A couple weeks ago fellow Quiet Speculation writer Edward Eng and I hosted the inaugural Office Hours podcast. This was a live question & answer session where Insiders could post written questions to the Insider Discord while Ed and I replied with audio. Check out the recorded session above if you’re curious to listen.
There were two highlights from this session in my mind. First, someone asked about Runaway Steam-Kin. Most of you know by now I don’t spend a second of my time analyzing Standard. However, this one intrigued me and I decided to grab eight copies on a whim. Not too long after, I managed to sell them for a modest gain—getting “paid” to talk about Magic is one of my favorite pastimes!
The second highlight came in the form of a more open-ended question. An Insider asked for strategies to participate in MTG finance with a limited budget. Ed and I tried our best to tackle this massive question, but I don’t think I did the subject enough justice. There are probably many people with this same question, and I thought I’d elaborate a bit more on my philosophy surrounding this concept.
It really comes down to three possible priorities…
The Three Priorities
In some offices at work, people hang up posters that are meant to inspire creative thought. One such poster—a bit more cynical if you ask me—states that if we want to create the best product we must choose two of the following: time, cost, quality.
Rather than get into economic theory, I bring this up because I believe a similar paradigm can be used to describe Magic finance. In my view, you have to choose between time, money (bankroll), and enjoyment. If you’re dealing with any sort of limitation (most of us are), you cannot have all three of those. You must sacrifice one of them to prioritize the other two.
Depending on what you choose to deprioritize, your involvement in this hobby can vary significantly.
Sacrificing Money: The Budget Speculator
The Insider question brought up during Office Hours directly relates to this persona. Someone who either prefers to spend less money on Magic or someone who has a limited budget basically falls into this category by default.
The budget speculator must utilize time to close the gap created by a limited bankroll. For example, they can seek out underpriced cards on TCGplayer by browsing stock by set. They can observe which Reserved List cards are selling rapidly, acquiring a few copies before the “buyout” manifests itself completely. They can also browse buylists frequently, keeping an eye out for arbitrage opportunities, such as when Card Kingdom temporarily had a $1400 buy price on Library of Alexandria.
You have the flexibility to focus on whatever category of cards you want. If you wish to play Commander for example, you could focus on Commander trends when speculating. But you will have to read up on articles, monitor EDH REC numbers religiously, and listen to podcasts in order to make the timely purchases necessary to maintain a budget. You also may need to wait patiently for an upcoming reprint in order to acquire those cards you most desperately need for your decks.
If Modern is more your format of choice, there are plenty of ways to speculate in these spaces. Legacy and Vintage are probably not the best formats to engage in, however, due to the higher price of entry. Stick to less expensive formats, be willing to sink time into this hobby, and you should have no issues with budget finance.
Sacrificing Time: The Long-Term Investor
If I had to categorize myself, it would be in this group. I am fortunate to have a reasonable bankroll for MTG speculation and I want to focus on the formats that give me the most enjoyment. But my time is quite limited due to family obligations. Therefore, I have chosen to deprioritize time.
What does this look like? Well, I need to avoid rapidly changing formats like Standard because I don’t have enough time to keep up with the metagame. I choose not to watch coverage over the weekend because I spend that time running errands and watching my son’s soccer games. But I can certainly engage with the slower-moving formats I enjoy most: Vintage and Old School.
These are the perfect formats (Legacy would also be fine) because the cards are most immune to evolving market dynamics. The price of entry is high, but the cards I purchase are immune to reprint or metagame shifts. In fact, when dealing in Old School you could make the argument that reprints are favorable to card prices. Just look at what happened to Beta Llanowar Elves when it was re-introduced into Standard.
For someone with limited time on their hands, buying into collectible cards with plenty of upside is the best of both worlds. And if Old School isn’t your thing, you could follow the same approach in whatever format you enjoy most.
You could engage in Pauper by purchasing rare, original foil printings of your favorite cards. I’m sure Japanese foil Seventh Edition Llanowar Elves are just as expensive and just as collectible as their Beta counterparts. You could also purchase original foil printings of your favorite Commander cards. Better yet, stick to foil Reserved List cards for Commander, such as Academy Rector.
As long as you avoid Standard, this category enjoys the best formats with the best cards. We just don’t get to play all too often.
Sacrificing Enjoyment: The Backpack Vendor
Someone who deprioritizes enjoyment of Magic as a game in favor of investing time and money into the hobby is essentially a wannabe vendor. They have a sufficient bankroll and the time to endure the grind. They could be the ones trading all weekend at events. Or they could be the people who pick collections to make some extra cash. Or they could be the type that researches every format, speculates accordingly, and runs a sizable store on TCGplayer or eBay.
What they sacrifice in this endeavor is paying actual games of Magic. Maintaining decks is terrible because it forces them to own cards that may not offer good returns on their investment. They also can’t maintain a deck because they would rather sell their cards to make money. Imagine trying to build a Standard deck with History of Benalia, and then suddenly having the opportunity to cash out of the card for a sizable profit.
If you’re in this category, you can’t keep that card in good conscience because you know its price is inflated and destined to drop back down. This mindset basically prevents you from ever playing the best decks in a given format. The best decks often have the most expensive cards, which is valuable liquidity you can’t afford to sacrifice.
To the backpack vendor, Magic finance is a job and not a game.
Know Where You Stand
This article describes three very black and white categories. In reality, everything is a continuum. There’s no hard and fast rule that says you must completely deprioritize either bankroll, time, or enjoyment. That would be ludicrous and make for a less interesting hobby. But just understand that every time you give in to temptation and indulge in the one aspect you’ve deprioritized, you are making a sacrifice in one of the others.
If you are the backpack vendor you can still enjoy playing Magic. But in doing so, understand you may be sacrificing a little value and time. If you are the long-term investor with little time to enjoy the hobby, you can still get to a GP once in a while. But in doing so, you may be sacrificing time with family. And if you are on a limited budget you can still splurge once in a while. But to do so, you may need to sacrifice some money from another part of your budget—maybe eat a couple ramen meals and forgo that trip to the movies once or twice.
It’s all about maintaining the right balance for you. Being cognizant of where you stand will help you think more strategically about Magic finance. You’ll know when you’re making a sacrifice, and you’ll know where you need to make priority calls. This awareness will help you achieve the most important goal of all in any hobby: happiness.
Wrapping It Up
Between enjoyment of the game, size of bankroll, and free time, you need to select two to prioritize. It can be any combination of two you’d like, but you need to be willing to accept the limitations that come with whichever combination. This will dictate whether you are the long-term investor, the backpack vendor, or the budget speculator.
You may ask if you can choose to prioritize only one of the three vectors, neglecting the other two. I would argue doing so would lead to a highly inefficient approach to MTG finance.
You can’t sacrifice bankroll and time—this essentially means you’re a casual player and should not get involved with MTG finance. Sacrifice budget and enjoyment, and you’re basically a consumer of content with insufficient resources to make any moves. And sacrificing time and enjoyment means you have resources but no interest in applying them to Magic—you’d be better off parking that money in a brokerage account’s index fund.
In other words, you can only forego one vector and still participate fruitfully in Magic finance. It can be any of the three vectors you want, but understand what category you fall in as a result. In doing so, you will need to make certain sacrifices. That’s not to say you can’t indulge once in a while, but if you find yourself indulging too much then you may need to reconsider which category you belong in. If you bounce around too much, you will find yourself unhappy with the hobby. Find the right balance, and you’ll enjoy Magic finance for years to come.
- After jacking up their buy price to an impressive $1400, Card Kingdom scaled back their buylist on Library of Alexandria. They must have gotten enough copies back in stock. Now they are aggressively going after Bazaar of Baghdad with a buy price of $1140. By the time this article goes live, they may get new stock in and drop that number back down again. But in the meantime, this is certainly an attractive exit point.
- I was surprised to see Beta Black Knight randomly appear on Card Kingdom’s hot list. They had really backed off on their Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited buy prices as they restock these sets. They’ve gradually gotten cards in stock at new, higher prices, and this has led to a decline in buy prices across the board. For whatever reason, they must be having a tough time keeping Beta Black Knight in stock, hence the aggressive buy price.
- Card Kingdom has been moving their buy price on Power around a bit lately, depending on what they’ve been able to acquire. For example, they haven’t been able to keep more than one or two Black Lotuses in stock at any given time, so they recently upped their buylist from $6500 to $7800. But they must be somewhat content with their stock of Unlimited Ancestral Recall because they just dropped their buy price down to $2000.