Zero to Draft: The Conclusion, Part One

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Editor's note: This article was meant to run a few weeks ago, which explains a few outdated references. Either way, the conclusion to Danny's Zero to Draft series is quite interesting, and will be valuable to anyone looking to play Magic for cheaper (or free!). Enjoy.


It’s been a while since I checked in on the Zero to Draft project, mainly because I took a bit of a hiatus between Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx. I’ve done a few drafts since the Journey prerelease, but I used my final packs a few weeks ago and lost in the second round.

I’m unwilling to spend a penny more on Theros block and conveniently, Conspiracy will be available next week. Add to that the fact that I will become an MTG dad before the month ends, and this seems like a good time to draw this series to a conclusion and sum up the lessons we can learn from it.

Let’s start by reviewing the initial goals for the project, which were set in September 2013.

  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 series 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 I’m holding when the series concludes.

I didn’t draft every week, but I did play 26 events in nine months, which is just shy of a 75-percent success rate. I prefer “A” grades, but at least I passed. Seriously, though, the weeks I missed were due to either being on vacation or boredom with the BTT format, so I ended up drafting every week that I actually wanted to draft—and isn’t having fun the reason to have a hobby at all?

All of the money and cards for this project were successfully kept separate from my collection, but any swag I picked up (I’m thinking the d20s from the prereleases) was just tossed in with my main collection. I also gave up on tracking decklists, but still tallied the monetary aspects of the project. I’m ending a little earlier than initially planned, but when I set these goals, we weren’t aware that Conspiracy would be a factor between Journey and M15.

What really matters to me is point number five. Did I play Magic for free this season? Here are the final stats for the project:

Events played: 26 total – 22 Draft, one Sealed, three 2HG Sealed
Money spent: $214
Money received from card sales/buylisting: $128.32
Buylist value of trade binder: $215.06
Net money spent: -$138.99
Packs held: 0
Draft record: 34-11-12 (70.18 win percentage with draws, 75.56 percent without)
Sealed record: 3-1
2HG Sealed record: 8-3-1

As it stands right now, I made $4.98 for each event I played. By definition that makes me a Magic pro, right? Even so, I’m pretty far from making a living, considering that works out to a dollar or two an hour, but making a living is not what I set out to do here. The goal was to play for free, and I managed to exceed that goal, so really, I’m pretty thrilled.

I’m not the only one who can pull this off—you can do it too! Throughout this series, I’ve covered some strategies for stretching every dollar to the max, so for this final two-part installment, I’m going to cover some of the strategies you can use to play Magic for free yourself.

1. Practice Really Does Matter (I Don’t Know About This “Perfect” Thing, Though)

Triple Theros is easily my most successful format ever. I did close to 80 MTGO Draft and Sealed events from September to December and never had to put money into the system. My Limited rating reached its all-time highest point, and this was reflected in my paper drafts for Theros, in which I managed a win percentage of 83 (not including intentional draws) with a record of 24-5-7.

Born of the Gods didn’t change the format much, and I was lucky to almost always have U/W Heroic open to me during my paper drafts (which is my favorite archetype and also one of the most powerful). In six drafts, I managed an 89-percent win rate by going 8-1-5.

This is a misleading record, though. Born of the Gods was a pretty underwhelming set in terms of power, money cards, and changing the format, and my LGS felt it. We usually have a good mix of semi-competitive and new players come out to draft, but the established drafters just didn’t show up for BTT. I was playing very, very casual players for these drafts, and frankly, it just wasn’t fun. After so many triple Theros drafts on MTGO, I did only four BTT drafts while the format was live. Getting no joy from drafting was unacceptable, so I took a hiatus.

Once full-block drafts started after Journey into Nyx was released, I quickly burned through the 16 packs I was holding after the Journey prerelease. I finished with a win percentage of 43 percent, going 3-4 in four drafts and winning exactly zero packs (although I did take home ten from the prerelease, so I didn’t completely whiff on full Theros block). I’ve only played two MTGO JBT drafts, won neither, and I highly doubt I’ll be playing another.

As I played less of the format, my gameplay, understanding, and record got progressively worse. It’s not just indicated by the numbers; I could feel it. Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx just didn’t do it for me, and in addition to playing less, I wasn’t even interested enough to watch draft videos of the format. I know a format is unexciting to me when I start forgoing LSV draft videos. The result was a major drop in performance.

So the lesson here is that playing more will equal better understanding which will equal more wins. It seems fundamental, but how many times have you decided to play a tournament with no experience in the format or with the deck you’re playing?

Even if you don’t jam dozens of MTGO drafts, watching well-regarded players on Twitch or elsewhere can do a remarkable job of teaching you the nuances of a format. I stopped playing and watching, instead focusing on Cube during the interim, and I have tangible proof that it negatively affected my performance. Wonder why playtesting is so important? This is a good example.

2. Never, Ever Open Any Packs Outside of Drafts

After the Journey into Nyx prerelease, a friend of mine won ten packs. He mentioned cracking them, and I said, “No! Save them.” He didn’t listen to me, saying that he was not buying a box so these would be his only Journey packs. The next week, I asked a mutual friend where he was, and was told, “Oh, he told me he can’t afford to draft this week.”

I’ve mentioned this countless times before (and I’m far from the only one), but it’s a fundamental truth that many players completely fail to grasp: if you save packs for drafts, you’re still going to get to open them (I guess you lose a few to prize packs—who cares?). If you win at all, you get to open more packs than you otherwise would have!

So don’t be so impatient. Just because we live in an entitlement society doesn’t mean one needs instant gratification. You’ll get to play a whole lot more Magic for a lot less money if you just wait.

3. Sell Your New Cards

As is so often mentioned in the MTG finance community, preorder prices are not real. They represent a lot of demand and very little supply, factoring in some hope of the unknown overperforming. After the Theros prerelease, I sold a Stormbreath Dragon and a Xenagos, the Reveler to a local player for $45. That was below retail at the time, so I gave him a “good deal,” but now those cards buylist for all of $12 total.

With very few exceptions, you can expect your cards to drop steeply in value in the weeks following a prerelease, so place a special emphasis on trading or selling brand new cards. And for what it’s worth, Stormbreath Dragon did go up in price before it started dropping. Do I regret selling before it peeked? No way. I’d prefer to lock in the profits on a high-priced card than wait and see if it goes even higher.

I opened an Athreos, God of Passage at the Journey into Nyx prerelease that I didn’t get around to outing. At the time, the card was buylisting for $20 with a retail price around $25. Now those numbers are $11 and $16, so I gave up close to $10 with my inaction.

I’m hopeful being from a small set will keep the supply low enough that this will go up next season, but it’s not like that was my master plan. I was just lazy and (for now) I’ve paid the price. Even if you want the cards for Standard, in all but a very few cases, you’re better off selling and rebuying a few weeks down the road.

4. Trader Tools 3 Is Awesome

Before the debut of Trader Tools 3, I was manually adding the buylist prices up for each installment of this series. Once lists became available, my life got a whole lot easier. I have a public list on Trader Tools for the Zero to Draft project, so if you’re interested in seeing the cards I ended up with, check it out here.

Independent of this project, I’ve found the lists feature to be a great way to keep track of the cards in my collection and note when it’s time to ship off a spec. Trader Tools has always been a great tool for looking up buylist prices, but being able to track specific cards without running a whole bunch of searches really pushed it over the edge for me.

The debut of Trader Tools 3 made this project significantly less time-intensive, and I have to point this out. Keeping a list is also great way to quickly review the prices of the cards in your binder before heading out to an event.

5. Bold Predictions

This isn’t proven yet, but history suggests that the value of my binder is not maximized right now. The summer traditionally sees the lowest MTG prices of the year, so although the current buylist value of my trade binder is at around $215, I predict it will be over $300 by the time Khans of Tarkir comes out.

Even though I’m bringing this project to a close, I’m going to leave my Trader Tools list up and unedited for a few more months. If you happen to be reading this at a later time, check out the buylist value of the cards (at the link above). I’m confident the total value of this binder will be well above its current price by September.

Summer is the time that most folks stop focusing on MTG until the fall set is released. The current block’s prices are depressed because the set has been consistently drafted all year. Once the community’s interest in MTG is collectively renewed and a new draft format comes to town, those old cards are going to spike. It happens every year, as I wrote about in detail here.

So although this lesson is still based on conjecture, I feel pretty confident in saying that you should generally be holding your current block cards until rotation, even if you’re taking the summer off of MTG. Again, a little patience goes a long way toward maximizing your value.

Part Two is Coming

That’s all the space I have today, but join me next time, where I’ll finish discussing the lessons learned in the Zero to Draft project. Until next time!

6 thoughts on “Zero to Draft: The Conclusion, Part One

  1. I appreciated the pro tip of selling your bulk commons and uncommons to newer players on craigslist. I got rid of about 2.5k commons/uncommons, some spin down dice, and lands for $25 bucks. Just advertised it as a good way for a beginner to get started with some kitchen table magic. Took about 3 weeks to sell, but I’m now rid of the clutter, up $25, and a newer player has a ton of cards to get started.

  2. Haven’t finished reading yet but $214 for 26 events seems super wrong math. Drafts are around 15 so from them alone you’re at 330 and then 4 sealed type events takes you around almost double 214, where did that number come from?

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