Superior Numbers – War of the Stats

WAR – What is it good for?

Welcome to Superior Numbers, where I try to do numerical analysis on cards and deckbuilding trends using slightly more math and slightly less snark than in my usual column.

Slightly.

This time around we’re going to take a look at some cards from the recent set, War of the Spark, and see what information we can glean about their viability from the EDHREC Top Card lists. It’s one thing to say, “X card is playable,” but it’s quite another to try and see just how and why it may be playable. Let’s crunch some numbers.


War means tears to thousands of mothers’ eyes

Finale of Eternity, like the other Finales from War of the Spark, is designed to make you want to cast it where X=10. That’s great, and doing so may not be that difficult to achieve in a color with access to Cabal Coffers, various rituals like Bubbling Muck, and mana-doubling creatures like Crypt Ghast. However, it’s also not something you want to rely upon when evaluating a card. So what does casting X for a smaller number look like?

Looking at the most popular commanders on EDHREC in the last week:

  • X = 3 kills 4 of the top 20
  • X = 4 kills 10 of the top 20
  • X = 5 kills 12 of the top 20

If we move to looking at the most popular commanders of the last two years:

  • X = 3 kills 4 of the top 20
  • X = 4 kills 14 of the top 20
  • X = 5 kills 17 of the top 20

Lastly, the top 100 creatures of the last two years:

  • X = 3 kills 58 of the top 100
  • X = 4 kills 62 of the top 100
  • X = 5 kills 71 of the top 100

When their sons go to fight and lose their lives

Finale of Promise is also the kind of card that makes you want to cast it for a huge home-run swing, but as we’ve seen over the years with cards like Cyclonic Rift, there’s real power in flexibility. Here we’ll take a look at how many instants and sorceries Finale of Promise can grab from the EDHREC Top 100 most commonly played spells of both types:

  • X = 1 can target 20 instants and 10 sorceries
  • X = 2 can target 49 instants and 30 sorceries
  • X = 3 can target 83 instants and 48 sorceries

Now, those numbers are slightly misleading. For example, some of the most popular instants are Counterspells, but one of those isn’t going to do you much good when cast from your graveyard at sorcery speed. Similarly, there are some popular spells with X in the casting cost that would almost certainly be useless when cast with Finale of Promise. Thus, I went through the Top 100 cards again and manually subtracted all counterspells and any spell with X in the cost that would be useless if cast for free off of the red Finale. Looking again at our newly-filtered list of instants and sorceries:

  • X = 1 can target 17 instants and 10 sorceries
  • X = 2 can target 40 instants and 23 sorceries
  • X = 3 can target 73 instants and 43 sorceries

It ain’t nothin’ but a heart-breaker

War of the Spark’s Blast Zone has already made an appearance in Standard and Modern, so that seems to indicate it’s worth a look in Commander. So how effective is it, exactly? Well, it comes in with one counter automatically, but it doesn’t hit many targets if you play it and crack it immediately:

If you instead spend 2 mana to add a second counter before cracking Blast Zone, you can hit:

  • 0/20 most popular commanders in the last two years
  • 2/100 planeswalkers in the last two years
  • 12/100 enchantments in the last two years
  • 25/100 artifacts in the last two years
  • 12/100 creatures in the last two years

And if you instead spend 4 mana to get up to 3 counters, you can destroy:

  • 3/20 most popular commanders in the last two years
  • 12/100 planeswalkers in the last two years
  • 36/100 enchantments in the last two years
  • 25/100 artifacts in the last two years
  • 17/100 creatures in the last two years

So between using it with one, two, or three counters, you can potentially have the flexibility to hit the following:

  • 3/20 most popular commanders of the last two years
  • 14/100 planeswalkers in the last two years
  • 57/100 enchantments in the last two years
  • 59/100 artifacts in the last two years
  • 39/100 creatures in the last two years

Friend only to the undertaker

Ravnica at War is a conditional board wipe that exiles multicolored permanents. Presumably you’re going to most often see this in mono-white lists where it will never touch the mono-white player’s board while impacting, sometimes drastically, all players who are not also running mono-colored decks. So how effective is it, exactly?


Oh, war, it’s an enemy to all mankind

Bolas’s Citadel has already made a pretty huge splash in Standard, and to a lesser extent, cEDH. So how does it work in Commander at large, particularly in a deck not specifically built around using the spell as a win condition like you do with Ad Nauseam? Let’s look at how much life Citadel will cost you.

The easiest way to do this is to look at the average CMC of your deck, and just roughly assume that over a timeline you’ll on average lose that much life per card. If you don’t have your deck online or have an idea of your average CMC, we can get a rough idea of what the average player will pay per card by color groups:

  • Average CMC of top 100 colorless spells: 1.96
  • Average CMC of top 100 black spells: 3.99
  • Average CMC of top 100 white spells: 3.60
  • Average CMC of top 100 blue spells: 3.57
  • Average CMC of top 100 red spells 3.67
  • Average CMC of top 100 green spells 3.36

Assuming 36.35 lands per deck* (see note below), you should then be able to roughly extrapolate a breakdown of an average deck’s CMC. Looking at it this way, I think the correct bar for measuring Citadel generally isn’t as a comparison to Ad Nauseam but actually to Sylvan Library. If you’re willing to pay 4 life for a card from Library, Citadel will on average hit you for less life per card, and more importantly, will cast the spell for no mana. Through that lens, it provides a significant amount of value even in decks not built to abuse it.

*Note: EDHREC is now deprecating unchanged data older than two years, and the stat for Average Lands Per Deck is only for decks added or updated since Jan 1, 2019.


The point of war blows my mind

Despark is a new removal spell I covered partly in last month’s In the Margins column, but as it’s part of War of the Spark I think it’s worth looking at what it hits again:

  • 5 of the top 5 most popular commanders in the last two years
  • 9 of the top 10 most popular commanders in the last two years
  • 17 of the top 20 most popular commanders in the last two years
  • 62 of the top 100 most popular creatures in the last two years
  • 34 of the top 100 most popular artifacts in the last two years
  • 45 of the top 100 most popular enchantments in the last two years
  • 86 of the top 100 most popular planeswalkers in the last two years

Absolutely nothin’

Hopefully some of those stats give you an idea of how effective some of these new War of the Spark cards may be in Commander, but I’d also be curious to hear how your experience has been actually running any of them in decks. Per tradition, I’ll leave you with a decklist I’ve recently been working on, and which now features more than a card or two from War of the Spark. As always, if you have any suggestions for other topics to cover in a future Superior Numbers, leave a note in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Kresh Bloody Bombardment

Commander (1)
Creatures (21)
Instants (14)
Sorceries (21)
Artifacts (2)
Enchantments (5)
Land (37)

Dana is one of the hosts of the EDHRECast and the CMDR Central podcast. He lives in Eau Claire, WI with his wife and son. He has been playing Magic so long he once traded away an Underground Sea for a Nightmare, and was so pleased with the deal he declined a trade-back the following week. He also smells like cotton candy and sunsets.