Insider: The Devil’s In the Details, Part 2

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Welcome Back!

A lot has happened since we last talked. A Standard metagame has started to shape up, many cards have boomed or busted, and I’ve put a little more time and thought into smartphone dealing. The inherent problems plaguing high turnover trading where phones are involved revolves around a few core issues.

Firstly, the ratios tend to be smaller. When a person has relatively accurate pricing information at their fingertips no matter what, it’s difficult to find the normal holes in common knowledge that occur when a person is simply less into finance than you are.

Secondly, the lower rate of return is compounded by the not insubstantial amount of time it takes to look up all the prices. First world problems, right? Unfortunately, due to the limited nature of trading in terms of investment, I’ve been trying to come up with a way to work within the confines of smartphone trading.

This is Befuddlement. Three and a half more steps is Befuzzlement.

Last article we discussed ways to approach the trade from a psychological point of view, and I’m sorry to say I found myself just as befuzzled as I’d always been. There were some great comments about what people do at their local stores, and how they approach trading, but I still think there’s a lot we can work on.

Does This Mean I Have To Do Math?

Last time I talked about ratios, a concept I like very much. This week I hope to approach that in more detail, and give you some examples of cards with good smartphone ratios.

To begin with, the ridiculous sounding ‘smartphone ratio’ is simple. If the value of a card on your chosen source (StarCity, an arbitrary buylist) is what you want to use to determine value, and the guy you’re trading with wants to use a price aggregate ( is a common choice), knowing both numbers is difficult.

I tried and, even though I have a good head for numbers, I still couldn’t become confident in keeping them straight without ludicrous amounts of wasted time.

Well That's Good... Simple Is Better... Right?

Enter the solution. What card should we demonstrate on? I know! How about Jace, the Mind Sculptor! He is, after all, better than all. Jace is currently sold out on StarCity at 80. There’s a lesson in this, but since that may have come as a surprise to some of you, I’ll assume that you’ll be able to figure out that they might be a good target in the next few weeks while they sneakily rise in price. If your region has caught on, no worries. Next boat and all that.

He’s also about 70 on, and while those numbers aren’t very hard to compare, that’s not a good reason to think every card will be so simple. His buylist is a lofty 50 SCG, a particularly high price, and about the same ratio-to-selling-price that Star has been paying for him since time anon.

Since the price you want to use is 50, the cash value, and the price the smartphones get is 70, the ratio is a good cross section of how valuable a card is to trade for when smartphones are involved.

Jace’s ratio is about .714.

Once Was Enough, Tucker. Can We Move On?

Guys, I’m having a great time - what card should we try next?

I know! One of the new Shocklands! Since I think Blood Crypt is dumb for not going up in price and making me millions of dollars, let’s do that one. on Blood Crypt is 12, which seems fairly similar to StarCity’s price of  15 on the new ones and 18 on the old ones. The buylist, and this is interesting, is 8 on RTR crypts... and 6 on original Dissensions.

This is the Neverending Math Article. Up and Away, Falkor!

On Dissension Crypts, this ratio is about .5, while RTR is .66 repeating.

An important conclusion, and an important aside, is that knowing the buylist of old reprinted cards sometimes leads to interesting situations that most people aren’t aware of. More simply, target RTR Crypts over Dissension, and if possible trade for an RTR with some junk thrown in in exchange for your far less valuable Dissension Crypt.

The basic way this ratio works in your favor, along with streamlining card price research, is that knowing the ratios on a bunch of different cards is very useful when it comes to deciding how to make trades. If all cards are valued by an aggregate, the cards with higher ratios are the ones you trade for, while the lower ratios are the ones you trade away. Let’s bust out some more.

  1. Thragtusk is MC.I at 16, and buylist at 8. Ratio? .500.
  2. Jace is MC.I at a little over 45, and buylist at 30. Ratio? .666 Repeating.
  3. Armada Wurm is clearing at 16.5, and buylist at 10. .606 ratio.
  4. Olivia Voldaren is around 15, buylist at 8. Ratio is .533
  5. Garruk Relentless is 11, buylist 6. Ratio comes to .5454 repeating.

We've Gone Too Far To Go Back, Onward!

I was going to make a donner party joke, but that seemed bad. So here's a kitten instead.

Gosh, those numbers are close! Even the worst is about a 50% ratio, while the best barely goes .16 higher. In a vacuum it would be a better idea to trade for Jace than for Thragtusk, but there’s more at work than these raw numbers.

You may have noticed that the two new cards broke 6, while the three old cards didn’t get past 5.5. The demand for the new set along with the limited availability of product artificially boosts prices, and closes the gap between buy and sell. In addition, the very highly ratio’d Jace is nearly 50 dollars on MC.I, and we all know that the buy:sell ratio gets higher the more expensive a card is.

There have got to be flaws in this algorithm. At the very least there have got to be cards for whom this narrow band of relative value breaks down. The easiest starting point is low valued cards, cards with fringe or sideboard playability that don’t have the versatility or demand of the more popular finishers and mythics.

  1. Rest in Peace is a fairly well hyped card, and goes for 2.50 by aggregate. The buylist is disastrously low,
  2. however, at 50 cents. Ratio? .200. That’s much lower than we’ve been seeing. How about some more.
  3. Detention Sphere, MC.I 7, buy 3. Ratio is .428.
  4. Loxodon Smiter, MC.I 4.75, buy 1. Ratio is .211
  5. Sulfur Falls 11 MC.I, buy 6. Ratio is .5454 repeating.
  6. Entreat the Angels MC.I 14.5, buy 8. Ratio is .552.

This is still hazy, but a clearer picture is becoming evident. Highly playable cards played in large quantity that have proven their value are higher - Sulfur Falls and Entreat the Angels both see a significant amount of play, and there are very few alternatives in those slots.

Contrast to Smiter, who sees fringe format play at best, and is often time ignored in favor of a common in the same cost slot. Rest in Peace is another low cost card that sees only fringe play, most often in sideboards.

The Eternal Quest, Cheap Valuable Things

This could, however, all be biased accounting. What if the low ratio cards are just low ratios because of their price? Are there sub-5 dollar cards that can produce the same high value propositions as a tried-and-true Thragtusk? Much to my ire, some problems exist.

Apparently, the best cost for a useful rare card is 8 dollars. Dreadbore, Clifftop Retreat, Supreme Verdict... irritating. Wait! Mizzium Mortars!

  1. Mizzium Mortars clocks in at at prestigious 4.5 dollars MC.I, with a buylist at 2. Ratio? .444. BOOM! SUCCESS! Do any others exist?
  2. Primal Hunter MC.I 5.5, Buy 2. Ratio is .36 repeating.
  3. Wolfir Silverheart MC.I 4, Buy 1. Ratio is .253
  4. Thalia MC.I 4.5, Buy 2. Ratio is .444
  5. Cyclonic Rift MC.I 4, Buy 1. Ratio is .253

Well, some hits, some misses, but the more mainstream a card is the more money it’s worth. Makes sense to me.

This concludes my brief thought experiment on evaluating cards, I for one plan to remember that Loxodon Smiter is absolutely not worth trading for if a smartphone is involved - the ratio is so low and the demand is so godawful that practically anything I trade for it will be a loss to me unless a misvalue occurs. Despite that vitriol, I will happily take elephant man for a buck apiece

And That's A Wrap

I hope this was as helpful for you as it was for me. I’m going to be working on putting together a list of commonly traded cards and their values as much to have an understanding what not to trade for as what side of a Bonfire I want to be on.

If this kind of article appealed to you, numbers and all, please let me know. If you prefer my more psychological and common sense based approach, let me know that to! I look forward to hearing your questions, comments and snide remarks in the comments section.


P.S.: Sorry for not responding on the last article, I didn’t realize I had responses until too many days had passed for my statements to be relevant. I absolutely read and appreciated everything you had to say.

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Tucker McGownd

Hi, I'm Tucker McGownd. I'm a low risk trader that spends most of my time in Minnesota, where I go to school, play magic, study for school, play Ultimate for my college team, study for school, and read. I've been playing for a long, long time (I first played during Mercadian Masques block, and first bought a pack in Urza's Saga). I was incredibly lucky when I cracked packs until I learned how much cards were worth, at which point I proceeded to open Thoughtlace in every set until Scars, where I picked up more than my fair share of molten psyche. I'm currently looking forward to the inevitable reprint of Chimney Imp.

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2 thoughts on “Insider: The Devil’s In the Details, Part 2

  1. I have been experimenting with the concept of price actualization at pre-re time. The concept is to bring people’s expectations of a card’s value back to reality instead of pre-order and hype prices. Anytime someone price checks me I can give them good reasons why I won’t trade for shocks at 12-15 and why I will only give a price of 20 on that Vraska. It seems to work well.

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