A Look at Online MagicFest Expected Value

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One of the biggest Magic related bummers caused by the current pandemic, for tournament grinders and trade binder combers alike, is no more in-person MagicFests. As someone who could ever only afford to go to a few choice Grand Prixs in a year, if that, I had to pay close attention to the anticipated expected value of playing in the tournaments (especially since I have yet to make a day 2) and make sure that I could still leave a GP with as much value as possible. If you include the experiences I got to have with my friends, vendor table grinding, and the different products you get playing in events, I always made out okay.

But now, with no paper Magic events at all for the foreseeable future, ChannelFireball has started offering Online MagicFest Qualifiers in their place. What about their EV? Is it possible to come out ahead in the new digital age of the MagicFest? I played in one on the 14th to find out for myself!

First, let’s take a look at what you would get if you bought a main event package for an in-person MagicFest. I’ll be looking at the currently listed numbers for MagicFest San Jose, which is currently scheduled to take place near the end of July, which is advertised as having a $50,000 prize pool.

If you sign up for just the constructed GP for $69.99 you get:

  • entry into the event (only get tangible cash value if you do well)
  • a ChannelFireball Deck Box (we’ll say this is worth about $1)
  • a MagicFest Foil Path to Exile Promo (currently valued at about $25)
  • for an additional $14.99 you can add on the event playmat (the art hasn’t been announced yet.) Depending on the art, these mats can sometimes fetch between $10-$20 from vendors, or resell for a decent price. We’ll value them at $10 for our purposes though.
Imagine this, but very shiny.

So, your minimum EV right now if you don’t win (not counting whatever you value the tournament experience at) would be spending $70 and get $26 worth of product. Or, spend $85 and get about $36 worth of product back. Now, I know no one enters these events just for the product value, but what’s the EV if you’re a decent player and place in the money? According to the CFB Knowledge Pool, if you can make 110th place, you walk away with $250 in prize money. First place nets you $7000, which for most of us is probably living in Magical Christmas land. If all you’re doing is going to play in the event, you’re likely not coming out of a GP with a net positive of cash.

Again, that’s not why most of us go to these things, but I think it’s helpful to look at the numbers and know what kind of bang for your buck the package is giving you. If you have fun with your friends, grind the vendor tables and trade binders, and get to play some Magic a GP has a lot more intangible value to it. Plus, there are several other packages for people who aren't playing in the main event who just want to grind side events that might have the potential for a much higher EV.

But what about the digital MagicFest? These don’t come with quite the same list of intangibles that the normal, in-person ones come with, and the structure is understandably quite different!

First, ChannelFireball is running Daily Qualifiers that run all week, several times a day, at a cost of $25 per entry. If you enter one of these, you get to play in the qualifier and you get a voucher for one free Booster Draft at a live MagicFest (up to $20) value. So, assuming you’re planning on going to a live MagicFest whenever those are allowed to happen again and you like drafting, that’s a pretty decent value! You could look at it as a $5 qualifier entry with the chance to qualify for a bigger tournament, plus a $20 Booster Draft entry at a MagicFest (which depending on the set and your skill level will have varying EVs.)

If you manage to get 5-1 in your qualifier or 10 wins total across a week’s worth of multiple qualifiers, you earn an invite to play in the 25k Weekend Championship, which is a 2-day long event with a prize pool of $25,000 and prizes starting at $100 for 128th place and going up to a top prize of $1000. Getting 32nd place and above scores the winner an invite to the Season Finals, which has a prize pool of $50,000 and prizes from $200 to $1000 starting at 130th place.

So if you’ve got a decent collection on Magic Arena and the combination of luck and skill it takes to advance, these events have a pretty decent EV (assuming you’re planning on going to a live MagicFest and like drafting.)

While there aren’t the same kinds of intangible bonuses as an in-person MagicFest, such as getting to hang out with your friends or see your favorite Magic personalities, these online events still come with their own, less easy-to-quantify perks as well – especially if you’re a streamer. ChannelFireball is running constant coverage of these events, where they’ll have their analysts commentating the match over one of the participants’ Twitch stream, so if you’re a regular streamer this could conceivably be a way to grow your channel’s audience!

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I tried playing in one of the qualifiers on my stream on the evening of the 14th. How did it go? Well, I lost hard. I ended up with a 1-5 record, which is the worst I’ve ever done in a competitive MagicFest type event, but I’m still glad I did it! On the less tangible side of EV, I ended up on CFB’s stream several times (looking like a complete goof as I flooded out, I’m sure), got to play against one of my favorite Arena players (shoutout to Bloody!), and I made some new friends and followers on Twitch while getting to hang out with my regular chat participants. Plus, I have a voucher to play in a draft if the world ever returns to normal and we get to go to MagicFests again!

I know looking at the EV for competitive events can seem a bit fruitless, because if you’re not a competitively skilled player, it’s likely you aren’t making it out of there with a net positive on the money front, but as I said earlier, I think it’s still good for average players like me to take a look at every event’s EV when we’re planning how to spend our money, even if it’s hard to put a tangible dollar price on fun!

I hope you are all managing the pandemic okay. Know that I’m sending you all the positive vibes I can muster! Thanks to a very generous tip from one of my Twitch followers (shoutout 8wookie1). I’ll be playing in at least one more MagicFest qualifier next week after the Ikoria release, and hopefully, I’ll have a much better record! Maybe I’ll see some of your usernames across the Arena battlefield? Either way, I’ll be back here next week with another piece! Take care, friends!

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