Going first vs second: advantages of each?

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Going first vs second: advantages of each?

Postby ArbitrageFtw » Mon Oct 21, 2013 3:46 pm

Edit: whoops, wrote a novel on my phone... Sorry! Guess this is something I care about more than I thought...

This is mainly for 2 player games, but I'd love to hear people's thoughts on the supposed advantages to playing first or second in a heads-up game, and which they feel has the advantage (if either).

Personally I think playing first has the greater advantage. Here's what I think are the main points:

Going first:

The main advantage to going first is that you get first crack at the center row, twice. Namely, you get the fist shot at the 5-and-under drops (depending on your card split being 4/4 56% of the time or 3/5 or 5/3 22% of the time each). Most often this will result in the pick of the better 3 or 4 drop, or two 2 drops, before yor opponent has the same option. In the fairest games the option will be between a couple of balanced options, like avatar of fate vs dandelion witch, but even in these cases there is still a slightly better choice to be made that gives some advantage. (Of course the first player could make the wrong choice, but I don't think that's a relevant argument here since it would be best to control for player skill. I think it's best to assume both players can make solid card evaluations and picks.) other times the starting board is less generous to the second player, offering only one really powerful card at attainable levels, or alternatively offering three good cards that the second player only has access to one of. The 4/4 vs 3/5 vs 5/3 splits also make this a larger issue, as if both players have a 5/3 then the first player grabs the (often only one) stronger 5-drop, or still the best 4 drop if he chooses. And if the second player has a 3-5 drop they can miss out on the best 2 4-drops agains a 4/4 split, say there are 2 starchilds (starchildren?) if there is no 5-drop. In most cases, considering the board (6-cards) composition as possible hand splits, I think there is significant advantage to the person playing first. There is a slight advantage to be given back to the second player here, I'll get to that later.and then if a good fate effect was in the first 6 cards it can accelerate this impact more, say by drawing a 5th or 6th rune turn 1. (Fate effects off the top are then pretty equal in terms of distribution and potential player benefit until the last turn).

And when I said twice, I didn't mean the first two turns, I actually meant that you also get first shot at the bigger cards after shuffling, the game swinging 6+ cost cards, starting on turn 3. This I think is an even bigger deal, as the power difference can be huge between the best available 6-drop and all the little cards around it. And while I realize it's not set in stone, the second player could get his 6-rune hand first while the first player drew his two militia and had a wiff, statistically when you balance it all out the advantage falls to the first player who will more often get the first grab at the best stuff.

These are the main two advantages of going first as far as I can tell, and I think they are both significant and very common, having at least some impact on almost every game, and often having a huge impact in some games. They also have a snowballing effect on the game, as the better cards allow more consistent access to the even better cards and so on. I think they outweigh the advantages of going second and why I always choose to go first (before the center row or hands are drawn, you you have to consider expected value as opposed to specific situations) when given the choice.

Advantages of going second:

I think there are more advantages to going second, and I think they each work to chip away at the advantages to going first, but they are also less common and usually have less impact.

First, by going second you have more information before you make your turns. In particular this can be strong if you have a 4-4 split after the first player had a 5-3, as you can deny them a good 3-drop (everbloom comes to mind) knowing your 4-drop will be safe on the board for your next turn. You can also work your strategy base off the extra information about the center (perhaps a 5th monster flipped and now you want to go power a turn earlier) as well as your opponent's deck (such as grabbing banishes against a power deck, grabbing power against constructs for potential control or a banish deck to drain the honor pool before they can solidify an advantage, or higher picking lifebound to try and deny the other player unite, etc.) You always get the extra turn of information to work with. The only problem is that the extra information is incrimental and your reactions can be reacted to, etc., and when the average game is 15 rounds, I feel a half round jump on strategy isn't too huge, not to mention that there often aren't a ton of options to allow you to build towards the reaction you might like.

There are then several last turn benefits. For example you get the vast majority of fate benefits to yourself on the last turn, although I feel this has a meaningful impact fairly rarely. Additionally, "fair" cards like askara of fate become less fair, and you can now use banishing the center row effects fully to reveal options for yourself instead of also worrying about banishing options for your opponent, although I don't think this is a large advantage, assuming you have the relevant cards.

There's also the case that sometimes you'll have the option of ending the game or letting it continue for another turn, although assuming all things are equal you'll only have this option half the time (the other half the starting player will deplete the honor pool, an actually less than half as there might already be only one honor and you might have everbloom.) And then to be relevant you have to be able to make more honor with the extra turn than you forfeit by stopping at 1 in addition to the honor the other player will earn with the extra turn, and that this honor will cover the current deficit you have (after all, if you're winning you should just end it). I'm not saying it doesn't happen, just that this is rarely relevant.

And of course there's also that the second players wins the ties. I used to think this would be a very small impact, but I heard an estimate as high as 5% in another discussion, and given most games are pretty close (lots are within 5-10 points, some are 10-20, some are >20 blowouts...) and that the scores are correlated it seems like a pretty reasonable estimate.

I'm pretty sure I'm forgetting another point for the second player, but ultimately I feel that going second is still at a slight disadvantage, call it 55/45, or roughly 1-2 points per game. We could make something similar to "komi" from Go to even it out, and adjust it for higher player counts. I'd actually propose adding a bidding element to the game, see who's willing to pay more honor to go first (auction or blind bids where the winner pays the amount bid by the loser, and ties still go to the second player to keep from adding an awkward element).

That being said I'd love to hear everyone's two cents. :)
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Re: Going first vs second: advantages of each?

Postby Adam » Tue Oct 22, 2013 1:07 am

I agree with all of your points about the advantages and disadvantages. But in addition to the luck factor of the hands you draw in the first few rounds, there's also the fact that you don't always have game changing six drops or any five drops at all in the center row at the start. So I don't think it makes a big difference usually, if any. But it does sometimes, certainly.
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Re: Going first vs second: advantages of each?

Postby ArbitrageFtw » Thu Oct 24, 2013 5:18 pm

While I agree with your observation that there isn't always a game-swinging 5 or 6 (or higher) drop that the starting player will have a significant higher probability of picking up by nature of his/her going first, I don't agree with your conclusion that there isn't therefore an advantage to playing first. My points above stress that even when the board is more fair, with non-bomb cards in the center row available to both players (consider several 2, 3, and 4 drops), by nature of going first the starting player gets the better options and therefore the advantage. And given how in ascension your deck continues to build on itself, this has an exponential effect through the game. (For example, buying a reactor monk instead of a mystic could make the difference between buying muramasa later in the game.)
Pretty much every game there is either (A) a single good card to take immediately or aim for turn 3+, or (B) a decision to be made about which of the available good cards to take or take first, and this is a sizable advantage to the starting player.. The games where (C) there's nothing exciting in the initial 6-card center row (to grab immediately or to try to race for) are very rare in my experience.
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Re: Going first vs second: advantages of each?

Postby Radicalman33 » Sat May 23, 2015 3:29 pm

Either one can be just as advantageous, same as having the last turn. Any game comes down to the luck of what happens to come up on the center row. Obviously, having first pick at cards can be awesome. But on the same token the next card that comes up can be better. 50/50
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