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Insider: What Went Wrong

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Simple Correlations

Looking back at past correlations is a useful technique that can provide insight into speculative strategies and broader market trends. For instance, Fall rotation consistently lowers the price of cards from rotating sets. But it is not the calendar which is causing the price to decrease, rather it's being caused by the drop in utility for particular cards as they leave Standard.

This is an example of a correlation that can be used to guide speculative purchases, but the correlation comes with a strong, underlying factor for its existence.

In this recent article, I suggested that some Standard staples were a good buy based off past events, i.e. a simple correlation. Prices on Standard staples usually rebound after release events. Also (while not referenced in the article, I did talk about this in the forums), Scars of Mirrodin (SOM) block cards had a price bump in the wake of the Avacyn Restored (AVR) release events. It seemed reasonable that ISD block (and M13) cards were due for a similar bump following Dragon’s Maze (DGM) release events.

However, it turned out that prices continued to slide, confounding my expectations. Relying on a simple correlation without examining the underlying factors has led to a loss of tix. The pitfall here was using a simple correlation without examining how things might be different this time around.

Why Did Prices Continue to Fall?

Scars of Mirrodin (SOM) block sets and M12 all saw a short-term bump in price in their last summer of Standard. The conclusion I drew was that Innistrad (ISD) block sets and M13 should see a similar boost at a similar time.

But cards don’t jump in price simply because the date on the calendar changes. The underlying factors must be examined. The price pattern of the past might repeat itself if conditions are similar, but if conditions are different there are no guarantees.

This time around, there were two differences. First, triple AVR draft was not the newest draft format, Dragon's Maze-Gatecrash-Return to Ravnica (DGR) was. Magic Online is still chiefly a place where people come to get their draft fix. Good draft formats encourage drafters to continue to play. Therefore, it's necessary to consider the relative popularity of draft formats.

Anecdotal evidence suggests AAA draft was not a great format to draft and players quickly tired of it. Coming off the heels of the ISD draft formats, widely regarded as being one of the best limited formats ever, a sub-par draft format like AAA would lose its appeal rather quickly. And inevitably some players would look to Standard to fill the gap. The conclusion is that AAA draft was a poor format which led players to take up Standard, driving up prices on SOM block cards.

This time around, for all intents and purposes, there were two popular draft formats taking up players' attention. The regular block format is a good and interesting one, and historically popular. On top of that, Modern Masters (MMA) draft has also been heralded as a very fun format. With both of these novel draft formats available, there's a lower chance of drafters getting bored and switching to Constructed. This is turn led to further price weakness on ISD block staples.

The Lesson

When evaluating potential speculation targets, do some digging. Question your assumptions and your motivation for buying. After re-reading my article which suggested buying cards like Thragtusk, I'm happy to note that this strategy was outlined as being riskier than other strategies. This trade turned out to be a loser overall due to bad timing and poor analysis.

Thinking about why things were different this time could have led me to wait until MMA drafts settled down and the PTQ season restarted. Right now we're seeing a price bump on many Standard staples, which will take some of the sting out of my loss, but things could have gone much better with a little patience. Short-term trading with cards due to rotate in the Fall is risky, and in this case I got burned.

Portfolio Update

This is a brief rundown of what I am buying, selling and watching in the market in the last few weeks. There was no article or portfolio update last week as I was on vacation.

Selling:

  • Thundermaw Hellkite has bounced back to a level that had previously been its price floor. Although there might be a further rise in price, I’ve taken this opportunity to start selling them.
  • GTC Boosters are now the most expensive of the RTR block boosters, and the next month should be the best near-term opportunity to sell these. I have started the process of unwinding this (fairly large) position. September should also be a good opportunity to sell any RTR block boosters that are left over as interest in drafting M14 should be on the wane at that time.

Buying:

  • Zendikar block mythic rares are interesting to me because they won’t be reprinted before the next Modern PTQ season, though there’s a possibility that we see them show up as prizes for Cube draft. Lotus Cobra and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre are two that I’ve been targeting over the last few weeks.
  • Oblivion Stone was left out of MMA and also looks like it won’t be reprinted in M14. It’s a Modern staple that saw a price slide in the last few months. I’ve been picking up cheap copies when I find them.
  • Thundermaw Hellkite, like a lot of other Standard staples, had been sliding in price since the release of Dragon’s Maze. I bought a few at that time, but couldn’t resist buying more during the MMA release events.

Watching:

  • While Geist of Saint Traft has been quite stable in price, the long slide of Restoration Angel and Thragtusk was a nasty shock. It looks like they have finally stabilized and I will be unwinding my positions in all of these cards over the next couple of weeks. The last of the online Standard PTQs run later this month. After that, they should come under continued selling pressure as Fall rotation draws closer.
  • Lifebane Zombie is a recently spoiled card for M14 that looks very intriguing to me. It's possible that an aggressive zombie build could make a splash in Standard in August. Cards like Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messengerl are both strong candidates to be included in any Standard zombie deck. They've also been sliding in price. Put these on your watch list.

2 thoughts on “Insider: What Went Wrong

    1. Haha! Yeah, this week’s portfolio update spanned a couple of weeks, so I was buying 2 weeks ago, and selling the last few days.

      Thanks for reading!

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