Insider: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Preferences

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Most of us don’t know everything. I’m pretty sure that I don’t. We each have strengths and weaknesses, and by identifying them we allow ourselves to make the best possible decisions given our circumstances. As MTG financiers, taking the time to identify our areas of strength will help us to maximize our profits and minimize our risks.

Many of our strengths and weaknesses come down to preference, really. If you just like Legacy more than other formats, you’ll find yourself putting in more time and effort toward speculating on Legacy. As you continue to focus on the format, you’ll begin gaining expertise, and eventually you’ll be able to call the Legacy format one of your strengths.

The obvious response to this line of thought is to just make every format and card type and investment style a focus, thus gaining expertise in it all. This may be a possibility for some, and for those making a living off the game, it’s probably a necessity. But for those of us with a more limited schedule and budget, the need to make choices becomes inevitable.


I’m not a fan of foils. There’s a limited amount of money I can tie up at any one time, and higher-priced cards with no extra utility are not where I want to put that money. It’s important to note that I don’t think investing in foils is wrong, it’s just something that doesn’t fit with my goals or expertise. By identifying my weakness in this area, I get an advantage.

Now I can take action in one of two ways: I can put in the time and effort necessary to learn the market, or I can choose to just avoid foils. I’ve chosen the latter, mainly due to personal preference that stems from the fact that foils warp, provide no tangible value or advantage, and can get you accused of cheating, possibly even disqualified from a tournament. I see them as an extravagance in casual play and a liability in competitive play, and I want no part of them. This is the reason you haven’t often seen me advocate buying foil copies of cards, nor will you likely see that in the future. A weakness? Yes. But by identifying it, I can avoid stupid mistakes.

Modern Man

On the other hand, I’ve had a reasonable amount of success speculating on Modern cards. After doubling up or better on a number of Modern specs, I realized that the format was profitable for me. I pushed myself to further focus on understanding what factors can contribute to Modern cards spiking and what pitfalls to avoid. As such, I gained some insight into the format, which has allowed me to make some reasonable calls, most recently suggesting that you buy Splinter Twin here.

I still have a lot to learn, of course, and not all of my calls have panned out. But by identifying the success I’ve had in this area and coupling it with research, focus, and determination, I’ve been able to grow my expertise and make a few bucks in the process. Again, this is partially due to personal preference, as I just like Modern more than Standard. It’s okay to focus on the things you like — you’ll have more fun and be more invested.

Big Things and Small Things

Partially due to budget and partially due to being risk averse, I like to acquire cards worth more than $5-10 in trade. This doesn’t mean I never buy more expensive cards for speculative purposes, but it does mean I pick and choose very carefully. Again, I’ve got a limited budget (and life makes it more limited all the time), so tying up large amounts of cash in cards that may take a while to grow is not always an option for me.

This can cause some feel-bad situations, I admit. Recently, I’ve been looking for Phyrexian Obliterator and Griselbrand, but as I related in my article last week, I’m not seeing a lot of non-Standard stuff at my Draft-only MTG nights lately. I’ve been asking about both for several weeks, but attained exactly zero copies of each by the time the spikes happened. I was confident in these, but decided saving some money for the holidays took priority over buying in. Now I’m stuck with the feeling that I could have a lot more gift and travel money, but I thought these were specs for Modern season, not the holiday season. (And by the way, if spikes like these are happening now, I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen this summer when the format is actually being played.)

One thing I recommend is to have a portion of your MTG collection in its most liquid form—cash. This means that you don’t always have to spend all of your spec money immediately upon outing a position. In my case, I’ve had some extra expenses lately (including moving, which is costly) and had to dip into my MTG budget to make ends meet. As a result, I’ve been playing catch-up and haven’t quite replenished my spec money. If I had, maybe I would have bought some Obliterators, although my preference for trading for bigger cards would likely still have been a factor.

Instead of buying pricier cards, I like to buy cards in the bulk to $3 range. Cards like Nightveil Specter, Pack Rat, and Tidebinder Mage have shown that even inexpensive Standard cards can yield some pretty hefty returns. When is the last time you saw a $20 card shoot up by 1000%? It rarely happens, but we often see $1 cards go to $5 or $10 when the meta shapes up correctly.

I’d probably classify my hesitance to buy in to more expensive cards as a weakness, though in reality it’s more related to preference and circumstance. It can, however, be a strength during spoiler season—when hype causes high prices and rosy outlooks, it’s nice to be the guy refusing to buy in to anything but the most sure-thing specs. In any case, this isn’t a weakness I’m content to just accept. I think it’s worth my time to research whether I’d be better off spending money on big-ticket items as opposed to speculative small stuff, and I’ll be going into some of my findings in future articles.


What are your strengths and weaknesses? If you haven’t taken the time to figure this out, you’re probably leaving value on the table. Identifying the special insights, opportunities, and capabilities that only you have will help you to focus your speculating and trading in directions that will make you the most money. You probably have a good idea of your preferences already. If you’re working with limited time and money like I am, I suggest choosing one or more of your strengths or weaknesses and creating a plan to maximize value. Fortunes aren’t made on winging it—focus, research, and determination are what make us successful.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Preferences

  1. Excellent article, Danny. I’ve found myself thinking about the same thing lately and found I feel safer when I buy into a format I know. I have very little legacy and modern experience, but I grind standard week in and week out. Being able to understand the standard meta game and the consistent ebb and flow makes me feel much more assured buying standard cards opposed to other formats. I’m slowly building a modern binder based solely on advice from QS which is shaping up nicely, but I don’t have the confidence in it that I do in my standard specs. While I managed to pick up a couple of Phyrexian Obliterators for $13.50, I much prefer buying Theros Temples at $2 because I have more confidence the Temples panning out. While that’s certainly a weakness, I try to use the adage “buy what you know”.

    On a side note, I 100% agree with your advice of keeping a portion of your collection liquid. I too have to dip into my mtg budget, but having liquid cash available makes success a lot more viable.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I agree with this 100%, I don’t buy into standard specs often, not because I don’t understand the metagame or how to make money out of it, but because I can’t shift Standard cards that easily, especially in larger numbers to make it worth my while. With modern cards, if I buy in and then keep hold of them, I know that because of the lower numbers, I’ll get a bite on ebay at the price I want when the price does increase.

    I don’t have enough time to jump on a price increase to get them listed in time and sold before the markets flooded.

    I think the point I’m trying to make is that it isn’t always about expertise, other factors can influence preference.

  3. Great article. I personally hate dealing with foreign cards, because it’s so much harder to find a market for them, and I can’t unload them to most buylists or TCGplayer. Unless I’m going to foil/foreign out an EDH deck, I’ve trained myself to steer clear of something non-english, even if it’s a good deal. I just know it’ll sit in my binder forever.

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