Is Magic The Gathering An Expensive Hobby: Cost Per Year


I started collecting Magic The Gathering (MTG) cards over 10 years ago and to this day, my family and friends still get wide-eyed when I talk about the cost of cardboard. This eventually got me wondering, is Magic The Gathering an expensive hobby compared to others, or are people simply overreacting?

As a whole, Magic The Gathering is a moderately expensive hobby. US households spend $794 – $1362 on goods classed as “Toys” or “Entertainment Supplies” every year. On average, Magic The Gathering hobbyists spend $1100 per year, which is less than hobbies such as golf ($4260).

However, that doesn’t mean Magic The Gathering has to be an expensive hobby when you start if you know what you are doing. You don’t have to spend over $1000 just to dip your toe into MTG.

If your goal is to just start playing casually with friends and family, investing in expensive playsets of cards from the get-go is not a requirement, or even recommended for that matter.

Like most hobbies, Magic The Gathering can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be, but it’s important to know what you are getting into before you jump right on in – So let’s talk about a few things.

How Expensive Is Magic The Gathering?

On average, Magic The Gathering players will spend $1100 per year. The majority of this cost can be attributed to constructing a standard deck, attending events, and regular drafting. However, the average yearly spend will be greatly affected by which Magic formats a player participates in.

If the cost of this collectible card game surprises you, then you may want to take a deep breath before learning about how much money this industry makes as a whole.

In 2020, The United States Census Bureau found that “Hobby, Toy, and Games” store sales totaled over $17 Billion[1] in the USA alone. Magic The Gathering was estimated to have made $500 Million in net revenue globally.[2]

That sounds like a lot of money, and it is, but those numbers shouldn’t scare you off from getting involved with MTG as a hobby as the costs for getting started is a lot lower than you might assume.

For example, a new or casual Magic The Gathering player will often spend less than $500 in their first year.

  • MTG Drafting – Heading down to your local game store once a week and taking part in a draft will cost you on average $15 per week, which works out to $180 per year.
  • MTG Pre-release Events – On average, the cost of a Magic The Gathering pre-release event is $30. Typically, you’ll encounter 4 – 5 pre-release events every year, making the total cost to attend all events approximately $120.
  • MTG Preconstructed Deck – Purchasing a starter/pre-constructed deck or 2 to play with friends will cost on average $40 – $60 for the year.

With the above in mind, most new Magic The Gathering players will end up spending in total approximately $400 – $500 in their first year.

Response from /r/magicTCG Reddit User

Admittedly, this is still more expensive than hobbies such as “drawing and painting” which has an average yearly spend of $359 per year.[3]

However, when we start to compare Magic the Gathering to hobbies like golf ($4260 per year[4]), or skiing ($2700 per year), the average yearly spend for an MTG player appears far less prohibitive.

Therefore, it is arguably not accurate to refer to Magic The Gathering as an expensive hobby, but it’s certainly not cheap, and the bills can rack up quickly as you start moving into the world of Magic’s competitive play and older formats.

How Much Does A Competitive Magic The Gathering Deck Cost?

On average, the cost of a competitive Magic The Gathering deck is $247. The cheapest competitive deck in most Magic formats is “Mono-Red” which is often less than half the cost of the average deck. However, prices of competitive decks in formats such as Modern and Legacy are significantly higher.

Magic The Gathering FormatAverage Competitive Deck Cost (2021)
Pauper$46
Standard$247
Modern$865
Commander$972
Legacy$4,033
Vintage$44,546
Averages taken from mtggoldfish.com[5]

The most expensive format by far is Vintage, where players can spend upwards of over $60,000 trying out different builds until they find something that works well enough against other similarly costed decks in the format.

Although, It should be noted that the number of Vintage Magic The Gathering players make up a tiny percentage of players worldwide, and although they certainly do exist, the cost of the format is not representative of MTG as a whole.

For Context: Over 10 years of playing Magic the Gathering and I’ve never played or seen a game of Vintage Magic in person before – So, it’s really not something you have to concern yourself with in order to enjoy MTG as Hobby.

If we look at the opposite side of the scales, we will find Magic The Gathering’s least expensive sanctioned format Pauper. The great thing about Pauper is that it is a format where you are only allowed to play with cards that are classed as “common” – the lowest rarity of cards.

This means building a competitive deck doesn’t cost very much at all!

Lightning Bolt, Mystery Booster Set

One of the most commonly played cards in the Pauper format is “Lightning Bolt” which only costs $2.10 per copy – For a card considered to be a format staple, that’s a bargain!

However, just like its incredibly expensive older brother Vintage, Pauper still has a relatively small percentage of active Magic The Gathering players participating in the format. Although the number of players is on the rise, there aren’t that many official competitive events dedicated for Pauper players.

As someone looking to understand what the average cost of a competitive deck within Magic The Gathering looks like, it’s best to look at the cost associated with competitive Modern decks.

Creating a Modern deck can be quite expensive, but the cost of one is still much less than you might think over the long term compared to other hobbies. While Magic the Gathering Modern decks will cost on average $865 and have been seen to hit prices as high as $2000, that cost is not a yearly occurrence.

You only need to buy a Legacy or Modern deck once, and then you can play competitively with it for many years without needing to worry about investing in any more expensive cards.

Response from /r/magicTCG Reddit User

If we assume that you purchase a modern deck for $900 and hold onto it for 5 years, which is not uncommon for Magic The Gathering players, that deck will have only cost you $180 per year – That’s $0.49 a day.

You may occasionally pick up some new cards here and there when the metagame shifts, or if you want to try something new, but a Modern deck will serve you for a long time.

The best part? Modern decks retain the majority of their value or even increase in value, so you may even be able to sell your deck for a higher price than what you paid.

Fun Fact: Selling my collection of Magic The Gathering cards helped me finance my move to Japan.

The bottom line is that evergreen formats like Pauper and Modern are not what makes Magic The Gathering an expensive hobby.

Yes, the initial upfront cost may appear steep for those new to Trading card games as a hobby. However, due to the resale value of Magic cards, players always have the option to sell their collection and recoup much of the cost later on while still holding onto the years of fun the hobby brought them.

Where Magic The Gathering truly starts to get expensive is when we dive into the world of standard.

Why Is Magic The Gathering So Expensive?

As a general rule, Magic The Gathering is considered expensive due to card scarcity and standard rotation. Card scarcity causes older cards to increase in price due to the high demand, whereas standard rotation requires players to buy new decks every year to play competitively.

Magic The Gathering’s Standard format has a “standard rotation”.

Standard rotation is when old sets stop being tournament legal due to certain new sets coming out.

With Wizards of the Coast (publishers of Magic The Gathering) releasing new sets regularly, it can be a little tricky to keep up with which new sets cause cards to become no longer legal in competitive tournaments. But just know, currently, standard rotation happens once a year.

Meaning, when rotation happens standard decks disappear overnight, and each player is forced to buy and build new competitive decks every time to keep enjoying MTG’s standard format.

The average cost of a Standard deck is $247 — it looks cheaper than Modern’s average deck costs initially, but you must remember the $865 Modern price tag is non-recursive. For the most part, you pay it once and that’s it.

However, if your hobby through Magic The Gathering revolves around competitive standard decks, you’ll see that it can become a very expensive hobby over the long term.

It’s easy to assume that you need to spend 4 years ($247×4) playing standard in order for the amount of money spent to be greater than paying for a modern deck ($865), but it isn’t that simple.

Unlike Modern decks, standard decks don’t retain their value and you are unlikely to get more than 25% of what you paid for if you decide to sell the cards after rotation.

While not always the case, it’s safer to assume money spent playing Magic The Gathering’s standard format as a hobby, is just gonedon’t expect to see that money again.

Response from /r/magicTCG Reddit User

This repeated cost contributes significantly to the average Magic The Gathering player spending over $1000 on MTG as a hobby every year, particularly if that person decides they want 2, or even 3 decks for standard – variety is the spice of life after all.

When considering Magic The Gathering as a new hobby, it is important to think about what type of costs you’re willing to incur.

I’ve tried my best in this post to provide some actual numbers and costs you can think about when trying to figure out if Magic The Gathering is the hobby for you or not.

Although I would have preferred to avoid using clichés, how expensive Magic the Gathering is as a hobby will depend on how you choose to be involved with this Trading Card Game. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time over the years with Magic The Gathering.

I can say for certain though, you should at least give it a try!

References

Nicholas Lloyd

Hi, I'm Nick, a professional writer living in Japan, and have been a part of the Trading Card Game community for over 20 years. I share tips, answer questions, and anything else I can do to help more people enjoy this wonderful cardboard hobby.

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