“If yesterday was two days ago tomorrow, will the day after tomorrow be today or yesterday?”
—Temporal Manipulation 101 final exam, Tolarian Academy
This is one of my favorite flavor texts. It’s from the Ninth Edition printing of Temporal Adept. Did you know all of us are Temporal Adepts, when you think about it? Our brains work via the firing of impulses across our brain. We’re powered by electricity, and electricity moves pretty quickly indeed, but the point is that it doesn’t move instantaneously.
The time it takes all of our cognitive processes to gather, sort, interpret and react to sensory input is estimated at about 80 milliseconds–small but non-trivial. If you could shave that down a little, you’d be at a competitive advantage in some small, measurable way. It might not ever accumulate to any measurable difference in achievement, but if you can imagine the case of someone who took an entire second to process everything, you could see how a quicker processing time would be a leg up as surely as a slower one would be a big hindrance.
And just how vital is an amount of time that’s less than a second? I don’t know–ask the stock trading industry–an industry that commissioned a $300 million undersea bundle of fiber-optic communication cables between New York and London to shave an imperceptible fraction of the lag time that New York-based traders experienced when they traded on the London Stock Exchange (insert your own “footsie” joke here).
That’s a lot of expense if that small, incremental advantage isn’t a big deal. I realize that’s a long preamble about split-second timing if I have no intention of talking about the advantages of trading on up-to-the-second information, but… I have no intention of talking about the advantages of trading on up-to-the-second information. Deal with it.
Your Undersea Cable
You have internet access. Don’t lie to me, how are you reading this then? Presuming mine is not the only article you read each week (Purphoros help you if it is) you’re on the right track because you read articles to get a competitive edge.
Make no mistake, finance is competitive. There is a finite amount of money and price discrepancies get noticed and the market is corrected frequently, so you’re trading on information imbalances that won’t stick around forever.
But is it necessary to trade on up-to-the-minute information in the world of Magic finance? I’d say probably not. No one is installing $300 million fiberoptic cable to communicate between their smartphone and some website’s card inventory at millisecond speed. If a card is excelling in an event at 8:00 am and you notice, you generally have a few hours. You used to have a few days.
Even farther back in Magic’s history, there was no finance, really, but you had to buy cards even then, and sometimes it was a matter of either checking eBay or waiting until three weeks after a set’s release for Scrye magazine and its pricing guide. As information began trading faster, the pricing got more efficient, but we’re still not at a place where milliseconds matter and likely never will be.
As much as we love to high-five each other and point out that cards are a commodity we’re trading, the majority of Magic cards bought and sold are bought and sold with the intention of being used, which also makes them non-fungible, tradeable goods. Well, to the play community cards aren’t fungible, I think the finance community probably feels differently.
If we want to think of ourselves as commodities traders because it’s cheeky and fun to do so and has a substantial grain of truth at its core, let’s do it. But let’s also remember that while we have a pretty efficient market and live in the digital age, there is still a decent lag time to exploit, and you’re less likely to lose because your connection between your buying platform like a smartphone or computer is a millisecond too slow and more likely to lose because you said “screw it” and didn’t pay attention to Magic the Gathering for an entire week.
I was busy this weekend and didn’t watch any coverage, but even then it was nearly impossible not to have attention paid for me.
If you cut Paul from the list I got information about the format from mostly non-players. You have to go a long way to actively try not to get information if you give Twitter even the cursory glance I gave it to go find two or three tweets. Everyone is waxing philosophical about the format right now and if you didn’t buy any cards yesterday, I have to ask what you were thinking.
I don’t write a finance article, folks (it gets less and less believable each time I say that, doesn’t it?) but there are a few cards that you may still be able to make some money on.
If Hammer of Purphoros is still around $2 by the time you’re reading this, you may want to consider scooping a few. Sustainable or not, I think there is decent upside.
I didn’t like Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver as a card. I still don’t, but I am warming to it as a spec. This could be another Jace, Architect of Thought–a planeswalker that spikes to insane levels after a strong performance in the first event of the new Standard, then dies down. I’d sell Ashiok at the first sign of upside as I don’t predict it spiking twice or climbing from its next peak.
But I didn’t predict $15 being a good entree, did I? We didn’t need undersea fiberoptic cable for me to watch Ashiok do serious work on camera, durdle for a few hours and see that there are still dozens of copies around $17 on TCG Player. I didn’t like buying in blind, but I like buying before a bit of hype I can sell into, and even though there weren’t a million Ashioks in the Top 16, it surprised some people.
Speaking of Jace, Architect of Thought, wow. $30? I really wish I hadn’t sold so many at $18. I profited selling at $18, but, still. I know Corbin says “leave 10% for the next guy” but I think the next guy got quite a bit more than 10%. If you have a few copies left like I do, you could sell now, but I think I may actually wait and see if $30 is even the ceiling.
Prices will be slower to fall back down than they are to spike, and with all of the Innistrad walkers gone, something will have to step up and fill the void. Why not a card we all lost our collective minds over this time a year ago?
I can talk a bit more about results from the weekend at length later.
A Few Finals Thoughts
Sure, we all live in our own past, victims of the lag time between our eyes and our brains. But that’s no excuse for not abusing the lag time between perception and reality. If you even paid a cursory amount of attention to this weekend, a crucial event for the financial future of a lot of these cards, you saw things that may have surprised you.
There is financial opportunity in surprise. Surprise means there was a discrepancy between hypothesis and result. When that happens, the prices of cards are likely incorrect because the basis for those prices was based on conjecture. Sure, there is an amount of historical data built in, but how much of presale pricing is guessing, restocking at a higher price if a card sells out at a given price and exploiting impatience? I maintain a great deal of it.
I had been holding everything I opened and had a stack of cards set aside, ready to snap-list tonight. Everything that underperformed or was absent that I’d already had the inclination to sell is now listed. I pulled a few over-performers out of that pile and set them aside.
I had another pile of cards I felt wold likely maintain, and if they are likely not to drop sharply it’s worth it to hold a bit and see if they might go up. I left that pile relatively unchanged, but did add a few cards to it.
Finally, I have a stack of lottery tickets–cards that I thought might go up from their presale price (it was a small stack before) and added a lot of cards to it based on the results of this weekend.
One important caveat–Don’t focus too much on Theros! There is a whole raft of cards from older sets that may be buoyed by Theros cards and mechanics. Ever want to target your whole team and get a big stack of heroic triggers? Aurelia’s Fury can do that. If it’s really worth it to do that, Aurelia’s Fury has upside at its bottom-barrel $3 price tag.
I think that’s more cute than good, but guess what? Vizkopa Guildmage and Exquisite Blood was more cute than good, and I made a ton off of Exquisite Blood, and I am sure a lot of you did as well. Remember, we’re commodities traders. We’re not building a box full of deck stock, we’re trying to flip some cardboard. Fury likely can’t go down much more from its current price tag, and any modicum of hype, real or imaginary, could be good for the price. Mythics experience a greater percentage increase in price based on hype due to their scarcity.
Hammer of Purphoros looked good out there. Could Assemble the Legion be a good pairing for it? Again, cute, but also powerful albeit Johnny-esque. You don’t have to guess, you just have to watch the relative amounts of cards like this in stock and move if you see movement.
I would say that “cute” combos, like the Vizkopa Guildmage-Exquisite Blood one I mentioned, are more likely to increase as a result of the spoiler season as people buy copies of the older card in preparation of pairing it with the new card. I’d caution you to think hard about moving into Assemble the Legion, for example. For every Exquisite Blood that goes up when its mate in the new set is spoiled, you have a big pile of Otherworldly Atlas that does nothing.
If that combo with Notion Thief were going to be picked up, it would likely have moved right away, because people don’t tend to wait to pick up parts of a cute combo until they see someone on camera at an SCG Open. They tend to want that cute, stupid combo right away so they can rule the kitchen table. So since Assemble hasn’t moved a ton yet, I don’t know if it’s going to.
I do think there is little downside to being prepared, however, as you’ll likely not lose much value buying Assemble at its current price so it’s nearly all potential upside. Do as I buy, not as I say, right? I haven’t bought any copies of Assemble, but I am keeping a very, very close eye on the card.
There are a few other cards in that category with Assemble and Aurelia’s Fury that I think bear paying attention to. Remember, this isn’t the stock market–paying attention can mean “checking it twice a week”. You likely have a matter of a day or two to buy in unless the card is widely-played, at which point you would have heard about it from multiple sources (and likely a QS Insider e-mail blast) and hopefully been quick enough to buy in.
You don’t need an undersea fiberoptic cable to buy ahead of a price spike like that, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention at all. We lose 80 milliseconds just waiting around for our brain to tell us what’s going on. Don’t waste any more time than that if you don’t have to.
You Mentioned Some Manner of Tournament?
I did, indeed, and let’s have at it.
Saturday told us nothing other than that Team Sealed continues to be fun and Wizards is doing a poor job of making Team Sealed and Two Headed Giant widely-played formats, although they totally could.
Let’s not forget, community luminaries no less prestigious than Aaron Forsythe himself predicted that a certain Grand Prix on the east coast would see a greater attendance than a certain Grand Prix in the desert of the western United States due to its team format.
If you’re going to make a ballsy prediction like that (it turned out hilariously wrong, but it wasn’t an illogical thing to say at the time by any means), you must have some faith in the popularity of team formats, yet barely any of those events are scheduled. Two Headed Giant was a PT and GP format for about 45 minutes before they saw how much fun I was having and decided to discontinue PTQ and GPT 2HG events, Player Rewards and Christmas  all in the same year.
So Team Sealed is cool and all, but tells us little that is financially relevant. Onward to Standard!
This is the first Standard event of the new format, and since I wrote this early, I had to sit and watch coverage for about fifteen minutes to see who won.
It was Mono Red. Chandra’s Phoenix and Chandra herself do WORK. I think Burning Earth is going to make people want to play two colors rather than three, Fanatic of Mogis is a Flametongue Kavu that only targets life totals and the clock this deck presents is just brutal. I watched the event’s winner Philip Bertorelli pull Max Tietze’s pants down game two, and Max never had a prayer.
Max is a name you’ll recognize from this article series as he has won multiple SCG Opens and Invitationals. He didn’t have any black in his deck which made his mana base less greedy and prone to Burning Earth, he knows how to play control and he made it to the finals by outplaying a tough opponent in the form of Christian Calcano, although by some accounts Calcano was playing a bit loose.
In any case, Max was ready for Philip’s deck and he is a competent player who has won this event in the past and who out-controled Christian Calcano. He still lost two quick games in which he never had a chance. Yoked Ox is good against Boros Reckoner–unless Chandra doesn’t let it block. Then you’re blocking with your face and hoping a Ratchet Bomb popped on turn six is good enough. It wasn’t.
I always get a little sad when a deck I feel is somewhat uncreative takes home a trophy. This red deck has existed in a similar form for a while now. However, once you get over the initial revulsion of a deck with Gore-House Chainwalker in it smashing a deck full of Elspeth (not as bullish on her anymore, by the by) and Sphinx’s Revelation, you realize that there is a Theros-specific bent to the build.
It makes the best of a good, solid clock, and keeps a lot of creatures in play instead of burn spells because Fanatic of Mogus is a game-ender. With just a Boros Recknoner in play, you hit them for four damage for four mana. If you live in Magic Christmas land where you hit a one-drop, a two-drop like Ash Zealot or Burning-Tree Emissary, then Reckoner then Fanatic, congratulations, you beat an opponent who did nothing.
But you also demonstrated the power of Fanatic, a card with no financial upside because it’s narrower than cards like Burning-Tree Emmisary which did go for a buck or two during their reign. It’s worth noting that curving into Fanatic comes down a turn before Supreme Verdict, although Philip went into the Top 8 in 8th place meaning he was never on the play Game 1 and didn’t play a lot of Game 3s.
Mono Red was powerful in a lot of its forms. I don’t know if the many printings of Chandra’s Phoenix reduce its potential upside too much to bother, but expect them to trade briskly and four-at-a-time. Chandra herself is up but perhaps not peaked. And Burning Earth is just brutal.
I liked it more than anyone else on Brainstorm Brewery, it was the only card I wanted to talk about, and I’ll admit even I underestimated it a bit. With two color decks ballsily (that’s a word) slotting in Mutavault, a card I think has a lot of upside even at its current ~$15, Burning Earth is a real card.
Owen Turtenwald played two Hammer of Purphoros in his board, and if Deadbridge Chant is any indication, cards in his board go up. Expect Hammer to experience some growth. Flip into said growth. I don’t see this sustaining too much above $5ish, but it over-performed for Owen. Not being maindeckable in all likelihood may hurt it.
Owen also played Firedrinker Satyr, which I don’t like too much, and he played Shock over Magma Jet, which surprised a lot of people. Jet may not be good just because it was before–same for Steam Augury, Firedrinker Satyr and Ratchet Bomb.
Ashiok is another card that over-performed on camera. Ryan said on BSB it was a good way to win control mirrors. I wasn’t on board until I saw it in action. It’s luck-based to be sure, but you can’t ignore it like I thought you might be able to.
Xenagos, the Reveler is a card that you can ignore. It really under-performed although there were roughly as many Xenagos in decks as there were Elspeth and Ashiok. Those numbers were dwarfed but the number of copies of Jace, Architect of Thought, however.
There was a lot of Junk being played early in the day, but it didn’t manage to perform as well as other decks. I can’t verify this, but maybe greedy mana bases are taking too much punishment. Mana isn’t as easy as it once was, as temples are a poor substitute for buddy lands if your curve is low.
Polukranos is a card I thought was overrated. Seeing it in action, I still think it’s overrated, but it’s getting a lot of play. Its absolute price ceiling is $20 as it’s in a duel deck, but I don’t see it approaching that anyway. It’s a card people are playing and that surprised some pundits (yes, this community has pundits) but I don’t see upside regardless.
How about that Jace, Architect of Thought? Ryan Bushard called those like nine months ago and has been building a big pile out of them since then. He was overpaying back in the day, but it won’t matter now that they’re $30. Is $30 the ceiling? Not historically!
Pay attention to coverage, Twitter, friends, Facebook. Pay attention to what people at your LGS are saying. Watch card prices and card inventories and watch how much you spend pre-ordering cards. I feel like there is more money to be made on cards that spike after this first tournament than there is to be made pre-ordering unless there is a card that is clearly wrong like Angel of Serenity and Thragtusk were.
There is a generous lag, people love to sell cards to other players just to have more cash to throw away on boosters this first week and there is a nice window to sell into. Look to the past to figure out if there are trends you should watch–lessons learned from last rotation are especially valuable. But don’t live too far into your own past, either. 80 milliseconds is long enough.