Monday, 19 October 2015

MTGO: An EV based approach to starting competitively

A new set has come out for Magic: The Gathering and it's very fun and very interesting. With this set coming in and older cards rotating out I'm now at the point where every Magic card in the Standard ruleset was introduced while or slightly before I started playing in December. So I finally really know the cards well.

So I'm looking to play competitive Standard format Magic Online and I'm trying to strategise my best approach.

Goatbots do an Expected Value calculator. This tool allows you to determine how much value you'll get back at specific win rates for different formats.

Let's start by looking at 50% win rate.

The first thing that really stands out is that Limited is much more expensive than Contructed. Currently the cheapest Limited format is Khans Draft which will lose you on average $2.55 per go while Standard 2 player only loses you 25c per go.

Another way to look at it is by cost not per tournament but per match. We're seeing this as us needing to experience an amount of games to become practiced enough to be competitive. The best pick on this approach is playing a League which loses us 14c per game.

To play Constructed we will need a deck. To consistently win in Constructed we need a really good deck. The best decks are listed on sites like MtgGoldfish. Currently one of the best decks is Atarka Red which is also significantly cheaper than the other top decks and this is the one I decided to make. If you chose to netdeck you miss out on one of the more fun part of the game - constructing clever synergies but for a new player it's almost guaranteed to be more effective than coming up with your own strategies.

Magic is very good at showing you cards that inspire good ideas for decks. You see "this card gives all your Elves +1/+1" and your mind naturally goes towards thinking about an Elf deck. These synergies feel powerful and you get a sense of ownership of the idea, of personal cleverness. In truth every Magic player who saw that card had pretty much the same idea and the deck you're so proud to have created will have been tested by hundreds of people in dozens of variations and it isn't ruling the metagame.

So except for the top professionals we get to pick one: own our deck idea or decent win rate.

Atarka Red is a very quick somewhat gimmicky deck. You get some fast creature damage in then pump - preferably when your opponent is tapped out - for an explosive finisher. On a Prowess creature like Abbot of Keral Keep the pump cards Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage take it from a 2/1 to a 10/9 Double Strike trampler which is a straight kill on a clear board or more commonly a kill through a blocker against an opponent who has already lost some life.

Once we get to the stage where we have positive EV then a fast aggro deck like this particularly pays off as it allows us to churn through games very fast.

Let's now review the pieces we need to put together to be an effective competitive MTGO player.

- some natural aptitude for this type of puzzle-solving.
- knowledge of the current card set and meta.
- an expensive deck. (Subbing in less powerful commons for high impact rares will lower your win rate).
- experience.

So I've pretty much blown out my reserves putting together this deck and subsidised it by selling off most of the valuable cards I don't need (like an Ugin). My natural aptitude is what it is, by definition it's not something any of us can alter. The rest comes from experience, learning and understanding the plays and counterplays as one practices against other decks in the meta and decks that come from out of left field and do unexpected things.

The strength of Atarka Red is that it's so brutal it flat out beats decks that can't contain it. That is, if my opponent is focused on building his own strategy rather than removing my creatures or otherwise breaking my game flow I'm likely to win. It kills so fast left undisrupted and can cope with several removal spells and still go on for a win depending on the draws.

For Standard format the 8 player Swiss listed on Goatbot EV isn't an option so my choices are:
Standard Daily Swiss
Standard Single Elimination
Standard 
Standard League

The Daily Swiss concentrates its payouts at the top. You play 4 matches and you get a ton of prizes for winning all 4, a good payout for winning 3 and nothing for winning 2, 1 or 0. This makes it a very punishing format for new players. This format actually is the first to become EV positive with rising win rate. At 52% win rate currently you are net positive. However that is heavily skewed towards the top end so 52% win rate with high variance is great but consistently scoring 2 wins - 2 losses is terrible even if it's around 50%.

The Single Elimination is much more accessible. Win one match and you win enough Play Points to enter another one. Win more than one and you get substantial rewards though nowhere near what a Daily winner gets. Even if you're really bad you will sometimes get a payout simply because your opponent got awful draws.

The Standard 2 player is the worst EV of the Constructed formats for good players but the best for bad players. Even if you never win (0% win rate) you still get some rewards in this format.

Standard League has the lowest EV loss per game which makes it a good choice at the gaining experience stage of our MTGO careers.

Now let's talk about rewards. I have a slightly different valuation on some of the rewards to the Goatbot calculator.

Play Points are valued at 0.10 which I agree with and forms a good base line. If you're a very good player you may find you win more Play Points than you could possibly spend at which point the value of these is zero until you run out and find yourself needing to build them up again. For a rookie you can always spend your Play Points. If you start to build up more than you spend grinding optimal formats like 2 players Standard then you can splash them on some events that are fun but really bad EV like Limited events and prerelease events. Only a pretty advanced player will not have a 0.10c value on a Play Point. In fact for a newbie I'd say Play Points are the best type of prize since you can just use them with no hassle trying to sell something to another player or bot.

Boosters are sellable to the bots for close to list price. At this stage in a set's life the value of boosters may be going down as people win more than they open. This was a terrible problem before Play Points were introduced a couple of months ago with some 4.00 boosters sinking to under 2.00 on the secondary market because of flooding caused by how much players won as prizes. It's very unlikely the current set will ever sink down to that level but in theory it could happen if not many people want to play Limited and the 8 or 16 man Constructed tournaments are paying out a lot of packs.

QPs are valued at 0 and I think they're worth a bit more than that. 15 QPs gives you a free entry into a MOCS season preliminary tournament where you probably won't win anything but it could be pretty exciting. You need 5 wins from 6 games to get into the next stage, there's no prizes except a Promo card in this tournament.

35 QPs or getting 5 or 6 wins in a Prelim puts you into a MOCS Final where there's very big payouts for the top 32 and even an invitation to professional tour for the first place winner.

QPs are worth nothing if under 15 are collected during the qualifying month, are worth a little to a new player, mostly for the fun of being in a higher level tournament if you have 15-34 and are definitely worthwhile if you have 35+ since a rookie could get lucky and finish in the top 32 or better.

Opened cards form part of the EV from Limited events and I suspect they're overvalued. You should be able to sell your premium cards but a junk card might be listed at 0.01c but no one will ever buy it off you.

I currently have 80 Play Points and 15 Event tickets so I'm going to try out some events and see how I get on. Hopefully I'll be able to keep going for some time before I run out of currency to enter events, maybe I'll even hit the magic number where I win more than the events cost.

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