Expected value vs Experience Value
(Or: Perilously Predicting Trends of Quality)
There has been no end to discussion about the PPTQ system. Articles about the stress it has on the judge program, abundant videos about the strain it puts on local stores to be able to run profitably, random people stopping you on the street to complain about the current lack of a points system to soften the dreaded second place. However, rarely do I see people extolling any benefits of the PPTQ scene, which there are – they just require some amount of rose-tinting. Let’s do some enjoyable analysis based on the last PPTQ I attended which just so happens to have been hosted by the Axion Now folk. So obviously the prizes are above average, but they’ll do to illustrate my point. One of the biggest issues of PPTQs in general (I know I know you’re bored of hearing it but stick with me) is they are hard to make appealing to the average player. When they each require at least one judge that needs to be reimbursed for their time, a store owner to spend their day managing the event, and the prizes to lure players in, that money has to come from somewhere. So the cost to enter the standard pptq was £20 ($25), with 60 players attending, and the significant prizes being a booster box to each player, a box generously added to the unfortunate chump who squeaks 9th on tie breakers, a few boosters to players on a winning record, and the rest of the entry fee being used to make up the various costs. On top of this the journey for me personally cost about £10 (although that was in part because I was fortunate enough to split costs with friends – something I’d always recommend trying to do. It’s friendly to both your wallet and the environment!).
Against the random field of a PPTQ, let’s optimistically put our win rate at 60%. After some time having to remember exactly how to work out probability (Bernoulli trials are what you want in case you’re interested) you’re about 23% to make the top 8 with a 6-0 or 5-1 record, with the caveat that this doesn’t take into account draws. So with putting the value of a box at about £70 ($90) and your expected value even with a high 60% win rate tournament is only £11 from a £20 investment. That’s even with a tournament with an excellent EV compared to the average (I’ve entered PPTQs with 3 boosters to 8th, and half a box to 1st with 40 players or so), and not including the cost to get there! Assuming you can make the RPTQ and the promo value continues to be consistent with the previous two instalments (£72) that does boost the E.V from this one event to a much more respectable ~£27, although the travel to that adds another cost to the mountain. And this is all assuming a very strong 60% consistent win rate (so you never get a bad matchup, and are always better than your opponent...)
So yeah, as you can see we’re not in this business to make money. So why bother? The most obvious thing that can’t have a hard and fast value placed on it is how much an RPTQ qualification means to you. As someone who’s been fortunate enough to spike a PTQ from back in the good old days, let me say that you’re probably undervaluing that chance at an invite. The pro tour was an incredible experience of hanging out with friends, a chance at battling some of the best in the world, and getting to see Washington D.C in the downtime was also great. And I firmly do believe that if you can win a PPTQ, with the right mental attitude, a good deck and strong play anyone has a chance at taking a slot home from the RPTQ.
Never underestimate the value of hanging out with friends.
“But Sean!” I hear you cry, “I already knew all this! The only reason I put myself through that miserable grind week after week is to chase that golden ticket!” Well, maybe that shouldn’t be the only reason. A pptq is also a great place to practice and get better at your game. It’s a well-known adage by this point that one of the best ways to improve is to play against people better than you. If you go to enough events you’ll begin to see familiar faces event in event out near the top tables and if you’re doing well you’ll play against these people week after week and you will learn things that you hadn’t thought about. I’ll illustrate with a nice little example from a top 8 draft match I was watching the other day.
This is game two, and player A has already shown their opponent a fatal push in their deck that they ideally want them to walk into. But as it only costs one cheap little mana, it’s hard to not be representing that at all times without tapping yourself out. So with 3 untapped mana, they played an implement of malice with a black mana open and passed the turn. Immediately after having passed the turn they picked up the malice, seemed to realise it could only be activated as a sorcery, and made a noncommittal “huh” noise. Conveniently, the opponent attacked with a two drop, used a combat trick, and had their creature take a tumble into the chasm.
It’s more of a neat story then actual life lessons, but these sort of things will happen all the time at a pptq. There is a lot of magic played at any given event, and if your round finishes early maybe spend some time spectating? It’s hard for most of us to be able to test as much as we’d like (stupid real life) and watching matchups play out can sometimes help give you a bit more perspective.
But really, the main reason that I still put myself through pptqs (other than the qualification) is the people. That is, the people that you meet and the people I manage to drag with me for one more shot at that invite. This is almost an article topic in of itself, but one of the best pieces of advice I can give to keep enjoying this game through the grind is to talk and interact with other players, especially the ones near your local area. I’m fortunate enough to be good friends with local players that I travel with which helps make the road trips more fun, but being able to spend your downtime between rounds chatting, playing non-magic games and exchanging bad beats stories to people that you meet at these events is a great experience in of itself.
"Artists representation of a PTTQ"
Finally, it’s somewhat of a more minor point but definitely a relevant one – GPTs will soon be exclusive to the GPs they serve, which can make grinding those last few planeswalker points for Nationals qualification and even hopefully that all important GP bye a little harder than it used to be. PPTQs do have a 4x multiplier, which can really help rack up the points to hit those milestones. I’m fortunate enough to have just hit the threshold for two byes, but that wouldn’t have happened in time for my next GP without grinding my way through a few decent PPTQ results.
So, to sum up – the expected value of even the best PPTQs isn’t… great. But even keeping that in mind, when you consider the experience of the pro tour itself, hanging out with friends and learning by consuming as much magic as possible, it makes the grind something I recommend to everyone with a competitive mind-set, even if it’s something that you’re just starting to be interested in. And hey, what else useful were you going to use that weekend for anyway?
About Sean Knowelden:
At his first prerelease, a young Sean thought how great infect could be if he opened a Sword of Feast and Famine to pump the power of his creatures. He opened a foil, went 0-5 and immediately traded off the sword for some other Mythics, something that may not have panned out in the long run. Since then he spent a few years attempting to learn how to play limited, and then he won a PTQ and displayed a solid 9-7 results with GW hatebears of all things. Nowadays he plays every GP and PPTQ that he can just about justify to himself, and has earned several solid top 64 GP results and 21st at GP Barcelona.