There used to be a time where a link was a link. Obviously, not all links are the same but it would count for something, even if it provided little value. How much water that holds post-panda, I don't know.
Quality over quantity any day of the week. The more relevant and natural, the better chances you have for the link passing value. It's easy to waste months and months of time chasing a high quantity of links. Earned links are the ticket and much more difficult to get.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Chinese Proverb