Tag Archives: Modern prices

Grinder Finance – Information Cascades and You

So if you read my last article I “predicted” some cards to become more expensive.  I felt strongly that a card that is played in almost 50% of decks in Modern (Spellskite) despite only using 1-2 copies was prime for some kind of price correction.


My article went up on Tuesday and it was business as usual.  On Thursday of last week, I posted this.

Apparently this turned the time table into from “a few weeks” to “in a few hours.” It got me thinking.  Maybe it’s partially my fault?  Is the spread of information really what causes these types of price spikes?


What is an Information Cascade?

In the simplest terms, when someone sees someone else do something they assume it is a good idea, without rethinking any previously made assumptions.  It’s the internet’s effect on card prices in a “monkey see monkey do” pattern.  11 years ago, Patrick Chapin wrote an article about information cascades during Ravnica: City of Guilds (here).  I’m not going to try to explain it better than he did (he’s got a better command of the idea than I do) but I can say with some kind of certainty that this is part of the Magic price problem.  If x tells y who tells z to buy a card and it goes up, who’s fault is it?  Is it really anyone’s?

I don’t want to feel guilty for the reason that Spellskite got more expensive.  The position I am in means that whenever I suggest buying a card it could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

heartless summoning

Misinformation Cascades

I’ve long considered Heartless Summoning to be a “trap.”  It’s a card that gets hyped every year for like a few days and doesn’t win anything.  Right now there are people buying $5 copies of Heartless Summoning hoping that it becomes good.  Really what’s happening is that people are paying $5 for a lot of dimes in a month.  This is the worst kind of price spike because people are buying “just in case it’s good.”  I know a lot of people who look at Heartless Summoning and they’re thinking “Yeah man, that’s my jam!” and that’s fine if you’re that kind of person.  Just don’t go “Oh man it’s spiking I better get my copies before it gets too expensive.”  These thoughts just lose a lot of people a lot of money.

auriok champion

Toxic Information Cascades

I had a discussion on twitter with some pretty level headed people.  There’s something I want to try to institute for the future of my articles and tweets.  Don’t tweet that “x is low supply” for the sake of saying it’s low supply.  Auriok Champion is a card that is low supply and has been for years.  No I’m not exaggerating, it’s been far too expensive for years but it’s primarily only played in Soul Sisters (which is mostly a budget deck so people avoided buying them). Yeah there is some upside, it can’t die to lightning bolt and stops Deceiver Exarch / Splinter Twin combo.  Josh Cho is on camera and it shows up and boom it’s gone from the internet.  I lament with you on the fact that these kinds of spikes are shitty but how do we prevent it?  Auriok Champion hasn’t been “on the table” for reprints.  It’s not a card that people think of “you know what really needs a reprint?”  It’s the sad truth but without literally reprinting the entirety of 8th, 9th, and Mirrodin block through Scars block we will continue to see these types of spikes.  Cards get popular “out of no where” and there isn’t a good way to fix it.  I will just say we stop speculating on cards with low supply because they have low supply.  Spellskite was a case where it was reprinted recently and had low supply and was creeping up for weeks.  You can’t avoid those situations but you can avoid Auriok Champion.


Rerprint Information Cascade

When was the last time you heard someone complain about the cost of Tarmogoyf or Snapcaster Mage?  Snapcasters are $53 as of this writing on TCGplayer and €53 on Magic Card Market.  That’s a 30% drop since his spike in July of last year.  Why hasn’t he moved at all since then?  People forgot.  He’s not in the spotlight.  Twin hasn’t won anything recently (yet) and they are expecting the promo to bring his price down.  I’ve got bad news if you’re one of those people.


This is the last year of Liliana of the Veil’s pricing.  It’s from the same set as Snapcaster Mage and it is twice as rare.  Liliana was given out for a year as the RPTQ promo and didn’t dent her price tag.  Snapcaster Mage promos will be a smaller percentage of the overall number of Snapcaster Mages so I’m predicting it to go back up if anything.


We’ve stagnated.  Maybe we’re finally at an equilibrium?  Tarmogoyfs are still too expensive for people who don’t own them but not expensive enough the people who own them want to sell them.  Supply is plentiful but the decks that play them are not so much.  I expect we might see the decline of the mighty Tarmogoyf as less and less people are in the position to purchase them.  It might even get so low it’s not included in the assumed Modern Masters 2017.  It’s still by far the most expensive card in Modern but nobody is complaining.  I’m not sure how I feel about that level of apathy.


Oath of the Gatewatch

I’m gonna rapid fire my thoughts because I’ve already written a lot and will probably cover it more next week.

  • Why is there no black Oath?  Will Liliana get one on Innistrad? Kinda confused why black got screwed again on a cool cycle (ever notice there are no black miracles?)
  • Colorless requirements are a bit more harder to achieve than people think.  I don’t think 3 color decks are particularly well equipped to cast them yet.
  • Kozilek’s Return is going to define Standard.  Get ready to not be able to ride a single Monastery Mentor to victory.
  • World Breaker is by far the best card to use to trigger Kozilek’s Return.  I think his $4 price tag is suspiciously low.  If you’re interested in getting a standard deck you can keep for a while, Eldrazi Ramp will be good for the forseeable future.
  • There are a lot of “looks good on paper” rares in this set.  Consequently not everything can work out so don’t rush out to buy playsets of everything.  Sealed product is not miserable due to flatness of the prices.


  • Ruin in their Wake is not Rampant Growth.  Rampant Growth, like 1 mana Elves, are too caustic for Standard.


Until next time folks, hopefully we don’t have a run on another set of Modern cards.

PROTRADER: Buyouts, Buyouts Everywhere

I don’t even know where to begin. I spent last week in Florida, enjoying a pleasant New Year vacation while largely disconnected from the MTG world, though I did check in from time to time.

I come home, and everyone’s gone crazy.

The Buyouts

First, I want to link to Jim Casale’s piece on the use of the word “buyout.” In most cases, it doesn’t mean what you think it means, and the negative connotation attached to the word doesn’t always ring true.

Take, for example, Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple. Sure, in the simplest terms they were “bought out.” But rather than plummeting over the next week as the race to the bottom began and people saw that the market manipulation couldn’t hold true, the prices actually held over the course of the week. That doesn’t happen unless there’s real demand for a card, and it’s another bit of proof that shows that manipulating the market is not as easily done as many like to claim. Anyone can buy out TCGplayer and move the price of a card for a day, but all that really matters is where those prices settle after a few weeks or months. Simply raising the TCGplayer average doesn’t make anyone a profit, and I’ve written before at length about The Myth of Making Money.

So where does that leave us today?

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The Spec Evaluation Cheat Sheet

As MTG financiers, we see a lot of ideas thrown around for speculation targets. We have a good understanding of what kinds of events can drive prices, but my goal with this article is to streamline the vetting process for cards that we’re considering buying. This will allow us evaluate more cards more quickly, leading us to the best speculative purchases we can make. Ready?

Relevant Factors

Let’s briefly go through the relevant factors we can evaluate before buying in on a card.


What format(s) does the card see play in? Here’s a quick breakdown of how cards are impacted by particular formats:

Standard: Prices can move quickly based on players’ tournament needs, but prices are volatile and will not last, especially once rotation starts to loom.

Modern: Cards in this format just get more and more expensive. If a card is a multi-deck staple, a four-of, appears on MTG Goldfish’s format staples list, see play in other formats, is old, and/or has other contributing factors, prices can get really high. Modern Masters sets mean that every card in the format is at risk of reprint, however.

Legacy: As MTGPrice’s Travis Allen notes, Legacy is starting to drive prices less than it has in the previous five years. That doesn’t mean it can’t still make cards expensive, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as it used to be.

Vintage: A relative few number of players enjoys Vintage, but those that do have invested lots of money in the format. If a card is old or foil, there’s a chance Vintage will make it expensive, but the format isn’t widespread enough to impact the prices of most newer cards, especially non-foils.

CommanderCommander is likely the most popular casual format these days, and this allows it to drive prices on highly demanded cards. That said, as a one-of format, cards have to see play in many different archetypes to see huge spikes—one-archetype players are usually not worth much, even if they’re really good. MTGPrice’s Jason Alt does a great job focusing on the financial implications of Commander week-in, week-out.

Cube: Cube is gaining in popularity, but since not every player needs to own one, it’s really hard for Cube alone to impact a card’s price. It has the largest effect on foil prices, since they’re so much scarcer.

Print Run

A card printed in a large, fall set will have many more copies in existence than one printed in a small, follow-up set. When considering speculating on one of two cards with all other things being equal, you should pretty much always go with the one in shorter supply.

It’s important to know about additional printings, though. If you search for a card like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, you’ll see only the Fate Reforged printing, but that ignores the fact that the card was printed in an Event Deck. This additional influx in supply hurt Tasigur’s price, and if you’re considering buying or selling the card, this is useful information to know. Intro Packs are another source of additional printings for a card that might not necessarily show up when searching to see which sets a card was printed in. By contrast, things like Duel Deck and From the Vault printings will show up as separate sets, making them much easier to identify.

Print run and format demand are both relatively easy to approximate, although we should note that Magic players aren’t given enough information for us to know the exact numbers on these things. Nonetheless, some of the other factors—while no less relevant to a card’s price—are harder to identify.

Likelihood of Reprint

This is honestly just a judgment call. When you have a card from the Reserved List, the judgment call is pretty easy to make—it won’t be reprinted—but when you have something like Abrupt Decay, things get more difficult. You have to consider questions like: what products is this most likely to see a reprint in? what upcoming products would make sense to have this as an inclusion? is its set likely to be covered by the next Modern Masters? Obviously, the answers to all these questions and similar ones are highly speculative, but we have all kinds of resources to help us make educated guesses—and that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

Historical Comparisons

What similar cards have been printed in the past? How did they perform financially? Is this card better, worse, or just different from those other ones? Does it outclass them or is it outclassed by them? If it’s a reprint, how did the first printing perform?

Standard Legality

Is the card legal in Standard? For how much longer? Will it go up or down at rotation? How much is its price predicated on Standard?

These are some of the big-picture things we want to keep an eye on, but it’s getting tough to consider this in the abstract. Let’s move on to a case study.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

With a Fair Trade Price as of this writing of $19.97, Ulamog has seen nearly a $5 increase in the past month. Might it still be a good buy? Let’s go down the list of the relevant factors.


  • Lots: Commander/Cube
  • Some: Standard/Modern (still being determined)
  • None: Legacy or Vintage (not replacing Emrakul any time soon)

Print Run

  • Rarity: Mythic rare
  • Set size: Large, fall set—the most recent, meaning one of the highest print runs of all time.
  • Additional printings: No supplementary product or promotional printings (except for prerelease)

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion? Very low
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)? Low
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)? Medium
  • In Modern Masters 2017Very low
  • In Modern Masters 2019High

Historical Comparisons

  • Highest prices of original three Eldrazi: $54.98; $64.98; $69.98 (approximately three years after release)

Standard Legality

  • Entered Standard fall 2015; leaves spring 2017
  • Price tied to Standard? Very little
  • Expected losses from rotation? Very low
  • Expected gains after printing stops? High

Of course, much of the above consists of opinion, estimations, educated guesses, and wild assumptions. Nonetheless, using the above cheat sheet can help us get closer to an objective consideration of all the factors that might influence our decision to buy or sell a card.

To summarize my above bulletpoints in prose form: Ulamog will be in high demand by casual players, and we’ve seen what that kind of demand can do for Eldrazi titans in the historical comparisons. He comes from a highly opened set, but is a mythic rare with no additional printings, and a relatively small chance of being reprinted before Modern Masters 2019. As a card being impacted very little by Standard, it’s likely that Ulamog’s price won’t be affected by rotation and we can pick these up freely right now.

Let’s do one more case study before we close today.

Thoughtseize (Theros)


With a Fair Trade Price of $19.40 today, Thoughtseize hasn’t exactly set the world on fire the way we expected after rotation.


  • Lots: Modern/Legacy/Vintage/Cube
  • Some: N/A
  • None: Standard, Commander

(Not that the card is in zero Commander decks, but one-for-one discard isn’t especially potent in the format.)

Print Run

  • Rarity: Rare in Lorwyn (2007) and rare in Theros (2014)
  • Set size: Both printings were in large, fall sets
  • Additional printings: No supplementary product or promotional printings

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion? Virtually nil
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)? Very low
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)? High-ish (an eternal staple with no promos or unique premium versions seems suspect to me)
  • In Modern Masters 2017? Possible but unlikely
  • In Modern Masters 2019? A little more possible but still unlikely

Historical Comparisons

  • Before the Theros printing, Lorwyn Thoughtseize topped out above $75.
  • The current price of the original printing is $40.15, more than double the Theros version.

Standard Legality

  • Not legal in Standard
  • Price tied to Standard? N/A
  • Expected losses from rotation? N/A
  • Expected gains after printing stops? High

Everyone expected Thoughtseize to go up after rotation, but so far it has disappointed. Nonetheless, as a four-of staple in every eternal format that has only two printings (albeit at rare in large, fall sets), this is bound to gain in price eventually. Nevertheless, I’m not excited to buy today based on the plummeting buylist price of late:


Keeping an eye on that blue line will tell you when to buy—and this is more or less guaranteed to be a good spec target at some point. Keep a close eye here.

Now You Do It

I’ve shown you a couple examples, show me your breakdown of a speculation target you like in the comments. Here’s the outline:


  • Lots:
  • Some:
  • None:

Print Run

  • Rarity:
  • Set size:
  • Additional printings: 

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion?
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)?
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)?
  • In Modern Masters 2017?
  • In Modern Masters 2019?

Historical Comparisons

  • Past printings of this card?
  • Comparable cards?

Standard Legality

  • Entered Standard _____; leaves ______
  • Price tied to Standard? 
  • Expected losses from rotation? 
  • Expected gains after printing stops? 

Pricing Trends

  • Retail price direction?
  • Buylist price direction?

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

Grinder Finance – Analyzing Buyouts

price of std

Right?  The price of the winning deck at the SCG Standard Classic in Cincinnati was $555.  Two of the decks in the Top 8 cost about $200 and weren’t a red aggro deck, so we’re making some progress.  But that’s not what people are really up in arms about anymore.

It feels like everyone is all of a sudden surprised that cards started going up in price again.  With the announcement that SCG Cincinnati was the LARGEST Open in the history of SCG with over 1,000 competitors, I’m not surprised.  Oh, it was also a Modern Open.  Sorry Legacy fans, I don’t think this is your year.

Why calling price increases a buyout is bad

The reason cards go up and stay up in price is almost never due to buyouts.  It’s so impossibly hard to buy enough copies of a card to control the market price due to sheer volume.

What's not happening
What’s not happening

Nobody is getting rich off of artificially inflating the price of cards by buying a large amount of the market.  Eventually you have to find someone to sell them or you might end up just losing money.  The reason cards are increasing in price is either due to increased demand or dwindling supply.  Let’s take a look at some examples and figure out the difference.

Increased Demand

eldrazi temple eye of ugin

Steady as she goes then boom.  If you have been keeping up with the Eldrazi in Modern, this has been a “deck” for like a month. Some people won’t buy in until they see it on camera so you had time to get in cheaply.  Actually even very recently.  I don’t buy cards to get a quick buck but I had identified this as a problem early.

eye of ugin tweet

Let’s take a look at the 10th place finisher at the SCG Open this past weekend here.  Oh hey a deck that plays more than 1 Eye of Ugin and a full set of Eldrazi Temples?  The deck is also fairly cheap if you don’t include the $200 spent on the two (theoretically unnecessary) Liliana of the Veil.  Hell there is an even more budget version of the deck (here) that plays a mono-black shell and some more Standard legal bulk rares to beat people with the power of Eye of Ugin and Eldrazi Temple.  The reason we’re seeing spike here is due to REAL demand.  If a few thousand players buy 3-4 copies of Eye of Ugin and 4 copies of Eldrazi Temple people will notice and prices will increase.  It’s clear vendors feel this is a real price increase because buylist price jumps follow almost immediately.

But what happens from here?  Well other cards are going to get more expensive in the deck as people start to build and play it.  I’d recommend working on the harder to find cards like Inquisition of Kozilek and Relic of Progenitus and then getting the cards with Standard demand (like Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Oblivion Sower).  But please don’t go on twitter and decree that MTG finance is the reason why you can’t build the deck for pennies on the dollar now.  If anything it’s MTG finance that is keeping the retail stores on their toes and keeping the market fluid.  We may see a drop in price in the next few days as more copies enter the market but I don’t see a return to pre-spike prices and that’s okay.

Low Supply

gaddock teeg glen elendra archmage

These are not buyouts.  They’re not caused by a nefarious group of people trying to make Séance happen.  It’s clear from the graphs that multiple months of increasing buy and sell prices has just hit the “bubble” where a small increase just doesn’t get the product flowing.  Both of these cards are from Lorwyn Block and Glen Elendra only had a tiny reprint in Modern Masters.   Eventually vendors or TCGPlayer reach a breaking point where they will violently increase both prices because the market is demanding it.  This can look like a buyout because if there are 12 copies on TCG player and none in stock at retail stores it causes people to panic buy.  The reality of these spikes is they will be back down a little in the next few weeks but they will never be their pre-spike price.  This sort of price correction is really the wakeup call that leads a lot more supply to the market and is generally healthy after the first day of markups.

How to react to these price increases

Don’t panic.  Please whatever you do, don’t panic buy cards.  If anything goes up over 200-300% in one day it is so hard for it to stay that high.  Just wait a few days for the cheaper copies to reach vendors and then you can pick up your copy for less than the buying frenzy prices.  If you buy into hype you only become the greater fool and end up losing the most money.  That’s pretty much the definition of anti-value, so don’t do it!

If you’re trying to save money for cards then watch price trends.  Standard cards flat line in December and then pick up again at the beginning of the next year.  If the card you’re watching is going up $0.20-$0.30 per day (which is hard to really see) then you are better off buying in sooner.  Sometimes there is buyer’s remorse if a card gets reprinted but you stand to lose so much more money by waiting that it’s silly to wait too long in a lot of cases.

Cards to keep an Eye on

  • Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger had 12 copies in the top 32 of SCG Cincinnati.  That’s a lot of a Standard Mythic at a Modern event.  Ali Aintrazi (affectionately known as Ali Eldrazi) even went so far as to play three Ulamog and zero Emrakul.
  • Spellskite is 100% going to be an “oh shit I wish I bought this card earlier” card this year.  It’s only gone up since the reprint in Modern Masters 2015 and I don’t see it getting printed again soon.
  • Literally anything in Modern.  There is another Modern Open in Charlotte next weekend and then three weeks later is the Modern Pro Tour.  This hype train has a long track ahead of it to gain steam before more things explode in price like Scalding Tarn.
  • We may see some weird prices on the weekend with no events.  There is no event (GP or SCG Open) the weekend after the Pro Tour.  It will be interesting to see what happens to cards that weekend.