Scents of the Trade – Part 1

by Zack Alvarado

Junk Diver. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.
Junk Diver. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

Across the web, you can locate many different columns and articles filled with endless salvos of financial advice regarding Magic the Gathering investment ploys and tactics. Amongst all of the fluff, however, is very little – if any – advice about what not do to and how to avoid being burned by bad investment maneuvers. Surely I could put my trade-formula on paper for you to take note of and apply, but I’ve no interest in sharing my homework (at least not for free). However, I am much more willing to share the investment practices that I avoid making; as opposed to the trade-secrets that have continued to feed me. Beginning with this week, I will write a 3 part mini-series about avoiding bad trade habits.

  • Bad Tactic to Avoid #1: Buying bulk lots (Today)
  • Bad Tactic to Avoid #2: Buying chase foils (3/25/13)
  • Bad Tactic to Avoid #3: Trading non-standard cards for standard cards (4/1/13)

Let’s jump right into things and discuss why you should avoid the first bad tactic of buying bulk lots. In general, bulk lots are a great starting point for new players – but that’s where the most value exists: amongst players without large pools of cards to select from; players who’ve been collecting for years tend to have a versatile assortment of readily playable cards, with no need to purchase a bulk lot. Assume I purchase a lot of 200,000 cards for $5,000.00, and want to resell them; the average LGS’s boxes of singles are priced: $0.10 per common, and $0.25-0.50 per uncommon; if I bought 200,000 cards for $5,000.00, I would pay $0.025 per card. Now, if I could sell each card for $.05 (half of the average common price) then I would make $10,000.00 – a return on investment of 200%! But wait, that’s a horrible plan; even if I stand to double my money, I have to consider the amount of time and energy I would need to spend in order to look through the cards – as I assume there are some worth $1-$5 in the bunch, and want to ensure I’m not losing any money when selling them for 0.05 each. Moreso than the effort I must exert to rummage through a fifth of a million cards, I have to worry about the amount of time it will take me to sell these cards; if I manage to sell 10 cards to each person who purchases from me, I still need a total of 20,000 sales before they are all gone – seeing the bigger picture? Good, because my time is valuable, and I hope that you believe yours is as well.

It’s my experience in the long run, that buying bulk lots is a bad investment habit; this doesn’t mean that money can’t be made from bulk lots, but rather that re-selling bulk lots is a bad plan for profit. If you find yourself sitting on plenty of spare commons and uncommons that you’ve multiple playsets of, or never intend on using in decks, then it’s time to make some extra gas and lunch money – here’s how (ok fine, I’m sharing a small personal tactic): organize your extras by rarity first (commons & uncommon), then organize them by color, and then finally organize them by format (vintage, legacy, modern, standard); buy a few 500 count and 1000 count boxes; fill a box of cards with uniform rarity, color, and format – then mark it for sale (1000 Standard Red Commons for $20). I charge $10 per 500 commons, and $10 per 100 uncommons. These bulk boxes bring in steady money for me, and clear my storage space – I can’t complain one bit.

If you catch the scent of a bad investment model, don’t bite down; instead, evaluate how to apply relative business principles within your frame of access, in order to maximize inventory turnover and ultimately, to ‘freshen the scent’ for customers. Well how exactly do you go about ‘freshening’ the appeal of bulk lots? Simple – don’t pick out every card with relative value: nobody wants to purchase bulk Grizzly Bears and Stone Rain with assorted basic core land. I’m not advising that you spice up your bulk boxes with Sensei’s Divining Top or Remand, but, small things like Mana Leak, Rampant Growth, Shock, Terror, and Holy Day are dirt cheap and appealing to casual players. For the record, ‘casual player’ is not synonymous for ‘drooling troglodyte’ – if you want somebody to bite on your offer, make it smell better: stacking garbage onto a garbage heap adds zero definition and increases the stench. This will conclude my weekly entry for I thank you for reading, and hope that you’ll return next week to check out the 2nd article of this series!


Money Ramp Weekly Tip:

[Stock up on Kessig Wolf Runs, these things are flying off of shelves!]


Until next time,

Zack R Alvarado
Twitter: Rh1zzualo

Common Cents

This past weekend saw a plethora of Standard tournaments spanning multiple countries. The United States held a 774 player SCG tournament, while Verona and Rio both hosted a Grand Prix.

Let’s take a look at a few of the cards that were highlights at these tournaments.

Prime Speaker Zegana. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.
Prime Speaker Zegana. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

The breakout card at SCG Indianapolis was Prime Speaker Zegana. Two Bant decks that made the top four each ran three copies of the card. Immediately upon the success of this card, Starcity more than doubled their price of this card; before the tournament they were selling Prime Speaker Zegana for $6.99, and currently Zegana is on their site for $14.99. However, other stores have taken much less extreme measures. Most places have only modestly increased the price of this card by one to two dollars, and you can easily grab these up from multiple places for around $8. This, then, prompts the question of which price more accurately foretells the cards’ future.

Working in Zegana’s favor is the fact that it’s at Mythic rarity, which often have sudden and sustained price increases. Additionally, Zegana had multiple high place finishes in a tournament. However, I think the lower price will be the more accurate one for the following reasons.

  • It is directly competing with the spot Sphinx’s Revelation fills in the Bant deck.
  • Multiple pro players at GP: Verona called Sphinx’s Revelation the most powerful card in Standard.
  • While Zegana performed well at the SCG event, at the more competitive Grand Prix events it was a no-show, and did not make any top 8 appearances.

Now let’s talk about some cards that did well at both Grand Prix tournaments. Human Reanimator, utilizing Angel of Glory’s Rise, made a top 8 in both of the Grand Prix. However, I’m a little wary about investing into Reanimator-type cards, as that strategy is easily hated out if people decide they want to do so. It is difficult for a deck that’s easily hated out to maintain the long term success that will drive an increase in its’ card prices, so therefore I don’t foresee the cost of Angel of Glory’s Rise to go up.

Angel of Serenity as of Mar 15, 2013

Angel of Serenity is one card that holds similarities to both Prime Speaker Zegana and to Angel of Glory’s Rise. It is Mythic, just like Zegana, and it also found success in a Reanimator deck this past weekend, just like Angel of Glory’s Rise. Unlike the other two cards, however, Angel of Serenity is one that is primed to rise. Far from being a one-trick pony in Reanimator decks, Angel of Serenity has shown in the past that it can fit into multiple deck archetypes. It has a history of being a powerful card, at one time acting as the top end of control decks in Standard. Now it has found yet another deck to fit into, in the Junk Reanimator decklist, which won GP: Verona, had two decks in the top 8 of GP: Rio, and also made the top 8 of SCG Indianapolis. This deck is also more resilient since the Junk Reanimator decks are less dependent on their graveyard than the Human Reanimator lists. Angel of Serenity has also proven that it can command a high price, fetching as much as $25 back in November. The power level of this card, along with the strong showing of the deck this weekend, combined with the resiliency of the deck, in addition to the past price history of this card, leads me to recommend Angel of Serenity as a card to acquire.

Monday: Money Ramp with Zack Alvarado

How Do You Brew?

Aphetto Alchemist. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

When it comes to “rogue decking,” how exactly do you brew? And no, I’m not talking about logging onto, searching rogue builds, and tweaking the tech to contend with your local meta – I’m talking about sitting down, fortressing yourself with a collection of cards, and wildly applying critical thought to develop a new, potent recipe; much like a seasoned cocktologist, surrounded by liquor, herbs, syrups, and juice – everything must be in the right place, with the proper amount added, or surely it’ll be bitter (pun). To ensure a good blend, take into consideration factors such as mana curve, land base, play style, and, most importantly, the to-beat metagame.

So, where to begin? Do you pick a color scheme to build around, i.e. Bant? Do you select a single card? Do you choose your favorite guild? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re more than likely a casual player who has never experienced the headache that is home brewing for a serious competition – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure an ‘Orzhov’ deck, or an ‘Aurelia’ deck are neat, but they don’t match up with tier 1 builds, and this is where many casual players fall short: they try to tune their casual decks for competition and ruin the fun of a good deck. Make note which of your builds are just for fun, and which are tournament contenders; this should help you decide where your time and money are best channeled.

Starting a brew from scratch is simple: the goal is to create a unique and powerful deck that nobody at your tournament is prepared to deal with. If you intend to tweak a current build, like Naya Humans, expect plenty of your opponents to have sideboard answers such as Blind Obedience & Rolling Temblor. Instead, look for pinholes in your competition and magnify them. Do not hesitate to mainboard the usual sideboard tech if it makes sense. Roughly 80% of my Modern meta is using some variant of aggro (mostly tribal), so I mainboard Ghostly Prison in my White Weenie deck to slow down opposing aggro. But why stop with one card? Why not design a deck to maneuver through your entire meta with impunity? Add plenty of combo-counter, an unpredictable win condition, and multiple layers of protection; now that sounds solid, in theory, but what does that look like on paper? Allow me to share a rogue-build of my own that I’ve been fine-tuning for the last three weeks; it’s far from perfect, but I believe that it illustrates the breadth and depth that goes into a strong brew.


My Cup Overfloweth

Walkers: 4
4x Jace, Memory Adept

Creatures: 17
1x Griselbrand
3x Thragtusk
3x Duskmantle Guildmage
3x Crypt Ghast
3x Arbor Elf
4x Vampire Nighthawk

Other Spells: 17
1x Army of the Damned
1x Increasing Ambition
2x Underworld Connections
3x Mind Grind
3x Farseek
3x Chalice of Life
4x Killing Wave

Land: 22
1x Alchemist’s Refuge
1x Nephalia Drownyard
2x Hinterland Harbor
2x Woodland Cemetery
4x Breeding Pool
4x Overgrown Tomb
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Watery Grave

The functions of this deck are simple: gain tons of life and ramp hard. Seems easy enough, right? Exactly, it is – and it works. Why? Because of what we do with that extra life and mana. So what do we do? Well let’s start with the primary win conditions. First up is Chalice of Life. This artifact gains us life, which not only contributes to its transformation, but restores life spent on our Killing Waves, Underworld Connections and Pain Lands. The transformation of this card is so powerful!

Chalice of Life / Chalice of Death. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

It may seem as if getting to 30 life could take awhile, but with the help of Griselbrand, Thragtusk, Vampire Nighthawk, and Crypt Ghast’s Extort ability, it’s rather easy. Once at 30+ life, you can gleefully tap away your Chalice of Death, inflicting 5 points of damage every time. Now for our second win condition: Duskmantle Guildmage! With so much mana ramp between Crypt Ghast, Arbor Elf, and our ‘Swamps’, it’s not difficult to cast a large Mind Grind, mill 10+ cards, and kill your opponent with Guildmage’s effect. Speaking of milling 10+ cards, Jace, Memory Adept is a huge threat for damage when paired with Duskmantle. Our third win condition is sweet and simple: cast Army of the Damned and rawr-smash-face with tons of zombies. And finally, the obvious and brutish win condition here is to mill your opponent’s deck to 0 with Jace, Guildmage, and Drownyard.

Beyond multiple win conditions, this deck offers a lot of tech; most of which has great synchronicity with other cards in the build. At first glance, it’s easy to spot TONS of life-gain, but after a second and third look-over of the list, you’ll notice that there are many outlets to spend that life to gain an advantage: Griselbrand, Underworld Connections, Killing Wave, and Pain Lands all cost us life at some point in the game, but provide great trade-offs. If you’re running low on cards, Griselbrand and Underworld Connections are there to refill your hand, so that you can keep on digging for your kill – though Griselbrand can be a win-con all by himself. If you find yourself being pressured by aggro, cast Killing Wave and watch the tides turn as mid-game approaches: aggro players tend to pay the life, only to get bricked later by Nighthawks and Thrags that quickly overwhelm the field and expand the gap between life totals. Killing Wave also gets around hexproof (to an extent), and pressures decks that aren’t overly concerned about board wipes (like BWR Aristocrats). Increasing Ambition is a small piece of tech that offers crucial assistance, such as: grabbing a Thrag to help transform Chalice; grabbing a Mind Grind or a Jace to finish milling; or grabbing Army of the Damned to overrun your opponent. Our final piece of tech in this build is Alchemist’s Refuge; with so much mana at our disposal, this baby is affordable and attractive. Casting a Chalice and transforming it before your upkeep is AMAZING; so is flashing in a Nighthawk or a Thragtusk at the end of your opponents turn, or as a blocker. Versatility is the fruit of the land, and this deck has plenty.

Thank you for reading my ramblings of brewing; hopefully you’ve gathered something beneficial from this, even if elementary. I apologize for the lack of financial content, but I wanted to explore a topic that in a very unnoticeable way, redefines the prices within our market. All it takes is one weekend of some rogue brew to top a GP, for a card like Craterhoof Behemoth to skyrocket in price. This will conclude my weekly installment for


Money Ramp Weekly Tip:

[Sell off your Boros Reckoners before the weekend is over]


Until next time,

Zack R Alvarado
Twitter: Rh1zzualo

Common Cents with Aaron Dettmann

A Season for Selling

Second Sunrise. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.
Second Sunrise. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

Now is the time to sell off all of your Modern cards. Why, you may ask? Two reasons: the Modern PTQ season is near its end, and because Modern Masters will be printed soon.

Most people are aware of the ebb and flow of Standard card prices, rising as States and the Standard PTQ season approaches, and falling as the season finishes. This ebb and flow of prices holds doubly true for Modern, as there are a lot fewer tournaments outside of the PTQs to affect their prices. Virtually every card that has seen play in Modern has gone up in price since the end of summer, many by a significant amount.

Some examples of cards that have doubled or more in prices since the end of summer:

Even the all-star cards you haven’t regularly been hearing about have still gone up in price by a good amount. You would have still made a solid profit if you invested in cards such as: 

My point is that there were very few poor investments when buying Modern cards before the PTQ season started. You could pretty much choose whichever Modern playable cards you wanted to buy, and made a profit on them.

The other reason to sell off your Modern cards now, besides the fact that the PTQ season is nearing its end, is because Modern Masters is soon going to see print. Now, I acknowledge that long term Modern Masters will overall raise the price on Modern cards, as it piques interest in the format. However, some high priced Modern cards will be reprinted in that set, which will increase card availability, decreasing the price on those cards in the short term. Conversely, any cards that aren’t reprinted in that set should see their price remain steady or eventually go up. However, I don’t really feel like playing roulette on guessing which cards will be reprinted, and which ones won’t. Instead, I’ll just trade or sell all of my Modern cards now so I don’t risk them dropping in value if they’re reprinted. And as for the Modern cards I want that aren’t reprinted in Modern Masters, I’ll just trade or buy them back for the same price that I got rid of them (remember, Modern Masters is being released during the slow season for Modern, so there won’t be an immediate frenzied demand for any Modern cards). The net result will be your breaking even on the Modern cards that aren’t reprinted, and saving yourself from losing money on the cards that were reprinted and dropped in price.

Now, with all this being said, in the long term I expect Modern card prices to stay firm or rise yet more, even the ones reprinted in Modern Masters. This is because new players are discovering this game every day, which keeps increasing demand for cards they don’t have. A year from now, I’m confident Modern card prices will be similar to what they are now, or even higher. However, short term, as Modern Masters is released and the Modern PTQ season ends, the reprinted cards will dip in price.