Hoarder's Greed: A Beginners' Guide to Buying and Selling
- Christian Tobehn
Fear is one of the main actors in the human psyche. This year, supermarkets saw people buy up the whole supply of various goods to stockpile them, afraid they might miss out otherwise. Similar can happen — and has happened — in the Magic world. Here's a look at the theory, history, and the lessons to be learned.
The term FOMO describes the "fear of missing out" on some interaction or special event and is highly related to the spread of social media. For example, there are people you barely know who share picture-perfect moments of their lives, sometimes along with a pseudo-philosophical quote. If you see a lot of such posts, you might wonder: Why is your life not like that? Are you doing something wrong? You may start to think you're missing out on something and ultimately begin scrutinizing your life. But FOMO is also a term that is used in the financial world and it often exerts a big influence in our little world of trading cards too.
FOMO in Magic
FOMO can set in when the supply of a product starts disappearing while prices are skyrocketing. The following fictional example shows you the inside of a Magic player who's infected and what can go wrong when putting money into cardboard …
Some obscure card from Homelands that's on the Reserved List combos really well with a card from the new Standard set. It can yield a turn one kill every third game. People are starting to buy nearly every copy. The price goes from five to an average of fourteen Euros for a copy in excellent condition. One such copy is left for nine Euros. Timmy is a player and a collector. Timmy never thought about buying the card. He doesn't even like that new deck because it is an unfair combo deck and he likes Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch.
But now he thinks: "Oh no, all these people buying the card are making some bucks or having so much fun with their turn one kills. Maybe one day I want to play combo too. I'm sick of ramping all the time. I should really get the copy for nine Euros. It's a safe buy anyway. If I still hate combo in a year, I will just sell the card. It will be at twenty Euros for sure. Just in case I should probably buy the other three copies for fourteen Euros as well. This way, I don't have to pay a fortune for my playset."
Over the next three days, people start selling the card at €25. But Timmy manages to buy eight more copies at fourteen because he is an investor now. "I'm the baddest man on the planet! I'm like Tony Montana! The world is mine," Timmy thinks. Then a huge load of supply hits the market. The price goes down to five Euros again. "Where did that come from? It's a Homelands card. It is super rare and on the Reserved List too. Isn't it supposed to go up all the time? I do not have enough money to buy the rest of the stock," Timmy blusters. A few days later, the card is banned in Legacy, and the price falls even further. In the end, Timmy liquidates at three Euros per card because he needs money for the urgent repair of his bike.
What went wrong? Timmy got struck by FOMO. He underestimated the supply of a set like Homelands. He did not consider how many cards are out there. At that time, print runs had already exploded. The Reserved List is not always the Hidden Path to doubling your money. He also did not consider the secret stash: Not every physical card that exists is listed; but if there's a spike, then even people who ordinarily don't sell their cards make use of the opportunity. Furthermore, Timmy played a risky game, since the combo seemed too good to be true. If a combo becomes oppressive, you should be wary of buying into the hype. We saw this happening with Underworld Breach and Oko, Thief of Crowns.
This short story of what happened to Timmy resembles actual events in 2017 …
The Year 2017
Did you wake up realizing that the card you intended to buy was suddenly ten Euros more expensive than the day before? Did you buy it at the increased price in fear of having to pay even more than that later? Congratulations, you've been FOMOed. Did you buy your beloved dual land in 2017? If yes, you probably overpaid from today's perspective.
We'll forever remember 2017 as the biggest case of FOMO in the history of Magic. It all started in late 2016, when various YouTube channels made their "investment" agenda public. Craig Berry rambled about buying every copy of Lion's Eye Diamond and Moat. 2017 was the year when buyouts and investing in Magic became cool. It was when a lot of crypto money hit the market. People treated Reserved List cards as a financial asset. Others were afraid they would never get those sought-after cards at the current prices again, if at all. FOMO set in. The result was a price spike across the whole Reserved List. Not just Revised dual lands went through the roof. Even The Dark and Fallen Empires cards such as Stone Calendar, Frankenstein's Monster, or Wall of Kelp spiked. Nearly every Reserved List card went up. In 2019, the prices slowly regressed. Many people like Timmy lost money because their investments did not appreciate and they had to pay other liabilities.
I mention the Reserved List boom of 2017 as an example for FOMO. Panic-driven mentality made people buy Magic cards in an attempt to get a piece of the cake. But which other catalysts can influence card prices? In the Timmy example, we already saw additional supply hitting the market and a ban having an impact.
Needless to say that the general economic situation is also a major factor. If people are doing well financially, they have no reason to sell their cards, often prized possessions. If they are forced to do so, prices can fall quickly. Depending on how long this current situation lasts and how big the impact on the economy will be, the market might take this route.
Before we start gathering further examples, I want to note that much of what I write here only applies to the greedy investors who found their way into the rabbit hole. Magic: The Gathering is a game and it is at its best when viewed through the eyes of an uncorrupted child.
General Market Mechanics and Market Forms
This section covers basic stuff, possibly boring for people who are familiar with economics. But it might help enlighten the (lucky) readers who have not been in touch with the financial world yet.
Basic Mechanic 1: A card does well in tournaments ⇒ we see an increased demand ⇒ cheap copies are bought up while the price of the card rises ⇒ more people try to sell the card because of the bigger payoff ⇒ more cards enter the market ⇒ people either accept or don't accept the higher price point ⇒ if they continue to buy, the price can still go up. If they don't, the price will fall again due to the larger supply.
Basic Mechanic 2: A card gets banned ⇒ people want to sell the card ⇒ a lot of supply hits the market ⇒ sellers undercut each other ⇒ the price falls quickly.
A card from a Standard set normally has many suppliers while also having many buyers. This market form is sometimes called a polypoly. It is the most common market form on Cardmarket. The monopoly (with one supplier) or the oligopoly (few suppliers) are market forms that some investors aim for. They try to create artificial scarcity so that people are willing to pay an inflated price.
Standard is the most played tournament format, maybe the main driver for card prices, and so special rules apply to cards rotating out of Standard. Since most new cards are too weak to make it big in the Eternal formats like Modern or Legacy, you should make sure to get the most money out of your Standard cards when rotation looms. You can take that money back and invest it in some Modern cards, for example.
The math to get the most out of your card is pretty straightforward: Sell your Standard cards while they are in Standard and still valuable. If you want your reward to be even higher, this only applies to the ones being too weak for Modern, Pioneer, and Legacy. If a card is going to become a staple in multiple formats, you should keep them and wait till they appreciate again. They often exceed their pre-rotation high. This happened with cards like Collected Company, Kolaghan's Command, and Collective Brutality for example.
As a buyer who wants a certain card, you should buy your cards one to three months after rotation. The market is normally saturated at that time and you can get them at the rotation low.
Ban or Unban
The classic scenario which decreases or increases the price of a card is a ban or an unban. A card gets banned and loses a lot of value. Note that some formats have a deeper impact on prices. Pioneer and Modern for example have way more players than Vintage. The banning of one card can also change the value of other cards. Some that were part of the same deck may drop as well, while stand-ins or usurpers of the power vacuum may flourish. If another deck becomes playable again after a ban, a completely different card may rise because people are starting to buy it.
Latest examples: The Stoneforge Mystic unban in Modern increased the value by approximately five Euros. It also led to other cards like Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow spiking in price. The Mox Opal ban in Modern lowered the value from around €55–70 to €35–40 for the cheaper copies. In such a scenario you should look for possible replacements in the corresponding format. In this case Mox Amber found its way into Modern.
A New Format
A new format hits the scene and attracts new players, so money is flowing into this direction. Last seen with Pioneer. Since Pioneer, many classic Modern staples are hitting the market and drop in price.
Latest examples: Pioneer led to a higher demand on classic staples like Thoughtseize and Deathrite Shaman which peaked in the following. Jace, the Mind Sculptor on the other hand went down to about €70 for the cheapest copy sold.
A set like Ultimate Masters delivers three reprints — Through the Breach, Goryo's Vengeance, Nourishing Shoal — that budget-minded players can use to start a certain deck and incentivizes them to do so. As a consequence, the missing piece to complete the deck, Worldspine Wurm, goes up in value because of increased demand.
In general: It's no secret that reprints lower the prices of cards. After a heavy decrease we normally see an increase after the set leaves the stores. This can take a couple of months. Don't sell into the reprint unless you really need the money.
New Set Pushing a Tribe
One or more cards get printed and make a tribe playable, maybe again. This is the time to look through your bulk. You may find some cards that become valuable. A good example might be Didgeridoo at some point. If Minotaurs ever become a major tribe, which I absolutely hope for, this will be the card to look for.
Another example from the recent past is the return of Slivers in Modern Horizons. They made Sliver Queen increase in price once again.
Old Card Interacting with New Card
The classic example here would be Lion's Eye Diamond and Infernal Tutor. We all know that LED is the Black Lotus of Legacy and a staple in many Eternal combo decks such as Storm, Dredge, Belcher, Doomsday, Bomberman … But there was a time when LED was bulk and considered bad. People had no idea about the combo potential of the card. Ad Nauseam Tendrils is one of Legacy's premier combo decks and it requires four copies of the card, which essentially become a Lotus in combination with Infernal Tutor. Even though Legacy is not played as frequently as Modern or Pioneer and therefore does not possess the same purchasing power, the sheer number of Legacy (mostly four copies) and even Vintage (just one copy) decks requiring LED add up to a relatively high demand.
LED from Mirage is a Reserved List card with a relatively high print run. It's not post-Return to Ravnica high, but already way higher than print runs were in 1993–94. Of course. Yet LED increased in price over time and did not crash after the recession we saw after 2017–18. While many Reserved List cards tanked in value because they became victims of artificial demand, the demand for LED is natural. The same goes for Mox Diamond, for example. These cards combine a high demand on a relative scarcity while being expensive but not out of touch for a larger group.
But how can one determine if a card will go up in value? I have to disappoint you in this case, because no one can tell you with a hundred percent certainty. But we can look for some indicators. We'll take Force of Negation as an example. The cheapest copies are sold at around €29. The card started at about twenty. Here are a couple of catalysts that made the price what it is now:
Played in how many formats? Modern, Legacy, Vintage. That's a plus.
How many decks in those formats? A free counterspell fits more decks than a creature with a special ability. That's a big plus again.
How many copies are usually played? Is the card banned or restricted in one or more formats? How probable is a ban? One or two, sometimes even four copies. No bannings or restrictions. Not likely to be banned. That's another big plus.
Possibility of a reprint? Reserved List? High, but not in the near future. Not reserved. That's neither here nor there.
Print run? High. That's a definite minus.
The card is played across multiple formats in multiple decks with multiple copies. A ban is not very probable. €29 is still a solid buy, if you need the card. The card could slowly creep up to €35–39 for the cheapest copies until it sees a reprint. Long term speculation is not a good idea because the card will likely get a reprint eventually.
Don't fall for FOMO unless you really want a card and money isn't an issue for you. If your plan is to make a buck or two, you have to keep your cost basis low by not buying into a hype. FOMO and emotionally driven decisions often lead to financial disaster. Since we all love Magic, I know it is difficult to leave emotions aside, but you should try especially when handling business. Buyer's remorse is a terrible feeling. Only use money you can do without for the next years if you try to sell on a higher level.
If you ever wanted to own a Mox Opal or Jace, the Mind Sculptor, this is not the worst time. The Modern market, not to mention the Vintage market, as well as the economy as a whole are soft right now. Most prices are coming down.
Otherwise just enjoy and love your cards. Do you have any funny or terrible stories from 2017 or some other time, some financial mishaps or windfalls. Share them in the comments below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.