If you are going to play Magic Online or invest in Magic cards online, you are going to very quickly encounter the MTGO Marketplace. Once you click the "Trade" tab, you'll see a whole slough of postings made by humans and bots who are trying to buy and sell cards.
For the individual new to MTGO, this open virtual marketplace can feel daunting and overwhelming. Even for the more experienced MTGO veteran, the MTGO marketplace remains something not fully known. Indeed, the MTGO Marketplace is much more like a Bazaar of Baghdad than your neighborhood grocery store – it is filled with vendors with established brands and lesser-known names, people trying to do honest deals and those trying to scam you, bots you know will be there tomorrow and bots that might vanish. What I hope to accomplish today is to give you a better sense for the MTGO marketplace and concrete steps to better engage with it.
This is not a how-to-trade guide. For that I recommend reading Cardhoarder's MTGO Beginner's Guide, and specifically watching this video of Marshall Sutcliffe explaining how to physically conduct a trade on MTGO. I'm going to first give you a lay of the land and then some suggested concrete routes to help you Explore.
I. The Top Dogs
These two bot chains are the Amazons and eBays of the MTGO Marketplace. Everybody knows what they are, and if you've traded online at all, you've probably done business with them. In fact, these are the two biggest bot chains on MTGO in terms of trade volume – I've heard estimates that 50 percent of all MTGO trading is done through these two chains.
Whether that's true or not, these two chains buy and sell everything. They are always fully stocked on Standard cards, and it's not too often that they don't have a Modern, Legacy, or Pauper staple I'm looking for. These two are also the two bot chains that MTGGoldfish uses to track MTGO card prices.
One thing that is helpful to remember, however: these bot chains' buy and sell prices are directly linked to each other, but they don't share credits between them. Thus, if you do business with one of them, I'd stick to that one and not bother with the other.
II. Popular Bot Chains
This list is fairly exhaustive, though inevitably I will have missed a couple. These bot chains are ones that trade at a high volume, but not as high as Cardhoarder and MTGOTraders. These are, however, the companies that prevent Cardhoarder and MTGOTraders from becoming monopolistic behemoths in the MTGO Marketplace. In most cases, these bot chains buy and sell all cards for all formats. Unlike the Top Dogs, these bots sometimes are missing cards from non-Standard sets, but they can be relied upon to be fully stocked on Standard singles.
Some of the bots on this list, like GoatBots and MtgoEmpire, offer the same level of customer service as Cardhoarder and MTGOTraders, meaning that you can trade with their bots efficiently and smoothly, without any restrictions on the number of cards you can buy or sell, and with reasonable and contactable customer support should something go awry. Others can be lacking in one way or another; TheCardNexus and _DojoTrade, for example, only allow you to buy or sell a playset of any given card over a twenty-four hour period.
III. Your Specialty Stores
This list is sampling highlighting the fact that there are a smattering of bots and bot chains that specialize in only one type of transaction. You'll often get better prices from these than from the jack-of-all-trades bot chains we discussed earlier. BoosterCity, for example, almost always offers the best buy and sell prices for treasure chests and boosters. Some bots focus on lands and promos. Some bots, like j-raja and Bulking, specialize in bulk. Some bot chains specialize in foils, and others only buy cards.
Things to Remember as a New User
If you are a new user, I think the most important thing is that you should take comfort in the fact that there are some real flesh and blood companies that run bot chains on MTGO, companies with websites and customer support. I've dealt with several of the owners and managers who run some of these bot chains (in particular Cardhoarder and TheCardNexus), and they have all been nice and helpful. Several of them are also responsive to your questions and messages on Twitter. Now that you know some of the big names in the MTGO Marketplace and have a general sense for what you'll find on the MTGO Marketplace, you won't feel as lost or overwhelmed when you look to buy or sell cards online.
This leads me to some recommendations for new – and veteran – users:
(1) If you are a new MTGO user, stick to trading with one or two from the list of "Top Dogs" or "Popular Bot Chains" until you grow more comfortable with the MTGO Marketplace. With the exception of the MTGO Library, which is unique in its overarching structure (see below), these are all bot chains that you can trust to give you reasonably fair prices and that will be trading on MTGO for the foreseeable future. Start there and branch outward as needed.
(2) Write down which bots you do business with! As simple as this rule is, it will save you tickets, time and headaches! I promise you will forget otherwise. While it would be tedious to keep a spreadsheet tracking your store credits with various bot chains, it is simple and painless to keep a list of those you do business with.
(3) Don't trade with an excess number of bots. Each individual bot chain company will save any left-over value from a transaction as store credit for you to use in the future. The value of store credit is identical to its value in Event Tickets (tix). For example, if you sold two Incendiary Flows for 0.40 tix to a ClanTeam bot, then you'll have 0.40 store credit (tix) saved up to use at any ClanTeam bot. Therefore, you want to minimize the number of bots you do business with to minimize the amount of outstanding store credit you have. Additionally, limiting the number of bots you do business with will make it easier to remember which bots you do business with, which means you'll be more often using store credit instead of giving away free tickets to bots.
(4) Avoid using the MTGO Library (Wikiprice) bots. Due to its unique structure, this is one for beginners to avoid using. The MTGO Library allows for individuals like you and me to run bots that are linked to the MTGO Library Smart Bot price updater. A hypothetical real-world example of this structure would be a group of family-run farms that pooled together to share pricing data and industry expertise but that operated their sales individually. The most significant danger involved in trading with bots of the MTGO Library is that you could trade with a bot that disappears a week later – and bots on the MTGO Library don't share credits with each other. In general, though, you'll be using your event tickets inefficiently because you'll often be trading with more bots than you otherwise would. Despite having done some good deals through MTGO Library, I've found its system quite tedious and recommend looking elsewhere.
(5) If you ignore the above advice, be very careful to avoid getting scammed. Always verify that the bot is buying or selling at the advertised price point. Many bots list false advertisements in the hopes that you'll just trust them. Is a bot you don't recognize offering a significantly better price than everyone else? Chances are high that if you open trade with that bot, the price isn't going to look so good. Just a few weeks ago, I saw an old bot chain that I had used in the past (rockchalkwalker) buying Hazoret for about .75 tix higher than others. I opted to open trade. Lo and behold, the bot was actually offering 0.54 tix total for it! I didn't fall for this scam, and I don't want you to fall for these same scams either. Be careful! This is one of the main reasons why I recommend trading with the trustworthy bots I listed above. The other tactic to watch out for are bots that advertise a certain price but only offer that price for the first copy of that card you buy, raising the price for every copy thereafter. None of the bots I mentioned earlier engage in that practice.
I hope that this overview of the MTGO Marketplace will make you more comfortable trading within it. Next week, I will deliver Part II of this article, detailing some tips and tricks for more seasoned MTGO users as well as providing a run down of all the major bots I do business with and have done business with in the past. Inevitably, I didn't answer every question you may have on this topic, so leave a question down below and I'll answer it as best I can!
The card I leave you with this week is the first of a twin pair. Next week, I'll show you its companion Lapnos, the drum.