The Problem With Experience

By: Cliff Daigle

I should check prices a lot more than I do.

I suffer from a problem of price memory: I know what a card was worth at a certain point, and I am not always diligent in checking prices in the moment. In this, I am not alone. It’s about more than being on top of whatever the latest price is. It’s about recognizing that because a card had a particular price for a while, I remember it as being that price…even when it’s not.

As someone who’s been playing Magic for years upon years, sometimes I’m really taken aback by what some prices have gotten to. Hymn to Tourach

I sold 100 copies of Hymn to Tourach to assorted buylists last year, and I can only laugh when I see Fallen Empires packs selling for more than a dollar. I understand that Hymn is a card that is relatively rare and quite powerful, but I have vivid memories of Fallen Empires being a set that was vastly overprinted and incredibly worthless. Why else would I have had so many of them from so long ago? Thank goodness I never throw out old cards, and thank goodness my wife keeps everything organized.

Such price memories are from more than 15 years ago, but they still shape my interactions. I have a similar mental block on dual lands: I have trouble seeing that any are more than $40, because for a long time, they were that much or less.

I’ve traded for cards at a certain price because I felt sure that’s what they were worth. After all, that’s how much they had been for the longest time! But when I get home and review my trades, I get annoyed to find out how wrong I was.

I’m a cautionary tale. When you don’t check prices during a trad, it can come across as very egotistical, even belligerent. More than once I’ve assigned a value to a card, only to have that card be MUCH higher than I remembered. At best, that makes me look like a fool who can’t remember basic financial info. At worst, I appear to be some sort of slimy shark, undervaluing the contents of someone else’s binder.

We’re creatures of habit, and those habits can cause us problems. I try hard to make sure that I check prices in a trade, for my benefit and theirs. I’ve learned to qualify statements about price: “I looked a while ago and it was $5. I’m not sure if it is still that price.” Foil

This sort of memory applies to prices, and it applies to card evaluation as well. In many cases new cards do not compare favorably to old ones, and that may lead us to make mistakes regarding value. I did this with Primeval Bounty, and I still evaluate every counterspell in light of, well, Counterspell. (or Dismiss! Man, I am glad I never have to play against Dismiss, but sad that I won’t ever get to play that in Standard again.)

I have learned through experience that most of the time, my memory of prices is on the low side. I forget that Magic has grown at an incredible rate, to the point that for years, each big fall set was the best-selling set in Magic’s history. That’s amazing for a game twenty years old. I don’t account for the sheer number who get introduced to this game and dive right in, building Standard and Modern and EDH and Cubes and snapping up all sorts of older cards.

My point is that when you’re trading without checking prices, you feel in control until you turn around and find out that your Urza’s Legacy copies of Rancor are significantly more pricey than any of the newer printings. If you’ve recently reviewed and memorized price points, work from memory. If you’re like me and have a difficult time keeping it all straight, bookmark on your phone and let us keep you informed.