Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has been available on MTG Arena for several weeks now. In that time I’ve been (mostly) sticking to my own rules set forth in our Free to Play Guide. The guidelines are pretty simple. Only play draft. Pick every rare and mythic rare. Track results in a spreadsheet (we provide). Don’t open your packs until the spreadsheet says so.

Easy, right?

After two sealed events and fourteen premier drafts, I had 106 packs of Ikoria burning a hole in my pocket. Fifty of them came from the pre-order, 32 came from draft prizes, and the rest came as a combination of sealed deck prizes, promo codes, and the mastery pass rewards. Even though my spreadsheet still said I needed to draft six more times in order to get to 100% of the rares, I have content to create and decided to crack them all early.

Do as I say not as I do, kids.

After opening all those packs plus cards I had already acquired from limited events and the pre-order, I was sitting on 24 mythic rares (40% completion), 172 rares (81.1% completion), and 271 uncommons (84.7% completion). I also got a ton of wildcards and a vault opening. Right now I have 49 rare and 20 mythic rare wildcards. Not a bad haul.

With that out of the way I want to talk about the experience of rare drafting this set. If there’s any downside to the free to play strategy that we’ve come up with to minimize our costs, its that we have to rare draft, which can be not fun at all. Ikoria has been a double-edged sword for rare drafting. On the one hand we always end up with bombs in five colors and we almost never have a deck built around a central theme because we had to pass up key uncommons. On the other hand, we get passed a ton of rares.

Over the course of 14 premier drafts on MTG Arena (so against real people not bots) I acquired an average of 5.5 rares each draft as well as 0.7 mythic rares. That means I was being passed an average of three rares each draft. For comparison, when drafting against the bots during Theros Beyond Death season, I averaged 3.46 rares and 0.31 mythic rares, meaning on average the bots were passing me just under one rare per draft.

My win percentage over the course of 13 THB drafts (I had to cut my season short because of COVID-19) was 47.95% (rare drafting is hard). My win percentage over the course of 14 IKO drafts so far is 48.75%, essentially the same. I managed to get to the magical three win mark in six of 14 drafts, and managed a positive result (5+ wins) twice.

I’ve talked about the EV of Premier Drafts vs Quick Drafts before. Based on my performance in Premier Draft, I might want to consider switching to Quick Draft once it returns with Ikoria. The reason is that essentially, to make Premier Draft worthwhile you need to average a three-win finish. I fell just short of that mark.

Now that I no longer need to rare draft though, will my performance go up? Almost certainly! Consider drafting a fun Mardu cycling deck and you have a lot of key components. In pack three you open Emergent Ultimatum and one of the uncommons is Easy Prey. Of course you should take Easy Prey, but because of the rules I’d pick Emergent Ultimatum, likely costing myself a chance at hitting that three-win mark.

Since my acquisition period of Ikoria season is complete, what will I be doing? Good question! For the moment I’m working my way up the Standard Ranked ladder with a mono-Black Lurrus deck, which is a strong candidate for an entry-level budget deck for the free-to-play crowd.

I have essentially finished acquiring cards from Ikoria, Theros, and Throne of Eldraine, with enough wildcards to cover anything I’m missing. But I could start working backwards through the rest of Standard and work on acquiring Magic 2020, War of the Spark, Ravnica Allegiance and Guilds of Ravnica. This would continue to help me with Standard and Historic when everything rotates later this year.

Rare drafting isn’t fun, but I still believe its worth the cost. I spent $100 for the pre-order bundles, and in return I only had to spend three weeks drafting (14 drafts and two sealed events) in order to basically collect the whole set. Since two of the sealed events were free from the preorder and two of the drafts were free (one from Wizards, one as a Mastery Pass reward), I ended up spending 7,450 gems to acquire 172 rares and 24 mythic rares, a rate of 38 gems per rare. If you add in the $100 pre-order, which is essentially 20,000 gems, I spent 140 gems per rare.

If you were able to open a perfect collection of rares and mythic rares in every pack, you would need a minimum of 272 packs. At a retail cost of 200 gems apiece, that’s 54,400 gems. We essentially spent 27,450 gems, half that amount, to acquire 80% of the rares and 40% of the mythic rares (plus enough wildcards to get almost all the way there).

Is that worth the emotional cost of rare drafting? I think so.

Come back next week when we talk about how to grow our pile of gold and gems by grinding the Standard ranked ladder. We’re super excited by the announcement of a Historic ranked ladder because you should never ever ever ever ever spend your gold on Constructed events if you know what’s good for you!

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