Jason’s Archives: A Word from Admiral Ackbar

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Greetings, Speculators!

Not all of my readers are QS regulars -- readers of financial articles, speculators, etc. However, today's article is going to focus on something financially-relevant a bit more than usual, but that's not to say it doesn't affect a wide range of people. I want to talk about a phenomenon that happens from time to time and what you can do to be prepared.

What You Learn Watching Coverage

I was in my LGS over the weekend, hanging out and trading a little on a day where there was no real event scheduled but everyone had congregated anyway. We had the SCG Live coverage on the TV and I saw a new kind of reanimator deck, allegedly designed by Caleb Durward. Watching Caleb play Standard Reanimator against QS' Mike Lanigan at the SCG Open in Cinci, I can say with authority the man loves his Reanimator.

The allure of paying two to four mana for a huge, game-winning creature draws in players new and old, and players are finding new ways to make the most of the creatures they get. Durward's new brew featured fun new tech like using Children of Korlis to regain the life paid to draw cards with Griselbrand or cast Reanimate and it featured an obscure rare that has been worth selling to buylists for a while but has gotten limited exposure in the Legacy meta: Shallow Grave. When I saw that card cast it spurred a discussion about when you're allowed to change the order of your graveyard and what exactly you can target with Shallow Grave, but I didn't scramble to pick any copies up. Shallow Grave was a good rare from a bad set (in my opinion) and sat at about $3 for most of the last decade.

When I woke up one morning and play sets of Shallow Grave were on eBay for $80 I had no one to blame but myself. Shallow Grave is useful in EDH which is a format that has to utilize a wider array of redundant spells than its other constructed counterparts due to the singleton restriction. Shallow Grave proved its worth in Legacy Reanimator. Even Modern has showed us how useful instant-speed reanimation spells are like in the case of Goryo's Vengeance, a card used to animate an [card Emrakul, the Aeons Torn]Emrakul[/card] with its shuffle trigger on the stack. Instant-speed reanimate spells are even less fair than their sorcery-speed counterparts in that regard. When I saw Shallow Grave, I saw another Goryo's Vengeance -- a card I bought into under a dollar because Gerry T was on the precipice of making it real in Modern and later sold at around $5, netting myself a tidy profit of around $3.50 per copy all told.

I didn't have any copies of Shallow Grave when I saw you could ask for $20 apiece with a straight face, and I suppose I have no one to blame but myself. This price is a few weeks from collapsing, but in the meantime, people feel like the card is worth the $15-$20 price tag (The eBay completed BIN price on this guy is higher than TCG Player right now which is pretty rare but more common in cases like this of a sudden inflation). If you have any copies lying around, you may be able to sell them on a TCG Player seller account or eBay account in the near term. I missed the boat on this guy even though I was watching the coverage when I saw the tech revealed and had ample time to buy in around $3 but I'm not upset. I didn't see this surpassing Goryo's Vengeance, especially given that Shallow Grave can't be played in Modern.

A Word from the Admiral

Yea, great, but what's he talking about? If you ask me, it's probably Hall of the Bandit Lord.

Hall of the Bandit Lord was a bulk rare last week. Useful for giving creatures like Kuldotha Forgemaster haste in one Legacy deck, Hall is a card that sees extremely limited play and has equally limited appeal. That's why it puzzled people when it spiked to $10 this week. The QS forums were abuzz with discussion about what could be causing this spike. Elsewhere on the interwebs, discussion was more focused on where copies of this card could be located for the pre-spike price so that the lucky purchaser could jam their copy up for sale on eBay for $10 and reap that sweet, sweet profit juice.

If you look in the QS forums for the thread about this card, it's full of phrases like "someone trying to manipulate the market" and there is only one post from an insider indicating they intend to pick copies up, and only then because he could get them at $0.25. As a whole, QS insiders rolled their eyes and dismissed this card whereas the thread regarding Shallow Grave was a bit livelier and the opinions expressed leaned less toward the perception of an inflated price.

You'll notice that this week's Insider e-mail blast regarding Bloodhall Ooze omitted both of these cards. Did QS really miss the boat on two cards that spiked very severely in the last week? And could Admiral Ackbar be wrong about which of these cards is a trap?

Check One More Place Before You Buy

Retail websites employ people who know about Magic. They'd have to, right? Well, people who know about Magic follow Magic trends, not just in the market but also at the play tables. If you're a QS insider, not only do you have access to the forums where we all discuss whether we think these card spikes are rooted in reality, you also have access to the Trader Tools site. Trader Tools is more handy than just a plain price guide for the purposes of picking cards up either in retail stores or in trades because it focuses on the buylist prices. These are the prices that these savvy individuals to whom I referred at the beginning of this paragraph are paying to pick these cards up, usually from people like me and probably you. If I buy a card at a quarter that hit $20 and I don't think it will be $20 for long, wouldn't I be better off sending 30 copies to a buylist for $10 a pop to get them all gone at once in ten minutes and therefore reduce my risk to near zero? If the card stays high I still made a ton of profit and I can make like Corbin Hosler and leave 5% for the next guy (quite a bit more in this case) and if the card tanks, I minimized my exposure and got out while the getting was good.

According to Trader Tools, only Strikezone and Card Kingdom respectively are moving on either Hall of the Bandit Lord or Shallow Grave. Nearly every other buylist is buying both around a dollar (which I suppose is a small move in the case of Hall of the Bandit Lord whose buy price was $0.25 for a long time) and Strikezone won't pick up that dog-eared copy you found in the dollar box at some obscure LGS -- they buy near mint only.

So maybe buylists aren't as savvy as I thought! If most sites aren't even paying $5 on Shallow Grave, which sells on eBay for $20 (an $86 play set sold yesterday!) how do they expect to get any copies in? I have no incentive to sell to them. They should get their act together and update those prices so they can get in on this action.

Well, let's test the hypothesis about buylists not being savvy. If we type a card like Karn Liberated, one whose growth is tied to performance and which has maintained a high price for a while, into Trader Tools, we see a very different situation. Karn spiked this month as well and while it's being sold around $30 TCG Mid, it's being bought in the low $20s. That indicates a high degree of desire on the part of the dealers to get copies of the card in stock to sell and a degree of confidence in the price. The entire process of noticing demand, changing the buylist, soliciting for copies, having a player notice the new price, having the player mail the stuff in, getting the cards graded, sorted and put up for sale on their website could take weeks. A change in the buylist price indicates their confidence that they have more than a matter of weeks to move the card at the new price.

Hall and Grave aren't up on a lot of buylists and that indicates a low degree of confidence in the price on the part of most retail sites. Even worse, the fact that most sites are just saying they're sold out of Hall of the Bandit Lord but Hotsauce Games having copies in stock at the new price has lead to speculation that they were the ones who tried to manipulate the market. You'll excuse most sites for not bothering. You have a small window to move copies of a card there's an unknown amount of demand for and if you do manage to have copies in stock you get accused of being the one who pumped the card up. Sounds like a lose-lose scenario.

To my mind, there is no better gauge of the viability of a card as a pickup than buylist prices. Even eBay is misleading. Sure, a playset sold for $86, but if you go by BIN completed listings --a great metric for measuring real prices as someone with confidence in this week's number as an actual price will put it as BIN rather than try to milk the most out of the card in an auction-- roughly a copy per day is moving. Not so great for a card that's supposedly red hot (compare it to Boros Reckoner where multiple copies sell an hour).

eBay will show you what the opportunistic among us think they can get in the short term and also what the gullible are willing to pay (Remember those $60 Land Taxes?) but only sustainable high prices indicate the health of a card as a pickup and I gauge that by the number of BIN sales rather than the price in auctions (although auctions have merit in that they gauge the price the market is willing to pay for a card and they inform the BIN prices).

However, if you want to take a quick opinion poll about the health of a card as a pickup from a large group of experts, check a lot of buylist prices. I don't get paid extra for saying this (I should!) but I like the Trader Tools site QS offers its insiders because it gives you a long list of buylists at a glance. The free version gives just the highest buy price (but not whose it is) which can be misleading if only one site is buying into hype (like in the case of Hall of the Bandit Lord and Shallow Grave) so if you're an insider, take advantage of this tool. There are other sites out there that do similar things but I don't know enough about any of them to talk about them since I have Trader Tools and I'm comfortable with that.

So which of the two cards we mentioned today is a trap? If you ask me, based on the data from eBay and buylists, I'd say they both are. If you already have copies, move them, but I wouldn't pay above last month's prices on either card because I have no confidence in these prices sustaining. In the future, check how many eBay BIN listings are selling per day, check how many buylists are moving, and above all else, use your gut. If a card spikes, seemingly out of nowhere (remember Cosmic Larva) then you needn't concern yourself. If a card proves itself (like in the case of Bloodhall Ooze) then you'll likely get an Insider Blast from us, and you'll likely see the signs I said to look for anyway. Don't fall for traps, don't buy into hype and whatever you do, don't forget to stop and think. The alternative is sitting on a box full of Master of the Pearl Trident.

Bonus -- An Entire Second Article

I wrote the equivalent of two articles already, so why stop now? I still have to talk about the GP(s!) and SCG Opens this weekend and wait a minute, this is going to be really easy.

It appears SCG ran side events at GP Charlotte, which was sealed, and GP Charlotte was sealed (but you knew that already). This means we get to talk about GP Quebec City and we're done. We're in the home stretch, don't quit reading on me now!

GP Quebec City Results

Some people felt like missing the largest GP in the history of ever to go play Standard (ew) in Quebec City (EWWWW...unless, you know, you flew there. I like to drive, so count me out.) If you really like Standard and/or hate Sealed it probably wasn't the worst play. GP regulars like Reid Duke and Tzu Ching Kuo made the trip and made top eight so the event was likely a good time. Also, I bet day two didn't start out with a single elimination round, followed by a single elimination round, followed by a single elimination round, followed by a grueling trip to the top of the aggro crag followed by 30 miles on the bike, a 10 mile swim and a 12 mile run, followed by draft like in Charlotte.

I saw a thread on Reddit talking about how the meta was shifting away from Naya and I had to laugh. With Naya winning the SCG Open last weekend as well as the Standard GP this weekend, the meta couldn't be shifting from Naya less. Brad Nelson was a big proponent of Nico Christiansen's winning list, touting Giant Growth as a real card in a meta that is still relying heavily on Searing Spear to get things done. I like Ghor-Clan Rampager in that role as well, but with a much lower curve, there isn't room for too many of those. Boros Elite makes an appearance in Christiansen's deck as well, and even Experiment One is in on the action because he's a human for some reason. A while back I said to pick up Mayor of Avabruck // Howlpack Alpha because he was a great pickup at a dollar. I anticipated he would get a lot of play as a 4-of in humans decks (I was right) and that his price could easily hit $5 accordingly (I was wrong there, but I really have no idea how or why). If you listened to me, you can sell those copies for $1.50 to a buylist. Take that profit and go buy yourself half of a value menu cheeseburger. You earned it!

Ok, so being a promo card probably hurts Mayor's viability as well as his being a flip card and therefore in a lot more boosters than the average rare from the set. Still, these trade out at around $4 and if you want to win a lot of games of Magic, you could do worse than jamming 4 Mayors in a deck and going to beatface town. Mayor is a real skill-testing card (more-so than Huntmaster because the benefits you get from flipping him are a bit more subtle) but the theme of the deck is "turn 'em sideways" so you'll likely not be too mentally exhausted to get the most out of your depiction of an elected official who betrays the public's trust by tearing off his shirt and scampering off into the night to eat children in their cribs.

I like seeing Frontline Medic here, because that card was an odd case indeed. His mere printing made people shy a bit away from Bonfire, eschewing the spell in favor of cards like Mizzium Mortars. Mortars proved pretty bad in a format with Boros Reckoner abounding (not that Bonfire was much better) and the meta just sort of ignored Frontline Medic. Until people switch to Mutilate (it's looking like they never will, relegating my Mutilates to the same "box of failure" as my Master of the Pearl Trident copies), Frontline Medic is a very good inclusion. Did I mention he makes blocking miserable and he's a human? This card does it all, and he's such a cheap pickup I wouldn't be surprised if his inclusion in more human lists makes his price inch up a bit. That said, the redemption hammer is about to come down so I wouldn't get into much Gatecrash stuff right now.

Enough harping on the winning deck, what else do we have?

Thomas Holzinger made my day by playing The Aristocrats which not only makes me smile because it reminds me of a dirty joke but because I think the deck is bonkers. My version runs Blood Artist and Assemble the Legion, but I can't fault people for wanting to run Skirsdag High Priest. Those demon tokens are just GG for most decks. I like Sorin in the board of this deck because I don't want him all the time and I cut him altogether in my brewing. Sublime Archangel is tech here, and it likely leads to at least one stolen game on the back of a massive swing with a flier or an unblocklable Cartel Aristocrat. I like two Zealous Conscripts, especially given how many sac outlets the deck has. Good times.

Watching a friend of mine get his face caved in at FNM makes me want to shy away from the new Reanimator build piloted by Tzu Ching Kuo, but his addition of Huntmaster will likely lead to fewer games where you do nothing and look like a monkey doing it. Mulch, Mulch, Salvage, Looting I'm dead is not how I want to spend a game of Magic. The combo, an amusing interaction between Burning-Tree Emissary, Undercity Informer and Angel of Glory's Rise to mill your opponent to death is a bona fide clock, but cards like Rest in Peace and Blood Artist give the deck fits. I like Burning-Tree Emissary in an actual combo deck finally. I saw combo potential all over this card when it was spoiled, but, taking Saito's lead, most people were content to use him to put themselves in topdeck mode starting on turn 2 when they emptied their hand, chaining them when possible and ending the chain with a Flinthoof Boar or Volcanic Strength. Angel of Glory's Rise was already a card, and the other combo components are uncommon so there is no financial opportunity here, really. Just be prepared for this pile at FNM (or top eight of a GP, apparently).

I don't hate the Wolfbitten Captive // Krallenhorde Killer that Wenzel Krautmann ran in his version of Naya Humans, but I wouldn't pick these up. Still, it's a 4/4 with Mayor out and a pump, and when both are flipped, this guy is even deadlier. Not a bad one-drop at all, and it even pumps Champion of the Parish.

Lots of Jund here, but one of them was Jund Zombies. I don't know how good that deck is in the regular meta, but seeing it do well reminds me that Lotleth Troll is absurdly underpriced right now (along with Trostani, Armada Wurm and Abrupt Decay, although that last one is inching up already) and if someone will take buylist on Troll, pick up X copies. He won't stay as cheap as he is IMO.

Other than that, there were few surprises here. Not a lot of financial opportunity this week, but that can all change. The Reanimator deck shows that players like to innovate and I'd keep an eye on MODO if you want to stay abreast of potential changes to the meta. MODO is generally a week or two ahead of paper due to the frequency of events there and while a lot of tech from MODO never materializes on the "paper" side, few innovations hit "paper" without originating there.

OK, I'm Done

Thanks for reading the whole thing. I'll be back next week to talk results and whatever else I feel like. Until then, watch those buylists!

3 thoughts on “Jason’s Archives: A Word from Admiral Ackbar

  1. You make an excellent point about buy list prices providing confidence in the sustainability of a price move on a card. Also, I like the metagame summary you provide every week. Thanks for writing!

    1. Thanks! I figured taking a \”just don\’t buy in\” approach could be bad advice because some spikes are legitimate and this seems like an easy way to poll the major retailers about their confidence in the card. Too may odd spikes lately.

  2. Really good piece this week, Jason!

    I have always used buylists as my baseline guide for more than a set or two worth of pick-ups, and it has rarely bitten me in the arse. Very solid advice.

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