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Real Money, Fake Cards: Maximizing Online Value
By Eric Turgeon
In my first article, I wrote about the reasons to start playing Magic online. I appreciate all the feedback I got from both members of the CPA, as well as a couple players who messaged me online.

One of the major areas of concern seems to be the commitment of monetary resources to the online game, so I'd like to try to give some information about maximizing the money you put into the game. Realize first that I am horrendously bad at this, but I do have some experience. The goal here, I believe, is to take advantage of all the features available on MTGO without spending a fortune to enjoy them.

The first thing everyone should know about MTGO is that there is an initial commitment of $9.95 to start the account. For this fee, Wizards provides you with $9.95 worth of products. The choice of product is yours. Now, if you hate having money and want the get rid of that $9.95 as fast as possible, I recommend buying the Core Game Starter Set. It costs exactly $9.95, has a lot of cards that you and everyone else won't want, and won't be enough to make you a deck. That's what I did because I thought I had to. For anyone who doesn't want to throw their money away, I recommend ponying up an extra 5 cents and purchasing ten tickets from the online store. Like I said last time, one ticket can go a long way, so ten can get you comfortably started. If you're willing to build a deck of almost exclusively commons, you can easily find someone to sell 32, 64 or even 96 commons for one ticket. 32 for 1 will usually net you the best selection, but with a little patience, you can get some gems from the cheaper sellers.

It's important to have a clear idea of what you want before going into any trade or else you might find yourself with a whole bunch of decent cards across all five colors that aren't enough to make one good deck. A funny thing is that basic lands are actually more valuable than most commons, so a good place to start is to find the cheapest basic land seller so you won't be stuck without them. Another way to start online is with a preconstructed deck. They cost a little more and you'll want to buy some tickets to improve it, but you'll know exactly what you're getting and will have some lands to work with.

Just like in the stock market, the key to Magic moneymaking is buying low and selling high. If you find yourself with a single tournament staple that's not much good by itself, by all means unload the thing to get more cheap cards. When I first opened my account, I knew I wanted to build a deck with a bunch of indestructible cards and Obliterate. I looked around until I found someone willing to trade two Obliterates for 4 tickets. I jumped on the deal only to find out everyone hated me for playing land destruction (I thought of it more as everything destruction, but what can you do?) So I stopped playing for a while until that March of the Machines deck started gaining momentum in tournaments. While it was in the highest demand, I sold both Obliterates for 4 tickets a piece (other sellers were asking 5 6 tickets, but I wanted to sell fast) and used those profits to build an Astral Slide Deck and a cheap Affinity deck. Of course, people still hated me for playing Astral Slide and Affinity. The point is that by playing the market, I turned two cards into two decks.

One of the best ways to get cards and maximize value is to play as much as possible during release events. I'm a big fan of sealed deck leagues, mostly because I'm terrible at drafting and don't want to pay for tournament-level cards. However, in the online game the prizing structure for the sealed leagues is much lower than that of a draft. But during the release events, prizes are doubled. Finishing 132nd out of 256 will net you 2 booster packs instead of just one. And getting placed in the top half isn't hard considering a lot of players start in the league, look at their card pool and stop playing if they don't see enough power. Of the three release leagues I've entered, I've never finished out of the top half and netted 8 booster packs on one occasion, just shy of the 16 booster cutoff thanks to missing out on some tie-breaker points. To make a long story short, you spend two tickets to enter, have greater than a 50% chance of landing a prize of no less than 2 booster packs, which would cost $3.69 a piece and we're talking about a pretty good deal.

Another bonus of playing in release events is that cards sell for the most when they first come out. You know all those low to mid-level rares you have? You get them the first week online and they're going for up to 5 tickets apiece, usually making up for the price of the product.

Finally, there is the art form known as rare drafting. This is something I've been practicing for quite some time now after learning that even drafting a good deck does not ensure that you will win the draft. So when those money rares pop up, I grab 'em. The way I handle an online draft is to not simply take every crappy rare that comes around, but to look at and take the cards, both uncommon and common, that will be useful to me in the future (e.g. Dual lands in an 8th Edition draft or Isochron Scepter in Mirrodin). Remember to have a clear objective going into the draft. Are you trying to win it? Good for you; give me those useless rares. Are you trying to obtain cards and maximize the value of your packs? Now we're on the same page. Instead of looking at the short term (winning the draft), look at the long term (what good is a first-pick Teller of Tales when I already have ten in my collection?) You might feel kind of bad getting knocked out in the first round, but at least you'll have some good cards to remember the experience. If you are the competitive type, but still want to get those most from your packs, I suggest doing a 4-3-2-2 draft. In these drafts, if you get past the first match, you win a prize of two boosters. Plus, everyone else is rare drafting, so all the decks are a little more even.

In conclusion, I believe the key to the online game is the vast availability of cards. Like I said in my first article, I can buy a booster box of real cards for about $70 - $80. But in each pack of cards, I'll get maybe 3 to 4 cards that I'll put in a deck. And that number decreases with the more packs I open. With online sellers, you can spend $10 in tickets and get 100% worth of playable cards. Another key to getting your money's worth is to buy all-around useful cards. I love cards like Naturalize, Fabricate, Isochron Scepter, Terror and Shock because they can fit in so many different decks that meet the mana requirements. I try to limit my spending on one-dimensional rares and uncommons, even if I might have a neat idea of how to use them. With a little patience and a little savvy, any online user can turn that $9.95 activation fee into hours of enjoyable games.

Finally, I'd like to leave off with a little Building on a Budget of my own. For everyone familiar with magicthegathering.com, you'll know that Nate Heiss and Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar have been writing columns for budget Magic players (geared towards online play.) Well Nate's "budget" was always 30 tickets and Jay's starts with 2 preconstructed decks and assumes you have the tickets to round it out. I don't know about you guys, but there's no way I'm dropping 30 bucks on a single deck that doesn't even really exist. When I think budget deck, I'm thinking more in the five-ticket range. So here are a few decks that I've made online:

Note: I tried to err on the expensive side with the values of the decks. All commons are assumed to be 32 for 1 ticket. Uncommons range from 8 for 1 to 2 for 1. I didn't have any rares in these decks, but most bad rares go 2 for 1. Basic lands are estimated at 16 for 1, although I've never actually bought any online.

Budget Affinity:
4 Disciple of the Vault
4 Arcbound Worker
4 Frogmite
4 Myr Enforcer
4 Atog
4 Ornithopter
4 Cranial Plating
3 Pyrite Spellbomb
4 Shrapnel Blast
4 Thoughtcast
3 Welding Jar
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Great Furnace
2 Mountain
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Vault of Whispers
Total cost: < 6 tickets

Budget Zombie Slide
4 Ravenous Rats
4 Gempalm Polluter
4 Gravedigger
4 Maggot Carrier
3 Noxious Ghoul
4 Noble Templar
4 Twisted Abomination
4 Astral Slide
3 Renewed Faith
2 Swat
4 Barren Moor
6 Plains
4 Secluded Steppe
10 Swamp
Total cost: < 5 tickets

Budget Ninjas
4 Ornithopter
4 Mistblade Shinobi
4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
3 Okiba-Gang Shinobi
4 Sage Owl
2 Soratami Savant
3 Throat Slitter
1 Shuriken
2 Whispersilk Cloak
4 Condescend
4 Mana Leak
3 Serum Visions
13 Island
9 Swamp
Total cost: < 4.5 tickets

Read More Articles by Eric Turgeon!

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