Category Archives: James Chillcott

Tipping Point: Invocations About to Pop (Apr 2/18)

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Welcome to the second installment in my Tipping Point series, which looks to explore important cards that are teetering on the verge of major price spikes due to low supply. My focus here is to try and flag cards in time for you to grab what you need for decks or get in early enough to profit.  In comparison to picks made earlier in the reprint cycle, the cards found in this series are going to a) offer less meat on the bone but b) be more likely to succeed (due to their already low supply/reprint risk). You will also notice that many of these picks will tend to be foils and promos rather than non-foils as for obvious reasons foils tend to dry up much faster than non-foils, except for the most important of staples, where regular copies may quickly follow during a spike in demand. In terms of timeline, I’ll be aiming to get you in and out of positions within a year, or setting you up to save good money on cards you might have been holding back on unnecessarily.

This week we’re looking at the Amonkhet Invocations. Perhaps the most maligned of the Masterpiece Series cards released so far, the Invocations put off many players due to their busy borders and near illegibility as game pieces.

Despite the fact that I’m personally not a fan of the borders, given my success with the Kaladesh Investions over the last year, I’ve been checking in on the Invocations to see which if any, seem likely to break out. Blood Moon currently has the lowest inventory of the Invocations in North America and is very near a tipping point of it’s own, but at $140 buy-in, the % returns are tough to predict from here forward given how popular the M25 foils may end up. (I’d guess Blood Moon ends up near $200 given enough time.)

Without further ado  here are my picks for cards at the tipping point heading into early spring.

1) Blood Moon (Invocation)

Current Price: $140
Target Price/Timeline: $200+ (6-12+ months)

Indisputably the most important Modern card in the Invocation list, Blood Moon also sees play in both Legacy and EDH as well. This should mark this version as the most durably popular of the Invocations, but there are a few cautionary notes. Firstly, the card was a lot more exciting near it’s lows around $90. The other factor is that this card has a small pile of competing versions, including foils from 8th, 9th, Modern Masters, Modern Masters 2017 and M25. That really is a lot of competition, but the reality is that the inventory has been draining hard on this version. Given that word on the street is that Hour of Devestation is already out of print on low demand, Invocations from that set are likely to be very tough to restock moving forward and this could be contributing to the low stock.

2) No Mercy (Invocation)

No Mercy
Current Price: $30
Target Price/Timeline: $50+ (6-12 months)

Surprisingly, the other Invocation representing very low supply is black enchantment No Mercy, a powerful EDH card that has only ever been printed in foil (or otherwise) one other time, way back in Urza’s Legacy. EDHRec has the card reported in 4000+ decks, which suggests moderate demand, but it’s possible the card is underplayed by black mages overall. In contrast to Blood Moon, this is a cheap card that has only seen two foils in twenty years so it should be a strong option for acquisition given the solid price floor, broad utility in EDH and good possible upside.

3) Maelstrom Pulse (Invocation)

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Maelstrom Pulse

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Current Price: $55
Target Price/Timeline: $80+ (3-6 months)

Maelstrom Pulse is another card with multiple competing foil printings (Alara Reborn, Modern Masters &  GP Promo) but with Jund back on the menu in Modern this season, all of them are on the rise. This version can currently be found between $55 and $60 and I can see it easily cresting $80 before the end of the year given how small the supply already is. As with Blood  Moon there is some moderate EDH demand to backstop this play.

4) Diabolic Intent (Invocations)

Diabolic Intent

Current Price: $32
Target Price/Timeline: $50+ (3-6 months)

This card may not be on your radar but that’s probably because it’s only EVER seen one other printing, with the original fifteen years ago in Planeshift. OG foils already go for $65+ and the odds of WoTC reprinting this again anytime soon are low given their general lack of interest in efficient tutors. Supply on the Invocations is already low, the black cards are the best looking of the set, and EDHREC.com reports 7000 decks running the card already, which as with No Mercy, is probably too low. I see no reason to hold off on picking a few of these up to add to decks and wait for the near inevitable payoff.

 

5) Hazoret the Fervent

Hazoret the Fervent

Current Price: $140 ($80 in the EU…for now)
Target Price/Timeline: $140+ (6-12 months)

We’re late on this one. Of course Hazoret was a major part of Standard this year, but it’s not Standard players that recently cleaned this version of the card out closer to $60. Those purchases were almost certainly made on the assumption that this will be an occasional player in Jund builds for Modern for some time to come. I’d pass on the card at the current North American prices, but you can still source it closer to $80 in Europe, so I’ve picked up a few on the assumption that the Invocation can hold $100+ moving forward. There is some possibility that copies will enter the market when Hazoret rotates out of Standard this fall, but I wouldn’t hold your breath on a major price drop for this version.

That’s it for this edition of Tipping Point. Expect me to check in with new editions once a month to keep you guys on the cutting edge. Take care and have fun!

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Tipping Point: Magic Cards About to Pop (Mar 15/18)

Welcome to my first installment in a new series called Tipping Point, which will look to explore important cards that are teetering on the verge of major price spikes due to low supply. My focus here will be to try and flag cards in time for you to grab what you need for decks or get in early enough to profit.  In comparison to picks made earlier in the reprint cycle, the cards found in this series are going to a) offer less meat on the bone but b) be more likely to succeed (due to their already low supply/reprint risk). You will also notice that many of these picks will tend to be foils rather than non-foils as for obvious reasons foils tend to dry up much faster than non-foils, except for the most important of staples, where regular copies may quickly follow during a spike in demand. In terms of timeline, I’ll be aiming to get you in and out of positions within a year, or setting you up to save good money on cards you might have been holding back on unnecessarily.

Let’s jump in.

It’s been a very busy month in #mtgfinance, with the reveals of the Magic 25 card list, the Challenger decks and the bulk of the Dominaria set being leaked.

As the dust clears on the information overload, a few things have become clear:

  1. WoTC’s reprint policy release pace on key cards in Modern and EDH seems to be slowing a bit, rather than gain momentum. This is in part due to their decision to shift focus on Masters sets to loose themes that let them stay flexible.
  2. Based on what we know so far about additional sets this year, there are very few risks in investing in or acquiring play sets of cards that have little to no chance of reprint before Core 2019, which releases July 13/18. The next big reprint risk would be a potential Masters set in the late fall.
  3. The leaked release notes for Dominaria do not seem to indicate that we are getting fresh Masterpieces, which could further protect some key potential reprints, especially foils. Of course, I wouldn’t totally discount the potential for some twist on special cards to appear in the set, but even if it happens, I suspect we’d be dealing with Legendary cards specifically given the theme of the set.
  4. Modern, operating under the halo of Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor being successfully unbanned, continues to look healthy and related cards are selling well accordingly. Many important Modern (and EDH) cards seem to have dodged a reprint for the first half of 2018, setting them up for imminent gains. Our best bets here are likely to be cards that are seeing heavy use across multiple archetypes that are unlikely to be knocked out of the winners circle by meta shifts.

So where does that leave us? Here are my picks for cards that are currently at the tipping point:

1) Traverse the Ulvenwald (Foil)

Traverse the Ulvenwald

Current Price: $15
Target Price/Timeline: $25+ (3-12 months)

We first flagged this card in the spring of 2017, with an entry point in the $8-10 range. Traverse has already proven itself in Modern as a cheap and efficient tutor that is almost always a 4-of in the Traverse Death’s Shadow decks. It’s not clear what position that build will occupy as the meta continues to evolve, but with very few foils still lying around, 4000 decks registering the card on EDHREC.com,  and relatively little chance of a reprint in the next year to eighteen months, you probably don’t want to sleep on this card if you’re in need. From a speculation perspective this was clearly better at $10, but given that the card is almost always played as a four-of, you could still make $25-30 on a playset if things keep going the way they’re headed.

2) Cyclonic Rift (Foil)

Cyclonic Rift

Current Price: $15
Target Price/Timeline: $25+ (3-12 months)

This card has a similar profile to Traverse: first called at $10 last spring, sitting at $15 already, and facing  a steep price ramp with every copy that gets purchased on the major platforms. As arguably  the most important blue card in EDH/Commander, Cyclonic Rift’s reprint in Modern Masters 2017 opened the door to acquire cheap copies but now we’re not far from hitting $20+ and the next reprint may be a non-foil in Commander 2018 or ’19. Get ’em while you can.

3) Gideon of the Trials (Foil)

Gideon of the Trials

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Current Price: $18
Target Price/Timeline: $30+ (6-12 months)

Given that this card is less than a year old, the relative scarcity of foils under $20 is telling. Not only are players experimenting with this card in various control builds for Modern, but the ability to play it alongside Gideon Jura and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar due to the new planeswalker rules has really opened up the utility of popular planeswalker characters in general. I was picking these up under $15 last September, but as a foil mythic I could easily see these ending up in the $30-40 range given enough time. There is also a SDCC 2017 promo foil of this card available in the $35 range, so feel free to check that out instead.

4) Cavern of Souls

Cavern of Souls

Current Price: $80+
Target Price/Timeline: $100+ (6-12 months)

Generally speaking, buying in on $80 mythics that have already appreciated in recent months  isn’t where you want to be. If you see this late and it’s already at $90, even less so. But as a player, if you need this card, what are you waiting for? They just printed this last year, so it’s likely safe at least until November, and probably beyond that. As a speculator, I went ahead and bought copies near $70 recently. Why? Well, for one, though it was originally printed as a rare, that was almost a decade ago now and the reprinting at mythic was almost certainly a mistake given how many tribal decks are running this thing in Modern, EDH and casual circles. The Eldrazi, Humans and Merfolk demand alone would be enough to keep this rolling, but Elves, Goblins, Slivers and Spirits may also prop it up. At this point $100 seems very likely this year, and $120 may be possible. If that’s the case, you’ll want to acquire sooner than later to play with, and then consider selling into the peak when it comes.

5) Expedition Strip Mine

Strip Mine

Current Price: $65
Target Price/Timeline: $100+ (6-12 months)

Every once and a while I check in on the Expeditions to see if any of them look ready to finally make a move. Recenty Hallowed Fountain caught my eye, but Strip Mine makes more sense. As the most efficient land destruction of all time, Strip Mine is clearly a staple playable in whatever format allows it. At present that means it only sees play in competitive MTG through the occasional vintage gathering. On the other hand, there are over 28,000 (!) decks using the card on EDHREC.com, which qualifies this as one of the most important lands in the format. This was also an Oath of the Gatewatch expedition rather than a BFZ release, so there are significantly less around. Cavern is already rather low on most major platforms, and I think these will clear $100 easily within the year. As a Commander player you certainly have use for this bad boy, and if you choose to exit and downgrade later to reap some profit, all the better.

That’s it for this edition of Tipping Point. Expect me to check in with new editions once a month to keep you guys on the cutting edge. Take care and have fun!

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Magic 25: Mythic & Rare Possibilities

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been playing Magic: The Gathering for twenty five years. I still remember my university girlfriend coming home with a small pile of starter decks and the rabbit hole we ended up diving down for the next few months. And while my interest in the game has ebbed and flowed with the years, I’m happy to find myself here on the cusp of this major milestone  fully invested in the game we all know and love.

Now coming off the confusing and disappointing reception of the Iconic Masters set just a few months ago, it would seem that WoTC are on the hot seat to deliver an outstanding set as the flagship product for their 25th anniversary.

From a financial perspective it is a useful exercise to try to forecast which cards might be included in this set so that you can decide what you might need to do about it.

Prior Lessons

In terms of the Expected Value of this set, I am using my modeling for Modern Masters 2017 (and to a lesser extent other Masters sets), as I believe it is likely to be the closest in terms of overall value and composition to M25. My previous modeling tracked the value of the $1+ rares and mythics in MM17 set a month or so before the set was released and for several months thereafter. To predict what may happen with the value of cards included in M25, let’s see what happened with MM17.

In early 2017, the fifteen mythics from MM17 had a market value total of around $470 USD, with an average price tag of $30 USD. By late April of 2017, the value of those cards had dropped to just $280, for a localized loss of about 40%. Fast forward to today, and those same mythics are now back up to $390 or so. This is an interesting figure, because while it still represents a drop of 17% from pre-reprint value, it also represents a gain of about 40% from the post-reprint lows a few months after the set dropped.

What does this tell us? Well, for one, it probably didn’t make sense to sell mythics into the reprint, especially if you needed the cards in question in decks. If you had sold a basket of mythics at $470,(and assuming you could have sold all of them quickly enough) you would have netted about 82% of that after fees and shipping, so perhaps $385, which is just about where your cards would be back up to right now, a year later. Now, if you were really on the ball, which would be tough to pull off practically speaking, you could in theory have taken that $385 and bought the same basket three months later at $280, and netted yourself an extra $100 in value or so. That’s a spare Liliana of the Veil if you’re really hustling, but for many players holding through the storm would have been a more reasonable result.

That being said, buying key cards at the bottom was a strong move in isolation, since 14 of 15 mythics have appreciated at least 10% from that point, with eight of those cards appreciating as much as 75% (LOTV, Cavern of Souls, Snapcaster Mage, Craterhoof Behemoth, Temporal Mastery, Olivia Voldaren, Past in Flames). That’s a pretty good result if you can find the bottom this time around and things play out similarly.

Now what about the rares from Modern Masters 2017?

Well, the if we look at the 25 most pricey rares from the set  (of 54), we note that the pre-reprint cost of that basket of cards was close to $596, or an average of about $24. By April of 2017, that same basket had declined by a whopping 57%, down to just $256. As of today, that same basket is now worth close to $340. That’s still a 43% decline from pre-reprint price, but a 33% gain from the lows.

This is a pretty similar result as with the mythics, but the higher volume of the rare reprints in the market results in a harder crash that is likely worth getting out in front of for cards with soft demand profiles, as well as a softer recovery than with the mythics.

Sum total, the thesis is pretty clear: look for the lows and acquire the cards with the highest demand, preferably mythics, to ride the recovery over 6-18 months. It is also worth noting that many of the cards in question may have further gains still ahead of them since most cards get a few years between reprints these days and we’re still at the front end of that cycle for most cards in MM17.

Fresh Considerations

There are also a couple of additional factors worth considering.  On the one hand, the sweet watermarks they are adding to the cards to signify their set of origin in M25 are likely to be collector bait, especially with foils. On the other hand, if the card quality is similar to the weak card stock of Iconic Masters and the Ixalan sets, that may scare some players off the newer versions of the cards. In cases where the older printings are injured by the reprints in equal measure, this may mean that targeting the older printings is the right move from a speculation perspective. Another factor may be whether WoTC embraced nostalgia to the fullest and used original art for certain cards vs. producing new art in the modern Magic art style. I suspect the latter but we’ll see shortly.

So far, boxes of M25 have sold as low as $155, and are currently available around $180. This represents a 25% discount under MSRP, but we won’t have a good sense of the value until we see how many of the mythics end up looking resilient to their reprint given enough time. It’s also worth noting that this set is being printed in Japanese (as well as Simplified Chinese) but that the distribution of the foreign versions will be largely limited to Japan and China. As such, Japanese boxes may end up as solid specs if you can get a line on them at a solid price. If you can’t pin down a box, perhaps such smart shopping on the Japanese vendor sites once we hit peak supply will do right by your collection.

Finally, remember that anticipated cards that don’t show up here are likely safe from reprint for a while based on what we know about the product schedule for this year. As such, expect some spikes in the next few weeks, especially on key Modern cards that dodge a reprint.

Prediction Logic

So how does one go about predicting what will be included in M25?

Well, so far we know that the set is about the same size as other Masters sets, at 249 cards, and we can reasonably assume that the set will include somewhere close to 15 mythics and 54 rares.

We also know that the Estimated Value of the set is likely to be tightly modeled by WoTC against the MSRP of $240 USD, and will likely shape up similarly to Iconic Masters or MM17, perhaps with a little extra juice (say 10-15%) vs. those sets. This would lead me to believe that the total value of the mythics will be somewhere between $450 and $600, and that the value of the top half of the rares will be between $550 and $650, with the rest being bulk rares under $1.

So far we aren’t sure to what extent the set is built around specific themes, color pairings or mechanics. All we really know about the set composition is that it is designed to offer the nostalgic kick we were all expecting in Iconic Masters, as well as at least one card from every black bordered set in Magic’s history. That leaves us with a lot of ground to cover, but it also means that, for mythics especially, the presence of a mythic from a specific set likely means that it will be the only one, due to overall space constraints.

The Mythics

First off, let’s cover the cards we already know are included.

Jace, the Mind SculptorPhyrexian ObliteratorAzusa, Lost but Seeking

So right off the bat, that means that mythics from Worldwake and New Phyrexia are taken care of, and almost certainly means that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the only Jace we’ll see in this set. Asuza is at rare.

In trying to round out the list, I tried to pull together a set of cards that were a) in need of reprint, b) make sense in the EV calculations for the set and c) fulfill the nostalgia/MTG history requirements.

I have further assumed a distribution of 2 slots to artifacts and colorless cards, 2 each for the five colors, 2 gold cards and either a land slot or an extra gold or artifact/colorless card.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the thirteen additional mythics most at risk of reprint in Magic: 25.

Platinum EmperionUmezawa's JitteEmrakul, the Aeons TornElspeth, Sun's ChampionLand TaxGarruk WildspeakerVengevineForce of WillKoth of the HammerScourge of the ThroneDemonic TutorRishadan PortLeovold, Emissary of TrestNicol Bolas, Planeswalker

COLORLESS/ARTIFACTS
We already saw some cool art for one of the artifact creatures in the set on the revealed booster packaging, and from the spiky armor it seems likely that the card in question is either Platinum Emperion or Blightsteel Colossus. Other options include something from Affinity, but my best guess is Emperion. If we get another Artifact card at Mythic, I’m thinking it will either be the most busted Equipment of all time in Umezawa’s Jitte or perhaps Batterskull, especially if Stoneforge Mystic makes it into the set. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon could also occupy one of these slots, as iconic Planeswalkers have a role to play here. Mox Opal needs a reprint, but it may not be an easy fit in this set and an equipment option seem a better fit to represent that aspect of the game. Finally, Emerakul, the Aeons Torn is about as iconic as it gets, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see her show up again now.

WHITE
As the poster child for Theros block, Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is a strong planeswalker that most players will be happy to own a copy of, leaving the Theros Gods to show up as a larger cycle down the road where the theme of the set allows. Land Tax hasn’t seen a reprint since 4th Edition, isn’t on the Reserved List and fits the bill on the nostalgia front, so it seems like a solid pick for the other white slot as a super powerful card that many players wouldn’t necessarily already own a copy of and services the EDH market. If it’s not these two, other options include Baneslayer Angel, Stoneforge Mystic or Ravages of War.

GREEN
There aren’t a lot of obvious options for the green mythic slots here. My gut says we’ll end up with some combination of a nostalgia/story card and a Modern staple, hence my timid tabling of something like Vengevine + Garruk, Wildspeaker as cards that could use the reprint and fit into the EV modeling. Alternatives might include cards such as Food Chain or Berserk, but the former seems better suited for an Eternal themed set down the road, and latter was just in Conspiracy and doesn’t need the reprint despite qualifying on nostalgia. Garruk could just as easily be a different version or a Nissa.

BLUE
With Jace already a lock, it’s tough to figure that the second slot is also a big money card, but I can’t shake the feeling that the 25th anniversary set is the perfect place to put the most iconic counterspell up beside the most important iconic planeswalker and just own the fact that blue is the best color in the game. Another option is for True-Name Nemesis to show up here as a cheaper mythic that folks are still going to be pleased to open.

RED
Red is a pretty tough slot to fill at mythic generally speaking and the default here is some combination of a planeswalker and a dragon. Koth of the Hammer hasn’t seen a reprint yet outside a duel deck and anchors a low value slot pretty easily here. Alternately, we could get a Chandra, but I had trouble finding one that made sense here. I would expect that we’ll get Shivan Dragon at rare, so perhaps this slot could go in a different direction, but if I had to pick a mythic dragon that hasn’t been reprinted yet, Scourge of the Throne would be a solid candidate from Conspiracy. Through the Breach certainly needs a reprint, but could show up at rare or not at all. Finally, Imperial Recruiter has been floated for this slot, but I’d be surprised to see them throw such a valuable card in here. Recruiter is an odd duck, as it’s value is almost certainly more about supply than demand, but at $240 retail, even if it fell off 70% for the new version, we’re still talking about a $72 mythic that not many people need or want. It does tick the P3K box though, so we’ll see.

BLACK
Since we know we are already getting Phyrexian Obliterator, we likely just have one slot to fill. My guess is Demonic Tutor gets the nod here, as an iconic tutor effect from the early days of the game that has only seen a reprint in a Duel Deck in the modern era. Alternatively, we could see Imperial Seal here, but at $440+ for the original it runs the same risk of destabilizing the set EV unless it crashes utterly on inclusion. A Liliana version is also an option.

MULTI-COLOR
Assuming that the gold cards earn a couple of slots here, options include a multi-color planeswalker or perhaps a key Legendary card. Some version of Nicol Bolas seems likely at either Mythic or Rare given that he is positioned as the key villain in the narrative at present, so we could end up with Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker in this slot or perhaps the original Nicol Bolas at rare. As for legends in need of a reprint, Leovold, Emissary of Trest could end up representing for Conspiracy 2 but their are a plethora of potential alternatives.

LANDS
Rishadan Port is one of the last remaining $100+ cards not on the Reserved List that has never seen a reprint, but it’s relatively modest demand profile leads me to believe that it is going to get hammered like Karakas was should it see a reprint. As such I’m glad to not be holding any of these. It’s also possible that we don’t get a land slot at all at mythic.

Here are the current price tags for these cards, in order of value:

This set of fifteen mythics would give us a grand total of $553, which is about 17% higher than the value of the MM17 mythics heading into spoilers. If they deliberately juiced M25, this is viable. If not, one or two cards over $30 likely need to be swapped for something closer to $10.

In this list, I would be comfortable continuing to hold Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Force of Will, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Demonic Tutor as cards that are likely to be resistant to permanent value loss. The rest of the mythics would face relatively shallow demand.

The Rares

There are a LOT of ways that the rares can play out in this set, with literally hundreds of viable options on the table. That being the case, we are likely better off just making a list of cards in need of reprint and figuring out whether they are likely to rebound once they crash.

Let’s see what we’re dealing with this time around:

There are several cards on this list that are both important within the history of the game and and are also in need of a reprint. Crucible of Worlds was a fan generated card, and is getting pricey, so I could easily see that here. Dark Confidant, Scapeshift, Through the Breach, Chalice of the Void, Engineered Explosives, Bitterblossom, Meddling Mage, Gaddock Teeg, Collected Company, Kolaghan’s Command, Goryo’s Vengeance, Scapeshift and Glen Elendra Archmage all have a role to play and I would expect at least half of those cards to see inclusion.

Reprints of Chalice, Collected Company, Dark Confidant, Collective Brutality, Thalia and Kolaghan’s Command are likely to slow their growth for a while, and the others have more modest demand overall.

I think we’ll see Birds of Paradise at rare rather than seeing Noble Hierarch again given the all time iconic nature of the card.

My guess for a potential rare land cycle is the Worldwake creature lands, since Celestial Colonnade and Creeping Tar Pit need a reprint and the rest of the cycle is cheap enough to prevent their inclusion from taking up too much EV. Alternatives include the filter lands, the SOM fast lands or even pain lands. Shocks and fetches feel marked for future handling elsewhere since we seem to be returning to Ravnica in the fall and a Modern focused Masters set is likely inevitable in 2019, whether or not they theme it that way.

Finally at common or uncommon I would expect to see Swords to Plowshares, Terror, Lightning Bolt, Giant Growth, Counterspell and a pile of other nostalgia laden minor inclusions.

Stay tuned this week as the spoilers are unveiled, cutting out options and activating fresh specs. Good luck!

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MTGFinance Strategies for 2018

In 2018, with Magic: The Gathering  facing it’s 25th anniversary, the game we all know and love continues to evolve, and the MTGFinance scene has been forced to evolve as well. Here are some of the strategies that we’re employing in the MTGFinance community in the year of our lord Jace, the Mind Sculptor:

Standard Tactics

Standard has been a pretty tough format to speculate on for the last eighteen months or so. The combination of frequent bannings, lame duck formats, poor card quality in North America and plentiful product has lead to a relative lack of card spikes in what was once the most important format in Magic.

To mine this particular vein, your best bet is going to be to get ahead of the pack in card evaluation via early testing of cards revealed during spoiler season. If you are well in tune with the evolving meta and your deck building skills are on point, you will maximize your chances of identifying the potential of cards like Rekindling Phoenix before the masses do. If those aren’t conditions you identify with, you’re better off focusing on other areas, since Standard only staple specs that don’t hit can be a major drain on your resources.

Singles Specs = EDH + Modern + ’93-’94

Let me be clear. Your best bet for singles speculation in 2018 is almost certainly going be found in the EDH and Modern formats, and in  cards from the first few years of Magic.

The reality is that the most important formats in North America at present are almost certainly Modern and Commander. Modern is the constructed format with the healthiest meta and just got a shake up via the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. While the impact of these two cards has yet to be written, their impact on singles acquisition is likely to be meaningful as the meta shifts around them. Commander on the other hand has emerged over the last few years as a format that encourages the collecting of multiple deck lists, counterbalancing the need for just a single copy per deck. Commander and Modern players are both prone to foiling their decks, which coupled with relatively modest print runs for many key rare and mythic foils in both formats, often leads to strong financial opportunities. Foils of cards such as Expropriate, Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, Kolaghan’s Command, Gurmag Angler, Collected Company, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher have all been generous contributors to my bottom line over the last few years. The key here is to rank your speculation options by total popularity, focusing your efforts on staples that appear in both format or across multiple archetypes in a single format. Couple this with reprint risk, targeting cards that are draining but have been printed recently and you’ll zero in on your sweet spot. Inclusion in M25 is a risk for many cards this spring, but past that point we’re likely in a reprint lull until Modern Masters 2019 next spring or summer. Cards in low supply in a single archetype can still make you money but represent higher meta risk, so prioritize accordingly.

As for Reserved List and ’93-’94 cards, as opportunities in Standard have become more scarce and Modern cards have increased in reprint risk, many speculators have turned to targeting some of the earliest cards in the game. Heavy speculatory pressure, first on RL cards, and most recently on absolutely anything printed in 1993 and 1994 has been driving up prices for most of the last year, and modest increases in ’93/’94 as a format is contributing as well. While many of these cards are going to be tough to unload in volume, focusing on playable cards in limited volume is likely to pay off. Recently I’ve been picking up underpriced copies of Mishra’s Factory, which serves as a solid example of a decent spec along these lines.

Foreign Booster Boxes

Talk to any of my peers that are writing about or working in MTGFinance and they’ll tell you the same thing: don’t invest in booster boxes. See, during the advent of the Modern format we saw booster box prices of everything from 7th Edition to Innistrad take off as Modern unfurled into a burgeoning player base and generated demand for older cards in the format that far exceeded the available supply. However, since the release of Return to Ravnica in 2012, most Standard legal booster boxes have failed to appreciate in value as the growth of the Magic player base has stalled out and Wizards has taken to overproducing inventory. Coupled with an era of more aggressive reprints sprinkled into main sets and the Masters series, newer booster boxes from newer sets have had trouble showing any price appreciation.

So what if you still plan to play Standard or just like to pop a couple of boxes of each new set? Well, one strategy that has been working out well for me is to acquire Russian booster boxes exclusively. Why Russian?

Well, firstly Russian copies of important EDH and Modern staples tend to command a significant premium of anywhere from 50 to 300%, especially if you’re talking about foils. Secondly, Russian staples (especially foils) are the least likely to be impacted by reprint risk given that the Masters series sets are unlikely to be printed in anything other than English, Japanese and Simplified Chinese. Thirdly, Russian booster boxes so far still seem to be printed in Europe at Carta Mundi, which is producing Magic cards at a higher quality than has been seen in the recent English language sets in North America that seem to be getting printed overseas using an inferior printing process. Finally, Russian boxes tend to be available via Ebay in North America within $10 or so of their English language counterparts. If you can get your hands on English boxes these days around $75-85, you can likely find Russian boxes for $85-90, which is easily justified by the upside of the Russian staples.

For example, I recently opened a case I had been holding of Russian Fate Reforged and between the presence of Russian versions of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and averaging 10-20 copies of $2-5 Temur Battle Rage, Monk tokens and Gurmag Angler it was much easier to make money than it would have been with an English case. Of course this strategy does require that you memorize the cards you choose to play in decks, but that’s a good idea anyway.

I have had similar luck with Russian M15, Khans of Tarkir, Oath of the Gatewatch and Eldritch Moon. Battle for Zendikar and Kaladesh block sets is also a potential bonus.

Japanese and Korean boxes are also worth a look, but seeing as how they all tend to be about the same price, you might as well focus on Russian unless you have a preference. And remember, you can still strike out on a Russian box, so keep in mind that even next level booster box openings can still end up looking silly compared to some of your better options if your purposes are purely speculatory.

European & Japanese Arbitrage

One of my top strategies of 2017 was targeting Masterpiece Series Inventions and EDH foils on MagicCardMarket.com and having partners in Europe collect my packages locally before passing them back for resale every month or two. Heading into 2018 this strategy is still live, but the weakening of the USD against the Euro now requires greater disparities between pricing on both sides of the Atlantic to make it worth your time.

In Japan, cards on both Hareruya and TokyoMTG can still represent strong opportunities, especially if tech emerges first in North America and the Japanese aren’t yet on it. EDH foils from new sets are almost always a good deal on these sites early on, and so long as you keep your purchases to lower quantities you should have little problem unloading your specs 6-12 months down the road when the supply dries up.

Playing Janitor

Perhaps the most underappreciated concept in MTGFinance is that of attrition. In this context, the term refers to the fact that despite the millions of Magic cards printed every year, less than 1% of those cards recirculate into the secondary markest on sites like TCG, Ebay and MagicCardMarket. As the years drag on, any staple card that fails to see a reprint is very likely to spike in price, and despite the upswing in reprints in recent years there are still dozens to hundreds of relevant cards in need of a reprint at any given time. All of this leads to an economy that is strongly lead by supply side economics, a scenario that asks little of you other than to keep track of the inventory levels of various cards and to make your move in scenarios where the inventory has drained but the price has not yet spiked. Masterpiece Series Inventions and various Modern staples have provided plenty of opportunity along these lines in the last year, and you’re likely to get a shot at similar opportunities moving forward. Finally, with even bad Reserved List cards and cards from the first few years of Magic being increasingly targeted by speculators, there is little reason at this point to hold off on acquiring any Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends or The Dark cards you might have reason to purchase.

Ignore the Bulk Scene

If you pay attention to the MTGFinance content stream, you are more than likely familiar with the folks that are focused on mining bulk Magic cards for profit. Now, if you’re a long time player with a lot of unsorted cards lying around from years past you certainly owe it to yourself to get organized, give your collection a few passes for value, compile a buylist order to fuel a new deck or major purchase, and then turn back to other strategies.

See the thing is, with all of the extra inventory over the last decade and the flat lining growth in the game, bulk rates have been declining and the process of acquiring, sorting and reselling your finds is more of a job than a hobby. If your end game is to become a vendor or work for a vendor, than this is a skill set that makes perfect sense to add to your repertoire. If however you are more of an armchair speculator you are much better off focusing on consolidating your collection and holdings, so that you can maximize profits while minimizing your time spent on task. If you had invested in Euro sourced MPS Sol Rings last year in the mid $80s USD, there is little doubt that $2k spent on that project type would far exceed the same amount spent on bulk. The more you value your time, the more true this becomes.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

Price trends often take a few days or even weeks to percolate down through the entirety of the global Magic economy.  To take advantage of this process, your best bet is to perfect your techniques for staying ahead of the curve.

If you’re a night owl, get in the habit of checking the price tracking sites, including MTGPrice.com, MTGStocks.com and EchoMTG.com in the early hours of the morning, as these sites tend to run their price update scans during low traffic times. By being the first to spot an emerging price you’ll give yourself the best shot at mopping up the last few copies of a draining supply while everyone else is still asleep.

Depending on the timing and location of major event coverage, your opportunity may be to target vendors in Europe or Asia. If you happen to live near a solid density of vendors that lag in their pricing updates, showing up early at a local shop can lead to big windfalls as well.

Ultimately, you should play to your strengths in 2018, leveraging your format knowledge, available capital and existing collection to maximize your profit or savings. Good luck!

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