I can’t speak for your experience with Magic, but it’s all about value for me. I’m the kind of person who does the math on things to figure out if I should do it or pay someone else to.

For example, for nearly two years, I’ve maintained a Cube of only Uncommon-level cards. That has been the single greatest gainer of value I’ve experienced in my time playing Magic and being part of MTG Finance. The cube isn’t worth $100 total, but drafting it about three times a month means a whole lot of money I didn’t spend drafting GRN yet again, and frankly it got more work than that during the doldrums of Ixalan.

Every time a new set comes out, I go through the most important exercise for a cube or Commander deck: deciding what goes in and what comes out. It’s a fun task and when I’m done deciding I spend a quarter each and get them from my LGS. Spending the $3 is good for two reasons:

  1. I’m supporting my store and getting immediate use of the cards. Sure, I could save maybe a buck by going to TCG, but then I have to pay shipping and wait FOREVER for the cards to arrive. I could list them on CS and there’s no guarantee that I’d get them right away. Cardsphere is many awesome things, but very rarely speedy unless I put in some nutty offers, especially for cards worth ten cents.

  2. I don’t want to spend some unknown amount of time asking people if they have a card for trade. I want them in hand, I want to make the changes, and have that done, mentally. Whenever I try to do Cube updates in stages, I find that I’m going to end up with three of one uncommon and none of another. A quarter each, paying the store for being organized and quick, is great value to me.

Cube is the greatest way to spend not much money and get a crazy amount of value. It’s possible to put together a super-expensive Cube that features Alpha Power cards, custom alters, and quadruple sleeving, but that is more about your satisfaction. A Cube made of 360 printed out pictures and sleeved in front of lands is still going to be enjoyable if your playgroup is for it, and your play experience is going to be awesome.

Magic doesn’t have to be expensive. Everything depends on what you’re trying to do. What you choose to pay for is going to reflect what you think is valuable, what you want to do in the game. Want to play Vintage for a couple hundred bucks? Get into MTGO. Want a five-color manabase for your Commander deck without the cost of duals, fetches, and/or shocks? Be base green and ramp like a maniac.

Value as a concept is something that used to make my skin crawl, frankly. I wrote once that if someone I’m trading says “What do you value this at?” I would end the trade and walk away. That person wasn’t interested in the actual value, but my perception of that, which invariably led to an exploitative interaction.

I’ve come around in some respects. I still won’t trade with that person, but I do think about value in terms of what I’m definitely getting, what I might be getting, and what I’m willing to give up. In a very real sense, Cardsphere is all about value: we list cards at the minimum we’d take in exchange, and we send them at the max we think we can get.

One example of calculating value, from GP Oakland which is in two weeks: Two friends of mine are getting the Limited Fanatic package for $150. No Main Event for them (more on that in a minute) but their goal is to maximize the number of packs opened and tickets won.

It’s a noble quest, so we worked it out, and there’s six sealed deck events over the three days, four of which are for double the tickets. If a box of GRN can be had for ~$100 (quite possibly less, I know), then these boys are paying $50 for a set of unknown prizes. Not paying $50 for $50 worth of cards, this is much, much worse if you’ve seen the kind of prices at the ticket walls.

For comparisons’ sake, which would you rather have? Six sealed events at a GP, plus the unknown amount of tickets you’d win, or a sealed box of Ultimate Masters?

I’m not judging them for this choice, though. I respect the drive and the dedication it shows. I’d be tapping out after the third sealed deck, especially because there’s no other set to play sealed with for variety’s sake.

The Main Event at a Grand Prix/MagicFest is atrocious value. Abysmal. One With Nothing-levels of value lost. Might as well take $70, and stare at it, and see if it spontaneously forms new money.

So let’s say the GP is 2,800 people. It’s pretty rare to break 3,000, which is when a new tier of prizes kicks in. If you don’t finish 64th or better, you get nothing. Roughly a 2% chance of finishing in the money for $250. That’s after 15 rounds over two days. If you’re lucky, that’s 17 hours of time spent, so about $14.50/hour. More than the US federal minimum wage for going 11-4 or so (not a guarantee though).

I did the Main Event in Sacramento last summer for $110, and went 1-3 drop. I always swear off big Limited events, and then I go right back to it because I think I’m better at Magic than I actually am. C’est la vie.

My true addiction is Chaos Draft/Sealed, which is also a terrible value proposition. I’m paying $30 (or $50) for a set of packs that will include a pack CFB sells for $10+ and any others of their choice, and in my experience, they get rid of a LOT of Dragon’s Maze this way. It’s godawful value. Only once have I opened something that got me the value back, but I love the weirdness of the format and I fully expect to do one of those per day.

The rest of the time, I’m going to be the guy under the giant flashing CUBE DRAFT sign, getting to meet new people for free and drafting one of my Cubes or perhaps one of theirs.

So what else should you do at a GP, since I’ve pooped on the Main Event and many side events?

Vendors at a GP are the fastest way to turn a stack of cards into a smaller stack of cash. Don’t doubt the liquidity of Magic cards as on any given weekend you can go somewhere in North America and turn cardboard into currency.

Vendors are also a great place for picking up cards for decent prices. Buylisting for credit bonuses is totally a thing, and if you can trade 140 Hymn to Tourach for a Masterpiece Aether Vial, then great!

I also am a big fan of artist interactions at a GP. Pay for signatures, tip generously for alters, and buy a print or two. Support the hell out of these hardworking people.

Commander games are fast and furious at these events. Play the pods and bring your big guns, or seek out more casual matches.

The single-elimination drafts at $15 are decent value, even if you’ve only got a ~75% chance of pulling a card worth $5 or more in your three packs. You’re going to get a couple of hours of fun out of each one, on top of the prizes. If you have a friend, do a Battlebond draft. Some of the cards are amazingly pricey, each pack has about a 30% chance of having a $5+ card, and the gameplay is really top-notch.

Bring your lunch, a sandwich or something, and a big water bottle. Save your food money and go somewhere nice for dinner.

I may have given you the impression that I don’t like these events, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I love these things. Oakland will be my fourth GP in the past 53 weeks, a feat I don’t think I’ll ever equal again. What I do, at every occasion, is figure out what I want to spend money on, what I’m getting for that spent money, and what it’s worth in terms of time.