Category Archives: MTGO

Profiting From New Set Releases on MTGO

By Oko Assassin (@OkoAssassin)

Speculating on Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) is very different than its paper counterpart, as explained in my overview of the MTGO economics system here. The boom and bust cycle of MTGO is rapid, sometimes occurring within a matter of hours. Additionally, users can short MTGO positions, an opportunity that is fairly unique outside of the stock market. This article discusses the release of new expansion sets on MTGO and how users can profit from repeatable trends that occur during a new set’s lifecycle.

Background

There are several ways MTGO users can profit from new sets being released, which are predictable and repeatable. Some provide a quick gain, while others take a longer buy-and-hold approach. This article will dive into each of these methods, which include:

·       Pre-Release: Short any reprints

·       Day 1-4: Purchase hyped, constructed playable cards

·       Day 2: Short garbage cards

·       Day 4-7: Short hyped cards

·       Day 7-30: Buy cards with proven tournament results

·       Day 30-120: Purchase cheap constructed playable cards

Pre-Release: Short Reprints

When a magic card is reprinted, the supply increases and the price falls, sometimes dramatically. This is a fairly simple economic concept that most magic players have experienced in paper over the years and the same phenomenon applies to MTGO. This is especially impactful on commons and uncommons, for example, see the dramatic drop that occurred when Mishra’s Bauble was reprinted in Double Masters.

An easy profit can be made by shorting cards that are reprinted. The first way is by shorting reprinted cards within the first 10-30 minutes after a reprint is announced. This will generate a quick gain, but you have to be very fast to take advantage of this approach. The easier way to profit is by shorting any valuable reprinted cards a day or two before the set release and then covering the short-sale 3-7 days after the new set release.

Day 1-4: Purchase Hyped, Constructed Playable Cards

Each time a new set releases, there are a small number of cards that are highly playable in constructed formats and naturally these cards tend to be the driving economic force on MTGO. As these new format staples are discovered, demand is always greater than the initial supply, creating a price spike for these new hyped cards. Tournaments occur on MTGO each weekend, so any card that is being played competitively is needed immediately, within a few short days after set release. MTGO tournaments attract only the most competitive players, many of whom have the motivation and means to procure these cards at any cost.

This trend has become even more prevalent as draft grinders have increasingly migrated to MTG Arena starting in April, 2020, when drafting against real opponents became possible for the first time. This is important because drafting is the primary way new supply enters the MTGO economy, with Treasure Chests to an important secondary source.

Cross-format play is the gold standard for any speculation that can drive amazing returns. While this seems obvious, identifying these cards early this can be more difficult than it seems. A recent example of this is Skyclave Apparition, which was initially available on MTGO for 1 tix, but quickly jumped to 10 tix, and then 20 tix, once it became clear this card was seeing 3-4x play in nearly all constructive formats. Most cards will not be quite so regal, so often a card will only see play in a specific format or two.

Modern is the most popular constructed format on MTGO, and thus it will often drive the most exceptional returns using this approach. In particular look for mythics that will be played as 4x in an existing archetype or are essential to a new combo, such as Heliod, Sun-Crowned/Walking Ballista. Players love new tech and will pay a premium to try it out. Scourge of the Skyclaves is a great example of a card seeing 4x play that slotted into an existing archetype.

Standard is also relevant for the few weeks of set release too, despite it being fairly irrelevant normally on MTGO. Wizard of the Coast’s new F.I.R.E. design philosophy has led to many new cards being absurdly broken, leading to new cards dominating the standard format, followed quickly by subsequent bans. This dominance leads to significant price increases on MTGO. A great example of this phenomenon was Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, which increased dramatically in price as it caught on in Standard before Agent of Treachery was banned. Eventually Lukka began seeing play in Pioneer as well, but that did not fuel this initial demand.

An unusually high number of cards from Zendikar Rising fit this template – with Scourge of the Skyclaves, Omnath, Locus of Creation, modal double-faced mythic lands, all increasing greatly in price during the first week of the set release. More recently during the (non-standard legal) set release of Commander Legends Hullbreacher spiked up to 120 tix due to seeing play in both Legacy and Vintage.   

In summary, a large profit can be made during the first 1-4 days of a set release by identifying what will be the new hot thing by following hype and results on Twitter, CFB/SCG articles, podcasts, and hype. This approach comes with a significant risk too because most MTGO cards fall in price following set release, so recognizing the difference is key to success.

Day 2: Short Garbage Cards

Many cards are expensive upon set release simply because they are in short supply. Strong profits can be made by shorting garbage mythics and rares as soon as they become available – in hopes that their price will plummet after a few days of drafting leads to a glut of supply. I define a garbage card to be a card with limited constructed value.

This approach requires magic experience and strong analysis. Some cards can be easily written off, but then take off like a rocketship after getting discovered. For example, Omnath, Locus of Creation started at 10 tix, but it quickly became the new hot tech in standard, causing this card to jump to 70 tickets in a few short days. In contrast, Sea Gate Stormcaller had a lot of hype, but fell from 25 tix to 5 tix in just a few days. Speculators should short cards that lack potential or are overhyped, while avoiding cards with significant potential.

Day 4-7: Short Hyped Cards

The same cards that can be profitable to buy in the first few days after a set release can similarly be profitable to short once more supply enters the market and/or demand decreases after the first weekend tournaments. Going back to the Omnath, Locus of Creation example, this card peaked at 70 tix three days after set release. Over the next 6 days Omnath fell to 22 tickets. Similarly, Teferi Master of Time fell from 50 tix three days after set release to 28 tix only three days later. This trend is fairly cyclical and reliable. Profit from it by shorting at the peak hype pricing and covering a few days later for a gain.  

Day 7-30: Buy cards with proven tournament results

After the first week, price movements pivots to being defined by cards that have proven themselves during weekend tournaments, and to a lesser extend, the daily 5-0 lists, and preliminaries.

There are many recent examples of this including Mazemind Tome (.04 to 4 tix), Skyclave Apparition (9 to 20 tix), Fiend Artisan (13 to 25 tix), Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast (3 to 25 tix), among many others. Each of these increases occurred not because of speculation, rather because these cards were proving themselves in tournaments. Most cards fall in price during the first 30 days because of the massive amount of new supply coming into the market from drafting, so these cards are an exception to the general trend. During this time period aim to only invest in cards like those listed above that were under-estimated at first but have been proving themselves in weekend tournaments.

Day 30-120: Purchase cheap cards with potential

Cards can get really affordable on MTGO, even very good cards. This is especially true for rares, but can also be true of mythics. An example I often think of is the Throne of Eldraine (ELD) land cycle, which hit a low of .10 tix per land about one month after the set’s release. The ELD lands were clearly good – with a lot of long term potential. Yet they could be bought 10 for 1 tix. That’s crazy! At this moment, the cheapest castle is .3 tix, while the most expensive is 3 tix. This means if you would have bought 100 copies of every castle, it would have cost 50 tix and the net return would be 300 tix for Castle Locthwain alone.

While many desirable cards won’t be this cheap, over the last year you could have gotten great deals on staples that were destined to succeed. For example, at some point between 30-120 days after a new set release you could have gotten Shark Typhoon, Bonecrusher Giant, or Murderous Rider for 1 tix. Or for 2.5 tix you could have gotten Klothys, God of Destiny or Lurrus of the Dream-Den.

Identifying these opportunities requires skill and experience, but hundreds of tickets can be made if you’re able to identify undervalued cards that are likely to increase in price once supply is cut off.

Closing Thoughts

MTGO speculation is defined by identifying and exploiting patterns and data. This framework aims to provide several patterns that apply generally to each new set release. Think of them as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules and for the greatest results, research, research, research.

Understanding MTGO treasure chests

By: Oko Assassin

Studying MTGO Treasure Chests (TCs) is essential to understanding the overall Magic Online economy. Beyond drafting, TCs are the primary method of inserting new supply into MTGO. For non-drafting sets, like Commander and Jumpstart, TCs are often the only mechanism that WOTC uses to distribute new cards into the MTGO economy because these products are not available for direct purchase on MTGO.

While TCs are important, understanding them is easier said than done. The contents of TCs are quite complicated and change periodically, every 1-3 months. This article aims to empower you to understand current and future versions of the TCs, their likely impact on MTGO, and how you can fund your play and/or profit from future TC updates!

Treasure Chest Origins

TCs were implemented in 2016. At that time, and for many years after, TCs were viewed as a product that would ultimately destroy MTGO. As background, I encourage readers to check out this 2018 CFB analysis of TCs dramatic impact on MTGO. Prior to TCs, the MTGO economy was more like the paper magic market, where out-of-print assets reliably increased in value over time until reprinted. After TCs, the MTGO economy started to collapse because of the new influx of supply combined with negative perceptions leading to a shrinking player base, especially after the launch of MTG Arena spooked folks into thinking MTGO was doomed.

Fast forward to today and the MTGO economy has rebounded to some extent. The current value of a playset of every single MTGO card is $26,575 as of July 2020, which is similar to 2016 when TCs were first implemented. As recently as June 2019 this figure was less than $15,000. This recent stabilization is driven by several factors, including COVID-19 driving demand for digital products, the creation of Pioneer as a new format not yet available on Arena, and the continuing popularity of other eternal formats that are also exclusive to MTGO in digital. Predictions of doom and gloom for MTGO seem to be behind us, for now. 

Treasure Chests Contents

The current contents of TCs are located here, and are updated every 1-3 months. Overall, TCs contain: 

  • Play Points
  • A random Modern Legal Rare or Mythic   
  • “Curated” cards, which are selected for inclusion on a rotating basis   
  • Jumpstart and Commander 2020 cards 
  • Avatars (which are financially irrelevant)

Play Points: Roughly half of the value of TCs is derived from Play Points. The exact percentage can be found here on Goatbots Expected Value (EV) Calculator. Due to this, the only way to profitably open up TCs is through needing Play Points to enter MTGO events, which means vendors are unwilling to crack TCs to access the cards inside. As a result, the TC market is relatively inefficient, with the EV often becoming higher than costs of chests, sometimes by a large margin. 

Random Modern Rare or Mythic: In most TCs, one random Rare or Mythic from a Modern format legal set will be included. Specifically, you have 68% odds of getting at least one random Rare or Mythic, and 12.0% chance of getting two. Rares are twice as likely as Mythics. Often this slot translates into a random card you have never heard of and is worth nothing. But sometimes you will hit a Force of Negation worth a stack of tickets! The odds of hitting any specific rare is .013%, meaning you would have to open 7,692 TCs to get a specific rare on average. It is easier to get any given Mythic at .030% (or 3,333 TCs), because Mythics have such a smaller card pool. These numbers are subject to change overtime as new sets are added and the formula evolves. Overall, this slot slowly injects a consistent supply of Modern legal Rares and Mythics into the MTGO economy, even if those cards are not on the curated card list. 

“Curated” Cards: In one quarter of TCs, you will get a card from a hand-selected list that is typically valuable. Specifically, you have around 24% odds of getting at least one curated card, and 1% chance of getting two. The current list of curated cards is available here, along with details of the most recent TC changes. Each curated item has a specific drop rate associated with it. The higher the drop rate, the more likely an item is to show up. Drop rates currently range from 1-50. 

To determine the likelihood of any specific curated cards, you must divide the specific drop rate by the combined drop rate of all curated items (the denominator), which is currently 4,278, then multiply by the likelihood of getting this specific drop (25%). As a mathematical formula it looks like this: =1/((6/4,278)*0.25). 

For cards with a drop rate of 6, you will have to open 2,852 TCs on average to get a copy. For a drop rate of 12, this decreases to 1,426. For a 50 drop rate, it is 342 TCs.      

Overall, I recommend always checking whether a card is included in the curated TCs list – and at what drop rate – prior to speculating or purchasing any MTGO card.  

New! Jumpstart and Commander 2020

TCs are the only method of inserting most non-draftable MTGO products into the online economy. For better or worse, players cannot buy a Commander deck in the MTGO store. To ensure there is enough supply of these specialty products Wizards recently added a new slot in the TCs specifically dedicated to Commander 2020 (C20) and Jumpstart (JMP) cards. 

This slot was created following a failed effort to leverage the curated slot for this purpose, without success. Prior to this change, a full set of JMP was valued at over 500 tickets and C20 at over 600 tickets. This change created a huge influx of new supply and only two short weeks later, the prices on either set had plummeted to under 200 tickets. I expect future Commander and other specialty products to use this slot as well.

In TCs you have a 35% chance of getting a JMP/C20 card. The current card list and drop rate for this slot is available here. Similar to the curated slot, to determine the likelihood of any specific curated cards, you must divide the specific drop rate by the combined drop rate of all C20/JMP items (the denominator), which is currently 1,146, then multiply by the likelihood of getting this specific drop (35%). As a mathematical formula it looks like this: =1/((6/1146)*0.35). 

If a C20/JMP card has a drop rate of 6, you will have to open 545 TCs on average to get a copy. For a drop rate of 12, this would decrease to 272. This is a roughly 10x increase in new supply compared to the old TC formulation for JMP & C20. 

Treasure Chest Updates Impact on MTGO Economy

Updates to the TCs curated list can quickly and dramatically move the MTGO economy. I have already discussed how the value of entire sets dropped by 66% over only two weeks due to a TC update with JMP/C20. This price movement was driven by additional supply of a low supply set entering the market.  

The reverse also occurs.  Take for example when the Power Nine from Vintage Masters was removed from the TCs. Here you can see the iconic Black Lotus more than double in price as soon as the changes were announced. The price eventually retraced as speculators sold out, but for those who timed it right, profit was made.

Overall, any card included on the curated card list, C20/JMP, or to a lesser extent any modern era Rare/Mythic will slowly have new supply enter the MTGO economy. If the new supply is not too great, or the demand is enough to overcome the new supply, this is not a problem. That said cards included on the curated card list, especially at a drop rate of 12 or higher, will often see their price decrease slowly over time. I recommend steering clear of speculating on any card that has a drop rate of 12 or higher unless the factors truly warrant it and you are acting on a very short timeline.  

How Many Treasure Chests Get Opened? 

Only WOTC truly knows. Yet some recent Jumpstart data gives some indications. Without going into all the math, it seemed as though at least 40,000 TCs were opened in this single week based on JMP TC drop rates at the time. That’s a lot of TCs! 

Goatbots, a major vendor who was in the past position to know, recently estimated that 10,000 chests were being opened daily during this time period. Although this was a blockbuster time-period for TCs, causing an abnormal amount to be opened, this new data highlights the large volume of new cards that must be pumped into the MTGO economy each week!    

Future Applications

Understanding how TCs work and their impact on the MTGO economy will make you better at buying and selling cards on MTGO. At a bare minimum, you should check whether a card is included in the TC curated list before speculating on any card moving forward. Though we have covered the fundamentals here, you should also regularly review the curated card list to better understand this key factor in the movement of the MTGO economy. 

To make a quick profit, consider monitoring for TC updates and acting on fresh changes. Specifically, you should sell cards that become much more common in TCs curated list and buy cards that become less common. It takes some experience to know exactly what changes to look out for. To be successful, you must act quickly! Price changes based on TC updates start happening within minutes and the latest solid entry point is typically one hour or less from the TC change announcement. MTGO signals their upcoming TC updates weeks in advance for those watching closely enough, but they never say the specific time/date. Sometimes you can find hints on this MTGO website, but the best way to stay in the loop is to join the MTG Price Pro Trader Discord, which explodes into chatter as soon as TC updates are posted. 

The Watchtower 05/11/20 – Setting a New Standard

Despite no paper Magic being played at the moment, the Standard metagame is still churning away at a reasonable rate, both on MTGO and Arena. With the release of Ikoria we’ve seen new archetypes pushed to the forefront of Standard, most notably the Yorion Lukka deck and Jeskai Cycling. Lukka has been the (perhaps unexpected) breakout mythic so far, so congrats if you were in on that ahead of the crowd.

Interestingly, one common card across a lot of these decks seems to be Agent of Treachery, and being able to power out an early one can often be the name of the game, be it via Lukka, Winota or simply ramping with Uro and Growth Spiral. This week I’ll be talking about some of the other top contenders in Standard at the moment, and which cards look like they’ll be solid holds with a view to rotation later in the year.


Shatter the Sky

Price today: 0.1 tix
Possible Price: 1 tix

Shatter the Sky is a four mana unconditional wrath in Standard, which is always going to be inherently powerful. We saw Kaya’s Wrath put work in before Shatter was printed, but the mana constraints on that card meant that it couldn’t be played as much as it might have been if it were less heavy on the mana symbols. Shatter is twice as easy to cast, and although it does sometimes let your opponent draw a card, that’s a reasonable price to pay for being able to wrath the board on turn 4 instead of turn 5.

If we take a look at the metagame staples in Standard at the moment, Shatter the Sky comes out as the 9th most played card overall (not just the 9th most played spell). There are a few different Yorion variants that take up a huge proportion of the metagame at the moment, and most of them are playing three to four Shatters in the maindeck.

Kaya’s Wrath is a similar card that we’ve seen spend a decent amount of time over 1 tix on MTGO, and so as we look towards rotation in the fall I think that Shatter the Sky could be lined up to follow a similar path. Standard has been a grindy midrange-fest for a little while now, and could well continue in that direction for the foreseeable future. That means that efficient and well-timed wraths will always be necessary, and Shatter does a great job in that respect.

Elspeth Conquers Death

Price today: 0.2 tix
Possible price: 0.5 tix

Another Theros card we’ve been seeing all over Standard is Elspeth Conquers Death. It’s another powerful midrange tool that can swing games around quickly, and is actually played a lot more than Shatter the Sky, coming out at the fourth most played card in Standard at the moment. Another rare from Theros Beyond Death, this is a card that will still be legal post-rotation and thus probably start to climb as supply dwindles and popularity stays high.

Elspeth Conquers Death did recently ascend to around 0.5 tix on MTGO due to its ubiquity in both Standard and Pioneer, but has since dropped back to 0.2 tix. This is another play that, bought in great enough quantity, could make a lot of money moving back up to 0.5 tix or even more.

Fabled Passage

Price today: 13 tix
Possible price: 20 tix

I called Fabled Passage a few weeks ago when it bottomed out at 9 tix, saying it could hit 15, and after some steady growth we’re pretty close to being there. But here I am talking about it again, and not just to say “told you so” – I think that this card has even more potential going forwards, and could even hit 20 tix at some point.

I may just be repeating myself from a few weeks ago, but Fabled Passage is played in almost every deck in Standard, and pretty much always as a four-of when it’s there. Especially with all the new Yorion decks running around, colour fixing and a consistent manabase is more important than ever, and so demand for Fabled Passage isn’t going anywhere.

These were obviously a lot better at 9 tix, but I think they’re still pretty decent at 13. We’ve seen the card at 18 before so there is a precedent, and coupled with the not insignificant use the card sees in Pioneer (it’s actually the most popular non-basic land in the format), 20 tix isn’t too much of a stretch.


David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.

The Watchtower 05/04/20 – Unthematic

I usually try to base each of these articles loosely around a theme of sorts, or at least make something up that tenuously links the cards I talk about – but this week I’m afraid to say I was stuck. So alas, it’s an unthematic week, and I’ve just talked about some cards that I think are worth taking a good look at buying on MTGO.

Having said that, I still think that these are all some solid picks (otherwise I really shouldn’t be wasting time writing about them), so have a read and let me know what you think!


Fiend Artisan

Price today: 14 tix
Possible price: 20 tix

There were a lot of mixed opinions on Fiend Artisan in the run-up to Ikoria’s release, with a lot of people comparing it to Tarmogoyf or calling it Green Sun’s Zenith on a stick, but others saying that it was trying to do two different things but did neither of them very well. The recent results, however, have shown us that this card can definitely put some work in in a Standard environment.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den Companion decks are all over the place, and the Orzhov Aristocrats deck in Standard plays a suite of Fiend Artisans along with Lurrus as the Companion. It’s able to tutor up key pieces like Priest of Forgotten Gods, as well as being a big beatstick later in the game. The Artisan has also been showing up in Pioneer, most recently making the finals of the Team Lotus Box Pioneer tournament over the weekend in an Abzan Rally shell. It’s reminiscent of the Rally the Ancestors deck from BFZ Standard, but the wider card pool of Pioneer has made for a much more streamlined, powerful deck.

After peaking at 30 tix around Ikoria’s release, Fiend Artisan has been hovering between 12 and 15 tix since then. It’s sitting around 14 at the moment, and I think that this is a powerful card that can find multiple homes in multiple formats. I think there’s a lot to do with the card that hasn’t been explored yet, and I expect the Rally deck to gain some more traction in Pioneer over the next couple of weeks.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Price today: 4.5 tix
Possible price: 10 tix

Speaking of Pioneer, and more specifically Team Lotus Box’s Pioneer tournament this past weekend, the Lotus Breach combo deck is being pushed back down after having had a week or so back in the sun. The Damping Spheres are back in the sideboards for now, but give it another month or so and people will slowly remove them again and we’ll see Breach do well again, and then rinse and repeat…

Anyway, I’m not supposed to be talking about Breach here. Dimir Inverter was by far the most represented deck on the weekend, with over double the metagame share of the next deck (Lurrus Burn). A new flavour of Inverter has appeared on the scene – can you guess what’s different? That’s right, the deck can play a Companion now. Yorion is the ally of choice here, expanding the deck up to 80 cards and filling the slots with more interaction and cantrips. As well as just being a 4/5 flier that’s a free card in your opening hand, Yorion can actually help you win by flickering your Inverter of Truth and flipping over your library again.

So what’s the pick here? Jace, Wielder of Mysteries has been trending down online since mid March, after its spike when Dig Through Time didn’t get banned. But see that little turnaround at the bottom of the graph there? I think we’ve reached the bottom and the price is going to be headed back up now. Jace has been 18 tix before and so I think that 10 is a pretty reasonable target for this play. This Yorion version of the deck has great potential, and I expect to see more of it in the MTGO leagues over the next couple of weeks.

Sunbaked Canyon

Price today: 13 tix
Possible price: 20 tix

See how I mentioned Lurrus Burn in the previous section? Well, now I’m segueing into talking about another card from the deck – but in Modern. That was a smooth transition, right?…

Anyway, Sunbaked Canyon has been a staple in Modern Burn decks since it was printed, and now that Lurrus has given the deck an extra boost it’s really putting up results in Modern. Due to the Modern Horizons flashback draft on MTGO a couple of weeks ago, the Horizon lands (along with most other MH cards) took a dip in price online. A lot of staples have recovered since then, but the Horizon lands have, for the most part, stayed down. I don’t think that they’re going to stay that way for too much longer though.

I’m calling out Sunbaked Canyon because it’s the most widely played, but this logic roughly applies to the other four lands as well. Canyon was up at 21 tix before the flashback draft, and I think it can get there again, especially with the heavier-than-usual representation of Burn in the Modern metagame.


David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.