one million words's picture
By: one million words, Pete Jahn
Aug 14 2015 6:10pm
Login or register to post comments

State of the Program for August 14th 2015 

In the News: 

Build Time Adjustment for 8-4 Drafts:   Wizards has been experimenting with the deck building time for drafts internally, and will now be cutting it for 8-4 drafts.   In the past, players had 10 minutes to build their decks after the draft ended.   This generous time allowance is a legacy from the days when you could not build your decks as you draft. Now you can. After the change, players in 8-4 drafts will have 5 minutes to build their draft decks.  This only applies to 8-4 drafts so far, and will not be implemented until August 26th. Read about it here.  
2015 Community Cup: Wizards has announced both the Community and Wizards teams for this year’s Community Cup Challenge. No voting this time around – Wizards simply chose both teams. You can read about that change, and read about the teams, here.  
Legacy Sealed Cube: The next MOCS season Championships will use an interesting format for the prelims and finals: Legacy Cube Sealed. To allow players to practice Legacy Cube Sealed, Wizards will open a one-on-one Phantom sealed queue using Legacy Cube packs. It could be interesting. Cube sealed packs are random, meaning that you can get duplicate cards in different packs. 
Rise of the Eldrazi Flashback Drafts: Wizards will be offering 6-2-2-2 Rise drafts from August 26th through September 9th. These are NOT Phantom drafts; you can keep any Eldrazi you open.   If you like Battlecruiser Magic, have at it.
MOCS and MOPR Promos Announced: Wizards has announced the MOCS promo for the September Season (August 26th through September 30th.)  It is an alt art Stifle.   The store and event promos are pretty boring, though. 
Magic Online Judge Open: Wizards is hosting a Phantom Sealed event for Magic Judges on Saturday, August 29, 11:00 a.m.   It’s a nice way of saying thank you to the judges who make Magic events possible. 
Extended Downtime: The downtime two weeks from now will be long. It will be longer if the program misbehaves, like it did last downtime.   That downtime had an hour long unscheduled extension.

The Timeline: 

This is a list of things we have been promised, or just want to see coming back.   Another good source for dates and times is the MTGO calendar and the weekly blog, while the best source for known bugs is the Known Issues List. For quick reference, here are some major upcoming events.   
Item: date and notes
  • 2-Player Legacy Cube Sealed:  August 26th through September 2nd.
  • Rise of the Eldrazi 6-2-2-2 Drafts:  August 26th through September 9th.
  • MOCS Season 8 Championship: 7am Pacific, August 8th. Format is Magic Origins Sealed.
  • MOCS Season 9: runs from July 29th through August 26th. Promo is textless Cryptic Command.
  • MOCS Season 10: runs from August 26th through September 30th. Promo is an alt art Stifle.
  • Magic Origins Redemption: Begins August 26th.
  • Magic Origins Limited Championship: Sunday August 23rd. Qualifiers preceding downtime to downtime “week.” Details here.
  • Magic Origins Standard Championship: Saturday August 29th. Qualifiers preceding downtime to downtime “week.” Details here.
  • From the Vault: Angels:  October 12, 2015. Details here.
  • Legendary Cube: Nov. 18th. Details here.
  • Implementation of the ‘Tuck” Rule in Commander: Delayed – no date given. 

 Opinion Section I: Can You Get Stuck with Heaps of Unusable Play Points  

The change has happened. We will now be winning Play Points in constructed events. Players have expressed concerns that they could win enough Play Points to enter everything they want to play in and still have heaps of extra untradeable Play Points rotting in their accounts.
Under the old system, 8man single elimination events paid out 5-3-2-2 boosters. Now, single elim events pay out a mix of boosters and Play Points, with 2 boosters and 140PP for first, 1 packs and 60 PPs for second and 60 PP for third and fourth.   Since an event only costs 60 PP to enter, so long as you do not lose in round one, you earn enough play points to play again. If you win out, you earn enough play points to enter two and a third more events. Clearly, if you only play in 8man events and make the finals in every time, you will go infinite. But how good do you have to be to do that? Let’s do some math.
If all opponents were equally skilled, than you could calculate a “win percentage” and apply that. However, opponents are not equally skilled, and your odds of winning vary significantly based on the skill of your opponent.  And in a single elimination event, the skill of your opponent will increase, generally, as the weaker players are eliminated.   Your odds of winning round one are significantly higher than you odds of winning the finals, no matter what your skill level. 
Fortunately, we have a way of calculating the odds of winning, based on skill levels. The old ELO rating system did just that. Using those odds, plus a random number generator, you can simulate the outcome of a match.  However, since this is Magic, you probably also want to add a small random factor to simulate mana screw, mulligans and bad matchups.   Some simple programming lets you simulate best of three game matches. The other advantage of doing this programmatically is that you can simulate a large number of matches quickly. 
A little more programming allows you to simulate drafts with a random mix of players.   For example, you could create a single elim event with eight players with ELO ratings of 1780, 1621, 1595, 1904, 1724, 1687, 1783, and 1656, pair them randomly and “play” it out. More importantly, you can set the rating of a single player at a fixed level, then “play” 100,000 matches against a random mix of opponents and see that the actual EV is for a player of that skill level. 
One problem is that Wizards no longer releases information on player’s ELO ratings. This means we don’t know how the actual spread of players’ ratings. We know ratings form a bell curve, but we don’t know how wide that bell curve is, how steeply it slopes or where the center is.    In more statistical terms, we do not know the median or the standard deviation. Once upon a time, however, Wizards did publish data on paper player’s ELO ratings. We had ratings for close to a million players, and could see the spread. We can base the model off those numbers. It may not be exactly right, but it should work well enough to see the impact of Play Points on single elim events.
Back in the days of paper rankings, the median was about 1750. This meant that of the million or so active players in the rankings, half were below 1750 and half above.   The largest numbers of players were right above or right below 1750. Way out on the fringes were the couple players with ELO ratings of over 2000, and one guy listed as having a rating of 1350 (but I suspect that was a joke/tournament fraud.   Getting a rating that low would require losing an insane number of matches.)   My model generates ELO ratings for my imaginary players that are centered around 1750, and mimic the bell curve I saw back when ELO ratings were public. 
To test the model, I simulated 100,000 drafts for a player with a dead average rating of 1750. The model’s first run had the player losing in round one 50% of the time, losing in round two 28.7% of the time, finishing second 13.8% of the time and winning the draft 7.3% of the time. According to the model, a player with a 1550 rating will lose in round one 85.4% of the time, and win the event 0.1% of the time. Someone maintaining an astronomically high 1950 rating, on the other hand, will win round one all but 14.6% of the time, and win the entire event about half the time. 
Once you have a model that shows wins per rounds by skill level, it is easy enough to covert that to expected value.   For example, you can compare 8-4 and 4-3-2-2 drafts. That’s what I originally wrote to code to do – find out whether 4-3-2-2 events are more profitable for players of lower skill. Here’s the graph that I produced. 


Put simply, for players below average skill, 4-3-2-2 events were a better value.   Yes, the payout is better if you make the finals in an 8-4, but less skilled players will make the finals so rarely that settling for the occasional 2 packs in the second round is worth it.  Above about 1750 or so, 8-4s will have a better return. Note, however, that the average number of packs won per draft is really low.  You don’t go infinite drafting unless you are really good.
However, the question I wanted to look at was whether players were likely to wind up generating more Play Points faster than they can use them if they play nothing but single elim 8mans. The answer is yes, and the breakeven point is approximately 1850. Here’s the graph:



Remember that the model is based on the old published ELO ratings, so the 1850 number may be slightly off. What should be true, however, that an 1875+ rating put you, back then, in the top 10% of players, and 1850+ was probably top 15-18%.   In other words, the top ten to fifteen percent of constructed players probably will earn more Play Points than they can use. Those players could, of course, burn up the points drafting. Drafts convert play points into cards and packs. Players who do not draft, however, will have excess play points.

Wizards may have to address that. It should not be hard. Here are two simple options:
  1. Allow players to “redeem” 1000 Play Points for $100 in store credit.   By using a large minimum, like 1000, the conversion would only apply to players who rack up a lot of spare play points, but would allow those players to “cash out”, albeit indirectly.
  2. Offer a high stakes event with a very high entry fee and a correspondingly high prize payout, all in packs.   In effect, this would be like the old “Gold Queues.”  

Random MTGO Suggestion of the Week:  

Wizards really needs to do something to fix the collection screen. I created a separate account just for constructed so that I would not have random draft trash appearing in it. However, if I win enough Play Points, I will probably end up drafting with the constructed account to get rid of them. The simplest solution would be to allow me to designate a portion of my collection as the “constructed” card pool and another as a reserve. The program should dump all cards you get in sealed and draft pools into the reserve. I could then move the few cards I want to use in constructed into the constructed reserve manually.   Please, Wizards. This was once a collectable card game, but you destroyed the ability to see our collections, so at least make it possible for us to build constructed decks without excessive pain. After all, I collected my Unhinged lands to use them in decks. Stop putting random draft lands in when I try to build a constructed deck.     
If you have a suggestion for an improvement to MTGO, send it to       

Cutting Edge Tech:

Standard: Pro Tour Magic Origins was two weeks ago (coverage here.)   That event featured a lot of mono-red and Thopters decks. Last weekend’s GP was also Standard, but had a very different metagame. The GP wining deck was a mill deck designed by Andrew Cuneo, who rode it to 23rd at the PT. 

UR Tutelage
Andrew Cuneo, 23rd Place, Pro Tour Magic Origins
0 cards

Other Spells
4 Sphinx's Tutelage
4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
4 Magmatic Insight
1 Alhammarret's Archive
2 Send to Sleep
1 Roast
1 Dig through Time
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Swiftwater Cliffs
4 Tormenting Voice
2 Dictate of Kruphix
2 Whelming Wave
4 Anger of the Gods
22 cards
4 Radiant Fountain
4 Temple of Epiphany
1 Flooded Strand
1 Bloodstained Mire
5 Mountain
4 Island
4 Shivan Reef
23 cards

Dictate of Kruphix


Modern:  Jund, because I like Jund. That’s all.



Legacy: SCG also ran a Legacy Open in Washington DC last weekend. The Top 64 decks include a semi-diverse mix. The winner was running Onmi-Tell. If you to see ORI cards in use, check out the Eighth Place deck which featured a full four Vryn Wingmares maindeck



Card Prices:  

Note: all my prices come from the fine folks at These are retail prices, and generally the price of the lowest priced, actively traded version. (Prices for some rare promo versions are not updated when not in stock, so I skip those.)   You can get these cards at web store, or from their bots: MTGOTradersBot(#) (they have bots 1-10), CardCaddy and CardWareHouse, or sell cards to MTGOTradersBuyBot(#) (they have buybots 1-4). I have bought cards from MTGOTraders for over a decade now, and have never been overcharged or disappointed.
Standard staples: Standard prices went down hard again this week. I culled a number of cards whose prices have dropped under $5.00.  



Standard & Block Cards
Last Week
% Change
(Deathmist Raptor)
(Dragonlord Atarka)
(Dragonlord Ojutai)
(Eidolon of the Great Revel)
(Elspeth, Sun's Champion)
(Hangarback Walker)
(Jace, Vryn's Prodigy)
(Keranos, God of Storms)
(Liliana, Heretical Healer)
(Mana Confluence)
(Monastery Mentor)
(Nissa, Vastwood Seer)
(Nissa, Worldwaker)
(Perilous Vault)
(Sorin, Solemn Visitor)
(Temple of Epiphany)
(Temple of Malady)
(Ugin, the Spirit Dragon)


Modern staples:  Modern prices fell again this week, like everything else. The exceptions are the Zendikar fetchlands. Wizards announced that they will not be reprinted in RTZ, and that has caused a price spike. Wizards needs to realize that people won’t play a format if the mana-base costs a fortune.   
Modern Cards
Last Week
% Change
(Azusa, Lost but Seeking)
(Auriok Champion)
(Blood Moon)
(Cavern of Souls)
(Celestial Colonnade)
(Fulminator Mage)
(Grove of the Burnwillows)
(Inkmoth Nexus)
(Karn Liberated)
(Liliana of the Veil)
(Mox Opal)
(Oblivion Stone)
(Scalding Tarn)
(Snapcaster Mage)
(Twilight Mire)
(Vendilion Clique)
(Voice of Resurgence)

Legacy / Vintage staples: This week, Legacy and Vintage staples also dropped, but not as hard as other formats.   Cutting Dailies to three rounds may be driving some of the drops.       

Legacy / Vintage Cards
Last Week
% Change
(Ancestral Recall)
(Black Lotus)
(Containment Priest)
(Dark Depths)
(Force of Will)
(Infernal Tutor)
(Mox Jet)
(Mox Sapphire)
(Rishadan Port)
(Show and Tell)
(Sneak Attack)
(The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale)
(Time Walk)
(Toxic Deluge)
(True-Name Nemesis)
(Underground Sea)
(Undiscovered Paradise)

Set Redemption: You can redeem complete sets on MTGO. You need to purchase a redemption voucher from the store for $25. During the next downtime, Wizards removes a complete set from your account, and sends you the same set in paper.   For those of you who redeem, here are the retail prices of one of everything set currently available in the store, excluding sets that are not currently draftable or not redeemable.  


Complete Set
Last Week
% Change
Born of the Gods
Dragons of Tarkir
Fate Reforged
Journey into Nix
Khans of Trakir
Magic Origins

 The Good Stuff:

The following is a list of all the non-promo, non-foil cards on MTGO that retail for more than $25 per card.  These are the big ticket items in the world of MTGO. The list is shrinking. A number of modern cards have fallen off the list.  

Rishadan Port
$ 158.13
$ 115.55
Liliana of the Veil
Mythic Rare
$ 86.51
Black Lotus
$ 81.36
$ 71.57
$ 71.07
Show and Tell
$ 57.04
Tangle Wire
$ 56.16
Mythic Rare
$ 55.44
$ 52.66
Mythic Rare
$ 45.68
Mox Sapphire
$ 44.52
$ 39.35
Scalding Tarn
$ 37.46
Mythic Rare
$ 36.23
Force of Will
$ 34.31
Infernal Tutor
$ 31.30
Ancestral Recall
$ 31.07
Mythic Rare
$ 29.90
Twilight Mire
$ 28.04
$ 27.43
$ 26.96
Auriok Champion
$ 26.86
Containment Priest
$ 26.76
Mox Opal
Mythic Rare
$ 26.33
Time Walk
$ 26.30
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Mythic Rare
$ 25.66
Ensnaring Bridge
$ 25.48
Blood Moon
$ 25.34

The big number is the retail price of a playset (4 copies) of every card available on MTGO. Assuming you bought the least expensive version available, the cost of owning a playset of every card on MTGO you can own is $ 23,130.  That’s down another $600 from last week. We are still seeing the last of the effects from the heavy sell-off following the announcement of the changes to constructed prize payout, plus the drop in prices of ORI cards now that they are in general release.    

Weekly Highlights: 

On vacation this week.  Drafting on a balcony overlooking a bay in Puget Sound.  I could get used to this.  
“One Million Words” and “3MWords” on MTGO
This series is an ongoing tribute to Erik “Hamtastic” Friborg.
HammyBot Still Running: HammyBot was set up to sell off Erik Friborg’s collection, with all proceeds going to his wife and son. So far, HammyBot has raised over $8,000, but there are a lot of cards left in the collection. Those cards are being sold at 10% below retail price. Erik died five years ago, so HammyBot does not include any standard legal cards, but it includes a ton of Masters Edition and Vintage cards, and some nice Modern bargains. 


Another punt by WotC by Sensei at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 12:03
Sensei's picture

MD5- which was filled with money cards was made phantom.
ROE- which is filled with MM2 reprints- is a keeper.

I think there is a graph by JXClaytor at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 12:40
JXClaytor's picture

I think there is a graph missing, messaged Pete about it. hope to have it up soon!

I can't believe they are by TugaChampion at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 14:04
TugaChampion's picture

I can't believe they are going to do sealed cube again for mocs. As good as cube draft is, the sealed format is simply horrible, one of the worst formats I've ever played.

Graphs by JXClaytor at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 18:11
JXClaytor's picture

are fixed now!

Not sure if you knew this, by CottonRhetoric at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 18:27
CottonRhetoric's picture

Not sure if you knew this, but there's a "show versions separately" option in the deckbuilder, so you can pick which basic lands go in your deck. (Also, you can do what I do and give away your basic lands for free after you draft. There's always some fool who will take them.)

I've decided that I might as by Joe Fiorini at Fri, 08/14/2015 - 21:32
Joe Fiorini's picture

I've decided that I might as well use up my play points before I complain about them again. I'm not excited by the three round daily events whatsoever.

I only play constructed Vintage. I haven't drafted since Khans of Tarkir, and I have no intention of drafting anytime soon. I do not like cube. I don't play Standard, Modern, or Sealed Phantom Menace whatever.

The way the system was, if I went 3-1 at least, I'd win enough to buy my next event plus leftover tickets, and that is with the lowest pack prices. Now, I have to win out to win anything, it just is not appealing whatsoever.

Like I said, I will refrain from commenting about it again until I've "tried it", but I'm not going to force myself to draft when I don't want to.

The other day, I thought about buying a second account so I could teach my nephews how to play Magic better. I would have let them use one of my decks on the other account. Then I realized that I can't even trade PP between accounts owned by the same person. Nice.

online vs irl by mindlesslemming at Sun, 08/16/2015 - 14:41
mindlesslemming's picture

i have always thought cards on mtgo cost less specifically because of how easy it is has been for some people to "go infinite".

my question is: why do we have any expectation whatsoever that a company who needs profit to *pay* employees could ever allow players to "play for free" on a consistent basis... and still be able to maintain a payroll?

i admit that i am not that familiar with the paper card economy, but i am going to take a WILD WILD CRAZY stab and guess maybe the top 2% of players in paper irl can consistently "play for free" even if they win ALL THE TIME.

arent we sort of saying "hey we all want to win cards for free"... then complaining the cards are worthless when there are 2 gajillion foil vma underground seas with a crappy text background.

yes, its not as good as before, but i feel as though everyone is just stomping their feet and not being realistic. i think mtgo is eons better than paper irl for so many reasons, no matter what they charge.


MTGO has always been by TugaChampion at Sun, 08/16/2015 - 14:58
TugaChampion's picture

MTGO has always been profitable, despite having DEs that cost 6 tix paying 6 packs to 3-1s and 13 packs to 4-0s, having leagues, having Momir DEs every day, having $5 redemption, having better release events, etc. Yes, many more people go infinite on mtgo than irl but don't forget that irl has many more costs. More taxes, printing and shipping costs, having actual stores run the events and paying people so it is able to do so, etc. And even if more people are able to go infinite, there are many more who don't and keep putting money in the system. Also, tix can only be bought on the store.

MTGO has been getting worse and worse and people still put up with it because magic is a great game. However, this last change is a big deal to me. I'm not saying I won't play anymore, but I'll reduce the number of events very drastically.

I can play for free right now by Joe Fiorini at Sun, 08/16/2015 - 18:55
Joe Fiorini's picture

I can play for free right now with the play points that were on my system from the conversion from phantom points. Every time the Vintage DE's start, I just lose interest and go do something else.

I have over 500 PPs because I by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 02:47
TugaChampion's picture

I have over 500 PPs because I had a lot of phantom points from playing Cube. These new Dailies still haven't made me want to use them.

RE: Profit by Rerepete at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:20
Rerepete's picture

Profit is all the left over $ after all expenses have been paid, including labor costs.

I know. And mtgo has way less by TugaChampion at Tue, 08/18/2015 - 03:20
TugaChampion's picture

I know. And mtgo has way less of those expenses than real life.

Having players that play for by xger at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 23:48
xger's picture

Having players that play for free makes good sense for Wizards. It gives players something to strive for and while striving for it those players spend money.

Exactly! Not only there are by TugaChampion at Tue, 08/18/2015 - 03:20
TugaChampion's picture

Exactly! Not only there are players you play for free and even profit but there are many more who chase that dream and don't quite get there.

I haven't played a MTGO match by Jyalt at Sun, 08/16/2015 - 18:35
Jyalt's picture

I haven't played a MTGO match since play points were announced. Part of me wants to log on and buy a bunch of singles for speculation later, as I do not believe the current form of play points will be allowed to continue longer than 4 - 6 months.

PP would be less horrible if you could trade them between accounts you own and redeem them for store credit. For example, if I could use 250 play points to pay for the $25 fee on set redemption, I'd be all about play points.

This is what I've been by Joe Fiorini at Sun, 08/16/2015 - 18:54
Joe Fiorini's picture

This is what I've been saying. But all they've done is made one vague statement about using them for something else at some point. This means that they absolutely do not have to do anything at all.

As far as I can tell, they're viewing this as a success. So this is going to be the way the game is from now on. Awesome.

Where do you see them viewing by xger at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 23:46
xger's picture

Where do you see them viewing this as a success already? All I've seen is a number of comments that they will monitor and adjust...

I just meant that in the by Joe Fiorini at Tue, 08/18/2015 - 05:35
Joe Fiorini's picture

I just meant that in the Dailies I play, the Vintage 3 round time-wasters, the cheap price on power has meant an influx of new players. So it looks as if it worked on the surface.

But that's not the only by TugaChampion at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 02:49
TugaChampion's picture

But that's not the only problem. The EV of the DEs has gonne from + to - and it was a drastic reduction. That's another factor that makes me not want to play.

MTGO... by Fred1160 at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 17:58
Fred1160's picture

One thing I've heard people speculate about is: how soon will it be before WOTC/Hasbro decides to milk every last dollar from the cash cow prior to pulling the plug? Yeah, I'm sure they make money off MTGO but the player base is not what it once was and money has to be pumped into the system to keep things up and running.
At what point do they say it's just not worth keeping the platform going and abandon ship?
Does anyone really expect MTGO to last forever?

Forever? No. Longer than me? by Paul Leicht at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 20:17
Paul Leicht's picture

Forever? No. Longer than me? Yes.

The last information we had by xger at Mon, 08/17/2015 - 23:47
xger's picture

The last information we had is that MTGO was half the revenue. The investor calls give no indication that Hasbro or Wizards views this as throwing good money after bad as you suggest.

No... by Fred1160 at Fri, 08/21/2015 - 14:10
Fred1160's picture

I never said or implied that it's "throwing good money after bad."
You never addressed what I actually did say.

My main question was: "At what point do they say it's just not worth keeping the platform going and abandon ship?"

After all, nothing lasts forever.