Let’s face it, the new player experience for MTGO is awful. In fact, the enfranchised player experience for MTGO is…pretty awful, too, but, not necessarily in the game play. If you can get past the dated client and occasional tech snafu, the game is obviously great and this is why so many of us tolerate the insane and irrational cost to participate. While MTGO presents a very accessible competitive environment through which to test competitive Magic format decks, the element of collection (which is the draw for many players) is nearly eradicated from this environment because the cost of certain format staples seems to necessitate a subscription to a third-party service.
If you’re new to the client and you’re here trying to figure all of this out, let me explain a few fundamentals that are needlessly complicated…
- 1 ticket is roughly 1 US dollar (however this price fluctuates based on consumer confidence/player participation in MTGO). This is used to purchase entry into events and to purchase cards from bots (third party vendors).
- Play points are earned through paid-entry events and are used for subsequent event entries (cannot be used to purchase cards).
- There is a “Trade” tab on the the top of the client however there is really no such thing as trading in this game. The trade tab is almost exclusively used to buy and sell cards from bots.
- To build a deck, a website like CardHoarder.com will allow you to input the entire deck and buy all the pieces at once from a browser. It will be delivered in the MTGO client via a trade with a bot.
- A service like ManaTraders.com provides an alternative to purchasing cards on MTGO. These sites allow you to rent an entire deck so that you do not lose value or miss out when this very volatile market fluctuates as cards get banned/unbanned. (The promo code “ModernMetaCall” will get you 14% off your first 3 months at ManaTraders ;))
It’s fricken’ nuts. There’s no other game that I can think of that requires this much to-do just to play cards online with other human beings. And that doesn’t even get into the cost to play in a constructed queue…
Since the card pool is so prohibitively large, it becomes very difficult for WoTC to control all of these variables, so as a solution, they’ve created MTG Arena to basically restart with a more manageable system that doesn’t associate monetary values to cards but rather one-for-one exchange of wild cards with no intervention from a third party vendor. The problem with that is that Arena does not and will not (for the foreseeable future) support any format older than Pioneer. For many Magic players, this is the reason we play this game. Beyond that, MTGO does not follow the reserved list so accessibility for dual lands on MTGO should make this client an excellent place to play an older format that is very difficult to afford in paper. Right? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today…
99.9% of the thousands of cards available on Magic Online are worth a fraction of a cent. In fact, we’ve even done a series where we’ve build entire commander decks for one dollar before (One Ticket Commander). Constructed playables, however, can range from $.01 to $75 for a single card and oftentimes, while a majority of a Modern or Legacy deck is relatively affordable, there are just one or two essential pieces that carry a majority of their total cost.
Today, I’m going to go through five cards that appear frequently in Modern and Legacy that carry prohibitive price tags. This top five is not necessarily a list of the most expensive cards on MTGO overall but the most expensive cards that get played in a large variety of strategies for either format making it very difficult to buy in.
The listed prices are the lowest available at CardHoarder.com on June 9th, 2020
1. Force of Negation (73 tickets)
“Force” has become a staple for Modern blue decks and is nearly always included in sets of two or three. If you’re interested in playing Uroza, any control deck, Stoneblade, or Soulherder, you’ll likely be tasked with shelling out $150-$200 for Force of Negation alone. Unfortunately for your wallet, this is not a card that can just be replaced with something else. The significance of a ‘free’ counterspell in Modern is immense and there is NO replacement in these style decks. Cards like Pact of Negation provide alternatives for combo decks planning to win on the turn that the insurance is needed (like Amulet Titan or Ad Nauseum), but for a deck who’s plan is to answer an opponent’s threats and win via a Control strategy, taking a turn off to pay five mana after utilizing Pact is not something that can be done.
2. Force of Will (33 tickets)
Speaking of Force, if you’re playing a blue deck in Legacy, you’re playing four copies of Force of Will. In fact, some might say if you’re playing a DECK in Legacy, you’re playing four of these as Legacy is “the blue format”. Of the eight most played decks in Legacy, only 3 of them don’t include $130 worth of Force of Will.
3. Teferi, Time Raveler (43 tickets)
While Teferi has dropped significantly in price (from $70+), $43 is still an outrageous cost for an in-print rare digital object. Like Force of Negation, Teferi sees play in nearly any Modern deck that includes blue and white and plays any sort of interaction. Also like Force, it can’t be replaced. It’s incredibly powerful and incredibly unique and it’s impact on Control mirrors is unmatched.
4. Mishra’s Bauble (26 tickets)
During the reign of Lurrus, not having Mishra’s Bauble on MTGO felt very bad. Seemingly any deck that could run Lurrus as a companion was also in the market for four copies of Bauble as it provided an incredibly powerful card advantage engine for almost nothing. Lurrus strategies aside, Bauble has been a big part of Death’s Shadow strategies for some time and pairs nicely with Emry, Lurker of the Loch and Urza, Lord High Artificer in Uroza. There are other zero-mana artifacts to run in Urza decks but many of them are rather embarrassing to consider when this alternative can provide so much to the strategy. Death’s Shadow, on the other hand, could do without Baubles if you are playing a budget version of the Grixis variety (sans Lurrus) but a Jund version would miss them greatly as Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald both depend on them as an additional card type in the graveyard.
5. Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath (71 tickets)
Seemingly the poster child of value, Uro appears in both Legacy and Modern. If you’d like to play a midrange strategy in Legacy, you’re likely looking to one of the many Oko-based builds. Nearly all of these decks call for 2-4 copies of Uro, taxing your wallet $140-280. Ouch! In Modern, you’ll be needing Uro for a lesser variety of strategies but if you consider brewing anything value-oriented in blue/green you’d better have a good reason not to include Uro except for…oh…the cost of a 55″ tv that you’ll need to spend on the playset.
Honorable Mention: Wasteland (20 tickets)
While $20 doesn’t seem like much compared to the other prices on the list, if you consider the number of Legacy decks that require four copies of Wasteland, you’ll understand why this one might be a limiting factor for some player’s involvement in the format. Death and Taxes, which is an otherwise affordable deck, sees a majority of it’s cost represented by $80 worth of Wasteland and $50 worth of Aether Vial. After that, the remaining pieces combined are worth less than those eight cards.
Honorable Mention: Wrenn and Six (77 tickets)
I had to include this one just because I knew that if I didn’t, someone was sure to let me know it belonged on this list. It’s $77. That’s nuts. But compared to the other cards that I’ve included, Wrenn and Six appears in fewer decks and is a bit easier to avoid. If you’re planning to plan Jund, not so much, but this is a deck that is already known to be one of the most expensive archetypes in Modern to begin with.
What’s the Point of All This?
You haven’t offered any solutions. You’ve only pointed out the obvious problems with the prohibitively priced staples of Modern and Legacy on MTGO.
I know that this is an expensive game. I’ve played Magic for over twenty years and spent way more cash than I care to admit. I have a sizable paper collection and far too many Modern decks. I’m OK with these investments and I accept the loss when cards that I’ve spent money on get reprinted and lose value. When it comes to digital objects thought, there’s is absolutely no reason we should have gotten to this point. Digital objects are just ONES AND ZEROS. If the “supply” (which doesn’t actually exist in this case) is low enough on a card like Force of Negation to cause it to be sold by a secondary vendor for $73 dollars a piece, something needs to be done. My god…
If WoTC is going to protect 572 cards in the reserved list from players who just want to get their grubby little hands on them to play formats like Legacy and Vintage, then is paper Magic not already solidly reserved (no pun intended) for collectors and speculators? Can the players have the digital format? I would very much love to play Modern with my own cards again. I miss those days. Now I can’t justify the investment.
Something needs to be done to put out this dumpster fire. The cost of digital packs can be adjusted so that players can draft more of these pieces into circulation, appearance rates in treasure chest boosters can be more carefully attended, or…god forbid…promotional copies can be given away of the cards that need to be injected into this economy. It’s the most painful to stomach these prices when you remember that since none of these digital cards actually exist, and since you never actual ‘own’ anything in the client, you’re really only paying fees to be able play the game.
I don’t mean to be so negative but I fear that with an emphasis on digital events amid coronavirus risk mitigation and GP cancellations, this problem can only get worse. For those that are already heavily invested in paper Magic but want to continue to play the game competitively, you’re likely already struggling with the growing pains of understanding the client, figuring out how to hold priority, and losing many games because of inexperience with the time clock. Welcome to the wonderful world of MTGO. I am sorry that beyond the bottomless pit of entry fees, there is also a $300 mandatory investment for your first deck.
The Magic community is awfully vocal about things that they don’t like. I don’t quite understand why we aren’t speaking out about this. We’ve tolerated a lot with MTGO over the years and it may be that we’re just beaten down enough to not expect too much from it but if the next few months or…god forbid…years involves competitive events played over MTGO, we’d better make sure it’s at least minimally palatable and reasonably affordable.
I’ve received a lot of great feedback on this and wanted to speak to those points here in the article so that those that are reading this after the fact can consider these points as they read.
I am absolutely not taking an anti-MTGO stance with this article. I love MTGO, play tons of it, have invested heavily in it, and happen to have a subscription service account that allows me to play the decks that I want. I just want to speak out about the treatment that it’s economy is getting from WoTC as this is affecting the health of this game as a whole at this point in time where players don’t have the option to play formats like Modern, Legacy, and Pioneer in paper.
I’ve heard many times that these investments are rather fluid and that any card one purchases can be resold for 90-95% of it’s value (compared to paper where you pay seller fees and shipping and lose much more). That’s wonderful but still doesn’t negate the fact that the initial investment in a card like Force of Negation that is seemingly necessary to a blue strategy in Modern is still a whopping $75 a piece. Some players don’t have that money to spend…again. We all know that Magic is an expensive game and we understand that when we decide to start playing, but the point of the matter is that it absolutely doesn’t need to be online and absolutely causes an impure competitive environment affected by monetary restriction.
Moreover, these “investments” are incredibly volatile and a $280 playset of Force of Negation could be reprinted, banned, or fall out of favor (though highly unlikely) causing the value to dip substantially while one is at work (for example). Those liquid investments can remain “liquid” without requiring such a large upfront cost to use on MTGO. This liquidity doesn’t justify the insanity that is the cost of one month’s auto loan for four imaginary cards when something can be done to release this pressure.
Consider that we’ve had plenty of sets printed that are exclusive to paper Magic. We’ve even had Historic Anthologies printed that are exclusive to Arena. Why not print stimulus sets exclusive to MTGO to control pricing problems like this?