Going Infinite – Customer Service, Time Spiral, and the Banhammer

Monday, December 27th – When Time Spiral was unbanned and wise traders pounced, many stores refused to ship their Time Spirals. As a trader, what can we learn from this – and my father’s Mexican restaurant?

“Two chicken flautas*, rice, and beans. Move!” My dad put the order on the rack in front of me and went to check on the customers.

It was pretty busy around dinner time, and I was itching to get out of there. When you work at a family restaurant, you have to steal every second that you can get. I was supposed to go see my girlfriend, but I had to do this order and wash the dishes before I could leave. I threw the flautas in the fryer and I went to gather the dishes.

When I got back to the kitchen, it was time to pull the flautas out. I threw them on the plate with some rice and beans. They were overdone, but I didn’t care. My girlfriend was waiting and I wanted to get out of there. I paused to inspect the dark brown flautas on the plate and then I covered them with lettuce and guacamole. Who cares if one customer gets flautas that are overdone? Is it really going to make a difference?

“What the

is that?” My dad was looking over my shoulder.

I acted like I didn’t notice. “Flautas,” I said. “Isn’t that what they ordered?”

He threw a new batch in the fryer and shoved me out of the way. “We’re not serving that crap to the customers. Get out of the kitchen!” He shoved the plate toward me. “Take this with you.” I went to the back to wash the dishes, and had a self-righteous sulking session.

My dad was trying to teach me something that night, but I missed it.

It seems like many businesses miss this critical lesson in customer service. I was young and immature and I didn’t understand that our customers were our lifeblood. They were critical to the success of our family business. My dad’s attitude of perfection and his consistent skill of putting the customer first made our small family restaurant a big success.

Customer service has been at the forefront of my mind since the banned and restricted announcement was made last week.

Customer Service

Why does the banned and restricted announcement spur thoughts of customer service? Nowadays, whenever something gets unbanned there is a rush to buy copies of the newly unbanned card. I’m tempted to say that this hasn’t always been the case (at least not in the same magnitude) — but there’s a new financial awareness among Magic players that triggers these type of events. (It’s also this awareness that triggers the rush to buy hot mythic rares before a set comes out.)

In any case, after
Wizards announced the banning

of Survival of the Fittest and the unban of Time Spiral in Legacy, players and speculators alike rushed to their nearest online store to buy as many Time Spirals as they could.

Many of these shoppers were disappointed the next morning when these stores canceled their orders citing the old “oversold stock” excuse. In some cases, these stores mysteriously re-stocked Time Spirals at five to ten times the previous price. I don’t get annoyed about this any more, since I’ve been through this so many times in the past. The play is so obviously and unoriginal now. It’s like when a Valakut player is sitting on five mana and you pass the turn; you

he’s going to untap, drop a land and then cast a Primeval Titan. If you don’t have the Mana Leak, the Doom Blade, or the Frost Titan, you might as well scoop ’em up.

I ordered about a dozen Time Spirals at ten minutes after the announcement went up — and all of my orders were canceled without notification or explanation. They didn’t even have the decency give me the “oversold stock” song and dance. This is obviously a misplay for those who own these stores…. but I don’t want to spend any time explaining why for their sake. Instead, I want to bring this issue to your attention in terms of trading.

From a practical perspective, there are two things that you can take away from the beginning of this article. First, I suck at making flautas.

Second, and more important, when a B&R announcement comes out, don’t count on most online stores to honor their pricing. Now there is an exception: If you’d ordered Time Spiral from StarCityGames.com, then your order would have been filled. No stocking issues, no sleight of hand re-pricing, no bull. This is the same type of attitude that made my family business successful. It is the same type of attitude that we should carry into trading and selling Magic cards.

Every transaction that we make, whether it’s a trade or a sale, is an opportunity for us to practice customer service. Taking advantage of these opportunities will help you build a strong reputation. If you plan on building value over a long period of time, then reputation is key. This is why it’s a bad practice to try to double-up on everyone that you trade with. Eventually, people will label you a “rip off” and not trade with you. If you pay special attention to customer service, then you can steal business from these less reputable online retailers.

Here are some things that you can do in trades and sales that will set you apart and help you build a solid reputation:

Honor Your Prices.

This is easy to do when you are selling cards. I once accidently listed a Foil Russian Suppression Field at $0 on my sale list. Someone posted, asking for the free card.

I could have said, “Sorry that was a mistake. I have to change the price.” But all those years at the restaurant changed my thinking. It’s not my customer’s fault that I made a mistake, so my customer shouldn’t have to pay for it. Needless to say, I shipped the free card to the customer.

There are also opportunities to honor your pricing in trading. For example, if you trade someone a card at $5, then the next day they want to trade it back to you, you should value it at $5. Another example is if you agree on a trade, via email, text, or the phone, don’t change the trade when you actually exchange cards.

Ship Quickly.

This is one of the keys to doing business online, whether you are trading or selling. Magic players are impatient, they want their cards yesterday. Always make sure that you ship quickly and securely. If you can ship the same day that you agree on the trade or finalize the sale, then you will earn the reputation of a fast shipper. This is will open up opportunities for return business.

Throw In Extra.

I always try to give my trade partner the extra dollar. When I ship cards that people ordered from me, I always try to add extra cards, like foil lands or Japanese commons and uncommons. Getting something extra when you buy or trade cards is always unexpected… and it’s always awesome.

These tips may seem like common sense, but I really want to accentuate their importance. These are essentials for building a strong reputation.

My challenge to you is this: go out of your way to practice these three principles in your next two weeks of doing business and take note of any change in the flow of your business.

Before I end this article, I wanted to take time to answer some of the questions that I’ve been getting about the banned and restricted announcement.

The mighty ban hammer has struck with furious anger and Survival of the Fittest has been banned. I wish I could say “I told you so”… but I can’t. Instead, I was one of the sadistic people who hoped that a broken card like Survival of the Fittest could remain in Legacy forever. Now that the banning is done and over with, these are the three questions that I’ve been asked the most.

What is the bottom price for Survival?
At the moment, Survival is selling for between $18 and $25 on eBay. There’s no comparable rare in Exodus — but there are two that are close! Oath of Druids and Recurring Nightmare.

Oath of Druids is huge in Vintage… but Vintage is small in the scheme of things. Recurring Nightmare has a slot in most cubes, but sees zero Legacy play. Oath sells for $4 to $5 on eBay, and Recurring Nightmare sells for between $6 and $7.

Survival will land a little higher than those two, since Survival sees lots of play in EDH and it will always have its slot in every cube. Using these numbers, we can say that the absolute bottom for Survival is $4, the top is about $18, a realistic estimate is about $10 to $12, and (depending on the popularity of EDH — sorry, “Commander”), I could see it creeping back up to between $18 and $20.

Will this affect the price of Vengevine?

Despite Vengevine’s appearance in most of the Survival-based decks, his price seemed to be unaffected. I was monitoring the price of Vengevine while it was seeing play in Legacy and it always seemed to hover between $35 and $40. Vengevine is currently selling on eBay for about $30; this small drop is most likely due to a lack of play in Standard, and not the banned and restricted announcement.

If you have Vengevines and you are wondering if you should sell them, my advice would be to hold onto them. You still have a whole Standard and Extended season for them to realize their price potential.

Should I pick up Time Spiral?

The short answer is, “No.” However, I should classify that statement.
From a financial perspective

, you should not pick them up. But if you need them for your deck then by all means, feel free to pick them up and pay the ridiculously inflated price.

Now, if you’re trying to ride the wave by getting them now and selling them when they peak, then that’s too risky. I think that Time Spiral could see some serious Legacy play, but there’s nothing that currently supports its price tag. My advice is not to pick these up unless you can get them for the pre-banning price or close.

Card Watch: Time Sieve

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about this card since Thopter Assembly was spoiled last week. It’s an infinite-turn combo in Extended, albeit a clunky and expensive one. The pricing hasn’t been affected yet, but I know that my bot on MTGO is sold out and some of my buddies have been talking about the card’s potential. Keep an eye on this card.

That’s all for this week. I hope your Christmas was rocking! See you next week.

* – “Flautas” is a Mexican dish that is comprised of chicken and cheese, wrapped in a flour tortilla and deep-fried. Typically they are served with guacamole and sour cream. It sounds delicious, because it is.