Welcome to Zendikar Rising and a brand-new rotated Standard environment! The newest Magic expansion arrives on MTG Arena with today’s update. It’s like Christmas in the middle of September, in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of—you know what let’s not ruin the moment.

Today we’re going to talk about how you, yes you, can collect four copies of every single rare card in Zendikar Rising for free (or as little money as you feel like spending on your Arena collection). All of this is thanks to a little thing called duplicate protection.

Duplicate Protection

Duplicate protection was introduced to Arena in January of 2019 while the platform was still in beta testing. It was created to address player concerns about the ability to collect complete sets. Here’s how it works:

MTG Arena Duplicate Protection

MTG Arena Duplicate Protection

Easy, right?

This system means that you can open a certain number of packs (approximate) and be guaranteed four copies of every single rare. The reason I say “approximate” there is because the rare slot in each pack isn’t always going to contain a rare. According to the official promotional drop rates, the rare slot in each pack works like this:

  • Approximately 1:8 packs will upgrade the rare card to a mythic rare
  • Approximately 1:30 packs will upgrade to a rare or mythic rare wildcard

So ignoring the “approximate” part we have a 87.5% chance of opening a rare. We’re going to ignore the wildcards for now because a rare wildcard is essentially as good as a rare (you can use them to finish off your set).

Zendikar Rising has 63 rares in it, which is 10 more than most recent Standard expansions have had (this is due, I assume, to the addition of double-faced cards). If you want four copies of each one you’re looking for 252 rares. Since you have an 87.5% chance of getting one in each pack, you need 288 packs. Open them all and you’re done!

But that’s expensive. A pack on Arena is essentially going to cost you $1 USD so if you’re willing to shell out $300 for each expansion you can just buy packs, crack ‘em all, and be done with it. You’re not going to do that though are you? After all, you wouldn’t be 400 words into an article on how to collect this set for free if you were just going to plop down $300 to do it!

So how do we do this for free (or as close to free as possible)? Rare drafting.

Rare Drafting

You don’t have to spend a penny on MTG Arena. Wizards of the Coast gives you free coins in-game every single day just for showing up. You have daily quest coins, season/mastery pass coins, coins from events, and coins for daily/weekly win markers. Every 1,000 coins gets you a pack. If you can amass 288,000 coins you can get all the packs you need for Zendikar Rising!

Rare drafting is how we reduce that number.

Let’s talk about expected value, something you may be familiar with in the gaming community by the initials “EV.” Outside of limited events in Arena, the expected value of a pack is 0.875 rares. Since a pack costs 1,000 coins (or 200 gems) we can calculate the EV of an event in terms of rares acquired per coin spent.

From this point on I’m going to talk about EV in terms of gems, not coins. This is for two reasons:

  1. Limited events all reward gems, not coins
  2. Limited event entry fees are cheaper if you spend gems

A pack bought in the store in Arena costs 200 gems and yields 0.875 rares. This is our baseline EV. Our goal as a free-to-play gamer is to increase our value as much as possible. We want to acquire the most rares we can for the least amount of gems we spend.

Are you ready to have your mind blown?

A quick draft costs 750 gems, which is the equivalent of 3.75 booster packs. If you spent these gems on packs in the store you would acquire 3.28 rares. That’s our baseline for comparing EV.

Draft packs don’t yield wildcards but have the same 1:8 rate of upgrading from rare to mythic rare. You open three packs in your draft. You pick the rare in each pack you open and acquire 2.63 rares.If at this point you resign from the draft you are awarded 50 gems and one pack. You have a 20% chance to get a second pack.

You’ve essentially spent 700 gems to acquire 2.63 rares and 1.2 packs, which should yield another 1.05 rares. That’s a total of 3.68 rares. Our baseline for comparison was opening packs from the store, which would yield 3.28 rares. By simply rare drafting in a quick draft we’ve improved our EV from 229 gems per rare acquired to 190 gems per rare acquired.

If you’re trying to acquire 252 rares that’s a savings of 9,828 gems, the equivalent of just about $49 if you bought gems from the store.

At this point the question isn’t whether or not you should be drafting, but rather about how to best go about doing it. There are a lot of trade-offs to consider and a lot of variables in play which we are going to discuss. These can be thought of as existing on a scale from low-risk/low-reward to high-risk/high-reward.

Low Risk: Rare Drafting
High Risk: Skill Drafting

In the above example we’re taking advantage of the fact that you open three packs from which you can take the rare card. However, it may often be more advantageous to take non-rares to build a better deck and post a better result in the draft.

If you draft zero rares you’re relying on winning games to improve your return. Here’s what the EV looks like for quick drafting if there are no rares in your prize pool:

  • 0-3: 700 Gems for 1.05 Rares = 667 gems per rare (191% worse than baseline)
  • 1-3: 650 Gems for 1.07 Rares = 607 gems per rare (165% worse)
  • 2-3: 550 Gems for 1.09 Rares = 505 gems per rare (120% worse)
  • 3-3: 450 Gems for 1.10 Rares = 409 gems per rare (78% worse)
  • 4-3: 300 Gems for 1.14 Rares = 263 gems per rare (15% worse)
  • 5-3: 100 Gems for 1.18 Rares = 85 gems per rare (63% better)
  • 6-3: -100 Gems for 1.23 Rares = -80 gems per rare (134% better)
  • 7-x: -200 Gems for 1.75 Rares = -114 gems per rare (150% better)

If you choose to skill draft over rare drafting you need to consistently finish with at least five wins to make it worthwhile compared to the baseline of just opening packs. If you can’t bring yourself to rare-draft, or you can’t consistently put up five wins, then this method isn’t for you.

Low Risk: Quick Drafting
High Risk: Premier Drafting

The allure of Premier Drafting is very high but there are added risks and rewards. First and foremost, our baseline of rare-drafting and then resigning isn’t as guaranteed. If no other player passes you any rare cards, you’ll end up losing value. This is going to be a rare occurrence though, as human players are much more likely to pass rares than the computer bots in quick drafts.

Premier drafts cost 1500 gems, double the price of a quick draft. If you don’t win any matches, the prize is a measly 50 gems and a single pack. That means you spent 1,450 gems on a pack, over 7x the market rate.

In order to break even, meaning you meet the baseline EV of 229 gems spent per rare acquired, you would need to acquire 6.3 rares. The one pack you win is worth 0.875 rares which means you’re short about 5.5 rares.

Your mileage on hitting this mark may vary, which is why I consider Premier Drafting higher risk than Quick Drafting. That said, the rewards are also much greater. Consider this scenario:

Cough up 1500 gems for a Premier Draft. Open three rares in your packs which you keep. Get passed another two rares which you keep. Finish with a 3-3 record. Your prize is 1000 gems and two booster packs. What’s your EV?

74 gems spent per rare acquired!

This is what I call the “average” scenario for premier drafting, but make no mistake, there are definitely risks involved and this requires you to likely be a mediocre-to-above-average limited player, because you’re going to have to make some sub-optimal picks as you’re rare-drafting instead of skill drafting.

Ultimately you should make the decision to do what’s most fun for you. My advice is as follows. If you’re not really great at drafting, and not really interested in Premier drafts, go with the Quick draft queue. You’ll be done faster and you’ll be guaranteed to outperform the market. It’s the “safe” investment.

If you’re decent at drafting (or at least think you are) and if you enjoy drafting against human opponents, then I recommend giving premier drafting a try. If you get a few drafts in and you’re struggling to get to the three win mark consistently, switch to Quick drafts until you understand the format a little better.

This advice similarly applies to spending coins on drafts. Quick drafts will pay out fewer gems but will do so more consistently. Premier drafts could magically transform 10,000 coins into 2,200 gems (more than doubling your money) but the odds are much slimmer and it’s more likely you’ll turn 10,000 coins into 250 gems (an 87.5% loss).

Living the Free to Play Life

Now that you understand the theory at play here and the math involved, it’s time to learn the simple rules for maximizing your efficiency on MTG Arena and set you on the path to collecting full sets of every rare.

The Rules

  1. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, open any packs of Zendikar Rising until the spreadsheet tells you to do so.
  2. Make a copy of this spreadsheet (do not ask for access to edit it, I will not grant you said acces) in your own Google drive.
  3. Any time you acquire a rare (or mythic rare or uncommon if you choose) mark it on the left side of the appropriate tab (organized by expansion symbol).
  4. Any time you acquire a pack of Zendikar Rising (or whatever expansion you want to track) update the number of packs you own in the spreadsheet.
  5. Whenever you have the requisite currency, enter a draft (Quick draft for low-risk/low-reward, Premier draft for high-risk/high-reward)
  6. Pick every rare and mythic rare you open and/or are passed UNLESS you already have four copies of that card in your collection
  7. Use the table on the right-hand side to track your personal draft performance (see below).
  8. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT, open any packs until the spreadsheet says its okay to do so.
zendikar rising spreadsheet guide

ZNR Spreadsheet Guide

I’ve highlighted the different parts of the spreadsheet to help explain them. Let’s start with the big section on the left in the blue box. This is the checklist. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The light-blue column with the zeroes to start is where you put your collection totals. When a row gets to four it will change to a red highlight so you know not to pick that card in draft anymore.

Moving to the right, in the red box, is where you put the number of packs you currently own. The two big boxes under that are the number of drafts you still have to do in order to be able to open your packs. When you start you’ll see that the number of drafts is 63. This is based on quick drafting and some average expectations. Once you start recording drafts this will update based on your performance. You’ll also note that the mythic rares count starts at 276 drafts. There’s 20 mythic rares in this set. Good luck if you want to collect them all.

The green box is all statistics used to calculate the numbers in the red box. Don’t fill these out. Edit the formulas at your own peril.

The purple box is the draft tracking section. I find people will often edit this to suit their own needs. Feel free to do so. Here’s how I use each of these columns:

  • Deck: I write the archetype I drafted so I know how I do
  • Start R’s: You only need to fill this in once, on row one, with the number of rares you have in your collection currently (you can see it in box H5 at any time). If you acquire any rares outside of a draft (e.g. ICRs or mastery pass stuff) you can edit this number in whatever the last row is.
  • End R’s: At the end of every draft fill this out (from box H5)
  • # R’s: This is calculated and tells you how many rares you drafted. It’s just the difference between the previous two columns.
  • Start M’s, End M’s, #M’s: This is all the same but for mythic rares
  • Packs: Fill out the number of packs you won
  • Wins/Losses: Pretty self-explanatory
  • Net Gems: There’s a formula in this box that uses your Wins total to calculate gems based on the 750 gem entry fee. It’s not the most useful column. Your mileage may vary.

I strongly recommend you use this sheet, or something similar, to track your progress. Duplicate protection only applies to normal packs you open, not packs in drafts, so it is imperative that you do not open any packs until doing so would complete your set.

If you open your packs too soon, then you will almost certainly not gain any new rares when you draft. As we learned above, this means you’ll need to win at least five matches in every quick draft just to break even. Opening your packs too soon will destroy your EV for future drafts.

And that’s all there is to it. It’s a lot easier than it seems and once you get the hang of it you’ll be able to collect full sets on MTG Arena with relative ease and without having to break the bank.

Lastly, once again, do not open your packs until you have enough to finish your set. I recommend my spreadsheet, but you don’t have to use it. The easiest way to figure out if you’re ready is to take the number of rares you’re trying to acquire (252), subtract the number of rares you already have (you can also subtract the number of rare wildcards you already have if you plan on using them), and then divide that number by 0.875 (the number of rares in a pack. If you don’t want to use the wildcards you open, then divide that number by 0.845 instead, and you’ll need that many packs. Good luck!

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