(Image courtesy of the excellent Harry Ryttenberg. Get well soon.)
On Wednesday of last week, after publishing this article on StarCityGames.com, I logged on to my Magic Online account and did the usual price check around the neighbourhood. Clicking on Cardbot revealed prices that made it look like the network had raised their prices on all the cards I talked about in my article by 15-20% overnight. Since they had been doing such things based off my tweets, I assumed it was correct. It turns out that wasn’t true, but the reason why it wasn’t true will have to wait a minute.
Now Cardbot, Marlonbot, and MTGOTraders are all linked together into one giant bot network. Some of you may have seen my recent Twitter dust-ups with Heath Newton, who (I believe) runs MTGOTraders and help sets prices for the giant bot network. He also pilots a Fox News-style spin machine out of his Twitter account and on the MTGOnline forums where everything he does regarding speculation is good, while everything people like me do (read: investors/collectors/speculators) is bad for you, bad for the game, and probably bad for the world at large. He’s recently said things like the following:
You mean the same dual lands that Cardbot and Marlon have thousands of dollars of sitting on their bots right now? Those dual lands? Yeah, I’m sure they would be delighted to take massive losses just so you can feel like people who happily bought cards at those bots to invest in the future of dual lands got got.
This one is priceless. In it he is implying that it is morally wrong for you to invest in large numbers of specific Magic cards, because it has a negative impact on other players and the community as a whole. This is despite the fact that the math regarding dual lands doesn’t support his argument, the explanation in my article doesn’t support his argument, and basic philosophy also does not support his argument. When confronted with that position, he had this to say:
Right. We’ll just take your word for it. Because everything else you have been saying always makes so much sense. This seems like a good spot to spin some of Heath’s greatest hits.
So speculation is bad, but when MTGOTraders refuses to sell cards at the old price and then increases the price hoping to make more profit (read: he speculates), he does it for the powers of good! You can just imagine the rainbows flying out of his butt when he saved all those Aether Vials from the evil clutches of Speculatron (read: willing and eager customers).
Having fun yet?
Anyway, back to our story. After I made that original tweet about the dual land prices, I started talking to some friends of mine who were confused, because when they logged in they didn’t see the new prices, they saw the old ones, meaning the same ones listed on the website. Then the Magic Online downtime occurred, the prices looked like they had been reset on the website to the old ones, and I forgot about it.
Except on Thursday, the same thing happened. I saw the exact same prices inside the bot as I had seen before (Underground Sea was 38 tix, Tundra 28), while everyone else saw the prices that were on the website (Usea 32, Tundra 24). Something was obviously funky, so I decided to conduct an experiment.
1) I log in to cardbotX with mixedknuts, screenshot prices for a group of cards I see, and record the evidence.
2) Two other accounts log in to cardbot X, screenshot prices for the same group of cards, and record the evidence.
3) Compare results.
4) Check this on one of the Marlon bots and an MTGOTraders bot as well to verify it is widespread.
The results are as follows:
Note: Time discrepancies are the result of different time zones. As of this morning, Monday August 22nd, the prices had not changed.
Conclusion : Cardbot/Marlon/MTGOTraders hadn’t raised their prices… they had only raised the prices for me.
Now I can look beyond Heath’s continuous ridiculous pogrom against speculators and the rampant hypocrisy of the things he says online, but this type of behaviour is just shady. Obviously I have other accounts I can use to avoid the extra charges should I want to, but the question I’m asking myself is one that you should ask yourself as well:
Do you really want to give any sort of business to a company that operates like this?
What’s to stop them from double dealing you if you buy cards in a way they don’t like, or point out all the times Heath’s public opinions are clearly wrong? I know for a fact my account isn’t the only one this has happened to.
Perhaps of greater concern – if they can do this, it’s fairly simple to add a ‘where’ clause to the surcharge as well. Say you have shown you like to buy Legacy cards in the past – maybe they profiled you for this and only charge you more for sets that are important to Legacy, hoping you never notice?
God forbid, what if they have already profiled you as a sucker and are charging you more for cards you might overvalue already?
I look forward to hearing from Cardbot and Marlon management as to the rationale behind this practice, how widespread it is, and whether they will continue to use it in the future. I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
@NextLevelSpec for Magic finance and Magic Online
@mixedknuts for everything else.