Discipline for a New Wave of Buyouts

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Don’t panic.

It’s a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and it seems particularly relevant given last week’s activity in Magic’s secondary market. The movement reached beyond the MTG finance community, and far more influential members of the community have started observing some gravity-defying trends.

Believe it or not, I did not hack Saffron’s account to tweet this, even though I’m envious that he shared this comparison before I could.

What does this all mean? Is Magic ruined forever because of these sudden, drastic price moves?

This week I’ll share my suggestions on how to approach this dynamic seller’s market.

Tip 1: Don’t Panic

I begin my article with this mantra because it is the most important reminder when navigating an overheated market. It’s so easy to see Wheel of Fortune sell out and panic buy any copy you can find on the internet. I know this because of my own firsthand experiences—yesterday when a friend pointed out the card’s disappearance, I searched everywhere I knew of for a remaining copy. (No luck, by the way).

In the past, I’ve written about the fear of missing out, “FOMO” for short, and how it can lead us to poor purchasing decisions. When we see a card is suddenly in much more demand, our psychology drives us to desire the card even more. We also start to project into the future, thinking about our inability to afford the card and our sudden, desperate need to have a copy “just in case.” These feelings can be powerful.

But we must not give in to the temptation. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Wheel of Fortune will now and forever be a $2000 card based on TCGplayer trends. It’s important to remember that a bought out card almost never retains its full price growth—there’s always a retracement. It has already started in the case of Wheel of Fortune. I’m seeing HP copies for just under $300 and LP for $450.

When I checked last night, there were three listings for this card. Now there are twenty-one. There will be more by the end of today. Price spikes always bring loose copies out of the woodwork, and the new competition helps drive the price back down again.

Will it make a round trip back to its pre-buyout price? No. That ship has in fact sailed. But purchasing a copy in reaction to the buyout is a recipe to overpay and lose money. It’s hard to think of this when in the moment, so that’s why my first recommendation is “don’t panic.”

Ask Yourself: Is This About Money or Gameplay?

After allaying your fears that you’ll never be able to own a copy of the card again, the next thing I’d ask is your motivation for suddenly desiring the card.

Not long ago, speculators made a move on Revised Vesuvan Doppelganger.

The card is on the Reserved List, and is one of the icons from my childhood. I remember my LGS had a copy of the card listed for $25 back in the late 1990’s. Every time I visited, I would browse through their disorganized singles binder and would come across this card and marvel at its beauty. But for a 14-year-old, $25 was steep; that amount of money could purchase 8 booster packs, for example!

Then one day the dream became reality—the LGS put all their singles on a 50% off sale. With the help of a parent, I was finally able to acquire the Vesuvan Doppelganger. I cherished that card as my “most valuable” and “most powerful” card for quite some time.

When I saw that people were buying out this childhood favorite, my emotions started kicking in. Should I go out and buy a bunch before it was too late? It would be a shame for these to be triple the price simply because Rudy of Alpha Investments made a video about Revised cards. Luckily, before I could make any regretful decisions, I took a step back.

Why was I suddenly interested in Revised Vesuvan Doppelganger? I already own a single copy; it resides in my mono blue Commander deck. Any time I want to relive that moment of my childhood, I can take that copy out and admire it. Each incremental copy I could purchase would not really add to my nostalgia more than the first did.

I realized my motivation wasn’t out of nostalgia. Nor was the copy so important to me from a gameplay perspective. I was content to own one copy for over a decade; why at that moment was I unhappy not owning more? My motivation was purely financial. I came to the realization that I saw money being made and I wasn’t participating in the fruitful market.

But Magic shouldn’t be all about the money. If Vesuvan Doppelganger is about childhood nostalgia, then buying up a dozen extra copies would fly in the face of this and objectify the card. Am I truly only into Magic for its financial component? I wrote a lengthy article last week describing my desire to avoid that mentality. So while I was disappointed that the card was suddenly more expensive, I came to accept that I didn’t really need more than one copy. I never did. If I want to make money from Magic, there’s never reason to regret missing out on a spike because there is always another. Always.

The Sloppy Buyout

The next tip I have when navigating buyouts is more pragmatic in nature. Often times when people buy out a card, they start with TCGplayer and focus on the lightly played and near mint copies. Why is this the first place to buy? Because it causes the action to hit the radar of multiple websites. MTGStocks, for example, uses TCG’s listed median price to display on its Interests page. By buying up LP and NM copies, and then reposting one for an astronomical number, it creates a “spike” on the price charts.

It’s pretty easy to identify the culprits who are driving the “spike” on MTGStocks. No one is going to pay $4,500 for a near mint Wheel. I’m sorry.

When the buyout starts, the MP, HP, and Damaged copies are usually left behind. In addition, not all websites are cleaned out of the card. It’s a little more time consuming to soak up all the copies on eBay. Star City Games, ABUGames, Card Kingdom, Channel Fireball, and a smattering of other online vendors also don’t necessarily sell out simultaneously.

When I see a card is bought out, I actually use this practice as a therapeutic device. I surf the web, looking for HP/MP copies that haven’t been scooped up yet. Sometimes I luck out and find some and other times I don’t. Since I am not averse to played copies, I often have HP listings as an option as well.

Recently when I saw Lion's Eye Diamond was disappearing from the market, I managed to find a decently priced copy from Star City Games. This helped me feel like I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity to profit.

If I can find a copy of the card, then great! Simply purchasing a single copy helps alleviate the FOMO. If I can’t find a copy, like with Wheel of Fortune, the practice of searching at least calms me down some. Forcing myself to take the time to think through my actions is enough to help me avoid reckless purchasing at lofty prices.

Plan Ahead

This is perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can provide: plan ahead. If there are Reserved List cards you desire but haven’t quite prioritized them, it’s time to change that approach. Reserved List cards are going to be targeted by speculators and investors over and over again. It’s inevitable. We can rue this truth or we can do something about it.

This doesn’t mean you should go out and preemptively buy out cards. I strongly discourage such activity. But if you have an active want list in your mind, I’d recommend bumping Reserved List cards (ones that haven’t already spiked) toward the top of your list. This helps you get ahead of the curve when it comes to these buyouts.

What’s more, knowing in advance what cards you truly want will help you ignore the noise of these day-to-day buyouts. Wheel of Fortune spiked over the weekend. If that card wasn’t on your want list, then you can ignore this fact and focus instead on cards you do want. This not only helps you avoid FOMO purchases—it helps you keep calm and carry on when the buyouts happen. It’s much easier to ignore a market’s trend when you don’t have any interest in that particular market in the first place.

Wrapping It Up

Buyouts are going to be here for a while. I’m oversimplifying the economics, but I anticipate more liquidity entering the market in the coming weeks. If President Biden comes in and issues additional stimulus checks to the majority of the U.S., this will trickle into the collectibles market, including Magic. This will inflate prices further.

Now more than ever, it’s important to get in front of these buyouts and have a strategy for how you’ll handle them. If you let them happen to you, you’ll be destined to react with a “FOMO” sentiment. This ultimately leads to overpaying for cards in a fit of panic buying (I’ve been there, trust me).

To combat this, let’s enter this unprecedented time with a plan. First, we won’t panic when a card disappears. We’ll enable a calm demeanor by planning a want list in advance, recognizing when our motivations are strictly monetary and not gameplay related, and we’ll shop around for missed copies. These activities will help us remain disciplined about buyouts.

Lastly, I want to mention one more thing: this is a seller’s market. If you have desirable Reserved List cards, it’s going to be easier than ever before to move them for cash. Don’t be afraid to sell some of your position as prices climb. I wouldn’t recommend selling out completely, all at once, as you may miss some of the climb. But trimming back now and then is a good way to raise cash for other needs. Life, after all, isn’t all about Magic, as much as we like to think it is sometimes.

3 thoughts on “Discipline for a New Wave of Buyouts

  1. Back when Legacy started, it was fairly common to see players using Alpha and Beta dual lands to play the format. Why? Because it was fun. Players found Legacy to be the perfect format to play and collect at the same time. I know because I was one of those. I still have my burn deck with the full set of Alpha Lightning Bolts around. It’s the only deck I haven’t broken. It just looks too cool. But it also reminds me just how cheap they were back then.

    1. Legacy is largely a format where you can play and collect at the same time. It has been hit by some reprints, but you’re protected by the Reserved List when it comes to the majority of value in your decks.

      I have fallen in love with the classic feel of Old School, but I can’t fault you for sticking to Legacy. Part of me wishes I maintained my Legacy deck but, believe it or not, even that format is too dynamic for an old fogie like me :-).

  2. Wheel of Fortune is a fun card that makes me hear O Fortuna every time i play the card. these buyouts lag booster box spikes. i keep ev ratios for sets broken up by 4 horseman, then rest of reserve list sets then old border, etc. when the ev declines i consider what cards might get targeted in a buyout.

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