All posts by Danny Brown

Danny doesn’t want to pay to play Magic, and he doesn’t think you should, either. By using common sense, applying basic truisms, and exercising a modicum of patience, he will show you how to maximize every dollar you spend on Magic: The Gathering. Even if you don’t have a huge budget for gaming, with some smart decision making and a little time, you too can afford to build top-tier decks or draft on a regular basis. Danny’s resume includes writing for Quiet Speculation and serving as editor-in-chief for Brainstorm Brewery. He’s a Limited enthusiast with a special fondness for Cube, and has an earnest belief in the inherent superiority of 40-card decks (it’s okay, Constructed players. You’re special, too). Have a question or comment? Reach out on Twitter at @dbro37.

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Assessing the Risks of Speculating

Not all speculation targets are created equal. Each card has a price, a trajectory, context within various formats, a buy-sell spread, historical baggage, print run considerations, and ever more factors influencing to what extent a spec is a “good buy” or not.

It’s because of all these factors that you might choose to go deep on an unproven bulk rare rather than an established format staple, or to buy a staple even when most in the community believe it has hit its peak.

At its core, all speculating comes down to one basic question: how risky is speculating on this card?


Today’s article will be entirely a case study of Abrupt Decay, a card highlighted fairly frequently on MTGPrice in the last few weeks. We’ll be looking at many of the factors influencing this card’s price, all to determine: is this where we should be putting our money?


The current Fair Trade Price on this card is $12.48 and the top buy price is $9.40. So, as a baseline, if we bought into this card today, the risk would be $3.08 per copy. Yes, the buy price can absolutely go down—and it probably will during the summer lull—but assuming no major unforeseen events, it’s hard to see demand for Abrupt Decay declining.

Reprint Incoming?

Importantly, Return to Ravnica is not slated to be included among the sets drawn upon for Modern Masters 2015. As more players look into playing Modern, the staples that don’t get reprinted this year will all of a sudden have a little extra demand focused on them.

Abrupt Decay doesn’t have any particular flavor that would make it difficult to reprint, but it’s also not the type of card that Wizards green-lights every day. The chance of a reprint seems extremely low to me, especially in a normal set. The most likely place, if any, we’ll see new copies of this in the next year or so is through judge or GP promos.

Reprint risk: Low.

Metagame Risks

How likely is it that Abrupt Decay declines in price due to its place in various metagames?

Let’s start by pointing out that this is a two-color card, and one of those colors is not blue, which limits the amount of decks that can play it. That said, this is a very powerful effect, especially in eternal formats where low-drops rule, and it is not unreasonable to build your deck specifically to have access to this card.

How it does in individual formats is important, too:

Standard: Crucially, this is not legal in Standard, so we don’t have to worry about rotation causing a sudden drop in price.

Modern: MTG Goldfish lists Abrupt Decay as the 39th-most-played card in Modern.  The last Modern Pro Tour saw a field of 30 percent Abzan decks, and it’s fair to say that most of if not all of them had access to this card somewhere in the 75. With Jund and straight Golgari decks also fairly prevalent, Abrupt Decay seems fairly safe to continue seeing action in Modern.

Legacy: Abrupt Decay is the tenth-most-played card in Legacy, which is crazy, given that it can’t be pitched to Force of Will. Still, Jund and Sultai decks are big in the format, and Decay is important to keeping Counterbalance decks in check, too. It certainly doesn’t seem like the card is going anywhere.

Vintage: Due to a serious lack of players and events,Vintage playability doesn’t necessarily impact a card’s price in a huge way (foils excepted), but it can indicate a card’s power level. In this case, Decay is the 38th-most-played card in Vintage, so there you go.

Casual: Abrupt Decay is a fine card in Cube, and probably playable in Commander, though not exactly an all-star. Kitchen-table players will probably play any copies they own, but this doesn’t strike me as a card a casual player will see and think she must go out and purchase for her deck.

All in all, I think it’s fairly safe to call Abrupt Decay an eternal-format staple, with little to no value coming from casual formats or Standard. In my mind, this means there is very little risk of metagame changes completely crushing this card’s value.

Contextual Clues

Let’s look at the blocks before and after Return to Ravnica to give ourselves a little context of what is possible and what we’ve seen before.

Remember, Return to Ravnica was a large fall set. It was the first of its block, and Abrupt Decay was printed at rare. If we look a year earlier, we can see the most expensive rare in Innistrad.


This bodes well. Thinking Abrupt Decay will hit $51.57 is ambitious—far too ambitious, if you ask me—but seeing Snapcaster this high at least shows us that Decay has room to grow. Innistrad and Return to Ravnica were similar in a lot of ways, especially with regards to the timing of their releases, the size of the playerbase, the popularity of the sets, the power level of the top cards, etc.

Snapcaster Mage and Abrupt Decay are very different types of cards, but they are both similarly staple-tastic in all of the eternal formats. Snapcaster is probably a little more attractive in casual formats and it does pitch to Force of Will, which means that all other things being equal, Abrupt Decay probably never moves past Snapcaster in price.


Now for the most expensive rare in Theros, which you can see is Thoughtseize. This is similar to Snapcaster and Decay in some ways, but also different in many.

The similarities are easy: this is an eternal staple played in every single format in which it’s legal, and it is a rare from a large fall set in the same general era as Return to Ravnica and Innistrad.

But the differences add a few twists to the situation. First off, this is a reprint. Before it was reprinted, the Llorwyn version was up to an insanely high $70. This was probably due more to supply factors than demand, although obviously both play a role to hike a card price up so high.

Also, importantly, this card still sees lots of play in Standard. Will it drop at rotation? Maybe. But players in general are getting more savvy regarding MTG finance—thanks in large part to MTGPrice!—and many are not selling their eternal staples upon rotation from Standard. Snapcaster didn’t dip as much as we expected, nor did Abrupt Decay, and I frankly do not expect Thoughtseize to drop much at all.

So although Standard is creating a demand for the card, it’s likely that Thoughtseize is never again available for lower than its current price—and if it is, it will only be slightly lower.

Could the $20 price tag on Thoughtseize be an indicator of what to expect for Abrupt Decay? Maybe, although the reprint and Standard-legal angles certainly make it hard to call this a direct analogue. Also, being two-colored as opposed to mono-colored makes Decay more narrow, which lessens demand. Despite these potential pitfalls, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that Decay should be between $20 and $50 based on similar-ish cards printed at similar-ish times.

Unless there are other factors at play, that is.

Set Value

Cards’ individual values are often influenced by how valuable their home set is as a whole. This is in large part because singles are priced by retailers to make opening boxes of product worth it.  This is a big reason why Voice of Resurgence started and remains so expensive: Dragon’s Maze didn’t have any other good cards!

So if we look at Thoughtseize, we can see that Theros is generally a low-value set. Thoughtseize is the single most expensive card in it, and the ones that follow are mythics that are only good in Standard and casual formats. As far as eternal staples go, Thoughtseize is basically it. If it weren’t a reprint, how pricey would the card be, I wonder?

Similarly, Snapcaster Mage comes from a set with only a few cards that see eternal play: Liliana of the Veil (at mythic), Geist of Saint Traft (also mythic), and Sulfur Falls are the top three. There’s plenty of casual goodies in the set, but the prices are top-heavy with the excellent competitive cards at the top of the list. In many cases, prices for the casual cards in this set are far lower than I would expect in general.


And here’s where thing kind of fall apart for Abrupt Decay. Check out the eternal playables in Return to Ravnica (listed by descending price):

  1. Abrupt Decay
  2. Steam Vents
  3. Deathrite Shaman
  4. Temple Garden
  5. Sphinx’s Revelation
  6. Overgrown Tomb
  7. Blood Crypt
  8. Hallowed Fountain
  9. Supreme Verdict
  10. Jace, Architect of Thought*
  11. Rest in Peace
  12. Loxodon Smiter*

Jace and Smiter are fringe players at Modern at best, but they do see occasional play and are worth mentioning here.

Note that every card on this list is probably a little bit lower than we might otherwise expect. Coincidence? I think not. Because there is so much value in Return to Ravnica—and I’m not even considering the top casual cards like Utvara Hellkite and Chromatic LanternI believe the prices of all cards are suppressed. This probably explains in part why the shock lands have failed to perform so miserably.

Now, as we get further away from booster boxes of RTR being commonly available, the price of the box will matter less and less to the prices of individual cards. But the box price is where card pricing derives from originally, and price memory is a powerful thing. Once the playerbase “knows” how much a card is worth, it’s hard to impact that without some major shakeups in supply or demand.

What Does All This Mean?

Let’s say Abrupt Decay hits $20. Its current spread (the difference between the Fair Trade Price and the top buy price) is about 25 percent. So if its retail price hits $20, we can assume the buy price will settle in somewhere around $15.

We’ve already determined the current risk is $3.08 to buy in today. And the gains if we hit $20? Only $2.52 per copy.

Can Abrupt Decay go higher? Sure it can. We’ve seen Snapcaster climb as high as $50, but with the plethora of valuable cards in Decay’s set, the more narrow uses and decks it has compared to Snapcaster, and being from a set that was more opened than Innistrad, it seems highly unlikely to get anywhere close to Snapcaster.

Now for my gut feelings: I don’t see a world where Decay hits $30 any time soon, but $25 may be possible. If it hits $25, then you’re making, what, $6.25 a copy?

So now it comes down to whether you feel like it’s worth it to spend $12.48 to make $6.25 in about six months. Personally, I am not. If I had lots of extra dollars at my disposal, that might be a play I made, but with very limited funds I am willing to dedicate to Magic, I prefer opportunities where I can reasonably hope to double up, and I just don’t think that’s possible with Abrupt Decay.

However, trading for copies is still totally on the table, especially if people are interested in soon-to-rotate Theros cards. And by no means should you be selling or trading copies of Abrupt Decay you already own—it’s basically free money to hold these until Modern Master 2015 is released. I just don’t think it’s worth buying.

The Real Point of It All

This article focused heavily on Abrupt Decay, but it really wasn’t about the individual card at all. My goal here was to show you the thought process behind choosing a speculation target and deciding whether or not it’s worth buying in.

Do you have specific targets your’e looking at? Consider everything: the set they’re in, the supply, the demand, the formats they’re good in, how upcoming rotations and releases will impact them, the similar cards to other sets, etc. The more you analyze your potential spec targets, the more informed your purchases will be. And when you’re spending money on cardboard with pretty pictures, you generally want to be making informed purchases.

Have comments? You know what to do.


UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Planeswalker Finance, April 2015

By: Danny Brown

If you’ve been around MTG finance for long, you’ve often heard that trading into Reserved List cards is a great way to lock in and grow value over time. Indeed, picking up dual lands, Force of Will, Wasteland, and other eternal staples has proven time and again to be a great way to hold value, if not make a profit.

But there’s two problems with this strategy:

  1. Finding these types of cards in trade binders is tough.
  2. Not everyone has the value needed to trade for big cards like this.

And let’s be real, for every Old Man of the Sea, there’s a Sorrow’s Path, and despite being on the Reserved List, you should not pick up Sorrow’s Path. I know, these are the kinds of hot takes that keep you coming back to MTGPrice every week.


Okay, so what is a new or budget-minded or just-plain-cheap mage to do? Very few people are going to trade their Legacy staples for your Sylvan Caryatids and Coursers of Kruphix, but they’re still losing value every day all the same. Maybe you can flip them into Dragonlord Silumgars and Atarka’s Commands, but those have a shelf life of their own, meaning you’re just going to be playing this same game next year.

Fetch lands are the obvious answer, but everybody touches on that fact, and just saying the same thing doesn’t make for a very interesting or informative article. And even still, it’s been shown that reprinting major lands in Standard drops their prices in a big way, so it’s not like you can just hold on to fetches forever.

So where do we look?

It’s In the Title

Look, you already know I’m talking about planeswalkers today, so I’ll quit pretending that I’m leading up to some major revelation.

Planeswalkers, you may be aware, are a casual favorite, from kitchen-table to Commander to Cube. There aren’t very many of them (only 59 by my count!), which makes them special compared to just about every other card type in the game. When they are good in eternal formats, they tend to get pretty darn expensive.

jtmsBut even when they’re universally despised, they still hold a minimum amount of value. Even Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded is around $3, and nobody wants that card for any format. (True story: I will always live in shame that I lost in the finals of Avacyn Restored Game Day to a Craterhoof BehemothUnburial Rites deck featuring Lingering Souls and, yes, Tibalt. So I guess somebody wanted it for a tournament, shockingly.)

There are distinct categories of planeswalkers, and we’ll be grouping all 59 of them today, for posterity.

Standard Planeswalkers

Okay, this one’s easy. If you’re looking to lock in value, don’t trade for Standard planeswalkers. They are almost always fringe-playable in Standard at the least, and that helps buoy their values until rotation. The floor price almost always comes just after they rotate, so I wouldn’t mess with Standard planeswalkers until then (unless you need them to actually, like, play Standard).

There are 16 planeswalkers currently in Standard, which is kind of crazy when you consider that’s more than a quarter of all planeswalkers ever printed. There’s 10 that I believe will be available for between $4 and $5 after rotation, and significantly, never go down from there.

  1. Ajani Steadfast
  2. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
  3. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
  4. Chandra, Pyromaster
  5. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
  6. Jace, the Living Guildpact
  7. Kiora, the Crashing Wave
  8. Liliana Vess
  9. Sorin, Solemn Visitor
  10. Xenagos, the Reveler

Only Jace, the Living Guildpact might go below $4 of these—that guy may indeed end up being buddies with Tibalt. All these others are trade targets at $5, in my opinion. They’ll hold that $5 in perpetuity, and many of them will gain value over time. (We’ll look at past examples of this effect later in this article).

There’s an exception to buying planeswalkers while in Standard, and that’s that there’s almost always a planeswalker that hits it big leading up to and through rotation. We saw it with Jace, Architect of Thought a couple years ago, then both Xenagos, the Reveler and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver last year. The potentials in current Standard for this type of growth are:

  1. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
  2. Sarkhan Unbroken
  3. Narset Transcendant
  4. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
  5. (Sorin, Solemn Visitor)

Sorin is parenthetical because I mentioned him above, but with a current price of around $10, he could fit in this boat. Really, though, all of these cards are a little more expensive than Jace, Xenagos, or Ashiok, and I just don’t feel like any is a great buy right now. At around $8, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker comes closest, but I’d like to see it around $6 before I pull any triggers. It’s not like the card has been blowing up the tournament scene in the last year.

Ugin is interesting, as Karn Liberated‘s history is going to impact the Spirit Dragon’s trajectory in a big way. I don’t believe we will ever see Ugin below $15, and that will likely not be until rotation. Being from a small, middle set means the supply is particularly low, so I would not be surprised to see this outstrip Karn within a few years.

Finally, Garruk Apex Predator and Nissa, Worldwaker will probably not drop to the $5 point where I expect most other current Standard planeswalkers to end up. Any price under $10 for these two cards is probably a good acquisition rate, as these are powerful, evocative, popular, and in low supply. Like the last few core sets, M15 wasn’t overwhelmingly popular.

Eternally Competitive

Very few planeswalkers make it in Modern, and even fewer make it in Legacy. When they do, the price usually reflects it, although to varying degrees.

  1. Ajani Vengeant
  2. Dack Fayden
  3. Elspeth, Knight-Errant
  4. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
  5. Karn Liberated
  6. Liliana of the Veil

It’s a very short list. Elspeth and Ajani both are between $10 and $20, but both have multiple printings to help satisfy demand. The other four or are all $25 or more, with Jace and Liliana pushing up toward $100. Dack gets most of his demand from short supply and Vintage playability, but it’s such a powerhouse in that format that it seems reasonable to add it here.

Still, though, with so few planeswalkers being good enough—and I highly doubt any in Standard will join this list expect perhaps Ugin—the next section is where things get really interesting.

“Bad” Casual Planeswalkers

I’m going to divide the rest of the 59 planeswalkers we haven’t discussed into two groups: “bad” planeswalkers and “good” planeswalkers. I’m basing this on what’s popular in Commander, Cube, and other casual formats, as well as just how frequently I see a card played anywhere. Yes, this is fairly subjective. Deal with it. Fair Trade Prices are as of April 27, 2015, and are listed next to each card.

  1. Ajani, Caller of the Pride $5.48
  2. Chandra Ablaze $8.45
  3. Chandra Nalaar $4.40
  4. Chandra, the Firebrand $4.03
  5. Gideon, Champion of Justice $4.79
  6. Jace, Memory Adept $5.24
  7. Liliana of the Dark Realms $6.39
  8. Nahiri, the Lithomancer $4.76
  9. Nissa Revane $13.28
  10. Sarkhan the Mad $8.38
  11. Sarkhan Vol $10.73
  12. Sorin Markov $14.58
  13. Teferi, Temporal Archmage $5.40
  14. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded $2.91
  15. Vraska the Unseen $3.33

You can certainly argue that some of these deserve to be on the “good” list, but I don’t think there’s much argument that this list closely approximates “the 15 worst planeswalkers ever printed,” give or take one or two that’s still in Standard (with the exception of Jace, Memory Adept, which just doesn’t see a lot of play because it’s too good in small-deck formats and not good enough in big-deck ones).

Note that only two of these planeswalkers are under $4 and only four are between $4 and $5. Many are over $10, some in the face of reprints. The average price of these “bad” planeswalkers is $6.81.

“Good” Casual Planeswalkers

Here are the planeswalkers most often seen in Cube, Commander, and other casual formats, plus ones that were powerhouses in their Standard formats, are liked as characters, or just otherwise popular or powerful. This is everything not mentioned in this article so far:

  1. Ajani Goldmane $10.30
  2. Daretti, Scrap Savant $4.22
  3. Domri Rade $7.08
  4. Elspeth Tirel $12.99
  5. Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury $6.94
  6. Garruk Relentless $3.51
  7. Garruk Wildspeaker $9.23
  8. Garruk, Caller of Beasts $6.19
  9. Garruk, Primal Hunter $7.57
  10. Gideon Jura $4.35
  11. Jace Beleren $9.53
  12. Jace, Architect of Thought $2.82
  13. Koth of the Hammer $6.83
  14. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker $10.25
  15. Ral Zarek $7.09
  16. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad $6.51
  17. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage $19.71
  18. Tezzeret the Seeker $15.91
  19. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas $14.91
  20. Venser, the Sojourner $8.31

Here we have an average price of $8.71, just about $2 over what the “bad” planeswalkers are worth. Pulling the average down are Daretti, Scrap Savant (who Douglas Johnson called out in a recent article) and Jace, Architect of Thought, which is at a shockingly-low $2.82. Yes, this saw a Duel Deck printing, but so did several of the cards on the above list, and they didn’t ever go this low. Jace’s Duel Deck art also has the distinction of being hideous, so you would think the RTR versions would be worth a bit more.

Check out the charts for some of the above cards. Except for the ones that just rotated out of Standard, many have been increasing over the last year. Tamiyo went from $12 to $19. Koth went from $4 to $6. Nicol Bolas went from $4 to $10.

As a general rule that holds true so, so often, planeswalkers go up over time. They almost never go down, except when they rotate from Standard. Even reprints don’t devastate their prices in the same way they devastate other reprinted cards. In many ways, planeswalkers are some of the safest cheap investments you can make.

Besides Jace AOT, Garruk Relentless just seems too low. Sure, it’s not big and flashy for Commander, but it’s fantastic in Cube, only has one printing, and is the only double-sided planeswalker ever printed. For all I know, that last point could actually be a point against it, but double-faced cards really did end up going over very well (and will be back in Magic: Origins).

And the best thing about picking up rotating planeswalkers? Whether they end up in the “good” camp or the “bad” camp, they all tend to go up over time. Isn’t that awesome?

Recurring Nightmare

I’m going to revisit this topic periodically, perhaps every few months, but at least once or twice a year. Planeswalkers perform like nothing else in MTG finance, and that makes them worth a close look on a regular basis.

Have comments? Want to harangue me for calling your favorite planeswalker bad? Or do you want to point out the next hot planeswalker spec? If you have things to say, you know what to do.

Trade Better

Trading is one of the most fun aspects of Magic finance, but it can also be a huge pain. Between dealing with unreasonable people, trade sharks, and a constantly shifting market, actually completing a trade can be quite an undertaking.

But when we do make a good series of trades, it makes it all worth it, right? Flipping five or six uncommons you opened at the prerelease for a mid-tier rare that you trade for a spec target that doubles up and gets you a Thoughtseize or a fetch land is exactly the kind of story that makes people want to get involved in Magic finance. It makes a lot of sense that the MTG finance boom came right after Jonathan Medina’s Pack to Power series: everyone wants to be able to flip bad cards for the best cards, and Medina demonstrated to what extent it could be done.


Trading isn’t nearly as prevalent or popular as it once was, of course. I hardly ever find anyone at my LGS with a binder these days, and when I do, it’s virtually impossible to get any sort of fair deal. In recent experiences, I’m finding that people are either intent on sharking or so afraid of being sharked that they’re too timid to make big trades.

With this in mind, maybe it’s time to take a moment to go over some basic concepts involved in trading. For the casual traders, it will help you feel confident that you’re getting a fair deal. For the financier types, maybe it will help you realize that you don’t need to be getting twice the value as your partner in every trade. Making more trades with smaller value gains is generally more profitable than trying to rip off every person with whom you trade.

Understand Who Has the Power

It’s ten minutes before FNM starts, and you overhear an acquaintance trying to pick up his last Siege Rhino before the event. You’re tuned into MTG finance and know that Travis Allen has been touting this as a good pick-up for some time, and you happen to have a few copies in your binder. You don’t necessarily want to trade any away, but when the guy comes and asks you if you have one available, you figure it can’t hurt to take a look at what he’s offering.

“I’m not really looking to trade a Rhino away,” you say, “But if you make it worth my while, I could be convinced.”

You have the power in this situation. Your trade partner “needs” this card, and you don’t feel a particular drive to trade it away, so a “fair” trade is not to be expected here.

Many players completely fail to grasp this concept. In their minds, the only thing that matters is what the TCGplayer mid says, and if you ask for more than that, then they assume that means you’re trying to rip them off. As a result, these players enter a lot of tournaments with sub-par decks lacking many of the cards they need.

Asking for additional value to encourage you to give up a card you don’t feel particularly driven to unload is not trade sharking, unless you’re lying to your trading partner about what the cards in question are worth. If you start asking for unreasonable amounts of value, you might be approaching shark territory, but as long as your trading partner knows what’s going on, he or she can always just walk away. Then you’re not a shark—you’re just a bad trader who failed to close a deal. It’s when you misrepresent information that things get shady.

This power dynamic shifts a bit if you have cards you’re actively looking to trade away. I’m going to invoke Travis Allen again here, because he touched on this exact topic in his article earlier this week.

Basically, you shouldn’t be afraid to take a small loss on soon-to-rotate cards today if it means dodging a major loss on them tomorrow. I’ll give you a recent example. This past Friday, someone flipping through my binder expressed a passing interest in my Courser of Kruphixes and Sylvan Caryatids I hadn’t managed to get rid of just yet. My eyes lit up when he asked about them. He wasn’t exactly sure he wanted them, and was waffling a bit. Eager to make the trade, I gave him a few dollars in value on a $35 trade, and I made sure to let him know that I was doing that for him.

–Travis Allen

Travis went on to point out that if he didn’t make that trade, there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have been able to trade off the cards until they were worth only $20, losing money in the long run.

So in that case, the other guy didn’t need the cards, he had a vague interest in them. That’s not the time to ask for extra value. If you think the card is going to go up or have a particular attachment to it, just don’t trade it. If you’re actively looking to get rid of it in the face of greater losses, give up value if you have to, within reason. Do you want to make the trade or not?

 Trading Horror Story #1

It’s June 1999, which would have made me 14 years old, I guess (yes, I’m an Old™). I have just opened what might be, in my young eyes, the sweetest card in Urza’s Legacy: Palinchron (aside to my aside: holy crap, I didn’t realize this had been ascending from $5 where I picked a copy a few years ago. Paying attention is important).

I don’t remember exactly what I was doing at the LGS that day. I was probably playing a match, and an adult guy I did not know asked to look at my binder. I let him, he asked if the Palinchron was for trade, I told him probably not but maybe, and he asked if he could take it out of my binder. Because I was a dumb kid, I said yes.

It wasn’t until later that night that I realized I’d never negotiated with him, and what do you know? The card wasn’t in my binder anymore, either. I never saw the guy again.


  1. Don’t trade while you’re playing a match.
  2. Don’t ask to trade with someone who’s playing a match.
  3. Don’t let people steal from you, especially in such obvious and avoidable ways.
  4. Don’t steal from kids. (This one is especially important!)

Trading Up and Trading Down

“Trading up” refers to trading several cards of lower value into one or more cards of higher value. “Trading down” refers to the opposite: trading a high-value card for lots of cards of lower value.

Another concept players often fail to grasp is the idea that expensive, often out-of-print individual cards are harder to obtain and thus more desirable than an “equal value” amount of many lower-value cards.

Cards that are just above bulk, in the $0.50 to $1 range at TCGplayer mid, cannot just add up to Standard staples using the same valuation method. You may find finance-minded mages willing to trade down real cards for bulk rares, but they’re valuing them at 10 to 25 cents each depending what the card in question is.

Even something like trading actual Standard staples like Thunderbreak Regent or Elspeth, Sun’s Champion into out-of-print Modern or Legacy staples like Vendilion Clique, Tarmogoyf, and dual lands is probably going to require some sweetening by the person trading up. If you’re dealing only in trade, it’s a lot easier to pick up a pile of Abzan cards than it is to find someone in possession of and willing to trade a Volcanic Island.

Unless the person trading down is motivated for one reason or another (I’ve heard of shop owners all too excited to trade dual lands for Standard staples that people at their LGS will actually buy, for example), the person trading up should just understand they need to give up value. I recall a several-year-old Corbin Hosler article discussing trading a dual land down to a player for Standard cards (Huntmasters were involved, I’m sure of it) and Corbin explaining to the other guy that he was going to value his cards at buylist prices. The guy did not take it well, which is an example of why trading is so hard these days. Corbin was ultimately doing the guy a favor and he was not concealing information for gain, but the guy still thought it was unfair. This is why it’s so important to understand when you’re trading down or trading up.

Trading Horror Story #2

Basically by a fluke occurrence caused by the most casual of these events I have ever seen, I managed to win a Dark Ascension Game Day, including the playmat, with a non-optimized version of Illusions despite Delver being a well-established deck by that point. I just showed up because it was free to play and everybody who showed up got a Strangleroot Geist promo, which I thought was super sweet.


I had only returned to Magic a few months earlier, at the Innistrad prerelease, so I was not very good at Magic, only vaguely aware of MTG finance (though I’ve always been value-conscious in most areas of life, so I was getting there quickly) , and not entirely comfortable in the LGS atmosphere. And get this—pretty much the only format I was playing at the time was Standard. (For real, though, I loved Scars-Innistrad Standard and would play it again if I could.)

I was playing with my sweet Gameday Champion playmat at FNM, and a guy kept asking me to trade it. I didn’t really want to, but he was persistent, so finally, I just said, “Sure, but you have to pay extra. I want thirty dollars.”


I had noticed that playmats generally sell for $10 to $20, so I thought I was really getting a good bargain here. Stupidly, I had failed to look on eBay and notice that these were going from $50 to $100 at the time. I traded it away for two Gravecrawlers and other junk I didn’t really want or need, basically because the guy wouldn’t leave me alone about it.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. A guy I was friendly with approached me later in the evening and said he was going to offer me four Seachrome Coasts (valued at $20 at the time) for it. This is when I was informed of the mat’s true value, and I was just crushed. The guy and his buddy took it upon themselves to go give $35 to $40 in value to get it back and offered to just give it back to me. Obviously, I told the guy it was his to keep, but he gave me a Seachrome Coast anyway, making it so I got a little bit more value for the mat and he got it a little cheaper than he originally intended. Horror stories suck, but this community can truly be awesome sometimes. (Sadly, neither of those guys play Magic anymore. For now.)


  1. Don’t let yourself be bullied into a trade.
  2. Don’t trade something without knowing its value. You might regret it.
  3. Make good friends.

 All Things Being Equal

The best and easiest trades are when you have cards your trading partner needs, she has cards that you need, and those cards’ values are close enough that trades can go straight across with maybe some random throw-ins on one side or another.

Of course, Magic financiers don’t often have needs, per se. There have been times where I was trading with no particular goals but to make value. In these situations, you’re looking to have cards that people will need, so that you can have power in trades to get a little extra value. If you’ve got a bunch of stuff that nobody wants, you’re not going to accomplish your goals.

What about trading with financiers? Is it just not worth the time? In my experience, it often isn’t, but if you feel like doing it, it really becomes a game of who is speculating on what. You’re not going to get much current value out of your trading partner, so you need to figure out what he is bullish on that you’re bearish on, and vice versa. This is a way that two financiers can walk out of a trade and both feel happy.

Finally, I recall back in my Standard days that Silverblade Paladin was going for $9 or $10 at Star City Games but had a TCGplayer mid of $12. If you know anything about SCG prices, you know that it’s very rare for SCG to have a price below TCGplayer mid. I used this knowledge to trade for Paladins with people who used SCG prices and to trade away Paladins to people using TCGplayer prices. Noting value differences like this can often make you money.

As a general rule of thumb, it favors you to trade up using SCG prices if possible, and to trade down using TCGplayer prices if possible. SCG prices on high-value cards are closer to market price than bulk rares, which all get marked up to at least $0.50.

Trading Horror Story #3

One time, I was looking through a guy’s binder and a page had a crushed cockroach on it. That’s extremely gross, but I just chose to not mention it and quickly turned the page.

Then I got to the center of the binder, where the folios fold and there’s a little space in the spine. The entire spine of the binder was filled with cockroaches. An onlooker remarked in horror about it, I sat there shocked and appalled, and my trading partner profusely apologized and said he had been dealing with a huge infestation at home.

I did not complete a trade in that instance.


  1. Don’t live your life in such a way that this ever happens.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, kids. Until next time!

Topps Star Wars Card Trader and Magic: The Gathering

By: Danny Brown

Alright, I feel like it’s important for me to own when I’m wrong, and last week, I said this about Dragonlord Silumgar:

I just can’t help looking at Sower’s $17.44 price tag as a rare (from the pre-mythic era, yes) versus Silumgar’s $7 price point right now. Again, I’m advocating keeping a close eye here, as if this sees no Standard play (and I don’t expect it to see much, if any) it should drop sharply and present real opportunities.

It’s not like I said Silumgar was horrible in Standard and would surely be a bulk mythic, but I assumed that, like most six-drops, it wouldn’t be good enough. Considering I don’t play or watch much Standard at all, I was basing my belief that the card wouldn’t see a lot of Standard play mostly on Eric Froehlich’s analysis of the card on Constructed Resources. He wasn’t too wowed by Silumgar, and I took his evaluation at face value.

Frankly, I don’t feel too bad about missing here. I didn’t have strong reasons to believe the card would see play in Standard, so I didn’t buy in. From my perspective, it’s always better to not buy in and have a card go up than to buy in and have the card go nowhere. Sure, I might miss a few profit opportunities here and there, but I would rather save my limited MTG money for specs I feel very strongly about. Remember, my goal with MTG finance is to spend as little time on it as possible, so buying only to flip at about the same price is highly unattractive to me.


If you’re looking to play Silumgar in Standard, the traditional summer lull in prices should be a good time to grab copies if you don’t need them for upcoming tournaments. As for Commander and Cube, I’m pretty comfortable waiting for rotation, but if the card drops as low as $5 during Standard, I’ll snag a copy then.

The lesson for me here is that no matter how good the player, no matter how reasonable-sounding the analysis, no matter how sure you or someone you trust is that a card is or isn’t good: there’s no way to know for sure rather than seeing it played in games of the appropriate format. Of course, recognizing when the community at large has misevaluated a card is the best way to profit—it’s just so hard to go against the hive mind.

The Force Shall Be With You

Don’t you wish you could have gotten into Magic earlier? I mean, all those early sets were just packed with value—all you had to do was be there.


Well, I am not The Doctor, so I am not here to take you back to that magical time in the mid-’90s. But what I can do, right here, today, is point you toward something I’ve discovered in the last couple weeks that may or may not be of interest to you (and if it’s not, never fear—we’ll be back to more traditional Magic finance content next week).

In early March, a new app was released, currently only for iOS products but coming soon to Android, called Topps Star Wars Card Trader. I’ll give you one guess as to what the product is.


I happened to notice this in the app store, and being a lifelong Star Wars fan, I clicked out of curiosity and saw the phrase, “Open a free pack every day!”

You’re reading this site, which presumably means you’re a Magic player, which presumably means you like to open packs of cards. Being in the exact same boat, I was easily convinced to give it a casual try. But there’s no way these cards are actually worth anything, right? They’re digital collectible cards that don’t have an associated game, so obviously they’re just for fun.



So, what we’re seeing here is the Black Lotus of Topps Star Wars Card Trader: “Vintage Han.” This is the most sought after card in the game (can we even call this a game?), and even though the app only debuted a month ago, it’s already selling in the $150 range and occasionally over $200.

Do I believe that in 20 years this will hit the numbers that Black Lotus has hit recently? Absolutely not. But it’s pretty clear there’s money to be made with this app. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you need to know for those of you who are interested. If not, skip this section to get back to why an app like this matters for MTG.

How SWCT Works

For the release period, Topps is giving out 25,000 credits for each day you log in, and if you log in seven days in a row, you get a bonus of 50,000 credits. These numbers will be reduced at some point, but this is the current system.

Most of the cards you’ll open in this app are from the base set. Each card has five rarities. From least rare to most, they go: white, blue, red, yellow, and gold. You can always find someone willing to give you nine of a lower tier for one of the next tier up, so completing your base sets is really pretty easy given enough time.

The money is in inserts. Understanding how inserts work is key to getting the best cards in this app.

From what I have deduced, there are two types of inserts: the first are inserts for a particular subset of cards, such as Hoth, Rebels, and Elite Soldiers.


Each of these sets has a specific number of cards to collect, and if you collect all the cards in a certain category by a certain date, you get an award card. The problem is that after the award cards are given out, these inserts lose a ton of value. It’s very common to see traders asking for inserts but specifying, “No Hoth,” which has already had its award date pass. I suspect that as Rebels, Elite Soldiers, and other sets pass their award dates, a similar devaluing will happen.

The other types of inserts are from marathon sets. Each day of the week, Topps announces a couple hours in advance which card will be available for the day. Each day has a different marathon set running, and collecting all 30 cards from a set over the next 30 weeks will result in huge rewards (with sub-rewards for each 10). The Vintage Han above is part of the marathon Vintage set, as is this one:

At first people were calling it “Vintage garbage.” Not exactly an inspiring name. Now it’s known as “Vintage steel,” which sounds so much stronger.

This set has proven to be the premium one on the app, and a new card releases every Thursday. Each card released has a set number of copies “printed,” and once those numbers are reached, no more will be made. Vintage Han is worth so much because only 1,500 are in existence (you can see the number on the back of the card at the bottom left):

IMG_5690 (1)

The other cards that have emerged as the premium ones on the app are those from the Widevision series:


These aren’t fetcching quite Vintage-level prices, but they’re working their way up. A new Widevision card is released every Saturday. Like the Vintage cards, more are being produced every week, so the sooner you join, the better chance you’ll have to pick up the early cards that will be worth the most.

So, if you’re looking to spend a little time on this app in the hopes of making money, you should log in every single day to get your free credits, then be on the lookout for the release of the Vintage and Widevision cards each Thursday and Saturday. That bare minimum can potentially earn you a few bucks a week, assuming you’re lucky enough to open the good cards.

Now, how do you get these inserts? Basically, at the pre-announced time, they can be found in any packs sold on the app. Odds are also given for each card released, and tend to change regularly (inserts tend to be between 1:20 and 1:80 from what I’ve seen so far).

The packs for sale in the store also change regularly, but there are three that are always available:

IMG_5691 IMG_5692 IMG_5693

When I first started using the app, the obvious choice to me was to always buy Boba Fett packs. Based on the number of cards in the pack being the same per 1,000 credits spent but offering the only chance at yellow-rarity cards (you have to pay Earth-legal currency or trade for access to gold cards), this seemed like the only way to go.

Then I learned something very important: insert odds are based on opening the insert per pack, not an insert being a particular card within a pack. This means that if you’re chasing inserts, you want to buy the Mace Windu packs, because they’re cheapest and will give you the most opportunities to open the card you’re chasing.

This is a really basic breakdown, but I certainly wish I had this information when I first downloaded the app a couple weeks ago. I personally missed the boat on Vintage Han, and each subsequent card has had a higher print run, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any with values that high. Still, Star Wars fans love their toys, and this one seems to have been adopted pretty quickly.

Why This Matters for Magic

What blows my mind here is that these cards are selling for real-life amounts of money despite having no gameplay value whatsoever. 

This got me thinking: what if Magic did something similar?

Given that it’s clear that digital card collecting in its own right is something some segment of the population clearly enjoys doing, imagine if Wizards of the Coast created a Magic trading app.

I can see it now: sign in every day to get three free commons and an uncommon. Sign in every day during a week and get a free booster pack! Include trade functionality within the app, offer free stuff and special exclusive awards to encourage collecting, and give opportunities to get the best stuff for free (with commitment), and you’ll have people who don’t even play Magic collecting cards.

Now, here’s where it all comes together: connect this app with MTGO, so that any cards one opens or trades here are synchronized with one’s MTGO account. I think there’s a really good chance that once non-players collect a high amount of cards, they’ll want to find out how to play. How many people do you know that collected Magic for a long time before actually learning the game? I certainly know several.

Here’s the thing about Topps Star Wars Card Trader: there is no way in any possible version of history that I would give something like this any attention whatsoever except for the fact that it’s on my phone. I have a lot of demands on my time, and try to not to waste too much of it on frivolous nonsense. The exception is that sometimes you have to wait in line somewhere, or have to commute to and from work, or spend countless hours waiting for your kid’s baseball practices or doctor’s appointments or orchestra rehearsals, or whatever. In these instances, having something to do is crucial. As a result, I’m much less discriminatory about time-wasters on my phone than on my laptop, for example. If I have to kill time, I might as well be doing something reasonably enjoyable that might earn me a little money, right?

And since I first started drafting this article, something even more pertinent to Magic‘s future happened:


If people were trying to decide between MTGO and Hearthstone, it’s pretty clear which way they’ll be leaning now.

Look, we’re probably not going to get a mobile version of MTGO any time soon, if ever. Realistically, a collection management app with trading capabilities that links to MTGO seems nearly as unlikely, but it’s at least a little more within the realm of possible. It just seems like such a misplay for there to be no quick, easy, and official way to engage with Magic on mobile devices, given the trends in technology and popular culture. Such an app would also help fix the common complaint about player-to-player trading being virtually non-existent on Magic Online. I’d use it all the time. Wouldn’t you?