All posts by James Chillcott

Pro-Trader Ixalan: MTGFinance Live Blog (Day 2)

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So what did we learn on Day 1 of Pro Tour Ixalan?

So far, the weekend looks pretty quiet on the financial front. None of the major teams seem to have broken this format, showing up with a deck that was capable of dominating the meta across the board. Rather we have seen a smattering of rogue decks rolling forward shoulder to shoulder with the established staple decks of this season: Temur/4C Energy and Ramunap Red.

As a refresher, here is what people brought into the tournament:

From the perspective of Standard management, this result has to be seen as problematic for Wizards of the Coast as the various energy decks combined for almost 50% of the metagame. Clearly the energy mechanic provides too much bonus value when stapled to otherwise normally costed cards and printed in enough depth to support multiple configurations. Because many of the cards in those decks are in common or uncommon, and have been known quantities for a while now, there hasn’t been much in the way of fresh action from the financial angle. It’s tough to make money on Attune With Aether but at least this format has been a bit cheaper than some previous seasons.

The Amonkhet block has provided the backbone of a couple of additional shells, including Ramunap Red (still good) and the constantly evolving God-Pharoah’s Gift decks. The decks heavy on cards from the block make up about 35% of the field. Angel of Invention was a mythic card from the Gift decks that also showed up in B/W tokens and put in some work on camera Friday, but has yet to show any price momentum. This seems correct unless multiple decks running the card push into Top 8 and/or win the tourney.

Thus far, the only truly interesting new shell this weekend was found in the hands of Wilson Hunter, who brought a mono-white vampire aggro deck that helped him get to 7-1 on Day 1. Financially, Legion’s Landing, Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle and Metallic Mimic are likely the cards to watch here. Landing is already close to $5, so you’d be preying for $10+ to justify targeting play sets. Metallic Mimic is closer to $10 already, and feels like a definite sell almost regardless of what happens with this deck. Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle is currently under $1, so that might be the right move if Wilson makes Top 8.

Vraska, Relic Seeker Setting up for $30?
One of the only cards to generate notable price movement Friday was Vraska, Relic Seeker. Closer to the release of Ixalan it was widely assumed that Vraska, as a six-mana planeswalker, would likely be relegated to the role of a single copy late game plan in some mid-range decks. Instead, we’ve seen versions of Abzan Tokens running a robust three copies in the main, occasionally leaning on the anti-enchantment capabilities of the pirate captain to clear out problematic God-Pharoah’s Gifts and Anointed Processions. In combination with one main/one sideboard demand from Sultai Energy, this has lead to an overnight 15-20% increase on the card, now sitting just over $20. Look for a potential jump toward $30 if the card features prominently in the latter half of the weekend as online inventory is already looking low as speculators wonder whether Vraska might be the next Gideon, Ally of Zendikar or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Hazoret the Fervent

Hazoret, the Fervent continues to show up in both Ramunap Red and the BR Aggro decks that make for a combined 25% of the tournament. The card can currently still be found for $16-18 and might be more deserving of a push to $30 than Vraska. Inventory seems stable so far, but if the Day 1 undefeated Yam Wing Chun pushes deep into Day 2 on the deck, then consider paying closer attention.

Heading into the five final rounds of Standard this afternoon, our financial radar should be tuned to whether the smattering of fresh decks have converted into Day 2 runs at a higher % than the more established decks and whether the rebel decks push deep and challenge for Top 8.

Follow along with us this afternoon as we keep pace with the pros to help you guys make and save some money.

Round 12 (Standard)

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We get to see Matignon (Jeskai Approach) and Maynard (UW Gift) going at it, but this is not a good matchup for Maynard, as Matignon counters both God-Pharaoh’s Gift and Refurbish every time over two games.

Baral, Chief of Compliance is a spicy addition to the control deck, doing everything you’d want early and late. Search for Azcanta looks great in this matchup too, but Baral has already enabled Storm in Modern. It would take a bit more play, or a lot more camera time, for the wizard to spike.

We are told that four Settle the Wreckage are in Matignon’s deck, and at only $5, that is tempting to deal with both Hazoret and The Scarab God.

Maynard has a couple of Hostile Desert in the deck, as a way to get use out of the lands shoveled into his yard, but I doubt it’ll get any traction this weekend.

The side match between PVDDR and Turtenwald highlight some variations in energy lists, notably a black splash for Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, a card that can really run away with a game.

Round 13 (Standard)

Matignon is back on camera and the deck performs flawlessly, casting Approach on successive turns to look unstoppable.

The sideboarded games are another matter, and just a couple of Spell Pierces and Negates are good enough to get Mike Sigrist the match win. Notably, Matignon got Search down turn two in the game he won and didn’t see it either of the other games.

If Search gets down to $10 when we are done with Ixalan drafting, it’ll be a solid pick to bump up to $15 or $20 at this point next year. The casual demand for the card is leeching a lot of supply.

The secondary match is the delightful mono-White Vampires list, and a second deck using Angel of Invention might be enough to move this card.

Shaheen Sorani on a deck tech sings the praises of Supreme Will and Censor, and also has two Hour of Devastation, a sweeper not seeing much play currently. The one-of Field of Ruin is a bold choice!

Day 2 Metagame Breakdown!

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The breakdown shows how badly the Vampires deck and the UW Approach deck surprised the field. Five players are on the white deck and they all made Day 2! Mr. Fein, your spike is calling!

Round 14 (Standard)

This is Matignon’s third round straight on camera, and he’s against Seth Manfield this time, playing a Sultai build of the energy deck.

On Friday, I highlighted Glint-Sleeve Siphoner as a card I loved going into the weekend, and it’s nice to see it providing a steady stream of cards for the 11th ranked player.

Settle the Wreckage looks terrible here, as those extra basics become fuel for Walking Ballista and Manfield takes the opener. Not a lot of decks are set up to use the extra mana, but this cashes in big. If this is all that we see from that card, then it won’t bump above its current $5-$6.

Winding Constrictor and Longtusk Cub win game two for Manfield, who didn’t even need the Blossoming Defense in hand.

Lots of these decks are running Nissa, Steward of Elements as a sideboard card, and the amount of camera time she’s getting will likely bump her to above $10 by next weekend.

 

Deck Tech: Patrick Chapin’s RW Approach

Only 3 Approach of the Second Sun

4 Gideon of the Trials
4 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
3 Fumigate
2 Sweltering Suns
2 Ixalan’s Binding
3 Settle the Wreckage
2 Treasure Map
3 Sunbird’s Invocation

“The Innovator” showed up with the instant-win combo of Sunbird’s Invocation and Approach of the Second Sun. As he pointed out, if the Invocation is out and you cast Approach, then reveal a second Approach, the one you cast first will win you the game.

The rest is removal, and if the Vampires deck takes off, Sweltering Suns seems extremely well positioned to see a lot of play and spike in price.

Round 15

Owen Turtenwald (Temur Energy) vs. Pascal Maynard (UW Gift)

Angel of Invention is putting on a clinic, and if Maynard gets the Top 8 berth then the Angel might jump over $10 soon. Game one to the man who picked the foil Goyf at the GP Vegas 2015 Top 8 draft.

Game two, Maynard hits Replenish on turn four and cheats the Gift into play, but can’t force the game to go long, and Turtenwald runs rampant.

Game three is extremely swingy, and some extremely difficult decisions from each player. God-Pharaoh’s Gift is a very powerful strategy that doesn’t play four of its namesake card. It’s not even legendary, but if it was a four-of then it would have potential financially.

Wilson Hunter is one round away from making Mavren Fein a $5 card. It’ll be hard to buy in the $1 range now and turn it around for a profit, so your play is to take all the bulk copies you have handy and dump them in trades or buylists when they spike. The profit you’re going to get otherwise just isn’t worth it.

Round 16

Kentaro Yamamoto is on Ramunap Red, and he’s playing Owen Turtenwald. This is one of the defining matchups of current Standard, and it’s exciting to watch, even if not terribly financially relevant.

Yamamoto wins in three games, and the only card of interest was a Harsh Mentor showing up from Yamamoto which didn’t do much damage. The card seems good against the Cub/Hydra/Virtuoso abilities in Temur though. It’s rather niche, but it’s got potential if that’s widely adopted as sideboard tech.

The last feature match has Reid Duke with Temur energy (again!) against Samuel Ihlenfeldt who’s playing a Mardu Vehicles build, and after a billion Rogue Refiners today, it’s sort of nice to see Toolcraft Exemplar again!

Ihlenfeldt has some Dusk // Dawn action and it is a super solid card in this deck, so if he makes top 8 that’s got strong takeoff potential as an answer to much of the Temur deck. He also uses the Dawn side to return two Walking Ballista to his hand, and that ends up winning him the match.

Clearly Dusk // Dawn is the financial winner from his deck, and at $1.50 it’s got a lot of room to grow. Let’s see if he makes top 8, and get ready to sell into the hype if it lands!

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Pro-Trader Ixalan: MTGFinance Live Blog

The battles rage on at Pro Tour Ixalan. The players have now completed the first three rounds of draft, and we are now facing the five rounds of Standard that will help define the evolving Standard metagame leading into the holiday season.

Follow along this weekend as we live blog relevant details as they appear!

3:49pm EST: Coverage desk calls out the following cards as likely to be pivotal this weekend:

  • Hazoret, the Fervant: Ramunap Red + BR Aggro
  • Fatal Push: Multi-Shell Removal Staple
  • Longtusk Cub: Key threat in the energy decks
  • Approach of the Second Sun: Control win condition
  • Anointed Procession: key deck at US Nationals, vulnerable to specific hate cards
  • The Scarab God: format defining finisher that the meta pivots around in multiple shells
  • Ramunap Ruins: card of the weekend at Pro Tour Hour of Devestation, deck is still good
  • Gate to the Afterlife: defined a new archetype, though a fringe one
  • Glorybringer: Major Temur Energy threat

Round 4 (Standard Round 1): Josh Utter-Leyton (4C Energy) vs. Yuki Matsumoto (4C Tokens)

Josh is running multiple copies of Vraska. He also has Nissa, Steward out of the sideboard. They players split the first two games one a piece. Game 3 turns into a late game duel between The Scarab God on Josh’s side and Anointed Procession shenanigans for Matsumoto. A Hostage Taker swings the tide and Yuki takes the match to go to 4-0.

Round 4 (Standard Round 1): Marc Tobiasch (4C Energy) vs. ???

Riddleform and Enigma Drake making an appearance in a spicy energy brew from Niels Noorlander.

Round 4 (Standard Round 1): Xiao Han (4C Energy) vs. Michael Maurici (Oketra’s Monument)

Michael is running Trial of Solidarity in this Monument brew but he loses the match to fall to 3-1.

Deck Tech #1: Phillip Braverman on Mono-White Vampires

Phillip outlines that he feels the deck is favored against major decks in the format including Ramunap Red and Temur Energy. Angel of Invention used here to gum up the board and build the army. Tons of exile effects to deal with the multiple threats in the format that need that handling. Phillip has only won his first Standard match with the deck so far.

  • 4x Adanto Vanguard
  • 2x Duskborne Skymarcher
  • 3x Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
  • 4x Metallic Mimic
  • 4x Legion Conquistador
  • 4x Legion’s Landing
  • 3x Angel of Invention
  • 4x Aviary Mechanic
  • 4x Oketra’s Monument
  • 3x Scavenger Gounds
  • 2x Cast Out
  • 1x Thopter Arrest
  • 3x Ixalan’s Binding
  • 15x Plains
  • 4x Shefet Dunes

Day 1 Metagame

Metagame breakdown for Game 1 seems to indicate that the major pro team were unable to do more than tweak the existing archetypes for this Pro Tour. While there are certainly a small number of rogue decks, they do not seem to be in position to break the tournament and shift the meta in significant fashion.

Round 5: Jeskai Approach (Guillaume Matignon) vs. Temur Energy (Paul Reistzl)

Matignon is playing an updated version of U/W control with Approach of the Second Sun and Harnessed Lightning. Matignon takes Game 1 after stabilizing at six life and setting up the Approach of the Second Sun clock with Paul stuck holding irrelevant cards.

On a back table in a match between Wilson Hunter and Scott Lipp, a crazy board state emerges that revolves around God-Pharoah’s Gift, Angel of Invention, Hostage Taker and Oketra’s Monument. Paul Cheon mentions that the lower number of Abrade in the format turns on the higher potential for artifacts.

Round 5: White Vampires (Wilson Hunter) vs. Scott Lipp (Esper God=Phraoah’s Gift)

These players split their first two games off camera. In Game 3, Metallic Mimic does some good work on camera for Hunter, in coordination with a flipped Legion’s Landing. Hunter takes the match to advance to 4-1.

Metallic MimicAdanto, the First Fort

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Dech Tech #2: Gerrard Fabiano (Sultai Pummeler)

Gerrard is on a new Sultai build of the Electrostatic Pummeler decks we saw earlier this year. He outlined that his team was doing very well with the deck on Magic Online so they decided to see if they could surprise the field.

Graphic by MTGGoldfish.com

Round 6: WB Tokens (Pascal Vieren) vs. UW God-Pharoah’s Gift (Pascal Maynard)

Both of these players come into the round at 4-1. The first game goes super long, with Marnard ending up with a stacked board but just two cards left in his deck. Vieren saves the day with a Fumigate and takes the first one. In Game 2 Maynard seems to be on his heels, when he manages to establish a hasty flying board presence via Angel of Invention that allows him to even things up. The third game goes to a one minute time extension and the downsides to playing super grindy decks in the mirror comes to forefront as the players draw.

Dech Tech #3: Temur Riddleform

This deck looks to set up shop by controlling the game tempo, forcing players to hold up mana rather than committing threats in the face of incoming flying threats. Sharing several elements with more traditional Temur builds may throw some opponents off.

RiddleformEnigma Drake

Round 7: PVD (4C Energy) vs. Gabriel Nassif (Esper God-Pharoah’s Gift)

PVD takes this one in extra turns after Nassif receives a slow play warning.

Dech Tech #4: Adam Jensen on Mono Black Aggro

This deck is similar to the BR Aggro decks, but without Hazoret and Lightning Strike to run faster and smooth mana handling. Adam says the Temur match up is good.

Round 8: Xiao Han (4C Energy) vs. Yam Wing Chun (Ramunap Red)

Both of these players came into this round at 7-0. In Game 1, 4C Energy withstands the early onslaught from Chun and takes over the game with Chun stuck on three lands. Game 1 to Han. In Game 2 Chun is able to apply a ton of early pressure, force some bad blocks from Han, and even things up. Chun takes the third game as well and puts red aggro at 8-0 on the day.

White vampires deck is now sitting at 6-1 facing BBD, with the first two games split already. Wilson manages to get to 7-1 and set up a potentially great weekend for a new deck.

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Pro-Trader Ixalan: Financial Preview

Welcome to Pro Tour Ixalan weekend! The 1st Pro Tour of the new 2017-2018 season and the final major individual event of the 2017 calendar is all set to explore the meta  anew over in Alberquerque, New Mexico this weekend.

Heading into the event the primary question from a financial perspective is whether the pros have managed to make use of the extra five weeks from the release of Ixalan to the Pro Tour to break out of the relatively settled metagame and set up shop with a fresh deck that can consistently prey upon the expected meta.

As per usual the best players in the world have been posted up in their respective testing zones for the last week or two, all seeking to locate the testing edge that will help them succeed on the game’s biggest stage.

With $250,000 USD on the line, and  $40,000 for the champ, players looking to Top 8 need to display both skill and luck to win through.

Negate
The most played card in Standard via Magic Online at present.

Taking a look at the results from the last major StarCityGames Tour Standard tournament, the Top 8 field features mostly familiar elements from the Sultai/Temur Energy, Ramunap Red, Control meta that we seem to be living in this fall. Here was the Top 8 from SCG Open Dallas, Sep 30th.

  1. Sultai Energy
  2. Ramunap Red
  3. Sultai Energy
  4. U/W Approach
  5. U/W Approach
  6. Four-Color Energy
  7. Four-Color Energy
  8. Esper Gift

The most notable deck in that list is the Esper Gift list that featured four copies each of Angel of Invention and Champion of Wits and two copies of God-Pharoah’s Gift.

Meanwhile over on Magic Online, the meta seems to be featuring variations on the following decks:

Looking over those Magic Online results, the decks most likely to generate price momentum would most likely come from Mardu Vehicles, Abzan Tokens or B/R Aggro, since those decks have been mostly under the radar in recent weeks.

For us finance types, this weekend is not an ideal hunting ground. If Standard stays settled, it will limit the price movement of the key cards, many of which are already riding high.  Even key cards in some of the tier two decks like Abzan Tokens are already quite high. Anointed Processon for instance is an Amonkhet rare sitting close to $10. Format design is also contributing to the limited financial opportunities, with nine of the ten most played cards being commons or uncommons, and Glorybringer being the only rare or mythic to make that list. Also of relevance is our temporal position vs. the holiday season with many Magic players limiting their spending in anticipation of purchasing gifts. This can easily put a damper on buylist and retail card values in Standard players trade in cards to cover their bills. Countering these factors is the absence of Masterpieces in Ixalan, as well as the relatively shallow pool of Standard playable mythics in the set, which combines to leave room for key rares to float closer to $10 than the $3-5 we’ve been used to from popular rares in the last few sets.

Glorybringer
Is this the most undervalued staple in Standard?

All of this adds up to an event that is likely to generate the usual number of hype spikes, but may not be able to sustain those prices heading into next week unless a truly dominant strategy emerges.

As per usual, it is worth noting that the Pro Tour currently requires that players succeed in a mixed schedule of booster draft (IXL/IXL/IXL) and Standard play with 3 rounds of draft Friday afternoon , followed by 5 rounds of Standard starting around 4pm EST/1pm PST.

Will any of the teams find a way to unlock a hot new deck with solid game against the entire field? Will a fringe deck from the early weeks of the format suddenly end up perfectly positioned to take off? Will there be a chance to get in on a must-have card that shows early promise or will the hype train leave the bandwagon speculators out in the cold without enough buyers come Monday morning? Follow along as we explore Pro Tour Ixalan all weekend!

Editor’s Note: We will not be providing round by round coverage this weekend, but will provide relevant notes as the weekend progresses. 

Cards to Watch

Heading into this Pro Tour stop, many of the most obvious specs have already played out and plenty of advance speculation has been going down. The potential for further spikes is still on deck, but so is the strong likelihood that some of these specs will collapse when they inevitably fail to join the central meta narrative of the weekend.

Here are a few of the interesting cards that seem like they should be on our radar this weekend:

Walking Ballista: Jack of All Trades

Walking Ballista

Walking Ballista sees three or four of play in both Esper Gift and Sultai Energy so it’s value in the format largely depends on whether it can make it to Sunday in one or both decks. With additional play in Vintage, Modern and Legacy, supply is currently at a moderate level with an already high rare price tag of $14. At that price the risk of stagnation likely outweighs the potential to top $20 coming out of this weekend, but I still like the $20 foils longer term.

Current Price: $14
Predicted Price Monday: $16-18 (on 8+ copies Top 8)
Odds to Top 8: 3 to 2

Angel Esper Gift: Tuned to Succeed?

Angel of InventionGod-Pharaoh's Gift

We talked about this deck at the last Pro Tour, but it didn’t really get there. Basically the plan here is to get a bunch of good creatures in your yard and then start overwhelming your opponent by bringing them back more often than they can find removal or good blocks to deal with them. Just like last time, I won’t be surprised if this pairing of cards makes the Top 8, but I will be surprised if they dominate the tournament. Gate is an uncommon in plentiful supply, and Gift is a two-of in the deck, so those aren’t the targets here. Angel of Invention is the most noatable mythic in the list, and is run as a four-of, so a deep run this weekend could potentially move its’ price from $4 to something closer to $10.

Current Price: $4
Predicted Price Monday: $8-10 (on Top 8)
Odds to Top 8: 6 to 1

Grey Confidant: Multi-Deck Staple?

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner

This could quietly be setting up as one of the more undervalued cards in the format.  This poor man’s Dark Confidant is a typical four-of in both BR Aggro and Sultai Energy builds and both of those decks have a solid shot at running deep in this tournament. If 12+ copies of this card land in the Top 8 it isn’t a tremendous stretch to imagine that the relatively low supply could get attached, resulting in a spike over $5.

Current Price: $2
Predicted Price Monday: $5-6 (On multiple deck Top 8s)
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Hazoret, the Fervant: Top Tier Mythic

Hazoret the Fervent

Mono-red aggro decks have made up 10%+ of the online meta for months, and there is little sign that anyone has figured out how to tame their more aggressive draws consistently. Hazoret was much more interesting around $8, so the potential to push up to a new plateau from the current price of 15-$18 depends almost entirely on how engaged the Magic player base stays in Standard heading out of this event. Current versions of the Ramunap Red deck tend to run the full complement of four copies of Hazoret in the main, so increased interest in the deck this winter could result in Hazoret peaking over $30. Additional demand from an emerging BR aggro deck could also help this along. Personally I don’t have enough confidence in format participation to take a stab at a $30/playset profit, but do as you will given that current online inventory is relatively modest.

Current Price: $18
Predicted Price Monday: $22
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Anointed Procession: Tokens In Position?

Anointed Procession

Abzan Tokens has been making  inroads on Magic Online lately, with a list that features three copies of mythic Vraska, Relic Seeker, as well as four copies of Legion’s Landing, Fumigate and Anointed Procession as notable rares. This deck has the capability to generate a ton of life and a ton of tokens, and a good showing deep in this event might be enough to put a bunch of players on it for FNM usage. In that case Anointed Procession, already buoyed a bit by casual and EDH demand, could gain some ground and Legion’s Landing would also have a shot at hitting a value closer to $10 than $5.

Current Price: $10
Predicted Price Monday: $14+ (on Top 8)
Odds to Top 8: 2 to 1

Heart of Kiran: Fresh Attack From Above?

Heart of Kiran

Mardu Vehicles was a dominant presence in the first half of last season, but has fallen off heading into the fall tournament cycle. Just lately, versions of the deck running essentially zero cards from Ixalan have been putting up solid results yet again, both online and in paper. These builds still run the full four copies of Heart of Kiran, and as a $5 mythic, the potential is there for a strong spike if the deck shows up in force, puts up good Day 2 conversion rates, and lands a copy in the Top 8. On the other hand, none of the other decks run this card, so if Mardu doesn’t get there, you can expect it to stagnate.

Current Price: $5
Predicted Price Monday: $10+ (on Top 8)
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Stay tuned for our MTGFinance coverage of Pro Tour: Ixalan throughout the weekend!

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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Exiting Dead Specs Via Buylists: A Case Study

Buylists aren’t generally my thing. In my mind selling to a buylist often feels like admitting a mistake. If I bought in a card at $10, why should I sell it to a buylist for $12-14 if the going market rate is $20, and I can still get over $16 after fees and shipping? Most of the time I’m aiming for specs to succeed at a level where selling them less than 5% below the lowest TCG NM price is a legitimate option. If I bought Masterpiece Sol Rings in Europe last winter for $72 by the dozen, I really want my exit to as close to $200 as possible, and generally, by selecting the right specs and being reasonably patient these goals are achieved.

The thing is, if you’re really deep on a card, and they’re selling ok, but tend to sell slowly, AND you have solid leads on better specs, turning over your inventory to set up your superior reinvestment is still worth a look.

At present, my goal for MTGFinance speculation is a return on investment in excess of 50% per annum. For 2017, I’m currently on track to beat 65%, but aiming lower is safer for planning purposes.

If you’re used to traditional methods of investing this will seem like a fairly ambitious target, but if you’ve got some money tied up in Bitcoin (up over 800% in the last year!), you’ll probably stop reading at this point and go back to planning your vacation home.

In 2017, based on my reasonable success over the last couple of years, I’ve ramped up my MTGFinance investments to 30% of what I invest overall in a given year across all assets. The collection, and my hobby, is now utterly self sufficient and detached from my wallet, meaning that I am reinvesting everything I make back into the hobby without the need to extract any funds to cover bills and such, or add any funds to invest or play.

Image result for gatherer approach of the second sunMutavault

That being said, in MTGFinanace, as with most investments, the elimination of error and risk is virtually impossible. You can’t rely on winning all the time, so you need to dodge your worst possible outcomes by adjusting how deep you go based on your confidence level as informed by your spec selection logic. You can read more about rating specs over here.

In essence, you know that some reasonable % of your specs are going to fail to stay flat or even lose value, so you need to ensure that the ones that succeed, do so at levels far above your average stock portfolio. In short, your wins need to cover your losses AND provide your profits. When you’re starting out, you’re going to make plenty of mistakes. My specs are stored organized by date of purchase, and the quality of specs in 2017 is significantly better than from 2015 or 2013 tracking directly with my accumulation of knowledge, contacts, practice and lessons learned the hard way.

For those of us who have a closet or shelf dedicated to our specs, there is inevitably a box of shame in the mix. For me, there are a couple of under-performing long boxes, including a mixture of long shot specs that still haven’t hit a few years later, cards that have done well, but that are slow to sell or that sell one at a time (usually because they are EDH cards), and some cards that haven’t moved much since I invested but seem at an unreasonably high risk of reprint and are likely safer to exit from.

So a few weeks back I got curious: if I got my hands dirty in the back of my spec closet, could I mine untapped value and turn some of my least impressive specs into something special via a large buylist order. Because I’m in Canada, tracked shipping that would meet the buylist requirements to have my cards arrive within about a week was going to be about $20USD, so I resolved to attempt to pull together a $1000+ order than would diffuse that cost almost entirely.

Recalling that CardKindom and MTGDeals were often two of the more aggressive buylists recommended by my peers, I spent 30 minutes or so quickly price checking 40-50 cards that met at least one of the following criteria:

  • low on my priority list to post for sale if not yet posted (only a fraction of my specs are posted for sale at any given time, as I only have 5-10 hours/week to spend on this aspect of the hobby)
  • higher than average risk of reprint in 2017-2018
  • solid gains, but slow to move
  • higher than average buylist offers vs. retail price
  • recently peaking but at risk of retracing to a lower price plateau

I also cross referenced against recent price trends and likely alternate sale prices and pace on TCGPlayer.com and Ebay.

Here’s what I ended up pulling out of the closet and shipping to Card Kingdom after they end up proving out to have the best offer on my cards:

Average return per annum of 34% on some of your most ignored specs is nothing to sneeze at.

Let’s take a closer look at what I sent in here.

Mutavault, Chord of Calling, Nykthos, Shrine to Nix, and Temur Battle Rage foils were specs I went fairly deep on when they hit their lows, but which I was selling out of too slowly for my liking. Mutavault seemed especially likely to see a reprint in a tribal heavy year of releases, and I was fortunate to exit when I did given the sweet GP Promo version that was announced shortly after I sent in my order.

Many of the others, including Chasm Skulker, Grasp of Fate, Mizzix’s Mastery, Crystalline Crawler, Urza’s Incubator  and the Masterpiece Extraplanar Lens and Rings of Brighthearth were solid EDH specs that carry the disadvantage of selling a copy at a time if they aren’t buylisted. For cards that I get really low, that later climb above $10, I don’t mind terribly shipping them out in a plain white envelope with a $1 stamp, but loading them into a $3k buylist order saves me a couple of hundred dollars total in shipping, as well as the time I would have spent packaging them and mailing them individually. That’s a nice piece of shadow profit to hold against the below market revenues from the buylist.

Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice was one of my first forays into targeting popular commanders, and it was clearly a successful one. However, I fully expect this card to show up as a judge promo foil or something in the next couple of years, and the margin here was good enough to dodge that risk entirely on the fairly sizeable number of remaining copies I was holding, give the pace of EDH staple sales, and the fact that Atraxa is no longer the flavor of the month after the recent Commander 2017 releases and the constant stream of interesting new commanders in Standard legal sets.

The Urza’s Incubators were just lying around in the “Super Collection” I bought in the summer of 2015, and since that project was already wildly profitable and all expenses were covered by it’s resale in Dec 2015, anything I find in the leftovers these days I just assign a nominal cost to in my sales records so as not to throw the profit figures too far out of whack.

Approach of the Second Sun has an uncertain future in Standard, so profit taking there on my remaining sixty copies seemed like a solid move given that the first forty copies I sold on Ebay had already made the spec from last spring worthwhile. Ditching my last playset of Hazoret may have been premature, since that deck doesn’t seem to be going anywhere but I reasoned that if the meta stays narrow at and after Pro Tour Ixalan, people may end up less interested in Standard and profit taking this winter may get tricky. Potentially better to be out clean on a one trick pony, with one fewer spec to track.

All in all, very few of these cards were things I felt deserved my attention as priority specs in the current context and the opportunity to turn over these dead ends/time intensive exits in one fell swoop was too good to ignore. Not needing any of them for my own decks was a solid kicker.

By the numbers, this was 17 different cards spread across a total of 368 total copies. My original cost on the pile was $1676.95, and I expected to receive very close to the promised $2820USD after inspection by Card Kingdom as I hold myself to strict grading under strong light. In the end, I did get dinger on a few cards in the order, but the total reduction was less than 2% and I ended up with $2752 in store credit. Had I taken cash it would have been 30% less. Generally speaking, since I am always buying specs, I am happy to take the credit bonus from any major retailer knowing that they will have inventory I want soon enough. If I was selling to a smaller operator however, that might not have suitable targets or not have them all that often, I would almost certainly take the cash.

All told, I held these specs for an average of 610 days, or a few months less than two years. This is by no means my usual target exit horizon  of three to twelve months, but that’s to be expected for a pile of cards that I was largely ignoring at the back of the spec closet and the key reason I decided to try and exit on some of them in the first place. Surprisingly, the total profit was still a shade over 64%, though only 34% when I annualized those returns. Even still, 34% is a pretty good year for traditional investments by any reasonable measure, and if you could repeat that annually across your entire portfolio you wouldn’t have any reason to be upset. On the bulk of my Magic portfolio I do significantly better, but some quick math tells me that the profit this exit has easily covered off the cost of the truly terrible specs (ahem Aggressive Mining) that are still stuck in the box of shame, and then some.

Overall, that’s a good place to be, but tallying your buylist success you also have to assume that the total profit will be further reduced by at least 15%, since I took credit instead of cash and still need to sell the cards I acquire with that credit to achieve net profits.

So now that I’ve got a solid exit on a piece of my portfolio what’s the next move to be made with $2800 in store credit at CardKingdom.com?

What I’m Buying & Why

One of my goals with MTGFinance is to occasionally take lesser profit to facilitate some of my relatively infrequent treasure hunts as a collector. I would eventually like to trade my way into a Beta set of Power 9 + 4x Dual Lands, and I’d like to do it within the next five years.

Now I should point out that I don’t actually believe that the Power 9/Reserved List/Beta Duals are priority specs. Rather, I see them as excellent value stores that tend to trend up modestly and almost never trend down. I don’t expect more than 10%/annum returns on this stuff, but they also don’t carry any significant reprint risk. Even still, tying up funds that you could be cycling into spec after spec every 3-6 months, into a single card that will grow more slowly and without compounding, is not the smartest move.

There is however an additional mitigating factor in play for me: time. I don’t have enough time to sell my succesful specs in a timely fashion as is. In any given week there are likely 50 Ebay listings I should be getting up, and I’m only getting through half of them. Some of them will only appreciate further while negligence substitutes for patience, but others will rot on the vine. I’ve got a new baby, we’re running two businesses and my hourly rate is too high to substitute this action for real work time. If you’ve got a full time job and a family, I’m sure you understand.

So the time constraint changes the math. I’m already maxing on research, spec purchasing and spec sales time, so pushing some value out of the shame box and into a single high value target that is liquid enough to be resold or traded up into lower value specs with a strong margin once I’ve cleared the back log holds serious appeal.

So with my $2800 in credit on deck, a quick review of the Card Kingdom inventory lead me to this beauty:

Hello Beta Tundra! Card Kingdom called this thing Near Mint, and was asking $2499. The back right edge has some solid wear however, and you can likely parse the minor marks on the front right, so I place this thing at a solid LP.  It’s not perfect, but this is still a lovely Magic card and they’re really aren’t that many out there for sale online at any price. If Magic does well over the next 3-5 years, this card might hit $3000, but it’s true street price might be closer to $2000-$2200 at present so I’m taking a bit of a hit there by accepting the stated grade. If Magic only does ok, which is the more likely outcome, my value is unlikely to erode and I can almost certainly recover the loss from inaccurate grading via a trade down into higher priority spec targets whenever I like. A move into newly released and under-priced Masterpieces or judge promo foils at some point would be a likely option.

The remaining credit I pushed into 20 copies of the FNM Promo Fatal Push at $12.99. This was one of the specs I called out on MTGFastFinance this week, and though my preferred entry at present is closer to $10, the reality is that I think these will hit $30 within 12-18 months and I’m happy getting in on as many as I can under $15. Fatal Push is going to get reprinted a few times in the next five years, but aside from the inevitable Masterpiece Series, I expect the FNM promos to hit at least half the price of the pack foils as the art on these is arguably superior.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk through of a large buylist order aimed at reducing inventory, consolidating profit and fulfilling my collector goals. Join me next week when I take you on a tour of the worst specs I’ve ever purchased.

James Chillcott (@mtgcritic) is an entrepreneur, investor, designer, collector, gamer and adventurer. Between dolling out good advice and humble bragging on Twitter he can be found playing with his daughter Alara, running a couple of web companies and eating cookies.

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