Adequate Training for Running and Magic

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One of my favorite parts about running races is the words of encouragement I receive from friends and family before and after the event. The dopamine hit I receive from each little like, tweet, or comment encouraging my dedication and performance really makes the pastime worthwhile. Honestly, if I ran races and no one was ever allowed to see my results except me, I’d probably lose motivation to improve.

In order to build up this endurance and speed (please don’t mind the prideful moment), it took me many years of practice. I began running in college—in the summer of 2007. Up until that point, I had never purposefully exercised outside of gym class and parent-driven mandatory sports participation in my youth. Running that summer was different. I wanted to do it.

While I took breaks here and there, consistent cardio exercise over the past 16 years prepared me for the races I’ve run over those years. This includes two full marathons, around eight half marathons, and a smattering of 5Ks and 10Ks.  

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The Importance of Training

To be completely honest, I know I don’t train optimally for every race I sign up to run. This will have to be one of those, “Do as I say, not as I do” articles. One must tailor their exercise routine in order to maximize performance in a race, and that routine looks different depending on whether the goal is a 5K sprint or a 26.2-mile journey.

There are very few things I’ve been practicing longer than running. Magic is one of those rare exceptions (since 1997). When I really think about it critically, I can apply the same approach I use when training to run to Magic finance.

Wait a second. Am I seriously going to draw yet more parallels between running and Magic? You bet! Not only was this a suggestion from my editor, but I think it’s a brilliant idea because of the overlap in strategy that could be applied. Buckle in and allow me some leeway as I explain…

Shorter Races and Quick Flips

On the one hand, we have our sprints: these are shorter races where the name of the game is maintaining elevated speed for just long enough. In my running experience, I have raced both 1 mile and 5K distances with the aim of being completely out of gas as I cross the finish line. This requires a consistent push through the pain and discomfort of a fast race, but you can’t drain yourself of energy prematurely or you’ll be left with a suboptimal time.

It takes practice to master the appropriate pacing and to strengthen the proper muscles to succeed in these short races.

Magic finance sprints can be thought of in the same way. For example, if your goal is to speculate on a card that you believe is about to break out in Standard, you need to exercise speed and discipline when it comes to card acquisition. If you purchase cards too slowly, you’ll miss out on the full financial potential of your spec. Purchase too many cards too quickly, and you’ll likely overpay on some copies and carry an extra risk that the price falls a little further still. The name of the game here is pacing and reacting to the rapidly evolving situation.

Here's a tangible example I’ve referenced in older articles. I remember when Scavenging Ooze was first reprinted in Magic 2014, and the card’s price plummeted in response.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Scavenging Ooze

I was so confident that the card would rebound in price that I “sprinted” by buying a couple dozen copies all at once. I remember thinking, “Star City Games pays $6 on their buylist so if I am buying 30 copies at $6, I can’t lose!”

I lost. I didn’t pace my buying sufficiently. As copies started arriving in the mail, I noticed SCG’s buylist slowly declined. I could never exit my copies for profit, and this left me with a disappointing result. I should have taken a step back and paced myself in buying this card. Instead, I went out too aggressively in a race that required more patience and was left with a loss.

Let’s fast forward to 2022 when my speculation training readied me for a more positive result. This time, I’m talking about my recent foray into speculation on Raffine, Scheming Seer.

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This was a similar situation—I noticed Card Kingdom’s buy price was a hair above TCGplayer pricing. I started buying up copies, this time shopping around more carefully to ensure I was paying the best price (not just buying up any copy I could find under a given threshold). As I observed more copies being listed, I realized that I could not maintain this sprint for long enough. Instead, I started selling my copies immediately to Card Kingdom, even as more were still arriving in the mail.

The result: I successfully exited all copies to secure a modest store credit profit. The speculative play didn’t pan out how I wanted, but I managed to dodge significant losses because I had “run this race” before and knew how to approach this scenario. It was through practice and adequate training that I managed to turn a potential failure into a minor success.

The Marathons

On the other hand, we have our marathons: these are the 13.1- or 26.2-mile races that require a more rigorous training regiment and precise pacing. In my first marathon, I paced myself with extreme care, and it led to a solid performance. I managed to run the entire distance, but I also felt like I could have pushed a little harder at times. My second marathon yielded the opposite result—I went out faster with my sights on an aggressive goal, but ran out of gas and had to run/walk the final few miles.

In Magic finance, it’s really important to have your goals set clearly in mind for longer-term specs. If you don’t plan adequately, you could end up buying too many copies or not enough copies at the onset, leading to gaps as you approach the finish line. The name of the game here is deliberate goal setting.

Here are two examples to illustrate my point:

First, let me share a long-term mistake I made in Magic finance. It was around 2013. I ha a few years experience in Magic finance at this point. My son had just been born, and with this event, I decided to leverage Magic to help me pay for my son’s (now two kids’) college educations.

The Legacy format was overheated and I anticipated a fade in popularity. Dual Land prices were jumping constantly. I remember looking in awe at Star City Games’ buy prices on the cycle of ten lands. Underground Sea was buylisting for $100! At the time, I was seeing dollar signs.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Underground Sea

With this backdrop, I went to a Grand Prix in Providence, where I decided to completely sell out of Legacy. Every single card had to go, including my Dual Lands, Mox Diamonds, Lion's Eye Diamonds, and dozens of other cards (some on the Reserved List, others not).

There was an error retrieving a chart for Mox Diamond

The proceeds were enough to help me establish a separate investment account for the college fund. In a way, it was a commitment to this newfound goal.

While I don’t regret making the commitment to my kids, I realize now that my timing was severely misplaced. Of course, hindsight is 20-20 as they say. I could never have anticipated prices to go in the direction they have. However, if my goal was indeed to sell out of Magic to fund college, why had I decided to sell all of my Reserved List cards seventeen years before the first tuition bill would arrive in the mail?

With proper “training”, I could have recognized that I needed to pace myself more carefully—selling a small portion of the cards little by little in order to ensure I still had some cards to sell closer to the finish line.

Fast forward to 2022: my son was now almost eleven years old, and I found myself facing another tough choice. Was it time to start selling my Old School and Vintage cards, or to continue holding them? The Dual Lands I had sold in Providence were in my possession for only one to three years. I'd spent seven years accruing my Old School and Vintage cards.

At Magic 30 in Las Vegas, I made the decision to sell most of the valuable cards I had collected. Why was this time different? First, I had held onto the cards longer, and realized greater gains. Second, my confidence in the long-term health of the secondary singles market had been shaken, causing me to want to mitigate risk.

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Third, and most importantly, for the first time in my Magic career, I had line of sight to the “finish line” of this marathon. My cards had appreciated in value enough that I could actually visualize myself achieving my long-term goals. After years of training and practice, I was fortunate enough to recognize the “win” when I saw it. I didn’t want to risk having it escape. Even if prices climb higher, I knew that I had paced myself better this time around and I could rest happily in selling as a result.

Wrapping It Up

In reality, there are many nuances that distinguish training for races from training for financial goals. The metaphor is far from perfect. I’m hoping, however, that the comparison helps shed some light on the importance of a few key concepts.

Training and practice are absolutely critical if you truly wish to succeed in either endeavor. If you wake up one day and decide out of the blue to run a 5K, you may finish the race but you probably won’t achieve an optimal result without proper training. In the same sense, if you dive into the world of short-term speculation, you will want to practice and start small before going for big wins. This could mean you allow yourself a smaller bankroll to begin with in order to reduce the risk of costly errors. It could also mean that you take multiple, smaller shots rather than attempting to “shoot the moon” with one speculative play.

If your goal is to finish a half or full marathon, on the other hand, you’ll need to deliberately map out a training regiment and establish pace goals. Without proper training, it’s extremely difficult to finish a marathon (without significant pain and lots of walking). Likewise in Magic, you need to establish your long-term financial goals when you begin investing. From there, it’s critical to make decisions around pacing that are consistent with those goals. Otherwise, you risk leaving money on the table, or (worst case) you are left holding cards that drop in value when you should be crossing the finish line.

Whatever your objectives, you can see how important practice, training, and goal setting can be—both when running and when buying Magic cards!

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Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

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Posted in Dual Lands, Finance, investing, Legacy, Quick FlipsTagged , , , , ,

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