Finance in my pants.

Today’s task is to talk about a subsection of a niche interest. The goal is to put it out there in a way that makes it relatable or at least somewhat interesting. I know I like learning about things that’re outside my scope of experience and maybe you do too. I’m notoriously bad at explaining things without meandering or drifting off into incoherent grunts, stuttered half-words and swivets of emotion so this is a challenge for me.

Today I’m gonna talk about Magic the Gathering finance and try to make that accessible. I don’t expect 99.4% of you to care, but possibly you’re interested in why I do?

If you do, let’s hear a rousing “Le-on Macduff!”

Magic the Gathering finance is something I had no interest in for years. The basics go like this: Because of supply and demand, some cards are worth more than others. In a literal dollars for cards capacity. Magic has a colossal tournament scene and you win these tournaments by making the best decks, naturally. Most decks have 60 cards. The maxiumum number of all cards except basic lands (the fuel to run your deck on) in your deck is four. The idea here is consistency. If you have four of a card in your deck of 60, you’re more likely to draw it than if you only have two.

Magic has 20,000+ cards, so there are a shit-ton of strategies that counter each other. It’s like a game of rock, paper, scissors, except each player is MacGuyver. You do what you can with what you have. There are different formats where certain sets of cards are legal and aren’t. The reasoning here is that the wider the card pool, the more options. The “Vintage” format has the widest pool, like MacGuyver having access to Batman’s utility belt (anti-shark spray and all). “Modern” is like arming MacGuyver with a Swiss army knife. “Standard” is like giving him a spork. Because of the available card pools and power levels, different cards rise to the fore. Strategies change all the time as people try to counteract dominant decks.

What often happens is that a previously unused card will turn out to be a very valid answer to other dominant cards. It’s a lot to keep track of, so players don’t necessarily have all the available cards available at all times. When a card turns out to be really strong out of nowhere, players scramble to get their hands on copies. Supply and demand. You get massive price spikes on cards that were previously worth nothing. I don’t watch much TV any more, but the constant yoyo-ing of card prices is like watching a soap opera with thrilling underdog victories and salty losers. People put a lot of real life money into speculating or buying out these cards. I’ve never been interested in stock markets before, but apply those principles to one of my hobbies and I’m suddenly glued to the screen.

A few months back, one deck came out of nowhere to dominate the Modern format. Modern Eldrazi. A deck with a good win rate might make up 30% of the top finishes in a tournament. This deck was around 60-90% top finishes. It was quick, brutal and hard to answer. Everyone rushed to either beat ’em or join ’em. In the top decklists I noticed one common card that hadn’t been played for years: Simian Spirit Guide. It’s a card with a very distinct ability, the definition of short term gain.

When it was in print (2007) the card was worth maybe 20 cents. I picked up a playset (four copies) and hung onto them just in case I wanted them for a deck. Years passed and nothing happened, then this Modern Eldrazi deck exploded and everyone wanted Simian Spirit Guide. It had been out of print for nine years, so it was hard to come by. Funny thing was, I had those four copies lying around that I’d gotten for free all those years back. I wasn’t gonna play them, so I wondered if I could cash in on their sudden rise.

Card stores often have a buylist. As you’d expect with a name like “buylist” it’ll list the prices at which they’ll buy specific cards. Usually they’ll buy at 50-60% of their sell cost or give a higher rate of store credit. I looked up the buylist for a few Toronto stores and saw that A&C Games had a great buylist price. I grabbed my copies and brought them into the store.

So keep in mind these were four small pieces of cardboard I’d essentially grabbed for free and had kind of forgotten about. For years they were worth about 50c each. I traded them into the store for $9 of store credit. Each. $36 store credit for very, very little work. They put them up for sale for $12 each.

The fun part is that the deck they were a part of got brought down. The cards that made the deck so dominant were banned and it became beatable. Simian Spirit Guide has since slunk down to a $7 card, but I never really cared about the card in the first place, so I’ve made a cool profit of around $35.

Theeeeen I used that store credit to fuel the construction costs for another deck I’m working on with creative financial restrictions, but that’s a different story altogether. I’m sure you’re suuuuper interested in that.


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