Category Archives: James Chillcott

Best Bet: Booster Packs vs Fat Packs?

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By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

During the last few years, as my devotion to Magic: The Gathering as an alternate investment vehicle has grown, I’ve learned some (sometimes painful) lessons about sealed product.

If you swing by my place to check out my storage closet, you’ll find 12 sets of FTV: 20, a couple of cases of Commander 2013 decks and a half-dozen copies of the Dark Ascension Spiraling Doom Event Deck that I held onto just a bit longer than was wise. On the other hand, larger bets on  foreign boxes of Khans of Tarkir, SDCC sets and Modern Masters have paid off huge for me.

As a result of my efforts, I can now confidently share the following general guidelines on sealed MTG investing with you:

  1. Timing the market on the buying and selling of singles is more profitable than holding on to unlimited print run sealed product by a large margin, BUT you need to be good at both picking cards and timing the market.  With singles, you also need to be on top of things day to day, rather than the month to month management you can generally get away with when managing your sealed collection.
  2. Unlimited print run English booster boxes since Avacyn Restored have not shown positive returns, likely due to a dramatic stall in player growth since 2013 (see recent Hasbro investor presentations for details). This may weight against returns over the next few years, BUT a renewed period of player growth would likely reduce the trend.
  3. Limited edition sealed products like FTV sets, Commander’s Arsenal and the San Diego Comicon sets are often the exception and can yield excellent returns in short periods of time if you can source them below market cost and time your exits near the highs.
  4. Not all sets are created equal (think KTK vs. Dragon’s Maze), and choosing which sets to stash away is critical. When choosing a set, look for value spread across multiple cards, with a focus on cards that will appreciate in value due to demand from multiple formats, are hard to reprint often and were undervalued when on shelves (since this may indicate lower total products sales). Generally, fall sets are opened the most and spring sets and core sets the least, though this  may change in 2015 with the new set release schedule.
  5. The acceleration of Magic product releases, with regular fall and summer releases, additional ancillary product releases and the shortening of the Standard rotation schedule are all designed to ensure that existing MTG players spend more, and more often, eliminating the lulls between releases that once provided more opportunity for boredom to lead to the purchase of old products. (Note: This is pure theory, but I challenge you to outline other possibilities in the comments if you see reason.)

Now, all of that being said, I still generally put away a few cases of sealed product per year, choosing carefully. Recently however, it occurred to me that I had noticed some fat packs with price appreciation in excess of their corresponding booster boxes. In order to establish which product class was more likely to yield the best returns, I decided to take a look back at the last 30 sets worth of product, starting with M15, all the way back to Future Sight. To keep things simple, I limited my research to English language products.

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(For the record, I’m a big believer in acquiring Russian, Korean, and Japanese boxes, in that order, especially for sets that are likely to yield relevant high end foils. This is on the basis that the foils in those languages hold multipliers in the 3-7x range, and therefore tend to contribute to sealed values down the road at levels far beyond their original cost, which can be as little as $20 more than a regular booster box.)

I have assumed that the average cost of a booster box for our purposes is $90 USD, and that the corresponding cost of a Fat Pack is $30 USD, based on the easily accessed pricing that has been popular for years on both products via online vendors. To establish current value I looked at Ebay, TCGPlayer and StarCityGames and selected the lowest priced copy available, including shipping within the US. It’s worth noting that actual sell prices can sometimes vary due to late night Ebay sniping, but because the pricing across the three major platforms tended to cluster within 5% of each other, I felt good about using the established market pricing.

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Here’s what the research had to say about the last 30 sets worth of Booster Boxes.

Booster Box Research

    Current Price      
SetRelease DateOriginal Box PriceEbay (BIN)TCGSCGLowest AvailableRaw ReturnRaw % ReturnAnnualized ReturnCurrent Date
M157/18/2014$90.00$83.00$93.00$100.00$83.00-$7.00-7.78%-9.25%5/21/2015
Journey Into Nyx5/2/2014$90.00$84.00$88.00$100.00$84.00-$6.00-6.67%-6.34%5/21/2015
Born of the Gods2/7/2014$90.00$85.00$86.00$100.00$85.00-$5.00-5.56%-4.33%5/21/2015
Theros9/27/2013$90.00$90.00$90.00$100.00$90.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
M147/19/2013$90.00$79.00$88.00$100.00$79.00-$11.00-12.22%-6.65%5/21/2015
Dragons Maze5/3/2013$90.00$70.00$80.00$90.00$70.00-$20.00-22.22%-10.84%5/21/2015
Gatecrash2/1/2013$90.00$80.00$90.00$100.00$80.00-$10.00-11.11%-4.83%5/21/2015
Return to Ravnica10/5/2012$90.00$98.00$102.00$110.00$98.00$8.008.89%3.39%5/21/2015
M137/13/2012$90.00$75.00$95.00$90.00$75.00-$15.00-16.67%-5.84%5/21/2015
Avacyn Restored5/4/2012$90.00$139.00$140.00$150.00$139.00$49.0054.44%17.87%5/21/2015
Dark Ascension2/3/2012$90.00$120.00$115.00$120.00$115.00$25.0027.78%8.43%5/21/2015
Innistrad9/30/2011$90.00$220.00$221.00$225.00$220.00$130.00144.44%39.67%5/21/2015
M127/15/2011$90.00$92.00$104.00$100.00$92.00$2.002.22%0.58%5/21/2015
New Phyrexia5/13/2011$90.00$345.00$350.00$350.00$345.00$255.00283.33%70.40%5/21/2015
Mirrodin Besieged2/4/2011$90.00$162.00$166.00$150.00$150.00$60.0066.67%15.53%5/21/2015
Scars of Mirrodin10/1/2010$90.00$224.00$200.00$200.00$200.00$110.00122.22%26.35%5/21/2015
M117/16/2010$90.00$120.00$141.00$140.00$120.00$30.0033.33%6.87%5/21/2015
Rise of the Eldrazi4/23/2010$90.00$600.00$606.00$600.00$600.00$510.00566.67%111.56%5/21/2015
Worldwake2/2/2010$90.00$640.00$776.00$800.00$640.00$550.00611.11%115.33%5/21/2015
Zendikar10/2/2009$90.00$515.00$547.00$600.00$515.00$425.00472.22%83.79%5/21/2015
M107/17/2009$90.00$195.00$160.00$200.00$160.00$70.0077.78%13.30%5/21/2015
Alara Reborn4/30/2009$90.00$265.00$300.00$250.00$250.00$160.00177.78%29.33%5/21/2015
Conflux2/6/2009$90.00$435.00$526.00$450.00$435.00$345.00383.33%60.97%5/21/2015
Shards of Alara10/3/2008$90.00$333.00$361.00$350.00$333.00$243.00270.00%40.71%5/21/2015
Eventide7/25/2008$90.00$327.00$377.00$400.00$327.00$237.00263.33%38.59%5/21/2015
Shadowmoor5/2/2008$90.00$500.00$490.00$600.00$490.00$400.00444.44%63.00%5/21/2015
Morningtide2/1/2008$90.00$425.00$430.00$400.00$400.00$310.00344.44%47.16%5/21/2015
Lorwyn10/12/2007$90.00$715.00$590.00$700.00$590.00$500.00555.56%72.99%5/21/2015
10th Edition7/14/2007$90.00$335.00na$300.00$300.00$210.00233.33%29.70%5/21/2015
Future Sight5/4/2007$90.00$628.00na$800.00$628.00$538.00597.78%74.24%5/21/2015

Note: If the table doesn’t look good on your mobile device, you might have better results viewing my original spreadsheets in Google Docs.

And here is the research on Fat Packs:

Fat Pack Research

    Current Value      
SetRelease DateOriginal Avg PriceEbay (BIN)TCGSCGLowest AvailableRaw ReturnRaw % ReturnAnnualized ReturnCurrent Date
M157/18/2014$30.00$48.00$40.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%39.63%5/21/2015
Journey Into Nyx5/2/2014$30.00$30.00$30.00$40.00$30.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
Born of the Gods2/7/2014$30.00$28.00$30.00$40.00$28.00-$2.00-6.67%-5.20%5/21/2015
Theros9/27/2013$30.00$45.00$40.00$50.00$40.00$10.0033.33%20.24%5/21/2015
M147/19/2013$30.00$39.00$35.00$40.00$35.00$5.0016.67%9.07%5/21/2015
Dragons Maze5/3/2013$30.00$30.00$30.00$30.00$30.00$0.000.00%0.00%5/21/2015
Gatecrash2/1/2013$30.00$37.50$40.00$45.00$37.50$7.5025.00%10.88%5/21/2015
Return to Ravnica10/5/2012$30.00$56.00$56.00$60.00$56.00$26.0086.67%33.02%5/21/2015
M137/13/2012$30.00$46.00$45.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%11.68%5/21/2015
Avacyn Restored5/4/2012$30.00$83.00$76.00$100.00$76.00$46.00153.33%50.33%5/21/2015
Dark Ascension2/3/2012$30.00$48.00$50.00$60.00$48.00$18.0060.00%18.20%5/21/2015
Innistrad9/30/2011$30.00$123.00$128.00$120.00$120.00$90.00300.00%82.39%5/21/2015
M127/15/2011$30.00$54.00$50.00$40.00$40.00$10.0033.33%8.65%5/21/2015
New Phyrexia5/13/2011$30.00$93.00$91.00$99.00$91.00$61.00203.33%50.52%5/21/2015
Mirrodin Besieged2/4/2011$30.00$64.00$60.00$60.00$60.00$30.00100.00%23.29%5/21/2015
Scars of Mirrodin10/1/2010$30.00$68.00$65.00$60.00$60.00$30.00100.00%21.56%5/21/2015
M117/16/2010$30.00$49.95$47.00$50.00$47.00$17.0056.67%11.69%5/21/2015
Rise of the Eldrazi4/23/2010$30.00$280.00$175.00$250.00$175.00$145.00483.33%95.15%5/21/2015
Worldwake2/2/2010$30.00$275.00$285.00$300.00$275.00$245.00816.67%154.13%5/21/2015
Zendikar10/2/2009$30.00$300.00$300.00$300.00$300.00$270.00900.00%159.70%5/21/2015
M107/17/2009$30.00n/an/a$130.00$130.00$100.00333.33%57.01%5/21/2015
Alara Reborn4/30/2009$30.00$111.00$118.00$120.00$111.00$81.00270.00%44.55%5/21/2015
Conflux2/6/2009$30.00$120.00$150.00$130.00$120.00$90.00300.00%47.71%5/21/2015
Shards of Alara10/3/2008$30.00n/a$181.00$150.00$150.00$120.00400.00%60.31%5/21/2015
Eventide7/25/2008$30.00$105.00n/a$120.00$105.00$75.00250.00%36.63%5/21/2015
Shadowmoor5/2/2008$30.00$155.00n/a$200.00$155.00$125.00416.67%59.06%5/21/2015
Morningtide2/1/2008$30.00$134.00$138.00$150.00$134.00$104.00346.67%47.46%5/21/2015
Lorwyn10/12/2007$30.00$227.00$241.00$250.00$227.00$197.00656.67%86.28%5/21/2015
10th Edition7/14/2007$30.00$145.00n/a$120.00$120.00$90.00300.00%38.18%5/21/2015
Future Sight5/4/2007$30.00$200.00$252.00$250.00$200.00$170.00566.67%70.38%5/21/2015

Note: If the table doesn’t look good on your mobile device, you might have better results viewing my original spreadsheets in Google Docs.

So what does this info tell us? Let’s take a look at the average annualized returns (proper return on investment calculations, taking into account the discounting of returns over the time period in question).

Booster Boxes vs Fat Packs

 Annualized Gain 
SetBooster BoxFat Pack
M15-9.25%39.63%
Journey Into Nyx-6.34%0.00%
Born of the Gods-4.33%-5.20%
Theros0.00%20.24%
M14-6.65%9.07%
Dragons Maze-10.84%0.00%
Gatecrash-4.83%10.88%
Return to Ravnica3.39%33.02%
M13-5.84%11.68%
Avacyn Restored17.87%50.33%
Dark Ascension8.43%18.20%
Innistrad39.67%82.39%
M120.58%8.65%
New Phyrexia70.40%50.52%
Mirrodin Besieged15.53%23.29%
Scars of Mirrodin26.35%21.56%
M116.87%11.69%
Rise of the Eldrazi111.56%95.15%
Worldwake115.33%154.13%
Zendikar83.79%159.70%
M1013.30%57.01%
Alara Reborn29.33%44.55%
Conflux60.97%47.71%
Shards of Alara40.71%60.31%
Eventide38.59%36.63%
Shadowmoor63.00%59.06%
Morningtide47.16%47.46%
Lorwyn72.99%86.28%
10th Edition29.70%38.18%
Future Sight74.24%70.38%
Average Gain/Year30.72%44.75%
Average Gain/Year (Sets Older than 3 years)46.02%58.25%

 

So there you have it. In comparing the average returns for booster boxes vs. Fat Packs over the last thirty sets, there is no question that Fat Packs are the superior investment, beating booster boxes by 15% on average over the last 30 sets and by 12% when considering sets older than three years old.

Why might this be? Here’s my theory:

  1. Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game and Fat Packs are more collectible than regular boxes because of the inclusion of dice, set guides, card boxes and (at one point) novels.
  2. The price point on Fat Packs, both at release and down the road, is significantly below that of the booster boxes. Retail theory generally suggests that you will sell more of lower cost items than higher cost ones.
  3. As pointed out by Spencer in the comments, Fat Packs are generally thought to be printed in a single wave up front and therefore significantly more limited than Booster Boxes. This is also likely to be a key contributing factor to their increased returns.

In short, there’s more demand for Fat Packs because they’re more collectible and they cost less, leading to naturally better returns. Even when considering the low returns on recent sets, Fat Packs for KTK and M15 stand out as having appreciated earlier than their corresponding booster boxes.

Best Bet? Go for Fat Packs over Booster Boxes.

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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MTGFinance: What We’re Buying/Selling This Week (May 9/15)

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

One of the most common misconceptions about folks involved in MTGFinance is that we are constantly manipulating the market and feeding players misinformation to help fuel achievement of our personal goals.

It has occurred to us at MTGPrice that though we dole out a good deal of advice, most of you ultimately have very little insight into when our writing team actually puts our money where our collective mouths are pointing. As such we’ve decided to run a weekly series breaking down what we’ve been buying and selling each week and why. These lists are meant to be both complete and transparent, leaving off only cards we bought without hope of profit, where appropriate. We’ll also try to provide some insight into our thinking behind the specs, and whether we are aiming for a short (<1 month), mid (1-12 month), or long (1 year+) term flip. Here’s what we were up to this week:

Buying Period: May 3 – May 9th, 2015

Note: All cards NM unless otherwise noted. All sell prices are net of fees unless noted.

James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

BOUGHT

  • 1x Myth Realized (foil) @ $7.00
  • 1x Griselbrand @ $13.50
  • 1x Whisperwood Elemental @ $8.50
  • 1x Temple Garden @ $8.25
  • 1x Mana Confluence @ $7.50
  • 1x Scavenging Ooze (Russian promo foil) @ $11
  • 2x Pharika, God of Afflication @ $3.25/per
  • 2x Siege Rhino (foil) @ $16
  • Mutavault (Japanese) @ $10
  • 1x boxes of Modern Masters 2015 @ $230

SOLD:

  • 6x Modern Masters 2015 @ $255 USD ($210 cost)

SOLD (Pucatrade)

  • 1x Grafdigger’s Cage (foil) @ $19.00 (pack opened)
  • 1x Tarmogoyf @ $195.00 ($135 cost)
  • 1x Wilt Leaf Liege @ $29.42 (pack opened)
  • 1x Sensei’s Divining Top @ $32.41 (pack opened)
  • 1x Horizon Canopy @ $34.65 ($18 cost)
  • 5x Steam Vents @ $13.20 ($8.25 cost)

My total haul of MM2 boxes now stands at 20+. The revelation of the full set list through plenty of folks for a loop, as the final rares list was significantly less exciting than many had hoped for. Running the Estimated Value (EV) calculation on the set however has revealed that much of the value has simply been shifted to the mythics and the current EV per pack is very close to the MSRP of $9.99. This means that opening a box at MSRP is roughly equivalent to the math on opening a box of MM1 in the summer of 2013, which featured a similar EV. Each pack you open will feature higher variance, but the more packs you open the more likely you are to even out your opens. As such, I’m expecting the EV to fall off in the weeks following the triple Grand Prix into the $7-8 range as people sell off their opens. If the set is constricted on supply and/or considered too risky by players to open frequently, I would expect the box trajectory to follow a similar path to MM1, with less total upside. My current target is $325 on boxes by December 2015. Even if dealers end up having more supply than my sources have told me they will, a neutral EV out of the gate is unlikely to motivate them to open enough boxes to further tank the singles market on the mythics. We now need to see how the draft format is received, because a great format will drive sales and pack openings, and push EV further down the curve, whereas a bad draft format could keep the price of key cards relatively stable.  More on this as the issues play out.

Most of my singles purchases this week were simply opportunistic grabs at prices below retail, or cards I expect to continue rising heading into fall.

Pucatrade was a huge help this week, allowing me to out MM2 reprints like Leyline of Sanctity, Wilt Leaf Liege and Tarmogoyf at full value. I now have about $700 worth of Pucapoints, accumulated since the end of March, and my goal is to trade into a mox on that platform before the end of summer.

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Guo Heng Chin

TRADES

  • Thunderbreak Regent (out) for one Dragonlord Dromoka (in).

Jared Yost

PURCHASES
  • 4x Willow Satyr @ $13.96
  • 4x Gravity Sphere @ $11.76 + $1 shipping
Jarod says:
“I’ve picked up these Reserve List cards due to some analysis I did on Legends and potentially undervalued cards on the Reserve List.”

Note: The rest of the guys were quiet this week.

Bonus Tips:

  • Putting some money aside for the two weeks after the triple MM2 GPs across the globe is a solid notion indeed. Tens of thousands of packs will be opened at those tournaments and many of those players will be looking to sell of sweet opens that they don’t need for their own decks to recoup some of their trip costs. This should lead to a plethora of good deals as the sellers crowd each other out in a race to the bottom of the price ladder. This will also be the period where key standard cards will start to bottom out into their usual summer doldrums, and great cards from Khans block are likely to be in bargain territory with so much focus on Modern cards.
  • Before you plow too much money into the Eldrazi from MM2, keep in mind that we are very likely to get even more exciting Eldrazi this fall in Battle for Zendikar. Since the Eldrazi characters are set in stone, new versions could easily injur the price points on the earlier editions if they prove more interesting to collectors.
  • The absence of man-lands, Inquisition of Kozilek and Goblin Guide leaves me wondering whether WOTC will simply reprint some or all of these cards in the fall. This makes me very hesitant to get in on any of them right now.
  • As I’m writing this Yohan Dudognon is 7-0 at GP Paris running an entirely new multi-color Collected Company deck running Mantis Rider, Savage Knuckleblade and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. He just tapped out end of turn for Stoke the Flames tapping Riders and Knuckleblades so he has my full attention. Bottom line: Collected Company is proving to be a flexible and powerful magic card. Foils should be top targets while they’re cheap. I have them breaking $20 later this year.

So there you have it. Now what were you guys buying and selling this week and why?

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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MTGFinance: What We’re Buying/Selling This Week (May 3/15)

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

One of the most common misconceptions about folks involved in MTGFinance is that we are constantly manipulating the market and feeding players misinformation to help fuel achievement of our personal goals.

It has occurred to us at MTGPrice that though we dole out a good deal of advice, most of you ultimately have very little insight into when our writing team actually puts our money where our collective mouths are pointing. As such we’ve decided to run a weekly series breaking down what we’ve been buying and selling each week and why. These lists are meant to be both complete and transparent, leaving off only cards we bought without hope of profit, where appropriate. We’ll also try to provide some insight into our thinking behind the specs, and whether we are aiming for a short (<1 month), mid (1-12 month), or long (1 year+) term flip. Here’s what we were up to this week:

Buying Period: April 27 – May 3, 2015

Note: All cards NM unless otherwise noted. All sell prices are net of fees unless noted.

James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

BOUGHT

  • 4x boxes of Modern Masters 2015 @ $225
  • 2x Tarmogoyf (MM) @ $135
  • 7x Steam Vents (RTR) @ $8.50/per
  • 4x Nylea God of the Hunt @$3/per
  • 1x Sidisi, Undead Vizier (foil) @ $8
  • 1x Heliod, God of the Sun @ $2
  • 1x Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (foil pre-release) @ $4
  • 2x Glittering Wish @ $5/per
  • 1x Soulfire Grand Master (foil) @ $15
  • 1x Anticipate (foil) @ $8.50
  • 2x Siege Rhino @ $4.00
  • 1x Siege Rhino (pre-release foil) @ $11
  • 1x Dragonlord Dromoka (foil) @ $17
  • 4x Heliod, God of the Sun @ $2.50
  • 4x Gitaxian Probe @ $2.00
  • 1x Time Warp @ $8
  • 1x Grove of the Burnwillows @ $27
  • 1x Dromoka’s Command (Russian) @ $2.50
  • 1x Atarka’s Command (Russian) @ $2.50
  • 1x Kolaghan’s Command (Russian) @ $2.50

SOLD:

  • 1x Fate Reforged Booster Box (Russian) @ $199 USD ($125 cost)
  • 8x Den Protector @ $4/per ($1.25 cost)
  • 5x Dragonlord Ojutai @ $32/per ($6 cost)

SOLD (Pucatrade)

  • 3x Leyline of Sanctity @ $30.91 ($18 cost)

I’ve moved in even deeper on Modern Masters 2015 boxes as my sources all concur that the print run will be lower than expected and that many dealers will have trouble getting a hold of enough boxes to meet their local demand. Further proof comes from my receipt of offers from local dealers at prices far above what I’m buying for. You may be hearing that the print is bigger than last time, and it is, but a lot of that will be eaten up by the massive attendance at 3 GPs worldwide and a flurry of drafting at your local shop. I’m willing to bet that boxes are scarce by mid-June and the price tops $300 again. I’ll be happy to sell into the hype around the triple release GPs, but if I need to hold the boxes until Xmas season to yield my expected 30-40% returns, that’s fine too.

The Tarmogoyfs and the foil Siege Rhinos, along with the Steam Vents were all purchases of opportunity at GP Toronto, where some dealers from smaller towns surrounding Toronto were sporting remarkably low pricing on many staples. It felt like I could have gone very deep on value purchases at the event, and indeed several contacts reported dropping thousands in productive fashion. Selling into hype at a big tournament is always a good place to be, and I continued to unload Ojutai and Den Protector this week into amazing value.

Most of the rest of my buys were late night Ebay value purchases, where auctions were closing at prices below market value. We’re not quite at the season for summer pricing lows, but I’m starting to move in on the Theros gods, looking to acquire piles below $5 to out a few years later over $10.

Over on PucaTrade I continue to dump cards I expect are either peaking or likely to decline due to imminent reprint, with an eye to trading up into a $500-1000 card within a month or two of frequent trading. The latest dumps are Leyline of Sanctity out of my Abzan Tokens deck in Modern, based on the likely appearance of the card in Modern Masters 2015. I expect to get back into these below $20, so selling now at $30 in trade value is great.

Note: The rest of the guys were quiet this week. Look for updates this weekend.

Bonus Tip:

  • Blue devotion is far from dead. A U/G devotion deck with 32 creatures and 4 Collected Company finished 4th at the SCG Open in Portland, and the deck looked very solid on camera. As such I’m in no rush to dump Thassa and Master of Waves just yet, since we’re only another strong finish away from a possible move on these cards. The worst case is a hold waiting for a version in Modern, which is entirely possible if we wait for a few more great creatures to take the formula over the top.
  • Sell Noble Hierarch asap and look to move back in under $20 later this summer. It’s being reprinted at rare in MM2 and that should send the price crashing as the triple GP inventory floods the web in early June.
  • Bitterblossom has been confirmed for MM2 as well, and will likely bleed value since it’s not seeing heavy play at present.

So there you have it. Now what were you guys buying and selling this week and why?

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.

ADVERTISEMENT: Get the Cube Starter Bundle with the 3rd Edition Grimoire Deck Box, the brand new Grimoire Deck Box designed specifically for the red mage in you. 

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Digging for Dollars: Dragons of Tarkir

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Dragons of Tarkir marks the culmination of the Tarkir story-line and a block that is likely to be remember fondly for providing one of the better limited environments and one of the very best Standard seasons in recent memory.  As this point of the year we are very close to having our Standard decks for the season reach the apex of their potential power, with just Magic: Origins now unreleased and nearly 2000 cards at our disposal.

However, despite some very tasty early reveals, the financial future of Dragons of Tarkir is pretty hazy as we look forward at the rest of 2015. As pointed out by Saffron Olive in his excellent article on the Estimated Value (EV) of the set, the current value of a box is well below the average set value of the  last few years, and certainly not worth cracking packs of at present. This is especially concerning because we haven’t even made it to release weekend yet, and normally at this point the hype around a new set is strong enough to drive prices up to a temporary high that lasts a couple of weeks. This is not the case with Dragons of Tarkir, and it leaves us wondering, what’s up with this set?

When digging for dollars with DTK, we have to ask ourselves whether the combined wisdom of the player base is having trouble identifying the currently undervalued cards hiding in the shadows, or whether we’re simply dealing with Dragon’s Maze 2.0, a set notorious for it’s ongoing lack of valuable cards.

For my part, I believe that Dragons of Tarkir is:

a) primarily targeted at casual players and that as such many cards will be bulk for a while before they pick up from casual/EDH demand

b) up against several previous set’s worth of very, very powerful cards that may preclude many of the new cards from seeing extensive play

c) overpriced thus far on the handful of good cards that fell victim to pre-order hype (ie Narset, Enlightened Master)

d) lacking in rares in mythics destined for Modern and Legacy play

This combination means that the set is largely lacking in major standouts for short-term gains and also that many of my picks will only have 18 months in Standard to find homes before they hit the bulk bins for years. Now on the plus side, the ever-shifting 2015 Standard metagame leaves a lot of room for price spikes on select cards whose decks find sudden success in high profile Top 8’s. The low EV of the set, much of which lies in the lacking mythic rares, also leaves the door wide open for some rares to hit the $10-12+ range.

All of that being said, I think there are some cards here worth picking out. 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. It’s also worth noting that summer often represents annual lows for Standard staples, so you really need to believe your deck is going to have a shot at taking off within the next few months to justify not waiting until the release of Modern Masters (2015) to dive in.

Here, presented in no particular order, are my picks for the cards in Dragons of Tarkir most likely to reward timely speculation, with all target prices assumed to be possible during 2015 unless otherwise noted:

1. Dragonlord Ojutai

Now: $5
Target: $6-8

Frankly, this dragon lord is being overlooked and underestimated. The funny thing is that it’s actually the new control tools on offer at common and uncommon that seem to make his inclusion in an U/W or Esper Control strategy a very likely event. Cards like Anticipate, Silkwrap, Banishing Light, Ultimate Price, Hero’s Downfall, Dig Through Time, Negate, and Treasure Cruise all help a deck using Ojutai to kill the opponent a real thing. Ojutai only costs 5, which is low enough for him to be a 4-of in a control deck that doesn’t feel like waiting around. This is a very nice casting cost for a potentially game ending threat that allows control to cast him early and rely on his hexproof to hold down the fort, or to use some of their new 2-mana counters or kill spells to back him up a bit later in the game. Heck, he loves it when you cast Crux of Fate and he plays very nicely with Silumgar’s Scorn, which is also much better than you think. The fact that connecting with him lets you cast a free Anticipate (the best blue card in the set) is just gravy.

2. Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Now: $3
Target: $5-7

Here’s a card I intend to go deep on, because I actually think this guy could be Modern playable at some point. Silver bullet strategies have been extremely powerful in the past, and there is a mountain of potential graveyard synergy to fuel his actions. Think Kitchen Finks. Remember, Diabolic Tutor type effects typically cost four mana, so we’re basically getting a 4/6 Deathtouch for one that just happens to block and kill Siege Rhino, Monastery Mentor, Goblin Rabblemaster, Surrak, Hunt Caller, etc. That body is stapled to the ability to sacrifice a creature we want in the graveyard anyway (Deathmist Raptor), or which has overstayed it’s welcome (Satyr Wayfinder), and then go get whatever answer we need to our opponent’s most pressing threat. Being able to choose between Thoughtseize, Ultimate Price, Hero’s Downfall or Dromoka’s Charm is no joke. Ultimately, I think the zombie snake is a 2-3 of, but that might be enough to earn a spike if someone figures out how to optimize his usage.

3. Zurgo, Bellstriker

Now: $2
Target: $4-5

Mono-red aggro now has all of the tools they could ever want to take advantage of control decks and new durdly decks that spend too much time fooling around with their new toys to drive home the killing blow. Make no mistake, despite his embarrassing new role in Tarkir society, Zurgo is one of the best red creatures in the format and highly likely to hit top tables in the first wave of new Standard decks debuting later this month. If the deck puts up consistent results, this card should hit $4-5 easily, and post-rotation this fall the deck should still be in great shape and set up to do even better during this weakest Standard field of the year.

4. Stratus Dancer

Now: $2
Target: $3-4

If mono-red ends up being a beating, the mono-blue devotion we’re all trying to resurrect gets that much better because Master of Waves is an absolute coffin nail against red. Brad Nelson and Todd Anderson posted a five-game match to Star City Games this week, and it showed pretty clearly that while blue devotion might not be what it was, it’s still a real deck.  This card is not the 2-drop that blue devotion wants, but it is the 2-drop that they’re going to need. As an early evasive threat that can counter instants or sorceries starting on turn 4, Status Walker is also playable in other tempo oriented strategies and will often be a 4-of when it’s being played at all. As such there is some slight upside to be had if you can prove out his value in your testing regiment and get in on some copies before anyone else notices how good this card is.

5. Surrak, Caller of the Hunt

Now: $2
Target: $4-5

In the not so distant future, Polukranos is going to rotate out of Standard, and people are going to realize that a similarly costed beatstick with haste is a pretty good way to get your game on. Green just so happens to be the strongest color in Standard right now, and that’s likely to last until at least the fall. In the meantime, plenty of people are brewing up R/G, Mono-Green and Temur builds that include this guy as a 2-3 of. Don’t be put off by his Legendary status. After all, Polukranos has already amply demonstrated that the first copy of a must-answer threat either dies to removal and frees up the second copy immediately, or it doesn’t die and you are clearly winning with a backup in hand. If some key pros (think Brian Kibler) end up making this work and get somewhere at Pro Tour DTK, expect this card to double in price on the spot.

6. Blood-Chin Fanatic

Now: $1
Target: $3-4

This guy basically dies to everything, right? Well, not quite. See, in the mono-black and B/W warrior builds they’ve usually run out of removal by the time you’re this far up the curve, and if your aggro deck gets hit with a sweeper, that’s just something you live with. The rest of the time, this guy starts doing a Gray Merchant of Asphodel impression once you get stalled out on the ground, and buys you time to finish things off. These decks were already Tier 2 prior to this set and now have additional options including Blood-Chin Rager (Falter effect), Pitiless Horde (Lava Axe), Ultimate Price/Silkwrap (Cheap Kill) and Arashin Foremost (Portable Beating and another target to double up from $1.50 to $4).  It’s entirely possible that we see one of these builds claim a Top 8 slot before summer in which case, this card could easily triple up. Otherwise this slides into bulk oblivion in a hurry.

7. Dragon Tempest

Now: $3.50
Target: $5-6

So, the future of this card and it’s effect on your wallet lies almost entirely on whether the Dragon Tempest/Descent of the Dragons combo manages to find a home in a Tier 1 deck before the end of the year. To live the dream you play some small creatures like Battlefield Thaumaturge, Sylvan Caryatid or Dragon Fodder/Hordling Outburst that are tough to kill reliably before Turn 5. You then cast both Tempest and Descent on the same turn, turn 3 creatures into 4/4 dragons with haste, they deal nine to your opponent directly, and then attack for 12. That’s 21 as early as turn 4 or 5.  Hour of Need can provide a backup combo plan. Your deck can be built U/R (for consistency) or U/R/G (to support Caryatid and possibly Sarkhan) and can easily work a transformational sideboard, swapping out the combo for a mid-range game plan with Thunderbreak Regent and Stormbreath Dragon.

8. Boltwing Marauder

Now: $0.50
Target: $2-4

This is a reasonably costed evasive threat that can attack for 11 when you cast Hordling Outburst and can’t be killed by Silkwrap or Ultimate Price. Dragon Fodder and Secure the Wastes are also real cards. Hornet Queen gives it (or something else) +10! The Boltwing is also worth a mere 2 quarters at present, likely because it’s totally overshadowed by flashier dragons. I’m picking up a few sets, just in case someone puts this to work.

9. Icefall Regent

Now: $1.50
Target: $3-4

This is part Dungeon Geists, part Frost Titan and both of those cards made top tables in Standard in seasons past. It’s also a very plausible top of curve if mono-blue devotion, U/R dragons or another blue mid-range strategy takes off. It turns Silumgar’s Scorn into straight up Counterspell alongside Ojutai. The rate is good enough on this card that it can easily triple if you see this on camera at some point.

10. Profaner of the Dead

A lot of people are completely missing that in Standard this card is going to bounce 75-100% of the opposing army against decks like GW Aggro, Mono Red, Mono Blue, G/W Devotion, Warriors even when it has to exploit itself. If you’re in some weird Sultai build this can even stay on board while you ditch something tasty to whip back the following turn. Whipping the Profaner back is still pretty ugly. This also has a future in EDH/Commander where you can bounce untold creatures while mining value from something big you wanted to die for value. At $0.50 this is already near it’s lowest possible price, and I’m in for 20 copies right off the bat.

Now: $0.50
Target: $2-3

 Dark Horse PickAvatar of the Resolute (foil)

Now: $1.50/$5 (foil)
Target: $4-5/$15 (foil)

It wasn’t so long ago that we got a 3/2 for GG and called it playable. These days we’re getting reach, trample and the ability to grow very quickly in the presence of +1/+1 counters and most of us are yawning. Let me be clear. This card is definitely playable, possibly even in Modern. Living the dream with this card is a deck that can field a couple of counter based creatures on turns 1 and 2 and play this as a 5/4 on Turn 3. A 4/3 on turn 2 could beat Tarmogoyf a lot of the time.  I’ve been testing a counters based Modern deck for a while, and it will love this card, falling into the ranks along with Bloodhall Ooze, Young Wolf, Scavenging Ooze, Experiment One, Strangleroot Geist, Lotleth Troll and Predator Ooze. The deck is nowhere near Tier 1 but eventually the bell will get rung on critical mass of good counter synergy based low drops will get hit and this card will see play.

Bonus Notes:

So there you have it, the long-shot specs of Dragons of Tarkir. Which ones are you going after and why? Anything I missed that you think has a shot at a big rise?

Fate Reforged Update:

In our Fate Reforged Digging for Dollars, I called out the following specs:

  1. Humble Defector (foil)
  2. Frontier Siege
  3. Yasova Dragonclaw
  4. Tasigur, the Golden Fang
  5. Torrent Elemental
  6. Cloudform (foil)
  7. Wildcall
  8. Dark Deal (foil)
  9. Reality Shift (foil)
  10. Soulflayer (foil)

From this list, Humble Defector, Frontier Siege, Yasova, Tasigur and Torrent Elemental all saw high level tournament play in the last few months. Tasigur and Frontier Siege might have even made you some money. I went pretty deep on Tasigur at $2, and that has easily paid for some of the specs here that were stillborn. Not bad at all given the time-frame but still proof that buying the full portfolio of long-shot lists like this is a bad strategy. You really need to figure out which of the options is the next Tasigur and load up, which is much harder than it sounds.

IMHO Cloudform needs time to find a Modern or Legacy deck. Dark Deal and Soulflayer are already seeing play, but their foils haven’t really taken off yet. Reality Shift is a consensus terrible card so far. Wildcall was utterly overshadowed by the success of Master of the Unseen/Whisperwood Elemental as the definitive manifest cards in Standard.

See you next time!

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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