Are your Magic: the Gathering cards worth money? Here's how to find out.
It is a question that anyone who has ever owned any sizable collection of Magic the Gathering cards has asked: are my Magic cards worth money? There are many people who bring their old shoeboxes of Magic cards into a hobby store and find out that their collection is little more than bulk rares and long forgotten cards that no one wants any more. Of course, sometimes gold is found in these often long-neglected collections, and a store owner can buy a box of bulk for about $10-20 USD and later find a $50 or even $100 card through later perusal.
The trick is to always know what your cards are worth. But who wants to spend their time on sites like TCGPlayer (which does have a useful price guide, actually) and Star City Games simply price checking every rare card that he or she has? Really, no one, but a lot of people resort to it.
The purpose of this article is to let you know how to value your collection properly, and not simply in terms of straight dollar value, but to inform you what cards will hold their value, or lose their value long-term. As with any collection, present vs. future value is the foundation of any great investment, and this information is what this article aims to provide.
Valuing Your Magic Card Collection
One fantastic resource that I have found for valuing a collection is a website called MTGPrice. What this website allows you to do is look up the current “fair trade value” of any particular card. It factors in a variety of major online retailer prices, along with EBay and Amazon to formulate a sort of median price at which you can feel comfortable selling or trading a card.
But MTGPrice has a few even more powerful features at its disposal. By simply having a Google account, you can log into the website and actually create a complete list of your collection. This list is very easily sortable, and is constantly updated with current card values, as well as letting you know whether a card’s price has risen or fallen in the past day or in the past week.
The database isn’t perfect and some weird glitchy things can happen with its pricing algorithms. But these minor things aside, the site gives you a very good idea of what each of your cards is worth, with a total collection value. By having this site at your disposal, you can always know what a certain card of yours is worth in an instant!
The other neat aspect of MTGPrice is that you can find out what the site calls the “instant cash value of your collection.” What this actually means is that the site will display cards in your collection on the current buylists of major online retailers. What you may discover is that some buy list prices are actually higher than the median value of certain cards, because of the demand for them. This is incredibly useful information, because this means that the card’s price may actually rise in value!
What’s also useful is that MTGPrice won’t list a card twice on this buy-list page. This means that it chooses the highest buy-list price for each individual card for you, which saves you a lot of time having to check around. Knowing what immediate cash value your cards can have is a really good indication of how “fluid” or movable your cards really are.
As with anything, the laws of supply and demand are extremely important with valuing Magic cards. If retailers, especially major ones, are constantly running out of stock on certain cards, it means that people really want those cards. Cards with high buy-list prices are those that you should look to hold onto and keep in either your personal collection or trade binder. You could also, of course, actually sell them to that vendor, but do keep in mind that the shipping costs of sending the cards out sometimes isn’t worth the return.
Remember, a card is only worth what someone will offer for it, and you can sometimes get a higher value on a card just because it’s really popular at that time. By having all of this information at your disposal, you can easily decide what cards are truly bulk that you should off-load or simply keep around, and what is trade-able and sell-able.
The Magic Card Stock Market?
Another website I highly recommend is MTGStocks, which is sort of like a Magic the Gathering stock market. Like MTGPrice you can make a free account, add the cards in your collection into its inventory tool and track its value. However, it does have some glitches that prevent you from properly listing some promotional versions of cards.
The cool thing about MTGStocks is that it actually allows you to put it how much you actually paid for a card and how much you have profited or lost from it. It doesn’t offer all the same tools as MTGPrice, though, and it relies purely on TCGPlayer Mid prices. Still, it’s a great website that has a great tool to show you what card prices are trending up and down, as well as a Wall Street-style ticker. Cool stuff.
The most important thing to understand with Magic cards is understanding how many formats in which a certain card is most useful. The formats to consider are Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Casual.
Legacy and Modern are known as Eternal formats. With Legacy, any cards are playable in a deck, except for those on the Legacy Ban List. Modern allows any cards that have been printed in any “modern” set, that is, since 8th Edition, as well as any cards that have been re-printed in older sets with modern borders in newer sets (even the old-bordered versions.) Modern also as its own banned list.
The major difference between these Eternal formats and Standard is that with Standard, there is a rotating card-pool. Standard is made up of the three most recent “blocks” of two sets (for example, as of October 2017, the Standard legal sets will be Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, and the newest set release). Also, any older printings of cards that have been reprinted in any of the current Standard sets may also be played (including old-bordered and promotional versions.)
Because Standard is the most widely supported and played competitive format, the cards that are currently widely played in the top decks of the format tend to fluctuate widely in price. Depending on the current meta-game (meaning what people are playing most often and how that affects every other card that’s played), some cards can be $20 one day, and $5 the next. It all depends on how in favor a card is with the more competitive players. Of course, when a card leaves the Standard card-pool, its value almost always immediately plummets.
Often played Standard cards are usually the most fluid card you can have during the Standard season in which they are playable. Usually, the best thing to do with these cards if you’re not currently playing with them is to either cash in on them at the peak of their popularity, or “trade up” in Eternal staples.
Eternal staples are cards that are played in a wide variety of decks in Legacy and Modern. Because it’s a non-rotating format, the meta-game relatively stays much more consistent with only the release of new cards or the emergence of a new deck archetype really making much of a difference.
One of the best examples of an Eternal staple is Liliana of the Veil, who was a very good planeswalker in Standard, but even better in formats like Modern and Legacy, where the creatures that Liliana will often force opponents to sacrifice will be a lot stronger (Tarmogoyf, for example.) Speaking of Tarmogoyf, it was at one time a nearly $200 card). It’s definitely of the greatest eternal staples that there are, essentially seeing play in any deck that runs Green in those formats.
Commander (EDH) and the Casual Magic Addiction
The last format we will discuss, and the format that is driving many card prices, is a little Casual format called Commander, better known as EDH.
Commander is the 100-card singleton format that has taken the world by storm. All you need is some Legendary Creature and 99 other cards that share colors with the casting cost (and any other mana symbols that appear on) that Legendary Creature, and you have an EDH, or Commander, deck of your own.
Commander itself, therefore, is an Eternal format that has a ban list, but because you can only run one copy of each card (excluding basic lands), the power level of certain cards changes dramatically. Because Commander games allow for more mana to be played and the games are far-more drawn out, cards with high casting costs that would never see play in a competitive Constructed deck often find themselves being a crucial win condition in many Commander decks. A great example of a card like this would be Rise of the Dark Realms, a mythic rare from Magic 2014. For the longest time it was $2-3. In EDH, it’s an absolute bomb. Being able to bring creatures back from ALL graveyards can essentially win you the game. So over time, it grew in price to almost $10, just from EDH play!
This means that mythic rares that may not be incredibly valuable, even ones that sell for about $1-3 USD, are still movable on the basis that someone may need a copy for their Commander deck, or know someone who needs one. So any bulk rare or mythic rare that you get may actually be wanted by someone for that very reason. But these kind of cards aren’t the only ones that you’re looking for: there are some cards that are very valuable, $10 or more, simply because they’ve become Commander staples!
One of the most important parts of Commander is top-deck manipulation. This is why cards like Sensei’s Divining Top (which was so good in Legacy that it was banned), Sylvan Library, and Scroll Rack are so expensive. Sylvan Library is the cheapest because it’s been reprinted in a core set. Sensei’s Divining Top has had three set printings and a From the Vault Reprint, but even the fair supply is low when compared to the high demand. The same is true for Scroll Rack, which has one regular printing, plus a very low supply reprint in Commanders' Arsenal. There are also some cards like Baneslayer Angel that used to be among the best cards in Standard, but today are only really played in EDH, which is why they are still about $10.
I could go into much further detail about the financial aspects of Commander, and I will at some point in the future. But for now, I’ll finish this article with what is likely the most important thing to invest in when it comes to Magic cards… FOILS!
The Allure of Foil Magic Cards
Yes, there are many Magic players that could care less about foils. But it is true that many players like them, and to be fair, the set foils are quite a bit rarer than regular cards. I say set foils, because believe it or not, some promo foils and collectible foils are actually fairly worthless due to a massive print run. But for the most part, there are a lot of set foils worth many times the price of a regular version of that same card.
Why exactly is this? First of all, foils do not come in every pack of Magic, except in rare instances like the Masters sets (Modern Masters, Eternal Masters, etc) in which every pack does in fact include a foil. Every set since Urza’s Destiny has had the chance of a premium foil in a pack. However, since any card in a given set has a foil counterpart, many foils that are pulled are either basic lands (which aren’t worthless, but not much outside of Zendikar, Battle for Zendikar, or Unhinged full art versions) or cards that no one will ever want to play, outside of perhaps Limited.
Enter Commander. With many people wanting to “pimp” out their decks with foils, the demand on foil versions of even common and uncommon cards has risen greatly over the past couple of years. While cards that see a lot of competitive play obviously have high foil values, cards popular in Commander (especially Legendary Creatures, since many of them are viable Commanders) can be incredibly expensive.
Set foils are among the rarest cards in Magic, which is why mythic rare cards like Jace, The Mind Sculptor (whose Worldwake foil printing was worth $800 at one time) and Liliana of the Veil ($60 non-foil vs $180 foil) see such ridiculous price differences between their premium versions. Even a more casually-oriented card like Rise of the Dark Realms has a foil version that sells for about $20! Mythic rare foils are usually pretty solid investments, simply because even the cheaper non-foil mythics have decently valuable foil versions.
Of course, Standard staples tend to have pretty high foil values, as well. But like their non-foil counterparts, their value is incredibly variable, and foil prices fluctuate even more wildly. What drives up a foil price is usually the majority of players’ unwillingness to part with a certain card, especially if that card will be playable in Modern or Legacy, as well (Liliana of the Veil is a perfect example).
As a general rule, foils of cards that see considerable play in any format are valuable. However, many widely played commons and uncommons can be purchased from online retailers for very near the price of a regular version, so be aware. (Again, MTG Price or MTG Goldfish is a great way to check on the differences since it indexes both.)
Buy, Sell, or Trade?
Now that you have this information about your collection, you may wonder what’s the best time to buy, sell, or trade Magic cards. The first thing to keep in mind is the Standard rotation.
Every October, there is a standard rotation that occurs, meaning that the oldest two sets in Standard are no longer playable in Standard with the release of the first set in the new block. (For example, in October 2017, cards from Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad, and Eldritch Moon are no longer playable.) Just months before, many prices of Standard cards will have dropped, but many will still retain some value if they are still seeing competitive play (especially when there are Standard Pro Tour Qualifiers going on.)
It is important to unload any cards in the Standard sets that you aren't using that will be rotating out of Standard in October during the summer before. This is because after rotation, those cards’ prices drop precipitously as everyone is simultaneously unloading them.
Even cards that will see Modern and Legacy play, as well as Commander play, will drop in value, as well. This is because many Standard players will not play Modern, and look to move their extra copies for the newer cards or for cash. For Commander and Eternal players, after rotation is the best time to buy cards that have just left Standard. This is because the supply will be there, since most Modern players that want them already have them. Therefore, most demand won’t be there until the next Modern Pro Tour Qualifer (PTQ) season.
Anytime is always a good time to trade, however, as long as you are trading up. This means trading a bunch of Eternal staples for highly popular Standard cards that you can immediately move for either other Standard cards or more valuable Modern/Legacy/Commander staples. Watching the top deck lists and monitoring price gains and losses on MTGPrice or MTG Goldfish is a great way to know what cards are seeing more play.
MTG Goldfish is a particularly interesting website because of the fact that it’s primarily a website that tracks the card prices on Magic Online (MTGO or MODO). However, it also tracks paper card prices. The most useful aspect of this website, however, besides showing the ridiculous disparity in prices of paper vs online Magic, is that Goldfish tracks the top decks in every format in Magic Online (Standard, Modern, Legacy, etc.) and will let you know if particular cards are seeing a lot of play in top decks.
You’re probably asking why it matters if a card is played a lot of online. Well, since many competitive players play-test on Magic Online, and some of the best players in the world now actually began on MTGO, the lists Online are going to be very, very similar to those used in Paper Magic. If something does well online, it very likely will be played in paper at one point or another.
Knowing what cards are being played in winning decks lets you know what people will be looking for, and what buy lists will be pricing more highly. You want to adjust your trade binder accordingly. Sometimes, this information will give you a jump on acquiring cards at a low price before they suddenly become chase cards and you can turn an easy profit.
The bottom line is that you don’t want to sit on cards with a limited shelf-life. Yes, a lot of Standard cards will still be played in Commander. But remember, since you only need one copy, there will be play-sets galore being shipped off to buy-lists, traded in at local game stores, and filling bulk binders everywhere. Many cards once they leave Standard fall from grace extremely quickly, so if you’re looking to buy or trade for Standard cards to play in Commander, you’re better off waiting for the rotation if at all possible. Any time is fine to pick up good Eternal cards. Again, you can use MTG Goldfish’s Metagame and Format Staples sections to see what cards are most popular in each format and what are always good trade targets.
The prices of Magic cards are always changing due to the rising popularity of the game and the easy access to cards due to online availability. Using tools like MTGPrice, MTGStocks, and MTG Goldfish, as well as checking TCGPlayer market prices can give you a good idea at all times when to pick up certain cards at their lowest price or drop them before their value plummets. Of course, Magic is not all about making money; it should be about having fun. But to maximize your fun, it’s important to use a little bit of economics in your card-buying routines, because you may find your collection grow a lot more quickly and your budget less strained if you keep yourself informed.
All photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. under Creative Commons license v2.0.