How to Enjoy Magic : The Gathering on a Poverty Budget
There is a great saying out there about Magic: The Gathering (MTG), that it is a hobby for the rich. This is only half-true.
To be sure, the high end of the original collectible Trading Card Game (TCG) by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has a deserved reputation for luxury pricing. The rarest MTG cards have price tags in the four digits range. One legendary auction saw the most sought-after card, a Black Lotus, trade for $166K. Cards in the game have such value attached that there’s a whole site which tracks the value of MTG cards as if they were stocks.
Value in MTG cards is attached to competitive play, driven almost entirely by player popularity. If you compete at any level above the few we’ll discuss here, forget price restrictions. However, there is a whole subculture within MTG which ignores the flashy tournament circuit. It takes place at kitchen tables, basements, and game shops all over the world. Below the investor / eSports level lies the casual gamer level, which doesn’t draw nearly the same amount of press.
Start a Magic: the Gathering Collection for less than $40
The fact is that for every pricey MTG card, there’s ten others that are worth a dime apiece, if that! They aren’t as powerful in effect, or sometimes simply aren’t part of a popular competitive strategy right at the moment. Sometimes formerly pricey card gets reprinted enough that their price stays down even if they continue to see competitive play.
The less expensive cards are ranked as bulk. “Bulk” is the term you need to know when asking for budget MTG cards. But one thing you have to watch out for in reviews is too many duplicates. There are crappy sellers out there that will stuff hundreds of copies of one worthless card into a bulk lot. Demand your money back if this happens.
Here’s a few starter points for kicking off an instant collection:
Star City Games 1000 Assorted Magic: The Gathering Cards Gold Collection
Star City Games is one of the major MTG markets. Your Humble Author is not sponsored by them in any way, but will say has been a happy patron of the place for years. It’s not the cheapest nor the best card store, but does have the best trade-off between price and service. They are also one of the best shippers I’ve seen, reliable and dependable in getting your exact order to you in the quickest possible way.
The Gold Assorted Box is a regular birthday present I make to myself, even after my collection has filled a bookshelf. This is because I regularly play Pauper and Commander EDH, two formats we will discuss below. No matter your playing level, this is one of the best bulk purchases around. Note that this box is assured to have very few, if any, duplicates.
Another bulk box from another online card store, Cosmic Gaming Collections is also a well-reviewed and trusted store. This box also assures minimal duplicates, and guarantees a set number of planeswalkers. If you’re really into planeswalkers, that’s nice, but don’t count on pulling the more expensive ones. The “gotcha” is the guaranteed 4 mythics; they are almost assured to be “dollar mythics,” nothing to get too excited about.
This bulk box is about ten bucks more than the Star City Games offering, but is reviewed about on par for its cost.
Magic: The Gathering Core Set 2020 Deck Builder’s Toolkit | 4 Booster Pack | 125 Cards | Deck Builder’s Guide
The Deck Builder’s Toolkit is a long-standing offer by WotC. As opposed to the resold bulk offers, which can contain cards from any set in MTG’s 25+ year history, Deck Builder’s Toolkits are all from the current Standard format. They’ll have a selection of 125 selected cards from the current Core set, plus 100 basic lands, and four booster packs (also from the current Standard format sets).
The booster packs alone make this a great deal. Boosters typically run ~$4-5, so for ~$20 you’re getting your value out of those and the storage box. It’s not the fastest way to a big collection and the power level of the selected cards is notoriously sucky, but for casuals, returning players, or beginning collectors looking to eventually hit FNM at their local shop, this is an almost unbeatable bargain.
NOTE: The current Standard Deck Builder’s Toolkit will always change with Standard’s rotation, so we might decide to update this link later.
Magic: The Gathering Magic Game Night | Card Game for 2-5 Players | 5 Decks | 5 Dice | Accessories
Would you rather have a casual tabletop gaming experience for you and your crew, with no deck-building skills required? Are you happy to just have five pre-built decks to play and be done with it? The recent series by WotC, Game Night, is just your ticket. This is a box of five pre-built decks, balanced and constructed so that they’re reasonable matches against each other. They are all built around a fun theme like dragon or zombie tribal, or the advantage of air superiority or strength in numbers. Just open, shuffle, and play! Note that these cards are not all Standard-legal, but most of them usually are.
If you have five friends, so much the better, and if it’s just you and your significant other, you can each pick a deck and have endless replay value. The box is handsome and it even comes with some cute game accessories. The long-term benefit is that as you grow the collection, you can keep the same concept around with upgraded decks. In terms of both raw card resale value as well as out-of-the-box playability, these Game Night sets are the best offering we’ve seen in tabletop gaming in a long time.
Star City Games 100 Assorted Magic: The Gathering Rares
We return to Star City Games again for this one, interesting offering. This is like an expansion pack if you’ve gotten any of the above purchases. It is 100 MTG rares, from any set, guaranteed no duplicates! It is, however, “selected” rares, which means you’re not going to hit the jackpot on pricey chase cards. With that said, the purchase price is close to the value of 100 rare MTG cards, even if they’re the cheapest bulk rares.
Special precaution is advised here, as this set contains NO land, so it is not everything you need to begin playing, unlike the other above sets. It is, however, a great boost to an existing collection even for moderate-rank players. It’s nearly impossible not to break even with this set, and we see from reviews that several players even report getting value over price from it.
Other ways to advance your Magic : The Gathering hobby on a budget
What is the most economical and practical way to get into MTG, and stay in it while enjoying play? As long as you don’t mind sticking to recent Standard, Draft format is the best way to go!
Booster Draft is almost always available at any game store. You enter for the price of buying three booster packs. Then all players in groups of eight take turns opening the boosters and passing them around, saving one card each pick. At the end, you raid the open land box, and build a deck out of what you have, then play against each other in a competition that awards prizes. You keep the cards you picked when you’re done.
Draft is the perfect format for beginners. You’re all working from the same card pool, so richer players with bigger collections have no advantage over you. Luck is a big factor which can sometimes win the day even if you’re not that skilled.
Best of all, after Draft is over, you can stay around and chat with other players, and trade or acquire more cards. More experienced players who play Draft will likely have a big stack of excess copies of cards they already have. This is called “Draft chaff.” You can easily trade a rarer single copy of a card for a fistful of Draft chaff (try not to get taken advantage of here), or simply buy a pile of cards for a buck.
When we mentioned above that the competitive players are the ones spending the big dough, we did leave out one important exception: Pauper format. Pauper was deliberately made to counter the high cost of competitive MTG, starting with the premise of limiting the allowed cards in the format to those at Basic rarity only. This does slash the cost of building a top-format Pauper deck. You can buy the best deck in Pauper, one card at a time, for around $80, sometimes as low as $30.
There are a number of downsides to the Pauper MTG lifestyle:
The format is a mess, due to having different rules for electronic vs. paper play.
“Common” isn’t an easy concept since cards are reprinted in different rarities for different media.
Pauper STILL is not an officially sanctioned format by WotC, so shops hold FNM Pauper at their own expense.
Most gaming shops do not support Pauper on a regular basis.
Pauper is just as cutthroat as any other competitive format. The player who has been playing since Alpha still has a tremendous advantage over you, even if you’re holding the same deck.
Pauper is constrained to a smaller set of viable strategies. Lots of aggro, lots of burn, lots of counter-spells. We hope you love looking at Delver of Secrets, because he’s the OG of Pauper format.
Some of these problems have been addressed in recent years. WotC has at last realized that fans really want Pauper and have moved to support it. Stores, however, might be reluctant to hold Pauper tournaments because they only have so many tables and so much floor space to accommodate hundreds of games with millions of formats per week.
Commander is the casual, non-competitive format that was entirely created by player, for players, and only gradually accepted by WotC, which now sells pre-built decks for the format. Commander is very different from other formats, with its own specific rules. It is also a very deep and enjoyable format. There is also a small competitive Commander scene, even WotC semi-sanctioned, but look out for the money factor there of course.
Casual Commander with friends has a number of budgetary advantages:
Since it’s a singleton format (only one copy of each card except for Basic lands), you only need one copy of an expensive card instead of the typical 4-card playset.
It draws from all sets in MTG, even special-print cards that were never in Standard, so it’s easier to assemble a viable Commander card collection out of bulk buys.
The pre-built decks sold by WotC are at least decent starting points for upgrading decks, with prices around $30-$40 for new decks.
It’s a less competitive format where casual just-for-fun strategies are allowed.
Most game shops have a Commander night for casual players at no charge. Just show up with you and your decks, sit down, and play with whomever shows up.
Even at budget prices, MTG can still get expensive the more seriously you get into the game. But bear in mind that it’s also a collectible trading-card game, so cards have resale value that typically matures to match other hobby-tied investments. Eventually you will get that first lucky pull from a booster pack that trades back for a substantial boost to your collection. Keep an eye on market fluctuations, sell high and buy cheap, and you’ll be in the big leagues before you know it!