It’s evening in Connecticut. The street lights flicker as they roll by my window seat; the intermittent illuminations pulling back the curtain to reveal a train stop, a power plant, distant spires, and offices of dim sky. The rest of the view before my window is but dead forested darkness. It’s the only way to travel; I would scour all the cities of the earth if trains traversed the oceans. It’s the measured silence, the rhythm of of miles and miles bumping wood, the legroom. The sadness of the world is violently condensed here into voyeuristic image fragments, allowing one to dream up all sorts of crushed styrofoam nonsense.
It’s always been my preferred method of meditative travel, and tonight I compound that with a belly full of Thanksgiving as my mother eschewed the upheaval of a large, rotating cast of family and friends this year for the simple and intimate sort of holiday.
That’s me, firing a pellet gun at empty cans of Bud Light. We do it right in the slums of suburbia.
There was plenty of food and a wood fire too.
As the sun fell and the orange purple evening settled over us, staring down a crackling flame and listening to my mother’s insistence to review my all but forgotten teenage friend line-up’s current whereabouts, the knot in my gut began to slither and twist itself awake.
I crumpled. It was time to rise and check train times. To head back to New York. I had to get enough sleep after all, tomorrow being Black Friday. To enough of us, Black Friday has reached the status of a national holiday signifying the ribbon-cut opening of the holiday shopping season. It is the home of big deals and door-busters, sometimes beginning at the stroke of midnight Friday morning. For me, working in retail for over 11 years now, I have routinely and exceedingly been drilled into apprehension by this span, this sudden festival erupting with a flow of discounted transactions.
The whole business has, over time, deadened me and disgusted me. Of all the happenings across my life, living with hungering dread for December has been my double-edged blade: that which brings me life also brings me closer to death. It is a blue, a miasma of days and nights I barely remember and am cursed to repeat. So long as I am here, this next five or six weeks is when I visibly abhor my job, and when I absolutely do.
So when I returned to Magic a few years ago, I reveled in the escape it gave me from the workaday routine. Magic gave me something else entirely to focus upon, something ostensibly consumerist but ultimately existing wholly apart from the flow I had ridden the past decade. The secondary market, being a measureable proponent of Magic’s economy—its behavior dictated by market demand, dictated by the many scenes within the game: Competitive, Casual, Collector, etc.—held the wheels responsible for fluctuating market prices. It swelled and morphed like some grotesque monster straight out of some reanimation horror novel. It was a living thing; it didn’t need to go on sale.
But tomorrow—well, today to you, my reader—we will have Black Friday sales at not only some LGS’s in New York City, but online, too. The major outlets for purchasing singles and sealed product are doing it, they’re participating in Black Friday. My two worlds have found a way of merging.
Don’t get me wrong, now. Magic is a seriously expensive hobby to maintain and some changes made to our favorite game of late have certainly added fuel to the fire. No, I’m not going to croon over the reserved list, any ban/restricted list, or anything else that dramatic and over-beaten. I’m talking about the new set release schedule and rotation alongside our current standard environment. From now on, Standard—the big ‘Pro Tour’ format—will suffer a rotation more regularly. This will happen in tandem with the recent block structure change. For those who haven’t made the calculations, this means that Khans of Tarkir and Fate Reforged will rotate out of Standard in the Spring with the release of Shadows over Innistrad. From now on new blocks—and the resulting standard formats—will be shorter. This means we need the cards faster, and for less time.
This fact has created quite a perfect storm for cards like Jace and Gideon. In fact, along with the strange mana bases we have right now in Standard, it’s the most expensive standard format in history. This has created some push back among even the most competitive grinders. Asking us to spend this kind of money on a format that threatens the most volatility in long term pricing is a hefty request, especially when you compare the ‘investment’ opportunities provided by eternal formats like Modern.
In fact, it’s no surprise to me that eternal formats continue to grow in both popularity and player base against Standard. Why would the average player want to invest into a format that openly recognizes its own volatility, when they can play cards in other formats that are both objectively more powerful and fun to cast, and retain their value over time?
I watch through the window, the darkness blinded by the harsh and revealing light pressing the cars interior against the glass. I can no longer see what lies before me, or where I am in space. The knot in my stomach has crept into my heart and presses its blunt edges like fleshy needles into me. I am flushed with anxiety the closer I move towards the city and its voracious inhabitants.
The pros rarely talk openly about finance of individual cards, either due to sponsorship simply sending them whatever they might need for a given tournament, or they cannot afford to get involved with the side of Magic they wish didn’t exist. After all, isn’t the purest Professional attitude about Magic refusing to acknowledge the cards have any value at all? The old foil Tarmogoyf vs. Burst Lightning debacle? It’s a fine stance to take when you don’t have to pay for the cards to play with them, but the fact is, most of us have to purchase, or trade for, these cards if we want to play them. And when Jace rotates out of Standard—hell, when the fetches rotate out of Standard—what will the price fluctuate to? And where does Standard go from there? Will we have to deal with another Standard format where the best mythic is $70? Where the most liked and promoted deck by professional players is close enough to $1,000 that it keeps new players away?
It’s strange to see price resistance in what has been deemed the accessible format. I’ve seen new players buy into Modern moreso this past year than the year before, completely skipping over the Standard buy-in. And that’s when it was cheaper, also. Because the cards retain value, and they’re not exactly grinding every weekend, either. Really it’s been the Pros and the heavy grinders—aspiring pros—who talk most about Standard these days. In New York a new FNM opened in September, growing fast in popularity, and the only format they can get zero support for is Standard. Legacy, Vintage, Modern, Limited? No problem. Standard? Crickets.
It’s a cost vs. value proposition that seems to underlie the conversations I have with these players. They want to make sure they’re getting their money’s worth from their time. Because when it’s your money, it matters where it’s going.
I would love to hear Pros them talk more openly about the investments they make into tournaments, if they have collections, etc. I know some do—if they have jobs they definitely have cash to work with. But if they’re playing magic for a living, without a livable cash flow, then what do they do about it? Because, in my experience, opening up the mtg finance topic to any pro in the past has induced only silence.
When I see the BLACK FRIDAY SALE signs on my MTG content websites, and then head into work where Christmas cheer and the spirit of giving aren’t exactly aligned with the atmosphere on The Biggest Shopping Day of the Year, I am forced into my hard shell where I battle the making money part with the soul diluting consumerist philosophy. This year, I also look to Magic with little to no help.
The anachronism of Black Friday being an impetus for businesses to get out of the red and into the black has either become altruistic, or has evolved into something altogether alien of its original purpose. Eradicated, we see increased consumerism in our world, and the almighty sale that makes even the most tightfisted finally crack their purse.
I stare out the window, but I can only see myself.
Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.