UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Make Money By Going Nostalgic

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I remember 1993 as if it was yesterday. The World Series was won by a Canadian team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Canada also took down a Stanley Cup, something they haven’t done in a while, via the Montreal Canadiens. It was the year of “Got Milk?” and Mrs. Doubtfire was outclassed only by Jurassic Park in the movie world.

According to http://www.pop-culture.us/Annual/1993.html, “The Habit” of 1993 was a little collectible card game called Magic: the Gathering.

 

Shivan

Anyone who played Magic in the early-to-mid 90’s remembers wishing this card was in every pack they opened…ok this isn’t precisely the case, but I sure remember wishing I owned a copy of this top-end creature. Even now, 20 years later, I feel incredibly nostalgic when looking at my favorite classic cards. That nostalgia is my primary motivation for maintaining a separate “not-for-trade” binder. The binder isn’t about value, though there are certainly some valuable cards inside. It’s more about cards I’ve enjoyed as a kid or cards with artwork I love so much that I want to keep a copy of the card forever.

In the “New Age” of Magic — Modern Masters 2015 reprints, flashy sets filled with Dragons and computer-generated artwork — my nostalgia for classic cards and art grows continuously.

And it seems I’m not the only one who feels this way…

Welcome to Old School (93/94)

From http://oldschoolmtg.com/, here’s a brief overview of the format:

“93/94, Old School Mtg, started 2007 in the casual Magic scene in Gothenburg, Sweden, and have since grown with players across Europe and North America. A total of seven sets are allowed in the format: Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark…” [SIC]

Essentially, this is a fledgling format all about enjoying the Magic of yester-year. While technically I didn’t start playing Magic until 1997, I can still appreciate the concept of a format based around the earlier days of the game, where cards like this were highly relevant:

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Icy

“Seriously? During the release of the most financially impactful set of all time, you’re going to write about Alpha Shivan Dragons and Beta Icy Manipulators?”

Yes, for two reasons.

First, I am 100% confident you will be inundated with Modern Masters 2015 articles throughout the week. From strategy and how to build a sealed pool to what cards to sell immediately to what cards to acquire, it’ll all be covered by my esteemed colleagues here. While I could be content to share my thoughts, I suspect they’ll overlap tremendously with the rest. Frankly, I’d prefer to write something unique that will bring new perspective to MTG finance.

Second, I suspect there is some very relevant financial information associated with this nostalgic phenomenon. More and more players are talking about older cards and I’m noticing my Twitter feed is filled with this buzz. But there’s no explosion of interest yet – I would go out on a limb and suggest this isn’t even as big as Tiny Leaders, which is arguably more hype than actual format. That being said, getting into this format on the ground floor is absolutely critical.

Don’t care about a nostalgic format? Too young to remember casting Juzam Djinn and Hypnotic Specter? This may not be important. I’m not here to sell you on a (yet another) format; I’m writing this column to drive awareness of a small trend with potential for profound financial impact. This is about getting in front of the curve.

Some Observations

Doctor Superstition (@DSuperstition) is an active member of the Old School Mtg community, and he’s been tweeting some curious observations of late.

Tweets

These comparisons fascinate me. They may not be incredibly successful in converting players to Old School MTG, but they present some intriguing, hypothetical trades — even highly relevant trades, considering all the MM2015 booster packs that are about to be opened. Imagine opening a Mox Opal at GP Vegas, only to be offered a Beta Hypnotic Specter in trade for your sweet pull. Would you do it?

Mox Opal

Hypnotic

As Doctor Superstition pointed out, the two cards have roughly the same value. But looking at the charts above, which one would you rather sit on for the long term?

Ok, so it doesn’t take much to convince folks that old-school cards are safe to hold for the long haul. Everyone can look at charts like those above, comparing MM2015 reprints and playable Beta cards, and make this same conclusion. That’s not the most breakthrough observation, I’ll admit. But it does plant a seed in the back of my mind for when I’m in Vegas…

The “ah-ha” observation comes from looking at other charts for Old School Mtg cards alongside the current stock of major retailers such as Star City Games.

Consider Tawnos’s Coffin, for example, which is seemingly sold out across most the internet.

Coffin

This is the buyout that no one is talking about. The Antiquities artifact is sold out mostly everywhere, and you can see how both the value and buy list price jumped simultaneously, a sign of very positive upward momentum. This isn’t some forced buy-out here – this is a move backed by retailers. And you can bet the farm that when SCG restocks this card, it’ll have a much higher price tag than its current $24.99 one.

Of course, the trend on Tawnos’s Coffin could be a fluke. It’s a powerful Commander card, so maybe people are finally discovering it? It’s plausible, but I don’t believe Tawnos’s Coffin is the only old-school card suddenly gaining interest.

Old Man

This is one I’ve been highlighting on Twitter lately. Old Man of the Sea’s price seems stagnant when looking at the green curve. But when you assess the blue curve, indicating top buy list price, you can see a noteworthy incline. Retailers are having a tougher time keeping this creature in stock, and it won’t take much to see a sudden spike here as we did with Tawnos’s Coffin. Though it’s worth noting Star City Games has nine total copies in stock with NM listed at $59.99 (this is $10 higher than the price was a month ago).

One of the neatest Old School Mtg card is Chaos Orb, which has also seen significant buy list increases over the past couple years, including one earlier this year.

Chaos Orb

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I hear it’s not easy to keep nice copies of this rare artifact in stock. Star City Games is completely sold out of the most affordable Unlimited version, with a NM price of $99.99.  This card seriously deserves more attention than it is currently getting.

The three examples above highlight an important trend – these nostalgically popular cards are destined to increase in price. This should come as no surprise to people. What’s critical to consider, however, is the potential impact an Old School MTG format could have on some of these prices. Let’s face it – there aren’t many Chaos Orbs and Tawnos’s Coffins out there. Any spike in demand, no matter how small, could have a profound impact on card prices.

I’m not here to incite a buyout. If people were to suddenly start speculating on these cards like they did on Tiny Leaders, it could prove detrimental to the health of Old School MTG. Availability is a major consideration here.

But I am trying to inspire you to consider adding a few of these cards into your MTG portfolio. They provide tremendous stability with significant upside. In fact, I’d probably rather have a few Chaos Orbs than, say, a couple booster boxes of Modern Masters 2015. I believe there is much greater upside and lower risk to the former. MM2015 boxes may be good investments eventually, but with so many unknowns right now in this unprecedented time, I can’t help but encourage caution.

Wrapping It Up

Thus summarizes my strategy heading to GP Vegas. Some players will be anxiously dumping the pulls from their MM2015 booster packs. Others will be keenly aware of dropping prices, attempting to pick up their Tarmogoyfs and Vendilion Cliques at a favorable price. While I have a short Modern shopping list myself, I’ll be most interested in picking up some of these older cards.

The reason for this move has nothing to do with my desire to play Old School MTG (although it does sound like a fun format). Rather, I’m noticing a gradual trend towards these nostalgic cards and I recognize that any spurt in demand could lead to drastic price fluctuations. A small surge in Tawnos’s Coffin interest has caused one retailer to double their buy price overnight. ABU Games and Star City Games are two vendors that do not like being out of stock of these older cards – if that trend occurs too frequently, they WILL up their buy prices.

By keeping an eye out for deals now, and trading strategically into some of these nostalgic cards over time, you set yourself up for strong portfolio growth going forward. And if this 93/94 format ever does grow legs, you could be looking at some surprising double-ups. Even if that doesn’t happen, collecting stuff like Guardian Beast and Island of Wak-Wak is just plain fun. With most of these cards also being on the Reserved List, you can be confident your investments will, at a minimum, hold their value.  Cards like these remind me of what initially got me into Magic. Collecting these cards and then making bank on them would just be icing on the cake.

Sig’s Quick Hits

Here are a few other Old School Mtg cards I have my eye on for GP Vegas:

  • I mentioned Guardian Beast towards the end of this column. The Arabian Nights creature has increased in value by about $10 over the past year. But what really interests me is the top buy list price, which has been steadily increasing throughout 2015. SCG has three total copies in stock, with zero being NM ($79.99 price tag). If you want a copy, why not trade into one soon?
  • Dark Ritual has been printed a billion times. You can find hundreds of copies for $0.50 throughout the internet. But how many Alpha copies of the black instant can you find? None at Star City Games, where they are sold out with a $39.99 price tag. Yet again I see the top buy list price steadily rising over the past 6-12 months despite choppy action in estimated value. I have to imagine this card is a power-house in Old School MTG, and definitely worth keeping an eye on.
  • Speaking of cards that have been reprinted a ton, City of Brass is also worth closer inspection. The original printing of this Nonbasic land has been on a steady incline over the past couple years as well. Did you know this card retails for $79.99 now?! Star City Games has a handful of copies in stock, but finding NM copies can be quite difficult!
  • BONUS TIP: Want to go real deep? Reviewing some of the top decks of the 93/94 format, it looks like Su-chi is a popular card. The artifact creature is an uncommon from Antiquities, so it’s not as difficult to find as some of the other cards I’ve mentioned earlier. But the top buy list price has jumped from $2 to $3 earlier this year. SCG has 17 total copies in stock, with only 1 being NM at $5.99. It probably wouldn’t take much to manipulate this card’s price, but I’d much rather be in the camp of obtaining my set now and sitting on them for a couple years.
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14 thoughts on “UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Make Money By Going Nostalgic”

  1. So I’ve been looking into a lot of this, and there is still one big concern that I have. You referenced Old School MTG and their format, but there are a couple different types of “old school magic” floating around. The guys who made Vice’s Magic doc are also behind LandLotusJuzam.net, not to mention some of the other, less publicized variants that tend to crop up. Typically these formats carry one of two banners, “We just want people to play!” (which seems to be the call of #mtgunderground) or “Hardcore Old School Only!” (which is great if you and your friends have the cards you want, but it won’t grow outside your door). If any type of this format is going to grow, it’s going to be the one that allows people to play with Revised/Chronicles/etc.

    1. Ross, you certainly voice some legitimate concerns here. I have my own reservations about an old school format that disallows Chronicles and Revised. The fragmentation of such a format also indicates to me there will be less traction for each “camp”. Still, I really like the idea of jamming old-school cards regardless. Even if it’s something to do among friends, the fact that such formats generate demand for stuff like Hypnotic Specter is pretty sweet.

      I believe Doctor Superstition stated that many people he engages with in this format are lax about the set rules. That is, most will allow newer printings of the old-school cards. To me, this is the right way to do it. It allows a broader audience to engage – and it’s not like allowing Chronicles would suddenly hurt the value of the black border printings. Those will go up in price regardless.

      In any event, the goal of this article was more to drive awareness and highlight a worthwhile strategy for investing rather than selling a new format. But I’m glad you’re at least looking into it. 🙂

      EDIT: This comment was very poorly worded and I apologize to everyone in the Old School Mtg community. I really DID want to get people interested in what looks like an amazing format with many dedicated players. The point of my message was that I did not want people to suddenly buy deep into the format, speculating on its growth. Many people are getting burned on Tiny Leaders for buying into certain hype only to see the format sputter along. My goal was to steer Ross away from diving into a potentially very expensive format head first.

      Thanks for commenting!
      Sig

  2. A few additional observations –

    When purchasing cards in this vein, condition is far more interesting than in normal trades. While people are exclusively looking for near mint / lightly played cards for their Modern and Standard decks, older cards exist on a broader band.

    Near Mint / Mint cards are dramatically more valuable and rarely sought by players because they can be graded as collector’s items. Familiarize yourself with concepts like surface grades and centering. DO NOT buy “Near Mint” old school cards if you intend to play with them – you’re spending way too much.

    Everything that isn’t gradeable is actually sold and moves in the old school space. Buyouts typically target the nicer-graded stuff, leaving bargain-priced dregs lagging behind…only to catch up when the wise have cleaned them.

    Case study: Arabian Nights City of Brass is 79.99 as Sig stated. I just put together an HP playset for $120 shipped – but those are few and far between. Condition spreads for older cards tend to compress post-buyout, so if there is movement at the high end it will quickly pull the bottom up.

    1. Charles,

      This is a terrific build, thanks for sharing. Seeing as I’m just learning about this format, this kind of guidance is tremendously helpful. It’s also nice that it’s in-line with my own style – I tend to prefer playing older formats like Legacy with “played” cards. I tend to be rough on the cards. 🙁

      Thanks again for sharing!
      Sig

  3. You guys are fucking scumbags. This format is about drinking beer and playing cool cards with your friends. This is a casual format and we don’t need you finance trolls fucking it up.

    Sigmund Ausfresser, Chas Andres and the rest of you scumbags should go back to hoarding kiki-jiki’s or whatever the fuck you people do. Keep your hands off old school cards if you don’t play.

    1. More people should be playing Old School Magic. It’s an awesome casual format and bringing more exposure to it is a good thing. That comes with a price…but established people who’ve been doing this for a while (like yourself) have only to enjoy more like-minded souls.

    2. More idiots who don’t realize they are worse then the people they speak out against…

      Everything has value and people will act upon said value, regardless of what you do or don’t want, trying to fight it is like trying to not breath, sure you can make a solid effort but in the end you only ever lose.

    3. Is it really your job to tell other people what the format should be to them? He says right in the article “Please don’t buy these out like you did with Tiny Leaders”.

    4. Hey Dom,

      I’m sorry you feel this way. I believe Sigmund did an excellent job with this piece, and finance exists regardless of whether or not we like it. There’s no need for the aggression here.

    5. Dom, your opinion is your own, but please try to come at us with a modicum of respect when you make your voice heard. Sig is a good guy who works hard to put together solid content and doesn’t deserve the level of hostility you laid down here. Now on topic, the odds of Old Skool MTG moving the needle on hoarding of 93/94 cards is super low. There is however a constant pressure in the MTG economy for original cards to rise in value, simply due to long term player growth and the increase in available disposable income to those of us who grew up with the game. As such, these cards will get more expensive whether we call out the new minor format or not. The solution isn’t to hate on the media covering the trend, but to get out in front of it by picking up whatever you might need now.

      1. Very well put and exactly my point, James. This isn’t designed to catalyze rampant buying and speculation. I’m advocating that the best time to buy a 93/94 card is “2 years ago”. In other words, the price appreciation is there whether players like it or not and getting in front of the trend and acquiring what you need now will only pay dividends in the long run. Plus it has the added upside of enabling you to enjoy what seems like a really sweet format.

        I know I’m looking to get involved…eventually. Need to pick up some cards myself, first.

  4. Fact is “financiers” can’t afford buyouts on 93 issue cards. What you’re going to plop down 80.00 per copy of Arabian CoB and wait for how long on exactly how many copies to make back what %? Most lifestyles, even affluent ones can’t sustain buyouts on BB USeas.

    No one fucked anything up.
    Everything is as it should be.
    Its a game.
    Breath.
    Relax.

    1. I applaud you on the well-phrased response. You make an excellent point around the difficulty to manipulate something like Beta Demonic Tutor and AN City of Brass. I hadn’t even thought of that.

      And breathing in and out…

  5. Wow, seriously, fuck you. You talk about how you’d love to play the old school format, and then in the same breath, how difficult it would be to manipulate prices of cards in the format like that’s a bad thing. Go take your speculation, buyouts, and manipulation back to standard and modern if that’s how you think about old school.

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