The New First Turn Rule and Why It Matters

By Dr. J

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      At the time of writing this article WizKids has just announced that they will be implementing a new rule to the game. As is natural, the new rule has been received with mixed reviews by the community. Now, while I can understand that this throws a monkey wrench into some players’ plans since a round of WKOs just happened last weekend and another round is coming this next weekend, I hope to explain why this rule is a good thing for Dice Masters as a whole and also why implementing this rule between WKOs might actually be a good thing for you, the player.

The Rule

      The new rule is simply this: The player who goes first starts their turn by drawing four dice from their bag and then puts one of them into the “out of play” area. After the player takes their first turn, the “out of play” die will then move to their Used Pile. The rule has the effect of making it so the first player has fewer options available to them than the second player. Instead of being able to buy a three cost die and then use the Professor X global (PXG) on their next turn, or being able to buy a two cost die and then PXG twice, they can now only PXG once. This rule also has the effect of not allowing the player to buy a four cost die on their first turn.

The Reasoning

      Most players can already see the effects that this new rule will have on the game, and in a Meta where the emphasis is on beating your opponent incredibly quickly, one fewer die on turn one makes a huge difference. That being said, this is a rule that the game has needed to implement for a very long time and while some of you may disagree with me I hope that I can clearly explain my reasons why I think that this rule is long overdue and why I think that this rule change is an appropriate response to this game’s needs.

First Turn Advantage Is Real

      When WizKids announced the new rule, they also explained that they had conducted studies in different areas to test the rule before implementing it. This means that before just throwing a new rule out there and seeing what happened, they did their homework first. In the course of these studies they determined that First Turn Advantage was, in fact, a real thing. Let’s put these tests aside, however, and look at gaming as a whole. In games where there is a race to get to a certain point, First Turn Advantage is simply the effect of giving the person who goes first a head start. In Dice Masters the race is to get your opponent to 0 life first. This means that the first player has the advantage of being four steps ahead of their opponent in that race. They are the first to purchase dice, to reload their bags, and to field characters or play actions. This also meant that they were more likely to be the first to hit their opponent for 20 damage.

First Turn Advantage has been recognized in gaming for many, many years now and these days you would be hard-pressed to find a new game that is released that does not address it in one way or another. For example, Magic: The Gathering allows the second player to draw an extra card. Hearthstone lets the second player draw an extra card and gives them an extra mana point. Yu-Gi-Oh also lets the second player draw an extra card. But some of you may be saying “But Dr. J, Dice Masters isn’t like those games. It is different because (fill in the blank).” I agree with you guys; Dice Masters is not a Trading Card Game like those three. It is more of a hybrid between a deck builder and a TCG. Well, every deck builder that I have played also has a rule to address the First Turn Advantage. Dominion, one of the biggest and most recognized deck builders, also has a rule to address this issue. In Dominion, whoever is the last player to take their first turn, they also are allowed to take the last turn of the game. This rule is mirrored in other games like Splendor and Artifacts Inc. (both of which are incredible games), and in the game of Star Realms, the player who goes first draws two fewer cards. No matter how you look at it, First Turn Advantage is a real thing and needed to be addressed by WizKids at some point.

The Issues

      There are two big issues that arise out of this rule change, as far as I can see. They are 1) that this will slow down teams and affects player’s first turn buy orders, and 2) this rule is too close to the next WKO events and doesn’t give players enough time to build their teams accordingly.

      The first issue is one that simply needs to be accepted. The player who goes first is already at an advantage, but now they are simply at a smaller advantage. If for some reason you feel that going first is now a disadvantage, you can simply choose to go second in games if it is your choice. I would advise against this however, since in most games (like the ones I mentioned above) players are virtually unanimous in the opinion that going first is a bigger advantage than getting the extra energy, or card, or whatever and going second. On top of that, this rule is meant to help all players. If you end up going second in a highly competitive event, it makes it more likely that you will have a fighting chance, whereas before your options were to hope that at some point your opponent would just get an awful roll and you could capitalize on it.

      The second issue is a very valid concern. Players who are very analytical and who spend lots of time testing their teams before they are satisfied with them will now have to go back and rethink their ideas. Now that there is a WKO less than a week away, they may feel slighted by the fact that they don’t have very much time to rethink things. To those players, I sympathize with you. I am in the same boat since I will be playing in the WKO in Colorado next weekend. At the same time, however, I think that it will be good for WizKids, and the greater Dice Masters community, to see just how big of a difference the rule change makes. Nobody likes being the guinea pig in a study, but the information we will all glean from this change can be very valuable.

Conclusion

The conclusion I have reached is that this rule change is not only necessary, but it is also the answer that this game has needed in order to be the fair and marketable game that it needs to be. This rule will not only make the game better for players now, but it will provide longevity to the game. More players will be interested in sticking with it longer if they see that the creators are interested in making it fair and balanced.

I would also like to say this: I am not a WizKids errand boy. I am not just saying these things in order to get on their good side, or because I want them to like me more, or because they offered to send me a 50lb brick of holiday fudge if I said these things. These are my genuine thoughts about the rule. I would also like to say that I hope nobody decides to leave the game or decides not to attend a WKO because of this rule change. Give it a shot and see exactly what happens. You might find that you actually like it and that it improves your games or you might end up going second every game and you may just win a couple because of the new rule. In any case, I wish you all the best of luck in your upcoming events and I look forward to seeing how WKOs turn out this time around. Good Luck and May the Rolls Be Ever In Your Favor.

Update:

After travelling to Greeley, CO this last weekend and participating in the WKO there, I am only more convinced that this new rule plays a vital part in keeping the game balanced and enjoyable for everyone, including those who go second.

Some of you may be familiar with Mike Plumb, the runner-up at nationals and now four-time WKO winner. I had the privilege of carpooling to Colorado with him and discussing the testing that he did in order to show if there is in fact an advantage to going first. He stated that after testing with the new rule it decreased the odds of winning by 10%. Now some of you may think that 10% isn’t a huge deal, but when the odds of winning just because you went first go from 80% to 70%, that is a big difference. If you haven’t looked at Mike’s articles about first turn advantage, I suggest that you check them out.

There were other benefits that the new rule provided as well. Anytime I got to choose to go first or second at the WKO I chose to go first (this included side events as well, so probably a total of about eight games). About half of the time that I went first I got a bad first roll. Then I got an even worse reroll. Before the new rule, if you rolled a sidekick on your first turn, it wasn’t the end of the world. You’d just buy a Constantine and save a mask for PXG. That isn’t an option anymore. If you roll a sidekick on your first turn, odds are that you don’t get any ramp for turn two, and that happens more than you think. There was even a time that I rerolled and got two sidekicks on my first turn.

More importantly than the statistics or the nuances though is the simple fact that in the games where I went second I didn’t feel like I was completely screwed. There is that hope that your opponent will botch their first roll, or that they have to make a tough decision between a vital character or their ramp, and that makes the game more lively and enjoyable right from the beginning. After playing in the WKO this last weekend I was also pleasantly surprised to see that nobody who played in the WKO or the side events complained about the new rule. They embraced it wholeheartedly and it made for a wonderful event.

I know some of you are still concerned that the new rule is unfair, or that it wasn’t the right way of tackling the important issue of first turn advantage, but after playing with it in a competitive environment, I am even more convinced than ever of the importance of it. I look forward to seeing how this round of WKOs ends up and I’d like to wish you all good luck in your tournaments.

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  • Troy

    We played with the new rule in our “faux” WKO, even though we didn’t have to. And to be completely honest, it *did* end up screwing me over because I didn’t have time to test with it – I was playing a mask ring team, and having only three dice on turn one really makes it difficult for that team – the odds of me rolling two mask/?s on turn one in order to buy an Elf Theif and ramp went down dramatically, especially if I roll a sidekick. In hindsight, I might have wanted to put the rare Clayface from GAF on my team to mitigate that on first turn.

    That said, I am 100% behind the new rule. I may have gotten screwed with my team, but it’s really no different than if I would have gotten screwed by going second before. This way, it was much more even overall – our winner ended up going 2-1 in Swiss, but he said he was a hair’s breath away from 0-3. Every game was a nail-biter!

    So really I just feel bad for the people who had to do their WKOs before the rule change!

    • Dr. J

      Thanks for the added info! I am glad to see that someone got screwed because of the rule and still thinks it’s a good idea. I hope you do well in your next competitive event. I think your idea of adding Rare Clayface might be a more frequent thing for first turn ramp.