Last week I published my updated MTG Arena free to play guide with the release of Ikoria, along with an updated collection tracking spreadsheet to help everyone do their best to avoid spending money on Magic cards. The biggest follow-up question I got concerned the newly announced Premier Draft mode. At the time, I hadn’t had enough of an opportunity to fully digest the new format, but now that I have I can talk all about what it means for our free to play plans.

When we’re looking at the EV of Limited events, we’re always talking about the number of rares we acquire. The goal is to get every rare as cheaply as possible so we can be fully loaded to play whatever constructed formats or events float our boat. The magic number is 212 rares, four copies of every rare that appears in booster packs. Limited events have three types of prizes that we’re interested in:

  • Gems which are used to pay for future drafts
  • Booster packs which will eventually be opened all at once to finish our collection
  • Rares that we opened during the draft which increase the size of our collection

For example, if you enter a Premier Draft and finish with three wins and three losses you win the following prizes: 1,000 gems (66.7% of a draft), 2 packs (1.6 rares), and all the rares you drafted. If you enter a Quick Draft and finish with three wins and three losses you win the following prizes: 300 gems (40% of a draft), 1.24 packs (0.992 rares), and all the rares you drafted. That seems to give the advantage to Premier Draft, no? Well it depends on how many wins you can muster consistently.

This table shows the first two rewards, gems and packs, compared between Premier and Quick draft for every number of wins you can finish with. Column D shows us which format gives us better gems as the difference in the percentage of the cost of our next draft, while column G shows us which format gives us better packs represented by the difference in expected rares. At zero wins, this shows us that Quick Draft gives us 4% more of the cost of our next draft in gems and 0.16 more expected rares from packs. At seven wins, this shows us that Premier Draft gives us 20% more of the cost of our next draft in gems and 3.2 more expected rares (wow) in packs.

At every level except for two wins there’s a clear preference. At two wins we get 10% more of our next draft cost with Quick Draft but 0.61 more rares with Premier Draft. Which one is worth more? That brings us to the final prize: the number of rares we open. This number is usually at least three because on average we’re opening three rares in every draft. You’ll statistically open a mythic rare in every third draft you do, so technically this number is at least 2.65. So 10% of that payout is 0.27 rares, which means its less than 0.61 rares and if you average 2 wins per draft, Quick draft has more value.

From this chart we can pretty easily say this: Based on gems and packs, if you can consistently clear the three win bar—essentially a 50% win rate—then you should absolutely be playing Premier Drafts instead of Quick Drafts. If you find that you’re often falling short of that mark, then you’re probably getting more value out of Quick Drafts. But let me throw a pretty wild wrench in the works here. What if the average number of rares you pull isn’t the same in each format?

When I was drafting Theros, over the course of almost 20 drafts I averaged 3.46 rares and 0.31 mythic rares per draft (these numbers are tracked in the spreadsheet for you). That’s about one full rare higher than expected—not too bad. This was obviously all quick drafts against bots. Since Ikoria was released, I’ve done seven drafts and I’m averaging 5.29 rares and 0.57 mythic rares. That’s very nearly double in both respects. So what if we take those gem prizes and convert them into a number of rares based on earning 3.46 rares in a Quick Draft and 5.29 rares in a Premier Draft?

Based on my personal stats in Theros Quick Draft vs. Ikoria Premier Draft, my expected value at a 3-3 record is 5.14 rares for Premier Draft and 2.39 rares for Quick Draft. That seems like a pretty clear indicator that I should be playing Premier Drafts if I think I can manage three wins every time. But we’re still missing two pieces of data: the rares we drafted as prizes and the cost of entry. Let’s see what happens when we look at the EV table one last time but with these factors involved.

Well that paints a slightly different picture, doesn’t it? For every single final record possibility, given my personal opening record of 5.29 rares per Premier Draft and 3.46 rares per Quick Draft, i’m spending fewer gems per rare. The difference at the low end is absolutely staggering. As we already knew previously, even at zero wins Quick Draft is incredible value with a savings of 90 gems per rare over the pack cost (250 gems/rare is our baseline).

Obviously there are a lot of caveats here. Most importantly this is a very small sample size. I’ll be interested to see how these numbers change and what kind of numbers everyone in the community starts to see. Secondly, I’m comparing quick draft numbers from Theros with Premier draft numbers from Ikoria. It’s entirely possible that because Ikoria is a tri-color set, the bots will pass more rares along than they did in Theros. Lastly, I’m assuming my win rate will be the same. If I average four wins in the Premier Draft but only three wins in Quick Draft then it’s actually better to go with Premier draft.

All of this is to say there are a lot more variables that need to be taken into consideration when we calculate the EV of our draft experience, but it can be done. I regret that I wasn’t able to do this kind of analysis before Ikoria released so this kind of math isn’t included in the tracker spreadsheet. The next version will absolutely include this EV calculation logic so you can dynamically make the best decision about which format to play in the future.

The conclusion is not clear. Your personal win record in each format as well as how many rares you pull in each format will both affect the decision-making process. With enough data we can start to extrapolate that information, but at the start of a format it’s hard to do so. Ikoria seems like the kind of set where a lot of rares will be passed because of the tri-color nature and how that limits options. If you drafted Mardu for packs one and two and open a Simic rare you won’t think twice about passing it. Will the bots do the same? Unclear. A lot of research needs to be done to help make a blanket statement.

Quick Draft still always provides positive value compared to paying face-value for packs. Premier draft does not. For that reason alone you may choose to stick to Quick Draft just to make sure you’re getting some value. In the meantime I created a quick and dirty EV calculator that you can find here and looks like this. Just fill in your own values for the number of rares you expect to open in Premier or Quick draft and the calculations should all flow through. Remember, this table assumes that you will get the same number of wins in either format. If you feel like your record is different in each format, then make sure you compare the appropriate value in column F to the appropriate value in column K to make your decision.

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