“This card is better than Thragtusk.”

– [REDACTED]

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Wasted Wednesday, my periodic Tablers. Don’t get salty, now.

If you have been a follower of my cut-and-dry, hard-math analysis in the past, there are three things you definitely know: existence is suffering, attachment is its cause, and you should never sell bulk rares for less than twelve cents.

However, things just ain’t the same for gangsters. Times is changing; young dealers is aging, becoming OGs in the game and changing—to make way for these new sets and ghost rares.

So if there’s one thing you may be surprised to learn after the first Table-leg of our journey together, it’s that against my own counsel, I have actually dabbled in exploring the profitability of market buyouts. Yes, that’s right, I’m fessing up to it in public: I’m one of Those Assholes™.

Here’s the good news about what I’ve learned from it, which my regular readers may have already guessed by now: existence is suffering, and market buyouts are a completely irresponsible waste of money. (“Bargaining Table: Let’s Not Do What Everyone’s Doing™”)

So this week I want to address an uncomfortable reality that I’ve started to see over recent months: the vast majority of market buyouts and short specs are actually glorified pump-and-dump scams.

And in order to do so, I need to finally play one very special card I’ve been holding close to my chest.

 

THE GREAT HANGARBACK WALKER SPEC OF 2015

Hangarback Walker

Pictured: Thragtusk.

 

“[…]and I’ve gotta take your stuff at lowest buylist.”

– Me grinding an actual friend out oops

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I confess: I was one of the jerks that bought out Hangarback Walker.

Well…not when you’re thinking. A week or two later. When the price was peaked.

Yup. It was a temperate, perfectly normal-weather’d night, I assume, during some…event that was probably about Magic cards. Whatever. After a long day of trading (and/or failing to trade, if I remember correctly), I ended up in a hotel room with a full playset of other high-rollin’, card-slingin’ ~*~*MTG Financiers*~*~ who shall remain absolutely nameless—for the protection of their pride.

Now, y’all know me: still the same old G—but I’ve been low-key. Hated on by most these redditors with no Cheese; no deals and no Gs; no Wheels and no Keys; no Moats, no snowmobiles, and no steeze—mad at me ‘cuz I could finally afford to provide my business with a Ford lease.

Despite all that, here I found myself, deep in the maw of Temptation: surrounded by professionals, higher rollers than myself each with more experience than I had, who started suddenly going bonkers about Hangarback Walker—a card that had just spiked from $1 to $10, then from $10 to $17.

“This card is unprecedented.”

“This card is an all-star in every format. It’s already a four-of in Vintage!

“It’s going to change Modern Affinity. Did you hear about the Jund lists playing three copies? It’s a game-ender that flips off of Bob for free!

“This card is Thragtusk. This card is better than Thragtusk. This card is Thragtusk for every deck.”

Some of those words may have been mine. Regardless, much was made of how similar its price trajectory had actually been to both Thragtusk and Boros Reckoner—the very anti-Thragtusk that I once traded straight-up, fresh out of a prize pack, for a Scalding Tarn—both of which had gone through these weird jumps from $Cheap to ~$10 to ~$17…and then to $25.

These people were not fucking around. One by one, everyone got on their computers and started looking at every storefront site you’ve ever heard of and every one you haven’t, announcing to the room how many copies each store had listed in stock—the goal being to clean out each store’s currently listed quantity simultaneously, so that no vendor would have time to notice the others drying up, and thus either adjust its price or snap its copies to “Out of Stock.” We even discussed how to properly coordinate with each other when finally ready to dump them to buylists—so that no one would have time to drop their buylist price in response to the flood of supply.

My friends started dropping thousands on these colorless little 0/0 fuckers. I’m talking about dollars here, people. I will not deny that the excitement of that moment felt infectious, transgressive, and fun.

 

Thopter Token

Pictured: 3/3 green Beast token.

 

 

 

 

 

Sold by their conviction and the blind heat of the moment, I decided to “make a move.” I was already in the black at this point, and that month or two in particular had been a big Level Up for me—but I still couldn’t afford to go all that HAM. I decided I could drop about six hundred American dollars if I focused solely on the safest and most market-influencing avenue: cleaning out all the reasonably priced foils from TCGPlayer.

I concluded that:

  1. Foils already seemed underpriced at ~$25 compared to ~$17 for regulars!
  2. Foils would be safest from any weird supply shenanigans!
  3. Foils had the highest potential multiplier thanks to Eternal and Modern play!
  4. The foil TCG Mid would be the easiest and fastest public number to inflate!

In theory, all these lines of reasoning made some non-zero amount of sense. Hell on Earth, they still kind of do. So I bought every foil Hangarback up to about the $27 mark, plus about ten regular copies just so I would have something I perceived as “diversity.” LOL.

Oh, and then I decided to spend another $300 anyway—so that there would be no foils left under the $30 line. One of my newfound kinfolk offered to buy $300 of Walkers from me if at any point I felt like I was in too deep, facing too much risk, in dire need of cash, etc. That very generous promise sealed my decision to order the last batch, but I never called it in, even when we were all left with nothing but Thopter tokens.

I started a group chat with some of my fellow buyout pirates on Facebook called “Back-Alley Market Manipulators’ Social Club & Support Group.”

It took about half a week for the community to notice, on /r/mtgfinance at least, that the TCG Mid on foils had jumped. Random ~*MTG Finance*~ Dread Drones bought up more copies, I assume—and one morning a week or so after our buyout, before I headed to an event in my own area, I saw the foil Mid at a full $50.

 

Thopter Token

Pictured: Restoration Angel.

 

 

 

 

 

So there I am sitting with my binder out, when up rolls my good buddy Kevin God Damn McGinnis. Kevin is a big, tattooed, classically ball-busting Guy’s Guy who throws infinite money at Magic—and he loves his fucking foil cards.

I once promised Kevin, for reasons I honestly don’t remember, that I would mention him one day in an article—then I stopped writing articles. But he brings it up every time I see him, so I always remind him to just wait patiently for the day when I reveal The Great Hangarback Walker Spec of 2015. Today is that day.

Kevin sat down, and—considering I’d been sworn to absolute secrecy by my Buyout Conspiracy Mystery Team—I did the same thing I did every time I ran into a friend that weekend: immediately showed him my pages of, like, 24 foil Hangarback Walkers and swore him to absolute secrecy.

(It bears noting that I did not out any of my compatriots, nor have I never. Word is bond.)

Kevin was hot for some foil Hangarback Walkers. Interestingly enough, the Mid had already come down to $40 since that morning, but fuck that. Kevin knew they had spiked, he wasn’t sure if it was over, and he wanted to complete his set before it was too late. He needed three more. And hey, in the frame of mind I was in at the time, I wasn’t fucking sure they were done spiking. I was sincerely, sincerely concerned that even value-trading them at that point in time might amount to losing money.

So, you know, I went HAM.

“All right, well, we both know these things aren’t done spiking. It’s already a four-of in Vintage. It’s better than Thragtusk. So I can trade a couple of them, but I’m gonna value them at this morning’s Mid of 50, and I’ve gotta take your stuff at lowest buylist.”

Lowest buylist? Well…I don’t know, just tell me the numbers.”

I told him the numbers and we did the trade. He got two foil Hangarback Walkers and I got a small pile that included a Vendilion Clique, several foil shocklands, and some other stuff. This was the one and only time I made any “profit” on any of my Hangarback Walkers, and I continued to trade aggressively for as many as I could get for weeks, including sometimes above buylist.

If I remember correctly, I still had all of those foil shocklands until recently. They never moved, I watched them take a hit thanks to Zendikar Expeditions, and then I recently traded most of them plus others up towards two Expedition Flooded Strands, of which I have sold one.

Existence is suffering, and attachment is its cause.


 

As you know, Hangarback Walker was in some stupid Event Deck that WotC metagamed hard with ~*~*Financier*~*~ hate, including seventeen Tasigurs per box—as well as a full forty-card sideboard of Evolutionary Leaps, which I had bought $60 of in the wee hours of the Night of the Tentaclebots at $3 each on the confident advice of the last Master Hustler awake. Again, for weeks, I traded aggressively for more at $1-2.

Foil Hangarback Walkers are now worth about what I paid for regulars on that Dark Night of the Soul, and I still have every single copy I’ve ever owned of the card. Maybe more. A fat stack of Leaps, too. The rational thing to do at this point would probably be to accept the sunk cost: list the Walkers on TCG, buylist the Leaps…but the story is part of it now, and I might as well let my life lesson linger around to Haunt me. Maybe in five years those foil HWs will be $50 for real thanks to Vintage, maybe Modern Combo Elves will really put Leap on the map, and other rationalizations for an extended series of bad decisions.

 

THE ELEPHANT SHAPE IN THE LINE GRAPH

Inquisition of Kozilek

Pictured: Lorwyn foil Thoughtseize.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s bring this back to my original, briefly stated thesis: the vast majority of market buyouts and short specs are actually glorified pump-and-dump scams.

First of all, I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. My point is not to criticize either the integrity or astuteness of the ~*~*Financiers*~*~ who started proposing the organized buyout I participated in. After all, I participated in it. Those folks are all smart, successful, committed value-finders—and more than that, they’re actually all among the kindest, most genuine ~*~*Financiers*~*~ I’ve encountered.

But let’s be real for a second here: we were all convinced Hangarback Walker was going to be a $25 card and a $50 foil, true—but we also strategized about how to flood the market at the card’s peak without giving the market time to respond. We sincerely believed it was a $25 card at minimum—but once it hit that mark, we weren’t going to keep sitting on ours to watch it rise further. And we consciously contrived ways to inflate the price up front so that we could bring that moment to bear as soon as possible.

That’s…a pump-and-dump. It happens time and again. Look at the price trajectory Inquisition of Kozilek foils have followed since their TCG buyout in January. They went from a long-stable $60ish to a sudden $80, and then up to an overnight $200—and have since slowly trickled back down to about $100 vendor retail, $90 cash on TCG.

$60 is one thing, but I can assure you—having now done my fair share of both buylisting and TCG selling—that no one who buys into a card at $80 is making any money by targeting $100 retail. They’d break even at best via buylist, and on TCG they’d make about $8 per card—or actually lose money after fees and shipping if they were listing today and competing with the best NM price of $89.97.

People bought into that card hoping to force it to $200, inflate the buylists temporarily, and unload it as quickly as possible. I don’t have to talk to them to know that—although, hey, an anonymous mystery-interview article sounds fun, so get at me.

That’s definitively a pump-and-dump scam. Look at most significant overnight spikes you remember and you’re going to notice similar patterns. And frankly, it’s dangerous for the confidence of the market.

 

To pre-empt some reddit comments I can already read, yes, there are certainly instances where a strategic, carefully timed market buyout can be profitable—but there are a lot fewer instances where one can actually cause a substantial lasting change in an item’s value.

Unsurprisingly, those latter instances tend to be the ones where there are already so few copies available that the word “buyout” hardly applies. In other words…lasting price corrections tend to result from an actual sustained tension between supply and demand. Surprise, motherfucker.

It so happens I have a few of those examples I could share with you too, regarding cases where I was incidentally able to Magically affect the price of a card by buying exactly one copy, or by happening to have more than zero copies at a time when someone else had apparently executed a buyout, but…I still have some of those cards to sell, and I do need some Candid Admission Content™ left over to write a carelessly polemical yet vaguely introspective exposé with later in the year.

And when I do, I promise to mention you in it.

Xxplosive. West Coast shit.

 


 

Thanks as always for joining us at the Table, even periodically! If it was up to me, you motherfuckers would stop coming up to me with your hands out, like you want something free—when my last CD was out, you wasn’t bumping me. But now that I got this little company, everybody wanna come to me like it was some disease, but you won’t get a crumb from me—’cuz I’m from the streets of C-C-Compton. (jk! I love you! buy cards)

I used to always leave a loose note on what I was going to write about in the next piece, but fuck that. The uncritical parroting of familiar forms is a spiritual prison. The sweet promise with which the void beckons us all is that of a comforting simplicity. Other things you expect me to say. [EMINEM’S VERSE]

I’ll see you on April 13, the Wednesday after next, and it’ll probably be about some Magic card money stuff nihilist memes moralizing ™ ™ ™ ™ ™ ™ ™ t ™ txt eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee pay me Fuck

 


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I am the Burger Queen

Stefano Black is an NYC-based writer, filmmaker, hot-ass Nate Dogg collabo, and cardboard-drug dealer.

He can be found on Twitter as @StefanoBlackest, sharing humor, criticism, super short fiction, and Garfield-related poetry.

He is available for hire or collection buying, and he’s gotta take your stuff at lowest buylist (jk jk not really).

To support the Table, buy my foil Russian Goblin GuideAlso share and leave a comment.

If you enjoyed this critical look at Magic life, survive On the Events at #SCGPHILLY (Also, I’m Back).

If you want more scalding wit, read 20 Reasons Why Storm Crow Is the Best Card in Magic.

If you can’t get enough ~*nihilistic*~ commentary with your cards, see the Bargaining Table archive and check out RAW MATERIAL, the author’s daily creative writing project.

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