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.

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.

8 comments on Casually Infinite – Understanding EV, Part 2

  1. Reader says:

    nobody cares

  2. Reader says:

    your math is wrong btw

  3. Anonymous says:

    I really enjoyed your article once again. As some just getting into MTGO, it’s great to read a finance article aimed at a more casual player. Looking forward to your next article!

  4. cricketHunter says:

    The advice to switch queues at a 50% win rate ignores the fact that queues attract different players. A swiss queue will generally have weaker players; an 8-4 stronger. There have been some numbers thrown together about the average strength of a queue (average rating & standard deviation), and based on those (+ some math/coding) the crossover point for jumping from swiss to 8-4 seems closer to a 66% win percentage.

    However, even taking into account player ratings, 4-3-2-2’s are still bad value.

    1. I agree that closer to the 60-65% is where you want to be switching. But you shouldn’t even consider it if you’re under 50%. Perhaps the sarcasm didn’t quite stick in the article like I intended. If you need to win two matches in order to get prizes and you can’t win 50% of your games, you’re in for a rough road.

      1. cricketHunter says:

        So the two rules of thumb I’ve derived from poking at the math are:

        At a 65.02% win rate move to 8-4 from swiss (this lines up with about a 1790 rating)

        At a 55.44% win rate move to swiss from 8-4 (this lines up with about a 1780 rating)

        1. I’m also curious about added value from Rare Drafting in Swiss over 8-4s. Some guy in a Swiss draft may pass a Mutavault not realizing it’s worth double what he paid to get into the draft. This becomes less likely as you have more experienced players in the queue with you.

          1. cricketHunter says:

            That is an awesome question!

            I can see reasons this could go either way.

            Swiss might be better for rare-drafting because…

            …players are more inexperienced and thus might not know prices (less rare drafting in swiss)

            or 8-4’s might be better for rare-drafting because…

            …swiss pairings means less pressure to win every game, thus less punishment for rare-drafting in swiss
            …more inexperienced players rare draft and there are more inexperienced players in swiss
            …8-4’s and single elimination means there is more pressure to make a better deck so there is less rare-drafting in 8-4’s

            Bottom line is I don’t know. It would be awesome if this were something you could measure as part of the EV of a queue.

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