Next Level Spec #9 – Friends Don’t Let Friends 4-3-2-2

How do you maximize EV in the world of Magic Online drafting? Ted Knutson breaks down the math and why you should avoid entering 4-3-2-2’s.

There have been two driving forces behind me writing this column. The first was the desire to analyze and discuss card speculation and economics on Magic Online. The second is more of a by-product, but still ever-present: to make Magic Online cost you less to play. By applying basic economic principles to various encounters with the Magic Online economy, you can minimize what you spend and help maximize your returns.

Today we’re going to explicitly focus on the latter.

Which would you choose?

Magic is an expensive game. Seriously, compare it to almost any other game you can or do play on a regular basis and (unless you are absurdly good) the cost to play Magic regularly will be near the top of every metric you can find. Most of us are fine with this because Magic is arguably the best game ever invented, and thus we’re happy to pay for a premium brand. Playing Magic is kind of like drinking Patron or Grey Goose while your friends are slumming it drinking well liquor and playing Pokémon. (Er…)

What I mean to say is playing Magic is a bit like driving a Ferrari around town while the 14-year-olds are stuck tooling around in their Honda Civics. (Hrm…)

Maybe we should just move on. When faced with the following set of choices, which one would you choose?

Option 1) The draft payout is 5-3-2-2. The cost is 2.5 tickets plus packs (14.50).

Option 2) The draft payout is 5-3-2-2. The cost is 2 tickets plus packs (14).

You are not an idiot. You would choose option 2 every time, right? Well done.

So how about this scenario?

Option A) The draft payout is 8-4 OR Swiss (12 packs). The cost is 2 tickets plus packs (14).

Option B) The draft payout is 4-3-2-2 (11 packs). The cost is 2 tickets plus packs (14).

Now the choices in scenario two appear unequal, but when you break down the total costs and rewards, the two scenarios are nearly identical. Because 4-3-2-2’s pay one less pack, they cost each and every player in the draft about fifty cents extra to play in expected value when compared to entering either 8-4’s or Swiss drafts.

Let’s say you draft five times a month for the three months. Innistrad is the main drafting set, doing fifteen drafts a quarter. By playing 4-3-2-2 instead of the other queues, you cost yourself half a draft per new set. Multiply that across four sets a year and you cost yourself an additional 30 tickets a year by picking the wrong draft queue.

Casey from @TheCardNexus Magic Online bot network regularly compiles EV stats based on the buy value of the actual cards opened, the pack payouts, and the cost of buying the packs from his network, which I have found to be pretty cool. This is what the EV cost looks like for the current draft queues on Magic Online:

8-4/Swiss=3.69 per draft
4-3 = 4.15


Scars Block

The lower the number, the less it actually costs you to draft the format, so playing an 8-4 from Scars block costs you about $2.84 per draft (on average, though there is variance). Because Innistrad card prices are so low, playing an Innistrad 4-3-2-2 costs the most right now at $4.15 per draft on average.

If you were only concerned with maximizing EV, right now Scars block has the best return on investment for drafts, especially if you play 8-4’s.

Except that 8-4’s don’t exist anymore for Scars Block.

Neither do Swiss queues.

In fact, you can only play 4-3-2-2’s for that draft format, which in turn allows Wizards of the Coast to pocket an extra fifty cents per player (or 4 tickets per draft) in MODO profits. How conveeeeeenient.

The problem here is that 4-3-2-2 is said to be the most popular queue, so when they cut back the options to make queues in older formats more likely to fire, they just give you the most popular one, which in turn is the one that allows them to make more money.

So it’s our fault we are costing ourselves extra money to draft. Blargh.

What can we do about it? The answer is simple.

STOP PLAYING 4-3-2-2’s!

Seriously, you are not stupid. Your friends are (probably) not stupid. So why would you pay fifty cents extra per draft for the exact same service? Save your money and enter the other queues.

If you are risk averse or don’t feel you are a very good Magic player, play Swiss queues. If you are risk normal and feel you are even a decent Magic player, hop in the 8-4’s.

Oh, and while you are not playing 4-3-2-2s, campaign for Wizards of the Coast to finally return the fifth pack to that Magic Online queue. Send emails to Aaron Forsythe, and Mark Rosewater, and particularly to Worth Wollpert (who can be found on Twitter at @mtgonline) explaining your feelings on this matter. In this day and age, there is no conceivable reason why one of the three queues doesn’t pay out 12 packs, so campaign for them to fix the problem.

Changing behaviour here should be easy—just spread the following saying to every drafter you know:

Friends don’t let friends play 4-3-2-2’s.

The Cost of Prerelease Drafts

As some of you know, I expressed the frustration felt by myself and others with the Magic Online product on my blog last week. One of the many items I ranted about was the cost of Prerelease drafts, which currently total an astounding 20 tickets each (12 tix for packs, 2 tix standard draft fee, and 6 tix for prereleasyness). If you include packs, this is a 42% price hike on the full cost of a normal draft any time outside of the Prerelease period. If you don’t include packs, then it is a 400% price hike on the normal draft hosting fee. I (and many others) feel the price charged for MODO Prerelease drafts is exorbitant and a bit of a cash grab on the part of Wizards of the Coast.

However, some people felt this was unfair because in return for your 6 extra tickets paid for Swiss drafting, you a) get the premium experience of drafting the set online a mere three weeks after it has been released in the real world, and b) also get a very special promo card that has some value.

Fair enough, says I. While I can’t place a value on that initial online drafting experience, I can review the value of the promo cards provided thus far and analyze the non-experiential cost. The Prerelease draft queues started with Scars of Mirrodin and so shall we.

Wurmcoil Engine — Promo: 6.25, Scars of Mirrodin: 13.27
Glissa, the Traitor — Promo: .70, Mirrodin Besieged: 1.68
Sheoldred, Whispering One — Promo: .30, New Phyrexia: 2
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth — Promo: .40, M12: 1.55
Mayor of Avabruck — Promo: ?? (est. .40), Innistrad: 1.48

Note: These are the SELL prices and not the BUY prices you would get from bots when trying to sell your own.

Mean: 1.61
Median: .4

Since Wurmcoil Engine is clearly an outlier at the moment, and since we’re looking at your most likely return for any given Prerelease event, we’re going to use the median value for defraying the cost. So in return for your 20 tickets and getting to draft early, you get an average of 1.61 tickets of extra value, but you are more likely to get .40* tickets of extra value.

Additional cost of a Prerelease draft = 6 – .40 promo value = 5.60

*Additional info: The Wurmcoil Engine promo floated between 3 and 4 tickets for most of its existence, but has obviously taken off in the last month because of heavy rotation in Standard. The rest of them have underwhelmed by a large degree. Though to be fair, I think Mayor will slowly increase in value over the next year (possibly representing a cheap, long-term spec opportunity?).

The question then becomes: How much do you value the experience of online Prerelease drafting? Is it worth letting Wizards of the Coast charge you 380% more for letting you play the new set three weeks after it debuted in the real world, but a week earlier online?

If you play in two of these drafts, you nearly cost yourself the equivalent of an additional draft down the line. Can it possibly be worth it? Assuming you absolutely had to play, why wouldn’t you pay normal price and draft in the real world while waiting for MODO release events?

Two More Economic Points on This

First, I know some of you will say that by drafting in Prereleases, you get to take advantage of higher singles prices in that first mad scramble for cards. True, but you get that by playing in any Prerelease event, including the sealed queues. And in the sealed queues, the Prerelease fee is 4 extra tickets spread across six packs instead of 5.6 extra tickets spread across three. Do the math—the drafts just don’t make sense.

The disparity between the price of the promo and the normal card is also interesting and can be explained by a single factor: Promos cannot be redeemed. Thus while people who want to just play with the card have the option of using the promo as a substitute (saving seven tickets for the sake of some art on Wurmcoil), redeemers have no choice but to go for the original one that only comes via cracked packs. However, the fact that the promo can be used as a cheaper alternative means that the peak price of the real card is constrained, costing drafters value down the line when they try to sell the promo cards. Without all the promo Wurmcoils running around, the real price on the card might be 17 tickets instead of 13 and a bit. Despite the fact that it is free for WotC to create these promos, there is a systemic cost to be paid down the line.


As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the purposes of this column is to make Magic Online cheaper to play. One way to do that is making money via speculation, which at this point it is clear that many of you have chosen to do. Another way to make Magic cheaper is through off-cycle purchasing, like making sure you buy your cards for Standard and Modern when demand is low (like we did on Garruk, Primal Hunter and Jace, Memory Adept from M12 and like you absolutely should be doing with Modern right now if you want to play the format). And another way is to apply common sense, consumer economic principles to playing Magic.

Think long and hard about whether you want to pay $.50 extra per draft when you enter the 4-3-2-2 queue, or if it is actually worth $5.60 extra to draft on Magic Online a week early.

Paying less to play Magic means you can play more Magic, and isn’t playing more Magic kind of the point?

@NextLevelSpec for speculation and MODO thoughts
@mixedknuts for everything else (including European and American football)

Quoteable Quotes

(Pro Tip: Twitter pics should be read from the bottom up.)

Jeff Cunningham complains about the Modern banned list. This was the reply he received.
@mtgaaron @WJeffCunningham
Grave-Troll being banned is part of our anti-troll movement. I’d watch my step if I were you!

@wrongwaygoback Weeee, three days to Innistrad pre-re. Haven’t been this excited since the TO awarded hand-jobs instead of packs as prize payout.

@montykins Now watching: Cougar Town, Season 1, Disc 2. Now playing: text adventures on my iPad. I lack a consistent aesthetic.

@modogodot It’s awesomely true! Double-faced foils don’t warp; it’s like dropping a cat with buttered toast strapped to its back and having it hover!

@klug_alters Just sent out the internet bill with a Ronald Reagan 37 cent stamp and four H rates stamps from 1998. This envelope travelled through time.

Michael Feuell overheard at work:
Coworker 1: If you microwave these donuts, they have a consistency that is both disturbing and delicious
Coworker 2: Like a chocolate Cthulhu

Lan D. Ho What’s your CFAR? (CFAR = “Chick-Fil-A Regret,” the number of nuggets you can eat before you regret eating them at all. Sandwich = 14 nuggets.) Mine was 29.

Julian Booher my dad upon finding an empty bottle of Mike’s Hard in my duffle bag: “Back in our day we used to use Mike’s Hard to GET p***y, not BE one”
Julian Booher I love my family.

Joseph Kambourakis Arsenal is a lot like my sex life
Joseph Kambourakis It used to be good. Now it sucks and I never expect anything of it

@wrongwaygoback Watching cartoons with the boys. Tom & Jerry is basically torture porn for kids.

@shawnryanTV Professional TV writer. Where googling a state-by-state Age of Consent chart is merely research and not a perv move.

Harry Ryttenberg the Red Sox are 5-18 since I was diagnosed with cancer. Having my prostate and lungs checked this week just to make sure they miss the playoffs

Ben Seck Are Triscuits 50% better than biscuits?

@montykins Dear NBA: Gee, that’s a real shame. Love, Seattle

Mrfridays:  Your reservations thread on Facebook is officially a sausage fest now.  There is Wang all over the place.

@proleps9 I don’t think of 8-2 as losing the 767 person PTQ, but rather Day 2-ing the MODO GP.

@blisterguy almost posted in the top 5 INN cards at GPBrisbane: “Daybreak Ranger. Just kidding Kibler, nobody played it in the Top32”

proleps       I think I want to go to scotland and visit distilleries
knutrant    and golf
Draconis    I mean
Draconis    I am not going to stand between a man and his beer!
proleps       boo golf
Draconis    because I am english, and I know that that is often fatal
jobim           I want to go to Thailand and visit ladyboys.

@billbarnwell Not sure these teams should be allowed to use the no-huddle. Like teens learning how to drive by drifting.

@wjeffcunningham “And on the seventh daye He cast Rith. And on the eighth daye He cloaked it.” -Kibler 3:16