(Editor's note: we have moved this Insider article to the free side - it should serve as a good source for community discussion on what happened.)
About eight days ago, strange things started happening with a Tempest rare. Aluren had jumped by $10 overnight. It's clear that someone was buying all of this card that they could. We didn't know why then and we still don't have many answers.
Several astute Insiders noticed the spike and we began discussing it on the forums. I sent out this email alert to our subscribers:
Aluren has jumped $10 in price over the last day. We are not sure why. It's a niche deck that Imperial Recruiter's price holds back and nothing new has been printed for it to make it great. TCGPlayer has beat copies for $4-5 but everything mint there and elsewhere is $15 now. We think this might be the result of someone trying to corner a market, but who knows. Here's the discussion thread:
My advice: trade for some, get NM copies at $5 if you can, but be careful of this.
(also check out our Trader Tools at mtg.gg if you have not already)
Within 24 hours, just about every cheap copy online was gone. Certainly, the market acted quickly on getting these.
So why Aluren, and why now?
The most simple theory is that someone got wind of an Imperial Recruiter reprint as a judge foil. This person then decided to buy up vast quantities of Aluren, since Imperial Recruiter is necessary in that deck and prohibitively expensive. A reprint would make the Recruiter cheaper and increase access to the deck, driving up the demand for the underlying enchantment. Aluren has a unique effect. We'll never see anything like it again, either. It's in a fringe deck that sustains minor demand for the card.
The more sinister theory is this: someone decided to corner the market on an old, playable Tempest rare and they got away with it.
Was it a store or an individual?
I have heard rumors that a major online store was doing the buying on this. That's plausible. The store in question (which is not SCG) has publicly denied it. I can either guess that they genuinely didn't do it or they don't want negative publicity for emptying the internet of a card. Either a store, with several employees buying cards, or a person with deep pockets, could have swept up as much of this as they could.
However, the methodology is strange. If you wanted to corner a market, you would want to get as many copies as possible, and you would not want to risk stores canceling your order. You would probably structure the whole thing so that you were only buying 8 copies per order, here and there. Doing this, you could amass hundreds of Alurens. However, this doesn't seem to be what happened. People quickly caught on that the internet was emptying out. I heard reports from Insiders of getting their orders canceled. The original buyer might have been caught in this, too. They also may have been slowly getting Alurens for several weeks and only now decided to spike the market. Unless they were super-next-level and did that last part, they just did a crummy job of buying out a card.
When large investors on Wall Street make a purchase, they run the risk of other people buying up the stock before them. They risk public knowledge making the investment costlier. Our speculator has done the same thing here. The solution in investing is to use a dark pool, which is a cloaked trading entity that matches stock buyers and sellers without identifying them. It lets someone buy a lot of stocks quietly. Our speculator didn't think things through or got impatient and they did not use techniques that would mimic a dark pool. That's what caused this run-up.
Should you get a playset of Alurens?
I don't think these are worth picking up for play. Imperial Recruiter, as a judge foil, will still be $100+. Aluren isn't this unbeatable strategy whose only flaw is needing a set of $300 uncommons. I also don't think there will be enough demand, post-reprint, for people who have Recruiters but lack Alurens. The original speculator on this might not have the demand for the card at $15. I predict that the price is going to drop down below $10 pretty soon.
Is this sinister? Is this an example of the evils of speculating?
I don't fault someone with deep pockets for trying to acquire a lot of a card. This is just fine, and it's a very risky move to begin with. If demand does not catch up, then our speculator is stuck with hundreds of cards and hundreds of dollars tied up in them. We hear about people making a mint off of buying hundreds of Wolfir Silverhearts, but we don't factor in that people lose money on other cards, too. Just like on Wall Street, a person making a risky move can make a lot or lose a lot.
Or to look at it another way, the genie is already out of the bottle and there's no putting him back in. Over the next few months, we may see people with deep pockets attempting to corner the market on other cards. This is problematic, since it takes a long time for Magic cards to settle back down in price. This underscores the need to think about what you're about to buy. Does it have a broad appeal or obvious application? Someone was buying up all of the copies of Cosmic Larva a few months ago and it was either a hoax or a guy who just wanted larvae. However, a lot of people bought in at a quarter apiece, just to see what happened. That's benign for a cheap card, but for something at $5 like Aluren, you could get burned by hype and rumor.
Did QS have anything to do with this?
The first time we became involved was when I sent out that email above. Before that, we were bewildered observers. Nobody on the staff takes part in attempts at market cornering, manipulating, or pump-n-dump strategies. People sometimes take big positions on cards (Corbin bought hundreds of Master of the Pearl Trident last week) but it's disclosed, explained and made obvious. Our trustworthiness as a news source for our Insiders is worth a lot more than conspiring to corner markets. We think that this sort of speculation is unreasonably risky, since it's not based on any real predictable rise in future prices.
What about price enforcement? Was SCG trying to corner Zendikar fetches?
Price enforcement is the concept of "punishing" someone for having underpriced cards by buying up all of their underpriced assets. I suppose that you could consider that the entire market misvalues a card and pay a premium for it, but that's really, really hard to do. I don't think it happens much in practice.
There is the question of why Starcitygames decided to pay far and above the rest of the market on blue fetches through its buylist. They have been unfortunately opaque about the whole thing, which is bad for everyone, but the word is that they were low on Onslaught blue fetches and felt that the Zendikar fetches would be a similar and suitable analog. We tried to get a comment from them awhile ago and heard nothing, so this is based on what we've heard. Prices have dropped about $8 from where they were at the height of this craze, but they are still a little inflated. I think what SCG was doing was just rapidly trying to acquire inventory to replenish stocks; they have deep pockets and they can do this at a premium. I don't believe that they were attempting to corner the markets on Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn.
When they issued $25 buy, $35 sell prices on the Zendikar fetches, the market almost instantly snapped to adjust. Every card under $20 was emptied out of stores and sellers on TCGPlayer upped their prices to match. However, this has all settled a bit - SCG's buy prices are down to $20. If you want to corner a market, you need to get as many copies of a card as you can below a certain price; that takes money and time. Either they lost their mettle or they never intended to price fix. The fact that they currently have only four Polluted Deltas and only two Flooded Strands available makes me think that they just needed replacements for Onslaught fetches.
In conclusion, I don't think that this Aluren buyup was anything sinister, just as I don't think SCG was trying to set higher prices on Zendikar fetches. The end result of both actions, though, is that prices have bounced up in the short term.
- Cornering markets is hard without everyone finding out
- Be skeptical when you see cards jump up without a firm basis
- Understand that this may be more common in the future as people test whether they can corner a card.
- If you're going to buy up a market, it takes time and secrecy. And it's a super-risky idea that we don't suggest.
- Ultimately, we don't think there's anything long-term in buying or keeping Alurens.
Until next time,