All posts by Travis Allen

Travis Allen has been playing Magic on and off since 1994, and got sucked into the financial side of the game after he started playing competitively during Zendikar. You can find his daily Magic chat on Twitter at @wizardbumpin. He currently resides in upstate NY, where he is a graduate student in applied ontology.

Leaving Legacy

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By: Travis Allen

I addressed this topic about a year ago on my personal blog, but now feels like an appropriate time to revisit the matter and distribute the idea to more than those poor souls who had the link forced upon them eleven months ago.

GP Richmond was a lot of things to a lot of people. It was the largest constructed event ever. It was the largest event that many players have ever attended, and it was the largest event SCG had ever run. It was the first major Modern tournament many players attended. It was the catalyst that got many players off their butts to finally put together a Modern deck period. It was also a huge, shining beacon for the entire community: Modern is here to stay.

Richmond had a huge impact on Modern card prices, but that’s not what we’re here to discuss today. Rather, we’re here to discuss the impact it will have on Legacy card prices. I’ll sum it up for you.

Legacy is going to die.

Admittedly, it will never actually die die – someone, somewhere, will be playing it. Rather, it’s going to go the way of Vintage, relegated to its own tight-knit, late-20’s, financially secure old guard that spend more time thinking about, discussing, and goldfishing the format than actually playing in sanctioned events. When Wizards announced that the reserved list had not been repealed, but instead solidified, this thin slice of history became axiomatic.

The process will be gradual. The gap between the frequency that Standard/Modern staples and Legacy staples are sold at will widen at the local level. Less people will ask if you have Forces and duals for trade. (This is something that I’ve personally witnessed.) Richmond was the first horseman of the apocalypse, and SCG adding Modern as a major format to their open series will likely be the second. It will begin with just a few events where Modern shows up as a trial to gauge demand. It will be popular. Perhaps following that they’ll switch to a 75/25 split between Legacy and Modern. Maybe they’ll run Modern alongside Legacy on Sunday, creating a division between old eternal players and new eternal players. I’m not sure, and I’m guessing Pete isn’t either. But they certainly aren’t blind to the amazing demand for the new reality. 

Think about all of this from a newer player’s perspective. I’m not talking about the guy that started six months ago and still has commons in his trade binder; I’m talking about the guy that joined up during Zendikar or Scars. Someone who came in during Scars block now has about three-and-a-half years worth of cards. They’ve got Birthing Pods and the Fastlands and a Thrun or two and maybe even a few fetches, since they were still Standard-legal (and $10) when they started playing. They just played through Return to Ravnica, so they have a full set of shocks. They did a draft of Modern Masters or two which helped procure a handful of staple uncommons and maybe even a Goyf or Confidant. Sure they don’t have a full Modern list together, but they’ve got a comfortable portion of several decks.

Where does that same player stand in relation to Legacy? He owns zero dual lands. He’s never had cause to own Karakas or Onslaught fetches or really anything on the reserved list at all. There is a far wider financial gap between a playable Modern deck and a playable Legacy deck at this point. And that’s just the cost in dollars. How about availability? Splinter Twin and Arcbound Ravager and Kiki-Jiki and Birthing Pod are in trade binders. Karakas and Counterbalance and City of Traitors are far, far less visible on a trade floor. Even if you find one, the owner is looking for a premium. After all, our junior player has no Legacy staples to trade away. That Jace is going to command an exchange rate.

Beyond the additional financial barrier, where is our budding Legacy enthusiast going to play? The Legacy scene is highly dependent on region, of course. Here in the tropical paradise of Buffalo, there are a whopping ten stores that sell Magic cards and run events. Do you know how many Legacy tournaments there are? One a month. Other areas have none. Sure, maybe you live someplace where they get thirty people weekly. That is awesome for you. But that is the exception to the rule.

As speculators, investors, and players, it is important to keep an eye on the future. It doesn’t necessarily need to start directly influencing our actions quite yet, but we would be remiss to ignore it. What does all of this mean for our Magic portfolios? Well, it means that Legacy staples aren’t really the bastion of stability you want them to be. They’re definitely more reliant than Ral Zarek or Trostani. But they aren’t going to hold all of these numbers forever, and they’ll only get less liquid as time goes on and less new blood enters the market.

First I’ll tell you what’s pretty safe. Tier S grade AAA reserved list cards are going to be pretty bulletproof. Think Dual lands and Gaea’s Cradle. Cards whose prices are predicated on their rarity and collectability will also remain valuable, such as power, Candelabra of Tawnos, and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.

What about the rest of it though? I flipped through the top sixteen of the most recent SCG open and here are a list of cards whose value is propped up in some considerable capacity by Legacy playability:

True-Name Nemesis
Daze
Force of Will
Sylvan Library
Mother of Runes
Swords to Plowshares
Umezawa’s Jitte
Karakas
Stoneforge Mystic
Sensei’s Divining Top
Counterbalance
Natural Order
City of Traitors
Sneak Attack
Show and Tell
Lion’s Eye Diamond
Cabal Therapy
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Vindicate

Some of those will fare better than others. Force of Will is not on the reserved list and is played in exactly one format. As Legacy wanes, so will it. Stoneforge will hold a bit better, as she’s still excellent in Cube and EDH, and some small handful of pie-in-the-sky dreamers will hold out that she’ll be Modern legal some day. Reserved list cards will be more resilient, but won’t be immune to slow declines. If at some point in the future Legacy is no longer a main event at SCG opens, how many people are really going to want Lion’s Eye Diamond anymore? City of Traitors? Take a look at Llawan and Terravore. This type of behavior will be far more common than the other direction once we cross the tipping point and Legacy begins to contract rather than expand.

Capture

 

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As a Legacy-invested player, what should you do about all of this? I’d start by picking a deck or two that you enjoy playing and making sure you’ve got it together. Then I’d start going through your collection and making sure you aren’t hoarding things unnecessarily. Do you have a pile of Daze or Swords to Plowshares? Into the binder they go. Unlikely to ever play the type of deck that JtMS is in? Maybe you consider putting that up for trade as well. Start considering what you actually foresee yourself using, and more importantly, what you foresee yourself never using.

You don’t need to firesale any of this. The TNN or Karakas can sit quite comfortably in a binder sleeve for over a year without any reasonable offers and that’s just fine. You aren’t looking to get out immediately, because the decline isn’t going to happen immediately. You just want to position yourself to capitalize on solid trades that may not come around again.

Before everything sinks, some prices will jump. There will be more spikes on Legacy cards. This is certain. But it doesn’t hurt to put the goods out there, just to see what types of offers you get. Maybe you’ve got a single Exploration that you’ve had socked away that someone ends up offering you a Karn Liberated for. A single Exploration decaying from the forces of entropy isn’t going to help you, but maybe you really needed that fourth Karn for your Tron list. You can’t get trade offers on cards that you don’t have available to the public.

I will reiterate that this is all long-term perspective. If someone is offering you a True-Name Nemesis for two shocks, take it. Don’t be afraid to make good trades that you can capitalize on in short order. What I wouldn’t do is pick up a City of Traitors just to have it, especially if it means shipping cards you would otherwise actually be playing with in Standard and Modern.

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When you’re looking at cards to consider putting in the binder, remember our chat about Bayesian principles. Think probabilistically. What’s more likely, that this Submerge is going to be $20 overnight, or that it will slowly become less tradeable and less valuable?

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I especially look forward to feedback this week.

Update – 3/20

I’ve received more comments on this article than any I’ve ever written, and it spawned quite a Reddit thread as well. There seems to be a lot of miscommunication about my message. I realize I haven’t communicated my ideas fully, and for that I apologize. Allow me to expand on the topic and hopefully do a better job making my point.

First, let me be explicitly and absolutely clear – nothing is happening to Legacy anytime soon. It won’t happen in a year. It may not even start within three or four years. This is not an immediate concern. It’s more of a “looking to the horizon” topic. Legacy has enjoyed a growth period of varying degrees for the last few years, just as all of Magic has. That’s also why we’ve seen the card prices rise as they have. I’m not telling you the death of Legacy is going to occur overnight or even within 12-24 months, so please don’t walk away with that message.

I do not want you to run out and sell all of your Legacy cards. There is no need to unload your favorite deck or dual lands this instant. Please don’t trade Underground Seas for Chandra Pyromasters. What I’m suggesting is that you consider looking through your stock and identifying what may be excessive. Definitely keep your set of Force of Wills. Maybe you put your three extra copies in your binder though. Do you have Explorations lying around that you can never see yourself casting? Perhaps instead of resting in your “never sees the light of day” pile at home, slide them into a binder sleeve. They could easily sit there for months at which point you decide you want to use them, and no harm done. Or, perhaps they snag a wandering eye and you pick up something you really wanted for them. Remember that Magic is a commodity market. This True-Name Nemesis is no different than that True-Name Nemesis. Trading away cards now doesn’t mean you can never have them in the future. Just because you take a good deal on your Mox Diamonds today, it doesn’t mean you can never have them back. If you decide in eighteen months that you absolutely need them, there will still be copies in the market for you to acquire.

I am not unaware of the emotional bond people have with this format. I get it. I really do. I play Legacy myself and I enjoy it thoroughly. You can do the most degenerate, wildest, coolest stuff this side of a Mox. People have far more attachment to their Legacy decks than Standard, and for very good reason. It took you far longer to build and cost you way more. I’m not telling you it’s suddenly irrelevant. All I want to do is make you aware that it may not always be the healthy, thriving format it is today. Sometime. Eventually. But not today, and not tomorrow.

Yes, SCG does a lot to support the format. They make money on it. Players play it. It’s popular. But did any of you notice that in 2013 there were multiple SCG events where Legacy wasn’t available? They’re not unaware of these concerns. SCG will milk this cow for all it’s worth, but when attendance dries up too much they’ll drop their buylist prices, sell out of their staples, and shutter Legacy at opens. Think of it like this – SCG can typically only manage to run one major event on Sunday. Do they run Legacy, which attracts 150-300 people, or Modern, which attracts 800?

Llawan and Terravore are not played in Legacy anymore, you are all correct. They were a component of the metagame, and have drifted away. Subsequently, their prices dropped significantly. My point of using these as examples are that these are two cards that were not caught up in the Legacy boom. Cards like Rishadan Port and Wasteland have exploded to keep pace with the current demand of Legacy. Meanwhile, cards that *used* to be part of Legacy have trailed off significantly. It’s easy to say that Llawan simply isn’t part of the metagame anymore, but three years ago she looked like she was an important format role-player. She was trading at $20+. Merfolk was and had been popular and Llawan felt fairly stable. Then the format shifted and Llawan’s usefulness declined. This is the point at which we are interested. If her $20 price tag was somehow inherent and separated from how playable she is in Legacy, she wouldn’t have dropped much. She did drop though, and that tells us something. All of these expensive Legacy cards are supported by their demand from that format. When that demand dries up, so will their prices. It certainly feels like City of Traitors is simply too powerful to not be in Legacy forever, but times change in ways that are difficult to predict. My point with these examples isn’t to show you why or how Legacy will fall out of favor, but to show you what will happen when it does.

This last point is something that I left out of the original post that I should have included. The most important reason that Legacy is not sustainable is the reserved list. I’m not looking to get people all hot and bothered, so let’s not go down that road today. It does have a drastic and severe impact on the format though, making it hard to ignore. Here’s the deal: dual lands are the backbone of the format. Our current supply of dual lands is it. It is the total amount we as a community have and will ever have. It is impossible to add more dual lands to the market. That means only two things can happen: 1. the number available can stay the same or 2. it can decline. Given that Magic cards are flimsy pieces of cardboard, it’s a safe bet that the number will slowly decline. Cards are damaged or lost or forgotten in basements and attics. Slowly but surely, the most essential cards to the format will become harder and harder to find.

Wizards isn’t looking to one-up these either. They’ve had their chance. If they wanted to make Legacy viable, they would have taken what steps they could already. But they didn’t. Instead, they introduced Modern. In Modern, they never have to deal with any of these issues ever again. Yes, some of the card prices are absurd. For right now. They aren’t in a rush to fix things. We think on a scale of months while they think on a scale of years. Yes, people don’t have beloved Modern decks. Yet.  I’m guessing most people didn’t have beloved Legacy decks when that first became its own format either. Wizards has chose how our timeline plays out, and we’re all just left living in it.

Don’t think about Magic a year or two from now. Think about Magic five years from now. A decade from now. That’s the Magic I’m thinking of this week.

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GP Richmond, City of Pod People

By: Travis Allen

The madness has temporarily abated now that GP Richmond is over and vendors aren’t selling out of every modern-border card they own. There’s one more Modern Grand Prix in early May before we hit the PTQ season about which Mark Rosewater was overheard saying “[it will] finally kill Magic once and for all.”

Last week I talked about why the Modern format looks as it does and what to expect out of it between now and the end of the season. Today I’ll dig a little deeper, looking at Richmond results and specific cards to have on your radar.

Richmond

The Top 8 of Richmond was, in a word, “boringashell.” There were twenty copies of Birthing Pod, with a full 62% of decks running the full set, split 4-1 between Melira Pod and Kiki-Pod. The decks overall are reasonably similar from our perspective. The manabases are a bit different, and a few 1-ofs are as well, but overall they play a very similar game. Is there anything unmined here?

Fire-Lit Thicket is hanging around $10 and could climb upwards of maybe $20 if Kiki-Pod really catches on, but I expect Melira to continue to be the dominant flavor, which runs none. Gavony Township is in both lists and if it wasn’t printed as recently as Innistrad it would be a $15 card. It looks like it’s made it up to over $4 at this point and I’d say $7-$9 is probably a real ceiling between now and August. Grove of the Burnwillows holds steady at $40, having seen no real gain on the weekend. Misty Rainforest is obscene by now, joining Scalding Tarn, but we all already knew that. Razorverge Thicket is obstinately still $5-$6. I would guess we’ll see prices closer to $10 before the season is over. 

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In the creature base across both decks, it seems like there’s still some room for growth on Restoration Angel. Kiki-Pod plays all four, Melira Pod plays at least one, and she’s also in plenty of other lists. She’s already risen to about $9, but I could definitely see her pushing $15 in the near future. At the very least she’s a safe pick-up in trade at that number. Thrun over on the Melira side got a little love this weekend and made it to $10 and I definitely see possible growth beyond that. He’s been close to $20 in the past and he could get there again. He serves the beats against both combo and control, surviving through everything. If midrange manages to drag itself back into the metagame, Thrun definitely has a role.

Moving on to the other half of the Top 8, Blinkmoth Nexus, Inkmoth Nexus and Glimmervoid could both grow a bit, but I doubt we’ll see any doubling of prices. Arcbound Ravager is about $15 on the low end, with $20+ quite possible. Affinity has been around long enough that people are packing sideboard hate and it’s still winning, so there’s no question as to its resilience.

Oh hey, did you know Steel Overseer is an $11 card? Yeah, neither did I until I sat down to write this. Mox Opal is a good $55, but I still don’t like it as anything but a soft hold into a hard sell.

Moving out of the Top 8, Tarmo-Twin shows up again and has been prevalent on MTGO as well. Both Hinterland Harbor and Sulfur Falls seem capable of rising a few bucks, but I wouldn’t be shoveling money into them. Remand is currently experiencing a correction, so don’t buy in here. The Jace vs Vraska duel deck has one along with plenty of other cards people will want. Serum Visions is a $5 common, so go ahead and make sure you’ve dug all those out of your boxes. Sword of Feast and Famine in the sideboard is only a little over $20, which feels low to me. There’s only a single printing and it’s possibly the best sword overall at this point. It’s playable in Modern, Legacy, Cube, EDH, and kitchen tables, so the demand is clearly there. I see no reason to believe this won’t be $30 this year without a reprint.

Spellskite continued to be basically everywhere, same as it was last season. The “wait that doesn’t have defender?” horror is pushing $20 now, and given that it is the 15th most played card in Modern and 2nd most played creature (behind only Snapcaster Mage,) we’re still on a train to twenty-five dollarsville with $30 a real possibility. 

Scapeshift is somehow nearly as expensive as Splinter Twin despite just being less desirable by nearly every metric. This tells me either one is underpriced or one is overpriced. My guess is that it’s a little bit of both, but if it’s going to break one way it’s more likely Twin is going up. Boseiju is running real low on available copies and a buyout could send this to $20+. I’m not saying it will happen, but if you don’t have a set now I’d suggest grabbing them. Having only been printed in Kamigawa and an FTV, the print run on this rare is nearly as low as you can get for a Modern-legal card. It’s usually only a sideboard card, but it’s an important one, and dedicated combo decks value it highly as there is basically nothing that can take its place.

Phyrexian Obliterator has finally made a real debut between Valencia and Richmond, a meager five months after his spike. I’ve heard that people disliked the card though, and a deck like GB or GBX has plenty they can do with the slot. I doubt we’ll see any rising prices here unless someone really breaks a Mono-Black list that we haven’t seen yet. Twilight Mire is nearly $20 so there’s some precedent for the idea that Fire-Lit Thicket could get there. Abrupt Decay is still rising in price as a non-foil, which is pretty amazing for a Standard rare. I’d be vacuuming these up everywhere you can find them. We’re leaving the Standard PTQ season so you may be able to grab them for cheaper and they’ve got nowhere to go but up. It’s going to be a long mainstay of both Modern and Legacy. Liliana has been a bit sluggish lately but that may not last forever. If Thoughtseize sneaks back into the format she’ll likely be found alongside it. The flipside of that is that midrange had a pretty lackluster performance at two major events in a row. It may take some time before those attrition-heavy decks finally find their role in a post-Deathrite world. In the meantime, she’s a pretty ripe candidate for an auxiliary product reprint. Maybe she’ll headline FTV:Annihilation? She does do a pretty darn good job of annihilating your hand, board, hopes, and dreams.

Soft Sells in a Hard Format

The last Banned and Restricted list did a lot to the format, and the “lot” and I’m referring to is basically “add more combo” to a format that was already close to saturated. Adding Wild Nacatl just heated the whole metagame up, allowing combo to supersaturate. (That one is for all you chemists out there. Enjoy it, because everyone else, including me, hated it.) Pod has had a target on its head since all the consistent turn two and three win decks were rooted out, and the last two events have only provided more evidence that it may be this format’s Survival.

I want to be clear here – I’m not banging the war drums to get Pod banned. However I would be remiss if I didn’t call the possibility of such to your attention. There is another announcement roughly a month before the PTQ season starts and Wizards may decide they don’t want players slogging through round after round of epidural-free births. As good Bayesians, we need to recognize that such a thing could happen and make decisions based on our projected probability of that outcome along with our EV equations. 

No, I’m not going to do all the math. Basically, we need to ask ourselves how much risk we’re willing to shoulder based on how likely we think Pod will get axed, and what the upside and downside of both outcomes are. I am personally considering Pod a soft sell. I’m not firesaling, but the B&R change happens before the Minneapolis GP, which means WOTC has to use the information from the last two events along with whatever is happening on MTGO, for whatever that is worth.

I can’t really blame anyone for whatever they decide here. On the one hand, if it isn’t banned, we could see $25-$35 in June. If it is banned, prices won’t deflate immediately but demand sure as hell will. You’ll be lucky to get $7 or $8 each. The more prudent among us will remind you of the old investing adage “nobody ever went broke making a profit.” Locking in your cash now is safe and reliable, a choice that is not unwise. I’m willing to let my (non-foil) ones go for now, and if they see significant rises in June I’m not going to feel bad about it. If you choose to hold that is perfectly defensible as well.

I have a similar outlook on Pyromancer Ascension and Past in Flames, except only stronger. Wizards does not want Storm to be a particularly good deck in their format, and the lack of Thoughtseize and Liliana has only made it better. Is it too good? No, probably not. Does that matter? No, probably not. Both cards just saw a spike, and spiking even harder again is unlikely. Why hold them when the upside is limited and the downside is large? I’m getting rid of mine and being happy with what I make on them. 

There are other cards I’m a little more eager to ditch. Azusa is a fine sell since the deck didn’t perform and her price is quite high. I’d take $4 for my Amulets if I could get it as well, but it looks like it’s close to the floor again already so don’t fire sale here. Ad Nauseam is similarly a fine card to ship. Like many of the cards in this section, the upside is minimal compared to a large downside. Runed Halo and Phyrexian Unlife definitely fall into this camp as well. Look at Runed Halo on TCGPlayer right now – nearly $15. There are copies of Birthing Pod for only $1 more. Do you really think Runed Halo is worth as much as Birthing Pod? Phyrexian Unlife, while not nearly as expensive, is fine to release into the wild.

Basically, any cards in that same general category are hard sells if they spike. Things like Runed Halo or Amulet of Vigor are 95% of the time not putting up the consistent results needed to maintain their price tags. It’s the spikes on staples, Like Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique that are real and sustainable.

Anything that I haven’t gotten into is probably a hold. Downsides on staples are minimal at worst, and potential upsides are large. If a single GP can generate this type of demand, what will a sustained three-month PTQ season do?

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Ancestral Recall: Phlipsyde

Today we’re rerunning a popular article from last year all about flipping collections. Tune in on Wednesday for a full recap of GP Richmond!

By Travis Allen

A week or two ago I asked on Twitter if people wanted to hear about flipping collections, and the answer was a resounding “yes.” Today I’ll talk about some of the larger collections I’ve purchased, and then discuss some strategies to keep in mind if you choose to do it yourself.

Collection #1 – This remains the largest collection by volume and retail that I’ve purchased so far. I had picked up a few small collections for between $50 and $300 before this, but this purchase dwarfed those. This list is hardly exhaustive, but it had, if memory serves me: two beta dual lands, ~25 revised duals, a nearly-complete set of Legends, a partial set of Antiquities including a Candelabra of Tawnos, about 10 or 11 full sets including Urza’s block, a full set of Zendikar fetchlands, a handful of Onslaught fetchlands, and boxes and binders alike that were filled with random cards from Beta to Zendikar, which by volume were mostly garbage but certainly had plenty of good cardboard scattered throughout. It took the better part of two weekends to pull everything of value out, and another two or three months to break even on the sales process.

Retail value: ~$13,000
I paid: $3,500

Collection #2 – While this wasn’t as many cards as collection #1, nor was it as varied in its inventory, it was solid value throughout. I actually ended up paying more for this than I did #1, even though it was technically worth less. (They can’t always be home runs.) This seller had done his homework, and actually sent a list of basically every single rare in the collection with their average eBay prices. The reason I paid more for less on this collection is simply that the seller was far more educated about what he had. He recognized he wouldn’t be getting full retail, but expected a reasonable rate of return. Included were: 33 Revised duals, 31 Zendikar fetches, 22 Onslaught fetches, 4 FoW, 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Cryptic Command, 2 JTMS, 5 SFM…the list just goes on with hundreds of $3-$50 cards.

Retail value: ~$9,500
I paid: $5,000

Collection #3 – This is the smallest “large” collection I’ve bought. Unlike the previous two, this is a player that had gotten out of the game recently, so there was a good chunk of Standard cards. In this case, he had everything listed through DeckBox, so I was able to see a complete list of what was coming, as well as their TCG values. He obviously had that information as well, so it was mostly a matter of finding a number that we both agreed on. The most valuable card here was a single Unlimited Underground Sea. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything particularly stellar, just Good Cards. 6 Onslaught fetches, a Taiga, a set of Liliana of the Veil, a few Eldrazi, some Kiki-JikiSphinx’s RevelationsBonfiresCavern of Souls, etc.

Retail Value: ~$4,900 TCG Player low
I paid: $2,200

Now that you’re tired of reading about what I’ve done, let’s talk about how to do it yourself.

Where to find collections – There are essentially two types of sellers. The first, and typically most lucrative, is the obvious one: craigslist. I have a tab open to a craigslist search for “Magic” that is always there when I turn on my computer, and I keep an eye on it every day. There is going to be a lot of chaff on craigslist, so patience is required. There was over a year between my purchases of collection #1 and #2. They simply don’t show up that often, and as time progresses, we are going to see it less and less as those stockpiled Magic cards end up in the hands of people like you and I, who then hoard and distribute cards amongst the community. You will, however, see plenty of this:

craigslist__collection

For the low price of $150, you can have over 1,000 garbage Ice Age, Homelands and Revised commons. Craigslist is really just going to come down to being patient and finding the right lot.

Other options are garage/estate sales, which I’ve found to be pretty unreliable. Typically you’re talking shoeboxes in size. Keep an eye out for these when you’re strolling yard sales with your girlfriend, but don’t expect it to be reliable.

Coworkers/muggle peers are also a potential source. You really want to find people that are about 40-45 years old right now, as that would have made them 20-25 when Alpha came out, which is the perfect age for disposable income on nerd crap like this. You might not want to be asking your three-piece suit boss if they have Magic cards, but I’ll leave the discovery process here up to your discretion.

The second seller is the knowledgeable type. These are people that have been playing somewhat recently, and have decided to get out of the game for whatever reason. They are much better at accurately valuing their collection, so you won’t be getting duals for $5 apiece here. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a good rate, it just means that there is going to be a lot less of a game where you try and feel out the seller’s knowledge and expectations. In my experience, these transactions are faster, more straightforward, and more numbers-oriented. Both of you know the score, and you’re just trying to find a price you’re both comfortable with.

How to Evaluate Inventory – You can typically get a good feel for what is in the collection quickly, so long as it isn’t completely massive. I like to start with the binders, as those are where you’re most likely to find concentrated value. I also like to check out any decks they may have built, and if the boxes of cards are sorted at all, I at least try to look at lands, artifacts, and blue spells. If it’s sorted by set, I’ll look for Urza block, Mirage, any Legends/Antiquities, Mirrodin block, Future Sight block, etc. Be prepared for most large collections to be overwhelmingly Revised/Ice Age/Homelands/Fallen Empires. When flipping through boxes, feel free to just skip over these sections entirely. You should still go through the painstaking process of looking at each card once you get the boxes home, but when deciding whether to buy the cards, don’t waste both their time and yours looking through what may as well be kindling.

On large collections (over a few thousand cards,) I’ll bring a small notepad to keep track of what I’m seeing. Once the collection is of sufficient size, you aren’t going to be able to make a reasonable offer off the top of your head, nor will you likely have that much cash in your pocket anyways. Writing down quantity of duals/fetches, a rough idea of how many >$5 cards you saw, etc. will help you remember what you’re dealing with when you get home.

Questions to ask – There are a number of questions you want to ask the seller. Their answers will help you understand what you’re looking at as well as what to expect in negotiations. It also helps to make small talk with people while you’re rifling through their property inside their house. Being personable and friendly will make them much more likely to be flexible on price. As a side note, avoid divulging too many details regarding your experience in purchasing collections. If they get the impression you’ve done this quite a bit, they may perceive you as a bit of a shyster rather than an earnest individual that just wants some Magic cards.

  • “Has anyone else looked at the collection?’’  Here you’re gauging interest. They may lie, so take what they say with a grain of salt. If they tell you they’ve had 8 or 9 emails about it though, they probably aren’t exaggerating by much. It’s not uncommon for lots listed too cheaply to be sold within hours of being listed.
  • “Has anyone bought any singles out of the collection?”  You want to see if someone stripped the good cards and ran. If they say that yes, that someone bought just a few cards, then that is very likely where the duals and forces went.
  • “When did you start playing?”  Get a feel for when the collection may have started. This tells you what to look for. If it’s after 2002 for instance, you know duals are less likely. You want to hear 1993, or sometime after 1996.
  • “When did you stop playing?”  This will tell you the latest set you can expect to find, as well as how aware of Magic pricing they are. If they played up until Alara block, they’re going to be a lot more aware of how much the cards may be worth, while someone that quit during Torment days has had the boxes collecting dust for years and years.
  • “Why did you stop playing?”  This is most salient when they quit recently. If their friends left the game and interested petered out, they likely aren’t in a rush to move the cards. However if something occurred in their life and they need funds quickly, this works in your favor. Someone who really needs $2,000 for car repairs doesn’t have time to shop their collection around. Waving ducats around has a good way of getting things done.

How to decide how much to offer – There are several factors at work when considering what type of numbers to offer.

  • The obvious place to start is how much you peg the collection at. I try to keep my estimate at just the cards I’ve seen. I’ve brought home one in the past where I looked at one 500 card box, saw some good stuff, and made an offer based on that box. When I got home, it turned out that almost every good card was in that single box.
  • The knowledge level of the seller is important. If it’s someone clearing out their attic, chances are they’ll just be happy to have it gone and end up with enough to go buy dinner. If it’s someone like the individual in the second example above, you aren’t getting away at 10% of retail. Lowball too much, and you’ll offend them.
  • Whatever price they listed at will help you understand their expectations. Whoever was selling the cards in that craigslist picture above obviously way overvalues his cards, and even if that whole picture is worth maybe $5, that’s only about 4% of his listed price. There’s no way someone is taking 10% of their listed price. If there isn’t a price listed, that’s good for you. It means they don’t know what’s fair or they’re open to offers.
  • Sellers typically assign value much more evenly across the collection than is accurate. What this means is that many will assume 5,000 Ice Age cards will be worth a lot more than a shoebox full of revised duals. While this is a pain for buying large, low-value collections, it works both ways. If during examination the inventory seems like it’s mostly garbage with just a handful of notable cards, or even just a single outlier (something like a foil MM Brainstorm), tell them that it’s all a little too rich for your blood, but ask if you can buy just a few singles that you’d love to have for yourself. There’s a good chance they’ll be fine with this, and you’ll be shocked how little people assign to individual cards. Think $2 a card. I typically avoid doing this unless the collection really is just nothing but Homelands commons, and they are expecting way more than is reasonable.
  • My goal when buying a collection is 30% of retail. That gives you a very comfortable profit margin for making your money back, as you could sell at 70-80% of market and still do well. 30% is fantastic though, so don’t expect this every time. I’ve gone up to about 60% on smaller buys. Your ceiling here is dictated by what exactly you’re buying. Keep in mind what types of sales you’ll be making to recoup your costs. If it’s just piles and piles of $3-5 cards, you’re going to have to put a lot of envelopes in the mail to make that back. That’s a large investment of time, risk as a seller, and shipping costs. However, if it’s basically just a playset of Onslaught fetches and odds and ends, it’s a lot easier to pay a higher percentage because you can move more money in less transactions, they’ll sell faster, and you can get way closer to retail on a Polluted Delta than you can a foil 7th ed Mana Short.
  • The size of the collection also dictates what percentage you can buy at. Basically, the larger the collection, the less competition you have. If the seller wants $400 for $1,000 worth of cards, there will be plenty of people willing to make that buy. However, someone asking $4,000 for $20,000 worth of cards, while a better price overall, will generate a lot less demand. There simply are not going to be many individuals with the knowledge and capital to make a purchase like that. These very large collections are my favorite. There’s less competition, you can get a great rate, and it’s hard for anyone to turn down a few thousand dollars in cash, regardless of how much their cards are actually worth.
  • When making an offer, especially via email, I typically like to outline some of things I’m taking into consideration. I may explain that a large majority of the cards they own are from a time period that saw huge print runs, and subsequently they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on. I may note the wear of the cards if that is a factor, or perhaps point out that while they may have seen certain numbers on eBay, there’s a sizeable loss of profit on those numbers when considering eBay fees, PayPal fees, shipping, etc. Overall, people are going to be more receptive to “Here’s the number I can offer, and this is why” compared to “$600 lmk.”
  • I touched on this briefly, but their need for expediency is good news for you. If it’s someone that simply decided they’re done and is in no real rush to sell, it will tough to get a great price. An individual in a situation where they need cash quick is a lot more likely to wheel and deal.
  • When you’re buying someone out entirely, you sometimes get “bonus” stuff. Dice are very common, as are an assortment of deck boxes. I picked up about 40 of those giant oversized cards in a collection at one point. Old Scrye pewter life counters are easily worth over $50. This type of stuff is typically considered throw-in, but enough of it can add some real value to the deal.

What to do when you get it all home – This is easily the most fun part; the discovery process. I try not to look at every single card when I’m evaluating the collection just so that there’s an element of surprise when I get home and open it all up. The best way to approach this is to systematically go through and touch every single card so that you don’t miss anything. As you go through, pull out every single card that catches your eye and every single rare you spot. All of them. I can’t stress this enough. Nothing is worse than going through 20,000 cards, getting to the end, realizing you were pulling out cards later on that you weren’t at the start, and having to do it all again. If some of the stuff you pull out isn’t worth the effort of selling it, it’s very easy to dump it back into a card box. Once you get everything out, start by setting aside everything you want to keep for yourself. Then begin looking up prices of everything you aren’t sure is worth selling. Any commons and uncommons that aren’t worth it can go back into the boxes. Set any bulk rares aside. The reason for this is that when it eventually comes time to deal with getting rid of the leftover chaff, having all the rares separated makes it easy for you to figure out how many there are for reselling or bulking out.

Making your money back – My preferred way of accomplishing this is not eBay, but rather going through established communities. I personally use MTGS, Twitter, and another community forum. Others prefer MOTL and various other sites. If your city has a general MTG Facebook page, that’s a great resource as well.

Buylisting the cards is an option. You will definitely get better rates of return on selling directly to individuals, but it takes a hell of a lot more time than just sending a few hundred cards to whatever vendor and getting a check. This decision is personal preference. I haven’t opted for this, but I can see the appeal.

When planning to sell to individuals, I begin by alphabetizing everything I’m selling and then setting them aside in their own box. Don’t mix the cards up into your trade collection; it’s too difficult to keep track of them if you do. Once everything is in order, I like to create a Google spreadsheet document. It’s accessible from any internet connection, has editing capabilities on the fly, you can share the link as read-only to let people browse at their own leisure, and it makes for easy importing into Excel if necessary. As you sell cards, you need to be absolutely diligent in making sure the list online matches what you have on hand. Once you start getting discrepancies, you begin agreeing to sell cards to people that you don’t actually have, and that is not something you want to be doing. Building a positive reputation is hugely important, as it enables people to feel comfortable sending you several hundred dollars at a time for cards that are sight unseen. For this reason, I would recommend picking one website with reference tracking and sticking with that until you build a solid reputation.

Getting rid of the leftovers – Unless you live in Montana or one of those states where the cattle outnumbers the humans, space becomes a concern, especially once you end up with more than a few thousand spare cards. I’ve had success moving smaller batches around 2,000-5,000 cards on craigslist by being very straightforward with the lot. I put right in the listing that there are no duals/forces, and that it’s a kitchen table collection for a kitchen table price. This gets a little harder to do the larger the pile gets though, as disposable income for kitchen table magic is not very large for any one individual. As you can see, I still have yet to solve this problem entirely myself…

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Whew, I had a lot more to say about this than I realized I did. If you decide to tackle this process yourself, I wish you the best of luck. Just don’t do it where I live.

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Modern Trajectory

By: Travis Allen

Sandwiched between PT Valencia and the soon-to-be largest constructed GP in history, we’re firmly amidst a Modern frenzy. What’s more, the PTQ season is on the horizon with players and the market alike keenly aware of its approach. Today I’m not going to tell you what Modern cards to buy and which ones to sell. (It’s all of them and none of them.) Next week after Grand Prix Richmond we can chat about that, since it will be another five weeks before another major Modern event. Instead, I’m going to give you a little insight into this corner of the market as a whole in this particular time period.

Modern prices probably feel like they’re going crazy right now. Snapcaster Mage is $35+. Cryptic Command, a Modern Masters rare, is $50. Tarmogoyf is making a move towards $200. The numbers just keep climbing, and a lot of people are irritated about it. It really struck me Sunday when I watched people 1-for-1 Bayous, as in the Revised dual land, for Misty Rainforests. The duals weren’t in NM shape, and the guy trading away them away was probably giving up a little bit of value, but still. Think about that. Bayou and Misty Rainforest may not quite be on even ground, but Misty and Scalding Tarn are actually worth more than half of the duals. 

We learned what was in Jace vs Vraska last week, so between now and early June there are only two non-Standard products whose contents we do not know. The remaining Standard set doesn’t really count because so many of the cards we care about can’t be printed in Journey into Nyx. We aren’t going to see Fetches suddenly appear, or Goyfs, or Liliana of the Veil, or any of that stuff. The only place any of that can go between now and June is the Modern event deck and Conspiracy.

We know absolutely nothing about the event deck right now except that it will be $75. Given Wizard’s track record with these decks, it will be locally-competitive and solid value for its cost. Keep in mind that they would have assembled and priced these things months ago, well before some of these numbers hit the heights they have. It’s possible they will have a street value of twice their MSRP. That sounds like it may crush the value of the cards contained within, but I wouldn’t expect it to be quite that drastic. First of all, it’s only going to have a handful of especially valuable cards in it. Second of all, while they may claim it’s not a limited release, their idea of “plentiful” is different than most consumers. Most of my LGS seem to sell out of the decent event decks every time, and I don’t recall ever seeing one at a Target. That also assumes that the LGS is selling it at MSRP, which plenty won’t.

As per the contents, at this point it’s anyone’s guess. Since the first big Modern-related event to occur after the announcement of the event deck was the unbanning of Bitterblossom, people assumed it would be B/W tokens. Their logic is that WOTC wouldn’t unban BB without releasing more copies into the wild, and it’s a solid tier two strategy that is a little off the radar, fun to play, and could use some reprints. The internet at large sounds as if they’ve basically made up their minds that it’s BW tokens. I am less convinced, but it doesn’t matter all that much anyways. There is likely to only be a single copy of one or two platinum cards, so unless you happen to have gone super deep on one of those, you should remain relatively unharmed.

Conspiracy is the other big question mark, and it’s one heck of a question mark indeed. It’s the second stand-alone draft set ever as far as I know, with the first having been Modern Masters last summer. When we got the name of that one it was pretty obvious what direction it was going to take in terms of what cards to expect, but Conspiracy is a total black box. The best information we have is the two spoiled cards and the banner art.

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The setting appears to be Ravnica-esque, although the outfits are pretty unique: Wizened goblin/troll, 19th century pirate, victorian assassin, ethereal undead king, and Orzhovy robes. I would say nothing is truly off the table, but I think heavily flavored cards such as Spellskite or Vendilion Clique may not fit, while more generic creatures like Restoration Angel could work. I doubt Wizards is intending for this to be a Modern-relief set though, so don’t expect a slew of reprints.

Those two pieces of product are all that stands between us and the most expensive cards not on the reserved list in Magic’s history. Some seem to think that there is no way Wizard’s will let this PTQ season come and go with the rampant, drastic rise in prices that we’re seeing. It’s their baby format, and they don’t want it to become as inaccessible as Legacy, right? Surely we’ll see reprinted in considerable volume between now and the summer that will keep this all sane.

I’ve got news for those folks: it isn’t happening. Even if Modern staple X is in one of these two products, there is not going to be nearly enough supply to moderate its price in any meaningful capacity. And what about the other hundreds of cards that don’t get reprinted in the interim? Even if they put fetches in every box of Cheerios, Cryptic Commands are still going to be $50.

Here’s what I think happened: Wizards underprinted Modern Masters so as to avoid a second Chronicles. I’m happy they didn’t go overboard. It’s in both of our best interest for them not to saturate the market with those cards. Much safer to underprint than overprint. I don’t think that they appropriately modeled demand however, and are finding themselves with their metaphorical pants around their ankles in terms of secondary market prices this year. Consider the original Commander’s Arsenal. They printed what they expected would be a semi-desirable product and ended up publicly apologizing for how expensive the sealed product became. There’s a lot of precedence for Wizards releasing too little, and very little for releasing too much. 

The guys and gals at WOTC aren’t sitting around thinking “look at these silly prices on Tarmogoyf, just wait until they see what we put in Conspiracy!” No, I think they’re hunkering down and preparing for what may internally be considered one of the most poorly handled PTQ seasons in recent memory. “Weathering the storm” is an expression that comes to mind. They’re likely scrambling to let off the pressure as best as they can for next year, probably in the form of Modern Masters 2, but for the time being they’re just hoping cards don’t get as expensive as, well, as they are now.

Prices are going nuts, there’s nothing in the pipeline to stop it, and Wizards can’t react fast enough to fix it. This summer is going to see the most brutal prices in Magic’s history for quite some time.

What’s this mean for all of us? Well, it means nobody should be trading or selling their Modern product right now. Those few extra Kiki-Jiki’s you have lying around? Take them out of your binder, put them aside at home, and wait until June. On the fence about buying that playset of Snapcasters you want? Buy them, and buy them today. If a guy at the store is selling Spellskites for cheap and you have a few extra bucks, don’t feel bad about picking them up just to resell later.

This is truly a bull market, with no letting off ahead of August. The growth is real, the prices are real, and your window to act is closing fast. It won’t be permanent, but in the next five months its going to be one hell of a rising tide.

All of this only matters through the summer though. Once we’re on the other side of this PTQ season it’s going to be a drastic change. The next season will feel far away indeed. We’ll have a plethora of product ahead to increase supply, and more importantly, we’ll be in the timeframe at which point WOTC could have seen what was going on and started putting plans into place to help control the market with reprints. I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see Modern Masters 2 of some sort next year, so holding Modern staples past the PTQ season will be a real minefield. The takeaway here is that you should sell everything except those cards which you wouldn’t be upset about losing value on.

In the meantime though? Go hog wild.

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