In this article, Meyou breaks down using the Magic Online Redemption Program for fun and profit.
We all want the biggest bang for our buck. With the evolution of online Magic websites such as www.tcgplayer.com, prices for cards have somewhat equalized across the board. Many retailers now use these websites as the basis for their own prices. This has also led to players being equally aware of the value of their collections, or at least having access to card prices at the push of a button. However, I believe there is an undiscovered gem out there.
The overlooked value is the Magic Online Redemption Program. When I first stumbled across the idea of obtaining my cards through the program, I kept rechecking my math. I had difficulty believing the numbers. I even explained it to friends to see if there was a flaw in my logic. In the end, the numbers were not lying. The Magic Online Redemption Program may be the cheapest way to acquire a complete collection. If prices skew enough, a profit could also be made. To give this context, let’s examine the typical avenues of acquiring cards for a collection.
Drafting is the bread and butter of Magic. This format is the gateway for many new players to start playing the game, as they don’t need to drop hundreds of dollars to get started. It doesn’t hurt that drafting levels the playing field for everyone. Everybody gets three packs. For those strapped for cash, drafting is the best entertainment value for their dollar. It is also by far the most expensive in the long term. A typical draft costs around $15 USD. Some of that money goes to support the local store to facilitate events, and the rest for prize support. Magic Online also requires a small fee in the form of tickets in order to join a draft. Thus, it is the most expensive avenue to acquire cards from a strictly financial perspective. It essentially equates to about $5 a pack.
Cracking Booster Packs
Since Magic 2015 is on everyone’s mind, we'll address the acquisition of those cards. The set includes 15 mythic rares and 53 rares. For the moment, let’s forget about the statistics of opening mythics versus rares. At the very minimum, I would have to purchase 68 boosters to get one of every rare and mythic rare. For simplicity, it equates to about two booster boxes for a final estimate of $200 disregarding the local sales tax or shipping costs. A full playset would therefore cost about $800 at the minimum. The actual margin is much higher if we get more precise with mythic rare dispersion. Realistically it would be closer to the $1200 range for a complete playset of four. For the purposes of this article, I only need absolute minimums to emphasis my point later.
On the positive side, cracking packs provides all the commons and uncommons a player will ever need. Those cards do also have some small value. Purchasing cards from behind the counter never allows for the opportunity to crack precious foils. Cracking a foil Mutavault can put some extra cash in one’s pocket. Besides, there is nothing like that fresh card smell and the thrill of the unknown! Will we pull that card we so desperately want? Let’s not forget the token cards. Many players collect token cards and the prices of some rival those of actual Magic cards. Last but not least, there are the extra lands to help build decks.
Complete Set Pre-orders
There are a number of websites that offer a limited number of pre-orders for complete sets. A complete set would run roughly $350 on average, or $1250 for a playset of each card. These numbers are usually close to the amount of money needed to obtain a complete playset through cracking packs. This option definitely has pros and cons. A person with that kind of cash could just buy that many boosters. While this is an option, there is always the risk of spending that money and still not opening those chase rares and mythic rares. For example, during Morningtide, I cracked a full playset of Bitterblossoms and never saw a single Mutavault. Purchasing a complete set is a guarantee. The complete set option is best suited for those players with more money than time. It takes time to collect, trade, and crack boosters. Buying a complete set is easy and simple for those on the go. Again, the biggest drawback of this approach is not having those extra commons and uncommons that have some small value.
Magic Online Redemption
The cheapest and dare I say “best” option is the Magic Online Redemption Program. Right now, you could go to mtgotraders.com to purchase a complete set of Magic 2015. Alternatively, you could buy it retail for about $105. The prices for complete sets can be obtained from mtgotraders.com or from Pete Jahn’s excellent Friday article State of the Program on the puremtgo.com homepage. I catch it every week to keep up with the digital happenings of Magic Online. Every week Pete includes a snapshot of the prices of complete sets, as can be seen below.
As you can see at the time of the writing this article, a complete set of Magic 2015 would cost a player about $105 US. Add a redemption ticket for $25 plus $3 in shipping, plus taxes if applicable in your territory, and it comes to a grand total of $133, taxes excluded. Are you following me? Let’s compare the math. Drafting for a complete set would cost a player at minimum $340 for a complete set and $1360 for a complete playset. For those lucky enough, it would cost $200 minimum for a complete set from cracking boosters and $800 dollars for a complete playset. Realistically, those numbers should be around $300 and $1200. Set pre-orders would cost around $350 and $1250. The Redemption Program would run you $133 for a complete set and $529 for a complete playset. At the very minimum, one would save $70 per complete set they purchase through the Redemption Program. This is a huge difference. If we calculate the average costs of the rares and mythic rares, it equates to roughly $2 per rare or mythic rare.
Point blank, acquiring cards through the Redemption Program is by far the cheapest alternative. However, I must admit there are cons to this approach. First and foremost, Magic Online release dates lag behind the paper world. If a player chooses to save some cash using the Redemption Program, they must wait about a month. Add another one to three weeks for the product to actually reach its shipping destination. This can be a long time for those heavily invested in the tournament scene. On top of this dilemma, Magic Online prices tend to spike during the initial release and may take another month or so before the market becomes more stable and reasonable.
This brings us to a problem we have yet to see, but could see if this avenue of acquiring cards becomes popular. The problem is speculation. I have yet to see an article on the merits of liquidating online card stock into paper through the Redemption Program. It actually amazes me to a certain point. There are many passionate and dedicated speculators, articles, and websites for Magic. Yet nobody is covering the liquidation of online cards to paper. It is a vastly unfulfilled niche because the benefit of liquidating online cards is often higher than the cost. The $25 Redemption Ticket hinders profits to some degree, but at some point that fee becomes negligible if online prices are depressed enough. For example, purchasing the ten most expensive singles from Theros alone would cost me $100.
The liquidation of online cards will come down to two things: timing and prices. We have talked about prices, but timing is equally as important on two levels. The first level is tied to prices. Some time ago, liquidating Dragon’s Maze would have been worth the cost. Right now, purchasing the cards in paper is so cheap that the margins on redemption are very small. The other level is the fact the Redemption Program is only offered for a limited time. The cutoff date for Innstrad is 11/03/14 with a guarantee date of 10/31/2014. After that date, you are out of luck. Sorry, your product will forever be digital!
Exchanging Card Stock
Even though liquidating an online account may be the cheapest way to acquire cards, I understand there are players who can’t afford the $529 for a complete playset. The cost can be offset by selling those unwanted cards. Don’t want those copies of Elspeth? Sell them to reduce the final cost by $80. Another option is to split the cost of the sets between friends, dividing the various cards between each other. The point being is there are many ways to reduce the costs of these large expenditures. For those less strapped for cash, having a full trade binder can be a big advantage for acquiring older cards through trading. After purchasing complete sets through the Redemption Program, any future drafted cards can be sold. These profits can then be put aside for purchasing future sets.
The Magic Online Gold Rush
The value the Redemption Program has to offer is amazing. It is by far the cheapest way to acquire complete sets for savvy Magic players. For many, profit could be made due to the deflated value of digital product. One should note that a surge of players redeeming sets could flood the paper market if the Redemption Program becomes more popular. This would rocket online prices upward and in turn drop prices in the real world. However, we are not at that juncture at this moment. For now, prices online are cheap, cheap, cheap!
The best "deals" seem to be with smaller set as you can get some of them for $75-$90 with redemptions but for some reason seem to go for similar prices as their larger counter parts.
One thing that is intersting is how much cheaper post redemption sets are, if the online prices of sets fall rapidly just before redemption that might actully be away to make money.
Another thing would be the redemption price of foil sets, which the few times I've seen them tended to go much lower than their physical counter parts.
Otherwise, you can just hunt around and purchase them through vendors. Filter the set you want and start purchasing. There is also trading. However, if you want easy and fast, something like mtgotraders is the way to go.
Some of the reasons this isn't done more, as you mentioned, is the time cost involved--by not having the cards until much later, you miss out on having the cards to use/trade/sell when demand/release prices are highest. Journey had its first listing of prices by Rancored Elf in the Market Street pricing thread on May 8th, with one of each card listed totaling at 136; on June 5th, 114; on July 8th, 96 (no Aug listing yet); --and that's from a set with "more price stability than I'm used to seeing". Current listing for Journey set + $25 redemption ticket + $3 Shipping = $97.55. Granted, the price listings don't include the rares, uncommons, and commons below $3 in value; however, finding someone who'll want those cards at value can be a long wait.
I'd say the time frame on gaining value by redeeming online sets is actually very small, about a month or less; after that point, paper prices have been depressed by the supply of additional product w/ no additional demand. We see this every set, as online redemptions depress prices. Additionally, speculators need a way to unload the cards to actually gain that value--margins are much, much smaller if your $80 Elspeth sale is actually ($80-Ebay/Paypal fees of 14-18%), for example.
For example I use MCM values:
Journey into Nyx sealed set 99,99 €
Born of the Gods sealed set 94.95 €
Theros sealed set 115 €
Return to Ravnica 119 €
Avacyn Restored Sealed 139 €
Dark Ascension sealed 69.99 €
Innistrad sealed 150 €
New Phyrexia sealed 199 €
Mirrodin Besieged sealed 150 €
Scars of Mirrodin 150+ € (No sealed sets availlable)
Rise of the Eldrazi sealed 316,5 €
Worldwake sealed 199 €
Zendikar 375+ € (no sealed sets availlable)
Shards of Alara-block 99-139 € for sealed sets. Foil sets are also very cheap due to the all-foil boosters. Without a lot of the big cards having seen reprints in MMa, these sets would be somewhat higher.
Eventide, Shadowmoor, Morningtide nor Lorwyn doesn't have any sealed sets on sale currently,
Future Sight sealed 240 €
Planar Chaos doesn't have any sealed sets availlable, but should be around 130 €.
So after Zendikar the availlability becomes an issue, but even the sets that were lowest of the low to redeem (and didn't need the extra 25 $ ticket) sells for over 100$ mark now. Well poor old Dark Ascension, where foil sets sell nicely, but the value of regular sets is really low.
But if WotC will not reprint double sided-cards in MMa2 or 3 and some of the cards keep seeing play, I really doubt that the value will stay that low for long.
So in short, altough online redemptions are not the optimal way to get cards for playing standard, it is a good way to get your modern cards and a great way for dealers to get stock after the initial set of singles they open from (mountains of) packs starts drying out. Also getting few extra sets redeemed can lead to nice gains in value, if you just sit on popular sets for some time. Also big sets are better than small sets, unless the power levels say otherwise.
Sealed foil sets are another interesting avenua for nice gains. I certainly regret I didn't pick foil sets of new Phyrexia up at 240 €, when they were at thei lowest. (And yes I chose the biggest winner set out of the bunch, or maybe Roe ties the title. Full foil set of RoE was 230 € at MCM when the set was 'old news'.)
There was some good info on this going around when SCG bought a pretty unique collection of redeemed foil sets few years back. It had all the redeemable foils sets of the early MTGO, starting from 7th edition into IPA and onward. As those were enough to get SCG buyers really stoked up, one should be able to guess how rare those old sealed foil sets can be.
I think the value of the MTGO Redemption program will be very player dependent. For the hardcore spike, it may not be reasonable. However, if spike is willing to wait to adapt the new cards from the most recent big set, he/she could redeem those big sets later. The most value at the moment is Theros. Even this late in the game, I can still play with those cards for another year (unless Wizards messes with the rotation as I proposed a couple of articles ago). As sets in the block get released, it might not be worth it. Example: Journey into Nyx.
The players most likely to benefit are the casual and Commander players. They can sit on their wallet until the prices bottom out. The same is true for those strictly collecting sets.
We could go on and on with many scenarios. It just depends.