By: Travis Allen
This was initially going to be a ProTrader article, but after all the responses I received when asking for cards people didn’t know what to do with, I felt compelled to make it free. After all, all these people contributed the source material, so it would feel crummy not letting them read my answers. If you find the information here today useful, especially so if it makes you some cash, please consider subscribing!
We’ve all got cards we aren’t sure about. Something that’s sitting in your box, a few feet over your shoulder, that you find yourself wondering about every time someone mentions the card on Twitter. Your own tell-tale heart. Perhaps instead, it’s a card in a binder sleeve that causes you to shift in your seat each time someone points to it and asks if it’s for trade. You can’t decide if it’s for trade. Is now the time? Do I wait? What do I do with this? With some cards, you just have no idea whether it’s the right time or not. There’s so many factors. How does one figure it out?
Have no fear, dear reader. Today I set out to make the tough calls for you. After soliciting Twitter and receiving a surprisingly large response, I bring you a long list of cards that you may or may not know what to do with. I’ll walk you through the reasons you may want to sell it, the reasons you may want to hold it, and ultimately what I recommend.
The whole point of all of this is that these are tough choices, so you may not agree with me on many. That’s just fine, though. If you agree, great. If not, well, at least you’re thinking about it!
One last note before we jump in. My recommendations here are for surplus copies of cards. Your own personal playsets are an entirely different conversation. A year ago I knew damn well that Leyline of Sanctity was coming in Modern Masters 2015, yet I kept my set because I was using them to play. It’s important to separate “play Magic” from “investment Magic.” Don’t feel bad about holding onto cards that may drop in value if you’re playing with them. Different purposes, different goals, different decisions.
Sell or Hold?
The last month has been especially kind to Ugin. Copies were available on TCG for as low as $20 to $23 range before Halloween, and now it doesn’t look like you’re able to find any below $40. This is good news for people that have been holding them. Before I talk about what to do with Ugin in the future, start with patting yourself on the back. It’s all profit from here on out. It’s just a question of how much.
Ugin has just about doubled in price within thirty days. Much of this upward momentum is a result of the emergence of Eldrazi decks in Standard, which were curiously absent from the Pro Tour. The first weekend or so after the PT, we saw one sneak into the public consciousness, and since then they’ve been popular yet under the radar, if that’s somehow possible. Ugin’s role as a large colorless finisher that loves to see cards like Hedron Archive and Explosive Vegetation is key in these ramp decks. He lets the Eldrazi player catch up by coming down at eight mana (on turn five) and wiping away everything, which then clears the way for an Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger or something similar to provide the second half of the one-two punch to your opponent.
If you’re selling on TCGplayer, you’ll be looking at $40 to $45 per copy, which is a tidy profit if you paid cash at $22. You can take the money and run, putting it somewhere with more promise in the future. (That’s going to be a recurring theme today.) With Ugin already north of $40, it’s tough to imagine him climbing too much higher. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is below $60 now, and he’s far more widespread than Ugin is. If Jace is representing the ceiling at around $55, and Ugin is already $45, is it worth trying to hang in for a few extra bucks? Remember that we want to leave the last ten percent for the greater fool, so don’t get greedy and try to squeeze every last cent out of Ugin.
Our closest comparison to Ugin is Karn Liberated, another large colorless planeswalker. Karn sees heavy play in a single archetype, which is probably about what we could expect from Ugin in Modern, though less so, as Karn is better in Tron by virtue of being exactly seven mana. Ugin is better in EDH, though, as Karn can only ever hit single targets, whereas Ugin can clean up an entire board at once.
Karn spiked twice after his printing in New Phyrexia, and was solidly over $50 for quite some time, and even hung around in the $60s for a period. Is there still $20 worth of profit left in Ugin? It seems as if the new block schedule has changed the way Wizards prints Duel Decks, with this spring’s being Blessed vs. Cursed rather than another planeswalker battle as we last saw in Elspeth vs. Kiora. With Ugin having dodged the Duel Deck, a new slew of Eldrazi-friendly cards on the horizon in Oath of the Gatewatch, widespread EDH appeal, and mild demand in Modern, there’s definitely room to grow for everyone’s favorite colorless ancient dragon.
There’s no denying that there exists the possibility that you’ll stand to profit even more some time down the road holding onto Ugin. Of course, there’s no guarantee of that either, and we could be seeing a local peak in his price right now. If Jace couldn’t sustain his highs after a sudden and dramatic growth, why should Ugin? He could shed $10 worth of value yet remain the “correct” price. At the end of the day I’m going to err on the side of action, and selling for what is almost definitely a guaranteed profit is great action. Move the funds into something that hasn’t doubled in less than thirty days and be glad you made your money. I’m not advocating a fire sale here, but I wouldn’t drag my feet either. Sell Ugin, pocket your profit, and if he’s $55 in a month, don’t feel bad. He just as easily could have gone the other direction and you’d be kicking yourself if you had held on.
Foil Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
After several jumps within a few weeks, foil Jaces under $130 were nowhere to be found. A month later they’ve settled around $100. Do we move them at $100 or wait for greener pastures?
This partially depends on what you got in for. If you paid $70 for your foil Jaces and you don’t need them for honest-to-god Magic, I’d be happy to ship them now. Profit is profit, and rather than wait around for a price increase that may or may not happen in an unknown timeframe, free up the large sum of money now. We’ve already seen him contract from the $130 he was at his peak, and you don’t want to get locked out of profit because you were too greedy to let go at the right time.
While copies have fallen back to $100, they’ve managed to hold the line since early October, and buylists have slowly been creeping up at the same time. As of today, the best buylist is $80, which is only a bit more than a twenty-percent spread. While non-foil copies have slowly been subjected to attrition, with prices having dropped from over $70 to under $60, foils have stuck firmly at a $100 floor, and not many are available for that number either. It’s not uncommon for foils to do well over time irrespective of their non-foil counterparts. Even when Jace rotates and the non-foils dip, I doubt we’ll see much movement on the foils. After that, it will be nothing but growth as he entrenches himself in Modern, Legacy, Cube, and any other format.
With prices holding steadfast at $100, a rising buylist, and a definite eternal pedigree, foil Jaces look good in the long term. If you picked them up cheap enough to make a profit selling at $100, I don’t hate that play, but otherwise, keep these stashed for awhile. We could see numbers north of $150 within a few months to a year.
“Wingmate Rocs Worth Less Than I Paid for Them”
We’ve all bought cards as a spec and ended up underwater. (Advent of the Wurm comes to mind.) What do we do with the latest batch?
It’s hard to say for sure without knowing what our poor reader paid, so we’ll assume he’s behind, but no by that much.
Wingmate Rocs already went through their post-rotation boom/bust phase, and they did it extraordinarily fast. The card jumped from $2.50 to $7 and back to $3.50 in the span of less than two weeks. Realistically, you probably had less than 24 hours to sell anywhere near the peak. Now that prices are back where they started, it’s not a bad idea to just be done with them. It’s unlikely that Rocs will explode in price again, so rather than watch them continue to drop while getting burned by the sunk cost theory, cut your losses and move on.
Since Rocs have just about bottomed out again, what have you got to lose holding on for a bit longer? While the odds may be slim, there’s always the chance that they’ll become especially relevant again if OGW brings something to the table that drives a Roc-heavy list. Even if that doesn’t pan out, can they really drop even further?
With the absolute cheapest TCG copies over $4 a copy, I’d ship these and take the lumps. This could shed another $2 by February with no chance of gaining value, If you aren’t selling on TCG, selling sets on eBay may work, or otherwise find the best buylist with a good trade-in value and there’s even a chance you could end up in the black (on store credit).
With nearly as many printings as Giant Spider, what’s the plan of action for the most vilified sideboard card in Modern?
Blood Moon is expensive. Over $40, in fact. Wasn’t this in Modern Masters? At rare? And isn’t it just a sideboard card? Yes, yes, and yes, yet still, the price climbs. The Modern Masters copy is more today than the card has ever been prior to this spring. With a price that high, it’s tempting to ship copies to lock in profit. Plus, with prices having dropped recently, it may be time to get out before this drops like the giant rock that moons are. We also can’t discount the possibility of a banned list shakeup damaging Blood Moon’s utility. While I doubt we’ll see Moon itself banned, several of the decks it preys on may eat it. If that happens, it’s unlikely to recover this spring, and may even shed value as it sees reduced play.
This pretty much says it all. During the last PTQ season, the price on this skyrocketed, with buylists breaking $40 and retail above $50. As soon as the season ended, buylists dropped dramatically, and as of today are $25, a full thirty percent less from their height. What this tells me is that demand for this card is extremely high during PPTQ seasons and ahead of Modern events, but drops off fast in the off-season. Well, it so happens that we’re in the off-season right now. With the Modern PT early next year and a major Modern GP weekend shortly thereafter, this only stands to gain from now until then. So long as this dodges a reprint—which would be nearly impossible to come to be between now and March—we could easily see buylists hit $40 or more ahead of a big weekend.
Blood Moon is a seasonal sideboard card. We’re not in the midst of that season, so prices are unsurprisingly low. Rather than sell at the floor, hold onto this one a little longer. You’ll see a significant price increase next spring, and that will be the time to sell.
Foil Shock Lands
Shock lands have been a sore point for many of our ilk. Thought to be golden tickets to financial independence and condos in Miami three years back, they’ve failed to produce the student-loan-eradicating returns that many were hoping for. Foils have fared better than non-foils with regards to growth, but the recent printing of Expeditions throws a wrench into that machinery.
Looking across the price graphs for these, picking a side suddenly doesn’t feel so tough.
Basically all foil shocks with the exception of Steam Vents have either plateaued recently, or have seen reasonably large drops in their buylist prices—in the neighborhood of 10 to 25 percent. It seems as if Expeditions is putting just enough pressure on the supply that it’s opening up the spread between retail and buylist. Even if the former is remaining constant, holding onto cards where the spread is growing, not shrinking, is bad news. Given how much money it’s possible to have tied up in these, shipping them now insulates you against further loss in demand. This feels even better when you consider that prices have remained fairly stagnant for quite some time now, so it’s not like they were growing right up until the new copies appeared. Demand was flat before this, and there’s no reason to think people will suddenly be falling over themselves trying to score copies.
Foil lands are foil lands, and without reprints, they’ve only got one way to go. Expeditions may be a bump in the road, but on the other side of this winter, we may see that it was a temporary setback. They could recover their lost value between now and March and then continue unabated in their slow increase. Even better, will three years be long enough for these to finally turn the corner and really start appreciating? It would really suck to sell your foil shocks now and then have them all double by the end of 2016.
I don’t write that easily, as it means I have to go dig all mine out and list them. It’s hard to argue with those stats, though. Expeditions put a serious weight on demand. Will foil shock lands eventually shrug Expeditions off and overcome the loss? Yes, quite possibly. That could take years though. With a recent loss in vendor interest that may not be recovered from quickly, I’m not thrilled to hold several hundreds of dollars in shocks. Rather than sit on these and wait for months for them even to get back to where they were, I’d rather just sell them and move the funds into better targets. Like, say, Expeditions.
It’s worth pointing out that I’ll be waiting until spring to sell them, though. Anything that’s a Modern card is a hold right now, and the “hold or sell” question is actually “hold or sell in the spring.”
With a tremendous spike back in June, these weigh in at $45, a far cry from the mere $20 they were one year ago.
Like Blood Moon, it’s not hard to see where the appeal is in selling here is.
Prices jumped dramatically in June, doubling from $30 to $60. Who wouldn’t want to pocket $30 profit each? We could see these show up just about anywhere—Standard included—in which case you certainly don’t want to be holding spares. Remember what happened to Mutavault when it was reprinted? Given that Avacyn Restored wasn’t exactly a tribal block, we shouldn’t expect them to wait to pull the trigger on this until Legions II. Cavern could show up anywhere, and the price will eat it hard when it does. Meanwhile, the buylist has dropped from $35 to $28 in a month and a half. Rather than ride this downhill, we could sell now, leave happy, and rebuy when it shows up in Standard again.
Cavern already proved that it’s a $50-plus card, and we’re just waiting for it to get there again. Just because it could show up in Standard again doesn’t mean it will, and this could be $80 in 2016 without a reprint. The only thing that’s going to keep this from continuing to climb is another printing, and so long as it dodges that, the sky’s the limit. With recent fringe success in Allies, Slivers, and other tribal decks in Modern, Cavern may become even more relevant than it has been in the past.
Verdict: Soft Sell
I was thinking this may be a hold when I started writing, but after looking at the graph and thinking about it, I’m now considering selling my own personal set. The truth of the matter is that it really is easy to reprint this in Standard, or anywhere else, for that matter. They did it with Mutavault, and I’ve no doubt they’ll do it with Cavern. Does that mean we’ll see it happen in 2016? No, of course not. But the door is wide open, and the price will get absolutely blindsided when it does eventually occur. Why open yourself up to an eighty-percent loss in order to hold out for a ten- or twenty-percent gain? I’m selling, though not until the Pro Tour.
First of all, we’re going to operate on a premise: Legacy is fading. I’m not arguing that point today. It’s just going to be an axiom we’re operating under.
Accepting that, there’s a strong case for liquidating these while they’re still propped up by the Legacy boom of a few years ago. Prices aren’t as high as they were, but they’re still quite good relative to the beforetimes. Given the slow descent we’ve seen since May of last year, we can’t suspect that prices are subject to seasonal swings of any sort. It’s just one long decline for 18 months. There’s always a chance for recovery, especially as AAA, Reserve List commodities, but is it worth waiting around for it? Selling now stops the slow bleed and puts a lot of spare money back in our pockets. We all sort of believe that there’s some time period out there on the horizon where there’s no dual land beneath $500, but how many years stand between us and that future? Ten?
Reserve List staples, especially perhaps the most iconic of all, are not any less gold now than they were one, three, or seven years ago. Yes, prices have declined over the last year, but they’ve declined from historic highs across the board. There’s always contraction after a sudden spike, and in fact, these are taking quite a while to deflate. Contrast this price graph with that of a card like Kabira Evangel, which spiked and dropped so fast that MTGPrice barely has enough data to represent the event. Duals are blue-chip stocks, and the ebb and tide of a few bucks on a $200-plus card is irrelevant in the long term. We’re happy to sit on these for several more years. Legacy will do what it will do, but duals are eternal, and one day these will all be quadruple what we paid for them.
Verdict: Soft Sell
Kind of sad, isn’t it? I wasn’t sure what to recommend when I first saw the question come across from Sigmund. After pondering it for a day, though, it’s hard to see holding being a better choice.
You can argue about Legacy and the Reserve List and all that jazz until you’re blue in the face, but this boils down to a simple concept: opportunity cost. That $2,000 I have tied up in Tropical Islands could be $2,000 elsewhere. Sure, over the course of 2016, I could make ten percent on those for a cool $200 profit. A ten-percent gain on a dual over the entire next year isn’t hard to imagine at all, even if it would run contrary to the last year and half’s trajectory.
Or I could put that $2,000 into a diversified Modern portfolio between now and December, and then out it for a twenty- to 200-percent gain in the spring.
Will Revised duals be $500 at some point in the future? Sure. I can totally accept that that would happen. However, would I rather wait ten years for my 12 copies to appreciate from $2,000 to $6,000, or take the $2,000 and turn it into $3,000 next year, and then $4,500 within two years, and then $6,000 or more within three? At the end of the day, you’re unlikely to get punished holding duals, but in this game, “unlikely to get punished” is not an acceptable investment position when tripling up in a handful of months is always a possibility.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Gaddock Teeg, another fun-hating two-drop, is $15. Thalia is currently hanging out around $5, but could easily reach $10 one of these days. I wouldn’t anticipate any reprints, especially not in Shadows Over Innistrad, and her utility continues to grow with every Vryn Wingmare Wizards prints. With no reason to expect a loss in value on the horizon and a benchmark of $15 for Teeg, I wouldn’t sell Thalia unless you really need the cash.
Verdict: Soft Sell
For five months in early 2013, buylist prices were north of $10. They’ve dwindled since, and continue to slowly do so, with a current best price of $4. Even though retail has remained fairly consistent for awhile, dealer demand is dropping slowly, indicating deflating demand. I still like Restoration Angel in the long run, as she’s a combo piece with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and an excellent value engine, but in the short term, your money probably works better elsewhere. I could see an argument for holding, though, as we’re in the midst of a soft season for Modern, and we could see a restoration of her $10 price tag in the spring if something interesting shows up in OGW.
Today’s buylist is just $4, and it’s been over a year since it was above $5. Looking at the graph, it’s just a ride downhill the entire way.
Rather than hold out for some triumphant return in the future, recognize that Legacy is decaying, he’s not getting unbanned in Modern, and your money is better served elsewhere. Sell now and move into something more interesting, like Disney stock or a private drone army. Don’t refuse to let go just because you bought before he was banned; the ship is sinking slowly and standing on the bow yelling that things are going to get better while the water laps at your ankles isn’t going to make you any more money.
Sealed Mind Seize
You missed the boat on that one, buddy. These are selling at $30 and less all day long on eBay, and I don’t expect them to climb much north of that for a long, long while. If you’re patient and don’t need the money, stick them in the closet for a few years. Other than that, let them go, and remember this for the next time you grab something that’s a short-term flip.
These haven’t moved in a year, and have fallen slightly in two. The time may come where these are worth double digits, but how long until that happens, and will there be a reprint before that? Turn this stagnant mildew into something more vital.
Everyone seems less aware of this than Atarka’s and Dromoka’s, but that could be because this, unlike the other two, hit $10 and just refused to blink. With a fair trade price of $13.50 and a slowly widening gap between buylist and retail, now is the time to ship any spares. It’s going to be extremely difficult for this to climb much higher (not that it’s impossible), while on the other hand, it could lose half its value and still be “too expensive.” Given that this is a two- or three-of in a handful of Modern decks outside of Standard and that’s about it, now is absolutely the time to cut and run.
This was fun! I know that writing it was extremely valuable for me, because I was forced to think long and hard on several cards I’m holding at the moment. I’ll probably end up selling quite a bit of cardboard as a result of this article. Any time that writing makes me reconsider my own beliefs, I like to think that it was a worthwhile piece not just for me, but for everyone. I hope that this has been helpful for you as well. Perhaps you’ve got some of the cards discussed above, or maybe you’ll apply similar logic to something I didn’t mention. Did this article inspire you to action? Let me know!
I’ll be at GP Pittsburgh this weekend, so if you see me, don’t hesitate to swing by and say hello.