I love this damn game.
I mean, I really do…but it doesn’t come without its downsides. And one of the biggest issues I think we face in this game is the cost. The cost of the game now drives everything within it, so pardon me while I go off on a bit of a long rant.
You want to play Vintage? Got $15K? No? That’s okay, you can play Pauper. In fact – why don’t you just tell me how much your budget is, and then we will find the right format for you and have you skip a few meals to afford it?
I look at those last few lines and I laugh, but I have heard very similar sentiments expressed to old and new players alike, in person and over the web. I shake my head and wonder how this game can push people in this direction.
One thing that has changed over the years as Magic has grown is the number of “Bigshots” we have that make a living off of this game. Whether we’re talking about professional Magic players, or those who just write about finance, I don’t consider them celebrities.
So what do they do?
They make money off the game and its players. Many pros I’ve met don’t even really care about the game; these individuals often don’t even have a collection, but they focus on how they can turn a profit off of Magic. The finance writers can bring more advancements to the game, but they run the risk of it becoming a job; when it does, it’s often less about the fun and more about the dollar.
And that’s where the trouble starts. They are then the first to say, “Hey – buy this card at $40, because if you don’t it will cost a lot more later.”
This is often part of how they employ a “pump and dump” strategy, as borrowed from the investing world. Find a small, not-too-valuable stock and buy a sizeable share of it. Then, use celebrities to talk it up and drive hype until you are looking at sizable price gains – and then sell out of all your stock and walk away. Magic offers a very low-risk way to participate in this; buy a collection with Modern staples and then hype a deck, hype Modern as a format, and hype events. Even if you don’t have a huge stockpile of individual cards, you are promoting the sheer fact that some Modern cards are on the rise and will drive others up as well. Sell what you have and move to the next target.
It’s funny. I used to listen to a pretty popular podcast, and their first episode talked about how they just wanted to talk about the game they loved. The last episode I listened to talked about how they should be getting paid more for the work that they put into this game. I bet if I polled people about which ‘cast that was, there would be a lot of different answers.
And the fact that there are so many who have followed that path is very telling.
The Luxury Tax
If I hear from one more person that Magic is a ‘luxury good’ and that you should not feel entitled to play this game, I swear I might lose my mind. Magic is a game. It is meant to be a game, and when it’s that, it’s great. Friends – and even strangers – can sit down, have a great time, and build stronger friendships. Now, Magic cards will only maintain their price tag if people play the game. If the game somehow becomes damaged enough and enough people stop playing, cards will stop being worth anything.
Right now, I can hop on eBay and buy a box of Yo MTV Raps collectible trading cards for under $10 shipped. Why? Because cards are not worth much on their own, and no one values them outside of their playability.
I loved a comparison I came across to a hobby like boating. A boat will always have value; people won’t just say, “Hey, you know what? I don’t want to go near the water anymore” and suddenly no one needs a boat. But saying “Hey – this game isn’t worth the time I have,” is much easier to do – and that is the threat to Magic card value.
Magic achieves true “luxury” costs only because we make it that. Every player has a hand in controlling how high that luxury item’s price goes. The first thing that jumps to the forefront of my mind is card presales. Chandra, Torch of Defiance started off at $40 and was a hugely-hyped card. Within minutes, people bought out Star City Games at that price, so they added more stock at $60. Players bought it out at that price too.
We drove the price up as players, because if no one bought at $40 they would have adjusted their price down.
This happens in lots of other scenarios. And it’s players making the game more expensive.
While we are talking luxury, let’s talk about another luxury game – golf. Not too long ago, I played 18 holes at a beautiful course, and I spent $28. The course was amazing, the staff top-notch, and it was a great experience. Now – fast forward to last week, when I went to go register for a Magic GP that’s coming to Fort Worth.
The early-bird special price for this constructed Modern tournament is $70.
Seriously? Over double what I spent to go play a round of golf, it will probably be poorly run with rounds going late, terrible staff (run by PEZ – this is speaking from personal experience), and at no time will I consider it an amazing experience.
Why do we have $70 constructed tournaments? Because we as a player base don’t speak with our dollars, and we allow it to happen. It would take one empty GP for every single event coordinator to decide not to run another $70 tournament.
Magic is not inherently a luxury item. It is a game to which we assign value, and if we want it to be cheaper we need to work – and use our dollars – to make that happen
This demographic has the greatest ability to help or hurt this community, but much like with the base cost of Magic, we can control this segment about as much. The real question is this: Will we hold them accountable? I saw a conversation on the web about a store cancelling a person’s order order due to a card spike at a tournament. He had ordered the cards the Friday before, and this was the second time it had happened. My comment was simple – Why would you buy from them a second time if they had done this before? If you spread the word that they won’t honor a deal and not take your dollars there again, the problem will work itself out. If you continue to shop at that store, that will enable them to continue shady business practices.
Stores exist to make a profit, so they are always going to do what they need to do to be successful; but they still need to be held to being professional. Personally, I try to spend my dollars at local stores (as they are providing me a local service and a venue to play), but that doesn’t mean that I should stop reinforcing good practices with my money. A good example of this – recently, a local store owner came out and addressed concerns on Facebook about his prices. They boast one of the larger selections of cards anywhere around, but their prices are generally 30% above StarCityGames prices. The owner went on record to say that he pays higher buy-list prices, and that having the stock he has costs more and therefore the customer pays more.
I am glad the owner is transparent about why he charges what he does, but at the same time if he is willing to overcharge his customers, why should I be loyal to him? My solution is that I spend dollars on card sleeves or other items that are fairly priced, and I order cards online for half the cost I would have if I bought them from there. This allows me to re-enforce good practices and not pay into the bad one, while still supporting my local game shop.
One of my biggest gripes with a store ever was with StarCityGames and their Atlanta event in 2015, where they tried to make Commander a focal point. Their idea was to see if they could monetize the “casual crowd.” To this day makes me hot…Like FIERY!
First and foremost, Commander players are a huge revenue base for a card store, because they are always building decks and getting foils and all sorts of craziness. That’s the way to their wallets.
Secondly, telling people they have to pay $60 to play a format that is supposed to connect people socially, be inclusive, and be fun really missed the mark. On top of that, using a gimmick like getting to play with Sheldon Menery really threw me for a loop. This guy claims that Commander is a format in which everyone can be included, and says that he would sit down and play with anyone…but apparently he has a $60 price tag on that experience. To me, this event attacked the very core of what Commander should be, and again, I wish more people would have spoken with their money and not paid for it.
Or better yet, I wish they had sent an even stronger message by having a bunch of Commander games going on outside the roped off area.
Wrap it up!
I hope some of my thoughts provoke some ideas about how you can help make this game a little more affordable for you and the rest of us players. Don’t listen to people that tell you what you should be playing and, above all else, have fun with this game the way you want to. I want to hear what you think – please feel free to sound off in the comments section or Reddit – especially if you don’t agree with me!
Just don’t be silent and let things just happen to you!
Until next time this is EDH.Ghost out!