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By: oraymw, Oraymw
Jan 16 2015 1:00pm
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Welcome to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO stats-based limited column. It's the best time of the year. The full Fate Reforged spoiler is out, and the prerelease is coming up this weekend. I've already spent hours poring over the spoiler, trying to figure out the key principles of the format. We'll see a slew of articles over the next couple of weeks as people try to figure out how this limited format works, but hopefully this article will lay some good groundwork for how you analyze everything you'll see.

 In past articles, I’ve explained most of the major concepts that I use to drive my analyses. I’ll link you back to this article where you can find a more thorough explanation, but basically I follow three principles. First, I analyze the creature stats because they are the foundation of limited. Second, I like to focus more on analysis and exploration. I find it more useful to think about the format and raise questions, then to try and make accurate predictions about a format that no one has yet played. Third, the most important aspect of these articles is the concept of rarity weight, which means that I count cards depending on how often they will appear in a draft on average.

I should note that this analysis will be focusing on drafting Fate Reforged/Khans of Tarkir/Khans of Tarkir. When a big set comes out, there isn't too dramatic of a difference between the draft format and the sealed format, at least as far as crunching the numbers. But when we add a small set to a large set, it's a very different animal. In draft, we'll draft a pack of Fate Reforged followed by two packs of Khans of Tarkir, so the format will definitely still be driven by the cards and mechanics in Khans of Tarkir. In sealed, we'll have three packs of Fate Reforged and three packs of Khans of Tarkir. Because commons in small sets show up much more often than commons in large sets, the cards in Fate Reforged are just going to show up in draft much more frequently in sealed than cards from Khans of Tarkir. This means that Fate Reforged becomes the focal set for the sealed format. An even stranger format will be the prerelease, which will have 5 packs of Fate Reforged and just 1 pack of Khans of Tarkir. At that point, you really can't count on any trends from KTK, and you're really just facing a full small set sealed format.

I'm not going to analyze all of these formats. Instead, I'm going to focus on the draft format, though I might make some comments about the other formats. In order to do that, I'm analyzing what the Fate Reforged booster will bring to the format, so we'll see a lot of numbers dealing with that pack specifically, which can definitely help inform you on how the sealed format will evolve.

A Look Back

With my last spoiler analysis, I decided to add a section where I take a look back at my last spoiler analysis do some accounting for the predictions that I made. This is just a self-reflective process that I hope will help me hone my craft so that I can better understand the predictions that I'm making, why I made them, and how to improve them. I've found that a lot of Magic writers like to make bold predictions without having to account for those predictions, so I feel like it's important to look back.

Here, I'll address the recommendations I made for Khans of Tarkir:

1.      I predicted that the format would be slow. This was the most important prediction of the article, and it seems like I knocked it out of the park. Khans of Tarkir was one of the slowest formats that we've had in a long time.

2.      I predicted that KTK would be a mana intensive format, and that playing 18 lands would be the norm. This wasn't a particularly bold prediction since several pros were making similar predictions, but again, I think this prediction was spot on. In fact, I played 19 lands more often than I played 17 lands.

3.      I predicted that morph initiative would be a key part of the set, and that going first would be very important for this. There is some debate on this topic, but I think that this was another very accurate prediction, and most high level players agree that this is a format where you should definitely play first.

4.      I predicted that two drops would be more important than normal, and that those that had two power would be especially useful. I didn't see a lot of people discussing this in other forums, but I definitely saw in my analysis that decks that were able to drop a creature on turn two were significantly advantaged against the other decks. This was a key part of my own strategy in the format.

5.      I predicted that the enemy color dual lands would be high picks, the allied color lands would be a little lower, and the banners would be unplayable. This was another remarkably accurate prediction. The five color deck did pick up the allied color lands higher than I described, but that deck also became overdrafted enough by the end of the format that it wasn't the player it was at the beginning.

6.      I also predicted that the best color combinations would be BG and WG. I can't figure out what I was thinking when I said WG. It's possible I meant WB and type it incorrectly, as I feel like I would have thought enemy color combinations were stronger. I'm not sure. I should probably take it at face value, which makes me cringe, because in retrospect it looks like BG and WB were clearly the best two color combinations, with Abzan being the best clan. As it is, I was half right, as BG was definitely one of the best two color combinations. I also predicted that Sultai would be another strong clan, and I drafted Sultai a lot, but there is still some contention over the second best clan. I say now that it is Temur, but there are some people who really like Mardu. In any case, this is the hardest section of the predictions, and I couched the language in the terms "fairly certain" which I use to mean that I'm at about 55 to 60% certain, so I'm not surprised if I wasn't entirely accurate.

Overall, it feels like Khans of Tarkir was my most successful spoiler analysis to date. I should also note that Khans of Tarkir was personally my best regular season limited format of all time. I closed out the seasons with just over an 80% match win rate in the format.

Let me know what you think about the predictions in the comments. Obviously the evaluation is subjective, so if you disagree, feel free to let me know.

Converted Mana Cost

Converted Mana Costs of Creatures in Fate Reforged

Converted Mana Cost Comparison with Khans of Tarkir

Converted Mana Cost Comparison - FKK vs. Fate Reforged and KTK

Change in Converted Mana Costs from KTK to FKK

In the past, I've found it to be tricky to do a second set analysis. There are a few problems. One is that the new set isn't being played by itself, but instead it is only taking up one-third of the draft format. The next problem is that it's very difficult to predict the power level of the new set on average as compared with the old set. The third problem is that you tend to play fewer cards from the first pack in your draft deck than cards from subsequent packs.

In this analysis, I tried to find some ways to mitigate those problems. The first chart shows the numbers for Fate Reforged alone. The second chart shows the numbers for FRF compared with the KTK morph model that I described in my last article. The third chart is a little bit different. It takes the previous chart, and it gives an estimation of where the numbers will fall for the set. Instead of just running FRF as 1/3rd of the format, I ran the numbers according to the slots that FRF cards will take up in your deck on average. A KTK deck usually runs 22 spells, and I don't expect that to change, but it's unsure how many slots will be taken up by FRF cards, so I ran the numbers for 6, 7, and 8 cards. You can see how this line moves slightly depending on how much FRF affects the format. The most likely scenario is that the format will settle in a place somewhere along that range. The fourth chart uses this same concept, but it's showing the change in the format as we go from triple KTK to FKK draft.

Khans of Tarkir was a little bit low on two drops and four drops, but it played out really well because you normally played a gain land on turn 2 and a morph on turns 3 and 4. Fate Reforged cuts down dramatically on the number of gain lands, while also removing morph entirely. We also see a large increase in the number of two drops and four drops. This mainly has the effect of normalizing the format a little. In the second chart, we can see that the format will look more like KTK after adding the FRF pack, but we'll definitely see an increase in the diversity of cards that we can play in the early game. The most important change is the increase in two drops; a lot of KTK decks just had their curves start at three, though I always maintained that two drops were a fantastic way to get ahead of your opponent on tempo. The addition of FRF means that decks will have many more options at two mana. It will no longer be as acceptable to simply start your game on turn three.

The other significant change to the format that doesn't show up as well here is that the format loses a large number of late game mana sinks. Morph allowed you to play something early in the game, but you still had effective five and six drops as the game progressed. There are still plenty of those, but the format doesn't make it a little bit more difficult to effectively use your mana in the late game.  Another key change is that there is a large reduction in multi-color cards, while also being a large reduction in both fixing and colorless cards. This will probably force many players down a path of trimming down the number of colors in their deck, instead favoring more streamlined two color decks with a splash.

These are all changes that suggest that adding Fate Reforged will speed up the format a little bit. Instead of using the first few turns to fix mana and player early morphs, players will be more able to play competitive creatures. Morph will lose a little bit of its edge against these kinds of decks, since most of the two and three mana creatures in FRF compare very favorably with three mana 2/2s. People will be forced to trade their morphs with two drops more often, and players will be able to make board dominating plays with non-morph plays. For example, Mardu Scout can come out on T2 and force you to trade early, or Sandsteppe Outcast can come down on T3 and easily outclass your morph, and these are both commons in a small set, which makes them show up nearly twice as often as commons in a large set. This is not to say that morph won't still be the dominant mechanic of the block, because it definitely will, but it will probably become even more important to draft two drops in order to compete with these changes.

Power and Toughness

Power and Toughness Comparison in Fate Reforged

Change in Power from KTK to FKK

Change in Toughness from KTK to FKK

Fate Reforged Average Creatures Stats







P/T Differ



Another key part of analyzing a format is looking at the size of the creatures by rarity weight. In the first chart, we can see the comparison of power and toughness in FRF. In the second chart, we can see how the power of creatures changed from KTK to FKK depending on how much play cards in Fate Reforged see relative to KTK cards. In the third chart, we see the same approach applied to toughness. In the table, we can see the average creatures stats for Fate Reforged.

We can already see a lot of fascinating things. In KTK, we saw that 2/2 was the dominant size of creatures, but that other creatures tended to have a lot of toughness relative to their power. In FRF, we see something very different. We see large gains in the three, four, and five slots of power. Meanwhile, we see that toughnesses for the three, four, and five slots stay relatively the same. Essentially, the creatures kept the same toughness, but they picked up nearly a lot of power. The most important stat on this table is the Power/Toughness Differential, which shows the difference between the average power and the average toughness of creatures in the set. This is a stat that is highly predictive of the speed of a format. Toughness is normally larger than power, so it is very rare to see a large positive differential. Formats with a differential between -0.1 and 0.1 tend to be among the fastest. Formats with a differential between -0.3 and -0.1 tend to be medium speed formats. Formats with large negative differentials tend to be quite slow. As you can see, FRF has a differential of 0.02. That is a tremendous indicator that FRF as a set is particularly fast. This is in addition to the changes that we already saw in CMC.

Fate Reforged adds bigger creatures to the format that you can play for cheaper on average. This is game changing, because it transforms the relative value of morph. All of KTK play revolved around the morph mechanic, and this new set takes it away, and replaces it with manifest which throws a weird wrench into the entire model of the format. Suddenly, R&D is able to print cards with creature stats that are competitive by modern standards. I've mentioned that it's difficult to predict how much this set will see play relative to KTK, but if I were to make a guess, I'd say that we're looking at the high end. Cards in Fate Reforged are just more powerful than their KTK counterparts, and it's going to create a tremendous shift.

I also wanted to take a look at two tables that show what the numbers for the new format will look like depending on how many cards we play from the FRF packs:

Creature stats for FKK

















P/T Differ




Change from KTK to FKK

















P/T Differ





These charts are particularly interesting. We really don't see a dramatic shift in the converted mana costs of creatures in the set, all we saw earlier was a shift in the distribution away from such a dense number of threes, but with a more even distribution of twos and fours. The change in power is definitely an increase, but also not an incredibly radical increase. The change in toughness is definitely a decrease, but again, this is not by a radical amount. It's not until we look at the Power/Toughness differential that we see how dramatic a shift this new format is going to make.

If we expect the Fate Reforged cards to see more play relative to the cards in KTK, then we can expect nearly a 40% change in the P/T Differential. That is a tremendous difference for just one set. If we take the lowest reasonable expected influence, then we still see nearly a 30% change in the P/T differential. All three of these models keep these statistics within the realm of a slow set relative to average magic sets, but Fate Reforged is definitely going to be a shock to the system.


Average Power and Toughness of Creatures in FRF by CMC

Average Greatest Power and Toughness by CMC

In our last two charts, we can get a sense for how the pace of play will change with the introduction of Fate Reforged. These charts only show numbers for the creatures from Fate Reforged, but they still draw a very fascinating picture of how the format will be different. In the first chart, we see how big an average creature is for a given converted mana cost. In the second chart, we see how big the largest creature on your side of the battlefield will be on average for each stage of the game.

In the first chart, we see that creatures at three and four mana, which make up the bulk of our limited decks, tend to have more power than toughness. It isn't until the five and six mana slots that we see that start to change. We don't really get the tools to slow down the format until it is too late to do any slowing down. Players that enjoy slow decks are lucky that we still have two packs of KTK, because it does provide many tools for managing the pace of the game, but it's obvious that FRF will give players the tools to present more intimidating threats at an earlier stage of the game.

In  the second chart, we see that power exceeds toughness at every point of the game if we only include Fate Reforged packs. In that type of environment it is very difficult to stop an early rush, because the aggressive player is going to be able to continuously build tempo while the defensive player struggles to stay alive.

While FKK draft will see more of a balance between these strategies, it is worth keeping in mind that we are going to see more dramatic shifts in sealed, especially at the Fate Reforged prerelease. Essentially, we're going to see a large divergence of the two formats. Sealed is normally slower than draft, but having 50% of the packs come from Fate Reforged means that the sealed format is going to speed up relatively more compared with the changes in the draft format. I would be hesitant to say that the sealed format will be faster than draft, but the numbers indicate that this is a definite possibility. This will be especially noticeable at the Fate Reforged prerelease. I think that this is going to be a shocking experience for people that aren't expecting a dramatic shift in speed. Since we are effectively getting five packs of Fate Reforged and one pack of Khans of Tarkir, the prerelease is going to be a significantly faster format, but people are generally not going to be prepared for that speed. I'm very interested to see how this turns out, and how it shifts people's view of the upcoming draft and sealed seasons.


Now that I've spent some time looking over the stats of creatures in the set, I want to take some time talking about the mechanics, and my guesses at how they will affect the format. This part isn't empirical, it's just theoretical speculations based on the numbers we've already seen.


Manifest is not morph. No matter how much it seems like morph, it is a very different mechanic. The biggest difference in these mechanics is in how the creatures get on to the battlefield. Morph creatures cost three colorless mana. In KTK, this meant that it was one of the best mana smoothing mechanics that we've ever seen. You could almost always do something in games of KTK provided you could get to three mana. It didn't even matter if you had the right colors, since you only needed colorless mana to play out a morph. Later in the game, you had the ability to turn any morph into a potentially game breaking creature. This means that you had plenty to do at any stage of the game.

Manifest creatures only enter the battlefield through the effects of colored spells. These spells cost a variety of mana. This changes the nature of mana in the format dramatically, because manifest imposes the same mana needs on your deck as any other limited format. No longer can you just rely on your deck's ability to hand you piles of three mana morphs that you can play in nearly every game. Now you need to draw the right lands in the right order, just like in most Magic sets.

The other big difference is in the cards that are on the other side of manifest. With morph, you could have a reasonable expectation that the card on the other side would have a big impact on the game once you hit five mana. Sometimes you were surprised by a Monastery Flock, but in general, morph creatures would become a sizable threat once you hit the five mana mark. Manifest throws this out the window. First, it's important to understand how often you'll have non-creatures under your manifest. Most limited decks play around 15-17 creatures. This means that in most cases, Manifest will only be hitting a creature that can be turned up for value about 37.5% of the time. On top of that, we just saw that the majority of creatures have between 1 and 3 power as well as between 1 and 3 toughness. Even when you do hit a creature, it's only going to be substantially better than the 2/2 you already have in play about half the time. This means that only 1 in 5 manifest creatures are actually a threat. On the one hand, this is a relief because it means you can count on a manifest creature not being a big deal most of the time. On the other hand, it becomes harder to predict when the manifest creature is going to be game breaking. You'll have to interact with manifest with the assumption that it is either a 2/2 or not much bigger, and that will work out on average, but sometimes your opponent is going to flip up something dominating, and you'll just have to shrug that you got beaten by the 20% chance that that would happen. This makes the game more dramatic, but it also makes the game have a lot more variance. It also slightly reduces the importance of your fifth land drop. Creatures in FRF are going to attack into each other more often, and they are going to trade more often, and there just won't be much that you can do about it.

Overall, it seems like manifest puts a little more pressure on speeding up the format.

Delve, Prowess, Ferocious

Each of these is a returning mechanic, and I don't want to spend more than a paragraph discussing each.

Delve gets a lot more enablers in this set. It gets Sultai Skullkeeper at common which greatly increases the amount of delve fuel that you'll get in the yard. Manifest also fuels delve without lowering your creature count. However, the delve cards in KTK provide less of a payoff. Overall, I think it's a positive thing for delve, since you'll have less delve cards competing for the same slots while also having more enablers, which will just make your delve cards better in packs two and three.

Prowess also gets more enablers in this set. Each color gets a non-creature manifest spell except for black, and this means that decks are going to be able to maintain their creature count while triggering prowess. The printing of Pressure Point and Refocus adds two cantrips, but nearly doubles the amount of cheap cantrips in the format, which is a great thing for Prowess. Overall, Jeskai seems to be one of the big winners from FRF, especially if you build a WU tempo based version.

Ferocious doesn't change dramatically in this set, though Frontier Mastodon does give you are more tangible reason to push for that first creature with four power to get the ball rolling. Losing a pack of Savage Punch is a big deal, but it does seem like the blue half of the UG based Temur decks picks up a lot of powerful tools to press a tempo advantage in the midgame.


Dash is a fascinating mechanic. I find it to be a much more interesting mechanic than Raid, for example, because it is the kind of mechanic that actually helps an aggressive deck close out a late game. My problem with Raid was always that it was a mechanic that wanted you to attack, but didn't really provide you with a way to keep attacking. Dash, however, is the kind of mechanic that encourages you to build a deck with a very tight curve so that you mostly empty your hand by turn five. Then, you can add one or two dash creatures to the board to completely throw off your opponent's combat math and potentially win the game.

The biggest problem with dash is that it plays very unfavorably with the strategies of the aggressive decks in Khans of Tarkir. Dash and Raid seem like they would work well together, but the problem is that you are going to need to use most of your turn to pay the Dash cost on turns where you use it, and you won't have enough mana to cast something with Raid. Likewise, Dash and Trumpet Blast don't work incredibly well together unless you've dumped your hand and are still left with six or seven mana.

With that said, Dash is the kind of mechanic that definitely speeds up the format. The most common use of Dash will be to add the last creature you need to the board in order to win that turn, and then the game will just be over a turn sooner than it would be otherwise.


Bolster is a strange mechanic. In Khans of Tarkir, Abzan got Outlast which was a very grindy and long game oriented mechanic. It encouraged you to build up early defenses and then just wait until you could overwhelm your opponents with the biggest things on the board. Bolster is actually the exact opposite. It's a mechanic that provides a permanent bonus to one of your smaller creatures, and is better used early in the game before the board becomes too stalled out for the +1/+1 counters to make a huge difference.

The most common way people will use Bolster will be to make a large creature early in the game that can't be stopped by the average creatures at the three and four mana slots. Several Bolster cards cost three mana, which encourages you to put more two drops into your deck. Overall, this seems like a very tempo based mechanic in a deck that is meant to control the board, and I don't think that Bolster cards in general are going to fit very well with Abzan's strategy, though there are certainly individual Bolster cards that will perform well.

Conclusions and Recommendations

It is particularly difficult to make predictions for this set. Second sets are always hard, but this one is especially difficult because of how different it is from the previous set. A lot of this depends on how strong the cards in Fate Reforged are relative to cards from Khans of Tarkir. Another big part has to do with how the metagame will shift around these new cards. The draft order of the packs also has the potential to have a dramatic impact on the format. Because of this, my predictions are going to be a little bit more reserved in this article. There are a few predictions that I’m willing to make with a higher degree of certainty, but for the most part, we’re looking at a six-of-one, half-a-dozen of the other situation. You might think that I’m chickening out of making bold predictions, but it’s easy to make bold predictions and wave them off when they are wrong. I’d rather present the different possibilities and let you decide which is more likely for yourself. With that said, here are my predictions and recommendations for Fate Reforged:

1.      I am very certain that Fate Reforged will be a fast set, and that it will speed up the FKK format. This could be a substantial increase if the lack of fixing pushes out more multicolor decks, or if the cards in Fate Reforged are just substantially more powerful than the cards in Khans of Tarkir, or it could be a milder acceleration if drafting the Fate Reforged pack first dilutes the power level too much, or if the balance of fixing works out perfectly. I’m leaning towards the first possibility, because it seems like the cards in Fate Reforged are just a step more powerful than their neighbors.

2.      I think that Fate Reforged will see a shift in popularity towards more traditional two-color decks. I especially expect to see allied-color based decks make a rise. There are fewer fixers, but also fewer multicolor cards, so the rewards for going into three colors are just diluted. However, It is possible that the multicolor rewards in Khans of Tarkir are just too overwhelming, and that people will  just continue trying to draft three color decks despite a decrease in fixing.

3.      I still think that 18 lands will be the norm in both draft and sealed, since Morph is still the most dominant element of the format. However, diluting the number of late game mana sinks makes it so that it won’t be as easy to play 19 or 20 lands, both of which I have done on more than one occasion in KTK.

4.      If the format speeds up like I’m anticipating, then KTK will become even more of a play first format, so I don’t expect this to change at all.

5.      I’m fairly certain that blue is the strongest color in Fate Reforged. It has quite a few powerful commons, and some of them are deceptively powerful. Several of its cards are also well-positioned for the shifts in the metagame. I’m not sure about the next best color. I’m reasonably certain that red is the worst, but I’m just not sure between white, black, or green. Right now I’m leaning more towards white as the second strongest color, but this depends on a lot of factors.

6.      I think that allied color pairs will become more popular with the release of Fate Reforged. The new set is structured so that allied color pairs play a more important role than enemy color pairs, which will create an interesting tension in draft between staying open for packs two and three, or just following the signals in pack one. This is still a wedge format, and there are still more rewards for going into enemy colors, but it will be much more common to build around an allied color base.

7.      I expect the prerelease to be fast and punishing. I also expect players to react poorly to the prerelease format. I think that WU will be the strongest color combination at that event, but I honestly haven’t spent that much time thinking about it since it’s a one-off event. WU tempo decks might do really well against a field that hasn’t adjusted to a faster format, but it might also to be wise to go with more of a UB or BG control deck with a lot of early defense in order to stop people who have figured out that the format will be fast. This is mostly metagame dependent, and will really be decided by how many people at your prerelease are prepared for a format with so many packs of Fate Reforged.


As always, thanks for sticking through, and I hope that this analysis helps you out in the first few weeks of Fate Reforged. Remember that the goal of this analysis is to help you do your own thinking about the format, and come to your own conclusions. If you have any questions or additional thoughts, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or let me know on twitter. You can follow me on twitter @oraymw for updates about articles. I’ve also put up a Tumblr account athttp://oraymw.tumblr.com/where I post links to my articles. You can go there and subscribe to the RSS feed, and then you’ll be able to get updates whenever a new article goes live.

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Game Logs? by PHahn at Sat, 01/24/2015 - 13:06
PHahn's picture

Love your articles as always (man I've been away for a long time). It always seems to me that you must be doing some kind of mining to get your statistics on game tempo. If so, I was hoping you might share how you're doing so. Thanks!