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The Revenue Review – The power of uncommons

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Quick quiz – Name the three most expensive cards from the following list:

All right, finished? An astute trader would immediately recognize that the three most valuable cards on the list are Sensei's Divining Top ($8), Spell Snare ($6) and Aether Vial ($14!). None of the others run more than $5. The other thing distinction our top three cards all share? They are uncommons, not rares.

What this example is meant to demonstrate is the value that uncommons can hold. Mythics take all the hype and a Birds of Paradise will still run you about $5, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made in uncommons, without even getting into older uncommons like Imperial Recruiter, which are upwards of $150.

If you didn’t catch the uncommons right away, don’t worry, I’m here to help.

An uncommon that's worth more than almost every card in Standard!

The real value to trading for uncommons is that most people just don’t realize the potential and importance of these cards. Most players don’t include them in their trade binder, even when some of these uncommons outprice many of their rares! If you learn some of the money uncommons of each format, you can gain a lot of ground a little at a time.

Looking at Standard, the few uncommons that stick out are Path to Exile, Bloodbraid Elf and Tectonic Edge. These cards aren’t something you want to actively trade for (in most cases), but they are a great way to fill out trades. If your trading partner isn’t willing to pony up a few extra rares to satisfy your requests, and he has a pile of uncommons on him, it’s usually worth your time to thumb through it. You aren’t going to become rich picking up cards like Merrow Reejerey ($3), but it’s a lot better than having a rare like Hoarding Dragon ($.75) thrown in.

It’s habit for a lot of players to leave their commons and uncommons on tables after they draft, and I look at these piles as lottery tickets. You might waste five minutes of your life digging through them, but you might also snag a few Celestial Purges ($.80), Voltaic Keys ($1) or even a few Mana Leaks ($.75).

But how to profit on these marginal pickups? There are a few easy ways. First, and usually the most profitable, is to make them available in your trade binder, particularly at events such as PTQs and Grand Prixs. There’s nothing quite as frustrating as being one or two uncommons short of completing a deck list for events like these.

Trust me, if a player is looking for another Celestial Purge for their sideboard, you are going to be glad you took the time to dig through that pile of “trash” after last week’s draft. I suggest aiming for a $2-3 dollar rare in these type of trades, particularly something with casual appeal such as Archive Trap. It’s possible that you’ll be able to flip that Trap into something like a Stoneforge Mystic later on down the road, and the process of trading up continues from there, originating from a dollar uncommon you got thrown in a trade.

Another way to liquidate these cards is to a dealer. Power uncommons carry a higher buy price than their bulk counterparts. This isn’t likely to be very profitable, but getting another five dollars in dealer credit for a pile of uncommons isn’t the worst, especially when it’s required such little of your time and effort.

Though this is by no means a definitive list, here are some other semi-recent uncommons to be on the lookout for.

-       Eternal Witness ($6)

-       Lightning Helix ($3)

-       Knight of Meadowgrain ($2)

-       Remand ($3)

-       Hellspark Elemental ($2)

This list barely scratches the surface of the uncommons worth trading for. It’s more of a jumping off point to demonstrate the possibilities that are there for the shrewd trader. Please post your additions to this list, and note any cards you think I missed!

I’ve got some more trades to share with you this week. Let’s start with the largest trade of my career!

His: Grave Titan ($33)
Fauna Shaman ($13)

2x Linvala, Keeper of Silence ($16)

Ball Lightning ($4)

Raging Ravine ($4)

Destructive Force ($3)

Stoneforge Mystic ($4.50)

Prerelease Sun Titan ($8)

Great Sable Stag ($2.50)

Steel Overseer ($5)

Total: $90

Mine: 2x Hellkite Charger ($2)

2x Malakir Bloodwitch ($10)

2x Gelatinous Genesis ($1)

Bloodghast ($7)

2x Promo Elvish Visionary ($6)

2x Mordant Dragon ($2)

2x Disaster Radius ($2)

2x Blood Tribute ($2)

Quest for the Nihil Stone ($1)

2x Abyssal Persecutor ($26)

Celestial Mantle ($1)

Oracle of Mul Daya ($4)

Total: $64
Net: $26

This was a great trade for me. I made off with the better end of it value-wise and also traded off a number of cards that I’m unlikely to use (though seeing off the Persecutors hurt a bit).

Besides the obvious big-ticket items in the Grave Titan and the Fauna Shaman, there are some other pieces here that really made this trade attractive. The Ball Lightning will be gone in a week or two, and with value – I think it’s safe to say Red Deck Wins cards are traded easier than a pack of cigarettes at the local penitentiary. The Steel Overseer, Destructive Force and Great Sable Stag are cards with some nice upside as well, making this trade potentially even more lucrative in six months than it is today.

His: 2x Elvish Archdruid ($9)
Joraga Warcaller ($2)

Eldrazi Monument ($10)

Reflecting Pool ($8)

Sensei's Divining Top ($8)

Foil Lavaclaw Reaches ($5)

Total: $42

Mine: 2x Master of Etherium ($6)

Swans of Bryn Argoll ($3.50)

Kinsbaile Cavalier ($1)

Knight Exemplar ($7.50)

Verdant Catacombs ($12)

Total: $30
Net: $12

And here we are trading for one of the uncommons we discussed, the Sensei's Divining Top. A good deal of my profit in this trade came from the fact that my partner valued it at just a few dollars, an easy mistake for even veteran traders to make. It’s pretty difficult to keep track of the price of uncommons in addition to your normal assortment of rares, but it can pay off when you do.

I’ve traded for upwards of 10 Reflecting Pools in the last few months, and I cannot wait for Extended season to roll around. In addition to being my favorite format, I’m ready for the price of my Extended collection to start tracking north so I can realize some of the income I’ve gained in these trades.

Most of the cards in this trade are pretty cut-and-dry, and unlikely to move much in price, though the fetch will likely slowly appreciate. The only possibilities for me are the Joraga Warcaller and the Eldrazi Monument. The Monument has seen a decent amount of play and will probably continue to do so after rotation, but it’s too niche to move much past $15.

I’m only mentioning the Warcaller because it is currently so low. If the Extended Elves deck becomes a reality and uses the Elf to call his brethren to war it could tick up a few dollars, but it’s not really going to make many waves financially. On the other hand, Elves are always great trade bait and I’ll probably be able to find him a nice home eventually.

Thanks for reading!

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

9 thoughts on “The Revenue Review – The power of uncommons

  1. While I liked this, I would've liked to see more in the way of identifying powerful uncommons — the hard part isn't really picking them up (though it is unreasonably valuable to know Eternal Witness is $6!!!) but KNOWING what cards are going to get hot.

    For me, the uncommons I think that are worth getting some extras of right now:
    * Oust
    * Crystal Ball
    * Wall of Omens

    but what else?

    Help me Corbin Wan Kenobi – you're my only hope.

  2. The biggest thing to realize about power uncommons beyond the points made in this article is that *foils* of these cards become ludicrously expensive. Disgustingly so, in my opinion. Though I have picked up a couple Crystal Balls from local FNMers for a pittance (while they're thinking they are only uncommons, even if they are foil).

    Spell Snare 4->18
    Crystal Ball 1->6 (EDH much?)
    Eternal Witness 4->15
    Sensei's Top 8->30 !!!

    While most with these foils realize that power uncommons are valuable, many do not have any clue quite how valuable they are. Think of it as an extension of the same concept, just taken to an even higher level. Then trade them to Legacy, Vintage, or EDH pimp-ers. You will (eventually) find someone willing to give the proper premium for them.

  3. Where do you find these people? Nobody at my shop undervalues their uncommons like that, and it's a huge shop. Nor do they trade a pile of the hottest in rares/mythics for a pile of casual junk. Our casual players know the stuff they want is worth less than the tournament staples.

    Out of all the articles on QS so far, this is the only one I am disappointed in. The real trades would be nice except that they are frustrating because that trade was obviously done with someone clueless. All of the trades that you've showcased so far have been in your favor value wise. Are you not using the same value system as your trade partner when making the deal? You basically traded a bunch of rares from the dollar bin and 2 abyssal persecutors for a bunch of hot cards. Showing us this trade does not showcase any skills other than finding the poor sap.

    Also, your list of "semi recent" uncommons has 1 card in it from the last 2 years. 5th Dawn is like 10 years ago, how is that even remotely semi recent? On top of that, the prices you list for your uncommons are all high. I went through my list of online dealers, and none of them have those uncommons for that high, and they sure don't go that high on Ebay. Do you live in New York or CA where shops charge more in a high income and cost of living area?

    I don't mean for this to sound like a rant, I meant for it to be constructive criticizm, so I apologize for the tone. I do appreciate the free article, but I wanted to say it wasn't good and point out why. What I would have liked to read is what uncommons you feel will be good to pick up, especially out of the rotation. Everyone knows Path to Exile sees play in eternal formats and is going to hold value, and probably Bloodbraid Elf too. But others?

    Thanks.

  4. Thanks for the feedback everyone. Let me apologize for not organizing a list into the article, something I should have done. I mentioned some of the cards I see as good pickups, like Purge and Key, but a list would have been much better.

    In addition to Dave's list, I do have a few other uncommons I think are worth picking up on the cheap.

    – Autumn's Veil – This is at a quarter right now, and is a pretty good card. If any of the mono-green decks that saw play in block at San Juan pick up in Standard next year, then this becomes one of their best options against U/W control. Probably won't go higher than a dollar, but it's something someone is going to be looking for come next year.

    – Combust – Pretty much the same story as the Veil. It's at 50 cents right now and might push to a dollar. This will be better trade fodder than it will be as straight value. Uncommons like this can be really difficult for players to pick up without paying inflated dealer prices at events. Many players don't carry uncommons on them, and you can benefit from being one of the few that do.

    – Condemn – Even though it's a reprint, it won't hurt to have a few extra of these lying around. Once Path rotates out, this will likely be its replacement.

    – Goblin Ruinblaster – The Ruinblaster has seen play in a number of decks already, but should pick up again post-rotation while people are trying to figure out the metagame. U/W will be one of the easiest-to-adapt lists, and LD against them is never bad. It's also possible this could see play in Extended in a red-based aggro deck.

    – Smother – Also a reprint, but a card with value in older formats. Won't be any cheaper than they are right now ($.25), especially if it starts to see play in Standard.

    – Everflowing Chalice – Everyone is going to keep working on ramp decks, and this sigil with upside will be a part of many. This card was in draft circulation for a very short time.

    – Inquisition of Kozilek – This card will be in Mono-Black if that becomes a deck (and even if it doesn't people will try). Also possible it will see play in Extended alongside Thoughtseize, and could be its replacement after Seize rotates.

    – Joraga Treespeaker – Could be the Noble Hierarch replacement, and has seen some play already in block.

    – Pelakka Wurm – Ramp deck "answer" to RDW? At only a quarter apiece, not much risk here.

    I'm not saying every card here will turn out to be a hit, or even see play at all, but it's not really going to cost you anything to pick these up, and if one or two see nice movement, you'll have an opportunity to make out well.

    @Thehordling – All the prices are from either coolstuffinc.com or starcitygames.com. The people I trade with know up front I'm trading for value, not to fill a need. Because of this, I have a hard time accepting any trade not in my favor value-wise. I'm very honest about this fact, and it's up to them to decide if giving away some value is worth getting the cards they need that night. This is how you need to operate as a trader if you're out to make a profit on it, though there can be situations where it's worth it to take a hit in value, such as trading Standard cards that will lose value after a rotation for Legacy staples.

  5. Identifying expensive uncommons is as easy as looking at the recent top 8 lists for Legacy events. Standard uncommons are usually pretty obvious, but the expensive ones are all Legacy staples. Some other ones to look out for:

    Sterling Grove ($4)
    Standstill ($10)
    Krosan Grip ($2.50)
    Lim-Dul's Vault ($8)

    @Thehordling

    While this really has nothing to do with the article, dealers in NY and CA do not just arbitrarily charge more for cards. I buy my cards at channelfireball's shop in CA and many of their prices are better than anywhere online. Also, people around with a lot of money don't just throw money away in trades, most of them don't trade at all, they just buy every card they need.

  6. I just got hurt last night value wise. Since I've never seen Invoke Prejudice in a deck list, I figured it couldn't be more than a $15 card and my copy was showing signs of play. Furthermore, its been in my binder forever and no one has blinked at it. Turns out its around $25 and I only got around a $10 card (fauna shaman). Would asking my trade partner (I see him regularly and we are on very friendly terms) to cut me a slight edge on future trades be appropriate or in bad taste?

    1. With a card like that, it's not worth $25, it's that it's rare enough that dealers might ask $25. A card like that is really worth closer to $15 to most people, and extracting the rest of the value takes major effort, or requires the resources and contacts that only dealers have.

      Given the wear, you traded a Fauna Shaman for about $12-15 worth of card, which isn't anything to worry about. It's not like you traded it for a Grave Titan, Dual Land, or anything else that's easily re-sellable.

      I'd say not to mention it to your friend, just be more aware of what your cards are worth. The implication that he owes you sets an awkward social precedent.

    2. I would agree with Steve. It sucks that you lost value on a trade, but how many people do you know who are really going to trade for that at $25? It's not played in Legacy (to my knowledge) and therefore the actual demand on it is pretty low, even if it's priced at $25 due to its scarcity.
      Price should always be based on demand, and I imagine you're going to find a much higher demand for the Shaman than you would an ages-old card that few people want.

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