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Insider: Buy Low, Sell High

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Every indicator suggests that Return to Ravnica is going to be a blockbuster set. I have never seen booster boxes pre-sell so rampantly and I’ve never seen so much excitement about the power level of so many cards in the set.

To be a successful speculator, it’s often optimal to reign in our enthusiasm and keep our emotions in check. For some of the reasons I’ve discussed in my previous articles, we cannot let our irrational tendencies get the best of us during a time with so much hype.

It’s actually quite similar to the stock market – I always strive to sell during market rallies and buy while everyone else is paranoid. This requires nerves of steel at times, since it’s difficult to dump tons of money into an asset that is shrinking by the day. But if you have confidence that the market will once again hit new highs, you should rest assured that your stock will be safe as long as you’ve purchased shares in a strong company (chart from Yahoo Finance).

What I’m trying to get at is the fact that Magic right now is at one of these peaks. Return to Ravnica is expected to sell better than any previous set, and Magic’s player base will be at an all time high. We can use some concepts from economics to assess what moves we should make with our Magic collection in anticipation of the anticipated spike in popularity.

Sell High

Many Magic Cards, much like the S&P 500, are nearing their highest highs. As tempting as it is to jump in on these rallies, it’s often a risky endeavor to buy near such peaks. So keeping this in mind, let’s evaluate some cards near their highs that perhaps should be sold for profit taking while the selling is good.

First, take a look at Woodland Cemetery’s chart from blacklotusproject.com.

This card has risen in value so quickly that blacklotusproject can’t even keep up with the price. The card is retailing for $14.99 at Star City Games and it’s averaging $11-$12 on eBay. This is my number one sell call as of today. Zendikar Fetch Lands barely broke the $14.99 mark on Star City Games, and I bet you the Black/Green Verdant Catacombs didn’t reach these heights. There are more players in the game nowadays to drive demand up high, but it’s very unlikely you will have such a guarantee to make $10+ selling these than right now.

Blacklotusproject.com has had difficulty keeping up with another card’s price jump: Falkenrath Aristocrat

This card has gone from nearly bulk Mythic status to sold out at Star City Games for $17.99. I understand this is a sweet Mythic Vampire from an underdrafted set. There may even be some additional upside because of this. But holding onto your copies of this card in the hopes that it hits a “52-week high” every day is a bit reckless.

If you’re risk-averse like me and you’ve already doubled or tripled up on this card, take some profits off the table now while you can sell some copies of on eBay, keeping just a few behind only if you really think there’s more upside after Standard rotates and the entire metagame shifts.

I wanted my last sell suggestion to be an Eternal card. I thought extensively about what Legacy staples would be wise sells at this point. And while there may be a few, nothing was nearly as compelling as Standard cards. It just goes to show you how robust Legacy staples truly are cost-wise. So for the Eternal fans out there, you’ll probably be more interested in the Buy Low section.

The final Sell High suggestion I have is one that according to blacklotusproject.com has already begun a gradual decline.

Bonfire of the Damned got a lot of attention during its spike. But since Return to Ravnica spoilers began, I haven’t heard much about this card. Yet it’s still selling for $35 at auction! Like Falkenrath Aristocrat, this Mythic Rare is also from an underdrafted set. But I am more confident that selling Bonfire now is a good move versus the Vampire.

You could almost create a rule of thumb here: if blacklotusproject has caught up to the price hike of a given Standard card, there’s a good chance the hype is over. Perhaps this is worth expanding on in a future article…

Buy Low

If many hyped Standard cards are near highs, something else must be near price lows. I’ve got a couple ideas of what to buy across multiple formats.

Although it’s been mentioned before, I want to emphasize how cheap Scars of Mirrodin Fastlands are right now (chart from blacklotusproject.com):

When Modern was announced, everyone swooped in and bought tons of Ravnica Shocklands. But most people, including me, ignored Filterlands from Lorwyn block. I think, perhaps that was a mistake…

Take a look at the blacklotusproject.com chart for Mystic Gate, the Filterland parallel to Seachrome Coast:

Since Mystic Gate rotated back in 2009, the card has doubled in value. Filterlands see play in Modern and EDH, and so their value has gradually increased much like many Eternal cards do. I see no reason why the Fastlands wouldn’t follow the same pattern. I bought a set of 20 of these just last week at under $3/land and I hope to acquire even more through trades once Return to Ravnica is released.

That’s not all I’m buying into, however. I am also buying a relatively under-appreciated Dual Land: Bayou. The Black/Green Dual Land just has not kept up with the increases of its counterparts, and with the printing of Abrupt Decay, I feel like Bayou should eventually catch up. Take a look at the comparative chart from blacklotusproject.com, which highlights my point.

It seems that in winter 2010/2011 and again in spring 2012, Bayou missed out on a rally that some other Dual Lands participated in. Much like the gold/silver ratio inevitably returns to a mean, I feel the Underground Sea/Bayou and Scrubland/Bayou ratio should also revert back to its mean.

Lastly, I want to mention a card which, barring a major reprint in a Dual Deck, is destined never to drop in price again. Of course I am referring to Jace, the Mind Sculptor (chart from blacklotusproject.com).

While at its peak of almost $90 at auction, this card was the best form of liquidity you could own. The card was literally worth its weight in gold. After its banning in Standard and then Modern, the card saw a dark time where it was worth a “mere” $50. But as time passes, this card will eventually continue its climb. It may never hit the $90 price tag it held during Standard, but the scarcity of this card is a universal truth and you’re more likely to find Dual Lands in a player’s trade binder these days.

It’s Opposite Day

The main message to take away from this article is that I always strive to do the opposite of the market. This applies to my strategy in the stock market as well as the Magic Card market. Buying surefire staples like Scars Fastlands is such a wise investment while their at their “52-week lows”. By the same token, selling those hyped cards near their “52-week highs” is sure to net you ample profit.

Is it easy to time your transactions perfectly? Certainly not. You can drive yourself crazy trying to sell your Standard cards at their absolute peak, just like trying to pay the lowest amount possible on eBay for a Bayou will drive you insane! The key is to get in while no one is talking about a solid card and to get out while everyone is talking about a solid card.

~

Back by popular demand, here’s another set of random facts I’ve noticed recently in the Magic Finance world.

  • Star City Games is sold out of NM Umezawas Jitte at $29.99 and they are buying the card for $15. According to blacklotusproject.com, the average price on the Jitte is $16.75 and I have seen multiple auctions on eBay ending at around $15.
  • Karakas is retailing at $100 for NM English copies. Star City Games is buying NM Italian copies (yes, Italian) for $50, despite the judge foils. Wow.
  • The price on Clifftop Retreat has dropped to $7.99 at Star City Games and they can still be had for $5. This is the only Innistrad Dual Land I’m still actively buying, but only copies at or below $5.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

16 thoughts on “Insider: Buy Low, Sell High

    1. Thanks! It was difficult for me to part with my Bonfire because I was so paranoid about missing out on profits. But sometimes you have to look at the charts without any bias and make the right call based solely on technicals.

  1. I appreciate the fact that you inform your readers of when to sell stuff that you’ve recommended to buy in the past. It’s nice to know when to sell, rather than just hear the first half of “I would pick these up”.

    Also, I love the random facts at the end.

    Thanks

    1. Selling is half the battle for making profits, after all! Buying is certainly important, but I like taking profits when cards make these sudden jumps in price.

      Glad you like the random facts. I’ll keep them up – they are fun to do and I’m always snooping around SCG’s site looking for trends so it’s easy for me to add!

  2. Great article! It has slapped some sense into me, especially since i went in heavily on Innistrad lands last year when they were at there lowest. Cash out now and turn a nice profit.

    I also wanted to ask what your thoughts were on odric, master tactician? I feel as though people will look for decks post rotation that had some good results, but weren’t really there. People will say zombies is the deck to go, but i wanted to think a step further and suggest R/W humans.

    The mana base is there through clifftop retreats and cavern of souls, but what its missing is a great four drop with hero of bladehold leaving. With a buy price of 2 dollars a playset on ebay I can see some room for the card to grow. Especially when the other legendary creature from M13 hitting 16-20 a playset(Talarand). Curious what your thoughts are on this card.

    1. Hey Wesley,

      I played some fair games with R/W Humans in the current Standard Environment. I traded away my Hero of Bladeholds so I had to take someone else in my 4 CMC slot. I play 4 LIghting Mauler main but x/1 is so dangerous atm but I feel like Hellrider & Riders of Gavony are serious contenders.

      I haven’t evaluated RtR for any Humans material but I feel Hellriders have an immediate impact with haste & dmg while Riders of Gavony also has an immediate impact if tribal zombies are going to be a big thing or any other tribal sooner or later

      Odric is also in a theme deck like Talrand. Talrand is currently more popular due Delvers & phyrexian mana. A few jam it in their EDH deck but it doens’t drive the price that much ( I see more Standard players looking for 3-4x Talrand while EDH only look for Uno )

      Therefore I think Odric is going to be at the price he is now I think, maybe $1-2 up but not enough to convince me investing in it

      Hope it helps

    2. Thanks for the kind words! I’m definitely cashing out of my Woodland Cemeteries right now and I’m contemplating bailing on Sulfur Falls as well, but I may hold out on selling those just a little longer. I think those can hit $10 each on eBay too. But at the end of the day, you only bank profit when you sell, right?

      Not sure about Odric – I’ve never actually heard of him seeing play in Standard. At that price, I suppose it’s low risk to pick up a set, but I’m not sure he’s going to be a focus for players come Return to Ravnica. Maybe if Boros brings some sweet Humans come the next set…

      1. Thank you for the responses.

        Very good information for me to think about. I believe though, that ultimately I will invest in a couple of sets. While you are right, that players will be more focused come RtR, I believe that it will make an impact, although a very short one at the beginning of rotation. Will it force a spike in price? Maybe, but it is low risk. Be warned, if it works out I will come back with sick brags.

        Haha, keep up the good work guys(authors and members). I love reading your thoughts and opinions.

  3. MTG needs an options market. i’d rather sell call options on Falkenrath Aristocrat then let ’em go. Also think the comparison between stocks and mtg cards falls flat as it is much easier to control markets thanks to the on the street trading that still goes on with cards.

    1. It’s pretty hard to control the Standard market – there are just so many copies of cards available. At least for one person anyways.

      Magic does need an options market! You and I could set up a site that enables trading of Magic Card options, and then we charge a marginal fee per contract. What do you think? 🙂 (I think the idea is legit, but I have no time to work on such a project).

      1. we’d need to hold cards i think to sell options on them. we could act as a holding company for cards then allow short sales/ options. allow people to take physical delivery for a fee, charge a fee for sale of card/ contract. something like goozex might work too. they are a game co that acts as an intermediary between traders.

        i still think it is pretty easy for someone to manipulate a local market. a small state like SC, accounts for what percentage of dark ascension sales? target your cards in the set and with hold them locally, selling off at bigger events outside of the local market to hedge.

  4. I suppose on a mini scale it’s possible, but why couldn’t anyone in your small market in SC just go to eBay to buy endless quantities? I can see you being more effective with controlling supply of rare promos or Alpha cards or something. But I don’t see why someone couldn’t just go online and buy whatever it was they needed assuming funds were not an issue?

    As for the options trading, I really think it could be hashed out. But you are absolutely right – we would probably need to have some quantities of cards should people let their call options expire. Unless we get people to just trade options with each other and act as an intermediary that doesn’t have to hold cards? Only risk is that people don’t come through on deals, especially when they lose out. Seems like it’d be difficult to maintain accountability. I see the nightmare that Jazaray has to go through on MOTL keeping the rules enforced. No thank you!

    1. generally, funds are an issue. people also don’t feel comfortable buying more than a playset at a time. i am testing the theory now, picking up drogskol reavers i come across them. i will hold these unless i get really good trades for them. because the card is a decent spec and requires little investment i can take my time accumulating a position.

      if things start to move up i just make sure its easier to trade with me than it is to buy a set on ebay. i don’t sell the reavers in the small market, i sell what i get in trade. if the card spikes nationally i can sell online. its not about absolute control as much as FNM control.

      as for options, if they want to participate they mail in the card or some amount of money so we can acquire the card. they can then write covered options. either selling calls/puts or buying puts/ calls. i think it would be great, but i doubt there is a real market for an instrument like this.

      1. You’d be surprised. I see conversations on Twitter on occasion regarding trading of futures. I’d wager there’d be some interest. You could post the idea in the forums and see if there is any traction 🙂

  5. I’m assuming to focus on Blackcleave Cliffs and Seachrome Coast with the SOM lands pickups, right?

    Also, what about foils? Considering Modern is the new Legacy and everything, will Modern players be foiling out their decks eventually?

    PS. New subscriber! I’m excited to get started. 😀

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