Analyzing the MTGA Economy - Neon

 
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Originally published in March, 2018.

Hello friends!

Magic the Gathering Arena (MTGA) is the latest attempt by Wizards of the Coast to bring Magic to a digital platform. It is still in closed beta, but we have enough information now to offer some critiques of the actual implementation of their economy. We don’t quite have enough information to be totally precise, but with the available numbers we can make some early projections. My goal here is to estimate how long it will take to build tier 1 quality decks given the current economic model that is being employed, and then offer some comparisons to existing digital card games.

For those of you who might not be familiar with my work, I have written about the economy of digital card games in the past, such as my piece comparing the “free-to-play-ness” of some of the most popular digital card games, as well as a piece I did critiquing the economic model of MTGA. Though these are not “required reading” for this article, you may find them useful.

I should also note that this is being written March 2018. The folks behind MTGA have made it pretty clear that changes are coming. Why bother even writing this article then? Well, we can get a sense of where the problems might be, and what solutions the MTGA team can implement while things are still in beta. I also plan to update this article with each major patch, which is pretty easy once I have the fundamentals laid out (and my spreadsheets set up).

With that out of the way, let’s cover the basics….

The MTGA Economy

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(If you are familiar with MTGA’s economy you can skip this section)

MTGA’s economic model has a lot of overlap with other digital card games, but with a few important differences. You buy packs using gold. Packs contain 5 Commons, 2 Uncommons, and 1 Rare or Mythic Rare, and each pack costs 1000 gold each. You get gold from daily quests and your first 4 wins of the day. You can find a list of the current daily quests here (note: the value of the 200 gold quests has been changed to 225 gold). You can also re-roll your daily quest, and if you re-roll your 225 gold quests (assuming equal chance of getting each of the available quests), the expected value of the daily quest is about 303 gold.

You also get cards and gold for game wins. These rewards follow this schedule:

1st win:                      200 Gold and a random Common (or better)
2nd win:                       50 Gold and a random Uncommon (or better)
3rd win:                       50 Gold and a random Uncommon (or better)
4th win:                       50 Gold and a random Rare (or better)
5th-30th win:               A random Common (or better)

Beyond this, there are also packs for your 5th, 10th and 15th win of the week. So, assuming you are getting at least 4 wins per day, and completing your quest, you should be getting an average of 653 gold per day (303 from quests + 350 from wins) as well as 3/7ths of a pack from weekly wins, which comes out to slightly over a pack-a-day when everything is said and done. All this should be pretty familiar to anyone who plays digital card games, and is really only a question of the exact numbers.

THE VAULT AND WILDCARDS

(If you are familiar with MTGA’s economy you can skip this section)

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Now that we have all the familiar stuff out of the way, lets get into what makes the MTGA economy different. First, what happens to excess copies of a card? MTG has a limit of 4 copies of a card per deck, so what happens if you open a 5th? Well, they go in the Vault! Instead of adding a 5th copy to your collection, you charge up the vault. You also charge the Vault every time you open a pack. Once the vault is “full”, you can open it and get rewards. Currently you get 1 random Mythic, 1 random Rare and 1 random Uncommon, as well as 1 Rare Wildcard, 2 Uncommon Wildcards (I will cover “Wildcards” in a second). It was recently announced that Mythic Wildcards will be added to the Vault at the end of April, but I am not including that in my calculations. Below you can see how much the Vault is charged for each card type:

Common                     .1%
Uncommon                .3%
Rare                            .5%
Mythic                         1%
Opening a booster    4%

So, what about these Wildcards? These are special cards that let you craft any card of a given rarity that you like. For example, a rare Wildcard can be turned into rare you want from any set. As I said, you get rare and uncommon Wildcards from the Vault, but you also have a chance to open them in packs rather than a card of that rarity. For example, rather than opening a pack with a normal Rare you can open a Rare Wildcard instead. At present the drop rates for Wildcards is not public (nor is the drop rate of regular Mythics), but we do know that there is a “pity timer”. This means that if you are running very unlucky and do not open a wild card for a while, you are guaranteed to open one at a certain point. As of right now we have been told that the pity timer for Rare Wildcards is at 15 packs, and for Mythic Rares it is at 20 packs. Some of the details about how this is implemented (does opening a mythic Wildcard reset the rare Wildcard timer? What happens if both timers “go off” for the same pack?) but these are all corner cases that we can ignore.

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I think those are all the fundamentals we need to know. Now let’s get into some math!

Strategic Planning

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Now that we have laid out the rules of the economy, I want to start crunching some numbers, but before we get into that I should spell out my approach. First, I am going to limit subjective assessments of the economy for the time being. I wrote an opinion article on the structure of the MTGA economy back when it was originally announced in January. Though some of the details are out of date, I think it still holds up by-and-large. Since that exists, I am going to avoid commentary like “this is good for casual players” or “this means it is hard to switch decks” and the like. I will push all that to the “Analysis” and Conclusions” sections.

Second, it was recently announced that players would be getting an additional 3 packs per week. I am going to be ignoring this, since it is not going to be a regular source of income, and they said it would not continue into open beta.

Finally, in order to process all the numbers I need there is a going to be a substantial number of assumptions to fill in the gaps. I am going to make all my assumptions super-duper obvious, just so it is clear I am not trying to sneak anything by you. When in doubt I will be using assumptions that are as charitable to MTGA as I can reasonably assume, as well as giving my reasoned explanation. If someone out there has better numbers than I do I would love to see them, but we will probably need to wait for MTGA players to rack up a lot more play time before we get enough data to know for sure.

With that, I want to lay out some of the most important assumptions.

ASSUMPTION 1: the drop rate of “wanted Rares” is 1 in 5 packs.

When opening packs you really aren’t looking for any old rare. You are really looking for a few specific Rares, as well as Wildcards, which obviously give you a rare of your choice. I am bundling these two together as “wanted Rares”. Given that the pity timer for rare Wildcards is 15 packs, the drop rate needs higher than 1-in-15. I am setting the line at 1 in 5, which is really generous, especially given that the chances of opening a specific Rare you were looking for is really low. Still, it does not seem crazy, so let’s stick with 1 in 5.

ASSUMPTION 2: the drop rate of “wanted Mythics” is 1 in 10 packs.

Same logic as the “wanted Rares” section. The pity timer for mythic Wildcards is 20 packs, so let’s assume you open a wanted Mythic every 10 packs. Once again, this is absurdly generous for MTGA.

ASSUMPTION 3: the average player will own a play set of every Common and Uncommon.

For most card games, including “paper” MTG, players who open a large amount of product will very quickly own all the Commons and Uncommons they could ever want. Given the composition of packs in MTGA, where you are only getting 5 Commons and 2 Uncommons per pack, it seems quite possible that you get deep into an expansion before you have play sets of everything. For example, in Ixalan there are 101 different commons, meaning you need to open at least 404 common cards before you complete all of the common play sets (which is about 80 packs worth). Still, I am going to just pretend that you get play sets of every Common and Uncommon because it makes the math much easier, and it allows us to focus on just the Rares and Mythics, which is the interesting part.

OPEN THE VAULT

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Finally we get to the math! The Vault is an important path for building your collection, so let’s figure out how often this is going to be opened. We know that each pack gives us 5 Commons (.1% each), 2 Uncommons (.3% each) and 1 Rare (.5%) or Mythic (1%), and 4% bonus Vault charge for opening the pack. If you recall from assumption #3, we are assuming that players have a play set of all Commons and Uncommons. This means that each pack is worth 5.1% Vault charge before we get to the Rare slot.

Above I spelled out my assumption that 1 in 5 opens would be a wanted Rare and 1 in 10 would be a wanted Mythic. That means that 7 in 10 times it would be neither of those things. Let’s assume that there is a 1 in 10 chance of getting an unwanted Mythic, leaving a 6 in 10 chance of getting an unwanted Rare, and that 100% of those unwanted cards go into the Vault. These assumptions are honestly needlessly generous, since the Vault only lets you throw cards in when you have a play set, but we will see soon that this assumption doesn’t matter very much. If you add all these values up, multiplied by their Vault charge percentages, you will see that a pack will charge the Vault by 5.4% on average. This means that you will be able to open the Vault once every 18.2 packs.

It might seem a bit weird to just assume that all the unwanted Rares and Mythics are going into the Vault, but it honestly doesn’t matter really. The Vault value of a pack before we get to the Rares and Mythics is 5.1% as I said above, so the amount Rares and Mythics are contributing is basically negligible. If we said no Mythics or Rares would be included the Vault would open once every 19.6 packs, rather than 18.1. The average player would not notice this difference.

Now let’s talk about the rewards from the Vault. As I said above, you get 1 Rare Wildcard, 2 Uncommon Wildcards, 1 random Mythic, 1 random Rare and 1 random Uncommon. It should specifically be noted that it is impossible to get a Mythic Wildcard from the Vault (though this will be changed at the end of April). Let’s assume that you have a 5% chance of getting a wanted card from your random Rare and Mythic. If you spend some time looking through card lists you will see that 5% is pretty generous, especially for rares, but as we will see, this doesn’t really matter.

We should take a moment here to do an assessment on the input-to-output ratios on the Vault, as the figures are somewhat staggering. In most digital card games that use dusting systems you will see that the ratio between crafting a high rarity card and destroying a high rarity card is about 4-to-1. In Eternal or Hearthstone, for example, you can destroy 4 unwanted Legendary cards and get any Legend you want. In MTGA you would need to destroy 100 Mythics to open the vault, which gives you a random mythic, rather than one of your choosing. This conversion rate is… rough to say the least. If you count the pack-a-day you get from gold and weekly packs, plus the handful of random cards you get from wins, it looks like you will be opening the Vault about once every two weeks assuming every unwanted card gets thrown in the Vault. If you assume nothing is thrown in the Vault now you are opening it once every 25 days. It seems like the Vault is super conservative in how much reward you get compared to how much you put in to charge it.

RISE-AND-GRIND

We have mathed out how much the Vault is worth, so we can finally talk about your daily collection growth. As I mentioned above, each day gives you about 303 gold from daily quests assuming you re-roll 225 gold quests, 350 gold from daily wins, and 3/7ths of a pack from the packs you get from the 5th/10th/15th win of the week. All together, that comes out to around 1.08 packs-per-day. In addition to this, you get cards for each of your game wins. For the purpose of this exercise I am going to assume you always get exactly 6 wins per day. This is probably in-line with a moderately serious player, and it will help in our comparisons to Hearthstone and Eternal down the line. According to the reward schedule, your individual card rewards you would be 3 Commons, 2 Uncommons, and 1 Rare (all we a chance of upgrade). We don’t yet know what this chance of upgrade is, so I am going to have to throw down the assumption that you get an average of 1.5% Vault charge per day from individual card rewards. If you assume a lot of upgrades, and that everything is going into the Vault, it is not crazy to imagine hitting 1.5%. Also, since we are opening a Rare or better each day, lets assume that you have a 5% chance of hitting a Rare you want AND a 5% of hitting Mythic you want every day. Once again, this is extremely optimistic, but let’s just roll with it.

So, what does our collection look like over time? Below is a graph that follows the number of wanted Rares and Mythics you should expect to open over 100 days of playing MTGA. I chose 100 days because that is approximately the time between set releases, and because it is a nice round number.

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I know I keep making comments about replicates not mattering, or making really bold assumptions about the amount you charge the Vault on a daily basis. Let’s take a moment to compare that! In the following graph, the dotted lines represent the same set-up, except we assume the only Vault charge we are getting is from the pack-opening bonus. Let’s take a look…

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No, I did not forget to put the dotted line for Mythics on the chart. It is just so close to the original line that you can barely see it. No matter how I slice the numbers, it is very hard to argue that the Vault charge you get from individual cards has a noticeable impact on collection growth. Even with my most forgiving assumptions, you will be opening the Vault about 7-8 times over 100 days.

This is assuming we are only winning 6 games per day right? What if we grind really hard? Maximum win rewards literally every day! I am going to assume that each win after the 4th gives you an average of .2% Vault charge, which represents a 50/50 chance of getting a Common or an Uncommon. Here the dotted lines are the 30 wins scenario, while the solid lines is the 6 wins scenario.

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Once again, I did not forget about the dotted line for Mythics, it is so close to the solid line that it is hard to see. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that has really considered the reward system, but your rate after the 4th win is just terrible. There is really just no way to accelerate your collection building through grinding for the time being. There are some “philosophical” implications of this point that I dive into below, but I just want to emphasize that playing a lot is not going to meaningfully improve your collection build, and that is a big problem.

Getting on Deck

Now that we have an idea how many Rares and Mythics we get per day, lets talk about how many you need to build competitive decks. Now, the meta game for MTGA isn’t exactly settled yet, and when I have done this exercise in the past I have worked with popular decks to do these calculations. Here, we don’t have that, but we don’t really need it, since we can look at existing decks from regular Magic. When everything is said and done the specific composition of MTGA decks and regular standard decks are going to look a little different, but we can still get an idea of how many Rares and Mythics can be found in a typical deck. I spent some time cruising through MTG Goldfish (a popular resource for MTG decks) and came up with the following categories:

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What I found very interesting looking through these numbers is that Rares could easily end up being the bottleneck. There have been times in the past where Standard decks are packing 12 or more Mythics, but that is not that case right now. Lets just say that 24 rares and 8 Mythics is roughly the ceiling at the moment. How long will it take to put together each of these decks? Well, we have a graph for that!

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So, assuming your start with none of your wanted Rares and Mythics it will take about 1 month to build a budget deck, and then between 2 and 2.5 months to build a top-tier deck. With that kind of investment it seems like it will be very difficult to maintain multiple competitive decks, especially given the rate of rotation. We are going to compare these numbers with existing digital card games in a moment, but I should take a moment to talk about starting collections. It should be noted that players get 12 packs when they start right now, which jump-starts you closer to the 2-week mark rather than the day 0 mark. It is actually quite difficult to compare the “beginner bonus” between different games, since each gives this out in different ways and over different periods of time. In addition, you only experience it once, compared to the day-to-day economy of the game which is obviously continuous. Still, we can do a quick check with other games. Eternal and Shadowverse are on the generous end, with Eternal giving almost enough to assemble a top-tier deck, while in Shadowverse you are basically guaranteed to build the deck of your choice from day 1. On the flip side, Hearthstone and The Elder Scrolls: Legends give you a fairly meagre starting collection, which is not even close to enough for building competitive decks. In this context, given current starting collections, I think MTGA is around the middle-of-the-pack: not enough to build a competitive deck, but an OK start.

Before moving on, we can actually do some quick math using the “+3 packs per week” that is currently happening in the beta. Back under the “Strategic Planning” section I said I was going to ignore it, but we can take a quick detour to peak at what things will look like as things stand right now. You can see from the chart below that things have clearly improved. You should now be able to afford budget decks around day 27 and top-tier decks should be available somewhere around 1.5 months of play. This is clearly an improvement, but not enough in my opinion.

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The Free-2-Play Metagame

So, it takes about a month to build a budget deck, and two months to build a top-tier deck in MTGA. How does that stack up with other games that are available? The two games I would compare it to would be Hearthstone and Eternal. I am going to be pulling number from my previous article on the subject of card game economics, but with very limited explanation. Go back and check that out if you want more detail. For our purposes here I want to just pull out numbers that are useful for comparison.

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Although Hearthstone is the most popular digital card game, it is not exactly because of its free-2-play model. Blizzard originally designed the “dusting” system that many other games use variants of, but they are extremely conservative when giving out that dust. The first section of the above table gives us some figures on how long it takes to grind various Hearthstone decks. These dust figures come from Tempostorm’s meta snapshot. I should note that this assumes 6 wins per day, and that the player does not play in the Arena mode, which can improve your overall income.

Right now it seems that the range of deck costs in Hearthstone is quite wide, with some of the cheapest competitive decks that have been seen in a very long time. There have been periods in the past where most of the decks are 8K dust or above. Still, if we were comparing how long it would take to build a competitive deck in Hearthstone to MTGA it seems like it would be about the same right now. To someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about the economy of card games this seems crazy, since Hearthstone’s economy is very unpopular. Given my math, it looks like MTGA is probably a little more generous than, but the fact that it is even close is nuts. Once again though, my assumption for MTGA are outrageously generous, and it is entirely possible that with “real” numbers MTGA comes out behind Hearthstone, which is really bad news for MTGA players.

Now let’s move on to Eternal. The numbers from the table above are taken from the most recent tier list put out by this website (which I wrote, in the interest of full disclosure). Once again, we are assuming 6 wins per day, and no gold spent on draft. In the case of Eternal, skipping draft is a quite a big deal, since it is a much more efficient way to build your collection compared to just buying packs, but we are going to ignore this for the purpose of our discussions. Looking at the table, you can see that a player who is winning 6 games a day in Eternal will probably build any deck you want in about a month, even without spending time in draft. The most expensive deck here is easier to put together than the “budget” decks from MTGA, which should be alarming.

Overall, I think it will be a little easier to build competitive decks in MTGA than Hearthstone, but that is a pretty lousy comparison. Lots of players have left Hearthstone because of how expensive it is, and how brutal the free-2-play experience can be. Also, imagine instead if I had used 10 game wins rather than 6. The rewards for MTGA drop off a cliff after the 4th game, meaning that even Hearthstone would like likely beat MTGA if you were going to be a hard-core grinder. I should also note that my assumptions for MTGA are much more forgiving than Hearthstone or Eternal. I assume for these other games that you never open a Rare/Epic/Legendary that you actually want to play, and that 100% of you pack opens just get turned into dust. For MTGA I give you an extremely generous chance of having a 10% chance of opening a wanted Mythic, and a 20% chance of opening a wanted Rare. Even with all these allowances given to MTGA, they still only manage to barely beat HS. This should be pretty concerning.

PAY-2-WIN

MTGA has said they plan to use a “premium currency” system called Gems, which you buy with real money, and can spend in game on packs or whatever. At present there is no way to buy Gems, but it seems like that functionality will be introduced soon. Still, even without the exact price points, we can run some hypotheticals. What if each pack cost about 1$? That is pretty normal across most games, and is super easy to work with. How many packs would you need to buy in order to purchase the deck of your choice? Let’s take a look!

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This is honestly about average for the industry. In Hearthstone the cost of a deck can dip below 50$, though it is rare, while expensive decks are often in the 100-130$ range. In Eternal the cost of most decks is between 50-100$, The Elder Scrolls: Legends is a bit higher, Shadowverse it is a bit lower, and for Gwent the cost is always around 80$. I should mention that I am once again using fairly generous assumptions for MTGA, where any unwanted cards are thrown into the Vault. This won’t make a substantial difference given how slowly the Vault fills. That caveat aside, we can make a clear prediction related to MTGA’s “real money” economy. If the price of packs is around 1$ each, they are similar to the competition, if they are cheaper then MTGA is ahead, and if they are more expensive than 1$, then they are behind. Pretty easy to follow!

Analysis

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Now that I have laid out all this math, there are a few things that stick out as obvious issues with the MTGA economy. One of the most glaring is the conversion rates around the Vault. When I first discussed the MTGA economy I discussed how it would be frustrating to have all these trash Rares and Mythics, and there would be nothing to do with them, since you can only throw copy number 5+ into the Vault. Now that we have the actual numbers for how the Vault works, I’m pretty convinced I wouldn’t bother throwing in unwanted Rares, even if I could. It takes 200Rares to charge the Vault! That is so many! Filling the Vault is going to feel pretty awful, especially when the rewards you get from it are not exactly awe-inspiring.

One thing I want to note about the Vault it is not effective at avoiding all the “feel bad” moments that are possible in a dust based crafting system. Take a look at this video discussing the MTGA economy. At about 11:45 there is an explanation of why MTGA uses the Vault and Wildcards over a traditional crafting system. The developers comment that they want to avoid forcing players to cannibalize their own collections to get the cards that they want. This can potentially create “feel bad” moments, where you want access to a card you dusted last week. Well, mission accomplished, but imagine the “feel bad” moment when you open a card that you just crafted from a Wildcard. The extra copy is worth basically nothing because of the conversion rates. What about crafting a fringe Mythic to try it out a whacky deck idea? You get badly punished if you deck idea doesn’t pan out, as you get none of your resources back. You also get punished if the meta shifts and suddenly the deck you crafted has poor match ups against the most popular decks. And you are once again punished when your deck rotates out of Standard. Saying you care about avoiding “feel bad” moments from one very specific type of “feel bad” moment, while just ignoring the rest is either ignorant or dishonest.

In the dev team’s most recent update about the economy they said that players should expect to open the Vault about once per month, which is basically in agreement with my numbers if you assume all the charge is coming from packs. In my opinion, that is just totally unacceptable, especially given how paltry the rewards from the Vault are.

The second major flaw I see with MTGA’s economy is the reward structure after your 4th game win. Getting only a single card (which is probably a common) is so stingy! I don’t think game developers should reward players for unhealthy play patterns like needing to jam 4+ hours a day, but that doesn’t mean you should give them nothing. If someone has some time to kill on a Saturday afternoon, why not let them grind out a couple hundred extra gold? At least give them something to feel like they are progressing. Let’s imagine that after your 4th win, you get 50 gold for each win up to a maximum of 1000 gold for the day. This would mean that a player would was willing to grind out at least 17 wins per day would be making an extra 650 gold per day, which means you would get Rares about 60% faster, and Mythics about 40% faster. This sort of rate of return is meaningfully higher than someone who logs off after 4 games, but it is also not like you need to win all 17 games every day to keep up. In the chart below the dotted line represents someone getting 1000 gold per day from play rewards rather than 350.

The fact that rewards essentially stop after 4 wins per day actually raises a somewhat troubling “philosophical” point. Given that there is essentially no way to accelerate your collection growth in game, isn’t MTGA basically just pay-to-win? The classic example of a fully pay-to-win game would be one where you have a starting collection, and there is literally no way to expand your collection other than paying cash. Players who put a lot of money into the game will therefore get way ahead of those who do not, making it “pay-to-win”. Now, imagine instead of just the base collection, you also had a fixed daily in-game income, with no way to increase it outside of IRL cash. That is still basically pay-to-win right? The only way to get ahead is still money, so the fact that the collection is being given out over time rather than all at once doesn’t strike me as that different. MTGA is really close to this second model. The daily income is not quite fixed, but as long as you spend at least an hour on the game each day your collection will grow at the same rate no matter what. There are currently no avenues to speed up your collection building through either dedication or skill, only cash. In this respect I feel like MTGA is firmly behind even Hearthstone. Though the grind is tough, if you are a god in the Arena mode you will be able to build up your collection much faster than those who are less talented. MTGA’s devs say they want skill to matter in building your collection, but I don’t really feel that is reflected at present. I think the dev team would say Events are planned to be an answer to this, but you will see below that I am somewhat sceptical that these will solve all of MTGA’s economic problems. I just want to emphasize: I don’t have an issue with IRL money being a mechanism for accelerating your progression in a game, but it becomes and issue when that is your only mechanism for progressing.

These are my two main issues with the MTGA economy right now. I still think it would be better if players could throw whatever they wanted into the Vault, but until they actually give real value for cards, why even bother? Either the Vault charge value needs to be pumped up substantially, or the Vault rewards needs to be juiced. For right now I expect it is going to feel frustratingly slow. In addition, players would want to jam more than 5 games a day really should have some incentive. 50 gold per win up to 1000 might be too generous, but even 25 gold per win will feel a lot better than ~0. It is healthy to have a certain number of hard-core grinders in your game, and they should be incentivized at least a little bit, and it will mean there is actually a free-2-play avenue to expand your collection, rather than just through spending money.

EVENTS

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One element of MTGA that the devs have been putting a lot of weight on is the implementation of Events. MTGA’s dev team have given some limited explanation of what Events will look like, but we don’t have quite enough detail yet to talk about their economic implications. I expect they are using a similar model to other card games like Eternal. About once every month Eternal has a weekend where we have a special game mode with different rules. There is obviously a bajillion different things that could be done, such as having certain cards cost less, playing with particular restrictions, or having specific event decks you must play. Events are a great tool for skilled deck builders and players to test themselves under whacky new conditions.

Though I love Events more than almost anyone, I feel like the dev team might be over-selling them. First off, if you go back to that interview about MTGA’s economy, they say Events are one of the reasons they don’t want people cannibalizing their collection. Obviously having an expansive collection is useful for playing in different Events, but you would need a ton of Events to warrant keeping all the unplayable Rares and Mythics that are going to fill up your collection. I go on a little bit of a rant about this in my original MTGA economy article, so I won’t repeat myself.

Beyond this, in a recent post about the economy the dev team explains that Events are a crucial part of the economy that is missing, and that once they are implemented it will solve all sorts of problems. I find this hard to swallow. First, we need to grapple with the scale of how far off the economy is from where it should be. In order MTGA’s economy to be competitive with titles like Eternal, The Elder Scrolls: Legends and Gwent it needs to increase payouts to players by something like 50-100%. That is a lot. Are you saying that Events are going to increase total player income by 50-100%? Imagine for example that Events have an entry of 1000 gold and the average prize is 2 packs. This would be a way to almost double player income, but it also assumes that players spend all of their gold on Events. Even if these Events are being held every other week it might be hard to play out all the necessary games to spend all of your gold in the Event. I suppose there are various ways to calibrate the Event prize structure to meet the economic needs of the game, but it feels like there would be a lot riding on this.

This is even aside from the fact that Events are not really for everyone. Players without a developed collection could be at a massive disadvantage to more experienced players. A new player won’t be able to craft new cards just for the Event, so they either won’t be successful in the event, or they won’t play. None of this is an especially major concern for a game like Eternal, where events are seen as a fun mini-game for experienced players. The rewards are nice, but they are not an important element of the economy. If implemented well it is possible that Events might offer something of a solution to my concern about having no avenue to expand your collection beyond paying out-of-pocket, but I am very worried that this might take out a lot of the fun. MTGA’s team is building up Events to be the saviour of the MTGA economy, and I fear some might be disappointed when they finally drop.

Final Thoughts

So here I have laid out the numerical argument as to why the MTGA economy is too conservative. There are obvious a bunch of ways to get more cards into the hands of players, but the current level of output is pretty lackluster. I really think that the Vault system kinda just sucks, but it might be possible to fix it if WOTC really re-tools the conversion rates while letting players throw whatever they want into it. Having a path to improving your collection other than just paying out of pocket seems very important, and at present we are not seeing that. Events can be part of the solution, but there should be more.

Reading through a recent forum post from the devs, some of the comments strike me as extremely odd. I am going to actually to copy/paste a section of this in full, since I think it is worth pointing out some of the problems.

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I have pointed out some of my various objections and issued to a lot of what is said here, but two final things I’d like to drive home:

  • Why on earth did you think getting random card rewards would be fun? The majority of the card rewards are Commons and Uncommon, which are worth basically nothing given the stingy Vault system. You need to turn up the volume on random card acquisition a lot before it feels meaningful. I don’t understand how this could be a surprise. It feels like you want to give players a pack worth of cards, but without that chance of opening a Wild Card, or giving up the bonus Vault charge. That is pretty cheap.

  • Choices: you have chosen a system that gives players as little choice as possible. They can’t do anything with their unwanted cards, and it seems deliberately difficult to build towards the deck that you want. Not only are you exceptionally constrained in the choices you can make, but you get brutal punished if you ever change your mind, or make a bad decision. Once again: how is this a surprise? Isn’t that obvious given the structure of the economy? Is this feedback really new in the past week since the NDA lifted?

  • If you care about skill being a component dictating the growth of a players collection, where is that seen? How is that being manifested right now? I honestly just don’t see it.

If anyone from the MTGA team is reading this, I really only have 2 requests. First, it should take a month of serious play to build a top-tier deck. That is a clean, simple, easy to execute goal. Maybe not any top-tier deck, but a deck that is competitive with anything else the format has to offer. The first competitive deck is exceptionally important. If I am playing 5-10 games a day for one month I should be able to complete one serious competitive deck.

Second, there needs to be a way to expand your collection through skill and/or dedication. Yes, I know, Events are coming, but they better deliver if they are pulling this much weight. It is not enough to say a skilled and devoted player finishes their daily win requirements in 5-6 games rather than 7-8. That is not a particularly meaningful difference, since their collection will look the exact same as someone who is less skilled and/or devoted. You should reward people for being passionate and good at Magic, and that is not reflected in the current economy.

If these two goals are met I am perfectly willing to come back here and talk about how great the improvements are. It is probably easy to dismiss me as an Eternal fan-boy who is just trying to trash the competition, but I am legitimately trying to have a good-faith conversation card game economics. The number that I am looking at right now seem pretty bad for MTGA, but I am totally prepared to be proven wrong.

Thank you so much everyone for following along my long-winded rant about the MTGA economy! I care about the topic of digital card games probably way more than I should, but I find it super interesting, so I can get carried away. Hopeful some of you found that interesting and/or useful! If you have thoughts on the article be sure to hit up the Reddit thread and share them. Also, if you do happen to have numbers on things like the drop rates of Rare and Mythic Wildcards, I would love that. You can reach me on Twitter (@NeonEternal) or Discord (Neon#3989) with data, or if you want to get in contact. If you want to check out more of my content you can take a look at my Starter Guide for Eternal, or my Podcast. As I said at the top, I hope to write updates as patches are introduced, so be prepared to hear from me again! But until next time…

Love,

Neon

(Special thanks to OriginMD and rekenner for help with editing and feedback)