All posts by Danny Brown

Danny doesn’t want to pay to play Magic, and he doesn’t think you should, either. By using common sense, applying basic truisms, and exercising a modicum of patience, he will show you how to maximize every dollar you spend on Magic: The Gathering. Even if you don’t have a huge budget for gaming, with some smart decision making and a little time, you too can afford to build top-tier decks or draft on a regular basis. Danny’s resume includes writing for Quiet Speculation and serving as editor-in-chief for Brainstorm Brewery. He’s a Limited enthusiast with a special fondness for Cube, and has an earnest belief in the inherent superiority of 40-card decks (it’s okay, Constructed players. You’re special, too). Have a question or comment? Reach out on Twitter at @dbro37.

Singletoned Out

I’m pretty excited by Zurgo Bellstriker. My first deck was mono-red, and back in those days, Ironclaw Orcs was considered one of the better red creatures for RDW. Don’t believe me? Check out Jon Finkel’s list for Worlds 1998.

ironclaworcs zurgobellstriker

Of course, Ironclaw Orcs wouldn’t be remotely playable these days. Zurgo Bellstriker hits a nice balance between power level and nostalgia, which is a great way to call back to now-obsolete-but-still-classic creatures.

I don’t just like Zurgo Bellstriker for the nostalgia factor, though. I actually think this is a powerful card, and it seems like tournament results so far agree with me. And a 2/2 for one will definitely see play in Modern and Legacy, right?

goblinguide monasteryswiftspear

On second thought, it seems like Modern and Legacy Burn decks have all the one-drops they need. Zurgo obviously isn’t going to see play in Commander, and I’m not about to say that Tiny Leaders will have a huge impact on his price, given that we’re still in the early stages of that format.

So it’s a Standard-only card, right?

You’re forgetting about the most important format: and Zurgo is pretty darn good in Cube.

Happy Cube
Preston Farr Sketch Blog

In Modern, Zurgo would have to be better than one of the two one-drops that Burn wants, and he’s just not. In Cube, though, Zurgo only has to be better than the worst card in the color. The fact that Goblin Guide is still the undisputed king of RDW doesn’t matter. What matters is that Zurgo is a pretty nice upgrade over something like Frenzied Goblin.

What Does This Mean Financially?

Maybe nothing! At the time of this writing, copies of Zurgo are $3.47 for non-foils and $8.61 for foils. Realistically, Cube will not drive the price of non-foils much if at all, meaning that cards only playable in Cube generally don’t have a huge non-foil cost.

Let’s take Gideon Jura as an example. This card was bonkers good in Standard, but at five mana, hasn’t really broken in to Modern. It’s also nowhere near as good in a multiplayer format as in one-on-one play, which is probably why I have never seen it cast in Commander (not to say it’s never happened—I just don’t play a ton of EDH).  Given these facts, Gideon is basically at the floor price for a good planeswalker:


But as you can see, the foil prices are about four times those of the non-foil copies, despite the card really having no demand from any established format other than Cube.

I’m not one of them (as I stated pretty emphatically last week), but many Cube owners like to foil out their lists. This means that, much like a Legacy- or Vintage-playable, if a card is good in Cube, the foils of that card are likely to increase sharply compared to their non-foil counterparts. This is especially true because not every player needs a Cube, and those that do have them only need one copy of each card. Foils are significantly rarer than non-foils, and that shows up in Cube demand.

It’s hard to find cards that are only good in Cube. A lot of the non-eternal playables are Commanders staples and vice-versa. Gideon Jura was a pretty good example, but here’s a few others that fit the bill to varying degrees (thanks, in some cases, to being banned in Commander):

Brain Freeze: $1.17 non-foil versus $5.83 foil
Upheaval: $1.99 non-foil versus $17.49 foil
Opposition: $2.76/$3.17 non-foils versus $31.24/$34.89 foils
Braids, Cabal Minion: $3.09 non-foil versus $32.77 foil
Reckless Waif: $0.08 non-foil versus $0.99 foil

You can see that cards deriving demand primarily from Cube (and I think the above apply, but feel free to prove me wrong in the comments) generally have a five- to ten-time multiplier on foil copies.

Granted, cards that are only good in Cube are few and far between, but adding additional demands to a card can only make its price go up. Thus, finding cards playable in Cube plus other formats that have a foil price only about double of the non-foil price may be good opportunities.

Zurgo fits that bill, but don’t buy Zurgo. This card was just released, and unless RDW just completely takes over Standard and stays top-tier, I don’t see it doing anything but going down for some time now. Zurgo foils at $2 compared to $1 non-foils? That’s when it might look like a tempting buy.

Speaking of red one-drops that are good in Cube and basically nowhere else, Firedrinker Satyr non-foils and foils are currently available for $0.79 and $1.81, respectively. I’m more inclined to wait until after rotation, especially since Satyr isn’t exactly a premium one-drop, but this looks like one with potential to at least double up.

Understanding Cube’s Weak Points

If you don’t play Cube, you may not realize what cards Cube players are most aching to see released. If you do know this information, that makes you better prepared to make moves for cards fitting in a particular category.

For example, I’ve talked a lot about red one-drops so far, and for a very good reason. Assuming a cube is supporting aggressive red decks (which I guess means assuming it’s not the Legacy Cube),  you simply can’t have enough good one-drops in your list. The same is true for white, as evidenced by the five-times multiplier between Soldier of the Pantheon‘s price points ($0.75/$3.78).  In the most recent set, Dragon Hunter might be a foil worth keeping an eye out for, although it’s uncommon and already at $2. Still, it’s new and will likely go down, which is why I’m saying keep an eye on it rather than to go buy out the internet.

Most of the two-color combinations are very deep, and most cubes don’t have a ton of slots for two-color cards. In particular, Boros, Izzet, Selesnya, and Azorius cards are going to be hard-pressed to fight their way into cube lists, since these colors already have so many great options.

The two-color pairs with the least depth are Dimir, Orzhov, and Simic. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any new Orzhov or Simic cards in Dragons of Tarkir, but we did get a couple tasty Dimir dishes:

dragonlordsilumgar silumgarscommand

There are a lot of factors that differ between Dragonlord Silumgar and Sower of Temptation, not the least of which are print run and age, but I just can’t help looking at Sower’s $17.44 price tag as a rare (from the pre-mythic era, yes) versus Silumgar’s $7 price point right now. Again, I’m advocating keeping a close eye here, as if this sees no Standard play (and I don’t expect it to see much, if any) it should drop sharply and present real opportunities. The foils are already over $20, which just goes to show the cube owners are already prioritizing the blue-black card to help shore up a weakness in their lists.

Silumgar’s Command received high praise on the Joy of Cubing podcast, but virtually nobody expects it to be a player in Standard or other competitive formats. Foils are already $7.88 compared to the $1.53 of the non-foils, but I expect at least the non-foils to drop below a dollar. Could this be one of those cards that’s only good in Cube? If so, keep an eye on that foil price to see if you can jump in at a reasonable floor.

There are other things that cube owners are always on the lookout for, especially good mana rocks (meaning they cost two or less, or produce more than one mana) and good equipment (few and far between these days). There’s nothing like that in Dragons, but it’s something to be aware of moving forward.

Cube Makes the World Go ‘Round

At least that’s what enthusiasts of the format want you to think.

In reality, Cube is important to MTG finance because it lets us all play awesome cards that aren’t really good in multiplayer or competitive eternal formats (or are so good they’re banned, as is the case with a few of the cards I listed above). Many of these cards were Standard staples in their days, and are thus important to Magic history, but are in danger of being forgotten because nobody’s playing with them.

Besides people collecting for the sake of collecting, who else is going to want a copy of Eureka?  What about Old Man of the Sea? How about just Savannah Lions, which used to be considered overpowered but is now getting close to outclassed in Cube? Once we do reach the point of the Lions no longer being good enough, the card’s only demand will be from collectors and maybe kitchen-table players. That’s kind of sad, right?

Cube doesn’t generally cause huge spikes in non-foils, although it can certainly cause certain foils to get rather expensive. But Cube does keep cards like Upheaval and Opposition relevant, even as they’re banned or outclassed in every other format in which they’re legal. To me, the more relevant cards out there, the easier it is to make money with Magic. And isn’t that why we’re here?

So just like Jason exhorting you to try out Commander, I’m telling you that learning the ins and outs of why Cube is Literally the Best Format Ever™ will help you to better appreciate yet another aspect of Magic finance that can make you money. Happy cubing!

So You Want to Play Magic for Free?

Greetings! Today is a big day for me: my first article on MTGPrice. I am humbled and honored to be part of this top-notch team of some of the best minds in MTG finance.

Goals and Expectations

When I first started writing about MTG finance, I felt woefully inadequate compared to many of my peers, and to some extent, that’s still true. Many of the writers on this site make a living exclusively by buying and selling Magic cards. Others have experience in real-life finance and stock trading. Some are funding their college educations through MTG.

By contrast, my primary goal in MTG finance is just to play for free. That’s it! Sure, every once in a while, I’ll buy in to a card and make some real-life cash profit. Those times are nice, but they’re not frequent, because constant speculating is time-consuming, and most of my free time is taken up by this little dude:


The time I do have outside of my full-time job is precious, and the fact is that constantly buying and selling Magic cards is a pain. Maintaining a large inventory, the daily packaging and shipping of cards, having to travel to large events in far-off locations every single weekend… these things can be rewarding and profitable, but they’re a grind. Could I do it? Maybe. Do I want to? Not in the slightest.

I’ll tell you straight up: the perspective I’m bringing is of someone who worries over when the best time to buy a single copy of a card for my cube is, or maybe a playset for a Constructed deck. My definition of “going deep” on a card is 20 to 30 copies. If you’re a store owner or someone who goes hundreds deep on most speculation targets, I like to think my insights will still be applicable, but  there may be other columnists on this site whose objectives more closely align with yours.  Rather than feeling inadequate compared to those other writers, though, I’m just going to own it: my goals are different than theirs.

Namely, I’m looking to spend as little time as possible on Magic finance so I can spend the most time possible actually playing Magic without spending money to do so. Does that sound similar to what you want? Then we’ll get along just fine. Read on.

Why MTG Finance Matters

If you’re new to Magic: The Gathering, I hate to break it you, but you are going to have to spend a significant amount of money if you want to be competitive in basically any format. I know it’s rough, but unless you’re lucky enough to have inherited an old collection from a family member, you are just going to have to accept that this is an expensive hobby, and it’s at its most expensive of all when you’re just starting out.

Now, you’re currently on a Magic finance website reading an article about playing Magic for free, and that shows that you’re at least interested in mitigating these start-up costs. That’s awesome. Deciding you want to spend as little as possible to get as much as possible out of this hobby is an excellent first step.

I have good news for you new players, and it applies to the established players, too: once you have a decent-sized collection, the world of MTG opens up to you exponentially. Why? Because Magic cards are probably the most liquid, easy-to-sell assets that you own (unless you’re involved in commodities markets or drugs or something). There are buylists all over the internet, many of them featured on MTGPrice, waiting to buy your cards at a moment’s notice. Most adults don’t often work in the barter system, but trades of cards for cards happen every day in every LGS across the world. You can use a service like PucaTrade to turn the cards you have into cards you want from the comfort of your own home, or turn to eBay to try to sell individual cards for a little more than buylist pricing. There are many, many ways to get rid of cards for either cash or different cards.

So once you have a collection, it’s not hard to turn that collection into a specific group of cards you want—for play, for speculation, for collecting, or for chewing on (in my son’s case). Of course, you can only leverage your collection into the exact cards you want if you understand how MTG finance works: how seasonal price patterns work, how rotation works, how Standard pricing works, how eternal format pricing works, how casual formats impact the marketplace, the best ways to out your cards, and more.

That’s why Magic finance matters: because almost anybody can play almost any format with enough knowledge, time, and dedication. There’s no reason you need to resort to less powerful budget decks to get your fun out of this game, but there’s also no reason for you to overspend in acquiring top-tier staples in your favorite format. You just need to develop a couple important attributes.

Two Crucial Attributes for a Finance-Minded Mage

I can’t stress enough the importance of patience for the finance-inclined player.

It has been literal years since I preordered a card. Yes, occasionally there’s a Bonfire of the Damned or a Sphinx’s Revelation that blows up and makes those who got in early a ton of money, but in the vast majority of cases, cards fall steeply from their preorder prices. If we’re spending as little time as possible on MTG finance, that means just assuming everything in the set will fall and not worrying about the potential of underpriced cards.

Some players collect as much as possible from Standard-legal sets to allow the biggest pool possible when building a deck for FNM or other events. I’ve seen countless players who immediately start acquiring playsets of every card in the new set as soon as it’s available on shelves.

If you’re trying to stretch your MTG dollars to the max, though, you need to stop doing this. Between WOTC’s marketing and best-case-scenario mentality in a large portion of the playerbase, new cards are almost always over-hyped. So few of them end up being competitive staples, and those that do often still end up cheaper than their preorder prices.

Just wait. Observe what’s competitive, figure out what you want to play, and obtain the cards that apply. Picking up cards blindly—especially Standard cards—just because “I might need it someday” is a quick way to end up with a bunch of cards that are dropping in value quickly and don’t have a deck.

If you’re acquiring a card for a casual format like Cube or Commander, there is no reason to ever preorder. In fact, if a card is a Standard-only staple, I tend to not pick it up until it’s rotated. For example, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion could not be more of a staple in Standard, but at a mana cost of six, it will never see play in competitive eternal formats. This means it will drop steeply at rotation, when I will pick a copy for my cube. (Off topic: it was such a missed opportunity to go with “Sun’s Champion” instead of “Champion of the Sun.”)

Now, let me state that it’s absolutely a fair stance to take to pay more for a card because you desperately want to play with it and are willing to pay the extra cost. You also should be playing optimized decks in major tournaments, and if that means overspending on a card, you gotta do what you gotta do. And if you’re speculating on a card, then as a matter of course, you think the price you’re paying is fine and that it’s likely to go up. These are situations where patience doesn’t really apply. But if you’re looking to spend the minimum amount on Magic that still allows you to be competitive or just have a fun-to-play-with collection , it’s the most important attribute you can develop. Wait until a card is at its floor price before buying in. If you need it beforehand, sure, buy it, but until then, there’s no rush.

Speaking  of needs, the second key attribute I’ll be mentioning today is developing a good sense of the concept of wants versus needs. You need to be able to look at that Sower of Temptation foil in your LGS’s display case and say to it, “It’s you I want, but it’s [the non-foil copy] that I need.”

It’s hard to think of two less related things than playing Magic for free and acquiring foils and other high-value cards. This is 100 percent a matter of personal opinion, but to me, there’s no sense in acquiring anything other than the least expensive version of a card to play with (within reason—I’ll pay a little more for an old-bordered version of a card, for example). I believe that it’s easier to have fun with 30 cards worth $30 each than with one card worth $1000, and that’s how I treat my own collection.

Now, I’m not saying you’re not allowed to like foils, and you can even incorporate the acquisition of foils into this whole “playing Magic for free” thing, but you’re almost never going to see me talk about them or advocate buying them. They’re a facet of the market that  I don’t fully understand, appreciate, or even like. My advice is to simply focus on non-foils until you have every card you could ever want to play with and are ready to start upgrading. Until then, high-end cards just don’t make a lot of sense.

And frankly, even if I ever reach the point of owning every card I could possibly want, I’ll just keep my non-foils and spend that extra money on things unrelated to Magic, thank you. That is allowed, you know.


Pass the Turn

Again, I’m looking forward to being here at MTGPrice for the foreseeable future, and I’d love to hear your feedback on both what I’ve written already and what you’d like to see me write moving forward. Always feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter at @dbro37.  See you next week!