PHahn's picture
By: PHahn, Peyton Hahn
May 07 2014 12:00pm
Login or register to post comments

 What is Luck? (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Peyton Hahn



Hello and welcome back to Peyton’s Place. In my last article, I discussed some JOU Limited All-Stars and pondered the future of the Standard format. I mentioned that I would be at the Star City Open in Cincinnati, which I did attend over the weekend. However, I was unable to participate in the main event due to a last-minute illness that hit my girlfriend pretty hard Friday night.  I did get to stop by and draft a little bit and ended up opening a foil Deicide, so it was a nice consolation.  Before I get to the main topic for this week, I did want to opine on the outcome of the Standard main event.

Walking around at the venue, I was actually very surprised with the amount of control I saw on the tables. I have come to expect aggressive strategies to be popular in the early weeks, as control decks have historically struggled before tuning to the new metagame. However, Bg Devotion and UW Control faced off in the finals of the Star City Open, whose Top 16 contained 5 Monoblack/Orzhov Control decks.

Although this is disappointing in terms of innovation, all hope is not lost. In the past, it has taken weeks for new archetypes to be tested and developed enough to compete (Delver and Wolf-Run Ramp in Innistrad, Monoblack Devotion in Theros, Caw-Blade Post-Mirrodin Besieged, etc.).  I am hopeful that alternatives to Devotion and Control strategies will be competitive over the next few weeks. The importance of availability on Magic Online cannot be overlooked, as the 24/7 evolutionary nature of the program is immensely important for innovation in Standard.  I’ve called this format stale before, and I consider adding Temple of Malady to an existing dominant deck akin to pouring milk on stale cereal.   I’m not knocking anyone for playing established strategies, I’m just hoping for more innovation/diversity in the coming weeks.


On to the main event. This week’s article actually came about due to a game-situation I had last week on Magic Online. Playing Boros Burn in a Daily Event, I was about to begin the deciding turn of a very close Game 3 against Esper Control.  My opponent was at four life, tapped out from a freshly cast Elspeth, Sun’s Champion that had stonewalled my in-play Mutavault with tokens. I was on three land: one Sacred Foundry, one Mountain, and the aforementioned Mutavault. As I untapped, my only card in hand was Warleader’s Helix. My outs were untapped land or (Boros Charm). Skullcrack might be good enough but I didn’t feel great about my chances if the game went any longer.   I closed my eyes and clicked to accept my fate, only to see the most beautiful Mountain I ever saw staring back at me when I re-opened them. I finished my opponent off, drawing the half-expected “luck sack”, “brainless”, and “lucky” comments that I quickly ignored. It got me to think: was I that lucky? Mountain

In my deck, I had 45 cards remaining, 20 of which were land, 15 of which come into play untapped (one Boros Guildgate and four Temple of Triumph would not be ideal). I also had 3 Boros Charms left. This brings my total number of outs to 18 out of 45, or 40%.  In the sense of what I call “macro-luck”, I was probably somewhat lucky to draw the Mountain. What I mean by this is that in a high level, it was a touch unlikely that I would draw an “out”. 

But what about at the micro level?  If we think about what I was likely to draw on that one turn with one draw, we could use a card-by-card basis for reasoning.  In my deck, I had 9 Mountains left, which alone make up 20% of the remaining cards. This is more than double the number of any remaining individual cards.  If we consider the situation from this perspective, it doesn’t seem as lucky: I was more likely to draw a Mountain than any other card. In fact, my chances of drawing a Mountain were more than double that of any other card individually.

What about luck in opening packs? In Theros, there are 249 cards: 20 land, 101 commons, 60 uncommons, 53 rares, and 15 mythic rares.  Not accounting for foils, there is roughly a 1/8 chance of opening a mythic in a booster pack.  So, on a macro level, it seems extremely unlikely to open a Theros pack that contains Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The actual percentage (not accounting for foils) is:

(1/8)*(1/15) = .008333.

 Or .83%.  Assuming of course you don’t believe the conspiracy theory that Wizards circulates chase rares at a lower rate than others. But then again, how likely are you to open Titan of Eternal Fire?

(7/8)*(1/53) = .0165

Or 1.65%, under the same assumptions as above.  This means that on a micro level, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is only twice as rare as Titan of Eternal Fire. This may not seem intuitive, but it is the truth.  Of course, both of these percentages are extremely small, which is why these cards are considered rare to begin with.

I’ve written a few notes about the role of chance in Magic, but nothing really as in-depth as I think it deserves. I am sure many people have written theory articles about Lady Luck and her mischievous ways in the game we all love, which is why I try not to get too general.  To be brief, I don’t believe that in most situations in Constructed, Lady Luck plays a major part in a positive way. If your deck draws well, plays well, and you happen to draw an out when you need one, in most cases you’re not lucky, you’re good.  Your deck was well built, you made the correct plays, and you were rewarded with a win. There are exceptions, but I do believe this to be the case.

However, chance can affect you in all kinds of negative ways in Magic.  You might get mana-screwed, color-screwed, flooded, or be forced to a mull to two.  It’s commonly said that building a great deck in Constructed is to minimize variance, and this is exactly the saying is talking about. Variance will always exist, of course, but your job as a magician is to be both proactive and reactive to variance as it rears its head within each game.

Ultimately, I don’t believe I was lucky to win the match. 40% to draw an out is extremely reasonable, and I had made the correct decisions to put my opponent within burn range.  I think that by embracing the role of chance in the game, I have improved my mental approach to Magic. I highly suggest that anyone who is looking to take the next step in their game take time to evaluate how chance affects the way each deck or matchup plays out, and how they can use this information to their advantage.

This week I was a guest host of Freed from the Real, Episode 273.  Definitely check it out and leave some feedback if you get a chance. It was an absolute blast and I really hope I get the chance to do it again.  If you’re interested in MtGO news, JOU speculation, or just enjoy European accents (or, in my case, Ohio accent, if that’s a thing), then you will most certainly enjoy this podcast. Let me know how I did!

I mentioned that I was going to make a run at qualifying for the MOCS Prelims this season. Since the season began last week, here’s where I stand: 

  • 4-0 in Theros Block Sealed Daily; 3 QP’s
  • 3-1 in Standard Daily; 1 QP
  • Split an 8-4 Draft (thanks to my opponent for conceding the point to me); 1 QP

    That leaves me at 5 QPs after less than a week, which seems like a great pace. I’m hoping to play more 5-3-2-2 Standard Queues to keep on track. I did lose some events, but I’d say my tournament match-win percentage is slightly above 55%, which I’m fine with. 

As always, feel free to add me on MtGO. I’m always looking for new friends and people to playtest with, especially as the new set is released online.  If you’re interested in joining my new clan “Up and Coming”, send me a message and I’ll be sure to add you. . I’d love to get a competitive group of online grinders together to share ideas, decks, etc.   Everyone is welcome, so send me follow up messages if you think I missed your request.

I have no idea what to write about next week, so please leave a comment if you have anything you’d like me to discuss.

May the shuffler be ever in your favor,


MTGO: shaqdaman

PS: Sorry there’s no pretty pictures to break up all the verbiage. If someone wants to make me a cool “Peyton’s Place” banner, that’d be sweet. Digital Design was never my strong suite (or any kind of art, for that matter). 


"Lucky" topdecks by TheKidsArentAlright at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:15
TheKidsArentAlright's picture

This whole article reminds me of the infamous Craig Jones Lightning Helix (worth looking up on YouTube if you're not familiar). It sounds more like you played to your outs and got rewarded than just straight up got lucky.

Yeah that's my opinion. Owen by PHahn at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:23
PHahn's picture

Yeah that's my opinion. Owen Turtenwald actually wrote a paragraph on this subject in his most recent article about one of his famous top decks from the pro tour. Thanks for reading !

people would rather attribute by JXClaytor at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:45
JXClaytor's picture

people would rather attribute playing to your outs as just getting top decked, like there was no skill to making those decisions at all.

I totally agree with this. I by PHahn at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:54
PHahn's picture

I totally agree with this. I mentioned it in my article about sportsmanship, but many people will look for any reason to detract blame from themselves when they lose a game. This is an example of that.

Still lcuky, but also valuable by walkerdog at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:45
walkerdog's picture

I like these types of examples, because I tend to scoop to "unwinnable" situations too frequently - sometimes, even though the other guy just blew up your manland and wiped out your hand with discard and has a couple of guys in play. Then you drew a coalition relic (or something similar), ramp up, topdeck the Martial Coup, then a draw spell or a planeswalker, and win anyway.

This is a good set of counter-examples, so bravo!

Thanks very much! I used to by PHahn at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 13:53
PHahn's picture

Thanks very much! I used to have the same issue of scooping too early. Once I changed my mindset to playing to my outs, I have won so many games that I thought I had no chance to win. It really makes a difference. Thanks for reading!

I've been playing a lot of by JXClaytor at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 23:46
JXClaytor's picture

I've been playing a lot of Legacy lately, dredge most often, the scooping too soon thing is real. I refuse to concede a game until it's obvious that I am going to lose (when they attack for lethal.) and actually beat double leyline of the void with 3 1/1s because my opponent had just those leylines and an island for the whole game.

Old Joshua would have looked at those leylines, and packed it in before I finished my first turn.

I've been known to do banners by Paul Leicht at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 21:42
Paul Leicht's picture

I've been known to do banners from time to time (cf: Conquerer and Commander, Freed From the Real and my own banners for various interviews I've done.) Just let me know what you want and we can discuss compensation (I take cards sometimes. :D)

In reference to luck: There is a strange mental dichotomy at work here. On the on hand it is not uncommon that good players draw better than their opponents and this leads to them having better games over all not just because they make great plays but because they play with their top deck/outs in mind. I often scoff at burn players who just toss their burn directly at me (I mentioned I like playing control right?) without even considering the threats I may field. Because I have been known to field threats that a little burn could help against.

Playing a deck like RDW blindly is begging to lose. Badly. Otoh playing correctly usually requires a decent understanding of not only what you are likely to draw but what your opponent can do about it when you get and play your good cards. So yeah top decking the exact card you need to kill your opponent is lucky. No one denies that but when it is a play you've set up for x turns knowing it was likely eventually to come about then you have played optimally and thus also can take credit for winning with skill.

Those who say "luck sack" either disclude that possibility because they lack true understanding of the game and you or because they are emotionally immature enough to not acknowledge what is staring them in the face.

A last thought. Back when I frequented the legendary Neutral Ground, NY, there was a saying many of the young lions used to say: "Better lucky than good." It wasn't said to be snarky or sarcastic but to acknowledge a basic truth that it doesn't really matter if people think you are a luck sack or amazingly skilled. The only thing that matters is that you win with integrity. At least that's how I understood it.

"Better lucky than good" is by PHahn at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 23:02
PHahn's picture

"Better lucky than good" is also often said in sports, I'm quite fond of the saying. I really like what you said about burn and RDW, people often don't give it the credit it deserves in terms of the importance of proper play and sequencing.

As far as a banner, I'm not dying to have one, I was just throwing it out there in case someone was trying to get their art seen for some reason. Thanks for the offer though!

Thanks for reading!

I have played a LOT of draft by IYankemDDS at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 22:47
IYankemDDS's picture

I have played a LOT of draft and sealed, and even opened the occasional paper pack, and have never seen an Elspeth or Stormbreath Dragon.

Conversely, I've opened 3x Brimaz in far fewer packs.

It works in strange ways sometimes!

Lady Luck works in mysterious by PHahn at Wed, 05/07/2014 - 23:02
PHahn's picture

Lady Luck works in mysterious ways. Jealous of the Brimazs (Brimazi?) Thanks for reading!