Is the MTG Arena Mastery Pass Worth Buying?

Update 7/11/19

Shortly after the publication of this article, Wizards of the Coast announced some major changes to the Mastery Pass system. Primarily, they have removed XP for daily wins and added XP for weekly wins. This addresses the most common complaint from players about the pass: requiring daily play to earn maximum XP. Here are the full XP changes, from the WotC infographic in the announcement:

MTG Arena Mastery Pass

While they adjusted the XP for quest completion downward, the maximum XP per week went up by 250 XP, meaning that even players who were maxing out XP before this change benefit from it because they will need fewer XP codes and event XP to make it to level 100.

Speaking of event XP, the Chronicles information is also an important clarification from WotC. In the article below, I said the value of the pass was contingent on how easy it would be to get the extra levels from codes and special events, but WotC was asking us to trust them on events with no details. Understanding that players can earn 5,000 XP total in free Chronicles events is huge! Along with the two existing 2,000 XP codes “LevelUp” and “BroughtBack”, players can now count on nine extra levels without spending any gold or gems. If WotC can commit to the remaining six not requiring gold or gems to access, that would be the final assurance most players would need that the 15 levels worth of additional XP will be attainable in a fair way.

Before this update, the daily play requirement for max XP and the lack of details around the promise of “15 bonus levels” from codes and event XP had me recommending that only daily players and cosmetics lovers invest in the pass up front. With no economic penalty for buying the pass later, it felt wiser for non-daily players to wait to purchase it until later in the season when their value proposition would be clearer.

Now, anyone who wins at least 15 times a week, completes all their quests, and isn’t against playing the “Chronicles” events can buy the pass with confidence, even if they don’t play every day. Those who expect to miss a few quests and wins here and there have a good value on their hands also, maybe even level 100 value. Let’s break it down with the new numbers.

Players maxing out quest and win XP while getting all 15 levels worth of extra XP from WotC will have the equivalent of 109 levels of XP, at 1,000 XP per level at the end of the season. Here’s how to predict how short of level 100 you will end up over the course of a 13-week Mastery Pass season, assuming you use the two XP codes above. For quest and win estimates, think about an average week, then multiply that by 13 for the amount you will lose in that area over the course of a season:

· -500 XP: For each day you fail to earn a new quest by ending your play with three incomplete quests

· -250 XP: For each win short of 15 during each MTG Arena week of Monday – Sunday

· -1000 XP: For each of the five weekly Chronicles events you expect to skip (where you play free special events to unlock cosmetics and gold)

· Up to -6,000 XP: However much you distrust WotC to make the additional 6,000 XP easily available to you

Add up your lost XP, divide by 1,000, and subtract that result from 109 to get your predicted level. So, someone who misses earning a new quest or two a week (-750 x 13), wins about 12 games a week (-750 x 13), and plays Chronicles events, but doesn’t count on any more extra XP (-6,000) can expect to end up at about level 83.

To see what that level 83 gets you, check out this sweet tool from one of my stream viewers, intadtRaptor! Make a copy of the sheet, answer the questions in yellow, and the sheet will show you how much gem value to expect from the Mastery Pass. The default gem value for a booster is 22.5 because that is the average gems you will get from a pack when you have 4x of rares and mythics. The default for a mythic rare is 40 because that is how many gems you will get for it if you have 4x of mythics in that set.

If you don’t expect to 4x and don’t value Constructed, lower those numbers. If you place a high value on collection building, you can increase those defaults to reflect that. Punch in your numbers, and the spreadsheet will show you the gem value you can expect for your 3,400-gem investment.

I appreciate intadtRaptor’s efforts on this spreadsheet, because it drives home how easy it’s going to be for regular players to get their gem’s worth out of the Mastery Pass after this update. A level 79 player who doesn’t value packs or cards beyond the default values breaks even on the Mastery Pass now!

Original Article:

With the Core Set 2020 update last week, Wizards of the Coast introduced an optional add-on purchase called the “Mastery Pass” to MTG Arena, and with it the concept of set-long player experience points and player levels. Players now earn XP by completing quests and winning games, and they earn free boosters as they level up. Whenever a set launches, XP levels reset to zero and the level climb begins again.

Players who purchase the optional 3,400-gem Mastery Pass for a given set earn gold, gems, boosters, cards, and cosmetics as they level up as well. Whenever you buy a Mastery Pass, you receive all the rewards you would have earned based on your current level immediately, so there is no economic penalty for buying the pass later in the season.

The MTG Arena Mastery Pass: Is it Worth it?

MTG Arena Mastery Pass

I would ignore the 5,400-gem version and the 250-gem “XP Boost” option that appears after purchasing the 3,400 gem pass to accelerate gaining levels: it’s not worth it, it sends a confusing message about leveling up, and they are phasing it out anyway.

So how exactly do you earn XP, what exactly do you get for it, and is it worth it? I considered these questions on my stream last week, and the info seemed worth putting into an article.

First, Some Monkey Business

In a fairness study involving Capuchin monkeys, two monkeys learned to hand rocks to a tester in exchange for cucumber pieces; a job they did contentedly. Then, one monkey began to earn superior-tasting grapes for the job while the other still earned cucumber pieces for it. Under these conditions, the cucumber-earning monkey began to throw the cucumber pieces back at the tester in clear frustration and protest, even though nothing about its work-reward proposition had changed, and even though “rocks for cucumbers” as an economic baseline was entirely made up to begin with.

We are all Capuchin monkeys in the MTG Arena economy. Before we dive in and see for which player types the Mastery Pass system is an upgrade from cucumber to grapes, let’s avoid an unwarranted Capuchin-like fairness response when assessing this new economic system by keeping in mind this fundamental question:

“What is lost?”

The only thing being taken away with the introduction of the Mastery System is the ability to earn three packs during a week by winning 15 times. These packs have been replaced by earning packs via XP, but all the other economic systems are unchanged. Therefore, no matter what one concludes about the value proposition of a Mastery Pass, the only players with a legitimate economic complaint about the new system are those whose current play patterns will earn them fewer free boosters over the course of a set cycle than they would have under the previous system.

While the number of such players will certainly be above zero, it will be far, far lower than the number of players who will inevitably brandish torches and pitchforks on the internet like cucumber Capuchin monkeys if the Mastery Pass isn’t a good purchase for them, regardless of what was actually lost.

Earning XP and Levels

Players can earn up to 1,000 XP per day via daily quest completion and game wins:

  • Quests: 800 XP per quest
  • First Daily Win: 100 XP
  • Second Daily Win: 50 XP
  • Third Daily Win: 50 XP

This means that a player that wins three times a day and finishes each day with an empty quest slot will max out their play-based XP by the end of a set. Players level up every 1,000 XP to a maximum level of 100. This is a confusing maximum when you consider that there are fewer than 100 days during which a Magic set is “current” on MTG Arena! How is anyone supposed to make Level 100 in 12-13 weeks of XP grinding?

Wizards of the Coast has assured the community in a follow-up Mastery System announcement 15 levels per set will be made available via codes and events, and has made good on that promise so far with the 2,000 XP codes “LevelUp” and “BroughtBack.” It remains to be seen how the other 11 “free” levels will be made available, especially the event-based XP rewards. Will they put XP behind gem-only events? Will there be format-specific event XP, excluding those that don’t like the format from earning it? Will XP be in free events only?

It’s difficult to assess the true value of the Mastery Pass without understanding exactly how to earn all the event-based XP, but I believe this much about WotC’s intentions: they want players who already win three times a day and complete all their quests to love the Mastery Pass. I believe that if you are such a player, you will be provided with a reasonable path to level 100 through codes and event XP.

Regardless, since you are not economically penalized for waiting to purchase a Mastery Pass, you can wait until the end of the season to make your decision if you have any doubt about WotC delivering on its value to you.

What Do I Get?

If you do buy the Mastery Pass and you do reach level 100, what do you get for your 3,400 gems? Here’s the full list. The order in which you earn this stuff can be seen in the “reward track” in the “Mastery” tab of the MTG Arena Client. The free track is on top, the Mastery Pass track on the bottom.

  • 2,000 Gems
  • 10,000 Gold
  • 20 booster packs (5 each of GRN, RNA, WAR, and M20)
  • 10 Random Mythic Rares from GRN, RNA, WAR, and M20
  • 5 Planeswalker Cards from the M20 Planeswalker Decks
  • The Elemental Cat (a battlefield pet), a Chandra, Flame’s Fury avatar, and Chandra Mastery Pass card sleeves
  • Two visual upgrades to the Elemental Cat
  • 20 Card Styles
  • 25 Set Mastery Orbs (redeemable for card styles)
  • Exquisite Chandra Card Sleeves (“Exquisite” sleeves have VFX)

MTG Arena Mastery Pass 2

With the 2,000-gem rebate, the final cost of the other items in this package for a level-100 player is effectively 1,400 gems. In classic “value meal” style, that’s an excellent rate for all of that stuff, regardless of your interest in the cosmetics. Even for a Limited-only player, the gold represents two Ranked drafts, or 1,500 gems in draft entry fees. That’s a +100 gem net even for a player who doesn’t care much about the boosters or cards!

How realistic is level 100 given your play style, though, and how willing are you to adjust your play style to optimize for leveling? That’s the important question for someone not already winning three times a day and completing all their quests.

No Really, What Do *I* Get?

I will assume here that on a day a player does play, they will win three or more times and complete all available quests. The Mastery Pass is somewhat front-loaded, but with 100 total levels, you can think of every missed level as missing roughly 1% of the value of the package. How far behind will players fall on XP if they miss any days of play?

By tying 200 XP a day to daily win bonuses, players lose out on 200 XP each day they go without playing. If the daily quest refresh happens when a player has three incomplete quests, they will miss getting a new quest, costing the opportunity to earn 800 XP. This means that when players go a fourth day in a row without playing, they lose an opportunity for 800 XP, and another 800 XP every subsequent missed day.

For example, if you knew you were going off the grid camping for a week during the season, that would cost you (7 x 200) + (4 x 800) XP, or 4,600 XP, which is 4.6 levels, or about 4.6% of your equity in the pass!

Or, let’s say you are someone who never takes more than three days off in a row and completes your quests. You’ll miss about 600-800 XP a week for the ~13 weeks, for a 9,100-XP loss, or about 9.1% of your equity in the pass.

Weekend warriors get the worst of it: if you only play on Saturday and Sunday, you are missing out on 3 quests and 5 days of win XP each week. That’s going to cost you (3 x 800) + (5 x 200) XP, or 3,400 XP, for a 13-week XP loss of 44,200, and a loss of 44.2% equity in the pass. Clearly, the Mastery Pass is not for the weekend-only player!

This close connection between earning XP and playing daily has a lot of players who do not play every day upset, because the Mastery Pass punishes them for missing days. This is where we come back to the Capuchin monkey reaction, though. It’s annoying when something isn’t made for you, but the Mastery Pass only punishes you for missing play if you have opted into the purchase!

If you are at all unsure whether you will be able to extract the value, don’t buy the pass until the value is clear, and try not to resent other players for getting grapes in the meantime. Remember that nothing has been taken from you! Probably.

Did I Lose Anything?

Back to that fundamental question of what, if anything, was lost in this change. Players earn their last free booster at level 72, which works out about the same as earning three boosters per week under the previous “15 wins” system. Therefore, the only players who are taking an economic hit under the Mastery System are those whose play patterns produced 15 wins a week previously but won’t get them to level 72 under the new system.

The weekend warriors fall into this camp. They can expect to lose out on about 45 levels during a season, putting them at level 55 come season’s end, and that’s assuming the 15 free levels from WotC are easy for such players to come by. Level 55 players earn nine fewer boosters during a season than a level 72 player, so nine boosters over the course of three months represents about the biggest loss a player who had been winning 15 games a week previously could experience.

It should only take about 4,300 XP a week to make level 72 with the help of 15 levels from WotC, so if you already play at least a couple times a week with a couple days in between and you complete your quests when you do play, reaching level 72 and maintaining previous “free pack” value shouldn’t be a problem. So, if you play that much or more, remember that you haven’t lost a thing even if the Mastery Pass isn’t good value for you!

Conclusions

If you aren’t on a tight budget and you enjoy the fun of leaving yourself a trail of in-game presents, or you are fairly confident you will maintain a three-win-a-day, complete-all-quests pace, or you place a high value on cosmetic items, you can buy the Mastery Pass with solid confidence. While the XP-earning details aren’t all clear, it is crystal clear that WotC has invested a lot of effort into this rollout, and they want regular players who buy into it to be happy with their purchase. I believe they will adjust things as needed with this system to make that happen.

Ultimately, though, the lack of a penalty for waiting on your purchase plus the lack of clarity around how one earns “event XP” have me recommending that players on a budget and those unsure of their XP-generating capabilities just wait until they have a clearer personal value picture before buying a Mastery Pass. If you are stretching every last gem for your MTG Arena play, you might as well be sure of the value before you pull the trigger!

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you on Twitch for Going Optimal!

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