All posts by Jason Alt

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

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Gods and Generals, Part 1

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Maybe the title could have been “Gods as Generals,” because that’s what we’re going to talk about this week.

I feel like all of you are teaching me more than I am teaching you, which is edifying for me to say the least. Last week, my article had been up for 24 hours with zero comments, causing me to wonder whether anyone at all had read it. “That’s silly,” I thought to myself. “I bought my mother ProTrader access so she could read my articles and print them out and put them on the refrigerator so every time she went to get out some OJ she could be reminded that her favorite son was a writer and that spending $60,000 on a chemistry degree wasn’t a waste of money but rather a sound investment in a bright future.” I put a comment about how no comments meant no one was saying anything negative, and I got a lot of comments after that. Some of them were even about the article and not about the fact that it was behind the ProTrader paywall! Some of them.

And the ones that weren’t whining from poor people (it’s $5, guys. You make more than $5 a month if you get in a month late on a mediocre spec tip) were very insightful. I would have eventually gotten around to tackling the Theros block gods as spec targets in a future article. In fact, I’m such a professional, it’s likely I would have gotten around to it before rotation.  Possibly before every other financier wrote their articles about what to dump and pick up at rotation. This isn’t my first rodeo. Also, I’m not so bad at this that I think the upcoming set rotation is a rodeo.  That said, there are a few cards that, come rotation, I will be… bullish… about.

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Let’s talk about EVERY THEROS GOD and how I feel about their current prices, because the gods are sicko EDH cards, after all. Let’s start with the monocolored ones and get as far as we can today.

Erebos, God of the Dead

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This guy is falling off as we pass peak supply and Standard players realize they don’t give a wet fart about a Greed that can attack for five. That’s cool! While I don’t necessarily know I want this guy as my general, I have found quite a few decklists that feature him, including one I featured in an article. Erebos is also pretty dandy as part of the 99. He’s a damn Greed on feet, remember? In a deck lousy with black enchantments like Painful Quandary, No Mercy, and Polluted Bonds, this guy is dope.

I actually don’t think he’s done plummeting, though, and I think he could be around $3 at rotation. I would say I am like a 3/5 when it comes to how excited I am about picking this guy up at $3.


Before we move on, let’s talk about something I should have introduced at the very top but didn’t think about until now. Gods strike me vaguely like the planeswalkers did, but back in Lorwyn. Remember when there were only five planeswalkers? They were all money. They continued to be money approximately forever. Like, until the exact second that I said, “I feel pretty good about targeting any planeswalker that isn’t named Tibalt that’s under $5,” and then WOTC went, “Really, douchebag?” and printed approximately infinity RTR Jaces until they were $3 (and yet the price of Remand remained relatively undisturbed, go figure) and now people are emailing me saying, “Hey, you said planeswalkers under $5 were good so I spent my kid’s college fund on Duel Deck Vraska! Keep up the good articles,” and it makes me want to see which make and model of pistol has the tastiest barrel. Planeswalkers are the new hydras, readers. But I guess that’s okay since gods are the new planeswalkers.

It seems like they always will be, too, right? Gods are way harder to reprint in another block. They are legendary as hell and they need to be enchantment creatures with devotion. What are the odds we get both mechanics back if we revisit this plane in like five or ten years? Even if we do come back sooner than that, we will have made a ton of money on gods before then and won’t care. I feel good about a lot of them. Durdles will want to treat the gods like Pokémon and catch ’em all, and since most of them don’t suck in EDH, they’re pretty solid. So I guess I’ll give each god we discuss today a score out of five about how bullish I am about them at rotation.

I don’t know why I’m sort of asking you. This is my column, I can do anything I want. I could grade them on a scale from fart noise to confetti and you couldn’t do a thing about it.


Anyway, let’s get back to Erebos and look at his foil price.

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That’s a graph only a mother could love. I am really loving this price/spread overlay view because it shows what two different “markets” are thinking. Players are thinking, “Yeah, $15ish foil seems fine,” and dealers are thinking, “Get that out of my face.” The price is tailing off a bit and it’s lagging behind the dealer buy price, which is tailing off precipitously. Dealers are not buying these before rotation and you shouldn’t either, not even the foils.

Since Erebos is useful as a general as well as in the 99, I do think the foils are pretty good. This seems like this could be a $20ish card in a few years. Why not? It’s a foil mythic that sees EDH play both as a commander and as a role-player in decks that aren’t necessarily multiplayer. Basically every new player who bought the Eternal Bargain deck and saw a Greed in it will drool over Erebos (or has already, hence the initial demand) and I don’t expect anything to make Erebos obsolete in his role as “best Greed variant ever.” If you wouldn’t play a 5/7 for four mana, or a Greed, or an “opponents can’t gain life” enchantment, perhaps you’d play all three. This card is fine, and if the foil dips below $10, I may crank my enthusiasm for the foil up to 4/5. Yeah. Ballsy. I am not going to give half measurements like “4.5/5” because at that point, you’re saying “9/10 but do some math, readers,” and I’m not about that life. A rating of 4/5 seems okay for a foil god like Erebos at around $8, a number that seems almost absurd because you’re approaching non-foil Garruk Wildspeaker money at that point and gods can be your generals, which is even cooler.

Heliod, God of the Sun

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Wow, the market price is like, whatever, but the dealer price is showing fascinating behavior. It appears that Heliod, by virtue of being mana-hungry and durdly, made dealers hit a minimum “shits given” threshold and it looks like players were right there with them. The TCGplayer price is relatively flat, and that could be due to a lack of sales as much as it could be due to price equilibrium establishing itself. I feel like there is a pretty sweet narrative going on here and I bet it took place at a lot of PTQ and GP booths.

Dealer: “Those are the cards I want.”

Player: “What about Heliod?”

Dealer: “Yes, what about Heliod? What about him indeed?”

Player: “What will you give me? I paid $8 for this guy, give me something.”

Dealer: “I am not the least bit interested.”

Player: “Come on, man! I need money for [spray paint or drugs or diapers or whatever the hell kids these days are buying].

Dealer: “I will give you one whole dollar.”

Player: “… yeah, fine.”

As a dealer, you can’t really pass up a chance at a card that’s likely $5 to $6 in a few years if someone is coming off of it for $1, even if it is Heliod and no one is that jazzed about him. After a while, the conversation took a turn.

Player: “Got a Heliod with your name on it.”

Dealer: “I will give you seventy-five cents.”

Player: “I wouldn’t fart in your mouth for seventy-five cents.”

Dealer: “Okay, a dollar. Damn.”

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When dealers could no longer get them for $0.75, they bumped the price back up to a “still insulting” $1. I think this is just about the minimum buy price at rotation. If  any god goes below $1, or hell, goes below $2 and wasn’t dirt cheap already, that’s probably a decent snag. If you can pay at rotation what dealers are paying now, congrats, you’re thinking like a dealer. They know there is upside at $1. I’m like a 5/5 at $1 or less on these at rotation, which is handy because I don’t see rotation making the price go up.

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Personally, I want to build an entire Heliod deck. Serra’s Sanctum is just yearning to tap for a million mana and fart out a ton of 2/1 clerics. Can you imagine Sphere of Safety if you have two dozen enchantment clerics out? Norn’s Annex, Ghostly Prison, hell, Test of Endurance for all the life you gain when you spit out a ton of clerics with Suture Priest in play. You can build pillow fort and use Heliod to give you all the enchantments you’ll ever need. This is a non-traditional general and mono-white tends to feel bad in EDH, so I expect the foil to be reasonable right now.

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While dealers had to raise their buy prices a bit to keep the supply steady, no one seems to pay the foil much mind. I imagine it dips even more at rotation. I think if the foil hits $5, I’m in, but I’m like a 2/5 on the foil here. Foils have higher upside, but they do have some “new card smell” tax built in when they first rotate. This isn’t a super exciting EDH god for people who aren’t lunatics like me, so I am not going that deep. Obviously, under $5 is absurd for a foil mythic god as you approach its current non-foil buy price. At $1 for the foils, I would spend enough money to make the price go up by sheer virtue of how many I bought. At its current price, I’m a 1/5. I imagine this dips at rotation since none of its price is predicated on Standard or Modern or… being played by anyone at all, really. Sure, maybe I’ll revolutionize 75% EDH with my clericgasm deck, but this is probably just the weakest of the cycle and his price won’t recover until people forgive him for shiv-ing Elspeth in the McRibs.

It’s fair to say that I have talked too much at this point and I’m not going to make it to the ten multicolored gods. I was told to keep my articles “around 2,000 words” and I’m going to hit that before we finish this paragraph. Could I cut some preamble or my dealer skit? Yes, maybe. I could also cut your face. Cut you bad. Cut you so bad, your mama would cry. You want your mom to cry? Okay, then. How about I vastly exceed my word count mandate, upset my editor, give you some bonus content, and see if I can’t squeeze the rest of the gods in next week? I didn’t expect to find this much to talk about when I conceived of the topic, but discovering things that bear discussion is always fun for me and gives me the enthusiasm to barrel through. Three more gods to go—don’t get squeemish on me now. This next one should be easy.

Nylea, God of the Hunt

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I figured we’d see stronger behavior from this card, as it’s played in a (fringe) devotion deck in Modern and isn’t a terrible EDH card. I actually kind of like this in decks like Omnath if you need a mana sink or a win condition. Giving Omnath trample is non-trivial and if Omnath dies, dumping the mana into an alpha strike at one or many players is worth doing. The Modern devotion deck is silly but functional. It seems like that modicum of non-casual play gave the card a multiplier over the price of Heliod, but the dealer behavior is even less encouraging. Dealers want to pay the exact same $1 for Nylea that they’re paying for Heliod and it seems like players, enchanted (pardon the pun) by dargons and knuckleblades and commands, are letting go of the gods.

You don’t want Nylea as your general. At all. Ever. That limits the upside of this card quite a bit. The Modern play only appears to tack a buck or two onto the price and dealers don’t seem all that convinced they need to pay competitively to get these. Their total lack of enthusiasm for this card is contagious. I like these at about a 1/5 unless they are like a buck at rotation. Could this get back to its current price in a few years? I think maybe it could. I think you are safe paying what dealers are paying right before rotation if people are dumping. Still, the slight rise in Heliod’s buy price shows that players are reluctant to take an insulting number on a god, and paying more than “an insult” may be a liability. I’d be careful here.

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Ugh. $10ish? Why? Modern? It’s not EDH doing this. Dealers are paying just about 50 percent of this card’s value on the button and their price is roughly descending along with the retail price in a curious way. They are reluctant to stop paying real numbers on this card, but who’s buying? This has been a $10 foil for like an entire year and it’s puzzling. I’m sure this dips at rotation because it can’t hold its current price, but unless the bottom falls out entirely, I’m not bullish on the foil. Still, if this hits $5ish, I will feel very differently. This is seeing no Constructed play outside of that fringe Modern deck and it’s only okay in EDH, and that has kept the price from fluctuating much. That said, Erebos’s foil hasn’t tailed off much, and maybe that reflects dealers’ reluctance to rock the boat and TCGplayer sellers’ reluctance to race to the bottom.

Curiously, there are a lot of foils available on TCGplayer. Even with competition amongst dealers, these aren’t really moving a ton. But with foils, people who want them for EDH will buy immediately or wait quite a long time. Rotation could be what the patient players are waiting for. Still, with a lot of loose copies that need to get soaked up before the price will increase along with tepid demand compared to better gods, I’d need to see the foil hit $4 or $5 before I even give this a 2/5, which is so odd considering Nylea has more non-EDH utility than Erebos or Heliod. Still, who’s foiling their fringe Modern deck that has Primeval Titan in it? Curious goings-on here, to be sure.

Purphoros, God of the Forge

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This is demonstrating some odd behavior. The spread became virtually non-existent very recently, then dealers backed way off. Let them. This is the money god.

Out of all of the original five, Purphoros is the best in EDH. At his current price, I give him a 3/5. If he hits $3, my score opinion will change to, “What score do I give him out of 5 at $3? His power and toughness.”

Purphoros is nutty. He’s unfair in Prossh decks. As a commander, he’s equally nutty, allowing you to KO people with a single tap of a Krenko. He’s bannably good in EDH and he may be the best god of the 15. Let that sink in. He can be had for twice the cost of Heliod, a god that failed to garner a following to such an extent that his buy price fell to below a dollar. This is the guy to watch, this is the guy to pounce on, and this guy alone is the one that had me wrack my brain for reprint scenarios. How do we get blown out here? FTV Gods? Commander’s Arsenal? I don’t see it. Commander’s Arsenal, by the way, is basically the only way we will ever see a foil reprint. What’s the foil doing?

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Yes…yesss. Plummet, buy price. Drag the retail price down along with you. Good. GOOOOOD.

I am bullish at below $15 here, honestly. That said, with essentially none of this price predicated on Standard play, I have no idea how much the foil will go down at rotation, if at all. Still, any discount you get is good. If you can buy these for cash from players at rotation, go ham. I am in for X of these at $12 or below. This is a $20 minimum foil in a few years, barring a catastrophe like a reprint, but the foil seems safe from that fate.

This card is bugnutty in EDH and I’m very excited about the prospect of the price going down. If the price doesn’t move at rotation, I’d leave it alone. The price is probably currently too low, but I don’t know if there is a ton of upside. I’d give this a 2/5 for the foil at its current price just because it feels so… correct right now. Could this be $50 in a few years? Sure, but is EDH that much of a driving force? We’d need something in a four-of format to boost prices that much, so let’s take a hard look at this price and wait for rotation.

Thassa, God of the Sea

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This is what a price predicated on four-of formats looks like. It’s actually basically as sad as the others, honestly. Gods have been all but abandoned in Standard in favor of multi-color decks that worry less about permanents and devotion and worry more about KOing faces. Mono-Blue Devotion rocketed this plucky god to superstardom, but these days the former star is closer to Marky Mark in the second half of Boogie Nights than she is to Marky Mark in the first half of Boogie Nights. I think this card has the farthest to fall, which is handy because it has the most reason to. Price memory is propping this up to a large extent, even though it sees only a modicum of play in Modern and its days in Standard are basically over.

This is pretty good in EDH, actually, but I feel like it’s underplayed. The scry is non-trivial and making a creature unblockable is sweet. I can see Thassa making all kinds of creatures connect: Thada Adel, Daxos, or basically any general. It’s underplayed in EDH and that may continue, as it’s also pretty much useless as a general.

Its current price has me hesitant, but with dealer confidence plummeting, I feel like the retail price could be $3 or less at rotation, and with its Modern playability and EDH potential, I’m a 3/5 or 4/5 at that price point. Dealers are paying that now, but they want to pay less, clearly. If you look at dealer buy price a few weeks before the fall set is released and target that as a retail price, you are probably going to be okay at rotation. If you can pay a couple bucks less and get copies from players, even better.

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I don’t like the foil price at all, and I’m not sure what’s doing it. Price memory? Even the dealers aren’t that eager to pay less than they are right now and that seems really dumb. I don’t know if this is going to dip enough at rotation for me to care about it and I’m super bearish on it unless it cuts more than half of the current price. With the current value predicated mostly on price memory and Modern playability, the picture is very muddy. I’m calling this basically a 1/5 unless it gets so cheap that you don’t need my advice about whether to buy it. Corbin wants to foil out his Modern Merfolk deck—maybe he’s propping the price up. I’m just so meh about this foil.

Whole Lotta Words

There you have it. This was way longer than I was supposed to make it, but I wasn’t about to make this sub-series take a month or write about fewer than five gods today.

Keep giving me feedback in the comments section, because even if I come up with a good idea, I’ll write about what you want me to write about, unless your idea is terrible. In that case, I’ll send Corbin or Travis a text making fun of you, but I won’t do it publicly because I’m trying to work on being more “approachable” and “managing my brand” and “not getting any more death threats.” So keep the comments coming. Thanks for reading, nerds.


 

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Tribal Gains

It’s no secret that I was in Las Vegas for the Grand Prix and indeed the week leading up to it.  If you’re worried that I’m going to skimp on finance content just because I’m coming down off of one of the best weeks of my entire life, fear not, there is a lot that I gleaned from durdling in the desert.

 

This Isn’t ‘Nam; There Are Rules

Maybe not rules as such (per se) but maybe guidelines. Axioms? Suggestions? Look, I’m trying to contrive a few chestnuts in this series so forgive me a few artistic liberties. Basically what I want to do is see if there are some quick rules of thumb (there I go again using the “r” word) that will help us decide which cards to start examining a little more closely. Is today’s discussion point related to the title? It is now. I was going to call this article “The Hangover” because I just got back from Vegas and obligations are a brutal transition from vacation back to real life and a part of me is afraid that I may have ruined the part of my brain that knows how to write about finance when I was trying to bankrupt a casino with free drinks at a Craps table. The truth is I’m not actually that hung over and that trip to the desert, specifically the tournament site has me thinking more clearly than I have in years.  Before we get our first rule (but maybe or maybe not rule #1 with a bullet) in EDH Finance, let’s talk about my moment of clarity.

The Rain Man Speaks

My flight was a 7 AM flight because I broke one of the three rules governing things you don’t do at 7 AM.

  1. Schedule a college class
  2. Feed a Mogwai – technically 7 AM is after midnight. Better safe than sorry
  3. Fly

A 7 AM flight is miserable for people who are used to getting up for work early every day, something I’m not about. A flight that early meant I should be at the airport at 5-ish so they can open each individual deckbox in my carry-on to check for any trace amounts of bomb residue or freedom. I guess EDH decks look like Semtex on a grainy television screen so both flights I had my bag pulled off the conveyor and scrutinized by the TSA. The inconvenience of being pulled out of line was bad enough without having to endure a TSA agent making minimum wage giving me a hard time for running Vivid Lands in a two-color deck. I get it; Vivid Crag is worse than Rugged Highlands. Get out of my face.

Being at the airport at 5 AM after spending the whole week still being awake at 5 AM meant it didn’t make much sense to go to sleep. Things had quieted down in the house where I was staying; until @XWolfmoon decided to casually mention the fact that he had a box of Conspiracy we could draft.

Being offered a spot in a Conspiracy draft is like being asked if you’re a God. You say yes.  I said yes. Corbin Hosler said yes. Ryan Bushard said yes. Douglas Johnson said yes. @knife_city from the If Lands Could Kill podcast said yes. Basically, it was total gas. The only thing better than drafting Conspiracy is drafting Conspiracy for free. Sure, you’re basically just opening booster packs if you’re giving all of the value to the guy who let you draft his box, but if you complain about not getting to keep the cards in a free Conspiracy draft, you should probably move into a Unabomber-style shack by yourself because you don’t deserve to interact with people. We were happy to ship our cards back to our generous benefactor, especially when he said he really didn’t care about anything under $10. The generosity train kept rolling when he let me buy what I wanted from the draft openings for buylist. I couldn’t bring myself to keep $9 cards from a free draft, but paying $4 for them felt fine to me. Everyone was happy despite it being 3 AM of our last day in town.

When you may or may not be keeping the cards, money rares tend to stay in packs for a while. I snagged a 4th pick Dack Fayden because I wanted some tasty bait for my Deal Broker – I ended up getting a foil Rout for my UW skies deck. If you did plan on keeping cards under $10, would you draft any differently? I can see taking a foil Goyf over Burst Lightning, but how about a foil Hydra Omnivore?  It wasn’t unusual for someone to ask “Hey, what’s a foil Hydra Omnivore worth?” but it was very unusual for… let’s say one hundredth of a nano-second to go by before, without looking up from his cards, someone to say “$18”

The room got quiet. Everyone looked over to see who spoke. Sensing the silence, Douglas Johnson looked up and said “What?” like it’s perfectly normal to blurt out the right price off the top of your head. I picked my phone up and checked, because, of course I did. I had to. We all had to know.

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I’m an MTG financier. Corbin is an MTG financier. Ryan is an MTG financier. We were all at that table. If you’d asked, “Hey, what’s a foil Dack Fayden go for?” Ryan, Corbin and I likely answer the question simultaneously with the same or a similar answer. Hydra Omnivore isn’t Dack Fayden. Not only is the card obscure-ish, it’s only been a foil for a short amount of time, being first printed in a Commander supplementary product and getting the foil treatment when Conspiracy first launched. The price has been relatively flat but the creeping up of the spread (I used to use MTGStocks to make graphs for articles but I am really loving the spread overlay on MTG Price) leads me to believe the dealers like Omnivore at $18 more and more. Remember, these guys have a lot more historical data to look at. So do we.

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This card has demonstrated an ability to be $15 non-foil. The reprinting injected a lot of new copies into the market and tempered the price of the non-foil, but all of the foil copies we have are from Conspiracy. A reprint of Omnivore is more likely to occur in supplementary product which would preclude a foil printing (unless it’s in Commander’s Arsenal, which would make people pretty upset since the card is not exactly a staple) so given that the card has demonstrated its ability to be very expensive and the fact that a further reprint of a foil seems very unlikely, the dealers are liking a $10 buyin more and more.

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Hydras used to be a pretty solid investment due to their popularity with casual players, EDH playability, and the way they scale out of control into the late game. I wrote about why hydras aren’t as good as they used to be already but I hadn’t really stopped to think about why they were good in the first place. This weekend made me think about it a bit more.

Doug blew our minds with his exact hipshot call of the price of Omnivore, not because a financier knowing a price is spectacular, but because he clearly looked up the price of Omnivore recently. His decision to look up the price of a card earlier made him look like Rain Man counting toothpicks, even in a room full of financiers. It isn’t difficult to look up a price in advance of being asked its price, but that doesn’t change the fact that he couldn’t have known we’d ask and looked it up anyway. Why would he do that?

Wrong question. The question is “why hadn’t I?”

Tribal Matters

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. It wasn’t the first time that weekend DJ had demonstrated that he was very familiar with prices. Walking through the dealer hall, I stopped to talk to a vendor I had met at the craps table the night before and while I was gladhanding, DJ was checking the case. I was on vacation, not intending to buy or sell anything but we never really turn off our brains, do we? He pointed to a foil Cavern of Souls priced at $60. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye. “That’s not too much to pay for Cavern” most people would think. “It’s a good tribal card, it’s played in Legacy a bit and the foils looks cool.” What if you double checked to make sure $60 wasn’t last month’s price?

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Because $60 is last month’s price. It’s this month’s buylist price, and any time you can buy a card for its buylist price, you probably should.

Could we have predicted this would happen eventually? Yeah, absolutely we could have. Would it have been good to buy these at $40 (or $25 buylist) a year ago? Well, obviously. However, every time a card is at a price and you can explain that price, people aren’t all that inclined to buy in. $40 for foil cavern right after rotation didn’t seem insane to people, but $100 for it now doesn’t seem insane either. What can we even learn from this?

The Lesson

Lesson One is to be like Douglas Johnson. Know prices not because you’re Rain Man and you memorize Magic card prices the way other savants memorize facts about trains or whatever but because you look at them a lot. Doug looked up Hydra Omnivore because he looks up a lot of prices often. Why not pick a few cards to check every week? Profound spikes are noticeable and MTG Price does an excellent job of taking notice. The data analysis tools at your fingertips as a reader of my articles and therefore an MTG Price Pro Trader are the industry benchmark as far as I’m concerned. If that makes me sound like a shill, I’ll point out that I still buylist using Quiet Speculation’s Trader Tools app. I like to use whatever I consider the best and I think our price tracking software is amazing. It can let you know about profound movements, but it can’t hold your hand and catch slow, incremental, inevitable growth.

You can read our reports but you can also check our graphs yourself. Price spikes are hard to predict sometimes months in advance but weeks or days in advance we have enough information about upcoming events that we can usually read the writing on the wall. True-Name Nemesis made Stoneforge Mystic go up in price. That was predictable. What should have been equally predictable was the price of foil Cavern of Souls going up the same amount of money over the same time period but doing it much more slowly and deliberately. Yet a dealer took the card to Vegas with the buylist price written on the toploader because he hasn’t bothered to check for a change in the last month and DJ ate his lunch.

We talk a lot about events in MTG Finance – something that changes the status quo or facilitates a price change. However, even though we all know this on an intuitive level, it’s worth repeating every time we open up an application or website to check price movements.

“Tribal Cards Don’t Need Events”

They don’t need to print a sweet new Goblin card or must-resolve Elf to make Cavern of Souls “spike”. Hydra Omnivore goes in Hydra decks (though not my Vorel of the Hydra Clade deck) for silly casual players and the fact that he’s a silly Thorn Elemental variant that gets better in multiplayer games (hence the bomb status in Conspiracy) almost feels secondary.

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What’s next? Could be this, a land that is tribally-relevant, can get played outside of Standard, has casual appeal and when some jackass bought out TCG Player and listed his copies for $45, people probably went “Yeah, that seems OK.” Maybe they’ll say the same thing in two years when $45 is the real price. Or maybe it won’t be. All I know is that the spread is decreasing, the supply is not increasing and it won’t take them printing any more slivers ever again for this card to start to climb. The price looks very reasonable to me right now. But I’m checking back next week just to be sure.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Digging for Gold

On a recent episode of the Money Draught podcast, financier JR (@time_elemental) lamented the lack of real EDH cards in Modern Masters 2015. While Modern Masters…One (I guess) included a lot of EDH staples in an attempt to bring their prices down while simultaneously not acknowledging the secondary market, Modern Masters 2015 doesn’t seem to.

Not only that, the cards that are included aren’t quite build-arounds like last time. While Doubling Season was the linchpin in a draft archetype, we don’t see similar things in Modern Masters 2015. The lack of real EDH cards is going to confound our ability to predict what prices will do to an extent, but let’s dive in anyway. Even though we don’t have a ton of EDH cards this time, there is some gold there.

So what exactly did we get handed to us last time?

Wow, that’s quite a list. We had a substantial portion of the set overlap with cards we find useful in EDH. Let’s compare the size of the list to the size of the list from Modern Masters 2015.

If some of those are a bit of a stretch, don’t worry, because even with me stretching the list out, it’s much, much shorter than the list of EDH goodies in the first Modern Masters set.

With Modern Masters 2015 promising an even larger print run than the first Modern Masters set, expect prices to dip even more profoundly than last time even after you account for all the product that is going to be damaged by WOTC’s shoddy, experimental packaging.

How much do we expect to see prices dip? When should we buy in for some of these cards? Which cards’ prices do we never expect to recover? What are some factors that we don’t always consider? Let’s delve in a bit and see if we can’t make a few predictions based on last time, where we saw a smaller print run but also way more people excited to open boosters.

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Reality had a profound effect on the price of Stonehewer, bringing it down to the $5 range long before the announcement of the reprint, but Modern Masters took a solid EDH staple that most valued as a bulk rare without knowing it was a solid $5 pick and turned it into a card worth half that at best. Even the printing of a mono-white, equipment-themed EDH deck only affected the spread—it increased slightly but the price is thus far unperturbed two years on. Stonehewer demonstrated an ability to be in high demand and fetch ridiculous prices when everyone was equipment crazy, but if that happens again, don’t expect Giant to be able to reach its previous ceiling. It’s possible its price of above $10 may have prompted its inclusion in Modern Masters, since it took so long for the set to go from conception to boosters, but regardless, we’re only seeing faint glimmers of price recovery two years on.

You can sort of control for the effect of Modern caring less about Giant if you look at another card touted in Modern initially and abandoned at the same time: Steelshaper’s Gift. If you look at the price of Steelshaper’s Gift over the same time frame as Giant, the effect of Modern becomes clearer and you can see what was that demand decrease and what was purely the result of the reprinting in the first Modern Masters set. This isn’t exactly a quantitative effect, but even a qualitative one can show there are two distinct periods of price decline and which one was predicated on the reprint.

Do I see a corollary in Modern Masters 2015?

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While we don’t expect ordinary cards in the $5 range to recover in price, expect Temple to be crushed into powder. A reprint at uncommon is going to be devastating to the price, and the spread reflects that: growing astronomically as dealers head for the hills.  While its price isn’t predicated on EDH play, I see this card and it’s $5-ish price tag and think of Stonehewer’s abject failure to recover its price despite there being more excitement around a card like it than ever before. Narrow cards like Stonehewer that are good at what they do but relegated to only a few decks are going to suffer for longer than the two years it has been since the last Modern Masters set, and I expect Eldrazi Temple is entirely done for as a result. While some uncommons like Path to Exile have demonstrated an ability to stay around $5, Eldrazi Temple is not Path, and a realistic floor could end up under $1. If it had been reprinted at rare, I’d still expect it to hit $2.

How does this compare to a card reprinted in a different manner? Let’a look at an EDH staple that was reprinted in a Commander deck and see if we see a similar price decline or a dissimilar one. Since we are decent at predicting what a Commander reprint will do, let’s try and compare the two effects and try to apply that to a card in Modern Masters 2015.

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Murkfiend Liege is a great, great card. It’s a fairer Prophet of Kruphix and despite being outclassed by the less fair prophet, the community has adopted a, “Por que no los dos?” attitude, so Prophet hasn’t really hurt Liege’s price a ton, especially not compared to what the Commander 2013 reprint did to absolutely pants it.

If you look at this graph of Murkfriend Liege’s price for the Eventide copy, it was well on its way to $15 when the reprint came along and pulled its pants down. The card is dirt cheap right now,but it’s not done going down and I’m not even close to wanting to touch these right now. With the popularity of Derevi, the sealed product is going to continue to be in high demand and every deck popped for a Derevi is going to result in one more Liege hitting the market. Some Derevi players will run the Liege, but some won’t. And besides, that’s a person buying a Seedborn Muse or Prophet (or both) from you who doesn’t need to buy a Liege.

We saw Modern Masters completely pants a card like Stonehewer which was roughly $5 to $7 on EDH demand alone. What about a card that was a similar price to Murkfiend Liege? How about Creakwood Liege?

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You can see that the set has already made Creakwood fall to roughly half of its pre-printing price. The good thing is that we can wait for it to fall a bit more, and I don’t know that we’re in any hurry to buy. A reprinting in a Commander deck seems very unlikely. With Modern Masters cutting prices in half last time, I feel like Creakwood Liege may be close to done falling, and this may be the new price for a while, but with Modern Masters threatening to disappear after a few months, it might rebound. Demand was much greater than that for a card like Stonehewer, and with a reprint feeling relatively unlikely after the first one, Liege may recover after all. Can we substantiate our claim that a Modern Masters reprint tends to cut the price of in-demand cards roughly in half?

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Divinity has been printed twice and is unlikely to ever recover at a fast enough rate for us to care. You can see two very distinct depressions in price, one around mid-2013 when Modern Masters gave it its first reprinting (cutting the price roughly in half) and the second when it got a reprinting in the Oloro Commander deck which saw some popularity, especially with everyone testing Toxic Deluge at the time trying to deal with True-Name Nemesis.

If we hadn’t seen the second reprinting, Divinity might also have recovered, We can’t say for certain. Do you feel good about Creakwood? If you bought in at its floor, which I would predict is around peak saturation of Modern Masters 2015, you could see it finish between its initial $15 and its current $7.50. That’s a 50 percent increase and would mean it outperformed my 401k. Not too shabby. If you’re not as optimistic, we can look at the list of EDH cards in Modern Masters 2015, pick the cards unlikely to get another reprint, and predict a rough 50 percent cut in price and a 50 percent increase from that floor price. Not great, but predictable.

What do we like for this effect? Out of the EDH cards in the set, few are truly safe from reprint, and few compare with Creakwood in terms of desirability. The Eldrazi have been reprinted before in various manners and don’t feel as safe to me, and their high buy-ins reduce upside. Kiki-Jiki may get reprinted every two years in this wacky set. Comet Storm in the only mythic rare anyone is opening if the hashtag #CometCurse is to be believed. Wilt-Leaf Liege‘s price is mostly predicated on a modicum of Modern play—Brian Kibler saying the name of a Magic card on Twitter has roughly as profound an effect on price as does all of EDH-dom, so I expect Modern to greedily swallow a ton of the loose copies irrespective of how much it’s actually played. If you disagree, Wilt-Leaf may be a good buy, but my money is on Creakwood. A lot of the rest of the cards on my list are pretty cheap.

Based on the response I get this week, I may clarify a few points on this topic before I move on to something else, so make sure you hit up the comments section. I am in Las Vegas until next week for the GP (in the loosest sense of being in Vegas “for the GP”), so I may not spend a ton of time monitoring the comments, but I will try and check in. Your feedback so far has been invaluable and I hope you continue to engage with this series and encourage others to ask questions. Come find me if you’re in Vegas and say hello! Until next time.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: I Believe You Have My Staples

Milton Office Space - Excuse me I Believe you have my mana crypt

By: Jason Alt

Look, I’m not going to insult your intelligence by publishing an article the thrust of which is, “Hur, pay attention to stuff.” Well, I mean, I might do that, but I want to let you know up front that although that may end up being the thrust of this article, it’s not the only point I want to make. You probably understand you need to pay attention to stuff, so I hope I can tell you what and why without making you feel like a dummy.

 

Why bring it up at all? Because I think an important part of being a good financier is paying attention to stuff you couldn’t give a hot $#^@ about.  I don’t expect you to care about or play every format. I couldn’t possibly care less about Standard as a format if next week I had to play in a tournament where the prize for first place was, “We don’t kill your family.” That’s a weird prize to offer, but Standard is a weird and stupid format and if you like it, that’s cool and most Magic players agree with you, but just know that you’re wrong.

There are lots of formats I don’t actually care about, and you probably don’t care about. Five-Color. Pauper. Type 4. Momir Vig with paper cards. But you can bet that if there were money to be made in those formats, I’d be advising you to read everything you could about them. And why not? This is about learning what we need to learn to start stacking that scrilla. Super high piles. You remember that pile of cocaine on Tony Montana’s desk in Scarface? That movie was awesome. What was I talking about? Right, scrilla. Specifically, where the scrilla resides.

Let Others Care For You

I keep getting more and more messages, tweets, emails, and LinkedIn link requests each week from people who tell me they love the financial information in this article, like they’re surprised. You actually don’t have to care about EDH to make money off of price movements or stocking your binder with just the right bait. It’s almost magical that way. There are already a ton of people who care about EDH, and they care a lot. Good!

Make no mistake, I’m one of the people who cares about EDH, but I promise you that even if I didn’t, I’d still leverage this community to stay ahead of price movements and stock up. The best way to leverage them is to see what they’re talking about. How to do that? Why not go where they hang out and talk EDH? Let’s talk about a few resources.

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Tapped Out

Tapped Out is a great, great site. It does a good job of policing the community by making it a difficult process to sign up for an account. Also, the EDH community may have a high nerd saturation, but it has a very low troll saturation, so an EDH-focused website is bound to be pretty troll-free. In fact, the people on Tapped Out are usually the opposite, going out of their way to help people focus.

Take a look at this post. The author created a decklist and it’s pretty decent. Scroll down and you will see helpful community contributors suggesting cards that should be in the deck. You are likely to see cards you didn’t know existed, and that’s okay. What you do when you see a card like that matters, though.

Someone on this page suggested the card Nomad Mythmaker for the deck. Click on the highlighted name to be taken to this page, where you get some info about the card, including its TCGplayer price data and the threads where the card is discussed. Mythmaker is almost exclusively discussed in the context of Bruna, the Light Alabaster and Uril, the Miststalker decks. That means the card is a bit narrow. Still, it’s old, underprinted, and is a very, very good card for this role. Tapped Out also has a very cool tab system that gives a lot of great info.

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You can check the price on TCGplayer and Cardhoarder, see how many people are interested in the card (the ratio of haves to wants is telling) and there is a very ugly but useful price graph. Mythmaker doesn’t look like a great candidate for investment, but we’ve only looked at one card.

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Look at this info. As many people as have Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger want him. His price is climbing steadily, he’ll be tough to reprint, and he just dodged a reprint in Modern Masters 2015.

Really explore the page for each card. There are combos for the card listed on the right side of the page, and you can click on the other cards in the combo to bring up their pages. This is a rabbit hole of cards you may or may not know that can teach you a lot about which cards in EDH are staples and which are narrow inclusions in specific decks. Tapped Out gives us a metric no other site gives us because we can look at the trade demand tab and see more people want the card or more people want rid of the card.

Compare Mythmaker to Vorinclex. You don’t need to learn all about EDH to be able to see that a popular format staple will have demand proportionate to or above supply rather than below (like in the case of Mythmaker). What do we expect that ratio to look like for a card like Mana Crypt? Can you guess?

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3 have, 11 want. While this information is not exactly quantifiable, it’s a qualitative look at the cards EDH players are looking for and that’s not a terrible metric even though it’s a little loose. I wouldn’t rank cards based on this ratio or anything, but I would take notice of it. The higher the proportion of wants to haves, usually the more decks it goes in. Isn’t that what we’re looking for?

One More

I don’t want to inundate you with a ton of new websites you may have never visited before, so I will cover a few more resources next week to give you a chance to play around with Tapped Out. Yes, I’m teaching you to fish. Deal with it.

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One resource is one you’ve heard of and are probably avoiding like the plague: it’s Reddit. Okay. Yes, I know. Reddit is gross. A lot of the people on Reddit are on Reddit because if they went outside, an angry mob would chase them with torches and pitchforks, so they stay inside and poop on other people’s enthusiasm instead. I’m not saying Redditors all kill puppies when they’re adolescents, I’m just saying that I can’t watch all of them 24/7 and dogs go missing every day.

Once you choke back your initial revulsion, the EDH subreddit is actually a great resource. I know, right? If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d find most of the readers in the EDH subreddit delightful and helpful and wouldn’t like spending much time with the readers of the more competitive subreddits, I would likely have distracted you for long enough for the orderlies to come restrain you and take you to the facility where I was having you involuntarily committed. They probably wouldn’t lobotomize you even though I’d suggest it, because I’m not a doctor and they don’t really do that anymore, but they would at least strap you in for some time to think about that nutty thing you said. Well, belt me into a straight jacket and call me Napoleon Bonaparte, because I love r/EDH.

You know what they do periodically that I love? They do stuff like this and anyone who wants to can read it. No one even asks them to, they just get bored and say, “Hey, why don’t we make a list of cards that will be more expensive in a few months than they are right now?” because they are pathologically helpful that way.

Read through the page I just linked. Not every card is going to be a good investment, but that’s not the entire point. It will help familiarize you with a class of cards that have broad utility and perhaps identify niches that named cards fill but other cards also fill, perhaps better. /u/TCV2 couldn’t make his case for Library of Leng without discussing the more popular Reliquary Tower, which led to someone else bringing up Venser’s Journal. Hey, while we’re talking about VJ, did you know this?

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More than two years of steady growth entirely predicated on EDH utility, but a very suspicious two-times multiplier in the foil price. That bears looking into. In a few seconds, we identified a foil card that has growth potential and will weather a reprint much better than the non-foil.  Actually, that’s not even accurate. Someone else identified the card for us. I still get these shipped to me as bulk rares, by the way. This card is useful in a lot of decks and can be considered an EDH staple, but the foil hasn’t gotten the memo.

Novelty is king in r/EDH, however. A similar post earlier in the week, titled “EDH auto-include cards?” rubbed people the wrong way and it was under-posted-in. Still, there is decent advice in there, and I got to talk about how much I like Trading Post. If you have a problem with that, then I guess you don’t like Karn either, because Trading Post is practically a colorless planeswalker.

That’s a reminder: try to identify when someone is talking up a pet card versus when someone is identifying an actual format staple. Trading Post may be super sick in EDH, and its printing in the Commander 2014 deck series bears that out, but no one told the price of the foil copies of the card.

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That’s oogly.

What’s a “Staple” Anyway?

Just like in any other format, a staple in EDH is a card that is played in multiple deck archetypes and is included in certain decks on principle. Sol Ring, Command Tower, Rhystic Study: these cards are obvious to everyone, even people who don’t care about the format at all. However, there are other staples of the format that are harder to identify and need to be rooted out a bit before they become clear.

If you ask a mono-black player to name the three most iconic and important “staple” cards in her deck, pretty much no matter which deck, she’s likely to say something like, “Probably Demonic Tutor, Sol Ring, and Mana Vault,” or a similar list. A card almost none of them is going to say but a lot of them are bound to include but not give a second thought to?

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Look at that growth. That’s EDH doing its thing and doing it very well. A reprint can pull this card’s pants down, but the foil has a nice, healthy four-times multiplier. You know what’s even sexier than that? The spread on the foil.

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It’s miniscule. This is behaving like an EDH staple, yet no one is going to identify this as an EDH staple even if you ask them to list staples. You’re going to have to go looking a little bit harder to root some of these cards out.

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Luckily, I have given you a few tools to play around with until next week, and when I come back at you, I will hit you with a few more. I’m going to do my best to write that article before I head to Las Vegas, because I have a feeling I’ll be a bit distracted when I get there.

Between the data screaming at us at the top of its lungs the way some of these price graphs are screaming at us and EDH players politely listing the cards they think you should research, this can be easy at times. It’s not as easy as identifying good Standard investment candidates, but then if it were that easy, everyone else would be all over it. This takes a little digging, it takes some knowledge of the format, and it takes some finesse.  Luckily, this series is going to tell you just about all I know about this and bring you all along for a ride on the money train. I’ll be back next week with some more sources for you to consider. You won’t want to miss it.

As always, leave me something in the comments section and let’s try to get ahead of the next one.

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