Allure of the Unknown - Introducing Hipster Dragon Highlander
(Stirring Bard | Art by Raluca Marinescu)
One of the difficulties Magic R&D faces when designing cards is the tension between making powerful, exciting, and playable cards, and the possibility of making cards too good, too flexible, and too generically powerful. You may recall the recent critique of Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines.
"As we on the Rules Committee (RC) have repeated with some frequency, we believe cards being generically good is a net negative for the format. While it can allow deckbuilders, as I mention above, to explore multiple different types of strategic or thematic lines, the flip side to being generically good means it introduces a sameness to many of our games.
The mechanical upside of being generically good is efficiency. That costs us in other ways. Once we get to the point of, “If you’re playing white, there’s no reason to avoid playing Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines” (or insert card name), we’ve reduced our effective deck size by one more card. When twenty or more of our cards have been decided before we actually start building the deck, we’ve headed in a dangerous direction. We’ve sacrificed creativity on the altar of efficiency. That’s good in formats which privilege the mechanical. It’s a contrarian position in Commander."
To the extent that EDH is a format with one commander, one Sol Ring, and 98 other cards, it reduces the heterogeneity that can make the format so appealing. The EDHREC Top Cards page lists format staples, the top 100 most-played cards each appear in (about) 1/6th or more of eligible decks. To some extent, this is just a matter of probabilities - some cards are always going to be more played than others - but as time and set releases progress, and power creep inexorably advances, the number of auto-includes in a given color combination will only tend to increase.
To that end, I propose a voluntary deckbuilding restriction/metric that I'll call the Hipster Quotient. There are many different reasonable ways of approaching the same concept, but I'll suggest the following:
A deck's Hipster Quotient is the sum of the proportion of all recorded EDH decks in which its constituent cards (excluding basic lands) appear.
So, consider Sheldon Menery's Phelddagrif deck recorded at Archidekt, here. Sol Ring appears in about 83.7% of all current EDHREC decks; Reliquary Tower in 27.2%, Swords to Plowshares 25.8%, etc. So, that deck's Hipster Quotient is 83.7% + 27.2% + 25.8% ... + 0.0% (Equal Treatment), which comes to 457%.
Do It Yourself
How can you calculate this for yourself? One option would be to use EDHREC to find the number of decks in which each card in your deck appears, then divide each of those by the total number of decks on EDHREC (almost 1.9 million as of today), then sum those percentages.
OR, you could use the Hipster Dragon Highlander App that I built!
I hope it's fairly self-explanatory, but you can input your decklist by URL (Moxfield or Archidekt) or by manually pasting the decklist, one line per card, along with the commander. Then hit the Update button, and your deck's Hipster Quotient will be calculated and presented.
You can take a screenshot of the "Hero Image" of your commander's illustration superimposed with your "MTGDS Certified" Hipster Quotient, and present that to your opponents as verification of your deck's relative ubiquity or obscurity.
One idea is to agree with your playgroup to a HipQ cap, build decks that fit under that cap, and play games on equally obscure footing. If you want essentially no cap, 1500% should be sufficient; if you want moderately hip decks, I'd suggest something like 500%. If you want something truly obscure, try 150%: you'll likely see a bunch of cards you've never seen at the table before!
For reference, I looked at a large sample of decks in the EDHREC database, and found the following Hipster Quotient percentile values:
You might naturally wonder which commanders lend themselves least and most easily to building in a hip way? Well, here are the ten least-hip commanders, by their average decklist:
The "ubiquity" column is that commander's mean Hipster Quotient %; ubiq_cards are the most-played × most-ubiquitous cards for that commander, and hip_cards are the most-played × least-ubiquitous cards for that commander. In general, the ubiq_cards lists are not very interesting.
On this unhip list, even the hip_cards are themselves not that hip. Lots of lands, ramp, tutors, and staples. Things get more interesting when we look at more hip/obscure/unique commanders:
Kari Zev, Skyship Raider runs a large number of single-target burn spells, Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant reaches deep into the well of land tutors, Demonlord Belzenlok runs an unusually-high rate of cards with MV ≥ 4, etc., etc.
But these "average decks" aren't the ones you're likely to build if you're trying to adhere to a Hipness cap. You can play any commander this way: Atraxa as a -1/-1 Counter deck, Lathril with no Elves, any commander with a Hapax 99....
I do want to note that while ubiquity correlates with power level, the two are not synonymous. During your Rule Zero conversation, reporting your Hipster Quotient does more to describe your deckbuilding philosophy than your expected competitiveness. That said, sometimes it's just nice to see something new at the table. If WotC is going to print 1,992 new Commander-legal cards in a year, you might as well put some in your decks!
Thoughts? Questions? Critiques? Suggestions?
Let me hear them! Please tell me if you try the App, or if you run a pod with a Hipness cap: I want to hear how it works, both technically and at the table. In fact, I would love nothing more than for you to send me your screenshots at @mtg_ds on Twitter.