A Collector’s Quest

A Magictation by Mikeal Basile

“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection–thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

As an adult, you can look back at the childhood mistakes you have made. You may try to pass your wisdom on to the current generation, or you may chuckle as they make the same errors you did. 

Hopefully, we learn from those mistakes and gain valuable experience. I want to share with you one of my regrets that I made as a young adult. I was in college, I was young, and I needed to make my car insurance payments. I started by selling my Black Lotus. I sold it for $50 more than I bought it: $350. It was a good price at the time (1999). I also proceeded to sell my Beta Mox Jet, and my Unlimited Time Walk for small profits as well. However, to this day, I actually do not regret selling those cards. 

I truly regret selling my playset of all forty dual lands. I had spent a chunk of my childhood collecting each of them over the course of about two years. Each week I would save my lunch money, save my allowance, save the coins I found on the lunch room floor, and then ride my bike to the local game store and buy a new dual land. At the time, they were about $10-15 each. When I sold my collection of dual lands, I got $350 for them. That was a fair price, and, more importantly, it paid for my car insurance. The following year, the prices, for a myriad of reasons I am not going to expound on, started to climb (and they are still climbing).

Now, fast forward about 10 years when I was telling this story to my best friend, Doug. I half-jokingly told him I thought I should try and buy them all back. Doug replied with, “How many chances do you get to right a childhood wrong?” That sentence sparked a fire. I turned to my wife, and she just shrugged her shoulders and agreed that who can possibly argue with that logic? This logic became a spark that started a quest. I am currently still in the process of acquiring the final three lands I need, but I would like to outline how this decade-long quest has gone. 

With the blessings of my wife and best friend, I set out on a collector’s journey. As with any goal, I got out some paper, made a chart, and proceeded to plan the reacquisition of my beloved dual land collection, and in the process, right a childhood wrong.

YEAR ONE

April 11, 2011:

I started collecting Plateaus first. I had traded the hottest Standard cards for two Plateaus, and so I had a headstart on the playset. It was the cheapest land to start with, and they were going for about $40 each. I picked up two by sniping an auction on Ebay for $63.50. The seller was not a power seller and had recently changed his username, so people were a bit shy. I was not. The first set of four was thus easily completed.

April 15, 2011:

The next lands I went after were Taigas, as they were among the cheapest to buy. I figured that I should pick the cheapest dual lands up first, so I could keep my momentum going. When you are on a long quest, it is important to keep yourself motivated by setting milestones. I picked up two Taigas from an Ebay auction that was again from someone with barely over 100 feedback. I paid $94.60. This was pretty close to the average price, and despite the description stating the condition as “used”, I was happy to see they were really much closer to NM/M condition.

I went a few months without buying any more duals. I tried to win a few auctions, but people were willing to pay more than I was. I was a little nervous that I might not keep up the quest, but Doug’s words rang in my ears, “How many chances do you get to right a childhood wrong?” I decided that I should shift my focus to the lands that were always the most expensive–blue duals.

July 2, 2011: 

Underground Sea NM for $170 (but I used credit card rewards points to make it only $100). This was overpaying, but it is in true NM condition. No one had ever played with this card.

July 17, 2011: 

Underground Sea Unlimited Edition $111.75 (way below the going rate). This card was dirty, as in flecks of dirt were all over it. I bought it expecting that I could carefully clean the dirt away and significantly improve its condition. The pictures of it made it look like it was in terrible condition, but the corners, borders and back really just looked flecked with dirt. I was right, and a little careful cleaning with a q-tip removed nearly every issue, and the card seems only lightly played.

July 12, 2011: 

Tropical Island $77 ($13 below the going rate). Again, this was a seller with almost no feedback, and it was worth the risk.

July 16, 2011: 

Tropical Island $73 ($17 below the going rate). This was an auction that was only two days long, and people were not paying attention. I was paying attention every couple hours during every single day. Hurray for summer vacation! I also won another Tropical Island that night for $100 ($10 above the going rate). I thought I was getting a deal at $60, but the money was in British pounds. It was late, and I did not read carefully enough. Despite that, I have no regreets about buying this card from across the pond. It was in NM condition.

July 24, 2011: 

Volcanic Island and Vesuvan Doppleganger were my first rares, so I was itching to get my hands on Volcanic Islands. The nostalgia was high. When there were two big Ebay auctions ending on this day, I was ready, and apparently no one else was. I won three revised Volcanic Islands for $140.94. That was a steal! The condition was listed as VG, and that was a bit harsh, so I totally made out as the going rate for them was about $60 ($20 below the going rate). The real prize was the Unlimited Volcanic Island I picked up for $56.01. This auction was from a person that had only 94 reviews on Ebay, and so I won where others were afraid of scams. That unlimited dual is in great condition. 

December 25, 2011:

My wife gifted me four dual lands. She packaged each one inside a shirt box, and so I believed that I was getting four different dress shirts for work. Imagine my elation as I opened land after land after land after land. I was over-the-moon! I called all my friends and immediately planned a Magic Day at my house to celebrate. Apparently I should have had her buying the lands for me all along, as she was able to pick them all up for around $30-40 each!? She had gone to a struggling card store, which ended up shutting down several months later. The duals she had bought were the last ones they ever had in stock. She had gotten me Savannah, Scrubland, Badlands, and Tropical Island! 

Year One Progress

Plateau: 4/4   $63.50

Taiga: 2/4 $94.60

Underground Sea: 2/4 $211.75

Volcanic Island: 4/4  $196.95

Tropical Island: 4/4   $285

Savannah: 1/4 $35

Scrubland: 1/4 $35

Badlands: 1/4  $35

YEAR TWO

March 2012:

My birthday is in March, and I got spoiled. My wife gave me two duals, and both were ones I did not have yet–Tundra and Bayou . My friend, Andrew, gave me an Unlimited Scrubland as well. I never asked how much they paid for them, but I am guessing they both did better than the going rate. The two of them are always good at finding deals. 

September 2012:

I saved all of my credit card rewards points and used them to purchase a NM Revised Underground Sea. It was so worth it. 

Year Two Additions

Tundra: 1/4 Gift

Bayou: 1/4 Gift

Scrubland: 2/4 Gift

Underground Sea: 3/4  Free (with points!)

YEAR THREE

December 2, 2013:

Money was tight this year, and I traded in some of my cards for store credit. I had a Jace Beleren book promo and other promo cards that were in high demand. I traded them in for store credit, and turned those extra cards into three dual lands. I picked up an Unlimited Tundra in NM, an Underground Sea in NM, and a Taiga in NM for $30 (my credit covered the rest). It was a good year despite being lean on cash. The possibilities of trading in the fancy version of cards I did not need was a great way to shift the value of my collection. I moved the value I had in foil cards into cards I actually cared about.

Year Three Progress

Taiga: 2/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

Underground Sea: 4/4  $10 (trade-in credit)

Tundra: 2/4 $10 (trade-in credit)

YEAR FOUR

March 2014:

I bought an Unlimited Tundra off Ebay for $160. This was probably toward the higher end of the going rate, but it was for my birthday, so why not? I have really enjoyed playing with it.

August 23, 2014:

Making memories with cards starts with the purchase. We went for a day trip to Burlington, Vermont. Whenever I go on a trip, I check for local game stores to find my own magical souvenir. This gives me a side-quest every time we go somewhere. It is really fun to scope out the local gaming scene in new and exciting areas. In this case, I picked up a Badlands. When I play that Badlands, I always think of that store, and the rest of our day in Burlington. The Badlands was $70, and the nostalgia is priceless.

November 10, 2014:

This was the year that I traded basic foil lands for dual lands. I have never cared for foil lands, but I noticed that many other people would trade for them. I had a three-inch binder that contained every foil land I had ever owned, over fifteen years worth of foils. When I got to my local game store, I found they were giving credit for foil basic lands. I could not believe my luck. I promptly emptied my binder of lands, while a small crowd gathered to watch the pile of shooting star foil basics grow. I had several foil snow-covered lands from Coldsnap, and a few Unhinged foil basics, too. 

I completed part of my basics for duals trade by scooping up the only dual they had in stock that day–Scrubland. I saved the rest of my store credit for a day when they had more duals in stock.

Year Four Progress

Scrubland: 3/4 Free (store credit)

Badlands: 2/4  $70

Tundra: 3/4 $160

YEAR FIVE

January 2, 2015:

My local game store got in some new dual lands, so I went in and spent the rest of my $258 in store credit and $27 in cash to pick up a Tundra, a Badlands, and a Taiga. I had managed to turn basic lands into dual lands. I was so proud of my trade-ins. I must have bragged about this to everyone, and I am sure plenty of people went asking if they could trade their foil lands in (I doubt they needed anymore after the binder full I gave them). 

January 15, 2015: 

I had some rewards points and Amazon gift cards, so I picked up a Savannah and a Scrubland for free! The Amazon list price was more than the going rate, but nothing beats free money. 

Year Five Progress

Taiga: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)

Savannah: 2/4 Free (rewards points and gift cards)

Scrubland: 4/4 Free (rewards points and gift cards)

Badlands: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)

Tundra: 4/4 $9 (plus store credit)

YEAR SIX

March 21, 2016:

I bought a Savannah for $58.64. This was an excellent deal. I now only needed one more Savannah and three more Bayous to complete the collection. 

Year Six Progress

Savannah: 3/4 $58.64

YEARS 7-10:

2017

I did not buy any dual lands this year. I really did not buy that many Magic cards during this year either. I seemed to have plenty of duals for all my decks, so the pressure to complete the collection dropped off an awful lot.

December 25, 2018

My wife gave me a signed mint condition Bayou for Christmas. It is beautiful, and so is my wife. It cost her $262. However, the story behind her buying it is worth hearing. When she walked into my local gaming store she asked the clerk if they had any Bayous. The clerk looked at her dubiously and said slowly, “Yes…” It was clear the clerk did not really want to take the card out of the case to show her. It is not like these are cheap cards, but also, my wife does not look like your typical binder-schlepping, Friday night Magic player. The clerk slowly began to get the key for the case. As he walked over, my wife explained who she was buying it for, and when he recognized my name, the whole thing went much more smoothly. It was clear the clerk was skeptical and a bit bothered to sell such a valuable card to someone who might not understand its real value, or who might be buying it for some clueless net-decking kid.

Year Eight Progress

Bayou: 2/4 $262 (gifted)

2019

I did not buy any dual lands.

2020

As I am writing this article, I have decided enough is enough! I need to finish this quest. I am going to go through my collection and see what I have extras of, prepare to trade those items in, and then I am going to buy the last three duals I need to finish this quest. The quest has been great. I loved updating my sheet and pulling the folder out each time I bought one, or several. I am very close to erasing my regrets about selling them in the first place. 

Current Needs:

Savannah 1

Bayou 2 

Total dollars spent to rebuild this dual land collection: $1,749.44

Approximate value of this dual land collection: $15,000 (using current Ebay pricing)

Concluding Thoughts

This dual land quest has been fulfilling but expensive. Really, though, can we put a price on righting a childhood wrong? I have already begun to map out my next collection quest for rare artifacts, and though it does not have the moral justification that my last quest had, it will surely also be a fun and satisfying journey. Evaluating your collection and deciding to take the steps necessary to shape it is a very rewarding and involved process. Having a focused goal for your collection is also a great motivator. 

I love the collectible nature of Magic the Gathering, and I hope you have learned from my experience, and take these lessons as a guide in your own collecting. First and foremost, learn from my mistake and hang on to those cards you love playing. There are other ways to come up with cash for trivial things like car insurance. This journey has been rewarding, but it is a mistake I should never have made. If you do have regrets, then know that it is sometimes possible to right a childhood wrong! 

6 thoughts on “A Collector’s Quest

  1. Interesting article. It makes me think of all the “what ifs” from my younger days, both good trades and bad trades. I have a lot of thoughts about collecting when young versus collecting when you can simply afford to buy the cards. I’ll have to post a longer comment at a later date.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I look back at some of the trades and purchases I made when I was younger and think how great I deal I got. I remember being able to trade using the values in Inquest and Scrye and combining multiple revised uncommons to get a Volcanic Island, something that would be unheard of now. I remember combining the value of a bunch of rares and trading up for an unlimited timetwister, and then trading that unlimited Timetwister plus another rare for beta Timetwister. I remember going to a tournament at Neutral Ground in NYC and trading 4 Hammers of Bogardin for a beat-up but still playable Mox Emerald, because they were all worth about $60. It’s a great endorphin rush to think about all the things I bought when they first came out and held on to them because I thought they were cool, only to discover how valuable they became later as Commander and other formats became popular. And not just old things like Blood Moon and Power Artifact, but newer(ish) cards like Doubling Season and Dark Depths.
    But at the same time, looking back at all the missed opportunities and knowing what I know now is a little painful. It’s not just that moxes were $50 and were given out as tournamet prizes at Flights of Fantasy back when they were on Ontario Street in Albany, dual lands were $10, and unopened boxes of Legends were around $100, though to be honest it does sting a little. It’s knowing that the time I spent playing, obsessively cataloguing, trading, and collecting was relegated to a short period of my life and that now matter how hard I try, I can’t really recapture what it was like to be a teenager playing Magic. To this day, it still brings mixed emotions knowing that Force of Will used to be 99 cents each, and that I could have stocked up and just held on to the cards for 20 years and probably bought a house. But at the time, I didn’t need more than 4 Force Of Wills. Thinking in purely monetary value leads you down a dangerous path – sure it would have been great to hoard Force Of Wills, dual lands, or beta rares (I literally gave away a beta Mana Flare), but knowing what I know now, for a less glamorous but more profitable investment, I could have taken the money I spent on cards and bought Apple stock, which was less than a dollar per share during my Magic heyday. The “stock value” of what at the time was box of Mirage or Visions is now about $50,000. Certain Magic cards may have skyrocketed in value, though I would hardly call them a good investment as they aren’t easily liquidable.
    I guess knowing what I know now, I probably should have tried to just take it easy more often, and focus on having fun as opposed to building the best deck or winning because someone got mana screwed. The value that we associate with the time spent playing and collecting can’t really be captured in the prices of the cards. I’m now fortunate enough to have a good job which affords me all the spare money I need to buy the cards I want, and friends that still play Magic, but it’s really really really hard, maybe impossible, to recapture the feeling of going to Lenny’s house after school on a Friday, everyone bringing their binders and boxes of cards, ordering pizza, fried dough, and wings from Mild Wally’s, and just playing Magic in his basement for hours without a care in the world. I’m not even sure a value could even be placed on that.
    I love the idea of you not just completing a long-term goal, but that the quest also reacquiants you with old nostalgic feelings that Magic brings up. I see the picture above of you holding the Bayou, and I know that while you can put a price on the card, you can’t put a price on that feeling. Simply going out and buying a full set of cards can never really have the same satisfaction as putting in the effort to right a childhood wrong, piece by piece. I commend you on undertaking a quest for noble reasons, and for knowing when and how to complete it.
    I worry that some Magic quests aren’t motivated by the same purity, and that they are almost scheming in nature. But this may be a function of both age and maturity. As we get older, we’ve been complaining not about the price of cards, but about the power of the cards and the nature of the gameplay. Killing someone using an overpowered plainswalker or a two-card infinite combo just doesn’t have the same appeal as using a Lord Of The Pit that’s been eating up your creatures or catching someone with an Unyaro Bee Sting, even if the end results are the same. Getting rid of interrupts wasn’t that big of a deal since instants on the stack can function in the same way, but getting rid of mana burn felt like coddling. In an effort to try to recapture the feeling of using the underpowered cards we grew up with (Fallen Empires, Homelands) I’ve been working on reducing unfair chance or randomness and introducing limitations into the games that we play. For instance, my house rules allow for a free mulligan regardless of what is in your opening hand, plus unlimited free mulligans if your opening hand has 0, 1, 2, or 7 lands. I found a place online that prints up cards with non-Magic backs, and had them print me a set of Beta, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark, plus extra sets of useful cards so that everyone has a complete set of dual lands, the power 9, The Library of Alexandria, The Candelabra of Tawnos, Sol Ring, and Mana Crypt. Mixing and matching these while drafting (Legends by itself is a terrible draft, but Beta + Arabian Nights + The Dark is really fun) and playing not just by the old rules, but the old rules with ante introduces some balance, and almost feels like playing back in the mid 90’s.
    I think speculation is a fools errand, at least at this point in Magic’s life. I mean, who would have guessed Bazaar of Baghdad and Lions Eye Diamond would some day become so valued? When it came out, and even for years afterwards Lions Eye Diamond wasn’t just ignored, but considered worthless, until dredge came into existence.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome thoughts! I fully understand where you are coming from. Although I didn’t play with Lenny and your group until later in life, I had the same games with my playgroup in my buddy Jeff’s basement, or sometimes at his dining room table, of living room floor! We just loved playing the game. It’s odd to see rules change, but if they don’t destroy the game I’m ok with it. Self policing yourself and your playgroup is key to keeping the power levels where everyone wants them. I have built a cube for drafting…it’s around 700+ cards so it can facilitate draft after draft without the need to reshuffle. I don’t own the power nine, but I did try proxies in my cube for awhile, but found them to overly imbalancy cube. It just seems more fun without the power. I guess I favor longer games and more turns interacting.

    As far as house rules go, well I own and play with my signed copy of Chaos Orb, so I agree with making rules that fit. Also, as long as people aren’t trying to combo off on turns 1-7 I don’t mind free Mulligan’s either. Again, I guess I come back to making sure we are all there to play the same type of multiplayer Magic. Or at least the same style of MTG.

    I agree I’m the speculating. I do not go in for that stuff, but I’m not averse to picking up say 5-8 copies of a card I really like and think might be worth trading extras of later on down the line. I’ve used that formula since I was kid to keep cards I like and trade up to cards I desire. I’m still doing it now when I buy new product! Lol! I opened a Force of Will (haven’t said that in 20+ years!), And all I can think of is finding a way to trade it because I already own 5.

    I agree about the priceless nature of the feeling cards give you. I was so excited opening that Bayou. Today, I actually got a card in the mail, and I ran to the mailbox I was so excited. What was it? My first ever Forcefield…I won an auction accidentally…I really thought I would be outbid! Yet, winning it was exciting and dashing to the mailbox today I was just so excited to open it and hold it in my hand! My wife took a picture of me bc I was being so giddy. Afterwards I dashed off to put it into the deck I knew it would be going into (Muzzio is the Commander). Now, I cannot wait to play with that deck. I guess I am still a big kid at heart, and I love playing certain cards for the nostalgia, and those priceless joys they bring.

    Interestingly enough, I find that new cards keep me excited too. Not as frequently or as deeply, but I loved those ridiculous Godzilla cards! That’s another collecting quest I need to keep at too. I’m close, but still 4-5 away from the set.

    I figure I have 2 BIG collector quests on the horizon: Artifacts I always wanted but never owned (thankfully I’ve owned a lotus so I don’t need to sell my house to buy one!). And I’ve own a Mox too, so I’m not going for the power. I am eyeing cards like Forcefield, Candelabra, and Time Vault. I think I would love owning those cards. If Forcefield was any indication, then I’ll be crazy about having them. The other goal will be to complete the Legends from Legends. That would be so satisfying. I’m pretty close, but I’m still missing about 3 or 4 of the pricier ones like Gwendolyn, Tetsuo, and Rasputin. Luckily, I have most of the others already. That will be an exciting day when I finish acquiring those cards. I’ll have to celebrate by building a commander deck around each Legend from legends. Come to think of it…that should be a deck building challenge…I’m putting that in my article notebook now. I think there’s something like 55 Legends in Legends, so I could try and do a deck a week and finish it over the course of a year! Hmmmm…I’d better go get to work on that! Thanks so much for awesome thoughts, Marshall! Also, Doug stopped over the other day and gifted me a Savannah, so I’m only two Bayous away! I’ll have to snipe eBay auctions, bc all the major retailers have zero in stock!

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  4. We’ve found a novel way of dealing with cards that end up being too powerful in draft – a crap draft. You use a cube with the most powerful/useful cards you can think of, but the object is to draft the worst cards possible. Each game is for ante, and before each round, you give the stack of cards you’ve drafted to your opponent and they build a deck out of those and play you with it. Forcing your opponent to build a deck with the crap you’ve drafted makes each round completely different, and adds new twists when drafting. The power cards take on different values – for instance, you have to choose if you potentially want Mind Twist played against you, or your opponent has a Black Lotus in the deck.

    I’m on a ridiculous quest right now, and I can safely say without hyperbole, that if I can complete it, I will be able to build a deck with the most convoluted combo possible, but I’m running into a dead end. Using weird wordings, letter manipulation from Stet, and other assorted non-tournament-legal cards, I’m trying to see how how mana different colors of mana I can be forced to generate beyond the standard five colors. Pink, gold, and hazel were easy. Silver was tough. I’m still stuck on purple, but I may have a path. Yellow and gray seem possible, but I haven’t yet found an “a-ha” card. Violet, aqua, and brown seem impossible, but I can’t prove it. And this lead me down a path where things like bronze, alabaster, ivory, and other materias that are also colors.

    Liked by 1 person

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