A Broken Economy?

(Note: You want how much for that?)

I find myself doing something now that I never even considered previously. I’m not proud of it because it contributes to the problem instead of attempting to be a solution. It takes away from my enjoyment of Magic as a game and a hobby and it adds to my frustration over treating everything in society only in terms of money and profit. I don’t think that I will ever take the next logical step, but the forces driving that decision are strong. As I opened my new booster boxes of M15 and Khans of Tarkir, I would periodically type “(card name) price” into Google to assess the “value” of each card.

I became more aware of this topic after my student that plays Magic toldme a story of how he pulled a Sarkhan planeswalker card from one of his prize booster packs and someone offered him 25 dollars on the spot for it. I wrote Chris about it because we had only days before discussed that his Khans decks aren’t quite what they could be because the tri-lands and other cards are prohibitively expensive. He replied that he has known about the state of high priced cards ever since Ice Age. That stayed with me because as I’ve mentioned, Ice Age was when I stopped collecting before starting again recently. Economics wasn’t my main reason for stopping at the time. In fact, I had no idea that it even existed as a strategy in the hobby. I assumed that all collectibles, save the very rare ones, like steroid fueled home run baseballs, tanked in price because of oversaturation. That’s what happened to me as a kid when I tried to sell baseball cards at the local flea market. “Nope,” Chris replied before giving a very specific example from that former set.

The topic continued to ferment in my brain, catalyzed by discussions in the Magic Facebook group that I recently joined. everyone posted about how they “made back part (or all) of their money” from their booster boxes. Wow, I thought, a hundred bucks. After checking the posts, they were only selling a small fraction of the cards and that made the feat even more impressive. Someone else posted bragging about how they got such a good deal for their Rabblemaster at $6 because, even though nobody believed them, it was now worth $20. Hmm, I thought, I have one of those from the fat pack that I bought. Half of the purchase price of that fat pack could be recovered through the quick sale of one card.

I don’t understand economics as a subject in general. I can’t for the life of me, figure out how we can’t agree on anything as humans, but we all agree that a dollar is worth a dollar. Even when it isn’t worth a dollar anymore–like when people say, “In my day, you could get a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, and a stick of butter for a quarter and get change”–we still agree that it is a dollar. That makes no sense to me. It isn’t like money is a finite resource. The government seemingly prints new money daily. It is only finite for your individual circumstance due to your job, bills, and living situation.

I understand individual markets even less. Some make more sense than others. Mark McGwire only hit one #62 home run ball. I don’t understand paying millions of dollars for it, but if that’s your thing, then it is the only one out there. Like money, cards are not finite. Sure, some cards are more rare by design, but for $100 I can get 540 of those cards and so can pretty much everyone else. If they want, Wizards can fire up the printers and go to town on a whole new batch of them. Each pack contains 3 uncommons, and 1 rare or mythic rare card. Some packs have a foil. I don’t know the exact probabilities because I don’t have exact print numbers, but if the economics are to be believed, then I made back my money for my booster box with two cards, Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker and a foil Wooded Foothillls. That seems absolutely absurd.

I said that I would not ever take the next logical step, but that might be a lie. The foil card is sold out at Star City Games at a price of $60. That is about 2/3 of what I paid for a box that contains 540 cards in just one card. No matter what my individual thoughts might be on this subject, that is a tough deal to ignore. The problem as a collector, is that is the only copy of that card that I currently have. Therein lies the dilemma. While there may be many, many of those cards in existence, I only have one. Others may not have any because they didn’t open 36 packs of cards in the last week. The perceived value of the card is at least partially proportional to the perceived rarity of the card. I guess I do understand economics on some level.

I still think that it is absurd that somebody would consider paying $60 for a piece of cardboard just like I found it silly that someone paid $3 million for a baseball. Sixty dollars is hard to ignore, though. Back and forth. Sell or don’t. Ultimately, I don’t think that I will sell for two reasons. One, I don’t value money as much as I value the unique. If somewhere later, I can get someone to say, “Wow, you still have one of those?” that’s priceless. Second, the foil version of this card from an older set is currently worth $150. If I can get someone to both say, “Wow, you have one of those” and follow it up with, “I’ll give you $150 for it” then that is an unquestionable win for me.

Care to explain the changing/constant worth of a dollar paradox to me? Want to commiserate over coffee about the ridiculous pricing of certain cards as we play with paper and pen proxies because the hobby is too damn expensive? Looking to buy a foil Wooded Foothills for 60 bucks? In any case, let me know in the comments, by email, or on Facebook/Twitter. As always, thanks for reading and I will be back on Thursday with a new discovery (for me), Breaking Madden.

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