6

Someone asks

Are there cards that turn life gain into damage?

List of three cards. We upvote. Author accepts. Then, someone else asks

What cards can change mana color?

Another list of cards. We upvote. Author accepts.

We have tons of questions like these two. We encourage people to use Board and Card Games like a software developer might use a database, except without having to write queries. "Hey database, can you give me some rows that are blue and combo with this other row?" Ask a question, get a list. This doesn't teach anyone anything except to come back later and ask for another list when they need one.

We need to teach people how to find cards. Check out these thirteen cards. There is no way that the author pulled those thirteen cards out of his head. He had a method, and it is noticeably absent from his answer. My answer to that question is equally terrible, and I definitely need to revisit it at some point. Here is a better example of what I think we should move towards.

There are two ways to phrase what I want to ask:

  1. Can we encourage questions to ask for a process rather than a list?

Comments, edits, and an attitude adjustment are all we need to accomplish this. Example:

"I see that you've asked for a list of all the Blue cards. Why don't you try asking how you can search for cards with a specific color? We prefer questions that ask for a process rather than a list of cards."

  1. Can we answer with a process rather than a list?

Again, we only need comments, edits, and a shift in attitude. If you see an answer that only has a list, add a process or suggest that the author do so. And don't upvote.

Do not start replacing the lists that are already out there. That would be destructive. Lists, when not too large, actually do add value to answers, but I think they should be paired with information about how the list was developed.

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  • I just want to point out that among the answers you linked to, mine (the second one) links to the searches that were used to find the listed cards. – murgatroid99 May 28 '15 at 6:18
  • @murgatroid99 That's great, and an oversight on my part. Maybe some insight as to how you came up with that list would be good, but it's already a good answer. – Rainbolt May 28 '15 at 12:58
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    You need to balance "rejecting the premise of the question" (your suggestion doesn't do that) and fending off "help vampires". I agree that it's probably a good idea, but be prepared to just revert to the original Q when faced with hostility. – DanBeale May 31 '15 at 23:05
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Can we answer with a process rather than a list?

I'd rather see both!

I definitely think that, if the process is relatively simple, an answer will be better if it includes it. I also think that, as long as the list isn't insanely long, it should be provided in the answer. The list is still helpful, even if the process is there. Also, if things are nontrivial, making it part of the answer provides an opportunity to annotate and explain things.

On the other hand, if the process is complex - for example if the best you could do was make five separate searches, weed out false positives, and combine the results - it might not always be terribly helpful.

In either case, I don't think there's really any reason to answer with only the process. Providing the list directly answers the question, generally desirable in answers. It also helps demonstrate that the process works, making it easier for readers/voters to see that you haven't overlooked something, which in turn makes it more likely for us to end up with a good, complete answer.

StackOverflow is a decent analogy here. When someone has a specific programming problem, a good answer will include a specific solution for that problem. It might also include some broad discussion of how to arrive at that solution, and that'll often make it a much more valuable answer, but without the solution itself, it's not the best answer it could be. And if that broader discussion is actually pretty complex, it might be too much for the answer.

Can we encourage questions to ask for a process rather than a list?

Given that as described above I think answers should often provide both a list and a process, no: we shouldn't stop people from asking for lists.

We could encourage people to ask for a process along with a list, though. I'm mostly ambivalent about that. I'm certainly on board with people explicitly encouraging good answers. But really, the responsibility is on the people writing the answers. If we're going to pester someone about this, why not pester the people who are writing answers without explaining how they got them?

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  • +1 We've been discussing this in chat, and this is exactly the conclusion we have reached (I think... it's an ongoing discussion). A list augmented with a process (or an explanation) is better than just a list or just a process. Perhaps I took too much of an "anti-list" tone in the question. – Rainbolt May 28 '15 at 20:45
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In principle, I would agree that teaching people to find cards is generally more helpful than just dumping a list of matching cards. And I would encourage everyone to at least provide the searches that were used to find that list, so that anyone looking at the question gets an example to help them search.

However, finding these cards takes more than just a working knowledge of the available search tools. It also requires often substantial knowledge of how cards are templated, which is usually only gained through a lot of experience with the game. For example, taking the second answer you linked, the two searches that found the given cards (on magiccards.info) are

o:"mana as though"

and

o:"}, {T}: Add" or (o:"}: Add" -o:"{T}") (o:"Add {W" or o:"Add {U" or o:"Add {B" or o:"Add {R" or o:"Add {G" or o:"Add one mana")

The first search is the shortest string that matches both Sunglasses of Urza (which was mentioned in the question) and Mycosynth Lattice (which I remembered had a similar ability) without matching any irrelevant abilities. The second search finds every ability that costs at least 1 mana and generates at least 1 colored mana.

If we also consider the first answer you linked to, every one of the 3 cards has a different wording. It would be very difficult without the benefit of hindsight to write a search that found all of them without finding dozens or hundreds of irrelevant cards. And they probably didn't find all of them.

This answer is another one I wrote for a question like this. For this one, again, knowledge of how alternate costs are worded was necessary to formulate the correct search.

In addition, for most of the answers of this sort that I have written, crafting a search that avoided both false positives and false negatives was too difficult, and I had to manually whittle the list down by checking each result.

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  • I crafted a query that two of the cards in your answer, and two that you missed (arguably Wall of Limbs doesn't count). Here was my rationale: I want my opponent to lose life whenever I gain life. I am "you" and I am "a player". So I OR those two trigger conditions. Then, I AND the word "loses" and suddenly I am down to five cards. – Rainbolt May 28 '15 at 19:50
  • Sorry, I edited the comment a few times so it kind of obsoleted your response. Anyway, it's not the results I got that matter. It's the process I took to get there that matters. – Rainbolt May 28 '15 at 19:53
  • I would argue that a process that misses some cards (possibly a significant number) is not as useful as a list of as many matching cards as possible. – murgatroid99 May 28 '15 at 19:57
  • A process that finds four cards is certainly more useful than a list containing only three. – Rainbolt May 28 '15 at 19:59
  • Can we move this conversation to chat? – murgatroid99 May 28 '15 at 20:04

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