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Insider: Rebalancing Your Portfolio

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Every so often it is wise to reassess one’s collection and identify which cards are performing as expected and which are falling flat. Usually, I perform this evaluation every time a significant change in MTG happens.

Well, over the next couple weeks there are going to be a couple of these changes. First, Dark Ascension is going to be released and become Standard legal. This set, while seemingly underwhelming to some degree, will still have an impact on the Standard metagame.

Second, Modern season will commence. This format is wide open at the moment thanks to all the recent bannings, and I anticipate some hefty price swings as a result.

Standard: Re-evaluating Potential Strategies

A few themes from Dark Ascension immediately jump out at me. First, it seems that a B/W deck is inevitable. This includes the printing of Sorin, Lord of Innistrad along with many synergistic humans and a Vault of the Archangel.

Second, it seems that Wizards is again pushing for a B/R Vampires deck in Standard. Such a deck may remain underwhelming, but having the ability to run premier removal alongside Olivia Voldaren and Falkenrath Aristocrat is a strategy worth at least considering. Perhaps a third color splash could even make the deck more viable.

Finally, Dark Ascension is continuing to drive home the importance of the Graveyard. But this emphasis is not consistent in strategy. For example, a card like Ghoultree synergizes well with Kessig Cagebreakers and the likes of Armored Skaab, Deranged Assistant, and Forbidden Alchemy. Meanwhile, cards like Skaab Ruinator aim to thin your Graveyard, making these two themes incompatible.

Knowing all of this, I have what I need to make an educated evaluation of my speculation targets over the past couple months. In all honesty, some cards I have acquired will likely not pay out as expected. On the other hand, some cards may still have potential.

The most obvious change in mindset involves poor Skaab Ruinator. Before Dark Ascension spoilers began, I had enough confidence that this 5/6 flier would synergize so well with this set that I picked up a playset. Fortunately, I kept my speculative buying of this card in check and I managed to keep my average purchase price to less than four dollars each. After testing this card myself and witnessing how awkward it can be in light of Dark Ascension, I have decided this card is no longer worth having. He is very powerful, but it is SO AWKWARD to play him more than once in a game.

Meanwhile, on the bullish side I still really like the Innistrad Dual Lands (chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com).

Just two short weeks ago I emphasized how these cards were all hitting their bottom. Thanks to Sorin, Lord of Innistrad, Isolated Chapel has seen a bump sooner than the others. Star City Games now sells this particular B/W land for $7.99. This is not the ceiling.

The other Innistrad Dual Lands haven’t yet responded this drastically, mainly because their utility in the new Standard is less obvious. But do not be deceived. These lands will be in Standard for quite some time still, and there will be plenty of opportunities for the format to shift direction, driving up the price of some of the other Innistrad Dual Lands. If you don’t have your sets, I would highly recommend you move in while these cards are near a bottom.

I have also begun acquiring Innistrad cards that synergize well with having cards in the Graveyard. I like Kessig Cagebreakers and Splinterfright in particular. Both cards sell for around $0.40 each and may become fringe playable when Dark Ascension becomes legal. And while I commend my colleague for purchasing 94 of them (https://www.quietspeculation.com/2012/01/a-frightful-tale-my-speculation-story/), I most likely would pick up just a couple extras as trade throw-ins.

The final card I want to mention in Standard is Visions of Beyond (chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com).

I made a call on this card a while back, indicating possible synergies with the Graveyard themes of Innistrad and Dark Ascension. Clearly, the card has not broken out in any measurable form. However, a clear bottom has occurred in the above chart and every Graveyard card spoiled (e.g. Increasing Confusion) gives me slightly more hope for Visions of Beyond. I have my set and I may trade for a couple more. But my rating on this one for now is “hold”, as there seems to be some better opportunities elsewhere.

Latest Modern Developments

Modern season is upon us and now is the time to pay very close attention to shifting metagames for potential pick-ups. For example, I have read some buzz on Twitter about a Merfolk deck once again becoming viable. Chris Davis from Channel Fireball has even taken a Merfolk build through a Daily Modern Event on MTGO with decent success. Wizards may have finally banned enough cards to make this strategy viable.

Another trend that seemingly popped up overnight is the mono-W lifegain Martyr deck. Taking a page out of an older Extended deck, this brew strives to gain giant amounts of life and implements Serra Ascendant for major life-swinging beatdowns.

Other noteworthy Modern deck brews include a return of Jund, the ever-present Past in Flames storm decks, and my personal favorite, Melira-Pod. Each of these decks appears to have a home in this tumultuous Modern metagame.

Naturally, as Modern evolves and stabilizes there will be some windows of opportunity for profit. On the other hand, some previously well-positioned cards may have fallen out of favor.

In fact, one card that I have recently scaled back on buying is Past in Flames:

I admit to purchasing 14 copies of this card in a heartbeat when they dropped to $3 apiece. They have made a reasonable rebound, but seeing a card like Graftdigger's Cage spoiled in Dark Ascension has immediately turned me off. Additionally, players have begun playing Ethersworn Canonist in their main decks making the uphill battle with this card even more daunting. Do I see this deck impacting the metagame? Absolutely. Will I hold onto a few? At $3.50 each, why not? Have I sold most of the 14 copies? You betcha. I am way too risk averse to ride this card much further.

What should I do with the cash made from selling my Past in Flames? I should focus on purchasing cards with better potential upside, of course! With the resurfacing of Merfolk strategies, I like Aether Vial (chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com).

This card peaked over $10, but has since traced back into single digits. Many creature decks will benefit from playing Vial, but Merfolk decks in particular love playing free, instant-speed creatures while holding up counterspells.

Speaking of counterspells, which versions do we think Merfolk may run? It is hard to predict so early in the season, but I would like to nominate Cryptic Command. It will probably never reach its Standard highs of $20, but the card commonly sells on eBay for $11 and could reach as high as $15. If anything, this card will remain easy to trade for and away for as long as Modern is a format.

There are so many other cards with potential in this format that it is difficult to name them all. If Black finally becomes a relevant color in Modern, cards like Dark Confidant, Thoughtseize, and Maelstrom Pulse all become strong buys. In fact, these three in particular have already seen a small rebound in price. Maelstrom Pulse in particular may already be a wise card to acquire because of Jund’s popularity.

Change is Good

Significant events in the MTG community such as new set releases and PTQ seasonal changes all merit a re-evaluation of trade strategy. Ignoring these forces is not recommended. Sometimes it is wise to sell some cards for a loss that did not pan out rather than holding them all the way down to bulk rares in the hopes that they see play.

I myself have purged my Skaab Ruinators and Past in Flames in light of these recent events. By selling now I manage to avoid significant losses, enabling me to purchase cards with greater promise. If I don’t do this I would be throwing good money after bad – an unwise business practice.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

14 thoughts on “Insider: Rebalancing Your Portfolio

  1. First card I started buying after becoming a member of QS was Skaab Ruinator, because everybody here was screaming how good it was and how it's price would go up… cute

    1. Who was saying that? I remember in both the INN spoiler articles and forum discussions that people figured that Ruinator was bound to bomb.

      I'd love to see some discussion of Proclamation of Rebirth. Martyr is doing pretty well right now, possibly because people aren't hating it at all. I wonder if Cage will do something to the deck's popularity, but then again, white doesn't have a hard time getting an artifact off the board.

      1. I bought a few Proclamations of Rebirth right before their large jump and make quick profit. I think we need to understand what the ceiling is for this card. It's a rare from a smaller set of an older Modern block, and it's primarily played in one main architype. Given this information, I can't imagine Proclamation has significantly higher to run. But it certainly has performed well recently.

    2. I will be the first to admit that I bought a set of Skaab Ruinators as they dropped down to $3. After pre-selling at $25, and seeing the terrific graveyard synergies of Innistrad, this seemed like a great speculation target. The fact of the matter is Wizards appears to be slightly favoring a different graveyard strategy. And then they offer sideboard tech to hose said graveyard strategies. This is all new information that I need to consider when assessing my portfolio. Unfortunately in the case, Skaab Ruinator went from underpriced gem to likely-appropriately-priced dud. The good news is, if you bought at $3-4, you won't really lose on on value since he hasn't dropped much further. I never supported this card when we was $25 or even $5 for that matter.

      This article highlights a tough reality – speculation doesn't always work. We need to embrace that and constantly assess our collection as a result. Otherwise, our collections will become obselete.

  2. I remember Ruinator being seen as hype right out the door, especially with it’s unsustainable presale price and no home in a deck.

    Good analysis Sig. The graveyard strategies are pretty dichotemous, and I can see how the Ruinator’s chances of breaking out haven’t gone up with this set.

    1. Thanks, Tyler. It is a bit surprising how Wizards has proceeded with these two opposing graveyard strategies. Even in Dark Ascension, there are enablers for each strategy. So far, the strategy consistent with Skaab Ruinator has been far overshadowed. This is an utter disappointment, as I really had high hopes for the card. So now my choices are: hold the Ruinators and hope for a brew to prove itself or sell some and alleviate the risk of holding these cards. It's a personal decision at that point. With all the information we have on Dark Ascension, I just can't get behind Skaab Ruinator like I once did.

  3. Really good article Sig. Don't feel bad about Ruinator – nearly everyone was hot on the card at $3, and it could still happen (though obviously my 94 Splinterfrights and I went the other way).
    Also love to see Merfolk being mentioned! I can't imagine anyone hyping the deck more on Twitter than I have 😉

    1. Thanks, I appreciate it! This highlights why diversification is so critical. Speculations are just that – they are not guarantees. I was hot on the card at $3, now it's maybe $2.50 and I see a lower likelihood of it jumping. It still may happen, and it is up to the reader to decide how to proceed. I am merely sharing my approach.

      Hope you don't mind my reference to your 94 Spliterfrights. I still don't have your courage! Though I will try to get them as throw-ins in as many trades as I possibly can. Such low risk.

      Much respect for Merfolk. Any card that abuses Aether Vial must have a shot, right? 🙂

  4. I think that the immediate outlook for Skaab Ruinator is neutral to somewhat negative. Nevertheless I have been accumulating Skaab Ruinator on MTGO. It is fluctuating between 2.2 and 2.7 tix; at that price I am willing to buy and hold for 12+ months. There's plenty of time for a graveyard strategy to prove itself when you extend your investment horizon.

    1. This is very true. If you are willing to wait, there is a greater likelihood of making some profit. And the downside is quite minimal, so I can't blame you for holding onto Skaab Ruinator.

  5. I'm surprised no one has mentioned it yet, but the best money I have made this season has been on Gut shot. I picked up tons of them for .10 each and now they are 2-3$. Wish I would have ordered many many more, but that is the case typically with successful specs. The ones that don't turn out well, we wish we had bought many many less.

    1. I missed out on that one! I bought one Gut Shot on cardshark as a late addition to my order, and it was about .10. Easy profit there. Also flipped a foil Vapor Snag (bought 0.07, sold to dealer at $1). Those heavily used commons/uncommons are worth paying attention to!

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