Bursting the Bubble

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In the last few months, Magic: the Gathering card prices, especially for anything seeing play in Modern, have gone up and up and up.

These have not been steady increases over time, these have been spikes over the course of a few days. The examples are many and varied. Zendikar Fetchlands are now worth more than most of their color counterpart original dual lands!

I’m giving serious thought to this being a bubble of unsustainable growth.

Wizards of the Coast, in its shareholder meetings, has referred to Magic’s growth at between 20% and 25% yearly for the past four years. Each of the big fall sets has broken sales records, and while we don’t get specific numbers of packs/boxes sold, we can look at tournament attendance and see how many more people are participating than ever. 

Can this go on? There are individuals who make a living buying and selling Magic cards. These aren’t even commodities of value, these are collectibles that are used in a game. Counterfeiting hasn’t precisely caught up but it’s a real threat. I’m worried that even without this game becoming a public fad, there’s a real chance that we’re reaching saturation.

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We have attempts at market manipulation. The subreddit for mtgfinance is cracking down on such behavior. TCGPlayer has long been influenced by a ‘race to the bottom’ price philosophy. In the current state of things, one site moving their price means that lots of others jump in as imitations. You may not agree with Starcity’s prices, but when they increase their sale price, others have followed suit before long.

We have more places to play and more formats to play. We have amazing choices for customizing our accessories and languages to play in. I don’t think that it’s all going to come crashing down, but I’m concerned enough that I feel it’s time to sell some stock. I’m cashing out some of my EDH decks, because some of the cards have gone high enough that I’d rather have the cash, instead of a deck I only play once every few months.

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The casual formats have seen increases in value, but it’s Modern that has me most worried.

Wizards has more of an interest in keeping Modern healthy than it does Legacy or Vintage. Modern is a format that will not supplant Standard, but instead, they will work together. When your sweet cards are no longer Standard-legal, you’ll try to make them work in Modern. Wizards has put a lot of effort into this format, making it accessible to a range of strategies, and they use the banlist with an eye towards the health of the format.

What is not healthy for the format is the cost, and that cost has gone up much higher, much faster than I believe they anticipated. I’ve talked about reprints before, and with the recent price explosions, Wizards has to be thinking about reprinting lots of things. Chronicles was too much; Modern Masters was not enough. It’s anyone’s guess how long it will take to get these reprints on the market, but there is a consensus of thought that it will happen eventually.

So I’m selling some of my cards. I am cashing in on some enormous percentages. I have a Gaea’s Cradle that I got in 2011 for $60 in trade. I have a Bitterblossom left over that I got for $20. I have a lot of $10-$20 cards that I got for significantly less, and I’m moving out of them.

I’m not trying to cause a panic. I’m stating my opinion that casual players aren’t going to be able to hang with these decidedly not-casual prices. Just in the past couple of years, the cost associated with building a high-level Cube or foiling out a deck has gone up tremendously as more people chase that same goal.

I’m advocating that if you have put a lot of money (or at least, a lot of energy that has become monetary value) into a set of cards, you should think about how much you could get for it. How often do you play with your all-foil Cube? Would you rather have a new (used) car? Would you prefer to use that money as the security deposit and first month’s rent on a new place to live? Perhaps it’s enough to pay the down payment on a mortgage.

We want you to maximize the return you get on playing Magic. We want you to gain the most value possible.

It’s time to think about what that value can get you.

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Birth(ing) of a Cycle

By: Camden Clark

Let’s talk about the previous GP from a long term perspective.

All of the short term gains are mostly over. Some cards will still see a rise, but it’s too small to have a large effect. The best returns will be over the next few months.

But first, let’s do a quick retrospective for educational purposes on the cards I expected to see a riseHere’s the quite bountiful returns:

Birthing Pod

Wow! Birthing Pod rose by almost threefold. To me, this seemed like a no brainer. I shilled this one pretty hard in the article. There has been a tremendous response from the community towards this card and I’m glad I could help at least a few people make a whole bunch of money.

I don’t think it’s done rising, or that this is a ceiling. Pod was a HUGE part of the T8. Wait for activity to die down on this one and people sell out of their copies. If there is a price dip, move in.

Let’s take a look at another one:

Restoration Angel

This saw some impressive gains. It’s not done. There isn’t a Modern GP for a while. As people move into the format, they will see Kiki-Pod that placed first in the GP. That’s the reference point for where we go into PTQ season in the summer.

I’m a strong hold on these if you already have positions. We will see 20 dollars on this one easily by the summer.

Aside from bragging, this GP has solidified that WOTC will do anything to make this format survive. They have put ENDLESS effort into moulding this to have a variety of decks for every playstyle: a new Legacy.

This should give you more confidence in card values. Cards that were really good in standard but not good enough for Legacy (Birthing Pod) can shine in this format. Scars block and Innistrad block set a new precedent for a new easy to invest in cycle of card values.

What cycle is that?

Cards that rotate out of standard go WAY down in value as the players of standard start trying to sell out of the format before rotation.

Unfortunately, there is little data from Scars block. However, if you remember, cards like Primeval Titan and Birthing Pod experienced significant decreases right after their rotation. This was the time to pick them up, as the eventually gained a lot of ground and rose tremendously with the popularity of Modern.

However, data is much more accessible for this trend after Innistrad block.

The graph of Geist of Saint Traft is very telling. There were few copies of this card at the GP (or the pro tour for that matter). However, the card was a standard powerhouse. It was extremely powerful. Eventually, its day came, and the price grew to obscene heights.

How about lands?

Sulfur Falls experienced the same near-doubling situation. Even though the enemy colored buddy lands aren’t exceptionally popular in modern, they have seen a dramatic increase in price. There is SO much potential in these sets come rotation. You have to be looking towards this for your goals in the near future.

What does this have to do with the GP and long term?

It’s the most important evaluation when looking at how past events reveal probable trends. Pay attention to the cards that are good in RTR block and move in on them once rotation happens.

There’s a bigger lesson here.

Magic is inherently a cyclical game. With standard causing the inevitable incline and decline in prices of new cards, it’s easy to predict when cards are going to lose value and gain value.

One finance cycle that is easy to profit off of is where cards of the current block will lose value going into rotation, even though they aren’t rotating. Cards that may have seen little play will see more play as powerful analogues rotate. This has been a common theme throughout every standard block and is quite well documented.

However, there is a new finance cycle that is easy to predict. That’s the one I just described.

Modern creates a new home for otherwise useless standard staples. They find a home in decks with powerful synergies. With Modern, WOTC created this new home and fixed the problems with extended that were extremely damaging to that format. It offered incentive for players to pull the cards out of their binders again and play.

GP Richmond should give any investor faith in this format. The largest constructed event of all time is a major indicator of the power of this format and the amount of people who want to play it.

How do you invest in this cycle?

It is quite simple.

Pay attention to when Modern season begins and ends.

We are in the middle of new opportunities. There are quite a few staples of the format that simply have not gone up enough. As we near the summer, PTQ season for “Huey” will start ramping up. More and more cards will see major rises until there are few opportunities left.

You as a player have to look for the opportunities that no one else has looked for. I can guide you in the general direction where opportunities lie, but you ultimately have to use your sense as a player to determine whether a card is a good investment or not.

That is what the best people do.

Otherwise, you will get caught up in hype and not make much money. You have to see where the player’s money is, not just the speculator’s. It is clear to me when a card will be difficult to sell in large volume and is just a hyped card. It should be clear to you too based on your sense as a player.

Predicting Modern seasons also helps for saving money as a player too. It is easy to forget that Modern PTQ season creeps and creeps until cards are double the price they were a month ago. If you are planning to play in a PTQ, you should get in NOW. Prices have already increased to hilariously unseen heights. Who knows what the going price for a Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil, or Marsh Flats could be in 3 months. I don’t want to find out. I want to move in if I plan on playing and secure the staples for my playstyle.

Which cards am I targeting?

Slaughter Pact

(Full disclosure: I have a dozen copies of this card)

This card showed up in 4 decks’ sideboards at the GP. It provides another kill spell against the Twin and other combo decks to hate out a combo with no mana. I see this card as a bit of a no-brainer. I think Twin and Pod are undoubtedly going to be two major decks going into the PTQ season. Get in on these sideboard cards that have so far seen relatively little movement.

Raging Ravine

For a card as versatile is this, it has seen little price movement compared to Celestial Colonnade. A little birdie (the MTGPrice inventory data) told me that sets of this have been disappearing from retailers. Shameless (but honest) plug: I can’t tell you how valuable the inventory data has been to speculating. A card like Raging Ravine might never have appeared on my radar. When I got my inventory update a few days ago, I see that copies of Raging Ravine have been being bought out.

Besides this data, I also think this is a good pick due to the popularity of Celestial Colonnade. All manlands will see a major increase due to their versatility and playability. Mark my words.

Electrolyze

This is a 2 dollar card and is in so many different UR decks. I can’t see this one not seeing a major price increase. It is so good against the field. Let’s list the creatures it can kill in Modern:

Delver of Secrets, Pestermite, Eternal Witness, Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Viscera Seer, Melira, Orzhov Pontiff, Kiki-Jiki, Vendilion Clique, Signal Pest, Steel Overseer

Do we get the point now?

Great.

That about does it for this article. However, I’d like to bounce an idea off of everyone. I’d like to do a twitch stream where I play magic poorly and we can have a discussion with the MTGFinance community. Does that sound like a good idea? Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/camdenclarkmtg if you’d be interested in something like this.

Thanks for reading! What modern cards are you targeting?

GP Richmond, City of Pod People

By: Travis Allen

The madness has temporarily abated now that GP Richmond is over and vendors aren’t selling out of every modern-border card they own. There’s one more Modern Grand Prix in early May before we hit the PTQ season about which Mark Rosewater was overheard saying “[it will] finally kill Magic once and for all.”

Last week I talked about why the Modern format looks as it does and what to expect out of it between now and the end of the season. Today I’ll dig a little deeper, looking at Richmond results and specific cards to have on your radar.

Richmond

The Top 8 of Richmond was, in a word, “boringashell.” There were twenty copies of Birthing Pod, with a full 62% of decks running the full set, split 4-1 between Melira Pod and Kiki-Pod. The decks overall are reasonably similar from our perspective. The manabases are a bit different, and a few 1-ofs are as well, but overall they play a very similar game. Is there anything unmined here?

Fire-Lit Thicket is hanging around $10 and could climb upwards of maybe $20 if Kiki-Pod really catches on, but I expect Melira to continue to be the dominant flavor, which runs none. Gavony Township is in both lists and if it wasn’t printed as recently as Innistrad it would be a $15 card. It looks like it’s made it up to over $4 at this point and I’d say $7-$9 is probably a real ceiling between now and August. Grove of the Burnwillows holds steady at $40, having seen no real gain on the weekend. Misty Rainforest is obscene by now, joining Scalding Tarn, but we all already knew that. Razorverge Thicket is obstinately still $5-$6. I would guess we’ll see prices closer to $10 before the season is over. 

In the creature base across both decks, it seems like there’s still some room for growth on Restoration Angel. Kiki-Pod plays all four, Melira Pod plays at least one, and she’s also in plenty of other lists. She’s already risen to about $9, but I could definitely see her pushing $15 in the near future. At the very least she’s a safe pick-up in trade at that number. Thrun over on the Melira side got a little love this weekend and made it to $10 and I definitely see possible growth beyond that. He’s been close to $20 in the past and he could get there again. He serves the beats against both combo and control, surviving through everything. If midrange manages to drag itself back into the metagame, Thrun definitely has a role.

Moving on to the other half of the Top 8, Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus and Glimmervoid could both grow a bit, but I doubt we’ll see any doubling of prices. Arcbound Ravager is about $15 on the low end, with $20+ quite possible. Affinity has been around long enough that people are packing sideboard hate and it’s still winning, so there’s no question as to its resilience.

Oh hey, did you know Steel Overseer is an $11 card? Yeah, neither did I until I sat down to write this. Mox Opal is a good $55, but I still don’t like it as anything but a soft hold into a hard sell.

Moving out of the Top 8, Tarmo-Twin shows up again and has been prevalent on MTGO as well. Both Hinterland Harbor and Sulfur Falls seem capable of rising a few bucks, but I wouldn’t be shoveling money into them. Remand is currently experiencing a correction, so don’t buy in here. The Jace vs Vraska duel deck has one along with plenty of other cards people will want. Serum Visions is a $5 common, so go ahead and make sure you’ve dug all those out of your boxes. Sword of Feast and Famine in the sideboard is only a little over $20, which feels low to me. There’s only a single printing and it’s possibly the best sword overall at this point. It’s playable in Modern, Legacy, Cube, EDH, and kitchen tables, so the demand is clearly there. I see no reason to believe this won’t be $30 this year without a reprint.

Spellskite continued to be basically everywhere, same as it was last season. The “wait that doesn’t have defender?” horror is pushing $20 now, and given that it is the 15th most played card in Modern and 2nd most played creature (behind only Snapcaster Mage,) we’re still on a train to twenty-five dollarsville with $30 a real possibility. 

Scapeshift is somehow nearly as expensive as Splinter Twin despite just being less desirable by nearly every metric. This tells me either one is underpriced or one is overpriced. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both, but if it’s going to break one way it’s more likely Twin is going up. Boseiju is running real low on available copies and a buyout could send this to $20+. I’m not saying it will happen, but if you don’t have a set now I’d suggest grabbing them. Having only been printed in Kamigawa and an FTV, the print run on this rare is nearly as low as you can get for a Modern-legal card. It’s usually only a sideboard card, but it’s an important one, and dedicated combo decks value it highly as there is basically nothing that can take its place.

Phyrexian Obliterator has finally made a real debut between Valencia and Richmond, a meager five months after his spike. I’ve heard that people disliked the card though, and a deck like GB or GBX has plenty they can do with the slot. I doubt we’ll see any rising prices here unless someone really breaks a Mono-Black list that we haven’t seen yet. Twilight Mire is nearly $20 so there’s some precedent for the idea that Fire-Lit Thicket could get there. Abrupt Decay is still rising in price as a non-foil, which is pretty amazing for a Standard rare. I’d be vacuuming these up everywhere you can find them. We’re leaving the Standard PTQ season so you may be able to grab them for cheaper and they’ve got nowhere to go but up. It’s going to be a long mainstay of both Modern and Legacy. Liliana has been a bit sluggish lately but that may not last forever. If Thoughtseize sneaks back into the format she’ll likely be found alongside it. The flipside of that is that midrange had a pretty lackluster performance at two major events in a row. It may take some time before those attrition-heavy decks finally find their role in a post-Deathrite world. In the meantime, she’s a pretty ripe candidate for an auxiliary product reprint. Maybe she’ll headline FTV:Annihilation? She does do a pretty darn good job of annihilating your hand, board, hopes, and dreams.

Soft Sells in a Hard Format

The last Banned and Restricted list did a lot to the format, and the “lot” and I’m referring to is basically “add more combo” to a format that was already close to saturated. Adding Wild Nacatl just heated the whole metagame up, allowing combo to supersaturate. (That one is for all you chemists out there. Enjoy it, because everyone else, including me, hated it.) Pod has had a target on its head since all the consistent turn two and three win decks were rooted out, and the last two events have only provided more evidence that it may be this format’s Survival.

I want to be clear here – I’m not banging the war drums to get Pod banned. However I would be remiss if I didn’t call the possibility of such to your attention. There is another announcement roughly a month before the PTQ season starts and Wizards may decide they don’t want players slogging through round after round of epidural-free births. As good Bayesians, we need to recognize that such a thing could happen and make decisions based on our projected probability of that outcome along with our EV equations. 

No, I’m not going to do all the math. Basically, we need to ask ourselves how much risk we’re willing to shoulder based on how likely we think Pod will get axed, and what the upside and downside of both outcomes are. I am personally considering Pod a soft sell. I’m not firesaling, but the B&R change happens before the Minneapolis GP, which means WOTC has to use the information from the last two events along with whatever is happening on MTGO, for whatever that is worth.

I can’t really blame anyone for whatever they decide here. On the one hand, if it isn’t banned, we could see $25-$35 in June. If it is banned, prices won’t deflate immediately but demand sure as hell will. You’ll be lucky to get $7 or $8 each. The more prudent among us will remind you of the old investing adage “nobody ever went broke making a profit.” Locking in your cash now is safe and reliable, a choice that is not unwise. I’m willing to let my (non-foil) ones go for now, and if they see significant rises in June I’m not going to feel bad about it. If you choose to hold that is perfectly defensible as well.

I have a similar outlook on Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames, except only stronger. Wizards does not want Storm to be a particularly good deck in their format, and the lack of Thoughtseize and Liliana has only made it better. Is it too good? No, probably not. Does that matter? No, probably not. Both cards just saw a spike, and spiking even harder again is unlikely. Why hold them when the upside is limited and the downside is large? I’m getting rid of mine and being happy with what I make on them. 

There are other cards I’m a little more eager to ditch. Azusa is a fine sell since the deck didn’t perform and her price is quite high. I’d take $4 for my Amulets if I could get it as well, but it looks like it’s close to the floor again already so don’t fire sale here. Ad Nauseam is similarly a fine card to ship. Like many of the cards in this section, the upside is minimal compared to a large downside. Runed Halo and Phyrexian Unlife definitely fall into this camp as well. Look at Runed Halo on TCGPlayer right now – nearly $15. There are copies of Birthing Pod for only $1 more. Do you really think Runed Halo is worth as much as Birthing Pod? Phyrexian Unlife, while not nearly as expensive, is fine to release into the wild.

Basically, any cards in that same general category are hard sells if they spike. Things like Runed Halo or Amulet of Vigor are 95% of the time not putting up the consistent results needed to maintain their price tags. It’s the spikes on staples, Like Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique that are real and sustainable.

Anything that I haven’t gotten into is probably a hold. Downsides on staples are minimal at worst, and potential upsides are large. If a single GP can generate this type of demand, what will a sustained three-month PTQ season do?

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