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Insider: Standard’s Amorphous Evolution

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Last week, I endeavored to relate the various risks and rewards to trading in unique cards. This is a valuable topic in the realm of MTG Finance because profit margins are often much larger on obscure cards than on Standard staples. My hope was to elaborate upon the mathematical components of profit margins a bit further and…

I can’t do it. There is a much better topic I want to discuss this week. And boring you with some number crunching and percentages seems like a waste of your time. Let me rewind.

How Amazing Is Standard Right Now?

This format has an incredibly diverse metagame and it seems like every week there is a new frontrunner. Cards which used to dominate the format, such as Geist of Saint Traft, Moorland Haunt, and Kessig Wolf Run have now become interspersed with newcomers such as Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and Sword of War and Peace.

I will be first to admit that I have not closely followed the Standard metagame for very long – perhaps since Fairies (uh… I mean Lorwyn) block at the latest. But I am going to jump out on a limb: this has got to be one of the most dynamic and diverse formats we have seen in a while.

We are in the midst of a brewer’s dream. Cards like Splinterfright hold such promise in this awesome metagame. And as soon as a particular strategy seems to earn top notch, another one comes along and trumps it.

Financially Speaking…

This is a financial column. I am not a Pro Tour player and I am not delusional – I recognize I am here to write about MTG Finance and not MTG Strategy.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an incredibly exciting time to speculate in Standard. Modern PTQ season is winding down in less than a month and Standard will garner even more spotlight. It is already the most popular Magic format, but it will gain even more popularity amongst PTQ grinders in the coming months.

This means there will be profiting on the horizon. But this time around we can’t simply acquire the most popular staples because that list of cards is changing at a rapid pace. This makes for exciting tournaments, but not having the trusty Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Maelstrom Pulse or Bitterblossom to acquire in droves makes for an uncertain time.

We speculators will have to work a bit harder this season. There will be tournament results bombarding us from all angles, and it is imperative we are aware of trends. No longer can we acquire Jund and Caw-blade staples in the off-season for some promised profit. Instead, we will have to think.

My Two Cents

I cannot promise that my predictions and speculations will always net you pure profit. If you want a guarantee, purchase Underground Seas. (chart courtesy of blacklotusproject)

What I can offer is my perspective on what cards are worth considering from four different tiers of risk:

  1. Prime Performers,
  2. Forgotten Favorites,
  3. Gradual Grinders, and
  4. Long Shots (I couldn’t think of another alliterative name).

Allow me to explain.

Prime Performers

No one can really predict what decks will make Top 8 at the next SCG open or Standard Grand Prix. There are a large number of viable options and Avacyn Restored is bound to shake up the list even more!

The idea for Prime Performers is to rapidly deal in the most popular cards. I want to emphasize the window in which you should operate here. As soon as you see a particular card see increase in favor, you need to move on them immediately. There is often a narrow span of a few days when you can purchase or trade for these cards before they peak.

However, you also should be able to unload the card within days of obtaining it. In this way, you can minimize risk. Wait too long and your card may fall out of favor, thereby dropping the card’s price and moving it into the next category.

My examples of (very) recent Prime Performers include Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Darkslick Shores (charts courtesy of blacklotusprojects.com). Both have about doubled in price in the last month or so. The moment they started seeing increased play, there was a brief opportunity to acquire them cheaply. Now, the room to profit on these cards is nearly passed. Rest assured there will be others, but, unfortunately, I don’t have any definite candidates right now.

I hear a lot about Zombies – maybe Geralf's Messenger or Gravecrawler?

Forgotten Favorites

Cards in this category made a splash in Standard at one point but have since fallen out of favor due to metagame shifts. They are off their peak price significantly, but the precedence for higher prices is already established. They are still powerful cards.

I would consider these cards slightly more risky than the active top performers, but they have proven themselves already. Therefore you could do worse than to hold a few of these.

Because of how rapidly this format is evolving, there are many cards in this category. To list a few, consider Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, Geist of Saint Traft, Sword of Feast and Famine, Tempered Steel, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Elspeth Tirel, and the list goes on.

I’ve provided charts for Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed and Geist of Saint Traft. The former I feel has nearly bottomed in price, while the latter may soon begin its decline.

Gradual Grinders

This category is my favorite one and, as a result, much of my trade binder consists of these cards. There are very good reasons for this.

Cards in this category should remain fairly well-positioned regardless of how the metagame shifts. While there can be no guarantees, these cards should have a higher likelihood of increasing in value from where they currently are. However, they may be a bit cheaper now because either demand is soft or supply is too large.

The best examples of these cards are all the rare lands in Innistrad and Dark Ascension. My favorites are the Innistrad Duals. Many of you should already know this because I’ve written about them in the past. In fact, a few weeks ago I shared their price trends, indicating that they bottomed. Don’t believe me? Check out this link: https://www.quietspeculation.com/2012/01/insider-a-very-exciting-time-to-speculate/

Here’s the picture from that article, depicting the trend on the Innistrad duals as of January 11th, 2012:

And here’s the same trend today, as of March 3rd, 2012 (charts courtesy of bloacklotusproject.com):

It is quite clear that the bottom I called in early January was in fact accurate (so far). But notice how only Isolated Chapel and Woodland Cemetery have shown recovery.

I want to emphasize that these cards are all mana-fixing lands. Barring a reprint, at least one land from this cycle will be trading at a premium from its bottom. Right now it’s the B/W land, but as the metagame shifts each of the other four may get their chance to shine. Downside risk on these other four is low. Which is why I love this category.

In addition to the Innistrad Duals, the spell-lands from Dark Ascension and Innistrad are also worth acquiring at such a cheap price. Also, Ratchet Bomb would have been a great card in this category before it spiked. Although a reprint, Solemn Simulacrum is another card which should remain strong no matter the metagame.

One last example is Black Sun's Zenith. It’s relatively cheap but represents one of the most efficient board sweepers in this Standard format. It’s not likely to become a $10 card, but being a premier board sweeper in Standard earns it a spot in my MTG portfolio (chart courtesy of blacklotusproject.com)

Long Shots

These are the Skaab Ruinator and Splinterfrights of the world. They are cards that seem synergistic with the mechanics of a given set but have not broken out yet. Even Heartless Summoning and Havengul Lich may qualify to fall in this category. While they have made Star City Game Open Top 8s, they have still not shown up in numbers at tournaments. Thus, there is room for them to go up or down.

I like buying a few cards from this category for my collection, but not excessively. Unless you want to make a hobby of collecting a given card for personal reasons, I personally don’t advise going too deep. I tried that with Past in Flames and it came back to bite me. I suppose there’s still time, but the Standard metagame is nowhere near a place where Past in Flames can be good.

A Balance

Like everything in life, a smart strategy is to diversify across all four categories. This way your collection is always relevant and you are enabled to trade with anyone at any tournament looking for Standard cards.

A good goal to strive for is continue to buy, sell, and trade cards regularly so that your collection always has something for everybody. It’s a fair strategy across all formats as well. You’ll rarely make $1,000 on one card this way, but you will always have a full collection worth looking at. After all, with this strategy, it’s all about the journey.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

6 thoughts on “Insider: Standard’s Amorphous Evolution

  1. Could you once in a while make time to focus these standard-predictions to the online-market ? Since i only play (and trade) online I feel I'm not getting the most out of my subscription here, so a little more light on the mtgo-market would be greatly appreciated.

    1. knx,

      Thanks for letting us know that you'd like some more mtgo content! We will be sure to incorporate more mtgo-specific content for our Insiders, so stay tuned.

      Thanks again for your feedback!

      1. Maybe we can bring on a writer to do a weekly MTGO column? I personally don't use MTGO at the moment (although if I knew more about profitability, I may try it!). I think this is great feedback.

        Hopefully my article was useful for the IRL market at least!

  2. For MTGO speculators, Garruk Relentless is one that I will be accumulating in the coming months. The irl chart piqued my interest as it shows the steady decline of a card that doesn't get much play in Standard. However, it is a staple of block constructed and it will not be opened heavily after Avacyn Restored is released. Online it has held a price floor of around 15 tix.

    And what do I mean by accumulate? I mean, this is not a hot tip that you have to move on, but keep your eyes open for deals, grab a few copies here or there, and watch the price. If the price starts moving dramatically, then hold off purchases until you can figure out what is happening. Garruk will be a solid long term bet for the Fall, and it will be worthwhile to have a few copies salted away.

  3. I would love some more mtgo content as well. I have recently moved to the country so I pretty much only deal in the mtgo market as well. I reallly enjoy the quick emails during tournaments, but more mtgo content like: When to buy new cards (like DKA), what cards are good holds that will most likely increase in the next months, and so on..

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