Can MTGO Appeal to the Average Gamer?

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Let's say you're a gamer. This seems like a relatively safe assumption to make, given that you're on this site reading this article. But let's say that you're not familiar with Magic, which is probably not a safe assumption, given that you're on this site reading this article. Bear with me, though.

So you, a gamer who does not play Magic: The Gathering, are looking for a new game to play. You like a number of various game types and platforms, so you're really pretty open-ended. You are looking for something fun, reasonably priced, and easy to get into.

Business of Games
Business of Games

You've grown up with console games, so you start there. You could pick up a game like Dark Souls 2 (I'm a huge fan) for around $30 right now, and easily get 100 hours of game out of it. That's about 33 cents an hour, which is quite the bargain! You can also ship the game off when you're done, further decreasing the cost of all that gaming you just got to enjoy, and it's easy to figure out how to move a videogame via Craigslist or Amazon. A solid option.

Gizmos for Geeks
Gizmos for Geeks

Alternatively, you could grab your iPhone or iPad and visit the App Store. Angry Birds only costs a dollar, but you could also get a classic Final Fantasy title for $20. Star Realms, Ascension, and Lords of Waterdeep will each run you about $5. All of these games except for Angry Birds have high replayability value and can easily be jammed for hundreds of hours. Even if you only end up playing for a bit before you get bored, the cost of entry is so low for your standard mobile game that it doesn't take much play to get your cost-per-hour under a dollar. You can't resell it when you're done, but if you're only paying a couple bucks, would you really expect to?


A board game will usually run you $30 to $50. Putting in tons of hours with a tabletop game can be difficult unless you have a regular playgroup, but for your money, you get (presumably) a nice box with some high-quality components that you can resell at a later time if you want. Tabletop games also offer the bonus of real-life, face-to-face interactions with other humans. I mean, for some folks that's a bonus.


Or maybe you want to try a digital card game. There are three you've heard of: Hearthstone, SolForge, and Magic.

Hearthstone and SolForge are both available for mobile devices and for free. You can get started right away, and if you find you don't like the games, you've lost zero dollars. Everything within these games is available for free if you're willing to grind.


But you've heard of this other game, Magic: The Gathering. People say it's really good. Some say it's the best game ever made. You search on your phone, but can't find any mobile version of it. Bummer.

So you Google "Magic Online," and the first link that comes up is to a page that hasn't been updated since June 16, 2014. Hmm. Thankfully, the second link appears to be to a current page, so you're back on track. Eventually, you find a download link, but the system requirements are a little high for your laptop. Oof.

Not to be discouraged, you switch to your desktop, which can handle the requirements. You go to download the game, but find you need to have an account. A starter account costs $10. This isn't a lot of money, but for a game you've never tried? That you're not even sure if you'll like? This is kind of a bummer.

But you're determined to try this game, so you pay your $10. Next, you wait for more than an hour while MTGO downloads. It's smart how they make you pay the $10 before you start the download—this ensures that they still got money from you even though you're going to go play another game during the interim, possibly not returning to MTGO.

Despite the odds being against it, you come back after the download finishes and click into the program. You are a little confused by the interface, but clicking "Play" seems like a good start. Unfortunately, there is no tutorial, so you'll have to figure out the rules on your own. Hmm. You don't have a deck, it's saying. And you also don't know the rules to the game, so you can't build a deck.

You read some third-party online tutorials, and they say this thing called "drafting" is a good bet for new players, so you look into it. MTGO says you need packs. You go to the store, annoyingly pay $14 for the necessary product, and then enter a draft. You are mercilessly dispatched in round one, and oops, you joined a single-elimination event. Want to draft again? Pay another $14, sucker.

You've heard Magic cards are worth money, but you can't figure out for the life of you how to exchange them. You're seeing terms like "trade binders" and "bots" and "tickets," but this is all meaningless to you. You eventually give up trying to sell your cards, and after flushing another $14 down the drain, you give up on MTGO altogether. They made $38 off you and you barely even got to play the game.

Much later, you stumble upon a game called Duels of the Planeswalkers. It appears to be related to Magic. Oh, wow! It appears to be a beginning version of Magic. But for some reason, it is not called Magic Online or Magic: The Gathering, so when you looked into Magic Online originally, it didn't come up. Too bad.

In any case, this seems more like a good starting point for a new player, similar to Hearthstone and SolForge. It can't hurt anything to download it and try it out, right? Surely it will be free like those other DCTGs... wait. It costs $10? Ugh.

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Danny Brown

Danny is a Cube enthusiast and the former Director of Content for Quiet Speculation.

View More By Danny Brown

Posted in Free, MTGO

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9 thoughts on “Can MTGO Appeal to the Average Gamer?

  1. Nice article- clever way to highlight just how out of touch MTGO is when it comes to cracking the online gaming market. And you didn’t even mention the dated look of the interface or sub-par card image graphics… ’cause these days gamers expect their online games to resemble something from a Nintendo 64 cartridge 🙂

  2. You assume MTGO is after the average gamer, which is a mistake. They have decided (for better or worse) that high per capita, low user #s is the way to go. Given that their income almost certainly crushes HeartStone with a 50th of the userbase, it is probably hard to disagree as a company.

    All that said, I agree completely with everything except the cost argument. Well and that downloading V4 takes a hour. If your internet takes a hour to download 125 MBs of data that is a suppppper slow connection.

    1. yep, WotC clearly interested in high ARPU and not high user numbers. Whether that’s logical is up for debate. It certainly flies in the face of most other industry trends where developers have discovered that $0 entry cost is massively more valuable than a pay wall. Likewise Steam has shown videogame developers the value of halving your price and selling more than twice as much. Magic’s costs look utterly ridiculous in the modern era, ironically one that has only recently embraced Magic’s business model decades after Magic first used it. That said, for a sufficiently high enough caliber product you could imagine premium prices working. MTGO is not that product. WotC will continue to let it wither on the vine printing money rather than try to innovate and risk damaging the physical product and its surrounding ecosystem.

      1. TBF, what WOTC did with MTGO is pioneer the system everyone has gone to. That is “low entry” with “micro transactions”. When they setup MTGO everyone said it would fail because it didn’t do a flat fee a month or upfront cost. Now everyone has gone to the model, but instead of doing “low entry+micro transactions” others went to “no entry+micro transactions”. Oddly MTGO was a trendsetter for once, rather than behind the curve 😛

        As for conventional wisdom, Bioshock Infinite is the 10th best selling game of 2013 with 2.89 million copies. Even assuming they got 50 per (very high I imagine) that is 145~ Million dollars GROSS revenue at the retail level. IDK anything about the cost structures of video games, but I doubt they are abnormal enough to be note worthy. MTGO does north of 100 M a year in revenue as well, but as their product is not a new release etc (and they are so clearly cheap with it) I would imagine they have a insanely high profit margin relative to market norms. It would not surprise me if profit wise MTGO is better than the majority of video games released in any given year. Hard to argue with massive profitability, even if we all know it is trash.

        TL;DR Thank god Garfield is a genius, and despite WOTCs best attempts they can’t seem to kill MTG/MTGO

  3. Good article that really only scratched the surface. One major complaint I have, especially regarding new user experiences, is the poor marketplace.

    For example, it is very hard for a new user to find the ‘best deal’. I know that the Magic v4 UI isn’t going to help me there, and that I need mtggoldfish or mtgowikiprice to find the best bot.

    A new user won’t, and they’ll soon have a very negative user experience by getting ripped off, or at least, sub optimal pricing on cards.

    1. An example of a good marketplace experience would involve me entering the marketplace and typing ‘Grave Titan’, and having the best price be brought to the top.

      This doesn’t exist in the UI.

  4. You forgot about the “New Player Points”. After you created an account you can play 10 Standard 2-man’s, 5 drafts or 4 sealed events for free. These are all limited to new players, so you have a chance to not get totally crushed.
    But you are right, MTGO is not for rookies. The “normal” devolpment is FNM -> MTGO or DOTP -> MTGO. You have to know the rules, at least a bit. Otherwise it’s very hard to have fun with it due to missing tutorials or other help.

  5. This is dead-on. A new user is completely lost. I don’t think WOTC is marketing to them though. It’s more for the RL card players out there. But there is the new player phantom queues they can try. Best to know someone who knows the MTGO interface to show you the ropes. I only charge $10/hour!

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