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The draft queues conundrum

After a small hiatus, I’m back to writing about my Magic journey to become a better player. Since I last wrote, I’ve played several PTQs, I have qualified and played all the WMCQ, with small success (always around top 32, never breaking in to the top). Also, I am back playing MTGO. I am trying to play every other day, and this has brought a lot of questions, as there are things that are not really obvious.

One of the first dilemmas I came across as I reentered the online world had to do with drafting: which draft queue is best for me? As a regular listener of Limited Resources podcast, I understand that the 4-3-2-2s are not the best ,value wise. Almost in any instance, doesn’t matter your level or win percentage, the return value you get from either Swiss or 8-4 queues is better. [This is a good article to understand why, by Joseph Bono].

My first reaction was: “well, I am still rusty and I need to get better before playing 8-4s”. So during M13 and RTR draft seasons I almost only did Swiss queues. It seemed very smart at the moment: I needed to play more, so playing all three rounds was better to improve my playing skills, and the level is supposedly lower, so I can win more, and expect a better return value for my investment, both in money and time. And it was working. My win percentage rate was high and I was getting a more playing time, great to practice for the PTQ season.

My PTQs weren’t very good. I was out early in all of them, although I kept playing (and winning) on the losers bracket to get points for the next season, and experience. It was a little bit disappointing, as I was winning a lot on Magic online, and that should count for something, right? Yes and no. Let me explain: overall, my match record in all RTR season PTQs was good… but I was out early in all of them, because I was winning matches on the losers bracket. I wasn’t winning against the best players in the room, I was winning against the average PTQ player (just for the record, I am not undervaluing those players, some of them are much better than me, for sure). Extrapolating this to my MTGO win percentage: the best players play on the 8-4s for a reason: is not because of the EV (at least not only), is because of the challenge, and practice, that is playing against the best. So I was winning more because I was playing on the Swiss queues. There are other inherent problems on the Swiss queues, but we will address them on another time.

Life caught up with me, and while I was still testing for modern and standard seasons, I left again MTGO aside. When Dragon’s Maze was released, the lure to play a multicolor format was too much to ignore, and I decided to give it a go. Again, even though in the back of my head I knew it was not optimal, I started in the Swiss queues, with very bad results. Then I made one more realization: when I am not testing for a PTQ format, the thing that I like the most about drafting is to “solve the problem of how to draft the format”. The games are great, don’t get me wrong, but the actual solving the draft puzzle is something I really enjoy. And if one draft goes by the wayside, I want to start another draft, not play and loose three matches with it.

That’s when I realize that 8-4s where, in theory, better for me. If I loose in the first rounds, I can start immediately another draft. I may get less return value in number of packs won in theory, but in that other resource that I value a lot, my time, I am investing it better. So I jumped right into the 8-4s and started drafting. Imagine my surprise when of my first five 8-4s I won three of them, got to the final once and losing the other in the first round. In numbers: I got 28 packs in 5 drafts, that’s 5.6 packs per draft, way more than in Swiss queues with a perfect record.

Obviously, that win percentage wasn’t realistic, and since then I have played more and lost my fair share. But overall, I can say that jumping to 8-4 queues was the best thing for me, both in terms of return value in number of packs, time invested, and lessons learned. Also, when you win, is a lot more rewarding.

So, if you are like me and have doubts of what queue fits you better, don’t be afraid to jump into the 8-4 queues. You won’t regret it.