Ancestral Recall: Phlipsyde


Today we’re rerunning a popular article from last year all about flipping collections. Tune in on Wednesday for a full recap of GP Richmond!

By Travis Allen

A week or two ago I asked on Twitter if people wanted to hear about flipping collections, and the answer was a resounding “yes.” Today I’ll talk about some of the larger collections I’ve purchased, and then discuss some strategies to keep in mind if you choose to do it yourself.

Collection #1 – This remains the largest collection by volume and retail that I’ve purchased so far. I had picked up a few small collections for between $50 and $300 before this, but this purchase dwarfed those. This list is hardly exhaustive, but it had, if memory serves me: two beta dual lands, ~25 revised duals, a nearly-complete set of Legends, a partial set of Antiquities including a Candelabra of Tawnos, about 10 or 11 full sets including Urza’s block, a full set of Zendikar fetchlands, a handful of Onslaught fetchlands, and boxes and binders alike that were filled with random cards from Beta to Zendikar, which by volume were mostly garbage but certainly had plenty of good cardboard scattered throughout. It took the better part of two weekends to pull everything of value out, and another two or three months to break even on the sales process.

Retail value: ~$13,000
I paid: $3,500

Collection #2 – While this wasn’t as many cards as collection #1, nor was it as varied in its inventory, it was solid value throughout. I actually ended up paying more for this than I did #1, even though it was technically worth less. (They can’t always be home runs.) This seller had done his homework, and actually sent a list of basically every single rare in the collection with their average eBay prices. The reason I paid more for less on this collection is simply that the seller was far more educated about what he had. He recognized he wouldn’t be getting full retail, but expected a reasonable rate of return. Included were: 33 Revised duals, 31 Zendikar fetches, 22 Onslaught fetches, 4 FoW, 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Cryptic Command, 2 JTMS, 5 SFM…the list just goes on with hundreds of $3-$50 cards.


Retail value: ~$9,500
I paid: $5,000

Collection #3 – This is the smallest “large” collection I’ve bought. Unlike the previous two, this is a player that had gotten out of the game recently, so there was a good chunk of Standard cards. In this case, he had everything listed through DeckBox, so I was able to see a complete list of what was coming, as well as their TCG values. He obviously had that information as well, so it was mostly a matter of finding a number that we both agreed on. The most valuable card here was a single Unlimited Underground Sea. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything particularly stellar, just Good Cards. 6 Onslaught fetches, a Taiga, a set of Liliana of the Veil, a few Eldrazi, some Kiki-JikiSphinx’s RevelationsBonfiresCavern of Souls, etc.

Retail Value: ~$4,900 TCG Player low
I paid: $2,200

Now that you’re tired of reading about what I’ve done, let’s talk about how to do it yourself.

Where to find collections – There are essentially two types of sellers. The first, and typically most lucrative, is the obvious one: craigslist. I have a tab open to a craigslist search for “Magic” that is always there when I turn on my computer, and I keep an eye on it every day. There is going to be a lot of chaff on craigslist, so patience is required. There was over a year between my purchases of collection #1 and #2. They simply don’t show up that often, and as time progresses, we are going to see it less and less as those stockpiled Magic cards end up in the hands of people like you and I, who then hoard and distribute cards amongst the community. You will, however, see plenty of this:


For the low price of $150, you can have over 1,000 garbage Ice Age, Homelands and Revised commons. Craigslist is really just going to come down to being patient and finding the right lot.

Other options are garage/estate sales, which I’ve found to be pretty unreliable. Typically you’re talking shoeboxes in size. Keep an eye out for these when you’re strolling yard sales with your girlfriend, but don’t expect it to be reliable.

Coworkers/muggle peers are also a potential source. You really want to find people that are about 40-45 years old right now, as that would have made them 20-25 when Alpha came out, which is the perfect age for disposable income on nerd crap like this. You might not want to be asking your three-piece suit boss if they have Magic cards, but I’ll leave the discovery process here up to your discretion.

The second seller is the knowledgeable type. These are people that have been playing somewhat recently, and have decided to get out of the game for whatever reason. They are much better at accurately valuing their collection, so you won’t be getting duals for $5 apiece here. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a good rate, it just means that there is going to be a lot less of a game where you try and feel out the seller’s knowledge and expectations. In my experience, these transactions are faster, more straightforward, and more numbers-oriented. Both of you know the score, and you’re just trying to find a price you’re both comfortable with.

How to Evaluate Inventory – You can typically get a good feel for what is in the collection quickly, so long as it isn’t completely massive. I like to start with the binders, as those are where you’re most likely to find concentrated value. I also like to check out any decks they may have built, and if the boxes of cards are sorted at all, I at least try to look at lands, artifacts, and blue spells. If it’s sorted by set, I’ll look for Urza block, Mirage, any Legends/Antiquities, Mirrodin block, Future Sight block, etc. Be prepared for most large collections to be overwhelmingly Revised/Ice Age/Homelands/Fallen Empires. When flipping through boxes, feel free to just skip over these sections entirely. You should still go through the painstaking process of looking at each card once you get the boxes home, but when deciding whether to buy the cards, don’t waste both their time and yours looking through what may as well be kindling.

On large collections (over a few thousand cards,) I’ll bring a small notepad to keep track of what I’m seeing. Once the collection is of sufficient size, you aren’t going to be able to make a reasonable offer off the top of your head, nor will you likely have that much cash in your pocket anyways. Writing down quantity of duals/fetches, a rough idea of how many >$5 cards you saw, etc. will help you remember what you’re dealing with when you get home.

Questions to ask – There are a number of questions you want to ask the seller. Their answers will help you understand what you’re looking at as well as what to expect in negotiations. It also helps to make small talk with people while you’re rifling through their property inside their house. Being personable and friendly will make them much more likely to be flexible on price. As a side note, avoid divulging too many details regarding your experience in purchasing collections. If they get the impression you’ve done this quite a bit, they may perceive you as a bit of a shyster rather than an earnest individual that just wants some Magic cards.


  • “Has anyone else looked at the collection?’’  Here you’re gauging interest. They may lie, so take what they say with a grain of salt. If they tell you they’ve had 8 or 9 emails about it though, they probably aren’t exaggerating by much. It’s not uncommon for lots listed too cheaply to be sold within hours of being listed.
  • “Has anyone bought any singles out of the collection?”  You want to see if someone stripped the good cards and ran. If they say that yes, that someone bought just a few cards, then that is very likely where the duals and forces went.
  • “When did you start playing?”  Get a feel for when the collection may have started. This tells you what to look for. If it’s after 2002 for instance, you know duals are less likely. You want to hear 1993, or sometime after 1996.
  • “When did you stop playing?”  This will tell you the latest set you can expect to find, as well as how aware of Magic pricing they are. If they played up until Alara block, they’re going to be a lot more aware of how much the cards may be worth, while someone that quit during Torment days has had the boxes collecting dust for years and years.
  • “Why did you stop playing?”  This is most salient when they quit recently. If their friends left the game and interested petered out, they likely aren’t in a rush to move the cards. However if something occurred in their life and they need funds quickly, this works in your favor. Someone who really needs $2,000 for car repairs doesn’t have time to shop their collection around. Waving ducats around has a good way of getting things done.

How to decide how much to offer – There are several factors at work when considering what type of numbers to offer.

  • The obvious place to start is how much you peg the collection at. I try to keep my estimate at just the cards I’ve seen. I’ve brought home one in the past where I looked at one 500 card box, saw some good stuff, and made an offer based on that box. When I got home, it turned out that almost every good card was in that single box.
  • The knowledge level of the seller is important. If it’s someone clearing out their attic, chances are they’ll just be happy to have it gone and end up with enough to go buy dinner. If it’s someone like the individual in the second example above, you aren’t getting away at 10% of retail. Lowball too much, and you’ll offend them.
  • Whatever price they listed at will help you understand their expectations. Whoever was selling the cards in that craigslist picture above obviously way overvalues his cards, and even if that whole picture is worth maybe $5, that’s only about 4% of his listed price. There’s no way someone is taking 10% of their listed price. If there isn’t a price listed, that’s good for you. It means they don’t know what’s fair or they’re open to offers.
  • Sellers typically assign value much more evenly across the collection than is accurate. What this means is that many will assume 5,000 Ice Age cards will be worth a lot more than a shoebox full of revised duals. While this is a pain for buying large, low-value collections, it works both ways. If during examination the inventory seems like it’s mostly garbage with just a handful of notable cards, or even just a single outlier (something like a foil MM Brainstorm), tell them that it’s all a little too rich for your blood, but ask if you can buy just a few singles that you’d love to have for yourself. There’s a good chance they’ll be fine with this, and you’ll be shocked how little people assign to individual cards. Think $2 a card. I typically avoid doing this unless the collection really is just nothing but Homelands commons, and they are expecting way more than is reasonable.
  • My goal when buying a collection is 30% of retail. That gives you a very comfortable profit margin for making your money back, as you could sell at 70-80% of market and still do well. 30% is fantastic though, so don’t expect this every time. I’ve gone up to about 60% on smaller buys. Your ceiling here is dictated by what exactly you’re buying. Keep in mind what types of sales you’ll be making to recoup your costs. If it’s just piles and piles of $3-5 cards, you’re going to have to put a lot of envelopes in the mail to make that back. That’s a large investment of time, risk as a seller, and shipping costs. However, if it’s basically just a playset of Onslaught fetches and odds and ends, it’s a lot easier to pay a higher percentage because you can move more money in less transactions, they’ll sell faster, and you can get way closer to retail on a Polluted Delta than you can a foil 7th ed Mana Short.
  • The size of the collection also dictates what percentage you can buy at. Basically, the larger the collection, the less competition you have. If the seller wants $400 for $1,000 worth of cards, there will be plenty of people willing to make that buy. However, someone asking $4,000 for $20,000 worth of cards, while a better price overall, will generate a lot less demand. There simply are not going to be many individuals with the knowledge and capital to make a purchase like that. These very large collections are my favorite. There’s less competition, you can get a great rate, and it’s hard for anyone to turn down a few thousand dollars in cash, regardless of how much their cards are actually worth.
  • When making an offer, especially via email, I typically like to outline some of things I’m taking into consideration. I may explain that a large majority of the cards they own are from a time period that saw huge print runs, and subsequently they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on. I may note the wear of the cards if that is a factor, or perhaps point out that while they may have seen certain numbers on eBay, there’s a sizeable loss of profit on those numbers when considering eBay fees, PayPal fees, shipping, etc. Overall, people are going to be more receptive to “Here’s the number I can offer, and this is why” compared to “$600 lmk.”
  • I touched on this briefly, but their need for expediency is good news for you. If it’s someone that simply decided they’re done and is in no real rush to sell, it will tough to get a great price. An individual in a situation where they need cash quick is a lot more likely to wheel and deal.
  • When you’re buying someone out entirely, you sometimes get “bonus” stuff. Dice are very common, as are an assortment of deck boxes. I picked up about 40 of those giant oversized cards in a collection at one point. Old Scrye pewter life counters are easily worth over $50. This type of stuff is typically considered throw-in, but enough of it can add some real value to the deal.

What to do when you get it all home – This is easily the most fun part; the discovery process. I try not to look at every single card when I’m evaluating the collection just so that there’s an element of surprise when I get home and open it all up. The best way to approach this is to systematically go through and touch every single card so that you don’t miss anything. As you go through, pull out every single card that catches your eye and every single rare you spot. All of them. I can’t stress this enough. Nothing is worse than going through 20,000 cards, getting to the end, realizing you were pulling out cards later on that you weren’t at the start, and having to do it all again. If some of the stuff you pull out isn’t worth the effort of selling it, it’s very easy to dump it back into a card box. Once you get everything out, start by setting aside everything you want to keep for yourself. Then begin looking up prices of everything you aren’t sure is worth selling. Any commons and uncommons that aren’t worth it can go back into the boxes. Set any bulk rares aside. The reason for this is that when it eventually comes time to deal with getting rid of the leftover chaff, having all the rares separated makes it easy for you to figure out how many there are for reselling or bulking out.

Making your money back – My preferred way of accomplishing this is not eBay, but rather going through established communities. I personally use MTGS, Twitter, and another community forum. Others prefer MOTL and various other sites. If your city has a general MTG Facebook page, that’s a great resource as well.

Buylisting the cards is an option. You will definitely get better rates of return on selling directly to individuals, but it takes a hell of a lot more time than just sending a few hundred cards to whatever vendor and getting a check. This decision is personal preference. I haven’t opted for this, but I can see the appeal.

When planning to sell to individuals, I begin by alphabetizing everything I’m selling and then setting them aside in their own box. Don’t mix the cards up into your trade collection; it’s too difficult to keep track of them if you do. Once everything is in order, I like to create a Google spreadsheet document. It’s accessible from any internet connection, has editing capabilities on the fly, you can share the link as read-only to let people browse at their own leisure, and it makes for easy importing into Excel if necessary. As you sell cards, you need to be absolutely diligent in making sure the list online matches what you have on hand. Once you start getting discrepancies, you begin agreeing to sell cards to people that you don’t actually have, and that is not something you want to be doing. Building a positive reputation is hugely important, as it enables people to feel comfortable sending you several hundred dollars at a time for cards that are sight unseen. For this reason, I would recommend picking one website with reference tracking and sticking with that until you build a solid reputation.

Getting rid of the leftovers – Unless you live in Montana or one of those states where the cattle outnumbers the humans, space becomes a concern, especially once you end up with more than a few thousand spare cards. I’ve had success moving smaller batches around 2,000-5,000 cards on craigslist by being very straightforward with the lot. I put right in the listing that there are no duals/forces, and that it’s a kitchen table collection for a kitchen table price. This gets a little harder to do the larger the pile gets though, as disposable income for kitchen table magic is not very large for any one individual. As you can see, I still have yet to solve this problem entirely myself…


Whew, I had a lot more to say about this than I realized I did. If you decide to tackle this process yourself, I wish you the best of luck. Just don’t do it where I live.

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The Big Show

By: Cliff Daigle

GP Richmond is this weekend, and in case you hadn’t heard, it’s going to be the biggest Constructed event ever, and possibly the biggest Magic event ever. It’s closing in on the 4500 set this past summer at GP Las Vegas! That’s a ton of people coming to play, and if you’re going to it or some other large event, I’ve got some helpful ideas.

I’m always on a budget. I want to be on a budget for everything that isn’t cards, so I can go forth and buy the card that catches my eye. For instance, that sweet French Foil Angel of Despair, pimping out my Kaalia deck just a little bit more.

When you go to a big event, there’s a few tricks to keeping things at the right price, allowing you more time, money, and energy for playing Magic. Some of these are going to be self-evident, others might be things you haven’t considered. I offer this advice in the hopes that casual and competitive players alike can maximize their enjoyment.

Tip #1: Pack lightly.

If you’re going to a mega-event, the chances are that you’ll be there all day. You’re going to be hauling your backpack/duffel/luggage around for hours on end, so don’t overload yourself. Keep the binders and decks to a minimum. Unless you’ve planned to meet up with seven other people, leave the Cube at home. Bring three EDH decks, tops.

I’d also suggest that you make sure the things you need to play are easily accessible. Separate compartments, top-level organization, whatever method you use. Don’t be that person who sits down and then needs five minutes of digging to find your deck box for this event.

Tip #2: Bring your meals and drinks.

At GP Sacramento, the food inside the venue was around $8 for a sandwich and $4 for a bottle of water that is sold in packs of 36 at grocery stores. Large sodas, heavy on the ice, were $6.

Maybe you’re interested in losing an hour or two of side events and trading to leave the event and find a meal. Maybe you want to get away and take a break. Get a soft sided lunchbag, add a couple sandwiches, and go to town.

Preparing food and drink ahead of time is going to save you a lot of money and a lot of time. At a big event, every place within walking distance will have packs of players filling the lines and increasing wait times.


Tip #3: Security

Wall of Denial

It’s been said before and it bears repeating: you will have ZERO recourse if your cards are stolen. Unless you mark your cards with your name, Magic cards are less traceable than cash.

Everyone knows that Modern prices are going up across the board. It used to be that only Legacy and Vintage players had high-value cards, but pimped-out Commander decks have all sorts of goodies too.

Thieves know when they see a good target. When you play that foil Gaea’s Cradle, or flash a binder full of fetchlands, the mark is set upon you. Don’t engage in multiple trades at once. Don’t trade while playing a game. Don’t just hang your bag off the back of your seat.

It is cheap enough to look into renter’s insurance, especially through your auto insurance company. It’ll probably be less than $50/month, and you’ll need to update your card inventory regularly, but this is the only form of protection available.

Also: your car is not protection. There are many cautionary tales on various forums, Reddit and Twitter about thieves who broke into cars just for the cards. When one Modern deck can be worth $1000 or more, understand that a lot of people get very unscrupulous.

Tip #4: Pre-register

On-site registration is being phased out for GP-size events, but signing up ahead of time is a worthy option for many GP Trials and PTQs. You’re going to be doing a lot of waiting during events. Spare yourself the line at the beginning of the day.

Related to that is filling out your deck registration sheet ahead of time. It’s printable, available all over, and an easy way to prevent game losses due to sloppy paperwork.

Tip #5: Plan out your side events

I’ve never made Day 2 of a Grand Prix. I’ve made the Top 8 of a PTQ exactly once. So I’ve had a lot of chances to play in side events.  Organizers will usually publish the schedules ahead of time. You will be able to plan out how many sealed events, drafts, or other constructed events will be available to you.

The scheduled side events are always notable for the prizes, and the formats. This is where you can randomly win a Commander’s Arsenal, or black Comic-Con planeswalkers, or uncut sheets.

There are also occasions where it’s just good value. Channelfireball has done this at the last two Limited GPs, running a ‘second chance GP’ sealed for $20. It’s hard to argue with a good price.

I am addicted to any event where $10 drafting is available. I will rare draft like a fiend at these, no matter the deck or format. It doesn’t matter to me if the prize is packs or a free draft, it’s the most fun way to open packs.

Tip #6: Buylisting

I always browse the buylists of vendors before big events. I will be interested in unloading old cards, or accessories, or picking up/dropping off orders.

At this weekend’s GP, prices are going to move a lot. This may be a time for you to cash out, or perhaps you want to listen to Travis and actually pick up more Modern pieces.

I’m not good enough with this format to tell you what to do, but seeing all these prices go up, it’s hard for me to look at my EDH decks and not think about selling some pieces.

At a minimum, think about buylisting things you open in drafts and the like. If you do several drafts in a row, you can make back most of the cash you spent, or choose store credit and snag that sweet foreign foil you’ve had your eye on.

I hope these tips help you enjoy your GP, be it Richmond or anywhere!

MTGFinance for the Average Player

By: Camden Clark

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” – Benjamin Franklin

Many players don’t realize this. They think that speculation is just a game that people play and drives up prices. Only “those people” can make money as the market is too complex.

In actuality, understanding the card price market is much simpler, and more important, to the average player.

Few of us are millionaires or billionaires. Even if you are, there’s still an incentive to saving money. It’s not that hard to save money on this game. The fact is that most people are too lazy.

Here are three tips for saving money as a regular player of Magic.

1. Know your needs before they’re needs

This is one of the most important methods. Especially for an occasional PTQ or GP player, you need to plan out your needs in advance in order to save the most money?


Magic is a cyclical game. PTQ season rotates. Standard begins and ends. New sets are added.

It’s quite easy to predict where cards will go.

For example, let’s examine the summer PTQ season. If you want to play Modern during PTQ season, there’s never going to be a better time to buy the expensive staples for your deck than the next two months. The only way they are going into the summer is up as everyone will want to buy Modern cards around the summer. Because YOU anticipated YOUR needs, you are already set up for the most expensive cards and probably saved around 100 dollars on that deck. That’s food for a week.

One way to keep track of this is to track the staples that you are hoping to pick up using the wishlist module on One of the great things about this feature is that you can see if the cards you are watching have gone down or up. If they dip a little bit, buy in, and you have just saved yourself potentially quite a bit of money.

You have to see what your Magic game is going to be looking like in 3 months. If you are going to be playing Modern in 3 months, you have to be cognizant of that and act upon it. Don’t wait.

Another example is rotation. Often, people who are playing standard forget to sell or buylist their cards until a month before rotation. This is lazy and a waste of money. If you are going to be participating in Modern PTQs anyways, forgo the 500 dollar Standard deck and play something budget at FNMs. If you sell off your expensive rotating staples before everyone else decides to, you’ll be in great shape, and potentially save hundreds here again.

Inventory data is amazing here. Card shops can’t react quickly enough to dramatic shifts in inventory. This is where protrader comes in. The emails you get EVERY DAY from protrader show you cards that are being bought out. You can jump on that bandwagon if you see a card that was bought out that you want to play in the future. Otherwise, you would have missed that opportunity.

If you fail to pay attention to the price status of the cards that you are playing, you will pay FAR more than if you had even taken five minutes out of your day to keep track of what they are doing

2. Keep track of buylist prices

If you have a large collection, the mtgprice collections feature is invaluable. Spend a day organizing your rares and inputting them into the collections feature. Not only does this give you pricing data, but you can see where your cards have moved in price in the past few days.

I know Magic players who have binders and binders full of cards. If you just put them into the system, you can see when the prices of those cards goes up and you can cash in! A lot of times, you aren’t and will never play with these cards again. Other than collecting dust, you can turn these into cash or store credit.

Let’s look at a card like Restoration Angel. I’ve been shouting off of every mountaintop that this card is too cheap. Regardless, let’s look at the buylist price change:


Let’s say you had a playset of Restoration Angels in a trade binder. Nobody at your LGS really wanted them; few of them play Modern outside of PTQ season. You catalog them in your collection on mtgprice. Suddenly, you notice the price of the Angel creep up…and up. You would then be in a great position to buylist them and make a not-small sum of money.

When organizing, we sometimes overlook cards that have immense value as casual staples. Who would have thought that Helix Pinnacle is a 6 dollar card? Even if you were just organizing your trade binder, you would look over tons of cards that potentially have some value.

If your cards are in the system you can see what price they are going for and buylist the ones you will never use again. That is smart. That’s not just saving money. That’s making money you otherwise would not have had.

This also figures into rotation. You can find the optimal time to liquidate your standard staples before they rotate and before they lose buylist value. How about a journey back to the time of the tusk?


Standard staples are already going to be on their buylist descent, especially if their playability is only in one format. Another good card to evaluate is Falkenrath Aristocrat. Played in the Aristocrats deck, it had little playability outside of Standard.


As you can see, the latest you could get out was around June. Let’s keep investigating.


This one was falling in buylist right around now! That’s insane. This one had lots of playability in various aggro decks, but it too fell victim.


This one was played in control decks. Ominously, it decreased significantly…starting around now.


And Bonfire decreased starting now. These are undeniable realities-the window for selling these for max price before rotation is slipping. You need to get out soon, the longer you wait, the less you get.

But, how about lands? I don’t think the RTR lands will decrease all that much going into the summer. Their playability in Modern will keep them afloat. If anything, they’ll be double their current price in a year. I would hold.

3. Focus on saving money, not making money

As a player, it’s easy to get swept into the vortex of making big bucks by buying Magic cards. It is possible. It is not easy or for the faint of heart. If you are sick of speculation and don’t want to be a part of the game, I understand. That doesn’t mean you can’t focus on the things that will save you money as a player. One of those is buying into the future standard staples while they are cheap.

Did anyone really think that Restoration Angel wasn’t going to be an important card just because the Delver staples were cycling? How about Snapcaster Mage? Geist of Saint Traft? Huntmaster?


Nobody thought that.

It’s about becoming aware of these realities when everyone has sold or held out on cards that are not even rotating!

It’s about saving money and paying half what you would have had to pay in 6 months.

If you’re an average player, you don’t have time to predict every run up. You can, however, follow Sigmund or Jason or any of the other personalities in the mtgfinance community (or me) to see what the general themes and feelings are about cards. Above all, you need to use your instincts as a player and mold them in a way that allows you to save money and play at the same time.

What are my long term picks?

Assemble the Legion

This is an amazing card and hilariously undervalued. Any control deck will want this, and any midrange deck will want to side this in against control decks. Moreover, cards like this have nearly zero risk into the long term. This might as well have Commander stapled onto it. It’s flavorful, fun to play with and wins the game by itself. There was some movement on it but it’s still quite low. Move in.

Armada Wurm

I have heard the Brainstorm Brewery guys talk about this one a lot before the previous rotation. It has not had any time in standard but it’s got casual long term appeal. I’m a buyer of foils or as throw-ins in trade.

Prime Speaker Zegana

Commander card. Wait for it to drop to a dollar around rotation, pick it up, let it sit in a box for a year. It’ll be five dollars before you know it (keep track using the collection feature).

That about does it. Follow me on Twitter (, I’d love to chat. If you want me to write an article about something, feel free to hit me up.

Modern Trajectory

By: Travis Allen

Sandwiched between PT Valencia and the soon-to-be largest constructed GP in history, we’re firmly amidst a Modern frenzy. What’s more, the PTQ season is on the horizon with players and the market alike keenly aware of its approach. Today I’m not going to tell you what Modern cards to buy and which ones to sell. (It’s all of them and none of them.) Next week after Grand Prix Richmond we can chat about that, since it will be another five weeks before another major Modern event. Instead, I’m going to give you a little insight into this corner of the market as a whole in this particular time period.

Modern prices probably feel like they’re going crazy right now. Snapcaster Mage is $35+. Cryptic Command, a Modern Masters rare, is $50. Tarmogoyf is making a move towards $200. The numbers just keep climbing, and a lot of people are irritated about it. It really struck me Sunday when I watched people 1-for-1 Bayous, as in the Revised dual land, for Misty Rainforests. The duals weren’t in NM shape, and the guy trading away them away was probably giving up a little bit of value, but still. Think about that. Bayou and Misty Rainforest may not quite be on even ground, but Misty and Scalding Tarn are actually worth more than half of the duals. 

We learned what was in Jace vs Vraska last week, so between now and early June there are only two non-Standard products whose contents we do not know. The remaining Standard set doesn’t really count because so many of the cards we care about can’t be printed in Journey into Nyx. We aren’t going to see Fetches suddenly appear, or Goyfs, or Liliana of the Veil, or any of that stuff. The only place any of that can go between now and June is the Modern event deck and Conspiracy.

We know absolutely nothing about the event deck right now except that it will be $75. Given Wizard’s track record with these decks, it will be locally-competitive and solid value for its cost. Keep in mind that they would have assembled and priced these things months ago, well before some of these numbers hit the heights they have. It’s possible they will have a street value of twice their MSRP. That sounds like it may crush the value of the cards contained within, but I wouldn’t expect it to be quite that drastic. First of all, it’s only going to have a handful of especially valuable cards in it. Second of all, while they may claim it’s not a limited release, their idea of “plentiful” is different than most consumers. Most of my LGS seem to sell out of the decent event decks every time, and I don’t recall ever seeing one at a Target. That also assumes that the LGS is selling it at MSRP, which plenty won’t.

As per the contents, at this point it’s anyone’s guess. Since the first big Modern-related event to occur after the announcement of the event deck was the unbanning of Bitterblossom, people assumed it would be B/W tokens. Their logic is that WOTC wouldn’t unban BB without releasing more copies into the wild, and it’s a solid tier two strategy that is a little off the radar, fun to play, and could use some reprints. The internet at large sounds as if they’ve basically made up their minds that it’s BW tokens. I am less convinced, but it doesn’t matter all that much anyways. There is likely to only be a single copy of one or two platinum cards, so unless you happen to have gone super deep on one of those, you should remain relatively unharmed.

Conspiracy is the other big question mark, and it’s one heck of a question mark indeed. It’s the second stand-alone draft set ever as far as I know, with the first having been Modern Masters last summer. When we got the name of that one it was pretty obvious what direction it was going to take in terms of what cards to expect, but Conspiracy is a total black box. The best information we have is the two spoiled cards and the banner art.


The setting appears to be Ravnica-esque, although the outfits are pretty unique: Wizened goblin/troll, 19th century pirate, victorian assassin, ethereal undead king, and Orzhovy robes. I would say nothing is truly off the table, but I think heavily flavored cards such as Spellskite or Vendilion Clique may not fit, while more generic creatures like Restoration Angel could work. I doubt Wizards is intending for this to be a Modern-relief set though, so don’t expect a slew of reprints.

Those two pieces of product are all that stands between us and the most expensive cards not on the reserved list in Magic’s history. Some seem to think that there is no way Wizard’s will let this PTQ season come and go with the rampant, drastic rise in prices that we’re seeing. It’s their baby format, and they don’t want it to become as inaccessible as Legacy, right? Surely we’ll see reprinted in considerable volume between now and the summer that will keep this all sane.

I’ve got news for those folks: it isn’t happening. Even if Modern staple X is in one of these two products, there is not going to be nearly enough supply to moderate its price in any meaningful capacity. And what about the other hundreds of cards that don’t get reprinted in the interim? Even if they put fetches in every box of Cheerios, Cryptic Commands are still going to be $50.

Here’s what I think happened: Wizards underprinted Modern Masters so as to avoid a second Chronicles. I’m happy they didn’t go overboard. It’s in both of our best interest for them not to saturate the market with those cards. Much safer to underprint than overprint. I don’t think that they appropriately modeled demand however, and are finding themselves with their metaphorical pants around their ankles in terms of secondary market prices this year. Consider the original Commander’s Arsenal. They printed what they expected would be a semi-desirable product and ended up publicly apologizing for how expensive the sealed product became. There’s a lot of precedence for Wizards releasing too little, and very little for releasing too much. 

The guys and gals at WOTC aren’t sitting around thinking “look at these silly prices on Tarmogoyf, just wait until they see what we put in Conspiracy!” No, I think they’re hunkering down and preparing for what may internally be considered one of the most poorly handled PTQ seasons in recent memory. “Weathering the storm” is an expression that comes to mind. They’re likely scrambling to let off the pressure as best as they can for next year, probably in the form of Modern Masters 2, but for the time being they’re just hoping cards don’t get as expensive as, well, as they are now.

Prices are going nuts, there’s nothing in the pipeline to stop it, and Wizards can’t react fast enough to fix it. This summer is going to see the most brutal prices in Magic’s history for quite some time.

What’s this mean for all of us? Well, it means nobody should be trading or selling their Modern product right now. Those few extra Kiki-Jiki’s you have lying around? Take them out of your binder, put them aside at home, and wait until June. On the fence about buying that playset of Snapcasters you want? Buy them, and buy them today. If a guy at the store is selling Spellskites for cheap and you have a few extra bucks, don’t feel bad about picking them up just to resell later.

This is truly a bull market, with no letting off ahead of August. The growth is real, the prices are real, and your window to act is closing fast. It won’t be permanent, but in the next five months its going to be one hell of a rising tide.

All of this only matters through the summer though. Once we’re on the other side of this PTQ season it’s going to be a drastic change. The next season will feel far away indeed. We’ll have a plethora of product ahead to increase supply, and more importantly, we’ll be in the timeframe at which point WOTC could have seen what was going on and started putting plans into place to help control the market with reprints. I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see Modern Masters 2 of some sort next year, so holding Modern staples past the PTQ season will be a real minefield. The takeaway here is that you should sell everything except those cards which you wouldn’t be upset about losing value on.

In the meantime though? Go hog wild.