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Insider: Why You Should Love Casual Magic

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Every time you sit down to trade, you face a ton of decisions, often more than you face when playing a typical game of Magic. And what decisions you make matter. Trade or hold onto that Sorin, Lord of Innistrad? How many copies of Skaab Ruinator is too many? Is trading an Arid Mesa worth getting that Olivia Volderen?

The truth is most of you reading this site can hold your own on decisions like the ones above. But, if you’re anything like me, you face an altogether different problem when you sit down at the table – staying up-to-date on all your prices.

This is a problem more than ever these days in this volatile market. What has Bloodline Keeper // Lord of Lineage gone up to? Which Scars Dual Land is the flavor of the month right now, and how high has it gone? What’s the latest card that Modern has spiked the price on?

In theory, it’s easy to stay current on your prices. Just check the major sites, read the latest articles and spend enough time on the trading floor, and you’ll know the prices, right?

If only it were that easy in the real world.

Here in the real world, things happen. The car breaks down, your kid gets sick, you take a night off of FNM to hang out with your girlfriend, or, God forbid, you have a career that stops you from staying up-to-the-second in the Magic world. It can make it very difficult for players to stay in the game as they get older, and it’s one reason why the attrition rate in Magic can seem higher as players skew older.

This effect also is clearly felt at the trading tables. Being behind just a week on your prices can be just as damaging as being behind a week on the latest Standard tech.  If you’re at a point in your life where it has become more difficult to keep up with daily price changes in cards, I have a strategy to share with you that revolutionized my trading methods, and most importantly, my profit margins.

Keeping it casual

I did the “grab every Standard card” thing for awhile, and it worked out okay. But at times when I needed to cash out, it sucked to find out that the cards I traded for at their current prices had come down just a few short weeks later when I needed to sell. Even worse, I was getting much less in cash for them than I thought I would.

This was a frustrating experience, and I began to search for a better way. Of course I knew that Legacy cards were the place to be, but no one wanted to trade those away for my relatively small Standard collection, nor were there many players with these type of cards at my store.

What I did have was a group of extremely casual players who brought their “fun” decks to FNM and mostly just gave me free packs in Limited events. This was great for my playing career but a little less lucrative for my trading endeavors.

One night something clicked as I was surfing buylists online (something I definitely had more time to do while I was in college). I realized that the Cauldron of Souls and Wilt-Leaf Lieges I had from random drafts were actually worth money! More importantly, it hit me that if I didn’t know this, other people probably didn’t either. And I was sold.

I realize this story seems a little naïve to us nowadays, but in the halcyon days of 2008 the truth is there was no focus on the financial side of Magic outside of the DailyMTG column “Building on a Budget,” Quiet Speculation was just a seed of an idea in Kelly’s mind, and EDH was being played in just a few hotel rooms across the country among judges.

What is the relevance of all this? Well, for me, it represented the day I learned that the ‘Casual” card was the place to be. Not only was the buylist value better on these cards, but they were much easier to acquire!

From then on, my goals shifted to picking up these types of cards and just trading for the things I needed for my own decks. Over time, as I began to care less about Standard and learned the wonders of having friends who will loan you cards, I began to focus even more exclusively on these cards.

Now let’s step out of the past and come back to now. Everything I learned in 2008 is just as true today as it was then. There have been some changes along the way, most notably the explosion of EDH and the rise in knowledge regarding prices, but the basic tenets are the same. Casual cards are worth more than ever, and you will still find them very cheaply in trade.

With that in mind, we can feel comfortable targeting these cards in trades (as I am sure many of you do), but there is an even bigger benefit to this tact that we haven’t touched on yet.

Remember above where I mentioned the negative implications that time constraints have on trading? Well, one of the best thing about targeting casual cards in trades is that the prices are very stable (which is why you get a better buy price on them). Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker has been $15-20 forever and will likely stay that way. Mill cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable are always going to be popular. And Planeswalkers, even unplayed ones like Sarkhan Vol, will retain value.

So what qualifies as a “casual card?” Let’s break down some of the major archetypes.

Mill

Mind Funeral retails for $3-4 and Archive Trap is $2. These cards are played in zero competitive decks, but still hold their value. These were even more popular before Commander became a thing, but as you can see, they still stand the test of time. This is why I really like grabbing Increasing Confusion as a throw-in over the next year, because you can get them as handouts and they’ll likely stay upwards of $2 forever.

Commander

This particular category is no secret and has been beat to death. What’s especially important to note is that, even though something like Jhoira of the Ghitu is a solid $4, the foil version is more than seven times that. Popular Commanders and other staples of the format are insane pickups in foil if you can find any.

Of course, you can still find other random cards that aren’t Commanders, like Coalition Relic, that retail for good prices ($4, despite a reprint in the case of the Relic) and still have the insane foil prices ($25 for Relic).

Angels/Dragons

This is something that was much more prevalent in the past but still exists today. I’ve had players come up to me and ask me to trade them every Dragon I own, and Mark Rosewater recently said that they try to always make these because they are one of the most popular creature types.

At the Dark Ascension Prerelease (where I went 10-0-1 over two events), a new player asked me if they put a Dragon in every set after seeing some older ones in my binder. When I told him yes, he got excited to start collecting them. That’s the effect these things have, for whatever reason.

The real move in picking these up is getting the Mythics, because that’s where the most money will always lie. For instance, Bogarden Hellkite and Hellkite Overlord are worth $3-5 despite being nothing but a casual card. It’s also why I like picking up Angelic Overseer and Moonveil Dragon as throw-ins right now.

Elves/Token Generators

Immaculate Magistrate is worth $5 despite seeing a reprint already. Elvish Promenade is a $3 uncommon, and we all know about the $25 Doubling Season.

For whatever reason, people love Elves. Elvish Champion and Elvish Piper are stupid expensive for what they are and always trade very easily. It also helps that Elves and Tokens overlap pretty heavily.

This makes something like Parallel Lives a good choice right now, though it will probably take a while, both due to Doubling Season already existing and the sheer bulk of Innistrad packs that were cracked.

Black/White cards

This is randomly a very popular casual color combination. Fetid Heath is worth real money and Deathbringer Liege is too, not to mention Commander staple Divinity of Pride.

It’s not the biggest factor in the world, but keep this in mind while you are digging through collections. People still don’t realize that Stillmoon Cavalier goes for $8 on SCG.

I’ve been teased in the past for my love of cards like Adaptive Automation ($4) and Captivating Vampire ($4), but these are the cards I make most of my money in Magic off of. When I sell cards, I usually am able to pull dozens of things these out of my binder and make a few hundred dollars without ever touching the larger-ticket items. This allows me to grow my collection with the truly difficult-to-acquire cards like Dual Lands and next-tier things like Mutavaults, not to mention the nearly-75 Zendikar Fetchlands I have, while still making real money selling cards.

Until next week, keep it casual!

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

5 thoughts on “Insider: Why You Should Love Casual Magic

  1. Absolutely terrific article. I always seem to forget the power of trading for casual cards. They are a lot less fickle and they usually can be traded for near buylist prices. Even though Stillmoon Cavalier goes for $8 on SCG, you probably could convince someone without much work to trade theirs away for a Standard card or two at less value.

    For me, the hardest part is keeping track of all the random casual cards that hold their value so well. There are so many, and you never read about them online, so it’s very difficult to keep a mental list compiled in your head. Any advice there?

    1. I guess Corbin was hoping to make it easier on you by listing those archetypes.

      Mostly I find that I am just browsing around in shops and am surprised by the value of a card, which I'll then remember for next time (or alternatively it might be listed in the SCG price changes forum thread). If it seems like a recent rise I'll scour some shops that are generally a little slow to update to see if I can find some at a lower price. Once I have the cards I make sure to keep an eye on what they go for. I was for example buying $20 Temporal Manipulations in the UK when they were being sold for $50 in US based shops.

      I guess it's easier to keep the mental list if those are cards you're actually interested in playing, I on the other hand have a hard time keeping track of what standard is doing, as it feels like in 2 years the cards will half in price anyway so it's hardly worth my effort.

  2. I'm a casual player and proud of it!

    I will always amaze whoever I am trading with what I am picking out of their binders. Strangely of the above categories I'm only after Commander and then only non-foils, but fortunately you can play just about anything in Commander anyway. Being one myself I can always very easily trade with casual payers, making some suggestions for their decks while we move through my binders, asking them about the formats they like, etc. Fortunately for me I am quite aware of prices unlike most casual players. I'm happy to get the casual stuff I want from the drafters and other competetive players at a discount while I can move them quite well among the casual players I usually deal with for their actual prices. If I need something tournament worthy I move the other way.

    I've always been casual, but your observation that this is easier to keep track of probably holds true. I never consciously realised it, but you're probably right and I might have subconsciously been drawn to it. Slower moving cards are certainly to my advantage.

    I had to smile at "halcyon days of 2008" though, for me my halcyon days for trading would have been around 2001-2002. If you thought people were clueless in 2008, I can garantee you would have been amazed by what they were like even longer ago when all you had was an Inquest or a printed out copy of MOTL or Cloister's list* (in my case printed too small for most to read; I am near-sighted…).

    * I guess that rather dates me, Cloister's lists were discontinued in 2000… Yes, I also realize that now that I've gotten older keeping up on card prices is more difficult as I just don't have as much time as I used to. Also the lists have gotten too big to print.

  3. As usual, awesome article. I am definitely a casual player, the only competitive I play is Legacy about twice a year, and I love the ability to trade for offbeat casual cards from competitive players.

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