It’s a basic question we all face as traders. How much is Card X worth? Of course, the answer to that question is hugely variable, for all the usual reasons. Yes, it matters whether a card is Standard playable or a Mythic Rare. Yes, whether or not the card is Legacy playable matters.
But people often overlook one of the most basic concepts of profit — When do I plan to sell?
I’ve talked numerous times about how you don’t make a cent on Magic cards until you sell. I’ve even talked about when to sell. But that doesn’t mean I don’t watch people every day get so caught-up in the day-to-day fluctuations that they lose sight of the big picture. Yes, it’s great that your Olivia Voldarens are up today, and it’s very disappointing that your Stoneforge Mystics dipped so low after they were banned.
But if you are too preoccupied with following the day-to-day movement of your cards, it becomes way too easy to miss money.
If you’re a savvy trader, you know about the usual fluctuations on cards in between seasons. This was especially prevalent with Old Extended, when prices would double in price without a single change in the meta taking place, all because people didn't need the cards for another six months. It’s even more prevalent on Magic Online, where the need to draft NOW causes people to move cards at sub-optimal prices in order to squeeze that next draft in.
However, if you want to be serious about treating your Magic collection as a business, you have to be willing to look past the minutia of the immediate. For instance, let’s look at our example of Stoneforge Mystic. When the card was banned, people rushed to sell theirs, even though they were getting horrible prices and the card was still a powerhouse in Legacy. Of course, if you sold out at the beginning this might have been worth it, but many people sold out at the bottom, just to have to reacquire them later for Legacy.
This shows the focus on the short-term among the general Magic population. Of course, it’s not limited to Magic, as most of our society operates the same. But those who win in the long-term in the business world are forward-thinking, and the same holds true to Magic. There’s nothing wrong with short-term investments (and I’ll elaborate in a moment), but in general I prefer to gear my collection toward more stable, longer-term investments.
Every trader is different. Some prefer to deal exclusively in high-dollar, hard-to-find items, where others deal primarily in Standard staples. Personally, I prefer to move Standard cards for more stable, long-term positions, but that’s due to my position in the game. However, this might not be the best model for everyone.
When to go short-term
By short-term, I mean Standard cards, things that rise and fall quickly like the Illusions deck or Olivia. The reason being is that things in Standard will typically spike quickly and slowly slide off before hitting rotation and dying completely.
Trafficking in these cards works great for some. Ryan Bushard (@CryppleCommand) comes to mind. He hits up a ton of large events and is on the trade floor enough to see demand spikes incoming. More importantly, he’s also on the floor at the height of those demand spikes, so he is able to capitalize on a short-term spike in demand, like the Illusions deck at GP: San Diego or Olivia at Worlds. He was able to do very well on something like Inquisition of Kozilek and GP: Dallas last year because he’s on the floor enough to stay ahead of the trends.
For Ryan, short-term moves make a lot of sense, because he can turn the inventory over very quickly, either for staples or other hot cards he knows he can move quickly.
Does this fit your description? Are you following every article, hitting FNM and more every weekend? If so, it makes a lot of sense for you to deal in the Standard short-term market.
When to go long-term
Let’s compare Ryan’s situation to mine.
I live in Oklahoma and work full-time as a sports writer, including Friday nights spent at football or basketball games. I’m usually able to make it for the last hour or so of FNM to hang out and trade, and occasionally I make a Wednesday draft. I don’t make many big events, though I do make a few. When I travel to these events, I usually play at least part of the time (whereas Ryan just trades), so my time on the trade floor is pretty limited even in these situations.
As you can guess, that makes it very difficult for me to profit on quick-moving items. Even if I pick up something like Olivia early on, it may be a while before I can find the right buyer for her.
Instead, I make my money on things like Sanguine Bond and Murkfiend Liege. I love dealing in these casual, relatively-low value cards for a few reason. First of all, many people undervalue these. But the bigger reason is that they hold their value well over time. If work comes up and keeps me away from the trade floor, I’m not taking the risk that Olivia will go out of flavor and I’ll be stuck with multiple playsets of the card. Another reason I love picking up casual cards is that their sell value (to a dealer) is usually a much higher percentage than something like Stromkirk Noble.
That’s why I love grabbing cards like Army of the Damned or Parallel Lives on the cheap, because I know I can leave them in my binder for a while and still be fine. While you can sometimes deal with a much lower velocity of cards, it’s easier to know where you’re at in the long-term. I traded a ton of Blinkmoth Nexuss at $12 and lost some value there, but chances are in a year the cards I got for them will still be worth more. This model works for me because I don’t know when I’ll be able to sell those cards, whereas someone like Ryan can hit up a big tournament with multiple dealers every other weekend and move the Nexi for great prices.
When I have a short-term target (like selling at the end of GP), I change my position and move for the short-term deals, since I know I’ll be able to use them. You should be able to move seamlessly between the two to suit your individual needs at the time.
Which is for you?
Neither style is wrong, and the beauty is that both sides can turn a profit, even when dealing with each other. I told the story a few weeks ago of a large deal I did with local Oklahoma ringer Trevor Hunt.
If you didn’t read the original article (and you should, it's one of my most popular pieces this year), the short version is that Trevor traded me a bunch of Legacy cards and got a ton of Standard stuff from me. While he won “on paper” in the deal, it made a lot of sense for both of us because he knew he could move the Standard staples like Consecrated Sphinx and Hero of Bladehold quickly, but he wasn’t having the same luck with things like Wooded Foothills. From my position, I have no problem holding onto the Foothills for a while and selling at my convenience, and in the end, we both won.
So the next time you take to the trading floor, whether it’s at your local FNM or the next Pro Tour, know what your endgame is. You won’t be disappointed with the results.
Thanks for reading,
@Chosler88 on Twitter