MTGO vs Paper Magic – Why Choose One Over the Other for Finance?

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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. Underworld Cerberus

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)

Benefits

  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • 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.

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Magic: The Gathering – Old School Paper!

Benefits

  • 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.

Disadvantages

  • 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.

Financial Implications

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.

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The Value of Being Social

By: Cliff Daigle

If you follow me on Twitter (and if you’re not, you should be: @WordOfCommander) then last week you saw this tweet in your timeline:


That’s two foil Forests, three foil Mountains, seven foil Swamps, a full-art alter of Sol Ring, and a full-art alter of Solemn Simulacrum, all of which are signed by the entire EDH Rules Committee. Damia, Sage of Stone

I got these by participating in the Merry Grixis Gift Exchange held on the mtgcommander.net forums. Last year, as part of this Secret Santa exchange, I sent some signed cards and a custom foil Damia, Sage of Stone to another member. The exchanges were thrilling and generous – one member received an entire Zombie Horde deck!

The foil lands were given to every participant in the gift exchange. After all the gifts were given, we voted on whose was most awesome. I tied with another member, and lost the coin flip. He got the Sol Ring, the Solemn, and a Command Tower with the same treatment. If only I had voted for myself!

I’m bringing this up because Magic is more than a game, more than a competition, more than a way to make money. It’s a powerful tool for social interaction, especially in casual formats. When drafting a high-power cube and faced with a third pick choice of Stoneforge Mystic, Timetwister, or Lightning Bolt, you’re likely both welcomed and encouraged to have a conversation about what else the pack may have contained.

I’ve moved several times in my adult life. Every time I do, I know that I’m going to head to the local game shop (or shops) and find people to play with. I don’t need to feel awkward or unsure, I simply need to look around and I’ll find people to play Commander with, or draft with, or trade with. This is an instant pool of people for me to find new friends who have common interests.

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Your quest for success in the realm of Magic finance doesn’t have to be a solo one. The relationships you foster with other people and other groups can have a strong effect on your performance and your enjoyment. Timetwister

I was once famous for hosting eight to thirteen people in my apartment after an FNM, for Cube or EDH or poker or whatever game we’d fallen in love with. Of course not everyone can or wants to invite others into their home, but it has certainly been a rewarding experience for me.

Online, there’s a few ways you can interact with people. Keep in mind that given the shroud of anonymity, a lot of folks are often less than helpful or outright mean. Learn to sort through the negativity.

Forums: I’m a member of several, such as MTGCommander, Deckbox, and MTGSalvation. Generally, the less people who interact on a forum, the friendlier it will be. Small communities are frequently more welcoming. I should disclose that I’ve been banned and suspended from MTGSalvation in the past, because their policy is very strict when it comes to foil proxies (which are technically counterfeits). I’m not a member of Quiet Speculation’s boards, since they require a paid account, but many people I follow on Twitter have mentioned that it is a very useful forum. Evil Presence

Reddit: The r/MagicTCG subreddit and its cousin, r/MTGFinance, are both places where anyone can interact with anyone. This is a Sword of Good and Bad. There tends to be a lot of negativity, especially when it comes to predictions. There’s also an interesting ‘hive mind’ effect in play, where a group picks a viewpoint and defends it vigorously, attacking any disagreement.

Twitter: I wouldn’t try to steal Jason’s “Who to Follow” series on GatheringMagic, or Travis’ recent foray into Twitter’s applications, but I will say that you’ll be surprised how many people will answer questions on Twitter. It’s a higher number than you think. Not just Magic finance people either–a lot of Wizards employees work hard to interact with the community. On Twitter you can also interject yourself into a conversation or try to arrange for a gaming session pretty easily.

Being social carries a value far beyond that of cards you pick up in contests. Being connected to other people in large and small ways not only increases your enjoyment of the game, but also gives you a pool of people to buy, sell, and trade with. I would encourage you to develop these connections, and be open to the resulting fun.

The Twitter Primer (Fall ’13)

By: Travis Allen

Magic finance moves very fast these days. During Pro Tour Theros, Master of Waves quadrupled in price over the span of something like 14 hours. Nightveil Specter and Thassa saw similar rapid movement the same weekend. If had been watching Twitter that Friday afternoon you would have heard about the impending spikes and had the opportunity to make purchases based on that info. Of course you may have gotten your order cancelled, but at least you could have made great trades that night at FNM or on a Saturday afternoon draft. If, however, you didn’t learn about any of this until Monday or Tuesday morning when you read recaps of the weekend, you were already too late.

If you’re reading about a card’s rise in an article, the train has probably already left the station. At the time I’m writing this, it is Monday afternoon. Even if a card started moving as I’m typing – if Kibler tweets a picture of a deck with 4x Zegana claiming he broke it – and I put the breakout news in this piece, you wouldn’t read about it until Wednesday morning at the earliest. Meanwhile, Zegana would be sold out across the internet by Monday evening. This is why many discussions of individual cards in articles fall into one of two categories. Either the card already jumped and it’s a discussion of whether to hold or sell, or it’s a longer-term prediction that is truly predictive, and thus suffers a far less success rate unless the writer is nostradomesque.

What does all of this mean? It means that if you want to know what’s going on in the finance world, there is exactly one place to get the most up-to-date news: Twitter. There is no other single tool or medium that provides the real-time updates on hot tips alongside quality discussion from knowledgeable parties. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about a price spike on Twitter Friday afternoon, then scored several copies of the card for way under its new value several hours later at FNM. Knowledge = capital.

So you head off to twitter.com and register for a new account. Now what though? You can tweet into the aether, but that won’t get you very far without any followers. What you need is a lead on who to listen to. There are some obvious choices for the average MTG enthusiast, such as Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron), Mark Rosewater (@maro254), or Luis-Scott Vargas (@lsv). You will find plenty of other interesting accounts to follow by watching who these guys interact with, but my goal is to help you jump right into the thick of things.

Keep in mind that because of the way Twitter works, you only see a discussion between two parties if you follow both of them. If Aaron and Mark are tweeting back and forth, and you only follow one of them, you won’t see the conversation. This means that the amount of information available to you expands exponentially the more people you follow. A good deal of helpful insight comes in the form of conversations between several people, so make sure you err on the side of following more people than not.

What follows in no particular order is a list of individuals that can frequently be found discussing up-to-date finance info. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will certainly get you started. I guarantee that if you follow these people and pay attention, they will make you money.

 

sigfig

@sigfig8

Sigmund is one of the first Magic finance guys I started following, and I still get good info from him regularly. He is most characterized by his love of sealed product and a predilection for prudent, lower-risk investments. A cautious voice in a realm prone to exaggeration and hype can help temper some of your more rash decisions.

In addition to his activity regarding Magic, Sigmund can often be found tweeting about real life stock investing, which can occasionally help provide a splash of reality when you stop and compare that to trading cardboard back and forth.

 

jason

@JasonEAlt

Jason Alt is one of the better known faces of Magic finance, and his work even occasionally appears here on mtgprice.com. Brainstorm Brewery, the (largest?) financial podcast, is also a home to Jason’s insight, where he is one of the distinguished hosts.

Being a large part of the community, a lot of useful information flows through and from him colored by his typical light derision. Jason is a great resource for hot card tips, as he passes along many things he hears that appear credible. You’ll also encounter plenty of other finance-minded types through his tweets.

becvar

@Becvar

Nick Becvar has less followers than some of the other people on this list, but has some of the most useful and actionable information on Twitter. Lately, he’s been encouraging people to take out second mortgages to buy every copy possible of Mind Seize, the Grixis Commander 2013 deck that houses True-Name Nemesis. He’s one of my more recent follows, but absolutely a great resource. I’m pretty sure that he was one of the first people I saw that passed along the mono-blue deck information on the Friday before Pro Tour Theros.

 

chosler88

@Chosler88

Corbin is another mainstay of the MTG finance scene, writing articles all over the internet about the topic each week. Be warned that his finance tweets will be interspersed with merfolk adoration and fantasy sportsball commentary.

 

jr

@time_elemental

What JR brings to the metaphorical table is a bit different than most other on this list. While you won’t often get insight on individual cards from JR, what you will get is more broad, economically-sound considerations of larger market trends. This is because JR works in the real world of the stock market, and translates this knowledge to Magic. There is a lot to digest in his 140 characters. I only wish I had the economic background to understand all the things he discusses.

 

chas

@chasandres

The only finance type on SCG, Chas has a good deal more exposure than most others. He doesn’t tweet terribly often, but when he does, it’s often good stuff. When I see his avatar appear in my timeline out of the corner of my eye, I make sure to check it out.

 

mtgpriec

@mtgprice

The Twitter account for this here website. Follow it to see exactly when new articles from your favorite MTGPrice writers are live!

 

woc

@wordofcommander

Cliff is a fellow writer here at MTGPrice, and as his Twitter handle implies, fairly commander oriented. He doesn’t tweet all that often, but when he does, it’s almost always on topic. I enjoy the opportunity to see the market through the eyes of someone with a very different method of perspective than my own.

 

ta

@wizardbumpin

Yours truly. I try to tweet about something related to Magic finance at least once a day. I enjoy posing questions to my followers to engage the public and discover different perspectives. I also like to chat with many of the other people mentioned above directly, so make sure you’re following all of us in order to see interactions.

Warning: I do a lot of retweeting of “weird Twitter” accounts, which basically means if you follow me you’ll see lots of very funny stuff like this:

 


If you follow anyone above because of this article, shoot them a tweet and let them know. Everyone enjoys hearing that someone wants to hear what they have to say. 

Reflection in the Doldrums

By: Jared Yost

Currently we appear to be in the doldrums of the Magic finance sea. The trade winds haven’t yet guided our course towards buying into Theros staples, as the floor on most cards hasn’t been found yet. The winds also aren’t quite right yet to pursue other avenues of Magic financial interest, such as starting to acquire recently rotated Innistrad block staples or future Modern prospects. (Seriously Wizards, you stuck Modern season in the middle of summer?) Nothing is at the point where I feel comfortable acquiring or selling. It seems no matter which way I hold my compass I can’t find my way back to shore.

At times like these, some retrospection is a good idea. Looking back on past successes and failures may be a great way to find a path forward.

 

Success!

Jace, Architect of Thought

Jace, Architect of Thought

Some background – I started to seriously get into Magic finance back when Return to Ravnica first hit Standard. I wanted to know what was up with the crazy price swings of cards that at the time I didn’t fully understand.

Earlier in my Magic career, I never kept track of prices very closely – I just picked up cards when I needed them for decks. Over the years, due to dumb luck and the massive influx of players, the demand for the old cards that I never got around to trading away skyrocketed. I suddenly found myself with many cards that were two, three, sometimes four times more than what I originally bought them for. I found myself asking “What is this wizardry?”

I started researching Magic finance more earnestly because I wanted to understand what was going on and why these newer cards that I owned seemed to be going through such large price swings in such a short period of time, and also why my older staples seemed to always be trending upwards. Ever since, I’ve always kept up with the most recent trends on card prices because it fascinates me to no end. I stumbled upon a few websites like MTGPrice, and the rest is history.

Back to Jace – This is one of the first cards that I decided to acquire as many copies as I could rather than just one or two for collection purposes. I was able to pick up several Jace’s back when they were as low as $8.

After Jace’s huge crash, nobody wanted him – I was able to pick up copy after copy. I recently cashed out on half my stock for $23 each. I didn’t pull the trigger on selling off all of them because I felt that maybe I could get more for the remaining Jaces if they became really popular. I still may yet have that chance, however the recent duel deck announcement certainly makes that less likely. I’ll be looking to move the rest in the near future.

 

Blood Baron of Vizkopa

Blood Baron of Vizkopa

I also did well when I decided to target this card. I got in on Blood Baron when it was $8 this summer, and recently buylisted all my copies for $14 each. That is $6 profit per, which is fantastic as far as I’m concerned. I used the same logic here as I did with Jace, and this card also payed out welcome dividends.

 

Deathrite Shaman Abrupt Decay

Deathrite Shaman & Abrupt Decay

Both of these cards screamed “LEGACY!!!” to me, and I started grabbing them up as soon as they were spoiled. I was very bullish on Deathrite Shaman – so bullish, in fact, that I was preordering Deathrite Shamans at $4. I liked Deathrite so much that I was still picking them up when they already doubled to $7-$8 each. Both decisions turned out positive for me. As for Abrupt Decay, I waited for it to drop in price after the initial hype died down and then became bullish on it when it was $3-$4. My only regret is not picking up foil copies of either card when they were low.

 

Other Notables

Ash Zealot Wurmcoil Engine Batterskull Burning Earth

Ash Zealot – Buy in $1.25, Buylist @ $2.45
Wurmcoil Engine – Buy in $7.00, Buylist @ $10.50
Batterskull – Buy in $6.00, Buylist @ $9.50
Burning Earth – Buy in $1.00, Buylist @ $3.00

I wasn’t as bullish on these picks but they still paid out pretty well for me. I was able to get fairly good cash prices for these cards when they spiked (Ash Zealot & Burning Earth), or I held onto them for a while and then decided to buylist for a profit when it came time to liquidate (Wurmcoil Engine, Batterskull).

 

Failures, Misses, and Bad Calls

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

I had an idea about the power of this card because it reminded me of Cabal Coffers and how good that card is in a black deck. I decided to hold off because I didn’t know if devotion would be a thing or not in Standard.

Well, it was. I missed big with this land. I might still be able to buy in later after more product is opened, though I can’t foresee Nykthos ever dipping as low as $4 again.

 

Heliod, God of the Sun Underworld Cerberus

Heliod, God of the Sun & Underworld Cerberus

I was bullish on both of these cards shortly after the release of Theros. They have both gone down since I bought into them, and so far I am in the hole. At this point, I think my best bet is to continue sitting on them and hope they spike.

 

Voice of Resurgence

Voice of Resurgence

I thought that there was a lot of potential when Voice was first spoiled, and I spent a lot of time thinking about at least picking up a play set. I talked myself out of it, and suffice to say missed out.

 

Beck // Call

Beck & Call

I was bullish on this card when it was $4. I started picking them up at that price, was astounded when they continued to drop, and started picking up even more once they hit $2. They are now less than $1, making this my biggest flop.

 

Epic Experiment

Epic Experiment

I started picking up a lot of these at $2 each because I felt that it had a lot of potential in Modern, with a possibility of also being good in Standard later on. My prediction so far has not come to pass, and I’m sitting on a lot of copies that are lower than what I got them for.

 

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius

Now at a measly $2, I was very bullish on Niv-Miz when Return to Ravnica prices had bottomed out. I bought in when they were $2.50, so I haven’t lost too much. At the end of the day they’re all still sitting in a box though, making this a loss, even if it isn’t a big one.

 

Lessons Learned

So, what have I learned about my endeavors with a year of experience? I’ll try to summarize for you:

Success Lessons

  • The common theme of my successes is that I carefully studied each of the cards and made notes of all the potential upside and downside that each had. Once I felt that I understood the pros and cons, I made an informed decision that each had a positive outlook and started picking them up accordingly.

  • One thing I want to be doing in the future is paying more attention to mythics rather than rares. Mythics provide the largest gains over time when their peak has been reached. I made some decent profits from Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay, but those types of success are harder to realize.

  • When looking at rares, the card’s eternal playability is an important factor. When I saw Deathrite Shaman and Abrupt Decay, I knew that they could be good Standard cards and at the same time they would be even more amazing in other formats. I now take this heavily into consideration.

  • Capitalizing on format shakeups – When a format is being “shaken and stirred” so to speak, I’ve relied on my research and past experiences to help make the most of a changing format. This is why I recommended targeting aggro cards right before Theros released, because I knew cards like Ash Zealot would likely see an uptick in price due to the typical increase in aggressive strategies shortly after rotation.

Mistake Lessons

  • More research is required before diving too deeply into any given card. I bought into a lot of cards that weren’t proven and that didn’t have a power level that, in retrospect, I’ve noticed is clearly lacking.

  • While occasionally missed calls end up working out for other reasons, in the meantime I am stuck with cards that no one wants. I was taking on quite a bit of risk with some of my picks. I’m going to stay with more liquid cards in the future to try to mitigate risk.

  • I’ve learned the hard way about which factors actually make a card well-positioned. that isn’t to say that I won’t ever miss again, as surely there will be other errors in judgment in the future. Today though, I can say I am a much better evaluator of a card and its potential.

  • Crowdsourcing is a powerful tool. I need to learn how to better realize the many tools that are available for Magic finance in order to understand card trends and what the community chatter is about a card. It can be good to pick up a few copies on the advice of others who have much more experience with Magic finance, you know?

Still stuck at sea with my sails unfurled hoping for a breeze, I’ve used the time to learn about myself and a bit more about the workings of Magic finance. I hope that my personal musings on my own successes and failures will provide some guidance for you as you set your own course.

*Correction – In the comments for my article last week, it was noted that I incorrectly associated Hasbro with Wizards of the Coast in respect to my writing of Chronicles. Hasbro acquired Wizards in 1999 (from the Wikipedia page), whereas Chronicles was released in 1995. My reference to Hasbro was only in passing however it was an oversight on my part and I wanted to make sure I set the record straight. Sorry for any confusion! Hasbro did not influence Wizards choices in regards to Chronicles.

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