Building a Digital Card Collection on MtGO
I was recently (today!) asked on Twitter various questions about MtGO. These included questions around trading, safety, pricing, boosters, singles, etc.
So firstly some upfront links. Read ‘em, then come back here:
* Official WoTC MtGO page
* Wikipedia page on Magic Online
* LSV: Going Infinite on MTGO
* Historical article by Ben Bleiweiss: The Current Economic State of Magic Online
* Jeroen Aga: Going Infinite drafting on Magic Online… A Myth?
About my Digital Habits
No, I’m talking about picking my nose. Before I begin, I think I should disclose how I play MtGO before I recommend you do anything. Here’s a snapshot of me as a digital player:
* I have a high level of disposable income, some of which I budget for MtGO
* I invest far more in paper Magic than MtGO.
* I live at least half-an-hour away from the nearest store that runs events.
* I buy a draft set and six tickets at the beginning of the week and see how far I can get without buying more
* I am slowly investing in the cards needed to play constructed but don’t currently play in the constructed queues
* I redeem often. Most of my paper cards are through redemption. This is largely the reason why I don’t play a lot of constructed online.
* I don’t care for foil cards, either online or off.
* My online collection is small but tactical.
* I have only recently attempted to trade for profit.
With that in mind, here’s my advice regarding MtGO.
The ‘Players’ Involved
The following is a lazy snapshot of the ‘players’ involved in the MtGO community:
* The casual players – these are the people who make up the vast bulk of the MtGO community. They spend a lot of time in the casual room or tournament practice room, but not necessarily in the queues.
* The hard-core players – these are people who aim for the prize payouts in constructed and limited events online. They generally attempt to make a profit off MtGO through prize support.
* The traders & bot owners –these are the people who attempt to make a profit through trading cards
* The bots – these are the machines who make the healthy trading community possible, essentially automated scripts that allow a human to trade cards and tickets with a machine.
* The ORCs – These are WoTC employed staff that monitor the chat rooms and provide support online.
The major currency of Magic Online are Event Tickets. Event tickets are sold by WoTC as digital objects in lieu of trading money online. In essence, US$1 = 1 Ticket, although it doesn’t always work out that way. Depending on the number of Nix Tix events (where no tickets are used), Nix Pax events (where ONLY tickets are used, not product) and current prize payouts, you can ‘buy’ Event Tickets through the bots for less than US$1, often through paypal websites. Event Tickets has shrunk as low as .89, but are usually around the mid-to-high .90s.
New booster packs generally cost US$3.99, or 4 tickets, from a bot. As boosters go out of the store, their cost in the bots grows. Often the bots sell boosters available in the store for less than 4 tickets, as they have bought them off players who have won events, not the store itself. The rare exception to this was M10 product, which clung onto the 4 ticket value due to the expected Earned Value from every M10 packet.
Cards themselves have a broad range of value. However, the commonly acknowledged pricing structure for normal-value, non-foil commons, uncommons and rares is as follows:
* Commons :: .02 – .05 tickets
* Uncommons :: .08 -.20 tickets
* Rares :: .25 to 1 tickets
Once a card is a ‘chase’ card online, the price will spike significantly. For example:
* Gush, a common, has only been issued in the “Jace vs Chandra’ Duel Set and goes for 3 tickets
* Daze, a common, has only been issued in the “Jace vs. Chandra’ Duel Set and goes for 9 tickets
* Spell Snare, an uncommon, goes for .40 of a ticket
* Bloodbraid Elf, an uncommon, goes for 2 tickets
* Mana Drain, a rare, has only been issued in Masters Edition 3 and goes for 15 tickets
* Force of Will, a rare, has only been issued in Masters Edition and goes for 64 tickets
Many of the bots use a credit system; if you only spend .43 of a ticket, the other .57 will be reserved against your account name for future purchases. As many of the bots are tied together, you may find your credits extend across multiple bots; this is a secondary currency market within MtGO. Some bots have various promotions they use that allow for discounts over time, like frequent flyer miles. I suggest doing a lot of research into the bots if you want to get the most out of them.
Starting a Collection
Firstly, begin with the end in mind. What format do you intend on playing in? On MtGO there are four major constructed formats; Classic, Extended, Standard and Pauper. I would rate the cost of these in the following order, from most expensive to cheapest:
Classic > Standard > Extended > Pauper
Here are some recommendations for building a collection within a format:
* If you intend on playing in the constructed queues for profit, build a Pauper deck first. It requires the least dollar investment to create a great Pauper deck, you can learn how to play in-game properly, and if you hate MtGO you can get out with as little loss as possible. A great primer for creating and pricing a pauper deck can be found here at puremtgo.com.
* Drafting will build a collection, but it will cost you an absolute fortune. Unless you have a 1900+ rating and know what the hell you’re doing, don’t do it.
* Understand what is redeemable and what is not. That Standard deck you just built? Redeemable for the next four years. That Classic deck with the Tropical Islands and Flooded Strands? You’ll never be able to redeem it. If you don’t care about redemption, the ‘perennial’ cards, such as Birds of Paradise, have high variance in price depending on the set. Cards from old sets that are not redeemable, but still being printed in new sets, are generally cheaper than newer editions (but not always).
* Thanks to the wonders of having digital cards, you don’t need more than four of any card. Ever. No matter how many decks you use that card in, or how many formats that card exists in. If you have anything over four of a certain card, unless you’re holding back and waiting for a spike rise, you may as well trade the excess away.
* Build in the off-season of the equivalent paper magic tournaments. Many paper players will build equivalent decks online, thus forcing the prices of tickets up at that time. The recent Dark Depths increase is an excellent example of this – a single Extended Pro-Tour drove the price up from 2 tickets to 15 tickets.
* Understand the bots are not your friends. They are there to make money. They will try to rip you off if they have the chance. Be a smart shopper – compare prices, do searches online, search the classifieds page for the lowest price. I recommend doing a quick browse of Cardhoarder.com, Abugames.com, and, essentially, mtgolibrary.com, which has a wonderful search engine across the people that use its bot service to find card prices.
* There are some non-widely-known chat areas, such as the auction area. This can be accessed by typing /join auction or /join auction2. Players run their own auctions for bulk card lots in the chat. This is a highly cost-effective way of picking up cards.
With those recommendations in mind, once you’ve chosen a format you wish to build a collection for, here’s my advice:
* Concentrate on getting the mana base first. The mana base will likely be the most expensive part of any non-pauper deck you play, and as a result you may not realise the cost of the constructed deck until you get to buying the mana base at the end, and then your budget will be screwed or your deck won’t be competitive.
* Once you have your mana base, it’s wise to try to get the staple artifacts out of the way. I’d suggest the following artifacts are must-haves, depending on your intended format – Aether Vial, Pithing Needle, Chrome Mox, Engineered Explosives, Tormod’s Crypt, Umezawa’s Jitte, Relic of Progenitus, Chalice of the Void, Vedalken Shackles, Crucible of Worlds.
* Once you’ve got your land and your artifacts, it’s only a matter of pulling together a deck. I certainly can’t recommend a deck for you, but you can be assured the more popular the deck, the more popular it will be online. Sometimes the best thing you can do is build the deck that beats the popular deck and get rich off that. Metagaming is a time-honoured tradition, never more so than on MtGO.
Hopefully this should give you a good idea on how to get a collection started on MtGO. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on twitter, or find me in game – weirdly enough my handle in MtGO is wrongwaygoback. See you online.