1800 or Bust!: Collecting

Wow. I finally have a regular column. I was very happy to become a Featured Writer with Star City, but to have a regular slot has been my dream for some time. 1800 or Bust will be going out every Friday from now on. (Since this Thanksgiving made things a little late, we put this…


I finally have a regular column. I was very happy to become a Featured Writer with Star City, but to have a regular slot has been my dream for some time. 1800 or Bust will be going out every Friday from now on. (Since this Thanksgiving made things a little late, we put this one up on Monday. Oops! – The Ferrett) The idea behind the column is to share strategy, thoughts and tourney reports that Team PhatBeats and I have over the next year, along with deck histories and theory.

The title of the column comes from my goal to get a combined ranking of 1800 over the next year. I’m starting at 1712, so it should be a reasonable goal; on the other hand, an 1800 combined ranking would rank me 59th in the UK! I know that 1800 isn’t an amazing ranking, but for someone like me, who attends one or two tourneys a month and playtests regularly, I think it’s something I could be proud of.

There’s a lot of talk about the strategy, the theory, and the tournament reports on the web but there isn’t much about collecting. I mean real talk – not just someone inappropriately posting their ‘cards for sale’ list on a strategy newsgroup.

All magic players are collectors to some degree. Granted, some only collect the four Undermines they need for a deck, whilst others collect four of every card in a block. We all do it, though – it’s something we all have in common. (Or, to put it another way,”Something we all have are commons.” Hee! – The Ferrett) This article hopes to go through some of the best ways to get cards, including my own methods, in order to get one step closer to having four of every Magic card there is.

I used to try hard to trade for the cards I needed for my latest deck. I’d buy a couple of boxes of product every new expansion and then work on getting the four Cursed Scrolls or Parallax Waves to push my decks up to the most efficient level. It was hard work. When the Tempest Block rotated out, it was the first block rotation that really affected me (I started playing in the MirViLite block and didn’t have many cards). It occurred to me just how much money and time I’d spent, and how unprepared I was to start trading for the new Mercadian Masques cards. I’d been spending the last few months trading for Urza’s block cards and really didn’t want to trade them away to get some of the new cards.

That’s when I decided to start collecting four of every card in new sets, because it might save me time and effort.

Save time and effort?

Try to get four of EVERY card in EVERY new block to SAVE TIME?

Well… I’ll try to explain the logic. At any time when a new set comes out, any card that is still in Type II could become part of a combo deck, a key cornerstone in some new strategy, or a sideboard card against a new, powerful card. That means that they’ll become difficult to get. As they probably didn’t look too good to start with, you probably traded them away to get some cards that looked better – only to have to trade for them again in a couple of months.

This is both frustrating and time consuming. The number of times I wished I hadn’t traded away a pair of Somnophores just after I opened my Urza’s Saga boxes, or an Opalescence, or that Attunement. You have to go out there and try and trade cards you’ve already traded for for cards that you’ve already traded away!

Now, not every card fits this bracket. Some are obviously very bad and probably won’t ever become important cards – but you never can tell. I decided that the best way for me to continue Type II was to get a complete set of the Masques Block cards – and then, when Urza’s Saga rotated out, I could use any spare Masques cards I had to trade purely for the new cards in Invasion.

I now have a complete set of Masques Block cards (I’m 250 away from four of all of Invasion; not all of Masques, as I stated incorrectly a couple of articles ago). That’s a total of 2544 cards, of which 792 are rares. I’ve already found that I’m having an easier time when collecting Invasions cards because I had so many spare Masques block cards. Any Masques, Nemesis or Prophecy cards I win, no matter how good, are automatically up for trade. I’ve traded away all my Nemesis and Prophecy boosters for Invasion ones already – WITHOUT EVEN OPENING THEM! So my initial effort seems to be paying off: it is actually cheaper for me this time round.

Now you could build a collection like this by buying boosters from shops, but here are some statistics you might want to bear in mind (these figures hold true for any set the same size as Invasion).

There are 110 rare cards in Invasion. To get 440, you’ll need to buy around twelve and a half boxes of Invasion, and those probably won’t even give you four of all the rares; you’ll have to trade your surplus to get the ones you’re missing.

There are 110 uncommon cards in Invasion. To get 440, you’ll need substantially fewer boxes – just over four, in fact. Okay, you’ll have to trade, but it’s much easier trading uncommons – and they’re much cheaper to buy, too. So if you buy the other eight boxes to get 440 rares, you’ll be buying around 880 uncommons you just don’t want.

There are 110 commons in Invasion (the other twenty being basic land). You get normally get four of each common from roughly two boxes of Invasion, with lots of leftover cards. From three boxes, I made nearly two complete sets of commons. That means in the other ten boxes you might buy, you’re buying nearly 4000 cards you probably don’t want.

So yes, you could buy twelve boxes, but in the last eight boxes you’re only really interested in thirty-six out of 540 cards in every box.

So what is the best way to proceed? Obviously, you need the commons, and the best way to get them really is to buy a few boxes. I buy three boxes of every expansion. Three boxes of a large expansion gives me all the commons and three quarters of the uncommons; three boxes of a small expansion gives me all the commons and almost all the uncommons every time. If I could afford to, I’d buy four boxes.

Then what? Well, there are lots of other ways to get cards you might consider.

Booster drafts are one of the best ways, as you not only get the cards, but get to play some Magic too. The cards you buy at booster drafts are often at a very low price, too (as the event organiser often gets them cheaper from Wizards). If you’re regularly drafting (once or twice a week) you’ll certainly be able to pick up quick a few cards, but you should remember that you probably won’t get that many rare or uncommon cards unless you’re rare drafting – and then your deck might not be very good at all.

The next best way to get cards is to win them. Not only do you walk home with a stack of essentially free product, but you also have the happy feeling of someone who’s gone out there and showed the rest of the world who is boss. At our Bath tournaments we give one full box of product away to first place every month, along with boosters for everyone who gets at least nine points. That means that half the tournament gets cards from winning games.

I spend a lot of money on buying cards buy auction from eBay. There are a series of simple guidelines I use that might help you:

First, decide what you’re after before you start looking. This enables you to do a little research and you’re less likely to ‘impulse-bid.’

Once you’ve decided, pop along to the well-known card-selling websites, such as our very own Star City, and have a look at their singles prices for the cards you want to buy and find out if they have any in stock. If they have the cards in stock, there is no point bidding for more than they are sold for, as you can trust the well-established sites and their customer service is a lot better than most auctioneers on eBay.

With the list of cards and their prices in hand, wander along to eBay and type in their names one by one. You should find that for many of the most popular cards, you get hundreds of results to your search. You can bid on as many of these as you like, but always remember you might win them all and have to pay for them!

I always check whether a seller will ship to where I am (as most sellers are in the USA and I’m based in the UK). I also try to find out the shipping cost before I bid and factor that in to the total cost of buying the cards. If a card’s shipping cost is $2 and I can buy it at Star City for $10, I probably won’t bid more than $6 or $7. I’ll also ONLY buy from sellers with a good history of twenty or more ‘positives.’ When a seller and bidder make a successful transaction (seller has received money, buyer has got the cards) they’re supposed to leave feedback about each other. Good feedback is a ‘positive.’

There are also a number of established sites that open boxes and auction them on eBay. Buying from this type of retailer is often very good for you, as they have a reputation to uphold and are less likely to mess you about. If you can find out their eBay username, you can very quickly determine if they have any auctions going on at any time.

Although it is less hassle to buy singles from retailers, you’ll often find that they just don’t have the cards you want, and no one will want to trade them. Try getting hold of Undermine and you’ll see what I mean. Auctions then become a very powerful tool, but always try to set yourself limits that you can afford, as you may very well have to pay them.

On top of this, there are a few other ways to get cards. Obviously, you can trade any surplus you have for cards you want. A lot has been written about trading, and I don’t want to go into it here. Some people like it, some people hate it. You can generally easily get bad rares to fill your collection by trading. It is often difficult to get the good ones you want.

You can get cards by judging Magic events. Many events pay for a judge’s time in Magic cards. The higher the prestige of the event, the more cards seem to be offered. I have a number of friends and teammates who rely on judging to supplement their card pool.

I wouldn’t walk up to organisers and ask what their rates of pay are, though. A good judge has to work hard to become good, and there may be a long time where you get no pay at all for judging. No judge I know expects to get paid for their time. They work hard because they feel that someone should, and they’re happy if they get paid at all.

I set myself a year to get a complete set of any one block. Buying three boxes of all the expansions means that I have to get around thirty rare cards a month to stay on track to do this. After a year, a new block comes out and I don’t want to have to track down the few remaining cards from the previous blocks – I want to concentrate on the new cards.

The downsides is that I spend a little more money than many people would like; the upside is that whenever a new deck appears, I have four of all the cards from Masques Block. For my team and I, that’s a real bonus.

I was sent a couple of decks last week and it was great fun playing with them; thanks. On a more personal note, I’ve very nearly bought a house and will be moving sometime in the next week or so – I’ll still try to answer emails that I get, though.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats
[email protected]