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Insider: The Myth of Making Profits, Revisited

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This is what started it all.

“Marianne: So how did it go?

Me: It was okay. I went 3-1 playing, but I made like $30 trading!

Marianne: Great, so are you taking me out to dinner tomorrow night? Or are you going to buy me shiny things?

Me: Well, it’s more like “theoretical money”

Marianne: So macaroni and cereal again?

Me: (sigh) Yeah, but I really like those!”

That’s the conversation that began it all, and it's how I started off The Myth of Making Profits, which I consider to be one of the most important concepts I’ve championed in the small bubble that is the financial side of Magic.

These have changed quite a bit since I wrote that article, almost exactly two years ago. For starters, I graduated college, found full-time work as a sportswriter, and most importantly, I got married, finally fulfilling the promise of “shiny things” with a surprise trip to London to propose to Marianne.

Today, Marianne and I are eating a little better than macaroni and cereal (though I certainly still indulge in those often enough).

Just as much has changed in Magic. Importantly, the financial revolution has been fully completed. Two years ago, people were beginning to come around to the idea that Magic could be serious business after the success of Jonathan Medina’s Pack to Power, but it was an ongoing process. People often debated the merits of treating pieces of cardboard like dollar bills, and smartphone apps to check the price of every card weren’t quite as ubiquitous as now.

We’ve also seen the rise of CawBlade and Delver, of $100 Jaces and $50 Red Sorceries. Baneslayer Angel is no longer the end-all, be-all of the format, and EDH is now one of the biggest drivers of card sales, rather than a niche format played in judges’ hotel rooms across the country.

The More Things Change…

You know the rest. The Myth of Making Profits is just as important now as it ever was, and I want to address some tenets of my original thesis and see how they’ve held up for the last two years.

The underlying notion behind the Myth is that no matter how much cardboard you have in front of you, you haven’t truly profited until you turn that cardboard into cash.

Is this still true? At its heart, yes. Speculation is nothing without the cash to show for it. As Tucker put it earlier this week, “sell for the profit, not for the story.”

The Profit

I have a few thoughts on this. On the one hand, it is absolutely the money that matters. Take your Rhox Faithmender spec, buy the ten you can when the spike begins, and double up on them a week later. Sure, maybe it’s not as flashy as hoarding thousands of a particular card, as some people I podcast on Brainstorm Brewery with (cough cough Ryan) like to do, but you make your money and move on.

This is correct. Many of us on this site are making money from Magic, and there’s nothing wrong with that. This game has given me a lot, and I do my best to try and repay that, with the understanding it’s about more than dollar bills.

Or the Story?

But I also think we need to be honest about one point. If it were just about the money, then we’re all doing it wrong. You can make plenty of money from Magic, but you’re not going to retire off Thundermaw Hellkites. Grinding out a few dollars at a time gets tedious, but the rush you feel when you call something right and watch the money add up when you sell is priceless, and it’s why many of us do what we do.

So if you have a spec you believe in strongly enough, as Ryan did with Deaths Shadow and then Séance, go for the gusto. Get your story, and hopefully you’ll make some money, too. This is why I wrote an entire article about my mass buy-out of Splinterfright. That was the biggest missed call of my life, but I’m proud of myself for going all-out on it, even though it didn’t work out.

Debunking the Myth?

My inspiration for the first article came from multiple situations where a person would come up to me and show me all the Finest Hours in their binder and say something like “And I got in on them all at a dollar, look how much money I made!”

That is a Myth. Was when I wrote the original article, and is now. You have not made a single dime. Too often people do something like and then just let the cards rot away in their binder, only to be thrown in a box a year later when the price plummets. This is why I’m in the process of selling all of my Hellriders right now. I made a good call on them and picked them up cheap. I’m now cashing that in and locking in my profits. I don’t think the card is dropping in the next few months, but I also think it’s near its ceiling, so why take the risk of missing the boat and waiting for “the next spike” only to be stuck with them in a year? Instead, I’m taking the cash and truly profiting. To do anything else is to fall victim to the Myth.

Or is it?

There’s a line I didn’t address in the original article, because I wanted to get my point across. Today, I want to dig into it.

Not everyone is out solely to make money.

Even on this very website, where you assume most people just want to make cash, we have a variety of motivations. Though I am not, many of you are serious players and grinders. Sure, you know Hellkites can’t go much higher than they are right now, but maybe playing with them is more important to you than squeezing out every dollar.

If you’re out strictly to not become a victim of the Myth, then you’d sell your Hellkites off and make your money. But then you can’t crush your FNM with them. I’ve seen people literally stress themselves out over this decision. Do I sell my Legacy duals because I think they can’t go much higher, or do I keep them because they mean something to me and leave money on the table?

To me, it’s simple. Unless it’s truly a significant financial problem and you need the money, Don’t Sell Your Merfolk.

The line between being solely profit-driven and caring only about playing is a difficult one to walk, and you can’t let the financial aspect of it become so important that it keeps you from enjoying Magic. Because enjoying Magic is why we’re all here. If it wasn’t, I’d take my trend-spotting skills and spend as much time studying the stock market as I do the Magic market.

The Top 10%

I’ve seen people in the forums in recent days saying they wish they hadn’t cashed in their Hellkites yet, even after tripling up on the card. Since buy prices have gone up $5 in the last week, they’ve lost a lot of money!

Not true.

Profit is profit. Don’t ever feel bad about making money. It is way more important to make $10 on a card (and statistically the correct play for MTG) than to hold it in the hopes of making $12 down the road. The first dollar you make, the one that puts you in the black on a transaction, that’s the one that is the most important. Everything else is just gravy.

Make your profits, and then let someone else assume the risk in hopes of chasing that last 10%. Don’t be so worried about hitting the peak that you stand still while the ravine slowly pulls you down.

Don’t Be a Prisoner

I still believe the Myth of Making Profits to be an instrumental concept to creating sustainable success in the #MTGFinance world. It drives nearly all my decisions when it comes to Magic cards, and that’s fine.

But as a drunk guy in the Caribbean reminds me seemingly every time I turn on the Cable, “it’s more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”

If your duals mean something to you, ignore the money. If you want to keep a bunch of overpriced Standard cards so you can tear up FNM, do it. If you’re dealing with a card that you just want to make money on, don’t fall prey to the Myth.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

8 thoughts on “Insider: The Myth of Making Profits, Revisited

  1. Great read, Corbin. I know the Duals line is at least indirectly pointed towards me. I really do want to keep my 40 Duals because they’re part of why I love the game.

    The only struggle I have is looking at the amount of cash I’d be leaving on the table. If Magic fades away one day or if SCG supports Modern and the prices of Duals drop, I don’t want to be looking back thinking “I could have made $3000 selling these and now they’re only worth $1000”. That would feel like a $2000 loss even if the loss was all imaginary.

    This is an emotional struggle I need to get through. I need to figure out how I want to walk that “line” you described. As much as I wish there was a right answer, I am the only person who can decide what’s best for me here.

    As for my 4x Jace, the Mind Sculptors. I think they gotta go 🙂

    1. I’m in the same boat. Just this year I finished my 40 duels/fetches collection and I too have the concern regarding the loss of money that could entail should legacy fall off, but like Sigmund I LOVE the format and I love being able to change up decks (as opposed to many who build a deck and just tweak it..I like to switch it up). Like your article brings up…one really needs to look at WHY they trade/speculate/play.

      1. Yeah, Sig, it was 🙂 Didn’t want to name names, though.

        Money comes and goes. Even if they drop a lot, all it’s going to be is a justification to yourself that goes like this: “Even though I hated selling them, at least I made this much money.” As long as that sentence starts with “I hated selling them,” (and it’s not an emergency), I think you’re going to regret it later on.

  2. I really like what you are saying about selling the hellkites. I recently picked mine up at $20 trade each for my Jund deck and could easily sell them and make a nice profit, but what is the opportunity cost if sold? If I hold on to my Thundermaws and for that matter my Thragtusks(I believe they are at their ceiling as well) I can win my FNM and get 8 packs and a promo. If I sold the cards I would have some cash freed up to invest more, but at the same time I wouldn’t be winning my FNMs. (went 4-0 last week, won Wednesday night magic last night as well). Off of my winnings both days I pulled another bonfire, a griselbrand, and a silverblade at FNM and a Overgrown Tomb at the Wednesday Night Magic. The opportunity cost of selling my cards means that I wouldn’t have won either of those, which was a total of a $5 investment that turned into quite a few cards that I can now buylist out if I need cash. I like holding onto cards if I use them but if they are just in my binder and I can make a solid profit I will almost always cash out. Great article though, it makes a lot of sense.

  3. When I look at speculating and mtg finance I treat them separate from my hobby and fun.

    Anything I spec on does not go into my edh decks or standard decks, I would consider that eating into my profits.

    I build loads of different themed cubes and those cards all go into my playing section of my magic collection and i will never trade out of them. They are my Magic playing pride and joy.

    i think it is important to keep these separate, half business half pleasure.

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