Much like the vaunted epic conclusion to the Star Trek: Next Generation franchise, there comes a time in everyone’s life when they need to set their priorities straight, or look at their hobbies and investments in a different way if we intend to grow as people. This article won’t follow the traditional style because I won’t be telling you what cards to pick up. Instead, we’ll be looking at when to fold and either get out, or start anew.
Probably not what you were expecting to read from a site that normally advocates buying and trading, but quite possibly one of the more important things that you’ve had to ask yourself: “Is Magic the Gathering holding me back from achieving what I want out of life?”
It sickens me to say this, but sometimes when I look at my collection, I’m just disgusted with myself. If you’re like me, you’ve got thousands of dollars wrapped up in this game even though you can only ever play one deck at a time.
But, between traders, having a cash pool to draw upon, our own “personal stash” of expensive cards, and the need to build decks of every format, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes, more is not better, and the money we have wrapped up in cards could be better used elsewhere.
As a personal example, I don’t have much debt aside from a mortgage, but I do have a little bit on my credit card. I say a “little bit”, but what I mean is close to $4000. Not a lot in this day and age, but enough to make you think about it whenever a bill comes and it shows that your minimum payment is equal to the cost of a box of Innistrad. Yes, some of it may pay down the principle, but how can I justify losing that much money every month when I could easily liquidate a few of my Magic card assets to pay it off?
A Rock and a Hard Place
The thing is, we invest so much of our time into our image as Magic players that considering selling off a portion of our collections is sometimes akin to selling off a part of our identities. I’ve become attached to the cards I have, even those that I don’t use.
My [card Candelabra of Tawmos]Candelabras[/card] and playset+ of dual lands happily stare back at me whenever I crack my “good stuff” binder, and my friends “oooh” and “awww” about the beauty they see within it.
I like that feeling. I like it when someone says to me: “Dude, that is a SICK collection you have there!”
These statements reaffirm that, when it comes to my hobby, I am doing well and have whatever kind of respect and awe you get from other players who want to achieve the kind of success that I/we have.
Letting go of these small pieces of ourselves is not as easy as just one day saying “screw it” and listing all our wares on eBay. Like a cigarette smoker with an addiction, it’s not that easy to quit.
It's All Your Fault!
You may be saying to yourself: “Well Carl, you’re the one who got yourself into this situation, you shouldn’t have overspent on cards!”
That’s the thing… who says I racked up that debt because of Magic cards?
In my case it was incidentals with my near hundred year old house that forced me to liquidate my savings and use credit to keep it together. Everyone has their own story, and if you don’t right now, good for you! But one day you may, and when that day comes and you need balance the need for cash versus credit, I hope you remember this article.
Going back to my house story, I could have just as easily sold off a few of my things that had value instead of racking up debt, but I don’t see my stuff as worth dollars and cents… I see them as a lifeline to my hobbies. Precious memories or good times yet to be had.
The fact remains that, even after I accumulated debt, I could still have slowly sold things to pay it down. Instead I acted irresponsibly and let my lust for accumulating more and more stuff hold me back from paying down debt and moving on with my life as a clean slate.
It's a Trick! Get an Axe!
Personally, I like to fool myself into believing that by investing in more cards, or trading into better, more valuable cards, that I’m "making money".
Well, little brain, that is simply not the case.
True, you may be increasing the value of your portfolio, but until you actually sell something, all you have is a stack of cardboard with a somewhat ambiguous value to a small group of like-minded collectors.
You can’t go to a store and give them a Birthing Pod for a bag of milk (and no, telling them "It’s going to go up in value because of a new mechanic in Dark Ascension!" is not going to make them think you’re any less crazy).
In fact, I’d go so far as to actually say that unless you’re Jon Medina and if you’re in my situation, it’s actually costing you MORE because of the illusion of gains that you’re under. Sure, you made $10 in REAL cash every FNM’s this month… too bad that at 15%, that $4000 debt is costing you roughly $50/month in interest, so you’re still out at least $10 overall. Not only that, but when you make a small profit like that, what are you more likely to do:
1) Put $10 on your credit card/against debt?
2) Go out to the pub with the boys after the tournament, spend it on a pitcher and say: “This beer is FREE because I paid for it in Magic profits!”
… See where I’m coming from?
If you have debt, the pitcher wasn’t free. And on top of that you’ve deluded yourself into possibly spending more that you would have in the first place because now you can buy a second pitcher with the $10 you’d brought from home with the intention of spending regardless of whether or not you’d sold anything.
Buying a Collection = Buying Debt?
Buying collections is one of the BEST ways to actually make money at this game, since the discounts on an entire lot are often quite deep.
But where does that cash come from, and where does it go once you’ve made it back?
If you’re using credit to fund your expenditures because it’s "too good a deal to pass up", then instead of paying back your "loan" you spend the money on more cards or other things. Did you profit at all? Or did you just create more debt for yourself?
Us silly North Americans in particular just love to accumulate debt because it’s accepted here for some reason or another and considered the norm. It’s why I said that I "only" have $4000 in debt, because when I compare it to others it seems almost trivial.
We have to look at our buying strategies to avoid these kinds of pitfalls in order to stop the debt cycle and make real profit. If you can’t afford to lose the money and you don’t have the money in the first place, maybe you should re-evaluate going all in on the debt machine that we create for ourselves and instead just think to yourself: “I am making money by not spending money”.
The Big Trade Off
Time is finite. Each of us is granted a certain amount. And when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Time is a form of currency, and that currency is your life. The more you invest in cards at the expense of other things is a trade that you are directly making. Go to the movies with your girl/boyfriend, or buy a few packs of Scars of Alara? If you’re on a fixed income or limited budget, these are the choices that you’re making whenever you make a purchase.
Granted, this principle can be applied to anything we chose to spend our hard earned wages on, but, really, I’m sure I’m not the only one who spends a decent amount of my disposable income on cards. Speculating or not, I can’t spend that money twice… unless I use credit, as we’ve already discussed.
I have a friend on a fixed income who told me they were going to pay their rent ahead of time for the next two months so that when they get their next cheque, they could spend it all on Magic without thought of consequences since their living arrangements will already be covered.
This made me really sad for him, as he is trading in so much of his life and time into this game at the sacrifice of being able to do anything else. Please don’t let this happen to you.
Go out and enjoy life while you’re able and keep your hobby a (profitable and fun!) hobby, not a complete lifestyle.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I’m not advocating for you to sell your collection, as I know that I personally could never do that.
All I’m saying is that if you have debt and look at Magic cards as an investment, maybe you should ask yourself how much are you actually making versus losing to the banks? How many other things that you wanted to do with your life are you sacrificing in order to feed your obsession?
Maybe now's the time to cash in on some of those cards and pay off your debt. This doesn't mean you have to sell of your collection, but remember that your collection is liquid and it is okay to tap into that stream once in a while. Especially when you can buy down any interest you're paying elsewhere.
Let’s talk turkey here. You’re obviously looking to profit if you have a subscription to this site. That’s why we exist: to make you money. But sometimes the best way to actually make real gains is to pay down what you already owe, or go on that vacation with your family while you’re still young enough to enjoy it rather than buy those last two pieces of the P9 that you’re missing.
Think about that: What if you could say that Magic has paid for a vacation with your family or friends?
Give and take. Life is a delicate balance, one that’s easy to lose sight of and hard to bring back to equilibrium.
Maybe when you reeaalllyyy think about it, you do only need one deck of each format right now and you could sell the rest to clear up debt in order to start over with a clean slate with none of the stress and sleepless nights that owing creditors goes hand in hand with.
Maybe I don’t really need those three Candelabras for the "just in case", because maybe now is that just in case? Or maybe I should wait until next pay check to purchase that beat up beta Demonic Tutor they’ve got eyeing you from that expensive leather-bound binder.
Maybe you have no debt at all and this article didn't speak to you. But maybe you do have debt and this will inspire you to use your hobby to clear those stresses away.
And maybe this has helped you more than any hot pickup ever could. Even so, there are four other articles put out on this site weekly that keep you queued in. 🙂
On a Personal Note…
This is unfortunately the last article I will be writing in the near future for Quiet Speculation due to some health issues I’ve been having lately. I’ve got to turn my attention to focusing on getting better. And while I absolutely love writing, I feel that I need to prioritize where my time is going to go for now.
While I will still certainly try and make it out to FNM’s whenever I can and submit the occasional article, time and health permitting, I’m going to have to step down for a while and recover both physically and mentally. It has been a true pleasure getting to meet the QS crew and all of you Insiders. You’ve taught me as much as I’ve taught you and I thank you for all the opportunities and kind words.
Keep it real friends. Enjoy your lives AND your hobbies. Remember your priorities. And remember to have fun. 🙂
Editor's Note: We will miss Carl's constant enthusiasm and weekly contribution. I know that I have really enjoyed working along side him and learning all that he has had to teach. It is with hope and confidence that we all look forward to Carl's eminent return.
So thank you, Carl, for everything you've done. Rest up, don't worry about the Dark Ascension spoilers, and remember that you're still fully part of the QS family.