In this installment of Magic the Gathering Tips, I want to get away from the playing aspect a little bit and concentrate on something that I feel is just as important if not more so… how you go about buying your cards. You may or may not care about the little tidbits you’re going to read here, but at least be aware of this stuff.
Let’s begin with the two basic ways that most people buy their cards, at least when they’re first starting out. As time comes on, they may continue alone one of these paths, both of them, include other options or toss these completely out the window because they’ve found that there’s a better way.
The most common card buying method for new players is buying individual packs. Why? Well, mostly because it’s the cheapest method, or at least appears to be on the surface. But I’ll get into more of that later on.
A pack of Magic the Gathering cards is roughly about $4 depending on where you live. Inside, depending on the set, you get 15 cards. Early expansions had a lot fewer, which is why I said depending on the set. Any new set you buy is unlikely to have fewer than 15 cards but who knows? The only thing constant in life is change.
By purchasing individual packs, a new player can slowly build his collection over time without spending a lot of money at one time. For many people, this is their only option, especially if their source of income is mom and dad’s allowance each week. When I was a kid, if Magic was around, I would have gotten enough money to maybe buy 3 packs a week.
Another option, which is more expensive up front but actually cheaper in the long run, is to buy a whole box of cards. There are usually about 36 packs in a box depending, again, on the expansion. At $4 per pack, this would normally sell for $144 for a box. But, you can get a whole box, again, depending on where you live, for about $110. So as you can see, this is a $34 savings on every 36 packs. That’s not too bad.
Those are your most common methods of buying cards, but they’re not the only ones and, in my opinion, not the best ones IF you’re looking to get the most value out of your purchase.
Ah, but what is value? This is something that each person has to define for themselves, which is why all I can say is that the “better” way is only my opinion. Buying packs or boxes may be better for what you’re trying to get out of it. For example, some people just LOVE opening up a box of cards. And while it may not be the most economical solution, depending on what you’re looking for, it is a LOT of fun.
But over the years I have found, since I always end up looking for certain cards, that buying packs and boxes is a no win scenario. To understand why, you have to understand the rarity system in Magic.
Every pack in the most recent sets contains 15 cards that are broken down as follows:
1 rare or mythic rare
Let’s say I am looking for one rare card. Since we know that there are 36 rares in a box (1 per pack) my chances of getting that one card, if I buy a whole box, is 1 in 36, roughly. And that also depends on how many different rares there are in a set.
For example, in Magic 2013, there are 58 rares and 15 mythic rares. That makes 73 possible cards to fill up those 36 slots in a box of cards. So you’re really looking at odds of 1 in 73 of pulling one specific rare.
Let’s say that rare costs $20 on the open market and it takes you an average of 2 boxes of cards to pull that one card. That’s over $200 spent, on average, just to get that ONE card.
Now, if you’re looking for other cards in the set, you’re going to pull some of those two. But most likely, unless they’re commons and uncommons, you’re only going to pull ONE of each of them.
What do you do if you’re looking to play competitively and you need 4 of a certain card in order to do it?
Do you see how this starts getting expensive?
Sure, you can open one pack of cards, spend $4, and pull a $50 rare out of the pack. But the odds of that happening are stacked against you.
And that’s just the point. Opening up packs and boxes is like playing the lottery. Sure, you might win, but more likely than not, you’re going to end up spending most of your money on what’s going to amount to 4 play sets of common cards that you can buy for 10 cents.
So what’s the alternative?
What I do is buy the rares that I want on the open market, either through eBay or a dealer. Sure, I may pay $20 or more for one card, but if it’s the card I need to put together a competitive deck, it’s cheaper than hoping I get it through opening packs.
But what about the commons and uncommon cards?
You can purchase a complete play set of common and uncommon cards for about $40. I’ve done the math. In order to get a play set of both reliably, you have to open up at least 2 boxes of cards. That’s $220. Sure, you get 72 rares but you have no way of knowing that the rares you get are going to be the ones you want.
Sometimes, if I really love a set, I’ll buy one box just to see what I get like I recently did with Return To Ravnica. But ultimately, I ended up having to shell out about $300 for the rares that I wanted and I still don’t have all the commons and uncommons.
And the larger the set, the harder it is to complete a collection.
The reasons why this is financially unfeasible are beyond the scope of this article. You need to do a lot of probability and understand exactly how the rares and mythic rares are distributed to “get” it.
Suffice it to say, most of my Magic the Gathering card buying is done on Ebay or through a dealer buying individual cards.
If you enjoy opening packs and boxes, go for it. But if you’re looking for a specific card, you’re better off buying it directly.