practical use, we see
  • more vertically-scaling DBC with large minions 
  • more horizontally-scaling DBC with mid-cap and small minions. 

This seems an appropriate design philosophy - one that seems to use the available cards according to their functional strengths.

When a large expenditure remains invested in a minion, it is not sitting in that player's pool.  This is innately dangerous.  The situation becomes increasingly treacherous the longer the condition persists and as predatory threat grows.  Survival and/or development of one's controlled region usually mandate that a large portion of that blood be returned as pool quickly - vertical (variable-scale) tools are best-suited for this task.

Small minions deplete one's pool less.  Additional expenditures (influencing the 3rd-5th minions) can be deferred while still having at least a partially developed controlled region, unlike cases when large (capacity 8+ minions are used). So, in general, pool recursion can be more leisurely without incurring a ton of inherent risk.

It all seems straightforward enough at this stage.

The typical "cross-over" capacity seems to be around 6. Above that value, the urgency of reclaiming the pool investment increases and the value of moving large chunks of pool is greater, especially if early predation is encountered. Below that capacity of 6 or so, the return on investment can be offset by limiting expenditures, so horizontal tools become more viable. Below 3 or 4, horizontal tools are used almost exclusively (if employed at all).

2.  Minion Durability

This is evident for many players in meta-games with a lot of combat.
  • blood from fragile minions should be recurred more quickly with vertical DRC.
  • resilient minions, especially those who can protect one's pool as well, open additional options.  Their blood is better protected and there is a often strategic advantage to adjusting blood and pool totals over the course of a longer timeframe.  

This consideration can compound with the minion size discussed above.  If your minions are both large and squishy, recurring the initial investment is doubly important.  But Minion Tapping Lazverinus for 9 is typically not optimal because a sizable blood buffer is needed to support combat viability, and he should be very resilient.

Minion theft trumps all durability considerations.  If you're in a metagame with a lot of Spirit Marionette, Mind Rape and Temptation of Greater Power, immediate blood conversion becomes a survival priority.  

3.  Speed to Expected Oust (and Innate Pool Defense)

This is perhaps a less generic design philosophy, but one that I think is equally important to the capacity consideration.
  • fast decks should scale their DBC vertically, regardless of minion size
  • longer-term decks benefit more from persistent, horizontally scaling DBC.

Decks which create significant, immediate offense and which are intensely prey-focused (e.g., stealth bleed decks) benefit more from the more immediate returns of vertical scale - even if it is for only a portion of their invested cost (e.g., Villein for only 2-3 on a 5-6 capacity minion).  Here are some reasons why:
  • If a speed deck is under immediate pool pressure from its predator, the immediate and variable return from vertical scaling has a survival benefit.    
  • If a speed deck faces combat pressure, pool recursion through vertical DBC is usually preferable to seeing those same counters removed from play through combat.
  • In the absence of virulent predation, faster pool return might finance one additional minion to generate offensive.  Indirect blood conversion tools (discussed in the next post, but like Grooming the Protege) further enhance development speed, though at a potential cost in flexibility for survival.

The converse rule of thumb: as a deck becomes more focused on blocking; redirecting bleeds; creating combat; surviving combat and generally anything that isn't simply relentlessly trying to oust its prey, it clearly relies less on racing its predator to victory.  It these cases, the requirements for immediate DBC are relaxed and the player might rely more on the utility of persistent (horizontal) DBC tools, even for large minions.  This is especially true for those decks which expect to conserve pool through defense (bleed redirection or blocking,)

Case Study: Reading a Deck from DRC Inferences

Experienced players get a feel for the contents of unknown decks based on its DRC cards.

SITUATION:  An unknown player brings up an 8 capacity Malkavian with [AUS][DEM][OBF].  He plays a Blood Doll during his next turn.  From only that single card, one or more of these inferences might apply:
  • The player with the Malkavian is playing a long-term game.
    • He is using bleed redirection to buffer his pool while he slowly pulls blood off.  Telepathic Misdirection is likely, in relatively high numbers.  
    • Combat defense is likely, as he will need to protect that blood in the interim.  If you're rushing him, expect either Mental Maze or No Trace with some regularity.
    • The deck will sacrifice offensive potential (Kindred Spirits and stealth modifiers) to include these defensive options.  Repeated blocking attempt may prove more fruitful than expected. 
  • The player with the Malkavian will be influencing smaller minions later.  
    • His average minion from here on might be 3-5 - you might be facing some degree of swarm for which horizontal DBC is appropriate.
  • The player has not fully considered how his deck is best constructed, and it therefore less of a threat than top-notch players would be.
    • It's stealth [DEM] stealth bleed and must be handled carefully, but this player (and his deck) may be easier to handle because of his inexperience or sub-optimal deck construction.

Pool Volatility and Drift

We can dive into those inferences a bit more here.  When a minion is influenced, pool usually drops to finance it.  The minion then undergoes DBC in some fashion and the players pool increases.  The size of this band around which pool fluctuates is it's recursive pool volatility.

The more a deck focuses on vertical DBC over horizontal DBC, the more volatility it expects.

Vertical tools tend to create situations where pool drops a noticeable amount (influencing a big minion), then suddenly spikes back up (recur from that one minion).  Over the course of the game, these spikes usually become less frequent (influencing fewer minions and focusing more on ousting) and smaller (recurring from incompletely full minions already in play).

This suggests that the moments of weakness from these games are in the later game, especially as a player feels the need to influence "just one more minion" to assist in an oust.  Depending on what other tools (discussed later) the deck is using to manage pool, predators might find it profitable to "stack a hand" for a lunge after some steady pressure.

Horizontal tools see pool spent differently (influence smaller minions), recover more slowly (trickling recursion at 1 pool per turn per minion), but the total return grows over time (either more numerous persistent tools, or a larger horizontal base) and are usually available without cards from hand.

This suggests a longer period of middle-game weakness as the horizontal growth occurs and the recursion struggles to finance the growth.  Predators might find it profitable to create more offense early in the game, to limit the horizontal growth in their prey's controlled region, limiting their pool return options and creating opportunities to oust.

The interesting part of this is that vertical DBC often yields a higher average pool total (less downward drift) than horizontal in the early and mid games, despite the greater volatility.  It seems counter-intuitive, but it is true, because vertical tools return a larger portion of the investment faster.  This is part of what makes early offense on Villein-heavy decks so difficult, there simply hasn't been time for downward pool drift to occur

All of this is independent of any increase/decrease of blood on minions from play.  Vertical tools really want to reload one large minion with blood.  When they do, pool totals can change quickly and they offset any downward drift in one move.  But then the general trend re-exerts itself.

The Hidden Risks and Benefits in DRC

I believe that irreversible decisions around Tap/Villein size often make the difference between winning games and barely missing victory points.  Being able to read a situation, recur enough blood to survive, maintain fully functional minions and accurately account for contingencies is the hallmark of well-played vertical DBC.

Early-game vertical DBC is clearly more difficult to manage in this sense.  So many things happen over subsequent turns that predicting blood requirements for the large game requires but skill and luck.  Usually, the best one can do is recur too much pool, since blood is usually easier to regenerate than pool.

Or, you could just get Lilith's Blessing in play, recur everything from each minion, get 3 blood and accept the consequences of decisions the cards make for you.........

The persistent, horizontal DBC tools (Blood Doll and Vessel) are innately more forgiving of decision-making gone wrong. The ability to "push a blood" instead of "pull X pool" late in the game gives players opportunities to address unforeseen circumstances.  This trait is why I recommend new players start with horizontal tools, until they have learned how to manage their pool and minions.

A less considered effect of horizontal DBC's permanence is the hidden capacity increase for small minions.  At need, pushing a pool ONTO the minion is almost like having an extra capacity which you can pay for late in the game - at least as far as paying for ephemeral (transient) cards in hard.  You get the benefits of playing more powerful cards late in the game and lower risk associated with blood hanging on a minion.  This can be give that little extra oomph to those middle capacity minions needing a little extra ousting power.


We've covered a lot so far - tools, scaling, volatility, inferences about deck designs, points of attack - all really based on only 5 (often-played) library cards.  At this point, I think we've beaten this topic to death and are ready to start considering the next topic in the list, Indirect Blood Conversion.

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