Looking at Limited Pointing, Part II

Posted in Latest Developments on February 19, 2010

By Tom LaPille

Tom LaPille makes things. Some of the things he makes are card sets, like Dark Ascension and Born of the Gods. Sometimes he makes stories, too. Sometimes he makes unexpected things, like 16th-century Japanese clothing. He's probably making something right now.

Hello! I'm back. Thanks for treating my fellow developer Erik Lauer so well during his guest column last week. He's the man behind our new and improved pointing system, and I hope you enjoyed both his perspective and the chance to use the system he built. This article won't make much sense if you didn't read last week's column first, so I encourage you to go back and do that if you haven't yet.

I struggled a lot with the pointing system we used before Erik's new system. Although Erik presented it for contrast, he didn't ask you to use it like Aaron did the last time we ran this kind of exercise. It has many logical problems, and even though Erik pointed them out, it's hard to understand just how strange the old system was without trying to play by its rules for a little while.

A few months after I started working at Wizards, Erik was tasked with fixing the pointing system. Although I wasn't inside his head while he was thinking about it, he did talk to me quite a lot about his thoughts. From my perspective, the first key realization he made was that the system needed to have clearer context for the ratings it produced, and avoid considerations of "if I am playing this color" so that the system didn't normalize itself for color balance.
Using the idea of adding your card to a random Sealed Deck solved both of these problems cleanly, and also casts the question in a way that any Magic player can think about answering quickly. There is no system to learn; there are only benchmark card values chosen by the lead developer and the question "Which of these two cards would you rather add to your Sealed Deck before you open the rest of your cards?" It's simple, clean, and kind of beautiful.

    Limited Pointing Exercise

Let's get into the details of the pointing exercise. Overall, you did a fantastic job. First, I'll remind you of the benchmark values from last week:

Now, I'll go card by card, giving your rating, Ramp;D's rating, and my commentary on how close the results were.

Abyssal Persecutor

You: 3.1
Ramp;D: 2.8

You thought this card was a little more powerful than we did, but not by a ton. After playing against it at the Worldwake employee Prerelease, I think you might be more right than we were!

Chandra Ablaze

You: 2.5
Ramp;D: 3.0
Ramp;D liked this card an awful lot. This amuses me in hindsight, since it requires such a heavy commitment to red to be awesome that I doubt it rates a 3.0 by the Sealed Deck metric. Perhaps we forgot our own system here. I think your rating is probably close to correct, although I might call it it a 2.4 to clarify that I would rather have a Searing Blaze.

Eldrazi Monument

You: 3.2
Ramp;D: 3.3
Well done! I expected that this card would trick you, but it turns out you didn't let that happen.

Felidar Sovereign

You: 2.8
Ramp;D: 3.0
Once again, well done. I do think that you underrated this card just a little bit, but the difference is pretty small.

Grappling Hook

You: 1.7
Ramp;D: 2.4
Most Magic players undervalue Equipment in Limited, and that was reflected here. This card is expensive to cast and equip, but it can rip apart an opponent's team with the "provoke" ability. I think Ramp;D went a little high on this card—I'd call it a 2.2 now—but I definitely want one of these in my Sealed Deck before I want a Wind Zendikon.

Graypelt Hunter

You: 1.6
Ramp;D: 2.3
All right, we need to talk about this. Four-mana 3/3s are just fine in Limited, and adding trample puts it a good bit in power past Wind Zendikon. However, this creature is quite often a 4/4 or bigger, which is a great deal for only four mana. I don't think that pushes it in power past Searing Blaze, but if you're playing by the rules this is definitely somewhere between 2.1 and 2.4. I think I'd give it a 2.4 now.


You: 2.6
Ramp;D: 1.8
Wow, you guys think this card is much stronger than we do. I think there are two reasons. First, this card is very fun to do tricks with with. Whether it's a surprise +4/+4 to a landfall creature or exiling creatures out of nowhere with an Admonition Angel, Harrow makes you feel smart when you use it. The other reason is that you all seem way more willing to splash this card than we are. As a rule, splashing for mana fixing is not a great idea. Any benefit you would get from doing so is mitigated by the inconsistency you add to your deck in the first place by splashing. I'd be willing to consider the idea that this card is better than Wind Zendikon, but it is definitely not better than Searing Blaze.

Heartstabber Mosquito

You: 2.1
Ramp;D: 2.1
Very nice. Not a lot to say here.

Hedron Crab

You: 2.0
Ramp;D: 1.4
This card was a little unfair. Many of you in the forums complained that pointing does not accurately convey the value of this card, and you're right. That is, however, exactly why this card is great for Magic. Sometimes you can build a mill deck and it's awesome for you, and other times you don't and it is terrible. This variation in power level means that the game changes from draft to draft. However, your job wasn't to accurately measure the power of the card; it was to play the pointing game by the rules we set down, and I don't think this is as powerful in a random Sealed Deck as a Wind Zendikon!

Join the Ranks

You: 2.3
Ramp;D: 1.9
Yeah, you got a little greedy here. Triggering your Allies as a surprise is quite valuable, but inside Ramp;D we'd still rather have a Wind Zendikon than this. Four mana is a lot to pay for two 1/1s if you aren't getting interactions with other cards, and you won't always have those interactions.

Kor Skyfisher

You: 2.6
Ramp;D: 2.4
You're a little high, but in the ballpark. Having 2.5 immediately in between these numbers is lucky, because I can ask a simple question. Is Searing Blaze better, or is this? We think Searing Blaze is slightly stronger. You said Kor Skyfisher was slightly stronger, which I don't think is correct, but isn't totally insane either.

Living Tsunami

You: 2.5
Ramp;D: 3.0
My first instinct was to say that you had underestimated this card by a lot, but in hindsight I'm not sure if you're closer or we are. I'm confident that I'd rather add this card than a Searing Blaze to a random Sealed pool, but I think the difference may not be as large as I thought it was. I think now I'd give it a 2.7, which is somewhere between our rating and yours.

Murasa Pyromancer

You: 1.6
Ramp;D: 2.7
We may be a little high on this guy in hindsight, but you're definitely low. Murasa Pyromancer in an Ally deck can completely take over a game, and it's not unlikely for a Zendikar / Worldwake Sealed Deck to have a reasonably large pile of Allies to go with one of these. Playing a Pyromancer as your second Ally already puts you in range of killing important creatures, and if you have more Allies to follow, it's tough to lose.
On a random note, I find it fascinating that you pointed this and Graypelt Hunter lower than Join the Ranks.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen

You: 3.5
Ramp;D: 3.5
Very nice!


You: 2.7
Ramp;D: 1.9
Generally speaking, people overvalue lands in pointing. The key is to keep the Sealed Deck question in mind. Inside Ramp;D, we'd rather add a Wind Zendikon than a Quicksand to a random Zendikar / Worldwake Sealed Deck. Given that, it doesn't make sense to put Quicksand above a 2. Even if you disagree with that, I think it's clear that Searing Blaze is a good bit better than Quicksand, so it can't be right to rate it above 2.5.

Rampaging Baloths

You: 3.3
Ramp;D: 3.3
Once again, right in the ballpark. I'm amused that you have been agreeing with us on the big bomb creatures, but disagreeing with us elsewhere.

Slavering Nulls

You: 1.7
Ramp;D: 1.8
This is an interesting case. We agree with your pointing value, but anyone who has faced a Slavering Nulls from a red-black deck will tell you that it's actually really good in the right place. That's not a bad sign though—it's actually good, just like I said about Hedron Crab. Cards whose pointings feel deceptive usually have wide ranges of possible power. If someone is red-black in a draft but the other seven players aren't, they might be happy to let the red-black player have this creature. That kind of reward for finding an underplayed strategy makes Limited more interesting to play.

Tideforce Elemental

You: 2.3
Ramp;D: 2.3
We agree that this is stronger than Wind Zendikon and weaker than Searing Blaze. We even agree on where it belongs in between them. Cool!

    Limited Equivalency Exercise

Unfortunately, the data from the second set of exercises became corrupted, and I don't have access to it. In its absence, I'll comment on each question on my own.

How many Searing Blazes would be just as good as one Admonition Angel?

My answer: 3. Admonition Angel is a crazy, crazy Sealed Deck bomb that takes over the game as soon as it hits the table. Searing Blazes are nice, but two of them just can't compare to the dominating effect that one Angel has. Adding a third Searing Blaze, though, makes me wonder whether I want all three of them or the Angel.

How many Searing Blazes would be just as good as one Wolfbriar Elemental?

My answer: 2. Wolfbriar Elemental is very strong, but requires a heavy commitment to green to truly shine. Searing Blaze is a strong enough card that I'm happy to play it off of as few as eight Mountains. Two Searing Blazes feels like about the right amount to make me wonder whether I want those or a Wolfbriar Elemental.

How many Searing Blazes would be just as good as one Goliath Sphinx?

My answer: One is worse, but two is better. Cards that point at 2.5 and 3 are pretty close in value. You can still tell which of them you'd rather have, but normally two copies of a 2.5 are better than one copy of a 3.0.

Some people in the forums expressed the sentiment that Searing Blaze should point higher than Goliath Sphinx. I disagree, and so did we when we pointed the set. In all-Zendikar draft, I think you'd be correct. However, we were pointing the set for Zendikar / Worldwake Sealed Deck. Sealed Deck is slower than draft, and Worldwake transforms the blisteringly fast world of Zendikar Limited into a slightly slower, more familiar world in which a seven-mana card like Goliath Sphinx has time to shine. I stand behind these benchmark values.

How many Wind Zendikons would be just as good as one Searing Blaze?

My answer: 3. Although Wind Zendikon costs , it's a dangerous card to play on your first turn because of all the Burst Lightnings and Disfigures running around. Letting your opponent hit you with a Stone Rain on turn one is rather devastating, and I don't like to open myself up to that. I'd be willing to play a bunch of Wind Zendikons, but I treat them as four- or five-mana creatures with haste that require me to spend a land. Searing Blaze has no such issues, and is totally awesome. I actually think that three Wind Zendikons is slightly better than a Searing Blaze, but it is by such a tiny amount that I'm just going to say 3.

How many Battle Hurdas would be just as good as one Searing Blaze?

My answer: There is no amount. Battle Hurda is a card I try to avoid playing at all in Limited. I included this question so that at least one of the questions would have this answer. I'm sneaky like that.

These kinds of questions are actually my favorite part of Erik's new system, although he didn't tell you what he used the answers for. Metrics with numbers want to be added together, but it's clear that a 2.0 and a 1.0 together are worse than a 3.0. Since the relevant question for pointing was now which cards you would rather add to a random Sealed Deck, knowing (for example) how many 2.0s it took to equal a 3.0 in power gave Erik the ability to construct a mathematical transformation that converts pointing values into relative card power values that can be added meaningfully. I'm not going to tell you the equation—that's a secret!—but it has helped us greatly.

I hope you enjoyed this look into pointing. How much did you like last week's guest column? Should I be doing that more often? Who do you want to hear from? Let me know in the forums and by email, and I'll see what can be done. Have a great weekend!

Previous Poll

Yes, I will attend or have attended a local store Prerelease.319150.0%
No, I will not have attended a Prerelease this weekend.210733.0%
Yes, I will attend or have attended a large regional Prerelease.81112.7%
Yes, I will attend or have attended both kinds of Prerelease.2754.3%

Many players in the United States had to fight through winter weather to make it to their Worldwake Prerelease. I heard some truly heroic stories about journeys made to play Magic three weekends ago, including one of a valiant man who walked three miles each way through snow to get to the Nashville, Tennessee regional Prerelease. Thanks to everyone who made the trip, through adversity or otherwise. We hope you all had fun!

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