The secondary market in Magic cards is the tail that wags the dog, and it influences the amount of money that Hasbro can make off this silly game. Of course, I’m just salty… I had to pay $20 over retail to get my hands on a Fat Pack this weekend.


I had made a morning out of it, getting up early to wind my way to the local, crowded, Target. I had a few other things on my list, including Lego Dimensions (fun, but still a Lego game), but the crown jewel was supposed to be two Fat Packs. I have somewhere in the ballpark of 500 full-art lands from original Zendikar, and it’s truly wonderful to be able to deck a Commander deck out in full-art lands, with only one image per type. I can do that with my Zen lands, and I wanted to do it with Battle lands as well… realizing I would need a greater quantity to do so, given the extra land face offered in this set (the fifth one is a retro reprint).


Punchline: Target was sold out. The local gaming store was sold out. The Manhattan game store was running Fat Pack tournaments. I went to Amazon, and the markup was, at minimum, twenty dollars… not that there was a significant quantity still available at that rate. I ordered one, which was not the quantity I had hoped to purchase, but I was and am still annoyed at the middlemen who were pushing the markup.


Basically, Wizards put out a product I was more than willing to spend $80 on. Due to their enforced scarcity, I ended up spending only $60, $20 of which was skimmed off by a secondary supplier. Wizards ended up with less money, I spent more money for less product, and the only one to win was the independent business person who likely bought out the supply of Fat Packs in whatever Target is closest to their store. This seems like a terrible system, and I wish it would change.


This is not the first time this has happened. In the past, I have mentioned my irritation with the SDCC products (and, in doing so, I seem to have anticipated the ultra-rare Expeditions, which are their own sort of awful). They’re at one of the biggest cons around, and they create a situation where people are missing out on actual events they paid to see in order to stand in line all day so they can snag a $40 product they can sell for $250. That’s absurd.


Or, take Commander’s Arsenal, a product theoretically aimed at Commander players. Had Wizards printed a ton of those things, the reprinted cards would have crashed, which would have hurt the secondary market slightly. The benefit, though, would be getting a bunch of casual Commander types to buy a premium product, which would have broken the seal and increased the number of premium buyers… and they’d have made more money off the sale of that product, because again all the markup was syphoned off by third-party resellers.


I recognize the argument is that the resellers need that markup in order to stay viable, and it’s a feature that they get to syphon off that much value above MSRP, not a bug. That just seems like lunacy, though. What person goes to a game shop looking to buy a thing, fails to buy it, and leaves with a positive impression of that business? The entire point of gaming stores is to have the type of specialty products on hand that are otherwise difficult to find. Every customer that gets turned away without the thing they want is a person who is going to go online and purchase their gaming supplies there, denying the store money. I find it hard to believe the markup on two-three products is worth more money than a business would make were they to sell twenty of the things.


Wizards is not the only company with this issue; this past weekend I found out my partner had failed to get me a Pip-Boy version of Fallout 4, as she had promised. That was heartbreaking, as it was the type of peripheral I’ve been desiring for ages. (I’m a huge Fallout fan, and have a Vault 11 jumpsuit in my closet, despite not being a regular cosplayer). If they were independently available, I would purchase one of those things without hesitation, but instead Bethesda made this awesome thing and then didn’t bother to make enough for everyone to get it.


Generally, people fall in two camps when it comes to this. Camp A, my camp, believes that the entire point of capitalism, or at least the only part of it that works for the people, is to supply enough of a thing to meet the demand for it. Camp B, the other camp, holds that limited supply is fine, because everyone isn’t “entitled” to buy a thing, and scarcity means the market will drive up prices so only the more deserving (i.e. rich fucks) among us will be able to afford them. It seems, as of late, that Camp B has won across our society.


This is one of the reasons that capitalism seems on the verge of a systemic collapse. A regulated market is the only type of capitalism that has a shot at being self-sustaining, but decades ago private industries realized they could engage in regulatory capture. As a result, you have bank bailouts, student loans that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and a privatized health insurance market that is little more than government sponsored gambling.


A system that fails the people who live in it is a system that is vulnerable to external shocks, because the necessary buy-in fails to maintain a critical mass of the people. If Magic ever dies, which seems unlikely but for a black swan event, it is going to be because it loses the average consumer. Already it seems like there may be a crisis of that sort going unnoticed, since the Magic scene and the market research on those people who actually play Magic are no longer demographically similar. Strengths in the hardcore market could easily paper over weaknesses in the casual side of things… a side for which buying a Fat Pack at Target is a key way of keeping up with the game. If they’re all being bought out on the first weekend a set drops, that’s a failure that’s going to influence your median consumer.


So print enough product. God knows people like me will keep buying it, and it will make it easier for casual players to keep up with the game.


Jess Stirba has been struggling with a Magic habit since fifth grade.

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