Unlocking the Vault #67: Dichotomy of Eternal Prize Support

This week was supposed to be the dawn of a new era on Magic Online. The (pre)release of Vintage Masters had finally arrived and people could start opening packs with Power in them. It was supposed to be a celebration for all the Eternal players online that their long wait had finally ended.

Amidst all the excitement for Vintage Masters this week, Wizards finally released their plans for prizes for Vintage and Legacy on Tuesday, June 10. While we knew for a while that they would pay out in Vintage Masters packs, there was still a cloud of uncertainty with how many packs we should expect. Surely they wouldn’t simply substitute Vintage Masters packs one for one considering those packs are worth nearly twice the MSRP as Standard-legal packs. Unfortunately, they went and made things arguably worse.

Traditional 8-4 Draft queues will pay out 8-4 packs of Vintage Masters, which is an incredible value. Similarly, 4-3-2-2 and Swiss draft queues will pay out 4-3-2-2 and 3-2-1 packs of Vintage Masters. The only difference is that the entry fee is 4 tix plus product which is 2 tix more than normal draft events. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the extra prize support on the drafting side comes at the expense of some constructed payouts.

Momir/Pauper/Modern Premier Events (Standard has a higher payout, but also requires 65-128 players as opposed to the others needing only 33-64 players) pay out to 16th place with 24-15-12-6-3 JBT packs and a total prize outlay of $420 at MSRP. Vintage and Legacy Premier Events pay out 15-12-9-6-3 packs of Vintage Masters and a total prize outlay of $609. All Constructed Premier Events have the same 10-tix entry fee. Again, this is pretty good value. Vintage and Legacy Daily Events, on the other hand, do not pay out nearly as well as other Constructed formats. Standard/Modern Daily Events require a 6-tix entry fee and pay out 11 packs of JBT for players that go 4-0 and 6 packs of JBT for players going 3-1 which is $44 and $24 at MSRP. Vintage/Legacy Daily Events also require a 6-tix entry fee, but pay out 6 packs of Vintage Masters for players going 4-0 and 2 packs of Vintage Masters for players going 3-1 which is $42 and $14 at MSRP. Clearly, it is not advantageous to play in a Vintage or Legacy Daily Event to win only 2 packs of Vintage Masters for playing well and going 3-1. What’s worse is that while Vintage is a new format to Magic Online, Legacy Daily Events now pay out less than they did just a couple days ago. (Note: 2/8-man queues, for all intents and purposes, have negligible prize differences between Eternal and non-Eternal formats.)

The Math Doesn’t Work Out Nicely

The first problem in the equation is the fact that the MSRP of Theros and other Standard-legal sets is $4, whereas Vintage Masters is $7. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to realize that 4 does not divide into 7 very nicely at all. Had Vintage Masters been priced at $8 or $6, things would have been a little easier, but still difficult when factoring in prize payouts of odd numbers (e.g., 11 packs for 4-0 in a Daily Event).

Why is this important? Well, it makes it impossibly difficult to mimic the payout of existing Daily/Premier Events, 2/8-man queues, and 8-4/4-3-2-2/Swiss Draft events. There is no possible multiple where you can simply swap a pack of Vintage Masters for some whole number of packs of, say Theros, and call it a day. There will need to be some “fuzzy math” needed to get things to line up nicely. That assumes that there needs to be a zero-sum prize structure in the first place…

With this in mind, Wizards pushed certain events to have higher payouts based on MSRP than other events. Obviously, Premier Events have a higher payout in Vintage/Legacy than all other Premier Events, roughly 40% more. Drafts are also advantageous in that they basically pay out 75% more than usual, though the 2 extra tix for the entry fee mitigates that gain slightly. It’s hard to argue that these changes don’t benefit players. The reality of the situation is that not all players gain as equally as others.

Why Take Away From Daily Events?

It’s no secret that players love Daily Events. The EV (Expected Value) is (usually) good, the tournament is short, and events are offered throughout the day, 7 days a week. It is hard to not find a time that a Daily Event that is suitable to your schedule (though it’s not perfect for everyone’s schedule). Daily Events also ensure that metagames can accurately be tracked since as long as one Daily Event fires each day, decklists will be posted to MTGO.com.

A discussion this week with Worth Wolpert on Twitter took place to try and understand why Wizards is pushing Premier Events over Daily Events. The questions hurled at Worth were fast and furious, and they weren’t always the most civil, but he did try to explain their thinking. For those looking for the entire conversation, please use the following link: https://twitter.com/mtgworth/status/476409534697578496

That conversation can be summarized into 3 points:

1. Wizards is interested in keeping overall prize support for Vintage/Legacy and Vintage Masters Limited similar to that of all other formats.
2. Wizards can always change the payouts in the future.
3. Wizards wants Eternal players to play in Premier Events, rather than Daily Events.

I’ll address the first two later, but as for the third I can understand where they might be coming from. For the longest time, players like me have been requesting higher stakes tournaments on Magic Online, especially for Eternal formats where the cost to entry is so steep. By pushing prize support in that direction, they may be trying to satisfy the desire for higher stakes events that aren’t MOCS (it’s doubtful we’ll ever see a Vintage MOCS). Another point to make is that the paper Vintage scene revolves around regional weekend tournaments that vary in size. Some of the larger events in the Northeast, for instance, may get a couple dozen players or more. When factoring in some number of paper players picking up Magic Online, the large weekend tournaments may be more attractive. I’m only speculating here, but it certainly seems to have merit on the surface.

Problem with Premier Events

Premier Events have a lot of issues, despite that, the weekend Standard and Modern Premier Events do fire with regularity. It should be noted that these events only started to fire recently. When Daily/Premier Events returned in mid-December 2013 following the suspension of scheduled events (a.k.a. KiblerGate), Wizards also decreased the entry fee by 2 tix and increased the prize support for the events, though I don’t recall what it was previously.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Premier Events is that they fire only on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and at specific times. Often, these are scheduled such that most players should be able to play in them, but not everyone can play in these events. For Europeans and other non-North Americans, the current Vintage Premier Event schedule is probably impossible. Starting at either 1:30am or 2:30am (depending on where you are located in Europe) is virtually impossible.

Another strike against Premier Events is the length of the tournaments. Assuming you are in contention for a Top 8 spot, your tournament may last 5-6 hours, or longer. By contrast, a Daily Event might take about 3 hours, but no more than 4. Only a certain percentage of players can dedicate ~6 hours in a row in front of a computer.

Beyond the scheduling and time issues, the overall EV of Premier Events decreases dramatically with each player over the bare minimum. Whether there are 33 players or a full 64 players, the prize payout is the same despite nearly doubling the intake in tickets.

Finally, getting a minimum of 33 players together in order to fire the tournament can be a daunting task. There is a mind game to be played when trying to gather 33 players to play. It’s easy to get discouraged if you do manage to find 6 hours to play and sit in the queue for 30 minutes only to see the event fail to fire when only 19 people showed up. Those 19 people may question whether they should bother doing that again in the future. For those who might be wary about suffering the fate of those brave souls who tried to get the event to fail, seeing the event fail to fire is a weird sense of relief: “Well, I’m glad I didn’t sit in that queue or clear my schedule since the event didn’t fire anyway!” Once the events start to consistently fire, then the momentum can build and it’s much more likely to fire again in the future. On the other hand, the exact opposite is true as well. Once they start to fail to fire, they are much less likely to fire in the future. Hopefully the prizes are enough to entice people to try and get these events to fire so that we can build some momentum.

Prize Support for More Expensive Formats

The health of Eternal formats on Magic Online has always revolved around how expensive the format is to buy into. With the exception of certain Modern decks, Legacy and Classic were always much more expensive than anything in Standard and considerably more expensive than Pauper. The reward for spending the money to acquire the cards in Classic/Legacy was the same (or worse when they paid out in Core Set packs for a while) as formats that didn’t cost as much to collect. For many people, it made little sense to spend the money on Eternal formats to win the same prizes. Not only were the prizes the same, but they were nearly worthless to Classic/Legacy players, who rarely would need Standard-legal packs of cards unless they also planned to draft with them.

Vintage Masters will help with the price of many of the cards being reprinted, but the Power 9 will add enough cost to the equation to probably even things out. No matter how you slice it, if you want to play Vintage decks that require Power to compete, the format is going to be expensive. Legacy is not much farther behind Vintage in terms of cost.

When the announcement was made that Vintage and Legacy events would pay out in Vintage Masters, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for WotC to kill two birds with one stone. They could offer up packs that actually had meaning for Eternal players and they could increase the prize support without upsetting the balance of the MTGO economy at large. It wouldn’t take much to make things better, just a few extra percentage points would be a great start.

Precarious Situation

With Wizards establishing that they are pushing Premier Events over Daily Events in Eternal formats, the community is in an awkward situation. Let’s assume that Premier Events don’t fire, not because the payout is low, but the interest to play in them is low. That leaves Vintage and Legacy players with only two options to play constructed matches: Daily Events and 8-man queues.

8-man queues are great if you only have an hour or 2 and there is no scheduled event coming up. They do not help support the growth of the format since no one “sees” an 8-man queue fire. You can’t go back and count how many fired unless you actually sit in front of your computer 24 hours a day and check the list every hour or so. It is also impossible to watch the replays of those events. Worse, no decklists become public from 8-man queues, and even if they did, they would probably hold little value.

That leaves players with the poor prize support of Daily Events. If Daily Events actually start to fire because people have no other use for their cards and want to play for prizes, it sets a really bad precedent for Wizards. Basically, they are free to cut prize support for even the most expensive formats and players will still fork over money to play in the events.

If no events fire at all, it won’t help Vintage grow as a format. Legacy might lose all the momentum that it has built up since last year’s printing of Force of Will as a MOCS promo as well. It’ll be hard to keep people interested in Vintage if there are no events to play in, and that could have dire consequences for Vintage Masters, too. If the after-market prices for Vintage Masters cards starts to dip, then the EV of drafting Vintage Masters will also suffer. It the scale starts to tip too far in one direction, even drafting Vintage Masters might not be as attractive. Of course, if the draft format is as awesome as Wizards has led us to believe, that might keep drafting alive.

What Should Be Done?

I appreciate Wizards trying to push one event over another in the effort to have events with higher stakes, but what I and many people in the community are failing to understand is why there needs to be some sort of zero-sum game. Daily Events are the lifeblood of MTGO players and grinders alike. They offer the best flexibility, and outside of Vintage/Legacy, they offer decent prizes. The best part of Daily Events is that prizes are consistent no matter how many players are in the event. If you go 4-0 or 3-1, you know exactly what you will earn. The same cannot be said in Premier Events where (a respectable) 4-2 record with some bad breakers might not get you anything if there are more than 48 players.

Regardless, offering Vintage Masters as prizes in lieu of Standard-legal packs is a step in the right direction. There was hope that it could help push Eternal formats by providing proper prize support commensurate with the cost of entry into the format. Wizards almost got this right, but fell one or two steps short.

Even if the goal is to have slightly lower payout for Vintage/Legacy, a lot of consternation would be alleviated if the Daily Event payout was simply 6-3. The 2 packs are so far below the 6 packs other formats get, at least adding 1 more pack will help even things out. Daily Events are critical to the health of a format, especially one like Vintage, which will be new to Magic Online and expensive to enter. I implore Wizards to at least consider that compromise for supporting the format’s Daily Events the time being.

Clan Magic Eternal
Follow me on Twitter @enderfall

  1. Its time for ticket decimalization and pay outs in fully convertible fractional tickets. Problem solved.

  2. @Mike, that will be a great solution that would cost Wizards a lot of money. The kind of system that MODO uses is all about hiding money behind as money layers as possible – so you have to trade with tix, boosters and cards in MODO, which hides well the amount of money you pour in. Making fractions of Tix would make them more like dollars, thus breaking some of the effect. I do not anticipate this will happen any time soon.

  3. I also believe that making fractions of tickets will push MTGO further into the “online gambling” territory, which is the farthest things from what WotC would want to do. We’re stuck with whole tix for the foreseeable future, unfortunately.

  4. One thing they could do is create a new ticket. Lets call it Ticket++ and have a trade in system to give out 100 Ticket++’s for 1 event ticket. Change cost of everything ticket related to x100 and then sell 100 tickets for a $1. Still do everything in whole amounts.

    Draft for 1600 ticket++ or product plus 200

    Bots would have to be rewritten.

    I am not an online law expert or anything thing like that. I am just an unfrozen caveman who barely understands your complex law system.

  5. I am very happy to have a 7:30PM EST Legacy Daily, but as you say the value for playing is worse than Standard, which makes no sense. WotC is not rewarding me for wanting to play Legacy. I feel like now I have to root for other people to get suckered into Eternal formats so that I can sell them the staples I own. I think that WotC has a very clear bias to favoring limited formats over constructed. What will happen when we switch to the new client? If you have tried to play a match where the graveyard matters, the new UI is horrible, this will make the Legacy playing experience even worse.

  6. I’m not sure why they didn’t just do 3 packs for 3-1 in a Legacy/Vintage DE to keep it close to Standard/Modern DE payouts. It makes everybody that does 3-1 feel bad if its just 2 packs, which is the majority of what people who prize will get.

    I understand the push for PE’s, but PE’s are not popular to begin with. The only reason people play in tournaments of that length IRL is because there is also value in playing with a real person. When I bomb out in an IRL event, I don’t feel bad. I hung out with friends and played games. When I bomb out in Magic Online, I feel like I wasted my time. Online play is much more miserable and at times feels like work rather than play.

    Given the fact that Vintage will have a much smaller player base than Standard/Modern, they’re better served giving the Vintage DE better prize support, eliminating Vintage PE’s, then restore Vintage PE’s when the format is popular enough to have PE’s fire regularly. At that point you could reduce the DE prizes and pump them back into PE’s.

    That said, I don’t play Vintage/Legacy so that’s about as an unbaised opinion you might get.

  7. @Satan Herself Tickets are only worth anything because they can be used to transact with Wizards itself. The “greater fool” theory of money has been thoroughly debunked. As long as wizards essentially “taxes” by charging a few tickets to draft (on top of the product), and charges entry fees in tickets, tickets will be a de facto currency. Basically, to enjoy magic online other than just playing casual matches, one MUST obtain tickets.

    Wizards has a full monopoly on tickets, and that’s okay. The US government has a full monopoly on the US dollar, and the Japanese government has full monopoly on the Yen. What I take issue with is that Wizards chooses not to supply an easy way to decimilize tickets. It would make the event ticket a more attractive medium of exchange and thus make wizards money in the long run. (Imagine if the US government refused to issue coins but forced everyone to use the dollar anyway with its legal tender laws and taxing powers) Convertibility is another issue. While I would like to see limited convertibility, its not essential as the MODO economy is healthy, and tickets continue to hold value precisely beacuse people want to play in tournaments and draft and thus must obtain tickets.

  8. You guys realize 2 VMA Boosters are worth the same as 6 Standard Boosters right now? They are just super cheap at the moment.

  9. Sorry, I would log in, but the site appears to be in maintenance or something.

    @Cinderspirit: We can’t evaluate aftermarket prices in relation to decisions that WotC makes because they have always claimed that they do not care about after market prices. The point is, they deal only in MSRP. There are never any sales and there are never any fluctuations in entry fee resulting from aftermarket prices. We are thus only left with judging their decision on the MSRP; it is only a mere coincidence that Standard packs are nearly worthless. In previous years (where the $25 redemption fee did not exist) the prices were generally well over 3 tix per pack, and VM will not be $7 for much longer when draft prizes are being pushed so hard)

    Speaking to that, it is WotC’s own fault for that.that Standard pack prices are junk. The Theros block was not nearly as good as previous years, from what little I have gathered on the subject. Even that has had a fraction of the impact that the 250% increase of redemption fees have had. There is no doubt that the $25 fee was not eaten by the redeemers, but the players. It’s yet another in a long line of terrible decisions that WotC has made over the last couple of years. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if the redemption fee was still $5.