Hey everyone! I am extremely excited to be making my debut on Quiet Speculation. I think it’s only appropriate to start with an introduction for those of you who don’t know me. From my QS Bio:
Noah Whinston is a Chicagoland Magic player who’s been in the game for 5 years. He jumped right into competitive play, working his way up to the Top 8 in the last Extended PTQ season. He produces podcasts for BlackBorder.com, TCGPlayer.com, Pure MTGO and has guest posted on many blogs.
While I may seem like the stereotypical competitive Magic player, my connection with this game runs deeper than that. Unlike many Spikes, I recognize that Magic is more than a game. Instead, it is truly a community, a way of life. Because of this, I have made it my most recent mission to become involved in the financial side of Magic, buying up cardstock in paper and on MTGO. While I cannot claim to have the same kind of experience that the other writers on this site do when it comes to financial matters, I can only hope that my more player-centric viewpoint will provide a fresh look at the Magic card market.
For my first article, I wanted to start out with something simple. The force that determines the price of a card is the most important thing to know when trying to make a profit. By realizing the factors that influence a card’s price, you will be able to predict trends ahead of time, based on fluctuations in those forces. My goal for the end of thiarticle is to have everyone up to speed on these forces, and to know examples of them in the current market.
The Casual Appeal of a card is one of the simplest and most straightforward forces that influence price. However, the effect of Casual Appeal varies wildly from card to card. Imagine a set of axes, where the X axis represents the price of a card, and the Y axis represents the amount of influence that Casual Appeal exerts on the price of a card. The graph would look like a curve that eventually flattened out to a slop of almost zero. Essentially, Casual Appeal influences cards with lower prices more than cards with higher costs.
The reasoning for this has to do with the mindset of the casual market. Most casual players are unable to afford the latest tournament tech (Big Jace) so instead use substitutes that can be obtained for a cheaper price (Baby Jace). This increased demand inflates the price of the card. The phenomenon of Casual Appeal explains the relatively high costs of the less playable mythics. For instance, no matter the tournament playability of it, Planeswalkers tend to be worth at least $5-10 because there will always be casual players who want to buy it. While this is applicable to tournament playable cards (Baneslayer Angel, Avenger of Zendikar), the influence is less pronounced, because the higher costs of these cards reduces the amount of casual demand.
Cards that generate Casual Appeal usually share similar characteristics. Because the majority of the casual player demographic are “Timmy” players, powerful effects are prioritized. While Big Fatty Boom-Boom Creatures make up most of this, game breaking spells like the Ultimatums or Commands also should be taken into consideration.
Predicting Casual Appeal is quite an easy process, because it almost never changes. The mindset of the Casual community is very consistent, and this demand isn’t vastly changed by fluctuations in a certain metagame. Unfortunately, because of this consistency, it is very difficult to take advantage of casual appeal and turn a profit through it. Most cards whose prices are increased by casual appeal are already marked up at vendors, and so difficult to arbitrage between a store and your local play group. Also, there is no way to try and play the market. Imagine a stock market where the value of the stocks never changed. That’s effectively what Casual Appeal is, because of the eternal consistency of its effect.
Elder Dragon Highlander is different in its ability to glorify uniqueness. No other format places such a need to “pimp out” a deck. EDH players are often on the lookout for these unique cards, ranging from Japanese Foils, to cards altered and signed by the artist. This means that the influence of EDH on a card’s price can’t really be graphed, because of the huge discrepancies between the demand for certain cards in EDH. If you are forced to deal with a primarily EDH playing market, certain advantages and disadvantages arise.
One of the problems with trying to turn a profit off of EDH is the age of the format. Like Vintage and Legacy, EDH uses all Magic sets ever printed, leading to some truly broken decks. However, this means that newer cards are very rarely put into EDH decks, and even if they are, it is only a single copy as per Highlander rules. As such, cracking packs of M2011 is not likely to yield you any cards that are in high demand for EDH. Instead, you must deal in older cards, whose values are much more stagnant, making it harder to squeeze a few dollars of profit out of trades.
The advantages of dealing with EDH players are high. First, many cards that are good in EDH are downright unplayable in the other eternal formats. Many Standard players will criminally undervalue EDH staples, simply because they don’t see play in the competitive formats. Exploiting this requires having a larger community, one that can support both Standard and EDH players. This does work the other way around as well, in that EDH players tend to undervalue Standard staples, making it possible to play the two sides off one another. In addition, EDH players give you a way to sell off your more unique cards. Have a Japanese Foil Pernicious Deed (lifted from Doug Linn’s article)? I’ll bet that the average Legacy player looking for Pernicious Deeds for his sideboard won’t be willing to spend extra for that bling. But chances are that that EDH player can’t wait to get his hands on it.
Much like Casual Appeal, the effect that EDH has on a card’s price is fairly constant because of the lack of a true metagame in the format, so trying to eke out small profit margins trading between EDH players is not an effective use of time or resources. Instead, by playing the Standard and EDH groups off of each other, you are more able to exploit the differences in valuing a card.
The use of a card in a competitive context is the factor that has most impact on its value. This can be explained quite easily. In more casual formats, the game is played for its sake alone. However in tournaments, there is much more on the line. Tournament players are willing to spend more on cards they need, because they see it as an investment that will pay for itself rather than a simple expenditure. Obviously they are often wrong, but that’s not really the point. Look at the most expensive cards in a format. They are always the most heavily played.
The easiest competitive format to work within is Standard, for several reasons. Standard is a relatively young format, meaning that there is a higher density of expensive cards. Standard rotates on a regular and fairly quick basis, insuring a constant creation of more expensive staples. And finally, Standard is the most popular of the constructed formats, providing a larger pool of consumers.
Predicting how Competitive Use will impact a card’s value is as easy as predicting shifts in the metagame. If a deck in which the card plays a key role becomes more popular, the price of the card will go up. It is simply demand.
Because the Competitive Use of a card has the most impact on it’s price, it is critical to stay on top of the current metagame in which the card is playable. If you think a certain deck will start to do well, buy up the cards in it, then turn them over later for a profit. This segment actually leads me to something that I want to call my “Tip of the week”. In it, I will implement my predictions about a given format, and recommend that everyone pick up a certain card.
Tip of the Week: Aluren
Looking to Legacy, Grand Prix: Columbus just passed, and many of the pros are looking at new options for the format. One of these options already covered by writers on this site is the Mind Over Matter-Temple Bell combo. However, there is another combo that, while it may not have gained any new pieces, has been overlooked for too long. Aluren is back. “But Noah” you say, “how do you know this, given that you aren’t a pro?”
Well reader, one of the ways to predict the popularity of a deck is to look at how the cards in it have been selling. One of the key parts of the Aluren combo is Imperial Recruiter, a $150 creature from Portal: Three Kingdoms. It’s exorbitantly high cost means that it is usually not in high demand. But despite this, many dealers have sold their whole inventory of them. This surge of orders for Imperial Recruiter, as well as an increase in the number of Aluren decks being played online, foreshadows a large number of Aluren decks being played at the GP. Because most of us, myself included, don’t have the bankroll to buy up Imperial Recruiters, I would suggest buying as many copies of Aluren as possible. In just the past 2-3 weeks, Aluren has gone from 7 to 12 tickets on MTGO, an increase of 70%, and it’s paper counterpart will do the same if Aluren makes a strong showing in Columbus. [Though Aluren didn’t Top 8 the GP, at least a few copies made Day 2 –KBR]
That’s all for this week. For my next article, my plan is to examine the Standard format in detail, pointing out the underrated and undervalued cards within the metagame. See you next time!