We Collect Too

Sheldon takes a look at what he bought on StarCityGames.com last year to get a sense of his buying habits and how he currently collects Magic cards.

We sometimes get so lost in strategy and combos and card interactions and metagames that we forget one of the foundational parts of the game: collecting. Many of us love having collections—messing around with them, sorting, filing, and trading. We love rifling through them to find hidden gems or to just wander down the lane of memories of the environments of bygone years. Who doesn’t look fondly at their Erhnam Djinn?

There are as many different collector types as there are player types. There are the folks who like to earn some extra cash by collecting and trading. There are completionists who simply have to have one (or full play sets) of everything. There are those who want only particular themes (like Elves or Goblins) or sets. There are those who only collect what they want to play with, trading away what they’re no longer interested in to get the newest thing. Then there are those of us, like me, who have collections so that they can build an endless supply of decks with them.

What got me here is that I was reviewing my expenses for 2012 while doing my taxes. I realized that I acquire a fair number of cards every year. I pick up most of them right here on StarCityGames.com because the selection of what I want to buy is for the most part readily available. If you look hard enough, you can find lots of deals. I also love the Event Pickup option, which can save some money on shipping and is more secure than putting them into the postal system. I occasionally buy cards from other dealers (but I swear, Ben Bleiweiss, it means nothing to me and I’m thinking of you the whole time) while I’m at shows when I find deals too good to pass up (something that review of the numbers told me I did way more of last year than I had realized—that’s where all that unaccounted for cash went!).

If you’re a regular reader, you know I love the foils. I’ve been collecting them since the beginning. At one time, I wanted to collect all the foil sets and was a good way there. A few years back, I realized how much work it was going to be and decided to just collect the foils that I want to play with—which is a pretty large number considering I’m currently building my 21st deck (a Modern-legal version of Aurelia, the Warleader, which we will talk about soon).

For the longest time, I didn’t buy cards. I simply traded into what I wanted using the old stuff out of my collection or the product I got from judging. In my Judge Emeritus days, it’s easier to simply buy them (or get them as awesome gifts from my L5 friends!). Strangely enough, as a member of the coverage team, I find that I have less time to play and trade than I did even when Head Judging an event, which means I don’t even bring a trade binder to shows.

I have a full closet stuffed with nothing but cards. It’s relatively well organized by blocks and sets, with later sets also organized by rarity. There are separate boxes for foils. There are two giant boxes for older foils organized simply by color: one with rares and one with uncommons and commons. From Zendikar forward, I started separating the foils from individual sets either into larger boxes with dividers or now the cool boxes released with each set.

Eventually, I wouldn’t mind paring down the collection to the point where it’s just the decks I already have, cards that are likely to rotate in and out of those decks, and foils that I’m likely to build decks with down the road. Then I’d just acquire what I want from new sets, paring down the collection—mostly for manageability—from a few hundred thousand cards to maybe 10,000 or so. Of course, every time I think about that I think that I never know when I might need four copies of Intrepid Hero so maybe I should hang on to all of it.

I maintain a list of "Foils/Pimp Needed for EDH Decks," so every time I’m searching the site I look to see if what I want is available at a price I’m willing to pay. That list currently has 65* cards on it, 33 of which aren’t currently available in foil (coincidentally, 33 cards on the list are also lands, but not necessarily the same 33). Those I’ll have to pimp out in other ways—mostly with altered art by some of the really talented artists out there like Eric Klug, Gus "Yawg07" Schade, and Ron Faris, but I’d consider a foreign black-bordered dual land as pimpy enough (but not a FBB card of any other kind—we all have our peccadillos).

Some of the cards that I need are indeed available, but I’m balking at the prices. I fully support (as well as fully understand) free market capitalism and basic economic principles, especially for luxury items (and trading card game pieces are definitely a luxury), but that doesn’t mean I’m willing to pay $50 for a Yavimaya Hollow or $40 for a Reflecting Pool.

Econ 101 isn’t just about merchants being able to charge what they think they can get; it’s about consumers setting the bar below which they’ll pay for things. The merchant/consumer relationship is an eternal dance, and I’ll play my part by waiting in some cases. If a merchant sells foil Urza’s Legacy Karmic Guide at $100, then buona fortuna. I’ll pick up the Judge version for $20 or wait until the UL comes down. I want a foil Gaea’s Cradle for my Rith deck. I also want SCG to get $250 for selling one—I just don’t want them to get it from me. That’s the system working as designed.

There are a few other cards on that list which I haven’t picked up foil versions for because I’m hoping for something better to come along down the road. For example, I have painlands in a number of decks (like Caves of Koilos and Shivan Reef). Even though the foil versions are relatively cheap, I’m crossing my fingers that we get some cool multicolor lands in future sets (and I don’t have any inside information in that regard—it’s really just finger crossing).

Another example is the Survival of the Fittest in my The Mimeoplasm deck. It’s not that Survival isn’t awesome; it’s that I’m already playing it in several other decks and want to save a spot for some new shiny to come along. With 21 decks, I can’t imagine that I’ll play too many of them more than fifteen to twenty times over the next twelve months (hrm…maybe I also need to record my playing habits). I can live with a few non-foil cards in Obzedat for that long, I suppose.

Last year, I picked up 284 cards from SCG alone. The reason I know that because there’s a great Order History function on the account. I can go back and easily look at my buying habits, which I can’t as easily do with the cash-on-the-run plan with other dealers (still thinking of you, Ben). It got me thinking not specifically about what I got but why I got it. If I look into my buying habits, maybe I can shop more efficiently. Or maybe I can just have better insight into how my brain works (speaking of how the brain works, you might consider reading Jackie Lee most excellent article on tilt).

So what do my buying habits of the last year tell me about how I currently collect? Let’s take a look at my purchases and see what they tell us. I suspect that it’s mostly "picking up new stuff when it’s released" and "getting cards for new decks," but you never know. Everything is foil unless otherwise noted.

January 25: Acquire, Acidic Slime, 3x Blue Sun’s Zenith, Boros Signet, Crime // Punishment, textless Cryptic Command, Deny Reality, Extractor Demon, Garruk Wildspeaker, Guardian Seraph, Hinterland Harbor, Krosan Reclamation, Mischievous Quanar, Time Spiral Mystic Snake, Time Spiral Saffi Eriksdotter, Italian Savage Lands, Terastodon, Vesuvan Shapeshifter, Viashino Heretic, Wood Elves

This one was obviously just scratching the itch to buy cards and fill out some of the non-foil slots. In this case, it’s obviously The Mimeoplasm deck. I obviously was searching the site because I got that Italian Savage Lands.

February 20 (handy event pickup in Baltimore): Academy Rector; Italian Akroma’s Memorial; Armillary Sphere; Basilisk Collar; 2x Beast Within; Bladewing the Risen; Italian Coalition Victory; Comet Storm; Darksteel Ingot; Decimate; Dragon Roost; Dragonmaster Outcast; 2x Eternal Witness; Exotic Orchard; Geth, Lord of the Vault; Grim Backwoods; Kargan Dragonlord; Karmic Justice; 4x Kessig Wolf Run; Maelstrom Pulse; 3x Momentous Fall; Mosswort Bridge; Oracle of Mul Daya; Rancor; Reiterate; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Suture Priest; Italian Venser, Shaper Savant; Violent Ultimatum; Woodland Cemetery

This came on the heels of making the push to have Karrthus be a nearly all-Dragons deck. The Italian cards reveal another deep site search, and the multiple copies of things means I found them at really good prices.

February 29 (event pickup in Tampa): Black Sun’s Zenith, 2x Bojuka Bog, Knowledge Exploitation, Return to Dust, Sudden Spoiling

Knowledge Exploitation and Return to Dust were for the Ruhan deck. Not 100% sure what the black cards were for.

March 15Anger, Copy Enchantment, Dauntless Escort, Explosive Vegetation, Gruul Turf, Krosan Verge, Mordant Dragon, Read the Runes, Undead Gladiator

Seems like more fixing of Karrthus and a little update to Karador.

March 28: Doomgape; 2x Feed the Pack; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Realms Uncharted; Sakura-Tribe Elder; Vivid Crag; Vivid Creek; Woodfall Primus; Yavimaya Hollow

This was finishing out the previous build of Animar (which was recently cannibalized for Prime Speaker Zegana) because it had started to become one of my favorite decks. I did spring for the Hollow because Animar is worth it.

April 7: Bojuka Bog, Devouring Swarm, 5x Zendikar Forest #247, Hateflayer, Insurrection, Massacre Wurm, 9x Zendikar Plains #231, Profane Command, Stonecloaker

This one was about completing Karador because of those full-art lands. The other note is that I had Fallen Angel in my Kresh deck and was thoroughly annoyed that the original art isn’t anywhere in a foil version—I detest the art on the ones that are available in foil. When M12 came out with Devouring Swarm, I knew I finally had a replacement.

May 25: Italian Badlands; Italian Bayou; Bojuka Bog; Craterhoof Behemoth; Crumbling Necropolis; False Cure; Italian Ghost Council of Orzhova; Italian Graven Cairns; Italian Kokusho, the Evening Star; Mikaeus, the Unhallowed; Mindslaver, 5x M12 Solemn Simulacrum; Italian Taiga; Italian Tangle

It’s obvious that I was searching the site for the Italian cards and found some deals I couldn’t resist.

June 1: Academy Ruins; Darien, King of Kjeldor; 2x Darksteel Ingot; 2x Decree of Pain; Duplicant; Hibernation; Izzet Chronarch; Minamo, School at Water’s Edge; Scourge of Kher Ridges; Seht’s Tiger; Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre

Mostly stuff for updating Ruhan, the Scourge finally becoming available, and deals on Ingots and Decrees. Seht’s Tiger is a card that I played with in Karador for a while before committing to it. Love it lots.

June 2: Dragon Breath, Essence Harvest, Fertilid, Krosan Tusker, Rite of Replication, Sudden Spoiling

Clearly stuff that I had forgotten to put in the previous day’s order.

June 21: Asceticism, 4x Masked Admirers, Italian Rhystic Study, Italian Seedborn Muse, 2x Guildpact Stomping Ground

More Italians and then deals on Masked Admirers and Stomping Grounds. I was so fond of the Admirers that at one point I kept putting them in my Nath deck—ending up with three of them before realizing that I should check the whole deck before adding cards.

June 26 (event pickup at GP Atlanta): Necrotic Sliver, Primeval Titan, Shivan Wurm, Wall of Blossoms

Armada Games owner Aaron Fortino finally talked me into putting Necrotic Sliver into Karador. Wall of Blossoms is there because I had just found out that there is a foil version available.

July 15 (event pickup at GP Columbus): Disciple of Bolas; 2x Faith’s Reward; 2x Gem of Becoming; Glissa, the Traitor; Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni; Knollspine Dragon; Kokusho, the Evening Star; Mosswort Bridge; Mwonvuli Beast Tracker; Rakdos Carnarium; Ring of Kalonia; Roaring Primadox; 2x M12 Solemn Simulacrum; Suture Priest; Thragtusk; Yavimaya Elder; Yeva, Nature’s Herald; Zealous Conscripts

New set release time and picking up bargains on cards rotating out of Standard.

August 10 (event pickup at Gen Con): Crawlspace; Dawn Charm; 3x Deadeye Navigator; Equilibrium; Eternal Witness; Fire-Lit Thicket; Hibernation; Kozilek, Butcher of Truth; Radiate; Serra Ascendant; Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre; Vorrac Battlehorns; Yavimaya Elder

Yavimaya Elder and Temple of the False God are always cards I check for copies of when I hit the site. Even if I don’t need them for a deck, I pick them up because I have friends that will take them off my hands.

September 19: Bone Shredder; Boros Fury-Shield; 9E Greater Good; Minamo, School at Water’s Edge; 5x Mycosynth Wellspring; Perilous Research; Pristine Talisman; 2x Sakura-Tribe Elder; Warstorm Surge

This was "I’m putting Wellspring in the non-green decks" and "let’s see what’s available."

October 27: Blood Crypt; Cyclonic Rift; Garruk’s Packleader; Italian 9E Greater Good; Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; Krosan Verge; Man-o’-War; Mana Reflection; Marble Titan; Miren the Moaning Well; Italian Necrotic Sliver; Rakdos Charm; 7E Rampant Growth; Selesyna Sanctuary; Skyshroud Claim; M12 Solemn Simulacrum; Storm Herd; Vault of the Archangel; Well of Lost Dreams; Windbrisk Heights; Worldspine Wurm; Yavimaya Elder

A few new set things and some cards that I’d wanted for a while but hadn’t pulled the trigger on. The find was that Italian Greater Good ("Bene Supremo").

November 2: Basilisk Collar; Bojuka Bog; Final Judgment; Fracturing Gust; Garruk Wildspeaker promo; Garruk’s Packleader; Italian Gruul Signet; Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord; Kokusho, the Evening Star; Minion Reflector; Mulch; Overgrown Tomb (non-foil); Puppeteer Clique; Italian Reflecting Pool; Italian Restoration Angel; Sudden Spoiling; Thrashing Wumpus (non-foil); Twilight Mire; 3x Wood Elves; Wooded Bastion; Yavimaya Elder

The non-foils were for Nath, which is a budget deck. It was at this point that I started suspecting Ben was releasing a single Yavimaya Elder every month (this being the third in a row) just to get me to buy cards.

December 1: 2x Aura Shards; Garruk’s Packleader; 25x High Market; Kokusho, the Evening Star; Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice

I wanted to pick up a Christmas gift for the regulars at the shop. I wanted to get everyone the same thing, so it was either a land or an artifact so that it could fit into any deck. I saw that High Market was affordable, so that’s what I went for. The Aura Shards had been on my Restock Alert list for a long time.

It looks like there were no real surprises in my buying habits. I picked up foil versions of new cards and finally sprung for some I’d been waiting to acquire for some time. I continued finding foils of Italian cards and grabbing other nice sales. I don’t imagine that my habits will change that much—the SCG card list is my version of the candy store.

Next week: Modern-legal Aurelia, the Warleader.

* While breaking for lunch while writing, I decided to remove Windbrisk Heights and Caves of Koilos from my Obzedat deck because I hadn’t put in the two lands with Orzhov in their name:  Orzhov, Church of Deals and Orzhov Basilica. That is now rectified.