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The Spec Evaluation Cheat Sheet

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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.

Formats

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.

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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.

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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.

Formats

  • 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)

Thoughtseize

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

Formats

  • 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:

thoughtseizechart

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:

Formats

  • 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!

MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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Snarkmas 2015

Previously, on Accumulated Knowledge…

“So I’m doing some research on card prices right now… I’ll have most of this information synthesized in next week’s article.”

“I’ll be back next week with a more focused, technical article talking about what looks good and what doesn’t long term.”

*GUNSHOTS* “Get down!” *EXPLOSION*

“TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THE DEVICE! NOW!”

*CLICHÉ TORTURE SCENE CLIPS*

“End of the line…”

*Fade to black*

Welcome to another installment of Accumulated Knowledge, the last one of 2015. A couple of things occurred to me last week as I was working on this piece:

  • Everything in Standard is so cheap right now (especially BFZ), that the answer to pretty much everything is either “buy it now!” or “this card isn’t good, so don’t bother!” That’s not a fun article to write, and it’s probably not very fun to read.
  • I’m still in my first calendar year with the MTGPrice family, so if I want to come up with cool/clever/contrived traditions, now is the time to start.
  • Prices are unlikely to shoot up before I start AK back up in two weeks, so the impetus for getting this information out to you “on time” isn’t really there.

So with all of that being said, we are going to celebrate the holidays by doing what I treasure most this time of year: putting off doing something boring until January! Welcome to the first annual…

ACCUMULATED KNOWLEDGE SNARKMAS SPECTACULAR!

This is going to be a “best-of [YEAR]” style article with my own brand of edgy but accessible humor, as well as some holiday treats and even some musical guests1! Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you’re probably going to read the whole thing regardless, so let’s get started!

I’ve also made this article free for everyone, because pageviews are my lifeblood I’m a kind and generous hero! Hooray for me!

BEST NEW SHOW INVOLVING MUPPETS IN 2015

“The Muppets” on ABC. It’s really good!

BIGGEST MAGIC COMMUNITY ISSUE IN 2015

This one was a buzzer beater, but the answer is undoubtedly the Oath of the Gatewatch leaks. Magic has had these kinds of issues for as long as I can remember (I believe Judgment was the first major online leak), and they are really bad for the game in a number of ways.

The first issue is that most of the cards that get spoiled are rares and mythics, which were likely going to be previewed by another site or source. Now you’ve ruined the surprise of the card, as well as had a negative impact on a community site or member that likely has a financial impact, as well. If only 50 percent of people visit a site to see a card that was already leaked, you’ve cut that site’s clicks in half, which means less compensation from advertisers, which means no money for Christmas presents for their kids.

I also think that the damage done now is different than the Rancored_Elf days because Magic casts a much wider net. When leaks like Judgment one happened, the Magic community was almost entirely the competitive community. Now there are so many ways of playing and engaging in the game that a leak totally torpedoes the excitement of a subsection of the community when its big surprise gets ruined.

The last point I’ll make about that is this: I keep thinking back to how amazing and exciting the reveal of Damnation was2, and how that incredible, memorable moment would have never happened if the card had been spoiled early.

All that being said, let’s talk about some of the spoiled cards (I know, I’m the worst).

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar: At 1CC, it’s tempting to compare this with Jace Beleren and Liliana of the Veil. That will not end well for Nissa. I’m not sure that any of the decks that want to immediately to use her second ability wouldn’t be better off playing the new Gideon instead.

Chandra, Flamecaller: This costs six mana, so it’s virtually useless. Chandra is the Britta of planeswalkers.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim: I was really trying not to play Shambling Vent in my Abzan Aggro decks because it comes in tapped, but Ayli is such a good two-drop that I may have to regardless. This is a card that definitely feels pushed for Constructed, even if you never get to activate her last ability.

Wasteland (Expeditions): I wish I could tell you that this would create a statistically significant amount of Wastelands so as to breathe life into Legacy, but I don’t think that it will. What this will do is bottom out the price of every rare in the set, and probably most if not all of the mythics also. This is the most important Expeditions land of all the 45.

Forbidden Orchard (Expeditions): Someone with a lot of influence in or around Wizards of the Coast plays Oath of Druids in Vintage. That’s the only explanation.

Kor Haven (Expeditions): I blame Sheldon Menery for this one. Dust Bowl I can understand, but seriously?

Tectonic Edge (Expeditions): F*** you.

CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU SHOULD WATCH

Jingle All the Way! This movie holds up really well, and has a pretty impressive cast. Definitely in the upper tier of Christmas movies.

OVER-RATED CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU’LL PROBABLY END UP SITTING THROUGH THIS YEAR

Polar Express. This isn’t really intended to have humor for kids and adults like Jingle All the Way, so I can’t knock it there. Here’s the thing that I always think about when it’s on though: can you think of a movie Tom Hanks has done in the last twenty or so years that ranks below this? I couldn’t get through all of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but that had more to do with the film being twenty minutes too long in my opinion. Tom’s had a lot of hits in his career, so I guess when I’m watching Polar Express all I’m thinking is, “We could be watching Catch Me If You Can right now!”

BEST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2015

Arena of the Planeswalkers! In his Drive to Work on hooks in games, Mark Rosewater stated that for the vast majority of games, there is a very small life-cycle. Sadly, this is probably true with Arena, which itself is a revival of a game (Heroscape) that died off a few years back.

Arena is really fun, and it does a good job of integrating the kinds of gaming strategy that Magic (the card game) doesn’t have access to—things like spatial awareness and establishing territorial advantage. The only problem with Arena, and what has likely killed it, is that there was no “out of the box” variety: the rules were written so broadly as to be modular with new expansions almost to the point of being unnecessarily complex, but there were no extra pieces to choose from. The first expansion was promised for January 2016, and I plan to buy it for sure, but I have a hard time expecting that there will be any others after that. If you find a copy while out shopping (at one point Amazon had them for $18), pick it up. It’s a great way to game the winter away, even with non-Magic playing friends and family.

WORST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2015

Magic: Puzzle Quest! Even though Arena is a totally different style of game, it takes a lot of the soul and spirit of Magic and incorporates it well; the two feel symbiotic.

With Magic: Puzzle Quest, however, the marriage feels forced—it’s a match-three puzzle game with a gimmick and a #brand makeover. The cards used in the game have no relation to their real-life counterparts, and the whole of the narrative in the story mode is core set flavor text. It feels like a game that was designed by people with no background in Magic, but received the needed corporate stamp of approval from someone on the Hasbro totem pole.

The fact that it’s a “freemium” game only makes things feel cheaper, although that’s likely to be expected in 2015 (Hearthstone remains one of the only games to feel both freemium and respectable). There is a ranked play option, and after 33 matches, I am (as of this writing) the 15th highest ranked player in the game. For most of those games, I didn’t entirely understand the rules (I’m still a little foggy), and am at the point where I need to win dozens of games to catch up with the players ranked ahead of me. I have no real interest or incentive to do so. Also, of the 33 matches, I have only played against non-green “decks” three times (players only have the choice of the five mono-colored Origins planeswalkers and their associated decks). That means more than 90-percent of the competitive environment is one style of play—worse than anything experienced in the paper game’s history. I genuinely doubt the Puzzle Quest designers know or care. If Duels of the Planeswalkers is the digital lead-in to paper Magic, then this unpolished simulacrum is an equally likely deterrent.

HEARTWARMING MTG FINANCE CHRISTMAS CAROL OF 2015

(To the tune of “Dominic the Donkey”)

Hey, chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw
It’s writer Jim Casale!
Chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw
Magic‘s Jim Casale
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la, la, laeohda

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Next year’s song: “Corbin Got Run Over By A Reindeer”

MY BEST DECK OF 2015

Abzan Aggro (prior to BFZ)! We chopped the top eight and I left without playing, but I’m confident I could have run the whole table. This list was great.

SIGN THAT MAGIC IS GROWING LIKE CRAZY

We even have a morning show now! I expect MTG Breakfast to be on in the waiting room next time I’m getting my oil changed.

CARDS THAT YOU’LL WANT IN FIVE YEARS

One of the most painful things in Magic is looking at prices of cards that you used to own. Here are the cards that are around $5 or so that you’ll be kicking yourself for not holding onto in a half-decade (as well as a percentage degree of confidence):

Dragonlord Silumgar: Not the best one to lead off with, but I’m seeing prices north of ten and south of five on this guy already, and the foils are floating around $30. Giving him a low degree of confidence, but as a mythic dragon, there is nice casual appeal baked in. (15-20%)

The Great Aurora: It’s a splashy mythic from a core set that is going to be difficult to reprint and is currently under $1.You don’t have to like this card to appreciate those factors. It may never be a breakout Constructed staple, but it could have a price trajectory similar to Darksteel Plate or Asceticism. (65%)

Clever Impersonator: Another casual card, this just feels too cool to stay below the price of a booster forever. (45-50%)

Shaman of Forgotten Ways: I don’t think this was banned in Commander, right? If it wasn’t and it never is, this is an early game ramp spell and late game finisher. (50-75%)

Kiora, Master of the Depths and Sarkhan Unbroken: Planeswalkers almost always have a higher floor by virtue of their card type. The only reason these make the list and the Khans version of Sarkhan doesn’t is that he was more pushed for Constructed, and these are more for casual play. The other Sarkhan is good for your cube, though. (90-100%)

Crux of Fate: A black sweeper that can leave you with your finisher unscathed. It’s probably not going to make it into most Modern decks, although it could always go in a Gifts Ungiven package. I don’t know that it has enough in it to get past the point where buylist numbers exceed the current price, though. (15-25%)

Zurgo Bellstriker: Probably not the best back-up to Goblin Guide since we have Monastery Swiftspear, but 2/2s for one mana always have appeal. (25-30%)

Exquisite Firecraft: Being a sorcery hurts, but three mana for four damage is in that sweet spot where a lot of decks may try and make it work anyway. (50-75%)

Siege Rhino: Sometimes I think about how good Loxodon Hierarch and Ravenous Baloth were and then I look at Siege Rhino and smile. This card is already being played in Modern, where Abzan is a perennial favorite. The Duel Deck foils are dirt cheap, too. (65-70%)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang: This is played in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, as well as Cube (and probably Commander). This card inspired this segment, and is probably the closest thing to a guaranteed winner possible. I’m not scared off by his reprint in the Event Deck, since that was on a small scale. (95%-100%)

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I know that the holidays mean different things to everyone, but I just want to wish you and yours the best, and say the words that everyone needs to hear at this time of year:

“May the Force be with you.”

See you in January!

Best,

Ross

1 Not really.

2 For you new folks: the day Damnation was revealed, visitors to Daily MTG where immediately shown a huge copy of Wrath of God and then watched it morph into Damnation. This was before the current age of social media, so most people experienced it without knowing. It was hands-down the best reveal Wizards has ever done.

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UNLOCKED: The ABCs of MTG Finance

A is for Arbitrage

Arbitrage is a favorite topic of ours around here, and it’s especially favored by Sigmund Ausfresser and Jason Alt. It’s a simple concept wherein one buys an item from one party and sells it to another party for a higher price. Essentially, it’s a matter of identifying market inefficiencies and capitalizing on them. Here’s an example from a recent Jason Alt article:

mindsdesirearbitrageopportunity

You see where the buylist price (the blue line) is above the retail price (the green line)? That’s an arbitrage opportunity. Taking these opportunities is as close to “free money” as you can get, though obviously there are risks if you’re waiting for mail.

B is for Buylists

Buylists are beyond important to the MTG community. For store owners and independent operators, they’re the prices one is willing to pay for cards. For hobbyists and players, they’re the prices one can get for one’s cards at a moment’s notice. For financiers, they’re the indicators that might help one decide whether or not to buy in on a speculation target or avoid it. The existence of buylists is what makes Magic cards one of the most liquid non-currency assets you own.

forceofwillbuylists

When you search for a card here on MTGPrice, you’ll see a list of retail prices from a bunch of different vendors on the right side of the screen. Click the “Sell To” button, though, and it will switch to the buylist prices for those vendors. This will show you who is paying the most, and will also give you a good indication of the current demand for the card in question. (The card above is Force of Will, in case you’re wondering. Demand is pretty tepid for this $115 card.)

C is for Canceled Orders

If you’re watching a tournament and see a card performing well, you may want to place an order for that card. However, in the climate of today’s Magic marketplace, prices swing quickly, and there’s a good chance your order will get cancelled by overambitious vendors who would rather make $3 extra than retain a loyal customer. It’s just a fact of the world, and you should be aware of it.

How can you combat this? A few tips:

  1. If you know you want a card, order it before the big tournaments are underway.
  2. If you’re ordering a large quantity, either order from many different vendors or order from a big-name player (Star City Games, Channel Fireball) who will honor your order.
  3. Run a Google search and check the MTGPrice forums to see if a store you’re considering buying from has a reputation for cancelling orders.
  4. If you do run into issues, report them in the various places Magic players gather online to warn other players who may be considering a purchase.

D is for Dragons

Not just dragons, though. As an MTG financier, you should know that dragons, angels, elves, goblins, and a few other tribal creature types get a premium from a certain subgroup of players. If a sweet new card comes out with one of these creature types and seems underpriced, this is another factor that may convince you to buy in. This chart will probably convince you not to sell your mythic dragons at bulk prices:

BalefireDragon

E is for EV

You’ve probably heard people talking about “EV,” but it may have taken you a while to figure out that it stands for “expected value.” This is a term that you’ll hear quite often, and not just in Magic circles, either. It refers to the average gain or loss one can expect after performing an action many times, while taking known variables into account.

For example, the EV of opening a booster pack of Battle for Zendikar would be the average value of ten commons, three uncommons, one rare or mythic, one basic land, and the possibility of a foil, maybe even of the Expeditions variety, replacing a common. Most often, you’ll hear people discuss the EV of playing in particular events, weighing the cost of entry versus the value of the prizes, tournament materials, and added perks. The better your EV, the more you should want to do something.

F is for Formats

Knowing which format(s) a card on which you are speculating is played in is absolutely key to being successful in Magic finance. Cards that are played in Standard perform differently than those that are played in Vintage, and the same is true of Legacy, Modern, Commander, Cube, and basically any other format you can think of.

If you’re buying a card for speculative purposes, you need to know in which formats the card sees play, how in demand it is in those formats, and how those formats generally impact prices (e.g., Standard moves prices more quickly than Vintage, but Vintage-playable foils could end up worth more than your car if you acquire a few of them).

G is for Grading

You should know the difference between near mint (NM), slightly played (SP), moderately played (MP), heavily played (HP), and damaged. You should know how these different grades impact card prices. You should be able to grade your cards accurately. You should know who grades harshly when buylisting (Strike Zone Online, Card Kingdom) and whose SP cards are often NM (Star City Games). DJ Johnson wrote a great piece on getting value from less-than-NM cards. You should read it.

H is for Homo Magiconimus

In this article, Ross Lennon took the economics term homo economicus and applied it to Magic, creating a new, fancier term for “magical human.” The concept of homo economicus/magiconimus is basically that economists/MTG finance writers predict things as if everyone will act rationally at all times—despite all evidence to the contrary.

We want to be the magical human of legend, but alas, humans are not rational creatures, but emotional ones. Knowing that you will be misled by your emotions, however, can help you plan for just such a contingency. We can all aspire to be magical humans, and being self-aware of our biggest weakness in this respect is a huge step toward this goal.

I is for Interests

MTG Stocks has a section called “Interests” that shows the daily and weekly movement of the cards with the largest changes in that time period. MTGPrice has similar pages called “Today’s Gainers and Losers” and “Week’s Gainers and Losers.” Both sites seem to have slightly different algorithms, so you’ll see a few different cards on each list, but the information is great on both. MTGPrice offers a format sorting ability, too, which you know is extremely helpful if you’ve been reading along.

Checking the finance interests every day is a highly efficient way of getting a handle on the market. DJ Johnson paid proper homage to this aspect of MTG finance in this article.

J is for Judge Foils

Judge foils are important because they are one of very few ways to inject truly high-end cards to the Magic market without just crashing those cards’ values in the process. Two recent examples:

eleshnornphyrexianjudgechart

forceofwilljudgechart

You’re not going to find prices like that on cards from recent booster packs (even Expeditions are dwarfed by these), yet these ridiculously expensive cards were just printed in the last couple years. The point is: if you care about high-end cards, you should probably get friendly with a judge—or become one yourself.

K is for Knowledge Capital

From Investopedia:

An intangible asset that comprises the information and skills of a company’s employees, their experience with business processes, group work and on-the-job learning. Knowledge capital is not like the physical factors of production – land, labor and capital – in that it is based on skills that employees share with each other in order to improve efficiencies, rather than on physical items. Having employees with skills and access to knowledge capital puts a company at a comparative advantage to its competitors.

Hey, this is what we offer at MTGPrice! With a team of some of the best finance minds in the business as well as a bevy of tools at your disposal, we are offering our knowledge capital to you at the price of less than $5 per month. Could you do it without us? Sure. Will we make it easier? Count on it.

L is for LGS

You’ve definitely run into this term, and if you were too embarrassed to ask after all these years, let me finally enlighten you: it stands for “local game store.”

Your LGS is not essential to your success in Magic finance, but it can certainly be helpful. Here, you will have access to a local buylist (hopefully), meet people to play and trade with, get to test out formats and decks, be able to purchase Magic products without waiting for shipping, and more. Your LGS is a resource to you, so don’t let it go to waste.

Wastes

M is for Mill

I could have put this under the dragon umbrella, but mill cards are unique enough that they deserve their own letter on this list. Mill cards are, inexplicably, hugely popular among the casual crowd. Take a peek at Glimpse the Unthinkable‘s unfathomable price for the prime example. That’s not the only one, though, as we see abnormally high prices on cards like Mind FuneralArchive TrapConsuming AberrationTraumatizeHedron Crab… you get the idea.

If it’s blue, black, or both, and it puts cards from your opponent’s library into his or her graveyard, there’s a reasonable chance that card will be worth money someday. This is a fact you should we aware of.

N is for Negotiation

Considering the fixed-price nature of most retail establishments, it’s rare to get to negotiate for items these days. That said, you get to negotiate all the time in Magic finance.

Making a trade? Every step of the process is negotiation. Buying a pile of cards from a vendor at a Grand Prix? If you’re not offering a lower price than what’s listed, you’re doing it wrong. Looking to sell some cards? Negotiation skills will help you get the most possible for them.

This is a skill you should be developing, period.

O is for Out of Stock

Star City Games is well known for having too-high prices on its cards (but compensating with stellar customer service and Magic‘s best tournament series), and as such, I have never actually bought cards from the company. That said, SCG is huge and can thus swing the marketplace single-handedly. When SCG is out of stock of a card, that probably means the card is in high demand, as SCG’s coffers are deep. Often, the card is not sold out at all, but SCG is merely taking some time to determine what the new market price should be. Currently, most of the Expeditions lands are out of stock. A sign of high demand and/or a pending price increase? It’s hard to say for sure, but keep an eye on it.

P is for PucaTrade

I love PucaTrade, as I’ve expressed on this very site. In fact, PucaTrade has been a recurring topic for more than a year now here at MTGPrice. While there has been some recent controversy after Cliff Daigle’s last couple articles, the site is growing by leaps and bounds and has proven itself to be a fantastic place to exchange Magic cards for other Magic cards. My cube would be an untuned mess without the service, I can promise that.

PucaTrade is another of those tools available to you that is not essential for your success, but is helpful to it. There’s a high time cost associated with getting started (PucaTrade is at its best when you list your entire collection), but once you’ve begun on the path of Puca, it’s hard to look back.

Crag Puca

Q is for Quarterly Reports for Hasbro Shareholders

The Magic community doesn’t get a lot of hard numbers regarding number of players, the growth of the game, or how sales are doing. We get broad platitudes like “the best-selling set ever,” but rarely do we get a glimpse at hard numbers.

The one exception to this is the information provided to Hasbro shareholders, which is available (at least in part) to the public. Realistically, the annual reports are more important than the quarterly ones, but come on, I needed a word that starts with “Q”. (Just wait until we get to “X”.)

Incidentally, Anthony Capece drew heavily on Hasbro shareholders reports for his research in two of my all-time favorite MTG finance articles: “Rare is the New Uncommon” and “Size Matters.”

R is for Reserved List

Back in the ’90s, Wizards made a stupid promise in order to appease collectors: it will never reprint cards that are contained on this list, colloquially known as “the Reserved List.”  The Reserved List includes the power nine, the ten original dual lands, and tons of great cards from the first five or so years of Magic‘s existence (and also Wood Elemental).

Wood Elemental

In 2011, after some controversy, Wizards removed a loophole that allowed the company to print premium versions of these cards. The company has maintained that it will never violate the letter or the spirit of the Reserved List again.

This has a two-pronged effect: cards on the Reserved List are some of the safest investments in Magic, since we have a guarantee they will never be reprinted. On the other hand, formats that need cards like the power nine and dual lands are dying because of the ever-decreasing numbers of these cards in existence, which we might expect to lead to card devaluation over time. Not too long ago, Travis Allen wrote a great piece about the effect this is having on Legacy.

S is for Spread

The difference between the retail price and the highest buylist price is what we refer to as spread. For example, if a card is selling for $10 and you can sell it for $5, the spread is 50 percent.

In MTG finance, we use spread to determine dealer demand for a card, which in turn gives us some insight into the larger demand for a card. If a dealer is paying $9 on a $10 card, that’s a 10-percent spread, and indicates that the dealer is having no trouble at all moving copies of the card and just wants to move through as many of them as possible.

In general, the lower the spread, the more we’re interested in buying in. A very low spread often acts as an indicator that a retail price is about to go up.

T is for Twitter

There’s a whole bunch of MTG financiers on Twitter, some with podcasts, article series, blogs, or other platforms, and some that post only to Twitter. The #mtgfinance hashtag is one you should be well familiar with. If you’re not on Twitter, you’re giving up a whole bunch of free information (and sometimes entertainment).

Jason Alt once wrote an article series at Gathering Magic focusing on the best people to follow on Twitter. That seems like a fine place to start if you’re just now registering for an account.

U is for Unrealized Gain

This is perhaps my biggest weakness in MTG finance. An unrealized gain is one where you have successfully made an investment, but haven’t actually secured the capital that equals profit. The eight copies of Wingmate Roc that I bought for $2 each and never got around to outing? Those are great (and shameful) examples of unrealized gains.

Don’t get caught by this trap—be a homo magiconimus and sell your cards at the right time. In this case, laziness was my downfall, but it’s been greed in the past. Lock in those profits and don’t let greed or laziness lose you money.

V is for Value

If you don’t know why V is for value, then I don’t know why you’re reading this website.

W is for Watching and Waiting

MTG finance is all about watching and waiting. If speculation is your style, you need to watch for targets and wait for them to hit. If you’re the type to buy collections and piece them out, it’s all about waiting for that perfect customer or Craigslist post. If you’re a player looking to get cards for their best prices, you’re waiting for December or the summer, when prices are traditionally at their lowest.

Waiting in the Weeds

You need to watch what’s going on in the marketplace and wait for predictions you’re counting on to come true. It’s just part of the hobby.

X is for Xenaphobia

As opposed to xenophobia, xenaphobia is the fear of strong, powerful women, such as a certain warrior princess. The Magic community has a strong case of this affliction, as we see in the responses every time an article about women in Magic gets published (examples here, here, and here).

I don’t know that the Magic finance community is particularly unwelcome to women, but we also lack (m)any prominent female voices, so maybe there’s something we could do better. On a purely selfish level, more women in the game simply means more customers and trading partners, but there’s plenty of arguments for why diversity in games (in both content and audience) will make the hobby more fun for everybody.

Y is for You

Everything in Magic finance comes down to you. Your preferences, your beliefs, your ideas, your actions, and your money.

MTG finance writers are here to point out trends, strategies, theories, and suggestions, but we never tell you that you have to go buy this or that you have to go sell that. We give advice—usually good, but occasionally bad—but you’re the one who ultimately vets what we have to say and takes action based on your opinion of it.

Mark Rosewater often says that the best way to get better at Magic is to own your losses and always be asking yourself what you could have done better. This exact same practice can—and should—be applied to Magic finance, too.

Z is for Zero Balance

Zero balance means exactly what it says: the balance of your debts is zero.

Of course, I hope you’re not going into debt to buy Magic cards (unless you’re opening a business, I suppose). However, we all know Magic cards can make us money. Can you pay off your home, car, student loan, and other outstanding balances with our proceeds? Sure, if that’s your goal.

Maybe your ambitions aren’t to pay off your real-life debts with your Magic hobby, which is fine! In that case, the dream can be a zero balance on your MTG wants list. That’s something we can all agree would be awesome, right?


I’ll update this list periodically, and if you have any links to content that is especially relevant to any of the above, please leave them in the comments and I will add them to the post.

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UNLOCKED: How to Start Your Own Cube Without Breaking the Bank

If you don’t have a player in your playgroup with a cube, you are missing out on what many feel is the absolute best format in Magic. Even if you’re not going to jump on the hype train of calling it the best, Cube is one of the most varied and customizable formats out there, allowing cube owners to design their own draft environments based on any criteria they want.

If you’re unaware, Cube basically breaks down to this: one players brings a pile of several hundred cards (the “cube”) and a group of players draft those cards, build decks, and play games. Most often, there is no more than one copy of each card, but some cube owners do break this rule from time to time. Cube is a simple concept, but by switching up the draft styles, card inclusions, and house rules with each draft, a playgroup can get a ton of varied play from a cube.

Delif's Cube

Putting together a cube is also a hell of a lot of fun. You’re reading an article on MTGPrice, so chances are that you enjoy trading, bargain, hunting, and buying cards at floor prices. Looking at some lists, it might be easy to get discouraged and think that you’ll need to spend thousands of dollars to get a cube into playable shape. On the contrary, you probably have enough cards in your collection right now to build a rudimentary cube and start playing straight away. The fun comes as you start looking through trade binders and bargain bins with an eye specifically targeted toward upgrades for your list.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about getting started from scratch.

Getting Started from Scratch

I’ve built a cube from scratch twice in my life, and both times I used a 360-count binder so that I could visualize each section quickly. This is by no means necessary, but I found it helpful in the initial building stages to keep track of exactly how many more playable cards I needed.

A 360-card cube is small (the average size is probably 450 to 600, with the biggest going up to and above 720), but it is exactly enough cards to support eight players, and it can be easily expanded later, so it’s a great starting point.

As a cube builder, this will be your first major decision point: how do you want to break down your sections? The sections your may want to have in your cube include:

  • White cards
  • Blue cards
  • Black cards
  • Red Cards
  • Green cards
  • Two-color cards
  • Three-color cards
  • Artifacts and other colorless cards
  • Non-basic lands

My dream of a mono-blue cube aside, you probably want your sections to be roughly equal in size, if not exactly equal. A starting point might be:

  • 45 cards for each color (225 cards)
  • 4 cards for each two-color pair (40 cards)
  • 55 artifacts or colorless cards, or utility lands (55 cards)
  • 4 dual lands for each two-color pair (40 cards)

These numbers can be adjusted, of course, depending on how much you want to focus on multi- or mono-colored strategies, or push artifacts, or whatever. I’m just giving examples here. Cube is supposed to be about what you want.

Preferred Selection

If you’ve never played Cube before, you might not know which types of cards to include. In general, Cube is just like other Magic formats, meaning that the best inclusions are just plain, old good cards. However, if you want some more specific guidance, CubeTutor.com (which I will discuss a bit later) has a section called Average Cubes. These lists are generated by choosing the most popular cards from cubes in the Cube Tutor database.

Take a look at the average cube for a 360-card list. Any of these cards currently in your collection can probably go in your binder (unless you don’t want to play with them for whatever reason, which is fine). Be sure and count out the number of cards you have allocated to each section in your binder so that you don’t have to move things around later.

Once your binder is full, you’ve got a workable cube. But the fun has only just started.

Keeping a Record

Okay, the fun comes later. For now, we talk about record keeping. There are several reasons to keep an accurate list of the cards in your cube. These include:

  • When you want to make an update, having a list allows you to know exactly which cards are in the current build, making replacements easy.
  • Having an online link you can share with other players in advance will help people get an idea of your specific list.
  • If a card or two goes missing, you’ll be able to figure out which one(s).
  • You can easily compare your cube to others, making searching for upgrades easier.

As far as keeping a record, a Google spreadsheet is as good an option as any, but I personally use CubeTutor.com. Cube Tutor allows for easy customization and sharing of one’s cube list, and my favorite feature is the visual spoiler mode, which gives an at-a-glance view of the entire cube. It also tracks every change you make, so you can review the history of your cube’s updates over time. It’s a little more effort to update your list than just changing the text in a spreadsheet cell, but I find the benefits to be well worth it.

My First Tome

From Bad Cards to Awesome Ones

Chances are that you have some pretty bad cards in your initial list. That’s okay. The real joy of Cube is that it scales to the budget you have set aside for it. All-common or common-and-uncommon cubes exist, and starting back in 2013, Andrew Colman did a series for Brainstorm Brewery on building a cube for less than $200.

At the other end of the spectrum, some people choose to build their cubes up into their most valuable possessions, in a very literal sense. Between foils, alters, miscuts, Beta power, and all the other ways one might pimp out a list, there are players with cubes worth more than you or I make in a year.

That’s a fine aspiration if you’re into it. Personally, I get uneasy when other players handle my more valuable cards, and those are worth nowhere near what some top-tier cards are. But the great thing is that there’s no wrong way to do it. If you want to set a tiny budget, you can. If you want to make it your life’s work to build something worth more than your LGS’s entire inventory, that’s cool, too.

A Range of Options

The range of cards one can play in a cube is huge. When I’m building a deck or cube or just about anything in Magic, I like to start with the mana base, so let’s start there to give an example of the spectrum of cards one can choose to play.

There’s a good chance you have a number of these sitting around in draft chaff, and they are fine starting points for getting a cube underway:

Scoured Barrens Izzet Boilerworks Frontier Bivouac

If you’re going for a common-and-uncommon-only cube, these cycles are some of your best options. If you’re willing to include rare dual lands, though, there are lots of other choices.

Temple of Epiphany Brushland Drowned Catacomb

These cycles are all better than the above choices, and relatively inexpensive, too. Once you’re committed to optimizing your cube, though, there are three cycles that basically must be included in full:

Polluted Delta  Hallowed Fountain

Yes, as you might expect, fetch lands, dual lands, and shock lands are the best of the best dual lands for the Cube format. Who would have thought?

It doesn’t stop there if you don’t want it to, though.

Flooded Strand 

Be it insanely rare foils are black-bordered Beta versions, you can continue upgrading your cube long past the point where the cards included are optimized for play purposes. For the MTG financier looking for a place to put accrued card value, a cube is a great option and does wonders for focusing your trading efforts.

Alternate Approaches

Of course, like I said, I get uneasy with people handling my more expensive cards. The problem is that I want to play with the best cards Magic has to offer. What can we do to get less expensive versions of these cards?

The most obvious option to saving a little money is to buy cards in less-than-near-mint condition. Jace, the Mind Sculptor has a Fair Trade Price of $94.12 as of this writing, but there are moderately played copies available as low as $75 on TCGplayer. If you’re not planning to resell these cards, you don’t actually need NM versions, and if somebody damages, loses, or steals a non-NM version of a card, it at least mitigates your losses.

In some cases, gold-bordered cards are the way to go. Rishadan Port and Wasteland are fantastic non-basic lands included in most cubes, but they run around $100 and $70 respectively. Gold-bordered versions of these cards, however, cost me about $4 each on eBay.

In case you didn’t know, gold-bordered cards are ones that were printed in the World Championship deck series for a number of years. They had different card backs and were illegal for tournament play, but allowed players to have access to some of the top Standard decks each year. You can read up on the history of these decks and see the contents of each one here.

Wasteland and Rishadan Port were printed multiple times, which accounts for their relatively cheap gold-bordered versions. Less frequently printed cards from these decks, like Force of Will and Gaea’s Cradle, can run $20 and up. Still, they provide huge discounts on very expensive cards and can somewhat be considered “real” Magic cards.

Finally, we come to proxies. A couple months ago, Travis Allen wrote a great piece about the damage proxies can do to card values. I largely agree with Travis’s assertions (and I don’t proxy any cards in Commander, for example), but when it comes to Cube, proxies are virtually essential.

If I spent time, money, and effort working my way up to a Black Lotus, I’m not sure I would trust anyone to play with it under any circumstances. Everyone will feel differently on this, of course, but in general, I expect most of us would be fairly uncomfortable with a $4000 piece of cardboard floating around a table and being shuffled by someone who may or may not take reasonable care of it. Proxies are the only way I can feel comfortable playing with some of Magic‘s best cards in my cube, and so I have 20 to 30 of them in my list.

Based on how you feel about Travis’s article, your mileage may vary on the use of proxies. If you do use them, though, don’t just write card names on the back of bulk commons. Take the time to make or acquire proxies that actually look good. It will improve your cubing experience immensely.

Them’s the Basics

As a player, I love Cube and would rather play it than any other format. As a collector and trader, building a cube has been one of the most challenging, entertaining, and fun experiences in my MTG career. Chasing down just the right trade or bargain price for a card you’ve long been looking to add to your list feels great, and everyone should have the chance to experience it.

Actually, I take that back. If everyone builds a cube in your playgroup, then that means nobody’s cube is being played very frequently. So keep that fact in mind. If cubes abound in your area and you would be frustrated with the idea of building one but rarely getting the chance to play with it, you should probably not bother. But if nobody has a cube in your playgroup, it’s about time for you to change that.

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