Everything You Should Know About the Arena Economy


MTG Arena is a great tool to support your Magic fix. Try out new deck ideas, get in a real game of Standard or a draft anytime at the push of a button. The program is theoretically free to play too, albeit with a bunch of asterisks and caveats. Here's what you should know to get as close to this ideal as possible!

black hole sun

Unlike a collection of physical Magic cards or Magic Online's digital objects, MTG Arena is designed to be a financial black hole. Money goes in, but you can't ever trade anything away again to get money back out. The only way you can make a profit is through tournaments. Some are part of the program and potentially free, some are hosted by third parties and usually require additional cash to enter. Either way, don't get your hopes up. At the top, this platform pits you against the best and brightest, the most talented, most invested players from all over the world. Getting to face some veritable stars—Pro Tour champions, World Champions, members of the MPL or Hall of Fame—and being able to say "Hello!" to them from the comfort of your sofa is "Nice!" You just shouldn't expect to win big. Better go at it with the expectation that what you put into Arena stays in Arena.

Full disclosure. Here at Cardmarket, we have a vested interest that you use your Magic budget on physical cards. This article should help you get the full MTG Arena experience without spending too much on pixels.

In Defense of Expense

While the program is technically free to play, to unlock a reasonable card pool within a reasonable time frame for free, you have to be an almost unreasonably successful player. But if you treat Arena like any other video game you might buy, it's easy to justify the cost. It's fun, it's fast, it offers unlimited gameplay against real people, and much of it represents a near-perfect approximation of actual, real Magic. (Best-of-one Constructed and Historic can both subject you to their own lines of cards that don't exist in paper, overlapping in best-of-one Historic.) Availing yourself of such a powerful test environment can translate into real financial benefits in the real world too, hard as it may be to trace and quantify the return on investment.


Like many others who have covered the topic before me, I need to point out that buying 20,000 gems for $99.99 is the most sensible way to put money into Arena. Starting out an article on how to minimize spending by recommending an expenditure of a hundred bucks may seem counterintuitive, but that's just the way of the world. If you spend smaller amounts, you don't get proportionally less but disproportionally less, up to 25% less per dollar. The "most popular" deal sets you back 15% and that is not a "great deal" by the storefront's own admission. (On rare occasions you might get a better rate via limited-time offers that you can only buy once. "The Adventurer's Bundle" for example included 3,500 gems at $14.99—a bonus of 17% compared to the $99.99 package.)

Money goes to money, as the saying goes. (The German equivalent packs a bit more of a poetic punch; it stipulates that the devil always defecates onto what already is the biggest heap.) Of course, in this case, it's not so much money, just in-game currency, but the same principle applies. Those who have a lot of it can make smarter decisions with it, can shrug off downswings, and they accrue interest: you unlock more cards faster, you rank up, you receive better rewards, which in turn unlock more cards, and so on. In the most blatant implementation of the Vimes theory of economic unfairness, every set allows you to buy a pass for 3,400 gems that over time spits out more than 4,000 in value.

Back to those 20,000 gems. It's absolutely possible to unlock all necessary Standard cards and a bunch of Historic decks on this one-time investment alone. A few conditions apply:

  • You actually enjoy playing Arena and don't count time spent as another investment.
  • You're a decent player. (People so invested that they read big articles typically are.)
  • You follow the advice outlined below. (See parenthesis above.)


Mystifying as that may sound, some people hate to draft and want to play 60-card decks all the time. If this describes you, I thank you for your service. After all, you're making the program so incredibly profitable for Wizards that they allow the drafters to have it all for free. Seriously, you better learn to enjoy drafting and "git gud" at it. Otherwise the program will make you pay!

the arena triangle
  • If you don't want to draft and don't want to make concessions regarding your Constructed options, you'll have to put money into every new Standard set.

  • If you don't want to put money into every new Standard set and don't want to draft, you'll have to make concessions regarding your Constructed options.

  • If you don't want to make concessions regarding your Constructed options and don't want to put money into every new Standard set, you'll have to draft.

Such is the harsh reality of the Arena Triangle, and yes, it is harsh. It's also reality. Though you can get away with a bit of a mixed calculation: draft some, pay some, make some concessions, in respective proportions interchangeable to a degree. However, when the ultimate goal is not to burn (through) money, you either limit your options or opt for Limited.

Traditional Draft!

The cheapest way to acquire cards is to do well in Traditional Drafts. These work just like drafts at a local game store. Only, as people can play their three matches whenever they please, they get paired against random opponents from random draft pods. (The pairing algorithm also takes players' records into account but only to an unknown extent.) Participation costs 1,500 gems up front.

  • Going 3-0 yields a net profit of 1,500 gems and six prize packs.
  • 2-1 results in four prize packs but a forfeiture of 500 of the invested gems.
  • Two or more losses leave you up by one prize pack and down all 1,500 gems.

Alternatively, you can buy prize packs straight from the store, at 200 gems apiece. This is always faster and sometimes cheaper, depending on your win rate. But when we calculate the exact cutoff at which Traditional Drafts yield more packs per gem, we find a surprisingly low win rate. Down to three digits, it's 0.546.

At a Uniform Match Win Rate of 54.6% …
RecordGemsPacksProbabilityGem EVPack EVGems per Pack

Reading aid: "Gem EV" and "Pack EV" show the change in inventory one expects to incur from a certain record per draft. Getting six packs 16.3% of the time, four packs 40.6% of the time, and one pack the rest of the time adds up to more than 3.03 packs on average. On the other end, the average draft costs less than 606 gems here, making this cheaper than the 600-for-three rate the store offers.

In practice things will be a little more complicated because we cannot assume a uniform win rate across all three matches. It should be more difficult to advance from 2-0 to 3-0 than to win the first or second match. BUT— On the flip side, we didn't account at all yet for all the cards added to the collection by the draft itself. How much these will be worth depends on rare drafting, although needless to say they move the needle even further toward drafting.

So as long as you expect to win five random draft matches out of every nine you play, you should put gems into drafts, not packs. And if you expect victory in 70.8% of each draft match, you do not stop. At that point the average Traditional Draft doesn't cost gems but nets gems.

At a Uniform Match Win Rate of 70.8% …
RecordGemsPacksProbabilityGem EVPack EVGems per Pack

Let's compare the theoretical construct of a uniform win rate with some actual, observed numbers: Across my first 39 Zendikar Rising drafts I went 83-34 (an overall win rate of 70.9%) but lost 2,500 gems. (I still made 159 prize packs along the way, meaning an expense of just 15.7 gems per pack.) Across my first 33 Kaldheim drafts, on the other hand, I went 70-29 (so a lower win rate of 70.7%) but made 500 gems (and 131 packs). The difference was that only half as many of my Kaldheim decks were 2-1 decks. Drafts either went really well or really badly.

More volatile results are always good for you in Magic, and Arena is no different. If you were able to alternate reliably between 3-0 and 0-3, you could draft for free indefinitely at a mere 50% win rate.

Note: There's a reason for—and a valuable lesson in—the fact that I cannot maintain numbers as high as these for more than 40 drafts at best. The skill gap between players naturally diminishes over time. Get your wins early into a new format and they're easier.

What's in a Pack?

While Arena uses regular fifteen-card boosters (no foils) for draft, all other packs outside of draft, prizes same as store-bought, work like this:

  • They have no other purpose than to be opened.
  • They contain four commons and two uncommons.
  • They also contain one rare or mythic of which you haven't collected four yet.
  • Wildcards replace cards of the same rarity at irregular intervals. On average:
    • one common wildcard per three packs
    • one uncommon wildcard per five packs
    • one rare wildcard per 30 packs
    • one mythic wildcard per 30 packs
  • On top you get bonus wildcards at regular intervals:
    • one uncommon wildcard per six packs
    • one rare wildcard per six packs, upgraded to mythic once every 30 packs
  • And as soon as you do have four of every rare from a set, these packs contain 20 gems whenever you'd normally get a rare. Excess mythics convert to 40 gems in the same manner.

(All of the above and all of the following numbers are true, to the best of my knowledge, for regular current sets such as Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Slots reserved for double-faced cards or Strixhaven's Mystical Archive complicate matters.)

In total you can expect an average of 28 wildcards per 30 prize packs: ten common, eleven uncommon, five rare, and two mythic wildcards. Additionally you earn tiny fractions of noncommon wildcards whenever you pick up commons or uncommons beyond the four-of limit from any source. You can cash in wildcards for cards of the corresponding rarity, making them the most valuable commodity on your quest to complete Constructed decks.

Taking everything into account, including all substitutions and bonuses, here is what you can expect per prize pack:

On Average one Prize Pack Adds to Your Inventory …
When You …Random
… have nothing yet:3.66670.33331.80000.36670.82380.16670.10950.0667——
… hit one excess common:2.66670.33331.80000.36970.82380.16870.10950.0677——
… hit one excess uncommon:3.66670.33330.80000.37570.82380.17270.10950.0697——
… have all commons:——0.33331.80000.37770.82380.17400.10950.0703——
… have all uncommons:3.66670.3333——0.38290.82380.17750.10950.0721——
… have all rares:3.66670.33331.80000.3667——0.16670.10950.066716.4762
… have all mythics:3.66670.33331.80000.36670.82380.1667——0.06674.3810
… have the whole set:——0.3333——0.3939——0.1848——0.075720.8571

At sufficiently large sample sizes, intervals and odds work the same, so the table adds up both:

  • one-in-five chance to open a pack with an uncommon wildcard ⇒ 0.2
  • guaranteed bonus uncommon wildcard with every sixth pack ⇒ 0.1667
  • total uncommon wildcards per pack ⇒ 0.3667
The sums also include fractions that Arena hides away and stores out of reach in the "Vault" until all numbers add up to make one, two, and three whole wildcards. Each excess common effectively adds 0.001 mythic wildcards, 0.002 rare wildcards, and 0.003 uncommon wildcards. Each excess uncommon does three times that.

Free Stuff

Next to gems, the program's internal economy also operates on gold. How much gold is worth, relative to gems, is debatable. (See "Conversion Rates" below.) The important distinction here is that you don't buy gold but get it upon the completion of various tasks. Also important: If you want to maximize gold, you can't go a single day without your Arena fix, conditioning for a little addiction. Though, to be fair, the system rewards stability and moderation rather than escalation.

Daily Wins

The first game win per day is worth 250 gold, the next three award 100 gold each, and then it's down to 50 and later 25 for every second win, up to the fourteenth. Game wins that don't award gold come with individual card rewards. Past win number fifteen, there are no more benefits.

  • If you win sixteen games one day and don't play for the next three, you get 750 gold.
  • If you split sixteen game wins evenly over four days, you get 2,200 gold.

Daily Quests

Quests also benefit from a daily routine. Each account gets assigned a new random quest every day, worth either 500 or 750 gold, unless there are three unfinished quests already waiting. Once per day, it's possible to replace one quest with a different quest, again drawn at random from the same pool. The exact rates at which the various quests appear in the pool are unknown, but those for 500 are more common than those for 750.


For maximum gold you should follow these rules, each day, listed in descending order of priority.

  1. Replace a 500 gold quest—the easiest if you have multiple.
  2. When you have three open quests, try to finish exactly one.
  3. Try to avoid finishing a 500 quest.
  4. Try to finish a quest for 750 gold on the day you get it.

If you can't get at least four daily wins without completing a 500 gold quest, accept the loss and take the wins. (Sometimes the re-roll leaves you stuck with "Kill 15 of your opponent's creatures," which may be inescapable.)

Likewise, if you're currently drafting your way to a fuller collection, playing an event, or making an effort to rank up, prioritize that. The benefits of competitive success outweigh the benefits of optimal lottery management. However, the latter aren't negligible either. I once spent a 22-day stretch strictly adhering to all of these rules to generate an average of 659 gold per quest.

Perennial Events

Next to drafts, one can always enter simple Constructed events. In theory the best-of-three queue already offers positive expected value at a uniform match win rate of 55.1%. However, at that rate, each entry promises very little gain (1.1 gold on average) and carries enormous risk (42.4% chance to lose gold compared to a 39.3% chance to add gold). Gaining enough gold per entry to buy just one pack requires an astronomical win rate of 90.4%. No one can complete their collection this way.

Most of the time Arena also offers special events that cost inherently relevant entry but don't offer inherently relevant prizes. Some allow you to turn gems or gold into nothing more than cosmetic upgrades. Some allow you to recoup your investment at best. Of course, none of these are for the economically minded.

This event was called something like "Yawn" but might as well have been "Global Thermonuclear War"

At the other end of the spectrum, there's "Midweek Magic": a weekly event with neither elimination nor entry fee that hands out one rare or mythic for each of your first two wins. Everyone should always collect these.

Monthly Rewards

The main reason to engage in ranked play is to qualify for the—mostly monthly—Qualifier Weekend. Going 7-2 on each of its two days is one of the few ways to get money back out of the Arena system. The Qualifier Weekend also awards up to 6,000 gems. But a secondary, ancillary benefit of higher ranks is a better bonus at the end of the month: I'm always collecting the maximum of ten prize packs plus 2,000 gold.

Annual Rewards

Every year, players who've been active before the Standard rotation receive a bonus: currently nine rares (five from the new set) and one mythic (ditto). Just after a rotation has traditionally been the best time to start building a Standard collection, all the way back to 1996. These "Renewal Rewards" mean the best time to start on Arena is just ahead of the rotation—without spending much beforehand.

Per-Set Rewards

Every new Standard set is accompanied by a "Mastery" path. You don't need to know the convoluted details to enjoy the periodic pop-ups and attendant rewards. Though you should know about the Mastery Pass.

With the Mastery Pass you get a ton of extras, worth 4,117 gems even at the most conservative evaluation. But unlocking these extras requires waiting and playing time and, first of all, a payment. You can either pay 5,400 gems for a fast pass, which is obviously incorrect, or you can buy the simple Mastery Pass for 3,400. This should always be worth it as long as …

  • … the expense doesn't interfere with your events/drafting.
  • … you finish an average of one quest per day.
  • … you win four to six games per day.
  • … you start this regimen when the set is new.

Daily Deals

The fourth and final reason to use Arena every day is to check out the rotating offers from the store. Roughly 94% of days won't have anything for the frugally inclined, but every once in a while you encounter the equivalent of a genie that allows you to wish for more wishes.

Yes, you can only buy these once every time they're on

Whether you should pay in gems or gold is a tricky subject. It becomes even trickier when you entertain deals of 120–180 gems/600–900 gold for a pack. It's also the subject of the following chapter.

Conversion Rates

"Conversion" may not be technically correct. Arena doesn't allow the user to convert between units. It's always a one-way street, usually with heavy friction losses. You can convert $99.99 into 20,000 gems, but not the other way around.

We've already met a bunch of similar conversions throughout the article so far. For example, a whale might turn 200 gems into one prize pack, which translates into roughly 3.7 commons, 1.8 uncommons, 0.8 rares, 0.1 mythics, 0.33 common wildcards, 0.37 uncommon wildcards, 0.17 rare wildcards, and 0.07 mythic wildcards. Meanwhile, a smart shark will turn 1,500 gems into one Traditional Draft.

There's also a conversion option for wildcards. When you draft a lot, you will end up with a surplus. Then, when the next set comes around, you can trade them away for cards that you would have acquired anyway, be it while drafting, opening packs, or through individual card rewards. Whenever this means you later pick up a fifth copy instead of a copy for your collection, your inventory grows by something else instead. The rates aren't great, the process is cumbersome and takes a bit to bear fruit, but it works.

You Give:You (Effectively) Get:
1 common wildcard0.003 uncommon wildcards, 0.002 rare wildcards, 0.001 mythic wildcards
1 uncommon wildcard0.009 uncommon wildcards, 0.006 rare wildcards, 0.003 mythic wildcards
1 rare wildcard20 gems
1 mythic wildcard40 gems
crafting IKO
I've been doing this periodically at least since Ikoria (pictured here)

Gem/Gold Conversion

  • One can buy packs for either 1,000 gold or 200 gems.
  • Sometimes one can buy a pack for 900 gold/180 gems.
  • Sometimes one can buy a pack for 600 gold/120 gems.
  • Therefore, 2 gems are worth 10 gold.

But …

  • A Traditional Draft costs either 10,000 gold or 1,500 gems to enter.
  • A Premier Draft costs either 10,000 gold or 1,500 gems to enter.
  • A Quick Draft costs either 5,000 gold or 750 gems to enter
  • Therefore, 15 gems are worth 100 gold.

If you source your cards predominantly from drafts, as you should, then 15/100 is the appropriate conversion rate for you. You should apply it to all of your dealings.

This means that everything you might buy from the store will be cheaper if you pay for it in gold. Many events will be cheaper too. Most notably, it costs up to 4,500 gems or 22,500 gold to participate in an Arena Open. (The Open is similar to a Grand Prix in that you can win cash prizes and that it's open to all.) 4,500 gems is the equivalent of three Traditional Drafts, whereas 22,500 gold only pays for two-and-a-quarter.

This also means you should conserve gold and rather pay for drafts in gems, at least up to the point when you cannot buy Mastery Passes anymore, ideally with a buffer. Conversely, this conversion rate makes it more appealing again to buy packs directly for 1,000/900/600 gold. Traditional Drafts net prize packs at a better rate only if you win 58.1%, 59.2%, and 60.4% of your matches, respectively. (Accounting just for prize packs, not for the cards added to your collection by the draft itself, still leaves a significant edge on top.)

Putting It All Together

I tracked the development of my wildcards, gems, and gold over the course of the past seven months. (For the first ten days, I didn't take stock daily yet.) The result:


As you can see, most movement happened upon a set release, at the beginning of each month, and whenever there was an Arena Open in Sealed Deck.

  • Before jumping into Traditional Drafts, I crafted all of Kaldheim's uncommons and mythics to earn scarcer wildcards and get a better return on my gems. (The net gain of 500 gems mentioned earlier did not include any of these extra gems.)

  • For Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, I simply crafted the whole set. The decision turned out to be a boon to my card collection but a bane on my wildcard/gem reserves because I'm doing miserably in this Limited environment. Nevertheless, I still have more gems/gold than seven months ago and more of every wildcard than this time last year.

  • Within the first first three days of drafting Strixhaven, I got 23 common, 34 uncommon, sixteen rare, and eight mythic wildcards. That alone is enough to build one Monored Aggro or Jeskai Cycling main deck, both decently popular and successful at the time.

  • On the weekend of February 20, I entered the Arena Open six times. This was the first instance where the difference in price between gems and gold was so relevant. I had not saved up enough gold to pay for more than one of these entries and lost a lot of gems unnecessarily.

  • On May 9, I entered another Open four times. This time I had saved up enough gold to pay for three entries, but then I got weak and gave it one more try anyway.

  • At the beginning of each month, I typically do a speed run to mythic through Quick Drafts. While this strategy usually entails a hit to my gems/gold, it allowed me to claim the #1 spot five times so far and supplied a steady stream of invites to all Qualifier Weekends since September … 2019.

  • In the lull between set releases, I often grow my inventory a bit via special draft events like Cube. When I find an exploitable strategy, I share it on Twitter (for example or example). Same goes for bot behavior in Quick Drafts (for example or example). Consider giving me a follow! (However, I mostly use Twitter to complain about stuff—like everyone else, really.)

Of course, none of the above involved any input of money. I don't recall when I last put money into it, though I made a ton of bad decisions back when Arena was new. So far I only got this article out of it. But should I ever win one of the cash prizes (minimum at an Open is $1,000 and Qualifier Weekends feed into a championship with a minimum payout of $500) I'll immediately be up on money overall.


You can check out (and double-check) most of the calculations that ended up in this article (as well as a few more) on this Google sheet. You can also download it and enter your own win rates. Enjoy!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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fabbius(04.11.2021 00:08)

Thank you very much for the article, it is really insightful and exhaustive.

I did not fully understood why "you should conserve gold and rather pay for drafts in gems". I'm a draft-focused player and I did cosinder logical that I should pay in gold for drafts, because that provides the possibility to convert the "less valuable" currency (gold)into the "more valuable" (gems). Thank you for the clarification.

TobiHenke(19.11.2021 20:03)

Gold only has 15% as much value as gems for the all-important purpose of drafting, but some things you may want to buy (entry fee to an Arena Open for example) treat gold as if it were worth 20%. If you can pay for those things in gold instead of gems, you get more bang for your buck.

18,000 gems equal twelve Traditional Drafts.
90,000 gold equals nine Traditional Drafts.
Four Arena Open entries cost 18,000 gems or 90,000 gold.
If you pay in gold, you lose the equivalent of nine Traditional Drafts.
If you pay in gems, you lose the equivalent of twelve Traditional Drafts.

randmann2(12.08.2021 16:45)

Could you explain more about the reason to Redeem Wildcards of all C,UC,M maybe R at the beginning of a new set?

TobiHenke(12.08.2021 18:53)(Edited: 12.08.2021 18:56)

I can try. Maybe the following example will help:

Step 1: I craft 320 uncommons and 40 commons from the next set.

Step 2: I draft the set enough to get four copies of every common and uncommon. But since I already had 320 uncommons and 40 commons to begin with, I got Vault progress instead: 0.3% for each of these uncommons and 0.1% for each of these commons.

Step 3: My Vault is now at 100% more than it would have been if I didn't craft these cards. (320 × 0.3% = 96% and 40 × 0.1% = 4%).

Step 4: I open the Vault and get 3 uncommon wildcards, 2 rare wildcards, and 1 mythic wildcard.

So now I have effectively turned 320 uncommon wildcards and 40 common wildcards into 3 uncommon wildcards, 2 rare wildcards, and 1 mythic wildcard. Since I have way too many uncommon and common wildcards, this is a good deal for me.

randmann(12.08.2021 22:25)

Thank you, know I understand this.

deblaenk(11.08.2021 09:07)(Edited: 11.08.2021 09:08)

Just for all normal non-pro players here: A winrate of 70% at drafting is absolutely unreasonable to assume. Only very few players are able to maintain a winrate that high. Don't just do Traditional Draft and expect to 2-1 per default plus 3-0 every once in a while. For most players the 1-2 (0 Gems) is just a lot more probably than the 3-0 (3000 Gems) and that breaks the economy of this idea completely.

TobiHenke(11.08.2021 11:02)

Agree on the 70% win rate! As already mentioned, I myself can't maintain such a high win rate either.

But all the ideas in this article still hold true even at a match win rate of 55%. Even at that rate, you get five Traditional Drafts for the price of two. (To take full advantage is why I'd suggest to invest in a bit of starting capital.) Don't forget that you get one free Traditional Draft every eight to nine days via gold too. All of this doesn't combine to *all* the cards at no cost, though to a decent amount of cards.

At 67% you get about ten Traditional Drafts for the price of one, and at that point, free-to-play with a ton of decks becomes very real.

If your win rate is lower than ~55%, then the only advice anyone can give is: improve your win rate. Again, that's the harsh reality of the Arena system.

SirLunch-A-Lot(10.08.2021 18:59)

Hmm. I've not spent money on Arena in the last two years and I've been comfortably drafting once or twice a week (with gold from dailies or gems that I won) and getting the Mastery pass every new edition from gems I won, too, so can't really complain there.

Still quite well researched and informative.

trupiciel(10.08.2021 18:49)

Thanks Mr. Henke for using light and witty language for such a thorough analysis! I need to refresh my Twitter password to give you a follow.

Northstar1978(10.08.2021 16:31)

I have to do say, that even I'm not in Online MTG, that this article was so well researched and written, that I ve read the entire post.

TheRealLevelUp(10.08.2021 16:00)

:) the flemish version corresponds with the Dutch one :)
Very interesting articl to read, many thks!

Landro(10.08.2021 14:59)(Edited: 10.08.2021 15:01)

The Dutch version is: "De duvel schijt altijd op dezelfde hoop"

Saving up packs at the start of a new set can also be very helpful. I usually wait to open my packs until I'm done drafting to reduce the chance of drafting rares I already got from packs.

About the mastery pass:
You don't have to buy it at the start. You get the rewards retroactively when you buy it. So if you buy it when you're already lvl40 you get a lot of rewards all at once. I usually spend my hoarded gems on sealed at the start of a new set and then use quickdraft to convert gold into gems to buy the mastery pass.

pikolak(10.08.2021 13:55)

Wow this is very detailed and well written. I am somewhere in the middle of the triangle, sometimes buy some gems, but mostly mix limited and constructed and it works pretty well - for me it means I can draft a lot and play some standard for very little cash.