Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Risk Versus Reward When Drafting

 Drafting on MTG Arena is very fun but has a frustrating aspect to it. It costs money. 

I know, the nerve of Wizards of the Coast wanting to be paid for their online product! 

The good news is that it can be free to play even for drafting because you can earn gold (and rarely gems) through playing normal games of Standard or Historic and achieving daily quests. Its not fast, but its doable. It takes about a week of grinding in order to get the 10,000 gold you need to enter a draft.

The good news is that the drafts offer rewards and the more you win in a draft the larger your reward. In fact, you win enough and you earn enough gems to enter another draft and have some left over! If you are really good, you can draft infinitely and never put any more effort into grinding Constucted. 

But how likely is that?

First off there are multiple limited modes, you can read all about them here. I'm discussing today are drafts against other humans, Premier Draft which is Best of 1 (aka Bo1) match play and Traditional Draft which is Best of 3 (aka Bo3).

In Bo1 you face your opponents in a single "winner takes all" match and the draft ends when you get 7 wins or 3 losses, whichever comes first. Your rewards are:

- No wins — 50 gems and one pack
- One win — 100 gems and one pack
- Two wins — 250 gems and two packs
- Three wins — 1000 gems and two packs
- Four wins — 1400 gems and three packs
- Five wins — 1600 gems and four packs
- Six wins — 1800 gems and five packs
- Seven wins — 2100 gems and six packs

Since it costs 10K gold OR 1500 gems to enter a draft, at 5 wins you have made your investment back and essentially played for free. Now getting 5+ wins before 3 losses is not easy, in 18 tries in Zendikar Rising Bo1 drafts I've managed it only 4 times. But even getting to 3 or 4 wins is a big deal as the amount of gems you receive puts you very close to affording another draft. 

As you can see from this graphic from 17 lands for Throne of Eldraine drafting, most drafts end below the line but still in the 3-4 win range (usual disclaimers about self selecting data, not whole playerbase, etc).

Courtesy of https://www.17lands.com/

I want to highlight the massive jump in rewards between 2 wins (250 gems) and 3 wins (1000 gems). That is the largest jump in reward of all the levels and is the difference between feeling like "I wasted my money" and "not bad, almost enough for another draft!". In fact, assume a player starts a format with 40K gold, enough for 4 drafts:

As you can see in the table above, the number of drafts you are able to do increases exponentially if you are a better than average drafter, to the point where the best drafters can draft while never paying another dime. Now I realize it does not work out that way in reality because the Bo1 is a ranked queue, players in bronze play against other players in bronze and players in diamond or mythic play each other as well, leading to the type of graph you see above where most results are in the 2/3 and 3/3 range, indicating that the win percentage trends towards 50%.

However, what it does mean that boy does it suck to be a bad drafter.

What about Traditional Draft, i.e. Bo3? Bo3 is not ranked so who you play is random and thus the better drafters can rise to the top more easily in theory, but there are two limiting factors related to each other that impact that.
1) The rewards suck if you don't get 3 wins.
2) Lower skilled drafters stick to Bo1 as a result.

Why do the rewards suck so bad? Well, for a 10K gold or 1500 gem entry fee you can earn:
- No wins - One pack
- One win - One pack
- Two wins - 1,000 gems and four packs
- Three wins - 3,000 gems and six packs

As you can see, even winning 2 out of 3 matches fails to earn you the rewards to do another draft. But winning all 3 matches wins you enough gems for 2 more matches! I'm not exactly sure why they chose this reward structure compared to Bo1. Is it because Bo3 is seen more as "real magic" and they expect players to pay a premium to participate? Is it because its not ranked so there are more 2 win and 3 win players (i.e. the distribution curve is slanted more to the right), and if rewards were higher on the 1 win and 2 win slots that too many people would be making too many gems?

Regardless, this reward structure makes it very hard for me, an average player, to justify paying for Bo3 with a 50% record on good days when that record can earn me twice as many follow up drafts in Bo1.

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