A Planeswalker Abroad

By: Travis Allen

She wanted to leave for the airport by 7am. I preferred 9. After modest debate at her parent’s dinner table, I acquiesced.

As I put my watch back on, having removed it for the security check, I saw that we had three hours to kill in the terminal before boarding would begin. I took the opportunity to bring this to her attention. She said something unpleasant.

After firing off a run of Binding of Isaac, I closed my laptop while I used the airplane bathroom. Upon returning, Steam asked for my login credentials, apparently having decided to forget that just an hour before it started in offline mode. Without internet access to reauthenticate, all of the games I had downloaded to pass the time with were walled in behind Steam’s authentication process, a lock temporarily without a key. 

There were eleven hours left of a thirteen hour plane ride. Stowing the laptop with the inflight magazines on the back of the seat ahead of me, the occupant turned around. “Please don’t shake my seat, thanks.” Ten hours, fifty-nine minutes to go.

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting when I stepped off the plane and into the hallway. There obviously wasn’t going to be a torii (one of those traditional red Japanese shrine gates) and a cherry blossom tree in the middle of the terminal. Yet somehow I expected it to feel more Japanese. I can’t tell you what that actually means.

While waiting for her to use the restroom, the wall started speaking to me. Things felt a little more Japanese.

Arriving at our friend’s place, it was all we had not to just crash right there on the floor in the middle of his modest 8th floor apartment, nestled inconspicuously in a unexceptional apartment building, on an unexceptional block, in Itabashi, an unexceptional ward of Tokyo.

Tokyo isn’t just a city, by the way. It was described to me sort of like New York state and New York City, except moreso. There’s the Tokyo prefecture, but also the Tokyo Metropolis, not to be confused with the Tokyo Metropolitan Area. It’s possible there’s more distinctions as well, I’m not sure. I didn’t quite follow it all. The metropolitan area has more people than Canada.

Hunger begins to set in. It’s hard to eat much on a plane. Our local hostess suggests an unassuming restaurant across the street. One of us says “at this point, I’ll be happy with anything.” Tokyo wasted no time setting out to challenge that claim.

Food is delivered via a conveyor belt that snakes around the restaurant. Patrons take the small dishes off as they pass, each containing two bites of various sushi, or a small bowl of soup, or green tea covered mochi. Colored rims on the small plates indicate the cost of that particular dish, with prices ranging between one dollar and five. Raw fish after a long plane ride is probably not one of our wisest choices, but when in Rome, right? Our host converses with the chef quickly, then tells us we’re really going to enjoy what he ordered for us. Shortly thereafter we’re each presented with two slabs of raw horse meat laid over rice. Just in case people may find that unappealing, there’s a dash of garlic spread on top to finish the presentation. She and I exchange looks, our stomachs protesting before even having it balanced tenuously on our chopsticks. We agreed before arriving that we’d try any food set before us.

In his defense, it was not unenjoyable. Repeated exposures would almost certainly render the meal pleasurable. Now, tonight, it’s simply tolerable.

Mount Fuji is visible on the horizon the next morning. Living in central and western New York most of my life, this is unfamiliar terrain. I’m reminded of a trip to Seattle two years ago, which affords its populace a similar experience. Fuji fades behind the clouds as the morning progresses, but it returns each morning.

Kawagoe feels a bit like a quaint town, although it’s actually a city located in the Saitama prefecture, which is of course located in Tokyo. Aged buildings line the major street, sidewalks nonexistent. Most of the buildings have small shops on the first floor. We wander into a knife store so I can pick up a gift for my father; a chef in a past life. I have to double check with our host that I’m not reading the price of a cleaver wrong. It’s more than four times the cost of my plane ticket. I don’t buy anything in that shop.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but our trip to Kawagoe that first day is one of only two times in eleven days I’ll see pre-war buildings. US firebombing of Tokyo during WWII lasted nine months. Operation Meetinghouse, conducted over two days in March of 1945, was the single most destructive bombing raid in history. As a result,Tokyo is glaringly, frustratingly modern.

Our second full day, a drizzly grey morning, finds us headed towards Chiyoda, the location of TokyoMTG. I’m hoping to meet up with Heiko Sonoda. We converse occasionally on Twitter, his insight into the Japanese Magic scene valuable and intriguing. Most recently he told me that Whisperwood Elemental had skyrocketed from ~$5 preorders to ~$15. That night I bought several playsets on eBay at a little less than $6 a copy. A week later they were $12 here in the states. Foreign markets occasionally provide indicators of where a local market will move next.

His store is reasonably spacious for Tokyo, a luxury I will find very few other stores to possess. Rather than sacrifice extensive and expensive square footage to large, mostly-empty glass cases, Heiko has adopted the system put into place by Saito’s shop. On a small table in the corner are three computers, each with a browser open to the TokyoMTG website. I require assistance switching the keyboard from Japanese to English. Rather than browse glass cases, customers simply browse the site’s inventory, and after placing an order, walk four steps across the room to pick it up from an employee that fetches it from the back. It’s effective for sure, although I can’t say I’m not a bit disappointed. For someone looking to browse inventory, with no clear desired product in mind, cases are perfect. A website is excellent for finding a specific card, but hardly appealing for the window shopper.

A brief discussion with Heiko sets the stage for my Magic related experiences for the next nine days. Right off the bat he tells me that Japanese players tend to engage with Magic in a very different way than Americans. Tier one staples such as Force of Will or Tarmogoyf are at least as expensive as they are in the states, if not considerably more expensive, for any language. Days later I have every reason to believe him. Every Force of Will I encounter in Tokyo falls within the $130 to $150 range. Dual lands are similarly expensive.

Perhaps most distressing is something he told me months before my arrival, but which I was unwilling to believe. The Japanese are not unaware of the demand their product enjoys overseas. While free Wi-Fi is far less common there than it is in the states, most citizens are in fact capable of accessing the internet, and are not unaware of eBay. English comprehension is lower in Japan than some European countries, but many are still completely capable of utilizing English web services. Since many players are competitive, they’re also more in tune with pricing – which means nearly every player knows how much foil Japanese cards are worth overseas, or at least is aware that they’re more expensive than most. In fact, Heiko tells me that at one point he pulled his Japanese foils from international sale and relisted them in Japan, since the prices were actually higher locally than America or Europe.

None of this really makes sense to me. He ends up being right, of course. Hearing it strikes me as nonsensical though. Isn’t sealed product still roughly the same price? If the average card coming out of a Japanese box has a multiplier of 1.1x to 5x over its English counterpart, isn’t the value wildly better when opening a Japanese box? How isn’t it lucrative to just crack Japanese boxes all day and sell them internationally? The first question sticks with me the rest of the trip. I never do get a clear answer on the second one. I’m guessing it has something to do with the effort and overhead involved in shipping internationally.

Even being told all this, you hold out hope. He must be wrong. There’s got to be stores that are just goldmines for JP foils. I’ll show him.

Later that day a shop has a foil Japanese Monastery Swiftspear on display for around $40. Dream’s time of death, 1:47pm.

While I’ve been almost immediately locked out of shopping for awesome JP foils to later trade away at infinite value at large events, all hope is not lost. While competitive format staples are noticeably more expensive, the opposite is true for most casual product. EDH and kitchen table cards tend to be cheaper than in America by enough of a margin that they’re worth the arbitrage. My trip ends up bearing this out, as I end up with nearly no competitive cards in my possession when leaving the country.

Hobby stores in America typically focus on some combination of Magic, tabletop gaming such as Warhammer, and board games. Yu-Gi-Oh is the next most popular card game, although its presence in every shop I’ve ever visited ranges from “we sell it, but Magic is more popular” to “Yu-what?” Card games other than those two are relegated almost exclusively to online orders and the clearance section at Target. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone, in any store anywhere, buy or play a card game that isn’t one of those two.

One will find that here in Tokyo that couldn’t be further from the truth. A seemingly infinite number of other card games exist, many more popular than Magic, if case real estate, signage, and register exposure is any indication. I never catch the name of any them. Visually the cards are gaudy and of low production values. Most remind me of DeviantArt. Some remind me of the worst parts of DeviantArt. I’m pretty sure at least one had artwork that consisted solely of exactly the type of material people are publicly shamed for having on their basic lands when they show up to Magic events in the states.

No shortage of alternative TCGs exist in the Japanese market, and with many of them seemingly more popular than Magic, it’s no surprise the casual scene of our favorite game is far less robust. A dazzling variety of TCGs means that the pool of Magic players is shallower. Those that would play casually are easily drawn towards any number of other TCGs, or even other activities altogether, such as the arcades that seem as common as Starbucks does in the states. The end result is card prices falling quickly once they leave the competitive stratosphere. Perhaps best illustrating this point is my purchase at Saito’s store later that week. The order contained thirty-eight Black Markets. Clocking in at $12 on MTGPrice, it’s a black EDH staple. I paid under three dollars each in Japan. If TCGPlayer ever starts allowing the listing of foreign cards, I’m in business.

black markets

Before we leave Heiko’s shop, I purchase a pack for her to open. Even though she knows only as much as is required by someone who happens to sit in the same room as shelves of cards, she enjoys the process, the thrill, the gamble. At about 300 yen, two dollars and change, it isn’t even expensive. She sniffs the pack as she opens it, a behavior learned from watching me. Savor the experience. Pausing on the third uncommon to let the suspense build, she rips it away to reveal a Sage of the Inward Eye. I say something unpleasant.

I thank Heiko for his time and explanation of the Japanese market, and he gives us a set of custom tokens as a gift. Though my obstinance holds strong and I have yet to ingrain everything he’s been kind of enough to share with me, it will only be a few more days before it becomes evident he was entirely truthful. Our conversation foreshadows perhaps the most poignant lesson I will learn during the trip. Globalization revitalized national economies, pulled entire countries out of poverty, and dramatically changed the world in ways that none could have predicted. Globalization has also partly ruined the experience of international travel.

Packed window to window, we board the rail line. It’s the busiest car we’re in all trip. It would pale in comparison to the crowds we’d see later that day. A quarter of the people on the train have with them rolling hard suitcases. Upon inquiry, I’m informed that that’s where cosplay outfits are stored until the individual reaches Comiket, at which point they change in a large communal changing area, one for each sex. “Why don’t they just put the costume on at home and wear it on the train?” “They’d look ridiculous!” I can see a fifty-foot-tall Gundam statue out the window of the train car. Something tells me nobody would care.

Have you ever been to Times Square for New Years? Seen the masses packed in, shoulder to shoulder, huddling in the freezing temperatures to be a part of what I assume is the largest and most famous NYE celebration in the world? Upwards of a million people show up each year to cram into a few city blocks worth of space. It’s lunacy. Somehow Comiket manages to be worse.

We’re over a quarter mile from the entrance and have already instituted a “hang on” policy. Spacious courtyards outside the building are packed, elbow to elbow. All except for the space saved for cosplayers, in front of which lines snake back and forth, with no one exactly sure where it actually stops. At the end of each line is a cosplayer, most of them women, and most definitely freezing in the chilly December air. Photographers wait their turn to take photos of the cosplayer, and the cosplayer hands out business cards with the intent of selling DVDs of photos of themselves. It’s a practiced affair for everyone involved, completely obtuse to an outsider. Strict rules of pageantry and etiquette are involved, although I’ve no clue what any of them are. The whole thing feels sleazy, mildly abusive, and generally makes me uncomfortable. We haven’t even made it inside yet.

Seething is the best description I can come up with, although that still doesn’t do it justice. I’ve never stood in a crowd like this before. I imagine that this is what escaping a burning building with inadequate safety standards must feel like. I have to wait for a lull in the mass before I can get my arm up from my waist in order to scratch my nose.

Our host’s friend wants to go check a particular booth. As we head in that direction, the various booth signage on display rapidly turns from “anime,” to “hentai,” to “why is Hitler a bare-breasted woman,” to “incontrovertible hardcore pedophilia.” She handles it quite well. Probably better than I do. By the time we leave this portion of the hall, my distaste for anime and its fans has only grown deeper. I’m thankful I didn’t see anything Magic related. Two hours later we depart. I’m glad to have had the experience, but like several things that will occur on this trip, it’s not something I’d do again.

Akihabara, if you are unfamiliar, is sort of the nerd mecca of Tokyo. Buildings are adorned, from ground to roof, with anime and video game advertisements. Arcades are everywhere. You can’t find a spot in the street where there isn’t one visible. Video games and anime and every facet of nerdom smashes together here, all dripping with the saccharine facade of moe.

Of every subway station we will pass through, Akihabara’s is the only one with posters on the escalator warning women of attempted upskirt photos.

“How many Magic shops are in Akihabara?” “There are four. On this block alone.” We see a lot of Magic cards.

Days go by in a blur. Itabashi, Nakano, Shibuya, Shinagawa, Shinjuku. Ginza, Odaiba, Shinbashi, Harajuku, Takadanobaba, Ueno, Ikebukuro, Akihabara. Tokyo Skytree, Disney Sea, Daiwa Sushi, Robot Restaurant, Comiket. Our attempts to canvas the city only serve to prove how futile the effort is. If the term “urban sprawl” wasn’t invented for Tokyo, it should have been. Standing in the middle of Shibuya crossing one night, an intersection reminiscent of Times Square, famous for its pedestrian-scramble crossing in which all traffic stops and people pour into the intersection headed every which way through the crux of five major roads, one is reminded of Blade Runner’s dystopian cityscape, a valley of buildings, brilliantly lit screens disembodied against the dark night rapidly flipping through advertisements like a bored teenager suffering the ennui of life. Riding those trains as much as we did, the landscape never changing, you sometimes wonder if the city ever ends.

We lose track of how many Magic stores we visit over the course of the trip. Nearly all are claustrophobia-inducing. Crouched down or bent over, peering into the back row of one case, your back is pressed to another. I must have muttered “sumimasen” – roughly “pardon me” – more times in eleven days than I’ve spoken her name aloud in all of the last year. It doesn’t take long to start noticing patterns in pricing and keeping an eye out for specific cards.

Aside from Black Market, Avacyn, Angel of Hope and Rhys the Redeemed are probably the two cards of which I bring the most copies home. EDH and casual all-stars here in the states, it seems that nobody in Japan has any use for them. I find Avacyns for 1700 yen, which with the exchange rate is about $14. I found a few Rhys at under $5, and most were under $7. Sliver Legions are usually worth buying if the store has any in stock. I grab a few piles of Marchesa, It That Betrays, and Nirkana Revenants. Most everything is under 50% of what I would pay in the states.


Finding deals on Japanese foils doesn’t come easily, but I find a few. An Odyssey Decimate for $5. A playset of Ashioks for around $38 a copy. (Still trying to sell those.) Cogwork Librarian. Four copies of Plea for Power. Rounding out the top end is a Rofellos, a Marchesa, and an Academy Rector I picked up outside of Saito’s shop after stepping outside with a local whose binder may have been the most impressive I’ve ever seen in person. (If you live in a house right now, there’s a good chance his binder could have paid off the entire mortgage. I wondered how it was safe to carry that around. “Japan.”)

Did you know you can’t trade in stores over there? Continuing in the trend of my arrogant obstinance, I had heard this but for some reason decided it wasn’t true. Turns out, it is. Here in Buffalo there’s a store that doesn’t allow trading. People at GPs don’t believe me when I tell them. “How could a store not allow trading? How does that work?” I don’t know buddy, but there’s an entire country that subscribes to that theory.

Rector has already found a place in my EDH binder. I’m pretending I haven’t already decided to keep Rofellos and Marchesa. Both were under $70. There’s good profit to be made, but if I sell them, I’ll have ended up with almost nothing for myself. Keeping at least a few cards should be allowed, right?


Any English copies of cards I picked up are by now basically all gone some three weeks later. Everything Japanese is sitting on my desk, waiting for someplace better than eBay to sell them.

Boxes end up the bulk of my Magic expenses. Seven JP Khans of Tarkir and six JP Conspiracy. Every single store I walked into I asked about Khans, hoping to find just one that would give me a great price. About half the time the employee would scan a single Khans pack and start multiplying it by thirty-six. Saito’s shop was reasonable, and after offering to buy a case they said they’d knock $20 off, but it still wasn’t cheap enough. For ten days I held out for a 9,000 yen box. I never did find one, although I’ve no doubt they exist somewhere. 10,500 is how much I end up paying for each of all seven Khans boxes. Just about $90 after my credit card’s 3% international fee. There is no world in which I have a right to complain about paying $90 for Japanese Khans boxes, but I still find a way. She doesn’t care.

Conspiracy boxes were a “oh, well, yeah I guess I have to.” One store’s singles collection was paltry at best, a single half-case amongst ten full display cases, and it was getting late. Heading past the register towards the door, the price of a Conspiracy booster caught my eye. I forget exactly how much it was, but it was cheap enough to give me pause. Remember, Conspiracy is a purely casual product. Geared entirely for the crowd that enjoys the kitchen table, EDH, and maybe cubing. Aside from the very small handful of overlap with competitive players on Council’s Judgment and one or two others, Conspiracy is aimed squarely at a demographic that barely exists here. I inquire as to the cost of a box. 9,000 yen, or about $74. Checking eBay, I see that there are sold listings in the $130 range. This portable Wi-Fi spot I’m carrying around has earned its keep multiple times over during our trip. I buy them out of their three boxes. I thought I was done with Conspiracy until I wandered into one last store, our second-to-last day. Six boxes of Khans are being wrangled into a bag by the cashier when I notice the Conspiracy box on the shelf behind her. Given the reasonable price on the Khans boxes, I ask about the Conspiracy. 8,000 yen. $66. “You’ve got three more? San? Hai hai hai. Arigato.”


Between my thirteen boxes and her diabetic shock worth of candy, we had to pick up another cheap suitcase to get it all home. It was worth it.

After several days there I’m able to put my finger on what it is about Japan that is underwhelming. Years ago while she was studying abroad in Italy for a semester, I found a double-layover, twenty-hour round-trip ticket for $550 to Rome over spring break. After begging my parents to shell out, I was on my way. You’ve seen The Colosseum, and the Fountain of Trevi, and whatever other ancient italian landmark the discovery channel is blabbering about when you flip by. Let me tell you, dear reader, the images on your television or computer screen do not do those structures justice. One of the subway stops lets out right in front of The Colosseum – you walk up a flight of stairs, and there, right there, it towers over you, destroying all preconceptions and notions you may have thought you had. History bears down on you with weighty significance, rendering you breathless at the magnificence and size of the structure. Days of exploring the city and being exposed to history through such a living and breathing medium leaves a deep impression, and not for one second, not for one second on those winding stone streets that lead surreptitiously across a city whose history seeps from every porous brick, do you forget that you’re in Italy.

One random afternoon in Japan we’re on the street, and I’m looking around. A beef noodle place, a tanning salon, a bookst-wait, how am I reading all these signs? English is everywhere. No kidding, there’s more English in Japan than there is in Montreal. With English subtext on so many signs, and unreasonably often the only text on signs, and a cityscape all built in a post-war rebirth of the city, with virtually no buildings old enough to remind you of the millennia of history that exists here, the American visitor is struck with the unmistakable sensation of standing in New York City. It’s an always lingering, nagging thought that chases you along their ridiculously clean streets and into the massive shopping centers that span ten floors. You’re just a few extra white people, a lot more darker-skinned people, (seriously I think we saw maybe twenty black people in eleven days, out of what had to be tens of thousands of faces), and much worse candy away from being in New York City.

This is it. This is the globalization that afforded me the opportunity to be here, and it’s the same globalization that’s making it impossible to find an authentic Japanese gift for my parents. I can’t find anything of substance that feels native because it seems there is so little left – or at least, so little that can’t be obtained in America one way or another.

Heiko told me that several years ago, the arbitrage between the Magic markets was good enough that you could probably have paid for your entire trip with money to spare. Magic hadn’t experienced its renaissance quite yet, and large gaps still existed. Japanese foils were dirt cheap locally, and American cards sold for bundles. A savvy traveller could have brought $10,000 in English foils to Japan, turned that into God knows how much in Japanese foils, and then outed that for even more back in America. Today though? Today you pick up Rhys the Redeemed for $6 and you’re pleased with that.

In descending order of time spent on them, the two activities that consumed the largest portion of our trip were standing in line and shopping. Not just for Magic cards, but anything, anywhere. Local shops that the owner lived above. Street vendors. Tourist traps. Department stores. We stepped inside every category of shop imaginable. My litmus test for determining whether I should buy something was simple – “can I get this on Amazon?” A question whose answer was affirmative so frequently that my luggage was 65% Magic cards and 30% the clothes I brought over.

“Join the Army, See the World” was the slogan for the Army at one point. Decades ago, poor American kids knew that the only way they’d ever be able to see other countries was on the government’s dime. Commercial flight was still far too expensive for the average citizen. Enlistment benefitted both parties. The Army got a soldier for a few years, and the soldier got an experience he’d never be able to afford on his own.

Listening to the radio a few years back, someone was talking about how they had to change that iconic slogan. With flights as cheap as they were, any schmuck could hop on a plane and see any country in the world. Why would someone volunteer four years of their life in order to get the chance to visit Europe when they could just plunk down $1,000 and go on their own? “See the World” was no longer the powerful motivator it once was. 

Globalization has given us opportunities our grandparents never had. Any one of us can travel to any country in the world, almost on a whim. Seeing Spain or Egypt or Thailand or Brazil isn’t some decadent dream with no hope of reality, it’s just a question of budget. With accessibility has come homogenization, though. I love Amazon. I love what it does for me. I don’t go to actual brick and mortar stores anymore. My Prime account is well worn. And at the same time, it has spoiled a component of travel. Wandering the streets and stores of Tokyo, little strikes me as inaccessible. Nearly every department store has an international presence, which means any of this can be purchased from the comfort of my home office. Browsing wares in smaller shops doesn’t afford a much better experience. Most is made in China or Taiwan, and none of it is something I’d be excited to gift to another. I don’t return home with wild stories about a far-off country with exotic customs. I say things like “we couldn’t get any great photos from SkyTree, just Google it and you’ll get a better view.”

Magic has suffered the same fate here. Small edges do exists – the $90 Japanese Khans boxes – but there’s hardly anything awe-inspiring. There’s the good prices on casual cards, and you can bring over in-demand Force of Wills. But overall, Magic is no different than sweaters or silverware. Certain pieces are cheaper in Tokyo than they are in America, but nothing is unattainable. Everything that we bring back could be purchased at home. Sure, we got a slightly better price on some of it, but none of it is exotic to the point of remarkability. Even the Japanese merchandise isn’t necessarily cheaper than it is in the states. I saw a lot of $45 foil Japanese Swiftspears.

The lesson here is one oft repeated in many aspects of life. Ignore the material goods. Avoid spending too much of your money on material things. Take photos – but not too many. Pay for experiences. Eat well. See sights. Now more than ever, those are the souvenirs you will savor most in the years after.

Travel between Toronto and Buffalo defies any navigation service to produce useful directions. Leaving Toronto Pearson airport, it only takes two or three minutes before we’ve gotten on the wrong road, forcing us into a Tim Horton’s parking lot in search of Wi-Fi. We both say something unpleasant.


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The Next Big Tiny Thing

By Guo Heng Chin

I’ve always wondered how it felt like to be an early adopter of bitcoins. To be one of those who got in when bitcoins were $0.20 each (bitcoin is now trading at $257.09 per bitcoin). To be a member of the bitcoin millionaire club just for the virtue of being an early adopter of a technology most initially shrugged off as a passing fad.

Ah, the perks of being an early adopter.

While I was drawn into Commander when the format first broke into the mainstream with the release of the first Commander products in 2011, I paid little attention to the financial aspects of Commander cards. It was a fun, casual format of singleton cards and my logic (flawed in retrospect) told me the demand for Commander cards would not be sufficient to drive the price of Commander staples.

In 2012,  I was surprised when I heard about the price of a foil Chromatic Lantern on an episode of Brainstorm Brewery. Then the Nekusar spikes happened in late 2013; Old rares like Forced Fruition, Teferi’s Puzzle Box and Wheel of Fortune spiked because they had synergy with Nekusar, the Mindrazer, who turned out to be one of the most popular commanders from Commander 2013.

Fast forward to 2015.  I am now writing a Magic finance column and one of my area of focus is undervalued Commander foils.  While most Commander staple foils have already spiked, there are still some undervalued Commander foils lurking beneath the bush, but they are hard to find. It feels a bit like foraging for truffles. I hate to admit it, but the treasure cruise for speccing on Commander foils had left the port a while ago and we are trawling the waters for any gold that fell off the barge.

Magic, fortunately is an ever-changing landscape, and once in a while we get something new brewing on the horizon. Sometimes it’s an innovative supplementary product like Conspiracy. Sometimes it’s an exciting new format.

The Littlest Giants

Tiny Leaders seemed to be the talk of Magic town lately. Tiny Leaders is a new take on the Commander format where players play with 50 card decks including their commander, and a defining caveat that only cards with three or less casting cost can be played. Designed by Bramwell Tackaberry in 2013, the format spread quickly among his local community and in the past few months, began to gain traction in the Magic community as a whole.

Chas Andres briefly discussed Tiny Leaders in his article last November. Jimi Brady at GatheringMagic.com put up a piece on Tiny Leaders with some sweet decklists the same month. Eric Levine, Commander-in-Residence at Channel Fireball wrote an article about it in December, so did Matt Higgs at StarCityGames. I first heard about the format myself from Brainstorm Brewery’s mid-January 2015 Fate Reforged set review podcast, where Jason E Alt was talking about the viability of two of the Fate Reforged khans as Tiny Leader commanders. My fellow finance writer at MTGPrice, Cliff Daigle also wrote an article about the format last week. Even people at The Mothership started paying attention to the format recently:

Helene Bergeot's Twitter Response to Trick JarrettGavin Verhey's Response
The Tiny Leader community is still growing, with the Facebook group and subreddit both boasting a membership of around 1,500 members each as of writing. I highly recommend checking out both groups if you are interested to delve more into the format. And I definitely recommend giving Tiny Leaders a try if you have yet to do so.

Tiny Leaders, Big Potential

Why do I think Tiny Leaders has the potential to be the next big format in Magic? It shares a characteristic found in a lot of successful startups: it caters to an unfulfilled niche.

Tiny Leaders is a cross between Commander and Legacy, a singleton Legacy. The majority of the mana curve in Legacy lies at three or less anyway, so cards that are good in Legacy are bound to be good in Tiny Leaders as Jimi Brady pointed out in his article.  Jimi also mentioned a very valid point on why the format has the potential to catch on like wildfire: it has a relatively low entry barrier. A Tiny Leaders deck requires less cards than the usual 60-card deck and only one-of rather than a playset-of expensive staples.

I can’t get into Legacy with the single Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant I opened from my two boxes of Modern Masters, and they are not exactly optimal cards for Commander. However they fit snugly into my Anafenza, the Foremost Tiny Leaders brew. To be honest, the virtue of being a singleton format is that players could get away with missing a few expensive pieces and still have a relatively competitive deck. This list by redditor /u/darkflame1o1 performed pretty well at a tournament despite missing Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf.

Tiny Leaders appeals to players too spikey to play Commander, or players who are weary of long Commander games and all the politicking which are integral to Commander games. Even Brainstorm Brewery’s ‘I’m-never-gonna-touch-Commander’ Marcel professed an interest in Tiny Leaders in their recent podcast.Tiny Leaders has the competitive lure of Duel Commander, and is better designed for competitive play.

I feel I ought to include arguments against Tiny Leaders taking off to provide an objective view of the format’s future. While Chas Andres mentioned a few good ones in his article, he nevertheless gave the format a moderate to high chance of future success. I think those drawbacks mentioned in Chas’ article – potential power-level imbalance and small number of players – are issues that confronted every new format as it made the leap from niche to mainstream.

Power-level imbalances could be ironed out with astute management of the banlist. The banlist is currently  managed by Steven Harmonic and Matthew Turnbull with input from the community (Steven and Matthew are highly active on the Tiny Leaders subreddit and Bram manages the Tiny Leaders Facebook group).

The issue with the format’s small player base is temporary and is remedied as format hits a tipping point in momentum, something which I think is Tiny Leaders is heading towards right now with the amount of interest and attention it is getting from the community. Besides the increasing number of articles being written about the format, and the number of times Brainstorm Brewery mentioned it in their podcast, Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan briefly discussed Tiny Leaders during the commentary of StarCityGames’ Washington DC Open last weekend, all good signs of the format breaching through into the mainstream.

Tiny Investments

Tiny Leaders cards are in an interesting spot financially – the format’s three mana and below casting cost restriction meant that a swath of the format’s staple overlap with Legacy and Modern staples, which are already pricey. On the other hand, the restriction led to cards with casting cost-specific effects to be more powerful in the context of Tiny Leaders. Unearth becomes a Reanimate without a drawback. Smother becomes an unconditional removal. Three CMC and under spells with X as part of their casting cost is a way to circumvent the figurative power level of the format, as spells with an X in their casting cost scales according to the amount of mana channelled into X.

Today, we are going to go through a few of these cards that could potentially spike if Tiny Leaders takes off. First off, we have the heads of the states decks.

The Leaders

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden

Fifty Shades of Grenzo
Fifty Shades of Grenzo.

Non-foil: $1.33

Foil: $18.03

Two reasons why Grenzo, Dungeon Warden is sweet in Tiny Leaders: He has an X in his casting cost and he could generate a swarm all by himself. Tristan Gregson pointed out on Twitter that Grenzo could be a good Tiny Leaders pick-up and I wholly agree. Non-foil copies are unlikely to stay at $1.33 as the demand for Grenzo increases and being flavor-tied to Conspiracy, Grenzo is unlikely to see a reprint. Foils are already expensive as Grenzo is also a decent Commander general and I am not a fan of speccing on those.

Ezuri, Renegade Leader

Leading the Elfball revolution.
Leading the Elfball revolution.

Non-foil: $1.67

Foil: $5.78

Ezuri Elfball is one of the tier one decks in Tiny Leaders. $5.78 is a good buy-in for foil copies of a tier one leader from an old set. Non-foils at $1.67 have room to grow but being reprinted Commander 2014 means a longer lag in appreciation. I would rather snag up foil copies.

Varolz, the Scar-Striped

Varolz, the Scar-Striped troll.
Varolz, the Scar-Striped troll.

Non-foil: $0.59

Foil: $3.05

Another tier one leader, foil Varolz, the Scar-Striped is only $3, courtesy of being from a recently rotated set. I would pick up foils rather than non-foils at this price. Varolz is also playable as part of the 49.

Ambassador Laquatus

He was not a great ambassador. Milling your opponent to death is not very diplomatic.
He was not a great ambassador. Milling your opponent to death is not very diplomatic.

Non-foil: $1.09 (Tenth Edition); $0.70 (Torment)

Foil: $3.51 (Tenth Edition); $3.68 (Torment)

Ambassador Laquatus is a good example of cards that are crap everywhere except in the context of Tiny Leaders. Against a 50-card deck, milling becomes a viable competitive strategy. Sword of Body and Mind was banned for the exact reason. Laquatus is a tier one leader and both foil and non-foil copies are good pick-ups at those prices.

Contextually Good Cards

As mentioned above, some cards are just better in a format with an imposed maximum casting cost of three.


It's all about the context.
It’s all about the context.

Non-foil: $0.72

Foil: $7.02

Unearth is a unconditional and drawback-free Animate Dead in Tiny Leaders. Cheating-into-play may not be necessary for most creatures costing three or less, but Entomb is legal in this young format and there is potential for graveyard shenanigans. Non-foil copies look like good pickups at under $1.


Not exactly forged by the Sun God, they belong on different planes after all.
Not exactly forged by the Sun God, they belong on different planes after all.

Non-foil: $1.44

Foil: $8.98

Jason E Alt has been harping about this card for a long time. Indeed the first time I’ve heard about Tiny Leaders was from Jason harping about Sunforger, so I have him to thank for that. Jason is confident that Sunforger is one of the best cards in Tiny Leaders. At $1.44, it is a low risk spec and a good one in my opinion. Also foil Sunforgers recently spiked, as highlighted by mtgmarketwatch subreddit founder /u/mtd14.

The Black and White Zeniths

Black Sun's ZenithWhite Sun's Zenith

Spells with X in their casting cost circumvent the imposed three casting cost ceiling and there is a lot of potential for powerful effects the power of those spells scale according to the amount of mana sinked into them. White Sun’s Zenith has the potential to be a late game finisher not just for control decks, but also for midrange decks looking for a card to close out games fast in the mid-to-late game. Foils for $2.39 could be a good investment.

Tiny Leaders’ three casting cost ceiling rendered a lot of sweepers illegal in deckbuilding. Black Sun’s Zenith is one of few black sweepers available as pointed out by Chaz from BoltSnapBolt. Although the Game Day full art foils just increased in price, the Mirrodin Besieged foils at $5 is not a a shabby pick-up.

Ratchet Bomb

Literally a ticking bomb.
Literally a ticking bomb.

Non-foil: $0.48 (M14); $0.51 (Scars of Mirrodin)

Foil: $1.70 (M14); $3.24 (Scars of Mirrodin)

Speaking of sweepers, Ratchet Bomb is a colorless sweeper that could become a staple in the Tiny Leaders besides Engineered Explosives. Ratchet Bomb may be too slow for other formats, but is efficient in Tiny Leaders. Foils at $1.70 have room to grow if the format takes off.

The Big Picture

Tiny Leaders is a format in its infancy. The format is a brewer’s paradise, brimming with unexplored deckbuilding space. There has yet to be a repository for Tiny Leaders decklists or tournament results. The two places to find Tiny Leaders decklists currently are the Tiny Leaders Facebook group and subreddit. I would definitely recommend checking out those forums. There are a lot of innovation and ideas being bounced around, but there has yet to be highly-tuned lists of respective archetypes, which means an abundance of opportunity for deck brewers to get brewing.

The metagame is still young and evolving. The addition of Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest and Alesha, Who Smiles at Death injected a lot new design space in the format as previously Tiny Leaders does not have a Jeskai or Mardu leader and resorted to a placeholder ‘leader’ with no abilities.

The format’s future is by no way certain. For all we know, the hype and interest that is building up a momentum right now could dissipate before the end of the year. However, judging by the overwhelmingly positive response from those who dipped their toes in the format, I am confident that Tiny Leaders would grow into the next big format.

In Retrospect

I guess I am not hopelessly bad in spotting the next big thing. I was an early fan of Modern and I completed my playset of blue-based staples back in 2011, shortly after the inception of Modern. I was confident that Modern would grow into the next big thing as it filled a niche that many players, myself included felt was missing from the competitive scene.

I wanted to play in a competitive non-rotating format where I could run my favorite pet deck all the time, but I could not afford to buy into Legacy. Modern filled that niche in that it served as an intermediary between Standard and Legacy, a non-rotating format with a lower barrier of entry. Gavin Verhey’s Overextended has been garnering a lot of interest, so there must have been plenty of other players in similar positions as I was.

I had my hipster moment with Modern. I acquired my Scalding Tarns and Misty Rainforests at $15 each, Vendilion Cliques at $8 each, Player Rewards Cryptic Commands at $10 each, among many others. I ran Storm in the first Modern PTQ season in 2012 and crashed badly, but it was fun. Storm was my pet deck for one whole year. It won me my first Grand Prix Trial and performed okay for me on Magic Online daily events. Eventually Jeskai (UWR back in those days) Geist took over and it has been my go-to deck up till Ancestral Recall became Modern legal (sort of).

My excitement for Tiny Leaders reminded me of how I felt about Modern in 2011. I am excited for Tiny Leaders because the format is an opportunity for me to play a fast-paced Duel Commander game with a touch of Legacy’s power level but only a fraction of Legacy’s buy-in fee. And I am excited that my enthusiasm for the format is shared by many other players and writers.

Bonus: My Anafenza, the Foremost Tiny Leaders

Seeing that there is a dearth of Tiny Leaders decklists at the moment, let me share with you my Anafenza brew that I am taking with me to what seems to be Malaysia’s first Tiny Leaders tournament this weekend.

Commander: Anafenza, the Foremost

First and foremost, let me sing you the song of my +1/+1 counters.
First and foremost, let me sing you the song of my +1/+1 counters.


Avacyn’s Pilgrim

Bird of Paradise

Deathrite Shaman

Llanowar Elves

Cartel Aristocrat

Dark Confidant

Melira, Sylvok Outcast

Scavenging Ooze


Tidehollow Sculler

Eternal Witness

Knight of the Reliquary

Kitchen Finks

Loxodon Smiter

Varolz, the Scar-Striped


Liliana of the Veil


Enlightened Tutor

Worldly Tutor

Sword to Plowshares

Abrupt Decay


Chord of Calling


Midnight Haunting


Green Sun’s Zenith

Lingering Souls

Thoughtseize (I don’t own Inquisition of Kozilek)


Sensei’s Divining Top

Sword of Feast and Famine

Sword of Fire and Ice


Gavony Township

Windswept Heath

Wooded Foothills

Flooded Strand

Polluted Delta

Bloodstained Mire

Arid Mesa

Marsh Flats

Godless Shrine

Overgrown Tomb

Temple Garden

Woodland Cemetery

Sunpetal Grove

City of Brass

Cavern of Souls

Command Tower




The deck attacks on multiple angles, in the spirit of one of the best Magic strategy articles in recent time. There are four one-drop mana dorks to ‘ramp’ into the three drops on turn two for a fast start. One of the perks of having a leader is having access to a three drop to ramp into all the time. The deck is also quite mana-hungry as the mid-game plan hinges on Gavony Township and tutoring out value creatures.

The mana dorks help fuel the deck’s mid game, besides providing an extra layer of consistency to ensure that we hit our ‘land drops’ every turn. Those mana dorks could be conscripted to the frontline during the mid-to-late game as they get jacked up with Anafenza’s counters or Gavony Township.

Gavony Township could be tutored up with Knight of the Reliquary, who in turn is tutorable with Green Sun’s Zenith, Chord of Calling or Worldly Tutor. Yup, there’s plenty of tutors to maximise the consistency of the deck.

The tutors are also present for the deck’s second angle of attack: the classic Melira infinite life combo. The combo pieces are Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Kitchen Finks and either Cartel Aristocrat or Varolz, the Scar-Striped to loop for infinite life. The initial blueprint had a Blood Artist to enable a combo kill, but I’ve found that Blood Artist was a dead card outside the combo. With the exception of Melira, all the other components of the combo are creatures that can provide exceptional value by themselves. Kitchen Finks sort of combos with Anafenza to reset its -1/-1 persist counters. Varolz and Cartel Aristocrat are two hard to remove creatures, ideal targets for Anafenza to bestow +1/+1 counters on.

The game plan is resoundingly similar to Birthing Pod decks (RIP): grind your opponent out with value creatures and develop a superior board position with Gavony Township. If and when the opportunity arises, execute the infinite life combo by tutoring out the pieces on instant speed. Tidehollow Sculler is there to give us a tutorable hand disruption if we find the need to ensure that the coast is clear before we execute the Melira combo.

Thanks for reading through all 3,000 words of this article. I hope the article has provided you with an insight into this wonderful new format called Tiny Leaders and cards which price could take off together with the format. Comments are most welcomed and you either leave a comment below or at engage me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


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By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

This weekend Fate Reforged made a huge and immediate impact on both Standard and Modern, with cards from the set showing up at top tables of major tournaments immediately upon going legal. Most of our other gainers come as the result of the recent Banned & Restricted announcements which have shaken up both Modern and Legacy. Here’s the down low on the major price shifts in the world of paper Magic: The Gathering this week.

5 Winners of the Week

1. Worldgorger Dragon (Judgement, Rare): $1.25 to $8.30 (564%)

When a combo card of relatively high power gets unbanned, the Legacy folks start brewing and trying to figure out if the card can take a deck into a Top 8. Worldgorger Dragon figures into multiple combos, many of which revolve around it coming in and out of play under the effect of Animate Dead while setting off infinite triggers of one sort or another. The card is certainly breakable, but no more powerful than the stuff that Sneak & Show and Reanimator decks already do in Legacy. Nevertheless, going from useless to potentially playable was enough to send this ancient rare skyrocketing on the price charts. Without a doubt this is a sell if you had a bunch sitting around. It’s hard to beat 500% in a week more than a few times a year, and this is definitely time to take your money and run it into some new action.

Format(s): Legacy

Verdict: Sell

2. Golgari Grave Troll (Ravnica: City of Guilds, Rare): $1.45 to $7.00 (+383%)

Here we have another card that was unbanned, this time in Modern, and in this case because the odds of it breaking format are low without some of the older cards it would need to be truly degenerate. Nevertheless, enterprising souls are a-brewing, so the getting is good if you’d like to get out on your sets up 300%+. I wouldn’t wait on results here, the card’s already been reprinted once (in the Izzet vs. Golgari Duel Deck) and could easily be so again this summer in MM2.

Format(s): Modern/Legacy/Vintage

Verdict: Sell


3. Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Time Spiral, Rare): $2.25 to $7.50 (+233%)

A couple of factors are pushing this previously overlooked Dragon up on the charts. Firstly, it’s the only 5-color commander available for the Dragon clan in EDH/Commander. Secondly, we’re just 6 weeks away from a set list for Dragons of Tarkir, a set that promises to, well, provide us with a ton of new dragons to get excited about. I’d put the odds that they either reprint Scion or provide an even better Dragon commander at 2 to 1, so it’s up to you to decide if you feel like trying to ride this card further north into $10-15 range on dragon hype. Me, I like to pocket cash on anything north of 50%, so I’ve already sold the handful of stray copies I found lying around.

Format: Casual/EDH

Verdict: Sell/Speculative Buy


4. Frontier Siege (Fate Reforged, Rare): 1.25 to 2.55 (+104%)

This bad boy mana ramp enchantment was #2 on my list of underrated Fate Reforged specs, so I was hardly surprised to see it make top 8 appearances in Standard at two separate major tournaments. With the potential to double your total mana output in the early to mid game OR to turn your hornets and other flying beasties into a virtual wrath of god, the power here is undeniable. The card has so far found good homes with both R/G Monsters and BUG Delve/Whip builds, and I strongly suspect these won’t be the last decks to run the card in the next 18 months. As a rare from a small set that will be drafted 5-2-2 vs. the rest of the block, I think this card can hit $4-6 on heavy play and/or further top table appearances, so there is still some room to set up some profitable trades if you’re local store hasn’t sold out or boosted the price yet Monday morning. Move quick though, because I wouldn’t be surprised to see this settle closer to $4 before the end of the week, at which point your upside is significantly more limited. Foils may also be solid targets for future EDH play, but there isn’t likely to be any Legacy or Modern action here.

Format: Standard/EDH

Verdict: Sell/Trade


5. Tasigur, The Golden Fang (Fate Reforged, Rare): $3.75 to $11.00 (+193%)

If you locked on to Tasigur when he appeared at #4 on my list of Fate Reforged specs a couple weeks back you may have been lucky enough to pick up copies in the $2 range. If so, good for you. If not, your ship has likely sailed, as $11 is a very high price for a freshly released standard rare, even one that made such good showings at major tourneys in it’s first week of release. The Prince of Fruit was bananas most of the time he appeared on camera this weekend, pulling double duty as a cheap blocker for Siege Rhino etc, while providing long term card advantage when the board got grindy. It’s not a certainty he’ll make a big splash in older formats, but I wouldn’t bet against it at this point. All that being said, sell into this hype immediately, as he should come back down into the $6-8 range as more product is opened this month and I suspect you’ll be able to find him cheaper around the release of MM2 in June.

Format: Standard/Modern/Legacy/EDH

Verdict: Sell/Trade

3 Top Losers of the Week

1. Bloodbraid Elf (Alara Reborn, Uncommon): $8.00 to $3.50 (-56%)

Well, it’s a broken uncommon that some people thought might be unbanned, but instead it’s been relegated to the bench for the time being. Many pros think the card would be fine in Modern today given the general increase in power creep over the last few years, but that’s not enough to save the card’s price from crashing as disappointment sets in and the unfounded speculations are cashed in for losses. If you’re caught holding, you can ditch for (hopefully) close to what you paid, or just hold on to them hoping for an eventual unban within the year.

Format(s): Casual/Modern (one day?)

Verdict: Sell

2. Orzhov Pontiff (Guildpact, Rare): $16.00 to $12.50 (-22%)

Pontiff was on our list as a top gainer just a few short weeks ago, but the banning of Birthing Pod put it’s primary deck out of commission in Modern and significantly lessened short term demand. I’m holding my copies as I believe that the card has other applications in token and aggro based strategies in Modern. That being said, a reprinting this summer in MM2 isn’t totally out of the question, so be wary.

Format(s): Modern

Verdict: Hold

3. Birthing Pod (New Phyrexia, Rare): $8.15 to $7.07 to (-13%)

Birthing Pod peaked near $20 in March, 2014, right around the time I was snapping them up 2 copies at a time by acquiring the Spiraling Doom, Dark Ascension event deck. I was a bit stunned that Pod got the axe in Modern, since though it was certainly doing well consistently, the format seemed very healthy. This leaves me with about 20 Birthing Pods I’ll be slowly unloading at a small loss to EDH players out of the gutters of my trade binder for the next few years. It’s important to own your mistakes. This was one of my biggest of the year.

Format(s): Standard

Verdict: Sell

Quick Hits:

  • Japanese players have been scooping up foil Frost Walkers like crazy and they may know something others are missing. As a 4/1 for 1U in the best color in the game, there is potential for the the card to revive some kind of blue rush deck in Modern or Legacy.
  • Waste Not deserves an honorable mention this week, up 46% from $2.16 to $3.16.
  • Outpost Siege also made Top 8 tables this weekend, as a stackable card drawing engine and fallback for token strategies. It’s on the increase, but bargains can still be found if you’re quick.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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The Spread on Khans of Tarkir

By: Jared Yost

One of the most important data items about a card’s value is something that Magic financiers have coined “the spread”. What we mean by this is how much does a store’s demand (buylist price) compare to the market demand for that same card (fair trade price)? By representing this demand mathematically we can make better predictions about a card’s future value rather than attaching emotional investment to it (This card is cool, its going to definitely be worth something!) or by our own perceived predictions of where the card’s price is going in the future.

Getting the Spread

To calculate the spread, you calculate the percentage difference between a store’s buylist price and the fair trade price of that same card. The smaller the spread value the more demand a store, or several stores, is driving for a particular card. Examples to demonstrate my point:

Flooded Strand
Fair Trade Price – $19.99
Best Buylist Price – $14.25
Spread = 1-($14.25/$19.99)
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Fair Trade Price – $13.29
Best Buylist Price – $7.40
Spread = 1-($7.40/$13.29)

Flooded Strand is currently the most valuable card in Khans of Tarkir, with a fair trade price of $20. Stores also have a high demand for Flooded Strand since the buylist price is only about $6 less than the fair trade (or retail) value of the card. Because Flooded Strand has both the highest fair trade price and highest buylist price in Khans, and the difference between the two prices is smaller than a cheaper fair trade card like Sarkhan, we can see that a smaller spread means that your card is more valuable when buylisting to stores. Its pretty easy to see lower spread equals higher demand with the numbers laid out like above.

What About Negative Spread?

Now that we know that low spread equals more store demand, I want to talk about negative spread. Sometimes the demand for a card is so great that the spread will actually be a negative value. Negative spread, otherwise known as arbitrage, is the best type of spread to discover. MTGPrice does track this type of information using what we have dubbed the “MTGPrice.com ‘Free Money’ Arbitrage Tool”. There are two types of arbitrage:

1) Natural Arbitrage, which is the difference between one store’s demand of a card compared to another store’s demand. That is, one store’s buylist is higher than another’s selling price, which means you buy the card at the low sell price and then sell to the higher buylist price. The arbitrage tool mainly tracks this arbitrage type.

2) Market Force Arbitrage, which means that the average market price of a card is lower than a store’s buylist. This happens when a store can’t get enough copies of a card in stock at the current buylist price, so they have to raise their buylist price in order to attract people to sell to that buylist. Many times this new buylist price will be higher than a market average if a card has become really popular due to a new deck strategy being introduced in a format or if vendors are preparing for big events. One thing to note about this type of arbitrage is that it usually doesn’t last that long – once the store has enough copies, they will usually raise the retail price while keeping buylist the same or lower so that the spread widens (and their profit again increases).

Another article could be written on the data contained within the arbitrage tool, but suffice to say that arbitrage is the best type of spread to find. You can occasionally find this type of spread in Standard legal cards, however 99% of arbitrage is going to be cards that are Modern legal or older.

Bringing Khans Into the Mix

OK, so now that I’ve explained how spread works let’s see what some of the current prices for Khans staples are compared to their buylist prices. Below is a listing of cards that have a buylist price of at least $0.50 at an online retailer (copied from the Khans of Tarkir spoiler list).

Card Name Fair Trade Price Best Buylist Price Spread
Flooded Strand $19.99 $14.25 28.71%
Polluted Delta $17.66 $11.25 36.30%
Windswept Heath $14.57 $10.25 29.65%
Wooded Foothills $13.37 $8.50 36.42%
Sorin, Solemn Visitor $16.51 $8.00 51.54%
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker $13.29 $7.40 44.32%
Bloodstained Mire $11.97 $7.25 39.43%
Wingmate Roc $8.74 $5.40 38.22%
Dig Through Time $7.41 $4.33 41.57%
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant $6.64 $3.86 41.87%
Anafenza, the Foremost $5.53 $3.00 45.75%
Siege Rhino $5.51 $3.00 45.55%
Ashcloud Phoenix $4.16 $2.25 45.91%
Clever Impersonator $3.62 $2.20 39.23%
Jeskai Ascendancy $3.38 $1.65 51.18%
Monastery Swiftspear $3.17 $1.54 51.42%
Hooded Hydra $3.23 $1.50 53.56%
Bloodsoaked Champion $1.79 $1.25 30.17%
Rattleclaw Mystic $1.83 $1.20 34.43%
End Hostilities $2.37 $1.01 57.38%
Mantis Rider $1.72 $1.00 41.86%
Surrak Dragonclaw $1.83 $1.00 45.36%
Utter End $1.94 $0.91 53.09%
Narset, Enlightened Master $1.72 $0.89 48.26%
See the Unwritten $1.91 $0.86 54.97%
Crackling Doom $1.50 $0.83 44.67%
Butcher of the Horde $1.87 $0.79 57.75%
Empty the Pits $1.20 $0.71 40.83%
Savage Knuckleblade $1.26 $0.70 44.44%
Crater’s Claws $1.39 $0.66 52.52%
Deflecting Palm $1.11 $0.56 49.55%

One trend you should notice right away is that the low spreads do not necessarily correlate with the higher priced fair trade cards, which indicates that stores are demanding cards different than the currently most expensive ones. Out of the top ten, Sorin, Solemn Visitor actually has the highest spread, which is definitely surprising for a planeswalker since they tend to be some of the more sought after cards. There could be many factors why Sorin has such a high spread but the takeaway here is that you are going to want to trade your Sorins rather than buylist them if you’re looking to get out of the Sorin market. You will get more value out of a trade rather than selling to a store.

Let’s take a look at the list in a different way, sorted by lowest to highest spread. The lowest spread cards are the perfect cards to send to buylists while the higher spread cards are the ones that you want in your trade binder when you hit up a local event.

Card Name Fair Trade Price Best Buylist Price Spread
Flooded Strand $19.99 $14.25 28.71%
Windswept Heath $14.57 $10.25 29.65%
Bloodsoaked Champion $1.79 $1.25 30.17%
Rattleclaw Mystic $1.83 $1.20 34.43%
Polluted Delta $17.66 $11.25 36.30%
Wooded Foothills $13.37 $8.50 36.42%
Wingmate Roc $8.74 $5.40 38.22%
Clever Impersonator $3.62 $2.20 39.23%
Bloodstained Mire $11.97 $7.25 39.43%
Empty the Pits $1.20 $0.71 40.83%
Dig Through Time $7.41 $4.33 41.57%
Mantis Rider $1.72 $1.00 41.86%
Sidisi, Brood Tyrant $6.64 $3.86 41.87%
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker $13.29 $7.40 44.32%
Savage Knuckleblade $1.26 $0.70 44.44%
Crackling Doom $1.50 $0.83 44.67%
Surrak Dragonclaw $1.83 $1.00 45.36%
Siege Rhino $5.51 $3.00 45.55%
Anafenza, the Foremost $5.53 $3.00 45.75%
Ashcloud Phoenix $4.16 $2.25 45.91%
Narset, Enlightened Master $1.72 $0.89 48.26%
Deflecting Palm $1.11 $0.56 49.55%
Jeskai Ascendancy $3.38 $1.65 51.18%
Monastery Swiftspear $3.17 $1.54 51.42%
Sorin, Solemn Visitor $16.51 $8.00 51.54%
Crater’s Claws $1.39 $0.66 52.52%
Utter End $1.94 $0.91 53.09%
Hooded Hydra $3.23 $1.50 53.56%
See the Unwritten $1.91 $0.86 54.97%
End Hostilities $2.37 $1.01 57.38%
Butcher of the Horde $1.87 $0.79 57.75%

Right away we notice that there are three cards in the top ten lowest spreads that are less than $2 – Bloodsoaked Champion, Rattleclaw Mystic, and Empty the Pits. We can draw a conclusion from this that stores are trying to pick up as many copies of these cards as they can because their buylist is so close to fair trade price. If a card continues to generate great demand, the fair trade price will usually rise up to match that demand and then the spread will become greater as the fair trade price goes up while the buylist stays the same. In other words, cards with a smaller spread that are cheap to pick up at fair trade price are a strong indication that the retail price could rise in the future. This means they are potentially good speculation targets since stores are so eager to get their hands on copies.

Other cards vendors don’t have much confidence in, or maybe just have lower demand for the moment, include anything that’s higher than 50% spread. Notables here include Jeskai Ascendancy, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, Hooded Hydra, See the Unwritten, and Butcher of the Horde – these cards could go up in retail price over time if demand rises but right now it would be better to trade these cards rather than buylist them due to the spread being so high. Stores aren’t selling enough copies, and until they do they will be paying less to stock their inventory with these cards than something like fetchlands.

Anything that is between 40%-50% should be watched closely for signs of lower spread movement. Cards like Siege Rhino, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Ashcloud Phoenix are good examples since they are popular Standard cards that are fairly cheap pricewise yet demand from stores is slightly lower for these cards for one reason or another (market saturation, local metagame, etc.). Having a somewhat higher spread means that you could trade them well now but could also potentially get good cash returns from buylist prices in the future.

Data Alone Isn’t Everything

Just because we can calculate the spread and look at the numbers objectively doesn’t mean crazy things don’t happen. After all, cards spike in price out of nowhere all the time and their spread from the previous days gave us no indication this would happen.

The spread is just one of many tools that you can use to help identify potentially undervalued cards. I’ve certainly used it in the past to great success, however there are certainly times when I see a low spread but I’m still not convinced that a card is going anywhere for one reason or another. Empty the Pits would be an example now. It’s played in Standard but only in control decks and only as one or two copies, so the demand is probably coming from casual players and the Commander crowd rather than tournament demand. I don’t feel that this card is going to jump big any time soon, so even though the spread is lower I’m not going all in on this card.

Spread is important, however other factors like local market demand, the current Standard metagame, new set spoilers, and past evidence of utility should all also be considered if looking for potentially undervalued cards.

Last Thoughts

Spread can definitely be one of the more powerful tools for picking undervalued cards because vendors aren’t playing around when it comes to buylist – they’ve also done their homework to set prices where they want them, and if a buylist spread is getting smaller and smaller it usually is only a matter of time before that card’s retail price rises as well.

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