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).
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.