I've been writing about Magic finance for quite a while, and a participant even longer than that. I use these principles to help me spend what I want to spend on the game, mainly for sweet Commander cards. One of the things I’ve picked up over time is an awareness that some things are always worth buying, and other things not so much.
You may or may not agree with what I purchase, but I want to make sure that you don’t see me as an evil speculator, part of a shadowy cabal, hellbent on pumping and dumping my own stock. I promise you, when it comes to Magic, I budget for foolishness.
I always buy: sweet foil cards, especially ones that enable single-creature-type strategies.
I like theme decks. I’ve got four Commander decks right now, and they are Zombies, Dragons, X spells, and Ayara Aristocrats. So when sweet cards are printed for these decks, I can’t really hold myself back for too long. Rare foils have proven to be a solid place to park value, especially if there’s something extra about them. Promos, giveaways, Secret Lairs… you name it. Foiling out a deck is generally a good plan for long-term value, as long as you don’t go for the regular foil. If it’s available in Showcase/Extended Art foil, that’s where the growth will be. Regular border foils in the Collector Booster era don’t mean much for a card’s financial impact.
I never buy: Playmats
Example: GP and store giveaways
Look, if you have a favorite art and it makes you happy, go for it. I’m not trying to yuck your yum. I’m trying to help you remember that if you go to big events, or even medium ones, you’ll get a playmat thrown in. In the before time, I always wanted to sell my GP-entry playmat on day one, when vendors were paying the most. We get a lot of accessories just from existing in game stores, and playmats are an expense that I don’t think we need to indulge in.
I always buy: Accessories for organization
Example: Boxes and binders
When you find a method you like for keeping your cards, run with it. I like the four Boulders in a UG Hive for my Commander decks, and I love my Dex Protection mega box for my cube. It’s what I want, but I recognize that others have sweet things too. My cube is all uncommons, so I can take it to random places and draft with random people without much fear. The box is probably the most expensive part of the cube, aside from me being bonkers enough to spend about 75 cents per basic land because the guild lands in nonfoil make me happy.
I don’t have a single recommendation for a binder, though if you’re still using a three-ring and Ultra-Pro pages, get something new. Ring dents are a real thing, and I’ve got a subsection in a box of cards I let get damaged that way.
I never buy: chase cards right away
Example: Foil Borderless Ancient Copper Dragon
I bought all the Dragons pretty early on, except for this one. Couldn’t bring myself to do it when I knew that I was overpaying by a bunch:
I can handle overpaying by $10 or $20 to have a card in hand right away, as personal stuff is allowed to be immediate gratification for me. This particular card, being the most expensive from the set, I didn’t buy as a preorder under $100 and so I had to watch it hit $200 for the premium version before I recently bought it for myself at under $150.
The price right away is never the price you want to pay. People are seeing that with the serialized Retro Artifacts and other chase cards, but the FOMO is such a powerful thing in human psychology. Recognize it, and learn to overcome it
I always buy: Reserved List cards that get some new life
Example: Gargantuan Gorilla
I don’t know if you’ve seen this card, but it’s going to lead to some interesting spikes in the next month or so:
Kibo is going to enable a lot of Monkey and Ape cards (yes, those are different) and primary among them might well be
Gargantuan Gorilla, a Reserved List Gorilla that’s been given errata as an Ape.
Reserved List cards can do weird things. Sometimes people buy a bunch and then try to resell at crazy prices. I bought 8 of the Gargantuan Gorillas when the Prince was revealed, because people will do a Scryfall search for Apes and Monkeys and see that mostly they are small but this one is huge and fights, though it comes at a steep investment.
The glorious thing about speculating on two playsets of a RL card like this is that if it doesn’t pan out immediately, then I can be patient. Only a matter of time before I’ll get to sell into more hype.
I never buy: individual packs
Examples: all of them
Finally, I want to talk about the single worst thing people do: Buy and rip open single packs. There’s a case to be made that opening sealed product early on can be quite profitable, but very swingy. Wizards has gotten good at making sure there’s a couple of very pricey cards, some very good cards, and then a whole lot of dollar-or-less cards.
The Collector Booster era has made that worse, frankly, and when you add in subsets of very high value, it can tank the value of everything else. The Brothers’ War is like that, with the serialized cards demanding top dollar along with the Shattered Glass foils, and everything else is dropping fast. There’s going to be some amazing deals on these cards in a couple of months.
If you calculate the expected value of each slot in a Collector Booster, not many of them are going to give you $25 worth of cards. It’s even worse for Draft Boosters. Stay away from buying loose packs, for your wallets’ sakes.