Magic 2014 (M14) release events have finished up now, and we are in the period where not much is happening at all in the world of Magic. Theros (THS) previews will be starting at some point, and it looks like a few cards are starting to leak out as well.
However, it is a good time to make a plan for the next few months as the Fall is usually the most exciting time for players, and is also an excellent time to be a speculator. Here's a three month outlook from an MTGO speculator's perspective.
Previews for THS will be starting up, followed by paper prereleases on September 21st. For MTGO users, this means we can expect a week of Cube draft as well as the attendant out-of-print draft queues. Last time we saw Rise of the Eldrazi (ROE) awarded as prizes for Cube.
Triple ROE turned out to be a popular format and prices on the ROE mythic rares like Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Linvala, Keeper of Silence dropped considerably. Now that prices have mostly stabilized (though Ulamog might be headed lower yet), these are a couple of cards that are worthwhile targets for the Modern speculator.
The popularity of the out-of-print draft format this time around should dictate the speculative strategy. If the format is popular, then waiting for prices to stabilize is your best bet before picking up Modern playables. If the format is unpopular and drafts aren't firing, then it's best to pick up any Modern playables right away.
The MTGO player base often responds to the news of out-of-print draft queues by panic-selling their copies before the influx of supply drops prices. Prices drop, but more as a result of this panic selling than due to the influx of supply. When the draft queues turn out to be unpopular, prices tend to snap back in short order.
Lastly, if the cards in question happen to be all-format staples like the Zendikar (ZEN) fetchlands, then get your tix ready. For cards like the fetchlands, it doesn't matter how popular the draft format is. Prices will drop in the short term, but the underlying trend for Modern and the growth in the MTGO is so strong, staples should be snapped up as much as possible when they enter the market.
A Note on Prereleases
It used to be that the cost of entry and prize structure for online prereleases discouraged players from participating. Players would look out to release events with lower costs and larger prize pools and save their tix for these instead of joining the prerelease queues.
For speculators, this meant there was an opportunity to pick up cheap, older reprints and flip them to Standard players as the new set became legal.
This strategy worked out for me last year with Overgrown Tomb and Temple Garden heading into the release of Return to Ravnica (RTR), but not so well for Sacred Foundry and Watery Grave from Gatecrash (GTC). I think this strategy was hit and miss partly because of how popular prereleases have become.
Many more events are firing now than they used to, which means the window when new cards are scarce is smaller. For this reason I have dropped this as a speculative strategy around prerelease events; it's just too unpredictable.
THS release events will be in full swing by the second week of October, and this can mean that there are opportunities on new cards that are not well understood. For example, last year Sphinx's Revelation was in the 4-6 ticket range until the end of October. Needless to say the speculators who correctly identified it as a staple of Block and Standard were paid off handsomely.
This means we should keep our eyes peeled for what look to be powerful, new cards that aren't getting much attention. This is a good time to do some testing of THS Standard and to pay attention to what the brewers are up to.
Outside of stumbling onto a diamond in the rough, the Fall is the best buying opportunity of the year due to rotation. Cards from Innistrad (ISD) block and Magic 2013 (M13) will start looking for price bottoms in October.
Leaving Standard will cause some cards to drop to permanent junk status, never to be picked up again in competitive constructed formats. Others are just taking a breather and will soon bounce back in price as they continue to be played in Modern.
This is the time to start watching prices on Modern staples and playables from these sets. Once prices bottom out, there will be a buying opportunity.
With the Modern PTQ season being pushed back to the summer, there is less of an impetus to pick up Modern playables. However, prices on cards from ISD block and M13 will be at depressed prices. And that's not just relative to in-season prices, they will be depressed relative to out-of-season price levels too as this will be the first time they're playable solely in the Modern format.
Also, Modern is growing in popularity and this means that seasonal swings in price will not be as pronounced as in the past. When cards are on sale it's time to buy them up, even if the holding period is longer than it has been in the past due to the season getting pushed into the Summer. This means that I would expect a bigger short-term bounce back in Modern playables from ISD block and M13 after they have found their price bottom.
A Note on Booster Packs
Once THS release events start, M14 will no longer be awarded as a prize in Standard and Modern constructed events, including two- and eight-man queues. Players will also be scrounging for tix, selling boosters in order to pay for release events.
This results in a great buying opportunity on core set boosters. Core set Limited is relatively popular among MTGO users, so prices will bounce back by the end of November. Last year, prices on M13 went from 2.8 tix per booster at the end of October, to around 3.7 tix per booster six weeks later.
Speculating on boosters is a great way to build up capital as the turn-around time on these investments is typically short, and the high liquidity and low buy/sell spread means that if necessary they can be dumped quickly. Nevertheless, the nature of MTGO economy means that release events are a good time to pick up boosters on the cheap.
Last year, Scars of Mirrodin (SOM) block mythics bottomed out as a whole during the first half of November. After that, they saw steady prices increases. These price increases are anticipated due to the steady demand that redeemers place on the MTGO market. And this is for any and all mythic rares.
On a percentage basis, one of the best-performing SOM mythic rares last year was Mindslaver. It went from 1.1 tix on November 7th, to 5.4 tix by March 14th, a gain of almost 400%! While unusual, this is the magnitude of what is possible on mythics that are rotating out of Standard.
The theory of how redemption affects prices and how speculators can profit from it is an idea I return to frequently. Applying this theory when it comes to speculating is the best way to earn safe, predictable and decent profits. This year should be no different as I expect the mythic rares from ISD and M13 to follow the same pattern.