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Jul 10 2015 2:21pm
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Welcome to Ars Arcanum, the MTGO numbers-based limited column. This installment is the Magic: Origins (ORI) spoiler analysis. The Origins spoiler is out and prerelease weekend is coming up, which means that it’s time to start trying to figure out the set. The goal of this article is to approach the spoiler from a numerical standpoint to see the key trends and principles of the format.

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.

This analysis will be focusing on triple Magic: Origins draft. There are a lot of differences between sealed and draft, but a lot of the things that we see in this analysis will be transferable to the sealed format. Additionally, people always ask me for advice about the sealed format, and while I’ll talk about the color I’m choosing and why I’m picking it, keep in mind that the prerelease format is a unique format and it really isn’t worth dedicating energy to run the numbers for a one-off environment.

I am personally very excited for Magic: Origins, and I intend to spend a lot of energy on the draft format. This is a different experience for me, because I’ve never been a very big fan of core set drafts. I usually find them too reductive, and I like to draft formats that have a greater variety of experience, that explore new territory, and that fully integrate an immersive world. I feel like Magic: Origins is a core set that fully captures this experience. By focusing on five planeswalkers and their stories, they are able to add more unity by exploring a bildungsroman theme through five perspectives, as well as focusing on mechanical directions that might not get as much attention in other avenues. I also love that we are looking at complex and detailed worlds through the viewpoints of our main characters, and I am excited to explore those worlds alongside the characters.

All right, let’s jump into the numbers!

 Converted Mana Cost

Converted Mana Costs of Creatures in Magic: Origins

Converted Mana Cost Comparison of Creatures in Magic: Origins

Converted Mana Cost remains the best foundation from which to approach a format. It tells us about how much we will be paying for our creatures and the mana costs where we will see a scarcity. In this format, we see that about 26.5% of the creatures cost 3 mana. Both 2 and 4 mana come in at just above 20%. About 68% of the creatures in the format fall in those three mana costs. The difference between in percentage between three mana versus four and two mana is actually important; it’s a 30% difference. That’s tremendous. It’s like the difference between a regular candy bar and a king-sized candy bar. It’s about the difference in height between me when I’m barefoot and LeBron James if he were wearing high heels. However, it also represents a significant difference in three drops as compared with KTK block, simply by virtue of Morph existing.

When we look at the side by side comparison with the past two blocks, we see that Origins looks mostly similar to Theros in mana costs, but that chart is actually very deceiving. Both Khans of Tarkir and Theros blocks had mechanics that hid some of the more expensive costs. For example, Khans of Tarkir had morph creatures which played both as three drops and five drops. Likewise, Theros had Bestow which performed a similar function, but it also had several enchantments that pushed the curve lower, such as the ordeals. While Theros might look similar to Origins, it is actually very different in the way the mana costs play out.

In order to help us put the Origins creatures into context, I have the following two charts, which show several sets from the past few years of Magic’s history.

Converted Mana Cost of Creatures in RTR, M13, M12, M11, and AVR

Converted Mana Costs of Creature in DGM, GTC, and RTR

These charts actually give us a much better comparison for Origins. We see that it is very different from M13, M12, or M11, but he sets it resembles the most closely on these charts are Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash. Both of those sets had around 25% to 30% more three mana creatures than either two or four mana, and they both saw relatively gentle curves down from the three mana slot. It seems like AVR and GTC are the best historical fits for the converted mana costs of Magic: Origins.

This kind of converted mana cost distribution has a few important implications on the draft format. The first thing is that it creates scarcity in the two mana slot. Because three is the pivotal mana cost, creatures that can trade at two mana are especially valuable because they generate a mana advantage, while creatures that trade at four mana are mediocre because they lose a mana advantage. This creates competition over the creatures in the two drop slot. More importantly, many two CMC creatures are just not worth the cost of a card for their impact on the game, which means that a higher percentage of two CMC creatures are viewed as unplayable. When the percentage of two mana creatures is low, it creates a scarcity because there is more competition for the best two CMC creatures.

One of the important factors in Avacyn Restored, for example, that drove the format to be so aggressive was this scarcity and competition for two drops. Decks that had the good two drops were just more efficient a better placed in the metagame. They would tend to generate a sort of snowball effect in the early game by generating tempo advantages that would keep the slower decks from ever being able to compete. This drove the competition for two drops to become even more fierce as the format progressed. One of the key principles that I have seen in limited is that draft formats are often defined more by what is missing than by what is prominent.

So how will this play out in Magic: Origins? In this set, we have some very powerful two drops at lower rarities, like Topan Freeblade, Consul’s Lieutenant, Dwynen’s Elite, Leaf Gilder, Undercity Troll, or even Shambling Ghoul. However, most of the other two drops in the format are very mediocre. This means that the competition over this group of cards will be particularly fierce in draft, and the deck that has multiple Freeblades and Undercity Trolls is going to be at a distinct advantage against other decks. When these decks fail to find efficient ways to interact in the early game, they will often fall apart when confronted with an aggressive deck that is backed up by a few pump spells or a little bit of removal.

I’m sure a lot of people making the mental connections and realizing that both of these examples were of formats that were known for being particularly fast. Even the other comparable format, Theros, was relatively fast and you couldn’t afford to mess around in the early game. I can only say that converted mana cost is one indicator, and there are a lot of other factors that made Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash into such fast formats.

Power and Toughness

Distribution of Power and Toughness Among Creatures in Magic: Origins

Average Creatures Stats in Magic: Origins

CMC

3.300939

Power

2.331021

Toughness

2.572914

P/T Differ

-0.24189

 

In this chart, we see the distribution of creatures at each Power and Toughness slot. The table shows the average creatures stats in Magic: Origins by rarity weight. The chart shows that power and toughness are nearly matched together at two, which is not something that we normally see. Usually we see toughness lag farther behind in the two slot and jump ahead for 3 through 6. In this set, we don’t see toughness jump ahead until 4. This means that the most common kind of creature combat in the format is for a 2/2 to attack into 2/2s. Most of the time, 2/2s will be able to attack and trade. It isn’t until turn four that players will be able to consistently put out creatures that can put an attacker in its tracks. After looking back through my spoiler analysis articles, the format I found that was most comparable with Magic: Origins was Gatecrash. Both of these formats show much tighter numbers for power and toughness from 3 to 6.

It does seem like these are deliberate design decisions. Renown is the major mechanic for Magic: Origins, and it wouldn’t make sense to make a bunch of Renown creatures at common and then make it impossible to attack. Instead, Origins is built so that creatures can usually attack, and will either trade or become renowned.

The most important stat in the chart is Power and Toughness Differential. This number simply shows the difference between the averages of Power and Toughness in the format. It is so important in my analysis because it has proven to be highly predictive of the speed of a format. It is very rare that the Power/Toughness Differential indicates a speed that is significantly different from the eventual speed of the 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.  

This is the first place that we see a significant indicator that Magic: Origins won’t be as fast as a format like Avacyn Restored or Gatecrash. Both of those formats that P/T Differentials that were closer to zero than -0.1. You can actually see a little bit of how this works when you look at the P/T Comparison chart. Basically, in the early turns of the game we’ll see people attacking and it won’t be easy to hold them back, but the midgame becomes much more defensive in Magic: Origins. There aren’t a lot of ways to stop effectively stop 2 drops in turns 2-5, but at that point the creatures become more defensive and there are more effectively ways to hold down the fort. Slower decks that are able to survive the first few turns are going to have plenty of opportunities to establish control in the midgame. That wasn’t necessarily true in AVR or GTC; when you hit the midgame, the aggro decks in those formats were getting a critical mass of tempo effects that would allow them to push through the last few points of damage, and midgame defenses were not up to par with the threats.

I don’t know how fast Magic: Origins is going to be. Obviously I only have a few data points that give us some indication about how the format might play out, but the data doesn’t give us a clear conclusion. It seems that the format will be faster than the last few formats, but it probably will be a touch slower than the fastest formats. I would guess that the format could fall between medium speed and above average speed, but it’s impossible to predict this precisely. I will say that this appears to be the kind of format that rewards players for being able to interact in the early game.

Removal

I recently wrote an article about the history of removal, in which I went through the expert level expansions since Invasion and noted the trends in the design of removal cards. I decided that I would start trying to add a section about the removal in the format to these articles. The charts above show each of the key indicators for removal, and then has three columns. The first column is for Magic: Origins, the second is for the historical average, and the second is the average for the most recent three years of sets. The idea is to give us an idea of how the removal stacks up historically, but also to compared the removal stats with the creature stats and see what we learn.

The first thing we is that Magic: Origins has a slightly lower than average amount of removal. I should note that the difference in total removal is a little less than one standard deviation away from the average, so the amount of removal in the set is not a tremendous departure from our normal levels. This set will have slightly less removal than a set like Fate Reforged or Journey into Nyx, but it falls about in line with the average for large sets like Dragons of Tarkir, Khans of Tarkir, Return to Ravnica, and Avacyn Restored.

The Converted Mana Cost for Magic: Origins falls very much in line with the current trends for removal with the average removal spell costing about 3.5 mana. This is higher than our historical average, reflecting the changes in removal to be more expensive. It is also fascinating to see that the average removal spell is more expensive than the average creature with 3.5 and 3.3 CMC respectively.

For toughness effecting spells, Magic Origins comes in with an average 2.6 effect, translating to about 2.6 damage or about –x/-2.6. This is about the same as the average toughness of creatures in the set, meaning that the removal spells deal about as much damage on average as the size of the creatures in the set, but it is worth mentioning that this is at a higher cost as shown in the CMC comparison. Furthermore, the damage dealing spells are slightly less effective in this set than our recent average.

In comparison, we also have slightly fewer restrictions on the removal in this set. The removal in Magic: Origins is more restrictive than the removal we saw in KTK block, but it is quite a bit less restrictive than what we saw in the previous two blocks. It’s easiest to see this reflected in cards like Suppression Bonds and Claustrophobia. While they are a little bit more expensive than historically similar removal spells, they still have a fairly wide range of effect. This is especially important because it makes it a little bit easier to deal with bombs.

As for effectiveness, we see Magic Origins coming in pretty far down on the scale. It does fall in line very well with the trends we’ve seen in historical averages, but the effectiveness of the removal in this set falls much more in line with a set like Avacyn Restored and Journey into Nyx and it comes in among the worst four sets in the past fifteen years in this category. This means that a lot of the removal in this set incapacitates a creature (like Suppression Bonds), causes a sacrifice Celestial Flare, or is merely temporary Separatist Voidmage. There aren’t many cards in this set at lower rarities that kill a creature dead.

The strangest thing about the removal in this set is that we see a significant difference in the relative card advantage of the removal spells. The current average is very close to zero, but the average Card Advantage from removal spells in Magic: Origins is closer to the historical average (which is still skewed low from the dramatic change in recent sets). This set is comparable to sets like Mirrodin Besieged or Ravnica: City of Guilds by comparison. Most of this card advantage is located at the Rare slot, such as with Hixus, Prison Warden, Willbreaker, or Gilt-Leaf Winnower, but there is also a surprising amount of uncommon removal that gives card advantage, such as with Cruel Revival or Sentinel of the Eternal Watch. On top of this, there is a significant decrease in removal spells that cost you an extra card, and at least trade 1 for 1. This will be very important in Magic: Origins because it is important to be able to trade 1 for 1 with renown creatures in order to provide a path for control decks to win against aggressive decks.

Renown

The most important new mechanic if Magic: Origins is the Renown mechanic. This mechanic is found in white, red, and green, and his has a profound impact on the way that Magic: Origins will play out. Fifteen percent of the creatures in the format have renown, but the percentage is closer to twenty-five percent of all the creatures in white, red, and green. Renown is a mechanic that triggers the first time that a creature with the ability deals combat damage to a player. The player then puts a number of +1/+1 counters on the creature equal to Renown X, and then the creatures becomes renowned. The majority of these creatures are not only good, but quite strong. Mostly, they already pass the vanilla test without renown, and they become incredibly strong after connecting once.

Most renown creatures have Renown 1, but there are a handful of green renown creatures with Renown two, most notably Rhox Maulers. Renown affects gameplay in a few important ways. First, it is an incentive to attack. Creatures with renown really want to hit a player the first time, because they go from passing the vanilla test to being incredibly efficient for their cost. This is another indicator that makes the format seem like it will be more aggressive; players want to get their renown creatures in. Also, we’ve already seen that there aren’t many good ways to hold back a creature in the early game, so Renown creatures will either get through or trade fairly regularly in the first five turns. Second, Renown is a mechanic that gives momentum to the aggressive player. Once a creature becomes Renowned, it becomes much more difficult to stop that creature from connecting and closing out the game. When Topan Freeblade is a 2/2 with Vigilance, you don’t feel like you are under immense pressure. But when it is a 3/3 with vigilance, you’re often going to have to double block it to kill it, which opens you up to a two for one from pump spells. It also makes it more difficult to deal with these creatures through toughness effecting spells. Third, renown creatures are less powerful in the late game. As I said earlier, most of them at least past the vanilla test, so they aren’t dead draws, but if your opponent draws them in the late game, they won’t be so overpowering.

All of these elements of renown contribute to make the format more aggressive, and I think that the format will basically be made of two different groups; the decks that are trying to get renown in the early game, and the decks that are trying to stop renown in the early game. Interacting with renown will probably be the most important strategic factor in the format. The renown decks want things that let their creatures get by similarly sized creatures in the mid game, and cards like Yeva’s Forcemage are great for this. The anti-renown decks wants to play things that can trade in the early game, and then also include spells that can deal with renown, either with cards like Disperse that reset the counters, Claustrophobia that incapacitates the creature, or Unholy Hunger that just kills it.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The biggest question that people have for me before the prerelease is “which color should I pick?” My answer is always to go with the color that you think you will enjoy the most. There isn’t enough data to make a great prediction here, and prereleases are also supposed to be more casual events where you get your fun on. With that said, I’ve also built about twenty simulated sealed pools in the format, and I find myself building white decks about 75% of the time, and the WG decks have been performing consistently the best, though with an admittedly small sample size. While green is my favorite color, I also know that I will have more fun at the prerelease if my deck is competitive, so I decided to go with white, and hopefully end up in a WG renown deck.

Here are my conclusions from the article:

            1.         Magic: Origins has a similar mana curve to sets like Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash. Like those sets, I expect there to be a scarcity of efficient two drops, which means that you’ll have to prioritize those cards a little bit more highly.

            2.         Most creatures in Magic: Origins fall around 2/2. This means that you will often be able to attack profitably in the early game, and early defenses will usually be inefficient or ineffective. There aren’t many ways to halt an early attack, but it is possible to set up an early trade.

            3.         Mid game creatures start to be more defensive. It seems that he set is made so that renown creatures will be able to effectively attack on most of the early turns, but that the anti-renown decks will be able to set up effective defenses around turn 6. For control decks, the key is to make it through those early turns without giving up too much advantage; for the aggro decks, it’s all about getting in early, setting up large creatures, and then using tempo spells to put your opponent off balance when they try to stabilized.

            4.         Removal is less restricted in Magic: Origins than the recent average, but it also tends to not kill creatures dead. However, this can be effective at dealing with Renown creatures by either making them unable to attack or by resetting their counters.

            5.         The removal in Magic: Origins also provides a little more card advantage than we are used to in modern sets. This is probably a design that is meant to help offset the early advantages accrued by the Renown decks.

            6.         Renown is the most important mechanic in the format, and it will probably divide the format into two main categories: the ones that are trying to get Renown creatures through and the ones that are trying to stop them. Interacting with Renown in the early game will be very important.

As always, thanks for sticking through to the end of the article. If you want to find more information from me, you can check out my blog at oraymw.wordpress.com. I’ve had some pieces go up lately that I am very proud of, and I also always link to the latest Ars Arcanum from there, and I’ll be providing a few extra details that didn’t make it into the article at that location. You can also follow me on twitter @oraymw for updates about when articles go live, as well as daily discussion about Magic and limited. Finally, feel free to leave any comments below, or drop me a line at my blog or on twitter. See you next time!

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