Monday, May 14, 2012

Pool Management Part 4: Indirect Pool Generation

This blog entry focuses on the last of the "major" pool generation techniques.  Where the direct tools focus on survival, the indirect tools primarily focus on building the ready region.  Here, we hit a real power play among the tools.



Definition: The movement of counters from the blood bank to an uncontrolled minion's blood.
Crypt-based Examples:  Malgorzata, Mary Anne Blair, Travis "Travis72" Miller
Library-based Examples: Arcane Library, Govern the Unaligned, Enchant Kindred, Fourth Tradition, Belonging Grants Protection
Limitations:  IPG usually affects younger minions in the uncontrolled region, so the oldest available vampire must be influenced first (and sometimes is subject to combat risk).  If a player needs pool instead of speed and growth in the ready region, they are limited by their available influence-phase transfers, seldom yielding more than 3 pool per turn.


We'll continue to use dimensions of scale that are consistent with earlier use.
  • Horizontal:  it depends on the number of minions meeting the relevant criteria, usually granting 1 blood per uncontrolled minion (e.g., Honor the Elders, Unwholesome Bond, Little Mountain Cemetary).
  • Vertical: as before, return is based on some other attribute related to a single minion (e.g., Brutal Influence).  
  • Fixed: the output is independent of any scaling parameter and consistent for each application (e.g.,  Govern the Unaligned, Scouting Mission, Enchant Kindred, Fourth Tradition, Belonging Grants Protection).

IPG vs Hybrid Functions

I'll freely admit it.  I "copped out" and modified my presentation of this content for the reader's sake.   IPG cards which cost blood were going to be introduced as a "hybrid techniques" and I still think about them that way.  

By rule and text, they move X blood from the blood bank and cost Y blood.  But conceptually, the effect is indirect pool generation (creating X-Y blood) and indirect blood conversion (moving the Y blood paid). We do this unconsciously in playing cards like Govern, taking the 1 blood cost, holding it in hand, grabbing 2 more from the bank and dropping them on the uncontrolled minion.  
As I wrote this blog, it became apparent that covering card functions from Enchant Kindred (create 2, no cost) without discussing Govern (create 3, pay 1) would likely lead to immediate confusion and a chorus of comments.  I just didn't want to deal with it.   And lumping the cards together does ensure proper rules adherence for things like the Tomb of Ramses.

Integrating Direct Blood Conversion and Indirect Pool Generation

This combination is the holy grail for tournament play using large capacity minions, 
though in reality the ousting power is mostly derived from IPG.

Minion-based IPG amounts to additional free influence at the cost of an action.  That opportunity cost is offset by the creation of more action in the future (another minion), who is put into play at a without influencing its entire capacity.  The overall effect (entire game time frame) is a net increase in actions at a reduced pool cost.

Earlier, in the DPG discussion, we covered how the bloat actions are actually counterproductive.  Each one taken requires the remaining offensive actions be larger, to make up for the action lost performing the DPG.  This is not the case for IPG actions, since the entire objective is to quickly introduce another minion to replace the lost action without facing the bottleneck of 4 transfers in the influence phase.

This is the heart and sole of why IPG is widely superior to DPG.
The action implies no lost offensive opportunity.

During this activity, DBC grants survivability and minimizes pool investment risk.  When used on partially financed minions (financed with IPG actions), it can represent true pool gain. The biggest difficulty in this integration is accurately forecasting the future blood requirements when using vertically scaling DPG (see part 1 of the series.)

Design Considerations

If a crypt can broadly leverage a permanent Master that 
puts counters from the blood bank on uncontrolled minions
that card should be included in the library.

There aren't a lot of these cards, only about a half dozen.  All of them I'm suggesting to use are clan or sect-based (not Powerbase: Montreal) and I suggest including a only single copies.  Costing 2-3 pool, drawing them within in first 4-5 turns both create acceleration and represents a modest pool creation asset for the late game.  Drawn later, they are often discards.  But the two-part upside is too good to pass up.

If a crypt has broad access to an undirected IPG action with attached bleed function, 
excluding that card from the library is unwise.

I really believe it.  We're really only talking about 7 cards across 2 disciplines here - but they're the big payload disciplines: Dominate and Presence.  

I might suggest that opening statement could read "if a crypt's star minion has acccess to...."  Even dedicated [PRE]-based vote decks can benefit from including Enchant Kindred either leading or follow-up for Majesty S:CE.   By now, everyone knew Govern the Unaligned was good, right? 

In my opinion, the undirected trait is an important aspect of the card type's robustness.  Comparing undirected IPG with directed actions having an IPG kicker (e.g., Public Trust), the independent action
  • creates more blood per action,
  • starts at increased (+1) stealth,
  • is less likely to encounter a block (people block actions more frequently when the actions result in them immediately losing pool)
This class of actions is made even more powerful when stacking multiple IPG actions within the same turn, either in series (one multi-acting minion Governing down, untapping and Scouting down) or more commonly in parallel (2 minions both Governing down).  

These actions beget more actions as more freely financed minions move to the controlled region - creating an increasing advantage in speed and efficiency (capacity per pool) over decks that rely only on transfers for influence.

Contrarian View:

There are specific deck designs which benefit from leveraging directed IPG over undirected IPG, though the components are usually layered for robustness.

I played against Undue Influence decks before the development of Anarch Convert.  It's strange\that this design hasn't been explored more, since the Convert significantly reduces the overhead associated with the entire Anarch mechanic.

This design leverages +1 stealth directed actions for early IPG with offense, but might also layer undirected [PRE] Enchant Kindred for use after blocks.  The entire package can be make free of blood cost with Change of Target, though I would include several copies of Majesty for rush defense and to tap persistent intercept blockers for repetitive Undue Influence.

Now, back to the general concept of IPG

IPG actions with non-bleed ancillary functions 
are still so good that they fit in most decks 
(though in smaller numbers than the bleed + IPG functions.)  

I was openly critical of DPG actions in the last section, especially fixed scale DPG.  IPG is simply that much better.  I'll reiterate:
  • Fixed-scaling DPG actions usually return 2 pool.  
  • Even the worst undirected IPG effectively yields 2 pool (in blood on uncontrolled minions) AND 2 transfers.  
That's half a turn's transfers per action better - in effect circumventing an asset generation constraint..  And there's still some type of potentially useful function for the late game, despite not being efficiently repeatable.

Belonging Grants Protection has an "untap other" parallel function - rarely useful unless a deck is actually designed to leverage it, but it remains an option,.  The parallel text for Inspire (an IPG action for Imbued) is grossly underused, either facilitating conviction-based bleed or to enabling return from the incapacitated region.

These options are just more powerful and flexible than most DPG options..

Even those IPG actions with no other functions 
(e.g., Reunion Kamutthe Call
are usually worth including, but they require care in handling.

The worst part is that they can be dead cards in the end game.  With no uncontrolled miinions, they're literally unplayable.  Even with an uncontrolled minion, potential pool gain is limited.  Drawing a mid-lunge copy of the Call is disheartening at best and game-ending at worst.

This leads to another inevitable conclusion:

The more I see parallel functions that I don't want to play after turn 7, 
the more I need to devise immediate discard options for my IPG.

I was careful to use a couple of phrases in that sentence.  I used "discard options" instead of "card flow."  They're often used in the same way (including my me), but I wanted to be very specific in getting the dead card out of hand.  For instance, I might imply simply play cards "around" the dead card in my hand,and still have "good flow" of what is effectively a 6 card hand.  Good for the short term.

But inevitably, longer time frames and uneven distribution in the library will accumulate the dead IPG cards and lead to stagnant play.  If the parallel function isn't bleed, that card will usually need to get out my hand to ensure late game robustness, and often in numbers greater than the 1 per turn allowed by discard actions.

The other part of that conclusion with which I was careful was including the word "immediate."  If I draw that IPG card replacing a played Master, it can interrupt an entire turn, from start to finish.  It needs to be replaced as soon as possible, not at the end of the turn.

I don't want to drift too far into other topics (specifically card flow), but having only 1 discard phase action is a clear constraint and it's placement at the end of a turn interferes with applying offensive pressure during my turn.

The real hidden risk is the almost unavoidable temptation to flow cards by playing IPG in the late game, as "pool gain" and to "cycle the card."  But in this end-game situation, its even worse than DPG.
  • It's limited in horizontal scale (by the number of transfers) - I can play only 1 "profitably."
  • It incurs the same DPG deficit - all my remaining actions need to generate more offense (or be more numerous) to counteract the lost action.
  • The minion whose action I sacrifice is likely a large minion, the one I should be counting on to generate the most offense.  

The real irony here is that ousting my prey is worth as much pool as 2 of these extraneous actions and 3 turns of transfers to recoup to pool.  If I expect I can survive one more turn, it's often better to create offense (despite forcing my prey into defensive postures).

It's tough for me to put a survival expectation into concrete terms and it's probably a deep enough subject for a whole blog entry.  It's apparent the different players have different baseline risk-acceptance criteria.  I will tell you my risk-reward ratio is more tolerant of failure than many peoples'.  It depends on the time remaining, my knowledge of the players, how the game has progressed, if I already have victory points and even likelihood of reaching the finals based on results in this game.  But in the end, I don't play for mere survival.

Note: we'll discuss the intrinsic strategic conflict of a global play to win rule with a finals-based tournament structure at a later date.  The existing rules system is flawed because it sometimes forces players into behavior that loses them seats at the finals.

Predator/Prey Viewpoint

Here's the rub......people don't want to block actions like Govern down in the early going.  IPG seems to fire off left and right, all at the default 1 stealth.  I'll tell you what, there are few things more worth blocking in the early going, if you can stop it.

Blocking an IPG action in the first few turns
is more than making just that single block.

We're covered, over and over, that IPG is intended to generate a full ready region.  Blocking IPG stops the current action and it prevents some fraction of future actions from uncontrolled minions.

In effect, you are constraining that players influence over new minions.   In the case of Govern, you're pushing a player from the 7 influences he wanted to get, back down to the 4 given him by the rules.  That's right - almost half his planned influence for the turn, crushed.  It's a huge amount of control for a single block.  Imminently worth doing in the early going, every time you can.

If my predator is getting his IPG and I'm not (or its not in my deck), I very definitely feel exposed until I get whatever mojo I have flowing.  I'm always hurrying to find other ways to keep up with my predator's development (or crush his), quickly.

If there's no IPG in my deck, I expect I'll be behind and that makes me include more Wake effects to get a 1-to-many relationship for my blockers (if any).  It's uncomfortable and risky to be down 2:1 when turn 6 hits, so I consciously try to avoid that situation in most decks.


IPG is the king of speed and perhaps the most versatile tool I can find, at least as it applies in the early game

It's not strictly necessary in a competitive deck, but if you aren't running some kind of IPG, you absolutely need to have a very solid risk mitigation plan (usually redirecting bleeds frequently) because your predator and prey are very likely building faster than you are - and often with bleed disciplines.

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