Based on the comments on the podcasts and tweets I have seen, it looks like people are really missing the point of this Unified Theory thing. The goal of this post is to try and crystalize the ideas from our (myself, mike j, and others) discussions (both recorded and not) to the best of my abilities.
For as long as I have played Magic, there has always been language to try and quantify the events and outcomes of a game. This is understandable since the hobby of Magic is, in many ways, a science. All sciences require an established language through which discovery and collaboration can occur. In Magic, the most commonly used unit (up until now, at least) is “the Card.” It is very easy to describe some events using the Card e.g. playing spells that draw you cards and/or make your opponent discard cards. Most game events that literally involve cards work great. Attempts to describe more nuanced events in the language of Cards has always been tricky. If I attack you for 1, is that worth a Card? Is it worth a fraction of a Card? What fraction is it worth? How many Cards is it a Stone Rain worth on turn 2? What about turn 12? How many Cards is Dredge 6 worth?
The problem with the Card, as a unit, is that it does not have an easily applicable size (or even a well defined size, for that matter). It is too large of a unit to describe many of the events that take place over the course of a game.
I think what we are talking about with the Unified Theory is a new way of measuring game events. This is not a new theory, because its not changing anything about the game yet. The rules and tactics stay the same. What changes is the way we look at them. Thomas Kuhn wrote a book about this called the Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Read it!). What we have on our hands right now is a paradigm shift in magic.
What this Mana “theory” provides us with is a metric for measuring game events in a way that is magnitudes more precise than was available previously. Its not different from Card Advantage, its just more precise. It is an improvement, and over time it should completely replace the previous paradigm. Our job is to convince the community that what we have is better than the existing paradigm/standard of measurement.
What makes the Mana Theory a “Unified Theory” is that we can account for many many more game events, if not all game events, with much greater precision. The unit of Mana (not going to get into the “different colors of mana have different values” discussion here) is sufficiently small that, possibly, we can describe all game events with this system. What makes it the Unified theory is not that it replaces Tempo, Card Advantage, the Philosophy of Fire, or any other theory… It just gives us a better common language for discussion.
I want to take a moment here to say that I don’t blame anyone for missing the point based on the Victory Bacon podcast. None of this was explicitly said, and it was at best loosely implied by a few passing remarks. We spent most of the podcast focusing one application of the theory (Card evaluation), and not the theory itself. I think that card evaluation discussions are the easiest way to illustrate the value of the new system, but not the most valuable use of it.
On that note, the discussion of card values on twitter I think is distracting from the magnitude of this system, to the point where it has become confused with the theory itself. Essentially, it is not important to come to a consensus about what a card is absolutely worth. The game of Magic is dynamic and subject to many different frames of reference. As we have said, card value change based on format and game state. Basically, everyone is right when they say “Card A is worth X mana,” so its not really something to be wasting too much time on outside of a framed theory discussion.
So while card values change, what isn’t changing is the way we are measuring it. Thats the take-away here.
Assuming the new paradigm takes hold, there are two tasks at hand:
1. Apply the new system to what we already know. (This is what we are doing now)
2. Develop new theories that could not/did not exist under previous systems (easier said than done)
Hopefully this has been a bit easier to follow than the Podcast. As you can probably tell, we don’t script anything or even necessarily go into the process with a plan for what we are going to talk about. Usually that isn’t an issue (except when BDM and Flores go off on Basketball), but sometimes the big ideas get lost in the noise. As usual, I invite discussion in the comments (or @ me or mike on Twitter).