The cost of playing Magic seems to go up all the time. Last weekend, Zac penned a harrowing vision of the future where Star City Games was the only retailer still in business, the new Jace was $120 at the pre-release. It was a grim vision of life in a world where an unregulated secondary market spiraled out of control. Today we provide a different vision of the future: one in which Wizards reins in the secondary market to the benefit of the entire community.

A Centralized Online Market

The secondary market of the future starts with the creation of a singular repository for all Magic financial information. Think of it as the Bloomberg of Magic cards. There are essentially three core pieces of data that build up the financial side of a Magic card. How much are online marketplaces offering to buy the card for? How much are online marketplaces offering to sell the card for? How much was the card actually exchanged for?  These are known in the world of stock trading as the bid price, ask price, and trade price. The central data store would compile this data from various online retailers and the data would be updated in real time.

Today the data around Magic finance is splintered. Buy list prices are isolated and difficult to parse. Sale prices can be gleaned through some effort. Transaction data is very hard to obtain outside of eBay or periodic polling of inventories around the internet. This creates a dubious centralized data collection. However, even  today’s information at a site such as can be valuable. The problem with today’s system is that it is slow.  The market does not react to inefficiencies quickly enough, and some individuals are able to exploit or capitalize on this fact.

Having a central financial data warehouse and exposing the basic economics to the public solves a lot of problems. Retailers could update their own buy lists on the fly to reflect market changes. Wizards could better monitor long-term trends across formats based on market conditions. The applications are endless. More importantly this helps lay the groundwork for regulating the market.

Retailers, Dealers, and Local Game Stores

What does this mean for everyone who buys and sells Magic cards? Why should they even provide this information anyways? Wouldn’t they be losing a competitive advantage by doing so? In a sense they would be, but only if you think of the ability to exploit, gouge, or undercut the market as a competitive advantage. We want to eliminate the kind of practices people are trying to defend. One way to accomplish this, once again taking our queue from the financial markets, is through a ratings system. Think of it as the Moody’s of Magic card retailers.

When you buy funds or bonds or other instruments from a bank, that bank has a rating. The better the rating, the lower the risk of doing business with that entity. I’m not about to speculate on the details of how ratings would be assigned, but it should be easy enough to see that entities that opt out of the price-data warehouse would not be given a rating. So if Urza’s Online Emporium is rated as a Double-A retailer, and Mishra’s Basement Bargains isn’t even rated, where would you buy your cards  from?

It’s worth noting that TCGPlayer has ratings for sellers, but those are entirely feedback driven, like eBay. Using those is like using Yelp to find a place to eat dinner versus using Zagat. Sure, Yelp is great most of the time, especially for quick and cheap food, but if you want a nice, expensive, quality meal you should probably check with an expert.

Ratings would be assigned to online retailers, dealers at tournaments, and local game stores that have a buy/sell business. Any entity that’s rated would be expected to report financial data to the central data warehouse, and would in return get access to that data from across the Magic market.

Personal Transactions

So how does this affect you, the consumer? The combination of a Bloomberg and Moody’s for Magic cards puts the power back in the hands of both Wizards and the consumer. Pricing information would be clear and explicit. Trading cards, or buying from your store, or selling your collection, would have a lot less ambiguity around them than they do today. None of these changes prevent you from buying or selling your own cards, or trading them to friends. They’re yours, after-all.

The big change would come for retailers and dealers, who would need to adapt to the fact that they can no longer rely on price manipulation to make a profit. Dealers, obviously, would still react to the microcosm markets that exist at specific tournaments, but the global market online would move in much more transparent ways. Retailers would react to global shifts in real time, making it more difficult for individuals or other entities to manipulate the market artificially.


Speaking of artificial manipulation, what about actual regulations? If you can give entities a rating you can also give them privileges to go with that rating. Are you a top-rated retailer? Then you have no limit on how many cards you buy/sell. If you’re not in the top tier, then you could be limited to how many transactions you can execute, or what the value of those transactions can be. Some cards could become restricted in real time. If there’s a run on a specific card, Wizards could notify retailers of the fact, and start telling them to reject orders or refund orders on that card. Obviously I’m speaking about this in very vague ways. What we need is a data repository like Bloomberg, and a ratings agency like Moody’s, to bring stability to the market. Only then can Wizards even dream about regulating the market effectively but we would all be better off for it.

Final Thoughts

I left a lot of things open ended here. Technical implementation. Cost benefits. The nitty gritty of making this system a reality is left out for a reason: it’s not  worth debating over. What’s critical today is establishing the need and benefit of the two entities I described above. If we don’t start soon, Zac’s dystopian future will be much more likely.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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