The metagame of Standard(T2) and Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Written by derflippi on April 23, 2011
Players always want to figure out how to win. They want to maximize their chances of winning. One important choice along the way to improving those chances is what deck you chose. However, you cannot choose a deck in a vacuum. The optimal deck depends on the metagame. To reiterate: it's a bad idea to bring a knife to a gunfight. I have separated this article into six parts:
1. Why is Standard (T2) so interesting at the moment?
2. Magic-league's Metagame
3. A look at the most-played decks.
4. Other decks
5. Is Jace, the Mind Sculptor too broken?
6. The moral of the story
1. Why is Standard(T2) so interesting at the moment?
There have been many major Standard events recently, such as Pro Tour: Paris, Grand Prix: Barcelona, and Grand Prix: Dallas. However, the season is far from over. National Qualifiers, Nationals and the Pro Tour Qualifiers for Pro Tour: Philadelphia still remain as events. We're only in the middle of the season. There exists enough information to go one step further than just a prognosis of the metagame. On the other hand, too much has happened to draw the picture of the metagame and evaluate the decks easily.
Pro Tour: Paris brought Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas to the surface. Jace, the Mind Sculptor has always defined the format. The question is how the metagame has evolved since then. It is probably best to find an answer about the true strength of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the current metagame.
Day 2 of Grand Prix: Barcelona was dominated by Caw-Blade, though Valakut, Red-Blue-Green and Mono Red were also played. Boros, Vampires, Emeria, Naya, GW Quest and UB Control were not played too much. However, UB Control still made two Top 8 appearances.
Grand Prix: Dallas had 32 Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the Top 8, which was composed of four RUG and four UW Caw-Blade. UB Control could not repeat its success from Spain.
My aim is to find out the best deck of a metagame. In a single tournament, the best deck is often one of the top ranked decks of the tournament. The best deck of a whole metagame would be the one deck with the best scores on average. I believe a deck that wins one 100 man tournament and places 0-3 drop ten times in the same tournament is worse than a deck that places 5th,6th,7th,8th,9th, etc. Why? Variance made the deck win the tournament. The one winning deck most likely faced easier matchups and had more luck. On the other hand, the other deck shows a consistent record; it's good on average.
2. The metagame of magic-league
With the data of all 150 Standard (T2) decks of the time frame between GP Barcelona and GP Dallas, I am able to find out what the best deck of the current metagame is. First, I pictured the metagame: what decks are played how often. With the metagame in mind, I'll analyze the win percentages of the decks.
Let's see how the metagame looks in detail. Here are the plain numbers of the latest metagame:
For this article, I consider the top 6 most-played decks as Tier 1 decks. Decks played by less than 1% of the players are not taken into detailed analysis and the other decks are considered Tier2-decks.
The only number I find surprising is the frequency of Mono Red and Vampires. Without Jace the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystics, they still seem to compete. Mono Red is probably the best budget deck to play because it does not have major results from real life tournaments, yet is the second most played deck. The one deck new to scene is UB Infect. Here's an example list:
A different, very worrying number is the number of decks with Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the metagame. I drew the following diagram to demonstrate the percentage of Jace, the mind Sculptor against Goblin Guide, Primeval Titans and Kalastria Highborn:
Whenever a single card causes major uproar in the competitive scene, Wizards of the Coast considers a ban. They banned Survival of the Fittest and they are aware and pondering about Jace, the Mind Sculptor as explained here: http://www.wizards.com/magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/ld/138 . If Jace, the Mind Sculptor is banned, then 50% of the metagame will have four open deck slots!
Survival of the Fittest, Skulllclamp and Memory Jar not only all share that they were staples as Jace is now, but that they were also resilient cards to any kind of hate. A look deeper into the metagame via the results of all of the matches will hopefully bring some answers as to whether Jace, the Mind Sculptor is really "broken" or not.
To analyze how well a deck performs, I use two basic approaches. First, the most intuitive way to analyze a deck's performance is to check the number of matches it has won against the number of matches it has lost. A deck with a quota of exactly 1 has 50:50 matchups on average. The other idea is to have a look at the conversion rate of the deck from the metagame percentage to the percentage of won matches: MetaGamePercentage/(WonMatchesByDeckA/AllWonMatches). This values won matches in later rounds a bit higher and discourages drops.
Obviously, variance applies, so therefore I don't look at the decks barely being played. Also, comparing a deck that got played by 10% of the metagame with a deck that got played by only 4% is difficult, which is why I split the deck analysis into two parts.
3. A look at the most played decks.
First off, each of the Tier 1 decks, UGR Control, Gr Valakut, Vampires, UW Caw-go, MonoRed Aggro, and UB Control, is better than average. Unlike previously when Jund was around, where UW Control won only 1/3 of its matches, playing one of the Tier 1 decks is never a really bad idea. The best of the already prevailing decks is UGR Control. It was played by around 9% yet won more than 11.5% of all matches. Mono Red and Valakut have similar results, while UW Caw-Go shows no real improvement. It was played by 13% and won 13% of all matches, which is not very exciting.
Here's a list of the deck:
4. Other decks, waiting to be played.
When it comes to the many Tier 2 decks, the percentages are less close to each other. Here I have to specify that the numbers are also not as accurate as for the Tier 1 decks because the sample size is smaller. For a better overview, I cut the table to the most interesting numbers here:
Most decks are not very promising. UBR Tezzeret was said to have a good matchup against CawBlade, which explains the positive conversion rate. Especially Dark Caw-Go, which splashes black for Inquisition of Kozilek and Go for the Throat, has a very low winning quota. I admit it feels like a good deck, but the data prove it's not. Having a good mirrormatch at the cost of a worse matchup against everything else is not worth it.
With conversion rates of 1.63 and 1.47, Elves and Emeria clearly are very good decks. Jund never reached this number in Standard (T2), nor did Faeries in Extended.
Due to the high rates of Elves and Emeria, I'll post an example list for each deck.
5. Is Jace, the Mind Sculptor too broken?
I previously talked about the ongoing discussion regarding whether Jace, the Mind Sculptor needs to be banned in the Standard (T2). The blue Planeswalker makes it into 50% of all decks. There definitely are answers, however. The most promising Tier 2 decks don't even play blue, and UB Infect also does not play Jace TMS. Having a look at ALL of the decks, I can say Jace, the Mind Sculptor does not make those decks overpowered.
Summarizing all decks to compare the decks using Jace against the ones that do not use it provides clear data that Jace is not overpowered. It is surely a good card, but this last piece of information makes it obvious that it's far from making decks broken. At the moment, when many players fight Jace TMS at any cost, I believe it's a better idea to play something without Jace. No, not Jaceless Caw-Blade.
6. The moral of the story.
The recent metagame is not easy. The power level of the Tier 1 decks is very close while there's also promising Tier 2 decks. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not going to get banned because it does not make decks broken. Playing one of the most played decks is not a bad idea; however, I suggest playing Elves or Emeria as they have a higher potential.
Until next time, there will be a next time, become a better player by playing on magic-league.com, the home of tomorrow's mtg-stars.
by Lynolf on 2011-04-23 15:39 CET
Wizards should hire you!
by Teknolink on 2011-04-23 16:05 CET
90% of magic-league players does not know how to play jace, thus the jace = win percentage is lower than expected.
by nopenopenope on 2011-04-23 16:44 CET
I agree with Linkman, control deck are just harder to play than Monored, vampires or elves. I still think Jace is overpower and should be banned, but it is a very interesting approach you bring.
by P_P4E on 2011-04-23 16:46 CET
jace basically led me to quit playing IRL. Can't buy them, no deck without them is competitive (you're kidding yourself if you think it is). It's not like the rest of either of the tier 1 decks are affordable either. If it was "just jace" then I might have a shot, but jace + cobra + 8 fetch lands + yayaya or 2 sword 4 stoneforge etc... It's impossible.
by derflippi on 2011-04-23 16:52 CET
90% of magic-league players does not know how to play jace, thus the jace = win percentage is lower than expected.
by jonwayne on 2011-04-23 17:03 CET
If you want to win a tournament, you will have to beat at least two competent jace pilots. It's not exactly rocket science to use jace correctly anyway. Stop retard clapping over free brainstorms and start winning the game with fateseal and exile some libraries already.
by Kabelis on 2011-04-23 17:18 CET
"Summarizing all decks to compare the decks using Jace against the ones that do not use it provides clear data that Jace is not overpowered"
by Mitchmachine on 2011-04-23 17:35 CET
by Wyr on 2011-04-23 18:20 CET
CMA-Flippi and Linkman, would you kindly explain how to play Jace?
by Tao on 2011-04-23 18:29 CET
you fateseal with jace when you're the beatdown. you use the bounce and brainstorm when you're not......
by maps on 2011-04-23 20:07 CET
you cant argue that decks like monored or vampires are better than cawblade. you can, however, argue that playing a deck like cawblade requires much more decision making on the part of the player playing it, much of which comes with a great deal of practice with the deck. although its advantageous to be good with monored and vampires, ofc, many of the plays are linear, and many of your wins are totally linear. cawblade (and other "jace" decks) generally require a great deal more foresight, which players here just generally do not have.
by Terri on 2011-04-23 20:12 CET
you have to avoid such scenarios like play jace, get countered and opp plays his jace. theres actually always a way to prevent this. if your hand is already good enough and you are ahead on the board so just fateseal otherwise brainstrom til you die. the ability i most used, after i even played jace, is the bounce ability. it puts the opp almost everytime so far behind. but that experience only comes from UB control so idk how to use jace correctly in other decks. but you can easily figure it out by making thoughts about how your following turns will shape and how your opponents turns will do. there you also have to differentiate whether your opponent is a good player or rather less.
by pg8 on 2011-04-23 20:41 CET
That picture of Kalastria Highborn makes me want to play vamps.
by riledhel on 2011-04-23 22:56 CET
great post, would love to see more articles like this.
by xJudicatorx on 2011-04-23 23:18 CET
As common as Jace is, he is not nearly as prevalent as bitterblossom was when it was in standard. And he is not nearly as gamebreaking as skullclamp. Considering the expense and difficulty of acquiring cardboard copies(which WotC is well aware of I'm sure), I doubt they will ban him. No one will quit because a card that rotates in 6 months isn't banned, but several people will quit if the card they spent 500 dollars on a playset of is banned.
by GreenBear on 2011-04-23 23:19 CET
That ven diagram was awsome
by Blancoke on 2011-04-24 00:15 CET
Quote Linkman: 90% of magic-league players does not know how to play jace, thus the jace = win percentage is lower than expected.
by Foots on 2011-04-24 00:37 CET
Taking the results of the entire % of the meta that plays Jace is insufficient to conclude its true power level.
by jonwayne on 2011-04-24 00:48 CET
@blancoke obviously................ that's just the best way to put it into words without saying "well ya gotta know what's going on in the game". you can't count on people to assess board states correctly.
by badgerigar on 2011-04-24 02:14 CET
The problem with Jace is that it is so expensive, not that it is as broken as skullclamp. In real life, only 10% of your opponents will play Jace, no matter how good the card is. This means that building your deck to beat it is a bad idea, as you will simply lose to one of the other 90%. As a result, jace decks dominate FNMs and the meta never adjusts to them. this is why banning jace is a possibility
by on 2011-04-24 03:30 CET
Nicely written article. Agree or disagree, it's good to see some numbers and a bit of research included.
by P_P4E on 2011-04-24 03:31 CET
valakut decks dominate FNM, actually. Jace decks do pretty badly there. Not counting pilot, obviously.
by Bushviper on 2011-04-24 07:53 CET
Common Flippi, I got 35th with elves in Dallas and you use CalebD's list. :(
by Blancoke on 2011-04-24 09:51 CET
badgerigar, this is really not true. Where I live, starting from all mediocre players everyone has acces to 4 jace.
by DonDiggy on 2011-04-24 10:20 CET
Where's the Deal? In current Meta we have three Tier1-Decks (RUG, Caw, Valakut). Two of em use Jaces, one doesnt. And the one not using Jace has the best overall Matchup in current T2. So no, Jace cant be overpowered.
by rupus on 2011-04-24 13:15 CET
I think it's silly to recommend Emeria or Elves over Cawblade, RUG or Valakut. Also, Cawblade is not nearly as skill intensive as everyone seems to make it out to be. Just because you play blue doesn't mean it's any more difficult to pilot then, say Jund of yesteryear. Say all you want about how awesome and diverse standard is right now, but really there's little reason to play anything that's not Cawblade and I only see that getting worse with NPH. I can't stand standard right now (not because of the price, I own Cawblade. I just find it super boring playing mirrors all day every day) but luckily Legacy is nice and diverse right now.
by jonwayne on 2011-04-24 15:13 CET
powerful =\= efficient
by pg8 on 2011-04-24 17:26 CET
Unban Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero in Masques Block, Wizards!
by maps on 2011-04-24 18:09 CET
cawblade is really skill-intensive, else the best players wouldnt win when the field is full of it.
by JeZeus on 2011-04-24 21:19 CET
Cant help but feel tons of magic players have low self esteem and ego issues. Everyone wants to play the 'best' deck and to claim to be a more 'skilled' player. . hate to break it to you but every deck requires you to be a skilled player if you want to win with consistency. Winning has nothing to do with the best deck, it is about knowing which of the best decks you need to win a tournament with, and to have played it enough to not make simple and avoidable mistakes.
by Strid3r on 2011-04-24 21:44 CET
nice article, i agree with most of it although it seems a bit biased,
by Teknolink on 2011-04-24 21:55 CET
by JeZeus on 2011-04-24 23:20 CET
Ok, I will agree that Valakut is the most linear deck. I just wanted to make a point in saying every deck has a strategy, and you try to implicate it, doesn't mean the deck is 'simple'.
by rupus on 2011-04-25 01:08 CET
T2 faeries didn't need any skill :/
by derflippi on 2011-04-25 01:28 CET
32 Jace in today's Standard Master. Crap!
by xJudicatorx on 2011-04-25 04:36 CET
32 preordain as well, anyone want to ban that?
by rupus on 2011-04-25 05:06 CET
I feel obliged to point out that 3 people from the master top 8 said that T2 was boring and the rest didn't seem thrilled with it. I think people saying that Cawblade is super awesome and skill intensive and the format is teh roxxorzz are the people who are losing when the format isn't so one sided.
by xJudicatorx on 2011-04-25 05:31 CET
Of course t2 is boring - there is a single deck that is significantly stronger than anything else. UB Control, RUG Control, and various spashes on the primary deck have made appearances, but in all honesty they are tier 2 decks. UW Cawblade is currently the ONLY tier 1 deck. The real fun right now is going to be looking for the deck which beats CawBlade without scooping to everything else.
by [paradox] on 2011-04-25 22:44 CET
That diagram is AWESOME :D
by Halldir on 2011-05-13 01:31 CET
its not only about the jace (mean current meta) but also about the way the wizards made cards in recent sets... for many strategies, there was new and new cards, on the other hand many cards looked kinda well but we missed something that will make them t1 deck, like new Tezz for example...
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