Going infinite in Momir Basic DEs is all fine and good (and a lot better now that M14 has rotated out of prize payouts) but let’s face it, it’s not that glamorous. Momir is fun but it doesn’t add cards to your collection and doesn’t give you that lovely addictive mp3 of a pack being ripped open.
It’s time to talk about drafting.
Feeding the Bots
If you have any interest in “going infinite,” you’ll already know that you should be avoiding 4-3-2-2 queues like the plague. However, EV is difficult to calculate for all draft queues because we need to assign a value to the cards we pull. At the time of writing, Theros was just released so card prices are artificially inflated. As a result, we are better off trying to calculate the value of a stable format like triple M14.
It’s very unusual on MTGO for a money common or uncommon to really blow up, so I think it’s reasonable to only model rares and mythic rares when it comes to pack value. We’ll take the 1-in-8 probability of getting a mythic as read and ignore foils – with the probability of a foil rare or mythic being so low their effect on the EV calculation is absolutely minimal. We’ll also assume that all players are playing greedily (i.e. they always take the rare/mythic first pick in every pack). This is not the optimal strategy and some extra EV can be achieved by getting good at deciding when it is better to raredraft and when it is better to draft for a better deck – more on this later.
(Author note: these prices are from before the Pro Tour. Everything blew up!)
Pack value = 7/8 * (mean rare price) + 1/8 * (mean mythic price)
Using current M14 buy values from supernovabots:
Pack value = (7/8 * 0.438) + (1/8 * 4.77)
Pack value = ~0.98
Using this figure and current M14 pack prices (sell 2.83, buy 2.74):
EV Event = (Expected prizes) – (3 * (2.83 – 0.98) + 2)
EV Event = (Expected prizes) – 7.55
50% win rate
4-3-2-2 queue EV = -3.78
Swiss queue EV = -3.44
8-4 queue EV = -3.44 (NB: this is expected – the number of packs paid out is the same and this theoretical player has no edge over the field so the top heavy payout neither hurts nor harms their EV (although is higher variance))
55% win rate
4-3-2-2 queue EV = -3.25
Swiss queue EV = -3.03
8-4 queue EV = -2.41
60% win rate
4-3-2-2 queue EV = -2.69
Swiss queue EV = -2.62
8-4 queue EV= -1.24
65% win rate (Probably near the top win rate that can be expected)
4-3-2-2 queue EV = -2.08
Swiss queue EV = -2.21 (!)
8-4 queue EV = +0.09
70% win rate (Starting to enter Magical Christmas Land)
4-3-2-2 queue EV = -1.43
Swiss queue EV = -1.80
8-4 queue EV = +1.58
As you can see, it is very difficult to be a winning player in drafts. Sadly, the value just isn’t there. However, from running the figures we can still draw some interesting conclusions that may not be obvious:
As everyone already knew, you shouldn’t be playing 4-3-2-2 queues. Ever.
Unless you lose more often than you win, theoretically you also shouldn’t ever play in Swiss queues.
In reality, the line for this is slightly higher because Swiss queues have worse players and so your Match Win % will be better in Swiss than in 8-4s.
In a strange twist, top players should be avoiding Swiss events more than 4-3-2-2s despite the higher total pack payout.
If you’re not the Kenji Egashiras and Brian Wongs of the world drafting will always cost you money, and you should accept this.
On that last point, I mean it. An important part of bankroll management is keeping yourself in check and honest. If you are able to go infinite from drafting you are either one of the top Limited players in the world or the singles market is completely busted and pack value is through the roof. For us mere mortals, drafting will cost us money and tix.
And that is fine.
As long as we know this is the case, we can handle it elsewhere. The main thing to do is to budget for it. I suggest either having a dedicated cash budget for drafting or funding it through Constructed DEs. If you are choosing the latter option, set yourself a line in the sand for your bankroll under which you don’t draft at all – have a look at Part 1 of this article series and set the line at 5% risk of ruin or lower.
Stopping the Rot
The other thing to do is to squeeze as much EV from each draft as possible. Others have discussed this in the past, but it’s always good to refresh the basic principles:
Play 8-4s: I covered this already, but unless you’re outclassed as a player it is always correct to play 8-4 queues over every other format.
Learn how to rare draft: There’s a balance to be struck between taking the rare or mythic in a pack and taking the best card to improve your Match Win %. As the figures above show, a 5% increase in Match Win % is worth around 1-1.5 tix (increasing as your Match Win % gets higher). In practice, this means it’s certainly not worth raredrafting bulk and probably not worth it unless that card is worth a ticket or two (in which case it’s probably helping your deck as well).
Split: If you make the final of an 8-4, always split the packs unless you legitimately feel your deck is the absolute nuts. This doesn’t improve your EV but it does significantly reduce your variance.
Play your A game: A common suggestion in poker is to avoid playing when you’re not playing your best. In reality this isn’t practical, but the spirit of it should be taken on board – avoid the draft queues when it’s obvious you’re not at your best.
Improve all your games: This can come in many forms. Reading articles and learning more about the format will improve your best games. Learning to handle tilt properly will improve your worst games. I highly recommend reading The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler for more information on this – the wisdom contained within is easily applied to Magic.
Keep an eye on the market: Drafting provides you with a lot of cards, which means you’re inadvertently catapulted into the world of Magic finance. You can easily improve your drafting EV by making sensible decisions about when to sell cards. For example, I recently ripped a Chandra, Pyromancer and flipped it immediately for 11.5 tickets. Mono-Red has continued to be a force in Standard and I could now get 16.8 from a bot. That’s nearly the cost of a whole draft down the drain because I didn’t feel out the market correctly or (and!) was impatient.
Sell to humans where you can: You can squeeze out some extra parts of tickets if you sell directly to people rather than bots. I actually quite like bots for the convenience but it obviously comes at the cost of not getting full value. This will take time and your time is worth something, so make a sensible decision based on your view of it and remember that you can always quickly compare the buy prices of various bots.
Play the value formats: Not all formats are created equal. Your Match Win % may be better in DGR block drafts than in triple Theros. M14 pack values may stomp all over both. It’s not that difficult to calculate EVs and in the future I might release a quick online calculator to show you the best online draft formats. Pay special attention to “retro” draft formats – there are often some disgusting chase money rares in these that absolutely warp the expected pack value. Roll on Mirage…
The Elephant in the Room
It needs to be said – the big winner when it comes to drafting is Wizards of the Coast. Drafts are so unprofitable because they cost so much to enter. Assuming that the values of cards would stay the same if nix tix drafts were brought in (a faulty assumption but necessary for simplicity) it would reduce the necessary Match Win % to be profitable from ~64% to ~57%, which is far more attainable.
Sadly, this will never happen. Wizards have quite clearly set their stall out to extract as much value from their customer base as possible and I don’t see them giving back $16 per draft, regardless of how many extra packs nix tix queues would shift. I’m not an economist, but I doubt the increased sales would make up for it.