What’s in a Win Percentage?

Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.    

– Mark Twain

Today we are going to dive into the ever expanding world of Magic statistics and where you can find them. These sets of data can be very useful when trying to predict the metagame of an upcoming tournament, but they don’t tell the whole story. We will discuss when and how they should be used and also what traps they may be laying for us.

First though, I am happy to report I am back on the workout wagon and feeling great once more. It’s insane to me that I know something is good for me and makes me feel so good and yet my mind actively tries to talk me out of doing it. This could be said for many things in life and is at the very root of everything we attempt to do. The opposite of this is also true with things that I know are bad for me that my mind will make me crave. I am reminded of a quote I shared in one of my earliest articles “Self discipline is self love” sounds kinda crazy but is so true in practice. Be hard on yourself but also be fair, as long as you are moving in the right direction that is all that matters.

Every weekend seems to have multiple large tournaments to play in and I could not be happier. Speaking of which I finished in the top 16 of the CFB Clash tournament playing Esper Doom, which has qualified me for the Finals! I love to compete more than almost anything, so just having the opportunity to play in some of these tournaments means a lot to me. With every weekend brimming with Standard tournaments there is no reason to take a break any time soon. I am going to be nose to the grindstone as I attempt to take one of these large tournaments down.


MTG Data is one of the newest players in the stats game. This graph shows the data from five of the major tournaments that happened 26 Oct – 1 Nov. The overall win percentage of each deck is in the first column. If you pick a deck on the left and follow it to the right each number is the deck on the left’s win percentage vs the deck at the top of that row. Any boxes that are highlighted are supposed to represent matchups with a strong sample size. I am not sure what dictates a strong sample size but I would guess that it would be over 100 matches.

The percentage at the bottom is the range that the actual win percentage could be given the amount of games played. I prefer to see the actual number of games played, but neither of these numbers are overly useful. Obviously having a larger sample size indicates a more accurate number, but there are problems with this line of thinking.

I have played Esper Doom for two weeks straight and have had some success in the past two weekends with it and yet I am looking for new options. Looking at these stats you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that Esper was the best deck in Standard. It does have the highest win percentage after all. You could also easily conclude that Dimir Rogues is not a very good deck winning only half of it’s matches.

Before we dig into why these stats might be misleading I want to share two more places that I regularly check for information.


MTGMeta has the information for most if not all of the tournaments played online. You can see the stats for a specific tournament or for all tournaments in a given date range, which is very helpful if you want to see how matchups are trending as decklists and strategies evolve. They also have a function that allows you to group archetypes together for ease of viewing. This could be useful if you wanted to find out how an archetype does against all the aggressive decks in the format or similar yet different decks (Think Yorion decks). Lastly they display the number of matches that the percentage is pulled from giving you a better idea of how accurate the information is. With smaller sample sizes you always have to be aware that variance could play a part. These are only a few of the options available and I highly recommend that you try it for yourself as it’s a powerful tool to have at your disposal.


The last place that I look for stats is on MTGMelee itself. On each tournament page there is a Archetype Breakdown section that you can sort by # of decks to see how the most popular decks performed or you can sort by MW% (Match Win %) to see which archetypes had the highest win percentage in that tournament.

The Devil is in the Details

Now to outline the main problems with basing assumptions from these results. The first problem is that not all decklists are the same. Rogues for instance have multiple popular builds and the results from each vary greatly. Small variations in decklists can make a huge difference in their performance and looking for trends in the lists that did well vs those that did not is very important. It’s been a repeating pattern to see an archetype thought to be on the decline take down a tournament with a new or unique build. Rakdos has won the last two major open tournaments with new takes on the archetype all the while being considered a poor choice by most of the pro community.

The second issue is who is actually playing the decks. Not all players are at the same level and this will skew results when looking at large sample sizes. This becomes even more true when the deck in question has a higher ceiling for play skill. Decks like Sultai Control in Historic regularly post sub 50% win rates when combined together and yet will do very well when properly tuned and played by the best players in the tournament.

Another major consideration to take into account is the type of tournament that is being played. Open or Closed deck list tournaments will benefit different archetypes and players. A deck that performs well in the Arena Championship Qualifiers may not do as well in the CFB Clash tournaments. Also the current MPL structure allows players to know who their opponents are going to be before they play their weekends matches and thus allow for a more inbred and targeted meta. Single elimination tournaments or ones that award byes are just a few other variables that can skew the results data as we find ourselves playing in new types of tournaments.

Trust Your Own Results 

At the end of the day, these stats are only one tool to be used. You should always be tracking your own results and the more detailed notes you can take the better. Because of the time requirement to play a game of Magic we will never really know the actual win percentage of any match up. Because we are not able to plug two decks into a computer and come out with a result, we are forced to go off of intuition as much as raw data.

You may often hear players talk about how a certain match up “feels”. Honing this skill for figuring out what is important in a match up and how to make it better from either side is what the best players do better than anyone else. This allows them to get to the information that is important faster and move ahead of their peers. As I have mentioned before this is one of the reasons having a team or friends that you can trust is vitally important to your success as a player.

One last take away from this information is that when we talk about a match up being “good” or “bad” it does not mean that one archetype will always beat another one. Even taking out the randomness factor of non-games there is still a wide range of variables that will play into any given match. We have touched on a couple of them in this article like specifics card choices and play style/competency. One of the most common responses I receive when I share a decklist is “What about this card” or “What about this deck”. Thinking that at first blush a certain list will not be able to beat a certain card or deck. This way of thinking is very detrimental and I encourage you to get away from it if it’s something that you do yourself. Magic theory and Magic reality are often two very different things and only from actual repetition of games can any true information be gained.

Until next time, keep fighting the good fight!

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