Last updated on October 11, 2021

MTG Arena Matchmaking Feature - Doubling Season art by Richard Wright

Doubling Season | Illustration by Richard Wright

The matchmaking system in MTG Arena is a confusing thing. You sit down at your computer, pick what queue you want to play in, and decide which deck you want to use for the game. A few moments later, you’re matched against somebody that the game has decided is your equal and you start slinging spells.

We take this whole process for granted for the most part and don’t really question what it is or what we’d do without it. But I imagine you’re at least curious about how the matchmaking system chooses your opponents, right? Let’s talk about it.

Keeping track of how the system picks your opponent can get a little tricky, but once you break it down and take a closer look, things start to make sense. MTG Arena’s matchmaking relies on the ranking system to decide your opponents, and then breaks down a little more from there .

Demystify

Demystify | Illustration by Véronique Meignaud

What is MMR?

Under the surface of the rank Arena gives you, you’ve got an “MMR” (matchmaking rank) which is assigned to you based on your gameplay. There are three different MMRs that MTGA keeps track of as you play: Open Play MMR, Constructed MMR, and Limited MMR.

These help to keep you playing against the “right” opponent regardless of which deck you choose. If you’re really good at Constructed but bad at drafting, you won’t have to worry about getting stomped in Limited while you’re busy mopping the floor in the Constructed scene. Ranked formats use both your Limited and Constructed MMR respective to whichever format you’re playing, so you’re safe from any skill level mix-ups.

MTGA Platinum Tier 4 rank

Source

Matchmaking in Mythic

Ok, so we’ve gone over how your rank impacts your pool of opponents, but you’re likely asking: “What about once you hit Mythic and you don’t have any steps to climb like in the lower ranks?” My answer to you is that, well, that’s why MMR exists.

Once you get to Mythic, your MMR takes over completely and you’ll notice that, instead of being in stages of Mythic, you’ll have a percentage that shows you roughly where you are in the rank compared to other players. This percentage is calculated by your MMR and tells you how close you are to the Mythic leaderboard. For example, if you’re at 78%, that means you only have another 22% left to climb before earning a spot on the top of the top.

The Mythic leaderboard itself is comprised of 1500 spots, all of which are decided by comparing Mythic-ranked players’ MMR. Naturally, this also affects matchmaking, and you shouldn’t see too many people that are far from where you are. It’s also important to know that players can share the same MMR, meaning two players have the same rank. So, don’t be too surprised if both you and your opponent are ranked at #876 on the ladder.

MTGA War of the Spark Season 3 rank

Source

Matchmaking for Limited

This all makes sense for Constructed, but what about Limited? Well, let me tell ya, there’s not much of a difference.

You’ll switch from your rank and MMR in Constructed to your rank and MMR in Limited if you jump into the ranked queue for draft. Your current win/loss ratio is also thrown into the mix.

The calculations that go into choosing your opponents will be the same as they were in Constructed, with the added bonus that you don’t have to worry about facing off against a deck that’s 6-0 when you’ve only been able to go 3-2 in your current run. You’re more likely to face off against an opponent with a similar record and skill level with all three of these benchmarks in place.

Checks and Balances

Checks and Balances | Illustration by David A. Cherry

Matchmaking for Open Play Queues

Moving past the gears and cogs of the ranked system, let’s chat about the regular “Play” queue. Deck strength matchmaking is used in the Best-of-One (BO1) Play queue. Deck weight is a system that gives a rating to each card in your deck, resulting in an overall score. This score, combined with your unranked MMR and number of games played, is used to find opponents that are the best match for you.

Brawl also uses deck weight matchmaking and recently had an update to the weight of certain commanders for matchmaking. Because of the fix, laid-back decks should have an easier time finding each other and evading the big, bad, scary competitive decks.

For example, when Omnath, Locus of Creation was banned in Standard, Wizards alluded to this “rating system”:

Developer’s Note: Omnath, Locus of Creation will remain playable in Historic Brawl, but will be weighted alongside the other more competitive Commanders (e.g. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, Niv-Mizzet Reborn, etc.)

Deck strength isn’t considered for your matches outside of the BO1 Open Play queue and Brawl. In Traditional, you’re only going to have your Open Play MMR affect your pool of opponents. In Traditional Draft, the game will only use your win/loss record, while your Limited MMR will be used in Sealed along with your win/loss ratio.

Last One Standing

Last One Standing | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Event Matchmaking

Event matchmaking, whether for Constructed events or special events like Momir, Pauper, Singleton, etc., only use your win/loss ratio. This means that most players in those event queues are more likely to be using a deck that’s recently topped a big tournament or a deck that sits at the top of the metagame. So, if you’re ever wondering why you see so many top tier decks running around in Constructed events while you’re using a clever homebrew, it’s because there’s no extra check or balance in the matchmaking system.

This could be pretty infuriating if you didn’t know about this, which is why it’s probably a decent idea to check up on how the matchmaking systems work before putting on your tinfoil hat and writing conspiracies. That hasn’t exactly stopped the “shuffler truthers” that are out there, though. So… you do you, I guess?

Matchmaking for Mythic Qualifiers

On a similar note to event matchmaking, you might be wondering about Mythic Qualifier matchmaking. While I have yet to see anything that breaks down the matchmaking system for those events, it’s more likely than not just using your win/loss ratio the same way any other Constructed event would. If you think about it, the players in a Mythic Qualifier are probably already within a relatively similar skill level since they were skilled enough to get invited.

MTGA Constructed Event

Source

Exploits and Speculation – Is it Rigged? Broken? Does it Suck?

We’ve been through a lot here, and I know what you’re thinking, even if you don’t know you’re thinking it: “Is there a way to exploit the matchmaking system?” Well, that sure is a swell question because as far as I know and have found, the closest you can get to exploiting it is trying to finagle with deck weight matchmaking in Open Play. The only issue there is that you probably don’t want to exploit Open Play and would rather exploit Ranked. If that’s the case, tough luck.

While there is no way likely to exploit matchmaking, there are plenty of those who hold their own beliefs about extra factors in the matchmaking system that Wizards might not be telling us about. It’s entirely up to you as to whether or not you want to believe them, but if you hop on Reddit and dig around for a bit, you’re bound to find conspiracy threads scattered about. Some of the most common ones I’ve found tend to experiment with Open Play, trying to crack the code on other factors that the game looks at with each card it scores in deck weight matchmaking.

Have You Found Your Match?

Tell us, have you found the matchmaking method behind your preferred queue? Is it not what you thought it would be or is it exactly what you expected? We’re all ears in the comments if you have anything to say or questions to ask.

As always, we appreciate your support and interest in our blog here at Draftsim, so we can’t wait to see you again next time!

Out of Bounds

Out of Bounds | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak

16 Comments

  • Jesc Franco October 24, 2020 11:57 pm

    you didn’t explain, that it also sees what cards you get way more often then not, cards are favored to appear on first turn, that is called mounting cards and it is not fair play just because a machine does it, also the shuffle is not random the game delivers the cards it wants to give each of us, I have had decks with 19 lands and because it was to strong I get 6 turns drawing lands!, against all odds, furthermore, if you play with a mill deck it matches you with a deck with more than 60 cards it is an unfair advantage knowing what your deck does before we play and matching you with your diametrically oppose effects, and many more things that happen, that is not how we play in real life, that is not what we pay for, we pay for a game that that is not fixed a game where big brother artificial intelligence algorithm pick and choose what games with win or lose.

    • Dan Troha October 25, 2020 9:35 am

      Source??

      I generally prefer to keep the level of conversation on this site to be more elevated than this and not include conspiracy theories. But I just want to emphasize this:
      You realize that there is an opponent on the other side of the table there, right? Another person who is winning when you’re losing?
      So no, there is not some grand conspiracy against just you. It’s delusional to think that WotC somehow cares about screwing you over but not your opponents.
      Also of interest is this article on the BO1 starting hand algorithm. It is well known that it isn’t “truly random” and is a part of the game that everyone plays with equally.

      • crystalballer7983 September 16, 2021 11:41 pm

        However, it still is not completely random.

        One easy fix would be to simply offer a play lounge where players can go to play with totally randomized play, no ‘auto-dialer’, which is what I call the shuffler algorithm.

        Basically, the dialer is designed to stack the decks to make the most exciting play so both opponents come back for more. I get it. However, being aware of this takes some fun out of the game and often adds a bit at others.

        Again, easy fix: give us a play lounge where we can play without the auto-dialer. Problem solved.

  • Ace November 15, 2020 8:30 pm

    “Ranked formats use both your Limited and Constructed MMR respective to whichever format you’re playing, so you’re safe from any skill level mix-ups.” That’s one way to say it. Another is to say that Wizards invalidates skill in ranked by forcing you to play people of exactly the same skill level, meaning all that matters in ranked is luck, not all the hard work you’ve put into learning the game.

    • Dan Troha November 16, 2020 10:09 am

      This doesn’t make a ton of sense to me — how would you rather a ladder system work? You keep climbing it until you reach the skill level that’s appropriate for you. Otherwise, what’s the point of a ladder?
      “All that matters is luck” — if you got better at the game or made a better meta choice, you’re saying you wouldn’t climb in rank??

      • Alex April 28, 2021 8:45 am

        There is some sense in what OP is saying, IMHO. In the middle of the ladder, where most people seem to sit, people rarely make obvious mistakes, but also rarely make sophisticated or subtle plays. So you don’t get to learn anything from most of your games. Most games you win or lose are solely due to matchup, going 1st or the order of cards in each players hands. Sure, one can learn by watching pro’s play, and it is indeed frequently enlightning. I think I really learned a lot by watching Nummy draft, he is so good. But still, climbing the rank due to gains in skill is a tiny fraction of all games you ever play, most games are at the equilibrium.

        But, really, all of this is not the source of the problem, the source is that MTG has a relatively low skill cap. Or, more precisely, after a certain skill level which most people reach, every next thing you learn is exponentially less likely to matter in most of your games. This is not starcraft or chess, where every 50 points of ELO change your winrate dramatically, where being 200 ELO points apart means you stand 0 chance to win, where you totally can and will shock the hell out of your opponent by doing something they were not prepared for, even if they are doing “meta” build. One day hopefully magic will get there too. For now I think it is best to just play for fun, screw ladder

  • KC Jones January 14, 2021 4:02 pm

    Yea I agree 100% with the analysis you did. I think the shame of the hand smoother is that it does value meta cards. Makes playing jank (might be confirmation bias) seem harder. Its just this that makes the arena feel foreign to the casual player. This is a meta showcase platform. Ideally “Arena” evenly matched meta decks where the best gameplay wins. But the casual player just wants to have fun …. well if crushing your opponents CGB style is your thing the arena is for you. Otherwise I say stick to EDH in paper lol ….

  • Mat January 15, 2021 4:03 pm

    Thanks for the useful analysis, exactly what I was looking for. I just signed up a couple of days ago and played through the tutorials, made myself a deck out of the blue and green cards I had from the premade decks you get and have been slinging that. Trying to finish all the daily rewards and missions to get bonus stuff as I haven’t dropped any money on it yet, but it’s already getting harder to find the winds. My janky U/G mostly full of commons and uncommons is now facing up against some pretty seriously constructed decks, I guess at least if i’m losing more then my MMR goes down a bit again?

  • Antony January 26, 2021 6:13 am

    Maybe everyone is playing 80 card decks to combat the boring mill decks

  • Gwaelan April 8, 2021 7:57 am

    I would like to add an observation (let’s not call it conspiracy theory yet):
    When I queue and the game doesn’t find me a suitable opponent in the first 10 sec or so, I get paired with an opponent of a different (higher?) rank.
    That would make sense of course from a qol perspective, where WotC doesn’t want me to wait too long and instead gives me an opponent further away from my MMR to faciliate match making and not losing me over too long waiting times.
    Is there anybody to contribute to this observation?

  • jen June 12, 2021 10:00 am

    Basically just concede whenever possible. just lower your win rate so you get to enjoy the game

  • Leroy D The Artifact King August 3, 2021 10:25 pm

    So I would like to say that it seems most of the points in this article as well as the opinions in the comments are mostly valid. If we now take into account another set of variables. Such as the fact that the game is free to play yet made by a company that wants to make a profit, you can start to see what is most likely happening. We as players can never verify the cards order in our decks as it is digital( the AI and algorithms know what cards we have and can stack the deck accordingly to basically make the game a 50/50 chance to win for everyone. So the conspiracy is not against anyone one player. But customers as a whole to maximize profits. Hasbro owns Wizards of the Coast and has a new goal for profits for any given year or quarter. The most recent that is well published is the fact that their recent 5 year plan was to double profits. Knowing that. And playing hundreds upon hundreds of games testing with different levels of cards, amount of lands in your deck, etc. You start to see the pattern that absolutely does not mimic paper play at all. You can make a new deck Janky or consistently competitive, and will find that you will win alot of games in the sort term but over a long enough time with that deck you will end up close to a 50 percent win loss ratio. It’s meant to keep you wanting to play and hopefully spend money to get more wildcards or aesthetics. This is how a business for profit works and the ethics of it is a entirely different conversation. Basically if you are new to magic, this is a fun affordable way to get into and play the game. If you are serious about being competitive, play paper or Magic The Gathering Online. But keep in mind you will spend more many in both those platforms to play the game, especially if you want to be competitive. In Arena there is know way to actually shuffle your deck or cut an opponents deck plain and simple. So we can’t complain as its all fair in the end but set up for profit. Just my humble analysis as a 15 plus year player of paper MTG and player of Arena since it launched. Based off of published business data, and lot’s of games played. What do you think?

    • Nicholas Bradley August 13, 2021 6:27 am

      Spot on. I’ve been saying this, too, but keep running into the same old tired strawman argument. My opponent won this game, yes. I was ripped off. My opponent will lose the next game and be equally ripped off. Arena is stealing money from players when they claim its a competitive platform that is clearly designed to keep players from winning more than market research suggests they should.

      This “shuffler” business and so-called tin foil hat trend needs to stop. Arena is stealing from their customers, plain and simple. And that is damn serious. Calling someone a conspiracy theorists who just had their money stolen is not a joke.

      • Dan Troha August 13, 2021 9:29 am

        Hold on, can you clarify what stealing is going on here? In your “example” both you and your opponent won a game. In aggregate across MTGA, what do you think the expected win rate is? Hmm… I would say probably 50%, no?

        Also, so even though the logic that assumes imbalance is completely wrong… how would losing a match be tantamount to stealing? I don’t understand. I think it’s reasonable to say that the pricing model for cards/wildcards sucks (I sure believe it does), but what is the stealing part here?

  • Jamie Wu September 18, 2021 4:50 pm

    I noticed in Open Play I went from winning a majority of games to being paired against much harder opponents (as evidenced by their avatars, pets, stickers, and sleeves) when I wildcarded for new Pathway land. I’ve taken them both out now and it looks like I’m going to be able to go Mythic without having much more than the original NPE decks.

    • Dan Troha September 20, 2021 10:13 am

      While adding more rares to your deck will definitely increase the power level, I don’t think cosmetics have anything to do with “harder” opponents. That just means people who are willing to spend more $$, on the game — which does not necessarily mean playing better or more powerful decks.
      Also I don’t really understand your comment – your example starts with talking about open play, but then you’re talking about ranked. And those are different?

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