Insider: Everyone Has a Price – Sell for the Profit, Not for the Story

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Irrational Love


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 Why does it matter what old cards he won’t stop talking about, even though they’re hopelessly outdated?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!



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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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18 thoughts on “Insider: Everyone Has a Price – Sell for the Profit, Not for the Story

  1. I stand by this mindset as best as I can. I’d rather get some decent profit now instead of hold and hope for more profits. Exceptions are of course based on my emotions. I should sell my Dual Lands now to take profits off the table, but I am too emotionally attached to them, and this disables me from wanting to sell except at the absolute peak. Unfortunately, these are a bit more expensive than Thorn Elemental 🙁

    1. Sig, let em go. you may not hit peak but they will be cheaper at some point in the future, don’t you think? they seem hard enough to get, but show up to any big event with cash and they are there. the problem is picking up cards and not having or sticking with your investment thesis. if you want to own em, make trades = to their value and consider them yours.

        1. I tend to trade duals as quickly as I can, but then I don’t use them. I think it’s important to keep in mind that play value is the most important part of a card- I trade to pay for my habit, and even if your pet cards are a 40 set of duals, everyone needs something that they take pride in!

          1. My duals are old as hell. 🙂 Hand-me-downs from cousins who no longer play the game. I will never sell them. My little brother gets them next when I stop playing.

            It’s a family thing. 🙂

  2. I learned this some time ago from a friend who owns a store now. He used to make money by going around to different stores and making trades and/or buying and selling cards.

    I sold all my SoM fastlands early, and kept regretting the loss of profit when they suddenly doubled again overnight. Then he told me to think about what I just said. The loss of profit. That’s an oxymoron. You don’t lose anything when you profit. Sure, by selling early, I gave the guys I sold to the potential to profit, but they were going to use the cards in their decks anyway. I was wasting all that effort regretting, when I could be getting excited that Hero of Bladehold was going up.

    That’s stayed with me until now. This article just reminded me of that.

    1. I absolutely agree. I feel glad for the people who got to benefit from my good fortune. It also helps my image for people to know that I’m not going to gouge them on a card I know is going up, if they need it for their deck.

  3. making money is good. with stocks i don’t count missed profits. a trade is either worth it or not and the best way to measure that is with a percent return. quick flips @30% in MtG seem common and they are great even if you miss a leg up. that said, sometimes you just need to ask yourself “why did i spec X” and if the reasons are intact their is no need to sell.

    my investment thesis for modern fastlands is still intact and i am in no hurry to unload.

    1. I’ve got a nice pile of fastlands sitting on my counter that I’ll happily keep until modern season- knowing when to sell also means knowing when to keep.

  4. Tucker-I enjoyed the article and it was a great reminder to have a little introspection and realize why you enjoy the game. I love to trade (when I go to big events..I rarely play in anything but side events…I spend most of it trading), but even more I love to play off the wall decks; they rarely win, but when they do..they win in awesome fashion. With that in mind, I have “trade stock” binders and “not for trade” binders. The Not for Trade binders are just that..with almost no exceptions is anything in that binder for trade, like you I accept that I’m not making profits on the cards in those and value them very highly because they allow me to build/play whatever I want, despite the fact that for the standard one..when the cards rotate out I will have lost out on the opportunity to make a lot more profit. That may be why I tend to gravitate more towards legacy..since there is no rotation my not for trade binders don’t lose tons of value.

    1. I too have no-trades that I don’t like to get rid of. I will never, ever trade off my foil horizon canopy if I can avoid it, and while I can rationalize this as good because future sight is rare, thorn elemental has no such good reason. Nevertheless, Magic is about having fun, and while trading help me pay for my hobby and make a little cash to ease up the burden from school, there’s no reason for me to dedicate the entirety of my stock to profit when I could make more money on some other venture. I trade because I like it, and because I like magic, and part of that is having a pile of cards I play happily while I watch their prices dwindle into oblivion with no regrets.

      1. Are fastlands still good? I haven’t checked the price for them yet. I figured that all the people joining Modern would have raised the prices enough that there’d be low to no gain once the season come around again.

          1. no, their prices are sooooo low right now. Razorverge, which

            Mathieu correctly targeted as being an important part of Birthing Pod, are 2 dollars. Blackcleave are the highest priced, at 6, but you can easily point at 2 dollar thicket and say “That seems high. Can you do 18 for the playset?”

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