Looking for Value in All the Wrong Places

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Welcome back, constant readers

Last time I think I made it as far down the “Greater Fool Theory” rabbit hole as wikipedia pages is going to take me. I think we covered some new ground and maybe we’ll get some of those concepts to stick. We might; I caught someone on Reddit encouraging someone not to be a “baggage holder” which I thought was pretty sweet. I made a case for not buying when it only helps people who bought in cheaper. What say we put an end to all the non-traditional finance articles for a while? It was cool to delve into theory for a while, but I felt like I covered “don’t do this” thoroughly. What should you do when you’re not too busy not doing that stuff?

That’s a good question. I think I am going to go back to what I know. And what I know is that if you live in a somewhat densely-populated region of the world, there is a good shot you’re fewer than 50 miles from Magic cards you want and that are owned by someone who doesn’t know what they’re worth.

I know that somewhere in the United States there is a guy who owns a computer repair shop and sells Magic cards out of a dirty, cracked display case. He looks up card prices in a Scrye magazine from 2003 and takes mint condition cards out of a cardboard longbox and gives a discount if you pay him with cash. The cards in the case are just for show- he only sells the cards from the longboxes that have been untouched by human hands for years. I know because I bought Sylvan Libraries from him for $4 and we talked about Baseball.

I know that somewhere in the  United States there is a guy who has a few dirty binders behind the counter of his comic book shop. He priced the cards back during Mercadian Masques and he has a computer that he uses as a cash register, but it doesn’t connect to the internet. He writes receipts by hand with an ornate silver inkpen and figures out the tax in his head. I know this because I bought Unhinged booster packs from him at MSRP, Tower of the Magistrates for $2.50 and a Karakas for $5 when they were $40 and we talked about our favorite “Daredevil: the Man Without Fear” writers.

I know that somewhere off a dirt road that you will only access if you make a wrong turn as I did there is a store called the “Antique Barn” with an old cracker barrel out front with an electric lamp that only looks like an oil lamp and inside they have a box of Magic cards with a handwritten sign that says “Each card $1 dollar[sic]” and I bought three Goblin Lackey, four Recruiters, five Elephant Grass and a Sterling Grove for $1 each. When I asked how much he would sell me Portal Basic lands for he said “Whassda sign say?” before spitting chewing tobacco spit into an Ice Tea bottle. I left the lands.

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I know that when I go to a town I’ve never been before, I do what you would do. You pull up the Wizards Store locator and just see if there is a place that sells cards, holds events, has a community. You’ll drive past it until you realize you saw a cardboard cutout of Gideon or a sign with Jace on it, sun-weathered and dog-eared, and you’ll turn the car around and go back. They’ll have cases full of cards and they’ll look the prices up on Star City Games and knock 5% off and beam magnanimously like they offered you a free gold bar instead of cards that are still 15% above TCG Player. You’ll look for two minutes then pack back into the car. If there are five places in that town, four will be like that and one of them will be OK.

I know this because Ryan Bushard and I like to go on shop crawls and hit lots of stores. I wrote about one of them on QS a million years ago. We called dozens of shops ahead of time to see which ones we could eliminate based on a phone conversation and still hit a lot of busts. We hit a few great ones, too, but the best shops we hit were on accident. People who do this sort of thing usually do it wrong. I know, I did it wrong for a long time, and I still do.

How often do you check your local Goodwill? I have found cards there. I haven’t found anything great, but if Reddit is to be believed every few months someone somewhere will hit it big and find very good cards for almost free. I have ruled out my town. Have you? You live somewhere after all. Mothers clean out closets when kids go to college. Good stuff ends up in odd places. It takes five minutes to look.

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Your success rate at garage sales is going to be under 5%. Better go to at least 20 in your life if you want to beat the odds. Have you gone to 20 garage sales looking for cards?

You want to know the REAL goldmines? Baseball card shops. Shops that sell gold coins and geodes and old, weathered newspaper clippings in vinyl bags. Flea markets in small, flyspeck towns. You think you’re going to show up in Duluth Minnesota and find a $5 Karakas in a binder ten minutes before an FNM starts with people elbowing you out of the way so they can buy sleeves or pay their entry? You think you’re going to find good singles in a binder that doesn’t have a layer of dust on it?

I would wager there is a store in the town you live or an adjacent one you’ve never set foot inside. It doesn’t look on the outside like it has Magic cards inside. That’s the point. You want to be first. You want them to reach down underneath a counter, or move a stack of comic books to uncover an old box. You see Pokemon cards mixed in? Great, they aren’t looking that up on Star City. They’re probably going to take an offer on the box. I’d wager there is value fifty miles from where you’re seated and you never thought to look there because no one thought to look there. I used to think I had to go far from home to find the value. There couldn’t be anything close to where I live, right? I would have found it already.  Someone I know would have. How are you supposed to find undiscovered treasure if you think like everyone else? Start ruling local places out. Widen your search to neighboring towns.

I played FNM and booster drafts for 18 months in a motorcycle garage after they closed for the night, two card tables jammed between displays for helmets and gloves, the air smelling like oil. Should you check every motorcycle repair shop and used car dealership and petting zoo for singles? I can’t tell you what to do.

But I know no one else checked there first.

Finance Quick Hits

  • We don’t know much about Born of the Gods, but neither does anyone else. We’re getting a G/W Temple. Expect GW stuff to increase in price on hype alone. Be a seller, not a buyer in those situations.
  • Kiora looks pretty bad to me, but there is hype. Temple of Mystery is at its floor. $5 is demonstrably the ceiling for a temple, but Kiora hype could make this happen and that’s a double-up.
  • Kami of the Crescent Moon is selling for $6 on TCG Player. Check any and all gold coin stores and computer repair shops near you. A lot of weird stuff spiked this month.
  • It’s too late for Genesis Wave, but if that deck is a thing, cards like Primeval Titan have room to go up. Be prepared.
  • Sam Black is brewing in Modern. Pay attention when Sam Black brews.
  • When the new set comes out we will still be using packs of Theros to booster draft. Take this into consideration.

 

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Weekly News and Highlights

Instead of focusing my article on one topic this week, I am going to focus on recent announcements from Wizards and what that means for all of us.

M15 Preliminary News

There were some interesting revelations released about the upcoming M15 core set. The biggest piece of news from this announcement was that they were adding 20 extra cards to the set. This was discovered by taking the card count that Wizards provides with a set announcement (for M15 this was 269) and comparing it to M14’s 249 total cards.

Before Mark Rosewater explained that the 20 extra cards were going to be uncommons, wild theories were being thrown around like candy. For example, that Wizards was finally making room for Zendikar fetchlands or some other such nonsense. Now that the outlandish theories can be put to rest, lets discuss the impact that 20 new uncommons will have on the set and for Standard in general.

This is a great idea for from a limited perspective because it will allow them to print more powerful cards at the uncommon level. A major comparison was made with the M14 rare Domestication, which was previously an uncommon in Rise of the Eldrazi, and then was upgraded to rare in M14 so that it would not kill limited. If Domestication is reprinted again in M15 I would be 99% sure it would be an uncommon due to this announcement.

From a financial perspective this could allow for certain uncommons in M15 to spike higher than usual if they are played heavily in a future Standard archetype. It would not surprise me to see $5 uncommons that reach the popularity of Young Pyromancer, Burning-Tree Emissary, or Boros Charm once M15 becomes scarce. Keep this mind when drafting or trading – getting a few chase M15 uncommons as a throw in could be a good strategy in the future.

Some are other tidbits were that the Magic card face was being redesigned and that Garruk is making a reappearance in M15. I don’t think the card face change is going to do anything negative for the game – as the saying goes, even if you put $100 bills in Magic packs players will complain about the way you folded them. Garruk reappearing is interesting though because many players noticed that the artwork depicted that he was still veil cursed – which lead to theories about a Garruk Relentless reprint. While nothing is out of the realm of possibility, I doubt that this will happen unless double faced cards start popping up in spoilers for M15. Double faced cards need a special type of print run in order to produce them in a cost efficient manner so unless there are double faced cards being spoiled in the future at all rarity levels you can count out a Garruk Relentless reprint.

Coming Up – Born of the Gods

Since BNG is on the horizon and spoiler season will soon be starting, let’s revisit my article about picking up multicolored cards for missing temples to see if anything is still relevant based on the spoiled U/W, G/W, and B/R temples:

U/W – I did not predict that this temple would make any existing cards more powerful and  instead would reinforce existing U/W control archetypes and make Esper more viable. Cards in these colors have already spiked or reached their peaks – though there is always chance for the double spike before the season is over. Unfortunately capitalizing on a second spike would be very difficult, as many players will not buy into a card at such a high price that also has such a short life.

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G/W – I’ve been a fan of Advent of the Wurm for a long time and the G/W temple could make it finally take off. I would definitely hold on to any copies of Advent you picked up in the previous months to see if the G/W temple can make it take off. Fleecemane Lion has taken a nosedive in price as I predicted, and can be had for as cheap as $2 from several vendors. I think this is the floor for Watchwolf+ because it still has a lot of casual appeal in addition to potentially being relevant in Standard over the next year. Loxodon Smiter is already being played pretty extensively so I don’t think the G/W temple will boost the price much. Any gains it might see would be marginal compared to the current price. I don’t think Armada Wurm is going anywhere; it is too pricy for Standard, though Trostani could definitely spike if a Populate deck is established during Standard season. In summary, watch Advent of the Wurm and Trostani the closest for price spikes.

B/R – Exava is dirt cheap right now and the right deck could really make her take off. I don’t foresee her going over $4 due to the intro pack inclusion. This is still a juicy pay off if you can hold your copies. Rakdos’s Return is already $5, but it could go up before the end of the season. Tymaret and Underworld Cerberus are very cheap for a rare and mythic respectively, but they’ll need additional help from BNG to be relevant in Standard. All in all, watch these B/R cards over the next few weeks.

Modern Announcement – Event Deck

Last week I discussed some trending cards in Modern and little did I know that Wizards was planning on releasing a Modern event deck! For $75 this certainly ain’t cheap, which means pricey format staples are being reprinted. Which staples remains to be seen yet there has been a lot of speculation as to what these might be based on the revelation that there will be double sided tokens included with the Modern event deck.

One popular theory is that it could be Mono Blue Tron. This makes sense because we could see Wurmcoil Engine tokens, and also gives Wizards a way to release more copies of Remand into the market. At the same time, they can also reprint staples like Karn that have been getting outrageously expensive since Modern has become more popular. Other potential reprints for Mono Blue Tron include Spellskite, Oblivion Stone, All is Dust, and Eye of Ugin which have been steadily going up in price over the years. Unfortunately Mono Blue and other Tron decks do not usually run fetch lands which are a sorely needed reprint in the format.

This leads into another major theory, which is that it is a B/W tokens list. This would allow Wizards to reprint Marsh Flats and/or Arid Mesa along with cards like Auriok Champion, Hero of Bladehold, Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozliek, and Windbrisk Heights. You can read more about the community’s speculation at http://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/1urx5j/wizards_announces_modern_event_deck.

Again, let me reiterate that this is all pure speculation at this time. I wanted to highlight this information to make a point, which is that Modern speculation targets should never be held for the long term (1 year or more). With this announcement, and in addition to last year’s Modern Masters, Wizards has made it clear they have no qualms with offering regular reprints of Modern staples. Not to put the reprint fear into you, but plan your Modern acquisitions accordingly and realize that there is a time limit when holding a Modern card.

Counterfeits and the Community’s Reaction

After being discovered by others at the Quiet Speculation and Twitter communities, a post surfaced on Reddit describing a company in China that is making near-perfect counterfeit Magic cards (http://www.reddit.com/r/magicTCG/comments/1uoccf/beware_very_accurate_fake_cards_from_china_and/). If you check out the album of samples that the company offers you can see that they have the technology to reprint not only just Standard or Modern staples, they also can make Legacy staples like dual lands, Onslaught Fetchlands, Wasteland, and Force of Will. Personally, I haven’t seen the fakes myself to verify how accurate they are. Regardless, they offer a startling insight into the power of printers today and the efforts that someone will take to make a quick buck off of Magic copyright infringement.

A lot of people on Reddit were concerned that once the technology was perfected there would be no easy way to tell the difference between a real and fake, and thus these counterfeits would crash the secondary market for Magic singles. While I agree that this is a concern, I believe that ultimately these counterfeit cards will be of little consequence to the game at large.

  • The barrier of entry for counterfeiting Magic cards that are facsimiles of the real versions is very costly. There are several methods used already to create counterfeit cards (P9 counterfeits have always been an issue in the market). To make a good one takes a lot of trial and error, as I’m sure we’ve all seen some pretty comical fakes in our time. The printing equipment and distribution of cards are costly (though I admit, these business processes could decrease in cost over time as technology gets better,) which is evident because the vendor requires a minimum order of about $500. Only dedicated scammers will be able to purchase fakes en masse, which means that once the scammer is found out the community can be alerted to them and shut them down by having law enforcement intervene.

  • Even if counterfeits become a huge problem online, buyers will just rely more on big name stores like Starcity, Channelfireball, etc. to purchase their cards because they will be a reputable source. Lucky for Magic, collectability of the cards usually comes in second to players wanting and needing them for formats like Standard.

  • It won’t affect the sales of Magic cards at brick and mortar establishments because store owners are typically experienced at distinguishing between a fake and real card because they have seen hundreds of thousands of Magic cards over their lifetime. Buying directly from stores shouldn’t be an issue either.

  • Even the more experienced players will be able to tell the difference because there will always be little signs that indicate that the card is fake, since the printing process is so hard to replicate exactly.

  • Wizards is working on changing the way cards are designed to help counter the fakes entering the market (one reason I suspect the card frame change in M15)

Of course, there are concerns especially for older formats like Legacy and Vintage. If a card is double sleeved and sitting across from you at a table would you be able to tell it is a fake? I would elaborate a bit more on this concern, but I feel user whatmakesyouhappy at Reddit did a good job explaining this in the mtgfinance subreddit (http://www.reddit.com/r/mtgfinance/comments/1uv7ng/analysis_of_potential_impact_of_chinese/).

To summarize their analysis, the main concern is Modern, which is on the cusp of becoming eternal and still has crazy prices on more recently printed cards like Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. Again, like I discussed in my Modern section above, Wizards is all about the reprint in Modern – they can stay ahead of the counterfeits by making sure they have regular reprints which the Modern event deck all but ensures. The other formats are less affected because Standard needs must be fulfilled immediately (can’t wait 2 weeks for a card from overseas) while Legacy is more established (most players have the cards) and Vintage has always had proxies.

The counterfeits will exist, they have always existed, and Wizards and the community will ride this wave of counterfeits like every other wave before it. The security of purchasing from reputable sources, along with the effort to make high-demand cards available will help alleviate the impact of counterfeits on the market.

Wrap Up

That wraps up my introspection of last week’s news and my analysis on what it all means. I will leave you with some cards that I’ve noticed have been trending upward on the MTGPrice 50 Biggest Gainers page:

Kami of the Crescent Moon – Another Nekusar related spike? Yawn. At least this one may have Modern applications.

Reflecting Pool – Appearing across a smattering of Modern decks, Reflecting Pool has slowly been ticking up in price over the past week. Will this be the next land to break $20? Probably not, as Jund prefers not to play the land and Pool is mainly played in Tier 2 three-color-or-more builds. I don’t believe this card has enough of a profit potential to start grabbing copies.

Omnath, Locus of Mana – Did not expect this guy to appear near the top of the list. Apparently he can occasionally be found for $5 from several vendors on TCGPlayer. A popular EDH general, his demand is driven by the casual market. Expect Omanth to continue his steady rise into the future.

Damnation – I sort of saw this coming, though did not expect that it would break $30 and keep going. I guess Grixis and gifts control in Modern are becoming more popular, in addition to the casual appeal of the card. However, unless you need these for a deck, I would recommend staying away because the reprint potential here is quite high. (They did reprint Wrath of God in the latest Commander precons). The price really can’t go much higher so the potential for profits are slim at this point.

Tectonic Edge – Another expected rise. What could be the final price on Tec Edge? I think it might hit the highs of Inquisition of Kozilek , which is around $6-$7. The buy-in price is currently pretty high at $3, yet a rise to $6 is not out of the question come Modern season. Pick up your Tec Edges now before they get loony.

What is Patience Worth?

By: Cliff Daigle

With Born of the Gods spoilers on the horizon, I’d like to take a look back at some of the cards that have slowly gone down in price, and point out that I am a big advocate of patience.

For those of you who don’t want to re-read something, the short version is that if you can wait on acquiring a card, the price will almost always go down, especially for cards that have very high initial prices. As a primarily casual player, I’m more than happy to be patient on picking up cards for decks or cubes at 50% (or less) of the price than the card debuts for.

As always, if you require a card immediately, it’ll usually cost you more. There’s a different art required for determining when a card will go up, and that’s something we will discuss soon.

Let’s start with the poster children for initially high prices that almost always go down over time: Planeswalkers.

Capture

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion: Look at this graph. She was over $40 at the beginning! I personally opened two early on and sold them each for $25 to buylists. She shows up occasionally as a one-or-two-of in some control lists, and while she’s fantastic at that, she doesn’t see enough play to keep her over $20 in the long term.

Where she does see play is all over the place in casual formats, and this being her third incarnation, I imagine there are some all-Elspeth decks running around. (Chandra and Jace have her beat at four each.) She’s consistently good in token decks, board-wipe decks, etc. I like her long-term chances. I doubt she’s hit bottom yet though, and I’m going to wait till she does before picking up what I need. 

Xenagos, the Reveler

Xenagos, the Reveler: Once $30, now pushing $10, he looked like he’d slide right into G/R Domri decks with an endless stream of tokens and mana acceleration. Again, though, he’s seeing just a smidgeon of play and has fallen faster than Elspeth, since he’s best in a creature-heavy deck. Where he’s really going to shine is in casual decks that love creatures. His ability is an upgrade over Gaea’s Cradle! You can abuse/re-use Cradle easier, but this level of mana ability is a rare and wonderful thing.

Xenagos is pretty affordable at this point, and I think we’ve found his floor. It’s difficult to have a planeswalker stay cheap. Tibalt is the exception–even Chandra Ablaze has found her price climbing upwards.

Master of Waves: An interesting case. He was not very expensive, and then the blue devotion deck blew up, and now he’s creeping back downward. I really like it as a pickup in the $10 range, since I believe that the devotion deck will get some fun tools with Born of the Gods and Journey into Nyx.

As an aside, I don’t believe that devotion decks will be big in a year. I think there will be another mutlicolor block, since that seems to be the pattern set. Return to Alara? Nonetheless, I’m looking to pick up devotion cards now at a low point, waiting for it to blow up again.

Thoughtseize: Wow. This was a $70 card! The new printing was around $30 at release, and now is $15 or less. There is HEAVY speculation that this price will go up in Modern PTQ season, but I’m not convinced. The printing of this at rare means that there are swarms of copies out there, not to mention the Modern players who already have their playset.

I’m always going to preach the long game. There’s money to be made in short-term transactions, but an approach to most cards, especially at the beginning, should be “Sell now, buy later.”

Bayesian Statistics: You Should Probably Read This Article

By: Travis Allen

Over this past summer, I read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t. I mentioned it in an article previously as being an excellent book for anyone who is interested in the type of content that appears here weekly. I’m not the only one who enjoyed it either; multiple people on my Twitter feed proclaimed fascination with it upon release. Chas Andres (@chasandres) was a particularly vocal supporter, and ended up writing a piece or two over on SCG about some of the book’s content shortly after it came out.

Possibility Storm

Today I want to discuss what was to me one of the most interesting, informative, useful, world-view-altering portions of the book. The Bayesian Theorem, and specifically Bayesian interpretation, is so broadly applicable to every aspect of our lives (MTG included) that it’s difficult not to consider every day occurrences through its lens.

The theorem was developed by Thomas Bayes, a statistician and minister from the early 18th century. The work was published posthumously, and received a pretty lukewarm reception initially. It wasn’t until the topic was revisited some time later that it became considerably more popular, and is now a major component of statistics.

Here’s the basic idea: Everything is a probability. Nothing – nothing – is 100% guaranteed. New information we obtain allows us to more accurately predict what will happen, but we’ll never be completely, unquestionably certain.

Let me show you the equation in its simplest form. Don’t be terrified.

d92e290c66d423e4798a22a3690cbd31

That isn’t so bad, is it? It’s just three simple letters a few times. (The book uses a slightly different equation, but the results are the same.) I’m not even going to force you to figure it out. I’m going to point you to the Wikipedia page, and if you’re curious about the math, it will do a far better job explaining it than I could. Instead, I’m going to explain it with some examples.

This first example I stole right out of Nate’s book. Imagine a woman going through a dresser drawer, and she finds a pair of panties that aren’t hers. Her first instinct is to assume her husband is cheating on her. That’s a pretty severe leap to make without any additional evidence though, isn’t it? If this woman had no reason to suspect her husband before, is it really appropriate to condemn him already? Someone without Bayesian interpretation may do that, but not this woman. She’s going to approach this with ~math~.

In order to get some numbers to plug in, she needs to do some guesstimating. The first thing she has to put a number on is what she thought the probability of her husband cheating on her was before she found the panties. This can be difficult, especially if you’re holding incriminating evidence in your hand. But she thinks rationally, and decides she had no reason to suspect him before this. She also happens to know that 4% of married spouses cheat each year. That seems like a good number to start with. So her prior expectation of her husband cheating on her – her “prior” – is 4%.

Next, she has to figure out the probability of the underwear being there assuming her husband is actually cheating on her. Basically she says to herself “If my husband is cheating on me, what are the odds I would have found this underwear?” He would probably be trying to cover his tracks if he was having an affair, so she wouldn’t expect to always find this incriminating evidence even if he was cheating. She decides to go with a coin flip – 50%. If he’s cheating on me, there’s a 50% chance I would find evidence like this.

Finally, what are the odds that this underwear is there if he isn’t cheating? Well, the number of reasons for strange panties in your house is pretty limited, and many of them are going to be quite suspect. Maybe he bought the panties for her as a gift, or received them as some promotional giveaway whilst walking through the mall, and forgot he put them there. Perhaps they’re his (no judgments.) Regardless of why, the chances of this underwear being there if he isn’t cheating are pretty small. She decides it’s maybe a 5% chance the underwear would show up if he isn’t cheating on her.

She then takes her three numbers and runs them through the equation. Her prior expectation of his cheating, 4%, the probability of finding the underwear if he is indeed cheating, 50%, and the probability of the underwear being there if he isn’t cheating, 5%. It spits out an answer of 29%. Her new expectation of his infidelity is 29%.

In a vacuum, that seems kind of low. She finds this women’s underwear, and it’s barely more than 25% likely that he’s cheating on her? How is that possible? It stems from the fact that she really didn’t expect he was cheating on her at all beforehand. If that prior expectation was higher, perhaps because he was working late all the time or being overly protective of his phone, then the end result would have been a lot higher than 29%.

Let’s try this out with a more on-theme example. Let’s try and figure out what the chances are that True-Name Nemesis is getting banned at the next B&R update in light of a new piece of information. 

True-Name Nemesis

We’ll begin with our prior. Right now, without any additional knowledge, what do we think the odds are he’ll get banned? Well, they don’t ban cards in Legacy very often. We could just look at the total number of banned non-ante cards in the format as a percentage, but I feel that is a bit misleading in this context. People have reasonable suspicion TNN may get the axe, but nobody is eyeballing Lightning Bolt in the same way. Let’s say that right now, TNN is maybe 5% to get banned. 5% is a much greater chance than any random Legacy card, and simultaneously reflects Wizard’s proclaimed hands-off approach.

Now, we consider new information. How about this tumblr post from one Mr. Mark Rosewater? Hmm, that’s pretty damning. Look at the language he uses. “Well aware of the public’s feelings” and “will impact how we act in the future.” Make no mistake – that is severe word choice. He easily could have said something along the lines of “TNN is new and we want to give a resilient format like Legacy a chance to try to solve the problem first.” Instead, he made no attempt to indicate they are giving the format time to shake out. He acknowledged people hated it, and said they would react.

So, what’s the chances that Mark would say this if they are planning on banning the card? I would put it pretty high, say, 80%. There is really no stronger answer he could give here.

Finally, what are the odds he would say this if Wizards wasn’t planning on banning TNN? Well, Mark has been known to be purposefully misleading before. We’ll say there’s maybe a 15% chance he would use language this strong even if they weren’t thinking of banning it in the near future.

Given those three numbers – 5%, 80%, and 15% – our final probability of TNN being banned in the upcoming announcement is 22%. That may feel a little low, but remember our initial expectation of it being banned was only 5%. It jumped 17 percentage points after this announcement from Mark. That’s a big jump.

Perhaps you are more convinced Wizards is going to ban TNN, and your prior expectation without any additional information is not 5%, but 30%. With that single change in number, the odds TNN gets banned rises to 70%. That’s a pretty solid chance of him being banned.

These examples show you what happens when you utilize real numbers, but what I really want you to focus on is the underlying principle. When we discuss things that will happen in the Magic world, it’s always a probability. When someone says Genesis Wave or Threads of Disloyalty or Spellskite is going to jump in price, what they mean is “I believe, given the information I have, the probability of this card rising in price is high enough that I feel justified proclaiming it, and I’m betting that it will happen.”

Aside: Notice my use of the word “betting” there – speculation is really just informed gambling. You’re playing odds. They’re considerably better than casino odds, of course, but at the end of the day you’re putting money up against the chance of something happening. 

You may not be aware of it, but you are probably using this principle frequently when you play the game as well. Imagine you’re playing against a control deck, and the board is empty. You cast a reasonable threat that will kill your opponent in a turn or two. Your opponent lets it resolve. Well, before you cast the spell, you were pretty sure he had a counterspell in his hand. After he let this resolve though, you swing way the other way – why wouldn’t he counter it if he could? You now feel pretty confident that he doesn’t have a counter. Then you pass the turn, he plays a land and passes back. You go to declare attackers, and he Downfalls the creature. Suddenly, you have once again found yourself pretty sure he has the counterspell. The reason he didn’t counter the threat last turn was that he didn’t need to. Threads of Disloyalty

See how with each piece of information, you update your expectation of what your opponent is holding? All (decent) players do this. Recognize this, and try extending the practice into more areas of your life. Use the concept, and in situations where you feel you have good numbers, maybe even use the equation. You’ll find you rush to conclusions far less, are more equipped to plan for contingencies, and in general have more reasonable expectations of what may come.

All of the predictions in my article last week were formed based on frequent Bayesian interpretations. Every time new product is spoiled, an announcement is made (or not made,) or someone from Wizards says something, I factor that into my expectations of an event, and see how it influences the probability. I would be lying if I said I explicitly used numbers, but I definitely find myself mentally ballparking percentages all the time.

Holding to Bayesian interpretation will also help you be more objective. Say you hold some belief that you are very certain about, perhaps 99.99% sure of. A single piece of evidence to the contrary is not going to sway you far from that belief. But if you remove your personal prejudice from the issue and fairly factor in each new piece of information, you may find that your previous rock-solid belief is now considerably less so. Holding a firm belief is not foolish, but doing so in the face of bountiful evidence certainly is. Don’t be that guy. Be the guy willing to learn and grow.

There’s a lot more information about Bayesian statistics out there. If this tiny taste I’ve given you piques your interest, I highly encourage you to do some more reading. In the meantime, go forth and be probabilistic!

  • Genesis Wave spiked on Tuesday afternoon, and as I write this, the cheapest copy is $6 on TCGPlayer. If you have any, sell now. Yes, the card could end up more expensive, but it’s far more likely it doesn’t. (Probability and the Greater Fool Theory all in one!)
  • With Genesis Wave spiking, Primeval Titan is on the edge. There’s been chatter about him online lately, paired with a slow rise over the last few months. He’s going to be in any deck with Wave. It won’t take much to push him over the edge at this point. He’s not going to be $25, but $12-$18 seems pretty reasonable.
  • I don’t have any specific results to point to, but I like Threads of Disloyalty. It’s been rising for months, it’s always been floating around Modern, it only has one printing, and continues to get better in the face of awesome small creatures. I doubt it’s going to be bought out tomorrow, but I wouldn’t hesitate to grab copies where you can.

 

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