- Old School Magic (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark)
- Reserved List Cards (cards that Wizards promises not to reprint)
- Modern Format Competitively Played Cards
- Top Played Cards in EDH / Commander
- Pauper Format Competitively Played Cards
These 5 categories are where you should be putting your Magic the Gathering money. Sure, the newest sets in Standard are fun to speculate on, but as an investment, you’re looking for blue-chip stocks in the form of Magic cards. So, which of these 5 categories is the best Magic card investment? Read on.
Old School Magic
Most Magic the Gathering finance experts will tell you that building Old School Magic sets is perhaps the best investment that you can make. Nostalgia is very powerful and the scarcity of cards (especially in excellent to mint condition) means that they will appreciate over time. Even the least expensive cards in these sets (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark) are still valuable simply because they are sought after by collectors and investors.
Set building has been a thing in sports cards for a very long time. It’s become a very good investment in other trading card games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, as well. It’s also important to note that besides the very popular niche format, Old School Magic, that uses cards exclusively from these seven sets (plus Revised), many of the cards from these sets still see play in widely played competitive Magic format today! (Blood Moon from the Dark is a great example.)
Why not invest in Revised Edition and Chronicles Magic Cards?
Revised Edition cards are a very much stripped down version of Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited that don’t include the “Power Nine” (Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, the Moxen, Timetwister, and Time Walk). They are not nearly as scarce, much as the white-bordered Chronicles reprint set is - which reprinted cards from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends - so they typically make poor investments. That being said, there are cards from Revised and Chronicles that still see competitive play. They include:
- Underground Sea
- Volcanic Island
- Tropical Island
- Wheel of Fortune
- Demonic Tutor
- Mana Vault
- Birds of Paradise
- Sol Ring
- Concordant Crossroads
- Blood Moon
- City of Brass
- Ashnod’s Altar
- Nicol Bolas
- Urza’s Mine
- Urza’s Power Plant
- Urza’s Tower
The majority of these cards are heavily played in Commander. Blood Moon and the Urza “tron” lands are extremely popular in Modern. Birds of Paradise and City of Brass also see occasional play in Modern. So, these are cards that are perfectly fine to hold if you can’t afford the rarer versions, because they are still sought after for their playability.
What About Collector’s Edition and International Edition Cards?
Because Collector’s Edition and International Edition cards aren’t allowed in competitive play, I don’t particularly care for them. However, from a pure collection and investment standpoint, CE and IE cards have been seeing major returns for those who’ve invested in them. Owning a Black Lotus for $550 in IE or $1200 in CE isn’t a bad proposition. It took a long time for Wizards to see the realization of the investability in these sets, but it happened. If you want to collect cards that are iconic and always on the rise, and you want to ride the momentum, go right ahead. But, because they aren’t playable, I’m personally not a fan.
Investing in Reserved List Magic Cards
Because Reserved List cards are intentionally meant to be scarce, Magic card collectors and investors have doubled down on purchasing them in recent years. The problem is, many of these cards aren’t really that playable. For many of the playable cards on the Reserved List, including the ten dual lands from Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, and Revised, this has meant bloated prices. While there are some that are probably still yet to realize their true value, Reserved List cards are fairly “unsafe” investments at this point, unless you get solid deals on the dual lands I just mentioned or other playable cards from early in Magic the Gathering’s history. An entire investment guide to Magic’s Reserved List could be written, so we won’t go fully in depth here.
That being said, the value of some older sets such as Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Ice Age lie in the Reserved List cards. That’s because for those collectors who are struggling to buy into the first big Vintage sets, these sets are attractive to build. Why not? Ice Age, in particular, has lots of good playable cards. Fallen Empires and Homelands are notoriously weak sets, but people are still building them, believe it or not.
Investing in Modern Playable Magic Cards
Modern has become one of the most popular competitive Magic formats. It’s fairly diverse as far as what decks are playable and the card pool is giant and ever expanding. The main issue with investing in Modern is the likelihood of occasional reprints that tank the value of existing cards. With Masters sets being released on a regular basis, why invest in Modern Magic cards?
Modern Magic cards begin with 8th edition, which was the first set to introduce the overall card design we see today. Many Magic purists still prefer the vintage card design, but there is plenty of value in some of the earlier Modern sets. What’s important to realize, though, is because the print runs of these sets are much higher than some vintage Magic sets, there is one particular area to focus on: premium foils.
When foil Magic cards were first released, many players didn’t like them. They tend to scratch and show wear easily. But, as Wizards of the Coast intended, some players and collectors embraced them. Because there are a fraction of foil cards available and pretty much every card in Modern was printed in foil at some point, the demand often far outweighs the supply, meaning there are some ridiculous multipliers on cards that only see modest competitive play, or even no competitive play at all!
Because of the threat of reprints, investing in Modern is a lot trickier and requires you to keep a close eye on the card market. How much a card is seeing play is a major factor. Reprints can absolutely tank a card. However, certain foil printings tend to retain far more value due to scarcity and sometimes the artwork. (Yes, artwork matters!)
Modern also has some cards that are sometimes referred to as “stock splits.” Like in the stock market, a reprint of a Magic card causes that card’s stock to effectively split. Some cards, such as Eternal Witness, Lightning Bolt, and Blood Moon take hits to their prices but almost immediately rebound. That’s because when the price lowers, more people buy in to add those cards to binders and decks. The top 50 cards in Modern are a great place to look for actively traded cards that can bounce back in value from reprints. Playing the peaks and valleys of the Modern Magic card market can actually be very profitable, but it’s not for the faint of heart because of the possibility of mass amounts of reprints at once.
The Commonly Played Cards in Modern list on MTG Goldfish is a great idea to check on a regular basis in order to see what cards are being played on a regular basis. We can go further in depth in investing in Modern in a future guide.
Why Invest in Top Played Magic Cards in EDH / Commander?
Thanks to the great folks at EDHREC, the Magic community has a clear idea of what the Top 100 played cards in Commander / EDH are at any given time. These cards, especially in foil, can be great investments. But, like with Modern, you have to watch the price trends of these cards - buy low and sell high. Many of them continuously trend upwards, though, as Commander players typically don’t break down their decks nearly as often as Modern players. That means supply slowly, but surely, often doesn’t mean supply - causing significant price appreciation.
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on what’s being played in 1v1 Commander. It’s a far more competitive format that has a significantly different metagame than multiplayer Commander. Again, though, 1v1 Commander players tend to stick with their decks and only change them when upgrades are available. But, because Commander cards typically only move one copy at a time, you have to be patient and watch for continuous upward movement in price, as cards in the format can bottom out for a long time.
Why Should I Invest in Pauper Format Competitively Played Cards?
Pauper has long been a fun, cheap format to play on Magic the Gathering Online. But recently, as Local Game Stores began holding more Pauper tournaments to attract MTG players on a budget, Wizards of the Coast decided to offer more support as a competitive format in paper Magic. This has been incredible for the market for cards played in Pauper. While investing in commons seems odd, the demand for certain commons has caused some $0.25 cards to rise as high as $5 or more!
While you certainly don’t want to invest in the cards that are already realizing their market value, just like with any competitive format, cards go in and out of favor in competition. Also, even though Pauper is quickly growing, the supply of many of these commons is massive. It’s best to put your money into foil copies. That’s because Pauper is a Legacy format, meaning people tend to stick with their decks for a long time. But, unlike in Commander, people often buy cards four copies at a time, meaning if a card gets hot, a card can break out! For those that bought in early, the profits were huge, but there are still gains to be realized. Even with new releases, if a card starts to see heavy play in Pauper, it’s worth investing in, especially if it sees competitive play in other formats, too.
Should I Buy Graded Magic Cards?
Many Magic the Gathering Old School set collectors have been sending their old school cards that they don’t plan to play with to the trading card grading giants PSA and Beckett (BGS). With sports cards, Pokemon cards, and Yu-GI-Oh cards, having high-grade, investment-quality cards with a PSA 9 or 10, or a BGS 9, 9.5, or 10 means a lot for their resale value. However, while some graded Magic cards have appreciated well, many others have not. Why is this?
The fact is, most Magic the Gathering players hate graded Magic cards. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and foremost reason is that many Magic players still want to play with their cards. On many occasions, Magic players will find a bargain on graded Magic cards and crack open the cases, essentially “setting the card free.”
Another major reason Magic collectors are shying away from graded Magic cards is that PSA and BGS have been known to authentic FAKE Magic cards. Besides the straight-out counterfeits, though, there’s another process called “rebacking” that takes a low-grade vintage Magic card and essentially presses it onto another worthless Magic card. Through this combination, you can essentially create a much higher-grade Magic card.
The outrage from the vintage Magic community has led to many PSA graded and BGS graded Magic cards to be bought en masse only to be cracked open. While many are genuine, there have been enough “rebacked” and counterfeit cards that have fooled the graders. What should be a process to verify a card’s authenticity, especially in a market full of proxies and fakes, hasn’t been foolproof. Hopefully, the graders are taught much stricter guidelines in the future. This is why Magic the Gathering, the first major trading card game, hasn’t caught up to Pokemon and even Yu-Gi-Oh in the graded trading card market, especially with the older, more valuable cards.
Are Other Modern Magic Cards Worth Investing In?
Many people cite the gimmicky secret rare subsets in recent memory as great investments - particularly the Zendikar Expeditions, Kaladesh Inventions, and Amonkhet Invocations. While I don’t disagree, as they are fairly scarce and many are appealing collectibles, my favorite subset in recent memory are the Ultimate Masters Box Toppers.
Not only are most of these cards with tremendous playability, but they are extremely rare beautiful cards of iconic cards in Magic’s history. Who doesn’t want an extended art version of Karn Liberated, Liliana of the Veil, or Tarmogoyf? Even Lavaclaw Reaches has a market! Plus, because they are playable, the value of these cards is going to keep appreciating. These are probably my favorite gimmicky cards Wizards has ever printed! (Plus. Ultimate Masters is a crazy good set.)
There’s also the occasional foil cards that aren’t seeing any competitive play at all that seem to have incredible prices relative to their nonfoil counterparts. This demand comes from what the Magic card industry calls the ‘invisibles’ or what I like to call the “Kitchen Table MTG” community. The casual market is always bigger than the competitive market, and while casual players typically want many of the same cards as the competitive players, there are occasionally cards that are actually great cards to play with, but don’t necessarily end up seeing play competitively. There are many of these to consider, and those require an in-depth analysis for each example. The Kitchen Table Magic market could have a book written about it, so it’s far beyond the depth of this article.
My money in Magic is basically on the seven Vintage sets and Modern, Pauper, and Commander playable foils. In particular I like cards that see play in two or all three of those formats (plus Legacy and Vintage if possible). I avoid Standard like the plague, although there are very good cards in some Standard formats that make an easy transition to Modern value-wise, but hey are few and far between.
In this Magic card investment guide, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Magic the Gathering investment. If you have any questions about what’s good or not good to invest in, feel free to comment below. If you have insights on good Magic card investments, feel free to share them!
Also, remember, as with any investment, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH BEFORE INVESTING IN MAGIC CARDS!
More Magic the Gathering card investment guides to come!