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By: xger, Xger
Sep 21 2017 12:00pm
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I'm back to write up a statistical view of Ixalan and try to give us a preview of what might happen in the format. I wrote one up for Amonkhet, here, but was unable to write one up for Hour of Devastation (I was wrapping up Law School, starting bar prep, and searching for a job...). A lot of players have noted that this set seems powered down compared to the previous few blocks--let's find out!

Ixalan Spoiler Analysis

This article is going to present a statistical look at Ixalan and attempt to draw comparisons to older environments and give possible ways the format will evolve. This is largely based on creatures, as creatures make up the majority of almost every limited deck. It also matters what rarity a card is--while Wakening Sun's Avatar is undoubtedly a blow-out and a strong creature, you simply won't see it very often in draft (or sealed). Accordingly, I've weighted the cards according to rarity (very similar to how the Ars Arcanum's articles approached the analysis). Here are the weights and calculations, for those that are curious:

I approached it a little different this time--I am looking on a per pack basis so that it is more applicable to sealed as well as draft. This shouldn't alter the results that much, and it should be roughly equivalent to the previous methods. Perhaps if I find the time I will adjust all previous sets to use the same information.

A first note - Ixalan has 10 double-faced cards, all rares, that throw off the normal numbers. So, while Legion's Landing is awesomely powerful in limited, it does make the math a bit different. So, we have

  • 15 Mythics
  • 63 Rares
  • 80 Uncommons
  • 101 Commons

The extra rares mean that there is a slightly less chance of getting a mythic--instead of the typical 15/121 chance of a mythic, it is 15/146 (because there is an entire extra sheet, so I took these number from MTG Salvation). 

Regardless of the double-faced cards, the booster pack is the same as normal--10 commons, 3 uncommons, 1 rare/mythic, and 1 land. For purposes here, I exclude foils, as that would be much more difficult to model and has a fairly low impact on the analysis (considering that foils would appear with the same relative rarities as non-foils, just with only a handful for the draft). So, here are the weighted ratios for each rarity that I use:

  • Mythic - (15/142) / 14 = 0.007545
  • Rare - (127/142) / 14 = 0.063883
  • Uncommon - 3 / 14 = 0.2143
  • Common - 11 / 14 = 0.7857

By doing is as a per-pack basis, this allows normalization. The above sum to 1 - i.e. a random card from a random pack will be a common ~79% of the time. This allows for easier looks at the numbers. This also stops some of the over representation of Mythics and Rares under the previous model - which is closer to reality as common and uncommons are far more impactful in most games.

Another note: for Ixalan, I included Queen's Commission and Call to the Feast as a 3 mana for 2 power of life link and 2 toughness and a 4 mana in the same manner.

The numbers above are rounded, but I did not round in the calculation steps, only the final numbers.

Converted Mana Cost

Here again (for the second time), I must credit oraymw for the data he made available to the public following his Kaladesh entry. While anyone could cultivate it, it is extremely useful to have it readily available, and very kind of him to leave it open to the public.

Same as last time, I am looking at recent sets, in the modern era of Magic development, as that is not only more accessible to current players, and it is more readable:

The trendline might be a misleading. Long term, the line is not as extreme, but I am unsure how hopeful taking the trend from bygone Magic eras is helpful. Darksteel may have been insanely fast, but Magic R&D has advanced considerably in the past 13 years. In essence, the exact starting point is relatively arbitrary--no matter what method I chose a starting point by, there are going to be reasons for and against it. In the end, I am keeping with my choice of Return to Ravnica for two reasons: it made the information easy enough to digest in a graph, and Return to Ravnica is considered the latest surge in player base and when Wizards began printing considerably larger quantities of cards. Perhaps with Dominaria or next fall I will adjust to a shorter time span.

Ixalan is shaping up to be a set where the average CMC is misleading. There are some interesting cards that can slow the game considerably, such as a common 1/7 in Looming Altisaur, or some creatures with a quite large rear end--such as Atzocan Archer. Additionally, aggro decks might be very difficult to successfully pilot with a lot of midrange large dinosaurs, many with toughness above 3 at early stages. Few 2 drops, and only one 1 drop have 3 power. Of those, two are nigh unplayable--Wanted Scoundrels (its flavor text even tells you not to play it!) and Old-Growth Dryads. On the other hand, there are several creatures that easily out class or brick wall the 1 or 2 drops. So, at the start, this is unlikely to be as fast a format as either Kaladesh or Amonkhet ended up.

Then, on the other hand, Ixalan's weighted average CMC is the lowest since Eldritch Moon, with 3.23. There are 81 creatures with 3 CMC or less, while there are 66 creatures in the 4 or higher category.  Compared to Amonkhet, this initially seems to be faster as there are a decent amount more low cost creatures. But again, Ixalan and dinosaurs really push the power of the higher cost creatures, which pushes the tail of the distribution a bit higher. Ixalan is also a bit smoother than Amonkhet--you won't have as much crowding in the 3 drop slot, and should have a better balance between 2, 3, and 4 drops. A nice result of the smoother curve is that you are less likely to have pools devoid of playable 2's or 4's, which caused some bad tempo issues in Amonkhet. I guess it's time to show your the CMC curves:

A small note: Ixalan, even with 10 more cards overall, has more creatures as a percent of the set than Amonkhet. Ixalan sits at about 53% compared to 48% of Amonkhet (and the weighted values have a similar gap). This means that a typical Triple Ixalan draft pool will have 2 more creatures than a Triple Amonkhet draft, whereas the sealed Ixalan will have about 4 more creatures. This should result in less pools with unfortunately low creatures counts, while also placing a higher value on removal. Even with those additional creatures, Ixalan is still about 16% smaller in the 3-drop slot. 

Another thing that Ixalan is a bit different on--there are not mana sinks in the mechanics. Amonkhet had embalm and aftermath, often requiring a higher amount of mana. Ixalan has some cards that serve as mana sinks--notably the sacrifice for 8 mana cycle. But, that cycle requires a sacrifice, which means that it is a one shot effect, so not really a mana sink. Otherwise, some of the double faced lands serve as a mana sink, such as Legion's Landing making tokens or Search for Azcanta digging to your best cards. The paradox of the missing mana sinks is that one of the pseudo-mechanics is Treasure tokens. Without a need for a mana sink, the multitude of treasures might become awkward in the mid to late game where they do not have much to do.

This means that going up in lands might hinder you with flooding and little to do with it. Be wary of going to 18 lands--make sure your deck can handle flooding.

The most remarkable thing about Ixalan is that there are 7 and 8 drops that players are going to want to play. So, there is incentive to play for the long game to play giant dinosaurs. And again, some of the low drops are easily outclassed, and often early. So, try to make sure your low drops carry their weight. This is not likely to be a format where you happily play a vanilla 2/2 for 2.

Creature Power and Toughness

Another big factor in any limited format is the power and toughness of creatures, and the relative difference in the power and toughness. If creatures have a much bigger back end, the format will be slower, grindier, and requiring more evasion. Here are the charts:

 

So, you can probably notice that Aether Revolt and Hour of Devastation are missing. Between all of my summer activity and starting a job, I didn't get those done. Hopefully, I can get them added in time for Rivals of Ixalan. Both being small sets does make them less helpful than large sets though, so the loss is not profound in terms of analysis.

Ixalan is....interesting. While its creatures have a higher toughness than most recent sets, they also have a lower power than a lot of the recent sets. This fits with a lot of what I've talked about so far--the big butts of some of the creatures seem likely to slow the format down, especially compared to the ultra fast Amonkhet and Kaladesh formats. It also fits with long term trends of cooling off sets after standard bannings (look at the Masques, Kamigawa blocks). Kaladesh block resulted in 3 separate bans, so Ixalan is likely to be a bit more conservative. It also has a lot more answers, which means limited has more answers, which can punish all in aggro decks. Here's a good way to visualize the overall power level of Ixalan compared to recent sets:

First, sorry about the odd placement of the Ixalan label. It was jammed up against Theros, so it was hard to read, and somewhere it seems like it moved over the data point a little. So, the actual data point is under the arch of the 'n' in the Ixalan.

Ixalan is a stark departure from Kaladesh, and is pretty far from Amonkhet as well. It's low power and close to where Theros was. Theros mostly revolved around Battlecrusier Magic--you used Bestow creatures to build monstrosities and slowly over power your opponent. It also ended up leading to quite a bit of board stalls if I remember correctly. In contrast to Theros, Ixalan doesn't have the same Battlecruiser feel, and the removal is more impactful, since you don't have the auras becoming creatures thing happening. The low placement on the chart also reinforces one of the points I've made--the lower drops are going to be outclassed. If you aren't getting much power or toughness for the cost, the lower costs just won't hold there own for more than a few turns, without adding something else. 

To continue highlighting this trend in Ixalan, next up to the Power Toughness differential. If your average creature has 1 more toughness than power, the format will be slower as attacks are not as profitable. Contrarily, if your average creature has 1 more power, attacking is pushed, trading will be frequent, and playing more threats matters. Here is the differential chart:

Since this is comparing the power and toughness of creatures, it does not account for Explore, nor does it need to. There are not a huge number of explore cards, and few allow repeated exploring. If you were wondering, most decks will be around a 60% chance to give a +1/+1 counter, so if you are running math on the cards or your deck, you can add 0.6 to the power and toughness of the creatures. As I've been alluding to, Ixalan does have a relatively defensive set of creatures, though not super out of line. It is the first large set in a few years to have such a negative ratio, which indicates the format might not devolve into the hyper speed aggro of Amonkhet and Kaladesh. On that note, the mechanics don't encourage attacking as much, which will likely lead more board gumminess. If anything, it'll likely be a nice change of pace if the format doesn't end with a bunch of hyper aggressive decks.

It's also interesting to note that Wizards has been keeping the overall balance relatively stable, as the trend line doesn't show much long term change. Wizards, seemingly, is trying to offer many types of limited formats, as some of the wild swings indicate. Through that, they are still keeping a balance though.  

Evasion and Card Advantage

Another important quality of a set is how much and how powerful the evasive creatures are. Here is the chart for that:

So, what does this value mean? I continued the methodology previously used, and it assigns values to different types of evasion as follows:

  1. Slight combat ability
  2. Difficult to block
  3. Flying
  4. Unblockable (including unblockable, repeatable sources of damage, such as Lightning-Rig Crew)

Each creature gets a point value as listed above, and a 0 if it has nothing. If you have seen the previous articles, Kaladesh's number is a bit lower (I noticed some misnumbered cards), and now Amonkhet stands out. My first pass for Ixalan had a number similar to Amonkhet, so I went back and tried to align my number assignments with the previous sets for consistency. So, at this point, Amonkhet's number is likely wrong, so it may not be the best comparison. Once I align with the previous methods, Ixalan seems fairly par for the course as far as evasive goes. When you couple that with the potential for stalls due to the large reared creatures, what evasion there is will be at premium, probably more than usual. A note about comparing to Kaladesh--Kaladesh had many flying vehicles, which really increased the evasion rating of the set. 

As for card advantage, none of the mechanics really push card advantage. Some of the enrage creatures have a natural ability that generates card advantage or its equivalent (hello Ripjaw Raptor), and explore is pseudo-card advantage. So, this time around, the real question is what cards are natural 2+ for ones. Best I can tell, here they are:

So, this is my list of card advantage cards. These are the ones that will nearly always provide advantage. Notice, Jace, Cunning Castaway isn't here because a significant amount of the time he will either be a close to a Lone Missionary or a briefly alive Merfolk Looter with a caveat. On the other hand, Vraska, Relic Seeker makes a token or kills a creature and still has a healthy amount of loyalty left. Huatli, Warrior Poet can actually make tokens for several turns in a row--Jace cannot. Other cards are just too dependent or require too much. This is also more along the lines of strict card advantage, not virtual, so looting isn't counted. Ixalan is fairly typical in that the reasonable 2 for 1's are uncommon or higher (other than the standard blue draw two). The only 2 for 1's at common require the creature on the board and 8 mana, which is asking a lot. From my experience, this list isn't too abnormal in length.

It's also worth noting that there are several token producers I am not including. A 1/1 token, generally, is not worth a card, whereas 2 or 3 generally are worth a card. So, I don't think of Queen's Commission or Call to the Feast as card advantage normally. Often a single token is simply a life gain spell as chump blockers, which is not something you would normally play. There are not many mass pump effects, so there isn't reason to consider them more than normal.

Removal

Ixalan seems to have quite a lot of removal. Important to note, though, that the removal isn't the best in Ixalan, as a lot of it is restrictive (such as 3 damage Lightning Strike, or is temporary with cards like Watertrap Weaver). At the very least though, there is enough removal that everyone should be able to get something out of your packs. Each packs should have 3 to 4 removal, though probably one 1 premium removal, such as Walk the Plank. Another thing to consider is how much the removal costs:

Ixalan has really cheap removal, with a very low weighted CMC. Of course, a fair bit of this is restrictive however, such as a small -1/-1 effect of Skulduggery (on a completely tangential note--is that a typo? Only one 'l'?), So, the CMC is a bit thrown off by those cards. At the same time, there is premium cheap removal such as Lightning Strike (even with the 3 damage restriction). Some of the cheap spells also have to do with Enrage, so we have cards like Dual Shot, which might actually be a premium spell when it can kill something and trigger your own enrage. 

Next, here is the effectiveness of the removal in Amonkhet, compared to other sets:

And, here is why is doesn't matter all that much that Ixalan has plentiful, cheap removal. A lot of it simply isn't that good. There are a considerable number of combat tricks that can work as removal, and there is not a common exile effect, and only one at uncommon in Ixalan's Binding. Even straight destruction isn't particularly plentiful, and it has common restrictions like low power creatures--Vanquish the Weak. Here is the scale for judging the effectiveness:

  • Exiled - 5
  • Dead (killed, countered, discarded) - 4
  • Incapacitated - 3
  • Weakened - 2
  • Temporary - 1

Some of this is also my subjective thoughts on the cards, so other might have a different position. Most of the combat tricks that can work as removal I ranked as 2, unless it was super questionable, so it got a 1 or 0. So something like Emergent Growth is kinda removal--one of your opponent's creatures should be dying--it isn't good because it could just be some token that bites the dust. Overall, the relative quality of the removal in Ixalan furthers the initial impressions that this will be a grindier set with more defensiveness. This means that the cycle of cards you sac for 8 mana are likely to be reasonable in a number of decks, and perhaps giving you the edge in the long game.

Wrap Up

Well, I hope you were able to find this analysis useful. In general, it seems like Ixalan will be a slower format where you can feasibly reach 7 or 8 mana with enough regularity that having 1-3 cards in that range will be worth it. 

Raid and Enrage are going to encourage combat, but neither encourages blocking. At the same time, neither of those mechanics push attacking near to the extent that Exert did. On the other hand, a lot of the creatures do encourage blocking. Just be prepared for either, but lean towards finding a way through board stalls. Tempest Caller will likely be game over, and if you can get rid of 3 or 4 or more creatures with Settle the Wreckage, you should be able to get through.

As always, I appreciate thoughts, comments, and suggestions. I hope to do these regularly (unless oraymw comes back), so any thoughts on my approaches, or suggestions for future iterations would be great!

Good luck at the prerelease and see you online!

xger

xger21 on MTGO.

2 Comments

As a data lover myself, I by Fragoel2 at Fri, 09/22/2017 - 05:14
Fragoel2's picture

As a data lover myself, I love this article! Great job!
Have you considered doing a charts weighted by rarity? Commons are going to impact limited more than rares so it would be nice to factor it in all the graphs

That was recommended in the by xger at Wed, 09/27/2017 - 11:20
xger's picture

That was recommended in the reddit where I posted this as well. I will be doing it going forward, as it is quite a sound and solid suggestion.