This week I turn introspective as I consider my recent disengagement with Magic—both the game and the financial component. It’s been quite a few years since I began to feel increasingly disinterested in the game, and it makes me wonder, what’s to come? How can I get out of this funk? Is there a catalyst on the horizon that will re-inspire me?
Transparently, a small part of me is sitting here wondering if this is the beginning of the end for my involvement in the hobby. The temptation to sell my collection and move the money completely into a brokerage account to invest for my children’s college educations has never been stronger. I would be lying if I said otherwise. While I don't think Reserved List card prices have peaked, and expect them to remain a solid investment for years, I would be fairly content with the money I’d receive for the collection as of today.
As I ponder this significant decision, I’d like to share some personal experiences I’ve had walking away from the game and, inevitably, returning to it. Although there may be no direct actionable finance advice, I’m hoping the piece resonates with some and interests others as I attempt to weave in some personal anecdotes throughout the article.
Fall 1998: My First Hiatus
I began playing Magic back in 1997 and the first sealed products I opened were a Fifth Edition starter deck and a Visions booster pack. I still remember to this day the two highlights from these packs: a City of Brass and a Desertion.
My life would never be the same again. Magic paved a road for me and gave me guidance on how to follow it—to new friends, new interests, and new communities. My life in middle school was largely shaped by this collectible card game. The tremendous flavor of Mirage block and Tempest block made continuous engagement in Magic very easy, and I loved saving money however I could in order to scrape up $3 for my next booster pack. To this day I remember opening a Mox Diamond in my (now out-of-business) local hobby shop and immediately selling it to another kid in the store for $20. I had just turned $3 into $20, and I was on top of the world.
As high school started, I slowly lost interest in the game as I struggled to find my identity. I also vividly remember being turned off by the power level of the new set, Urza’s Saga. My friend had a pre-constructed deck called The Plague, which combined Pestilence with Urza's Armor and creatures with protection from black. It was my first exposure to a sort of “combo deck” and I found it unbeatable. Wall of Junk was also a very obnoxious card.
I also heard rumors of how cards from the set were banned due to power level (“combo winter”). Then the second shoe dropped, and Wizards of the Coast announced they would begin printing premium foil variants and randomly inserting them in booster packs. I was not interested in these shiny cards, which I thought deviated from Magic’s original aesthetic.
With all these factors combined, I took a break from Magic.
What Brought Me Back
To be fair, I didn’t quit the game cold turkey. I never purchased a single booster pack from Urza’s block (nowadays I kick myself for this decision), but I probably opened a pack of Prophecy here or a pack of Seventh Edition there. The Fall of 2001 though, brought a new block that renewed me and my friends' interest in Magic. It was the Odyssey block!
Each of us found something of interest from these three sets. We all appreciated the threshold and flashback mechanics, as it was really cool that “spent cards” could still provide utility. I also remember reading about some powerful enchantments, such as Transcendence and Nefarious Lich, that looked really cool to build around. And who could forget the awe-inspiring power of Silver Seraph?
Yup, we were back with a vengeance spending money on Magic all over again. It helped that, by this age, I was slowly worrying less and less about what others in school thought about me. I felt more comfortable being myself, and that self needed to play Magic!
My excitement for the game continued right through Onslaught block (I remember hoping I would open fetch lands so that I could immediately trade them for “better cards”). The morph mechanic was a blast and I even had fun playing a casual Astral Slide deck. My friend could never beat it, but in hindsight, I did sort of “cheat” because the deck included Balance, which was the card that gave him issues. That’s why I emphasize the deck was strictly casual.
Eighth Edition gripped my interest because it brought back classic cards from all previous sets of Magic as a way of celebrating the game's 10th anniversary. But let's face it, I just wanted to open Birds of Paradise. Just once.
I was thriving in college and loving life while also loving Magic.
Affinity, Another Departure, and Return
It was largely coincidental that I took another hiatus from Magic right about when it was destined for another string of overpowered cards and resultant bannings. I missed the whole Affinity hype cycle mostly because a) I didn’t really have an interest in artifacts and b) I was getting deeper into my university studies and shifted focus away from Magic again. I consider myself lucky for missing out on one of the worst Standard seasons of all time.
The Champions of Kamigawa block didn’t do much for me either. There were a number of reasons why this set struggled, but the primary reason for me personally was simply that I didn’t care for the cards. This was another time when I found other things in life to keep me busy.
With the launch of the Ravnica block, I had a bit of déjà vu. The cards were powerful and interesting, but the only reason I bought booster packs from the block was to open shock lands. Again, I didn’t want to open shock lands because I was playing them in competitive decks. I wanted to open them because I knew I could sell or trade them for other cards I wanted. Even as recently as 2007, I was a casual player through and through.
My perception of Magic changed forever with the release of Time Spiral. While many pan the set as overly complex and describe it as a list of inside jokes for the enfranchised player, I must confess I was the exact target audience for such a set. The reprints of older cards in the old frame, the references to old cards, and the color-shifted cards in Planar Chaos all brought a wave of nostalgia that stuck with me for many years.
It reignited a passion that lasted over a decade. In that time, I became more competitive—drafting, playing at Grands Prix, PTQs, etc. It also started my foray into Magic finance. After my kids were born and my competitive play diminished, I continued to find enjoyment in Old School, Vintage, and in buying and selling some of Magic’s earliest most collectible cards. It was a high point for Magic in my life.
Another Hiatus: What’s Next?
That high point in my engagement with Magic peaked about a year ago, in late 2020. I was jamming games of Arena every day, consistently hitting mythic in constructed play, while also achieving numerous Old School deck upgrades. I was firing on all cylinders when it came to the hobby.
Then, out of nowhere, a switch flipped. Around the time Kaldheim launched I suddenly lost interest in Magic. I went from completing a couple dozen drafts of Zendikar Rising to zero drafts of Kaldheim. I have not drafted since, throughout pretty much all of 2021. I haven’t purchased any new product either. Before, I was at least picking up some boosters of the new sets to momentarily dive into their aesthetic.
Now I sit here pondering what might get me back into Magic again. Will it be the launch of a new set with interesting mechanics and powerful enchantments? Unlikely, since I find I’m disinterested in even reading spoilers of the new sets. Will it be a new throwback set like Time Spiral? Doubtful—we just had a Time Spiral Remastered set in March and it failed to rekindle my interest.
Could it be the printing of cards using the classic Magic frame? Nope, Wizards did this but the nostalgia aesthetic isn’t pulling me back in.
I’m stumped. My return to Magic is likely going to have to stem from some unknown, novel catalyst on the horizon. Something unpredictable, such as meeting a new co-worker who is passionate about the game, or attending a [very] local post-COVID MagicFest and getting a rush from the crowd. Perhaps another bout of massive buyouts across the Reserved List market would at least whet my appetite for buying and selling cards again?
In absence of all of these, however, I’m stuck in this apathetic malaise.
Wrapping It Up
Hopefully, this personal reflection was at least interesting to readers, allowing a slightly deeper understanding of my involvement in the game and current lack of interest. Each time I stepped away from the game, there wasn’t a singular event to blame. Instead, it was a combination of circumstances both within the game and in my personal life that pulled me away.
This current hiatus is no different—lack of in-person events, stagnant Reserved List prices, and a slew of sets that don’t resonate with me are all contributing factors. Perhaps all three of these obstacles will have to be broken down in order to reinvigorate my interest in Magic.
Just don’t expect me to be tweeting nonstop about the hobby. Don’t expect to see me battling on Arena any time soon. And, most definitely, don’t expect to see me purchase any of the new products that Wizards constantly pumps out. I’d rather have that time and money to dedicate to other hobbies and interests right now. For Magic to win me back, it’s going to have to do something very special.
I’m not worried though. After all, it has succeeded multiple times in the past. I don’t know if my “hiatus of 2021-202X” will be any different.