It’s been nineteen months since I wrote one of these so please forgive me if I’m a little bit rusty. Sometimes life takes over and our hobbies need to spend some time on the back-burner. For me the birth of my second child (who just turned a very healthy 14-months old) required that I put Magic: The Gathering to the side for quite some time. I recently rejoined the ranks of Magic Arena players, picking up a decent chunk (75%) of Dominaria United. After feeling comfortable enough with the time commitment, and my commitments to Hipsters of the Coast otherwise, I decided it was time to bring back the Free to Play guides that I know everyone enjoys.

Since this is the first of these I’ve penned in some time we’re going to go over the basics and get everyone on the same page again. What does it mean to be free to play? In the purest sense it means playing Arena without spending any real cash money. And if you don’t want to spend money this is very simple, just don’t do it. End of guide, right? Not just yet. What free to play means in my mind is to set a goal and achieve it without spending real cash money.

So what is my personal goal to achieve? Collecting four copies of every Standard-playable rare, the key component to being able to play Standard constructed competitively with access to every deck on Arena. What am I not trying to achieve? I’m not trying to collect every mythic rare because that would require too much of a time investment. I’m also not trying to play any non-Standard formats competitively. That means I’m not worried about collecting Alchemy cards or special sets like the 63 retro artifacts that will be Historic-legal (excepting Mishra’s Bauble which was preemptively banned).

But I’m not done making things complicated yet because I’m going to add one more challenge to my definition of free to play. I want to make sure I make the absolute most efficient use of my in-game currency (coins and gems) because my time is also valuable, and I want to timebox my goal and say that I will collect every Standard-playable rare in each new set that comes out before the next set releases.

As it pertains to The Brothers’ War, we can summarize our goals that define “free to play:”

  • Spend $0.00
  • Collect four copies of every Standard-playable rare from The Brothers’ War
  • Complete this goal before the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One (Likely sometime in February)

So how do we do it? Let’s start from the basics. There are exactly two ways to acquire Standard-playable rares from The Brothers’ War:

  1. Open packs
  2. Limited events (non-phantom)

From here on in we’re going to have to start using some basic algebra to figure out the best approach to our goal. Thankfully we can rely on duplicate protection to give us a very clear path to victory. Since there are 63 Standard-playable rares in MTGBRO, we need to acquire a total of 252 rare pulls and/or rare wildcards which we can then use to complete the set.

Let’s start with a pack of The Brothers’ War. Every pack has a rare slot and that slot will contain a rare card or wildcard seven out of eight times. The remaining one out of eight times it will contain a mythic rare card or wildcard instead. Here’s where I need to pause and say that we will be using the average result in these situations where the actual result is random. If you open 80 packs the most likely result is that you acquire 70 rares and 10 mythic rares. Is it possible you could open 80 mythic rares? Absolutely. Is it possible you could open 80 rares? Of course. But for our calculations we’re going to use the most likely result.

So every eight packs you open gives you seven rares and we want 252 rares so we need to open 288 packs of MTGBRO by February to reach our goal. Assuming we have 13 weeks that’s 22 or 23 packs a week give-or-take. That would be an unrealistic goal by any measure. Thankfully Wizards makes things easier by providing two keys to our journey:

  1. The Wildcard track
  2. Golden packs

The wildcard track gives you a free rare wildcard for every six packs that you open. There’s a caveat there which is that the fifth time you hit that milestone (every 30 packs) you get a mythic rare wildcard instead. So every 30 packs yields 26.25 rares (7:8 ratio) but it also gives us 4 rare wildcards which brings us up to 30.25 rares. So in order to get to 252 rares we only need to open 252 packs, not 288. That’s a slight improvement.

Golden packs are a new addition to Arena. You’ll have a new track in-game which ticks up every time you purchase a pack from the store with either coins or gems but not when you acquire packs from an event. Every 10 packs you purchase will give you one Golden pack. This pack contains six cards, and at least two of them will come from MTGBRO. The remaining four will come from Standard-legal sets. The cards will all have duplicate protection. The breakdown is like this, essentially:

  • 1x Mythic Rare
  • 5x Rare (1-in-8 Chance to Upgrade to Mythic Rare)

Again, it’s possible to pull six mythic rares every time but we’re going to go with the statistically likely scenario which is 1.625 mythic rares and 4.375 rares. Now here’s where things start to get tricky. If you’ve completed our quest for every other Standard-legal set, and already own four copies of every rare from those sets, then you’re going to always average 4.375 MTGBRO rares from a Golden pack.

So every 30 packs, carrying on our example from above, now gives 43.375 rares. Which means if we want 252 rares we need to purchase 180 packs. This will actually leave us with a bit leftover. So all that’s left to do is come up with the 36,000 gems or 180,000 coins required to get to 180 packs in the store. Maybe there’s still a better way?

Before we go on to the better way, it’s worth noting that 36,000 gems is approximately $200 in real cash money. While we did set our goal at $0.00 for expenses, it’s absolutely critical that we understand the costs involved that we’re trying to maximize. Remember, your time and your health are also valuable, and if spending all of your time grinding limited queues (you’ll see below) isn’t good for you, then spending money may be reasonable if you have the money to spend. $200 for access to every Standard-legal deck is relatively affordable and is cheaper than eight of the ten top metagame decks according to So at the end of the day, if you just want to “buy-in” to Standard, $200 will do it, for every set release of this size.

Earlier I mentioned that there are two ways to acquire Standard-playable rares from The Brothers’ War. The first is by opening packs, which we’ve now talked about extensively. The second, which we’re going to dive into, is limited events including sealed events, premier draft events, and quick draft events.

Our efficiency benchmark, based on opening 180 packs, is 142.86 gems per rare. That’s calculated by simply taking the number of gems (36,000) and dividing by the number of rares acquired (252). This is important because we’re about to try to work out if we can beat that number by rare drafting.

Rare drafting? Are you kidding me? Yes, I can hear you mumbling about it right now. Let’s break it down.

Premier Drafting (Cost: 1,500 Gems)

Every time you enter a premier draft you are going to acquire at least 3 rares from the packs that you open. You could pull more. As you collect more of the set it’s possible that you’ll pull less (more on that later). But, you’re going to acquire rares from drafting and to maximize that you’ll need to rare draft. In addition to these rares you’re going to also get at least 50 gems as well as at least 1 pack of MTGBRO.

If you lose all of your matches you’ll have spent a net 1,450 gems in exchange for some number of rares plus a single pack. The pack, as we discussed earlier, is worth approximately one rare on its own. If you pull 3 rares then your efficiency is 362.5 gems per rare, much worse than 142.86 above. This is not a better way. If you can’t win any matches, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility when rare drafting, you need to pull 10 rares during the draft to beat the efficiency of opening packs. But what if you can win a few matches? Here’s what you’d need:

  • Zero Wins (1,450 Gems Spent): 10 Rares Pulled + 1 Packs = 131.82 Efficiency
  • One Win: (1,400 Gems Spent): 9 Rares Pulled + 1 Pack = 140.00 Efficiency
  • Two Wins: (1,250 Gems Spent): 7 Rares Pulled + 2 Packs = 138.89 Efficiency
  • Three Wins: (500 Gems Spent): 2 Rares Pulled + 2 Packs = 125.00 Efficiency
  • Four Wins: (100 Gems Spent): 0 Rares Pulled + 3 Packs = 33.33 Efficiency
  • Five+ Wins: Positive Gems, Perfect Efficiency

I highlighted the three wins row because that’s really the ideal place to be. Odds are you’ll pull three rares instead of the minimum of two which means you’re really only spending 100 gems per rare acquired, instead of 142.86 as above. At 100 gems per rare you’re spending 25,200 gems instead of 36,000 gems to complete your set. But what if you’re just really not great at drafting and you’re stuck in those one/two win rows and unable to pull the high number of rares needed to make it worth the cost?

Quick Drafting (Cost: 750 Gems)

There’s a significant benefit and downside to quick drafts. The benefit is that you can still maximize your efficiency while not being great at limited Magic. The downside is that quick drafts are not available when a set launches. If you want to use this method to build your collection you’ll need to wait until November 25th to do so, and then the format will only be around until December 9th. It will likely return again once or twice before Phyrexia releases in the new year, but it will still make it difficult to accomplish the goal before then.

That said, here’s what the efficiency chart for a quick draft looks like. Note that the number of packs won is random but I’m using the statistical average for the purpose of this exercise:

  • Zero Wins (700 Gems Spent): 4 Rares Pulled + 1.20 Packs = 134.62 Efficiency
  • One Win (650 Gems Spent): 4 Rares Pulled + 1.22 Packs = 124.52 Efficiency
  • Two Wins (550 Gems Spent): 3 Rares Pulled + 1.24 Packs = 129.72 Efficiency
  • Three Wins (450 Gems Spent): 2 Rares Pulled + 1.26 Packs = 138.04 Efficiency
  • Four Wins (300 Gems Spent): 1 Rares Pulled + 1.30 Packs = 130.43 Efficiency
  • Five Wins (100 Gems Spent): 0 Rares Pulled + 1.35 Packs = 74.07 Efficiency
  • Six+ Wins: Positive Gems, Perfect Efficiency

You can see that this mode is much more forgiving at the bottom end of the scale. Even with zero wins, you only need to pull four rares in your draft in order to average out a more efficient use of gems than purchasing packs. At a 134.62 efficiency score, you’re spending 34,000 gems instead of 36,000. That savings is nothing to scoff at. That said, the tradeoff is that you’re not gaining as much at the higher ends if you are winning a lot here. At two wins per draft you’re hitting 129.72 efficiency which is very close to the 125.00 you’d hit at three wins in a premiere draft. The other trade off of course is that you’ll need to play way more quick drafts than premiere drafts to get everything you need.

The decision to play premiere or quick drafts is a difficult one. My advice is that if you’re confident in your limited abilities, especially early on in a set’s release, go with premiere drafts. Your odds of hitting three wins might be higher than you think. Learn the format. Read articles like our own primer to the limited format. Sometimes you’ll fall short. Sometimes you’ll hit five wins and feel like a million gems.

The Spreadsheet

If you’re still with me and you’re a believer now that (even with the addition of Golden packs) you think you can make a significant savings in gems by drafting instead of opening packs, please allow me to introduce you to (version 2.0 of) the Hipsters of the Coast MTG Arena Tracker. Here’s a quick setup guide for this spreadsheet.

  1. Make your own copy of the sheet. Don’t ask for access to the master copy. I won’t give it.
  2. If you already have cards from MTGBRO record them in the checklists. While we’re focused on rares there are checklists for mythic rare, common, and uncommon cards if you want to track those as well.
  3. Record the number of MTGBRO and Golden packs you already have.
  4. Every time you draft, enter the vital information in the chart on the right-hand side
    1. Currency spent (Coins or Gems)
    2. Draft type (Quick or Premiere)
    3. Number of mythics/rares at the start/end of the draft
    4. Number of wins
    5. Packs won
    6. Gems won

There are three sections at the top of the sheet that help you along the journey. On the left side is the collection completion tracker and checklist. This shows you your progress. The right side is the draft statistics area. This will tell you if you’re doing well enough to keep trying premiere drafts or if you should give it a rest and re-think your strategy for a while. Maybe wait for quick drafts to come around.

The middle is an attempt to tell you how many more drafts you need to do. This is based on the algebra above that determines how many rares you’ll open from the packs you already own, plus how many rares you’ll acquire from each draft based on your current averages. The main reason to use this spreadsheet is to avoid opening packs prematurely.

I skipped an important point when discussing drafting which is that draft packs are not duplicate protected. So when you draft, you need to avoid picking rares you already have four of (unless you would normally pick it for your draft deck anyways). This way all of the packs you do own will give you the rares you need to finish your set. In fact, you can only acquire about half the set from drafting before it starts becoming increasingly likely that you won’t be able to do any rare drafting because you’ll only see rares you already own four copies of.

Every time you pick a rare, mark it in the checklist. The checklist will change colors once you have 4 copies of a card to make it easier to see if you should pick it or not. And do not open any of your packs until the spreadsheet math tells you it’s cool to do so. That said, I’m not a perfect mathematician, so use common sense as well. If you’ve acquired 150 rares, and you have 100 packs in your collection, that’s going to add up to roughly the 252 rares you need. Feel free to crack the packs, and use wildcards for anything missing from your collection at that point.

I’m going to stop here and invite you to try this method out for yourself, and look at the math for yourself, and let me know on Twitter if you have any questions. Good luck!

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