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Why Magic Cards Are Worth So Much September 5, 2009

Posted by James in : all, random, theory, speculation , trackback

There at least seven main reasons that Magic cards are worth so much money:

  1. The pictures are good.
  2. They are fun.
  3. The abilities are powerful.
  4. To get prizes.
  5. To become the best player!
  6. Because they are worth money!
  7. Supply and demand.

I will examine each of these reasons below.

The pictures are good.

The cards with good pictures tend not to be worth much more than other cards. Although good pictures don’t raise the value of individual cards so much, it does raise the value of the game as a whole. Without good pictures, the game wouldn’t be as fun to play. Imagine if all the cards were just white pieces of paper with text on them. That’s not so impressive.

Part of what makes Magic fun is the atmosphere crated by the cards. Looking good is important. That’s why when I make my own Magic cards to play with, I try to make them as good looking as possible and I try to find the best artwork I can. I end up spending more time finding artwork than thinking about what cards should do.

They are fun

doubling seasonSome cards are worth a lot of money just because they are fun. Doubling Season, for example. However, I don’t think the level of “fun” of each card usually determines its value.

However, how fun the game is overall has a huge impact on the value of cards. If the game is fun, then the cards will be worth money.

They are powerful

Some cards are needed for the game-winning decks. Those cards tend to be worth a lot more money than usual. In fact, this seems to be one of the key factors in determining how much cards are worth. No matter how fun the card is or how good the picture is, if it is necessary for game winning decks, then the value can go up quite high.

To get prizes

We need the most powerful cards to win in tournaments to get prizes. The bigger the prizes are, the more the cards tend to be worth. The more big tournaments there are, the more the cards tend to be worth.

To become the best player!

Big tournaments have more than a prize. It has the pride involved with winning big. It also has potential bragging rights and respect. If you are good enough, players will ignore your weaknesses and want your help to improve themselves. This isn’t just about worrying about what others think about us. It can also be about being a leader, a teacher, and improving ourselves.

Because they are worth money!

This might sound like a circular reason, but Magic cards are worth money “cuz we say so!” If one person is willing to spend a lot of money on cards, then we will want to get the cards for the least amount of money we can to sell it to whoever wants to buy them.

This is similar to the reason that money is worth money. One day everyone might say, “I don’t want dollars! I just want chickens!” If that happens, everyone with money is screwed. Lucky for us, this will never happen. We have all agreed as a society that money is worth money. That agreement is good enough.

Magic cards are now worth money just like money. Magic cards in a sense are dollar bills because we all agree to treat them that way. We might worry that someday Magic cards could all become worthless and no one will want them anymore, but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

The fact that people treat Magic cards as dollar bills reinforces our trust in them. We can feel free to spend hundreds of dollars on Magic cards because we know that we can just sell them off when we are done with them. We aren’t worried about them becoming worthless.

Supply and demand

Supply and demand is the main factor in determining how much anything is worth. One unnatural feature built into the game is rarity. The supply is lower for rare cards, so rare cards are worth more. This is a huge factor in determining the value of cards.

“Demand” is a much more complected issue, but I think the six other factors mentioned above cover the demand aspect pretty well. Rare cards that are powerful tend to be the cards worth “too much” money, and that has some connection to tournaments and prizes. The game as a whole is worth more because of great artwork and because the game is fun.


We know the real reason that makes Magic worth money is that the game is fun. If the game wasn’t fun, then no one would want to play anymore.

The other factors are mostly just artificial attempts at making Magic profitable. Tournaments can make the game even more fun, but high value prizes can artificially raise the value of the cards. If the game wasn’t fun, but you could win a million dollars in a Magic touranment, then people might still play it anyway. Someone might think, “I hate Magic, but I want a million dollars!”

There is one important exception: Powerful cards. They are in a sense “fun” by definition. Part of what makes the game fun is being powerful, or having a powerful deck, or doing something powerful during a game.

What makes a card powerful? The logical significance of the card within a game context that makes it easier to win. We have names for various kinds of logical significance: A powerful ability for the mana cost, card advantage, flexibility, and so on.

Ultimately I believe it is our enjoyment of various logical powers within the game setting that make the cards worth money. We can often rationalize the logical power with real life. For example:

Although our rationalization of the cards adds to the flavor and the fun of the game overall, just like the artwork, it is not the ultimate reality of what makes us like the cards, which is the logical significance in the game setting.

This is why Magic is an intellectual game. It requires people to value the logical significance within a game setting.

Whether or not that value should be translated into dollars is up to us, but it was just a natural progression based on human psychology. A card has a value to us in terms of winning, therefore in terms of enjoyment, therefore in terms of money.

This is the first time something has been given such a high dollar value based almost purely on its logical significance, which means that Richard Garfield invented an entirely new way of making money. An entirely new kind of product to sell. (Not just a game, but specific objects with logical significance worth money based on their significance.) We don’t even need the paper cards to assign them a dollar value. Magic Online “digital cards” are worth money for the same reason.


1. Recoculous.com: Magic the Gathering Articles » Wizards of the Coast and Profit - September 13, 2009

[…] Increasing the value of Magic cards in general is a great way to get us to buy more cards. I have already mentioned some simple strategies that Wizards of the Coast can use increase the value of Magic cards. For example, it can use good pictures, make sure the game is fun, give us powerful cards, provide us with tournaments, and provide us with large prizes. These are all simple enough and there’s nothing objectionable about them. Wizards of the Coast needs to keep the game fresh and exciting in order to keep profits up. This can be done by doing a better job at designing sets in general, but it can also be done with simple tricks: For example, Making powerful cards or inventing a gimmick. We already know why we want powerful cards, so there’s no need to talk about it. Gimmicks are new elements of the game, such as hybrid mana or flip cards. Powerful cards and gimmicks can be fun, so there’s nothing really objectionable about them either. […]

2. michael - September 15, 2009

There is an 8th reason…the collectors and reserve list.