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How To Go Infinite

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It’s been more than a year since I’ve paid to play at Friday Night Magic. But I’ve played nearly every week. I’ve done what’s called “going infinite.” It’s as nice as it sounds, and if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

To give you some context, let’s back up about 15 months. I first read about the concept of “going infinite” on MODO from this LSV article. I thought that if I could perfect it, I could have the perfect way to play. What I found out in researching it is that, in the end, it just wasn’t going to work out like I wanted it to. It was going to take more than $20 to start, and since the best way to go infinite on MODO is to play Constructed, the initial cost was too high for me, being a broke college student and all.

I was pretty discouraged about my findings regarding MODO, and to top it off, I was looking for a new game store in town after the closure of my previous home. I finally settled on a hole-in-the-wall shop named, aptly, Little Shoppe of Games. During my first draft there I found out the owner was offering store credit for prize support, if the players asked for it. Hearing this, I immediately was right back on my crusty old computer reading LSV’s article, and this time I really could start with the price of a draft.

The first few months were inconsistent, but slowly I began to build up some credit. There were ups and downs, and I certainly learned a few lessons along the way. But eventually I “got there,” and today I’m sitting on $77.50 in store credit. If you want to experience a feeling that doesn’t suck, show up to FNM, pay $4 in store credit, borrow a friend’s deck, drop $2 store credit and a soda and a bag of candy, go 5-0, and receive $24 store credit for your time.

And I can show you how.

How you can go infinite

The first step is the hardest, and the one I can’t help you with. Become a consistently good Magic player. Going infinite doesn’t work if you can’t consistently place highly. I’m no pro, but I hold down an ~1890 Limited rating earned only from FNMs, and I’m rated in the Top 10 in Oklahoma (which admittedly is not currently sporting a long list of pros). I’m not bragging, but I reasonably expect to place in the top 2-3 of any tournament at my store, which is full of mostly casual players.

The second thing you need is a store owner who offers store credit. Most stores I’ve encountered offer some form of credit, but not all offer the full amount. Some stores offer 50 or 75 percent credit, which makes going infinite more difficult, but not impossible if you have the discipline needed. Other stores offer credit that only lasts two weeks or a month. I suggest avoiding these places, but if you have no choice, you can still go “semi-infinite,” similar to rare drafting and MODO and selling the singles.

Be disciplined

When you start to get $40-50 store credit, it can be really tempting to drop $20 on a fat pack or a Duel Deck, but you need to restrain yourself. I don’t care if you’ve won the last two drafts without dropping a game, there’s going to be a dry spell, and you need a reserve. If you spend $20 on a fat pack today and flame out of your next few tournaments, you’re going to be out of credit and starting over, which can be very demoralizing. It doesn’t matter how bad your beat was or how much credit you had a month ago. You’re going to pulling out your credit card again, and it’s not an easy decision to start the process all over again.

Hoard your store credit. I don’t mind getting a Coke in between rounds on mine now, but when I was floating around the $20-30 mark, I valued each dollar more. Not many people pinch pennies like I do, so don’t feel bad if you want to pick up a pack here or there, but you need to prepare for the inevitable losing streak, because you can’t avoid it.

What’s your EV?

EV, or Expected Value, is the first thing I look at in any tournament I enter on store credit. For most tournaments, each player constitutes one prize pack, so a 12-person tournament usually yields 12 packs to split among the designated number of players. While the player-to-prize ratio stays the same no matter what format you’re playing, the EV of the tournament entry-to-winnings ratio does not.

My store rotates Draft-Standard-Sealed for FNMs, and each has a vastly different EV.

The best format is Constructed. In a 12-person tournament, the distribution of prizes typically is something along the lines of 6-3-2-1. This means that in order to break even on store credit, all you have to do is place in the Top 4 (If you can’t consistently Top 4 a 12-person FNM, you aren’t going infinite. Sorry).

This is great EV, and where you can really get ahead of the game. Even placing second in a tournament like this means you’ve effectively “paid for” your next two constructed tournaments, essentially making them a freeroll. String a few wins together, and you start to make some serious headway into going infinite.

Drafts are the middle ground. For $15, you need to win the 12-person draft to actually gain credit. The difference between Draft and Constructed is that you actually get new cards in the process, which makes something like a second or third place performance more bearable despite losing some store credit in the process. It’s difficult to go infinite from drafts alone, but if you can continue putting up top-rung finishes as the number of drafters increases, it can be done.

Last is the worst format imaginable to go infinite with. For $25, you cannot even make your credit back by winning the 12-person tournament. And my store doesn’t even usually have 10 players for Sealed due to the price. Yeah, you get six shiny new packs, but if that was your goal, you should have just bought the packs in the first place.

I can accept the possibility of not gaining store credit on a draft, but to enter a tournament where you have no chance to make your store credit back is suicide in the world of going infinite. This means I sit out every third FNM at my store despite Sealed being my favorite format. It sucks, but it’s not worth blowing my store credit for a seven-person event. I understand that many of you probably count on getting new cards from prize packs or Sealed events, but there’s another handy trick for growing your collection. It’s called trading, and I think I know a place where you can find out how to do that.

There are two exceptions to the don’t-play-in-Sealed rule. Pre-release and Release events. For whatever reason, people who’ve never been to a FNM come out of the woodwork for these events. This is the perfect place to make a bundle of store credit.

For example, at the Scars of Mirrodin pre-release, 40-45 people showed up at Little Shoppe. I ended up somewhere in the Top 4 players, and made nearly double my investment in store credit. Let’s look at how this breaks down.

With 45 prize packs in the pool, a reasonable breakdown is somewhere along the lines of 15-10-8-5-3-2-1-1 (I completely estimated that, so it probably not 100 percent accurate, but you get the idea). In my experience, stores throw extra prizes into the pool at big events such as these, so you’re actually working with a better EV, but for the purpose of this exercise we’ll look at the guaranteed packs.

Placing in the Top 4 of this tournament makes you a profit on your Sealed adventure, and you get six packs of all-new cards. Truthfully, I’ll play in Pre-release and Release events regardless of EV, but it certainly helps if you can make a profit on it. The average Pre-release player is not going to be better than you, QS-Insider and someone who has gone infinite playing Magic. All the casual players who show up every three months for an event are essentially free money. That’s not disrespectful to those players, it’s just the way it is.

So you understand the EV of your respective tournaments and are a solid Magic player. Is that enough to go infinite? Maybe, but you can’t check your quest to go infinite at the store cash register. It should also affect the way you draft, and the way you play.

Be conservative

We all like to rare-draft. Many players believe that picking up a few rare cards “pays for their draft.” As I wrote a few weeks ago, this doesn’t pay for anything at all. Just because you’re playing at FNM and not on the Pro Tour doesn’t make it okay to rare-draft, except in extreme cases (Vengevine, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, etc.).

Because our plan is to increase our store credit through winning, it is correct 99 percent of the time to pick that Galvanic Blast over that Mox Opal. Unless your store redrafts the rares (most don’t), then you need to make the correct pick, even if it sucks to do so. Look at it this way. If taking an Arrest instead of the Razorverge Thicket you need for a deck wins you even one game you wouldn’t have if you took the land, then you’re going to easily make up the price difference between the store cards in your winnings. Make the correct pick while drafting, and spend $3 of the credit you win on buying the land from the store.

Another consideration is when to play or draw. While this is always an important decision in tournaments, it becomes even more important when trying to go infinite. For example, if I’m in a situation where a draw locks both my opponent and I into the Top 4 (my store doesn’t cut after Swiss) but a loss knocks me out of prize support, I offer the draw nearly every time, even if winning the match would give me more store credit than the draw. The reason I do this is because the difference in one place is usually not worth the chance to lose out entirely, even if I know I’m favored in the matchup.

Obviously this example is extremely fluid, and changes based on a number of factors and probable outcomes (For you Poker buffs, it’s analogous to pot odds), but when in doubt, be conservative, and make back what you can on your store credit. Remember, a tie is a win when you’re drafting. If you spend $12 credit to enter the tournament and win back $12 in credit, you’ve actually profited because you’ve got a free night of entertainment and some new cards to boot.

I’m more than out of words for this week, so that’s where I’ll stop. Next week I’ll look at the dark side of store credit and discuss how it can actually hurt a shop’s bottom line. Until then, remember to check out the QS forums!

Thanks,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in Norman, Oklahoma (also known as the hotbed of Magic). He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net. He can best be reached @Chosler88 on Twitter.

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6 thoughts on “How To Go Infinite

  1. So, that´s it? Play better than 75% of the players and don´t take unnecessary risks?

    Good for me that entrance to our FNM is always free and the format is always standard. Sure, the prizes are only the FNM promos and a random pack if you get lucky (along with the entrance into a once per year box tournament held by the store), so all I have to do is borrow a deck each week and play good/get lucky now and then and I am infinite by default.

    I guess that article wasn´t for me. (except for the link to the lsv article, wanted to reread that again)

  2. I feel like it was a good start to a chain of articles but theres alot of things that could be further discussed, such as choice of deck, for example in an FNM setting playing a solid aggro deck is a great choice as opposed to a well tuned control deck, the reason for this being many players cannot afford a deck involving the 300-400 dollar decks or more. This leaves your favorable aggro matchup in a good position against other aggro decks and the janky control decks that will show, this prevents you from going to time and allows your playskill to outweigh the luck of draws that are typically harder to win with control than aggro.

    On a side note holy goodness does your store pay poorly, our thursday night drafts go whenever 8 players fill and prizes are 5-3-2-2 with a 12 dollar cost. Most people split the finals putting you up in cost. As well FNM is usually 1.5-2 packs per person with a 5 dollar buyin. Granted the store doesnt look to make much from the actual tournaments and instead uses them to bring a player into the store.

    Overall I enjoyed the article but I feel like there could be alot more depth to it that would be helpful to people starting their "infinite run"

    1. "…for example in an FNM setting playing a solid aggro deck is a great choice as opposed to a well tuned control deck…"

      I find the opposite of this to be true. Most of the players at my FNM go aggro, so a control deck packing Day of Judgement is almost an auto win. 😉 Carl

      1. I'm with you, Carl. I think Ryan's point (if I may) is that you should play a consistent deck rather than a deck packing a punch of cards good against the metagame, as based on national results, because those results don't translate into FNMs.

  3. @CATS
    Playing in free tournament is definitely an easy way to go infinite. In a different setting, I would say it's closer to 90% of players, rather than 75%. Once you've hit that threshold and begun your run at infinite, it's really not that hard to keep it going, provided you stay disciplined.

    @Ryan
    I'm glad you liked it, and it's a topic I'm sure I'll revisit again and go more in-depth with. It sounds like your store is perfect for a run at infinite, so good luck!
    As for deck choices, I would personally prefer to run a control deck at an FNM because I feel like it's better equipped to handle random decks. For instance, a solid aggro deck can still lose to the Howl of the Night Pack/Overrun deck (this happened to me last year playing Naya), but a control deck has the needed Mana Leak and board sweepers.

  4. The first few months were inconsistent, but slowly I began to build up some credit. There were ups and downs, and I certainly learned a few lessons along the way. But eventually I “got there,” and today I’m sitting on $77.50 in store credit. If you want to experience a feeling that doesn’t suck, show up to FNM, pay $4 in store credit, borrow a friend’s deck, drop $2 store credit and a soda and a bag of candy, go 5-0, and receive $24 store credit for your time.

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