Cards on the Move!

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By: Jared Yost

This week I would like to take a look at current trends in card prices and determine why spikes or gradual increases for particular cards are occurring.

Fast Movers

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin exploded in value Friday. As of the time of this writing, it is currently sitting around $8 TCG Mid with many vendors selling at that price or higher. Before Friday, the card could easily be had for $4-$5. Players are starting to speculate on Splinter Twin because it is one of the core components of the aptly named Splinter Twin combo deck in Modern. At this point, is it still pure speculation or will the price hold?

If we look at the last Modern season, there was also a price spike on Splinter Twin. Once the Exarch/Twin deck made its debut in Modern, Splinter Twin immediately skyrocketed (like many other Modern staples, such as Karn and Fetchlands) and stayed at that price throughout most of the previous season. Since then it has slowly trickled back down to around $4. Now with the recent spike it is currently trending upwards again towards the previous highs of $10+ dollars.

It is entirely possible that without a banning Splinter Twin could see even higher prices than the previous Modern season because a reprint has yet to occur. I am going to keep a close eye on this card moving forward to see if continues to trend upwards.

 

Griselbrand

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Griselbrand

Let the rise begin! I’ve mentioned Griselbrand previously so I really hope you followed my advice and started picking them up before everyone else realized that he has true staying power, both in Modern and other eternal formats.

Even with all the hype, there could be potential downsides moving forward. Wizards can be very fickle with Modern as a format, since they can and will ban cards at any point. They also can and will print cards as needed to satisfy the increased demand. Even taking these two points into account, I still think Griselbrand is safe for a while from both of these potentialities. Expect this guy to reach Emrakul levels eventually; however you could also take advantage of this year’s Modern spike to cash out early if you felt so inclined.

 

Phyrexian Obliterator

Phyrexian Obliterator

Here we have a Modern card that has had a major price spike that currently isn’t a format staple. I believe that Phyrexian Obliterator is purely a speculative increase due to unrealized potential in Modern. This is because many people are trying to get Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to work as well in Modern as it does in Standard. With cards like Phyrexian Obliterator, I can see why.

Other cards that could pump up the power in this deck include Garza’s Assasin, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Demigod of Revenge, Geralf’s Messenger, Phyrexian Arena, and even… yes, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, that common that stomped you in limited. Hmm, there might be something to this card after all. Phyrexian Obliterator already has an awesome casual following, which has buoyed the cards price at $10-$15 until recently. However, I can’t justify jumping in at this point because the price has already started to climb as high as $17 per copy. My advice would be to be to sell or trade any copies you are sitting on because this card is too risky for me at this point.

 

Slow but Steady Gainers

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Did you know that Ajani has currently reached around $8 TCG mid and is sitting at $10 or higher retail? In the shadows, Ajani has been slowly ticking up in price since this summer when he was sitting around $4-$5 per copy.

Why the sudden uptick in price for this version of Ajani? He is only played in about 5% of the current standard decks and at an average of only two copies per deck.

My opinion are twofold – first, players are starting to brew with white aggro decks in Standard more and more, perhaps hoping that Born of the Gods will be able to make the archetype better. Second, Planeswalkers are popular casual cards that derive part of their price from their appeal to casual players.

Considering both these factors, it appears that Ajani is slowly climbing in price as the Standard tournament season is approaching. I’m not sure if Ajani will go up higher or maintain his price because right now it appears to be going up somewhat speculatively since he currently doesn’t have much of a home in many decks. However, this is certainly a card to watch out for moving forward because people are buying them whether for Standard or otherwise.

 

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mutavault

Mutavault

I believe that Mutavault will continue to be a slow, steady gainer and as we approach Standard season in January. It has been slowly gaining since the middle of October and has gone from around $14 per copy TCG mid to $22 per copy.

It is a popular manland that will continue to be a tournament staple as long as players push devotion with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Even if this strategy falls out of favor, control players will want to play Mutavault because it gives of the utility it provides in the land slot. I would be surprised if Mutavault dropped in price during the Standard PTQ season.

 

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk was down to around $14 in the middle of October and has since gone up to around $22 per copy. He has followed a similar pattern to Mutavault, which is strange to me because he is a mythic rare. Either he should be sitting at around $25+ due to tournament playability or he should be around $10 like most of the other Planeswalkers in Standard.

In Garruk’s case, I think the majority of his price is due to the role he plays in the mono-green or R/G devotion strategies. Domri Rade seems to be played side by side with Garruk when he is paired with R/G, and with mono green devotion there is no better Planeswalker than Garruk. This slow but steady gainer should maintain his price throughout Standard season. He could spike if mono green devotion somehow becomes a Tier 1 deck but I think his price will still rise anyways because he is the most powerful green Planeswalker in Standard.

 

Sliver Legion

Sliver Legion

I’m not sure a lot of people realize this but Sliver Legion’s average price is around $35! Similar to Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, that is a ton of money for a purely casual card. Not that he has spiked recently – the card is a slow, steady gainer that yields results. Last year Sliver Legion was hovering around an average price of $25 and has slowly crept up from there.

Moving forward, I can’t see how this card will ever go down in price barring a mass reprint in a Commander product or other type of deck that Wizard’s releases. Definitely keep an eye out for this card at the trade tables, because if you can pick them up for your undesirables, or if you can trade them into Modern of Legacy eternal playables, you won’t go wrong.

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Foreign Exchange

Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about foreign cards today. I understand that not everyone has a fondness for foreign cards in EDH, Legacy, or any other format. Today, though, I get to talk about one of my favorite ways to make my deck a little more unique.

101  101

I love foreign cards, for a number of reasons. They are rarer, and therefore appeal to the collector part of my nature. They are international, and that appeals to the social aspect. To me, foreign cards of any language are just a little more fun.

From a finance perspective, it’s sometimes very tough to get a good idea of the price of a foreign card. Wizards has printed cards in many languages, but it is difficult to get an accurate read on what the proportions and amounts are. It’s generally accepted that Russian and Korean have less cards printed than other languages, and that scarcity makes it hard to find copies on the secondary market.

There is no hard and fast rule for which languages have which price increase – or decrease – and it’s important to know that many buylists treat foreign cards as LESS valuable. So while you have your sweet foreign card, you won’t be making any profit on buylists.

In trade, though, everything is fair game. Be greedy, but be aware of a real danger in overpricing your foreign foil: if you ask for too much of a premium, then you risk scaring them off to the easier trade of a regular English version of that card. Be realistic, be upfront, and be willing to haggle. Plus, you’re working from a small sample size–if there has been such a transaction, be aware of it and be ready to show it to others during trading. Polluted Delta

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I’ve been through this recently. Earlier this year, a trader on deckbox reported that he had a Russian foil Doubling Season from the original Ravnica block.  We went back and forth on the value for a few days, and eventually settled on $80.  From there, the rest of the trade was easy.

When someone expresses interest in your card, the best thing to do is agree on an approximate value right away. Given that it’s also a complete luxury item, be prepared for a condition discussion that you may not encounter with run-of-the-mill nonfoil English cards.

eBay is not as helpful as vendors in this case. Vendors rarely want to leave money on the table, so the number they list a card at is often going to be on the higher end. At GP Oakland, I saw a foil Japanese Polluted Delta with an asking price of $2200. I can’t say for sure, but if you went to them and offered less in cash on the spot, you’d probably get it.

Finding foreign foils is a treasure hunt in and of itself. It’s not always easy to find foreign foils, even online. I’ve been on the hunt for a foil French Murder for a while, and as yet, have had no luck. Magiccardmarket.eu is the best resource that I’ve found, but because it’s a Eurozone site, they charge Americans and other continents extra for shipping. Big events can be helpful in locating this type of merchandise, but it’s still going to be hit-or-miss in terms of the traders and their stock.

Perhaps that’s the rub and the appeal of foreign foils to me. It’s hard to find them, so when I see one in a binder or case, I totally want to jump right on it. The thrill of the hunt can be worth more than the eventual possession.

The Keynesian Beauty Contest

Last time we delved into how to behave when you think the market is being irrational. I talked about the virtues of selling before a card peaked to maximize the number of people who would be buying as the card was rising and therefore would have more confidence in their ability to make money as the card had not yet peaked. Those buyers are the eponymous greater fools and they are an essential part of the market, both rational and irrational. I mentioned then that this theory correlated with something called the “Keynesian Beauty Contest” and I spent the last week or so thinking about that concept and how it applied to the market. Let’s dig in.

The Name of the Game

The simplest possible example, albeit not the most illustrative, was Keynes’ original example, the “beauty contest” example. Imagine there is a contest in a newspaper with several photographs of women. The rules state that you mail in a selection of one of the photographs and whichever gets the most votes will be deemed the most beautiful and every person who voted for the winner is eligible for a prize. In a scenario like this one, there is no incentive to behave irrationally, you’re simply trying to pick the winner.

This example and the subsequent theory associated with it got me thinking about the dozens of examples in the Magic market. We said it’s best to behave rationally and that’s true. However, there are multiple dimensions we need to consider and it may not be as simple as we think right off the bat.

The Different Levels

A first-level thinker will pick the girl he thinks is the most beautiful. “Snap asian girl, not close” he says, using Magic community slang because I invented him and I can make him say whatever I want. He’s a rational guy after all. Asian women appeal to him so he sends off his answer and waits for his prize to come in the mail.

A second-level thinker is going to really delve a bit deeper into the heart of the problem. The actual name of the game isn’t to pick what you like and hope your tastes correlate with the norm. That seems risky and there is too much variance in what people might think. Provided there are enough second-level thinkers they are in a better position here because they tend to behave the most rationally. I’ll explain. Say a second-level thinker also prefers the picture of the asian woman. I am beginning to regret going racial with this and I probably should have just separated them by hair color, but stay with me. The best part about this is that the second-level thinker is going to pick the girl he thinks the majority will go for, irrespective of his own personal inclinations and if that’s not wild enough, think about what will happen if there are mostly second-level thinkers in the contest. A second-level thinker will assess all of the photos, determine that the blonde, western-looking woman is closest to the traditional Western definition of beauty and make the determination that she is the one who will get the most votes even if they prefer another girl. The even more wilder part is that you could get a situation where 100% of the people personally prefer the asian, or redhead or whomever, but the first-level thinkers who pick her will lose because all of the second-level thinkers will think that the others will pick the more traditional-looking girl. They will either think that the others will think she is the most beautiful, or they will think the others will think that everyone will think that. In other words, they know the “right” answer and pick that even if it’s not the true answer.

In practice, many people are second-level thinkers provided the example is as straight-forward as the beauty contest. It could be anything, pictures of cars, flavors of ice cream; NPR’s Planet money did it with internet videos. Enough people know that the “right” answer is always “cat video” even if there is a hamster sneezing or something equally adorable. It’s not about the “true” answer, it’s about what everyone else is likely to think everyone else will think.

Adding More Levels

You can go beyond first and second-level thinking by making the problem more complex. This is better for our purposes because the way cards fit together in the vast framework of a metagame and multiple formats is more complicated than “pick the best removal spell out of a list of three spells.”

Imagine you are asked to pick a number between 1 and 100, but the number you pick isn’t just a random number because the winner is the person whose number is the closest to 2/3 of the average of what everyone says.

In this case, we need to make the first-level thinker dumber. He’ll snap 27 because it’s his favorite number.

Second-level thinkers will likely say 2/3 of 50. They’ll reason that everyone else is a moron, guessing randomly. The random distribution should, in theory, average out to 50 and therefore 2/3 of 50 is the right answer.

Third-level thinkers will reason that everyone else is likely a second-level thinker and therefore the answer will be 2/3 of 2/3 of 50. If you think everyone else is a third-level thinker, maybe you want to go 2/3 of 2/3 of 2/3 of 50. Maybe not.

First Level Magic

A Commander deck was printed with a card in it that sells for more than the total cost of the deck. Obviously you go buy Mind Seize and crack it to sell True-Name Nemesis for value. You’ll spend $30 and make $5-$10 on top of recouping the initial $30 and have 99 free cards. Repeat Ad Nauseum. Might I suggest that that’s first-level thinking?

If you want to think second-level and above (if there is a third level to this example) you need to imagine that everyone is going to be cracking Mind Seizes and selling the Nemeses. What can you do to capitalize on a market behaving this way? For starters, they will undervalue the other 99 cards they get. Some people are doing this to get free cards, most just want the Hamilton that comes from the quick flip. This behavior is going to put downward price pressure on the value of Sol Ring and Baleful Strix for starters. Second-level thinking involves picking up cheap Sol Rings from people who are undervaluing them. We’ve seen the price of Sol Ring dip and rebound before, there’s no reason to think it won’t again, even with all of the copies hitting the market. Since the decks are only getting reprinted at the rate that the worst-selling deck needs reprinting, there won’t be infinite Sol Rings injected into the market. The price will recover, and you’ll be glad you bought very cheap. The same can be said of Strix which sees more and more play every day. Buying cards that are likely to be undervalued is a good way to capitalize on a market with a lot of first-level behavior going on.

A first-level thinker will often speculate on a card based on their own interpretation of its power level. “I think Biovisionary’s effect is powerful” is a good example. Sure, you might like it, but there’s no money in hitching your wagon to Biovisionary, the asian woman of card picks. Here’s the painful part for me; I have been guilty of first-level fallacies myself and a lot of us still are because we don’t realize that we’re thinking on such a primary level. You want to know the battle cry of the first-level thinker? You won’t like this, I didn’t.

“This has been insane in our testing”

I get teased for throwing my support behind the card Seance even though I made some money on that card. I fell victim to the “this is insane in our testing” mentality and I thought that all I needed to do was tell enough people how good it was and they’d eventually test it and come to the same conclusion. I was thinking about how much I liked the picture of a Seance and not thinking about how everyone else was going to pick something else. Second-level thinking would have been noticing that Brad Nelson had brewed a deck that was nearly identical to ours but ran 0 Seance and was winning without it. Irrespective of how much that card improved the mirror, the winner of the contest was going to be Brad Nelson’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl next door, and thinking different was, well, first-level.

Finally, the MODO “crash” when a lot of prices tanked and people threatened to quit over the temporary suspension of daily events, a lot of first-level thinkers saw opportunity. With prices tanking, there was a chance to buy low and sell high later. The best part about this example was the conclusion that second-level thinkers came to. The real beauty here is that first-level thinkers aren’t always wrong, what they are is useful.

A second-level thinker saw that opportunity and reasoned that a lot of people were going to buy into MODO for the sake of potential profit. Regardless of MODO continuing to be a good gaming community, Redemption is coming up and was unlikely to be affected by the downtime. Second-level thinkers reasoned that all the first-level thinkers buying in for profit were going to stabilize prices. This made it safe to buy in on Theros block staples that would be essential come rotation and speculate on booster packs because they would be more scarce with fewer being won as prizes in events.

Heck, third-level thinkers probably imagined some of the second-level thinkers were going to stabilize booster pack prices despite them tanking initially, making early booster investment a safe bet.

Wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly what happened.

How to Be Going Forward

If you can stay away from some of the pitfalls that beset the first-level thinker and reason what the herd behavior is going to do to the market, you can stay ahead of it and really make some good decisions. Remember, there’s no money in being average. Not when 2/3 of average is the name of the game.

Grab Bag #1

Nothing has really struck me this week as a topic I want to devote an entire article to, but I’ve got a few small ideas floating around and some short-form questions on Twitter to answer. So today is the first in what will likely be an infrequently recurring series that are a collection of mostly-disparate topics.

 

True-Name Nemesis

As was expected, TNN put up solid results at Grand Prix DC this weekend. He was all over the winning grinder lists and X-0 day one records, with 9 copies in the Top 8 and 3 in Owen’s winning list. Not surprisingly, his price has now reached a comfortable $40. Remember last week when he was ~$33 and I told you not to sell until after DC? Hey, well look at that! True-Name Nemesis

He’s absolutely the real deal, so don’t expect him to fade away anytime soon. Demand from Legacy players will persist, and he’s a three-of or four-of type of card, which helps significantly. I doubt he gets below $30 anytime before a second printing, and I would guess $35 is a soft floor. Copies are still flowing from people that snatched up cheap decks at Target which will keep him from inflating too much in the coming weeks, but after a few months there will be a far less liquid supply. At that point, his price will begin to rise more reliably once everyone that wanted to sell theirs has. If you want to profit, feel free to sell, as his price may slip a bit in the short term. Don’t feel bad about holding on though, especially if you may actually play with him, as I don’t believe we’ve reached his ceiling yet. A limited-run card that’s a four-of in Legacy with tremendous casual appeal (protection from players is a really nifty ability) is a conflux of valuable factors.

 

Magic the Gathering Offline

The MTGO partial shutdown will have far reaching ramifications that will take months to unfold and see the full implications of. I will try my best to make a guess at what the immediate impact will be though.

Capture

That tweet is showing the prices to complete a full set (1x) on MTGO before and after the announcement. At this point, there has been a 10-20% drop in prices on Theros and RTR block cards. Players apparently don’t expect premier constructed events to be returning in a week or two, which is why prices are taking such a hit. If the expectation was that events will only be gone for a few weeks, then prices wouldn’t have seen much of an impact. But with the announcement about how long of a downtime to expect not being promised until sometime before the end of the year, it’s safe to assume that this is a several month – or, Worth forbid, a several year – project.

With a significant drop in value of cards online, as well as the upcoming Standard PTQ season in meatspace, we may see an above-average amount of redemptions occurring. This means a greater number of Standard cards becoming available in paper, suppressing card values in the real world by some amount. I would especially expect a greater supply of RTR block cards relative to Theros, as Theros will remain relevant beyond the summer, while RTR mostly will not. It’s also worth noting that apparently cards for Modern, Legacy, etc have not dropped much/at all in value, meaning players don’t expect this to be the death of MTGO, but rather a medium-term disruption in service. They may not know what Standard format we’ll be in when dailies return, but they know Modern ones won’t have changed much.

As per how much redemption will occur, we really don’t know, and Wizards won’t be in a rush to tell us either. I don’t expect it to have a severe effect. A (very, very) rough guesstimate is that the extra redemptions may account for a percentage point or two of additional product in the real world, but I wouldn’t fault a knowledgeable party for expecting the impact to be ten times that. It’s just very difficult to get a bead on it.

An interesting side effect of all of this is that RTR block cards may hold their value quite well on MTGO going long. If a large percentage of RTR cards get taken out of MTGO during this period, in two years there will be a lot less digital Supreme Verdicts, Abrupt Decays, and Deathrite Shamans running around.

 

What Happened with FTV:Twenty?

When FTV:20 was announced, preorders were in the ~$150-250 range. That was typical for a new FTV. Hype was high, as this FTV had five extra cards compared to previous years, as well as an air of excitement surrounding it, as players were eager to see what the 20th anniversary of Magic would bring. We hadn’t seen much marking this year as a celebration, so players were hoping FTV:20 would be something special.

I don’t recall at which event Jace was spoiled, but I seem to remember he was among the first three cards. Imagine the excitement at the time – three cards into twenty, and Jace is in there?! Preorders skyrocketed to $450. Who cares what else is in the other 17 cards? They can’t all be bad, and Jace! Don’t you understand? JACE! JAAAAACE! JAAAAAASGghghhhhhhh Fyndhorn Elves

Then the other 17 cards trickled in, and whoops, turns out they’re all boring. Which other cards were people supposed to get excited about? Kessig Wolf Run, a $2 land that was just in Standard? Or perhaps Char, which approximately zero people have cast in 2013? The third printing of Cruel Ultimatum not doing it for you? Well, check out Dark Ritual! Sure, it’s had roughly 80 printings, was foil twice, and this is terrible art, but DARK RITUAL! Guys? Where are you all going?

FTV:20 preorders hit $450 on a swirling mixture of hype, expectations, and the thrill of the unknown. Once the veil was parted, all of that dissipated and we were left with Jace and 19 other cards that were mostly entirely unexciting. By the time FTV:20 finally hit shelves, it was maybe $150. Today, sealed copies can be had for ~$125 on eBay, and Jace:20 is about $90, $10 less than WWK Jace.

What’s going to happen with Jace in the long term? Well, probably not a lot. His peak came and went this past summer. The amount of play he is seeing hasn’t increased at all, he’s absolutely not getting unbanned in Modern, and a slew of new copies were added to the market for anyone that really wanted them. Pack foils will stay absurd as a collector’s item, but that’s about it.

 

What Standard playsets should I pick up now?

I can’t tell you every Standard card you should own today, but I can give you a few pointers.

master

Master of Waves

Our new Merfolk overlord has proven he’s here to stay. Variants of blue devotion continue to put up strong results week after week in Standard, he’s revitalized merfolk in Modern, and I’ve even seen him pop up in Legacy. Despite all of this, he’s snuck down to ~$12, and I spy a few retail copies for under $10. I would not hesitate to trade for this guy, and don’t be afraid to pick up more than just a playset. His floor can’t be much lower than $7 or $8, and his ceiling is in the ballpark of $20-$25.

 

Chandra, Pyromaster

Chandra, Pyromaster

Immediately after release Chandra burned all the heretics at the stake, but since then has been relatively quiet. Devotion decks and various forms of control have taken the spotlight, leaving Chandra without much to do. She’s now around $20-25, nearly half of what she once was.

I’m optimistic about Chandra’s future. Keep in mind that she’s got two red symbols in her mana cost, which is good for Nykthos fans. That middle ability also plays well with Nykthos, as generating big mana is a lot easier than it used to be. We certainly haven’t seen the last of her.

Pick up a playset, but don’t go much deeper than that. While $20 is close to her floor, breaking $30 again will be very tough. She’s also as close to a guaranteed reprint in M15 as a card could be at this stage (along with Garruk), so you don’t want to end up too deep when the inevitable price drop comes. Pick up your four ahead of PTQ season, but remember that any you keep past March will become a liability.

 

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Have you figured out this land is legit as hell yet? Because it is. It is legit as hell. Wizards has been telling us for years that they want us to play on the board, not on the stack, and Nykthos pays you hard for doing such. There are plenty of adorable combos floating around out there that haven’t broken into the mainstream yet either, meaning there is a lot of untapped (heh) potential in the card. Just this week MTGO personality Bing Luke (@prolepsis9) linked an event with Nykthos in Modern doing dirty business with Genesis Wave, which I can absolutely get behind. MTGPrice is showing the card around $10, and there are a few purchasable copies out there for under $9. Any that you can pick up in trade under $10 should be golden. Nykthos feels like a $15-$20 card to me.

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