Putting the “U” Back in “Obvious”

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No.

I know what some of you are thinking. “This title is some clever pun about how there is a ‘u’ in ‘obvious’ and it’s a play on the word ‘you.'”

You’re so vain.

No, this article isn’t about you, it’s about EDH cards that make a nice, predictable shape on their price graphs—and how we can use that information to our advantage. If you want, we can talk about the factors that contribute to that shape. Just kidding, we’ll do it if I want, and I want. Sorry if you were looking forward to not learning anything today. Yes, I realize I promised this would be a series about EDH finance, but we still have to talk a little finance.

I feel like the EDH case is easier to make to the finance community than the finance case is to make to the EDH community. If you’re someone who just wants to slang some cards, why would you care about graph shapes?

Basically, my hope for this series is that I may be able to make some of this material accessible enough that someone who is interested in saving money but not interested in speculation or really even paying a ton of attention to the finance market can save some money on EDH staples they will buy at some point regardless. I also think people who are interested in finance but not terribly interested in learning all the idiosyncrasies of EDH can avoid making some mistakes with card buying. This is a concept that both groups can apply without having to learn a ton about what the other group is up to.  Would I hate it if this piece got passed around /r/EDH? Nope, not even a little.

Predictability

We could have made a  prediction about the price of a card like foil Chromatic Lantern and it may or may not have been true. The problem with making a prediction about the value of a card is that sometimes we put our blinders on and look at the price as something we view through a keyhole. We get one glimpse of the value as a fixed point in time and sometimes it jives with our prediction and sometimes it doesn’t. Most people don’t view finance this way anymore, preferring to see a graphical representation of price as being less static, which is preferable. Otherwise, trying to get a sense of a card and how it fits into the overall tableau of prices is akin to the proverb about the three blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and all having very different ideas about what the elephant looks like.

elephant-with-blind-men
Thought of the Week UK

How do we avoid their ridiculous fate and get a sense of what the next elephant will look like before we wait two years for enough data to see if our predictions panned out? Well, we could palpate said elephant for two years, or we could just look at a picture of an elephant and extrapolate. You’ve seen one elephant, you’ve seen them all: that’s how predictability works. So what does an elephant look like?

The Elephant in the Room

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The “elephant” metaphor is a goofy one, but I think it illustrates how sometimes we put our blinders on. We all do it. I bought foil Lanterns and it was for too much money. I sold foil Lanterns and it was for too little money.  How badly did I punt? Well, not terribly and in fact, I did really well by most MTG finance standards. However, I was groping around in the dark and making guesses based on my experience, which means I was in okay shape since I spend a lot of time doing this. However, when the blindfold came off and I saw the real picture, I felt a little foolish, like a guy who described an elephant as having two tails and no trunk because he spent too much time around the ass end. What did my elephant drawing look like?

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The black arrow represents where I bought my foil Lanterns and the red arrow represents where I sold. In for $10 (cash on site, no fees or shipping) and out for $17. A 70 percent gain is pretty good in this game, but not great. Now, am I kicking myself for not selling at $25? Nah, the window was too small. Still, now that I have the whole “hindsight is 20/20” picture, we could have easily doubled up and done a lot better. The thing is, I had ample opportunity to buy in at $7.50 (cheaper from players, although anyone who has a foil Lantern isn’t usually coming off of it for $7.50!)—longer than I had to buy in at $10. I was following the price so intently, waiting for it to come down from its initial price of $15, that I didn’t stop to consider that there is a right time to buy and I might not have been buying at the right time. Let’s look at the three parts of a clumsy elephant metaphor an elephant and see where we buy and where we either sell or dive into a theoretical swimming pool full of our theoretical “winnings” like Scrooge McDuck.

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Tail

This is a politer way to say “ass end.” It’s possible to buy too early, and when we’re dealing with EDH foils, impatience is a real thing. People are impatient about the cards they want to use to play Standard events, and EDH players have read the spoiler and identified the cards they want for their decks, and the foil people have already decided they want foils. Sometimes buying before the card really establishes itself means you can save money, especially since people tend to assume a two-times multiplier for foils even though the EDH foil multiplier is usually higher. Cards with no 60-card applicability are usually identified as EDH cards very early, and for this reason, it’s almost never a good idea to buy in early if you want a foil copy. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m lumping Cube in with EDH to an extent, which is convenient and not ridiculously intellectually lazy. Cube has nuances, but for the moment, we’ll assume Lantern is a 100 percent EDH card because I don’t feel like picking another example that has no cube applicability now that I’m this deep into the article.

It’s possible to buy too early and this is what happens in 99 percent of cases. If you think a card’s value can go up in the short term (like two to three weeks), preorder, I guess, but this very nearly never happens. If you’re impatient, understand you’re going to overpay and you deserve it. However, I almost bought in at the ass-end by buying in at $10. Buying in even earlier at $15 would have been the mistake I mostly managed to avoid.

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All you see is a foil non-mythic in the post-mythic era screaming out of the gates at $15. That’s pricey for a card in Return to Ravnica, a set that everyone knew would break sales records. If all you can see is the tail, you might think an elephant looks pretty ridiculous, but figure that’s how things are. You can buy in here if you want, but that’s almost never a good idea.

Trunk

Party! This is the upside area. We saw a decline and then the price started ticking up. If this happens after the card rotates out of Standard and it has no use in Modern or Legacy, it is EDH playability, Cube desirability, and casual appeal that will buoy the price. And buoy the price these things did, sending Lantern to $25 for a brief, shining moment. It will see $25 again, and relatively soon. They aren’t printing more unless they do another Commander’s Arsenal, and even then, the set foil will maintain most if not all of its value.

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If you’re inclined to sell, this might be a time to do it. You can buy here if you want the card, just like you could have if you were impatient. But the relationship between the trunk and tail is a special one because sometimes people don’t check out the midsection and end up losing out. How? It’s probably pretty easy for you to figure that out—incomplete information leads to incorrect conclusions.

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If you imagine someone who checked the price of foil Lantern when preorders went out and decided it was too expensive and decided to wait a while for the price to go down and checked after rotation, you can imagine them seeing the price be roughly the same and assuming the price didn’t go anywhere. Finance people check prices a lot more often, and people trying to find a deal may check more often than that, but we’re illustrating a point here.

Cards that are EDH staples have a nice, predictable U shape to their price graphs, and we can use that to our advantage. If you ignore the $15 at both points of the U because you know what the shape is going to look like, you’re in good shape.

“Got it. Don’t pay too much for cards. Great article, moron.”

The point here isn’t that you should pay attention to prices, although you should, The point isn’t that you should avoid paying too much by buying too early or too late, although you should.  Did you already know that a card like Lantern would start high, get lower, and go back up? Great, so did I. And yet, I was a blind man fumbling around to an extent. I knew that prices would go down because supply would go up as more packs were opened and the set was drafted, but my buying activity was still suboptimal. I bought below $15 thinking I was being smart and I still ended up overpaying. I paid too much attention to the numbers on the graph when the letters were just as important.

“Letters?”

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Peak supply happens when the set is just about to stop being drafted. People redeemed foil sets of RTR for the shocks and gave zero craps about EDH cards. People busted a foil Lantern in a draft somewhere in the world probably once a day.  Why buy in for $10 in March 2013 just because $10 is less than $15 when the price was $2 cheaper a month later? Did I know that would happen? Well, no, but it was pretty predictable, wasn’t it? In hindsight, of course it was. And that is what we want to do in the future.

The Next Elephant

The next card that will follow this pattern will be an EDH staple, likely one printed in Battle for Zendikar. It will preorder at a very high price initially based on Cube and EDH hype. At peak supply, the price will fall. It will likely flag until rotation or after rotation and then it will begin to tick back up as copies dry up and people build more decks.  A lot of the cards in Battle for Zendikar will do this because of how supply and demand works, but EDH cards don’t have other factors obscuring their fates. EDH staples also have the distinction of being identified as desirable foils irrespective of how they fit into Standard.  We can predict an early over-evaluation, a decline, and upside. Does this work for non-staples? Not usually.

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What’s going on here?

I think I may start ending every article with a “Why isn’t this card worth more?” discussion question. So why aren’t we seeing our sexy U shape here? Is Progenitor Mimic not ubiquitous enough? Does it not get played as much as we thought it would? It has no Cube applicability like we see with Lantern, so does that mean EDH needs to take the hit for all of its price? Was it speculated on early driving the price up artificially? Are we done seeing a decline and seeing the best time to buy in? Does it have room to fall?

Understanding what is going on with Progenitor Mimic is going to help us figure out what to do the next time we see a card that looks insane in EDH, so let’s revisit Mimic next week There’s a lot going on here, and if we decide this is a good time to buy, $12 into a probable $20 feels pretty good if we can avoid getting eaten alive by fees at both ends.

Let’s start talking about Mimic in the comments and the forums and we’ll have our heads right when we revisit next week. Until then!

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9 thoughts on “Putting the “U” Back in “Obvious””

  1. I had actually just picked foil Mimic as the next card too pick up for personal use as I had assumed I’d missed the bottom of the U, checked the price and was surprised it had actually decreased.

    I do just wonder if it was initially hyped was too much and then most of the casuals just forgot about it and like me had it firmly in the “its too expensive” category. I know i was assuming it would a $30 foil at this point

    1. It seems likely that the initial hype was from people reading the card, it identifying itself as an EDH sledgehammer and a relatively small number of vendors having foils initially and setting the price arbitrarily and the market not having enough data points to disagree. Why sell cheaper to set the price at a more reasonable level when there are very few sellers and you are a sucker if you sell way cheaper? A more copies hit, the price more accurately reflected demand, but I think it’s rebounding. The card is insane, and it goes in UG which is the most insane color combination in EDH.

  2. Cards I’ve been picking up as EDH foils include Urborg, ToY and Cyclonic rift. But I’ve been mainly shooting in the dark as well I’ll admit (well, I also lean on your guidance for help sometimes). I’ll try to be more conscious of when I buy into EDH foils in the future…there will likely be a lot of opportunity for Dragons of Tarkir as it nears the end of being drafted, right?

    1. Sig, keep in mind that there have been three foil printings of Urborg, and that’s going to keep the price down, relatively.

      Lantern was in one set, no alternate foil methods, no original foils to chase if you’re a purist.

      1. I understand there are more foil Urborgs out there. But despite having the same artwork, the Planar Chaos foil is like 3-4x more than the M15 foil. Is that large of a price discrepancy merited?

        Also, while growth may not be as large, I’m not sure foil Urborg goes down from here right? Admittedly I have more foil Cyclonic Rifts than Urborgs, so in essence I’m agreeing with your caution. Just opening up the debate a bit more :).

    2. Not a big fan of Urborg foils for supply reasons. Cyc rift is a good card to focus on. I still don’t like its multiplier.

  3. What are your thoughts on the foil Theros Gods or foil Sliver Hivelord for the long term? They seem like they will be EDH staples for the long haul and will see a similar U curve. The only problem is that their buy-in price is already high right now at around $20/per, so unless they dip more, maybe there won’t be enough of an upside to make it worth it…?

  4. Someone tell me something… why isn’t consuming aberration like a hot EDH card?

    Doesn’t this guy turn into like an 84/84 in almost every EDH game?

    1. It kind of is, but there are a ton of copies floating around. I like tapping it with Phenax! It will tick up over time, but with it being in the precon packs, supply hasn’t been outstripped by demand yet, and may never be. It’s good, but fringey.

      Look at something like Nemesis of Reason to see what the next few years have in store for Abberation

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