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

Is It Safe? Part 2

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By: Jason Alt

For a brief second, I found myself wishing this series dealt with MODO at all because “Part 2: Electric Reprint Boogaloo” would be a sweet title. If you’re not laughing, you’re just mad you didn’t think of it, and envy is a stinky cologne, readers.

Electronic reprints are relevant to the discussion, but online EDH is so irrelevant it’s not funny. It’s played, technically, but there’s not much money in speculating on such an underplayed and volatile medium, so let’s stick to what we know.

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<center>ProTrader: Magic doesn’t have to be expensive.</center> MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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Is it Safe? Part 1

Marathon-Man
This is still better than triple Khans draft

We all want safe investments, don’t we? This week, with a spoiler that purports to contain most (but not all, because… reasons) of the mythics from Modern Masters 2015 circulating and not knowing enough information to comment on it, I decided to talk about something else. Besides, the rares will impact EDH finance more than the mythic rares in MM15, and we don’t have much information on those beyond the same spoiler claiming the Commands cycle will be in the set, likely at rare. Sure, that will impact EDH, but we don’t know much beyond that.

Speaking of the cycle of Commands, it made me laugh to see someone on Reddit question why Wizards would bother to reprint the whole cycle of commands in Modern Masters when only one, maybe two of them even see play in Modern. It’s really funny to me that people don’t seem to remember that Modern Masters printed a lot of cards that were great in EDH and had little to no applicability in Modern. What did those people think when they saw Stonehewer Giant in the first Modern Masters? Did they say, “Well, obviously Ardarkar Valkyrie is a Modern staple”? It’s silly, but it just goes to show that people do a good idea of ignoring the stuff they don’t care about.

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Treasure From Trash

I know the title doesn’t really matter in articles, but I’m proud of this one. Shut up, I get to be happy about the little things in life. Seriously, don’t ruin this for me. Magic players are cynical and too-cool-for-school and I’m not going to let negativity mess this one up. I’m genuinely proud of this title.

What does the title have to do with anything? Well, basically I want to talk about trash and how to pick it. But this is very specific trash. I mean, specific to the point that “Treasure From Trash” is a better title for the article than something like “One Man’s Trash” because we’re talking about most people’s trash, especially finance people.

Now, we’re taught to use every part of the buffalo in MTG Finance, so how could we be possibly considering anything “trash”? I sold empty Revised deckboxes on eBay. Literally. The empty box that used to have cards and a rules insert. I didn’t include the rules insert. People will buy anything. Is this going to be an article about the finance of empty booster pack wrappers or something like that? No, calm down.

rabblerouser

I was really excited about this title because for like one second I thought the card Scrap Mastery was called Trash from Treasure but I was wrong. Trash for Treasure is a card, but it’s a card that you should buy to jam in the deck with Scrap Mastery. So while I didn’t get everything I wanted here, I’ll live. But if the fantasy didn’t line up with reality quite the way I wanted, why bring this up at all? Well, Scrap Mastery is a card in the Built From Scratch precon and I want to talk about those precons specifically. This is going to be fun. Let’s talk trash, but first, we can talk treasure.

What’s the Treasure?

Treasure is a card that is worth more than you paid for it. If you buy a card for a certain amount and sell it for more, you win. You found treasure. This is why I love to buy collections: collections are full of treasure. Ideally, I can pay the bulk rate on a collection and pay individually for every card they pick out. Those are my favorite. I pay below buylist on the big cards and then dig through the bulk and see what in there is worth more than half a cent. Even if I have to pay buylist on the big stuff, they usually miss a few things and the bulk is always worth picking. People who make sure they provide you with a spreadsheet of every single bulk rare and how much it is at TCGplayer mid have shipped me “bulk” that had foil Dazes and Cabal Therapys. Treasure hunting in unpicked bulk is the best.

But underpaying due to those circumstances isn’t the only way to find treasure. You can also find cards that are just mispriced in stores. You can find cards in a box that you forgot you had. Yes, I bury treasure constantly and I’m always stoked to find it. But another way to get treasure is to pay MSRP and have MSRP be too cheap.

What’s a good example of this? We all know one, and maybe this is the one you thought of.

Sweet, sweet Mind Seize. You gave us Nekusar, you gave us Jeleva, and you gave us True-Name Nemesis, which was a very, very saucy way to get some value from MSRP.  This isn’t the earliest example of this phenomenon, obviously. My first real foray into MTG finance was at the expense of the too-cheap MSRP assigned to another preconstructed deck.

Awwwww, yiss.

Remember the $12 deck with the $25 Umezawa’s Jitte inside? I bought so many of these decks that I was able to build a Vintage deck (minus the power) just from the value. But these didn’t just contain a Jitte, they also had a Patron of the Nezumi and a foil basic land. The rest of the cards had value, but not much. So many Rat’s Nests were popped that the market was awash with the common and uncommon rats. Besides, if you weren’t selling on eBay back then, and I wasn’t since I was just a Spike/college student, you had no real chance to make any money off of the rest of the “chaff” in the decks. You pulled out the Jitte and the foil basic and tossed the rest of the trash in a box.

By the time Mind Seize came around, people had mechanisms in place for selling cards at retail prices and the idea was more widely-accepted. TCGplayer, PucaTrade and CardShark, in additon to eBay, were all outs for average players to get some value back and for financiers to really benefit from getting a large volume of cards at buylist prices. This outlet was pretty bad for the non-treasure in Mind Seize decks, and that turned out to be about 98 cards.

What Became of the Trash?

If you’re like me, you bought some Mind Seizes and flipped the Nemeses (Nemeses is the correct plural form—just ask this guy:)…

nemeses

…and pocketed the rest of the trash. Too lazy to immediately list a bunch of sub-$1 cards to try and recoup on my investment, I sat on the chaff from the Mind Seize decks.  That is, until I really thought about what I was doing.

Take a look at what I actually considered “trash.”

There are actual cards here! First off, Sol Ring is a card! It took a lot of printings for Sol Ring to stay below $5, and the threat of an impending reprint in every future Commander deck is attenuating its growth as much as anything else.

Decree of Pain is my favorite wrath. It’s expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Besides, EDH is a format full of expensive spells, and drawing half of your deck pantsing a tokens player seems fine to me.

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Look at this. This was a $6 card before the reprinting. Sure, Commander’s Arsenal hurt its upside as much as Commander 2014 did, but this is a solid card and if it’s essentially free. How upset are we?

Even the new cards were money initially.

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However, being lazy and sitting on these cards wasn’t going to work out in the long term. Even the best cards in these decks went down eventually.

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Nekusar was a deck archetype in and of itself but its price tailed down in the short term even before its reprinting was announced. We are still quite a ways away from seeing some of these prices head upward. What can we expect?

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Years after its printing, we’re seeing steady growth in the better commanders from the first Commander sets. Now, those are much more rare and people have had a lot longer to realize they want these cards. Also, the loose copies have largely been concentrated in the hands of few dealers buying aggressively. Still, even though Nekusar got a foil printing, it’s not like he’s the only target.

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True, a lot of these cards are depreciating right now as more and more of the sets were printed and supply just completely overwhelmed demand. However, it’s pretty likely we could see a recovery, especially since EDH as a format is growing. We’re not risking a lot by buying in now, or even a bit later as the cards continue to depreciate. But how do we do even better financially than buying in now?

Be the Garbage Disposal

Once I realized that there was actual value left over in the chaff from busting a bunch of copies of Mind Seize, I thought about the other people busting them. I knew guys locally who had beat me to Walmart and Target when they restocked and had snagged quite a few on their own. I decided to offer them cash for the 98 cards that were not True-Name Nemesis or Baleful Strix. They were happy to get a non-trivial amount of cash on top of the nearly $20 profit they made snagging Nemesis and I was glad to buy cards they undervalued for cheap.

It wasn’t just about dumping the stuff while I could, either. There was no hurry to sell stuff like Sol Ring and Command Tower because while reprints hurt these cards and will continue to do so, there is something to be said for having copies on hand to trade to players.

Buying a ton of chaff is a very inexpensive way to stock a trade binder full of Rings, Towers, Cruel Ultimatums, Eyes of Doom, and a dozen other saucy cards. Players appreciated having access to those cards the first few weeks because the average player wasn’t as eager to stake out Walmart and Target as the average financier, so a lot of them didn’t ever see a Mind Seize in the wild. Since True-Name Nemesis is pretty underwhelming in EDH, the players were more interested in the other cards in those decks. Guess who had them because he bought that chaff cheap? Dis guy.

Future Plans

So how likely are we to see another Mind Seize in the future? I’d say pretty likely, considering we had a similar situation surrounding another card: Containment Priest. Check out the deck it came in.

Once again, we have some value here and we have a card that was worth more than MSRP. You better believe I snagged a bunch of cheap copies of Skullclamp, Masterwork of Ingenuity, and every other saucy card in the deck. Can we expect that from the next Commander offering?

I really think so. With WOTC not really printing cards in Standard with Legacy in mind, if they want to shake up Legacy at all, they are using Commander product as a way to introduce cards to the format, make sure the decks sell well, and generally build hype. It’s working! Everyone is super jazzed for the EDH decks when they come out because the spoilers always reveal spicy cards that are desirable outside of EDH.

Put yourself in a position to snap up a ton of that “chaff” next time around. It will take a bit for the prices to normalize, and some of them may even correct upward. In the meantime, you stocked your binder for almost nothing, got a ton of stuff to turn into cash or Puca Points, and best of all, you didn’t have to be the one to pay MSRP on that sealed product, driving around at midnight to find a Walmart that hadn’t been hit up yet or stalking the guy who restocks the shelves. Let someone else find all those sealed decks for you, then convince him you’re doing him a favor.

Say what you want about trash—sometimes it’s pretty nutritious.

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Putting the “U” Back in “Obvious”

No.

I know what some of you are thinking. “This title is some clever pun about how there is a ‘u’ in ‘obvious’ and it’s a play on the word ‘you.'”

You’re so vain.

No, this article isn’t about you, it’s about EDH cards that make a nice, predictable shape on their price graphs—and how we can use that information to our advantage. If you want, we can talk about the factors that contribute to that shape. Just kidding, we’ll do it if I want, and I want. Sorry if you were looking forward to not learning anything today. Yes, I realize I promised this would be a series about EDH finance, but we still have to talk a little finance.

I feel like the EDH case is easier to make to the finance community than the finance case is to make to the EDH community. If you’re someone who just wants to slang some cards, why would you care about graph shapes?

Basically, my hope for this series is that I may be able to make some of this material accessible enough that someone who is interested in saving money but not interested in speculation or really even paying a ton of attention to the finance market can save some money on EDH staples they will buy at some point regardless. I also think people who are interested in finance but not terribly interested in learning all the idiosyncrasies of EDH can avoid making some mistakes with card buying. This is a concept that both groups can apply without having to learn a ton about what the other group is up to.  Would I hate it if this piece got passed around /r/EDH? Nope, not even a little.

Predictability

We could have made a  prediction about the price of a card like foil Chromatic Lantern and it may or may not have been true. The problem with making a prediction about the value of a card is that sometimes we put our blinders on and look at the price as something we view through a keyhole. We get one glimpse of the value as a fixed point in time and sometimes it jives with our prediction and sometimes it doesn’t. Most people don’t view finance this way anymore, preferring to see a graphical representation of price as being less static, which is preferable. Otherwise, trying to get a sense of a card and how it fits into the overall tableau of prices is akin to the proverb about the three blind men feeling different parts of an elephant and all having very different ideas about what the elephant looks like.

elephant-with-blind-men
Thought of the Week UK

How do we avoid their ridiculous fate and get a sense of what the next elephant will look like before we wait two years for enough data to see if our predictions panned out? Well, we could palpate said elephant for two years, or we could just look at a picture of an elephant and extrapolate. You’ve seen one elephant, you’ve seen them all: that’s how predictability works. So what does an elephant look like?

The Elephant in the Room

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The “elephant” metaphor is a goofy one, but I think it illustrates how sometimes we put our blinders on. We all do it. I bought foil Lanterns and it was for too much money. I sold foil Lanterns and it was for too little money.  How badly did I punt? Well, not terribly and in fact, I did really well by most MTG finance standards. However, I was groping around in the dark and making guesses based on my experience, which means I was in okay shape since I spend a lot of time doing this. However, when the blindfold came off and I saw the real picture, I felt a little foolish, like a guy who described an elephant as having two tails and no trunk because he spent too much time around the ass end. What did my elephant drawing look like?

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The black arrow represents where I bought my foil Lanterns and the red arrow represents where I sold. In for $10 (cash on site, no fees or shipping) and out for $17. A 70 percent gain is pretty good in this game, but not great. Now, am I kicking myself for not selling at $25? Nah, the window was too small. Still, now that I have the whole “hindsight is 20/20” picture, we could have easily doubled up and done a lot better. The thing is, I had ample opportunity to buy in at $7.50 (cheaper from players, although anyone who has a foil Lantern isn’t usually coming off of it for $7.50!)—longer than I had to buy in at $10. I was following the price so intently, waiting for it to come down from its initial price of $15, that I didn’t stop to consider that there is a right time to buy and I might not have been buying at the right time. Let’s look at the three parts of a clumsy elephant metaphor an elephant and see where we buy and where we either sell or dive into a theoretical swimming pool full of our theoretical “winnings” like Scrooge McDuck.

Tail

This is a politer way to say “ass end.” It’s possible to buy too early, and when we’re dealing with EDH foils, impatience is a real thing. People are impatient about the cards they want to use to play Standard events, and EDH players have read the spoiler and identified the cards they want for their decks, and the foil people have already decided they want foils. Sometimes buying before the card really establishes itself means you can save money, especially since people tend to assume a two-times multiplier for foils even though the EDH foil multiplier is usually higher. Cards with no 60-card applicability are usually identified as EDH cards very early, and for this reason, it’s almost never a good idea to buy in early if you want a foil copy. For the purposes of simplicity, I’m lumping Cube in with EDH to an extent, which is convenient and not ridiculously intellectually lazy. Cube has nuances, but for the moment, we’ll assume Lantern is a 100 percent EDH card because I don’t feel like picking another example that has no cube applicability now that I’m this deep into the article.

It’s possible to buy too early and this is what happens in 99 percent of cases. If you think a card’s value can go up in the short term (like two to three weeks), preorder, I guess, but this very nearly never happens. If you’re impatient, understand you’re going to overpay and you deserve it. However, I almost bought in at the ass-end by buying in at $10. Buying in even earlier at $15 would have been the mistake I mostly managed to avoid.

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All you see is a foil non-mythic in the post-mythic era screaming out of the gates at $15. That’s pricey for a card in Return to Ravnica, a set that everyone knew would break sales records. If all you can see is the tail, you might think an elephant looks pretty ridiculous, but figure that’s how things are. You can buy in here if you want, but that’s almost never a good idea.

Trunk

Party! This is the upside area. We saw a decline and then the price started ticking up. If this happens after the card rotates out of Standard and it has no use in Modern or Legacy, it is EDH playability, Cube desirability, and casual appeal that will buoy the price. And buoy the price these things did, sending Lantern to $25 for a brief, shining moment. It will see $25 again, and relatively soon. They aren’t printing more unless they do another Commander’s Arsenal, and even then, the set foil will maintain most if not all of its value.

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If you’re inclined to sell, this might be a time to do it. You can buy here if you want the card, just like you could have if you were impatient. But the relationship between the trunk and tail is a special one because sometimes people don’t check out the midsection and end up losing out. How? It’s probably pretty easy for you to figure that out—incomplete information leads to incorrect conclusions.

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If you imagine someone who checked the price of foil Lantern when preorders went out and decided it was too expensive and decided to wait a while for the price to go down and checked after rotation, you can imagine them seeing the price be roughly the same and assuming the price didn’t go anywhere. Finance people check prices a lot more often, and people trying to find a deal may check more often than that, but we’re illustrating a point here.

Cards that are EDH staples have a nice, predictable U shape to their price graphs, and we can use that to our advantage. If you ignore the $15 at both points of the U because you know what the shape is going to look like, you’re in good shape.

“Got it. Don’t pay too much for cards. Great article, moron.”

The point here isn’t that you should pay attention to prices, although you should, The point isn’t that you should avoid paying too much by buying too early or too late, although you should.  Did you already know that a card like Lantern would start high, get lower, and go back up? Great, so did I. And yet, I was a blind man fumbling around to an extent. I knew that prices would go down because supply would go up as more packs were opened and the set was drafted, but my buying activity was still suboptimal. I bought below $15 thinking I was being smart and I still ended up overpaying. I paid too much attention to the numbers on the graph when the letters were just as important.

“Letters?”

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Peak supply happens when the set is just about to stop being drafted. People redeemed foil sets of RTR for the shocks and gave zero craps about EDH cards. People busted a foil Lantern in a draft somewhere in the world probably once a day.  Why buy in for $10 in March 2013 just because $10 is less than $15 when the price was $2 cheaper a month later? Did I know that would happen? Well, no, but it was pretty predictable, wasn’t it? In hindsight, of course it was. And that is what we want to do in the future.

The Next Elephant

The next card that will follow this pattern will be an EDH staple, likely one printed in Battle for Zendikar. It will preorder at a very high price initially based on Cube and EDH hype. At peak supply, the price will fall. It will likely flag until rotation or after rotation and then it will begin to tick back up as copies dry up and people build more decks.  A lot of the cards in Battle for Zendikar will do this because of how supply and demand works, but EDH cards don’t have other factors obscuring their fates. EDH staples also have the distinction of being identified as desirable foils irrespective of how they fit into Standard.  We can predict an early over-evaluation, a decline, and upside. Does this work for non-staples? Not usually.

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What’s going on here?

I think I may start ending every article with a “Why isn’t this card worth more?” discussion question. So why aren’t we seeing our sexy U shape here? Is Progenitor Mimic not ubiquitous enough? Does it not get played as much as we thought it would? It has no Cube applicability like we see with Lantern, so does that mean EDH needs to take the hit for all of its price? Was it speculated on early driving the price up artificially? Are we done seeing a decline and seeing the best time to buy in? Does it have room to fall?

Understanding what is going on with Progenitor Mimic is going to help us figure out what to do the next time we see a card that looks insane in EDH, so let’s revisit Mimic next week There’s a lot going on here, and if we decide this is a good time to buy, $12 into a probable $20 feels pretty good if we can avoid getting eaten alive by fees at both ends.

Let’s start talking about Mimic in the comments and the forums and we’ll have our heads right when we revisit next week. Until then!

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