Geek Economy – Building a Magic: The Gathering Collection

Last time you heard me out talking about how Games Workshop took a lot of money for not a large quantity of products. Today we will go through a different experience which is equally crippling for your wallet if you try to take the hobby seriously. Trading card games are becoming more and more popular as the years go: Pokemon, YuGiOh, even Legend of the Five Rings if you will. They remind me a bit of the sticker collections I used to have when I was younger, when every Sunday my parents would allow me to buy a new pack to see if I could complete the collection. However these collections had a limited amount of stickers you required, and the stickers that other people would be missing would not always be the same than yours. In essence, it was an ordeal that had a limit. Trading card games of the scales we are talking about end only when you want them to.

My experience with these games comes through the lens of Magic: The Gathering. My father had started collecting cards when they originally came out – yes, yes, Alpha/Beta onwards, you heard me right. These are the cards I learnt to play with and cherished. The sets were limited, while still allowing for different dynamics and combinations to customise your deck and to provide you the key to victory. Back then certain cards were still more valued than others, but everything was moderately and within reason. My father stopped collecting for a while, then we expanded the collection when I started playing seriously around the year 2000, a few booster packs and event decks kinda thing. Nothing ridiculous. And then I stopped playing again in the times of Kamikawa and the ridiculous set that became Mirrodin. A set that meant my older cards had no way, and I mean No Way of Actually Winning a Single Match. We are talking about a pure white deck focused on flying, 4 Serra Angels and 2 Wraths of God, and my beloved Sol Ring to take care of business with the back up of 4 more Wall of Swords – and 2 animate wall spells because back then kids that’s how defenders got to do stuff.

So it became apparent that the game had become ridiculous – if you do not have certain things, you can’t win. If you don’t buy new cards, you can’t win. Then how is it that some of my cards back then were going for indecent amounts of money in comparison with the newer cards that were killing me endlessly? Well, because like with antiques, age makes things desirable. Unfortunately for Magic: The Gathering players their hobby became a money pit for several reasons. For the players with older cards the bad news were that due to the stupid dynamics of the game, if they wanted to win, they have to spend. And sure, a booster pack may not seem like a lot of money when you think about it independent – currently you’d spend under £4 for a pack of the most recent set which will buy you 15 random cards – you may like them or not, you may be able to use them or you may trade them, who knows. And of course, if you find use for them, that means the supply one card in a deck of 60. Now think that Citadel paints I bought the other day cost me a fair amount of money for what is a paint, granted, but for £2.50 I got my “Badass” black (home use name for you know what) which will paint me my entire army and probably more. Relatively speaking, would you say the pain is the better investment?

In any case, the outrageous monetary enterprise that is MTG doesn’t end there. As I came back into the game in tne recent years while at university, I find out that cards now have this grading system: commons, uncommons, rares and mythics. What the Hell? People go Mad, and I mean MAD for the last 2. Now as someone who has been playing for a long time, and that owns cards of any rarity let me tell you – You Don’t Need These Cards to Win. That is if you have skill and smarts, of course. But, if you don’t you can use the common tactic amongst mediocre but wealthier MTG players of spending a fortune on cards and just throwing the best (or supposed best) together, and for sure you will get somewhere. So, you would think these desired rare and mythics will sell for some money, right? I mean, if I could sell my old cards for a substantial amount despite them not being good enough, the current cards that could get you to win must be worth something. Ah! You fools…Well needless to say I have a fair few rares that I shouldn’t be able to sell for more than £0.50…Sure some others go fo more, but the erratic pattern and concept behind what makes a card worth what is just beyond comprehension. The amount of money people will pay for what you could consider to be otherwise a glorified piece of cardboard that according to the market value isn’t actually worth not that much or isn’t all that unique is just nuts.

Ok, yes, I may be being facetious but you must see my point.

And, like with Warhammer, the expenditure doesn’t end in the cards alone: card sleeves, deck protectors, special card protectors, boxes to store the cards, albums to keep them organised and save, mats to play, life counter dice, the list goes on and on. So in total, it wouldn’t be so strange for someone to spend something in the region of £30-£80 per set. And there is a set every quarter of the year more or less…So where does the madness end? Where you want it to of course. Many people keep on buying cards with the hope that when they don’t want them anymore they can just sell them – but you just saw the figures I gave you for some rares right? Considering pretty much every common is sold for £0.01, the investment as a potential future sale is hardly profitable. Sure, you can keep it for the future when they will be worth more money – but actually with a game that keeps itself so up to date, and that keeps on deeming certain sets as not playable after a while, the value of them as antiques is not gonna get far, unless you own the really old ones, the collectors’ pieces. And of course not all the sets are as good or as valuable as others. So you keep on spending to keep on playing, or to obtain the ones you want – the ones you want which are not even that unique because there are trillions of cards I dare say.

A friend of mine told me once that the reason why this kept on going was because opening a MTG booster pack is addictive like any other drug “because you don’t know what you’re going to get”. But that is also not true though, is it? I know I can open 90% of the boosters and depending of the set I can figure out roughly what comes out of each wrap – generic one mana creature, generic two mana spell, creature/spell in the region of 2-4 mana with the potential of doing something cool if you pair it with the rest of cards, complexly silly card that due to its ridiculous mana cost attribute to the effect desired just renders it as useless. And repeat. Get lucky and you will get a rare, and in fact out of every 10 or so boosters you will. Eventually get a mythic for your excitement if you even care about it.

So why bother keeping a MTG collection? Honestly, I only see one reason – the worth it has to the individual for s specific purpose. And this purpose is hardly bulk, but usually something that matters to them. Being this a particular set that had some really cool dynamics, cards with some amazing art work – which are plenty – cards with a theme, cards that are just silly but somehow they work together, little gems undermined by everyone else. Keep it personal. Make it personal and the money pit will at least have some meaning – apart from the obvious part which is you know, playing the game.

Otherwise in a few years time you mind find yourself thinking of the coin you wasted, and the number of other things you could have bought with them – like you know, comics – suits me 3/4 booster to a volume work out the figure I provided you earlier, tell me how large your other geek-non-market-dependable. collection could be.

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