I. A New Financial Outlook for Drafting
My very first article on Quiet Speculation painstakingly detailed how MTGO was becoming more and more expensive a hobby for drafters due to fundamental changes in the economy introduced by Lee Sharpe. Today I'm happy to inform you that the reverse is becoming more and more true. MTGO is offering better value for drafters than ever before, which means that it costs less to draft on MTGO than at any time in recent memory. Drafts are less stressful, and I'm enjoying playing MTGO more than I have in a few years.
Have a gander at this:
The cost to draft on MTGO has never been cheaper! Before Battle for Zendikar (2015), drafting on MTGO tended to cost about $3.33, assuming you were drafting in the equivalent to today's intermediate league and had a 50% winrate. From Battle for Zendikar through Core 2019 (2018), drafting on MTGO was incredibly expensive, usually clocking in around $4.25 to $4.50. Open Beta on MTG Arena changed that, as redemption demand outpaced drafting demand. Now it costs only $2.69 to draft the current set, Core 2020, a significant improvement over drafting even Theros and Khans of Tarkir, the first two sets I drafted on MTGO.
What this means is that Magic Online now offers a variety of draft formats that cost you the player about half of what it did just a year ago. You can draft War of the Spark for $0.42 (yes, $0.42!!). You can draft Modern Horizons for $3.54, and Core 2020 for $2.69. And it's strange to me that this change has received such little press. I hope this article will make people aware that the drafting experience on MTGO has never been better. Folks who play Constructed on MTGO should give drafting another look; Folks who play Arena or paper should also consider hopping on MTGO if they enjoy drafting or want to get better at it.
The change in rake tells much the same story:
Before Battle for Zendikar, rakes were usually about 27% to 30%. From Battle for Zendikar through Core 2019, rakes usually were hovering around 35%. I'm happy to say that War of the Spark and Core 2020 both have clocked in under 30%, and we can expect that to continue with future sets. This graph highlights how Modern Horizons, in particular, is excellent value. The rake for Modern Horizons is 14.70% right now, which is historically low for any set and is particularly good for Masters-level sets. Modern Horizons will be available to draft on MTGO through mid-August.
Lower rakes also mean that the winrate needed to break even (i.e. "go infinite") has declined. For the past several years it has required an insane 65-70% winrate to break even on Magic Online drafts. That number has returned to a far more normal 60%.
II. Why is Drafting Less Expensive Now?
The main reason that drafting costs less now than it did a while ago is that Magic Arena reduced the amount of drafting being done on Magic Online. So, while demand for redemption has remained the same, the amount of drafting being done has declined, resulting in higher overall prices.
Until June, Guilds of Ravnica was also over $100. Overall it's too early to tell how Standard sets will fare a year after print in this post-Arena world. Will they bounce back after rotation in the Fall when Standard demand is at its peak like previous sets? Will Standard continue to be the second most popular format on MTGO? These are questions I don't yet know the answers to (my hunch is that yes, Standard will remain broadly popular and yes, I expect Guilds of Ravnica to bounce back after rotation). But what has heretofore been true is that sets now remain over $100 for several months after their release instead of three days after their release. This gives drafters significantly more time to enjoy and experience the format. No longer do you need to be anti-social and block off the first week of a draft format in order to maximize value.
In fact, both Ravnica Allegiance and War of the Spark have been cheaper to draft after the release of the next set. War of the Spark's current $162 set value is responsible for it becoming the cheapest set to draft in the history of Magic Online.
III. Will This Trend Continue?
Wizards has been making important improvements in the drafting experience on Magic Online, and I think the popularity of Arena has spurred changes that benefit Magic Online players. Wizards knows that if you can get two free drafts per week on Arena, the value you get in MTGO offerings needs to be better if players are going to continue doing MTGO drafts. Wizards increased the EV of all flashback and phantom drafts by adding a treasure chest as a reward, making these events more attractive. It was also no mere happenstance that Wizards introduced Modern Horizons tokens as a way to draft the set at a 20% discount. Expect these sorts of trends to continue.
The main way Wizards could hurt the newly improved value of drafting is by curtailing the amount of product able to be redeemed. I don't think it's in Wizard's best interests to do this, and it looks like Wizards thus far has been happy trimming around the edges and hoping that the higher prices of sets will reduce the amount of product redeemed overall.
Frankly, the market isn't behaving rationally, in part because people just aren't aware of the new financial reality of drafting on MTGO. Even though the value of drafting has gone up, drafting on MTGO is less popular now than it was 6 months ago, much less 12 months ago. To be sure Magic Arena has siphoned away a lot of drafting demand, but it wouldn't surprise me if overall drafting participation on MTGO increases some in the next several months as the player base catches on to the fact that drafting on the platform is cheaper than ever before.
Overall, though, I expect this to be the new reality going forward and as an MTGO drafter, I couldn't be happier.
IV. Signing Off
Thanks for reading! If you have any questions, leave a comment down below or message me in Discord. How have y'all been enjoying Modern Horizons and Core 2020 drafts? Is there any topic you'd like to see me cover in the next few weeks? Please let me know!