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Insider: State of the Format

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Formats are changing everywhere, and as the dust settles, we have to take a snapshot to see where things are at, and assess any changes to your plan. Every format has some sort of cycle, or seasonality to it, and being aware of what’s going on gives a larger scale perspective of what’s happening. I’ll talk a little about each format, covering what to expect in general, and how to use that information to make calls and adjust values. Any successful businessperson has a specialization, and the most successful traders do too. “That Foil Guy;” “The Guy that has 2 playsets of all the good Legacy stuff;” “The Guy that stocks every standard playable in a long box.” These are actual phrases I’ve used to describe people, and often people know exactly who I’m talking about when I do.

The fact is, its not only an image you can market, but it gives you a narrower field to have expertise in. This is a good thing, but ignoring items outside your strongest market is not. I’m primarily a Limited player. Trading for me means converting the rares I open into bigger and better rares, or even into constructed decks. Whatever your specialty is, you probably know how to exploit it already - but learning how to overlap your current operations with other markets is important. I want to touch on some of the general categories of markets, and for each one you should be thinking about if you are prepared for whats happening in that market or if you’ve been out of it. If you’ve been out of it, is there a way for you to gain value by jumping in?

Legacy

Misstep bannings are long behind us, and we see such a diverse format now! Legacy fans everywhere rejoice! There were 4 decks that made up 13 of the top 16 slots in Baltimore. U/W Stoneblade, RUG, Reanimator and Team America. The “rogue” 3 were Merfolk, Dredge and G/W Aggro. Even among the decks that showed up in force, a variety of card choices were present, and it’s become clear that the format has returned to a healthy status. The Legacy price craze has completely died down, and we’ve reached a fairly stable market place. What does this mean for you? That depends on what Legacy means to you.For a long time, Legacy was a very daunting world for me to dive into. There was worry that I’d invest in the wrong cards or buy in at the wrong time. I was worried I’d invest in a deck, only to have it be hated out of the format. Those fears are gone. We now have a solid base to understand what the accurate market price of Legacy staples is now, at the current level of demand. The other thing to take away is that a diverse format means there’s an opportunity for new things to appear.

With Misstep gone can High Tide make a come back? I’m wagering on yes, but not in the way you may be thinking. When Misstep was printed, I shouted “Sell your candles!” I’m not expecting Candelabra to shoot back up simply because Misstep is now banned, but I’m keeping my eye out for a new High Tide variant to win over the format, and when it does jumping on the right pieces at the right time will be key. In a format like this, looking at decklists for new technologies in existing decks is the way to find hidden gems. Just be sure to scan the decks each week after a StarCity Open, and see what’s changing. As you spend more time learning the way the format changes, you’ll be better prepared to anticipate change before it happens.

If you play Legacy and you have a deck, you’re pretty comfortable for the time being. If you’re trying to get in, now’s a time to start slowly trading for staples and mana bases. Prices have dipped back down a tad, and until the next wave of Legacy craze hits, you’ll want to be well on your way to building a stock. Also keep in mind, Legacy stock is one of the safest investments. Dual lands will always be desirable and their price floor is pretty high. Same can be said for other format staples like Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Find out how this market meets your demand at the trade tables, and plan accordingly.

Modern

Prices of Modern playables have fluctuated so greatly since the introduction of the format; there is a lot of variance and risk involved. Bannings have been vast, and likely not yet completed. A format like this has such a large card pool, but Wizards doesn’t want things to get completely busted, so expect more bannings in the future. The initial price spike was a result of speculators and early adopters, but the prices have receeded since then, once the speculators (myself included) got their money out of the transition. With a PTQ season around the corner, we can expect prices to come back up again at some point, but which cards and decks are going to be hot? It’s really hard to know. There’s little access to decklists, and the Pro-Tour that featured the format had a completely different banned list. Manabases, key spells that overlap with Legacy (Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Aether Vial etc), and inexpensive Uncommons are the best targets at this point. The idea is to minimize risk in a volatile market like Modern. Manabases are guaranteed to be used. Legacy staples have an established price floor, and cheaper uncommons have a much more potential for percentage gain on average. In my personal market, working with Modern stuff isn’t easy. Most of the people who hold all the Modern cards are dealers and sharks. The gold is found in the binders of EDH players who are the few who tend to keep obscure cards from any format proudly displayed in their binders.

Standard

The youngest sibling of the bunch is predictable. It doesn’t have the depth or complexity to give us many surprises. The format has 5 legal sets, and with such a limited card pool the format gets solved almost as quickly as its born. Wolf Run decks are running rampant, with U/B control seeming to be one of the best ways to fight it. Mono Black Infect was the flavor of the week, but if prepared to beat it, it quickly folds to the right answers. How can Standard fit your plan now? Picking up cards on value is the best way to go. Rather than targeting sleepers or speculations (which you should still do to some degree) finding the right trade partner to gain incremental value is the best strategy. Decklists are of course important, and new technology and decks will appear, but they will likely include the already known cards. Keeping a big stock of desirable uncommons has been my bread and butter for cashing out when PTQ season comes, and this year is no different.

Limited

Yep, limited is indeed a format, and it does affect the trading marketplace. Drafting and Sealed events spew Innistrad product into the market at alarming rates. Watching the card prices stabilize is an interesting game. Now that most of the chase rares are no longer needed for at least a few months, it’s tough to cash out limited cards for huge value after a draft. Stashing these in your binder and waiting for a spike sometime next year, is wise. In the meantime, leverage that collection into bigger and better trades.

EDH/Commander

While there’s much overlap with modern and Legacy cards, being aware that the EDH/Commander crowd at your LGS has a completely different set of priorities is important. Luckily this format doesn’t rotate or change very often, and keeping your knowledge base current is easy. Just know what cards in your binder have more value to an EDH player, and make sure they get a chance to see what unique goodies you have that will make their decks even more impressive.

Wrap-up:
Think about each format in this light every couple of months, and revise your trading plan. How do these formats pan out at your LGS (or wherever you do your trading)? What are your plans to participate in these formats? What portion of your trade partners participate in these formats? Put yourself in a position to succeed, and you will.

Chad Havas
@torerotutor on Twitter

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Chad Havas

Chad has been with Quiet Speculation since January of 2011. He uses price speculation to cover all his costs to keep playing. Follow his journey from format to format and be prepared to make moves at the right times.

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