Preparing For GP New Jersey 2020
I made the decision to play this event on the 14th, just 10 days before the Friday PTQ. I didn't know when GP NJ was or what format it was until then. Allen tweeted that he intended to host a $100 buy in pioneer tournament the weekend of release so I was online rallying the ancestor's with my friend Alejandro's pet deck. It was pretty sweet. The subject of the GP came up when he tried to recruit Duan to sleep on his couch for the event. Duan turned him down, but I got in on that. Also much money was put down on Predictit on the question of how many democratic candidates would say the word impeachment during the debate. I believe all of them did.
Anyway, I pivoted from trying to figure out pioneer to studying up on THD sealed. Because of the proximity of the event and my crunch for time I adopted a different approach to preparation. Instead of actually playing the game, I would study up and try to understand what was good from first principles. As a mathematician my primary method by which I try to understand the world is thinking really hard. And mtg is a domain where I feel there is too much of an emphasis on results, playtesting and statistics. I think playing is a good way to get better but a bad way to understand. I get the sense I have a long blogpost within me railing against statistics, machine learning, science and experimentation. All these words which distract from an actual understanding of the world and replace it with mere prediction.
Back to my methods. Luckily for my analysis, last sealed format, ELD, I had made a script, you can see here, which imported all the cards into a google sheet. I made it in order to do some analysis of archetypes but at that time I used up all my preparation time just making the script. This time I was ready to roll. If you're interested in doing similar analysis yourself you can copy the script to a blank spreadsheet and change the three character theros code to the code for any set. You can find my analysis spread sheet here. Feel free to leave comments about your opinions of cards. In fact feel more than free. I feed on your opinions. Share them with me.
The first thing I did is reorder the commons in order of my perception of their quality. The primary benefit of this isn't to actually build a pick order. It's just to think in terms of comparisons and to help me actually learn what the cards do. Another benefit of interacting on this at the level of spreadsheets is I suspect actually looking at the art biases my perception of card quality. The next thing I did was to actually produce some analysis. You can see this in the archetypes tab. I computed the as fans for various effects. Often I look at the uncommons and rares for the limited themes but this is a big mistake because what actually determines the themes are the commons. This is my first time doing this more quantitative approach. Some issues are:
- I don't really know what the typical as fan of a well supported limited archetype is. If I do this many times with sets I also play I hope to eventually become well calibrated to this though.
- Just like with eld where I spent so much time importing data I never got around to analyzing it, I took some time figuring out how to do some of the simpler things so I never got around to computing more complicated statistics.
- I didn't weight rares and mythics by their different incidences. I sort of made it more difficult for myself by putting rares and mythics on the same sheets. I don't think this'll effect the as fan by very much but it is a methodological error.
Even with those caveats there are some observations one can make:
- Over a third of cards in an average pack are enchantments. I figured that disenchants would be playable, but in fact they seem to be quite excellent. Of course there are other things to consider: the omens and sagas get some value before you can destroy them. That's about 0.5 of the as fan. The cycle of common vanilla creatures are fantastic targets. That's another 0.5. Only the instants get to really punish auras. But even so I think you should play as many of them as you have access to. Return to Nature may be the best green common (though in my initial assessment I ranked it 4th.
- The BR sacrifice and GR ferocious deck both seem pretty well supported with as fans of 1.
- Constellation is only a minor theme. Something I didn't realize just from looking at the spoiler is that Black and Red have zero constellation cards. White and Green have the most with two commons each but only Nexus Wardens actually seems good to me. Captivating unicorn is okay in the intersection of aggressive and constellation but it's still a 5 mana 4/4. The uncommon, Nessian Wanderer, seems like the real payoff to the archetype.
- Devotion isn't really a theme. White has one common which wants 2 pips and black has grey merchant and a six drop. A corollary of this is that there aren't disincentives to splash built into the mechanics of the set. Many of the best uncommons, like the cycle of demigods, are double pipped so unsplashable. But the best common removal in red, white and black all seem like cards I'm interested in splashing. Green has two common fixers. There are also two common artifacts and a land that fix. I hypothesis more than half of green sealed decks would do best to splash 2-3 cards in other colors. I also think 5 color green is a possible draft strategy.
- Playing on your opponent's turn isn't much either. At common there's the cost reduction naiad and arena trickster for one common in both red and blue. Note my spreadsheet's regex for this archetype isn't as clean as for the others. For instance I know it doesn't count naiad so U's as fan should be increased by 0.1. The main payoff for being in this archetype seems to be holding up wind drake and cancel on turn 3. I wonder if the four mana counter spell is actually a good playable in a sufficiently vexing deck. There's a weird tension between the sorcery speed, 3-4 mana payoffs, and the flexibility payoff of being able to hold mana for multiple spells. But I suppose the awkwardness of cancel isn't that it's costly to hold up on turn 3-4, but that when you're tapping out for your 5-6 drop you don't have cancel up for their removal or bomb.
- Mill is a BG archetype not a UB one. Though U has three uncommons which say otherwise. Green has a good common and better and more escapists.
I've done a few other things to prepare:
- I listened to the LR podcast. I've never done this before but I think its actually pretty helpful. LSV and Marshal mostly don't give deep insight but they have good report so its fun to listen to. Previously I've flipped through the spoiler or random set reviews to learn the cards. But the audio format is pretty helpful for two reasons. It lets me prepare while walking to campus. And it forces me to slow down and actually spend 15 seconds to a few minutes on each card. I also appreciate that they split up commons and uncommons from rares. Looking through the spoilers I tend to spend more time looking at rares than commons because there's more to grok and they're more interesting. I don't think my mind ends up well calibrated for what I'm likely to see in a game of limited.
- I read Sam Black's article on SCG courtesy of a friend. I liked it. I would like to respond to his dichotomy of ranking verse synergy: For sure if your goal is to have a ranking which you follow very closely during draft you're leaving a lot of potential on the table. But as a memory aid to remember all the commons I think going through the exercise of ranking them is very valuable. And a ranking combined with a sense of which lower cards are archetype roll players is a very helpful thing to have under your belt when looking at a pack.
- I sectioned off the instants and flash cards on my spreadsheet to memorize. I haven't done this yet but I plan to on the flight. The cycles of omens, auras and interventions will aid with memory a bit but that still leaves 26 cards to recall.
- I quickly built some pools on sealed simulator. I wish in real life there was color and rarity sort and the ability to save multiple decks.
- I started fasting and played a lot of volleyball. Gotta be physically ready for some long tournament days!
- I wrote up this blog post! Often in life my real goal is some internal state of mastery. But producing external artifacts, like this blog post, the spreadsheet, or the script is really helpful. It gives one concrete subgoals. This helps with motivation since you both have something to do, and you get a sense of having accomplished something. I need to incorporate more of this into my mathematical life. Maybe I'll write up a math blog post someday.
That's it for things I have to say about NJ preparation. There's too much magical content in the world already so I don't expect to write anything about the event itself unless something really interesting happens. Wish me luck!