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whisperni

Is there really a First turn advantage?

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For years I have seen posts and blogs and comments all claiming that first turn advantage is a thing and that it is very real. Unfortunately I have not seen any proof of this claim in anything that can be measured. The closest I have seen to actual statistics were mentions made at United States Nationals that a significant portion of the top 8 were there because they all went first more then their opponents.

So since Nationals I have conducted a private study to determine if first turn advantage was real and how strong was it. I played 1600 Dice Masters games over the course of a month and trust me I am a little burnt out by the experience, but that being said I am happy with the results.

Since I am trying to be as scientific as possible while not trying to kill myself I conducted this study doing the following.

  1. I used 4 different decks to test first turn advantage
  2. I tested each deck against itself and the 3 other decks 100 times going first
  3. I tested each deck against itself and the 3 other decks 100 times going second
  4. The decks had to be played by equally skilled players. Namely I played myself which is as equal in skill as I could make players.


The 4 decks I used in this study were some of the top decks from US Nationals.
1) The Canadian National Champion Deck (Won US National Championship) -This deck is built to take advantage of going first by shutting down opponents ramp using elf thief while building its own win condition using Bard. It also has counters to opponents with dwarf wizard, clay golem, kryptonite/prismatic spray, and Mr. Fantastic. This deck and variations of this deck was everywhere at US Nationals and Worlds. This deck can be shut down if you don't rely on ramp to win, can counter dwarf wizard, elf thief, and stop it's own ramp.

2) The UK National Champion Deck (2nd at US National Championship) - This deck is built to go first or second. It has a strong counter of using Imprisoned to eliminate threats purchased faster then it is able to, while using cards like breaker to counter Imprisoned used against it. It also has control elements like Constantine, elf thief , and oracle to slow down opponents. Eventually using Bard to finish off the opponent it has hopefully slowed down enough to win against.

3) The Vicious Struggle Deck (Top 8 at US National Championship) - This deck is built to dominate when going first, it has one of the strongest turn 3 kills ever made since it has very few counters and those counters do not see regular play. Unfortunately its win condition is Vicious struggle which can be purchased by its opponent if this deck does not go first which can seriously hurt it.

4) Juniors Mask Ring Team (Top 4 at US National Championship) - This deck is a strong control deck running oracle and elf thief to slow down its opponents while using masks from morphing jars to burn its opponent to death with Lantern Ring.

Round 1a - The Canadian National Championship Deck Going First

The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 87 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 52 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 91 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 89 wins out of 100 games

Results - The Canadian National Championship Deck dominates going first with an almost 80% win rate against high level decks. What is odd to note is the only deck that it struggled to dominate against was the UK National Champion Deck as that deck had some strong counters for teams that succeed at going first.

Round 1b - The Canadian National Championship Deck Going Second

The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 13 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 15 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 17 wins out of 100 games
The Canadian National Champion Deck vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 38 wins out of 100 games

Results - The Canadian National Championship Deck struggles against all of these decks going second with a 21% win rate.

Round 2a - The UK National Championship Deck Going First

The UK National Champion Deck vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 85 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 49 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 81 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 72 wins out of 100 games

Results - The UK National Championship Deck has a strong showing from going first at about a 72% win rate. The funny thing to note is this deck actually did worse against itself when going first. The fight over Imprisoned was very strong in the mirror match and made it difficult to predict who was going to win in any of the games.

Round 2a - The UK National Championship Deck Going Second

The UK National Champion Deck vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 48 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 51 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 13 wins out of 100 games
The UK National Champion Deck vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 55 wins out of 100 games

Results - The UK National Championship Deck does the best of all 4 decks with a 42% win rate going second. This deck was built with the idea of winning going second so it is not surprising that it has a high win percentage going second then the other decks. It still cannot touch the Vicious Struggle Deck when going second.

round 3 - The Vicious Struggle Deck Going First

The The Vicious Struggle vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 83 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 87 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 85 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 81 wins out of 100 games

Results - The Vicious Struggle Deck is almost unstoppable when it goes first with a 84% win rate. The consistency it can pull off its turn 3 kill is ridiculous and since none of these decks play with a direct counter to this type of play there was little they could do to stop it from winning. Only when Vicious Struggle rolled poorly did any of the other decks pull out a win.

round 3 - The Vicious Struggle Deck Going Second

The The Vicious Struggle vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 9 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 19 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 15 wins out of 100 games
The The Vicious Struggle vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 19 wins out of 100 games

Results - The deck that does the best going first does the worst going second with a 16% win rate. The opponent being able to buy the win condition for this deck just destroys it.

round 4 - Juniors Mask Ring Team Going First

Juniors Mask Ring Team Team vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 62 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 45 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 81 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 73 wins out of 100 games

Results - Juniors Mask Ring Team had a 65% win rate going first, again showing that going first is very strong for this type of deck as it quickly controls ramp on the opponent while setting up its win condition.

round 4 - Juniors Mask Ring Team Going Second

Juniors Mask Ring Team Team vs. The Canadian National Champion Deck = 11 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. The UK National Champion Deck = 28 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. The Vicious Struggle Deck = 19 wins out of 100 games
Juniors Mask Ring Team vs. Juniors Mask Ring Team = 27 wins out of 100 games

Results - Juniors Mask Ring Team had a 21% win rate going second.

Final Results

Overall from all four decks.
If you go first you would have a 75% chance to win
If you go second you would have a 25% chance to win

At the end of the day what do all these numbers mean. It means that if these 4 decks were in the top 4 and playing each other, and each person was equal in skill with each other person, then whoever went first in each match would have a significant advantage to win the match. Does this mean that first turn advantage exists?

Perhaps.

These are very high tier decks and are played by someone who knows how to take advantage of their first turn capabilities. If other decks were introduced with higher ability to take advantage of second turn advantage then perhaps these stats would change. You can see some evidence of this by the win percentage of the UK Nationals deck that won significantly more then any of the other decks when going second. But statistically we can say from these decks that the meta at the US Nationals heavily favored decks that went first.

Updated 08-04-2016 at 03:11 PM by whisperni

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Comments

  1. Dicelover's Avatar
    Great article Michael Plumb! AMAZING work, I cannot imagine 1200 games vs myself. That being said you now know these teams better than anyone I would guess. I would not expect anyone to do that again! But I do believe Bard plays a large part of the effect of going first and he resides on many of those teams. While I don't think he is the only factor I believe he strongly impacts it. I would like to run a study of random teams or just vanilla. Structure of the teams impacts the advantage on turns. If you had just vanilla teams in a mirror match is there a turn one advantage?
  2. whisperni's Avatar
    It helps when your wife and kids are out of town for most of a month and you are alone staring at the walls after you get off work. Otherwise I would definitely not had time to do it. Thanks, I hope this helps someone in some way and perhaps inspires someone else to run more tests. As for me, I am taking a break
  3. DiceDiceKitty's Avatar
    Amazing article! Thank you for all the work you put in.
  4. msteele999's Avatar
    Michael,

    I appreciate your dedication to the game and the community. Your results reinforce to me why I prefer to play Rainbow Draft / off beat constructed teams. Your results show that skill and luck are less important (other than the luck to go first) than starting position.I realize this assumes that a driver knows his team intimately and does not make any mistakes in play, but that is what I expect to see at regional, national and world events when we get to the top 8 and above.

    This is a fundamental problem with competitive level play.

    There has been a lot of discussion about how to 'fix' this issue - I think more dialogue is necessary - otherwise why not reduce top 8 or top 4 matches to simply rolling a six sided die, highest roll wins the game - you could be back on a plane home with your prize in 10 minutes. (hyperbole intended).
  5. ccm00007's Avatar
    I'll add myself to the chorus of "Thanks for doing this!" answers. It's great to finally have some documented proof, which is structured, not anecdotal, and takes a lot of outside variables (tiredness, variations in skill, etc.) out of the equation. I hope this brings the powers that be to take a long, serious look a the current state of competitive play.
  6. Dave's Avatar
    Excellent work! Thank you for putting the time into doing this. I hope that it is seen and can help foster change.
  7. The0retico's Avatar
    Thank you very much - the results are also data to quantify matchups.

    DM cannot be a competitive game with such a strong first turn advantage and with lack of comprehensive rules.

    Just want to stress, that if we borrowed summoning sickness from MtG (you cannot attack with die you fielded this turn), it will give the second player a chance to field blockers or use counters in their turn.