Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #225 – Will Morningtide be the New Invasion Block?

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Thursday, May 8th – MTGO is either going to get fixed, or it is going to die. I don’t see a company like Hasbro letting a profitable asset like MTGO die – I expect it will be fixed. It will take time, and already involves some suffering, but I expect that the program will work in the end. Eventually, v3.0 will be a going concern. I’m starting to think about what that will be like.

The MTGO v2.5 server issues and the changeover to, and problems with, v 3.0 have greatly reduced the number of people drafting and otherwise opening Morningtide. Wizards has responded with triple Morningtide drafts. Will this be enough, or will a shortage of Morningtide make it expensive in the future? Let’s do the numbers.

MTGO is in a bad period right now. Large parts of it do not work. Other parts have issues. The program does not crash, but it does turn into a zombie at times.

MTGO is either going to get fixed, or it is going to die. I don’t see a company like Hasbro letting a profitable asset like MTGO die — I expect it will be fixed. It will take time, and already involves some suffering, but I expect that the program will work in the end. Eventually, v3.0 will be a going concern.

I’m starting to think about what that will be like. If the program works as intended, Wizards will start pushing for more players. That should work. Assuming the program is fully functional, we should see a significant growth in the number of players within six months to a year after completion.

Once those new players hit, a number of them will be wanting to play Constructed formats. This should push the demand for old cards, especially those that are in Standard and Extended netdecks. For the next eighteen months, Lorwyn and Morningtide cards will be Standard legal. They will be Extended legal for just under seven years. Mutavault and probably Bitterblossom will be in many of those decks

The question is whether there will be enough Morningtide cards available to meet demand, or whether these blocks will be like Invasion block, which has always been incredibly expensive online.

To understand why that is, let’s step into the Wayback Machine and let Mr. Peabody review some history.

Magic Online was introduced shortly after Odyssey Block was released in the paper world. Drafting was popular, mainly as a way to practice for paper tournaments — which were all Odyssey block at that time — and with people who just love to draft. Draft-lovers were getting tired of Invasion Block at that point, so they drafted a lot of Odyssey, not Invasion.

The end result was that for every Invasion Block pack cracked, a lot more Odyssey Block packs were cracked. As a result of simple supply and demand pressures, the prices for block cards have always been lower for Odyssey block than for Invasion.

For comparison, look at the average price for an Apocalypse rare ($4.45) and a Judgment rare ($1.86.) Both of these sets are the final sets in their respective blocks, both have about equal numbers of Extended playable cards — but the Invasion block set costs almost 2.5 times as much. This difference isn’t just driven by a few high-priced bomb rares, either. The median (meaning middle, or “half above, half below”) price for Apocalypse rares is $1.46, versus $0.57 for Judgment. The mode price (most common single price) for Apocalypse rares is $0.48, while the mode for Judgment is $0.19.

The point is that Invasion Block cards are relatively scarce compared to Odyssey Block cards. Scarcity means prices rise: cards that are more scarce are also more expensive — even for the worst rares in the sets.

The question is whether Lorwyn cards also be scarce, and will they be expensive in the future?

The obvious, off-the-cuff answer would be “no — people are drafting Morningtide now. How can it possibly be scarce?” Well, that’s true, but the total amount of product drafted is going to be lower than in the past, for a number of reasons.

First off, Morningtide is, in effect, a third set. Third sets are always relatively scarce, because people draft the third set for the shortest amount of time, and because all drafts done while the set is being drafted are only one-third that set. The third set rares are always the hardest to get, and they are priced accordingly. Look at Tarmogoyf, Pithing Needle (before it was reprinted), or Vedalken Shackles and Engineered Explosives.

Chronologically, Lorwyn comes second in the block, but in terms of Draft and Sealed, it is a third set. Drafts including Morningtide were mainly Lorwyn — Lorwyn — Morningtide. The set was also in drafts for the shortest time — once Shadowmoor is available for draft, Morningtide packs are not being busted very often. People are drafting triple Shadowmoor.

In paper, FNM drafts are already all Shadowmoor. Online, the main draft format is still LLM, but Shadowmoor will appear. Hopefully, that will be soon. Once it does, Lorwyn/Morningtide drafts will still be available, but far less common. For comparison, look at the ratio of Time Spiral / Planeshift / Future Sight drafts to LLM drafts now occurring. I have only skimmed results from a couple days, but the ratio looks to be around 50 LLM drafts for every TPF draft.

The other problem is for Morningtide online is that it had bad timing. Let’s look at that chronology.

Morningtide went on sale in the store March 3, 2008. Release events started on March 7, 2008. A few people (the idiots – just ask some of the forum peeps) bought and cracked packs before the events started. (I’m an idiot. I busted a few, to sell rares while the prices were excessive, and to collect some commons for testing — but then I am not a huge fan of drafts.) However, the total number of cards bought and opened before the events started is unlikely to be all that large when compared to the number of packs that are consumed in the various sorts of tournaments. I think.

Because of the server problems with MTGO 2.5, the Release events were heavily curtailed. Leagues started on March 7th and ran throughout the period, but drafts and PEs happened only on alternate days. Release events ended on March 19th.

I don’t have exact numbers, but I remember release leagues firing about every hour or so on the first couple days, and maybe four times a day towards the end. Those numbers are, if I recall correctly, pretty comparable to the numbers of leagues which took place in the past, but I think a couple crashes and some general slowness reduced the total numbers a bit. Let’s see what the numbers look like.

A league has 256 players, and each player opens three Morningtide boosters. To make calculations simpler, I am just going to count rares opened, and ignore foils. In the long run, after all, the question is going to be “how expensive will Mutavault be?” The number of Foil Mutavaults won’t be enough to really affect the prices of non-foil versions.

I am just counting opens, not prizes. I would expect that the vast majority of prize packs are either used to enter new drafts, leagues, or sealed PEs, or sold to dealers who sell them to people looking to enter drafts, leagues, or sealed PEs. Sure, some prize packs are just going to be busted, but I expect that percentage to be pretty low.

Assuming that we had 12 release leagues firing — on average – for each of the twelve days that release leagues began, that means league players opened a total of 110,592 non-foil rares during the release period. Since Morningtide has 50 rares, that means approximately 550 Mutavault playsets entered the card pool due to release events.

If the number of leagues was down, then we lose a few more cards. I don’t have any exact numbers, but my gut feel is that they were down about 10%. That is a pretty well educated guess — I play in a lot of online release events, and have ever since Kamigawa Block. If I’m right about a 10% reduction, then we lost some 12,000 rares.

Moving on.

Morningtide PEs ran, on the days they ran, roughly every quarter hour. A couple of early morning events did not fire. Most, except for some early morning ones, were closer to the 32 maximum player size than the 24 player minimum. For purpose of calculation, I’ll assume 28 players per event, with 96 events happening on each of the seven days that had PEs. In each PE, players opened 3 Morningtide boosters (plus a Lorwyn tournament pack.) Using these numbers, we can estimate that the PEs added about 56,000 Morningtide rares to the card pool. That equates to 280 playsets of Reveillark. Viewed another way, the fact that server issues in 2.5 meant that PEs could not run on six of the release days — which meant that 240 playsets of Bitterblossom that would otherwise have been available did not enter the card pool.

Server issues also meant that these PEs did not have Top 8 drafts. The prize support was increased, to offset the elimination of the Top 8 drafts, but prizes tend to get used in other events (and I account for the numbers there). Top 8 drafts — had they happened — would have meant that packs were opened immediately. The lack of Top 8 drafts in these PEs meant that another 8 rares per event — assuming that the Top 8 drafts would have been LLM . In short, no Top 8 drafts meant a total of 5,376 Morningtide rares did not enter the card pool.

The release events also included drafts — both LLM and MMM drafts. It is harder to get numbers on these totals, since Wizards does not publish this data.

Let’s take a break here: I did contact Wizards and ask for this sort of data. I really did not expect a reply (actually, Worth Wolpert got back to me within an hour, but his response was “I’m sorry, but I can’t make any data like that available to the public”). I was quite pleased with the fast response, and I totally understand the answer. If I could publish actual Wizards demand data, then my hit rate would rise dramatically. Every marketing and strategic planning person in every competing card and online game would be headed for that data immediately. That’s not hyperbole — having dealt with business trade secrets for almost 15 years, I know just how closely that sort of information is held — and how much it is valued by competitors. End break.

Okay, back to estimating the number of cards released through drafts. During release weeks, on the days that the draft queues were up, I think LLM 8-4 drafts fired about every 8 minutes (on average, over the whole 24 hours). MMM 8-4 drafts fired a little less frequently, say about every 10 minutes. LLM 4-3-2-2 drafts were more popular, firing every five minutes or so, and MMM 4-3-2-2 — the most popular — fired roughly every four minutes. Again, that’s my best estimate of the averages over the entire 24 hours: all types of drafts fired faster at peak times, and more slowly at 5am, middle of USA time.

Given those numbers, over the six days that drafts ran, we have the following rough numbers:

LLM 8-4 drafts contributed 8,600 Morningtide rares.
MMM 8-4 drafts contributed 20,700 Morningtide rares.
LLM 4-3-2-2 drafts contributed 13,800 Morningtide rares.
MMM 4-3-2-2 drafts contributed 51,800 Morningtide rares.

The total number of Morningtide rares that were introduced during the release event drafts was, therefore, something like 95k. In terms of chase rares, that’s about 475 playsets of Mutavault. On the flip side, since drafts did not run on seven of the release event days, then we did not see another 111k rares enter the card pool.

Actually, the combination of cards missed from drafts and PEs is a bit of an over-estimate. These numbers assume that the same number of drafts and PEs would have been filled even if both types of events had been running each and every day. In actuality, I’m sure some players played the same number of drafts, but just adjusted their days. Other players probably played PEs instead of drafts if that was all that was running on a given day. Nonetheless, the number is significant.

Here’s the top-end estimate of what did not get added to the card pool.

10% reduction in league play: 12,000 rares
PEs running every other day: 48,000 rares
No Top 8 drafts: 5,000 rares
Drafts which did not happen: 111,000 rares

Total impact of the 2.5 server issues: up to 176,000 Morningtide rares did not enter the card pool.

Impact on Wizards of the Version 2.5 Server Issues:

Some people were arguing that Wizards was not worried enough about the 2.5 issues. They did not seem to care. I bet they did.

Once again, I doubt we will ever be able to know exactly how much the server issues cost Wizards, but we can make some estimations. Let’s assume that just half of the lost PEs and drafts would have actually happened. That means roughly 3.5k more drafts and 325 more PEs would have happened if the servers had been able to handle them.

A draft uses up three packs per player, for a total 24 packs, and pays out 11 or 12 packs (for 4-3-2-2 and 8-4 drafts, respectively) in prizes. That means Wizards makes a profit (before deducting other expenses) of $8 to $8.50 per player in drafts. By comparison, in a Sealed PE with 28 players, Wizards makes roughly $9.75 per player.

Using these estimates, running PEs and drafts only on alternate days cost Wizards something in the region of a third of a million dollars.

Yes, they noticed. They cared. Even for a company like Hasbro, that’s real money.

The release events ended March 20th. After that time, drafts continued, and PEs returned to their normal schedule. I don’t have hard data on numbers, but right now LLM drafts (of some flavor, either 8-4 or 4-3-2-2) seem to be firing once every 7 minutes, when averaged over 24 hours. I think they used to fire faster before 2.5 went dark — let’s say that a LLM draft fired every 5 minutes.

I also don’t have actual data on PEs or leagues. Lorwyn Block leagues fired roughly every other day, and had 256 players every time. Sealed Lorwyn PEs ran, if I recall correctly, three times a day, plus a larger 4X PE or two each weekend.

MTGO 2.5 went dark on April 9, 2008. That all stopped.

MTGO 3.0 was up briefly on April 15, 2008, then came back one day later. At that point, it only supported casual play.

Wizards tried some “free” drafts on April 16, 2008. Drafting resumed, in full, on or about April 19th. Various issues, including slow responses from the store and the “prize eligibility” bug appear to have slowed the number of drafts taking place.

As I write this, on Monday, May 5th, drafts have finally fully resumed, albeit at a slightly slower pace. The draft bug is, reportedly, fixed. PEs are still down, and leagues are also non-existent.

Shadowmoor is now in beta. At some point, Shadowmoor will be released online. At that point, Lorwyn / Morningtide drafting will pretty much end. The exact dates for the release events have not been announced. The biggest question is whether Wizards will be able to fix PEs before that, whether it will release Shadowmoor without PEs or Leagues, or whether Wizards will delay the Shadowmoor release until PEs work. Each of those three options is plausible.

In order to do the numbers, we have to assume something. I will assume that Shadowmoor will be released about May 20th, and that PEs will become functional on that same date. Call me an optimist.

Let’s see what that does to the numbers.

The last league was started April 1, 2008. Between that date and the estimated Shadowmoor release date of May 20, approximately 25 leagues would have launched. With one- week leagues, players would have opened roughly 11,300 Morningtide rares. Without leagues, they weren’t opened. Sure, some of those packs may be opened in other ways, but that’s still a significant number.

I am also assuming that PEs will be down from the date MTGO 2.5 went dark until May 20th (although I would love to be proven wrong and have PEs back sooner.) That assumption means that roughly six weeks of PEs did not happen. In very rough numbers, that would mean players will and did not open something like 9,600 packs of Morningtide.

That brings us to drafts. Assuming that people would have drafted LLM once every five minutes, the number of lost drafts for the period that drafts were not happening (April 9th to April 16th) was approximately 1,110. That means approximately 8,900 Morningtide rares were not added to the card pool.

Between April 17th and May 5th, drafting was slower, but I don’t know how much slower. As of May 5th, drafts are happening about once every 7 minutes. If we assume that the number of drafts between May 5th and May 17th was half the current rate, then the number of drafts would have been down about 190 per day, meaning a loss of 27,600 Morningtide rares that would otherwise have been opened.

Now that the prize eligibility bug is fixed, and the draft queues work — more or less — drafts are firing a little more quickly. However, trading is still badly mucked up, which means that players are having trouble selling what they draft. This is making drafting a lot more expensive, and draft numbers are down as a result.

Redemption (trading in online sets for paper cards) is also not available, which has a serious affect on traders and the online economy. This also hurts drafters, by further eroding the value of the cards they draft.

All of this means that the number of drafts that will take place will continue to be down, compared to what would have happened under more “normal” times. Right now, I estimate that we are down about 100 LLM drafts per day. That means that 800 Morningtide rares are not being opened each and every day, and we will be short roughly 12,000 rares between now and my estimate of a May 20th Shadowmoor online release.

Wizards has taken one semi-significant step to help bring more Morningtide product into the card pool: continuing MMM drafts. In the past, triple small set drafts ended when the release events ended, but times are different. Triple Morningtide drafts are intended to bring more cards into the cardpool. However, these drafts are not firing very fast. Looking at the tournaments list, these seem to be firing just under every 1.5 hours. That means that they are adding roughly 200 Morningtide rares, per day, to the pool. Between now and May 20th, that’s another 3,000 rares — it’s at least something.

At the same time, it appears that Wizards has tweaked the prize payout numbers. In 8-4 drafts, the winner gets 6 Lorwyn & 2 Morningtide packs, second place half that. In 4-3-2-2 drafts, the winner gets 3 Lorwyn & 1 Morningtide packs, second place 2 Lorwyn and 1 Morningtide, and third and fourth get one of each. I think that slightly reduces the number of Morningtide packs paid out as prizes — thereby increasing the number of Morningtide packs that need to be purchased to keep drafts going. This will help to increase the total amount of Morningtide cards in the card pool, since roughly one in five LLM drafts will require players to buy an additional Morningtide pack. That should add roughly 40 packs a day to the card pool — or something like 1,000 additional rares by the time of the Shadowmoor release.


Let’s look at the total impact of the v2.5 server issues, coupled with the migration:

10% reduction in release league play: 12,000 rares
Release PEs running every other day: up to 48,000 rares
No Top 8 drafts in PEs: 5,000 rares
Release drafts which did not happen: up to 111,000 rares
Elimination of Leagues after April 1st: 11,300 rares
Lack of PEs after 2.5 went dark: 9,600 rares
Loss of drafts while MTGO was off: 8,900 rares
Reduction in drafts April 17th to May 5th: 27,600 rares
Reduction in drafts going forward: 12,000 rares
Continuation of MMM drafts: (3,000)
Change in prize payouts: (1,000)

Total impact: roughly 240,000 Morningtide rares that would otherwise be in the card pool are not there.

The number of available Mutavaults has been reduced by 4,800.

We have 1,200 fewer playsets of Bitterblossom.

I suspect that is going to have an impact on the prices of those cards for a long time to come.

So what should we do? Remember the advice of President Bush after 9/11? Do what he recommended: go to the store and buy. Get some packs of Morningtide. Draft or bust them… but make sure you open some Mutavaults.

I need three more.