Years ago, playing another game, I got a lesson in opportunity cost. I had thought about it before, but I never had the word for it. For those of you who haven’t heard of opportunity cost before, let me save you the time of Googling it:
Opportunity Cost – Noun: The loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.
What this means is that if someone offers me a free burger, a free cheesesteak, or a free ice cream sundae, the cost of accepting one of these is not accepting one of the others. Selecting the cheesesteak, my opportunity cost is either the burger or the ice cream sundae, but not both. The convention is that we list the second choice as the opportunity cost. If I’m in the mood for beef, then that probably means the burger in this situation.
This relates to Pokémon at every level. Choosing to play Pokémon, I’m giving up time I could be spending to become a concert pianist. Choosing to play CMT for Regionals this Spring, I gave up the chance to play Durant. Choosing to play a Super Rod, I gave up the chance to play any other card I was not already playing. In every game, for every choice I made (retreating or not, playing a card or not, etc), I was giving up the chance to make the second best play. Choosing anything but the best play is commonly called a misplay, since I increased my opportunity cost (I gave up what I should’ve valued most, the best move).
Misplays aren’t usually a subjective thing; you’re playing with the information on the table, you’re considering probability, and you might even have prior knowledge about your opponent or their decklist. It would be difficult to count the number of players who gamble on a situation in Pokémon, and when it doesn’t work out, they, or sometimes onlookers, will think they’ve misplayed. During this season this often manifests in the form of a player using a Pokémon Catcher before playing a Supporter in hopes of drawing that one card they needed to get the knockout. “That one card” is often an Energy card, a PlusPower, or a Junk Arm, though sometimes something more esoteric. While the probability may have been in their favor, it is still luck. Actions can’t always be judged on their results. Sometimes this means the right play takes a turn for the worse, and other times a misplay lands you in the lap of Lady Luck. However, managing uncertainty is its own topic for another day.
To back up a bit, the greatest opportunity cost is normally found in deck construction. If you chose to tech a Shaymin with Celebration Wind into your deck, you were allowing yourself a big opportunity for one card. Unfortunately, as stated earlier you missed out on the next best thing. It would be incredibly difficult to be certain what would be the 2nd best alternative to Shaymin, not knowing what other decks would show up, what kind of draws (good or bad) you might get, and, most importantly, knowing which matchups you would actually encounter during the day. Despite the fact that this is often hard to calculate, with experience, this is the sort of thing players can feel as they play games.
I’ll continue with the Shaymin example because it is a card that many people can relate to since it is in the current format and models the situation in a way I like. One alternative to Shaymin would be Energy Switch. In most situations I would rather mulligan a hand away at the beginning of the game than start with a lone Shaymin. Energy Switch would allow me to experience this positive effect early game, and even prevent me from having an easy knockout on my bench later, but it wouldn’t provide me with the same big effect that Celebration Wind could have. Also, Energy Switch isn’t as easily searched out as Shaymin. If the ability to search for a Pokémon late game is important to me (especially with tech spots), I might consider not playing Shaymin EX to be the opportunity cost of playing Shaymin. Notice how this is much more subjective.
Opportunity cost in deck construction speaks to what I want the deck to do, and often the deck’s maximum potential in tight spots. Can I Celebration Wind to move 5 Energy, or can I Revenge Blast for 180? The cost of improving my odds of having Pokémon Collector or Dual Ball in my opening hand is often something that comes back to haunt me when I draw one of those cards late game, and I would prefer a Supporter card that would let me refresh my hand and draw into Trainers and Energy. The list goes on. Players often don’t think of this as economics; they instead think of this as, “I wish I had played the [insert card name] instead of the [card actually in the deck],” or, “I’m sure glad I played [card actually in the deck].”
Earlier, when looking at misplays, I spoke to the effect of the best decision not always yielding the best result. The same exact thing is true with the opportunity costs in deck construction. During States, I predicted the meta in my area to shift away from Eelz due to the growing popularity and success of Fighting Type Pokémon like Terrakion, Landorus, and even Donphan. I was mistaken. Week after week, more people showed up playing Eelz. While I thought I had evidence that would’ve made Shaymin EX better (resistance to Fighting, scores easy knockouts on Donphan and Terrakion) as a tech for CMT, the opposite was probably true: I would’ve been better served in most of my matches with a Terrakion tech. While there is an argument here for a failed prediction model or flawed sample size, ultimately I say to myself, “C’est la vie,” and hope that my predictions work out a little better next time.
After a great deal of careful figuring, you’ll finally decide which cards to play in your deck. However, no amount of economics, philosophy, or calculating will stop you from prizing that tech card in the one matchup where it’s most needed… I’m kidding, but it happens to the best of us. This is still one more thing for you to think about to try and improve your odds though. Good luck to everyone at Battle Roads 2012. Let me know in the comments section some opportunity costs you’ll be paying!