Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: A First Look at Modern Masters 2015

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By: Travis Allen

Clack-Clack-Clack-Cla

This article will have been the most fun I’ve had writing in months, possibly ever. I say this without any consideration for the content within. What am I talking about? I recently purchased a mechanical keyboard, and ho boy, let me tell you. This thing is amazing. Every key press is simultaneously a musical note and a distinct tactile sensation. Typing is akin to receiving a massage, and each muscle plays it’s own sound when relaxed. You see, most keyboards, such as those on your laptop or the one many of you are using on your desktop, use a series of rubber membranes underneath the keys. You push a key, some rubber moves, an electrical circuit is formed, and the computer registers a key press. On the surface of the board the keys are independent, but the inner workings beneath the keys are all connected.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, hearken back to a time before advanced manufacturing techniques had turned its eye toward computers, before capitalism drove down both the cost and quality of everyday keyboards. Each key on the board is completely independent of the others, and they use a fully self-contained mechanical process to register key presses. (This website does a good job of illustrating the function, as well as educating you on which type you may want to invest in. I chose Cherry MX Brown switches, and I’m quite happy with them, though they don’t have the same distinct tactile bump mid-stroke that the Blues have. I’d be happy with either.) The end result is a wildly satisfying typing experience that I can’t recommend strongly enough if you spend any appreciable time at your computer. Be forewarned, though. If there are any light sleepers in your home they will be immediately aware of your new purchase.

Modern Reforged

What does this have to do with our topic for the week? Nothing, really. I just wanted a chance to type more words on this thing and I thought I’d take the opportunity to share with you all this nifty new device I’m enjoying. As far as content goes, I had planned on starting this week off by continuing from last week’s topic—that is, what cards to trade for heavily over the summer as Khans of Tarkir block prices fall.

After pulling up Fate Reforged, though, I find really only a single card that looks to be immediately underpriced: Tasigur, the Golden Fang. He’s making waves in Standard, Modern, and Legacy right now, quickly cementing his place as a stalwart eternal staple. With FRF feeling under-opened, I see non-foils cresting $10 to $15 this fall, and foils are an absolute slam dunk in the $25 to $30 range. Realize that foil Abrupt Decay, another recent eternal staple, is nearly $70.

Beyond Tasigur, there isn’t much in Fate Reforged I’m too excited about right now. I do believe that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will ultimately rise, though I’m not entirely sure of exactly how his price curve will play out over the next several months. I believe that it’s highly likely we see him above $50 before the end of 2016, though that doesn’t mean that this August is necessarily the best time to buy in. And if we’re looking for places to stock up on cards that will be rising this fall in order to cash out, Ugin may not be the best choice with both a high barrier to entry and uncertainty about when exactly he’ll reach his full price potential. There’s also the looming specter of the spring’s Duel Deck, for which Ugin is a serious candidate. Should that come to pass, it will add another year at least to his growth cycle.

I’m a big fan of Monastery Mentor, as well, especially foils, though again, with such a high price tag already, it’s going to be hard to build up too much of a portfolio this summer. I would recommend trading for all three of these FRF cards as much as possible over the coming months, and for any other cards you want to park value in, refer to what I wrote last week.

Just the Thing

While staring at the Fate Reforged price list and wondering what the heck I was going to write about this week, I noticed that Modern Masters 2015 official spoilers began today. Well, hey, that’s something people care about, right? Perfect. We’ll look at what’s official up through Tuesday, May 5.

It won’t be too surprising to learn that most cards in MM2015 are going to drop in price, at least initially. Our goal isn’t to just guess at which direction everything is going to go, but rather, to understand how far it will drop and consider the point at which we want to buy. Having said that, there is one culprit that may once again escape the pitfalls of reprint.

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I had two reactions to the official reveal of MM2015. First, that Tarmogoyf was going to be in, and second, that its price would finally fall. Finally, I reasoned, supply would begin to outstrip demand.

In the intervening months, however, my opinion has wavered. I am no longer so sure that the amount of Goyfs introduced to the market will be enough to satiate public demand. My fellow writer, James Chillcott (@mtgcritic), has been trying to hone in on the number of copies that will be introduced relative to the existing population of Goyfs, and I’ve got to say, it’s less than I would have initially expected. When you consider just how few people out there actually own sets, it’s easy to see how this could once again fail to slay the green monster. Next time you’re at Modern or Draft or FNM, ask around and see how many players actually own playsets. Almost everyone that isn’t a die-hard Spike won’t own any, and even among the competitive players, I’m guessing you’ll find perhaps a 25 percent ownership rate. If the printing of MM2015 creates more players that are seeking playsets of Tarmogoyf than playsets themselves, demand rises, and so too will the price. My estimated price on Goyf right now for the initial months following the release of MM2015 is somewhere between $160 and $190. Time will tell, I suppose.

tarmogoyf

Mythics

How about the rest of the spoiled cards? Let’s start with some big ones. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was spoiled very early, and as a result, he’s dropped from $60 all the way to…$50. There will be further loss here, though don’t expect prices south of $30. He’s still the preeminent reanimation and cheat-into-play target in every format where he’s legal, and is a casual all-star to boot. Our best course of action here is to wait for Emrakul to hit his floor, and as soon as he begins to rise again (likely sometime this fall), begin scooping up copies like mad. We won’t see him again for quite some time after this, and I’ve no doubt he’ll return to $50 within a year or so of his appearance here in MM2015. The only way he doesn’t climb back up to that price is if he’s somehow trumped in Battle for Zendikar, which I consider highly unlikely. Right now, Emrakul is a prime target to trade all of your Siege Rhinos and Rattleclaw Mystics into this October.

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Kozilek returns, the last of the three to receive a second printing, and boy did he need it. He’s been more expensive than Ulamog for quite some time, despite the fact that Ulamog is fringe-playable in any big mana deck and Kozilek is resigned to casual-oriented formats. That his price stayed that high without a modicum of tournament success tells us just how much casual demand there is for this guy. The only reason I see his price suffering much at all this year is because of just how packed with value the mythic slot is this time around. Kozilek will be another excellent trade target as MM2015 prices bottom out in several months.

Karn should follow a similar path as Emrakul as a giant, colorless, awesome card. In fact, Karn seems even more resilient here than Emrakul is. He was just about $50 before he was officially revealed in early March, and he’s still about $50 today. He won’t be able to sustain that price, as the market always seems to react rather slowly to reprint news like this, but like Emrakul, I’d be surprised if he made it under $25 or $30. I’m less bullish on scooping up copies of Karn this fall, though. While very cool, he’s not actually played in nearly as many places as Emrakul is. There’s clearly appeal from casual players, EDH tables, and cubes, but he isn’t a mainstay of combo decks in both eternal formats in the same way as Emrakul. You could do worse than picking up Karn this fall, but he won’t be my first choice.

While we’re talking about colorless cards, Mox Opal is yet another high-profile colorless mythic, though unlike the Lovecraftian horrors detailed above, is vulnerable to corrosion and violent storms. Another $50 to $60 mythic before its announcement, Opal too hasn’t budged much yet. The path for this will be similar to Emrakul. It will drop into the $30 to $40 range, then given its utility in various formats and status of being a Mox, will only stand to gain once we get past the initial supply glut.

I’m a bit surprised to see Iona here, as she was widely expected to show up in the upcoming From the Vault: Angels. Given that she’s so casual-oriented, she makes sense in an FTV product, while Linvala was expected here in the competitive product. With Iona in MM2015, did Wizards switch things up on us and put Linvala in the FTV? It would seem that way for now.

As for Iona, the hits at the mythic slot just keep on coming. There will be an interesting tension between this many high-demand mythics and $10 pack prices. Looking at Swords of Fire and Ice and Light and Shadow from the first time around, I see the Darksteel copies losing about 15 percent  after the reprint. Given that Iona is similarly a casual-oriented card with a very minor competitive play profile, I’d expect something similar here. She’ll probably dip below $25, but don’t expect anything south of $20 unless the whole set drops more than people expect.

If we divide the mythics into “better than average” and “worse than average” piles, I’m putting Bitterblossom in the worse half. The current price tag of $40 is based entirely on scarcity. While a mythic run in MM2015 isn’t going to add “one in every box of Cheerios” quantity to the market, it’s going to add quite a few copies of a card that is relatively unpopular right now. Add to that the same artwork, and there’s no reason to believe this will fare well. With the uncontested popularity of so many other mythics, Bitterblossom’s outlook is not great here. Could we see prices south of $20?

Vendilion Clique is probably the worst positioned mythic at the moment. The trio is competing against a slew of useful rares that plenty of players have been waiting ages to pick up, as well as several high-profile, heavily-played mythics, all while losing competitive ground in both Modern and Legacy. I picked up a small stack of these about a year ago at around $50 because I anticipated they would reach $90 to $100, as Dark Confidant had done, but they just never saw enough play to get that high. It seems they’re not used any more today than they were then, and if anything, it seems like I see them less often, particularly in Legacy. With another printing increasing both availability and competition among expensive cards, Clique could end up being one of the mythics with the furthest to fall.

Primeval Titan was shown off on Monday by perennial green mage Brian Kibler, and while the price hasn’t dropped much yet, expect it to in the near future. This will mark the titan’s fourth printing, and even with Amulet Bloom running rampant in Modern right now, it still hasn’t been enough to push its price much past $15. With so many other, more desirable cards in the set, things don’t look good for Primeval Titan in the near future. Given how long it took this to rise in price the last time, unless we see PrimeTime in the sub-$4 range, I’ll be inclined to stay away. This goes doubly so for the rest of the cycle, which all have far fewer competitive applications than Mana-Hulk.

Rares

On the rare side of things, the reprint everyone saw coming before MM2015 was even announced, Noble Hierarch, is going to present a lucrative opportunity. Its price will crash hard, with Jason (@JasonEAlt) and James looking for prices in the $10 to $15 range. I’m right there with them, and I’m also in total agreement that this is an excellent long-term gainer. Hierarch is all over the place in basically every format, including the kitchen table. They even printed Llanowar Elves in the most recent Commander product, which means that mana dorks can find a home just about anywhere. I’ll be looking for as many copies of Hierarch as possible this fall when she’s at her lowest, and hopefully she’ll climb all the way back to $40 given a year or so to grow. It took less than a year for Cryptic Command to go from under $20 to $55, and I expect the same here.

Fulminator Mage is likely to end up in the top five or ten most useful rares in the set, but that won’t save its value. I expect the price to take a nasty hit, just as Hierarch will, though the rebound should happen slower and softer. Hierarch is on the whole much more popular across a wide spectrum of players, while Fulminator Mage does exactly two things: fills out Modern sideboards and annoys people at kitchen tables. Mostly the former, I’d guess. In any case, I’ll be glad to finally have a set back.

Spellskite should fare as well or better than those two, given its ubiquity in Modern. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it being one of the top ten or even top five best rares in the set. Still, we’re going to see more of a drop from the current price tag of about $25. I’d anticipate prices in the low teens,  perhaps even below $10 depending on how great supply actually is, and what the rest of the rares look like. I certainly like Spellskite at its floor in a few months. It isn’t seeing any less play in Modern than it was, and will be good for at least 50 percent profits a year from its lowest point.spellskite

Splinter Twin is going to eat it hard. There’s exactly one deck that wants copies anywhere in the world, and even then, it doesn’t even necessarily run four. I don’t like it as a gainer, either. Once the boost in supply drives the price low, there won’t be sustained illiquid demand to drive it back up.

Daybreak Coronet was spoiled with a worse border and less interesting art, and like Adarkar Valkyrie and other casual cards, should suffer greatly. Boggles is hardly a major component of the competitive Modern scene, and beyond that, demand for Coronet exists only in casual circles. It will join the ranks of the slaughtered rares with nearly no hope of recovering. It won’t be the only white rare down there either, as Mirran Crusader will be joining it.

Another casual all-star, All is Dust, maintains a $20 price tag despite being GP promo’d. A rare printing is going to hurt like hell, though. Adarkar Valkyrie dropped dramatically when it was reprinted, from double digits to under $2, and I don’t expect other expensive casual rares will fare much better this time around. I can see Dust dropping well south of $10.

Next week should bring us quite a bit more to discuss, although there’s no way the density of absurd mythics can continue at this rate. There’s been a sort of semi-unofficial spoiling of Dark Confidant and Tezzeret via an MTGO announcement, so I’m assuming we’ll see those, as well as the rest of the Titan cycle. Probably a great deal more rares, as well, which I’m quite curious about. Once we have the full spoiler list in, we can begin turning our attention to all those left behind. Until then!

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Assessing the Risks of Speculating

Not all speculation targets are created equal. Each card has a price, a trajectory, context within various formats, a buy-sell spread, historical baggage, print run considerations, and ever more factors influencing to what extent a spec is a “good buy” or not.

It’s because of all these factors that you might choose to go deep on an unproven bulk rare rather than an established format staple, or to buy a staple even when most in the community believe it has hit its peak.

At its core, all speculating comes down to one basic question: how risky is speculating on this card?

Examplesville

Today’s article will be entirely a case study of Abrupt Decay, a card highlighted fairly frequently on MTGPrice in the last few weeks. We’ll be looking at many of the factors influencing this card’s price, all to determine: is this where we should be putting our money?

abruptdecay

The current Fair Trade Price on this card is $12.48 and the top buy price is $9.40. So, as a baseline, if we bought into this card today, the risk would be $3.08 per copy. Yes, the buy price can absolutely go down—and it probably will during the summer lull—but assuming no major unforeseen events, it’s hard to see demand for Abrupt Decay declining.

Reprint Incoming?

Importantly, Return to Ravnica is not slated to be included among the sets drawn upon for Modern Masters 2015. As more players look into playing Modern, the staples that don’t get reprinted this year will all of a sudden have a little extra demand focused on them.

Abrupt Decay doesn’t have any particular flavor that would make it difficult to reprint, but it’s also not the type of card that Wizards green-lights every day. The chance of a reprint seems extremely low to me, especially in a normal set. The most likely place, if any, we’ll see new copies of this in the next year or so is through judge or GP promos.

Reprint risk: Low.

Metagame Risks

How likely is it that Abrupt Decay declines in price due to its place in various metagames?

Let’s start by pointing out that this is a two-color card, and one of those colors is not blue, which limits the amount of decks that can play it. That said, this is a very powerful effect, especially in eternal formats where low-drops rule, and it is not unreasonable to build your deck specifically to have access to this card.

How it does in individual formats is important, too:

Standard: Crucially, this is not legal in Standard, so we don’t have to worry about rotation causing a sudden drop in price.

Modern: MTG Goldfish lists Abrupt Decay as the 39th-most-played card in Modern.  The last Modern Pro Tour saw a field of 30 percent Abzan decks, and it’s fair to say that most of if not all of them had access to this card somewhere in the 75. With Jund and straight Golgari decks also fairly prevalent, Abrupt Decay seems fairly safe to continue seeing action in Modern.

Legacy: Abrupt Decay is the tenth-most-played card in Legacy, which is crazy, given that it can’t be pitched to Force of Will. Still, Jund and Sultai decks are big in the format, and Decay is important to keeping Counterbalance decks in check, too. It certainly doesn’t seem like the card is going anywhere.

Vintage: Due to a serious lack of players and events,Vintage playability doesn’t necessarily impact a card’s price in a huge way (foils excepted), but it can indicate a card’s power level. In this case, Decay is the 38th-most-played card in Vintage, so there you go.

Casual: Abrupt Decay is a fine card in Cube, and probably playable in Commander, though not exactly an all-star. Kitchen-table players will probably play any copies they own, but this doesn’t strike me as a card a casual player will see and think she must go out and purchase for her deck.

All in all, I think it’s fairly safe to call Abrupt Decay an eternal-format staple, with little to no value coming from casual formats or Standard. In my mind, this means there is very little risk of metagame changes completely crushing this card’s value.

Contextual Clues

Let’s look at the blocks before and after Return to Ravnica to give ourselves a little context of what is possible and what we’ve seen before.

Remember, Return to Ravnica was a large fall set. It was the first of its block, and Abrupt Decay was printed at rare. If we look a year earlier, we can see the most expensive rare in Innistrad.

snapcastergraph

This bodes well. Thinking Abrupt Decay will hit $51.57 is ambitious—far too ambitious, if you ask me—but seeing Snapcaster this high at least shows us that Decay has room to grow. Innistrad and Return to Ravnica were similar in a lot of ways, especially with regards to the timing of their releases, the size of the playerbase, the popularity of the sets, the power level of the top cards, etc.

Snapcaster Mage and Abrupt Decay are very different types of cards, but they are both similarly staple-tastic in all of the eternal formats. Snapcaster is probably a little more attractive in casual formats and it does pitch to Force of Will, which means that all other things being equal, Abrupt Decay probably never moves past Snapcaster in price.

thoughtseizegraph

Now for the most expensive rare in Theros, which you can see is Thoughtseize. This is similar to Snapcaster and Decay in some ways, but also different in many.

The similarities are easy: this is an eternal staple played in every single format in which it’s legal, and it is a rare from a large fall set in the same general era as Return to Ravnica and Innistrad.

But the differences add a few twists to the situation. First off, this is a reprint. Before it was reprinted, the Llorwyn version was up to an insanely high $70. This was probably due more to supply factors than demand, although obviously both play a role to hike a card price up so high.

Also, importantly, this card still sees lots of play in Standard. Will it drop at rotation? Maybe. But players in general are getting more savvy regarding MTG finance—thanks in large part to MTGPrice!—and many are not selling their eternal staples upon rotation from Standard. Snapcaster didn’t dip as much as we expected, nor did Abrupt Decay, and I frankly do not expect Thoughtseize to drop much at all.

So although Standard is creating a demand for the card, it’s likely that Thoughtseize is never again available for lower than its current price—and if it is, it will only be slightly lower.

Could the $20 price tag on Thoughtseize be an indicator of what to expect for Abrupt Decay? Maybe, although the reprint and Standard-legal angles certainly make it hard to call this a direct analogue. Also, being two-colored as opposed to mono-colored makes Decay more narrow, which lessens demand. Despite these potential pitfalls, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that Decay should be between $20 and $50 based on similar-ish cards printed at similar-ish times.

Unless there are other factors at play, that is.

Set Value

Cards’ individual values are often influenced by how valuable their home set is as a whole. This is in large part because singles are priced by retailers to make opening boxes of product worth it.  This is a big reason why Voice of Resurgence started and remains so expensive: Dragon’s Maze didn’t have any other good cards!

So if we look at Thoughtseize, we can see that Theros is generally a low-value set. Thoughtseize is the single most expensive card in it, and the ones that follow are mythics that are only good in Standard and casual formats. As far as eternal staples go, Thoughtseize is basically it. If it weren’t a reprint, how pricey would the card be, I wonder?

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Similarly, Snapcaster Mage comes from a set with only a few cards that see eternal play: Liliana of the Veil (at mythic), Geist of Saint Traft (also mythic), and Sulfur Falls are the top three. There’s plenty of casual goodies in the set, but the prices are top-heavy with the excellent competitive cards at the top of the list. In many cases, prices for the casual cards in this set are far lower than I would expect in general.

garrukrelentless

And here’s where thing kind of fall apart for Abrupt Decay. Check out the eternal playables in Return to Ravnica (listed by descending price):

  1. Abrupt Decay
  2. Steam Vents
  3. Deathrite Shaman
  4. Temple Garden
  5. Sphinx’s Revelation
  6. Overgrown Tomb
  7. Blood Crypt
  8. Hallowed Fountain
  9. Supreme Verdict
  10. Jace, Architect of Thought*
  11. Rest in Peace
  12. Loxodon Smiter*

Jace and Smiter are fringe players at Modern at best, but they do see occasional play and are worth mentioning here.

Note that every card on this list is probably a little bit lower than we might otherwise expect. Coincidence? I think not. Because there is so much value in Return to Ravnica—and I’m not even considering the top casual cards like Utvara Hellkite and Chromatic LanternI believe the prices of all cards are suppressed. This probably explains in part why the shock lands have failed to perform so miserably.

Now, as we get further away from booster boxes of RTR being commonly available, the price of the box will matter less and less to the prices of individual cards. But the box price is where card pricing derives from originally, and price memory is a powerful thing. Once the playerbase “knows” how much a card is worth, it’s hard to impact that without some major shakeups in supply or demand.

What Does All This Mean?

Let’s say Abrupt Decay hits $20. Its current spread (the difference between the Fair Trade Price and the top buy price) is about 25 percent. So if its retail price hits $20, we can assume the buy price will settle in somewhere around $15.

We’ve already determined the current risk is $3.08 to buy in today. And the gains if we hit $20? Only $2.52 per copy.

Can Abrupt Decay go higher? Sure it can. We’ve seen Snapcaster climb as high as $50, but with the plethora of valuable cards in Decay’s set, the more narrow uses and decks it has compared to Snapcaster, and being from a set that was more opened than Innistrad, it seems highly unlikely to get anywhere close to Snapcaster.

Now for my gut feelings: I don’t see a world where Decay hits $30 any time soon, but $25 may be possible. If it hits $25, then you’re making, what, $6.25 a copy?

So now it comes down to whether you feel like it’s worth it to spend $12.48 to make $6.25 in about six months. Personally, I am not. If I had lots of extra dollars at my disposal, that might be a play I made, but with very limited funds I am willing to dedicate to Magic, I prefer opportunities where I can reasonably hope to double up, and I just don’t think that’s possible with Abrupt Decay.

However, trading for copies is still totally on the table, especially if people are interested in soon-to-rotate Theros cards. And by no means should you be selling or trading copies of Abrupt Decay you already own—it’s basically free money to hold these until Modern Master 2015 is released. I just don’t think it’s worth buying.

The Real Point of It All

This article focused heavily on Abrupt Decay, but it really wasn’t about the individual card at all. My goal here was to show you the thought process behind choosing a speculation target and deciding whether or not it’s worth buying in.

Do you have specific targets your’e looking at? Consider everything: the set they’re in, the supply, the demand, the formats they’re good in, how upcoming rotations and releases will impact them, the similar cards to other sets, etc. The more you analyze your potential spec targets, the more informed your purchases will be. And when you’re spending money on cardboard with pretty pictures, you generally want to be making informed purchases.

Have comments? You know what to do.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Advanced Economics and MTG Finance – Part 2

Polling is closed and results are in. I am delighted to report that despite the fact that my article last week was untraditional and lacked money-making insights, the majority of readers commented their desire to read part two! This is an encouraging result for me because I truly have passion for this field of exploration. Combining MTG finance, real life finance (“RL Finance”), and economic theory is a niche area that really invigorates me. Glad I’m not alone.

So without further ado, I’ll dive into the second installment of advanced economics and MTG finance.

Where We Left Off

My recap of last week’s column will be brief. If you wish to explore the full background I encourage you to read the piece in full before proceeding to this one.

In last week’s article I introduced the field of Game Theory and explained why I felt Magic card buyouts were an example of a “game”. Then using certain assumptions I concluded that the outcome of the Magic buyout game is comparable to the typical outcome of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Even though there is a strictly better outcome for the entire population, a non-ideal conclusion is reached due to everyone’s (understandably) selfish motivation to maximize profits.

Despite any efforts we as a community take to combat this phenomenon, I call almost guarantee that the suboptimal outcome will always be reached. Buyouts will continue to occur rapidly leading to a temporary, artificially-high price. This will result in some players overpaying for their copies and other players unable/unwilling to purchase copies at the new, elevated price. A few speculators who bought cheap copies may be able to out some for profit, but the net value across everyone involved isn’t optimal. It would be more favorable if everyone cooperated – purchasing only the copies they needed and encouraging others to do the same – mitigating price spikes and enabling slow, healthy price appreciation.

I used the term “healthy” to describe price appreciation that doesn’t reflect buyouts because gradual, natural price growth is often more sustainable. Many casual cards not dwelt on in Twitter chatter fit this mold. Corbin recently wrote a terrific piece describing why he likes casual play and its effect on finance. This would be one of my favorite aspects; namely the gradual increase in prices driven by natural supply and demand shifts.   Avacyn, Angel of Hope comes to mind as a perfect example – the price chart shows a monotonic increase in price over years of time.

Avacyn

On the other hand we have Ragnar, a different kind of casual card that was suddenly bought out on the internet on Tiny Leaders speculation. The result: a $6 card is now a $30 card and players interested in picking this guy up for Tiny Leaders are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either pay way too much for a card with very narrow utility or sit on the sidelines and wait.

Ragnar

I don’t think I need to provide any further explanation as to why Avacyn’s price increase will be sustainable and continue further (until she’s reprinted). The jury is still out on Ragnar, however. His price certainly won’t tank – the card is too old and it’s on the Reserved List. But I’m not quite sure players are going to want to pay $30 for him, either. There are certainly other Bant options for Tiny Leaders. I suspect his price drops back down to the $20 range in the next couple weeks, as copies slowly trickle back into the market.

If you want a recommendation here, go buy Jenara, Asura of War. She’s a far better Bant general for Tiny Leaders and she hasn’t been forcibly bought out. Instead, the Bant angel continues to steadily appreciate in price. Barring reprint, she will continue to become more and more expensive as players and angel collectors alike seek out their copy. No one is buying this card out, so you can trust that the higher price is sustainable.

Jenara

Application 2: Where You Buy

Let’s assume for a moment that you want to play the buyout game. You’ve decided you like the Ragnar spec because there are just so few copies in existence and the artwork is too cool to ignore. You notice the buyout is happening and you decide to act.

What do you do next? Likely you navigate to a well-known website like TCG Player or eBay and buy some copies…you and everyone else. Motivations for using these large sites vary. Some like the large selection and array of sellers. Others simply like TCG Player because they want their purchases to move the market (via mtgstocks.com).

But do you know what happens when many people flock to the same location to purchase their copies of a card? In Prisoner’s Dilemma style, people steal cards out of each other’s cart and cause that artificial price spike. Latecomers could potentially blindly overpay for their copies because of their assumptions that TCG Player (or eBay) is the best place to buy cards. Star City Games, Channel Fireball, and other major retailers also sell out quickly during these buyouts, but at least they go “out of stock” so you don’t end up overpaying.

This is where an advanced economic analysis could be beneficial. Because everyone is prone to “defect” and purchase many copies of a card during a buy out, the price artificially jumps. But do you ever notice that TCG Player is often where a card’s price jumps first? It’s naturally one of the first places most people go.

It’s comparable to a mad dash through a doorway into a room – everyone pushes and shoves their way through, causing significant discomfort with a few unhappy stragglers in the back. What would happen if some people would stop shoving in the largest, most heavily used doorway and instead walked around to the side doors? Those side doors would have far less traffic, making the experience much more enjoyable and less competitive.

Moving back to MTG, this would be comparable to purchasing a hot card from a less-popular website. How many times have you visited ABU Games upon discovery of a new buyout taking place (like during a Pro Tour)? How many people have shopped from Ideal808.com before? Who first visits Cardshark.com, Amazon.com or even Coolstuffinc.com before trying eBay and TCG Player?

I find I have the highest success buying from sites that do NOT use TCG Player as an alternate way to sell cards. Channel Fireball usually sells out with the rest of them because they also sell on eBay. The same is true for Troll and Toad. But ABU Games doesn’t list many cards on eBay or TCG Player, so they often have cards in stock hours or even days after a buyout. Because everyone is so fixated on the most popular sites, these smaller players have copies that remain after a buyout. By walking into the metaphorical room through a less popular side door, you can still get inside the room without any jostling. This is truly the optimal outcome.

And this is the key application of the Prisoner’s Dilemma to MTG Finance. It was my primary motivation for writing on this subject in the first place. By “cooperating” and visiting diverse sites when purchasing cards we can mitigate artificial hype and price spikes. What’s more, we’re more likely to grab the copies we want near the “old” price!

Knowledge is Power

You may be left wondering if this is truly practical advice. You may be thinking “this sounds logical in theory, but it would never work in practice.”

I have plenty of examples that prove that application of this knowledge can lead to profits. I’ll share three.

Example 1) A few weeks ago there was a mad dash on Foil Teferi’s Response. The card was bought out all over the internet, and the only copies still available for sale on TCG Player and eBay were in the $20 range. I sifted through various sites hoping to find copies at the “old” price. I was in luck.

Order1

ABU Games still had a few copies for sale, and although they were all played the price was too good to pass up. I pulled the trigger.

Was I able to out these for profit? Indeed. I sold one copy to a friend on Twitter and two copies on eBay. But do you want to know the best out for the remaining copies? I buy listed them right back to ABU Games again…for twice what I paid them!

Order2

Example 2) I suppose I should have seen Ragnar’s buyout coming, because it mirrors the earlier buyout of Tetsuo Umezawa almost perfectly.

Tetsuo

The Legends rare suddenly jumped from $20 to $40 and then $50, likely due to more Tiny Leaders speculation. Rather than rush to TCG Player and buy copies there, I first went to one of my favorite go-to sites: Card Shark. I was in luck.

Order3

I grabbed these two copies the day after the card already spiked and proceeded to sell them on eBay as soon as they arrived. Shopping at less popular sites led to easy profit.

Example 3) The jury is still out on my most recent example, but I am confident this will pay out. Every day I visit mtgstocks.com to view the most active price movers in Magic. And recently the site added a new, foil Interests page. Last week’s foil Interests page looked like this:

Interests

Noticing the sudden jump in foil Pride of the Clouds and foil Fumiko the Lowblood, I did my usual, thorough search. Once again I struck gold.

Order4

It seems yet again ABU Games was forgotten in these buyouts, allowing me to casually visit the site, add copies to my cart, and make the purchase. I am confident I will be able to sell these for profit in the near future – if anything, ABU Games may up their buy price enough so that I can sell these back to them again.

Wrapping It Up

Game Theory is a powerful field. It predicts so many phenomena in real life, such as nuclear arms races and advertising. It predicts defection when cooperation would be the optimal strategy. Magic: the Gathering finance is not immune to the theory. Buy outs in particular are exercises of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, whereby people rush to buy copies from popular sites, causing unnecessary price jumps. Those too late to the game either overpay for their copies or sit on the sideline frustrated with their inaction.

But there is one way we can “cooperate” and avoid the hassle of the buyout. By searching less popular sites, we are afforded extra time to obtain our copies without the mad dash for profits. Let everyone else rush through the main doorway, causing jams and headaches. We know there are plenty of side doors with no line, allowing us to pull up a chair and watch the circus that ensues. And even if the price jump doesn’t stick, at least you’ve paid the “old” price rather than the rapidly rising buyout price. And who knows? Maybe a buyout will happen again, giving you the chance to move your copies. After all, selling into the hype is definitely more fun and more profitable than buying into it.

Sig’s Quick Hits

  • It’s only a matter of time before Lady Evangela gets the Ragnar / Tetsuo treatment. She’s another old-school Reserved List general option for Tiny Leaders. But for now, she’s not attracting as much attention. SCG still has a few in stock: NM at $12.99 and SP at $11.99. Watch this one closely for potential movement.
  • Engineered Explosives has really been hot lately. There’s now only 1 copy in stock across the two printings: copies from Fifth Dawn are $10.49 and Modern Masters are $9.69. These will both increase soon, I suspect.
  • Here’s a penny stock worth keeping an eye on: Retract, from Darksteel. The card is getting attention in some Modern brews. And although I haven’t seen the card in action yet, I did note that Star City Games is out of stock. NM copies are listed at $0.49 and foils at $2.99, but I suspect both numbers to rise soon.

 

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Meta Report

By Guo Heng

Hello and welcome to the first instalment of The Meta Report, a weekly column dedicated to tracking the evolution of the metagame and its financial impact.

Every week, this column would crunch the numbers for both Magic Online and paper (which shall henceforth be referred to as ‘in real life’ or ‘IRL’) tournaments to observe the shift in the metagame and highlight emergent archetypes their potential financial impact. The goal of this column is to make it easy you keep a finger on the beating pulse of the Standard metagame by amassing tournament results over the past week in a single article.

We may be living in another golden age of Standard. Since Dragons of Tarkir were injected into the metagame, we have seen a diverse set of viable competitive archetypes and as of last weekend, we are still seeing new twists on existing archetypes.

The Metagame for 25 April – 1 May

This week’s The Meta Report will only analyse data from IRL tournaments. The first set of RPTQs took place last weekend, and counting the StarCityGames Open held at Cleveland, we have a whooping 248 top 8 decks to sift through to find the pulse of Standard, as the table below shows.

 Total (Archetype)
Esper Dragons54
Mono Red52
Abzan Aggro29
Abzan Control/Midrange19
Ojutai Bant Megamorph16
RG Dragons11
Abzan Megamorph9
Sidisi Megamorph Whip6
GW Megamorph Company6
Jeskai Tokens4
Jeskai Aggro3
Abzan Rally3
GW Devotion3
GR Devotion3
Bant Heroic3
Chromantiflayer2
GW Devotion (Megamorph)2
Temur Dragons2
Abzan Whip2
RB Dragons2
GR Bees2
UW Midrange1
Mardu Planeswalkers1
Abzan Atarka1
Mardu Midrange1
UB Dragons1
Mardu Aggro1
Temur Midrange1
Temur Control1
UB Control1
Naya Dragons1
Mono Blue Dragon Control1
Sidisi Whip1
BG Megamorph1
UG Megamorph Company1
Jeskai Dragons1

Esper Dragons remained the most played deck, making up of 22% of the decks that made top 8 at the RPTQs. Most lists stayed close to the stock list that Alexander Hayne took down Grand Prix Krakow with. Esper Dragons was one of the best performing decks in the Standard portion of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa touted it as one of of the best deck he has played at a Pro Tour for a very long time. It is unsurprising that Esper Dragons still was the most played deck at the RPTQs even though the deck’s worse matchup was the second most popular deck last weekend.

Right at the heels of Esper Dragons was Mono Red, with 21% of the top 8 decks being Mono Red. It is unusual to see this level of Mono Red saturation at a medium-to-high level competitive event. Perhaps Mono Red’s success hinged on the fact that its natural prey, Esper Dragons, was the most played deck.

At 12% of the top 8 metagame, the third most played deck in the top 8 of the RPTQs was Abzan Aggro, a deck that mostly resembled its pre-Dragons of Tarkir form save for the addition of Dromoka’s Command. Abzan Control occupied 8% of the top 8 metagame as the fourth most played deck.

Ojutai Bant Megamorph, a deck which Craig Wescoe piloted to an impressive 8-2 finish at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir three weeks back and which Sam Pardee made the top 8 of Grand Prix Krakow with two weekends ago, was the fifth most played deck in the top 8 of the RPTQs, comprising of 6% of the top 8 metagame. I have added ‘Megamorph’ to the deck’s name as it birthed the synergy that was assimilated into multiple existing archetypes.

The Megamorphs

The RPTQs saw a number of existing archetypes slotting in four Deathmist Raptor and three to four Den Protector to exploit their synergy which was first found in Ojutai Bant Megamorph. Abzan Aggro builds incorporating the Megamorph synergy (called Abzan Megamorph) was the 7th most prevalent deck at the RPTQs. The Sidisi Whip decks that were dominating prior to Fate Reforged‘s release also absorbed Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor and those builds performed better than non-Megamorph Sidisi Whip builds at the RPTQs. Last week also saw Green-White Aggro decks adopting the Megamorph synergy.

There is a good chance we would see an increase in the number of decks running the Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector ‘combo’ this week. Their synergy imbues green-based decks with added resiliency against Esper Dragons, the most popular deck, and green-based decks have a good matchup against Mono Red, the second most prevalent deck.

The raptor was flattened again and again, yet it came back to life incessantly.
The raptor was flattened again and again, yet it came back to life incessantly.

As of writing, Deathmist Raptor is the second most expensive Dragons of Tarkir card on Magic Online, which speaks volume about the popularity of the Megamorph synergy in the online metagame. The online metagame could be a precursor to what we are going to see this week.

Deathmist Raptor has a relatively low spread of 37%, indicating that the demand for Deathmist Raptor is strong and we are unlikely to see Deathmist Raptor’s price drop in the short run. There is a possibility that Deathmist Raptor could increase in price. My call for Deathmist Raptor is a hold.

They live in dens?
The Temur lives in dens?

Den Protector, the other half of the synergy, spiked during Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and her price remained high presumably on the back of the Megamorph synergy’s increasing popularity. With a 48% spread, I do not think Den Protector will be able to protect her current price above $5 for long even if the Megamorph synergy becomes widespread. Dragons of Tarkir redemption is about to hit the market in a week or two (Dragons of Tarkir redemption starts 6 May), bumping up the set’s supply and rares rarely hold their price against such force. My call for Den Protector is a solid sell.

Warden of the North Abzan

Is he guarding a Weirwood tree?
First tree as in Weirwood tree?

Warden of the First Tree is a mythic from a small set that has been seeing play in multiple copies in Abzan Aggro builds, but he commands a price tag of just $4.52, even though Abzan Aggro was the third most played deck in the RPTQ top 8s last weekend. I am tempted to say that he is undervalued at the moment, but we have yet to hit peak supply for Fate Reforged, and his 54% spread indicates otherwise. Perhaps the fact that the Warden only has one home at the moment severely limits his demand. I am giving the Warden a hold call.

Speaking of Abzan, the RPTQs saw a small number of Abzan Rally, a graveyard-based deck that aims to populate its graveyard as fast as possible before casting a Rally the Ancestors to bring back Siege Rhinos and Gray Merchant of Asphodels for a game-ending life swing. Abzan Rally is pretty much Dredge in the current Standard, where there is a surprising lack of graveyard hate despite the number of graveyard-reliant strategies.

Can its price rally from bulk?
Can its price rally from bulk?

Rally the Ancestors is bulk and most vendors are not even buying it. Three Abzan Rally decks made the top 8 of the RPTQs in three different mid-sized RPTQs (55 – 75 players), although none of them made it to the semifinals. I do not know what are the odds of Abzan Rally breaking into tier one, as I have only played against that deck once (I lost), but it may be worth picking up a couple of Rally the Ancestors as throw-ins to your trades. I am not even sure if I would buy them. I am giving Rally the Ancestors a ‘trade throw-in’ call.

Time to Collect?

Are you collecting these?
Are you collecting these yet?

Collected Company was one of the most hyped-up Dragons of Tarkir rares to the point where it drove up the price of Congregation at Dawn fourfold, on the speculation that Collected Company could combo with Congregation at Dawn in Modern (fellow MTGPrice writer, Derek Madlem took that combo for a spin and apparently it was clunky bad).

It turns out that Standard may be the more suitable home for Collected Company. Seven Collected Company aggro decks (six Green-White, one Green-Blue) made the top 8 of last weekend’s RPTQs and six of them qualified their pilots for the Pro Tour.

After Hall of Famer Bram Snapvangers went 8-2 in the constructed portion of the Pro Tour with a Green-White Aggro build sporting four mainboard Collected Company, Collected Company made no appearance in IRL events until last weekend. Connor Bowman’s Abzan Aggro which finished in the top 8 of StarCityGames Cleveland ran four Collected Company in the main. And of course, the seven Green-based aggro decks that made top 8 of the RPTQs as mentioned above.

There is a good chance that the Standard metagame would shift towards Collected Company decks in the following weeks. Collected Company is terrific against Esper Dragons, creating you an instant board position after a board wipe. Green-based aggro decks have a good matchup against Mono Red on the virtue of having larger low-curve creatures. Best of all decks running Collected Company could assimilate the Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector synergy.

Collected Company’s price has been stubbornly remaining at the high end of $4 since Dragons of Tarkir’s release. Collected Company currently has a 47% spread, and with redemption hitting in a I am not sure how much more growth Collected Company could see. Unlike Den Protector, I would hold on to my Collected Company right now. While the synergy between Collected Company and Congregation at Dawn is too clunky, Collected Company has been seeing some play in Modern. It was found as a playset in a Melira deck which made top 8 of a 106-player tournament and Modern Zoo has been experimenting with it.

Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector and Collected Company are cards that are exceedingly well positioned in the meta at the moment, and there is a good chance that next week’s metagame would contain more copies of those cards.


 
 

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