Doing The “Combat Math” of Your Magic Budget

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Welcome to my first article in, well, a long time. My name is Stu Somers and I am mostly an Online trader. I am mostly known as “stu55” on everything from MTGO to any internet forum. I want to give you a little background on where I come from and why you should even bother listening to anything I have to say. Adam Barnello said it best on Channelfireball recently that “Bullet points make for simplicity,” so that is how I am going to rock this introduction.

  • I have been playing since 1995 and wheeling and dealing since probably 1997. I have taken 2 small breaks in that time, the first being when I was hooked on Pokemon for a bit when it first came out and the second break was during Kamigawa block when relationship-type issues and my money binder getting stolen kind of forced me into needing a 3 set break. However, since that break, I have been back and playing and dealing better and harder than before. Buying/selling Magic has paid for my car as well as all of my extra curricular activities such as Spring Break trips, NYC and Atlantic City trips for New Year’s and going out on the weekends throughout college. I have a pretty sweet personal collection, too.
  • I was one of the first moderators of the Marketplace of MTGNews back when it first debuted in what I think is 1997, though that is a long time ago and my date might be off. I was also part of the group that moved over to MTGSalvation from MTGNews and was also a moderator for their Marketplace for 2 different stints.
  • I am also on Magic Online under the name “stu55” and a member of the clan “Osyp Drives Me to School.”
  • What I am probably most known for is and I have been on the Magic Online Trading League since May 2nd, 2000 (darn, missed my 10yr anniversary…oh well). I have amassed over 360 refs on there, which places me at 34th out of a registered 48,190 people. I have also been a long time member at Magiclibrarities, where if you have any interest in misprints, promos, fillers, test prints, and any other non-normal magic item, this is the place to check out.
  • As for real life, I am 25 and I live in Pittsburgh, PA. I have a degree from West Virginia University in Leadership, Communications, and Business Administration with a minor in Entrepreneurship which I earned in 2007. I also have a MBA with a focus in Accounting from Indiana University of Pennsylvania which I got in 2009. Since then I have been getting my butt kicked by the economy while job hunting and instead making money through buying/selling magical cards, 6-tabling the 50NL games on Full Tilt and now that the Rivers Casino has gotten table games, I have been doing fairly well at the 1/3 Hold’em No Limit games there. I still want to get a ‘real’ job since I have this hyper-aggressive need-to-succeed personality where my ‘real-life’ (as opposed to Magic-life) goal is to be in charge of a large (Fortune 500) company and shape it to my image.

“Real-life.” That is a topic that not many columnists seem to bring up at all. I think in all of my years, I have seen only a handful of topics that a largely deal with life outside of Magic. If you want to be good at Magic, whether it be Trading/Dealing or playing, you need to have a balance in your list outside of it. Since this is a financial site dedicated to Magic, this article will mostly be about finding a balance to both Magic and Life financially as well as how to take the next step up where you are working from a small budget to one that is much larger.
Bankroll management is very important; whether it be playing poker, dealing Magic, or taking care of your personal expenses. Before you can spend any money on Magic, you need to have an understanding what your personal financial responsibilities are. Making a plan and giving yourself a general direction in which to go is the best way to start. Basically. you are creating a budget on paper and using it to help yourself stay on track and accomplish your goals. The best way I can illustrate this is to show you what I have written down.

REAL LIFE (coming from ‘real’ job):
Rent + Utilities = $950/month Student Loans = $900/month (want to pay them off fast) Credit Card Bill = $300-500/month (again, want to pay it off fast, car repairs hurt me this year)

Binder- $4000 in inventory ($600 in rarities/misprints, $400 in casual EDH/Portal-type cards, $1000 in Type 2/Ext., $500 in Vintage Foreign Foils, $1400 in Legacy/Vintage playables (at least 2 pieces of power), $100 Commons/Uncommons)
Paypal- $2000 available cash
(Magic pays for any car payments, food, other social activities)
I have broken down each aspect of my financial responsibilities and how much I need to allocate to each part to be successful. Goals can be to just generically make money or to earn enough for school, a car, a computer, or really anything. Just have a goal in mind. An important concept I hold onto is that I am willing to get rid of parts of my own personal collection to meet my goals, because the #1 rule of trading/dealing is that “Cards will always come back.” (this is followed closely by rule #2 in that “if you have a chance to profit, take it, no matter how small, cards will always come back.”). I have unloaded personal sets of P9 in order to re-bankroll myself if I have slipped and let myself get too low in capital.

Now, you might be saying “Man, $6000 in Magic, just for trading, that is so much, how do I get there and still take care of my personal responsibilities?” First, remember that this is for me, and I have bit more to start with as well as probably a lot more experience, so I know how to get from underneath a large inventory quickly and get cash back. You can still go from a small $500-$1500 to something closer to $2000 or above without overwhelming yourself. A recent article by Medina basically said to “cannibalize your decks and un-pimp your cards.” This goes back to “cards will always come back.” If you are making enough money, you will either find the cards again in trades and just keep them separate from the inventory or just go ahead, unload some chaff and re-buy them.

So, after I have gotten my start-up stock and been trading for a bit and increased my inventory value, I need a way to get the money out of it. Any cards I want to keep get kept and then I work to sell down to my initial starting point. I would recommend on starting with getting an account on as well as numerous online dealer sites. MOTL might take a bit to get started because you want to build up your ref count but, there are plenty of high-reference members you can trade with to build up. There is an inherent risk of being “ripped” on a site like that, but if you are smart you can avoid that all together. Doing small <$20 trades is one way to start. You just don’t want to jump on there, trading out Power and Duals without any reputation. I think in my 13 years of trading, I have only been ripped off twice because I have been careful.

After you have built up your ref count, you can make a “sales” list in one of the subforums. This is where people from all over the world can browse your list and offer to buy your cards. On this list, it is usually good have a set of rules detailing how much shipping will cost the buyer as well as options for insurance, DC, other postal perks. You also MUST have prices listed per card or risk having the thread closed by the moderators. I recommend using ebay prices because that is what everyone there will be using as well. Anything that doesn’t sell on there within a few days, I would consider moving on any sort of dealer site. It is a quick way to get money out of cards that you can re-invest again with. I would have multiple windows up at a time and just compare buy prices and sell to whichever one makes the most sense. Most have options for Paypal payment so that means that the money can go directly to your account, and for me, anything over $2000 in Paypal goes immediately into my personal checking account.

That is about all I have to say on this topic. I hope my first article has been an enlightening one and that it helps you organize and be successful in meeting your goals. Feel free to post on Magictraders or message in the comments below if you have any questions regarding the site and how to trade on there as well as comments on the article (even taking ideas for future articles). I am going to leave you with a few things that I am digging right now or want to tell people:

Store in the Spotlight (BnM)- The Vault Comic and Games in Greensburg, PA (where I play, have to give a shout-out)
Player in the Spotlight- Caleb Durward (that Madness deck is HAWT)
Card Watch:
Vengevine- Only has to find away into Vintage and I think this card hits Jace proportions.
Training Grounds- Minus 2 activated abilities?! This thing is worth speculating on and could go see a decent rise in value after Scars
Shadowmoor/Eventide on MTGO- Already high, won’t be coming down anytime soon because the M11 release is happening during this block’s NixTix rotation

Buying High-
1) Maurice Jones-Drew- This guy is going to be the 2nd best fantasy player this year, well ahead of Adrian Peterson
2) Rollafatty- Fuel and Fuddle staple of Awesomeness wrapped in bread and cheese and covered in grease
3) Cardinals-Reds Rivalry- See that brawl Tuesday night?!
4) WoTC- Duel Decks, FTVs, Awesome core sets! They are doing everything right and I love it!

Selling Low-
1) Pittsburgh Pirates- Please sell the team to Mark Cuban already..ugh
2) Katy Perry- Oversaturation much?
3) Economy- Recover more! I want a “real” job!
4) M11 Titans- Type 2 is over, definitely would not be sitting on these things.

Kelly Reid

Founder & Product Manager

View More By Kelly Reid

Posted in Finance, FreeTagged ,

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12 thoughts on “Doing The “Combat Math” of Your Magic Budget

  1. Great article, I like how you explained that you keep a personal bankroll on hand, also its inspiring to hear someone that manages to use Magic as a relative source of income without owning their own storefront or online retailer space.

  2. This reminds me again that this site needs a writer for the European market, some things work just a bit different here, especially the pricing of cards. Do a lot of Europeans use MOTL? Somehow I think not, but Europeans have different outlets like as a great place to buy and sell cards.

    This article was good so far. About MOTL: Someone should write a simple guide for trading there (and for the use of other popular places like this. A reference section that lists sites and resources would also be welcome on this site.

  3. yes european market is very diferent from the american. That's why i start using USA ebay. Normaly, when a price of a card drop, it drops much more in USA than in Europe (and In Portugal, sometimes takes 4/6 more weeks to drop) We open much less packs in portugal than you in states

  4. Great Article Stu, pretty crazy to flip through here and see someone I know from the store posting an article haha. Think that the budget tips definately will help out a lot and great information about how to get into trading online. After spending a lot of money to get back into the game recently, I definately have been trying to use my card equity to supplement drafting/new sets/ etc rather than infusing more cash into cards. These suggestions definately help alot. I've looked into MOTL a few times but it can be somewhat daunting at first when you don't have the built in buyer/seller protections that ebay offers.


    Rollafatty is amazing, one of the best things about living in oakland again is geting that thing from 10-12 when it's half off.

  5. Good to see that I'm not the only one who tries to keep to a budget. I haven't really gotten back into the game persay since my stuff was stolen, but with the help of articles like this on QS it will probably be a hell of alot easier to do if I decide to do so.

  6. About MOTL: If you want to get started, just register and post in the General Discussion forum about advice for starting, plenty of people will step up to help you.

  7. This isn't much of a topic, more of a subsection, but I'd be interested in seeing something about the value of weird things. I mean, you mentioned librarities, so I'm assuming you have cred to comment on that sort of thing.

    From the boring old "normal weird" like Japanese Cursed Scrolls, to the slightly pimper stuff like foil Spanish Meloku, all the way up to those textless foil Lightning Bolts and Karn, Silver Golem and Summer Magic and what-have-you.

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