Going First vs. Having Coin: Which is Better, and When?

An analysis of winrates with the coin versus without the coin.

Going First vs. Having Coin: Which is better, and when?
The advantage of going first vs. having the coin (and the extra card) has sparked much debate in the community. While it is commonly known that going first generally gives you the advantage in most cases, the extent of it and the implication it may have on the outcome of a game, or the outcome of a tournament series, is unclear. Also, the advantage of going first could change depending on the Meta, the deck you’re playing, and the matchup you’re facing. We would like to shed some light on the subject with our data analysis and hope you find this information useful. The analysis provided is based on game data from the past five weeks, compiling close to 200,000 games.

First, we look at win rates for common archetypes in the Metagame. In the following table, we’ve calculated the “coin differential” in win rates against the field of every archetype. The number we are showing is the difference in win rates between going first vs. having the coin. A positive value indicates that going first has a better win rate, while a negative number indicates that this archetype wins more often when having the coin (in the Metagame of the sample).

Note: The calculated global advantage of going first is 3.3%, meaning that going first on average beats the coin 51.65% to 48.35%.

We can see a pattern at the top. All of the top 5 decks are aggressive decks that heavily rely on having the tempo. Mid-Range Hunter exhibits the most dramatic difference at 7%. Since its strategy is to play the best minion on its appropriate mana cost and let the opponent react to its on-curve plays, we’re not surprised. It struggles when the opponent has the initiative.

At the bottom half of the spectrum we’re seeing another pattern, in which Control decks mostly have lower differentials. Priest is the most coin dependent class in the game on average, and that is because its strategy is reactive in nature, so having the extra card is more valuable than going first. Dragon Priest is more minion-centric so it is less dependent on the coin than Control Priest.

It’s also interesting to look at the different Warrior archetypes. Tempo is at the top end of the spectrum, Dragon Warrior sits close to the global average, while Control, Patron and C’Thun Warrior are at the lower end of the table. The only dramatic outlier is Pirate Warrior, which is an extremely aggressive deck, but favors the coin significantly!

Spell heavy decks such as Miracle Rogue, Tempo Mage and Yogg Druid also have a lower “coin differential” than the global average. Despite that, Miracle Rogue still has a better win rate going first. It could be that it often runs into matchups where the opponent gains a bigger advantage from going first than the advantage Miracle Rogue gets from having the coin. But there is also a possibility that the common perception among players regarding Miracle Rogue’s preference of the coin is simply overstated, save for a few match ups.

Next we’ve prepared a very special matchup table. In this table, we’re showing the “coin differential” of specific matchups. A blue color indicates that the deck in the row wins more often against the deck in the column when it goes first, while orange indicates it wins more often when it has the coin. The colors do not signal the actual win rates, just the “coin differential”! You can hover over the boxes for the win rate information.

We’ll mostly let the community look at these numbers and discuss them, as we are not going to claim that we can fully explain all of these results, but there are a couple of “rules” we’ve gathered from this information:

  1. Going first gives a significant advantage when two tempo based decks face each other. This outcome is pretty much expected, and the only deck that behaves differently from that pattern is Pirate Warrior.
  2. In any other case, the behavior of “coin differential” can significantly vary and is not necessarily intuitive. For example, in Zoo vs. Miracle Rogue the side with the coin benefits, but in Miracle Rogue vs. C’Thun Warrior, going first is more beneficial. Yogg Druid displays a pattern of favoring the coin relative to the field, but in the mirror matchup, going first is advantageous.

We hope that this information will provide the community with insight on this subject and spark interesting discussion. We look forward to reading the comments and discussions; we’re also looking for additional issues that need some further data investigations. We plan on producing more specific analysis such as this in the future, in addition to our weekly Data Reaper reports.

Our Data Reaper Project, including the Data Reaper Live (Beta) now has over 1100 contributors. Without them, analysis such as this would not be possible, so we’d like to thank all of our contributors for helping us on this project. If you have not done so already, you can sign up with your Track-O-Bot information here.

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  1. Kripp is not a a tournament or high ladder player and his suggestions are anecdotal at best. These are hard statistics.

  2. Hello,

    I’m watching a Kripp video about the coin and he says that in constructed it’s almost even between having the coin versus not having it (he says that in constructed, the coin favors rogue and combo decks, doesn’t matter in a control meta (but there’s a long time ago we haven’t seen a control meta), and going first favors agressive zoo type decks)

    But in arena in general he says you want to go first and not have the coin

    I would be interested if you had statistics on arenas, to see how the winrates are

    He shows numbers in the vid, but if you had statistics on your side it would be great, to complete !

    Here is the Kripp’s vid I’m talking about :

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