Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Bits ‘N Pieces

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Today is going to be something a little bit different. Rather than focusing on a single main topic, we are going to do something in between that and quick hits. The main advantage to this format is that it plays into my attention-deficit diso-*logs onto Hearthstone*.

Two Different Spikes: There were two spikes this week (at least as of me writing this- Wednesday morning). The first was a prime example of an artificial buyout; foil copies of Retract skyrocketed overnight. The pucatrade value increased to roughly $80, and according to the pricing app I keep on my phone, that’s a steal.

RetractFoil

 

There are some telltale signs that this is an artificial spike. First and foremost, it is important to know where the card fits- Retract is only played in one deck (to my knowledge), Puresteel Paladin Combo. The characteristics of the Puresteel deck are also indicitive of an artificial spike: it’s a fragile combo deck that goldfishes well and (with the exception of Mox Opal) is pretty easy to put together (and therefore easy to foil out). The person(s) behind this spike saw a lynchpin card in a combo deck that was last printed in Darksteel and isn’t likely to be reprinted anytime soon. The irony, of course, is that Retract is infinitely less important than the deck’s namesake, Puresteel Paladin- Retract can always be replaced by Hurkyl’s Recall in a pinch (it’s definitely suboptimal, but going from 1 mana to 2 is better than replacing Puresteel Paladin with Vedalken Archmage). This deck had a good finish recently (according to the deck tech that I linked to), but it is a lot like the Amulet deck- it can have a good finish when a player who knows the deck like the back of their hand gets hot on the right weekend, but this is not going to be a significant percentage of the environment moving forward. Honestly, it looks pretty sweet, and Puresteel Combo lists have been floating around for a while now, but this a deck only a speculator could love.

The second spike was much more sobering. Blood Moon looks like it is going to settle around $50 for most versions, and I honestly can’t say I’m surprised. If you read last week’s article (of course you did), then you know that Blood Moon falls squarely into one of the camps of cards that WotC’s developers are hellbent of keeping out of Standard (and would like to push out of Modern). Blood Moon, unlike Retract, sees play in multiple archetypes in both Modern and Legacy. The card is also an enchantment, which is a very hard type of permanent to remove when your lands can only tap for R. The scariest part is that the two most printed versions of this card were very likely Chronicles and either Modern Masters 1 or Ninth.

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I mentioned Magus of the Moon a few weeks back, and it seems like this is as good a time as any to thoroughly evaluate the pros and cons. Unlike enchantments, red is very good at killing small creatures, which Magus of the Moon is. When the 8 Moon decks were in standard, some of the (what we would now call) Esper Control decks would run some burn spells in the sideboard to kill off Magi. It wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it was pretty poetic. Something that is important to understand about Blood Moon (the effect), is that if you don’t have any sort of threat, then just casting the card isn’t going to win you the game. I’ve seen a lot of people cast a Blood Moon and just expect the game to end — only for their Tron opponent to make every land drop, play a Wurmcoil, and lock up the game. The upside to Magus of the Moon is that he is able to swing for two, and can at least apply some pressure until you’re able to find something to close it out.

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It’s worth mentioning that I played a lot of 8-Moon in standard, and the deck really wants the redundancy of playing eight copies. The conventional wisdom is that “if you want to see multiple copies of a card in a game, play four,” but the real answer is “play eight.” For critical effects (playing a mana dork on turn 1, or a Blood Moon on turn 2-3), you typically want all eight, although the math is not that much worse if you go to seven (which I typically prefer when talking about mana dorks- that extra slot can be a finisher instead). Even though Blood Moon is viewed as a sideboard card, I think people are going to realize that it is good against so much of the field that the technology will transition into something like the old 8 Moon lists.

I made Chicken and Waffles for dinner the other night: and it was really good. Just thought I’d share.

Kolaghan’s Command: This card has gone from bulk to $6 in an impressive amount of time. When I wrote about the Commands way back when, I said that Kolaghan’s was the toughest to evaluate because it is so much more contextually dependent than the others. The card is certainly strong, it’s just costed one mana too high to be truly great. Dromoka’s and Atarka’s Commands are both insane, and a big reason why is their cost. The two mana Commands will be Standard staples for their lifespan, and both will find homes in Modern, Kolaghan’s Command is a maybe (but has stiff competition from former stud Blightning), and the other two won’t make the leap. There will be some market for foils of all five in Cube/Commander/Casual crowds, but not enough to lift the lesser ones from irrelevancy. I don’t feel safe buying Kolaghan’s Commands right now, but when Magic Origins comes out, the price may drop to $4 or less: that’s the time to snatch up an extra set or two if you think you’ll need them.

Spellskite and Noble Hierarch: I am going to be looking to buy these by the gross pretty soon. They fit in a lot of different decks, so I expect their prices to rebound more than something like Fulminator Mage, which is expensive, but also basically a Stone Rain. The trick is to find cards that are good in multiple decks, because a bigger pie-slice of players will want them.

Modern Masters 2015: Stores are getting opportunities from Wizards to reorder product, which didn’t happen last time. Granted, it’s not a full reorder, but it’s something. It will be interesting to see how many more of these opportunities stores are given, since absolutely nobody is going to say no. I’m a little surprised that more MM1 hasn’t started cropping up, given how much the distributors (supposedly) have ferreted away.

The Wild West Days of Modern: are not going to last forever. Eventually Wizards will have reprinted enough of the format to start to assuage demand, and I have to assume that the player growth booms of the last few years will begin to plateau. I don’t think there is a single Modern card I have faith in five years down the road, which is both good for the game and bad for hobbyist financiers/”speculators”.

The only thing that scares me about the future of Modern, however, are things like Blood Moon, that clearly don’t fit in the modern (lower-case ‘m’) development philosophy. Think about something like Candelabra of Tawnos in Legacy — there are so few copies of Candelabra in existence, that you could play in Legacy events for a year and never have to worry about it. Of course, there is only one Legacy Grand Prix in North America (or Europe or Asia) every year, so you’re typically JUST playing Legacy for cash prizes- not to try and climb a tournament ladder. If WotC manages to “push” something like Blood Moon out of the mainstream in Modern, without banning it, then it’s going to create a weird subset of Modern decks that will be similar to the “niche” decks in Legacy (like Candelabra decks).

I know there has been a lot of forum talk about Abrupt Decay, and I think the day it gets reprinted will be the unofficial end of Modern’s boom phase.

Abrupt Decay: would make a good GP promo, for what it’s worth.

The possible end of Community: was very heartfelt and bittersweet. I love that show, and can’t wait for the movie to come out. The tags at the end of the episodes this season were insane.

7th Edition: is seriously an interesting set. So much of the art that was commissioned hasn’t been reused, and the fact that the foils are black bordered in the old frame really scratches an itch for the die-hard collectors. The only problem is that the set isn’t Modern legal, so you need to make sure that you double check the legality of cards before you pounce on them (the set has a lot of those color hosers we mentioned last week). There are TONS of foils worth $3 or more, and stores are actually buying them. Pacifism, a card that is reprinted CONSTANTLY, was at one point $9 for a 7th foil version. 7th Edition foils exist as this strange wormhole where they are sometimes the most unique version of a card possible. Although the price pretty much mirrors other foil copies, the 7th Edition foil Evacuation features unique artwork (and old frame). Sustainer of the Realm, an unplayable uncommon, is $15 for 7th foils, and under $2 for Urza’s Legacy foils (which may be a steal, when you think about it). Multi-format staples like Birds of Paradise and Wrath of God are worth over $100 for 7th foils, which is pretty much the best you can do before venturing into foreign foils or Alpha/Beta. Static Orb, a card that is played in nothing but the past, is buylisting for $21 and retailing for $25!

The last I’ll say about 7th Edition foils is that I’ve looked at a lot of price charts for individual cards, and their buylist prices have almost all gone up over the last year. This is worth a closer look, and I expect the forum discussion to be lively.

I’m super excited: about the Fantasy Football league we have brewing in the forums. We’ll have to set up a league and draft soon. I know it’s a little hokey, but I like doing it on NFL.com, because they have a lot of cool bells and whistles, and they do that very professional-looking “draft analysis” at the end.

I’m playing Abzan Aggro in a tournament tomorrow: and I really like the deck. I went up to the full four Dromoka’s Command main, and all I keep thinking is “why the hell didn’t I do this sooner?”. Obviously their futures aren’t the same, but the last time I said that, it was about Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Nothing else in the list worth mentioning, aside from two Pitiless Horde. That card is good too, just not as good as Dromoka’s Command or Jace.

I have a secret project: that I am very excited about.

Tarmogoyf: is probably not going to get below $100, but hopefully some day. I really wish they would just go ahead and put him in a “real” set- he’s honestly not THAT good. Even though I profitted on selling all of my Goyfs forever ago, I’m definitely feeling the sting of not having access to any now. Oh well, c’est la vie.

Next week: we will finish the Mirrodin block with Darksteel and Fifth Dawn. I know, I’m excited too.

Tell me in the comments: if you liked this format. It won’t be an every week thing, but sometimes. Also, tell me your thoughts on Community. I think my favorite episode this season was the heist one.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Fallout from Vegas

What. A. Week.

Vegas was crazy, and while we regaled with a few stories on this week’s Brainstorm Brewery, the craziness and great time that was had in Vegas is not the focus of this week’s article. After all, with so much financially-relevant happenings going down, how could it be?

The Bird’s Eye View

A few weeks ago I wrote about my thoughts regarding the initial price movements of Modern Masters 2015, with the promise to revisit those conclusions as more data became available. We now have some of that data, so this week I’ll be looking back at my initial conclusions and seeing what has changed since then.

There were more than 88,000 Modern Masters 2015 packs opened across the world last weekend, with many more coming in side events (which I went 2-for-2 on this weekend, yay!). All told, that’s a lot of Tarmogoyfs. And while many expected that to be good enough to crater prices, reality doesn’t seem to be lining up with that.

feat253c_overhead

At this point most of the product that was opened in Vegas or elsewhere has been processed by the stores that bought it on-site (and most players were selling the valuable cards they opened so they could go gamble), so we are at or nearing peak supply. In fact, given that some notable cards have already begun to rebound price-wise, we may even be past that point. With Grand Prix Charlotte coming up next week (I’ll be there working coverage, so come say hi!), we’re going to see continued demand for those cards opened in Vegas.

But before I get into specifics, what are we seeing with the set, and format, as a whole?

A quick look over the set shows that things are down sharply from a week ago, even if a few Mythics are bucking that trend. Sure, Mox Opal, Tarmogoyf and Vendilion Clique already seem to be bottoming out, plenty of other cards are still falling. Even Cryptic Command, Kiki-Jiki and the mighty Eldrazi aren’t done falling. So, for all the talk of peak supply and a bottom, there is at least some evidence to the contrary.

mm2_jap

But on the other hand, there are those that present the opposite of this trend. Tarmogoyf is of course the main offender (and we’ll get to that in a bit), but other highly-playable cards at Mythic and Rare are already beginning to flatline or rebound slightly. Mox Opal, Clique, Noble Hierarch, Spellskite and Karn are all showing, at the least, a steadying of prices.

Notice the trend there? The highly-playable, truly A+ staple cards are holding up against the reprinting. Everything else that held a big price tag at least in part to short supply based on print run is really dropping. Wilt-Leaf Liege, Elesh Norn, Daybreak Coronet, Leyline of Sanctity and more are all still dropping, as we originally expected with the large influx of new supply.

What does this mean moving forward? It means that Modern Masters 2015 is doing exactly what Wizards of the Coast intended it to do. No, your Tarmogoyfs aren’t going to be $50 anytime soon. But you’re also not going to be shelling out $100 for a super-niche card like Coronet that was only expensive because of its laughably-small print run however many years ago. I suspect the drop on these “Tier 2” cards will continue, and we’ll see them settle lower in the coming weeks and months.

The best of the best, though? I doubt we see much downward movement in that. Grand Prix Charlotte coming up will do a little to buoy prices, though it’s possible we’ll see some more leveling out after that, similar to how Richmond went the last time around. After Charlotte, Modern won’t be on the minds of most people until we hit Modern PPTQ season and Grand Prix Oklahoma City in September.

So, to sum it up:

  • High-end staples are bottomed out, and slow, incremental growth will likely return.
  • “Tier 2” cards will continue to slowly fall over the coming month before leveling out and likely staying flat for months to come.
  • Casual stuff, like Creakwood Liege, is being destroyed, and will take at least two years to come back, if Doubling Season is any indication.

The Big Ones

Dark Confidant

Dark Confidant

Time to get more specific.

Let’s start with Dark Confidant. Formerly the gold standard of both Modern and Legacy and a huge status piece, we’ve seen Bob fall from that lofty heights.

And he’s fallen hard. While Maher is still the third-most expensive card in the set, we’re talking about a card that was pushing $100 at its height. While Siege Rhino has done a number to push this guy out of the format, I’m not sold on his death quite yet, even if a field full of Affinity and Burn isn’t the ideal world for this guy.

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Still, this thing has halved in price, whereas buddy Tarmogoyf has seen just a 25% reduction, even if we’re generous with the numbers. I don’t see a super-bright future for Dark Confidant at this moment, but if he continues to fall we may see an opportunity here. I’m not dying to buy in at $45, but if this thing starts to push $30 I like it as a pickup. This may not be in flavor now, but a metagame shift could bring Bob right back to the forefront.

Vendilion Clique

vendilionclique

The little Faerie that could. What’s interesting is that this may actually see more play in Legacy than Modern. Either way, the price here seems to have bottomed out, and I expect this to float around $45-50 for a while to come.

Tarmogoyf

tarmogoyf

Finally, we come to it.

Here’s what I wrote two weeks ago concerning where I saw the Goyf heading.

“The mythics will drop, yes, but not drastically. The most frequently played Modern ones like Tarmogoyf and Clique will hold up best, but as a whole, we’re looking at just 15- to 25-percent drops here. This will make these cards more affordable, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to look back at this set when Modern Masters 2017 comes out and see the prices right back where they started.”

Before I go any further, there’s something I want to address specifically regarding Tarmogoyf. I know we look at the market as some elusive figure that can be predicted but never controlled. And while in most cases that’s true, it’s not always that way.

Take, for example, Grand Prix Las Vegas and Tarmogoyf. Before the event we saw Goyf dropping toward $150 with momentum to go below there. Then the event starts and one dealer is paying significantly higher on Tarmogoyf than anyone else. Their price? $130 cash. That’ll put the stops on $150 retail Goyfs pretty quickly.

Everyone else raised their buy price to at least compete, and because of that you saw an average buy price on Goyf $10-20 higher than it likely would have been if not for the decision that dealer made to put their money into Tarmogoyfs.

The effect was felt. Instead of a falling Tarmogoyf price we have one that rebounded to $160 thanks to dealer actions, just like last time. Considering Tarmogoyf was retailing at $190-$200 before the reprint, this also leaves my prediction two weeks ago pretty spot-on. We’re done seeing Goyf majorly fall at this point, and even if it trends down to $150 I sincerely doubt it’s headed much further below that any time soon.

So where will the final price be? I don’t think it’s going to brush off the reprint and be $200 again in a month, but I think $150-175 will be where it oscillates over the next year. As I wrote two weeks ago, I would absolutely not be surprised to see it back at the same $200 mark by the time we’re writing about Grand Prix Vegas 3.0 and Modern Masters 2017.

Conclusions

Modern Masters 2015 is now officially behind us, and while I’m sure there will still be plenty of drafts over the coming weeks, it’s time to look elsewhere. Grand Prix Charlotte next week will be the best place to begin to do that, and Modern has certainly proven itself to be a fairly open format at this point, something I plan to address ahead of the event next week.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter
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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Tribal Gains

It’s no secret that I was in Las Vegas for the Grand Prix and indeed the week leading up to it.  If you’re worried that I’m going to skimp on finance content just because I’m coming down off of one of the best weeks of my entire life, fear not, there is a lot that I gleaned from durdling in the desert.

 

This Isn’t ‘Nam; There Are Rules

Maybe not rules as such (per se) but maybe guidelines. Axioms? Suggestions? Look, I’m trying to contrive a few chestnuts in this series so forgive me a few artistic liberties. Basically what I want to do is see if there are some quick rules of thumb (there I go again using the “r” word) that will help us decide which cards to start examining a little more closely. Is today’s discussion point related to the title? It is now. I was going to call this article “The Hangover” because I just got back from Vegas and obligations are a brutal transition from vacation back to real life and a part of me is afraid that I may have ruined the part of my brain that knows how to write about finance when I was trying to bankrupt a casino with free drinks at a Craps table. The truth is I’m not actually that hung over and that trip to the desert, specifically the tournament site has me thinking more clearly than I have in years.  Before we get our first rule (but maybe or maybe not rule #1 with a bullet) in EDH Finance, let’s talk about my moment of clarity.

The Rain Man Speaks

My flight was a 7 AM flight because I broke one of the three rules governing things you don’t do at 7 AM.

  1. Schedule a college class
  2. Feed a Mogwai – technically 7 AM is after midnight. Better safe than sorry
  3. Fly

A 7 AM flight is miserable for people who are used to getting up for work early every day, something I’m not about. A flight that early meant I should be at the airport at 5-ish so they can open each individual deckbox in my carry-on to check for any trace amounts of bomb residue or freedom. I guess EDH decks look like Semtex on a grainy television screen so both flights I had my bag pulled off the conveyor and scrutinized by the TSA. The inconvenience of being pulled out of line was bad enough without having to endure a TSA agent making minimum wage giving me a hard time for running Vivid Lands in a two-color deck. I get it; Vivid Crag is worse than Rugged Highlands. Get out of my face.

Being at the airport at 5 AM after spending the whole week still being awake at 5 AM meant it didn’t make much sense to go to sleep. Things had quieted down in the house where I was staying; until @XWolfmoon decided to casually mention the fact that he had a box of Conspiracy we could draft.

Being offered a spot in a Conspiracy draft is like being asked if you’re a God. You say yes.  I said yes. Corbin Hosler said yes. Ryan Bushard said yes. Douglas Johnson said yes. @knife_city from the If Lands Could Kill podcast said yes. Basically, it was total gas. The only thing better than drafting Conspiracy is drafting Conspiracy for free. Sure, you’re basically just opening booster packs if you’re giving all of the value to the guy who let you draft his box, but if you complain about not getting to keep the cards in a free Conspiracy draft, you should probably move into a Unabomber-style shack by yourself because you don’t deserve to interact with people. We were happy to ship our cards back to our generous benefactor, especially when he said he really didn’t care about anything under $10. The generosity train kept rolling when he let me buy what I wanted from the draft openings for buylist. I couldn’t bring myself to keep $9 cards from a free draft, but paying $4 for them felt fine to me. Everyone was happy despite it being 3 AM of our last day in town.

When you may or may not be keeping the cards, money rares tend to stay in packs for a while. I snagged a 4th pick Dack Fayden because I wanted some tasty bait for my Deal Broker – I ended up getting a foil Rout for my UW skies deck. If you did plan on keeping cards under $10, would you draft any differently? I can see taking a foil Goyf over Burst Lightning, but how about a foil Hydra Omnivore?  It wasn’t unusual for someone to ask “Hey, what’s a foil Hydra Omnivore worth?” but it was very unusual for… let’s say one hundredth of a nano-second to go by before, without looking up from his cards, someone to say “$18”

The room got quiet. Everyone looked over to see who spoke. Sensing the silence, Douglas Johnson looked up and said “What?” like it’s perfectly normal to blurt out the right price off the top of your head. I picked my phone up and checked, because, of course I did. I had to. We all had to know.

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I’m an MTG financier. Corbin is an MTG financier. Ryan is an MTG financier. We were all at that table. If you’d asked, “Hey, what’s a foil Dack Fayden go for?” Ryan, Corbin and I likely answer the question simultaneously with the same or a similar answer. Hydra Omnivore isn’t Dack Fayden. Not only is the card obscure-ish, it’s only been a foil for a short amount of time, being first printed in a Commander supplementary product and getting the foil treatment when Conspiracy first launched. The price has been relatively flat but the creeping up of the spread (I used to use MTGStocks to make graphs for articles but I am really loving the spread overlay on MTG Price) leads me to believe the dealers like Omnivore at $18 more and more. Remember, these guys have a lot more historical data to look at. So do we.

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This card has demonstrated an ability to be $15 non-foil. The reprinting injected a lot of new copies into the market and tempered the price of the non-foil, but all of the foil copies we have are from Conspiracy. A reprint of Omnivore is more likely to occur in supplementary product which would preclude a foil printing (unless it’s in Commander’s Arsenal, which would make people pretty upset since the card is not exactly a staple) so given that the card has demonstrated its ability to be very expensive and the fact that a further reprint of a foil seems very unlikely, the dealers are liking a $10 buyin more and more.

Hydras used to be a pretty solid investment due to their popularity with casual players, EDH playability, and the way they scale out of control into the late game. I wrote about why hydras aren’t as good as they used to be already but I hadn’t really stopped to think about why they were good in the first place. This weekend made me think about it a bit more.

Doug blew our minds with his exact hipshot call of the price of Omnivore, not because a financier knowing a price is spectacular, but because he clearly looked up the price of Omnivore recently. His decision to look up the price of a card earlier made him look like Rain Man counting toothpicks, even in a room full of financiers. It isn’t difficult to look up a price in advance of being asked its price, but that doesn’t change the fact that he couldn’t have known we’d ask and looked it up anyway. Why would he do that?

Wrong question. The question is “why hadn’t I?”

Tribal Matters

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. It wasn’t the first time that weekend DJ had demonstrated that he was very familiar with prices. Walking through the dealer hall, I stopped to talk to a vendor I had met at the craps table the night before and while I was gladhanding, DJ was checking the case. I was on vacation, not intending to buy or sell anything but we never really turn off our brains, do we? He pointed to a foil Cavern of Souls priced at $60. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye. “That’s not too much to pay for Cavern” most people would think. “It’s a good tribal card, it’s played in Legacy a bit and the foils looks cool.” What if you double checked to make sure $60 wasn’t last month’s price?

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Because $60 is last month’s price. It’s this month’s buylist price, and any time you can buy a card for its buylist price, you probably should.

Could we have predicted this would happen eventually? Yeah, absolutely we could have. Would it have been good to buy these at $40 (or $25 buylist) a year ago? Well, obviously. However, every time a card is at a price and you can explain that price, people aren’t all that inclined to buy in. $40 for foil cavern right after rotation didn’t seem insane to people, but $100 for it now doesn’t seem insane either. What can we even learn from this?

The Lesson

Lesson One is to be like Douglas Johnson. Know prices not because you’re Rain Man and you memorize Magic card prices the way other savants memorize facts about trains or whatever but because you look at them a lot. Doug looked up Hydra Omnivore because he looks up a lot of prices often. Why not pick a few cards to check every week? Profound spikes are noticeable and MTG Price does an excellent job of taking notice. The data analysis tools at your fingertips as a reader of my articles and therefore an MTG Price Pro Trader are the industry benchmark as far as I’m concerned. If that makes me sound like a shill, I’ll point out that I still buylist using Quiet Speculation’s Trader Tools app. I like to use whatever I consider the best and I think our price tracking software is amazing. It can let you know about profound movements, but it can’t hold your hand and catch slow, incremental, inevitable growth.

You can read our reports but you can also check our graphs yourself. Price spikes are hard to predict sometimes months in advance but weeks or days in advance we have enough information about upcoming events that we can usually read the writing on the wall. True-Name Nemesis made Stoneforge Mystic go up in price. That was predictable. What should have been equally predictable was the price of foil Cavern of Souls going up the same amount of money over the same time period but doing it much more slowly and deliberately. Yet a dealer took the card to Vegas with the buylist price written on the toploader because he hasn’t bothered to check for a change in the last month and DJ ate his lunch.

We talk a lot about events in MTG Finance – something that changes the status quo or facilitates a price change. However, even though we all know this on an intuitive level, it’s worth repeating every time we open up an application or website to check price movements.

“Tribal Cards Don’t Need Events”

They don’t need to print a sweet new Goblin card or must-resolve Elf to make Cavern of Souls “spike”. Hydra Omnivore goes in Hydra decks (though not my Vorel of the Hydra Clade deck) for silly casual players and the fact that he’s a silly Thorn Elemental variant that gets better in multiplayer games (hence the bomb status in Conspiracy) almost feels secondary.

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What’s next? Could be this, a land that is tribally-relevant, can get played outside of Standard, has casual appeal and when some jackass bought out TCG Player and listed his copies for $45, people probably went “Yeah, that seems OK.” Maybe they’ll say the same thing in two years when $45 is the real price. Or maybe it won’t be. All I know is that the spread is decreasing, the supply is not increasing and it won’t take them printing any more slivers ever again for this card to start to climb. The price looks very reasonable to me right now. But I’m checking back next week just to be sure.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Death of a Binder Grinder

By: Travis Allen

This weekend in Vegas was probably my favorite GP ever. I got to meet a ton of people that I had only known through computer screens prior. Not only did we meet, but because the event was so long, we had time to actually sit and talk. We spend so much time communicating and interfacing through digital mediums because it’s convenient and efficient, but there’s nothing that compares to actually pressing the flesh. It makes relationships concrete and lends them weight; no longer is it a series of characters prefixed by an @ sign, instead it’s a real person with real dimensions. We can know that academically, of course. Finally sitting down across from someone for a meal is still meaningful though. I was glad to have been a part of it.

Winning $200 at the craps table helped too.

craps

For all the things I did at GP Vegas – the main event, two-headed giant side event, lunching with other #mtgfinance people, eating absurd tacos and drinking even more absurd beer, hitting the casino with entirely different #mtgfinance people, handing out free shirts to female Magic players, eating absurd tacos (again), railbirding as my friend played for (and lost against) LSV for what would have been his first Pro Tour invite, hanging out at the AEther Games booth, taking in a Cirque show, selling to vendors – there is one very specific thing I didn’t do. I did not trade. In fact, I didn’t even bring my trade binder. Even still, at no point during the packing process did I even ever think of bringing my trade binder.

 

Nine At a Time

Like many, I found myself drawn to this field right around the time Medina was writing. It was fortuitous timing. I had been playing casually for years, always micromanaging pennies and only rarely making big purchases like my $20 playset of Doubling Season (hah). With the release of Zendikar I finally started showing up to FNM, and as my engagement with the game grew, so too did my financial interests. I loved playing new decks every week, which required lots of new cards. Spending real money at a time when I was barely covering rent was out of the question, so grinding trades in store and through the MTGSalvation forums was key. It was roughly around this time that Medina had begun writing, and being that I was desperate to find out how to make my Magic buck go further, I soaked it all up.

Trading was what I did. I was that guy at our local store. (Which was a precarious position to hold, let me tell you. This particular store banned all trading. Yes, I know it’s absurd. Yes, it is somehow still in business. No, I don’t know how either. I was eventually banned.) I showed up every week, full of juicy nuggets of brain candy that nobody else in the room had. Always be trading up. Eek out value on every trade. Trade as much as possible, even if you don’t need the cards you’re receiving. Ship cards that are rotating early, snag up cards that will be pillars in the fall. How many Kargan Dragonlords did I grab at $5 on MTGS over the summer, down from $25, when they would inevitably be $15 again in October? There was so little finance-oriented content, I had barely anyone to compete with. Lessons that we all take for granted today were rare and valuable information back then. As the obvious ideas such as card advantage and mana curve are key components of competitive Magic today but were not twenty years ago, so too have strategies such as trading for format staples in the summer been.  

I don’t recall exactly when things started to sour. Medina’s article about pack to power stands out in my head. Reading it was informative and interesting; a fun project he undertook. He wasn’t the first, I understand, but it was indisputably the most well-documented attempt. (It’s actually been done better outside of Magic, years ago.) Most people reading thought it was an interesting story – a seemingly impossible goal of turning a $1 card into something worth hundreds of dollars. I read it, thought it was nifty, and moved on. Others, however, had a different experience. “Hey, I can do that too!” they all thought. Seemingly overnight, every asshole at local stores and grand prixs was carrying two binders; their own personal collection and a pack-to-power binder. They were miserable to trade with, since they needed to jam trades as fast as possible, meaning the process was hurried, and you also knew they were trying to value trade you at all times, typically to an extreme degree.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done more than my fair share of value trading. But even when I do, I often don’t push too hard, since I don’t want to alienate the other person, and a large percentage of the time when I don’t do it at all. If the card I’m picking up is something I genuinely want, such as an EDH foil, rather than just a card I’m looking to flip, maybe a Tasigur, then I’m happy to make the trade even or in their favor.

With stores and GPs awash with pack-to-power grinders, the environment was noticeably more hostile. Plenty of pleasant trades were left to be had, but the seeds had been sown.

Back Into the Backpack

I’m not exactly sure of the exact chronological order of things after that. I know more finance content was showing up online. While I had been devouring anything I could get my hands on prior to that, I was starting to find that I couldn’t keep on top of it all. Smartphones were more and more present at trade tables. I didn’t hate them, as I understood that people didn’t want to get screwed, though I did resent what their presence meant. It meant that people were now caring enough to look up prices. People were thinking about how much cards were worth.

I need to be crystal clear here – it wasn’t that smartphones stopped me from screwing people. That was never my intention. Rather, it meant that much more attention was being paid to the dollars and cents by your regular store player. This was going to mean tougher trades, especially with those who had just enough knowledge to be dangerous. (This is still the case today. Educated players recognize that a few bucks on a $30+ trade doesn’t particularly matter, especially if one party needs the cards, and that matching pennies isn’t worth anyone’s time. Guys with an internet browser and no little more will ruin your day by haggling down to dimes.) 

It was about two-ish years ago I started writing for MTGPrice, and it was roughly around then that I basically gave up trading at anything larger than a local store entirely. I may toss my binder in my bag if I’m driving to a GP, but it probably doesn’t leave the hotel room. I don’t remember the last time I pulled out my binder at a PTQ. I bring it to FNM all the time, but it only comes out of the bag when I need the last piece for my deck or I have a specific card someone is looking for. This is a far cry from back during Zendikar block, when I used to patrol the tables, shoving the binder in everyone’s face with the now-maligned cry of the grinder, “trades?”

I won’t not trade. I still enjoy the process of discovery, of chatting with people, of getting excited when you find something you’ve been searching for for months. I certainly dislike the juggling of phones though, as it brings an otherwise friendly and relaxed relationship into a place of either tense negotiation or watching someone scour your binder for a $.79 card. It’s not that I won’t do any of this anymore, it’s more that it just isn’t fun any longer. It’s not worth the time or the effort. With the expansion of financial content over the last three years, everyone has wisened up, and while it means less people are getting sharked by those with fewer scruples than I, it also means the entire atmosphere has become dramatically more parsimonious.

My relationship to Magic and the Magic market has changed quite dramatically over the last six years, as I’m sure yours has as well. There are considerably more people invested, both in mental capital and real capital, in the prices of cardboard. I’ve seen an evolution of actors into what I believe are three general archetypes of financier. Just as we have Johnny, Timmy, and Spike, we have Pat, Pam, and Sam. Or Sarah, Mark, and Addison. Or Keong, Li, and Deshaun. Or Jaydien, Mahalya, and Xylethia. I don’t know. Nobody is going to use these.

The Dealer

These are the guys that have actual storefronts, typically online only, though sometimes brick and mortar. The volume they churn is unreal compared to anyone else. While we’re sitting around fretting about the $200 we spent on Kuldotha Forgemasters, they’re spending tens of thousands of dollars every weekend buying Magic cards, only to resell them ten minutes later at the booth or through their web presence. (I have no actual numbers from anyone here, but by my estimation, I’d guess most dealer booths on the floor of Vegas spent between $100,000 and $250,000 buying over the last four days.) People in this camp include Kyle Lopez and Paul Feudo.

I admittedly don’t have a lot of interaction with these guys. I attend two, maybe three GPs a year. These guys are sometimes at nearly every American GP, or damn close to it. They tend not to spend a lot of time worrying about what may spike and what may plummet, because of the sheer numbers of cards they buy and sell. They’re also their own community, by virtue of the fact that they’re sharing floor space so often. I know barely two or three guys in this field, but I’m willing to bet they all know each other quite well. They don’t usually write and they tend not to be as active on social media. This is mostly because unlike the other financial demographics, this is a full time job. While my habits put me squarely in the “hobby” camp, dealers have turned this into a profession. There are benefits to that as well. If you’re successful in this field, it’s a real wage. Nobody else flipping Magic cards is making enough to support their family, but these guys are.

The Collection, Case, and Buylist Grinder

If you consider dealers to be the heavyweights of MTG finance, in terms of time invested, volume of inventory, and total profits, this group of individuals would be the middleweights. A lot of your #mtgfinance personalities fall squarely into this camp – three fourths of Brainstorm Brewery, for instance: Corbin Hosler, Jason Alt, and Ryan Bushard. Their engagement strategy is three-fold.

Collections are their primary method of card acquisition. Whether through Craigslist, Facebook postings, a local storefront, or something else, they find and buy lots of large personal collections. Most probably fall in the range of a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, though I’m sure some number pop up that reach into the $10,000 to $25,000 range. After acquiring a collection, they (and perhaps their employees) will sort through the tens of thousands of cards, pick out anything worth a damn, and move in one of two directions with it.

Keeping a case at a local store is one option for outing purchases. I didn’t know this at first, but it seems not all card stores really want to deal with singles, or if they do, only on a limited basis. This is especially true of stores that do more than just Magic. Guys like Corbin come in and will pay the shop for the right to maintain their own case in the store. Reimbursement is often some combination of monthly rent and percentage of sales. They stock the case with cards they picked up through collections, check back in every few days to keep it stocked and manage inventory, and let the counter jockeys deal with actually selling the cards to people. It’s an effective strategy for moving reasonable volumes of cards, particularly when there isn’t much competition around.

The third prong for this group is the buylist. When you’re buying the number of cards these guys are, selling them all individually, whether through a case in a physical store, or through a service such as TCGPlayer or eBay, it will quickly turn into a full-time job. I spend enough time each week managing my incredibly meager TCGPlayer sales; I can’t imagine wanting to do easily ten times that much while still trying to have a real job of some sort. Instead, a major percentage of their product goes off to buylists. I’d imagine the best cards to sell this way is the smaller product. A single $100 card doesn’t take up much room in your case and doesn’t take too long to package and ship when sold online, but $100 worth of Lightning Bolts is a lot more inconvenient to deal with in either of these fashions. So instead they out them to dealers, who are equipped in infrastructure and time to deal with that amount of individual sales.

As we see with individuals like the three mentioned above, it’s not uncommon for these types to keep public profiles and be available on social media. It’s usually in their best interest, really, since word of mouth is an excellent way to generate collection purchases. There’s plenty more individuals out there I haven’t listed either, and many are active on Twitter.

The Speculator

This is the camp that I most firmly fall into. I don’t want a full-time job buying and selling cards, so the life of the dealer does not appeal to me. I also don’t live in an area where I have access to the volume that the collection grinders have. Those positions tend to open up in towns where there’s not enough local store action to fully serve the community’s needs. Here in Buffalo there’s an oversaturation of stores, which means that it’s easy for any individual to wander into a building and sell their cards, and even if they do take to social media to sell it, there’s no shortage of potential buyers.

Instead, we speculators are relegated to armchair finance. Whereas I would consider dealers, collection flippers, and true binder grinders as a part of the larger Magic market, I’m inclined to say that speculators are more observers of the market. I’m not engaging with any real volume of individual buyers and sellers, nor am I churning through much inventory. Instead I watch to see what all the players out there are doing. What’s popular with Standard players? What’s trending up/down? What reprints are on the horizon? These are the questions this group is asking, and we’re making purchases and selling accordingly.

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Speculating involves the least time and the least money. Our engagement is exactly however much we want it to be. Want to spend twenty hours a week scouring decklists, doing research, and making buys? Go for it. Want to watch with just a passing interest, only picking up a few extra playsets of something when everyone on the planet is telling you it’s underpriced? You can do that too. Whether you’re buying a card unbanned sixty seconds ago for the quick flip or sitting on Chromatic Lanterns for the two-year growth, your goal is to hoard piles of specific cards with the hope that they grow significantly in price. And because so many fewer cards pass through the hands of the average speculator, less money is made, and less consistently as well. Nobody is (reliably) paying their rent doing this. Rather they’re making enough to cover the cost of some other cards they’d like to buy for themselves, and maybe stashing some extra cash for whatever else.

Speculators, of the three groups, are typically the most active on Twitter. First of all, we’ve got more time available to us, because we don’t have to spend hours every day sorting through cards and sending things to buylists. Second, we are more in need of information than any other group. Dealers can dismiss single cards spiking because their inventory is so large that it’s mostly irrelevant. The guys working collections tend to be too busy with what they have in front of them to worry about whether they should be buying or selling Snapcasters right now, so the talking heads on social media don’t have a lot to offer. Speculators, on the other hand, need all the knowledge they can get. We live and die on knowing when to buy cards and when to sell them. Comparatively few cards pass through our hands, so it’s important to make sure the ones that do stand to make us the most money possible. Sharing insight openly and frequently is necessary to make informed decisions.

 

The rest of you

These three groups outlined above are specifically three subsets of Magic players at large. The millions of regular players who show up to FNMs and PTQs with the sole plan of playing are not meant to be captured in these three archetypes. People trading for the last two Collected Companys or Flooded Strands they need aren’t finance people in the way the above three demographics are.

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One way to conceptualize these three groups is along an axis, on which one end is volume, and the other end is accuracy. Shotguns and sniper rifles. Dealers grind through hundreds of thousands of cards, with little attention paid to any one in particular. Speculators live on the other end, uninterested in handling bulk, preferring to zoom in on a small handful of cards and profit on those and those alone. Collection grinders live somewhere in the middle.

There’s plenty of overlap between these three groups to be sure. I’ve no doubt that some of the dealers and collection grinders speculate on cards when they see a rich opportunity, and I’ve bought more than a handful of collections myself. Rather they define general trends of actors, in the same way that a Spike can still have strong leanings towards good Timmy decks.

Ok, enough rambling for this week. I’ll be curious to see what the impression is of these three general archetypes, and if I’m the only one that’s gotten sick of trying to work the trade circuit.


 

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