The summer is an interesting time to be a trader. Last year’s block, in this case Innistrad, is plummeting in value and will only get lower as rotation approaches. Meanwhile, the current block, Return to Ravnica, has been drafted for a year and the prices for many cards have bottomed out. Even when the core set has sweet cards and an interesting draft format, most players view it as something less than a normal expert expansion, and the cards are undervalued until they are needed for next year’s Standard. This year, Wizards printed Modern Masters, which lowered the price of many Modern cards, but Modern PTQ season is only a few short months in the future.
My point is that there are a whole lot of cards worth acquiring this summer, but what do we trade away? Insiders have been advised for months to get rid of their Innistrad cards, so it’s unlikely you have many of those left to trade out. There are some Return to Ravnica block cards worth trading, but there’s a good chance you’ve already traded those into better holds for next year. And holding Modern Masters cards is largely considered to be correct at this point. So what do you do when you’ve got lots of targets but not enough ammunition?
1. Stop Being a Trader and Start Being a Buyer
This one takes not only cash, but confidence, as investing money into speculations is a much more serious commitment than trading for them. Unless you have a storefront, you can’t always purchase at buylist values, but every once in a while you’ll find someone willing to sell at that level. I almost always jump at these opportunities, as it’s hard to lose when buying in so low.
Going deep on something at retail prices is a much riskier proposition. I generally like to mitigate that risk by purchasing low-cost cards poised for a spike. For example, my buying a bunch of Flinthoof Boars at 18 cents each was a low-risk, high-upside decision that panned out after the release of Gatecrash. In general, buying bulk rares or overpowered uncommons at 25 cents each or less is a very low-risk strategy, as you’re not going to lose much even if they never rise above bulk.
That said, I will buy in at a higher price if I am confident in a spec target. One card that was appealing enough to buy in cash earlier this summer was Jace, Architect of Thought. It had bottomed out to $8-9, saw a lot of play at the Pro Tour, was highly touted by QS Insiders and the Brainstorm Brewery crew, and had a lot of other things going for it. I didn’t have enough time to acquire as many as I wanted in trade, so I used a combination of cash and store credit to establish a position.
2. Accept Smaller Profits on Long-Term Holds
Jace has gone up 50% over what I paid, but I’m pretty confident that if I continue to hold my copies I’ll be able to get 100% gains or more. But what if I like another spec better? It goes against all my instincts, but I have come to realize that it’s okay to trade away cards that are going to see a price bump. I just have to make sure I’m trading for cards that are going to see a larger price bump.
Take Birthing Pod. How this is not a $10 card yet is beyond me. The deck is hugely popular and becoming an ever-increasing part of the Modern metagame. I’m hardly the first one to point this out as a prospect, but I am a firm believer in the spec and trade for every Birthing Pod I see. I can envision a world where Birthing Pod is $15 much easier than a world where Jace is $30. So if I have the chance, it makes sense to trade my Jaces into Birthing Pods.
There may also be times where you’re forced to confront the fact that a spec isn’t going to pan out. Although we all hate admitting we’re wrong, sometimes it’s correct to take a loss on our bad specs and put that money toward something more profitable. It doesn’t feel good to lose money, but it’s better than waiting for a card’s value to sink to almost nothing before finally bulking it out. If a spec isn’t going to work out, I like to cut my losses and move on to the next one.
3. Sit Tight and Wait
This one is simultaneously easy and hard to do. It’s easy because doing nothing requires very little effort. It’s hard, though, because Insiders are not accustomed to just doing nothing. Members of this site are actively looking for trades and purchases at all times, so sitting tight goes against all our instincts.
But sometimes the situation just isn’t right. I’m appropriately deep in my favorite specs right now, and while I might trade for a few more copies if I see them, the time for cash buys is past. There are several other targets I like, but not enough to put dollars into them. I could force the issue and buy in to a spec target about which I’m not fully confident, or I could just wait. Lately, I’ve been choosing the latter.
Sure, I think Armada Wurm and Blood Baron of Vizkopa are fine pick-ups for next year, but I don’t like them as much Birthing Pod or Jace, or any of the shock lands for that matter. I’d rather wait on my currect specs to spike than trade them for lesser targets, and I’d rather save my money for a card in which I am fully confident. There are times when the best action is no action, and that has been the case for me lately.
If you sell cards for a living, sitting on specs might not be an option for you. There is certainly wisdom to Corbin Hosler’s adage about leaving the last 10% for the next guy; it’s not always wise to wait for a price ceiling before selling out. But if you’re speculating as a hobby and are confident in your targets, why sell early?
The next time you start thinking about giving up on a spec or taking a smaller profit, think about why you’re doing it. Did something change in the meta game or did the card get reprinted? Does a change in the banned list impact the card’s viability? If there are good reasons why you think a spec’s future has changed, by all means, out your position. But if you’re just getting antsy to buy in to the next hot target, consider what will truly make you the most money. I have found that sometimes the best action is no action at all.