We’re back with another installment of Whinston’s Whisdom. From now on, I want to start taking this column in a different direction. Now that Russel Tassicker is no longer writing, I decided to take over his MTGO-centric column. In today’s article, I’m going to kick things off by covering the basics of MTGO trading, as well as the pros and cons of trading online compared to trading physical cards.
MTGO Trading Interface
For those of you unfamiliar with the MTGO interface, trading is centered in a “Marketplace”, which is basically a message board where people post buying and selling advertisements. Because of the high number of people trading there, it’s often necessary to filter your results by typing specific things into the search window. Out of those accounts active on the Marketplace, at least half of them are “bots”, automated programs that dealers use to buy and sell cards, without having to be constantly online themselves, but I’ll talk more about bots later in the article.
MTGO Price Variance
The prices on MTGO vary much more than those in the paper world. This is especially visible during the Prerelease and Release events of a new set. During the Prerelease, single prices are astoundingly high, because of the low supply of cards compared to the high demand. The fact that cards are legal for tournament use on MTGO on the day of the prerelease means that there is a whole section of the MTGO populace, those who don’t play Limited, that has no access to these new cards without buying them from vendors. But just a few weeks later during the Release Events, the prices on these new cards drop way down because of the much larger quantity of cards being injected into the system. To exploit this variance, it’s important, as both a dealer and a player, to not be stuck buying cards during the prerelease period, and instead wait until the Release events to pick up your singles. During the Prerelease might be the only time where it is profitable to buy and open sealed Boosters, simply because the prices of the cards are so high.
As I explained above, bots are an integral part of the MTGO trading structure, and knowing how to deal with them is important if you want to make a significant profit online. Bots effectively allow dealers to be constantly online, day and night, never losing an hour of making profit. When buying cards, bots’ prices are usually one or tickets higher, but they are almost guaranteed to have the cards you need, reducing the amount of time you need to search through collections to find singles. Also, bots are very slow to respond to price changes. For example, when the changes to the Extended format were announced a few months ago, I was able to buy up many New Extended staples from bots for much less than they were worth, because the bots were still selling them at their previous, cheaper prices. For selling however, Bots are not usually a great option. Their buy prices are so depressed that is nearly impossible to make a profit if you try and offload your cards to bots. It may even be worth your while to rent or buy bot software and set up your own automated store. This allows you to both have a good selling outlet, while also buying cards from drafters who need to sell their collection in order to hit the queues again.
Should you be trading on MTGO?
Aside from what I’ve already talked about, there is much more than must be taken into consideration before deciding whether to focus your resources on digital or physical cards.
Pros of MTGO
24/7 online activity: one of the problems with physical trading is that it can only take place at events, which essentially means once or twice a week not including larger, multi-day events. But on MTGO there are always active users looking to buy and sell cards. As an extension of this, trading is also much faster. You don’t have to flip through binders; you can just search for the specific cards you need.
Physical trades will sometimes fall through because of a difference in value of the two sides. When trading with online bots, instead of trying to plug that hole, the difference is simply saved as credit with that bot. If I buy $1.50 worth of cards from a bot, I’ll pay $2 and save $.50 worth of credit on that bot to be used later. This is useful when looking to pick up staple commons later. I’ve turned bot credits into the entire common and uncommon part of a Valakut deck, without having to ever spend a ticket.
Fewer transaction costs
especially when selling physical cards over the internet, online fees can eat up a large percentage of your profit margin. Especially over Ebay, Ebay and Paypal fees will cost about 15% of the cost of the cards you sell. In addition to this, shipping costs can take around $2.00 from every order you ship out. On MTGO, there are no such costs, because the cards are digital, eliminating website fees and shipping costs.
Cons of MTGO
Differing currency: Buying and selling on MTGO involves using the MTGO currency, Event Tickets. The problem with this is that to convert from dollars to tickets and back you lose a few cents on every dollar simply to the cost of this transfer. Basically, you can buy tickets for about 94 cents each, and sell them for about 88 cents, leading to a 6% loss. While this is much less than shipping costs and website fees in the physical world, it is still important to take this loss into consideration
Larger card supply: Because of the larger number of packs opened on MTGO, the supply of cards is higher, leading to an artificial deflation in the costs of some cards. The M10 duals in the physical world are between 3 and 7 dollars, but online, not a one of them breaks 2 tickets apiece. This is also apparent when looking at bulk prices, as bulk mythic and bulk rares online are bought at roughly 25-40% of their physical prices. While this doesn’t have a huge effect on a dealer, it does decrease the value of simply opening product.
No booster boxes or cases: In physical trading, dealers will increase their supply of new singles by opening product. However, they can buy this product for a much cheaper price because they buy in bulk (buying a case of booster boxes pretty much gives you a full box for free). But online, the only way to buy product is $4 to the booster, no bulk discounts. This makes it impossible for dealers to make profit by just opening product, so you will have to rely on Limited players to sell you singles.
That’s it for my first MTGO article, and I hope it helped those of you new or thinking about moving to MTGO. And for the tip of the week…
Tip of the Week: Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
G/R Valakut with Primeval Titan has been picking up speed online recently. Though Valakut has already experienced a price jump of about 60%, it has sunk back down a bit, and I expect it to pop back up again soon. Just like the RUG Titan Ramp deck I talked about last week, Valakut will still be around in the next Standard format. Also, while it may be a bit of a stretch, if R/G Aggro Scapeshift becomes the new “deck to beat” in Extended, the additional home for Valakut will only make it a better buy. Also, like Destructive Force, Valakut is cheap enough to pick up multiple copies, maximizing your value out of a price jump.
Well, that’s it for this week. Let me know in the comments if you like this new direction, and your own experiences of using MTGO as a financial tool. Until my next installment, keep your enemies close, and your Magic cards closer.