The Case for Speculating on Junk Rares
One of the big differences between paper and digital Magic is the price of non-mythic rares. When a set is being actively drafted, so many of these are coming onto the market that prices can quickly approach zero.
Fortunately, this means that shrewd speculators can easily acquire a position at low cost. The trick is figuring out which cards have potential--many cards are at junk prices for good reason, i.e. they are junk and always will be.
But each year we see junk rares rise in prominence and price. Recent examples include Blasphemous Act from Innistrad (ISD), Desecration Demon from Return to Ravnica (RTR) and Nightveil Specter from Gatecrash (GTC).
It would have been hard to predict that these cards would find a use in Standard. But it was relatively easy to see that these cards had potential. Dead giveaways for cards with potential include creatures and effects that are undercosted, board sweepers, cards that provide card advantage and cards with unique effects.
When formats shift or new cards are printed, the relative utility of every card in Standard changes. Time and again, cards with potential rise up in value. Buying cards with potential at junk or bulk prices is an easy way to speculate for a low up-front cost.
When speculating on junk rares, it's impractical to do it one card at a time. If I really think a card has potential, like Polis Crusher we'll say, it can be time consuming to build up a position on MTGO due to the limit on most bots of four copies per transaction.
Buying up 100 copies of a 0.05-ticket card means I've staked out a position worth 5 tix, and in order to do that I had to make 25 different transactions. But if it doesn't pan out as a spec, this would be a waste of time, not to mention 5 tix.
The way to reduce the risk and time involved per card is to diversify by targeting a basket of junk rares. Going after a basket of cards means you can cut down on transaction time per card. It also means you don't have to pick a winner.
Picking winners or making a called shot is tricky. Many factors are involved in the evolution of the Standard format and accurately predicting which cards will rise in value is quite difficult. For every person who saw potential in a card like Nightveil Specter, there were plenty of people who thought it would do nothing. Speculators who acknowledged the potential and didn't overpay for their position were rewarded with decent gains after the rise of devotion decks in Fall Standard.
Instead of trying to pick a winner like Nightveil Specter, just aim to have cards with potential in your basket. When a junk rare in your basket breaks out, as inevitably one will, the profits on that one card will typically cover the costs of every other card in the basket.
As long as you are selective with your basket and don't cast too wide a net, junk rares can be a profitable way to speculate on shifts in the Standard format.
One advantage of buying junk rares is that there's no need to wait for prices to come down. They are already cheap, and a shift in the metagame might see the opportunity disappear as the price climbs.
Although you might have to hold the cards in your portfolio for a long time, rock bottom prices mean the opportunity cost of holding junk rares is low. The best strategy is to buy up a bunch, and forget about them.
Picks from Theros
Here are my current picks and rationale for Theros junk or near-junk rares.
Annax and Cymede
This is a heroic card with potential. The stats and abilities are there, but for the moment the deck is not. The legendary type holds this one back a little, so buy for less than 0.05 tix and go for up to 60 copies.
Here we have a card with a unique effect on a somewhat evasive creature. Though the body is small relative to its casting cost, and U/W archetypes are currently sporting few creatures, this card fits the bill as having potential and it's priced at junk.
I think you can be picky buying this one though, so shoot for prices below 0.05 tix. Goat currently sells these for 0.03 tix, for example. And like Annax and Cymede, the legendary type on this card limits upside, so don't go nuts. I'd buy up to 60 copies of it.
The body on this card is the right size and it was seeing play in the beginning of Fall Standard. Big red decks have been interesting pieces of the Standard puzzle in the past, and I could see this card popping up in that archetype. I've already got a substantial position in this card, and I'll continue to buy these until I have 100+ copies.
White-centric archetypes are not getting much love at the moment, but this type of card often finds a home at some point during its time in Standard. The last two examples of 3cc white creatures with double strike abilities were Mirran Crusader and Silverblade Paladin. Both of these cards spent time above 3 tix while they were in Standard.
Fabled Hero might not hit these heights, but the chances are good that some type of heroic strategy will eventually see success, either in Block or Standard. Fabled Hero might not have the raw power of its predecessors, but at recent prices there is little downside.
This card deviates from the others as it's priced above junk, but I'd still buy up to 100 copies of this at 0.15 or less.
WoTC tends to push the power level on at least one card with the new keyworded abilities. This would be my pick for a bestow card to break out. You never know when a graveyard strategy is going to take off, particularly in larger formats where the ability to fill the graveyard is more prevalent. This is a pick up at junk prices. I'd buy up to 100 copies.
This guy can eat enchantments and is a total house in THS Limited. If THS Block continues the enchantment theme, this card's possible interactions will increase. The 4/4 body for four mana is a little underwhelming, so it might be a Block-only card. Nevertheless, it has potential. Buy these at 0.05 tix or less and I'd buy up to 100 of these.
Any card with a couple of useful abilities, tacked onto a decent evasive body, has to have potential. This one is a snap-buy at junk prices and I'll be buying 100+ copies.
This is not the second coming of Fact or Fiction. But I can imagine a future Standard environment without Sphinx's Revelation where there might be a need for instant-speed card draw. It doesn't get you exactly what you need, but it can generate value. Currently it's priced at 0.05 tix and I wouldn't hesitate to buy up to 100 of these.
This card can provide reach for creature-based decks and is from a colour combination not seeing much love at the moment. It's also a zombie, which gives it an outside chance of making it in Modern in combination with a card like Gravecrawler.
This is another legendary creature, but I'm okay going up to 100 copies on this one. Once again, don't overpay as these are available on Goat at 0.03 tix currently.
As THS drafting continues, more cards will settle into the junk or near-junk price range. I think a card like Whip of Erebos will get down in price closer to 0.05 tix, which would trigger my interest in buying it. Keep your eyes out for other cards with potential as they come down in price.
Do you have any favorite junk rare picks that you think have potential? Let's hear about them in the comments and in the forums!