Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Mythic Debate

@mtgaaron (Aaron Forsythe) sparked an epic debate against the Twitterverse this evening. It all started with the following two tweets:

Today I have read that Vengevine "should have been uncommon" and "wish he costed 1GG." Hrm.

Trying to grokk forum-poster desires for mythic. Is it: Card that reads really exciting but you never need to actually own? For dumb kids?

Obviously that sparked a riot. But the reaction was kind of predictable considering the above. Let's read some of the responses! I'm going to include funny ones.
@kellyreid: bloodbraid elf should have occupied the basic land slot and have been free. YOURE RUINING THIS GAME AARON.

@blisterguy: Jace and Baneslayer should also be uncommon, and hand delivered to my work daily. WTF Wizards

@mtgstorm: I would like to have awesome mythics, yet still be able to play competitively without them. This is more or less the case now.

@mulldrifting: i think ppl see vengevine as a staple card based on hw good it is; but its actually quite narrow

(yeah I'm quoting myself! I'm a narcissist!) 

@affinityforblue: "Mythic" must be interchangeable with "Timmy." Eg., "I just opened a FOIL Timmy Rare!! It's 20/20 flying trample for 9GGGG!"

@erkkisiira: Well the card seems a 4-of. In my opinion clear 4-ofs should be normal rares and mythics would be like 2-3-ofs. Like new Jace.

(except new Jace is actually a 4-of :/ and it's pretty obvious people think this is right)

@mtgcolorpie: We're learning in time what it feels like to be at Mythic. First impressions of flavor don't always make sense out of context.

@sunbyrne:  I think of mythics as being (1) Planeswalkers, and (2) cards that essentially read "game over" in limited.

(this is an interesting way of putting it -- this makes sense to me, but I feel I'm still missing something)

So then, @mtgaaron took it a step further and pointed out the following:

Looking at winning MTGO deck data, the best mythics are the 20th, 39th, and 47th-most-played cards in Standard. I think that's a good spot!

I don't know where to find that particular data, but I do know has a similar function, pooling all the Most Played Cards in its Standard decklists. Most of the lists are from Top 8's at various-sized tournaments. 

Baneslayer Angel is 22nd on the list. 
Garruk is 28th.
However, I don't see how this data is relevant. OBVIOUSLY Jund is going to take up all the top spots on the list. Jund doesn't run very many Mythics, and all its Mythics are below $10 each. Does this mean everyone should just run Jund, since it doesn't have Mythics in it? And it's cheap? No. But it's the best deck. Does that mean everyone should run Jund? No. Then there wouldn't be a metagame. 

Look at it this way. 

The two most played WHITE cards are Path to Exile (1930 copies) and Baneslayer Angel (1240). The top two BLUE cards are Negate (415) and Jace, the Mind Sculptor (357). That means, if you want to play other-than-Jund colors, you're probably playing Mythic rares that cost >$40 each. (Sometimes you'll want both of them in the same deck. Since UW is a popular color combination.) 

For professional players, this cost is not often a restriction. But for those borrowing cards, it's possible they fail to find copies available for a given tournament. I myself would be running UW Tapout if I had a playset of Jace, but I don't. And finding copies to borrow, for me, might be difficult. 

So, how much of an affect does the cost of Standard have an effect on the metagame? Would more or less people be playing Jund if the cost of Mythics was lower? It's hard to say. 

Certainly, I think more people should be playing the Mythic deck designed by Zvi. That deck is a very legitimate part of today's metagame. But few are willing to make the jump for the cards. The deck costs around $600. If it had larger representation, the metagame would shift quite a bit. 

If you're asking yourself whether you could make some key substitutes here and there to make it cheaper, I don't recommend doing that. (Unless you're replacing Rampaging Baloths with cards that are better against Jund. Although that barely reduces the cost overall. Thornlings cost the same amount.) All the card choices in it were made for a reason, so the maindeck doesn't have much room for change. The sideboard certainly does, and you could go without the Jaces there.

I think it's obvious Mythic should have larger representation than it does, and I feel it's entirely due to its cost. But what about UW Control? I think this deck is less affected by the Mythic prices but still somewhat affected. If one really wanted to play control, he or she would probably just resolve to get the cards. One way or another. But clearly it's affected the metagame at some level. 

To say that the cost of Standard has ZERO impact on the metagame is an ignorant thing to say. Economics always has an effect, whether you see it in front of you or not. To say that "it only matters what the top players bring to a tournament" is also ignorant. Top players have to fight off all kinds of decks in the initial rounds. What decks they face will determine whether they make it to the next levels. Sometimes sheer volume of a deck will result in a Top 8 appearance. 

In order to test how much of an effect cost has on Standard, we would have to equalize all the costs of each deck. What would happen to Standard if the Jund deck, the Boss Naya deck, the Mythic deck, and UW Control all cost the same amount? Do you think Standard would change significantly? I think it would. Jund would still dominate, of course, but it's possible the basic structure of Jund would change. I also suspect more people would move away from Jund, just because they could afford other cards. The metagame would shift, and it would be clearer to see which cards were truly the BEST cards in Standard, not restricted by availability or cost issues.

However, all of this seemed irrelevant to Aaron's initial discussion point -- what makes a Mythic mythic? Should Vengevine be Mythic? To me, I don't care. As some Tweeter mentioned, it was mostly based on flavor and what people subjectively thought Mythics should be. Which could make it anything! 

But the larger and more tangible concern is the cost of Standard Mythics. How do we play with planeswalkers and Baneslayers in Standard and not kill our wallets in the process? One answer is to have equally powerful (or more powerful) cards that simply aren't Mythic. Provide other options in those colors that perform similar roles. Not lame, budget substitutes. But ACTUALLY better or equal in power. 

There are other solutions I can think of, none that Wizards would like very much nor be willing to carry out.