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Magic is one of the greatest games in the world. It is also one of the most addicting. Play long enough and you’re bound to hear Magic cards described as ‘cardboard crack’. This is because of the tendency to desire and crave new cards. Before long you find yourself waiting for your next paycheck just to indulge once more in the habit. For those of you new to the game, beware, for Magic is not an inexpensive hobby. Even the casual player will typically spend hundreds of dollars on cards. Over several years the numbers can creep into the thousands (add it up and see, you’d be surprised).
Why does Magic cost so much? While tourney entry fees can add up, the true cost lays in building one’s collection. After all, if you want to build a deck, you need a card pool to draw from. The real question is, ‘What is the most efficient way to build my collection?’ In my experience, there are a number of ways to build your card pool, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
The easiest way of building a card pool is to borrow cards from your friends. This has an advantage of being free, but let’s face it, being on card welfare doesn’t exactly endear you to your buds. Also, most people don’t buy extra of those powerful, expensive cards. This means when Friday Night Magic rolls around, your friends may be putting those cards you need in their own decks, leaving you with a handful of Firebolt
s but no Urza
Artist: Ron Spencer
Text: Firebolt deals 2 damage to target creature or player. Flashback 4R (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)
’s Rage. There is also the strong possibility that your friends are not going to buy a specific card just because you need it for your deck. Besides, not many people are willing to let their cards go wandering around the state. If you want to pack up and go somewhere, your friends probably won’t let you take their cards with you. While perfectly legitimate for somebody who is *just* getting into the game, if you’re going to play Magic seriously, you’d better buy some cards.
Sub Type: Character
Artist: Mark Tedin
Text: 3: Urza deals one damage to target creature or player.
So what’s the best way of buying cards? Starter packs and boosters are an obvious starting point. At $9.99 for a starter and $3.29 for a booster, both provide a random assortment of cards. The main advantage to this method of card collection is that it gives you a diverse set of cards, allowing you to experiment with cards you might otherwise pass by without a second glance. Starters and boosters are also nice because you can build your collection a few dollars at a time. Want to try a bit of the new Torment
set, but really like the mechanics of Invasion? Buy three of each and get the best of both worlds. Buying cards piecemeal like this is not without its disadvantages, unfortunately. It is much more common to buy $20 worth of packs and not get a single card that is useful to you, as opposed to getting a set of 6 or 7 killer cards. While it’s possible to trade some of your undesirables off, most will simply sit in your binder…staring at you with those unrelenting cardboard eyes…accusing you of wasting your hard earned money on them. Also, buying starters and boosters does not lend to very much cohesion to your collection. It can take a looong time to collect four of that power rare you need to complete your killer deck.
Type: Enchant Creature
Artist: Paolo Parente
Text: Enchanted creature gets -3/-0.
Once you’ve become more committed to the game, you’ll probably look at buying boxes. Buying boxes has some substantial advantages over buying packs. First of all, pack for pack, buying booster boxes is cheaper than buying individual boosters. A box of 36 packs can run about $75 if you shop around. That means each pack in a box is costing you about $2 a shot. Compared to $3.29 per pack retail, the savings of buying a box really adds up. Another advantage to buying a box at a time is that you’re pretty much guaranteed to get some premium cards, including a foil rare. You’re also going to have a good amount of trade bait left over once you’ve slotted cards that you want into your decks. Sadly, buying boxes also has many of the same problems as buying single packs. You’ll get some premium cards, but you’re also going to get a lot of chaff…buying the entire box only evens out the mix. Also, buying a box is one heck of a commitment. You’re blowing a large amount of money in one shot on one set. If it turns out to be like Homelands and full of useless cards, you’re pretty much stuck.
Another way of building your collection is by trading cards. While it needs an initial investment to get started, trading cards can be the best way of building your pool. Given some time, you can turn what basically amount to nothing into the power nine. While the other methods in this article require nothing more than cash, trading well really takes some skill. I myself am no good at it, but a friend of mine described his basic strategy for me. Basically, it centers around two theories. First, try and get ‘extras’ while trading. Trying to trade an Urza
’s Rage for a Call of the Herd
Sub Type: Character
Artist: Mark Tedin
Text: 3: Urza deals one damage to target creature or player.
? Ask them to throw in a Squirrel’s Nest or two to sweeten the pot. Extras can really become a factor in large, multi-card trades. If one of the cards has seen a little love (i.e. been beaten like a red-headed stepchild from being played so often) or the person you’re trading with is a desperate to get the card minutes before the tourney starts…try and get a little extra. If it’s a useful card that isn’t worth too much, most people will just toss it in. These in turn can be used to ‘trade up’ some of your own cards, or allow you to trade a number of less valuable cards for a more valuable one. The second theory is that you should always be on the lookout for ‘liquid’ cards. These are cards that you’ll always be able to trade off. Not everybody is looking for an Atogatog
|Call of the Herd|
Artist: Carl Critchlow
Text: Put a 3/3 green Elephant creature token into play. Flashback 3G (You may play this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then remove it from the game.)
, but you can bet you can find somebody at the next FNM that’ll take that Undermine
Sub Type: Atog Legend
Artist: Ron Spears
Text: Sacrifice an Atog: Atogatog gets +X/+X until end of turn where X is the sacrificed Atog's power.
off of your hands. In other words, if you have the chance to trade some chump cards off for something sought after, by all means do so. On the other hand, be careful about trading your liquid cards away. Make sure that you can either find somebody to take the cards that you’re trading for, or you really want them for one of your own projects. The moral of the story – be careful about trading tournament quality cards for fun casual stuff. It may seem like a good trade at the time, but casual stuff is ALWAYS harder to trade off. If you start trading, don’t feel bad when you make a bad one. It happens to everybody, especially when you’re new to game. Buy a price guide and get a feel for what cards are in demand before you start though, it’ll help mitigate the damage when you do botch a trade.
Artist: Massimilano Frezzato
Text: Counter target spell. Its controller loses 3 life.
The last way of building your collection that I’m going to talk about is buying singles. When you start paying serious Magic, you’re going to start paying $5 (or more!) for a piece of cardboard. Get used to it, that’s the way it is. It may seem more expensive than buying packs until you consider the efficiency of it. Would you rather pay $10 for seven hand picked commons, uncommons, and rares that you have a definite need for, or buy three packs and maybe luck out, getting one card you can use and a bunch more that are going to go into storage and never see the light of day. When you buy singles, you know what you’re getting. Furthermore, sites like Cardshark means that you can pick up all but the rarest, most sought after cards for only a few dollars a shot. Is there a disadvantage to buying singles? As with everything, yes, there are some disadvantages. Sometimes hype and the market can drive the price of a certain rare to ridiculous levels…making you shell out $10+ for a single card. If you’re into the Type 1 scene, a single Mox or other power rare from yore can run you $100 or more. Also, if a card is in high demand, you might not be able to find a copy to buy, much less four of them. Finally, trying to find that one specific card you need in a commons or uncommons box filled with hundreds (or thousands) of cards can really, really bite.
Each of the collection methods I’ve described really represents different levels of commitment to the game. When you’re new to the game, borrowing cards and buying boosters is fine. Heck, you can play the game and buy cards like this for years and do quite well…especially if you’re into formats like Peasant Magic. If you’re going to be competitive, however, you really need to start looking into boxes and singles. If you’re a bit of a gambler and think you have Lady Luck on your side, by all means go for the boxes. If you’re like the rest of us, just buy the singles. I know it’s hard to justify at first, but it really is worth the money. Trading is a special case. Some people are very good at it, some people aren’t. It’s a personal thing.
Which method of buying cards is the best? It all depends on what you want out of Magic. Most people I know waver from one method to another, so it’s hardly something to be set in stone. Do whatever you feel comfortable with.
Thanks to Matt Smith for some help on this article.
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