I was originally going to write the next odds article on Treasure Hunt, but I have already run through some of the numbers on it and the prospect of looking at Rowdy Crew was new and too tempting. We will get back to Treasure Hunt eventually.
Now, the first thing to look at with Rowdy Crew is just the raw numbers assuming no decision will be made to optimize the odds of discarding cards of similar types. This will be deck dependent, but we can consider a “standard” deck to start with. The table below shows the odds for discarding two cards of a particular card type given how many of those cards are present in a forty-card deck.
To apply these numbers to a given deck is fairly easy. Let us say that the “standard” Rowdy Crew deck contains seventeen lands, thirteen creatures, six instants, three sorceries, and a planeswalker. All that needs to be done is add the odds for seventeen, thirteen, six, and three together to get the total odds of discarding two cards that share a card type. Ignore any card types with only one card as it is impossible to discard two cards with the same type if there is only one card of that type. This “standard” Rowdy Crew deck gives us the combined odds of 29.74%. This is as if every time Rowdy Crew is cast, it is a 3.6/3.6 with trample that nets a card.
Unfortunately, Magic does not work that nicely. Getting a 3.6/3.6 every time versus a 3/3 70% of the time and a 5/5 30% is not the same thing. Either a 5/5 is powerful enough on turn four to justify getting a 3/3 70% of the time, or getting a 3/3 is too weak to support getting a 5/5 30% of the time. This concept is easier to understand with a more radical example. Imagine a card that said: Flip a coin. If you win the flip, you win the game. Otherwise, you lose the game. That is a 50% chance of winning the game, supposedly fair odds. However, if a player is more than 50% likely to win the game because they are ahead, they will simply not cast the card and roll with the higher odds. When they have a lower than 50% chance of winning the game, they will wait for the last possible chance and then cast the card. Effectively returning their odds to 50%. This imaginary card is incredibly broken. Perhaps highly skilled players who believe their overall win rate would go down from playing a dead card in games they were more than 50% likely to win would not play this card, but everyone who’s win rate is close to 50%, maybe as high as 60%, would see a win rate jump from playing it.
Now that we can understand this concept, we can return to our Rowdy Crew. Usually 3/3 for four is very underwhelming. A 3/3 for four that draws a card is probably playable in most cubes. Phyrexian Rager is a powerful card and it is a 2/2 for three that draws a card. However, this effect gets worse the higher the mana cost as the former is certainly worse than the latter. This means that ideally, we want to raise the expected value of our Rowdy Crew from 3.6/3.6 to around the 4/4 level. Getting a 5/5 trampler that draws a card half the time would certainly be worth the 3/3 case.
What we need to factor in now is that we have control over when we cast Rowdy Crew. The ideal time to cast it is when our hand is two or more lands and nothing else. That gives us the greatest chance of pitching two lands and having two to three action spells in hand and a 5/5 Rowdy Crew This is the best-case scenario. Another scenario to consider is when holding two creatures as that is the card type with the second most hits. Lastly, if we are holding any two cards with the same card type, the odds of drawing three and discarding the original two is 10%. So, that is always a line to keep in mind when deciding to cast Rowdy Crew.
Starting with holding only two lands in hand as holding any more will only make the odds better. We will assume that the current deck density of each card type is the same as the overall deck density. Meaning that although at least four lands on board are required to cast Rowdy Crew and two more lands are in our hand, enough other cards have been played (they are on the battlefield, graveyard, or exile) that the remaining deck has the same odds of drawing a land off the top as the entire forty card deck has. Thus, the total odds for getting a 5/5 Rowdy Crew when holding two lands is roughly 45%. This accounts for the cases where zero to three lands are drawn off the top as well as the cases two cards that share a type are drawn and those cards are discarded. This is a significant increase from our base line of 30%. However, it is important to keep in mind that if too many lands have already been drawn or removed from the decks, this 45% will be decreased, while if very few lands have been drawn, it will be increased. Keep in mind that even “missing” and discarding one land and one spell in this case would still net as a two card draw as two lands were exchanged for one land and one spell.
Given that even holding two lands, we could not get our odds to 50%, the case where we are holding two creatures, it is probably undesirable to cast Rowdy Crew. Much better is to cast those creatures first and roll the odds with Rowdy Crew and an empty hand later. Discarding two spells to replace with two lands is not an ideal situation.
Overall, what this teaches us is that Rowdy Crew is better played as a curve topper. It wants you to hold your lands past four to achieve its full power and to cast your other cards when it is in your opening hand. The 3.6/3.6 trampler that draws you a card is still acceptable when cast on an empty hand, but it will be a 4/4 trampler that draws you one to three cards later in the game once there are a couple of lands in your hand and you possibly exchange them for something useful. Given these odds, the only reason Rowdy Crew did not make an impact on standard is that it had to compete with Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Hazoret the Fervent pre-rotation and with Rekindling Phoenix in its post-rotation. Cube designers should be used to seeing this as it has happened with many now cube staples like Brimaz, King of Oreskos; Kytheon, Hero of Akros; and Young Pyromancer.
Although Rowdy Crew is worse than Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Hazoret the Fervent those cards are already not played in the modular cube for their high power level and poor gameplay (especially the latter.) Rowdy Crew creates some tough decisions and tests a player’s understanding of when it is correct to roll the odds and when not to given the current state of the game, which I have found to create a much more intriguing gameplay experience than the more powerful options. I would recommend including Rowdy Crew in all but the most powerful of cubes.