PROTRADER: Rivals of Ixalan Pickups

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Believe it or not, it’s time for another preview season.

Masters 25 lands in about four weeks, and if that seems like not a lot of time since Rivals of Ixalan was first introduced, you’d be right! We’re at a point where about every two months, there’s a new group of cards for us to deal with and decide on, and I haven’t yet decided if that’s a good thing.

I first got into this game heavily in 1995, and the summer of that year had three major releases in a four-month span: Fourth Edition, Ice Age, and then Chronicles. Needless to say, I didn’t have much spare money that summer.

I used to think we would never return to that point…but really, we aren’t far off. We got Rivals on January 13, Masters 25 prereleases are March 16, Dominaria is April 21, and Core Set 2019 is July 7. That’s four in six months, and the first three are in a four-month span. We are back! RIP wallet.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the turnover, the churn of new cards and product, is very real. We’re about done drafting the Rivals/Rivals/Ixalan format, and so it’s time to think about the Rivals of Ixalan cards that are at max supply, and therefore lowest price.

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Cliff is an avid Cuber and Commander player, and has a deep love for weird ways to play this game. His current project is a light-up sign for attracting Cubers at GPs, so get his attention @wordofcommander on Twitter if you’ve got ideas or designs.

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Unlocked Pro Trader: Low Tide

I keep harping on the same concepts in this series and that’s because some methods are tried and true and until something changes substantially, they’re what make me money and I love to pass those ideas on to my readers. I’ll go over this one again because I think it bears repeating so everyone from the long-term reader to the first-time reader knows what I’m talking about. Namely, I want to talk about graph shapes; the U and the reverse-J.

GRAAAAAAPHS

If a card is reprinted and its price never recovers, you’ll see a really sad graph shape. It peaks then declines to a valley and it’s so depressing that I am not even going to try and find an example and post it here. It’s like the stuff in the gore subreddit – no one really wants to see that. Instead, let’s talk about a happier scenario – a price declines after a reprint but Mr. Organic Demand comes along and says “Turn that frown upside down” and you’re on the maglev bullet train to money town, baby, where the money grows on money trees and you can pay someone to harvest the money with all of the money you’re making. That looks like this.

So if you saw the rebound coming and bought in at the floor, you’re feeling good. The rebound was predictable if you look at EDH demand at all and understand which cards are likely to rebound based on the amalgam of all of their factors such as how many decks the card is in, when it was first printed, the likelihood of another reprinting coming along and pantsing it, etc. However, as a financier, telling you that Crypt Ghast must be a good card because it was $3 then it was $1 then it was $3 again is pretty useless information unless I think it will got to $8, which I don’t since it was never $8 when the supply was lower and the demand was the same. U-shaped graphs are neat but they can’t make us much money since the price has already recovered. You want the first half of that U shape. You want what I call the reverse-J shape, because our language doesn’t have a letter that looks like the first half of a U.

I use this graphic every time but it illustrates how much money can be made if the card recovers to its pre-dip price. So why do I bring all of this up? And what does the title of the article refer to?

 

I’m So Glad I Pretended You Asked

A long time ago when I started writing about EDH finance full-time, I thought about how to make money on EDH cards and I decided that when new cards were printed, trying to guess their price was less relevant than looking at the archetypes they were likely to enable and speculating on those older cards. Supply would be lower, upside would be higher since the demand wouldn’t be as easily back-filled with copies at the same price making it spike quickly before anyone could react and every card in the deck would go up – theoretically, a rising tide would lift all boats. Well, today we’re all about Low Tide – the first half of the U. We’re going reverse-J hunting and there is a set that came out recently that is going to be just lousy with those sexy shapes. I think the cards in a certain set are at their floor and we’re going to look at EDH demand to see how likely a recovery is and how much money I think you can make if you buy now. Forget dinosaurs and pirates, let’s think about Benjamins.

Iconic Recovery

Iconic Masters reprinted a ton of sexy EDH cards and I think a lot of them are going to recover. How do we determine the likelihood of recovery? I’m not going to address every factor, but I will do three things.

  • I arbitrarily picked Crypt Ghast because that recovered nicely. I’m going to see how many decks on EDHREC have Crypt Ghast in them and then I am going to compare that number to the number of decks the cards in Iconic Masters are in. If it sounds really simple, it’s because it is. Also, almost no one does this sort of analysis so maybe just thank me for doing it for you even though it’s easy and also reminding you to do it because that’s the actual hard part.
  • I am going to look at how many times the card has been reprinted and which set it was in initially. If it’s older than Crypt Ghast, I’ll say something vague about how the set print runs were smaller back then.
  • I’m going to pretend I have some insight into what they tend to select to reprint and gauge how likely I think a second reprinting to be. Most people are very bad at this. I include myself in that group. We go with our guts a lot – I certainly didn’t see a second Black Market reprinting coming and I all but applauded the first one. If this were obvious to anyone, speculating would be a lot less risky and everyone would do it.

So with Crypt Ghast as a nice comparison, let’s look at some Iconic Masters cards. For reference,

16,672 is a number. We’ll remember that later.

Austere Command

So this is in fewer decks than Crypt Ghast, but not too many fewer. I don’t think it’s significant. It’s in the Top 50 White cards on EDHREC so if you’re playing White, chances are you will use this. It’s at what I would call its floor. Look at the price graph for Iconic Masters.

Dealers don’t seem to think it’s going to get any cheaper. If it gets any cheaper or if dealers raise their buy price any more, you’re going to be able to arbitrage the stupid things. Why do that when you can just wait for the price to double, which is what I think it will do? That question mark was for the “why do that” part of the sentence, I am not questioning whether I think it will double, I do. That wasn’t, like, a Ron Burgundy question mark. We’re getting off track – Buy Austere Commands, nerds.

Austere Command has one more reprinting than Crypt Ghast but Lorwyn and Commander (1? Do we call it Commander 1? Just Commander? The first one, whatever we call that) had pretty low print runs compared to RTR and Commander 2014. Remember I said this paragraph would be vague? I meant it. I don’t see a reason why Austere Command won’t completely recover, which means we’re at the bottom of that reverse J. You could wait any longer but look at the Iconic Masters graph again. Dealers aren’t waiting. Why would you?

Consecrated Sphinx

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We should make like an epileptic in an office supply store and pick up staples all day. This card is in lots of decks and the dealer buy price is converging with the sale price. We’re at peak supply for Inconic Masters and the copies are as cheap as they are going to get. Whether you think the price will fully recover (I don’t see why not) or not, if you want copies, buy them now because they will only get more expensive. If you think it’s a slam dunk to buy at $15 or lower a card that has demonstrated it can be $35, you might want to do that. This didn’t get a ton of new supply being printed at Mythic in Iconic Masters and this is a little more than the price of a booster pack right now. I think this is a good pickup.

Dealers aren’t as keen on the non-foil copies of the Iconic Masters version, but you saw the price convergence for the Mirrodin Besieged copies. Sphinx is like $10 for IM right now. If it hits $8 and you bought in at $10, buy the same amount again. Congrats, you bought in at $9. If it hits $7, buy in more. If it hits $6, I will buy a playset, blend it into a smoothie and drink it. It won’t hit $6, not anywhere it’s currently $10. TCG Player low is already $13, snapple any cheap eBay auctions you can and thank me later. This is a $20+ card in a year.

Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger 

This is in half as many decks as Crypt Ghast. Here I am talking about how it’s going to recover as much or nearly as much. Why am I saying that? Don’t I forsee the demand as being half as much as that of Crypt Ghast? Why do I forsee recovery? The answer to that is in a euphemism Wizards of the Coast loves to use and how it’s not always a euphemism.

They don’t bring prices down, they “increase availability” which usually means “bring prices down” but not always. Reprints introduce more copies of a card into the market. That has the effect of lowering prices, generally, since you’re disrupting one half of the supply/demand dichotomy and therefore affecting the other. However, in the case of a card like Vorniclex that was a $30 mythic from a set you can’t buy anymore, people were priced out. People could break off $5 for a Crypt Ghast but $30 for Vorinclex was out of a lot of price ranges. A $13 Vorinclex? Now you’re talking. People who simply didn’t have access before have access now and I think that creates new demand. When a card goes below a certain price threshold, it becomes more available to people and they buy. I think Vorinclex’s price can recover even if it takes longer because when it’s cheap, it stops not being an option for some people. This is almost the same as Sphinx in every way except for number of decks it’s in so I expect it to recover less than Sphinx but I expect it to be in more decks than it used to be in a year. This is a bit more of a casual card than Sphinx so people being priced out is an actual factor. I think this could recover 75-80% of its pre-reprint value in a year or two. If that’s too long to wait, don’t worry because I have other targets.

Rune-Scarred Demon

I don’t feel like I need to say too much about this. It’s practically a bulk rare and this is a card that once flirted with $8. This won’t be $8 again but it’s at its absolute floor and the demand profile is the same as Crypt Ghast, it’s at the same price point, it’s a card that appeals to both casual and competitive EDH players and it’s not super likely to be re-reprinted in the next year or two. I think you can wait and see if this is in Masters 25 before you buy in, but I think you break off $200 or so and you’ll be very happy with how this performs. I could be missing something, but what? This is pretty Crypt Ghasty and unlike Crypt Ghast, this was reprinted in a set with $10 booster packs, not a popular Commander deck series.

I didn’t mean to do one card of each color so far but since I was going to do 5 cards, let’s pick a red one and wrap it up.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

Red sucks in EDH

I didn’t do a red card because they’re all either not in very many decks, almost exclusively used outside of EDH or they’re Kiki-Jiki and liable to get reprinted 3 more times. I’m giving you a good pick instead of arbitrarily completing a cycle I didn’t even know could be a cycle until I was 80% of the way through it. You’re welcome.

And you’re welcome for me reminding you to buy a card that has demonstrated the ability to flirt with $30 for like $10. This hits $20 again and you’ll be all “Wow, when did this get expensive again?” except you won’t because you’re reading this article so you won’t be surprised but other people will. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Anyway, Sheoldred will recover and it’s at its floor now, so fill a shopping cart with them and windmill slam that “check out” button. You’re welcome.

This turned into a long article. If I were a lesser writer I would have given 3 picks instead of 5 but I am not a lesser writer. I am a man who finds you reverse-J-shaped graphs. You’re swell for reading, thanks for doing that. Until next time!

PROTRADER: The Watchtower 2/19/18

By: Travis Allen
@wizardbumpin


Don’t miss this week’s installment of the MTG Fast Finance podcast, an on-topic, no-nonsense tour through the week’s most important changes in the Magic economy. And if you enjoy playing Magic, make sure to visit https://scry.land to find PPTQs, SCG Opens, and more events on an interactive map with worldwide coverage. Find Magic near you today.


I’d love to use this past weekend’s results to dive into what a Jace-laden Modern looks like but alas, we’ll have to wait one more week. Wizards made the (wise) decision not to apply the B&R changes to the format a week before both a GP and SCG Open. It’s easy to be annoyed about that on our end, as an audience clamoring to see how this plays out, but when you consider how many people had already spent weeks preparing for those events, it wouldn’t have been terribly polite to upend the entire format five days before they showed up on site. It’s fine; it’s just one more week.

There was a Modern Challenge that fired this weekend with the new list in place, so I ran through that, along with what I’ve been seeing on Twitter and in various articles. Jace was clearly a strong, but not overpowering card in the Challenge, although that comes with a big asterisk. For one, Jace is currently the most expensive card on MODO. One wonders how many people would have liked to use him but were simply priced out. Additionally, looking at the other decks that did well, it’s not exactly heartening. Burn, Tron, and Dredge were many of the non-Jace lists. How’s that for a gauntlet?

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MTGFinance Strategies for 2018

In 2018, with Magic: The Gathering  facing it’s 25th anniversary, the game we all know and love continues to evolve, and the MTGFinance scene has been forced to evolve as well. Here are some of the strategies that we’re employing in the MTGFinance community in the year of our lord Jace, the Mind Sculptor:

Standard Tactics

Standard has been a pretty tough format to speculate on for the last eighteen months or so. The combination of frequent bannings, lame duck formats, poor card quality in North America and plentiful product has lead to a relative lack of card spikes in what was once the most important format in Magic.

To mine this particular vein, your best bet is going to be to get ahead of the pack in card evaluation via early testing of cards revealed during spoiler season. If you are well in tune with the evolving meta and your deck building skills are on point, you will maximize your chances of identifying the potential of cards like Rekindling Phoenix before the masses do. If those aren’t conditions you identify with, you’re better off focusing on other areas, since Standard only staple specs that don’t hit can be a major drain on your resources.

Singles Specs = EDH + Modern + ’93-’94

Let me be clear. Your best bet for singles speculation in 2018 is almost certainly going be found in the EDH and Modern formats, and in  cards from the first few years of Magic.

The reality is that the most important formats in North America at present are almost certainly Modern and Commander. Modern is the constructed format with the healthiest meta and just got a shake up via the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. While the impact of these two cards has yet to be written, their impact on singles acquisition is likely to be meaningful as the meta shifts around them. Commander on the other hand has emerged over the last few years as a format that encourages the collecting of multiple deck lists, counterbalancing the need for just a single copy per deck. Commander and Modern players are both prone to foiling their decks, which coupled with relatively modest print runs for many key rare and mythic foils in both formats, often leads to strong financial opportunities. Foils of cards such as Expropriate, Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, Kolaghan’s Command, Gurmag Angler, Collected Company, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher have all been generous contributors to my bottom line over the last few years. The key here is to rank your speculation options by total popularity, focusing your efforts on staples that appear in both format or across multiple archetypes in a single format. Couple this with reprint risk, targeting cards that are draining but have been printed recently and you’ll zero in on your sweet spot. Inclusion in M25 is a risk for many cards this spring, but past that point we’re likely in a reprint lull until Modern Masters 2019 next spring or summer. Cards in low supply in a single archetype can still make you money but represent higher meta risk, so prioritize accordingly.

As for Reserved List and ’93-’94 cards, as opportunities in Standard have become more scarce and Modern cards have increased in reprint risk, many speculators have turned to targeting some of the earliest cards in the game. Heavy speculatory pressure, first on RL cards, and most recently on absolutely anything printed in 1993 and 1994 has been driving up prices for most of the last year, and modest increases in ’93/’94 as a format is contributing as well. While many of these cards are going to be tough to unload in volume, focusing on playable cards in limited volume is likely to pay off. Recently I’ve been picking up underpriced copies of Mishra’s Factory, which serves as a solid example of a decent spec along these lines.

Foreign Booster Boxes

Talk to any of my peers that are writing about or working in MTGFinance and they’ll tell you the same thing: don’t invest in booster boxes. See, during the advent of the Modern format we saw booster box prices of everything from 7th Edition to Innistrad take off as Modern unfurled into a burgeoning player base and generated demand for older cards in the format that far exceeded the available supply. However, since the release of Return to Ravnica in 2012, most Standard legal booster boxes have failed to appreciate in value as the growth of the Magic player base has stalled out and Wizards has taken to overproducing inventory. Coupled with an era of more aggressive reprints sprinkled into main sets and the Masters series, newer booster boxes from newer sets have had trouble showing any price appreciation.

So what if you still plan to play Standard or just like to pop a couple of boxes of each new set? Well, one strategy that has been working out well for me is to acquire Russian booster boxes exclusively. Why Russian?

Well, firstly Russian copies of important EDH and Modern staples tend to command a significant premium of anywhere from 50 to 300%, especially if you’re talking about foils. Secondly, Russian staples (especially foils) are the least likely to be impacted by reprint risk given that the Masters series sets are unlikely to be printed in anything other than English, Japanese and Simplified Chinese. Thirdly, Russian booster boxes so far still seem to be printed in Europe at Carta Mundi, which is producing Magic cards at a higher quality than has been seen in the recent English language sets in North America that seem to be getting printed overseas using an inferior printing process. Finally, Russian boxes tend to be available via Ebay in North America within $10 or so of their English language counterparts. If you can get your hands on English boxes these days around $75-85, you can likely find Russian boxes for $85-90, which is easily justified by the upside of the Russian staples.

For example, I recently opened a case I had been holding of Russian Fate Reforged and between the presence of Russian versions of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and averaging 10-20 copies of $2-5 Temur Battle Rage, Monk tokens and Gurmag Angler it was much easier to make money than it would have been with an English case. Of course this strategy does require that you memorize the cards you choose to play in decks, but that’s a good idea anyway.

I have had similar luck with Russian M15, Khans of Tarkir, Oath of the Gatewatch and Eldritch Moon. Battle for Zendikar and Kaladesh block sets is also a potential bonus.

Japanese and Korean boxes are also worth a look, but seeing as how they all tend to be about the same price, you might as well focus on Russian unless you have a preference. And remember, you can still strike out on a Russian box, so keep in mind that even next level booster box openings can still end up looking silly compared to some of your better options if your purposes are purely speculatory.

European & Japanese Arbitrage

One of my top strategies of 2017 was targeting Masterpiece Series Inventions and EDH foils on MagicCardMarket.com and having partners in Europe collect my packages locally before passing them back for resale every month or two. Heading into 2018 this strategy is still live, but the weakening of the USD against the Euro now requires greater disparities between pricing on both sides of the Atlantic to make it worth your time.

In Japan, cards on both Hareruya and TokyoMTG can still represent strong opportunities, especially if tech emerges first in North America and the Japanese aren’t yet on it. EDH foils from new sets are almost always a good deal on these sites early on, and so long as you keep your purchases to lower quantities you should have little problem unloading your specs 6-12 months down the road when the supply dries up.

Playing Janitor

Perhaps the most underappreciated concept in MTGFinance is that of attrition. In this context, the term refers to the fact that despite the millions of Magic cards printed every year, less than 1% of those cards recirculate into the secondary markest on sites like TCG, Ebay and MagicCardMarket. As the years drag on, any staple card that fails to see a reprint is very likely to spike in price, and despite the upswing in reprints in recent years there are still dozens to hundreds of relevant cards in need of a reprint at any given time. All of this leads to an economy that is strongly lead by supply side economics, a scenario that asks little of you other than to keep track of the inventory levels of various cards and to make your move in scenarios where the inventory has drained but the price has not yet spiked. Masterpiece Series Inventions and various Modern staples have provided plenty of opportunity along these lines in the last year, and you’re likely to get a shot at similar opportunities moving forward. Finally, with even bad Reserved List cards and cards from the first few years of Magic being increasingly targeted by speculators, there is little reason at this point to hold off on acquiring any Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends or The Dark cards you might have reason to purchase.

Ignore the Bulk Scene

If you pay attention to the MTGFinance content stream, you are more than likely familiar with the folks that are focused on mining bulk Magic cards for profit. Now, if you’re a long time player with a lot of unsorted cards lying around from years past you certainly owe it to yourself to get organized, give your collection a few passes for value, compile a buylist order to fuel a new deck or major purchase, and then turn back to other strategies.

See the thing is, with all of the extra inventory over the last decade and the flat lining growth in the game, bulk rates have been declining and the process of acquiring, sorting and reselling your finds is more of a job than a hobby. If your end game is to become a vendor or work for a vendor, than this is a skill set that makes perfect sense to add to your repertoire. If however you are more of an armchair speculator you are much better off focusing on consolidating your collection and holdings, so that you can maximize profits while minimizing your time spent on task. If you had invested in Euro sourced MPS Sol Rings last year in the mid $80s USD, there is little doubt that $2k spent on that project type would far exceed the same amount spent on bulk. The more you value your time, the more true this becomes.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

Price trends often take a few days or even weeks to percolate down through the entirety of the global Magic economy.  To take advantage of this process, your best bet is to perfect your techniques for staying ahead of the curve.

If you’re a night owl, get in the habit of checking the price tracking sites, including MTGPrice.com, MTGStocks.com and EchoMTG.com in the early hours of the morning, as these sites tend to run their price update scans during low traffic times. By being the first to spot an emerging price you’ll give yourself the best shot at mopping up the last few copies of a draining supply while everyone else is still asleep.

Depending on the timing and location of major event coverage, your opportunity may be to target vendors in Europe or Asia. If you happen to live near a solid density of vendors that lag in their pricing updates, showing up early at a local shop can lead to big windfalls as well.

Ultimately, you should play to your strengths in 2018, leveraging your format knowledge, available capital and existing collection to maximize your profit or savings. Good luck!

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