o. 4 Ranked Player Ben Stark, famously very particular about Booster Draft, said something about the Theros block draft format that I don't think I've ever heard him say before, in any form or fashion.
"I don't mind drafting any of the archetypes. All of the two-color combinations are viable."
Those who don't know Stark or haven't watched him do commentary might not know that Stark has no qualms about saying when something is bad. If a color is bad, he'll tell you, and he'll provide you nineteen reasons why. If a card is unplayable, he won't shy away from giving you every possible applicable scenario and then telling you why it's still sub-par in those situations. And if an archetype isn't viable, he won't mince words.
So when one of, if not the, consensus best Limited players in the world tells you a format is balanced, you'd do well to listen.
But we did you one better. We got data.
Looking through all 43 Day One 3-0 lists, we collected archetype and color data from the most successful decklists to gauge whether Stark's assessment extended to the best of the best at the Pro Tour. And while the results point toward balance, they don't necessarily indicate fair.
First, the general color distribution indicates a pretty even format. Colors played, not including splashes, was virtually even across the board.
There isn't much to be gleaned from this data except to note that no single color was dominant or weak in relation to the field. When you open your Journey into Nyx pack, the world is your oyster as far as color options.
More telling, however, is the archetype data, where some clear patterns emerge in the color pairings.
As you can see, some colors pair better than others. White and Red? Awesome pairing. Green and White? Not so much. Green and blue? Fantastic. Green and Red? Lackluster.
The best archetypes are the ones that seem to have the strongest identity. The white-red decks were almost universally aggressive, low-curve decks. The blue-green decks combined combat tricks and bounce to get big creatures and fliers through for damage. And the white-black decks either went small (usually with some heroic flavor) or controlling (hopefully with Gray Merchant of Asphodels).
(Note that we're overgeneralizing a bit in some cases. For instance, one of the blue-black decks played had very few black cards – mostly removal – and just five Swamps.)
Interestingly enough, White-Blue Heroic, one of the most distinct and ostensibly powerful archetypes, didn't fare too well in this analysis. Whether that's a function of this relatively small sample size or if it points to something else is a question for another day, but it's certainly one to ponder.
Also interesting to note was that, by and large, the best decks didn't splash. Only four decks dipped into a third color, including the green-red-white deck that was a bit of an anomaly with 12 forests, four plains, four mountains.
So what conclusions can we draw?
On one hand, very few because it's a relatively small sample size. We'd need to look at today's 3-0s to get some kind of confirmation. These numbers should be taken with a sizable grain of salt.
On the other hand, it does appear that, for the most part, we've corroborated Stark's assessment of the format at the start of the article. All of the colors, individually at least, are viable. However, some care needs to be taken when pairing them with other colors. Some are better than others.
And if you're thinking about White-Green, you better have an Ajani mentoring your heroes. Otherwise, you could be in for a bad time.