MTGFinance: opportunities, issues & expectations

By Elizabeth Rice (@ellieoftheveil)

The economy of Magic: The Gathering has become increasingly vital to understand for the average Magic player. A global pandemic has caused numerous disruptions in the supply chain, causing product shortages and unpredictable prices. The Magic product mix is likewise increasing in complexity, with more (and more varied) product formulations that are increasingly targeted at different levels of disposable income. Further, the Magic market is, and always has been, an unregulated one, so it’s easy to see how some people end up lost in all of the commotion and choose to stay on the sidelines. This is where MTGFinance can (and should) help. 

MTGFinance can be defined as the process by which players make or save money by engaging in the Magic market. Despite the controversy that may surround MTGFinance at times, the average player stands a lot to gain by learning more about this aspect of the hobby and how it can work for them.

While there are real and perceived issues with MTGFinance and related content, that does not change the fact that it is a persistent aspect of the game and something that other players and businesses are constantly participating in. This means that MTGFinance has a tangible impact on players whether they actively engage in it or not.

MTGFinance doesn’t have to be about generating a side hustle, attempts to “buy out” cards, or trying to take advantage of international arbitrage on a daily basis. If your goals are anything like mine, (to play as cheaply as possible), then you can still engage in MTGFinance content to your benefit.

Setting individual goals and having a realistic view of your available resources (both in terms of time and money) in mind is vital to determining which aspects of MTGFinance are most likely to be useful to you. 

A common mistake that many players make is not properly assessing their own resources and financial knowledge before acting on advice from MTGFinance content creators. Take me for example. Personally, it doesn’t make sense for me to try and spend hundreds or thousands of dollars speculating on Magic cards when I have thousands in student loan debt that can’t afford to be ignored if I misstep. Instead, I try and focus on content that helps me get cards at their cheapest, and only if I intend to play with those cards, leveraging only the parts of the content stream that make the most sense for my personal scenario.

Regardless of your end goal, if you decide to engage deeper with the magic economy, I advise a heavy dose of caution and critique.

How MTGFinance Fails To Expand Its Audience

MtG Art: Merchant of the Vale from Throne of Eldraine Set by John Severin  Brassell - Art of Magic: the Gathering

I believe that what prevents many from engaging with MTGFinance content is a vague sense of distrust and a perceived lack of transparency. This is compounded by the fact that more and more information from this side of the hobby is hidden behind paywalls, both by major retailers and MTGFinance services. A lot of players know they are at an information disadvantage and would rather not risk being made a fool of, instead opting to simply not engage. For this reason, players should demand that MTGFinance creators “go back to basics.”

When I first got into MTGFinance, I felt like I was constantly missing how content creators reached their conclusions. I didn’t understand what indicators I should be looking at or how to properly use the resources available to me. Instead of being taught how to fish, I felt like I was sitting on the shoreline waiting to be handed the catch of the day.

I ultimately decided to stop engaging with MTGFinance because I was tired of listening to advice and not fully understanding it. Even though I didn’t fully realize it at the time, what I really wanted were deeper explanations of selection logic and a more critical evaluation of those choices via data analytics. Why, I wondered, are certain content creators better at this stuff than others and how might better tools be applied to evaluating the circulating content in order to play and collect our game for less?

To be fair, some creators already do this. MTGPrice provides all new members with a lengthy Guide to MTGFinance and an ever increasing archive of evergreen articles as well as their  MTGFastFinance podcast archive. There is a lot of great content in that archive, but without a strong directory structure on their public facing site and access to some basic definitions and related tools, there is certainly room for improvement. The Brainstorm Brewery podcast has made a point of covering more fundamental concepts on their cast for players who are newer to this side of the hobby. I doubt they are the only ones who have picked up on how much people want to understand the basics before jumping into the deep end.

Still, I believe it would be extremely beneficial for MTGPrice and other similar content streams to provide a free, public facing directory or archive where players who lack basic financial literacy and/or understanding of Magic’s particular secondary market can go to review information that covers some basic concepts.

Players should also feel free to ask creators in the space how they got to their conclusions and recommendations. Anyone who is giving any sort of financial advice should be prepared for and understanding of being questioned. At the same time, players should be ready to support content creators that they feel are providing value.

Players should also be demanding about transparency and integrity. There is no doubt that just the mention of MTGFinance often leaves a bad taste in some people’s mouths, though we sometimes have trouble articulating exactly why. There is a genuine concern about being intentionally manipulated and misled that should be consistently addressed and for many players the very notion of engaging with their hobby on an economic level may simply seem utterly unappealing. There have also been issues with scams, early access to product information/leaks and questions of self-interest that have popped up here and there.

When I guested on the MTGFastFinance podcast, the concept of “talking up your own book” was brought up. For those who are unfamiliar with this term, it refers to a scenario where a trader, portfolio holder, hedge fund manager etc identifies a particular investment as a good buy without explicitly stating that they own the stock and stand to profit should more people invest and drive up the value.

The MTG equivalent of this is someone identifying a particular card as a good buy, when they themselves already own (or intend to own) copies. In the most cynical terms, it allows them to sell to the speculators now driving up the price rather than waiting for natural market demand to drive the price of the card(s) in question. This tactic may work especially well if the individual(s) have a larger audience that will exert influence on limited inventory in a short time span.

Does this actually happen in MTGFinance? Of course it does. There’s nothing and no one to tell those bad actors that they can’t try to work an angle, except us. Except players who engage and demand that content creators disclose how much they stand to gain. Some already do, and go so far as to state their conflicts routinely. Regardless, it should be an industry standard, as a means to building trust and reliability.

If a content creator recommends a card as a pick up that they already have copies of, does that mean they are trying to swindle you? Not necessarily. There could easily be valid reasoning to support their conclusion of the card being a good buy regardless of whether they own some copies. After all, if it is a good pick up, why wouldn’t they have some themselves? However, disclosing existing holdings allows the community the opportunity to make a more complete assessment and hold creators accountable should a negative pattern arise.

As long as people are uninformed, they are more likely to be misled by other uninformed people or taken advantage of by the better informed. If more people are educated as to how MTGFinance actually works, holding people accountable and weeding out miscreants would be much easier and better for the hobby overall.

The Right Knowledge Can Be Powerful 

The argument for players engaging deeper with finance related content is simple: knowledge is power. By understanding how the secondary markets work on a more profound level, players can make better decisions about what cards they buy and when, and better evaluate information they receive from others. As MTGFinance gets more complex, strong MTGFinance content that cuts through the noise and provides clarity is important.

Consider spoiler season. There is a lot of hype generated during this time, and a deluge of opinions on what will be standard or eternal format playable. Many players spend money on pre-ordering singles or sealed product. Depending on the accuracy of information on which they are basing their decision, determines if they have saved or wasted money.

Many content creators do not suggest buying during this period, because hype tends to inflate everything. Instead, it is a good opportunity to evaluate how these new cards may affect existing cards and strategies. 

Another reason to conscientiously learn about MTGFinance, and more specifically, the tools and metrics used to evaluate cards, is to know when something is a trap. There are a litany of examples of people discussing cards who are misinformed on how to read particular data, or are relying on you to be misinformed and react emotionally. I can personally attest to falling for this multiple times to the detriment of my wallet. 

Speaking of the cacophony of opinions on social media and accuracy of information, a run on Gaea’s Cradle was exacerbated in August due to such a misunderstanding.

This tweet was an emotional reaction to a poor evaluation of what was happening to Gaea’s Cradle. Many people admitted to panicking and buying copies because they thought a buyout was happening. Unlike with regular cards, Gaea’s Cradle does have Commander and Legacy demand backing it and is on the Reserve List, therefore it is more likely to stick at a much higher price than before and not retrace.

Cradle’s price had been increasing over the summer, hopping from the mid $300s to a little over $500 but sort of settling before this tweet was posted and climbing to over $800. However, this was just one data point from one website. At the time, there were much cheaper copies available on TCG and Ebay. The point is not to rag on @PleasantKenobi here. It is to highlight that if more players actually understood the tools and information available to them, and took the time to get the facts straight, they would’ve been informed enough to tell this person “look again.” Not to mention how many people would’ve saved money by not buying it while it was climbing.

MTGFinance content that has a strong focus on informing players about the tools available to make better decisions is worth engaging with. Even if one chooses to not engage from a speculation perspective, they are informed in a way that allows them to sidestep mistakes. That being said, there is work to be done when it comes to what information is being presented. 

Developing Your Game Plan 

Should you decide to engage with MTGFinance content, I would encourage you to develop a game plan for exploring this side of the hobby. If you enter the complex environment of MTGFinance without reflecting on what it is you want, you are more susceptible to take advice not relevant to you, waste time, and capital resources. 

The first and most important step in your game plan should be to determine your goal. People engage with MTGFinance content for a multitude of reasons: they want to buy cards for themselves cheaply, they are completionists or collectors, they want to speculate on card prices in order to increase their own income, they want to buy and sell cards as a small business operators, and the list goes on. Not all MTGFinance content serves all goals, so keep that in mind. 

When you are deciding what your goal is, you then need to take an honest and serious account of your own resources. This includes but is not limited to, your time, money, debt, existing MTG inventory, and knowledge. If you assess these areas honestly, you may find that you have to change your original goal to something more reasonable until you have developed your resources further. 

Once your goal is in place and resources assessed, start exploring content until you find the kind of content that helps you the most. Figure out what works. Ask questions. Observe. Then when you feel comfortable, go for it. I would highly recommend joining Discords if you can so that you have access to a community ready and able to answer any questions or point you in the right direction.

I was surprised to see how active several different MTGFinance Discord channels were. I am currently observing the MTGPrice Discord, Brainstorm Brewery, and Magic Financial aid. Each Discord is diverse in its channels and includes at least one channel where its either non-mtg focused finance related. Participants in all of the Discords are welcome to ask questions, and are usually greeted with positive and informative responses.

Having spent some time on both sides of the fence, there definitely seems to be a broadly held misunderstanding of what it is and is not about for most of the content creators and communities that focus on the Magic economy. Those misconceptions alone can be enough to make people think MTGFinance isn’t important or beneficial to engage with.

There is no harm in stepping into the space in order to familiarize yourself and learn something new. Nothing and no one can make you act on the advice being given. Besides, depending on your goals and available resources, some content is not going to be beneficial to you anyway. 

There is no shortage of MTGFinance content. Several podcasts, websites, and discords exist that include content for nearly every type of participant. Just make sure you understand which one you are and what goals serve you best.

Elizabeth Rice, aka @elioftheveil, is a content creator, writer and Twitch streamer with a focus on Magic: The Gathering.