MTG as a Self Sustainable Hobby

MTG as a Self Sustaining Hobby

MTG is not a hobby you can become rich from. Unless you happen to have started playing MTG 15-20 years ago and kept a pristine Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised collection. Apart from that however, MTG can unlike most other hobbies be relatively self-sustaining and provide an opportunity to cash out when needed. This article is about how to play MTG as self sustainable as possible. It uses anecdotes and personal examples to illustrate strategies to build an extensive collection.

Like any endeavor to be successful MTG requires time and research. Metagames and formats change. A powerful card today can be outclassed by another card later. What are ways you can build a collection as inexpensively as possible?

Test Modern or Pioneer decks online using a resource such as Xmage or Cockatrice.

You can play MTG on these platforms to test a deck before splurging on it. This can save you from purchasing a deck, then selling the deck a few weeks later because you don’t enjoy the deck playstyle.

Steer clear of foils when building new decks.

Players often love foils. They often look great and they are also expensive. Foils also get damaged or warped easier than non-foils. One smudge or bend and a store will often play 20-30% less for a foil.

Be aware of metagames and trends.

When a new set is released there is less supply available. People want the new cards but the supply isn’t able to accommodate the demand. For this reason the best time to buy cards from a new set is a few weeks to a month after release.

Now that we have discussed how not to fall into certain traps MTG players often fall into, let’s talk about speculation.

MTG as a collectible game incorporates many economic principles of supply and demand. There are opportunities to make a little value in the MTG economy. I normally follow a principle which has served me well and allowed me to have a fairly extensive modern collection.

The strategy is this.

A new set is released.

I set aside a budget prior for cards to pick up preset release.

None of the cards I pick up are actually cards from the new set.

Wait? I don’t pick up cards from the new set? What gobbledegook is this? I actually pick up cards with a high preference towards mythics which synergize with newly printed cards.

For example,

Karn, the Great Creator was leaked for War of the Spark. I felt the leak was accurate and I read on Reddit, Karn combos with Mycosynth Lattice. I saw Mycosynth was at the time around $8 each. I purchased 15 or so of them and made a $500ish return.

So, that is one example. What are others and what tools should you use for MTG market speculating?


Reddit is a great resource to find synergies when a new set is released with older cards. This fared well for me when Modern Horizons was spoiler. A reddit user posted, “Urza goes infinite with Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek.” I immediately purchased about 25 Thopter Foundries for around a quarter and 8 or so Sword of the Meeks for around $5 each. Later on Sword of the Meek spiked to $20 and Thopter Foundries went to $3+. (Prior to the Mox Opal banning)

Discord Deck Groups

Discord is often a financial goldmine. Finding a deck or archetype Discord is as easy as typing the name of the deck + discord into Google. From there you can find a group specific to certain decks. If you suspect a modern deck will become more popular based on new spoilers you can get in on the list before others do. You essentially are an early adopter at that point.

This is how I found the Allosaurus Rider/Neoform combo when Neoform was spoiled. I purchased a ton of foil Allosaurus Riders and cashed out before Modern Horizons, and in the process paid back the entire deck off Allosaurus profits. I also found Hogaak through this strategy and was able to build the list before the deck picked up steam.


Now that I’ve discussed tools and ways to build modern lists relatively cheaply, I will discuss why this may be risky.

New archetypes are usually among the most powerful. (Urza, Hogaak, Silver Bullet Karn/Mycosynth) Powerful, new archetypes often lead to bannings. You need to know when to essentially “sell out” of a deck.

Follow Reddit posts regarding potential format issues. Follow top pros on Twitter. Follow results from If a deck is consistently top 8 at major GP and Pro Tour events it’s at risk to receive some type of ban.

No 100% Rule

Remember how I said, “don’t buy foils?” Then I said I bought foil Allosaurus Riders. Part of that was me doing a quick flip and evaluating the actual card availability. I knew that Allosaurus Rider had many Promo printings I could purchase cheaper and in higher quantities than the non-foil. Because I had available card credit and prefered to not spend cash I went this purchase route with an MTG store.

You can Eventually Build a LOT of Decks Using This Strategy

I once calculated how many different, full modern decks I could build from my collection. It hovers between 12-16. (Many of these cards are used in multiple lists as I don’t have many duplicates of playsets of cards.)

Stores often pay a percentage on top of cash value if you trade for credit. I like to take advantage of this and pump successful specs into building more decks. I’d speculate, I’ve built maybe 5-8 of these modern decks from successful specs.

MTG Format Trends

Now here’s some additional perspective, “trends”. For those who follow modern there is often what is considered a Modern Season. This is when most events are played and when players are most likely to sell off Modern cards. This is typically from February to October. (People start receiving tax returns in February and in October they start to sell off cards to pay for Christmas.) This year, Pioneer has changed the narrative a bit. Many players have started selling off Modern cards to play the new format of Pioneer. This has made a larger supply of Modern Staples available deflating the price. (The demand for Modern may also be lowered via some players switching to Pioneer.)

I’d argue this is the PERFECT time to get into Modern. For those who suspected Pioneer may have been a thing preemptively they also may have made some value back on more recent cards. Modern is in a place where Legacy may have been when Modern was initially announced. Modern was the hot format and Legacy prices deflated. For those who kept their Legacy cards, mainly dual lands, things like Lion’s Eye Diamond/Mox Diamond the prices have subsequently spiked and have remained high. Will Modern follow a similar trajectory as Legacy? Legacy has Reserved List/incapable of being reprinted cards. Modern includes zero Reserved List cards and can be reprinted at any time. Yet, with WOTC pushing Pioneer and Modern being the now oldest supported Eternal Format I’d argue the cards won’t be reprinted for Modern for a long while.

A Collection Isn’t Built in a Day

I know I have shared personal MTG stories of financial triumphs. Let me talk about my strategies which have failed.

I specced on newer cards, not following my personal rule of picking up synergistic older cards. This 95% of the time is a losing strategy. I lucked out once on this with Arclight Phoenix. The rest of the time I lost out. For every hyped card released in a set only 2-3 decks will be top tier. That means a lot of arguably, good cards (in a vacuum) will not be valuable.

For every dollar you put in MTG instead of a 401k or a high, interest yield account you are essentially behind. This means, for you to break even you need to achieve a profit on speculating that is above the interest you’d accumulate. Please don’t sacrifice your livelihood or retirement for MTG. MTG is a hobby and you won’t get rich from it. I enjoy breaking even from a hobby and sometimes I don’t even do that. Yet, in terms of hobbies there are worse things you can spend extra money on. Few are as brain engaging as MTG and have similar return if you ever need to “sell out”.

Why Modern? Aren’t There Other Formats to Play and Maybe Break Even?

I play Modern because I enjoy the competitive nature of the format. It is expensive, typically (at least in the past, stable value-wise) and the cards are older with greater power than Standard and Pioneer.

I’d argue more people play EDH, kitchen table type MTG than any other playstyle. I picked up a lot of reserve list cards around Khans block and forward which have also risen in price. I sold most of these and I believe the price of many of these cards is getting riskier than I want a card to be. Modern is a good, middle ground for me to be in I feel. Older Modern cards spike substantially when a new deck is introduced to a metagame.

I wouldn’t dispute anyone stating EDH can be a format worth investing in. It has probably the largest player base, more than Modern. I am competitive by nature and prefer Modern for this reason.

How to Cash Out of Specs?

Support your local LGS. If you are an amateur speculator, maybe have them buylist or sell your specs on TCGPlayer. If you can make some return on a card you bought and the LGS can too after their costs that’s a win-win. Even trading cards for store credit at a place like Darkside is a good idea. You are probably going to buy drinks/snacks/food anyway.


Understandably this has been a long article which has jumped from topic, anecdote to example, to tidbit of information here and there. I’d consider myself an amateur, finance MTG player. I have received good information along the way and am learning more every day. I illustrated some triumphs of purchased cards gaining value, I have failed too with cards which sit in a pile collecting dust. Never make a major financial decision you can’t afford to lose on with MTG. I sold my power 9 piece, Timetwister I originally bought for $750 when I was looking for work. Half a year later it spiked to 3000. I don’t regret that decision. Though I only made a modest amount on it, I needed money at the time for bills and MTG is a luxury. If you look at MTG the same way as a luxury you should be okay.

My email is Email me with any questions or suggestions regarding my article and I’d be happy to reply.

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