Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Meta Report

By Guo Heng

Hello and welcome to the first instalment of The Meta Report, a weekly column dedicated to tracking the evolution of the metagame and its financial impact.

Every week, this column would crunch the numbers for both Magic Online and paper (which shall henceforth be referred to as ‘in real life’ or ‘IRL’) tournaments to observe the shift in the metagame and highlight emergent archetypes their potential financial impact. The goal of this column is to make it easy you keep a finger on the beating pulse of the Standard metagame by amassing tournament results over the past week in a single article.

We may be living in another golden age of Standard. Since Dragons of Tarkir were injected into the metagame, we have seen a diverse set of viable competitive archetypes and as of last weekend, we are still seeing new twists on existing archetypes.

The Metagame for 25 April – 1 May

This week’s The Meta Report will only analyse data from IRL tournaments. The first set of RPTQs took place last weekend, and counting the StarCityGames Open held at Cleveland, we have a whooping 248 top 8 decks to sift through to find the pulse of Standard, as the table below shows.

 Total (Archetype)
Esper Dragons54
Mono Red52
Abzan Aggro29
Abzan Control/Midrange19
Ojutai Bant Megamorph16
RG Dragons11
Abzan Megamorph9
Sidisi Megamorph Whip6
GW Megamorph Company6
Jeskai Tokens4
Jeskai Aggro3
Abzan Rally3
GW Devotion3
GR Devotion3
Bant Heroic3
Chromantiflayer2
GW Devotion (Megamorph)2
Temur Dragons2
Abzan Whip2
RB Dragons2
GR Bees2
UW Midrange1
Mardu Planeswalkers1
Abzan Atarka1
Mardu Midrange1
UB Dragons1
Mardu Aggro1
Temur Midrange1
Temur Control1
UB Control1
Naya Dragons1
Mono Blue Dragon Control1
Sidisi Whip1
BG Megamorph1
UG Megamorph Company1
Jeskai Dragons1

Esper Dragons remained the most played deck, making up of 22% of the decks that made top 8 at the RPTQs. Most lists stayed close to the stock list that Alexander Hayne took down Grand Prix Krakow with. Esper Dragons was one of the best performing decks in the Standard portion of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa touted it as one of of the best deck he has played at a Pro Tour for a very long time. It is unsurprising that Esper Dragons still was the most played deck at the RPTQs even though the deck’s worse matchup was the second most popular deck last weekend.

Right at the heels of Esper Dragons was Mono Red, with 21% of the top 8 decks being Mono Red. It is unusual to see this level of Mono Red saturation at a medium-to-high level competitive event. Perhaps Mono Red’s success hinged on the fact that its natural prey, Esper Dragons, was the most played deck.

At 12% of the top 8 metagame, the third most played deck in the top 8 of the RPTQs was Abzan Aggro, a deck that mostly resembled its pre-Dragons of Tarkir form save for the addition of Dromoka’s Command. Abzan Control occupied 8% of the top 8 metagame as the fourth most played deck.

Ojutai Bant Megamorph, a deck which Craig Wescoe piloted to an impressive 8-2 finish at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir three weeks back and which Sam Pardee made the top 8 of Grand Prix Krakow with two weekends ago, was the fifth most played deck in the top 8 of the RPTQs, comprising of 6% of the top 8 metagame. I have added ‘Megamorph’ to the deck’s name as it birthed the synergy that was assimilated into multiple existing archetypes.

The Megamorphs

The RPTQs saw a number of existing archetypes slotting in four Deathmist Raptor and three to four Den Protector to exploit their synergy which was first found in Ojutai Bant Megamorph. Abzan Aggro builds incorporating the Megamorph synergy (called Abzan Megamorph) was the 7th most prevalent deck at the RPTQs. The Sidisi Whip decks that were dominating prior to Fate Reforged‘s release also absorbed Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor and those builds performed better than non-Megamorph Sidisi Whip builds at the RPTQs. Last week also saw Green-White Aggro decks adopting the Megamorph synergy.

There is a good chance we would see an increase in the number of decks running the Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector ‘combo’ this week. Their synergy imbues green-based decks with added resiliency against Esper Dragons, the most popular deck, and green-based decks have a good matchup against Mono Red, the second most prevalent deck.

The raptor was flattened again and again, yet it came back to life incessantly.
The raptor was flattened again and again, yet it came back to life incessantly.

As of writing, Deathmist Raptor is the second most expensive Dragons of Tarkir card on Magic Online, which speaks volume about the popularity of the Megamorph synergy in the online metagame. The online metagame could be a precursor to what we are going to see this week.

Deathmist Raptor has a relatively low spread of 37%, indicating that the demand for Deathmist Raptor is strong and we are unlikely to see Deathmist Raptor’s price drop in the short run. There is a possibility that Deathmist Raptor could increase in price. My call for Deathmist Raptor is a hold.

They live in dens?
The Temur lives in dens?

Den Protector, the other half of the synergy, spiked during Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir and her price remained high presumably on the back of the Megamorph synergy’s increasing popularity. With a 48% spread, I do not think Den Protector will be able to protect her current price above $5 for long even if the Megamorph synergy becomes widespread. Dragons of Tarkir redemption is about to hit the market in a week or two (Dragons of Tarkir redemption starts 6 May), bumping up the set’s supply and rares rarely hold their price against such force. My call for Den Protector is a solid sell.

Warden of the North Abzan

Is he guarding a Weirwood tree?
First tree as in Weirwood tree?

Warden of the First Tree is a mythic from a small set that has been seeing play in multiple copies in Abzan Aggro builds, but he commands a price tag of just $4.52, even though Abzan Aggro was the third most played deck in the RPTQ top 8s last weekend. I am tempted to say that he is undervalued at the moment, but we have yet to hit peak supply for Fate Reforged, and his 54% spread indicates otherwise. Perhaps the fact that the Warden only has one home at the moment severely limits his demand. I am giving the Warden a hold call.

Speaking of Abzan, the RPTQs saw a small number of Abzan Rally, a graveyard-based deck that aims to populate its graveyard as fast as possible before casting a Rally the Ancestors to bring back Siege Rhinos and Gray Merchant of Asphodels for a game-ending life swing. Abzan Rally is pretty much Dredge in the current Standard, where there is a surprising lack of graveyard hate despite the number of graveyard-reliant strategies.

Can its price rally from bulk?
Can its price rally from bulk?

Rally the Ancestors is bulk and most vendors are not even buying it. Three Abzan Rally decks made the top 8 of the RPTQs in three different mid-sized RPTQs (55 – 75 players), although none of them made it to the semifinals. I do not know what are the odds of Abzan Rally breaking into tier one, as I have only played against that deck once (I lost), but it may be worth picking up a couple of Rally the Ancestors as throw-ins to your trades. I am not even sure if I would buy them. I am giving Rally the Ancestors a ‘trade throw-in’ call.

Time to Collect?

Are you collecting these?
Are you collecting these yet?

Collected Company was one of the most hyped-up Dragons of Tarkir rares to the point where it drove up the price of Congregation at Dawn fourfold, on the speculation that Collected Company could combo with Congregation at Dawn in Modern (fellow MTGPrice writer, Derek Madlem took that combo for a spin and apparently it was clunky bad).

It turns out that Standard may be the more suitable home for Collected Company. Seven Collected Company aggro decks (six Green-White, one Green-Blue) made the top 8 of last weekend’s RPTQs and six of them qualified their pilots for the Pro Tour.

After Hall of Famer Bram Snapvangers went 8-2 in the constructed portion of the Pro Tour with a Green-White Aggro build sporting four mainboard Collected Company, Collected Company made no appearance in IRL events until last weekend. Connor Bowman’s Abzan Aggro which finished in the top 8 of StarCityGames Cleveland ran four Collected Company in the main. And of course, the seven Green-based aggro decks that made top 8 of the RPTQs as mentioned above.

There is a good chance that the Standard metagame would shift towards Collected Company decks in the following weeks. Collected Company is terrific against Esper Dragons, creating you an instant board position after a board wipe. Green-based aggro decks have a good matchup against Mono Red on the virtue of having larger low-curve creatures. Best of all decks running Collected Company could assimilate the Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector synergy.

Collected Company’s price has been stubbornly remaining at the high end of $4 since Dragons of Tarkir’s release. Collected Company currently has a 47% spread, and with redemption hitting in a I am not sure how much more growth Collected Company could see. Unlike Den Protector, I would hold on to my Collected Company right now. While the synergy between Collected Company and Congregation at Dawn is too clunky, Collected Company has been seeing some play in Modern. It was found as a playset in a Melira deck which made top 8 of a 106-player tournament and Modern Zoo has been experimenting with it.

Deathmist Raptor, Den Protector and Collected Company are cards that are exceedingly well positioned in the meta at the moment, and there is a good chance that next week’s metagame would contain more copies of those cards.


 
 

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Coming Storm

A quick bit of house-keeping at the top of today’s article: as you may have noticed, I’m on the ProTrader side of the site. Overall, my writing is going to stay the same, but I’m going to limit explanations of common terms and avoid rehashing the basics as much. If you ever have a question about something I write about, reach out on the forums or in the comments—I have really enjoyed the great feedback and discussion I’ve gotten from y’all so far. Also, I’m going to try my best to keep the parallels to football to a minimum, but sometimes they work, so let’s just try and meet somewhere in the middle on that. And now, onto your regularly scheduled programming.

“We are less than a month away from Modern Masters 2”

I seriously have to tell myself that sometimes, because it really seems absurd. The accelerated release schedule that we’ve had is probably the first time where I’ve felt like things are coming out too fast. Dragons of Tarkir has been out for a little over a month, and most of us are only now realizing what a great set it is (let’s come back to this another week, though).

Realize that, three months from today, two new Magic sets will have been released. It’s unheard of.

Of course, Wizards is well aware of the potential danger of product fatigue—the company has managed to avoid it for over two decades at this point, but I definitely think they are wading into deeper waters. The solution, at this point, is branding. Modern Masters 2015, like its predecessor, is not intended for newer or younger players. Per Aaron Forsythe’s article on the release of MM1:

“And third, we hope the price difference keeps the product out of the wrong hands. The set will not be Standard legal—I repeat, the set will not be Standard legal—and we don’t want newer players picking these up by mistake thinking they can use them at, say, Friday Night Magic. The higher price should give them pause and make sure that players that know exactly what they’re buying are the ones getting them.”

One of the great things about Wizards is that so many of their choices and decisions, even at a corporate level, are informed by context and “getting” their audience. There are a lot of valid reasons for pricing Modern Masters sets like they have, and some of them are things they can’t really spell out on the mothership (WOTC really doesn’t like talking publicly about the secondary market).

I hate this reasoning though—it’s like making Hello Kitty wine and saying that kids won’t want it, because they know the legal drinking age is 21. My LGS has a very casual and very young base, but they all drool over the Modern Masters boxes we have behind the counter. Magic, as a forward-facing product that is the subsidiary of a humongous toy corporation, is always trying to keep its #brand fresh by changing how it looks every year. Right now it’s Dragon World, before it was Greek World, and a couple of times it was Robot World (we won’t talk about the year that it was “Silk Button-Down Anime Shirt World”).

The problem is that for the overwhelming majority of Magic’s audience, the brand isn’t defined by who or what is pictured on the packs this month, it’s by the allure of owning really good cards. Tarmogoyf is one of the most constantly talked about cards ever, on the level of Black Lotus and the best Jace. Want to own a Tarmogoyf of your own? Well, you can always try your luck at Modern Masters.

I say all of that to illustrate that WOTC’s branding of Modern Masters seems to imply that demand will only be from a segment of the community. Here is, in actuality, a highly scientific chart illustrating the demand for this product:

mmdemand

There is going to be a lot of demand for this product, across a very wide spectrum of players. Those who can afford to buy sealed product are going to do so, but that number is likely to be a small percentage of the players you typically interact with. In the short term, I expect a lot of players to be looking to convert their extra standard and EDH stock into Modern Masters. If you are looking for a sneaky good opportunity to get in on things like Khans fetch lands or other standard-legal targets, it may be coming up. If you plan on getting into sealed product, consider having a box of packs that you trade out, especially if you are able to get in at the $200 to $225 range. A lot of players are going to want to get those packs, but taking a sure thing in trade is always going to be the winning side.

I also want to talk about what is in the set, because as of now (Wednesday), we are starting to get credible information and spoilers. Most recently, Spellskite was added, and Splinter Twin, first suspected to be a mythic, was downgraded to rare. I expect that we will start to get official WOTC spoilers soon, and that we will know the full set long before it gets published officially. There was a big leak over the weekend, which featured the (original) Command cycle, Goblin Guide, Noble Heirarch, and several other high-profile cards (in addition to the aforementioned Splinter Twin).

noblehierarch

On Monday morning, at least a full day after the leak went viral, I had a friend ask if now was the time to move his set of Noble Hierarchs (which he does not currently use, so it is not impacting his ability to play). I told him no, because the best time has likely already passed. At this point, the smartest move is to wait until Magic Origins: if the supply of MM2 has dried up, then prices will start to rise like last time, and he’ll come out as well as he would have (if not better) than selling them before the leak. If you have anything you are considering selling that falls in the range of “potentially in Modern Masters 2,” my best recommendation for right now is to wait. I think most vendors are going to be very conservative on buying until we know the full set, and once something is for sure not in, the price will likely see a small, quick uptick. Anything that is spoiled for MM2 will likely see a short dip, followed by whatever impact MM2 will have on the market.

My personal expectation is that there will likely be “enough” MM2. The print run on MM1 was small, and was made even smaller by distributors stashing away cases. I think the two-pronged solution of more product plus a higher MSRP (which also means “higher wholesale cost”) will prevent distributors from holding onto as much as they did last time, so a higher percentage of the total print run will hit the market. A lot of packs are going to be shipped out in anticipation of the massive bacchanal sealed GPs that will be happening the following weekend, but I suspect that that is merely in addition to the print run, not a portion of it. WOTC wants to make sure that people feel like they had the chance to get some, without devaluing the product so much (in either price or allure) that they can’t swing Modern Masters 2017 in two years. Things like Serum Visions will plummet back to earth, but the cards like Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf will stay elusive enough to make people clamor for future printings.

bacchanals

Some quick Modern Masters-themed hits to close us out:

  • In the arcana for the upcoming FNM promos, they said July and August will both be Modern staples in honor of MM2, even though the set will be released two months earlier. It doesn’t say specifically if Path to Exile (the first promo) will or will not be in the set. I could see it going either way.
  • Speaking of promos, I read that roughly 1,200 of the new Liliana promos were given out last weekend. If that number stays the same, it means less than 10,000 of them will be in existence at the end of the year. I don’t plan on trying to get my set until after the third round of RPTQs, when they will lose their allure.
  • Speaking of Liliana of the Veil, all of the cards “safe” from Modern Masters 2 (Innistrad, Return to Ravnica, etc.) are probably going to see a short-term surge, but will settle back after people realize that wasn’t a supply-driven spike, but rather opportunism. Stay away in the short term, unless you see something that you absolutely can’t live without that has stayed relatively static. Shout out to Jagster in the forums.
  • I’m excited to see what draft archetypes get included this time around!
  • It’s crazy that Blood Moon, a card that has been in Eight Edition, Ninth Edition, and freakin’ CHRONICLES is still $20. That would be a great include, but at some point you have to expect Magus of the Moon to start climbing. That card was in one set, and that set was Future 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. I also want to build Karstenbot again.
  • Profane Command is about to be reprinted for the actual hundredth time. That card gets no respect, no respect at all! Profane Command gets so little respect, American Airlines called, they thanked him for flying United!
  • We haven’t gotten official confirmation, but I don’t think there will be room for any of the Swords since the Eldrazi (and their Dust) will be taking over mythic slots. This means that there won’t be many good targets for Steelshaper’s Gift, which means the card could very likely not make it in MM2. If it’s not, I expect it to be the most expensive uncommon in Modern, unless I’m missing something super obvious. Also, I’m hoping for a Remand reprint.
  • People were clamoring after Splinter Twin got confirmed at rare that the Reddit leak was wrong, but the source had a lot of credibility from getting stuff right with MM1. If you don’t remember the old leaks (Ranc0red_Elf, et al), then it may sound like these leaks are just people throwing stuff against a wall to see what sticks, but there are a few sources with credible info. Getting rarity wrong is not a glaring error, especially since they are typically only dealing with limited information, and I’ve seen a lot of pictures where the set symbol could be either gold or orange. When you are reading spoiler info, try to get a sense of the poster’s pedigree, and if they have a high resolution, full frame picture of a new planeswalker with a crazy ability, assume it’s fake.
  • We are going to do another set review coming up soon like I did with Future Sight. I’m thinking Coldsnap, but if you have a favorite, let me know!

Thanks for reading my first ProTrader article! It was a pretty difficult topic to try and cover all at once, but I am more than happy to go over anything I may have skimmed in the comments. If you want to talk about any of this below, I’ll keep a close eye on the feed. Thanks, and I’ll see y’all next week!

Best,

Ross

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Spikecatcher

By Guo Heng

There is a singular interest we all share in mtgfinance regardless of our motivation for engaging in mtgfinance: catching price spikes before they happen. Today’s article covers the tools we could use to help us stay ahead of price spikes. This article aims to be a summary of the resources available to both beginners and experts alike to keep ahead of price spikes, and indeed most of these tools are used by seasoned financiers. Whether you a beginner or an old guard, I hope you would find a thing or two useful in this guide.

Before I go on, let me share with you how I got into mtgfinance.

Why I Mtgfinance

I started Magic way back during Urza’s Destiny when I was a kid. Back then it was all kitchen table Magic and I was playing with a bunch of hand-me-downs from a cousin and whatever junk cards my neighbour, who had a veritable collection, gave me. The only time I had to fog up cash from my allowance was to buy the first dragon I owned, a Two-Headed Dragon (yup, I had something for dragons since I was a kid) and the occasional booster pack.

My first foray into low-level competitive Magic took place during Mirrodin, when I was a teenager. I was playing FNMs on a weekly basis and I managed to throw together an Affinity deck using my measly savings. It sounds unbelievable today, but back in 2003, it was possible to build the best deck in the format without having to spend a fortune. Those were the days where the most expensive Standard chase rares were $10 – $15, before the advent of mythic rares and $40 staples.

I stopped Magic when I went to college. Unfortunately there was no Magic scene where I was studying. I started again during New Phyrexia, at the height of Caw-Blade’s dominance in the format and Jace, the Mind Sculptor became the first Standard-legal card to hit $100. Knowing that Jace and company were about to rotate out, I begrudgingly waited for Innistrad to come out before investing in a competitive deck. It turned out to be a prescient move as Jace and Stoneforge Mystic ended up getting banned in the summer, a few months before they were slated for rotation.

However, come Innistrad, it was still quite expensive to build a tier one deck. Liliana of the Veil hit $50 briefly when Blue-Black Control and Solar Flare became the tier one decks during the early months of Innistrad Standard, and they both ran multiple copies of Lily. I began grinding PTQs during this time and the only reason I could afford to run Blue-Black Control was the fact that I preordered my Snapcasters and Lilianas, which turned out to be one of the rare few times an impulsive decision save me money.

At the same time I started listening to a fledgling podcast, the first ever to focus specifically on mtgfinance, Brainstorm Brewery. Brainstorm Brewery got me hooked on mtgfinance and introduced to me a lot of important fundamentals in mtgfinance.

When the metagame shifted to Blue-White Delver, I was late to adopt that archetype as Geist of Saint Traft, who was a $15 card during the first few months of Innistrad Standard spiked to $25 after Dark Ascension came out and I was finding it hard to justify spending so much on a new archetype. I ended up playing second tier decks, which compromised my tournament results for a couple of months. I reluctantly pulled the trigger and obtained my playset of Geists when he dropped back to $20 in the summer.

One of the things I’ve learned from my first year of grinding the competitive circuit is that the best way to keep up with the ever-evolving Standard metagame is to apply a bit of mtgfinance prescience in acquiring Standard staples. Unless you have access to a deep wallet or a playgroup with a large card pool, the privilege of playing the best deck every week is going to cost an arm and a leg.

The reason I got into mtgfinance is this: I’m a Spike trying to catch competitive staples before they spike. My primary motivation in mtgfinance is to make sure I can play tier one decks as they emerge, or tune my deck to include the latest tech, without having to spend a fortune doing so. Making a bit of money on the side is the icing on the cake and most of my profits end up subsidizing more Magic.

The best way to catch cards before they spike is to identify undervalued cards. Gone are the days where price adjustment moved at such a glacial pace and you can grab cards at their old price a week after the card saw a breakout performance at a large tournament. Card prices are propagated at a speed much faster than the monthly InQuest price list update these days.

Today, in your quest to catch cards before they spike, there are a few tools you should not leave home without. The following are the resources that help me identify undervalued cards and stay ahead of price spikes:

  • The mtgfinance community
  • Spread
  • The Magic Online metagame

The MTGFinance Community

Keeping a finger on the pulse of the mtgfinance community is the most obvious one and I think most of you readers would already be doing this. Below is my reading list for mtgfinance and go-to resources for mtgfinance discussions.

First off are the financiers to follow on Twitter.

MTGPrice writers:

Other mtgfinance writers:

Listening to Brainstorm Brewery is a great way to keep up to date with the latest in mtgfinance. As a ProTrader, you get early access, so don’t skimp on the opportunity to hear the Brew crew’s pick of the week a day before everyone else finds out!

It is also worth checking out format-specific podcasts if you are interested financially in a particular format but do not have the time to engage in the format as much as you’d like to. I love EDH, and I play EDH when I have the time, but being the Spike I am, Standard always takes precedent as it is a PPTQ format. I am interested in the finances of EDH for two reasons: A) I would like to get my foils before they spike. B) Being the most popular casual format, EDH is an important factor to consider when evaluating a card’s long-term potential. The power of EDH-demand as a price driver should never be underestimated. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a contemporary example. Recently I have started to listen to The Command Zone and I’ve discovered that a number of cards which I have relegated as unplayable actually commands an interest in EDH.

Lastly, there are the forums. There are two mtgfinance-dedicated subreddits as of writing. The older one, r/mtgfinance is a compendium of articles and the newer one, r/mtgmarketwatch discusses individual cards.

And of course, the ProTrader private forums. If you have yet to check it out, the ProTrader forums is where you could find robust discussions about the latest card trends, the latest financially relevant developments in metagame and tips to help you get cards on the cheap. More importantly, you can find most of us MTGPrice writers actively engaging in the ProTrader forums discussions.

Spread

A card’s spread provides us with a metric to evaluate a card’s future price trajectory in an objective, unbiased manner.  Spread is the percentage difference between a card’s fair trade price and its best buylist price. Spread is an indicator of market demand for a card: if stores are increasing their buylist price while the retail price of a card remains the same, it tells us that:

  1. The demand for the card is increasing.
  2. The card’s current retail price would not likely hold as vendors adjust their retail price to complement their increased buylist price.

Jared Yost wrote a good article on spread a while back and I would definitely recommend reading his article to a more detailed explanation on spread.

A card’s spread could help inform us about likely trajectory of a card. For example, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon‘s surprisingly low spread is a good indicator that we would unlikely see his price tank in the short-term, as Jared elaborated in his Fate Reforged spread review.

Of course, don’t make your decisions based on spread alone. There could be a multitude of factors affecting a card’s spread. Spread is an objective metric to help you decide if a card is undervalued or not on top of your subjective evaluation. For example, Sarkhan Unbroken has a ridiculously low spread of 26% as of writing. His fair trade price is $16.49 while his best buylist price is $12.21!

One of the convenience of using MTGPrice to check the price of singles is the ability to view the buylist price of major vendors in a single page. Upon closer inspection we can see that there is only one vendor who is buying Sarkhan Unbroken at $12.21 (though they are buying 20 copies) and that particular vendor only ramped up their buylist price today. Could it be due to Andrew Cuneo’s spicy Temur ramp list which debut yesterday at the Standard Super League? I would not pick-up my Sarkhan Unbroken yet, unless I see other stores follow suit. If other vendors start ramping up their buylist price for Sarkhan, and if I start seeing Cuneo’s Temur list pop up on Magic Online daily events, or this weekend’s StarCityGames, I would start securing my own copies of Sarkhan Unbroken (disclaimer: I don’t have any Sarkhans yet as I’ve been picking up the blue Dragonlords rather than planeswalkers prior to the overall price spike for Dragon of Tarkir).

Speaking of tournaments, the next resource I use to help inform my mtgfinance pick-ups is the Magic Online metagame. Before I go on to discuss using the Magic Online metagame as a tool to help you identify potential breakout cards, I would like to make a little note about using Magic Online trends to make paper decisions.

Magic Online Trends as Precursors to Paper Trends

Magic Online trends are potent precursors to paper trends during the first few weeks following a set’s release. Magic Online is a testing ground for grinders and pros so when there is increased demand for a particular card, there is good chance the demand would translate into paper Magic soon, when the deck breaks out in large paper tournaments.

Master of Waves started spiking on Magic Online a few days prior to Pro Tour Theros even though it saw no play in the StarCityGames Open during the first weekend of Theros‘ release. The only explanation I could come up with was that the price hike on Magic Online before the Pro Tour was driven by Pro Tour players testing Mono-Blue Devotion, which turned out to be the breakout deck of the Pro Tour. Likewise, Dragonlord Ojutai was the most expensive Dragons of Tarkir card on Magic Online for weeks, but paper Dragonlord Ojutai only overtook the price of Narset Transcendent this week on paper. It should have done so a while back as Narset was barely seeing play while multiple copies of Dragonlord Ojutai were played in both Esper Dragons and Ojutai Bant, two tier one decks in the current Standard metagame.

The weakness of using Magic Online trends as a predictor for paper trends is that Magic Online trends are driven primarily by competitive demand. And it works best only during the first few weeks following a set’s release, before the set’s supply on Magic Online gets bloated by Magic Online’s never-ending drafts.

I could be wrong, and Magic Online price movements could still be a reliable predictor even when the set is relatively mature. But I would need to look more into that, and in the mean time, I would err on the cautious side and only use Magic Online price trends only during the first weeks of a set’s Standard lifespan.

What I am interested in Magic Online however, is the metagame.

The Magic Online Metagame as a Precursor to the Paper Metagame

There are not many good things to be said about Magic Online, but one of them is that Magic Online allows us to peer slightly into the future of the evolving competitive metagame, courtesy of being the testing and practice ground for grinders and pros. The Magic Online impact on the evolution of the Standard metagame was so prevalent that Wizards restricted the publication of Magic Online daily event results to only one daily event per day in their efforts to slow down the rate at which Standard was getting solved. A few years back, we used to be able to see the results of every daily event that took place and there were (and still are) multiple daily events per day.

Whenever a new deck or a novel twist to an existing archetype finishes in the money (3-1 or 4-0) multiple times in Magic Online daily events, there is a good chance we could see it in an upcoming StarCityGames Open or Grand Prix. Larry Swasey took down a Magic Online PTQ with Jeskai Midrange before Mitchell Manders used the same deck to win Grand Prix Bilbao a week later and brought widespread attention to the archetype.

Keeping a close eye on the Magic Online metagame helps you identify emergent archetypes before they debut on paper. That may not translate into finding undervalued cards all the time, as new archetypes using different combinations of old cards would not drive prices.

However, sometimes you may stumble upon the next big thing before it becomes common knowledge. Right now, the most popular deck in the Modern daily events is Grixis Delver. The Modern metagame is not exactly at the forefront of the Magic community right now as the current PPTQ season is Standard and we do not have a major Modern event until Grand Prix Charlotte in mid-June. Grimes’ Delver runs three Tasigur, the Golden Fang. Tasigur is trending down at the moment. I have just completed my playsets of Tasigur last week. But I will be picking up more Tasigurs when Fate Reforged hits peak supply in late May, a month before we switch to the Modern PPTQs. The banana-king may return a profit sooner than I initially expected.


 

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Why I Love Casual Magic, and Why You Should, Too

Tell me, what do you consider the best spec right now?

Is it Rattleclaw Mystic? After all, the little thing could go nuts if Birds of Paradise isn’t reprinted.

Is it Abrupt Decay? It’s safe from Modern Masters 2015 and could easily go to $20 by this time next summer thanks to incoming product.

What about Flooded Strand or Polluted Delta? Both are great fetch lands, and will be around forever. Staying with Khans of Tarkir, what about Siege Rhino? Surely it’s bottomed.

All of those are good answers, and all of those are varying degrees of good specs. But they’re not the answer I came up with.

My money is on Phenax, God of Deception. Or Kruphix, God of Horizons.

kruphixgodofhorizons

In a Magic world full of Spikes, it’s Johnny that holds my heart.

The Table… You Know Which One

The mythical kitchen table. The place where epic battles are fought and technically terrible games of Magic are played. The place where no one cares about the latest tournament results or that Ulamog costs a million mana, because they will cast him, darn it.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re on the spikier side. By that, I mean you’ve played Friday Night Magic. You may have even played in a larger tournament, or at least watched the coverage of one. You know the value of your cards and you keep them carefully sleeved.

But the truth is, we are the minority. The majority of players who spend money on this game are more interested in the cards their buddy is playing against them at home than they are in what LSV is sleeving up at the latest major event. People come into my store all the time who have never played outside of their homes. They have no interest in showing up to a tournament—all they want to do is crush their friend’s angel deck at home.

But don’t make the mistake of equating “casual” with “cheap,” because that’s just not the case. In fact, I sell more cards to these “casuals” than I ever do to tournament players.

It’s no surprise, then, that I say I love casual Magic. And so should you.

Casual What?

Before we any further, what exactly defines a “casual” card?

There is no hard-and-fast answer to this question, to be honest. A lot of times people conflate “Commander card” with “casual card.” And while the reality is very different and so are the market ramifications, the truth is they behave similarly pricewise. They’re dirt-cheap when they’re in Standard and typically grow from there, following the opposite path of most newly printed cards. So while I’m not calling them the same thing in theory, the truth is there’s not much difference in reality, at least when it comes to our strategy on them. That said, I’ll let Jason’s series fill you in on the Commander targets, and I’ll take care of the casuals.

Keep in mind everything can be a “casual” card, from the gods I mentioned earlier (I like all of these in the long-term, but especially the two I mentioned since they’re from small sets and are cheap right now) to the random lifegain cards that pop up from time to time. But I’ve done what I can do present at least some general guidelines.

Mill

Archive Trap is nearly $5 and still rising, while Glimpse the Unthinkable is the poster child here at $25. Hell, even Memory Sluice, a random trash common, is 50 cents. These cards are played in zero competitive decks, but still hold their value.

The reason? People love their mill, man. It’s a terrible strategy, but it never goes away. I (gently) tried to explain to a player at FNM last week who tried to convince me that playing one copy of Mind Sculpt in his Magic 2015 flashback Sealed deck was a good idea because, hey, you could mill their good cards!

It doesn’t make sense, but whatever. Just roll with it, and grab those Increasing Confusions as throw-ins or out of bulk piles while you still can. The card has languished for the last two years but has shown a little growth this year, and history tells us it will be $4 to $5 eventually. Obviously you’re looking at a long-term mover here, but it costs you nothing to hoard some of these and forget about them in the spec box.

Angels/Dragons

Without a doubt, these are the two biggest tribes when it comes to casual players. I’ve had people come in and literally say, “I want to buy every angel you have.” In fact, his buddy was with him and then said, “I want all your dragons.” If I didn’t see these two guys with my own eyes, I would never have believed this type of person existed.

But we need look no further than Dragons of Tarkir to the proof of this. Dragons from all over have gone crazy this year, from Scion of the Ur-Dragon to seemingly-random stuff like Utvara Hellkite and Scourge of Valkas. If it’s a dragon, it rose in price this year, and that’s not an accident, nor is it a coincidence that Wizards always includes one or two of these in each set.

There’s a big dropoff after that, but vampires and hydras have also done well historically. Captivating Vampire is $7 despite being in an Intro Deck.

captivatingvampire

There’s one other tribe I have to mention: the little green men. It’s not at all surprising that Wizards stuffed the mono-green Commander deck last year full of elves like Immaculate Magistrate and Imperious Perfect. Even the thrice-printed Elvish Promenade is worth a few bucks. People like their elves.

Lords/Tribal Cards

As much as I wish I was talking about Lord of Atlantis, I’m only doing so in the general sense.

People like to build linear decks at the kitchen table, and often that means tribal. I’m no different: I have a sweet Tribal Treefolk deck that I bust out for 60-card casual rarely, and I love my $4 Dauntless Dourbarks and $8 Timber Protectors.

The reason cards like Timber Protector and Elvish Champion ($4 despite numerous printings) and the aforementioned Captivating Vampire speak to this phenomenon. I’m not saying stock up on Rageblood Shaman (remember when people thought this was a good idea? Ew), but I am saying that stuff like Sliver Hivelord and Sliver Hive are good bets to steadily rise long-term. And I’m absolutely in love with Haven of the Spirit Dragon once it settles down a bit in Standard and falls to $2 or so.

Okay… but Why?

I’ve named a lot of good casual specs so far in this article, but the more important question is… why? What makes them better than speculating on a Standard or Modern card? After all, when those go, they tend to go big.

A few reasons.

Safety

Like I said before, these are almost always cheap at some point. They offer a super low buy-in point, and as such if they go nowhere or are reprinted into oblivion, you’re not losing much. On the other hand, they typically represent very steady gains every year. I know people refer to original duals as the “blue chip stocks” of Magic, but solid casual specs fill that role just as well while also having the advantage of starting out as penny stocks.

Predictability

Casual cards aren’t subject to the whims of the tournament crowd. We’ve all made lots of solid spec calls on competitive cards that never panned out for whatever reason (yes, this is where you remind me of my 94 Splinterfrights). Rattleclaw Mystic, for instance, could be a great spec heading into rotation. On the other hand, if Birds of Paradise is reprinted in Magic: Origins, then the Mystic isn’t going anywhere.

Casual cards don’t behave like that. Haven of the Spirit Dragon isn’t going to be made obsolete any time soon. And even if something similar and maybe better did come along, people are likely just to play both. After all, they can play as many cards as they want in their decks, so why stop at 60 if you have more sweet cards?

Ease of acquisition

As I spoke to above, these cards are not hard to find. Tournament players literally give away these cards or leave them on draft tables. If you want to be the guy grabbing all the Increasing Confusions at your store, no one is going to stop you. You can get these as throw-ins all day long, and no one will care.

And this even works with the obvious ones. I was all over Chromatic Lantern the minute it was printed, and despite it being such an obvious call at $2 people still threw these at me all day long. As we know, Lantern is at an all-time high of nearly $7 and is showing no signs of slowing. And I have a giant stack of these acquired solely through trades. This is not a humble brag: it’s proof of concept. Even when these things seem “obvious” to those of who care about finance, the truth is most players just don’t care.

Buylist Value

This may be a bit more anecdotal, but some of my best experiences buylisting cards comes when those cards are casual ones. Outside of the flavor-of-the-week Standard card, dealers usually have plenty of stock of something. They don’t need another Siege Rhino from you right now, no matter how busted the card is.

But they may need those Timber Protectors or Chromatic Lanterns. After all, the most common way for dealers to buy cards is from players at tournaments, which by default usually means tournament players. Those same players who threw all the Lanterns at me years ago and who don’t have any now.

To get the cards the casual players want to buy from them, stores often pay more on casual staples than they do random competitive cards. This is my experience and is not based on any empirical data, but it’s also how I operate when I buy cards. I have much more confidence in paying a good price for an Asceticism ($7 retail) than I do for a $7 Standard card that may or may not sell and may or may not stay $7 for long.

Keep It Casual

I love casual Magic. You should, too. And before I go, I have a few casual cards I haven’t yet called attention to.

  • Akroma’s Memorial. The Magic 2013 version is at an all-time high of $12, and this was a $20 card before the reprint. It’s going to get there again.
  • Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is on a tear, and is almost $9. Again, we have what was a $20 card before a reprint. This has seen a lot of growth already this year so it’s not quite as attractive, but this is going to continue to climb.
  • Door of Destinies is at an all-time high of $3.50, and this will continue to climb back toward the $8 it was before the reprint.
  • Rise of the Dark Realms sits at $4.50 after some momentum, and as a mythic this one should rise at a faster clip than the others.
  • Gilded Lotus is also at an all-time high of $6.50 (noticing a theme of “casual reprints in core sets?”) and will be $10 within in a year.
  • Looking further ahead, Darksteel Forge has three printings and hasn’t shown much momentum this year, but it fits the exact same mold as Gilded Lotus, and Darksteel versions of this used to be $12.
  • Dragon Tempest and Dragonlord’s Servant are both on their way to bottoming out, and once they hit near-bulk status they become very good long-term players.
  • Adaptive Automaton is showing some steady progress over the past three months, and is likely due for a correction upward within the next year.

That’s a lot of picks, and truth be told I could go on. But then again, I love casual Magic.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter