Unlocked Pro Trader: What I Learned By Acting Like A Desk Jockey

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So, I do stuff.

I write articles, I podcast, I perform in and host comedy shows, I’m a content manager for a website you may have heard me shill for and I have the most difficult and important job of all according to Oprah Winfrey – I’m a mother a Dad. Most of these things pay me money so that I can afford to stay home and not have to be a real adult. The result is that my “real adult job” skills have atrophied slightly. I was never much of a desk jockey to begin with since I mostly worked in laboratory settings but it’s safe to say that the last 5 years being an indoor cat have made things feel a little rusty. Today I decided to see if I could make myself enter a bunch of data into excel. I filled out 200 fields and wrote one formula and that was about the most I could manage without blasting a few fat rails of Adderall. Also, if you don’t have an Adderall perscription, don’t do fat rails of Adderall, it’s illegal. Also, if you do have an Adderall perscription, don’t do fat rails of Adderall, you’re not supposed to take it that way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I slaved to get this data done and it took way longer than it should have and now I get to analyze it finally, which is the fun part. I found some stuff. You know, the good stuff. $tuff.

What Did You Say You Were Going To Do Last Week?

I don’t remember.

What? I don’t. If you remember, tell me. Otherwise, let’s both refresh our memories. Basically, I thought about foil multipliers on the Top 100 EDHREC staples and whether we’d see any trends emerge if we calculated them for each card. Would artifacts in general have the highest? Would we see any trends within colors? I didn’t really find what I expected to find. What I found instead were much more specific findings (I found findings? Gross; nice prose, idiot.) that I think can be either extrapolated to predict things in the future (we like when this happens) and there are some discrepancies that we can exploit immediately (this is less valuable but we like it more when this happens despite it being less valuable. Go figure.) First up, let’s link the data.

 

It’s a google doc. I hope that’s acceptable.

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I expected to find some trends in the prices based on color or some other classification, but there are way too many variables. Number of printings, what kind of set the printings were in, foil printings to non-foil printings ratio, whether the foil was a promo or a set inclusion; just about everything was a factor and it’s impossible to make any macro conclusions. On a micro level, though, we can kind of see a few things emerge that we may be able to work with. While I can’t say “Green cards will have higher foil mutlipliers than Red cards” or anything categorically like I was hoping, being forced to drill down into specifics means I am looking more at individual cards and individual sets rather than colors or card types. Here’s what I found.

The Top 100 Is Popular Everywhere

These are the Top 100 cards used in EDH but, not all that surprisingly, not many of the cards are EDH-specific. Sure, there are format-specific staples like Rhytic Study and Chromatic Lantern and Commander’s Sphere but there are also a lot of cards like Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares that are just good cards and get play in the formats where they’re legal.

Cards that are popular outside of EDH get extra chances to get foils. That’s why out of the (why 4?) tutor cycle of Vampiric, Mystical, Enlightened and Worldly Tutor, Worldly doesn’t have a foil version because it’s only played in EDH, really whereas the others see enough Legacy and Vintage play to justify their inclusion there.

In fact, besides Worldly Tutor, there are only two other cards in the Top 100 EDH cards (per EDHREC, but who else is even tracking that?) that don’t have foil versions – Commander’s Sphere and Propaganda. I’m not sure what they can do for Propaganda, but Sphere can surely be jammed somewhere, even if it’s just a judge foil. “Just” a judge foil. I think Teferi’s Protection is a good choice for that sort of thing as well, meaning Sphere might end up in Limbo. It’s a good mana rock and it’s fairly ubiquitous, so finding a way to get us a foil would be ideal. I’d like to see another Commander’s Arsenal, but with only 3 of the format’s true staples left without foils, it’s probably not something that needs to be done right away. They did Commander’s Anthology instead and that worked out OK for everyone.

Creatures Seem Less “Safe”

A lot of things run the risk of reprinting, but not all reprints are created equal. A reprint in some sort of  product with foils can bring down the foil multiplier a bit, but other things can obliterate it. When Rhystic Study ended up in Commander’s Arsenal, the Commander’s Arsenal version ended up about $10 cheaper than the set foil version and the multiplier is at 2.1. It’s not terrible but it’s not great, either. Being a common certainly hurts the ability to be super crazy and not being also a Legacy and Vintage card like Brainstorm (foil multiplier of 18.2) hurts it since only EDH players are using Rhystic Study. But while 2.1 doesn’t seem astronomical, check out the two cards I highlighted in red because they have a multiplier of 0.9. That means the cheapest foil version (I went with the cheapest foil version for the calculations) is cheaper than the non-foil. This is a combination of a lack of desirability of the foil and the glut of copies on the market. Those two cards? Avenger of Zendikar and Sun Titan. Can you guess what links those two cards?

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That’s right. These duel decks farted out so many copies that the foil is actually cheaper than the non-foil for these two cards. That’s not to say they’re cheap – Avenger still goes for $6 for the duel deck version and $7 for the non-foil somehow. A few other duel deck cards like Elspeth Sun’s Champion are at a 1.0 multiplier. Not every card can be the marquee card of a duel deck but the ones that are see their foil prices crushed, at least for that version. It has a deleterious effect on the prices of the other foil versions but not to the extent that they’re all sub-1.0. Still, it’s something to watch out for. Spells seem like a safer bet since creatures, and I guess walkers, can end up in products like this. With Explorers of Ixalan coming out, it’s hard to predict what sort of product they’ll invent to give us reprints. Is Eternal Witness at risk of a reprint in a deck like this in foil? Not likely, but who knows what’s next?

Speaking of Green Creatures

Holy Mackerel were there strong metrics for Green creatures. I kind of expected big things from Green since it’s the best EDH color but I didn’t expect parity with Blue. This is where using multiplier as a metric can get kind of sticky so we’re just looking at numbers, we’re not drawing a ton of conclusions. Green has a lot of “I have been in every EDH set and a ton of products so I’m like $0.25 but I only have one foil printing that’s like $20” creatures like Wood Elves and that makes the multiplier a little ridiculous. Still, it’s worth knowing that cards that have been printed a ton can still be valuable if there weren’t a lot of foil printings. Wood Elves has more than one foil printing, curiously enough, but they’re all pretty valuable. Green creatures and Blue spells topped our list, not surprisingly. Also not surprisingly, the three Mono-Red cards in the Top 100 (Vandalblast, Chaos Warp and Blasphemous Act) all had one foil printing only and had multipliers of around 3, which is pretty low. I was hoping to learn some things about color groupings but this mostly just reinforced what we expected to find going in.

What I Found That Could Be Money

For whatever reason, Orzhov is not getting any respect. There were 5 Orzhov cards in the Top 10, which is an over-representation, really. No other guild really represented like that, and not surprisingly, they were good removal plus  Orzhov Signet. Anguished Unmaking is a great removal spell that Wizards had enough faith in to make a full art promo version of and the multiplier is 2.0. Utter End is similar. Even Mortify has $2 full art Player Rewards promos running around. These all seem too cheap and with as much as these cards get played coupled with the popularity of commanders like Edgar Markov and Wizards recent willingness to give us great Orzhov, Esper and Mardu commanders, the demand for these cards will only grow. You’re not getting cross-format demand for them, but they have sub-4.0 multipliers on 1st-class removal and they’re in popular colors. The Anguished Unmaking and Utter End promos and the Mortify promo are all buys as far as I am concerned. While the foil mutliplier data didn’t tell us as much as I had maybe hoped, it did help isolate some odd cards like this.

One more thing I will mention is this card.

This has a healthy 6.0 multiplier. I checked Star City for some of my prices for two reasons. One is that they have a lot in stock and don’t tend to list foils of good cards for really cheap and then run out of stock, meaning their numbers were more robust than most stores. Another reason is that when they sell out of stock, they leave the price it was when it sold out, meaning we know that this was very recently $8. It’s got a great trajectory and it’s hard to reprint. I like it less than I did last year but I feel the same way about my marriage so I can live with buying in now.

Foil Mulitiplier Can Be Like Spread

The lower it is, the more I like it as a buy (though not always, and less often with foil multiplier). Some of the cards are not a great buy because of where they were reprinted, but something like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion seems pretty strong to me. There are a ton of copies, but with a 1.0 multiplier, the foil is the cheapest copy available and has more upside since foils tend to grow exponentially (when the multiplier isn’t 1.0, anyway) if the growth is organic. Organic demand should theoretically push all copies at the same rate meaning the price will grow at the same time for foil and non-foil and therefore the foils have more upside. A lot of the cards with multipliers below 2.0 were in duel or Planeswalker decks as the marquee card and with those in every Walmart in North America, copies abound. Still, they are foils and people buying the best version and people buying the cheapest version are vying for the same copies in this instance only, which is curious. I think they have a good shot at recovering and being exposed to some upside. Not as much as regular foils, mind you, but with a lower upside exponent comes lower risk. I like Venser, the Sojourner, Utter End, Sylvan Library, Phyrexian Metamorph and Gilded Lotus of all the cards with multipliers below 2.0. The odds of another reprinting in foil seem very low and the odds of the cards growing in price because they’re the best at what they do is very high.

I didn’t find out as much as I wanted to by doing this exercise but since I spent all day on it, I figured at least publishing my findings was better than just not giving you an article. Besides, I found some stuff I like, and I linked the google doc with my numbers so you can read through and look for yourself. Do you  see anything in the tea leaves? Leave (heh) it in the comments and we’ll talk about it next week. Until then!

 

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7 thoughts on “Unlocked Pro Trader: What I Learned By Acting Like A Desk Jockey”

  1. You mean 99 top EDH staples, right? The no. 1 in the list (“card”) is not really a staple. And yes, I’d blame google sheets too!

    Just trolling you, you have so much data in this article that it may take me sometime going through all of it. Still, I’ll go ahead and say in advance “good job”, as usual.

  2. Sure. By copying a joke that a comedian you like had previously said… which is also about Oprah.

    I expected more than hacky joke theft. Aren’t professional writers supposed to be more careful about that?

    1. I’d say this is parallel thought at worst. I wouldn’t knowingly pass off someone else’s jokes as my own for lots of reasons, probably the least of which being that I’m a writer. Joke theft is a serious accusation and I’m having a hard time believing you’re not just trolling me. If you’re not, what sort of action would satisfy you? Attribution in the body of the article?

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