Promo Cards on MTGO: What Are They Good For?

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Absolutely nothing!

I use Magic Online for one thing: drafting. That's it. But every month, without fanfare, a promotional card or two is put into my account. There's nothing really wrong with this. It's not like I'm paying extra for it, and it's not like I'm playing on Magic Online only because of promos.

But really, what's the point? Unless WOTC randomly chooses a card you need for a Constructed format, these cards are basically worthless. Check out the season that ended 2014. The two promos offered were:


Nekusar is desirable for only one format, and that's Commander. There's a couple issues with this. First, I'm pretty sure Trick Jarrett is the only person who plays Commander on MTGO (besides those he tricks into playing with him, of course). Given how relatively unpopular the format is, why are Commander cards considered desirable promos? Second, and even more important, these promos are triggered by playing in a Constructed, Sealed, or Draft tournament. I am pretty sure that people playing in competitive tournaments on MTGO couldn't care less about Commander cards, but hey, I don't have the market research that WOTC has. I'm sure this was a decision made completely within the confines of realistic expectations over player excitement.

Stoke the Flames is kind of a different story. A Standard staple and an uncommon retailing online for $4.40, there's a real argument to be made for this promo version being a good giveaway for players, especially those who need it for Standard. For those of us who don't play Standard, we can sell it for a few tix. After all, the paper FNM version (which has the same art) retails for $6.50. Everybody wins! It's a promo that actually makes some semblance of sense!

Except that only players that actually want to play with the card win, because promos are nearly worthless online. In a testament to how important redemption is to keeping online prices up, as a rule, digital promos are worth far, far less than their from-the-actual-set counterparts. For example, when Nightveil Specter was a Standard staple, it was pushing four tickets online. Wizards gave out promo Specters, and I posted a classified asking for two tickets. I eventually sold it for one and felt like I had totally triumphed. Promotional cards are supposed to be a rare treat, but they are worth a fraction of the value one would expect online.

Promotional cards make a lot of sense in paper Magic, but they're just not exciting in the digital realm. Better promotional items MTGO could offer include:

  1. Special event vouchers based on the number of tournaments one plays or wins during a given season.
  2. Promotional items based on the formats you play during a given season (for example, drafters could get a phantom draft, Legacy players could get free entry into a Daily Event, and sure, Standard players could get a hot new card when appropriate).
  3. A point-based reward system that allows you to select promotional items based on your interests (and save up points to get better stuff over time).
  4. Options for paper promos for players of both the paper and digital games.

Those are just a few ideas off the top of my head. Regardless of what happens, even if the promo system stays exactly the same, I don't know why promo cards are put into MTGO accounts with absolutely zero fanfare. It's as if Wizards is ashamed of the worthless promos and doesn't want to point them out to you when you receive them.

I'm basically complaining about Wizards giving us free stuff here, but when it's free stuff that nobody wants, I kind of just wish they'd spend that programming time actually improving the client. Does anybody out there find MTGO promos exciting? If so, please leave a comment and also tell us what it's like to be a unicorn.

Danny Brown

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

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Posted in Free, MTGOTagged ,

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6 thoughts on “Promo Cards on MTGO: What Are They Good For?

  1. A lot of people were up in arms about the lack of alt. art Ugin online. So it would seem that they want online what WOTC is giving out in real life. These promos imitate FNM, game-day, or buy a box promos most of the time. If I am playing with these cards in standard, I like to use the promo when I can.

    But I agree, they are worthless. Nekusar is so worthless that I think it generates negative value for Wizards. Stoke the flames is pretty cool. Hordeling Outburst should be cool. But in the end they are all worthless.

    Give us something we can play, and something with value. Most rewards programs offer something with monetary value. Not at MTGO.

    1. I don’t think the issue was with there being a lack of alternate art Ugins, so much as it was an issue of Wizards not mentioning it until AFTER the fact.

      Instead of “Guys, just so you know, there won’t be Alt art Ugins”, it was “Fuck, we forgot to mention. There weren’t any Alt art Ugins, Lol got ya.”

  2. You sound like a player complaining because your opponent deviated from the line of play that would have allowed you to win. Your understanding of promotional items seems predicated on an utterly low-level theory of mind and it’s keeping you from seeing alternative explanations.

    Let me reframe this for you: Why should I give out promos?

    Maybe the goal is to induce players to participate more with the appeal of the card on offer. Like a parent offering too strong an incentive for a kid to study, players who participate because the promo is crazy-good won’t internalize the behavior (meaning they’ll _only_ play if the promo is exactly what they want), and that ties your hands when it comes to managing your virtual economy and unnecessarily constrains the breadth of appeal of your future promotions. Such a bribe should be appealing without being so good that it is a reason to play unto itself.

    Alternatively, maybe I want to encourage players to participate in _future_ events based on the promotional card. This seems more likely, since MTGO is less vocal about these promos than they would be if they were bribing players to play. In that case, offering promos for under-played formats like commander makes a whole lot of sense. Handing out one-ofs of important cards might be intended to get players excited about drafting to finish out the set, or even induce them to buy tickets to purchase what they need to build a deck to show off that card (and a player dropping 13 bucks to finish the play set of a durdly four-mana burn spell would be pretty sweet, huh?).

    Or maybe some third thing, a combination of both, or one and the other alternativingly. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure the end that [marketing dude] is trying to achieve isn’t “give the players a warm fuzzy feeling,” even if that is often the means.

  3. Giving out promos is kind of cool MOST of the time but I’m actually not too happy that they gave away Nekusar or previously Ghave, Guru of Spores. The reason is simply that those were supposed to be exclusive to the Commander decks and it made me feel pretty dumb for buying them previously. Online prices are pretty low to begin with and simply giving away mythics as promos ruins the value of the regular versions most of the time. Nekusar went from about 3 tix (not much I admit but that’s not the point) to worthless over night and Ghave had a similar price drop although it’s been long enough that I couldn’t say how much of one. Other mythics are pretty much the same. Want a foil Sheoldred? 6 cents. Survival of the Fittest? I couldn’t even get a bot to make me an offer.

  4. Not counting mocs promos right? I liked stoke the flames a lot!! Very welcome as i could sell the regular ones and have those to play. Same for rabblemaster mocs now.

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