Mathenagics: Episode 3

By: Joseph Davis

Hi, I’m Joseph, and welcome back to Mathemagics. The goal of this series is to help you level up your deck building whether you’re new to the game or just trying to improve your brews. We’ll be exploring important aspects of deck design and diving very lightly into the math behind it, so you know not just how to build a deck, but why some deckbuilding choices are better than others. This week we’ll be building on last week’s article by talking about how many copies of a card you should be playing.

 

This week’s article deviates slightly from the last two in that is isn’t about arriving at your deck’s “plan” on time. Instead we’ll be looking at some math and then discussing why you might consider playing a certain number of each card. For the purposes of this article we won’t be talking about what turn you are likely to draw a card on. Instead we will be looking at how many draws before you are likely to draw the card.

 

Here are some tables:

 

Draw One Copy

 

1 played 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
31 cards 18 cards 13 cards 10 cards 8 cards 7 cards 6 cards 5 cards

 

Draw Two Copies

 

1 copy 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
43 cards 31 cards 24 cards 19 cards 16 cards 14 cards 13 cards

 

Draw Three Copies

 

1 copy 2 played 3 played 4 played 5 played 6 played 7 played 8 played
48 cards 38 cards 31 cards 26 cards 23 cards 20 cards

 

 

For this article we are looking for the point at which you are more likely to draw a copy of a card than to not have drawn a copy of the card. Our decision point when generating these tables is thus > 50%. For the first table we are looking at how many cards you need to draw to be > 50% likely to draw one copy of the card, and similar for drawing 2 copies and drawing 3.

 

You may notice something strange about these tables: we are going above 4 copies of a card. This is not just talking about Rat Colony or other exceptions. This is to account for playing two copies of a card which serve the same purpose such Ionize and Sinister Sabotage. While the cards are different and have slightly different color requirements, they are both 3 mana counterspells with minor upsides, so a deck playing 3 of one and 2 of the other can really be counted as playing 5 copies of that effect. This often explains why you may see a deck running 4 copies of one effect and 1 copy of a similar effect on a different card; it approximates playing 5 of the effect.

 

The other thing to note is that some of these numbers are lower than 7 cards. This means that for any opening hand of 7 cards you are more likely to draw a copy of that effect than you are to not draw a copy of that effect. Another important point is that drawing two copies of a card (or effect) is very hard. To get two copies of card in your hand in the first 10 turns of the game you need 6 copies of the card in your deck.

 

What does all of this really mean for deck building, though? Do you simply always put 4 copies of any card you like in your deck? The answer is as always, it depends.

In decks without many ways to draw extra cards per turn, we can look at the tables as basic turn outlines. When playing 8 copies of a card, we are likely to start with a copy of the card, and by turn 6 are likely to have drawn a second copy. With 6 copies of a card, we are still likely to start with a copy, but become likely to draw our second copy on turn 9. When looking at a linear system like this, we see why playing 4, 3, 2, or 1 copy of a card is a fine sliding scale. At 4 played, we are likely to draw our first copy by turn 3 whereas with 3 played it’s turn 6. When playing 2 cards it becomes likely to draw a copy by turn 9, and we just are flat out unlikely to draw a singleton before the game is over.

 

To decide how many copies of a card to play, think about those milestones and when you are likely to want the card the most. If your deck does not plan on the game going past turn 5, you should be looking at 4+ for your business cards, but if your deck looks to go much longer and slower, you can tune down the numbers.

 

So how do you draw extra cards? Is that power only reserved for blue? Should other colors always be playing 4+ copies of all of their cards to have any chance of drawing them? The answer is no. You can consider any card that adjusts what you are drawing as “drawing a card”. This means a scry from Treasure Map will help any deck draw an extra card (since you will either keep the card you want on top, or put an undesirable card to the bottom). Surveiling and exploring both are mechanics which will behave as functional draws, as well as effects like Vivien Reid or Adventurous Impulse, or even Fetchlands in older formats.

 

When building your next deck, keep these principles in mind and ask yourself these questions:

1) Which of my spells do I need to see in a game to win? Do I want multiple copies of it?

2) Are there any ways I have to draw cards or filter through my deck?

3) Can I play extra copies of certain cards to duplicate important effects?

 

These three questions should help guide how many copies of a card or effect to play in your deck. Remember, you either need to play a lot of copies or filter through a significant number of cards to be likely to draw more than one copy of a card in a reasonable window.I hope you’ve enjoyed your third lesson in Mathemagics, and I’ll be back with another one soon!

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Standard Vs. Modern

By Drew Kobus

Pros and Cons of Magic’s two most popular formats. What makes Standard great and Modern sorta… meh.

Hi there guys! Hope you are all having a great day as we quickly approach the holidays and, shortly after that, 2019. For those of you who don’t know who I am, my name is Drew Kobus. I’ve been playing Magic casually for a little over seven years and competitively for almost three years. I’ve had some reasonable success on the SCG Tour in both Modern and Standard, and those are the formats I’ll be discussing today. To start, I’d like to take a moment to address a question that I’ve pondered a lot in recent years and know others have as well, “What exactly makes a format good/healthy?”

Answering this question is a daunting task to be sure and, honestly, I don’t really think it’s possible in a truly objective sense, but I will do the best I can. If you are like me, and from what I have gathered, most of you are, Magic is at its most enjoyable when there is both great variety of gameplay and diversity of playable decks, both of which keep the game new and exciting every time you sit down for a match. MTG’s multiple formats do this mostly all on their own, but I personally feel things can get stale when these elements are lacking within a particular format. A great example of this is the Standard format around the time of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation when the only deck that you could really justify playing competitively was some variant of Ramunap Red. Don’t believe me? Let’s just put it this way, 6 of the 8 decks that made the top 8 of that event were some variant of the red aggro deck playing the card Ramunap Ruins, including the deck that ended up winning the event.

Anyway, now that I have set the baseline for my feelings on what makes a good Magic format (and a bad one), let’s get into the meat of what I really want to discuss.

What makes our current Standard format so great?

This standard format is some of the most fun I have had playing Magic in a long while, and as someone who has avoided Standard and focused on Modern for the last year or so, it’s refreshing to have a Standard format that is so open and enjoyable. Now, yes, I know there are the consensus “best decks” in the format that make up the top tier in standard, those decks being Golgari Midrange, Jeskai Control, Izzet Drakes, and Boros Aggro. Which of these four options is truly the best of the bunch is debatable, which is a good thing.  As I mentioned before, having diversity in what is viable in a competitive setting is a good thing for the health of the format. Aspects that make it even better are twofold, the first being that among these top decks, there are many variations that can attack different metagames and conform to different playstyles. Regarding the Izzet Drakes deck, a good friend of mine (shoutout to Ben Ragen) just 8-0’ed the Standard portion of the SCG Invitational playing Drakes, without one of the cards that initially put it on the map,

Arclight+Phoenix+GRN

Here’s his list:

1 Beacon Bolt
3 Lava Coil
4 Discovery
2 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
4 Crackling Drake
4 Chart a Course
2 Search for Azcanta
3 Dive Down
4 Enigma Drake
4 Sulfur Falls
3 Spell Pierce
1 Drowned Catacomb
4 Steam Vents
7 Island
6 Mountain
4 Shock
4 Opt

Sideboard
1 Beacon Bolt
1 Lava Coil
1 Niv-Mizzet, Parun
2 Ral, Izzet Viceroy
2 Shivan Fire
2 Rekindling Phoenix
3 Entrancing Melody
1 Treasure Map
2 Disdainful Stroke

Now, the other aspect I feel has led to the success of this format is that these four top decks aren’t really pushing out other decks from the competitive sphere entirely.  Various other decks have been able to put up good results recently and have proven to be viable in the format, such as Mono Blue Tempo, Selesnya Tokens, Grixis Control, Dimir Control, Bant Nexus, and Mono Red Aggro. Some more fringe decks than these have also been able to do well in the right metagame. With this much deck diversity, it is a great time to be playing Standard, especially for someone like me who loves to play something a little more off the beaten path. That said, my deck of choice, of course, is Dimir Pirate (I love a good tempo deck). It’s a brave new world, so if you have a deck idea for this current Standard, test it out! If you really think your deck is sweet, ship me a list, I’m always down to check out new sweetness, so let’s see the brews!

What makes Modern so… meh?

Now that I’ve taken you on a journey through how great Standard is, it’s time to pull back a little and compare it to another very popular format in Magic, Modern. The Modern format has such a deep card pool, there isn’t really an issue as far as the diversity of coherent and functional decks in the format. Because the card pool is so vast, it’s easy to have certain cards pop up that are too good for the format, which is why Modern has such an extensive banned list. In the current state of the Modern format, there are a couple cards that most people would agree are just a bit too good, but those cards are still legal and enable some of the decks in the format that make it very “unfun” at times.

While both cards enable different things, they are both very good at what they do. What they enable is a clear step above the other decks in this format, leading me to the opinion that if you aren’t playing one of these two cards in Modern right now, you’re just doing it wrong. That being said, yes, I know what you’re going to say, Jund and Jeskai Control and Storm and this and that all put up results, and you would be right, any deck can do well on a given weekend, and to be honest we don’t have the data needed to prove one way or another that the decks playing these cards are oppressive. However, what I do know from sheer experience playing this format and trying to play decks that aren’t leaning into these cards, when your opponent casts an Ancient Stirrings and finds a Krark-Clan Ironworks or an Urza’s Mine, and you look at your hand full of Tarmogoyfs and Fatal Pushes, you feel a bit foolish.

Speaking as someone who has played both with and against these cards, when you cast an Ancient Stirrings in a deck built to maximize its power, you feel like you’re playing Legacy, and it isn’t difficult to see why Stirrings is often compared to the card Demonic Tutor. Faithless Looting has some of the same effects on a game as Stirrings, but it enables busted things in a different way. To take an example from my current deck of choice, casting Faithless Looting and discarding two copies of Arclight Phoenix makes you feel like you’re cheating. It just isn’t okay. Now, I could go on for a long time about these two cards and get into a whole rant about the Modern Ban List, but that’s not really what I want to get into here. I simply want to leave you with the pros and cons of the Modern format and give you the context of a format I feel is far superior in a multitude of ways, so I’ll move to wrap things up here soon.

The biggest pro for Modern is its extensive card pool. You get to play with a lot of sweet cards and, yes, there are many sweet archetypes that you could potentially play and do well with (for my money I think Izzet Delver is the sweetest deck in the format). The con side of this coin, is that there are some decks that are incredibly frustrating to play against if your deck is not built to target them in some way. The greatest con in the Modern format is, however, the prevalence of games of Magic where one player simply doesn’t have a chance. When you play Jund against Tron, you just lose, none of the decisions you made in the game really mattered, and you end the match feeling worse than you did before, and that just isn’t a feeling I enjoy. Modern is a format full of instances like this, and unlike the current Standard format, favorable matchups in Modern are, for the most part, very one-sided, so it can be difficult to feel that confident in a deck when you know that going in to an event if you hit too many of one matchup you just won’t get to play any Magic that day. I experienced this first hand at SCG Regionals a few weeks ago when I showed up with my Izzet Delver deck and ran hot for the first couple rounds, then hit a couple matches where I just didn’t get to make any meaningful decisions and ended up in a position where I was unable to cash, and that’s just how Modern is.

 

Wrapping up

All of this being said, I don’t want you all to think I innately dislike Modern!  As I said, Modern does get to play a lot of sweet decks and the card pool allows for a lot of very sweet things to be done, but I do feel the format could be better and, especially when you compare it to our current Standard format, the differences are night and day.

I hope this article has been informative and maybe helped some of you know what to expect if you were considering jumping into one of these formats. If you disagree with something I said here, or just want to discuss anything Magic be it Standard or Modern, leave a comment, or maybe even find me on social media, on Twitter @TheMagikalDrew, or on Facebook Drew J Kobus, or even in person sometime. I’m always down to chat about everyone’s favorite TCG! Keep slinging your favorite spells and remember that this game is about having fun -so do what helps you do exactly that!

 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see ya next time!

Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Bigger Scissors

By Adam Bialkowski

The Standard metagame is stuck in a rock, paper, scissors situation; however there is one deck that can get over all others and is deemed bigger scissors, and that is Izzet Phoenix. Paper is Jeskai Control, rock is Golgari “Aggro,” and scissors is Boros Aggro. The metagame percentage for each deck is,

 

Golgari Aggro: 23%

Boros Aggro: 13%

Jeskai Control: 12%

Izzet Drakes: 10%

 

These four decks make up almost 60% of the entire Standard metagame and for good reason. In my opinion, these percentages represent, in descending order, easiest to play to hardest. Golgari Aggro is pretty linear with the only big decisions are what cards to keep on top with Explore triggers. Boros Aggro is a bit harder, understanding when to be the aggressor and when to tempo things out, this takes experience with aggressive decks and knowledge of the format as a whole. Jeskai Control has an easier early game than most other control decks due to Deafening Clarion; that card is the deciding factor on if you win or lose against the aggro decks. The late game is where skill comes into play. With Jump-Start cards and different graveyard interactions you are forced to use counter magic more cautiously. Izzet Drakes takes the cake for the hardest deck to currently pilot to success. I have seen plenty of average players play the deck and it is powerful, but in the hands of a more experienced player, the deck can be taken to the Top 8 of any Standard event. The deck rewards players for making good decisions on every play. At first glance the deck may seem random, but it requires a lot of careful thought into what should be discarded (other than the obvious phoenix), what spells to cast before others, when is and isn’t the right time to play and attack with drakes. All these elements combined reward skilled players with wins over some of the worst matchups the deck can have, thus the “Bigger Scissors” title.

 

In this four deck metagame, each deck has its preferred matchups:

 

Golgari Aggro > Boros Aggro and Izzet Drakes

This match up is hard for the more aggressive decks due to playsets of Wildgrowth Walker being in every Golgari deck now. If the card is unanswered, the game almost becomes out of reach for aggressive and burn strategies.

 

Boros Aggro > Jeskai Control

One card in this match up makes it a living hell for Jeskai and that is Adanto Vanguard. The two mana 3/1 Indestructible Vampire is out for blood and there’s nothing Deafening Clarion can do about it. Boros Aggro has evolved in a way to beat a single Clarion.

 

Boros Aggro > Izzet Drakes

Bigger scissors doesn’t have the best matchup against any aggressive deck playing red. There’s a lot of skill involved with the matchup and I do believe the better player will have a much better shot at winning here, but Boros still has a favorable matchup.

 

Jeskai Control > Golgari Aggro

Golgari Aggro is slow enough for Jeskai to have a steady game against it. Carnage Tyrant and Midnight Reaper are control’s biggest concerns but with a lot of mainboard sweepers from Jeskai, they can keep up. Clarion being copied by Expansion/Explosion clears everything Golgari has to offer. The matchup is grindy but it favors the deck playing Teferi.

 

Izzet Drakes > Everyone

Though mentioned above that it has a hard time against Golgari and red based aggressive decks, most matchups reward the better player. The microdecisions during each matchup will lead to wins that come down to skill and experience. Having the tools to fight every deck in the format will make it, in my opinion, the best deck in the format for a skilled player.

 

All the other decks in Standard not listed above aren’t necessarily bad, but most of them end up resembling one of the Tier 1 decks above. For example, the best version of control is Jeskai with Esper coming in second, the difference in these two decks is how good the Golgari, Boros, and Drake matchups are in relation to each other. Jeskai is well equipped with a three mana sweeper but lacks exile, whereas Esper has a slower sweeper but gets great exile potential by adding black. They both have their pros and cons, but I believe Jeskai is easier and better suited against the whole field than Esper.

 

How to beat the Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Bigger Scissors?

 

You can’t! {insert frowny face here.}

As someone who enjoys making meta stomping decks I’ve found almost impossible to

create a deck that has a good matchup against all four of the listed decks. You can run a lot of mainboard sweepers but then give up percentages in the control matchups or even run a lot of slow, powerful creatures and give up on the aggro matchups. That’s not a bad thing, though. If there was a single option that had good matchups against all of them, everyone would just play that and we’d have a stale format. Don’t let that keep you from trying to brew, though. Metagames change based on just a couple of cards, and maybe you’ll be the one to find the key. Going forward, Ravnica Allegiance will push Standard out of its comfort zone by introducing all ten buddy and shock lands in Standard again, giving each deck a viable manabase to work with and opening up several more options.