Monday, September 5, 2016

DSG Autumn 2016 Pricing and Organized Play Changes

The market always evolves, and stores must adjust in order to serve their customer base and ensure it will continue to grow.  Desert Sky Games and Comics is no exception.

Here are the changes we are making for the remainder of 2016, with pricing effective immediately, and tournaments changing effective Tuesday, September 6th.  Following the changes will be a brief explanation of why we made them.

Scheduling and Hours:

  • Summer hours are over; we'll close at 10pm from Mondays through Saturdays.
  • Pokemon weekly open play moved to Sundays from 3pm to 5:30pm.
  • MTG Standard on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays is discontinued.
  • MTG Commander added to Tuesdays with rolling pods beginning at 5pm.
  • MTG Wednesday Booster Draft moved from 5:30pm to 7pm.
  • MTG Saturday Booster Draft added at 5pm.

MTG Pricing:

  • In-print MTG boosters are reduced in price to 3 for $10, tax included.
  • In-print MTG booster boxes are reduced in price from $114.99 to $109.99.
  • MTG Singles sell prices are reduced to 95%/90%/85% of TCG Market (by value range).
  • The store credit trade bonus multiplier is increased from 140% to 150% on all items.
  • MTG Singles buy prices are increased to 50%(75%)/33%(50%)/Bulk (by value range).

Tournament Formats:

  • MTG Constructed tournaments move to "Everybody Wins" format: $5 admission, tax included, 3 fixed rounds, increase in overall prizing to 1 pack-per-win plus 1 participation booster to all players.
  • Tournament prizes no longer exchangeable for store credit.
  • MTG Booster Draft entry fees reduced to $12.50, tax included, with pack-per-win prizing.

I'm going to hit these in a slightly different order than the quicklist above, and you'll see why.

1. Everybody Wins at DSG
2. Cards Cost Less at DSG
3. Playing Your Way at DSG

Desert Sky Games and Comics has become a MTG home for casual players.  By "casual players," I mean like I described in my article last winter.  A casual player is not necessarily a newbie or bad player; it can be a limited format specialist, an older player who doesn't like to play against kids, a younger player who finds adult players intimidating, a former grinder or occasional grinder who doesn't have time to run the PPTQ circuit due to busy work and life schedules, and so on.

Unfortunately, our focus on casual players in the DSG community didn't fully sync with what we were doing in tournaments.  We observed that most of our casual audience didn't want to join in organized play because they found it less fun lately; it was too hardcore.  Moreover, even among our competitive audience we found issues: that fourth round was a bit much on the weeknights, and that when there was another high-value event in town, we were struggling to fill events that day.

I reached out to owners of hugely successful stores around the country, where they have Magic events that do better than anything in metro Phoenix.  With gratitude to Super Games in Atlanta, Madness Games in Dallas, Epic Loot with three Ohio stores, and Millennium Games in Rochester, as well as others, I'm adapting their wisdom to build their superior player experiences here at DSG.

These changes are meant to reduce the barriers that keep casual players from enjoying MTG.  If competitive players want to take advantage of the best singles prices in town, both buying and selling, I have no problem with that.  Please come right on in.  But the prize structure will now be much more inviting for casual players to join in with us more often.

Everybody Wins at DSG

Store credit is still allowed for entry into events and for buying anything in the store.  Same as cash, as always.  Just making that clear from the outset.

Pack-per-win is extremely overdue, and we're ripping the band-aid now.  The participation pack is the added ingredient that makes it work for 3-round constructed events.  Madness Games has the largest FNM attendance in the world doing pack-per-win.  Consistently, stores reported that the players' first reaction was negative, but after a short while they were happier.  Casual or competitive, any player can appreciate being able to unwind after work for a few hours and be assured they will go home with something to show for it.  Being in contention for prizes every single round is great for players who are still climbing toward consistent performance or who want to test rogue decks.  And even if you punt the whole night, you at least get the house booster just for playing.

Pack-per-win plus a participation booster to constructed players also represents a significant EV (expected value) increase for all events.  With 2.5 boosters per player allocated to prizing, that would have represented a $10.76 expenditure at the till, but costs only $5 including tax for entry.  To make this work, there is no longer a store-credit equivalent.  (Otherwise being over 100% EV is nuclear-grade hazardous.)  Players may pick any in-print booster set for prizing, and may mix and match.

Booster drafts use the same underlying math now as well.  For constructed, there are effectively 1.25 prize packs bought per $2.50 with tax spent.  Thus, if you take the prize packs only, and boosters are 3 for $10 everyday, then pack-per-win on a $12.50 tax-included draft lines everything up perfectly.  (Looked at another way, it's a discount compared to 4 packs for $13.33.)

Starting with the Kaladesh prerelease, we'll be doing the same prizing: 1 participation pack to all players plus 1 pack per win.  This will require us to issue some vouchers if the weekend is a sellout, since it's a higher payout than the packs supplied by WOTC.  But we believe it's worth it for the player experience this delivers.

These changes will not apply to PPTQs or other special events, which will have prize structures announced with the event.

Cards Cost Less at DSG

Casual players don't live from deck to deck as much as grinders do, so they typically need to maintain a larger collection, pound for pound, in order to have immediate access to the most tools for deck building.  A competitive grinder will not hesitate to dump an entire deck to finance the deck he or she thinks will have the best percentages a week later.  A casual player painstakingly tailors gorgeous Commander decks with foils, promo cards, and rare or autographed pieces; a casual player depends on booster drafting to fill out his or her Standard card pool, and tends to stay with variations of the same Standard build until the next expansion arrives.

The best way I could serve casual players foremost, while still remaining relevant to competitive players, was to reduce singles prices, and increase buy ratios.  So we're doing that.  Most stores cannot do that for long because Magic is all they have; they will fail if their one product line runs lean, even at volume.  DSG does other things too, so we can allow Magic to run a high-volume structure the way we did with board games last winter, and it balances out.  If it achieves the desired goal of vastly increasing sales, and 3-for-$10 boosters usually does so, the pricing will be here to stay.

DSG uses the Crystal Commerce pricing system, which allows us to update prices of many cards at once using a percentage of the "Market Price."  Originally CC Market Price resembled TCG Mid, because stores followed that metric.  Now that TCG has set Mid aside as Listed Median, and instead uses TCG Market as its benchmark price, TCG Market has increasingly filtered its way through to the CC Market Price.  It's not always exact, but it's more than close enough.

Our batches will price cards over $20 to 95% of CC Market, cards $3 to $19.99 to 90% of Market, and cards under $3 to an extremely low 85% of Market.  This is often less than TCG Low.  And that's for near-mint cards, a grade we usually only use on cards we opened ourselves.  Most of our stock is light play and is thus priced even lower.

Our batches will set buy prices for cards over $20 to 50% of CC Market for cash buys, which with the new 150% trade multiplier will provide our players with a staggering 75% ratio in store credit.  Cards from $3 to $19.99 will be bought at 33% cash (50% store credit).  Cards under $3 are at bulk purchase rates, but "hot" smaller cards will earn higher ratios as market needs indicate.

I am confident that across most transactions, DSG will be the clear price leader in this region, for buying cards from us and selling cards to us.  We also have a gargantuan inventory that is still in the process of being added to our website; we're so busy every day filling your orders that we haven't been able to keep up with the volume of buys coming in!  If you've done business with us, you already know: Others talk, but DSG delivers.

Playing Your Way at DSG

The local market finds ways to specialize, and with our casual focus, we saw tournament attendance reflect player preferences to an exacting degree.  Our Standard and Commander events are the most attended of what we run, even in light of the issues described earlier in this article.  Our FNM Drafts fire multiple pods.  Even our Wednesday drafts, which became dormant as one store after another popped up around town throwing offerings into the mid-week, have lately become active again.

The two events that have shown the steepest drop-offs are Modern and Legacy.  This is not an accident, as those two formats are among the least-liked by casual players, even skilled ones.  Regular Modern and Legacy play is the domain of the grinder.  This is neither good nor bad, it is simply a player preference like any other, and it's up to stores to adapt accordingly.  We will still keep those two formats on the calendar, but now each will be scheduled alongside a more popular casual format.

We've run Standard four days a week for years now: Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  We tried adding the other days, but it didn't take.  Ah well.  It was worth the shot.  Instead we're going to add Commander to Tuesdays, make our Wednesday draft a little later so players won't have to fight traffic so much to make it on time, and Sunday was actually fine with Commander and Sealed Deck so it will revert to that (and occasionally host prereleases and special tournaments).  We want to play our strongest hand with events that our player community has already shown that it prefers.

We also heard from a lot of players that they want to draft on Saturdays, but want it at a set time so it is more likely to fill and fire.  Also they don't want to be grinding a win-a-box until 11pm.  They just want to play for a little while and then get on with their Saturday night festivities.  We think a booster draft at 5pm is just what the doctor ordered.

Moving Pokemon from Saturday nights to Sundays was mostly about scheduling other things; we have a growing demand for paid/prized events for miniatures, LCGs, HeroClix, and soon streaming video game tournaments, and Saturday night was the natural landing spot for all of that.  We simply don't have the capacity to do a free open play event that takes up the entire room at the same time.  We love our Pokemon Trainers and we promise once the store has moved, we'll find a better way.  But for now this is what we have to do with the time and space we've got.

Wrapping Up

Few people embrace change for change's sake, and I'm sure there will be an adjustment period here.  Some of this is new pool for the Arizona player base and at first glance may appear questionable.  But results speak for themselves in the places where they do it this way, and their gigantic player attendance and MTG sales were made possible by a combination of more inclusive tournament prizing, more accessible card and pack pricing, and scheduling to meet the community's proven preferences.  We have a lot of confidence that once things are rolling, everyone will wonder why we didn't do it this way all along.

Thank you for being a part of our player community, and thank you again for your tremendous patience and understanding during this highly transitional year.


Mondays: MTG Standard 7pm
Tuesdays: MTG Commander 5pm, Modern 7pm
Wednesdays: MTG Draft 7pm, Legacy 7pm
Thursdays: MTG Commander 5pm, Standard 7pm
Fridays: MTG FNM Standard 7pm, Draft 8pm
Saturdays: MTG Standard Noon (Double Stakes), Draft 5pm
Sundays: MTG Commander 11am, Sealed Deck Noon, Pokemon Open Play 3pm-5:30pm.

1 comment:

  1. I like it. This prizing structure is one reason I went out of my way to draft Conspiracy with you. Since you are extending it to your other events, I will probably become a regular.