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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.