MTG Arena Ladder: Not Your Typical Tournament

Introduction 

Magic: The Gathering is still the game we know and love, although it has adapted over the years since its inception.  Over this time, MTG has had new sets, card types, and rules changes.  MTG went digital almost 17 years ago with MTG Online.  Digital MTG has also adapted other titles, some better than others, including games such as BattleMage, Armageddon, Battlegrounds, Tactics, Duels of the Planeswalkers series, and now Arena.

Although Arena isn’t new territory for Magic, it is redefining Magic and trying to transition our beloved table top into the digital age in ways the aforementioned digital games could only dream of doing.  While Magic: The Gathering Online was the first (and only) of these to bring a faithful reproduction of tabletop magic to our computers, Arena is looking to improve upon a now decrepit UI, game engine, and monetization system.  For the time being, MTG Online will still hold a space in the digital sphere in areas that Arena cannot in its infancy.  It will remain the go to for older formats and give the most authentic tabletop draft and tournament experience.  However, the new kid on the block isn’t just recreated MTG in a digital space – it’s redefining the game itself.

Magic tournaments have been the soul of the competitive scene since the game’s beginning in 1993.  The first DCI, then known as the “Duelists’ Convocation” (the governing body for competitive MTG) tournament was held in 1993 at GenCon.  The tournament scene continued growing through the first Pro Tour, held in 1996.  The Pro Tour has been a staple, and the pinnacle, of MTG tournaments ever since…until now.

Mythic Invitational

Shortly following the open beta of MTG Arena, Wizards of the Coast (the company behind our beloved game) announced an overhaul of competitive Magic. The Pro Tour has been rebranded as the Mythic Championships.  However, it’s not only the name that has changed.  Wizards, following years of criticism for not paying sustainable prize money to higher echelon MTG pros, announced that their top 32 pros would become the first Magic Pro League (MPL) players that would be guaranteed a seat in their first Mythic Championships.  These MPL members are offered two contracts (one for competitive play and another for content creation) valued together at $75,000.  The prize support for the Mythic Championships is valued at $10,000,000 between paper, Arena, and payroll.

Although we are still waiting to hear more details on how becoming a coveted MPL member will be achieved, or for who else may appear in Mythic Championships, one thing is certain: Wizards is shaking up the old formula and there has never been a better time, or as many people, attempting to get their hands on that prize money.

While we await more details on this new tournament scene, there is still plenty going on in the development of competitive Magic with Arena.  The Mythic Invitational tournament has been announced for PAX East in Boston at the end of March.  Although the invitational’s name is close to the Mythic Championships, these are two entirely different entities.  The Mythic Invitational has a purse of $1,000,000 with first place taking home $250,000 and last place still garnering a staggering $7,500!  The Mythic Invitational will be a 64-person double elimination tournament, featuring Magic’s new Duo Standard format.  Invitations have gone out to the 32 MPL members, and 24 pros, streamers, and other digital influences.  If you’re doing the math, you’ll notice there remains 8 spots unaccounted for.  They are going to the top 8 players from MTG Arena’s constructed ladder for this month!

Most Magic players with any ambitions of achieving this lofty goal will have experience with tournaments, but digital ladders are significantly different from normal tournaments.  Let’s look over the differences that you need to know if you have ambitions of punching a ticket to Boston!

Ladder

Magic Arena is home to two ladders.  One for Constructed play and another for Limited.  The two ladders function similarly but for the purposes of this article, focus will remain on the Constructed ladder.

The ladder is a ranking system where players are broken up into 5 tiers with 4 divisions each.  Players test their card skills while ascending from Bronze 4 through Diamond 1.  After climbing through Diamond 1 players attain the rank of Mythic.  Once Mythic the real climb begins.  The top 1,000 Mythic players are individually ranked while the rest are given a percentile rank showing their distance from the top 1000. (A higher percentage is better).  Games at Mythic utilize an MMR (Match Maker Rating) system akin to an Elo system.  Winning will move a player up the leader board, while losing will drop the player down.  Although not confirmed by Wizards, most video games utilizing an Elo system also have a decay system.  In a decay system, nonactive players will slowly lose MMR.

At the end of each month, ranks reset, with every player dropping 2 full tiers for the next climb and Mythic players going to Silver 4.  The Mythic Invitational invites only involve the top 8 from the February Constructed ladder – it’s almost guaranteed there will be other incentives for climbing ladder in the future.

Conquering the Ladder

 

There Are Two Formats to Choose From

If ladder is essentially an infinite round, month long tournament having two formats for a single ladder is more akin to having two tournaments with a single result.  While some players will prefer to play in one format or another, other players will switch between the two.  Both formats offer unique play styles and strategy.

The ladder can be climbed through either Best of 1 or Best of 3 play.  Although both formats utilize the same cards (minus the recent ban of Nexus of Fate in Best of 1 play), the meta for each ladder are significantly different.  Best of 1 decks tend to take advantage of the lack of sideboards by either playing a more proactive strategy or a slower top heavy game.  Decks operating outside this modus operandi will usually struggle against at least one of the two aforementioned strategies with only 60 cards in one game.

Utilizing the Bo1 ladder also favors proactive strategies from the Arena’s Bo1 hand algorithm.  Arena decided that to decrease the number of games through Magic’s mana system, that before showing your opening hand, the game will draw two hands behind the scenes.  Of those two hands, the game will deliver your opening hand as the one with the closer land to spell ratio as compared to your deck.  While a Bo3 mono red deck may run 20 lands to not become mana starved, mono red lists in bo1 can get away with running as few as 18 or in some cases even 17 lands.  In addition to more gas in the deck, it also decreases their likelihood of flooding out in the mid to late game.

While Bo1 has its advantages, Bo3 isn’t without its own merits.  Arena’s meta will change quicker than paper because players adapt rapidly but otherwise is very similar to the paper meta.  Games played (or lost) in Bo3 are weighed twice as heavily as Bo1 due to the extra time needed to finish a match as opposed to a single game.

Climbing Ladder occurs in Two Phases

Much like the Day 1 and Day 2 of a large paper tournament, the ladder can be broken down as a two-part event with the first phase being the climb to Mythic and the second being the ascension of rank within Mythic.  Some Day 2 decks sputter against the narrower field of the second end of a large event because they may be well placed in a larger meta but not the smaller ones.  Decks encountered before and after Mythic operate somewhat similarly.  In addition to players in Mythic generally being more skilled, decks in Mythic usually are completed, or tuned to specifically counteract the current meta.

Unlike a Day 1 and 2 scenario of a large paper tournament, different strategies can be applied to climbing the ladder before and after Mythic.  In paper tournaments, the objective is to win every round possible until the end with the winner being the person with the most wins.  Since players on the ladder aren’t restricted to a maximum number of games, the speed of wins is important.

Since the objective is getting to Mythic as quickly as possible, it is sometimes objectively better to play a deck with a lower win rate, if it allows for more games per hour.  The goal is to end at some point of net wins above losses, whether the ratio of wins to losses is a high or low is irrelevant in the scheme of time.  Even though time may be the overall measuring stick of an efficient climb, win rate is still valuable in this phase of the ladder climb because MMR is still being calculated before Mythic.  After hitting Mythic playing more games is still important for climbing, but the value shifts from time to win rate as the sole determination of rank becomes MMR.

It should be noted that although the priority may change, number of games and win rate are still both valuable throughout the climb.  Recently it was discovered that accessing the Arena output logs would show the number of wins and losses a player has had.  As of the writing of this article, Alexander Hayne is at #1 Mythic with a 73% win rate over the course of 215 matches while Martin Juza is #19 with a 62% win rate in 261 matches.  Priority between win rate and games played may switch during a ladder climb, but both remain inherently important throughout.

The End is the Most Important

The ending rank of players is all that matters.  A player that sits at #1 Mythic the entire last day will not finish there.  Rank is relative to other players.  In most Digital CCG ladders, there is a frantic push from players at the end to increase the rank.  Losing rank at that point becomes irrelevant as the end goal for everyone is the top.  The key to a successful ladder climb is being in position the last day or two to make a solid surge at the end.  It’s important to properly pace yourself throughout the month.  There’s nothing worse than burning out before the end.  Playing at optimal levels the last day is imperative!

 

The Meta Isn’t Set in Stone

When registering for a normal MTG tournament, every player plays with the same list through completion.  With a month-long ladder, not only is the number of games each player partakes in varied, but the number of decks they utilize does as well.  As the meta shifts, players pick up the latest tech or counter what they encountered.  A solid performance with a deck at any given time can suddenly tank if the meta sways against it.  Being ahead of the meta is important for registering a deck in a normal tournament, but  it’s imperative throughout a climb through the highest ranks of Mythic.  This adds another dynamic of skill to finish at the top.

This dynamic also tests the number of cards in a player’s collection.  A player with access to more decks will be able to respond efficiently according to the meta.  Arena is free to play and Mythic is achievable without spending money, however, those with larger collections will have an advantage at the top.

Have Fun

This is probably the most important piece of advice.  The climb to the top is daunting.  Out of every MTG Arena player in the world, only 8 will advance to the Invitational.  The odds are stacked against every player.  Don’t become discouraged!  Don’t forget moderation.  It’s easy to get locked onto the prize and waste countless hours pursuing the top.  Enjoy the journey and worry less about the destination.  The goal in MTG in any format should be on having fun, and for the Spikes of the world, constantly improving!  Please comment below with results of your climb and more tips – every experience is worth sharing and learning!

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