Many of you know I’m not a huge fan of foils when I give spec advice because I think they’re harder to move than people imagine, have a higher buy-in price and there are fewer copies so fewer people can take advantage of my advice. I also consider buying foils as a way to mitigate reprint risk to be kind of intellectually lazy and I tend to avoid calling foils as a rule unless I have a very specific card I really like, such as Arcane Denial or Dramatic Reversal. However, today I’m going to get into some foils and we’re all probably going to make money so it’s probably fine if everyone but me feels good about that. Let’s talk about why I want to talk about foils at all, first.
A new set came out and when that happens, I look at the new commanders as they start to get popular and try to predict what’s going to go up as a result of those cards getting bought and adopted. The longer after the release weekend we get, the less and less meat there is left on the bone. That’s fine because there is still some time, but I think we’ve had even more time to address something that’s readily becoming very obvious and we still haven’t.
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Sometimes it can seem that the world of Magic: The Gathering is running at a thousand miles an hour, and it’s felt a bit like that recently. Over the weekend we had coverage of Worlds going on, alongside a new Secret Lair drop (I’m a big fan of this one) and the release of the Standard Challenger decklists to consider – all in the space of a couple of days. Before that we had two consecutive weekends of Pioneer PTs, more Secret Lairs and Unsanctioned previews revealed (and I’m gonna be needing some of those full art basics).
In today’s article I want to take a step back and consider some cards slightly outside of the fast-moving metagames of Standard and Pioneer, looking at some longer timelines and more stable entry points – a good thing if you don’t want to be spending all your time trying to keep up with MTG finance.
Dryad of the Ilysian Grove (EA)
Price today: $12 Possible price: $20
Modern is being absolutely dominated by Amulet Titan at the moment. We haven’t had a Modern Grand Prix in a little over a month now, but if we take a look at the SCG Team Open results from the past two weekends, Amulet Titan took four of the top eight slots at Philadelphia and another three at Richmond the previous week, in addition to consistent MTGO results. Since the introduction of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove to the deck, it’s moved the archetype away from trying to set up lethal through a huge double-striking Primeval Titan and pivoted towards being a dual Amulet and Valakut build.
The Titan decks we’re seeing now are effectively a combination of the older Titan Shift decks (often winning by casting Scapeshift) and the more classic Amulet Titan versions that used Slayers’ Stronghold and Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion to kill. Dryad is playing multiple roles in the new decks, enabling extra land drops each turn as well as being a Prismatic Omen on a stick, which means that the deck doesn’t need to play any actual mountains to enable Valakut kills pretty quickly. It’s also just a 3 mana 2/4 that can block really well.
When a Modern deck is as prolific and powerful as Amulet Titan is currently, we do need to take into consideration a potential ban. If the archetype keeps putting up results like this then a ban could be on the table, but if I’m going to be honest I’m not sure what the ban would be. Wizards have shied away from banning Prime Time in the past, choosing to axe Summer Bloom instead so that the archetype isn’t completely shut down. We could see this happen again if they choose to ban something like Azusa or Valakut, most likely leaving the deck alive but just less powerful.
However, even if we see something banned from the archetype, this is a card that’s already been adopted into almost 2000 EDH decks according to EDHREC, making it the most popular card from Theros Beyond Death to make it into the 99. I imagine that it’ll be a staple of multicoloured decks ad infinitum – it fixes mana and ramps at the same time. Extended art copies of Dryad are starting at around $12 on TCG at the moment, not too far above the regular copies at $8. Even if we do see an Amulet Titan piece banned in Modern, I don’t think Dryad’s time will be done in that format, and so I can see these EA copies making it above $20 within the next 12-18 months.
Drown in the Loch (Foil)
Price today: $3 Possible price: $8
Drown in the Loch is a very flexible spell that’s currently seeing a reasonable amount of play across Pioneer and Modern, and even showing up in Legacy too. Certainly in Modern with the abundance of fetchlands, Drown is a card that’s going to be turned on a large proportion of the time, and it’s most popular in Death’s Shadow and Whirza decks. Shadow decks have, by and large, remained fairly consistent in construction for a while now, occasionally switching up some of the spells they play depending on the metagame. Whirza decks have gone through another evolution since the banning of Oko, and for the most part slimmed down to be just Dimir colours, still playing the Thopter Foundry / Sword of the Meek combo but otherwise just being a solid midrange deck.
Over in Pioneer, Drown in the Loch has become a staple in Dimir Inverter. Most decks will only be playing 2-3 copies but the card is always there, and I think Inverter will stay sitting at tier one for the foreseeable future. Not that Legacy moves cards prices too much any more, but Drown is also becoming a relative staple in Grixis / four colour control decks in that format.
This isn’t a card that’s going to jump overnight, but I think if you stash a few of these foils away you’ll be pleasantly surprised 12-18 months down the line. If we take a look at Mystical Dispute, an uncommon from the same set, foils are sitting at around $7.50. It is being played more than Drown at the moment, but it shows that Drown does have the potential to get up there too.
Price today: €6 ($6.50) Possible price: $20
This pick is a slightly different one to normal: it’s an arbitrage pick. Generally speaking, the market for EDH-focused cards in Europe lags behind the market in the States, as EDH isn’t nearly as big or widely played in the EU as it is in the US. This often creates excellent arbitrage opportunities to buy cards in Europe and sell/buylist in the States, and today I’d like to highlight a particularly good opportunity that exists at the moment.
Copies of Nyxbloom Ancient are currently available on Magic Cardmarket (effectively the European version of TCGPlayer) for €6 (around $6.50), and if we look at the lowest price on TCG, it’s almost $12. That’s a huge gap, and even if we take a look at CardKingdom buylist, that’s sat at $7 cash / $9.10 credit for your bog-standard version. This is a super powerful card that’s going to be a forever staple in green decks, so not one I’d like to miss out on.
Making moves like this does require a certain amount of setup. Cardmarket doesn’t allow shipping to the US; you need an address in Europe, so the best thing to do is to find an arbitrage partner residing in the EU that you can arrange to bounce shipping off. If you’re based in Europe (like myself), then you can ship directly to US buylists or find yourself an overseas partner to sell cards on TCGPlayer for you.
Another way to source cards from the EU (shill incoming) is to become a member of the MTGPrice Protrader service, and get yourself into the Discord server. That way you can get in on the group buys that offer EU pricing on cards from the latest sets, and take advantage of arbitrage opportunities like this.
I might write a full article on cross-border arbitrage at some point, but for now I’ll drop some of the best opportunities into my regular articles. If you’ve got any questions, hit me up in the comments, on my Twitter or in the Protrader Discord!
David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.
We have the decklists for the Mythic Championship XXVI 2020, and it’s wonderful to have such a concise list of what’s good in the eyes of the pros. Standard is not solved but there are clear tiers of decks, and it’s not a rock-paper-scissors sort of arrangement.
Let’s take a look at the archetypes and the potential for growth in each.
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Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.
Editor’s note: The current state of the Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) economy is truly unique in the world of video gaming. Fundamentally unchanged for over a decade, interacting with this aged software is almost certainly jarring for players coming from modern gaming platforms like Hearthstone, Gwent or Magic: Arena. One of the more glaring oddities is the ability to actually buy and sell cards on the platform from other parties that are not Hasbro owned or controlled. Perhaps even more odd is the continuing dominance of the platform’s digital marketplace by 3rd party bots that use price adjustment algorithms and a narrow spread to mine player sales and purchases for real world money. Tickets are still a relatively high value in-game currency worth over .9 USD most days, and they are relatively easy to buy and sell outside the platform via real world transactions with other players or bot owners. In addition, the lack of major formats older than Standard on Arena has ensured, at least for the short to mid term, that players looking to compete digitally in Pioneer, Modern, Legacy or Vintage must do so in this parallel platform. From 2012 to 2015 I managed a portfolio of MTGO card assets worth over $10K with excellent results. News on the coming of Arena crashed the market toward the end of that period, prompting me to exit, but left me with unanswered questions about what might have been. One of those questions was “could there be a way to “short” Magic cards on MTGO. With the advent of MTGO card lending services, we now have our answer. Read on, for details, as an experienced operator explains how it’s done.
The Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) economy is a rollercoaster of price action unique to digital Magic. Unlike paper cards, buying and selling on MTGO only takes a few seconds, which promotes a very fluid economy. The difference between purchasing and selling a card (the “spread”) on MTGO is also relatively small, typically in the range of 5-30%, depending on the demand profile of the card. Factors affecting the spread include player demand, price, and the length of time since the last printing of the card. All of this means that players can and often do buy and sell cards frequently to switch between decks, unlike in paper eternal formats, where a greater portion of player’s collections are hidden outside the market in closets and under beds.
MTGO players are fickle creatures. Most MTGO cards are fairly reasonably priced, but when a card begins to see a significant amount of play, its price can skyrocket quickly. This is especially true when a card becomes the centerpiece of a hot new deck that did well in recent tournament results. This is because competitive play is the primary driver of the MTGO economy, with Pioneer leading the way, followed by Modern/Standard, Legacy, and to a much lesser extent Vintage and Pauper.
High prices for multi-format staples like Teferi, the Time Reveler are fairly stable, but cards that have a massive price jump overnight are often followed by a dramatic plunge back to reality. As a result windows of opportunity open and close constantly, sometimes multiple times per day!
If you ever look at the daily/weekly price movers on MTG Goldfish, this phenomenon becomes quickly apparent. While this has always been true, the launch of Pioneer has reinvigorated the MTGO economy, which in combination with shorter periods and higher fees for redeeming full sets of MTGO cards into physical form, has contributed to a fast moving realm of speculation and risk.
The MTGO Short Sell
The process of profiting from falling prices is called “Short Selling”, and is a method more traditionally employed by options traders in the global stock markets. The concept is relatively simple: an investor borrows a stock, sells the stock immediately (the “short”), and at a later time the investor buys the stock at the new market rate (“cover”) to return it to the original lender. Profit is made for the investor if the short – the original sale price – is higher than the price paid to cover – to buy the stock back.
One important thing to note about short selling is that it is inherently more dangerous than a traditional approach of betting on a price increase. This is because when short-selling, an investor’s potential loss is unlimited, instead of being limited by the gap between your purchase price and $0! Think about it. If you buy an investment for $25, the most you can lose is $25, i.e. your initial investment. However, with “naked short”, you’re loss is a potentially (though not practically) infinite increase to the price of the investment. So if a MTGO card goes from $25 to $100, you could lose $75, or 300%!
Short sales are also well suited to MTGO because historically MTGO prices have fallen/stagnated, rather than enjoying significant long term gains as in most first world markets. It is unclear whether Pioneer on MTGO will change this, but personally I doubt it. It’s more likely just a short reprieve until Pioneer is eventually ported to MTG Arena, resulting in a new MTGO crash and playing the short game is a solid way to be mostly out the door before the crowd.
Spotting an Opportunity for a Short Sale
To effectively leverage a short sale on MTGO you must first find an overvalued card. Ideally you actually want to find a grossly overvalued card. A card that will slowly trend downward overtime is not enough – because each day you hold a short-sale you are losing money in fees. More on fees later. There are several key indicators that help identify grossly overvalued cards.
Price Spike: Look for cards that have experienced a massive price increase in the last week or two, typically at least 100% for expensive mythics, or 200% or more for rares. Also look for cards that started at a reasonable price. Generally speaking, the more dramatic the increase, the better.
Critical Price Threshold: I’ve found that cards that cost around 1-4 tickets prior to a price spike start to see heavy resistance and begin to retrace when they approach 10-15 tickets. Similarly, I find that previously 20 ticket cards begin to retrace after reaching 40-50 tickets. These thresholds are important as you consider your entry point into a short position, though strong statistical data is not easily found to frame our action.
Comparison to Similar Cards: Each set on MTGO is different. Some sets are drafted much less than others, and some cards have multiple reprints/promo’s, while others do not. As you evaluate a potential opportunity, examine closely how the price of your prospect compares to other cards from the same set. Specifically try to compare price trends to other cards that see similar amount of competitive play, share the same rarity, and have similar number of reprints.
Play Patterns: If a card price increased rapidly because it’s in a freshly hot deck, two things can happen that create a short sale opportunity. First, the card could fall out of favor – either due to a shift in the meta or because the deck was cool or fun (often promoted by streamers), but is not particularly good at winning. After all MTGO is a competitive environment and novelty tends to wear out very quickly on the platform that requires 10 ticket entry to each competitive league. Second, and probably more common, the price simply becomes unsustainably high compared to other similarly situated cards. Even good cards often become overpriced due to FOMO in the short term and sometimes supply just runs out of fresh demand to feed.
Risk/reward: This will be unique for every card, but try to consider the risk and range of potential gains/losses for each transaction. Only enter a short for transactions that you are confident have significant potential gains with limited downside risk. This is about the “feel” of the trade, and is mostly voodoo built on top of solid heuristics.
Recent Banning: If you are available when a new ban list is posted, you can often quickly flip banned cards for a quick profit. This requires immediate action, as bots will often cut off their buylists for banned cards within minutes.
Timing of a Short Sale
When executing a short sale, you must be sure to time your actions carefully. There is a brief period when MTGO cards have begun to level off, but bot vendors still offering solid if not generous sell prices. Get the best sale price possible by leveraging multiple vendors. I recommend comparing Cardhoarder and Goatbots to get your best sale price most of the time. These bot companies are both rock solid and between the two you’ll often get close to the best prices around and significantly close the buy/sell spread. Additionally check MTGO Traders HotBuyList, which generally has the best buylist around, but may only be looking for certain very sought-after cards at any given time.
Finding the peak price is often more art than science. I recommend you look back at old price trends to get a feel for spotting a change in the weather. I’ve analyzed a few of my own trades below, but examples are abundant on MTG Goldfish.
Logistics and Opportunity Costs
To execute a short sale, you must first sign up for a MTGO rental account. This is the innovation that forms the central pillar of shorting on MTGO and the “borrowing” portion of the short sale, so you can sell, and subsequently cover (buy) the card you are speculating on. There are multiple vendors in the MTGO card rental space, but the one that seems to work best for short sales is Cardhoarder. You can sign up for an account here. There is typically a multi-week wait to sign up for a rental accounts, so do keep that in mind.
When you create your loan account, you must determine what level of ticket allowance you’d like access to at any given time. The cost of your service will depend on how many tickets you select – specifically Cardhoarder charges 3% of your loan value per week. This means that each ticket of loan value costs $.03/week, or $3/week for 100 tickets. You are charged for your maximum ticket allowance regardless of whether you use your allocation.
I started with 500 tickets, and plan to move to 1,000 ticket plan soon. If you are just getting started, I would recommend starting small and working up higher as you become more confident in your results. Another way to approximate a short on cards is by selling a card you already own as part of your personal collection, and eventually buying them back later once the price drops, thereby lowering the cost of your personal collection. I often do this for the expensive staples in my collection – especially around set rotation, but obviously this method is limited based on your collection size.
Short Sale Case Studies So, to summarize, here’s what we’re going to do: we will rent cards, sell them high, and then look to buy them low as soon as possible and return them to the rental service. Our profits will be the gap between those two prices minus time spent and rental fees paid. Got it? Let’s look at some examples:
Price Spike: Large and dramatic.
Hit Critical Price Threshold: Yes, reached 10-15 ticket threshold.
Comparison: At the time of the price spice, of Aether Revolt rares only Walking Ballista, which sees significantly more play, was worth anything close to 10 tickets.
Play Patterns: Relegated to sideboards in small numbers, not essential to any strategy.
Risk/reward: Low risk, high reward. It was unlikely that this would become a 15-20 ticket card, limiting the risk, while it was very likely that the price would return to a normal (1-5 ticket) level soon.
Outcome: Position closed, 12 tickets net profit after .91 tickets in fees on 4 copies, 5 day hold. Shorted at 10.33 tickets, covered at 7.09 tickets. I was a little early on exiting this position. For future similar transactions, I would now short 8-16 copies, spread out over 2-4 days, to accelerate the returns.
Price Spike: Large growth, but not a true spike as it occurred overtime.
Hit Critical Price Threshold: Yes, reached 40-50 ticket threshold for mythic.
Comparison: Cavalier of Thorns is the best comparison, which is a 4x card in prominent standard and pioneer decks, and yet at it’s height couldn’t break 50 tickets. Another is Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, which saw play in dominant Pioneer Nykthos builds and reached a high of 80 tickets, before settling into a price of around 25 tickets.
Play Patterns: In contract, Chandra barely sees play and is never more than 1-2 copies. Chandra’s high mana cost means this is unlikely to change. It is notable that Chandra sees more play in older magic formats compared to both Cavalier of Thorns and Vivien.
Risk/reward: Low. This seemed like a slam dunk with little down side. Even if Chandra got to 80 tickets like Vivien, such as gain would likely be short lived.
Outcome: Position closed, 68 tickets net profit after 15.36 tickets in fees on 4 copies, 19 day hold. Shorted at 44.50 tickets, covered at 22.65 tickets.
Price Spike: Large and dramatic.
Hit Critical Price Threshold: No.
Comparison: When this spikes, this was by far the most expensive mythic and card from Battle for Zendikar, and it was near an all-time high for the card.
Play Patterns: Ulamog is prevalent in multiple decks, in multiple formats. It always has been, especially in Tron builds, and in Legacy Cloud Post decks. But this spike was driven by Green Ramp in Pioneer – which only ran 2 copies and spiked this card because it was the flavor of the day. Additionally, the number of copies in ramp was unlikely to increase due to the 10 casting cost which even Tron can struggle to reach.
Risk/reward: Moderate. This could have become a 50 ticket card if ramp strategies took over Pioneer, or if Aetherworks Marvel decks became more prevalent because they run 4x copies of Ulamog.
Outcome: Position closed, 20 tickets profit, 10 day hold on 2 copies. Shorted at 18 tickets, covered at 8 tickets. No fees, because the cards was from my personal collection.
Price Spike: While the price increase was more gradual than others due to genuine demand, I’d still categorize this as a price spike.
Price Threshold: No, this is an old uncommon, so it’s pretty unique.
Comparison: The best comparison is Exploration and Gaea’s Cradle, which are rares in the same set and cost between 14-20 tickets due to seeing play as 4x in various decks. Both have a cheap 2-3 ticket online promo available, which shows that people desire the old cards online and that they have limited availability. Additionally, this is the highest the card has been priced in recent memory.
Play Patterns: Carpet of Flowers is typically a 1-2 of in the sideboard of legacy decks. While legacy can drive prices, this price spike drove the card to double its previous high of 12 tickets.
Risk/reward: Legacy/old cards can get crazy expensive. But with a 1 of card like this one, I believe the risk was fairly limited.
Outcome: This transaction was mostly a bust. Position closed, 12 tickets net profit after 15.65 tickets in fees on 8 copies, 1 month hold. Shorted at 15.81 tickets, covered at 12.35 tickets.
Rental programs like Cardhoarder provide an interesting opportunity to short digital MTGO cards for a potential profit. I’ve had some success with this endeavor so far and will continue to update MTGPrice members on my recent activity in constantly always active discord in the MTGO channel.
Update: Nathaniel from CardHoarder reached out with the following position on short selling via their card rental service:
“I can’t speak to ManaTraders, but utilizing our loan service as a means to short sell is a violation of our terms of service – part of the legal contract you sign when you get an account. We’ve never taken action against anyone for it, and if people do it here or there, we tend to let most things slide. But, if you’re actively doing it every time cards are banned, which is pretty much the only time you can have a “no risk trade” (barring a few other possibilities), then we’d probably take action against it. It’s not just it being a zero sum game, which it is – anything you’re making on it, we’re losing – but it’s really about using the stock in a way that hurts every other customer we have – either by artificially changing prices, or holding stock that could go elsewhere for someone to play with (not to mention the risk that you can’t afford to return the cards on a losing trade).
I will also note that you can just as easily lose money as make it doing shorting (assuming it is just speculation, rather than reacting to a ban) – it is extremely risky, and essentially uses the loan service to front money without collateral on a spec, which is not the nature of what these agreements are.”
MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY