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By: SteveJeltz, Rev. David Wright
Aug 28 2017 12:00pm
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 Three Ways to Profit on MTGO Without Winning Games of Magic

By Steve Jeltz

 

Incinerate

Playing Magic Online is a great way to incinerate tickets.

I remember as a new player losing hundreds of dollars in trying to pay for drafts and sanctioned events before I was good enough to break even on MTGO. And as I wrote last week, if you play Limited alone its almost impossible to break even unless you're able to sustain an incredibly good ELO rating, typically in the range of 1825 or better.

One sustainable way to subsidize your favorite hobby, as I mentioned last week, is through constructed leagues. Since the positive EV threshold for constructed magic is so much lower than for limited play, one can slowly accumulate treasure chests by building yourself a nice budget Pauper deck and putting the hours in to win some prizes. Even a 50% win rate, which corresponds typically to a 1675 ELO rating is enough to make a slight profit from constructed play.

Apathy

Yay... more mindless repetitive constructed Magic.

The downside of only playing constructed magic is boredom. Much as I love grinding out and outsmarting Izzet Delver players for the 108th time, after too much of the same sequence constructed play, I seriously need a break. What I need is the sweet candy of Cube Draft. Or even just a palate cleansing break to draft of the newest limited set even though I know its going to be negative EV for me in the long term.

So how do you pay for the fun of limited if you don't have the patience for constructed magic or the wherewithal to spew tickets from sweet sweet drafting? 

Here are three ways I have found you can make a little profit to subsidize your favorite expensive little hobby:

 Dark Deal

1. Arbitrage

Arbitrage is the art of identifying and exploiting market inefficiencies. In the world of MTGO this means recognizing that among thousands of buyers and sellers, its likely possible that one could acquire an item from one transaction and then quickly sell the item in another transaction for more than what you paid for it! 

Some of this has to do with currencies. The liquid market currency of MTGO is the Event Ticket. Theoretically, every Event Ticket on Magic Online must have been purchased at some point for an equal price of $1 US per Event Ticket. It is absolutely essential that Wizards maintains this market equivalency. Without it, and its partner equivalency in the form of Set Redemptions, the whole MTGO economy collapses like so many other real time in-game economies are prone to do.

But because Event Tickets only have value in-game and US Dollars have value everywhere, in reality it is possible to purchase items on MTGO for less than their equivalent value in event tickets by using US currency instead. A classic example of this is when booster packs for a limited set exceed a buy/sell price of 4 event tickets. Because we can always buy a pack of any standard legal set from the Magic Online storefront for $3.99, it seems like nonsense to buy a pack for more than 4 tickets. Except players value an event ticket less than $1 US. Hence they would rather pay 4.xx of event tickets for a needed booster pack than pay actual dollars to the storefront. Sometimes demand is so skewed you can even sell a pack for more than 4 tickets! If you value dollars the same as event tickets, this is one way to exploit the inefficiency of the MTGO economy.

One way I personally have been able to leverage arbitrage in the past is with preconstructed items for sale in MTGO Storefront. At various times, for example, one or the other of the two Legacy preconstructed decks, "Boltslinger" or "Exiler" have contained cards that were so in demand that their sale price far exceeded the $29.99 US required to purchase them. One could actually buy the item, sell the contents, convert the cards to tickets, and the ticket surplus was so high that even selling tickets back for US Dollars you could still come out ahead. Do this enough times though and you drive down the margin by flooding the market with supply. More recently the Commander 2013 preconstructed deck "Mind Seize" contained a single card, True-Name Nemesis whose buy price was more than the $35 US required to purchase the whole deck from the MTGO Storefront. While this deck is no longer for sale, watch for other market inefficiencies like this that you can leverage.

 Trade Secrets

2. Recognize Market Trends

The cards you open are worth actual money! At least some of them are. However, timing alone can either bolster the value of your openings or depreciate them based on the simple market rules of supply and demand. At its most basic, look at the value of a new set when its first released. Usually the total value of a set, like for example Hour of Devastation, in Week 1 is between $100-$200, which is the highest it will ever be. Today, the total set price is less than $40, meaning you could purchase an entire digital set, ready for redemption, for about $40, and then with your $25 redemption fee plus shipping convert those digital cards to an uncirculated set of paper cards. What this means for us is that your Week 1 Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh could be sold for 20 tickets, but today you can only get about 7 tickets for it. During Week 1, many many cards have buylist value that will fall to zero as more of the new set gets opened. So sell those rares and uncommons as fast as you can if you're opening them to get maximum value!

While most cards and sets depreciate with time, there are a few rare exceptions. Staple cards for various constructed formats will usually take a dive when the market is temporarily flooded by more copies say because of the release of a Masters level set or a flashback draft. But if you hold onto your openings of these staple cards, they will usually rebound with time, especially if they were highly high demand staples. For example, the total value of the most recent  Masters set, Modern Masters 2017, bottomed out around $230 right as the set was ending its time being opened online. But because this set contained so many valuable staple in-demand cards, like the Zendikar fetchlands, Liliana of the Veil and Tarmogoyf, today the total value of the set has rebounded all the way to the $340 range. 

Flashback drafts in addition to being great fun are also an excellent time to pick up staples on the cheap. For example, in the recent Odyssey flashback draft you could draft a true in demand Pauper common, Moment's Peace and sell each copy for a ticket. Pretty good deal for a common. Except that this card has regularly surpassed the 3-4 ticket range just in the last twelve months. If I wanted a good moderate risk, high reward investment, I might have actively bough out copies of Moment's Peace during the flashback draft week while the market was flooded with them hoping that they would recover in value over the next 12 months and I might be able to turn a 100% profit on each copy!

 Brass Secretary

3. Create Your Own Trading Bot

This one is the hardest of the three I've listed, but ultimately the highest yield long term if you're willing to make the investment. The nature of the MTGO economy is that as much money as can be made in playing MTGO is ultimately dwarfed by the money you can make buying and selling cards through an automated bot. The human to human trade market is almost non-existent. And the good bot chains, like our gracious hosts here at MTGOTraders.com not only provide an invaluable service to us as players by stocking every single card one could desire on MTGO, but the can maintain a healthy buy-sell spread on cards than can be quite profitable.

The number one resource for would be do-it-yourself bot owners is mtgowikiprice.com. Not only is it a database resource for players looking to find competitive sale or buylist prices on singles, but its a great resource at setting up your own trading bot including the software required to run one.

The challenge with running a bot or bot chain is that you need to invest an enormous amount of resources to make it work. You need the software to run your bot and computer memory to operate one; you need the capital to keep it stocked with cards or to buy cards at market value, and you also need to invest an extraordinary amount of time to keep up with the bot especially when prices can change dramatically in real time. The best bots, like ours here at MTGOTraders.com are also backed with a human interface that a customer can converse with a human clerk (MTGO_Traders), place an order on the website and have it filled via the MTGOTradersDeliveryBot and convert currencies between MTGO cards, paper cards, Event Tickets and US Dollars. Of the three options I've listed, this is the one I've never undertaken personally. But the passive income that can be made via operating trading bots far surpasses either of the other two options I've listed above if you have the resources to make it happen.

 

Boros Guildmage

Now if you don't mind me, I'm going to go sell 20 packs of Ravnica: City of Guilds boosters. Funny how the price goes up when there's a flashback draft to be had...