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By: Nik83, Nik83
May 24 2010 1:48am
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 Often from my MTGO friends, I hear the same story. They're on a tight budget with Magic. They recite their wish-list for when they get their next 20 tickets, then get a paycheck and spend $50 on boosters and drafts - and don't end up with any of the cards they wanted. If that sounds familiar, don't worry. This article is meant to look at some of the habits that MTGO players get into, and try to keep those tickets from evaporating, feeding them instead into cards you'll enjoy and use in your collection for many months or years to come.

Most recently, a player explained to me that his "tight budget" was $50 a week. This shocked me, as for my first 3 years on MTGO I'd played on a budget of $15-25 a month, the fourth year (when I started speculating on extended season as you'll see below) averaged a ridiculously high (in my view) $100 a month - still half of this player's "tight budget", and this current year I've only bought 1 play set with new money - the rest has been from trading my existing stock.  I would imagine the majority Magic players spend $30-$50 a month on the hobby - still quite high when you consider other video games and entertainments, but ultimately not earth-shattering for most.
 
Getting that monthly MTGO money to go further - whether it's $15, $50, or $500! - can be achieved by a combination of curbing your impulse purchases and making smart investments in the market. Keep in mind that I'm writing as a primarily casual classic player, which is going to affect my purchasing strategy. Primarily, I don't care about losing access to extended staples for several months a year, and I don't need to keep my decks tournament level. However, even constructed tournament players can run with 1 or 2 decks, which are one time costs, and apply these practices to the rest of their MTGO experience. Let's take a closer look at some of the basics. 
 

DON'T CRACK PACKS

Unless you're talking a very large volume of packs, even MVW block or MED sets are unlikely to pay for themselves by opening them - and even if they do, you're more likely to go out and buy more until you do end up behind. For the first 3 years I was on MTGO, I never cracked a pack. Even after, the only ones I indulged myself in with were Exodus - I had found a bot selling them for 3.50, and they had already gone off sale in the store. It's unlikely that the MTGO community will make as big a price distortion mistake as ignoring Exodus in the near future - so don't assume the next classic set/packs will do the same. Packs are for drafting. Which brings me to my next point...
 
DON'T DRAFT (unless you're already really good)
 
Just like pack-cracking, I often hear clanmates talk about their 20 ticket wish-list right before jumping into a 4-3-2-2 draft and losing in the first round. Unless you're already very experienced in drafting, you stand to lose a lot of money. Looking at cardpool alone, drafting older sets often means a lot of essentially useless cards along with the gems, while drafting newer sets means even many of the good rares will be suffering from price depreciation. The truly good cards will bounce back up after drafting dies down a little bit, but you are quite likely to sell those to fund another draft if you get into this habit. Drafting is for many, very addictive. And there's that Catch-22: you won't get good at drafting unless you practice, but that practice costs an awful lot of money. I do have some suggestions for practicing drafting without paying the full 12-15 tickets, however:
 
Join the Beta
Apply to become a beta tester. On the beta servers you'll be able to test out fun new cards from upcoming sets, but more importantly you'll be able to join drafts that help you gain valuable practice in Limited with making the right card choices.
 
Draft on Paper
My alma mater used to have draft nights for only $7.50 (nonprofit, the cost of the packs straight out of the box). Many stores offer drafts for $10. Depending on where you live, this may be a cheaper way to get some practice in - especially if you already are trying to maintain a paper collection.
 
Draft Swiss
Swiss, or pack-per-win drafting, is a good option at first. You are very frequently going to lose money (if you get cards with no resale value, you're down the 2 ticket entry fee even if you win the whole match), but as opposed to 4-3-2-2, you're guaranteed to play every round, giving beginners a great deal more experience for each draft.
 
Even for drafters who consider themselves fairly good at the game, I would encourage a month of keeping track of your drafts. At the end of the month, see how much you resold your rares for, how many times you won, and how many you lost. Calculate your net loss or gain. If you're in the red and think, "man, I could have bought X and Y for that much," it may be time to step away from drafting.
 
FOCUS ON YOUR MANABASE FIRST
 
I often get yelled at in casual for playing a turn 1 Bayou. People recognize that a strong manabase is the foundation of a good deck, and a very powerful advantage against a multicolor deck that has to spend spell slots to seek out and fix its colors. Then why, why, why do I keep seeing people with horrid manabases and decks full of Maelstrom Pulses, Bloodbraid Elf, and other pricey staples? These cards are absolutely great to have, but I do see people repeatedly putting off mana purchases for sexier alternatives, and limiting the variety of the decks they can make. I understand that the MED duals have shot up to insane prices since I bought them, but that brings me to my next point...
 
IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THE BEST, JUST BETTER
 
The scenario is this. I'm across from a nice GW casual deck running basics, Wilt-leaf Cavaliers, Steward of Valeron, and so forth. They see Savannah, know its worth, but are instantly enamored. "I've gotta get that," they say, even though it's sometimes the cost of their entire deck. But everyone who has these thoughts should ask themselves: which of these do they need? Is it really only Savannah that fits the bill?

SAVANNAH TEMPLE GARDEN WINDSWEPT HEATH WOODED BASTION BRUSHLAND MURMURING BOSK STIRRING WILDWOOD 
 
Usually as the conversation continues, I find out that they don't own any fetchlands, don't believe that their deck thinning effect has appreciable value (a point I strongly disagree with), and don't plan to buy any as the 1 damage seems too steep a price. I firmly believe that the deck thinning effect of fetches is non-negligible, and that these are the first of the mid-range lands you should purchase - every deck I make packs between 7 and 9 of these, and it's worth the damage incurred. In addition, you'll never get cheaper fetches than now, when ZEN is being so heavily drafted.
 
But if you're not using fetches already, you really have no business buying Savannah. Beyond being an untapped source of both colors of mana, most of its $$$ cost comes from being both basic land types, and thus fetchable and subject to cards like Wood Elves. But can you really honestly not make do with a Temple Garden? If you're using Forest-finding critters, maybe Murmuring Bosk will work almost as well. Wooded Bastion goes great in 2-3 color decks, helping support mana-intensive spells in both colors so that Troll Ascetic can run alongside Knight of the White Orchid with minimal problems. And maybe you need some creature backup and defense against flyers - maybe Stirring Wildwood would be better in your mix (and it's under 2 tix). And finally, for the majority of players, packing 4 Brushland will keep you from mana frustrations and ultimately probably only cost you about 5 life - just fine in the casual room. It'll run you about $1.40 for the set. And at any rate - 
 
YOU DON'T NEED A FULL PLAYSET
 
One fellow who wanted Volcanic Island after seeing it on my side of the board immediately ran out and purchased a playset (incidentally, he didn't see the value in fetches until I convinced him to try them over the course of 2 weeks, so he was dropping them into a deck that didn't tutor islands or mountains in any fashion). Not only is this horrendously expensive and semi-wasteful, but even though I have a big collection, even I don't own a playset of volcanics. Short of a tourney deck, players simply don't need that kind of heat in the majority of their decks. 2X suits my purposes just fine, because of my fetches and the fact that in dedicated UR decks I don't mind running a few other options like Shivan Reef. I also play red largely as a support color rather than a dedicated axis in decks of 3-5 colors. 
 
But let's get away from the lands, even though they're illustrative of my point. Most cards have other options, and by going down to 2-3X you make more room in your deck for more flexibility. Sure, you may really want that Maelstrom Pulse x4 in your GB deck, but what if we did 2 Maelstroms and 2 Putrefy? Sure, you won't hit planeswalkers or tokens with half those cards, but instant speed can be an important boon in many games as well. Or Cryptic Command - surely something with this many modes can't be offset in versatility by another card. But what about Turnabout, carrying Cryptic's creature tap ability along with an Early Harvest for basics and nonbasics alike, an instant-speed untap of your army, an artifact-deck timewalk or reset, or a Mistbind Clique-esque land disabler on the upkeep? There are almost always options to mitigate cost while maintaining effectiveness in your decks, especially as you go further back in formats, from Standard out to Extended, and Extended out to Legacy/Classic.
 
DO KEEP 2 WISHLISTS, AND BUY SINGLES
 
Keep a wishlist for a specific deck, and an overarching one with staples you'd like to own. The new deck should be far cheaper and contain only a few of the new staples, so that you can buy it next time you put money into MTGO, play with it, and enjoy it, and you'll still be making progress toward your desired staples. We are goal-oriented creatures, and this practice will keep your sense of accomplishment intact.
 
DO WATCH THE MARKET

I can't stress this enough. I scan bot and store price lists and the classified section of MTGO at least once a day, and it only takes a few minutes to make the rounds. You'll be able to get an idea of how your desired cards fluctuate, and perhaps catch some good deals in the process that earn you a few tickets. Reading Magic articles (which you're already doing) also helps as it keeps your finger on the pulse of the game. Knowing what the next fad is, slightly before everyone cleans out the bots of the desired card, is definitely useful. 

MAKE SURE TO TIME YOUR PURCHASES IN SEASON
 
Connected with the prior point, but a bit different. This is, quite simply, how I've built up my collection. Every year, Extended season causes insane price swings in its staples. Buying some of these cards a couple of months before the prices swing high again is the most efficient way to build on your ticket base, as you'll be grabbing hold of some cards before MTGO gets swarmed by a number of paper players buying specific decks for PTQ qualification. In 2009 I bit the bullet and spent 300 tix gradually in October and November, buying some extended staples from bots. A diverse assortment and certainly nothing that would constitute hoarding - mostly I was indulging myself with playsets of cards I formerly had none of (Bitterblossom, Thoughtseize, Steam Vents, etc.). In January this translated into over 700 tix! Steam Vents copies I had bought at 5 were suddenly worth 23, while its Classic Volcanic Island counterpart was back at 15. And that's where I got the Volcanics from - selling Vents and using the profit to get my Volcanics. At the same time, I sold off cards like Chrome Mox, Bitterblossom, Thoughtseize, and most rav duals, and even now, I haven't bought these back yet. So you have to be a little flexible with your decklists and willing to disable some if it nets you the ability to build new ones and ultimately gain some tickets. 
 
THE WRAP UP
 
Building a good, enjoyable, playable collection on a budget often has more to do with willpower - keeping your desires to "get rich", "have cards now", and play status symbol rares in check - than we'd like to admit. Planning your purchases, doing your homework, and waiting for the right times to buy are an important part of getting ahead in this extremely market-based game. They're worth the trouble, but you have to be patient.

 

23 Comments

Yes! by Katastrophe at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 03:39
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Yes to everything! This is what I told my friends who were just starting MTGO. I also showed them the marketplace and the classifieds a little more and I got them hooked on mtgotraders. I said that for the 8 ticket cards, post "human buying (8 ticket card) 7", for the .25-2 cards, don't waste time trying to save 15 cents, just buy them from mtgotraders.

It's sad that "don't draft" is the truth, but it's so right. Digital drafts range from $11-$14 and that is steep. I've seen paper drafts of standard sets go from $8-10 as well. That seems to be the normal price. And if you live somewhere that taxes your MTGO payments, forget it. Fortunately, there are lots of addicted drafters are out there. Someone has to lose value when cracking a pack, and as long as it's not me, I'm happy. (Uh-oh! Heath doesn't want to crack packs of Exodus for his store either? You don't say.)

Most competitive decks don't even use 4x of dual lands! This is important for people who may be too intimidated to play Legacy. Me, I own 4x Savannah and 4x Taiga. So I'm building zoo, right? I built my own list first with 10 dual lands, 2 basics, and 9 fetches. Then I looked at the best zoo lists out there. They run 4x Kird Ape (I thought he was cut, heh) and 4x Wild Nacatl. Therefore Taiga and Savannah are extremely important with all those type-matters creatures, right? Yes, and no. Yes, you need those lands on the board every single game. The correct manabase? 3x Taiga, 2x Savannah, 2x Plateau, 10 fetches, 2-3 basics. And it works every single time! The fetches were just 3-6 last time I looked. I can't stress this enough: get fetches. You can play any 3 color deck you want with nothing but fetchlands and basics. Going up to 4 or 5 colors sort of requires shocklands or real duals with fetches, but the fetches are still the most important and most affordable piece.

EDIT: The dual land most often played as a 4-of is Underground Sea. The other 9 duals you might never put your 4th into any deck ever. And you didn't provide enough information about the deck thinning aspect. The deck thinning *is* useless in a mono-colored deck or a deck with 22+ lands. But outside of those parameters, well, someone wrote an article about it.

Wait now deck thinning is NOT by Paul Leicht at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 06:04
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Wait now deck thinning is NOT useless in a monocolored deck. The principle is the same no matter what kind of land you run as long as you can fetch it out. The less cards in your deck the more like it is to draw a given card. Hence Thawing Glaciers works nicely in monocolored decks. The practice is that people dislike thinning and avoid it unless it is crucial. That doesn't make it bad.

I agree with Paul here. Deck by The D.K. at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 10:38
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I agree with Paul here. Deck thinning with fetchlands means getting land to the field now. The less land in your deck and the more land on your field increases the chances of drawing spells when you need them. I'd hate to be at 5 green mana with a field full of little Elves, hoping to hit an Overrun next turn, only to pick up yet another Forest. (Of course I could hit another non-vital spell as well, but at least I can use it.)

The idea is, once you've hit the top of your curve, you just don't need extra land. Fetchlands help with that.

Deck thinning has a marginal by sanhedrin at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:51
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Deck thinning has a marginal impact on your draws, but not zero impact.

im sorta 50/50 on this. I by ShardFenix at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:13
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im sorta 50/50 on this. I definitely enjoy the fetchlands in dual or multi colored decks, and while they re also useful in monocolored decks they do seem less necessary.

Personally I tend to go by Nik83 at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 16:18
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Personally I tend to go lighter on the fetches in monocolor, but not by much. Generally I run 6, as opposed to 8-10 in multicolor decks. I often will use Flagstones of Trokair if I'm monowhite, just to get painless thinning - but the fact that this can leave you -1 mana on a turn has hurt me more than once.

I've seen decklists before by Raddman at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:05
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I've seen decklists before without fetches and always wondered why. I know some mono black lists in Legacy do not run fetches. I can only assume it is because of the one point damage when you are already feeling damage from Dark Confidant.

Yeah, that sounds about by The D.K. at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:13
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Yeah, that sounds about right. The 1 damage is negligible in most decks. Black decks with cards like Bitterblossom, Dark Confidant, and Phyrexian Arena being popular can lead to the justification of not running fetches.

I would totaly agree with by LOurs at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 12:05
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I would totaly agree with Paul here : to fetch often fills the same role in a monocolored than in a multicolored deck, except in black deck (too life greedy).
That said, it is important to realize that the fetchlands have drawbacks. The life drawback is well known, but there is another drawback not very famous. As well mentioned, fetchs are allowing to the deck to 1) get easier its colors, 2) to optimize the "non land" draws. True. But it also decreases the global number of mana & lands available in a deck. Running 20 lands with 10 manaland + 10 fetch means that the maximum amount of mana from lands simoultaneously available is 10. Runnning 20 lands with 20 manalands means that this maximum is 20. That is a difference that must be taken in count when you're deckbuilding, especialy regarding the cmc of the cards you're running : running fetch = to have your color faster, but to get less mana on board in mid/late game. In other words, if your deck is running 5cmc cards and a lot of fetch, you will almost always have faster the colors you need, but you would probably wait longer for getting your 5 lneeded and on the board to cast it. That is why almost every competitive decks have to play both dual & fetch and are not running only fetchs...

I really disagree with "don't by JustSin at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:49
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I really disagree with "don't draft" that isn't a concept I'd go by at all... if you're going to buy packs you might as well draft with them, sure you won't get a whole bunch of fantastic cards, but you can't go into it thinking like that, rare-drafting isn't what it used to be, but you still have the opportunity to build your own packs and not keep filling up at a certain card... not to mention you have the potential to win extra packs.. if you're going to open the packs any ways why not try to win more?

"If" by Zimbardo at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:33
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The key is "if you're going to crack packs anyway." Like he says, don't crack packs. Purchase tickets and trade them for singles. If we're talking about somebody who is not an expert drafter and wants to build up a collection, drafting is just a good way to lose money over time.

If somebody consciously decide to draft because it's entertaining and/or they are willing to spend some time and money to get good at it, that's fine.

What I'm suggesting is by Nik83 at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 16:28
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What I'm suggesting is actually only opening packs in the event of drafting. And I'm not even really saying, "Don't draft" - more like "don't draft if the funds diversion prevents you from building your collection the way you want." Like I said in the article, everyone who drafts should keep a tally of the cards they've gotten from drafting and the cost they've incurred - even if only for a month as an experiment. If it's worth it to you - awesome. But I'm guessing that a lot of people who draft frequently would be uneasy with trying that record-keeping experiment because they don't want to really see the raw data at the end of it.

I'm not even saying that drafting can't be profitable. I've kept a tally of my last 50+ drafts, and I'm very slightly ahead (~20 tix) when all is said and done. So for me, drafting is a moderate risk (I can be in the red within 2 drafts) but I do probably 3-5 a month.

At the core of it: doing your due diligence and seeing how much you're really spending the hobby, and seeing whether that's worth it to you. We have a tendency to inflate our successes and ignore our defeats in drafting/gambling/the stock market, so what I'm really suggesting is taking off the rose-colored glasses and looking at the numbers on how much drafting is draining your collection's potential (And I would guess for 90% of people, it is indeed draining).

@katastrophe by Element H at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:03
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I agree completely with what you said. The zoo deck I run is similar to yours in mana base but it definitely doesn't need four copies of each dual to run well.

I include:
(21 Lands)
1x Plains
1x Mountain
1x Forest
1x Karakas
2x Taiga
3x Plateau
1x Savannah
1x Horizon Canopy
2x Arid Mesa
4x Windswept Heath
4x Wooded Foothills

If anything, like you said, the only cards you really need four copies of are the fetch lands. I rarely have mana problems even when I get blasted by a wasteland or two. It's nice to have all four copies of the duals if you can afford them but don't mistake that you are required to run that many to be able to compete.

Agreed on all points. by Zimbardo at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 07:45
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Either I hope lots of people read this, or I hope they don't so I can continue to buy their drafted cards cheaply.

I gotta admit, drafting is a by The D.K. at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 10:43
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I gotta admit, drafting is a bit addictive, but I'm gonna have to curb myself. I can't go to FNMs due to my work schedule (4pm - 1am bleh, and I work every Friday), so I'm just gonna have to hold off on drafting until I get ahead in the tix count.

I do fully intend to put these practices into... practice... :P Favorited!

I know I might get flamed for by blau at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:48
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I know I might get flamed for this, but you could always do as I do. I have a credit card soley for online purchases (ebay, amazon, mtgo, etc). How did I get 1x of each original dual land? I bought one of each from MTGOtraders. Cost me $150 at that time, paid off the credit card over the next month and have loved it since. If you are willing to allot X amount of money per week to MTGO, why not use that same allotment towards paying off the credit card? Saves on complaining. I've actually been debating doing that to get me up to 4x of the duals I wish I had 4 of, like Tiaga and Savanah. Oh and Paul is correct. Deck thinning is a good idea no matter what kind of deck it is.... with the exception of monoblack that is using Dark Confidant or Ad Nauseum.

I should add to this, before anyone screws themselves with credit card debt, that I do not have a weekly/monthly MTGO amount. I spend about $100 every time a new set comes out to get the cards I want from the set and then that's the last I spend, with the exception of incidentals like commons and uncommons.

I do most by howlett23 at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 11:55
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Of these things currently and am trying to convince some of my friends that don't play much to get into it more. I can pretty much get these practices in use by them, but the big "missing" piece(which I'm sure is somewhere) is a list of staples, or must haves. I have my own version but we differ on main colors or types of cards, aggro vs combo, etc... anyone have a link or an article that contains this info? Or multiple links based on format, etc? Would be much appreciated...

Excellent Article... by Rerepete at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 12:12
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You forgot the M10 "Duals" eg Sunpetal Grove....

True! They are quite good. by Nik83 at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 16:19
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True! They are quite good. I'd recommend them for anyone in dual/tricolor decks. If tricolor they have to be bolstered by a good fetchland pool. I'd avoid them for 4-5 color.

The idea of purchasing cards by Raddman at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 12:18
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The idea of purchasing cards on a budget is what originally brought me to start writing on the site. I wanted to take a look at successful decklists and get an idea of how my purchasing could impact being able to get the most out of my purchase by streamlining the ability to play the most decklists possible. That was one long run on sentence ftl. Anyways, I highly encourage people to look at a decklist, compare those to other ones that fit your playstyle and start making purchasing decisions based on that. You will be a much happier player knowing you can play those Tarmogoyfs in 19 out of 40 Legacy decks as opposed to buying Pernicious Deed and only using them in say 3 decks.

I know I tend to impulse buy with cards I want to play in the latest decklist. Often times I get bored of playing the same old stuff and want to try something refreshing. If I remain patient I will eventually have the opportunity to play more decks thus giving me a great variety.

@Raddman by Element H at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:13
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I ran into that same situation not too long ago. I had set aside some extra money to buy a few staples for legacy. My main choice was 4x Force of Will (when it was around 60 tix) or 4x Tarmogoyf. I chose the goyf because of how many decks I could actually use. FoW is an amazing card but limited to only so many decks so I chose Tarm. You can throw him in just about any deck with green in it and it'll fit fine.

Probably kicking yourself by Raddman at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 13:39
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Probably kicking yourself about that decision after looking at the price of FOW. Both cards are staples, but by not buying Force you pretty much eliminate yourself from playing blue. As unfortunate as that is, it just happens to be the game we love. Either way, both cards will remain powerful in Legacy probably forever or at least until they print something better than Tarmo. Lord knows they won't be printing anything better Force of Will.

True enough by Element H at Mon, 05/24/2010 - 14:03
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Yeah, after FoW skyrocketed in price I wished I'd bought them but oh well... I also had to consider what I already owned when I made my decision. With Tarmogoyf I already had many of the cards I needed to build a good deck around him. If I'd purchased the FoW then, I would have had to spend even more money at that time to build around it (although in hindsight probably less since Force is over 100 tix now).

I'm out of luck at the moment but I'm sure that at some point I'll feel the itch to beef up my blue collection some more. Instead of buying cards here and there I usually save up a couple hundred bucks and buy things all at once.