Beginners Guide to valuing Magic the Gathering cards

By James Tann |  2015-03-31


A week ago Axel gave a large box of old cards to a friend. Her 8 year old has just taken up playing magic, so we thought giving him a big box of old cards would be a great present for him. When she came to pick up the cards we started talking about magic, and the subject of value came up. Mary could not believe that there were cards worth £30 you can open from packs widely available now, let alone the £1000's that some of the rarest older cards fetch from high end collectors.

PSA 10 Graded Alpha Black Lotus, value circa £60k

PSA 10 Graded Alpha Black Lotus, value circa £60k

Because of that conversation, Axel and I got to thinking that we have often seen kids that dont know the value of their cards, and their parents have even less of a clue. I personally have been collecting, trading and playing magic since 1994. I have a good idea of the value of most cards, but that has been built up over years. It can be a daunting task if you see the sheer volume of cards that one person can aquire. So we wanted to help by writing a simple article to explain how to identify and value magic cards. This explanation is intended to be a good guide, not a complete explanaion of every card and its value. There will be some exceptions to the guide, but for our purposes this will cover almost all of the people that the article is aimed at. 

About 50,000 cards. What I would consider to be the higher end of a normal collection.

About 50,000 cards. What I would consider to be the higher end of a normal collection.

Magic Card Rarity

So where to start? First off, I think a short explanation about the cards is needed. Magic is a collectable card game with artificial rarity placed upon the cards. That is to say, that when printing the cards they make some cards rarer than others to increase their value both in the game and financially. The most common way to buy cards is a "Booster Pack". With a few exceptions, these will be randomised 15 card packs that will include:

  • 1 Basic Land, these are so common as to be worth nothing.
  • 10 Common Cards, almost all so common as to be worth nothing.
  • 3 Uncommon Cards, average 10p value each.
  • 1 Rare or Mythic Rare card, This is the most likely to be valueable.
  • Sometimes 1 foil card (the shiney ones), A good chance to be valueable.

As you can see we can ignore most of the cards & concentrate on the rares, mytic rares & foil cards. To tell if a card is rare or mythic rare we look at the expansion set symbol. Almost all cards will have an expansion set symbol on it to help you identify it. 

position of expansion symbol

position of expansion symbol

The colour of this symbol will tell you what rarity the card is; common = black, uncommon = silver, rare = gold, mythic = orange-red / bronze. Foil cards will still have the coloured symbol from the rarity of the non-foil version. But all foil cards have a good chance of being valuable, so treat them all as rare.

Colour of expansion set symbols

Colour of expansion set symbols

If you are having trouble identifying the rarity of a card this way there is a very helpful website that contains almost all versions of every magic card that has ever been printed It can tell you very quickly the rarity of a card. If after searching for a card the image does not match what you are seeing that is very likely because there are different editions that have different art. There are links to show you every edition of the card on the left had site of the site. 

Pricing the Cards

Now we have identified the most likely cards to be worth money, we have to price them. There are lots of different places that you can see the value of a magic card, and they can vary a lot. I put them into 2 camps, Magic Dealers & Community. The magic dealers make a living out of selling cards, there are a lot of them and their prices will be high. They are a good tool to use to quickly check the value of a card, but it is unlikely that you will be able to get the same amount yourself. We will be more interested in the community side of pricing. Your best tool to see a realistic price for a card is Magic Card Market a large european trading site. I would caution buying and selling on this site unless you know what you are doing, but it is great for getting a very up to date price on any card. There is also a very helpful facebook group I am a member of that can help you value cards and set up trades. 

At this point it helps if you can start thinking of cards as stocks and shares. Every card can, and does, go up and down in value, sometimes in incredibly volatile ways. Each card can become popular for a new deck that is being used in competitions. This will always make the price go up. But the deck that has gone out of fashion will have its cards drop in value. Cards also get reprinted in new sets, this affects the price of the older print run of that card. My main point here is to make you see, that because a card is worth a lot one day, does not mean it will be in the near future. If you have a card that is valuable and you do not use it or need to keep it, you might consider selling it or trading it for other cards that you will use. Just make sure you know the value of your cards before you sell or trade.

Ethics in Trading

Magic is a competitive game, and trading was a part of the original game. I think a lot of players have lost their way in trading, seeing it as a competition and therefore ok to rip people off; this is known as "Trading for value". You can find players that are very nice people, but will trade cards from you at a very bad rate of exchange and not see it as wrong. 

I see it as a failing in the community, you should not let it put you off playing or being involved in the community but be aware that cards are valuable and you could get ripped off if you don't know what they are worth. When trading, don't every be scared to look up the value of cards on the spot. This is a common practice and there are lots of internet enabled devices all around you. Just go to a pricing site and check that the trade is balanced. If you are unsure, don't make the trade. 


I hope this has helped people, there is a lot more depth that can be learnt about the subject. But for the purposes of a beginner entering the world of magic this should act as a valuable guide. Always remember to:

1. Identify your rares, mythic rares & foils.
2. Price them on your chosen website. 
3. Never make a sale or trade if you are unsure.

This should keep you safe from those trading sharks :)