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I've been playing Magic casually for almost half a year now, mostly in the multiplayer Commander format. Regularly, I hear people talk about the power levels of decks. Especially when I'm playing with someone new, they ask me "what power level are we playing?" My response usually is something like "I don't know".

After asking around and looking online, I've learned the following details—please correct me if I'm wrong.

Power Level

I've heard a couple parameters so far that influence the power level of a deck:

  • the amount of win conditions (e.g. bomb cards, infinite combos)
  • the ease of manipulating chances to play those win conditions (e.g. tutor cards)
  • flexibility in removing threats from opponents (e.g. single target removal, and the ease of having them in hand when needed)
  • having certain staple land and mana cards

So far this has been helpful, but whenever I ask how exactly they come to the conclusion of their deck's power level, I usually receive a shrug and/or blank stare (or find articles that beat around the bush). I've asked multiple people at different gamestores, but found no clear reasoning so far, so I get the sense it's more of a gut feeling than a clear calculation.

Question

Is there a tier system of some sort? If possible, I would like to see clear and concrete pointers for how to calculate the power level of any deck. If this is ultimately a gut feeling based on certain parameters, a guide for rating my decks with this gut feeling is much appreciated.

Example

For clarity, an example might work. Let's say I have Samut, Voice of Dissent as my commander. The primary win condition is smashing face for commander damage, making her stronger with equipments and auras, with the help of some big trampling creatures. There's quite some ramping options, but there's hardly any card draw in the deck. There's one potential infinite combo in there with Godo, Bandit Warlord and Helm of the Host, and about four removal cards for dealing with threats from creatures, enchantments or artifacts. The deck contains a couple of land fetchers (such as Renegade Map, Traveler's Amulet, but no tutor cards.


In case it matters for answering this question, I'm mostly interested in:

  • Commander
  • casual play (winning is not my main goal)
  • multiplayer
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    I must confess I've never heard about a 1-10 range being used for power level. Could you offer a source that does? – Hackworth Sep 5 at 8:57
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    What I've seen a lot of is the broader tier 1, tier 1.5, tier 2, jank tier classification. But there's no way to objectively calculate that. It's all results-based analysis. – Hackworth Sep 5 at 9:40
  • @Hackworth Oh, maybe this is a local thing then? The players in the gamestores in the Netherlands that I've played with mention this. The only source I have is what comes from their mouths. 😅 – Lainathiel Sep 5 at 9:48
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    The 1-10 scale and tier system are both systems I've seen popularly, it's not a local thing, but it's quite possible that some game stores and play communities just don't use it. – CollinB Sep 5 at 11:48
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    I would format this in an answer, but it doesn't answer your question, so: You are correct on your analysis on what makes a deck grow in power, typically win conditions, consistency, removal, ramp and manabase, and powerful utility. However, if you are looking for a system such as, "3 tutors and 4 wincons with 6 removal and original duals makes a deck an 8 (or tier 1.5) there is no such concrete system. Typically it is a comparative system, so if your LGS doesn't typically use it, it may be hard to determine the power level of your deck. – CollinB Sep 5 at 11:59
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Power level is very subjective, and its main purpose is to communicate gameplay expectations.

I personally think that trying to create a very refined algorithm for grading power levels misses the point of what the power level is trying to achieve. Power level is based mostly on comparing decks to each other.

Because Commander is mostly a casual, multiplayer format, power level is simply a discussion to help maintain player parity to ensure interactive and enjoyable gameplay. It's to prevent someone's janky Pirates win with treasure deck from being completely obliterated by a well-tuned Prossh Food Chain combo deck. While both those decks are playing Commander, they're arguably playing different games. The power level is a discussion tool to manage expectations and make sure no one feels left out of this long, multiplayer game.

To that end, the parameters I've heard for determining power level are much less specific than the ones you've posited in the question. The concepts I use to estimate power level are as follows:

  • Raw power of win conditions
  • Consistency
  • Speed

Some of your criteria in the question fall into these broad categories. For example, the presence of Commander staple ramp cards help improve both the consistency and speed of the deck. Immediate win-conditions like Expropriate or Craterhoof Behemoth have good raw-power. Having a single combo that is easily disrupted by your opponents' removal lowers the consistency of your deck.

Comparing decks is just making sure that games are fun and reasonably competitive instead of being one player playing solitaire and everyone one else just watching. So I wouldn't worry about getting the exact numbers in your rating system as long as the decks are close. That being said, my 0-10 rating system, that I based on advice from The Command Zone (a podcast about Commander), is as follows:

  • 0-1: It's hard to consciously bring yourself to make a deck this actively bad unless you're going for an off-beat theme like "griffon tribal."
  • 2-3: These decks might be a jumble of rares (and not necessarily good ones) that someone had in their collection. The commander exists to provide the color identity needed to play all of these favorite cards, even though many do not synergize with each other. Consistency is typically low because there is no coherent idea for the deck.
  • 4-5: Most of the Commander pre-constructed deck are at this power level. There are some themes in the deck, but maybe the deck just plays slowly due a lack of ramp. Possibly there are too many ideas going on at once, or maybe the win-conditions are just not very powerful.
  • 6-8: These decks have a very clear game plan. They are pretty efficient and/or flexible. Research and refinement of deckbuilding is likely. Upgraded pre-cons and decks that have gone through experimentation and updating typically are around here. The financial costs of these decks can be higher due to the expense of consistent, faster mana bases or sought-after singles that are high impact.
  • 9-10: These decks are built to win. They are competitive-tier (CEDH) decks that are very fast and very consistent. Often, these decks use expensive cards (like Mox) to help speed up the deck even more.

Based on your brief description of your Samut beatdown deck, I'd estimate it at about 5 depending on how consistent it is. The strategy sounds a bit fragile because it appears all-in on combat and lacks card draw, but it sounds like it has plenty of threats and ways to deal damage.

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As far as I have ever seen, there's no official Power Level. There are, however, a number of factors that influence win rates. Keep in mind none of these are absolute, they are just guidelines, and your own experience will depend on the skill of the player 'piloting' the deck.

  • There is an informal list of Commanders by Tier. Lower Tier commanders have stronger win conditions/better abilities, and higher tier commanders tend not to.
  • Cost of Deck. Cards that are quite strong in commander formats tend to keep or increase their value, so naturally a deck with many old expensive cards is probably doing so because they are the best card choices. This note is especially true for lands: Izzet Guildgate, Steam Vents, and Volcanic Island all do basically the same thing (tap for Red or Blue) but have wildly varying (dollar) costs because some are slightly more efficient than others. Bare in mind, though, that high quality, expensive cards, can be used inefficiently or badly.
  • Tapped Out has a 'competitiveness vs casual' meter at the bottom right-hand corner of decks that are entered into the website. I'm not sure how exactly that is determined, but computers are getting quite good at determining synergies and efficiency of card game decks.

The last thing to remember is that, since there is no formal Power Level, every answer is relative to what a person thinks is low and high power. Most likely, they're comparing their deck to the strength of their other decks, and to decks they've seen. If your deck tends to win a lot, and against a variety of other deck types, it is probably a 'high' power deck. If it struggles to win, or winning isn't its end goal (some people in casual commander just want to watch the world burn), it is probably a 'low' power deck.

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    There is absolutely no way that a computer is doing a good job at determining card synergies on Tapped Out. A quick Google search suggests that the competitiveness meter is universally considered inaccurate. – Brady Gilg Sep 5 at 21:15
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One metric that hasn't been touched on so far is speed, i.e. How many turns should it take, on average, for this deck to win the game?.

Many of the most competitive Commander decks aim to win very quickly, within the first 3 turns, or develop such a strong position that it's hard for them to lose.

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    Speed + consistency + flexibility is the effective formula – CollinB Sep 5 at 16:40

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