There are so many people that are asking the same question about Magic: the Gathering cards. Are Magic cards a good investment? The answer is, if you like card collecting as a hobby, then yes. As a game, Magic the Gathering is really not going anywhere. Even if official tournaments were never held again, Magic cards will always be in demand from the massive casual player base around the world.
So, much like vintage baseball cards, Magic cards are one of the hobbies out there that can return a fair amount of money to your pocket over time. The difference is, if you have enough of them, you can actually play with them. So it makes sense that MTG Finance has become a popular topic
However, Magic the Gathering finance has grown into quite a monster. This has made using Magic cards as an investment quite controversial. It’s argued that MTG Finance is ruining the game. To be honest, it’s the reckless speculators that people are mostly mad about. What MTG Finance was initially about was teaching players how to identify cards that could be good down the road and how to read price trends in order to get cards at a good price before demand causes the prices to spike. It was a good thing.
Are Magic Cards a true investment opportunity or more of a side hustle?
These days, people seem to think they can make a living at collecting, buying and selling Magic cards. The truth is, while it can be a nice side hustle and a handful become very successful, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. This is why I wanted to start this series, “Building the Collection,” to bring people back to actually collecting and not simply investing.
The truth is, Magic cards have huge print runs. While they may not be at the level of “junk wax” sports cards of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, they are massive. Considerable demand is what allows even essentially worthless common and uncommon cards to be “worth” $3-5 per thousand. And for many Magic players and collectors, it seems like the easiest Magic card investments come in the form of what are called “bulk rares.”
Bulk rares are essentially rare cards that don’t have much demand and therefore are typically only bought by vendors at bulk rates. Ordinarily, bulk rares have been bought at roughly $0.08 to $0.12 each, with $0.10 being the norm. Mythic rares tend to bulk for around $0.20 to $0.25, but their overall rarity sometimes makes even their buylist value above bulk.
So what’s up with buylists?
What’s a buylist value? It means the amount that a vendor is willing to pay for a particular card. Buylist prices vary widely between different vendors. It’s a full-time job hunting down the best buylist price for each card. But for a rough estimate, TCGPlayer has a buylist market price within their price guide section, which is very helpful. However, this data is from the vendors that buy through the TCGPlayer buylist program and doesn’t necessarily reflect the prices of the major vendors such as Star City Games, Channel Fireball, etc. Still, it’s a useful number, along with the market price, to give you a true sense of the value of a card, not just the median price.
The reason many collectors and players like to collect bulk rares is that many of them have potential. Because so much of Magic’s player base is casual, a card doesn’t have to be in the Top 8 decks in Standard or Modern (or any competitive format, really) in order to be valuable. This is where I like to make a distinction between a card’s price and a card’s value. Using the TCGPlayer price guide to see the disparities between market price, buylist price, and median price is very important.
Price vs Value
The way you can figure out the value of a card is to take a look at just how much buylists will pay for it. This is otherwise known as cash value. The closer that the buylist or cash value is to the median price or the market price, the better. Also, if the market price is very close or even exceeds the median price, then that card is currently in high demand and is a card worth checking out.
When it comes to building any collection, you have to be able to figure out what future market there might be for whatever you’re collecting. This is why it’s important to not simply check prices and actually see what the market is actually doing with a particular card. Unfortunately, it seems a lot of Magic players have become too obsessed with prices and whether they are going up and down without considering how much a card will be worth years down the road. Also, it seems like Magic players tend to collect the flavor of the week, and don’t necessarily have goals with their collections. Some certainly do, but from my experience, many don’t. I know, because for the longest time, I didn’t either. I just sort of collected aimlessly.
But with any sort of collection, it’s important to have a goal. For example, with sports cards, many collectors like to focus on a particular niche, such as a team or even a player. But this doesn’t seem to happen as much in Magic anymore. People seem to just collect whatever seems good. Yes, there are those who still try to collect certain tribes, cards for particular decks, and even complete sets. But most just fill their binders with whatever they can get if they think they can get the better end of a deal. This wasn’t always the case in Magic.
Years ago, many, if not most, players focused on various deck themes, creature tribes, or even colors of mana in their collections. While players most certainly still do this, it isn’t the prevalent theme among competitive players.
So what happened?
Many players now gravitate towards whatever the best (winningest) deck is at that particular time. This is why there is so much collection turnover and why Magic cards are flying around at a record pace. This causes hyper-inflation with the prices of some cards and deflation on most others. Years ago, prices were much more stable, but with the competitive scene often obsessing over a handful of cards at a time.
People have become obsessed with checking their phones to see what a card is listed for on Star City Games or TCGPlayer without necessarily taking into account the value of that card. This is why I like to take buylist numbers into consideration, as it shows the vendor confidence in a particular card. Vendors know the market better than anyone, so if they are willing to pay more than bulk rate for a certain card, then they are selling more than they can keep in stock. This is a good thing because it means you have a card that is more valuable than the average card.
I feel that to properly value a Magic card collection, there needs to be thought and passion, as well as time and energy put into collecting it. While a Magic card collection is necessarily diverse due to the fact that it’s a trading card game, it makes more sense to have a general sense of what you like most in the game and focus on collecting in that direction. This is why I’ve started this series, Building the Collection, because there are so many ways to do it
But the problem is, how do you go about building a collection without dropping hundreds or even thousands of dollars every month?
Magic is too expensive…
The reason so many people quit playing Magic the Gathering is that it becomes too expensive. The fact is, it really doesn’t have to be. It’s not the people who are buying Magic cards as investments who make the game expensive. It’s the fact that people are constantly buying and selling cards based on what’s doing well at the local game store that week, in a major tournament, or panic buys of what’s low in stock. While these are all things that happen in any hobby, Magic card prices are extremely volatile.
However, there is a way to play it safe and still make out with a collection that holds its value over time. That’s the key point in building a collection, retaining value over time.
Of course, you can aimlessly go and buy a full playset of four copies of every rare under $1 in each new Magic set and find yourself going broke. The trick is to identify cards that you like in a set for a particular reason and collect them with a purpose. The purpose sohuld not be to flip the cards in a few months for a profit. It should be to enjoy them for the sake of the hobby while keeping yourself within a strict budget.
For the Building a Collection exercise, we assume that we only have about $1 a day or about $10 a week to spend on building our collection. This sounds like an absurdly low amount of money. However, through the course of this series, we’ll see how quickly a collection build from the ground up slowly but surely is far better than just buying a couple of hot Standard decks then having to sell them off at pennies on the dollar because you can’t play them at your local tournament after a certain point.
What can I buy for only $1 (or so) a day?
There are plenty of Magic cards that you can buy under $1. Many of them are what are called “dollar rares” and many of those are really bulk rares that vendors are trying to make their money back on.
If you’re looking to buy copies of sub-$1 rares on TCGPlayer, they’re a bit cheaper, but you have to buy at least $5 worth of cards in an order so that it makes it worth the vendor shipping to you. This would seem to make it impossible to buy cards for under $1 on TCGPlayer. But in this case, you can simply buy more cards at once and get a better deal, but since cards are spread across so many different vendors, this can get tricky.
eBay seems like a great place to get Magic cards for $1, but with seller and PayPal fees, you’re typically only going to get one copy of a card for $1 versus getting 2 or more on Amazon or TCGPlayer for $1.
So how do we know which of these rares are actually cards that could have some future value. Let’s take a look at a few potential targets from the Ixalan set, which is full of some very interesting cards under $1 and even under $0.50!
One of the cards from Ixalan that could be a great long term investment is Sanguine Sacrament. I’ve taken a look at Sanguine Sacrament as a great sleeper in the Ixalan set. While it doesn’t have much of a competitive pedigree, lifegain cards are always hot in casual Magic. There are just so many copies of this card out there that the supply is keeping up with the demand.
What’s special about this card is that after it’s played, it doesn’t go to your graveyard like most cards. It goes to the bottom of your deck instead. Because it’s reusable, it almost acts as multiple copies of the same card in your deck. In the widely popular Commander format, in which you can only play a single copy of any one card in your deck outside of basic lands, cards like this are extremely valuable.
The best part is, you can find copies of Sanguine Sacrament for about $0.59 and free shipping on Amazon. While that price is likely going to go up and down over time, you can almost get two copies for under $1.
If you’re starting out building your binder, this is a nice safe target. I’d pick up two copies for a little over $1 and feel OK about it. But is this the card you should pick to start your $1 a day investment portfolio? It depends on your goal.
Sanguine Sacrament is the sort of card that I would call “safe.” Every set has at least one card like this. There is always demand for cards like these because they serve a purpose in a variety of situations. It could be reprinted, though, which hurts its eventual price ceiling. But cards like this tend to shrug off reprints and become long-term winners. The best case scenario is if a rogue deck comes out of nowhere and causes people to buy up multiple copies at once or, even better, a deck with some staying power adopts it, even in the sideboard.
This is a bulk rare with casual appeal that should be worth at least over $1 in the future, unless it’s reprinted, in which case it will probably remain the same price. But there’s a chance that this hits $2 over the next three or four years, and perhaps even $3 if it isn’t reprinted. Lifegain cards can even hit $5 if they are adopted widely enough, and this is one that may get there.
But this isn’t the only card on my shortlist of potential Ixalan investments under $1. The next one I have for you may end up becoming a valuable sideboard piece in Modern and even Legacy!
Ashes of the Abhorrent has always stood out to me as a sort of poor man’s Grafdigger’s Cage. While it’s not exactly the same, it serves a similar function, and in fact, can be complimentary based on the matchup.
Grafdigger’s Cage was a valuable sideboard piece in Legacy for a long time, and it still is. It stops players from being able to bring back creatures from the graveyard or libraries and from being able to cast cards in graveyards or libraries.
But what Ashes of the Abhorrent does is somewhat different. Likewise, this enchantment prevents players from casting cards in graveyards, but also prevents the activation of abilities of creatures in graveyards. In some ways, this may be better. Also, this 2-mana enchantment has the bonus of gaining you 1 life whenever a creature dies.
This card shuts down many of the same strategies as Grafdigger’s Cage, although it doesn’t stop players from casting creatures out of the library. The major difference is that the Cage is $5 and this is $0.60 or less. On TCGPlayer, it’s been possible to even get a playset of Ashes of the Abhorrent for just over $1. So why is this card, while potentially more valuable in competitive play, less money?
The answer is this: Sanguine Sacrament’s usefulness is more obvious. Ashes of the Abhorrent depends on a deck actually taking advantage of its abilities. Grafdigger’s Cage was much like this from Dark Ascension. It was once about the same price as Ashes of the Abhorrent and it hit $26 (!) at one point. While it’s doubtful that this card is adopted just as that one was, since it’s an artifact and therefore can fit into more decks, the decks that would want this card probably utilize white mana anyway.
So while it could take years, the ceiling of this card is $5, $10, or even higher if it becomes a key sideboard card in a future metagame, whether it’s Standard, Modern, or Legacy. It also could serve as a useful piece in some Commander decks that don’t care about not being able to cast cards from their graveyard, which there are many.
If I were choosing a card that could be a big future winner, this would be it. This would be my choice to invest in first if I were beginning to invest.
But there is a wildcard in the mix that I also like a lot. Not only do I believe it could be good in Standard down the road, but I see it potentially being a card that could find a quick home in Modern and Legacy. This card has probably my favorite name from the set: Sword-Point Diplomacy.
Sword-Point Diplomacy holds a higher price on Amazon than both Sanguine Sacrament or Ashes of the Abhorrent at the time of this writing. It also has the highest buylist market price of the three cards, with Ashes not far behind. It also seems to be a popular target on eBay. But no competitive decks have been playing it. What makes it so great?
The reason Sword-Point Diplomacy is so good is that it does one thing that is the most important in trading card games: card advantage. For only three mana, you get to reveal the top three cards of your deck. Your opponent then has a painful choice. For each of the cards, they either give it to you, pay 3 life to exile it. This potentially means that your opponent has to pay 9 life to exile all 3 cards. While exiling certain cards can certainly hurt you, the pain dealt to your opponent is significant.
Obviously, Sword-Point Diplomacy is a card that screams build around me. It hasn’t happened quite yet, but we saw that a similar card like Painful Truths can see play across multiple formats. It’s really hard not to like this card. While it is more difficult to get more than a copy under a dollar, this could potentially be a four-of in an explosive deck. Of course, if a card gets bought four copies at a time unlike those that are only bought up one at a time, the chance of a bigger price jump is much higher.
What’s the price ceiling on a card like this, though? Painful Truths was a $2.50 card at one point, and it was much trickier to cast to get full value from it. As this is almost always going to net you at least one or two cards, while also doing damage, its ceiling should be considerably higher. If this card sees regular play, it could hit even $3. It’s a fairly safe card, though, since it should see play somewhere at some point, even if just in casual play.
The great thing about all three of these cards is they all do something useful that isn’t done by another existing card in quite the same way. All of them are cards that casual players are already collecting and all of them are fairly safe investments. Sure, if you go to sell them to a store down the road, you may only get $0.10 a piece for them. But it’s more likely that one, two, or even all three of these at least double in price down the road if you sit on them long enough.
This is why if you’re going to invest in Magic the Gathering cards, you need to have a long term outlook. That’s why I presented this strategy of playing it safe with bulk rares that have obvious casual appeal. There are countless other cards that could be similarly good investments, but always looking at the newest sets for value is a good idea. If one or more of these cards falls in price, don’t panic. These are all effects that Magic players value and their future prices will reflect their true playability value.
What if I want to go for broke with Magic cards?
We’ll actually go into other ways to build your collection in future articles. While I don’t recommend “going for broke,” there are ways with inherently more risk to potentially create bigger investments down the road. But we’ll also see that “playing it safe” isn’t always as safe as it seems. There are a lot of ways to collect and we’ll take a look at what works and what doesn’t.
For now, I’ll close with two questions: Do you see Magic the Gathering cards as an investment? If you do or if you don’t, how do you decide what to collect?