Category Archives: Jason Alt

Unlocked Pro Trader: What I Learned By Acting Like A Desk Jockey

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So, I do stuff.

I write articles, I podcast, I perform in and host comedy shows, I’m a content manager for a website you may have heard me shill for and I have the most difficult and important job of all according to Oprah Winfrey – I’m a mother a Dad. Most of these things pay me money so that I can afford to stay home and not have to be a real adult. The result is that my “real adult job” skills have atrophied slightly. I was never much of a desk jockey to begin with since I mostly worked in laboratory settings but it’s safe to say that the last 5 years being an indoor cat have made things feel a little rusty. Today I decided to see if I could make myself enter a bunch of data into excel. I filled out 200 fields and wrote one formula and that was about the most I could manage without blasting a few fat rails of Adderall. Also, if you don’t have an Adderall perscription, don’t do fat rails of Adderall, it’s illegal. Also, if you do have an Adderall perscription, don’t do fat rails of Adderall, you’re not supposed to take it that way. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I slaved to get this data done and it took way longer than it should have and now I get to analyze it finally, which is the fun part. I found some stuff. You know, the good stuff. $tuff.

What Did You Say You Were Going To Do Last Week?

I don’t remember.

What? I don’t. If you remember, tell me. Otherwise, let’s both refresh our memories. Basically, I thought about foil multipliers on the Top 100 EDHREC staples and whether we’d see any trends emerge if we calculated them for each card. Would artifacts in general have the highest? Would we see any trends within colors? I didn’t really find what I expected to find. What I found instead were much more specific findings (I found findings? Gross; nice prose, idiot.) that I think can be either extrapolated to predict things in the future (we like when this happens) and there are some discrepancies that we can exploit immediately (this is less valuable but we like it more when this happens despite it being less valuable. Go figure.) First up, let’s link the data.

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It’s a google doc. I hope that’s acceptable.

I expected to find some trends in the prices based on color or some other classification, but there are way too many variables. Number of printings, what kind of set the printings were in, foil printings to non-foil printings ratio, whether the foil was a promo or a set inclusion; just about everything was a factor and it’s impossible to make any macro conclusions. On a micro level, though, we can kind of see a few things emerge that we may be able to work with. While I can’t say “Green cards will have higher foil mutlipliers than Red cards” or anything categorically like I was hoping, being forced to drill down into specifics means I am looking more at individual cards and individual sets rather than colors or card types. Here’s what I found.

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The Top 100 Is Popular Everywhere

These are the Top 100 cards used in EDH but, not all that surprisingly, not many of the cards are EDH-specific. Sure, there are format-specific staples like Rhytic Study and Chromatic Lantern and Commander’s Sphere but there are also a lot of cards like Brainstorm and Swords to Plowshares that are just good cards and get play in the formats where they’re legal.

Cards that are popular outside of EDH get extra chances to get foils. That’s why out of the (why 4?) tutor cycle of Vampiric, Mystical, Enlightened and Worldly Tutor, Worldly doesn’t have a foil version because it’s only played in EDH, really whereas the others see enough Legacy and Vintage play to justify their inclusion there.

In fact, besides Worldly Tutor, there are only two other cards in the Top 100 EDH cards (per EDHREC, but who else is even tracking that?) that don’t have foil versions – Commander’s Sphere and Propaganda. I’m not sure what they can do for Propaganda, but Sphere can surely be jammed somewhere, even if it’s just a judge foil. “Just” a judge foil. I think Teferi’s Protection is a good choice for that sort of thing as well, meaning Sphere might end up in Limbo. It’s a good mana rock and it’s fairly ubiquitous, so finding a way to get us a foil would be ideal. I’d like to see another Commander’s Arsenal, but with only 3 of the format’s true staples left without foils, it’s probably not something that needs to be done right away. They did Commander’s Anthology instead and that worked out OK for everyone.

Creatures Seem Less “Safe”

A lot of things run the risk of reprinting, but not all reprints are created equal. A reprint in some sort of  product with foils can bring down the foil multiplier a bit, but other things can obliterate it. When Rhystic Study ended up in Commander’s Arsenal, the Commander’s Arsenal version ended up about $10 cheaper than the set foil version and the multiplier is at 2.1. It’s not terrible but it’s not great, either. Being a common certainly hurts the ability to be super crazy and not being also a Legacy and Vintage card like Brainstorm (foil multiplier of 18.2) hurts it since only EDH players are using Rhystic Study. But while 2.1 doesn’t seem astronomical, check out the two cards I highlighted in red because they have a multiplier of 0.9. That means the cheapest foil version (I went with the cheapest foil version for the calculations) is cheaper than the non-foil. This is a combination of a lack of desirability of the foil and the glut of copies on the market. Those two cards? Avenger of Zendikar and Sun Titan. Can you guess what links those two cards?

That’s right. These duel decks farted out so many copies that the foil is actually cheaper than the non-foil for these two cards. That’s not to say they’re cheap – Avenger still goes for $6 for the duel deck version and $7 for the non-foil somehow. A few other duel deck cards like Elspeth Sun’s Champion are at a 1.0 multiplier. Not every card can be the marquee card of a duel deck but the ones that are see their foil prices crushed, at least for that version. It has a deleterious effect on the prices of the other foil versions but not to the extent that they’re all sub-1.0. Still, it’s something to watch out for. Spells seem like a safer bet since creatures, and I guess walkers, can end up in products like this. With Explorers of Ixalan coming out, it’s hard to predict what sort of product they’ll invent to give us reprints. Is Eternal Witness at risk of a reprint in a deck like this in foil? Not likely, but who knows what’s next?

Speaking of Green Creatures

Holy Mackerel were there strong metrics for Green creatures. I kind of expected big things from Green since it’s the best EDH color but I didn’t expect parity with Blue. This is where using multiplier as a metric can get kind of sticky so we’re just looking at numbers, we’re not drawing a ton of conclusions. Green has a lot of “I have been in every EDH set and a ton of products so I’m like $0.25 but I only have one foil printing that’s like $20” creatures like Wood Elves and that makes the multiplier a little ridiculous. Still, it’s worth knowing that cards that have been printed a ton can still be valuable if there weren’t a lot of foil printings. Wood Elves has more than one foil printing, curiously enough, but they’re all pretty valuable. Green creatures and Blue spells topped our list, not surprisingly. Also not surprisingly, the three Mono-Red cards in the Top 100 (Vandalblast, Chaos Warp and Blasphemous Act) all had one foil printing only and had multipliers of around 3, which is pretty low. I was hoping to learn some things about color groupings but this mostly just reinforced what we expected to find going in.

What I Found That Could Be Money

For whatever reason, Orzhov is not getting any respect. There were 5 Orzhov cards in the Top 10, which is an over-representation, really. No other guild really represented like that, and not surprisingly, they were good removal plus  Orzhov Signet. Anguished Unmaking is a great removal spell that Wizards had enough faith in to make a full art promo version of and the multiplier is 2.0. Utter End is similar. Even Mortify has $2 full art Player Rewards promos running around. These all seem too cheap and with as much as these cards get played coupled with the popularity of commanders like Edgar Markov and Wizards recent willingness to give us great Orzhov, Esper and Mardu commanders, the demand for these cards will only grow. You’re not getting cross-format demand for them, but they have sub-4.0 multipliers on 1st-class removal and they’re in popular colors. The Anguished Unmaking and Utter End promos and the Mortify promo are all buys as far as I am concerned. While the foil mutliplier data didn’t tell us as much as I had maybe hoped, it did help isolate some odd cards like this.

One more thing I will mention is this card.

This has a healthy 6.0 multiplier. I checked Star City for some of my prices for two reasons. One is that they have a lot in stock and don’t tend to list foils of good cards for really cheap and then run out of stock, meaning their numbers were more robust than most stores. Another reason is that when they sell out of stock, they leave the price it was when it sold out, meaning we know that this was very recently $8. It’s got a great trajectory and it’s hard to reprint. I like it less than I did last year but I feel the same way about my marriage so I can live with buying in now.

Foil Mulitiplier Can Be Like Spread

The lower it is, the more I like it as a buy (though not always, and less often with foil multiplier). Some of the cards are not a great buy because of where they were reprinted, but something like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion seems pretty strong to me. There are a ton of copies, but with a 1.0 multiplier, the foil is the cheapest copy available and has more upside since foils tend to grow exponentially (when the multiplier isn’t 1.0, anyway) if the growth is organic. Organic demand should theoretically push all copies at the same rate meaning the price will grow at the same time for foil and non-foil and therefore the foils have more upside. A lot of the cards with multipliers below 2.0 were in duel or Planeswalker decks as the marquee card and with those in every Walmart in North America, copies abound. Still, they are foils and people buying the best version and people buying the cheapest version are vying for the same copies in this instance only, which is curious. I think they have a good shot at recovering and being exposed to some upside. Not as much as regular foils, mind you, but with a lower upside exponent comes lower risk. I like Venser, the Sojourner, Utter End, Sylvan Library, Phyrexian Metamorph and Gilded Lotus of all the cards with multipliers below 2.0. The odds of another reprinting in foil seem very low and the odds of the cards growing in price because they’re the best at what they do is very high.

I didn’t find out as much as I wanted to by doing this exercise but since I spent all day on it, I figured at least publishing my findings was better than just not giving you an article. Besides, I found some stuff I like, and I linked the google doc with my numbers so you can read through and look for yourself. Do you  see anything in the tea leaves? Leave (heh) it in the comments and we’ll talk about it next week. Until then!

 

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Unlocked Pro Trader: Curses! Foiled Again!

Last week I amped up my normal rhetoric and went pretty hard against what I think is intellectual laziness from content creators when it comes to recommending that thousands of people go in on tens of copies of a card and then sit back like “Are you not entertained?” when lo and behold, the price goes up. I’m sure I used to do that. The Dunning Kruger effect basically guarantees I used to do easy, low-value stuff like that and probably thought “Man, I’m good at this.” and it’s possible that 5 years ago, that’s what all of us did. But MtG Finance has come a long way in the last decade. Binder grinders are an endangered species. Watching coverage and writing an article Monday morning to be published Tuesday morning about what to buy based on weekend results is a thing of the past. Looking back, I can’t even believe that ever worked. Since Theros, people have been buying cards on Friday before they even put up results and stores are cancelling the orders on Sunday.

We’ve had to get better at this and that’s a good thing. You’re getting more value for your money if you’re paying for non-obvious advice. I’ve been writing since April 2012 (I looked it up yesterday) so I basically have a Bachelor’s Degree in MtG Finance at this point and I’d hope I can have some non-trivial insight. To whit, let’s delve into a topic I brought up last week about stuff “trapped” below that invisible barrier of $2 on TCG Player.

 

What Is The Thing?

TCG Player has a policy that requires you to spend $2 from each seller even though they can combine orders from different sellers and fulfill the orders themselves. It’s fine, who wants to go to the post office for a $0.75 sale? Who wants to process an order that consists of 1 rat token? This is a decent thing to keep sellers from being annoyed. Instead it passes the annoyance on to the buyer.

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If a card is being bought out, people will find an excuse to grab another card from a seller to hit the $2 mark (I could have sworn it used to be $5. $2 is a lot less annoying) so they can grab a played copy of a foil that’s going to be like $8 soon. The damaged copy will still be like $5 and you doubled up, but fees squeeze you so make sure you grab other worthwhile cards to mitigate the shipping. But what do I know? I buy specs from Cardshark.

I think this invisible barrier tends to obscure slow, organic buyouts but not calculated, panic “someone on YouTube made a video about this card” buyouts.  Obscuring the organic ones is actually probably a good thing since it gives us time to slowly acquire our copies at the same price from other sites. Card Shark running out of foil Temur Ascendancy foils (don’t bother looking, someone already bought them all, or just never listed them because who sells on Cardshark at this point?) isn’t going to trigger people to notice, but TCG Player doing so is.

I think sub- $2 cards that get a lot of play in EDH have a lot of growth potential, especially when they’re foil which makes them tougher to reprint. Since these are good opportunities, TCG Player is doing us a favor by making it a little tougher for people to signal that copies are drying up because a few played copies are going to sit on TCG Player forever, and sometimes the damaged copies are the entire front page of foils prices, meaning people see the price is like $1.75. Canny financiers will head to the next page to see the lowest price for a NM copy, but not everyone is canny. Hell, not every seller is canny enough to check the lowest NM price rather than lowest absolute price when they list cards. This effect is worth being aware of and it’s worth buying around. TCG Player prices are a house of cards sometimes, and a small amount of copies selling out on one website can make a lot of copies sell out on a lot of websites as people chase the “spike” or “buyout” or whichever mis-applied term ends up festooning the Reddit post.

Speaking of foils, I have a few more picks that I think you might want to take a look at.

Buy But Don’t Buy-Out

Phyrexian Arena

Mutliplier – 4x

A $90 Apocalypse foil (scarcity sucks) hasn’t really stopped the Conspiracy foil from being a fraction of that and having a very low multiplier. No one is buying Conspiracy 2 packs and the chance to get one of Magic’s best Black cards for this cheap will eventually appeal to people and there won’t be much supply to step up and fill in. The art is different and while the Apocalpyse art is better, this art is better than the 8th edition art, objectively. Subjectivity matters were wallets are concerned, but the chance to get a foil Phyrexian Arena for closer to $10 than $20 should perk people up. These are starting to disappear and it wasn’t too long ago you were paying $13 for a non-foil. Remember that? It wasn’t that long ago.

Blasphemous Act

Multiplier – 2x

This is the best red mass removal spell that doesn’t blow your lands and stuff up in EDH and that’s pretty useful. It’s also very reprintable in non-foil and has shrugged those reprints off. This is a card that appeals to red players and red players are the most durdly and least likely to want to foil their decks out. I think next week I will take all 100 Top cards on EDHREC, or maybe the top 10 by color or something and look at the average foil multiplier by color and see if anything emerges. Data is beautiful, after all. For now, look at a card that’s $3.99 a year after being reprinted in a popular deck and notice its one foil printing is at a 2x multiplier. Maybe this card proves that durdly red EDH players aren’t foiling out their durdly red decks, Or maybe this is about to pop and you’re lucky I noticed.

Crackling Doom

Multiplier – 8x

What’s true for Red in EDH might be doubly true for Mardu. This graph looks really funky. Modern or dare I say Legacy demand could case a third peak. For now, this is an 8x multiplier on the strength of the non-foil being printed into powder and the foil being not powder. This is making me really want to look more into the average multiplier by color, wedge, shard and… whatever Commander 2016 was. Is Crackling Doom due for a third spike? We know what happens with second (and third, by extension) spikes, so I imagine this is a card with a lot of built up potential energy and all it needs it a push. I’m hoping this article isn’t the push. Being the 65th-most-played card on EDHREC does’t hurt. Are you foiling your Mardu deck? You might if every card in there is like $0.50 non-foil and $2 foil. Alesha, anyone?

I’ll Be Back

With more data. This article inspired me to spend a lot of time researching so I have some numbers to crunch. In the mean time, if you want to scour this page on EDHREC and then look at foil and non-foil prices and maybe even check the top 100 cards by each color if you remember how to do that (it’s really intuitive)

then that’s not a terrible idea. Next week I’ll be armed with some hard numbers we can use to see if certain colors, wedges, shards, guilds or other configurations are foiled less than others. If I’m guessing, red has the lowest multipliers and blue has the highest. We’ll see for sure next time. Until then!

 

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Unlocked Pro Trader: The Article You Never Thought I’d Write

I’m sure this is going to come as a bit of a shock considering I have called advocating buying foils “intellectually lazy” from a content provider standpoint, but that’s exactly what I want to talk about today. I plan to go through why I feel that way, move on to why foils aren’t as bad as that condemnation makes it sound and end up with some hot spec tips on foils and a few classifications of cards that are safe foil buys.

Why I Use The Phrase “Intellectually Lazy”

From the standpoint of a content creator, I need to give good, actionable advice. I’m sure some people just scroll to the bottom of my articles and look for which cards I made graphs for and I have to be OK with that. I occasionally  put up a graph of a card I think is a bad buy to show a price trend I don’t like or discuss in depth why I think the card is a trap and it makes me smile to think of someone just noting which cards I brought up and not what I said about them, but if they get burned, they’re going to blame my advice and not their own laziness so even that little fun size Snickers of Schadenfreude isn’t worth it most days. I know for a fact some people analyze my picks through a lens of “I tweet card names to my 14 followers and if I disagree with your pick, you’re wrong and if I agree, you stole my ideas” and that’s OK with me, too. 99% of MTG Price readers are excellent and it behooves me to give you all good advice that you can take action and make money on.

Between the podcasts and the articles, I’m reaching tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people (or the same 100 people 1,000 times) and that means telling them to fight over 20 foil copies isn’t going to help more than one of them. True that benefits our Pro Traders most, but I like when I tell a reader to grab a card that 1,000 EDH players are a week from realizing they can’t live without so they have some real, organic demand to sell into rather than tricking a bunch of people into selling cards to each other.

There are more readers than foils, which is why I tend to avoid them. I don’t like the idea of making a card pop that shouldn’t have just because I created the artificial illusion of scarcity because there were 21 copies on TCG Player of a foil when I wrote the article and then a reader checks and sees only 20 copies left and thinks there’s a run. I give you all more credit than that, per se, but I still think that you can make any spec look smart by getting people to buy cards they didn’t want just by reminding them stock is low. I have been avoiding Reserved List picks lately for the same reason.

It’s tough to analyze the impact of an increasingly-nimble reprint ability from WotC vis-a-vis new products like Explorers of Ixalan, the tendency of WotC not to reprint cards over a certain price point, how long we have for a card to grow before a potential reprint can hurt its price growth. It has taken a lot of us years to get even passable at it. It’s my contention that a lot of the time, when someone tells you to buy a foil of a card that might be in Commander 2017 a few weeks before Commander 2017 is spoiled, they just don’t want to put thought into it. “It’s a kitty cat, buy kitty cats, they won’t reprint foil kitty cats, buy every pretty $hitty kitty.” They didn’t reprint foil White Sun’s Zenith, as predicted. And did what I said was going to happen happen to that price? Soon early speculators ran out of late speculators to sell them to and the late speculators just ate it.

I hold myself up to a certain Standard just because I want my column to be valuable and it’s not if I tell you things that are wrong or things that are obvious.

 

Do I Think Readers Are Lazy If They Buy Foils?

No.

If you discover low supply on a foil that’s about to become popular due to some event like showing up in a deck or sideboard, new EDH popularity or just people waking up to how good the card is (looking at you, Sunbird’s Invocation), then go to town. If you’re a person and you notice an irregularity on a foil card you think you can profit from, go for it. I don’t even care if the demand is organic, if the price goes up and you make money, good for you. But I can’t tell thousands of people to fight over 10 foil copies and pretend I’m good at this when the price moves. I hope this paragraph stops all the dumb “Hei jesson u say foilz r bad but why come i just selled a foil ur bad” tweets I have been getting lately.

Which Foils Are Good Bets?

It really depends on the format. Some cards sell to casual players and those foils are hit or miss. Do casual players foil their decks? Yeah, sometimes. But other times, cards that casual players need 20 copies of basically don’t move for like 5 years.

Ideally we want EDH foils that overlap with competitive formats or we need to be willing to sit on them until EDH demand (slowly) moves them up. Cross-format applicability is a big help, here.

This price didn’t fall as much as a lot of other cards printed at foil for the second time in Eternal Masters because it has Legacy use to cushion the fall. Being played in both formats has really been a big help.

Good bets for us are newish cards that emerge as all-stars. EDH demand will be slow but eventually, if the card is good enough and especially is good in the Competitive EDH decks that spikier players tend to foil out, I think even EDH cards could be good bets in foil.

I think cards that could get reprinted but can’t be reprinted in foil are a trap, personally. I like demand profiles that will increase over time and I think I found a few candidates this week.

I Feel OK Talking About These Foils

Temur Ascendancy

Multiplier – 6x

Until we add TCG Player prices, which is happening soon, the graphs make it very obvious when a card sells out basically everywhere we scrape. This card has sold out under $2 and its current multiplier pretty much indicates EDH is interested. Commander precons have shown a willingness to reprint cards like this, but this is exempt. Demand for this card will be organic – this is the 73rd-most-played card in decks scraped by EDHREC. Not many EDH players foil out their decks, but this goes in decks like Maelstrom Wanderer, Surrak and Animar. Would you believe this is actually in more decks than any of those cards, including Maelstrom Wanderer which belongs in 100% of Yidris decks?

I think this is a $5-$7 foil waiting to happen. NM copies are gone under $2 basically everywhere and a few damaged copies on TCGPlayer that are tough to even try to buy (stupid minimum order) can screw with averages but they can’t change the fact that foils of this are drying up, there is hella demand for the card and a low reprint risk (you think a lot of $2 cards are going in a future Commander’s Arsenal?) and while it’s sometimes lazy to wave your hands and say “foils can’t get reprinted” I think in this case, we built a real foundation based on its demand profile, foil multiplier and power level. There are a lot of Khans block cards and there are a lot of copies of cards Standard and Modern never wanted. I mean, compare the modest $5-$7 I have targeted for a year or two from now to what Standard can do to a card short-term.

And then look what reality does to a card long-term.

This is a smart buy and it has nothing to do with mitigating the reprint risk. These will sell much more briskly at $5 since it’s above the minimum TCG Player order threshold, which I think matters. I’ll likely delve more into this concept in a future article when I find some data.

Vandalblast

Multiplier – 5x

When a card is the 58th-most-played card scraped by EDHREC, has Vintage applications and has a 5x multiplier, you take notice. You notice things like the fact that it’s an uncommon printed within the last 6 years and has a Commander deck reprint and both copies are about $2. You notice that this foil price is ticking up steadily. Is this flashy enough for a set like Iconic Masters? Is it likely to be in an FTV or Commander’s Arsenal deck? This is a high-demand, sexy foil with Vintage applications (although maybe that helps Russian foils and Japanese foils and leaves English foils alone) and I’ve seen it flirt with Modern and Legacy play, though it’s not quite there, yet. 5 mana is a lot for Modern and maybe you just keep playing Ancient Grudge.

This probably gets reprinted in non-foil like 2 more times in the next 5 years and it’s always a pick out of bulk. I love getting cards like this in bulk right when they’re reprinted and go to nothing because they always rebound. When you notice a card is shrugging off reprints, ask yourself how likely a foil reprinting is and how likely it is to shrug that off, too. If Eternal Witness is in Iconic Masters, for example, it will be obvious to buy those when they tank, but don’t sleep on the foils. It will be reverse-J graph time and you’re going to feel like a dummy when you see it go U-shaped.

Explosive Vegetation

Multiplier – Between 6 and 7x

Here’s a card with multiple foil printings and twice as many non-foil printings with a 7x multiplier. That’s the kind of demand profile we want. This could get reprinted in foil again, but I think if you target Onslaught foils, which look the best, you have the most growth potential. This is a card that just goes in all of the decks and if even 0.1% of EDH players want this in foil, demand will still outpace supply. If this does get reprinted in foil, it’s going to be very cheap at first, and it’s inevitably going to approach 6 times the non-foil price, a price that also has upside after a reprinting. This card is reprintable, but it’s fascinating to watch its ability to shake them off for the most part. If this had never been reprinted in foil, we could be talking like 10x.

Want to see what a 10x looks like?

I was checking cards to try and find a good example of a 10x and this was literally the first price I checked. A mere 2 printings, one from an old block with expensive booster packs that predates the format and is the 57th-most-played card in EDH? This screams “high multiplier” despite only two printings of the non-foil. These are easy to sniff out. That’s why I always go through boxes of foils when a store has them, and after a while, you don’t even need to look stuff up – you’ll just notice when a price is very wrong. This is a reminder to shop crawl more.

I might do another installment of this. I found 3 pretty solid candidates in the Top 100 EDH cards on EDHREC, but I feel like when I drill down more, I’ll find more cards like Temur Ascendancy, which was my favorite find. Hard to buy out due to it being below $5, hard to reprint, played a ton and still cheap due to the high volume of current supply and dearth of cross-format “noise” that would distort the graph. I love finds like this and I’ll try to find more later. Until next time!

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Unlocked Pro Trader: A Thesis Defense

Last week was a nice break from the norm, wasn’t it? I enjoyed it so much that I think this week we’re going to take a break from the norm. Whereas last week we were concerned with Explorers of Ixalan (a great idea and a great avenue for reprints and if you buy this and play with it, give yourself a wedgie) and how this could affect not only the prices of the cards printed in it but how it could impact future confidence in our picks for the role of “this will go way up if it’s not in the Commander set” like we saw this year with cards like Patriarch’s Bidding, Cover of Darkness and Mana Echoes.

I noticed something else worth talking about this week, and it ties in a bit with a question a Brainstorm Brewery listener asked on the podcast this week. If you’re reading this on Thursday, the episode will be out tomorrow.

What Was The Question?

A listener (I don’t remember who but I sort of feel like I should because I remember recognizing the name and now I feel kind of bad but only to the extent that it’s on brand for me to care about stuff like that, which is to say “not much”) asked about the limitations of using EDHREC as a metric for speculation targets. Wouldn’t the decklists seem to skew toward older cards? Would new cards that affected older archetypes even be counted since people aren’t likely to re-register their deck just because one new card was printed? In short, aren’t we missing a bunch of stuff?

What Was My Response?

At first I barely wanted to answer the question. It’s a mixed bag of things we’ve addressed, things that don’t matter and things that are impossible to quantify. The point most worth going into, that people aren’t going to re-register their decks just because of a new card being printed. That’s a huge blind spot for EDHREC. If our premise that new cards affect the prices of older cards, how will we ever know that? It’s a gigantic flaw in my model of using EDHREC to try and predict coming price spikes.

I think that would be a gigantic flaw if that were true. I think, though, that we’re seeing the opposite. I also think that’s not a problem.

 

Why Wouldn’t It Be A Problem?

Well, if we are not going to get people registering new lists for old decks predicated on new cards, we’re going to miss cards. Missing cards sucks, but it happens. Missing a spec feels bad and that’s about it. You’re not harmed by missing a spec. You didn’t get to make money but you didn’t lose any actual money. If people are looking at Growing Rites of Itlimoc and deciding that they’re going to update their Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck. So? They’re not building a brand new deck so they’re not going to move the prices on any other cards. If they build a new deck, they’ll buy new cards and that means they’re more likely to register a new list on one of the sites EDHREC scrapes and we’ll see movement. So either something happens and we don’t notice it unless we notice it a different way, or something happens that we’ll notice or nothing happens. All of this is fine.

Is The Opposite A Problem?

If someone decides that Growing Rites of Itlimoc means they want to update their Meren deck and they make a new list, or update the old list on a site that re-registers the original deck and the update as two decks on EDHREC, or if EDHREC is just garbage at accounting for that (that’s something I don’t know and should maybe look into), then it’s possible we’ll get false positives. False positives are actually probably bad. Missing a spec feels bad but buying a busted spec IS bad AND feels bad. You’re out actual money, not theoretical money, and while getting nipped by fees when you buy and when you sell is usually OK on a good spec since that just takes a tiny nip out of your profit sammich, getting slapped in the ass coming and going on a busted spec that you end up putting in a box of shame forever or buylisting or forgetting about is worse. Buying a card that never goes up because you saw a signal that was really just noise is bad. I think the opposite of the bias our listener (I mean, based on how I interpreted the question he asked – he could have been asking about this and not the opposite and I just didn’t get it) was asking about is potentially a problem, but it’s not really a huge one. Even if people aren’t building more Meren decks, them registering new lists can put Meren back on the front page and that gets eyeballs on Meren. Some of the noise develops into signal just based on visibility. Can I quantify that effect? I mean, no, but that’s not anything that’s plagued us.

It’s not as though we’ve been whiffing when we base our specs on what people are registering. Wheels are in a bunch of The Locust God decks, wheels went up. Stuff like Morphling and Hateflayer are in Mairsil decks, they went up. EDHREC is probably bad at two things.

  1. Cards under like 18 months to 2 years old that could go up based on new decks
  2. Weeding out fake lists, or placeholder lists, or duplicate lists of the same deck (I mean, maybe. I don’t know for sure).

I think we’re probably OK with both of those things.

What Our Model Is Good At

By “our model” I don’t necessarily mean EDHREC’s because while I contribute in some modest capacity to the site, I don’t do any of the coding because nobody wants that. “Our model” refers to the one we have adopted for this series, namely that we see what people are building when a new commander comes out, or when a new card significantly shakes up old archetypes. That second one is more rare – we’re talking Panharmonicon, Paradox Engine, Anointed Procession-tier non-general cards.

The Gitrog Monster comes out and I say “I bet Squandered Resources goes up” because I understand EDH pretty well and I feel like every other speculation model I developed relied either one waiting for published decklists from tournaments which made us buy at the same time as everyone else or trying to stay ahead of formats I would have had to understand better than pro players to speculate in/on.  Since I’m one guy, I usually nail a few cards because this is what I think about all day long while you think about how handy it is not to have to think about that stuff. Then, I check EDHREC and holy $%#&, I guess one guy isn’t ever as good as every guy and gal because I notice that Constant Mists, Groundskeeper (get foils), Life From the Loam and lots of other cards are impacted. This is hypothetical by the way, I remember knowing Constant Mists and Life From the Loam would go up, I just don’t remember which cards I only got because I saw them on EDHREC and this is a hypothetical example. The point is, a new deck is like a bunch of blind people trying to describe an elephant based on just the part they’re touching or whatever that dumb example they used to use in Six Sigma meetings. No one person gets the full picture but EDHREC crowdsources for us.

What Are We Seeing This Week?

I’m glad I pretended you asked. I might have written about a topic kind of like this based on that podcast listener question because I felt like it was too much material for the episode and I told the guy “I write about this, just go read my articles” and now there’s something that specifically addresses his points, as I understood them.

It was equally likely that I would have just found a popular commander and done a normal article based on that. Instead, I found something curious.

Meren? Shu Yun? The Scarab God is less curious considering it’s tearing up Standard. Kaalia just got a bunch of new Dragons. Atraxa is always popular. But Meren and Shu Yun?

Yisan? Is this because he was just unbanned in 1V1? Do we even scrape those lists or did a bunch of people mis-register? Ezuri? Hapatra? Why are older cards showing up in the most popular decks of the week but not the month? What happened recently that didn’t happen a month ago? Oh, I don’t know, maybe players getting their hands on cards from Ixalan. Let’s click on Yisan.

This is the only new card. That’s curious. What’s also curious is the text underneath that you may have missed or failed to interpret. It says “100% of 10 decks” which doesn’t mean 10 people ever have registered a Yisan, the Wanderer Bard deck. It means that of the 10 decks registered since Ixalan cards were tagged in the database, all of them play this card. That means 10 people made new decklists. Is this people with existing decks making a new list to incorporate Rites? Is it people making new decks? We don’t know, and that’s the problem my listener had with using EDHREC as a metric. Here’s where I’m going to get infuriating.

I don’t think it matters.

We use EDHREC deck inclusion numbers as a ratio, basically. We can say that the demand for a card that went up is half of what it is for another card and predict that other card will go up and we’re almost always right. We can use inclusion numbers to establish arbitrary thresholds below which we don’t think that the demand can soak supply. If the numbers don’t need to be absolute numbers, and they don’t, then it doesn’t matter if 10 people made a duplicate deck based on one new card or made new decks. It’s not going to shift the numbers enough to throw off our ratios. We’re not going to make bad decisions based on 10 decks. We’re not going to speculate on Growing Rites under any circumstances because the card is new and we like new archetypes to push up old cards with low supply and high growth potential.

Compare the 100% inclusion of Rites in the Yisan deck with the numbers we got for the only new card in the Meren decks.

Totes different. Meren is just getting built a lot because it’s in the Top 3 decks of all time and lots of people want to build it. Rites helps, but in fewer than half of the new decks.

 

It doesn’t take much drilling down to figure out what means new decks are getting made and what means decks are getting updated. I think I’ve managed to establish that my methodology for selection is sound and if we continue to let new archetypes identify older cards for us like we have been, we’re going to be able to continue to use EDHREC despite any limitations it might have (since we’re using EDHREC not at ALL the way it was intended to be used, so the fact that we are getting any usable data is pretty lucky).

I’ll now presume you’re all on board still/again/for the first time and use my last little bit of word count to use our old method to try and identify stuff with upside based on people building the 6th-most popular deck of the week, The Scarab God.

Scaraby got lots of new toys. The cool thing about the intersection of Commander 2017 and Ixalan is that while it was predicated on giving us strong Vampires with lots of overlap to make Standard players care about EDH and vice versa, there is a lot of “splash damage” and unintended tribes are getting sick goodies. Zombies got a tribal banner, a non-zombie that nonetheless swipes stuff so well we do it in Standard alongside Scaraby-face, a card that makes all of your cards zombies no matter what and the second tribe-matters land that taps for multiple colors in literally two sets. No wonder people are back to building Scarab decks.

Rooftop Storm – Is the first card I want to talk about. Ric Amundson wrote an EDHREC article about using Zur to grab Arcane Adaptation to make every creature in your deck a Zombie to make Rooftop Storm ridiculous. I think that’s cute, but since we’re playing Adaptation and Zombies, Rooftop Storm features heavily. I think the reprint risk of this card is pretty high and I might grab foils, as lazy as that seems to me since they’re harder to move and harder to buy large quantities of. Luckily the price isn’t that high so there’s no huge impetus to reprint other than “it might work in this goofy precon” although they may stay away from Zombies for a while. I like this pickup more and more as people build old tribes and Zombies continues to be one of the most popular.

Phenax, God of Deception – Everyone is holding their breath on the Gods after the reprinting of… the Boros one (I am bad with names) in a precon last year. They’ll reprint Thassa for EDH before they reprint Phenax. In fact, where DO they want to reprint a dedicated Mill God? He’s awkward in any product you put him in and that mitigates his reprint risk so much that I’m in below $10 on this guy.

Door of Destinies – This is another card I think they’ll leave alone for a while. With no dedicated tribal stuff coming in the forseeable future (except for when they bring core set back, I guess), you have a while for these to grow. But at the floor and get out as quickly as you can even if you leave some money for the next guy. These are risky long-medium-term but super juicy in the short term.

That’s all for me this week. I’m sorry for the wall of text. If this was boring, I’ll remind you that it’s sometimes important for me to defend the fundamental thesis of my entire series occasionally lest all of my advice be suspect all at once. I think we’ve developed a pretty good track record using the new method and I think weaknesses in the model don’t matter. If you think they matter or I missed something, let’s argue in the comments section. Thanks for reading. Until next time!

 

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