Hello everyone, Mike again with another look into the murky world of Magic Finance. With Magic Arena (Arena) looking like a net success as it moves into the Open Beta, some who have sizable Magic Online (MTGO) collections are starting to wonder, maybe even worry, about what that success will do to their collection’s value.
To preface this, I will say that I have never had confidence in MTGO’s long-term outlook. There is no denying it has had quite a run so far – the platform was actually established 16 years ago in 2002. Unfortunately, the client still reflects that release date. Known for its lack of visual appeal, complexity, and quirks, MTGO has never been a user-friendly platform and I figured those issues would eventually lead to its obsolescence.
Now obsolescence does not mean that it will be totally abandoned…immediately. Arena is receiving positive praise, but it just came out of Closed Beta and still has its share of issues to work out before we get to a release point. Instead, what we can observe happening is a “soft transition”. People who want to grind standard are finding that they can do so on Arena, content creators are live streaming it, and so on. This is not to say that Arena Standard is replacing MTGO Standard, but if people continue to use it and find that the User Interface experience is worth playing Standard and Limited Events on Arena instead, you will certainly see the market share spread out a bit.
On top of that, Arena is definitely marketed towards newer and casual players. Die-hard fans of a franchise usually make up the bulk of its online community, but what sustains continued development of a series is the injection of new players who either temporarily provide capital or become die-hard fans themselves.
So if MTGO kind-of sucks, what kept it sustained for so long? The lack of a suitable alternative. Sure, there’s plenty of things like it – xMage and Cockatrice to name a couple of them. However, these platforms require a number of manual actions to play properly which inevitably require even more work than playing paper Magic. Anything else we have had that was close has had its support yanked such as Duels of the Planeswalkers and Magic: Duels. However, with the amount of marketing that has been put out it is clear that Wizards of the Coast has put a large amount of its eggs in the Arena basket and is not planning on yanking it anytime soon.
But MTGO is very usable right? Sure it’s got its problems but most games can be played without a hitch, and the advanced player needs to be able to set their turn stops and auto-yields. It is for this reason that I don’t think MTGO’s support will be going away any time soon. What will probably be seen though, are continued devaluations in its economy.
The largest barrier to me in playing competitively on MTGO is the prices of the hot cards. Not because I cannot afford it but because I am simply not spending $500 of real currency on a digital deck that represents nothing. At least in the case where my paper cards all become worthless I can burn them for warmth. I have never had confidence in MTGO’s economy for holding prices and this is why I generally only hold Pauper constructed decks on my account.
Wizards knows this too. They realize that MTGO will not be able to survive through high card prices the way the paper game is able to (remember the “intrinsic” value of paper cards) which is clear by the massive “reprinting” of online versions of very highly valued Reserved List cards such as Black Lotus and the dual lands. The most recent copy of Bayou from Vintage Masters is barely valued over a dollar while it used to be valued in the $30-40 region; the demand certainly is not going down that much. Wizards knows that if they let MTGO run out of hand with its market prices that almost nobody will be willing to pay to play it. For this reason, they will likely continue to put out supplemental online sets to prevent the inflation. This is why I would never try “investing” into a MTGO collection.
In my completely speculative opinion, I expect to see Wizards provide less and less for MTGO as time goes on. They know that they cannot simply yank MTGO without severe backlash, so you may find it to be deprecated over time, until Arena or some other platform integrates Eternal Formats in a modern way. It will happen at some point, the only question is when. What are you planning on doing with your MTGO collection? Let us know in the comments. You can also reach out to me on my YouTube channel’s twitter account: @mtg_vc.