The Greater Fool Theory

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“Jason” people are always asking me “why are your finance articles so boring and heady when your articles over on Quiet Speculation are so fun and so closely resemble fart jokes?” I honestly don’t know how to answer that. I suppose my goal with this series is to delve a bit into some of the things I’ve learned over the years and write a serious article series just to keep people guessing. After all, isn’t that the greatest possible fart joke there is?

Joking aside, I want to launch into a topic that may help you not end up making poor investments in the future. I think there are two types of speculators in the markets, and both are essential to the process. You want to be one of those kinds of speculators and the other kind you do not want to be. At all. Let’s name the two kinds up front and then talk finance.

The first kind of speculator we will call an “Initiator”. If that term sounds somewhat arbitrary I want to assure you that’s only because it is. It’s totally arbitrary. I have a great name for the other kind of speculator but I had to just wing it for this one. I hope it sticks. It certainly sounds cool – you want to be an “Initiator” don’t you? Sure you do. Initiators initiate things. They take initiative. You want to be both of those things.

The other kind of speculator has a few different names. One of them is “bagholder”. Is that equally evocative? I hope so- you don’t want to be a bagholder. Bagholders are trying to sell Master of Waves for $14 on TCG Player right now and no one wants them. Bagholders are pretty upset about this because they bought Master of Waves at $15 when it was on its way to $25 and they thought they were pretty slick. They saw the price going up and thought “hey, me too!” and now they’re struggling to only lose a dollar on the hottest card of last weekend. What happened?

Well, put simply, they didn’t take the initiative. There is a theory in economics that helps us know when to buy and when to sell a card like Master of Waves that seemed like it was on its way to $40 just one short week ago. It’s the eponymous “Greater Fool Theory”

On a market gone mad

A lot of people watched the coverage of Pro Tour Dublin and thought “Wow, that Mono-Blue devotion deck looks incredible”. Thassa shot up from $12 to $25 overnight. Nightveil Specter went from bulk to $5, and Tidebinder Mage shot up from $1 to $6 at its peak. Team Starcity was all over those cards and Starcitygames.com raised their prices. When that happened, all hell broke loose on the markets. There was a sudden run on those cards. Many stores cancelled or modified orders because they didn’t want to “lose” money selling into such a price disparity. They were perfectly happy getting $1 for Tidebinder Mage 24 hours earlier, but that’s another article. Master of Waves went from $5 to $10 to $15 to $20 to $25 some places in a ridiculous frenzy of buying over a 48 hour period. If you saw that they were $20 most places and $25 others, you were smart to buy in at $12-$15 if you could, right?

And since the prices were rocketing up so quickly that many sites didn’t have time to register the increments between $5 and $20, who on earth was selling at $12-$15?

Me.

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On history repeating itself

Let me explain. I watched coverage like everyone else, but while many saw the next Jund, I saw the next UW Geists. When Dark Ascension came out, Huntmaster of the Fells was not a card anyone was excited about. It seemed like a durdly werewolf that took a lot of effort to flip back and forth and it wasn’t obvious where the card fit in. At the first few events where the set was legal, the card started to prove that even a small amount of advantage in the form of a wolf and some life made the card worth playing, but at the Pro Tour, no one was talking about Huntmaster of the Fells because Jon Finkel had broken the format.

Finkel took third place with a Delver of Secrets deck that utilized Dungeon Geists, Drogskol Captain, Phantasmal Image and Lingering Souls. The Drogskol Captain kept them from being able to target your Phantasmal Image and kill it, so you could either copy their best creature or make a bunch of copies of Dungeon Geists and keep their creatures tapped forever. The deck was all anyone wanted to talk about. The prices for Phantasmal Image, Dungeon Geists and even Drogskol Captain went up precipitously.

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However, the deck would not rule Standard forever as everyone had anticipated. By early March, jund midrange and other Huntmaster decks were running roughshod and Delver decks took a different tack, dropping the durdly Dungeon Geists for more spells. A deck that took a PT by storm, was designed by Jon Finkel and looked invincible was nowhere to be seen.

It was with this in mind that I watched the coverage of Pro Tour Dublin and by Saturday morning, every copy of Nightveil Specter, Tidebinder Mage and Master of Waves I had were gone.

The greater fool theory

The greater fool theory is an economic theory that says, basically, that in a situation where the price of something is not driven by its actual intrinsic value (which isn’t $5 for Master of Waves but also isn’t $20) but by expectation and speculation, irrational buyers will set the price. Therefore irrational buyers will justify purchasing at a price that is above its likely intrinsic value by theorizing that someone even more irrational will come along and buy it from them. They are buying to sell to a greater fool than they are.

There is a problem with that. You’re taking a sure thing, like Master of Waves tripling and betting on something less sure, like Master of Waves quintupling. If you bought into Master of Waves around $5 (something I didn’t think was a good idea so all my copies came from packs) you had two choices. You could sell to a fool for $15 or hope to make $20.

However, fools had a much broader range of choices. They could buy in at $10 and hope their order wasn’t cancelled (good luck). They could buy in at $15 and hope to sell to a greater fool. They could buy in at $20 and try to trade them out at $20 when they arrived. They could stay out of it entirely, and if they had any $5 copies, they could hold onto them.

Why you sell at $15

Who is buying at $5 and $10? These are the Initiators. They either predicted the trend and bought at $5 or they saw the trend beginning and bought at $10. They took initiative in recognizing potential, and they initiated the precipitation of the price with their buying activity.

Now, the easy way to answer “Why do we sell at $15?” is to simply ask “Who is buying at $15?” Bagholders, that’s who! If people were able to sell at $15 that means people were buying at $15. Now, some of those were people intending to play with the cards, and in a sense they were kind of savvy since they bought the card before it hit $20 and therefore virtually made $5. But given the card’s eventual settling at $12, they virtually lost $3. The people who weren’t intending to play with the card and who bought in at $12-$15 thought they were being smart. You probably think they were being smart, too. After all, $25 wasn’t an unreasonable goal for the card and buying a $25 at $12 is 100% profit, right?

Not so fast. Let’s bring this all full circle. It may seem like those bagholders were buying into a guaranteed 100% profit, but they were in fact banking on being able to sell to a greater fool for $25. A spec is only worth what you can actually realize when you sell it, any other numbers are purely theoretical. If there aren’t enough greater fools buying the card at $25, did you actually realize a profit? Now, the fools who bought at $15 take less of a bath when the card maintains $20-$25, that’s true. But my analysis was that the Mono-Blue devotion deck was a deck, not the deck, and therefore the hysterical high point of $20 was likely very short-term. I realize I gambled, too, but I picked a wager where my worst case scenario was that I tripled up.

In summary, it’s sometimes best to sell a card like Master of Waves that you don’t feel is going to be able to maintain its peak price for long at a price point where you have all kinds of fools buying, both greater and lesser. Don’t speculate after a card has gone up a few times hoping that it will peak at a much higher price- to do so is to fall victim to the greater fool fallacy and to be left holding the bag.

  • A lot of people in the finance community are saying now is the time to buy Thoughtseize. I can’t agree. MODO redemption has not kicked in yet. MODO redemption is going to inject more copies into the market, diluting the supply. This will mitigate the demand for Thoughtseize in two ways. It will either lower the price or it will not be enough to bring it down. Injecting more copies is not going to ever bring the price up so you can only benefit by waiting. When the MODO redemption copies start to hit the market, if the price does not go down, buy. If it does, wait for it to go back up a smidge and then buy. You only benefit by waiting.
  • M14 is about to be completely forgotten. Redemptions have slowed and boosters are not selling as briskly. This may be the floor for Mutavault. More mono-colored decks means people can get ballsier with their manabases and Mutavault is seeing play. This is an eternal-playable card and this is the cheapest they’re likely to be, ever. A reprint is extremely unlikely.
  • I think the weapons are bad specs. Yes, I realized this after I bought a big pile of Hammer of Purphoros. Thanks for reminding me. Even as nutty as Bident is (in that one deck), it’s likely to be a 3-of max and more likely a 2-of. Couple that with it having been a giveaway card and the other weapons being in pre-cons and you have a recipe for price stagnation.

That’s all for this time. Join me next time where we’ll discuss the Keynesian Beauty Contest.

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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Modern Masters – Current Trends and Future Prospects

This week I would like to delve into a topic that I feel hasn’t been discussed much lately – Modern Masters.

History

Modern Masters was released June 7th of this year and was a special edition set similar to Chronicles. Unlike Chronicles, this time Wizards wanted to get it right and provide us with a set of all reprints without tanking the prices of the cards. The reprints chosen not only resulted in a great limited environment where players were eager to buy boxes to draft, but also released into the world more copies of Modern staples like Vendilion Clique, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and other powerful cards that are the backbone of the Modern format.

Chronicles had a much bigger impact on the game than many of us realize. Not all players may recall exactly what happened (or have been around for it), so I will try to lay out the basic events that helped shape many decisions Wizards would make regarding Modern Masters.

In 1995, Wizards was succeeding greatly with marketing and selling their Magic: The Gathering CCG product. They realized that a lot of newer players existed that wanted to be able to play with cards from the early releases on since 1993. Unfortunately, the print runs for the first sets were very small because Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast did not know if Magic would be a successful card game or not. In order to appeal to this ever growing market of the game, Wizards decided to release another set with a considerably larger print run.

Chronicles only appealed to newer players because it did not have cards such as Mana Drain, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Maze of Ith, or Mishra’s Workshop – imagine if it had! The price of these cards would be VERY different today if they had been included with Chronicles. They did not want to include Alpha or Beta cards with this release either – those sets were strictly for collectors who bought into the first run of the game and helped to get the game off the ground. Only specific cards from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, and The Dark were included.

Following Chronicles release, there was a huge backlash from collectors. The secondary market value of cards reprinted in Chronicles was severely impacted. Many of the cards saw their value drop 60%-90% because they were reprinted in such large quantities. This upset quite a few collectors who had accumulated a great deal of the original printings, and consequently saw the value of their collections dashed.

In order to prevent further PR disasters like this from happening in the future, and to placate collectors who had lost a great deal with the printing of Chronicles, Wizards released the now-infamous reserved list as a promise to never again print certain cards in later expansions or core sets. A few years ago, the loophole was closed when the policy was expanded to include never printing these cards in any shape or form that is tournament legal (promos, duel decks, archenemy, etc.) To this day, Wizards hasn’t shown any sign of changing the policy, with staunch promises from several high-level employees that the reserved list is here to stay.

A common opinion is that the reserve List is a mistake, as Legacy will never be able to grow with it in place. Unfortunately, Wizards as a company cannot abolish the reserved list. There are many within the company’s walls that would like to change or remove it altogether, but their hands are tied.

Wizards created the Modern format as a panacea, which is free from the tyranny of the reserve list. Now they can go ahead and reprint any card in Modern-legal sets to resupply the market and make sure that there are enough copies of the cards floating around, since the reserve list only covers cards through Urza’s Destiny.

Modern Masters is the second experiment with reprints for Wizards. This time around, they wanted to make sure they got it right by establishing a few restrictions for how the set would be distributed, and at what price it would retail for.

Modern Masters was designed to have a limited print run to avoid a second coming of Chronicles, while still trying to appeal to both tournament and casual players by reprinting older cards that were beginning to increase in price due to their scarcity. The goal was to at least keep prices stable, or possibly even reduce prices slightly without completely cratering their secondary market value. Wizards did this by both limiting the availability of the set, as well as setting a higher-than-normal MSRP for boxes and packs.

I believe that we can all learn a lot about how mass reprints like Modern Masters will affect the market moving forward. The product was very popular and well-received, with the only public outcry being that there wasn’t enough product to go around (and also a few complaints about the sealed format).

I wanted to outline my longer term expectations for MM and which cards we should all look out for moving forward. I will delve into which cards Wizards was specifically targeting for price suppression, and see how Modern Masters has affected their prices. Let’s see if Wizards managed to accomplish their goal.

 

The Big Ones

TarmogoyfTarmogoyf

Before Modern Masters release: $120
Four months After Modern Masters: $120

Tarmogoyf, the most iconic card from Modern Masters, has not seen a price decrease since Modern Masters has been released. Tarmogoyf never dropped in price – after the set was released, it even went up for a little while but has since leveled off to pre-MM levels. I think the price is an accurate reflection of the demand because Tarmogoyf is both a Modern and Legacy staple.

The reason that Tarmogoyf has not dropped in price is twofold. First, Tarmogoyf was reprinted as a mythic rather than a rare. This meant that it saw the least amount of new copies entering the market of any card in the set, on top of Modern Masters being a limited print run to begin with.

The second reason is that the player base of Magic as a whole, and the players getting into Modern and Legacy specifically, has only increased since Modern Masters was released. Wizards intended to not only reprint Modern staples for existing players, but increase the number of players in the format as a whole. This strategy appears to be working, as the price of other Modern staples like fetchlands have increased in price significantly. Tarmogoyf would undoubtedly have also followed this path if it was not reprinted.

The Future: Outside of a second Modern Masters or similar product, I don’t see Tarmogoyf getting any cheaper. They will retain their value and possibly even go up as Modern season approaches. They aren’t a target I would put cash towards unless you need to complete a playset, but if you can trade into extras with surplus stock it would definitely be a good idea.

 

Dark ConfidantDark Confidant

Before Modern Masters release: ~$50
Four months After Modern Masters: $75

Dark Confidant is an interesting case study from Modern Masters. It is the only reprint card to firmly rise in value! This is because those same factors that helped buoy Tarmogoyf’s price actually managed to increase the price of Confidant.

The Future: Since the reprint, his price has spiked to $75 and I’m not sure if this is the ceiling. Could Confidant hit $100 by next Modern season? Ravnica was opened a fair amount, much more than Future Sight, so there are more Confidants floating around than Tarmogoyfs. This will help to temper Skillrex’s price, but I could still see Confidant rising even further as more players enter the Modern scene.

 

Vendilion Clique

Before Modern Masters release: $50
Four months After Modern Masters release: $45

Due to the scarcity of Morningtide paired with heavy usage in Modern and Legacy, right off the bat Vendilion Clique commands a price much higher than is normal for a legend. In the time following MM, the price has indeed managed to drop a little bit because it does not see quite as much play as Tarmogoyf, Fetchlands, or other Modern staples. However the combination of rarity and the influx of players has prevented Clique from dropping too far. Demand remains high.

The Future: Similar to Tarmogoyf, I don’t see Clique getting much cheaper than it currently stands until the next reprint. A lot of people underestimated the amount of players that Modern Masters would draw towards Modern, so as the season approaches I can see these slowly ticking up in price.

 

The Swords

Sword of Fire and IceSword of Light and Shadow

Before Modern Masters release: Fire and Ice $50, Light and Shadow $35
Four months After Modern Masters release: $30 and $25, respectively

Even though the swords still command a solid price of $25+, they are the first reprints I’ve mentioned to have a taken a significant hit from being reprinted. The Sword of Fire and Ice reprint is 40% less than prior to Modern Masters, and Sword of Light and Shadow is about 30% less if you pick up the latest printing.

Originally, the sword’s prices were mainly kept up by casual demand since Darksteel was a hard-to-find set. Sword of Feast and Famine and Sword of War and Peace are in my opinion better tournament-worthy cards than the original swords, though based on a particular metagame any sword could be favored over another for a period.

The Future: I don’t really see a big change in the price of the swords unless there is a demand in Modern for protection from particular colors. Green is an important color to have protection from due to Jund, so Sword of Feast and Famine will probably be the sword to watch out for moving forward. The only copies of Feast and Famine that exist are those from Mirrodin Besieged, so they could be a good pickup ahead of next Modern season.

 

The Rest

This next section is a list of cards that are worth watching, as they all have strong potential to see an increase during next Modern season due to their playability in the format.

Cryptic Command

Before Modern Masters release: $35
Four months After Modern Masters release: $22

The Future: What a drop! Almost a 40% decrease in price since the Lorwyn high, Cryptic Command could see a jump next Modern season. The cost to pick up Cryptic isn’t too high right now, and it is a good trade target. Any blue control deck wants them, and some slower combo decks like Scapeshift are in the market as well.

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Arcbound RavagerArcbound Ravager

Arcbound Ravager didn’t see quite as big of a drop as Cryptic Command, and he is the cornerstone of the Affinity deck. This is another one to watch because as Modern season approaches this card could see an uptick in demand and therefore an uptick in price. This card also occasionally makes a strong showing in Legacy, which will help to keep the price moving upwards over time.

 

Blinkmoth NexusMaelstrom PulseBlood MoonEngineered Explosives

Blinkmoth Nexus, Maelstrom Pulse, Blood Moon, Engineered Explosives

I’m keeping my eye on all four of these cards because not only are they played in Modern but they also make an appearance from time to time in Legacy as well. Having the support of two formats is no joke, as Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant can attest to. Being rare does limit the upper bound, but I expect all three of these cards to eventually crest $10 again, and possibly even more.

 

Academy RuinsGlen Elendra ArchmageKira, Great Glass-SpinnerSummoner's Pact

Academy Ruins, Glen Elendra Archmage, Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, Summoner’s Pact

These are another set of cards I will be keeping my eyes on that have dropped in price significantly but for a different reason. They are all strong causal cards in addition to being tournament playable. Casual demand has become a big part of predicting the price of a card. Kalonian Hydra and Archangel of Thune are good examples of this – they really aren’t even played in Standard and yet they are $20 mythics. I think the same could be true for several Modern Masters cards, since nearly every rare and mythic was $15 or higher at one point in their original printings. If I start seeing any movement in these cards as Modern season approaches I won’t hesitate to pick them up.

 

Path to ExileKitchen FinksSpell SnareLightning Helix

Path to Exile, Kitchen Finks, Spell Snare, Lightning Helix

I like speculating on uncommons from Modern Masters because I feel like these are the types of cards that have a lot of room to grow during Modern season next year. They’ve all experienced big drops from their original highs and can be acquired in trades as extra throw ins. Even purchasing extra copies of these for the right price could be a good call. Once Modern season gets going, they will all be seen across a variety of decks in the format. Any one of the uncommons could definitely spike. You won’t see a huge return on any individual copy, but doubling and tripling in price isn’t unfathomable. Jumping from $1 to $3 doesn’t sound impressive, but when you have 30 copies it will be. I’ve been grabbing extras anywhere I can.

Conclusion

It has been four months since Modern Masters was released. According to the raw numbers it looks like Wizards has achieved its goal of reducing prices overall while not crashing the market. Even though Tier 1 staples like Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant have leveled off or increased in price, many of the other staples have taken quite a hit from the set’s release, especially uncommons and rares that derived part of their price from casual play and just plain scarcity.

Over the next six months and as Modern season approaches, I expect many of the cards I mentioned to start ticking up in price as they become harder to find and more players need them for Modern tournaments. Eventually, Modern will become the new Legacy. This won’t happen for quite a few years because the reserved list exists – it is basically unavoidable. Wizards now knows that they can create sets like Modern Masters in order to keep a successful eternal format alive by reprinting scarce cards every so often. Luckily for us, these sets also open up plenty of financial opportunities to gather reprints once they hit their low points in anticipation of the following Modern season.

Trades from the Time Capsule

I have espoused my love of deckbox.org in a previous article, and today I want to share some trades I’ve made in the past nine months. These are trades I either made for a card to go into an EDH deck, or trades I made in order to buy low and/or sell high.

I show these to you in order to demonstrate how a little time can drastically change values, especially when rotating sets are involved. Trades such as these are why you want to trade into the hype, and not worry too much about extracting every possible dollar.

All trades were equal value at the time of completion. Deckbox’s trade screen makes it hard to lose much value, based off of TCG mid.

Let’s start with my first trade ever on Deckbox.

 

Master Biomancer

Feb. 12, 2013
My: Garruk Relentless & Restoration Angel
Their: Master Biomancer (Foil) & Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Today: about $13 each side.
Explanation:  My Experiment Kraj EDH deck loves having a foil Biomancer. The Ajani was just to even out the value. Garruk and the Angel were both higher than they were now, but their value had already started to taper downwards.

 

domri

Feb 22, 2013
My: 2x Hellrider, 2x Frontline Medic
Their: Domri Rade (Foil)
Today:$10 vs. $40.
Explanation: I aggressively traded away Hellrider at its peak. Small set or not, I knew that price was unsustainable in the long term and I never wanted to hold onto these for long.  Foil Domri was about where he is now: $35-$40 or so.  Hellrider was in the $12-15 range, about to hit his peak, and Frontline was in the $3-$5 range. Meanwhile, I have a Jund EDH deck with 60 creatures that Domri is perfect for.

I bought the Boros event deck and immediately shipped everything in there, as all the rares were, pardon the pun, red-hot.

 

Cavern of Souls

March 4, 2013
My: Morningtide Mutavaut
Their: Cavern of Souls (foil)
Today: About $20 for the Mutavault, $30 for the Cavern.
Explanation: Around $40 each, this was a trade I hemmed and hawed over for a week. I needed the foil cavern for an EDH deck, so I gave in. A month later, the price for Mutavaults tanked when it was spoiled.

 

Domri Rade

March 7, 2013
My: Falkenrath Aristocrat, 2x Knight of Infamy, Slaughter Games
Their: Domri Rade
Now: $7 vs. $26
Explanation: Domri had dropped quite a bit, but was just starting to rebound.  I knew I wanted to get rid of Aristocrats ahead of the curve, so I grabbed the Planeswalker. As of late, Domri has made this look even better.

 

Vraska the Unseen

April 2, 2013
My: Bonfire of the Damned x2
Their: 2x Domri Rade, Vraska the Unseen, 3x Thespian’s Stage
Now: $18 vs. $65
Explanation: I had acquired a set of Bonfires for a Rakdos control deck that wasn’t working out.  So I moved on.  I didn’t let them go at quite their peak but I still got good long-term value.

 

Jace, Architect of Thought

April 22, 2013
My: 2x Sunpetal Grove
Their: Jace, Architect of Thought
Now: $6 vs. $26
Explanation: I was looking for Jaces around $10 and I found one for trade.  Simple enough.

 

ipad4_2

(Perhaps my favorite trade ever)
July 29, 2013
My: 4x Deathrite Shaman, 4x Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique (Morningtide), Arid Mesa, Marsh Flats, 2x Badlands, Scrubland, Plateau (all duals were Revised, NM-)
Their: Factory sealed 16GB iPad 4
Explanation: Believe it or not, this was the third iPad this person has traded through Deckbox. I missed out the first two times, but grabbed him for the third. I’d been looking for an iPad for a while, and was prepared to go through Craigslist or perhaps purchase a refurbished one, so to get full retail value on my cards for something that I wanted–badly–was a real winner. I wasn’t happy about ripping out the best part of my Kaalia deck’s mana base, but that gives me something to work on now.

(Just for fun, read this article from two years ago, about trading for retail items at buylist prices: http://www.starcitygames.com/magic/finance/22886-Going-Infinite-An-Epic-Trade.html)

 

Abrupt Decay

Here’s a recent trade of mine, made with this same eye on what’s hot vs. long-term stability.

October 1, 2013
My: 4x Jace, Architect of Thought
Their: 4x Cavern of Souls, 4x Abrupt Decay, Deathrite Shaman
Explanation: With this trade, I’m cashing in on Jace’s rising price and getting things which I feel will go up.  I’ve spoken of my love for Cavern, and if $13 is the floor, so be it. I’ve been patiently waiting for Cavern to hit bottom so I can put it into my EDH decks, and now I’m finally moving in. This trade proved quite amusing to me, as we finalized it on a Friday when Jace was at $22, and then by Monday he was up to $30. I’m behind right now, but in a year (the Caverns are going into EDH decks, the Decays into my long-term binder) I expect to be far ahead.

I hope you’re able to make some similar trades for their long-term value. I’m not sure exactly what those cards are yet, so stay tuned!

Numbers

By: Travis Allen

The process of trading, buying, and selling Magic cards clearly revolves around one thing: prices. How much is that card worth in trade? How much would you sell it for? How much can I sell this for if I pick it up in trade? How much should I offer that guy on his collection? So on and so on. Today, I’ll show you some of the websites I use in my daily operations to equip myself with the best knowledge I can. And after all, Knowledge is power.

 

www.mtgprice.com

Starting with the obvious, MTGPrice provides a clear answer for finding the current price of cards. As a price aggregator and not a direct retailer, MTGPrice’s reported numbers will align with true market value far better than single retail sites. By looking across a variety of vendors, the site is able to smooth out occasional absurd prices from individual sites.

MTGPrice also has the unique function of providing price history information, which can be highly valuable at times. Sometimes when trading you are not quite as curious about the value of a card today, as much as you care about what it was and will be. There are times where you can’t remember if a card has been falling or rising recently, and you want to be sure you’re on the right side of that slope. I find this feature particularly useful when looking at considerably older cards whose prices I don’t have a perfect recollection of. Being able to look up something like Ancestral Visions will tell you which direction it’s heading, which makes a big difference when considering whether you should take it to balance out a trade deficit.

vision

 

http://magiccards.info

Built as what amounts to a minimalist-influenced GUI for the assaulting aesthetic of TCGPlayer, I’m a big fan. It is the fastest loading Magic card site I have found, you get a big crisp picture, easy-to-access alternate print history, and the raw volume of TCGPlayer prices without having to slog through their laborious interface.

TCGPlayer’s data is useful, as they track nearly every major online retailer. The most interesting aspect of TCG data is that they recently added the ability for private sellers to function as storefronts. These are going to be your hardcore binder-grinder types that have a massive rotating collection, but don’t want to be bothered creating an actual web presence. With the addition of individual sellers, the prices are going to move much faster than a standard web store, find floors quicker, and occasionally be willing to operate on smaller margins.

The biggest pitfall of magiccards.info is the less-accessible data on foils, and often even more lacking, promo prices. Finding prices on foils is not too hard, although it’s not immediately visible. Here’s how I do it:

tcgfoil

From what I can tell, the reason promos are so hard to aggregate data on is because stores classify them differently. For example, promos such as Voidslime are sometimes listed as both “Near Mint Foil” – because its foil – and just “Near Mint;” since all copies are foil, they don’t bother being explicit. For many promos, you’ll have to venture elsewhere. 

 

voidslime

A note on identifying prices from TCGPlayer in general: You’ll notice that unlike something like MTGPrice or SCG, there is a long list of numbers when you check out the prices on TCGPlayer. Those numbers are boiled down into low, mid, and high. It’s common for some people to just jump straight to the mid price and use that as the trade value. While that isn’t an unreasonable approach, it does have the the flaw of being unlikely to adapt to rapid market changes as quickly as the low value does. If a banner mythic such as Purphoros drops $10 in the week after release, the low will move $10 because the invisible hand of the market will push the ambitious to race to the floor of the card. However the lazy and greedy may leave their price at pre-drop prices, resulting in a huge disparity. Check out the FTV Lotus Petal and you’ll see that the gap between the low and the high is pretty narrow, as the price has settled comfortably. The reported gap on Purphoros is $20 though – more than double the low price of the card!

My strategy when divining prices from TCGPlayer data is more heuristic-driven. If I’m ever unsure of a fair value, I’ll pull up the full list of prices and start looking for playsets. At the moment, there is a NM copy of Chandra, Pyromaster available for $24.50. The first price at which there are multiple sellers in a row with multiple copies available is $29.99 though, which I would treat as her fair trade price. (The mid is reported at $33 – buoyed by an absurd $48 high.) (Also keep in mind that while I may identify her fair trade price as $30, it does not necessarily mean that’s how much I plan on trading her away for.)

 

www.starcitygames.com

I find myself wanting to call them the Amazon of Magic, but given that Amazon typically has great prices, I’m unwilling to make this comparison. SCG is undoubtedly the de facto standard as far as single-vendor pricing goes. It’s a very popular resource to use among those that are less dedicated in the financial arts. I personally dislike using SCG during trades for a few reasons:

  • They don’t update prices on out-of-stock items, which can potentially be disastrous for either member of the trade during price spikes (Master of Waves selling out at $7) or difficult to find cards (Foil Grim Monolith was at one point sold out at $69.99, when the card was actually ~$120.) nighthowler-gd

  • SCG weights Standard legality heavily when setting prices. While it’s a perfectly fine business model for them, as they know their customers will pay it, it can lead to some potentially lopsided trades. They currently have Chandra, Pyromaster listed at $40, while she is easily a $30 card everywhere else. However the MM printing of Cryptic Command is $25 on SCG and ~$24 on TCG. If you’re trading away non-Standard cards for Standard, you are going to get thrashed on SCG prices. Of course, if you’re going the other way, you can occasionally make a killing.

  • They’re only a single seller. SCG is not the entire market themselves, and it’s silly to treat them as such. Why rely on one data point that is notorious for being overpriced relative to the market when aggregator sites such as mtgprice.com are available?

Regardless, Starcity does have its uses. I find myself using them most often for promo cards, such as the recent Nighthowler Game Day promo. While you certainly need to take the prices with a grain of salt, at least they give you an idea of whether the card is $3 or $30. They’re also acceptable for finding prices on things like sealed product.

 

www.ebay.com

Ahh, eBay. Everyone’s least favorite way of selling cards. Between 10% fees from eBay, 3% fees from the nigh-unavoidable PayPal, and what seems like more buyers that are out to scam you than not, “minefield” is too kind a comparison. As miserable as eBay can be for selling though, it is at least a useful resource for pricing information. eBay is best suited for things such as very obscure cards like Foil Russian Tidespout Tyrants, promos you can’t find in stock elsewhere, and most importantly, cash values. 

The cash value part is important because eBay is unique in this function. Whenever I’m discussing purchasing cards directly from another player, eBay is my first stop. The “Completed listings” option will show you how much previous auctions have sold (and not sold) for, providing you with valuable information regarding a ceiling for your offer.

It is not uncommon for many cards to have wild discrepancies between trade and sale. Ghost dad sells on eBay for only $2-$3 less than he is on MTGPrice, whereas Horizon Canopy – $39 on MTGPrice – has plenty of completed listings for around $21 a copy. Whenever there is cash involved in a deal, make sure to stop by eBay to identify the card’s cash value.

Midweek cardwatch:

  • Hero’s Downfall is an astounding $15 right now. Off the top of my head, an in-print fall set rare removal spell has never been this expensive, especially with alongside plenty of other sweet spells. I’m dumping mine asap, and I recommend you do the same. The real price for this card is probably between $3-$7.

  • Wizards announced Jace vs Vraska, which will have a copy of Le Chiffre and an MSRP of $20. His price has dropped about $6 since the news, which should be short lived. People apparently didn’t notice that the release date is in May.

    jace

  • Pack Rat is, or will shortly be, $2.

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