Hey everyone, and welcome back to Whinston’s Whisdom on Quiet Speculation. Last week for the comment contest someone suggested a topic so good that I knew I needed to cover it: why are there often large price discrepancies between MTGO and paper Magic? In this week’s article, I tried to break it down according to the law of supply and demand. What are the differences in supply and demand between the two platforms, and why are they there?
Let’s start by talking about supply. At the most basic level, supply is how much of a commodity there is. The less there is, the more it will cost, and the more there is, the less it will cost.
The first major difference between paper and MTGO, is that MTGO has significantly more copies of a card than the paper world does. More packs are being opened every day, and so the number of a certain card in circulation is greater. While there are more people clamoring to own copies of that card, there are significantly more limited-only players on MTGO than in paper, so the supply available is greater. Let’s look at two examples where this can be seen (for reference, I'll be using Starcitygames for paper prices, and MTGO Traders for MTGO prices):
Paper price: $110
MTGO Price: $95
While this difference in price is only about 10%, it still shows the impact that a greater supply can make on MTGO. Also note that Jace was in Worldwake, which wasn't opened very much online, meaning that this difference in price is smaller than it is for other sets, for instance...
Paper price: $40
MTGO Price: $30
Here is where the difference is more apparent. There is a full 25% decrease in price when switching from Paper to MTGO. M11 was opened much more online than in paper, so the value of a digital copy of Primeval Titan is worth much less than its paper counterpart.
Another factor to consider when looking at supply is the absence of "old" or "out of print" cards on MTGO. Many cards in the paper world don't pull their cost in terms of power, but because they are so old, and there are so few copies remaining, they command higher prices than they would otherwise. Yet online supply doesn't suffer from this problem. There's no limit to the number of packs that can be bought from a store while in print, and these cards then remain in circulation, can never get damaged or lost etc. This leads to MTGO having significantly lower prices on older format staples than paper.
Paper price: $40
MTGO price: $2.50
As you can see, this is a massive price gap. A digital copy of the legend bouncing land costs only 1/16th the price of a paper copy. This holds up for most "old" cards on MTGO, especially those played in Legacy and Classic (the MTGO form of Vintage), such as the original dual lands.
And finally we arrive at our final supply category: looking at the 3rd set. In both paper and MTGO, the 3rd set of a block will feature cards more expensive than the previous 2 sets in a block? Why? Because this set is opened the least. Let's use Timespiral as an example. When Timespiral was released, it was triple Timespiral draft, so every draft had 3 packs of Timespiral being opened per person. With the release of Planar Chaos, 1 pack of Timespiral was replaced with 1 pack of Planar Chaos, leading to a TTP configuration. And finally with Future Sight, there was 1 pack of each type, so TPF. This meant that for every 6 packs of Timespiral opened while drafting, only 2 Planar Chaos and only 1 Future Sight got cracked. This leads to significantly lower amounts of these cards in circulation, which in turn, increases price. This effect is much more pronounced on MTGO, however, because nearly all the packs that get cracked come from drafting or other Limited events. Unlike paper, it just isn't profitable to buy packs for the sole purpose of cracking them, so the fewer packs of a set that get drafted, the lower the supply of cards, and the higher the prices. This effect was at its highest with Eventide, because of the 4 set block structure, as evidenced by two cards on MTGO in particular...
Paper price: $6
MTGO price: $13
Paper price: $10
MTGO price: $17
With differences in price of over 100% and 70% respectively, the 3rd set obviously has a larger impact on the price of digital cards than in paper.
Now we move on to covering differences in demand. The potential markets, and the desires of your customers differ greatly between the digital and physical worlds. these desires prominently hinge on the formats that a card is playable in, so we'll first look at the gap in popularity of formats between the internet and the real world, and then look at some MTGO specific formats.
But first, there are two formats that have a massive gap in popularity between paper and MTGO. The first of these is Vintage. In paper, Vintage is the most expensive and powerful format, with a nearly nonexistent ban list. But online, where fewer of the most important Vintage cards such as the Power 9 have been released, the MTGO version of Vintage, Classic, is floundering, and this has had a noticeable impact on card prices.
Paper price: $300
MTGO price: $17.50
While some of this monumental difference is undoubtedly due to the wider availibility of Workshop on MTGO, it also has to do with the larger popularity of the vintage format in paper as compared to MTGO.
The same is true when looking at EDH. EDH is one of the most popular ways to fool around with your Magic friends, and pass time in between rounds. Yet online, Commander (the online EDH), is not very popular at all, and so many of the staples for the format cost much less.
Paper price: $10
MTGO price: $3.75
Bribery is one such card. It's an EDH staple in paper, but because EDH doesn't enjoy the same popularity online, its price is lower.
Last, but not least, we come to how MTGO specific formats can cause discrepancies in price. The first of these is quite obligatory: Momir Basic. Momir Basic uses the Momir Vig Avatar, a card not even available in physical form, and so demand for the Avatar online must therefore be higher than in paper (a Momir Avatar can go for about $12). But a format that could possibly be mirrored in paper, yet isn't, is Pauper.
Pauper is easily one of my favorite formats. It is an all common format with a Legacy ban list , and the format is incredibly diverse, making it my format of choice when I just want to kick back and relax. Yet the popularity of this format has caused some ridiculous prices for in demand cards, such as...
Paper price: $.50
MTGO Price: $1.75
Now for the first time we can have a clear cut example. The only reason for this price difference is Pauper. the supply level is relatively even between Paper and MTGO, and so Pauper is the only thing causing this +300% price increase.
Overall, the different types and popularity of formats on MTGO affect prices in a huge way when compared to paper cards. when evaluating a card online, always make sure that you have a market that will pay for it before picking it up, or else you may end up with it stuck in your collection.
Let's move on to this week's comment contest. Last week's winner was Macadosche, who will receive a textless Searing Blaze and textless Treasure Hunt as his prize, so please email your address to me so i can get your cards out to you. For the previous winners: your cards have been shipped and should be on their way. Because I'm running low on cool cards to give away, I'm going to be cutting the comment contest down to a monthly thing, but I'll be looking at every week's article to determine the best comment and winner. So comment under the article or send me a tweet (I'm nwhinston on Twitter) with one positive comment, one constructive criticism, and one future article idea you'd like to see in order to have a chance to win.
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