When Lee Sharpe announced that there would be a transition to a new payout system for Magic Online, emotions ran high. Large bot chains started getting requests for quotes on their collections. Players started making the Magic equivalent of bank runs. A new Black Friday was looming, with the power to destroy the entire online economy. But is the sky really falling or do people just need more information?
At its core, what is a Play Point? It’s 1/10th of a ticket. 1/10th of an untradeable ticket. You can use them to enter events and win them from other events. They’re essentially the closest Wizards of the Coast has been to awarding tickets from events.
Before looking at the new payouts for events, let’s look deeper at Play Points as a currency. There are two main axes on which to evaluate these types of currencies: stability and liquidity.
Stability is a measure of how much the value of your currency changes over short periods of time. Near the end of the Civil War, people in the south began to realize that the Confederacy was nearing its end, which led to the value of the confederate dollar fluctuating wildly. What may buy you a loaf of bread one day only bought an apple the next. We’d say that the Confederate dollar was an unstable currency, since a person couldn’t count on its price from day to day.
When Khans of Tarkir release events started, a pack of KTK was worth 4.5 tickets. Right before Fate Reforged came out online, that price had nearly halved to 2.3 tickets. Now winning an 8-4 gave you half as many tickets as it did before. Packs, as a reward, can be quite unstable. This is especially true for Constructed events, where you can’t use packs directly to enter.
How do Play Points change this? Since entry costs are fixed, I always know (in terms of event entries) what my Play Point rewards get me. No matter how bad the MTGO economy gets, winning a two-player event always ensures me 1.5 entries to two-player events. This makes Play Points very stable.
Liquidity of an asset measures how easily you are able to convert its value into some other form of currency. Imagine you have two Magic players, Steve and Rachel. Steve owns an Alpha Black Lotus in good condition (currently valued around $16,000). Rachel suspected that Goblin Piledriver was going to be a big part of Battle for Zendikar Standard and owns 1,600 of them (currently valued around $10.00).
Emergency strikes before the next Pro Tour and both Steve and Rachel need to dip into their card collections for $500. Who is in a better situation here? Steve has two things going against him. He’s only able to sell his whole collection and will end up with a lot more cash than he needs. He might not be able to even find someone to buy a Black Lotus for full price on short notice. His Black Lotus lacks liquidity.
On the other hand, Rachel just has to contact ChannelFireball and offer to sell them a portion of her Piledriver stack for a slight loss. Even if she sells them to players, a lot more people have $10 they are able to toss around for Standard cards. Her collection is a lot more liquid. In this example, even though both cards have similar stability, Rachel has more flexibility in her finances.
What does this mean for Magic Online? While tickets are the gold standard for MTGO, being almost an equivalent to dollars, Play Points aren’t as flexible. You can’t (directly) make them into cards. But compare them to the thing that they replaced: Phantom Points. I’ll be frank—Phantom Points were awful. They could only be used on certain events and the prizes were worse. Play Points can be used for basically any event and are much more liquid. Being good at Cube, for example, now earns you entries for Limited events to build your collection!
So what is our verdict on Play Points as a currency? Play Points are less liquid than tickets, but more liquid than Phantom Points and are more stable than packs. If we look at Play Points independent of how they are paid out in events, it seems like a pretty good idea. For most players, the stability of payouts outweighs the liquidity downside.
Now we need to look at how Play Points are being implemented. I’m going to look at the upcoming Constructed events. In all of these, we’re going to look at the difference in first place. We want to evaluate whether the change has made these events better or worse to play in.
Here we have our most straightforward comparison. We have 1 booster versus 30 Play Points. This establishes a floor of 3 tickets per booster pack. If booster packs are worth more than that, the old system is more profitable. Otherwise, the new system is better. Just looking at recent booster prices, many sets are dipping below that 3 ticket line about a month before the release of a new set.
Constructed 8-Player Queue
If we cancel 2 boosters from each side, we have 3 boosters versus 140 Play Points. This sets a floor of 4.67 tickets per booster. That’s really good! Regular packs can’t maintain a price that high, since at some point it becomes cheaper just to buy packs from Wizards themselves. That means it is always better to win an 8-player queue under the new system. For the lower places, we have a similar 3 ticket floor.
Constructed Daily Swiss
The entry price for Constructed Dailies has doubled so I’m going to double the old payout in order to make a proper comparison. If we cancel out 6 packs, we are left with 16 packs versus 360 Play Points. This puts our floor at 2.25 tickets per booster. Yeesh. That’s terrible!
The paradox occurring here is that by putting fewer booster packs into the system, the value of packs will tend to stay higher. But the higher the value of packs the more Constructed players should wish they were playing under the old system!
What are our conclusions? Some knobs definitely need to be turned on a few events. There’s no point in having the added stability of prizes if those prizes are at the low end of the variance of previous prizes. If those knobs are tweaked however, most players should be happy about the new Play Points. Constructive feedback can go a long way toward making this change a good one for our community. Let Lee know that you want some of the payouts reevaluated or that you’d like extended options to spend excess Play Points. And hey, if worse comes to worst, you can just join some Sealed queues and drop with your cards. Your first-round opponent might thank you!