Maximizing EV at a Grand Prix

I’m going to give you a semi-scorching take, that you may or may not agree with:

I think the Main Events at Grand Prix are not worth the time and cost, generally speaking.

That being said, you’ll easily be able to find me at GP Vegas this weekend, under this sign:

For a spur-of-the-moment idea, not too bad.

Oh, no, oops, that’s GP Santa Clara’s sign back in January. Nine inches square, and not terribly good at getting attention.

Vegas, on the other hand, inspired me to greatness:


Oh yeah. That’s the size of a playmat and a total beast to pack for a flight.

Why do I do all this work, though? Because I don’t like the value that we get for most events, and Cube Draft is super fun and also totally free! Let me explain…

Remeber, everyone, EV (Expected Value) is an attempt to quantify how much monetary value you get out of an event, as compared to the value you put in. The EV on a pack of Dominaria is pretty low, considering that only about 1 in 4 packs will get you a rare with $4 of retail value.

EV is not the same as fun, and I’m not trying to rain on your parade. I love some events with terrible EV, but I’m also bringing Cubes that maximize the fun for zero cost. You have a good time, doing what you like, just be aware of the costs.

The Main Event

Dear heaven above, we’re now paying $70 for a Modern Main Event and $85 for the Limited ones. If you’re telling me that I have the option of buying a box at $100 or six packs for $85, even with Dominaria being above the value of other recent sets, well, I’m under no illusions about my skill in Limited.

I am pretty good at drafting, but I’ve never liked Sealed and for me, the value isn’t there.

Allow me to paint a picture, and this applies to any GP Main Event:

It’s the end of round five. You’ve been at this for 6-7 hours already (depends on the format, but early rounds ALWAYS go to time in Sealed and in a huge event there’s always going to be drawn out games in Modern) and you’re hungry, tired, and your friends all lost twice in the first three.

You’re 3-2. If you stick it out, you MIGHT make day two, if you won your next three. You’re still alive for it, you’d feel bad if you dropped, but all there is to eat is the $15 hamburger in the lobby, whereas your pals are headed to a Vegas buffet for maybe $30-$40 a head.

I’ve been there, and that feeling sucks.

It’s not that Dominaria is a bad set, or that Modern is a bad format, but for me, I don’t want to play one deck for nine hours and have no chance to go eat, talk, relax, trade, or browse vendors.

If your skill is high enough, or you take that much joy in your deck, then by all means. Allow me to link you to a story of me at 4-1 and doing dumb things starring Owen Turtenwald. That might have been the end of non-team Main Events for me.

I’d really like to make Day 2 of a Limited GP, and yes, that means I’ll have to enter those events. I won’t get infinite chances to do so, but especially in Vegas, side events and freebies will be my jam.

The Prize Wall

If you’re a regular consumer of MTG Fast Finance, you may remember that I ranted about this topic on the show back in January. I loathe the prize wall as a method of paying off victors. I understand that the events need a currency, and booster packs are either the best thing ever or terrible EV, but the execution by ChannelFireball was terrible in January and I’m hoping for better things in Vegas and in Sacramento.

My issues with the Prize Wall are as follows:

Inconsistent Pack Pricing – Dominaria will be 10 tickets, that’s pretty straightforward and you’ve got a 22% chance of opening a card worth $3 or more. All the Standard sets should be 10 tickets per pack, but then things get wonky. At GP Toronto, for instance, Modern Masters 2013 packs were 150 tickets, but those can be had for $25 on TCG. That’s a multiplier of 15, when the price is only about six times more. I understand you’re about to get at me for worth and cost and all those things, but I simply don’t like how the prices are so hit and miss.

Timing – The prize wall is a feast for the senses on the first day and maybe the second. People are eagerly trying to save up 1500 tickets for a foil uncut sheet, or draft enough to snag a Revised dual land. Know what they aren’t doing? Using their tickets early! The people who get a lot of tickets early on have a massive advantage over the people who saved till Sunday afternoon and are now down to the dregs of what’s left. I freely admit that if CFB restocked better/faster than I’ve seen (again, I’m hopeful but realistic) then I’d have less of an issue here.

Closed Currency – I wrote a lot about PucaTrade in the heyday, and I’ve written a bunch about Cardsphere, which is just better, because Cardsphere uses actual dollars and PucaTrade used only their own currency of PucaPoints. The closed currency means that at the end of the GP, when you go home, your prize tickets are worth nothing at all. You HAVE to shop from the prize wall to get anything at all. There’s not even a way to convert it to vendor credit, though I suspect that will come,  or allow vendors to trade for tickets. There’s a real market for trading tickets, even if you’re not supposed to it’s quite common.

The Side Events

First off, here’s the schedule. Let’s address the on-demand events.
Twenty bucks for a draft, a little higher than most LGS but you can do as many as you want. I prefer paying less and having less prizes, but this is not outlandish.

They’ve upped the price of Chaos Drafts to $35 and now you get to draft the packs before you draft the cards. This is godawful EV, but as I mentioned, EV is not the same as fun, and I am going to do this at least once. Note that the payout is the same as a Dominaria draft. Yuck but I love randomness! I’m so logical, except when I’m not.

If you do a Masters 25 draft for $35 you’re kind of nuts, from an EV perspective. You’ve got a 17% chance to open a rare or mythic that’s even $10, or a 6% chance to open a card that has the same retail price as the draft. Go have fun, but like myself and the Chaos Drafts, know that you’re paying a steep price for your fun.

The lands are sweet, but not crazy valuable.

Turbo Town Constructed has the best ratio of money to tickets that I can find. Both players pay a combined total of $10, and 40 tickets are given out. That 1:4 ratio is better than all the others, considering that the Dominaria drafts are $160 paid and 440 tickets are given, a ratio of 4:11 (Turbo Town is 4:16, for the comparison) and now we’re doing more math than I want to. If you want to grind tickets, that’s your play, and it’s got the benefit of being fast, so you can take breaks as needed without being stuck in a five-round slog.

The scheduled events are more about your enjoyment of the format in question and how many rounds you want to play of that format. The EV in terms of tickets is really not good for some of these and average for others. For instance, the RTR block throwback draft at $20 has a 4:9 ratio of tickets at max players. Even the double-up Sealed, if I presume there’s 256 players, will have $12,800 paid and 42,240 in tickets given out, which comes out to 1:3.3 as a ratio.

I think the Beta draft is a brilliant promotion and it’s something I’d never ever participate in. The chance that these are unsearched Beta packs is zero, to my mind. It’s free money for them, and Beta packs are 100% searchable. Observe this video of it being done with a Fallen Empires pack. Given the enormous prices of Beta Power and Duals, someone went through and with infinite patience, checked the cards in the packs. As a result, if there’s no Power, no duals, you just shrug and say, “That’s Beta!” and sigh because basic Island is on the rare sheet.

Pure Value

There’s some really great things to do at the GP which will cost you little or even turn you a profit:

Vendors – This is an excellent opportunity to gather up a bunch of cards, bring them to vendors, and turn a lot of little things into one big thing. Myself, I’m hoping to turn a stack of recent picks and hits into a dual or two, and even if you don’t like the hunt for value, you can lose hours just admiring all the super-awesome things for sale.

Artists – TWENTY-SIX different Magic artists will be present at this event, and you need to understand that they mostly weren’t paid to be there. If you get cards signed, leave about a buck per signed card at a minimum. Read Noah Bradley’s words. Be professional and courteous. Gush freely, don’t put your drinks or other stuff on their tables. Buy a print, and get it framed.

Cosplay – People are going to dress up as Magic characters, and that’s awesome. Making costumes like this is great fun for all involved. Talk to folks, spellsling with them, follow them on social media, contribute to their Patreon, etc. Do not be an asshole about what they are choosing to do or how they look. If someone wants to dress up a little or a lot, that’s a choice that increases their enjoyment, and you’ve no right to diminish that at all. Don’t ogle, don’t grab, don’t touch someone. Putting on a costume isn’t asking for anything.

Commander – If you dig competitive Commander, by all means play those games or join those events. Not my bag, but you do you. I can highly recommend gathering a pod of you and friends and adding the spice of tickets as a reward for playing, that’s a way to keep games moving at a lively pace instead of endless politics. I love playing Commander with new people, and if some have more tuned decks than mine, well, the games didn’t last long and I can move on.

Trading – As someone who does a lot of trading, and loves to hunt through binders, please, I beg you, take the stuff you won’t trade and have some way to let me know. Upside down, the last page of the binder, special sleeves, etc. Stay away from any solo trader who says the word  ‘buylist’ and look askance at someone who says ‘value’.

Cube Draft – I 100% saved the best for last here. I love Cubing. I think it’s the highest form of Magic, and it’s a way to give people a new and awesome experience. I’m bringing my Busted Uncommons cube and my Silver Borders cube, both of which are fun experiences. I haven’t built an expensive cube yet, so I’m comfortable playing with strangers. If you don’t want to bring your pricey cube, I totally understand. Every Cube Draft I am part of–and I’m hoping to attract other Cubers–is free and time very well spent. Just look for me all weekend, I’m not going to be hard to find.

Cliff has been writing for MTGPrice for nearly five years now, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. He’s the official substitute teacher of MTG Fast Finance, and if you’re going to be at GP Vegas, look for the guy under the giant flashing ‘Cube Draft’ sign and he’ll have you drafting in no time!

2 thoughts on “Maximizing EV at a Grand Prix”

  1. Yeah Cliff… definitely searched packs there I’m sure. Beta sea, beta scrubland, beta fastbond, beta wheel, beta emerald… certainly they were searched. *sigh*

    1. When I wrote this, I didn’t know that the Beta box was coming straight from Wizards. They don’t much care, but I still think if CFB had been providing the packs, they would have been searched.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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