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Insider: Quantity vs. Quality, a Devil of a Dilemma

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Every year after I finish school, I go home. At school I’m less than 30 minutes from Minneapolis, which has a surprising number of Magic: The Gathering players, and I’m ideally positioned to drive to any one of a number of nearby PTQs if the need strikes me.

Stunning Beyond Belief
Stunning Beyond Belief

I return, however, to Anchorage, Alaska. I love Anchorage very much - the people are wonderful, the scenery is stunning, and the weather is just how I like it. But it does lack a real trading scene. There are two stores in town that do FNM’s, and those rarely have more than 15 or so people. One does GPTs and PTQs, but unless the PT in question is going to be close (think Seattle, as opposed to Atlanta), the big guns only come out to get some points.

40 people is a big number for an Alaskan tournament. And, even worse, an almost unthinkable problem arises: I’m the only one there with a trade binder.

Even at the 20 person mini FNMs in Minnesta I can keep myself busyish with trades, but in Alaska the surrounding cardpool is so small  that people have become very accustomed to not being able to find what they need from their fellow competitors. The result is that the people who need cards buy them - trading is practically nonexistent.

Unfortunately, this leaves me with a dilemma, being primarily a trader with not much to do during the summer hands on with cards. What I can tell you, however, are a couple of important things to realize when you go into a trading slump or simply end up in a place where trading is not as common.

When one leaves a state of high quantity value movement, like Minneapolis, to go to a low quantity value movement, like Alaska, one can’t depend on the same practices to make money. Thus, when the school year ends, I enter a state of financial hibernation.

One of the first things a new trader learns is the level of fluctuation different types of investments have - Vintage Power is always a good investment, Legacy staples rarely go down and Standard schlock is rarely worth investing in for the long term. As such, especially over the summer when there’s less Magic going on and the transitory formats are about to see not one but two major upheavals (new core set in the summer, new thematic set in the fall), it might not pay to still have a thousand dollars in Silverblade Paladins sitting in your binder.

Prior to GP: Minneapolis, I was split fairly evenly between Legacy and Modern/speculative/Standard cards. As you’ll know if you've read my previous articles, I advocate for small money Standard cards as the most effective way to build value quickly without ripping people off. So it should surprise no one that my stock of Silverblade Paladin, Restoration Angels and Innistrad duals were of a quantity and value that many would classify as obscene.

Knowing that the frozen wasteland that is my home state

Literally Colder Than This.

would give me no opportunity to take advantage of deckbuilding trends, let alone a way to dump useless stock, I dedicated myself to building up a collection of cards that I knew would maintain value throughout the summer and not face any chance of crashing whatsoever. Starting that day, I began to cash out my Standard stock.

As of today, I have over a thousand dollars in fetchlands, and another 800 in Legacy staples. I have a single promo Silverblade Paladin and one normal Restoration Angel - many of the INN duals were sold to purchase a German NM Tropical Island. White bordered, before you get too excited.

This has allowed me comfort in the knowledge that no matter what happens to the market over these few months when I’m utterly removed from the physical world of Magic finance, I will not lose all of my investment to changing trends.

One of my best friends did not engage in this practice, partly because I forgot to tell him to, and is now finding what was once a plump binder at the end of the last school year is now rather dismally outdated trading material.

Obviously that very simple lesson wasn’t worth its own article, and to drag it out into one would be a waste of your, not to mention my, precious time.

Therefore, I have another opinion to present to you, one that isn’t too time intensive, but one I hope you will appreciate. This is the debate between having a small, potent binder that covers a lot of bases, or carrying around a backpack with every card ever made in it.

Potency vs. Potpourri

May your binder never look like this. Egads.

I’m the first to admit that, for many, the best choice of how you manage your binder is the one you feel most comfortable with.

Here are the basic grounds by which I judge the value of these two approaches:

  1. There’s total investment into your stock and the risk involved
  2. You have the appearance of these options to non-traders
  3. You have flexibility when it comes to trends, bannings, etc.
  4. Finally, you have the time involved.

Let’s start with point one!

It should be readily apparent that a person with a half full binder is probably going to spend much less time and money on his collection than the guy hauling a suitcase around full of cards. Money wise, the investment is massive in comparison - if you just take the good cards from one binder and spread them around to three or four binders full of rubbish, the advantages involved in having options are suddenly lost.

A major floor trader might keep 2-10 copies of as many cards as possible to supply any demand, but that obviously requires more investment than my binder, which looks skimpy in comparison. If you have very little money to spend, is it worth the up front price of all those cards to have the extra options for an interested customer?

Aside: If you answered that you had the cards anyway and you didn’t spend your money on them, you’re missing the point. Those cards are money. They are an investment. Regardless of whether you bought them as singles, simply having them means that money can’t be put into other things. Like rent. It’s cool to have a sweet collection. Is it worth not eating well? I submit that it is not. End aside.

In addition to this money issue, can you afford to lose it? If I lose my binder, I take a hit, but I still have cash set aside in a bank account. It would be a tragedy, but not backbreaking for my life as a whole. If you lose your 15,000 dollar collection on a GP floor because you took your hand off the suitcase for ten seconds, how do you reconcile that with yourself? The risk is easily dealt with through a standard of vigilance, but it nevertheless exists.

Second consideration!

When a player, casual or otherwise, looks at a guy with a binder and a deckbox, they probably aren’t too wary of him.

If that same guy had the binder alone, most people would probably acknowledge that he’s there to trade.

Is there a psychological difference between seeing that and seeing a guy walk up with a rolling suitcase full of binders, organized by price? Of course there is. This is obviously not a gamebreaker, since being seen as the eminent authority when it comes to paper product acquisitions would help your business, but the risk of being labeled a shark would be a definite risk for you.

Consideration, the third!

I turned my entire collection over from Standard crap with some Legacy material to almost an entirely Legacy collection in less than three weeks.

Can you do that with your suitcase?

My vote is probably not, simply because there aren’t enough peak trading hours in the week to move that kind of product at small events. At that point, I would submit that you resign yourself to some level of financial loss if some of your product rotates, gets banned or falls out of favor.

Fourth and finally

You have my most important point - Time!

There are a few factors involved here, some obvious and some less so.

Obviously, if you have a large stock of cards, you have to organize them to find what you need. And, if you don’t, you have to spend more time looking for the cards you want to pull. Less obviously - how long does it take people to look through your binder?

 

Let’s let that little tidbit sink in. If you’re doing exactly what I told you to do in my previous articles, you’re trading small cards at high margins. If a trade takes you 5 minutes, you can make 12 trades an hour with solid consistency. If you’re trading those small cards out of eight binders, how much longer does it take people to find what they’re looking for? How likely is it that those small trades are going to make more money off the suitcase method than the single binder approach. Not only are the trades not bigger (nobody wants 200 dollars worth of Silverblade Paladins), but they’re taking longer to boot.

 

Let’s throw in a consideration on top of that. If a person goes through your binder and sees a couple cards they’re kind of interested in, and you find a Zendikar fetch, you could probably make the trade work.

If they go through 6 binders, what are the chances they’ll settle for the mediocre card? They know you’ve got better stuff, they just have to hold out. I’ve used this approach to consistent success, refusing to commit to a trade that doesn’t allow me to pull juicy cards.

If you have one Onslaught fetch in your binder of Standard stuff, nobody’s going to waste your time with a truly bad offer, let alone refuse to trade their Bonfire of the Damned unless you bust out your Heath.

If you have 7 Heaths, and 6 of each other fetch, you become an easier target in many eyes - you have so many, you should be willing to part with them for less. You don’t need that many, and it’s unfair and sharkish to refuse the fair offer of Bonfire for Heath, since they’re pretty close retail. It’s not like you’d be losing. It’d be a drop in the pond.

I’m not saying it’s perfect, or that it’ll work for everyone - a lot of people do very well with the suitcase, I’m just not one of them, but here’s my approach: I keep a small binder for several reasons. I’m not a rich man and can’t afford a large collection, I need that money elsewhere and I can’t afford to lose all of my money in one place. I also think I come across better as a friendly fellow player that just happens to want to trade than as a hardcore grinder with all the cards in the world - which also means I don’t get as many people coming to me for their every need, but that’s the trade off.

Having a small collection allows me to turn its focus on a dime, something a larger collection can’t. My fetchland density per card would be impossible with a much larger collection, and I keep plenty of value lying around to facilitate those turnarounds.

I can also afford to spend much less time maintaining my collection because of my ability to move it around so quickly - I don’t have to organize, I don’t have to go to every FNM, and, most importantly, I can make trades happen more quickly and more efficiently than my competitors on the floor. I can pull my pet cards from the binder as I get them and stick them in my deckbox, which makes me look like a player. And I don’t get any questions about how a person with Molten Psyche and a Baneslayer Angel for rares could get their hands on my Force of Wills.

In the end, it’s personal preference, but I hope that this gives you a brief understanding of what I consider to be both sides of the issue.

If you have any questions, comments or snide remarks, I look forward to reading them in the comments section!

Avatar photo

Tucker McGownd

Hi, I'm Tucker McGownd. I'm a low risk trader that spends most of my time in Minnesota, where I go to school, play magic, study for school, play Ultimate for my college team, study for school, and read. I've been playing for a long, long time (I first played during Mercadian Masques block, and first bought a pack in Urza's Saga). I was incredibly lucky when I cracked packs until I learned how much cards were worth, at which point I proceeded to open Thoughtlace in every set until Scars, where I picked up more than my fair share of molten psyche. I'm currently looking forward to the inevitable reprint of Chimney Imp.

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2 thoughts on “Insider: Quantity vs. Quality, a Devil of a Dilemma

  1. Interesting article :-).

    In regard to the 1st half, I basically stay out of standard stuff unless I feel it's considerably underpriced, when I need a copy for an EDH deck or when my trading partner agrees that in time these will be crap rares and will value accordingly (I've got one guy in particular who's a good source for this). I kept losing too much on standard cards as I couldn't move them before rotation because unfortunately there aren't too many people around I could trade with.

    As for the 2nd half, I could be mister suitcase, but most of the time I opt to limit myself to 3 fairly small binders. I almost never bring my truly high end binder (alpha/beta stuff, duals, forces, etc.) even though that's quite a small binder and I certainly don't bring the big binder with anything not worth adding to the 3 I usually bring. As I carry around my cards in a backpack my back also very much appreciates this. The 3 binders I bring are 1 binder with non-foil cards ranging in value from approximately $3 to $30, 1 binder with interesting stuff below that including some cheap but playable foils, uncommons and even some older commons (the first binder does have an Alpha Llanowar Elves, but otherwise hardly any commons and few uncommons) and 1 binder with some foil and non-foil cards that I have purchased or traded for with the goal of selling them. I do trade out of this 3rd binder, but it allows me to tell my trading partners that the offer should be good for me before I even consider it as these cards are supposed to bring in money.

    I'm actually thinking that even with 3 binders I might be bringing too much. I could browse through them quickly, but most I trade with need to read cards and still spend considerable time. Also most I trade with don't have that many interesting older cards, which makes me run into the fecthes issue not for a particular card that I have many copies of, but for older cards in general. I might have to move to sorting cards by age instead and only bring out the older stuff if it looks like people will have something to offer for it.

    1. I absolutely agree. Without a constant supply of trade partners, standard cards are an easy way to lose money- I've hit that speed bump many times. I also found what you have involving binders- the less competitive the players I'm trading with, the fewer binders I want to have with me, because it will take so much longer to complete the trade.

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