So we're in the middle of a recession! Your stock portfolio's starting to look like your collection of Pale Moons. You might have lost your job, or just graduated from college and are having trouble getting that first career started. Your wallet's seeming lighter than it's been in a while, so it's time to tighten the belt, sell your collection and move on with your life, right?
Come on. No gamer worth his cardboard quits his game because of what happens on Wall St. If we here at Quiet Spec have anything to say about it, you'll keep gaming until your portfolio starts looking more like a Vintage deck than a stack of Magic's worst rare. Let's take a look at what you can do to keep your Cabal Coffers stocked to the brim and ensure that you're seeing more green in your pocket than you did at Pro Tour: Berlin.
Just like building a deck, there are many ways to structure your Magic playing and buying habits to ensure that you spend the least money while getting the most game for your dollar. Smart trading, good money management skills and social networking are the pillars of playing Magic on a budget, so let's jump right in!
Cash is the most important resource because cash can get you anything. That makes it very powerful, so therefore, Cash is king. Use your cash sparingly! Money is different than cash. Cash is money you have access to right now. The guy at FNM with a spare Cryptic might not need anything from your binder, but he can probably find a use for a 20 dollar bill. It's also likely that he doesn't have a place to swipe a debit card (and even if he did, would you really want to?)
The only place a Magic player is forced to spend cash is when he enters a tournament. TOs don't accept much of anything else so when prepping for a big tournament, ensure you set aside cash for the entry fee. Without that, your big trip is over in a hurry. Cards can be traded for, sealed product can be won, but tournaments almost always require a crisp 20 dollar bill.
You want to have cash on hand at all times, because everyone need it. Why? Because they didn't set aside their 20 bucks to pay their fee! People who need money will often give you better value on their cards because they have an immediate need. Remember - if you're at a tournament, follow the rules that the TO sets. If they say no buying or selling to other players in the tournament hall, don't do it! You might get away with it, but there's plenty of room in the parking lot or your hotel room to transact business. Abide by the rules and you'll be following another important rule regarding networking, which will be fully covered later.
Now that you understand the value of the almighty Benjamin (not Bleiweiss, the other one: Franklin), let's talk trading. The best way to get value out of your trading is to understand that everyone has their own value systems when it comes to pricing out their cards. It's your job to understand and respect them all. This is one of the single most important lessons to take away from this series, so here it is again: Everyone has different systems of valuation in Magic. It is your job to understand and respect them all. Beyond the nebulous concept of "doing the right thing", understanding your trading partner's value system is extremely profitable. Finding the disparities between your value system and theirs is what enables profit. Trade with people who have cards you value highly and want cards you do not value highly. Seems pretty straightforward, but the hard part comes from the derivation of these values. Before we can capitalize on discrepancies in personal value, we need to have our own value system.
This pricing model uses a system of tiers so you can easily figure out where your card belongs. Think of it like a caste system for cardboard. Remember, no card is ever confined to its starting tier. Many of the best deals you'll make will come from a card jumping up in tiers. Check out Swans of Bryn Argoll for an example of this. This tier system is for Standard cards, just to get you started. A later edition of this series will cover things like Legacy Power Commons, which is actually the best source of income in Magic, period. Check back in later for more on that topic.
Tier 1: A card that can be resold quickly, easily, and for a significant sum of money. These are your Elspeths, Crpytic Commands, and Maelstrom Pulses. They usually fetch 20 dollars and above, and maintain their price for the duration of their legality in Standard.
Tier 2: T2 cards are still easily resold, but not for as much money as T1 cards. These are the Banefires and most of the dual lands that see play in Standard. They're usually worth about 10 dollars a piece and there's always a market for them. You can usually trade them 2-to-1 for Tier 1 stuff. Sometimes you'll see this stuff jump up to Tier 1, but it's rare. Noble Hierarch just did it, but it remains to be seen if it can maintain its Tier 1 status.
Tier 3: Or, where cards like Howling Mine and Broodmate Dragon live. These cards aren't played in as many decks, nor are they automatic 4-ofs when they're played. They're in popular decks but they don't have the imperative that the Tier 1 cards have, nor the power that Tier 2 cards have. They range from 5 to 7 dollars, and when a Tier 3 card surpasses 7 dollars, try to understand why. It might make the jump to T2!
Tier 4: The Quasi-Crap Rare. Tier 4 cards would be bargain bin fodder if there wasn't a sideboard using two of them, or a Timmy player that loves them. The current poster child for Tier 4 is Telemin Performance. The card has limited, but useful, applications in the current Standard metagame, and casual players just go bonkers for it. While they're not expensive, it's easy to trade this to the right player at Tier 3 value. Usually, they book around 2 bucks. Good uncommons are usually worth a little bit more than Tier 4 rares, but only rarely do they make it up to Tier 3. If you can trade a T4 rare for a top-notch Uncommon, you ought to.
Tier 5: The Crap Rare! You can see an example of this at the top of the post. These are cards that no one wants, no one uses, and are total garbage. You can get them for under a buck a playset online, and usually get them as throw-ins in trade. Most people don't want them in their binder at all. Any value you get from a Tier 5 card is good value. It's good to keep these in a drawer somewhere because cards like Flash and Lion's Eye Diamond used to be way down here. It costs nothing to accumulate these cards, and when you manage to get value from them, it's like finding money on the street.
In summary, the ratios break down like this:
5 to 4 - 4::1
4 to 3 - 4::1 and 2::1 depending on the card
3 to 2 - 2::1
2 to 1 - 2::1.
Hopefully this will give you a rough idea of how to value things. Now, the tiers really only apply in card-for-card trading.
When dealing with cash, cards below Tier 2 lose a TON of value so always try to "trade up" to ensure liquidity of your assets. It may seem like trading 4 rares for 1 is losing value, but think of it like "buying" a quarter for four nickels. Do it ten times and you make a buck. Re-invest that dollar intelligently and the value will compound itself. Remember the first lesson, which is that you should always have cash handy? It's pretty easy to figure out what cards will liquidate quickly and profitably by comparing a few prices around the 'net. The harder a card is to sell, the less likely it is that you'll have the cash you need when you need it. So now that you've got an idea how to structure your trading, how do you figure the prices? Here's a quick guide.
1 - Look it up on your favorite gaming site. StarCityGames.com comes highly recommended because they've got a very generous buy list. Find out their buy price and their sell price. Their buy price is your fail-safe option. You can be sure that the card you're getting can be turned into cash without fuss. Their sell price should help you determine in which tier a card is placed.
2 - Look it up on Ebay. You'll need an Ebay account for this because you'll be using the "Completed Auctions" feature. Look at what a card has sold for in the last week or two. Use data from 4x card lots (ie Playsets). Selling in playsets moves cards faster and at higher prices because most Magic players are lazy. Lazy people are going to make you rich.
3 - Compare Ebay and Retail prices. Ebay is almost always cheaper than a retail outlet or online store due to the perceived hassle of auctions. When a card is cheaper on Ebay, that's normal. Just make sure Ebay puts it in the same Tier as you do. When Ebay is at parity with Retail, that shows market support for the card. These are cards you should acquire as you come across them. Although rare, when a card is more expensive on Ebay than on retail sites, you should expect vendors to raise their prices. Last Sunday, Swans of Bryn Argoll were more expensive on Ebay than on every major Magic site. As of Monday morning, every site had adjusted their prices or sold out. Kudos to those who bought out the sites before they upped their prices. When you see a card selling for more on Ebay than on any Magic retail site, you
drop what you're doing and go find as many copies as you can.
4 - Remember the three values for every card. The first number is its trade value. That's the number you'll see when you look it up on Star City. The second is it's expected resale value - how much cash you'll get when you Ebay the cards. The 3rd is it's failsafe value - how much you'll get if you vendor it at a tournament. Using these three numbers, you can calculate your expected value on each trade and figure out what's profitable and what's not. You need to have these three numbers at the ready when you're looking through someone's trade book, so get cracking!
Now you've got an idea of what cards will trade for, what they'll sell for, and how easily they'll sell. You've mastered this section when you can easily quote an accurate price for a card and make smart trades to get the cards that liquidate most easily. Your end goal should be to acquire the cards that function like currency and rid yourself of the ones that do not. Experience has shown that Tier 2 cards are the best for this, since Tier 1 cards usually demand nothing but cash itself. Tier 2 cards are worth less, but are still widely used and can easily be traded for other things.
That's all for Part 1 of Magic, The Recession and You - A Trader's Guide! Part 2 will focus less on the numbers and more on the finer aspects of building and maintaining good trade routes. We'll cover trade etiquette, helpful mannerisms and other social skills to help you "pull the heist". Until next time, Quiet Spec reminds you: trade to trade, not to keep!