Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Elves, Merfolk, and Goblins (Oh My!)

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Has anyone even tested Goblins in Modern? The speculation is so rampant on a strategy that has yet to prove itself. Maybe people are forgetting there’s no Goblin Lackey, Goblin Matron, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Warchief, Gempalm Incinerator, or Rishadan Port.

That’s a lot of gaps to overcome. Yet this still happened:

Interests

We are in the midst of rampant speculation on Legion Loyalist, Warren Instigator, and the catalyst itself, Goblin Piledriver. With prices this inflated, the risk of buying into these targets is at its highest. Being the steadfast risk intolerant speculator, perhaps I can propose some alternate targets – still potentially relevant to a Goblins Modern strategy – with a much more attractive risk/reward equation.

Goblins: Not the Only Tribe in Town

Goblins are an unproven strategy in Modern. This is certain. What’s equally certain is that Elves and Merfolk are proven strategies in Modern. Both decks won a Modern Grand Prix very recently.

I proffer this idea for your consideration: why not buy into some of the cards in those decks instead? Some of the critical pieces of these decks have barely moved! So while Warren Instigator, a card I’ve never seen cast in my life, goes from $10 to $17, you could be buying into something like Silvergill Adept near its 2014-2015 low!

Adept

Silvergill Adept is critical to the Merfolk strategy in Legacy and Modern. I hear getting a Merfolk in play while also drawing more Merfolk is a pretty sound strategy [Editor’s note: Best card in the deck, not close]. And there’s no way this card should be under $3 when Nettle Sentinel – a common from the same block – is around the same price.

If you’d prefer throwing your money into Mythic Rares, you could also consider Master of Waves. It’s about to leave Standard, but I suspect nearly 0% of its value is driven by Standard play anyway. This key Merfolk card can be found for under $4. I’d much rather have my money in these than, say, Goblin Rabblemaster – a rare about to rotate that does have value driven by Standard play.

Fish not your thing? You could pick up a couple of critical Elves pieces instead. Most of the best Elves targets have already spiked, but I could see Elvish Archdruid moving higher. It’s been printed a million times, but it’ll always have some demand keeping the price above bulk. And the further away we get from the latest printing, the more value it’ll become.

Archdruid

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If you want to trade into something newer, you could always pick up Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. The card may dip slightly at rotation, but this land is powerful and should maintain value going forward. You will likely need to be patient with this one, since I’m sure a ton have been opened. Still, you could find far worse places to park money.

Goblins, Merfolk and Elves (Oh, My!)

The rise in popularity of tribal strategies has generated newfound opportunities in Modern speculation. Most Elves cards have already seen significant appreciation. Merfolk cards haven’t moved as much, but they should bounce nicely off recent lows. And of course we’ve all seen the rampant Goblins speculation this past week on news of a Goblin Piledriver reprint.

Rather than tossing the dice and gambling on one of these strategies, wouldn’t it be nice to find something relevant across all three? In an ideal world, you could acquire key cards that play an important role in all Tribal decks. This way no matter which strategy rose to the top, you’d have exposure to important cards.

I did a quick comparison between Knocinski’s winning Merfolk build and Malone’s Elves build to start. I’m immediately disappointed. I counted exactly one card in common: a singleton Cavern of Souls played in Elves.

As an aside, Cavern of Souls is positioned to continue hitting new all-time highs given its relevance in Modern and Legacy.

Cavern

While my profits were still decent, I will be first to admit I made a mistake selling this one. This is definitely a case where my perpetual bearishness in Modern narrowed my perspective too much. This land will only go higher until it is reprinted. The current $50 price tag is likely to stick.

Despite the common “tribal” theme, it would appear these three decks all have completely different building blocks. Outside of Cavern of Souls, I see no overlapping card. Does that mean we should give up? Absolutely not – it’s all about speculation!

For example, couldn’t Aether Vial be relevant in at least two of the three tribal strategies? Elves may not want the artifact for now, but I could certainly see Goblins following the Merfolk approach to flash out instant-speed lords.

Vial

I really like the card’s price chart as well, from a technical standpoint. I see some healthy growth in both retail and buy list pricing. More importantly the buy/sell spread has narrowed in recent weeks – a likely sign of further price appreciation on the horizon. While speculating on a $30 uncommon is a tough pill to swallow, I’d still support grabbing a few copies. Feel free to grab the Modern Masters version if you feel better paying $30 for a rare instead.

Perhaps a safer target is a critical land that is near an all-time price low: Mutavault.

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Mutavault

While this land isn’t so hot in Elves, I could see Goblins picking it up. And even if Merfolk is the only deck that runs Mutavault, it’s still an automatic 4-of in every Merfolk build. This is a card I’m willing to throw cash into; it can readily spike to $20 during next year’s Modern season or possibly earlier, if the Modern metagame leads the right way.

Perhaps I’m being naïve here. I’m focusing heavily on cards that these three tribal decks would want to play. But if I want to place bets on all three at once, perhaps I should be seeking out cards that beat all three of these strategies. I believe Anger of the Gods is already a viable sideboard card in Modern. A one-sided wrath for three mana is probably decent against all three tribal strategies. Be careful with Standard rotation – we may see a small dip before the card stabilizes higher. Perhaps trading for unwanted copies is the best play here.

Anger

If you’re looking for a more permanent fix, you could try Night of Souls’ Betrayal. It doesn’t kill as many creatures as Anger, but sticking two copies could really wreak havoc on tribal decks. The card has spiked recently but buy lists haven’t chased nearly as much. I’d watch that spread closely – the opportunity to pick up this sideboard card may close faster than you think.

Lastly, there’s my favorite sideboard tech: Engineered Explosives. This artifact seems well-positioned in a tribal-heavy metagame. Played right, you can set yourself up for a solid 3-for-1 or 4-for-1 play. This card is destined to go higher, and I don’t expect to see a reprint in 2015 or 2016.

EE

Modern Not Your Thing?

Most of you know by now I’m not as excited about Modern as the rest of the player base. Even though I’m trying to flip Modern specs, I really prefer to sink my funds into safer investments. I still believe most Modern staples will pull back in price in a month or two, so I’ll be content to largely sit on the sidelines until then.

My quest to move profits into older cards is not a solo one, it seems. Did you notice some other really interesting price moves from last week? I’m talking about this:

Library

And this:

Workshop

These charts are extremely attractive from an investor’s point of view. Barring a minor hiccup on Library of Alexandria last year, we’re seeing monotonically increasing prices over time. I’m not sure if Mishra’s Workshop’s price tag will stick above $1000, as reflected in mtgstocks.com’s most recent Interests page. But the card will certainly maintain its upward momentum in the years to come. I’d pay close attention to that buy-list curve, in blue, on these charts. They will reflect how eager dealers are to pay higher prices for these old-school cards. Library of Alexandria is even playable in Old School MTG, perhaps catalyzing some upward price movement.

If I had to recommend picking one of these valuable Arabian Nights cards, I’d recommend Bazaar of Baghdad.

Bazaar

The card is a 4-of in Dredge, a powerful Vintage deck with an important defining characteristic: no Power! Once you have your 4 Bazaars, you’re most of the way toward building a viable Vintage deck. Even if you never plan on playing Vintage, you have to admit the artwork on the card is one of the sweetest in the game. I’ve been eyeing this for almost a year now, and I’m only seeing upward movement on prices.

Wrapping It Up

The theme of last week: tribal Modern decks and high end Arabian Nights cards. These are on opposite ends of the risk/reward spectrum. On the one side, we have rampant Modern speculation based on unproven deck strategies (Goblins). On the other side, we have measurable price growth in classic cards on the reserved list.

While my affinity is always to err closer to the conservative side of the spectrum, I see many opportunities in between. You don’t have to chase Warren Instigator higher to make money on the latest trends. There are far better plays – especially at this point, where prices have already jumped so high. Aether Vial, Nykthos, Cavern of Souls, and Mutavault are all well-positioned no matter which tribal deck earns the top spot of future Modern events. If you really despise all three strategies, maybe now’s the time to pick up your Engineered Explosives.

Targets like these are far safer than cards that have already spiked solely based on speculation. They have plenty of upside potential, with minimal downside risk at this point. These are my kind of pick-ups, and I’d encourage you to move some of your newfound profits into these cards as well. Give it a year, and you’ll likely be looking at more sizable gains. Plus you’ll have the upside of preserving your capital in case one of the tribal strategies becomes a major flop. It’s the best scenario for investing, and it’s why I’m moving my resources accordingly.

Sig’s Quick Hits

  • Some tribal-specific lands have moved a ton lately. Wanderwine Hub has jumped all the way to $11.99 at Star City Games. The major retailer has no copies in stock. If I was going to spend $12, I’d rather pick up a Mutavault anyway.
  • Gilt-Leaf Palace is the Elf equivalent to Wanderwine Hub. The only difference is Knocinski’s Merfolk build actually runs Wanderwine Hub, while Malone’s Elves list did not use Gilt-Leaf Palace. Despite this critical fact, Star City Games is still completely sold out of the palace, though their price tag hasn’t corrected the latest spike: it’s only $3.99…for now.
  • I wasn’t exaggerating when I mentioned how popular Engineered Explosives is right now. These tribal themes are only going to make the artifact more powerful. Perhaps that’s why Star City Games is completely sold out of all non-foil copies of the card, with a $17.99 price tag. These will retail for $20 very soon.
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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Commons and Planeswalkers

We are going to jump around a little bit this week, but not too much. There is a lot of ground I want to cover, so let’s dive in.

The Tragedy of the Commons/Uncommons

Don’t worry, this section of the article is not going to focus on feudalism or agrarian economics in any way, I just really loved the title. I want to hit first and foremost on something that seems pretty weird, and that is the spiking of commons and uncommons in Modern.

 

When a rare or mythic spikes, it isn’t terribly surprising, since they are usually either out of older, underprinted sets (Blood Moon) or are multi-format staples that have just left print (Abrupt Decay). When demand exceeds supply, the cost has to go up to compensate.

You can even understand it in certain situations with uncommons—Kitchen Finks was north of $10 once, and it looks like it will be again soon. Kitchen Finks only exists in Modern Masters (underprinted compared to demand), Shadowmoor (underprinted versus current small set printings), and FNM promos (given out before at least a few of you were even playing Magic).

Terminate, though? Terminate is a common in Planeshift and Alara Reborn (both small sets prior to the Zendikar Boom), has had two promotional printings (Magic Player Rewards and FNM), and has been featured in three different supplemental printings (one of the original Commander decks, one of the Archenemy decks, and the Sorin vs Tibalt Duel Deck). I can understand the promos increasing, especially the MPR version—those have been very popular in the last year or so, and I am almost entirely out of mine (even the bad cards!). The supplemental copies make some sense too, since the first Commander run was kind of small, and I don’t know anybody who purchased Archenemy or Sorin vs Tibalt.

terminate

All that being said, I’ve found about ten copies of Alara Reborn Terminates lying around my house since I started typing this sentence. Am I just rich, or is this price unrealistic?

The problem with commons is that their base price is essentially free. The price you typically pay for commons in a store is the fee that is involved with actually going through the inventory to find it for you. Commons also have a much lower ceiling than any other rarity due to as-fan: I may only get one mythic in eight packs, but I’ll get eighty different commons. Khans and Dragons of Tarkir each had 101 commons, while Fate Reforged had 70. if I opened eight packs, it’s possible that I’ve gotten the vast majority of KTK/DTK commons, and every single FRF common (with repeats!). By contrast, Planeshift, featuring the first (and superior) version of Terminate, only had 55 commons in the set. Alara Reborn had 60.

Playability can drive the price of a common, but in general, the rarity is limited in power level due to its prevalence. A draft will feature 240 commons, and by making commons too powerful, you warp Limited.

So what do you do when a common card spikes? Well, the first thing you do is make sure that you have a neat and organized system for finding cards (or you swear to change your ways during the next available long weekend).

The next thing is you look for the best buylist price. Since Terminate has “spiked,” I have not been able to move any at the new price (be it through sales or PucaTrade). I was able to move one foil Alara Reborn copy, but it was on PucaTrade and at a discount. Currently, the best buylist price on the non-foil Alara Reborn Terminates is $1.78 from Strike Zone, which feels like an absolute steal. If you find you have a stack, then out them to a guaranteed source and let it absorb the risk.

If you have a regular game store that you shop or play at, I’d let them know of any that you come across, but I wouldn’t buy them for pennies with hope of a quick flip—you aren’t going to make very much, but there is potential to damage your relationship with the owner/operators. Typically, stores that don’t have all of their inventory electronically categorized can be places to find lots of unpicked longboxes, but you are likely to get more out of going through them as a helper than as a hunter. My LGS is staffed only by the owner, and he has more longboxes than he has time. I pull out things that I come across in his boxes when I’m bored and looking for something to occupy my ADD, but I get more in karma than I do in value.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the true corner case scenarios, like Serum Visions. In the case of certain cards, the avenues for a reprint are limited. Serum Visions, Daze, Brainstorm, and Preordain are the kinds of cards that can grow reprint equity at common (they are also all blue), but can’t be reprinted in a Standard expansion. Fortunately, WOTC is doing more supplemental products than ever before, so there are means to see more copies printed, but I think you have to be realistic about which ones offer the best possibilities. This is all speculation, but Wizards put reprints in products where they best fit (things like Flusterstorm aside). Serum Visions is a pretty lousy card in Commander, so I wouldn’t expect it in one of those types of products as opposed to Modern Masters 3 or a Modern Event Deck (are we still doing those?). I’d expect Rhystic Study to appear in a Commander set instead, even if it isn’t a better card for people wanting new copies of particular blue commons.

rhysticstudy

Moral of the story: Don’t bother chasing the vast majority of these spikes. There isn’t enough action to be hard, and the margins are probably too small. If you find that you have a pile of them, enjoy your trade-in credit.

Planeswalkers and Design Philosophy

My academic background, if I haven’t mentioned it before, is in history. One of the most important things you can learn with regards to history is that events are always influenced by their causes, and so you have to take the context of those causes into account whenever you are analyzing a given event. The new planeswalkers in Magic Origins, most specifically Jace, are being looked at the wrong way, and I think it is because WOTC is trying to change the way planeswalkers are used. I’m going to use the history of planeswalkers (both as a card type and as a, uh… fantasy… thing?) to make my point.

I’m not a very good Vorthos, but here is the history of planeswalkers in a nutshell. In the beginning, WOTC’s creative team made planeswalkers into basically indestructible, omnipotent gods who could make and destroy entire worlds at whim. This, surprisingly, is a terrible character type to try and build meaningful storytelling around. WOTC realized that planeswalkers were too powerful to be compelling (note that this is around the time that WOTC started looking into a potential movie deal), so the story was steered toward the Mending, where planeswalkers sacrificed much of their power to heal the fracturing of Dominaria or something.

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The Mending, which occurred during Time Spiral block, meant that moving forward, planeswalkers wouldn’t make Emrakul, Aeons Torn look like a plant token and that they could be more realistically represented on cards! It is no coincidence that the first planeswalker cards appeared the following year (after being pushed out of Future Sight because of development concerns—the empty green card slot became Tarmogoyf!). The first five planeswalkers (known sometimes as the Lorwyn Five) were hugely resonant successes, and they all saw various amounts of constructed play (Chandra the least, Garruk and Jace the most).

jacebeleren

For the first few years, however, planeswalker cards were somewhat lacking in terms of broader developmental context. A lot of the appeal was “shiny new things!” and without as much concern to  whether they were good or not. I think for a little while WOTC was just glad they seemed to be working, but eventually R&D moved forward into new design space. Few colors had more than one planeswalker, so the good ones (think Elspeth, Knight-Errant) were played and the much less good ones (think Liliana Vess) mostly just weren’t. In a way, Jace, the Mind Sculptor represented what planeswalkers were like before the Mending: he went into every deck that played blue, and encouraged you to play blue if you weren’t already. JTMS wasn’t a nuanced, situational chess piece—he was a nuclear bomb. You either played Jace, or had to have a really compelling reason not to.

Designing planeswalkers is difficult for WOTC, since there are only a few printed during each given year. This low amount over time means that it takes longer for changes in design philosophy to manifest. Since Worldwake, there has been a push for planeswalkers to be more situational, rather than a pass/fail test of quality.

jacevrynsprodigy

For example, is Ashiok good? Ashiok isn’t played as a four-of in the main deck of every list that could run it, but the card is also crucial in control mirrors. And the new Jace is very similar to Ashiok in that way. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy comes down before most countermagic comes online in the control mirrors, and unlike Ashiok, it creates a difficult sideboarding decision for your control opponent: how much creature removal can they sideboard out and not be worse against an early Jace? Historically, looters have certainly been playable in control decks. Jace is a looter with high upside, including being a potential finisher for no additional mana investment. There are a lot of matches, however, where a 0/2 looter for two is going to be nothing more than eventual Shock fodder. The downside to being a situational star is that not all situations are favorable.

jacetelepathunbound

The finance lesson here is that planeswalkers are likely to be more specialized moving forward. This means that on the whole, they will be more consistently playable, although there will likely be much less crossover. Even though they are popular, WOTC doesn’t want a lot of Elspeth, Knight-Errants or Jace, the Mind Sculptors, because they narrow the range of the card type in general.

And just to take it a step further, this push isn’t unique to planeswalkers. Take a look at what Sam Stoddard had to say about Languish:

SamStodLanguish

This really seems to be WOTC’s design and development philosophy moving forward, and I think it probably means a stronger, more active market for Standard. I’d much rather be trading and selling in a format with lots of “sometimes really good” cards than just a bunch of “good” or “not good” ones. If future formats can be as good as the one we have now, I think this means a lot of potential for the future. Make sure you have a diverse standard stock moving forward!

Moral of the story: planeswalkers, and Standard as a whole, are being developed in a way that is conducive to a wider format. I expect most of the future formats to be like Ravnica/Time Spiral in the sense that there are several good decks, but no overtly oppressive ones. These wider formats have more good cards, but fewer staples. If that’s the case, you can expect prices to be a little bit more even, as opposed to boom or bust. Tip: in these types of formats, the safest bets, as they always are, are the lands.

That’s all for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these topics, especially the second one. It was kind of a hard concept to put to paper, but I’d be more than happy to flesh it out in the comments. See you next week!

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Transaction Etiquette

By: Travis Allen

Here’s the timeline of events from this past Thursday, June 19th.

12:57: Evan Erwin tweets the Sphinx’s Tutelage spoiler:

New #MTGOrigins spoiler “Sphinx’s Tutelage” pic.twitter.com/WcKCnOTPlG

1:00: JR shares Evan’s tweet with the comment “Painter’s Servant sold out yet?” This is the first time I see the card. 1:00: I check TCGplayer for copies of Painter’s Servant. 1:04: I receive a confirmation email from TCGplayer regarding my order of 3 NM Painter’s Servants. 1:05: I check Star City Games for copies of Painter’s Servant. 1:08: I receive a confirmation email from SCG regarding my order of 25 Painter’s Servants. ~1:10 – 1:15: I look at Sphinx’s Tutelage again and see that it says “nonland.” 1:19: I call SCG to cancel my order of Painter’s Servants. 1:21: I tweet that Sphinx’s Tutelage is not Grindstone. This exchange led to Nick Becvar hassling me that my behavior was the same as stores cancelling orders. I disagreed, and declined to get into it with him on Twitter. I realized instead that this, in conjunction with another recent event, was an excellent opportunity to discuss some of the etiquette in customer/vendor transactions. I’ve talked before about how to behave when dealing directly with other players. Today, we’ll look at some scenarios that arise between players and stores, what you should expect, and what is expected of you. We’ll come back to the Painter’s Servants in a bit.

“Out of Stock”

This is hands down the most commonly heard complaint regarding players and stores. A card’s value increases dramatically in a short period of time—ban list changes are a frequent catalyst of this—and players overwhelm stores to stock up on copies. (It happened with Golgari Grave-Troll and Worldgorger Dragon. And Bitterblossom. And Land Tax.) People order ten copies of Worldgorger Dragon at $1.90 each at 11:00am EST when the B&R article goes live, and by 1:00pm, the price is $30 on TCGplayer. Then comes the email. “Sorry, we’re out of stock on Worldgorger Dragon. Your order has been cancelled. Our apologies!” The player, who was already counting the money he was going to make, is semi-justifiably upset. He might take to social media to decry these unscrupulous charlatans. I’ve done it myself on more than one occasion. Salt is added to the wound when the vendor that was “out of stock” magically has ten copies available the next day at the new ten-times-higher price. As an online vendor, it’s extremely unprofessional to cancel orders you have the stock for, lie to customers, and then relist the items for greater prices. It’s an awful business practice, and there is even an entire forum for vendor reviews here on MTGPrice in order to alert others about this behavior. If someone places an order for your posted price and the price skyrockets, it’s your duty to sell it to them for the listed price. If you’re that worried about losing a few potential bucks on cards spiking, hide your inventory ten minutes before the B&R article goes up and preemptively remove unbanned cards before people can order them. It’s absolutely not worth your time as a vendor, but if you feel compelled to not let anyone get a good deal, it’s better than cancelling on people. Having said all of this, it’s important for us as customers to remember how this works on the other side. Depending on the software a vendor is using to manage their inventory, it’s entirely possible they do oversell through no fault of their own. If a flurry of orders all come in for the same product at the same time, there is software out there that will sell 30 copies of a card when only 11 were in stock. Through no fault of their own, the vendor is now forced to tell several people they can’t fulfill that order. It comes up when product is listed in multiple locations as well. Some vendors will list on their own web page, on eBay, and on TCGplayer. This makes it extremely easy to suddenly sell three times more stock than you have available. You can debate whether or not listing product in this fashion is appropriate, but for the time being, accept that it happens, and that it’s not necessarily the store being scummy if they have to cancel orders. As a customer, it’s entirely fair to be upset when a store cancels your order on a card that just spiked in price. It sucks when perceived profits suddenly evaporate just like that. Just remember that not all stores that cancel are doing so for nefarious purposes.

“Whoops N/M”

On the other side of the order cancelling coin is when a customer changes his mind. The most egregious example of this came to me across Twitter a few banned and restricted list updates ago. (I forget who originally shared the story. If you remember—or if it was you—be sure to tell us in the comments!) This was back when everyone was expecting Bloodbraid Elf to be unbanned. Now, there wasn’t any actual evidence to support this claim, but the hive mind had collectively decided it was time. BBE’s price rose accordingly: CaptureThen 11:00 a.m. EST came, it wasn’t unbanned, and suddenly all those elves were not worth what people had started paying for them. A vendor then shared a snippet with us all. Some customer had ordered a bunch of BBEs, probably over two or three playsets at least, and now wanted to cancel his order—except that the cards were already in the mail, since he had ordered them a few days prior. The customer had ordered all of these cards, then as soon as they weren’t unbanned, cancelled his order. Was the vendor supposed to honor that? The parallels here are what made this amusing. We were all so used to stores cancelling orders on us when a card is unbanned, but what about a customer cancelling an order because a card wasn’t unbanned? I’m not sure what the outcome was. I know a lot of us were hoping the vendor would refuse to cancel the order, as some form of symbolic striking back against frustrating business practices. I’m guessing he did cancel it, though, and he probably should have. In the business-customer relationship, the burden of service is on the business. The business exists to make profit: to take money away from the customer. While a business’s identity exists only in relation to its customers, a customer is a person that exists independent of the business entity. A person is not defined by his or her capitalist relationships. Because of the nature of the interplay between the two, it’s the economic responsibility of the business to provide service to the customer in any way it can, even when the customer is at fault. If the business messes up, it owes it to the customer to make amends. If the customer messes up, the business owes it to the customer to help them clean it up. This is starting to get into philosophy of capitalism, and I don’t want to go too deep down that path lest the comments become littered with libertarians raving about how the destitute ghost of Ayn Rand compels us all to sell our cards and donate the money to R[on/and] Paul. My point, which I’ve taken my sweet time getting to, is that “the customer is always right” is not just a business strategy, but almost a moral compunction.  As a customer, and subsequently a human being, you should try not to be a jerk face. Don’t do things like order cards, wait for the B&R announcement, and then cancel while they’re in the mail because the update didn’t have what you wanted to see. Don’t be extremely unpleasant for no reason. If you’re a business, forgive the customer for these things, and continue to provide him good service. Back around to the Painter’s Servant, it should be easy to see where I’m going with this. Does cancelling an order within 11 minutes make me a bad person? No, of course not. We should try not to do that, but at the same time, it’s not a particularly heinous crime. I don’t feel any guilt over it. There’s a humongous gap between what I did, vendors cancelling orders on unbanned cards, and even people waiting until cards are in the mail or the B&R updates happen to cancel orders. As someone that sells regularly on TCGplayer, I’ve had plenty of people cancel orders, and so long as they do it before I package the cards, I don’t have any real reason to care.

“That’s No Longer $5.”

This happened to me recently, and while I tried to shrug it off, it got under my skin enough that it’s half the impetus for having written this article. It was a quiet Monday evening and I was driving up to Chipotle to grab dinner and take a break from working on my thesis. There’s a card store on the way that I hadn’t visited recently, and I was in no rush to get home, so I figured I’d pop in and see what was in the case. Specifically, I was hoping to find some Alpha or Beta stuff, since that’s been getting hot online recently, and local stores and players are still likely to be totally in the dark. Looking through the case, I first saw several copies of Ezuri, Renegade Leader at $3. I asked the attendant to pull them aside and kept grazing. Then there was a copy of Through the Breach at $15, a completely fair market price at the time. I had just written that I expect this to jump in the near future, so I was happy to take it at that number. A few minutes later I found a playset of Disrupting Shoals at $5, so I asked for those as well. It’s one of the few Modern cards I don’t have a personal set of that I may actually use, so at $10 off from TCGplayer, it was a great time to pick them up. As the owner put the Shoals with the Ezuris and the Through the Breach, he informed me that, “We reserve the right to change these prices. These Ezuris are $10 now, and the Shoals…[he tapped on an iPad twice]…are $15.” I’m a bit flabbergasted, as I didn’t expect them to change the prices on me as I picked them out. I paused for a moment, rather indignantly shrugged my shoulders, said, “Fine, whatever,” and walked out the door. Later that night, I sent this tweet:  

What rankles me about this is that the store is essentially trying to have their cake and eat it too. There are two methods available to a store when pricing singles.

The first method is to put no prices on any cards. When customers are interested in a card, they ask about the price, and the associate looks it up. This ensures that the store always has the most accurate prices, since they’re checking the numbers at the time of sale every single time.

There are several pitfalls with this strategy, however. Primary among them is the time it requires to do this. An inquisitive customer, especially more casually-oriented players that don’t know exactly what they want and haven’t memorized prices, may end up demanding a huge chunk of time of the employee who has to constantly look up prices on obscure cards. Another issue is that without prices listed, people may not bother to ask at all. Rather than pester the shopkeep, they assume that whatever they are looking at isn’t worth asking about and skip over it all together. A store misses a lot of incidental sales without prices on singles. 

The second method is to put prices on cards. An overwhelming majority of stores do this. This way, employees don’t need to tell people the price on Flooded Strand nine times a day. Customers can process information and make purchasing decisions without bothering anyone first. People will overpay on cards that have dropped in price in the time since you initially stickered them. And the store will get sales on cards that may be a bit underpriced because someone feels like they’re getting a deal. Even though they aren’t maximizing their profit on those transactions, they’re keeping liquidity up, an important component of a successful MTG business. Losing a few potential bucks on cards that have gone up in price is well worth the amount of value the store gains by pricing the cards ahead of time.

What’s especially irritating about this event is just how easy it is to avoid the entire situation. Just assign staff to check the front page of MTGPrice each morning to check for any swings large enough to warrant price changes. The entire process would take less than five minutes each day, and there would never be a need for hurt feelings. Rather than set aside a small amount of time to for this process, though, the store has opted instead to let its customers work for free.

Further still, if a random guy off the street asks for a card in the case, they sell it to them at the posted number. However, if someone they suspect has a greater level of knowledge asks—say, a local player who happens to write for a site specializing in MTG finance—they check each and every price to make sure our handsome hypothetical never gets any good deals. Why bother to go through all the effort of updating prices every day when you can just let well-informed customers tell you exactly which cards you have marked incorrectly?

And by the way, you can bet your ass that if a card has dropped $3 since it was stickered, they aren’t passing the savings on to you. The sticker says $10 and MTGPrice says $15? It costs $15. The sticker says $10 and MTGPrice says $7? It costs $10.

As a private store, it’s the owner’s prerogative to change prices on people (well, probably. I’m not sure if it runs afoul of truth-in-advertising laws. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it doesn’t). If a store wants to update its prices whenever people ask about a card, they’re allowed to.

However, there’s a big gap between “allowed to” and “should.” You’re allowed to spew hateful, racist rhetoric, but there’s no question that you shouldn’t. Changing prices on your customers from what is posted may save you a few bucks in the short term, but you will rapidly destroy any goodwill they have towards your establishment. Is it worth burning all future sales just to ensure you don’t lose $20 on a playset of Ezuris? After all, if a store is selling them for $3, it means it probably bought them at bulk rates. The store is still making a profit even if the card is underpriced, so it’s not even like it’s losing money.

If you’re a store owner, it’s probably legal to change prices on cards in your case when people ask. Even if it isn’t, nobody is going to get you into legal trouble. However, it’s just about the scummiest thing you can do to your customers. Train employees how to keep up on prices. Ensure that they have time to keep things in the case updated. And if something slips through the cracks, honor your posted price. It’s just good business.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Gods and Generals, Part 3

We’re at the end, readers. You made it through the first two parts, and I think some of you are pretty excited for part three. I can’t pretend I’m not excited myself—I called Purphoros as my pick of the week in the latest episode of Brainstorm Brewery, a podcast I hope you’re all listening to. You get it a day before the rest of the plebians by virtue of being a ProTrader, so that’s pretty cool. If you think my opinion is worth reading, why not give the podcast a listen?

Is that a bad endorsement? “Listen to the podcast where I mention Purphoros a week after I wrote about him!” Look, I don’t have to justify myself to you nerds. I just felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug the podcast where you get to hear three other finance experts agree or disagree with my called shots. I don’t imagine this is a super tough sell to a bunch of finance article readers, but what do I know? Besides what I think about the last five Theros block gods, that is.

We saved the best for last, I think, and my favorite god of the 15 is going to get a really in-depth look. I’m excited to write up this last batch, so forgive me my digressions. I’m sufficiently pumped now. Let’s do dis.

 

Athreos, God of Passage

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$10?!

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Athreos certainly got a ton of buzz from its release, and why not? The card looked and smelled an awful lot like some other cards that existed in a similar vein, only it seemed better.

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Though it failed to do much financially, Immortal Servitude was the basis for a (tier, like, 10) deck that was fun to play and that’s about it. But what if your Immortal Servitude effect were on a permanent and getting enough dudes into play let that permanent attack? People had enough experience playing the gods to know that if Thassa could get there, Athreos could certainly do so too, given its low mana cost and inherent unfairness. What would we do with this? Run wraths to take us to value town? Loop Elvish Visionary for value? Whatever it was people thought they were going to do, they mostly haven’t. Athreos hasn’t made much of an impact if any on Standard, and its price has stayed within a couple bucks of $10 basically as long as it’s been a card.

Could EDH be a reason for this? Certainly it could. I think Athreos is absolutely the top choice of general for a deck with lots of Shadowborn Apostles in it. Does that make it a $10 card on its own? No. Athreos is a fine commander in other builds as well, but I think third-set stickiness is propping the price up to an extent. Can we rule that out if we see the other generals coming in cheap? We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. If EDH is really the culprit here, will we expect to see that reflected in the foil price? Yes. Yes, we will.

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You’ve got to be getting pretty good at analyzing these graphs by now. What do we think? A multiplier of three on a card that already seems pretty overpriced? Is Standard doing that? Or is EDH?

Personally, I think we can see EDH’s influence here pretty significantly. The price looks so flat compared to the non-foil, which means copies aren’t moving very quickly, but quickly enough for the dealers not to change their buy prices. Honestly, $30 may be just about perfect, which for our purposes, is actually a bad thing.

We want our gods to be the wrong price or to look like they’re going to be the right price soon. Athreos seems neither. With EDH propping the price up as well as third-set scarcity, I don’t expect the foil or non-foil to drop a ton at rotation. Certainly the non-foil has room to fall, but the foil likely isn’t going anywhere, either up or down, in the near future. I am a 2/5 on this card both in foil and non-foil.

The non-foil does have some chance of getting more reasonable at rotation, but dealers are actually cutting their buy prices rather than raising them. Could that be in anticipation of the price coming way down soon or is it in anticipation of people wanting to ship a ton of these while the buy price is $5 and the dealers would end up stuck with cards they paid $5 for and can’t sell for $4? I think it could be a bit of both. What I see is low demand and a high price for this card and both those factors kind of suck.

Is Athreos good in EDH? Sure, but all 15 cards sort of are, and I’m not bullish on the ones where I don’t see room to make a profit. I could be persuaded to go in one these at like $4, which seems unlikely but not impossible. I’m certainly keeping an eye out.

Iroas, God of Victory

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Remember what I said about third-set stickiness? Well, here’s a great baseline. Worth half as much as Athreos but well below half as playable, Iroas never made an impact in Standard. This card is $5 for the same reason Godsend is $5: it has a non-zero amount of casual appeal, it’s in a durdly third set with not a lot to be excited about, and it is technically not unplayable in EDH. I could see Iroas getting there as a utility-enchantment-cum-beater in a deck with a different commander, like Jor Kadeen, but I’m not jazzed about him otherwise. Neither are dealers, who are cutting buy prices significantly, probably in anticipation of rotation. While the price is relatively flat, dealers have tried to pay as little as $2 for this card. I’ve seen people no-sir offers of $4 on Godsend before so nothing surprises me a ton, but I don’t see demand for this. Heliod at $0.75 tells me gods have a long way to fall, some farther than others. I’m a 1/5 at $5 and a 4/5 at $0.75. I imagine you will be able to get them for somewhere in the middle, but unless it’s closer to $1, I don’t know that you want to.

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A multiplier of three, as well. That’s very interesting. It kind of puts the multiplier on Athreos into perspective, doesn’t it? When I said, “This price is likely due to EDH,” above, I think what I meant was, “This price isn’t not EDH,” but judging by Iroas, a mostly-ignored card, the multiplier appears to be some sort of weird standard.


Quck aside: Isn’t it fascinating that the gods seem to get their cues vis-a-vis their prices from their expansion set rather than their playability? It’s a good thing I grouped these by set or I may never have noticed these trends. I literally almost did all 15 gods alphabetically the first week. It’s a good thing I write too much or this could have been a mess and we would have learned way less. Should we predict the same multiplier for Kruphix or Keranos? Absolutely not, but nothing would surprise me. However, if we do see that for Pharika, I think we can pretty safely conclude the multiplier is a supply issue. I’m interested to see what we come up with when we get there.


As for Iroas, I feel the same as the dealers who have been slashing their buy prices. I’m like a 1/5 at its current foil price. You’d have to make these pretty cheap to make me get into the 3/5 or 4/5 range. Like, if current buy price became the new retail price, I’m probably a 3/5 at the price dealers are paying then. Maybe even not that. Iroas seems like this set’s Heliod or Ephara.

Keranos, God of Storms

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I have been quoted numerous times saying, “If it weren’t for EDH, only about 100 Magic cards would be worth more than $1.” While I think that’s true and smile whenever I hear someone repeat it, we can acknowledge that Modern has been a real bro and made some cardboard worth some moolah. Thanks, Modern!

Keranos was touted as a Modern option, and while that hype appears to have trailed off, dumping Keranos nearly back where it was before all the hype, I expect its EDH playability to have a real effect on the foil. I understand why Keranos was $20 for a while—what I can’t figure out is why it’s the same as Athreos.

EDH clearly can’t pull the non-foils above $10 unless the card is played a ton (like I imagine we’ll see for Kruphix) and the dive back to $10 seems to indicate that Modern demand has all but evaporated. Keranos was never more than a one- or two-of in Modern anyhow, and that can mimic EDH demand in some ways. I expect expensive foils if only because we won’t see the race to the bottom the way we did with the non-foils.

Keranos may not be played in Modern as much anymore, but the fact that it’s an option can work both for and against us. Price memory is going to make the price stickier come rotation, which makes me pretty bearish on the card unless it comes down more than it probably will.

While the buy price for most of the rest of the gods is tailing off, Keranos is actually increasing. Dealers are going to buy super aggressively if the spread is low at rotation, making it harder to get your hands on Keranos and limiting the chance the price falls below where the buy price is now. Do I like these at $6? Not a ton, no. They’ve demonstrated an ability to be $20, but you’d have to think that will happen again to pay $6. Should these miraculously fall to $3 or $4, I’ll change my attitude significantly, but this still won’t make it past a 3/5 in my excitement. My money is better-invested elsewhere, in my opinion.

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Yuck. You see the price spike as a result of Modern, but the price has not come down the way the non-foil has. I don’t think EDH is the culprit for the price staying up as much as scarcity is. See those “mini” fluctuations? Those point to a very, very low supply. If one or two purchases can upset the price balance, you’ll see little jumps like that when the stock is completely bought out by virtue of buying a small number of copies.

So the demand is non-zero, but if buying a few copies can make the price “twitch” like that, steady demand would completely wreck the price and we haven’t seen that. I’m not super bullish on the foils here, honestly. EDH demand isn’t going to put much upward pressure on the price and buy prices aren’t really moving despite the retail price coming down a smidge. This graph is ugly, folks. I’m like a 1/5 for foils and I don’t get to a 2/5 until the price gets somewhere the price won’t get.

I have a good feeling about this next one, though.

Kruphix, God of Horizons

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Get. Hype.

This is what opportunity looks like. Cheaper than Iroas, steadier than Keranos, more playable in EDH than Athreos—this card has it all. The spread is currently pretty wide, so even dealers aren’t really on this guy. However, Kruphix is the most EDH-playable out of the crop it’s in and its price is not reflecting that fact.

I’m a 3/5 on this card at its current price, and if it gets really cheap, I’m even deeper. This is never going to get the boost Keranos gets from Modern, Athreos gets from casual, or Iroas gets from the people who have made Godsend $5, but it does get help from being very good.

Don’t let the low price fool you, as it’s a good thing. This card is unplayable in Standard and that has made its price plummet, but it has a ton of upside and I’m deep on these if I can pay what dealers are paying now. I want a big old pile of these. This is Purphoros-tier as far as I am concerned: useful in decks but best as a commander. Let’s see if the foil agrees with us.

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Here’s a nice gut-check. The prices are very low for the foil and the non-foil. Did we misevaluate something? Is Iroas more playable than we think? Is Kruphix worse than we think? Did I overreact to the cheap price because I don’t understand that it’s cheap for a good reason?

Let’s check our multiplier, shall we? What’s that? It’s five? Not only that, it’s been five forever? I think that tells us that we’re onto something. Not only that, it tells us we have real upside on the foils. If the non-foil is $4, then that multiplier gives us $20 foils. If the non-foil hits $10, we’re looking at $50 foils, provided the multiplier holds.

And why shouldn’t it? This is a real EDH card. If I can pay what dealers are paying now for foils, I’m a 5/5. I don’t expect that to happen and I am still a 2/5 at its current price. If it doesn’t fall at all, I may buy a bit down the road if I start to see any upward movement at all.  Kruphix is money, and I am glad there is actual opportunity here.

Pharika, God of Affliction

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This was pretty heavily touted early by the likes of Conley Woods, but it never made the impact on Standard anticipated. EDH isn’t propping this up more than it’s propping up Kruphix and the few times it’s flirted with $6 are confusing and an insult to the god of horizons, frankly.

We can really see the relative difference in distributions between sets here: both the distribution of the cost of a redemption set over the total cards in Journey into Nyx and the distribution of Theros relative to Journey. We have $1 Heliod and that’s a damn sight more playable than Pharika, even though Pharika is a general people are going to try and try to build around.

I’m losing steam, folks. I saved a card I don’t care about for last.

Dealers are not thrilled about this card, so why should I be? At the $1.50 dealers are paying, I think this is okay, since in a few years, even bad gods strike me as $5ish cards (I’m basing this off of what we saw with planeswalkers when there were relatively few of them), but I’m not going to throw cash at Pharika at basically any price. This is played a bit in EDH and that could indicate upside if we’re buying very cheap. The foil can tell us how much EDH play there is.

Care to try and guess the multiplier for the foil?

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Did you guess a multiplier of six? I will admit I did not. Not only is it six, it has been for a while and dealers don’t appear to disagree! That’s wacky.

Is EDH propping this up? It must be that, which makes the non-foils a bit more attractive but leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The plateau indicates there isn’t a ton of sales-action happening, but a race to the bottom would throw the price into at least a bit of disarray. This is honestly just mostly puzzling. Still, if the price is this flat and irrespective of Standard play, there is little potential movement in the price at rotation. I’m not bullish on these at the current price. If I could buy at buylist, sure, fine, but I don’t see this being as good a pickup as Kruphix, although that could be pure bias.

Objectively, this card looks strong, but subjectively, I’m not jazzed. With Kruphix seeming like a better pickup, why would I hedge my bets anyhow? Still, if you clicked the link and looked at how many Pharika decks there are (gorgon tribal could be a thing, I imagine, but Damia or Sidisi seem better for that), you might feel differently than I do. I’m leaving these alone, so more for you, I guess.

Something Something Omega

That concludes my series on gods. I’m a little saddened by this realization, because I enjoyed writing this series and how much good feedback I got from all of you about it.

I’ll be back next week with something different, so stay tuned for that. You won’t want to miss the next series I potentially start because I can’t keep it under 10,000 words. Leave your questions and comments in the section below and let’s make some money.

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