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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Aug 21 2017 12:00pm
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How to Leverage EV

By SteveJeltz

Conjured Currency


Investing in a game like Magic Online can be prodigiously expense. Even though we avoid the card availability issues related to Magic’s paper Reserved List, in-demand single cards can range from a few dollars to almost a hundred depending on their scarcity and demand. For many players, the idea of spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to assemble a constructed deck and then hundreds more to play with the same deck online is too cost prohibitive.


The most common solution to this cost barrier entry problem is seen in the popularity of limited events. If the difference is to drop a hundred tickets to compile the pieces of a constructed deck before I even get to test in out in tournament play or I can jump straight into my next limited queue for 10-12 tickets or less if I have the necessary product left over from previous play, I can see the appeal of choosing the latter.


The problem with jumping straight into your next draft is that for most players, drafting is a negative EV choice. The term "EV" refers to "Event Value": Fun aside, it's a calculus of the expected financial return of participating in a pay-to-enter magic tournament compared to the cost of entry. The simplest example is to look at the payoff of entering an intermediate level draft queue. For every 8 players who enter, the system eats 16 Hour of Devastation  Booster Packs, 8 Amonkhet Boosters, and 16 Event Tickets, or its equivalency in Play Points or straight Event Tickets. In return total payout per eight entries is 8 Hour of Devastation Booster Packs, 4 Amonkhet Booster Packs, plus all cards opened during play. Since Hour of Devastation Boosters contain on average 0.71 tickets worth of cards and Amonkhet Boosters contain an average of 0.53 tickets worth of cards, we can calculate the Event Value of participating in an Intermediate Draft League as follows:


Intermediate Draft League HOU / HOU / AKH

Entry Fees:

16 Hour of Devastation Boosters (3.93 x 16) = 62.88

+ 8 Amonkhet Boosters (1.99 x 8) = 15.92

+ 16 Event Tickets

 = 94.80 Tickets / 8 Entries (or 11.85 per entry)



8 Hour of Devastation Boosters (3.93 x 8) = 31.44

4 Amonkhet Boosters (1.85 x 4) = 7.96

16 Opened Hour of Devastation Packs (0.69 x 16) = 11.04

8 Opened Amonkhet Booster Packs (0.52 x 8) = 4.16

= 54.60 Tickets / 8 Entries (or 6.825 tickets per entry)


Except in reality, the actual payout is significantly skewed towards those who win all three matches:


3 - 0    5 x HOU Booster (3.93)

           1 x AKH Booster (1.99)

           2 x HOU Contents (0.69)

           1 x AKH Contents (0.52)


Entry: 11.85    Prizes: 23.54    EV: + 11.69


2 -1     1 x HOU Booster (3.93)

           1 x AKH Booster (1.99)

           2 x HOU Contents (0.69)

           1 x AKH Contents (0.52)


Entry: 11.85    Prizes: 7.82    EV: - 4.03


1 - 2    0 x HOU Booster (3.93)

           0 x AKH Booster (1.99)

           2 x HOU Contents (0.69)

           1 x AKH Contents (0.52)


Entry: 11.85    Prizes: 1.90    EV: -9.95


0 - 3    0 x HOU Booster (3.93)

           0 x AKH Booster (1.99)

           2 x HOU Contents (0.69)

           1 x AKH Contents (0.52)


Entry: 11.85    Prizes: 1.90    EV: - 9.95


If you win 50% of your matches played, assuming an even distribution of results between 3-0 (12.5%), 2-1 (37.5%), 1-2 (37.5%) and 0-3 (12.5%), on average, your Event Value for participating in the Intermediate Draft League runs around EV -5.02 tickets.


In reality, the distribution is slightly different due to a few factors:

  • Players timing out or dropping from the event
  • The average ELO rating of participants is higher than 1600, probably closed to the MTGO average of 1679.
  • There are effectively no matches between 0-2 entries, and league participants are matched even if there records are not the same. Therefore the result distributions seen above are not entirely accurate.


Based on the EV Calculator I use from the inflection point where your participation in an intermediate draft queue to be on average profitable comes when your limited ELO rating hits about 1828, or roughly a 70% win percentage. Honestly, maintaining this level of proficiency at your limited game is extraordinarily challenging for most players to break even on drafting alone.


Black Market


But, drafting isn’t your only option. The same EV calculator I listed above also shows us which events are profitable for players of all skill levels.


Here is an approximate EV Chart for player with a default rating (1679) and win percentage (50%):


Draft AER / KLD Queue                               - 3.40

Draft Intermediate League HOU / AKH        - 5.02

Draft Friendly League HOU / AKH               - 5.08

Draft Competitive League HOU / AKH         - 5.55

Sealed Competitive League HOU / AKH     - 7.93

Sealed Friendly League +2 HOU / AKH       - 7.95   


The moral of the story: limited play is very difficult to keep profitable, especially draft.


However, the same is not true of Constructed Leagues. Look at the EV Chart for the average player who wishes to enter a constructed event:


Friendly Constructed League            + 0.19

Two Player Constructed Queue         - 0.25

Competitive Constructed League       - 0.36

Vintage Daily Event                            - 0.76


What sticks out to me here is that constructed players can actually profit doing nothing else than by entering and re-entering the Friendly League, even if they can only maintain an average win percentage!


In my personal experience, I can attest this to be true. Though it can be slow and arduous, even a slightly above average player can achieve the hallowed “Go Infinite” MTGO player status if they stick to constructed events alone.


This is also one of the reasons I best advocate for Pauper play. If I can buy a complete deck for 100 tickets or less, I get infinite replay in the eternal format that is Pauper and can keep earning that Friendly League positive EV rewards in the form of Treasure Chests and Play Points all while practicing and getting better at my deck and understanding the metagame.



As a last exercise, I want to show you my EV Calculator distribution table for choosing events:


SteveJeltz Limited Rating: 1807

SteveJeltz Constructed Rating: 1755


Limited Events EV:

Sealed Competitive League HOU / AKH        + 4.52

Sealed Friendly League +2 HOU / AKH         + 2.36

Draft Competitive League HOU / AKH           + 1.37

Draft Intermediate League HOU / AKH          - 0.74

Draft Friendly League HOU / AKH                 - 0.84


Constructed Events EV:

Competitive Constructed League                  + 6.80

Vintage Daily Event                                       + 6.07

Friendly Constructed League                        + 3.16

Two-Player Constructed Queue                    + 0.02


Based on the EV Calculator’s advice, I could play Sealed Deck or any constructed event and expect to net positive event value. In reality, I avoid the competitive draft league because it is too high variance for my liking, and since the only constructed format I play is Pauper, I’m not going to be entering any Competitive Constructed Leagues of Vintage Daily Events any time soon. But it’s nice to know how my skill level matches up against average MTGO players regardless.


I’ve also tossed out a couple options from their original chart in listing mine above. For example, in the Add-a-Pack Sealed League, you have the option of not adding extra packs to your deck. If you keep your original 6 pack sealed deck and can manage a positive finish (usually 6-3 or better) using only your original six packs, you can net a much better EV than if you add the extra packs. However, to do so you are also handicapping yourself against the competition. So I don’t know how helpful that EV figure really is.


Also, the EV Calculator includes the occasional Flashback Draft, Flashback Standard Queue, Cube Drafts and the Format Challenges. While the EV distribution on the Flashback Standard Queues and Cube Drafts are pretty accurate, I am skeptical of the Flashback Drafts EV and the Format Challenges EV. The problem with Flashback Drafts is that the Buy/Ask spread on flashback draft packs is very soft and the cards depreciate rapidly in value since they are suddenly being flooded with supply. The Format Challenge calculator also seems a bit off since it doesn’t account for the variable number of entrants or the presence of a top 8 playoff.


In case you’re curious, here’s the break-even inflection point of other events, like we did for drafting:


Event Type                                                     ELO Rating needed to “break even”

Sealed Friendly League +2 HOU / AKH          1776

Sealed Competitive League HOU / AKH         1763

Draft Competitive League HOU / AKH            1784

Draft Intermediate League HOU / AKH           1828

Draft Friendly League HOU / AKH                  1840

Draft AER / KLD Queue                                  1799


Friendly Constructed League                         1674

Competitive Constructed League                   1684

Vintage Daily Event                                        1689

Two-Player Constructed Queue                     1750


A few other tips on choosing events:

  • Drafting is best when the format is new, especially in Week 1. Not only will the value of the cards you open be at its highest due to low supply, but many players extra enter draft events at this time lowering the average ELO rating of your opponents. But be sure to sell those cards off fast!

  • Sealed EV  is less about the value of the cards opened and more about the cost of packs to enter. If packs are cheap, EV is excellent. In general, if you can go 6-3, you can break even off Sealed Friendly Events regardless of the value of the cards in the set.

  • Constructed Events are always your best value, especially the Friendly Constructed League. Why not give Pauper a try? It’s cheap to build a deck and gives out the same prizes as any other Constructed Format Friendly League. If you can maintain a 50% win percentage in the Friendly Leagues, reflective of a Constructed ELO Rating of 1679 or better, you can “Go Infinite”.


Steve Jeltz








EV by stsung at Mon, 08/28/2017 - 11:52
stsung's picture

Hello there,
I was wondering about writing an article about EV too but after writing about 4000 words I just discarded that idea. You have a nice overview here but there are few things I'd probably mention in your article.

EV is actually Expected Value and it is something that is used most commonly in poker I'd assume or at least that's where I learned about it. EV equals to EV = (W%*$W) – (L%*$L), with W% being win percentage and $W being what you win, L% loss percentage, $L money you lose. You can give easy examples with coin flips for this.

Anyway what I originally wanted to say is that you omitted Friendly Sealed Leagues. If you don't buy additional packs this is by far the best way to gain value if you are not so good player or little bit above the average. (above average actually means that you are quite high over 50% actually, since the overall rating of players on MODO is actually quite high, it is over 1650 for sure while IRL you have many players with lower win percentage than 50% actually). I mean you don't need an EV calculator for this. If you know what record you can possibly get at premier event like this (which also means bigger competition) you know that you will get positive EV or not. If you top 4 the EV gets really high.

As for Flashback drafts and such it depends on the payout. the ones that are 150/100 are in general really bad. When Zendikar was around it was even worse even though in reality the EV during a longer period of time was actually higher than the 150/100 (you were getting 30 each time for a win, while here you got 50, but in the case of ZEN you got two attempt to get your 3 wins, which was rather easy to do). With KTK the EV was really high if you could win, but 2-1 meant getting 70PP for 120PP draft. Not sure how it would be depending on the rating but that was really worth grinding (but I also grinded KTK the most). The 3x RAV also is good in terms 'it doesn't have negative EV' if you can break even in competitive leagues. Those events are for fun though so people just play them, not usually grind them. It's just a nice bonus if you get some PP out of that.

Also Premier events have huge EV, not sure what goatbots says on that matter. PTQs and such were always good but only for those with good win percentage. But Format Challenges are more or less good for everyone on MODO (meaning having 50%+ win%). So far even if you go 3-3 you often get your entry back. With 4-2 you can get 10 chests which is a lot!

Usually the 8-4 drafts were the best for grinding since other queues didn't even paid for the draft for some and the winner either got 6 packs or was still 2 tix short for another event. The old draft queues were good usually though because they still used 6-2-2-2 structure but the overal skill level of the players was lower since the good ones stuck to current sets since that is what they needed to play in competitive events etc.