5 Tips for Saving Money on Magic
Though we're currently visiting Ixalan, we're not all Prosperous Pirates with oodles of treasure. We all have our budgets to work within, which can be a real bummer when we want to buy new Magic cards.
Still, there's lots we can do to mitigate the cost of our favorite hobby. I've gotten a lot of value out of these five methods. I hope they help you, too!
1. Find Cheaper Alternatives to Popular Cards
Here's a common phrase you'll hear from longtime Magic players: "Card A is better than Card B. Not close." Well, it's actually often closer than we realize. With so many Magic cards out there, you can find alternatives to powerful cards that are way more budget friendly.
Nonbasic lands are an excellent example. Wizards prints a new cycle in almost every set, always with slight variations. The differences are often so slight, in fact, that many nonbasic lands compare favorably to their pricier counterparts. Since Izzet is the best guild (not close), let's compare two blue-red lands side by side.
The difference between these cards is obvious: Volcanic Island costs no life, while Steam Vents sometimes costs two. So yes, Volcanic Island is better than Steam Vents. Maybe a little less obvious from this comparison: Steam Vents is worth about $17, whereas Volcanic Island runs at roughly $350, at its cheapest.
Being the dedicated Izzet mage I assume you must be, let's imagine you're on the play with an opening hand that looks like this:
Which is a better seventh card for this hand: Volcanic Island or Steam Vents? In this scenario, they're identical; they'll both give us the mana we need to cast an Electromancer on turn two, and it won't cost us any life to do so. In this case and many others, the more expensive option won't be worth the hefty price tag.
Now imagine you're playing Commander, a format where two life matters so little that Steam Vents's downside is pretty much negligible. Is the occasional upside of Volcanic Island worth $300 to you?
Now let's take this a step further. Let's compare Steam Vents with Kaladesh's Spirebluff Canal:
I'm not arguing that this card is better than Vents. The Canal doesn't have the Island Mountain subtype, and after turn three, you usually won't have the option of playing it untapped. But is it worth the extra $10 just to have your land enter untapped after turn three? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
My point here is not to claim that expensive cards are expensive for no reason. On the contrary, good cards are almost always quite pricey. I'm simply arguing that the disparity between the hyper expensive and the affordable is actually quite narrow. And in many instances, the budget option is just as good as the pricey one. Look for those budget options, and don't feel bad about playing them.
2. Sell Your Cards!
In my opinion, selling excess cards back to stores is the best way to save money on Magic. If you're not using them, why keep them around? Extra cards get messy and require a surprising amount of storage space. And if you accumulate enough of them, you might end up looking like a hoarder.
Fortunately, selling cards is easier than you might think. To sell cards to your local game store, just throw them into a shoebox and bring them in. Your LGS's employees will often sort through your cards and price them out for you. If you've got a ton to sell, plan accordingly—it might take a while to sift through them all.
Once your friendly card store employee tallies a total value, you'll probably have the option to claim your trade-in value in one of two ways: cash or store credit. If you choose the former, you'll often get your money through check, PayPal, or cold hard cash. However, if you want to buy even more cards, I'd recommend going with the latter option. That's because most LGSs offer bonuses on store credit. This usually takes the form of an added percentage on your overall price, generally ranging from 20 to 30 percent. So if you sell $100 worth of cards, you could get $120 or even $130 back in credit. Pretty sweet!
Another option is selling your cards online. I've done this a few times and the process is pretty much the same no matter where you go. Just make sure to follow the written instructions provided on the site you're selling to. This usually entails compiling a list of product you'd like to sell using an online portal. Once everything's ready, follow the shipping instructions and mail those cards out. The online store will let you know when they've received your shipment, and then you'll collect your cash or credit.
Selling online is a great way to cash in cards if there's no store near you, or if you'd prefer the convenience of doing business online. Either way, I highly recommend selling unused cards back to stores.
One other note on this subject: At times, I've sold a few hundred dollars worth of cards to my local store, then purchased a whole bunch of other stuff with the credit I earned from the sale. Maybe it's because no money exchanged hands, but I felt kind of guilty. It felt like I was getting cards for free.
Don't feel guilty! When you sell cards back to your LGS, you're actually doing them a favor. That's because stores buy sealed product (booster boxes, Planeswalker decks, etc.) from Wizards, then sell them to you. Thing is, if players want specific cards for specific decks (which is often the case), stores don't have an easy way to stock those singles. After all, they can't buy the singles directly from Wizards.
That's why it helps to sell your cards back to your local store. In fact, many of the singles you see in the front case were likely sold to the store by players like you!
3. Trade with Fellow Players
Selling your cards back to your LGS is smart. The only downside: you don't get full value from the sale. Stores usually buy cards for about 50 percent of their value, and that figure could rise as high as 80 percent for store credit. They have to make a profit, after all, so they're going to buy your cards at a lower price than they're worth.
If you want full value for your cards, consider trading with other players. This is a great way to clear space in your closet while filling holes in your collection.
There are a few downsides to trading, though. For one, you need to find a trade partner, which can prove difficult. Players at your local Friday Night Magic might only be looking for one or two specific cards for their new deck. Other times, you might browse the binder of a trade partner, only to find they don't have any of the cards you need. And if you trade with your friends, you'll likely find that once you've made a few exchanges, no one will have any cards anyone else needs anymore.
Trading is a great value, but it's tricky. Try it, but don't rely on it.
4. Buy With a Purpose
Sometimes I see players buy 30 dollars worth of packs and say, "I hope I open Rekindling Phoenix!" But if that player only wants the Phoenix, they could've purchased it with the 30 dollars they just spent.
I don't mean to tell anyone how to spend their money. And some players just love opening booster packs. I totally get that. Just be deliberate with your purchases. If you only want a specific card from a set, don't hope to get lucky by buying a bunch of packs. The odds of opening a specific card from a booster, especially a rare or mythic, are unlikely to ever be in your favor.
That said, if you'd be happy to open anything from the new set, including commons and uncommons, buy some packs! They're an excellent way to pad your collection.
TL;DR: Decide what you want, then buy accordingly.
5. Try Before You Buy
I think of new constructed decks like new cars. Would you ever buy one without taking it for a test drive?
There are a few ways to do this. First, ask your friends if they have a copy of the deck you can borrow. It need not necessarily be the exact list you have in mind; just play a deck of the archetype you're considering and see how you like it. If it's fun to play, feel free to build your own.
Another option is to proxy the deck. You might print images of the desired cards and glue them to spare lands, or just write the card name in permanent marker on a token. Whatever you do, be very careful—proxies are not allowed at tournaments. They should only be used with friends to get a feel for your deck.
A third way to try before you buy is to find video breakdowns of your desired deck. For example, if you're interested in a spicy Modern brew like Soulflayer Surprise, you might check out an online deck tech that breaks it all down. With so much Magic content out there, it's very likely someone's talking about your deck. Just type the name into Google and see what comes up!
I hope these tips help you horde your pirate booty, a.k.a. your hard earned money. Your wallet will thank you!
Kyle Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living in upstate New York with his fiancée and their two cats. When he's not writing, you'll find him down at the East Greenbush Flipside store jamming booster drafts. For more of Kyle's work, visit www.kyleamassa.com or follow him on Twitter @mindofkyleam.
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