Now that Theros has had its coming out party in paper this past weekend, it’s not long before we get our figurative hands on it digitally. The first few weeks a set is online is usually a great time to get the new cards while not breaking the bank. The best way to do this has been to play in release event sealed decks. However, Wizards has decided to make some changes to these events with the release of Theros.

Recently, release events have been run similarly to sealed daily events, but with even more value. The cost was the same at twenty-six tickets, but release events did not allow the entry option of six packs and two tickets. This meant people who wanted to do multiple events would quickly turn around and sell their packs to afford the next one. It was not difficult to have one event pay for the next because the pay out was so good. Instead of receiving eleven packs for going 4-0 as in the daily events, the lone winner of these sixteen person events was awarded thirteen. Additionally, those who managed three wins received eight packs, as opposed to the six that didn’t quite let you break even in a daily. The prizes for 2-2ing were the same: three packs.

In an effort to make things more affordable, Wizards has decided to lower the cost of the release sealed to twenty tickets. In doing so they have also lowered the prize pay out. Now the sole 4-0 record will get eight packs. Those who 3-1 will only receive four packs and 2-2ing will get you two.

This change has a number of ramifications for Magic Online. Running through the math, the new prize structure results in a difference of 45 fewer packs being awarded per release event. That seems like quite a lot of packs not entering the system. Wizards, though, has done a decent job of keeping things relatively even from their perspective. Under the old system, counting the packs used for the event itself, there were a total of 173 packs created in each event. Dividing by the total buy in, the average cost per pack was 2.4 tickets. Under the new system there are 128 packs created yielding an average price of 2.5 tickets per pack.

From Wizards perspective the adjustment is fair in that it raises the profitably of their product modestly while lowering the cost for each user. They are hoping that the lowered cost can generate an increase of players participating in these events. But it’s not just players in general, it’s players who need to buy more tickets that they are trying to entice. This is because the new pay out is not conducive to the MTGO grinder who has “gone infinite.”

What I mean by this is that with the previous payout, one could anticipate around three tickets a pack in resale value after a release event. This meant the person who 4-0ed profited by 50%, spending 26 and ending up with 39. Those who only had one loss end up only slightly behind, needing two more tickets to enter another event. Given the rarity of new cards this loss could typically be made up, especially in the first week, by selling some number of the cards opened from the event. The cards need not be any of the constructed worthy rares, as the demand from constructed grinders during this time is great enough to place premium prices on staple commons and uncommons.

Under the new payout, assuming a similar selling price of three tickets a pack, the undefeated player now only comes out four tickets ahead. That’s only a 25% increase. The 3-1s now end up down eight tickets. This is a much larger gap to try and make up by selling random new cards to bots. In all likelihood one would have to sell whatever constructed worthy rares he or she opened. If the goal was to gain such cards at minimal cost, that goal now seems near impossible. The 2-2s don’t end up worse off as before selling their three packs would leave them down seventeen tickets, while under the new structure they would only be down fourteen.

There are wider implications of this pay structure. The main take away is that there is a wider gap to overcome in order to run events back. I think this will prove prohibitive for many people to play in as many events as they had previously. They were able to do so because of consistent finishes with a favorable pay out. A single 4-0 with a number of 3-1s could allow the player to continue to play even through a 2-2 or worse performance, all while building equity in his or her collection. Without the ability to do this, I see fewer players engaging in these events.

While I don’t have the numbers, I am fairly certain release events were a very large part of the influx of new packs onto Magic Online during the period they were available. The value of them is one reason, but the other is their nature as fire at will events. Most people are aware of the value constructed dailies have to offer, but the only fire at certain times of the day. Eight-person constructed ques have a similar nature but don’t fire nearly as often as the release ques do. If the release ques end up with fewer people playing in them, as I’m arguing they will, then there should be an increase in both the price of packs as well as the price of constructed playable cards.

This possibility may be mitigated by the changes Wizards is making to the premier level events during the release period. Pay outs for premier sealed events will now extend to sixty-four places. There will also be more of them. Both weekends of the release there are sixteen different premier sealed events to participate in.

The problem with moving the prize support from the sixteen player events to the premier event level is two fold. First, they simply cost more. Thirty tickets is not that much more than the twenty-six that release events used to be, so I don’t think this is that big of a deal. I do think it will turn away some, but these may also be some of the same people who appreciate the decrease in cost to the non-premier sealed. Secondly, premier events require more time. The number of players for the premier events is limited in such a way that the swiss will always be eight rounds. While I’m sure there are some out there who appreciate not having to play ten or eleven rounds, there are still plenty of others who cannot dedicate eight hours of their day to playing in one event.

Events like dailies and eight-person ques are successful, I’m sure, in part because they do not take away that much of one’s time. A constructed daily may take between three and four hours, with varying amounts of downtime in between rounds. I often use this downtime to take care of household chores or making food. Four round sealed events take closer to four hours because of the time associated with deck building and can take even longer. Still this is a chunk of time one can relatively easily set aside. It is much harder to have twice that amount of time. The premier events are only scheduled on the weekends in an assumption that it is more likely people have that amount of time on the weekend. While this is generally true, there is still a large enough contingent of players who do not.

Ultimately, I think the changes Wizards is making to the release structure will cause a decrease in players participating in the release events. As a result even fewer packs will enter the system than the overall decrease in prize pay out would suggest leading to higher pack prices as well as those for singles. However, I do not think such effects will cause things to change come the next sets release. It can be argued that it is too cheap to buy into Magic Online with a minimum of reinvesting into the system. If there are too many players taking advantage of the generous payouts in events like constructed dailies or the previous structure for release events than Wizards is missing revenue opportunities.

The changes to release event pay outs may be an attempt for them to correct this problem. If fewer Theros release events fire than M14 or any of the sets of the previous block, it isn’t necessarily a loss for Wizards. It may be the case that they move more product through the online store, either because people are not able to leverage one event into a second one or because price inflation on packs through bots makes it more economical for players to buy directly from Wizards. This second possibility used to be the case for packs of new sets, which would typically sell for more than four tickets upon release. I haven’t kept track of the Magic Online market long enough to know why this has stopped being the case, but I’m sure the folks in Washington would not mind returning to a similar state if it meant more packs or tickets being bought from them.

Thanks for reading,

Grant Christopher
Hologram001 on MTGO