By Colin Bevis
The Tortoise and the Hare
To go from being a decent FNM trader who recorded his trades into someone who owned Shardless BUG in Legacy without buying a card for the deck, I knew I was going to have to make changes.
What I didn’t understand back then was the power of return customers. You want to make a little off of them each time but not enough that they never want to trade with you again. If you make +10 on each trade and you trade every FNM for a year say that’s 400-500 or so trade profit off of one return customer per year. Compare that to a shark who took +50 on the first trade, did 5x “better” but then ended up losing that customer forever and was actually 10x worse off because of it by the end of the year. This tortoise and the hare concept took me years to comprehend correctly, my stubbornness and greed clouding my better judgment. If someone had taught me this sooner I not only would have been a better trader and made more in the long run, but I also would have felt better about myself and the people and friends I was trading with. It’s a strange concept but people don’t mind taking a small hit over and over but one large hit can lose a customer forever. Don’t be greedy. If you make something on the trade then it’s a great trade.
Looking back on this time in my magic trading, it’s not about the amazing trades or even amazing luck in card price jumps that I want to talk about today. I’m sure a lot of you want to know how someone makes that big a jump but the truth is it took me over a year, much longer than it should have and that has a lot to do with the fact that I was teaching myself almost everything along the way. I didn’t relate to or agree with most finance articles and podcasts and eventually stopped listening to them altogether. I knew that people with the secrets of high level magic trading were not going to give them away for free. (Something I’m trying to change now).
I learned the hard hard way. Trading is trial and error over and over again. I got caught up with speculating when I should have been keeping everything in my trade binder so I could keep flipping.
I caught up trying to trade into Legacy and big cards like OG Duals when I should have been trying to melt everything in bulk rares. I thought for almost two years that “trade up, trade back” was the only acceptable trade method.
I hope that this information allows you to learn the hard way not the hard hard way. Its not easy and it takes time, practice, and patience. There are thousands of tiny details and energy shifts during each trade. Navigating these nuances is what makes a truly great trader. The energy stuff will come later. For now lets cover another building block of magic trading.
Low, Middle and High Risk Investments
Low Risk is anything on the no-reprint list. Just because it is Low Risk doesn’t mean it will always go up though. We have seen a decline in Legacy in the last year due to some changes in SCG’s tournament structure. Legacy is still supply and demand driven and even though there is very little supply if there is no demand the prices will continue to fall.
Lowest-Low Risk investments would include but are not limited to OG Duals, Vintage Staples, a lot of Legends rares and Power. Even though these cards have seen increases in price over the last five years and are some of the safest investments in Magic, it doesn’t mean they will always go up. Again this is the safest investment, not always the best/most profitable.
Mid Risk investments include most Legacy staples not on the no-reprint list and cards that are banned in Modern such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Stoneforge Mystic and Sensei’s Divining Top. These cards won’t see a Modern Masters reprint so it’s much harder for them to find a place to reprint them.
Mid Risk investments are cards that are powerful that have mechanics that are hard to reprint: Delver of Secrets, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Abrupt Decay, Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil. These cards could see reprints in MM3 or MM4 all things you would want to be prepared for but not limited by.
Mid risk investments include fetch and shock lands. Land cycles like the shocks and fetches look to be making 5-9 year reprint rotations. If you pick up a bunch of lands right after a reprint there is a good chance you could hold onto those for a few years without fear of another printing. Picking lands up low and trading them higher is a safe mid risk investment that a lot of people use. Lands also have slightly higher buy lists as they are needed for so many different decks and are easy for shops and vendors to move.
That being said, Shocks never made the spike everyone predicted and now years later are still the same or lower than when they rotated out of standard. Shocks are a great example of a Mid Risk investment that has not turned out like most people predicted it would.
High Risk investments include almost every card in Standard. Just because it’s High Risk doesn’t mean you will always lose money on it. In fact High Risk usually means you have the chance to make a lot or lose a lot on the investment, that’s what makes it High Risk. There are a lot of people who do very well picking their timing when it comes to Standard cards.
Anti-Speculating is a great way to handle High Risk investments like brand new Standard cards. Opening an overpriced card and trading it away as quickly as possible is a great way to benefit from High Risk investments. (See Discard a Card and Gain Four Life for more information about Anti-Speculating).
Low, Middle and High risk investments all have opportunity for profit. It’s not that one is any better than the other, it’s all about figuring out which trade style works best for you and really learning and accepting that about you.
Some people will tell you trading into Legacy staples and Vintage/Power is the safest way to go. They might be right, but is it the most profitable? That is the big question I am trying to tackle right now in trading. I have left the “trade back, trade up” mentality. I no longer own any OG Duals, Legacy staples (outside of Modern staples) or Power. I’m not saying they are bad investments, for they are certainly safe investments. This column is about floor trading, flipping, bulking out and making trades and profit. Safe investments don’t usually live in that world.
Again totally up to you to decide. Figure out what you are comfortable losing. Never invest in something unless you could lose it all and still be able to pay rent and buy groceries. Even though it’s a stock market don’t let it become your life. I do a lot of other things besides just play magic. Have fun, make investments and learn. I can try to give you some framework, but only you will be able to learn from your mistakes. You will make yourself the best you.
(Note: OG stands for Original Gangster. OG Duals means the original duals like Underground Sea, etc. Thank you Jeremy P. for teaching me “OG”. You are the actual original-OG.)
What I Learned. Who I found.
In short I traded in Shardless BUG taking hits along the way to trade up into OG duals and fetches when I should have been trading wide and bulking out.
I ended up reaching my goal, but at what cost? I had isolated a lot of other traders in my area and had become known as a shark. I didn’t understand return customers or how to diversify my portfolio. I couldn’t see my cards as stocks, I thought of cards by SCG’s sell price not by a market price/buylist price. I was still a noob in many ways and was only good at one type of trading.
I would continue to trade up all the way to a Mox Pearl before I met the man who would change my life. At a SCG 10k in Dallas my junior year of college I met a man known by all as Ogre. What he said in that one day in Dallas changed everything I knew about trading. I stopped what I was doing and did nothing but watch him trade for twelve hours. I asked him countless questions and he answered about fifty percent of them. (The other fifty percent he was too busy working making actual money). He was kind, smart but not arrogant. He was by far the best trader I had ever seen and I didn’t even know how yet.
Next week I will talk about that day and the new ideas that blew my mind, some of which I have already touched on in the first three chapters of this wild adventure!
What I say can always be disputed! I would always love to hear what you think. Please feel free to ask questions and I will collect a bunch of questions for a Q and A article later down the line!
Colin Bevis started playing magic right after the release of Innistrad his freshman year of college. He moved to New York City this fall after traveling the country learning and surviving off of floor trading. He enjoys theatre and film, and now flies out to most U.S. GPs.