Traderous Instinct – How to Speculate


I was bored one afternoon in the summer of 2008, so I decided to head over to the Wizards site and re-read everything they had posted about the upcoming block, Shards of Alara.

It was that wonderful time of the year when we knew general details about the next set, but none of the cards had been spoiled yet. The product description page had a blurb about each of the shards, and my mouth was watering thinking about a set I hoped would be similar to my beloved Ravnica.

While I can’t find the actual words I read that day, I remember taking careful note that Grixis was going to be a plane filled with something like “…malice, death, and assassins.”


Grixis was going to be a whole shard filled with assassins!

You know what card cares about assassins?

Scarblade Elite

Knowing how popular Mono-Black Control is every time it’s viable and how kickass an entire deck of assassins would be, I figured Scarblade Elite might have a reasonable chance of making the jump from zero to hero. He was available pretty much everywhere for fifteen cents as long as I could handle the shame of knowing how much laughter would be going on as the store packed up my order.

I bought a hundred of them before crossing my fingers that Shards block wouldn’t let me down, and you can guess the rest of the story.

While Grixis did end up containing exactly one assassin, the great and mighty Thraximundar, he didn’t exactly spawn a new archetype. And for the following year, each and every person who bought a stack of bulk rares from me could be certain that their order contained four NM copies of Scarblade Elite.

Loud Speculation

This week I am writing a primer about how to speculate on cards. Speculation is something that is talked about often in financial articles like this, but I have yet to see anyone step back and look at the big picture.

How do you know what cards to buy?

How many copies of each card should you get?

Where should you get them from?

Let’s tackle these questions one by one in what I hope is a comprehensive guide to spending a lot of money on cards you don’t actually need!

Pay Attention to Results

The most likely way for a card to “hit” is for it to show up in a winning deck. Thus, it is important to stay on top of event coverage in order to make sure you are first on the scene when a brand new deck posts results.

I’m not saying that you need to comb through the Top 8 lists for every local and regional tournament looking for outliers, but you should be aware of what is winning at the major tournaments. Every time there is a constructed GP or Pro Tour, check the coverage page and your twitter feed looking for surprises. Nationals & Worlds are also important, as are Opens and 5Ks early in a season.

There are two types of situations you should be on the lookout for:

1) The “Stoneforge Mystic at PT: San Diego” scenario: Anyone who was in San Diego on day 1 can tell you that the card came out of nowhere and was very effective. The fact that the deck was being played by team Channelfireball and helped spur LSV’s fabled run was icing on the cake. In this case, a team everyone loves (CFB) began using a dollar rare to great success in a very popular archetype (Naya). The perfect storm.

2) The “Eldrazi Green in Nashville” scenario: Back in the earliest days of Zendikar, the format was very new and no one had really figured out which of the new cards were a hit. Enter Kali Anderson at the Star City Open in Nashville, where she introduced the world to a deck that won it all with Eldrazi Monument, Nissa Revane, and a bunch of tokens. Not only did Kali’s victory make waves because it is rare for a woman to take down a major tournament, but the fact that she did it with a unique deck filled with (at the time) cheap rares and mythics made her finish legendary. Even though I don’t think the deck ever put up another top finish in anyone’s hands, the appeal for the Eldrazi Green cards among the casual/FNM crowd was enormous. Another perfect storm.

Eldrazi Green and Boss Naya were both unknown decks going in to their respective tournaments. In both cases, the decks either won or put up excellent numbers. Both decks were updates on popular strategies that could be easily emulated by the FNM crowd.

And in both cases, a lot of money could have been made if you were paying close attention.

Pay Attention to the Experts

While the most common reason for a price jump is due to a deck performing well, that isn’t the only way a card can climb in a hurry.

Magic innovation is a little bit like a game of “follow the leader,” where the pros that write strategy and deck building articles have a massive amount of sway over the metagame. Consider, for example, the price jump in Karakas about a year and a half ago after Stephen Menendian talked it up as tech against Reanimator or Gerry Thompson’s long crusade on behalf of Frost Titan earlier this year.

Of course, speculating based on a writer’s opinion is rather dangerous unless you either have complete faith in them or a good knowledge of the deck yourself. In order for the price to really move on a card, the demand for it has to go up in a meaningful way. This means that the card has to be included in either a successful or a popular deck. Listening to experts can certainly put you ahead of the curve, but be prepared to buy a ton of cards that don’t end up doing much as well. These investments are far from a sure thing.

The Magic Online Factor

It is important to note that online speculation works entirely differently than paper speculation. People online want to immediately brew up whatever the latest tech is, even if it’s not proven. This is why Archive Trap jumped 300% a few months back on Magic Online based solely on a Mike Flores tweet saying that he was building a deck with the card. The price of the card in paper was unaffected because the deck never ended up making waves.

The other good thing about Magic Online speculation is that bots make it easy to buy and sell large amounts of stock. While it might be hard to find a buyer for your 80th paper copy of Necrotic Ooze, you can dump all your excess digital copies to a bot with just a few mouse clicks.

If you are an Magic Online player, then, it makes sense to buy up any cheap rare that an expert talks about as soon as possible, and then flip those cards immediately. As a paper player, I haven’t done much of this, but I’ve been told it can be really lucrative.

Common Pitfalls When Deciding What to Buy

Ignore hype during the “spoiler” phase of the season. It doesn’t really matter that Koth was at $30 when he was first spoiled and went to $50 within a week. Why? Chances are if you pre-ordered the card, you won’t actually receive it until it’s too late to benefit from the immediate price jump.

I am going to devote a whole article later on to analyzing when it is right to pre-order a card, but as a rule of thumb I wouldn’t spend money on any pre-order that isn’t an immediate need or a bulk rare that you think has real potential.

I am also wary of cards that don’t have a home. Cards are never judged in a vacuum – they’re only good if the players around them can gel into a cohesive deck.

It is better to buy in on a rare that makes a tier-1 deck even better than to buy in on a card that looks powerful and undervalued but which never breaks out.

I am also wary of cheap cards that help enable expensive decks. Valakut, for example, is probably the best deck in the format right now. Because that deck needs four copies of Primeval Titan to function, though, I’ve had almost no interest in the copies of Valakut I have in my binder. They only went up from $0.99 to about $2, and I don’t know anyone who wants them at that price. Why? Every player who has four Primeval Titans already has four Valakuts!

If Valakut were a budget deck, however, I would bet that the card would be drawing a ton of interest.

It is also important to remember that in today’s Magic economy, rares rarely go past $5 or $6, and the ones that do are generally hyped during the pre-order phase like Zendikar fetchlands. Buying $3 rares for speculation is usually a bad gamble. Stick to $1-$2 rares and low-cost Mythics and your misses won’t sting very much.

How Many Copies Should You Buy?

If you are going to start speculating on cards, it is important to establish and maintain a budget. No matter what the budget is, make sure to stay within it.

You also want to be careful not to put all your eggs in one basket. (Unless that basket is made of gold and is encrusted with those upside-down biplane stamps or something.)

Otherwise, one wrong decision can bankrupt you.

If the card you are investing in is a bulk rare and copies can be had for $0.25 or under, there’s no reason not to buy 50-60 copies of the card. While my Assassin purchase didn’t pay off huge, I still recouped my entire investment just by bulking the cards back out again. Bulk rares are as low-risk an investment as they come.

If the card is mid-value, consider investing in 4-5 playsets. This gives you enough room to make some real money without breaking your bank.

If the card is already worth quite a bit, 1-2 playsets might still be worth it. Doubling up on a $100 investment is excellent no matter how many cards change hands.

Where Should You Buy the Cards?

This seems like it should be the easiest step of them all, but I’ve found that it is actually the hardest.

Your first option is to buy your cards from one of the large and reputable dealers. (Channelfireball.com comes to mind for some weird reason…)

The advantage of doing this is that you can feel reasonably certain that the transaction will take place. The large dealers don’t place a limit on how many copies of each card you can buy, and they usually won’t cancel your order later on if the price goes up. As long as the card is in stock, you just have to plug in how many copies you want, pay them, and get the cards a few days later.

That said, there is a disclaimer on this very site as well as on those of the other major retailers saying that they may limit or cancel orders that contain more than 4 of a single card. This has never happened to me, but it is worth being aware of.

I can tell you that none of the major dealers canceled my Stoneforge Mystic orders on the morning of PT: San Diego, but I suspect that if I had purchased 30 copies of Glimpse of Nature for a buck each the day it jumped to ten dollars, I might have gotten a phone call.

Off the Beaten Path

Of course, since the object of this endeavor is to make money, there is a chance that paying full retail for the card isn’t going to be your first choice. There are other options, but they all have major drawbacks.

First, you can try your local brick & mortar game store. If you go this route, though, I would either limit yourself to a single playset or make sure your store owner is ok with speculators. While most store owners shouldn’t have a problem with this, the last thing you want is to get banned from the place where your reputation matters the most.

Of course, I have yet to find a retail store that sells their cards cheaper than this site, but your mileage may vary.

Another option is to go to auction sites or other places where individual collectors/sellers can post cards for sale. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve had about a 50% success rate in terms of actually receiving the cards I’ve bought. The other 50% of sellers will make up an excuse to not send them. Most will return my money, but I’ve had to fight plenty of others through PayPal in order to get anything back.

If you do go this route, make sure you plan ahead and don’t order all your cards from the same seller.

I actually haven’t had much better luck dealing with the websites of stores, either. In fact, some of them have treated me downright poorly.

When Mindslaver was first spoiled as a reprint in Scars of Mirrodin, I decided to buy a few copies of the original so that I could trade them before the hype died down. I purchased one of my playsets from White Lion Games, a reasonably popular online retailer. They charged my credit card, and three hours later I received an email that my order had shipped.

The next morning, I got an email saying that they had “miscalculated” and were cancelling my order. I sent them two emails, each a day apart, asking for clarification. I received nothing. They decided that I wasn’t even worth an email reply.

An Aside on the Ethics of Speculation

Several store owners have spoken out in the past against speculation. Their argument is usually something like, “it’s not fair to stock a card for months and then miss out on most of the profits because some speculator bought out all 30 copies right before the price went up.”

What they’re forgetting about are all the people who bought out 30 copies of a silly rare that ended up going nowhere.

Personally, I wish store owners would do more to encourage speculation. I think if they did this it would actually lead to more sales! Heck, the price of Mindslaver went DOWN since I made that pre-order with White Lion! If they had sold the cards to me, they would have made more money. It was their loss, not mine.

If I knew that I was guaranteed to receive any cards I put in an order for, I would be more aggressive about speculation. I really hate spending hours online trying to figure out a good card to make money on only to have my order declined after it’s too late.

Casual traders should like speculators, too. The more cards that are desirable, the more their current assets go up. Want to trade for the fourth Eldrazi Monument you need from that sharky trader at your FNM? It’s much easier to do it if you have some cards that are hot speculation targets. Everyone remembers the Frost Titan they traded away at $5, but I bet they’ve forgotten about the Mind over Matter they got $8 for back when it looked like the combo with Temple Bell would make waves in Legacy.

Ultimately, I feel that stores that don’t want speculators buying from them should limit their orders to four of each card. If they did this, then they would be protected from one person buying out their stock on a rapidly rising card.

But most of them won’t do this. Why? Because then they’d lose the ability to sell 30 copies of a stagnant card to bad speculators!

That just doesn’t seem right to me.

(Note: for more on this, check out Kelly Reid’s excellent Mana Nation article Canceled.)

Real-World Application

If you paid attention to the coverage coming back from Worlds, you were given a couple of smaller chances to speculate on cards.

Analyzing the tournament with my parameters in mind, we can immediately see that there weren’t any breakout situations like Stoneforge Mystic or Eldrazi Green. No single card from the event went from a $1 rare to a $6-$10 powerhouse overnight.

But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t money to be made!

On day one, the only unique deck to get much public attention was Caw-Go. If Squadron Hawk had been a bulk rare instead of a common we’d all be in business, but instead the card to consider from the deck is Gideon Jura. His Magic Online price went up immediately, and his paper price will probably see a small jump if the deck becomes popular at FNMs due to its quirky nature.

By the end of day 3, another small truth had established itself: Grave Titan had climbed back the top of the titan world. Since the value of these cards fluctuate more than the flux capacitor on an ’85 DeLorean, it’s good to know which ones are currently in the most demand.

Extended wasn’t shaken up that much either, which is odd for a new format. The early word out of Japan was that Conley had broken Necrotic Ooze, and if you had been able to pick them up for a buck or less that night you were given an easy way to cash out.

Unfortunately, since the Ooze deck didn’t end up doing all that well, I have doubts that the card’s long-term value will be affected. And since the card was already $2.50 or so on most major sites, there wasn’t really a lot of profit to be made on it anyway.

Digging deeper, we can look at cards like Prismatic Omen as a former casual rare that might see some demand from tournament players due to its appearance in extended Valakut decks. We can also look at the rares present in the new Tempered Steel deck as additions to our Extended binders.

Also of note is that most of the financial experts were saying Faeries would be a non-factor like they were in Amsterdam. I can’t count how many times I read over the past few weeks that faerie cards should be dumped ASAP because the deck would auto-lose to Jund and all the other tier-1 brews.

In Brian Grewe’s article from last week, which is worth checking out as he details the financial fallout of worlds in more detail than I am doing here, he stands by his recommendation to dump Faerie cards ASAP. His rationale is that LSV, Paulo and others felt that the deck was weak going into the tournament. While this may be true, Faeries did well enough at Worlds to cement them as a pillar of the new Extended metagame. Even if the pros eschew the Fae menace, they are such a popular deck that I guarantee you there will be demand for these cards at an FNM/PTQ level.

The results also bear out that these cards should not be ignored. Faeries did very well at the tournament, and should be considered tier-1 for the time being.

Overall, while there wasn’t a true breakout star to come out of Worlds, the landscape did shift enough to ensure that a speculator with a quick trigger finger could have made a couple bucks.

Pick of the Week 12/20: Prismatic OmenShadowmoor
There is always an opportunity to make money when a card jumps from casual-only to tournament playable.
Prismatic Omen is sold out here at $1.99, but you’ll probably be able to get them for a buck in trade if you’re lucky. Even at $2, the card is a very solid pickup. If Valakut ends up being a tier 1 or tier 1.5 deck in Extended, Prismatic Omen should be a solid $4 at FNM and $5-$6 on tournament day.

That’s all for now! Join me next week when I take a look at the Commander cards you absolutely, positively need to stock your binder with.

-Chas Andres

31 thoughts on “Traderous Instinct – How to Speculate”

  1. i’ve sold 6 play sets of Prismatic Omen on ebay in the last day. its worth more than 5 …… all i have to say

  2. I bought 4 Thoughtseize online for 12.5 tix, it was 8 tix after worlds and is not sold out at $22 on mtgotraders and going up everyday!!

    Hard part about looking back to see what is happening with cards like thoughtseize and cryptic command online is that there is no record of previous prices so unless you are keeping track yourself you won’t know.

    One way to kind of get an idea is to look at bots that are buying the cards, sometimes they are still trying to buy cryptic command for 10 when its at 20 tix. Problem with that is some bots really keep their margins that huge. (and i assume fail).

  3. Brian Weller-Gordon

    Yeah, Prismatic omen’s have jumped a fucking ton, they were $2 that weekend, and you could even find them for $5 the last few days, now they’re out of stock everywhere for up to 8, which…sucks.

  4. You write about speculation in a very thoughtful way and as a stock trader I enjoy your articles very much.

    I encourage all readers to always question the other articles you may read about speculation on the web. They give quite a bit of misleading information, especially other speculative authors on this site who talks about mountain for power.

  5. @jack – You could just use my name. As for being misleading, that is not my intention. Realize that speculation is based on my personal opinion. Just as Chas’s speculation is based on his.

    Chas, good article. I still don’t think Faerie cards are going to be worth picking up. The power level for the deck is just not there. As for FNM/PTQ events, there are just better decks out there. FNM’s are primarily standard/limited events anyhow, so most casual/competitive folks will not be hunting them down unless they do want to play in PTQs, GPs or if they qualify, the PTs. If they make it to the “big show,” they won’t run be running Faeries.

    To be fair though, Faeries did show up at Worlds. People are thinking about running them, at least locally, but I fear that those who run out and buy Bitterblossom’s for 15.00 are going to only lose money. Atlanta will be the first real test as people won’t be scooping matches to others for various reasons. If Conley’s deck performs well or if Rock shows up, we’ll see a decline of 5c Control. Faeries, U/W merfolk can be clumped into “fish” style decks and those may do alright, but I don’t forsee many of those decks making it late into day 2.

  6. About Prismatic Omen –

    The big problem with writing a column like this is that I have a deadline! I need to turn my stuff in the Friday before it goes up, and in this case I finished writing last Wednesday and turned in Thursday. When I checked at the last minute to make sure the card was still reasonably low enough to call it a pick-up, it was. Unfortunately, the world seems to have caught on! Ah well.

    About Faerie cards –

    I’m really excited to see how well they do, Brian! My personal feeling is that they probably won’t climb higher than they are right now. (Extended cards, by and large, have already done all the pre-season gaining they’re going to do.) That said, I think the deck is both popular and legit, and those cards will be in demand on the floor of PTQs this season. I think Bitterblossom will trade well at $15-$18 for the next few months, but we shall see.

  7. I have to sympathize with your situation with White Lion Games. I had a different but similar experience with them when selling a bunch of cards. I shipped them the cards and had to contact them after not hearing for a week. It took them a month to get back to me with an offer of a buy price about 2/3 of what their site quoted me. VERY long story short, I had to contact them about 8 times and finally got paid over 2 months after I sent them my cards. Every time I emailed or called them it was either no response, or clear that they had no idea what they were doing.

    NEVER buy or sell from White Lion Games. You will regret it- trust me.

  8. Interesting subject as to what business a store wants to be in: always having cards in stock, or always willing to sell everything.

    I think I’d like to see stores limit the amount one can buy of a particular card. It’s unpleasant to not be able to buy a card you need for an upcoming tournament because a particular deck just did well and someone had just come in and cleared the store out. Especially if the card was a common selling for $0.05 a week ago and the store had 500 of them, and then was suddenly out overnight, unless 125 people had just bought playsets.

  9. If I ran a store, I would limit orders on cards not currently in print to one playset per order. If people want to order 54 of a rare in standard, go nuts! It will always be easy enough to get more. On older stuff, I would go on a case-by-case basis with the buyer. If they really wanted 50 copies of Orgg, I’d want to chat with them on the phone anyhow because that guy is either awesome or crazy.

    The important thing is that stores honor their commitments. This is coming out again in regards to time Time Spiral debacle. Put in order limits if you need to, but stores that commit to a sale and take your money should honor that sale. White Lion limited me to 4, too my money, told me my order shipped, then lied to me and THEN refused to answer my emails.

  10. I’ve never ordered from an online store (CFB, SCG, or otherwise), but I’ve heard various stories of people who bought JTMSes at $30 from this very site, and then, when the price went up to $50, CFB “mysteriously” ran out of stock. It’s like Chris Rock says: They ran out of the $30 JTMSes, but there are plenty of $50 ones! The only site that’s pretty much uniformally considered reputable is SCG.

    As for the topic at hand, this was a very good article. The only problem is how to know when a card is going to jump. Everyone knows “buy low sell high”, which is basically the tl;dr version of this article, but the real problem is when to know something is “low” or “high”.

    Regarding the Fae argument, based on Worlds results and LSV’s article today, I’m inclined to believe that the Fae are going to be good, but they’re probably not Tier 1. If you want to play Fae, you’ll probably do decently well, but $15 or $20 seems way out of whack for cards in a Tier 1.5 deck that are unplayable out of a single format. They’ll be valuable, but I’m inclined to agree with Brian that picking them up now will likely be at a loss.

  11. Ertai and others on the Fae argument –

    Yeah, I’m not saying pick them up now because they’ll go up. I am saying that they did go up from where they were pre-Extended season and that there will be reasonable demand for ’em on the trading floor at big events.

  12. I felt the need to reply to your article as it seems you have left a few things out.

    “The next morning, I got an email saying that they had “miscalculated” and were canceling my order. I sent them two emails, each a day apart, asking for clarification. I received nothing. They decided that I wasn’t even worth an email reply. ”

    A. There was no miscalculation we simply had the same thing happen that happens every time someone or some information comes out speculating the re-occurrence of a card, the system simultaneously sells as many copies as it can relative to what we have in stock, paypal e-checks pull stock, credit cards pull stock, trade-in orders pull stock, depending on the time they come in and finalize it is not only possible but probable to pull over stock. you can check FindMagicCards.Com and see MANY dealers including your own sister site BigFireball.com sitting in the -4 / -8 ( negative quantity ) levels indicating an over-sale situation.
    None of this is to even mention you are ordering a card released on November 24th 2003, 7 Years old, that is not to say that we as dealers are not supposed to keep accurate inventory I am simply stating that the older the card and more rare the more chance for margin of error as an additional possible situation that can/would arise from your speculation standpoint.

    B. You should check your Junk Mail folder ? I would be happy to re-send the reply that was sent stating nearly the exact above information, I am sorry you didn’t see the email though we never want a customer to be unhappy if we can do anything about it. That does however lead me to another issue.

    C. Your order came in 7, September 2010 seems to be very late at night and your refund was processed just about 8 hours later first thing in the morning I believe when we realized the over-sale occurred. On 22nd OCTOBER was the first re-stock of this card in the quantity of TWO / 2. Had we or I had any confidence that this would not have been the case I would surely have offered you in that original email sent to you on the 8th, the day you sent your email, a replacement order upon re-stocking. As you can see that simply would have been a joke or cruel thing to offer which is why it was not offered, we also didn’t offer a replacement order for Scars of Mirrodin Mindslavers as it would have been a different card and possibly not even what you wanted as you did order originals in the first place.

    It is important to note during this entire conversation that 1. we are just regular guys like you and every other magic player on the planet, 2. we want you AND every other customer we have to be as happy as possible when dealing with us or any store for that matter. We do the best we can and fall short sometimes like everyone, it sounds to me like a perfect storm situation got us and you at the same time, nothing nefarious I can assure you, I would be happy to show you our inventory page showing no stock of this card for the entire length of time we are discussing, we dont have extras we purposely hid or kept from you or anyone else for that matter nor would we.

    You say another thing in your article that I would like to reply to, not arguing just giving another point of view.

    “Several store owners have spoken out in the past against speculation. Their argument is usually something like, “it’s not fair to stock a card for months and then miss out on most of the profits because some speculator bought out all 30 copies right before the price went up.”
    What they’re forgetting about are all the people who bought out 30 copies of a silly rare that ended up going nowhere.”

    I don’t know that I even fully agree with “other” store owners saying missing profit is unfair, I don’t know exactly HOW I feel about this, we do stock 97% of magic cards that never go anywhere on the off chance that someone buys something that we can make money on to stay in business, which by the way the margins in this business are not great. Buying Jace for example at 70.00 when we sell it at 82.00 well you can do that math, it doesn’t even pay the light bill after you touch the card at least 3 times etc and so forth. But regardless, I don’t know if I agree or not but I will tell you this, “the people that bought 30 copies of a silly rare that ended up going nowhere” All I can say to that is simply that doesn’t happen. You are attempting to justify the gouging of businesses by showing how much money they make selling bulk rares that never go UP in profit ? That actually doesn’t even make sense, 1. That, as I said, doesn’t happen. The number of times we get orders on cards that look like your Mindslaver order but for bulk rares or bad rares for bad speculation is basically next to never. We regularly pay attention to orders pre-sale especially and to boot in a normal set honestly what 20 cards total ever really even sell out of a set to begin with ? 2. Keep in mind if we dont make some kind of profit that isnt being gouged to death we literally wont be around to sell all of our good customers good card deals to begin with. WhiteLionGames was literally built on good speculation and hard work, before Channel Fireball ever existed we were a wholesale business doing business with SCG, StrikeZoneOnline, GamingEtc, Troll and Toad and many others. I hope I do not speak out of turn but I would bet each of those businesses would at bare minimum vouch for us as good guys, I certainly don’t want to speak for them but Michelle, Dustin, the guys at SCG and a few businesses that aren’t even around any more all know us and know we are straight forward.

    That being said the “game” of being gamed as a store owner is horrible, we do the best we can to buy correctly so that when we sell out we made our intended profit no matter IF it goes up or down, that is how you insure yourself, but no matter what there is always situations that are special, again I apologize you missed our reply email to you and glad I got the opportunity to reply to you here and explain, if there is anything we can do for you today or in the future please reply to us at customers at whiteliongames dot com or even if you would just like to dialog about trading, speculating or your experience with us. Trading is and was my favorite aspect of this game and I would love to talk more about it with you. I can’t promise I will see a comment here but I will check back in case you post.

    Chris and the Elves @ Whiteliongames.com

  13. @WhiteLionGames
    Speaking strictly to the “oversale” issue, it seems to be you shouldn’t take money for cards you don’t have. I’ve never walked into my local B&M and been charged money for cards they don’t have. You check your inventory FIRST. If you do not have a system that can accomodate this, you need a better system. By taking a customer’s money you are engaging in a sale with them. The customer’s money is not limitless. If they pay you $20 and receive a confirmation on their order, then they literally cannot spend their $20 elsewhere. If you then cancel their order they are completely screwed, and this is just not a workable system. Splurge for a system that can process orders and inventory properly.

  14. @Corbin Hosler
    As far as the customer perspective I totally agree and do in fact understand what you are saying. Let me be clear, there is no system that exists in the world that can literally do what you are asking and it is for a multitude of different reasons, this is not an issue that can be fixed with money or a better database or anything like this. Unlike a WalMart or similar huge store that doesn’t care what you think we do!!, but we like them are tied to the physical existence of actions in the digital world. Ex: Ebay sells a playset of a card for us tied to the automated inventory, someone buys a playset e-check, someone else buys a set credit card ( in this example it could be Chas for example ) someone else yet buys one whilst clicking In-Store Pickup. that alone is 16 of a card and roughly only represents part of what could and does go on, on a regular basis ( we arent even talking about physical inventory problems or LOSS from theft or anything like this at this point ) just the types of sales that can simultaneously go on. In this example the Ebay, E-Check, Credit Card and In-Store only ONE of those options takes money up front, in the situation where each of them “technically” bought the item but only 1 person “Paid” who do we screw? You can argue every point in this situation but is it fair to not allow the Ebay person to get theirs because they ordered 10 hours BEFORE Chas but didnt pay until 2 hours after Chas paid, no not really, what about the E-Check guy, I mean from Paypal, His Bank and every intentions concerned he has had money removed from him but WE don’t see that money for 5-7 BUSINESS days, he ordered HOURS upon hours before Chas do we screw him ?

    My point is this, we live in a world where systems even with automated inventory have “pauses” in situations you can literally ask any owner of any card shop ever and they will respond with different types of solutions to this problem but they ALL have it, it just happens it sucks but its true.

    It happened to me the other day on Cyber Monday ( I too am a regular customer guy like you all if ya didnt know 🙂 ) I bought two items from Best Buy ( a big electronics super store type place here in Dallas ) on Cyber Monday AT midnight 01second, not only did they refund my money with ZERO explanation, it took 5 days to get my money back ( we refunded Chas’ money in barely 8 hours keep in mind, we are NOT trying to keep someones money in an error situation, I think the sheer little amount of time I mean before he even woke up it was refunded speaks to our honesty about it ) finally with Best Buy even when I GOT an explanation they told me they oversold the item and they werent going to honor my sale, they FLAT OUT told me to take a hike. I am in no way saying this is right but it simply happens, even Best Buy with their I assume multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars website still oversells and doesnt care, again not saying its “right”

    Bottom line is I totally understand but unless you work in retail or work on a database there is no simple way to communicate that this junk just happens and its our best effort to repair, i mean the number of times we have literally told a customer “NO” under our FAQ sections rules about ” we try to stay in business and if something is bad for us we wont do it” clause is I think literally once or twice ever in 10 years, and only when there was a obvious ridiculous mistype like a 1.00 beta sol ring when you know it should be 100.00, obvious decimal point error.

    We always want our customers to be happy and the MOST important thing I am upset about by this situation is that Chas did not get / see our reply email back in September when this happened, because in that email we offered him free shipping and several other compensations like we do everyone that this type of thing happens to, if we can make a customer happy and stay in business we are going to go OUT of our way to do so, period.

    @Brain, I really can’t comment on your Sell to Us situation as I dont know your name or situation but selling cards to us online is VERY dependent on how quickly you get them to us, 7 days arriving to us is, I can tell you almost certainly, a never happens we get 100s of packages a month and literally I would say 5-10 of them arrive in a week or less, not that yours did not as I said I don’t know your name or situation ( Happy to check on it if you would like ? ) but in this market the prices change SO rapidly it is almost impossible to call a price “set in stone” our Sell to Us checkout page CLEARLY and in bold red states that the site is just a guide and we will make you an offer as close as possible to the stated estimates and we do try to do so. We literally have a person who spends 20-30 hours a week paid work that does nothing but check and adjust prices it is a full time job 🙂

  15. I just tacked this concept again, Chas, on blackborder.com. Basically, I appreciate white lion’s tone in that email, but I have to side with my boy Corbin on this one.

    The more research I do, the more that an online order constitutes a contract.

    There is an offer (Card X at $x.xx), consideration (your payment to them) and their acceptance (when their POS/ecom software debits the balance from your paypal account, credit card or whatever). At this point, a contract is formed.

    The contract is an agreement between buyer and seller to transact dollars for goods. The contract is enacted when the money changes hands. To be clear, once your store has my money, you are bound under law to deliver the cards.

    When you cancel the order and refund my money, all is not well. You may say that the store is at their right to cancel the orders and refuse service, and since i got my money back, I’m good. Wrong. The point of a contract is to guarantee an outcome by enforcing compliance. If I sign a lease and promise to buy your house in 3 months for $1mm, you take it off the market until 3 months have elapsed. If I then refuse to buy it, you can sue me because you acted under the reasonable assumption that i would honor the contract. Thus, any additional time you must now spend selling the house, and any losses you take because of it, are my responsibility! The same situation is true if the seller refuses to sell the house and my sale of my own house is compromised as a result.

    A party that breaches a contract is required to make whole the wronged party, which includes restitution for loss and damages. If i can prove that i must now pay more for a card because you failed to deliver goods, those are damages. And you could be sued successfully for those damages.

    I’m not suggesting that everyone lawyer up, but people need to realize that laws are being broken, and I’d like to see the FTC take a good, long look at our industry, with specific insights on preorders and non-shipment of orders for any reason.

    I know it sounds immature to scream SUE! SUE! SUE! but if a site causes you to lose money or value in this way, they’re breaking the law.

    I’m not a lawyer but I have a basic ability to read written English, and am referring to items on sites like FindLaw. If you are a lawyer, please feel free to politely tear my concepts of the law to shreds and enumerate a consumer’s actual rights under US law.

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  17. @Kelly Reid

    I can appreciate your point of view and thanks for the positive notes about our tone, we want nothing more really in reality than to try to make the customer ” whole ” as best we can and to the best of our ability in nearly every instance.

    I will however point you to a simple example page about this subject. : http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100706224615AAuKRmd

    Not only is this a GREAT example of something that happens to me A LOT when dealing with Wal Mart, Best Buy, Target and a TON of other stores, but is a to the point answer/rebuttal to your statements.

    The simple answer, the only “Law” or “Contract” or “Agreement” that you or they enter into is the one YOU AGREED TO via their terms and conditions which for most people, as you point out in your above statements ( not to sound rude I do this all the time as well ) goes unread entirely.

    It is all to easy to click the buy buy buy button then scream FOUL FOUL FOUL when in reality ( I KNOW PLENTY PLENTTTTTYYYYY of guys on MODO that wished the TOS of modo didnt include complete revocation of their entire MODO accounts and collections ) the only “foul” that is occuring is that you are entering into a “safe” agreement with a business, that indeed is weighted to their side, simply put to protect them from exactly what you are talking about above, Sue, Sue, Sue….

    Now am I saying this is “right” or “correct” heck no and it definitely a case by case situation, I mean as the webpage above says 5.00 Starcraft copies or 10.00 54″ HDTV’s I mean seriously, obviously they can’t and are not going to honor that, and we press them to honor it, it really at that point is US being the cancer.

    We have to be intelligent consumers, I am not saying don’t be frustrated if a company tries to not go out of business lol, but I am saying be reasonable. Every time I have had a problem with best buy for example the one above I spoke about most recently on Cyber Monday, guess what, they have gone above and beyond to make me happy. Another item I wanted that they could NOT price match to a local reputable store ( Fry’s Electronics ) they instead gave me FULL Value gift cards TO Best Buy instead of MAIL IN REBATES, how is THAT for service ? My ultimate purchase was not only a better product for a similar price but I also netted TWO 30.00 GIft Cards instead of 6-10 WEEK mail in rebates.

    Go out of your way to be understanding in this life and you will go far, be a nasty individual and I believe nastiness will be what you get back, I know its not my place to tout my personal motto’s but I try to live my life this way and direct our business this way, simply put, act like you want to be treated. Add to this being a well informed customer and you can go far, sometimes hard lines are necessary but only in my mind when you are buying a car LOL or if you run into a business owner/manager just WON’T be reasonable at all, and I find that if you are they number of times they are unreasonable is next to none.

    Just my two pennies…


  18. nice one Mr Chas, salute to you. always a nice read.
    about fairies, i still dont believe what they say about his deck. the extended is still bursting with possibilities and to snap dismiss a former standard heavyweight is just ridiculous. we will have to wait and see.
    after the world i got a conclusion i got to trust my guts in judging a card power level.
    tarmogoyf is by far my biggest regret, when released somehow i got a feeling that it will be good, but again i think goyf is gonna ended up as 3/4 in a long attrition game. then BANG it hit $30, before i even had a chance to complete a playset. when i proposed this idea to my friend after the prerelease he immediately scouring the store for goyf, even managed to buy a foil goyf at a measly $1 >.<
    mimic vat………. open up as underdog, failed to hoard it and only ended up tabling a few before the price doubled.
    i know wargate can do amazing things since it was released but hesitated because it is a risky gamble to put your money on some unknown tech. i could have cashed some if put my money in it

    thanks for the article Mr Chas, looking forward for your next revelation.

  19. @Chas,WhiteLion,Kelly, &all

    Chas: Excellent article, very informative. Maybe a little hard on the dealers.

    WhitleLion: Probably the best rebuttal I’ve ever read to an article, thoughtful and articulate.

    Kelly: Your reading of the basics of a contract are sound. The buyer certainly does have the right & option to sue for breach. But think about that for a second.

    At a minimum, the buyer will incur additional expense to file the suit (figure $50-$100 filing fee. Depending on what jurisdiction you file in). If the buyer wants a lawyer the costs go WAY up. If they choose to represent themselves they are still out the time and aggravation involved in pursuing the matter through the courts. If they convince a judge or jury that they are “damaged” they will be awarded some type of compensation. Most likely, the seller will be ordered to make up the difference between what you could have bought the cards for and what you CAN buy the cards for. Unless specified by statute (and likely it isn’t) you will NOT be awarded your costs involved in pursuing the matter in courts.

    On the other side those evil “Sellers” (who just did a pretty decent job of reminding you that just guys like you who opened a store) will have to devote time and resources away from their primary business of trying to serve the needs of a voracious and fickle player base. At best the judge won’t side with the buyer so all it will cost them is a lot of time and headache. At worst they will be asked to make the customer “Whole” which may involve some $$$ but likely will still be less that what it will cost them, you, me, and everyone else who wants to buy from them in time spent away from doing the job we would prefer them to do. Bog them down as small business people with enough legal challenges and you may succeed in convincing them that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze and they will simply shut down altogether. Won’t that be satisfying?

    Nobody likes to have the rug pulled out from under them. You think you have things all set and life throws you a curve. Just 2 things. One don’t presume that the folks on the other end of the transaction are looking to do you dirty, they have curves thrown at them too. See if you can find any dealer of Magic anywhere that hasn’t been nailed by new product “allocations” at some time or another (I wish you luck). Second keep in mind that all reputable dealers I know and have ever worked with make every reasonable attempt to satisfy customer needs. Key word REASONABLE. The very nature of speculation is that your trying to be one jump ahead of the pack. Sometimes you are that far ahead, sometimes your not. When 6 other guys like yourself all hit the store at the same time….there’s only so much water in the well.



  20. Chris –

    Thank you so much for the kind response. You can rest assured that had I received this kind of treatment from you back in September, there is no way I would have publicly called While Lion Games out here. Order cancellation is not a problem unique to your store, after all.

    Here’s how the transaction went down from my perspective:

    Midday on September 7th, I was browsing the internet while at work. Within two minutes of the Mindslaver spoiler being known, I knew about it via Twitter.

    I immediately bought a couple of playsets from online dealers including one set from White Lion Games. I paid via Credit Card, and the entire transaction was done within ten minutes of the card being spoiled. At the time, your site indicated that there were still several copies left in stock.

    That night, at 8:56 PM, I received an email from you saying that my order had SHIPPED.

    Here is the email in its entirety:
    Hello [email protected],
    Regarding your order from White Lion Games.
    Order Status:
    Order status has changed to: Shipped
    Order status details: Order Shipped – Seller has marked the order as shipped to buyer.
    Order Details:
    Order: #USO-1283893373887-GJEHBDBXU
    Placed on: 07/SEP/2010
    Shippable on: 07/SEP/2010
    Shipped on: 08/SEP/2010
    Sold to:
    Charles Andres
    Ship to:
    Charles Andres
    Purchased Items:
    4x Magic the Gathering – Mirrodin – Mindslaver Near Mint Normal English $11.96
    Order Summary:
    Purchased Items: $11.96
    Shipping: USPS FC DC: $1.99
    Total: $13.95

    Then, in the middle of the night, I received this email:

    Hello [email protected],
    Regarding your order from White Lion Games.
    Order Status:
    Order status has changed to: Cancelled
    Order status details: Order Canceled – Seller doesn’t have sufficent [SIC] stock to fill order.

    The next morning, I sent you an email asking for an explanation of how my order could have been shipped and then canceled due to lack of stock.

    I never received a reply.

    No, it was not sorted into my ‘junk’ email. I check my junk email twice a week, because things do get stuck in there from time to time. This was NOT one of them.

    When I checked back a few days later, you had Mindslavers listed for twice the price I paid.

    From my end, I feel as though I was lied to by your store (how is it that my order was shipped before it was canceled?) and then ignored. It was probably not a top 5 worst customer service experience of my life, but it was top 20 for sure.

    I don’t mean to be skeptical of you know, Chris, because it is quite possible that you did send me an email the next morning apologizing and offering me a discount in the future.

    But as a (pseudo)journalist, I must also explore the possibility that you are saying this now in order to save face after I publicly called out your business in a very public way.

    Thus, I am asking anyone else who has had experience with White Lion Games canceling their order to respond to this thread and let us know if you received apologies or discounts after the fact. I think this will give us good insight into how you approach customer service.

    In response to your other points, I guarantee you that there is an e-commerce program out there that limits the amount of an item sold to the number you have in stock. Otherwise, how is it that your store constantly cancels orders while so many are able to honor them, even in situations like this? If software is your problem, you should fix it.

    In terms of speculators not buying 30 copies of a junk card in the hopes that it goes up, I guarantee you that this happens. I do it myself all the time.

    I bought 100 copies of Scarblade Elite. I bought 100 copies of Wanderwine Hub. I bought 100 copies of Armament Master. I bought 30 copies of Sunblast Angel.

    I just didn’t buy them from your store because you limit people to 4 copies of a single card!

    Limiting orders might save you from a run on a chase card, but it will drive speculators elsewhere when they’re looking to save shipping on a bulk order of something silly.

    For more on this, do check out Kelly’s article on Blackborder.com. It’s quite good.

  21. @WhiteLionGames
    “Let me be clear, there is no system that exists in the world that can literally do what you are asking and it is for a multitude of different reasons, this is not an issue that can be fixed with money or a better database or anything like this”

    Untrue, otherwise sites like Ticketmaster would have lawyers so far up their asses they won’t be able to see straight. Your problem is the classic “Dining Philosophers” problem which is an academic example of a concurrency thought experiment ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dining_philosophers_problem ). Any reasonable RDBMS is based upon *transactions*. This means your POS software should service users in a FIFO order on a particular item/card. During a transaction of a particular card, a semaphore will be held preventing the next order from this card from being serviced until the current order is done (including updating inventory) and the semphore has been released. If at any time the next order cannot be fulfilled due to insufficient inventory, the customer will be notified how many are left in stock to give them the opportunity to update their quantity. This will *all* be done before any charges are made. There is no problem you are facing that hasn’t been solved time and time again by every Computer Science student in a sophomore/junior level course.

  22. @WhiteLionGames
    Your response here misses kelly’s point entirely. Rather it focuses on a concocted and incomparable scenario where the seller has mistakenly marked his item for sale at some price for which he or she cannot afford to sell it. This supposition does not apply for a number of reasons.

    First, as opposed to $5.00 Starcraft and $10.00 TVs, the price for which the speculator purchases a card in question is completely sustainable within your business operation. How do we know this is the case? Because you were more than willing to sell the item at the given price for weeks if not months prior to the purchase date, and in all likelihood would have completed an order for the item at the same price a few days earlier. The item was not wrongly priced, rather the seller, in this case you, just felt that they could sell the item for more in the future and as a result assumed this veil of fault.
    Second, your justification for seller error and therefore order cancellation is predicated on a demand spike which would allow you to sell the product in question for more. This is an indefensible practice philosophically because you use the buyer whose order has been cancelled as a means to an end. This occurs when you use the ruse of a storefront to deceive buyers into feeding you market information at no cost to the business. This is by definition an inequity in the buy/sell sides of the market, which takes its toll holistically, which means the defense that that you work in the best interest of all consumers is an invalid one.

    This line of reasoning is more moral less concrete than the first, and as a result you are well within your rights to assert another moral imperative that justifies using people as means to an end. This is ,however, exactly the type of business I think magic players, and more so everyone should avoid whenever possible.

    Finally I’ll end where you begin, hiding behind your all-encompassing terms of agreement. The best comparison I can draw here is to the End User License Agreements we see on every piece of software we purchase. These “contracts” that effectively protect the seller from every conceivable configuration of reality all to often do not hold up because they are frankly ridiculous.

  23. @FinnTrinsic
    Thank you very much for the kind words, and the well laid out responses as well, very interesting point of view. I think if we all spent the time we spent thinking about being “wronged”, trying to improve situations we would get further along. Although I must say speaking out about our perceptions and our ABILITY to do so is why I love human beings and our world, not to sound mushy or soft as I am really neither, I just can very much appreciate all the intelligence and viewpoints in the world, thanks much for yours very well written.

    Your entire set of statements presumes I have not showed up at a concert having bought tickets online and been denied entry, wrong…… Depeche Mode 2005 San Antonio Texas, drove from Dallas and was flat Denied entry with my seats purchased and paid for 5 MONTHS previous if I remember right, why ? Because they were double sold and the other “buyer” group was already there and seated. Now did I get compensated and still get to see the show, yes I did, were the seats WAY WORSE than what I bought, yes actually, WAY worse, was I butt-hurt, yeah a little bit but guess what when the tour manager heard what happened and invited me back to meet Dave Gahan I was like zomg, omg, rofl etc and so forth, ( my wife loves DM so dont ask lol ) point here is I never was saying there was “nothing” we could do for Chas I just didn’t see an outlet that a. keeping his money was proper or b. a substitution was proper either. There were no other “seats” I could give him.
    As far as your sophmore/junior college programmer statement goes, it simply does not apply and ANYONE that thinks they can build a system that can allocate a product with the SHEER RIDICULOUS number of outlets for sales and keep better track of it, I dare you to try before you reply let me give you the list of what those outlets or “Connectors” are to our automated inventory:

    In-Store ( Retail intended Pickups Locally )

    Now multiply EACH of those by about 4 methods of payment.

    after you are done with all that mess and think you have us a “perfect” system then tell me how to remove the human error section where it is us getting yelled at when someone’s e-check bounces, automatically cancels their order, they drop F bombs on our phone for an hour demanding we re-instate their order so on and so on do that about 10-20 times for each of these situations and its mind-numbingly painful. Then there is the point that what about when a person places the order and their credit card is denied for some reason but they send us a picture of their bank account info with plenty of money in it to pay for the order so they INSIST its our system ( its usually a mis-typed CVV or Address Verification etc etc ) but they demand we re-instate their order………

    The list of these “situations” is ENDLESS man, seriously ENDLESS we actually spend as much time on the phone as we do filling orders ” Hey bro I put the wrong address in Paypal and you sent my package across the universe and I can’t go get it” 20 a week easily, all of this is simply the cost of doing business and we gladly do it, gladly we are here to support a community, a community I LOVE ( Limited is mostly my game though FYI and collecting/trading ) I really only intended to say that the system can be perfect but humans cause all kinds of jacked up mess and so do computers no matter how “perfect” you think they are, that is simply a pipe-dream. FYI I was a network engineer for 15+ years and have worked with and on complex computer systems including the worlds largest SAP installation and database, the largest private Wide Area Network in the world and several very complicated computer related systems, I am no stranger to complexity in the computer world. If you have real world experience then you know what you say above is simply best case scenario played out over and over again, which don’t get me wrong, “best case scenario” plays out even in our system HUNDREDS of times a week with NO problems. These discussion points are truly the vast minority of what goes on, truly.

    I did not miss Kelley’s point, I may not have extrapolated or expounded properly on my rebuttal. Suffice it to say the interjection was merely meant to be an example of situation, not a direct correlation in subject matter. As I state below and above as well we agree with you completely but it looks as though you didnt read my above statements about nefarious/underhanded business practices etc, but I will sort of restate and reply below again.

    Also as you state the sale of an item is sustainable within our business operation being the fact that we are willing to sell x at x previous to x date is completely valid and I 100% address and say nearly the exact statement you make in my previous response actually.
    I agree completely and have said a couple times now that it is a sell out situation we don’t keep them and hike the price up nefariously hoping to spread evil in the world, as I say before we buy properly and build a profit into our sales, if we sell out then we “made” our profit margin and should be able to re-buy at a newer and different price point, rinse, repeat. Now this doesn’t happen all the time and as I said earlier we “house” or store a LOT of cards that never pay their own rent lol, but that is neither here nor there in what we are talking about, that also is just the cost of doing business in this business or any self-stocking type of business that is not of manufacture fulfilled type.

    TOS: as far as TOS is concerned I simply do not hide behind ours I dont think I have EVER stated it to a customer ever, it is there to attempt to protect us, which has nothing to do with TRYING to do customers right, WhiteLionGames.com as you can see by the multitude of thousands of words above, tries to do right. Our intention is to be dedicated to our customers at a couple primary jobs; getting you guys your cards as fast as humanly possible, being competitive price wise and trying to maintain a large selection of the product. Do we drop the ball in the best of cases, ABSOLUTELY, do we want to own up to the responsibility of that. ABBBBBSOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLUTELY! We are human at the end of the day but we are going to try to do everything REASONABLE in our power to make things right.

    FYI, WE did not read this article by way of being on CFB we got 20+ emails from our customers telling us we were in the article and honestly I am glad, any time we get a chance to try to right a wrong or tell people our side or just communicate at all about something is a positive situation for us, period.

  24. Its great to see a high level discussion from people who are serious about this. I am learning a lot. Thanks guys!

  25. I won’t be dealing with MTG Chicago again.

    First I placed my order and after not hearing any response for nearly two weeks I contacted them about its status. They told me they were unable to get the “Peacekeeper” card I ordered back in stock.

    First – it shouldn’t have been listed “in stock” in the first place.

    Second – how amusing it is that immediately after they shipped my order (without the Peacekeeper) they suddenly have them back in stock for about 12 times what I paid originally.

    It’s not my fault if they are too incompetent to keep your prices up-to-date in their system. And as lame as that is in itself, they actually lied to me and kept up this charade of “trying to get it back in stock for me”. Basically, they just delayed my order a few weeks to make themselves look better, like they were trying to do the “right thing”.

    When I place an order with anyone, I generally feel that some of the cards are priced more than I want to pay, but I justified the expenditure because others are less. With shady business practices like this, I can not place an order knowing what I expect to actually get.

    I’m sorry that the this turned out as it did. I hate to complain, but hopefully it will be some incentive to get their act together and show some simple respect for their customers in the future.

  26. Hey Chas,

    Do you know when your next article will be coming out? It’s the 30th, and I can’t find your Commander article.

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  28. I’ve dealt with White Lion Games before. I purchased some swords of feast and famine when they had them posted on TCGplayer a few dollars cheaper than everyone else right as the swords were booming.

    It took a few days to get ahold of an actual person instead of an automailer, but, oince I did, Chris proved very helpful. he asked for time to get more copies in stock, couldn’t at the price I bought em at, offered a refund which I refused because the card was now up to twice what I paid. He then offered to let me shop his store for the current value of the swords. So I didn’t lose value and was able to get things I could trade locally for the swords I needed (I basically asked people what they wanted for their swords and told chris to send it). Then, to make up for the inconvenience, they included 3 or 4 booster packs of the most recent set, one of which had a sword of feast and famine in it, and another other of which had a tezzeret.

    Overall, I was very satisfied with their committment to customer service, though I would very much like them to fix their automailer. It needs to say being processed when it’s being processed and shipped when an item actually ships. Cards shouldn’t be being marked as shipped and then being cancelled.

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