All posts by Travis Allen

Travis Allen has been playing Magic on and off since 1994, and got sucked into the financial side of the game after he started playing competitively during Zendikar. You can find his daily Magic chat on Twitter at @wizardbumpin. He currently resides in upstate NY, where he is a graduate student in applied ontology.

Something Clever About Scry 3, the Future, and the Block Pro Tour

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By: Travis Allen

This is going to be one of those rare weeks where I teach you guys something actually useful that you can apply yourself to situations down the road. The Block Pro Tour in Hotlanta just happened and we’re going to separate the signal from the noise. These PTs are important because they are a possible sign of things to come. The future can be changed, but it isn’t always. Even when things don’t shake out quite like this, the role players are still typically big parts of the story, just in a different costume.

Let’s start with what’s worth noticing. In the first instance of someone winning their first Pro Tour after being inducted into the Hall of Fame (I’m too lazy to find out if this is true), Chapin took home a well-deserved trophy. He played Spirit Jund, aka “a three color pile of the best cards in the format.” It just happened to show up in BGW this time around.

Manabases at a PT are a little tough to evaluate because they’re so constrained by lack of options. I’m sure if Pat had access to shocks his mana would look a little different. Even still, that’s a full-on set of Temples and Mana Confluence. The Temples are well-worn at this point and should surprise nobody. They’re all good, trade for as many as you can, etc etc. Four Mana Confluence is the bigger deal. Mana Confluence is unquestionably powerful, but it comes at a great price. When Overgrown Tomb comes into play you pay your two up front and you’re done. Drop your envelope full of money on the gift table as you come in and hit the open bar as many times as you want. Mana Confluence is a cash bar though, and it’s not cheap. After two drinks you’ve paid the same as the guy playing Overgrown Tomb, which means if you play it on turn one you’ve lost more life by the time you tap it on turn three. There’s a good chance you’re going to have to tap it a few more times as well. That Pat would play four of them means he’s really, really in the market for hitting his drops on schedule and doesn’t mind paying a butt-ton (that’s a real unit of measurement look it up) to do it. The format has been a little cool on Confluence relative to expectations, but it looks like we may be in for more of it in the future.

There hasn’t been a more “well dang better grab a set of that” card at a Pro Tour than Courser of Kruphix in possibly ever. There were twenty-eight – TWO EIGHT – copies in the Top 8, of a maximum thirty-two. Seven out of eight lists ran the full set in the main deck. It probably won’t be this heavily represented once we get M15 and #MTGKTK, but dang that is a lot of centaurs. It’s easy to say the metagame was weird and CFB represented a big part of the Top 8 and blah blah blah. Courser has been holding his own in Standard already so we know this isn’t just a flash in the pan.

Boros Reckoner was a solid $20 at his height and Courser looks like he could pull the same thing. That price was mostly a spike, but Reckoner easily hung between $10 and $15 for months at a time and climbed into the $18 range more than once. Courser will have increased by several dollars at least by the time we hit November barring some catastrophic metagame.

There’s a similar saturation of Sylvan Caryatid and Hero’s Downfall, but those are Theros rares and are therefore far less likely to be financially noteworthy. Remember the 6:2:1. Courser is that 2, but Caryatid and Downfall are the 6. Much tougher to see huge spikes. They are still going to be a big part of the Standard landscape in the fall, but there will be better places for trade equity.

Elspeth was expectedly a big part of the Top 8 as well, although not quite like manhorse. Even though she’s from Theros, just as Caryatid and Downfall are, I like her much more than those two. Why is that? For one, she’s a mythic. Even though she’s a 6 in 6:2:1, there are still roughly 1/8th as many copies as any given Theros rare, meaning the total number of absolute copies is on the much lower end of the scale. She’s also a planeswalker, which comes with an automatic demand multiplier. While Caryatid and Downfall are (conceivably) replaceable by something else, it’s very unlikely something will come along and be better at what Elspeth does than Elspeth. She sees roughly the same amount of play as Domri Rade does/did, and Domri went from $10-$15 to $20-$25 at rotation. Elsepth is still just about $20 and isn’t dropping much/at all this summer, so she should be a solid $30+ come September or October. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her crest $40 if the format shakes out in her favor. (Did you know she died at the end of Theros? I found out yesterday. Good riddance.)

Kiora popped her head in a few times which tells me she’s still going to be a reasonable option in the fall. She’s a lot less reliable than Elspeth is in terms of playability, but she’s certainly capable. I’m not as hot on her jumping as significantly as I am Elspeth, but she’ll definitely see a rise. If she’s around $15-$16 right now, then I fully expect $20+ with the best case scenario being $30 or so. Go ahead and trade for copies now, and if they get down closer to $12 trade for every single one you see.

Bringing up the rear are Ashiok and Xenagos. They saw the least play but I like them the most out of the four. They’re dirt cheap right now, scraping the price floor of playable Planeswalkers. If you trade for these  guys one of two things will happen in the fall: They’ll see no play and rise a little bit, or they’ll end up being awesome and rise a ton. Plan accordingly.

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Thoughtseize is still good. It only stands to gain. Yawn.

Now we get to the part where I get to actually teach you something worthwhile. Block Pro Tours are a great look ahead, but there are always a few cards that look like they’re going to be a big deal in the fall and then fail to pan out. Anyone remember the four Devastation Tide and Tamiyo in Hayne’s Block-winning list from PT Avacyn? Finkel’s Dungeon Geists? Wescoe’s winning four Advent of the Wurms a year later? No? Not surprising. They were all nearly entirely absent from the following Standard. I got burned by the Advents but managed to dodge the rest. How?

The biggest factor in determining whether a break-out Block performance is sustainable is how well the card will fare when you add 500 more to the format. Let’s apply this concept to a card that was a big part of of the Top 8 that I didn’t talk about yet. How about, oh, Prognostic Sphinx. There were plenty of people out there on r/mtgfinance and elsewhere that were discussing it as a spec option. It was closing games on coverage and looking good doing it.

Prognostic Sphinx is a terrible spec.

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Let’s start by looking at what other options the CFB team had for filling out that slot. They needed something that could close games, preferably with evasion, and it needed to do well in a grindy, slow Block format. Blue would be preferable, because they want access to Ashiok and Kiora.

What were their options besides Prognostic? Well, there’s Arbiter of the Ideal, a card that may do something for you the third turn it’s in play. You’ve also got Celestial Archon, which is expensive to bestow and doesn’t fit as well with the controllish GB shell they’ve got going. There’s also…Chromanticore? Medomai? Maybe one of the seven-drop black demons?

Prognostic Sphinx isn’t a bad card at all. In a Standard format with miracles it would be amazing. But in Theros Block, it’s just the best of a bad situation. What do you think the odds are that both M15 and Khans won’t bring a more powerful closer? They aren’t looking for the core of a deck here; they really just need a creature that get the job done. If Aetherling were legal, it absolutely would have been that. Hell, I’m fairly confident that Morphling would have been played instead of Prognostic if they had the option.

It also didn’t really have to be blue either. They were glad it was because it meant they got Kiora and Ashiok, but those may not be the right option in the future either. The core of the deck is clearly GB, and the third color could feasibly be anything, as evidenced by Chapin taking down the whole thing with GBW.

Furthermore, as card pools grow larger the decks tend to get cheaper and more aggressive. You can’t build a competitive aggressive sixty card deck with only twelve playable cards at two mana or less, but when the card pool doubles and you’ve got access to twice as many your deck gets lower to the ground and meaner. More cards smooths out mana curves as well. As a rule of thumb, the more cards you put in the pool the cheaper and faster the decks get. Need proof? Look at the speeds of Vintage, Legacy and Modern. What does this matter here? Prognostic Sphinx is slow. It’s on the pricier side of the mana curve. The conditional hexproof requires you to discard, meaning it’s probably going to take more time to kill your opponent. Scrying every turn sets up future turns, but it doesn’t actually put cards in your hand. It’s a slow, grindy creature at its best in a slow, grindy format.

All of this means that buying Prognostic Sphinx is just a complete waste of money. Remember that it’s a rare from Theros. Even if you got them at $.50, what’s your goal? What has to happen for you to make a reasonable amount of money? How many do you need to buy? Take a look at my article about my experience with Ghaves a few weeks ago. Even if you get in on Prognostic at $.50 each and it quadruples to $2, you’re probably barely making $10 an hour, if you even manage that.

Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, and Thoughtseize are powerful, inexpensive cards that can fit nearly anywhere. Planeswalkers are very powerful permanents that warp board states. Cards like Prognostic Sphinx are high on the curve and easily outclassed by other options. You can learn to identify the flashes in the pan by asking yourself directed questions about the metagame, the quantity on the market, and how easily it can be replaced in a larger format. Was there a weird Block meta that resulted in an odd card being well positioned? How many copies of the card in question are in the format? Was it printed in the large fall set, or the under-drafted third set? Could you imagine easily replacing the card with a card that’s legal in Standard right now? Is there casual demand? Are people likely to play it as a complete set?

Hopefully this walkthrough will give you the tools needed to make informed decisions when evaluating cards that show up at Block pro tours, and perhaps even speculating in general. It can certainly be tricky – the stack of Advent of the Wurm on my desk will testify – but at the very least, you should hopefully be able to dodge the obvious pitfalls.

And if you’ve got thirty or forty Prognostic Sphinx in your TCGPlayer order history, well, my condolences.

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Only God and Forsythe Can Judge Me

By: Travis Allen

I only wish I had put a finer point on it.

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Wizards has announced new judge promos, and they’re a doozy. In celebration of breaking 5,000 active judges we are getting some pretty sweet promos. Well, I shouldn’t say “we.” Roughly 1,000 to 1,500 people are getting some pretty sweet promos.

Yes, that’s right. It’s finally happened. We’re getting a foil Force of Will. Think of how awesome your Legacy deck is finally going to look. The only foils missing will be the duals!

ebay forces

Oh, you didn’t think you’d actually be able to afford them, did you?

Before we figure out exactly where these are going to land, let’s step back a bit and examine judge promos at large. I want us all to know what’s possible. I’ve compiled a list of every judge promo that’s been printed and its (rough) price. Some of these may be a surprise to you if you’ve never looked. For instance, did you know Stroke of Genius was a promo? Tradewind Rider?

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I separated the list into three categories because that will be the metric I am most interested in examining. I lumped all the exclusively currently-competitive promos together, all the strictly casual/EDH ones together, and then all the cards that blur those borders.You may have some disagreement about what column some of those cards fall into, but overall I think that’s a pretty reasonable separation. What immediately jumps out to me is how much more valuable the competitive cards are than the ones that are currently only playable in casual formats. Even if you cut the earliest six casual cards out of the equation as hailing from a bygone era of Magic, the casual cards are still barely half the value of the competitive ones.

Also interesting is that the cards that appeal to both markets are worth slightly less than strictly competitive cards. Part of that may be how I defined “both.” I’ve got things like Goblin Welder, Entomb and Mishra’s Factory in the both column that may be more appropriate in a different category. Still, that wouldn’t change the lists too much depending on where you moved them. If you shuffle some cards around the average of the both column may catch up in average price to the competitive ones, but they wouldn’t overtake them by much of anything.

Let’s make that point a little more clear: Cards that are strictly competitive in nature are overall the most valuable promos. The average price of cards only playable in casual formats is about half that of the competitive cards. The cards that are desirable for both formats are worth roughly the same as the cards only valued for competitive play. 

That last sentence tells us that on average, competitive play is by far the biggest indicator of value. Is card X playable in Legacy? Then the promo is going to be worth about $100. Is it playable in EDH too? Well, it’s still going to only be around $100. Apparently casual demand doesn’t push the price much higher on already-playable competitive staples.

Another aspect of all of this is age. Take a look at the last two years; 2013 and 2012. All five competitive cards are well represented in Legacy, and all five are $90-$200. All six casual cards are $15-$40 each. That’s a huge gap. But as you move further back, the lines start to blur a bit. Moving into 2011 and 2010 the average value of the competitive cards gets even higher, but the casual cards are gaining too. The outlier of Mana Crypt comes in at an absurd $250, and we get Wheel of Fortune pushing $100 as well.

Once you get into 2008 and earlier, the distinction is gone. You’ll notice less and less cards in the competitive column past 2009, and only three or four are nearly as heavily represented as the cards from 2010-2013. What’s going on here is the changing face of Legacy. Judge promos from 2007 were from a different era. Orim’s Chant, Exalted Angel and Living Death may have been constructed playable at some point in the past, but those days are behind us. Meanwhile the casual cards are all over the place. Staples like Demonic Tutor and Sol Ring command $200+ price tags, while cards from days of Magic past are $10 and $15. I’m also noticing that the cards that belong to both formats hold their overall value much better as we move back in time. Even a cards like Mishra’s Factory or Yawgmoth’s Will, which are only barely competitive, are still maintaining respectable price tags.

This is another valuable lesson. Competitive cards are worth a lot while they’re competitive, but formats are fickle and subject to the ravages of time. If a card drops out of competitive play and into the realm of kitchen tables it stands to lose a lot. Meanwhile, casual all-stars are only going to gain as time goes on. They have to be true staples though. Additionally, a mix of demand will help keep older judge promos afloat quite well, even if they’re not hot tickets in any particular format.

One thing to keep in mind is quantity. Those older judge promos were printed in much, much smaller amounts than the newer ones are, just as with current Magic sets. If Magic plateaus around 20 million active players you’re going to see the old promos settle at much higher prices than promos like Bribery or Genesis, even if they see comparable play, simply because of the quantity available. Another quick point: any good judge promo from pre-modern borders is going to be the safest of safe investments. Of course they’re mostly absurd already, but you absolutely cannot lose on them.

What have we learned from all of this that we can apply to our new promos? Competitive play is far and away the major impetus behind price on new promos. Casual play can’t keep newer promos up, not for the first year or two at least. Top tier casual staples will rise in price, but anything below the upper 5% should settle in the $20 to $50 range.

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So how about those new promos?

Casual Only

    

Four generals and a premium green enchantment. The generals are a bit of untrodden territory, as Wizards has only really started pushing Commander in the last few years. If we take a look at the Commander’s Arsenal Kaalia we see she’s around $30, which should be a fair benchmark for these guys. Nekusar may end up the highest simply because he seems to be capable of driving the prices wild on many ‘draw extra’ cards, but then again the people playing those decks may not care much for a $50 foil general. Meanwhile, Greater Good is reasonably well represented in EDH according to metamox. It looks like it is just about as popular as Genesis, which is currently $20. Both of those will tick up over time, but I’d be surprised to see them more than double in the next five years.

 

 Mixed Play

 

Now THOSE are some promos. That Elesh Norn is quite possibly the coolest promo we’ve seen out of Wizards in years. That writing is Phyrexian if you are unaware. She’s awesome as heck, and people have taken notice:

elesh

This will absolutely come down, as she should reach typical levels of distribution. I’m not exactly sure when she’s going to be hitting judge packs though, so her price may be kind of nuts all the way out through the end of next year. She’s a bit different than our other competitive promos in more ways than one. You’ll notice that in the list above not a single card with competitive demand was strictly Modern playable. Elesh Norn is mostly unrepresented in Legacy, so all her competitive demand will be from Modern. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s going to matter though. If she was just another foil copy with a different set symbol her price wouldn’t be noteworthy, but that Phyrexian script is going to keep her high. My guess is that she’ll probably dip towards $90-$150 at her lowest. It could be a very long time before her effect is upgraded, and even if it is the promo is going to retain demand based simply on the uniqueness. Hold off for now, but when it gets close to $100 make sure you grab any you need.

Sword of Feast and Famine is roughly as played as Sword of Fire and Ice in EDH, Modern and Legacy. Expect it to start high at release, dip as the judge packs are released, then start climbing once its run is over. The judge Sword of Fire and Ice is currently $120 and it’s about three years old, so that gives you an idea of what to expect.

 

Grand Poobah of Legacytown

Let’s understand the facts first. We know it was sent to somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 judges. The announcement read as if a single copy was sent to each judge, but I’m hearing reports that people got playsets. That means we’re most likely looking at a maximum of 6,000 copies on the market right now. While there was initial panic about the scarcity, Helene Bergeot confirmed multiple times that night that they would be available through other avenues in the future. Nobody is entirely sure what this means yet. Are they going to be the mythic rare of judge promos? How many more will we get? It’s very hard to say.

Let’s say we end up with roughly 10,000 copies of Force. That’s 2,500 playsets or so, depending on what the actual distribution ends up at. How scarce is that? One way to think of that is fifty playsets per state. Montana probably doesn’t need fifty sets, but California and New York sure as heck will.

The Forces are selling for around $1,000 right now, and that will come down. A bit. I think the absolute lowest they could possibly hit is $300-$400 unless there end up being many times more copies on the market than I’m predicting. Once they’re done distributing, the price is just going to keep ticking up and up and up. Force of Will is one of two banner cards of Legacy, and the other one already had a MM foil and an FNM promo. There is no other Force foil, and the original card is murky and just plain ugly. Any tier one Legacy card released in this capacity would have a hefty price tag, and this one is just going to get multiplied by status, lack of prior printings, and typically being run as a playset. Once the run is over, there’s no telling what this could reach. I would not be surprised whatsoever to see this north of $1,000 again a few years down the road.

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Bizarre Oxen

By: Travis Allen

Many of my American companions may not be aware that this past weekend was the Bazaar of Moxen over in Annecy, France. Never heard of it? France is that country in Europe that eve…oh, you’ve never heard of Annecy? Annecy is reminiscent of Venice, with can…oh, you mean you haven’t heard of the Bazaar of Moxen.

annecy

The Bazaar of Moxen is the largest annual Vintage and Legacy event. It’s held once a year over in Europe, apparently in Annecy, France. The BoM is comparable to the GenCon Vintage World Championships in scale. Last year at GenCon there were 232 entrants, while BoM9 just this weekend had 214. For an independent tournament without any of the unique Wizards prize support, that’s pretty dang amazing. Vintage in general is larger in Europe than it is here in America. For one, there are a handful of collectors that pulled a great deal of duals and power into Europe. It’s also a much more condensed land mass with better public transit, which means it’s easier to pull all the Vintage enthusiasts together for a weekend to tap some absurdly expensive cardboard. (Most decks are probably worth as much or more than your car).

BoM isn’t just Vintage though. They also run a Legacy event which draws quite a bit of attention as well. Given how much overlap there is in the card pool between Legacy and Vintage, this isn’t surprising. This week I’m going to flip through the results of this past weekend’s Bazaar of Moxen and see what jumps out at me. It’s rare to get such a confluence of strong decks and strong players in these two formats, so we should pay attention when we do.

Right off the bat I see a playset of Chalice of the Void. Chalice of the Void is barely $6 on MTGPrice right now. It has two printings, both with relatively little supply. The entire Mirrodin block was pretty severely underpriced relative to sets today and we all know Modern Masters was a limited run. Given how long CotV has been a mainstay in Legacy, and to a lesser extent Vintage and Modern, I think it’s completely safe to be snagging copies of these in trade. Modern isn’t quite as all-in on the 1-drop as Legacy is but CotV is still quite usable. We also don’t know what Wizards will decide to print in the near future that could push Modern to lean on 1’s a little more. At $5-$6, I’d be happy to trade for these.

Abrupt Decay has long cemented its place in Legacy and Modern at this point. It’s the pre-eminent not-STP/Bolt in their respective formats. Decay is now in the $10 range and it will be $15+ before too long. Don’t wait on this to drop at rotation this fall; it isn’t going to happen. All the demand for this card is driven by other formats so it’s departure from Standard will no have no effect on the price. I am 100% we will see it printed again in some other product, but I doubt it will be in enough volume to really matter too much. I wouldn’t go super deep but having several extra sets would be just fine. Foils are completely golden. Well, they were golden. Now they’re pushing $100 on TCGPlayer. That’s basically never dropping either. Did you grab yours when those of us on Twitter were advocating for it?

Elves has really come into its own in the last few months in Legacy, and a Top 8 at BoM certainly confirms what Sam Black and Reid Duke have been saying. I don’t know how much we can look to the Legacy list for opportunities, but keep an eye out for a similar strategy in Modern. Quirion Ranger and Birchlore Rangers seem like very important pieces we’re missing. Birchlore would let the deck generate mana other than green once it went off, which could be vital to a strategy that needs to pull a little power from other colors since the mono-pool isn’t quite as deep as it is in Legacy. If Birchlore ends up legal in Modern look for other cards in the deck that could see a bump. Beck//Call, perhaps? Maybe you don’t even need to wait on that one. Glimpse of Nature is a $20 card and Beck is $.50. Eventually Beck is going to be several dollars, whether from EDH or a combo deck somewhere.

I’m seeing Phyrexian Revoker, another cheap sleeper. Two Death and Taxes decks made Top 8, and both contained the full set. It shows up occasionally in various Modern lists as well, particularly, uh, Death and Taxes. With the word “Phyrexian” in the name it’s a tough reprint, so I’m a trader at $2.50. Crossing over into the Vintage lists quick, do you know what else I like? Lodestone Golem. He’s a big piece of the Workshop decks over there. He hasn’t done much of anything yet in Modern, but Modern still has all sorts of spicy pieces: Lodestone, Thorn of Amethyst, Trinisphere, etc. It’s also a place where the Tron lands are very playable and are totally ok with things like Thorn and Sphere. I’m not claiming it’s happening overnight but it’s something to be aware of. Artifact prison decks pop up in all formats at some point and Lodestone + Revoker seem like they’d be right there along for the ride.

On the topic of miserable little two-drops, Thalia is still only about $7 after her last spike. That just seems low to me. She’s eminently playable in every constructed format and printed in an unpopular winter set. I’m not saying she should be $20+, but $10-$15 seems much more reasonable.

Three of the Top 8 decks in Legacy were UWR Miracles. I like all three good miracle cards as pickups. Entreat the Angels is already $10 but will just keep climbing. We know demand for angels never really goes away and an angel card that sees real competitive play is just going to keep getting pushed. And that’s just as a two-of. Can it hit $20 next year? Terminus, on the other hand, is a full grip. Terminus is also an EDH staple at this point. At only a few bucks a copy this one is a solid trade option. There’s rumors it will be in FTV:Annihilation, but even if it is that’s more of a delay than anything else. FTV copies never do much to suppress the price of popular cards. It may take Terminus a few more months to keep rising than it would have, but it will still keep going. Finally there’s Temporal Mastery, the one good miracle that’s fallen out of favor for the time being. I chatted about it more a few weeks ago. The tl;dr is that it’s as good as gold. Buy, trade, steal, whatever.

Did you know that foil Spell Pierce is $40? That foil Terminus is $30? Foil Temporal Mastery is $20? Foil Blightsteel is $60? Foil Aven Mindcensor is $50?

Mindcensor is nearly $15 non-foil. I don’t like getting in on the bird though. It was an uncommon, which means when (not if) it gets reprinted its likely to be uncommon again. The price will be absolutely crushed when it does. It’s the type of card that could really easily show up in any expert-level expansion without doing much to Standard, which means its a very safe reprint. If you need them then grab your set, and foil copies are fine since they’re an alternate border, but don’t go deep on the non-foils.

Remember Darksteel Colossus? Yeah, neither does Blightsteel Colossus. He’s up to $15 at this point and isn’t going to stop. Putting him in a Commander product would be an odd development choice, so if he shows up again it would probably be in an FTV or something similar. I don’t think we’ll see a reprinting with enough volume to negatively impact his price, so feel free to grab these for cheap where you can. I would imagine many with this card will not realize his actual retail value.

One of the cards with the widest relative gap between English non-foil and JP foil? Ingot Chewer

The BUG fish list in Vintage had, not counting lands or sideboard, thirty cards that were printed (or reprinted) in the last few years. Chances are that if you have a reasonable Modern collection you’re only a few pieces of Power away from a Vintage deck. That’s obviously not cheap, but Power is a perfectly fine investment as it is. If you’re going to sink a few hundred dollars somewhere, putting it into a few pieces of Power that will appreciate in value and also allow you to play Vintage at the same time is not the worst decision you could make.

I don’t see Ancient Tomb getting reprinted again anytime soon. Don’t feel bad picking up your copies if you need them.

Two cards that still aren’t on the reserve list are Force of Will and Mana Drain. Someone mentions this every so often, and speculation on them appearing as judge promos or FTV includes pops up. I don’t know which it will be, and I don’t know when it will be, but it’s got to happen eventually, right?

There was a lot to take away from this year’s Bazaar of Moxen, and I only just scratched the surface. I think the most important thing to notice is just how sweet looking Vintage looks. While I think Legacy is going to bottom out down the road, Vintage is already near it’s floor of activity. The only division between a Vintage deck and a Legacy deck is Power, and those are good investments as it is, so you should consider bugging your LGS owners about starting up a ten-proxy Vintage event once a month.

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My Spec Quadrupled But I Only Made $.75 Each

By: Travis Allen

First was Kaalia. She climbed to $15, then $18, and is now showing $26 here on the MTGPrice tracker. Animar followed this past March, although he hasn’t quite gotten as high yet. He’s currently $12. Sometime a few weeks ago Corbin Hosler was pointing out Damia, Sage of Stone to his companions on QS and lo and behold in the past three weeks she’s climbed to $15.

A lot of people were scratching their heads on this last one. Kaalia is easy to understand. She’s what you get if you take the two most popular tribes in Magic, along with a third semi-desirable one, and shove them into a single card. Of course EDH and kitchen table players all over the place are going to want her; she has both the words “Angel” and “Dragon” printed on her. 

Animar was a little less obvious but is still understandable. He doesn’t have blatant support for tribes like Kaalia does. Instead, he’s rocking the counter theme. +1/+1 counters are popular with the silent minority as cards like Doubling Season and Parallel Lives have taught us time and time again. He’s also Johnnyrific with that last line, enabling scads of broken interactions in a format such as EDH.

Damia caught most of us by surprise though. What’s Damia do? She…draws some cards I guess? Don’t get me wrong, she’s obviously very powerful. I have a Damia deck myself and it’s probably the best EDH deck I’ve built so far. Those are the three best colors in EDH by a wide margin. But her effect is just not splashy. She doesn’t have the word “Elf” on her, she doesn’t enable an alternate win condition, and she doesn’t enable any combos that are going to make your buddies jealous. She simply generates value.

At that point, it was pretty clear everything from Commander was on the table. Who would be next? Karador, with his serious graveyard synergy? Graveyard strategies have always been popular with casual and spikey types alike. Riku? Riku does some pretty awesome things with doubling both spells and creatures, another fan favorite. Edric already popped awhile ago after Drew Levin suggested him as a Legacy spec.

When I looked over the Commander list at that time Ghave jumped out at me. A buddy had a Ghave deck and I remembered him being exceptionally strong. Being a one-card enabler for all things tokens seemed excellent to me. We already know that type of effect is popular and Ghave can turn it on all by himself. He was super cheap, with plenty of copies under $4 available. I decided to run with it. I tweeted about having purchased thirty-five or forty copies. Forty-eight hours later I was rewarded. Ghave jumped from the few bucks I paid for each copy to over $10 on TCG. A clean, fast, easy purchase. My spec had more than tripled in price. Now it was time to roll in all the money I had made.

Except, I hadn’t.

A little while after Ghave spiked I had a slightly dismaying revelation.

I’ve been staring at this pile of Ghaves on my desk for the last week or so now and I’ve decided to use it as an example of the actual cost of speculating like this. How much do you really make on a spec?

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Here’s my TCG order of Ghaves. You can see I bought twenty-five copies at $3.35 each. I live in New York, so I get the privilege of paying sales tax at TCGPlayer. All said and done I paid $3.64 per copy of Ghave. That looked real good when they were getting relisted on TCG for $15 at first.

Now here I am ready to sell my Ghaves. How should I out them? Let’s look at the most painless process; buylisting. Buylisting is really the best option for anything you spec on for more than a few playsets. If you bought twenty copies of Sphinx’s Revelation when they preordered for $6 then eBay would be your best bet. That’s only five playsets so it’s easy to ship them. What if you bought three hundred Burning Earth for $1 each though? They jumped to $4+ TCG at one point, but have fun selling seventy-five playsets on eBay. Even if the entire process was fee-free the time it would take wouldn’t be worth the extra scratch you’d make over buylisting.

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Using MTGPrice, I see that the best buylist is currently StrikeZone at $5 a copy. Oh. Hrm. Ghave is over $9 mid on TCG right now, but the buylist is still only $5. That’s kind of a bummer. Even though my spec looks excellent on retail prices, my profit margin is actually a lot smaller than you would think.

You see, when you look at specs it’s easy to compare retail to retail. “I bought at $X, and now the card is $4X.” That looks like you quadrupled your money. The reality of the situation is that you’re comparing retail to buylist. You paid $X at retail, but you aren’t selling at $4X retail. You’re selling at $Buylist, which is $2X if you’re lucky. It’s still a profit, but it isn’t going to make you nearly as much as you thought it would.

Alright, so I’m going to sell these twenty-five copies of Ghave to StrikeZone at $5 each. That’s $125 for all of my copies. Now I just need to get them all to StrikeZone. Shipping four cards in a bubble mailer is $2.91 with delivery confirmation, so I’m going to ballpark about five dollars in postage. Don’t forget your sleeves, hard loaders and bubble envelope though. We’ll say that’s $1 for everything together.

$125 from buylist – $5 shipping – $1 materials = $119.

Looking at StrikeZone’s buylist page, you have the option of receiving your payment as a check or via PayPal. There’s a $3 processing fee on checks and PayPal takes around 3%. SZ will be sending me $125, 3% of which is $3.75. I guess I’m taking the paper check.

$119 – $3.75 check fee = $115.25.

Alright, I’ve got the check in my hands. After shipping the Ghaves to SZ and getting paid, I have $115.25 in my pocket. It originally cost me $91.08 to make the order, so how much did I make?

$115.25 – $91.08 original cost = $24.17

Less than twenty-five bucks. That’s a bit under $1 a copy. How long did it take me to do all of this? At least an hour right? The experienced buylister can do it in under an hour, but not all will accomplish the task that fast. So I made roughly $24 an hour. That’s fine I suppose, but it isn’t anything remarkable. Some of you reading this make less than that at your job, some of you make more. Most of us can agree that the absolute value of $24 isn’t all that much though. It’s probably most of the bill for some takeout Indian food for you and whoever it is that’s currently tolerating your company.

I could possibly try eBay for outing my Ghaves if the buylists are too low, but a quick search there shows me they’re selling for barely $5. Over at eBay you need to ship each card individually, and you better do it with tracking unless you want to get royally screwed. That’s going to destroy your profits to the point that you would actually lose money selling copies.

You also won’t be selling these as playsets. At least with those theoretical copies of Sphinx’s Revelations you could sell them as sets. People would want all four. But Ghave is a commander. Nobody needs more than one copy. Keep this in mind in your future spec purchases. Can you sell them as playsets or are you only going to get buyers on one copy at a time?

So where did it all go wrong? How come I made so little? Didn’t my spec basically triple?

Well yes, yes it did. At retail prices.The buylists never reflect that though, at least not right away. The buylists on Ghave may eventually get up to $8 or even $10+, but it will take continued, sustained demand and enough people buying the card at $15+ to push them that high. That could very well happen, but not overnight. Unless the card we’re talking about is a breakout combo piece it will take weeks and sometimes months for buylists to climb that much.

There are lots of other factors to be aware of here as well. Not every flip is going to behave quite like this. Sometimes the seller will flake and refuse to send you copies, in which case you accomplished nothing except being $100 short for a few days. Other times the cards will get lost in the mail and you’ll have to argue with the TCG and the seller. Sometimes they’ll be damaged or otherwise not quite NM. Maybe the buylist won’t even need all the copies you’re selling. In fact, SZ only wants eleven Ghaves. What do I do with the other fourteen? Perhaps the store will be one of these that jerks you around, and once they have the cards they’ll offer you $3.50 each instead of the listed $5. If you sell your spec on eBay you have to deal with shady buyers that are going to take any opportunity to take advantage of you. (Hence the required tracking on anything sold through eBay.)

Heck, what if the card you speculated on didn’t even rise? Or only gained twenty percent? All of those potential issues only arise if the card manages to jump enough to be worth selling. There will be plenty of times where that doesn’t happen. Into the box of shame they go. Sometimes the buylists rise a little faster too of course. But how often do you think that happens compared to one of the above situations?

What I want you to take away from all of this is that speculating is not equivalent to printing money and that you are likely to make much less money than it seems like you would. When a card doubles, triples, or even quintuples on the surface, most of the time the profit realized by the people who got in on the ground floor is zero to maybe thirty or forty percent of their investment. It’s time consuming if you’re new to the process and it’s fraught with hidden risks. There is the potential to clean up for sure, but every time a card jumps from $3 to $11 it doesn’t mean that a shadowy cabal of speculators just quadrupled their money. It means a bunch of people that owned between ten and two-hundred copies made 25% of their investment.

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