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Wins Above Replacement

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

Wins Above Replacement

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings! Today, I’m going to write an article that ISN’T about Blue Black Faeries! Instead, I’m going to talk about another topic near and dear to my heart: Baseball Statistics and how they relate to Magic. My goal for this article is to explain how Baseball’s numbers game can explain Limited pick orders and help improve your drafting approach. In order to begin, I’d like to introduce the statistic I’ll be talking about. For any of you who are fans of Baseball Sabermetrics (Scouting by Statistics, for the uninitiated), you’ll likely be familiar with my all-time favorite statistic: WAR. This stands for Wins Above Replacement. Essentially, the WAR statistic showcases how many extra wins a given player provided for your team when compared to the average player at that position for that year. For those of you who are interested in the WAR stat, you can find more information on it HERE. In essence, WAR shows in real games how much each player improves the whole roster of the course of a year. WAR is very often the foundation of my arguments when deciding which players are truly the best in their field. If a SINGLE player can add 10 wins to their team in a year, that is the difference between a playoff berth or selling off your roster at the All-Star break. For me, Barry Bonds is far and away, the greatest athlete of my generation and his Wins Above Replacement in the 3rd highest of all time, behind only Babe Ruth and Cy Young. Bond’s WAR for every year he was in baseball led to 152 extra wins for the teams he was on. In essence, WAR is a representation of how far above average someone is. This is incredibly meaningful from a Magic perspective.

Many of you, I’m sure, listen to Limited Resources’ Set Review at the beginning of a new set before the pre-release. Limited Resources uses a letter grade system to dictate the individual strength of cards. From here, LR is able to begin to quantify the value of a card as it relates to other conclusions we’ve made in the past about limited. For example, A’s are a shorthand of the bombs: the superstars, the Barry Bonds of each set. B’s represent the foundations: veterans, rookies, the leaders in the clubhouse that got you to where you were, or perhaps the cards that led you into the colors you picked. C’s are your average cards and the ones that will usually make your deck. The real minutia of these decisions comes from examining where these cards relate to each other. In other words, how one card compares to its counterparts. Baseball does this through the WAR statistic and some Magic players take it even further by producing pick orders. Frank Karsten is probably the most well-known player to put out a consistent pick order with each set. What Frank does is rank each card in the set in a relative best to worst in order to dictate how much better card A will be for your deck than card B and with this information, we can begin to piece together how to make the best possible deck. This means that in a draft and in a sealed pool, we can utilize these ratings to produce the best possible portrait of which cards will yield the most wins.

When looking at someone else’s pick order, what gets lost is the actual experiences that they had with the card and how they contrast with your experiences. The beautiful and frustrating thing about Magic is that it can’t offer us the ability to empirically show that one card is factually going to behave a certain way because the specific in-game situations we all experience are almost never the same. While we can easily use statistics like Power, Toughness, Activated Abilities and Converted Mana Cost to shortcut how we think a card will perform, each person plays Magic differently and for that reason they should not sleep on compounding the specific knowledge they’ve gained to produce the most accurate pick order they can. Think about just how impactful this can be: if you know that you’re drafting the right cards, saving the right cards for the wheel, putting yourself in the right colors because the highest cards on the pick order are coming from those colors, you’re decks are going to be better and full of better cads. Building off of this, consider how much better your deck gets when you’re able to swap your 21st-23rd cards from C- and D to C+ because you’re in the right spot and can determine which cards will be most impactful! In essence, you’re increasing the WAR of your limited decks. Every time you can increase the value of your maindeck or accurately determine when to draft sideboard cards over your 24th and 25th playable, you’re adding to your win percentage and giving yourself the best chance to win this tournament and the tournaments after that.

With Pre-releases already upon us, now is the best time to start building those pick orders and doing everything you can to hone in on which cards matter. When you’re playing this week, think about what power and toughness numbers are key in your matchups, which tricks are blowing you out, which colors are full of the most powerful cards, and which cards surprise you in the set. These are the details that are going to give you the edge. Being able to find those details is going to be an important part of the puzzle when putting together a pick order. While it’s best to come up with a personalized list that highlights your unique approach to formats (ie: I have a preference to Green and midrange creature decks), the easiest way to start is with someone else’s work so you can more acutely see the differences you have. When building these lists, my suggestions would be the following: Aggressive creatures, cheap removal, ways to catch up, and efficient tempo swings. Until next time, thanks for reading!

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