It’s late April. The air is warm. The sun is shining. There have been some nice days this spring, but none have been quite like this. You wish that you could convince your boss to hold the afternoon staff meeting outside.
It’s your lunch break, and you’ve decided to go for a walk. On your way to the sandwich shop, you pop into your local game store and take a quick look at their display case. There’s a beautiful mint Rishadan Port staring back at you. You don’t really need a Rishadan Port, but you’ve been meaning to collect a set of essentials for your Legacy collection. Lands keep going up in price, after all, so why not seize the moment? A hundred and thirty bucks later, you’re one card closer to . . . something cool probably. You make a note to look up the best Legacy decks that run Rishadan Port later that night.
Would you have bought the Port if it had been raining that day?
A 2009 study by The Journal of Marketing Research attempted to find a link between the weather and consumer behavior in order to answer that question. According to their results, which were based on several lab experiments alongside sales data from a tea store, there’s a strong correlation between sunny days and consumer spending. When it’s nice out, people buy more stuff.
Even more interestingly, sunlight itself seems to be the key, even on cold and windy days. They replicated the study with sun lamps on otherwise dreary days and still found that people tend to be in a better mood—and more often than not that good mood led to bigger purchases. Sunlight makes us happy, and happy people spend money.
Whether you’re trading or speculating, Magic finance is a game that requires making constant consumer decisions. Is it worth buying twenty copies of that bulk rare you believe in? Should you sell your fetch lands now? Is it time to trade for that last Jace you need? We like to think that all of these decisions are made logically, but that isn’t true. Our mood dictates everything we do.
Today we’re going to examine how different moods can affect behavior when making financial decisions. And it’s not going to be an easy journey, especially for me.
There is a player in one of my fantasy baseball leagues who is not very good. It is partially because he is new to the game, which I have sympathy for. It is also partially because he is unwilling to do the research, which I don’t have sympathy for.
He is especially flummoxed by our prospect draft, a yearly event where we take two players each year from the minor leagues into our farm system. A quick Google search reveals several Top 100 prospect lists that can be used as a fairly reasonable cheat sheet, but this guy always shows up with a magazine that’s a year or two out of date and tries to pick players that are on someone else’s team or have been traded out of the league. Knowing that this was coming, I offered him a fair trade for one of his draft picks this year. I never heard back.
At the draft, he tried drafting four or five guys that were ineligible, just like I expected. He kept getting more and more frustrated. Ultimately, he decided to skip his pick altogether.
"If you didn’t want to make a pick, why wouldn’t you at least think about trading it to me?" I asked him.
"I’m not trading with anyone anymore," he snapped.
"If you’re offering me a trade, I’ve got to figure that it benefits you. And if it benefits you, it doesn’t benefit me."
I reminded him that I’ve only traded with him once, and it was a deal that blew up in my face and gave him his best player last season. He didn’t want to hear it though and shut down entirely.
Many articles have been written about tilt from a player’s perspective, but it happens just as much when trading and speculating. Lots of things can turn a mood dark—losing a match at Friday Night Magic, having a trade fall apart, having a rough week at school, or even just leaving late for the tournament and being unable to grab coffee on your way to the event site.
Just like during a match, traders react to tilt by making rash decisions and temporarily throwing logic out the window. Some will attempt to take their anger out on opposing trade binders, trying to force through a series of "winning" trades in the hopes that making a profit will help restore their mood. Others will shut down and refuse to trade at all, like the guy in my fantasy baseball league.
The worst type of behavior I’ve seen from traders and speculators on tilt though are the attempts at taking a huge swing on a trade or purchase in order to save face. I’ve been guilty of this myself from time to time. Once at a tournament about two years ago, I was reeling thanks to a loss in the first round and a horrible day at work. Unable to think clearly, I decided to trade away a Dark Confidant and a Misty Rainforest for a pile of Vampire Nocturnus promos. I knew intellectually that the deal was bad—no one played Nocturnus anymore at that point, and the two cards I traded away were always in demand—but I was winning the "retail price" side of the trade by a good $40, so I made the deal in order to give myself a win that night.
I regretted the trade immediately. While I no longer remember why work was so bad or what deck I lost to that evening, I still have a bad taste in my mouth over that deal.
If you find yourself on tilt, the best thing you can do is to remove yourself from situations where you might make a poor decision. I know this sounds really obvious on the page, but it’s a difficult thing to accomplish in practice. I know that when I’m reeling from a loss, my first instinct is to take action, hoping to wrangle my mood back into submission. This attitude helps me out a lot in other situations, but it’s deadly at an FNM or Grand Prix. You simply do not want to risk making a bad deal while emotionally off kilter.
Under the circumstances, the guy in my fantasy baseball league had it (mostly) right. Obviously he shouldn’t give up trading forever and his logic about trades never being mutually beneficial was ludicrous, but stepping away from the trade block during a moment of frustration was the right call. It was better for him to do nothing than make a deal that he would later regret.
By the same logic, I always avoid dealing with other traders who are on tilt. While it is possible to make a favorable deal with them, that potential profit pales in comparison to the possible loss of that relationship. Since a trader on tilt isn’t thinking rationally, there’s no way of knowing how much they may regret the trade later that week. Even if you do your best to do the deal fair, you aren’t privy to the runaway emotions fueling their side of the trade.
Perhaps they’re giving up key pieces of their favorite deck because it lost one too many matches that night, or maybe they’re willing to give up that one foil they told themselves they’d never part with in order to get a sideboard card that would have helped them win their last frustrating match. Most people are reluctant to admit their mistakes later and ask for the deal to be reversed, so instead they’ll associate you with a "rip-off" trade that you didn’t even know was bad.
One of the regulars at my LGS has been cold to me for years, and I suspect that a trade like this is the reason why. He finds himself constantly frustrated, especially toward the end of the night when I do most of my trading. One day he stopped dealing with me altogether. I’ve never known why, and he won’t tell me.
Ever since then I’ve done my best to walk away from trades where my partner is on tilt.
I hate the expression "playing with house money."
I understand why it’s relevant if you’re a casual gambler on a long weekend in Las Vegas—you’ve won a bit of unexpected money, and you’re going to use it to take risks that you might not otherwise take. When it comes to Magic finance, though, there is no such thing as "house money." All money should be treated the same.
As you saw in the sunlight example at the beginning of this article, happy people spend more freely. After all, if today is such an awesome day, why worry about tomorrow? In my experience, this feeling is magnified ten or fifteen times whenever someone comes across unexpected profit, especially in the form of cards. Many people keep a track of their Magic finance "wins" and "losses" in their mind, but this invisible balance sheet is rarely very accurate. When someone wins big, they tend to overcompensate by making riskier specs and looser trades. It’s easy to make a bad deal, shrug, and mentally write the loss off against your latest win. After all, it’s house money!
This is made worse when you start to add up dollars that you haven’t even earned yet. As an example, let’s assume that you bought four copies of Food Chain for $5 each right after the deck showed up in the Top 8 of the SCG Legacy Open in Los Angeles. A few days later you noticed that the price had gone up to $20. Hey, you’re a genius! You just made $60! Time to spend that fat stack of cash!
Well, no. All you’ve done so far is spent $20 plus shipping on a playset of cards that have very little actual demand. It’s possible that you’ll be able to make money on your Food Chains, but first you’ll need to find a buyer and deal with fees, shipping, logistics, and everything else.
How well you have done on past specs should influence your decisions going forward because it gives you valuable information about what formats you know better, what your profit margins need to be, and the best places and times to buy and sell. Being in a good mood because you just did well on a spec should not influence any of your future buying or trading decisions though. That information isn’t relevant. Each transaction should be judged solely on its own attributes.
You can take advantage of this mentality in others when you see 40 copies of the same rare in someone’s binder. Almost universally speculators value these cards significantly less than they should because they have so many and most likely paid much less than the going rate for them. Even though you the number of copies of a card you have shouldn’t change how you value it, human nature is hard to overcome. Looking at two or three pages of your binder filled with the same rare is like stepping into a ray of nice warm sunlight. It’s going to make you feel good about the spec you made, which might make you more likely to make a riskier trade.
Unlike with anger, you don’t have to stop trading when you feel gleeful—for me, giddiness makes me feel more charming and personable, which makes it easier and more fun for me to close deals. These are the times when trading feels even more fun than playing the game, and I wouldn’t give them up for the world. Just make sure that your trades are all logical and you’ll be fine. Don’t make silly decisions just because you’re having a good day.
I am an anxious person. It is a major issue in my life that I am working on improving.
It is only recently that I have begun to examine many of my decisions through the lens of anxiety, and the results aren’t good. Fear has been responsible for many of my worst motives. Anxiety keeps me from making calculated risks, shoving me toward safety, security, and hedged bets at all costs. Anxiety keeps me from following lots of my own advice even when the logic is sound. Anxiety runs in circles in my mind, chasing its tail like a rabid dog and keeping me in the same tired rut year after year.
The biggest problem with anxiety is that it feels normal to me. I’m always surprised when others react to my anxious pleadings as though I have some sort of ulterior motive. I have to keep telling myself that my mind works differently sometimes and that it’s not always seeing things clearly.
I have a reputation in the community as a bit of a doomsayer, and it isn’t entirely unfounded. Three of the articles that I am best known for are about potential catastrophes in Magic: one about what it would take to kill the game, one about how changes to the tournament structure could destroy the pro scene, and one about Chinese counterfeits. After writing each of these articles, I was accused by some of my readers of writing sensationalist pieces of nonsense in an attempt to whip people into a negative frenzy and drive traffic for my column. These accusations cut me fairly deeply, as I pride myself on always putting forth as honest an analysis as I can.
In recent weeks I have started to look at these accusations through the lens of my anxiety.
It is not a coincidence that I am an anxiety prone person and that I also tend to focus on worst case scenarios when new information presents itself. There is a causal relationship there. When I hear rumors of counterfeit cards that are impossible to tell apart from the genuine article or Wizards of the Coast changes the organized play rules to give people less incentive to go pro, my mind will immediately start building a narrative around that event, using it as a catalyst for decline. When my brain provides such a compelling narrative for what could happen in the worst case scenario, I feel like it is my duty to research and present that possibility as best I can.
Anxiety also affects me as a speculator. When I speculate on a card, I occasionally start feeling personally invested in its success or failure. I start to project my own self-worth as a person on to the card’s trajectory, feeling good about myself when it goes up and bad about myself when it does poorly. Even when the potential profit involved is so small that it won’t affect my monthly budget, thinking about the spec gone wrong will make it hard for me to fall asleep at night. This has caused me to speculate on fewer cards that I should, ignoring much of my own good advice because I did not want to become emotionally invested.
Anxiety also causes me to be biased against cards that have burned me in the past. We all do this to some degree, and it prevents us from seeing all of the best possible trade targets. So what if I held on to a Standard staple through rotation and it tanked? That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to rise in price fivefold due to Modern demand.
Solving issues like this can take years of work and self-reflection to overcome. I can’t snap my fingers and stop being anxious, nor can I avoid writing, trading, or speculating until the anxiety passes—a lot of it is simply a part of who I am. A lot of it has made me very sharp, forcing myself to defend my calls against relentless attacks from inside my own mind.
Anxiety or not, though, knowledge is still an incredibly powerful tool. Knowing that I tend toward anxious responses allows me to attempt to correct my course as much as I can, reminding myself in anxiety driven moments that I should follow my head instead of my heart. I can temper my reaction to news better, approach spec opportunities more objectively, and try to leave emotions behind at the trade tables.
Some people consider emotions to be a sign of weakness. Anger can get you into trouble. Happiness can lead to bad and impulsive decisions. Anxiety can make you miserable. Over and over again, powerful men—especially in the business world—say to grow a thick skin, steel yourself, and check your emotions at the door.
I could not disagree more. Emotions define us. They have driven humanity to build the modern world, to create artistic masterpieces, and to continue growing as individuals and families. They are the inspiration for every great story throughout history. They are the reason we get out of bed in the morning. You should never feel bad for feeling more deeply than someone else believes that you should. Why play Magic at all if you can’t enjoy walking into your LGS on a beautiful afternoon to daydream about all the amazing decks you could build with that sweet card in the case?
Those horrible people who tell you to bury your feelings are right when it comes to the world of finance though. When it comes to a trade or a buy, emotions only serve to get in the way. This doesn’t mean that you should be cold or callous—like sales, Magic finance is a game of building relationships—but it does mean that you should always try to check your mood at the door. Know your tendencies and try to compensate for them. When it comes to matters of money, follow your head, not your heart. Make logical decisions. Acknowledge and compensate for your current weaknesses.
When in doubt, step away, take a deep breath, and move on. Sometimes the best trade is the one you don’t make.
This Week’s Trends
- Corbin Hosler wrote this week that Magic has more active players now than World of Warcraft did in its prime. That is a remarkable fact, and it certainly helps explain why so many older cards continue shooting up in price.
- Several of the filter lands are being bought out due to Modern hype, causing the price to increase. These lands are good and might go up a little more, but they aren’t as essential in the format as fetches and shocks are. I wouldn’t expect fetch-esque value increases from these cards, but they could jump 20-30%.
- Brimaz, King of Oreskos is finally dropping a little. If you want a set for personal play, I would still wait until August. If you want it for Standard before then, however, you can take advantage of this nice little dip.
- Some of the textless promos are jumping in price. Last month it was Lightning Bolt. Today it’s Negate. These were just $4 last week (and last time they were in stock on SCG), but right now they’re hard to find under $15. It has been a long time since Wizards last made these, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they all spike soon.
- Also spiking are many of the other original dual lands. With Volcanic Island and Underground Sea hitting $300, would you be shocked if Tropical Island was next? It’s out of stock at $150 right now, but I expect a much higher relisting.
- Teferi’s Puzzle Box is the latest Nekusar Commander spike, and the card went from about $2 to around $8 this week. Like all of the other Nekusar spikes, I feel like this one will last.
- Did you know that Oracle of Mul Daya is a $12 card these days?
- I’ve heard rumblings of a Misthollow Griffin buyout as people continue to try to make it work with Food Chain in Legacy, but I’m staying away until that deck actually proves itself. I’ve found tons of Griffins in stock still, so if it’s a buyout, it’s not very well organized. I’m staying far away. I don’t love Food Chain long term either.
- Don’t forget that this is the best time of year to sell cards. Get some money now because you’ll need it to buy as much as you can toward the end of the summer. I still don’t think it’s essential to sell your Modern stuff—a lot of that will continue to rise or will at least stay stable—but random weird non-staples? Ditch ’em now.