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"What packs should I buy?" is by far the most common question asked in the ME3MP communities I frequent, followed closely by "People still play this game?!". The answer to the latter is very simple ("Yes"), the former being less straightforward. Since there are nearly a thousand Rare and Ultra-Rare item cards alone, you have an extremely slim chance of unlocking a specific item you want – especially if you're not willing to go through the hassle of only having the DLC pack containing your desired item installed while shopping. Before offering any further tips, my most important advice is this: Try to make do with what you have. If you're not enjoying yourself while working your way towards the "good stuff", the game won't suddenly turn fun once you unlock the Harrier.
However, there is a "best practice" especially for the early stages of the grind, and anyone consulting a guide like this is likely looking for specific tips. This breakdown is for those who want to get the most out of their hard-earned credits.
Note: The data on the pack compositions is retrieved from Mgamerz's Store Catalog tool which was posted on r/MECOoP a few months ago. This post is an interpretation and different presentation of the results.
Below are some general tips for players at different stages. Click Expand on the right to show contents.
|New to intermediate players|
| The general advice is that you should stick to Recruit and Veteran packs while you're mainly playing Bronze or Silver and/or have yet to max your Common and Uncommon stuff, and only bother with the more expensive packs once your basic unlocks are out of the way. I would also not advise you to save up for premium packs until you have a good extraction rate on the higher difficulties: If it takes several matches to save up for a single 5-item pack, you're going to find yourself without equipment and supplies soon enough. This can reduce your efficiency and decrease your chances of success, which means less credits earned overall.
You do have a decent chance of unlocking a Rare weapon if you save up for a Spectre or Arsenal pack, but considering how many Rares there are, you only have a 4% chance of getting the one you want once a Rare weapon does drop. The percentage then goes up by a teeny tiny bit for every subsequent Rare weapon unlock. However, even Veteran packs have a 2% chance of dropping a Rare weapon and a separate 2% chance of dropping a Rare character, so while you focus on the basic equipment, you're likely to end up with a few Rare unlocks as a bonus anyway (every 25 Vet packs or so). Veteran packs are also the cheapest way to unlock Uncommon gear upgrades.
Another reason you don't want to rush into the expensive packs is that they have a lower drop rate of Common and Uncommon weapon mods. The reason for this is mainly that in the more expensive packs, all weapon mods are grouped together, so the common mods have to compete with the rare ones. (More on this grouping in the next section.) The common mods are not to be underestimated or neglected: the standard damage, piercing, melee, mag-size, and accuracy mods are all permanent bonuses that you will benefit from on any difficulty. See the Recruit and Veteran pack compositions for specifics.
| If you only want to have a glance at what the packs are likely to drop without any further explanation, you may skip directly to the relevant pack sections. Those of you who are only interested in Ultra-Rare weapon upgrades don't even have to go that far: any "Rare or better" slot has the exact same chance of dropping an Ultra-Rare weapon (7.5%), so you can pay 60,000 credits for a 7.5% chance of getting one, or 99,000 (any Premium pack will do) for a 14.4% chance of getting at least one. The latter is generally a better deal if you don't care much about what other items you get. See the Ultra-Rares section for more hamfisted probability math.
What advanced players can do to rack up equipment more effectively is make sure their supply items are constantly pushing the 255 limit. At the beginning of a shopping spree, buy Jumbo Equipment Packs until the consumables are capped before buying any standard 5-item packs. This way you're guaranteed a level III equipment item in each of the 99k packs instead of a 5×Consumables card, for instance. You can also keep buying Jumbos, which will now instead drop equipment items (two each of level I and II).
Cards, slots, and pools
|How are the cards selected?|
This section eplains the store mechanics and sheds some light on how the items are selected when a pack is purchased. Some important terminology:
The pools and their relative percentages are what you'll want to be looking at when determining which pack is the most likely to drop what you're looking for. Let's look at pools a bit more closely:
Drop rates explained
|Drop rate and probability math|
| Based on the pool mechanics above, we can technically calculate the probability of getting a specific item from a certain pack. To illustrate, let's say you are hoping to unlock the Acolyte – every cooldown-sensible character's favorite shield-stripping device – and to that end, you decide to buy a Spectre pack. The probability of success can be calculated in two steps:
There are 25 Rare weapons and 10 cards for each, so that's 250 Rare weapon cards in total. The Store Lords have already bestowed 64 Rare weapon cards upon you, so out of the total 250, only 166 remain. This is classic probability math: if you have a bag with one red ball and several white balls, the chance of randomly grabbing the red ball is greater the fewer white balls there are to get in the way. Similarly, your chance of getting the Acolyte increases the fewer other cards there are left in the pool.
We're ready to perform the calculation. The chance of a Spectre pack dropping a Rare weapon is 40%. All the 10 Acolyte cards are still left in the Rare weapons pool, so the chance that the card is an Acolyte is in this case 10/166 = 6.02%. Thus, when you open the pack, the chance that the Rare weapons pool is selected and that the card is an Acolyte is 0.4 × 0.0602, which is about 2.4%.
Bonus statistics note: Because an item dropping in the store can be modeled with geometric distribution, we can calculate an expected value for how many packs we need to buy in order for the item to drop. As the probability of success in this case is 0.4, you can generally expect to get a Rare weapon in a Spectre pack every 1/0.4 = 2.5 tries (see Math section). This means that you need to buy three Spectre packs in order for a Rare to be more likely to drop than not.
|On Ultra-Rare drop rates|
The first thing to note here is that Ultra-Rare weapons and characters are always in separate pools. This means that if an UR character drops, all the other pools (including UR weapons) lost to it and you didn't come any closer to getting a weapon than anything else. Contrary to the Premium Spectre Pack's description, it doesn't seem to drop URs at a higher rate than the other packs. In terms of URs, the only notable difference between the packs is that an Arsenal Pack does not draw from the UR character pool at all; otherwise each "Rare or better" slot (one for the Spectre Pack, two for the 99k ones) has a 7.5% chance of drawing a card from the weapons pool and 5% of drawing it from the characters pool.
If we know the drop rate, we can calculate the number of packs we can expect to buy before the item drops and also estimate a price for the UR.
See the Useful math section for more on how to calculate expected tries and item prices.
Pack contents breakdown
Now that we're on the same page with terminology and pack mechanics, we can move on to pack composition specifics. Below is a documentation of which items can be obtained in each pack as well as notable availabilities, chance percentages, or backup pools. For example, the Recruit pack promises a "small chance for an Uncommon", but it only pertains to certain Uncommon items. Each root bullet corresponds to one slot.
Note: "Consumables" (or "Supplies") refer to medi-gel, ops survival packs, cobra missile launchers, and thermal clip packs. The number between parentheses indicates the amount. Your initial capacity for each type is 2, but you can unlock permanent upgrades that let you carry a max of 6 into each match.
|Recruit Pack composition|
"Small chance for an Uncommon" – 5,000 credits (card cost: 1,000)
|Veteran Pack composition|
"At least one Uncommon or better" - 20,000 (card cost: 4,000)
Jumbo Equipment Pack
|Jumbo Equipment Pack composition|
"10 random equipment and supply items" - 33,000 credits (card cost: 3,300)
Four slots drop a specific card, or give level I-II equipment as backup:
The remaining six cards are drawn from the following pool set:
|Spectre Pack composition|
"At least one Rare or better" - 60,000 (card cost: 12,000)
|Arsenal Pack composition|
"At least two Rares or better, as well as a higher chance for weapons" - 99,000 (card cost: 19,800)
Note: This is the only pack that may only drop UR weapons and not UR characters. There's more focus on Rare weapons instead. (If there are Rare characters left, they may still appear if the draw falls to the backup pool.)
Premium Spectre Pack
|Premium Spectre Pack composition|
"At least two Rares or better,
Note: There seems to be no obvious reason to go for the Premium Spectre Pack – the Arsenal Pack does weapons and mods better, and the Reserves Pack has double the chance of dropping an XP card as well as more than double the chance of dropping a Rare character.
|Reserves Pack composition|
"At least two Rares or better, as well as a higher chance for characters" - 99,000 (slot cost: 19,800)
Note: The Reserves pack has the highest probabilities of dropping Rare characters and XP cards. However, if all pools of the Recruit Pack's slot 5 are empty, the Recruit pack will technically offer a much better cost–XP ratio. If you're willing to sit through a near-endless Recruit pack opening train, that is.
|Calculate item prices and more|
The chance of an item dropping in the store represents a geometric distribution, as it meets the following conditions:
The expected value, then, is 1/p. Using this method you simply divide 1 by the probability (drop rate), which gives you an idea of how many packs you can expect to have to buy to get the item. You can then further multiply that number by the cost of the pack to get a rough idea of a "price" for the item through that specific pack, which allows you to compare item prices across packs.
We've determined that Veteran packs have the best price–drop-rate ratio, so in this case they're the cheapest option.
As a player who's maxed everything out once on PC (after ~720 hours of playing) and have accounts going on each of the ME3 platforms, I can say the anticipation and excitement of unlocking things in the store is a bigger fun factor than one might think. It is certainly true that some weapons benefit significantly from upgrades, but usually not in a way that will remarkably affect enjoyment or efficiency.
Once there are little or no upgrades left, you're likely going to feel a certain sense of emptiness – racking up that level IV equipment is nice for a while, but credit rewards have largely lost their meaning, which inevitably removes a significant dimension from the overall experience. I, too, was often frustrated with the totally unfairly low drop rate, but you could say I had to max my manifest before realising why it's designed to take so long: not having access to my single-player favorites forced me to explore new playstyles and items I'd previously been certain wasn't for me. This led me to appreciate new aspects of the game and made the journey more relevant than the destination.
I'm so in love with ME3MP in general that I delighted in my capped stuff for over a year before starting over. The restrictions let me revisit the core of the game; I've already gained a better understanding of the Cabal Vanguard's melee playstyle, for instance, and I've noticed that even a Krysae I is quite feasible on Gold (my first Rare character and weapon unlocks on the new account, respectively). I'm also constantly learning more about what really makes you a strong player in this game – the level of your equipment is but one factor alongside general experience, flexibility, knowledge of mechanics, and a healthy attitude.
With that (hopefully) encouraging thought, I thank you for reading and wish you a fun journey towards a maxed manifest!
- r/MECoOp: ME3Tweaks MP Store Catalog
- ME3Tweaks: Store Catalog
- Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer
- Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer/Character Customization
Thanks to YamiX0 for proofreading the entire thing.