Magic is an expensive game. Singles, boosters, boxes, tournament fees, sleeves . . . it all adds up quickly. Most of us don't have the wherewithal to buy all the cards we want. The wise set a budget. The strong even stick to it. But it's hard for the budget-minded player to ever lay hands on big-ticket items—stuff like a Modern Masters booster box, play set of Voice of Resurgence, or a Tarmogoyf or two. It can be frustrating. You hear about "insane" cards on Magic websites, podcasts, and Twitter, but they are way too expensive. So, you try to convince yourself that Ascended Lawmage is as almost as good as Geist of Saint Traft.
Are you sick of playing suboptimal cards? Is it hard to save up for spendy Magic stuff? A Magic: The Gathering sou-sou might be the answer. A sou-sou is an informal savings club that originated centuries ago in West Africa. Club members contribute money to a community pot on a regular basis, usually weekly or every other week. They then take turns being awarded the pot to spend however they'd like.
Let's say you start a ten-member Magic sou-sou and decide you want to collect $20 a week from each member. The first week, you hold a drawing to award a $200 community pot to one member of the club. The next week, you'd collect another $200 and hold another drawing, awarding it to somebody who had not yet won. You repeat this process, and over the course of ten weeks, each member of the club receives $200 to spend on Magic. Once everybody has won, you can start over using the same order or by holding new drawings.
Okay, so there's nothing fancy going on here. It's not an investment club, and nobody is making money on this deal. In the example above, each club member contributes $200 and receives $200 over a ten-week period. The first few people benefit from an interest-free cash advance. The last few are effectively opening a no-interest savings account. Everybody loses, in a sense, because the money is paid in and out too quickly to earn any interest. So, what's the benefit? There are a couple.
If you are a rock-solid budgeter and stick to your plan no matter what, you don't need a sou-sou. If you can save $20 per week even when it's easier to grab a burrito on the way home than cook dinner, you don't need a sou-sou. If you can resist the urge to buy that extra booster pack even though it might be the one with the foil Voice of Resurgence, you don't need a sou-sou. On the other hand, if you find it hard to budget for expensive MTG purchases, this could get you there. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. The expectations of your friends and fellow Magic players all counting on you to put in your share could help face down budget-busting impulses and build up good money-management habits.
A sou-sou is a social club as much as anything. It provides an extra opportunity to interact with friends and share what you plan to do with the money when your turn comes. There is also fun to be had in anticipation, both for the drawings and for what you'll do with the money. There are many extra MTG twists you can add to enhance the level of fun as well (see below for a few).
There are a couple requirements for any sou-sou to work and be a positive experience for those involved.
A group like this requires trust above all else. There is no legal recourse if somebody wins the pot week one and then drops out. A member who has to be constantly harassed to make his or her payment is little better. Choose high-integrity individuals to be part of your group to avoid issues down the road.
Like any group, a sou-sou requires leadership and organization. Somebody has to be responsible for ensuring the money is collected and paid out, to organize the drawings, and to manage communication to the club members. Normally, the organizer is the one who vouches for each member of the group and steps in to cover the contributions of any member who shirks his or her responsibility. It's worth considering a reward for the organizer's efforts—perhaps each member provides something from his or her own trade binder as a thank you.
The club will also need to decide how to collect and distribute funds. If it is a local play group, cash might be the answer; otherwise, PayPal or a similar service could work. Keep in mind these services have fees.
More Magic Flavor
A sou-sou is not inherently related to Magic: The Gathering, but there are some fun ways to tie it to the game.
Every member can ante a pack or card to go to the last person to receive his or her payout. This creates a bit of a prize for patience. It might also make the last couple drawings more interesting, with members hoping to not be chosen in order to collect the ante.
To determine the payout order in a local group, each member can choose a Magic token to represent himself or herself in the drawing. When you see your Germ token come out of the hat, you know you've won!
An alternate way to determine payout order is through a crack-a-pack competition. Each member opens a booster pack, and the payout order is based on the current value of opened rares. I like the idea of going in ascending order based on price, rewarding the bulkiest of bulk rares with the earliest payout.
A Standard tournament, a group Draft, or a big game of Commander could be just the thing to kick off or wrap up a successful sou-sou. Maybe the winner is the first to receive the payout.
If you want a little help managing your Magic budget while having fun with your play group, give a sou-sou a shot. If you do, I'd love to hear how it goes. Thanks for reading!