Superior Numbers - I Played 352 Games of EDH in 2019
We Are the Champions, My Friends
I played 352 games of EDH in 2019, and we're going to talk about that.
That's a lot, right? Especially for an adult man with a family and a full-time job, neither of which I've been neglecting. I'm sure they're both fine. It's a lot of games. That said, it's not the sheer number of games that I want to talk about.
I primarily play once a week on Tuesday nights and generally get four or so games in during that window. Multiply that by 52 weeks and right there we're looking at 208 of the 352. Add in multiple all-day sessions at multiple MagicFests, and we get to 352 pretty easily. So the number itself isn't of much concern. Much more concerning to me is the win rate of a couple of the decks.
Don't get me wrong, winning is great. I love winning. It's why I have green in my decks. (Zing.) However, I want to win because I've played an even match, and one of the reasons I kept track of these stats for 2019 is to see if I was, in fact, getting even matches. Based on the results, I'm not entirely sure that I was. Let's look at the breakdown:
|Arvad the Cursed *||3||2||1||66.66 %|
|Djeru, with Eyes Open||31||11||20||35.48 %|
|Glissa, the Traitor||33||8||25||24.24 %|
|Isperia, Supreme Judge||15||5||10||33.33 %|
|Kresh the Bloodbraided||45||20||25||44.44 %|
|Mina and Denn, Wildborn||13||8||5||61.54 %|
|Reki, the History of Kamigawa||46||22||24||47.83 %|
|Sigarda, Host of Herons||12||6||6||50 %|
|Talrand, Sky Summoner||30||10||20||33.33 %|
|Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts *||4||2||2||50 %|
|Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor *||8||4||4||50 %|
|Vela, the Night-Clad||96||43||53||44.79 %|
A couple of notes:
- Decks marked with * are ones that I built and took apart because I didn't like them for whatever reason, hence the limited number of games
- 77 of the games, or 21.88%, were three-player
- 12 of the games, or 3.41%, were five-player
- I removed a dozen or so games from the list above where I was playing with someone else's deck, or with a precon, etc. This list is entirely decks I built.
- I didn't specifically mark whether games were at my LGS or at a MagicFest/CommandFest, but there wasn't a noticeable win differential depending on location, based on best-guess eyeballing my game dates.
So why is the win rate an issue? Well, assuming four equally matched decks and four equally matched players, a person should have a win rate of about 25% in a four-player pod. Kresh with 44.44% win rate, Reki at 47.83% and Vela at 44.79% all strike me as a problem. (Yes, Mina and Denn won 61.54% of games, but 13 games is a pretty small number, so I'm okay ignoring that statistic.)
No data set is perfect. In a three-player pod, all things equal, you'd expect to win 33% of the time, and, since I did play about 20% of my decks in three-player pods, that does skew those numbers higher. Plus, the reality is that there are no 'even' matches. Some decks match up better against other decks, and some players just play better - in fact, that's what makes 1-on-1 Magic and the pros in particular so much fun to watch. I'm not a particularly skilled Magic pilot, but I think it's fair to say that writing and podcasting about EDH for 10+ hours a week probably gives me a variety of small edges.
Still, anything north of 40% seems like it may be a problem. I'd like my decks to be closer to the 25% win rate that you'd expect from a four-player pod.
And We'll Keep on Fighting 'Til the End
I want to try and contextualize the victory count for these decks. Are they winning because they're playing oppressively powerful cards, for instance? Let's take a closer look at them.
If I go through the EDHREC Top 100 card list I have the following 14 matches:
- Sol Ring
- Beast Within
- Demonic Tutor
- Rampant Growth
- Chaos Warp
- Blasphemous Act
- Phyrexian Arena
- Sylvan Library
- Chromatic Lantern
- Rhythm of the Wild
- Assassin's Trophy
- Heroic Intervention.
That's 14 out of 54 possible Jund-aligned cards from the Top 100.
Comparing my decklist to the EDHREC Salt List, we only see one hit: Doubling Season.
That doesn't tell us too much, then... what about the next deck?
Here, there are no entries on the Salt List, and only seven cards that register on the Top 100 card list, out of the 32 mono-green-eligible cards that appear there:
- Sol Ring
- Beast Within
- Lightning Greaves
- Rampant Growth
- Sylvan Library
- Heroic Intervention
Alright, well, maybe we'll find more out in the next deck?
Here, we again have seven cards in the Top 100 cards, out of the 31 Dimir-eligible cards on that list:
- Cyclonic Rift
- Fellwar Stone
- Dimir Signet
- Demonic Tutor
- Mind Stone
- Talisman of Dominance
- Fact or Fiction
Again, that's one entry from the Salt List: Cyclonic Rift.
You Brought Me Fame and Fortune and Everything that Goes With it
What's my takeaway here? Looking at much of the above, I can't help but think that the card pool isn't necessarily a problem. I'll note that I've been playing the game long enough to be fortunate enough to have mana bases that include ABUR dual lands, though I don't play off-color fetch lands, and while dual lands are extraordinarily cool piece of cardboard, plenty of budget mana bases can show up in decks with super-high win percentages, too.
That leaves two other options: deck synergy, and playstyle. (And to be clear, when I say 'playstyle' I don't mean 'skill.' Sit me across from a pro, even a pro who's playing their first game of Commander ever, and we all know who's winning that game!) Naturally, this makes things trickier to examine, but we're going to anyway!
Let's begin with deck synergy. This is immediately a difficult thing to 'fix' to help bring the win rate down to a more comfortable-for-everyone percentage. Why? Because synergy is the most fun part of the decks. Not only that, but synergy is interwoven into every single card. None of my decks contain infinite combos, but if they did, this solution would be easy; remove tutors, or remove combo pieces. Kresh just has Demonic Tutor, Reki has Finale of Devastation, and Vela has Demonic Tutor and an Inventors' Fair.
If these cards were causing game-winning combos, it would be pretty easy to remove them and instantly drop the power level to the range I prefer. That's not the case here, though; I really just use the tutors to find some removal spell for some threat across the board, or to find something like a Mystic Forge to establish a good draw engine. It's hard to remove a piece of a synergistic deck when they're all cogs in the machine, meshed together but spinning independently.
Second is playstyle, which encompasses a lot of small details that add up to one bigger picture. For instance, I tend to play fairly innocuous commanders; I built Arvad, the Cursed, for example, and I play Mina and Denn, Wildborn instead of the famous cards like Omnath, Locus of Rage. When I bust out Djeru, with Eyes Open, other peoples' eyes do indeed open wide in surprise, because they know what they're about to see is gonna be some excellent jank.
These commanders don't generate a lot of threat when compared to lots of the other big-name heavy hitters out there. I'll also hazard a guess that not only do my commanders not necessarily generate a huge threat, but I myself don't appear to generate threat either; I'm a fairly chatty person when I play, for example, and even my posture is more of the leaned-back laissez-faire, rather than the lean-forward stance we associate with focused gameplay. EDH is a format that rewards under-the-radar decks that don't draw attention to themselves, which I wager has allowed my personal style of play to thrive.
So okay, that's all well and good, but if the goal is to bring the win percentage of these decks in line with the traditional average... what can be done? There's not exactly a lot I can do about the way I play; the laid-back atmosphere of EDH is exactly what drew me to the format in the first place, after all!
All I really can do is address the decks. Though they didn't have too many members among the Top Cards, and extremely few cards on the Salt Scale, they're the easiest solution. I'm starting off 2020 by taking out a few of the biggest beater cards in each of the decks. (Depending on when you read this, those changes may not yet be marked in the decklist links from above, which may be kept intact for the sake of the article upon release.) One example will be Rite of Replication in my Vela, the Night-Clad deck, a combination that uses the legend rule to cause tons of damage to opponents. I didn't log all the of the game-winning cards from each of my games throughout 2019, but I do have at least four games in my notes where I referenced Vela winning via a kicked Rite.
I'll also be taking out stuff like the Demonic Tutors, too. A little less consistency is, after all, exactly what I'm looking for. Another example is Umezawa's Jitte, which I'll be removing from Reki, the History of Kamigawa. A great legendary card for the guy, but also a little much. While I'm at it, I'm making sure to get rid of Veil of Summer from that deck too, a card that was even banned in Standard. It's less of a blowout card in EDH, but it, as well as the gameplay it promotes, are the exact type of thing I'm veering away from. Who knows, Cyclonic Rift may have to go, too!
I don't want to sabotage the synergy of the decks, since again, that's what makes them fun to play. And maybe a few cards don't make a huge difference in a general sense. Still, I'm hoping that taking some topflight cards away from each of these decks is enough to get the ball rolling to shift things in right direction.
I plan to continue to log games in 2020 as well, checking in at the halfway mark to see if I need to shave other top performers off the top of each deck.
Next, I think I'm also going to start communicating the win rate of the decks to other players as part of Rule 0 conversations. A thing my logged game data can't account for is meta and power level, so this is a personal change that I hope prevents me from ever accidentally overpowering other players, since my decks are performing better than I believed they were. If as a result, people over-correct and pull out something stronger that I can't deal with, well, so be it. I'd rather provide more information than not enough. The community has largely done a good job adopting Rule 0, so this strikes me as just a natural addition to that conversation.
I Consider it a Challenge Before the Whole Human Race, and I Ain't Gonna Lose
It was absolutely worth my time to log my games last year, and I suggest anyone who plays a lot of EDH do the same, so you have the chance to look back and see if you're comfortable with where your decks stand on the power scale. It's easy to assume you know just how they line up against those you're playing, but there aren't a lot of ways to verify it. This experiment has given me a little insight into just how strong my builds are, and helps keep me accountable to the ways I prefer to play, so I can make sure I walk the walk instead of just talking the talk.
Do you have any suggestions for what kind of stats you'd like me to log along with my games in 2020? Have you ever logged your own games? Was there any insight you gleaned from the process? If so, sound off below!