What Impacts Magic Finance?

“Wizards of the Coast could put $100 bills in packs and players would complain about how they were folded.” -Common Adage

Factors impacting price: -Gameplay Value (How many formats is it good in? Is it an effect that decks want all four copies of? Is it at risk of being banned?) -Aesthetics (Foil? Alternate art? Misprint? Signed?) -Scarcity (Has it been out of print for long? What rarity was it printed at? Is it on the Reserved List?)


Magic: The Gathering debuted in 1993, and pioneered the genre of trading card games. Assembling a deck and playing the game can be enormously complex, but playing at high levels also demands awareness of a shifting economy of card prices. The game has accumulated over twenty thousand unique cards across its twenty-six years. The vast majority of them can be bought for a few cents, but sought-after staples can be upwards of fifty dollars, and a few sell for thousands.

Magic's parent company, Wizards of the Coast, never directly acknowledges that some cards are worth more money than others. To do so would draw the attention of anti-gambling laws, so the job is left to the secondary market. Companies like Card Kingdom, Star City Games, and Channel Fireball run marketplaces of specific cards. They also manage officially-approved tournaments, discuss strategy and lore, and drum up excitement for new sets.

Wizards of the Coast makes its share of bad decisions, but displays some understanding of how to sustain a game for twenty-six years and counting.

Gameplay Value

Gameplay value can fluctuate over time. As new cards are released, they can make older cards viable in combination with them, or they can be strong against an existing deck style. Either way, the relative usefulness of each card is embedded in a metagame that changes with every new set.

The majority of cards see no play in competitive games. Most cards are designed for Limited play, where players can only use cards opened on the spot from randomized packs. Constructed games, where players can build decks ahead of time, are much more selective. There are multiple Constructed formats: Standard (only sets within the past ~two years), Modern (most sets released since 2003), Legacy (nearly every card in the history of the game), and others. The larger and older the card pool, the more expensive the staple cards will be. The power level required to stand out is much higher, and important cards may be out of print for long stretches of time.

The game's designers have explained that designing every card for competitive Constructed play would be a disaster.{1} The ever-escalating power level would quickly render old cards completely obsolete, and any card pool will inevitably have “better” and “worse” cards.

Cards being banned or unbanned is the biggest lever to shift gameplay value. Every format has a roster of “best decks”, but ideally they will all have asymmetrical strengths and weaknesses against each other, and unconventional decks have a chance to break in. If a card dangerously warps the format, creating a deck that players must either play or devote enormous energy to countering, it will be banned. This often craters its value, and also tanks the price of cards that were only playable in conjunction with it. But the price effects are far-reaching, as the entire metagame readjusts and brings new cards to light.

Conversely, speculators may buy up cards that they suspect will be unbanned, and other cards that pair well with them.

If a card is clearly at risk of being banned, it can stay cheap. Consider Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis. It was printed in an expensive specialty set with boosters twice as expensive as most sets. For several months, it was a key card in the far-and-away best Modern deck. Yet the price stayed far lower than most Modern staples, never breaking ten dollars after the initial hype.{2} Players could see that Hogaak decks were severely warping the format, and expected Hogaak to be banned soon. Indeed it was, and now the price of Hogaak has bottomed out at two to three dollars.

{1} https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/making-magic/when-cards-go-bad-2002-01-28 {2} https://www.mtggoldfish.com/price/Modern+Horizons/Hogaak+Arisen+Necropolis#paper



In randomized boosters, cards are typically printed at four rarities: Common (ten per pack), Uncommon (three per pack), Rare (one per pack), and Mythic Rare (one-in-eight chance of replacing the rare). A card's rarity is determined by complexity, Limited balancing, upper bound on gameplay power,

A number of cards from the first years of the game are on the Reserved List, a legally-binding list of cards from 1993-1999 that will never be reprinted in physical form. It was created out of panic after Wizards of the Coast flooded the market with huge numbers of reprints, and collectors complained about the plummeting value of their original cards. The Reserved List is recognized as a mistake by Wizards of the Coast and fans alike, but repealing it is a daunting task. Its impact on the price of Legacy staples is a hot topic, and Modern was created largely to have a non-rotating format completely free from its shadow.

Magic has steadily grown in size, and print runs have grown with it. Exact numbers are scarce, but an uncommon card from a set a few years ago may be about as available as a mythic rare from a recent set.


What if Wizards of the Coast no longer had a monopoly on the design and production of Magic cards?

The quality of counterfeit cards has steadily risen. As the cost of entering older formats keeps rising, players may buy counterfeits for cheaper decks, willingly or not.

Some fans design their own cards, which currently is only an exercise in speculative game design. Perhaps some day, frustrated with Wizards' design choices, a tournament will approve certain fanmade cards as legitimate.