I’ve mentioned in past articles that besides finance, my main interest in Magic is Limited play, particularly drafting. There’s something about the mix of strategic, creative, adaptive, and random elements that make Limited play more interesting and enriching to me than other formats. Magic is fun in nearly all its forms, but I’ve found my preference and I mostly stick to it.
A few years ago, before I rejoined the Magic community after a many-year hiatus, I was primarily a console gamer. I played a lot of games, but I did so at little to no cost through research, diligent deal-hunting, and arbitrage of sorts. When I started playing Magic again, I was distressed to find that I would have to shell out actual cash for gaming. But before long I discovered the wide world of MTG finance, and realized there might be another way.
Nowadays I like to think I’m a relatively shrewd trader and speculator. I still have a lot to learn—don’t we all?—but I’m working hard to consistently level up my perceptiveness and abilities. Still, I need to be realistic about my goals. I work a full-time job not related to MTG, so I’m not trying to make a living off the game. I’m just trying to play for free, or as close to free as possible (not that I am opposed to turning a profit, mind you).
Getting to the Point
With all of the above in mind, today I’m going to introduce a project on which I will be working for the foreseeable future. The guidelines are as follows:
1. I will draft (or play sealed, when available) at least once a week at one of the three LGSs in my town.
2. To maintain the purity of the project, I will keep all cards/money/swag involved separate from my personal collection.
3. I will track everything: money spent, trades made, bulk accrued, cards sold, decklists, etc.
4. I’m tentatively planning to end the project upon the release of M15. I reserve the right to extend it through rotation if there is still good content to be had, or to end it early if I find I could provide more value writing on other topics.
5. My goal is to draft for free. At the end of the series, I’ll weigh all of my expenditures versus the amount of cash and cards (valued at top buylist price on mtg.gg) I’m holding when the series concludes.
I will consider the project a mild success if I can keep the cost of my drafts under $5 each. (The least expensive draft available in my town costs $12, so I’m looking to cut my draft costs to less than half the list price.) Anything over $5 per draft will be considered a failure. But the real goal is to spend nothing per draft, or even to turn a profit. For the series to be considered a SUCCESS with no qualifier, I need to hit that $0-per-draft mark.
I’ve never tracked things this closely before now, so I have a limited frame of reference to know how difficult this will be. Based on my memory of full-block Return to Ravnica draft, I think I can do it. For that format, I played in two prereleases, won some prizes in each, and managed to draft at least once a week with those and subsequent winnings through the release of M14. I didn’t track the cards I opened during those events, but I like to think that roughly a dozen drafts and two sealed pools left me with more value than the price of the two prerelease events.
The scale of this project is going to appeal more to financially-minded players than hardcore speculators. Given that my trade stock will be accrued slowly through Limited play, the deepest I’ll likely be able to go on any particular card will be a couple dozen copies at most. Another factor specific to players is that my success or failure in this project will be based on a mix of not only trading and speculating, but also on winning prizes. For professional retailers and investors, winnings aren’t really a consideration when calculating profits, but it’s a crucial element for those focused on playing as well as finance.
I know that Insiders subscribe to the site for financial information and not strategy. Although I’ll occasionally be sharing decklists, discussing interesting picks, and recapping exciting game moments, I’ll be keeping the series primarily focused on the financial aspect of being a dedicated drafter. When appropriate, I’ll also still be commenting on specs, formats, and shakeups outside the boundaries of the series. I’m not trying to work outside the niche this site serves, but I am trying to approach it from a new angle.
At this point I’d like to briefly go through the pros and cons of the draft options available in my town:
On Monday nights there is a comic shop in town that has unsanctioned $14 Swiss drafts with one pack per player (or, if the set is in high demand, one pack per three players) in the prize pool. These drafts attract anywhere from six to twelve players. The shop does not allow pack-ins and the prize payout is extremely flat. The atmosphere is very casual, so it’s a great place to trade EDH cards into Standard staples. However, the poor prize payouts, lack of ability to use packs or store credit for entry, and the driving distance (which is further than other options) make this the least attractive option during the week.
My regular LGS offers $12 eight-man single-elimination drafts with a 5/3 payout for first and second place, although players almost always split. The shop does accept pack-ins for drafting, which is one of the reasons it’s my favorite place to play. The environment is also the most competitive in town and often multiple drafts fire in an evening. The only downside is that many attendees aren't really interested in trading on Tuesday nights.
The Tuesday-night shop also has FNM drafts, which are basically the same deal except you can’t pack in to these. The upside is that there is a parallel Standard FNM and between the two events, there are plenty of trading partners.
A third LGS offers a second option on Friday night. This shop offers $15 Swiss drafts with one pack per player in the prize pool and payouts down to either fourth or eighth place, based on attendance. The shop does not accept pack-ins, but you can save your winnings in their system and use those for future entries. The $15 price is the most expensive in town, but the shop has a stamp card that gets you a free draft for every five you enter, which makes the higher price easier to swallow. The atmosphere at this shop leans toward casual, but there are a few strong players that frequent these drafts. Only about half the players in a given draft have or bring a binder, so trading is hit and miss.
Given these options, I’ll do most of my drafting on Tuesday nights. Sometimes I may decide I want a longer experience or a chance for a bigger payout, and on those occasions I’ll go play the Swiss draft on Friday night. The Monday-night drafts are really only appealing as a change of pace and are something in which I'll rarely participate.
At $12 each, I can do eight drafts for $96. Conveniently, the pre-order price for a box of Theros is $90, which after tax comes to $96 and change. There are nine draft sets in a box, so by pre-ordering one, I could get a draft for free. Every time I squeeze an extra draft out of my expenditures, the more I increase my odds of making this project a success. So I’m clearly buying a box for drafting purposes.
Unfortunately, there’s not really a prerelease with a high upside in my town. There are two options: a $30 Swiss tournament with an extremely flat payout (i.e. two packs per player in the prize pool, but every player gets at least one pack at the end) and a $25 four-round tournament that awards ten packs for 4-0, with lesser payouts down to 2-2. With past releases, there has been an option for a Swiss with cut to top eight and more top-heavy prize support. With the last few sets, however, the shops here have aimed toward appealing to the casual player by flattening payouts.
This definitely makes the goal of this project harder. Winning 24 packs or more at a prerelease (not unreasonable when prizes are kept mainly in the top eight or sixteen) would set me up for more than a month of drafting. But as is, the max I can win from a $25 entry fee is ten packs. This is a pretty low upside when I'm trying to start a slow bleed that will last for over a month, but it's what I have available.
Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to all the drafting I’ll get to enjoy in this project. And one of my not-so-secret shames is that I love record keeping, so I'm even looking forward to all the note taking I'll have to do. Join me next week when I recap my prerelease experience and have had a chance to see Theros cards in action. If you have tips, observations, or questions, let me know in the comment section.
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