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Insider: Pay Less for Magic in Only Four Hours a Month

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MTG finance is becoming quite the daunting endeavor. If you wanted to count every possible stock trading on some exchange in the US, you would crest 10,000 in total. The number of Magic cards, in all their varieties and printings, which you could track for financial relevance is likely in the same ballpark, if not higher.

Reading through finance articles online (like these) is a valuable tool to educate and develop speculation and investing ideas. But even these articles can be overwhelming at times. If you were to follow the advice of every writer each week you’d be sinking thousands a month into cards you may not have even heard of.

While this can be reckless, it could make you money. But the approach is much like that of a novice stock market investor. Reading about what analysts are buying and blindly following suit cannot be the optimal strategy.

Who Has the Time?

To really optimize investing strategies, one could spend hours a day reading websites, browsing buy and sell lists, and interacting on social media in order to stay ahead of the curve. And in today’s MTG finance environment, this almost seems necessary in order to make this hobby more affordable.

It isn’t.

I will argue that making this hobby cheaper for a newer speculator or investor (yes those are two different groups of people) is possible straight out of the gate. All it takes is a few changes in habits and shifting your mindset a bit. It may be gradual, but within a few months you’ll notice your trade binder growing without your bank account shrinking. You’ll need to make some sacrifices along the way, but if you are willing to prioritize value for a few months you’ll definitely benefit in the long run.

Step 1: Move Standard to the Back Burner

Over the last few months I've heard routine local players complain about how expensive Modern is. Legacy doesn’t even come up in conversation, it’s so difficult to enter financially. I normally chuckle when I hear this and make a serious claim that Standard is expensive.

It really is, trust me.

The initial cash layout isn’t as significant; I’ll grant this much. But Standard does something that Modern and Legacy never do--it rotates. When Standard rotates, a large set of once-valuable and in-demand cards plummet in value. Some never recover again, rendering your no-longer-Standard-legal deck useless and worth significantly less.

I couldn’t imagine holding Bonfire of the Damned to use in Standard when it was a month away from rotating. The red sorcery went from $45 to $5. Holding a set of these through rotation would mean a $160 loss from your collection!

Bonfire

Not every drop is so pronounced, but the fact of the matter is most Standard cards are prone to price drops. To navigate around this, you could hop around from Standard deck to Standard deck to try and protect your value. This becomes time-consuming however, and my intent with this article is to recommend ways to spend minimal time while making MTG more valuable. Not infinite time.

My advice: sleeve up a budget Standard deck for six months. Or better yet, skip over a Standard season altogether. It’ll still be there when you get back, I promise. The format has grown stagnant now anyway, and rotation is rapidly approaching. Now is the perfect time to neglect this time-intensive format and focus on a different priority. The time it takes not to play Standard: zero.

Remove Attachments

No, this isn’t a recommendation to cease acquiring equipment in Magic. I actually think strong equipment like Umezawa's Jitte is a fine place to park some money.


Once you’ve accepted the fact you’re not going to be playing Standard for a bit the next step to making MTG a cheaper hobby is to remove emotional attachments from 99% of your cards. Nothing should be sacred. In fact the cards people want the most are often cards you should be eager to unload.

A great example right now would be Legacy staples. These are all skyrocketing in price: Force of Will, Wasteland and duals are all hitting record highs.

Force


Let the economics guide you in these situations. When Legacy spikes it means players are eager to acquire these cards. That means they have a ton of liquidity. There used to be a time when Jace, the Mind Sculptor was equivalent to a $100 bill. In fact Jace may have been easier to move than the $100 for a brief time (hyperbole). Now that card is NM Force of Will.

This isn’t the time to hold Legacy staples close to your chest. If you want to make MTG cheaper you should consider moving what Legacy stuff you have that you’re not using into cards that are a bit out of favor. Modern cards have been pulling back slightly in the shadows of this Legacy boom. That trend will shift come Modern PTQ season this summer.

Traders may even be willing to give you a value advantage if you’re moving a Legacy staple their way while you pick up tons of Kitchen Finks and Path to Exiles. Three months from now you’ll have an incredibly liquid binder from which to trade.

Don’t have Legacy staples? That is perfectly fine, especially since casual cards are all the rage right now. If you have some Commander generals you may want to consider moving those today. As in not tomorrow or the day after…

Interest1

These Commander generals are all very hot right now, which means you want to be moving them into Modern. If you insist on ignoring Modern then go for the Theros block Temples. Those won’t move downward in the next six months, and when you are ready to play Standard again you’ll be surprised how much value you preserved by picking up safe Standard cards that are guaranteed to be in demand post-rotation.

Total time it takes to trade away your hot cards emotion-free? Well, you likely already do some trading so there is no incremental time requirement. The biggest challenge will be overcoming emotional attachments and knowing which formats are hot and which are likely to be hot in the future.

But I have two handy resources for you: MTGStocks/interests and the Pro Tour schedule.

The former is a link to the hottest cards according to price increases on TCG Player. It is updated daily and takes about two minutes to read through. I’d recommend checking this every day, which equates to about fifteen minutes a week of your time. When you see trends showing up on this list (i.e. there sure are a lot of casual cards on there right now) you’ll quickly identify which formats are most popular.

The latter link brings you to the Pro Tour schedule. Leading up to each Pro Tour is the PTQ season, and the chart on this website will tell you the format played for each Pro Tour and preceding PTQ season. Once a year that format is Modern, and so late summer you can expect these cards to take off with one last hurrah during Pro Tour Honolulu in October.

Keep this information in the back of your mind--knowing when Modern and Standard will be most in demand (during their respective PTQ Seasons) will help you predict trends. Then you can trade accordingly while investing minimal time in endless research.

Ignore the Noise

My last piece of advice should also resonate with those who are short on time: ignore the noise. I don’t always believe the cliché, “less is more,” but in some cases it can work wonders. If you are truly strapped for time then you’re likely to get bogged down by every speculation tip and buyout that occurs. Chasing after these can be a time sink.

Imagine you saw that Ghave, Guru of Spores was suddenly bought out yesterday. You could spend an hour sifting through websites looking for the remaining underpriced copies that everyone missed. This behavior may even make you a few bucks, but at what cost? Even if you found ten copies at $5 each and decided to pull the trigger, you’re likely to net only $7 or $8 a copy after fees and shipping. And if this buyout turns out to be a bust and the card falls back down to $8 your profit will be wiped away.

Worst of all, you would have sunk an hour of your time into something that may make you a few bucks at best. There are times when chasing a buyout can be worth your while. When SCG upped their prices on Underground Sea, Ancient Tomb, and Volcanic Island there was an opportunity to make significant profits. But when Márton Stromgald doubles in price overnight I don’t even blink an eye.

The information likely won’t help you in the near term, and you’re much better off focusing on macro trends. By looking at the big picture and focusing on format shifts you’re less likely to get bogged down by the details. By avoiding the daily hype you’ll save time and energy (not to mention money).

Wrapping It Up

If you have limited time to speculate on MTG finance but you still hope to make this hobby a bit cheaper, you have to focus more on the macro trends. The day-to-day speculation and buyout will distract you too much. Look at what formats are most attractive and help to meet that demand. Convert your hot cards into assets that will become hot next season.

Eliminate your emotional attachments wherever possible. Remember that Magic cards are commodities--there are dozens if not hundreds of stores you can access to purchase a card and the card will have the same abilities no matter who you buy from.

Just because you are trading away your favorite card right now doesn’t mean you can never acquire it again. Focus on the numbers and on macro trends and move accordingly. This will pay dividends in the long term.

Finally, I want to stress yet again that playing Standard is a major resource drain. You either lose value as rotation approaches or you lose time trying to navigate around it. There are definitely times when investing in Standard is correct, but you have to be careful with what you target.

By focusing on the cards furthest from rotation and the robust card most resistant to metagame changes, you’ll maximize your Standard collection’s value. This will enable you to trade into cards you’ll want to play with in the future at a much lower cost.

Remember--you’ll never make the most money possible if you have limited time. But you will mitigate the hobby’s cost and possibly even make money along the way. Identify what’s most important to you. If your Magic time is limited, do what you can and focus in the right areas. You will not be disappointed as long as you keep your goals in mind.

Sigbits

  • If you haven’t seen this yet you should be aware: Channel Fireball now has NM Revised Underground Seas at $379.99. There is no ceiling to these duals. The second you question if Legacy will die because of these new price increases, remind yourself that NM Unlimited Mox Ruby now retails for $799.99. Even in a “dead” format like Vintage the staples are still increasing.
  • I have to admit my bias will show on this one. I just saw that SCG is sold out of Innistrad booster boxes with a price tag of $179.99. I’ve been watching these on eBay for months now, and I can say that boxes under $190 are selling. I suspect SCG will be up to $199.99 on these very soon.
  • I was absolutely baffled when I heard retail price on Kitchen Finks was $5.99. No way. There have got to be dozens if not hundred of cheaper copies on TCG Player. But with Modern PTQ season approaching I predict the TCG Player price will go higher, eventually catching up to retail pricing. The increase is premature in my opinion, but it is going to happen soon enough.

14 thoughts on “Insider: Pay Less for Magic in Only Four Hours a Month

  1. “Eliminate your emotional attachments wherever possible. Remember that Magic cards are commodities–there are dozens if not hundreds of stores you can access to purchase a card and the card will have the same abilities no matter who you buy from.

    Just because you are trading away your favorite card right now doesn’t mean you can never acquire it again. Focus on the numbers and on macro trends and move accordingly. This will pay dividends in the long term.”

    While usually true there are certainly cards that will not be available in dozens of stores (let alone hundreds). In fact, if you’ve ever tried to obtain a playset of a more popular P3K rare or Beta rare you know you’re lucky to even find shops that have a copy (let alone a NM copy).

    1. It’s true that not EVERY card is commoditized in Magic. But I would argue 99.9% cards are. Also there’s not much out there that you couldn’t immediately acquire a set of if you were that eager. Chinese Portal Starlit Angel, Summer cards, and the like are exceptions. Or if you are looking for true Mint Alpha/Beta rares I suppose. Chances are these aren’t the cards the target audience of this article are attached to though.

      You being the exception, perhaps 😛

      1. 99.9% seems a little high, I’d agree with 95% though ;).*

        I’m usually happy getting cards with a few minor dings, not actually even looking to get what I would call NM (though I do have some Beta cards that are). Even then some cards are just so hard to find (the reason I jumped on the opportunity to get some cards from that collection Sean got last year). I’ve never even seen a Summer Elvish Archers available anywhere, or seen any Summer card in person. Summer is really in a class of its own.

        I’ve seen a few other people on the forums that seem to be in the same boat as I am: oriented towards building a collection cheaply rather than actually making money.

        * There are about 13.000 regular cards, so 99.9% suggests 13 regularly printed cards would be like this. I don’t think there are enough special prints for which it wouldn’t hold for to get close to 99.9% (I’m sure I can easily come up with 100 cards I think it’ll hold for, so 99.9% would suggest there would have to be 100.000 different cards, in fact, let’s count the entire Summer set for starters and we’ll already have considerably more than 100).

        1. 95% is very very low. You’re talking about like 650 cards. I’d argue you could readily acquire a good portion of Summer cards and almost every Alpha Beta card with minimal effort (not counting NM, which is really a sub-category). Give me a card that isn’t a misprint and part of a regular release and I’ll find a copy for you. Price may be outrageous but almost everything exists.

          And I still maintain that 99.9% of the cards we interact with regularly (we being the average MTG Player) fit this category. The players who want to save time and just make their hobby cheaper may not be the same players who are seeking Summer Archers 😛

          1. I challenge you to find me a playset of any Summer card that is not a Basic, or enough Basics to use as a draft set (let’s say 10 per land type). Heck, I’d be happy to give in if you could find me a single Summer Elvish Archers just because I’d be too distracted to keep arguing ;). Without that though, I think it would be fair to assume Summer accounts for 300 cards. While I won’t count those a quick look at the misprints and oddities FB group will show you a huge number of cards that would be impossible or near impossible to replace. You’ve seen my foil Diplomatic Immunity, there should be a few more copies out there as there were several sheets with the same issue, but they are all but impossible to locate.

            I’m sure that if you throw enough time and money at it it’s doable, but, the average Joe or even most advanced traders would have a hard time to re-obtain Power, Alpha or Beta Duals and any of the older high end cards like Moat, Tabernacle, etc. particularly when looking for NM copies. In fact even slightly lower end cards such as Meekstone, Nevinyrral’s Disk or Illusionary Mask can be very hard to find. If they have one and they trade it away they are not likely to find another.

            Note that I am not considering it to be impossible, but, if I sell say my Beta Bayou today I would call it an easy to replace item only if I can obtain it for the same price within a couple of weeks should I want to. Yes you could count a card that’s way overpriced for proving I could re-obtain it, but it seems more fair to count reasonably priced copies, which are few and far between.

            In fact, finding NM playsets of any Alpha or Beta rare is probably going to be beyond most traders. I honestly think 95% might still be too high.

            Btw, there would have to be more than 650, there are also foils, special releases and foreign languages to take into account. However, special releases also regularly include special cards, so I wouldn’t be too worried about reaching that number.

      1. Diaochan was such a dagger. I bought one for something like $70 and was delighted at the deal I found. No more than two weeks later, she was spoiled for that Commander product. I managed to move my copy to a buylist for about $20 less than I paid.

        I guess the happy ending was that I bought a CMDR copy for like $6. She does the same thing as the original printing and the wording is much improved with the new version. It’s no original of course, but since the artwork was the same I was satisified.

        1. Yeah, so sorry about that. In hindsight I still would have suggested picking her up though. The reprint was very unexpected and with the information available at the time picking up copies of her made a lot of sense. Thought you got in lower than $70 though?

          I still have my 5 Diaochans, got in around 25-30 euro each, so not too unhappy. She could’ve been the next Xiahou Dun though if she wasn’t reprinted at that exact time.

          1. I don’t remember the exact price I paid. I just remember I sold her for like $15-$20 less than what I paid. The numbers were estimates based solely on memory.

  2. Thanks for the tip on the INN booster box. I think that’s a great pick up right now. Foil lillys are on the move up. I don’t think this can get to WW standards but it will definitely follow a similar trend.

    1. Chris,

      Not a problem, I try to mention a couple things each article that some people may not be aware of. It’s tough to come up with stuff every week, but this INN just popped up so I felt it was timely to mention. These are on the rise – I agree they won’t reach WWK heights, but even if they reach half that that’d still be pretty solid. Thanks for the comment!

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