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.

Do the Planeswalker Curve

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By: Travis Allen

Merry Christmas!

This article goes live on December 25th, which is Christmas for a large majority of my American readers. I didn’t bring you any gifts, but I do have some words you can read about Magic on your phone at family dinner while trying to avoid conversation with irritating relatives that bought you packs of Pokemon.

I’ve become aware of a trend in Planeswalkers lately that I want to bring to your attention. I’m going to say right off the bat that this is hardly conclusive, nor is it particularly revelatory. It’s mostly a pattern I’m noticing, and whether it’s signal or noise, I can’t be sure. In any case, it’s worth being aware of.

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Let’s start by taking a look at the price history of Jace, Architect of thought:

Jace

You see here that  Jace started very high, as all Planeswalkers do post-Worldwake, and dipped all the way down to about $10-$12 early this year. There was a small bump in early summer as speculators got on board, and finally in the fall he rose to ~$25, where he was looking like he could have climbed even higher had Jace vs Vraska not been announced. He now sits right around $20.

Next up, Domri Rade:

Domri

Here is a very similar curve. He dropped to ~$12, then in the fall climbed to $25+. As with Jace, he has settled around $20.

Now Chandra, Pyromaster and Garruk, Caller of Beasts:

Chandra

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Garruk

 

I think you’re beginning to see a trend here. All of these Planeswalkers have done the same thing. They dip in the spring to about $8-$12, then skyrocket in the fall. This isn’t exactly new information; lots of cards from the senior block have similar curves. The reason this is worth paying attention to in this case is because the good cards are already obvious. Not many people could have identified Desecration Demon skyrocketing, and only a few saw Nightveil Specter coming. Those rares that see 1,000% increases are notoriously difficult to predict. But the Planeswalkers are easy! They’re huge, obvious, splashy cards. No thinking required. They aren’t going from $.40 to $9, but $10 to $25 is still a good chunk of profit.

This seems to be a newer trend as well. We saw something similar with Liliana of the Veil, but her low was about $18 or so. Other than that, I don’t recall so many Planeswalkers behaving similarly at the same time. It may be that they’ve ironed out power levels of the Planeswalkers a bit, so they aren’t quite as divided between “top five ever” and “not good enough for a casual deck.”

It’s also not happening with every single Planeswalker. While the ones listed above have seen spikes, Vraska and Gideon haven’t jumped yet, and they are both from the Return block as well. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

It seems that we have a fairly clear price curve for successful Planeswalkers. How can we identify them? Well, I’d say the block Pro Tour is a good place to start. Jace was all over the Top 8 of PT Dragon’s Maze, and Domri made a showing in the 18+ points list. Gideon was around, but only in Sideboards, and it doesn’t seem that Vraska showed up at all. Outside of that Pro Tour, Domri and Jace were seeing play, while Gideon and Vraska were not.

Chandra and Garruk are a little tougher to spot, simply because they didn’t have the Pro Tour to show off at. They move a lot faster; dipping within weeks of the core set release, and then spiking in sometime in October. The trick to catching core set Planeswalkers in the future will be watching for ones that seem to perform in the month and a half after release, but before rotation occurs.

This seems to make a rather compelling case that any walker that has had reasonable success prior to their first summer will be a great pickup a few months ahead of the fall set. So far out of Theros we’ve had Ashiok, Elspeth, and Xenagos, who have all seen some amount of accomplishment. Are these the three we should be watching in the fall of 2014, or will the rest of the Theros block dethrone them?

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Needs Improvement

By: Travis Allen

As 2013 winds down, it marks the end of the first year I’ve been operating as a “professional” Magic financier, and by “professional” I mean “for some reason someone pays me to talk about it.” I’ve been doing it in an ever-increasing capacity for about four years now, with being hired by MTGPrice being my foray into the public domain. I’ve really enjoyed the entire experience so far. Being given the platform to write and speak about a topic that engages you during your most valuable of resources, free time, is incredibly rewarding. Finding an activity in your life in which you feel emotionally rewarded is a requirement for a sense of self-actualization, something many of us will seek and few will find during our lifetimes. For me, getting to write and talk about Magic is a step down that path.

Weakness

But for all I’ve gotten out of this field, both monetarily and mentally, I’m still just an apprentice. For each thing I do well, there are several things I do poorly, or even worse, I don’t do at all. Self-awareness and self-criticism is difficult and occasionally painful, but I feel it necessary that each of us is able to confront ourselves and own up to our mistakes and weaknesses. Being able to look back at your body of work and say “this is what I could have done better” leaves you open to critique and ridicule, some of it well deserved. Not all want to face that. In order to improve though, one must be able to accept these faults, admit them, and work to better themselves. At the very least, if you’ve made these shortcomings public then others can take you to task for a failure to do anything about them. A fear of public shaming may not be the most noble motivation, but its power to drive us to action is inarguable.

I have two hopes for this exercise. First, whether through inner motivation or public accountability, I hope to become a better trader, writer, and speculator. This will in turn give me the knowledge necessary to provide more valuable and helpful information to all of you down the road. My second goal is that through my own process of admittance, some of you will be able to recognize similar traits in yourselves. Perhaps your confidence level will rise upon seeing another underperform in the same way you do, or maybe you’ll find a way to improve you weren’t even aware of before. Either way, the end result is ideally the same: Everyone is better off. With that said, let’s see some of the ways I suck.

 

Pay More Attention

This is probably one of my more egregious errors. I write for MTGPrice.com, a website whose front page is a list of cards that have seen price movement in the last 24 and 168 hours. Yet it’s rare that I actually bother to check each morning when I wake up to see what has been active. You would think I would make an effort to look at the website who is kind enough to host my articles each week. There’s a lot of valuable information nested in those gain and lost lists if you’re willing to check them on a daily basis. Cursecatcher has jumped nearly $6 in the last two months, and if I had been paying attention, I could have seen the rise start, talked to others about it, and ultimately made a purchase. Instead, I read about it on Twitter after it was already over $7 and too late.

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Cursecatcher

If you don’t do your homework, you can’t make money riding price waves. Reading about cards in articles is often too late unless it’s purely a spec call, and even Twitter often only gives you a window of a few hours. Sometimes you don’t even get that luxury, as the only people who saw the card rising kept their mouths shut so they could capitalize. In order to catch cards before they jump, I need to be watching closely and be open to buying into types of cards I normally gloss over because I know less about them. That leads nicely into my next problem, which is that I need to

 

 

Knock it Off With Pet Cards

I think we probably all do this a little bit, but I’ve become very aware of doing it myself in the last few months. As a player, I have a real affinity for green. I’m not entirely sure why, as I tend to deviate towards combo rather than beatdown any time I have a constructed PTQ or GP. It’s probably just a combination of loving to put lands into play and cool looking creatures.

Whatever the reason, I find myself frequently gravitating towards green. When browsing trade binders, I always pay special attention to the green pages. A disproportionate number of the cards in my spec box have green mana symbols somewhere. I’m more likely to pay attention to your case for a card if it’s green.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with preferring one color over another, but when that personal bias seeps into your business practices enough to result in potentially negative influences, you need to take stock. I’m more likely to make bad purchases (Vorel of the Hull Clade?) if they’re green, and less likely to buy into good opportunities if they aren’t. This bias will cost me money in two different directions. If I’m going to improve, I need to be willing to move on not just Simic cards, but Rakdos, Boros or Izzet as well.

 

Do More Research

Several months ago I read Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and found the book quite interesting. (It was an excellent read, and if you enjoy the MTG market, you’re sure to find the material intriguing and relevant. I’ll be covering it more in a future article.) One thing that struck me about his baseball statistics breakthrough was that the information had been there for quite some time, available for anyone, but it wasn’t until someone really dove in and applied fundamentally good math that real knowledge became available. The information was just sitting there – how come nobody was capitalizing on it?

Advent of the Wurm

I find myself in the “not doing anything with it” camp more often than I’d like. I bought a bunch of Advent of the Wurm, and someone almost immediately informed on Twitter that it was in an event deck, which would surely suppress it’s price. (Hey look, there’s that green bias.) Oh. Whoops. If I had taken two seconds to look that up, I probably wouldn’t have bitten that particular bullet. If I spent some time doing price history analysis, looking for past behavior of similar cards, and digging in to buylist spreads, I’d definitely be further ahead than I am now. Instead, half the time I have reason to consider a card, I look up the price on a few websites, think about it for a few minutes (seconds), then make a decision. Hardly the most informed approach.

 

Take My Own Advice

At some point in the past, I believe I mentioned on Twitter that people should really be grabbing Mutavault, because it was $12 and highly likely to climb. Even if I didn’t say it out loud, I know for a fact I was thinking it. But I kept putting it off and putting it off, and here we are now, with Mutavault at $26 and I have a whopping three copies. I’ve felt similarly about Domri around the same price point, yet failed to purchase any myself, again missing the boat.

9990081

It’s possible that some amount of this is only seeing the calls I missed, and not the calls I connected on. Perhaps, perhaps. However, I seem to recall without any real doubt that both Mutavault and Domri would rise in price. There was basically no way they couldn’t. I think I hesitated to make the move because the price of entry was higher than I’m comfortable with. I’m completely ok buying into my hunches when the cards cost $.30, but much less so when they’re $12, even if the $12 card is a far better bet. In the future, I need to be more willing to make commitments to calls I’m sure of with less worry about the cost. If I’m that sure the card will rise, then the initial expense shouldn’t matter because I’ll come out ahead regardless.

This is only a few of my shortcomings when it comes to buying and selling Magic cards. There are definitely plenty of others, but I’m not sure my fragile ego can handle much more for now. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on improving this small selection. I encourage all of you to consider similar reflection.

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Dallas the Tundra and Cheap Standard Cards

This past weekend was Grand Prix DFW, and the entire experience was marred by an Ice Storm. Roads were covered in sheets of ice, three hour drives dragged into the tenth and eleventh hour, and Twitter told the story of pro after pro giving up and going home after their umpteenth cancelled flight. It resulted in an abnormally small GP, warping the field to be considerably soft, as many professionals were unable to attend. Ice Storm

The top eight had the word “Mono” in it a bit less than previous GPs, but we still saw devotion to black make an appearance, as well as a nearly-mono red devotion list. The winner was Marlon Gutierrez’s Orzhov control deck, which looked a lot like Esper just without blue and a ton more removal and discard. He was packing the full set of Blood Barons in the main deck, hoping to capitalize on his resistance to much of the popular removal and significant lifegain capabilities.

Blood Baron was $7 at one point before everyone collectively realized what the card said and he was $20 almost overnight. He’s now down towards the $18 range, and hasn’t see any real bump from GPDFW. I think it’s possible we’ll see him tick up a little bit in the near future, but I would be surprised if he climbed above $22 or $23. He should crater pretty hard by the time rotation rolls around, at which point you should be willing to snag plenty of copies, as casual demand will keep him up for years to come.

Desecration Demon and Pack Rat made their usual appearances in both the winning list as well as the black devotion list, and continue to hold strong at $10 and $3 respectively. Don’t be afraid to ask for real cards in trade with Pack Rat these days. He’s in everything, and if people want to use it, they should expect to trade away relevant cardboard.

Hero’s Downfall was popular again, but like Blood Baron, didn’t see any real movement based on the results of the event. The next North American Standard GP is in late January, which is where many role-players like Downfall will see a rise in price if it’s going to happen this season. Trade for them now at $10, and don’t be in a rush to ship them.

Mutavault was everywhere again; no surprise there. Get used to it, as it’s going to be in 50% of top eight manabases until September. It’s now easily $25, a few dollar increase from the last time I mentioned it a few weeks ago. The ceiling is probably around $30, which I’m guessing we’ll brush our heads against during January or February. If it wasn’t rotating this fall I’d peg it to go even higher. At this point, that’s all that will keep it from being a $40 rare.

Supreme Verdict

While there wasn’t anything I would really call a breakout performance, UW certainly made an impressive showing after being rather quiet lately. Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Detention Sphere were out in force, with a healthy amount of Jace and Elspeth rounding out the package. Jace has rebounded to $20 after slipping as low as $14 after the JvV announcement, at which point people noticed the release date said “May” and stopped the firesale. Like Blood Baron, I can see him ticking up a few more dollars, but I don’t think we’ll see him crest $25, especially with a very clear date of auxiliary supply on the horizon. Elspeth has lost a ton of value lately, falling to $20-$22. To her credit, It took awhile for her to get there from her prerelease days of $35. I would guess we’ll see her continue to decline through the summer, and late next fall we’ll see a resurgence.

Sphinx’s Revelation should behave similar to Jace and Blood Baron at this point; that party has mostly come and gone. Keep in mind that it will probably drop of the face of the earth come September, as it’s not good enough for any other formats, and is hardly a “cool” card. Don’t get stuck holding the bag. Meanwhile Detention Sphere is also still seeing a lot of action, and I’m hoping its price reflects that in the near future, mostly because I bought 30 or 40 of them before they announced the event deck. I hate event decks.

Supreme Verdict seems low to me right now, especially given how much devotion decks play on the battlefield. By the way, did you happen to notice that MTGSalvation put the three Scrylands from Born of the Gods in their spoiler? It includes the UW land and the GW land. That bodes very well for Verdict, and Bant in general. On top of that, Verdict will continue to remain relevant in nearly every format even after rotation, so this is a strong pickup $4-$5. Even if it doesn’t hit $10 during this season, a number which seems entirely plausible, the floor shouldn’t be much lower than $3 or $4.

xenagos

Lately while keeping abreast of cards I’ve seen a lot of powerful effects that are considerably lower than I realized, and I want to put some of them on everyone’s radar. First of all, have you noticed that Xenagos can be had for as little as $8 on TCG? That is very low for a Planeswalker that just put two copies into a top eight that was very soft to a pile of satyrs. I’m not saying he’s going to pull a Domri, but there is no way he stays this low forever.

Continuing in the trend of underpriced Planeswalkers, Ashiok too is quite affordable, with plenty of copies under $9. He’s already proven his chops, so we know he’s at least capable. Given how popular both mill and Planeswalkers are with casual folk, there’s no way he doesn’t rebound at some point. Grab your copies and hang on. And if you’ve got a little extra cash this time of year, might I suggest some Korean copies? Visions of Meloku.

I see two copies of Chained to the Rocks available for $.44 cents each right now, with quite a few under a $1. That’s awfully cheap for a very powerful removal spell; just barely above bulk. Mizzium Mortars is a $3 card. Is Chained that much worse? It’s hard to say without knowing what the lands will be next fall, but I would be awfully surprised if those wrought iron chains don’t end up costing more than pocket change at some point. Purphoros, God of the Forge

Speaking of rocks, Purphoros is down in the $7-8 range. Ok, I wasn’t really speaking of rocks, but whatever. Overall he was the most expensive god during the prerelease season because of an obviously very powerful triggered ability. We haven’t seen much come of it yet, but there’s a whole lot of time for him to matter yet. Keep in mind too that not only could he become a legitimate force in Standard, that ETB trigger is ripe for bashing people with in more combo-oriented formats. How about a Genesis Wave deck? Or some sort of elf brew? I don’t claim to know the best way to go about it, but it’s possible we end up seeing him in decks that never plan on turning him on in the first place.

Speaking of gods (hey that time it worked), Anger of the Gods is easily purchasable under $2 these days. I wouldn’t be rushing out to purchase them at the moment, but this is a legitimate sweeper with a powerful clause. Firespout has seen a lot of play in Modern, and Anger may manage the same. That exile clause may be mostly irrelevant in Standard unless its sweeping away weird leaf-deer things, but it matters quite a bit in older formats where Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Scavenging Ooze are mainstays.

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Real Value from Small Gains

By: Travis Allen

MTG writers are frequently telling you what cards to be on the lookout for, especially in Standard. Anticipated shifts in formats and mid-week articles can herald the coming of a previously-overlooked rare, resulting in both greater demand and greater price for the card by Monday morning. This happens all the time, and we don’t need to look too far back to see examples of it.

master

When Mono-blue exploded after the Pro Tour, the big winners were obviously Master of Waves, Thassa, and Nightveil Specter. Then there was Tidebinder Mage. Tidebinder jumped by a dollar or two. If you bought in Friday morning at ~$1.50, you saw a nice uptick to about $4 retail. Buylists didn’t move much though, and even if they did, it wasn’t for long.

More recently we experienced the same thing with Pack Rat and Underworld Connections. Both were under $1 before the Mono-black list exploded at Louisville the weekend before Halloween. After that, they jumped to a good $2-3 each, and thanks to black’s continued success, remain there today.

Let’s say you are excellent at speculating, and saw the Pack Rat/Underworld Connections jump coming. You likely would have looked at Nightveil Specter, saw a card gain $10 in two weeks, and had dollar signs in your eyes. You bought and traded for a bunch of copies of Rat and Connections, followed by spending some time adding all sorts of cool foils to a shopping cart, just waiting to make bank.

Your prescience paid off, and you indeed made profit. Well, kind of.

Pack Rat and Underworld Connections jumped, sure. But how much, really? The cards quadrupled in value, which sounds amazing on paper, but what is your actual rate on that? They went from $.50 or $.75 to $2 and $3? You definitely came out ahead, but realizing actual concrete profit on that is tough. A quick review of a few buylists shows that you may be able to get $1 to $1.50 on those now. That means if your cost was a true $.50 per copy (making sure to factor in tax and shipping), you may make a net profit of $.50 on each card sold back, minus the shipping fees to get the cards to the buylist. (If sending more than five or tend cards, your shipping could easily be $5+, which is ten cards worth of profit alone.)

That giant spike sadly only represents a $2 rise.
That giant spike sadly only represents a $2 rise.

How many cards would you have had to buy to see actual cash in your pocket? 200 copies of Pack Rat would net you somewhere around $90 in profit, assuming some store actually wanted 200 copies (or multiple stores were offering $1). That sounds nice and tidy, but you would have had to shell out $100 upfront for 200 copies of Pack Rat. How often are you that sure of your success? Sometimes you Just Know, like the guys that preordered huge piles of Deathrite Shamans, Bonfire of the Damneds, Sphinx’s Revelations, or Snapcaster Mages. It’s not uncommon for people to just buy several playsets though, hedging their bets in case the card doesn’t pan out the way they hoped. In a situation where you pick up four to twenty copies, it isn’t even worth your time to go to the post office to mail them to the buylist. What then?

One of the side effects of a card jumping like this is that not only did the price rise, but demand also rose as well. Because of the general floor of rare values, as well as a seemingly invisible casual market, many rares will hold a price of $.25-$.75 with only the remotest chance someone actually wants to trade for any. When they hit $2-3, not only did the value go up, but that means the demand at your local store will have went from a stone cold nothing to an appreciable amount. This is where your best opportunity is to capitalize on small-value cards with large percentage gains.

Imagine you bought four playsets of Underworld Connections for $.75 a card, hoping they’d spike. Your spec didn’t completely bomb, as they’re currently around $2.50 in trade, with a best buylist of $.90 as of 12/2. That’s hardly worth shipping to a buylist though. Instead, you should stick them front in center of your binder and head off to your LGS. With a trade value of $2.50, you can ask a good $10 in trade for the set. You can then utilize good trade practices and disparity of information to perhaps grab a Master of Waves from someone looking to move into black. Now, suddenly your $3 investment on a set of Connections has turned into a real card. If you can manage that three more times, you’ve managed to turn a mildly successful spec into a hot playset of Standard mythics.

You can further take advantage of this situation by identifying cards with a good buylist spread. The long and short of it is that the smaller the spread, the better positioned the card is on the market. If Card A sells for $10 but has a buylist of $3, it has a huge spread and is less appealing to trade into. If Card B is a $10 card with a buylist of $7 or $8, a considerably smaller spread, it will trade at the same value as Card A but will make you more than double if you decide to buylist it. Those are the types of things you really want to be aware of when making trades in search of profit.

This is physically painful for me to look at.
This is physically painful for me to look at.

Remember how I said Master of Waves is around a $10 card? As of 12/2, his best buylist is $4.18, and you may have a tough time getting one for a set of Underworld Connections anyways. Desecration Demon, meanwhile, has a slightly lower trade value, and has a best buylist of a whopping $6.30. If you sold those sixteen Underworld Connections at buylist for $.90 each, you would have made $2.40 in profit, which wouldn’t even cover shipping the cards to a store. Four Desecration Demons will make you $13.20 net cash profit from a buylist for the exact same trade value, whose trades you may even be able to get a throw-ins on. Smart trading indeed!

Buying a few playsets of a card with good a outlook is common practice in the Magic world for those with a keen eye and prudent sense. Sometimes they jump, but you aren’t quite sure how to actually make money if the gain isn’t large enough. Now you have the knowledge of how to profit from these meager market shifts. Happy trading! 

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