MTG Financial Fundamentals: The Dual Land Dilemma

While everyone knows that the Standard format of Magic: The Gathering is the most popular, the second most popular constructed format is a bit surprising.  It is Legacy (or at least was, the last time I heard the statistic).  Likely, Star City Games is the entity to thank for this.  Their frequent, large tournament structure encourages constant brewing and playing of the evolved format.  While increasing its popularity, the giant Magic retailer is capitalizing big time, ringing the register both on entry fees and, especially, on singles.  The result is a fascinating singles market with cards ranging from pennies to hundreds of dollars.  When “pimp” cards are included (foil, beta, etc.), a deck can be as expensive as a reasonably priced car.  While my collection boasts none of these fancy cards, the past two years has done well for my collection’s value.  What started as a modest interest in playing an older format transformed into an actual resting place for cash.  Many of these cards are liquid, meaning I can easily sell them when I need to without penalty (unlike other assets such as bonds).  But in the past few months, it feels like Legacy card values have stagnated; some have even dropped a notable amount.  This poses a conundrum:  since I do not play Legacy as frequently as I once did, should I continue to sit on these valuable cards or should I “ring the register” and sell them for some fast cash?

The Dilemma

Other articles have already been written on the long term viability of Legacy.  Quantities of many cards are limited, and a format where cost alone prohibits players from enjoying the game is never a good thing.  The intent of this article is not to delve into the various possibilities for Legacy’s future.  For now, the going assumption will be that the future is uncertain and nothing more.  After all, with the advent of Modern as a PTQ format, this is likely true.  Not to mention the fact that Magic can be boiled down to a game being mass-produced to make money.  Should Hasbro ever decide the game was not growing proportionally to their goals, the Pro Tour could become deceased.  While unlikely in the near term, it is an ever present possibility.  To borrow an old cliché, all good things must end.

So the question becomes what should to do with all these cards?  Many people have collections valued with five digits, though my own collection is far from.  That being said, I do have a set of 40 EX/NM revised dual lands along with a playset of some key staples, and I frequently ponder what I should do with these cards.  Let’s stop and assess this a little deeper.

Currently, I have New Horizons sleeved up as my Legacy deck of choice, which plays about eight dual lands.  The other 32 are in a binder.  What is the purpose of these extra dual lands?  I have made a promise with myself to only play blue decks in Legacy, so many of the dual lands will likely never see play.  For personal preference, there is no need to play with dual lands in Commander, for example, since the format is often casual and mildly competitive at most.  Other than completion of a collection, there may not be a financially valid reason to keep all of these cards.  And as there is the constant possibility of the format growing ill and possibly dying in the long term, would that not provide motivation to sell?

Consider a parallel from Wall Street for comparison.  If I owned stock in a trendy tech company, and was fifty percent in the green, that would be tremendous.  If only every investment was as lucrative.  However, if looming on the horizon I saw inevitability for the company, this would weigh heavily on my mind.  Good financial advice may be to sell the company’s stock while ahead and to avoid taking the long term risks.  Is it not the same with Magic cards?

Now, other MTG finance writers have often taken the parallel to another level, citing that dual lands and other Legacy staples are more comparable to “blue chip” stocks than tech stocks.  This seems based in a falsehood, however, for most blue chip stocks have long pedigrees of constant returns and dividends.  Can a set of dual lands really be compared to Procter & Gamble stock, for example?  The former has been around for 18 years and has only really taken off in value the past couple years.  Meanwhile, the latter has been around for over 150 years and has been a solid investment across the majority of that time.  And of course this comparison truly breaks down when comparing industries.  People will always need toothpaste, shampoo, and diapers.  Magic cards, however popular as they are now, are still part of a game.  And everyone who has played some classic games in the past know that while there will always be a cult following, lack of support can mean death to new product extensions.

So What am I Trying to Say?

My intent in this article is not to persuade the reader to cash out on the game.  Rather, I simply urge him or her to thoroughly assess the true value of their collection and make an informed decision.  The right decision will depend on many personal factors, such as financial stability, personal commitments, and overall enjoyment of the game.  For me, I have recently shaved about ¼ of my collection.  Still, I wonder if that is enough.  While having a set of 40 dual lands is a luxury, are there not better things to do with this money?  And even if I sold the 32 dual lands I am not playing, I could still enjoy the game just as much.  This is just a hobby to me and not a source of income, so this seems like the logical choice.

But at the end of the day, there is still that emotional aspect to it all.  The delighted feeling I get when I open up that binder and see the spread of old-school, awesome dual land artworks.  The notion that manabase can never be a limitation for me in any Legacy deck I may want to pick up.  Thus far, this has been sufficient motivation to keep my collection.  With a wife, and a child on the way, however, I know that my hard core gaming days will be very limited.  So is now a good time to purge the collection further to avoid a bubble burst in the Magic card community?  Or do I hold and take the risk, hoping the game continues to thrive indefinitely?

What are your thoughts?

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Posted on October 18, 2011, in MTG Financial Fundamentals. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I think you should just sell them to me at buylist prices and call it a day. LOL! But to be serious you should probably hold on to them for now. While there has been a drop in legacy prices I think that was due to Mental Misstep screwing up the format and with it gone things will stabilize for the time being. If legacy ever does collapse I think you will have sufficient evidence that it is approaching several months in advance and can sell of at that point. The good thing about cards vs stocks is the price doesnt wont fall dramatically overnight.

    • Thanks for commenting! I agree that Legacy was weakened by Mental Misstep and now with the card banned, the format should return to former glory. Modern is a noteworthy threat, however, as many younger players will flock to the more affordable “eternal” format. The collapse would not be sudden, you are right about that. I suppose I can afford to wait until the future is more definitively gloomy for legacy.

      As a minimalist, I always question the need to own valuable things that I do not actively use. These cards are at the top of the list these days, especially with a baby on the way. 🙂

  2. Good article! As a semi-active Legacy player and an active Standard & EDH/Commander player, I own a nice bit of dual lands yet I still want to own them all to say that I do. Maybe it’s because I have a collector mentality, maybe it’s because Magic is the biggest hobby and activity in my life currently. Priorities is what this really comes down to, you’ve got a newborn on the way that’s going to take away any spare time you might of had. Plus there expensive, and if they get into your collection some how there could be a risk of the collection loosing some value. Sell them on ebay or even offer deals to your twitter followers, there’s always someone out there looking to build Legacy decks.

  3. The new baby is definitely going to change priorities a bit. I still hope to enjoy a game of Magic now and again, but serious tournament play will be severely limited. Since my play will become mostly casual, it seems silly to hold 40 dual lands worth of cards to play an occasional draft and EDH game. But at the same time, I have an enjoyment of having the collection as well. But is that enjoyment worth $2000?

  4. Here’s what I’d do, in your situation: keep the 40 duals. Keep 4 Force of Will, and 4 Wasteland. Sell everything else. Sell extra copies of any of those cards. Sell any Moats or Tabernacles or Candelabras, sell City of Traitors and Show and Tells (unless your ‘blue deck’ is running these) and Explorations, sell all those ‘other’ expensive Legacy cards you aren’t likely to use in the next year. I’m on the fence about the Onslaught fetches; I guess I’d keep the couple you will use (and that can’t be replaced by Zendikar fetches – I don’t know how many basic Plains and Swamps you tend to run) but not a whole set of 20.

  5. Interesting idea. Basically, you’re suggesting I keep the duals and my New Horizons deck and that’s it? I’d sell my City of Traitors, Mox Diamonds, LED’s, Goblin Welders, Polluted Deltas, etc. Actually, now that I think about it, I’ve already gone down this path some by selling my Show and Tells and Entombs. So what you’re saying resonates with me.

  6. Hey, really enjoyed the article, its something which I’ve had to make a decision on myself recently so I already have an opinion on the topic.

    Whilst my collection of legacy is not as deep as your own, I did own about 10 dual lands, and playsets of Fow and wasteland. With modern being the new love child of Wizards, and how excited people have become with the “new” non-rotating format I decided to sell most of my Legacy staples. Whilst it is a format I enjoyed playing, I am a competative player, and to me it looks as though the end of legacy as a competative format is inevitable. The reserved list is killing the game since a ton of staples can not be reprinted, and Legacy as a format can not keep up with the growth of Magic as a whole. Modern to me is a “fixed” Legacy, where the cards are a lot more easier to acess, and whilst there is a large core of Legacy players to maintain the format for a short period of time, I think eventually the format will die as events organisers move on to what will bring in the larger crowds.

    The only reason to keep hold of your legacy staples is if you are going to stay as part of this “core” group of players, which I dont think you will since you have a child on the way (Congrats!!!) or if you get a lot of enjoyment out of just owning the cards. I know the feeling of owning valuable cards, and it is great to say you have a full collection, but for me the cash value was more than the emotional value, and I was able to reinvest the cash into cards I will use, in modern for example, and also to buy my son some toys 🙂

    Hope my views can help your dilema.

  7. Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I agree with you that legacy cannot remain a peak format forever and there is an inevitability on the horizon. The balance is between financial incentive now and emotional attachment. While I’d love to have $2,000, I worked really hard for my 40 dual lands and to give them up is not easy. I suppose, like any other card, I could always re-purchase them should an opportunity arise. Maybe that’s the right appraoch here. Sell legacy staples, maybe keep my one deck for the near term, and if the format stays healthy, I can always re-purchase the cards I need the most.

    It’s just so difficult to say goodbye to a collection that took lots of energy and time to build, you know? But it’s true that I won’t have that kind of time once the baby comes!

  8. I think one thing your missing is selling before a legacy “season” is a bit of a waste. Though there’s not much of a season, there are Legacy GPs which often come with a spike. I would probably cash out then and keep just enough legacy cards to play a deck if I wanted. Probably not even that beyond U duals, wastelands and FoW.

  9. Yes, good point. If I do decide to cash out of legacy, it will be right before the GP in Indy. I remember SCG upped their buy prices on all the duals for a week before GP Providence, to the point where it would be better to sell to them than sell on eBay.

    I’ll hold onto the Wastelands and the Forces. But I’ll likely need to keep my Tarmogoyfs too, despite chance of reprint. New Horizons relies heavily on the 2-drop beater. Also I’d keep my 1x Jace, blue duals and fetches.

  10. That is the challenge for many; the money or the cards? Here is my approach: Know which cards in your collection you want to keep forever and which you are willing to part with. For everything else, be ready to actively trade them away.

    A year ago, I wanted to play legacy. I bought a bunch of stuff. Duals, Force of Wills, Wastelands etc. Then the SCG Legacy boom made all the cards explode in value. I sold off everything as quickly as I could. With the profit I picked up cards to play standard and other cards that I felt might be undervalued. I started to buy fetchlands, foil fetchlands, zendikar basics and zendikar foil basics. Months later, these cards began to explode in value and then I began to trade them away for stuff like SOM duals and more standard stuff. I call this process inventory rotation; trading away what is hyped and in demand for undervalued stuff.

    This process has allowed me to build a great collection through intelligent speculation and reduced my own monetary commitment. While I am rotating out cards that have increased in value I’m able to pick up stuff I want to keep forever. I am really proud to own 4 foil Jace TMS and I don’t think I’ll ever let them go. At the rate my collection is growing I’ll be able to rotate into power 9 soon. I want to hold those forever.

    With that said, the MTG will crash one day. This is a fact. I don’t know what time in the future but all your speculation should be based on that fact. Knowing which cards you want to have forever and which you are willing to trade away is the most helpful part of your decision. If you woke up tomorrow and the market crashed, you will still have a bunch of cards you are willing to keep forever.

  11. You said in the article that you are not going to play any Legacy decks that don’t include blue. That means there are plenty of duals that you will never use. Do you keep cash in an envelope with the intention to never use it? At the very least, sell those.

    As far as the rest, if you are willing to cash out of Legacy, sell those too. The Legacy market is as high as it is going to get in the near future. Unless you are going to use the cards, cash in hand is probably far better.

    I however have a full set of duals as well, and I have no intention of selling. I play plenty of multiplayer, and my duals are always in a deck. If anything, I’m stockpiling my Magic cash with the expectation that the Ravnica duals will be reprinted in the next two years and the prices will come down. When they do, I’ll certainly get a full playset of those too.

  12. John "Ratty" Arbuckle

    The simple solution to all of this is for Wizards to kill the abomination that is the reserved list. Since higher-ups at the company have already categorically refused to consider this, such a step will have to come from someone at Hasbro. It should come – immediately. WHo cares if some people will be pissed? Its the long-term viability of Legacy (and by extension the entire game) that is at stake. Kill the reserved list and START REPRINTING NOW.

  13. Always keep your duals. Always. 40 duals means you can make *any* multicolor deck combination you want. If you ever get hooked to casual magic you will regret ever getting rid of the duals. I know because I did it myself. Had 120 duals back in ’95. Sold them all (for like 10$ a piece). Started Magic again last year and it haunts me now forever.

  14. I know this is old, but I’ll pipe in anyway.

    Don’t sell until you have to.

    I did. Now my 9+ gradable beta lotus that I bought for 400 and sold for 250 is worth upwards of $25,000. The duals I paid anywhere from $13 to $45 each for (the beta tundras were $45 – blue/white was still king) are worth somewhere close to $15,000 for the set of 40 or thereabouts. My moxen were just insane – all nearly as perfect as the lotus, combined beta / unlimited.

    Moral? Don’t sell until you have to, and then you won’t be stuck playing a format you hate (standard) when all you want to do is settle back where you belong. In my case, that’s vintage, and there’s no way I can ever go home. If you sell, you will regret it.

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