All posts by Sigmund Ausfresser

What Warren Buffett Knows About MTG Finance

Last week, I shared an introduction to me, my motivations, and my risk equation. A Twitter conversation prompted the last of these, and it felt like an appropriate topic to share when establishing my investment style on a new website. In a way, it reveals what you can expect from me as a writer for the weeks and months to come.

But I’ll admit I got ahead of myself a bit. I began delving into the how before first covering the what. In other words, I haven’t even revealed what my current portfolio distribution looks like and how I came to these positions. Such an introductory piece is certainly merited, as it gives a baseline for future discussions. Additionally, the topic overlaps nicely with my general approach to resource allocation in MTG finance—a strategy I picked up from one of the greatest investors of all time.

Perhaps it is most appropriate to share the latter while integrating examples of the former throughout the column.

 The Oracle of Omaha

If I had to choose one particular influence in how I structure my investment portfolios—both in Magic cards and in stocks—it would have to be Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha has been a successful, active stock picker for many decades. While it is cumbersome to establish a basis for his entire strategy here in one column, I will take the liberty to highlight a few key mantras I’ve picked up through my research.

  1. Find the right value at the right price.
  2. Stick to what you know.
  3. Take advantage of extremes.
  4. Know the management team.

Applying these strategies to stock picking is trivial and systematized already.  But did you know they are also highly correlated to how I conduct my MTG investing as well?


For example, consider the value equation and taking advantage of extremes. If I am confident a given MTG card or item is destined for an upward trajectory over long periods of time, then I’m most intrigued by that opportunity. The key, of course, is choosing your entry.

This is exactly how I approached my investment in shocklands. Recognizing the growth of the Modern format and WOTC’s dedication to helping it grow, I decided a sizable investment in shocklands was a wise move. Furthermore, the cheapest shockland during Standard block—Steam Vents—was also the cheapest for quite a while. Copies could be had for below $7 at one point!


The disconnect was that Steam Vents was one of the most played shocklands in Modern. Yet the card’s price was beaten and battered due to the high Return to Ravnica print run and the low Standard demand. Opportunity was knocking, and when I bought deeply into shocklands, I made sure to go deepest on Steam Vents.

The bet paid off to an extent. Just a couple years later, Steam Vents hit retail pricing nearing $14 and buylists have exceeded the low reached right around the release of Dragon’s Maze. This represents a nearly 100-percent gain from trough to peak. That was enough for me, and I rang the register at a recent Star City Games Open.

I noticed an extreme, I considered the long-term utility of the card, and made my bet accordingly. Warren Buffett would have been proud.

Weekly World News

Of course, the other shocklands haven’t responded nearly as well, much to my disappointment. Abzan strategies are ubiquitous in Modern thanks to the printing of Siege Rhino, yet the shocklands corresponding to black, white, and green have barely moved. Overgrown Tomb from Return to Ravnica is flirting with its all-time low established back in May 2013.


Would this worry Warren Buffett? Not at all. He recognizes that the market often takes time before realizing the mispricing of a given asset. Therefore, in a similar vein, I choose to sit on my copies and wait for the appreciation I’m confident will come. And if prices linger below $7, I may buy even more.  This is why shocklands remain a top holding in my portfolio.

Stick to What You Know

Because I track the Modern metagame closely, investing in shocklands is a large bet I continue to make with confidence. I understand how the format works—particularly when it comes to mana bases—and I use this knowledge to strategize how I invest.  I also recognize the risks associated with this investment and I am comfortable with the potential upside versus the downside risk.

This is directly related to another strategy of Mr. Buffett’s: sticking to what you know. Rather than chase the trendy stocks, such as 3-D printing or Chinese internet companies, Buffett prefers to invest in companies with tried-and-true strategies, large “moats,” and a history of consistent profit growth. Coca-Cola remains in Warren’s portfolio not only because of its dominant market position and global brand recognition, but also because he understands the company’s business model: make delicious soda consisting primarily of water; find an inexpensive way to bottle the product and distribute it globally; profit.

Do you believe me when I say this strategy is also directly applicable to Magic finance too? I use it all the time!

You may have heard me claim ignorance of Standard in the past. Nine times out of ten, the format bores me, and the constant fluctuation in which cards are legal and which aren’t can be bothersome. One month you could be battling with the best deck in the format, and then a new set could come out with cards that completely redefine the format. Worse yet, Standard could rotate, nullifying half your deck.


Because I avoid researching Standard, I also tend to avoid investing in cards from the format. Sure, I’ve had some successes in the past: the Innistrad checklands, Terminus, and a few others were very profitable for me. But I’ve also missed nearly as often as I’ve connected, making Standard a very suboptimal investment area. I simply can’t predict which cards will be good enough. The only buying of Standard you’ll likely see me do is pick up cards on the cheap for a quick flip during a pro tour or new set release. I almost never buy deeply into anything Standard.

On the other hand, I’ve done thorough research on sealed booster boxes. Over time, I was able to identify which sets were most attractive for investing. Once I was confident that certain boxes were undervalued and destined to go higher, I made my buys. The most significant investments I made were in Innistrad and Return to Ravnica booster boxes, though I dabbled in a few other sets as well.

The Innistrad boxes paid off very well, and every one of mine are already sold.


Although I did make profit on this venture, I’ll be the first to admit I sold way too prematurely. With cards like Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil hitting record highs, and the set being one of the most enjoyable to draft of all time, I should have trusted my gut and held longer. A tough lesson learned, but one worth exploring more deeply in a separate article.

What I did manage to hold onto are my Return to Ravnica booster boxes. This set was also talked highly of by Limited aficionados, and the set contains an array of eternal favorites including shocklands, Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman, and Supreme Verdict. While none of these cards have hit the same price point as Snapcaster Mage, they all have significant upside as the set ages further. Eventually, these will hit a turning point and boxes will move higher. In fact, they’ve already shown some appreciation—when I bought in, it was around the floor price of $80 to $85. Now boxes are consistently selling for just above $100. It won’t be long before these go even higher, just like every booster box with eternal cards and a good drafting reputation. Applying this insight after thorough research has helped me make well-informed investment decisions.

Of course, investing in booster boxes isn’t all sunshine and roses. There are some major pitfalls I have also learned about. I’ll share details in a separate article some time, but I wanted to add this disclaimer here before a reader gets trigger-happy and randomly buys ten Khans of Tarkir boxes or something. There’s a reason I’m not buying more boxes at this point in time: the investment could still pay off, but I think there are better opportunities elsewhere. The key is sticking to what you’re most comfortable with.

Know the Management Team

You may be wondering how I could possibly tie this Buffett-ism to Magic investing. Sure, it’s good to have trust in a CEO like Bob Iger who has helped Disney grow substantially over the past few years. But there really isn’t any “management” team in Magic, is there?

Perhaps not precisely, but there is a parallel. Consider who the key decision makers are, and you can begin to understand their motivations. These motivations could have a profound impact on MTG investment choices.

Allow me to elaborate. Who is the “boss” of Magic? If you ask me, I’d venture that the Hasbro management team is the answer. They’re the ones cracking the whip and demanding certain profit numbers be hit by the WOTC team. So when they demand consistent profit growth of their brands, WOTC does what it can to deliver.

And boy, oh boy, has the company succeeded: recent sets have been blockbuster hits and supplemental products like Commander and Modern Masters have bolstered sales even further.

Of course, sales are surely augmented when Wizards dangles a carrot in front of us, right? Khans of Tarkir was hugely attractive because of the Onslaught fetchlands that were reprinted in the set. Commander products give us cards like Containment Priest and Flusterstorm, sure to delight any Legacy player. And I don’t have to tell you how easy it is for Wizards to sell a product with $200 Tarmogoyfs in the mix.

In other words, Wizards knows that reprinting money cards and creating new staples results in more product sold. That’s the management team on which I am focusing. It is their motivations that inform my investment decisions.


So how am I using this information to allocate MTG resources? WOTC continues to focus on reprinting to improve barriers of entry for Modern and, to a lesser extent, Legacy. Therefore I’m focusing resources on eternal staples which are either a) likely to dodge reprint in the short term (e.g., shocklands), or b) guaranteed to dodge reprint (e.g. dual lands).

In fact, the largest position in my entire portfolio—exceeding my shockland and booster box holdings—is my dual land position. I completely understand what drives their demand, I believe in their long-term price growth, and I know “management” won’t reprint them. It may take some patience, but dual lands have to be some of the safest investments one could make in MTG at the moment. And with recent pullbacks in pricing, certain duals are the most attractive they have been in many months.



These two duals in particular have drifted lower since their peaks in May 2014. Just because white-green and blue-green strategies are out of favor at the moment doesn’t mean they can’t ever return to center stage. Legacy is an eternal format, and I have to believe eventually the metagame will shift yet again, yielding to new dominant strategies. For now it’s red-blue strategies that seem to show up most frequently, but in the future, who knows? All I know is that I want to build up my position of duals now while they’re flat, so that I have them during their next inevitable spike. As long as “management” stays true to their word and doesn’t reprint these cards, then we can be confident in their long-term success.

Wrapping it Up

Hopefully, this Wall Street-centric approach to MTG investing makes at least some sense. To me, it’s the most logical approach. I could try chasing the buyout of the day or flipping cards quickly for short-term profits. I could also try the slow, steady grind, trading with the sharks at major events. But both of these approaches are time-consuming and arduous.

I would much rather use my time wisely by investing in cards with good long-term value, confident growth, and a wide moat. I trust in an investment like dual lands because I don’t think they’ll ever be outclassed and their demand is very steady while supply marches lower little by little over the years. This same reassurance just isn’t available for a short-term investment.

And when I find these opportunities—especially the ones with high upside potential and low downside risk—I make a decisive move.  In a way, this is also related to a Buffett type of strategy.  Once we find a great opportunity, we shouldn’t be afraid to move in with our resources.  Consider how Buffett’s current stock portfolio is very heavily weighted towards four individual stocks, making up 62 percent of his portfolio!


I follow this same weighted approach in my own stock investing.  But I also allow this principle to guide my MTG investing as well.  This is the reason I’ve got over 50 percent of my total MTG portfolio tied up in three primary investments: shocklands (foil and nonfoil), Return to Ravnica booster boxes, and dual lands.  These are three asset classes I’m confident in, and so I’m allocating my resources appropriately.  While I have plenty of smaller bets, just like Buffett, I try to place larger amounts in the areas I feel best about.

I may not make the most profit ever by following such a conservative approach, but I know I won’t be losing money either. And seeing as my goal is to make money to fund a college education, I can’t afford to be losing money too often. Therefore, I won’t be deviating from my strategy any time soon—in both my stock market and my MTG market investments. To do so would be bad for business.

Sig’s Quick Hits

  • Want to play blue-black in Tiny Leaders? Don’t look to Star City Games, then—they’re all out of the only blue-black leader legal in the format: Sygg, River Cutthroat. They’ve been sold out of the creature for weeks now with that same $6.19 price tag. I’m waiting for the inevitable price bump.
  • Ad Nauseam strategies seem to be showing up a little more frequently in Legacy top eights since the banning of Treasure Cruise. Perhaps this is why Lion’s Eye Diamond is once again sold out at SCG with a price tag of $86.29. As long as it doesn’t get banned, you could do worse than to pick up a copy or two in trade if you’re looking for a long-term investment beyond dual lands.
  • Need Rift Bolts for your Modern Burn deck? You’re not going to find any at Star City Games. Despite being reprinted a couple of times, the card is completely sold out at the major retailer. Prices range from $1.85 for the MMA copy to $3.99 for FNM and Time Spiral versions.

An Introduction and an Approach to Risk

By: Sigmund Ausfresser

Hello everyone, and welcome to my new home. After over three years of writing for other MTG Finance websites, I’m delighted to reach a broader audience here at  The opportunity is truly energizing, and I look forward to engaging dialogues each and every week. To that end, I encourage you to please share your thoughts – both positive and negative – in the comments section whenever you’d like.

Before I jump into my financial content for today, I wanted to first share a brief overview of my background. This context will really foreshadow many of my future topics, underlining my general approach to MTG Finance. Allow me to explain.

Background and Motivation

Technically, I’ve been playing Magic for about 18 years now…well, if you consider casting numerous Craw Wurms and Dark Banishings “Magic”. For over a decade I was solely a casual player; never understanding the allure of tournaments or adhering to certain rules dictated by various formats. Finally around Time Spiral block I dipped my toe into the competitive waters. I couldn’t understand why a card like Strangling Soot was so good, and why my first picking of Pardic Dragon wasn’t winning me games. It was the rare, after all!
My defeats were swift and merciless. Clearly, there was much to learn.

A couple years later I was introduced to the concept of MTG Finance at my local card shop by a couple of influential members of the community. I distinctly remember asking the question that changed my perceptions of MTG Finance forever.

 Me: “How did you get all of these valuable cards? Do you just open a lot of packs?”

Him: “Through trades.”

My paradigm of Magic was changed forever. I had finally realized the power of knowing not only the value of my cards but the value of others’ cards as well. I also discovered that cards had wildly fluctuating prices, which lent themselves to opportunistic exchanges and investments. Needless to say, I was immediately hooked. My soul purpose for attending local events suddenly became about trading, not battling. The methodology was easy to pick up, I signed up for a Twitter account to follow other MTG Finance experts, and the rest is history.

What’s left out of the story above, however, is my primary motivation. At first my goal was simply to avoid losing/spending money to play Magic. I learned a very difficult lesson after Psionic Blast went from $25 to under $5 after Time Spiral block rotated out of Standard. I had no idea rotation was a thing, and I certainly regretted giving up so much value for the under-appreciated Blue instant.
After these unfortunate trades, I swore I would pay much closer attention to financial trends. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Through frantic research and continuous education, I learned how to not only avoid pitfalls such as these, but also how to trade into cards with potential appreciation. A cautious approach was my friend, ensuring I didn’t move into any cards too rashly.

About a year later my spouse gave birth to our son, and my priorities changed dramatically. Finding inspiration from a kind gesture from another member of the Magic community, I decided I’d refocus my efforts in MTG Finance with a new goal: to make money from the game so as to offset or cover college costs for my son. Three years later I can confidently say I’ve made a small dent in the projected cost of his education, but I know I have a ways to go.

Risks and Rewards

This new-found motivation to pursue MTG Finance segues nicely to my financial topic for this week: risk. Everyone manages risk differently and in an uncontrolled, often manipulated market there is a full continuum of risk/reward strategies one could pursue. We’re talking extreme opportunities here. Ranging from buying one case of every new set to sit on for ten years (on the conservative end) to buying 1,000 copies of a seemingly bulk rare such as Amulet of Vigor, only to see a 1200% return over an 18 month time period.
I often hear about how difficult it is for even the most adept hedge fund managers to beat the S&P 500 on a consistent basis. If only they heard about MTG Finance!

The reason I bring up this risk continuum is because I share where my strategy lies, for context. Generally I am a risk-averse person. I also have a lingering fear of MTG Finance in general – the secondary Magic Card market is easily manipulated and unregulated, controlled only by Hasbro’s whim. Therefore I make a point not to overextend my exposure to MTG. Everyone has their financial flexibility and limitations, and I’m comfortable with my allocation to investments in this game.

Additionally, I strive to keep my goal in focus. If I truly hope to put a dent in my son’s college education costs 15 years from now, I can’t go around taking dramatic risk. The reward potential may be large, but losing significant money in this game could set me back years. Therefore, I focus on a strategy of diversification. I try my best to allocate capital towards an array of targets, including cards from Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, Commander as well as sealed product. This way if any format were to suddenly drop in popularity or shift dramatically I wouldn’t lose too much at once. It’s a strategy I borrow from Wall Street investing and it has worked well for me thus far.

A New Risk

In the past few years, Wizards of the Coast has dramatically increased their tendency to do something potentially detrimental to MTG collection values everywhere. Know what it is? Here’s a hint:

Wizards of the Coast has decided to tap into the powerful secondary market by creating more and more products with reprints. Can you really blame them? Duel Decks, Event Decks, Commander products, From the Vault series, more and more judge promos, Modern Masters, and all these old set rehashes (e.g. Return to Ravnica, Scars of Mirrodin, and Battle for Zendikar) – every single one has given Wizards of the Coast an opportunity to increase sales by bringing back strategic valuable cards from old sets. And while the reprint is nothing new, their frequency is surely alarming to a conservative speculator such as me.

How do I manage this new risk? Besides diversification, I’m a strong believer that certain cards are more prone to reprint risk than others. My strategy is to identify the lower risk cards which see plenty of play and move in accordingly. This goes beyond sticking with newer cards cleared from MM2015 such as Snapcaster Mage, mind you. While Snapcaster was a terrific buy a couple months ago, I think there are some other less obvious pickups which should be relatively safe from reprinting.

I should point out that not everyone agrees with this sentiment. A recent Twitter conversation was the first time I recognized the dissonance in community opinion.

I have complete respect for Nick, but my opinion was not influenced by Twitter debate. Since I have more than 140 characters to work with, I’m hoping I can share my perspective here.

Let’s start with a premise: Wizards of the Coast does not want Modern Masters 2015 to be too much like Modern Masters. If there’s mostly overlap between sets, the new product won’t have a new “feel” to it. Players wouldn’t like this. Additionally, the new Modern Masters 2015 set will have a broader menu of sets to include reprints from. The first MMA set contained cards ranging from Eighth Edition through Alara Reborn. Yet MM2015 will contain cards all the way up through and including New Phyrexia. The larger pool of cards dictates most the MMA cards cannot reappear in MM2015.

“But but…what about Tarmogoyf? We already know he’s back again!”
While true, let’s look at this with a little pragmatism here. Tarmogoyf continues to be the most expensive card in Modern despite getting the reprint treatment in the first Modern Masters. In fact, the value of the Green creature went UP upon reprinting. This means two things for WOTC. First, they have license to reprint this card again knowing another printing at Mythic Rare won’t absolutely destroy Tarmogoyf’s market value. And second, they would be crazy not to include him in the new Modern Mastsers set. That card alone is going to sell the set. Suddenly paying $9.99 for a pack is less worrisome when you know you can open up $200 in a single card.

So while there will likely be a few other strategic reappearances, I still think this set will be designed to have a different “feel”. New mechanics will appear (e.g. annihilator, metalcraft) and Wizards will need to print sufficient cards to support those strategies in draft. There are also a good deal of valuable cards in the newer sets of MM2015, and these cannot be ignored.

With all this said, I stand by my tweets above: some cards are less risky than others.

For example, Pact of Negation, Slaughter Pact, and Summoners’ Pact got the reprint treatment in MMA. I don’t anticipate they’ll show up again. That would be three repeat slots taken up, and I just don’t think they’ll come back. There were also only fifteen Mythic Rares in MMA. We already know Goyf is coming back as one for MM2015. How many repeat Mythics will show up? With a bunch of Eldrazi, Mox Opal, and a few other expensive, newer cards to reprint I can’t imagine we see too much overlap in the Mythic Rare department. Vedalken Shackles still hasn’t recovered fully from its reprinting and is unlikely to come back. Or how about the two swords we got in MMA? Wouldn’t it make more sense to see two of the newer swords in MM2015, such as Sword of War and Peace and Sword of Feast and Famine?

And forget the Dragon Spirit cycle – that’s five relatively cheap Mythic Rares no one wants to open in a $10 pack.

Net, I don’t only believe some cards are more reprintable than others. I believe we can strategically mitigate risk to our portfolios by anticipating which cards are unlikely to show up for a second go around. I doubt I’ll predict things perfectly, but if I can use any information available to me to avoid taking unnecessary losses on cards, you’d better believe I’m going to do so. Often times, that’s what the name of the game is – using information available to us as best as we can to try and create an edge.

It’s that edge that leads to sustainable, consistent profits. It also adds discipline to our approach, ensuring we think through our investment decisions before committing funds. And in a world of rampant buy-outs and needless hype, strategic thinking is even more critical in order to avoid pitfalls of baseless speculation.

Wrapping It Up

Hopefully my introductory article here on MTGPrice covered the backdrop for how I approach MTG Finance, while also hinting at some worthwhile targets in trade. Something like Pact of Negation is unfortunately already $20+, but it’s also the only played free Counterspell in Modern. It also sees occasional Legacy play, which makes the card even more attractive for the long run. And with its appearance in the first Modern Masters, you could do worse than to trade into a few copies if you’re looking for slow, stable upside.

Other safer targets include Engineered Explosives (my number one Tiny Leaders target), Glen Elendra Archmage, and Lotus Bloom.

In the future I hope to look beyond Modern and share some of my favorite targets in other formats, along with how I’m currently allocating my funds toward each format. I’ll explain why I think Dual Lands have pulled back significantly over the past few months, and why I see that trend reversing very soon. I’ll share the economic theory behind rising prices in the Vintage market. And I’ll share my misadventures in the sealed product space.

With so much to discuss, along with a backdrop of an ever-changing environment of buyouts and new sets, I hope to be writing for MTGPrice for years to come. I look forward to each and every week.

Sig’s Quick Hits

Each week, in addition to my actual article, I like to share three interesting tidbits worth noting based on Star City Games’ stock. The information is shared in rapid fire fashion, and the reader is left to interpret the implications and act in the way they deem best. I hope to continue this practice here at, and I’d appreciate comments from readers as to whether or not this section is well-received.

  • As long as Affinity remains popular in Modern, Stony Silence will be a worthwhile card to acquire. And with the likely inclusion of metalcraft in MM2015, perhaps the interest in this archetype will increase even further. Star City Games currently has just 3 copies in stock, with a price tag of $4.45.
  • Why do I think at least some Dual Lands have finally bottomed? Well Volcanic Island’s stock at Star City Games has continued to dwindle. They now have just 13 total Revised copies in stock, with NM copies listed at $299.99. After dominating the Dual Land world for decades, Underground Sea may finally lose its status as “most expensive Dual Land”. It too retails for $299.99 but SCG has 45 total copies in stock, although none are NM.
  • Foil Command Towers are still tough to come by. Star City Games is still only charging $29.99 for both Commander’s Arsenal and judge promo copies. Though, it’s worth mentioning they are sold out of each. I suspect they increase their prices when they restock.