How to Really Live: My Life as a Traveling Backpacked, Cardboard-Dealing Degenerate

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Mike Hawthorne begins his upcoming weekly Legacy-focused Insider series by introducing himself and responding to the most recent tournament results, noting which cards deserve speculative attention.

My name is Mike Hawthorne and Magic: The Gathering has kept me alive.

You may be asking, "What does that mean?" Well, if you'll allow me to take a step back from the melodrama for a second, I'd be happy to explain it.

This game has provided me with more than just friendships and fun. It has literally my paid bills, allowed me to travel the country, and have a great time, all while making financial gains.

This will be the first in my upcoming weekly financial column—a Legacy-focused look at the current card market, smart trades, movers and shakers, and a review of any recent Legacy tournaments and cards that stand out.

After this week my article will also be Insider-only.

All that said, I would like to start with an introduction of sorts. Although I likely know many of you, very few are actually acquainted with my history.

My Magic Biography

Getting Back Into Magic & Establishing a Collective

I've been playing Magic for quite awhile.

I started playing a little before Prophecy and have been on and off ever since. September 2009 is the most recent time I decided that I would get back into Magic competitively. I went online and saw that Fae and 5cc were dominating the Standard metagame. I decided that since a rotation was going to happen in October I would just start testing post rotation Shards-Zendikar Standard.

I was playing with a few casual friends, Josh and Mike C., at the time. We eventually decided it would be a good idea pool our cards into a collective—a topic I will explore more on a later date.

As a whole unit we choose to make a single trade binder. We had a lot of old cards—mostly Onslaught block—and we bought a few boxes of Zendikar on release day. Then we were off to the races.

I told the collective that the safest bet with the new set were the new fetch lands. Having understood the importance and reputation of the Onslaught fetches, I knew they were good enough to see play and would maintain a solid value. So we began by trading for those aggressively. Our collection quickly built itself up, growing exponentially, narrowing in on solid trade decisions.

One day I walked into my local shop and started a quick trade with a young, handsome, intelligent gentleman over a Goblin Guide.

We had five Guides as a collective and this kid wanted one to finish off his RDW list. At the time, Goblin Guide was worth ten dollars and, after a bit of perusing, we agreed on an equal value from his book. Then we started debating the current and future value of a foil Zendikar Forest.

As the deal got heated, we simply agreed not to trade. Instead we decided that I would lend him the Guide with the safeguard of exchanging phone numbers. This gentleman soon joined up with our collective and turned out to be one of my best friends in the game: a great writer and fantastic person, Tyler Tyssedal.

As the months went by, the collective massed an insane volume of variety and accessibility. November rolled around and we had a foil set of every fetch land, 4 Baneslayer Angels (then a $50 chase), 12 Noble Hierarchs, 8 Elspeth, Knight Errants and a playset of every playable Standard card.

The best part of our collection at the time was the lands binder. When you opened it up, the first several pages featured 41 Arid Mesa, 30 Marsh Flats, 28 Misty Rainforest, 28 Scalding tarn, and 20 Verdant Catacombs. That’s a total of 147 fetch lands. Good times.

We had the best Standard collection in our area, routinely lending out cards our friends needed to complete the deck they wanted to play that week if a trade didn't happen. Each of us could play whatever deck we willed. In the land of Standard Magic, we felt like we were on the top of the world.

Then December 4th happened.

Tripping Over Your NES’s Power Chord

I was a server at a local Perkins, working overnight and dinner shifts. I had just finished up work and kept my backpack with the collective’s binder in the back room, as I had come from a tournament earlier that night.

I had gotten into my SUV with my bag in hand when I realized I had left my serving book and some cash in the restaurant’s kitchen.

I threw my bag in the back seat, locked my car, and went inside.

I got caught up talking to my manager and ended up staying inside for no more than 5 minutes. As I walked back outside and around to the driver side, I not only heard but felt a crunching under my feet. Broken glass.

I looked at the back window of my SUV. It was smashed out. I immediately looked in to see if my in dash DVD player had been removed. It hadn't. My iPod was still in the cup holder.

The backpack was gone.

I called the police. I ran inside praying I had brought my bag in with me. I couldn't find it. After the police showed up, I had to explain to the officer what was in the back pack.

He looked shocked when I tried to explain the value of what had been stolen. I remember him saying, "You’re telling me that there was several thousand dollars worth of cardboard in that backpack?"

He assured me they would be looking for my backpack.


The next morning I called the collective.

One by one I called them and told them what had happened. Everyone originally thought I was joking.

If you have never had to deliver shocking news to someone you normally joke around with, let me tell you: it’s very difficult. It goes something like this:

Tyler: "Whats up?"
Me: "So my car was broken into last night and the collection was stolen"
Tyler: "Hahaha that would suck."
Tyler: "You aren't kidding…"

I told them I was going to see if I could get my insurance to cover it and that I was going to replace all of the cards, if humanly possible.

A few days later I got the news that insurance wasn't covering it.

I called everyone again.

I felt like complete garbage. I told everyone I would give them all my old cards that had just been taking up space in my room, figure out a way to reimburse, and then I was going to quit.

As a hobby with the possibility of financial gains, so comes the reality that there exists the possibility of loss.

A day later I got a call.

"Mike, we need you to stay. We started from scratch before and we can do it again."

All of us got together and decided that we would rebuild our collection. It would have been an undesirable amount of money had we chosen to replace it card-by-card, purchasing each one as singles. We didn’t want to do that. Afterall, Magic was a hobby we enjoyed—not our retirement.

We decided to rebuild our collection without spending money beyond what we already had budgeted: tournament entrance fees.

We dug through cards and rebuilt a terrible trade binder. All of the wonderful friends we had made in the game offered to and donated cards. We played suboptimal lists and played tighter than we ever had just to get prize packs.

Our local store runs tournaments every Tuesday attracting upwards of 35 people. We went every week and would pay $5 to grind out four rounds of Magic. If you placed in the top 10% you received 6 packs as a prize, 25% getting 4 packs.

As a four-man team we spent $20 total, walking out with a minimum of 16 packs every week. We would crack them all and shove the rares into a trade binder.

Enter/Exit the Grind

While Worldwake was being spoiled, Jace, the Mind Sculptor made his debut as Tyler and I enjoyed a trek to a local casino. Yes, this sounds counterproductive… but I have a thing for casinos. And, remember, we were rebuilding our collection without spending money beyond the cost of entering tournaments.

Tyler was on his phone telling me what it did while I was playing Blackjack.

I remember it like it was yesterday. He explained the first two abilities and we both looked at each other and knew this card was going to be insane.

Then he finished reading the last two and I, in my most film-noiry tone possible, told him that this was going to put us back on the map.

We traded for them at release. I picked up a grand total of 30 by the time they reached $60. Then they hit $80. We could literally trade them for anything.

We eventually traded them all away aside from 10, thinking that if three people wanted to play them we’d be able to do a 3-3-4 split, not fully realizing that this card was going to be a 4 of in everything.

The Ebb

By the time Rise of the Eldrazi came out, Mike C. had slowly stepped out of the tournament scene and Josh was slowly burning out.

An occasional draft for Mike.
An occasional FNM for Josh, merely there to hangout.
Then, when Jund rotated out, they just stopped altogether.

It was kind of a slow process. But, as I look back on it, it was like slowly losing some of my best friends.

They really didn't want to be part of the game any longer, so it was becoming harder to hang out with them. We had made Magic such a routine part of our relationship that, without it, our friendships lacked structure. When free time is limited, and when your free time happily revolves around a Magic tournament with friends, it becomes harder to get out of this pattern. Add to this work schedules and you have a bummer on your hands.


As Standard began to feel more and more stale, Tyler and I transitioned into playing Legacy. As our pool consisted mostly of Standard cards, we made it our next goal gather up Legacy cards.

Tyler would send me lists and we would talk about them. And for some reason we still, to this day, never really agree on optimal Legacy lists and pet cards. But Tyler, even though I don’t always agree with him, knows what he’s doing. Like they say, there’s more than one way to skin a cat… or build a deck.

By now I was the only one left playing Standard, since Tyler had effectively made a full transition into Legacy. I held a graphic arts job and my hours were from 2pm until 10pm. I really didn't have much time for structured Magic.

I would read articles to try to stay current, but the flow of cards stagnated in our hands. They stopped moving. Our binder froze and Magic all but faded away.

Full Time

Then I lost my job.

I applied for jobs immediately. I also began to play Magic full time.

I started grinding trades and keeping my values current.

I decided to sink whatever money I had saved up into flipping Magic cards at major events, realizing I could make a living off of trading and selling Magic cards, constantly in the company of good people and fun friends.

If you have gone to a Grand Prix in the last 9 months, you would probably recognize me.

I generally hang out at the dealer tables, cube with friends, and make degenerate decisions.

I know most of the dealers and they know me.

I love to gamble and almost never turn down a bet.

All of my income in the past 9 months has been from Magic. This game has insane value that a lot—I would say the vast majority of—players don't understand.

Now, in my current Magic life, I play multiple formats, keep updated on the card economy and gamble with my friends over such trivial things as which numbers will show up on dice to even considering fantasy drafting the StarCity circuit.

And now this article marks when I’ll begin offering weekly financial review advice.

This Week In Review

After such an exhaustive introduction, we'll keep things things short by touching on SCG's Legacy finals matchup. In the future we'll go into more depth, exploring other portions of the week's results and perhaps a few other choice areas.

This week in Legacy we witnessed Manaless Dredge and Blue Zoo face off in the finals of the Legacy portion of the StarCityGames Legacy 5k. Top 16 decklists can be found right here.

I'm going to assume that if you are reading this you can look at the lists and figure out how these decks work. I will leave my opinions on deck choice and plays/misplays out of the weekly review, as I will primarily be looking at these tournaments through a financial lens.

Let’s start with Blue Zoo.

The maindeck looks pretty standard, as far as Legacy decks go. Blue is there for Brainstorm, Jace, and Mental Misstep—all solid cards in the current metagame.

The card that sticks out to me is in the sideboard: Tower of the Magistrate.

As Stoneforge decks gain popularity and equipment becomes better, this card will find some sideboard play. As of right now, StarCity is selling these at $.99 a pop. I bought some on speculation. Seeing that other Masques block rares gain quick value, this card will become harder to find.

In the maindeck, seeing Tarmogoyf as a two of is pretty strange, but I still wouldn't get off of these. Tarmogoyf has been getting worse and the price tag has dropped a little. But I would say that the proper course of action for when Tarmogoyf takes little dips is to actually pick a few up. I doubt that Wizards will ever print a more efficient beater, and Magic decks will always want beaters. This is why Wizards banned Mystical Tutor—people love creatures. They’ll be sure to keep the battlefield populated.

A quick mention on the Phyrexian Metamorph: while it's neat and kills Progenitus, it's in Standard and is already at max value. A couple Standard cards in the sideboard of a winning deck will do little to impact price, seeing that they're still easily opened and obtained.

Up next, the Manaless Dredge deck that has people talking.

The cards are going to go up a little in value seeing as it’s a pretty cheap and fairly competitive glass cannon of a deck.

Cards like Gigapede are seeing play, but I wouldn't pick up a ton of these seeing how narrow the card’s application is. I would buy a set if you plan on playing the deck, but that’s about it there.

The cards I sought and bought while watching this deck play were Ichorid and Bridge from Below.

Bridge from Below has been slowly creeping up in value, and it has nowhere to go but up. It’s a unique effect that is the backbone of a metagame dependant powerhouse of a deck.

Ichorid is pretty cheap as far as a Legacy/Vintage staple goes. This card is one I would consider picking up when around, as, in the long run, it also has nowhere to go but up. Ichorid is not a short term gain, though, but I predict that the card will become more valuable over the coming years.

Some Dread Return targets need to be scooped up while they are still relatively recent:

Sphinx of the Steel Wind is a card that, overtime, will go up in value. Being a great EDH and a great Cube card, alongside being a Legacy staple, is a perfect mixture of want, desire, and need.

Iona, Shield of Emeria is a card that was immediately viewed as a hit, but I believe it is going to go down in value for a little while, especially with her (unplayed) rotation from Standard in the near future. Unlike Spinx, she isn’t well liked beyond being a silver bullet reanimation target that sometimes whiffs at stealing the game. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur has overtaken her in Reanimator as the go-to target.

Bloodghast is also underpriced right now at $7.99 on SCG, and we have a new graveyard/vampire themed set around the corner. We could be in for a jump in value, especially considering Extended’s relationship to this card and future cards that may compliment its role elsewhere.

The Checklist

I will be updating a Legacy checklist every week, featuring new cards I recommend you take steps in obtaining.

I will rarely talk about cards like Dual Lands, Wastelands, and Force of Wills. These should simply go without saying. If, for some reason, any of these cards are set to or do jump or fall in price, I’ll be sure to take a stern look at it and explore exactly why it had happened.

I will, however, be focusing on the more obscure cards necessary in making a Legacy collection complete and ahead of the curve. Although Legacy is an Eternal format, the cards of relevance continue to evolve, as should binders and collections.

Let’s look a few key cards from this week’s SCG Legacy finalists.

Noble Hierarch - $11.99 on SCG

This card is insane. A better Birds of Paradise that makes your Tarmogoyf bigger than your opponents. Will see play for years to come as a RUG/Bant staple. Not to mention how well it works with Natural Order.

Tower of the Magistrate - $.99 (sold out)

One or two of these in any collection can't hurt. It might see play as a tutorable land and is from an older set.

Karakas - $59.99

This card is an obvious (newer!) Legacy staple. They are getting harder to find and, ideally, at least should be required in any collection.

Bridge from Below - $9.99 (sold out)

A Dredge necessity that will continue to creep up in value.

Ichorid - $4.99 (NM sold out)

The price tag on this card is way too low. I feel it may eventually get a reprint, but for now it is a card that is worth picking up.

Sphinx of the Steel Wind - $6.99 (NM sold out)

As new sets come out, creatures get better and Reanimator does the same. This card is really good against the aggro decks when brought back from the dead. It is going to get harder to find the longer it’s been out of print.

Until Next Time

Although a lot of this article has been a huge peek into my life, I can promise that there will be far more financial content from here on out.

In this game you have to make your money work for you. Cards are almost always as liquid as cash. Get connected, be aware, and never stop buying. If you're not having fun, then you're likely not risking anything.

Feel free to post questions in the comments or email me.

Until next time,

- Mike Hawthorne
Twitter: Gamble4Value

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13 thoughts on “How to Really Live: My Life as a Traveling Backpacked, Cardboard-Dealing Degenerate

  1. Great article sir, as me and Kelly have regaled in the past time and time again most of us floor traders started almost identical to you. Literally nothing, then it clicks that your smart enough and savvy enough to make a living from this, and the travel and friends are amazing. Was good to meet you, I believe in KC? Either way look forward to you joining the roster and your future articles.

  2. what do you think of green sun's zenith? it's seeing play as a 4 of in a lot of Legacy decks but is only at around $4. seems like it could go up.

  3. Dude. I've been on the fence about keeping my subscription but I'm really glad I still have it thank to your article. Great writing and layout. Thanks for the read.

  4. Thanks for the input Chad. I will be talking about the pros and cons of a card collective very soon. The problem with M12s impact on legacy is the set is virtually all reprints. I will try to stay away from standard pricing except to discuss why legacy cards are dropping or rising in value.

    Get ready for a spicy meatball next week.

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