Magic in the Flux

Just some ponderings on value, and Magic in general.

Back when I first started gaming on campus, Magic prices fluctuated wildly. (This was back in 2005/06, when my Gruul deck really was worth $150, compared to now when I finish the play sets of Rumble Slums and Burning-Trees for a dollar a card.) For example, Kevin worked trades around what he considered a card’s worth was to him—a personal worth. Nothing against Kevin, but he never has many good cards or play-sets of rares, so he assigned values to his cards greater than most others were willing to trade for, though in many cases he was justified (foil Watery Grave, etc.). I’d want more than list for cards I plan on using—Pithing Needle, Twincast, Watery Grave—but am willing to trade them off for something really useful (stack of cards useful rares for the white Akroma) or something really stupid (stack of cards plus an Italian Abu Jafar for a Pithing Needle).

On the flipside, Dustin would trade cards by price, which meant he’d get a lot of crap rares for one or two good cards, or would “bust the bank” and drop $40 for boosters, only to get one of the cards he wanted. (I saw him do this at one point because he needed some Terramorphic Expanses. I hate to point out they’re not only in the themes, but also in 10th Edition.) And unlike Kevin, he didn’t end up with tons of excess commons and uncommons, and so tried to factor those into his trading schemes–or didn’t. There’s nothing like watching someone proxy a couple of commons because they can’t trade for them, except maybe someone trying to trade for Pyrohemias. Call me old fashioned, but I’m a big fan of building decks out of what you’ve got, rather than building a high-cost deck and proxying because you can’t afford all the rares you put into the game. Isn’t the whole point of the game to play with cards? I can see not being able to pay for rares, but proxying commons is a foreign concept to me, especially when combined with dogmatic reverence for the game’s Type 2 format. If tournaments allowed proxies, no one would buy cards. Anyways.

Next is perceived value. I have a lot of foreign cards, which I assign a higher value to because they’re harder to find, yet everyone sells them for cheap because no one wants them. Same for older cards (pre-Mercadian) because I started playing after they were readily available, though I did buy stacks of Urza’s Legacy and Urza’s Destiny. I honestly can’t say if any of the foreign rares are bootleg, or if my signed cards were really signed by the real artists. However, it’s in my best interest to assume they are all legit, and thus assign them a value which may be greater than reality. Frankly, I don’t care—I’ll never know, and they look damn sexy when they’re sleeved and decked.

Now, back to pricing cards. The secondary market has collapsed, and regardless of what everyone else says about getting new players in with good cheap rares, I think it’s a bad thing. Say I spend $20 and buy 5 packs of Guildpact. I’m likely to get about $5 worth of rares at this point, compared to about $30 (or more) back in 2006. This means I’m more likely to buy singles than packs since I’d rather not just throw my money down a sink. What this translates into is a market that rewards stores for moving product ASAP and punishes them for holding on to it for any length of time. Granted, all packs before (and including) Odyssey are steadily going up in price, and I can see people paying $10/pack ten years down the road, hoping to pull a Jitte.

But with Voidslime dropping to $2, Twincast to $3, all the $20 Gruul cards to a dollar or two…it really doesn’t reward players for sticking around, nor for trading–don’t keep your stuff when prices are high, just buy them back after the next rotation. A bad secondary market does allow newer players to get cool older stuff, but how will they react when their $100 Reveilark and Bitterblossom decks turn into crap rares in another few years—it’s the same reason why I hate Type 2, and L5R’s draconic Type 2 policy. There’s little to no reward for having played the game for more than two years, except for having more of a card base in pre-8th frames. I’m wondering if Magus of the Moon will drop from $30 to $5 as soon as Time block rotates out, given the price trends.

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