Sunday, April 24, 2016

How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult, Part 2

Last time in Part 1 of “How Magic the Gathering is Teaching me to Adult”, I discussed how some of MTG’s game mechanics can be extrapolated into making the most of your personal skills in real life; be it for job hunting or solving the weird random problems that pop up in everyday life.

This time I’m going to talk a little about how what I’ve learned about the secondary market/trade culture and gaming culture of MTG can be applied to actual real-life adult problems. No, really!


Invest in Your Staples
MTG has been around for a very long time, and a few of its game formats take full advantage of MTG’s long, strange and oft-mechanically-busted history. These “Eternal Formats” allow players to build decks from almost all Magic cards in existence (given set restrictions and ban-lists depending on whether we’re taking Modern or Legacy). Inevitably, this means that a ridiculously extensive secondary market has cropped up for Magic cards, and where there’s a market, there’s an economy to learn and navigate in addition to the game’s own mechanics.

Bear with me, minor tangent while I flesh out this concept: Within the past year or so (since writing in early 2016) I’ve gotten more seriously into MTG, flirting with the small-scale competitive scene and the Modern format. Previously I was an exclusively casual player. Now this may not shock a lot of you, but it’s important to know: the pool of cards that competitive players pull from is where all the money in MTG’s secondary market is. Before I developed an understanding for competitive decks, it seemed weird to me that a card like Sphinx Sovereign is around a dollar, while a card like Path to Exile is topping out around $12 (at time of writing) (Update: at time of posting, Paths have gone up to $14-16.)

Being a casual player and looking at the Sovereign, it seemed to me that a card that was mana-expensive should also be money-expensive. She’s a strong creature that has a powerful effect and a Mythic rarity, so why is it so inexpensive to buy copies of this card? Compared to Path to Exile, a one-mana removal spell with an apparent downside, that’s going for over $10! nearly $15!

Then I came to understand the Modern format.

See, in Modern, Sphinx Sovereign is like gorgeous sports car. Nice to look at, but prohibitively expensive mana-wise and not that useful mechanically. Compare: how many people willing to shell out for a Porsche will actually race it? Realistically it’s no more useful than a regular car, just flashier. Modern is the stripped-down, drag-racing chop-shop of MTG. Decks have to be fast and efficient, that’s where they get their power from. Most decks can’t run an 8-cost creature across 3 colours because it’s simply not efficient.

But Path to Exile is. Path removes almost any creature from the game completely, and that apparent downside? Most strategies in Modern don’t care if their opponent gets ahead by a land, so it’s not really a downside at all. That’s why Paths are expensive, but Sovereign is not.

So how does this apply to real life?

Well for one, frugality and efficiency. But that’s not the whole reason a full set of Path to Exile is going to put a bit of a hole in your wallet. Path is a staple. Any deck in Modern that plays White will probably want to run some number of Path to Exile. Probably a full 4 because it’s an objectively good card. It fits just about anywhere, and for some people that versatility is worth almost $50 $60 for a set.

The lesson I learned from Path to Exile is: Invest in your staples.

If something is useful and versatile, you can justify spending the extra money to make sure you get a good one. Because you want it to last. If you’re moving out of your parents’ house and going to live on your own, you don’t need a full set of pots, pans and utensils. You need a small handful of good pots, pans and utensils. Cover your basics and make sure they’ll last, because you are going to use and abuse them for your first few years on your own while you learn how to make a living.

The same goes for tools. Don’t be fooled by some crazy 8-in-one something-or-other, chances are good the designers had to sacrifice some quality to cram more features in to it. A set of a solid cordless drill with some bits, a hammer, a large and a small set of pliers and a good utility knife will get you far and be less likely to break. Same for appliances. (Get a rice cooker, for the love of all things sensible! Rice is incredibly versatile and incredibly cheap, and can go in just about every meal. It’s the Path to Exile of carbs; every student or youth that can eat it should be fully stocked!)

Prospecting and Risk-Taking
Within the secondary market of MTG, prices fluctuate like the actual stock market, which can make buying/selling/trading a bit challenging at times. When new sets are spoiled, new sets are released, before and around major tournaments, before and after official bans are made for tournament play, etc. But individuals or small groups of people can also influence it; buying up all the cards of a particular type in a particular area to drive the price up, just like an actual stock market; or investing in many copies of a card they believe is an up-and-coming staple.

While I kind of think these people are jerks because they tend to cost me money, I also have a certain respect for the “prospectors” who invest in a bunch of one card because they think it will be worth something later.

The lesson here isn’t to play the stock market. Don’t do that. The lesson is that sometimes you have to take a risk in another context if you want to be rewarded.

For example: a friend of mine took a risk in applying to a job two cities over. Not only did he have to spend the time and money to drive all the way out there for an interview, but he actually got the job so now he has to commute. But it’s a good position that’s paying him well, so the profits there were worth the risk. (Update: he’s moving to be closer to his job, more risk vs reward juggling.)

Apply to your own job hunt: take a risk in applying for something you’re not sure you’ll get hired on for. If you’re confident enough, not only will you make it, but you’ll probably fit in too. (That’s the employer respecting your risk and taking one of their own.)

(Ok this section’s a little weak. Whatever.)

Don’t be a jerk.

I don’t care if it’s fun. If it’s really the only way you can have fun, go seek help or make concessions to normal people every once and a while.

Don’t be a jerk. Everyone will like you more.

It’s really that simple.

Next section.

Trade Value
The secondary market for MTG isn’t just made up of people buying and selling cards, but also of people trading them. Now, trade value is subject to the silly stock market property of the secondary market, but my example here is the principle of the thing. A trade economy.

If you’re a student or a young person living on your own, I’m going to guess your bank account is a little sparse. Welcome to the economy of favours. It’s going to be your friend for a little while.

If you’re living with room-mates, take turns cooking or buying groceries. If you’re taking classes, organize to share a textbook between a few people and split up the cost. And/or you can sell or trade your textbooks at the end of the semester. You might not make much back but it’s money or other value back in your pocket. (Preferentially sell/trade with other students, school book stores will not give you much for used books.)

Trade favours with friends, too. Drive them places or pay them back for rides with other favours or actual money. It’s cheaper than a cab. Do a good friend a solid and they’ll pay you back in time. If you can’t find a job, don’t be afraid to volunteer. There’s a good chance volunteering may lead to a paid position and if it doesn’t, hey, it looks great on a resume.

The point here: karma economy. You don’t always have to spend money for services or goods if you can organize among people you know.

Alright, that’s it for Part 2. I’m at the end of my ideas and I’m getting hungry.

See you all next blog!