All posts by Douglas Johnson

I'm a 20 year old college student with a scholarship from Gamers Helping Gamers. I write finance articles for MTGprice.com, am a Resident Assistant at school, intern at the Sheriff's Department, and play League of Legends.

Damaged Goods

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Yes, I actually play Magic Sometimes

So most of  you reading this article will know of the existence of my Child of Alara Lands Commander deck, mostly because I incessantly talk about it whenever a new card gets spoiled that could be played in the deck. It’s my favorite deck that I own by a fair margin, and I’ve been working to foil out as much of the deck as possible. I’m even trying to foil out the cards that don’t exist in foil, with the help of TheProxyGuy (NOTE: Do not ask him to sell proxies. I traded cards for the below custom proxies, and you should contact him at zeerbe@gmail.com if you’re interested in trading.)

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So where am I going with this? Oh, right. So I was hanging around on TCGplayer a week or so ago, looking for a card to ruthlessly buy out  a foil for my Child deck. I forgot that Petrified Field had just spiked, and I was on the hunt for any foil copies that hadn’t been bought out yet. At the time of my purchase, there were a couple NM foils at $30+, and one damaged foil at $15. The nonfoil had just spiked to $10, so I decided to take a gamble. Now, most of you have probably taken a peek at TCGplayers’ (or another similar store’s) grading guide at some point in the past, so we’re going to skip past the initial paragraphs and check out the relevant one.

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manor

Look at that work of art. Someone at TCGplayer probably had to paint their driveway with that card before taking that picture for a stock photograph. So technically, I’m risking getting that thing in the mail when I open up my foil Petrified Field. Considering this deck is my pride and joy, I’d rather my foils not look like they were used to whet the anime sword held by new Olivia. Considering the foil was half the price of all the other copies on the market, its’ safe to say that it was infected with leprosy and no other buyer wanted to touch it. When the package came in the mail today, I honestly expected something in this condition.

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Instead, we ended up with this. I’m going to warn you, MTGprice has no way to tag an article with NSFW. This image is not for the faint of h-

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Oh. Uhhhh…. alright then. Neat. Did I get lucky? I probably got lucky. That wear on the bottom right corner of the backside is pretty noticable though, and the card might have been more correctly labeled as Heavily Played. TCGplayer’s grading guideline says that damaged cards may not even be sleeve playable, but it’s certainly better than the mutilated corpse of a Magic card than I was half expecting to receive. I’ll be completely happy to jam this into Child, and no one will be the wiser that it had a little accident in the corner.

This got me thinking though; what if we take most of the risk out of the equation? While there’s no way to contact a seller directly through TCGplayer without buying a card from them first, we can use the power of the internet to ask exactly what these “damaged” cards look like before picking them up. If I as a player could get a 40-50% discount on the NM price just because a seller is an extremely harsh grader, then I feel like I’d be a lot more likely to purchase the card. Considering some damaged cards sit on the storefront for extended periods of time before disappearing (I assume due to fear of the cards looking like they were cooked over an open flame for an extended period of time), then we might just be able to get a message back from a seller at an email address with a few pictures.

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Unfortunately, I’m sitting at my computer at 11:47pm and just came up with this article idea not two hours ago, so I don’t exactly have a paper trail of conversation with a TCGplayer vendor about damaged cards ready and raring to go. However, I can provide you with an example of a card that I’ve had my eye on for a little while. Remember how I wouldn’t shut up about Volrath’s Stronghold for like a week or two? Well there’s currently a damaged one sitting on TCGplayer for $21 shipped, sold by The End Games.

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Less than a dozen clicks away, and I’m on their web page ready to ask them about this particular Stronghold that they have listed on TCGplayer. I’m going to take a slight risk and assume that there is only one store called The End Games in the state of Virginia, but bear with me here. As long as we provide an email address and use our please and thank you’s, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to get a bit more specifying information on the card that’s been on TCGplayer for multiple weeks now. If it just has a couple creases on the corners or has slight water damage, you could easily pick up the copy you want for your Commander deck at a much lower price than the other copies currently available.

One of the downsides to this method is of course that you probably won’t be able to contact a store if they’re not actually a Certified Hobby Shop. Some of the stores with fewer number of sales that just do this on the level that I do won’t be Google-able, and as such would be more difficult to contact if you wanted to inquire about the exact status of their more heavily worn cards. Still, the goal of this article was simply to show that not all “damaged” cards will be ripped in half or dipped in chocolate syrup. I took a gamble and it paid off, but there could have been ways to remove the risk from the equation and safely end up with a nice discount on a pretty looking foil that I wanted to add to my Commander deck anyway. See you next week!

End Step

  • As a couple of you mentioned in the comments of my previous article, yes I was probably wrong about Mayor again. As much as I want to justify buying them at $3, I just refuse to buy into a card after it already spiked the first time. I would much rather put my money elsewhere, like into collections.
  • I definitely missed the boat on Always Watching. It turns out that calling Glorious Anthem with upside a bulk rare is a bad idea. On the plus side, I can still be right about 80% of the rest of the set because I call almost everything a bulk rare, and maintain that sweet, sweet, batting average of pure pessimism.

 

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Still No Full Moon

So a couple weeks ago, I talked about why I really didn’t like Mayor of Avabruck as a spec target. Back then, my logic was based on the extremely small space for werewolves as shown on the checklist card. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the player type that we’re not, then we can try to shine some moonlight as to why this tribe that’s seemingly dripping with flavor and non-competitive appeal has been so much of a financial letdown over the past four and a half years.

I’ve seen a decent number of people suggesting that the puppy patrol will see a rise in popularity in the wake of a potential new legendary werewolf creature to lead the Commander deck. Now that the second checklist card has been proven to be a reality, we have a bit more clues to narrow down the possibilities of what can and cannot be in the set.

checklist

With two of the white and blue slots being taken up by Archangel Avacyn and Marit Lage, she’s on Innistrad and going to fight Emrakul in a 1v1 duel to save the Multiverse, we only have one red, one green, and one gold double-faced card at rare or mythic. I’m going to go out on a limb here and take a guesstimate that the werewolf ‘walker takes up one slot there, and the legendary werewolf Commander is the other.

checklist

That makes the total number of double-faced werewolves in Shadows Over Innistrad an approximate grand total of fifteen. Yep, fifteen flip doggies, give or take one or two (I can’t really tell if Breakneck Rider is the name of a werewolf or not, and it’s possible that the mono-red double faced card is not a werewolf). Let’s compare that to the number of Allies in Battle for Zendikar that managed to spark a couple of the decks’ core components.

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As you can see, Allies got a lot more support in BFZ than Werewolves are likely to get in SOI. There are a couple explanations for this; the word Ally got slapped on at least a dozen or so random creatures that would have likely been the exact same without it, and BFZ wasn’t really competing within itself for any other non-Eldrazi tribes. Innistrad is full of Angels, Vampires, Zombies, Humans, and Spirits, all fighting to get a piece of the tribal pie.

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Instead of the new Allies being any good at all for the competitive player, they managed to spark a fire in the casual players heart. People started to look back at some of the older (and better) Allies that they could combine with their pack-fresh durdles, and we saw a lot of the  reasonably powerful ones creep up in price. The mana dork, clone, and protection engine are the most prominent of that group. The kind of player who enjoys Magic without sleeves eats those cards up, and you should always be happy to find that person and do business with them.

I said something important back there. Remember that all-important article by Ross Lennon that I always reference, called Mastery of the Invisible? You know that they exist, which is good. You also have a general idea of what kinds of cards these players enjoy playing with. Mill. Angels. Demons. Dragons. Zombies. Relentless Rats. All deck themes that are time-honored favorites in the unspoken majority of the player base. Why aren’t werewolves a part of this? Well, my friend; I have a theory (and it’s just that, a theory) that one of the reasons for the unpopularity of werewolves is the requirement for additional hardware; either in the form of checklist cards or protective sleeves.

“But DJ! Checklist cards are only like 25 cents on TCGplayer, or 10 cents on SCG!” Yep, but they’re an additional hoop that the player has to jump through to build their deck. While anecdotal evidence is far from fact, I thought about this while at the shop one day when a customer came in to buy one of the 1,000 count boxes of commons/uncommons that I sell for $7. He pulled out one of the double-faced werewolf cards and questioned how you were supposed to play in in the deck if you could see it coming, which is a fair question if you’ve been playing Magic for less than a month. I explained the concepts of both checklists and sleeves to him, and was met with the following response:

“Oh. That seems like would take more work to keep track of if I had a deck full of two-sided cards. Can I just trade it for a different card in another box?”

So what are your thoughts on casual players disliking a high volume of double-faced cards in their deck because of the requirement of additional checklists/sleeves? I’ve had no trouble selling Bloodline Keepers in the past, but maybe that’s because it is usually the only DFC in the deck. I’m curious if anyone has had a similar experience as I have, and if the need for a high volume of checklists has had an effect on the suppressed demand of werewolves as a casual archetype.

Were Else Should we Look?

If we’re not buying into werewolves as a casual spec, what kind of cards should we be looking into? Well, I like Vampires and Zombies as a starting point. Contrary to our furry friends, we can put our hard-earned cash dollars into cards that, like the werewolves, won’t be reprinted anytime soon, but also have the benefit of already being proven over time.

endless ranks

Now that the windows are broken, this card is practically on the reserved list. There is no way that the cathars of Avacyn can rebuild with all those undead walking around. All jokes aside, this has managed to shamble its way to a solid $3 over the past few years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it hanging around the $7-8 mark in a few months. If all else fails, this will be a much easier sell at the $3ish it’s at now than a pile of 47 Mayor of Avabruck.

Let’s wrap all that up in a neat bow; Even though there will likely be a double-sided werewolf planeswalker and legendary werewolf creature in Shadows over Innistrad, I do not expect werewolf cards to increase Mayor of Avabruck or any of his werewolf buddies to increase in price significantly enough such that it would be worth buying in now for profit. If you’re one of the few Invisibles that keeps their finger on the pulse of the finance market by reading these articles, and you want to build werewolves, then I don’t think there’s downside in buying now because you plan on playing with them.

 

End Step

Rest in Peace is fighting the good fight against the undead hordes, and wants a bigger paycheck because of it. He’s not arguing for a $15 minimum wage, just a $2 raise per copy. What a goddamned socialist hippie. Even at $4, I don’t think this card is a bad buy if you need copies or expect to require them in the future. Remember all those players who thought Stony Silence had reached its’ peak at $5? Exactly, you don’t remember them because they shut up real quick.

 

 

 

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Wherewolves and Whywolves

I Have Returned

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So, I’m back. It’s been a while since I’ve actually had the chance to sit down and write, so let me explain. If you don’t give a crap about my personal life and explorations, I don’t hold a grudge against you for skipping ahead to the bold heading a few paragraphs below that reads “Finance Starts Here”. I promise there’ll be an entire article’s worth of content down there. I’ll start by saying I’ve had an interesting couple of weeks, and we have a hell of a lot of content to talk about. WordPress decided to mutiny and failed to publish my article (the one that was published last Thursday) on time, and Corbin wasn’t able to catch it because of a battle with the flu. Therefore, the article that went up last week was supposed to go up the week  before that on the 11th, and I didn’t catch it because I was on a 15 hour drive. Mistakes were made by multiple people on the team, and we apologize.

Okay, so remember that trip to Georgia I was talking about a few weeks ago? Remember how I said I was going to shopcrawl? Well, I didn’t get the chance to. I had a bunch of stores picked out, and our plan to leave at 3AM from upstate NY was in place weeks in advance. While Oswego is normally known for its’ incredible levels of snowfall and cold weather, the weeks leading up to our trip had left us with zero snow whatsoever.

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Unfortunately, the powers that be were saving up all of the snow over the past month, and felt the need to dump it all on us on the evening before our trip was scheduled to begin. When we braved the storm outside into the campus parking lot, we learned that we were completely trapped until the snowplow came through so that we could shovel ourselves out.

Except that it never happened. It wasn’t until 9AM that we managed to give up on the plow coming through, and tried to dig ourselves out and use tracks that someone else had made, so we were six hours late on the start of our journey. No shopcrawling, as we needed to actually make it to the hotel in time. Alright, fine. I’ll just shopcrawl on the way b–

Nope. A deadly combination of a personal emergency on Sunday night combined with another ridiculous snowstorm up north meant that we had to put the bulk buys on hold as we rushed back to NY on Monday. One small vehicle collision on I-81 at 12:30AM later, and my fiancee’ and I were stranded at a motel for another day in Pennsylvania while we waited for information on a rental car from the insurance. Thankfully we’re both okay, but it was certainly a stressful event overall.

Finance Starts Here

Remember that trip to Georgia I was talking about a few weeks ago? Contrary to what you may have thought, I didn’t drive all the way down there to unload pricey staples, post-spike Modern cards, or anything like that. The real treasure here was the fact that Card Advantage’s buylist is one of the deepest in the entire country. In the pictures below, ignore the first three categories. Then, convert the numbers into cents.

These are the real treasures of #mtgfinance, because it’s impossible to lose while buying bulk. While we spent almost an entire day pricing out everything and settling the final cash number, it was made much easier by the fact that everything was alphabetized beforehand. I’m sure some people reading this will take this photo as a humble brag, but it just goes to show that with a good network and the willingness to pick the dimes and quarters, you can walk away with a lot of cash that nobody else will even care to sneeze at.

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The Next Spawnsire?

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So for the past two weeks or so, I was planning to write about how Mayor of Avabruck was a darn fine spec target at his current $2. I had this whole repeat Spawnsire argument planned, and how werewolves are a slam-dunk casual tribe that were going to receive new support in Shadows over Innistrad. I was going to advise you to buy into the puppy lord so that we can all revel in his future $5 price tag together. Part of my argument included the SOI checklist card that was leaked a few weeks ago, and how Mayor was obviously not going to be included.

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That argument fell apart about ten minutes ago, when I actually put a little bit more thought into the comparisons between Spawnsire of Ulamog and Mayor. As you can see in the linked picture above, Lars on Twitter said that the possibility of receiving a Legendary werewolf this time is 99%. I thought so too, until I actually read all of the names on that checklist card. Tell me, out of all the double-sided cards that are in this set, how many of those feels like a name they would use for a legendary werewolf?

None of them. We don’t even have a character name on the sheet. Unless this is only one checklist card of two in the set (You’ll notice that we can see CH1/297 in the bottom left corner of the card), then we’re not getting a legendary werewolf. In fact, it looks like there’s less than ten werewolves in the entire set. This is a whole different level of archetype support than Eldrazi were receiving in Battle for Zendikar. None of the other rarewolves have moved an inch over the past four and a half years. If you want to, it’s still extremely easy to build a werewolf deck for less than twenty or thirty dollars because all of the pieces are literally pure bulk, and the supply is plentiful.

Because of these factors, I honestly don’t think Shadows over Innistrad will spark a surge of werewolf demand like BFZ did with the Eldrazi. While the buy-in is certainly cheap and you’re running a very low-risk operation, I think you’ll at least have to wait until more news about Eldritch Moon before we can expect returns on Mayor. or any of the other werewolf creatures.

If you’re someone who wants to throw a few dollars into the ring for fun, I can think of a couple cards that I expect to stay under the radar for a while longer. While neither of these are cards you want to buy from the internet at full retail, I’ve been stocking up on these for several years in slight hopes of a casual resurgence. I had the opportunity to move them to Card Advantage for a fair 8 cents a piece, but I quickly declined.

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As I said before; I really don’t expect demand for werewolves to spike significantly enough from SOI to put a dent in the current supply. When we look at the amount of stock that stores have below, it’s hard to expect commons and uncommons like this to move any meaningful amount.

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What we can do, however, is hold onto the cards with the hopes that we can network and make connections with non-competitive players at the prerelease, managing to get “full retail” (and by full retail, I mean the full 50 cents a piece) for our five year old commons and uncommons that have dodged reprints up until now. Putting playsets of Moonmist in your trade binder at the SOI prerelease will go a long way towards shaving discounts off the new Standard staples that you’re hunting for in the set.

End Step

While we’re still on the subject of double-sided cards, I want to talk for a minute about Delver of Secrets. Once heralded as the Nacatl of the skies while terrorizing eternal formats, Delver’s wings have been clipped for a while now, and we haven’t seen him show up recently in any sort of high-level event. What I have seen, is a group of people advocating picking them up at their current $1.50, and foils at $10, as a result of the checklist card from before confirming an absence of reprints. I honestly don’t think that alone is enough to cause demand for Delvers to increase, so I would personally away away. As a matter of fact, I sold every single Delver that I owned to Card Advantage back in Georgia for $1.00 each (which is also an example of how strong their buylist is).

 

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Spawnslicer Seas

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I really enjoy when I get to spend an entire article talking about a single card as a case study. I find it fun to break down every single aspect of a card, dissect the possible reasons and explanations behind shifts in price, and use that card as a textbook example for future buyouts, price spikes, or other shifts. My two other written examples of this in the recent past were on Spawnsire of Ulamog and Mindslicer, which were both interesting examples of phenomena in the Magic finance ecosystem with trends that were supposed to be easily predictable.

While Spawnsire was alleged to be a purely speculator-driven buyout, the levels of consistent demand that the card has shown since proved its true worth as a casual stalwart in 60-card kitchen table Eldrazi lists that were juiced up by the introduction of Battle for Zendikar. Now that a large number of those players have already picked up their Spawnsires for their non-competitive decks, we can see the demand for the card recede; Oath of the Gatewatch wasn’t nearly as exciting for Spawny.

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Mindslicer has not been as resilient to decline, but it’s certainly surprised me that the card has not dropped to dollar-rare status after the past two weeks. While none of us will ever know exactly how much money the mystery person made by buying out all of the internet of this stupid 4/3, we’ve already seen the price drop to a more rational level.

mindslicer

It’s down 50 percent from the $10 that it was hanging at when I dedicated a week to discussing the buyout, and it seems to have settled for the most part. While I’m sure some of you are preparing to shout, “But DJ! The Master Buyoutmancer was able to maintain the price of Mindslicer at a level over 1000 percent higher than what it started at! You said that these evil people can’t make cards jump by ridiculous percentages and stay at those prices without actual demand.”

That’s right, I did say that. The key here is that we’ve finally reached a point in the race to the bottom where other stores are willing to partake in the transactions, and feel safe enough about selling Mindslicers at the new price that they’re putting the card on their buylists.

buylist price

ABUGames (excellent buylist) and StrikeZone Online (eh…) are both willing to take your copies of Mindslicer off your hands, and pay you actual cash dollars due to their confidence that they can resell these copies at the new established price point. While everyone’s  initial reaction (including my own) to the Mindslicer buyout was that it was going to fail, crash, and burn back down to bulk, the individual(s) who made the decision to purchase all of the available copies was confident enough that a new price would be somewhat sustainable. Instead of the good old Aluren example where the card was bought out and then forced back down to its original value due to no true demand, Mindslicer has proven against the odds that it has legitimate demand from stores and players alike.

Aluren

Washed Off Topic

Wait, where was I? Oh, right. I was going to try and write another article about a card in which I’m fairly confident in preparation for the Modern Pro Tour (yes, the same Pro Tour that I said I couldn’t care less about on the latest episode of Cartel Aristocrats). Before I go any further, I’m going to make a tiny, tiny disclaimer. Yes, I own roughly 60 copies of this card. Yes, I recognize that my writing about this card has the potential to act as a catalyst, speeding up the process at which players purchase their copies in a race to lock in their sets before risking supply running too low. For the umpteenth time, I link you to Derek Madlem’s well-written article about The Observer Effect.

However… I believe that the Pro Tour and those watching coverage will have a much stronger impact on the price and demand of a card than my content creation here at MTGPrice does. Due to the fact that my article comes out on Thursday, February 4, and the Pro Tour starts on the 5th, you should have plenty of time to buy non-foils of this card if you need them for future Modern endeavors.  I would hope that sellers on TCGplayer don’t cancel orders for a card that’s this cheap with such a low expected price jump, but you never know.

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Foils

By the time this article goes live, it will probably be too late to buy foil copies of Spreading Seas. There are zero on eBay below $15, and the ones that are $15 are being shipped all the way from Europe. TCGplayer has a whopping two foils as of February 2, and they were both probably fished out of a toilet.

FoilSpreadingSeasSellers

The only online vendor that I can personally find with any reasonable number of copies left is SCG, with twenty MP ones at $7.88 each (disclaimer on the disclaimer: I bought ten SP foils tonight at $8.99 each). For those of you who have been holding onto foil copies in anticipation of a future spike, I suggest selling into any Pro Tour hype you see, and trying to get around $20 for a solid double-up.

Non-foils

As for the non-foils, there are still at least 500 copies on TCGplayer alone, and another 100 on SCG. That should prevent any immediate “oh my god, Spreading Seas is a $5 common, the world is ending” tweets. I highly doubt that happens. Don’t buy a ton of Spreading Seas at $2 each expecting to make a billion dollars, because you won’t. If you happen to own some non-foils, I would wait and see what the Pro Tour does to the card. If Merfolk pounds some faces in or an alternate controlling shell shows up housing Seas, then we could be in for a nice little bump, mimicing the trends of Slippery Bogle and Wild Nacatl (speaking of Nacatl, Spreading Seas does an excellent job of making sure that cat stays wet, in addition to washing away the manabases of Tron and Eldrazi).

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cat

If Seas shows even a drop of on-camera play this weekend, we could certainly see a bump up to $3 to $4 on non-foils in the short term.

So what are your other spec targets for the Pro Tour? While I’ll unfortunately be too busy to watch coverage of the event, our own James Chillcott will be providing up to date text coverage to make sure you don’t miss any potential new decks or cards seeing play.

Until next week! By then, I’ll be on my way to Georgia, but I should still have an article up on that day to keep you busy.

End Step

  • Laboratory Maniac is four times more expensive than you thought he was. “Oh, that card is a silly little dollar rare. It can’t possibly affect me.” WRONG. Card is four freaking American dollars, courtesy of the non-competitive market. Excuse me while I run to the store and pull a dozen of these out of my dollar box before it’s too late.
  • Ad Nauseam is finally starting to perk up from its’ bottom of $2 to $3. If you need these or Phyrexian Unlifes, buy them now. The deck can be very hard to interact with, considering it draws its entire deck for answers to kill the Leyline of Sanctity that you put down.
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