Going Infinite – The MTGO Renaissance

Monday, January 3rd – The MTGO Revolution is afoot, according to financial MTG expert, Jon Medina. Which formats should you start investing in for 2011?

Author Note: This article is purely about Magic Online because I feel that it’s a crucial tool in the MTG Financier’s toolbox. Keep in mind that all the prices are based on tickets, and the investment strategies are intended for MTGO only.

I’m a flicker. I like flicking my cards. There’s something about the tactile feel of my double-sleeve foils snapping through my hands that makes me feel at home. The problem is so bad that the guys in my first playgroup threatened to start packing Stop That.

Recently, I was trying to explain the experience of going to Magic tournament to a Muggle (yeah, I totally jacked that from Harry Potter). The person just looked at me blankly when I talked about how I dig the MTG discussion that ensues during long car rides. It’s hard to put my finger on why a discussion about Magic can make a ten-hour card ride seem like a trip to the store. It’s these types of things that draw me to the game of Magic.

That’s why when I first heard of Magic Online (MTGO), I was not a fan. I felt like Magic Online was taking the heart out of the game that I loved — there’s no flicking of cards, there’s no conversations (even if you wanted to have one, the chat client sucks), and there’s no opportunity to read your opponent’s body language or facial expressions. Not to mention the prospect of re-buying my collection in digital form was vomit inducing. These things kept MTGO locked away in the mythical land of things I’d never be interested in; fast forward to now.

I currently own 4x of Standard and Extended (no, you can’t borrow cards), a couple of Commander decks, and a Legacy deck on MTGO. I also run a bot that sells cards while I sleep and do real-life things. The question is why? Why has the MTG Finance guy (who initially banished MTGO to the land of things he’d never be interested in) now invested in MTGO? It’s one thing to play the stock game on MTGO, buy soon-to-be-hot cards, and then ship them right before they peak, but why invest in a collection? That’s what I want to talk about today.

Before Star City Games started to do the Legacy Opens, Legacy staples were at a pricing sweet spot. They weren’t unbearably expensive, and they were easily available. When I started playing Legacy, Standard players often had (for whatever reason) Legacy cards that they didn’t care about. There used to be a strategy among traders to go into Standard tournaments with Standard staples and walk out with Legacy cards. We did this because Standard cards always fluctuate, but Legacy cards were stable. As a trader and a Legacy player, I kept my eye on the card pricing of Legacy staples.

Once Star City Games announced the Open Series, there was a red alert that sounded in my mind. I knew that it was time to go all-in on Legacy. I told my friends, I blogged about it, and those who listened leveled up. Now we’re living in a new era for Legacy. You’re not going to find Standard players unknowingly walking around with Legacy staples in their binders. You can see the demand for Legacy cards thrash like a beast when a new deck crushes a tournament. The price upswings for cards like Survival of the Fittest, Moat, and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale just show that people are putting their money on the table; they want in. The same red alert has been sounding recently in regards to Magic Online.

The MTGO Renaissance

This alert was triggered by the announcement of Commander being synchronized with EDH. You wouldn’t think that this event would really mean much for MTGO, but let’s look at the flow of information and the thinking behind this trigger. I personally didn’t start playing Commander on MTGO until the announcement was made. One of the main reasons was because I didn’t understand the subtle differences between Commander and EDH. Once they synced the two up, I knew that I could invest in a deck and enjoy the same EDH fun that I learned to love with EDH. I assume that many people had the same response because I noticed an increase in requests for Commander cards on MTGO.

I’ve also started to notice an increase in random requests for competitive cards and tickets. To give you an idea, I’ve converted at least five people from paper to MTGO (obviously card for card) in the last two weeks. That’s a lot of people when you consider that these people are trading all their paper cards for MTGO ones. Amid all these business transactions, I’ve started to get the same question in email, text messages, and Twitter posts: Is MTGO worth the investment? This shows me that people more people are thinking about making the jump. I won’t keep you in suspense. MTGO is worth the investment.

Magic Online has a lot going to for it. You can play at anytime, anywhere, against anyone (anyone who is agreeable). You can also play Commander with your friends. You can even PTQ and compete in the Magic Online Championships (MOCS). Besides all that, there’s another big thing that MTGO has going for it: the new client. It’s currently under development, and I’ve heard rumors that the new client will be browser-based. I’m not sure if that true, but I know that the next version will be a large improvement over the current version. This is going to bring even more people to the digital version of the game.

When that happens, the need for singles is going to spike, especially for sets that have been out of the MTGO draft cycle for a while. With the MTGO Renaissance on the way, the question that I ask myself is: how can I be ready? How can I roll like Gerry T and be “One Step Ahead?” The answer is in the analysis. I’m going to looks at each potential path of investment regarding singles (except, Classic, aka Powerless Vintage).

Cube Cards

Cubing doesn’t officially exist on MTGO; some people including Star City’s own Thea Steele have figured out a way to do it, but there’s no official support. I think that this is something that Wizards should support, and it’s something that could happen in the future. Although it’s not wise to invest in these cards now, you should keep your eye out for announcements that coincide with this.


Don’t invest, but keep an eye out for announcements related to MTGO Cube support.

Commander Cards

This is really picking up on MTGO. It’s a stable format that you only need singletons to play. This is very attractive for people who are interested in playing on MTGO. The Commander community is going to keep growing, but the trouble is that Commander cards fall into two categories: Commander-only cards and tournament singles. The Commander singles may not see enough play to see a price increase, since they’ll only be one-ofs, and the inventory online is more consolidated and accessible. The tournament singles are going to be driven by tournament play more than Commander play. This means that the Commander singles will not be as lucrative as they are in paper.

In paper you have the benefit of being the only guy in the vicinity with the card that the Commander player needs. On MTGO, there are a number of bots that give people the cards that they need at anytime. In paper, you also have the benefit of stocking foils, in hopes of trading them to people who are trying to “pimp” their Commander deck. In MTGO, foil Commander decks are not as prominent as they are in paper.


Do not invest in Commander-only cards, but it’s important to consider Commander playability when evaluating tournament singles. Keep in mind this could change as the popularity of MTGO grows, but for now, I think that there are better places to put your money.

Standard Cards

These cards require a different type of investing. For investing in Standard cards, you don’t want to pre-buy cards or build a collection per se because the Standard format changes so quickly that you may lose your investment. A good example is Frost Titan; he is currently at 6.5 tickets right now. He was about 3.5 to 4 tickets before Gerry T made him awesome. There was a time when Frost Titan was over 20 tickets. If you bought Frost Titan at anywhere above 6.5, then you lost money.

The proper way to invest in Standard is to read articles and watch the coverage of the latest tournaments. When a new deck breaks, buy up all of the key rares, especially if the deck is cheap to build. Take Vampires for example; once that deck hit the scene, Kalastria Highborn shot up from 2 to 9 tickets. This is because the deck was viable, and it didn’t require Jace or Primeval Titan. The important thing to remember with this type of investment is that you need to sell the card once it heats up. If you wait for the crest and try to sell it on the way down, people are going to avoid buying, and others are going to try to dump them at the same time. This will flood the market, and you could lose the chance to sell for profit.

I usually move these types of cards no later than the week after the card hits the scene. I did this with Frost Titan and Kalastria Highborn. I didn’t sell them at their peak, but I more than tripled my money on both. This goes back to the “bird in the hand is better than two in the
bush” discussion that we had
a few weeks ago.


When making deals involving Standard, think “Day Trading” not “Long-Term Investment.” Watch the coverage and read articles by the pros.


This format has seen a complete upheaval this year. The investment strategy here goes a little deeper than the Standard strategy. If you use the same method as you do with Standard, you’ll make a decent profit, but if you dig deeper, you can gain so much more value. The most recent spike in
Extended cards included Wargate and Prismatic Omen. Of course, you bought a ton of Prismatic Omens when I
called it an Extended sleeper here.

Wargate went from .30 to 3.85, and Prismatic Omen went from 3 tickets and change to 18.50. Catching these before they jump is a good example of how Extended investing is a little different from Standard.

With Extended, you need to do research like a detective. The reason is because Extended is not being played as much as Standard, and Extended is still a volatile format. This means that the tech geminates before exploding onto the scene. Less tournaments and a shifting format keep people from buying into a deck quickly, like Standard. If you look at the Prismatic Omen situation, there are some clues that you should’ve picked up on.

Clue number one: last Extended season there was a Prismatic Omen / Valakut deck.

Clue number two: I talked about it in my article before Worlds (see above).

Clue number three: the deck did well in the
Extended portion of Worlds.

This is where you should have pulled the trigger and started buying them on MTGO. They were about 4.75 tickets at this time.

Clue number four: Patrick Chapin mentioned it
in his article.

Clue number five: Gerry T (man, I’ve mentioned this guy a lot this article)
wrote an article about it called “Wargate!”

When a deck breaks out, a handful of people want to try it out. It’s what I call the curious crowd, but the deck won’t stick unless the competitive crowd embraces it. For a deck to stick and drive your investment up, it needs to be nurtured. When a pro like Gerry T writes an article about a deck, it does two things.


it validates that the deck is good. This puts people’s minds at ease about running it.


it gives people direction on how to play the deck and what tech to use. People like to enter tournaments confident that they’re prepared for the field. Articles do that, especially Gerry’s articles. His refinement of the deck has made it really good (this is what I hear; I haven’t tested it myself).

Why is this important? Because, when you see an article about a deck, it should trigger something in your head that says, “Hey! Maybe I should go buy these cards!” The key to Extended investing on MTGO is to make the buy call at the right time. After a couple of the clues, you should be ready to make a buy before the deck goes mainstream. It’s more proactive than Standard buying — like I said, detective work.

Hey, you’re not doing anything right now; let’s do some detective work. The first place to start is here,
the Magic Online tournament listings.

Let’s look at the
Extended results for 12/30.

There are three things that I noticed about these decks.


Fae is very prominent. This is encouraging the use of Great Sable Stag. We can’t invest in Fae cards because they’re already too high. The next step is to look at Stag. The Stag is selling on MTGO for a little over 1 ticket. If Fae stick around, I expect Stag to keep showing up in sideboards, and it won’t stay at a ticket for long.


I see al lot of Sun Titans floating around in the 3-1 bracket. He’s the cornerstone of a new U/W deck in Extended. Sun Titan can be bought for less than 4 tickets right now. That’s really low for a mythic rare. I don’t expect him to stay that low.


There was a Venser in a Reveillark list. It was only a singleton, but if the deck starts doing well, and it bumps the count up to two or three, then Venser could rise in price. The other two are buy recommendations, but this is only a clue. Just put it in your handy-dandy notebook for now.


If you keep the mode of operation that I described above, then you’ll succeed in your Extended investments.


This format is not fully represented on MTGO. There isn’t much missing from Legacy, but it could be enough to skew the meta to the point that it’s not worth testing on MTGO. When it does become worth testing Legacy on MTGO, then I expect Legacy staples to see a bump. I took a few hours to skim the Legacy decklists for all the SCG Opens last year, and I found that out of all the cards being used in decks, these were the only cards that don’t exist on MTGO:


Land Grant

Rishadan Port

At least I think those were the only ones missing. I had a nice list of every deck archetype and the missing cards from it, but my computer died before saving. So, if I’m missing one or two, try to cut me a little slack. What’s important is that even these three missing cards are enough to make some archetypes unplayable. Without Land Grant, you can’t build Charbelcher, and without Rishadan Port, you can’t build Lands, but
apparently you
can still build Goblins.

I won’t even pretend to know what difference it makes in the metagame that Lands and Charbelcher are absent. I can’t help but think that Zoo is greatly strengthened by the absence of Submerge.

But instead of trying to be a metagame genius, I’ll make a simple point. There are less people playing Legacy on MTGO right now then there will be in the future. Especially if that future sees the addition of those three cards to the card pool. Remember, more people means more demand and less supply, which means higher prices.

That means that hypothetically speaking, if you buy any Legacy staple now, it will be worth more in the future. In Legacy, archetypes tend to shift but never seem to completely die, which means that the stability of the format will protect your investment. I’ll give you a list of Legacy cards and show you how much they retail for (in tickets) based on


Force of Will 80

Wasteland 29

Tarmogoyf 16.5

Dark Confidant 3.25

Underground Sea 24

Tropical Island 13

Taiga 15

Moat 4.75

The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale 3.25

Imperial Recruiter 3

Did you notice anything here? If you consider that a ticket is worth roughly a dollar, then these numbers are alarming in two ways. The high numbers like Force of Will and Wasteland just show how much interest there is in MTGO Legacy. The low numbers like Moat and Tabernacle give us opportunities to invest. My current strategy is to build a collection of 4x Legacy on MTGO. I’ve made my decision based on the reasons given in this article, and since Legacy isn’t a mirror image of the paper format, there’s more potential for it to grow when that comes to fruition.

When investing in Legacy on MTGO, you have to avoid the same pitfalls when investing in Legacy. The first is to watch out for reprints. The dual lands are a good example. They were pretty high, but once it was announced that they’d be reprinted in Masters Edition 4 (ME4), the price started to drop. The same thing could happen to Force of Will, but you have to balance the risk. If it doesn’t get reprinted, it’s going to get crazy
high. Look at Jace; he already broke 100 tickets (I think that
I mentioned

that would happen somewhere…). Here are some other cards that you should watch out for while investing in Legacy.

Daze 10

Snuff Out 5

Daze is a common in Nemesis. If Nemesis is printed, then the price of Daze will plummet; the same is true of Snuff Out. Currently, the only copies of these that exist on MTGO are the ones from the Duel Decks; that’s why the price is so high. This point can also be taken in reverse. If one of the three “missing link” cards gets printed in a Duel Deck, then that deck is going to be worth money.


Start building a Legacy collection on MTGO; it will appreciate in value. Watch out for the pitfalls that I mentioned.

I hope this article has opened your eyes to the coming renaissance of MTGO. If it hasn’t, maybe this next statement will show you how serious I am about this. Today, I shipped my Black Lotus for MTGO tickets, and I’m starting to make buys. I’ll leave you with this last thought. As players in rural areas turn in their paper for pixels, as the grinders test their decks for the next big tournament, and the Commander buffs hook their laptops to their big-screen TVs, remember that these people need pixels!

That’s it for this week. I hope your 2010 was as rocking as mine was. I look forward to a legit 2011.

Much love,