The type of tournament you're playing in dictates if your prize for winning is a booster pack or a check for thousands of dollars. If you've ever played in a bigger event, you've probably heard people complaining about missing top 8 for "bad breakers" or squeezing into day two thanks to a lucky tiebreaker.
Magic players who are newer to the game often find themselves asking "how do tiebreakers work?"
In this guide, we'll teach you everything you need to know about tiebreakers in MTG tournaments, how to calculate your standings, and how to use tiebreakers to gain an edge.
Let's dive in!
What is a Tiebreaker in MTG?
Most Magic tournaments are played with a set number of "Swiss" rounds. This is a common way to pair players based on their performance as the tournament goes on. In essence, it pits players with the same (or similar) records against each other. The best players play the best while those at the bottom of the rankings play each other.
Some tournaments will then "cut" to a Top 8 bracket after a certain number of Swiss rounds. This means the top 8 players participate in a fresh bracket that is usually single or double elimination to determine a winner. Other tournaments are simply over once the Swiss rounds are completed and standings are awarded.
Either way, this is where tiebreakers become a factor.
During most tournaments, there will be multiple players with the same record at the top of the leaderboard. For instance, in a 20-player tournament with five rounds and prizes for the Top 8, the standings might look something like this:
It's clear the player who went 5-0 is the winner. But what determines who is second versus third? Tiebreakers.
Magic: The Gathering Tiebreakers Explained
In competitive Magic tournaments, there are three tiebreakers that are calculated and used as needed. Think of them as a three-tier system as not all three are always used to determine a player's placement.
Opponent Match Win Percentage (OMW%)
The first (and most important) tiebreaker to be checked is called OMW%, or Opponent Match Win Percentage. This figure is the average win percentage of each opponent you faced during the tournament. In other words, it shows how difficult your matchups were en route to your final record.
Someone who played against opponents who had poor records will have a lower OMW% than someone who faced off against players that finished with solid records.
The formula to calculate OMW% is (Each opponent's match win percentage added together / number of opponents).
Two things to remember when calculating OMW% are:
Opponents cannot have a match win percentage lower than 33%. If they do, it is rounded up to 33%. This helps decrease the negative impact of playing against players with a poor record.
Bye rounds don't count when determining OMW%.
So, in the example above, both the second and third place players had a record of 4-1. However, the second-place player had much more challenging opponents, resulting in an OMW% of 65.5%. The third-place player enjoyed smoother sailing against easier opponents but had a lower OMW% of just 46.5%.
Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to change your OMW%. Some players dislike that this is used as the first tiebreaker because it is out of your control. However, it is fair since it rewards the player who had to work harder to achieve an identical record. The best you can hope to do is play well and face opponents with better records in the later rounds. In the early rounds, you may be paired against players that don't win many matches and there isn't anything you can do about it.
Game Win Percentage (GW%)
Though it doesn't happen frequently, two players can have the same record and an identical OMW%. If this happens, the second tiebreaker is used: Game Win Percentage, or GW%.
This is the only tiebreaker you control. It looks at how many games (not matches) you win.
In best-of-three formats, you can play up to three games per match. So, while your match record might be 4-1, you could play anywhere between 10 and 15 games to get there. Your GW% is the number of games you won out of the total number played. Someone who doesn't drop a game would have a GW% of 100.
The formula for calculating your GW% is (Games won / Games played).
A player in a five-round Swiss tournament who went 2-0, 2-1, 1-2, 2-0, 2-1, would have a GW% of 69.23%.
Opponent Game Win Percentage (OGW%)
Though standings rarely require it, there is a third tiebreaker that can be used. This is your Opponent Game Win Percentage, or OGW%.
This combines the concepts of the previous two tiebreakers. It measures the "percent mean of the games won by all the player's opponents," according to the official Magic Judges blog.
In other words, OGW% looks at how many games your opponents won and is the average of their wins/games played.
How to Calculate MTG Match Points
Before tiebreakers are even considered, rankings are determined by points. Players earn these points by winning or drawing in each round.
Determining your points is simple. There are three points up for grabs during each match.
If you win the match (ie. best two out of three) you get three points. Losing the match gets you zero points.
If you and your opponent draw (whether by choice or by running out of time), each player gets one point.
Obviously, winning is the best way to move up the leaderboard. However, draws can have a significant impact on the final standings and happen quite often. This is because drawing is far better than a loss due to the point you receive. A player with a record of 3-1-1 would get a higher standing than a player with a 3-2-0 record. That's because the first player has 10 match points while the second has just nine.
Should You Intentionally Draw in an MTG Tournament?
With draws having such a big impact on final standings, there is always the inevitable question of whether you and your opponent should intentionally draw in the last Swiss round. For tournaments with a cut to Top 8, "drawing in" happens frequently.
It's impossible to answer this question generically. However, looking at the standings should give you a good idea of whether it makes sense to intentionally draw in the last round of your tournament.
Generally, keep in mind that if you are guaranteed a spot in the Top 8 with a draw, you should take the opportunity. Use it as a moment to reset, grab a drink, and prepare for the final rounds.
If you're playing in a non-top-8 tournament, intentional draws only tend to happen between the top two players. Why?
Playing out the match means one player gets first while the other could slide down to third or worse. Intentionally drawing may guarantee (depending on the standings) that the players finish with a record that ties them for first and lets them split both the first and second place prize. Of course, not every tournament organizer allows the top players to split. Be sure to double-check before intentionally drawing.
MTG tiebreakers can be a headache, especially for newer players. At the end of the day, your record is more influential than anything. As such, you should focus on winning as many matches as possible. Finishing undefeated means you don't have to worry about tiebreakers at all. For other times, hopefully this info is helpful and lets you take on your next tourney feeling more prepared.
What do you think about MTG tiebreakers? Love them or hate them? Still confused? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!
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