Magic Arena has been around for a few years now but its economics have, somewhat surprisingly, remained highly consistent during that time. Today I’m going to take a look at exactly what makes Arena’s economy tick, how I calculate the relative value of purchase options, and what you can do to maximize your efficiency when making your own decisions in Arena.

The game’s economy is actually quite simple, and once you understand it, the decisions you make in game should be more efficient when it comes to achieving your goals. And while many of us have vastly different goals when it comes to playing Arena, many of them involve actually playing Magic which means building new decks.

Building decks on Arena is similar to building them with tabletop cards, with the complete absence of a secondary market. Whether or not the rare card you need for your deck costs $1 or $100 at your local game store it costs exactly one rare wildcard in Arena.

We’re going to focus entirely on rares because they are the most valuable commodity in the game. Sure there’s mythic rares, but there are far fewer of them, and the number of mythic wildcards you’ll receive will almost certainly cover the demand you have for them. Rares on the other hand can be elusive, especially if you try to open packs to get what you need.

If the most desired cards in Arena are the rares you need to finish your deck, then the most valuable items in Arena are rare wildcards. The next most valuable item, almost inextricably so, is a duplicate-protected pack of cards for the set from which you need the rare.

Going forwards we’re going to evaluate all economic decisions within Arena in terms of packs. The reason for this is threefold. First, packs are the most direct and efficient way to acquire more rares and rare wildcards. Second, packs create a direct means to compare the game’s two forms of currency: gems and coins.

This may seem obvious but for the sake of mathematical completeness here is Rich’s First Theorem of Arena economics:

A pack of cards costs 200 gems or 1,000 coins therefore 1 gem is worth 5 coins.

This theory is almost immediately proven by the pricing of Mythic Packs, which is 260 gems or 1,300 coins, preserving the equivalency posited above.

Where this does start to break down is in the pricing of tournament entries, which almost always give a discount for the use of gems. For example, a premier draft costs 1,500 gems to enter, which should be 7,500 coins. However, the coin price is actually 10,000 coins.

You can think of this difference as either a tax for using the free currency that Wizards gives out, or a discount on the price given to those who spend the premium currency of the game. Your perspective may or may not depend on your willingness to spend real money on gems.

Tournament entries are the only place the theorem does not hold true. If you buy cosmetics in the daily deals, for example, the 1:5 ratio is maintained. For example, an uncommon card style with a 60% discount costs either 240 gems or 1,200 gold, maintaining the 1:5 exchange rate.

So what makes the economy tick? You play games of Magic and in exchange the game gives you coins. You use the coins to either buy packs or enter tournaments which can award gems. Then you play more games of Magic. In order to play the games of Magic you need more rare cards/wildcards. Wash, rinse, repeat.

In summary, the driving force of Arena’s economy is the rare wildcard in specific, and the duplicate-protected packs in which you can find them, in general. These packs cost 200 Gems (or 1,000 Coins). Every pack contains 1.01 rares (7-in-8 packs have a rare or rare wildcard in the rare slot while every 30 packs you open yields 4 rare wildcards as well).

Now that we have this information, how do we use it to calculate the value of anything we could buy within Arena’s economy? Let’s start with an easy example such as the 3,000 Gem / 15,000 Coin Sol Ring pet available in the Arena store.

First off, this purchase maintains the 1:5 ratio for gems:coins. As highlighted above, this ratio only changes for tournament entry which we’ll discuss soon. The cost of the Sol Ring pet is equal to buying 15 packs which means we can assign that value to the pet. Now you can value the Sol Ring pet against the potential value of ~15 rares for your collection.

Let’s increase the difficulty and look at the cost to enter a constructed event. Whether you pick Alchemy, Explorer, Historic, or Standard, the entry fee is the same: 375 gems or 2,500 coins. Right away we can see that this doesn’t honor the 1:5 ratio, and in fact if you want to enter a tournament with coins, it will cost an additional 625 coins to do so compared to the equivalent value of gems.

The reason for this is because these events reward gems, not coins. This is the only way in Arena’s economy, outside of injecting real money into the game, to convert your coins into gems. This puts an exclamation point on the reason why gems are the premium currency. They provide a discount on tournament entry.

Let’s look at the prizes for a Standard Event:

  • 0 Wins: 25 Gems
  • 1 Wins: 50 Gems
  • 2 Wins: 75 Gems + 1 Pack
  • 3 Wins: 200 Gems + 1 Pack
  • 4 Wins: 300 Gems + 1 Pack
  • 5 Wins: 400 Gems + 2 Packs
  • 6 Wins: 450 Gems + 2 Packs
  • 7 Wins: 500 Gems + 3 Packs + 1 Play-In Point

This mixing of Gems and Packs can be confusing, so let’s use the base price (200 gems) to convert this into all packs (plus a play-in point). This also lets us calculate the value compared to the entry fee. If you paid with 375 gems, then it cost you 1.875 packs to enter. If you paid 2,500 coins, then it cost you 2.500 packs to enter.

  • 0 Wins: 0.125 Packs (Gem Value: -1.750 Packs, Coin Value: -2.375 Packs)
  • 1 Wins: 0.250 Packs (Gem Value: -1.625 Packs, Coin Value: -2.250 Packs)
  • 2 Wins: 1.375 Packs (Gem Value: -0.500 Packs, Coin Value: -1.125 Packs)
  • 3 Wins: 2 Packs (Gem Value: +0.125 Packs, Coin Value: -0.500 Packs)
  • 4 Wins: 2.5 Packs (Gem Value: +0.625 Packs, Coin Value: +0.000 Packs)
  • 5 Wins: 4 Packs (Gem Value: +2.125 Packs, Coin Value: +1.500 Packs)
  • 6 Wins: 4.25 Packs (Gem Value: +2.375 Packs, Coin Value: +1.750 Packs)
  • 7 Wins: 5.5 Packs (Gem Value: +3.625 Packs, Coin Value: +3.000 Packs)

Looking at the value this way we can see very clearly that if we spent gems to enter the event, then at 3 wins we earned more in rewards than if we had spent the entry fee on packs in the store. If we spent coins, we need 4 wins just to break even. And of course you actually need five wins in order to have enough Gems to enter another tournament (go infinite) without needing an additional source of gems.

So if you consistently finish a Standard Event with 3 or more wins, then you’re essentially coming out slightly further ahead than if you had just bought packs to get the rares you need for your decks. If you aren’t able to come up with 3 or more wins consistently, then buying packs for 200 gems apiece will be a more efficient use of your currency in the pursuit of more rare cards.

The more complicated scenarios would include things like Premier Drafts, Mastery Passes, and other purchases that have a variety of variable rewards, such as entry into mid-week events and special tournaments. While I will often publish those deep dives in the future, you can always evaluate them on your own using the method above, attempting to distill them down to total packs earned versus the packs you could have bought with the cost of the item.

Calculating the value of purchases allows you to make the most efficient decisions. If we revisit our example above of entering a Standard event, we can reframe the prizes in terms of packs-per-gem-spent, instead of the raw packs earned.

    • 0 Wins: 375 Gems for 0.125 Packs = 3,000 Gems per Pack
    • 1 Wins: 375 Gems for 0.250 Packs = 1,500 Gems per Pack
    • 2 Wins: 375 Gems for 1.375 Packs = 272.73 Gems per Pack
  • 3 Wins: 375 Gems for 2.000 Packs = 187.5 Gems per Pack
  • 4 Wins: 375 Gems for 2.500 Packs = 150 Gems per Pack
  • 5 Wins: 375 Gems for 4.000 Packs = 93.75 Gems per Pack
  • 6 Wins: 375 Gems for 4.250 Packs = 88.26 Gems per Pack
  • 7 Wins: 375 Gems for 5.500 Packs = 68.18 Gems per Pack

We now have a framework to compare this to say the rewards for a Premier Draft:

    • 0 Wins: 1500 Gems for 1.25 Packs = 1,200 Gems per Pack
    • 1 Wins: 1500 Gems for 1.50 Packs = 1,000 Gems per Pack
    • 2 Wins: 1500 Gems for 3.25 Packs = 461.54 Gems per Pack
    • 3 Wins: 1500 Gems for 7.00 Packs = 214.29 Gems per Pack
  • 4 Wins: 1500 Gems for 10 Packs = 150 Gems per Pack
  • 5 Wins: 1500 Gems for 12 Packs = 125 Gems per Pack
  • 6 Wins: 1500 Gems for 14 Packs = 107.14 Gems per Pack
  • 7 Wins: 1500 Gems for 17 Packs = 88.24 Gems per Pack

You now have some vital information that you need to make efficient decisions about where to spend your gems. If you are still learning the game, for example, and tend to lose much more frequently than you win, then you’re likely going to get more value out of a Premier Draft, picking up more for your 0 and 1-win runs than in a Standard event. However, if you tend to be at the higher end of competitive play, and can rattle off those six and seven-win runs frequently, you can see that Standard events are a slightly more efficient use of your time.

This doesn’t mean everyone should play one way or the other. It’s impossible to make that kind of a blanket statement. These calculations are built with the explicit goal of building your collection of rares and rare wildcards. For example, if there’s a Standard RCQ you want to train for, then there’s more value in the experience earned playing Standard events compared to limited events, even if you happen to win more at the latter.

The information here about the core economics of Magic Arena is most useful when a new Standard expansion releases, and the race is on to acquire the cards you need to update your decks to continue to play the game regularly. But most importantly this information should empower you to make better decisions about when to spend your gems and when to spend your coins, or whether to play Standard or Historic based on your own performance history.

You’ll see me refer to this framework many times in the future when I talk about things like the value of the Mastery Pass, bundles in the store, or the reason why I almost exclusively play Premier Drafts until I’ve acquired 50% of the rares in a new Standard expansion. If you have any questions feel free to reach out to me on social media. May the odds be ever in your favor!

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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