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Magic the Classroom #71 – Pinching Pennies


Catchy title, huh? Everybody today is looking for ways to save a cent or two. Today, I would like to share with you a couple of money-saving actions I’ve been taking for a few months with some solid success.

At the Pumps

The first thing I want to share with you isn’t Magic-related at all but might help you buy an extra pack or two. Have you ever considered upgrading your gasoline? I’m worldly enough to say this is true of all places, but in my area, every gas station has three choices of regular gasoline: 87, 89, or 91 octane. The higher octanes cost more, so most people blindly grab the 87 hose and fill up. However, if you look at the numbers, you may find this to be a fiscal mistake.

Since the 1990s, I’ve been doing a regular math lesson with my basic math students. That lesson is simply figuring out miles per gallon for a vehicle. Normally, we figure the MPG for about a dozen different cars. The math itself is easy. Just remember the word “per” means “divide,” and take your miles divided by your gallons. The trick is to figure out how many miles you drove and how many gallons you used. It’s almost alarming how many students will first attempt to only use 1 gallon. In fact, I’ve had students with stranded cars as they ran out of gas.

In case you don’t know, you need to fill your tank up and write down your odometer number. Drive until you’ve used a vast majority of the tank. The closer you get to empty, the more accurate your numbers will be. When you get gas again, make sure you fill up. The amount of gas it takes to fill back up is the amount of gas you used. Take your new odometer reading and subtract the old one from it. This is the number of miles you drove to use that much gas. Divide and you get your number.

But . . . how can that save you money? What you need to do is repeat this process for 87, 89, and 91 octanes. What should happen is you will find an increase in your miles per gallon as you increase the octane. The amount of increase is often disproportional to the increase in price. The lower your MPG with 87 the more dramatic the increase is. For example, my Chevy truck gets about a 12% increase using 91 instead of 87 octane. That means that as long as the cost of 91 is less than 12% higher than 87, I’m saving cash.

How am I saving cash? Let’s compare two scenarios. For our first example, we will spend exactly $100 on gas. Now, my tank can’t hold that much gas, but $100 is an easy number to start with. Today, at my local gas station, gas cost $3.23 for 87 and $3.43 for 91. The 20-cent increase has been the standard for at least a decade. My vehicle gets 17.1 MPG on 87 and 19.2 when using 91.

With those numbers, $100 will yield the following: $100 divided by 3.23 gives us approximately 30.96 gallons. Then multiply by my MPG of 17.1 and you end up going 529.4 miles on our $100 budget.

Now, under 91 octane, $100 will buy us 29.15 gallons. This may seem counterintuitive to buy fewer gallons, but when you multiply the higher MPG, we end up going 559.8 miles. So, at today’s numbers, I am gaining 0.3 miles per dollar spent.

We can do the math with a needed number of miles or exact number of gallons, and it always works out that my pocketbook is going further than it would with a lower octane. Plus, the added bonus of being greener by consuming less fuel in general. I also get the added perk of less time at the gas station, since I always fill up but typically drive the same distance. So I go farther between each stop.

At the Keyboard

For me, gas is a required need—and unfortunately, so is Magic. Whenever I’m online for a few hours, I like to participate is something more than casual games. I used to be huge on jumping the various drafts available. I spent a lot of time comparing 8–4’s with 4–3–2–2 and Swiss drafts. The difference in these drafts is predominantly skill-based. Basically, the stronger a player you think you are, the bigger the first number in your draft needs to be. I play 4–3–2–2 more than anything else, and I feel I do pretty well, but I’ve found a better way to max the values of my packs.

The best way to open you packs is the four-pack Sealed format. When online, you can find them by clicking Menu > Play > Tournaments > Sealed. The cost is product only, so if you have four packs, you can play. After eight players sign up, you open your four packs and build and play. The decks required only thirty cards minimum, so deck-building is different from your normal Sealed. The real surprise is how much you can win from playing.

With eight players, each player gets to play three rounds, no matter what. If you go undefeated, you garner five packs. With a record of 2–1, you gain three, and with a 1–2 record, Wizards slides you a solitary pack. Only one player of the eight receives no fruit for his labors, but even that guy retains the four packs he opened.

Let’s look at the math in this system. Just like with the gas example, we will start with the max number for our number of packs. In this case, we’ll start with one hundred packs. And for our math, we’ll assume that all players are equal. Of course, not all of us are equal, and a player with a weaker card pool may pull out wins that his random packs don’t deserve. To attempt to monitor and use a value for these skills is beyond any math that I want to consider. So we’ll make it easy and say all Magic players have equal play skill.

With that equality, we can assign a percentage to each level of rewards.

# of packs won # of players in this group % of players in this group
5 packs 1 out of 8 12.5%
3 packs 3 out of 8 37.5%
1 pack 3 out of 8 37.5%
0 packs 1 out of 8 12.5%

For the cost of our one hundred packs, we can play twenty-five times. With these numbers, we would net the top prize three times, triple packs nine times, and the solitary pack nine times for a total of fifty-one packs. Notice I left the one game that is rounded off in the total loss category, when it really would have yielded one or three packs statistically.

Now we reinvest our earnings. Fifty-one packs would allow us twelve games with three packs left over. Twelve games would net at least one overall victory, four of the two-win category, and five of the one-win category. Once again, to play it safe, I rounded down. Add to a leftover three packs another sixteen in winnings for a grand sum of nineteen packs.

Four more competitions netting one of each level (rounded up this time) plus the leftovers gives us twelve packs in storage. Then, three queues later, we would have four packs left. Finally, our last round would most likely give up one or three packs.

Now total it all up. We end up opening one hundred eighty packs with a few left to spare. Ignore the extra packs for conservative estimates. The starting one hundred would cost us $400. One hundred eighty packs for $400 give us a resulting $2.22 per pack. If you compare that to the expected pack value of any given set, you come out ahead in value. Plus, you entertained yourself with forty-six tournaments. That makes me go to four-pack Sealed almost exclusively. Now I’m just waiting for the Innistrad set to become normally played. Online, it’s still a release event, which has a higher cost.

Theory in Practice

I started funneling my efforts to the four-pack Sealed when M12 came out, and I’m above the numbers that I used in my theoretical data. Since M12 came out, I’ve purchased two Sealed Event Packs. I can’t recall the price of my initial outlay, but I fared very well with those twelve packs. All the packs that I earned, I channeled into four-pack Sealed. As of today, I haven’t had enough spare hours to use all the packs that I’ve earned. Ten of them are still in my binder. But what has my two-pack decrease gotten me? Thirty-eight packs won. That’s right, between the release Sealed tourneys and multiple four-pack Sealed since, I’ve gained thirty-eight packs. Just wanted to brag a little.

In a future classroom, look for my reevaluation of Sealed building when dealing with four-pack Sealed.

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