UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Stuff Worth Keeping from BFZ and OGW

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Hello and welcome back! I didn’t want to overwhelm everyone with acres of picks last week, so I’m back to talk about the other rotating block, Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon.

To repeat myself from last week: These are the cards that I think are good to have as they leave Standard, either for their value in Modern/Legacy, or as long-term casual holds.

I don’t think I gave you a good example last week of such a card, so let me do so now: Thespian’s Stage, in foil or nonfoil. Here’s the graph of the foil:

During Theros block, you could get the foil for under $10. Even at rotation, you could get it about $10. But now it’s double that, and nowhere to go but up. The nonfoil has gone from dollar rare to $3 casual gold, and I’m pleased with either of those graphs.

Every time the Stage dodges reprinting, it ticks up by fifty cents or a dollar. If it gets reprinted in Commander 2017, I don’t think the price will get hit much but the foil will tick upward. It’s going to take a Conspiracy/Masters set to impact the foil very much, and that seems unlikely in the next year (It’s not Iconic, after all).

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Shadows over Innistrad

Traverse the Ulvenwald ($4.50 nonfoil/$14 foil): Really, we should have seen this coming. Delirium isn’t just easy in Modern, it’s the focus of Tarmogoyf. Getting the ‘Goyf as big as possible as fast as possible is why Tarfire spiked. Gotta get that Tribal type!

I think the nonfoils are going to go down a little, maybe as far as $3, but then they seem like a very solid pickup. As ever, for Modern/Legacy or casual use, I generally like the foils more than the nonfoils to hold value and to resist losing much when they are reprinted. (Yes, that’s WHEN they are reprinted. That’s my view going forward. Can’t say when, but it is going to happen.)

Archangel Avacyn ($10/$22): The poster angel for the set, a double-sided mythic, she’s going to be very hard to reprint. It’s my understanding that the double-sided require a whole sheet, and then are added, so it’s not possible to throw one two-faced card into a regular print run. The flip planeswalkers of Magic Origins were done on their own, lots of languages to a sheet, so I feel confident in thinking that Avacyn is safe from reprinting for a while.

She’s at the lowest she’s been during her time in Standard, and frankly the foils are super appealing. The foil multiplier isn’t even three yet! Let’s get in on these and just be patient. The growth will be real.

Thalia’s Lieutenant ($2.75/$6): I want this to drop further. I’d like picking these up a lot more at $1.50 or less, but this price is likely an artifact of a couple of recent Modern decks that have a Human theme. I would truly love it if the triggered ability could affect Soldiers too, but it’s still a very good card. Every set has Human creatures, and with every good creature to add to the deck, this card gets better.

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Prized Amalgam ($2.25/$5.50): It’s one of the centerpiece cards for Modern Dredge, it’s an automatic four-of in the strategy, and yet it’s this cheap. Foils being $5 on eBay seem like a complete gift to your future self. It’s true that the ban of the Grave-Troll made the deck a little less appealing, but here’s what is going to happen:

  1. People pack lots of graveyard hate in Modern, making Dredge a bad choice.
  2. People move their sideboard choices to other decks, because no one is playing Dredge.
  3. Someone makes the right metagame call at the right big event and Dredge takes it all.
  4. This price goes up by at least double.

I don’t know when that process will happen, but it’s only a matter of time.

Honorable mentions at $1 or less: Fevered Visions, Descend Upon the SinfulSeasons Past, Duskwatch Recruiter, Second Harvest.

Eldritch Moon

Gisela, the Broken Blade ($8/$20) and Bruna, the Fading Light ($1/$6): I like all the foil Meld cards going forward, but this pair having a mythic member AND being part of an iconic tribe means that I love the casual potential here. Bruna is already very good in Angel decks, and I can’t imagine not making space for her sister in Commander decks.

Gisa and Geralf ($1.60/$6): The high foil multiplier here is a very good indicator that you want to have some of these going forward. This card never had a huge supply, being a small-set mythic, and Commander players are taking these out of circulation. I’d much much much rather have the foil version, because I can see this being the headliner for some future duel deck (Undead vs. Survivors or some such).

Bedlam Reveler ($1/$4.50): Another big foil multiplier indicates the foil is sought after more, either in Eternal (where it’s seen some play) or casual play, where only the most dedicated of decks play this. I’ve written about this before, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but I can see this spiking pretty hard with just one good showing.

Deploy the Gatewatch ($1/$4): So about a year ago, while I was guesting on MTG Fast Finance, James and I had a polite disagreement about this card. I thought it was trash for Standard, but an excellent long-term hold. The card has gone up about a dollar since then, but it remains a ridiculously safe pick in foil. I suspect we will get some Gatewatch-themed special issue deck at some point, but until then, snag lots of foils and just wait. You’ll thank us later.

Honorable mentions at $1 or so: Mind’s Dilation, Sigarda’s Aid, Ulrich of the Krallenhorde, Decimator of the Provinces

Cliff is impressively devoted to Magic, in a range of formats. His greatest love has been Commander, but Cube is the new hotness and it’s not as clear as it used to be. Who will steal his heart and get that rose? Tune in next week!

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Brainstorm Brewery #242 – Take a Look, It’s in a Book

With Vegas only a week away, the cast gets hyped for the grand return and discusses their Vegas plans.   Standard discussion covers potential shakeups from bannings and Hour of Devastation; this draws the usual ire from DJ. Breaking Bulk runs a wide range from casual core set rares to intro deck picks.   Pick of the week focuses on some EDH picks with the new 2017 tribal decks on the horizon.   Also, find out which cast member has no love for Star Trek, the Next Generation.  Join us for Brainstorm Brewery.

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Douglas Johnson is and will forever be merely a guest…unless you support our Patreon!

 

5 Tips For Improving Your MTGFinance Returns

As with many kinds of investment, locking in consistent returns with MTGFinance is largely about figuring out the best possible methodology and using that to identify one great opportunity after another. You might get out ahead of the crowd one time, but can you do it consistently to the benefit of your collection and bank account?

The signal to noise ratio in MTGFinance tends to be as high as anywhere else a bunch of pundits are pushing their latest ideas and trying to make deadlines, so adding some rigor to your activities can really help you cut through the latest garbage narrative and ramp up to your A-game.

2016 and 2017 have produced dramatic gains for me (50%+ per annum, with a totally self-sustaining investment pool) and here are a few of the core concepts that have really helped me lock into a series of winning moves.

  1. Make a Commitment 

Commit // Memory

If you’re reading this you clearly have some interest in MTGFinance, but if you want to make more or save more playing Magic, you’re going to need to get serious. The thing is, being serious about your activity doesn’t necessarily mean you spend far more time, money or focus on your hobby. It starts with deciding to make a point of getting better at this, naming a few simple goals and nailing down the likely steps from Point A to Point B. Maybe you want to acquire a few new Modern or EDH decks at a discount. Maybe you’re trying to go Pokemon style and catch ’em all on the Masterpieces, Expeditions or the Power 9. Maybe you’re a tournament grinder that just wants to keep on top of getting into and out of key format staples to minimize the expense of staying on the circuit.

Whatever your goals, deciding on an amount of time and money to spend on your efforts sets you up for success far better than haphazardly checking in now and again with no clear sense of purpose.

2. On Ego & Discipline

Humility

Human nature is a fickle spirit guide if you’re trying to invest or save money wisely. Your impulse will often be to jump on top of whatever the latest advice is you read, especially if you see it mentioned more than once. The thing is, you need to remember that MTGFinance is not Pokemon GO, and you don’t need to be out there trying to chase down every obscure spec. You also don’t need your specs to be original ideas, despite the pressure on the content publishing side to provide all of you with a constant barrage of fresh content. More often than not, the best ideas are solid bets for weeks or months and most of the community ignores them.

It’s easy to get distracted by the latest article or tournament results, but the fact remains that EU arbitrage is still the best idea going in MTGFinance right now and too few of us are following up on it. I’ve been buying dozens of Masterpiece Sol Rings for between $70-$110 over there for months, selling them at 50-60% profits (after all expenses and fees!) and reinvesting in more copies to import. This would never have been possible if more people admitted to themselves when I first brought it up that it was near the top of the heap of available options, but here we are. On any given day there are dozens of options, but you should aim to choose just a handful of your best ones and then go deep if you want to maximize your results. Picking specs is an entire article unto itself, but generally speaking you want to focus on high demand/low supply cross-format staples that are undervalued vs. their imminent potential. Sol Ring is the literal best card in EDH/Commander and the Masterpiece version showed every sign of being a winner as early as December, when a major gap opened up in the price and inventory levels between the US and Europe, where EDH is clearly less dominant.

Testing your investment thesis should never be about proving that you are correct, or better than the rest of your peers. It should be about figuring out if the facts bear out your assumptions, putting the facts to work and assessing the results with a clear mind and an attention to detail. As such you should always be willing to test your ideas against your peers and be honest with yourself if their feedback suggests you might be better off putting your money elsewhere. Too often we get caught up in our own personal success narrative, and forget that the occasional reality check may bruise the ego but expands our pockets.

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Also, failure is a part of the process. You’re going to be far less efficient in your first year of activity, so try to learn from your mistakes and move on armed with positivity and a better sense of what works.

3. Research, Research, Research

Compulsive Research

A big part of getting better at MTGFinance is making sure that you get access to the best information before everyone else. In terms of daily price movement, MTGStocks, MTGPrice, TCGPlayer, Ebay BINs and completed transactions, as well as vendor prices in Europe (MagicCardMarket) and Japan (Hareruya & TokyoMTG) are essential reading.

One of the key benefit sof the MTGPrice Pro Trader service is a 48 hour headstart on everyone else that eventually reads our buy and sell calls. If you haven’t signed up for modestly priced subscription yet, you should really consider it. Spending a tiny amount on MTGPrice, SCG Premium and QS ended up paying for itself so quickly that it pulled me deeper into this side of the hobby a few years back. These days I have trouble understanding why anyone that spends $1000 or more on Magic every year doesn’t have at least one of those subscriptions nailed down.

The MTG Fast Finance podcast, Brainstorm Brewery, Cartel Aristocrats and MTGGoldfish are also essential listening. Tracking daily card price and inventory level movements with nearly a dozen major vendors is also a key service on this site, and you should also be on top of MTGStocks, TCGPlayer, Ebay, and MagicCardMarket at the minimum.

You should also be supplementing your predictive skills by paying attention to the latest articles by savants such LSV, Sam Black, Pat Chapin, Brad Nelson, Shaun McClaren, Todd Stevens, and Caleb Durward, just to name a few. Remember, some pros are good at playing the game, while others specialize in probing the dark corners that others haven’t yet caught on to yet. A list of the best of the brewmasters will help keep you ahead of the curve and looking at cards with strong potential.

Finally, EDH.rec and MTGTop8.com will keep you on top of which cards are actually seeing play, and to what extent they are likely to continue doing so.

4. Networking is Key

Bazaar of Baghdad

The majority of the MTGFinance community falls squarely in the lurker camp; folks who read articles and track prices but rarely interact with their peers. If that sounds like you, consider making a change. The more people you talk to, the more deals will come across your desk (on both the buy and sell side) and the better you will do overall. I couldn’t be puling off cross-border arbitrage in five countries around the world without having first built some basic, though mutually beneficial, relationships. If you aren’t active on Twitter and Facebook and Reddit, you are likely missing out. Sure there’s plenty of garbage content out there, but there’s also the guy that needs to make a car payment and knows you’re always in the market to beat buylist by 10% on Revised duals. Visibility will boost your action, so get chatting.

5. Work the Angles

This is more of a grab bag of best practices than a central theorem, but the core point is that you can gain several % points per year by working with the ebb and flow of retail trends. Here are some good examples:

Image result for conspiracy 2 box

  • Positive EV Boxes: Most new Standard legal booster boxes will demonstrate negative EV within the first two weeks of release. This is because while a set is in print, any spikes in current cards from the demand side will be easily overcome by surging supply and the motivation of vendors to crack boxes for singles anytime the EV approaches or exceeds the wholesale cost of the box (usually in the low $70s USD). Another factor is that flat lined player growth is ensuring that boxes from Return to Ravnica forward have shown very limited gains vs. their bargain basement retail availability during peak supply around $90. So is sealed dead? Not really, you just need to know where to look. Just in the last year Conspiracy 2 and Commander 2016 are both sets that represent positive EV, due to more limited print runs and lingering narratives from prior product iterations that made people assume they couldn’t be good buys. I’ve also gotten into the habit of only buying Russian boxes of Standard legal sets. These boxes are often available early on in a set’s release at nearly the same price as English boxes, but the upside on a key Modern or EDH foil can easily justify the tougher time you may have in unloading the Standard only staples. Russian KTK boxes are now going for nearly twice what they were available for in the fall of 2014.
  • Sales & Coupons: Part of your research process should be to get on every relevant mailing list from the Vendor Team vendors on MTGPrice and elsewhere so that you know what sales and coupons are available. When you buy cards from many vendors they will often include a discount coupon for a future purchase, and you should make a point of stashing those away and reviewing your options when it comes time to go deep. Ebay is regularly providing a $15 off $75 purchases once or twice a month. That’s just free money, so be sure to plan your purchases around it where it makes sense.
  • Post a Buylist: Forums for MTGPrice and QS allow you to post buy and sell threads, including any cards you are looking to acquire. Post a standing order for 10 copies of As Foretold at a $1.50 below TCG Low and someone might just bite. New sites like CardSphere and CardRocket also support this kind of action, though they haven’t yet hit the critical mass necessary to guarantee instant success. Making clear to your local playgroup or store crowd that you are willing to beat buylist (off site of course) provides options that will one day make you money.
  • Cross-Border & Currency: If you aren’t paying attention to currency exchange changes, which formats are most popular in each region, and overseas card prices, you’re missing out. EDH cards are often cheaper in Europe and Japan and that’s a big source of MTGFinance gains right now as that format continues to grow. Canadian cards are often priced at US pricing with little regard for the 20-35% exchange rate if you know where to look. Mexico is a massive bulk bin of value if you’re willing to do the legwork to find a contact.
  • Limit Your Small Ball: When you start doing the math on the time to ship 100 $1 cards that “spiked” to $2 and compare it to buying and selling a single $100 card, the results aren’t pretty. Don’t get caught up in buying a bunch of small stuff when you can keep it simple and profit. I still put money into 50-100 copies of bulk rares like Chasm Skulker and Hardened Scales on occasion, but only if I think the buylist exit is likely to be worth the effort. A collection of bigger ticket cards are likely to act as better bait for future deals as well. Just lately I’ve been strongly considering trading my SP Unlimited Black Lotus for a pile of growth specs from the EU, and the likely bonus I’ll get for that move will almost certainly make it worthwhile.

Ultimately, you’ll get out of MTGFinance what you put in, so what are you willing to give?

James Chillcott is an investor, entrepreneur, and long time Magic player, as well as the CEO of ShelfLife.net, the Future of Collecting. Follow him on Twitter at @MTGCritic.

50 Shades of Non-Foil

I love promos. Do you love promos? Of course, everybody loves promos. There are hundreds of promos to discuss in all their foily glory and I do own quite a few of them myself. However, foils aren’t for everyone. Some people dislike how foils warp in humidity and others dislike when they can’t foil out their entire deck, which is sometimes the case in Legacy. So what promos exist for players who aren’t fond of foils? Today I will be showing off my top five favorites.

5. Guru Lands

(1999-2000)

Some of the nicest lands ever printed, Guru lands were given out in a promotion that Wizards launched in 1999 and only lasted a year. What’s so special about these lands? Well for starters, they are illustrated masterfully by the talented Terese Nielsen and feature an eclipse panorama that hasn’t been replicated since. But let’s get to the real issue here, Guru lands are incredibly expensive.

Islands are close to $400 a pop and the others are over $200 as well. Talk about supply and demand.The supply is incredibly low, especially Near Mint copies. The demand is off the charts. There are almost no players out there who wouldn’t desire one of these beautiful lands to accessorize their deck. They are more expensive than ANY foil basic land in existence, so if foils aren’t your thing you can still give your deck some bling bling treatment.

The reason these don’t place higher on the list is because of the price tag. Honestly, while I do absolutely love them and they look amazing on the battlefield as quite the display of opulence, I cannot support their price tag. For that price, you are better off investing in cooler cards, foil or not. The fact that you can purchase a Beta Taiga for around the price of two Guru Forests should really go to show that these promos are just for those with the richest of tastes. Perhaps if you aren’t spending your money on upgrading your foils, you may have a bit to blow on those basic lands.

4. Ugin’s Fate Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

(2015)

Fate Reforged was the middle set in the Khans of Tarkir block and was released in early 2015. At the pre-release, if you and your clan completed certain tasks you were awarded an “Ugin’s Fate” booster pack containing two random cards with alternate artwork. There were 26 cards total that differed from their traditional booster pack art, and they were supposed to depict an alternative future in the story line. By far the rarest and most sought after Ugin’s Fate exclusive card is Ugin, the Sprit Dragon.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon sees play in Modern, EDH, and cubes everywhere. On top of being a highly coveted planeswalker, it is one of only two colorless one printed to date. Ugin has competitive and casual uses alike so it is no surprise that this extremely rare version of the walker commands a price tag over $100. That’s a lot of money for a modern-day printed promo, and you can purchase a playset of regular Ugin, the Spirit Dragon for the price of one Ugin’s Fate Promo.

The decks that tend to play Ugin can usually be entirely foiled out. But for those who do not appreciate foils, the Ugin’s Fate promo makes an excellent substitute and you would only need to purchase one or maybe two copies. Chris Rahn’s artwork on it is spectacular but the regular pack artwork by Raymond Swanland is still my favorite.

3. Player Rewards Promos

(2005-2011)

The Player Rewards program was an excellent promotion run by Wizards for about a decade that officially started in 2001. While the promos given out started as tokens, playable cards started being released from 2005 to 2011. JUST in time for me to miss it as 2011 is when I started playing. Tilt. This free program rewarded players for playing a lot of Magic. Talk about a win-win program! Suffice to say, it was a tragic loss to players everywhere when it was discontinued.

All player rewards cards were sent in the mail and they were all textless. The more pricey and coveted cards, the rares, were foil. The commons and uncommons (with the exception of Lightning Bolt) were not foil. Dozens were printed over the years, but my favorites are Ponder, Mana Leak, Lightning Helix, and Terminate.

These cards have been creeping up slightly over the years, as they make great additions to decks that do not aim to be foiled out. All players rewards cards do have foil alternatives available to them but each textless card comes with unique artwork from their set arts, making them ideal candidates for this list.

2. Euro Lands

(2000)

Euro Lands were given as rewards to stores the distributed boxes of Nemesis, Prophecy, and Invasion. There are 15 total lands, 3 of each type, and they are quite hard to find in large amounts or sealed.

The artwork on these stunning lands are all done traditionally and are extremely high quality depictions of the real world. This offers a major contrast from modern-day Magic art direction, as the goal is to create and depict fantasy worlds that offer very little resemblance to the real world. There may be inspirations like steam punk and India for Kaladesh or ancient Egypt for Amonkhet, but when you see the actual world, you are not drawn to the exact parallel in the real world.

For the Euro Lands, the goal is exactly to transport you somewhere that exists here on Earth. I absolutely love that aspect of the cards and they reflect a unique time in Magic’s history that I am sure we will never see again. With a price tag much more affordable than Guru lands, these provide an excellent substitute to any foil lands on the market and absolutely earn their high spot on this list.

  1. States/Game Day Promos

(2006-Present)

The Champs/States promos and Game Day promos are two different systems, but I grouped them together due to their similarities. States for the US (Champs for the rest of the World) was a yearly program where a Standard tournament was held to determine the champion for a particular region. Though it was eventually discontinued, the most similar, currently running program is Game Day. A few weeks after each Standard-legal set release, there is a Standard tournament to decide who the top players for the format are at local game stores.

The similarity in the promos given is also evident. Along with a higher-end foil promo given to the top 8 competitors, there is a non-foil uncommon card given to each player who participates regardless of finish. In the case of States/Champs, it is the same artwork as a card but given a full-art and border treatment, the likes of which hasn’t been replicated again. For Game Day promos, there is an alternate art from the set version, and it is also given a full-art treatment.

I like many of these promos but my favorites are Imperious Perfect, Electrolyze, and Reclamation Sage. I always though Imperious Perfect’s artwork was never done justice on the tiny art from Lorwyn, and this is as close as we can get to seeing more of Scott Fischer’s masterpiece artwork blown up. When I think of ways to upgrade decks without using foils, these are the first promos that come to mind for me. For that reason, they are the number one on my list.

I hope you enjoyed checking out some unconventional ways to upgrade your decks. The go-to cards many people consider when blinging out their decks are foils, but foils aren’t for everyone. I may enjoy foils more myself, but I respect these various promos offering something excellent and different for a different type of collector. What are some of your favorite non-foils you enjoy in your decks. Would you like to see Wizards print more non-foil options regarding promos these days? I look forward to your feedback in the comments. Thanks so much for reading!!

Rachel Agnes is a VSL Competitor, Phyrexian Princess, Collector of all things shiny and a Cube, Vintage, Legacy, and EDH enthusiast.
Catch on Twitch and Twitter via Baetog_.

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