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Insider: Back in the “Dead Zone”

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Some times are great for Magic finance. Modern season is shooting prices up left and right or you’re knee-deep in new spoilers that promise to shake up the metagame. It’s not only easier to make money, but much less of a grind to do so.

This is not one of those times.

I first introduced the concept of the “dead zone” last year, and it spawned a great deal of interest, both from local players and readers of the site. It also was a great motivator for me personally, so today I want to revisit and update the concept.

The Dead Zone

When I was in high school, I played sports competitively and Magic not at all. It was cross country/basketball in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. Come my senior year I had somewhat tired of going straight into another serious sport like baseball, so I decided to stick with tennis full-time, rather than simply doing it alongside baseball as I had in the past. Considering I was going to play basketball at college the next year, I was definitely looking forward to a more relaxing sport.

Well, I learned a lot that year. Tennis is a fun game, but I had a huge problem: I would stand in the “dead zone.”

The dead zone was an area of the court near the middle of your side. You weren’t close enough to the net to make any power plays, but you weren’t far enough back to be defensive. Instead, you sat in the middle and didn’t accomplish much.

That's exactly where we are with Magic right now. M14 is out, Standard is pretty much set, Modern is now a million months away, and there’s just not much to do. You should have already sold out of your rotating cards, and we don’t know enough about Theros to start speculating on it.

But I’ll return to my old adage, the one that seems to apply to every part of my life and especially Magic finance. Where others see danger, find the opportunity.

It’s my adaptation of a favorite of Warren Buffet (an incredibly successful investor and great human being): “Be Fearful When Others Are Greedy and Greedy When Others Are Fearful.”

Obviously this translates very well into Magic finance. Cards drop to bulk rare status because people flood the market with them. Modern Masters drops prices of previously-expensive cards, and people stay away. Previously-expensive cards like Stonehewer Giant tank because of the new product, and all of a sudden nobody wants them.

Lands, in particular, are a great example of this. Right now, people are fearful (not exactly, but it serves the purpose of the analogy) and being careless with their shocklands, just like they were with their Scars lands. So I’m greedy and I pick all of them up because they’ll pay off later.

On the flip side, people greedily buy into spiking cards and want to hold them until they reach their absolute pinnacle. Instead, I’m fearful in a good way, and tell everyone to “sell into the hype and leave the last 10% for the next guy.”

And you know what? It’s a strategy that makes a lot of money. Thanks, Mr. Buffett.

Opportunity in the Dead Zone

Just like me on the tennis court in high school, right now we’re stuck in the dead zone. But that’s just an excuse. Other people may be bored or paralyzed by the unknown rotation coming up, but there is opportunity if you look hard enough.

For me, the biggest opportunity to be found in the dead zone is a surprisingly easy one: time.

You don't have to scramble to pick up the hot new cards for a new Standard format, there’s no fast-approaching PTQ season to stock up for, and Magic attendance typically lulls in the summer. All of which adds up to some free time on your hands. Let’s talk about the best ways to use that time.

Organizing Your Collection

The most important is certainly cleaning out and organizing your collection. This is hugely important, and often overlooked. We talk all the time about how often cards like Merrow Commerce (to name one from a recent #pickthepic) are worth real money to a dealer, and how getting these adds up fast.

But those cards have to come from somewhere, and chances are you probably already have a fair number of these in boxes around your house, just waiting to be found. So just make yourself do it! Personally, I love sorting cards and pulling out things worth money, even if it’s just a quarter at a time.

Of course, it’s not always easy to set aside hours to sit down and pull those boxes out of the closet. But there’s not a better time to do it! Pull up something handy like MTG.gg and began digging through all that old crap you have socked away. Sort it by highest buy price and go crazy. When you’re done, you can either put everything back away or bulk it out to a store, now that you know it’s true bulk.

The only better way to do this than at home with a good beer is with a group of friends. Tear through those old sets and reminisce about the draft format, all while making some money at the same time. You never know what you’ll find. My best story is finding a Loyal Retainers in a box of bulk, but chances are you’re going to come across something valuable you didn’t know you had, even if it’s just a few Imperious Perfects.

I consider myself pretty good at picking cards, and can usually spot anything worth a nickel or more to a dealer. But after writing this article a year ago and taking my own advice, I still found stuff I didn't know I had like Springleaf Drums from back when I started playing.

One of my goals this year is to re-organize the case I run at the LGS. When I first started, everything was sorted by color and the store binder that went with the case was well-organized. Of course, as things began to sell and get replaced it gradually became more and more messy, and now the only thing ordered at all is the fact that the lands are grouped together.

I’m going to change that this month. Rather than grind the trade tables for more Standard stuff that no one wants right now anyway, I’m going to take some time and re-organize things there.

Now obviously not everyone has a case they have to keep in order, but I know you all have binders that could use the same treatment. Clean them out already! Make sure to pull any rotating stuff you haven’t yet, but don’t forget about those things that randomly get thrown in. I know I still have some random Zendikar full-art lands in the back of my binder that I keep forgetting to bring home and lose to the box of hundreds I already have in the closet.

I also have stuff like Wolfir Avenger, uncommons that I thought would be really good that never really panned out. While keeping these around a year ago was a good decision (and similar calls like Lightning Mauler paid off well), it’s time for them to go and be replaced by the same calls for next year.

Stuff like Burning-Tree Emissary deserves a place in your binder, but it should come at the expense of those cards whose ship has sailed. Remember, a focused binder makes money, and the more cluttered yours is, the more time every trade is going to take, which decreases the amount you’re going to get done in a given night.

Finding New Trade Partners

Speaking of trading, another suggestion I have that has paid off well for me in the past is taking a trip. It doesn’t have to be a long road trip for a PTQ or a crazy adventure like GP: Vegas, but instead go try out a different LGS. Getting new faces (and binders) in front of you is a great way to generate some momentum in your collection, and sitting down with the same ten people who still don’t want anything else you have is time better spent trying something new. Buying collections is always a crapshoot, albeit sometimes a profitable one. If you want to do that, there’s no better time to start than now.

If you still want to just trade, this is also the time to stock up on stuff for next Standard season. Sure, we don’t know much about the coming format, but we can still measure power level. I advocated picking up Sigarda last year based on this, and while the metagame never evolved to make her dominant, she did see enough play to merit a strong price increase.

Raw power will often come through early in a format, which means something like Trostani is appealing, especially since it’s a less-known factor than something like Sphinx's Revelation, which while having upside is still already expensive. But some stuff is still relatively underpriced, and I like Jace and Exava as pickups based solely on power level.

That pretty much covers my plan for the “Dead Zone,” but the most important thing is this: Don’t get burned out. This is also a great time to just step back from the game for a bit and recharge.

I’ve talked about a handful of productive ways to make this “boring” time in Magic finance profitable, and I’m sure I’ve missed some. What suggestions do you all have? How can we turn what is typically a down season into something much more?

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in Norman, Oklahoma (also known as the hotbed of Magic). He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net. He can best be reached @Chosler88 on Twitter.

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2 thoughts on “Insider: Back in the “Dead Zone”

  1. Well done Corbin! Really enjoyed reading such an informative and well written article. Hard to add to that list but if anything I would recommend fellow MTG players to study and play a new format. I’m just starting back up so have only done T2 and Elder Highland Dragon, so I’m looking forward to trying T1.5. I feel this will make me appreciate the game more and who knows, maybe learning about older decks will make me a better speculator.

    Keep up the good work,

    Fei

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