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Guide to Redemption: How to Get Cheap Standard Staples


What if I were to tell you there was a service that, for a $10 one time fee, allowed you to buy complete sets of Standard legal cards for near buylist prices? This sounds like a slam dunk, right? Who wouldn't want to get their playset of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, and Archangel Avacyn for below retail value? The fact is such a service exists. It's called Magic Online redemption, but for various reasons relatively few players take advantage of the service. Today I'm going to tell you everything you need to know to take advantage of one of Magic's best kept secrets and save you some money in building your Standard collection. 

What is Redemption?

Back when Magic Online first started nearly 15 years ago the idea of spending significant money on digital items was scary to many people. I mean, who would want to pay significant amounts of money for a bit of code that you can't hold (and technically don't even own)? Wizards smartly realized the problem, and to make people feel safe investing in Magic Online they came up with the idea of redemption. Basically, redemption allows players to trade a complete set of Standard legal (or recently rotated) digital Magic cards for a complete set of physical (paper) Magic cards by paying a service fee of $25 plus shipping and handling (which is negligible in the US, but sometimes expensive overseas). Once per week on Wednesday, Magic Online has downtime, and during this downtime redemptions are processed. During the downtime anyone who purchased a redemption during the previous week has the digital set removed from their Magic Online account and within a week they receive a brand new, factory sealed paper set in the mail. It's that simple. 

How to Redeem a Set: A Pictorial Guide

1. Download Magic Online 

 

The first step to redeeming a set is to download Magic Online. It's a fairly painless process that only takes a few minutes to complete. We also have a video showing the process, but only the first part is relevant to redemption, since the second half is about building decks, buying cards, and playing events.

2. Create a Magic Online Account

 

The second step in redeeming a set is to create a Magic Online account. Creating an account is where the one-time $10 fee comes into play, so have your credit card ready. The good news is you get 700 mostly bulk cards (which you may use as part of the set you redeem), five Event Tix (which are each worth $1 in the Magic Online economy), and some New Player Points (which can be used to enter specific events, but aren't particularly helpful in redemption). 

Now I should make it clear you do not have to play Magic Online to redeem sets. I think the negative perception some people have of Magic Online is a major stumbling block to redemption. While I enjoy Magic Online a ton, this article isn't to convince you to play Magic Online. It's perfectly acceptable to download the program, set up an account, and only use it for redemption without ever playing a single game of digital Magic. Remember, we are framing this discussion of Magic Online as a way to get cheap paper cards. The other good (and bad) aspects of Magic Online are irrelevant to redemption. 

3. Acquire a Complete Set of Standard Legal (or recently rotated cards)

 

Once you are set up on Magic Online, the next step to redeeming a set is to have a complete set in your account. There are several options, so we'll go over each. 

  • Play your way into a set: This one doesn't apply to everyone, but if you are a heavy drafter on Magic Online you'll end up gathering complete sets almost by accident. The pro of this method is it is by far the cheapest, especially if you are a skilled limited player. The con of this method is it takes a long time, and you have to play a lot of limited on Magic Online. 
  • Buy the set with event tix: As I mentioned earlier, Event Tix are the in-game currency of Magic Online, and each Tix has a value of about $1 USD. You can buy event tix in the "Store" tab on Magic Online, and don't forget to use the five you get for creating an account. The pro of this method is it's the least expensive way to buy a set. Since it's rare that one dealer (or "bot") has the cheapest price on every card in a set, you can save money by buying a few cards here and there. The cons of this method are numerous. First, you have an extra step, since you need to buy the event tix from the Magic Online store before you can buy the cards you need to complete the set. Second, it takes a lot of time to buy cards from multiple vendors. Third, Magic Online does not allow the trading of fractions of an event tix so if you buy a card that costs 0.01 tix (or one cent) the dealer (bot) will keep the other 0.99 tix as "store credit" that you can spend the next time you buy cards from that dealer. Because of this setup, it really isn't practical to buy cards from a whole bunch of different bots. Plus it's really easy to miss a card if you're not careful, and if you don't have every single card in your set, the redemption request will be rejected. 
  • Buy the complete set from a well-known dealer: Several of the major dealers on Magic Online have complete sets for purchase through their website, with two of the biggest ones being Cardhoarder and MTGOTraders. Others like Goatbots offer complete sets in-game only. The con of this method is that you'll typically pay a bit more than if you go through the work of collecting all the cards yourself or buying them from a bunch of different bots, but the pros of this method are plentiful. With Cardhoarder you don't need to purchase event tix, instead you can buy the complete set from their website with paypal or your credit card. Second, they offer automatic delivery, so after you make the purchase you will have the complete set delivered to your account in minutes. Third, you don't have to worry about missing cards, since they offer great customer service. If you are getting on Magic Online just to redeem sets, I would highly recommend using this method. It's just so much simpler and easier than the other methods. You don't have to mess around with learning the Magic Online interface or how to trade with multiple partners. Basically, if you know how to buy cards from the website of a paper vendor like StarCityGames or ChannelFireball, you'll have no problem buying a complete set from Cardhoarder. You can find Cardhoarder's selection of full sets here.

4. Purchase a Redemption from the Magic Online Store

 

This part is pretty easy. Once you have a complete set in your account, you simply go to the "Store tab" on Magic Online choose the set that you want to redeem. However, there is one word of warning. As you can see in the picture there are two redemptions listed for each set. One is foil and the other is non-foil, but you can't tell just by looking at them. If you choose "foil" but only have a non-foil set in your account, your redemption request will be rejected. 

Afterwards, you simply enter your credit card information, pay a $25 redemption tax and a couple dollars for shipping, and you're done. You've successfully redeemed a set and the rest of the process is automatic. One more warning. Shipping is inexpensive in the United States, but can be prohibitively expensive in some other countries. If you live outside the US, make sure to figure out how much you'll have to pay for shipping before you buy the set

One last note about paying for redemption. The $25 redemption tax is charged for each set. So if you redeem one set, you pay $25. If you redeem four sets you'll pay $100. If you redeem 40 sets it will set you back $1,000. On the other hand, shipping and handling is a flat fee no matter how many sets you redeem. This is especially important in non-US countries. While paying $30 shipping for one set might be a deal breaker, paying $30 shipping for 10 sets isn't that bad. 

5. Wait

 

After you download and sign up for Magic Online, acquire a complete set, and purchase a redemption from the Magic Online Store your work is done. You can just sit back, relax, and wait for your shiny new set to come in the mail. The first thing that happens is, on the Wednesday following your redemption purchase, Magic Online will remove the complete set from your account. Then, in a week or two, a box like the one pictured above will arrive at your home, containing your complete set! It's that easy!

Why Redeem? 

Now that you know how easy it is to redeem a set, let's talk a bit about the benefit of using redemption to acquire cards. Obviously, the big benefit is that redemption is the ability to get cards on the cheap, but just how cheap is it? Typically, a Magic Online redemption set, including all fees and shipping is about $100 cheaper than buying the paper set individually, and usually $10-$40 cheaper than buying a complete set paper set from eBay. While this number represents a meaningful savings, the real beauty of using redemption is knowing when to redeem a set. Simply buying a Magic Online set at the right time can save you a bunch more money and make redemption an even more attractive option. 

When to Redeem?

Now, to be fair, there isn't one all encompasing answer to this question, but there are a few factors to consider. Instead of trying to tell you an exact date, I'm going to give you a few time-related things to keep in mind when it comes to redeeming sets. Remember, you don't have to actually complete the redemption to take advantage of these facts. You can simply buy the set on Magic Online, let them sit in your account, and redeem whenever it's most convenient for you.

  1. At least month or two after the set releases: Just like in the paper world, digital Magic cards start off with their prices inflated thanks to hype and low supply. It usually takes a month, or sometimes two months for the prices to reach a sort of baseline, at which point price bounce up and down base on outside factors. As such, don't buy your set as soon as it releases. You'll have to wait about a month for redemption to start anyway. Give it a few weeks for prices to drop.
  2. When another set releases: In the paper world it's relatively time consuming to sell cards and turn those cards into other cards. You have to create a buylist, mail your cards, wait for the buyer to receive and price your card, and send payment. Then you have to do it all over again to get new cards, placing an order, and waiting for the seller to ship. On Magic Online this entire process happens in seconds. Better yet, the spread is much lower. While you might lose 30 or 40% selling a paper deck and buying a new paper deck, on Magic Online you might lose 10%. As a result, one thing that happens on Magic Online is when a new set releases people sell older cards to have money (tix) to buy the new cards, and enough people do this act that the prices of the cards from the older set often becomes depressed for a short period of time, which creates a window to buy sets at a $5-$10 discount. 
  3. When the set rotates: Of course, if you aren't concerned with playing with the cards while they are legal in Standard, you can wait for rotation, which drops the price of cards on Magic Online just like it does to paper cards. Remember, a set is guaranteed to be available for rotation while it is legal in Standard, and sometimes for up to a year after rotation. Once a set rotates, Wizards doesn't print any more sets and continues redemption until they are out of stock. That said, don't wait until the very end, because prices tend to tick up as the redemption window closes and people rush to redeem their sets before the clock runs out. 

Current Prices

So just how much you can save by redeeming sets? The following chart shows the current price of redemption eligible sets, along with how much it would cost you to buy the complete set on eBay. The redemption costs includes the $25 redemption, but does not include shipping. As I mentioned before, in the US shipping is negligible, but it can cost a lot to ship internationally, so make sure to check how much it costs to ship to your location. 

Redemption
Set Digital (Redemption) Price Paper Price (Ebay BIN) Dollar Savings Percent Savings
Shadows over Innistrad (redemption starts 5/18/16) $127.50 $170 $42.50 33.3%
Oath of the Gatewatch $135.50 $145 $9.50 7 %
Battle for Zendikar $88.50 $105 $16.50 18.6 %
Magic Origins $178 $207 $29 16.3 %
Dragons of Tarkir $156 $185 $29 18.6 %
Fate Reforged $46.50 $68 $21.50 46.2 %
Khans of Tarkir $91 $130 $39 42.9 %
Journey into Nyx $80 $99 $19 23.8 %
Born of the Gods $42 $56 $14 33.3 %
Theros redemption over redemption over redemption over redemption over

First off, for every single set available for redemption, you'll save a significant amount of money acquiring the cards by redemption rather than buying them in another manner. In fact, if you add up all the numbers, you'll save an average of 19% on sets that are currently legal in Standard and 37% on cards that have recently rotated out of Standard. To put this number in perspective, let's look at how much money you'd save if you wanted to buy a full playset of every card legal in Shadows over Innistrad Standard: 

So you've decided to take the plunge and go on the grind to qualify for the Pro Tour or SCG Championship. The problem is you don't have the cards you need. You figure that if you're really going to commit, you need to have a playset of each and every card legal in Standard, so you can play the best and most optimal deck each weekend to increase your chances of winning. Your first thought it to check eBay and you end up with a bit of sticker shock. It's going to set you back $3,248 to get an full play set of Shadows over Innistrad, Oath of the Gatewatch, Battle for Zendikar, Magic Origins and Dragons of Tarkir. You've heard about this Magic Online redemption thing. You see if getting the card this way will save you some money. You plug in the numbers and get a total price of $2,742 — a savings of over $500! That's enough to pay for gas to a few Grand Prix or Opens! Better yet, you're not dealing with 5 or 10 different eBay sellers, hoping they'll ships the sets in a timely manner. Instead the cards are all coming directly from Wizards and are guaranteed to be in mint condition. 

The "You Should Just Buy Singles" Myth

I wanted to address one last thing while we are on the topic of redemption, the myth that "you should just buy singles." This myth is one of the big arguments people bring up against using redemption to acquire cards. Now to be fair this is a complicated topic because what avenue is right for you depends almost entirely on what your goals are. What if you only want the cards that matter? 

One of the criticisms of buying complete sets is that you end up with a ton of cards that are unplayable. I mean, when you buy a complete set, you are getting every horrible Common with all the cards you really want, Mythics and some of the Rares. If you only want a single card, or a couple cards from a set, you're likely going to be better off buying singles. There's not much sense in spending  $127.50 to redeem a set of Shadows over Innistrad if all you want is a copy of Arlinn Kord for your Werewolf Commander deck. On the other hand, if you are looking to own all the playable cards in a set, you're still generally better off redeeming. 

Example 1: Khans of Tarkir Fetchlands

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

So let's say you want the Kahns of Tarkir fetchlands, and these are the only cards you care about from the set. It will set you back $91 to redeem a set of Khans of Tarkir. Is redemption the best option, or should you buy the fetchlands as singles? Right now the retail price of the five fetchlands is $89.57, which means you'd save a little bit of money by buying them as singles, especially if you shop around for a deal, but that is a short sited view of the equation. The more long-term view is that, by using redemption, you can pay an extra $1.50 and get an extra 242 cards for free, including 15 mythics and a ton of rares. Even if you don't especially want these cards, they are free value, but let's stick with the idea that you really, really don't want these cards. The good new is that you could immediately, with five minutes of work, buylist the rest of the playable cards for $30, which would bring the costs of your set of fetchlands down to $61 — below buylist prices. Even if all you want is the fetchlands, you're still much better off redeeming a set of Khans of Tarkir than buying singles. 

Example 2: Fate Reforged

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Fate Reforged is amazingly cheap to redeem: $46.50 including the redemption tax. On the other hand, one of the reasons the set is so cheap is because it doesn't contain very many desirable cards, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Monastery Mentor are about it. So let's imagine that these are the only two cards you want from Fate Reforged. Option A is to buy the cards as singles, which will set you back $46 at retail prices. Option B is to pay an extra $0.50 and get an entire set of Fate Reforged. If you choose Option B, you can immediately buylist all the cards you don't want for $21, which brings your total cost of getting an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Monastery Mentor down to $25, significantly below their combined buylist price of $32!  

Example 3: The Break Even Point for Standard Sets

There's one other way of looking at redemption. Start at the top of the set, with the most expensive cards, and simply work your way down the list to see how far you have to go until you get to the point where redeeming a set is cheaper than buying singles. I already use the example of Arlinn Kord, and how if you only want one card from a set you're better off buying singles, but how many cards from a set must you "want" before redemption becomes the best option?

Break Even Analysis
Set Redemption Cost Most Valuable Cards Break Even Point "Free" Cards
Shadows over Innistrad (redemption starts 5/18/16) $127.50 Archangel Avacyn through Westvale Abbey 7 Thing in the Ice, Relentless Dead, Olivia, Mobilized for War, Seasons Past, The Gitrog Monster, Tireless Tracker, etc. 
Oath of the Gatewatch $135.50 Chandra, Flamecaller through Goblin Dark-Dwellers 15 Oath of Nissa, Matter Reshaper, Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, Needle Spires, Eldrazi Mimic, Sphinx's of the Final Word, etc.
Battle for Zendikar $88.50 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar though Prairie Stream 8 Sunken Hollow, Canopy Vista, Oblivion Sower, Kiora, Master of the Depths, Dragonmaster Outcast, Part the Waterveil, Void Winnower, etc.
Magic Origins $178 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy - Kythoen, Hero of Akros 6 Languish, Hangarback Walker, Dark Petition, Knight of the White Orchid, Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh, Abbot of Keral Keep, Pia and Karin Nalaar, all the painlands, etc.
Dragons of Tarkir 156 Collected Company - Dromoka's Command 15 Dragonlord Kolaghan, Thunderbreak Regent, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Silkwrap, Roast, Ojutai's Command, etc

As you can see, the break even point varies quite a bit from set to set, depending on how the value of the set breaks down. If you want more than 10 cards from a set (on average), you're better off redeeming a set than you are buying singles. While 10 cards each set might seem like a lot, if you look at the "free" cards from each set, you'll see there are a ton of playable cards on the list. Magic Origins is particularly insane value, since Standard staples like Languish, Hangarback Walker, and Dark Petition (all in the $8 range) fall after the break even point, and this isn't even counting a bunch of $5 cards like Knight of White Orchid and Abbot of Keral Keep.This list doesn't even take into consideration the possibility of buylisting cards you don't want.

Buylist to Redemption Comparison

Buylist vs Redemption
Set Complete Set Redemption Price Complete Set Best Buylist Price Difference
Shadows over Innistrad (redemption starts 5/18/16) $127.50 $190 +$62.50
Oath of the Gatewatch $135.50 $117.50 -$27
Battle for Zendikar $88.50 $100 +$11.50
Magic Origins $178 $199 +$21
Dragons of Tarkir $156 $141 -$15
Fate Reforged $46.50 $51 +$6.50
Khans of Tarkir $91 $92 +$1
Journey into Nyx $80 $69 -$11
Born of the Gods $42 $37 -$5

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. If you are looking to build a collection of Standard legal or recently rotated cards, I strongly encourage you to check out Magic Online redemption. In many situations it's the cheapest way to build a collection and get the cards you want. And remember, you don't need to actually play Magic Online to take advantage of redemption. You can pay your $10 (which is actually $5, since you get 5 event tix you can put towards your set purchase) to create an account and take advantage of the redemption system without actually playing a game of digital Magic

If you have any questions about redemption, make sure to leave them in the comments, along with your thoughts, ideas, opinions and suggests. You can reach me on Twitter at SaffronOlive, or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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