With a lot of the world now in lockdown, game shops are closed and nobody’s playing paper Magic (other than over webcam etc). Tournaments have moved online – Channel Fireball are running Arena tournaments 24/7 and Team Lotus Box have started their own tournament series across Arena and Magic Online, amongst others doing similar things. Very few people are buying paper Magic cards right now, and have instead turned to playing on MTGO to get their (albeit virtual) cardboard fix, which in turn is having an effect on the MTGO economy. I’m sure that a large number of people reading this won’t be involved in the online side of Magic finance yet, but I think this is a great opportunity to take a look into it.
Price today: $23 Possible price: $50
Variants of the Bant Snowblade deck are taking up a large proportion of the Modern metagame at the moment – some playing more Uro and taking the midrange route, and others going for a more controlling Stoneforge and Cryptic Command build. No matter how it’s built, however, all the decks are playing four Ice-Fang Coatl. Turns out that an Ambush Viper that flies AND cantrips is pretty good – who knew?
Besides the fact that Ice-Fang is a staple in these decks, I’m singling it out because of the price movement on it recently. Having been on the rise since December, the card spiked up to a touch above 50 tix (MTGO tickets, roughly equal to dollars) online a couple of weeks ago, and has since retraced down to around 23 tix. I would say that this is a reasonable floor, but this Wednesday (04/01) the Vintage Cube is being replaced with Modern Horizons draft. This will be run as both a phantom and non-phantom event, so not as much ‘real’ product will be opened – but it will still provide downwards pressure on a lot of Modern Horizons cards.
My advice would be to keep an eye on the price of Ice-Fang and other Modern Horizons cards come Wednesday (Urza, Astrolabe etc.), and look out for downwards movement. Towards next Wednesday, when MH draft rotates off MTGO, I suspect we’ll see prices recover and Ice-Fang could be headed back towards 50 tix in no short order.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Price today: $11 Possible price: $18
Over in Pioneer, Dimir Inverter is still topping the virtual tables again and again. Having dodged a ban earlier this month (yes, believe it or not that was in March), the deck has been proving its power since and putting up top finishes in multiple online tournaments.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is a keystone of the deck, and saw a nice run up to 18 tix after the deck survived another round of bans. Since then we’ve seen it retrace back to 11, but with more and more online play occurring I expect to see it turn around again for a steady gain over the next few weeks. WAR isn’t being drafted any more so the only fresh supply is coming from Treasure Chests, and I think now is a reasonable time to be picking these up.
Another thing to note is that this is a popular card in EDH, and because of the current lockdown EDH is seeing an uptick in play on MTGO. I wouldn’t be surprised to see EDH play have some impact on card prices online, so it’s worth keeping an eye on cheap staples.
Theros Beyond Death Scrylands
Price today: $0.08 Possible price: $0.50
Finally, let’s look at Standard to round off today’s picks. Although Magic Arena is where most Standard play happens, it’s not absent from MTGO, and it still moves prices. The Scrylands from Theros and M20 are staples in pretty much all the Standard decks that play more than one colour, and all of the Theros ones are under 0.1 tix at the moment. The most expensive is Temple of Enlightenment at 0.08 tix, and the cheapest are at 0.03 tix.
If we take a look at the Temples from Core Set 2020, they were all similarly low for a couple of months after the set release, but since then climbed and generally stayed over 0.5 tix. Some have briefly flirted with 1.5 tix or so, but I expect to see the same pattern from the THB Scrylands over the coming months too. Supply will drop off, and prices will climb to around 0.5 tix or more – so if you pick a bunch of these up now you should be in for a tidy profit down the road.
Picks like this normally aren’t worth it in paper unless you can buy a large quantity at once and can then sell them to a buylist when the card has made enough gains, but with buying and selling online it’s a bit different. There are no shipping costs, no waiting times and no fees to pay, which makes it a lot easier to make money on cheaper cards and smaller gains like this.
That’s all for this week; next week I might do more MTGO picks or find something else to write about instead…we’ll see. Til next time, stay indoors and stay safe!
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.
Magic Online has a long history of disappointment, confusion and doomsday prognostications about the end of the platform. This week has been no different.
A few days ago the Magic Online team revealed a series of major announcements which are already shaking up the MTGO economy:
CON: Redemption, the program that allows MTGO users to convert full digital sets of Standard legal sets into physical sets via a $25 conversion fee will be cut from about 18 months to 3-6 months (shorter for small sets)
CON: Limited events will only be available for the last two blocks in Standard, and not the full three we have become used to
CON: MTGO is introducing a new prize paradigm in the form of Treasure Chests, which include constant supply of relevant Modern and Legacy staples
PRO: Entry fees for Draft and Sealed events are being dropped by 20% starting with the Kaladesh release events
All About Treasure Chests
Treasure Chests are a new prize variant being awarded to top finishers in MTGO Constructed events and Vintage daily events. Treasure Chests replace previous awards paid out in booster packs, which may lower the volume of excess booster packs on the platform and stabilize booster prices, at least prior to the close of set redemption.
All Treasure Chests will contain one of the following: a curated card, a Modern-set rare or mythic rare, or a number of Play Points. Most Treasure Chests will additionally contain two Standard-set commons or uncommons, but they may be replaced as follows:
1 in 4.5 Treasure Chests will have one of the Standard-legal common or uncommon slots replaced with either a curated card or a Modern-set rare or mythic rare.
1 in 239 Treasure Chests will have both of the Standard-legal common or uncommon slots replaced with either a curated card or a Modern-set rare or mythic rare.
Standard-set commons and uncommons will appear as from those sets. Each common will appear 2.5 times as often as any uncommon. These cards will be non-premium.
Modern-set rare or mythic rares will appear as from those sets. This doesn’t include sets that were never Standard-legal, such as Modern Masters sets. Regular rares and mythic rares in these sets that have been banned in the Modern format are still included. Each regular rare will appear twice as often as any given mythic rare. This includes regular rares from older sets that lacked mythic rares. Timeshifted cards from Time Spiral count as regular rares for this purpose. All cards in Treasure Chests will be non-premium, with the exception of rares from Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition, which will be premium.
Curated cards are from a list curated by Magic R&D. Some curated cards may have multiple versions that appear. The frequency at which a curated card appears relative to others is also curated by Magic R&D. The rarity on the card shown reflects only the original printing of the card and is not indicative of its frequency of appearance in Treasure Chests. Curated cards are non-premium, including both Zendikar Expeditions and Kaladesh Inventions, with the same exception for rares from Eighth Edition and Ninth Edition, which will remain premium.
As you can see over here, the release of the full list of curated cards from the forthcoming Treasure Chests has already crashed the prices of many of the included cards by 15-40%. The premise of the sell off is clearly that the introduction of constant supply of MTGO staples in competition prize structures will serve to suppress prices more or less permanently for the included cards. The fact that WoTC can choose to alter the composition of Treasure Chests at any time based on user feedback and/or statistical analysis only adds to the uncertainty.
It is worth noting that while any sell-off this big is always cause for concern for online speculators, there have been numerous such sell-offs in the past that have all resulted in excellent buying opportunities. Whether this sell-off proves to be an overreaction or not remains to be seen, as there are several factors at play, including total platform participation rates, the ratio of appearance for each specific card in the Treasure Chests, and how the knobs are twiddled as time marches on.
Some early math I have reviewed suggests that the total supply of any given relevant Modern rare or mythic will be relatively limited on a monthly basis under the new program, with significantly less copies entering the system than would during say, a Flashback draft for the set in question.
The average EV (Expected Value) of the Treasure Chests and the new payout schedule for constructed and limited events requires further analysis, but a review of early math suggests that is slightly net negative for most players. More on this soon.
Overall, these changes make me worried for the future of the MTGO economy two to three years out, but I think the current price crash, (likely to be exacerbated as players trade further staples this Wednesday to buy into Kaladesh release events), is likely to represent a buying opportunity in the short to mid term.
The Impact of a Shorter Redemption Period
The ability to redeem digital sets for physical ones has long been one of the pillars of the Magic Online economy. When the program was first launched in the early 2000s it was designed to make players feel more comfortable with investing into digital cards by providing an escape hatch to the world of paper Magic.
Because the prices of digital Magic cards are more closely tied to true supply and demand on the platform, and because far more limited play is perpetrated via constant drafting and sealed events, digital magic sets have long been cheaper than their physical equivalents at peak supply during the first year following release.
An original redemption cost of $5 + shipping opened up a strong digital to physical arbitrage opportunity and for years bots, stores and speculators took advantage of the relatively inexpensive digital sets to gain $20-40 in value when converting to full paper sets. These sets were then often broken down into singles to be sold at local shops or online, with relatively few sealed sets surviving down through the years.
In 2013 MTGO cranked up the cost of redemption to the current $25/set + shipping, a $20 increase, seemingly making redemption that much less appealing. According to Casey Stewart, of major bot chain TheCardNexus however, most of that cost was eaten by the MTGO players in the form of reduced booster and set values that continue to this day. Play points were an effort to correct this situation. In essence, redemption margins remained relatively constant while the value of cards from a player perspective was permanently reduced.
Further, a fear of constant price crashes online for sets whose redemption periods expired, (largely driven by the lack of pure casual demand on MTGO), guaranteed that people would still extract value via the redemption program to prevent themselves from losing value unnecessarily.
As of Kaladesh however, bot owners, stores and players are facing a harsh new reality, with WoTC only offering a redemption period that lasts until the start of the redemption period for the next block. As you can see the graphic below, that means that small sets like Aether Revolt will barely receive a redemption period of three months before the window closes on their potential conversion to paper sets.
So what does this mean for the MTGO economy?
Well, firstly, because the redemption period is so much shorter, the incentives to play anything but the most recent block will be greatly reduced. Once the redemption window closes on the Kaladesh block next spring, one month after the release of Amonkhet, prices on Kaladesh cards not enjoying strong Standard play will crash very hard, lowering the EV (Expected Value) of participating in Kaladesh limited events. For the time being, WoTC is still providing limited events for the previous block, but with such strong disincentives in place to play the older block, it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that they may end up closing that window as well at some point.
Interestingly, with redemption only lasting 3-6 months after release should cards become popular later in their 18-month Standard cycle, after prices have crashed post-redemption, and players are discouraged from limited play due to lowered EV, opportunities may exist for strong spikes.
Eg) Card X is a mythic in Kaladesh, seeing little play. It holds a price close to .50 tix for most of the redemption period, crashing to .05 tix post-redemption. Should this card then become a fixture in Standard or Modern, the returns could be even more extreme than usual for a Standard legal mythic.
Another strategy that will be in flux is the practice of investing in a broad basket of foil mythics online, with expectations of a 30-60% average price increase towards the end of the redemption period. For the last several sets I have purchased foil baskets (one of each mythic foil except the most expensive one) at peak supply and sold them about 6-12 months later. Foils are not generally desirable online, as their visual impact is much reduced, but foil sets are certainly valuable in the real world, so foil set redemptions have driven solid returns on the online foil mythics, which often act as the bottleneck for foil set redemptions.
Investing in full sets and boosters on the other hand, is looking pretty scary with the new changes. In the past, we could reliably purchase full digital sets at peak supply, a few months after release, and await a modest 10-20% fall value spike due to reduced limited play for the set in question. With redemption ending far before the set rotates in Standard, this method of profit seeking is likely dead.
In this new world of shorter redemption periods, foils will still likely fall in price toward peak supply, but may provide much faster returns as the redemption window closes for the set in question. With no historical data, however, there is some risk that the shorter redemption window will simply result in less people having full sets to trade in, and demand for the foils will be reduced in turn. I will revisit this in Q1 2017 as data becomes available.
Cheaper Limited Play
Starting with Kaladesh, the cost to enter Draft and Sealed events with Tickets or Play Points will be reduced by 20% as follows:
New Draft Entry Fees (multiple options):
12 Event Tickets
120 Play Points
3 Kaladesh boosters and 2 Event Tickets
Note: Previous draft entry fees were 14 tix or the equivalent. Sets previous to Kaladesh will remain the same price, which should act as a powerful disincentive from players playing SOI/EMN limited events this fall.
New Sealed Event Entry Fees:
24 Event Tickets
240 Play Points
6 Kaladesh Booster and 4 Event Tickets
Note: Previous draft entry fees were 28 tix or the equivalent.
Generally speaking it is hard to argue with cheaper limited events, especially a 15% drop in costs of entry. The thing is, because drafts can still be entered via three packs + 2 tix, boosters are now worth 15% less automatically, which injurs the EV of beind paid boosters as prizes. As such, even the reduced entry fees are not a clear win for limited players, and much of this is likely being paid for by the negatives listed above.
James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.
MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY