Q. What do the following have in common?
A shoe box full of Ice Age and Revised. Leavings from opened booster boxes going back three years. Smatterings of cards sporting bizarre expansion symbols. A melting pot of pre-constructed products.
A. These are typical components of a collection belonging to the “casual magic player.”
Aside from giving clues as to what casual players can offer as trade targets, such a thought experiment allows us to determine why casual players play the formats they do and consequently how to best serve those players. This latter notion is gaining traction in the finance community; see Ryan Bushard’s recent article on Gathering Magic or hear Jason Alt reiterate how much he loves trading with EDH players for evidence. Since this is Cube + Commander Magic Factory, we’re going to tackle the question, “Why are Cube and Commander the hottest* casual formats?” and see where it leads us.
*While more cards by volume are likely tied up in casual 60-card decks than cubes, Cube is certainly getting more growth and face time, as evidenced by all the podcasts and web content as well as WOTC-endorsed products like Conspiracy and the MODO cube.
1. Both are Singleton
Singleton formats flatten the power level of cards. Whereas in regular Constructed a single card choice accounts for one-fifteenth of the total available space, in C + C that figure tops out at 1/99 of the available space and therefore power level.
2. Both are Eternal
Eternal formats are more forgiving of collections by providing access to more functional replacements while not being haunted by the specter of planned obsolescence the way rotating formats are. From Shivan to Stormbreath, [card]Wrath of God[/card] to [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Terror[/card] to [card]Dismember[/card], and [card]Sol Ring[/card] to [card]Chromatic Lantern[/card], the repetition of staple effects throughout Magic’s history allows players to build towards the deck they want regardless of the sets they collected.
As a corollary to (1) and (2), a greater depth of cards are “playable,” particularly when considering EDH and pauper/peasant cubes. There is satisfaction to be had by taking old cards from your shoebox and sleeving them up to make a coherent and fun deck. The best way to get value from your bulk is to play with it—cubes and durdly EDH decks are perfect for that task. That EDH decks and cubes give players the optimal way of extracting value from their collection is, in my opinion, the reason why those formats are so popular.
A collection-focused thought experiment allows us to identify the needs and motivations for casual players, thereby facilitating trades with said group. Why you should want to trade with casual players should be clear—they can unearth value from cards other players can’t and by extension find value in your collection that other players won’t. Casual players crack as many chase mythics as anyone else and they are actively looking to move them for cards unplayable in the Standard-Modern-Legacy triumvirate. This article is not about taking advantage of casual players but rather perceiving the value to be had by trading with them and understanding the service you can provide by integrating them into your trading network. To this end, here are some questions that can help you trade effectively with casual players and have fun in the process.
1. What years did you play?
You know the score—you quit, sell off everything you’ll later wish you kept, get back to the game, take a break, come back for a prerelease before repeating the cycle. Most Magic players quit and of then many come back to the game. The upshot is that your typical player will have large gaps in his or her collection corresponding to years of non-play. For example, I have a gap in my paper collection bookended by Betrayers of Kamigawa and Eventide. Every time I trade with someone, I’m particularly interested in finding cards from those sets; whenever I go to a store I ask to see binders from that era. Even if you don’t have binders for different sets, organizing your binder chronologically can make for a very exciting experience for your trade partner, much like cracking a fresh pack.
2. Can I see your deck?
One of the interesting facts about EDH decks is that unlike a deck in a solved Standard metagame or an age-old Legacy archetype, players are always modifying them. This could be in response to a local meta, to play with new toys, to “level up” their decks, or simply for the sake of variety. Taking a look at a player’s current brew can allow you to suggest cards according to any of the above purposes while engaging in friendly conversation about your trade partner’s favorite hobby and creation. By looking through his or her deck, you can quickly see and suggest functional upgrades and new directions for the deck. When I suggested [card]Dragon Tyrant[/card] for my friend’s [card]Scion of the Ur-Dragon[/card] deck, I had an image of myself as Trainspotting’s Mikey Forrester touting in a Scottish brogue “…custom designed for your purposes…” Not only did I find a home for an old rare no one else would have wanted but I succeeded in making for pleasurable trade experience for both parties.
3. What are you building?
Similar to question two, knowing what your trade partner’s next project is allows you to open a discussion about deckbuilding earlier in the process. Rather than simply suggesting alternatives or upgrades, you can determine the thematic thrust for the deck. A simple, “Have you thought about _____________?” may be all it takes to set the wheels in motion. You may not always have the cards players want, but if you do, you can expect some pleasant trades.
4. Are you foiling out a deck or cube?
Entire articles could be written about casuals and their precious foils, though my opinion is that EDH foils get too much attention from the financial community and that there is plenty of demand in non-foil EDH fare. That said, casual players will often get to the point where they have a foil project. I believe this is a function of needing a value-preserving outlet for Constructed-playable Standard cards opened through Limited tournaments or box purchases, as well as enjoying the journey of a trade mission. In any case, moving money cards to further a foil project is what a casual player is looking to do, since it’s the only way they can bank more value in their [card]Day of Judgment[/card], which will at least get played and appreciated. If you manage to find someone who is building a peasant cube, you have just found a great demand for oddball foils. You know who cares about foil [card]Kor Skyfisher[/card]? Anyone building a cube is who. If the cube has a quirky or tribal theme, the demand net is cast even wider. Furthermore, any foil wanted by a cube builder will be wanted by many due to the transitive nature of the format, thus ensuring that any foils the builder pulls will be worth more than bulk.
I hope that this has been enlightnening read on collection-based thinking and trading with the casual crowd. We know who we are and would love to hear from you!
Until next time,
Email: djkensai at gmail dot com