Tag Archives: Finding Value

PROTRADER: The Meta Report – Don’t Break Your Bank for This Weekend’s WMCQ

By: Guo Heng

It’s that time of the year again: the first of the three World Magic Cup Qualifiers kicks off this weekend all around the world. The format is Standard. If you are competing this weekend like I am, chances are that you will want to play the best deck in the format to give yourself the best shot at winning one of your country’s World Magic Cup spots. However, if like me, you do not own a playset of Hangarback Walker and are unwilling to make a $76 splurge purchase to get them for this weekend (or you are more than willing but, alas, the supply of Hangarbacks at your local stores has dried up), playing the best deck may be a problem.

The first wave of WMCQs this weekend is in an inconvenient spot as far as MTG finance is concerned. Redemption for Magic Origins goes live after downtime next Wednesday (August 26) and within a week or two ,we would start to see a large dip in the Magic Origins index as redeemed singles begin to hit the market. Now is literally the worst time to buy into chase staples from the set.

Today’s The Meta Report is going to take a look at the options available for this weekend that do not require you to spend a hefty sum on Hangarback Walker, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, or other Magic Origins chase staples.

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Playmat Finance: Counterfeit Mats

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back to another installment of Playmat Finance. Part one proposed a framework for evaluating the value of Grand Prix playmats. Part two dealt with Game Day playmats and the special playmats created by attending artist(s) at Grands Prix.

Today, we are not going to evaluate the value of any playmats, but rather discuss a topic that could potentially impact the value of collectible Magic playmats.

Note: I mentioned in the conclusion of part two that I would be discussing playmat TLC in this article, which I initially planned to alongside the topic I plan to discuss in this piece. The topic I am discussing in this article blossomed into, well, a whole article itself. I decided to delegate playmat TLC to the next part, rather than try to cram it in as a sort of afterthought. 

Counterfeit Playmats

An interesting point raised by a few commenters on the first part of this series was the issue of counterfeit playmats. There is a concern that, as with Magic cards, counterfeit playmats could pose a risk to the value of collectible playmats. The fact that there are a multitude of websites offering custom playmat printing services to print your own mat does little to allay this concern.

Most popular playmat printing services explicitly state on their websites that they would not print custom mats with copyrighted artwork. Undoubtedly, though, there are some who are less scrupulous regarding this issue.

A couple of commentators mentioned that the ease of being able to counterfeit could negatively impact the prices of sought-after playmats. While counterfeiting and the ability to print your own copy of an existing sought-after mat pose a risk to the value of collectible playmats, there is a big caveat:

Replicating a copyrighted playmat is only possible if there is an image of the particular art floating around on the internet in a sufficiently high resolution. 

While there are avenues for you to print any image you fancy on a custom-made playmat regardless of copyright permission, having access to a copy of the image with the minimum-required resolution for playmat art is essential for the plan to work.

Johannes Voss Signing
I would get Johannes to sign mine. If I had one…

Take for example: if I want to print my own copy of the Johannes Voss Sakura Angel playmat above (which I missed out on at Grand Prix Chiba because I didn’t line up at 6:00 a.m.), I would need to find a copy of the image that fits the minimum size requirement to appear unpixelated on a playmat (note that this is a hypothetical scenario used as an illustration. I am not going to do this myself. I am vehemently against counterfeiting collectibles).

Thankfully, the largest image of Voss’s Sakura Angel available is well below the minimum image file size requirement required by playmat printing services, both legitimate and dogdy ones. So those of you who own a Johannes Voss Sakura Angel playmat, rest assured that your playmat’s value will not be destroyed by a hypothetical horde of counterfeited copies. For those who intend to buy one, there is a peace of mind knowing that you are unlikely to encounter a fake one. And if you do, you will most likely be able to tell that it is fake because the art will look like its rendered on a crappy integrated graphics card.

Speaking of buying playmats, here are a few pointers to help you avoid potential counterfeits.

Circle of Protection: Counterfeit Playmats

First of all, scour the web to check if there are any high-resolution copies of the playmat’s art floating out there. Most custom playmat printers require an image with a minimum pixel resolution of 1746×1026, with the recommended resolution for the best quality print being 3675×2175. The chances of you stumbling upon a counterfeit copy of the playmat you’re planning to buy should be drastically low if there are not copies of the playmat’s art available on the internet in a sufficiently high resolution. In this case, it would be easy tell counterfeit copies apart from the original ones.

Which brings us to the second point: buy only from reliable sellers, or over channels where you as as buyer would be covered if the item turns out to be counterfeit. If you are buying it directly from a person, it may be prudent to inspect the mat in real life before you confirm the purchase.

As always, if a playmat looks too cheap to be true, it’s probably best to steer away.

The Impact of Counterfeit Mats

Do counterfeit playmats threaten the value of sought-after mats? Let’s use an easily counterfeitable mat as an example to study the potential impact of counterfeiting on the value of a rare and collectible playmat.

Image by Maximilian Schroeder from kccompetition.wordpress.com.
Image by Maximilian Schroeder from kccompetition.wordpress.com.

City of Brass playmat was given out exclusively to judges at Grand Prix Las Vegas 2013, which makes it a collectible playmat due to its scarcity. Unfortunately, this playmat is susceptible to counterfeiting, as a high-resolution file of Jung Park’s City of Brass art is available online (no, I’m not telling you where!). The relevant logos could be added on using a image manipulation program like GIMP, and voila, you’ve got yourself an image that you could send to unscrupolous playmat manufacturers to get it printed.

With this information, we would expect the City of Brass playmat to be worth a pittance.

City of Brass Playmat Price

But the playmat was actually going for a decent price, especially for one featuring artwork from a card that is not exactly the epitome of iconic (in the first article of this series, we established that the bulk of a playmat’s value is tied to how iconic the card from which the art originated from is). Presumably the bulk of the playmat’s price stems from its rarity, having only been distributed to judges at a single event. The number of bids for the mats above show a decent amount of demand, too. Even buy-it-now listings are going for a good price:

City of Brass BINThe Grand Prix Vegas 2013 City of Brass playmat is a prime case study for the impact of counterfeiting on a collectible mat’s value It’s rare mat that’s in demand with high-resolution art available online and plenty of recent sales on eBay. While a single example is by no means conclusive evidence, it provides a bit of reassurance that counterfeiting will not obliterate the value of collectible mats.

Incentives to Counterfeit Playmats

A barrier to counterfeiting playmats for profit is the cost of printing a playmat. Most services charge anywhere between $25 to $30 per custom mat, and that’s before shipping. The majority of sought-after Grand Prix playmats sell for between $40 and $60 on eBay. Using the judge City of Brass playmat as an example again, while you could fetch a number in the high $40s for it, you could also end up selling it for as low $20, as per the two most recent sales. The standard deviation of playmat sale prices on eBay is a lot larger than that of Magic cards, and coupled with the increased cost of acquiring counterfeit playmats, I suspect the incentive to counterfeit mats for profit is significantly low.

This leaves one more issue: if high-resolution art of a particular sought-after mat is available online, would that not translate into less people buying it for personal use (because they could just make their own copy) and a lower average sale price on eBay? This in turn dictates the value of the playmat, as eBay prices are the best benchmark we currently have to pin a price on these products.

I am sure there would be a few potential buyers who end up making their own replica of the playmat for slightly less money, but I don’t think the number of people doing so would be high enough to impact the final price of a sought-after playmat. The activation cost of producing your own replica is moderately high.

City of Brass Playmat

While you would only require basic image manipulation skills to create an accurate replica of the judge City of Brass playmat, it would require a considerable amount of time to do so. You’d need to hunt down the logos on the top left, bottom left, and bottom right corners of the playmat. If you couldn’t find a logo image with a clear background, you’d likely have to lift the logo off another image and manually clear the background. You would also need to reproduce the text found on the bottom right corner alongside the Wizards of the Coast logo. Not to mention all the logos would have to be positioned correctly. You can always just print the playmat with just the City of Brass image, but that would render it the same level as every other custom mat for personal use (zero collectibility and zero cool factor), albeit of questionable legality.

Getting your hands on your own replica playmat is much more time-consuming than trying to acquire counterfeit cards. All you need to do to acquire counterfeit cards is to purchase them from a counterfeiter’s website or drop an email to the supplier (if you can find them). On the other hand, creating a replica of a playmat requires you to hunt down the relevant images and spend a considerable amount of time putting them together on an image manipulation program before sending it off for printing. I am not sure if the trouble is worth it just to save $20 or so compared to buying one off eBay.

I hope this article answers concerns about counterfeit playmats. Counterfeits are always a controversial issue, so do share your thoughts on the topic in the comments section below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


Playmat Finance: Game Day Playmats and GP Specials

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back! A while ago, I wrote about evaluating the value of Grand Prix playmats. In the second part of the Playmat Finance series, we are going to check out two other categories of collectible Magic playmats out there.

First off, let’s start with one of my favorite playmats of all time, and the category in which the mat falls under.

Game Day Playmats

Dark Ascension Game Day was the first time we saw a Game Day event that awarded an exclusive playmat to each tournament’s winner. It added a bit of prestige to Game Days and made the event a little bit more competitive.

The artwork featured on the first-ever Game Day playmat was the rather unassuming Thraben Heretic (does anybody even remember what the card does?). Nevertheless, the playmat is still selling for a decent price three years later.

Dark Ascension Game Day Promo

Perhaps it’s the novelty of being the first-ever Game Day playmat that has imbued it with a value of $20 to $30 on eBay three years after the event. Heck, those numbers look like a great deal when you compare it to what retailers who have the mat in stock are asking.

The Avacyn Restored Game Day that followed provided a playmat with much cooler art. It featured a character that would end up being one of the most iconic white EDH cards: Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

Avacyn Playmat

There were only two recent sales that are viewable as of this writing, but those give a good ballpark to help us estimate the price this playmat commands. As the first part of this series highlighted, the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art originated from is the most significant influence on the playmat’s long-term value, so it unsurprising that the Avacyn Restored Game Day playmat is worth as much as Karn Liberated.

Not all Game Day playmats were able to retain the same long-term value. Most of them go for anywhere between $10 and $30. Still, there are a few other notable Game Day playmats, including the Magic 2014 one, which featured an exclusive Chandra art:

Chandra Playmat

While the Magic 2014 Game Day playmat art was not from a card, I believe that this treatment of Chandra Nalaar was the first time she was depicted with strands of hair rather than her usual flaming head, which may be the reason why this playmat commands an above-average price tag and is still in demand today.

An interesting point to note about the playmat above is its price trajectory. I’ve been tracking the prices of sought after playmats for a while, mainly out of personal interest (hint: I own one of them). It seems that they usually start out at an exorbitantly high price before settling down at a more reasonable level. Based on MTGSalvation.com threads regarding the Chandra playmat above, it looks like the playmat was selling for an insane price when it was new. The coveted alternate art Ugin, the Spirit Dragon Game Day playmat was selling for up to $80 on eBay for weeks following Fate Reforged Game Day, but is now going for a lot less:

Ugin Playmat August
Two takeaways for Game Day playmats:

  • If you would like to reap maximum value out of the Game Day playmat you’ve won, the best time to sell it is during the Game Day weekend itself or within the immediately following weeks.
  • I’ve never bought a Game Day playmat myself, as I can’t imagine how I would field an answer to inquisitive opponents asking how my Game Day went. But if you plan to buy one for yourself, you would get a better price a few months down the road. The longer you’re willing to wait, the better it is, as it takes a while for a playmat’s price to hit a stable price that better reflects its long-term value.

Limited Edition Grand Prix Specials

From: http://coverage.mtg-jp.com/gpchi15/article/015092/

Some Grands Prix offer one or more exclusive playmats drawn by the attending artists to commemorate the Grand Prix. While these limited-edition playmats are done by Magic artists, they usually feature artwork depicting an iconic element of the Grand Prix’s venue rather than card art (as the official playmat already features card art). I’m not sure if the artists were commissioned by the Grand Prix organizers or if these playmats were done of their own accord, but some of them do sell for a good amount.

For example, only 600 of the Grand Prix Chiba Sakura Angel playmat by Johannes Voss above were sold by the organizers at that Grand Prix (300 per day for Friday and Saturday) and players who  missed the insane early morning queue on both days could purchase a copy without the Grand Prix Chiba stamp at Johannes’s booth for a measly sum of 15,000 yen. Or on eBay for just $129.

Sakura Angel eBay August

Some Grands Prix offer these event-exclusive playmats as a side event participation gift or put them up as a prize wall offering:

GP Copenhagen Side Events Playmat

Evaluating these playmats is akin to venturing into the Wild West of playmat finance. While the Sakura Angel one above was fetching triple-digit sales, the Copenhagen special playmat wasn’t really selling on eBay as of this writing, and the sales for the recent Grand Prix Paris side event playmat were downright lethargic:

Grand Prix Paris Side Event Playmat

On the other hand, the side event/VIP playmat from Grand Prix Toronto in May this year was quite valuable:

GP Toronto Side Event Playmat

Perhaps Magic players just love their goblins more than their gargoyles. Or maybe it was the goblins playing hockey, which I hear is pretty popular in Canada. Then again, I have not personally set foot in Canada, and all I know about the country is from listening to The Eh Team podcast.

I tried to find a metric to help me guesstimate the price of these special Grand Prix playmats: a simple non-subjective framework similar to the one I wrote about for official Grand Prix playmats in the first part of this series. We use the metric of supply and demand to pin a value on cards, and while we can easily estimate the supply of a particular Grand Prix side event playmat, the playmat’s demand is a lot harder to gauge.

A card’s demand can be approximated by it’s ubiquity in competitive formats or EDH, or even perceived casual appeal (like that one time Wizards decided to make a colorless dragon planeswalker). The value of official Grand Prix playmats is mainly influenced by the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art derived. But attempting to pin a price on a special playmat with no card analog is a lot more complicated. Using a playmat’s aesthetics to determine the value of the playmat is a pitfall, as aesthetics are subjective. I was surprised that the Grand Prix Toronto side event playmat above was able to fetch that sort of price. I don’t even find the art appealing, nor do I have much love for goblins, but I am sure there are plenty of buyers out there who think otherwise.

Trying to price a playmat based on the artist’s popularity is equally contentious most of the time. I am a big fan of the likes of Raymond Swanland, Johannes Voss, and Magali Villeneuve, but I can’t say these are consensus opinions. Exceptions could be made when a special playmat is drawn by an undisputedly iconic Magic artist like, say, John Avon or Rob Alexander. Check out the price of the Mount Fuji playmat John Avon did for Grand Prix Shizuoka two years back:

John Avon Mount Fuji

Or the Rob Alexander special from Grand Prix Kyoto recently:

Rob Alexander Kyoto Mat

The takeaway from this segment is:

  • Special/side event Grand Prix playmats are hard to price objectively—unless it’s a rare piece from an iconic Magic artist, but how do we determine who is iconic and who isn’t?
  • These mats tend to be harder to sell. In the eBay screenshots above, most of the special playmats were sold as buy-it-nows rather than auctions, or only had a single bid. This indicates that the market for these mats are a lot more niche than, say, Grand Prix playmats or Game Day playmats, which feature actual Magic art.

Unless you are acquainted with playmat collectors, it may be troublesome to move these mats. Official Grand Prix playmats with Magic images are easier to move, especially when they feature art from an iconic card. Take the recent Grand Prix Singapore playmat, for example. The official Grand Prix Mox Opal playmat has been selling quite well:

GP Singapore Mox Opal

The VIP-special Rob Alexander playmat, on the other hand…

GP Singapore Rob Alexander Special

This reinforces the point that Grand Prix specials are hard to price. Rob Alexander is an undeniably popular and established Magic artist,  yet his recent Grand Prix Singapore mat only went for a third of his Grand Prix Kyoto special.

Closing Thoughts

Going back to official Grand Prix playmats, a very special playmat will be given out to participants of Grand Prix San Diego this weekend:

GP San Diego
From: http://www.gpsandiego.com

If I’ve ever wanted to go to a Grand Prix just for its playmat, it would be this one. While there are double-sided artless leather playmats you can buy out there, this will be the first time we see a double-sided rubber-and-fabric playmat featuring Magic art, utilizing a new printing technique engineered by Ultra Pro, according to the Grand Prix San Diego website.

While Magali Villeneuve is not as established as the likes of Terese Nielsen and John Avon, some of the art she has done is just plain gorgeous and I would not be surprised to see her gaining traction in the realm of Magic art. More importantly, Narset, Enlightened Master has solidified herself as one of the most popular EDH generals to emerge from a recent set (she currently ranks second in MTGSalvation’s monthly count of popular generals). That, together with the novelty of being the first ever double-sided Magic playmat, is probably going to make this Grand Prix San Diego perk one of the most sought-after playmats in recent years.

Join me next week for the third and final part of the Playmat Finance series, where we will discuss the issue of counterfeit playmats, as well as how to take care of your playmat, a topic which a surprising number of readers were interested in. In the meantime, do share your thoughts in the comments segment below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.

PROTRADER: My Picks for the Pro Tour Magic Origins Breakout Cards

By Guo Heng

It’s that time of the year again. Pro Tour Magic Origins is taking place at Vancouver this weekend, and here are my predictions for the breakout cards of this weekend.

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