An Introduction

I’ve been in some form of higher education for way too many years, but I can say with sure-fire honesty that I’ve learned one thing: Anything worth reading starts with an analysis of biases, so here’s mine.

I love the game of Magic: The Gathering. I think that at the end of the day we’re all here because of how much we love the game no matter how often we threaten to quit because it’s too expensive or WoTC has done something we hate. Like a drug addict, we always come crawling back needing the fix (but it’s never as good as that first time). This article is, in it’s own way, a Magic finance article. I’m going to talk about the secondary market of cards that people either love or hate and try to explain why it’s not as evil as you think it is (in fact it’s completely necessary). This is where my bias is important: I’m more interested in MTG as a collectable game than I am as a competitive player. I rarely play constructed formats anymore, even though I have three foiled decks sitting in my desk. I’ll also be upfront and admit that I get a thrill out of monitoring card prices and speculating on cards based on tangible data.

Why am I mentioning this?

Because I’m going to spend the next however many words trying to convince you that the secondary market is not evil. I know, I’ve lost about half of the people reading this now but if you’re still around I want you to read this to the end - I promise, it’ll be kind of worth your while.

Now that I’ve made that point clear, it’s important that I explain that I am a part of the MTGFinance world. Does that make me biased on the issue? Of course, but I’ve spent weeks now trying to move past that and develop a valid argument for the matter. The truth is, we’re all here for the same reason: We all love Magic and we all want to see it succeed. So I offer you this statement, whether you believe it or not:

Players need MTGFinance, and MTGFinance needs players.

Have I lost you yet?

Let’s Talk Finance

Let me start off by saying that I hate the term MTGFinance, but it’s still something we have to define.

MTGFinance is the idea the drives the secondary market of MTG. It’s a basic market of supply and demand, cards are either good and people want them - or they’re bad and people don’t (obviously this is an oversimplified example but this isn’t the point I’m trying to make). People are often quick to blame MTGFinance for card prices and multi-thousand dollar decks and formats. The most notably is the “lock-out” price of getting into Legacy which costs more than most people’s individual net worths. Players want to blame the people involved in MTGFinance, asking why they feel the need to charge such ridiculous prices, but the truth is that the price of individual cards goes beyond the people selling them. Actually, it goes even beyond the secondary market all together.

Think instead like this: An average in print booster pack costs around $4, give or take. In each booster, you have the opportunity to get any combination of 10 commons, 4 uncommons and a rare or mythic.

Let’s take rare with name X (it doesn’t really matter which rare it is) that you want. How many booster packs would you have to open to get rare card X? How much money would you have to spend to get rare card X? Now let’s add another level: everyone else also wants rare card X. You have multiple populations spending Y amounts of money to get rare card X. This is what defines the market currently (in a vacuum).

What about out of print cards? It’s been proven time and time again that regardless of how bad the card is (or how much the price declined while being printed) more than likely it will trend up eventually. The key word there is eventually - this could be in 6 months or 6 years. It’s all about how long you’re willing to wait. But it comes right down to this: cards are no longer circulating, so eventually the price will trend up by the sheer gravity of the market. This isn’t anything about buyouts or spikes or those far more complicated - and terribly annoying - bumps in the system. This is strictly the market being a living organism of it’s own.

While I’m on the topic of finance, there is another very important part of MTGFinance: the ability to trade up. This is the American Dream (or American Lie depending on what you believe) of MTG - the idea that you can trade a binder full of low value crap into a Mox. Websites like DeckBox and Pucatrade have made this their niche, a catalyst allowing low value cards to move opposite their gradient and be exchanged for one lump sum of value. Before this, your best bet was sending boxes of junk rares to your local game store for 5 cents a piece in the hopes that one day down the road you can turn your store credit into something of value - which usually ends up being a better deal for the store anyway. But with the trade market, cards are treated as currency and suddenly the door of MTGFinance opens even wider.

But Rachel, why is this important? This is important because suddenly your MTG collection can pay for itself. All cards suddenly have value, even if it’s mere cents. I see time and time again people using their ability to trade up or down in order to stay current: whether that’s trading into a newly rotated standard or moving formats without ever pulling out your wallet (well, maybe not quite that much but you catch my drift).

Let’s Talk Players

To start, I should mention that you can be a player and be involved in MTGFinance. In a way, I think it’s almost necessary that you are a part of both worlds, even if it’s just to dabble. Understanding your trade binder and the evolution of it’s value is important whether you speculate or not, and definitely important if you are trading into decks you play.

The more important fact, though, is that the secondary market depends entirely on the players. It’s true, if everyone stopped playing tomorrow, the market would collapse. Plain and simple. At the end of the day, card prices usually depend on what players are willing to pay. Original Dual Lands are prime examples: their numbers are limited and people are willing to pay a pretty penny to use them. A deck just won a big name tournament? Suddenly everyone wants to play said deck. This means the demand outweighs the supply, and card prices go up because players are willing to pay for it.

Now, I’m not calling players stupid or gullible, I’m just saying it’s a fact. The exact opposite happens when people aren’t willing to pay for a card. Remember when Narset Transcendent was $40? It didn’t stay that way for long because players weren’t playing it and people stopped buying it. Now, it’s a whopping $5.

Would you like to know a little secret? Players greatly outnumber MTGFinance pros in the current MTG world. If players (or just buyers) decided that they weren’t willing to pay $60 for a Misty Rainforest, sellers would have to drop the price. I can assure you, anyone seriously involved in MTGFinance knows this and is absolutely terrified it could happen.

Get to The Point Already

Alright, alright. The real meat of all of this.

Let’s get back to what I said earlier: Players need MTGFinance, and MTGFinance needs players. The whole point of me writing this shindig is because I wanted to make the point that the MTG secondary market is necessary for the survival of MTG as a game, and especially as a competitive game. When WoTC announced the concept of Zendikar Expeditions in Battle For Zendikar there was a bit of an uproar - the idea that WoTC had come out with the “super duper rare” after the already semi-successful “mythic rare”. People were rioting over the $200+ dollar foils that had been introduced to the market. However, the most important comment I heard was “WoTC is only interested in pushing packs”. This is what I want to highlight, and I’m sorry it took way too many words to get here.

WoTC wants people to open booster packs, and you should too. I bring up the fact again that we all enjoy and love MTG in our own way, or at least I know I do. Therefore we want the game to continue. We want to see the game be successful, and we want them to print more cards. WoTC makes the most money off of sealed product sales, not to mention the game stores who depend entirely on the profits made through booster pack and singles sales. At the end of the day, singles prices are based on how much people want them and how often they appear in sealed product. The secondary market is driven by how much product is opened, and in a way, vice versa. This is where Zendikar Expeditions was so unbelievable successful, it created a scenario where people wanted to open packs again. Every time someone opens a booster pack there is always a chance of opening the $20 fetchland, or now a $200 special foil. Suddenly people are opening packs by the boatload and WoTC is making money again. What people really failed to notice though, was that the more packs were opened the cheaper the singles got. When Khans of Tarkir was opened in search of fetchland gold all other overpowered singles got the axe, the prime example being Siege Rhino so currently sits at a whopping $1 even though he was the powerhouse card for standard.

So, how can we bring this all together?

The secondary market sucks sometimes. Cards go up in price and suddenly its multiple hundred to play the deck you want. However, the market can work in your favor as well. The concept of trading up has been made possible by the secondary market, even if you didn’t realize it. You can buy booster packs in hopes of winning the lottery and even if you pull junk it’s something to work with, in the form of trading up.

The truth is, the secondary market of MTG fuels the game. It encourages people to open packs and puts money in the pockets of WoTC. Now, I know that most of the Magic community goes against “The Man” (capitalism), but like I said before: I want Magic to survive. Beyond the idea of Magic surviving as a game, it allows for Grand Prixs and the Pro Tour to offer (fairly large) pots of money to winners. Admittedly, $40,000 to win a card game isn’t a liveable salary but it’s better than part time at a pizza joint.This is why the players need the secondary market just as much as the financers. The more money that ends up in WoTCs’ pockets, the bigger the tournament pots and the more drive to support the game. And this doesn’t even cover the careers that people have working for third party companies such as ChannelFireball or Starcity Games (which is a liveable wage) which are also driven by Magic’s success.

The Problem

The secondary market is not without flaws (much like the player scene, though that’s a whole different set of issues). Much of what I’ve discussed here is the Magic Secondary market in a Vacuum. It’s true, on occasion cards lose value when they should gain value, sometimes vise versa. MTGFinance is as much an art as it is a science, and you never really can predict with complete certainty what’s going to happen - then again that’s just finance in general.

I consider anything that would not happen in an organic economy to be a problem. I want to specifically bring up the most recent buyout and artificial card spikes. These are completely unhealthy for the market, and I don’t think they should be condoned at all. Don’t fall into the trap that artificial card spikes are going to cause you grief. Much like markets in any other industry, anything artificial should sort itself out one way or another if you just give it the time to do so.

The Solution

While the solution to the current “pay-to-play” expense isn’t clear, there is one thing that is: MTGFinancers aren’t your enemy. To an extent, they’re your best friend. MTGFinancers are the reason your cards have value, and, the reason you’re currently willing to pay $12 for that weird Thing in The Ice card. At the end of the day if you want to get the market under control, it’s up to the players to do so. Tundras are five bajillion dollars? Don’t play them.

I know, I know but it’s just so good. As cliche as it sounds - the market will always react to demand. Yes, some cards are in short supply and may have a form of price memory set, but it’s always a chain reaction. If people stop buying cards, cards fall in price.

Admittedly, nothing is ever really that simple (and again, we’re talking vacuums) but active players have the upper hand. If you want to see the market change, then take a stand.