Insider: Thinking About Old Cards – Value in Alpha/Beta

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It is pretty undeniable that the oldest Magic cards are among the most interesting and iconic in the history of the game. There are certainly newer printings that stick in the imaginations of players—Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or even Siege Rhino—but there is something really special about the original cards and the first few expansions.

For starters, many of the oldest cards are simply the most powerful cards ever made. Dual lands, Moxes, Power 9, and Mana Drain—they don't make them like that anymore (except when they reprint Mana Drain)…

When it comes to the absolute top tier of expensive old cards, I feel like most people have similar thoughts and goals.

"I'd like to own dual lands so I can play Legacy."

"I'd like to own the Power 9 so I can play Vintage."

Players and collectors think of these purchases as investments. They want to collect them and play with them, but they also understand that these cards are likely to continue to gain value moving forward. Magic cards are a fairly stable collectible when it comes to prices and investments.

I have a hard time suggesting the top tier of cards as an investment. The presence of the Reserved List leads me to believe that these cards will likely continue to appreciate in value over time by virtue of their scarcity. The problem is that they are already so expensive.

If you gave me $2000 to invest in Magic cards to resell in a few years I wouldn't buy Power 9 with that money. I think that the Power 9 would be extremely likely to appreciate in that time, but I think there are better margins on other kinds of cards. The top tier of the Reserved List is like super safe stocks or bonds that always go up.

Pondering Old School

A lot of my QS content comes from my everyday interactions with buying, selling, and trading Magic cards. This week is no different.

I had an awesome find come up last week. I was in Canada playing FNM at a game store I'd never been to and I stumbled onto some aggressively priced Old School singles. Basically, I got the impression that they had been sitting in a binder for a year and nobody local was into those kinds of cards. Especially taking into consideration the favorable exchange rate, I got a really sick deal on eight Old School cards where I was paying between 25-35% of retail on some really cool old cards.

Obviously, if you are out and about and find great deals on cards it makes a lot of sense to pull the trigger. Obvious fact is obvious. However, it got me thinking about a few things.

First of all, the cards were not the top tier of Old School cards. I was picking up things like Alpha Black Knight, White Knight, Sengir Vampire, and Singing Tree. These are cards that have spiked up in value over the past year or so because of the popularity of Old School and the changing collectible marketplace.

It turns out that Modern cards are not the safe haven of MTG investing that they used to be in the past. Reprints have really put a damper on the value and expected return on staples. We know that when Modern cards become expensive they will be reprinted in Modern Masters, Commander decks, etc.

However, Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, etc. will always be old and cool. It doesn't matter if Black Knight gets reprinted 1000 times, the Alpha and Beta versions will always be desirable because they are classic and iconic. When people play Old School these are the copies they want to own.

Reconsidering the Lower Tier

I think there is a rising demand for a lot of cards that were thought to be fairly undesirable in the past. For instance, as a result of this particular buy, it put the idea into my head to make an Old School Danger Room/Battle Box stack that uses only cards going back to before Ice Age. I think it'd be a challenge to build the cube but I also think it would be very fun to play a different kind of Magic.

I've been trying to pick up the remaining Old School singles and have been able to find a lot of prices that are less than I'd expect. The fact that I'd expect to pay more tells me that perhaps these are the kind of cards that have a lot of potential for future gains as a collectible investment.

I went through the set list for Beta and took a look at cards that have had a fairly consistent price point for a while. These are the cards of interest I found:

Flat-priced Beta cards

Most of these cards are uncommons, with a few powerful commons mixed in. The key here is that while the rares and constructed staples have all spiked up pretty aggressively, these cards have remained mostly the same for several years.

I'd also like to point out that the cards I've focused on are, more or less, playable Magic cards. Perhaps these are not playable in Legacy or Vintage, but they are not embarrassingly bad cards. These are cards that I could see people wanting to use in Old School cubes or in casual Old School decks.

Imagining New Formats

I feel like in Magic finance part of the key is using one's imagination to envision a new market for cards that is likely to come into being at some point in time. Perhaps I've just got "old card fever" because I bought a bunch of sweet old cards last week, but maybe I've actually stumbled onto something.

I imagine that building a cube with all old cards would be a way to get some of my family members who no longer play Magic to battle some games with me. Battle Box is great but there are so many new mechanics and cards that it isn't really possible to play that format with my brother or cousins. However, if I built an Old School version I believe they'd be able and excited to play some ready-made games with me.

I also feel like with some of these "less desirable" Old School cards there is potential to track them down on the cheap and find really good deals. I was looking at prices on Star City Games and I imagine I could find these cards much cheaper on TCGplayer or at a local game store.

Anyways, the thought behind today's article is that perhaps there is an opportunity with some of these less desirable uncommons to buy in and make gains in the near future. It's not like these cards are particularly easy to find when and if you were looking for a specific one. As with anything, condition matters, especially on collectible cards.

Let's just say I've been asking people if they have "old cards" and have been making offers on commons and uncommons lately. There's for sure value there—even if the prices don't spike hard, I do believe that there are a lot of people interested in these cards who are doing the same thing that I am right now. Take that for what its worth!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Thinking About Old Cards – Value in Alpha/Beta

  1. Great article. I’ve been thinking all the same things lately. I’ve been making my own old school cube, but I’m including all cards pre-Modern. It’s pretty exciting and I can’t wait to draft it.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts about what your type of old school cube would look like. Do you literally mean all cards in the old school format? Or all old bordered cards like I’m talking about?

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