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By: oraymw, Matthew Watkins
Jun 13 2012 10:36am
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Two weeks ago, I put together a limited overview article for Avacyn Restored. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, then check it out here. Since the article got featured on the Limited Resources podcast, there were a lot of people who read and commented on the article. I have to give Marshall and Jon a special thanks for that, and I also have to thank everyone who read the article and gave me so many kind words of praise. Because of the enormous feedback, I've decided to do a follow up article. Normally I only do one Limited Overview for a set, but I figured that it would be a good idea to put together a follow up article for any potential new readers.

One of the most important principles to understand in Magic is that formats change over time. Unlike other games, Magic is not stagnant. The flow of ideas, changing perceptions of players, and varied conditions mean that formats can be significantly different just a few weeks after they are released. I’ve always felt that one of the weaknesses of my Limited Overview articles is that they only provide a small slice of the format during a specific weekend. It is a very detailed and useful picture, but it is still only a small part of the overall format. This time, I decided to put together a follow up article, where I use similar methods to see how the format has changed in two weeks, and I’ve got some fascinating data. Did UG keep its spot as the king of the format? Did RW continue to do poorly, despite a number of pro players saying it is arguably the best deck? Did Black continue to suck? I’ll try to answer these questions and others during this article.

My methods were slightly different for this article. Last time, I took my data from six 64-man drafts on MTGO during release events. This time, I took my data after release events had finished and 64-man drafts were over. Some people may not know, but when a draft queue is in the normal “Limited Events” room on MTGO, you can pull up old events and watch some of the games, which is what I decided to do. In this article, I pulled my data from 21 draft events in the limited room. I rotated between 8-4s, 4322s, and Swiss events, so that each format had an equal representation. As before, I was forced to throw out any games that ended in the first few turns due to time outs, disconnects, or early concessions due to outside factors. Overall, I was able to see about 160 matches, with about 320 decks. For this article, I’ll be taking the new data, and analyzing what it tells us about how the format has changed in two weeks. This means that I’ll need to refer to the previous study, but the numbers from two weeks ago will not be factored into this study.

Archetype Popularity

Last time, we saw that the most popular decks in the format were WU, UG, RG, and RW respectively. Afterwards, there was a sharp drop off to UR, GW, and BG, followed by another sharp drop off to BR, UB, and WB.

The first thing that jumps out is that RW went from having being 13% of the field to being 17% of the field. This is after we saw that RW was performing below 50% in win rate. But in this study, RW was played significantly more than all the other decks. It is played at a 4 point higher rate than UG, which was the clear winner from the last study. When I first saw this, I had a lot of explanations for why people might be drafting RW so heavily; it’s a potentially very powerful deck, lots of pros swear by it, and etc. But the real reason is not what immediately jumps out. The moment of clarity came to me the other day when I was drafting. I had started out with a Mist Raven, and planned to go UG, but it became obvious that either Green, Blue, or both were being cut. I was forced to go into a WU deck that was splashing Green for Trusted Forcemage and Joint Assault. Even though I was trying to play UG, I was forced to go a different direction because Green was being cut to heavily from my right. In that draft, I saw no UG decks among all eight drafters, but I did see three RW decks. Suddenly, I realized why such a high percentage of people were playing RW.

This explanation is not simple, but I have every confidence that it is correct. First of all, let’s look at the percentage of RW decks. About 17%. That means that about 1.36 drafters ended up in RW at each table. While 17% is a lot, that doesn’t mean that there are 3 or 4 at a table. It means that there is one RW drafter at each table, or there might be two in one out of every three drafts. Meanwhile, UG is sitting at about 13.5%, which is barely more than 1 deck out of 8. In order to figure this out, we are going to have to imagine a scenario.

We have eight drafters, in seats A through H. They all sit down and open up their packs. Many of these are informed drafters; they know that UG is powerful, and they may have heard that RW is also pretty good, but they are looking to draft UG, because it is the best deck in the format. Player A opens up her pack… and she sees a Mist Raven! She is perfectly happy about this, and decides to draft UG. Player B opens up his pack and gets a Wolfir Silverheart. The table rings as he slams it face down, and he’s ready to pick up any UG cards that come around. Player C sees a Fettergeist and knows that a 3/4 for 3 fits perfectly into a UG deck. Player D opens up a Trusted Forcemage, and knows enough to take it over a Pillar of Flame, and decides to try for the best deck in the format, which is UG. Player E opens up a Bonfire of the Damned, knows it’s a bomb and worth money, and thinks that maybe drafting red is a good idea for this draft. Player F takes Into the Void, and knows that it is a decent proxy for Mist Raven. Player G takes Wolfir Avenger over some other decent cards. And player H finds only a Seraph of Dawn, and grudgingly takes it, thinking that maybe he’ll have to abandon it for UG. I’ll put up a graphic to illustrate this:

This scenario is perfectly reasonable, and I can imagine similar things happening at many tables over the past two weeks. Now, let’s stop and think about what is going to happen here. We are going to have 6 players fighting over UG. The first half of the pack is going to see each of them struggling to cobble together a decent amount of playables, but then they will start to notice that maybe UG isn’t flowing. Because they’ve all been fighting over UG, there aren’t going to be many Blue or Green cards going around, and all of their decks are going to get worse, and most of them are going to have to figure out some other color combination to make their deck work. Most of these 6 drafters are not going to get 23 playables if they stick to Blue or Green, and they will likely shift into a different color after the first pack. In the end, perhaps one of these players will be able to stay in UG, but the other five will likely have to substitute either White or Red for whichever color is being cut the hardest, which morphs their deck into something like WU, RG, GW, or UR. Because the colors Blue and Green are getting cut harder, we should expect to see a lower percentage of UG decks in this study than in the last, which is exactly the case.

Meanwhile, what kinds of cards are getting passed directly to players E and H? It’s highly unlikely that either player will want to go into Black, and it is much more likely that either one or both is going to end up with a very powerful RW deck. That means that there will be two RW decks at this table. If we were to take one of those out for two out of three drafts, it easily explains why there are 1.36 people in RW. These drafters are responding to a hole in the format, and it is going to be easier for them to build a consistent RW deck, which explains the significant increase in that archetype between these two studies.

Essentially, I think that this huge spike in popularity for RW signals that UG has been overdrafted in the past two weeks, which left a gaping hole for people to take advantage of getting shipped a lot of powerful red and white cards. Remember, this chart is showing what decks ended up getting played, which is very different from depicting what decks people tried to draft. If everyone is drafting a specific deck, then it is going to be harder to get actually play that deck in the matches because the picks will dry up and you will be forced to go in a different direction, with RW being a perfectly logical choice.

There are a few things signs we can look for that would verify this study. First, the RW deck doesn’t share a color with the UG deck. If it were UR that were in first, then we would know that it wasn’t because UG was getting overdrafted, because somehow there were so many players picking up Blue cards. But this data suggests that a lot of people ended up in RW because the UG cards weren’t available at all. Second, we would expect the decks that follow RW and UG in popularity to be either based Blue or Green, and then be paired with either Red or White. This is exactly what we see, with WU, RG, and GW making up the next three most popular decks. Third, and this is most important, we would expect there to be repercussions felt in the winning percentages of those decks, which leads me into the next section.

Archetype Win Percentage

In my last article, we saw that UG had an incredible win share, which put it among the best limited decks of all time. It was winning 73% of its matches, but the data from this study shows that UG only managed to pick up a win percentage of 65%. That is a pretty dramatic shift in two weeks. However, this can be easily explained when we realize that UG is starting to be overdrafted. The great cards are not as readily available, and UG drafters will be forced to fill holes with mediocre substitutes. Eight points doesn’t seem too unlikely, especially since UG maintained its spot as the overall leader in win percentage.

The big surprise here is with RW. Last time, RW was getting just 49% wins, despite being one of the most popular decks. This week, it got played by many more people, but it managed to increase its win percentage to 64%! That is a 25 point increase, which is just incredible. When I first saw this data, I thought that it must be a fluke. But, as I said before, this is something that we should actually expect if the scenario from above were true. If people are overdrafting UG, then we would see it lose wins, while seeing the decks that don't share any colors with it pick up a large amount of wins. Just to cement this idea into your minds, the other non-Blue or Green decks are BR and WB. The first went from having a 36% win percentage to having 55%, and the second went from win 40% to winning 50%. The people who picked up a lot of wins in this format were either the people going into UG, or the ones staying out of both of those colors as much as possible. All of this data is incredibly consistent with the idea that UG has been overdrafted. Meanwhile, all the other decks with Blue or Green in them, with the exception of UB, saw a sharp drop off in win percentage, which is also consistent with the theory that Blue and Green were being overdrafted.

But, there is one more reason why RW performed so well. As I mentioned last week, it is the kind of deck that requires very specific sequencing. This means that you have to pick up a deck with all of the mana cost slots filled in the right ratios, and you also need a high amount of Kruin Strikers, Riot Ringleaders, and Thatcher Revolts. If you get all these things, then RW is probably the best deck in the format. The problem is that when you don’t get them, the deck ends up being pretty weak. This is why we see it perform so well when UG is being over drafted; the specific RW cards that you need are easier to pick up.

There are three other important factors that made RW so strong. First, people figured out how to draft RW correctly. It is a difficult deck to draft, because it means making synergy picks instead of power picks. For example, you will often have to pick a Kruin Striker, Riot Ringleader, or Hanweir Lancer over a Pillar of Flame, which is something that the majority of Magic players hadn’t realized at the time of the first study. Secondly, if Red and White are being underdrafted, then you are going to see a lot more of the cards that you need in order to make sure that you always get that sequencing correct. Finally, I took the time to track the win percentages of each deck against UG. There wasn’t enough data to provide statistical relevance, since each deck tended to face UG anywhere between 3 and 12 times. But what is significant is that RW was the only archetype that managed to go at least 50% against UG, by winning 6 out of 12 matches. Apparently, RW is your best option when you are facing the best deck in the format.

Before I talk about how this should affect your drafting strategies, I want to point out one more serious repercussion from RW hitting the bigtime.


Last time we saw a graph that peaked at turn 8 and then tapered off relatively slowly, which reflected a fast format with a prolonged end game. This week, we see a graph that spikes even sooner at turn 7, and then drops off sharply from there. This format has gotten much faster in the past two weeks, and that is mostly caused by the huge success of a large body of underdrafted RW decks. The RW deck is absolutely the fastest deck in the format, and the success of both UG and RW means that you simply don’t have any time to mess around.

Turn Number


% of Total

New Reach %

Old Reach %





























































Sixteen - Twenty-Three






Here we again see the chart showing the data from the table above, but I want to draw your eye to the last two columns, which show the percentage of games that reached the labeled turn. The first of those columns shows the percentages from the new study, while the second shows the data from the old study. As you can see, the chance of reaching each successive turn drops by a few percentage points compared to the old data. Instead of having a 69% chance of hitting turn eight, you only have a 65% chance. This means that instead of hitting six mana in about 40% of your games, you are only going to hit six mana in something like 37% of your games.

Where the format used to have a little wiggle room for slower decks, the rise of RW means that you are going to have to be able to beat both the fast Green starts or Riot Ringleader into Thatcher Revolt from the RW decks.  I’ve learned to make every effort to keep my curve as low as possible, with a lot of cards under five mana, with only one or two cards at six mana, though those are not actually a necessity. Also of note, when a format is this fast, and players are almost always ending the game with cards in hand, Mist Raven is even better, since it is nearly a flying Nekrataal.  


How does this data change the way a player drafts Avacyn Restored? Do you stick with trying to force UG? Or do you move in on RW? What about trying to be the mono-black deck?

First of all, it is important to remember that even after being somewhat overdrafted, UG continued to be the most successful deck in the format. Sixty-five percent is an exceptional win percentage, and it is better than most decks in past formats. However, it might not be the best course of action to try to force UG in every single draft. I would still go into a draft with an eye to get UG, but it is important to have a good backup plan. As long as RW isn’t too overdrafted, it should be a pretty decent option. You should also try to figure out how to make the other Blue or Green decks work, such as WU or GW.

Now, for the RW deck. My biggest worry is that RW will start to be drafted more heavily in the weeks to come. If you are the person heading into RW instead of UG, then you stand a chance of getting an incredibly powerful deck. But if things go wrong, and you end up fighting for RW, then you are going to have a mishmash of cards that can’t put things in the right order to win the game. You definitely do not want to be the third RW drafter at the table. Because of this, I would be hesitant about trying to actively move in on RW; instead, I would only try to get into RW if I manage to pick up a bomb Pack One, Pick One, or if you are receiving clear signals to go into Red or White. Ideally, it will be something splashable, but if not, then I would definitely make sure that I can draft the pieces that work in any deck, and not just in RW. Additionally, things like Kruin Striker, Riot Ringleader, or Hanweir Lancer are so integral to the Red deck, that I would make sure to pick them very highly if I am in red, which will often mean passing Pillar of Flame. Who would have thought that I’d be telling people to draft a Goblin Piker and a couple of Gray Ogres over Shock?

Finally, I had a lot of questions last week about the Mono Black deck. In the last study, I hadn’t built up enough data to look at it with statistical relevance. There wasn’t enough data in this study either. However, by combining the data from the studies, I was able to get a much better view of Mono Black. Unfortunately, it did not perform well. Over the course of both studies, Mono Black was only able to put up a 46% win rate. In this case, I can use my experience watching the games to point out the problem. Specifically, Homicidal Seclusion is often just too slow. When you are depending on one very powerful creature to win the game, you are very susceptible to tempo plays, like Mist Raven or Peel from Reality. On top of this, you also have a lot of blink effects in the format, which stop the Mono Black player from gaining life off of Homicidal Seclusion. All of these things means that the RW and UG decks are often able to just win before the Mono Black player is ever able to gain life from Homicidal Seclusion. The crucial card for Mono Black is actually Butcher Ghoul. The more you have, the better your black deck is going to be. You still probably want to take Death Wind or Bone Splinters over the Ghoul, but certainly nothing else. Having a lot of them is key to making a Mono Black deck works.

But don’t lose heart, Black players. There is some hope for the color. Just as RW picked up a lot of wins from people overdrafting UG, there were a lot of opportunities for Black decks in the format. Go back and look at the chart with the win percentages. You will see that the top five winning decks were UG, RW, BR, UB, and WB, respectively. Furthermore, these were the only decks that were able to pick up 50% or more wins. Three of those decks contain black. Also, two of those Black decks don’t contain Blue or Green. I still would not recommend planning to go into Black, but it turns out that you can build a winning deck with Black as a main color, as long as it is being underdrafted.

In conclusion, we can see from these results that Avacyn Restored has become an even faster format, and that while UG is still the best deck in the format, it is also being overdrafted, and RW has filled a gaping hole to make another contender when you are drafting. Furthermore, Black turns out to have powerful tools as long as it is being very underdrafted, so keep an eye open for an opportunity to take advantage of the powerful archetypes that other players may be undervaluing.

A Word from the Writer

The purpose of this afterword is to tell you where Ars Arcanum is headed in the future. The short version is that it will become a biweekly series here at PureMTGO. The rest of the afterword explains how this will work, and why I decided to stay with PureMTGO.

I wanted to give a heartfelt thank you to Marshall Sutcliffe and Jon Loucks over at Limited Resources. I already plugged their podcast once in this article, but I would be remiss if I did not encourage you to listen to them again. If you play limited and you do not listen to Limited Resources, then you are doing yourself a disservice.

Marshall and Jon were kind enough to talk about my last article as the main topic of one of their shows, and a lot of new people were attracted to Ars Arcanum as a result. Because of their influence, my little article got into the hands of a lot more people. All of you gave me a lot of positive feedback, and I am immensely grateful for all your kind words.

Most importantly, I will continue writing for PureMTGO. Heath has given me plenty of reasons to keep writing here, and so I’m going to keep putting out my articles here. If you aren’t a regular reader at PureMTGO, then hopefully this article series will bring you over. There turns out to be a lot of demand for data driven article of this type, and with good reason. They are powerful tools for understanding limited formats, and I suspect that you could also turn them to other formats in order to glean useful information. With that said, there are a lot of limitations to these types of articles, the biggest of which being that they require a lot of time on my part. Because of this, I was only doing a Limited Overview once for each set. However, I’ve decided that I can produce more data driven articles in the future. Because of all of your positive feedback, I’ve been in contact with Heath, and we’ve decided to turn this into a biweekly series. Most of the time, it will be a data driven article just like this one. Occasionally I may put together an article analyzing a general strategy topic in depth, but those will be few and far between, mostly just as filler when there is a dry stretch where I can’t put together a useful data article. Additionally, you can expect this column to come out whenever A. The full spoiler for a set is released, B. a set goes into release events for MTGO, or C. two weeks have elapsed from the MTGO release of a set.

If you want to know when one of my articles is coming out, you can follow me on twitter @oraymw.

Again, thank you all for the overwhelming positive feedback. I look forward to giving you more great Magic articles in the future.




Always by apaulogy at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 13:01
apaulogy's picture

I am glad you are deciding to be a regular. Since I joined a year or so ago, I have always viewed you as one of the better writers with great perspective on strategy and well thought out card valuation.

Way to go. I also really respect your decision to stick with Pure.

GL. I'll be reading, for sure.


Thanks, Andrew. I've always by oraymw at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 14:00
oraymw's picture

Thanks, Andrew. I've always been an inconsistent writer up 'til now, but you've always left great comments for me, which I really appreciate.

nice article by BOBBAKAKE at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 15:10
BOBBAKAKE's picture

Your brekdown of the draft series is quite nice with the grafts and such. I look forward to your future articles now that your a regular.

Good article by howlett23 at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 15:26
howlett23's picture

But last I checked 49% to 64% was a 15% increase ...not 25, still a large increase, but as you touched on there are probably better pilots with it now as "pros" know that UG is going to be heavily contested

Thanks for pointing that out! by oraymw at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 16:25
oraymw's picture

Thanks for pointing that out! After doing a ton of math for three days straight, I guess I just missed that little bit there.

As you said, though, 15 points is a huge increase.

Not a drafter of AVR or by Paul Leicht at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 17:36
Paul Leicht's picture

Not a drafter of AVR or really any of the modern sets past Shards but I appreciate the logic and work that goes into an article like this. Glad to hear you are going to make a habit of it. :) I am curious what you have to say concerning IDA.

Hmmm. This is actually a by oraymw at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 17:52
oraymw's picture

Hmmm. This is actually a fascinating idea. I mean, if I put together an article on a nix tix format, it would be out of date by the time it was released, but it would be useful for people the next time the format comes around... I think I'll definitely keep that in mind.

rosemiss's picture

Thanks for sharing this information. I really like your way of expressing the opinions and sharing the information. It is good to move as chance bring new things in life, paves the way for advancement, etc. But it is well known to everyone that moving to new location with bulk of goods is not an easy task to move or shift from one place to other place because I have experienced about that and I face the problem like that. There I go to village near to my city faced that problem there.vmware certification//ISC2//photoshop certification//sas certification//CCNP

SPAM by Dingus3gg at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 23:48
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I would like to report this as spam. *points finger at dark silhouette*

I wish more content was this quality by Dingus3gg at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 23:46
Dingus3gg's picture

So I guess that Wizard's theory that color power is self correcting, turns out to be true!

OK, crazy thought: A closed beta on MTGO before a set is released. R&D could collect a ton of data and sort out some issues, similar to how online games do. They have such a small sampling of players internally it must be difficult to get an overview. They might even need another Lee Sharpe to keep track of all this data... hmm?

I know, I am insane.

Thanks for the great content!

I always assumed that formats by oraymw at Wed, 06/13/2012 - 23:54
oraymw's picture

I always assumed that formats were self correcting, but sometimes I wondered whether that was truly the case. But this data really seems to suggest that it is the case. We go from having one deck that is way more powerful than anything else in the format, to a format that is well balanced.


Game theory in action, it's by Psychobabble at Thu, 06/14/2012 - 01:29
Psychobabble's picture

Game theory in action, it's great :). It's funny that your data analysis effectively disproves itself after it becomes known (not necessarily because people have read the article, but because they've figured it out for themselves). I think it's highly interesting that black went from being in all of the bottom card combinations to being in a majority of the >50% winning ones. I'm sure there's a few reasons for this, from the obvious (bad rep -> underdrafted -> the average quality of black cards available to any particular drafter is higher) to the simple fact that a lot of its interractions and card values aren't immediately apparent so it's a colour that took a while to learn. Plus of course, black's the answer to the "where's the removal in this set" question and so I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of these decks are basically splashing black for removal (although the nature of bone splinters does ask you to put a bit more effort into the colour than straight out removal might).

Interesting stats whichever way you cut them!

Just figured I'd leave a by oraymw at Wed, 06/20/2012 - 16:52
oraymw's picture

Just figured I'd leave a little announcement for anyone that sees it.

I'm working on a dual article focusing on IPA Draft and AVR Sealed for next week, so I hope you guys enjoy it.