All posts by James Chillcott

MTGFinance Strategies for 2018


In 2018, with Magic: The Gathering  facing it’s 25th anniversary, the game we all know and love continues to evolve, and the MTGFinance scene has been forced to evolve as well. Here are some of the strategies that we’re employing in the MTGFinance community in the year of our lord Jace, the Mind Sculptor:

Standard Tactics

Standard has been a pretty tough format to speculate on for the last eighteen months or so. The combination of frequent bannings, lame duck formats, poor card quality in North America and plentiful product has lead to a relative lack of card spikes in what was once the most important format in Magic.

To mine this particular vein, your best bet is going to be to get ahead of the pack in card evaluation via early testing of cards revealed during spoiler season. If you are well in tune with the evolving meta and your deck building skills are on point, you will maximize your chances of identifying the potential of cards like Rekindling Phoenix before the masses do. If those aren’t conditions you identify with, you’re better off focusing on other areas, since Standard only staple specs that don’t hit can be a major drain on your resources.

Singles Specs = EDH + Modern + ’93-’94

Let me be clear. Your best bet for singles speculation in 2018 is almost certainly going be found in the EDH and Modern formats, and in  cards from the first few years of Magic.

The reality is that the most important formats in North America at present are almost certainly Modern and Commander. Modern is the constructed format with the healthiest meta and just got a shake up via the unbanning of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Bloodbraid Elf. While the impact of these two cards has yet to be written, their impact on singles acquisition is likely to be meaningful as the meta shifts around them. Commander on the other hand has emerged over the last few years as a format that encourages the collecting of multiple deck lists, counterbalancing the need for just a single copy per deck. Commander and Modern players are both prone to foiling their decks, which coupled with relatively modest print runs for many key rare and mythic foils in both formats, often leads to strong financial opportunities. Foils of cards such as Expropriate, Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice, Kolaghan’s Command, Gurmag Angler, Collected Company, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher have all been generous contributors to my bottom line over the last few years. The key here is to rank your speculation options by total popularity, focusing your efforts on staples that appear in both format or across multiple archetypes in a single format. Couple this with reprint risk, targeting cards that are draining but have been printed recently and you’ll zero in on your sweet spot. Inclusion in M25 is a risk for many cards this spring, but past that point we’re likely in a reprint lull until Modern Masters 2019 next spring or summer. Cards in low supply in a single archetype can still make you money but represent higher meta risk, so prioritize accordingly.

As for Reserved List and ’93-’94 cards, as opportunities in Standard have become more scarce and Modern cards have increased in reprint risk, many speculators have turned to targeting some of the earliest cards in the game. Heavy speculatory pressure, first on RL cards, and most recently on absolutely anything printed in 1993 and 1994 has been driving up prices for most of the last year, and modest increases in ’93/’94 as a format is contributing as well. While many of these cards are going to be tough to unload in volume, focusing on playable cards in limited volume is likely to pay off. Recently I’ve been picking up underpriced copies of Mishra’s Factory, which serves as a solid example of a decent spec along these lines.


Foreign Booster Boxes

Talk to any of my peers that are writing about or working in MTGFinance and they’ll tell you the same thing: don’t invest in booster boxes. See, during the advent of the Modern format we saw booster box prices of everything from 7th Edition to Innistrad take off as Modern unfurled into a burgeoning player base and generated demand for older cards in the format that far exceeded the available supply. However, since the release of Return to Ravnica in 2012, most Standard legal booster boxes have failed to appreciate in value as the growth of the Magic player base has stalled out and Wizards has taken to overproducing inventory. Coupled with an era of more aggressive reprints sprinkled into main sets and the Masters series, newer booster boxes from newer sets have had trouble showing any price appreciation.


So what if you still plan to play Standard or just like to pop a couple of boxes of each new set? Well, one strategy that has been working out well for me is to acquire Russian booster boxes exclusively. Why Russian?

Well, firstly Russian copies of important EDH and Modern staples tend to command a significant premium of anywhere from 50 to 300%, especially if you’re talking about foils. Secondly, Russian staples (especially foils) are the least likely to be impacted by reprint risk given that the Masters series sets are unlikely to be printed in anything other than English, Japanese and Simplified Chinese. Thirdly, Russian booster boxes so far still seem to be printed in Europe at Carta Mundi, which is producing Magic cards at a higher quality than has been seen in the recent English language sets in North America that seem to be getting printed overseas using an inferior printing process. Finally, Russian boxes tend to be available via Ebay in North America within $10 or so of their English language counterparts. If you can get your hands on English boxes these days around $75-85, you can likely find Russian boxes for $85-90, which is easily justified by the upside of the Russian staples.

For example, I recently opened a case I had been holding of Russian Fate Reforged and between the presence of Russian versions of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and averaging 10-20 copies of $2-5 Temur Battle Rage, Monk tokens and Gurmag Angler it was much easier to make money than it would have been with an English case. Of course this strategy does require that you memorize the cards you choose to play in decks, but that’s a good idea anyway.

I have had similar luck with Russian M15, Khans of Tarkir, Oath of the Gatewatch and Eldritch Moon. Battle for Zendikar and Kaladesh block sets is also a potential bonus.

Japanese and Korean boxes are also worth a look, but seeing as how they all tend to be about the same price, you might as well focus on Russian unless you have a preference. And remember, you can still strike out on a Russian box, so keep in mind that even next level booster box openings can still end up looking silly compared to some of your better options if your purposes are purely speculatory.

European & Japanese Arbitrage

One of my top strategies of 2017 was targeting Masterpiece Series Inventions and EDH foils on and having partners in Europe collect my packages locally before passing them back for resale every month or two. Heading into 2018 this strategy is still live, but the weakening of the USD against the Euro now requires greater disparities between pricing on both sides of the Atlantic to make it worth your time.

In Japan, cards on both Hareruya and TokyoMTG can still represent strong opportunities, especially if tech emerges first in North America and the Japanese aren’t yet on it. EDH foils from new sets are almost always a good deal on these sites early on, and so long as you keep your purchases to lower quantities you should have little problem unloading your specs 6-12 months down the road when the supply dries up.

Playing Janitor

Perhaps the most underappreciated concept in MTGFinance is that of attrition. In this context, the term refers to the fact that despite the millions of Magic cards printed every year, less than 1% of those cards recirculate into the secondary markest on sites like TCG, Ebay and MagicCardMarket. As the years drag on, any staple card that fails to see a reprint is very likely to spike in price, and despite the upswing in reprints in recent years there are still dozens to hundreds of relevant cards in need of a reprint at any given time. All of this leads to an economy that is strongly lead by supply side economics, a scenario that asks little of you other than to keep track of the inventory levels of various cards and to make your move in scenarios where the inventory has drained but the price has not yet spiked. Masterpiece Series Inventions and various Modern staples have provided plenty of opportunity along these lines in the last year, and you’re likely to get a shot at similar opportunities moving forward. Finally, with even bad Reserved List cards and cards from the first few years of Magic being increasingly targeted by speculators, there is little reason at this point to hold off on acquiring any Alpha, Beta, Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends or The Dark cards you might have reason to purchase.

Ignore the Bulk Scene

If you pay attention to the MTGFinance content stream, you are more than likely familiar with the folks that are focused on mining bulk Magic cards for profit. Now, if you’re a long time player with a lot of unsorted cards lying around from years past you certainly owe it to yourself to get organized, give your collection a few passes for value, compile a buylist order to fuel a new deck or major purchase, and then turn back to other strategies.

See the thing is, with all of the extra inventory over the last decade and the flat lining growth in the game, bulk rates have been declining and the process of acquiring, sorting and reselling your finds is more of a job than a hobby. If your end game is to become a vendor or work for a vendor, than this is a skill set that makes perfect sense to add to your repertoire. If however you are more of an armchair speculator you are much better off focusing on consolidating your collection and holdings, so that you can maximize profits while minimizing your time spent on task. If you had invested in Euro sourced MPS Sol Rings last year in the mid $80s USD, there is little doubt that $2k spent on that project type would far exceed the same amount spent on bulk. The more you value your time, the more true this becomes.

Early Bird Gets the Worm

Price trends often take a few days or even weeks to percolate down through the entirety of the global Magic economy.  To take advantage of this process, your best bet is to perfect your techniques for staying ahead of the curve.

If you’re a night owl, get in the habit of checking the price tracking sites, including, and in the early hours of the morning, as these sites tend to run their price update scans during low traffic times. By being the first to spot an emerging price you’ll give yourself the best shot at mopping up the last few copies of a draining supply while everyone else is still asleep.

Depending on the timing and location of major event coverage, your opportunity may be to target vendors in Europe or Asia. If you happen to live near a solid density of vendors that lag in their pricing updates, showing up early at a local shop can lead to big windfalls as well.

Ultimately, you should play to your strengths in 2018, leveraging your format knowledge, available capital and existing collection to maximize your profit or savings. Good luck!

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Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan: Day 2 Analysis

So far this weekend at Pro Tour: Rivals of Ixalan, we’ve seen our assumptions about Modern play out pretty much as expected. The field of pros was largely unable to table a definitive solution to a format with this many viable decks and the Day 1 Meta breakdown demonstrated this clearly.

An amazing 23 (!) decks made up at least 1% of the field coming into this weekend which is a far cry from what we’ve seen in recent seasons of Standard. It also illustrates why the pros seem to have gravitated towards playing the decks they know best rather than attempting to out maneuver the meta with a fresh brew. With so many possibilities, meta gaming must bow to skillful play.

5C Humans, Affinity, Burn, Tron and Grixis Shadow made up the largest slices of the field, but none of them represented more than 10%, and combined the Top 5 archetypes were still less than 38%,

In a field like this our best bet is to focus on emerging tech foils and multi-archetype staples that are in low supply.

So far we’ve already seen several of the foils for 5C Humans dry up and sales should be solid heading into next week if the deck does well in Top 8 and solidifies it’s position as part of the Tier 1 Modern gauntlet.

To attempt to figure out what might move this afternoon as the Top 8 is settled, we should take a look at which decks boasted the best Day 1 to Day 2 conversion rates.


First, let’s flag the worst performing archetypes so we know what to consider avoiding in spec land:

  1. Titan Shift: 37.5% (6 of 16)
  2. Dredge: 52.9% (9 of 17)
  3. Mardu Pyromancer: 53.8% (7 of 13)
  4. U/R Gifts Storm: 56.5% (13 of 23)
  5. B/G Mid-Range: 55.6% (5 of 9)

Despite Gerry T’s deep run with Mardu Pyromancer, the conversion rate for the deck overall should give you some pause on speculating in that direction. Primal Titan doesn’t look like a great bet, and the field seemed to be ready for both Dredge and Storm strategies.

The Top 5 conversion rates belong to:

  1. Traverse Shadow: 84.6% (11 of 13)
  2. Eldrazi Tron: 76.9% (20 of 26)
  3. Jeskai Control: 73.9% (17 of 23)
  4. Tron: 68.8% (22 of 32)
  5. 5c Humans 67.4% (29 of 43)

Despite a relatively small sample size, it could be that the Traverse Death’s Shadow builds may have been underestimated coming into the tournament. Traverse the Ulvenwald foils are still available around $10, but supply is pretty shallow and this card also sees solid demand from the Commander/EDH scene. Modern Masters 2017 Death’s Shadow foils are also relatively scarce, and could make a move towards $20+ from $12-14. The fact that there are two versions of the Death’s Shadow decks also provides some insulation against meta shifts on that spec.

Traverse the UlvenwaldDeath's Shadow

Both of the main flavors of the Tron builds were top converters which further entrenches that archetype as one of the giants of the format. With most versions running multiple copies of Wurmcoil Engine as their mid-tier threat, you might want to have a look at how few Masterpiece copies are still floating about under $90, with potential to push $120-$150 this year. Other versions are also worth a look but I’m a bit worried that this card could show up in Magic 25 this spring. Karn Liberated hasn’t seen a reprint since Modern Masters 2015, is often played as a 4 of in Tron builds and only has two printings total, so should it dodge a reprint in Magic 25, a move on non-foils from $70 to $100+ on low supply could take place. For the record I think a reprint in the first half of 2018 is likely, but roll the dice as you may. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon hasn’t yet seen a reprint outside his promo version, and I’d bet on Karn seeing a reprint first, so picking up a few of these at $30 with the assumption it will get to $50 before a reprint could work out as well.

Karn LiberatedWurmcoil Engine

A quick glance at the Jeskai Control lists would suggest a couple of decent targets. Supreme Verdict is likely to be the best sweeper in Modern and EDH for quite some time, and if you’re looking to pick up a foil, they can be had for as little as $7 after the recent reprint in Iconic Masters. Search for Azcanta has made strong inroads into the blue decks in the format, so you might want to have a look at the foils on these, especially the ultra rare Japanese Buy-A-Box version with the alternate map art on the back.

Supreme VerdictSearch for Azcanta

You can see my notes on the 5CHumans cards in play from the setup article yesterday over here.

If you’re feeling like targeting a long shot, perhaps take a look at Hollow One or Flamewake Phoenix foils from this sexy deck brought to the tournament by Ken Yukuhiro, who is now at 12-2 with a solid shot at Top 8. This deck had a 100% conversion rate to Day 2, on a small sample size.

Why the focus on foils you ask? Well, most of the cards mentioned above boast fairly deep supply in non-foil, so foils are the safer shot at leveraging low supply into some profit or savings.

If you’re looking for more specs, take a look at the list of most played cards at the tournament and cross check against supply levels:

Dech Tech #5: Lukas Blohon on Esper Goryo’s Vengeance

This deck abuses the interactions between Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Obzedat, Ghost Council that leave them in play after being brought in via Goryo’s Vengeance.

I’ll be checking back in as we see the Top 8 decks emerge. Stay tuned!

12:15pm EST: Top 8 looks like it will include at least:

  1. Pascal Vieren: UR Pyromancer (watch Thing in the Ice foil prices)
  2. Luis Salvatto: Lantern Control
  3. Ken Yukihiro: BR Hollow One (watch Hollow One + Flamewake Phoenix foils)
  4. Gerry Thompson: Mardu Pyromancer (Bedlam Reveler foils)
  5. Javier Dominguez: 5C Humans (lots of price motion likely)
  6. Reid Duke: Abzan Mid-Range (unlikely to generate much movement)
  7. Jean-Emmanuel Depraz: Traverse Shadow
  8. Andrea Mengucci: 5CHumans

This is a diverse Top 8, typical of the current state of the format and it’s anyone’s guess what will come out on top tomorrow. Keep an eye on the inventory levels for the key cards mentioned above.

James Chillcott is the CEO of, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.



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Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan: Financial Preview

The first Pro Tour of 2017 is already rolling along in Bilbao, Spain. In the wake of major upheaval in the Standard format with another round of recent bannings, we find ourselves instead faced with the only Modern Pro Tour of the year, and the first in quite some time.

As per usual the world’s best players have been holed up in Spanish hotels and rented homes for the last week or two, all seeking to answer the only query that matters: is there a fresh deck or reconfiguration of existing archetypes out there that will allow them to catch the field off balance while offering consistent play against the known quantities in the field?

With $250,000 USD on the line, and  $40,000 for the champ, players looking to Top 8 need to marshall both luck and skill to lock down the trophy.

Taking a look at the results from the last major StarCityGames Tour Standard tournament, the Top 8 field features elements both familiar and relatively recent. Here was the Top 8 from SCG Open Cincinnati.

For much of 2017, the analysis of Modern as a format has been that the format supports many different archetypes, to the point where some pros have complained that it is difficult to metagame for with only fifteen sideboard slots. Of course the pros also claim that they can solve most formats when they bring their full team resources to bear, so this tournament will be an interesting stress test for the Modern format as a whole.

Entering into this weekend, the online meta would suggest that the top decks in the format are:

  • BG Tron (7.66%)
  • Jeskai Control (7.46%)
  • Grixis Death Shadow (7%)
  • Affinity (7%)
  • Burn (6%)
  • 5C Humans (5.44%)
  • Eldrazi Tron (4.23%)
  • U/R Gifts Storm (3.23%)

It is worth noting that the Pro Tour currently requires that players succeed in a mixed schedule of booster draft (RIX/RIX/IXL) and constructed play with 3 rounds of draft overnight , followed by 5 rounds of Modern starting around 7am EST/4am PST, Friday.

For we finance types, this is not a super exciting scenario. With a wide open field, play skill and nuanced sideboard choices + luck may carry the day, and that’s without accounting for the six rounds of draft that tug against constructed success ratios. My gut says that you are most likely to do well with emerging tech that makes a deep run at the tournament. I would also be looking at 5C Humans staples that are in waning supply if that deck holds up with a solid conversion % for Day 2 and/or a strong run in the Top 8.

Will any of the teams find a way to unlock a hot new deck with solid game against the entire field? Will a fringe deck from the early weeks of the format suddenly end up perfectly positioned to take off? Will there be a chance to get in on a must-have card that shows early promise or will the hype train leave the bandwagon speculators out in the cold without enough buyers come Monday morning? Follow along as we explore Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan all weekend!

Day 1 Notes

During an interview on the floor, fellow Canadian Jon Stern outlines that he expected Affinity, Burn, and Tron to be the best/most popular decks but notes that he may have underestimated 5C Humans.

Deck Tech #2: U/W Control w/ Pierre Dagen

Dagen calls out Field of Ruin as potentially the best card in Modern.

Foil Bedlam Reveler has been drying up for a while and an appearance on camera seems to have pushed it over the edge. Could settle closer to $20+ this weekend.

Aether Vial is a key card in 5C Humans, Death & Taxes and Merfolk, and though the supply is pretty deep from multiple printings, $100 copies of the Masterpiece version look like a good deal right now. Could see those hitting $150+ in 2018.

Thalia’s Lieutenant foils are drying up under $10, and could end up closer to $20 if Humans reinforces it’s Tier 1 status this weekend. Champion of the Parish has only ever had a single foil printing, and these are scare under $15 now, with upside to $25+ easily possible. Mantis Rider foils, once utterly ignored, are also now in very low supply under $10. Phantasmal Image foils, most recently reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 are also dried up under $15. The other card from 5C Humans that looks tempting is Ancient Ziggurat. I got in on this one at $3.50 or so in quantity when the humans deck first showed up, but even closer to $8 there could be upside to $20 this year if the deck keeps doing well and the card dodges a reprint. Foils cresting $35 from $20 could also happen. Cavern of Souls, printed in MM17, is looking poised to regain $80 with multiple tribal decks in Modern pushing it forward.

Deck Tech #3: 5 Color Company Humans

Willy Edel breaks down his decision to replace Aether Vial with Collected Company in his take on 5C Humans:

Editor’s Note: We will not be providing round by round coverage this weekend, due to  scheduling but we will provide relevant notes as the weekend progresses. 

James Chillcott is the CEO of, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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MTG Fast Finance Podcast: Episode 97 (Dec 9/17)

MTG Fast Finance is our weekly podcast covering the flurry of weekly financial activity in the world of Magic: The Gathering. MFF provides a fast, fun and useful sixty minute format. Follow along with our seasoned hosts as they walk you through this week’s big price movements, their picks of the week, metagame analysis and a rotating weekly topic.

Show Notes: Dec 9th, 2017

Segment 1: Top Movers of the Week


Card Set Old Price New Price Increase
Call to the Netherworld (foil) TSP $2.00 $15.00 +$13.00 (+650%)
Nevermaker (Foil) MOR $0.75 $3.00 +$2.25 (+300%)
Storage Matrix (Foil) 9th $4.75 $9.00 +$4.25 (+89%)
Custodi Squire (Foil) CSP  $1.50 $2.75 +$1.25 (+83%)
Mesmeric Orb (Foil) MRD $15.00 $21.00 +$6.00 (+40%)


Segment 2:  Picks of the Week

James’s Picks:

Image result for as foretold

Card Set Confidence (1-10) Timeline Current Price Target Price
As Foretold (Foil) AMK 8 6-12+ months $12.00 $25.00 (+108%)
Whir of Invention (Foil) KLD 7 6-12+ months $4.00 $10.00 (+150%)
Paradox Engine (Foil) AER 8 3-12+ months $13.00 $25.00 (+92%)


Travis’s Picks:

Image result for detention sphere

Card Set Confidence (1-10) Timeline Current Price Target Price
Detention Sphere (Foil) RTR 7 6-12+ months $6.00 $15.00 (+150%)
Thassa, God of the Sea (Foil) ROE 7 6-12+ months $17.00 $40.00 (+135%)

Segment 3: Metagame Review

James and Travis went over the Modern portion of the results from the SCG Invitational, noting Whir of Invention being used as a four-of in the new version of Lantern Control, and Search for Azcanta showing up in more and more decks.

Segment 4: Topics of the Week

The guys talked over when to get out of failed specs, and reviewed a grab bag of other topics.

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