“The best time to buy Magic cards is yesterday. The second best time is right now.” – Icatian Moneychanger, probably
Ever since the first time I saw David Long obliterate an opponent on the SCG tournament circuit in 2013, I knew that one day I wanted to own R/G Legacy Lands. I still have the paper proxies of that list stuffed away in my collection. When I got my first well-paying job out of college, I saw the light peeking out from behind that long-locked door; owning Lands was finally a financial reality! Sure, I took a paycheck home on a Friday and essentially handed it to my friend in exchange for a Tabernacle, but I knew that soon it would all be worth it. There really is no feeling quite like telling your opponent, “don’t forget to pay for all of your creatures!” as your hands greedily creep towards your Rishadan Ports and Punishing Fires.
It took me four whole years to finish building R/G Lands. The reality of the situation is, I could have done it much sooner (and cheaper!) if I had focused my time, energy, and savings on acquiring the pieces patiently. In order to save you from the should-haves and would-haves of purchasing cards, I have developed this buyer’s guide to acquiring all of the major pieces of Legacy Lands. Card prices change all the time, and your mileage will vary. But, if you stick to the basic teachings of this guide, you will have your completed deck much sooner than you thought possible. Let’s dive right in!
The Tabernacle in the Room
If you’ve ever been on any website worth its Legacy salt, you’ve likely seen a post or a comment with one of these questions:
- Is Lands viable without a Tabernacle?
- Is there a budget alternative to Tabernacle?
- Can I just play extra Maze of Iths or Rishadan Ports or Blast Zones?
- Does anyone need a kidney, I’m looking to trade for a Tabernacle?
The unfortunate reality is no, there is no budget alternative nor a truly viable list that plays without Tabernacle. It is a vital part of the Lands strategy, tying up our opponent’s mana and allowing us to slowly assume control of the game. If you want to play the deck, you will need a Tabernacle. Stick with me and don’t close this tab just yet; you are closer to owning your own Tabernacle than you think.
“Goals give us the opportunity to define what we want.” – Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method
Legacy Lands has been through many iterations in the past, but the core has always stayed the same. How far you deviate from that core will determine the overall price tag on your deck. For simplicity’s sake, we will be using my current list as a baseline for which cards to acquire and the approximate amount you could expect to pay for Lightly Played copies of all of the cards. Of course, you can always drastically lower the cost of your deck by picking up cards in different languages or lower than LP conditions, but more on that later.
*Author’s note: This article was written in August 2020, when Mox Diamond was experiencing a price spike due to Reserve List buyouts. I pray to the Tabernacle that your Diamonds will not be as expensive as they are in the picture above!
Building your list over time will take a lot of intention and focus. Breaking up a big budgetary project like this into manageable chunks will be the key to your success. In Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method, he suggests looking at goals from three different perspectives:
- The Goal: Our pie-in-the-sky, big picture finish line. In this case, a beautiful 75-card Legacy Lands list.
- The Sprints: Our smaller goals within the big goal, which help mitigate the risk of becoming overwhelmed or just giving up. These Sprints can be met in a relatively short time frame and have clearly defined, actionable Tasks.
- The Tasks: In this case, Tasks will be each individual card. Nothing scary about that!
We will focus on the Sprints when determining how to buy into R/G Lands. I have included an approximate price you can expect to pay for each Sprint, with considerable padding to account for the long-term nature of buying the whole deck and the volatility of the Magic market. Stick to the Sprints, and you will be playing Lands in no time.
To help differentiate the types of cards you will be purchasing, I’ve placed the Sprints into different categories:
*Author’s note: All content related to prices and market info is based on personal experience and finance folks based in the United States, and all prices are in USD.
Category 1: Reserve List
The bane of so many Magic players’ existences. The harsh reality of this category is that we have no reason to believe there will be any changes in how WotC views the Reserve List in the foreseeable future. Therefore, it is imperative that we buy our needed cards as soon as it is reasonable to do so. This also includes NOT buying these cards during a buyout or price spike! For a very well-researched perspective on Reserve List price spikes, I encourage you to read the article by Cassie LaBelle here.
Sprint 1: The Tabernacle at Whole Paycheck – $1800
The centerpiece of our strategy, with the most volatile price of any of our needed cards. I cannot recommend enough to you, please buy your Tabernacle first. The price on MTGGoldfish shows a whopping $1,970 at this time. Savvy shoppers should be able to find Light Play Italian copies of the card for sale around the $1200 range on a variety of sites, including TCGPlayer. Condition is king when it comes to these old and highly sought cards; if you are willing to settle for a beat up copy, you might just find an incredible deal!
Sprint 2: Diamonds are a Loamer’s Best Friend – $1800
Mox Diamonds are the next stop on our Reserve List tour. The most recent price spikes have pushed our beloved shiny carbon over the $500 threshold, and the cheapest MP set on TCGPlayer at time of writing would run you $2,180. DO NOT PAY THIS PRICE. I will once again direct you to Cassie Labelle’s article, linked above. Wait for these to settle back down, and look to buy into your Diamonds closer to the $400/ea mark.
Sprint 3: Catch a Taiga by it’s TCG Low – $400
Rounding out our essential Reserve List pickups, a pair of Taigas are the only dual lands required for the basic R/G Lands build. Condition is king here too: Despite the $227 price tag seen on MTGGoldfish, Revised Moderately Played Taigas are readily available around $170. While I will always recommend buying Reserve List cards sooner, it’s worth noting that replacing one Taiga with a Stomping Ground is less of a strict downgrade than it was prior to the printing of Field of the Dead… but seriously, buy your duals first.
Sprint 3a: Add Duals for Flavour
As Wizards continues their hot streak of pumping out busted value engines like Oko, Uro, Dreadhorde Arcanist, and more, our deck will evolve to answer these threats or incorporate them into our strategy. If you are building Lands during one of those times and desperately want to splash colors, consider buying into your Bayous, Tropical Islands, and Savannahs sooner rather than later. As with all Reserve List cards you’ll be better off buying them now, and more likely to have the cash needed to complete the rest of the deck later.
Category 2: Commander-Relevant Cards
Magic card prices in 2020 are largely defined by the most popular casual format of all time, Commander (or EDH for my fellow oldheads). If you’re not playing, you probably know more than a few friends who are. Cards that are popular in Commander are more likely to retain or grow their price tags over time, so buying in quickly is crucial to saving money in the long run.
Sprint 4: Wastelands, Explorations, Gambles, and Loams – $350
These 4 cards have some of the most crossover with Commander gameplay, and are therefore the most likely to have slowly increased in price as you acquired your Reserve List cards. Prioritize whichever of these was printed most recently and work your way backward, as the reduced prices from a reprint are not likely to last long. Remember that Wastelands, Explorations, and Gambles all have old printings that you may be able to pick up for a great price if condition isn’t too important to you.
Sprint 5: Sylvan Library, Ancient Tomb, Maze of Ith, and Crucible of Worlds – $200
These 4 fit neatly into a $200 budget, so they are up next. In addition to seeing Commander play, they have been proven to be more affected by reprints. I will be surprised if we don’t see a Sylvan Library reprint this year (edit: nailed that one!), and Ancient Tomb could quickly drop from $45 back down towards $15 with another reprint. Don’t sleep on these cards, but if you feel a reprint on the horizon, wait for a better price.
Sprint 6: Fetchlands – $100
In the pinned list, I have included Wooded Foothills and Windswept Heath due to their lower price point (and more beautiful old border variants). Many R/G Lands decks will run 3 fetches, so you may want to add a Verdant Catacombs or Misty Rainforest to your Maybeboard. I’ve cranked the budget up to $100 to accommodate for this, but you could run 2-3 Windswept Heaths without losing many win rate percentage points – and at a much lower price point!
Category 3: Cards Only a Loamer Could Love
These cards are significantly less desirable to your average Magic player than their Commander and Reserve List coworkers, so you can put off acquiring them until much later in your journey. Prioritize the rares and mythics here.
Sprint 7: Dark Depths, Thespian’s Stage, Rishadan Port, and Karakas – $100
Another nice round estimate! I would recommend picking up the Karakas and Dark Depths first, as they are mythics and less likely to stay at a low price forever. Port has been on the decline for some time, and Thespian’s Stage just got a reprint in August 2020. Their prices should be stable for longer than either mythic rare here.
Sprint 8: Grove of the Burnwillows, Field of the Dead, Nurturing Peatland, Sideboard Rares – $160
The last of our pricier cards. Field of the Dead and Sphere of Resistance feel the least likely to get a reprint in the near future, while Force of Vigor and Nurturing Peatland feel the most likely to gain value due to natural demand. I encourage you to weigh the pros and cons yourself when you get to this Sprint, and consider the impact in-person events may have on card prices based on the current meta at the time of those events.
Category 4: Chaff & Co.
The remaining pieces of the deck are pennies on the dollar, and likely will not gain or lose a significant amount of value either way. Prioritize the rares, but please resist the temptation to buy into these cards first. Every penny saved toward a Category 1 or 2 card now will be paid forward when you reach Category 4!
Sprint 9: Elvish Reclaimer, Crop Rotation, Punishing Fire, Barbarian Ring, Blast Zone, Bojuka Bog, Forest, Ghost Quarter, Glacial Chasm, Sheltered Thicket, Tranquil Thicket, Choke, Pyroblast – $45
The finish line! Ask friends and family before you buy any of these cards, as you may just get some freebies from folks who want your deck ready to play ASAP.
Category 5: Reprints
Wait, what? This one is a little confusing, but it’s worth noting that not all rules for the first 9 Sprints are set in stone. Keeping an eye out for reprints is important, as they are the most likely way that you will save money over the course of acquiring the deck. I will provide more details about pulling the trigger on reprints in the When to Buy section below, but note that any reprints that meet the criteria outlined in that section should be purchased ASAP, regardless of your current Sprint.
Total Amount Needed For All 9 Sprints: $4,955
$5000 is quite a scary price tag in the abstract, but I hope that this breakdown has shown you that our Goal is realistic and attainable if we stick to the Sprints.
Pinching Pennies All the Way
Let’s be honest, that $5000 number is still super intimidating. It’s a lot of money. Surely we can spend our money like the #mtgfinance geniuses we are and knock that price down a bit, right? I’m happy to tell you that, if you are willing to settle for some “well-loved” and hard to read copies of your cards, you can. We can also wait to purchase cards at exactly the right time and/or place and save even more! Follow these tips and you’ll be sure to cut those estimated Sprint prices down to size.
Picking up less desirable copies of cards on the cheap
- Most Legacy players are not going to require all of the cards in their deck to be in great condition. The estimated prices that I used above are for LP+ copies of the cards, or MP+ in the case of Reserve List cards. If you are willing to go even lower on the condition of some of your cards, prices will start to plummet.
- Prices on non-English cards used to be pretty high in the US. Japanese and Russian prints were particularly pricy, and a Foreign Black Border (FBB) dual could run double the cost of a white-border English one. However, prices on foreign language cards in the pre-8th edition border have become shockingly low in recent years, with many prolific TCGPlayer sellers offering these cards at a fraction of the cost of English copies. Foreign White Border (FWB) duals can also be found at significantly lower prices than their English counterparts in some cases. For example, MP English Tabernacles are currently listed around $1800, while LP+ Italian Tabernacles can be readily acquired for $1300. That’s $500, or 1.25 Mox Diamonds, right there! If you don’t mind a non-English printing of your cards, you can save some serious money. Just make sure you know what your own cards do and can explain them to your opponents!
When to Buy
Finding the best time to buy your cards
Magic card prices are surprisingly predictable once you know what to look for. They are typically affected by the seasons, reprints, and tournament results. Below are a few tips about timing the market and getting the most for your money.
- Seasonal Scores: Magic prices tend to dip across the board twice a year: during the last weeks of summer, and from early January through tax return season in the first weeks of February. These times make intuitive sense. At the end of the summer, Standard interest is at a low as rotation approaches, money is saved towards opening booster boxes of the fall expansion, and more time is spent outdoors away from our cards. In January, wallets are tapped out from holiday spending, and players eagerly await the windfall of February tax returns to buy the expensive cards they haven’t been able to purchase all year. Interestingly, the summer weeks are typically the WORST time to pick up your Reserve List cards! Bored #mtgfinance bros tend to become active in these product slumps, so beware the price spikes. They almost never stick, and you will have a chance to buy in cheaper around January. Do your best to beat the rush as tax returns start coming in, because demand for Reserve List cards always goes up during these times, and prices will naturally rise with demand.
- The Right Type of Reprint: Not all reprints are alike, and your purchasing decisions should account for the type of reprints you buy. I mentioned in Category 5 that some reprints will take priority over everything, even if you are still working on acquiring your Tabernacle, but those are few and far between. Here’s what to look out for when you see a reprint of a card for R/G Lands:
- Limited Print Sets: This encompasses things like the Signature Spellbooks and Masters sets. There are two types of reprints in Limited Print sets that should be acquired the second they are available for purchase: reprints that are desirable in a variety of formats, and mythic rares. Most of these types of cards will reach their lowest price point on the Saturday or Sunday following release, and start trending back upward on Monday. If you miss the boat on these release weekend prices, the next best time to buy will usually come during the January slump. However, if you have the funds, don’t be afraid to snag those highly desirable reprints during the pack opening frenzy.
- Other Booster Packs: Ever since the advent of Project Booster Fun, the prices of regular ol’ Magic cards in packs have fallen significantly. Who wants a normal Azusa, Lost but Seeking when you could get the extended art, or the box topper, or the Prerelease stamped, or the Promo Pack stamped one? These variants have made it much easier for those of us who just need a legal, playable version of the card to afford to play the game. If you see a reprint of a card in Lands show up in a print-to-demand booster set, wait for the seasonal slumps to get the best prices. I wouldn’t advise abandoning your Sprint to buy any card that shows up in these packs.
- Breaking the Meta: Buying Magic cards and playing Magic cards both reward pattern recognition and identifying the right time to make a bold move. If you want to buy cards at the right time, it would serve you well to have a decent knowledge of what is happening across the full range of Magic formats. No, I’m not suggesting you stay glued to the MTGO 5-0 results and scroll Twitter for “hot new tech” all day. You should, however, follow a few pros and big-name casual players on social media to keep a pulse on new developments. If there are rumblings that Life from the Loam is about to revolutionize Modern, or The Command Zone just showcased a Golos Field of the Dead/Scapeshift deck that has Commander players licking their lips, feel free to break your Sprint and pick up those cards before it’s too late. Just don’t fall into the FOMO trap and buy in during a spike. The hive mind will move onto the next big thing eventually, and you can pick up your cards at a more reasonable price again later.
Where to Buy
Shopping in the right places is crucial to avoid overpaying
If you were to ask the average Magic player where they buy their card singles online, a few names would stand out above the rest: Ebay, Amazon, TCGPlayer, Starcitygames, ChannelFireball, and Card Kingdom. Sales volume, exposure, and customer service in some combination drive the popularity of most of these platforms, but also allow them to charge rather high prices. In the absence of MagicFests and large local tournaments that draw mid-size vendors, finding good prices on cards has become more difficult. If you want the best deals on cards, consider these places first:
- Always and forever, your LGS: The pandemic has been hard on a lot of folks, especially small business owners. If it is reasonable to do so, consider your LGS first and foremost when buying singles. Many LGSs may not have the resources to match or beat every price you show them from TCPlayer, but I have seen plenty of deals struck when buying a dual land or a sizable number of expensive cards. Talk to your LGS owner and see if you can come to an agreement on expensive cards. They may be just as eager to sell as you are to buy.
- Facebook MTG Groups: This resource is literally the only reason I’m still on Facebook. MTG Groups are chock full of regular people just like you and me who are willing to beat market prices to sell their cards. TCGPlayer usually takes a fee of 15-30% from sellers on their platform, so direct sellers on Facebook will often knock that 15-30% off of the market price of the card and leave the deal with the same amount of money in their pocket. Therefore, you can likely find that Exploration that’s $30 at TCG Market price on Facebook for $25 shipped with tracking, tax free! For those of you counting at home, 15% of our deck cost estimate is $750, which we could save just by shopping via these groups. With all that said, BUYER BEWARE HERE. Scammers sneak through the cracks sometimes, and a suspiciously good deal on a Reserve List card could leave you with a fake card and a bad taste in your mouth. Make sure to ask for seller references, and follow up on them. And if a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Acquiring Our Money
We’ve laid out our Sprints, and we’ve talked about the best ways to save money when buying our cards. Now let’s talk about how we are going to raise the funds to check the Sprints off one at a time. There are two things that most Magic players do to afford cardboard crack: sell cards we own, or save money over time. Below we will explore both options, and help you determine your realistic timeline for building the deck.
Figuring out what we have, what we can sell, and how to get the most value out of it
When constructing such an expensive deck, it’s best to start by examining what we already own and what we can do without. Take a look at your collection and start to sort cards worth more than $1 into three categories: Must Keep, Could Sell, and Will Sell. Give yourself plenty of time on this, and take some breaks. After about an hour, I find the cards either start to blur together or I suddenly start justifying why I can’t possibly sell my 7th copy of Steel Overseer. Once you have your piles, put the Must Keep cards back where you got them. Next, look at your Could Sell pile again and do your best to add about half of them to the Will Sell pile. Now put the rest of the Could Sell cards back where they came from and grab some water. You did great.
If you’re like me, you love a good tracker. If you’re not like me, you are clearly an agent of chaos. I don’t make the rules. Either way, our next task is to input all of the Will Sell cards into a TCGPlayer Collection tracker. If you don’t have one, start a TCGPlayer account (it’s free!) and add all the cards to your “Have” collection. If you already have a “Have” collection on your account, you can add the cards to the “Want” or “Trade” collections instead. Here you can see I’ve opted to add my Will Sell cards to the “Want” collection, since my “Have” collection is already full of other stuff.
Once all of your Will Sell pile is in the tracker, take a look at the Min and Avg numbers at the top of the tracker (pictured above). The total market value of those cards usually falls between the Min and Avg, and you can usually sell all of those cards for close to the Min value. Where you sell your cards is up to you: start a TCGPlayer account, sell on Facebook, or find a shop that will give you about 80% or more of the Min value. Either way, this will be your nest egg as you build towards your first Sprint.
Determining your Savings Goal
How much can I save towards the deck each month?
This is by far the most difficult step of the process, and the part that will cause the most frustration as change inevitably comes. Be patient, trust the process, and don’t get down on yourself if you can’t save the full amount for a month or two. So, what’re we saving?
- Make sure your number is realistic: Don’t put yourself in a financial bind or go into debt to reach your savings goals (like I did!). Choose a number that is attainable, even if it’s not as big as you’d like it to be.
- Choose your monthly savings goal BEFORE you determine your expected date of deck completion: There is temptation to say “I want the deck fully complete by [date]” and then realize you would need to save way too much money too quickly. I encourage you to choose a realistic savings goals first; the end result will still come if you are patient and keep a steady pace as you acquire your cards.
Building our Timeline
Establishing a realistic strategy for finishing Sprints on time and under budget
You have made it to the planning finish line! Now all that’s left to do is build a timeline. This way, we will have a rough estimate of what cards to buy, when to buy them, and we will be able to check off our Sprints as we go along. This also helps us see if an upcoming purchase would need to be made at a bad time (like buying a dual land during March, the peak of tax season price increases), so we can find a good place to move that purchase in our timeline. I’ve created a timeline spreadsheet HERE which you can use as a template.
Putting It All Together: A Real Estate Hypothetical
It’s time to introduce you all to my good friend, Joe D. Keith. He’s decided to buy into the best deck in Legacy, R/G Lands, and he’s going to use our buying guide to keep himself on track as he acquires all the cards. Here’s the specs:
- Joe is starting on August 20th, 2020.
- Joe has decided to buylist his modest trade binder to a local game store ($250), and sell his Modern Burn deck on Facebook for 80% of TCG Market ($320), giving him a $570 head-start on Sprint 1: The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
- Joe has set his savings goal at $300/month, prioritizing Lands savings over all other Magic-related purchases.
- Joe doesn’t care about the condition or language his cards are in, or even if the playsets match, as long as they are sleeve playable. This deck is gonna have some character!
- Joe already has a Taiga and 2 fetchlands from his Commander deck.
You can see the results of Joe’s saving and purchases in the SPREADSHEET. I’ve included a hypothetical series of events, from key reprints to price spikes to missed opportunities based on sticking to the Sprints. Even with many of the Sprints costing more than we calculated above, Joe was able to put his deck together in just over a year for ~$1000 less than we expected. Change the formulas to match your budget, make honest guesses about what reprints and price spikes are (or are not) coming up soon, and see how quickly you can put the deck together!
End Step, Copy Dark Depths
Let me know in the comments if you found this guide helpful, and if you would like to see similar content in the future. It was a lot of fun for me to break down the process of buying into a Legacy deck from scratch; I hope you had fun too!
May you always have T1 Exploration.