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By: PHahn, Peyton Hahn
Mar 24 2014 12:00pm
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Managing Money Efficiently

By Peyton Hahn


Whether you’re brand new to MTGO or a seasoned, competitive veteran, money management is a crucial component of MTGO for almost every player. As a semi-competitive player who is often in-and-out of the competitive scene, I often find myself “buying-in” to a new Standard every other year. I can certainly say from recent experience that there is no worse feeling than spending hundreds of tickets buying cards or decks that quickly fall out of favor in the metagame (I’m looking at you, Boros Reckoner). To prevent this from happening to myself or any others, I have crunched the numbers of recent MTGO event results in search of cards or decks that are priced efficiently. As an analytics enthusiast, I certainly didn’t mind the hours of work that went into gathering, formatting, and analyzing the data that went into this article. I hope that the community can find some value in what I am presenting.


For today’s article, I am trying to provide a current snapshot of the Standard metagame and card pricing efficiency. To do this, I crunched numbers from the last 3 Premier Events (as of the time I am writing this article) and Daily Event 4-0 decks for the week of 3/3/14 and the week of 3/10/14. As many know, the online metagame is often significantly different than its cardboard counterpart, which is why I did not include IRL events. I did not weigh Premier Event decks based on finish (16th vs 1st) because it is my belief that the difference between a 1st place deck and a 16th place deck has more to do with A. The Deck’s Pilot, B. Top 8 Matchups, C. Tiebreakers, and D. Chance than with the contents of the deck itself. That might be a controversial opinion, but I’ll stand by it. Comment and let me know if you agree or disagree. Alright, now let’s get to it!

Understanding the Metagame

If you’re even going to sniff competitive play, it is immensely important to understand the current metagame. Whether you’re looking to knock out a quick 8-Man or searching for glory in a Premier Event, knowing your opponents is key both in preparation and performance. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the current state of MTGO Standard.


WOW! Those who are already a bit familiar with the online meta probably already knew that Mono Black Devotion (MBD) was running rampant, but in the events observed it had almost twice as many appearances as any other deck! Keep in mind, however, that MBD is by far the most played deck in MTGO, which may account for why it consistently makes appearances. Since Orzhov Control is typically a similar build, you must have a deck that is prepared to compete with the boogeyman. When we get to card efficiency, we will see why MBD is such a popular deck.

Next, we see that UW Devotion/Control is the next top deck, followed by RG/Jund “Monsters”. These decks currently comprise the top tier of MTGO Standard. At the bottom of the chart, we see that Aggro decks are really struggling. With cards like Whip of Erebos, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Sphinx's Revelation running rampant, aggressive strategies may not be the wisest place to invest.

Deck to Watch

Earlier I stated that IRL events should be excluded from this data. While it is true that results from IRL tournaments do not reflect the state of the online metagame, I do believe that they can provide some insight as to where we are heading. With a win at SCG Seattle and many Top 16 finishes in tournaments within the last week, Boros Burn is definitely the deck to watch this week. If you’re looking to buy into a deck with a great matchup against monoblack and a relatively low price tag, Boros Burn is absolutely ideal. Due to its success, archetype, and price, I expect Boros Burn to quickly become one of the most popular decks on MTGO.


Card Efficiency Methodology

For card price efficiency, I developed a fairly simple formula that rewards a card’s appearance in these decklists and punishes a high price tag. This model only measures cards in the main deck of successful decks. I haven’t developed anything too in depth, but I feel that this experiment had some interesting and useful results. The basic measure produced is (appearances/dollar cost of card). To keep the measure consistent and meaningful, I have not included the following: basic lands, non-rares/mythics, and all rares under $1. Due to the way the model is built, immensely low-cost cards almost always end up with a higher Card Efficiency Rating (CER). Additionally, this article is about managing money effectively, so seeing that a 10 cent investment in Lightning Strike is a decent idea is nearly useless knowledge. Thanks to for the card prices, now let’s see the results.



I think there are several observations we can make from these results.

   1. Dual Lands are Great Investments

If you’re just getting started, nonbasics are the first place you should invest. No matter how the metagame changes, lands that produce multiple colors are the foundation of the majority of competitive decks. They also tend to rise in value throughout their life cycle in Standard.

   2. No Wonder MBD is So Popular!

Despite being an immensely popular and successful deck, the prices of MBD Staples such as Desecration Demon, Hero’s Downfall, and Nightveil Specter have all remained low. Thoughtseize has even dropped to under $10!

   3. Mutavault is the Real Deal

Despite being one of the 5 most expensive cards in Standard, Mutavault puts up a solid 11.80 CER. Although it will definitely break the bank to buy a playset, depending on what deck you plan to compete with it may be a necessary cost. However, I would say building a cheaper build without Mutavaults is a better initial investment. Reinvest your winnings into improving your deck as you go.

   4. Planeswalkers Are Inefficiently Priced

I don’t think it will Shock anyone that Planeswalkers often command a higher price tag than they probably deserve. Garruk in particular is somewhat obscene at a whopping $10.46. If you’re looking to step into competitive Standard, I would recommend avoiding decks that rely on Planeswalkers, at least initially. While they do tend to retain a good portion of their value regardless of metagame changes, they are a poor investment if you have limited resources.

Keep in mind that these measurements are based on Standard tournament results. Cards like Voice of Resurgence and Deathrite Shaman have inefficient ratings because their prices are higher due to Modern demand. Conclusions Well, I hope you all found this as interesting as I did. By taking a closer look at the cold-hard facts, we can learn more about the current state of MTGO. I would definitely be interested in continuing to update these numbers on a weekly or biweekly basis, depending on what the interest level is. My ultimate hope is that new players may be able to use these numbers to find the game more accessible than they previously had thought. We learned today that Mono Black Devotion continues to be a dominant force in the online metagame, followed at a distance by UW Control and GR Monsters. But don’t sleep on Boros Burn! Please leave comments and let me know what you thought about the article, add me on MTGO (seriously, I could use some online friends), and check back for more updated numbers in the coming weeks.


MTGO: shaqdaman




It's an interesting concept by xger at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 13:12
xger's picture

It's an interesting concept for a metric. I would think that it could be better served by adding in some other factors however. The metric seems to be an answer for "what cards are or are not earning their value if the only format was standard?" Trying to compensate by adding factors such as other format influence, overall win rate (if MBC has ~20% of the wins but starts off as 60% of the meta it really isn't that cost efficient), or the pressure of redemption (rares will nearly always score significantly better because they will be much cheaper in comparison to mythics due to redemption).

Thanks! by PHahn at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 13:32
PHahn's picture

Thanks for the feedback! Yes I will be continuing to find ways to tweak the formula or create new ones that add value. This article is kind of the starting point to see what the interest level is. I think those are definitely some good ideas, I will have to spend some time and see if/how they can be incorporated. Thanks for reading!

I think there is an inner by IYankemDDS at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 19:00
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I think there is an inner math geek in almost anyone who plays Magic, and this really speaks to that! :P I also think you have a solid take-away: Start by getting the lands! Super solid and I hope to see more from you.

Thanks! by PHahn at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 19:21
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Thanks so much! Yeah I think the lands are the easiest to overlook because they aren't as "flashy". Well, it seems like there's some interest so hopefully I can keep updating these numbers every other week! Thanks for reading!

Love the $$$ behind MTG by WallStreet at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 22:05
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Thank you for the article I really like reading up on other players take on the financials of the game and glad to see I am not the only one trying to figure it out. I would have to agree with the value in the Scry lands, I saw quite a profit in RTR lands just before GTC game out and expect the same during the next cycle.

It would also be interesting to see if there is any data available on the number of certain cards in "circulation". Being a very draft oriented player I feel I have a decent feel of what cards might be "more rare" than others.

I really hope you keep working on this article and post it regularly, it would make a nice compliment to "state of the program"

Thanks by PHahn at Mon, 03/24/2014 - 22:13
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Hey! First of all, thanks a lot for reading. I like the idea of circulation numbers, although I would be surprised if Wizards would be open enough to keep data on it. But yeah, data on the "chase rares" would definitely be interesting.

It seems like a lot of people enjoyed the article, so I definitely plan on updating it. I think I'm going to try to change the timing so that it can be published with "State of the Program" on Fridays. That way, the information isn't at risk of being obsolete from waiting for publication over the weekend. Please feel free to share the article!

I'm going to keep trying to develop more metrics. Any suggestions are always welcome!

It is highly unlikely to get by xger at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 11:27
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It is highly unlikely to get even reasonably accurate numbers on any certain card. There are just too many factors. While the number of each rare/mythic opened would be the same after that it becomes quite murky. How many are removed through redemption? Do you count ones that people plan on holding as in circulation? What about players who never trade away cards? What about accounts that go dormant?

Agreed, it would be an by PHahn at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 13:04
PHahn's picture

Agreed, it would be an interesting metric to look at, but it is almost impossible to measure unless you opened 100,000+ packs and recorded observations. Even that might not be enough to conclusively prove anything. But you're right, there's no solid data on the subject.

This was a great read, and a by AKMatt at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 01:31
AKMatt's picture

This was a great read, and a helpful way for people who have full-time jobs to get a quick appraisal of the metagame. I really hope you write more like this.

I don't really play longer events due to time constraints, but what you've posted of the metagame is definitely borne out in the 8-man queues as well. Easily 60% of what I've played against has featured a Desecration Demon & co.

Thanks! I'm glad you found by PHahn at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 08:12
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Thanks! I'm glad you found some value in this, and I will definitely be working to keep this article updated every other week. Thanks a lot for reading!

Good stuff by howlett23 at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 20:48
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Very good article, probably the most useful or a close second to State, for the casual semi competitive player..which I'd say makes up the majority of online. Thanks and please keep it up.

Wow, thank you very much! I by PHahn at Tue, 03/25/2014 - 23:20
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Wow, thank you very much! I take that as a high compliment. I am going to be updating the article every 2 weeks, with a subject article in between. Make sure to check back for updates! Thanks again for reading

While it's nice to know the by TheKidsArentAlright at Wed, 03/26/2014 - 06:36
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While it's nice to know the current state of things, and as someone who's been out of MTGO for a while I learned a lot from the article, I think it's also important to distinguish between cards that will retain their value after Standard rotates and those that are likely to tank. You touched on it a little bit with lands. Any dual that comes into play untapped is almost certain to continue to be in demand, the RAV Shocklands doubly so because of their synergy with Fetchlands. You also have a card like Thoughtseize, which is pretty much the best at what it does and sees play even in Legacy. On the other hand, there's stuff like Elspeth and Sphinx's Revelation. They're high dollar cards now, but see little if any time outside of Standard, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them in bargain bins a few years from now.

Good point. A recent example by IYankemDDS at Wed, 03/26/2014 - 10:23
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Good point. A recent example is Thragtusk, who IIRC was pushing up against 10 tickets, maybe more, now he's something like half a ticket. Snapcaster Mage, on the other hand is right where he was, maybe even a couple higher, Geist of Saint Traft has held value well too. Certainly another thing to look at.

Yeah, it is definitely by PHahn at Wed, 03/26/2014 - 11:30
PHahn's picture

Yeah, it is definitely another interesting thing to look at. However, finding numbers on the subject may be difficult to find. I will see what I can find, but I want to make sure whatever I discuss is backed up by data, not speculation. Thanks for the suggestion! And thanks for reading :)

An interesting to note that by MarcosPMA at Thu, 03/27/2014 - 04:49
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An interesting to note that the answer cards to PWs are highly efficient (Hero's Downfall, Thoughtseize, Dreadbore, Detention Sphere, etc) while the PWs themselves are highly inefficient (save for Elsepth/Jace). It's harder to win with PWs now, they just don't stay around long enough to win you the game. It may just be this Standard environment where PWs are ineffiently priced due to the answer cards, or the norm and we're just overpaying for them anyway.

Personally, I think it's a by PHahn at Thu, 03/27/2014 - 13:33
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Personally, I think it's a mix. PW have always had a higher price tag regardless of their popularity. I think the reason they don't see play is because devotion strategies are popular, and most of the planes walkers don't add a whole lot to those strategies, except maybe Domri. Interesting observation, and thanks for reading!