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Insider: Reading Between The Lines

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It’s 9:00 AM on a Sunday morning (It should be 8:00 AM but most people in the US had to sacrifice an hour of time for “daylight savings”. Grumble grumble. Hopefully this is still benefiting farmers or something). I’ve finished breakfast and my cup of coffee, and proceed to begin my article.

Historically the first ten minutes of this time would be spent surfing tournament results from the past weekend, examining the eBay items I perpetually watch to keep my finger on the pulse of these specific card prices, and stumble over to my email for some distraction. But since mtgstocks.com was created, this has all changed.

My Work Is Mostly Done Already

Nowadays I don’t have to research card after card on various sites to identify which cards are the movers of the week. This is already done for me on a daily basis by mtgstocks.com. I simply examine the recent “interests” and proceed from there. This isn’t the case every week, mind you, but on weeks where I am seeking out a shred of inspiration, I often look at mtgstocks.com first.

What inspiration did I find there this morning? It actually goes a layer deeper than just examining the movers and shakers. I’ve found I can categorize most of the top interests into distinct buckets, which I can use to infer trends in the overall market. Let’s start with the table:

Upon first glance, this is a very diverse lot of cards. Ranging from Stronghold to Planechase 2012, we see over a decade of cards on this list. But we should look a little closer and try to find trends, because I think they tell an interesting and consistent story.

Breaking It Down

I’ve chosen to use formats to categorize these cards, although there are a handful of possible approaches. With a quick glance at the above table, I can readily see that cards from Modern, Casual/EDH, and Legacy are all included. But which ones are showing up most frequently?

Modern: Pendelhaven, Eye of Ugin, Kataki, Wars Wage, Fulminator Mage

Casual/EDH: Font of Mythos, Battlegrace Angel, Command Tower, Preyseizer Dragon, Beseech the Queen, Lightning Greaves, Kaalia of the Vast, Caged Sun

Legacy: Dream Halls

Standard: N/A

Upon first glance, I’m noticing a glaring trend: casual cards are on the move! To me this makes perfect sense. As the player base rises, casual cards will naturally steadily rise in value as well. Many new players are attracted to casual formats like EDH because of the friendly, entertaining environment. It can be much less cutthroat and provide an avenue to play all the fun cards that never appear in actual tournament decks.

Modern cards are finally calming down some, but it still seems frequent that a Modern card will jump by over 40%. Today was no exception. Other recent Modern spikes include Kataki, Wars Wage and Goryos Vengeance (chart from mtgstocks.com).

The rationale for these Modern spikes is apparent, if not a tiny bit irrational. With an increase in player base, these “older” cards are shorter in supply. As a multitude of players jump into the Modern format to grind PTQ’s, they strive to complete various decks to strategize against a frequently-changing metagame. The result: players buy into the next hyped card, limited supply becomes apparent, and the card’s price spikes. This is magnified by the influx of speculators to the market as well.

Next is the lonely Legacy card which broke the top 13 of the interests list: Dream Halls (chart from mtgstocks.com).

It is highly encouraging to see a Legacy card finally shake the MTG market. The format has such a tendency to stagnate until either a disruptive card is printed (e.g. Mental Misstep, Jace, the Mind Sculptor) or a card is unbanned/banned (e.g. Time Spiral, Survival of the Fittest). Despite all my concerns surrounding the health of Legacy, seeing that a card like Dream Halls can also participate in a price hike is calming.

But the feeling is short-lived. One niche card from fifteen years ago does not imply Legacy is thriving. If the format was growing significantly, more such examples would exist on the mtgstocks.com list. This is a trend I intend to follow closely in the months to come.

Where Are The Standard Cards?

Finally, I want to also touch upon what doesn’t show up in the Top 13 of the mtgstocks.com interests list: Standard. In fact, for this past Sunday I do not see a single Standard card on the interests list. Does this imply the Standard format is dying? Absolutely not.

Standard card prices are just a bit more difficult to impact. The recent influx of new players equates to more new product opened, which means supply is much higher. Luckily, demand has kept up so that the Standard market hasn’t crashed completely. But this does imply that sudden card price jumps is less likely in Standard simply because greater quantities of a given card need to be taken of the market to have such an impact.

As Standard PTQ season begins, we may begin to see more of this. The rumors are already flying around Twitter. Most recently people are talking about Prime Speaker Zegana (chart from mtgstocks.com).

Most Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash cards have a price chart like this one – it’s typical for cards in new sets. But the key is to watch for that bottom, identify relevant and robust Standard staples, and buy in accordingly. Despite being a Mythic Rare, Prime Speaker Zegana is not likely to jump 50% in one day without winning a Pro Tour. Standard cards are much more inclined to steadily shift in price little by little.

Consider one of my favorite targets for example, Abrupt Decay (chart from mtgstocks.com).

Notice first how the card’s price dropped drastically after Return to Ravnica’s release. Again, this is very normal. But notice how the card has been steadily creeping up since the beginning of the year? This type of slow movement is what I expect from many winning Standard cards. Return to Ravnica cards are already on the turnaround, and in a month or two Gatecrash cards will follow.

Key Conclusions Of Interest

What am I taking away from the interests page from today? Well, first it’s easy to see that Magic is healthy as a whole. There are WAY more cards on the list which have increased in price by two percent or more than those which have decreased by the same magnitude. Magic cards are a wise investment these days, so long as you stay focused and engaged in the community.

One level deeper: it is further apparent that the game is growing because of all the casual card price movers. Something like Command Tower can only be played in EDH, and yet the card continues to rise in price steadily. As more players join, a significant portion will want to have that casual / EDH deck for kitchen table shenanigans. Buying into other casual staples, such as Parallel Lives, could be a smart move here. It just may take some time before a given casual card’s price will appreciate sufficiently for reasonable profit.

The next conclusion I’ve made is that the Modern PTQ season was a huge hit. Despite many grumblers amongst the community, it appears Modern has been highly successful thus far. It will be interesting to see how much of these crazy gains Modern cards can hold onto during the off-season. This will provide further information regarding the health of the format. From a speculation standpoint, you won’t see me buying any card prone to Modern Masters reprint until after the set is spoiled. But come next Modern PTQ season, be prepared for another wild ride!

Legacy is an enigma to me. It seems the buy and hold strategy with some Legacy staples may not be optimal at this time. As strategies fall out of favor and the metagame evolves, some cards have transitioned from powerhouse to prehistoric. Last week I highlighted how mighty Natural Order has fallen in price significantly. With the increase in popularity of Show and Tell (chart from mtgstocks.com), who would want to pay four mana and sacrifice a creature when you can just pay three mana?

My best advice in Legacy: buy in cautiously. It may be best to buy Standard cards which are also popular in EDH (Dual Lands) and/or are in prominent Legacy strategies presently. Just be aware that the format can evolve from month to month, and a card like Show and Tell could go the way of Natural Order at any time. And should Show and Tell become too powerful, a Legacy ban would destroy the card’s value. Finally, should Star City games transition from Legacy to Modern more frequently… well we all know what that could lead to. You’ve been warned.

Sigbits

  • Here’s a noteworthy Legacy card for you: Lions Eye Diamond. This card mostly appears in Storm, Belcher, and Dredge strategies. The good news is that usually one of these three decks is doing well at any given time. The card is also on the reserved list, so don’t expect a reprint. But the card now retails for $79.99! Who would have guessed the once-bulk rare would hit such levels.
  • I’m still bullish on Sphinxs Revelation. The cheapest buy it now on eBay has been approaching $18, while Star City Games is selling copies for $21.99. This is a meager $4 spread between auction and retail – I don’t think the $21.99 price tag will last long at this rate.
  • Steam Vents is one of the most prominent Shock Lands in Modern. With the evolution of a popular Grixis Deck, the land is more present than ever before. Yet Star City Games has ample copies in stock at just $6.99! The Dragon’s Maze news surely has hit this card hard, but I think a price floor is finally here. I’m not paying retail, but I’d likely buy any shock land I see under $6 (hint: there aren’t many that low).

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

8 thoughts on “Insider: Reading Between The Lines

  1. Goryo’s Vengeance jumped after Jacob Kory took second at the SCG Vegas Legacy Open. Modern speculation may have played a part, but make no mistake: this card went up because of Legacy.

  2. ” If the format was growing significantly, more such examples would exist on the mtgstocks.com list”. I have to disagree with you on this statement. The reason cards have drastic jumps is because they “break out”, Legacy is just the hardest format to “break out” in because the power level is so high. The more restricted the card pool, the lower the power level of each individual card, thus the more oppurtunity to “break out” a card has, which is why standard/block can have such rapid price swings. Standard players are also more likely to chase the “next big thing”, whereas, Legacy players are more likely to stick with a deck archetype they enjoy and tweak were possible. When that’s the case if some obscure red card were to suddenly break a specific matchup; players who had red in their deck (RUG, Sneak and Show, Burn) might adopt the new card, but people running Death and Taxes/BUG/Nic Fit won’t. Whereas in Standard if some obscure red card were to break a commonplace matchup everyone who didn’t have red in their deck might splash for it.

    1. Fair point. It is a combination of ease of “breaking out” and likelihood of players to buy in. You think Legacy is completely healthy then? I still feel like it is exhibiting weakness overall.

        1. Agreed. I actually do believe Legacy is healthy from a players standpoint (i.e. there are lots of viable decks, there is no archetype that dominates to the point of pushing out other decks (i..e nothing ban worthy currently..though I do feel Show and Tell is probably at the top of R&D’s list)), now from a financial perspective I am truly concerned. I love the format and enjoying playing it, but given SCG’s willingness to axe it for more standard (because THAT’s soooooooo much more fun //sarcasm), I am a bit concerned about it’s long term viability. However, one important thing to note is that while the reserved list may eventually kill legacy from being the competitive format for SCG’s Sundays, the fact that it’s incredibly fun and it’s player base is far more devout than Standards to me implies that should SCG completely cut legacy out of their rotation…local people will still play and the cards will still hold value (they would drop some as the competitive grinders exit the game) but their staples will get scooped up by the true Legacy players/stores and the format will survive. Once you go Legacy…standard just doesn’t do it for you anymore…as you yourself can attest.

  3. So… sphinx’s rev. You want it to rise or go down? I’m confused. (We already had that period where it went from 4 to 25 so that was the spike it needed, now its at 18 and mw dictionary says bullish means waiting for it to go up? but we’ve *theoretically* already sold our copies for profit)

    1. I think it is due for an additional bump. The card is everywhere. I don’t think buying 100 is right, but if the card remains dominant in Standard, it should see a bump as RtR cards disappear from trade binders. Sorry for the confusion. I did sell my copies, but I bought a few more recently. Only have 3 so far, but I’m buying below $17…probably up to 2 playsets.

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