My Magic career has been driving for a while and can now legally vote and buy cigarettes. Soon it will be able to buy alcohol, and then I’ll really have to tell it to either get out or get a job and start paying rent.
Even players who have been around only a year or two can see how cards accumulate, so imagine how it must be when you’ve been playing for 19 years, like I have. It’s only natural, then, that longtime Magic the Gathering players would be more inclined to pick up the Eternal formats at some point. The longer you’ve been playing, the more likely you are to come across a Legacy or Vintage decklist and be able to say, “I think I have some of those cards in a box in the closet.”
That’s essentially what happened with me. I had taken a break from the game for a couple of years, but after I graduated college in 2004, I had some friends who were playing sanctioned Vintage at a local store in Northern Ohio, and I transitioned from playing casual Black Vise Combo (four Wheel of Fortune!) to playing Goblin Welder Madness in the oldest, grandest format in Magic. The highlight for this, my first Vintage deck included repeatedly Welding in Memory Jar to pitch cards to Wild Mongrel for a lethal attack.
The first thing I did, after researching the format through Oscar Tan and Stephen Menendian’s articles, was to buy the relatively inexpensive parts of the Restricted List that I didn’t own yet, things like Time Spiral, Mind’s Desire, Burning Wish, and the all-important Yawgmoth’s Will. With these new combo-centric cards, and having read about all the awesome things you can do in the format, I put together a Helm of Awakening combo deck that used the Egg cycle from Odyssey (Darkwater Egg and so on) to build storm and draw into a lethal Tendrils of Agony.
I had some nice finishes with the deck, including a few finals appearances in a tournament series that was meant to be a play-in for a Mox Jet tournament. Moxes were only about $200 then, but they still had that mystique-real artifacts from an ancient time, “elegant weapons for a more civilized age.” I wasn’t in a position to spend that kind of money (or I didn’t think so, anyway) since I was saving up for a move to Columbus and had bills to pay, and it would have been a thrill to win one, but as far as I know that Mox tournament never happened and has since been lost to memory.
I did spend the money to buy other Vintage staples over the course of that year and after I moved. Dual lands were still around $20 each, so I soon had a set of blue ones, as well as Force of Wills, and Wastelands, some of which I had opened in packs. I got a full playset of Onslaught fetchlands for $200. Many of these cards went into my first five-proxy Vintage deck, a Blue-Black Fish deck that used Withered Wretch to combat a graveyard-heavy format that used Gifts Ungiven, Yawgmoth’s Will, Goblin Welder, and the budding threat of Manaless Ichorid (before Bridge from Below and Dread Return made it crazy).
Lesson 1: Buy from the Top Down
Looking back, this is about the time I really wish I’d taken some advice from friend, teammate, and Vintage master, Anthony “Twaun” Michaels. Twaun had been playing for a long time (longer than I) and was very much invested in the game. He was the only one playing fully-Powered decks at those early sanctioned tournaments and continued improving his collection, going from white-bordered to black-bordered Power and upgrading his cards to Asian foils wherever possible.
I always thought that was crazy-I just wanted cards I could play, so I didn’t need to buy Power because I could always proxy them, and cheaper versions of cards worked just as well as premium foreign copies. I’m sure Twaun’s work has paid off for him many times in recent years, though.
Anyway, Twaun’s advice was to buy from the top down. That is, once you’ve made the plan to invest in an Eternal format, figure out what cards you want to buy, prioritize a list, and then start acquiring the more expensive cards first. This makes for an exciting incentive, since once you have a Black Lotus, you’re hooked. It also means it’s a downhill journey. Getting a Lotus for $600 (in 2007) makes getting Ancestral Recall for $350 look so much easier. By the time you get through the Moxes, getting Mana Drains and Library of Alexandria for $80 is a piece of cake!
I didn’t do that, however. Despite being active in the Vintage community, organizing tournaments, and traveling all over the Midwest to participate in them, I still didn’t think Power was within my grasp or something I needed to spend money on.
Lesson 2: The Right Time to Buy Is Now
My first piece of Power was actually a Mox Sapphire that I won at a tournament at RIW Hobbies in Livonia, Michigan, in January 2008. The store was giving out Black Lotus for first, Ancestral for second, Mox Sapphire for third, and Time Walk for fourth-incredible prize support, then or now.
It was an exciting moment for me, being my first high finish in an event with Power for prizes. I took Goblin Charbelcher Combo, my favorite deck of all time, a deck I helped reinvent, and came out in fourth place. And since my third-place opponent, Ben Perry (a fellow Belcher aficionado), preferred the Time Walk, we swapped. You can read about the event here in my blog post from six years ago.
Again, though, I had a move coming up and traded the Sapphire for cash to move from Columbus to Washington, D.C., where I continued playing Vintage (helping start a great playgroup there) and eventually engaged and married my college sweetheart, Elizabeth. While there were times that I regretted selling that Mox, the money did give me an extra month to get a real job in Virginia and make a bunch of other great stuff happen (like marriage), so I can’t feel too bad about it.
Another thing about acquiring Reserved List Eternal format staples is that the best time to buy is always now. As long as Wizards of the Coast keeps its promise to stick to the Reserved List (and they have given no indication otherwise), and barring any bannings or restrictions, those cards will continue to increase in price. Selling the Sapphire, even for a good cause, meant at least a $50 markup if I wanted to rebuy in a year or two.
Demonstrating this, I watched my accumulated collection of Eternal cards gain value. Star City Games quit their Power 9 Vintage tournament series in favor of the Standard and Legacy Opens that are familiar today. As a result, all the crossover cards I had between Vintage and Legacy climbed because of the younger format’s broader appeal and lower investment. The rising tide lifted many boats, including all my dual lands and fetchlands, Force of Wills, Wastelands, weird stuff like Stifle and Misdirection, and the Tarmogoyfs I had bought for $3 each on Future Sight release day.
Lesson 3: Set Goals; Make Them Happen
When Elizabeth and I moved back to Ohio in 2011, I was also moving back into the same active hub of Vintage players and local events and was looking forward so spending more time in the format. I also had a windfall when a new coworker read in my company introduction letter that I was a chronic game player, including Magic the Gathering. As it turned out, he had a collection of cards in his basement that he was looking to get rid of to a good home. I purchased the cards unseen and was thrilled to be able to trade a collection that included Tundras, Tropical Islands, Volcanic Islands, and Force of Wills for a Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall! Ryan Seeley, one of the friends I made in Virginia, was happy to facilitate and put a fellow Vintage player on the path to Power.
This acquisition was unexpected and undeserved, but it was a great first step into actual Vintage investment. I finally took it upon myself to complete the journey to full-fledged, fully-Powered Vintage player. I would be able to play any deck without worrying about proxy limits. I could play at GenCon and Vintage Champs without having to borrow and worry about losing someone else’s expensive cards (which is a nerve-wracking experience). And I could finally feel superior to all the MtG peasants who didn’t own Power.
So I formally put my nose to the grindstone. I edited for a few websites, eventually settling here, at ManaDeprived.com. The extra work, plus a few MtG and non-MtG writing gigs on the side (including Vintage Advantage at LegitMTG.com and the Decksmashing series here), along with a couple of cash tournament wins, and some Christmas and birthday money and a couple of allowances from my understanding and wonderful wife, allowed me to complete a set of Power-as well as four Italian Mana Drains, a Time Vault, and Library of Alexandria-in a little over two years.
I’d like to say I had adventures picking up the pieces, but, no, most of them I bought on eBay or directly from local contacts. Each piece was exciting to get in the mail, right down to the Time Vault I picked up from the post office two weeks ago on Monday because I wasn’t home to sign for it on Friday. (That was a long weekend to wait.)
Probably the most excitement surrounded the Mox Emerald I bought on eBay in June of 2013, hoping to have it in hand for the sanctioned Vintage events at GenCon. It was coming from Canada, and I watched the tracking eagerly as it entered Canada Post in Toronto, crossed the border, and went into U.S. Customs at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where it sat. And sat. After a week I followed up with the seller. Then I followed up with the U.S. Postal Service, who helpfully told me that they had no way to track it in Customs and that I should probably just give up. Tracking information says its still there. I have since been refunded.
That’s another valuable thing to learn if you’re looking to acquire Power. Unless you can buy in person, eBay is a great option since they will always stand behind the buyer. If you don’t receive the card or receive a counterfeit (even suspected counterfeit), you should be able to get your money back without too much trouble. This allows you to take chances on sales you might otherwise not, looking for deals. Or to make up for any weirdness in the postal system, I guess.
So there we are. I finished a set of Power just as my wife and I are getting ready to move into our own house. I’ll be able to keep the cards this time, too! I’ll have them around to show my grandkids what real Magic was like back in the olden times.
I’d like to thank everyone involved, especially KYT and Mana Deprived for funding the bulk of it. Ryan Seeley got me started with the Lotus and Ancestral; “Lanky Zach” Howell provided the Time Walk; Josh McCurley half-traded, half-sold a Mox Ruby; Hale Simon sold both Mox Emerald and Library of Alexandria; Greg Wester sadly sold much of his collection, including my Timetwister; and Sam Krohlow acted as middle-man for the Mox Pearl, in exchange for a six-pack of beer. My wife, Elizabeth, and my Team Serious teammates were supportive all the way, and I’m proud to say I made it.
But of course, I’m not quite done. You’re never done. You know this. With the blue Vintage staples out of the way, I’ll be on the hunt for Mishra’s Workshops and Bazaar of Baghdads soon enough. Could be another two years or more, especially if prices keep creeping up with Vintage Masters released online, but I’ll get there.
Thanks for reading. Good luck in your own quest!