There's something empowering about getting one's first playset of "expensive" (a very relative term) cards. I picked up my first playset of Lightning Bolts almost immediately upon learning to play Magic, but those were like a quarter at the time. Even paying a quarter for a single piece of cardboard seemed like a lot at ten years old. Seeing that some cards sold for dollars or more was crazy. Looking through Inquest magazine and seeing that the best cards went for tens or even hundreds of dollars was baffling to someone for whom buying a booster pack was a stretch.
Most Magic players go through a similar transformation: we learn to play, but don't see any need to get the expensive cards. "It's just a game," we all say. "Who needs to spend money on dual lands when basics are virtually free?"
After a while, it doesn't seem so crazy to pay $10 for a playset of utility cards. "Hey, I have more fun when I win, and these are really important. No big deal." Then we start paying $10 for single cards, using the same logic. Before long, we're buying playsets of Tarmogoyfs.
In my case, I stopped playing budget brews when I completed my playset of Snapcaster Mage. After returning to Magic in 2011 after a 12-year hiatus, I was firmly back in the budget-brew mindset. I was just looking to have some good times.
I opened a Snapcaster Mage at the Innistrad prerelease, which I slotted into my casual illusions deck (based largely on Jacon Van Lunen's highlight of the deck in Building on a Budget). A couple months later, I cracked a second Snapcaster in a draft, and I opened a third one in a single pack of Innistrad my sister sent me for Christmas. After Dark Ascension came out, I drafted a Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells that I quickly traded to complete my playset.
This was a pivotal moment in my return to Magic. I now had four copies of what was pretty clearly the best card in Standard. All of a sudden, I started playing real decks. Budget brews were no longer acceptable—if I was going to spend time and money playing Magic, then it would be with the best cards, dammit. It took me a little longer to reach the same point with my mana bases (I'm ashamed to admit I played UW Delver with no Seachrome Coasts for a while), but now the very first thing I do if I'm going to play a format is pick up all the lands. Today, I couldn't imagine entering a tournament without a perfect mana base.
Looking back, it's pretty clear that attaining my first playset of an eternal-playable, "expensive" card was the turning point for me in this game. Have any of you had similar experiences? Share the story of completing your first (or favorite) major playset below.