From Player to Investor: Buying Magic in Pandemic Times

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Both 2020 and 2021 have been great to me so far. It was unexpected, given the unfavorable economic context worldwide. I found out that working from home is extremely compatible with the side hustle of buying and selling Magic: The Gathering. While working at home all day, you can easily sell cards to someone that messaged you. You can buy something cool that you saw online. You can take a phone call and discuss a trade while still working on your duties. These are all things that you just cannot do at the office.

Magical Origins

I'm from Uruguay and started playing Magic back in 1995 when Ice Age came out. I was six or seven years old at the time. A few years later, falling in love with Basking Rootwalla and Wild Mongrel, my pet deck became Blue/Green Madness, which I played at school with my friends. I took a break from playing around Legions and returned to the hobby during Khans of Tarkir-Theros Standard. At the time, I remember being amazed that fetch lands were back and Standard-legal.

Not long after getting back in the game, I became a Modern player, searching for greatness with the mighty Burn deck. My biggest accomplishments as a player were netting a Pro Point at Grand Prix Sao Paulo 2017, and losing a finals match to go to Pro Tour Brussels 2020 at a Latin American (LATAM) Series Event in 2019, again in Sao Paulo. I lost to Dredge, the story of my life. It's not much, but I worked at it: testing hard for events, trying to find good sideboard cards, etc. The normal life of an aspiring Spike.

It was at that point that the pandemic and the 2020 lockdown came along and changed all our lives and mindsets. You could not gather at a store to play anymore. Because of the shutdown, I decided to sell my two Modern decks, Burn and Humans. With the recent uptick of prices in Modern, it's safe to say both my buyers made some serious profits, but at the time, I had no interest in keeping decks if I had no chance to play them.

Reserved List Fever

Around August 2019, before we knew the pandemic was coming, I began watching a famous YouTube channel about collectibles and finance called Alpha Investments. The host Rudy said something that really struck me: "If you like Magic: The Gathering and you've been around for a while, buy a little Reserved List card here and there. Save it. You'll be amazed one day at the size of the pool, and at what you have accumulated." I am paraphrasing, but what he said really hit me.

This was the pivotal moment where I converted from being a Modern player to a small collector, investor, and speculator. None of those words accurately define what I do, though. Truthfully, what I do is hoard Reserved List cards. I remember at the time feeling stupid, that it took a YouTube channel in 2019 to introduce me to the Reserved List, after being linked to Magic for more than a decade. I quickly saw the upward trend of Reserve List prices, and the discovery lit something inside me. "Let's stop regretting what we didn't do in the past and buy our first Reserved List card," I said to myself. I was determined to buy the first Reserved List card I saw, no matter how bad it was.

The First Card(s)

It was September 2019 that I found it. I was at Dragon Stone, a local store. A friend of mine was showing me his binder and there it was: a beautiful lightly-played Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary in English.

"How much for this little guy?," I asked. He checked Card Kingdom, the main price reference used in Uruguay.

"$30," he replied, before doing the conversion to our local currency.

I also found an Argothian Wurm on the next page, and I took that card as well.

That was the beginning of my crazy, appetite for Reserved List cards. I did what the madman on YouTube told me to: I bought them all. Survival of the Fittest for $100? You’ve got yourself a deal. Copy Artifact for $50? Here you go. There is one other Reserved List buyer in my hometown Montevideo. Because he has a wide collection of singles, comparable to that of a medium-sized store, I usually pay a little higher price to compete with him.

A Growing Obsession

It's been two years since I started buying all the Reserve List cards I could get my hands on. After much grinding, I've accumulated a very nice collection. Some of the highlights include one of each dual land (mostly foreign white border), a Gaea's Cradle, and a few high-end Reserved List foils. I have over 500 other minor and midrange Reserve List cards, a small Portal Three Kingdoms lot in English, sealed boxes, and more. I've become a hoarder, simply put, and I feel good about my prospects. I like my stock, as they say. I believe in this. I'm not afraid to park money in Reserved List cards because I am sure that the future is bright: nearly all of the cards I have bought, no matter how unplayable they are, have risen in buylist prices.

Playing For The Endgame

When I first started buying Reserved List cards, I did not have any kind of endgame in mind. For me, buying and selling cards was just a way to stay connected to the game in a time where I could not play physical Magic: the Gathering. I have a thirteen-year bank loan on my house which I'm currently paying back, so I've figured that this is a good time frame for me to hold onto my collection. Then, once I own my house, I can set a new course. Finance a project, maybe even buy a second property? Thirteen years is a lot of time, but it comforts me to think that I will not only have a place to live, but also collectible assets that could help me finance other projects when that time comes.

The Status of My Collection, and Future Prospects

Today, Card Kingdom is offering $180 for copies of Survival of the Fittest. Copy Artifact is not quite there, still only at the $50 I paid for mine, but it will get there. If lockdown has taught me one lesson, it's the exercise of patience. One must be willing to wait. When I first got into Reserved List cards, I was obsessed with prices and tracking my collection to see the changes. Now, I do not even look into it anymore. I don't even know how much money I have tied up in cards. After the last retrace and the apparent latest uptick in several Reserved List items, my mindset has changed. I also have this feeling in my gut that Magic: The Gathering is gathering more attention—with the Secret Lair crossovers and the Netflix series⁠—I am very excited about what 2022 has to offer. Even though the pandemic has brought sad times to all of us, I feel fortunate to have found something good to take out of it.

Avatar photo

Mauro Acerenza

Mauro started playing Magic in 1995; it all began with an Ice Age starter pack. After a long break from the game, he returned to the hobby in 2015, shortly after Khans of Tarkir was released, thanks to a friend in university that told him that Magic was still alive. His interest in Magic Finance started in 2019 when he found out about the concept of the Reserved List. A competitive Modern and Cube player, he nearly always plays aggro decks.

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