Now that we’re almost 2-months into the new year, many are focused on trying to pinpoint the best Magic cards to invest in 2021. There are so many choices so narrowing down where to invest and what to avoid is a difficult task. So what are the best MTG investments for 2021? I’ve got a few ideas that might help you figure that out.
Magic: The Gathering Investment Strategies
When I went about the task of putting down an investment strategy on paper, I quickly found out that I could go in like twenty different directions. Over the years, Wizards of the Coast has released north of 200 different “sets” since they first released the Alpha card in 1993. And with some estimates indicating there’s roughly 20,000 different cards in the market, your chances of pulling the exact cards that will be a good investment is difficult at best.
As I started to eliminate certain cards and sets from my list, I soon determined that my focus would be (as you may have thought) on VINTAGE cards. When I say vintage I’m talking the early years of Magic: The Gathering during that period of 1993 to probably the late 1990’s. It was during this time that some of the most iconic Magic cards were released. And it’s in that timeframe where I think cards will have the best chances of doing well this year and beyond.
Let’s start with something that many would argue could be the BEST Magic Cards to invest in 2021….
#1: Magic: The Gathering Limited Edition ALPHA
This to me was a no brainer. I really think that some of the best cards to have in your collection should be from the very first set, better known as ALPHA. There are so many reasons why and I could write an entire post on the Alpha set (which I’ll probably do soon), but for now let’s focus on a few key things.
To me the most important thing was the fact that the production run was SUPER low. Most people who know their Magic history are pretty much in agreement that the print run for Alpha was approximately 2.6 million cards. Now that sounds like a lot of cards, but when you compare that to known production runs of other sets (like Fallen Empires which was estimated to be 350 million cards) you’ll see that this is peanuts compared to everything else that Wizards ever made.
***UPDATE (March 5, 2021)*** Peter Adkinson (Founder and First CEO of Wizards of the Coast) made a post today on his Facebook page CONFIRMING that the “Alpha print run for Magic: The Gathering was 26,000 60-card starter decks and 70,000 15-card boosters, which would equate to 2.61 million cards.” Peter went on to say that “this means there were about 1,008 Alpha Black Lotus” cards printed. This falls right in line with previous estimates of about 1,100 Alpha Rare cards in existence.
If you know me, you know that print runs (or production runs) are by far one of the biggest factors when considering an investment. And when you factor in that Alpha had so many really ICONIC rare cards (like Black Lotus, the Moxes, the Dual lands, Wheel of Fortune, Shivan Dragon, etc.) and also so many really cool uncommon and commons (like Bog Wraith, Demonic Tutor, Drudge Skeletons, Fireball, Lifetap, etc.) you can’t go wrong.
I really think that this year, demand will continue to be strong for Alpha cards. I often wonder how many of those original 2.6 million cards were thrown out in the trash or that were heavily used by some of the first players. And then I think, how many are left in collections and in the market that are in really good condition? It’s something that you cannot for sure pin down, but I would venture to say many HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of those cards are long gone or so beat up they’re not worth investing in.
One last thing about Alpha cards. Out of the 2.6 million, the print run breakdown is widely accepted to be as follows:
- ~1,100 Rares
- ~4,500 Uncommons
- ~16,000 Commons
As you’ll see the numbers don’t match up with the overall print run of 2.6 million, but this breakdown doesn’t include lands. I’m not 100% sold that this number is exact, but I think many believe they’re fairly accurate. That said, if a big percentage of these cards are trashed OR are in the trash never to be seen again, there is simply not much left to go around to the many millions of players and collectors (estimated to be 35 million players worldwide!) It comes down to supply and demand my friends. There are not many of these cards to go around so my suggestion is to pick them up now.
#2: Magic: The Gathering Limited Edition BETA and UNLIMITED Rares and Uncommons
As we look over the production runs, the next group of cards that pop out as being potentially tough finds in the future would be BETA and UNLIMITED Rares and Uncommons from 1993. Now, both of these sets are more plentiful than Alpha by quite a bit, but in the grand scheme of things these cards are still in very short supply. Especially when you consider the amount of collectors and investors in the world.
Let’s look at the numbers first:
- BETA Overall Production Run ~7.8 Million Cards
- Rares: 3,200 cards
- Uncommon: 13,500 cards
- UNLIMITED Overall Production Run ~40 Million Cards
- Rares: 18,500 cards
- Uncommon: 68,000 cards
Again these are widely accepted numbers and could be off a bit, but for the most part we’re in the ballpark…..at least enough to help make an investment decision.
What stands out to me again is that we’re talking about cards made during a time when most people were playing the game, not collecting or putting away cards as an investment. I can guarantee one thing (and I’m sure you would agree) and that is that the number of INVESTMENT QUALITY cards left is much much lower.
Outside of the numbers thing, BETA and UNLIMITED cards to me are the last of that original ‘batch’ of cards that Wizards produced before they got super popular. I firmly believe that any A/B/U card will be highly sought after in the next few years and you’ll find prices continue to move upwards during that time.
BETA is the last of the original black borders while UNLIMITED cards have this insanely cool color that make them pop and differentiate them from Revised. Rares and Uncommons in either set (that are in Near Mint shape) are SURE FIRE SLAM DUNK great long term investments in my humble opinion.
#3: PSA Grade 7 or higher Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends or The Dark
Yes, I’m sticking with vintage cards. It’s hard to resist anything made in 1993 and 1994, that amazing Golden era of Magic cards! It’s here that we find some of the most sought after cards in all of Magic History:
- Bazaar of Baghdad, Library of Alexandria, Juzam Djinn, Drop of Honey (Arabian Nights)
- Mishra’s Workshop, Candelabra of Tawnos, Mishra’s Factory (Winter), Transmute Artifact, Power Artifact (Antiquities)
- The 4 Black Horsemen (All Hallows Eve, The Abyss, Nether Void, Chains of Mephistopheles), The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Mana Drain, Moat (Legends)
- Goblin Wizard, Preacher, Blood Moon, Ball Lightning, Season of the Witch, Frankenstein’s Monster, Exorcist, Cleansing (The Dark)
This list could go ON and ON. There are so many iconic Magic cards in these four sets that you could literally concentrate all of your investment dollars in just them and be fine.
Some of these tough Rare cards will simply be too much money for the beginning investor as most don’t have $2,000-$3,000 to plunk down on a PSA 8 or 9 Bazaar of Baghdad. So, concentrating on higher grade Uncommons or even lower end Rares (if you can find them at a decent price) is DEFINITELY worth the investment.
I literally spent weeks hunting down The Dark cards looking to boost my positions in many of the more important cards like Exorcist and Frankenstein’s Monster. I seriously think there is so much worth while in The Dark set and prices are currently REALLY CHEAP in my eyes. Watch that set explode over the next 1-3 years and you’ll be glad you picked up singles at today’s prices. Plus check out the next section below (RARE Lands) to see one of my FAVORITE cards from The Dark!
My recommendation is to pull the Reserved List, sort the list by price and start to take positions in some of these cards that you can afford without breaking the bank. I’d rather see you spend $200 and buy 4-5 cards rather than blowing it all on 1 card hoping it goes up in price. Each of these sets deserves a good breakdown so I’ll work to post something on each of these sets soon and tell you which cards are worthy of an investment. But the bottom line is this…..cards in these four sets are some of the best Magic cards to invest in 2021 for sure!
#4: RARE Lands
I’m a firm believer in loading your investment binders with 9-pocket sheets FULL of RARE Lands! Why you ask? Well, this game of Magic is built around lands and mana. You can’t build a deck without having a good ⅓ of your deck dedicated to LANDS. Lands are always something players will be looking for and for me, the crazier the Land or more abilities it has, the better!
As a player, I’ve also found that having a simple swamp or mountain as my land can become boring so I try to add lands that spice it up a bit and potentially give me an advantage. Whether the advantage is giving you two types of mana (like the A/B/U and Revised DUAL LANDS) or an ability to untap an attacking target creature like MAZE OF ITH from The Dark, these types of cards can turn a simple deck into something powerful and fun to play.
So what are some of my favorite Lands that I think have the potential to become solid long term investments? Here are some of the best:
- Any of the (10) DUAL Lands from A/B/U and Revised – Volcanic Island, Underground Sea, Tundra, Tropical Island, Savannah, Plateau, Badlands, Taiga, Bayou and Scrubland.
- City of Traitors (Exodus – EXO June 1998)
- Tolarian Academy (Urza’s Saga – USG – October 1998)
- City of Shadows (The Dark – DRK – August 1994)
- Lotus Vale, Scorched Ruins & Winding Canyons (Weatherlight – WTH – June 1997)
- Lake of the Dead (Alliances – ALL – May 1996)
I’m a huge fan of CITY OF SHADOWS from The Dark set in 1994. First the artwork is spectacular and that is always something I’m watching out for. The card could be rare and ugly and still be a good investment, but the art on City is really cool. The artist Tom Wänerstrand did one heck of a job on this card and he also was the artist on a bunch of other MTG cards including Blood Moon and one of my all time favorites, Royal Assassin. The price on this card has been a bit stagnant lately but I expect over time you’ll see this one creep up from the $30-40 range up to the $75-100 range.
Also, if you don’t want to break the bank like you would if you bought the Dual Lands, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or Bazaar of Baghdad, look towards those Weatherlight lands. Lotus Vale, Scorched Ruins and Winding Canyons are all fairly ‘cheap’ right now in that $30-50 range depending on condition and I expect them to make jumps in the next 12-24 months. Just look at the Weatherlight Booster Box prices on eBay and you’ll see there’s a ton of interest in this set. Singles are bound to follow the big price jumps on boosters at some point.
#5: Reserved List Cards
There is a lot of controversy about the Reserved List and you either love it or you hate it. As an investor I LOVE IT! Let’s face it, this is a COLLECTIBLE card game so it’s nice to have some cards that you’ll never see again.. They are cards that Wizards has said will never be reprinted, and the sole purpose is to preserve their secondary market values.
So my recommendation to investors is to study the RESERVED LIST and start picking up cards that are within your price range. There are many $1000+ cards on the list, but there are tons of under $20 cards as well that won’t break your bank.
Make it as fun as you can. If you enjoy only Blue or Green cards and decks, concentrate on those. If you’re a LAND guy like me and like those crazy rare lands, pick those up. Maybe concentrate on one set and just pick up all the reserved list cards for just that one particular set. There are so many ways to do it and I think over time you’ll find out that Reserved List cards are a GREAT investment.
It really comes down to buying what you feel is the best card in the best shape for the best price. It’s very subjective, but I hope I gave you at least a few ideas for the best Magic cards to invest in 2021.
For the older cards I really think graded is better these days. I think if you continue buying Rare or Uncommon cards in that Golden Era of the early to late 1990’s that are at least in BGS/PSA 7 shape or better, you’ll do well. Anything lower on the grade scale won’t grow in value as quickly.
I know many say you have to be at PSA 9 or 10 to make it worthwhile, but I’ve made a lot of money on PSA 7’s and 8’s in my lifetime as many people get priced out of the high end cards quickly. Don’t listen to those people who tell you to stay away from anything not a 9 or 10. They’re wrong, especially if you buy it right.
I think most of you are not only collector investors, but you’re also players. So as you play, you’ll find out which types of cards are valuable to your decks and that will also help you decide good investments. Stay educated in Magic by continuing to play the game and study what others are doing as well. Also, eBay and TCGPlayer.com are two of the best sites to monitor Magic card prices and they’ll give you a great idea on what’s hot and what’s not.
Remember, current prices are not an indication of what cards could potentially become. Just as I feel that rare lands and A/B/U cards will one day be highly sought after, you may have other ideas. Follow your gut and stay the course….and continue to build that collection.
Brian CooperBrian is the founder of Magic Card Investor and has been collecting and playing Magic: The Gathering since 1994. His mission is to bring the nostalgia and joy of collecting trading cards to everyone and to help people learn about (and maybe even profit from) this fun and rewarding pastime.
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