Tag Archives: MTGFinance

What’s on the Reserved List – Legends Edition

Legends has always been a fascinating set full of unique cards. It is certainly a set that we should keep our eyes on for card price movements. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Invoke Prejudice, Angus Mackenzie, In the Eye of Chaos, and Land Equilibrium have all seen substantial gains over the past few years. For some of them, these gains are only going to be greater as the years go on because they will become harder and harder to find.

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Recently there has been buzz around cards from Legends that have been gaining steam recently. Cards that have started seeing gains include the likes of Ragnar, Eureka, Divine Intervention, Lady Evangela, and Telekinesis. Well gee, what gives here? Sure, we could attribute some this movement to Tiny Leaders speculation since they are old, hard to find cards that can fill niche roles in the format. However, why are cards like Eureka and Divine Intervention gaining steam these days?

Simply, the Reserve List.

Today, I’m going to throw all of the cards from Legends on the Reserve List at you and provide some quick commentary on where I think its future will price will end up. This will cover everything from Tabernacle to Wood Elemental. Some of the areas of interest I’ll be looking for are:

  • Has this card’s effect been replicated in any way?
    • Follow up – Has this card’s effect already been outclassed by recent cards?
  • What formats will the card be played in?
  • Does the card have a good probability of being outclassed in the future? 

With those questions in mind let’s take a look at some of our Reserve List friends from Legends. One thing to keep in mind is when I say a card will “never be created again in a similar fashion,” I’m referring to Wizards’ modern design policies for how they want Magic to be created. Some examples includes watering down counterspells, making sure removal isn’t too efficient and “Staxx effects” that destroy lands, prevent spells from being cast or can easily lock the game down on a significantly early turn.

 

The List

 

Card Comments
The Abyss Our list starts out with one of the most expensive cards from Legends. The Abyss is something that will never be created again in a similar fashion. Imagine casting this on turn two with a Dark Ritual! Oh, the humanity. This is the definition of a Staxx effect that will never return. Magus of the Abyss is easy to remove and can actually kill itself without other creatures on your side of the board (which is why it’s a bulk rare) and I believe that is the closest we’ll ever get to seeing The Abyss’ power again. Well, Call to the Grave is pretty close but does cost one mana more!
This bodes well for the card’s future price, as it is set to only go up over time. This is a slow gainer though – the price hasn’t even moved in the past four years. It will be some time before this card goes up again because it has limited use in Constructed Magic, which relegates it to the kitchen tables and Commander games. Certainly a card to keep your eye on if you want to pick up something neat for your black Commander deck.
Acid Rain WELL, if green ever does become the dominant color of Magic in fifty years, this could be as insane as Boil!….
This card already being at $20 is pretty high for its limited utility. Color hosers are only as good in Constructed as the metagame, and for eternal formats blue will always be king which relegates cheap, massive Forest killing to the side. Cool art but this card has been outclassed by other blue things over the years. Sure, you can troll your Commander group with this if they have a particular knack for dual lands the color blue in general, though otherwise this will be a slooooooow gainer over the years.
Adun Oakenshield Depending on where you look, Adun is anywhere from $40 to $50 or more. This card took a particular hard spike back in April 2013 because someone recognized that it is pretty killer in Commander as a general. Tiny Leaders could add future value to Adun so he is something to watch out for in the future even at the current price.
Al-abara’s Carpet This card is actually pretty insane, barring that you play it early enough in a Commander game and your opponent isn’t playing a ton of flyers. I would say at $5 the “poor man’s Moat”  is pretty cheap for the reserved list and has a powerful effect. Certainly blows Scarecrow out of the water!
Alchor’s Tomb This is an example of a “do nothing” card – it costs a ton of mana for an effect that does nothing to hamper your opponent or increase your own board position without heavy outside support. The only reason this card is $3 is because it is on the list. This is the first card we’ve encountered that is RSB – reserve list bulk. Avoid.
All Hallow’s Eve One mana short of being in Tiny Leaders, this card could have fit right in with Time Spiral block since the scream counters are basically the same as the Suspend mechanic. The inspiration for Twilight’s Call, Living Death, and Living End, the card has power even if it is delayed.
At $40, it is a pricier card that probably will get outclassed in the future as Living End has a Modern deck based around it and is still only $6. Though neat, probably better to avoid if you’re looking for quicker gains.
Angus Mackenzie With Commander and Tiny Leaders demand, Angus has been gaining steadily over the past several years and has no signs of stopping. A great general and powerful static effect, I can only see him growing more steadily as the years go on.
One thing to keep in mind is that Angus’ effect might be outclassed in the future, though the creature would probably cost much more mana for a similar effect.
Bartel Runeaxe Legendary, yet sadly has been severely outclassed over the years by creature creep. RSB.
Boris Devilboon Boris does seem like he good be good, but he is competing with similar cards like Sek’Kura, Deathkeeper in the modern Magic landscape. Looking closer, he has weak stats for his mana cost and the activated ability is costly as well. RSB.
Caverns of Despair Similar to Al-abara’s Carpet, this card has a decently powerful effect since it gives red access to something that these days it would never receive. It’s pretty nice for control decks since it gives them another tool to stave off creatures. Though we look to Crawlspace as the de facto way to control attacks, this card also affects blocking creatures which is something to note. I can see it being outclassed in the future, though not in the color red. Keep an eye on this one moving forward.
Chains of Mephistopheles Chains is already crazy expensive, however it could get even more expensive as time goes on. It is a card that sees niche play in Legacy and is certainly cube and Commander worthy. The price explosion I believe is pretty much over, since the card has gone from $50 to $350 in the space of three years or so. I would still expect small, marginal gains from Chains over the next few years.
Cleanse A Wrath of God for only black creatures, this card might see play in Legacy one day though I highly doubt it. It’s on the cheaper end at $9 but, again, where is it going to see play? It is too narrow to have any applications in constructed environments 95% of the time. Not exactly RSB yet too expensive for formats like Legacy.
Disharmony A strictly worse Grab the Reins, this card is another to be avoided since it has been outclassed. RSB.
Divine Intervention Even though this card says the game ends in a draw, I think we can all agree that it you get this to go off in a game of Commander that you’re the real winner.
A neat card without any near comparisons other than the “you win the game” cycle of enchantments from Judgment, I could see this card gaining traction over time as players try to jam it into Commander as a fun way to end the game. A very slow gainer financially.
Elder Spawn Terrible creature, has been outclassed over the years. RSB.
Eureka A wild and crazy card that fits right in with a game of Commander, this card has massive casual appeal since it allows you to play all those Eldrazi and planeswalkers from your hand for free! Pretty neat! I believe I have also seen this card in a Legacy deck at some point (can’t remember which exactly) so it could pop up again in eternal formats if Hypergenesis-type decks become good again.
A slow gainer, but could spike if featured in a Legacy deck at some point.
Falling Star Yeah, this card is back when Wizards thought Chaos Orb was cool… Yeah, turns out people don’t like flipping their cards physically while playing with them. Not something you want to pick up for anything, really. RSB.
Field of Dreams OK, so black gets The Abyss and blue gets… this? Wow, can’t believe blue got the shaft here though I guess sometimes the power needs to shift to other colors (except green, of course – this is back when green was terrible). Avoid, has been outclassed over the years. RSB.
Firestorm Phoenix We’ve gotten several better phoenixs over the years, avoid. RSB.
Forethought Amulet The effect is way too narrow to be good, even with future cards added. Also, an upkeep of three mana to keep in play? Yeah, no thanks. RSB.
Gosta Dirk Legendary, but sadly has been severely outclassed over the years by creature creep. RSB.
Gravity Sphere Now here’s a card that has potential! Gravity Sphere is great at punishing blue players and similar by taking away flying. This card would fit right in with a tokens deck these days and has the added bonus of always grounding future insane flyers that Wizards decides to print.
Also, Tiny Leaders relevant! Keep an eye out on this card moving forward.
Gwendlyn Di Corci Gwendlyn is… ok. She has decent stats, however the mana cost is atrocious and the ability is sub-par at best. At $25 I don’t see how this becomes more expensive as time goes on and could easily be outclassed by future creature creep in Commander pre-cons and such.
Halfdane Though neat, this card is strictly a casual-only card as it the effect is decent yet not game breaking enough most of the time. You would have to find a way to give Halfdane other abilities like flying to make it really good. I could see this getting outclassed by similar clone effects, especially for the mana cost, however Halfdane is under $10 and could go up over the years if Shapeshifters become a thing as a tribe.
Hazezon Tamar Though slow, Hazezon is certainly powerful if you can get him to stick. I believe that he is a slightly worse Avenger of Zendikar that you can play as a general.
I think this card is rare enough to maintain the current price but will need a ton of support from future sets if it ever is going to go higher than $45.
Hellfire Hellfire is really strong however a dangerous card in formats like Commander. Yes, in a mono-black deck this can be incredible but you are risking doing a ton of damage to yourself. Lifelink and lifegain are possibilities, though.
At $16 this is one of the cheaper Legends cards and has potential in the future if mass removal continues to be printed at higher converted mana costs.
Imprison Terrible card, easily outclassed by other black removal. RSB.
In the Eye of Chaos This card was seeing some play as a sideboard card in Legacy decks as a way to help stabilize after maintaining board control. It is also pretty nice in creature based Commander or Tiny Leaders decks, as it prevents the opponent from easily casting instants and sorceries to catch up.
This is one to look out for the in the future, as it has already started climbing up in price and continues to climb as more players become aware of it.
Infinite Authority Marginal effect for a crazy mana cost, and is an aura to boot. RSB.
Invoke Prejudice Similar to In the Eye of Chaos, Invoke Prejudice is absurdly powerful in casual mono-blue decks. It makes all their creatures cost double the mana and can easily lock opponents out of the game. Even at a cost of quad-blue, the card has reached heights of $130. It does seem to be stabilizing here, and I don’t expect another huge increase for some time. Expect slow gains for this card.
Jacques le Vert As a general, this guy is marginal but certainly can be built around with such tools as Assault Formation to get more damage in. $5 is on the cheaper end of Legends cards, and with more support I could see a substantial price increase for Jacques.
Jovial Evil I guess you could kill someone playing a white weenie deck randomly with this card however the application is super narrow outside of this interaction. RSB.
Knowledge Vault Not that great – according to ME III this card should have only been an uncommon. RSB.
Kobold Overlord Thank you Prossh for turning this into a $15 card! Could it go higher? Possibly, but unlikely in the near future unless somehow more Kobold support is printed…
Lady Caleria Way too expensive for the stats and effect. RSB.
Lady Evangela One of the recent cards to spike in price, my guess is this was Tiny Leaders speculation. I’m somewhat doubtful as to its application though since removal is prevalent in the format and she is only a 1/2… Not sure I like it at $15.
Land Equilibrium Wow, this card is the definition of unfun. We will never see a card like this in Magic’s future since it can so easily prevent your opponent from executing their game plan if you’re close on land counts. The card has seen substantial gains over the past few years due to players realizing how strange and power this enchantment can be, though I doubt it will see these types of gains again in the near future.
Life Matrix Terrible, been outclassed by many other cards. RSB.
Lifeblood Color hosers really shouldn’t be rare… sigh. This card is powerful but again has narrow applications, so RSB.
Living Plane This card has some “fun” interactions with ping effects and other cards that can do one damage several times in one turn. We’re not likely to see cards like this again, so like Land Equilibrium this will go up over time though its bound to be a slow gainer (even after seeing a steady increase in price since three years ago). Planar Chaos has shown us that we can get similar effects in the future (Life and Limb).
Livonya Silone Hmm, this card is actually pretty solid since Legendary lands are played pretty often in Commander. This card allows you to play a red/green general that is decent at blocking and can sometimes get in for some damage. At $5, its pretty cheap but again could be easily outclassed in the future. Still, this is a card to watch and see if the future makes it better or worse.
Mana Matrix This is a pretty decent artifact in the right deck, and actually makes all of those big, splashy instants and sorceries Wizards has been pumping out somewhat castable! The card’s price has been pretty steady historically, so eventually we will be in for an increase once some really good sorcery / instant support is introduced.
Master of the Hunt Master of the Wild Hunt is much better. RSB.
Mirror Universe Cool card with a unique ability. This card has a lot of casual love, which has kept it over $40 for a long time. Similar to Mana Matrix, this card’s price hasn’t moved in some time and could be due for a correction eventually. Though Soul Conduit represents more repeatable switching (and other Commander shenanigans) why not play both in the same deck?
Moat One of the big daddies of Legends with Tabernacle, Moat is a card that is never going to be going down in price as time goes on. The effect is way too powerful to see print again (expect in crappy creature form) and players know this. It is even somewhat Legacy playable from time to time in the right deck. Expect slow increases over the years.
Mold Demon So bad, oh so bad… RSB.
Nether Void Similar to The Abyss, Nether Void is another black enchantment that basically locks the game down after it is cast. Trying to cast spells after this comes down is going to be pretty difficult, and again Wizards’ policies these days are to avoid Staxx cards like this that prevent players from playing the game. The card has seen some growth over the years, since it is occasionally seen in Legacy (or maybe even Vintage) decks however I would guess Commander drives much of the card’s price. Expect slow increases to continue
North Star Do nothing card, avoid. RSB.
Nova Pentacle Too expensive for the effect, will never see play even in slow formats like Commander. RSB.
Pixie Queen Green giving creatures flying is cool. Too bad it costs seven mana is tacked on to a 1/1 boy. Way too overcosted for the effect. RSB.
Planar Gate Like Mana Matrix but for creatures. This card hasn’t moved much in quite a while so I think it is up for a price correction as players look to play more artifacts that reduce the cost of creature spells.
Quarum Trench Gnomes This is a really bad color hoser… RSB.
Ragnar The other Legends card to spike recently, Ragnar could actually be pretty decent in Tiny Leaders since he allows regeneration to happen in a format full of removal. Again, like Lady Evangela the price is pretty overcosted for the stats. I guess in Tiny Leaders you take what you can get. I expect the price to settle down a bit as more cards are introduced to Tiny Leaders (aka power creep happens).
Ramses Overdark Bad, narrow creature. RSB.
Rapid Fire Expensive instant with marginal abilities. RSB.
Rasputin Dreamweaver This guy makes an awesome Commander because he can protect himself and make future cards you play cheaper with the dream counters. Plus, he can add dream counters to himself as well! Rasputin has gone up in price over time due to this and I expect that climb to continue albeit slowly.
Reverberation Too narrow of an effect for a rare. RSB.
Ring of Immortals Too narrow of an effect and overcosted. RSB.
Rohgahh of Kher Keep Combos well with Prossh, which should keep the price steady for a while. I believe the price did spike when the Commander 2013 decks were released but quickly went back down. Certainly a card to keep an eye out for once Prossh himself starts increasing in price – you can bet this card will follow suit!
Spinal Villain Could be an interesting sideboard option for Tiny Leaders or even Legacy, however being a 1/2 is definitely not that great. This is one of the stronger color hosers in the set and should be watched in case blue creature decks (like Merfolk) start dominating Legacy. However, due to the combo nature of the format I don’t really see that happening.
Spiritual Sanctuary Very bad card in general, should never have been a rare. RSB.
Storm World For one mana, I think this card deserves a second look. It’s kind of like The Rack except you can only have one of them in play. For Commander, these types of restrictions don’t matter so that isn’t really a strike against it.
For black/red discard decks, this card can do some heavy lifting for only one mana. I think at $5 this is one enchantment to keep an eye out for.
Sword of the Ages Certainly an interesting effect, though it requires you to kill practically all of your creatures. Decent in 1v1, however in Commander it’s pretty bad and unfortunately that is where this card is relegated. RSB.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale Like our friend Moat, Tabernacle is all $$$ and will continue to be collected over the years as the best card from Legends. A slow, steady gainer for sure but the most solid bet for a card that will maintain value from the Legends set.
Telekinesis This card has always been around $8, and my thinking is that this offers Tiny Leaders blue decks something to do while they are setting up their combo (or whatever they’re doing).
I expect we’ll get better creature removal in blue as the years go on, however the effect is unique and might see an uptick in price if Tiny Leaders gains traction.
Tetsuo Umezawa Again, a Tiny Leaders increase that happened recently has made this card go from $22 to $40 this year. Unlike other Tiny Leaders specs from this set, Tetsuo is actually somewhat powerful in that he can kill tapped creatures every turn like Royal Assassin. Yet, I’m not sure it can go higher than $40 for the time being, and could even start dropping in price if more Tiny Commanders are printed in Grixis colors.
Thunder Spirit The inspiration for Thunder Totem, we have a similar card in Sky Spirit that is only white mana. I wouldn’t expect Thunder Spirit to be breaking any formats if Sky Spirit is only $0.20.
Tuknir Deathlock Hmm, a flying 2/2 in G/R? Interesting… and it can also pump creatures +2/+2 until end of turn? Yes, this is interesting… The question is though, is it good enough for Commander? Surprisingly, that answer could be yes since this card is so weird. At $3.50, this is one of the cheaper cards from the set and the effect is definitely unique for G/R.
Typhoon Pretty bad in eternal formats, even as a color hoser. RSB.
Ur-Drago Really bad, overcosted creature. RSB.
Willow Satyr This card is pretty cool and offers green a Control Magic effect that is rarely seen in that slice of the color pie. In Commander, this card is great because you can randomly steal other people’s generals since you’re playing green and no one would expect this! At $15 that is pretty cheap for a powerful effect.
Wood Elemental Utter garbage. I believe that this card is so bad that it actually has made several official Top 10 Worst Magic Cards lists. RSB to the max.

 

Conclusions

OK, based on that wall of text what are my top picks from Legends that might be undervalued? They are:

 

Al-abara’s Carpet

Gravity Sphere

Livonya Silone

Mana Matrix

Planar Gate

Tuknir Deathlock

Willow Satyr

 

All of these cards are in the $5-$15 range, which is fairly cheap for Reserve List cards, and will never be printed again. They all have decent effects that get better over time as more cards are introduced to the card pool. They all interact fairly well in Commander, and though aren’t the best at what they do anymore they still provide extra ‘similar effect’ copies of cards that you can use if you’re looking for more ways to create redundancy in a deck. 

Of course, we all know what the solid cards of Legends are (just check out the higher priced cards at the MTGPrice page for top Legends cards) but what are you guys tracking from Legends, if anything? Are there any undervalued reserve list cards that I just glossed over that you might think have potential? Let me know what you think in the comments!

 

Editor’s Note: Announcing exclusive content for ProTraders!

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– Corbin Hosler

The Timeless Adventures of Monastery Mentor

So from what I’ve been hearing recently, our recently released friend Monastery Mentor is quite the adventurer. Since Mentor hasn’t found a home in Standard yet, the card has felt the need to travel to far and distant formats in order to become the best. Based on the nature of cheap cantrips in eternal formats, it seems to have positioned itself as the next Vintage powerhouse, along with breaking into Legacy and Modern.

Seeker of the Way finally found it and thus became a master.
Seeker of the Way finally found it and thus became a master.

For the Vintage adventures of Monastery Mentor, I will direct your attention to this event in Rome. Only 71 players attended the event, but being sanctioned Vintage we can consider this a pretty big tournament. Monastery Mentor was the namesake of not one but four decks in the Top 8 of the event! It’s kind of crazy to think that a non-blue card would make such an impact on Magic’s oldest format. Let’s be honest, once we knew how crazy Treasure Cruise was in Legacy everyone knew that Mentor in Vintage was also going to be busted. Blue-Red Delver was a Tier 1 deck in Modern, Legacy and Vintage before the banned list update, so even after that restriction took place it looks like we have a more balanced card that has come in and again completely changed the format.

I think the Vintage Mentor deck was able to come about since Gush is no longer restricted in the format. Gush has opened up the doors for decks to really push their card draw engines to the max. The Monastery deck can either take the U/W route or splash red for cards like Dack Fayden and Red Elemental Blast. Either way, it seems like a spicy brew that is well positioned in the current metagame.

Two versions of the deck were also playing the somewhat forgotten Mystic Remora, a card that is also pretty decent in Commander and casual formats. They’re pretty cheap in paper at $0.25 or so if you’re looking to pick some up you can’t go wrong getting in at bulk prices. Vintage isn’t exactly a format that affects prices of non-foil cards at all, so the real reason to pick up Remoras is for casual and Commander appeal since it only has one printing.

What does this mean for the future of Monastery Mentor’s price? Well, I’m thinking that foils of Monastery Mentor are starting to look very appealing. Even at $55 I believe that they can up further over time. The reason is because Mentor is also up and coming in Legacy and Modern. Let’s take a look at some recent results to see where Mentor is played.

 

Mentor in Legacy

Grand Prix Kyoto Top 8 Stoneblade and UR Delver*

*Typo in decklist (should be listed as Monastery Swiftspear in UR Delver), ignore all references to Mentor in Legacy UR Delver.

Recent results from the Legacy GP, where ~2,000 players participated, have also indicated that Mentor is the real deal. He was played as a playset in UR Delver (splashing white just for Mentor) and Stoneblade in the Top 8. In fact, the Stoneblade deck was so radicalized by Mentor that it doesn’t even resemble a typical Stoneblade list. No True-Name Nemesis, no Delver of Secrets, and the only equipment to tutor with Stoneforge Mystic is Batterskull. Looking at the Stoneblade list, we can also see the Counterbalance / Sensei’s Divining Top package along with Terminus in the deck. All together, it looks like a cross between Miracles and Stoneblade rather than being a Stoneblade list. Still though, if the direction of Legacy is going this way with Mentor as one of the key cards in a tempo and control shell, I think it has a bright future in the format.

 

Mentor in Modern

Star City Games Providence (Esper Tokens) and States Results

First let’s take a look at the Esper Tokens list from Providence since it placed at a Premier IQ rather than a local states tournament. Playing four copies of Monastery Mentor, this deck was able to secure a Top 8 spot. A spin on the black/white tokens lists that have been floating around since Bitterblossom exploded in price, this deck is a control version of the tokens list. This makes sense considering Mentor rewards you for playing tons of noncreature spells. Looks like Vault of the Archangel made an appearance here too, which is pretty funny when you have a ton of Mentor tokens  and opponents are trying to get through your deathtouching army. Tasigur is a nice backup that allows you to recur those spells and keep making tokens. Not that this is necessarily the best version of the Mentor deck in Modern, but it did place the best and the States Results also featured more copies of Esper Tokens making Top 8’s than other decks playing Mentor.

Speaking of States, let’s take a look at the decks that featured Mentor besides Esper Tokens.

  • Mardu Tokens – Mardu is not a color combination seen often in Modern, so when it pops up the list is definitely worth analyzing. This particular build features Mentor and Young Pyromancer, along with tokens mainstay Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue. Kolaghan’s Command gives the deck some reach (especially with being able to return the token generators to your hand after they get killed / countered) and red allows the deck to play the premier removal spells of the format Lightning Bolt and Lightning Helix. An interesting spin on the traditional black/white tokens list.
  • Cheerios – Definitely the strangest deck featuring Mentor, this is an equipment based combo deck that wins through either Grapeshot storm count or if that doesn’t work creating an army of Mentor tokens and attacking. I’m not sure what the merits of this deck are outside of the particular States tournament where it was played but still it adds another merit badge to Mentor’s resume.
  • Mardu Pyro – Similar to Mardu Tokens, Mentor was included to help generate advantage alongside Young Pyromancer. By including tons of removal and other noncreature spells, the deck can quickly generate an army while taking out your opponent’s creatures.
  • Jeskai Delver – Delver of Secrets is still pretty decent in Modern, and similar to the concessions made in Legacy the UR Delver decks are splashing white in order to play Mentor and other powerful white cards in the format.
  • Mentor Burn – A new take on Burn, this deck features Mentor as a way to continue killing your opponent through all the Burn you’re playing. Instead of Atarka’s Command this deck focuses on casting Boros Charms and Mentors to continue the beatdown.

 

Summary on Foils

So there you have it: my thoughts on why the foils are looking good as pickups. I’m not sure if Mentor foils have room to drop with all the potential they have in Eternal formats. I would look for any deals locally or online to see if you can potentially trade for them, since many Standard players are looking for cards that are good in Standard and are probably more willing to trade Mentor since it currently isn’t featured in any Tier 1 decks of the format.

 

Speaking of Mentor in Standard…

Yes folks, I believe there will come a day when Mentor will be insane in Standard. That time might not be now but I think it is slated to come in the future as long as the proper support is provided in this new (somewhat extended) Standard rotation. Is $15 for non-foil Mentors the low point buy-in? I’ll admit, it might not possibly be the lowest. At the same time I have a hard time believing that it will drop below $10 into the single digits. The extra $5 now to secure your copies could definitely be worth it in the long run if the card breaks through $20 and more during its Standard life. Again, trading for copies is going to be your best bet. Similar to the foil versions, Standard-only players are going to be more willing to trade them for cards that see play in Tier 1 decks.

 

Final Thoughts

Finally, Mentor of course has casual appeal. Like Young Pyromancer, which is a $3 uncommon despite being printed into oblivion in an event deck, this card is going to garner plenty of casual demand due its token-generating abilities. Though only average in formats like Commander, it can still hold its own and help you stabilize the board if you’re able to stick Mentor for a turn or two.

All in all, I can’t fault anyone for picking up copies of Mentor now whether they’re foil or non-foil. Buying with cash is a tougher decision but trading for these guys is a no-brainer in my mind. Even though there is a possibility of a price decline based on the direction that Standard is taking, I believe that foils won’t be dropping much due to the Eternal format applications of the card. Also, even if Mentor does drop in price, I can only see it as a short term decline. It has a very high chance of going back up later in its Standard life, especially when Theros goes away.

That’s a wrap for my current thoughts on Monastery Mentor. As always guys, let me know what you’re thinking in the comments.

 

 

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Advanced Economics & MTG Finance – Part 1

By now it’s no secret that I treat MTG investing very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that I compare the performance of my MTG portfolio loosely with that of the S&P 500. And why not? If I’m going to legitimately invest real dollars in original dual lands, shock lands, booster boxes, etc. then it only seems appropriate that I compare the return on these investments with that of other investment opportunities.

But my holistic approach to investing doesn’t stop here.

This week I want to dive into a more advanced economics topic out of the field of game theory by applying one of the most well-known truisms of game theory to our favorite MTG topic: buyouts. That’s right. I believe that we could potentially apply an advanced economics concept to understand something reactionary and emotional in the MTG Finance community. Think I’m crazy? Think it can’t be done? Well, allow me to at least try.

Nash Equilibrium

Before I jump into concept application, I need to establish a few assumptions first. These suppositions are not very far-fetched, so I don’t think you’ll have difficulty accepting my thesis because of these assumptions.

First, let’s assume that when a buyout of a certain card occurs, everyone attempting to purchase the card does so “simultaneously.” That is, when we’re ready to pull the trigger and make our purchase, we aren’t waiting for someone else to take their turn making a decision before us. We click the buttons as fast as we can to purchase the copies we want. And in the meantime, everyone else is doing roughly the same thing. In other words there is no turn taking or prescribed order.

Second, we have to acknowledge buyouts occur in a non-cooperative manner. For example, when Den Protector spiked during the most recent Pro Tour, I wasn’t colluding with others in an attempt to obtain the market price I wanted. No strategy was involved in this regard. I rushed to eBay and TCGPlayer and picked up a bunch of copies as quickly as possible. I may have mentioned my actions on Twitter, but this communication was ex post facto. And even if I had cooperated with a friend, it’s not like the whole MTG community speculating on a card would ever work together – it’s an aggressive business we’re in!

With these assumptions in place, I will borrow Wikipedia’s eloquent definition of “Nash Equilibrium”:

“In game theory, the Nash equilibrium is a solution concept of a non-cooperative game involving two or more players, in which each player is assumed to know the equilibrium strategies of the other players, and no player has anything to gain by changing only their own strategy.”

John Nash was the famous economist who developed this theory and later earned a Nobel Prize for his work in the field. You may also recognize the name from the movie showcasing his genius and his struggles with schizophrenia, A Beautiful Mind.

NashHis Nash equilibrium concept describes motivations for people’s behavior when interacting non-cooperatively. (Aside: In game theory, any such interaction is referred to as a “game.” This is not comparable to playing a game of Magic – rather, the game I’m describing is the decision process of where we buy our cards and for how much during a buyout).

If we want to look at the definition of Nash equilibrium above, we can use specific terms to describe MTG buyouts. The first part of the definition describes the “solution,” or the actual outcome of everyone’s buyout decision (i.e. total copies purchased, where they were bought from, resulting price spike, etc). The second half of the definition is a bit more advanced. Essentially, the suggestion is that all parties involved know everyone else’s best strategy. In MTG buyout terms, we need to make one more assumption: the best action at the beginning of a buyout like Den Protector’s is to buy up copies at or near the starting price.

Den

When a buyout happens due to legitimate demand, the card’s price jump is more likely to stick. Therefore, purchasing copies at or near the starting price during a buyout is definitely the best strategy – it makes you the most money! Everyone knows this, and everyone knows that everyone else is also eager to buy those $1.50 – $2.00 Den Protectors before they double or triple in price.

Thus, we say the Nash equilibrium of the buyout is that everyone buys up more and more copies of the card and the price catapults higher. This is the best strategy because those who bought at $1.50 – $2.00 can in turn sell their copies for profit.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

With Nash equilibrium established, I next need to define the crux of this week’s article: The Prisoner’s Dilemma. It’s this canonical example of game theory that I believe can be applied to MTG buyouts in a profitable way. But before jumping ahead, I first need to share another definition. Wikipedia defines the prisoner’s dilemma as “a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two purely “rational” individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so.”

Originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher, the Prisoner’s Dilemma is a concept that can be applied to a diverse number of real-life interactions ranging from cola advertisements to nuclear stand-offs. My argument is that this sophisticated game theory dogma also applies to buyouts of Magic cards.

Explaining the Prisoner’s Dilemma is best done by example. The namesake explanation involves two strangers caught robbing a store together. They are brought to the police station where they are interrogated individually. The police do not have sufficient evidence to convict the prisoners of an armed robbery charge – only illegal possession of a weapon, which of course merits a much lighter sentence. So in an attempt to drive out a confession, they offer each prisoner separately the same deal: rat out your friend by confessing, and you will be rewarded with no imprisonment.

What’s the Nash equilibrium in this case? Put yourself in the shoes of one of the prisoners. If you assume your partner in crime is going to confess, then there are two possible outcomes: you don’t confess and take the fall, letting your partner walk freely while you suffer 20 years in prison for armed robbery and lack of cooperation with the police; OR you do confess, earning you and your partner a lighter, yet-still-strict sentence of 5 years in prison for cooperation. Given these two options, your best choice is to confess at least ensuring you avoid an unnecessarily long prison sentence.

Now what happens if you assume your partner is trustworthy and he is going to remain silent? Once again you have two choices: if you also remain silent, then the police cannot convict you of the armed robbery (there’s too little evidence) and you both receive a one-year sentence for illegal possession of a gun. On the other hand, if you confess, your partner would go to prison for 20 years while YOU get to walk away a free person. Given these two options, your best outcome is still to confess, since it means you don’t have to do any time in prison! That’s the best possible outcome for you!

The picture below depicts this interaction in a 2×2 grid.

dilemma

No matter what you assume your partner will do, the best decision you can make is to confess. And that’s what happens – both prisoners confess netting themselves the five-year prison sentence.

The advanced part of this comes into play when we compare the actual outcome with the optimal outcome. It is undeniably ideal for both prisoners to remain silent – it nets them the least number of total years spent in prison! But because of the selfish assumptions of Nash equilibrium (i.e. there’s little emotional motivation for helping the other prisoner), both prisoners end up with a worse outcome because they do not cooperate.

How does this apply to Magic? I’ll argue there are two applications.

Application 1: Instead of dealing with prisoners and robberies, we’re dealing with purchasing a quantity of a Magic card at a particular price. We’re all faced with the same decision point during a buyout – do you pull the trigger quickly and grab copies or not? The more copies you buy, the more opportunity you have for profit.

In this game, buying up a ton of copies is equivalent to confessing and cooperation involves collusion. How do the outcomes look?

If everyone rushes out and purchases a ton of copies in an attempt to make bank, many participants in this game are stuck paying too much. As we’ve seen many times in the past, a buyout leads to a card’s spike followed by a race downward in price as people try to sell their copies for a quick buck. Savor the Moment is a recent example of this trend.

Savor

Notice how copies are scooped up aggressively starting in the $2.50 range in late March and ending in the $5.50 range, only to see a drop back down to around $3.25 most recently. When everyone decides to aggressively buy, the price jumps too high, too quickly. In these cases many people are left holding excess copies they are unable to sell for much profit because the higher price inevitably leads to a glut of supply as people try to cash in on the spike. Of course, those who don’t jump in with their hard-earned cash are in the worst shape of all. They own zero copies and they are stuck either paying a higher price or waiting for a drop that may never occur (usually the price ends up higher than the starting price but lower than the peak). No one wants to be in this scenario as it’s the worst possible outcome.

So what does everyone do? They all buy up as many copies as they can, sending the price higher and higher! Missing out on the “next big opportunity” is just too painful.

My argument is that this is another example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. We all “defect” by purchasing a ton of copies while leaving those on the sidelines regretting their inaction. But this leads to a subsequent market glut and difficulty in liquidating copies at a profitable price. I’d argue the best possible outcome would be if the people who wanted copies most purchased the playset they need and those who don’t really want copies just ignore everything. Such cooperation would mean that the people who want copies would get their copies, but those who don’t simply stay away. The price may tick up a tiny bit, but there would definitely not be a huge spike. Then people who decide they don’t want their playset anymore could sell for a small profit and there would be no race to the bottom. And those who didn’t buy before aren’t faced with paying 50-100% more should they decide they want to obtain copies.

To me, this is the very definition of a healthy market. When a card increases or decreases in price it does so slowly and due to the natural shift in supply and demand. Crucible of Worlds is a great example of a card that has never been “bought out,” therefore leading to healthy price appreciation and no huge drops.

Crucible

Wrapping It Up

So what’s the course of action here? Unfortunately, there is really little we can do to avoid the trap that is the Prisoner’s Dilemma. There’s a reason why both prisoners tend to confess, and Coke and Pepsi choose to advertise, and countries choose to invest in nuclear weapons, etc. etc. It’s not the optimal outcome for the entire population, but it is what inevitably happens thanks to Nash equilibrium.

I think the best thing we can do is at least make ourselves aware of this phenomenon before buying into the next spike. It would be naive of me to believe everyone can suddenly cooperate – it’s against human nature. But if we could at least communicate a little better as a community then perhaps we can soften the blow for those left holding the bag in a buyout. For example, when we make our purchases we could be more transparent with how many copies we’re buying and how much we are willing to pay for said copies. We could also make it public what our strategy is for selling – timeline and desired sell price.

Lastly, we could strengthen our relationships with others throughout the community. One thing Nash equilibrium always assumes is that everyone behaves rationally and in their best interest. Friendships and emotional attachment are disregarded. But of course these things DO exist in reality. By developing stronger ties with the rest of the MTG community, maybe we can all be slightly more sensitive to market manipulation. We’ll never eliminate price spikes altogether, but maybe we can help our friends avoid losing money by buying into the hype too late.

I’m out of words for this week’s column, but perhaps you’ve noticed something. I only shared one application, but I said there were two! In similar fashion to a “You Choose the Scare” R.L. Stein novel, I’ll pose the question to my readers: did you enjoy this topic enough that you’re curious to hear my second application as a Part 2 to this article? Or would you prefer I moved back to more traditional MTG Finance writing? Leave your opinion in the comments section, and we’ll let the majority rule!

Until then, thanks for reading!

Sig’s Quick Hits

  • There’s another reason I used Crucible of Worlds as an example in my article. Nonfoil copies of the rare are completely sold out at Star City Games. Tenth Edition copies are sold out at $30.79 and Fifth Dawn copies are sold out at $32.35. If these don’t see reprint in Modern Masters 2015, there’s no reason they won’t continue to slowly chug higher.
  • I honestly thought Bosium Strip was a forced buyout that would result in a subsequent price drop, just like my Savor the Moment example. But this has not been the case. Perhaps not enough copies of the card exist for the market to truly be “flooded” by eager speculators. In any event, SCG is sold out of the card at $4.89 and Channel Fireball currently has a buy price of $2.50!
  • Another card that has healthily grown in price over time is Umezawa’s Jitte. The card has always been popular in various formats where it isn’t banned, but it’s never really in the spotlight. Star City Games has only 3 total copies in stock, with 0 NM copies at a $36.55 price tag.