Insider: The Real Costs of Entering Standard

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After Return to Ravnica-Theros Standard was dominated by Mono-Black Devotion for the better part of the year, the all-new decks in the field are a real breath of fresh air. Many players gave up on Standard last year, but with the new format in town, they're looking to get back in.

For today's article, I've chosen eight different decks from the format. I'll be breaking down each one by cost according to TCGplayer mid, and top buylist prices according to Trader Tools.

Let's start with the big kahuna of the format:

This is the deck that Ari Lax used to win Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. It is, kind of by a lot, the most expensive deck in the format: its TCGplayer mid value comes out to $758.26. That's a lot of money, but conveniently, the deck buylists for $536.37.

A Crash Course in Set Value Loss

So the simple math is just to subtract $536 from $758 to give us a grand total of $221.89, right? ...Right?

That may be true if you're only playing the deck for one event, but most people who invest in a deck are going to play it for a while longer than that. Let's say you're going to play the deck through May and take the summer off. In general, what's the difference between card prices in October and May?

For the sake of simplicity, I just looked at large fall sets, but I'm certain this math would change if we incorporated other sets. This, at least, gives us a baseline. Note: all values cited below come from MTG Goldfish.

The value of a full set of Innistrad on this day in 2011 was $300.80. The same set on May 30 of the following year was $173.20, a 42.42% loss. Return to Ravnica was worth $341.10 on October 24, 2012, but was worth only $197.10 at the end of the following May, a 42.22% loss. Theros lost only 39.16% of its value, going from $350.10 to $213 from October 2013 to May 2014. Pretty consistently, new sets tend to lose around 40 percent of their value from shortly after their release to the following May.

What about the older sets in Standard? After Innistrad's release at the end of 2011, Scars of Mirrodin was worth $231.50 and dropped to $169.10 right before it rotated, a 26.95% loss. Innistrad lost less in Return to Ravnica Standard, going from $232.20 to $206.80—only a 10.94% loss (probably explained by the growing interest in Modern at this time coupled with all the Modern staples in the set). Return to Ravnica was more comparable to Scars of Mirrodin, losing 24.87% of its value in the corresponding time period ($270.60 to $203.30). So the previous year's set loses about 20 percent of its value from October to May.

Okay. Again for simplicity's sake, let's assume decks are roughly made up of half cards from the current block, half cards from the previous year's block. That would mean that, on average, a deck is likely to lose 30 percent of its value if purchased on October 24 and sold on May 31.

This means that Lax's deck will buylist next May for $375.46. If you buy in for $758.26, that means you'll end up spending $382.80 on the deck.

Hobbies cost money, of course, so spending money to play Magic is fine. There's also the consideration of prizes you may win with the deck. If you crush FNMs weekly for $25 or $50 store credit, you may end up playing the deck for free by the time you end up buylisting it. If you win a major event like a PTQ, GP, or SCG Open, you'll be considerably ahead.

Knowing how much money you are actually putting down to play Standard can help you select a deck that fits your budget best. Some players want to win and will spend money to get there, while others just want to be competitive with the cheapest reasonable deck in the format. Let's take a look at seven other decks you may consider playing for the next several months.

The Other Big Deck

There are several different builds of Jeskai Wins out there, but McLaren's seemed like a good baseline to go with. That guy's been playing Jeskai since it was UWR!

McClaren's deck can be purchased at TCGplayer mid for $451.71 and currently buylists for $298.22. Once we factor in the 30 percent loss, that goes down to $208.75. So you'll need to make up $242.96 in winnings to break even with the deck.

The Budget Build

This deck retails for all of $90.20 and buylists for $52.38. Most of the cost of the deck is tied up in sideboard copies of Eidolon of the Great Revel and Goblin Rabblemaster. This is a true budget build that has proved it can perform, though decks like this don't always stick around for the long term.

You should be able to buylist this deck in May for $36.66, meaning you only have to make ups $53.54 to play for free this season. You could handle that at your next two FNMs.

I Like to Control Things

I could go with the slightly different version of U/B Control run by some members of the Channel Fireball team, but this one made top eight, guys. (Never mind that Owen Turtenwald was a virtual top eight, losing out only to breakers.)

Control decks tend to be some of the more expensive choices in a given format, but this one only costs $356.31, less than the burn deck! Buylists now total $237.77, or $166.44 after the 30 percent dip. That's a difference of $189.87 if you sell in May. Keep in mind that you might need more Pearl Lake Ancients and Perilous Vaults.

I'm Still Playing Last Year's Deck

This is a known quantity from last year, and it's still a thing, as it managed to take down Grand Prix Los Angeles. The deck will set you back a cool $544.01, with expected buylist value of $261.56 next May.

Making $282.45 is a little tougher than most of the other decks, but hopefully you already have the many Theros staples and have won some prizes with them already. That certainly mitigates things.

If There's One Thing I Hate, It's the Simic

This is a pretty cool deck if you like tokens, removal, fatties, planeswalkers, or burning stuff. It will set you back $483.56 to build from scratch, returning $223.18 in May. It's not the most cost-effective deck out there with requiring $260.38 in winnings to break even, but it runs Butcher of the Horde. So...yeah.

Big Knucks for President

I never expected Feed the Clan to break through in Standard, but here it is, squeaking into the top eight of SCG Worcester. I suppose it blanks more than two cards of burn from Jeskai Wins, which is something.

This one comes in at $513.16, with expected buylist value in May at $243.72. That's less than 50 percent of the buy-in price, but you get to play with a bunch of planeswalkers and Big Knucks. Seems worth it to me. Personally, I think this looks like one of the more fun decks in this article.

Get to the Combo Deck, Already

If you like to be as uninteractive as possible, this deck is for you. I am relatively certain that the sideboard cards are mostly there for show, since you can't really dilute the combo too much. I'm also not sure that the one-of Nissa is completely necessary to the deck. Removing those pieces will bring the price of the deck down considerably.

With those pieces included, the deck comes in at $382.95. Taking out the Nissa and sideboard cards will bring it closer to $300. Unfortunately, the deck is only expected to buylist at $147.70. If Jeskai Ascendancy is banned in Modern, expect that number to be slightly lower. If not, expect it to be slightly higher. The deck didn't perform as well at last weekend's events, so you may want to wait a bit to see if it can still work when people know it's a thing.

That's all for today. I hope I helped you make a decision on whether to buy in to Standard, and if so, which deck is right for your budget and play style. The format certainly seems like fun so far. I may even pick up some Knuckleblades myself.

5 thoughts on “Insider: The Real Costs of Entering Standard

  1. I may not have been paying attention, have you written this type of breakdown before? I really like it! I think it would be a good thing to have every time a new set comes out, or at least every block. I’ve been considering getting back into standard, but hadn’t quite figured out how to analyze the cost like this.

  2. Danny,
    Great article I really loved the cost breakdown. The only thing you fail to mention is that the cost of the cards is only one of the costs of playing standard….tournament entry fees is another (and is likely a much larger one than people realize). For example; if you were to play in 80% of the FNMs between October and May (34 Fridays * 0.8=27.2..we’ll round down to 27) and with a typical cost of around $5/6 (avg $5.5)= $148.5 to play FNMs and if you play any major events the cost of IQ’s is $25 per, Super IQ’s is $30, $50 per GP…so that should be considered as well…Travel costs for any of the bigger events is another one to consider…basically playing MTG is a decently expensive hobby, but it’s important to consider ALL the costs.

  3. Hey Danny,

    I can see what you did to arrive at such calculations but as David pointed out, there are other expenses that make tournament “winnings” mediocre at best. And also I am very curious as to why no one factors in the amount of time that they spent playing.

    For example, if you spent 5 hours at an FNM to win lets say 10 packs, many would call it a successful night of “profit”. While I am aware that in this example they are receiving the packs at roughly $.50-$1.00 each, they literally spent an hour per 2 packs earned doing so. Where I live, even minimum wage buys you more than 2 packs an hour.

    That being said, I can see how playing MTG over another type of job would be preferred by many but unlike doing something with set earnings, even for the most skilled of players – winning a tournament is not a guarantee.


  4. I think it’s splitting hairs to factor in time spent playing. Were talking about a hobby, here. You’re going to spend a noon-zero amount of money to play cards.

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