Seeing how many people are searching “MTG Investment cards” and “best magic the gathering investment” these days, it seemed prudent to write up an article about why investing in Magic the Gathering cards has become such a popular trend. The trick is to understand what Magic cards are actually good investments. There are several categories of cards in Magic the Gathering which regularly appreciate in value. Let’s break them down.
- Old School Magic (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark)
- Reserved List Cards (cards that Wizards promises not to reprint, although who knows how long this is going to continue going into 2023)
- Modern Format Competitively Played Cards
- Top Played Cards in EDH / Commander
- Pauper Format Competitively Played Cards
These 5 categories are where you should be putting your Magic the Gathering money. Sure, the newest sets in Standard are fun to speculate on, but as an investment, you’re looking for blue-chip stocks in the form of Magic cards. So, which of these 5 categories is the best Magic card investment?
With the 2022 economic downturn, Magic cards, like many collectibles are a risky investment. It doesn’t help that Hasbro is milking MTG for all it’s worth. Still, out of print sets and even the original printings of many cards that have been since reprinted can still hold value even with all the negative (deserved) press around the handling of the trading card game. Fortunately, much of this general advice given here still applies to the specific categories included in this article. As always, just be cautious and watch the market closely before spending any of your hard-earned cash on cardboard rectangles!
Investing in Old School Magic Cards
Most Magic the Gathering finance experts will tell you that building Old School Magic sets is perhaps the best MTG investment that you can make. Nostalgia is very powerful and the scarcity of cards (especially in excellent to mint condition) means that they will appreciate over time. Even the least expensive cards in these sets (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark) are still valuable simply because they are sought after by collectors and investors.
Yes, the release of the extremely controversial (and massively overpriced) 30th anniversary set which reprints many older Reserved List cards in the modern card frame has definitely put a damper on collecting old Magic cards. However, these cards are technically not legal for play, although many Commander play-groups allow the use of these cards, as well as even some Legacy tournaments that allow proxies to be played for cards over certain dollar values. Still, ABU (Alpha/Beta/Unlimited) and the “Four Horseman” sets that followed them are still among the best MTG cards to invest in simply because of their historical value and relative scarcity to modern Magic cards.
Set building has been a thing in sports cards for a very long time. It’s become a very good investment in other trading card games like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, as well. It’s also important to note that besides the very popular niche format, Old School Magic, that uses cards exclusively from these seven sets (plus Revised), many of the cards from these sets still see play in widely played competitive Magic format today! (Blood Moon from the Dark is a great example.)
Why not invest in Revised Edition and Chronicles Magic Cards?
Revised Edition cards are a very much stripped down version of Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited that don’t include the “Power Nine” (Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, the Moxen, Timetwister, and Time Walk). They are not nearly as scarce, much as the white-bordered Chronicles reprint set is – which reprinted cards first included in Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Legends – so they typically make poor investments. That being said, there are cards from Revised and Chronicles that still see competitive play. They include:
- Underground Sea
- Volcanic Island
- Tropical Island
- Wheel of Fortune
- Demonic Tutor
- Mana Vault
- Birds of Paradise
- Sol Ring
- Concordant Crossroads
- Blood Moon
- City of Brass
- Ashnod’s Altar
- Nicol Bolas
- Urza’s Mine
- Urza’s Power Plant
- Urza’s Tower
The majority of these cards are heavily played in Commander. Blood Moon and the Urza “tron” lands are extremely popular in Modern. Birds of Paradise and City of Brass also see occasional play in Modern. So, these are cards that are perfectly fine to hold if you can’t afford the rarer versions, because they are still sought after for their playability.
What About Collector’s Edition and International Edition Cards?
Because Collector’s Edition and International Edition cards aren’t allowed in competitive play, many Magic collectors, including myself, don’t particularly care for them as long-term holds. However, from a pure collection and investment standpoint, CE and IE cards have been seeing major returns for those who’ve invested in them. Owning a Black Lotus for $550 in IE or $1200 in CE isn’t a bad proposition. It took a long time for Wizards to see the realization of the invest-ability in these sets, but it happened. (This is also why they thought fit to charge $999 for four packs of random proxy cards, but I digress.) If you want to collect cards that are iconic and always on the rise, and you want to ride the momentum, go right ahead. But, because they aren’t playable, I’m personally not a fan.
Investing in Reserved List Magic the Gathering Cards
Because Reserved List cards are intentionally meant to be scarce, Magic card collectors and investors have doubled down on purchasing them in recent years. There’s naturally been some pullback thanks to the 30th Anniversary “collector’s edition” debacle and there was major community backlash when the Reserved List reprint policy page disappeared from Wizards’ website. As it turns out, this was a glitch from Wizards redoing their website, and the Official Reprint Policy still exists and is again accessible.
The problem is, many of these Reserved List cards aren’t really that playable to begin with anyway. For many of the playable cards on the Reserved List, including the ten dual lands from Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, and Revised, this has meant bloated prices. While there are some that are probably still yet to realize their true value, Reserved List cards are fairly “unsafe” investments at this point, unless you get solid deals on the dual lands I just mentioned or other playable cards from early in Magic the Gathering’s history. An entire investment guide to Magic’s Reserved List could be written, so we won’t go fully in depth here.
That being said, the value of some older sets such as Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Ice Age lie in the Reserved List cards. That’s because for those collectors who are struggling to buy into the first big Vintage sets, these sets are attractive to build. Why not? Ice Age, in particular, has lots of good playable cards. Fallen Empires and Homelands are notoriously weak sets, but people are still building them, believe it or not.
Investing in Modern Format Playable Magic the Gathering Cards
Modern has become one of the most popular competitive Magic formats. It’s fairly diverse as far as what decks are playable and the card pool is giant and ever expanding. The main issue with investing in Modern is the likelihood of occasional reprints that tank the value of existing cards. With Masters sets being released on a regular basis, why invest in Modern Magic cards?
Modern Magic cards begin with 8th edition, which was the first set to introduce the overall card design we see today. Many Magic purists still prefer the vintage card design, but there is plenty of value in some of the earlier Modern sets. What’s important to realize, though, is because the print runs of these sets are much higher than some vintage Magic sets, there is one particular area to focus on: premium foils.
When foil Magic cards were first released, many players didn’t like them. They tend to scratch and show wear easily. But, as Wizards of the Coast intended, some players and collectors embraced them. Because there are a fraction of foil cards available and pretty much every card in Modern was printed in foil at some point, the demand often far outweighs the supply, meaning there are some ridiculous multipliers on cards that only see modest competitive play, or even no competitive play at all!
Because of the threat of reprints, investing in Modern is a lot trickier and requires you to keep a close eye on the card market. How much a card is seeing play is a major factor. Reprints can absolutely tank a card. However, certain foil printings tend to retain far more value due to scarcity and sometimes the artwork. (Yes, artwork matters!)
Modern also has some cards that are sometimes referred to as “stock splits.” Like in the stock market, a reprint of a Magic card causes that card’s stock to effectively split. Some cards, such as Eternal Witness, Lightning Bolt, and Blood Moon take hits to their prices but almost immediately rebound. That’s because when the price lowers, more people buy in to add those cards to binders and decks. The top 50 cards in Modern are a great place to look for actively traded cards that can bounce back in value from reprints. Playing the peaks and valleys of the Modern Magic card market can actually be very profitable, but it’s not for the faint of heart because of the possibility of mass amounts of reprints at once.
The Commonly Played Cards in Modern list on MTG Goldfish is a great idea to check on a regular basis in order to see what cards are being played on a regular basis. We can go further in depth in investing in Modern in a future guide.
Also, the growth of the somewhat more limited Pioneer competitive format (which includes sets printed from Return to Ravnica onward) that also banned the existence of fetch lands such as Scalding Tarn means some Modern-legal cards that have playability in both formats are considerably more valuable than those which can’t be played in Pioneer, as well. You’ll want to peruse the Most Commonly Played Cards in Pioneer before you decide which MTG cards to invest in within the scope of Modern and Pioneer tournament formats.
Why Invest in Top Played Magic Cards in EDH / Commander?
Thanks to the great folks at EDHREC, the Magic community has a clear idea of what the Top 100 played cards in Commander / EDH are at any given time. These cards, especially in foil, can be great investments, thanks to being MTG cards that hardcore Commander players will always invest in so they can have multiple copies available to build more decks.
Still, like with Modern, you have to watch the price trends of these cards – buy low and sell high. Many of them continuously trend upwards, though, as Commander players typically don’t break down their decks nearly as often as Modern players. That means supply slowly, but surely, often doesn’t mean supply – causing significant price appreciation.
So, Commander players tend to stick with their decks and only change them when upgrades are available. But, because Commander cards typically only move one copy at a time, you have to be patient and watch for continuous upward movement in price, as cards in the format can bottom out for a long time.
Should I Invest in Popular Pauper Format Cards?
Pauper has long been a fun, cheap format to play on Magic the Gathering Online. But recently, as Local Game Stores began holding more Pauper tournaments to attract MTG players on a budget, Wizards of the Coast decided to offer more support as a competitive format in paper Magic. This has been incredible for the market for cards played in Pauper. While investing in commons seems odd, the demand for certain commons has caused some $0.25 cards to rise as high as $5 or more!
While you certainly don’t want to invest in the cards that are already realizing their market value, just like with any competitive format, cards go in and out of favor in competition. Also, even though Pauper is quickly growing, the supply of many of these commons is massive. It’s best to put your money into foil copies. That’s because Pauper is a Legacy format, meaning people tend to stick with their decks for a long time.
But, unlike in Commander, people often buy Pauper cards four copies at a time, meaning if a card gets hot, a card can break out! For those that bought in early, the profits were huge, but there are still gains to be realized. Even with new releases, if a card starts to see heavy play in Pauper, it’s worth investing in, especially if it sees competitive play in other formats, too.
Should I Buy Graded Magic Cards?
Many Magic the Gathering Old School set collectors have sent their old school cards that they don’t plan to play with to the trading card grading giants PSA and Beckett (BGS). With sports cards, Pokemon cards, and Yu-Gi-Oh cards, having high-grade, investment-quality cards with a PSA 9 or 10, or a BGS 9, 9.5, or 10 means a lot for their resale value. However, while some graded Magic cards have appreciated well, many others have not. Why is this?
The fact is, most Magic the Gathering players hate graded Magic cards for a couple of reasons. The first and foremost reason is that many Magic players still want to play with their cards. On many occasions, Magic players will find a bargain on graded Magic cards and crack open the cases, essentially “setting the card free.”
Another major reason Magic collectors are shying away from graded Magic cards is that PSA and BGS have been known to authentic FAKE Magic cards. Besides the straight-out counterfeits, though, there’s another process called “rebacking” that takes a low-grade vintage Magic card and essentially presses it onto another worthless Magic card. Through this combination, you can essentially create a much higher-grade Magic card.
The outrage from the vintage Magic community has led to many PSA graded and BGS graded Magic cards to be bought en masse only to be cracked open. While many are genuine, there have been enough “rebacked” and counterfeit cards that have fooled the graders. What should be a process to verify a card’s authenticity, especially in a market full of proxies and fakes, hasn’t been foolproof. Hopefully, the graders are taught much stricter guidelines in the future. This is why Magic the Gathering, the first major trading card game, hasn’t caught up to Pokemon and even Yu-Gi-Oh in the graded trading card market, especially with the older, more valuable cards.
Is it Worth Investing in Any Other Modern Magic the Gathering Cards?
Many people cite the gimmicky secret rare subsets in recent memory as great investments – particularly the Zendikar Expeditions, Kaladesh Inventions, and Amonkhet Invocations. While I don’t disagree, as they are fairly scarce and many are appealing collectibles, my favorite subset in recent memory are the Ultimate Masters Box Toppers.
Not only are most of these cards with tremendous playability, but they are extremely rare beautiful cards of iconic cards in Magic’s history. Who doesn’t want an extended art version of Karn Liberated, Liliana of the Veil, or Tarmogoyf? Even the creature land Lavaclaw Reaches has a market! Plus, because they are playable, the value of these cards is going to keep appreciating. These are probably my favorite gimmicky cards Wizards has ever printed! (Plus. Ultimate Masters is a crazy good set.)
There’s also the occasional foil cards that aren’t seeing any competitive play at all that seem to have incredible prices relative to their nonfoil counterparts. This demand comes from what the Magic card industry calls the ‘invisibles’ or what I like to call the “Kitchen Table MTG” community.
The casual Magic card market is always bigger than the competitive market. While casual players typically want many of the same cards as the competitive players, there are occasionally cards that are actually great cards to play with, but don’t necessarily end up seeing play competitively. There are many of these to consider, but each example could itself have an in-depth analysis written about it. The Kitchen Table Magic market could have a book written about it, so it’s far beyond the depth of this article.
If you’re looking to dump excess cash into Magic cards, your best bet is to collect cards from the seven Vintage sets, plus Modern, Pauper, and Commander playable foils. In particular, I like cards that see play in two or all three of those formats (plus Legacy and Vintage if possible). I avoid Standard-legal cards like the plague, although there are very good cards in some Standard formats that eventually make an easy transition to Modern value-wise; however, these are few and far between.
In this guide, we’ve barely scratched the surface of investing in Magic the Gathering cards. Just remember, as with any investment, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH BEFORE INVESTING IN MAGIC CARDS!
Important note: This article is written for informational and entertainment purposes only; it is not to be construed as professional financial advice!