Tag Archives: MTGO

Understanding the Changes to MTGO Payouts

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Once again, major changes are afoot in the Wonderful World of Magic Online™, this time targeting Constructed events and their prize structures. This announcement is bigger than just some minor restructuring, though: the quick summary is that Wizards is introducing a new currency, doubling entry fees for Daily Events (without a corresponding prize increase), and stifling player-to-player trading, including player-to-bot trading. This is a big deal, and whether or not it goes well, the MTGO economy will be seeing the fallout from this for the foreseeable future. If you play Magic Online or are concerned about its economy, you should definitely check out the official post with full details.

However, because that article is written with a whole lot of coded language and corporate doublespeak, I’ll be FJM‘ing it below. Without further ado, here’s Magic Online Digital Product Manager Lee Sharpe:

Magic Online is an awesome place to play Magic. We think it could be better with some changes, particularly focused on Constructed events. Recent player feedback supports this as an area where we can improve, especially when alternative Limited events such as the Tempest Remastered or Cube Drafting are available. In this spirit, today we are announcing some changes to Magic Online events.

This is a promising start. Wizards is listening to player feedback and instituting the Constructed-equivalent of Tempest Remastered and MTGO Cube. Could this be the long-promised return of leagues?!

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS WITH MAKING THESE CHANGES?

We focused on what Constructed players want to do with their prizes and made sure our prize offerings reflected those goals:

  1. Provide a prize that allows a Constructed player to immediately jump in another event.
  2. At least some events provide players with prizes that allow for better deck customization as preferences and sets change.

Okay, okay. You might think this is getting good. I assumed that what Sharpe was saying with point number one above is that events will now pay out once you finish your final round, as they currently make you wait for every match to finish before handing out prizes. (Spoiler: this is not what Sharpe is saying.)

What Sharpe is really saying with point number two is, “At least some events provide players with prizes that have actual value.” This, in fact, is not good.

WHAT ARE THOSE CHANGES?

Play Points will now be used as prizes for Constructed queues and Daily Events. Eight-Player Queues and Daily Events will award prizes that are a combination of Play Points and boosters, while two player queues will award prizes that are entirely in Play Points. Additionally, all three of these plus many other Magic Online events will have an additional entry option that consists entirely of Play Points.

I wonder why they don’t just pay out in event tickets, the already-established currency on Magic Online?

We believe Play Points will do a great job of achieving the first goal, which is to allow players to play events more easily. To make sure the second goal is also met, we are still awarding some prizes as booster packs. Players can trade or open these boosters to help them get new cards for their decks.

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Again, why not just award event tickets rather than introduce a new currency? There has to be a catch.

In the future, we plan to look at other ways to use prizes to promote deck customization besides booster packs (mainly because they are mostly used currently to join Limited events). However, for now we want to focus on the changes that we’re announcing today.

This is a completely unnecessary paragraph. I imagine that Sharpe is hinting at prizes of singles for Constructed events in the future, but Wizards doesn’t have much of a track record of delivering on promises related to Magic Online, so don’t count on this paragraph ever meaning anything. It exists solely to say, “This isn’t the only thing we’re doing, guys! We know this isn’t good enough or even good at all but we’re super seriously working on something better! Pinkie promise!” If it’s not actively being instituted, assume it will never happen.

DETAILS OF THE NEW CONSTRUCTED EVENTS

Before we talk about additional ways to use Play Points, here are the details of the events where you can win them!

Constructed Two-Player Queue

Start Times: Fire on demand
Location: Constructed Queues
Entry Options:

  • Option 1: 2 Event Tickets
  • Option 2: 20 Play Points

Size: 2 players
Play Style: Single Elimination
Duration: One round, lasting up to 50 minutes.

Sharpe is starting with one of MTGO’s biggest weaknesses: two-player queues. For the uninitiated, two-player queues cost two event tickets to enter for each player. The MSRP for a booster pack is four tickets, so ostensibly, the winner gets the full value for the four total tickets of entry fee.

However, ever since the 2013 increase of redemption fees from $5 to $25—the impact of which would take an entire article to fully describe—pack prices have plummeted. Generally, a player should be able to get between two and three tickets each for booster packs, with occasional jumps above three or dips below two. With pack prices consistently lower than MSRP, there have been times during the last two years where you could have a 90-percent win percentage in two-player queues and still be losing money. The problem is that many competitive players see these queues as the most time-efficient way to play meaningful games to test their decks.

So how do the Play Points prizes look?

Place
1st
Prizes 30 Play Points
QPs 0
2nd
Prizes 5 Play Points
QPs 0

Before, Wizards could pretend like it was not taking a cut off of two-player queues when essentially selling a booster pack for four tickets. Now, the players know upfront that 12.5 percent of their combined entry fee is going to the house. I bet Sharpe tries to spin this positively:

The Two-Player Queue is available for Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Pauper, and Momir Basic. If you win, you get enough Play Points to play in another one, plus you’re halfway to the one after that. If you lose, you’re a quarter of the way to a free one. Keep earning more points!

Told you.

Ultimately, not much changes economically for players of these queues. This essentially stabilizes the winner’s prize at the equivalent of three tickets, with a pity half-ticket going to the loser. I’m not a math scientist, but that still seems to be unfavorable to the average player, who wins about 50 percent of his or her matches. If Wizards actually gave the full amount of Play Points back to the players, it might be a different story.

Constructed Eight-Player Queue

Start Times: Fire on demand
Location: Constructed Queues
Entry Options:

  • Option 1: 6 Event Tickets
  • Option 2: 60 Play Points

Size: 8 players
Play Style: Single Elimination
Duration: Three rounds, each round up to 50 minutes.
Prizes:

Place
1st
Prizes 2 Magic Origins booster packs and
140 Play Points
QPs 2
2nd
Prizes 1 Magic Origins booster pack and
60 Play Points
QPs 1
3rd-4th
Prizes 60 Play Points
QPs 0

The Eight-Player Queue is available for Standard and Modern. Winning the first match gets you enough Play Points to play in another eight-player queue. Winning the second match gets you enough Play Points to play in another eight-player queue, plus a booster. Finally, if you can win all three matches, you’ll receive more than enough Play Points to enter two more eight-player queues, on top of two boosters!

I’m sure there will be players unhappy about these only being available for Standard and Modern, but the eight-man queues don’t seem so egregious to me. The old prize payout was five packs for first place, three packs for second place, and two packs for third and fourth places. If we’re assuming that ten Play Points are worth roughly about the price of a ticket and that packs are worth about three tickets each, this seems like about the same payout for everybody except slightly better for first place. Whether you like a top-heavy payout is purely a matter of personal preference.

Constructed Daily Event

Start Times: See Schedule
Location: Constructed Scheduled
Entry Options:

  • Option 1: 12 Event Tickets
  • Option 2: 120 Play Points

Size: 8 players
Play Style: Swiss
Duration: Four rounds, each round up to 50 minutes.
Prizes:

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Match Wins
4 Wins
Prizes 6 Magic Origins booster packs and
360 Play Points
QPs 3
3 Wins
Prizes 3 Magic Origins booster packs and
180 Play Points
QPs 1

SOUND THE OUTRAGE ALARM.

Sharpe really buried the lede here, as now we’ve gotten to the part where Wizards is doubling of the price to enter Daily Events, one of the defining tournament series on Magic Online.

Most recently, Daily Events cost six event tickets to enter and consisted of four rounds of Swiss play. If you went 4-0, you got 11 packs, whereas 3-1 got you six packs. Even when packs are as low as two tickets, this is more than a triple-up for going undefeated and a nice double-up for going 3-1.

I should really note how important Daily Events are to Magic Online players who want to “go infinite.” These aren’t the best value in history (Daily Events used to give 13 packs for 4-0, for example), but they’re good enough value that players can dream about stringing together enough 3-1 and 4-0 finishes that they don’t have to put money into Magic Online anymore, with the best players even turning a profit.

From WOTC’s perspective, players turning a profit or playing for free appears bad, but there’s a bigger picture here. How many players have dumped a ton of money into Magic Online hoping to go infinite but never really get there? My guess would be many, many more than those that do actually reach the goal of playing for free. However, with this move, Wizards has shattered the dream of going infinite for a whole lot of players, as the prizes have not increased as sharply as entry fees.

For illustration’s sake, let’s assume a three-ticket booster pack price, even though that’s not very realistic recently. Old Daily Event 4-0s would pay out 33 tickets after an entry fee of six, an increase of 550 percent. Now a 4-0 record pays about 54 tickets of value compared to a 12-ticket entry fee, an increase of only 450 percent.

Does a 3-1 payout improve? With a three-ticket booster, the old system’s 3-1 record would result in a triple-up from six tickets to 18. Now players get roughly 27 tickets for their 12-ticket entry fees, nine tickets short of that triple up we used to see.

There’s no doubt about it: Wizards is significantly lowering the payout for Daily Events.

Constructed Daily Events are available for Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and Pauper. They reflect the highest level of regularly available competition on Magic Online. As such, we are increasing the number of event tickets used to join to reflect this and help distance it from the eight-player queues. Since the quality of play in Constructed Daily Events can be quite intense, we expect some players will stick to the queues. Choose the level of event that is right for you.

“We determined that Daily Events were decidedly better value than everything else we offer, and rather than consider the fact that these being scheduled events is a reasonable enough downside to justify that better value, we decided to double the entry fee instead.”

You’ll also see the prize structure provides some very good rewards for those who do well under this system: Three wins gets you three boosters as well as enough Play Points for another Constructed Daily Event entry and halfway to one after that. Four wins is six boosters, plus enough Play Points for three more Constructed Daily Event entries. We hope these events are exciting—and the prize structures different enough from each other—that no matter what kind of player you are, you will be able to find the event offerings that are right for you.

No mention of the fact that the Daily Event payout has been neutered. Sharpe has failed to convince me that these are “very good rewards.”

WHAT ELSE CAN I DO WITH PLAY POINTS?

We want players to have the options to select a variety of ways to use their Play Points. You can see above how you can use them in Constructed Queues and Daily Events. Play Points, like Phantom Points before them, are untradeable…

Let me cut you off right there, Lee. He’s trying to skip over the most important part, but the fact that these are untradeable is a crucial point.

As someone who plays on MTGO primarily for Cube, I can appreciate Phantom Points, but they are terrible value for anything other than that one format. I’ve avoided phantom Draft and Sealed events like the plague, but now Magic Online is instituting a terrible system for all of its Constructed queues. Got that? Let’s move on.

…and we’re excited to be able to use them creatively in new and exciting ways because of that. Also like Phantom Points, Play Points will be available as an entry option for Phantom Queues, and we are expanding their use as entry options in the following other events:

Event Type
Booster Drafts
Current Entry Options Option 1: 14 Event Tickets
Option 2: 3 Boosters and 2 Event Tickets
New Additional Entry Option Option 3: 140 Play Points
Four-Booster Sealed Events
Current Entry Options Option 1: 18 Event Tickets
Option 2: 4 Boosters and 2 Event Tickets
New Additional Entry Option Option 3: 180 Play Points
Sealed Daily Events
Current Entry Options Option 1: 26 Event Tickets
Option 2: 6 Boosters and 2 Event Tickets
New Additional Entry Option Option 3: 260 Play Points
PTQ Preliminaries
(Constructed and Sealed)
Current Entry Options Option 1: 30 Event Tickets
New Additional Entry Option Option 2: 300 Play Points

The prize structures of these event types are unchanged. They will not award any additional Play Points. But we believe this new structure will provide players Constructed players with the opportunity to use Play Points beyond events that award them as prizes.

Admittedly, it would be pretty annoying to not get to enter Limited events with these, and at least they’re not trying to pay out in only Play Points, so this part is basically fine.

WHEN ARE THE EVENTS CHANGING?

The new structures will begin after the August 12 downtime, when release events for Magic Origins end.

Just enough time to sell your account! (And MTGO Traders owner Heath Newton confirmed that many players are.)

CAN I USE PLAY POINTS ALREADY IN MY ACCOUNT FOR THESE EVENTS?

Yes! As I stated in the June Events article, Play Points will be introduced and Phantom Points will be retired during this Wednesday’s downtime. However, each account will receive 6 Play Points for every Phantom Point they have in their account at that time.

Thanks, I guess?

CAN I BUY PLAY POINTS IN THE MAGIC ONLINE STORE?

No. The only way to get Play Points is through events (although sometimes they also may be available through special promotions). Most events that support a Play Point entry option will also support an event ticket entry option, and those tickets are available in the Magic Online Store.

Yep, these are totally the replacement for phantom points.

WHERE SHOULD I SEND MY FEEDBACK?

You can send detailed feedback to magiconlinefeedback@wizards.com. This email goes directly to Worth Wollpert, Mike Turian, Chris Kiritz, and me—the team making the day-to-day business decisions about Magic Online. I generally read everything the same day it comes in.

We also read Magic articles published online and the Magicsubreddit. You can also reach us via Twitter through the official @MagicOnline Twitter account or directly at my account, @mtg_lee.

Lee Sharpe
Digital Product Manager—Magic Online Events

Such a large section devoted to soliciting feedback indicates that Wizards knows this is a player-unfriendly move. The Magic community has been able to get Wizards to backtrack on bad decisions before. If you feel this impacts you negatively, let Wizards know.

The Future of the MTGO Economy

Nobody really knows what will happen to Magic Online’s economy as a result of these changes, but we can make some educated guesses.

First, let’s discuss booster pack prices. It stands to reason that if fewer boosters are being put into the hands of players, the price of individual boosters will increase. As prizes for events, this is good, but keep in mind that most events now pay out in Play Points, so this ultimately ends up being a minimal payoff for Constructed players. Limited players, however, will be paying higher pack prices, meaning that drafting on Magic Online will be more expensive. This doesn’t appear to benefit Constructed or Limited players. I wonder who does benefit, then? (Wizards).

Second, players will have less need to sell boosters or singles for tickets, so player-to-player trades will decrease. This includes player-to-bot trades, as bots are owned by individual Magic Online players. This move should decrease secondary market commerce significantly.

Third, players will have less ability to liquidate their collections. Since Play Points can’t be traded, they can’t be sold on the secondary market, either. A player looking for some quick cash used to be able to sell prize packs and singles for tickets and sell tickets for cash. While that is still technically true, Constructed players will have fewer packs to work with and will be accumulating Play Points that can’t be liquidated quickly or efficiently.

The community at large seems to be quite upset with these changes. The fallout may not be as bad as many are predicting, but I would hardly call these changes a good thing for the player base. Still, this Reddit post outlines much of the expected value of events moving forward, and yeah, the world will probably go on. I’d still love to see WOTC’s internal numbers after this change.

Magic Online has long justified its high prices despite its low costs by stating that the paper and digital games should have as much in common as possible. Now it appears that Wizards is taking steps toward making Magic Online a self-contained economy where one is not able to liquidate cards or currency, like what we see in Hearthstone and SolForge. The problem is that the prices remain comparatively high to those games.

There’s so much more to be said about Magic Online, but this should be a good overview of why there is controversy regarding Monday’s announcement. If you’re unhappy with these changes, let Wizards know. And hey, post your thoughts in the comment section below. Remember, Wizards has backed off due to community backlash before. Do you think these changes benefit anyone but the company’s shareholders?

MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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The Ethics of MTGFinance

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Recently I’ve found myself being pulled into cyclical debates on the ethics of MTGFinance. With the increasing participation and interest in this side of the Magic: The Gathering community, it seems like a good time to get to the bottom of things.

The Price Is Always Right

So the other day I’m at a new nerd conference in Toronto and I notice halfway through day 2 as we’re promoting ShelfLife.net (plug: our next gen social commerce platform for collectors) that attendance is pretty dismal. Figuring the vendors may be in the mood for deals I locate an LGS dealer with a ton of binders in tow and no central pricing system. This is exactly the scenario where you are likely to find the best, and the largest deals, largely because only the biggest most dedicated vendors can possibly keep up with the increasingly rapid prices shifts in our community. Sure enough I locate over $2500usd in singles within 30min of binder browsing. I stack the cards in piles at various price points, the dealer signs off on a $1100cdn sale price after some haggling down from $1400cdn and we conclude our business with a handshake and a smile.

Now pause and ask yourself: did I rip him off? Or more to the point, was the transaction ethical?

MTGFinance In A Nutshell
MTGFinance In A Nutshell

I assert that it most certainly was, and here’s why:

1) No one was lying, causing distractions, fast talking or otherwise obscuring the action

2) We’re responsible adults responsible for our own decisions, and his decision was to publicly offer the products in question at the prices we both agreed to

3) Interest is the first sign of market shifts, and he waved it off, likely because;

4) He clearly saw value in the cash flow

Now let’s examine what could have happened had I chosen the opposite path, a path some people might demand I take to achieve perfect transparency.  I could have, for instance, tallied the cards, and engaged in this conversation:

  •  Me: I think these cards are worth essentially double what you have them priced at, about $2500.
  • Vendor: Thanks! My new price is $2500. So would you like to buy them at that price?
  • Me: No thanks.
  • Vendor: Oh, why not? Don’t you recognize them as being worth this price on average in the market?
  • Me: Yes.
  • Vendor: So then you’re backing out because you can get them somewhere else cheaper?
  • Me: No, I’m backing out because I believe these magic cards are investments, and as such, must operate under the principle of opportunity costs.
  • Vendor: How’s that?
  • Me: Because you’ve reset the price to market average, there are now other options I believe will yield better returns within the same time frame, and my role as a market maker dictates that to achieve an efficient market I must act logically and efficiently and pursue my goals while you pursue yours. When the value of my potential returns matches your value in cash flow, a market action will occur and we will both be equally happy. In this particular case I have clearly spent a lot more time than you tracking and memorizing current price averages. This knowledge has value, and I just conferred that value to you as a gift, creating an imbalance in our market making potential and ensuring we cannot achieve market action. You see, I came to your booth loaded with efficiency, free cash flow and risk taking potential. You were carrying inefficiency, low cash flow and lower risk potential, as expressed by your willingness at any time to convert cards that could potentially accelerate in value for cash that averages a much lower interest rate unless reinvested in greater prospects. This insinuated that any (or all) of the following was true:

a) your time was too valuable to make re-pricing your inventory to match current demand worthwhile

b) your potential reinvestment opportunities exceeded my perceived net present value of the cards in question

Further, our lack of prior exchange of social value through camaraderie, emotional support or familial ties makes my donation of value result in an unequal match. I’ve sacrificed over $1000 in value for no discernable benefit as other market actors were already willing to sell me these cards at the newly requested price, which I’ve only just now made you aware of. As such instead of heading home with $1100 cash, you’re heading home with $600 in booth fees, time wasted and no opportunity to reinvest.  I’m heading home with $1400 less profit potential at a risk level previously determined to be acceptable, and a non-friend I’ve donated goodwill to without any return on my investment.

Final score: No one is winning. The market is broken.

StarCityGames Is Not The Market Price

So having taken a closer look at the dynamics and difficulties of trying to manually price thousands of magic cards, let’s examine where these kind of scenarios have led the LGS/Vendor segment of our hobby ecosystem.

Price Progress?
Price Progress?

Back in the pre-internet days, Inquest and Scrye magazine published monthly with card pricing lists taken from surveys of selected vendors around North America. This system led to many golden opportunities for savvy players who could spot a rising tide for certain cards at the tournament level and translate that into smart actions at their local gaming stores before the new issues came out the following month. It also tended to result in highly specialized local economies, with card pricing varying oddly from community to community based on local play styles, format focuses and house rules.

The advent of the Internet, and in particular the ability to view past transactions on Ebay yanked us all into an entirely new era, with easy access to global price data, a trend that has only accelerated in the last 5 years with big data sites like MTGPrice.com, MTGOGoldfish.com, mtgowikiprice.com and TCGPlayer.com. Better information, made widely available should be good for everyone but coupled with the rise of the smartphone has empowered players to take advantage of low margin (aka inefficient) vendors, as well as lazy players, who can’t keep up with pricing shifts. (Now to be fair, vendors have done this to players since the beginning, using buy list tactics that most would consider normal business.)

At the same time, the tendency for commerce to centralize within niches online, leads to the appearance of major market actors with high efficiency such as StarCityGames.com. SCG brand equity then leads to their price lists being used as a mutually agreeable reference point for market actors seeking to equalize value and achieve market action. Other vendors then go a step further, seeking to achieve efficiency and close more market actions through the simplest course of action: copying SCG pricing.

This has lead us to entirely new era of Magic pricing: The Age of Oligopolistic Tendencies.

As opposed to a monopoly which is typically defined as a single market actor holding unfair stores of value due to legal, procedural, resource access or other major advantages, an oligopoly is typically characterized by a relatively few market actors disguising their inefficiency by agreeing to fixed pricing that ensures certain margins and leads to permanently unequal value exchanges while maintaining a relatively stable model of market sharing for the vendors. These situations are especially exacerbated in the case of goods essential to living such as food, warmth, clothing and shelter. Though no true oligopolistic cabal exists in the MTG world, the tendency of inefficient vendors to leverage platforms like Crystal Commerce to track and average the prices of the largest vendors to set their own pricing, is leading us towards a magic ecology with oligopolistic tendencies. (It’s worth noting here that between TCGPlayer, Ebay and PucaTrade “true” market pricing is still widely available and in play.)

Put simply: If everyone uses the same pricing, originally set by the most efficient vendor, no actor will ever be able to achieve further efficiency or recognize the true value of their potential market actions. This is true because in theory and practice, the scenario for every market actor is unique, and their price should be uniquely customized to that scenario.

Eg) Store X has $2500 (SCG pricing) in singles for sale. They set their price on this pile of cards to $2500. A player enters the premises and offers $2300, and the LGS declines because Crystal Commerce says their price is on target. The problem here is that price comparisons only establish the cash value of a transaction, and utterly fail to establish the other forms of value and opportunity cost. For instance if Store X can achieve higher inventory turnover rates, lower overhead, lower product costs, enjoys different tax scenarios, or any number of other value stores, they may be economically incorrect to turn down the deal.

This is a key concept, so let’s dig deeper. Check out this table of value store calculations on a theoretical booster box of Conspiracy being sold by an LGS with greater efficiencies than SCG, but priced to match on the premise that SCG is using the “correct” price:

LGS X StarCityGames
Product Cost to Vendor $74 $72
Posted Sale Price $99.50 $99.50
Turnover Rate (Days to Retrieve Capital) 180 216
Investment Periods/Annum 2.027 1.689
Corporate Tax Rate 15% 35%
Overhead/Box/Days to Turnover $3.50 $7
Gross Yield%Gross Yield

Yield Net Overhead

%Yield Net Overhead

Yield After Tax

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Effective Annual Yield After Tax**r = (1+i)^

$25.50/box34.45%

$22/box

29.72%

25.27%
51.89%

$27.5038.19%

$20.50

28.47%

18.50%
33.20%

So what exactly does that math demonstrate?

Price Efficiency Achieved?
Price Efficiency Achieved?

Well, in essence it demonstrates that an LGS with access to non-revenue value stores can achieve greater return on investment than a major market actor. In reality, some of these stores are quite possible (better tax scenarios) while others (think overhead/box sold) are highly unlikely due to economies of scale and scope. Even still, assuming we accept that an LGS could achieve more efficient capital returns, why does that matter?

It matters because higher yield would allow them to lower box prices on the premise that lowering prices below SCG pricing would increase overall sales, and because we already know the LGS has superior returns on those sales, they can make more money overall by undercutting their larger competitor. Here’s the kind of graph we’re talking about.

Note that the demand curve shifts out when the price drops, resulting in higher overall sales, because, duh, more players will buy more boxes if they’re cheaper.

Here’s some more math on the two possible scenarios (for illustration only, since just how much demand may increase based on lowered pricing depends on many factors beyond the ken of this discussion).  We’ll even assume lowered box costs as volume increases, though the plateaus would be fairly broad in our ecosystem:

Cost/Box Revenue/Box Boxes Sold Total Profit
Scenario A: SCG Price Match $74 $99.50 186 $4743
Scenario B: Set Lower Price $73 $97.50 223 $5463.50

The LGS has dropped their price slightly, increased sales by about 20% and achieved a slight inventory cost reduction as reward for their higher volume (because they contributed to their wholesalers own inventory turnover rate), leading to an overall increase of 15%.

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be, because this is EXACTLY what a properly functioning free market economy is supposed to look like. A healthy economy needs the friction of market actors jostling for position to trend towards the most efficient combination of price and alternate value that maximizes both shareholder return for the companies and utility for the consumers.

Note that this is functionally identical to my trip to the LGS with noticeably lower prices because in encountering that actor I had no way to know whether they were:

a) seeking value through inaction (due to the value of their time)

or

b) deliberately lowering prices to increase inventory sell through and capture more market share.

The real point however, is that it just doesn’t matter why they were priced lower because whether their price positioning was intentional, representative of alternate value stores or representative of their inefficiency, the market needs the match tested to find equilibrium. If the match is efficient, I will return, repeat similar transactions and the vendor will thrive if their choices are in fact efficient, applying competitive pressures to SCG and other larger market actors to lower prices for more and more players. If it is inefficient, I may one day return to find the vendor closed, and I will move on to market matches with the most efficient vendor I can find, and the cycle continues. I mean I miss those Friday night hunts for value at Blockbuster, but I can’t argue that the shift from $30 in late fees/month to $10 unlimited access to content from my couch via Netflix isn’t the purest representation of market evolution in motion.

The Boundaries of Ethical Trading

Resist the Dark Side
Resist the Dark Side

First off, I’m a long standing liberal. In fact, up here in Canada, we have parties further left than the Democrats and I vote them with pride. Ultimately I consider myself a social pragmatist, but I reserve the right to skew the energy I spend on socially conscious commerce in favor of essential rather than non-essential goods. That means I tend to transfer value to causes that are improving the overall standard of living more efficiently than I ever could directly. As MTG is an upper middle class game with no essential utility, I am definitely on the side of economics vs. social good, but only so far as I believe they are in fact one in the same in terms of achieving market efficiency in the Magic commons. By this I mean that good economics will lead to the healthiest overall community, a fact I’m sure Hasbro drills into the WOTC exec at every opportunity.

Remember a few years back when they yanked global tournament support, ditched the old rating system and abandoned nationals? We all yelled a lot, but the game has only gotten better since, presumably because the internal reallocation of resources has made the entire operation more efficient at attracting users and increased the overall utility to our community broadly despite the painful transition.

Further, there is a huge difference between accepting a listed price, and engaging in more nefarious acts. Here’s some scenarios I DON’T support:

  • Duping kids is off limits, simply because they aren’t legal market actors at all and cannot be expected to act rationally.
  • Noobs are off limits, largely because being kind to new players yields social scenarios that largely outweigh any meager profits that could be made off their single copy of Jace. I’m not above dumping 1000 commons on someone in a swap for a $50 rare, but I always make sure they know the score, and they’re rarely concerned since variety > power in the early days of trading.
  • Switching price tags, confusing vendors when busy, lying about condition, delaying payments and failing to honor posted prices (a personal pet peeve) are all forms of theft because they represent non-voluntary transfers of value.

In the end, I’ve written this article to make one simple point: you are no more responsible to “correct” the pricing of a vendor than they are to “correct” their pricing when you need a Snapcaster Mage ten minutes before the start of the GP.

I’m also asserting that such acts of price adjustment, are in facts acts of economic and/or social charity, resulting in the transference of hard earned value from one market actor to another without justification.  And while you may feel good about doing it, you may in fact be injuring the health of the MTG economy as a whole by failing to exert the pressures that lead to maximum market efficiency and the lowest possible price for playing this beautiful game.

Now you may say “hey, wait a minute, I hang out at my LGS every day, I’ve known the owner for years and I need to look him in the eye when we trade. This guy gives me deals, runs a good scene and he’s always got snacks on hand for Commander night.”

My response is that you and the owner are not simple market actors, but something closer to friends (or at least peers), in your scenario, and are by definition engaged in a barter economy where you trade value in terms other than just cash, and in doing so you keep things just as equal as if you had bought him out of a common box worth of Simian Spirit Guides. When you notify him every time his pricing seems low, you are in essence investing the value of your knowledge into your favorite hangout and inevitably expecting that value to yield dividends. You may consider yourself the altruistic sort, but when push comes to shove, if you save him from buyout after buyout and he won’t even put aside a Conspiracy box for you, you are unlikely to continue the exchange.

To wit, nor should you.

 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. 

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