Tag Archives: MTGFinance

Cold Tomatoes

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Welcome back, financiers! I was happy (and a little bit relieved) to receive a lot of positive feedback to my article last week. It looks like my year and a half writing for Brainstorm Brewery prepared me well for this jump to MTGPrice. One of the Facebook comments on last week’s article asked for discussion of a completely opposite topic: the cards that can’t be reprinted in Modern Masters 2015 and other upcoming supplemental products. I thought that was just a fine and dandy idea, since it keeps me from having to come up with another idea for this week. Let’s look at what won’t be reprinted in the near future, why it won’t be reprinted, and what to do with the cards—whether you have them or not.

request

Oh, right, I almost forgot to explain the title of this piece. You see, because this article is the opposite of last week’s, I wanted the title to be the opposite to match it.

The opposite of hot is easy: cold. But what’s the opposite of a potato? Well you don’t have to Google that, because I already did that for you. I blindly clicked on the first few results, and I’ll let you see what I saw.

Potato

Potato2

Potato3

Interesting stuff, this internet thing has to offer. Where were we again? Right, Magic finance. Let’s get back to that.

Snapcaster Mage 

snapcaster

Let’s get the big one out of the way first. I get frequent requests to explain what to do with Captain Snaps now that he’s reached close to $50. He can’t be put into Modern Masters 2015 because the set only goes through New Phyrexia (which is one of the reasons he’s climbed this high already). He can’t realistically be put into Magic Origins, because that would require reprinting and creating a bunch of new cards with the flashback mechanic. They’re already bringing back double-faced cards from Innistrad as a mechanic (yes, I know it’s only for the five transforming planeswalkers), but I highly doubt they resurrect flashback along with that.

So, what do we do if we have Snapcasters? If you bought or traded for a bunch of Tiagos back when they were $20 or $30, you’re in luck! You don’t need to be in a huge hurry to cash out, and you can probably continue to expect a steady climb into the $55 to $60 range.

This is a classic example of the steady, consistent gains that I love to see in a spec. I’d start to move them toward the end of summer or start of the fall, just to be safe and lock in profits before anything is announced that could warrant a reprint. If you’re actively using them in a deck and don’t see that changing in the near future, I wouldn’t worry about unloading them. The utility you gain from holding onto them and playing them in actual events will most likely outscale the profit you gain by ripping them from your deck, selling them, and waiting for the reprint.

So, what do we do if we don’t have Snapcasters? I’ve heard a lot of people suggest buying in now for the flip potential, because the $55 to $60 price range coming in the next few months is all but guaranteed. Personally, I couldn’t disagree more with this strategy. First of all, you’re tying up a lot of money over a long period of time. If you buy in right now at $47, and look to sell at $60 towards June or July, you’re making next to nothing after fees and shipping. There will most likely be multiple hot specs between now and then that could have made you a lot more money.

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On the other hand, what if you need them for a deck? What if you desperately want to play Splinter Twin, and have zero copies of Snapcaster despite the deck running a playset? Well, I think you just have to bite the bullet and buy them. Burn the $200 before you have to burn $240 later in the year, and at least you’ll get the value of casting them during the time you own them. The card’s not getting any cheaper. Try to forget about the fact that you didn’t get in at $30 and mitigate that error by getting in now.

Voice of Resurgence 

voice

The good old $60 Standard mythic has been reduced to a token of its former self, hanging out at $18 ever since its rotation from Standard. It holds onto a relevant price tag thanks to seeing play in one of the stronger Modern decks of the format, and the fact that there were approximately seven packs of Dragon’s Maze opened throughout the entire world. It’s outside the realm of reprints in the near future, so do we want to pick itup at $18?

My position on this card is similar to Snapcaster, so I should be able to save a few words here. If you need the card to play with in the Abzan deck, I recommend picking it up now. I don’t think it goes any lower than its current price, and the trajectory looks to continue on a plateau, maybe going up a couple of dollars over the next few months due to how few copies there are on the market.

If you’re looking for a sweet spec target, I’d look elsewhere. If it does creep upwards, the trend will likely be too small to make a reasonable profit. It does, however, look like a nice trade target (along with Snap) if you’re trying to turn volatile Standard stuff into a secure chunk of value that won’t move for a while.

Liliana of the Veil 

lilianav

Liliana is more expensive than Dark Confidant and has been for almost two months now. I don’t know why so many people are clamoring for another reprint of Bob when he hasn’t been seen in a top-tier Modern deck for a long time now. Liliana is by far the more powerful and popular card, seeing play in a variety of decks. She has a small reprint on the way in the form of a PTQ promo, but I don’t expect that to slow down her price growth very much. There won’t be a massive number of promos out there, and she’s certainly not going to be in any of the rest of the currently announced products for the rest of 2015.

To be perfectly honest, I fully expect Liliana of the Veil to be the next $100 Modern staple, a price currently sustained only by Tarmogoyf.

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Quick Aside on Dark Confidant:

If you’re not using these (and you probably aren’t), I actually recommend selling them. While the card probably won’t be in Modern Masters 2015, it also hasn’t put up any significant results for a while. Bob has even seen a lot less play in Legacy lately, so I feel that a large chunk of its price is inflated by a combination of price memory and how iconic the card itself is. Trading Bobs into the other cards mentioned in this article will provide a much better return on investment in both the short and long terms.

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed 

mikaeus

Speaking of mythic black cards from Innistrad: “Dead Mike” has slowly crept up the past year and a half from his low of $4 to the current price of $12. Although he obviously has zero competitive applications, his power level in Commander is not to be ignored. I play one myself in my Marchesa list, and I’m never disappointed to draw it.

I don’t think this card stops creeping upward as the year goes on, and I can see it hitting $20 by the end of 2015. Foils are currently $32, and I’d get them now if you feel that you really need one for Commander, as there certainly won’t be any more getting added to the market anytime soon.

Mikaeus seems like a Doubling Season-esque situation to me, where the card will invisibly creep up to $25 or $30, and everyone will wonder when that happened.

Oh, Doubling Season is $30 again, by the way. And the judge foil can be found for $30 on eBay right now, with a few copies trailing behind in the $35 range. You can’t explain that.

Dseason

Abrupt Decay 

AbruptDecaycard

Decay has been sitting at a steady $12 to $13 for almost six months now, refusing to budge above that and break into the $15 range. What has changed, however, is the card’s buylist price. If you check out the blue line on our MTGPrice graph, the strongest buylist price has slowly crept up from $6, which is a 50 percent spread, up to $9, a mere 25 percent.

I don’t need to tell you how powerful Decay is in both Modern and Legacy—you already know that. You probably also knew that this card was going to creep back up to $20, due to the fact that it will be hard to find a spot for a reprint in the coming months. I’m here to give you a thumbs up and tell you that you’re right. Abrupt Decay is a fine pickup in both trades and cash, assuming you’re looking for an extremely safe investment.

I also want to touch on foil Decays. While it’s not impossible to reprint Decay due to its ubiquitous name (it doesn’t reference a specific plane, name, or faction, unlike Inquisition of Kozilek, for example), foils will be a lot harder to put into the market. I can see Abrupt Decay being put into a Duel Deck product in the future (although they’ve already done Golgari ones to death), or a casual product like Commander, but the cards in those decks aren’t foil. Copies are approximately $75 at the moment, but they’re definitely safer from reprint than non-foil copies. I admit, though, that I don’t expect quite the same double-up with foils as for non-foils.

End Step

Overall, I’m seeing a pretty similar trend in a lot of these “un-reprintable” (at least in the coming months) staples. If you can acquire them in trades by liquidating Standard staples, or cards that are ripe for reprinting, then I fully approve.

I also wouldn’t disapprove if you were purchasing Snapcasters, Voices, or Lilianas for your own personal deck construction, because they appear to either be holding steady, or steadily creeping up over the course of the spring and summer.

You still have a chance to liquidate all of your Zendikar fetches, Bolts, Probes, and Mox Opals before Modern Masters 2015 arrives, but be sure to pick up your staples that you’ll be needing before the full brunt of the storm arrives, too.

Let me know if you have any questions, comments, or content that you feel needs to covered. I’m easily reachable through Twitter, Facebook, email, Reddit, or the comments section below. Thanks for reading!

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Fate Reforged: Digging for Dollars

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Fate Reforged, the second set in the Khans of Tarkir block, is proving to be a tantalizing puzzle for folks interested in MTGFinance. The set introduces new mechanics, cards and themes which are difficult to evaluate without detailed deck testing. Further, the wide open nature and high power level of the current standard format means that incoming cards have a high bar to measure up to, and many possible interactions to consider.  Fate Reforged also includes reprints of the KTK fetchlands, so their value will also weigh on all but the best of the cards in the set.  Also worth considering is the fact that Fate Reforged will only be on the market for 6 weeks or so before Dragons of Tarkir previews start, opening up new opportunities and pitfalls for previously released cards, as well as reducing overall openings for Fate Reforged.

The set’s financial value is currently anchored by a scant handful of mythic rares: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, Monastery Mentor and Soulfire Grand Master. These three cards alone are currently valued at a combined $80+, and as such, most rares in the set will end up in near-bulk status ($1-2) unless they can achieve widespread success while simultaneously displacing the demand for the big 3 mythics (as some reduction in the 3 hottest card’s value will likely be necessary for the remaining cards to rise in value. For what it’s worth I currently have Ugin, Mentor and Grand Master pegged to hit $20, $22 and $14 respectively within 6 weeks of release.)

This scenario almost certainly means that picking the few remaining cards that may break out as major players in the new standard or older formats is a potentially very profitable endeavor. Doing so however, is easier said than done, as one must identify the unsung heroes of the set, while simultaneously predicting that other players will come around to the same line of thinking through play testing and tournament results.

Before we dive in on Fate Reforged cards however, it behooves us to look back over our collective shoulders at some of the cards that “made it” from Khans of Tarkir last fall to see what helped them make us money. Here’s a few of the bigger hits:

  1. Treasure Cruise (foil)
  2. Dig Through Time (reg/foil)
  3. Siege Rhino (foil)
  4. Monastery Swiftspear (foil)
  5. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (reg)

The common theme here is “powerful cards that were underestimated at first”, with a splash (in Sidisi) of cards that just needed time to find their place in Standard. Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were w0idely insulted in the early days of KTK previews, as folks who hadn’t played with Delve before had trouble envisioning just how powerful mana-free casting costs really are. While others were insulting these cards in set reviews I was picking up Japanese foils by the dozen, a move that allowed me to double up within 2 months of release. Monastery Swiftspear was another widely unheralded card during preview season but it now stands shoulder to shoulder with Delver of Secrets and Goblin Guide as one of the best 1-drop threats ever printed.  Japanese foils of this card were available overseas for as little as $8USD in September, and I sold my last set this week for $50/per.

Siege Rhino was identified as being a central pillar of standard fairly early on, but when I started suggesting he was destined for Modern play in November based on some early Pod lists from key pros, plenty of people scoffed. Fast forward a few months and Rhino is a key component of the evolving Value (Birthing) Pod decks, and many pros have stated that it’s so good in Modern that it would likely survive the banning of Birthing Pod itself. I’ve been snatching up $10-15 foil copies of Siege Rhino, as I can easily see them hitting $30+ in a post-Treasure Cruise world in Modern. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant was on the back bench for the first half of the fall standard season as Jeskai Tempo, Abzan, Temur and Jeskai Ascendancy decks dominated the scene, but as the season continued, the grindy Whip of Erebos decks emerged as the value mongers of the format, and Sidisi, as a 4-of mythic, provided strong returns on the $2 low prices I was paying in late October.

Note that the key with almost all of these cards was that they were cross-format all-stars, with most of them being played in at least 2 formats. Also, each card often appears as a 3 or 4-of, and only Sidisi is Legendary.

Our goal then is to similarly identify the cards from Fate Reforged that are currently the most underrated and undervalued, and which have the best shot at crossing formats or at least achieving dominant positions in standard.

Here are my picks for the cards in Fate Reforged most likely to reward early speculation:

  1. Humble Defector (Foil)

Formats: Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage

Humble Defector is my top pick for underrated cards in Fate Reforged. To my eyes, as an aggressive 2-drop that can easily be leveraged as a card drawing engine and combo enabler it is very likely to find a home in multiple formats as cards are noticed or released that enable his most broken possible turns. Many players seem to be getting hung up on the fact that this card can end up in the hands of an opponent, but focusing on this drawback largely misses the point of this card. You see, ideally, the deck that makes the best use of his ability will be built to ensure that he either a) doesn’t live long enough to let the opponent draw cards or b) steals him back. Regardless, with all the card draw, presumably nested within an Aggro, Combo or Burn shell, the opponent shouldn’t be around very long even in the worst case scenario.

Of special note is how well Humble Defector combos with the utterly broken standard/modern/legacy combo piece Jeskai Ascendancy. With Ascendancy and Humble Defector in play and cantrips in hand, you have the potential to draw 4-8 cards in the same turn, ultimately bouncing (Retraction Helix) or sacrificing (Collateral Damage) Humble Defector after drawing your cards and possibly even attacking for 3-4 damage in lieu of his last card draw trigger. If that doesn’t peak your interest, nothing will. Note that even in situations where the opponent actually gets to use Humble Defector, you got your cards first, they aren’t likely to be set up like you are to abuse him, and they then have to give him back for you to further abuse. It’s also worth noting that Humble Defector is a great card to play politics with in EDH.

Now as an uncommon, I’m much more interested in foils and foreign foils of this guy than I am regular copies, as I believe that it’s only a matter of time before he finds a home in a broken deck in the older formats.

2. Frontier Siege (Non-Foil/Foil)

Formats: Standard/Modern/EDH

There are a few things people are missing with this card at first glance. Firstly, it generates GG at the start of both of your main phases (both before and after your combat phase), which is to say, this is a ramp spell that generates 4 mana per turn at the cost of 4 mana. Now it’s true that you don’t get all of the mana at the same time, but if you had 4 mana to put it into play, you now have 4 mana in each of your main phases, which means that in a green, deck you probably just ramped from 4 mana to 8 mana on turn 4, with the caveat that you can cast two 4-drops but not Ugin. If you have permanents that can make use of the extra mana, such as enchantments, equipment or pump effects, all the better. The 2nd mode on the card seems kind of narrow, until of course you realize that it combos with both Hornet Nest and Hornet Queen, in that the Hornets now act as Nekrataals when they hit the board. This card is commonly available under a $1 at present, and could hit $4-5 if it ends up being heavily played in Standard within the year. Foils are out there in the $3-5 range, and seem likely to achieve $10+ down the road.

3. Yasova Dragonclaw (Non-Foil)

Formats: Standard

Sure, she dies to everything in the format, but so does Monastery Mentor and Goblin Rabblemaster and they’re still top cards. She’s also a Legendary Creature, which never helps, but a lot of people are missing some of her potential shenanigans. She is likely a Standard only kind of gal, so that doesn’t help her odds to make us money, but Trample is actually more useful in this format than most folks realize. Still, no less a player than Frank Karsten has proposed her presence in a deck seeking to abuse Humble Defector and Collateral Damage, and he points out the following set of potential interactions:

  • Humble Defector + Yasova Dragonclaw: Draw two and immediately steal it back from your opponent [on the attack] to draw two more.
  • Humble Defector + Collateral Damage: Put the activated ability on the stack and sacrifice it in response. You get to draw 2 cards, and your opponent won’t get anything in return.
  • Yasova Dragonclaw + Collateral Damage: Attack your opponent with his own creature and then sacrifice it to kill another one of his creatures.

All of that sounds good, but I still don’t expect Yasova to get there early in the season switchover. As such, she could drop as low as $1, at which point I’ll be looking to get in on a few playsets, if further reasons to play her have popped up, looking to exit around $3-4.

4. Tasigur, The Golden Fang (Non-Foil)

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Formats: Standard/Modern/Legacy/EDH

This guy has been discussed plenty, but no one seems quite certain whether he’s the real deal. At $3 pre-order he may head lower before he heads higher, but he could also hit $6-7 if he makes it to an early top table as part of the reformulated Whip deck. The downside here is that he’s a Legendary creature, and as such, unlikely to be used as a 4-of. On the upside, he hits on a number of interesting angles, including low casting cost (due to Delve), the ability to fuel future graveyard/Delve cards later in the game, and his ability to rebuy your best cards, as manipulated by other Delve costs being paid. His single black casting cost and hybrid mana ability cost also means he could end up in decks we haven’t thought of yet, and in color combinations other than Sultai. That’s a lot of power for a card that will often be cast for 2-3 mana and I suspect that we see Tasigur find a home as a 2-3 of in Whip decks and settle in the $4-5 range once folks move on to opening Dragons of Tarkir instead of Fate Reforged. There’s also a possibility people will want foils down the road for EDH or Legacy or Modern, as he’s likely big enough to tussle with the best, so tread that path as you will since they’re still under $10 at present.

5. Torrent Elemental (Non-Foil)

Formats: Standard/Legacy

I totally missed this card on my first pass, outside of possible niche Legacy applications with Force of Will (as a card that can be exiled and provide future value). Then a few notable deck builders drew my attention to the fact that the card can also be exiled by Delve spells as part of their casting cost, and that a Whip/Delve/Tasigur deck is likely to be a thing in the very near future, based on early testing results. I’m still not completely sold, as I’m not sure this thing is ever going to be a 4-of, and could easily be pushed out of the resulting deck in favor of better metagame choices. Nevertheless, any “maybe” mythic  available under $3 is worth a look because if it becomes a mainstay it could easily rise into the $8-10 range.

6. Cloudform (Foil)

Formats: Standard/Legacy

One of the biggest problems with trying to pull off tricks with Manifest is that whatever you throw out there as a 2/2 is likely to be vulnerable until such time as you can flip it up. Now in standard it’s not clear that Manifest got enough support to “get there”, but in older formats many players are overlooking the potential to abuse your library with manipulation like Sensei’s Divining Top , Worldly TutorPonder or Serum Visions, and manifest a Phyrexian Dreadnaught or Hooded Hydra for very little mana. A 12/12, flying, hexproof creature or a 5/5 flying, hexproof creature that leaves behind 5 1/1s is nothing to scoff at. As such I’ve been snagging these foils under $3 (maxing at 6 sets) on the assumption that someone is going to find a fun Tier 2 deck in an older format at some point that makes these a very solid value. One deck list I’ve been fooling around with mixes elements of Reanimator and Show&Tell with Cloudform, Brainstorm and Faithless Looting to ensure we’re sneaking something awesome into play on turn 2 or 3 one way or the other.

7. Wildcall (Non-Foil/Foil)

Formats: Standard/Modern/Legacy

If a Manifest deck makes it even to Tier 2 in Standard in the next 18 months, than the 50 copies of this rare card I’ve acquired for $.50 are going to look pretty smart. As with Cloudform, the potential is there for broken shenanigans in older formats as well, so I’m happy to sit on these for a while even if nothing develops in standard. The bottom line is that Wildcall always provides a creature of the size appropriate to the turn you draw it on, a subtle feature that should not be underestimated. Give it enough things worth manifesting and it just gets better, and it’s worth noting that placing counters on things is an added bonus that can be abused.

8. Dark Deal (Foil)

Formats: Modern/Legacy/Vintage/EDH

Call me crazy, but this isn’t different enough from the banned Windfall template to make this unplayable. Sure, you get one less card, but you see X-1 additional cards for 3 mana, where X was your initial hand size, all while stocking your graveyard with exactly the things you wanted to get there. Think combo, delve, reanimator, etc. You may also disrupt your opponent, though you’re just as likely to fix their hand. Nevertheless, I suspect this card is breakable as a combo/enabler piece in older formats and with foils going for around $2 I’m happy to pick up a few sets. At the very least Nekusar decks will run this in EDH, giving your cheap foils a fine fallback position. As an uncommon with no likely prospects so far in Standard, steer clear on non-foils.

9. Reality Shift (Foil)

Formats: Standard/Modern/Legacy/Vintage

This card is half Path to Exile and half Swan Song, and it’s almost certainly playable in Vintage and Legacy. It exiles a creature for 2 mana, which is twice as much as Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares. This must be balanced however against the fact that it’s in blue, the undisputed best color in eternal formats and the most frequent partner for burn spells. Being able to remove big threats easily while (probably) leaving a slow 2/2 clock on the board might actually be better than giving the opponent a land or some life, especially if you were sweeping, burning or otherwise ignoring their creatures anyway. It’s possible that the card even shows up in standard, since it answers most threats in the format easily and cheaply, and it’s drawback can be worked around in the air. StarCityGames.com quietly sold out of these at $2.99 and $3.99 during pre-orders, so if you can snag these in that range you should be in good shape for when they start popping up in powerful decks.

10. Soulflayer (Non-foil/Foil)

This bad boy is hanging over the next phase of KTK Standard like a giant, nasty question mark. Is he an auto-include in Sultai whip decks? Will it be worth it to pair him with Chromanticore and live the dream? His current pre-sales at $2.50 and $5 for non-foils and foils respectively reflect curiosity present in the absence of certainty. Myself, I don’t think we’re dreaming big enough.   In Standard you can get a 4/4 Flying, First Strike, Lifelink, Vigilence and Trample creature with Chromanticore, sure, but you could also just use Sagu Mauler to get Trample/Hexproof, or Siliumgar to get Hexproof/Flying which may be the better option in a format with tons of removal flying around. Reflect on the fact that in Legacy you can go: Swamp, 2x Dark Ritual, Emtomb Silumgar, Soulflayer and have your bad boy ready to party on turn 1 with very little chance of a valid response from your opponent beyond Force of Will. Start brainstorming decks that can dump 2-3 relevant creatures with the full mix of abilities into the graveyard early in the game and things really get nasty. In Standard I give this guy a 50/50 shot of hitting full potential and getting up to $6-8, but I think his foils actually have more upside as his combo partners are only going to get more numerous as time goes on, and could easily reach $30-40 with a top table result.

Honourable Mention: Silumgar & Atarka

 

I think both of these wild wyrms are being underestimated, especially given what’s likely to show up in a certain set called “Dragons of Tarkir”, coming our way in only a couple of months. Siliumgar, the Drifting Death, is likely a strict upgrade for UB control vs. Pearl Lake Ancient at a time where that deck is also gaining Reality Shift, Ugin and Crux of Fate. Hexproof and flying are a big game in the current standard, as is dodging the sweeper effect of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and killing the myriad of expected tokens when you attack a la Doomwake Giant. He’s also a great blocker until you find your Crux and go on offense. He’s probably only a 1-2 of, and his ceiling is therefore likely around $4-5, but with a ton more dragons coming this spring, he can only get better. Atarka on the other hand is looking like a custom made finisher to pair with See The Unwritten and Stormbreath Dragon. In the current standard it’s not tough at all to cast STU on turn 4 off of Savage Knuckleblade for Ferocious and end up with a 6/4 Double Striking attacker to take the first kill spell while Stormbreath or Hornet Queen mops up. And that’s just with the tools we’ve already got.  Like Silumgar, Atarka is pre-ordering for just $1.50 and I suspect it will slide to $1 once the floodgates open on online sales and I fully intend to grab at least 12 of each once we get there.

So there you have it, the long-shot specs of Fate Reforged. Which ones are you going after and why? Anything I missed that you think has a shot at a big rise?

James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994.

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The Ethics of MTGFinance

By James Chillcott (@MTGCritic)

Recently I’ve found myself being pulled into cyclical debates on the ethics of MTGFinance. With the increasing participation and interest in this side of the Magic: The Gathering community, it seems like a good time to get to the bottom of things.

The Price Is Always Right

So the other day I’m at a new nerd conference in Toronto and I notice halfway through day 2 as we’re promoting ShelfLife.net (plug: our next gen social commerce platform for collectors) that attendance is pretty dismal. Figuring the vendors may be in the mood for deals I locate an LGS dealer with a ton of binders in tow and no central pricing system. This is exactly the scenario where you are likely to find the best, and the largest deals, largely because only the biggest most dedicated vendors can possibly keep up with the increasingly rapid prices shifts in our community. Sure enough I locate over $2500usd in singles within 30min of binder browsing. I stack the cards in piles at various price points, the dealer signs off on a $1100cdn sale price after some haggling down from $1400cdn and we conclude our business with a handshake and a smile.

Now pause and ask yourself: did I rip him off? Or more to the point, was the transaction ethical?

MTGFinance In A Nutshell
MTGFinance In A Nutshell

I assert that it most certainly was, and here’s why:

1) No one was lying, causing distractions, fast talking or otherwise obscuring the action

2) We’re responsible adults responsible for our own decisions, and his decision was to publicly offer the products in question at the prices we both agreed to

3) Interest is the first sign of market shifts, and he waved it off, likely because;

4) He clearly saw value in the cash flow

Now let’s examine what could have happened had I chosen the opposite path, a path some people might demand I take to achieve perfect transparency.  I could have, for instance, tallied the cards, and engaged in this conversation:

  •  Me: I think these cards are worth essentially double what you have them priced at, about $2500.
  • Vendor: Thanks! My new price is $2500. So would you like to buy them at that price?
  • Me: No thanks.
  • Vendor: Oh, why not? Don’t you recognize them as being worth this price on average in the market?
  • Me: Yes.
  • Vendor: So then you’re backing out because you can get them somewhere else cheaper?
  • Me: No, I’m backing out because I believe these magic cards are investments, and as such, must operate under the principle of opportunity costs.
  • Vendor: How’s that?
  • Me: Because you’ve reset the price to market average, there are now other options I believe will yield better returns within the same time frame, and my role as a market maker dictates that to achieve an efficient market I must act logically and efficiently and pursue my goals while you pursue yours. When the value of my potential returns matches your value in cash flow, a market action will occur and we will both be equally happy. In this particular case I have clearly spent a lot more time than you tracking and memorizing current price averages. This knowledge has value, and I just conferred that value to you as a gift, creating an imbalance in our market making potential and ensuring we cannot achieve market action. You see, I came to your booth loaded with efficiency, free cash flow and risk taking potential. You were carrying inefficiency, low cash flow and lower risk potential, as expressed by your willingness at any time to convert cards that could potentially accelerate in value for cash that averages a much lower interest rate unless reinvested in greater prospects. This insinuated that any (or all) of the following was true:

a) your time was too valuable to make re-pricing your inventory to match current demand worthwhile

b) your potential reinvestment opportunities exceeded my perceived net present value of the cards in question

Further, our lack of prior exchange of social value through camaraderie, emotional support or familial ties makes my donation of value result in an unequal match. I’ve sacrificed over $1000 in value for no discernable benefit as other market actors were already willing to sell me these cards at the newly requested price, which I’ve only just now made you aware of. As such instead of heading home with $1100 cash, you’re heading home with $600 in booth fees, time wasted and no opportunity to reinvest.  I’m heading home with $1400 less profit potential at a risk level previously determined to be acceptable, and a non-friend I’ve donated goodwill to without any return on my investment.

Final score: No one is winning. The market is broken.

StarCityGames Is Not The Market Price

So having taken a closer look at the dynamics and difficulties of trying to manually price thousands of magic cards, let’s examine where these kind of scenarios have led the LGS/Vendor segment of our hobby ecosystem.

Price Progress?
Price Progress?

Back in the pre-internet days, Inquest and Scrye magazine published monthly with card pricing lists taken from surveys of selected vendors around North America. This system led to many golden opportunities for savvy players who could spot a rising tide for certain cards at the tournament level and translate that into smart actions at their local gaming stores before the new issues came out the following month. It also tended to result in highly specialized local economies, with card pricing varying oddly from community to community based on local play styles, format focuses and house rules.

The advent of the Internet, and in particular the ability to view past transactions on Ebay yanked us all into an entirely new era, with easy access to global price data, a trend that has only accelerated in the last 5 years with big data sites like MTGPrice.com, MTGOGoldfish.com, mtgowikiprice.com and TCGPlayer.com. Better information, made widely available should be good for everyone but coupled with the rise of the smartphone has empowered players to take advantage of low margin (aka inefficient) vendors, as well as lazy players, who can’t keep up with pricing shifts. (Now to be fair, vendors have done this to players since the beginning, using buy list tactics that most would consider normal business.)

At the same time, the tendency for commerce to centralize within niches online, leads to the appearance of major market actors with high efficiency such as StarCityGames.com. SCG brand equity then leads to their price lists being used as a mutually agreeable reference point for market actors seeking to equalize value and achieve market action. Other vendors then go a step further, seeking to achieve efficiency and close more market actions through the simplest course of action: copying SCG pricing.

This has lead us to entirely new era of Magic pricing: The Age of Oligopolistic Tendencies.

As opposed to a monopoly which is typically defined as a single market actor holding unfair stores of value due to legal, procedural, resource access or other major advantages, an oligopoly is typically characterized by a relatively few market actors disguising their inefficiency by agreeing to fixed pricing that ensures certain margins and leads to permanently unequal value exchanges while maintaining a relatively stable model of market sharing for the vendors. These situations are especially exacerbated in the case of goods essential to living such as food, warmth, clothing and shelter. Though no true oligopolistic cabal exists in the MTG world, the tendency of inefficient vendors to leverage platforms like Crystal Commerce to track and average the prices of the largest vendors to set their own pricing, is leading us towards a magic ecology with oligopolistic tendencies. (It’s worth noting here that between TCGPlayer, Ebay and PucaTrade “true” market pricing is still widely available and in play.)

Put simply: If everyone uses the same pricing, originally set by the most efficient vendor, no actor will ever be able to achieve further efficiency or recognize the true value of their potential market actions. This is true because in theory and practice, the scenario for every market actor is unique, and their price should be uniquely customized to that scenario.

Eg) Store X has $2500 (SCG pricing) in singles for sale. They set their price on this pile of cards to $2500. A player enters the premises and offers $2300, and the LGS declines because Crystal Commerce says their price is on target. The problem here is that price comparisons only establish the cash value of a transaction, and utterly fail to establish the other forms of value and opportunity cost. For instance if Store X can achieve higher inventory turnover rates, lower overhead, lower product costs, enjoys different tax scenarios, or any number of other value stores, they may be economically incorrect to turn down the deal.

This is a key concept, so let’s dig deeper. Check out this table of value store calculations on a theoretical booster box of Conspiracy being sold by an LGS with greater efficiencies than SCG, but priced to match on the premise that SCG is using the “correct” price:

LGS X StarCityGames
Product Cost to Vendor $74 $72
Posted Sale Price $99.50 $99.50
Turnover Rate (Days to Retrieve Capital) 180 216
Investment Periods/Annum 2.027 1.689
Corporate Tax Rate 15% 35%
Overhead/Box/Days to Turnover $3.50 $7
Gross Yield%Gross Yield

Yield Net Overhead

%Yield Net Overhead

Yield After Tax

Effective Annual Yield After Tax**r = (1+i)^

$25.50/box34.45%

$22/box

29.72%

25.27%
51.89%

$27.5038.19%

$20.50

28.47%

18.50%
33.20%

So what exactly does that math demonstrate?

Price Efficiency Achieved?
Price Efficiency Achieved?

Well, in essence it demonstrates that an LGS with access to non-revenue value stores can achieve greater return on investment than a major market actor. In reality, some of these stores are quite possible (better tax scenarios) while others (think overhead/box sold) are highly unlikely due to economies of scale and scope. Even still, assuming we accept that an LGS could achieve more efficient capital returns, why does that matter?

It matters because higher yield would allow them to lower box prices on the premise that lowering prices below SCG pricing would increase overall sales, and because we already know the LGS has superior returns on those sales, they can make more money overall by undercutting their larger competitor. Here’s the kind of graph we’re talking about.

Note that the demand curve shifts out when the price drops, resulting in higher overall sales, because, duh, more players will buy more boxes if they’re cheaper.

Here’s some more math on the two possible scenarios (for illustration only, since just how much demand may increase based on lowered pricing depends on many factors beyond the ken of this discussion).  We’ll even assume lowered box costs as volume increases, though the plateaus would be fairly broad in our ecosystem:

Cost/Box Revenue/Box Boxes Sold Total Profit
Scenario A: SCG Price Match $74 $99.50 186 $4743
Scenario B: Set Lower Price $73 $97.50 223 $5463.50

The LGS has dropped their price slightly, increased sales by about 20% and achieved a slight inventory cost reduction as reward for their higher volume (because they contributed to their wholesalers own inventory turnover rate), leading to an overall increase of 15%.

Surprised?  You shouldn’t be, because this is EXACTLY what a properly functioning free market economy is supposed to look like. A healthy economy needs the friction of market actors jostling for position to trend towards the most efficient combination of price and alternate value that maximizes both shareholder return for the companies and utility for the consumers.

Note that this is functionally identical to my trip to the LGS with noticeably lower prices because in encountering that actor I had no way to know whether they were:

a) seeking value through inaction (due to the value of their time)

or

b) deliberately lowering prices to increase inventory sell through and capture more market share.

The real point however, is that it just doesn’t matter why they were priced lower because whether their price positioning was intentional, representative of alternate value stores or representative of their inefficiency, the market needs the match tested to find equilibrium. If the match is efficient, I will return, repeat similar transactions and the vendor will thrive if their choices are in fact efficient, applying competitive pressures to SCG and other larger market actors to lower prices for more and more players. If it is inefficient, I may one day return to find the vendor closed, and I will move on to market matches with the most efficient vendor I can find, and the cycle continues. I mean I miss those Friday night hunts for value at Blockbuster, but I can’t argue that the shift from $30 in late fees/month to $10 unlimited access to content from my couch via Netflix isn’t the purest representation of market evolution in motion.

The Boundaries of Ethical Trading

Resist the Dark Side
Resist the Dark Side

First off, I’m a long standing liberal. In fact, up here in Canada, we have parties further left than the Democrats and I vote them with pride. Ultimately I consider myself a social pragmatist, but I reserve the right to skew the energy I spend on socially conscious commerce in favor of essential rather than non-essential goods. That means I tend to transfer value to causes that are improving the overall standard of living more efficiently than I ever could directly. As MTG is an upper middle class game with no essential utility, I am definitely on the side of economics vs. social good, but only so far as I believe they are in fact one in the same in terms of achieving market efficiency in the Magic commons. By this I mean that good economics will lead to the healthiest overall community, a fact I’m sure Hasbro drills into the WOTC exec at every opportunity.

Remember a few years back when they yanked global tournament support, ditched the old rating system and abandoned nationals? We all yelled a lot, but the game has only gotten better since, presumably because the internal reallocation of resources has made the entire operation more efficient at attracting users and increased the overall utility to our community broadly despite the painful transition.

Further, there is a huge difference between accepting a listed price, and engaging in more nefarious acts. Here’s some scenarios I DON’T support:

  • Duping kids is off limits, simply because they aren’t legal market actors at all and cannot be expected to act rationally.
  • Noobs are off limits, largely because being kind to new players yields social scenarios that largely outweigh any meager profits that could be made off their single copy of Jace. I’m not above dumping 1000 commons on someone in a swap for a $50 rare, but I always make sure they know the score, and they’re rarely concerned since variety > power in the early days of trading.
  • Switching price tags, confusing vendors when busy, lying about condition, delaying payments and failing to honor posted prices (a personal pet peeve) are all forms of theft because they represent non-voluntary transfers of value.

In the end, I’ve written this article to make one simple point: you are no more responsible to “correct” the pricing of a vendor than they are to “correct” their pricing when you need a Snapcaster Mage ten minutes before the start of the GP.

I’m also asserting that such acts of price adjustment, are in facts acts of economic and/or social charity, resulting in the transference of hard earned value from one market actor to another without justification.  And while you may feel good about doing it, you may in fact be injuring the health of the MTG economy as a whole by failing to exert the pressures that lead to maximum market efficiency and the lowest possible price for playing this beautiful game.

Now you may say “hey, wait a minute, I hang out at my LGS every day, I’ve known the owner for years and I need to look him in the eye when we trade. This guy gives me deals, runs a good scene and he’s always got snacks on hand for Commander night.”

My response is that you and the owner are not simple market actors, but something closer to friends (or at least peers), in your scenario, and are by definition engaged in a barter economy where you trade value in terms other than just cash, and in doing so you keep things just as equal as if you had bought him out of a common box worth of Simian Spirit Guides. When you notify him every time his pricing seems low, you are in essence investing the value of your knowledge into your favorite hangout and inevitably expecting that value to yield dividends. You may consider yourself the altruistic sort, but when push comes to shove, if you save him from buyout after buyout and he won’t even put aside a Conspiracy box for you, you are unlikely to continue the exchange.

To wit, nor should you.

 James Chillcott is the CEO of ShelfLife.net, The Future of Collecting, Senior Partner at Advoca, a designer, adventurer, toy fanatic and an avid Magic player and collector since 1994. 

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