Grinder Finance 101

So maybe you dabble in MTG finance. You buy a few cards here and there and turn them in for some store credit when you’re short on cash. Maybe you’re just a player who wants to balance between buying a playset of every set that comes out and not being able to play the deck you want for two months. The grinder’s outlook on finance is different that people looking to speculate and turn a profit.

The grinder is a fickle person because his needs conflict. Grinders naturally want access to every card so they can play any deck, but also don’t want to be burned or overpay for cards that may go down or be less useful. This leads to a different mentality when it comes to buying cards—one that deserves some talk. I have a few rules I usually follow when new sets come out, allowing me to be competitive in Standard while still maintaining a savings account.

Stay away!

  • Don’t buy any planeswalkers. This rule may change in a few years, but generally speaking, most planeswalkers will go down from their release price and usually very quickly. Some go up or stay the same, but the chances of that being the case are far less likely than a planeswalker’s price tanking on release day. Generally these cards are busts and will be easy and cheap to pick up when the next set nears release.
  • Don’t buy mythics over $15. It’s really hard for any mythic rare to sustain that kind of price for any amount of time. It needs to be a four-of in many top-tier decks to see that kind of price tag (unless it is a planeswalker or a casual card). Ignore this rule if the card fits into one of our “buy” categories.
  • Be careful when buying “similar” cards to older cards. [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] is a recent example of a card that is similar to [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card] but could have ended up being very bad. In this case, the stars aligned and made it a $20-retail card for some time, but this is an extreme case. I would wait until after the first two weekends of SCG Opens before purchasing these kinds of cards. People will test them and if there is not a significant number in top eights, then they’re probably not good enough.

Invest!

  • Consider buying sub-$5 mythic rares. Most bulk mythics will stay about $3 or $4, but if you think one is better than its price tag suggests, pick it up. It likely won’t get much cheaper.
  • Buy powerful, proven reprints. These cards are usually Modern all-stars or cards that carry a heavier price tag due to availability issues.  Most of these cards fall dramatically from their previous price points but keep price tags close to that of their release day, at least throughout their set’s life cycle.  These cards are impactful and powerful—multi-format players allowing you to unlock the maximum number of deck choices for the minimum amount of investment.  Recent cards that fit into this category are [card]Thoughtseize[/card], [card]Mutavault[/card], [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], etc.  Avoid immediately picking up competitive cards that are buoyed too much by availability and casual demand, like [card]Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[/card].
  • Buy the dual lands. No seriously, just get it over with. Over the course of the lifetime of a block, the dual lands will only increase in price as the set in which they’re printed is drafted less and less.  You need lands to play decks and everyone needs dual lands to be competitive. If you don’t own a reprinted land, buy those too. First printings of lands usually go up more, but even if reprints see a small dip, it won’t be enough that you should care. You should even buy the ones you don’t think you’ll use. At the end of the day, buying a full set of duals keeps the price at a minimum even if some go up and down.
  • Buy cards with unique, powerful, and cost-effective abilities. Cards with effects that have never been done before, are not done often, or have not been done at that mana cost are worth investing in.  These cards are most likely to be early spikers (assuming they are not already an exorbitant amount of money). Examples of this are [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] and [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card].
  • Buy the powerful uncommon. They’re not likely to get cheaper than their preorder prices. Would you rather spend $1 on a card you may be able to buy for $0.50 later or $1 on a card that might cost you $3 or $4 later?  Chase uncommon are becoming more expensive as they become harder to open in quantity.  Starting with Magic 2015, Wizards of the Coast has increased the number of uncommons in large sets to help the draft environment. Sometimes these are similar to older cards but with different names, which drives demand up. An example of this is [card]Banishing Light[/card] (which is functionally an [card]Oblivion Ring[/card]).

Try following these tips during the release of Khans of Tarkir and compare how much you spent to how much everything is worth with the release of the second set in the block.  You will be surprised at how close these two numbers will end up being.

About the Author
@Phrost_     -     Email     -     Articles Jim is a software developer and an avid blue planeswalker. He spellslings in Jacksonville, Florida, and you can feel free to contact him on Twitter at @phrost_.

6 comments on Grinder Finance 101

  1. Darkgee says:

    These are great tips and I like the characterization of the “MTG finance grinder” type which I think describes me perfectly. It is really important that we only buy and trade for cards that we are going to get plenty of use out of. Plus, we want to be able to get decent trade value for our cards later if we get bored with the deck and want to try something different.

    I’d like to see a follow-up to this article which applies “grinder” thinking to the modern format!

    1. Anonymous says:

      I can work on a modern centric one. It’s one I’m trying to grind myself into right now =]

      1. Jim Casale says:

        This was me, apparently I forgot to log in first…

  2. Gurg says:

    Excellent! Most of use in the ‘player-financier-grinder’ category do the finance thing because we have to. Cards are expensive and never ending. Gotta do what we gotta do to keep up.

  3. Matt Montgomery says:

    Awesome article, and it’s actually hilarious to me how much of this was just instinctual to me! All the individual cards you mentioned are 4-ofs in my collection if not in decks, and I haven’t purchased a new ‘Walker in years lol. One of my Standard decks is Mono-Black Devotion, so of course I want a few Tomb of Yawgmoths… but something about the price just rubbed me the wrong way immediately. I know I can trade for them or open them in boosters, and they’ll DEFINITELY go down. Playing this game for a while kind of lends itself to this sort of understanding.

    For those among us who don’t have this innate understanding, this article is even better.

    Good work. Also, I just discovered this site — I’ll be coming back!

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