By: Oko Assassin
Studying MTGO Treasure Chests (TCs) is essential to understanding the overall Magic Online economy. Beyond drafting, TCs are the primary method of inserting new supply into MTGO. For non-drafting sets, like Commander and Jumpstart, TCs are often the only mechanism that WOTC uses to distribute new cards into the MTGO economy because these products are not available for direct purchase on MTGO.
While TCs are important, understanding them is easier said than done. The contents of TCs are quite complicated and change periodically, every 1-3 months. This article aims to empower you to understand current and future versions of the TCs, their likely impact on MTGO, and how you can fund your play and/or profit from future TC updates!
Treasure Chest Origins
TCs were implemented in 2016. At that time, and for many years after, TCs were viewed as a product that would ultimately destroy MTGO. As background, I encourage readers to check out this 2018 CFB analysis of TCs dramatic impact on MTGO. Prior to TCs, the MTGO economy was more like the paper magic market, where out-of-print assets reliably increased in value over time until reprinted. After TCs, the MTGO economy started to collapse because of the new influx of supply combined with negative perceptions leading to a shrinking player base, especially after the launch of MTG Arena spooked folks into thinking MTGO was doomed.
Fast forward to today and the MTGO economy has rebounded to some extent. The current value of a playset of every single MTGO card is $26,575 as of July 2020, which is similar to 2016 when TCs were first implemented. As recently as June 2019 this figure was less than $15,000. This recent stabilization is driven by several factors, including COVID-19 driving demand for digital products, the creation of Pioneer as a new format not yet available on Arena, and the continuing popularity of other eternal formats that are also exclusive to MTGO in digital. Predictions of doom and gloom for MTGO seem to be behind us, for now.
Treasure Chests Contents
The current contents of TCs are located here, and are updated every 1-3 months. Overall, TCs contain:
- Play Points
- A random Modern Legal Rare or Mythic
- “Curated” cards, which are selected for inclusion on a rotating basis
- Jumpstart and Commander 2020 cards
- Avatars (which are financially irrelevant)
Play Points: Roughly half of the value of TCs is derived from Play Points. The exact percentage can be found here on Goatbots Expected Value (EV) Calculator. Due to this, the only way to profitably open up TCs is through needing Play Points to enter MTGO events, which means vendors are unwilling to crack TCs to access the cards inside. As a result, the TC market is relatively inefficient, with the EV often becoming higher than costs of chests, sometimes by a large margin.
Random Modern Rare or Mythic: In most TCs, one random Rare or Mythic from a Modern format legal set will be included. Specifically, you have 68% odds of getting at least one random Rare or Mythic, and 12.0% chance of getting two. Rares are twice as likely as Mythics. Often this slot translates into a random card you have never heard of and is worth nothing. But sometimes you will hit a Force of Negation worth a stack of tickets! The odds of hitting any specific rare is .013%, meaning you would have to open 7,692 TCs to get a specific rare on average. It is easier to get any given Mythic at .030% (or 3,333 TCs), because Mythics have such a smaller card pool. These numbers are subject to change overtime as new sets are added and the formula evolves. Overall, this slot slowly injects a consistent supply of Modern legal Rares and Mythics into the MTGO economy, even if those cards are not on the curated card list.
“Curated” Cards: In one quarter of TCs, you will get a card from a hand-selected list that is typically valuable. Specifically, you have around 24% odds of getting at least one curated card, and 1% chance of getting two. The current list of curated cards is available here, along with details of the most recent TC changes. Each curated item has a specific drop rate associated with it. The higher the drop rate, the more likely an item is to show up. Drop rates currently range from 1-50.
To determine the likelihood of any specific curated cards, you must divide the specific drop rate by the combined drop rate of all curated items (the denominator), which is currently 4,278, then multiply by the likelihood of getting this specific drop (25%). As a mathematical formula it looks like this: =1/((6/4,278)*0.25).
For cards with a drop rate of 6, you will have to open 2,852 TCs on average to get a copy. For a drop rate of 12, this decreases to 1,426. For a 50 drop rate, it is 342 TCs.
Overall, I recommend always checking whether a card is included in the curated TCs list – and at what drop rate – prior to speculating or purchasing any MTGO card.
New! Jumpstart and Commander 2020
TCs are the only method of inserting most non-draftable MTGO products into the online economy. For better or worse, players cannot buy a Commander deck in the MTGO store. To ensure there is enough supply of these specialty products Wizards recently added a new slot in the TCs specifically dedicated to Commander 2020 (C20) and Jumpstart (JMP) cards.
This slot was created following a failed effort to leverage the curated slot for this purpose, without success. Prior to this change, a full set of JMP was valued at over 500 tickets and C20 at over 600 tickets. This change created a huge influx of new supply and only two short weeks later, the prices on either set had plummeted to under 200 tickets. I expect future Commander and other specialty products to use this slot as well.
In TCs you have a 35% chance of getting a JMP/C20 card. The current card list and drop rate for this slot is available here. Similar to the curated slot, to determine the likelihood of any specific curated cards, you must divide the specific drop rate by the combined drop rate of all C20/JMP items (the denominator), which is currently 1,146, then multiply by the likelihood of getting this specific drop (35%). As a mathematical formula it looks like this: =1/((6/1146)*0.35).
If a C20/JMP card has a drop rate of 6, you will have to open 545 TCs on average to get a copy. For a drop rate of 12, this would decrease to 272. This is a roughly 10x increase in new supply compared to the old TC formulation for JMP & C20.
Treasure Chest Updates Impact on MTGO Economy
Updates to the TCs curated list can quickly and dramatically move the MTGO economy. I have already discussed how the value of entire sets dropped by 66% over only two weeks due to a TC update with JMP/C20. This price movement was driven by additional supply of a low supply set entering the market.
The reverse also occurs. Take for example when the Power Nine from Vintage Masters was removed from the TCs. Here you can see the iconic Black Lotus more than double in price as soon as the changes were announced. The price eventually retraced as speculators sold out, but for those who timed it right, profit was made.
Overall, any card included on the curated card list, C20/JMP, or to a lesser extent any modern era Rare/Mythic will slowly have new supply enter the MTGO economy. If the new supply is not too great, or the demand is enough to overcome the new supply, this is not a problem. That said cards included on the curated card list, especially at a drop rate of 12 or higher, will often see their price decrease slowly over time. I recommend steering clear of speculating on any card that has a drop rate of 12 or higher unless the factors truly warrant it and you are acting on a very short timeline.
How Many Treasure Chests Get Opened?
Only WOTC truly knows. Yet some recent Jumpstart data gives some indications. Without going into all the math, it seemed as though at least 40,000 TCs were opened in this single week based on JMP TC drop rates at the time. That’s a lot of TCs!
Goatbots, a major vendor who was in the past position to know, recently estimated that 10,000 chests were being opened daily during this time period. Although this was a blockbuster time-period for TCs, causing an abnormal amount to be opened, this new data highlights the large volume of new cards that must be pumped into the MTGO economy each week!
Understanding how TCs work and their impact on the MTGO economy will make you better at buying and selling cards on MTGO. At a bare minimum, you should check whether a card is included in the TC curated list before speculating on any card moving forward. Though we have covered the fundamentals here, you should also regularly review the curated card list to better understand this key factor in the movement of the MTGO economy.
To make a quick profit, consider monitoring for TC updates and acting on fresh changes. Specifically, you should sell cards that become much more common in TCs curated list and buy cards that become less common. It takes some experience to know exactly what changes to look out for. To be successful, you must act quickly! Price changes based on TC updates start happening within minutes and the latest solid entry point is typically one hour or less from the TC change announcement. MTGO signals their upcoming TC updates weeks in advance for those watching closely enough, but they never say the specific time/date. Sometimes you can find hints on this MTGO website, but the best way to stay in the loop is to join the MTG Price Pro Trader Discord, which explodes into chatter as soon as TC updates are posted.