Category Archives: James Chillcott

Reserved & Reliable: The Rational MTG Reserved List

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Over the last few years, Reserved List cards have been increasingly targeted by speculators and vendors as inventory worth stocking in pursuit of theoretically easy future gains. The narrative is simple: if they never print these cards again, they have to go up right? Over the last couple of months this process has been increasing in frequency as speculators dig deep and target even the worst of the Reserved List cards. As a result dozens of unplayable RL cards have been spiked, with the ability to hold the new plateaus highly dependent on whether collectors looking to finish sets of Antiquities, Arabian Nights, Legends and The Dark will step in out of fear and attempt to grab cards they needon an accelerated schedule.

Now while it is certainly true that Wizards of the Coast’s commitment to maintaining the Reserved List makes almost anything on the list a safe bet long term, I have been pretty vocal on Twitter with suggestions that there are better targets in abundance for the short and mid term.

Many of the best of the Reserved List targets under $100 have already seen spikes in the last five years, only to experience retraces back towards lower levels within months of popping that have made it difficult for anyone to claim profits on deeper inventory levels. Lion’s Eye Diamond, a 4-of in a relevant Legacy deck, had trouble holding an ambitious new plateau, with the $80 card popping to $180 in the summer of 2016 before falling back to $120 or so since. That’s still a solid gain, but it’s also a best case scenario that the trash RL cards are unlikely to approach.

A safer bet then is to focus on Reserved List cards that enjoy significant demand from Commander, Casual or Eternal formats. These cards may represent lesser % gains vs. $1 North Stars suddenly being posted for $10, but their demand profiles are likely to be much stronger, and their gains in terms of real $ and ability to support deeper inventory are likely to be significantly superior. Overall, I see these targets as good for 10-30% per annum gains over the next eighteen months or so, with further upside if a wave of buyouts happens to target them anew. This still wouldn’t touch the gains on my top specs, but if you just can’t stay away from the Reserved List, at least target something worth playing.

Here are just a few of the top tier Reserved List targets that could still ostensibly sustain another spike:

Yavimaya Hollow

Yavimaya Hollow

Most of the demand for this card comes from it’s usefulness in Commander as an auto-include utility land for any creature based deck that can support it’s single green cost to regenerate a creature. The card provides a unique effect in Commander, especially for a land, and can keep a key creature alive in the face of a destruction based board sweeper or similar point removal. This card shows up in just over 4000 decks on EDH.Rec, but that number should likely be higher.

When I first looked at this card in Feb of 2016, there were nearly 100 copies lying around online, with an average price of $10 or so. I bought about twenty copies at the time, but have been going deeper lately at twice the price, as inventory levels are now below 50-60 NM/SP copies across all major platforms. This winter I bought both English and Japanese foils close to $100 USD in Europe and flipped all of them for $200+ and though I was happy with the extent and speed of the returns, I suspect that the buyers may get a similarly attractive exit if they are more patient than I was. There are still small piles of SP copies on SCG and TCG at the time of this write up, and those seem like a good place to go deep. NM copies are already over $33 on TCG, but can be found elsewhere closer to $20 for now. If you want to speculate or need a copy for a deck, there’s just no reason to wait any longer.

Current Price: $20-25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35-40+

Treachery

Treachery

In the mid-game at your kitchen table or Commander session, Treachery isn’t just a reasonably priced Control Magic effect, but the setup for broken combo sequences that leverage the incidental untapping of the lands that you tapped to cast it. Whether you have a powered up Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or a twice-enchanted Forest to untap, Treachery lets you grab the best creature at the table, often with a positive mana advantage. The card only shows up in 2500 EDH decks at present, but the number should likely be higher, and the land untap effect is unique and provides open ended synergies with future cards that will be printed without considering it’s presence in casual metas. Copies are currently available in the $20-25 range, but inventory levels are less than 20% of what they were when I first tallied them 18 months ago. The are about 35 non-foils available on TCGPlayer.com alone, so you can easily go deep at $25 or less if you are ok to sit on them for a while. Foils are almost certainly a hold if you have any as RL foils are that much more rare and will not cycle back into the market as often as the non-foil versions due to their collectibility. Ultimately, overall demand here is mild compare to some of the other picks, but it’s still miles above most of the RL trash that has popped as of late.

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Current Price: $20-25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35-40+

Volrath’s Stronghold

Volrath's Stronghold

This EDH utility land boast one of the highest usage patterns of the cards on this list, with over 6000 decks registered using it on EDH.rec. The ability to recursively abuse your best creatures is both unique and unlikely to be bettered in the modern era of Magic design. This card has never had a foil version, so unlike some of the other RL cards, we need only worry about the original copies.

I bought my first pile of these at the same time as Yavimaya Hollow back in the winter of 2016, when the card was commonly available near $20. After a spike that took place through the first half of that year, the card posted up closer to $40, before falling back to the current average price of about $35. It’s worth noting that some MTGPrice vendors have the card under $30 and in Europe your contacts may be able to scavenge some closer to $25. Interestingly, inventory actually seems stronger now than it did 18 months ago, which suggests that the most recent spike pulled copies out of binders as folks who had them laying around sought to take advantage. Given the inventory levels, it would be tough to go deep on this and expect immediate gains. If you were to snag all the copies under $35, that still might set you back $1500-2000, and it could still be months or years before you can yield $10+ (25%+) on your resales. As such, this is more interesting as a card that you snag a copy of for personal use, or keep on your radar as something to pick up whenever you see it underpriced for long term gains. I snagged a NM copy on Ebay for $25 while I was writing this article, and looking for a small pile during the frequent $15 off $75 in purchases sales that are common on that site might be a solid action.

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Current Price: $30-35
Future Price (12-18 months): $50+

Sliver Queen

Sliver Queen

Sliver Queen was actually one of the earliest EDH based spikes for the Reserved List, initially popping from $30 to $45 in the summer of 2013. Since then it has been on a slight downill trend with copies commonly available around $40. The card isn’t legal in Modern, so demand is largely dependent on EDH sliver players and casuals. The thing is, Slivers aren’t actually all that popular in Commander circles, with just 800 decks or so registering the card. StarCityGames is currently out of stock on NM copies, but they’ve got just under 30 SP copies priced near $28. MTGDeals has a NM copy posted at $28, so that is a solid option if you’d like to ensure you’ve got one for the future. I don’t think you need to make a move on this card otherwise, but it would be something I would monitor inventory levels on if Slivers showed up in a new Magic set and gave someone the idea to try and corner the market.

Current Price: $30-35
Future Price (12-18 months): $50+

Metalworker

Metalworker

This is another card where age and lack of exposure may be limiting usage in EDH. EDH.rec shows 2800 decks or so registering this powerful ramp creature which should likely be an auto-include in decks such as Breya, Daretti and Arcum. In the spring of 2014 you could snag this card for $12 or so, but by fall of that year it had popped to $30, and then again to $40 in the winter of 2016 during that wave of Reserved List targeting. Since then the card has fallen back closer to $30, with a few copies available on TCG under $25 shipped. There are about 50 copies total on that site, including 20 or so held by ChannelFireball, but the curve from $25 to $40 is relatively steep past the first 10 copies, and the rest of the web is carrying another 50-60 copies with a similar price curve. MTGDeals has a copy posted at $20.49 which looks tasty. I like stashing away copies here and there at those lower price points, awaiting a greedy buyout down the road once speculators tire of targeting the trashier RL cards.

Current Price: $25
Future Price (12-18 months): $35+

Lotus Vale

Lotus Vale

With just 1200 or so decks on EDH.rec, this card flies a bit under the radar, but it’s inventory level is actually fairly low at present, and could be ripe to pop. For years, there weren’t a lot of ways to abuse this land, but with the printing of The Gitrog Monster and Titania, Protector of Argoth and the additional redundancy that Ramnunap Excavator adds to Crucible of Worlds style land recursion, it’s relatively easy for a focused Commander list to negate the downside on Lotus Vale and turn it into a permanent Black Lotus level ramp spell that can’t easily be dealt with.

There are about 20 NM copies available on TCG, mostly clustered around $10-12. Ebay has a similar number on display, and SCG has 12 copies around $12. Demand might be shallow here at present, but I like the unique power potential of the card and the low inventory makes a buyout attractive so I’m good to stash away a handful for the long term.

Current Price: $11
Future Price (12-18 months): $20+

Gaea’s Cradle

Gaea's Cradle

Let’s finish off with a bang shall we? Gaea’s Cradle is one of the most powerful lands available in both Legacy and Commander, and yet there were still fools who would rather spread $250 over dozens of small time Reserved List specs instead of consolidating under the banner of steady & predictable growth? Lunacy.

Cradle has been on a solid uphill trajectory for years, moving from an $80 card in early 2013, to a $250 card with serious upside today. Just a few months ago a major speculator called me crazy for targeting copies of this in Europe for $160, but personally I think it’s crazy to not be targeting your first copy of this card before nearly anything else on the Reserved List. Given enough time I think Gaea’s Cradle hits $500, and the Judge Promo is likely to end up a $1000+ card. The land is amazing in any green deck with creatures, and the fact that shows up in 5800 EDH lists despite it’s price tag reflects just how aware of that the Commander community is.

Inventory is low, with just a handful of NM copies on TCGPlayer posted between $250 and $350. On Ebay, copies can be had for closer to $200, especially if you are willing to risk international shipping options. SCG has no NM or SP copies listed, and wants $180 for their MP copies. Stop messing around and get yourself a Gaea’s Cradle before it’s too late.

Current Price: $220
Future Price (12-18 months): $400+

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. He is also co-host of MTGFastFinance, our weekly MTGFinance podcast.

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Hot Specs: Early August 2017

By: James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Hey folks. I know what you’re here for, so let me cut out most of the preamble and share some of my most recent targets for reasonable gains as of early August, 2018.

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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. He is also co-host of MTGFastFinance, our weekly MTGFinance podcast.

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Hour of Devastation Pro Tour Coverage: Day 1 Lessons/Day 2

Welcome back. Day 1 of Pro Tour Hour of Devastation in Kyoto, Japan is now in the books and it’s time to take stock of what we’ve learned and see if there’s still any fresh money to be made or saved.

Heading into this tournament there was plenty of chatter on social media suggesting that ramp or UW God-Pharoah’s Gift or Vizier of the Menagerie might be the top secret tech for the tournament. With that in mind, let’s review how the meta actually shaped up at the start of Day 1:

The first point worth making is that many of the best pros clearly came out of their testing regiments believing that aggressive Ramunap Red decks were even better positioned than they had seemed heading into last week. Whereas the deck was already a significant 10% of the online meta (as best as anyone could tell), at the Pro Tour we see a whopping 25% of the players on the punishing, low slung red deck that attacks opponents from multiple angles.

Now just because the red deck was set up for success, didn’t mean it was going to plow through the field. In the last few Pro Tour stops decks that showed up in even larger quantities ended up butting up against the wall of fresh tech only to fail out of Day 2. This time however, at the end of eight rounds of play (including five rounds of Standard) the top tables were showcasing an even higher percentage of red decks than the Round 1 meta count would have suggested. Paul Cheon went so far as to name Ramunap Ruins as the card of the day, citing the reach that a nearly unanswerable late game damage source gives the red decks.

Ramunap Ruins

So where did all the cool combo/control decks go that were being heralded as approaching dooms? Day 2 coverage is now up and running, and control decks are being called out tonight as being largely relegated to the lower tables. With nearly 60% of the players on aggro decks at this tournament, the odds were already low that the rogue decks were going to find their footing and drive deep, but a day later we can now clearly see that many of the fancier brews just weren’t ready for prime time.

Instead, our top tables are largely crimson, with occasional sightings of zombies decks. Financially speaking, the likely dominance of red and black aggro decks doesn’t leave us with many targets since many of the zombie cards have already spiked and the red decks are running relatively few relevant mythics and rares. I have noticed that Falkenrath Gorger inventory is draining, and at $2 this has a solid shot at $5-6 if red fills up the Top 8 overnight. Hazoret the Fervent has inched up closer to $7 than $5, but many of the red pilots aren’t running enough copies to make clear this is even a valid target to accelerate.

Falkenrath Gorger

Champion of Wits, Gate to the Afterlife, Angel of Sanctions and Cataclysmic Gearhulk seem very unlikely to earn some price action this weekend, but keep an eye out for a rogue deck to navigate the aggro gauntlet and excite some purchasing power Saturday morning. The tournament location and timing is also likely to dampen financial speculation this weekend, since by the time many interested parties see something sexy happen over their breakfast cereal tomorrow morning, they will be able to reality check their ideas.

So far this tournament looks like a washout for specs, but I’ll be posting notes of interest through the night to flag any changes to that evaluation.

10PM EST: Donald Smith of Team Lingering Souls calls out Hazoret as the card that allows mono red to plow past the meta. Started testing three copies, moved up to the full four. Spec might not be dead.

1am: Cheon just ran us through the baseline lists for the most prevalent archetypes at the tournament:

 

Paul spent some time detailing that Abrade & Ramunap Ruins are the two cards that ultimately moved a quarter of the field away from some of the other Tier 1/2 options.

5am: We are facing a murder’s row in the Top 8 with PVDDR making his 12th (!) Pro Tour T8, and Sam Black, Sam Pardee, and Seth Manfield along for the ride. Five of the eight decks are Ramunap Red, and there’s one RB deck as well, all with a total of 20 copies of Hazoret, the Fervant. There are also 24 copies each of Falkenrath Gorger. Earthshaker Kenra (coverage Day 2 Card of the Day) and Bomat Courier so may see some some action on those rares, though Kenra has already spiked.

Here is the Top 8 participant list:

1st Place – Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa – Ramunap Red
2nd Place – Sam Pardee – BG Constrictor
3rd Place – Sam Black – Ramunap Red
4th Place – Wing Chun Yam – Ramunap Red
5th Place – Shintaro Kurata – BR Aggro
6th Place – Felix Leong – Ramunap Red
7th Place – Yusuke Sasabe – Mono B Zombies
8th Place – Seth Manfield – Ramunap Red

6am: The single B/G Constrictor deck in the Top 8 is pretty stock at unlikely to move much on the finance side. Ditto the single instance of mono black zombies. Might be time to start thinking about the control cards that address this meta appropriately.

7am: Overnight hype has pushed Hazoret, the Fervant copies very close to $10. Will be interested to see if they can push for $15 this week or whether the meta will immediately react by trying to hate RDW out of the format.

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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Pro Tour Hour of Devestation: Financial Preview

The third Pro Tour of 2017 is about to go down in Kyoto, Japan.  Mercifully, the oncoming festival of excellence lands just as the Standard format has finally escaped the shadow of recent card bannings.  After two seasons ended up requiring the banning of cards, the entire community wants to see a diverse and balanced metagame emerge at this tournament.  With Emrakul, the Promised End, Reflector Mage, Smuggler’s Copter, Aetherworks Marvel and Felidar Guardian[/mtg_Card] all banned, the format is by all accounts in a pretty diverse and health spot heading into the weekend.

As per usual the world’s best players have been hunkered down in their various Oni dens in Kyoto, Japan for the last week or two, all seeking to answer the only query that matters: is there a fresh deck or reconfiguration of existing archetypes out there that will allow them to catch the field off balance while offering consistent play against the known quantities in the field?

With $250,000 USD on the line, and  $40,000 for the champ, players looking to Top 8 need to marshall both luck and skill to lock down the trophy.

Taking a look at the results from the last major StarCityGames Tour Standard tournament, the Top 8 field features elements both familiar and relatively recent. Here was the Top 8 from SCG Open Cincinnati.

  1. Four-Color Control
  2. W/U Monument
  3. Four-Color Emerge
  4. B/G Energy
  5. W/U Monument
  6. Mono-Red Aggro
  7. Mono-Black Zombies
  8. Temur Energy

Meanwhile over on Magic Online, the meta seems to be featuring variations on the following decks:

  • Mardu Vehicles (11%)
  • UR Control (11%)
  • Mono-Red Aggro (10%)
  • W/U Monument (8.5%)
  • Temur Energy (8%)
  • GB Energy (6%)
  • G/R Pummeler (5%)
  • Mono-Black Zombies (3.5%)
  • U/B Zombies (2.5%)

For we finance types, this is not a super exciting scenario. With a wide open field, play skill and nuanced sideboard choices + luck may carry the day, and that’s without accounting for the six rounds of draft factor. All of that adds up to an event that is likely to generate the usual number of hypes spikes, but may not be able to sustain those prices heading into next week unless a truly dominant strategy emerges.

‘As per usual, it is worth noting that the Pro Tour currently requires that players succeed in a mixed schedule of booster draft (HOU/HOU/AMK) and Standard play with 3 rounds of draft Thurs night , followed by 5 rounds of Standard starting around 2pm EST/11am PST, Friday.

Will any of the teams find a way to unlock a hot new deck with solid game against the entire field? Will a fringe deck from the early weeks of the format suddenly end up perfectly positioned to take off? Will there be a chance to get in on a must-have card that shows early promise or will the hype train leave the bandwagon speculators out in the cold without enough buyers come Monday morning? Follow along as we explore Pro Tour Hour of Devestation all weekend!

Editor’s Note: We will not be providing round by round coverage this weekend, due to vacation scheduling but we will provide relevant notes as the weekend progresses. 

Cards to Watch

Heading into this Pro Tour stop, many of the most obvious specs have already played out and plenty of advance speculation has been going down. The potential for further spikes is still on deck, but so is the strong likelihood that some of these specs will collapse when they inevitably fail to join the central meta narrative of the weekend.

Here are a few of the interesting cards that seem like they should be on our radar this weekend:

God-Pharoah’s Gift: Grind King?

Gate to the AfterlifeGod-Pharaoh's Gift

There are at least a few versions of the God-Pharoah’s Gift decks floating around and they all look like a ball to play. Basically, you get a bunch of good creatures in your yard and then start overwhelming your opponent by bringing them back more often than they can find removal or good blocks to deal with them. If the format isn’t dominated by aggro, this might be a great place to be and at $3 (up from $0.50 or less), there’s still some room to grow here. I won’t be surprised if this pairing of cards makes the Top 8, but I will be surprised if they dominate the tournament. As such, the spec seems too risky in the fact of better options, and I think I’ll sit this one out.

Current Price: $3
Predicted Price Monday: $4-5
Odds to Top 8: 2 to 1

Champion of Wits: Good to Go

Champion of Wits

Originally underestimated and available under $1 during pre-order season, actual play with this flexible card selection/card draw spell sandwiched between two different bodies has proven it out as one of the better cards in the format. Four-color emerge decks run the full four in the main, alongside play sets of Elder Deep-Fiend, Grim Flayer, Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgam.  From a financial perspective, as a rare from a new set that is already close to $10, this one feels like an auto-sell to me. There could be a few more dollars left to reap here, but if you were in early I think you need to be happy with $24 play set exits and move on.

Current Price: $7
Predicted Price Monday: $8-10
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Hazoret, the Fervant: Ripping Red

Hazoret the Fervent

Mono-red aggro decks make up a solid 10% of the online meta, and their most promising spec (now that Earthshaker Khenra has popped) is likely the hasty god from Amonkhet. This will end up more promising if the decks that show up at the Pro Tour are running more than the usual two copies. with a full 15 months left in it’s Standard life, this is a solid spec with multiple possible inflection points given how frequently we see this deck post up in the meta. Alternatively you might look at Falkenrath Gorger, but generally mythics will beat rares for gains.

Current Price: $5
Predicted Price Monday: $10+
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Torrential Gearhulk: Can Control Get it Done?

Torrential Gearhulk

It’s hard to believe we had a shot at this card around $8 when it first released last fall. The power level on Snapcaster Mage’s big brother is undeniable, and the number of good control cards to flash back has only gotten better between all of the card draw, kill spells and counter spells now in the format. U/R Control is the most likely home for the big blue brute this weekend. This card featured a $30+ price tag a few months back but the weak interest in Standard in combination with a broadening format has weakened it’s ability to hold a higher price tier. There is an argument to be made to pick up a few playsets looking to unload them in the fall closer to $120 per play set, since it’s hard to imagine a shrunken Standard card pool not leaving this card near the top of the creature heap, but I’m going to stay away from this until I’m certain the format is regaining some of the bodies that were lost in the first half of the year.

Current Price: $20
Predicted Price Monday: $20
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Cataclysmic Gearhulk: Emergent Tech?

Cataclysmic Gearhulk

With U/W Oketra’s Monument decks spewing out a ton of tokens, there has been some early chatter that this card might show up in a God Phraoah’s Gift build that looks to reset the board in the mid-game and take over with a heap of Eternalized creatures. This deck is still emerging, but has been gaining momentum over the last couple of weeks, and the only problem is that the Cataclysmic Gearhulk slot is not necessarily a lock, given that there are multiple ways to build the deck.

Current Price: $2
Predicted Price Monday: $8+ (on a Top 8 presence or strong early camera time)
Predicted Price Monday: $2 (on a muted presence or absence)
Odds to Top 8: 6 to 1

Fatal Push: Nowhere to go but down?

Fatal Push

The price of Fatal Push has fallen a bit since the last Pro Tour, but it’s future in Modern and Legacy is super secure for the foreseeable future. In Standard things have been getting very grindy and mid-game focused, and as a result there are likely to be less copies of the card in the Top 8 versus last time. That being said, your first play set is an easy hold since you’ll be using them for years. Beyond that, trading out next fall or early winter may be your best bet, but remember that there is a sweet FNM promo that may head off your road to profit.

Current Price: 7
Predicted Price Monday: $7
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 2

Heart of Kiran: Dominating the Skies

Heart of Kiran

Through all the bannings Mardu Vehicles has remained a very steady presence in the Standard meta, especially at the local level, where many players who started on the deck are likely still on it. Some versions of the deck have taken to running Gideon of the Trials instead of the Zendikar version, but otherwise all the usual suspects are still in attendance in most lists. Heart of Kiran is still a four-of, but with the deck likely to represent a much more muted presence at this event, I think this card is likely to stall until rotation gives it a shot at being a strong gainer as the fall meta shapes up.

Current Price: $7
Predicted Price Monday: $7 ($15+ possible by Nov)
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 1

Angel of Sanctions: Ready to fly?

Angel of Sanctions

U/W Monument may not be running this main most of the time, but they certainly enjoy pulling three or four copies out of the board in their grindier matchups. This powerful angel is just $2 at present, so any kind of significant showing could easily push it up over $6 on a hype spike, with your resale potential strongly dependent on how many copies make the Top 8. This is a risky pick, but in a field this open, most of your options are.

Current Price: $2
Monday Price: $5
Odds to Top 8: 1 to 2

 

Stay tuned for our MTGFinance coverage of Pro Tour: Hour of Devastation throughout the weekend!

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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