Going Mad – Fighting Words

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By: Derek Madlem

How about a break from Battle for Zendikar? Sound good to you? Yeah, me too. While I love talking about how much I hate stuff and think it’s terrible, we’ve had this record on loop for a few weeks now and it’s time to move on to something else. Don’t worry though, this weekend is Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, so I’m sure we’ll be back with all kinds of exciting price spikes and buyout targets next week (you know, #mtgfinance stuff).

#MTGFinance

There’s a label that’s loaded with angst and misconceptions these days. Of course, by now we all know that #mtgfinance is the publicly used brand for ripping people off, because that’s what sharks and thieves do – share their methods publicly. #MTGFinance is basically the Lehman Brothers of the Magic world, it’s an evil organization hell bent on leveraging card value credit swaps and killing the game of Magic by making cards too expensive for the average player to afford, thus crushing their dreams of ever being Magic’s middle class.

Or maybe, and this is just a crazy theory I have, #MTGFinance is…wait for it…just a ****ing hashtag used for categorizing information.

Yeah, that’s a crazy thought right? As it turns out, there are a lot of words on Twitter and most of them aren’t pre-filtered into easily read categories so Twitter came up with a system that its users could use to filter down information into easily searchable terms. NEAT-O!

The Revolution Will be Televised

Did you know that right now there are freedom fighters battling for the heart and soul of Magic? It’s true. They’ve posted compelling arguments all over Twitter and various forums about how #mtgfinance has ruined Magic, and you can tune in. Some of these arguments include “it’s a ****ing children’s game!”, and “**** #mtgfinance!”, “**** price gougers!”, and I couldn’t have said it any better myself. Well maybe…

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Here’s the thing, #mtgfinance is an all-encompassing term. It covers every financial aspect of Magic from the price of booster packs, to the cost of tournament entry fees, to the value of of cards contained within. A lot of people act like #mtgfinance is some new secretive Illuminati organization that’s manipulating the market, but it’s just a hashtag.

People get angry about things easily these days, and rabble rousers are great at making a system seem like it’s committing criminal acts when in reality, that’s just how things work. You don’t see people clambering all over social media crying out “**** chemistry!” every time someone uses their chemistry knowledge to make a bomb do you?

Tell you what, let’s skim over the economics of Magic (#mtgfinance) so that we all can better understand our enemy.

Retail

I’m sure many of you have worked in retail, and the concept is pretty simple: the retailer (we’ll call him Bob) orders product that they think will sell from the manufacturer and they put it on a shelf, a peg, online, in a catalog, or in wicker baskets to sell. Then someone buys it. Bob then uses the money from that sale to pay for his expenses and orders another widget to sell.

Unfortunately this is not the entirety of Magic retail because you, the consumer, don’t want to just buy packs from Bob until you get every card you want. You want to buy individual cards but Bob can’t order individual cards from the manufacturer so he has to get them from packs or people who have opened packs. Generally this is pretty easy, Bob just opens some packs and sells the cards inside for a little more than he would have made selling the packs. Why more? Because Bob has to pay Steve to open the packs and sort the cards.

This all seems simple enough until you, the consumer, wants a card that comes from a pack that Bob can no longer buy from the manufacturer. Now Bob has to find that card and buy it from a person so that he can sell it to you. Bob offers Greg and Dave $5 for the card, but they don’t want to sell it for $5 so Bob still doesn’t have that card you really want. Bob finds another guy with the card and he offers that guy $8 for the card and hopes that you’ll still want it when he has to charge a little bit more for it.

This is how the majority of cards go up in price. It’s not a global conspiracy, or a coordinated buyout by an army of market manipulators, it’s not price gouging; it’s supply and demand.

The reality of the situation is that you’re only complaining about this because Bob, and thousands like him, put their futures on the line investing in the idea of running a local game store. Magic is built on the backs of retailers and tournament organizers that simply would not exist if “stupid pieces of cardboard” weren’t worth money, end of story.

Jace, the Price Pariah

Usually as a round of rabble rousing occurs, there’s a catalyst and often times it’s our friend Jace. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was realistically the second card to go to an insane price while in Standard, but its the card that’s emblazoned in people’s psyche and for years we’ve been waiting for the fulfillment of “The Next Jace” prophecy that heralds the return of a really expensive card to Standard, preferably a creature or planeswalker (nobody called Bonfire of the Damned “The Next Jace”). With the return of the prophesied “Next Jace” to Standard, we have another round of people losing their damned minds because it’s obviously a conspiracy.

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James Chillcott

Just look at this guy, he’s wearing a suit. A SUIT! Clearly he’s manipulating the market price of Jace, and if he’s manipulating Jace you can bet he’s manipulating other cards too! He even said numerous times that cards from Magic Origins would be good bets because the set was not exactly a sales dynamo and they sandwiched it between the two biggest releases of the year. Obviously a criminal.

Travis Allen

Here’s another one! The nerve of this guy, wearing a suit [blazer -ed.] and getting kissed by a girl. A GIRL! You can tell by the sunglasses that this guy has something to hide. He also said numerous times that Jace was a strong card and a good buy; he’s been saying it for months! Obviously he was behind the price of Jace going up and likely the cause of numerous other buyouts.

Or maybe Magic Origins just wasn’t opened that much in paper and maybe it wasn’t drafted as much online because it’s a boring core set and everyone was busy quitting MTGO because of the new prize structure so there isn’t as big an influx of set redemptions as we’ve seen in the past. Maybe, Jace is just a great example of supply and demand in action.

Maybe there’s a reason that StarCityGames raised their buylist price on Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy above what they were selling the card for at the beginning of the weekend at the first Open in Indianapolis. I’ll give you a hint: Bob spent much of Saturday offering $30 on Jace and every single one of those people said no. Bob tried offering $40 and every single one of those people said no. Then Bob offered $50 for Jace and people reluctantly started to say yes.

Historic Perspective

So the year is 1995 and a slightly smaller version of myself is sitting in a local game store playing Magic: the Gathering. You know what was going to kill the game back then? If you guessed all the insane card prices, you’re correct!

Magic is no different now than it was then, or has ever been. It’s a game that costs money, it has always cost money, and will always cost money. The bulk of in-print Magic cards are cheaper and more accessible than ever, the only thing that’s REALLY changed to bring about this latest backlash is social media. You know how prices for cards changed back in 1995? A new issue of Scrye Magazine came out and you checked the price guide (Inquest if you were a savage).

We didn’t have Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Podcasts, or entire websites dedicated to providing content on the matter. It seems worse now for the same reason that crime and natural disasters seem worse than they’ve ever been: there are less barriers to that information reaching us. We have access to and are bombarded by more information than we ever imagined.

Reality Check

There’s this image in the community surrounding #mtgfinance because it’s become associated with a few bad apples. I admit, there was a rough patch there for a while as Medina wrote weekly articles about how to shark the trade tables or convince your partner that their card was worth less than yours, but we’re past that now. The trade tables have never been calmer than they are now, everyone has access to the value of every card ever printed right at their fingertips. We can cite a few a-holes at local game stores ripping off little kids for their Expeditions, but this has been happening as long as Magic cards have been printed and realistically has as much do with forum users as your average child pornographer has to do with Subway restaurants.

This Too Will Pass

While thinking about the recent angry backlash against a non-existent entity I was reminded of another internet boogeyman that was going to ruin Magic: the netdeckers. Those of you that have been around for a few years remember this insult being thrown around within the Magic community.

Players that turned to the internet for knowledge on deckbuilding strategies and trends were filthy netdeckers, and they were ruining “real Magic” for the rest of us with their unoriginal deck choices. Obviously these people were filth because they didn’t play the game the same way the rest of us did and they were always winning and stuff. “I just play to have fun” we said proudly from the 0-3 bracket while we stared covetously at their prize packs and the riches contained within. “The rich get richer” we thought as these privileged douchebags with too much time on their hands trounced us week after week. The nerve of these people.

Looking back, it seems ridiculous that this was ever a realm of thought, and you can still find this behavior to a lesser extent but the bulk of the community has moved on and just acknowledged that these decks are good and people are going to play them. In a couple years the finance aspect of Magic will just be another mainstream category like Limited or Standard.

The financial aspect of Magic is no different than any other aspect of the game. If you want better results, you’re going to have to put more time into it. Whether that time be researching, grinding marginal value in trades, reading Tweets, or just reading the occasional article. You get out of the game what you put in.

Knowledge Gap

Think of an activity, any hobby or pastime your heart desires. It doesn’t matter what you choose. Do you resent someone with more resources (hint: time IS money) to devote to that hobby doing better than you? Do you resent Michael Jordan for spending all that time in the gym to perfect his craft? Do you resent a master gardener because they’re able to grow better tomatoes and more of them than you? Do you resent your friends for buying more expensive golf clubs than you? Name any activity that doesn’t reward your for putting in additional effort and gaining additional knowledge.

Maybe it’s time to put down the pitchforks and rethink what you’re trying to accomplish. Someone else having more resources than you (time, money, knowledge, effort) to devote to something doesn’t mean that they’re ruining it for you. Basketball isn’t worse for the rest of us because Michael Jordan existed, why do we get so mad at other people having better cards than us?

Disclaimer

Before you guys start piling on in the comments section here accusing me of being some kind of industry shill, I’ll go ahead and throw out a disclaimer: I too have been upset, disgusted, or annoyed by the actions of people using the #mtgfinance hashtag, but those individuals are just individuals in a very large and very complex ecosystem. That jackass that has to get value out of every trade at your local store is just a jackass, he’s not indicative of an entire category of knowledge.


 

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21 thoughts on “Going Mad – Fighting Words”

  1. I need to change my site picture to one with a suit. Clearly, that’s the play here and my main takeaway from this article.

    1. Same, the problem is that the only suit I own was acquired from Goodwill for $10 and is bright blue.

    2. This man is a pumpkin ghost. A PUMPKIN GHOST! If anyone is haunting your trade tables and ripping you off, it’s him. Watch your back.

  2. You disgusting industry shill.

    I think the real problem with “#mtgfinance” is that people equate it, in their minds, to the guy(s) who ripped them off at some point in years past. The local, or semi-local, trade shark who kept binders of trade stuff and just blatantly gouged players on trades because the information wasn’t out there at the time.

    Can that perception be changed? Probably. The rise of smart phones likely means that you’re correct in saying that it’ll just be another category of people in a few years.

    1. This is exactly right, we all remember the first time we got sharked. The difference these days is that most of this info is out in the open so that the average person can understand what’s going on at the trade tables.

  3. Ok, the perception may be wrong. But it’s still there.
    Personally, I’m confused by this article. It seems you have a message for a totally different public than the readers on this site.
    What the readers want now is: how to change this perception.

    lately, I’ve seen some things that have the opposite effect.

    In the public discussion about price gouging, mtg finance faces were acting like elite smart guys, saying everybody they are wrong.
    The message even I got was: “we are smart, we know all about economics, and everybody else is stupid!”

    That’s not how you are convincing people, but the opposite.

    Maybe an article about the diplomatic skills would be good. It was a trend last year (many articles about being friendly to your future customers).

    1. One of the benefits of not being behind the paywall is that I can use social media and sharing to reach an audience that is not a regular #mtgfinance user.

      But for the most part, you’re right that I am mostly just preaching to the choir. But part of fighting rampant misconceptions is arming the people that encounter those misconceptions with words and ideas that they can take with them and use…and sometimes I just like to whack the hornet’s next with a stick and see what comes out.

  4. “You get out of the game what you put in.”. Out of everything you said, this is the key phrase. The rest is just noise. For me, I ignore the noise and stay informed of the MTG environment in every aspect. The very reason I read MTG Finance.

  5. apparently #mtgfinance is a place where has morphed to a place where they naysay 1cmc colorless card that has synergy w/colorless entering a colorless block

  6. OMG, if you look at he reflection of the glasses you can clearly see the hand of a guy taking a selfie. I feel that is more ground breaking than the Jace price spike.
    Seriously, a 2 CMC card played in all four formats, that is easily $80. Just look at Snapcaster Mage. People are pissed that instead of putting away some money to pick up cards in this boat, they play the pack lottery with MM2015 and lose miserably.
    Jace hasn’t even won the first two major tournaments since the new standard and I am pretty sure the two decks that have won don’t cost that much (outside a new Planeswalker and a Command that has been out over six months and was at one point sub $5 and modern playable). Thank god Dromoka’s Command was reprinted in a supplemental boxed set or else that card would be worth $20+ right now.

    1. W/G is well over $400, fully built.

      $100 for Raptors
      $60 for DenProts
      $60 for Heaths
      $20 for Vistas (assuming 3 of them)
      $30 for DroCo’s
      $60 for Hangarback
      $140 for Gideon
      $60 for Nissa

      Etc, Etc.

  7. they say it’s a game for kids
    but I’m a fuckin adult
    and we bout to go Bolt, Snap, Bolt
    for 6 points of damage,
    My rhymes made to order
    like a Subway Sandwich

  8. There’s an aspect to this that usually gets overlooked as it doesn’t affect most of your audience.

    WOTC runs a very effective trade restriction scheme that prevents the export of MTG products to other counties. Given all the Free Trade agreements that get signed, I’m wondering if this is strictly legal.

    Anyway, the net effect is that an MTG booster costs $7 in Australia, so basically all our prices are 1.7 to 2 times the US price.

    The problem is that there is a perception here that any retailer who charges more that the SCG price is somehow ripping off the poor player.

    Given that there are very few sources of price information, it seems reasonable to use something like SCG or TCG prices as a basis for personal trades. The demand factors underlying those prices are probably going to be pretty consistent world-wide.

    However, for the retailer selling singles, the US based prices probably bear no relation to reality. In any market outside of the US, the supply elements are going to be radically different.

    Firstly, the underlying cost of the cards is going to be much higher. Secondly, the market place is was smaller, so the supply of any particular card is going to be significantly lower, again pushing up the price.

    To add to the mix, we also have significant barriers to importing single cards from the US in terms of high shipping costs and the higher risk of loss or damage.

    So basically, if you think you have a problem with the perception that retailers are price gouging in the US, have a look at the added problems for everyone else in the rest of the world!

  9. This is why I wouldn’t ever get paid to be a writer. If I was told to summarize and give a conclusion to this article, it would be short and sweet, but not really all that sweet.

    The summary is that people are ignorant and lazy and the conclusion is, is that when they start squawking and its completely apparent they don’t have a clue what they are talking about, they are better off being left to themselves to contemplate conspiracies while we engage in the kind of ignorance that brings bliss, by not paying heed to their malarkey.

  10. The favorite pastime for Americans is not baseball (as it was for 75 years), or football (which it purportedly is now), or even MTG (which is ONLY apropos for this audience).
    It’s complaining.
    Complaining USED to be something you did while sitting on your front porch, with your only audience being your family. Then, throughout the 20th century, this moved inside, to the living room, in front of the TV. Even with this shift, the complainers’ only audience were those within earshot. The big paradigm shift came in the 21st century. When proprietors of businesses based on click revenue realized that customer participation fueled profits. “I will visit a website, but only if my opinion, the RIGHT opinion, will be heard by thousands more people! Then I will feel smart, and not have to deal with the backlash if what I said (god forbid) wasn’t smart.”
    The takeaway from this article for me is that only schlubs (like me, obvi) looking for validation write in internet comments sections. If people had valuable things to say (how capitalist of me to bring up VALUE), then they would write a blog themselves and people would pay to read those things.
    Haters gon’ hate. It’s very easy NOT to read the comments section. It’s very easy to NOT read reddit. We CHOOSE to what we give our attention. So let’s all just choose to ignore the un-productive comments (that provide no VALUE to us), and *spend* our time and money on the words that provide us value.
    You’re welcome. I accept Paypal. 😉

  11. Good point said by dave, “If people had valuable things to say (how capitalist of me to bring up VALUE), then they would write a blog themselves and people would pay to read those things.”

    ————————————————————————

    Thats why we started DayTradeMTGO bc we do have Valuable things to say and we are going to write a blog ab it & charge people to read it.

    Capitalism at work

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