The Magic Online Prerelease Price Gouge

As you may have read on Twitter (@mixedknuts or @NextLevelSpec) I’m again boycotting the Magic Online Prerelease. I’ve been doing this since I noticed the 20$ prerelease drafts. I think this is obvious price gouging and am making a statement, however small, not to play in these events because as I customer I disapprove of this practice. Aside from tilting at windmills via the internet (translation: writing blog posts like these and complaining to the people that run Magic Online directly) this is the only way I know of to have a direct impact on how Wizards of the Coast treats their customers. While you may think it won’t matter, we know from past experience that collective action on the part of MTG players can be very successful in changing policies that the customers don’t agree with.

Today @mtgonline made a brief statement on Twitter saying Wizards of the Coast still love all their customers – even those boycotting the PRs – and that they also have “a mountain of data” that says, “They [Prereleases] serve a huge (+growing) portion of our customers who clearly (again looking at behavioral data) enjoy the offering.”

Now aside from the tenuous causation argument (Magic is growing – 100% over the last three years! – therefore PR attendance on Magic Online is growing), what this basically translates to is, “You people keep paying an enormous premium to participate in our Prereleases – you have proven this time and again by flocking to them in droves – therefore we’re happy to keep charging you to do so.

Enormous premium? What do you mean?

Imagine a new movie is coming out this weekend and you are faced with the following choice: You can either a) be one of the first people to see the movie THIS weekend at a cost of $16. This cost will be fractionally offset by the fact that you get a shiny commemorative ticket stub, or b) wait until next week to see the movie and pay $10.

Now it will be exactly the same movie either way. You get an identical experience, the same theater setup, the same popcorn and drinks… the only difference is the cost (where you pay a premium for seeing it this week) and the shiny ticket stub.

Which do you choose?

On Magic Online, a normal draft costs you $2 fee to enter in addition to $12 of product  for a total of $14. To draft during Prerelease week, you have to pay an $8 fee + $12 product for a total of $20 per draft. This 8$ fee is 300% mark-up over the normal fee for the privilege of playing the set online as soon as possible. It might not seem like it, but that is a huuuuge price increase versus normal business, and one that you absolutely should not be happy to pay. The very fact that they try to charge that premium makes many of us angry.

While I’m here, it also deserves mentioning that the shiny ticket stubs they give you in return for your premium fee have also gone down in value. When they first started Online, PR Drafts gave you a mythic rare promo, as did Prerelease Sealed Deck flights. Now both of them give out rares, so you are getting even less value in exchange for increased fees.

The same thing is true of 4-3-2-2 (which I cover in more detail here). You are being charged an extra fee ($.50) per draft for choosing this queue for no particular reason other than that you keep choosing it – it is the most popular draft queue – so WotC can get away with subtly charging you for it. (Though I would guess that at least a few more people are playing Swiss since I wrote that article and made the choices you are faced with more explicit.)

Anyway, the point of all of this is that by playing in Prerelease Drafts, you are making an explicit statement of, “Yes, please charge me four times as much to play Magic as you would normally because the set is new and I can’t wait to draft.”

If this makes you happy, so be it. If not, boycott Magic Online during Prerelease week until Wizards of the Coast starts charging a fair premium (like saaaaay $2 – you can even keep the shitty promo rare) for the exciting experience of drafting the set a mere three weeks after it debuts in the real world.

Best of luck,
–Card Game

Post Script – Every time I write one of these consumer advocacy blog posts regarding Magic, the guys who are on the Magic team – friends of mine like Worth Wollpert and Aaron Forsythe – who are just doing their job of extracting as much money as possible from customers like you and me while keeping us happy end up hating me a little more. So there is a cost involved (much like in outing cheaters), but I keep doing it because I’m a customer and I care how we’re treated. You should too.