Have you ever fallen asleep on a train before? It’s not difficult to imagine: you blink your eyes open, disoriented. Some people look familiar and have been on board with you the whole time, while other faces are new because they got on while you were sleeping. Others departed the train while you were dreaming, getting off at their respective stops. It’s also unclear exactly where you are at first, and it takes you a few moments to recognize precisely where you’re located and what stop is next.
This analogy is an apt description of how I am experiencing (or, more precisely, not experiencing) Magic at the present moment. I am asleep. The game continues to evolve as new sets are released. At some point, some sets will rotate out of Standard. When I occasionally blink my eyes open, I see some familiar cards being played on Arena, while others are unfamiliar. But I’m still not rested enough, and I end up falling back asleep.
This has happened to me in the past, many times. I can’t remain fully engaged with Magic gameplay and the metagame nonstop. After some amount of time, I need to take a break. I admittedly burned out on the game over the last winter break, when my push for top 1200 mythic fell just short. Since then, I've shifted focus to a different game: chess.
But this break is different. This time I’m not only bored with the game, but the financial component has also been passing me by while I slumber.
My Boredom with MTG Finance
Before my current “nap on the train,” I would typically buy and sell at least a couple of cards every week. There would be a semi-constant flow of envelopes coming into my house—always a card to look forward to opening. As prices fluctuated, I would also be eagerly looking for opportunities to sell some cards, taking profits that I could use to either purchase other cards for my collection or build up the college fund.
Recent market activity (more like inactivity) has left me feeling bored with MTG finance. Back in early Spring, buy prices on Old School / Reserved List cards were climbing to new highs almost daily. I was excited to check MTG Stocks to see what card was bought out next. Then I would navigate to Card Kingdom’s buylist to see what cards I could sell to the large vendor for record profits. I would also scour the internet for possible opportunities for arbitrage—buying cards from one place and then selling to Card Kingdom for gain.
Since April, prices have retraced significantly. For example, consider one card I have been holding for a while now: Eureka.
I purchased a lightly played English copy of the card back on June 11, 2020, for $323.13. At the time, I sensed a gradual disappearance of the card and noticed only a few lightly played and near mint copies were left on TCGplayer. My love for the artwork and the artist (Kaja Foglio is my favorite) was enough to motivate me to purchase the copy.
Less than a year later, in April 2021, Card Kingdom’s buy price on near mint copies of Eureka peaked at $780. Assuming an EX grade, that would mean my copy could fetch me $702, more than double my purchase price 10 months earlier! This was peak temptation for me—while I love the card, I’m currently not playing it in a deck, and it’s hard to overlook a significant profit like this. Just think of what I could do with that kind of money (consider my article from last week where I explain how expensive Magic cards are relative to goods and services outside the hobby).
For whatever reason, I resisted the temptation to sell—the card remains in my collection to this day. Instead, I sold other high-end Old School cards as their prices peaked: Moat and Candelabra of Tawnos are two examples.
Today, Card Kingdom is still the top buyer of Eureka, with a $585 buy price. Now my EX copy will fetch me $526.50—a far cry from the $702 offer they had for a brief moment earlier this year. If I didn’t want to sell for $700, it’s very unlikely enough has changed to make me want to sell for $175 less. Thus, the card remains in my collection.
This is a pattern most of my current collection follows. Nearly every card I own could have been sold for more money earlier in 2021. But I didn’t cash out, and now I’m being offered lesser amounts for each one. If personal attachments to the cards kept me from selling at their highs, I certainly don't want to sell now at lower prices with those personal attachments still present. Thus, the number of cards I’m actively selling today is near zero.
On the other side, I am also unmotivated to be a buyer in today’s market. For one, I already picked up most of the cards I was looking for while the market was booming back in the spring. But more importantly, prices haven’t retraced enough to make me a motivated buyer. They’re still elevated, and they still have some room to fall further. I don’t wish to catch the proverbial “falling knife” and purchase an asset while its price is dropping.
While I don’t pretend to be able to predict the precise bottom, with Magic prices, there should be sufficient time in a “local minimum” to purchase cards opportunistically before a price rebounds. There’s no need for me to rush out and buy.
Thus, I’m in this limbo where I don’t want to buy cards and I don’t really want to sell many cards. I’m content to be asleep.
The Magic World is Passing Me By
While I take a soft reprieve from Magic finance, I recognize that the world is passing me by. I used to visit a couple Discord servers multiple times a day—the Old School Discord group was one of my favorite places to browse for the buy and sell threads. What a great way to keep my finger on the pulse of the market!
But I find myself rather uninterested in any Discord channels involving Magic these days. I’ll still check them occasionally, maybe once a day or once every other day. But you know what I realized? Despite “missing” numerous sale posts, I find I’m not really missing much. Cards come and cards go, but it’s the same beat to a slightly different tune. It’s constant enough to lull me to “sleep”.
I sit here and ponder what it would take to reinspire me, and motivate me to buy and sell cards once again? I believe there are three things that can help reinvigorate my interest in the hobby:
- The return of MagicFests, with a significant one being hosted within a couple hours’ drive from my home. Such an event would give me the chance to liquidate cards in person for immediate cash—even I can’t resist the feel of $100 bills in my pocket. Eureka wouldn’t stand a chance, even if the best offer I receive is a far cry from the April 2021 peak.
- A new wave of Reserved List speculation and buyouts. This isn’t something I’m exactly clamoring for, but if another round of buyouts were to take place I would definitely act opportunistically. Next time we have a spike in interest, I’ll probably sell more aggressively than before.
- The passing of time. In an ironic way, if the Reserved List market calmed down and reached a steady state, I’d also be tempted to do some more selling. I’d prefer to sell into buyouts, of course, but if it became apparent that prices were going to remain stagnant for months to come (I’m not exactly sure how I’d know this, mind you), I’d be tempted to trim back the portfolio so I can allocate more money toward the college account.
While I sit here and wait for one of these three events to unfold, I’m content to keep my eyes closed and let the world of Magic continue to pass by.
Wrapping It Up
This was a rather personal, introspective article this week. I hope folks appreciated the transparency of the piece—it’s a reflection of how I feel in this current, ho-hum market environment. I’m curious to hear if others are feeling a similar sense of boredom with Magic, or if its perhaps local to a certain subset of the player base. If you feel comfortable, please reach out to me in the Quiet Speculation discord or on Twitter (@sigfig8) and share your feelings on the matter.
Before closing, I do want to take my transparency one step further and highlight a few cards that I have sold recently. After going weeks without posting anything for sale, I decided to cash out of a couple of key cards to raise cash for the college account.
A couple weeks ago, I buylisted a couple cards to Card Kingdom, including my Alpha Nether Shadow, Acid Rain, and Wolf Pack. Then, after a favorable round of grading from Card Kingdom, my interest in selling was momentarily piqued. So I buylisted my Elephant Graveyard and Beta Fire Elemental to ABUGames. Lastly, I saw someone in the Old School Discord was looking for Beta rares, so I shipped them my Raging River for a fair deal.
These were the first sizable sales I made in quite a while, and I’ll admit it’s waking me up a little bit. After zero transactions for a couple weeks, the feeling of receiving cash in my PayPal account is enough to make me want to pursue further sales. I suppose this is a fourth reason I'd be motivated to re-engage with the market--that feeling of selling cards and accumulating PayPal funds is addicting.
But at the moment, there’s not much else I’m tempted to sell given current prices. So while I may not be completely asleep to the hobby, a more precise analogy would be a light “dozing off” while riding the train. I open my eyes frequently enough to be aware of the world passing by, but not so alert to pick up on every motion.
This mode of operation feels comfortable to me at the moment, and I’m disinclined to change things in the near term. Of course, with the passing of enough time, anything is fair game. Until then, though, I’ll enjoy catching up on some sleep.