Take It, Part One

They Can Take It, But Not Dish It Out: Toughness and Magic 2014 (Part One)

by: CML

1. The Great Wall of China

It’s a time-honored tradition to be curmudgeonly and say that sets, after spoilage and before release, look “kind of lame” — but word on the street here in Seattle, trickling from The Castle Wizards HQ like so many Messages from the Emperor, was that Magic 2014 limited was actually bad. Given that there have been any number of bad limited formats that Wizards has said were not, I found this candor more ominous than refreshing.

Seraph of Dawn

What’s Liliana’s favorite font family? Sans Seraph!”

Yet they can afford to make M14 somewhat bad, since Magic is still spinning skyward, and my friends will in any case draft compulsively. No format has held my attention for its full tenure since Magic 2013, with sets like Gatecrash and Avacyn Restored compelling me to do only a few FNMs or Modo drafts. A few weeks after M14’s release, it looks like said set is headed in that direction. There are several reasons why — Blue is too strong; the removal is bad; Slivers are not my favorite — but I wanted to focus on one design choice I feel is connected to all the others: the creatures have too much toughness.


2. Stonewalling

In all of Magic history, toughness has always been bigger than power:

Wall of Stone

I like big butts, and I cannot lie.”

Old sets always came with dumb cards like this, and the classic old-Limited board-stall is one important consequence. Blocking can’t happen without attacking, and is therefore a creature’s secondary function; yet it was seen as so essential around the turn of the century that Shadow was costed as a drawback.

Soltari Visionary

No blocks.”

Magic has 1,183 creatures with power exceeding toughness, and 1,587 with toughness exceeding power (there are 4,245 creatures with “squared stats,” power equal to toughness). Here at RiptideLab we’re greatly interested in how subtle, quantitative adjustments can dramatically change the feel of a Limited format, so I wanted to pursue this finding further.


3. Toeing the (Number) Line

We’ll convert that ratio of 1183 / 1587 to a decimal for easier comparisons — it’s roughly equal to .745 (remember that this includes all the very old sets that weren’t made for drafting). With the rise of Limited and the creature, you’d expect the ratio to veer towards 1. Eventide, my favorite set, has 19 / 22 = .863. Magic 2011, my favorite core-set Limited environment, has 20 / 23 = .870. Alara Reborn is the one set I found where there were more creatures who could “dish it out” than “take it,” with 21 / 20 = 1.050.


Esper Stormblade

You say Blue mages are (rules-)lawyers? You’re damn right I’m suing Martell for use of my likeness.”

Modern Masters, a beloved format, has 20 / 20 = 1.000. In Zendikar the ratio 22 / 27 = .815 seems to favor the defender; however, the landfall mechanic made it notoriously difficult to block, and the annihilator triggers in Rise of the Eldrazi (19 / 38 = .500) also favored the aggressor. (Though, to be fair, RoE was designed to be slow, and 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn are better windows than doors.)


Jaddi Lifestrider

I was a 2/8 after creatures with big butts were cool.”

Yet in the last year the trend is dramatically different. Return to Ravnica has a ratio of 29 / 37 = .784, nearly as low as the historical one. Gatecrash, which had very few stalls, actually has more “tough” creatures than all of Magic put together, at 26 / 36 = .722. Dragon’s Maze has 20 / 29 = .690, which seems appallingly low until you crunch the numbers for Magic 2014 and find its ratio is 16 / 27 = .593.


Wall of Swords

Don’t bring salad tongs to a sword-fight …”

Next week, we’ll look at the implications of such a number for M14 limited.


Thanks for reading!


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