Superior Numbers – Do Dollar Duals Denote Domination?

Now Give Me Money, That’s What I Want

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I conduct numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using just a little bit of math.

One thing I’ve tended to do in the last year or so when having the Rule 0 conversation with strangers, is that in addition to discussing deck power and speed, I’ve warned them ahead of time of any expensive cards that I might be playing in my deck, especially if those are older, Reserved List cards not commonly seen at casual tables. My reasoning was basically that, since I personally assumed a deck running expensive cards is going to be strong more often than not, other people may assume the same. Because of that assumption, I wanted to reassure my opponent that just because I might drop a Tundra on turn one doesn’t mean the deck is an 8+ in power.

That assumption on my part is a false consensus effect. I shouldn’t assume that my “own behavioral choices and judgement is relatively common and appropriate to existing circumstances,” to paraphrase the linked article. Ideally, it would be nice to know if people generally made that same assumption that I did, but quantifying a consensus is really difficult, short of something like a scientifically sound poll. It’s also hard to evaluate a deck, itself, as powerful, especially using data just from one site.

What I’m left checking is whether or not expensive cards tend to indicate powerful cards in the deck. Since ABUR duals are the example I used and are a thing I often warn opponents of ahead of time, they seemed to be a good starting data point here. I’ll start with the three most expensive Revised dual lands in order from most to least expensive: Underground Sea, Volcanic Island, and Tropical Island. What I’m going to do is look at the most popular two-color commanders that could run those dual lands, and then check if a deck running their respective land are more likely to be also running other cards universally considered powerful.


Then Freeze That Verse When We See Dollar Signs

A couple of notes on this:

  • Aspects of a deck that I ofttimes see referenced regarding its power are the amount of fast mana it runs and the number of tutors and draw engines, so I’m going to look at those things.
  • I don’t want to wind up with too much cEDH data here, so I’m going to avoid cards that tend to show up primarily in that format. Demonic Tutor sees a lot of cEDH play, but it also shows up in plenty of Commander decks, so I’m going to use it as one of my measuring points. Demonic Consultation, while also powerful, tends to not see a lot of play outside of cEDH, so I won’t be using that.
  • Those two previous notes are in and of themselves perhaps a false consensus effect, since what I assume to be those markers isn’t necessarily what everyone else assumes those to be.
  • There will be some variance due to the commander; a commander with card draw baked in might run fewer of the draws spell I’m looking at, one in green might value rocks less due to the option to ramp lands, etc. There’s no perfect apples-to-apples comparison here unless I stay entirely in one color pair.
  • Given the price of a lot of these cards, we could also be looking at a price correlation instead of a power one, where instead of a card being considered strong indicates other strong cards, we might, in part, be seeing that a card being expensive indicates other expensive cards.

As Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow is the most popular two-color commander that could run the most expensive dual land, let’s start there. We have 3,214 Yuriko decks in the EDHREC database. There are 443, or 13.78%, with an Underground Sea and 2,771, or 86.22%, without one. Let’s look at how much of a signpost that dual land is for other powerful cards:

443 decks with Underground Sea 2,771 decks without Underground Sea
Cyclonic Rift 289 or 65.24% run Rift 1125 or 40.60% run Rift
Demonic Tutor 340 or 76.75% 597 or 21.54%
Force of Will 332 or 74.94% 272 or 9.82%
Mana Crypt 226 or 51.02% 127 or 4.58%
Mana Drain 223 or 50.34% 184 or 6.64%
Mystical Tutor 333 or 75.15% 1,289 or 46.51%
Necropotence 30 or 6.77 % 44 or 1.59%
Rhystic Study 228 or 51.47% 341 or 12.31%
Vampiric Tutor 347 or 78.33% 525 or 18.95%

 

There were also six decks with Underground Sea running all nine cards, and two running all nine without the Sea.

Okay, so what’s the takeaway here? Well, if someone flips over that turn one Underground Sea, they are more likely to be running other powerful cards. Not just a little more likely, either; all but two of the cards I checked show up in less than 22% of decks, and four are under 10%. Conversely, aside from Necropotence, all the other cards are in more than half of the decks with Underground Sea, and three see over 70% representation.


Grab That Cash with Both Hands and Make a Stash

Next up we have Niv-Mizzet, Parun as our most popular Izzet commander in the last two years with 2,723 decks in our database. Just to maintain some level of consistency here, I’m going to simply look at the cards from the previous list that would also work in this deck.

270 decks with Volcanic Island 2,453 decks without Volcanic Island
Cyclonic Rift 222 or 82.22% 946 decks or 38.57%
Force of Will 191 or 70.74% 152 decks or 6.20%
Mana Crypt 123 or 45.56% 45 decks or 1.83%
Mana Drain 151 or 55.93% 112 or 4.57%
Mystical Tutor 192 or 71.11% 898 or 36.61%
Rhystic Study 167 or 61.85% 625 or 25.48%

 

There were also 72 decks with Volcanic Island running all six cards, and 17 running all of them without the dual.

We’re not seeing anything different here when we shift colors to Izzet. You are radically more likely to see powerful cards in a deck running ABUR duals.


Dime, Quarter, Nickel, Penny, Ain’t it Funny How We All ’bout the Benji’s

Last, but not least, we have Tropical Island, and, as luck would have it, we can also look at the same six cards here as we looked at with Volcanic Island. Here, Tatyova, Benthic Druid leads our list of most popular Simic commanders, topping 2,128 decks.

349 decks with Tropical Island 1,779 decks without Tropical Island
Cyclonic Rift 271 or 77.65% 636 or 35.75%
Force of Will 121 or 34.67% 54 or 3.05%
Mana Crypt 131 or 37.54% 57 or 3.20%
Mana Drain 175 or 50.14% 66 or 3.71%
Mystical Tutor 203 or 58.17% 337 or 18.94
Rhystic Study 90 or 25.79% 258 or 14.50%

 

54 decks here with Tropical Island in the list ran all six cards, compared to just 4 decks running them without it.

As with both previous color pairs, we’re again seeing that a dual in a deck does indicate the presence of other bomb cards.


With a Briefcase Full of Money and a Pistol in His Boot

Next time around I’m going to try to remove cost somewhat from the equation and try to look at cards specifically under a certain dollar limit just to remove that as much as possible from the equation. My guess is that decks with blue ABUR duals still run Swan Song at a higher rate than ones without, and ones with white duals run Swords to Plowshares at a higher rate than ones without, etc., but I really don’t have the space to dig into that here.

Regardless, at the very least the data here certainly shows that if someone opens with an expensive ABUR dual land their decks are significantly more likely to contain absolute dropkick cards capable of changing the game. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m going to continue my practice of warning people I don’t know in lower-powered games that my lower-powered deck may still contain expensive cards. I’d rather give away too much info than have someone side-eye me for dropping a Tundra on the first turn in my Sphinx tribal deck.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, may your numbers be superior.

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.