The Grind & win rates in Magic

0
498

Gold Pro Team Face to Face Games Team member — Morgan McLaughlin.

I’m still in disbelief I’m able to write that and I’m sure few of you reading really know who I am. Edgar wrote a great intro to our team here and describes pretty succinctly where I’ve essentially been. A semi-competitive player who “accidentally” hit Gold pro status. As my introduction to you all, I’d like to give some more detail on “the grind” I’ve gone through which has led me to this moment.

I learned to play Magic while doing camping trips in Boy Scouts in 2001. Nothing quite like going to the outdoors to site at a picnic table and play cards. A couple years later I attended my first sanctioned event in early 2004 at the age of 14 and was immediately hooked, and began to play sanctioned events as often as I could get a ride to the local card store. After playing for awhile I heard about the Pro Tour and the “play the game; see the World” mantra — I had a new goal…how hard could it be? I was only 15 and already winning over 50% of my matches. I began to travel and play in my first PTQs within a year. I bummed rides from the rest of the Windsor MTG crew (mostly Mike Vasovski, so I can likely thank/blame him for this addiction). From 2005 to 2007 I played in 19 PTQs with a win rate sitting in the 50-55% range managing just a single Top 8. Through this time I definitely remember feeling unlucky and that I “deserved” to do better, but looking back I was young and silly. My win rate simply wasn’t that great, but more on this later.

In 2007 I started university to pursue a software engineering degree and quit competitive Magic to focus on school. A year long co-op placement in 2010 had me living in a new city (Kitchener) without really knowing anyone outside of a few people I’d met through Magic, this of course this got me back into playing again. As a short aside: Magic has been great for me in this way and has meant much more than simply being a game or hobby. It has helped me form great relationships with many people I’d have never met otherwise. I’ve lived in six different cities around Ontario in the past 10-15 years and magic has helped keep me connected with friends all over the province.

Members of Team Face to Face Games at Grand Prix Atlanta.

From 2010 to 2012 I played another 9 PTQs with a win rate in the high 50% and managed my second Top 8. Playing in these events and that additional Top 8 really shaped the next couple years of my life. I graduated with my undergraduate engineering degree in 2012, but had a desire to achieve the goal I’d been working towards for the better part a decade: qualify for the Pro Tour. I decided to pursue a Masters as it would give me more flexible time to continue focusing on Magic while still “achieving” other life goals focusing on a degree in Computer Science studying AI Search & Decision making Algorithms (article link). I wasn’t willing to simply put life on hold, but I did want to have the ability to spend all of my free time focusing on magic. At this time I also had the thought in the back of my mind having the opportunity to really jump into Pro Magic if I was able successfully achieve my goal of qualifying and start traveling to Grand Prix’ to potentially try and chain them together. This wasn’t something I ever really voiced to anyone as the reason for my decision to “not work” and continue in school.

During this period from 2012 to 2014 I really started to push myself grinding Magic Online and traveling to everything remotely driveable. Including double PTQ weekend trips into Michigan and Ohio (a roughly five hour drive) and driving up to four hours for individual PTQs in Montreal and even Binghamton, NY (home of new F2F team mate Eli Kassis!). I met a bunch of great friends during this time and as pushed each other to do these crazier and crazier trips to try and get that qualification.

It was during this era in the very last of the original PTQs I managed to finally break through. I beat local end boss (and now friend) Lucas Siow in the Finals of my first PTQ win. This win was very emotional for me, it had been announce that the PTQ system was changing and I was about to graduate from my Masters program and needed to “get a real job”. I remember needing to fight back tears as all those hours and grinding had finally met the most basic of Magic goals at what felt like the last minute — to play on the big stage. In my first Pro Tour I managed a respectable 9-5 record with a prize-split in the final round. Just playing in the “the show” was enough for me to leave satisfied and prizing in it as well was just gravy.

From there I’ve continued playing semi-consistently, but have let my other life goals trump Magic. I’ve begun to work full-time and got married. I managed a Grand Prix Top 8 in 2016 and qualified for Pro Tour Hawaii which my wife, Sarah, and I took as more of a chance to go on vacation.

I’d played in two Pro Tours with decent results, but there was more to pro Magic that I wanted to accomplish. I could see the next step in front of me, but I needed to do what it took to get me there. Late last year is where things really started to change, I wanted to achieve more, but I didn’t really have additional time to devote to the game; so what could I do? I’d been playing a lot of other games like League of Legends and Hearthstone quite regularly in my spare time only focusing on Magic for a day or two before an event I meant to play. I made the decision to uninstall both from my computer and use my “game time” to exclusively play Magic. Not just in a “grind for an event” type of way, but enough to stay interested and up to date on all formats.

A couple months later I managed a Top 4 finish at Canadian Nationals, then shortly after won a PPTQ qualified for an RPTQ in April 2018. I had a fair amount of time before this sealed RPTQ so I started exclusively grinding Sealed RIX; for the first time I managed to break the 1900 MTGO ELO barrier which I was then able to leverage into my 3rd PT qualification in June 2018. This was fantastic, I was staying up to date in events without needing to put life on hold driving hours and hours to PTQs in other provinces/states.

The last Limited meeting before Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica for Team Face to Face.

Now this was only the beginning. GP Toronto Trios Constructed was two weeks before the Pro Tour and I really wanted to play Standard to help prepare. I managed to convince my old pal, Legacy master and Read the Bones aficionado Lucas Siow to team with me. Only a couple week before the event we then picked up Chris Harabas to Vial some Humans in Modern. I managed a respectable 9-3-2 record, but Chris miraculously went undefeated until the 11th round of Swiss and we carried Lucas kicking and screaming into Top 4 and eventually became GP champions. It was great winning with friends rather than needing to slay one in the finals.

The following week I was in Jamaica for a friend’s wedding, which had been luckily planned months before to not overlap with the GP and PT. Of course with a GP win the weekend before and a Pro Tour to attend the week after I wanted to prepare. With shoddy internet my only option was sleeving up multiple decks and then playing solitaire against myself. I probably managed to play upwards of 50 games this way and tuned the B/W list I’d played at GP Toronto. This led to Pro Tour Dominaria where I managed an 11-1 record and sat in first place going into Round 13. This led to a feature match against no other than Owen Turtenwald.

Now as I’d mentioned before, I was trying to do well but up until this point I had no real goals outside of “doing my best”. However this was the point I suddenly realized I actually had a shot at the holy grail of magic finishes: a Pro Tour Top 8. A single win in the next three rounds would be an almost mortal lock for Top 8. Of course I absolutely fell apart on camera. I had a near panic attack and going back and watching that match you can visibly see me hyper-ventilating a bit. I’ve never experienced anything quite like that in my life, it was just everything hitting me all at once and in the moment a new goal had been created. I conceded a game before I’d even lost, I was likely to lose from that position but it definitely wasn’t over yet. This was far from my first time on camera and I’d played Owen three times before then and once before that same day Draft (I was even 2-0-1 against him up until this point), but I’d never wanted it the same way and that was my part of my downfall — in addition to my opponent being among the best in the world of course.

I followed that up with two more losses and my opponents both immediately locking Top 8 before winning the final round 16 to finish as the top 12-4 player in 9th place. An amazing finish looking back, but at the time it had felt somewhat devastating for such an emotional 4-5h rollercoaster. A couple weeks later a Top 4 finish at GP Pittsburgh then a Top 32 finish at Pro Tour Minnesota – I was suddenly Gold and locked for the next year of Pro Tours.

Morgan, Chris Harabas and Lucas Siow after winning Grand Prix Toronto.

Hitting Gold Pro Status had never really been something I’d aspired towards, it was a dream, but I’d just always assumed I’d never get close. Simply hitting Silver status to play a couple PTs in a row would have felt fantastic. However as things have worked out somewhat through sheer luck and from a little bit of an increased commitment to focus on Magic versus my other hobbies has given me the ability to capitalize on this opportunity.

Now I’ve started to become better friends with local pro Edgar Magalhães and now Face to Face teammate as he travelled to events nearly every weekend for multiple months trying desperately to lock up gold for the 2018-2019 season — which I’d just done but felt like a complete fluke in comparison to Edgar’s grind. He managed to reach his goal in Detroit in September (congrats Edgar, extremely well deserved). Seeing this grind really has made me see my own opportunity in a new light and looking back at what those PTQ days felt like this seems almost easy in comparison…I didn’t need to win any events just put up some reasonable results. I have a real shot at Platinum with only four of 12 slots used for 34 points I have two Pro Tours and 8 (!) open slots to gain 18 points for Platinum in the next 5 months. With six points locked from Pro Tours, I need to find only 12 points meaning small 1 and 2 point GP finishes have a lot of value currently. So far since PT Minneapolis I’ve played in four GPs and have unfortunately missed day two in all of them despite now having three byes. Here’s hoping the variance gods have finished catching up with me and I can find a way to build up those points. So far through the end of the year I’ve got the Pro Tour to play this week, GP Milwaukee next week and a trip to Vancouver already planned at the end of December — which as I’m writing this article I’ve just found out it will be a sweet new limited format I’ll be ready to tackle).

I’m super excited to be working with such an incredible team to help my achieve my goals. I definitely think we have the tools to succeed and be competitive in the team series, especially after seeing all of the success my teammates have had over the last couple weeks.

Speaking of grinding I wanted to discuss some numbers regarding the likelihood of qualifying for the Pro Tour through the old PTQ system. I’ve talked to many players about how unlucky they are or how they might feel like they “deserve” more, I myself felt this early on in my Magic career. Let’s take a look at how difficult it really is or how much someone should “expect” to win. So we can all temper our expectations when tilt sets in.

How likely is it to Top 8 a PTQ given a specific win rate?

Given an N round PTQ we assume that a Top 8 will require a N-1-1 record. For simplicity we will assume this means a minimum of N-1 record is required after the penultimate round. Of course sometimes a player cannot draw and sometimes a N-2 record can squeak in, but for simplicity we’ll assume that these scenarios are pretty close as it should only affect our calculations by a fraction of a percentage anyway.

We can write this expression as:

Win rate ^ (#Swiss rounds – 1) + (Win rate ^ (#Swiss rounds – 2)) * (1 – Win rate) * (#Swiss rounds – 1) = Expected Top 8 %

As the vast majority of PTQs I’ve personally played in have been 8 rounds, I’ll use this number for my example.

Expected top 8s:

(.61^7) + ((.61^6)*.39)*7 = 17.2%

(.56^7) + ((.56^6)*.44)*7 = 11.2%

(.5^7) + ((.5^6)*.5)*7 = 6.25%

(.4^7) + ((.4^6)*.6)*7 = 1.88%

Compared to my own results of actual top 8s:

2012-2014: ~61%
7/42 = 16.1% difference of -1.1%

2010-2012: ~56% win rate
1/9 = 11.1% difference of -0.1%

2005-2007: ~50% win rate
1/19 = 5.2% difference of -1.05%

It looks like this comparison appears to work quite well and while the numbers show I potentially could have had one more Top 8 I’ve been running quite close to how I should have expected given my win rate. Early on it does appear I was a bit under expectation, though only barely and not enough to get as frustrated as I had been.

Disclaimer: I realize the early events should probably be tested with 7 round events and the latter with 8.5-9 round events. We could also start looking at scaling opponent difficult as a tournament goes on, but I believe this still gives us a good gist of things while keeping the math relatively simply.

How likely is it to win a Top 8 with a specified win%?

Here the math is even simpler. We need to win three rounds in a row, no other way.

Win rate ^ 3

.61 ^ 3 = 22.7%

.5 ^ 3 = 12.5%

2012-2014
1/7 = 14.3%

Overall
1/9 = 11.1%

Now this is where we likely do need to consider greater opponent strength. Win rate will likely drop as we’re now playing against better opponents. Looking up my results I had a total record of 7-6 for a 53.8% win rate. With such a small sample size I wouldn’t want to call this “my win rate” and while these numbers are a bit below expectation, but still in the realm of a “usual” result. At the time I had felt quite unlucky until that win, and worried about “not being able to close” there was nothing truly “unlucky” in my own results.

Putting these numbers together the expectation of a 61% win rate to win a specific PTQ would be only .172 (chance to T8) * .227 (chance to win T8) = 3.9%.

The reality is that we’ve all felt unlucky had a streak of bad luck in Magic. But, as you can see, it’s just not realistic to expect to win every tournament. What I’m telling you is that numbers don’t lie and that just like it did for me, if you strive for consistent results and work hard — you will spike an event and achieve your goals.

How many Pro Points should I expect at a GP?

My lifetime GP win rate has sat around ~60%, and now with 3 byes I’d play 12 rounds. Using these assumptions I can assume:

12*.6 = 7.2 wins + 3 byes = 10.2 expected wins.

With 10 wins being good for one point and essentially having a point-per-win above that I should reasonably be able to expect roughly 1.5 points per GP. This is dramatically simplifying things here for now. With two Pro Tours to play if I also manage to play another 4-5 Grand Prix’ just running average could give me the expectation of hitting Platinum

This is the dream I had years ago, my recent results have been way above expectation and I couldn’t be happier. I’m no longer looking for at most a measly 3.9% likelihood of walking away from an event happy. The current expectation of attending a Grand Prix should be >50% of picking up a point to help towards the Platinum quest. It feels much better going to an event where you have a higher chance at hitting your current goal of success.

I look forward to the grind ahead for the next few months, I feel like this is my one shot to really make it and I hope to make the most of it.

Discussion