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Insider: Making the Most out of “The Dead Zone”

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This is one of the worst times to be in Magic finance.

What do I mean by that? No, I don’t mean you should quit what you’re doing now, nor am I going to lecture you about how much it was “back in the day.” Instead, I simply mean this. We are in the “dead zone” of Magic finance right now.

When I played tennis in high school, I was late to the game. I started playing my Junior year, having never thought about the game before. I turned out to be decent at it and made it a game short of the state tournament with my partner, but in those first few weeks the biggest lesson I had to learn was about the “dead zone.”

In tennis, it refers to an area in between the front line and the back line where most of your opponents’ shots will land. Standing in this area is the worst. You can’t properly play the ball back because you’re neither close enough to the net to spike it, nor are you far enough back to wind up a shot. This was a hard lesson for me, and I screwed up tons of shots before I finally figured out how to best handle it.

In Magic, the dead zone refers to the time we’re in right now. M13 hype is out of the way and the set has already more or less made its impact on the format. Thragtusk spiked as expected, and will now come back down due to its inclusion in an Event deck. The impending rotation means that players are in a severe holding pattern with their cards. People don’t want Scars block cards, but they’re being extra careful with their Innistrad cards since they’ll be around. To top it off, with no idea what’s coming in Ravnica, people are scared to trade away what they might need.

In a change of pace for me, I’ve been able to attend several FNMs in a row (once football season starts I’ll be back to covering games every Friday), and I’ve had a surprising lack of trading partners at those FNMs. No one wants to part with their Innistrad dual lands, and, worst of all for me, they don’t know what they’re looking for. When people don’t know what they want, it’s hard to make much of a case for them opening your binder.

It will be like this until Ravnica spoilers start to roll in. I’ve cleared out nearly all of my Scars block stock as I’ve been suggesting, so I’m not losing much value in my binder, but it’s hard to turn stuff over at all.

Hence, the Dead Zone.

Making the most out of the Dead Zone

I have a few strategies I like to use during this time to ensure we can still turn some profit.

The first is stocking up on the easy-to-spot cards from the current sets, even if there’s not a ton of upward potential for them to move. For instance, look at Champion of the Parish, Restoration Angel and Silverblade Paladin. These seem like slam dunk creatures post rotation, especially since Champion can outgrow Bonfire range quickly. By the way, Bonfire is going to be the single most important card post-rotation. I know this, you know it, and everyone knows it. People love to play these Human decks, because they build themselves and are very solid on top of that.

The problem with everyone knowing it is that it means it’s already somewhat factored into the price. There’s some room to grow for both these cards, sure, but not as much as we’d typically like.

But here’s why I stock up on these anyway: liquidity. These are easy to move now, and I expect them to be even easier to move after Rotation. That means, even if we’re not making much money on what we get them in at (since we don’t expect a huge spike after Rotation), we can still make profit when we out these cards, merely because they will be so easy to move.

It’s the same principle that allows people to ask for premiums on Legacy cards (obviously to a lesser scale). If everyone wants a card, we don’t have to move it at the first opportunity. We’ll have plenty of chances, so we can wait for the most profitable deal to come along.

Like I said, it’s harder to get in as many trades right now as we could have a few months ago, but that means you have to make the most of what you can do. You take almost no risk by loading up on these cards, even if the trade you make at the time doesn’t look so great on paper. In fact, if somehow you’re able to move Scars block cards for soon-to-be staples like these, I don’t even mind taking a loss on a trade to set myself up for when the trading heats back up.

Other ideas

That’s not all we can do to use this time effectively.

Get out there and buy some collections. Scour Craigslist, ask around the store, even take to social media outlets if you must. You’re not going to have a better time to devote some hours to a project like this than right now. There’s a lot of money to be made in collection flipping if you do it right, and those hours you’re spending trying to grind trades in uncertain waters could be better spent elsewhere.

If that’s not your style or maybe you don’t have the capital to get going, I suggest turning to your own closet. We all have hundreds if not thousands of Magic cards sitting in boxes somewhere in our house, and, unless you’re a master, there’s money to be found here. Pull those Commons and Uncommons that are worth a quarter out of an old box. You may even find some hidden gems that got tossed aside like Mind Funeral. There’s a reason buying masses of cards sight unseen works well, and it’s because people just lose track of what’s around.

Figure out what the next big event you’re attending is, get in touch with a dealer, and move out some of these cards. Sort through your “bulk” rares and find the quarter and 50-cent ones hiding in the stack. You’ll expand your knowledge of sorting, and should be able to turn some money from doing so. As for actually selling out once you’ve done this, here’s a primer I wrote a few weeks ago that will help you along.

Back to the trade tables. Find that group of EDH players you don’t usually trade with. They’re less concerned about rotation, and there’s probably some good trading there. Go check out another store you haven’t been to before to find some fresh blood. It may require going up to the card shop or someone’s home on a different night than you’re used to, but it’s a valid way to spend your time during the Dead Zone. It may be less profitable than an “average” night at your usual store, but it’s a heck of a lot better than staring at the same binders over and over and banging your head against the wall.

Of course, there’s one other option worth mentioning: Just take a break. Grinding out value week after week is great and all (and you should), but everyone needs a break sometime, and this is a pretty good time to do so. Just hang out at FNM, spend time playtesting or playing casual games if you need to. Trust me, once Ravnica starts rolling in, the trade tables will kick back up again, big time. You don’t want to be burned out when that happens.

Conclusion

Like I said at the outset, we’re in a lame-duck period of Magic finance right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t profit from it, even if it takes a different path than what you’re used to.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

4 thoughts on “Insider: Making the Most out of “The Dead Zone”

  1. Great article.

    While in the "dead zone" cleaning, I found some scar block dual lands. Do you think it would be better to just hold onto them till after rotation at this point? (as opposed to just selling to dealer for next to nothing)

    1. Yeah, at this point just hold onto them unless you find someone who really wants them out of your trade binder. But if you're looking at dealering them or holding to them, you might as well keep them because they are Modern-playable.

  2. The fast lands see minor play in modern so i’m holding on to mine because you will most likely get more in trade than a dealer can give.

  3. Definitely a great read and very handy. It's coincidental that I Tweeted my observation of this "dead zone" the night before your article went live. I am definitely at a loss for what to pick up. I like your suggestion of looking through old bulk – perhaps it's time to sift through my Zen block commons/uncommons and previous core set bulk. There's bound to be a ponder or preordain in there at least.

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