All posts by James Chillcott

MTG Fast Finance Podcast: Episode 47 (2016 Year in Review)

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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 21st, 2016

This week the guy’s look back over a bustling 2016 in MTGFinance, and explore the biggest card spikes of the year by percentage, the best and worst spec picks and the most important lessons of the year.

Segment 1: Top Card Spikes of 2016

Note: The data below only reflects the biggest week over week price increases of the year,  and some may not have held their spikes for more than a week. Others may have climbed yet higher since the spike was noted. Slow and steady gainers for the year may be absent from this list as well, as they would not have shown up on our weekly reports, so please review the data to draw deeper conclusions.

Thopter Foundry
Biggest weekly gainer of 2016.

Thopter Foundry (Alara Reborn, Uncommon)
Start: $0.50
Finish: $10.00
Gain: +$9.50 (+1900%)

Conflagrate (TSP, Foil Uncommon)
Start: $0.40
Finish: $5.00
Gain: +$4.60 (+1150%)

Electrostatic Pummeler (KLD, Rare)
Start: $0.50
Finish: $5.00
Gain: +$4.50 (+900%)

Magus of the Tabernacle (Planar Chaos, Rare)
Start: $0.50
Finish: $4.50
Gain: +$4.00 (+800%)

Worship (8th, Rare)
Start: $2.50
Finish: $20.00
Gain: +$17.50 (+700%)

Squandered Resources (Visions, Rare)
Start: $0.75
Finish: $5.50
Gain: +$4.75 (+633%)

Mindslicer (SOA, Foil Rare)
Start: $1.50
Finish: $10.00
Gain: +$8.50 (+567%)

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Bloodspore Thrinax (C15, Rare)
Start: $1.00
Finish: $6.50
Gain: +$5.50 (+550%)

Narcomoeba (MMA, Foil Uncommon)
Start: $2.50
Finish: $16.00
Gain: +$13.50 (+540%)

Gaea’s Avenger (Antiquities, Uncommon)
Start: $3.00
Finish: $19.00
Gain: +$16.00 (+533%)

Segment 2: Best & Worst Spec Recommendations of 2016

James’ Top 5 Picks of 2016:

  1. Traverse the Ulvenwald (SOI, Rare)
  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $1.00 to $5.00 (+5.00/+400%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $4 on schedule (+300%)

2. Nahiri, the Harbinger (SOI, Mythic)

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  • The Call: Confidence Level 6: $10.00 to $20.00 (+10.00/+100%, 0-6+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $40 on schedule (+300%)

3. Aetherworks Marvel (KLD, Foil Mythic)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $10.00 to $20.00 (+10.00/+100%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $30 ahead of schedule (+200%)

4. Blessed Alliance (EMN, Foil Uncommon)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 8: $4.00 to $10.00 (+6.00/+150%, 0-6+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $10 on schedule (+150%)

5. Selfless Spirit (EMN, Foil Rare)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $8.00 to $15.00 (+7.00/88%, 0-6+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $18 on schedule (+125%)

James also made great picks on Mantis Rider foils, Thing in the Ice, Pyroblast foils, Grim Flayer foils, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, Time Spiral, Force of Will foils, Volrath’s Stronghold and Bazaar of Baghdad.

If you listened to James about Eye of Ugin expeditions you made money, but not if you waited too long to sell them like he did. He also screwed up calling EMA Mana Crypt foils at $225, failing to predict their reprinting as Masterpieces in Kaladesh, and called Deploy the Gatewatch too early at $3.25 to hit $8 (lol). The call on Eldritch Evolution foils at $15 also would have cost you plenty vs. current pricing.

Travis Top Picks of 2016:

  1. Realms Uncharted (ROE, Rare)
  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $0.25 to $4.00 (+3.75/+1500%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $3 on schedule (+1100%)

2. Adarkar Wastes (Various, Rare)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 8: $2.00 to $10.00 (+8.00/+400%, 0-6+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $15 soon after (+650%)

3. Needle Spires (Oath, Rare)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $1.00 to $5.00 (+4.00/+400%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $4.50 ahead of schedule (+350%)

4. The Chain Veil (EMN, Mythic)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 8: $1.50 to $5.00 (+3.50/+233%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $4.50 on schedule (+200%)

5. Doubling Season (MMA)

  • The Call: Confidence Level 7: $25.00 to $50.00 (+40.00/88%, 6-12+ months)
  • What Happened: Got to $65 on schedule (+160%)

Travis’ worst calls of the year included Arlin Kord at $10 (down 30%), Ob Nixilis, Reignited at $5 (down 30%), EMA boxes at $240 (due to re-release), and Kozilek, the Great Distortion at $7 (down 50%).

Disclosure: Travis and James may own speculative copies of the above cards.

Segment 3: Lessons of 2016

James & Travis discuss the lessons of 2016 for MTG Finance including the increase in reprints, the threat to eternal format support from WoTC, the potential saturation of the premium card market and the increasing relevance of Commander in card speculation.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, 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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ProTrader: Hot Spec (Dec 28/16)

Note: This article was available for 48 hours exclusively to MTGPrice.com Pro Traders. Sign up today to get a head start on our best ideas.

Hey guys,

This is a new series I’m going to be running every so often, where I give you just the basic info you need to make some money, so that you can get in on what is likely to be a limited time opportunity once the word gets out.

So long story short, it turns out that EDH focused Masterpiece cards from Kaladesh are significantly cheaper in Europe via MagicCardmarket.eu, likely because the EDH scene is significantly weaker in several of the EU countries. The other factor is that the EU has fallen against the USD and is now a mere 1.05 to the dollar.

Specifically I suggest taking a hard look at the following cards:

  • Sol Ring
  • Mana Crypt
  • Chromatic Lantern
  • Rings of Brighthearth

Sol RingMana Crypt

Chromatic LanternRings of Brighthearth

Each of these cards is likely to make you $20-40/copy within the year, with more upside if their stock runs low in North America. Amazingly, most of these were even lower last month, but so it goes.

Here’s how it all breaks down:

  • Sol Ring
    • TCG NM around $120 (30 copies left)
    • MCM NM $70
    • Upside: $40+/copy after fees/shipping
  • Mana Crypt
    • TCG NM around $115 (30 copies left)
    • MCM NM $75
    • Upside: $35+/copy after fees/shipping
  • Chromatic Lantern
    • TCG NM around $60 (42 copies left)
    • MCM NM $30
    • Upside: $25+/copy after fees/shipping
  • Rings of Brighthearth
    • TCG NM around $45 (27 copies left)
    • MCM NM $25
    • Upside: $15+/copy after fees/shipping

What I love about this is that there is solid arbitrage on the table, and the declining inventory on TCG suggest that holding these cards will provide further upside once the focus is on Aether Revolt and Amonkhet (which could admittedly shift the focus as folks chase those cards, but it also cuts off the supply.)

Here’s what you need to do to make the play:

  1. Live in Europe, because MCM only allows shipping to EU addresses
  2. If you don’t live in Europe find a friend or make a contact via social media and arrange for them to order the cards for you in exchange for future favors. For instance, you could suggest that they order a few extra copies for themselves so that they can send them along with your own copies and have you sell them and send them back the cash net fees via Paypal. Alternatively, a cash fee, future favors trading or profit sharing arrangement may work. Yes, this is the tricky part, but you will want this contact later.
  3. Ask your trading partner to focus on sellers with good sales records and multiple copies of your target in stock. Shipping is significantly more expensive via MCM, with each shipment to your trading partner likely to end up between 2e and 8e. Clearly this means you want to be placing larger orders to reduce drag but the arbitrage is good enough here to make your play worthwhile so long as you’re diligent about the shipping costs.
  4. It costs your partner more to pay via Paypal, so try to find a partner who is already set up to pay MCM via online bank transfer and they won’t have to pass those fees on to you as well.
  5. Send the partner cash to cover the order via Paypal, and make clear in the notes what you are expecting in return.
  6. Most of these picks can make you money right away, but I think they’ll be even better in 6 months, so consider building up a stack with your trading partner to reduce overall shipping costs overseas per card when you eventually take possession.

If you’re too slow on the draw here, remember, something similar is likely to happen with EDH focused Masterpieces in the rest of the sets this year so keep an eye on the charts.

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Cheers, hope it works out for you!

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, 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 46

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 16th, 2016

Segment 1: Top Movers of the Week

Note: Price movements reflect posted NM prices, and may not represent prices players have paid.

Spike Weaver (Exodus, Rare)
Start: $3.00
Finish: $16.00
Gain: +$13.00 (+433%)

Bastion Protector (C15, Rare)
Start: $2.00
Finish: $7.50
Gain: +$5.50 (+275%)

Krark-Clan Ironworks (Mirrodin, Foil Uncommon)
Start: $9.50
Finish: $22.00
Gain: +$12.50 (+132%)

Shapesharer (Lorwyn, Foil Rare)
Start: $5.00
Finish: $9.00
Gain: +$4.00 (+80%)

Repercussion Urza’s Destiny, Foil Rare)
Start: $12.00
Finish: $21.00
Gain: +$8.00 (+67%)

Master Transmuter (Conflux, Rare)
Start: $8.75
Finish: $13.00
Gain: +$4.25 (+49%)

Scourglass (SOA, Foil Rare)
Start: $9.00
Finish: $13.00
Gain: +$4.00 (+44%)
Segment 2: Cards to Watch

James Picks:

    1. Saheeli Rai (KLD, Mythic), Confidence Level 7: $5.00 to $10.00 (+5.00/100%, 0-12+ months)
    2. Khans of Tarkir Set (Via MTGO), Confidence Level 7: $80.00 to $130.00 (+$50/+63%, 12+ months)

Travis Picks:

  1. Scourglass, (Shards of Alara, Rare), Confidence Level 7: $3.00 to $10.00 (+$7.00/167%, 0-6+ months)
  2. Purphoros, God of the Forge, (Theros, Mythic Rare, Foil), Confidence Level 7: $20.00 to $30.00 (+$10.00/50%, 6-12+ months)

Disclosure: Travis and James may own speculative copies of the above cards.
Segment 3: Metagame Week in Review

The guys briefly touched on the results from the recent round of RTPQs on MTGO.

Segment 4: Topic of the Week

James & Travis discuss the ins and outs of ordering specs from overseas.

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, 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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Setting a Higher Standard: DCI Player Rewards, Leagues & Mid-Season Micro-Sets

Based on interviews and anecdotal evidence from the last few months it has become clear that Standard, the primary constructed format of our beloved Magic: The Gathering, is in a spot of trouble.

Reports from LGS operators have outlined a Standard landscape exhibiting clear signs of weakening participation. Whether this has roots in the decision last year (now reversed) to shorten the Standard rotation schedule from 24 months to 18 months (based on large fall set rotation as the anchor set), or the fact that Standard this fall has devolved to a binary star system where anyone not playing UW Flash or GB Delirium is probably doing it wrong (despite early results from RW Vehicles and resurgent online results from GR Aetherworks Marvel).  WoTC has clearly taken notice and has expressed their concerns through the launching of various in store promotional efforts (so-called Treasure Chest packs and Buy a Box promotions) as well as the aforementioned reversal of the rotation schedule.

It is important to remember that the persistent perfection of the Standard metagame is a highly elusive and magical beast, and not one we can expect to be present at all times. The format has endured similarly poor environments before (including the Mono Blue vs Mono Black decks of Theros block), only to bounce back as the printing of new sets refreshed the meta and got people excited again.

Spell QuellerIshkanah, Grafwidow

Nevertheless, it seems to me that WoTC is leaving too many opportunities on the shelf. As one of the dual pillars, along with a fun draft format, of persistent in store participation and product purchase, a strong Standard represents strong game health. Sure, Modern and Legacy are solid scenes in many places, but those players have a reduced need for new cards, and often have collections deep enough that they can trade for anything new they might need. Hence, the reason that both tournament organizers and the company have pulled back from Legacy and may one day refresh the component sets of Modern to keep the purchasing cycle flowing.

Here are a few ideas that I think are worth exploring by WoTC as they contemplate the continued health of the game vis a vis a more exciting Standard paradigm:

DCI Player Rewards Program Redux

As a marketing professional, the current handling of the DCI program is a bit mystifying to me. Here we have a process that registers every participant in every sanctioned tournament both large and small, across the globe, and yet somehow Wizards hasn’t taken the obvious next step and turned our DCI numbers into a full fledged rewards and sales tracking program.

Why would this be of use? Well, for a number of reasons.

At present, the company is able to gather some very detailed information on participation levels at every participating LGS across the planet, and as such, can spot early trends in things like Standard participation levels by cross-referencing this against store and distributor level sealed product sales data to get a pretty good sense of what is happening in the community at the retail level.

What’s missing however is a greater sense of purpose and community and a more predictable measuring stick for brand loyalty and buying habits. In 2016 most gaming stores are using a digital inventory/accounting system to track sales but both the LGS owners and Wizards are missing out on the wealth of data that would come from connecting the specific sales data to the DCI number of each player.

Image result for dci player rewards
Reasons abound to bring back an updated version of this program.

Specifically, I’m proposing that every time we purchase something at our LGS the sale is connected to our DCI account, providing a wealth of data on our purchasing and play habits that can be mined to better shape in store promotions, set designs and marketing efforts.

It’s one thing to know that Timmy played in pre-release tourneys twice this year, and drafts once a month. It’s quite another to know that his exact spend across two LGS locations is $1845.32 this year, that he tends to purchase 60% of his singles on Friday night after he gets paid, and that he stops drafting for a few weeks when his pockets get drained by supplemental product releases and that he showed up to twice as many FNM events during periods when the promo card was one of the top ten most purchased cards of the season. Training staff to ask a simple “what format are you buying that for” would generate a massive amount of good data.

Picture getting an email inviting you back to play Standard when the system detects you haven’t showed up for a few weeks, complete with a coupon for a product they know you like and a reminder that the cards you need for your Metalwork Colossus deck are back in stock and on sale. This is the kind of total player life-cycle management that is currently absent in the game.

Sharing some of this data with the LGS owners via a shared dashboard can only enrich their own ability to better manage all aspects of their Magic business, while providing a fresh layer of trust and transparency with HQ.

From the player perspective, we would trade a minor invasion of privacy for frequent player rewards in the form of coupons, discounts, free event entry and/or (better) promotional cards or other products. At Face to Face Games here in Toronto, we already make good use of a “buy 8 tourneys, get one free” style rewards card, but this kind of thing is just the tip of the iceberg versus what is possible when a program of this type is supported from the top and refined over time based on constant data gathering.

Standard Leagues

In the amateur sports and gaming world, it is entirely common to declare a league schedule and expect participants to block off every Tuesday at 7pm to participate in an ongoing series of events.

Pre-release tournaments, FNM (Friday Night Magic) and Game Day events are all expressions of the value of regularly scheduled and well understood models of participation, and the community building that takes place as a result of seeing the same familiar faces at your local store. That being said, we can push this concept farther.

I’d like to see Wizards go the extra mile and declare specific Standard leagues spanning the period from the release of one Standard legal set to the next, perhaps with a week break during spoiler season. Continued participation in these leagues, which would still be drop-in friendly, would reward consistency in both participation and results with promo cards, discounts, accessories, etc.

Picture a Standard League Super Pass, that includes the following for $199.99:

  • One booster box of Kaladesh w/ Buy-a-Box promo
  • One free Standard legal booster per week
  • One set of Kaladesh sleeves
  • One Kaladesh deck box
  • 12 weeks of league play entry fees
  • A 5% in store discount on Standard legal cards during the league (so long as DCI # is associated with sale)

Now clearly, you can tweak the knobs on this machine in any number of different ways, but the core premise is to invite up front commitment from players in exchange for a clear value upgrade. The LGS gets to collect revenues up front and “lock in” participation for the season. They fund the in store discount on singles and most of the prize pool, and WoTC provides the kit for the rest. An optional Invitational style event based on results in the league can be run in the last week of the season, with additional prize support from the LGS/WoTC.

A different version for draft or sealed play should likely also be offered.

Players who want to jump in on the league can do so easily by paying the usual single tournament experience, but the benefits to buying in on the whole league and tying the whole experience together in an easy to understand package would help bridge the gap between FNM style casual nights and the hassle of RPTQ grinding. You can even take this a step further and look at providing PTQ invites to league winners.

Monthly Metagame Boosters

One of the issues with Standard is the possibility for the metagame to be solved early on in the sales cycle for a new set. If the players come to the conclusion that only a couple of decks are viable options, as is happening now and has happened in the past, it tends to dissuade the kind of week-to-week brewing that keeps local Standard tournaments and FNM nights fun and exciting.

The simply reality is that Magic is primarily a game of discovery and most players are much more attracted to unsolved and unfamiliar formats than solved formats. Take the temperature of a room at your local large site pre-release and compare it to a local Standard event during the last week of November 2016, and tell me you can’t feel the difference in the energy level?

One way to ensure that the metagame keeps evolving? Stop releasing sets all at once. Instead, supplement the main set release with periodic micro-set releases, called something like Power Boosters. This concept is likely to generate the most push back, and there are real reasons to doubt it, but hear me out.

These sets could be offered in a limited number of sub-themes such as Madness, Delirium or Vehicles.  Marketing can tag them with sexy names like Rage of the Immortals, Rolling in the Deep or Driving the Revolt. If you’re already subscribed to the Fall Standard League Super Pass mentioned above, you get your choice of one of these micro-sets say six weeks after the main release.

(At first I thought a monthly release might be best, but upon further reflection a single burst between sets seems like the simplest and least expensive starting point to help the meta evolve without resetting the table too often.)

Olivia, Mobilized for War
Did Olivia just need a few more cards to be viable?

How might this impact MTG Finance? Well, for one thing, an ever shifting meta-game makes it harder to sit on staples for profit, since they may not stay staples for as long. In this brave new world a card like Aetherflux Reservoir might be a better bet than pegging your hopes on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar making the move from $20 to $30.

On the other hand, most methods of distribution that leveraged “LGS only” would have the potential to send a card through the roof. To counter this potential, if you were already enrolled in the current Standard League via a super-pass, your choice of the four available Power Boosters would be included in your bundle fees at a discount. Otherwise, players could order additional Power Boosters direct from their LGS for as long as the root set was in Standard.

Each player can order up to X (say 4) of each of the themed micro-sets, and each set contains a full play set of the needed cards.  If all of the cards contained within were rares and they were all included in equal numbers, and availability until their root set rotated, that might help counter any tendency for the most important cards to spike too high. Could one of these cards make it’s way into Modern or EDH and end up expensive? Certainly, but the fairly aggressive reprint policy we’re currently living through can help further mitigate that potential and give players a good reason to be playing and collecting via support of their local store.

So what’s the downside?

Well, just off the top we have the cost of producing, printing, distributing and promoting the extra cards. That being said, I suspect that many of these cards would normally get left on the cutting room floor during the trimming of the main set release, so the impact on design/development might not be quite so terrible. Those teams would however need to have a good sense of which themes would need the help via the Future Future League, and there’s always the possibility that they overestimate one theme and underestimate another, resulting in, for instance, an uber-powerful vehicles deck that nothing card stand against.

There is also the fact that this represents significantly more coordination between Organized Play and the store owners, as well as more program management cost. Whether all of that is worth it in the end is merely a guess until you button down the specifics of course, but if I was on the team I’d at least be looking at the option, especially as part of a more refined and powerful DCI Rewards program as described above.

You would also need to figure out how to handle some of the languages and regions that don’t normally get access to supplemental product, but I think the LGS based ordering system would alleviate most of the price and availability pressure while focusing constructed purchasing in on the LGS level.

Would it matter that Wal-Mart never got the Power Booster? I doubt it. The world of the player who never goes near an LGS is very different than the world of an active community member, and the rumor of extra cards available down the street at your local comic shop might be just what is needed to pull you into the fold.

Finally, there is the fact that many Standard seasons were just fine on their own. I played heavily between Khans of Tarkir and Magic: Origins for example, and I felt plenty motivated to show up the entire time. That being said, I’m willing to guess that sales typically slow 4-6 weeks after release for both WotC and the retailers, so a great reason to show up mid-season could be a solid sales booster.

So there you have it. What made sense to you here? What go you angry or excited? Do you have ideas of your own to share?

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, 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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