All posts by Jason Alt

Jason is the hardest working MTG Finance writer in the business. With a column appearing on Coolstufff Inc. in addition to MTG Price, he is also a member of the Brainstorm Brewery finance podcast and a writer and administrator for EDHREC's content website. Follow him on twitter @JasonEAlt

Pro Trader: The Command Zone Effect

Readers!

Today I’d like to talk about something that has been dubbed “The Command Zone Effect” but since the show is called “The Command Zone” it should really be called “The The Command Zone Effect” but I don’t get to name things after I came up with a deckbuilding ethos that I mean to be qualitative rather than quantitative but gave it a number in the title.

Here is my 1,000 essay on The The Command Zone Effect.

Welp, see you next week!

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ProTrader: Magic doesn’t have to be expensive.

Unlocked Pro Trader: Just Being Thorough

Readers!!1

We talked a lot about Ninja, and some we expected to pop popped, some didn’t and some cards we did not expect to pop did pop and if this were that easy, everyone would be doing it. I did manage to get quite a bit right, but now, for the sake of being thorough, we need to talk about Samurai.

Will Samurai be supported in Kamigawa: Ready Magic Player One? Maybe. Will that support make it a good tribe? Doubtful. Even if the new Samurai are all really good, the old ones are not and they won’t contribute much beyond filler. Samurai is, however, a tribe that has never really been supported and now that it looks like it might be, expect people to react like they did with Squirrels. Besides, once you add all of the 5 mana artifacts that make every tribe’s creatures bigger, you won’t have room for more than 15 creatures and you won’t care that they’re 2 mana 1/1s with Bushido. Besides, they don’t need to be good, they just need to be Samurai. Some of the obvious stuff has popped, but what else would you need to buy to actually build the deck? Maybe EDHREC has an answer.

Start off by locating the list of tribes.

Click “tribes” to open a new page.

Then scroll about halfway down. Of the 100 tribal themes recognize by EDHREC, Samurai is number 48 – ahead of Myr and just behind Ninjas. If you think Ninja re more popular than Samurai because there is way more support, there is a good commander, there are Ninja cards in multiple sets and people think Ninjitsu is a much better mechanic than Bushido (all objectively true, by the way) remind yourself that none of that matters to EDH players. They want to build Samurai decks, so they do.

This list is legitimately wild to me at first glance. Saskia makes sense, kind of since there are Samurai in every color but Blue for some reason. The 2 mono-White Kamigawa commanders make sense. Alesha makes sense when you consider the Samurai are all Grizzly Bears with glorified Flanking. Iroas says combat go BRRRR. And Queen Marchesa rewards you for zerg rushing them with Devoted Retainer into Samurai of the Pale Curtain (and actually super underplayed hate bear in EDH). So all of these commanders make sense when you think about it. The benefit of seeing already what people spent the last decade and a half figuring out makes me think I’m smart for understanding why people did what they did, but I’m not sure I could have spit out this top 6 if I had to, blind. Luckily, I don’t. I’ve got 6 lists worth of cards to look at. Is anything in play? Let’s dig in!

These have jumped a few bucks but since there is plenty of supply on TCG Player, still, no one has really noticed. When that happens, sites like Card Shark and other random forgotten gems will have 3 or 4 copies. It’s not much but it’s still gettable at old retail even as Card Kingdom begins to sell out.

It’s hard to tell if this graph shape means it’s too late or if it means that TCG Player and CK are way up but you can still grab these for under a buck where they deserved to sit for years. I don’t like a Green Samurai since it limits which decks it can go in, but if you’re playing some 4 color Saskia pile, you likely need this. At least this interacts with other samurai, unlike…

This is pretty meh in a Samurai deck but it’s no worse in any other White deck since it doesn’t interact with Samurai at all but does have a decent ability. For a car that doesn’t say “Samurai” on it anywhere to have its price tied to speculated Samurai support in this set is baffling, but this kind of buying behavior isn’t rational which is why I’m hesitant to do articles like this one.

Make these inclusion to price ratios make sense.

I don’t think Shared Triumph is good, at all, but I also don’t think a card that’s in a lot of Samurai decks and stands a chance of being in more later should stay this cheap. Share Triumph will never be $30 in the future, but I bet it’s never $4 again. How much do I bet? Eh.

I almost accidentally typed “Oathbreaker” instead of Oathkeeper in this paragraph, but I caught myself. This card isn’t Oathbreaker – people are playing it.

It really seems like the people who paid like $4 for foil copies of cards like Takeno and Lizuka were the big winners, here. The real move is to just buy obvious garbage foils very early and sell out when the tardy folks get around to buying 15% of the cards they think they will need for a deck they’ll never finish building. That or just avoid frenzies like this altogether, which is what I normally do. With the new set being spoiled later this month, we’ll have a ton of real data to look at but, until then, either research turtle tribal or buy some sealed product. Until next time!

Unlocked Pro Trader: Lessons from 2021

Readers!

2021 was pretty nuts and I’m frankly glad to be rid of it. Covid got way worse but restrictions got way looser. They made a bunch of good books into bad TV shows. They made another season of Tiger King. It was bad, people. It’s tempting to throw out the entire year, but the truth is that I wrote 51 dynamite articles and I’m going to spend this one telling you about whether any of them taught me anything about how to do a finance.

I wanted to wrap the year up by highlighting new techniques and breakthroughs we had this year. I’m constantly refining my technique and I seem to be getting better at it – someone on reddit accused me of buying out my own podcast POTW picks because I’ve been getting so many right lately, which is kind of a compliment if you think about it. I AM going to think about it, and I’m also going to think about what I did this year and how we can improve on it even more. Let’s do it to it!

My first article to review was titled “5 cards that cost more on TCG Player” and the title is the description. The premise was simple – Card Kingdom (and Coolstuff Inc, to an extent) are not marketplaces where there is internal competition between sellers to bring prices down. As a result, TCG Player should be cheaper than Card Kingdom. When it’s not, I take a look. Is the EDHREC algorithm scraping different versions? Is one of the sites sold out and therefore the price is frozen? Is it ACTUALLY cheaper on Card Kingdom? Questions like that can knock out quite a few of your candidates, but the ones that don’t get knocked out are usually mispriced. Why is the card mispriced? Figure out which site has the wrong price and you can find some real opportunities the people miss until it’s obvious to everyone and then you’re in a feeding frenzy. Catching prices about to move is a vital skill and any clues we get, we should use. I tried the technique again a few weeks ago and got a spicy spec out of it. This time it was cheaper on Coolstuff than on TCG Player, and there were quite a few copies left before this happened. A lower price on Coolstuff or Card Kingdom doesn’t always means it’s a good spec, but it means it often enough that you should train your brain to notice when TCG Player is the most expensive option.

Everyone knows Tatyova is a pretty absurd commander, but it’s far beyond that. Tatyova is an Uncommon from a set less than 5 years old and it’s nearly $5. Could we see more cards like that? I tried to devise a set of criteria for other candidates and I think the only from the last 5 years is Ser Konrad, a very reprintable (and reprinted) card. Bala Ged Recovery has a shot but that’s not even a Legendary creature. With 25 Legendary creatures a set, it’s rare that they’ll jam something as absurd as Tatyova at Uncommon again, but we’ll be ready when they do and we’ll be buying $0.50 foil copies on preorder.

I called my shot pretty early on which cards from Time Spiral Remastered had enough EDH play to recover from the reprinting. The article is pretty dense and it’s tough to summarize, but this is something I should do more often for reprint sets. There are always cards that recover and people say “when did THAT go back up?” because they don’t check the prices of everything or even that often. I like to tell them what to buy when the price is at its lowest. I followed up in May.

I think the funniest gimmick of the year was the time I wrote a 20,000 word article – provided you buy the conversion rate of 1 picture being equal to 1,000 words, that is.

In June, I got a crazy idea about picking cards that had good growth potential but not so explosive that WotC would notice the card needed a reprint, thus shortening our window. If you like to get out of cards at a leisurely pace, pick cards you can get into at the same pace. I explored the concept in-depth in this article.

This is the epic banner art I chose for my article where I discussed using EDHREC to find data that’s a little tougher to find on the site. Any time someone from EDHREC offers to show you how to use EDHREC better, it doesn’t hurt to pay attention. I’m a resource, make use of me.

Controversially, I tried to come up with my own metric for quantifying demand. The results were a bit fuzzy and I won’t be sure for a year if what we calculated will bear out, but I wrote a couple of articles where I outlined how I calculated the card’s DPI score (Dollars per inclusion) and how I used it to identify cards that were going to change price soon. I am pretty proud of the results but I won’t be adopting the metric permanently.

“The best commander in the set” only works when comparing specs to other specs from cards that came from that same set and it’s important to remember that. Not all “Most popular commander in the set” are created equal. There were only 2 or 3 from the whole year who even made the top 100 list for the last 2 years and those deserve extra scrutiny.

Using a list comparison tool I found online, I compared the top 100 cards from the last 2 years with the top 100 cards from a given week. Doing so can tell you which cards are going up hard and fast enough to displace format staples in the weekly top 100. It’s easy to do and the article shows you how, you just have to remember to do it and I haven’t thought of trying this technique again after I wrote the article even though I think it’s a good one. That’s why we do this annual wrap-up.

Treasure is an evergreen mechanic that is getting leaned into quite hard lately. Will treasure be a player in EDH forever? It seems very likely, and even if there is a lull, it will come back and those treasure-enablers will pop off again hard. What should you stock up on? Luckily, I have strong opinions about that.

Between Umbris and Toxrill, it’s insane how much money Dimir Commanders made me in Q4 of this year. I hope you all got as hype as I did.

If I had to summarize what I learned this year, I learned to use EDHREC data and filter out old staples to find emerging ones. I learned to catch when TCG Player was the most expensive and figure out if a price change was incoming. I developed my own way to calculate if a card was under- or over-priced relative to how many EDH decks it was in. I even figured out how to get EDHREC data that hadn’t migrated to the front page of the site. It was a good year, I had a lot of fun writing some of these and I think I gave a lot of great advice. All I can do is promise to keep improving and I hope you keep reading. Until next year!

Unlocked Pro Trader: Eureko!

Readers!
It will be another week or so until we have new commanders from the next set in the never-ending conveyor belt of products WotC is subjecting all of us to, so I thought I’d talk about something old. 

William Gibson’s Kamigawa is coming out soon, and the prices of really bad cards have been really doing silly things. 

 

We know the decks are called “Buckle Up!” and “Upgrades Unleashed” and nothing so far has indicated to me that Samurai are the play. They’re bad. I can’t even conceive of a card that makes creatures with Bushido playable let alone spec-on-able (Trademark pending). I think it makes sense to buy terrible Samurai for the same reason it made sense to buy Louvisa Coldeyes before Kaldheim. The odds of Louvisa impacting EDH were practically nil, even with a ton of new Barbarians. We weren’t buying Louvisa to be right, we were buying Louvisa to be first so the people who thought of buying her at the last minute had to buy from us. I commend you if you somehow make money on a card like Isao, I guess.

Personally, I am more concerned at the slow movement on the actual good tribe with actual good cards – ninja. I am pretty sure the plural of “ninja” is “ninja.” Is it ninjas? Does it matter? It does to someone! Somewhere, someone is as upset at my failure to recognize the correct plural of “ninja” as I am that Isao went up in price 1,000% and Yuriko hasn’t moved at all. It may be late to talk ninja(s) but it might also not be and since next week we will have actual data to discuss and won’t have to speculate anymore, let’s speculate for the last time in 2021, shall we? I’m going to look at Yuriko and see if we can’t figure out if any of the stupid ninja cards are going to go up. This will be fun.

We sometimes rationalize a big uptick in an old deck being scraped by EDHREC as people updating their decks on the various deck reg sites, but then I see new cards like this.

So it’s possible Yuriko is just insanely popular.

So that being the case, with us returning to a setting where it’s likely we could get at least ninja-adjacent cards, let’s take a look at some big hitters from Yuriko.

This is interesting.

We’re obviously late to the party here. I bought some of these cheap but since I didn’t tell anyone about it, I don’t get to claim credit for it. In fact, if I bought some, why didn’t I tell you to buy some, too? So you see, I invented something called the “bragmonishment” where I will point out I made some money to point out that I’m a bad writer. See? I can hold myself accountable. But yeah, I bought like a ton of these at a buck. Feels good. You know what feels almost as good? Buying these at $3.50 and watching them go to $10. This is a very, very good card. It’s as good in Zombie decks as it is in Ninja decks if you ninjitsu in on a zombie with Decayed, but no one is ready to have the conversation. If CK is charging $6, you should pay $3.50.

If CK can get $15 on these, pay $9. Finance is easy! It’s not just Yuriko giving this a boost, either – there is a Calibrated Blast deck running around doming people with Draco and cards like that. It’s a stupid joke meme deck, but so was Misthollow Griffin and that made Food Chain hit $50. Any time you have help from anywhere else, acknowledge the help, thank the help, profit from the help.

I’ve mostly focused on Dimir cards so far because they seem juicier, but mono-Blue ninjae (I know for sure this is wrong but it makes me feel better to KNOW it’s wrong) have a better chance of popping as a result of something from the Blade Runner set. That said, this is in the tail end of shrugging off a reprint. If there is no Dimir Ninjas deck soon, this dodges another reprint and then rides the demand curve to value town.

I want to show a graphic I showed earlier and discuss it again.

Notice anything? Tribal, Tribal, Tribal, not Tribal, Tribal, Tribal. People love Tribal decks. I don’t know why. They’re obvious and linear and a precon gives you 80% of the deck right out of the box and I guess that’s what people love. I won’t pretend I didn’t build Slivers back in 98 like everyone else. That being the case, isn’t Xenograft super reprintable? No, because it hasn’t been over $2 yet. But it will. There is a wall of copies but once it topples, this could go to $10. There is precedent in this set for it, and I like Xenograft a lot. Hell, I even like Unnatural Selection. The thing is, it’s not just Yuriko anymore – there is another commander making use of Zenograft and it’s very new. Really, there are 2.

I mean, REALLY really there are 3.

That said, Grolnok is sort of the perfect encapsulation of a commander that needs Xenograft – a Tribal commander that needs a ton of instances of the Tribal creature to function but Magic (and even the set it’s printed in) does not have many. There are 27 Frogs in Magic and only 3 of them are playable and one of them is The Gitrog Monster and can’t even go in a Grolnok deck. Future tribes will come to rely on the ‘graft the way they do on Maskwood Nexus and Conspiracy and myriad other “Ooops, we forgot to print more than 6 Unicorns ever” cards that are necessary when every set is a Tribal set. It’s a matter of time on Xenograft.

Mist-Syndicate Naganna be worth less than a buck in 6 months, I’ll tell you that. This self proliferates but still has the common decency to have 1 toughness so Tetsuko can make it unblockable? How sweet.

And there you have it. There aren’t a billion great specs from Yuriko, but real talk, you probably don’t buy everything I recommend, picking and choosing based on what seems right to you, and I think I’ve given you a decent array of choices. We’ll be back next week nursing an eggnog hangover to bring you some hot Kamigawa: Kami in the Shell picks but until then, have a safe and happy Holiday season. Until next time!