I suppose this is a bit of an odd topic after all this time, but I’ve found the entire saga of the Alpha Investments promo card to be a fascinating experiment to observe, even if I’ve done so largely from the sidelines. We’re now far enough out that I think we can start to make some claims about the whole venture and see if there are any of the lessons we can extract, particularly now that the whole thing looks like a flop. Obviously the market will continue to shift on this item over time, so anything is possible. Maybe in ten years this will be a $10,000 item, but what I’m going to be assessing the promo on is how it’s doing today, and, as I’ll get into later, even if it were a $10,000 item in ten years, paying $1,000 for the bundle was still emphatically a financial mistake for most people who purchased it.
What is a Ruu’di?
For anyone who isn’t already aware, Rudy of Alpha Investments sold some of his patrons a special Rudy promo along with art cards of the first four Fable gems (this also served as a teaser for the next one to be released). There was a limited print run of these cards, and Rudy vowed to destroy any unsold copies after keeping ten for himself (the cards have since been lightly charred in a somewhat anticlimactic video). The sale itself was fairly controversial given the high asking price. Those who planned to buy one generally arguing that, in the future, it would go be worth well over what they were paying now. Many of those who weren’t buying the card were pretty derisive about it, often arguing that it was a bad thing to purchase and/or the optics of a $1000 promo being sold directly created a bad look for LSS. I find that second point to be pretty dubious. The only people who were really aware of the Rudy promo were already hyper keyed into FAB and I doubt that many or even any of them quit the game because LSS sold Rudy some unplayble promos two years ago when Alpha boxes were $65. Meanwhile, prospective players who aren’t already focused on FAB news likely heard nothing about this whole affair. If LSS had sold the card directly to players for $1,000, that would have been an entirely different story, but they didn’t, so it’s not. As a sort of footnote to the whole saga, a few weeks after the sale ended, Rudy cheekily announced that people who had ordered a bundle would get $69 off his future FAB sales as a perk.
I previously described this promo sale as “a group of people very purposefully attempting to will a product into collectability,” and that remains my take. Essentially, you have a card with no real intrinsic value –it is literally unplayable by virtue of being illegal in every format people actually play, and even if it weren’t, it would be functionally unplayable because it would require you to have an entire deck of graded cards (not even ones from the grading company predominantly used by the FAB community, to boot). However, it is a limited commodity with an exceptionally high starting price which is going to generate news and interest among the finance circles. If we look at it as an experiment, the patrons that bought it were collectively agreeing that it would be worth more than $1000 as a speculative asset, and the way that this panned out in the immediate aftermath was deeply tied to how long they could maintain that conviction. Would these Rudy fans be able to embrace the raconteur’s frequent advice to “stay the course”?
What I find super interesting is that, in theory, we started with a perfect cartel situation. A relatively small group of people owned 100% of the supply and implicitly agreed to fix the price for sale of a bundle at over $1000. This was a very promising start because there was invariably some number of people who were interested in being in the cartel but didn’t have Patreon memberships in Alpha Investments, so there was minimally some initial demand for the card among people who wanted to get in on this action but couldn’t buy from Rudy directly. This suggested that an early opportunity existed to sell for a profit immedaitly after the bundles were delivered (and some people did). From there, the question was always “will the market produce people who want in on the bundle/cards at a faster rate than the initial members lose confidence or need to sell due to unanticipated expenses?” At this point, it looks like we’ve got a fairly good idea of what the answer to that question was.
Aside from a brief batch of immediate sales of the bundle for around $1200-1300, both the bundles and the individual components went downhill rather quickly. Bundles were listed in decent quantities for $800-850, and few if any of them sold at that price. There is one recorded sale of the Ruu’di promo on TCGPlayer for $750 and several on ebay between about $550 and $930 during November. The art cards initially sold at around $400 for the set of four. From there, we’ve seen the art cards fall to $50 each, and a pair of Ruu’di promos sold together for $850 on Facebook, so we’re well under $500 a copy. With these particular items, a significant amount of the transactions occurred via Facebook and Discord, so most of the information I have to work with is collected from sales posts that people either noted had sold or which appear to have had no interest. I tend to believe that anyone claiming a successful sale at sub 1k prices is telling the truth as I see no benefit to anyone publicly acknowledging they took a loss on this card unless it was true.
Right now it appears that both the bundles and their sub-components are all continuing to trend downward, and I’m not sure what the floor is for these, but I expect things to continue to get worse before they get better. It’s also important to note that the Patreon discount is non-transferable, so there is no additional bonus for anyone who buys the card secondhand from a patron. In fact, the only people who did well on this whole thing were the handful that sold immediately for a couple hundred dollars of profit and retained the discount for themselves. As an additional ding, Rudy’s FAB bundles have recently been priced such that the $69 discount gets the overall price to about what you would pay elsewhere if you either pre-ordered or waited a few weeks post-release. In short, while it’s a nice gesture, I don’t think the discount is a huge gamechanger for evaluating the bundle’s success, and since no one knew that’s what they were buying, I think we can set it aside for our discussion from here on out.
Whelp, that was a Mistake
Buying the bundle pretty demonstrably turned out to be a financial whiff. At this point, even if you really wanted the promo, it’s becoming abundantly clear that you could have gotten one from the secondary for substantially less by waiting. Even over the next few years, I think the card likely won’t look like a great investment. The best scenario I see for it is that FAB makes a 10+ year run, at which point an early curiosity like this might garner more interest, and it could potentially end up selling for over the initial $1000 price. However, in that scenario you’ve got the complication of potential loss of value as Rudy becomes less popular and well-known (he’s indicated a potential interest in getting out of the content creator/Patreon game in the next few years, so it seems like a decent assumption that in ten years he’ll be retired from the YouTube game –hell YouTube might be as defunct as MySpace in a decade, who knows). This makes the bundle sort of awkward item in that the audience for it is primarily people who like FAB AND Rudy as opposed to it having broader appeal to people who only like one or the other. But all of this is sort of academic in terms of whether buying the card was a mistake in the first place.
So, the first thing we’ve learned is that this experiment was largely a failure in terms of willing a collectible into being valuable. It turns out that there was a combination of lack of interest in the items from non-Patrons and a lack of willingness or ability to stay the course from those who bought it. In short, it was an interesting thing to watch, and a bad thing to buy. Buying the card was a financial mistake for everyone who purchased one because, even if you really wanted the card, buying it directly was the least effective way to do so. Even if you paid $1000 for the card and in 5 years it’s $2000, that’s still not as good as if you waited until the price fell, bought one at that price, and then held it. Now what can we learn from this?
While this particular case obviously involves a confluence of factors, I would say that one immediate lesson is to be cautious of unplayable cards as speculative commodities in player-driven card games. The fact that Ruu’di is essentially impossible to use is a major knock on the card. If it was illegal in everything except casual formats, but it did something interesting in those that made for a fun play experience that probably would have helped it a bit. Magic, after all, has silver-bordered cards that are illegal in anything but casual formats and some of those have accumulated considerable value over the years (I’ve talked about Gifts Given in relation to promo card valuation before). So, while it’s not a totally invalid type of card to buy in on, it does certainly merit an extra helping of caution as compared to a rare version of a card that’s actually good.
This sort of ties into a general problem I see: there are a lot of people messing around in the FAB secondary that don’t really consider liquidity when then choose which items to park their money in. The FAB audience, perhaps intoxicated by the wild price spike across to board in the CRU->MON period, bought in on a variety of stuff that is actually kind of hard to move short term in any scenario except endless growth. Graded cards are a good example. Relative to other big CCGs, the percentage of rare FAB items being graded seems extremely high. I feel like, we’re going to see a lot of people moving graded cards at the same price as raw copies in the next couple years (especially for anything under a 9.5), which translates to a pure loss of money on the grading fees. Now, if FAB goes long, then I’m sure the people holding highly graded cards will realize some strong profits should they opt to sell, but a lot of the people got into graded cards with FAB and had no real experience with them prior to their time with FAB. This is by no means a knock on people who are old hands at grading or new enthusiasts who did their research and approached the niche with reasonable expectations. Those sorts of people have a more realistic outlook on the time frame this sort of investment requires and the challenges associated with selling niche items. However, my intuition is that a lot of excited newcomers went in on grading because it was the hot thing to do and they hoped they’d be flipping those cards for double their initial cost or more within the year, which is now extremely unlikely.
In terms of other lessons, I would say that I’ve seen a higher degree of post-hoc justification for purchasing this bundle than pretty much anything else in FAB. There are a ton of people who bought the bundle, saw the value drop by about half in a couple months, and are still trying make a case for why the purchase wasn’t a mistake. I don’t bring this up to drag these people; play the financial game enough and everyone makes bad calls now and then (I bought Rudy’s Monarch bundle, for example). No, I mention it because it presents us with an opportunity to learn something: acknowledging your mistakes will help prevent you from repeating them. As soon as the promos started declining, I saw multiple people hedged against the emotional fallout of making a bad purchase by loudly and publicly stating that they had wanted the card regardless of what happened because they liked Rudy so much.
This is a very weird take. If we accept this as true, we end up in the scenario where people really wanted to give a multimillionaire free money, but instead of just giving him the money, they wanted to do it through the purchase of a speculative asset that they allegedly didn’t really believe would go up. I suppose that it’s possible that some people actually had those thoughts. However, a more plausible scenario in my mind is that they did think the card was going to shoot up in value, and there were a lot of people who were saying that wouldn’t happen. So, when it didn’t go up, these buyers felt embarrassed that they’d made the wrong call on something that a lot of people vocally called a mistake, and these buyers then tried to mitigate that embarrassment by claiming (and maybe convincing themselves) that this was never speculation but rather an “I like Rudy” thing. Rudy’s doing fine. He’s still wealthy without your money; he’s not a small content creator relying on the goodwill of patrons to pay his bills month-to-month. If you want to give him free money, I’m sure he’d accept it without a convoluted method of making the donation, but you do you. I’m just not particularly swayed by that line of argumentation. I’m sure a handful of well-off patrons who are big Rudy fans did indeed buy the card to own it, and they don’t particularly care if they lose 50% of the value, but that’s undoubtedly a small minority or purchasers. I think most people advancing this line of argument are just trying to save face.
It’s Kind of on You
In a previous draft, this final section was called “Don’t be a Jerk” and I wrote a thing about not hassling people over their financial mistakes, particularly in the comments of posts they’ve made where they’re clearly selling at a loss. But, some people are jerks, and an admonishment from me is hardly going to change that. Instead, I’m writing to the people who messed up here. It’s kind of on you to be honest with yourself and admit your mistakes as opposed to writing them off and making excuses. You can, to a degree, say whatever you want publicly if you’re heavily invested in trying to always appear right (though that’s a losing game, let me tell you -). In any case, privately, you are immensely better served by acknowledging your mistakes and looking for lessons. Like many people, I bought some Monarch singles too early. Most notably, I paid $525 for a cold foil Doomsday (those are about $80 right now). Now, I clearly had reasons that I thought made this a good idea at the time, but once it became clear that it was not a great call, my move was to do my best to figure out what happened, why, and how I could avoid doing that again in the future. This lead me to hold off on buying the CFs I need from Tales of Aria, which are still falling in price as I’m writing this. If I’d doubled down on it with some argument that “actually CF Doomsday will be worth way over $525 in 5 years” I would have put myself on paying for $300 CF L’s from Tales instead of patiently watching prices fall.
Earlier I invoked the maxim of “stay the course,” and while I feel like my personal approach is more nuanced than that, the one thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past couple years is that the average person will not stay the course. There are tons of factors that go into this, but the end result is largely the same: a big chunk of the people in the CCG space are not wired for doing things on a years-long timespan. One of the major factors that doomed the short-term viability of Ruu’di was that a notable percentage of the people who bought in were not prepared to hold the card, which is something that this particular bundle, more so than something like a playable cold foil Legendary, absolutely needed. Remember the cartel situation I described earlier? It falls apart when people don’t hold the line, and when you have a few hundred people involved, you should probably assume that people are going to fail to hold the line. In the end, if you’re expecting people to hold, you’re almost always going to be disappointed unless the item in question has become thoroughly concentrated in the hands of people who will likely never be in a situation where they need money on short notice.
*Header Image – Doomsday by soyameii