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Dream Cache – Survival of the Fittest

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This week, we are looking at Survival of the Fittest, one of the most recent gainers in Legacy. We'll talk about why the card has gone up in value and how to take that information from the specific to the general to benefit you when you are considering cards to invest in.

Why Survival Started To Climb

Survival has been a $12 card for many years. It saw a small price jump when Bant Survival started to heat up.  That's a Legacy deck that used Loyal Retainers to power out Iona, Shield of Emeria or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. The real jump, however, happened recently, at Grand Prix: Columbus, as a result of two things.

English? I thought you were Australian...

First, Caleb Durward performed very well with a Survival Madness deck at the Grand Prix. The deck utilizes Vengevine and Basking Rootwalla to produce free shrubbery and lizards.  That adds a combo finish to an otherwise-fair aggro-control deck. The deck is very strong and it will see a good deal of play. The card is integral to that deck and, being fifteen years old, is hard to find.

The other thing that happened was that Patrick Chapin ran a Survival deck with a full-on toolbox, featuring the Loyal Retainers combination. Any time Pat plays a deck, the cards get a little boost. He is a very popular deckbuilder/player and people follow what he does. His ideas often pan out to be smart deck choices that reflect what his readers want in a deck – something clever and rewarding for skillful players. His list is very hard to play optimally, but I expect many people to pick it up and run with it. This will also create demand for the card.

Where Survival is Going

A few weeks ago, my teammate Kevin Cron asked me what I thought a card like Survival would climb to if it saw a lot of tournament play. The issue with pricing Legacy cards is that we really have no benchmarks. I was shocked as hell when Entomb jumped to $40 after the GP: Spain win recently. Odyssey was not printed that long ago, and the card was only $5 when it was banned in the format. We saw a huge run on the card because of its success. Similarly, Karakas could be had for $7 – I know because I got two at that price! After we realized it was a counter to Iona, the card's value shot up. I predicted on Twitter in May that you would be happy to have bought your Karakas for $20 when GP: Columbus rolled around, and they are at $30 right now. It is typical to see already-pricey cards jump up when they are enshrouded in Legacy hype.

Did'ya know that "Eureka" is Greek for "I have found it"?

The card is old, it's hard to find, people do not like to trade the copies that they have, and the judge foils have not impacted the market very much. I would expect a card like Survival to climb easily to $35 with another large tournament success. With that in mind, you should do what I told Kelly Reid to do at GP: Columbus and buy as many as you can find at $20. We don't have a great example of a $20 card that climbed to big heights, only cards near it and far above it already (like Eureka).

How To Identify Trendy Cards Like Survival

There is a little mental checklist I make when I think about whether a card is going to spike up in value. The more factors present, the more likely it will see a big increase. It looks a little something like this:

  • Is it part of a very good combo? (Entomb, Grindstone)
  • Does it have  casual value already? (Sneak Attack)
  • Is the card easy to play and easy to splash into decks?
  • Is the card playable in decks with Force of Will?
  • Is the card older than Masques Block, when print runs were lower?
  • Did the card appear in a deck that has performed well, or is it part of a newly-discovered interaction?

More of these factors means more of a chance that a card will spike. Some cards rocket up, only to fall down to much lower levels when people realize that the card isn't as amazing as they thought it was. A prime, and rare, example of this is Helm of Obedience and its interaction with Leyline of the Void. The premise was simple: Helm would completely mill an opponent if you also had them under the Leyline, and the combo potentially cost only five mana. However, slotting the combo into decks was very hard, and five mana is a lot to assemble, and nine, to cast the Leyline as well, is even more challenging. The Helm fell from a high of at least $10 down to about $2.

Cards lose value much more slowly and infrequently as compared to how quickly they can shoot up. Grindstone has fallen to about $15 right now, from a $25 high, because there are too few decks that play the card alongside Painter's Servant. Other cards tend to stay at those values, especially when they see some casual play as well. Survival is perfectly suited to stay where it is. The Survival Madness deck is strong and will remain strong, thanks to using Force of Will and a host of good blue cards. People will continue to want to play it, and if decks like Chapin's see more play, the card will stay up in demand. On top of that, other speculators will probably drive the price of Survival of the Fittest beyond its current $20 price. It's a factor of the market, which in stocks is called “noise trading,” where a stock is popular...because it is popular. Some of Survival's value will be based on noise, but a lot of it comes from being central to a great deck that people will want to try out. If you see Survival show up in another big event this year, and especially if it wins one, the value will go up even more. This is the correct time to stock up on the card.

When To Sell Trendy Cards

There is a question of when to hold a card and when to be greedy and hold out for more. Magic cards can go up in value exponentially, and there is a temptation to hold it until “just after this next big event.” This is where having a good sense of how much you want to profit can come in. If you buy Survivals at $20 and then resell for $28, you have made a great turnover. However, you might be tempted to hold them and see if they go up to $35. The risk is low, since I think $28 is a reasonable price for the card and you can likely get it for that cost even when the noise settles down. I would hold onto them and resell at $30, but you should adjust this to your own risk preferences. If you got rid of your Entombs at $18, you would have been kicking yourself!

Quick Recap On Survival

  • Big events and influential players can affect a card price
  • Some cards can jump in value more than others, based on playability
  • Cards can be expected to drop slightly in value, but many will still command huge gains
  • You should liquidate cards when you have made a healthy, but not greedy, profit on them to avoid tying up your cash for too long

Douglas Linn

Doug Linn has been playing Magic since 1996 and has had a keen interest in Legacy and Modern. By keeping up closely with emerging trends in the field, Doug is able to predict what cards to buy and when to sell them for a substantial profit. Since the Eternal market follows a routine boom-bust cycle, the time to buy and sell short-term speculative investments is often a narrow window. Because Eternal cards often spike in value once people know why they are good, it is essential for a trader to be connected to the format to get great buys before anyone else. Outside of Magic, Doug is an attorney in the state of Ohio.  Doug is a founding member of Quiet Speculation, and brings with him a tremendous amount of business savvy.

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5 thoughts on “Dream Cache – Survival of the Fittest

  1. One thing to note is to dump things once they've gotten a good amount of value. I got greedy with a ton of Leyline of the Voids only to see that reprinted and absolutely plummet. No real loss, but no real gain when I could have sold them off for a lot more.

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