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The MTG Arena Economy Has to Change


If you've played MTG Arena for any significant amount of time, you're likely all too familiar with their economy, especially so if you play in any sort of competitive capacity.

In a nutshell...it's absolutely terrible, bordering on predatory. My biggest problem with the philosophy of the MTG Arena economy is that they had so many healthy economies to build onto from so many other digital card games. Instead, it seems like Wizards took none of the good parts and a handful of the bad parts when they were creating their system.

As a content creator by profession, and someone who streams almost exclusively Magic: The Gathering up to six days a week, I'm someone who interacts with various digital Magic clients a good deal. Today, I want to go over some of my biggest gripes with the MTG Arena economy.

Why Do I Have 9 Copies of This Card?

I feel like "9" is being a little generous. While there's no way to view your collection by card number (unfortunately), Duress is usually my go to when I want to rant about having an unreasonable number of the same card in my collection. Right now I have a ridiculous 20 copies of Duress in my collection. Four from Ixalan, M19, M20, M21, and four alternate art from M19. This is one of numerous cards that simply gum up my collection for literally zero benefit. I also have 16 copies of Opt. I have 16 copies of Return to Nature. I have 12 copies of Revitalize. Why do I need this? Why does anyone need this?!

In White alone, these are the duplicates I was able to count:

This is so many duplicates, taking up space and forcing extra clicks every time you want to look through your collection or build a deck. You may think this is trivial, but it adds up, and it provides a poor UI experience. And this is just the Mono-White cards!

But Frank, how does this affect the economy?

Well, aside from providing the poor UI experience I mentioned above, there's no way to ever get value from these cards! EVER! Imagine we're talking about rares. You already have a full playset of shock lands. Now a new set comes out with more shock lands. Instead of being able to "dust" whatever extras you have for gems or wild cards...you just get more shocklands that serve literally no function! If they have different art, I understand you may want to choose which art to use, but there's absolutely no reason you need 8 copies of digital cards to utilize an alternate art. Every card over a fifth you acquire from a different set is literally useless.

For those who don't know, "dusting" is an economic ability in other digital card games like Hearthstone and Elder Scrolls: Legends. Essentially, it means you can get rid of any card in your entire collection to get a portion of value from that card. In Hearthstone, for example, you get 1/4 of that card's value in dust.

For example, in Hearthstone it costs 4,000 dust to make a Legendary card. Legendary cards are basically their "mythic" cards, but you can only play one per deck. If you have two of the same Legendary card, you're able to "dust" your second copy for 1,000 dust. This means that every four extra cards you have turn into another card of that same rarity. But the fact that they give you generic dust to use however you desire means that you can dust uncommons and use that toward rarer cards.

Dusting is an extremely beneficial ability. It makes your collection more manageable in size, it gives a much more positive UI experience as you're not scrolling past duplicate after duplicate that you will never use (seriously, it's not like I need eight Daybreak Chaplains because I'm using them in two different decks), and best of all, it gives you residual value from all the junk you've opened. I guarantee you some 70% of my MTG Arena collection is actual junk like Compulsory Rest and Cabal Evangel that I will never deliberately put into a Constructed deck for as long as I live. And likely neither will you. I can't trade them. I can't sell them. They are stuck in my collection for me to scroll past every time I'm looking for cards I actually want to play with.

I'm no software programmer, but I also don't know how collections that simply get larger and larger, with no sign of slowing down and no way to downsize, are sustainable in the long term. I know for a fact that Magic Online takes longer to load based on the size of your collection. I'm not sure if that's how MTG Arena works, but surely every person having the ability to shrink their collections is a net positive.

Gems Are Clearly Priceless

Gems, as an in-game currency, are terrible. I mean, the idea is sound, but good lord are they exploitative. Gems are the primary way you make purchases in the game, and also one of the primary prize payouts. But you'd think Wizards was giving out actual gems with the way they handle it. Let me give some examples.

On Magic Online, it costs you 100 Play Points for a Draft, which is essentially $10. If you end up going 2-1 you get 100 Play Points back, which allows the Draft to pay for itself. If you go 3-0 you get 150, and if you go 1-2 you get 50. These are extremely reasonable pay outs, and they take place on a client that allows you to actually trade and "sell" the cards you open. (I suppose that's what the pesky "T" in TCG stands for).

On MTG Arena, that same Draft costs you 1,500 Gems, which have different price points depending on how many you buy. There are five options.

750 Gems are $4.99 or $5 (I'll round these up for clarity).

At this rate a single Draft costs you $10.

1,600 Gems cost you $10.

At this rate a single Draft costs you $9.38.

3,400 Gems cost you $20.

At this rate a single Draft costs you $8.82.

9,200 Gems cost you $50.

At this rate a single Draft costs you $8.15.

20,000 Gems cost you $100.

At this rate a single Draft costs you $7.5.

While a slight discount scales here, if you're willing to spend $100 on Gems, you can get your Drafts for $7.50 each. While that may seem reasonable, let's take a look at the payouts. I'm personally a fan of Traditional, which just means Best of 3, rather than Best of 1.

If you win all three of your rounds in a Traditional Draft you get 3,000 Gems and six packs. This isn't bad, as it basically nets you two more Drafts.

If you win two of your rounds in a Traditional Draft you get 1,000 Gems and four packs. If you win 66% of your matches, you get 66% of an entry into another Draft, unlike Magic Online, which would have awarded you another try.

If you win only one single round in a Traditional Draft you get...one single pack. That's it. No Gems. No Gold (which is another currency that's given out). Just a pack. Not a single credit toward entering your next event.

This past weekend, I did three Sealed events for the MTG Arena Sealed Open. They cost 4,500 Gems each, or about $22. I was fine with this. In my last event I ended up going 6-3, one win shy of qualifying for Day 2. You know how many Gems I received for my trouble? 1,600. Barely 1/3 of my entry fee. Getting seven wins only got you 2,000 Gems, which still isn't half of a single entry! I don't understand these arbitrary payouts. Receiving six wins is literally the closest you can possibly come to qualifying, and even that doesn't net you a second try.

To say I don't grasp the MTG Arena prize structure in the least, aside from having to assume it's meant to squeeze every last Gem from players' collections, forcing them to buy more from the store, would be an understatement.

Duplicate "Protection," If We Can Call It That

Talking back to Hearthstone, a while back they implemented a form of duplicate protection. This meant that if you already had one copy of a Legendary card, you wouldn't open another copy of that same Legendary when opening packs from that same set.

If you happened to have all of the Legendary cards in the set, you'd open a random one, so you still got a Legendary card to dust, giving you the full amount of dust (1,000). This was great! Until you had the entire set of Legendary cards in a given set, you'd never open a duplicate, which would essentially be the same as opening only 1/4 of any other Legendary card.

If MTG Arena used the Hearthstone system, every time you opened a rare you already had four of, it would enter your collection, and you could dust it for 1/4 of any other rare. That means if you end up drafting four rares you already own, you basically get a rare Wildcard, allowing you to craft whatever rare you wanted. Or you could put those rares toward a mythic. The sky would be the limit!

But what actually happens?

Well, when you have an entire playset of the rares in a set, every additional rare you open... becomes 20 Gems. Every time you open a fifth copy of a rare you already have a playset of in a Draft you get the same 20 Gems.

20. Gems.

Based on the math we used above, 20 Gems is the equivalent of 1/75 of a Draft, or between $0.10 and $0.13 per rare.

On the bright side, when the same thing happens to a mythic you already have a playset of, you get a massive 40 Gems.

For the mathematically challenged, that's the equivalent of 2/75 of a Draft, or between $0.20 and $0.26 per mythic.

Opened a Valki, God of Lies in a Draft, but already have a playset? Enjoy your quarter, little Jimmy! Do it 37 more times and your next Draft is on us!

Out of all the issues I have with the MTG Arena economy, when I write it out in this way, this one strikes me as the most egregious. When I have a full playset of Drowned Catacombs from Ixalan, and I'm drafting the next set that contains them, the next one I open is LITERALLY worthless. It is a fifth copy of a card that has no value beyond my initial four. When I hit my fifth Drowned Catacombs from that set, I get the equivalent of a dime and no replacement rare or mythic card.

If this same thing happens with a common or uncommon, you get actual nothing. If I do 40 Drafts while having a complete set of commons and uncommons in a set, assuming I draft 20 uncommons and commons per Draft, those 800 cards just vanish into thin air!

Meanwhile in Hearthstone, you can accumulate countless commons and uncommons, only to dust them and add to your collection of in game currency.

The only corollary to this in MTG Arena is the Vault. When you reach 100% Vault progress, you receive one mythic, two rare, and three uncommon wildcards. So how do you accumulate Vault Progress?

Vault progress only counts the cards you already have four of. Every fifth common is valued at 1 point, every fifth uncommon at 3 points, and you have to reach 1,000 points. So again, if we're using the example above, let's say every Draft I open 5 uncommons and 18 commons for my playables for 33 total points. (We're assuming every card I open is a fifth for us, which it won't be in normal situations.) Assuming we're not opening any individual packs that further our progress, it would take us 30 DRAFTS to get our Vault reward of one mythic, two rare, and three uncommon wildcards.

Sometimes when I write it all out, it's hard to wrap my head around how ridiculously paltry the rewards are. And don't even get me started on the Mastery Track reward cards that end up being things like Attended Healer or Skyclave Pick-Axe, cards that literally no one has ever built a Constructed deck with in the history of MTG Arena. No one! Ever! Why are these even given out!? I can't even get rid of them!

Am I begrudging Wizards, a business that relies on profits to stay in business, for trying to make money? No! Not at all! In fact, whenever someone calls something like Secret Lairs a "cash grab," I internally and externally laugh, because... what else do you call a product that a business produces? Literally everything they sell is an attempt to "grab cash," with the difference for something like Secret lairs being that you don't actually need them to play the game. Heck, I spent over $1k on Secret Lairs recently, because I really liked some of them! I will and do spend money with Wizards of the Coast. My point is that this is just a comically bad use of the term. If Hasbro was producing Monopoly games that didn't include the dice, then went on to sell the dice separately for more money, that is a cash grab. All that being said, Wizards of the Coast, please, try and grab as much cash as possible, because the more you grab, the better Magic will be and the longer it will be around!

Where am I going with all of this? Basically, the point I'm trying to make is that I'm not someone who decries when Wizards pushes clear attempts to make money, especially when it comes at no cost to the players. But I don't think the Arena situation falls under that category. I think there is a time and a place to offer "premium" products and services to your customers, and I think the way the MTG Arena economy is handled is borderline predatory, and that's really unfortunate to have to say as someone whose sole source of income comes from Magic: The Gathering in various forms.

But I'd love to hear what you all think. I know I always ask you to leave your opinions in the comments below, but this time I would especially appreciate that. What is your experience with MTG Arena, and its economy? Does the collection feature need work? Please sound off and tell me if I'm crazy, or if I hit the nail on the head.

As always, thank you all so much for reading, I love ya, stay safe, and I'll catch you next week!

Frank Lepore

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