PROTRADER: Warning Signs

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By: Travis Allen

A kind and enlightened soul recently made the point of telling me how much he still likes what is probably the best thing I’ve ever written, “My Spec Quadrupled and I Only Made $.75.” (I hate that article title, by the way. I would change it if it wouldn’t throw off people looking for it.) It’s an oft-cited piece that describes exactly what so many in this field have experienced at least several times: even when the stars align and you hit your spec out of the park, you still aren’t necessarily guaranteed to make any reasonable money. Magic finance can be a real grind, and it isn’t the “step 1: buy 100 copies, step 2: make $500” easy money as claimed by the voices of the damned that one hears wailing and gnashing their teeth in the depths of r/magictcg.

Within the same day I found myself shaking my head at some of the items in the Single Card Discussion section of the MTGPrice ProTrader forums. There’s lots of good discussion in there, but occasionally some…less good ideas show up. I do my best to dissuade people where possible. While I’m sometimes able to divert people from poor life choices, the same mistakes continue to show up—a carousel of bad logic and wishful thinking.

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Today’s article isn’t just an excuse to link an old work of mine. Rather, we’re going to consider the opposite side of a well-known coin. We’ve all seen (or written) the “how to pick good specs” article. Now how about some examples of bad targets, suggested in earnest by real people, so that we can avoid them in the future?

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7 thoughts on “PROTRADER: Warning Signs”

  1. I 90% agree with you Travis, just want to throw in my 2 cents cause I think there’s a little bit you are missing regarding DTK cards specifically.

    First, I do LOVE your fact about only 4 non-mythics being above $10 in Standard. The one thing about Hidden Dragonslayer and Stratus Dancer and the rest of Dragons of Tarkir is that the set might be the LEAST OPENED set of the post Innistrad era!! I don’t know what people r proposing about the Dragonslayer, but in general DTK cards are rarer than most and similar to Jounery into Nyx cards (maybe less opened than DTK but on the same level) any fresh demand for a card causes a large spike. It just happened to Atarka’s Command, Dromoka’s Command and Collected Company with an extra printing are right below your $10 mark; there’s just not the same amount of DTK cards in circulation as there are the other sets.

    Second, I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon where previously unpopular and uncollected cards spike VERY HARD when they become popular in Standard. Siege Rhino is a much better card than Hardened Scales, but Siege Rhino has always been on everybody’s radar…Hardened Scales is currently more expensive than Siege Rhino (I know Siege Rhino was reprinted but that’s negligible to the amount of Khans in circulation and Rhino is Modern playable). Crackling Doom and Bloodsoaked Champion are just slightly less than Rhino now. You talked about Desecration Demon, it became a 4 of in Standard AFTER RTR was being opened. I don’t know if people throw away the bulk rares, or they sell them to LGS’s after drafting and never hold on to them, I really don’t know. I just do know that cards that are off the radar upon release spike really hard if they become Standard staples months afterwards.

    Lastly, DTK is going to be around past Fate and Khans!! This is something I came to realize/remember recently, and started selling and trading as many Fate cards and Khans cards as I can, and I’m looking to get DTK and Origins cards (if I can’t get eternal cards). Trading unused Bloodsoaked Champions and Crackling Dooms for Ojutai’s Commands, CoCo’s, Surrak Hunt Callers, etc has been about my best out for these cards (Obviously trying for premium trade targets first). Point being DTK cards have a lot more Standard life than Whisperwood, Taz, Soulfire, Warden, Rider, Doom, Roc, etc.

    I just checked ebay and there’s barely any foil Silkwraps and the price is kinda absurd for a card that previously saw 0 play, and that is for an uncommon from DTK. I don’t know what people were targeting Dragonslayer at, I’m not arguing for it, but I DO like that at least it’s a DTK card being targeted for a spike. It might be the wrong one and definitely too late now, but I get it. The rest of your article I agree with 1,000% about foil Scheming and Fiend. And if you Re-read your Summary, you actually make an argument FOR Hidden Dragonslayer 🙂 Have you ever flipped a Dragonslayer to take out a Tasigur or attacking Ojutai or Ulamog (wait that’s an Eldrazi not a dragon)? That is unique and powerful in a slow format. And like Den Pro sometimes a 2/1 on turn 2 is just good enough. But you are right in that he is basically ONLY in sideboards and typically will only be in sideboards moving forward. That is the biggest mark against him.

    1. Thanks for the in depth reply Spencer.

      I agree with basically everything you’ve said, but I end up reaching the same conclusion as I wrote above. Yes, DTK is less opened than the other two sets, and yes, it’s hanging around longer. Both are absolutely true, and are why I would be more interested in DTK cards than either FRF or KTK. In general, DTK and ORG are probably the best sets to be buying specs from at this point, since they’ve got until next fall (right?) before they rotate, and BFZ is still too saturated and hasn’t dropped in price yet.

      DTK cards? Good place to start. Hidden Dragonslayer? Still too situational and meta-dependent. Am I guaranteeing he’ll never make anyone any money? Nope. But I am guaranteeing that it isn’t worth trying to find out.

  2. Great article, please make it protrader exclusive like the title implies. Didn’t have to log in to view the whole article.

  3. Specultive Purchase History:

    Voice of Resurgence: 6@ Pre-order price – 16.95

    a few months later;

    Fleecemane Lion: 8 @ Pre-order price – $8

    I think these examples serve to illustrate exactly Travis’ points above. All the issues with Dragon’s Maze, being a 3rd set that was poor in retrospect, but poised to not be opened anywhere close to RTR or even GTC, caused Voice to spike hard hard hard, even thought it really didn’t see a whole lot of play for Standard. In my estimation it held the following attributes:

    Playable in Modern at 2 Mana.
    Complete value card yielding 2-for-1, and punishing the opponent.
    From a small, 3rd set.
    Mythic.
    Amazing looking foil! (I grabbed 1, still looking for 3 more)
    Lone ‘good card’ in a set of duds.

    Follow-up with just a few months later during spoiler season with Fleecemane Lion. Don’t get me wrong, I love this card and was extremely sad to see it go from standard. While its power level was fairly high, and fit in to several archetypes, used even off the sideboard at some points in standard – this card was always played in 4-ofs. It is aggressive in the colors that want aggressive creatures, and has late game staying power. It fit with other aggressive creatures such as Smiter, Voice, Boon Satyr, and then later Siege Rhino and Anafenza. Where did this price wind up??

    This card hovered between $2-4 for most of its time in standard even with all of the above implications, it just couldn’t get there. Perhaps $8 was an aggressive pricing choice by the online retailers – but with all of the things going for it – it was still a Fall set rare competing with Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and Sylvan Caryatid for value.

    For as much as I was able to extract value out of Voice of Resurgence (and you better believe I shipped them at $45-50), I had an awful time unloading the Fleecemanes (I used my own playset the entire time they were standard legal until collecting a foil playset), and ultimately took a bath of around 50-60 bucks. It happens. I still enjoy my foil playset though, as I just built a modern Cat aggro deck last night, and it is testing above expectations!

    While pre-order speculations are slightly outside of the scope of the article above, the points exist to flesh out the narrative that Fall set rares are not where you want to be.

  4. I often look out over a sea of Dictates of Karametra and weep.

    Oh, and I discovered that Rune-Scarred Demon was a intro pack foil shortly after buying about fifty of them (although I did make a profit off of them eventually).

  5. Still think the ultra low investment on taigam’s scheming foils is worthwhile. They’re bulk bin foils. If you find them, why not?

    It has a chance (once it’s power is discovered) to slot into a lot of modern or legacy decks that don’t care about cards in hand, so much as either the right cards in hand, or cards in the yard. Topdecks too, but miracles are somewhat wonky unless you’re building around them. BUT, this also let’s you yard a horrible 3 that Sensei’s top sees, so you can get to some meat.

    It’s just got a big potential to do something. And for being a bulk foil, why not hoard them when you find them?

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