Category Archives: James Chillcott

MTG Fast Finance: Episode 2

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by Travis Allen (@wizardbumpin) & James Chillcott (@mtgcritic)

MTG Fast Finance is a new weekly podcast that tries to break down the flurry of financial activity in the world of Magic: The Gathering into a fast, fun and useful thirty minute format. Follow along with our seasoned hosts as they walk you through this week’s big price movements, their picks of the week, metagame analysis and a rotating weekly topic.

Show Notes: Jan 29th

Segment 1: Top Movers of the Week

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Battle Screech (Judgement)
Start: $0.50
Finish: $3.00
Gain: +$2.50 (+500%)

Treasure Hunt (Magic Player Rewards)
Start: $1.25
Finish: $6.50
Gain: +$5.25 (+420%)

Boom/Bust (Planar Chaos)
Start: $2.50
Finish: $7.00
Gain: +$4.50 (+180%)

Palinchron (Urza’s Legacy)
Start: $11.00
Finish: $25.00
Gain: +$14.00 (+127%)

Flagstones of Trokair (Time Spiral)
Start: $13.00
Finish: $26.00
Gain: +$13.00 (+100%)

Seedborn Muse (Legions/9th/10th)
Start: $13.00
Finish: $26.00
Gain: +13.00 (+100%)

Ghost Quarter (Various)
Start: $1.00
Finish: $2.00
Gain: +1.00 (+100%)

Segment 2: Cards to Watch

James Picks:

  1. Harbinger of the Tides, ORI (Foil): $6.50 to $15+ (+130%, 6-12+ months)
  2. Goblin Piledriver, ORI (Foil): $5 to $10+ (+100%, 12+ months)
  3. Painful Truths, BFZ (Foil): $11 to $20+ (80%, 6-12+ months)

Disclosure: James is holding several Harbinger of the Tides foils.

Travis Picks:

  1. Delver of Secrets (Foil): $12 to $25 (110%, 0 – 12 months)
  2. Kozilek, the Great Distortion (Foil): $60 to $80 (33%, 6 – 12+ months)

Disclosure: Travis is not holding either of his picks at present.

Segment 3: Metagame Week in Review

The guys highlighted the successful showing for Merfolk as the 2nd, 3rd, and 12th at the  #SCG Modern Classic last weekend as a deck that keeps slipping under the radar despite doing well. Goblins was also noted as the winner of the Legacy Classic at the same tournament.

Segment 4: Topic of the Week: Is MTG Too Expensive?

The guys discussed the average cost to play Magic: The Gathering, and the many ways players have to mitigate those costs in their favor.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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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Digging for Dollars: Oath of the Gatewatch

By: James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Oath of the Gatewatch follows through on the promises of Battle for Zendikar in a big way, rounding out the potential of the Eldrazi tribe with a cadre of fantastic creatures stretching right up the curve. Via the continuing Expedition lottery tickets, Wizards of the Coast continues their (by all accounts successful) bid to boost set sales while lowering the cost of playing Standard.

So what does this mean for those of us looking to make some money on Oath?

First off, now is the time to sell Oath if you’re selling. If you intend to crack cases and sell singles, you should already have them in hand, as within two weeks or less you’ll be facing a saturated market and prices that have fallen to local lows as much as 40-50% below starting prices.

Secondly, this is a small set packed with great cards with a lot of potential both mid and long term, which places it in the same realm as Magic: Origins, a set that should lead to $160-200 boxes within a couple of years as it goes out of print and the cost of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy stops repressing the price of the double fistful of Modern/Legacy playable rares in the set currently under $3.

Finally, the Expeditions are less desirable, but there will also be less of them, as Oath will only enjoy about six weeks in the spotlight before previews for Shadows Over Innistrad takes over.

Here, presented in order of likely upside, are my picks for the cards in Oath of the Gatewatch most likely to reward timely speculation, with all target prices assumed to be possible during 2016 unless otherwise noted:

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1. Goblin Dark Dwellers (Buy-a-Box)

goblin_dark

If there’s a rare that seems to be getting lost in the shuffle thus far, this has to be it. It’s worth remembering that Buy-A-Box promo status is often an indication of quality, a la Supreme Verdict and Sylvan Caryatid. Let’s compare this guy to Snapcaster Mage. Snaps is 1U for a 2/1 Flash body that requires you pay the cost of the spell you want to recast. So Snapcaster Mage into Bolt is a total commitment of three mana, but Snaps into Kolaghan’s Command is five mana. On the other hand, GDD at five mana gives you +2/+3 and menace on your threat in exchange for flash. Perhaps more importantly, GDD gives Grixis control decks a great top end in Modern, allowing them to run a package of sweet spells that all double up off of 4 copies each of Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, with Goblin Dark Dwellers appearing as a likely 2-of. As a five-drop creature there are no guarantees the card is fast enough, but I will certainly be testing to figure out if he makes the cut.

In standard Goblin Dark Dwellers, could easily end up as a 4-of in a great deck that leverages Crackling Doom and Commands of various flavors to create an impenetrable wall of recursive control elements.

A Kenji Tsumura brew to consider.
A Kenji Tsumura brew to consider.

The buy-a-box version has stunning art and looks incredible as a foil, and I see this as an easy double up given enough time. The fact that you get these free when you buy a box means there are a lot of copies, but it also means that your buy-in cost can be zero if you’re cracking boxes and willing to hold for a while. As for additional copies, I’d be targeting them around $6-7.

Now: $8
Target: $15+
Timeline: Mid-Term (6-12 months)

2. Thought-Knot Seer (Foil)

Stunning in foil!
Stunning in foil!

Yeah, this isn’t an under the radar pick. In fact, these foils are already sitting around $25, which is pretty high for a new rare that hasn’t won anything yet. That being said, I see this monster as the spiritual cousin of Goblin Dark Dwellers. As GDD is to Snapcaster Mage, so to is this card to Vendilion Clique. It’s slower, but you get a bigger body and they don’t get a (random) card back until they manage to kill it. The real driver here however is the busted combination of Eye of Ugin and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, which turns Eye into a better land than the hallowed Mishra’s Workshop.

In magical Christmas land you drop 4x Eldrazi Mimic off of Eye on Turn 1, and follow up on Turn 2 with Thought-Knot Seer, clearing away their solution card, and attacking for 16. (Alternatively, drop Vile Aggregate off a Mountain and attack for 20.) Even when you have normal hands, TKS is going to come down early, mess up their plans and set the stage for Reality Smasher and Ulamog to finish things off. His power level and flexibility in Standard is on par with Siege Rhino, so I expect this to be a 4-of in multiple formats. Also, the foils are incredible, especially in Japanese, Korean, and Russian. I suspect you’ll see some deals around $20 as we hit peak supply so have your funds at the ready.

A word of warning, however. If an Eldrazi build in Modern dominates the tournament and makes Top 8 at Pro Tour: Oath of the Gatewatch next week, don’t be surprised to see Eye of Ugin get banned to bring the deck back down to a reasonable power level. Losing Eye could relegate Eldrazi to Tier 2/3 in Modern and slow or reverse growth.

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Now: $25 (try to acquire around $20 at peak supply)
Target: $40+ (if Eye of Ugin isn’t banned)
Timeline: Mid-Term (6-12 months)

3. Expedite/Slip Through Space (Foil)

These guys are probably under your radar, but let me get you up to speed. One mana cantrips are dangerous cards, and ones with effects that enable combo or aggro strategies are well worth paying attention to as foils, even if they’re commons. Both of these cards can be found in foil for under $1.50 at present, but Expedite has implications in Jeskai Ascendancy and UR Aggro builds for both Standard and Modern. Slip Through Space may also find a home in Modern Infect as a 1 or 2-of since it can help get through the final few points of infect damage and close out the game.

Here are a couple of Standard deck shells to drive home the potential.

Note the use of cantrips with Prowess and Delve to end things fast.
Note the use of cantrips with Prowess and Delve to end things fast.
Jeskai Ascendancy will come out on top again, sooner or later. The card is insane.
Jeskai Ascendancy will come out on top again, sooner or later. The card is insane.

Now: $1-$1.50
Target: $5+
Timeline: Mid-Term (6-12 months)

4. Stone Haven Outfitter

Will White Weenie Equipment hit critical mass?
Will White Weenie Equipment hit critical mass?

I’ve already bought 60 copies of this guy around $0.75 and I intend to go deeper if he bottoms out under $.50. This card has all the hallmarks of a role player that is waiting for its’ deck to hit synergistic critical mass. He passes the vanilla test with flying colors, providing a Crusade style effect to equipped creatures and yields card advantage if they choose to let him live to deal with the equipped threat. Once he’s the last man standing, he can even suit up and enjoy his own bonus.

There are already plenty of interesting comrades for this card. Have a look at just some of the options that may one day make this a card worth having stashed away in the long term spec box:

Now: $.75
Target: $4+
Timeline: Long-Term (12 months+)

5. Eldrazi Mimic (foil)

While his fellow rare teammates Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher soar on early hype at $15 and $7.50 respectively, the lowly Eldrazi Mimic isn’t even commanding the regular 2x foil multiplier, with regular copies at $2 or so and foils around $3.

This seems out of wack to me, given the number of broken hands this card can lead to without even thinking too hard about it. Consider the following (utterly unlikely) opening hands:

Yeah, you’re taking 16 on Turn 2, and having your solution stripped.

Now you’re taking 20 on Turn 2. How’d that taste? Now how about some Legacy action?

Know what that hand means? It means you’re probably dead at the hands of a one mana 12/12 trampler by Turn 4.

All of these hands are pretty unlikely, but none of that changes the fact the Mimic represents an open ended amount of synergy with big colorless creatures that can enter play cheaply. At $3 for foils on a potential 4-of in Modern or Legacy or casual decks, I’m in for $100 worth right off the bat.

Now: $3 (foil)
Target: $10+ (foil)
Timeline: Mid Term to Long Term (6-12 months+)

6. Sea Gate Wreckage (reg/foil)

Now: $3 ($7 foil)
Target: $10 ($20+ foil)
Timeline: Long-Term (12+ months)

This subtly powerful land has all the makings of a long-term all-star. With Expeditions and so many potential 4-ofs in this set set to make a splash, cards like this that will be played as 1-of or 2-of and slowly acquired for Cube and EDH, will enjoy repressed prices for a while.

You aren’t likely to make much on this card in 2016, but I’ll be looking to get in at peak supply for around $2 for regular and $6 for foils on the assumption that I’ll be putting 50 or 60 copies away for a couple of years waiting for the inevitable 100% spike on TCGPlayer as people realize there aren’t that many copies lying around in inventory after all.

7. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (maybe..)

 

I opened a Nissa at the Pre-Release and she was a solid lynchpin in my Scion focused deck trying to go wide, but she never felt back breaking even when she was giving three to four creatures a +1/+1 counter. As such, I’m not convinced that this is a card whose ascendancy you want to assume.

That being said, she is a 3-mana planeswalker, a gang that has been traditionally known to run the streets. At that casting cost, she could be run as a 4-of in a planeswalker/oath synergy based build like that proposed by Kenji Tsumura today.

Kenji does super friends for standard...
Kenji does super friends for standard…

I’m holding off on Nissa, but as a mythic, this is a card you will want to watch out for Nissa to show up in a sweet deck at SCG Atlanta this weekend. If she makes a good showing there, expect her to gain some ground. If she doesn’t find a moment in Standard, she falls to below $12, and you get the chance to stash some away for the long haul, where she is fairly certain to end up a $20+ casual all-star.

Now: $16?
Target: $25+ (pending results)
Timeline: Short-to-Mid Term (0-12 months)

8. Expeditions (The Good Ones)_

The time is not yet right, but in the next couple of weeks, the prices on the best of the Oath Expeditions will be injured by peak supply and you will get your chance to load up. Keep in mind that Oath Expeditions are naturally more rare than their fall release counterparts, as the winter set sales will not match BFZ, no matter how cool the set is.

Of the three high demand ones, I’d recommend chasing Horizon Canopy before the others. Eye of Ugin has the biggest growth potential, as fear of banning will likely drag the price down closer to $125, whereas not getting banned could result in a high demand 4-of land with stunning art having been under-priced early on. My guess is that WOTC lets the Eldrazi get freaky for at least a year before banning Eye of Ugin, but let’s see how the Pro Tour shakes out. If an Eldrazi deck fails to Top 8, the coast may be clear to move in.

Current: Tomb ($90), Eye ($150), Canopy  ($110)

Target Buy Price: Tomb ($75), Eye ($125), Canopy ($90)

Target Sell Price (Long-Term): Tomb ($125), Eye ($200), Canopy ($150)

9. Wastes 184 Full Art (Foil)

wastes

In opening my four boxes of Oath of the Gatewatch, I took note that the total # of Wastes lands per box was roughly one for every four packs, or 9-10 per box. This is a pretty low number. The total number of foils wastes I opened alongside 10 foil full art basic lands? Exactly zero. This leads me to believe that foil Wastes, and especially the preferred Kozilek version (#184) will be in very high demand down the road a piece.

These cards are currently available in the $10-15 range, but there really aren’t that many out there yet, so you may get a shot in the $8-12 range. Give it a year, I would guess these will be over $20 so long as the Eldrazi deck sets up shop in Modern and Eye of Ugin doesn’t get banned. Either way, I still like these a lot longer term assuming they don’t start printing them regularly.

Now: $10-15
Target: $20+
Timeline: Mid-to-Long Term (6-12+ months)

Cards You Should Be Selling

 

  1. Lesser Expedition Lands ($50-80)

The rest of the Expeditions are not likely to see high demand, and though they will rise over time, at current pricing you can pay for most of a box or pick up some key cards you need by trading them out. Get it done.

2. Kozilek, the Great Distortion ($20)

As with Ulamog before him, the new incarnation of Kozilek is a great long term mythic that is likely to bottom out closer to $12 before he rises again. I have to yet to be convinced that Kozilek is preferable to just running 4 Ulamog, The Ceaseless Hunger in Standard or Modern, and I suspect this mythic will get played almost exclusively in the sideboard of the Standard Eldrazi deck, or at best as a 1 or 2 of. That’s not enough to hold position as the 2nd most valuable card in the set, especially with so many good 4-of rares nipping at his heels. Sell or trade out now, and seek a low entry point.

Note: Now foils on the other hand are just awesome long term holds. Just go ahead and stash those away and check in in 2019 when they are over $100.

3. Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet ($8)

If Drana was any indication, this kind of legendary mid-range Standard only role player isn’t likely to make a huge splash. He’s hovering around $7, which is already low for a mythic, but I don’t see this doing much in the short term. You should be able to score copies for the long term around $4-5, at which point I like it on casual demand alone. Also, he works with zombies and vampires and we’re headed to Innistrad, so heads up.

Battle for Zendikar Upate

In Digging for Dollars: Magic Origins, I called out the following specs as undervalued cards with some chance of financial success (shown with original and current pricing):

  1. Drana, Liberator of Malakir: $15 to $8 (-47%)
  2. Oblivion Sower: $5.50 to $8.75 (+60%)
  3. Retreat to Corelhelm (Foil): $12 to $4 (-67%)
  4. Woodland Wanderer: $4 to $1 (-75%)
  5. Emeria Sheppard (Foil): $8 to $4 (-50%)
  6. Painful Truths: $1.50 to $2 (+33%)
  7. Bring to Light (Foil): $16 to $6 (-63%)

So far, this list isn’t doing very well. Let’s see what’s going on.

In many ways Battle For Zendikar has played out as we predicted. The presence of some very expensive lottery tick – er, I mean Expeditions has held down the price of most of the cards in the set, and if it weren’t for fetch/battle lands driving insane mana bases, Standard would have been pretty affordable this season. Those Expeditions found their lows during peak supply in late November, and have since rebounded, just as I expect the Oath ones to. Moving forward it will be worth keeping an eye on Expedition pricing, as boxes of BFZ around $90 may get pretty tempting next fall if the prices climb enough.

Drana, Liberator of Malakir is a great card that simply hasn’t found a home. I’ve been running two copies in my WB Aggro/Control build in Standard for months, but most players find her to have too little board impact in a format that is contending with perfect mana and multi-format all-stars like Siege Rhino and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Moving forward, as both an ally and a vampire, and given that we’re headed back to Innistrad and more vampires later this spring, Drana may find fresh legs, but I have trouble recommending you buy in until something definite develops, since further lack of play could push her into bulk mythic territory around $5-6 and signal a long term buy plan.

Oblivion Sower is on the cusp of finding a home in both Modern and Standard decks, so I feel confidant he’ll keep moving in the right direction despite the dual printings so long as Eye of Ugin doesn’t get banned.  Woodland Wanderer looks like the Savage Knuckleblade of BFZ; a big, bad boy that can’t get no respect in the face of even larger Eldrazi. Once Siege Rhino rotates out, he may find his path, but I’ll hold off on $1 copies until I see some camera time at this point.

On the long term side, the Retreat to Corelhelm deck hasn’t posted a big result in Modern yet, but that’s a good thing here because you can now get in on the prospect of this busted card eventually doing big things for just $4 per foil. I love that price. Emeria Sheppard foils are down to $4 as well, and I endorse stashing some of those away for future EDH/Casual angel gains. Painful Truths is up a bit, and Bring to Light has collapsed, but both cards have foils carrying a whopping 10x foil multiplier, a sure sign that people expect them to do big things moving forward. Both cards are seeing experimental play in Modern, and some enterprising pros are already swearing by Truths in Legacy, so grabbing a bunch of these at current pricing for long term gains seems reasonable.

Magic Origins Update

In Digging for Dollars: Magic Origins, I called out the following specs as undervalued cards with some chance of financial success (shown with original and current pricing):

  1. Nissa, Vastwood Seer: $26 to $18 (-28%)
  2. Erebos’s Titan: $8.40 to $1  (-87%)
  3. Abbot of Keral Keep (Foil):  $13 to $11 (-15%)
  4. Evolutionary Leap (Foil):  $15 to $6 (-60%)
  5. Harbinger of the Tides (Foil):  $18 to $6 (-67%)
  6. Demonic Pact:  $3.75 to $3 (-20%)
  7. Animist’s Awakening: $10 to $4 (-60%)

So far, the only solid win from the list was Abbot of Keral Keep foils, if you rode the earlier spike above $20. I correctly identified that the card was Modern-playable and likely to rise on demonstrative play. As it turns out, the card is seeing play in both Grixis and Temur decks in Modern, including the innovative Temur Prowess deck recently played to a solid finish by Patrick Chapin. Since the fall spike noted in our last check-in, these foils have fallen back to $12 or so as the price of Jace has continued to rise. I’d recommend moving in on the card at this price if you haven’t already, as I still predict a future price over $20 on further Modern play.

As for the rest, Erebos’s Titan and Pact look dead for a standard career, but Abbot, Leap and Harbinger all represent excellent long term value. Of the three, Harbinger and Abbot are the most proven, so focus on those.

So there you have it. Anything I missed that you’re on top of? Logic to kill one of the specs? Have at it. Let’s figure it out!

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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The Super Collection: Diary of a Big Collection Flip (Pt 2)

by James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

On the surface, this is a tale about an MTGFinance deal gone right, but this story is really about the things that can happen when you just go ahead and jump. It’s about the people you meet, the places you end up and the benefits you reap when you step outside your comfort zone and take a risk while doing something you love.

Ultimately, this is my letter to you, dear reader, issued in the hopes that you will ping me back one day with the details of your own awesome Magic adventure, so that I may smile with the knowledge that I have stood where you stood and felt some of your joy.

Finding a Buyer

As you may recall, last we left this matter, I had just finished tallying the retail value of the collection after a week of hectic sorting, sleeving and labeling. You can read all about the initial deal here.

The rough retail tally of the cards over $1 at this point was about $43-44K USD. Moving into sales mode, I quickly established that at TCG NM Low, the price the cards would likely need to be priced below to move quickly, the value was closer to $39K. (Note that this is not the same as TCG Low, which doesn’t account for the cards being NM. I have long considered TCG Low a foolish statistic, since it has little in common with the price of the lowest available NM copy, but that is another article entirely.)

Now with a collection this large, there were basically three ways to get it sold:

  1. Sell the collection piece by piece and get top dollar in exchange for significantly more time spent, while potentially enjoying some longer term appreciation in card values
  2. Break the collection down into lots and attempt to find an interested buyer for each logical assortment
  3. Sell the entire collection in one go to a vendor or super-collector

Given my fairly intensive day jobs running a web agency and a social commerce startup, Option 1 was quickly put aside. Most weeks I’m already maxing out on MTGFinance time, putting in 5 hours or so buying, selling and writing about the hobby. The prospect of having to at least double that time commitment was just not realistic.

I did spend some time considering the smaller lots option, especially given the large chunks of value tied up in the 60+ NM dual lands, judge foils, Modern and Legacy staples, and casual cards. Had the collection been composed of a plethora of fully formed decks, parceling might have been the better route. Ultimately however, these chunks proved to still rest in the $2500-10,000 range; too large for anyone but dealers to be interested. And dealing with dealers meant accepting their margins, so I ultimately resolved to attempt to unload the collection at a 30% discount.

Now in my experience, when you really want to move some Magic cards quickly, you need to cast as wide a net as possible. As such, in early August I posted details on the collection on various message boards, Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and Kijiji. As part of my sale prep, I had created a massive spreadsheet on Google Docs, allowing for easy perusal of the collection, including TCG NM Low pricing on each card, and multiple tabs to allow interested parties to sort by set or by card value.

I also made contact with a few local vendors, but the rough offers I received back were much lower than expected. Part of this was likely because Toronto vendors already enjoy consistent access to staples at a steep discount from our large player community and carry significant inventory, but also because Canadians were still wrapping their heads around the ongoing currency exchange shift which is forcing them to rethink their dependency on SCG and TCG pricing at par. Getting a local shop to swallow my conversion math, knowing they would be fighting upstream to pass along that pricing to the local player base just left us too far apart.

Several contacts in the US came back with more reasonable offers in the $22K to $28K range, but when push came to shove, after three weeks of tire kicking, no one was actually ready to produce the funds and close the deal.

Heading into late August, I was on the verge of an extended trip to Bulgaria and Turkey, so I shelved the sales efforts and decided to regroup in the fall.

As it turned out it was nearly November by the time I managed to get active on selling the Super Collection again. This time I narrowed my focus to message boards trafficked by vendors and the high end Magic group on Facebook.  With an increasingly busy work schedule, and a growing backlog of MTGFinance tasks associated with my personal collection, I talked to my financing partner and we agreed to target a pre-holiday season sale in the $22-$25K range. This price tag on the collection seemed most likely to ensure a dealer would see the value and make a move as it represented a margin closer to 40% than 30%.

Through early November, I fielded about a dozen more tire kickers, with four of the suitors coming forward with solid bids and a commitment to closing the deal. One offer was over $25K, but with the caveat that they couldn’t close/take delivery until February ’16. In my experience, folks that need time to raise funds are at the mercy of their funding sources, so we took a pass. The rest of the offers were all between $23K and $24K, with most requiring that I drive the collection across the US border and travel 10-16 hours, mostly to parts both cold and unknown to me.

And then there was Matt, a frequent poster in the High End Facebook thread, a man committed enough to the deal to send a deposit, sign a contract for $23,500 and set a meeting place in sunny California for early December.

Can you say “sold”?

Prepping For Success

There are versions of a $25,000 Magic collection that would be nearly impossible to easily transport on a plane, but fortunately for me, a lot of the value in the Super Collection was associated with a two-row cardboard box full of hard cases containing all the cards over $20. The rest of the cards had either been single sleeved (cards over $5) or put into penny sleeves in sets (cards under $5). Sadly, I had taken the initiative on pricing every last card, only to realize that my buyer would almost certainly want to reprice them.

At first I thought I could get away with leaving the rest of the cards in the two-dozen fat pack boxes I had used to organize them by set, but a bit of experimentation quickly showed that fat packs in a suitcase would result in far too much card damage due to the overabundance of space between card and box top.

A trip to 401 Games in Toronto, revealed the solution. Packed tightly, hard acrylic 250 count Ultra Pro storage boxes were perfect travel containers for the perfect sleeved portion of the collection. I needed 40 or so of them to house the majority of the cards, but it was a reasonable investment given that the airline would never insure my bags for their true value. By stacking and taping together the 250 count boxes, I was able to easily fit most of the collection into two large suitcases, reserving the most expensive $20K worth of hard cased cards to travel with me in a large backpack. This also allowed me to resell the Fat Pack boxes, many of which were old and in demand.

My savior for safe travel.
My savior for safe travel.

With a signed contract and deposit in hand, along with a specified delivery date, time and location, I realized that my four day round-trip was going to allow me plenty of time to explore. The suburb of Los Angeles set to host our deal was about an hour out of town, but with a vibrant city at my disposal, I decided to stay in West Hollywood and accept a longer commute to the drop-off. A decent last minute flight price and a visit to AirBnB later, I had my trip booked.

$40K in cards ready to roll.
$40K in cards ready to roll.

The Fruits of our Labors

I had to put time aside from my work and personal life to make the trip to L.A., and I was a bit stressed from my desire to see the deal work out as intended, but one step into a stunning California afternoon in mid-December was all it took to reform my resolve to have an amazing time getting this thing done.

As a sidebar, let me just remind you that Magic is unique among nerd hobbies in its’ ability to encourage travel and new experiences. Ask the Brainstorm Brewery crew how fondly they remember their time at Grand Prix Vegas last year or ask the pros how they feel about their trips to Hawaii, Japan or the time they got to rock a Pro Tour on the Queen Mary to get a sense of the potential. Sure, pro teams gather early overseas to get in a maximum of practice before a big tournament, but they’re also putting in valuable time with some of their best friends, eating, laughing and enjoying the wider world beyond the cards.

Following in that fine tradition, I dropped off my gear and headed straight for the Tempest Freerun Academy north of LA. I’ve been a parkour practitioner for almost a decade, and Tempest is one of the best indoor training facilities on the planet, so I looked up a few contacts and enjoyed an awesome evening with some of the most friendly monkeys you could ever meet.

Tempest Freerun Academy is a great place to workout in LA.
Tempest Freerun Academy is a great place to workout in LA.


Next I checked out the events going on around the premier of The Force Awakens at the storied site of Mann’s Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. The Disney store was stocked with some figures I’d had trouble finding at home, so I scooped those out with a smile and headed over to Birch, one of the best value restaurants in Los Angeles. By any measure, from ingredient quality, to presentation to flavor, this is the spot you want to check out if you’re on the West Coast. My rabbit baklava was sublime and magic cards paid for that. After dinner I headed over to Ameoba Records, one of the last great American record stores.

Good times in Los Angeles.
Good times in Los Angeles.

The next morning, I rolled up on one of the longest running flea markets in L.A., enjoyed a wicked Vietnamese fusion burger at a foodtruck, tracked down some vintage lingerie for my lady and stumbled on a dude selling a huge pile of vintage Transformers, which as it so happens, are the only collectibles I love more than Magic. With the market closing shortly, I managed to swing a deal on about $500 worth of robots for $280, and set myself up to cover my meals on the trip via a little Ebay flipping.

Fun at the flea market!
Fun at the flea market!

In the afternoon I took a tour of the various nerd shops around the north and west ends of the city, and managed to track down a few solid deals on cards I am actively speculating on.

Melrose Music is more MTG than music these days.
Melrose Music is more MTG than music these days.

That evening I headed over to Universal Studios City Walk, picked up a few rare collectibles on the strip and then took in Creed all by myself with a huge bag of popcorn. A long sleep later, I was ready to get this deal done once and for all.

Delivering the Goods

Matt is a custom car guy, a mechanical engineer and an online Magic dealer, who’s moving a few thousand a week via the usual channels. He bought the Super Collection mostly for resale as part of his usual sales activities, but it was pretty clear a few of the more choice pieces were going to find a home in his private collection. His town is a charming hour drive north of Los Angeles, in the shadow of some of the most beautiful mountains you can imagine, and I find it hard not to envy the folks who run to work there when it’s -40 back home.

Matt and I hit it off right away, to no real surprise. We’re both guys in our mid-30’s that grew up loving Magic, super heroes and things that go vroooom. He’s 6’8″ and could eat me as a snack if he wanted, but that didn’t stop us from wasting a bunch of time reminiscing over every sweet card he pulled out of the collection as we tried to confirm the haul. The cards are well sorted and line up precisely against the list in our contract, so the tally is smoothly achieved in just a few hours. In the end, a banking snafu ends up forcing me to delay my trip home by a day, but I’ve got cash in hand and Xmas shopping to do so it’s no big thing.

All of a sudden it’s Monday afternoon and I’m standing in the parking lot of a bank in California handing a man $40K in Magic: The Gathering cards. The sun is shining, we’re both smiling as we shake hands and I leave knowing we’ll likely stay in touch, men of like minds with giant piles of cardboard in their closets.

A deal completed.
A deal completed.

The Final Tally

A most satisfying drive after the drop.
A most satisfying drive after the drop.

In the end, the numbers worked out for all involved.

The original seller got $14.25K up front, in cash, and never had to move a muscle to find a better deal or sell the cards individually. He could likely have found a deal for up to +5K, but would have had to rebuild contacts, research the market, sort and price 50,000 cards, and basically take on the work that took place further down the line.

My financing partner put in $14.25K in July, and received back $18K in less than 6 months, based on his guaranteed claim to the first $17.5K and 25% of the next $6K, minus $1K in expenses that he covered as agreed (flight, hotel, rental car, supplies).  This resulted in a 26% return on his funds, or the rough equivalent of a 50% annualized return. During that same period, the stock market fell nearly 10%, and he got his money back just in time to reinvest in some temptingly low stocks.

My buyer took on approximately $40K in inventory, with a solid 40% margin intact as he pieces the cards out during his normal day-to-day online sales activities, and just before Modern season boosted prices on a plethora of cards.

As for me, I traded about 40 hours of work, mostly while watching Netflix in my off hours, for $4500USD or about $6300 in my local currency (CDN). All told, that’s about what I make per hour at my day job, and it certainly won’t impact my bottom line very much. I did however, hold aside a couple of sweet cards for my own collection, and there are still 35,000 bulk cards to reap some benefit from. On a pass this week, I found an Arid Mesa, and $200 more in assorted goodies I missed on earlier passes, so the mine isn’t closed.

Ultimately, one of you may have logged a better result, had you parceled out the collection a card at a time. At least on the surface, the revenues would have been higher. The time factor however should never be underestimated. Even as a student you need to value your time at minimum wage or whatever you could be making elsewhere. In my particular case, I need to balance the additional profit against the dozens or hundreds of hours I would need to spend trying to squeeze every penny out of individual sales when I could just be focusing on my mainline responsibilities as a well paid web executive.

More to the point, I met some great people, enjoyed an amazing trip to California in the middle of a cold Canadian December, and did it all for free while making a solid payday fooling around with the hobby I’ve loved since I was a teenager. And that, my friends, is the greatest prize of all.

(p.s. If there were cards in the Super Collection any of you were after, say 7th foils, dual lands or various Modern/Legacy staples, I’d be happy to put you in touch with their new owner, who I’m sure will provide value pricing to move them along.)

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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Digging for Dollars: Battle for Zendikar

By: James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Battle for Zendikar is a weird set from a historical perspective, and quite likely a heavy piece of foreshadowing for how WOTC intends to market Magic: The Gathering for the foreseeable future. By inserting a truly lottery ticket-like upside to opening packs in the form of Zendikar Expeditions, Wizards of the Coast boosts set sales while keeping the cost of playing Standard lower. If it works out, and all signs point to the fact that it will, we can expect generally cheaper Standard decks paid for by our willingness to roll the dice on fancy foil goodies.

So what does this mean for those of us looking to make some money on BFZ?

Firstly, if you managed to get your hands on a case of BFZ at a reasonable cost, and you have both the time and outlets to crack it and move it while demand still exceeds supply (before mid-October, ideally), you have a decent shot at making most of your money back on the back of a couple of Expeditions lands and a double fistful of key mythics. This could potentially leave you with hundreds of cards to support your Standard and EDH decks at the cost of your valuable time.

Now, if instead you were hoping to find some tasty speculative buys that others are missing, your window of opportunity may have already passed. Many of the best cards in Battle for Zendikar (e.g., Undergrowth Champion) have already been identified, and it’s possible that too many are already priced for success for us to expect much in the way of short-term hidden gems. Remember, however, that you’re really going to see the greatest returns if you skip the armchair theorizing and buckle down to test the decks ahead of the curve. The combination of battle lands and fetch lands means that four- and five-color decks are very real options this fall, and as such, several cards are still being evaluated in an outdated context.

Here, presented in order of likely upside, are my picks for the cards in Battle for Zendikar most likely to reward timely speculation, with all target prices assumed to be possible during 2015 unless otherwise noted:

1. Drana, Liberator of Malakir

When I started writing this article 36 hours ago, this was far and away my best pick for a BFZ mythic about to take off like a rocket ship. Initially, Drana was available on pre-order for around $10, but as more people have started brewing and testing with this flying war machine, the price has started to push up, especially in the last 24 hours or so. The risk is consequently rising, and I believe that Drana needs to make the top eight at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar to hold a price over $15.

That being said, this could easily turn out to be the Dragonlord Ojutai of BFZ, a powerhouse, must-answer four-of in Abzan Aggro, a Hardened Scales variant, or something entirely new. If it looks like the premier card in a tier-one Standard deck for the next few months, Drana could spike above $25, and make a playset or two a solid way to pay for dinner.  On the other hand, if Drana fails to prove herself early on, look for her to drop below $10 with the rest of the unplayed mythics and open up a more attractive entry point for potential greatness in a different metagame sometime before spring 2017. If you’re looking to get in now, however, move fast. Even as I type these words, copies are drying up and pushing the few remaining copies closer to $20, with not much meat left on the bone.

Now: $15
Target: $30+

2. Oblivion Sower

  

When a mythic is this far up the power curve and gets better in environments with fetch lands and delve cards, it’s worth at least considering getting in on the action. Oblivion Sower was one of the earliest mythics revealed from the set and a promising financial prospect. Then it became clear that the card was included in the associated Duel Deck for the set and we all backed off. The thing is, Polukranos was also a powerful midrange creature with a sweet ability included in a Duel Deck, and he experienced two spikes over $15 despite that fact. There also might be an Eldrazi or dragon (or both!) ramp deck that wants this guy to play mid-game defense and search up the lands to get the really big guys like Atarka and Ulamog onto the playing field. Again, this pretty much needs to be a three- or four-of in a major deck to have a chance at a spike, but you won’t find me surprised if it does.

Now: $5.50
Target: $10+

3. Retreat to Coralhelm (Foil)

  

In case you missed it, this card might be the next big thing in Modern, alongside the dashing Knight of the Reliquary. Ari Lax wrote an article about it yesterday, and essentially what it says is that both of these in play means having as much land and as big a knight as you want. It also allows for all sorts of toolbox shenanigans, including finding unique lands and making cards like Hangarback Walker and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy even more powerful. Knight of the Reliquary has already jumped on the hype, moving from $5 to over $10 in the last couple of weeks. Foils of Retreat to Coralhelm are sold out on Star City Games at $8, and my guess is they will restock above $12. This doesn’t leave much to gain in the short term, but a few years of success could see this card above $20 like foils of Deceiver Exarch.

Now: $10-12
Target: $20 (long term hold)

4. Woodland Wanderer

If I had to point at the rare creature from BFZ that most benefits from a Standard format that can support four-color decks with ease, this would be it. Easy to cast as a 6/6 with pseudo-evasion that plays excellent defense, this guy makes Siege Rhino stay home and shrugs off burn spells. My testing in both Bring to Light and four-color Hardened Scales brews says he’s an unremarkable but always welcome role player that multiple decks may run as a four-of. That means he’s got a shot to be one of the few rares in the set to gain value rather than lose it.

Now: $4
Target: $8+

5. Emeria Sheppard (+foils)

You might need to hold onto these for a while to yield a decent return, but I’m finding it very hard to believe that a card this busted should be $1 in a world where I can use reanimation spells to put it into play and fetch lands to abuse it. First we need a reanimation spell worth casting, but still. At the very least, foils are solid long-term holds for Commander, especially if peak supply knocks them down into the $5 range. For now, I’m picking up 20 of these for $20 and adding them to the spec closet.

Now: $1 ($8 foil)
Target: $3-4 ($15+ foil)

6. Painful Truths

If we end up in a Standard format full of three- to five-color decks that all want to cast Siege Rhino, then I have a feeling this card will end up in high demand. Anytime you can cast it for full value and aren’t facing aggro pressure, you’ll be happy to have it, but it goes without saying that aggro often dominates this early in the season, so you may be able to snag a few copies around $1 before it finds a time to shine. Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, and Abzan Charm all rotate this spring, which would leave this card sitting pretty for a modest spike.

Now: $1.50
Target: $5

7. Bring to Light (foils)

There is in fact little doubt in my mind that a Bring to Light deck will make top eight of a major tournament this fall. The card is at minimum a way to play up to eight Siege Rhino, which is insane, and a deep toolbox besides. Still, Siege Rhino is arguably the best fall rare in Standard, has been all year, and still has trouble holding $4. As such, what I’m really wondering is whether Bring to Light is going to end up in Modern in some sort of value or combo deck. My gut says yes, and I’m looking to snag some copies under $15 at peak supply to follow through.

Side note: Siege Rhino foils, up as high as $20 on Modern play last winter, are now back around $8. This is a definite buy, folks, though you could risk waiting until rotation to get an even better deal.

Now: $16?
Target: $30+

Honorable Mentions:

  • Felidar Sovereign dropped from $10 to $1 on the reprint, but should easily recover to $3 or $4 in a few years. Seems like safe fuel for a future buylist order if you don’t have anywhere better to stash some cash.
  • Blight Herder isn’t a $1 card either. It’s seven power and eight toughness for five mana in any situation where your opponents are using delve, and the three little guys give you the option to ramp to eight mana the next turn or cast something for three right away, effectively making the 4/5 body cost two. That’s also four bodies to sacrifice to a Nantuko Husk, Bone Splinter fuel, and all sorts of things to be doing in EDH or Cube. If it finds a Standard home, it goes to $3 or $4 right away, and otherwise, it finds the same price point within a few years.
  • Part the Waterveil is a Time Walk variant and a mythic. Sometimes it makes a hasty creature you can attack with twice in its wake. It’s currently $2.50 and will almost certainly top $5 to $6 by 2018.
  • Crumble to Dust foils clearly have Modern applications and are currently around $7, with a solid shot of falling toward $5. It’s only an uncommon, but this could be a future $10 to $15 sideboard card in foil.
  • Bad puns aside, Void Winnower shuts down Siege Rhino, Dragonlord Dromoka, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, Gideon, Jace, and well, half the format. It also has at least half of an evasion ability and can’t be blocked by tokens. What it doesn’t have is a graveyard recursion spell to help it make a splash. After all, if you’re going to nine mana, you might as well go to ten and cast Ulamog. As such, I suspect you are going to get a chance to nab this card below $4 pretty soon, and that might be a decent long-term hold if someone figures out how to put him to work.

Cards You Should Be Selling

  1. Expedition Lands

Be honest with yourself. You’re not going to be getting full playsets of these. They’re too expensive to play with, and the market has already fully priced these out to a level that is unlikely to be sustainable heading into peak supply in late October. In the long term, returns on the fetch lands especially may be reasonable, but cards this expensive are far less liquid than regular staples and you may find some sweet deals around the holiday season when folks are dumping them to pay for Christmas gifts. There’s also the fact that their rarity may be more like two per case rather than one per case, which if true, means they are twice as common as we thought. Sell into the hype and buy yourself something nice.

2. The Planeswalkers

Kiora is underwhelming in testing so far and Ob Nixilis is looking like a one- or two-of in a few decks, so I expect both of these cards to drop from current levels down towards $10 to $12. A reprint in the spring Clash Pack could further maul their value. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar looks like the real deal, but seeing as how he’s already closing in on $40, I’m happy to be unloading my prerelease copy into the hype looking to snag him later under $25 as necessary. Of course, if you’re planning on playing a full set next week, you might as well hang on to him, since he may win you enough games to pay for the difference.

3. Ruinous Path

It’s worth noting that Hero’s Downfall spiked to over $10 at one point, but the lack of instant speed really hurts in a format that is already missing good instant-speed removal on the early part of the curve. Even still, I’m betting against this holding $8 and recommend you trade out for better targets before the price starts to tumble.

4. Undergrowth Champion

This guy is looking pretty solid in my testing, but he’s not going to be a multi-deck role player. Get out immediately, and nab a playset once peak supply knocks this back closer to $10.

Magic Origins Update

In Digging for Dollars: Magic Origins, I called out the following specs as undervalued cards with some chance of financial success (shown with original and current pricing):

  1. Nissa, Vastwood Seer: $26 to $20 (-25%)
  2. Erebos’s Titan: $8.40 to $2  (-76%)
  3. Abbot of Keral Keep (Foil):  $13 to $20 (+53%)
  4. Evolutionary Leap (Foil):  $15 to $8 (-53%)
  5. Harbinger of the Tides (Foil):  $18 to $8 (-56%)
  6. Demonic Pact:  $3.75 to $3 (-20%)
  7. Animist’s Awakening: $10 to $6 (-40%)

So far, the only solid win from the list is Abbot of Keral Keep foils. I correctly identified that the card was Modern-playable and likely to rise on demonstrative play. As it turns out, the card is seeing play in both Grixis and Temur decks in Modern, including the innovative Temur Prowess deck recently played to a solid finish by Patrick Chapin. That being said, the card is still readily available around $18, which is a bit higher than my earlier entry point of $12 to $15, but still a very solid pickup. I’d recommend moving in on the card at this price if you haven’t already, as I still predict a future price over $30 on further Modern play.

Nissa is seeing play, but rarely as a four-of, and Jace has stolen a lot of her value, so she’s shaved a few dollars off instead of spiking. Of the other potential Standard winners, Erebos’s Titan and Demonic Pact have found fresh lows, and so far don’t seem to be showing up in any lists for this fall. That being said, they still have one more rotation cycle to come to the forefront, so lay your chips where your heart leads you. Erebos’s Titan especially works well with ingest and delve, so maybe there’s something there to be found.

The good news, however, is that Evolutionary Leap has yet to find a steady home in Modern and foils are down to $8, which is an entry point I find compelling. The card is too rich of a value engine with tokens and toolbox creatures to stay low forever, so I’m moving in on some more copies. Likewise, I’m a bit mystified as to how Harbinger of the Tides foils are down to $8 with it being a three- or four-of in Modern Merfolk, especially with that deck doing so well lately. Regardless, I’m down for a few more sets at that price.

The results of DFD: Origins, then, provide further proof that buying a full portfolio of long-shot lists like this is nearly always a bad strategy. Cards like Demonic Pact and Erebo’s Titan too often hinge on the emergence of a specific linear deck, whereas flexible and powerful cards like Snapcaster Mage and Abrupt Decay offer up multi-format appeal that can be tucked into a myriad of decks.

Huge Miss of the Last Set

   

Along with the rest of the MTG finance community, I completely missed the power inherent in a Merfolk Looter with a flexible upside when first exposed. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy has since emerged as a viable player in both Modern and Legacy, as well as one of the top five cards in Standard. I recently called Jace foils out as a top buy, and indeed they have spiked to over $80 since then, earning me some solid profits on the copies I managed to nab before the spike.

So there you have it. Anything I missed that you’re on top of? Logic to kill one of the specs? Have at it. I’m not sensitive.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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