Insider: Unwinding Some Positions

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Part of speculation and long-term strategies involves making sure that your cash is doing the most work that it can. When your cards are not performing, you need to fire them and get some more productive cards on the line. This weekend at GP: Indy, I divested from several cards that I had been sitting on. The subtheme of my article is "win, lose or draw," with a look at how an Eternal player confronts finite cash, broad possibilities and the desire to clean house. This week, we will look at a lot of my sales and why I did them. Maybe they were stupid in the long term - who knows. I ended up selling big piles of cards to dealers; I don't trade with enough velocity to truly work miracles (Kelly is your guy on that), so the cash for online speculation funds was more important. Hence, dealers.

The clear wins

First, let's look at the cards I made a big profit on. Karakas is the first that comes to mind. I had bought several Karakas when Iona was just printed. I've slowly sold them off and I got rid of a great Italian copy this weekend. I paid $7 for it a couple of years ago, so we are looking at a great markup for a final sale of $35. I sold the Karakas because I cannot play it in Commander and they are reasonably common enough that I can borrow them for the few Legacy events I get around to playing in anymore. The impending threat of a Karakas appearing in FTV: Realms was enough to chase me off of the card for much longer. If I need to, I'll rebuy a Karakas, but the need to have a personal physical copy is very small.

I got rid of a pile of Lava Spikes at $1.50, as well. I became very good at spotting the secretly-expensive cards in older sets after doing my long-term set review project. Lava Spike is a common from a big set, but it's a huge deal in burn decks. Both Modern and Legacy burn lists run Spike, so it was easy enough to set them aside when I was looking through old boxes. Since they were essentially free at the time and I had no use for them in decks, away they went.

Next, I got rid of my Sword of the Meek stack. Back before QS existed in the form it did, Kelly and I were just goofy guys swapping hints over gchat and texts. One day, I called him up (when he had a day job!) and told him to get Grove of the Burnwillows and Sword of the Meek, since they were breaking out that Friday afternoon at the Pro Tour. Kelly took a lunch break and bought as much as he could on both cards. We know the end result on those calls. I got rid of the last of my Swords because Thopter/Sword is only a tier-2 strategy in Legacy. Sword has been holding steady at a couple dollars for years now, and it was time to shake off the rust and turn them into movable cash. Again, these were almost free to begin with - maybe a dime apiece - so the Swords were clear winners, too.

The Holding Pattern

Along with those Karakas I bought years ago, I also acquired a Magus of the Abyss for $40. It was a big gamble, but we have seen with cards like Moat how insane the price jumps can be. I speculated on this and occasionally used it in Commander, but The Abyss simply wasn't pulling its weight. It did nothing in three years and the card is unpopular in Commander. Time to fire the World Enchantment. I ended up selling it to a dealer for the same $40 I paid for it awhile ago.

Looks like I broke even, right? Incorrect. $40 today is worth much less than $40 was three years ago. Even with crappy interest rates, this card should have been worth more than it currently is. The margins on selling an Italian Legends card are really low to begin with, and almost nobody needs the card. I wish I had done this sooner and I was even prepared to take a small loss; I needed to get the money out of The Abyss ATM and put it into workable stock.

Sometimes, you take a loss

This next section could accurately be titled "sell it already!" Let's talk about Standstill. I had five copies of the card and it was an incredible pickup earlier this year. Merfolk was the best deck by a mile in Legacy, even when its pilots weren't drawing extra cards. Merfolk runs on Standstill and the card had briefly hit $15. I saw buylists offering $10 and I should have packed them away for a cool $50 when I could. When Batterskull came out, Stoneforge Mystic became a Legacy staple and format-warper. Merfolk simply can't beat Batterskull, and Standstill has dropped to about $5 these days. I was lucky to get $3 apiece out of my played copies, but I should have taken much more when I could have. I repeat that people should not be greedy and just get their money out of a card when they make a comfortable profit; I waited too long on these and I lost.

I also got rid of my Null Rods. They are useful in Vintage, but the Mishra's Workshop decks do not play the card anymore. With Lodestone Golem, they get more support by stacking up the taxing abilities of Sphere of Resistance and Thorn of Amethyst. If the artifact prison lists have been off of Null Rod for over a year, there is little chance of it coming back. What I scored for $6 apiece years ago, I was happy to get rid of for $12 for the set this past weekend.

Letting go of hoarding impulses (this is the controversial part)

I sold my Underground Seas.

I gave three to Kelly for "friend prices" at $85 apiece; they were not mint by any means and I would have required more from a stranger.

My Seas have sat in my "playables" box for two years. They come out only for unlimited-proxy Vintage events. I don't use them at all in Legacy and I can borrow what I need.

I wasn't playing them, but they're still highly expensive cards. Why did I fire my Underground Seas? They were not doing enough work for me! Underground Sea is a fantastically expensive card. It's a banner card for casual and competitive players alike. But $100 retail is a lot to ask for a card that does not see much Legacy play (only 3 in the T8 of GP: Indy). I took a gamble and I'm interested in your feedback. I think I can make more from speculating that $255 this year than I can from just sitting on those Seas. Even if Sea hits $150 apiece by December, I am merely asking to double my money - and over a year of solid speculating, that isn't challenging. Seas gained about $22 last year, which means that the card saw about a 31% yield. That's great, but it hasn't changed in price since last July (while basing these observations on its BLP page).

I liked my Seas a lot. There's prestige in owning hundreds of dollars in old, blue duals. I won them in a Vintage tournament five years ago, so I paid about $10 apiece for three. Even if I bought them last year, though, I would still probably be happy to get rid of them. A 30% price increase over a year is fine, but I don't think Seas have much more room to go up. I wanted these, but I wanted the cash more. Not to blow on junk - to roll again with speculating. Kelly and I follow the card buying advice that we send out to our readers and we have made some great calls lately that resulted in us both making some paper with very little work. I felt crunched at the time - I couldn't buy as many Huntmasters at $11.50 as I wanted to, for example. Putting this money in the spec account will give me much greater reach this year. For cards that I don't get out of the box more than once a year, I was happy to let these go. I predict much more happiness from flipping that cash into more cards to speculate on!

Finally, as an observation: I don't know what the future of Legacy looks like. I think the format is in a slow downward decline. I talked to many people this weekend and most felt that Stoneforge decks and the resultant format made for boring play. Tracking down $50 Scavenger Oozes to play what is, at the end of the day, a Green-White deck, was unpleasant as well. I don't see Legacy enjoying the same booms that it had before. Let's not blame Mystical Tutor for this or point at things like Brainstorm as problems. I think people are just Legacy-ed out right now. Consequently, I felt more safe in stepping away from some of the seriously Legacy-specific cards like Standstill, Karakas and the Seas.

Did I make the right call? Should I have held onto those Seas if I had no intention of trading or playing them? What would you have done?

Until next week,

Doug Linn

Douglas Linn

Doug Linn has been playing Magic since 1996 and has had a keen interest in Legacy and Modern. By keeping up closely with emerging trends in the field, Doug is able to predict what cards to buy and when to sell them for a substantial profit. Since the Eternal market follows a routine boom-bust cycle, the time to buy and sell short-term speculative investments is often a narrow window. Because Eternal cards often spike in value once people know why they are good, it is essential for a trader to be connected to the format to get great buys before anyone else. Outside of Magic, Doug is an attorney in the state of Ohio.  Doug is a founding member of Quiet Speculation, and brings with him a tremendous amount of business savvy.

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5 thoughts on “Insider: Unwinding Some Positions

  1. I have to agree with your sentiments about Legacy. The format hasn't had the allure it's has in the past because… I'm not sure, really. It seems like a lot of things- R&D printing ridiculous Blue spells, lack of willingness to experiment with the B&R list, the Reserve list tightening, the boring, cyclical nature of the format, and it's absolute lack of any sense of "brokenness" for an Eternal format. Playing Duals and casting Swords doesn't feel broken. It doesn't feel exciting.

    I think you made the right point in getting rid of the U. Seas. You don't use them. If they aren't generating any fun they might as well turn a profit.

  2. I personally wouldn't have sold Seas because it's simply a card I want to own and have (for instance, I traded into some this weekend), but it's hard to blame you for doing so from a financial perspective.
    And I completely agree with you about the path Legacy is on. It's crazy to think we needed Burn to shake things up to even give the unfair decks a chance to make an appearance again.

  3. I was sitting across the table from you when you sold the Seas to Kelly at $85 apiece, and at the time, I thought you were nuts, but thinking back it seems like the correct choice. I make a point of not holding onto (or chasing after) dual lands right now, as they seem to have peaked, meaning there's very little money to be made unless you can get them at insane low prices (which most people are simply not willing to do). I have my playset of Seas that are in Reanimator, and a single Plateau I picked up on the cheap at GP Indy (35 seemed very reasonable), but beyond that I own zero dual lands.

    However, I actually disagree with your sentiments about Legacy right now. For a time the format seemed boring; you played NO RUG or Show & Tell, or you simply didn't top 8 in a major event. However, recently more interesting decks have been making their way into the top tiers. After the banning of Mental Misstep, suddenly High Tide is seeing decent amounts of play, and Enchantress is apparently a thing again. Every now and then, Dredge succeeds in winning something big. I think the format is suddenly more interesting than it has been in some time. That said, if top 8 lists start consisting of 8 Maverick decks, I'll begin to agree with your sentiments.

  4. I have asked myself the same exact question. But instead of looking to sell my Underground Seas, I frequently wonder if I should sell my entire set of 40 Dual Lands. I play Legacy so infrequently now, and with a newborn at home, the likelihood of me having the time to make it to a distant Legacy event seems low. The money could be better served either as cash for further speculation, a few pieces of power, or something altogether non-MTG (a family vacation perhaps?).

    Key question: five years from now, can I still sell my 40 dual lands for over $2,000? If the answer is likely no, then I should bail now because I know I won't have $2,000 of fun with these cards.

  5. I've been thinking about the state of Legacy a lot lately. While it's undoubtedly my favorite format, there are only so many times I can happily hast Force of Will into a Daze or allow a SfM to resolve without removal in hand and still have an ounce of excitement. On top of that, LED dredge can now easily mill 60 cards in one turn without being disrupted, which makes for an incredibly boring G1.

    On top of that, Modern seems to really be hitting home. I would also place all my bets on seeing reprints of all the shock lands very shortly. I would jump off of all of those IMMEDIATELY after the season ends.

    Beyond that, however, I still feel like the real duals are safe bets. Maybe that's just me and I am thinking about them the same way I used to the housing market…

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