Below are the 10 rules that I follow to be able to play infinitely on Magic Online. Many of these rules will probably garner their own articles to fully explain the reasoning behind them and how I enact them. But the first step is to give tips that will help you to stop making decisions that work against you. If you’ve already made bad choices before you have even entered a queue, you’re going to have a rough road ahead of you. Avoid the blunders and follow the rules below, even if you have extra cash to throw around.
Rule #1 – Pennies Matter, Don’t Give Them Up
I play Magic, I collect Magic, I trade and sell Magic, and I think about Magic as a hobby. I much prefer when my hobbies don’t cost me money or, better yet, make me money. However, I’m not in the business of Magic. I’m not trying to cover the cost of a vacation with my Magic cards (again). I enjoy getting good deals, spinning them around for tickets, and building my collection without throwing more money at it. I’m a school teacher with a house, a wife, and two kids. I just don’t have a lot of money to spend on my hobbies.
This is not how many people play Magic. Some people look at $15 and see that as a totally fair price to spend for a night of drafting. I’d actually agree that $15 is indeed a pretty good price for a night’s entertainment – if I find myself off my island for a Limited release event, I’d love to give it a try. However, I do live on an island and I don’t want to spend $15 every time I want to draft in order to keep up my game. I’d rather spend some time working good deals and try to make the 15 tix I need to play.
I get more thrills from making a good trade than I do from winning a casual game. So if the option is between trading and playing without a prize, I’d rather trade. If you’re one of those players for whom money isn’t really a factor with regards to playing Magic, then we approach the game very differently. While much of what I say is still relevant to managing your collection, it probably isn’t worth 30 minutes of trading for you to come out two or four tix ahead. But for me, that’s my definition of a good time.
Rule #2 – Never Buy Booster Packs from the Store
Booster packs from the store cost retail price – $3.99. Living in Washington, I pay tax on that, too. Almost every bot seller will sell boosters for less than retail price in tickets. If you’re going to pay cash, buy tickets and then buy packs from bots. Boosters can easily fall under three tix for many sets, especially core sets and third sets in a block. If you can save almost $1 per booster by buying from a bot in tickets, you should never buy from the store.
It is also important to realize that when playing Limited events, there are multiple options for entry fees. You can pay with tickets or product plus tickets. Never pay in just tickets unless it is an event with no other options (like a prerelease, Sealed release event, or some flashback queues). Entering a Draft queue costs either 14 tix or three boosters plus two tix. If you buy the boosters for three tix each, it will only cost you a total of 11 tix to enter the draft. In a case like this, you’ve saved yourself three tix before you even started playing. Even if the boosters are just down to 3.66, you’re still saving yourself a ticket by buying from bots instead of the store.
Rule #3 – Don’t Open Your Booster Packs
Just opening your packs instead of playing them in Limited is a terrible idea. Current sets will occasionally reach the point where you can expect 1.5 tix of value from opening a pack. Considering you bought that pack for around three tix (not $3.99 from the store), you’re probably going to lose at least 1.5 tix of value by opening the booster. Also, packs that sell for three tix are generally worth less than one ticket in average value once opened. In general, you can expect to lose about two tix in value whenever you open a pack. That is, unless you open it in a queue.
Playing Limited queues of any type provides much better returns than just opening a pack. Playing a Swiss Draft (the easiest to get prizes), costs two tix and three packs. You still get to open three packs. However, those two additional tickets give you a good chance of winning more packs, which can be turned into more tickets. In Swiss, you play three games no matter what (unless you drop). Winning one game gives you one pack, two games gives you two packs, and three games gives you three packs. Only one person who enters a Swiss Draft will lose all three games and get no packs. So unless you’re that person, you’ll come out ahead by playing in a Draft. You may even win three packs, essentially paying two tix for three packs in addition to whatever you opened in the packs you drafted. Playing in a Swiss Limited queue is a far better option than just opening your packs.
Rule #4 – This Isn’t Paper
The MTGO economy doesn’t function like the paper Magic economy. Price fluctuations happen more quickly, bulk rares are worth much less, and some things that are rare in paper aren’t necessarily as rare online. In contrast with Limited print runs in paper, there is often infinite product available on MTGO. While a paper product may sell out before it ever hits the shelves, it may be available for months online, allowing for many more copies to be in circulation. Older sets can show up as a flashback queues in MTGO, allowing for more packs to be introduced to the market years after the set has gone out of print.
Redemption also plays a big part of card value online. Full sets can be redeemed for paper cards up to two years after the initial period following a set’s release. When redemption goes live, a large flood of cards moves out of MTGO and into the paper market. This can cause cards to spike when redemption goes live (and people are trying to complete their sets) or after redemption (when so many cards were redeemed that there may now be a shortage online). After two years, cards approaching the redemption cutoff tend to rise in value only to drop shortly afterwards. However, post redemption, valuable cards are likely to rise if they have a home in Modern. Some sets are not redeemable but this doesn’t mean they have no value. Also, Wizards recently raised set redemption prices from $5 to $25. It’s not entirely clear what this will do to the market, but it doesn’t seem to have thrown anything too far out of whack.
Overall, the paper market tends to lag behind the MTGO market. It is important to realize the effect this has. Cards seeing play during pro tour weekends will jump within hours, not days or weeks. Also, the MTGO market has immediate transactions between all players. You buy the card, you get it right away. Not within a week, not within a few weeks. Sellers can’t cancel orders, and once you’ve sold a card, you immediately get the tickets.
Rule #5 – Rare Draft
I actually stopped playing Draft in favor of Sealed because of this particular topic, but if you’re going to play non-phantom Drafts, you need to come up with a price point for rare drafting. When you rare draft you pick a card that is worth tickets instead of a card that goes in your deck. For example, back in a Magic 2012 Draft, in the third pack I picked a Garruk, Primal Hunter without another green card in my deck. While I’d never try to move into green during the third pack for a 2GGG-cost card, the fact that it was worth 15 tix meant that it would pay for my entire Draft. I could have grabbed the Doom Blade instead, but it wasn’t going to make as much of a difference as grabbing the 15-ticket planeswalker. By taking Garruk, I made sure that even if I lost the entire Draft, I’d still come out a couple of tickets ahead.
Finding your own price is important and comparing the cards you’d draft instead of the rare card also matters. For me, I’ll always grab a card that’s worth three tix or more. After the first pick of a pack, I’ll pretty much always grab a one-ticket card rather than let it pass. Once things get down to 10+ picks, I’ll generally grab an uncommon over commons that I won’t play, simply because I can sell it to a bulk buyer for .01 or .02 tix. There’s more danger rare drafting in larger tournaments and even in 8-4 Drafts than in Swiss. But regardless of what queue you’re drafting in, you need to know your price points and card values for the set(s) you’re drafting.
That’s all for this time. Join me next week for part two, where I will detail steps six through ten.
Marc DeArmond is the Technology Coordinator at Lopez Island School. He teaches a number of technology based electives as well as overseeing the back end systems and networking for the District. He started playing Magic back in Unlimited in 1993. His interests are trading up in value and playing limited on MTGO. He is the author of Infinitely Casual which discusses how to continue to play Magic Online without spending money. He is a Level 1 judge and runs small drafts at the local island Library for people in the community.