The MTGO Frontier: Calling All Pioneers!

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MTGO is back in the news in a big way thanks to Pioneer, and Magic players are taking notice. MTGO quietly recovered over the summer. First the value of a ticket recovered from a post-Arena low of $0.75 up to $0.90 (and is now all the way up to $0.96!). At the same time, card prices recovered slowly and steadily. By the end of summer, my collection value was almost as high as it was before Arena went into open Beta. Now, thanks to renewed interest in MTGO, card prices have more than fully recovered. Indeed, my collection is worth more now than it was before Arena went into open Beta -- the same happened to SaffronOlive.

Thanks in part to the renewed interest in MTGO, I'm now getting all sorts of questions on Discord and through other channels, and none more frequently than "When are you going to start writing again?". The answer is that I will once again be providing regular MTGO Finance content, starting now!

Other frequent questions include: "What will Pioneer do to card prices?" "What will happen to Modern?" In my next article, I'll look at these two questions, exploring certain investment strategies and opportunities that could pay off going forward. Expect to see that article later this week.

But today I want to focus on the larger question I've seen being asked, the most fundamental question, whose answer informs every financial decision we make with Magic Online. "What will Pioneer do to MTGO? What does Pioneer mean for MTGO going forward?".

I. Pioneer is a format that players want to play!

One thing about Pioneer is clear. This format is for real. I say this not because I think the format is going to be great (I think the format will be great once a few problematic cards are banned, but we're going to have to wait a month or two to get there). I say this because the hype surrounding Pioneer is so strong and widespread that we know it is coming from a deeper place of genuine want. This isn't a format that needed WOTC employees to write cheesy articles to convince everyone to play it. Magic players have been yearning for an eternal format that feels like contemporary Magic, a format that plays and feels differently than Legacy or Modern. Players have been yearning for an eternal format that lets them use their Standard cards, a persistent need that bolstered Modern in its infancy and that will undoubtedly bolster Pioneer in its.

Pioneer comes at an ideal time. We've now had several years of sets created with a design philosophy that emphasizes creature combat, one that has led to Standard environments feeling wholly different to Modern and Legacy. Until now, players relatively new to the game have not had a way to play with their old cards in a format that feels similar to Standard. With Pioneer, newer players and players who primarily draft will have a great opportunity to try their hand at an eternal format, and I see many of them already seizing this fresh and exciting opportunity to do so.

Magic players have also been yearning for a financially accessible eternal format, one that doesn't require a $1,000 investment to jump in. Wizards made several executive decisions with Pioneer that make this more likely. First is that the starting point is Return to Ravnica, the beginning of the era where Wizards sold way more booster boxes than ever before. Second is that the fetchlands are banned, thereby guaranteeing that mana bases will cost nowhere near as much in Pioneer as they do in Modern.

Perhaps most importantly, Pioneer is going to introduce players brought into the game through Magic Arena to an eternal format. Magic Arena has brought so many new players to the game, not just to Magic Arena but also to paper Magic and Magic Online. It is no accident that this format was announced only after Arena had been out for a year, giving Arena players time to learn and get invested in the game. Now is a great time to welcome Arena players into the wider ecosystem that is Magic: the Gathering.

II. MTGO and Dissatisfaction with Arena and Standard

Pioneer will not be coming to Magic Arena and will be available only in paper and on MTGO. This has made many Arena folks upset, and the strongest condemnations I've seen on Twitter have unsurprisingly come from Arena streamers like Jeff Hoogland and Jim Davis. But even apart from the streamers, that Pioneer will not be coming to Arena has been a flashpoint and an impetus to reflect for many players, making many question their engagement with Arena and consider playing MTGO again.

What unsettled many is that, in the starkest and most direct terms possible, Wizards informed Arena players in the Pioneer announcement that Magic Arena is Magic Arena. We already knew that Hasbro created and funded the development of Magic Arena to compete in the booming industry of digital free-to-play (f2p) card games, to compete for the time and money of the sorts of gamers who were already playing Hearthstone, Gwent, and Eternal. Many enfranchised Magic players started playing and sinking money into Arena believing that Arena was going to become the digital platform where Magic in its myriad forms would be played, streamed, and broadcast as an eSport; this was a mistake in judgment.

Arena is a platform and stand-alone game religiously devoted to capturing an audience that emerged a decade ago, one that had proved elusive for the Magic brand. Everything about it (even the labyrinthine menu interface!) is designed to maximize the engagement of this target audience. It is a f2p game aggressively monetized in the same vein as other digital card games. It has long animations, immersive sounds, and battlefield pets to stimulate the player and keep him engaged. It has bot drafting so that there are no queue times and so that there is no time in between picks. Its focus is on Standard because Standard more closely resembles the gameplay style seen in less complicated and more battlefield-centric games that these players are familiar with. In a word, Arena tries both to be familiar to a wide digital card game audience and to be a video game that keeps the player immersed,  stimulated, and active at all times.

Pioneer, Modern, and Legacy have no place in the execution of this vision. Nor does Cube. Nor does human drafting. Arena has been successful in no small part because it has been so aggressive in targeting a new audience with unique wants, needs, and expectations, confident that its paper and MTGO offerings were good enough for its historic core audience. I believe it would be a boon to Magic eSports if the MTGO client were modernized and made more amenable to broadcasts; likewise for the creation of technology that could capture a physical paper game and broadcast it digitally. But those are independent initiatives that have nothing to do with Arena. Magic Arena is Magic Arena.

Perhaps this is stating the obvious because we've already seen it happening, but we can expect some more enfranchised players to shift back from Arena to MTGO, and we can expect some players whom Arena introduced to Magic to give MTGO a first look for Pioneer. Even a trickle from Arena has major implications for MTGO and for MTGO Finance (and is good for the overall brand, as the traditional core Magic audience is stickier than the digital card game audience).

I've written this section to say this: MTGO financiers should be confident in an overall positive financial outlook for MTGO going forward. MTGO is and will be the premier place for enfranchised players to play Magic in all its myriad forms. Arena has brought an influx of players and excitement to the game, which coupled with Pioneer will result in userbase growth for MTGO. Players new to MTGO should feel comfortable buying in and playing any format they desire. Enfranchised players who dropped MTGO for Arena should feel comfortable buying back in to MTGO to play their favorite Constructed format (drafting is far cheaper on MTGO now than it used to be as well). Speculators and investors should feel comfortable putting more money into the platform as well.

III. The Future

Right now Pioneer is on fire. Prices on potential Pioneer staples is through the roof. While I therefore won't be speculating on premier Pioneer staples, I do want to look more closely at Standard and Modern staples and look for potential Pioneer hits that are going unnoticed.

I have confidence that this is a good strategy because the renewed interest in MTGO will likely spur demand for all formats across the platform. I will discuss this in my next article, which should come out later this week.

I do want to briefly mention that if you haven't been drafting Eldraine, you should start! Not only is it a rich and exciting format with good gameplay, but the value is also very good. Right now if you have a 50% winrate it will cost about $2.50 to draft. And you can draft infinitely if you have a 58% to 60% winrate. Relax and enjoy!

Thanks for reading, and I hope that this article reassures MTGO investors and potential new MTGO players that now is a good time to put money onto the platform and play. It is my job here at QS to help make MTGO more affordable for you, and my next article will aim to do just that! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or hit me up on Discord.

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