I was chatting this morning with Worth Wollpert, Supreme Chancellor of Magic Online about how I feel the price of Force of Will is a serious limiting factor to the popularity of Legacy on Magic Online. Worth doesn’t necessarily agree with this (and he’s perfectly reasonable about it), so we had some back and forth about the topic. Obviously, it’s difficult to have a fully-realized conversation in 140 character snippets, so I figured it would be useful to collect these thoughts (and some numbers) into a larger format so that everyone can at least see my reasons for believing what I do.
First, some disclosure. I applauded Worth and Wizards of the Coast for running the Masters Edition events over Thanksgiving. I did this, despite the fact that it probably cost me $2000-3000 on my dual lands portfolio, and I did it for one reason: There need to be dramatically more Forces of Will on Magic Online. I mention this lest some idiots think that I am a) unwilling to take the pain a devaluation in the price of Force of Will would cause, or b) that I can’t afford to buy them myself at 100-120 tickets a piece. The current method of increasing copies of Force 0f Will is as painful as it gets for me. I still think they should do even more to get copies of this card into the system.
Anyway, here goes…
Hypothesis: The popularity of Legacy on Magic Online is constrained by the price of Force of Will.
Until this week, when the price has been in flux due to new supply, Force of Will cost around 120 tickets a piece on Magic Online. This price causes anyone considering playing Legacy on Magic Online to steer clear due to sticker shock, which in turn forces a massive discrepancy between the actual number of people interested in playing Legacy on Magic Online versus those that actually buy the cards and do play. A dramatically reduced price for Force of Will (say initially to 15-20 tickets each) would see a huge increase in the number of people willing to buy Force of Will, which would in turn result in an explosion in the number of customers playing Legacy on Magic Online.
Counter-Argument: Legacy is actually MUCH cheaper to play Online than in real life – the price of Force of Will can’t be that big of a deal if the price of nearly everything else is cheaper.
I mentioned that Worth’s case is reasonable above because there’s a lot of logic in his counter-argument. Legacy actually is cheaper to play Online than it is in real life because the cost of dual lands is far less than it is IRL, so regardless of what deck you want to build, you save a ton of money on your manabase alone. These are simple facts, and impossible to dispute.
That said, real life Legacy wasn’t nearly this expensive when the format started to gain traction as a cheaper alternative to Vintage. Back when I was doing coverage of Star City’s Dual for Duals in 2005-2006, I bought a set of pristine Force of Wills for 60$ total and a set of 40 dual lands was somewhere around 500-600$. Many current Legacy players have picked up subsets of these staple cards along the way at cheaper prices than they currently go for. People looking to play Legacy frequently already have a stock of cards they can build parts of decks from, and they borrow and trade heavily to build their decks in the real world.
Players looking to play Legacy online either have to buy basically all the cards from dealers to get started, or have to find players who a) have the cards the need and b) are not playing in the event they need them for and are willing to loan them out.
Magic Online Growth
All of the data we have indicates both Magic and Magic Online have grown at a tremendous pace in the last three years. The success of Innistrad and Return to Ravnica have been huge, as has the Duels of the Planeswalkers gateway drug, which helps both to introduce Magic to a new audience and to convert them into playing the game on computers. This has resulted in a ton of new players. Interestingly, one of the cheapest ways to add revenue to the bottom line is converting current customers to new products and extra revenue streams. Like Magic Online (oooo).
Magic has a massive offline casual and eternal market, and the introduction and support of Commander to the online realm as well as adding Cube Drafting has helped Magic Online touch previously difficult-to-target casual Magic players. More can (and likely will) be done in these areas to help further ease adoption,* but suffice to say, Magic – and especially Magic Online – has been growing in leaps and bounds for some time now.
If this is true (and because of how little information Wizards of the Coast distributes, all claims are somewhat guess work), you’d expect to see demand increases in a number of areas, including that of older staple cards. If supply is stable, prices should generally increase simply due to new players entering the system who want to play with these cards.
*Ideas for increasing casual adoption include a more user-friendly interface (in development), adding voice chat to Commander games, the eventual ability for people to build their own Cubes to play with friends (which would represent a massive utility increase for having large Magic Online collections and further increase revenue generation as long as they get the pricing models correct).
What Type of Players Want Force of Will?
So Magic is growing, and the player base online is not only growing, but changing as well (by adding more casual players to the mix). Obviously the first answer to this question heading this section is: Legacy players. Taking a brief look at the last five StarCityGames Opens (from Oct 21 through Nov 18) reveals that just over 75% of the Top 8 decks contained 4 Force of Will. That is a LOT of Forces that are needed for Legacy to be a healthy format, which is a major reason why Force of Will has gradually crept up to 70$ in real life, a massive increase from the 15$ I paid back in 2005.
However, Legacy players aren’t the only ones who want Forces! Force of Will is also a staple in the more degenerate Vintage format of Magic (which translates to Classic on Magic Online), where players basically always want 4-ofs of the card to prevent autolosses to combo decks.
The other large group of players who want Force of Will in their decks is Commander players. The entire format is singleton, but nearly every blue Commander deck (and there are lots of them) would gladly place one of these in the 100-card stack as a “break glass in case of emergency” type of card. These players also want cards like dual lands, Maze of Ith, Strip Mine, etc – staples in the big older formats, but far less broken when they can only be used as one-offs in Commander decks.
Alright, so we have all of these potential users of Force of Will. We also know that the population of Magic players and Magic Online users has grown dramatically. Therefore, if supply was constant (and as far as I know, it was for the periods listed below – no significant new Masters Edition events fired and no mass promos were released), we’d expect to see the price of these cards go up.
|Jul15, 2011||Oct17, 2012||% Increase|
|Maze of Ith||8.8||12.8||45.45%|
[Note: I used the period in question because they are just after MED4 left regular Magic Online circulation, and significantly before the Master’s Edition Thanksgiving bonanza took place on MTGO in 2012, so no one would have been doing a mass sell-off yet. Also… poor Plateau.]
Right, now how about the subject du jour?
|Force of Will||120||120||0.000%|
Zero change in 15 months. Nearly all the other cards showed significant price increases, but Force of Will didn’t budge. This is despite the fact that 75% of Legacy decks want four of them and Commander and Classic players want them too. What possible conclusions can we draw from this?
1) Despite the fact that Magic Online has been growing, no new Legacy/CMDR/Classic players have come aboard.
Clearly false. For this to be true, you would have seen little or no movement in those other old-school cards as well, which was obviously not the case.
2) People are playing these formats, but they are doing it without Force of Will.
This is true to some extent, especially with CMDR. It’s just one of 100 cards that has a number of functional substitutes, so instead of spending 100-120 tickets to procure a copy, the vast majority of players simply do without. Strip Mine isn’t even legal in Legacy and it somehow increased 70+% in the intervening 15 months – casual players can have a huge impact on prices of older cards. However, what about with a format where you need 4 Forces of Will to build almost any of the good decks like Legacy?
3) People are simply not playing Legacy at all because they get sticker shock at the price of THE STAPLE of the format. Force of Will is far and away the most played card in Legacy. Yes, more than Wasteland, or any dual land, or fetch land, or even Island and Forest.
Seriously, it is that important to the format, to the point that you basically cannot play without it. And judging by the number of Legacy events that fire, people don’t. Instead of paying for Force of Will (and despite the fact that most Legacy decks are far cheaper to build online than in real life), people just don’t play Legacy. If they did (and the number of players who potentially want Forces of Will is fairly large), we should have seen a price increase.
We’ve seen Force of Will increase in price in real life a great deal over the course of years. According to The Black Lotus Project, it’s up 10% for the same period compared above – I think SCG’s price has increased something like 40% over the same time, and Legacy Grand Prix are some of the most attended events in Magic. Yet somehow, despite the population boom, it has been basically stable on Magic Online for 15 months? Couple that with the fact that Legacy events online have terrible fire rates, and you start to see the problem.
This is a complicated problem with some squishy data and multiple possible causes and effects. However, my track record in analysing these types of problems is pretty good (See Also: Ban Skullclamp, Ban Affinity, Ban Jace + Stoneforge, Profits from MTG Spec, the whole sports betting thing that’s kind of my job), so here goes…
My feeling is that not ONLY is the price of Force of Will strangling Online Legacy, the fundamental problem here is a massive one. Based on Hasbro reports, Magic’s population has increased something like three-fold in the last few years. The rate of interested Legacy players should be approximately constant between the real world and online, and yet we’re not seeing any price movement despite constant supply. My view is that Legacy demand has been so depressed by this that even the 120 ticket market vastly underestimates where the price should be if it were satisfying actual format demand.
My estimate is that you could have twice as many Forces of Will as currently in print and the price would still be 120 tickets. It’s possible that you could have four or five times that amount and still end up with the same price point in a year or two. The demand for Legacy (and for more casual player Forces) is incredibly suppressed by this mammoth price online.
Yes, something has to be the most expensive card in any format, but not this card.
Assuming that Force of Will really is strangling Legacy format demand, how do you fix the problem?
Print more Forces. Lots more. Do it as a promo. Do another Master’s Edition and stick Force of Will in there as an uncommon (which is what it was originally printed as in Alliances). Give them out as online Christmas gifts to everyone with a MOPR score over X (X being a threshold required to get 4x or 5x as many Forces into circulation). The thing that kills me about this problem is that Wizards doesn’t have a reserved list online. They can fix the supply problems for any card at any time, if they want to. Usually they are understandably careful about doing this because they don’t want to crash collection values, but the Force of Will issue is causing tons of follow-on problems. The poor firing rate of Legacy and Classic events means that having old cards on your account has terrible utility. Bot owners are terrified of holding too many of these cards because they will get destroyed by reprints, high price volatility, and low liquidity. Lowering the price on Forces changes this dynamic because it should dramatically increase interest in these older cards, making it less painful and more profitable/useful to hold on to them as a dealer and as a player.
Meanwhile, in the real world, these old cards do nothing but appreciate.
Oh, and if you think this is a problem now, just wait until you make it possible for everyone to play with the Power 9, and people suddenly become really interested in playing Vintage online, but refuse due to the Force of Will sticker shock.
Please people in charge of Magic Online: Address the Force of Will problem one time, in a very big way. You will see a) the price drop initially, but quickly start to recover, b) Legacy and Classic will gave a chance to take off, c) Commander players will happily gobble them up for their decks as well.
Or don’t address it at all, and keep scratching your heads at why conversion of real life Eternal players (and to some extent casual) continues to lag the rest of Magic’s adoption of your online platform.
Post Script: Because of the absolutely abysmal way WotC dealt with delivering Masques block cards into the online environment (lumping something like 600 cards into mixed set packs for a rather poor Limited format), you will eventually see huge supply issues with those cards as well. That said, none of those cards have even a fraction of the impact on Eternal and casual formats as Force of Will.
P.P.S. If you want to get really clever, you could just ban Force of Will for online Legacy for while and see what happens. It solves the cap on demand cause by FOW prices, but the format will be kneecapped by being mono-combo instead of the cool diversity you see week after week in the SCG Open results.