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.
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, 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.
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. Another 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.
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, one 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. Example, 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