The Math of Magic, and Moving Decks Between Formats

Today, Jeroen answers a number of Magic related questions from readers and fans. He presents a handy mathematical crib-sheet outlining some probabilities of drawing cards at a certain stage of the game, and presents his ideas on moving a deck between formats. Plus, he answers the age-old question… just how do you pronounce his name?

That was a weird Pro Tour. I feel like we did pretty well, especially after some Day 1 jitters. In Day 2 we went 5-2, making for a fine record. In the end though, because of the massive amount of teams, this meant that we ended at a 9-5 record, and thus didn’t make a cent, let alone some extra points. We got one point… and that’s not a lot. This means I am still struggling, even after I feel we did well at the event.

I myself played WGB control, with the usual suspects and three Congregation at Dawn, which were awesome. No-one can really beat three Skeletal Vampires in a row. Terry Soh played RB, and posted the best record of us all, carrying the team. Ruud Warmenhoven played RGU control, which turned out to be a lot worse than we thought. He posted a horrible record, meaning that in the end my record was the team’s record. I won’t post the decklists here since there will not be any tournaments that will ever use this format, but if you really want the lists, email me (along with some questions) at [email protected], and I will post them in my next article. I also won’t be writing a report, since our testing was really short. We only tested between the three of us, and nothing awesome happened. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun, but it does seem too little to write a nice report.

I will now head straight in the questions, starting with a dude who’s first name reminds me of a brand new NBA champion – who, by the way, played like Michael Jordan on his best days.

Wade Buff:

One problem I encounter is determining the chance I have to draw something on a given turn, factoring in the X amount of card draw given I have X copies of something in the deck.

I know, for consistency, a good deck should run 4 copies of a given card, and have a total of 60 cards. This gives about 40% chance of seeing a copy of any given card in the opening hand. However, sometimes one doesn’t want to see a given card in their opening hand, so one runs 2 or 3 copies. This gives around a 20% or 30% chance of seeing one of the cards in the opening hand. If, say, you have 4 Compulsive Research and 4 Telling Time in the deck, how do you calculate the chance of seeing one copy of a given spell by say turn 5?


In a 60-card deck, we have…

2 Final Judgment
4 Wrath of God
4 Telling Time
2 Tidings

How do I figure out my chance of seeing a Wrath by turn 4 and Final Judgement or Wrath by turn 6?

Ah, the old statistics question. I have to admit that this is one of my weak points, and I am not really good at it, but luckily, I know some people that are. These people made programs like Magic Workstation or Apprentice, where you can easily enter a deck and figure out statistics like these. Here’s a little table with some easy-to-use statistics that might come in handy when playing a deck:

Number of Cards in Deck Draw in Opening Hand Draw by Turn 4 Draw by Turn 8

So as you can see, the chance of drawing one of your card drawing spells by turn 4 is pretty high: 82%. The chance of drawing a Wrath by turn 4 is 57%, and the chance of drawing either a Wrath or a Final Judgment is 79%. Note that you can’t add all these numbers easily, and it is best to use a program to recalculate all this stuff easily if you, like me, aren’t very good at doing math by yourself. If you have more questions, or if anyone else wonders about this stuff, look around on the Internet for the two programs I mentioned, or others like it. There is a lot of stuff out there that is easy to use.

Next is a question by Sam Berkenbile:

I have a few questions about testing for a big tournament, like the second Junior Super Series Nationals I will be playing. I know to put all the popular decks in the Gauntlet, but how should I go about testing against rogue decks?

Also, how should I prepare for a tournament mentally? It’s hard for me to test online, because I am usually a better player than my opponent and it is frustrating testing against an opponent who loses games on his own: I am unlikely to see a lot of that at JSS Nationals

Also, look out for my name in the near future, in Grand Prixes and such, because I’m stone-cold broken.

I have to admit, I haven’t met a lot of people that are just plain old broken by themselves, so I am pretty happy to get an email from one right now. I just hope this doesn’t mean you will stop working hard at developing your game, as hard work is still the most important thing.

No Gaunlets Allowed

As for your question: It doesn’t seem you really understand what a gauntlet is or how to utilize it. The way it works is this: when you start testing, you go on the Internet and search for decks that you feel are going to be played by your opponents. You build these decks without adding your own tech, or changing them significantly. Remember that in tournaments you will often play against more basic versions of decks, and you don’t want to taint your testing by adding spicy tech. This is what Mike Flores likes to call the Wakefield Error. Anyway, the collection of decks you build are what you will call the gauntlet, and these are the decks you will use to test against! The rule is that any deck you create will have to be able to beat most of the gauntlet decks, or at least have a solid sideboard chance/plan against them. This means that no matter what you are testing, you will always be able to use the same method, be it rogue or net-deck. Testing against rogue decks is almost impossible, since… well, you have no idea what they are (that’s the idea of rogue).

Preparing mentally is fairly tough, as each person does it in a different way. I usually just make sure I get enough sleep, and try and stay relaxed. There really is nothing special I do to get in the tournament mindset. The more tournaments you play, the more you will know what you will have to do to be on top of your game.

Finally, the old saying states that people are only as good as the people they play against, and this is definitely true in most cases. If you don’t feel you are getting the right level of competition, you will have to go out and find better opponents. You can’t trust test results when your opponents lose with any deck you give them, and you can’t improve this way. What I often do, when I think my testing opponent is screwing up a matchup, is make sure we switch decks every five or so games to ensure the matchup is actually tested and not biased by player skill. If you still feel you need to find better players to play against, try and get on Magic Online: it may be far from optimal, but it is still the best way to find good opponents anywhere in the world. History has proven that a lot of players have become good simply from playing MTGO.

The next question came from Ben Lorenz:

When I looked at John Fiorillo 8-0 sealed deck from GP Toronto, I was surprised to see the nine-drop Nullstone Gargoyle appear in the list. I would have always considered him chaff. What are your thoughts on including ultra-high cost spells (Blazing Archon, Storm Herd) in a Sealed deck?

When I got this question, the first thing I did was see what John himself had to say about the subject. John felt he could easily play the big flyer because he felt he had plenty of mana ramping and needed to be able to punch through in late games. I feel he is correct about this, and I feel that given a good amount of mana ramping and bounce lands, in plenty of Sealed Deck games the game will often drag out long enough for you to be able to use your expensive spells to break through. Sealed is a lot slower than draft, where cards like this will often be suboptimal. Also, in Sealed most decks will have more removal, meaning that more creatures will get killed, which leads to creatures that can win the game by itself being good. This guy fits that slot perfectly, as he even dodges most of the removal!

Note that this doesn’t mean I would automatically play this guy, or any other expensive card, in every Sealed deck… but John’s looked perfect for it with a good combination of ground stall, removal, and mana ramping. If your deck fits that bill, sure, play your Storm Herd. It will reward you.

Jay Hollingworth looked ahead to the Pro Tour and created the following list, with some questions:

I’m sure you saw Nick Eisel successful Standard Dovescape deck. What do you think about the move straight over to Block? Having to substitute insane cards like Shining Shoal, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Patron of the Kitsune with subpar Block cards is difficult, but I think it’s possible. Blazing Archon, Tolsimir Wolfblood, and Chorus of the Conclave can do the job. I’ve actually done it, and am testing.

Unfortunately it’s forced everyone into boarding Indrik Stomphowlers (which I think they should have anyway) and Absolver Thrulls. I won’t lie, Orzhov Pontiff hurts… For mana acceleration, I have Farseek, Birds of Paradise, and Wild Cantor (maybe replace the Cantor with Utopia Sprawl).

Do you have any ideas? Here’s my decklist

4 Birds of Paradise
1 Indrik Stomphowler
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Farseek (sub for Sakura-tribe Elder)
3 Selesnya Guildmage
1 Simic Sky Swallower
4 Wild Cantor (sub for Wood Elves)
2 Dovescape
1 Glare Of Subdual
1 Congregation At Dawn
1 Tolsimir Wolfblood
1 Chorus of the Conclave
4 Grand Arbiter Augustin IV (1 sub for Shining Shoal)
2 Blazing Archon (sub for Patron of the Kitsune)
4 Supply / Demand
4 Forest (1 sub for Okina, Temple To The Grandfathers)
1 Island
4 Plains (2 sub for Eiganjo Castle and Brushland)
4 Breeding Pool
2 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Simic Growth Chamber
4 Temple Garden
3 Vitu-ghazi, The City-tree

The first thing you should do when trying to convert an old deck into a new format is make sure that the old deck is useful in the new format. In Block, where people have fewer options and are sooner forced into the same mindset, there will be a lot of Stomphowlers around, as everyone who is Green will board the best Disenchant effect available. That, combined with the fact that there is no Heartbeat deck (the reason Nick himself said the Dovescape was in there for) means that the card Dovescape is simply bad in the block format.

Also, straight one-for-one trading, exchanging cards for cards that almost do the same things, never really works. The best thing to do is take the skeleton of the deck and find cards in Block that are good for your strategy.

Let’s take a look at a deck we used in testing, which is close to the exact same list Anton Jonsson used to go 13-1 at the PT:

As you can see, this deck clearly draws from Nick’s deck (though Rich Hoaen built it way before Nick did) and replaces cards that are good in Standard for cards that are good in Block. This is exactly what you want to be doing when you convert a deck. Cards that you can’t play in Block just need to go of course, but don’t replace them with inferior versions of cards that are good in Standard… No, replace them with cards that are good in Block. In a format where people love to have Mortifies, Putrefies, Chars – fast cards – you really don’t want to have cards like Blazing Archon and Conclave in your deck.

Pro Tour regular and famous StarCityGames.com writer J. Evan Dean sent me this:

How do you pronounce your name properly? I have heard four or five different ways.

I’m asked this question a lot… I guess that’s what you get for having a full-blown Dutch name that is not known anywhere else in the world. My name is pronounced Yuh-Roon Ruh-me. Not that hard, and pretty doable, except most people don’t know it yet.

Horny Jeroen

I also respond to every single way my name can be butchered, and even to my nickname, Heroin. Now you know the reason Mike Flores and Ted Knutson have often refer to me as the Yuh-roon Minotaur… gotta love those Magic jokes. Then again, people don’t really catch on quickly, and that’s why I will never give my real name in a restaurant. I opt for Jerry, Jay, or just plain old Gabe Walls.

That’s it for this week. Let me know what more y’all want to know, as I’ll be listening. [email protected] is the spot.

Laterz and love,