J. Graves – All Magic Has a Price

All Magic Has a Price


J. Graves
Tampa, FL


Let me know your thoughts at [email protected]
Follow @jwgravesFL


Early in 1994, a not-so-young version of myself saw a set of friends playing an odd card game at his job. I can still remember asking them, “What’s this?” This is probably the most expensive question I have ever asked besides, “Will you marry me?” Although I never lost my love for the game I met that day, over the years, life happened. Keeping up with new sets became difficult to impossible. But eventually, I was able to play again. This raised the questions: what is the best way to return to Standard or to start from scratch, what is the best way to keep a current playset for Standard as a continuous player, and why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to trying to play Modern or older formats? All Magic Has a Price will focus on the true cost of playing Magic: The Gathering, both competitively and casually.

About Me

Knowing a little about me should help you understand the viewpoint of this series. I am 42 years old – yes, I am an old dude – and am married with an 18-year-old son. I am a tax accountant for a Big Four accounting firm, and I have degrees in accounting and business management. I am currently a student at the University of South Florida for an IT information architecture degree.

Sitting at the kitchen table in 1994, so very sad that I just lost my Sengir Vampire as ante, Sengir Vampire Magic: The Gathering was only a game. I loved buying packs to see what thing I would get that I had never seen before. Nowadays, I enjoy Limited a great deal, and I believe Draft is the most competitive, fair, and compelling format. That being said, I also enjoy building a deck with which to destroy a Friday Night Magic Standard event. If I am going to play Standard, though, I prefer to have a playset of all the playable cards. I want to be able to build any net deck that is hot at the time, and I want to be able to deal with the current metagame at the local shop. As one can imagine, this can become very expensive.

Returning Players

Last November, I returned to Magic from a layoff. Life was busy, and I lived too far from a shop for it to be easy and affordable to play. Luckily, I moved, and now I have a shop within two blocks, a great shop: Anthem Games in Tampa, Florida. I wanted to play Standard, so I bought the pieces for Bant control from eBay for a little under 700 dollars. Of course, as soon as I got the deck together, Bant was terrible. I determined that I was not going to be able to be competitive until I had a better collection of cards. What is the best way to build a playable collection? The answer is patience. Take your time.

I love Draft. Draft is very skill intensive, and the more one studies the better he or she gets. By winning a Draft, I could bring home 40 dollars in true-cost value, if not more, for only 12 bucks. I prefer to use the average of the last 10 eBay auctions, or the low on TCG Player, as the true cost in cash. Because I determined that I would not try to be competitive in Standard until the next rotation, I was able to speculate a little on what might be good from the current set after rotation. One speculation that worked out very well for me was Supreme Verdict. I paid $11.99 for four copies including shipping, the true cost. Today I looked at the last 10 auctions, and I would now have to pay an average of 17.01 for four copies including shipping, the true cost. Sphinx's RevelationAnother example is purchasing Sphinx’s Revelation in December of 2012. With the hype around the card at the time and with my own love for drawing cards, I knew this card would be something both in the current format and even more after rotation. I paid 51 dollars in December of 2012, and today I would have to pay on average $75.95. Compare this to buying Thragtusk for the deck. I paid 77 dollars for four, and I sold them for $46.99. I spent 30 dollars for the privilege of playing with Thragtusk for about three months, a total of about five tournaments. That seems like a waste compared to Sphinx and Verdict where I will have 18+ months of play, and I could sell them at a profit in the current setting. Not all specs will hit, but if one is a good card evaluator, most cards will be playable, and having playable cards is the point. Coming back to the game is exciting, and very expensive. A returning player’s job is to find ways, like concentrating on being amazing at Limited and preparing for rotation, to minimize the true cost of reentering the world of competitive Magic: The Gathering.


New Players

Having not been a new player of Magic: The Gathering for about 20 years, it is difficult for me to relate to not having Magic: The Gathering in one’s life. New players, I welcome you to the game, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Many of the same concerns of a returning player plague the new player. However, the new player doesn’t understand the costs of the cards. The new player either overestimates the true cost of a card, comparing to SCG prices, or the new player underestimates the true value of a card. Either of these concerns can be fixed by focusing on understanding the game itself, and by trying to unravel the concepts and intricacies of the MTG economy. I suggest beginning slow. Spend a lot of time researching values of cards and the power of the game. I suggest playing Limited, both Draft and Sealed, as often as possible. Study a lot, listen to podcasts (such as Brainstorm Brewery and Limited Resources), play as often as possible, and listen while at the card shop. The best info is found at the card shop. The new player’s job is to get to know the game and the economy whilst not spending a ridiculous amount of money. This game can be very expensive.

Continuous Standard Players

In years past I have been very competitive at Standard. As I said earlier, I like to brew decks. In order to be able to brew a deck, Therosone must have access to the cards. I like having a playset of all playable cards in Standard. Nowadays I am too busy to brew, but I still want to be able to put together a net deck that looks fun and competitive. Winning is fun!

The main purpose of writing this series is to minimize the amount of actual dollars that one pays out and to still maintain a playable set of cards. I will talk about true cost a lot during this series. I will also discuss opportunity costs involved with ditching cards early. For example, in order to minimize the cost of rotation, one can focus on selling cards at their peak, accounting for opportunity costs like not having the cards with which to play.

A person that has already been competitive in Standard at rotation will have an advantage in that he or she can trade. Please take into consideration that trading will usually be done at retail or TCG mid pricing. This does not affect at all the true cost of the card. Keeping in mind the actual dollars spent on the cards being traded allows one to minimize the loss or maximize the gain in true-cost value. Another advantage of being a continuous Standard player is winning. Splitting top eight in a 16-man pod is about 20 bucks in store credit. Store credit unfortunately does not work with the true-cost method. In order to accurately count the true-cost method, one must subtract 20-30% from his or her store credit total. Store credit is not, and should not be a 1:1 ratio with real cash or with the true cost. Winning is a great way to build one’s collection. All other concepts will apply to an extent to continuous Standard players. The continuous Standard player’s job is to maintain a playable collection of cards year to year.

Long-Term Investing Players

For the most part, the only reason to ever quit playing the best game in the universe, Magic: The Gathering, is because pesky family gets in the way. Why don’t women and children understand bills and rent just are not that important? Well, hopefully someday we will find a solution to having to feed our families, but until then most of us will not be able to play continuously over our lifetime. Occasionally though, the MTG Gods will be happy, and one may be allowed a period when he or she might be able to put a couple months, a year, or more into playing. Loving the game as I do, it is very hard for me to believe this game will ever stop being printed. What if Hasbro stopped making cards? Would people stop playing MTG? The Magic: The Gathering Wiki page says that as of January 2013 there were 12,988 unique MtG cards. The same article states that by the end of 1994 there were 2 billion MTG cards printed. This number is so high, I do not want to do the math of the total amount of cards that are in existence now. Mafs r hard. There are plenty of MTG cards. Even if Hasbro stopped making cards, and this isn’t happening soon, this game will be played for the rest of eternity. In my opinion, investing money long-term in older cards that will not lose value is as good as or better than being in the stock market. Ancestral RecallExample, I sold an Ancestral Recall in 2002 for 202 dollars. If I had kept this card, I could sell it today for 450 to 500 dollars true cost. That is at least 100% growth, and more than likely is closer to a 200% return. Very few investments have seen a 200% increase in true-cost value in 10 years, especially during the great recession. The long-term investing player’s job is to invest money smartly to receive high returns from cards that cannot or will not lose value over the long term.


All Magic Has a Price will discuss the true cost of playing Magic: The Gathering. In order to accomplish this, I will have four segments, bi-weekly. First I will pick a topic; I have several canned like winning at Limited and buying the new set. I will have a segment that focuses on a paper Draft that occurred within the prior two weeks. I will discuss what my options were, and weigh the factors of picking money or picking to win for money. Where is that line? I will find cards that I believe will be good in the next Standard format and/or that could bring value to the current Standard. Lastly, and most definitely the mostest and bestest, I will have a mail bag piece that will focus on questions, complaints, suggestions, and ideas on me, my choices, current cards, and investment opportunities. So, for me to be a success, I need you! I have very much enjoyed writing this, and I hope it has been helpful. That lad from 1994 could have chosen to walk away from that table. I am certainly glad that he chose to ask the question, “What’s this?” Whether one is a new player, a returning player, a continuous Standard player, or one who thinks that a 200% return is okay, we have to remember, All Magic Has a Price.

Mail Bag Question of the Week

I have been thinking about buying a playset of [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] since it came out in Dragon’s Maze. Who could spend $160-200 on one set of Standard cards, and still feel good about themselves? The card looks so fun to play. So the mailbag question this week is:

Do you think Voice of Resurgence will maintain value after it rotates from Standard? And if so, what do you think will be the floor on its price? The current true cost of a playset Voice of Resurgence is approximately 120 dollars. [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] has retained decent value. Do you think Voice will do the same? Let me know your thoughts at [email protected].

This series will not be a success without you, the reader. Please help me to create dynamic content each and every article. Any and all questions or comments will be read, and I will do my best to respond in some way. If, of course, I become a huge star then I will pick and choose. But seriously, if you have a question, ask! Others, including myself, probably have the same question. Think I am flat wrong? Tell me. I know I am pretty, but I am not always right. Have a suggestion or a trick that will help bring down the true cost of playing competitive Magic: The Gathering for our fellow article mates? You are awesome. Even if you just want to BS with me, I want to hear from you.

Follow me on the Twitter machine @jwgravesFL

About the Author
@jwgravesFL     -     Email     -     Articles J.W. is 42 years old and is married with an 18-year-old son. He is a tax accountant for a Big Four accounting firm, and has degrees in accounting and business management. He is currently a student at the University of South Florida for an IT information architecture degree.

22 comments on J. Graves – All Magic Has a Price

  1. nick says:

    Great job and keep up the good work.

    1. J. Graves says:

      Nick, never gets old having your work appreciated.

      Thanks man.


  2. Anthony Capece says:

    Great article J, well written. Looking forward to your series.

    I think Voice is a slam dunk after rotation. The supply is so tight on that card that I believe even moderate play in Modern will keep the price elevated.

    1. J. Graves says:

      Anthony I appreciate the compliment, and your feedback on the mail bag question.

      Guys, everyone check out Anthony’s article.

      Anthony Capece ? Rare is the New Uncommon

      It is a great read.

      Thank Anthony


  3. nick says:

    For voice, currently it does not appear to be played in legacy and only in pod decks for Modern. So I am expecting a drop in price. The closes thing I can find is maybe Huntmaster which looks to be around $8 now. So maybe it will drop to $10 at rotation and then after 6 months to a year slowly climb back up if it keeps getting used and is not reprinted. Maybe to about 15 to 20?

    1. J. Graves says:

      Nick, I appreciate you taking the time to offer your thoughts on the mailbag question. I hope to have a great series of articles, and with great readers like yourself, I have a shot at success.

      Be sure to read my next article to see the outcome of our question.

      Thanks bud.


  4. Raj says:

    I agree with Nick, with the resurgence of Jund, UWR took a massive hit. Even though we have Twin coming back to the front, it’s flying creatures don’t care about tokens on the field. VoR is at best a $10 card after rotation, the foils may stay at the $40 range, but would you trade 2 for a foil deathrite? I don’t know anyone that would.

    I’ve played 2 rotations in standard and dropped some serious cash on RTR (22 booster Boxes). Fortunately, I was able to turn the big money cards into Modern and then from modern into legacy. Otherwise I stood to lose over $1000 in value at rotation. So much so, I no longer play Standard. Only Modern/Legacy/Sealed/Draft. It took me some time but I finally came to the realization, retaining value in the cards just makes sense. Standard does not offer that outside of 1 card per set.

    Great article, can’t wait to see what the outcome will be!

    1. J. Graves says:

      Yeah Raj, I had the benefit of experience this return. This was my 4th return to MTG. Second return was Urza’s block. That was fun.

      I appreciate the insight on the mailbag question, I can already see that we have multiple opinions for me to make a decision on my own personal purchase.

      Good stuff bro


  5. T McGee says:

    Great article! True cost of play is one of the issues I’ve dealt with now that I started selling on tcgplayer.

    Here’s my position on Voice: The foil is obviously where long-term money is going to be, but even then the card barely needs to see any play to cost a ton of money.

    Take abrupt decay, a card that has had showings in basically every legacy, modern, and standard top 8 since it was printed. Despite widespread play, it being a rare from an extremely heavily opened set has severely capped its value. People still open RTR as prizes at my LGS, the supply for RTR rares is just flooded at this point. RTR is going to collapse hard at rotation (and I don’t think you can exclude shock lands – it’s already happening.

    Voice has none of these problems. It’s a mythic from a small set, so there are like 75% more abrupt decays per box. Nobody opens DGM boxes for prize packs or value because the box EV is so terrible. So the supply is limited to what was opened in prereleases and drafts. And despite seeing only fringe standard play and a small amount in tier one of modern, voice is $30 low. Voice will likely never see legacy play, but it doesn’t need to. Every time it squeaks into a modern deck will be encouragement to the few speculators sitting on voice to keep holding.

    1. J. Graves says:

      So solid insight here guys. I really appreciate the solid feedback. Makes me happy when I can produce a little critical thinking. Very thought out and articulated argument.

      Wish there was a like button so I could “Like It”



  6. The Other NIck says:

    Thanks for the great article! I am a new player that started in late August this year, and I’ve found myself doing exactly what you said: overvaluing some cards based on online prices, and undervaluing the true cost of other cards. I was hoping you could do a more in depth look at the benefits of Drafting, since you mention it as a way to improve your knowledge of values. As a new player, I find it a little daunting to spend 10-12 bucks for an almost random set of cards when I could save myself money in the long term and buy a decently strong Standard deck for ~50$. Thanks!

    1. J. Graves says:

      The Other Nick, you are talking about something near and dear to my heart. It does not take much to get me talking about limited.

      My first topic is going to be “Supporting the Local Card Shop”. I am afraid some of my wordings will negatively effect the card shop. We need the Card Shops for the MTG community to thrive.

      But, just for the other Nick, I am going to make my second topic “Winning at Limited”.
      A few quick tips, listen to Limited Resources every Friday. Especially the set reviews. Hang on every word Brian Wong says. That dude is super smart when it comes to deck building and card selection. Marshall aint no slouch either.

      Listen to Brainstorm Brewery every Friday, Jason and the guys always have good nuggets and discuss the current MTG environment.

      and one last, check out the current winning decks. any rare or mythic that is being played, is playable. best to just take them.

      Thanks for the awesome feed back, and I look forward to your thoughts on the full “Winning at Limited” article.


    2. J. Graves says:

      Oh and I forgot. Every article will have a limited portion to it.

      There will be 4 segments

      A Topic
      A draft review
      a pick a card
      and a review of the previous mailbag question, plus a new question of the week.

      This is a community effort. When yall respond to me, I am going to find amazing topics.

      Thanks Other Nick and everyone who has or will contribute.


    3. J. Graves says:

      Buy the pieces of Red Devotion. That will always be good. maybe not the best, but always tier 1

  7. Garrett says:

    Good write up, As a player that stopped in 99 and just got back with Gatecrash you do realize how much money is involved and there are a lot of traps we fall into. I have to admit the allure of cracking packs will never get old, but it is so much cheaper and better to buy the cards you need outright. I personally buy from my local shop i know i can get it online for 20% cheaper. I personally like that im supporting a shop that supports the community.

    1. J. Graves says:

      Garrett, I appreciate your feedback.

      Welcome back to the game. I agree supporting the community is the right thing to do.

      The great thing is that issue 2s topic is “Supporting the Local Card Shop”.

      I will discuss several ways to support your local community, while still focusing on the true cash investment made.

      Also, your local store does not have infinite stock, or most don’t. There are many reasons one might have to look to other sources for cards.

      Fantastic feed back. Thanks for taking the time to post.


  8. Justin says:

    I understand the low availability of Voice due to the opinions stated above but look at eternal play. In modern it is not a 4 and i have yet to see a Legacy list. As a mythic I would compare it to Geist, it’s strong and powerful but not always the right card in the deck. I would advocate holding because if it does see tier play in standard it could rise to $50 but $30 seems to be the floor in standard so react accordingly.
    (Using SCG for pricing)

    1. J. Graves says:

      Justin, thank you for posting.

      The comparison to Geist is one I had not thought. That is a much better comparison than Snapcaster Mage.

      I think I am leaning your way at this point.



      1. jmedeiros says:

        I believe that most card value is based off personal love for the card.i have traded 5 voice because I don’t really like it. I got old legacy cards that have only gone up in value and are getting harder to find, but the truth is I really like the cards. I also believe that if a card has held its value for a year that’s probably what it will stay at. Less risk. I don’t play much standard because it’s all hype and those who spent the most on the new cards probably will win.

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