Magic Online – Finance Fundamentals
For most players, Magic: the Gathering represents an expense. This is true whether you play exclusively online, paper, or a combination of both. In this article, I’m going to focus on fundamental principles exclusive to Magic Online (MTGO) that you can follow to reduce that expense. MTGO is special as it offers the same options to everybody. Geographic locations, hectic schedules, and adverse weather conditions are no longer hurdles to play.
To get started, you will need to download the MTGO client, and create an account. It costs $10.00 to create an account, and you will receive 680 cards, 20 new player points, and five event tickets. New player points are used to enter new player events, while event tickets are used to enter a majority of the events you’re likely accustomed to.
Assuming you have your account, it’s time to start playing. Magic Online has a multitude of constructed and limited events. Being the host of Curving Out, I’m naturally going to focus on limited events in this article. You can enter most limited events with event tickets and sealed product, or you can pay retail and just enter with a larger number of event tickets. This brings us to the first two fundamental rules of MTGO:
1. Never buy sealed product from the store
2. Always enter events with your own sealed product + event tickets
To understand why, let’s talk about the market place on MTGO. There are tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people playing MTGO, and they all have different needs. They are playing in all kinds of events, winning booster packs as prizes, and opening booster packs in limited events. Constructed Chris just won a standard event, and received 11 booster packs. He doesn’t want to draft with those packs, so he sells them on the open market. Now obviously, since the MTGO store is already selling them for $3.99, Chris has to undercut that price. This means that as long as the MTGO store is selling boosters, you will always find a lower price on the open market. It stands to reason that if you can purchase sealed product for cheaper than retail, you shouldn’t pay retail in event tickets to enter an event.
To use the marketplace, click on the “Trade” tab on MTGO. Use the search bar and type in the three digit code for the booster pack you want. For Khans of Tarkir, that code is “KTK”. Scroll down the list and locate the cheapest price. Another option is to use outside resources to find a seller. My personal favorite is www.mtgowikiprice.com. This website allows you to search for the product you want, and it will give you a list of all the in-network bots selling and buying that product, along with the price. After using the website for several weeks, you will start to realize that a handful of bots consistently offer the best prices, and you can pick your own favorite. My favorite is Modo_Mart. I don’t want to go too deep on the difference between trading with humans vs. bots, but the major one is that you are able to deal in fractional tickets. Each bot will keep track of your credit automatically. I would suggest you deal with a small number of bots so you aren’t burned on unused credit.
Expected Value (EV)
Now that you know how to get product for cheap, it’s time to pick an event to play in. For most people, they are simply interested in playing the most current format. Right now, that is Khans of Tarkir. However, outside release events, you’ll find other formats often present higher expected values. EV for short, expected value is the amount of money you expect to win playing a given event. Positive EV’s represent a profit. Uncommons, Rares, and Mythics from off season sets will spike in price correlated with the success of decks running those cards. To give you a couple of recent examples, Stoke the Flames (uncommon) was over $6.00 on MTGO, and Mana Confluence (rare) was over $22.00. These represent price jumps of 4x to 10x their original value. This brings us to the next fundamental rule:
3. Be willing to play in offseason, high EV events
To quickly calculate the EV of an event, you can use the website www.magicev.com. You’ll need to enter in your projected Win %, but don’t over estimate it, as even pro players would be hard pressed to win over 70% of their matches. Constructed dailies will always be a long term winner if you are a winning player, but that’s not always the case for limited events. To make money in the long run in limited, it helps to play in offseason events. As of this writing, JOU 4-pack sealed is actually the highest EV event that isn’t scheduled. For scheduled events, you can’t beat the Khans of Tarkir Limited Championship Qualifiers.
4. Triple small set drafts offer higher EV than small/large/large draft
For two weeks after release of a small set, MTGO offers up triple small set drafts. I love these drafts for two reasons. First, they are much higher EV than their small/large/large counterparts. Everyone will want to buy all the new cards they need for their decks. Cracking three packs per draft gets you three times as many chances to pull money cards. Secondly, there are often degenerate strategies that are insanely fun if you happen to figure them out before the masses. Triple Born of the Gods was dominated by red and Loyal Pegasus. Triple Journey into Nyx allowed you to durdle and win off of multiple Thassa’s Devourer and Rise of Eagles.
5. Rare Draft
This isn’t day two of the GP, and you aren’t Reid Duke. Set a floor for the value of a card. If you open a card that exceeds this floor, take it even if it won’t go into your deck, assuming you are participating in a low stakes event (like an 8-4 draft). There are several assumptions behind the following number, but I believe that one card can’t improve your chances of winning by more than 5% to 10%. If you multiply that by the prize support, you’ll find that it’s correct to take cards worth two tickets or more. I’m happy to have $3-$6 fetch lands passed to me, and I will scoop them up every time. You’ll sometimes participate in a draft where you were passed enough cards of value to pay for the draft itself. Now you are free rolling the event with a slightly worse deck than you could have had. Also keep in mind that on MTGO, foil mythics command a premium because of set redemption. Unless you are fortunate enough to open a foil mythic and second mythic / rare worth more, it’s always correct to take the foil mythic.
There is a ton of value to be made by knowing seasonal patterns that repeat themselves annually. Here are a few key things to know:
6. All else equal, cards opened in small sets will hold their value better than cards opened in large sets.
7. Cards that perform well in premier tournaments like Grand Prix’s and Pro Tour’s will spike for 24-48 hours, then almost always fall hard to pre-spike prices.
The obvious driving force behind these rules is supply and demand. Let’s analyze the supply of each set in THS block. Three THS packs were opened by each player in every draft in the fall. Then, two THS packs were opened in the winter and one BNG pack was opened. Finally, one each of JOU, BNG, and THS was opened in the spring. Over the course of the THS draft season, THS was opened three times as much as BNG, and six times as much as JOU! The relatively low supply of JOU is reflected in the price of format staples. Temple of Malady was commanding an $18 price tag at one point, and Mana Confluence is similarly priced. Compare that to THS temples that are worth one ticket at most. To take advantage of this phenomenon, be more willing to hold onto money rares / mythics in small sets, and quickly sell money cards from large sets. You might get burned occasionally, but more often than not this will net you more money in the long run.
Generally, it is safe to sell your cards the moment you get them. During release, cards will be inflated, and most definitely fall in price. Once the set has been out for a month, card prices will be close to their lows. Now if you can afford the liquidity hit, you can save your rares / mythics from small sets to sell the following year or when a price spike occurs.
Lastly, let’s discuss the impact of premier play on card prices. Recently, Tom Ross played a blue / white heroic deck at a standard SCG open. The deck ran four Temple of Epiphany, which was previously a $2 card online. The card ended up spiking to over $6, and has started to fall. If you are steadfast in following premier events, you can sell your cards for max value.