Full disclosure – I only play paper Magic. I have played Magic in other online formats, such as Cockatrice and other free software platforms, though my main focus is on paper Magic. I have considered trying MTGO in the past, and in the future I may give it a shot.
From a financial perspective, MTGO markets are a much different beast than their paper counterparts. When comparing the two markets to each other, I have noticed that trends in MTGO change much quicker than paper when new decks hit the online scene. For example, both Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch and Underworld Cerberus have seen an uptick in price in MTGO but have not moved much in paper Magic.
I am going to outline the pros and cons of both formats to determine which format is better for certain types of players.
Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO)
- Great for limited players – Play Magic anytime, anywhere. There is always a draft to be had
- Flexible availability – The ability to hop into constructed matches on-demand is excellent for more serious players, as they are able to jam a lot of games and get much more testing done than if they were playing in person. This isn’t necessarily perfect preparation though, as the MTGO metagame often does not accurately mirror that of Grand Prixs or SCG tournaments. Your mileage may vary if you utilize MTGO for paper tournament testing.
Easy to offload cards – The prevalence of bots on MTGO makes turning your unused/extra cards into useful resources a breeze. Many bots run on very slim margins, which means it doesn’t cost much to turn 75 into an entirely different 75 without losing much value. Doing this in paper means either you go the fast route and trade the cards in at a store, accepting a massive loss in value, or you trade the pieces with other players, which is likely to be incredibly time consuming.
Keeping track of prices across both formats is confusing and time consuming – The difference in prices between the online and paper version of a card can sometimes be quite staggering. For instance, Snapcaster Mage on MTGO can be as low as 7 tickets (1 ticket = ~$1), while paper copies have never gone below $18.
It costs the same amount of money to play MTGO as it does to play paper Magic – This has always really baffled me and is one of the reasons why I haven’t tried MTGO – Wizards has even chosen to set the MSRP for MTGO boosters the same as paper boosters! I understand the convenience of being able to play at any time is very enticing, but I am surprised that MTGO is popular and profitable for Wizards at the same price point as paper cards. However, my incredulity is apparently unfounded – the past has shown that this is a profitable strategy for Wizards, as a large percentage of their revenue comes from MTGO sales, and the online format is as popular as ever. It appears that MTGO caters to a crowd that has no problem with this current price structure.
Magic: The Gathering – Old School Paper!
Playing paper is more social – The social aspect of Magic is one of the reasons why the game has stuck with me, and many others, throughout the years. Having a lot of friends that you can get together with to play on a given evening or weekend is really awesome. From a financial standpoint, having a social environment to trade or sell cards away is good for the savvy trader because there will always be opportunities for trading and buying.
There is value in sealed product – Sealed product tends to appreciate in value over time. Look at Innistrad booster boxes for a recent example. If you play paper magic, being able to pick up booster boxes at market prices (or even things like Commander decks and Duel Decks) can be a solid opportunity. With MTGO you can only purchase packs of cards or singles.
Time Intensive – If you play paper magic, a lot more time is involved with trading and playing the game in general than MTGO. Without a computer, you have to sort all of your cards manually, as well as do things that mostly don’t even occur on MTGO such as buylisting to stores, going to events, sleeving and desleeving decks, etc.
Potential for card loss or destruction – In real life, things happen. Cards get lost, stolen, or destroyed. With MTGO, the only thing you have to worry about is unauthorized access to your account. The chances of this happening are significantly lower than having something happen to your physical cards.
With MTGO, your avenue for profit is smaller. You are relegated to basically two options: Convert cards into tickets, and then attempt to sell the tickets, or redeem sealed sets which you take to eBay. These aren’t necessarily worse methods of profit, but there aren’t nearly as many options for converting resources into cash as with paper Magic. It’s not to say that MTGO is a worse market to function in, but rather considerably different.
In the future I might decide to delve into MTGO. It is certainly fun, and a great utilization of your available Magic-playing hours. From a financial perspective, I still feel that trading and buying with paper can be much more profitable, mainly due to the number of outlets you have to trade and sell cards.