Victims of the Bandwagon
I've never had any qualms buying the cards I needed, wanted or loved. As a matter of fact, I've been a pretty big spender for the past two decades and I pretty much have most of the stuff I need whenver I need it.
This article isn't about discouraging people from buying cards.
It's about not becoming a victim of the bandwagon.
Here are some stories that I have to share, and I hope that it can help you conserve your dollars better. With the money saved, you could buy more cards, expand your portfolio and even end up traveling for an additional Grand Prix or two!
How not to be a victim of the bandwagon? Let's begin!
My Prerelease Garruk, Apex Predator
This story is about blinding buying during the Prerelease weekend.
Prior to Pro Tour Magic Origins in Portland, I had the habit of buying every single single (meh, bad writing) before heading up to the Pro Tour. I would spend a lot of time visiting stores during the Prerelease weekend, and then making my Preorders from online stores to make sure I had absolutely everything I needed for the Pro Tour.
Yea, 4 of every rare, and at least 2 of every Mythic. That was me, I'll simply buy everything I can get my hands on. On hindsight, I would probably have saved way more money by preordering complete sets, which are usually offered at a discount which can be great value.
The most memorable story, and possibly the turning point of my spending methods, was something I had learnt from Garruk, Apex Predator. It looked like a great card, and it saw some play at the Pro Tour itself so I wasn't totally wrong, but nothing super format defining.
I paid $32 a piece, for 2 copies. Few weeks after the Pro Tour, it could be found everywhere for $10. On these two pieces of cardboard alone, I had lost $44 in total, and that's not even taking into account the rest of the Magic 2015 Core Set cards.
As you know, during the Prerelease weekends where the supply is insufficient to meet up with demands of clamouring fans, you're most likely paying the highest prices on the cards you want. Players are excited during that golden weekend, players want to be the first to own those cards and to add it to their decks. There is always a lot of hype on certain cards that look playable, but aren't, which ends up in a lot of impulse buys.
This behavior is understandable, and perfectly fine. I would wait a couple of weeks if I had the chance, but since I'm headed for the Pro Tour, I don't really have a lot of choice. If I needed a card, I had to buy it.
After this entire episode, my consumption patterns have changed entirely. I was tired of buying a bunch of cards I didn't need, at overcosted prices. Looking back, how is it possible that a 7-mana 2-colored Planeswalker could ever fetch a price tag of $35, other from the fact that it was overhyped as a result of spoiler season and its low supply during the Prerelease weekend?
I learnt my lesson and now I never buy any cards unless I was absolutely sure I was going to play with them. I don't compromise on my deck choice due to budget constraints and I will simply buy whatever cards I need. If I needed a Black Lotus tomorrow, I will buy it. Of course, I don't, but I'm just making a point.
I do not think that any pro player out there makes a choice on what to play simply because of card prices. For example, I headed down to Mexico City for a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier and decided that Black-Red Dragons was at a sweet metagame spot that weekend. I bought the entire deck at a local store without batting an eyelid.
Then, the next week, Pascal Maynard shipped me a sweet White-Green Hardened Scales deck, which happened to be the breakout surprise deck of that particular week. I didn't have my Windswept Heath and Hangarback Walker with me because I had stupidly left them at home. I also have yet to own a playset of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and ended up buying the entire deck at the Grand Prix vendors.
With so much competition, I felt that I paid good prices rather than got fleeced. Most people have the impression that Grand Prix vendors are out to "make the most of that particular weekend", but I need to tell you that most of the vendors aren't fly-by-night. They are more concerned about upholding their reputation than to simply scam you and then run away with the extra two bucks. Buy from the retailers that you trust, and you should always be paying fair prices.
You know what's not smart? Paying $32 for Garruk, Apex Predator on the Prerelease weekend when there was no guarantee that you'll even need it or play with it! Jesus!
Got My Eyes Jabbed by Eye of Ugin
Modern staples are also a bit of a sticky wicket.
Before Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, there was a lot of buzz about "the Eldrazi deck", fuelled by the power of Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin. I had a few Eldrazi Temples lying around, mostly because I found a couple of Rise of the Eldrazi versions lying around in my junk rare box, as well as crackling a few from Modern Masters 2015 boosters. Now, that was nice, but I only owned a single copy of Eye of Ugin for my Red-Green Tron deck.
Weeks going into the Pro Tour, most of us caught wind of the "possibly broken" Eldrazi deck, but had either no time to playtest it, or insufficient faith to do so. I fell in the latter category, believing that it was nothing but a fad. But, being the "collect them all" kind of guy, I decided to invest in a playset anyway.
At that time, I paid $150 for the playset for 4, believing that it will become a Modern staple forever.
Well, I guess whomever did so was somewhat correct, because it did end up becoming a very powerful deck in Modern. Too powerful, in fact. Not only did it win the Pro Tour, six copies made it through to the Top 8, with only Affinity having a real chance in that harsh winter environment.
However, an archetype being too dominant is never good news for any Constructed environment, and the scare of the Eldrazi deck being nerfed was a real problem that most people had to deal with. Especially after Grand Prix Detroit, Grand Prix Melbourne and Grand Prix Bologna, it would seem like everyone was certain the deck had to go, R&D included.
Players were either putting on hold their plans to acquire all the relevant cards from Oath of the Gatewatch, or simply dumping away all copies of Eldrazi Temple and Eye of Ugin, dealers and traders included. At one point, I saw Eldrazi Temples go for as low as $3, when they were something like $12 a month back. Similarly, nobody wanted Eye of Ugin and it dropped from a $30+ dollar price tag down to half price or so.
Did this piss me off? Yes, it did.
This is a case of an investment gone horribly awry, and its not really anyone's fault but mine. I was mostly annoyed because I didn't end up using the cards which I purchased. The playset of Eye of Ugin that I had paid $150 for ended up sitting at home, and it never saw tournament play to this date. If I were intending to play with it, I would be willing to accept the fact that the bubble could burst on me. If I did end up bringing the Eldrazi to Grand Prix Detroit, it would have been acceptable, but since I never ended up using the cards I paid top dollar for, it can be quite a buzzkill.
Once again, I guess the lesson learnt here is that I should never buy a card I don't need immediately.
With Modern being so volatile and rapidly changing, one strategy could be the king this week and utterly defunct the next. Especially with Banned & Restricted Announcements taking place every quarter, it is not only an exciting place to be, but it can also be a little scary. For one, I never expected investment on a playset of Splinter Twin to fail.
If I owned all the cards in Modern, any bannings and unbannings would be fine, since I'm not really incurring a lot of actual financial losses. When one card becomes banned, that card drops in price but something else is gonna rise. One example was the banning of Summer Bloom, which resulted in Azusa, Lost but Seeking to hike in the hopes that Amulet Bloom would still survive as a Modern archetype.
If you had all the cards, you would take a loss from Summer Bloom but "profit" from Azusa, Lost but Seeking. But for the average player who doesn't have access to every single Modern card, you're likely to get burnt if you buy whatever is perceived as the "flavor of the month".
If you're the type of person who has paid $50 on Ancestral Vision, as well as $12 on Thopter Foundry, and then ends up playing Jund at Grand Prix Los Angeles or Grand Prix Charlotte, you might want to reconsider your spending patterns.
I'm not saying it's wrong, because Ancestral Vision could end up being really good and double in price, but who knows? You might even profit from it, but seriously, what are the odds that you'll turn a profit by buying a stock at its peak price. I'm no stock market guru, but my belief is that when a card price (such as Ancestral Vision) absurdly high already, you're likely hoping for a $10 profit at the risk of a $25 loss.
If Ancestral Vision does well at Grand Prix Los Angeles or Grand Prix Charlotte, it could go up from $50 to 60. If Ancestral Vision ends up totally seeing no play, it might just drop down to $25, back to the point where it used to be.
Well, one good example would be Bitterblossom. How many of you fools paid $30 for it the second it was unbanned only to see it dropping back down to $15? Don't be mad, I'm a fool too! =) But good news, with the unbanning of Ancestral Vision, there is hope for Bitterblossom!
Redemption like this occasion doesn't happen on every poor investment you make, though.
Jumping on the Nahiri Bandwagon
Now, we've got a real serious issue on hand, haven't we?
If we follow the trend, and buy whatever is hot, we'll likely end up paying top dollar. Case in point, Nahiri, the Harbinger. Not only did the price spike as a result of it winning a Standard Grand Prix in Tokyo, it was further accelerated by a victory at a Modern SCG Open.
A Mythic Rare Planeswalker that has proven itself in Standard and Modern, perhaps it's time to grab a playset, but oh god we've all missed the $8 boat.
Do I need Nahiri, the Harbinger now? No. Not at all.
I wasn't playing with it last weekend, and I don't foresee myself playing with it at Grand Prix Minneapolis, Costa Rica and sure as hell not Columbus (Legacy). If in the next couple of weeks, I need it, then I'll grab whatever quantity I need. Will I be paying top dollar? Yes, I probably will, but I know for a fact that I will be able to resell it quickly for a mitigated loss, and at the very least I'll know that I've played with those cards.
In my humble opinion, jumping on the bandwagon is one of the worst financial decisions you can make, since it will likely be the worst time to spend your money.
In my experience, buying a card when it is already so expensive will likely result in a loss more than a profit. For example, most people didn't believe their eyes when Bonfire of the Damned reached the $30 price tag. It ended up going up a little higher, but once the surge diminished, it plummeted to rock bottom prices. I'm just glad I wasn't a victim of that, because I ended up playing Jund the entire season, and regardless of how much I had purchased my Bonfire of the Damn and how much it eventually ended up, I had zero issues with it because I was practically casting it every other day.
How about you? Do you need Nahiri, the Harbinger right now?
Well, buy it if you're playing with it.
But if you don't need it right now, you have the option to wait and see. Should you still buy cards? YES! Buy the ones you need, or the ones that have a room for potential growth, not cards that look like it's at its peak already!
Don't be a victim of the bandwagon anymore...
The Traveling Philosopher