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.

The Twitter Primer (Fall ’13)

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By: Travis Allen

Magic finance moves very fast these days. During Pro Tour Theros, Master of Waves quadrupled in price over the span of something like 14 hours. Nightveil Specter and Thassa saw similar rapid movement the same weekend. If had been watching Twitter that Friday afternoon you would have heard about the impending spikes and had the opportunity to make purchases based on that info. Of course you may have gotten your order cancelled, but at least you could have made great trades that night at FNM or on a Saturday afternoon draft. If, however, you didn’t learn about any of this until Monday or Tuesday morning when you read recaps of the weekend, you were already too late.

If you’re reading about a card’s rise in an article, the train has probably already left the station. At the time I’m writing this, it is Monday afternoon. Even if a card started moving as I’m typing – if Kibler tweets a picture of a deck with 4x Zegana claiming he broke it – and I put the breakout news in this piece, you wouldn’t read about it until Wednesday morning at the earliest. Meanwhile, Zegana would be sold out across the internet by Monday evening. This is why many discussions of individual cards in articles fall into one of two categories. Either the card already jumped and it’s a discussion of whether to hold or sell, or it’s a longer-term prediction that is truly predictive, and thus suffers a far less success rate unless the writer is nostradomesque.

What does all of this mean? It means that if you want to know what’s going on in the finance world, there is exactly one place to get the most up-to-date news: Twitter. There is no other single tool or medium that provides the real-time updates on hot tips alongside quality discussion from knowledgeable parties. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read about a price spike on Twitter Friday afternoon, then scored several copies of the card for way under its new value several hours later at FNM. Knowledge = capital.

So you head off to twitter.com and register for a new account. Now what though? You can tweet into the aether, but that won’t get you very far without any followers. What you need is a lead on who to listen to. There are some obvious choices for the average MTG enthusiast, such as Aaron Forsythe (@mtgaaron), Mark Rosewater (@maro254), or Luis-Scott Vargas (@lsv). You will find plenty of other interesting accounts to follow by watching who these guys interact with, but my goal is to help you jump right into the thick of things.

Keep in mind that because of the way Twitter works, you only see a discussion between two parties if you follow both of them. If Aaron and Mark are tweeting back and forth, and you only follow one of them, you won’t see the conversation. This means that the amount of information available to you expands exponentially the more people you follow. A good deal of helpful insight comes in the form of conversations between several people, so make sure you err on the side of following more people than not.

What follows in no particular order is a list of individuals that can frequently be found discussing up-to-date finance info. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will certainly get you started. I guarantee that if you follow these people and pay attention, they will make you money.

 

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sigfig

@sigfig8

Sigmund is one of the first Magic finance guys I started following, and I still get good info from him regularly. He is most characterized by his love of sealed product and a predilection for prudent, lower-risk investments. A cautious voice in a realm prone to exaggeration and hype can help temper some of your more rash decisions.

In addition to his activity regarding Magic, Sigmund can often be found tweeting about real life stock investing, which can occasionally help provide a splash of reality when you stop and compare that to trading cardboard back and forth.

 

jason

@JasonEAlt

Jason Alt is one of the better known faces of Magic finance, and his work even occasionally appears here on mtgprice.com. Brainstorm Brewery, the (largest?) financial podcast, is also a home to Jason’s insight, where he is one of the distinguished hosts.

Being a large part of the community, a lot of useful information flows through and from him colored by his typical light derision. Jason is a great resource for hot card tips, as he passes along many things he hears that appear credible. You’ll also encounter plenty of other finance-minded types through his tweets.

becvar

@Becvar

Nick Becvar has less followers than some of the other people on this list, but has some of the most useful and actionable information on Twitter. Lately, he’s been encouraging people to take out second mortgages to buy every copy possible of Mind Seize, the Grixis Commander 2013 deck that houses True-Name Nemesis. He’s one of my more recent follows, but absolutely a great resource. I’m pretty sure that he was one of the first people I saw that passed along the mono-blue deck information on the Friday before Pro Tour Theros.

 

chosler88

@Chosler88

Corbin is another mainstay of the MTG finance scene, writing articles all over the internet about the topic each week. Be warned that his finance tweets will be interspersed with merfolk adoration and fantasy sportsball commentary.

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jr

@time_elemental

What JR brings to the metaphorical table is a bit different than most other on this list. While you won’t often get insight on individual cards from JR, what you will get is more broad, economically-sound considerations of larger market trends. This is because JR works in the real world of the stock market, and translates this knowledge to Magic. There is a lot to digest in his 140 characters. I only wish I had the economic background to understand all the things he discusses.

 

chas

@chasandres

The only finance type on SCG, Chas has a good deal more exposure than most others. He doesn’t tweet terribly often, but when he does, it’s often good stuff. When I see his avatar appear in my timeline out of the corner of my eye, I make sure to check it out.

 

mtgpriec

@mtgprice

The Twitter account for this here website. Follow it to see exactly when new articles from your favorite MTGPrice writers are live!

 

woc

@wordofcommander

Cliff is a fellow writer here at MTGPrice, and as his Twitter handle implies, fairly commander oriented. He doesn’t tweet all that often, but when he does, it’s almost always on topic. I enjoy the opportunity to see the market through the eyes of someone with a very different method of perspective than my own.

 

ta

@wizardbumpin

Yours truly. I try to tweet about something related to Magic finance at least once a day. I enjoy posing questions to my followers to engage the public and discover different perspectives. I also like to chat with many of the other people mentioned above directly, so make sure you’re following all of us in order to see interactions.

Warning: I do a lot of retweeting of “weird Twitter” accounts, which basically means if you follow me you’ll see lots of very funny stuff like this:

 


If you follow anyone above because of this article, shoot them a tweet and let them know. Everyone enjoys hearing that someone wants to hear what they have to say. 

Track your collection's value over time, see which cards moved the most, track wishlists, tradelists and more. Sign up at MTGPrice.com - it's free!

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What Good is Money if You Can’t Spend it?

This past week I realized I had no good winter footwear, and given that I live in Buffalo, this was a problem that needed solving. I set out on a search with a pretty good idea of what I was looking to purchase. After viewing somewhere in the ballpark of 7,000 shoes (thanks Zappos!), I hadn’t found anything I liked for an amount of money I was comfortable laying out. I did find one pair that was exactly what I wanted, but they were about two to three times more than the budget I had set for myself. It was while I was moving some cards around and thinking about the shoes that I skimmed past some duals in my trade binder. Suddenly, the answer was clear. Within two days I had sold a few duals and purchased the shoes. Shoe Tree

My experience refreshed in me the idea that it was sometimes completely ok to take cash out of my collection sometimes, not just always roll profits over into more stock. I am not alone in this practice. Cliff Daigle, the writer of Casual Fridays here on mtgprice.com, just sold several Ulamogs in order to subsidize washing machine repairs. After all, what is the point of squeezing value out of these cards if we can’t make use of it every once and a while?

It’s very easy to get caught up in the process of expanding your collection. We focus on making good trades, searching for the next bubble that’s about to burst, flipping collections, buying low, and selling high. The entire activity can feel rather insulated if you never step back and consider it in the grander scheme of things. There’s an interesting cognitive dissonance that occurs with some players with regards to how they treat Magic money and real money.

You may haggle in trades over $1 worth of value on a $40 trade, but blow cash on lottery tickets every week. Maybe you go out to the bars every Saturday and drop $100 on $20 worth of alcohol. Perhaps your financial vise is a $6 cup of coffee every morning that you could easily make at home or work. Whatever the case, it’s not inconceivable for one to be fastidiously stringent with regards to their Magic transactions, but sloppy with actual currency elsewhere in life. The expression “Penny wise, pound poor” comes to mind.

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This mental compartmentalization of types of assets is what occasionally prevents some Magic players from being aware of their ability to cash parts of their collection out to finance real life activity. Has there ever been a time in which you told yourself you couldn’t buy a new game and chose to pirate it instead, all while sitting four feet from $10,000 worth of Magic cards? Don’t be afraid to capitalize on some of that value you’ve accumulated through shrewd trading and speculating. 

Tropical Island

I don’t feel bad about selling duals in particular either. To begin with, there aren’t many players in my area that will even trade for them. My local scene is very Standard heavy, as I’m sure many these days are, with 95% of my trade partners restricting themselves to the roughly 25 Standard pages of my trade binder and ignoring the 200 non-Standard pages. I also don’t feel bad about the lands possibly appreciating in value. In the next two years, how much more could they be worth? $20, $30 maybe? I am in essence paying myself $20 not to buy shoes that I need. That seems silly.

Remember also that Magic cards are a commodity in nature. While that carries with it a great deal of implications, how does it matter in this context? It means that this Tarmogoyf is no different than that Tarmogoyf. Just because you sell a currently-unused goyf today for $100, that does not mean that you can’t own the card again down the road. (Nearly) all Magic cards are completely replaceable. When you remove emotion from the equation and understand objectively that selling a card doesn’t mean it is gone forever, you’ll find yourself far more able to occasionally let go.

To be clear, I’m not claiming that you should be looking to ship cardboard every time you want to buy a sandwich. I was comfortable selling what I did because they represented a small portion of my total inventory. If a few duals were 10% of my Magic assets, I wouldn’t be making that type of move. When what you’re selling won’t even be missed from your collection though, don’t feel bad about letting the cards provide something for you that you actually need. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Your takeaway from all this should be that your Magic collection represents what can be a considerable amount of real value. Cards that are collecting dust and taking up space in trade binders can easily be a good chunk of the cost of whatever it is you’ve been eyeing recently, whether it’s a new mattress, car repairs, fancy jeans, or the latest video game. While I’d recommend you avoid doing it frequently if you want to continue growing your collection, don’t be afraid to dip in occasionally. 

Mid-Week Card Watch

  • Nykthos was seen splashing around GP Antwerp this weekend. It didn’t manage to Top 16, but I doubt this is the last we’ve seen of it in the format. You know what was in 10 of the top 16 decks? Spellskite.
  • Zur the Enchanter saw a huge spike a week or two ago. His price hasn’t settled yet, but it looks like he will be somewhere between $7-$15.
  • Mutavault started climbing from it’s low of ~$12 and hasn’t stopped yet. It’s currently pushing $20, and $25 is not a far cry.
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Numbers

By: Travis Allen

The process of trading, buying, and selling Magic cards clearly revolves around one thing: prices. How much is that card worth in trade? How much would you sell it for? How much can I sell this for if I pick it up in trade? How much should I offer that guy on his collection? So on and so on. Today, I’ll show you some of the websites I use in my daily operations to equip myself with the best knowledge I can. And after all, Knowledge is power.

 

www.mtgprice.com

Starting with the obvious, MTGPrice provides a clear answer for finding the current price of cards. As a price aggregator and not a direct retailer, MTGPrice’s reported numbers will align with true market value far better than single retail sites. By looking across a variety of vendors, the site is able to smooth out occasional absurd prices from individual sites.

MTGPrice also has the unique function of providing price history information, which can be highly valuable at times. Sometimes when trading you are not quite as curious about the value of a card today, as much as you care about what it was and will be. There are times where you can’t remember if a card has been falling or rising recently, and you want to be sure you’re on the right side of that slope. I find this feature particularly useful when looking at considerably older cards whose prices I don’t have a perfect recollection of. Being able to look up something like Ancestral Visions will tell you which direction it’s heading, which makes a big difference when considering whether you should take it to balance out a trade deficit.

vision

 

http://magiccards.info

Built as what amounts to a minimalist-influenced GUI for the assaulting aesthetic of TCGPlayer, I’m a big fan. It is the fastest loading Magic card site I have found, you get a big crisp picture, easy-to-access alternate print history, and the raw volume of TCGPlayer prices without having to slog through their laborious interface.

TCGPlayer’s data is useful, as they track nearly every major online retailer. The most interesting aspect of TCG data is that they recently added the ability for private sellers to function as storefronts. These are going to be your hardcore binder-grinder types that have a massive rotating collection, but don’t want to be bothered creating an actual web presence. With the addition of individual sellers, the prices are going to move much faster than a standard web store, find floors quicker, and occasionally be willing to operate on smaller margins.

The biggest pitfall of magiccards.info is the less-accessible data on foils, and often even more lacking, promo prices. Finding prices on foils is not too hard, although it’s not immediately visible. Here’s how I do it:

tcgfoil

From what I can tell, the reason promos are so hard to aggregate data on is because stores classify them differently. For example, promos such as Voidslime are sometimes listed as both “Near Mint Foil” – because its foil – and just “Near Mint;” since all copies are foil, they don’t bother being explicit. For many promos, you’ll have to venture elsewhere. 

 

voidslime

A note on identifying prices from TCGPlayer in general: You’ll notice that unlike something like MTGPrice or SCG, there is a long list of numbers when you check out the prices on TCGPlayer. Those numbers are boiled down into low, mid, and high. It’s common for some people to just jump straight to the mid price and use that as the trade value. While that isn’t an unreasonable approach, it does have the the flaw of being unlikely to adapt to rapid market changes as quickly as the low value does. If a banner mythic such as Purphoros drops $10 in the week after release, the low will move $10 because the invisible hand of the market will push the ambitious to race to the floor of the card. However the lazy and greedy may leave their price at pre-drop prices, resulting in a huge disparity. Check out the FTV Lotus Petal and you’ll see that the gap between the low and the high is pretty narrow, as the price has settled comfortably. The reported gap on Purphoros is $20 though – more than double the low price of the card!

My strategy when divining prices from TCGPlayer data is more heuristic-driven. If I’m ever unsure of a fair value, I’ll pull up the full list of prices and start looking for playsets. At the moment, there is a NM copy of Chandra, Pyromaster available for $24.50. The first price at which there are multiple sellers in a row with multiple copies available is $29.99 though, which I would treat as her fair trade price. (The mid is reported at $33 – buoyed by an absurd $48 high.) (Also keep in mind that while I may identify her fair trade price as $30, it does not necessarily mean that’s how much I plan on trading her away for.)

 

www.starcitygames.com

I find myself wanting to call them the Amazon of Magic, but given that Amazon typically has great prices, I’m unwilling to make this comparison. SCG is undoubtedly the de facto standard as far as single-vendor pricing goes. It’s a very popular resource to use among those that are less dedicated in the financial arts. I personally dislike using SCG during trades for a few reasons:

  • They don’t update prices on out-of-stock items, which can potentially be disastrous for either member of the trade during price spikes (Master of Waves selling out at $7) or difficult to find cards (Foil Grim Monolith was at one point sold out at $69.99, when the card was actually ~$120.) nighthowler-gd

  • SCG weights Standard legality heavily when setting prices. While it’s a perfectly fine business model for them, as they know their customers will pay it, it can lead to some potentially lopsided trades. They currently have Chandra, Pyromaster listed at $40, while she is easily a $30 card everywhere else. However the MM printing of Cryptic Command is $25 on SCG and ~$24 on TCG. If you’re trading away non-Standard cards for Standard, you are going to get thrashed on SCG prices. Of course, if you’re going the other way, you can occasionally make a killing.

  • They’re only a single seller. SCG is not the entire market themselves, and it’s silly to treat them as such. Why rely on one data point that is notorious for being overpriced relative to the market when aggregator sites such as mtgprice.com are available?

Regardless, Starcity does have its uses. I find myself using them most often for promo cards, such as the recent Nighthowler Game Day promo. While you certainly need to take the prices with a grain of salt, at least they give you an idea of whether the card is $3 or $30. They’re also acceptable for finding prices on things like sealed product.

 

www.ebay.com

Ahh, eBay. Everyone’s least favorite way of selling cards. Between 10% fees from eBay, 3% fees from the nigh-unavoidable PayPal, and what seems like more buyers that are out to scam you than not, “minefield” is too kind a comparison. As miserable as eBay can be for selling though, it is at least a useful resource for pricing information. eBay is best suited for things such as very obscure cards like Foil Russian Tidespout Tyrants, promos you can’t find in stock elsewhere, and most importantly, cash values. 

The cash value part is important because eBay is unique in this function. Whenever I’m discussing purchasing cards directly from another player, eBay is my first stop. The “Completed listings” option will show you how much previous auctions have sold (and not sold) for, providing you with valuable information regarding a ceiling for your offer.

It is not uncommon for many cards to have wild discrepancies between trade and sale. Ghost dad sells on eBay for only $2-$3 less than he is on MTGPrice, whereas Horizon Canopy – $39 on MTGPrice – has plenty of completed listings for around $21 a copy. Whenever there is cash involved in a deal, make sure to stop by eBay to identify the card’s cash value.

Midweek cardwatch:

  • Hero’s Downfall is an astounding $15 right now. Off the top of my head, an in-print fall set rare removal spell has never been this expensive, especially with alongside plenty of other sweet spells. I’m dumping mine asap, and I recommend you do the same. The real price for this card is probably between $3-$7.

  • Wizards announced Jace vs Vraska, which will have a copy of Le Chiffre and an MSRP of $20. His price has dropped about $6 since the news, which should be short lived. People apparently didn’t notice that the release date is in May.

    jace

  • Pack Rat is, or will shortly be, $2.

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Hindsight is 20/20: Pro Tour Theros Review

With Pro Tour Theros only a few days past, it is time to digest the results. We need to figure out what has changed, what to do about it, and what the future may hold.

The breakout of the tournament was clearly Mono-blue (MU) devotion. Before we delve into that though, let’s take a look at what I liked last week:

Advent of the Wurm: While Advent of the Wurm was certainly not a breakout, I would not completely say it is a “miss” either. Of the decks that scored more than 18 points in the Standard portion, There were 14 that were running Advent. Dublin appeared to be a bad town for GW though, so while Advent showed up, it did not gain much value this weekend. At least Chas Andres admitted to buying 20+ copies himself this Monday, so at least I know I’m in good company regarding my expectations of the card’s performance.

Boon Satyr: There were 27 decks in the Top Decks portion that ran some number of this card, so we can say it was more successful than Advent. The price has not moved much to reflect this though. Perhaps in the next few weeks. Prime Speaker Zegana

Prime Speaker Zegana: Not a single copy in a single deck that scored 18 points or more.

Underworld Cerberus: Same as Zegana. Still like the card. Moving on…

Loxodon Smiter: 19 decks running him, so not too bad. Still, no real price movement.

Bow of Nylea: Three copies in the top decks. At least I didn’t oversell it.

Heliod, God of the Sun: Nnnnnnnnnope.

Ruric Thar & Sire of Insanity: While only one copy of Sire was floating around, Ruric had a decent amount of SB slots, but nowhere near enough to move his price.

Reid Duke: 34th place. I’d consider that an exemplary performance. Good job Reid!

All in all, I’d say my outlooks were pretty mediocre. This was mostly a miserable event for Selesnya in general. There were a fair bit of GW decks that made 18 points or better, but none that cracked the top eight. From what I have heard, most of them had a bad matchup against the MU decks, which if true would explain the mostly lackluster showing.

I really liked Advent of the Wurm, Boon Satyr, and Loxodon Smiter, which all showed up, but Zegana and Cerberus were nowhere to be found. I did not predict any MU deck pieces or Nykthos, although I’m not beating myself up for missing the blue cards. In my defense, I picked up roughly 20 Nightveil Specters at $.66 awhile back when we learned about devotion, so at least I made a reasonable call on that. Of course, I did not bother to tell any of you about that last week, so it was hardly of help unless you follow me on Twitter and read my tweet when I bought them.

So what were in fact the big gainers of the weekend?

Master of Waves: Master saw the largest jump, going from ~$4 a week or two ago to right around $20 as of Monday the 14th. Not only did MU put three copies into the top 8, which is good news for the cards to begin with, it also managed to win both first and second place. Those types of results will skyrocket a card’s value.

Master of Waves

Where do we go from here with Master? Well, let’s talk about the deck itself first. I suspect the MU deck may follow the path of the spirit deck Finkel played at PT Honolulu in early 2012.  While the deck performed well, putting 2 ½ copies into the top 8, that particular build mostly disappeared following the PT.

Highly synergistic decks such as Spirits or MU can be great in a single-event metagame, but tend to not be sufficiently resilient when the format is ready for them. Contrast Finkel’s spirit deck from that event with Kibler’s winning GR Kessig Wolf Run list, which was a pile of very powerful cards. Kessig Wolf Run decks continued to be a major contender in the Standard metagame for months afterwards. The takeaway here is that I don’t believe MU is capable of thriving through weeks of sustained, dedicated hate.

Having said that, Master of Waves is clearly a very powerful card. It is entirely possible we will see a significant transformation of the deck, which moves towards a more “good cards are good” build, a la typical Jund lists. If that is the case it is highly unlikely he will be capable of maintaining a $20 price tag, but $9-$13 seems like a reasonable place for him to settle. My advice is to sell Master of Waves at this time, and if he reaches ~$12, feel free to pick up a personal playset.

An important thing to remember here is that Master has proven he is the real deal. If MU disappears and Master once more drops below $6, it will be time to start snatching them in trades. We will likely never be too far from seeing him come crashing over the levee on any given weekend.

Thassa, God of the Sea: Thassa was another major winner on the weekend, jumping from ~$11 to a whopping $25 at one point. I was a big fan of her in my Theros review, calling her the best God in the set. I’m pleased to see that she is experiencing big-time success, although I wish she had gotten a little lower so I could have scooped up some copies first.

Unlike Master, I think her prevalence elsewhere in the metagame will end up being more pronounced. While Master has very specific needs (a bunch of U symbols), Thassa just wants you to be capable of producing blue mana by turn three. We already can tell she is solid in control lists, and this weekend has shown she’s viable in more aggressive builds as well.

The result of all of this is that while Thassa’s price is inflated, I doubt she will get as low as $11 anytime in the foreseeable future. I would guess that $15 is her floor for the medium term, with $20 possible if other mythics in the set keep dropping while she continues to see play. Right now her demand will be very high, as supply is still a bit constrained and she just spiked a PT. It is not likely many will be trading theirs away at FNM, so you should be able to capitalize on being one of the only guys in the room with any available. Unless you really need a personal set, ship now and reacquire when she is closer to $15. Nightveil Specter

Nightveil Specter: With what I’m pretty confident is the largest percentage increase, from about $.66 to a whopping $5, Nightveil Specter is easily the largest beneficiary of the weekend. Not much to say here; ship all of your copies now. Even with sustained play, I doubt these are more than $2 in a few weeks.

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx: Prior to this PT, I think a lot of people were in the same boat as I was on this card. I could tell the card obviously had potential, but I was unsure of whether it was going to be a legitimate role-player or if it would turn into another Crypt of Agadeem. The reason I believe others shared this view was that the price was hovering right around $5, which says to me “we do not think this is bulk/commander yet, but we are unsure if it is good enough to charge $10+.” Well, this weekend settled that.

Nykthos saw reasonable representation in the top 8 with 10 copies, but definitely proved its worth in Makihito’s deck when he was doing things like vomiting an unreal amount of permanents onto the board by turn four. By now we can see that it is obviously capable of doing some very busted things.

Nykthos spiked to $15 and is currently somewhere around the $13 mark. Before you run around buying in at $10 each, remember that Deathrite Shaman has seen significant, sustained, ban-discussion-inducing Modern and Legacy play yet is still only about $13-15. There’s a real ceiling to values of in-print rares. I would sell any additional copies, and consider $5 to be the floor for Nykthos.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts: Garruk only put four copies into the top 8, but Makihito’s GR deck took fourth, which is the highest place for a non-MU list. Garruk was easily the most remarkable card in the deck through the lens of MTG finance. Garruk has been rather quiet since M14, appearing only very occasionally, but is set to capitalize on the power of Nykthos. Garruk may be expensive at six mana, but Nykthos lets you get there quickly by unloading your hand and then he just completely refills for you.

There are still copies available under $15, and I like Garruk that cheap. He never managed to dip below $12, so $15 is not much above what appears to be his floor. I don’t see him reaching Domri levels of play, but $17-22 seems plausible. Garruk was a question mark beforehand, but now that Nykthos is real, Garruk is too. I’d start trading for him this week.

In addition to these cards, there were a lot of others that saw some amount of price movement based on the weekend or cemented themselves as legitimate parts of the metagame. Finally, congratulations to Judge’s Familiar for taking down back-to-back Pro Tour wins as a maindeck four-of.

1117_judgesfamiliar

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