Last week, Andrew of Dice Commando did an excellent video about cost curve in top tier decks, using Dark Reflections as an example of a card which was virtually unplayable in the Spark of Hope meta, but which has seen play in top decks lately. It’s worth checking out, so go here to have a watch.
Near the end of the video, he hypothesised two things:
- That the average resource cost of cards in decks has gone up, either at the release of Covert Missions, or soon after
- That this can be attributed in a large part to the prevalence of Merchant Freighter
And he specifically called on us to have a look. Not ones to shirk at a challenge, here we are.
First up, we collated a bunch of top decks from across the years, and recorded the card resource costs in the decks.
For all FFG decks, we only pulled in decklists which had won regional level events, or which had placed very highly in continental or above events. We arbitrarily stopped when we got to about 10 decks per block, to not dilute the data with lower placed and so less perfectly tuned decks.
Below is a box plot showing the average (mean) card cost across all 4 blocks. The boxes show the range for 50% of the decks (inter-quartile range of mean card cost), with the line showing the median cost. The skinny lines (whiskers) show the cheapest and most expensive decks:
This graph blew me away. I honestly did not expect the signal to be so completely obvious. It sort of looked like decks were getting more expensive when recording card costs, but this is huge.
Decks were essentially stable in average cost per card for the entirety of FFG Destiny, with a cost of about 1.1 resources per card in each deck. Then ARH arrived and the average cost is now 1.5 resources! That means if we’re aiming to play 3 cards in a round, we’ve gone from needing 3 resources per round, to 4.
Let’s pick apart the data a bit more, and explain (or try to explain) some of the anomalies.
Awakenings saw the biggest variation in costs, and the most expensive deck in the data. This deck however was Poe/Maz (1.8 resources per card) which played double Millenium Falcon/U-Wing but had no intention of paying for them. 20 resources’ worth, which increases average card cost by .7, bringing this deck right back to 1.1. It also featured the money machine Unkar Plutt, plus Sith Holocron. Yet despite these anomalies, the median card cost in top tier decks was still 1.15.
Convergence saw the cheapest decks to date, despite the fact that we saw an un-errata’d Snoke for the earliy part of the block, Watto running riot throughout, hero droids with off-the-charts ramp potential, and Delve/Fist making 8 resources’ worth of cards-in-deck cost just 3 resources. In case you’re wondering, that 0.7 resource per card deck was the incredibly lean 2eTrandoshan/IDT, which had to save money for resource sides.
Along comes ARH, and we’re up at 1.5 resources per card.
We’re going to put forward a number of theories to explain this. There’s some variation across the theories, but ultimately one of two things (or a combination) must be going on:
1. We have more money to spend, which must come from dice or the cards we play.
2. We are playing fewer, but on average higher cost cards each a round.
Theory Number 1:
We’re in an upgrade heavy meta. We’re overwriting upgrades and that’s why cards look expensive. Support decks don’t have the luxury of overwriting, so come out cheaper.
Well, I kind of like this theory. But it simply doesn’t hold up. There’s not actually many support decks in the data we have, but those we do have (Drive By Shooting, Snoke/Watto/Jabba based support decks) actually go the other way. They tend to pack a lot of expensive cards and combine them with the necessary characters to support such an expensive package, ending up with an average resource cost in the 1.3-1.4 range. In other words, they ramp. They also need to pack enough high value supports to guarantee drawing one each round, much like Bane does with abilities.
Theory Number 2:
We’re discarding to re-roll more.
If most players are discarding to reroll just once more per round on average, that would mean that we’re playing roughly 1 fewer card per round (if you’re maximizing value out of your 5 card hand). If you’re aiming to play 1 fewer card, the resource cost of those cards you do play needs to be higher, to optimise resource use.
This reminds me of the fantastic HonestlySarcastc article on the Hyperloops last year, which put forward the basic idea: “I want to play 3 cards and use 2 cards for rerolls”.
If we do indeed play 3 cards and use 2 cards for rerolls, then the FFG-meta cost of 1.1 resources per card implies you’re expecting to gain 1 resource from character dice or by other means during the round, play 3 cards (at a cost of roughly 3 resources) and discard 2. This seems pretty spot on.
However, if we switch that around and aim to play 2 cards and discard 3 cards for rerolls, then if we pull 1 resource from somewhere during the round, we need our cards to cost on average 1.5 resources per card to maximize value. Which is exactly what we see.
But why would we be discarding to re-roll more?
Perhaps players are mitigating less? Less mitigation will encourage players to discard to re-roll more. That’s because in a mitigation heavy meta, you’ll resolve that 1 shield side, rather than discard to re-roll and have it removed when it rolls damage. If mitigation is light, you’ll probably take a punt on the re-roll.
I don’t feel like there’s currently a lack of mitigation in the game, though there is much less blowout or above curve mitigation. Cards like Easy Pickings for instance, and Feel Your Anger, both of which could easily remove two dice for 1 resource, are absent from the game. With cards like these gone, I’m certainly more inclined to leave dice in my pool and re-roll more to get maximum value out of my dice. Characters also have more health, so mitigation may be less impactful than it used to be.
Also, if cards have only 1 or 2 good sides, and focus sides are rare, we’ll be discarding to re-roll more. Honestly, I don’t know if this is the case. Anakin had his 4 melee side, but I don’t feel like any of the other main players in the meta have especially lopsided dice compared to old meta characters.
Overall, I like this theory. It perfectly fits the data. However, I have no evidence that it’s the case. For this one, I’m going to have to ask the audience: do you think you’re discarding to re-roll more?
Theory number 3:
We’re seeing expensive decks because of the presence of Merchant Freighter (and similar ramp cards), which lets you play with an extra resource worth per round.
Well, looking at the Freighter alone, it really doesn’t look like it. I’ve spilt the ARH decks by whether they were actually running Merchant Freighter or not. Conveniently, 5 did, and 5 didn’t:
For reference, those decks featuring Merchant Freighter were:
Vader(CM)/Taron, Anakin/Han, Anakin/Ahsoka/Youngling, Han/Chewie and Vader(Tr)/Savage
Those without Merchant Freighter were:
Bane/Dooku, Anakin/Leia, Pirates, Krennic Hondo and Kylo/Dooku.
The interquartile range is a bit different, but we’re still basically around the 1.5 mark regardless of whether the decklist had Merchant Freighter in it.
You’d be tempted to say: “oh well, Pirates obviously had more money, and Bane gives you a huge discount”. However, the Pirates deck (we used RebelTraitor‘s list) was the cheapest of all ‘No Merchant‘ decks, down at 1.2. Even if we’d used Lanza‘s more expensive list, we’d still be at 1.5 resources, the average for the meta.
You’d be right about Bane though: Moophisto‘s list is up at 1.7 resources, as the deck needs to get a costly ability in its opening hand, so features double Shien Mastery, Force Storm and Death Field. But right on his heels is Vika‘s Krennic/Hondo (1.67), which has no pirate stealing shenanigans, and Rainmaker‘s Anakin/Leia (1.6), which has a pay side to contend with.
There are of course other cards which function like Merchant Freighter or potentially better. It Binds All Things for instance costs 1 resource, and lets you effectively play with an extra resource per round for the rest of the game, so long as you play a blue upgrade each round. However, this card has been in Destiny ever since Awakenings. Plus, you get a similar lack of signal if you split decks that run IBAT from decks that don’t.
However, all 10 decks either: had IBAT; had Mechant Freighter; or had a lineup designed to make money (Han/Chewie with their many resource sides, Pirates with their stealing or Admiral Hondo with Director Krennic aka Mr Consistency).
I think this shows that decks have higher cost cards because they have been built to afford them. The data doesn’t support putting the blame on one card, and we can’t really prove or disprove the discarding theory, but I would suggest that all top tier decks have ramp built in as standard.
However, this raises the next question: why do decks want to play higher cost cards now, when ramp cards have been in the game since Awakenings?
Theory Number 4
Higher cost cards are better value than they used to be and/or cheap cards are worse value.
If 2+ cost cards represent the best value for money, and have the potential to swing games, players will be incentivized to build their decks around them. Meta decks seem to revolve around dropping high impact and high cost cards at a rate of around 1 per round. Accordingly, builds commonly include some form of ramp, either through ramp cards, or through resource heavy characters.
This is probably a good time to show the average cost curve across the meta:
The most notable change when ARH triggered rotation was that 0 cost cards were shunted out of decks. Typically, decks used to run 10 of these, lower on average in Legacies thanks to ‘the Talzin effect’. Most decks now have around 6. I do believe we’ve lost a lot of great 0 cost cards which actually did something. Cards like Sith Holocron, Force Speed, Hit and Run, Close Quarters Assault, Logistics, Hidden Motive, Doubt, Friends in Low Places, Salvage Stand, Respite, Pacify; though we do have Desperate Measures, Probe, Forsaken, Nullify, Reap and Small Battles Won.
2 cost cards were running at around 5 per deck right through Legacies, but jumped to 7 in the Convergence meta, where it has remained. 3 cost upgrades meanwhile have the opposite pattern. And finally, we’re in a world where 4-cost cards are actually a staple of decks, albeit between 2 and 3 per deck, while previously most decks had none.
If the theory that higher cost cards represent better value than ever, this would suggest that there have been some significantly high impact 2 and 4 cost cards in recent times, which players have gravitated towards and built decks around. Cards like, maybe, Niman Mastery, Shien Mastery, Veteran of War, Admiral and Force Valor. How many of these are auto-includes now? And how many high impact 2+ cost upgrades from before Spark of Hope would be playable now?
To bring it back full circle, I would suggest that once you start normalizing 2 and 4 cost cards, and building decks that can afford them, the idea of including a 2 cost event that could really backfire (such as Dark Reflections if you pay 2 for it and then those dice get mitigated) doesn’t seem so crazy as it used to. It’s affordable, and you may have to worry less about mitigation than you used to.
The average resource cost of cards is clearly much higher than ever.
I personally believe that the reason is because expensive cards are relatively more impactful than ever, while 0 cost cards are less impactful (with some key exceptions). This has led players to build decks around high cost cards, deliberately including ramp cards like IBAT, Merchant Freighter, Forbidden Lore and Reap to make them playable. Thus, these ramp cards are facilitators, but not the cause of the trend. Ramp has always been available, but now it’s really worth it.
And if this trend continues: that high impact, high cost cards continue to be the norm, that 1-cost upgrades and supports become mostly irrelevant, and we don’t get 0 cost cards which actually impact the game enough to be worth including, then 1 of two things will happen when rotation finally hits:
Either we get more ramp cards to support these builds (currently they’re all FFG); or we need to accept the fact that high cost cards are luxury items.
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