All Magic Has a Price – #3 – Accounting for MTG

True Cost:
The lowest amount of real cash needed to acquire a card.

All Magic Has a Price


J. Graves
Tampa, FL


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About AMHaP

All Magic Has a Price focuses on Magic: The Gathering finance from the player’s point of view. AMHaP discusses the true cost of playing Magic: The Gathering by reviewing strategies to acquire a playable collection of cards for Standard as a returning player, a new player, or a continuing player, and by discussing potential investment opportunities in older formats. AMHaP targets those of us that play casually and competitively on a local level, and AMHaP is written for casually competitive players by a casually competitive player. If one would like further explanation of the viewpoint and scope, please read: All Magic Has a Price Issue #1.

If you would like more information on determining true-cost value, please read: this article.


Accounting for MTG

True-Cost Value

I had gone through a divorce, and all my cards were gone. The game I loved was gone.

A couple of years later in 1998, I was driving down the road in Burnsville, Minnesota when I noticed a familiar sign, Magic: The Gathering. My heart fluttered—could it be? Is she back in my life?
This was when I first found Limited. Oh, what a neat concept. There were new rules, and the stack was all screwy. What do you mean damage on the stack? Yay for [card]Snap[/card]. Packs of Urza’s were selling for $2.75 apiece, and card prices were rising. I am a struggling musician. How can I afford to play this game?
Playing on the internet, I stumbled upon eBay. eBay was a place to buy cards at a significantly cheaper price than the card shop. Cheaper cards made the game seem less expensive.

I began thinking to myself, Scrye was okay for trading, but if one really wanted to get the most value for the lowest cost, Scrye was not the source to determine value. eBay was. Why would I buy a card for $17.50 from the local shop or other internet retail site, when I could grab it from another MTG player for $9?

I fell in love with Draft the very first time I played in one. At prereleases, I would get the starter pack but  sometimes wouldn’t even play in the event. Instead, I would draft all day long. In those days, there were so many people at prereleases that they felt like Grands Prix. As I began to start winning in Limited, my collection grew.

I watched a couple Type 2 tournaments. Type 2 looked fun. I checked eBay for prices, and I found the prices to be extreme for the previous year’s block. Considering I would only get to play with the cards for another couple of months (except for in Extended), I couldn’t justify buying them.

I determined that I would wait, collect some cards, and play after rotation. I began bidding on eBay, and I bought cards that were low in price but were being played. My collection grew.

I noticed that by playing and winning at Limited, I could add additional value to my collection. In trades, I noticed that if I kept in mind the amount of real cash that it would take to acquire the card, I could add additional value to my collection.

I decided to stop thinking about cards at Scrye prices, and I focused on this new concept I had: true-cost value.

True Cost is the lowest amount of real cash needed to acquire a card.

True-Cost Value = the lowest amount of real cash needed to acquire a card, determined by an averaging the last 10 eBay sold auctions, including shipping, or the low on TCG Player, including shipping.

Whenever I traded, I stayed mindful of the TCV. I bought cards low in true cost and high in Scrye cost to trade. I studied Limited incessantly, because winning sometimes gave me 3-1 value in TCV. I continued buying low-cost, long-useful-life Type 2 cards. This became more fun than playing MTG. When rotation hit, I could play any deck I wanted. I loved it.

True-Cost Value is not going to help one win a PTQ, although it will help build a collection that allows one to attain a competitive deck. For the casual collector/player, which most of us are, TCV will help one to make better decisions as to how to spend a limited MTG budget.

I have never won a PTQ, but I have been a terror at a Friday Night Magic events. Magic: The Gathering can be an expensive game. Whenever possible, one should do his or her best to minimize the real cash needed to acquire cards by keeping in mind the true-cost value.



When one is looking to unload cards due to rotation, trading is superior to selling in retaining true-cost value. When trading, we will not have to worry about card-shop profits or eBay and PayPal fees.

If one cannot trade a card, other options exist. One can sell to the store, one can trade to the store for credit, one can sell on eBay, or one can attempt to sell on Craigslist or to friends.

Using SCG as a reference, selling to the store is an extremely low return. [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] has a SCG buylist price of $8 and Channel Fireball has a buylist price of $10. Copies on eBay are selling for approximately $15.

Trading cards to the card shop, one can receive an additional 20% – 30%, approximately $10.40. The store credit is spent using the retail/SCG price. One is paying an additional 20% – 30% above TCV when using store credit. Store credit is a wash with real cash selling at buylist price, thus making this option almost identical to selling at buylist price.

In order to sell on eBay, one must pay eBay fees and Paypal fees. Paypal fees are, 2.9% + .30 cents. eBay fees include 10% of the total amount of the sale, and there are also fees for listings in excess of 50 per month.

Sunk Cost:
Money already spent and permanently lost.


Chandra, Pyromaster

Click Here!

For example, Chandra is going for approximately $15 on eBay at the time of this writing. Calculating this by: 15 * 2.9 = .435 cents plus .30 cents, giving us a total of .735 cents, PayPal’s cut. For eBay, 15 * 10% = 1.50 dollars. So the total for eBay and PayPal charges is 2.235. Taking $2.24 from $15 leaves us with $12.76. One would receive $12.76 in TCV. eBay’s and PayPal’s combined fees in this example are 14.9%. If one can not trade the card, Paypal and eBay fees can be considered a sunk cost. My preferred shipping method costs 66 cents for postage, and 4×7 bubble wrap cushioned mailers cost 25 cents a piece.

Craigslist and other classified sites are primarily used to sell collections. Selling individual cards is rarely done, if ever, and doing so would be tedious. If one were looking to sell his or her entire collection, this could be an opportunity to receive 5% to 15% additional real cash than would be offered by the shop selling in bulk.

Unloading cards is not easy, and it seldom feels good. Trading is the best way to retain TCV. If one cannot trade, several options are available. Selling to the card shop, trading to the card shop for store credit, or selling one’s collection on Craigslist are a few of those options. Clearly selling on eBay, even though fees will be incurred, is the best way to sell unwanted or unneeded cards.

For additional information on selling cards, please listen to Jason, Marcel, Corbin, and Ryan on Brainstorm Brewery every Friday.


Foil Yoked Ox

Click Here!


Mail bag #2

AMHaP issue # 2 had a huge response on Reditt this last week. Thanks, you guys, I appreciate the feedback—even if it was critical. For the success of AMHaP and for me, that type of honest direct feedback is a necessity.

I took a beating for suggesting foil [card]Yoked Ox[/card] was worth one dollar in True-Cost Value. I had decided that normally I would not include it in TCV. I looked at the eBay sold auctions. Several foil [card]Yoked Ox[/card]en had been sold recently, and that led to the question: if foil Yoked Ox was selling on eBay, does that explicitly imply that someone wants them? And, if someone wants them enough to buy them, then would not someone want it in trade?

After reconsidering my position and taking into consideration the view point of those on Reddit, I have decided to continue with my position that there is value in foil Yoked Ox.

I also took some guff for suggesting that the point of drafting was to gain value. Please do not “next level” yourself by passing money. Leave the “Pro Pick” to the pros. Why would a Friday Night Magic event player pass a shock land when the entire point of drafting is to win and open a shock land or get store credit to buy a shock land? Take the shock land, smile a little and pass the pack. Honestly at a Friday Night Magic event, if you are pro level player, you should be able to win with one less card, right?

Besides the amazing passion from Reddit, a good discussion on the actual mailbag question was had on Some very good suggestions on buy opportunities were made.

Mail Bag Question #2: What value-priced card available in Theros do you believe will see play over the next 18-20 months?

[card]Soldier of Pantheon[/card] appeared most often. I agree this is a fantastic buy opportunity. [card]Whip of Erobos[/card] was also mentioned. I personally am not sure about this card; however, the source that suggested Whip is a source I trust. I would not be surprised if Whip was in a deck after or before rotation other than mono black. Then there was [card]Fleecmane Lion[/card]. This is by far the most exciting pick up at the moment, in my opinion. A card that costs WG for a 3/3 that becomes hexproof and indestructible seems really good to me. I love aggro. Getting a 3/3 creature for two mana with an upside? That is a win.

Thank you for the feedback guys.


Mail bag #3

Selling cards is difficult. Few avenues exist to retain true-cost value.

What other options are there for unloading unwanted cards?

Also, in the Full-Cost Method, one must account for hidden costs. What hidden costs are there in Magic: the Gathering, and what are some ways to lessen those hidden costs?

Lastly, how useful is in determining values?

Thanks to all the readers of AMHaP. Please leave comments or feed back below. All you need is a name and an email address. If you think I am right, tell me. If you think I am dead wrong, please let me know so you and I can discuss. Thaeyde and CorpT, thanks for the awesome discussion, and I look forward to our next round.

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.

8 comments on All Magic Has a Price – #3 – Accounting for MTG

  1. nick says:

    I liked the history and personal history part. Though this one seems to go against the previous one of what value using the store and giving up a few pennies or dollars can really add to you long term.

    I can’t really add to the options of unloading cards. I am more into collecting the cards. Partially for eternal format possibilities. Which might be a good topic/subject to think about. How to get cards for modern which would be the easiest eternal format. Either that or get pauper to be more popular in paper. :D

    Hidden costs: Time you spent in trying to find the best deal. You can spend hours, days, weeks trying to shave or add a couple of dollars off of a card. I hear about how people find these amazing deals at community garage sales but have to wonder how many of those garage sales they went to before they found the deals.

    I will have to check out the website you mentioned for price. Just recently I started using mtggoldfish which is rather nice. My previous favorite card history website got shut down due to the person owning it got upset with how his current area turned into everyone trying to squeeze out any money they can and taking advantage of new players lack of knowledge on trades.

  2. J. Graves says:

    Welcome Back Nick.

    I appreciate the continuing feedback.

    I definitely need to start looking at the modern format.

    Thanks for the feedback, and the time you took to post.


    1. J. Graves says:

      I appreciate your feedback.

      I hope you finished reading it.

  3. J. Graves says:

    thank you for your kind words.

    Makes my day when I am able to connect with a reader.

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