Building on the Basics

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Vince Lombardi of Green Bay fame had a very unique way of starting his pre-season training. He would walk to the front of the room, hold out the football, and with five simple words set the tone for what was to come; "Gentlemen, this is a football.".

He assumed nothing about his players skills, knowledge, or capabilities. It was not to belittle them, but to reinforce the fact that the basics are one of the most vital points in whatever you're doing. To mirror him, this is the tone that this three part series is going to take.

Gentlemen, this is a trade binder.

Remember when QuietSpeculation went from Kelly's personal blog and changed into an article site? It was shortly after they had to take down, and every week as a new author came aboard, there were articles trying to help cover the basics. They were all quite good, and each looked at a different dynamic, had a different piece of advice, and went about it different ways. The beginning of my series was no different and if you're interested you can read through them by scrolling to the bottom of this page. I'll be the first to say that they aren't great, and I wrote them with the player-vendor that wanted to work a larger area in mind.

Recently though, there has been a distinct lack of articles centered on the people that want to go Back to Basics, and relearn the ropes, or even for new people that need to know how to apply the more advanced theories to their greatest effect.

A few weeks ago a member posted on our forums with the following request;

Hey guys,

This is kind of embarrassing to admit, but here goes.

I feel like I have all kinds of advanced financial strategies from reading the articles here, but I don't have a good grasp of pricing/values when I am trading, so I sometimes feel out of my element. I don't have the time to/know how to get to that point, so I would appreciate an article or series of articles to enlighten me and people in my situation.

Thank you Smiley

How could I refuse that request? Its been a while sine anyone here has covered the ground level stuff. Somewhere along the road of life, we all come to understand you can't build a huge structure without a solid foundation to support it. That's what this series is going to be about. For some of us it will be a refresher course, for a few others it will be reinforcement, and for others still it will lay the brickwork that they can build off of for many months to come.

Knowing your research, where to research, and why to research is one of the most important tools you have. If you only look at one site for all of your prices, your prices will be skewed. This is a problem that I find to be common with people just starting to get into trading. Research helps you with price memorization, and with time can make it very easy to adjust to price changes quickly.

How to research: Realize now that research is going to take a decent amount of time. You don't have to spend 8 hours a day looking up prices, nor should you, but I would recommend you spend about an hour a week dedicated to financial research outside of reading articles. This keeps your head in the game, and helps you to see trends as they develop.
Where to research: Starcitygames, Channelfireball, MODO,,, and of course the price charts located here done by Chris McNutt. With those resources it should be no issue to find prices.
What to do with the data: Studying the information you find is crucial, as is tracking it. When you begin tracking information on cards that you are invested in its much easier to see when they should be sold, held, or more should be bought. Any spreadsheet program can be used to track prices. You don't have to check prices daily, even just a quick once a week on Thursday or Friday before FNM's and taking note of anything that's had its value change up or down a dollar is amazingly helpful.

The product of that research leads to the establishment of baselines. These baselines help you in developing a deeper knowledge of fringe cards. This lays your groundwork for on-the-fly pricing, and accurate evaluations building on your research.

Baseline Rares: Quick! How much is a birds of paradise worth? A Zen fetchland? An Onslaught fetchland? How about a Day of Judgement? These are all cards that you will come across in trading, and things you need to know the price of. They are common cards that can be used as a price reference point again and again, and can even out the dollar differences in trades. Rares tend to hold the value they settle at much better than mythics which tend to swing in price based on demand.
Baseline Mythics: For the record, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is NOT a baseline mythic. In the sense of baselines its established, but its something of a freak. Good baseline mythics to look at would be the Titan cycle, Baneslayer Angel, Vengevine, and the average price on "bulk" mythics. You can use that information along with the research and tracking data you already have and be able to spot upward ticks and drops faster and more consistently.
Lands: Lands are something of an oddity. I mentioned the fetchlands above, but they are more suspect to pricing changes than other rares. Lands tend to hold value better and over more formats than other cards. Good land cycles are used to fix mana in every format, and especially in extended as more archetypes are explored due to new lands making things possible. Because of this lands are typically the strongest investment you can make for long term profits. If its a land that could see Legacy play, its traditionally blue based lands such as the original blue based Fetchlands Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta that see the best gains over time. I still see Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn gaining value even after they rotate from extended, since they are more readily available than the Onslaught lands. Their greater abundance will also keep their price lower than the originals.

That's all I'm going to cover in this part. I feel that those are the three things that should be learned first, as they will be the basic skills used even in the more advanced theories. If you have questions or comments I urge you to post them below or in the forums. If you have anything you want to directly ask me, my mailbox is always open.

Till next time,

Stephen Moss

@MTGstephenmoss on Twitter

One thought on “Building on the Basics

  1. Thanks for the series. I've been out of the game (both trading and playing) for a couple of months now, and I'm looking to get back into things. This (and the upcoming articles, I'm sure) will be of great help in getting me back on my feet.

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