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WHEN SHOULD YOU 0-2 DROP A COMPETITIVE LEAGUE

ON MTGO?

WALLY WISSNER (aka MACHINESCHOOLING)

1. Introduction
If youre an average Magic player playing constructed leagues on MTGO for
pure entertainment, trying to bleed away money as slowly as possible, the answer
to this question is a pretty easy you shouldnt. However, if youre a grinder
trying to make a profit by playing constructed events, the answer to this question
isnt obvious. The answer depends on your winrate with the deck youre playing,
the prize distribution of the event, and the market price of those prizes. How does
the answer depend on those factors? That is the question we aim to answer.
Your expected value (EV) for joining a league depends on the following variables:
the price of entry to the event
your winrate with the deck you are playing w
the number of play points awarded p (almost always worth approximately
$0.10)
the number of treasure chests awarded
the value of a treasure chest on the secondary market t (generally worth
approximately $2-3)
the number of qualifier points (QPs) awarded
the utility the player gets from collecting qualifier points q
This final one has widely different value to different players, and the specific
value doesnt change the analysis we have to perform here, so for our purposes,
well treat qualifier points as though they have no monetary value.
Note: A small simplifying assumption we will make is that your winrate is
the same in each round of a league. Though this is unlikely true (you probably
are more favored to win versus your round one 1-2 opponent than your round
five 4-0 opponent) getting these numbers for your own performance is going to be
extremely difficult with any statistical significance. Furthermore, its pretty easy
to follow the unsimplified version of this assumption through in our analysis, so
we will leave that problem as an exercise for the curious reader.

2. Expected Values
As of the writing of this article, the cost to enter a competitive constructed league
on MTGO is 12 tickets or 120 play points (either entry price is approximately
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2 WALLY WISSNER (aka MACHINESCHOOLING)

valued at $12). The prize payouts for the leagues depend only on your win-loss
record during the league, and currently come in the form of a combination of play
points, treasure chests, and qualifier points. If p is the number of play points you
receive, t is the number of treasure chests you receive, and q is the number of
qualifier points you receive, then the current value of the prize payouts can be
expressed as

V5-0 = 180p + 16t + 3q


V4-1 = 180p + 8t + 1q
V3-2 = 120p + 1t
where V32 , for example, is the value of the prize payout if your final record is 3-2.
All tournament results not listed above do not result in any prize payouts.
The EV per league if you never drop before you finish is equal to the sum of the
payouts times the probability of you receiving that payout, i.e. the probability of
you having the corresponding win-loss record. These probabilities follow a binomial
distribution. This EV can be expressed as
     
5 5 5 4 5 3
EVND = w V5-0 + w (1 w)V4-1 + w (1 w)2 V3-2 12
5 4 3
where ab is the binomial coefficient. In this case, 55 = 1, 54 = 5, and 53 = 10.
   
For players trying to keep losses to a minimum, EV per league is what they
want to maximize. However, if youre trying to grind out a profit on MTGO,
EV per league is not actually what youre trying to maximize. What you want
to maximize is your EV per match! Remember, time is money, and time spent
playing matches that have a very small contribution to your EV is time better
spent playing higher EV matches.
Your EV per match (ev) if you never drop from a league is:

1
evND = EVND
5
Nice and simple!
This was a good warmup, but unfortunately it doesnt yield very practical in-
formation. Grinders dont play out all five matches if theyre already out of the
running for prizes. Once their win-loss record is X-3, theyll drop from the league.
They want to move on to the next league so they can have another shot at the
money. This means there wont always be five matches played in a league, and the
simple divide-by-five calculation isnt going to cut it. However, since you have to
win three matches in a row to prize out if you start off 0-2, theres also a large risk
of wasting a large amount of time chasing after a small or nonexistent prize by
not dropping from the league at this point. We will consider the EV per match of
WHEN SHOULD YOU 0-2 DROP A COMPETITIVE LEAGUE ON MTGO? 3

this early drop 0-2 strategy as well as the more common play-until-youre-out-
of-the-running-for-prizes X-3 strategy. From here on out, were going to have to
use some real math. I hope you remember your Linear Algebra.

3. Model
To take into account the varying length leagues in our EV per match calculation,
we will use a model called a Markov chain. In this case, the states in the Markov
chain correspond to the possible win-loss records a player can have within a league.
The EV of the league will be calculated based on how often you end up in one of
the states corresponding to finishing a league (5-0, 4-1, 3-2, 2-3, 1-3, 0-3 if youre
not 0-2 dropping, and 0-2 if you are). Each time you enter the 0-1 or 1-0 state, it
means you entered a new league, so you had to pay the league entry fee again.

ev = V5 V3 V1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 12 12 .
where is the probabilities that you have a given record at a random point in
time. These are called the steady-state probabilities.

= ( 5-0 4-1 3-2 2-3 4-0 3-1 2-2 1-3 3-0 2-1 1-2 0-3 2-0 1-1 0-2 1-0 0-1 )
Now that we know how to calculate the EV per match given the steady-state
probabilities, we just need to find those values. To do this, we look to the limiting
behavior of the Markov process.
The limiting behavior of a Markov process is based on the processs transition
matrix, which is just a matrix containing the transition probabilities between the
states. For us, the transition probabilities are just the probabilities that the player
wins/loses their match and how that win/loss changes their win-loss record. For
example, the probability state 3-1 goes to state 4-1 is w and the probability it goes
to state 3-2 is 1 w.
The X-3 drop transition matrix TX-3 looks like this:

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w
1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w
w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w


TX-3 = 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0



0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0

while the 0-2 drop transition matrix T0-2 looks like this:
4 WALLY WISSNER (aka MACHINESCHOOLING)


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w
1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w
w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w


T0-2 = 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0



0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0 0 0 0


0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w

0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0 0
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 w 1w 0 0

The only difference between the two matrices, corresponding to the decision
whether or not to drop at state 0-2, is highlighted in red.
To derive the steady-state probabilities from the transition matrix, we have to
find the ratios between the matrixs left eigenvalues. Unfortunately, due to the
size of this matrix, finding a simple expression for its eigenvalues isnt possible.
Instead, we will have to use numerical methods. One of the easiest methods
is the power iteration method, which simply involves multiplying the matrix by
itself repeatedly until it doesnt change between iterations anymore. Once it stops
changing, every row of the product matrix will be an identical weighted list of the
matrixs eigenvalues.

4. Analysis
Now that we know how to calculate the EV per match, lets take a look and see
how each strategy compares.
WHEN SHOULD YOU 0-2 DROP A COMPETITIVE LEAGUE ON MTGO? 5

If the player is losing money on average, then playing as many rounds as possible
leaks money the slowest, as one would expect. However, if the player is a grinder
making money on average, it turns out that all three strategies are pretty close in
performance. To see whether X-3 drop or 0-2 drop is better, well have to take a
closer look at the difference in their performance.

It turns out that the player has slightly higher EV per match if they 0-2 drop
rather than go for the hope to turn an 0-2 into a 3-0 plan as long as their winrate
is sufficiently high. How high that winrate has to be depends on the values of
treasure chests and how the player values qualifier points.
How does the price of treasure chests affect how high the players winrate must
be to be better off 0-2 dropping?
6 WALLY WISSNER (aka MACHINESCHOOLING)

It turns out that when treasure chests are worth below $0.96 there is no winrate
sufficient such that is is beneficial to 0-2 drop. Otherwise, the necessary winrate
steadily declines as the value of treasure chests go up. If the players winrate is
at least 50% then it is profitable to 0-2 drop as long as the value of a treasure
chest is at least $5.05. If the players winrate is at least 67% then it is profitable
to 0-2 drop as long as the value of a treasure chest is at least $1.80. A pretty good
approximation for this relation (shown in red on the graph) is given by:
1.0332 1.7217 0.7786 0.5663
wmin = 3 + + 1 + 0.2054
t2 t2 t t2
Since treasure chests are usually in the $2-3 range, we will show a zoomed-in
look at the previous graph.

5. Conclusion
So when should you 0-2 drop a competitive constructed league on MTGO? You
should only 0-2 drop if you are a grinder making a profit from your leagues. If you
are, it still depends somewhat closely upon the value of treasure chests. For the $2-
3 range in value treasure chests have had over the last year, the minimum winrate
to justify 0-2 dropping ranges from 58% to 65%. If you are a very successful grinder,
0-2 dropping will be worth your while most of the time. For most, though, paying
close attention to market prices will have to inform your decision on whether to
0-2 drop or not.