I’m Selling Some Cards; Don’t @ Me

A bit over two weeks ago, I started listing some FAB stuff of Facebook and Discord. In and of itself, this wasn’t entirely new; I’ve sold cards and boxes in the past –usually a box here or there (I mentioned moving some into art last year) and occasionally some singles, but, for the most part, I have sold very little of the FAB product I took in over the past year. However, my recent sales posts have been a bit larger with some spicier items, and I’ve started to get a steady stream of people messaging me and asking if I’m getting out of FAB or if I think the game is in trouble. So, I wanted to write this partially to answer those questions in a longer format than a Facebook comment, but I also saw it as an opportunity to talk a little bit about how people approach the whole business of collecting, investing, and selling cards. More than other CCG communities, the diamond hands memes have really gone over-the-top in FAB, and I honestly don’t think holding forever is actually good advice for most people. But first, my story.

Return to My Roots

As I wrote in my very first post on this blog, Magic was my entry into the world of CCGs. In the early 2010s I sold out of a collection whose highlights included essentially all the expensive cards in Legacy, tons of bling and promos, and the Power 9. At the time, I was working on my dissertation and my wife had just abruptly finished her PhD early in order to take a post doc. We had to relocate, which meant my teaching income was gone. We’d also bought our first house a few months before the 2008 crash, so we were upside-down on our mortgage. and our only asset was my collection. And so I sold it. At the time, I was fairly certain I’d never play Magic again. While I could give up Vintage, which was dying out anyway, I felt adamant that I would never want to come back and not play Legacy. I assumed that by the time I had the sort of money to buy back what I had sold, the prices would be astronomical and I wouldn’t be able to justify them even if I could afford them.

Fast forward to last winter and I’m sitting on cases of WTR, ARC, and CRU with a cost basis of under $100 a box. I’ve got a rather large pile of CF Cs that I’ve paid between $2-10 for, and at least one of every high end card aside from a CF Heart. At the same time, I had some new friends who talked a lot about Magic, and it got me looking at some of the new stuff, and honestly, I was actually kind of excited (I blame the borderless Stoneforge Mystic). So, because, as the joke goes, “no one ever quits Magic forever,” I decided to start building a cube as a quarantine project. It was a mix of a design challenge and an excuse to buy some pretty cards. I love a special variant, so I started putting picking up Double Master borderless cards and Kaladesh Inventions, mostly just buying them with cash as prices were way cheaper compared to where they are now. And then, because I can’t engage with any hobby casually, it started to ramp up. I decided to grab some booster boxes of Magic assuming I’d play some sealed with friends. It seemed like a fun thing to do and, at the time, people were rabid to trade Magic into FAB.

Like I said, I had a lot of CF Cs and once they hit the $400-500 range, it felt totally fine to take a 100x on my initial investment and move it into sealed Magic. While the initial bunch of boxes were intended for use, eventually I had so many that I realized I was now investing in Magic because there was no chance I’d ever use all of those, which was fine. There was certainly some appeal to not having all my collectible eggs in one basket. Somewhere along the way I decided I’d buy/trade into Modern. Standard seems to be a Magic Arena only format (I know because I bought my MTGA deck in paper only to discover that Standard events only occasionally firing locally –oops). Modern, on the other hand, has a strong local scene. It wasn’t Legacy, but it was popular, relatively affordable, and after all, I was never going to buy back into Legacy… and you can probably see where this is going.

So, a few weeks back, I was talking to the events coordinator for the LGS a couple miles away (it’ll be like 2 minutes off my commute once I go back to the office in the fall) and I learned that they had a weekly Legacy night that was firing off every single week. As you well know, a few weeks ago we were (and still are) deep into the FAB bear market, BUT, very significantly, Magic, especially revised reserve list cards, were also falling. That meant that while now was a bad time to sell FAB it was also a good time to buy Magic, which mostly balanced out. So I sat down and looked at the pieces I’d really need to build out the cores of a few decks that I wanted. The thing with Legacy is that there are some exceptionally expensive pieces, but once you have a solid chunk of them, you can often move from one deck into another and only need a few additional expensive reserve list cards. So, if I built Ad Nauseam Tendrils now, and in a few months wanted to take a spin at The Epic Storm, I’d only need to layout a few hundred dollars for City of Traitors and maybe one more dual since I’d already own the main expensive components: the playset of Lion’s Eye Diamond and the duals lands.

I added up the big cards (anything over $200) for 3-4 decks I wanted to play and arrived at a figure. Then I looked at my FAB position and was like, “I could get all of those cards for like 5-10% of this.” And that was a really weird feeling. Less than a decade ago I was sure I was never going to be back. But now I could realistically get back into it in pretty short order. So, what went into the decision to pull the trigger?

First, I wouldn’t be cashing out FAB to put money in the bank. I’d be transferring money from FAB into Reserve List Magic. RL Magic is sort of like the blue chip stock of the CCG world, I have zero reservations about parking money in there, even for cards I intend to play. That made straight FAB to RL trades a no brainer and, while selling FAB to buy Magic is a net loss due to having to pay taxes on the FAB sales, it’s a manageable hit. I also have an opportunity that exists now and won’t if I decided to do this down the road. Specifically, a close friend who I spent years driving around the Midwest to play Magic with is getting out of the game to finance a house. His Legacy collection is very similar to what mine was, minus some bling. That means I can buy essentially any card I need and not have to worry about if the seller is legit, he doesn’t have to worry about scamming buyers, and we split the difference saved by not using a platform that charges fees. The end result is that he gets more, I spend less, and no one has to worry about the deal going sour.

There is also a sort of emotional appeal to owning those specific cards. The Tabernacle I’ll be looking to pick up was acquired from a vendor at a GP in trade for a foil Jace the Mindsculptor. I was there for the trade, and sat down against that card for games of Lands vs Enchantress (our pet decks) for years. Some of his duals came from collections he and I purchased together and split. Hell, some of them used to be mine. They’re cards that I personally have a history with, and while that doesn’t add any financial value to them, I am, fortunately at a point in my life where I can afford to indulge in sentiment without really worrying if I’ve milked out every bit of value.

As I’ve built up my FAB collection over the past year, I’ve also come to realize how much I miss having my Magic collection. As I said, I sold it more out of necessity than choice, I’d kind of just not really thought about it too much in the past 5-6 years because there was no real clear path towards building something remotely similar and it was kind of sad. While I suppose I could have bought back in with cash for a while now, it has always been too hard to justify. Selling/trading a small portion of my FAB collection, though? Even with just my few sales along the way, I’ve almost entirely covered my initial costs, so I’m pretty much playing with house money at this point anyway, and that feels a lot more reasonable. I’m not leaving FAB, hell, I sent out an email full of survey results to my LGS earlier this week to try to get to the next step on getting a FAB night going; however, Magic is always going to hold a special place in my heart, and I’m very excited by the prospect of once more sleeving up ANT and attempting to kill people before they resolve a spell (I am, perhaps, the villain here).

Is this all, strictly speaking, the most prudent use of my money and assets? Probably not. But, I don’t really care. I think that people who talk about money a lot often seem to forget that (at least for most people) money isn’t actually very exciting in and of itself. What’s exciting about money are the things it lets you do. In this case, I’m making what is likely a sub-optimal move from a pure finance angle to buy back something I thought I’d never have again, and it’s pretty invigorating. The first stack of dual lands arrived a couple days ago, part of a trade I completed at the end of last week, and, sitting here holding them in my hands and feeling giddy to own them again, I know it was the right call.

What’s Your Actual Goal?

That brings me to the state of Flesh and Blood social media. FAB’s finance scene took off in the era of Wall Street bets, and, as we moved into November of last year, the FAB finance culture began to change. For me it was marked by a distinct tonal shift in the #wall-street channel of the Discord. Suddenly every third person was talking about “diamond hands,” “free tendies,” and “X to the moon.” Certainly a portion of the people saying this stuff were just memeing, but since then, it seems increasingly like the finance space is occupied by people who don’t really have any sort of plan and just lean into the culture, repeating catchphrases, and amplifying a message that they’ve never really thought through.  

Yelling “I’ll never fucking sell!” while imagining yourself exhibiting a DiCaprio swagger certainly has an appeal, but it’s not actually good advice for everyone. I constantly see people dragging “paper hands” and talking trash about everyone who sells at pretty much any price point. Were you selling WTR at $1000 last winter? You were a sucker. Are you selling at $4-5k now? You’re a sucker. Were you selling WTR at $7,000 a few months ago? Look at this sucker. This is, of course, a myopic view, but hey, nuance is boring. But, to the people who haven’t yet gotten their Wolf of Wall Street tattoos, I loop back to my section heading here: What’s your actual goal? Why are you accumulating these cards in the first place? Many people are buying products “as investments,” but few really seem to have a plan for those investments beyond a nebulous “make a bunch of money in the future.”  That’s a wish, not a plan.

Now, there are some people whose goal is largely centered on generating vast wealth. They may hold some generalized sentiment of doing something with that wealth (retiring early, for instance), but the actual accumulation itself is a big part of what compels them. I definitely know people like this – they’re usually already well-off, but they want to grow their wealth as much as they can, and even if they someday take the “retire young” option, I have a hard time believing that they wouldn’t still be actively working on wealth generation in their “retirement.” The process of making money itself is a thing that they enjoy. So that question of optimization actually is the most salient issue for them. But that’s not actually appealing for everyone.

However, for a lot of people, (myself included) while they’d like to have a lot of money, “money” is actually a stand in for a more tangible goal. Maybe they want to buy a house or quit their day job and pursue a passion that’s less lucrative; hell, maybe they just want to get out from under their student loans. The “generate vast wealth” people often don’t have a clearly defined end point.  They may have a target like “get X dollars” or “own Z rental properties” but when they meet that goal, they’ll almost immediately onto a new even higher target number, which necessitates more accrual of wealth. However, for the rest of the people out there, there is likely something or several somethings they want that are discreet targets, and once you have those things, having more money is of diminished value. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be lofty goals that require a lot of money, but you have things you’re looking for and if you can check them all off, generating wealth probably becomes significantly less important to you.

I note this distinction because the way that the finance-interested community talks about cardboard is heavily influenced by the ultra-wealthy people whose focus is wealth generation itself. To a degree, this is the natural outcome of the biggest personality in the community being a multi-millionaire with an investment background. I’m not saying that the information that Rudy and other whales give is necessarily wrong or bad, but the majority of their audience likely isn’t working with the same tools nor do they necessarily have the same desires. Rudy is aware of this and gives occasional PSAs to his audience with a brief note that they shouldn’t be playing around in high end collectibles until they have the rest of their financial life in order, but while that’s a good sentiment and all, I don’t think the community really internalizes that –it’s just not sexy.

I’ve often talked about potential FAB prices in terms of a 5 or even 10 year window, and I think one of the things that I’ve done a poor job of discussing is the assumptions that go into that and what the implications are for anything in a narrower window. I don’t think it’s really a very insightful or bold prediction to project that, if the game is doing well in five years, pretty much any current sealed first edition box or cold foil is going to be worth meaningfully more than it is today. Thinking on that time scale largely means ignoring a lot of the intermediate time – Monarch being down (cases have been as low as $1100 this week) doesn’t matter because, if the game is doing well in five years, it will be significantly higher. What goes uninterrogated here is how many people should really be making this bet, because there are non-zero amounts of risk involved.

Crypto currency has poisoned people’s brains a bit in this regard. The story of the bitcoin pizzas (10k bitcoins for two pizzas back when that looked like a good deal for the pizza receiver) has imprinted this inverse FOMO in the minds of nerds, we’ll call it FOSE: Fear Of Selling Early (…ugh, god, that’s awful. Let’s just pretend that I never proposed that and move on). Anyway, people have this fear that things will eventually be worth staggeringly more than they are now, and by selling now they’ll look like pizza guy or maybe Ronald Wayne (the third Apple founder who sold his 10% stake for $800). But we remember those cases because they’re splashy. They make for good stories, but fixating on them can be detrimental, and they’re mostly meaningless when divorced from context.  

At some point, I think it’s reasonable to just take the win, especially if you have something you want to do with the money. This applies more to FAB than other games because there are a ton of people who paid very little for cards and boxes that have gone up significantly. While those products certainly offer the potential of even greater rewards in the future, holding out for 10 years may not be the best way to achieve your personal goals (and assumes a non-insignificant amount of risk). Cashing out some FAB for twenty times or more what you paid is hardly a sucker move if you have a plan for that money. I’m primarily talking to people here who are up on their FAB purchases. If you bought MON at $400 a box and are now looking at boxes in the mid-to-upper $200s, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, one that I don’t really have space for in this piece.

But, for those of you sitting on a bunch of valuable FAB and wondering if you should be moving pieces, I’d encourage you to take some time unplugged from the online hivemind and think about what your goals are. What does the total value of your collection represent to you (and be realistic here, a box of WTR isn’t $7k, nor is your raw Shiyana)? Is moving some of that into something else worthwhile? How bad would your situation be if FAB were to crash (we should always consider the worst case scenario instead of just living in the land of infinite growth)? If you just want to generate vast wealth – maybe you’re best off just tuning into the multi-millionaires and seeing if you can replicate their approach on a smaller scale. But, if you’re one of the people who have more discreet goals, take a moment to consider if some of them are now attainable, and if that’s something you’d like to pursue. Look, if a meteor was going to destroy the earth tomorrow, odds are the last #wall-street post would still be saying “MON to 1k.” Don’t let the cult of the diamond-handed meme lords stop you from doing things that are going to make your life more enjoyable.

*Header Image – Bankrupt in Blood by Seb McKinnon

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