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Insider: A Word of Caution

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Things are starting to get exciting again in the world of MTG finance. Everywhere you look there are suggestions of what cards to pick up in anticipation of Standard rotation--many from Return to Ravnica block and M14.

Supreme Verdict is now the main board sweeper of the format. Detention Sphere is enchantment-based removal that can eliminate indestructible gods. Obzedat, Ghost Council is getting attention thanks to some articles on SCG’s site. Chandra, Pyromaster is being tested en masse due to her recently “discovered” power level. The list goes on.

Not only are these cards getting hyped up, but their price targets continually rise. The QS forums are jam packed with price targets and people are buying like crazy in the hopes of making some easy profit come Standard rotation. This must be the easiest time of the year to profit from Magic.

Or is it?

A Reality Check

While everyone gets excited about the money they’re going to make once Standard rotates, I have taken a more conservative view of the market. Cards are getting bought up left and right, fueling the hype that drove prices higher in the first place. Obzedat, Ghost Council is the most recent example of this phenomenon.

Obzedat

A well-timed article combined with a higher buy price and this card is off to the races.

Many expect this card to be a dominant force in the new Standard. And it very well may be. Along with all the other cards I’ve mentioned previously. And the shocklands. And Abrupt Decay. And Jace, Architect of Thought. And…you see where I’m going with this?

I’m just beginning to wonder if every one of these cards can actually be great at the same time? I’m not trying to suggest these cards are necessarily mutually exclusive. It just feels like there is an awfully large pool of cards suddenly on the climb.

Jace

These recent price increases aren’t driven by increased play (in most cases–-Chandra, Pyromaster may be an exception). They are simply driven by the anticipation of increased play. People remember these cards being strong in Block, and so they expect them to be good when Standard rotates.

The theory is solid, but I am uncomfortable with how much people are banking on it.

Jace, Architect of Thought is a fine planeswalker--I fully expect him to be tested ad nauseam come rotation. But now that he’s already nearing $20, do people really expect a ton of upside buying here? It’s one thing to buy a set to play with--it’s another thing to be speculating on a $20+ planeswalker. Not many planeswalkers get much higher, and it feels like people are neglecting this fact.

This is my first caution. But I have more to say.

How Expensive Can a Set Be?

Let’s assume Jace, Architect of Thought is a $30 card and all the speculators out there are right. You also have Sphinx's Revelation as a $20+ card from Return to Ravnica.

Sphinx

Then there’s Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, five shocklands, Supreme Verdict (which people expect to approach $10), Detention Sphere, and many other money cards in the set. Oh, and don’t forget the $1 uncommons many are expecting, such as Azorius Charm.

Could this possibly become the most valuable set of Magic ever? One may leap to this conclusion, but I would be remiss not to bring up a couple factors that generally balance out a set’s value.

First of all, if the EV of a set becomes high enough, retailers will rip open packs for the singles, which increases the supply and puts downward pressure on the price.

Next, there’s MTGO redemption. As long as Return to Ravnica remains redeemable, there seems to be another way of keeping the balance of supply and demand reasonable.

Finally, there’s the simple fact that Return to Ravnica was opened in large quantity. We’re talking the most popular set of all time here--I assure you there are lots of copies of all these singles available. If the player base continues to rise this factor may be overcome, but this cannot be assumed.

My Advice

All I can advise is that everyone proceed with caution. As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, this is an exciting time in MTG finance. I haven’t even touched upon other formats such as EDH and Modern. People are throwing money all over the place looking to buy the next hot card for profit.

Before letting emotions take control, I urge you to make your own judgment of what a card’s price trajectory will likely be.

Will Chandra, Pyromaster really see more play than Gideon Jura did when he made his first appearance in Standard? I don’t remember Gideon Jura climbing much beyond $30, so speculating on Chandra above $20 seems quite risky.

Likewise it’s important to remember what board sweepers have been valued at historically. I remember Terminus in the $12 range, but this card was also heavily played in Legacy for a brief time. Supreme Verdict is strong, but it’s only a one-of in Legacy and it’s not really a card at the moment in Modern (it's not in Jund or Melira Pod). Also the color requirement may become awkward in a format with suboptimal manabases.

Of course, some of these high price targets will in fact bear fruit. Some strategy has to be successful in the new Standard. But I'd be surprised if every card people are speculating on becomes dominant in new Standard. Some of them just may not get there.

Since we don’t know which ones those are, my approach has been to trim my positions while people get emotional. No one wants to miss the key card, so they buy a bunch of everything. While prices increase, I sell some of the cards I feel have less upside from here. Detention Sphere is a handy removal spell, but at $3+ I don’t really love the upside. So maybe I should sell a few copies.

Sphere

If you disagree, that’s fine. But make sure you consider what cards you do think are incorrectly hyped and then make some guaranteed profits while you still can. It can be thrilling to hold out for those 200% gainers, but profit is great even if it isn’t maximized. Let someone else sit on the risk and pray that their cards break Standard. In the meantime you can begin focusing on the next buys.

Sigbits – Rotating Cards of Note

  • There sure is a lot of support for Snapcaster Mage even days before it leaves Standard. Every time a few more become available on SCG’s site (sale price of $15.99) they sell out within minutes. If you are patient, you may find these a tad bit cheaper, perhaps during the winter holidays. But I suspect they won’t drop far on average.
  • I am surprised that foil copies of Liliana of the Veil have dropped in price. A couple months ago I was ecstatic to win one of these at auction for $172. Then SCG slapped me in the face by marking theirs down to $170 for NM and $149 for MP! It’s not their fault though, as I’ve noticed copies on eBay selling for a little cheaper as well. I wonder if these have much room to drop before gaining traction and moving higher.
  • Geist of Saint Traft was marked down significantly on Star City’s website as well, and for a while these were actually in stock and very cheap. But they're out of stock now, and I believe the price has gone up slightly too. Now they’re sold out at $14.39, and I suspect these won’t go much lower despite not being played in Modern Jund. That being said, if you have the bankroll I like foil Liliana and Snapcaster better.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

12 thoughts on “Insider: A Word of Caution

  1. Great article. More so in the timing then the content. The forum in the last few days has been resembling a feeding frenzy. With any luck this will calm things down a little.

    I do have one question though. This may just been my sleep deprived brain throwing gibberish, but why would you want to grab foil copies of Lilliana of the Veil over something like Geist of Saint Traft? I get that Lilliana has MUCH more potential for profit, but…Lilliana seems much more risky than the Geist.

    Think about it. Its become a MASSIVE force in Modern and I believe (again, sleep deprived brain) legacy. The price even on the non-foils is huge. Its also a card with a fairly generic title (The Veil in question is an artifact of Lillaianas, if I’m not mistaken. Its not bound to Innistrad in any way).

    With all this in mind, reprints seem pretty much inevitable. Even assuming wizards doesn’t just shove it in the next Modern Masters, it can be reprinted at any point.

    Geist of Saint Traft on the other hand…less so. Its name is strongly tied to Innistrad (Geist has never been used in any set other than Innistrad, and seeing as its a derivative of “spirit” it isn’t likely to be used. In addition, Saint Traft refers to a specific person/former person in Innistrad) and due to the fact that its colors aren’t in favor right now (the whole pod/jund situation) the price is lower then it should be.

    And for the critical point. Most people who want foils have been playing Modern for awhile (This is just my assumption. It seems unlikely that someone dipping their toes will run to foil out their decks immediately). The people who want foil Lillianas, in all likelihood already have them. A lot of the interest can be attributed to speculators who wish to have them to hoard for a later sale. It seems like a similar situation to the one you wrote an entire article about above.

    The Geist on the other hand, isn’t quite so risky. Its at its low point, its a mythic in a soon to (VERY soon to) rotate set. It has applications in modern (even if its deck(s) aren’t dominant at the moment), and due to Modern kicking off later than usual, has a decent period of low interest to let you snap up deals as they arise. The margins aren’t as good as Snappy or Lilliana, but it seems like a MUCH safer bet.

    …So, what am I missing? I’m sure theres something. But for the life of me, I can’t see what it is.

    1. Thank you very much for the comment and thorough analysis.

      Many of the points you made above are valid – I tend to shy away from speculating on expensive cards because they require a much larger investment. I don’t have the time to launch into an extensive counter-argument, so I’ll try to be brief.

      Liliana is arguably the most played Planeswalker right now. Jace is banned in Modern and he and Liliana are neck and neck in Legacy. Yet foil Jaces continued to rise to astronomical levels after he left Standard a couple years ago. Liliana may follow suit – perhaps not to the same levels but certainly higher.

      I don’t get very excited about Geist, on the other hand. He was played heavily in Standard and he sees considerably less play in Eternal formats. Granted his price reflects this, and I do often condone investing in cards that have fallen out of favor but should see a recovery. But I like to bet on the sure thing more often than not. Foil Lilianas just feels safer to me. Tarmogoyf and Jace 2.0 have both been reprinted recently yet original set foils are still way expensive. I don’t think the reprint argument holds as strongly here.

      At the end of the day, I think I have a little preference bias in this debate. I never played Geist but I was rarely intimidated by him on the other side of the table. Meanwhile Liliana has just demolished me in the past. But they are both legitimate targets – this may be a good debate to continue in the QS forums 🙂

    2. While I agree with many points on both sides. I do NOT think Modern is the driving force for demand of Foil Liliana’s. Legacy is the culprit for that one.

  2. Thats a good point. I completely neglected Legacy in my argument. And Geist is SIGNIFICANTLY less exciting than Lilliana.

    Looking over my comments last night, I’m not sure Geist of Saint Traft is a good target. I recall that part of my reasoning the night before was that Bestow added a decent amount to Geists playability, but…there really isn’t any evidence of that.

    However, I’m still a little leery of Lilliana. Foils don’t go up quickly (except in rare cases), and its often tempting to sit on them for years. And with a reprint being all but inevitable, that doesn’t seem like the safest bet.

    What I’d do, personally, is sit on foil lillianas until the third set of Theros arrives, and then start selling. Its highly unlikely there would be a reprint that quickly, but by then the price should be increasing at a more gradual rate.

    Then I’d sit and wait for Lilliana to be reprinted, and (assuming its printed in something like Modern Masters 2 and not a core set) start snatching the original Lilliana foils. Panic selling should put them low enough for a tidy profit once people realize mythic rare foils are still hard to come by, even after being reprinted.

    But thats just my two cents.

    Anyway. On another topic, do you folks see any ways this feeding frenzy thats currently going on can be leveraged? I doubt QS is the only group thats frothing at the mouth for easy money. I can’t see a way to take advantage of it other than just selling into the market while people are scrambling for States but I’m not as experienced as some of the people on here.

    1. I can definitely understand your argument regarding foil Lilianas. All I can say is that a reprint may not necessarily impact price as much as you think – especially on set foils. Still, I don’t plan on holding my 1 foil forever. If her price increases reasonably by 3rd Theros set as you predict, I’ll likely take my handy profit and move onto the next bet. I am not delusional enough to expect her to hit $400+ like foil Jace, and I’m certainly not going to sit around and wait for this to happen. Too much risk indeed.

      All I can say is – buy Standard staples from sets which are getting “boring”. When people get really tired of drafting DGR over and over again, that’s probably when it’s optimal to pick up solid players like Supreme Verdict, Jace, Architect of thought, etc. Then as Standard is about to rotate you start selling while everyone else wants to buy all these strong cards to test with. That’s my strategy anyways.

  3. “I’m just beginning to wonder if every one of these cards can actually be great at the same time? I’m not trying to suggest these cards are necessarily mutually exclusive. It just feels like there is an awfully large pool of cards suddenly on the climb.”

    The cards don’t all have to be great at the same time in order for them all (or mostly all) to perform well as specs. As the metagame evolves different cards will see heavy play at different times and prices will spike at different times. I think all this hype and speculative buying could be viewed as a good thing as it is providing opportunity for those who took positions in cards at bottomed out prices to profit without even having to gamble on whether their specs will actually see heavy play in the new standard. It’s just another form of hype you can sell into.

    1. Great point, Matthew. Everything doesn’t have to succeed simultaneously – I agree with you! I also agree that this type of hype is another selling opportunity. This was mostly the point of my article. If you got in near the bottom, you should be profitable here, and there’s little wrong with taking some profits off the table to reduce risk and exposure. Especially when cards haven’t been fully proven yet!

  4. Another thing to think about is RTR is out of print now so the ability for stores to crack packs is a limited factor now, and with the new redemption fee changes it will make prices stay higher than usual.

    1. This may be true to an extent, but aren’t there still tons of boxes for sale in the $85-$90 range? There’s probably a lot of RtR product out there, and it may take a while longer to overcome this volume. I’d love to see this product sell out everywhere, driving prices higher. It would be quite rewarding – perhaps I need to acquire a few more boxes of RtR before it’s too late?

  5. Exactly what Matthew said its all about selling when it jumps. As a whole they all jump some just at different times. Meta shifts cards go up then back down nothing new. Jace AOT was once 40-50 after the first scg event after rtr was released then saw no play. It’s just timing. Go back and look at innistrad block cards they all spiked at some point. I recommend playing more as just doing finance totally makes you narrow minded.

  6. I also had a lot of hope for rtr cards… but sadly I can’t wait any more and yesturday sold all of my rtr block cards to help pay for a 20k camera…. I really think that the high print run kept the prices down. I think I had like 10 Jaces? and 13 abrupt decays? And I think there was a lot of people like me.

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