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By: oraymw, Oraymw
May 23 2014 1:00pm
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Welcome to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO stats-based limited column. In this installment, I’ve got the Journey into Nyx draft overview. This article will be looking at Journey into Nyx, Born of the Gods, Theros draft (JBT). For this article, I’ve watched hundreds of matches of JBT draft on MTGO, gathered several data points from those games, crunched the numbers, and then analyzed the data. As always, we’ll look at the speed of the format, popularity and win rates of color combinations, and key principles on how to draft the format. I’ll make frequent references to both the Theros Draft Overview and the Born of the Gods Draft Overview in this article.

I like to begin by restating my philosophy for these articles for those that are coming here for the first time. The goal is to take questions about draft formats and start to apply real numbers to them. I have long felt that too much about MTG is based on gut feelings, and I have found that my win rate improves dramatically when I begin to apply real data to my game. There is a lot of power in using observation, data, math, and analysis in order to understand a format. I can’t answer every question, but the ones I do address, I address thoroughly. Some players have the benefit of large play groups that can put in extensive hours of team playtesting in order to understand a format. These articles try to put the same kind of tools into the average player’s hands. Most of all, these studies are based on rigor and many hours of effort.

There are many strengths to this approach. These studies are in depth and they provide a lot of detailed information about a few specific elements of the format. The analysis is based on personal observation of hundreds of matches, which means I’m able to provide a more sophisticated view on what the numbers mean. It provides a solid foundation on real data, rather than just gathering the gut feelings of a group of players. This approach also has several weaknesses. By necessity, the sample sizes for these studies cannot be as big as if I used a data-scraper to gather data from MTGO. While the data I use is always statistically significant, it does some things worse than big data when big data is gathered and analyzed correctly. These studies also cover a few 64-man drafts on MTGO over a one-week period. There are two limitations for this; the events are unique, which means that they introduce their own artificial effects on the draft, and second, the data covers a specific slice of time, meaning some of the information from these articles will become dated quickly. Most importantly, this kind of study does not replace individual experience. I like to think of these articles as a survey of the terrain, it offers perspective, but things often look different when you actually put your foot onto the ground.

Now, it’s time for the data!


Ending Turn of Games in JBT Draft

Ending Turn of Games in JBT Draft as Compared with Average Set

Ending Turn of Games in JBT Draft as Compared with BTT

In my Journey into Nyx Spoiler Analysis, I predicted, like many other people, that Journey into Nyx would have an overall slowing effect on the format. However, I said that since it was only one pack entering the environment, it wouldn’t have a dramatic effect on the speed of the format, but that it might open up the viability of some other archetypes. Looking at the charts, it is very difficult to tell whether this is true or not. There are fewer games ending on turns five and six, and there are a few more ending on turns seven and eight. When we look at the average ending turn for these formats, we do see a slight difference: BTT comes in at 9.4639 while JBT comes in at 9.564, which means JBT is about 1/10th of a turn faster. That really isn’t much of a difference, but it seems that the format has slowed down slightly, and that slower decks are represented slightly more strongly.

The one major worry I have when people hear that a format has slowed down is that they will take this much too far. For example, I have seen many players talking about how Interpret the Signs is a powerhouse uncommon now that the format has slowed down, and that you can finally take advantage of seven drops like Eater of Hope. This betrays a severe misunderstanding of what I mean when I say “slowed.” The composition of games of JBT is not so dramatically different from BTT that you can afford to jam these cards into your decks. Drafting early game action highly, and avoiding expensive late game cards continues to be a pillar of the format. The main difference is that there are fewer bestow creatures in the format, which means that aggressive decks have a slightly harder time pressuring slow decks in the late game. This doesn’t mean that they can’t do that; Journey into Nyx gave aggressive decks plenty of useful tools like Bladetusk Boar for example. It’s just that the density of these cards is less pronounced.

I would definitely not recommend shifting your strategy to target slow decks more specifically. There are still more fast decks in the format than slow ones (we’ll see more data on that in a moment). However, drafting a slow deck is a little bit more viable in JBT draft. You should be more able to stabilize in the mid game, and your powerful late game will be able to take over a little bit more often. Slow decks are definitely not favored in this format, but it has become more viable to put together a more controlling deck.

This change in the speed of the format is the result of a few factors. First, and most importantly, is the lack of common bestow creatures in Journey into Nyx. As I’ve covered extensively, Bestow is a very tempo-positive mechanic, and allows players to attack with much bigger creatures than their opponent’s on the turn that a creature is bestowed. These bestow creatures are essentially replaced with constellation creatures like Grim Guardian and Oakheart Dryads. Both of these cards are fine inclusions in fast decks, but they don’t have the same board warping influence that cards like Nimbus Naiad and Leafcrown Dryad  had in Theros. Secondly, the overall power level of strive cards is surprisingly low. The rares are strong, but with the exception of Ajani’s Presence, the commons are quite weak (though Ajani’s presence is the best common combat trick in the block).

However, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of remembering that Journey into Nyx is just one pack. Theros and Born of the Gods still have a stronger influence on the format than Journey, and they are both very tempo-oriented, and very fast. Aggro decks will still be very common, and it is important to have a lot of early game action. This means drafting a lot of powerful creatures on the low end of the mana curve, and if you aren’t the aggro deck, you need a lot of ways to interact in the early game, and ways to break up a Bestow based offense.


Popularity of Two Color Combinations in JBT Draft

Popularity of Colors in JBT Draft

Relative Color Popularity Intensity of Two Color Combinations in JBT Draft

You may have noticed that I added a chart to the popularity section. I’ve been working on this type of chart for the past two studies, and I feel like it is now in the most workable state to debut in Ars Arcanum. Let me explain the charts in order. The first chart shows the popularity of the ten two-color combinations. By popularity I mean the percentage of the field represented by these color combinations. In the second chart, we see the percentage of decks based on each of the five colors. I should mention that the two-color popularity chart counts the base colors of decks. For example, if a deck is WG and it is splashing R, then it will be counted as a Selesnya deck. However, I count separately the decks that contain an equal balance of each color or those in which it is impossible for me to ascertain for certain the base colors. However, there are not enough of those decks for statistical significance.

The third chart is new, and requires some explaining. Whenever I put out a draft overview article, someone will inevitably jump to overreaching conclusions regarding how over or underdrafted a deck archetype is in the format. For example, it would be very easy for someone to say that since Boros is the most popular guild, that this affects its win rate more than, for example, Selesnya since it is drafted about 30% less often than Boros. However, this is misleading because it doesn’t take into account that all of the top six most popular decks contain either green or white, while the three least popular decks all contain green. Because of this, I’ve started measuring the relative color popularity intensity of the two-color combinations. This is a function of the popularity of the colors that make up the deck. For example, green and white are two very popular colors, so the guild popularity intensity for Selesnya is the second highest in the set (right after Azorius). Boros comes in lower because it is less heavily drafted. This also helps put things into perspective for a deck like Rakdos. Yes, the deck is the least drafted deck, but there are also a lot of black and red cards that are ending up in other more popular decks. The guild popularity chart would make us think that the commons for RW are taken 250% more often than the commons for RB, but since a lot of those RB cards are being taken in other decks, the truth is that the commons in RW are being taken about 14% more often than the commons for RB. The decks at the extremes of popularity intensity will surely see some difference in their win rates, but it should have a smaller effect on the cards in the middle of the chart.

These charts give us some fascinating information. The first thing we see is that people love white in JBT draft. Four of the top five most popular decks contain white, with Boros leading the pack. In fact, 46.3% of the decks in the format contain white, and it is head and shoulders more popular than any of the other colors. We also see a decent representation at the top by blue and green, with black coming in a distant fourth, and red coming in an even more distant fifth. I find it fascinating that RW is the most popular deck, but all of the three least popular decks are red. In most people’s minds, red=RW. Just by running the numbers, we see that 40% of red decks are RW, while the other red decks have to share the remaining 60% of red decks. This is very important, and it has a significant impact on the format. When people take red cards, they are usually already pairing it with white in their minds, and they will often be fighting with other players over white cards, and only end up in one of the other colors if they are forced to do so. However, I suspect that the majority of people that start out RW and get pushed out are ending up in one of the other white decks, rather than one of the red decks.

We also see that both Azorius and Selesnya are so heavily overdrafted compared to the rest of the set that we can expect their performance to suffer as a result. The effect is probably smaller than what most people would expect, probably in the range of about five percentage points (though that is a rough estimate), but it would be disingenuous to say that it doesn’t have any effect. Conversely, Rakdos is so underdrafted that we can expect it to pick up a few percentage points just by virtue of being so open, but there aren’t any other decks that are underdrafted enough that we should expect major changes in their win rates.

Even with red coming in so low on popularity, tempo-based decks continue to make up the bulk of the format, and you should expect to face them about twice as often as you face slower decks. This is mostly because both Simic and Selesnya have become pretty fast decks, with Orzhov and Azorius also being made into aggro decks fairly frequently.

Colors and Archetypes

Win Rates of Two-Color Combinations in JBT Draft

Win Rates of Colors in JBT Draft

These two charts show the win rates of the various decks in the format. The first chart shows the win rate of the two-color combinations. The second chart shows the win rates of colors. These charts are fascinating, especially when compared with the popularity charts that we saw above. In the first chart, we see Rakdos and Izzet taking the top two slots, with Simic, Azorius, and Dimir all coming in above 50%. Golgari, Boros, and Gruul all come in with decent win rates, while Orzhov and Selesnya seriously underperform, with Selesnya clocking in at an abysmal 37% win rate. In the second chart, we see the color win chart, with blue taking home the prize, and red coming in second. Black picks up the middle, with green a little behind, and white falls far behind the rest of the pack.

There are three things that I want to cover in this section. First, I’m going to talk about blue, which has all the indicators of being the best color in the format. Second, I’m going to talk about white, and why it is underperforming so much. Third, I’m going to talk about Rakdos and Izzet, and why those decks are suddenly performing so much better. One thing to note about the win rates is that JBT has a higher gap between the good decks and the bad decks than either TTT or BTT. In both of those formats, the win rates were pretty flat, and it was hard to sort out which strategy was really the strongest. In this study, we see one color coming out as the clear winner and one coming out as the clear loser.

In my Journey into Nyx Analysis, I talked about how shifting Born of the Gods to pack two and inserting Journey packs would make for a fascinating change on the format, and I think that a lot of the changes in the win rates of decks can be attributed to that. The clear winner is the blue decks. I mentioned that blue seemed weaker than white, green, and black, and that would probably lead to blue being a little bit underdrafted, and that it would still be one of the strongest colors to draft in the format. I was partially right about this, and partially wrong. The blue cards are definitely deceptive and don’t stand out as much as they did in Theros or Born of the Gods.

However, I mentioned that it was possible that I was underrating a few blue cards including Sigiled Starfish and Cloaked Siren, and it turns out that that was exactly the case. Sigiled Starfish is so much stronger than I had anticipated; it is definitely the best blue common in JOU, and it’s currently my pick for the best common in the first pack. The combination of card filtering and the ability to block is just very powerful. I would still rather have a Merfolk Looter, but we don’t get cards on the power level of Looter at common any more, and Sigiled Starfish does a good impression. However, there are other blue commons that I underestimated. Cloaked Siren has ended up being a pretty strong card, allowing you to leave up combat tricks and then add a relevant creature to the board if you don’t need the trick. Three power of evasion has become even more important as it becomes a little more difficult to voltron up, and because we lost one pack of Nessian Asps. Hubris is another powerful common, and while it is usually worse than Voyage’s End, it’s still a very powerful blue card that should be taken early. Pin to the Earth is another very strong card; it is especially good in defensive decks, but it is certainly good even in aggressive decks, since you tend to have more flying in WU than in other decks. A card like Pin to the Earth would be decent in any set, but in a set where people are investing bestow cards on their creatures, it becomes exceptional. Even Rise of Eagles has been over performing in my estimation. You still don’t want more than one, but it has done a lot of work, being better than a Vulpine Goliath on average, which is my standard for six drops. Four power of flying is okay, as we’ve seen with Horizon Scholar, but splitting that up into two creatures is actually a lot better in this case. It allows you to put out two creatures which can help you stabilize against aggressive decks, and it also allows you to diversify threats in the late game. On top of this, it is also an important role player in UR, since it ups your scry count and spell count, but it does so without making you lose out on creatures.

The really unique thing about blue in this set that while it is the second most heavily drafted color, it is still putting up impressive amounts of wins. Two of the three most popular decks in the format are blue decks, and both of those decks have positive win rates. It’s also important to repeat that every single possible blue archetype has above a 50% win rate. I think it would be difficult to make a compelling case that blue is not the best color in the format. White may be severely overdrafted, but there is  such a big disparity in their win rates that I find it hard to believe that it comes down to only the difference in how frequently the decks are being drafted. On top of this, white still has the reputation of being the best color, with RW especially continuing to be called the best deck in the format, even with these kinds of results coming in. I have a feeling that it is going to take a little bit of time for people to catch up to this shift in the format.

As for white, it’s important for us to understand what is happening with its win rate. There are two main reasons why white’s win rate is so low in this study. White has a lot of powerful commons in Journey into Nyx, and it is also a deep color. White is also powerful in both Born of the Gods and Theros, but the problem is that it is not deep in either of those two sets. Because it is so strong and deep in Journey, there are a lot of people moving in one white in the first pack. However, it is just difficult to get the density of playables that you need in order to build a really strong, white, aggressive deck with the color being so overdrafted. Aggro decks always suffer more than other decks from overdrafting, since they need such a density and redundancy of early drops, and this is exactly what is happening with white.

This is not to say that white is not strong; it has a very powerful top end, and the best white decks are probably better than any other decks in the format. However, here at Ars Arcanum, I try to make a very clear distinction between powerful and effective. White decks in Theros are very powerful; there isn’t much that can beat Wingsteed Rider into Hopeful Eidolon, but they aren’t quite as effective. This is how I think of the difference; in a game of Magic, the only thing that matters at the end of the match are the numbers in the win//loss columns. It does not matter how quickly you were able to execute your strategy or how big your creature was on what turn or the turn on which you won or the amount of damage beyond 20 that you dealt. The only thing that matters is whether you have a W in your column. Powerful decks spike games with a lot of damage early on. You could win the game with a life disparity of 50 points, or sometimes more (as I’ve seen all too often in Theros), but the match slip doesn’t have a space for ending life totals or winning turns or anything like that. In the eyes of the game, dealing the exact amount of damage while you are at one life is no different from winning the game by putting your opponent at -20 and being at 50 life. Effective decks are able to put numbers in the W column consistently, but even more importantly, they are able to do this even in games that go poorly or where your opponent executes their strategy or where you didn’t get all the best stuff in your draft.

The trick is that it powerful strategies tend to stick out in our minds more than effective ones. Winning with a 10/10 Vigilance, Flying, Lifelinker makes for a really good story, where bouncing a creature at a key point in the game, and then eking out a win 6 turns later by the skin of your teeth doesn’t sound like as strong of a strategy when we talk about it afterwards.

This is the problem with white in Theros. It has a lot of very powerful cards, and it is probably the most powerful color in the format. However, it requires multiple pieces to fall into place for this to work out, it is susceptible to overdrafting, and it is less effective at dealing with other decks when it doesn’t pull off its very powerful starts. When white is not severely overdrafted, it can make up for some of these other problems just by being very strong, but when it does start to get overdrafted, it is just very difficult to put together a coherent white deck that consistently puts up a high win rate, and this is why we see white putting up such a poor performance as a whole.

The last thing that I want to talk about are the UR and RB decks. These decks are important, because they saw such a dramatic shift in Journey into Nyx, going from being two of the worst decks in BTT to being the two winningest decks in JBT. A big part of this is underdrafting; these are the two most underdrafted decks, we can probably attribute about 5 percentage points for each deck to the fact that they are just so underdrafted. However, that doesn’t tell the same story, since they are so far ahead of the rest of the pack.

One key thing, as we’ve seen so many times, is the shift of Born of the Gods into the second pack. In BTT, you would often end up fighting fiercely for red cards in the first pack, only to see red dry up in Theros. In Journey into Nyx, red is pretty bad. There aren’t very many high picks, with only Magma Spray and Bladetusk Boar being standouts. However, all the other cards have picks that compare favorably with both of those cards. It isn’t easy to find reasons to draft red. However, for those players that do end up in red, they can see a lot of great rewards in pack two. Suddenly, they can pick up multiple copies of Fall of the Hammer and/or Bolt of Keranos.

In Journey into Nyx specifically, there are a few cards that are especially strong in either RB or UR. For both decks, Flurry of Horns is a very powerful card that seems to be underrated at the moment. 4/6 for 5 mana at haste is a deal in any deck, and it’s especially good when your deck is aggressive. In RB it also puts out Minotaurs, which is a relevant creature type, meaning that you could gain deathtouch or +2/+0 when attacking, which makes this card just absurd. In UR, one of the biggest problems with the deck was always getting a density of both creatures and spells, but Flurry of Horns does this fabulously by being both. For RB, Cast into Darkness is a serious over performer that is being critically undervalued. One of the reasons it gets overlooked is because it is much stronger in an aggressive deck, and RB is the perfect deck for this card. For two mana, you can essentially make a creature irrelevant, and then get in with your Deathbellow Raiders and sundry. For UR, Rise of Eagles has been the most surprising card to me. As I mentioned earlier, it can be hard for UR to get a density of creatures and spells, but Rise of the Eagles puts out a lot of evasive power for the cost, while also scrying and putting a spell in your hard. It is good for closing out games with an aggressive deck as the top of the curve, and it can even help stabilize in a long game. Finally, Bladetusk Boar is probably the third most format warping card in the block; it isn’t the most powerful card in Journey into Nyx, let alone in the block, but it seriously changes the way games play out. Before, red didn’t have very much evasion at all, so you knew that if you could just survive until the midgame, you could take over and red wouldn’t be able to touch you. Bladetusk Boar changes this because it is so difficult to block. Because of this one card, I think that Bronze Sable and Guardians of Meletis have both become significantly better since they can block the Boar.

Archetype Speed

Average Ending Turns for Two-Color Draft Archetypes in JBT

This is another new chart that I’ve added to the Ars Arcanum repertoire. Over the past few studies, I’ve been tracking the ending turn for archetype individually in order to see if we can glean some useful information, and I think I’ve finally figured out how best to do it. In the above chart, you’ll see two bars for each archetype. The gradient bar that shows the two colors tells us the average ending turn of games in which the archetype wins the game. The orange bar shows the archetype’s overall average ending turn. Basically, the multicolored line tells us when the game ends when the deck is performing correctly, while the orange bar tells us where the deck ends up on average. There is only so much information that we can get from this chart, but there are some other complementary charts I have to show, and the really good thing about this chart is that it helps us get a pretty good idea of how the archetypes stand up against each other.

First, we see that WG is the fastest deck in the format. It gets a lot of heroes that can get completely out of control very quickly. It also has a lot of creatures that are powerful for their mana cost. The next four fast decks are all the red decks in the format, followed by UG. The slow decks in the format are WU, BG, WB, and UB. There are certainly fast versions of these decks, but on average they tend to be slower than the rest of the format. It isn’t hard to see that the red decks are the fast decks in the format, but I find it fascinating that Green seems to be the next fastest color. Black is obviously the slowest, with RB being the slowest black deck, and all the other black decks being at the far end of the spectrum. White has two very aggressive decks, but it also has two slow decks. This is important to know, because the aggressive white cards are the ones that are so shallow in the format, but the more controlling white cards tend to be passed over more often. It is likely that you can mitigate the overdraftedness of white by going with one of these more controlling decks.

The next set of charts is going to show a sampling of another way that I’ve been looking at the data. I won’t show all the two color archetypes, but I will be showing RB, UR, UG, WU, and WG. In the following charts, you’ll see the win rate for each color by turn, subtracted by 50%. This shows how far the archetype is from a 50% win rate at each particular turn. As a note, I don’t include data on the chart for turns before six because that data is not statistically significant. Also, in order to maintain statistical significance, all turns from turn thirteen forward are counted together. Hopefully that makes sense, and if it doesn’t it should make more sense once you see the graphic.

Win Rate by Turn for Rakdos Decks in JBT

In this chart, I’ve shown the distance of the win rate from 50% for Rakdos decks for different parts of the game. I should note that Rakdos is the winningest deck in the format, with about a 60% win rate, so everything under 10% on this chart is actually slightly underperforming for the deck. In any case, we see that Rakdos maintains at least a 50% win rate for each turn category until we reach the 13+ category. The best performing turns are seven and eight, which shows us that Rakdos is an aggressive deck that wants to win quickly. After turn eight, most Rakdos decks will see a sharp drop off on their win rate. However, we see a spike at turn eleven. This has less to do with some card that is empowering Rakdos decks, and more to do with an entirely different type of Rakdos deck. There is a fast version of the deck, but there is also a more midrange version of the deck. Both versions perform solidly, but it is the aggressive RB deck that is really putting up the spectacular numbers.

Win Rate by Turn for Izzet Decks in JBT

In this chart, we see the comparative win rate for Izzet decks at each stage of the game. Izzet is one of those decks that clocked in pretty fast in the format, but this chart tells us a little bit different story. We see UR performing well at different stages of the game, and poorly in others. Basically, UR doesn’t really play like an aggro deck or a tempo deck. It plays like a combo deck. If you are able to assemble the pieces of UR quickly, remove key blockers, and use Scry and Bestow to make huge attackers early in the game, then you will often win quickly against people who stumble. If your opponent stabilizes, it will take you a little bit longer to set up your combo, but turn ten seems to be a sweet spot when your cards will come together to punch through for a lot of damage and win the game. This likely has a lot to do with Flurry of Horns and Rise of Eagles being late game cards that can provide the punch you need to get through your opponent’s defenses. If your opponent survives, you’ll be destabilized. However, since the UR deck has a lot of card selection, it can still take over a late game.

Win Rate by Turn for Simic Decks in JBT

In this chart, we see the comparative win rate for Simic decks. Simic is a tempo deck, and this chart clearly demonstrates this. It is a little bit slower than the true aggro decks in the format, but it is very good at powering out a win through a very specific period of the game. On turns seven through ten, UG is a powerhouse that uses bounce spells to get big creatures through to deal large chunks of damage to your opponent. While UG remains competitive on later turns, it does suffer from losing true card advantage to its bounce spells. However, UG is strong in the late game because green’s creatures are just bigger in topdeck wars.

Win Rate by Turn for Azorius Decks in JBT

WU aggro has been a favorite for many players since Theros was released. When I started analyzing the format, I expected WU aggro to be one of the dominant decks, but this chart tells a very different story. We see that WU underperforms during the early stages of the game, but it comes to dominate a late game. I suspect that a big part of this is because the aggressive white cards are being overdrafted so much, which makes it difficult to build a synergistic and effective WU aggro deck. However, there are plenty of strong late game cards for both white and blue, and apparently a WU deck that takes advantage of early game defense and wins the late game through flyers is a strong option. This is the classic Blue Skies Control deck, and possibly the best common that it picks up from Journey into Nyx is Supply-Line Cranes. A 3/5 flyer makes for a great blocker in the mid game, but it is also a game dominating attacker once your board has stabilized. This is probably the deck where the Cranes are most at home.

Win Rate by Turn for Selesnya Decks in JBT

Finally, we get to the WG decks. I saved this for last, because I wanted to demonstrate why WG is performing so poorly, and this chart shows the problem perfectly. WG doesn’t perform all that well at any stage of the game, but it certainly holds its own on turns six through nine, but that is when the wheels start to fall off the bus. With the exception of turn eleven, everything from turn ten onward is just a disaster for WG. If it hasn’t won by turn ten, then the WG deck can expect its opponents to find answers to their large heroic creatures. Meanwhile, it has very few ways to deal with evasive threats, and cards like Bladetusk Boar or big flyers will eventually just kill the WG deck, leaving it with no way to fight back. This is the kind of deck that needs to win quickly, and the overdrafting of aggressive white cards makes it very difficult for WG to build a deck with enough synergy to consistently win enough in the early game to make up for its poor late game.

I would love to go into more detail on each of the other archetypes, but I’m already up against 6000 words. I’ll put together the charts for those decks, and add them to my blog sometime next week so that the information is at least available. Hopefully this approach to the deck archetypes helps add some context to why the numbers came out the way that they did.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Thanks again for reading! Here are my conclusions and recommendations for the format:

  1. While JBT as a format is a little bit slower than BTT, it is still a fairly fast format that is defined by a large number of powerful aggressive decks. You either need to be the person putting on the pressure in the early game, or you need a way to interact early on with the aggressive decks.
  2. When people hear that a format has slowed down, they sometimes overreact and start playing expensive cards that simply aren’t justifiable. Don’t fall into this trap. Continue to focus on maintaining a low mana curve.
  3. White may be a powerful color, but it is very overdrafted in this format. White decks make up four of the top five most popular decks, and you can expect to face white decks in about 6/10 of your matches. Since white is not a particularly deep color in BNG or THS, this makes it difficult to draft a white deck that consistently puts up wins.
  4. Blue is clearly the best color in the format. Part of this is because blue is strong in every pack of the draft, but another part is because blue is deceptively strong in JOU. While it is still the second most drafted color, it is probably being underdrafted simply because the blue cards don’t stand out as much in a JOU pack.
  5. Sigiled Starfish is my current pick for the best common in JOU, but I’m not 100% certain that this is a correct choice. It is a difficult card to evaluate correctly. However, in this study, it is the most consistently effective common.
  6. Red seems to be underdrafted due to the peculiarities of the JBT draft order. It is a weak color in JOU, but this means you can cut it off pretty well in pack one and reap the benefits in pack two.
  7. One way to potentially flip the script on the format is to draft WU and WB decks that don’t fight as hard for the aggressive white cards, but instead try to take a more controlling route. Both of these decks excel in the late game, and it is very possible to build a white deck that values more highly the cards that other people drafting white will regard as chaff.

As always, you can follow me on twitter @oraymw for updates about articles. I’ve also put up a Tumblr account at http://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.

Finally, I encourage you to check out the podcast that I do with my buddy Zach Orts, which is called All in the Telling. In it, we look at stories from a professional standpoint in order to get a better understanding of why they are important to the human experience. But mostly, we just talk about what makes awesome stories awesome.

Ars Arcanum Archive


I did have a question to go by oraymw at Fri, 05/23/2014 - 23:24
oraymw's picture

I did have a question to go along with this article. The "Archetype Speed" section is new. Did you like it? Did the charts make sense? How could I improve it?

hornofammon's picture

Hey - I always look forward to your articles, and the new analyses are very interesting. I really like the Archetype Speed section also - it really helps in plotting out strategies for each color combination, as it shows you where the "sweet spot" is in terms of wins for each archetype.

There's 3 things that came to mind after reading this. I'm probably one of the most prolific drafters on MTGO right now (I think I have the most QPs on the leader board at the moment) but these are still just my anecdotal observations compared to your statistical analysis:

1) RW is still the deck to beat. I agree with your data that it's not the most winning deck by far, and it is clearly overdrafted. However, it is still the fastest deck by far (GW I don't really count because it's really bad), and its very popularity means that you'll almost certainly be against by Boros at some point if you play 3 matches. And against very slow decks or bad keeps, a good Boros hand will just win with an explosive start. I don't need to go into the exact cards that make this archetype so good, but in general the combination of quality white weenies and red burn is excellent (see my point 2 though).

2) Favorable matchups. In my self-concocted theory, the ideal deck to have is SLIGHTLY SLOWER than your opponent's deck. If you are slightly slower, you will generally have creatures, card draw, and effects that are stronger than your opponent, while you're not susceptible to getting rushed. While you don't have the matchup % win rates (and you shouldn't, because that would be way too much work), I suspect such data would agree with me. What does this mean? Well, the slowest decks - BG and UB, I find - will tend to beat midrange decks like RG or UG, while the midrange will tend to beat fast decks, like RB or RW. This may partially explain why RB and UG rack up such high % - they are slightly slower against the very popular RW, and fewer people are drafting the slowest decks which can dominate them. Note, on the other hand, that a terrible position to be in is MUCH SLOWER than your opponent - you will really need to be careful in keeping relatively fast hands if you want to survive.

3) Skill level and archetypes. Despite RW being a lower-percentage win deck, I still believe it is a good choice for those without a lot of draft experience. It is one of the easier decks to assemble, and requires fewer difficult decision points than, say, GB or UB. Further, it has the best chance to win against a deck that has a lot more bombs and power level than yours, because of the possibility of unstoppable explosive starts. GB, on the other hand, particularly the self-milling archetype, is one of the hardest play properly, as there are tough draft decisions (Nessian Asp or Grey Merchant? Can I expect to wheel this Rescue from the Underworld? Do I tend towards ramp or graveyard shenanigans and card advantage? etc.) and game decisions. For example, last night I drafted an excellent GB deck, based on graveyard strategies with two Pharika's Menders, a Rescue, two Grey Merchants, and self-millers. I convincingly made it to the finals, only to be blown out by what I thought was a mediocre Boros deck with no rares. It's the risk one takes if one goes for a slow archetype, which is why I prefer mid-range slightly more if it's open.

4) Self-targeting enablers and cutting lands. This is just a short reminder - if you want to play heroic with W, G, or R, please get at least 5-7 enablers, and preferably more. It's much harder to do now in JBT than in TTT, but it's just sad to watch opponents fight with their 1/1 Satyr Hoplite or 1/1 Akroan Skyguard for the entire game and lose. Also, I'm an advocate of cutting to 16 or 15 lands for RW, RB, and sometimes UW, especially if you're playing in an 8-4 where the skill level is higher and you need to take the higher risk of mana screw to gain a small edge.

OK, a lot of words here, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there and maybe get some feedback. Thanks for all your work in making another great article.

This series is fantastic as by a small child at Mon, 05/26/2014 - 09:12
a small child's picture

This series is fantastic as always. I personally don't draft JBT because I hate the format (strangely I find JJJ to be more fun), but it's still very interesting to get a statistical window of this quality.

The Archetype Speed section is one of the best additions to this series yet. I think you found the perfect angle to look at it from, giving us not only information about how fast/slow decks are but when they tend to win/lose. That last bit of data is very rich. If you were able to get a large enough sample size it would be very interesting to see the speed data for various specific matchups! That would be a lot of work though, I am sure.