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On Monday there was a Magic Online announcement that outlined plans for its marquee event, the Magic Online Championship Series (MOCS) in 2019. The announcement has some major financial implications. Today I want to dig into exactly what it all means for Magic and the market, from the immediate impact it's already had to what it means for next year and beyond.
The MOCS has been the highest-level competitive event of Magic Online since 2009, so if nothing else, the simple fact that the series will continue into next year cements Magic Online as a major part of Magic’s competitive digital presence—any death knells for the program have been unwarranted, or at least premature. There has been a lot of hype over Magic Arena lately, and in turn discussion about Magic Online’s future, which many consider very bleak; but with MOCS events now scheduled into January 2020, it’s not going away anytime soon.
A few weeks ago I went into detail about my thoughts about the future of MTGO, and this news only makes me more optimistic. The announcement should build confidence in the Magic Online market. I expect the trend of players exiting in favor of Magic Arena to slow and in fact turn around, and I expect to see growth as more players join. Magic Arena is introducing new players to Magic, and bringing existing Magic players to a digital platform for the first time, both which will inevitably create some number of new Magic Online players. So the rising tide from Magic Arena may actually buoy Magic Online.
The finer details of the announcement is what really has people excited. The MOCS has always been comprised of qualifier events throughout the year, culminating in a championship for thousands of dollars in prize, essentially a mini-Pro Tour. That’s not changing, but new for 2019 is the addition of Format Championships in Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and Pauper, each of which will invite one player to the championship to compete for the top prize.
New Formats in the Spotlight
Qualifying for these championships means playing Leagues and Challenges in their respective format throughout the year. Because all the MOCS championship players also receive an invitation to the Pro Tour, this means that one can now technically make it to the Pro Tour playing nothing but their preferred format. This fact has players going wild, and it sent the market into a frenzy right after the announcement.
The main buying target has been the Power 9, all of which saw their prices spike significantly on Monday after the announcement. Most pieces nearly doubled in price, some nearly tripling. These had all essentially been slowly depreciating since printing and were at all-time lows, so given how cheap they were it’s not surprising so many people bought in.
Prices have fallen back considerably, with their net growth over the week now in the 50-80% range, so there were definitely speculators at play. But there’s also some real demand. As the week developed more staples of the format started to rise, including Bazaar of Baghdad and Mishra's Workshop, which has now nearly tripled in price this week, but is still barely over a ticket.
Vintage is a complete bargain on MTGO, with Black Lotus sitting just under 30 tickets (up from 16 on Sunday), and that’s attractive. The new MOCS season starts December 5th, just a few weeks from now. I expect demand to slowly build until that date, at which point players can start grinding points towards the Vintage championship, so the market should surge in December and into the new year.
The announcement is most significant for Pauper, which will now receive some serious online support. Being added as one of the MOCS formats means Competitive Pauper Leagues will be also added to the program’s offering, where there were previously just Friendly Leagues.
The announcement warned that competitive queues could be removed if they ruin the metagame and the health of the format, but I don’t expect that to happen. The format is already plenty competitive, and the metagame well developed for over a decade, so I don’t see it suddenly just breaking down.
What I do see happening is the changes catalyzing further interest in Pauper, which means more growth. Wizards is further helping support awareness of the format by including occasional Pauper events on Magic Arena. The days of the fabled Pauper Grand Prix could actually be upon us.
Pauper has seen modest growth on some staples since the announcement. It's nothing rivaling the massive Vintage growth, but there is clearly some renewed vigor in the market. There’s likely more growth ahead, and new players entering paper Pauper may start those cards moving too.
Legacy being included as a MOCS format is also a boost to that format, which sees relatively little support from Wizards because it includes Reserved List cards.
It hit the spotlight as part of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary in August, and has also been bolstered by SCG Team Open events. But this addition of another competitive Legacy event to the calendar will ensure it lives on strong for at least a year longer.
Modern will also have a format championship, so it too will be bolstered by the announcement. There have been some small movements in the market this week. However, it seems that the bigger factor for that is the release of Ultimate Masters reprints, not necessarily the MOCS announcement, which makes sense since Modern is already so popular.
What is interesting about the selection of Modern is that it rounds out the selections with another Eternal format. What is left off is Standard, and that’s significant because Standard is very much the realm of Magic Arena. It appears that Magic Online is being set-up as the place to play non-Standard constructed Magic, to live in harmony with Magic Arena’s Standard.
MTGO Still Going Strong
With Magic Online receiving a bad rap lately, or at least being discounted in the face of Magic Arena, this announcement was a huge vote of confidence in the program from Wizards, and the market is responding. Prices across the board have been slumping and cards can be had at bargain prices, so now seems like a great time to move in and invest on the platform, at least for the 2019 horizon.