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Adaptive Handicapping for Magic: the Gathering

I'm a newbie to Magic: the Gathering, although the game is about 30 years old. I was wondering how to come up with a simple, adaptive handicapping system for beginners, casual players, and others who fear not having a chance to win against more experienced players or more powerful decks.

So, here's my idea. Within your group of players, keep track of how many times each player has won. Determine the player (or players if a tie) with the fewest number of wins. That player (or players) does not modify their life counter at the beginning of the game. Every other player subtracts that fewest number of wins from their own number of wins -- their life counter is reduced by the result.

For example, in a group of 4 players A, B, C, and D, A has 5 wins, B has 3 wins, C has 7 wins, and D has 4 wins. The minimum number of wins is 3. B does not modify their life counter, but A subtracts 2, C subracts 4, and D subtracts 1 at the beginning of the game.

Over time this should create an appropriate balance for the players in this group such that each player has similar chances of winning.

Alternatively, for longer games you could reverse this method: determine the player with the most wins, and have the other players add to their life counters. Using the example above, C has the most wins and would not modify, but A adds 2, B adds 4, and D adds 3.

For a less subtle adaptive handicap, there are a variety of formulas and numerical series you could use instead. For example, you could multiply the modification by 2x (or more), or you could use the series of partial sums (also known as the series of triangular numbers, i.e.: 1, 3, 6, 10, 15), or you could use the series of prime numbers (i.e.: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7).

This adaptive handicap could also be applied to specific decks rather than players. Decks with a history of winning more often would receive a life penalty. You could even track both players and decks and layer the two adaptive handicaps.

I call this method adaptive because over time it will find its own equilibrium and/or will provide each player and/or deck with a chance of winning. This could also be a way to rank players and/or decks within your group -- an excellent player could be known as a -5 player, or a powerful deck could be known as a -5 deck.

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