This is part 2 of a series on Game Theory in Magic on Spellsnare.com. You can read the first article here.

This long overdue sequel to my first article on game theory in Magic is here! In my first article I discussed the Prisoner’s Dilemma in draft. Especially in regards to choosing whether or not to abandon a cool strategy you may have been pursuing. This time around, I’m writing about something pretty different that is a law of economics that is applied across the board.

In Game Theory, it is sometimes referred to as the “Concorde Fallacy”, but in the larger realm of Economics it is better known as the Sunk-Cost Fallacy. This idea is that the longer that any given firm has been investing in anything, it can be a decision or production of a good, the harder it is to halt that process or stop that decision from being made. The idea being that is that the value that may have been lost can somehow be reattained by continuing a given decision.

The Concorde Fallacy in Gameplay

It’s a really notable concept in everyday life once you seek out examples and the concept as a whole is very applicable to Magic. This same Concorde Fallacy is the same reason that when you’re playing a game of limited and an opponent offers you an undervalued trade; let’s say they are attacking with a Grizzly Bears and you have a Pouncing Cheetah. While your Pouncing Cheetah has the marginal upside of one power, these creatures still trade in combat.

You choose not to block and after your opponent casts a Wall of Ice during their second main phase, you aren’t able to attack anymore. You are left turn after turn with the option of blocking with your Pouncing Cheetah and in your head you realize that as your life total decreases it may be necessary to do so. However, you simply can’t bite the mental bullet because you simply could have done that the very first time your opponent attacked with the creature. Some scenario like this happens all the time in both limited and constructed and is emblematic of this same concept that economists tackle all the time.

It is surely very interesting that this comes up so often. Frankly, one of the only ways to avoid this when it comes to gameplay is to actively think of this fallacy while playing the game, otherwise you are likely to sink back into human nature and make this very understandable mistake, despite it not looking like one to you in the moment. Many times in game you are also likely to come up with a justification for the counterargument. In the example I posited, in your head you can simply say “well if I draw a creature with three toughness, I’m in the clear. The Grizzly Bears gets swallowed by my three toughness creature and I didn’t lose my Pouncing Cheetah.”

In reality, the harder to reach but even simpler thought process of wanting to preserve your life total after taking X amount of damage is correct regarding of Y (Y being number of attacks). However as Y increases from any one creature, it becomes harder and harder for someone to abort their line of play. Winning at Magic often involves admitting you’ve made a drastic mistake earlier in the game. You aren’t playing Magic to execute a specific gameplay the best that you develop on the first turn of the game, but rather to create a gameplay that accounts for changing variables such as the new cards that your opponent draws and casts.

The Concorde Fallacy in Card Speculations

This example I gave isn’t the only instance of the “Concorde Fallacy” that comes to mind in Magic as a whole. The sunk-cost fallacy can also come into play with card investments and speculations. When someone makes a big speculation at the beginning of a set release and what they thought was going to be a ten dollar card and it turns out to be a three dollar card, they’ll obviously be disappointed if they bought the card for five dollars.

The card likely isn’t going to be a hit staple by the time it rotates, and logically this player should bite the bullet and recoup their investment while they have the chance. Unfortunately, they hold on to hope that the Magic hive mind will see the potential in it. They end up holding their investment forever until they forget about it, leaving value on the table. If you haven’t done this yourself, then one of your friends certainly has. They hold on to all of the copies just to see the value of the cards seep away because they can’t bear the responsibility of their bad investment, and it becomes a joke to everyone else. It’s a shame, because it happens to everyone, whether they’re excellent at evaluating new cards or not.

More on Game Theory in Magic in future articles.

Thanks for reading,

Charlie Rinehart-Jones

If you’re a limited player looking for an analysis of a particular kind of interesting card, read this article from Ben Pall where he goes over a history of single-card decks in limited.

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