Whinston’s Whisdom – Examining Digital Trading

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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.


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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.

Bot Credits

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

No Digital Equivalent =(

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.

--Noah Whinston

17 thoughts on “Whinston’s Whisdom – Examining Digital Trading

  1. probably should've covered that :). I have a mac as well. I use a program called Parallels desktop to run Mac and Windows side by side which lets me use MTGO. I'll cover that in my next article

  2. personally, i would recommend Parallels, because a) you dont have to restart your computer every time you want to play MTGO and b) you can run the mac and windows at the same time, and use programs from both with parallels

  3. I've been wanting to set up my own bot for a while, but most sites that sell them look sketchy. I want to be able to take care of bug fixes and know how to properly operate the program before dumping a few hundred dollars blindly over the internet.

  4. If you were quick this weekend you could have picked up Serra Ascendant for less than a ticket. They are spiking right now for 3-4 tix thanks to Woods playing the card in his White Lifegain deck at US Nats.

  5. @MTG Veteran: i agree, i would never recommend using a bot that you have any doubts about.

    @the cardfather: i did manage to pick up some Serra Ascendants in physical form. I've bought about 65 for $2 each, should turn out well

  6. this articles need more operative instructions… what is the cost of setting up a bot? how much will weight the cost of electric energy? how long it will take to determine price variation? is it possible to speculate over few low cost rares if bot's buy prices are so low? I'm looking forward to your series for sure 😉

  7. @jujuju: personally, i sell them to friends in my area, but Ebay can work just as well. and you can buy tix from most MTGO stores, like mtgotraders, abumtgo, etc.

  8. I find this article pretty awful 🙁 Honestly, not being a troll or anything like that, the content is inaccurate.

    The prices you have quoted for tickets are not even close, the 6% vs 7% thing, that could easily be a typo, don't even care about that. Tickets have been very close to a dollar in value with a tight buy/sell margin, which is a good thing, for about a year. Player Rewards and limited events requiring only tickets (no product) as entry have kept the market soaked up a little better. You can post an ad beating those prices you proposed by far and get stampeded with messages for interested people. I'm sure there's some dealer who is setup at those prices, that's their personal decision, it is not even close to the current market value and anyone accepting it is being ripped off.

    On the contrary to paying an extra ticket or more at bots, it's more accurate that you can save a ticket or more (on the highest value cards) with some time and luck through the classifieds. The time factor is more in waiting for someone to respond your ad, or searching for ads of people looking to sell their cards slightly above the best bot buyprice, not really in searching through collections. The luck factor is in the fact there are TONS of listings, and the best offer isnt even always SEEN. Rather than simply rip your advice to shreds, I'll offer the community a piece of my own: Search a cardname in the classifieds, notice that 95% of the offers are the EXACT same price – beat that price by a SMIDGE, if you are the first ad a prospective buyer/seller sees beating the majority, you'll often get the sale – they don't want to be 30 seconds late to pounce on what they likely assume is the best offer.

    Your comment about picking up commons and uncommons for a deck "without spending a ticket" is just mind-boggling. It means nothing. How many bots do you shop at? Two? Fifty? How did you not spend a ticket? You "spent" the whole ticket in advance and came back for the rest of what you paid for later. If you didnt "spend" anything on these commons, then you overpaid like crazy on that first card when you left the credit. All I can think of is how unexciting it is to find my own dollar bill in my pocket when I take my jeans out of the dryer.

    "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."

    This may be true, but I don't see any explanation of how to deal with them in this article.

    "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."

    Exactly what you are saying, about refraining from buying during the prerelease period, is WHY it is so profitable a time. It is no mystery the cards are overpriced, it is no mystery when packs go on sale and when drafts/release events begin – dealing during prerelease weekend is an amazingly profitable time, and it's a time when human's have a huge advantage over bots. The people in the prereleases just dump their cards indiscriminantly and whoevers there to hand them to the limited players cashes in big time. All you have to do is divest before it's over.

    But then… lol… you go on to mention how it might be the only time it's profitable to crack packs…so are we sticking our heads in the ground or trying to deal in prerelease? Cracking packs can be worthwhile, but note packs arent on sale til afetr prereleases, the only ones around are from miserable pre-re payout and possibly new accoutn creation (m11), thus the UNOPENED packs sell for an amazing amount… unless you manage to get away with charging above inflated bot prices for singles (which is possible in pre-re). You can crack packs to sell signles during prerelease but if youre doing that much it also makes sense to be buying singles.

    Ugh, I have to cut myself off here because I could go on and on and yeah, I already have… I would stick to paper if I were you, or hold off until I had more experience with MTGO to advise others. The only accurate information I found in here was about buying your singles during release events. Heck, buy EVERYTHING that seems a TINY BIT underpriced during release events (at buyprices not sellprices). It's easy to aquire and almost all goes up. You'll know whats going down if you have any business speculating in the first place. Don't believe me? Right now Goblin Chieftain is going for 0.08, Honor of the Pure for 0.15, Elvish Archdruid 0.15, Day of Judgment 1.3 (was as low as 1.1), Chandra Nalaar 1.25 (was as low as 1), the 5 mll dual lands combine for 3.1… these are fullprice sellprices at the highest charging mtgo bots, you can buy them at discount bots for less, or buy them yourself as a dealer for even less.

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