This entry is part 2 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

When your budget is restricted it’s important to think strategically to optimize the value of your limited money. Last week, I went in depth about how to create a budget for yourself and gave you some ideas on different ways to play that can help you lower costs. Today, I want to share with you my best ideas about how to apply your budget to building a collection and to overcome some of the problems you may encounter when implementing your new budget over the long term.

 

Tips For Budgeting Strategically:

 

Keep a Long-term Focus

Zoom out your time frame as far as you reasonably can. If you’re sticking to a weekly budget, but you still find that you’re struggling for cash at the end of each month, you need to change the assumptions you have about your time scale. On a short time scale, shelling out $200 for a Standard deck and $5 for each FNM tournament seems like a big chunk of cash, while drafting for $15 bucks seems much more reasonable. However, if you zoom out the time scale, the picture changes. A $200 deck that is good for a year, plus $5 a week in tournament entry costs $460 for the year. At the same time, doing a $15 draft each of those same 52 weeks will cost you $780.

 

The same concept can apply to playing eternal formats. Getting into Legacy seems expensive when you have to purchase a $1000 deck, but if you’re going to play Standard instead, you can borrow the numbers from the example above to find out that playing catch-up in Legacy is a lot less expensive than constantly turning over Standard decks each year. The best part is that decks in an eternal format like Legacy or Commander retain value and actually appreciate over time, whereas Standard (or even certain Modern cards) will eventually fall out of fashion and be worth next to nothing.

 

Don’t Buy Cheap Substitutes

There’s a real difference between price and value. If you’re on a tight budget, you should be limiting your purchases to only the highest value items, rather than focusing on always purchasing the lowest price items. Marketers are set up perfectly to prey on the budget-conscious consumer. If a dealer offers to sell you a deck that’s half the cost of the leading Standard deck, you might think that’s an insane bargain. If the deck only has 20% of the value at 50% of the cost, however, you really just wasted your money.  

 

This effect compounds when you have to supplement a purchase with a replacement. You might buy that second tier card/deck thinking that you’ll save money. If you want to improve later on, though, you’ll have to shell out a second time. It’s better to bite the bullet up front and get high-quality, high-value items in the first place rather than frequently replacing discount items.

 

Don’t Pay a Premium for Fashion

In the real world, the secondary market sets the prices for all cards and the efficient-market hypothesis is in full effect here. Card dealers are constantly gathering information about what cards are being played and they adjust their prices to preempt increases in demand, maximizing their profit. In most cases, if a card or deck is even nominally viable in a format, the dealers will quickly adapt their pricing structures to capitalize on it. They set their prices based on what’s fashionable and likely to sell at the moment. Card dealers–and often individuals trading cards–have little appreciation for what a card is actually worth in the game. An example with current pricing data from TCGPlayer.com:

Battle for Zendikar Prairie Stream Expedition Foil Version ~ $44.50 Median Price

Battle for Zendikar Prairie Stream ~ $3.75 Median Price

Khans of Tarkir Flooded Strand ~ $18.50 Median Price

 

Fashion is danger, baby. Expedition foils are sweet, but look at the actual value of a Battle land: under $4. This price is also inflated because the Battle lands are currently being played in Standard. Once BFZ rotates, the card will be worthless. It might still have a price, but the value will have dropped close to zero, because it has no place in eternal formats. I included the price of Flooded Strand as a comparison point here. Having a Flooded Strand is much more valuable than having a playset of Prairie Stream. It’s useful in multiple formats, will always be good, and will increase in value over time. The key to building a valuable collection isn’t spending more money, it’s making sure your investments have real value.

 

Invest for the Long Term

Let me reiterate my point from the beginning of this article: budgeting isn’t about getting the cheapest of everything or even spending less. It’s about critically evaluating how each purchase decision fits into the larger fiscal plan. Script the financial moves that you’re going to make, so you know in advance that they are all smart plays. This long-term plan will help you ignore fashionable distractions. I recommend only buying a card if it’s a real asset. When you buy an asset, it pays you back over time. Purchasing items that have real long-term value is the fastest way to build wealth inside your collection. The money you’ve spent is working hard for you, producing more money as time goes on. If you do this for a couple of years you’ll find that the appreciation in your assets generates a lot more money for you than your income.

 

Pre-plan Expenditures

Let’s say you have made a decision that you want to get into an eternal format. We’ll call it “Commander.” Don’t just run out and buy a deck and assume you can pay it off later. Instead, plan your future expenditures out and start acquiring the pieces one at a time, prioritizing high value acquisitions. Setting a goal and creating a budget will help you ease into a format over time, avoiding any impulse buying that could jeopardize your financial position. Making a conscious decision about transferring cash expenditures from one hobby to another will stop you from putting any additional pressure on your budget.

 

Set out a plan that looks like this:

 

Skip one FNM draft a month, then purchase a key piece of your new Commander deck with each paycheck.

 

This is a safe and reliable way to build into a big purchase over time. It has a clear script for the critical moves and leaves no wiggle room. It’s easy to monitor and easy to implement. Best of all, it has a built-in reward system. Each time you stick to the plan, you reward yourself by acquiring a new piece of the deck. Over time, your satisfaction will grow as you watch the deck come together. The anticipation for completing the project might even inspire you to make additional spending cuts to speed up the plan.

 

Invest in a Format, Rather Than a Deck

When you get the itch to build a new deck, it’s easy to become consumed by that desire and over-spend on a deck that feels new and shiny, but won’t satisfy you for long. A much more economical way to approach this problem would be to select the format you want to invest in first, then strategically acquire the cards that have the broadest playability in that format.

 

Using our planning approach from above, you should start by listing out the cards you need to build decks in your desired format and what it’ll cost to acquire them. Usually, the most expensive part of a deck will be the mana base and planeswalkers. If you own one of each fetchland, dual land, and shockland, then you can build countless Commander decks on top of that foundation. This naturally expands your collection of high value cards and sets you up to easily trade lower value cards to change from one deck to another as the format shifts.

 

Stick to Eternal Constructed Formats; Avoid Limited

When selecting which format you want to invest in, pick something with staying power. There’s tremendous crossover in terms of what cards are good in Vintage, Legacy, and Commander. These cards also tend to be safe investments for the future. Prices will be stable from month-to-month and will generally appreciate year-over-year. I love Limited, but in the long term it’s a much more expensive way to play Magic. You have to pay for the boosters and often some sort of entry fee, too. Even worse, the cards you end up with at the end are usually not worth the money that it took to acquire them. After hundreds of dollars worth of investment in boosters, you’ll have little to show for it. If you plan to play Limited consistently into the future, but are on a tight budget, consider investing your budget to build a Cube of some description.

 

Buy Singles Rather Than Boosters

Running with the same theme, try to avoid spending money on boosters whenever you can. The idea of seamlessly transitioning from booster draft to Standard is a pipe dream. You may have some important key cards, but rarely in the right quantities to actually build a viable deck without a significant follow-up investment. For other constructed formats, there’s just no connection at all. New sets usually only contain one or two cards that have any shot at making it into a competitive eternal deck and there’s a good chance that you may not even recognize them at the time.

 

Leverage Your Existing Collection

It can be tempting to read about a deck on the internet and want to go build it yourself. I get that urge all the time., but it’s not conducive to building on a budget. To maximize the value of your collection, try to build decks that leverage the cards you already have. It’s much easier to put together a deck when you start with a list that’s already 50% complete. Combining this idea with the practice of sound investment in eternal formats will quickly snowball. You’ll find that over time, you can build exponentially more decks as you expand your collection with the right strategic acquisitions.

 

MTGO Is Much Less Expensive Than Paper

I mentioned this a couple times in the previous article, but MTGO is pretty reasonably priced. It’s usually cheaper to acquire cards online than it is to secure a physical copy. Digital copies don’t wear down, go missing, or get stolen, so the value of your investment won’t decline due to these externalities.

 

I was hesitant when I first got into MTGO, because I already had a substantial collection of paper cards. I felt like all that money was a sunk cost and I was tempted to keep throwing good money after bad. I also felt that paying real money for a digital card was unwise and tougher to justify. It was easier to stomach when I finally admitted that my paper cards didn’t have any intrinsic value, either.

 

In the end, I’ve moved around a lot over the years to different cities and MTGO has allowed me to keep playing with my friends even when I’m not near them. I can always get a game going even if I don’t want to get dressed and go down to the shop. The convenience is well worth the discounted cost.

 

Price =/= Power

This is the rallying cry of budget players everywhere. There seems to be a shared mentality that winning with a cheaper deck is somehow winning more. I find this ludicrous, but I would never argue that the most expensive deck is the best. As I said above, the price of a card in the secondary market is only loosely related to its actual functionality within the game. It’s pretty easy to design a $1,000 Commander deck; it’s also pretty easy to utterly crush that deck with a $100 Edric deck. Try to focus your purchases on acquiring cards that expand the function of your decks or your collection in a meaningful way. I could replace all of my decks with premium foil versions of each card, but it’s clear to me that such a large expense isn’t going to be justified by more engaging gameplay.

 

Everyone Has A Budget

It’s important to remember that everyone has some kind of budget and that each person will have a different threshold for what they consider an acceptable expense. There’s no shame in being frugal and no glory in being excessive. In my opinion, there’s no glory in money at all, except for the success that hard work and discipline will bring you. Wealth is only one of the rewards that a sound financial plan can offer, but it seems to be the only one that people fixate on.

 

Coveting what others have or ruminating on your own financial troubles is not a way to maximize the value of your resources. Assuming that all your problems would magically vanish if you had more money is a fantasy, so keep your mind focused where it should be: improving your own situation. With a small amount of consistent effort, you’ll find that your money troubles can be made much more manageable, no matter how many zeros there are in your account. If you need to grow your bottom line, remember that there are always two ways to do it: reduce expenses or increase income. Based on the details of your situation, one might be substantially easier than the other.

 

What do you do to optimize your Magic budget? What is your long-term plan to add value to your collection? Share your thoughts in the comments below, follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and be sure to support Commandercast.com on Patreon.

 

-GG

“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

 

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