Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

Announcing Unlocked ProTrader Articles

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Hello everyone, Corbin here!

You may be used to seeing my name when my column comes out on Thursdays, but I also handle of lot of editorial duties around here, and today that means I’m lucky enough to make an exciting announcement: the first batch of ProTrader-only content is now free for everyone to read!

Dig Through Time

We run both free and ProTrader-exclusive content here, and while I believe all of our content is of the highest quality, the writers on the ProTrader side tend to focus on more immediate calls for those looking to stay as far ahead of the market as possible.

But we don’t want to hide our content away behind a paywall forever, so all articles here will unlock after 45 days. WIth the launch of ProTrader-exclusive content last month, that means I have some great pieces to share with you today, many of which are still extremely relevant today.

Remember, if you like what you see here, I hope you’ll consider signing up for a ProTrader membership, which in addition to exclusive article content gives you access to lively forums, advanced statistical tools and more.

Enough preamble, onto the content!

Sigmund Ausfresser – Advanced economics of MTG finance, Part 1

Part 2

In a must-read two-part series, Sigmund Ausfresser details some of the advanced underlying economic conditions that make Magic’s secondary market just so vibrant.

Danny Brown – Planeswalker Finance

Planeswalkers are the face of Magic, and there are plenty of them in the game. Danny Brown breaks down exactly how they line up financially.

Travis Allen – Safety Deposit Boxes – Khans of Tarkir

A huge part of Magic finance is always looking ahead, and in this article Travis Allen identifies which desirable Khans of Tarkir cards have bottomed out.

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Corbin Hosler – Why I Love Casual Magic, and Why You Should Too

Corbin Hosler – Casual Hits of 2015

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Anyone who’s followed my own content knows I love investing in long-term casual cards, and I explained exactly why in this piece, with a follow-up piece chock-full of great casual speculation targets.

Guo Heng Chin – Spikecatcher 

Guo knows how difficult it is to stay ahead of the market, and in this article he gives a few tips to make it easier on yourself.

Ross Lennon – The Coming Storm

At this point Modern Masters 2015 was just beginning to see spoilers, but Ross Lennon was already ahead of the game, prepping readers for the impact it would have.

Remember what I said about timely calls? This was published on May 1, and Ross included this tip:

At some point you have to expect Magus of the Moon to start climbing. That card was in one set, and that set wasFuture Sight, so it almost doesn’t even count. Plus, do you remember the 8-Moon decks? I sure do, they were sweet. I’m tempted to just buy a ton of magi right now for retail. 

On May 1, Magus of the Moon was $9. Today, it’s $19.

Guo Heng Chin – The Meta Report 

Part of an ongoing series, Guo looeds over the most recent results in the Standard metagame to keep readers updated and find the latest targets.

Danny Brown – Assessing the Risks of Speculating

It’s sometimes a dangerous game we play, and Danny does a great job in this piece detailing what those risks are and how to manage them.

Travis Allen – A first look at Modern Masters 2015

With the Modern Masters 2015 spoilers coming in quickly, Travis wrote a solid piece analyzing what the early movements looked like.

Ross Lennon – Silver and Cold

Part of an ongoing series, Ross Lennon looked back at Coldsnap to evaluate the set for any financial opportunity hidden in the Dark Depths of the set.

 

There you have it! A great set of articles, and just a small sampling of what you’ll have access to with a ProTrader membership. Thanks for taking the time to stick with us, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the unlocked content today!

 

– Corbin Hosler

Track your collection's value over time, see which cards moved the most, track wishlists, tradelists and more. Sign up at MTGPrice.com - it's free!

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Taking a Closer Look at Demand Sources

Imagine if Wizards of the Coast told us exactly how many packs of Dragons of Tarkir had been sold so far. We know how the cards are distributed, so with an accurate pack count, we could determine precisely how many Dragonlord Atarkas there are in the wild and compare that with the numbers for Fate Reforged and the amount of Monastery Mentors in existence. Armed with that info, it would be really easy to pinpoint where cards were in short supply and buy accordingly.

Unfortunately, Wizards does not publicize that information, or at least not very often. We get hints about proportions (“X is the best-selling set of all time!”) every so often, but ultimately, we’re left to determine supply based on anecdotal data and broad assumptions.

 

Sure, it’s pretty easy to say there’s a lot more Innistrad out in the wild than Lorwyn, but by how much? We don’t really know, and can’t with the amount of information we have at our disposal. And things get murkier when we start comparing recent sets. How does Dragons of Tarkir compare with Journey into Nyx? Or Dragon’s Maze? We can broadly assume that Dragon’s Maze was unpopular so there’s probably far fewer Voice of Resurgences out there than there are Dragonlord Ojutais, but it’s all guesstimating—we are just not in a position to know what the actual card counts are on these cards, or any cards for that matter.

So while the pattern over the last decade or so has been one of extreme growth (and thus ever-increasing amounts of supply), we know the proportions between set printings in only the broadest terms. Again using Dragon’s Maze as an example: we know it was an unpopular set, but we don’t have the numbers as to just how badly it actually performed. If we did, we might find that Voice of Resurgence is greatly over- or underpriced when we consider the actual number of copies out there.

Way back in 2013, Anthony Capece, a former writer for BrainstormBrewery.com, did some very important work for the community in shining a light on some of these supply issues. Those articles, “Rare is the New Uncommon” and “Size Matters,” should be required reading for every single MTG financier, so if you haven’t read them before (or even if it’s just been a while), click those links. They’ll open in a new tab and everything, so you don’t even have to stop reading here.

Anthony did some great investigative work to come to rough estimates on supply of new sets compared to old ones, but we still don’t have the exact numbers. However, just like Magic is a game of imperfect information, so is MTG finance, and our job is to take action based on the information that we do have available.

Courser of Kruphix versus Gilded Lotus

Let’s compare two very different but similarly priced (at time of writing) cards: Courser of Kruphix and Gilded Lotus.

courserofkruphix

Courser derives most of its value from Standard play, though that value is tapering off fast from a high of over $20 to the current price of $6. The card has seen a little bit of Modern action, as well, but doesn’t make the MTG Goldfish list of the top 50 creatures in the format. To top it off, Courser isn’t exactly undesirable in the most popular casual formats, Commander and Cube. 

Despite being good outside of Standard, most of Courser’s historic price comes from Standard demand, where it has been a complete staple and almost always a four-of. The price loss over the last several months is almost certainly attributable to the upcoming rotation, and we may still lose some more off the price by the time we lose Theros block from Standard.

gildedlotus

 

Alternatively, we have Gilded Lotus, which saw no Standard play after it was last reprinted in M13. The card derives all of its sharply increasing value from casual play, as there’s a copy in most cubes and in most Commander decks, but nary a single competitive deck wants something like this (cue someone linking to a Vintage deck that just needs to Tinker out Gilded Lotus for some reason).

Delving Into Hypotheticals

I love data, but unfortunately, we just don’t have enough of it to determine exactly why these cards are virtually the same price despite such different demand profiles.

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Hypothetically, let’s say the demand comes from the following:

Courser of Kruphix

  • 35% of Standard players need four copies of this card for a Standard deck (reasoning: MTG Goldfish cites Courser of Kruphix as being a 3.8-of in 35.94 percent of Standard decks).
  • 20% of Commander players need one copy for their decks (reasoning: this is good in any green deck, and theoretically, one-fifth of decks in Magic are of a particular color).
  • 90% of cubes need one copy (reasoning: some cubes have special restrictions, but this is good enough to warrant an include in most lists).
  • 5% of Modern players need or want to have available four copies for a Modern deck (reasoning: it’s hardly a staple in five-percent of decks, but some players need to have everything).
  • The Invisibles playing wild card.

Gilded Lotus

  • 90% of Commander players need one copy for their decks (reasoning: some aggressive decks might not want this, but it’s a colorless fixer that ramps to giant fatties and can go in literally any deck).
  • 90% of cubes need one copy (reasoning: some cubes have special restrictions, but this is good enough to warrant an include in most lists).
  • The Invisibles playing wild card.

Again, these are just numbers I pulled out of thin air—they’re here only for illustration’s sake.

If these numbers were accurate, do you think we could use them to determine the total number of active players in each format? I hope you’re saying no, because these numbers are not accounting for the mystery I discussed during the first part of this article: how many copies of each card is actually in existence.

We just can’t fill in enough of the variables to fully solve the equation. This is why no speculation target is ever 100-percent safe: we (the MTG community) do not have enough information to know for sure that there is or is not enough of one particular card to satisfy the demand from all players who might want one or more copies for whatever reason.

Using the Tools We Do Have

Still, I think the exercise of going through where a card’s demand is coming from can really help to streamline one’s thought process regarding a card one is considering buying. Several MTGPrice writers have (rightly) been harping on three major targets from Khans of Tarkir block, so let’s consider where the demand might come from for each of these moving forward.

Siege Rhino

I have not bought in to Siege Rhino, but the card is an extremely interesting case. Normally, a three-color card has very limited upside, as only a select few decks can play it, but we’ve seen Standard and Modern decks designed essentially because this card is powerful enough to warrant it.

Still, there’s pretty much a maximum of one deck in Standard and one deck in Modern that wants this card, and even if those comprise a huge part of each metagame, there’s not any cross-deck applicability to really keep Rhino’s price up.

Further adding to my concerns is that this isn’t going to be in hardly any Commander decks or cubes, given its limited upside in the 100-card battlecruiser format and the limited space for three-color cards in most custom drafting environments.

Just piling on to my concerns, it’s a rare from a large fall set, and if you read Anthony’s articles that I linked above, you’ll know why that’s bad.

In summary, when I started writing this section, I thought that Siege Rhino was a fine pickup (if not as good as others), but now that I’m finished, I don’t want to be buying into this at $4. Yes, it’s good enough to warrant decks designed around it, but the assumed supply is as high as cards get and its applicability is highly specific, despite its power level.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Tasigur, on the other hand, is awesome. Delve cards aren’t automatic four-ofs, but even if Tasigur only sees play as a three-of, he’s wanted in Legacy, Modern, Standard, Commander, and Cube, and has plenty of applicability in all kinds of decks from aggro to control.

Again, he suffers from being rare and not mythic, but in this case, we’re looking at a small set that didn’t sell for nearly as long as Siege Rhino’s Khans of Tarkir.

It’s easy to envision much more demand for Tasigur than for Siege Rhino, and it’s also fair to assume the supply is lower. Considering it’s already begun its ascent, the MTG finance community seems to agree.

See the Unwritten

See the Unwrittenon the other hand, has gone down since its initial surge in popularity in response to the announcement of Battle for Zendikar. It’s now just above $3, and it has a much different demand profile than Siege Rhino or Tasigur.

With See the Unwritten, we’re speculating not on current playability in Standard or eternal formats, but on future playability with the assumed Eldrazi coming in BFZ. Initially, this seems riskier than something like Siege Rhino, and maybe it is.

But I have bought in to See the Unwritten, unlike Siege Rhino. The reasons are three-fold:

  1. I strongly believe there will be Eldrazi in BFZ.
  2. The Standard Eldrazi deck might be good, but even if it’s not, this is a mythic and people will want to try out the deck.
  3. The card has enough applicability in Commander that I expect it to grow slowly over time regardless, so in the worst case, it becomes a long-term spec instead of a short-term one.

If See the Unwritten was a rare, I wouldn’t give it a second glance at this price, but mythics can do crazy things, as there’s far fewer of them compared to their rare counterparts. When observing exactly who might be demanding See the Unwritten, it has the smallest group of any of the cards I’ve discussed in this article, but the lower supply due to its mythic-ness makes me much more willing to take a risk on it. Remember, a strategy doesn’t have to be good for a spec to pay out.

In a Perfect World

In a perfect world, we would know the exact number of Siege Rhinos, Tasigurs, and See the Unwrittens in existence, and we would also know exactly how many active players each format has.

Of course, if we lived in that world, then presumably the market would adjust itself so that every card was perfectly priced and there were no speculation opportunities for anybody. Come to think about it, maybe that’s not such a perfect world after all…

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: A New World of Arbitrage

In recent weeks I’ve dwelt on general finance strategy as we navigate this turbulent Modern season. I suggested trading out of Modern staples as they spike and acquiring some higher end, safer MTG investments. I also touched upon my emotional rationale for abandoning Modern – at least in the short term – to move into a format I am more excited to play.

I had planned on writing an even more bearish article about Modern this week. In fact, I was planning on making the bold claim that Modern was at a local “top.” Prices are destined to fall from here, right?

Except that MTG Price writer Travis Allen already did this. Right here. For your convenience, here’s the excerpt I’m most interested in:

 “…while conventional wisdom seems to be that competitive seasons cause price movement, our evidence from last year doesn’t support that, and neither does the evidence this year. Last year, it seems that all of the spikes happened ahead of a GP, and then either remained stagnant or even fell after the fact. This year, we’ve seen a truckload of price spikes…

What’s our takeaway, then? Well, if history is any indiciation, it’s that we’re sitting at the top of the market right now. Modern staples will generally remain stagnant or even decrease in the next four months.”

YES. Very yes. I applaud Travis for sharing his bold and potentially unpopular opinion that Modern has topped. Frankly, I couldn’t agree more.

Now What?

Let’s assume you’ll consider what Travis has said, and that you’ll sell a lot of your recently inflated Modern staples. You know the ones I’m referring to: your $90 Snapcaster Mages, $50 Blood Moons, $15 Serum Visions, and $5 Lantern of Insights.

Visions

The decision to sell cards like these would generate a sizable cash position. So what do you do with all these newfound profits? Sitting on cash seems miserable, so there must be a better place to park resources right?

Well, you could try and acquire Modern staples which haven’t spiked yet. I can think of a few viable examples: consider Tendo Ice Bridge, which is already practically sold out across the internet (Disclaimer: I have 1 copy listed for sale at an artificially high price in case this spikes).

Tendo

Worldspine Wurm is another example. The card was a four-of next to Nourishing Shoal in the creative reconfiguration of the Goryo’s Vengeance strategy.  While Shoal went from $0.75 to $15, the Wurm barely moved a muscle. Guess which one is likely to have more casual appeal, by the way.

Wurm

Despite these and a few other ideas, I don’t believe Modern is where you want to invest your recent profits. Even if these ideas do move higher, they’ll be facing headwinds all summer as the format quiets down. Better opportunities exist. I can think of lower risk propositions with immediate upside potential. In fact I can think of a number of ways you could apply some capital and generate immediate returns even by buy listing, and it doesn’t require collection buying.

It’s All About the Benjamins

I enjoy relating MTG Finance to stock market investing. I detect many parallels between the two, despite some dissonant opinions amongst the community. At last, this knowledge may provide actionable benefit. It all relates back to the strong US Dollar.

Actually, strong is an understatement. CNBC icon Jim Cramer prefers to refer to our currency as the “Super Freakin’ Strong Dollar”. As ridiculous as that sounds, it’s probably a more accurate statement. Here’s why:

USD

Since mid-2013, the US Dollar has been on an absolute tear jumping in value by 15-20%. This, paired with recent weakness in the Euro, has led to some very favorable exchange rates for the arbitrage seeker.

The result: cards – especially high end cards – for sale in international markets are now more attractively priced. While the US Dollar has pulled back from its highs a few months ago, those in the U.S. still have a clear advantage.

I have a couple specific examples I can share.

First, if you have a friend you can trust in Europe then I’d highly encourage you to explore Magic Card Market (www.magiccardmarket.eu). Through a quick search, I readily found an arbitrage opportunity with Beta Scrublands.

Scrub

One seller has a NM copy listed at 599 euros ($680 USD). If truly Near Mint, Star City Games will buy that same card from you for $900. Card Kingdom would even pay $910. I’m confident there are many other opportunities on the site if you’re willing to spend some time searching. I’d recommend looking at other high end staples such as these.

Don’t have a friend in Europe? No problem! Today your US Dollar can purchase more Japanese Yen than any time since 2011!

Yen

The implications to this are huge, if you are willing to buy from Japanese vendors. The good news is many Japanese vendors will ship directly to the U.S. One site I would immediately trust is Saito’s digital store front, http://www.hareruyamtg.com/en/.

Again I would recommend browsing some high-end cards, though I suspect with the currency conversion so favorable there are numerous opportunities across all formats. Through a recent search, I found a sweet arbitrage opportunity:

Lions

Using the exchange rate Hareruya generously provides, you can purchase an Alpha Savannah Lions for $123 + shipping. Channel Fireball is paying $125 for the same card, and Card Kingdom is paying even more: $135. In this particular example no immediate opportunity exists. Shipping will cause this deal to fall short of immediate profit (though I have requested scans of the card – it truly looks Near Mint). But there is a right to succeed here. I know of a few other solid opportunities on this same site by simply running searches. Putting together a larger purchase could help you overcome shipping costs, enabling arbitrage or, at the very least, very good deals!

Final Thoughts on Arbitrage

I must acknowledge this article is highly geared toward the US investor. In reality, there are opportunities for everyone to get involved. People in Europe can engage with those in the U.S. to help identify opportunities in the European market. The same goes for those in Asia who have access to the Japanese market. We can all work together and benefit from the gap that exists across continents.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly touch on the risks associated with this endeavor. Shipping costs and condition are a huge factor – it’s not cheap to move cards over oceans, especially in quantity. And although a picture is worth a thousand words, it could also cost you a thousand dollars if it’s not high enough quality, causing you to mis-grade a card before buying. There are also currency conversion fees you need to consider. These are all powerful reasons for why opportunities are still aplenty. The risk is sizable and real. But so are the opportunities.

And if international deals aren’t your forte, consider some local “arbitrage” opportunities. High end cards can be very difficult to price correctly if you’re not heavily involved in this space. By searching one of the billion MTG Facebook groups, you may come across a steal.

FB

A friend directed me to a particular Facebook group focused solely on “sick deals”. That’s right – you can’t list a card for sale in that group unless you’re at least 10% below eBay / TCG low pricing.

sick deals

If you don’t like international orders and you don’t like Facebook, I have one last idea of how you can find attractive deals. I have one word for you: misspellings.

Check out the website www.fatfingers.co.uk. This website allows you to search every country’s eBay site for common misspellings of eBay listings. I was skeptical at first, until I tried it out. Believe me when I say, this site works.

Taiga

These Taiga prices may not be the most attractive, especially given their poor condition, but the proof of concept is still there. Notice how both these listings currently have 0 bids? That’s probably because only a handful of people have actually seen these listings. If nothing else, the site can be very entertaining – you’d be amazed at the many ways some of these Magic cards can be misspelled!

Wrapping It Up

With spring’s Modern GP behind us, perhaps we are once again seeing a peak in Modern staples. If this is true, the time to sell could be right now. I have been moving out of Modern very actively in recent weeks, putting my money into older, more stable cards. If history repeats itself, we could see a price bump on stuff like Dual Lands and Legacy staples later this summer or early fall. And even if we don’t see a sudden spike, these are still very solid cards to park your money. You could do much worse with your recent profits.

If you feel like trying something new, give a gander to the websites I mentioned above. The strong US Dollar can drive some very attractive deals on international sites – especially in Europe and Japan where currencies are particularly weak. While I haven’t pulled the trigger just yet on these opportunities, I have been watching them closely in recent weeks. Once I accrue some additional capital I just may make my move.

Just proceed cautiously, as there are risks associated with buying internationally. Fortunately those risks can be reduced by placing larger purchases to overcome shipping costs, and asking for card scans before buying. Using common sense, you should be able to navigate the pitfalls of international buying, leading you to profitable arbitrage opportunities. At the very least, consider international shops (even just north of us in Canada) when looking for attractive prices driven by currency exchange.

And if you insist on staying domestic, give the Facebook groups a try. You never know what deals you may discover.

Sig’s Quick Hits

  • I’m not kidding when I say Tendo Ice Bridge is all but sold out on the internet. I see 3 copies on TCG Player and a couple on eBay and not much else. Star City Games is currently sold out at $5.85 but I suspect they’ll relist higher when they do get more copies in stock.
  • Wurmcoil Engine’s price took a hit when it appeared in a Commander product. But since bottoming out last winter, the artifact creature has steadily risen. Star City Games is sold out of nonfoil copies of the card. That $15.35 price tag could approach $20 before the summer is over, especially if Tron remains popular in Modern.
  • I’m going to go out on a limb here. A while back I noticed SCG was frequently sold out of Power. Every time they would get a Mox in, the card would sold quickly thereafter. Then Star City Games shook the entire Power 9 market by bumping their buy prices up significantly. Since then Power has stuck at a much higher price than before. I’m noticing a very similar trend on A/B Dual Lands. They have almost none in stock, despite their already aggressive buy prices. It would not surprise me to see them move the entire market on A/B Duals in the next 6 months should this trend continue.
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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Player Finance – Tournament Finance 101

Today’s article is going to be the first in a series of semi-related subjects. The theme of the next few weeks is something that gets kind of lost in talks about Magic finance: how to weigh decisions and opportunities as a Magic player, and not just as a finance person. Today, the subject is going to be making the best financial decisions regarding tournaments.

 

The best example of what I mean is taken from a recent tournament experience that I had with a friend of mine. The two of us were going to attend a TCGplayer Platinum event (a Standard 1K, but it also gave out playmats and points down to top 16) that was being held in Orlando. That’s a little bit of a drive, so I got up pretty early to make sure I was packed and able to eat a decent breakfast. My buddy texted me at 8:00 a.m., half an hour before I was supposed to pick him up, to tell me that there was a Modern PPTQ being held much closer to home later that day. I’m not sure how I was able to develop my response so quickly, but it was (verbatim), “I’d rather pay $30 and win cash than pay $25 and win Dragons of Tarkir packs.”

Choose Wisely

There are a lot of Magic tournaments happening on a lot of different levels in the US right now. While central Florida has always had a strong Magic offering, even in the game’s lean years, it has never been as popular as it is today. This creates the situation of occasionally having to decide which tournament is worth attending. Even if you are not a competitive player and are only looking for trades, the following breakdown should have a lot of information to consider. The type of tournament can often tell you a lot about the other people that will be in attendance, which is a good predictor of whether or not you will find desirable trading partners.

First, what type of tournament is it? This is the most obvious question to ask, but you have to make sure that you unpack the answer fully. Obviously a Legacy and Vintage tournament is going to draw some high-rollers with big collections, but if it is scheduled against a large Standard tournament down the street, it may not even fire off.

More important than the format (because that stuff you can probably figure out on your own) is determining who is involved in running the event. Take the example I discussed up top: my choices were a Standard cash tournament (backed by TCGplayer) or a PPTQ (which is run solely by a local store with the PTQ invite coming from WOTC). In order for a store or event organizer to run a TCGplayer tournament, it has to buy a package from the company and adhere to the rules set forth (the same is true of SCG events). The TCGplayer Platinum event only had 20 players, but because TCGplayer mandates that any tournament run in its name always honor the advertised payout, the tournament organizers couldn’t flake out at the last second (although I’ve seen some try). This means that the TO is required to give out the full $1,000 plus the playmats, points, and other crap that they promised it would, or risk never being allowed to do another one again (although, with only 20 people showing up, that may not be a bad thing).

knightofobligation

The PPTQ, on the other hand, had over 50 players, crammed into a much smaller location (needless to say, we were extremely lucky we picked the event we did). The PPTQ tournament organizer didn’t have to pay the upfront cost of a “tournament package,” nor was he beholden to any guaranteed prize support beyond the PTQ invite (which is of no cost to the TO). Both tournaments cost $30, but the winner of the 1K got a guaranteed $400, while the winner of the PPTQ got a box of Modern Masters 2015 and the chance to play in an even larger tournament to make the Pro Tour. If we can assume the price of a Modern Masters box is $200 to $225 (which is what most are clearing for on eBay), then the invitation needs to be worth roughly $200 for the tournaments to have equal payouts (the invite, to be fair, does include that Liliana promo; also, I am ignoring the potential of selling the playmat and point cards for the 1K winner). And while I don’t have written confirmation of what the prizes for second to eighth place were for the PPTQ, what I’ve heard anecdotally doesn’t stack favorably against the payout from the 1K. Also, apparently the AC broke at one point (which is not a good thing to happen to a room filled with Magic players in June in Florida).

In all honesty, I knew that the cash tournament would likely be pretty small, but I didn’t expect it to be less than half the size of the PPTQ (which I did expect to be at least somewhat larger). The cash tournament, as part of TCGplayer’s package, was advertised on the front page of TCGplayer, and got mentioned in some of the constant contact emails that TCGplayer sends to Florida subscribers. Beyond that, in order to know anything about the event, you had to follow the organizer (a small game store outside of Orlando) on Facebook. When TCGplayer offers advertising in its packages, many game stores, especially those who don’t have a large presence in the greater community, just assume that they are paying someone else to do the hard part for them. The truth is, most people don’t bother to read the constant contact emails, or they have tuned out the tournament feed on the right side of the TCGplayer website since it works as basically a cork board for the entire US.

overabundance

The PPTQ system, on the other hand, is not advertised in the same way, but has the stronger backing of the Wizards website (which isn’t very good, but it has more reach). Since PPTQs are more “official,” and the PPTQ system is very important to players right now, they are more likely to seek them out. Because the current PPTQ system only offers a PTQ invite to the winner, there are a subset of competitive players who will seek out and play in every PPTQ possible, hoping to take one down. Whereas cash tournaments once supplemented a yearly schedule in between PTQs, now PPTQs are often held in competition with each other or one-of cash events.

So far, it seems as though players are valuing PPTQs extremely highly, likely due to their inherent scarcity and the idea that they have variable difficulty. A lot of people end up thinking that if a store that they’ve never heard of is holding a PPTQ, then it will be smaller and therefore easier to win—except that it appears as though they are going to draw a crowd regardless. The only PPTQ I’ve played in was a few months back, in a store with a small local crowd, and they were turning people away the day of.

This is another big factor to consider: is the tournament being held outside of the store’s physical location? PPTQs, especially those being run by stores without a lot of non-FNM tournament experience, are reaching the point where they often include a friendly visit from the fire marshal. The PPTQ the other week had 52 players in a somewhat small store, whereas the 1K was at a hotel (there was also a comic and toy convention the same weekend). The 1K, in addition to the package price that the TO paid TCGplayer, had to pay rent for the space for the day.

ambitionscost

When tournament organizers have to pay rent, they usually let other people help, and this means that there was vendor space available! Yes, the twenty-player, cash tournament had two vendor booths (the store hosting the event plus one other). Vendor booths are a delight unto themselves, and if you know the store doing the vending, you can typically play to its strengths. I knew the alternate vendor at the event (I have a friend who works there, although he wasn’t present at the tournament), so I was able to unload a lot of Standard stuff I didn’t want into a Taiga and an Ali from Cairo1. Most stores are not going to have the space to have a second vendor come in, even if they wanted to (and they don’t), so this cooperation is something you’ll only experience when a TO is shelling out a couple grand in rent for a day.

I’ve only played in one PPTQ so far, and my guess is that the quality trends overall with the quality of the store and its tournament history. I’ve read some horror stories about events being understaffed, although now that local stores aren’t hosting actual PTQs, those stories have seemed less severe.

A Little Self-Examination

Ultimately, you need to make the decision that best compliments your goals. If you want to play on the Pro Tour, then you need to play in a lot of PPTQs (and probably a healthy amount of Grands Prix, if we are being realistic)—there is no other way to get there.

But if you are like me, then you typically want to maximize your tournament opportunities. I don’t play in Magic tournaments every weekend, so when I get the opportunity to, I like to play in the one with the single biggest impact. Look at the value of first place compared to the value of eighth place, and then try to figure out what a top eight split would most likely be. This is the primary reason I am down on PPTQs: the most important part of the payout cannot be split eight ways.

The Star City Games IQ tournaments, by contrast, have fixed this problem by introducing a point structure into the mix. I’d like to see WOTC adopt this technology for the PPTQ system, but the company has publicly stated that it doesn’t want Pro Tours to be too big, which is a problem SCG doesn’t need to consider for its Invitationals. The IQ tournaments also have a guaranteed cash payout. Any time a tournament is giving out cash, it is nice to know that there is another name (SCG or TCGplayer) behind the TO making sure things go off without any snags.

Small Tournaments, Ranked

My personal hierarchy of (small) tournaments is as follows:

  1. TCGplayer 5K (Diamond)
  2. SCG Premier and Elite IQ (5k and 3k, respectively)
  3. TCGplayer 1k (Platinum)
  4. SCG IQ (the other tiers)
  5. Not play Magic and have a lovely family game night
  6. Money Draft with friends
  7. Money Draft with enemies
  8. PPTQ (Standard)
  9. PPTQ (Sealed) – because nobody would show up!
  10. PPTQ (Modern) – because everybody would show up!
  11. Do that thing with my hand and a knife from Alien
  12. SCG Open Trial
  13. Grand Prix Trial
  14. Throwing my cards into the sea while somberly reflecting on life’s pains and sorrows
  15. SCG Game Night

Closing Thoughts

It’s quickly worth mentioning that while the SCG IQ events have a pretty high value, the Open Trials and Game Nights are basically playing slot machines that pay out in playmats or animal-themed trinkets. I never calculate the “value” of a playmat into my expectations of a tournament result, because so many of them are hard to move (this is because the tournament package mats have a higher distribution and less importance than one-off playmats, like GP mats).

TCGplayer points sell well because they can be used for byes in events, they can buy you into the big invitational that just happened, or you can get, like, Frank Lepore’s autograph. The typical value is 1.5 to twice the point value of the card, but sometimes you can negotiate for less. Then again, on the day of a 5K, I’ve seen people pay three times or higher.

Hopefully you enjoyed this first installment on tournament and player finance! And as always, if you know somebody who wants to buy a pile of ugly playmats, point them my way.

1 I blame Sigmund for making me want to buy old stuff.

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