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83K Games of Battle for Zendikar Limited Analyzed

Practice makes perfect because it lets you draw on past experiences to influence present decisions. But how many applicable past experiences can you recall for any given decision you've had to make in a game of Magic? I may not remember the six times that I drew and cast Grip of Desolation, but I at least remember some of those times and know I should take the card highly in draft.

What if you could draw on other people's memories and experiences to improve your play? That'd be a huge advantage! Today, we present another installment of this mind-meld process — a huge compilation of statistics. I'll try to pull out some of the most interesting and useful portions of the ~83,000 games of data brought to us by our friend, Rolle. Be sure to check out the full statistics page for Battle for Zendikar and the individual card win percentages before continuing.

Format Speed

Desolation Twin [BFZ]Clutch of Currents [BFZ]

"I feel the need. The need for speed." -Maverick

Battle for Zendikar falls on the slower side of normal at 9.7 average turns. It's between triple Khans of Tarkir (9.8) and Fate Reforged-Khans (9.6) in terms of average number of turns before the game ends. For comparison, the previous triple Magic Origins games had an average of 9.1 turns.

Games often feel like they start out slow, and a card like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is ambitious but not uncastable. However, the presence of Haste creatures in White and Blue due to Awaken makes many games feel like they're just one strong play away from ending. I like the tension between the two speeds the format provides.

Top Colors and Archetypes

Snapping Gnarlid [BFZ]Roil Spout [BFZ]

"It's not easy being green." -Kermit the Frog

  • Green is bad, as many people have noticed. Of the ten 2-color archetypes, Green is played only about two-thirds as often as the other combinations while still winning 10% less on average. Green is already played much, much less than the other colors and is still somehow overdrafted relative to its power level.
  • Blue is good. White-Blue and Blue-Red are the premier archetypes in terms of win percentages, with Blue-Black and White-Black in the next tier. The final non-Green tier has Red-White and Black-Red.

Individual Cards

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger [BFZ]Retreat to Coralhelm [BFZ]

"Never tell me the odds." -Han Solo

Let's talk about the win percentages of individual cards played. It's worth reminding everyone that the data-capture process cannot see cards in hand, only cards cast. This means cards only cast by a player when he or she is winning will have inflated win rates. See Swarm Surge's and Inspired Charge's high percentages. Expensive cards also face that same problem of only being cast when a player has survived to cast them. The Likely Win % column helps mitigate this by taking into account the likelihood of being able to cast the spell in question.

The cards that led to the highest and lowest win rates are Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Retreat to Coralhelm respectively. Ignoring 9-10 drops, the Planeswalkers Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Ob Nixilis Reignited clinched the top spots. Kiora, Master of the Depths didn't appear among the top fifty, given her lower power level and the fact that she requires playing (or splashing) Green.

The most frequently cast card was Eldrazi Skyspawner, which showed up almost twenty-thousand times and beat the second place Clutch of Currents by 9%. The least cast card was Crumble to Dust which showed up a mere twenty-five times in the sample data.

Kitesail Scout and Lavastep Raider are among the most overplayed creatures, with Voracious Null being pretty poor as well. Akoum Stonewaker, a creature I thought was pretty fine, managed to have a sub-50% win rate as well.

Winning-est Creatures

Guardian of Tazeem [BFZ]Drowner of Hope [BFZ]

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." -Mark Twain

  2 CMC 3 CMC 4 CMC 5 CMC 6 CMC
Common Kalastria Healer Eldrazi Skyspawner Courier Griffin Kalastria Nightwatch Tajuru Beastmaster
Uncommon Forerunner of Slaughter Drana's Emissary Ulamog's Nullifier Tajuru Warcaller Angel of Renewal
Rare/Mythic Fathom Feeder Wasteland Strangler Akoum Firebird Guardian of Tazeem Drowner of Hope

Creatures are the easiest to evaluate using win-percentage-when-cast since they have the fewest restrictions as to when it is good to cast them. The two Green Allies in the table above are more likely to be cast by a player who is winning which, I think, is how any Green cards managed to sneak into the table.

Eldrazi Processors, which are unlikely to be cast until after the player has hit their opponent with an Ingest creature, are also likely candidates for having win rates higher than one might expect.


"Th-th-th-that's all folks!" -Porky Pig

So now that you've been bombarded with some dense information, and perhaps have taken some time to look at the statistics pages on your own, what's next? What did we learn that might change the way we draft?

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