When I first started playing magic, I was introduced to all kinds of wondrous new cards… I remember distinctly a Stone Rain destroying a Karplusan Forest, and loving the imagery involved. When Urza’s Destiny came out, however, I was enthralled for a whole different reason- Thorn Elemental.
For those of you who’ve never experienced the awe inspiring beauty of Thorn Elemental, allow me to be the first to tell you that you won’t find it. Beauty is not a quality that one easily attaches to that card, though the artwork is, in its own way, beautiful. Instead, the image, so tiny in its cardboard square, manages to convey a sense of unbelievable size, and overwhelming power, while still making it seem old, and sentient.
Maybe I’m just reading too much into it. Maybe Thorn Elemental is another boring, overcosted 7 drop to every single person who reads this… but for me, those old Urza’s Thorn Elementals are amazing. They’re one of the reasons I still play magic, being able to look through my collection at all the cards that I recognize only as a distinctive art that serves only to determine what price I put on its head.
Every person has a few sentimental cards… I also go doe-eyed over an Exploration, along with such ancient favorites as Tangle Wire and Joven's Ferrets. The question you have for me at this point is obviously why does this matter… why does it matter what Tucker likes? Why does it matter what old cards he won’t stop talking about, even though they’re hopelessly outdated? The reality is that everyone has these sentimental fixtures, the first rare they opened, the orc that they thought looked like their sister, and it’s important to respect that.
For me, the comparative value of a Thorn Elemental is very high, and an Exploration even higher. I’m willing to make trades that, on paper, look very bad in the interest of getting my favorite cards. I usually end up trading the Explorations away a few weeks later, always at a loss compared to what I picked them up for. Obviously, from a business perspective, I’m doing nothing but hemorrhaging money. There is no viable reason to do this, from a financial standpoint- but I do it anyway, because I love those cards, and at the point when I decide I can’t have cards I like because I don’t want to trade cards I don’t like to begin with for them, I should quit.
We all have our price, and for me it’s nostalgic old cards that are frustrating to play against. It’s important to note, however, that my price is what it is for a very specific reason- it keeps me around. By acknowledging in this ever so slight way that Magic is still a game, I give myself a reason to keep enjoying it, and keep making money. The point in time when I made the most money off of magic was also the point when I liked it the least, the point when I spent every other day quitting cold turkey and not looking back. For most people this isn’t an issue, and I don’t claim that this approach is normal, but a balancing act like this is something every trader needs to keep in mind when they deal with objects as erratic as cards.
I bought in on Bonfire of the Damned fairly early, getting a few playsets at silly numbers of dollars and holding on to them. A short while later they hit 35, and some dealers were buying them for 20 dollars apiece- I sold immediately. A few months later, they were buylist for 35, a truly obscene price for any card in standard. If I could have gone back and made a different decision, would I have? Would you have? You might, but I sure wouldn’t.
Rational Logic (I Hope)
The saying goes that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush, and as archaic as that sounds it’s actually very accurate. If you’d held onto Bonfire at that point, you could have potentially seen another increase in price, leading up to its monstrous peak price only a couple months later, but why? Why risk such a sure thing as Bonfire on something so simple as greed? By trading at not much and selling at 20, I guarantee a massive chunk of profit, while risking very little. The card seemed good, wasn’t played, wasn’t worth all too much while in a set that wasn’t likely to be opened in great quantity. It didn’t hurt to pick up, and after making sure its momentum was real, I sold at the first opportunity.
I recommend you do the same. The smartest trader in the stock market isn’t the one who rides a stock up as long as he can, hoping he can hit the very peak, it’s the one who waits just long enough to make a tidy profit, and gets out with no regrets. One of the many reasons why Magic players make good poker players is that you can make the right play and still lose, and a good magic player will make the right play every time, knowing that sometimes the game won’t turn out as well as they’d hoped. I read this concept in an old article many years ago, the idea that the best magic players will make the right play and lose ten times in a row, and make the same play the 11th time because they know that the play is correct.
Gambling is not an effective way to make money for yourself, not in the long term. Knowing that the card making you money for sure now is better than maybe making you money in the future is the first step to a true understanding of the financial side of Magic. It doesn’t pay to hold onto your speculation with white knuckles as you watch it plummet, certain that it will go back up, and it’s just as bad to refuse to let go in the vain hope that the ceiling is still in the distance.
What do you gain, after all, for holding onto your Bonfires? Let’s assume you held onto your playsets through the price peak around States. How much did you make? How much did you make considering that at a bare minimum, you had hundreds of dollars invested in Bonfires? How much could you have made if that huge pile of value hadn’t been gathering dust in the corner of your binder for four months?
Every good trader has their price, and I recommend that that august group include you. Be willing to sell before the stock stops moving up, be willing to move off Thragtusk at 20. Yes, it’ll probably hit 25, but what if it doesn’t? Invest in the sure thing, and as soon as you see the profits, cut it loose and invest in the next sure thing. Unless it’s Thorn Elemental- then you should talk to me.
Until next time, if you have Questions, Comments or Snide Remarks I look forward to seeing them in the comments!