Insider: The Psycho on Running a Bot — Is It Worth It?

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This week's topic is about taking a journey into the bot universe. We, as a team, decided to make a move towards a bot system, and I will cover the many implications behind such a decision. I think one must carefully assess the pros and cons of this time-consuming task, which can also end up being quite expensive as you will see. As of now, we are six weeks into the process of running two bots which share credits. In the end, I will tell you whether it is worth it or not, based on my personal (although limited) experience.

Think It Through, Then Think About It Some More

If you are serious about running a bot, you should consider the few options that are available to you. If you think you can program it yourself, well, that's great for you, go ahead and use AutoIt. I'm into psychology. I am about to receive my Ph.D., and I never failed a class. The only time I almost failed was when I took an optional course on Introduction to Microsoft Excel. This is just to tell you how super bad I am with technology.

So to me, options were much more limited. We first tried to hire three computer engineers, who knew nothing about Magic. They all gave up after a few days. Given this failure, I also tried contacting a few major bot chains I enjoyed trading with, to see if they would rent their technology, but I received negative answers. I recently approached Goatbots as well, but same story. I was left with just two possibilities:

  1. NS5 bots (
  2. Mtgolibrary bots

I ended up choosing Mtgolibrary. One reason was that NS5's website has been down for several weeks, and when it came back up again and I tried dowloading their software, my firewall went nuts detecting malware. Did I tell you I am super bad with computer stuff? That was enough to freak me out, and only Mtgolibrary was left as a final option, even though I find these bots slow like hell compared to engines like Goatbots. As I will tell you, there are ways to make the trades faster, but you have to sacrifice some automation to achieve that.

The Costs of Setting Up a Bot

Mtgolibrary bots are free to use as long as you don't buy or sell anything. Whenever you buy or sell, the owner (a guy named Albert) collects 2.5% of the total amount of the transaction. In order to get away with this fee, you must buy a license (various periods are available, from 1 month all the way up to lifetime). To run more than one bot like we wanted to, you must buy a separate license for each bot.

Now, I had to figure out how to run this software from my laptop, as I have no other computer at home. I'll make this simple, because that's what I would have liked other people to do for me. It's impossible without managing Virtual Machines, because of the limited screen resolution a laptop can handle (the bot requires a resolution of 1200x1024 or higher). If you own a PC, you will probably be OK running just one bot. But then again, if you want to run more than one, you still have to get familiar with virtual machines.

I used VMWare Workstation's 30-days trial version, and honestly it was a pleasant experience. For a noob like me, having a virtual machine running Windows 7, a virtual mouse and a virual keyboard, and software that handles everything for me was awesome.

They have a super nice feature, called "clone." You click a button with that label, and after a ten minute wait you get an exact replica of your first virtual computer. So you set up everything you need, make all the necessary updates for MTGO (including installation of DirectX and .Net framework, whatever those are). Then, you clone the thing and call it a different name (Windows 1, Windows 2, Banana, you pick), and you do this as many times as you want... or can you? Well, it all depends on your memory. I own an Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz, 6GB of RAM. Given these features, I can only support two bots. A third bot makes everything laggy and buggy. There are ways to make the virtual engines less demanding, but I haven't mastered them as of now.

At the end of the trial version, I tried the free edition of VMWare Player, but it was unstable, inconvenient, and the bots didn't run properly. I ended up buying the Workstation licence at a 25% discount, paying 200$.

So far, we are down $200.

Running only two bots is limiting in many ways. First, you only get two ad spaces, which reduces your visibility on the market by a lot. Second, people get more confident when they see a large bot chain with accounts sharing credits. Since I am unable to enhance my laptop's performances, running more bots implies buying a new PC with loads and loads of memory. We are talking about investing an additional $750 here.

Feeding the Bots with Tickets

Then we had to feed our bots with tickets. If not, people open a trade, and they turn away the minute they see we don't have anything available. We decided to allocate 500 tickets per bot, thinking that would last a while. Two days later, I was disappointed. We had bought a bunch of cards we wanted, at prices we had set, in quantities we were comfortable with. The only problem is that all our tickets were already gone.

So I put up an additional 300 tickets, waiting for the right moment to sell our RTR boosters and unlock a nice bunch of tickets (900 tix). Even this additional input didn't last long. I lowered my buying prices again, thinking that whatever we'd end up buying, I'd be super happy with. As I am writing this, we're already out of tickets again (Hey Jeff, I hate having to tell you this via a published article, sorry buddy).

So we are down for an additional $2200

What's Wrong with Our Buylist?

Really, nothing is wrong with the prices we have set. There are a few Standard staples we wanted to acquire at a good price, so we considered the 2.5% and we offered a competitive buying price. But we also wanted to post a buy ad for cards that not many bots post for, because we think those cards are either Modern playable or underpriced Legacy staples. Given that few bots are posting for them, we were offering decent buy prices, but these prices still represented a significant discount compared to mtgotraders' selling prices. In fact, those buying prices we were offering were so low that we would never dare solicit human sellers with such bad offers.

So we used our limited ad space to represent some popular Standard targets we needed (RTR removals and shocklands for example), and devoted the rest of the ad space for cards such as Grove of the Burnwillows, Wasteland, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Birthing Pod or even Goblin Guide.

Here is a sample of our advertised cards with their buylist prices:

Card Name Buying Price (tix)
Grove of the Burnwillows $6.5
Wasteland $47
Jace, the Mind Sculptor $47
Razorverge Thicket $0.25
Linvala, Keeper of Silence $14.25
Goblin Guide $1.35
Brithing Pod $2.49
Leyline of Sanctity $1
Scalding Tarn $7.75


Believe it or not, in all of these examples we were successful and acquired a bunch of copies. We were then free to either manually sell the cards off for a quick flip, or hold them for the longer term.

Should We Also Start Selling?

Given the rate at which our tickets were disappearing, we had to decide if we also wanted to sell some cards through our bots. Quickly, a ton of new questions arose. What cards can we sell, if not our long-term targets? If we must sell unowned cards, do we have to first buy more cards? Did we want to buy four copies of every card ever printed, like Aboshan does, in order to be well stocked and encourage players to come back regularly? Did we want to use mtgolibrary's pricelist? Did we only want to buy rares and mythics, like Supernovabot does? Do we want our bots to transfer their collections? Do we want one seller bot and one buying bot?

As of now, some answers are still unclear to me, and we have not fully tested all the possible avenues.

Ready or not, I wanted to give it a try, so I decided to extend my wishlist to buy even more cards, in order to include some bulk rares and other newly available cards from DGM. My rationale was that some DGM rares' value would be less well known to some players, and they would agree to sell them at bulk prices to round up their trades with our bots. For example, I thought about buying Notion Thief and Plasm Capture at 0.10 each, and matched my sell price with Cardbot (roughly 60 cents each). This worked out just fine, and I ended up buying and selling these a few times over the week, with a pretty fair margin.

Some oddities happened when setting up my sell prices. I felt lazy when I got to the Modern cards, so I decided to set prices at a level I would be happy to sell at when the next Modern season arrived. I told myself these selling prices would also act as reminders, like my spreadsheets. For example, I set up my sell prices for Birthing Pod and Razorverge Thicket at 5.00 and 2.00 respectively, knowing I had bought my copies at 2.49 and 0.25 each. I was astonished this weekend when I found out I was sold out on both cards. I had to check back on mtgotraders, and the cards were available there for 4.15 and 0.55 respectively!

Having a bot ready to sell is useful for the future too. I will have to unload a few targets, for which we own large quantities. Doing so manually will be painful. Owning a bot means that I can mark my cards tradeable only when I feel the time is right, and at the price I want. The bot will then slowly unload the cards for me while I'm away.

A Few Pieces of Advice

Running a bot can be really time consuming. (Almost as much as having to rewrite an article because of some misunderstanding on my part of WordPress, but that's a different story.) We made a strong effort to follow our own rules and avoid the mistakes mentioned in our second article. I feel those pieces of advice apply to this part of speculation too, so don't hesitate to refer back to that article.

Stay Focused -- If you are tight on tickets, as we ended up being, make sure you reduce your wishlist to the most important targets you want to acquire. It's easy to be enthusiastic and write a large list of cards you would like to buy at a discount. But if you end up running short on tix all the time, you will find this experience quite expensive. You can also decrease your buy prices, so whatever you buy, you can turn it into instant profits.

Careful With the Quantities -- I have no problems with buying 100 copies of each shockland if the price is close to 2 tix, as I believe it's a safe position. During DGM's prerelease, I scanned the set's mythics and rares to find bulk cards I could buy for cheap. But I neglected to adjust my prices for some of these cards over time. As prices decreased rapidly, some player randomly found out that my bots were buying Savageborn Hydra at 2.00, while mtgotraders was selling them for 1.55. My quantities were set up to 12 per bot, and rest assured the guy made sure I would own all 24 in no time. Reducing your buying quantities to four or eight per bot sounds much safer.

Adjust your Prices Regurlarly -- It may be a little obvious. Since I don't use mtgolibrary's pricelist, I have to check in routinely on mtgotraders and make sure I am not overpaying. With MM's spoilers, I also had to decrease the buy price of many cards. After each completed trade, I also go back to my wishlist and decide if I want to change my price or my quantities, or leave them as is.

Make Sure You Have Enough Money -- Each bot should represent an investment of anywhere between 500 to 1000 tix. If you have that floating around, you should be fine. For any less, I have no idea how you could manage a bot, other than perhaps a bulk bot.

Committing to the Work Required -- This feels quite important. We are six weeks in and I'm just starting to feel more comfortable with the fact I'm running a bot. Fees are adding up quickly. It takes a lot of time to adjust everything every day. Make sure you like handling such things daily before acquiring a free lifetime licence. You wouldn't want to invest this kind of money and get fed up after six months.

Make Sure You Are Visible -- Space in ads is so limited and you have to be clever. Making yourself visible with a few keywords is helpful. Having a few popular cards on your buy list, with a decent premium, will attract many players who will then dump other cards you want, even though you didn't advertise for them on the Classifieds. Selecting which cards should appear on the Classifieds requires some thinking; Jeff and I had to sit and discuss at length why we wanted some specific cards to show up in our ads. The more bots you run, the more likely you are to appear in people's search. Getting trades because you successfully dragged people with clever ads feels quite rewarding.

Was It Worth the Effort?

To conclude, as I get more used to the settings of my bots, I spend less time rearranging my features and my prices. Fewer flaws can be found in my wishlist. We have good visibility because we are strategic with our postings. Some harsh decisions lay ahead of us, such as buying a new PC, or getting licenses for our bots to save on the fees.

Overall, even if it takes some efforts and some time to set up the virtual machines, I think there are good profits to be made. We opted for a strategy where we focus on specific cards, and we intend to gradually unload our cards using our bots when the time comes. Our profits so far fully cover the fees we were charged. We have also covered the license fees for VMWare Workstation.

Starting the bots meant that we had to inject additional capital, but we had the leverage to do so. I will still be able to pay my house and my tuition fees and my income taxes. So stress levels are under control.

Eventually, I could write a detailed guide to help people set up their own bot, in a step-by-step description. Mtgolibrary has a blog for that, but I find their guides confusing at times. Even though I do not feel like an expert in the field of botting, I will gladly help you figure out what your strategy should be, given your bankroll and the time on your hands. And I could certainly ask you a few hundred questions you might never have considered before giving it a try.

The Psycho,
Sébastien Morin

27 thoughts on “Insider: The Psycho on Running a Bot — Is It Worth It?

  1. I wonder if rather than getting a new computer you might find some people willing to run theirs 24/7 for you (for a fee)? This is of course assuming you could remotely control the bots. Many people have computers that are way overpowered for what they need (how much does web browsing and document editing really need, my phone is quite capable of that…), so making some money with their now wasted resources could be interesting.

    As for optimizing virtual machine’s performance, definitely make sure all fancy extras Windows enables by default are turned off. Also check for unneeded services that are started and disable those (yes your VM will need all network related services, sound related services however can easily be disabled). Similarly check which programs your VM starts by default (in all cases, or have someone check for you). You could investigate whether an older, simpler version of the Operating System can run more efficiently, newer versions tend to include more stuff you don’t need. It feels as if your computer should be able to run more than 2 VMs (maybe with a bit of extra ram or an SSD if you don’t currently have one).

    Should you decide to buy a new machine anyway it will be worthwhile to investigate what is/are currently your limiting factor(s). Maybe running bots in VMs is very hard disk intensive, perhaps in that case you would want a dedicated SSD for each machine (small ones don’t cost much, many motherboards can connect up to 8 disks as long as your case has the room). Or it needs lots of RAM, so get as much of that as you can fit. Or maybe it’s rather CPU intensive, so get the best of those. It might be possible to get a machine that is configured exactly to your needs rather than a standard model that is hardly going to improve things over the machine you have now (as what you have now doesn’t seem bad). Also consider that buying 2 fairly standard new machines that could run 3 VM’s each might be cheaper than buying 1 amazing machine that could run all 6 VM’s at once.

    I like computers ;).

    1. First of all, thanks for your insight. I never thought about “renting” other people’s computers, it sounds like a very good idea.

      I didn’t want to go too technical in this article, because I am easily lost in that realm. But this is really the next step for me: trying to make Windows as lean as possible, and see from there how many extra VM my laptop would be able to support. And I’ll definitely have someone help me out in this process, even tough Albert from mtgolibrary proposes many guides to make your laptop run 16 machines at a time…. but looking at his suggestions and all the steps involved make me dizzy 😉

      1. 16 does seem a bit optimistic. Going the laptop route, or otherwise a machine with little power usage, would be a good idea though. I think you should rule out using the laptop for anything else if you would really want to run that many. I was actually thinking of a regular desktop, which is more easily configurable, but does tend to use more power.

        Yeah, you really need to have a knack for it if you want to be able to follow any kind of technical instruction. It’s better left to professionals.

  2. tx a lot Pi, we will definitetly look for that…As mentionned in the article, there are a lot of things still to fix.

    It’s a new challenge, but this one cost more than the others hahahhahah. We will for sure keep you updated on that.Bots buy more than we had thought at first that’s for sure. Now that’s good news. We just have to adapt from now.

    If you have experience with bot or have any suggestion, everything is appreciated.

    1. I know computers, haven’t ever been on MTGO actually. Just thinking of things I would consider. Running an MTGO bot does seem like it should be financially interesting. I would want to build my own though if I would ever do that.

      I wonder how much the host OS influences the performance of the VMs. It seems reasonable to assume that the more resources are left for the VMs the more you could run. You might even consider installing a very lightweight Linux distribution as the host, though I reckon that you will definitely need an outside expert in that case (that’d go beyond my knowledge too).

  3. Great article, thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Whenever I see bot prices I tend to feel like I’m being gouged. They only buy for that? They sell for that? When you read this you realize all the overhead and time investment that goes into maintaining these things and have a new respect for the bot owners. They are playing a key role in the virtual economy and I am grateful for it (anyone who remembers MTGO before the bots arrived will remember how illiquid the market was…)

    Hopefully in a future build the MTGO team will streamline the transaction system and make it much easier for individual buyers and sellers to exchange their digital objects. I can’t wait until I don’t have to stream thru pages of classifieds trying to save 0.1 tix. What a phenomenal hassle for a game that’s supposed to be fun.

    In any case, best of luck with the new venture, and keep us posted!

  4. The only thing I have problems with, is that the bot system might have to go away, or be drastically modified with the new client on the horizon.

  5. I’m very interested in this kind of topic, and I don’t often comment here, but be careful with that bot provider. Running the bot gives the site full access to your MTGO accounts. Some have claimed that their accounts were cleaned out through this back door. If anyone knows a more reputable bot provider, that would be some awesome information to share. As for MTGO Library, I don’t know anything about the truth of the allegations, but it is a security risk you need to be aware of.

    1. I’ve thought about this issue, and my take on it is that the MTGOlibrary programmers were originally making software that was not secure, and then the security holes were exploited. Over time, it looks like they have improved their coding and fixed security issues. It’s more a problem with inexperience and negligence than with maliciousness. And there hasn’t been a security breach in a while with quite a few large chains now operating on the mtgolibrary system.

      Having said all of that, though, I agree it’s worth pointing out that there have been security issues in the past.

      1. As far as I could tell from the forum threads, it seemed like MTGOlibrary was the one exploiting the holes to clear out accounts rather than another malicious party. But again, these accusations don’t have any evidence to support them.

        1. Think about it. If MTGOlibrary was out to exploit it’s customer base of bot owners, there should be less and less of them over time. But what we see is the opposite. The number of MTGOlibrary bots grows over time. What does make sense is that a 3rd party exploited security holes and cleaned out accounts. Victims would not be able to tell the difference between a 3rd party and MTOGlibrary in this case.

          I can’t attest to the the claims of fraud in other forums thread, but after hearing from some of the bot owners who use MTGOlibrary, Albert has offered compensation for any security breaches that have resulted in a loss.

          If any one is curious, the botters are usually happy to answer questions. Aboshan, MTGO Bazaar, Cardfiend, VRTS, all are long standing MTGOlibrary botters.

          1. If anyone is curious, send me a dm and I can forward you a response from Aboshan regarding the security of MTGOlibrary and CBSbot (the banned predecessor to MTGOlibrary).

  6. Thanks again for the article… So I have a spare Server with 24Gb of ram and some other machines from my render farm I could have do this all day..

    But I was really afraid it would not be profitable with the fees and I only wanted to invest $1,000 in to it.

    maybe after taxes paid off I can try the bot route.

    1. I hope that if you do, you will let me know, out of curiosity 😉

      There are ways to manage mtgolibrary bots by simply using their price lists, and less management is involved on your end. There are also bulk bots which require almost no maintenance, that are less profitable but they can offer a steady income (I heard 70$/month per bulk bot).

      As for the risks mentionned above on sharing our passwords with mtgolibrary, I know it’s been an issue with CBS. I also heard that Albert offered compensation. I see no point for him in closing all bots, and going away with 14 million cards, and they go in jail or something, because his entreprise his retracable. I personally assume this kind of risk, Albert is super efficient in assisting me so far.

      I think his interests are to make money from as many bot owners as possible, on the long term, rather than arbitrarily stop a profitable process and run away with the cards (and get stucked with them).

  7. There are off the shelf test automation tools that can stimulate user activity on programs. I am thinking that maybe it would be possible to configure one of those tools to act as a bot (they can usually be scripted to do any task a user could do). I am not intimately familiar with that field, but I reckon that if somebody wants to have their own personal bot they might want to consider using one of those as a basis rather than building one from scratch.

    Just thought I’d throw this out there, might help someone.

  8. This article made me think of trying to run 1 or 2 bots in the future. I’ll love to see a second part with all the details.

    At the time your bot started to sell, how many cards did had it? Did you bet on large quantities of a low number of different cards, or just a playset of each card?

    I’m just asking the cards you bought to sell, not the ones to hoard.

  9. Very interesting article.

    I’m curious to know how long did it take to recover your expenses?

    And how much time do you spend now in updating the bots?

    1. Overall after 6 weeks of activity, I would summarize it like this: We have paid for the 2.5% fees and the VMWare software licence so far. The bots have bought for approximately 2000 tix worth of goodies, from all formats. Now we have decided to focus on restocking on shocklands and RTR removal, to get ready for fall. Also our GTC boosters will serve as liquidity to invest in MM (roughly 1000 tix)

  10. Would you like to share your botname(s) ? :p

    I wouldn’t be surprised if wotc would go asking money on botowners theirselves in the new build, cause if there is something to gain they don’t want to be left out.

    1. that’s a very high risk for WotC. If bots strike for 3-5 days it could result on crash on mtgo market and people could start to sell their collections with fear of losing a lot of money.

      that’s why wizards turn back on the beta only during DGM release

    2. They are Nextgenbot But they are down tonight because my internet provider has problems 🙁 during week-end, it cant get worse

  11. What wizards should do is give you the option to set up your own bots in the new client. Maybe even a special account type of bot that is free to create but comes blank, that you can hook up to your play account and feed it tickets and cards… or make a linux based bot client so people could use standard web space to host it, and change their license so you can do that… If I were marketing or development for wizards, I’d get that done. It would make more people get into MTGO.

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