Magic On The Cheap: Part 1 – Why Is Magic The Gathering Expensive?

I play Magic the Gathering. It is not an inherently cheap game. This is a short series about  how to manage that cost, but the first step in is to understand why Magic is expensive to play.

Part 1: High Casting Cost

There is a great deal about Magic that is very interesting and worthwhile as a gaming experience. Drafting is fun, sealed is fun. Building constructed decks in various formats is enormous fun, and actually playing the decks you build can be incredibly rewarding. Sometimes frustrating, sure, but usually just good fun.

But, all of these different ways of playing come with a cost. With most board games you buy a box and play the game. You might then buy expansions for that base game. Those expansions may cost as much as the base game if they are big, or just be a fraction of the price if it’s a small enhancement. Some games are predictable, while others allow many different combinations of components for a very widely varied gameplay experience. However it plays, you spend $30-$60 on a game and you play it.

Magic isn’t really like that.

The basic unit in which you buy Magic cards is the booster pack. These packs are each 15 cards with specific proportions of cards sorted by rarity: ten commons, three uncommons, a rare (or mythic rare), and a basic land1. There’s also a token of some kind. A pack is not a playable thing on its own2.

These packs are designed to be played in a draft. This is where a group of players (eight, optimally) each have three packs. They each open one pack and select a card to keep, then pass to the left, continuing to select and pass until the first pack is exhausted. Then they do the same thing with the second and third packs, but alternating the pass direction: to the right for the second pack, to the left again for the third. Once all packs are exhausted you build a 40 card deck from the cards selected, although that 40 card count includes basic land which you can add freely. The upshot is that you will pick 45 cards and play 22-25 of them.

A draft like this costs three packs plus basic land, usually $12-14 at a game shop (depending on prize support). Now, playing the games themselves is several hours of entertainment, and there is a lot of deep skill involved both in the drafting process and building the decks, so if you compare it to (say) going to the cinema it’s pretty reasonable. But that’s still $12-14 every time you play.

Other formats are more expensive, not less: sealed is six packs per person, constructed decks in the main formats (Standard, Modern) can easily be hundreds of dollars to buy if you don’t have the cards, and so on.

Selling Out

One mitigating factor for the cost of Magic is that you can often sell cards to pay for some or all of it. This is not an MTG finance piece and I will not be discussing this in detail, but sometimes you will pull a card during a draft that is worth $20, $30, or more, although the chances of that are low. The Masterpieces added to packs in recent sets are a case in point – they have high value, but they are also very unlikely. It truly is a lottery whether the cards you open match the price you paid: the Professor plays the Booster Box Game to demonstrate how you always lose in the end.

Still, I’m very bad at selling cards. I’ve sold approximately three. I like collecting them too much, so although you can sell cards, I am not going to claim that that’s a great way to control costs.

That’s some of the reasons why Magic is expensive. Next time I’ll write about some ways to manage that cost.

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