Friday, 12 July 2013

Aggressiveness in Magic 2014

One of the things that you need to know to draft a format well is how aggressive it is. This is something that people usually talk about in terms of how it feels to play, so it's something that they figure out over the course of playing the format. When I was trying to understand the difference between Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica, I did an interesting little bit of analysis that may be worthwhile or may be complete hogwash.

What I noticed in Gatecrash was that the format was considered very aggressive but the creatures people were being aggressive were weren't all especially high quality.  Obviously Wojek Halbrediers is heck of a two drop, but some of you'd see decks that were very aggressive where the backbone of the aggression was formed by cards like Gutter Skulk, Metropolis Sprite, and Basilica Screecher.  These are not the most potent attackers ever printed at two, but it felt like in Gatecrash if your opponent got an early advantage they could ride it to victory.

I think there are a number of reasons why this happened.  The most obvious and frequently cited is that the creature abilities were very offensively oriented, but I think there was more to it than that.  One factor was that two drop creatures had higher average power than in other sets.  Another was that three drops weren't very good at blocking two drops so it was easier to keep up early aggression when your opponent had plays.  How much of this applies to Magic 2014?

Can Three Drops Block Two Drops
Looks like you are taking two.
In Return To Ravnica if you look at just common creatures - and only at those that typically make the decks that draft them - and ask what happens when a two drop attacks into a three drop, things don't look great for the two drops.  The two drop can successfully attack through about 23% of the time, another 53% of the time it will either bounce off or trade with the three drop.  That leaves 24% of the time when the attack is just a suicide mission.  Gatecrash has starkly different numbers.  Two drops can attack past three drops 31% of the time, and are only forced to stay home 16% of the time.

In Magic 2014, a two drop get past a three drop unblocked about 29% of the time.  So you are more likely than Ravnica but less likely than Gatecrash to see 2014 situations like the one illustrated here.

Power of Two Drop Creatures
That's a big two drop.
Gatecrash had two common two drop creatures with three power, another that could be pumped to three power for mana, and another that would usually have three power when attacking on turn three.  The average power of two drops in Gatecrash was 1.9, or just over 2 if you count Oculus as a 3/5.  By comparison, Return to Ravnica had an average power of 1.8 for two drops.  Magic 2014, on the other hand, has a very low average power of 1.6.  Creature that get through are hitting for less.

Abilities that Encourage Attacking
You don't see a lot of abilities that encourage attacking on two drops in Magic 2014.  If you are spending your mana, Capashen Knight wants to be on the offence, but lower power, higher toughness creatures like Angelic Wall and Seacoast Drake as well as cheap creatures that can be effective later in the game like Deadly Recluse and Corpse Hauler make it seem like Magic 2014 is not about dangerous turn three and four attacks.  Even the most very aggressive Goblin Shortcutter may not encourage early attacking.  A turn two shortcutter likely wastes the trigger completely and doesn't attack well into many two or three drops.

Not Many Cheap Creatures
Magic 2014 has a very low number of two drops compared to other, similarly sized sets.  It has 249 cards compared to Return to Ravnica's 254, but it has only eight two drop common creatures while Ravnica had eleven.  One of those eight is Dragon Hatchling which usually doesn't help your board a lot on turn two, and which didn't see a lot of play it's previous incarnation.  If most two drop common creatures see play in the draft, that means each player at the table can score about two two-drops from their commons instead of the average of three in a more typical recent set.  This has the potential to make the format more capricious and aggressive - if one player gets a large share of the two-drops then others may have trouble keeping up.  But given the quality of three mana creatures in Magic 2014, even a player with no two drops should be able to defend themselves against many early assaults.

Conclusion
Overall I think we should expect to see Magic 2014 being a much less aggressive and more mid-range format than Magic 2013 was.  The two mana common creatures don't appear to be able to get a lot done, and even the most aggressive of the two mana uncommons is less dangerous than a Flinthoof Boar or a Crimson Muckwader.  The four mana common creatures, on the other hand, are very powerful.  Magic 2013 didn't have anything like a Rumbling Baloth or a Charging Griffin.  The difference between gatecrash and Magic 2014 might be illustrated thus:
Taking 1 is a lot better than taking 8
With the slower early game I think there is good reason to stock up on as many of those nasty four drops as you can get.

Since my participation in Magic is mostly restricted to watching it online, I probably won't get to see how this pans out until August.

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