About the Author
@Masticon     -     Email     -     Articles Marc DeArmond is a currently a Middle School Math Teacher and the host of the Casually Infinite podcast. He started playing Magic back in Unlimited during 1993. His interests are trading up in value and playing limited on MTGO. He is the author of Casually Infinite, which discusses how to continue to play Magic Online without spending money. He is currently a Level 2 Magic Judge.

Casually Infinite – Manifest and Other Troubled Mechanics of Magic‘s Past

I’ve kept no secret about the fact that I’m not impressed with manifest as a mechanic. To me, it fits in with a number of previous unimpressive “feel bad” mechanics. As a featured new keyword in a set, it has a number of issues similar to other troubled mechanics such as tribute, cipher, and curses. Here I’m going to go in depth to look at the repeated flaws of these mechanics to see what it is that drives these mechanics to look so good, but end up so unloved.

Manifesting Failure

For those not familiar with manifest, it is a mechanic that has you put the top card of your library onto the battlefield as a face-down 2/2 creature, similar to a morph. However, if the card is a creature card, it can be turned face up by paying its mana cost. If it’s not a creature card, it sits on the battlefield as a 2/2 for eternity. There are a number of instants and sorceries that manifest, as well as a few creatures and enchantments that attach to newly manifested creatures. Most of the time, manifest exists as a fairly priced 2/2 creature with fairly priced bonuses. The basic manifest card, [card]Soul Summons[/card], is basically a white bear with possible upside.

The problem is that the upside promises big things but the reality of it is incredibly small. In a regular Limited deck with 40 cards, 17 lands, 8 spells, and 15 creatures, you have only about a 37.5 percent chance of hitting a creature. This means you have a 62.5 percent chance of getting an unexciting manifest. About 20 percent of the time, your manifest will be an instant or sorcery that you probably wanted. Having my [card]Reach of Shadows[/card] manifested was one of the worst feel-bad moments in my entire time playing in the block so far. With the 37.5 percent chance of getting a creature, there’s a number of creatures that you don’t want manifested. When you look at cards like [card]Hooded Assassin[/card], [card]Aven Surveyor[/card], or even the famed [card]Siege Rhino[/card], manifesting these cards is mostly downside. Getting the “free card” doesn’t even matter because most of the time you spent a card to get the manifest. With a number of creatures that you don’t want manifested being a significant portion of your deck, it appears that the “good case” scenario is manifesting a land, which is great until it gets bounced.

I figure that less than 20 percent of most decks is made up of creatures you actually want to manifest. These include morphs and some big-mana creatures. In most of those cases, you’d rather cast the creature from your hand. Paying three for a morph is generally much better than paying 1W for a manifest that has a 20 percent chance of being a morph. Especially considering that there’s a 40 percent chance that I’ll manifest a card I actually want. The promise of manifesting my [card]Abzan Guide[/card] is dwarfed by the likelihood that I won’t and surpassed by the probability that I’ll manifest something I actively don’t want. In the end, this is a feel-bad mechanic in the vast majority of cases. So long as the cost is fair, I’d generally rather just have a 2/2 than a manifest.

Manifesting Success

While at it’s core I’d consider manifest a failure, there are a couple of examples where it is a decent success. Cards like [card]Lightform[/card] and [card]Mistform[/card] represent cards that I’m perfectly happy to play as a 2/2 with the attached abilities. If these cards were just 2/2s instead, they would still find a place in my deck. In these cases, manifest could be considered a success because it basically just gives a 2/2 token with the attached enchantment. This means that it’s a good deal. However, I’d consider the manifest as more of a downside than an upside. It has the downside of taking a card I actually want out of my deck. Even with a small downside like exiling the top card of my library, I’d still play Cloudform or Lightform, but it’s important to note that these cards generating an acceptable creature doesn’t make the mechanic good.

The cards that makes manifest shine are cards like [card]Whisperwood Elemental[/card] and [card]Mastery of the Unseen[/card]. These cards allow for continual manifesting, which drastically increases the chance of getting a good card while a card like [card]Soul Summons[/card] is more like a scratch-to-win lotto ticket. The eventual payoff of getting continual 2/2 creatures along with the chance to “strike it big” makes these cards far more exciting. However, these are the rare and mythic cards and most of the common cards are very unexciting.

The other issue here is there is incredibly few cards with a big payoff for manifesting. Manifesting [card]Master of Pearls[/card], [card]Icefeather Aven[/card], or [card]Hooded Hydra[/card] feels like winning the Mega Millions, but it is incredibly unlikely to happen. You’re more likely to feel awesome by morphing your [card]Icefeather Aven[/card] and flipping it up to bounce your opponent’s [card]Dragonbell Monk[/card] and block their [card]Battle Brawler[/card], which feels just as much like winning but can actually happen in a game of Limited Magic. All the cards that are great with manifest were already great. Manifesting them is good, but they’re not cards you’ll have lots of in your deck.

Feeling Bad About Mechanics

One of the biggest complaints stemming from manifest is that it is a “feel bad” mechanic. Reading the mechanic, your mind drifts to flipping up hydras or monks for two, but the reality isn’t the case. LSV recently commented that Soul Summons has basically become a bear. I might argue that it is possibly worse than a bear without some sort of scry or [card]Brainstorm[/card] mechanic. This means not only is the promise fulfilled less than desired, but the promise failing to be fulfilled leaves the player somewhat frustrated. If you hit a good spell or utility creature with an ETB effect, it feels pretty bad. At this point, not only is the promise of something cool not fulfilled, but you “lose a good card.” I understand that all you really lose is a random card off the top of your library, but the reality of the situation is that you have to continue to look at that Reach of Shadows or, God forbid, [card]Duneblast[/card], wishing there was a way to cast it. The promise of something good is simply too often eclipsed by something less than stellar or bad.


There’s a recent string of similar mechanics in recent small sets that share a similar feel bad issue. Most recently Born of the Gods brought about the tribute mechanic. This mechanic provided the opportunity for the opponent to pick one of two “modes” upon the resolution of creature. Tribute, much like manifest, promised great things, but rarely delivered. There were rare occasions where your opponent would pick the wrong choice for tribute. Perhaps they were relying on their kill spell to take down the massive creature they just allowed you to land and you had a counter, or sometimes the board state just wasn’t what they thought it was. But the vast majority of the time, you got to read a card with two cool abilities and pick the worst one in your given situation. Again, some of these cards had modes that were very close, such that picking either one went pretty badly for your opponent. But even in those 55/45 situations, you were pretty much guaranteed to lose the 10 percent. Here, similar to manifest, there was a promise of big things with little delivery.


Cipher was a very interesting Dimir mechanic in Return to Ravnica block that also brought with it big promise. Cipher allowed you to cast a spell, then attach it to a creature that would allow you to cast the spell for free every time you hit an opponent with it. The idea of getting to tap down two of your opponent’s creatures every turn with [card]Hidden Strings[/card] is quite a draw. If you could pair it up with a small unblockable creature, you could have quite an impact.

…Except that you already could get through with an unblocked attacker every turn, which makes tapping your opponent’s creatures down far less significant. Additionally, the cards were too expensive to be priced fairly for a single use, making it necessary to get in twice in order to make it “worth it.” Paying 3U to draw a card with [card]Last Thoughts[/card] is pretty unimpressive. Paying it to draw two cards makes it a sorcery speed [card]Inspiration[/card], which is still worse than [card]Divination[/card]. If you could get three cards out of it, you were doing pretty good. But considering the inherent risks of casting what is essentially an enchantment with an ETB ability that is significantly overpriced, most all of the cipher cards promised far more than they could deliver.


Curses are probably the most successful of the mechanics mentioned here as they still play a role in some decks. I still see [card]Curse of the Bloody Tome[/card] in mill decks and [card]Curse of the Stalked Prey[/card] had it’s day in the sun—or moonlight, perhaps.

Curses made big promises. The primary difference is the frequency with which they could actually deliver. Cheap or impactful curses just operated similarly to world enhancements when you could build your deck around them. The problem was that they were a mechanic of build-around-me cards. You couldn’t really build around curses, which meant that there were a large number of build-around-me cards in each set. Each of these promised big things which were, for the most part, attainable in the right deck, but very difficult to make proper use of. Of the mechanics listed, I wouldn’t mind curses coming back, but I think that they need to come in low enough numbers that they will really just operate like other build-around-me enchantments like [card]Angelic Accord[/card], [card]Quiet Contemplation[/card], or[card]Goblin Slide[/card].

Planning for the Future

It is my hope that in the future we see more mechanics where the big promises can be fulfilled rather than falling flat. Cards with monstrosity that were fair at their original cost could provide additional value if the game went long. My initial doubts about morph in Khans were mitigated by the five-mana cost to flip face up, and morph ended up being one of my favorite parts of the set.

While I expect to see individual cards that may not hit the mark, an entire mechanic that suffers from these problems can really drag a set down. With mechanics like tribute and manifest, there is no way that they won’t be a let down the majority of times they show up, so I hope they do not return. Give me more mechanics like prowess, outlast, dash, raid, and delve, and I’ll be a happy man.

Casually Infinite – About the MTGO Closed Beta with Chris Kiritz, MTGO Business Manager

In early December, Wizards of the Coast posted that it will be moving forward with leagues on Magic Online and began testing them during December in the closed beta environment. Along with this, the company posted the link to sign up for the closed beta. If you haven’t applied for it yet, you should do so here. Personally, I have been greatly enjoying a month of free league play. I have found the closed beta to be a wonderful opportunity and something that everyone seeking to play casually infinite. In the past, the closed beta has offered an advance look at cards, free drafts, and one of the most advanced formats available, the BET limited.

My Experience in Closed Beta

While I can’t predict the future of the closed beta, I can explain some of the things WOTC has offered in the past, offers I can only assume are likely to continue. I contacted WOTC and had the chance to speak to Chris Kiritz, the Magic Online Business Manager, regarding the closed beta and the future of beta play. Here’s what he says about the chances of people who apply for the beta:

“Many players who take the effort to apply will get in, but we take steps to prevent disruptive players where appropriate. In addition, we trust our players to follow some conduct and confidentiality guidelines, and will take actions to remove players who cannot do so. Players who are interested can find the requirements and the application here.”

Because stability improvements are generally tested first on the closed beta, the stability changes seem to run a few weeks ahead of the main client. My experience on the beta has generally provided me with a more stable game than the release version. This may seem like a small issue, but with my aging computer, it is a pretty big deal. I generally feel that I’m more able to play queues to completion without disconnects than I am on the live servers. According to Kiritz, this is a pretty important area of focus:

“We’re continually looking for ways to improve how well Magic Online performs in each area, both in responsiveness and stability, and have some major adjustments in flight now to help address these issues. Our primary goal is to ensure that players can successfully play games of Magic whenever they want without crashing or experiencing major game-impacting issues.

For the most part, we’ve been making steady progress, though maybe not as quickly as we all would like. For stability, we recently released an update that fixed many of the deck submission errors that players had been encountering, which has been a big player frustration.”

Advantages in Closed Beta

Users of the closed beta often get the first look at digital cards, generally a few weeks before they release on MTGO. While cards are just coming out in paper, your closed beta account is likely to be filled up with a playset of the newest sets. Interestingly enough, playing with these cards is exactly what Wizards wants you to do. Got a random deck idea in Standard? Throw it together and give it a swing. There have even been times when playsets of Vintage cards have been made available in my beta account, allowing me to make some of those awesome crazy decks I remember playing with back in 1995. While Standard isn’t normally my thing, it can be fun to see what Black-White Warriors looks like for a couple games without having to pick up four [card]Bloodsoaked Champion[/card]s over release weekend.

My big thing is Limited, and it has come in two forms in the beta client. One of the things that show up occasionally in the closed beta are new set draft queues. These have generally shown up around paper release weekend for past sets. Beta testing is a quick way for WOTC to test numerous interactions of the new cards in the most common environment they’ll be played in: Limited. There have also been a few times that older formats have become available to play in both Sealed and Draft formats. I feel like I even remember drafting Seventh Edition at one point. When these drafts are available, you’ll see the numbers spike and queues firing much more quickly. Kiritz explained the things likely to come online to me:

“Since closed beta is used most often for testing card sets, you can expect to see a lot of beta drafts and Sealed Deck. When we are looking for targeted testing on a specific feature not specifically related to card sets, we’ll try and choose formats that we think either emphasizes what we are testing or are fun for our closed beta players. We’ve done everything from Core Set Constructed to Holiday Cube over the years, so you never know what you are going to get. The beta email that we send out prior to the start of every major closed beta will let players know what to expect.

Currently our focus is joining and playing through leagues. Next, it will be the Fate Reforged card set. Testing this focal area is important, but where the closed beta players can really provide benefit is with “halo” testing, essentially testing and experimenting with the systems that are related to the primary test area.”

When there isn’t any specific set that WOTC feels needs to be tested, there are always beta drafts available. I’ve found beta drafts to be among the most skill-testing of any format. The beta pool is usually available in either sealed heads up play or a four-man draft pod.

Cards in the beta draft boosters are about half cards from the most recent release or two, and half cards from the entire history of Magic. This is sort of like playing a chaos draft in which half the packs are Khans of Tarkir and the other half consist of one of every other pack ever made, which are then shuffled together and dealt back out. I’ve seen some truly crazy combos, I’ve seen some disgusting cards, I’ve passed tournament-playable Legacy cards in my color because I couldn’t figure out how they were good in my deck. It really teaches you everything about the new format because you know there’s a good chance of combat tricks from the most recent set, but it makes you think about how these cards interact with cards long-forgotten. These drafts include a very unique combination of cards. According to Chris, beta drafts are made up of the following:

“We essentially split each pack evenly between the newest card set and all of the cards ever printed in Magic Online. We then tweak the pack to have additional mana fixing, such as the vivid lands. If we know there is a combination of cards that could cause problems, we have the ability to adjust how frequently cards appear, but for the most part, our players are really good at uncovering obscure card interactions that could be problematic.”

Once You’re In

Once you’re in the beta, there is usually a specific area of focus that WOTC is looking for testing in. While there may be significant availability of cards in your beta account, most of players will be working in the focus area. But the most important thing you can do when you’re in is play. Play whatever there is to play. Contact your friends and play with them. A significant number of problems are caught by playtesters who were playing a fairly normal game of Magic until something strange happened. In my experience, this is fairly rare. It doesn’t feel like you’re alpha testing a game—the builds you’re on are really stable. To actively help out, Kiritz suggests doing the following:

“If a closed beta player encounters a bug, a crash, or even a design element that doesn’t seem correct and is not on the known issues list, the most important thing they can do is report it using the bug reporting system (we have a selection for Beta Bug Report). While an issue might appear so obviously broken we must already know about it, our players continually surprise us with all the different ways they use Magic Online, and reporting issues ensures that someone from our QA team will see them. In addition, how often players report an issue can help inform how often it is happening and increase the priority of getting it fixed.

We get metrics on when the client crashes automatically, so just getting a lot of play on the closed beta is useful for understanding how stable any given build is and where in the code an issue may be, but entering details into the crash dialog and submitting a bug report can help us narrow down what caused a crash by providing context we may not have otherwise.”

The final point here is that you shouldn’t just use the beta to fine tune your standard build. While Standard cards are available, what helps the system most is playing games with as many interactions as possible. Also be aware that at any point your account may get wiped, along with your beta decks. For me, this just means more time to build a new deck or jump into a BET draft. But it is important that you’re helping out the game by doing more than just trying to kill your opponent as quickly as possible. The philosophy for the beta is this:

“Essentially, we want players to do many of the things they might do when playing Magic Online on the regular production environment, but with a critical eye towards where something may go wrong. This philosophy also includes placing less emphasis on winning or finishing matches quickly and more on watching the outcomes of actions. A simplified example is the end of combat. While conceding when your opponent attacks for lethal damage and you have no blockers should be tested, as it is a common scenario, occasionally you should also let combat finish and damage resolve to ensure the game finishes correctly.”

Sweeten the Deal

Once or twice, the closed beta participants have been rewarded in their live MTGO accounts for participating in specific events. These rewards have been given out for playing a certain number of Draft and Standard events, making a number of trades, or testing whatever else needs to be tested. Rewards are usually MTGO cards in your account in thanks for helping WOTC out. Personally, I can’t think of anything more awesome that playing Magic for free and being rewarded with more Magic cards. The closed beta offers both free play and occasional real-world rewards. If you haven’t signed up, you should.

If you’d like to read the article on leagues by Chris Kiritz on the MTG website you can find it here.

To sign up for the MTGO Closed Beta click here.

Thanks for reading!

Casually Infinite – Preserving Khans for Future Play

One thing I really like to do is draft good sets. While most cubes provide a unique experience in which you get to play with a wide variety of powerful cards from various sets, there is something about a well-designed and playtested Limited environment that far outshines the enjoyment of having to decide between [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card] and [card]Jace, Memory Adept[/card]. Personally, I prefer the questions like [card]Murderous Cut[/card] versus [card]Highspire Mantis[/card] or [card]Seeker of the Way[/card] versus [card]Abzan Battle Priest[/card]. I also vastly enjoy the weaker decks that these formats create as they are more about Magic fundamentals than having ways to outplay your opponent’s deck. I also really like Khans of Tarkir and have decided I’d like to draft it in the future.

The issue with drafting sets is that it is fairly costly. Here at Casually Infinite, we are all about value. While I’m willing to pay $15 once every couple months to sit around and draft, I’d much prefer to be able to do so whenever I want without a cost. There are also some formats that I’d love to be able to draft that I’m even less willing to purchase the packs for. I can’t go back and draft Innistrad unless someone pulls out a box from their vault or I shell out five bucks a pack, either of which isn’t very likely to happen. If I want to be able to draft Khans in the future, I’m going to need to pick up two boxes for every three drafts I want to fund. I’ll have to sink $200 at least, with a best possible result of being able to draft three times. I’m not thrilled with that result.

I’ve decided to look at preserving the Khans draft environment in a cube. Having a cube of Khans would allow me to essentially draft the format whenever I wanted without any ongoing fee. I could even test Sealed deck builds, or even Team Sealed practice builds, from the cube. While cubes are substantially different from a regular set in a number of ways, there’s some steps we can take to mitigate the impact and have our cube play out more like opening boosters. In this article, I’ll be spelling out some of the ways to cube a set and how those ways affect how the overall cube plays out.

mantis rider

Full Set Cubed

While cubes generally only have one of each card, Khans only has 249 cards. Picking up a full set would create a pretty pathetic cube, capable of supporting only five drafters. When Fates Reforged comes out, I could combine the two sets into one 434-card cube. This gets us across the important 426 line needed to run eight 14-card draft packs. But there’s always a chance I won’t be that fond of Fates Reforged—and I do really like the Khans set. One of the quickest ways I could build a cube with it is pick up two complete sets of Khans. This gives me almost 500 cards.

One problem with running a cube like this, besides the cost (which would be around $400), is that it won’t play anything remotely like the current Khans limited environment. With a cube made from two complete sets, we’d see see a one-to-five ratio of rares to other cards, uncommons would be almost as numerous as commons, and an average draft pack would contain one mythic. While this would be a way to play Khans, I don’t feel it really captures the environment for the future. I’m also relatively sure that in this draft environment, solid Limited cards like [card]Archer’s Parapet[/card] and [card]Monastery Flock[/card] would never see play, and I actually like those cards. If I want to capture the Khans Limited environment, I’m going to need to work closer to what can actually be found in a booster pack.


Building Boosters

One option that I’m not very fond of is manually building boosters from random cards in Khans. While this can be one of the cheapest ways to exactly replicate the Limited environment, the process of putting together one rare/mythic, three uncommons, and ten commons is incredibly time consuming. While this is probably the most accurate way to directly replicate the Limited environment, the idea of sorting some 500 cards into piles by rarity, then manually reassembling boosters makes the entire project sound far less enjoyable. I’ll admit that there may be some times that I’d consider this such as testing for a Team Sealed event, but overall I’d rather just build a cube that closely replicates what is likely to be found in boosters. If you don’t mind resorting after each draft, this is going to be the best way to go.

Khans has 101 commons, 80 uncommons, 53 rares, and 15 mythics. The current ratio of cards found in packs is 10 commons, 3 uncommons, 7/8 rare, 1/8 mythic. Each draft contains 24 boosters, meaning every draft will contain 240 commons, 72 uncommons, and an average of 21 rares and three mythics. Trying to replicate a self-contained cube with almost this exact ratio requires a huge number of cards. You’d need ten copies of each common, four copies of each uncommon, two copies of each rare, and one copy of each mythic—for a grand total of a 1451 cards in your cube. This brings a slightly higher percentage of rares (about one percent more than normal) and slightly fewer commons (two percent fewer commons) but lets you use every single card found in the set. I can’t imagine trying to shuffle this, much less lug it around. It doesn’t seem very realistic to me.


Cube Options

One of the first things I note about wanting to build a cube around a set is that I’m trying to capture the feel of a set, not necessarily capture an exact replica of the Limited environment. This means a few things. First off, I want it to play similar to the Limited environment, but not necessarily exactly the same. This means I don’t actually have to include every card. Personally, I wouldn’t feel like the Limited environment was being messed up if there wasn’t a single copy of [card]Lens of Clarity[/card] in my cube. That card is awful. If I really wanted to include one, I could probably just stick a singleton in to preserve the feel, as I wouldn’t need a full playset of them in order to feel like I’m capturing Khans. Now, getting my hands on five copies of [card]Lens of Clarity[/card] isn’t going to be hard, but the same theory can be held with rares and mythics.

The second issue building the cube really comes with the mythic rares. With 53 rares and 15 mythics, the ratio is substantially off and the only way to fix it and replicate the environment would be to get two copies of each rare to go along with the mythics. What I don’t like about this option is the cost. Even if we’re only looking at a dollar a rare, this is still adding $50 to the cost of my cube, and there happens to be many-high cost rares. There are two ways around this. The easy way is just to consider mythics as rares and have one of each rare and one of each mythic. This skews the cube towards a greater number of more powerful cards, as the vast majority of mythics are slam-dunk first picks. But if you’re okay with seeing mythics more often, you can still have a very similar feeling in your set by including essentially 68 “rares.”

Personally, I don’t feel that I need to include every mythic from the set in my cube. There are a number of mythics that are very warping to the Limited environment and you might actually enhance the environment by removing them from your cube. The first two on my list are [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card] and [card]Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker[/card]. While these are two very good cards, there’s two things fighting against them being in my cube. The first is they have such a significant impact on Limited as to often make people who draft them have a very significant advantage. This could be somewhat of an issue in a cube if they were going to show up as often as a regular rare. The second issue is that these are fairly costly chase cards in the set. I’d rather have them to trade away or sell while they still have value than stick them into my cube box to be played with in the future. If I can avoid locking $60 worth of mythics in my cube, I’ve made my cube substantially less expensive. While I can see arguments to include Sarkhan in the set (it is his plane after all), I’d rather leave the planeswalkers out entirely.

Looking at the options at mythics, I’m heavily inclined to keep the clan leaders, but I really feel that most of the rest of the cards can go. [card]Wingmate Roc[/card] is worth decent money now and the only other cards that really call to me are [card]Hooded Hydra[/card], [card]Ashcloud Phoenix[/card], and [card]See the Unwritten[/card]. I suppose an argument can be made for [card]Pearl Lake Ancient[/card], but that’s not really a card I need to feel like I’m playing Khans Limited. I’m inclined to settle somewhere between five and seven mythics in my cube. This requires some heavy cutting, but can remove some of the mostly costly cards to acquire and make the cube far more affordable.

If we’re cutting mythics, we can also take a swing at rares. If we have somewhere between six and seven mythics, we will want between 42 and 49 rares to keep things at about the right percentages. The first thing I’d cut is the fetch lands. These cards are worth quite a bit in trade or cash and there’s nothing that a [card]Wooded Foothills[/card] adds to a draft that a [card]Rugged Highlands[/card] doesn’t do just as well. These are fantastic constructed cards in old formats, but they just don’t have a big impact on Draft. Personally, I’d just be glad not to have to first pick them to maintain value in my collection. Not having them in the cube doesn’t really hurt the mana in any meaningful way. A couple other rares I’d consider pulling simply because they’re insultingly bad in Limited include [card]Altar of the Brood[/card] and [card]Howl of the Horde[/card]. With the fetch lands plus a couple rares pulled from the set, we can settle right around 45 rares. Pulling out the fetches saves us another $60 as they are the most valuable cards in the set besides the two planeswalkers.


Total Number of Cards

With about six mythics and 45 rares, we want to keep our percentages even on commons and uncommons while including them in our set. A normal draft is 71.4 percent commons, 21.4 percent uncommons, 6.2 percent rares, and 0.9 percent mythics. The bulk of our cube is made up of commons. The cheapest option is to run a 3/1/1 cube in which there is three of each common, one of each uncommon, and one of each rare. With our trimmed numbers, this gives us about 430 total cards, but our uncommon and rare percentages are pretty off. We’re down to 18 percent uncommons and up to 10 percent rares. I feel this is a pretty big deviation as we have almost doubled the number of rares and mythics in each draft. Additionally, having only one of each uncommon prevents being able to pick up multiple copies of single cards that can provide some fun build-around-me options. A draft normally contains 72 uncommons. With only 80 in the set, it is far more likely that there are a handful of duplicates in each draft than not. If you stick with only one copy, you’ll never have two copies of [card]Secret Plans[/card] in your deck, but there will be one in almost every draft.

Another option is a 4/2/1 split, where we double up on each uncommon and add a fourth common for a total of about 610 cards. Our rares and mythics are back in line here, but we’ve pumped the uncommon percentage up to 25 percent and dropped our rare percentage to 65 percent. This is more acceptable to me than running a huge number of rares, but it isn’t balanced quite right. My final idea is a 5/2/1 split, where we run five of each common for a total of about 710 cards. This provides us with a single extra percent of uncommons and a single percent of fewer commons. This could easily be fixed by cutting a couple basically unplayable uncommons from being needless waste of space. An added advantage of 710 cards is that it can also make the necessary cut of eight 84-card Sealed deck pools. I’d warn that Sealed pools without balanced rare and uncommon distribution can be significantly less balanced. Rare distribution is incredibly unlikely, and the guy stuck with only three rares may feel slighted by the exchange.


Building the Cube

In order to build this cube I need five of each common, two of each uncommon, and one of each rare in the set: approximately 711 cards in total. A booster box contains 504 cards (not counting land and tokens) in approximately the proper proportions of rares, uncommons, and commons that we’re going for, but we’re in no way guaranteed to end up with the perfect distribution by opening a box and a half. I’d advise going with two full booster boxes, selling off or adding to your collection Sorin and Sarkhan and the fetch lands, which should give you around $100 in sell-back value. So for approximately $100, you can have enough Khans that you can play it forever—now you just need to invest in decent sleeves. Too bad MTGO doesn’t let us use our  online collection to run our own cubes.

Casually Infinite – Catching Cheaters

With the recent wave of bans for cheating dropping on various known Magic personalities, one of the most common questions I’ve seen is, “Why haven’t judges been catching these issues far earlier?” I’m going to break down the duties of a judge at large events to try to bring some perspective as to why people like this haven’t been caught by judges prior to this event.

Large Event Numbers

One of the basic rules of thumb for staffing large events is that one judge is needed for every 30 or so players, plus judges to handle external functions such as score-keeping, logistics, covering breaks, deck checks, handling product, and cash transfers. While there are numerous judges working on a specific event, there is a significantly lower number of floor judges that are responsible for cruising up and down the aisles, answering questions, and providing assistance where needed. It’s not uncommon that a single judge is responsible for being available for 50 players, or 25 ongoing matches. Generally these judges move around, making use of the old school teacher tactic that says proximity is one of the best ways to prevent problems.

Judges do stop to watch games, especially once time has been called or when they see a particularly interesting board state. But glancing down and totally understanding a board state takes a considerable amount of time, and the chance of catching an error simply by glancing at a game is pretty low. Additionally, if a table is shuffling, I don’t even bother to glance at what they’re doing. This is likely to change in the future, but there’s a general assumption that judges make that players are doing things right unless they see something to prove otherwise.

As a school teacher, I’m regularly responsible for a classroom of 30 students. I can tell you that it is impossible for me to catch every gum chew, food sneak, text message, note pass, rude gesture, or quiet comment that my students make. All of these things may be against the rules, but most of them are likely to pass by without my notice simply because of the volume of students I’m dealing with. Judging works very much the same way. What I’m looking for as I’m wandering through the tables is someone doing something out of the ordinary. When I notice a student sneaking a text message in class it’s not because I see their phone, it’s because I notice them staring at their crotch for a highly conspicuous amount of time. Catching every infraction isn’t a possibility.

While an argument could be made that more judges are necessary to provide better coverage, it is worth noting that judges are hired employees of the tournament organizer and cost a significant chunk of money to bring to an event. Generally, a significant number of judges travel to an event from outside the state because the available local judges are exhausted early in the process of bringing on staff. Bringing in more judges may mean having to pay more to cover additional costs of those traveling from further away. While bringing on more judges could be an option, the likely turn around effect would be a significant increase in event fees, which I’m sure most people don’t want.

Coverage Judges

But surely coverage judges are in a very different place. They’re generally watching over one to three games and can provide significant attention to what is happening in one.

One of the northwest judges I look up to most is frequently a GP coverage judge. Rarely does a weekend go by where I don’t see him on the stream at the coverage table. He’s a fantastic judge, incredibly knowledgeable of the rules, and catches stuff I feel I’d never notice. However, while sitting there, he’s responsible for fishing out tokens, entering life totals and cards in hand in the coverage computer, and communicating with the coverage team. While he’s in this spot, he is definitely available to handle rules calls, but his job at this point isn’t to watch each player like a pit boss at a casino. He’s got a lot of other stuff going on at the same time.

The Role of Judges and Players

Some people liken a judge to a casino pit boss, but this is far from the case. A casino pit boss is responsible for overseeing dealers that are stationed at each table. Cheating would require some very skilled manipulation or collusion with the dealer. This is a multi-tiered prevention system with people overseeing each level. In Magic, we’ve got a much higher ratio of oversight to players. In fact, most rules violations would go entirely unnoticed if it wasn’t for players calling for a judge. In reality, the first line of defense against cheating is not judges, but players.

Just as a judge is unlikely to catch a player that pays the wrong mana for a spell, a judge is unlikely to notice suspicious shuffling in one game out of twenty or more they are providing oversight for. In reality, it is the responsibility of your opponent that you play correctly. There’s even a Game Play Error violation that is given for Failing to Maintain Game State, which essentially equates letting your opponent break a rule and not noticing. The integrity of the game lies primarily with the players.

As judges, we assume that games are proceeding appropriately until we are called to assist. This doesn’t mean we don’t watch games for mistakes, but watching games ourselves is a very small percentage of how we find infractions. The vast majority of infractions are called by the opponent of the one committing the infraction, followed by a percentage of infractions called by players on themselves. Finally we have a small number of infractions issued by judges for errors they witness themselves.

Avoid Being Cheated

The best way to avoid being cheated is to know the rules yourself and watch your opponent’s play very closely. A large number of infractions aren’t intentional but still give the person committing them a notable advantage. Cheating only makes up a tiny percentage of infractions handed out at events. Even if you’re not catching a cheater, you might be catching a misplay that could significantly hurt you in the game. I wouldn’t work under the assumption that your opponent will do everything right. There’s often a significant advantage to catching their error and it makes the game fair for everyone involved. You can only do this with a strong grasp of the rules. I’d advise anyone looking to play in competitive-level tournaments read the Infraction Procedure Guide and the Magic Tournament Rules available on the Rules and Documents Wizard Play Network website.

Finally, if you’re interested in becoming a judge, strike up a conversation with someone wearing black (or blue and white at a SCG event). Or find the judge of a local FNM, prerelease, or other event. If you can’t find someone locally, you can shoot over an email to your friendly Regional Coordinator who can point you in the direction of a local judge.

Casually Infinite – Learning to Better Assess the Power of Our Decks

With the exception of drafts that occasionally go truly awry, we frequently find ourselves playing with an unimpressive pool of cards, only to do very well in a tournament. On the other side of this coin, I frequently come out of a draft very happy with my cards only to pull off a mediocre finish. I found this to be the case in the KTK Prerelease and recent M15 drafts, and it was constantly mentioned in coverage at GP Orlando. I think that, overall, our visions of our pools are shrouded by a few things: rares, money cards, synergies, curve, and good creatures.

Issue #1: I Opened a Bomb Rare

Especially in Draft, but no less true in Sealed, opening a big bomb makes us feel really good about our deck. Having something like a Nissa or Sarkhan in the forty makes us feel like we’re always drawing to a win. Make no mistake, having big and tough-to-deal-with cards can really make a deck shine. Unfortunately, planeswalkers and even most other bombs generally require significant support to make a major impact on the game. Most decks these days are packing some kind of removal. If your game plan is to play a bunch of two-drops or bad morphs until you can throw down a [card]Siege Rhino[/card] and take over the game, your Siege Rhino is likely in for a very unfortunate surprise. While bombs are important, a deck is made up of having a series of threats that can’t go unanswered. In this way cards like [card]Abzan Guide[/card] or even the lowly [card]Aniok Bond-Kin[/card] can’t go unanswered for a long time without becoming a serious thorn in your opponent’s side. While I’d love to play a [card]Savage Knuckleblade[/card], two or three [card]Abzan Battle Priest[/card]s are likely to have a larger overall effect on your pool than one sexy rare.


One important question I like to ask is: if I took away my rares, how would I feel about my deck? If your deck still feels pretty good, then you’ve probably got a pretty good deck. If you feel like you just cut the core of the deck, you’re in for an uphill battle in this set of games. While I might be thrilled if my pool contained [card]Utter End[/card], [card]Zurgo Helmsmasher[/card], and [card]Savage Knuckleblade[/card], none of these cards are really going to push me over the top if my deck isn’t already there.

Issue #2: I Already Made My Entry Fee

When I enter a draft, pulling a couple of $5 cards can quickly change my mentality of the draft. After I’ve opened $12 worth of cards, any other wins are simply gravy. This creates a situation where I’m happy with my deck (even if it isn’t very powerful) simply because it has already made me a winner. It may be that the cards I’ve pulled don’t have any real synergy, but either way, I’m drafting on someone else’s dollar at this point. If anyone asks, I’d say my pool is great because of the value, even if my deck is terrible. If we need to truly assess our deck, we need to look at the power level of the cards we’re playing with, now how much they’re affecting our ticket count.

polluted delta

Issue #3: I’ve Got This Cool Synergy

This is perhaps one of the biggest ways we betray our decks. I recall in M14 having a deck with a [card]Rumbling Baloth[/card], [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card], and [card]Advocate of the Beast[/card]. The combo potential of dropping an Advocate on turn three into a Baloth on turn four and swinging with a 5/5 on turn five (in a very slow format) was awesome. Or maybe I’d get to drop the [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card] and swing in with a 6/4 on turn five. It’s a nice synnergy and it made my deck a little more powerful.

The problem was that M14 was a format full of removal, and every time that the Advocate of the Beast didn’t get killed, the Rumbling Baloth would. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a perfectly fine synergy that made my deck better. But the fact that I had the combo didn’t really push my deck over the edge, but it sure felt like it did. Even in a best-case scenario, I’d only see the Advocate about once a match and there was no guarantee it would be at the same time as my other Beasts.

Finding synergy makes Limited exciting, but we really can’t depend on a combo to consider our deck powerful. There’s very few situations in which pulling it off will make a substantial difference in a game. In GP Orlando, there was a guy playing five [card]Jeskai Windscout[/card]s. This wasn’t about synergy, it was about hitting people in the face for two or three while your other cards gummed up the ground. Cards like [card]Rush of Battle[/card] aren’t awesome because you have a bunch of warriors in your deck. They’re awesome because they make all your durdly creatures into a game-ending threat.


Issue #4: She’s Got These Awesome Curves

Having a solid mana curve in your deck is really important. But more important than that is having important spells to cast. Being able to drop a 2/1 or 2/2 on turn two is a decent deal in Khans of Tarkir due to Morphs and all the other early ground threats. Filling that slot instead with [card]Debilitating Injury[/card], [card]Feat of Resistance[/card], or [card]Savage Punch[/card] is great once things get moving. But if you’re two-drop slot are full of cards like [card]Taigem’s Scheming[/card], [card]Valley Dasher[/card], or [card]Trail of Mystery[/card], you’re going to need some very specific plans to make your deck good. Sticking them in your deck so you have something in the two-drop slot isn’t necessarily going to make your deck better.

While doing nothing on turn two is kind of a bummer, it’s worse to do nothing and lose a card in the process. None of these cards do nothing, but if you aren’t going to take advantage of a raid trigger on turn three from Valley Dasher, all you’ve done is dropped a very easy-to-kill creature on the battlefield for your opponent to play a 2/3 into. A slightly worse curve of better cards is better than a good curve of bad cards.

The other side of things is that you may have a deck without any curve considerations. KTK has a number of fantastic four-drops. They’re very powerful and playable and you want lots of them in your deck. The only problem is that you can’t afford to put lots of them into your deck. While you’ll realistically be able to play two two-drop creatures in one turn, or even a two- and a three-drop creature, you’ll almost never play two four-drop creatures in a turn. If the good cards in your hand are all four-drops, you’re going to play one on turn four, one on turn five, one on turn six, and one on turn seven. Assuming your opponent’s deck got off to any kind of decent start, you’re going to be in real trouble when you start plopping them down and they have a couple of answers.


Issue #5: I’ve Got All These Good Creatures

Unfortunately, good cards do not always make a good deck. I can’t think of the number of times I was very happy with the power level of my deck only to find that I didn’t have any solid win conditions.

Surprisingly, one card that keeps coming up as a win condition in Abzan decks is [card]Alabaster Kirin[/card]. With cards like [card]Ainok Bond-Kin[/card] holding down the ground, sometimes all you really need is a reliable way to get in two damage per turn. Alabaster Kirin serves that purpose. While it isn’t an impressive card, I frequently find that my decks without it are lacking a certain finisher quality.

Even big creatures like [card]Siege Rhino[/card] don’t necessarily pack the punch necessary to break through a stalemate. If the game comes to parity, I want something like a [card]Krenko’s Enforcer[/card], [card]Accursed Spirit[/card], or [card]Mystic of the Hidden Way[/card]. Even if these options aren’t available, big dumb fliers like [card]Venerable Lammasu[/card], [card]Riverwheel Aerialist[/card], and [card]Abomination of Gudul[/card] will frequently get the job done. Though evasion isn’t the only way, having a way to close out games is vital.

There’s lots of other options for close-out cards. Big swing cards like [card]Rush of Battle[/card] or [card]Incremental Growth[/card] can all push you over the edge when the game stalls out. While these cards aren’t going to do anything for you when you’re behind, they’ll clearly make a huge impact when the game slows down.

Cards like [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] can help as well, but you need to be drawing towards something that can make profitable attacks. The issue here with just having good cards is that they don’t guarantee profitable attacks. If all you’ve got is good value cards, you need to be out valuing your opponent by hitting their big cards with removal while protecting your own big cards. A plan like [card]Forge Devil[/card], [card]Forge Devil[/card], [card]Lighting Strike[/card], [card]Lighting Strike[/card], [card]Stoke the Flames[/card], [card]Covenant of Blood[/card], [card]Covenant of Blood[/card] is a win condition. But if you’re just going to play good creatures, you likely don’t have any way to punch through. You don’t win the game by playing good creatures—you win by turning them sideways and damaging your opponent.



I think that it is important to be able to accurately assess the power of our decks. In Draft, this can be particularly challenging because you just don’t know if you happen to be at a table that played nice, opened good cards, or were acting as the hate-draft mafia.

In Draft, it’s possible that you’re mediocre deck is the best mess of cards at the table. But in Sealed, we should be able to compare our deck with a normal standard to see what we’ve put together. Let’s focus on how successful our deck can be with all the cards in our pool rather than focusing on the big cards, money cards, funky synergies, perfect curves, and suite of solid creatures. In order to win, we want win conditions, bombs, a smooth curve, good creatures, and some synnergy, not lots of any one of those.

Money cards don’t hurt, either.

Casually Infinite – In KTK, Wedge Good Stuff is a Trap

I’m back from a long night of a midnight prerelease for Khans of Tarkir. My big pulls from the Sealed event were a foil [card]Meandering Towershell[/card] and an [card]Utter End[/card]. While not great, it could have been much worse. While hearing about what I opened probably isn’t why you’re here, understanding what I saw may really help you when the prerelease comes around on MTGO or you find yourself in another KTK Sealed event. I noticed things didn’t go quite as most people expected.

Unpacking the Box

With the seeded boosters you were pushed pretty hard towards a specific clan. While in the past (M15), I wasn’t as fond of this set up but the change to one of eight foils for each clan means you didn’t go into it knowing you were going to open a [card]Phytotitan[/card], which is good because that guy pretty much sucks. It meant you were free to pick any clan you wanted without facing preset disadvantage in packaging. It seems that each of the clans had enough good cards that you weren’t really setting yourself too far ahead or behind by picking any specific one unless you ended up with a [card]Trail of Mystery[/card].

When I opened my Abzan box, I was moderately disappointed by the results. Looking at my first build I had one three-drop. My white was fine and my black was okay but my green wasn’t very impressive. I really wanted to make use of my [card]Siege Rhino[/card], since a 4/5 trample for four mana is really impressive, especially with the slight Grey Merchant payoff. Get out of here [card]Rumbling Baloth[/card], there’s a new beast in town. As expected, I started to build out my three-color deck with my Azban tri land and BG refuge, and a handful of green cards to go with my Rhino.

Wait, This Deck Sucks

This is when I realized there was a problem. It turns out it wasn’t just my problem; it was a problem that echoed through almost every game I played all night and it started with the wedges. It’s important to realize that the prereleases were Sealed, not Draft. What I say here will apply less in Draft, because it is possible to end up with six or more on-color tri and refuge lands. However, there will be competition over these cards and they will be picked very highly in Draft, which could lead to a very similar problem. The issue that was encountered throughout the room was that three-color decks in Sealed just plain suck.

The problem with three-color decks in Limited can be pointed out very easily when you compare them to three-color decks in Constructed. In order to create a stable mana base for Esper Control in Theros-era Standard, players would use the full suite of 12 shock lands, 12 scry lands, and three [card]Mutavaults[/card]. Control was viewed as vastly inferior before it had the third scryland, and until the full set was there, its mana base was a little shaky. There’s two things I’d like to point out here. First off, every land these decks have (besides man lands) tap for two colors. The second thing is that these decks generally didn’t really need to cast anything until a turn-four [card]Supreme Verdict[/card]. In Limited, sitting around until turn four is often fatal, as one of the primary strategies is to play your entire hand as fast as you can. The catch-up features if you fall behind are generally few and far between in Limited. The only three-color decks to have a major impact on Standard in the last year were all control or midrange decks, not aggro.

In Sealed, you don’t have 85 percent of your mana base made up of dual lands. You’ve probably got one wedge land and one or two refuges. You could add in a banner, which essentially guarantees you’re doing nothing until turn four. Your chances of having access to all three colors on turn three are actually incredibly low. Try taking six forests, six mountains, and six islands, shuffling them up, and dealing them out until you have all three colors of land a few times. What you’ll find is that at three lands you only have a 26-percent chance that you have all three colors. At four lands, you’re up to 52 percent and at five lands you’ve got about a 70-percent chance of having all three colors. Assuming you’re running an 18-land deck, you’ve got a 23-percent chance that you won’t have that fourth land on turn four and a 38-percent chance you won’t have the fifth land on turn five.

All this math means that on turn five, you’re only looking at a 43-percent chance that you’ll have all three of your colors—assuming you have just basic lands. Adding in tri lands and refuges will help this number a bit but you’re going to need to add more than just a couple sources to balance out your mana base. This brings me back to my [card]Siege Rhino[/card]. At 1WBG, with a balanced manabase, I probably wouldn’t be able to cast the Rhino reliably until I had five or six mana on the table, which would often wouldn’t be until turn eight or so. While a 4/5 trample with upside for four sounds good, the likelihood of having the colors to pull it off with the lands in my hand made this card far less impressive. If Rhino cost me six mana, he’s still a creature I’d stick in my deck, but I’d never consider adding a color to get him in there.

The Rhino isn’t the only card that suffers from this problem. Cards like Anafenza, Sidisi, the Ascendancies, the Charms, [card]Mantis Rider[/card], [card]Savage Knuckleblade[/card], [card]Crackling Doom[/card], [card]Trap Essence[/card], and [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card] all have the appearance of being highly efficient cards. To a lesser extent, all the five-drop wedge cards are still risky, with a 30-percent chance of really being a six- or seven-drop. In Constructed, the downside is mitigated by having tons of dual lands, but without this luxury in Limited, we need to analyse all these tricolor cards as what they really are: five or six drops.

Would You Splash for That?

When we start to analyse cards, one of the most important parts of analysis is the casting cost. If we took a single card, we could assess the potential rating of that card at various casting costs to see how valuable it really is. For example, [card]Mantis Rider[/card] is a 3/3 creature with flying, vigilance, and haste. At three mana, this is a great creature, probably a A-/B+. At four mana, it is still a very solid creature that earns a solid B. At five mana, you’re looking at a card you’d play but aren’t totally thrilled about, around a C+/B-. At six mana, Mantis Rider would just be playable, but not in anyway impressive and is a C-/C.

The big question with a creature like this is not if it is a good creature on turn three. It is if it is a creature worth throwing your entire mana base off for.  If you were playing a solid GR deck, would you splash for a Mantis Rider if it cost 4U? I know I wouldn’t. It would make me want to play blue, but I wouldn’t be splashing a color just to include a [card]Vigilant Drake[/card]. When you decide to add a color to your deck, you generally do it for a very powerful card. Adding a [card]Doom Blade[/card], a couple of [card]Lightning Strike[/card]s, or a [card]Banishing Light[/card] can make a deck more powerful. Adding a couple of Swamps or a [card]Verdant Haven[/card] so you can cast your [card]Garruk, Apex Predator[/card] is a valid splash.

Three-Color Good Stuff is Bad

The most common deck I saw at the prerelease was what I would call “Three-Color Good Stuff.” Players took their box and played the best cards in the three colors they had signed up for. This left people with bad mana bases and lots of cards they were unable to play. The most common complaint I heard all night was people getting mana screwed, even though they were running one or two banners, their tri lands, and one or two dual lands. Across 30 players, I was the only one playing two colors, and I rolled faces.

I’d wager that the problem with these decks wasn’t the fact that they were running three colors. We often times run three colors in Limited, at least when we can get a couple mana fixers and have a decent splash. The difference is that what works is a splash. What doesn’t work is trying to make a balanced three color deck using all your cards from three colors. Having three mana fixing lands is feasible, having six is going to be incredibly rare. Two or three lands that provide the color you want allows for a free splash, but it doesn’t allow you to just run equal numbers of each color card. The problem with these decks was that they were trying to run three colors equally. Most opponents I faced had at least one game with multiple turns spent wishing they had a specific color of mana. My opponents were mulliganing about half the time and about half the time after that had to go down to five.

If I went for three-color good stuff, I’d have added my [card]Siege Rhino[/card], [card]Incremental Growth[/card], [card]Longshot Squad[/card], [card]Alpine Grizzly[/card], [card]Meandering Towershell[/card], and possibly an [card]Abzan Guide[/card]. These are all good cards but none of them really justify a splash, much less a true move into three colors. While I would have gained power, I would have lost consistency. When I looked through a few of my opponent’s decks, I found that they could have successfully cut down their deck to two colors with a splash for big multicolor cards like Charms, [card]Zergo Helmsmasher[/card], [card]Ankle Shanker[/card], [card]Ponyback Brigade[/card], and [card]Flying Crane Technique[/card], and/or solid splashable monocolor cards like [card]Murderous Cut[/card], [card]Smite the Monstrous[/card], [card]Arc Lightning[/card], and [card]Burn Away[/card]. They would have lost some decent cards by trimming a color down, but this is always the case in Sealed. Their decks would have been much better overall.

Sealed Khans

I think the best path to take in KTK is to build a two-color deck and keep your eye open for the splash to make a wedge. There is a specific advantage to running enemy colors, in that you have two possible wedges to splash towards. WB can end up Mardu (BWR) or Abzan (WBG), while WG can only add B to become a wedge. I’m curious to see if combinations like BR aggro, WG outlast, UB prowess, RG fatties, or UB delve are strong playable options. I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t be if that’s how the cards fall. But remember that each enemy combination has two deck building options. WB outlast and WB raid are very different decks with a very different game plan, but both are quite viable. Also, the double-color gold cards are all enemy colors.

Whatever you do, don’t stick six of each wedge’s basic lands into a deck and grab every good card that comes in your colors. Your manabase won’t actually allow for that. This isn’t a multi-color set where you’re going to be forced to play a large number of gold cards. Most of them are at rare or better, meaning you won’t reliably see them in your draft. Even when you do, don’t be fooled that your three-mana, three-color spell is going to show up on turn three. At turn six or seven, many of these cards become simply acceptable rather than irrationally strong.

Casually Infinite – The Perils of Single Elimination

When picking which queue to enter when playing Magic Online, you have a couple of notable options. Really, the most significant option is if you’re entering a single-elimination queue or a Swiss queue. In single-elimination events, if you lose, you’re out. Prizes are determined based on the number of matches you survived before losing. In Swiss queues, you play a predetermined number of games. You generally play against people with the same record as you, though odd numbers of players can cause some mismatched pairings. Your prizes are determined by your record, not your ranking. Some bigger Swiss tournaments care about your place by cutting to a top eight, which proceeds as a single-elimination event from there.

As a good but not fantastic player, I have some very serious issues with single-elimination queues. I’m going to be breaking down the way single elimination effects outcomes. In doing this, I’m going to assume that decks and players are ranked together according to skill, where the number one player will beat the other seven and the number two player will lose against number one but beat the rest. In reality, there is more variance than this and the likelihood of a more “rock, paper, scissors” type scenario among decks, but this actually increases the issues in single elimination rather than decreases them.

Breaking Down Single Elimination

Personally, I like to think of myself as the number two player when I hop into an eight-man queue. I assume that there is someone better than me in the queue, but I know that I’m pretty good and usually produce solid results. You might think that being the second best player should consistently produce pretty solid results. If I can beat the majority of the players in the queue, I should do pretty well. However, in single-elimination 8-4s, number two is a pretty bad place to be.

It’s important to understand the basic chart of how single elimination works. With eight players, we have seats A through H. The chart below shows which seat will be playing which seat in each game. What is randomly determined is who will will be in each slot. If player one (the best player) lands in seat A, I can only get to the finals if I end up in seats E through H. Meaning the number two player (second best player), has a 4/7 chance of making it to the finals by ending up in a different half of the bracket from the number one player. Even as the second best player, I have just above a 50-percent chance that I’ll make it to the finals, even guaranteeing that I’ll win against everyone worse than me. The chances for the number three player making it to the finals is only 3/14, as both the number one and number two players have to be in the same half of the bracket and the third player needs to be in the other half.


As the best player, single-elimination is clearly the best choice, because I’m likely to come out on top. But as anything but the best player, your likelihood of realizing the potential of your skill is not great.

Example Time


To give a few examples of this concept, I’d like to walk through a couple of on-demand events I played at GP Portland.

The first was a Sealed queue in which I had a really strong pool. I had double [card]Raise the Alarm[/card], [card]Triplicate Spirits[/card], [card]Seraph of the Masses[/card], [card]Spectra Ward[/card], two [card]Sanctified Charge[/card]s, [card]Hushwing Gryff[/card], and [card]Spirit Bonds[/card]. Pretty much no matter what color I paired white with, my deck was going to be solid. I offhandedly destroyed my first round opponent. My second round opponent was much different. He had double [card]Festergloom[/card], and tons of removal. In this match, I didn’t have a chance. I got a pretty good look at his deck and saw he was clearly the best deck at the table. Even hearing about his opponent’s deck in the finals, it was pretty clear that my deck was second best. Unfortunately, prizes only went to the top two places, so regardless of the quality of my deck, I was out.


The next example is a draft in which I ended up with an amazing deck with double [card]Lightning Strike[/card], double [card]Forge Devil[/card], double [card]Covenant of Blood[/card], double [card]Krenko’s Enforcer[/card], [card]Accursed Spirit[/card], [card]Scuttling Doom Engine[/card], and [card]Heat Ray[/card]. My first round opponent was the main white drafter at the table and ended up with double [card]Raise the Alarm[/card], triple [card]Triplicate Spirits[/card], [card]Resolute Archangel[/card], [card]Spirit Bonds[/card], and a host of other solid white cards. Somehow, I managed to eke out a victory 2-1 by topdecking the [card]Covenant of Blood[/card] I needed to win. However, my other two opponents I thoroughly stomped 2-0. Clearly, my round one opponent had the second best deck at the table (possibly even the best). He would have walked through my round two and round three opponents as quickly as I did. But because he was eliminated in round one, he never had a chance to really show his stuff. He had a good draft, but didn’t have the chance to prove it.

The Dark Side of Swiss

On the flip side of queues, Swiss events have a couple of notable disadvantages. First off, if your draft goes sideways or you open a bad pool, you’re stuck playing it for multiple rounds to try to salvage something. This can occasionally be disheartening, as your pool makes you fight to a 1-2 record for meager prizes. It can also have a significant swing in your win percentage if you track it. In single elimination, your worst possible record is 0-1. In Swiss, you can fall to all the way to 0-3.

The advantages of Swiss are also significant. In two games that average around 10 turns each, you’re only seeing just above half of the cards in your deck. You haven’t really seen what your deck is capable of. If you lost, you probably never pulled off a nut draw, saw how well you can top deck, or drew at least ten of the cards in your deck, much less saw them in play. I feel that three matches is really what is required to get a good feel for your deck and get you to start sideboarding well. For those of us being casually infinite, we need to learn as much as we can each time we sit down to play.

FNMs are run as Swiss for a reason. Most players came to play and winning is a potential part of that. Perhaps once I’m truly a master and can assure myself I can win 70-percent of my games, I’ll prefer single-elimination. But as a member of the casually infinite crowd, I prefer to actually sit down and play Magic. I want to get my three or more games out of my deck and I want to really suffer through the bad choices I made in deck construction. If I chose to run three [card]Invasive Species[/card] with no solid one- or two-drops, I probably won’t figure it out during match one, but by match three, I’ll be determined to never run them again without thinking really hard.



Where do you fall? Do you prefer single-elimination or Swiss events? Let me know in the comments.


Casually Infinite – Where’s the Money in Modern?

Six months ago, Pro Tour Valencia was on the scene and it looked like Modern cards couldn’t be any hotter. We were approaching $100 fetch lands and it looked like any Modern card was bound to spike if it saw even moderate play. Corbin has a great article about what has changed over on Quiet Speculation, and in many ways, the future looks bleak. It’s now Modern PTQ season and we should be seeing the continuation of prices that have been growing all year. Instead, prices seem to be rapidly dropping. This poses the question: is there still any money to be made in Modern?

Over the next month, Modern season will be wrapping up, and the next Modern Pro Tour is months away. We’ve seen this year’s core set and the inclusion of pain lands in M15 gives us no indication that fetch lands will be seen in the near future. We’ve already seen the summer releases for this year, which means that Modern Masters 2 is a year out at best. Most Modern staples are going to be dropping over the next six months.

m15 enemy pain lands

I fully believe that Wizards wants to keep Modern as an accessible eternal format with a variety of deck options. With the exception of roving and somewhat unpredictable bans and unbans, cards that are staples of the format are not likely to be going anywhere. Even with huge numbers of Pod and Twin players, we’re seeing them get beat out by Jund, American Control, and Affinity often enough that any drastic changes to the metagame seem unnecessary and unlikely. With a healthy metagame, in order to keep Modern accessible to players, it is in WOTC’s best interest to keep the prices down by reprinting cards, which is the point of the format overall. This means I’d be very concerned if I was holding any of the high-priced staples of the format.

With the somewhat inevitable Modern Masters 2 next year and the downward slide we’re currently facing, cards like fetch lands and even [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] are not ones I’d want sitting in my binder, as I would heavily fear [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] getting reprinted in Modern Masters 2. I’d also expect, with the success of both Modern Masters and Vintage Masters, that we’re likely to be seeing a bigger print run of Modern Masters 2 than we did of Modern Masters. This means the big-value cards are likely to trickle down in price over the next year until they suddenly meet with a short drop and a quick stop. The biggest players in Modern Masters still prevent a sizable barrier to entry to someone seeking to engage in Modern. If every green deck needs almost $1000 in Tarmogoyfs, there’s likely to be a problem with the growth of the format.

I feel the current depreciation in the value of Modern cards is due heavily to the lack of available fetch lands. Nothing says a format is not for you like spending $200 on real cards and $1000 on lands. This means, as I’ve mentioned before, that fetch lands will be reprinted. I don’t believe that the Modern format can survive a wait any longer than the 2015 fall expansion to do so. If I’m planning to invest in Modern, I’m only going to be looking at cards I expect to fly off the handle with a flood of fetch lands and cards that I’m willing to hold on to for over a year. There’s going to be a key time in six months to pick up your staples that have staggered and dropped in price, but there’s still some things out there now.

So What Do I Buy?

The place I still encourage putting your money is in shock lands. While they have been a good buy for the past year, the fact that they have increased to about $10 each from their previous lower price points puts a lot of people off. There are a few things we can expect with regards to shock lands. First, they won’t be reprinted any time soon. They had a good healthy printing and are available for anyone that wants them for an affordable price. They’re no longer being printed and the only remaining point at which there is any possibility of a price drop is at rotation. While people may well be shedding the cards from their Standard decks, I think it is more likely they will simply move them over to Modern decks. I think there won’t be a big flood in September and we’re more likely to see prices rise than fall over the next two months.

Once rotation is done, the only trajectory for shock lands is up. Anything that draws people to Modern will cause a steep price jump on shocks. Remember, [card]Steam Vents[/card] was a $25 card before Return to Ravnica was announced. While it probably isn’t going to hit that point again any time soon, I can see $15 to $20 late next year. If we see $10 fetch lands, it could easily result in $20 shock lands. In fact, right now is a good time to pick up pretty much anything from RTR block or M14 with eternal playability that doesn’t have a big home in Standard. This includes [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card] Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], and [card]Archangel of Thune[/card].

I’d advise waiting until rotation on cards like [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] that see heavy Standard play. Azorious/Esper control is going to take a massive hit at that time. But [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] is surprisingly cheap right now, and you’re unlikely to see a better sweeper, ever. However, very few other RTR block cards seeing play in Standard are eternally playable.

Unfortunately, that’s about it in Modern right now. It seems pickings are pretty slim, but I think there’s still money to be made if you’re willing to look a year out. The final thing I’d keep an eye out for is those Duel Decks and Fat Packs going for 50-percent off in the late summer. If you can get Fat Packs for $20 and Duel Decks for $10, you’re generally able to turn a profit pretty quickly.

Casually Infinite – Turning your Five Tickets into Six

Here at Casually Infinite, I subscribe to the theory that my Magic Online experience shouldn’t cost me anything. An account with 1000 tickets has a lot of flexibility to vary between long- and short-term specs. New players, or players who have seen their accounts dwindle, are just looking at the first steps to move their bankroll up without having to stick more coins into the machine. This article is for you. Again, if you’d rather just pay $13 and jump into a draft, there are better articles for you. But if you’re looking for ways to move from the starting base of five event tickets to six, and six to seven, then my advice is aimed at you.

Winning New Player Events

At a cost of one event ticket and two new player tickets, the new player phantom drafts have a pretty good expected value. You pay one ticket and one of four people will win a pack. Overall, this has a negative EV, but the possibility of paying one ticket and winning one pack is pretty decent. The scheduled Sealed events are among the best possible value because getting two or more wins give you two event tickets out of the Deck Builder’s Essentials. The cost of five new player tickets is kind of steep and you can’t draft instead of playing Sealed, but the potential rewards are really good and it doesn’t cost you any of your initial event tickets.

Flipping Real Estate

Lands have been in solid demand since the beginning of Magic. Every Standard season has some dual lands that frequently dip down below the one ticket price range. Real estate moves quickly and when someone is making a deck, she will frequently just want to pickup her playset and move on. When looking at real estate to flip, look for lands that are priced just below advantageous price points such as .50‡, .66‡, .75‡, and 1‡. Sometimes you can also find lands that sit around prices over one ticket but you can pickup a play set for an even 4‡ or 5‡. Right now, a [card]Temple of Abandon[/card] or [card]Temple of Deceit/card] will run you .70‡, and a [card]Temple of Mystery[/card] can be grabbed for .40‡. Selling a play set of [card]Temple of Mystery[/card] for 3‡ or 4‡ for Abandon or Deceit is pretty easy. Just put it up in the classifieds and you’ll probably get an answer over the weekend. I have found that posting a playset of each of the cheaper lands in Standard for a ticket more than the playset cost me to buy has helped me sell two or three play sets a week.

Earlier-Run Standard Cards

The way bots calculate value of a card is based on how often that specific card sells. While you and I may not care if we buy a M13 or a M14 [card]Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/card], it often happens that the price of the current edition is rising while the cost of the older edition is falling. I’ve purchased [card]Steam Vents[/card] from original Ravnica for less than the current price of a Return to Ravnica one. In some ways, Return to Ravnica shock lands are better because they are available for redemption. But a large portion of buyers don’t care about this factor. If someone is looking for a card in his deck, he’ll take either one. There are far more shock lands being sold from RTR, so these prices move much more quickly than those in RAV. There was a period where an M11 [card]Glacial Fortress[/card] was available as low as .25‡ while a M13 one ran about 1‡. Buying M11 lands and then selling them at M13 prices can be quite profitable.

Playing in Promos

MTGO promos are a strange beast. Unlike most paper promos, they are generally worth less than their non-promo counterparts. They also frequently aren’t foil and they aren’t available for redemption. Something else I’ve found about promos is that bots seem to have difficulty recognizing them and pricing them correctly. On occasion you can find a popular standard card that is worth anywhere from 1‡ to 3‡ available as a promo for .05‡ from multiple bots. Much like cards from older sets, these cards frequently aren’t as active, causing a much lower price. For someone that isn’t interested in redemption, they don’t care if they’re playing a promo version of a card. I generally don’t advertise that my cards are promos but I’m always upfront about it when asked. There’s always going to be people out there that just don’t care and don’t spend the time to research it.


Regardless of how you move forward, there are a few important things not to do. First off, picking up bulk rares from a vendor isn’t a good idea. The specific values of cards in MTGO means you can easily spend a ticket to put together an acceptable casual deck by picking up four [card]Shivan Dragon[/card]s and four [card]Ogre Battledriver[/card]s then calling it a deck. However, many cards which have value in paper don’t translate to digital. These cards have essentially no value in MTGO. If you want to start working your way up, you have to buy something that people want. Bulk rares are not that. If it’s not worth .25 tickets, it isn’t worth anything. Just because someone could find it for cheaper doesn’t mean they won’t buy it from you.

Casually Infinite – JOU Standard Winners and Losers

With all of Journey into Nyx spoiled, the question to be asked is the effect these cards will have in Standard. While decks falling out of favor play a role to speculators, there is often little money to be made in a fall from grace. What we care most about is the ascent of tier-two and -three decks that can suddenly reach top-tier due to the new set. The primary focus for MTG finance is which undervalued cards will see a spike due to these changes. First, we’ll see how top-tier decks fare with the changes then look at some outlying decks and see what potential stars may be on the rise.

Tier-One Decks

Esper/Azorius Control

Very few changes are present for the primary control decks in the format. The addition of [card]Banishing Light[/card] adds some ability to combat [card]Detention Sphere[/card] in decks running white but it also gives these decks an additional removal tool for dealing with cards that can’t be killed. [card]Athreos, God of Passage[/card] could cause some problems for Esper by blanking much of the removal in the deck, but with as many as three possible ways to deal with gods, I don’t see this being too great a problem. I’d expect this to stay a staple in the format through rotation, when the loss of [card]Supreme Verdict[/card] will take this deck out of the top tier.

Mono-Black Devotion

I feel like there are a few new answers to some of the threats posed by mono-black in the format, while the deck itself doesn’t gain much of anything. The possibility of [card]Silence the Believers[/card] as a one- or two-of exists, but I don’t see having more powerful late game removal as benefiting the deck all that much. Having an answer to gods may be the best use of this card. I’m curious if the unimpressive [card]Oppressive Rays[/card] makes a showing to stave off the early [card]Pack Rat[/card] or if [card]Reprisal[/card] becomes a solid play against [card]Desecration Demon[/card]. Either way, this deck has made a strong enough showing that I’d be surprised to see it take a formidable hit by anything in Journey into Nyx.

Mono-Blue Devotion

While many people seem to be of the opinion that mono-blue would never last, it has still made a successful showing across Standard. It hasn’t stood as tall as it did during Pro Tour Theros, but it has remained a top-tier deck landing in top eights with moderate consistency. I do feel that the release of JOU is probably the nail in the coffin for mono-blue. One of the biggest threats the deck has offered is the three-mana god, which was easily activated and always played a big role in the deck. With the addition of new gods at a low casting cost and numerous ways to deal with them floating around the format, [card]Thassa, God of the Sea[/card] will suffer from the additional attention aimed at gods. Blue didn’t gain anything that it wants from this set except for a [card]Howling Mine[/card], and that is a risky proposal at best. Maybe the recent Azorious splash will give this deck some good control options, but I still feel that this deck is losing much more than it is gaining.

Gruul Monsters / Jund Monsters

I don’t see anything for Gruul Monsters besides the inclusion of [card]Magma Spray[/card] to even raise an eyebrow. Magma Spray deals with Pack Rat, other mana dorks, and other aggro decks. I don’t see this deck having many new tricks but I also don’t see them getting blown out either. The deck is based on big creatures hitting hard. This will still be a thing. Xenegos never really expected to be activated for this deck to succeed and the planeswalkers will likely be just as effective now as before.


Non-Top-Tier Decks

G/W Hexproof Auras

I feel this deck takes one of the largest steps forward with the release of JOU. One card is an amazing boon which might be enough to push this into being a top-tier deck. Cards like this play a major role in any deck focused on building up a creature, and this one is as threatening as ever. Of course, I’m talking about [card]Bassara Tower Archer[/card]. Having a hexproof two-drop will provide the middle coverage that the deck struggled with. While cards like [card]Voice of Resurgance[/card] and [card]Fleecemane Lion[/card] will still play a role, being able to get started building your creature when the [card]Gladecover Scout[/card] doesn’t start in your hand is a great boon. For the most part, this deck plays towards its goal on turn two and couldn’t really start putting together an oppressive creature until turn four or five. By then, the [card]Desecration Demon[/card]s were out, there were too many [card]Pack Rat[/card]s, or your opponent had managed to activate Thassa. Being able to attack with a 6/4 first strike on turn four changes this drastically.

Pickups: [card]Fleecemane Lion[/card], [card]Witchstalker[/card]

White Aggro

There have been a couple of different versions of white aggro floating around. Options range from  Boros, to all white, to Orzhov with [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card]. I can’t say which deck will be the one to shine in the end here, but the addition of both Athreos and Iroas opens up white aggro to some truly impressive options. We also see some solid hate cards in the form of [card]Aegis of the Gods[/card] and [card]Eidolon of Retoric[/card], which can throw a notable loop into some other decks’ game plans. I expect to see a top-tier white aggro deck in Standard after Journey into Nyx. I’m not sure what the other color will be, but this deck has managed to put up solid showings and usually falls just short of true glory.

Pickups: [card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card], [card]Precinct Captain[/card], [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card]

Black Aggro

This is another deck that has floated around top eights at SCG Opens but never found its way to glory. The big change here is [card]Athreos, God of Passage[/card]. Any aggro deck that can get its creatures back or force damage to its opponent is a real threat. This deck benefits from the same opening plays as Mono-Black Devotion but has some crazy tempo plays that can really punish an opponent. I’m not sure if [card]Master of Feasts[/card] will find his way into this deck, but between that and Athreos, I don’t see this deck getting any weaker. It also gained [card]Banishing Light[/card] as a possible method for other removal that was otherwise missing, so I can see this deck taking the next step and ending games on turn five pretty easily.

Pickups: [card]Pain Seer[/card], [card]Herald of Torment[/card]

Golgari Graveyard

While Pharika may not be the god everyone wanted her to be, I think that some retooling of this deck could make her very powerful. We already learned from mono-blue what a three-mana god can do, and being able to turn your mana dorks into [card]Sedge Scorpion[/card]s is not an insignificant ability. Let’s not forget the addition of the G/B scry land, which alone managed to push control decks into the top-tier when [card]Temple of Enlightment[/card] became available. This deck hasn’t lost anything but has gained a few new tools, so I’d be surprised to see it dropping the ball. I don’t see a lot of solid pickups from this deck, since it is the most recent hype, but if it moves to a truly top-tier deck, all of its major cards could get another minor spike.

Pickups: [card]Herald of Torment[/card], [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card], [card]Nighthowler[/card]

Boros Burn

I don’t feel that we’re really looking at many changes for Boros Burn. [card]Magma Spray[/card] might fit into the deck, but we didn’t see [card]Shock[/card] playing a big role. [card]Eidolon of the Great Revels[/card] seems to hurt this deck more than help it; big cards like Keranos feel pretty slow. I’m pretty sure that I’d rather just throw another [card]Lightning Strike[/card] or [card]Annihilating Fire[/card] than spend five mana and wait to draw enough cards to burn out my opponent. I don’t see this deck reaching top-tier as it doesn’t get much help here and there are a few cards like [card]Eidolon of Rhetoric[/card] that can really punish the deck if it gets too far out front.


While everyone agrees [card]Chromanticore[/card] is a powerful card, it has always been the five-color cost that is a deterrent. We’ve seen a showing of Cromanticore decks in Standard, with one even making a top eight in China. One thing that comes for this deck is [card]Mana Confluence[/card]. Having a five-color land makes the dream of playing Chromanticore on turn five a reality. With Mana Confluence and [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card], we can realistically expect to find five colors of mana with some reliability on turn five. Unfortunately, all the problems with Chromanticore, such as dying to [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] and [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card], as well as every kind of color hate like [card]Dark Betrayal[/card], [card]Gainsay[/card], and [card]Glare of Heresy[/card]. While I’m eternally hopeful and think that if ever Chromanticore had a moment it is now, I’m still doubtful that this will become a reality.

Have comments? Let me know below!

Casually Infinite – Bad Pool

Sometimes you just don’t get a very good set of cards in your Sealed pool. Is it possible to salvage these events? How much of Sealed is luck versus skill? Today I go through the worst Sealed event I’ve played in years. It was a Magic 2014 Sealed daily event.


[Deck title=Black Cards]
1 Altar’s Reap
2 Blightcaster
1 Corpse Hauler
1 Corrupt
1 Dark Favor
1 Doom Blade
1 Festering Newt
1 Liliana’s Reaver
2 Liturgy of Blood
1 Mind Rot
1 Nightwing Shade
1 Quag Sickness
1 Sengir Vampire
1 Shrivel
1 Tenacious Dead
2 Undead Minotaur
1 Vile Rebirth

In most Sealed pools, I’d be very happy to see this pile available to me. [card]Sengir Vampire[/card] and [card]Liliana’s Reaver[/card] are both solid cards. There’s also five removal spells with [card]Quag Sickness[/card], [card]Doom Blade[/card], double [card]Liturgy of Blood[/card] and [card]Corrupt[/card]. This is seven solid black cards with some other solid options in double [card]Blightcaster[/card] and [card]Nightwing Shade[/card]. I’m perfectly happy with this color, so I’m obviously running black. Ideally I wouldn’t have to play the [card]Undead Minotaur[/card] or [card]Festering Newt[/card], but I feel great about nine or ten of these cards, and fine filling out the curve with some of the lesser ones.


[deck title=White Cards]
1 Congregate
1 Charging Griffin
2 Hive Stirrings
2 Fortify
1 Show of Valor
1 Divine Favor
1 Capashen Knight
1 Sentinel Sliver
2 Pacifism
2 Suntail Hawk

Unfortunately, white is one of my better colors. [card]Capashen Knight[/card] is a win condition in long games. Two [card]Pacifism[/card]s will go well with [card]Blightcaster[/card]s and [card]Fortify[/card] can be a decent sweeper at the right times. White ups my removal count with black to something absurd, but out of the whole color, I only get one or two creatures. Pretty sad overall. This definitely doesn’t provide the support I need to keep my black stable, especially on the bottom end of the curve, and I could really use another bomb. In one matchup, I ended up switching into white simply because I needed more removal to deal with all the bombs in my opponent’s deck, but I still didn’t have a good finisher.


[deck title=Blue Cards]
2 Coral Merfolk
1 Disperse
3 Divination
1 Negate
1 Seacoast Drake
2 Scroll Thief
1 Tidebinder Mage
3 Zephyr Charge

Triple [card]Divination[/card] is pretty sweet, but there’s nothing in blue I want to draw into. [card]Scroll Thief[/card] is alright, but generally needs something to go with it. Maybe I’d be able to pull it off to where I just keep hitting removal and then can play my [card]Scroll Thief[/card] to draw into my [card]Sengir Vampire[/card] and more removal. Card advantage is a possibility out of blue, but I’m not thrilled with it.


[deck title=Red Cards]
2 Academy Raider
1 Blur Sliver
1 Chandra’s Phoenix
1 Cyclops Tyrant
1 Dragon Egg
1 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Fleshpulper Giant
2 Goblin Shortcutter
1 Mindsparker
1 Molten Birth
1 Pitchburn Devils
1 Seismic Stomp

Red is almost decent, but I don’t really like jumping into red without some of the staples that it can bring. Cards like [card]Volcanic Geyser[/card] and [card]Chandra’s Outrage[/card], or creatures like [card]Marauding Maulhorn[/card] or even [card]Canyon Minotaur[/card] at this point. [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] has only one card that can bring it back, but I’m happy to play [card]Flames of the Firebrand[/card]. I’m also okay with main decking [card]Molten Birth[/card] and [card]Mindsparker[/card] along with [card]Pitchburn Devils[/card]. But that only gives me five cards I want to play. Maybe an [card]Academy Raider[/card] on top of that, but I’m looking for solid creatures and red just isn’t providing.


[deck title=Green cards]
1 Advocate of the Beast
1 Briarpack Alpha
1 Deadly Recluse
2 Elvish Mystic
1 Fog
1 Groundshaker Sliver
1 Naturalize
2 Plummet
1 Predatory Sliver
1 Trollhide
1 Voracious Wurm
1 Witchstalker

Green has a couple of decent cards but nothing really fits the bill of what I need at this point. [card]Briarpack Alpha[/card] is basically a removal and a creature card all rolled up into one. [card]Deadly Recluse[/card] can handle any big threat, and if I can land something like [card]Trollhide[/card] on him, he could be a serious problem for anyone. [card]Witchstalker[/card] gives me a place to stick some positive auras that won’t just get destroyed. I could run the [card]Elvish Mystic[/card]s, but the biggest creature I have to play is the Sengir and racing to [card]Liturgy of Blood[/card] doesn’t feel like it will get me anywhere. Playing green will give me access to [card]Naturalize[/card] and [card]Plummet[/card] in case I want to side them in. I ended up running just four green cards in my main deck.


[deck title=Artifacts]
1 Accorder’s Shield
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sliver Construct
1 Staff of the Wild Magus
1 Staff of the Sun Magus
1 Staff of the Mind Magus
1 Staff of the Flame Magus
1 Staff of the Death Magus

If there’s a place where my Sealed pool went bad, it starts and ends right under the artifact section. I’m happy with [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] to go with my suite of removal. But with five of my uncommons stuck in the form of life gain staves, there’s a lot of good cards that I’m not seeing. I expect to see one or two staves in every Sealed pool, but five is a bit much. My pool would have looked significantly different if three of these were something else. About half of the uncommons in M14 are decently playable, and a good chunk of the others are marginally playable.

The Decision

Here’s the deck I ended up playing:

[deck title=Marc DeArmond M14 Black-Green]
*2 Blight Caster
*1 Briarpack Alpha
*1 Corpse Hauler
*1 Deadly Recluse
*1 Festering Newt
*1 Liliana’s Reaver
*1 Nightwing Shade
*1 Sengir Vampire
*1 Tenacious Dead
*2 Undead Minotaur
*1 Witchstalker
*1 Accorder’s Shield
*1 Altar’s Reap
*1 Corrupt
*1 Dark Favor
*1 Doom Blade
*2 Liturgy of Blood
*1 Quag Sickness
*1 Ratchet Bomb
*1 Trollhide
*6 Forest
*11 Swamp

I ended up on black with a green splash. I figured I could go heavy black for [card]Corrupt[/card], [card]Quag Sickness[/card], and [card]Nightwing Shade[/card], and have even more removal to back it up. Red looked like an option, but there wasn’t anything big enough I wanted to play. No, I’m not playing [card]Fleshpulper Giant[/card]. Maybe I should have put in the [card]Groundpounder Sliver[/card] just to have a big creature.

Even though my pool wasn’t good, it didn’t help that I made a few mistakes mulliganing. I kept a hand with all black cards and all green land. Sure, I’d have been fine if I had drawn a Swamp, but it didn’t happen until turn six. By that point I’d virtually lost the game and was dead by turn nine.

My deck wasn’t terrible, and I didn’t expect to do as bad as I did. I was thinking that 3-1 was an option. Unfortunately, I had no plan for winning the game besides killing all my opponents’ creatures and attacking with my own marginal army. Unfortunately, in practice, my opponents killed most of my marginal creatures just as fast as I killed their good creatures, leaving them with marginal creatures that were still better than mine.

I don’t want to feel like I’m blaming the cards, but one thing with Sealed is you can’t control the packs you open. All you can do is play your best with it. I know I didn’t play my best. But the question is, how could I have built the deck better? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Casually Infinite – Out[fetch]landish Predictions

This normally isn’t my thing, but I figure that making some outlandish predictions about the future is something I’m occasionally good at, so I’m giving it a try.

After GP Richmond’s massive 4,300-person attendance, it’s clear that Modern is really a force in the market. I think that Wizards will continue to show a lot of love to the Modern community simply because the entire format is reprintable. Any card that becomes too scarce or causes too much of a barrier to entry can easily be reprinted in a Modern Masters set or supplemental set.

The last two big sets have included notable reprints in the form of [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] and [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. Modern Masters showed that reprinting cards without tanking them is a real option. In the future, I think we can expect to see continued reprints keeping prices at a reasonable level, and occasionally crashing sections of the market temporarily.

Modern Barrier

The current barrier to entry in Modern lies primarily in the lands. The reprinting of shock lands in Return to Ravnica block showed the effect of bringing needed lands into the format. Prices for shock lands dropped from around $30 to about $10 due to the reprinting, with values slowly gaining back some of that ground as print runs on RTR ended. Because of this, I’m sure they’re going to reprint fetch lands—the only question is how.

Here are some options they have on how to do it:

1) Reprint Zendikar Fetch Lands in Modern Masters 2 (2015?)

This is currently the most common idea being bantered around, probably because it seems so easy. Clearly Modern Masters was a success in getting many needed Modern cards into the hands of players. Another round of Modern Masters, with a second batch of reprintings, as well as including the cycle of Zendikar fetch lands would clearly be a quick seller.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t really work. Tarmogoyf is back toward $200 after the Modern Masters printing. As a four-of in multiple decks, it’s clear that the recent reprinting wasn’t enough to make the card accessible to everyone. Imagine if we faced the same situation with the primary dual land in the format. We’d quickly see the cost of Modern clashing with the cost of Legacy and pushing new players out of the format. I don’t feel a Modern Masters reprint will work, and I also don’t feel that over 50% of the cost of a deck should be tied up in the lands. That just doesn’t feel good.

2) Reprint Zendikar Fetch Lands in an Expert Expansion

It’s already been proven that this would work to get lands into players’ hands with the success of reprinting the shock lands. They’ve dropped significantly in price and been made very accessible to newer players. I’d expect a quick dip in price when shock lands rotate out of Standard, but I don’t think they’ll stay down for long. All the new players will want them for Modern, and they’re already headed for a steady climb back up. The downside here is that Wizards has already stated it doesn’t like excessive shuffling in Standard, and it would clearly tank prices from current levels. We’d probably be looking at lows of $5 to $10 for fetch lands, which should scare the crap out of anyone who’s seriously invested in them.

However, the current storyline seems to be heading in this direction. With Elspeth going to Theros in order to find help to fight the eldrazi, as well as the clear need for fetch land reprints, Return to Zendikar seems like a likely block. The past several years have alternated between introducing a new plane and returning to an old one. After Theros, we’re up to return to a plane, but Zendikar seems a little early to come back, so it may be up to a couple sets out. But I don’t think we can see reprints of fetch lands waiting that long. The fall 2015 set is the latest I can imagine.

3) Reprint Onslaught fetch lands.

The cutoff point for Modern rules out allied fetch lands, as those came from the block before original Mirrodin. While reprinting Zendikar fetch lands seems the obvious choice, leaving them in Modern while ruling out allied fetch lands doesn’t sit well for me. Reprinting Onslaught fetches would solve a number of the fetch problems. This would have to be done in a block in order to make them Modern legal, since putting them in Modern Masters wouldn’t technically allow them into the format.

The result of this would be pretty impactful. First off, fetches are pretty interchangable. Decks running four [card]Scalding Tarn[/card]s and three [card]Misty Rainforest[/card] would be just as happy to run [card]Polluted Delta[/card]s instead. While Twin decks would still want [card]Scalding Tarn[/card]s and B/G Rock [card]Verdant Catacombs[/card], this would open up the Modern field to some more innovation. We might see some previously missing archetypes when the lands available allows more freedom.

From a financial perspective, we would still see a significant drop in Zendikar fetch lands but not as significant as if they themselves were reprinted in a core set. The ability to fill in decks with a random off-color fetches for an affordable price will keep Zendikar fetches low. I’d expect to see them drop to anywhere from 25 to 50% of their current prices if Onslaught fetch lands get reprinted. This seems like a good option compared to reprinting the enemy fetches outright and crashing the market completely.

4) Don’t reprint fetch lands.

I don’t see this as a realistic option to preserve Modern as a format. The recent spike in Modern staples is going to price a number of people out of the market. Current Standard decks run $200 to $400, Modern $500 to $2000, and Legacy around $2500. If the price of Modern decks continue to rise, we’re likely to end up playing Legacy instead.

In order to keep Modern a viable format, Wizards needs to use the primary resource it has available to it: reprints. For Legacy, this simply isn’t an option. Too many cards sit on the Reserved List for them to be able to keep Legacy alive through reprints. Eventually the cards that can’t be reprinted would either need to be banned or their costs would rule out a large number of players. Meanwhile, Modern allows them to fix the problems of past formats through reprints. Nothing in Modern is on the Reserved List. If Wizards is careful, it can essentially use the format as a reboot for the Magic tournament structure, with powerful-but-reprintable cards allowing for a second-tier eternal format that remains accessible to new players.

Most-Likely Scenario

Personally, I’d be very surprised if we see a Zendikar fetch land reprinting before an Onslaught reprinting. We could very well expect to see a Return to Zendikar block in the future, but I think that there will need to be more than just the five-year gap between Zendikar and Return to Zendikar blocks. I do think that Return to Zendikar is in the works, but I see it three to five years out rather than in the next year. I don’t think fetches can wait that long. A tribal Onslaught-ish block could be in the future, with heavy tribal not being a tool that was recently used (besides Innistrad). It would provide a solid place for the lands to be reprinted. My bet is on seeing Onslaught lands reprinted in the next two blocks.

What do you think? Will we see the Zendikar or Onslaught reprints first?

Casually Infinite – Understanding Bots

On MTGO, interacting with bots ends up being a mandatory endeavor at some point. While trading between players is often the most profitable, sometimes you need to interact with a vendor with a large number of cards in order to pick up what you need. Bots drive the MTGO economy in very significant ways. We will be looking at how they work, the role they play, and how to best utilize them.

Ticket (‡) Based EconomyEvent Ticket

In MTGO, the only place you can directly spend money is at the Wizards Store. Here you can only buy product like booster packs, intro and Commander Decks, and tickets. Tickets can be used to enter events such as Draft, Sealed, and Constructed queues. The MTGO economy is entirely based on these tickets. A ticket’s value is pretty stable because they can always be spent to enter events that provide product and they always cost $1 from the store. While the value of cards fluctuate, they are tracked in their value of tickets. Sites like MTGGoldfish track the value of cards in tickets in the same way that TCGPlayer tracks price in dollars.

These prices are primarily determined by bots. Bots represent the stores of Magic Online. Larger stores like SCG are replaced with MTGOTraders. Software developers allow anyone to run his or her own bot just like a mom-and-pop card shop. Bots are regular MTGO accounts that are operated by automatic software that allow the exchange of cards and tickets. You interact with a bot by opening a trade window and picking the cards you want, or asking it to browse your collection for cards it is buying. Bots run 24 hours per day with the larger vendors running 10+ bots, meaning that up to ten people can be browsing a vendor’s wares at a time.

When you trade with a bot, you are being offered or paying very specific prices for your cards. This is broken down in ticket value to the hundred thousandth (.001‡). If you have more that 1.000 in credit, you can cash out for a ticket. If you don’t, the bot will happily hold onto your credit for you until there is a card you wish to purchase. Large vendors with multiple bots will share credit between their bots, meaning you can buy something from one of their bots and use the remaining credit on another. But credit can’t be transferred from a bot of one company to a bot of another company.

Moving the Market

There’s a few things that bots do to the market on MTGO. The first thing they do is play a role in stabilizing the market. If you were relying on the individual online players to determine the price of cards, then prices could fluctuate wildly over the course of a day just based on timezone. The fact that anyone can find numerous different sources to buy a specific card at comparable prices at any time, day or night, provides an effect similar to how cellphones and TCGplayer affect paper trades. I can go and look up what bots are selling a specific card for when deciding how much to trade for it.

While bots stabilize the market, the global availability of cards allows the market to move much faster. During Pro Tour Born of the Gods, prices on cards like [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card] and [card]Past in Flames[/card] tripled before the end of the weekend. While these cards have been moving in paper, the effect hasn’t been as quick. With global availability of cards, I can purchase a playset of cards and play with them immediately. I can put together and and play the Team Pantheon Storm Deck, played by Jon Finkel and Kai Budde, before they even get into day two of the Pro Tour. If I wanted to, I could sell the cards back before the end of the event. No waiting, no shipping, no additional fees.

Past in Flames - Feb 2014

Past in Flames – Feb 2014

The other thing that bots do is control card prices in the market in two primary ways. First off, they push down the cost of cards that aren’t commonly used in competitive play. For example, [card]Traumatize[/card], which has some casual draw, runs about $1.50 to $2 on TCGplayer. On MTGO, it runs 0.051‡. Meanwhile, [card]Shivan Dragon[/card] runs the same 0.050‡ but only costs about $0.29 on TCG. This disparity is caused partially by MTGO being much more focused on competitive play, with people grinding daily events or queues and using the program to test out decks. It also is because of how the ticket/credit structure works.

In MTGO, cards tend to stick around certain prices that are advantageous to the bots. A card selling for 1.012‡ requires a buyer to spend 2‡ in your store. Imagine if instead of giving you back coins as change, your LGS could force you to buy something else or hold your credit for later. Bots frequently keep prices floating around 1.10‡ or jump them to something like 1.60‡. On the lower end, prices will float above 0.76‡, 0.51‡, 0.34‡, or 0.26‡. If a card falls below a four-per-ticket price point, it will generally quickly end up in the 0.03‡ to 0.05‡ range. Since no one needs more than a playset of a given card, any card that can’t be sold for better than four-for-a-dollar, at best, is going to get a vendor a minimum of one ticket anyway. Vendors don’t care if they have to throw in a few other low-value cards to make up the difference.

Making Money from Bots

In spite of their natural position to take advantage of you, bots can frequently be used to make money. My first trade experience in MTGO was buying 10 copies of M11 [card]Time Reversal[/card] at 1.00‡ from one bot and selling them to another bot for 1.10‡. I had to do this one at a time, because I only started with two tickets, but a few trades later, I had three tickets. If you’re going to try to work with bots, please pay attention to the following things:

1. Cards Per Ticket

Buying cards from Vendor A for 1.250‡ each is not basically the same thing as paying 1.255‡ each from Vendor B. While overall the 0.020‡ price difference is fairly insignificant, the fact that Vendor A takes five tickets per playset while Vendor B takes six tickets per playset is quite significant. If you’re buying a playset of cards for 1.02‡ total, you’re actually paying twice as much as if you’re paying 1.00‡ for the play set. When you can buy cards for a good price and leave as little credit as possible, you’re in much better shape than being stuck with a good deal and 0.89‡ in credit at a store you don’t want anything else from. You can also use the advantage of selling cards at even prices to move product. A card may be selling at 1.10‡ from bots, but you can sell it at 4‡ for a playset pretty easily.

2. Take your Tickets – Track your Credit

First off, if you have more than 1.000 credit with a vendor, take tickets. Tickets are always worth more than credit because all bots take tickets. Be careful that bots you’re trading with have tickets available to trade and never trade for credit with a bot that doesn’t have tickets available. It doesn’t matter if you’re offered 64‡ for your [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], if you can’t cash the credit out for tickets, it is all just [card]conjured currency[/card]. I keep telling myself I should make a spreadsheet with credit at each bot, but at the very least add every bot you have more than 0.010‡ of credit with to your buddy list. You never know when it’ll come in handy if you’re trying to pick up one common you want for something. Being stuck with credit at reputable bots with a good stock, like MTGOTraders, MTGO_Bazzar, and MTGO_Academy, isn’t so bad. But a bot can always close up shop and then your credit will be [card]totally lost[/card].

3. Use Wikiprice

I don’t know how anyone turns a coin in MTGO without using Wikiprice to one degree or another. There may be other similar sites, but Wikiprice shows the highest-paying and cheapest-selling bots for a given card. It’s not uncommon for there to be a higher buying price at one bot than selling price at another. This is one way you can make sure you’re getting a bigger picture than just what the classifieds are showing you. Sometimes, during a big buyout, the price difference between buying and selling can be multiple tickets, allowing you to make an immediate profit.

Blue Arrows point out a buying price higher than the selling price. Red arrow points out that the vendor has no tickets available.

Blue Arrows point out a buying price higher than the selling price. Red arrow points out that the vendor has no tickets available.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Sell for More Than the Bots

I have, several times, bought cards from a bot and sold them minutes later through the classifieds for more than I paid at the bot. I’ve sold cards for more than bots are currently asking. This isn’t TCGplayer, where if your cards aren’t on the first page they’ll never be seen. Cards listed in the classifieds rarely show more than five to ten sellers, and a number of people would rather just pay the 3‡ for their cards than deal with finding a bot, pay 2.7‡, and figure out what to do with the remaining 0.3‡.

5. Pay Attention to Bot Prices and Stock

Prices can fluctuate quickly on MTGO. Keeping up with the value of your cards on bots can let you know when to sell them. Don’t be afraid to dump cards to bots when they’re buying. It is often better to sell out to a bot in the hype than try to extract a few more cents by listing the cards on the classifieds yourself. However, when bots don’t have a card in stock, prices can spike because that means people are buying them. It’s pretty easy to set up a tracker on MTGGoldfish for your trade stock and check it to see when prices are rising and falling.

That’s it for today. Have your own MTGO finance tips I may not have mentioned? Please share below!

Casually Infinite – Rare Drafting

If you’re not, you should be.

Rare drafting is a vital strategy if you’re seeking to cut down on your Magic expenses or go infinite. It is a way to help boost the EV of a given draft and make sure you’ll have the money to enter the next draft you want to play in. Going infinite isn’t just about winning drafts, it’s about getting the most tickets(‡) back from each draft.

Rare drafting is best defined as picking a card in a draft for the value it adds to your collection rather than the value it adds to your deck. This could be because you are picking a card that is off color to your deck or picking a card that just isn’t very good in Limited but provides far more value in Constructed formats. If you want to look up a guide for pick order of the cards in Born of the Gods, you can look up ones from Channel Fireball by Luis Scott-Vargas, listen to the Limited Resources podcast, or take a look at the review I did on my blog.

When is it Rare Drafting?

Fortunately, most valuable cards are very strong in Limited. Staples like [card]Brimaz, King of Oreskos[/card], [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], and [card]Polukranos, World Eater[/card] are generally drafted first simply because of the impact they can have in a deck. But sometimes these cards won’t make it in your deck even if they’re in your pool. A strong black and blue deck won’t gain anything from picking up a pack three, off-color card with double color in its casting cost. So if you pick one of the above cards you’re not making a better deck. That doesn’t make it the wrong choice. It just makes it a choice based on another set of criteria.

The question is at what value should you pick a card that won’t go in your deck over one that will. There’s a few very important things to consider in this. First off, there is the cost of the draft. Generally speaking, normal drafts queues cost between 11‡ and 12‡ to enter. Second, there is the prize structure of the event. In a Swiss draft, you can be much more liberal with picking valuable cards over cards for your deck than in an 8-4. In the top eight of a large premier event or a PTQ, you may be looking at a first prize worth far more than any single card you can pull out of a pack. Finally, you need to take into account the value of the card you’re getting versus the card you’d be adding to your deck.

What Drives the Pick?

There is a big difference between rare drafting in pack one, pick one (P1P1) and pack three, pick one (P3P1). Generally, first-pack cards help you find the color you want to play. Almost all cards worth more than 5‡ are both desirable and playable in limited. In your first pack you’re happy to pick up cards like [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card], or [card]Lifebane Zombie[/card]. But once you’ve settled into your colors, you aren’t going to be adding these cards into your deck if they’re off color.

Let’s look at the following draft scenario:What's your pick?

[card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card] is a good card in Limited but first picking it will lock you into two colors that this pack provides little of value to wheel. You might see the harpy come back around but there’s no other blue in the pack. On the other hand, you have the safer pick of [card]Phalanx Leader[/card], which is an incredibly powerful card in Limited. It also puts you in whit,e which is a great color to be in. For a first pick, I’d say these two are pretty close. But instead imagine that this is pack three and you’ve got a strong white-red heroic deck built up. Suddenly, the [card]Phalanx Leader[/card] or [card]Akroan Hoplite[/card] are much better picks for your deck. You’re never going to play the Ashiok, and either of those other two cards will fit perfectly.

So what do you do? First, let’s assess cost. We assume we’re in a draft queue (not a PTQ top eight) and paid 12‡.  Second, we assess the prize structure. In a Swiss, each win is worth one pack, Ashiok is worth two. Having the [card]Phalanx Leader[/card] isn’t likely to give us two wins that would have otherwise been losses. In an 8-4, this one card is worth half of the packs we could win by stepping from third to second or second to first. Is [card]Phalanx Leader[/card] the card that will win us most of our games?  I doubt it even increases our chances of winning by 50% in games that it’s played. Remember, half of the cards in your deck generally don’t see play in an average game. So clearly, Ashiok is going to add more value to our collection than [card]Phalanx Leader[/card] is likely to add to our deck.

Where’s the Line?

The line on how much value is worth auto picking is really something you have to draw for yourself. Somewhere in the 3‡ to 4‡ ticket range is generally where most people I’ve talked to end up falling for auto picking in queues. But sometimes you end up not giving much up when you rare draft. [card]Phalanx Leader[/card] is a solid card you may be happy to have in your deck. But you might also be red-green and the best pick you’re looking at is a [card]Two-Headed Cerberus[/card] or [card]Satyr Rambler[/card], neither of which is exciting.

Let’s examine the following draft pack: Temple Draft

Clearly the Temple is the most valuable card in the pack. But at a buy value of only 1‡, it isn’t a guaranteed pick. each of [card]Agent of Horizons[/card], [card]Prescient Chimera[/card], and [card]Nessian Courser[/card] are strong cards in their colors and [card]Sedge Scorpion[/card] plays a role in any green deck. The question here is much more murky. If my deck is mono-red, I’m taking the [card]Temple of Silence[/card] for value over the possible hate card, [card]Peak Eruption[/card]. In black or white, I’m probably going to play temple for the free scry unless I’m really hurting for creatures and feel the [card]Felhide Minotaur[/card] is necessary just to have a working deck. But in pack one, pick one, I’ve got a number of good choices that will really play into a solid deck in green or blue, or both. The status of my deck so far will determine if I just take the free ticket from the Temple or if I pick a card that can help me win.

When Not to Rare Draft

There are a few times that rare drafting is a bad idea. There are some groups where rare drafting is heavily looked down upon. Rare drafting in the wrong social group can make you a [card]Pariah[/card]. There are also groups and stores that run “Thieves’ Auction” or “Winner Take All” drafts, in which rares are chosen from the entire pool based on the standings at the end of the draft, or the winner just gets all the cards. Big tournaments that include a draft top eight can be a bad time to choose a rare over a card for your deck. In a grand prix, the difference between 5th and 4th is $500, far more value than any single card. Even the difference between 5th and 4th in a premier Sealed event is a massive six packs (18‡ or more). Also, don’t forget that there are phantom events where the cards aren’t placed into your collection, and therefore rare drafting is meaningless.

Personal Notes

I’d like to note that I hate having to rare draft. I can’t deny that it is economically advantageous but I always feel like I’m cheating my deck when I grab a card for value over one I’d play in my deck. For this specific reason, I tend to drift towards Sealed or phantom Draft over regular Draft formats. In Sealed, you’re stuck with the pool you’re given so it is a less intense format than Draf,t but you’re never stuck with the decision between a card that is good for your deck and one that is good for your wallet. In phantom, you’re able to pass up the off-color expensive mythic for the common removal. However, I’ve noticed that being willing to rare draft can often vastly increase your EV above the expected value for a given draft. If you are rare drafting and your opponents aren’t, you may see multiple 4‡ to 6‡ cards in that draft. If I can get 14‡ in rares for entering a 11‡ draft, it doesn’t matter if I win or lose, I’ve still come out ahead. Any other packs I win are simply icing on the cake.

Have comments? Please share below!

Casually Infinite – Understanding EV, Part 2

In my last article, I discussed all the parts that play into estimated value (EV). This article is going to have lots of terms and math from the previous article, so if you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend going back and doing that first.

Picking a Queue

The math behind picking a queue takes a couple of different things into account. First off, there is the real entry fee for the event. For Constructed and phantom events, you only have to take into account the ticket cost for picking a queue, though the cost of building a deck is also a factor. For Limited events, you need to consider both the ticket cost plus the pack spread for each pack you open. This represents the amount you paid for the pack minus the value you can expect to get from opening each pack—which you are essentially “paying” each time you open a pack.


Queue Pack Price Pack EV Pack Spread
Theros 3.10 0.86 2.24
M14 3.48 1.23 2.25
RTR 3.86 1.37 2.49
GTC 3.63 0.89 2.74
DMG 2.10 0.85 1.25

Fortunately, MTGO is kind enough to reward you for opening packs in order to compete in tournaments by increasing the prize support or decreasing the entry fee compared to Constructed queues. The current Constructed 5-3-2-2 queues cost a massive 6‡ to enter. Meanwhile, an 8-4 Theros draft costs you 2‡ plus the pack spread three times (2.24 x 3 = 6.72) for a total entry cost of 8.72‡. The reality is that it is more expensive to enter a Limited queue than it is to enter a Constructed queue.

As an aside, the difference between Limited and Constructed is hidden in deck cost, which is something more difficult to calculate. If you need to build a 400‡ Esper Control deck in Standard to hold your own, the cost of your individual queues will go up significantly. You could possibly sell back the cards you used to build your Esper deck and perhaps even make a profit there. The basic logic stands that if you have a strong Constructed deck, then EV is in favor of you playing Constructed over Limited. I don’t happen to have (or want) a strong Constructed deck so I’ll just be looking at the Limited queues for now.

What to Do With It All?

All of this information makes for a massive math problem. But the simplest way to take it into perspective is to assume that you are an average player rather than a superb player. If you assume yourself to be average, you can calculate out the average prize won from an event. In the case of an eight-man Swiss draft, there are 12 packs paid out, so the average person gets 1.5 packs. Oddly enough, this is the same average as an 8-4 draft. However, a 4-3-2-2 has only 11 prize packs paid out, meaning that the average person gets 1.375 packs. Therefore, you are better off playing Swiss or 8-4s than 4-3-2-2s. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t stop there.


Many Queues = Many Options

When you start looking at EV, you need to look at all your options. Comparing the three draft options is easy because they all have the same cost and require the same number of boosters. Your only question is which format to draft. The answer, according to the math, is always the format with the lowest pack spread. However, other events will occasionally provide a better EV than drafts. For example, a four-booster Sealed event requires an extra pack to play. This means there is an additional pack spread you have to make up from the results. However, there are an additional nine boosters offered as prizes, for a total of 21 booster prizes versus the 12 in 8-4 and Swiss drafts. Considering the pack spread is always less than the value of a pack, playing four-booster Sealed events actually has a better prize structure for the entry cost. Below is a breakdown of some events.

The below is based on the Theros prices of pack cost 3.02‡ and pack value of .82‡. These prices fluctuate all the time, so the fact that these numbers a probably a few days out of date isn’t that significant.


Queue Packs Tix Players Total Prizes Average Total EV
4-Booster Sealed






8-4 Draft






4-3-2-2 Draft






Swiss Draft






Sealed Daily






Premier Sealed(65)






Premier Sealed(128)







Average Total EV = [ (Total all value of prizes) + (Total value of packs opened) – (all entry costs including pack cost) ] / Number of Players


Average Total EV = [ (Total value of all prizes) – (Number of Packs * Pack Spread)  – (Entry Ticket Fee)] / Number of Players

As you’ll notice, playing in the Premier Sealed at 65 players is a much better value than playing against 128 players. This is because the prize structure in Premier events doesn’t change based on the number of participants. If you get into a smaller pool with the same prize results, your chance of winning prizes goes up significantly. By what we have listed here, your prizes in a four-booster Sealed event are actually better than any other options. But this will change as pack spread alters. In formats with a lower pack spread, opening more packs (by playing Sealed over Draft) benefits you more as you get a step up in prizes that exceeds the value. In formats with a high pack spread, opening fewer boosters will lead to a better EV.

What’s the Best Queue?

Overall, premier events with a low turnout are fantastic value. They’re kind of like going to a PTQ with only 16 people. After low-turnout premier events, the next best queues are phantom events that pay out in packs (not phantom points), like when Thursday Night Magic Online and Two Ticket Tuesdays are around. These events provide great value for the cost.

BNG Release EventIn phantom events, there is no pack spread to make up, entry fees can be pretty low, and prizes are generally pretty solid. Following that, four-booster Sealed remains a solid value format, though many people hate it. Then Sealed daily events or Draft, depending on the pack spread. If the pack spread is under 1.8‡, Sealed Daily is generally better than Draft, based on the prize numbers right now. Please be aware that factors can change quickly, though. Keep an eye on prerelease and release queues, which will sometimes offer even greater prizes. Born of the Gods Sealed release queues pay out one additional pack for 4-0 and three additional packs for 3-1 over Theros Sealed daily event.

Swiss vs. 8-4

There are two more things to cover in this analysis. The first is win percentage. Obviously, if you win more matches, your EV goes up. If you’re “guaranteed” to be in the top 50% of an event, then playing events like premier Sealed become a significantly better value. If you’re winning below 50% of your matches, you want to play anything Swiss.

One of the most common questions is when should you switch from Swiss to 8-4 Drafts. My answer is two-fold. First, you should wait to switch until you can afford to receive no prizes for several events. Breaking even in an 8-4 requires that you win one out of every three queues or place second every other queue. Pulling home no prizes will happen when you play 8-4s. If you can’t afford to do that three or four times in a row without running out of tickets, you should probably play Swiss formats.

Secondly, you should probably wait until you can reliably win over 50% of your games. Remember in Swiss, you can lose your first match and still go on to receive prizes. This is not the case in an 8-4. If you’re rocking a win percentage around 60%, you could get better value from an 8-4 than Swiss. One of the problems with single elimination is that the second-best deck doesn’t necessarily place second. I receive some consolation from watching my opponent from the first round, who fought a hard earned 2-1 victory over me, go on to place first in the draft overall. Even if my deck and skill is second only to him, the fact that we got paired together in the first or second round cuts me from prizes entirely. If you’re the best player with the best deck, you win, but depending on how things fall out in the seeding, second best doesn’t guarantee you anything in an 8-4 draft.

Oh, and you should never play 4-3-2-2s. Every time you do Marshall Sutcliffe main decks a [card]Fog[/card].

Dingus Egg

Final Notes

The final thing that is worth mentioning is that no EV can really substitute for a format you hate. If you think Sealed is the worst thing Magic has designed since [card]Dingus Egg[/card], don’t play it. Even though Dragon’s Maze has one of the best pack spreads you’ll find, if you hate drafting in a heavily multicolor format where you’re forced to grab gates over cards you want to play, don’t draft it. While it does affect your bottom line, you are going to be playing in a non-premier queue for up to four hours. Don’t spend those four hours fuming against MTGO because you entered the format you hate that might save you one ticket. You have to enter a queue that you’ll enjoy. If it’s just work, you’re better offering to mow your neighbor’s lawn because the EV of that is probably $10, and few queues can match that kind of value.

Casually Infinite – Understanding EV, Part 1

My editor says that articles are best at around 1500 words. My problem is that I’m a teacher. I teach sixth through twelfth grade students. In teaching we use something called the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) dictates what students are and are not able to learn based on what they currently know. I want to make sure that I don’t start off talking about things that are out of another person’s ZPD because they don’t have the groundwork laid to begin in a new direction. As such, many of my articles are likely to be in series of multiples, like this one.

Basic Business

Understanding estimated value (EV) is vital to pinching pennies or tickets (‡) on Magic Online. It is the most common catch-all term for Return On Investment (ROI) in MTGO. ROI is a business term that indicates how much money is made by one investment over another. If you were to stick money into a bank account, your expected ROI would be <1% per year. If you were to instead purchase a five-year CD, you could expect around 3% per year. It may be even better to spend the money than save it—something like replacing the windows in your home with higher quality windows might save you $30 per month in heating costs. When you have something that you are looking at in business terms, you have to consider what your expected ROI is for various ways to spend it. In Magic, calculating EV is how you do this.

Let’s assume you have six boosters and 4‡ (tickets) in your account. You have a number of options for what you can do. First off, you can sell the six boosters and have more tickets. This isn’t a very exciting option, since the way you probably got the boosters was by paying tickets for them in the first place. So you decide you’re going to enter a queue. But which queue you enter can drastically alter your expected results. For the sake of this article series, I’m going to assume you are likely to have average results regardless of the queue you enter. While there is a documented difference in the quality of players in 8-4 versus Swiss Drafts, and there tend to be better players in large premier events, I’m going to work under the assumption that you are in the middle of the pack for every queue you join. The reason for this is that if you’re better, most of the same advice still stands, and if you’re worse than average, you are going to lose money regardless. In this case, you should only play Swiss queues in order to minimize your losses.

I also can’t take into account the possibility that you happen to crush triple RTR drafts but happen to be really bad at M14 sealed. I’ll note that the differences from one queue to another is small enough that if there is a format you specifically don’t enjoy playing (triple DGM anyone?), it is probably not worth the advantages of playing it over a format you enjoy. Generally, as humans, we dislike things we’re bad at and enjoy things we’re good at. But three hours of your time to play Sealed over Draft when you really just want to draft isn’t worth the .32‡ it might save you. But it is important to understand how the choices you are making affect you.

The Math

If you don’t have strong math fundamentals, this may be a difficult article series for you to understand. I’d say you need a decent grasp on algebra to work through all the numbers. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to explain these fundamentals to you. If you’re having trouble grasping the math, just skip the confusing parts and move along to the results. We’ll be calculating a lot in the next article, so bear with me. If you want to skip the math, that’s okay, but today’s article is about the math specifically.


Queue EV = (What you pay to enter an event) – (what the average person gets from an event)

How exactly people calculate EV on queues varies slightly but it stands to reason you want to play the queue with the best EV and avoid those with the worst. Your EV is heavily affected by your win percentage. If you’re winning less than 50% of your matches, then a prize structure for winning a queue matters less to you and the prize structure for winning some matches will matter more. Regardless of where you stand, high EV basically means the queue is better for you, low EV means worse. However, queue EV is frequently negative. This means the average player will walk away with fewer ticets in card- and pack-value after playing a queue than they had before playing the queue. The key here is to pick the queues where you lose as little as possible, or if available, play in queues with a positive EV. Increasing your win percentage will increase your EV significantly.

Pack Cost – The market price to buy a booster pack of a given set.

The cost of purchasing a pack of a given set from a bot. Following Rule #2 (never buy packs from the store) from my article 10 Rules for Profit, we learn that the cost per pack is not $3.99 and playing a draft doesn’t cost you 14‡. Pack cost fluctuates wildly over the course of a set’s run and is even less predictable when dealing with flashback Draft formats (drafts where out-of-print formats return on MTGO). During prereleases, prices fall as people want to jump back into another queue and are more than willing to unload their draft winnings to do so. As release events finish up, prices tend to stabilize unless there ends up being a number of expensive rares in the set. Core set pack cost drops very quickly once the queues stop and the next core set comes out. The third set of a block often has a lower pack price because it is main set given as prizes but is primarily being used in block drafts, meaning more are being won than are being opened. The first set in a block will often rise in price later in the block as people go back to needing it to play full block drafts. Overall, packs can range as low as 1.25‡ all the way up to over 4‡.

Also note that there is a buy and sell pack price. You can generally sell packs for about 5% less than you can buy them. I generally use only the buy price because I rarely sell packs that I can still use to get into another queue.

Pack EV = (The value of each card in the set) / (How likely that card is to be in a single booster)

When you open a pack of Return to Ravnica, you have a chance to pull a [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] worth 30‡ or a [card]Volatile Rig[/card] worth .03‡. Before the pack was opened, it had a potential value that included both of these cards. Once the pack is opened, there’s no more guessing.

The pack value can be calculated by adding up the value of all the cards in the set, adjusting for rarity, and dividing by the potential you’d see in each pack. Individual high-priced cards heavily impacts pack EV, but a number of other factors play a role as well. Currently, M14 has a very high pack EV due to [card]Mutavault[/card] being a rare instead of a set with a similarly-priced mythic like [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] out of Dragon’s Maze. Cards like [card]Wasteland[/card] (an uncommon worth somewhere around 60‡) or even [card]Ancestral Mask[/card] (a 6‡ common) will increase the Pack EV way more than a 60‡ mythic. After all, there are 80 commons opened for every mythic.

There’s a few Excel spreadsheets with this already calculated out and all you have to do is punch in the totals for the set. If you want to know the current pack value, take a look at MagicEV, which calculates it for you (down on the bottom right). Pack EV generally ranges from about .75‡ to 1.5‡ for sets in Standard.
An example that makes a clear point about how pack value works is an unopened booster of Beta costing about $2000. There’s only one card you could open out of 117 rares that would provide you with a value that would be more than your initial cost. You could open a $5000+ [card]Black Lotus[/card] or a $6 [card]Warp Artifact[/card]. With so many rares and only 30 or so worth over $100, your pack EV is probably in the $500 range.

Pack Spread = Pack Cost – Pack EV

The difference between the pack cost and the pack EV is the pack spread. The greater the spread, the more packs you need to win to make up for your loss in opening up packs. If the spread is small enough or negative, then you can almost make a profit just by ripping packs open and selling the contents. For almost all packs on MTGO, you’ll find the pack cost is significantly above the pack value. The price for a pack doesn’t generally drop below 2‡ while there are active queues for it. In general, a 2-3‡ pack spread is common in MTGO. This means that you have to win about two packs for each three packs you open in the tournament to come out even after you pay entry fees. As I’m writing this, the pack spread on Theros is 2.23‡, M14 is 2.09‡, Modern Masters is 3.99‡, and Mercadian Masques is 1.10‡. While the high value of cards in Modern Masters makes it inviting and it has a significantly above average pack value, the pack spread is so high due to the cost of purchasing the packs. Thus, Modern Masters is one of the least profitable packs to open. You’re actually better off playing M14 or Theros.

Prize Structure

There are a number of different rewards for playing in various tournaments and queues. Sometimes the names of the event speak about the prize structure, such as 8-4 and 4-3-2-2 events, which indicate the number of packs given to each place. The reward for taking first place is significantly affected not only by the prize structure, but also the pack cost of the packs you are winning. If you win an 8-4 Draft at a 3.8‡ pack cost, you pick-up about 30.4‡ in prizes. Meanwhile, an 8-4 with a 2.8‡ pack cost will only give you about 22.4‡ in prizes.

Some events have a prize structure that rewards the players that did well significantly more than others in the tournament. Other events seek to reward everyone who performs decently, and still others reward everyone that plays and manages a win. Larger events will reward the top eight, 16, 32, or 64 players, regardless of how many enter. This could provide either a fantastic chance to a very mediocre chance of winning prizes based on the number of players. Prize structures based on number of wins are often much better than prize structures based on place, because the number of players doesn’t change your chances of winning. In an event that rewards the top 32 players, your chances of making it with 65 players is much better than with 256. On MTGO, premier events frequently have the same prize structure regardless of number of players.

Entry Fee = (Tickets) + (Pack Spread * Number of Packs)

Various events—from Draft queues, to dailies, to premier events—have entry fees. Entry fees for most events can be paid in tickets (bad idea) or a combination of some small number of tickets and product (good idea). The posted entry fee in MTGO isn’t the real entry fee you end up paying. When calculating potential winnings, you need to understand the portion of entry fees that you’re essentially paying to get into the prize structure as well as the fees you’re paying in pack spread. You end up paying the tickets, but you still get the value from the cards in the packs you open. If I have to open six packs to play in a Sealed event, I lose my pack spread six times instead of the three times I’d lose opening a draft. This means the prizes in a Sealed event would have to be almost twice as good as in a draft to have the same EV.

Next Time

Since I’ve probably already given my editor a heart attack, I’ll stop here and pick it up in part two where we’ll discuss what to do with all these numbers. This article gave you the basics regardingthe terms I’ll be using and we’ll get into the gritty details in my next article. I’ll break down each queue as well as some historic prize structures and explain why they good or bad value so you can be on the lookout for changes in the future that provide you with good opportunities.

Marc DeArmond – Casually Infinite: 10 Rules for Profit, Part Two

Today, we’re picking up where we left off last time, with rules six through ten of my 10 rules for profit. Check out last week’s post for rules one through five.

Rule #6 – Understand Estimated Value (Don’t Play 4-3-2-2)

When it comes to prizes, the 4-3-2-2 format has the very worst payout for the cost. While it feels like it is a small step up from Swiss, it is actually a step down. In Swiss, three of the four players that lose the first round will get prizes. If you are confident that this won’t be you, then you should be playing 8-4s. In an 8-4, if you get to the finals, you’ll pull down a significant number of packs. If you can’t make it to the finals on a regular basis, you’ll do better in Swiss. There are only 11 prize packs in a 4-3-2-2 as opposed to 12 in both Swiss and 8-4. If you’re good enough to get into the top 50%, you’re better off competing over 12 packs than 11.

It is the Limited community’s hope that someday 4-3-2-2s will become 5-3-2-2s (we now see this in Constructed queues), which would be awesome. But until this happens, friends don’t let friends play 4-3-2-2s. Each time you do, you are giving up about .37 tix. This means that instead of paying 11 tix to play you’re paying 11.37 tix. It adds up the more you play, but the most important reason not to play 4-3-2-2s is that if people stop playing, WOTC will have to make the prize structure worth it – some day.

Rule #7 – Selling Cards in Multiples is Easier

With the exception of really expensive cards, playsets of cards worth .25 to four tix are far easier to sell than single cards. A player looking for an [card]Imposing Sovereign[/card] is more likely to need four. Many would rather pay six tix for the playset than try to work out deals with multiple dealers to end up paying 1.25 tix each. After all, if you pay 1.25 from four different bots, it will end up costing you eight tix and you’ll be stuck with .75 credit at four different stores. Better to buy and sell in multiples. It tends to take less time and draw more interest from buyers. Plus, if someone needs one of a card you’re selling as a playset, they are still likely to contact you.

Selling multiples also gives you more control over the price of your cards. If I’m trying to sell off my playset of [card]Heliod, God of the Sun[/card], I can price the cards at 2.5 each by selling the set for 10 tix, or I can set the price at 2.75 and sell the set for 11 tix. If I’m trying to sell cards individually, my only real options are two or three tix, because trying to work out trades for .25 tix can be a real pain.

Rule #8 – Understand How Bots Work

The MTGO classfied ads are filled with a large number of automated stores called bots. Most bots offer buying, selling, and trading functions. If you purchase a card worth .5 tix, a bot will save your leftover credit for a later purchase or to pay you back on a future sale. I’ve learned the hard way that .25 tix in credit stored on four different bots is not the same thing as having a ticket in your hand.

It is important to pay attention to how much you’re paying a bot for a card. Bots will sometimes price cards at odd numbers like 1.002, .667, or .502 tix. This means if you want to purchase cards, even multiples from them, you’ll end up having to pay an additional ticket and get something like .992 credit. Sometimes this isn’t a big deal, as you can spin off a handful of commons to make up the difference. But sometimes the “great deal” you just found ends up costing you more than you intended to pay. If you’re purchasing at prices like this, you’re better off doing so at more established stores such as MTGO Traders or Supernova Bots, because you’re likely to find a good use for the credit.

Don’t forget to add any bot that owes you credit as a buddy. I don’t know how many times I’ve traded with a random bot and found credit I’d forgotten about. It is also probably worth keeping a log of how much credit bots owe you. Once you start trading with bots, it’s almost impossible to get your credit down to zero. If I find myself close to a full ticket in value on a bot I’ll generally open up my entire collection as tradeable and see if there’s anything I can let go for a couple cents to bring the balance up and get a ticket.

If you ever have a full ticket in credit, take a ticket instead of leaving the credit. Also, be weary of bots with good prices and no tickets available to trade. It doesn’t matter if you get 25 credits for a 10-ticket card if the bot charges one credit for commons.

Rule #9 – Learn What Bulk Means

Bulk rares on MTGO generally cost around .05 tix, but can only be sold for around .01. Sometimes bulk rares will take off and gain some value, but these are the exceptions. This means that you can put together a very playable non-net deck for just a couple of tix. But those values won’t go anywhere – most of the time. When they do, you’ll see massive profits, but this can be very difficult to predict. I suggest listening to Marcel and the other guys on the Brainstorm Brewery Podcast for ideas about what bulk rares have the potential to go off. But otherwise, be very careful about dropping money into bulk rares.

Rule #10 – Set a Goal

Having a goal really helps you reach for something. As a school teacher, I’ve noted that nothing drives a student to success as much as when he sets his own goals and then strives to reach them. My first goal on MTGO was to get enough money to play in a Draft. I started with an initial two tix, two packs, and a handful of mostly-worthless cards. To make a Draft happen, I needed to turn my starting set into another pack. With only two tickets this was a significant challenge. Some of the first trades I made included buying copies of Magic 2011 [card]Time Spiral[/card] for .9 tix from one bot and selling them for one ticket to another bot. The first bot had enough available that I was able to gain a ticket through buying and selling 10 copies of [card]Time Spiral[/card].

After I played in a few Drafts, I decided to set a new goal. I wanted a full set of Magic 2012. The idea of paying $5 for a full set of cards sounded great to me. So I began to work toward this goal. It took me over a year to complete, but without spending any additional cash, I was able to put together an entire set of Magic 2012 for redemption. After completing this set, I took a break.

My next goal was formed when I saw a Facebook post that my best friend and first Magic opponent from middle school, David Guskin, was the lead developer for Magic 2014. Given our history, I felt like I owed it to him to play the set that he could call his. I could see a number of elements included in the set that reminded me of how we used to play back in the day, so I decided I wanted to build a complete set. This was just before the prerelease and I had a glorious two tix in my account. I set the goal of playing a release sealed queue at a 26-ticket entry fee. It took me a couple weeks, but by selling off uncommons and commons, as well as buying and selling rare lands, I was able to get the tickets together. I managed to place second in the one I played. All in all, 26 tickets bought me a [card]Liliana of the Dark Realms[/card], an [card]Imposing Sovereign[/card], and a [card]Witchstalker[/card], as well as eight packs of M14. I was on my way to my goal.

When you have a goal, you have a reason to come back. By having something left incomplete, you will be drawn to return. If you don’t have a goal, you won’t have anything to do at a given time. Maybe you want to create a cool EDH deck or make your current one all foil. Maybe you want a playset of a 30-ticket card or you want to move in on that new Standard deck. Setting goals is what drives us to better ourselves. I can’t tell you what a good goal for you will be, but I know that without one you are much more likely to quit.


Many of these rules will surely end up with their own post at some future point, going into further detail of why and how they are best observed. However, rule #1 (pennies matter, don’t give them up) is the most important and will be a running theme in all my articles. In order to play infinitely, you can’t look at .5 tix and consider it nothing. It is half a ticket, 1/7th of a pack, 1/25th of a draft. If you can squeeze .33 tix out of a trade three times, it is money in the bank. Use these rules to help you play smarter and eek out an edge. Playing infinitely is all about not giving up free money and taking every advantage you can get.

Have comments? Please post below!

Marc DeArmond – Casually Infinite: 10 Rules for Profit, Part One

Below are the 10 rules that I follow to be able to play infinitely on Magic Online. Many of these rules will probably garner their own articles to fully explain the reasoning behind them and how I enact them. But the first step is to give tips that will help you to stop making decisions that work against you. If you’ve already made bad choices before you have even entered a queue, you’re going to have a rough road ahead of you. Avoid the blunders and follow the rules below, even if you have extra cash to throw around.

Rule #1 – Pennies Matter, Don’t Give Them Up

I play Magic, I collect Magic, I trade and sell Magic, and I think about Magic as a hobby. I much prefer when my hobbies don’t cost me money or, better yet, make me money. However, I’m not in the business of Magic. I’m not trying to cover the cost of a vacation with my Magic cards (again). I enjoy getting good deals, spinning them around for tickets, and building my collection without throwing more money at it. I’m a school teacher with a house, a wife, and two kids. I just don’t have a lot of money to spend on my hobbies.

This is not how many people play Magic. Some people look at $15 and see that as a totally fair price to spend for a night of drafting. I’d actually agree that $15 is indeed a pretty good price for a night’s entertainment – if I find myself off my island for a Limited release event, I’d love to give it a try. However, I do live on an island and I don’t want to spend $15 every time I want to draft in order to keep up my game. I’d rather spend some time working good deals and try to make the 15 tix I need to play.

I get more thrills from making a good trade than I do from winning a casual game. So if the option is between trading and playing without a prize, I’d rather trade. If you’re one of those players for whom money isn’t really a factor with regards to playing Magic, then we approach the game very differently. While much of what I say is still relevant to managing your collection, it probably isn’t worth 30 minutes of trading for you to come out two or four tix ahead. But for me, that’s my definition of a good time.

Rule #2 – Never Buy Booster Packs from the Store

Booster packs from the store cost retail price – $3.99. Living in Washington, I pay tax on that, too. Almost every bot seller will sell boosters for less than retail price in tickets. If you’re going to pay cash, buy tickets and then buy packs from bots. Boosters can easily fall under three tix for many sets, especially core sets and third sets in a block. If you can save almost $1 per booster by buying from a bot in tickets, you should never buy from the store.

It is also important to realize that when playing Limited events, there are multiple options for entry fees. You can pay with tickets or product plus tickets. Never pay in just tickets unless it is an event with no other options (like a prerelease, Sealed release event, or some flashback queues). Entering a Draft queue costs either 14 tix or three boosters plus two tix. If you buy the boosters for three tix each, it will only cost you a total of 11 tix to enter the draft. In a case like this, you’ve saved yourself three tix before you even started playing. Even if the boosters are just down to 3.66, you’re still saving yourself a ticket by buying from bots instead of the store.

Rule #3 – Don’t Open Your Booster Packs

Just opening your packs instead of playing them in Limited is a terrible idea. Current sets will occasionally reach the point where you can expect 1.5 tix of value from opening a pack. Considering you bought that pack for around three tix (not $3.99 from the store), you’re probably going to lose at least 1.5 tix of value by opening the booster. Also, packs that sell for three tix are generally worth less than one ticket in average value once opened. In general, you can expect to lose about two tix in value whenever you open a pack. That is, unless you open it in a queue.

Playing Limited queues of any type provides much better returns than just opening a pack. Playing a Swiss Draft (the easiest to get prizes), costs two tix and three packs. You still get to open three packs. However, those two additional tickets give you a good chance of winning more packs, which can be turned into more tickets. In Swiss, you play three games no matter what (unless you drop). Winning one game gives you one pack, two games gives you two packs, and three games gives you three packs. Only one person who enters a Swiss Draft will lose all three games and get no packs. So unless you’re that person, you’ll come out ahead by playing in a Draft. You may even win three packs, essentially paying two tix for three packs in addition to whatever you opened in the packs you drafted. Playing in a Swiss Limited queue is a far better option than just opening your packs.

Rule #4 – This Isn’t Paper

The MTGO economy doesn’t function like the paper Magic economy. Price fluctuations happen more quickly, bulk rares are worth much less, and some things that are rare in paper aren’t necessarily as rare online. In contrast with Limited print runs in paper, there is often infinite product available on MTGO. While a paper product may sell out before it ever hits the shelves, it may be available for months online, allowing for many more copies to be in circulation. Older sets can show up as a flashback queues in MTGO, allowing for more packs to be introduced to the market years after the set has gone out of print.

Redemption also plays a big part of card value online. Full sets can be redeemed for paper cards up to two years after the initial period following a set’s release. When redemption goes live, a large flood of cards moves out of MTGO and into the paper market. This can cause cards to spike when redemption goes live (and people are trying to complete their sets) or after redemption (when so many cards were redeemed that there may now be a shortage online). After two years, cards approaching the redemption cutoff tend to rise in value only to drop shortly afterwards. However, post redemption, valuable cards are likely to rise if they have a home in Modern. Some sets are not redeemable but this doesn’t mean they have no value. Also, Wizards recently raised set redemption prices from $5 to $25. It’s not entirely clear what this will do to the market, but it doesn’t seem to have thrown anything too far out of whack.

Overall, the paper market tends to lag behind the MTGO market. It is important to realize the effect this has. Cards seeing play during pro tour weekends will jump within hours, not days or weeks. Also, the MTGO market has immediate transactions between all players. You buy the card, you get it right away. Not within a week, not within a few weeks. Sellers can’t cancel orders, and once you’ve sold a card, you immediately get the tickets.

Rule #5 – Rare Draft

I actually stopped playing Draft in favor of Sealed because of this particular topic, but if you’re going to play non-phantom Drafts, you need to come up with a price point for rare drafting. When you rare draft you pick a card that is worth tickets instead of a card that goes in your deck. For example, back in a Magic 2012 Draft, in the third pack I picked a [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card] without another green card in my deck. While I’d never try to move into green during the third pack for a 2GGG-cost card, the fact that it was worth 15 tix meant that it would pay for my entire Draft. I could have grabbed the [card]Doom Blade[/card] instead, but it wasn’t going to make as much of a difference as grabbing the 15-ticket planeswalker. By taking Garruk, I made sure that even if I lost the entire Draft, I’d still come out a couple of tickets ahead.

Finding your own price is important and comparing the cards you’d draft instead of the rare card also matters. For me, I’ll always grab a card that’s worth three tix or more. After the first pick of a pack, I’ll pretty much always grab a one-ticket card rather than let it pass. Once things get down to 10+ picks, I’ll generally grab an uncommon over commons that I won’t play, simply because I can sell it to a bulk buyer for .01 or .02 tix. There’s more danger rare drafting in larger tournaments and even in 8-4 Drafts than in Swiss. But regardless of what queue you’re drafting in, you need to know your price points and card values for the set(s) you’re drafting.


That’s all for this time. Join me next week for part two, where I will detail steps six through ten.

Marc DeArmond – Casually Infinite: Introduction

Did you say Infinite?

I did say infinite. By this I mean playing MTGO without having to constantly visit the store or purchase tickets from vendors. My form of infinite isn’t being able to draft back to back all night, dual queue, or even playing a queue every day. I am infinite by earning my tickets through critical planning, earning packs by winning queues, and making very careful trades. I want you to be able to go infinite as well.

Who is this Guy?

First off, I’m a casual player. There are a lot of different beliefs about what casual means across the Magic community, or the MMO community, or any gaming community, for that matter. For some, casual means anyone that isn’t pro or doesn’t attend PTQs. Others indicate it as the people they meet at FNM. For me, casual is even less than that: I don’t go to PTQs, I don’t make it to FNM, and honestly, I very rarely play paper MTG at all. I generally enter one or two queues a month on MTGO, sometimes more, sometimes less. But I never ever spend any money to play Magic.

I’m a casual MTGO player – my total collection is generally worth less than a couple hundred tickets. I can’t afford a top-tier Standard deck, but I’ve got a decent pauper one together. I might play a couple games on a regular weeknight. But whenever I want to draft, I have the tickets or packs to do so, and if I don’t, I’ll make a series of trades to earn them.

This series is about being an infinite casual MTGO player. A few people have written about going infinite through high levels of play while drafting, but many of their strategies require playing a lot. While a number of us would love to be able to play that much, some of us just don’t have the time.

I’m a school teacher that lives on a small, remote island in the Pacific Northwest accessible only by ferry. There’s nowhere to buy underwear on the island, much less a local FNM. But even beyond that, I probably don’t have the skill to back to back events and immediately sell off my packs to jump into the next draft. I’ve heard great players like Brian Wong talk about going infinite at around 1900 rating. My rating floats around 1700-1750. But I’m still able to play Magic without shelling out any cash.

My History in Magic

I started playing Magic in middle school. My first box was a starter box of Unlimited, my first boosters were Antiquities. My initial games were played with David Guskin, who is now in R&D at Wizards. In those days, [card]Icy Manipulator[/card] won games and [card]Force of Nature[/card] was unstoppable. Most of the cards I picked up were from Revised, The Dark, Fallen Empires, and Chronicles. By the time Ice Age and Homelands were released, my adolescent budget was broke. I held onto my cards and still played with some of my friends for a couple years. But the constant stream of new sets and the closing of the local game store had waned my interest. At 16, I started trading cards off for Warhammer miniatures. At the age of 24, I sold the remainder of my collection to pay for my honeymoon to Cabo San Lucas.

I discovered MTGO while teaching sixth-grade math. A number of my students were playing Magic so I offered to open my room after school on Mondays. Surrounded again by a game I had once loved, I began to play with their decks and they began to give me occasional packs or commons in which they weren’t interested. Sixth graders don’t innately see the value in cards like [card]Pacifism[/card] and [card]Essence Scatter[/card], so I built a deck from their discards to show them the error of their ways. Reinitiated into the game, I looked for a way to play Limited formats, my true love in Magic. MTGO provided me with the ability to play Limited games without having to find half a dozen people to draft – and I could do so at any point in the day or night.

In my original paper collection, I had a starter box that I kept separate and did not mix with any of the rest of my collection. The cards I traded from this box brought new cards into the mini collection I was building. Sometimes I would only bring this box with me to a gaming session. I traded my way into four copies of [card]Counterspell[/card] and got rid of my [card]Tropical Island[/card] for a [card]Tundra[/card] and a [card]Mahamoti Djinn[/card]. I ended up with a basically-playable deck with about 10 rare cards simply by trading up. When I signed up for MTGO, my plan was similar. I would only trade from my starting funds, I wouldn’t spend money on anything but set redemption, and I would play in Limited queues and other tournaments.

Into the Land of MTGO

Signing up for MTGO, I knew that I wanted to play Limited formats. The first goal I had was to draft. I’d never drafted but the idea of building a Limited deck from an extremely limited pool sounded great. I earned the funds for drafting through trades netting me .1 tickets at a time and eventually had enough to enter my first event. I managed to pull down two wins in a Swiss Draft, so apparently my fundamentals were still pretty strong. Shortly after learning about redemption, I decided to aim for the goal of completing a set of M12. I managed to put the set together within a year, all without spending any money (other than the $5 redemption fee).

MTGO provided me with a solution to everything I didn’t like about paper Magic. I’ve never had the ability to put large sums of money into my collection. I also really enjoy deck building. These two facts always frustrated me in paper Magic. Before, if I wanted to build a new deck I’d have to fish my dual lands out of one deck and throw them in the new one. Now on MTGO, I could stick my one Jace into any decks I made, without hurting the integrity of the other decks. Before, if there was a card I was seeking that no one in my play group owned, I’d have to struggle to find it, or even look at paying for it rather than trading. On MTGO, bots provided me with the ability to pick up any card, including many rares, at literally pennies, at any time I wanted.

Finally, there was the regular the option to play Limited, the main way I enjoy playing Magic. Back in high school, David Guskin had convinced his dad to invest in Magic cards. He had the power nine at his disposal, in multiples, and playsets of each dual land. I simply couldn’t compete. While it always felt triumphant to bring home a win, it was a rare occurrence due to the imbalance in deck power. In Limited, the playing field was essentially equal. The guy with $2000 to spend on Magic or even the guy with a $200 deck was stuck with the same limited options as me. Sometimes I’d have the more expensive cards, sometimes they would. But frequently, I’d have the better deck.

Casually Infinite

This series of articles is about how I play infinite Magic on MTGO. But it is about how I do so as a casual player. My primary rule is that I don’t invest any money into MTGO other than paying set redemption fees. I won’t buy tickets, Draft sets, or release boxes from the MTGO store. I’ll only play Limited and trade. Thus far I haven’t decided to enter Constructed tournaments. I’ve been looking into the pauper option for this but haven’t decided to make the jump. What I will be doing is explaining my investments and how I work for my tickets to pay for Limited queues.

If you’re the sort of player that would rather spend $15 and jump right into a Draft whenever you have the time, some of my advice is likely to seem overly tedious to you. But if you’re playing on a limited budget or want to learn how to make your hobby pay for itself, then this series is aimed at you. If you’re willing to work for 20 minutes to earn a couple of tickets, you’re like me. If you’re the kind of player that only manages to run a few queues a month, don’t worry. So am I.

I’m also a guy who’s very into gaming theory. When I worked at a local game store (Games Workshop), we called this Mathhammer. While the reality of the math never seems to meet with actual probability, it doesn’t mean that probability, averages, and numbers are to be ignored. Numbers are a big part of how I manage to play infinitely. If I’m squeaking out .5 tickets from each event I play, it adds up to more events. It is my goal to be putting more money (or tickets) back into your wallet so that you can spend less and play more. These articles will be focused on the little steps you can take to improve your game, your trading, and some of the mechanics that will help your bottom line. And finally, I’ll be discussing strategy for winning events, because winning queues is the end goal. Join me next time and we’ll get into the details.