The Magic Arena State of the Game isn’t generally a source of earth-shattering news. The article comes out with each set release in place of the normal weekly announcement blog. It is, normally, the place in which Wizards highlights how new mechanics are going to function in Arena, or how returning mechanics have had their interfaces (hopefully) improved.

And this announcement did include a fair amount of that, including some nifty screenshots of how prototype, meld, and unearth will function as well as some modifications to auto-tap, putting cards on the top and bottom of your library, and the oracle updates to the surveil and landfall mechanics. But this announcement also highlighted an interesting new concept under the heading “Evolving MTG Arena.”

Before we get into what this means I want to highlight the best and worst parts of the Arena state of the game announcement. First, the best part, which was the preemptive decision to ban Mishra’s Bauble from Historic play. This card is annoying and would immediately be an auto-include card in virtually every deck but it would be especially annoying in combo decks. If you thought your Goblins opponents hit Muxus on turn 3 way too often now, just wait until they add four copies of Mishra’s Bauble to the deck. So kudos to Wizards for sorting that out.

On the other hand, meld cards won’t be twice as large as normal cards. Are you bleeping kidding me Wizards? The whole point of Arena is the bells and whistles. Bells and whistles that you charge a pretty penny for in the store every day in the form of avatars, pets, sleeves, and card styles. But my melded Mishra, Urza, and Titania can’t be double-sized?! What’s even the point of this Arena client then. Am I supposed to go back to paper Magic for the sheer excitement of melding these cards together.

Do better. Please.

Let’s move on to the “Evolution” stuff. Long-time readers of my Arena content know that I’ve been a fierce supporter of the fact that due to duplicate protection, drafting is the most efficient way to build your Standard collection. Well, apparently Wizards of the Coast may also include some of my long-time readers because they addressed this point quite bluntly in the state of the game.

Okay, “feel obligated” seems a little strong. I’m not forcing anyone to draft anything. I’m not forcing them to use a spreadsheet I painstakingly put together to track their draft progress to make the best informed decision about maximizing how many gems they’re spending on every rare they add to their collection. No one is obligated to do a damned thing. You made the game, if anything you’re the ones obligating people to draft.

But they do have a point. Draft and Sealed aren’t just “an effective way to build a collection” they’re the most effective way to build a collection. If you join a quick draft for 750 gems (the cost of 3.75 packs) and you draft every rare you open, you are, at a minimum, being given 4 rares for the cost of approximately 3.5 rares. Entering, drafting, and dropping from quick drifts is mathematically a more efficient way to build your collection than opening packs that you buy in the store.

And so Wizards created the Golden pack to directly address this issue. I’m going to dive into the mathematical specifics in next week’s The Brothers’ War Free to Play guide, but for now we can simply consider the above example. Consider you have 15,000 gems. This nice round number will give us some big effective numbers at telling a story.

For 15,000 gems you could enter 20 quick drafts. In each of those drafts you could pick the three rares you open, never see another rare, and then drop from the event with no wins. You would then have another 1,000 gems you could use to enter one more draft and do the same. You now have the 63 rares you picked (25%) of the set, the 21 packs you won, and 300 gems to your name. Statistically speaking, those 21 packs should yield 18 rares, and give you 3 rare wildcards (every six packs opened). You can buy one more pack with your gems and you’re up to 22 rares/rare wildcards plus the 63 you picked. 85 total rares for 15,000 gems.

What if you just bought packs? Thanks for asking! 75 packs will give you 66 rares or rare wildcards plus you’ll get another 10 rare wildcards (every six packs opened except every fifth time you get a mythic wildcard instead). So you just got 76 rares for 15,000 gems. You’re 9 rares short of what you would have gotten just rare drafting and dropping from premier drafts, and that’s based on the worst-case scenario for the quick draft prizes and the number of rares you pull per draft.

But what if you also got Golden packs in the second scenario? Not only did you buy 75 packs, but you also got 7 Golden packs. That’s another 14 rares! Huzzah! Now it’s more cost effective for you to buy packs from the store instead of joining and dropping from quick drafts.

This “Evolution of MTG Arena” as they’ve called it is being framed as a way to cater to everyone’s collecting desires. For other groups this has been pretty easy. Wildcard Bundles, Anthologies, Remastered Sets, and Alchemy have all been vehicles for creating meaningful experiences on Arena for other demographics of players. But for the Standard grinder who wants to collect the latest set as fast as possible they wanted a way to incentivize buying packs (other than the fact that buying and opening 75 packs takes approximately 15 minutes while drafting 21 times will take days).

It remains to be seen if Golden packs will solve this problem, or if there’s even a problem that needs to be solved. The numbers I’m going to go through next week still show that if you have any reasonable amount of skill, limited play is going to be more efficient than pack purchases, especially early in a sets life when people are still learning the metagame, and a lot of fringe rares will get passed around letting you build your collection rapidly.

But for now, the state of the game is that people have different desires and Wizards is trying to find ways to compensate everyone, especially the players who just want to lay down $200 and buy 150 packs to kick-start their collection. Arena is still, by-and-far, a free-to-play friendly experience if you just want to play Standard. If it wasn’t, and more new products were coming out for people who spend money would generate more backlash.

Though there’s still time for Golden packs to generate their own backlash.

Rich Stein (he/him) has been playing Magic since 1995 when he and his brother opened their first packs of Ice Age and thought Jester’s Cap was the coolest thing ever. Since then his greatest accomplishments in Magic have been the one time he beat Darwin Kastle at a Time Spiral sealed Grand Prix and the time Jon Finkel blocked him on Twitter.

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