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Insider: Using MTGO to Predict Paper Price Corrections

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It’s being widely discussed as I write this—the MTG finance scene is changing. Reddit has added 4,000 new speculators to the community, and now cards are spiking left and right. Sometimes the spikes make perfect sense (e.g. Birthing Pod) and sometimes they are based on very little information (e.g. Norin the Wary, Fist of Suns). But in all cases, it’s getting harder and harder to get in on a card being featured in coverage or in articles. Buyouts are happening much more quickly and thoroughly than they were only a few months ago.

We’ve got some options moving forward. We could try to be faster than the rest of the community, sitting at our computers day and night, refreshing Twitter and Reddit and the QS forums, just waiting for any sign that money is to be made on a card. This seems like a recipe for exhaustion to me, but it might work for some. Another option is to change nothing. We could just accept that we’re not going to get in on everything and be happy to get in on what we can. That’s fine and all, but in general, QS Insiders are not really content to sit and watch others make all the money.

The option I like best is to use common sense and analytical tools to know which cards are likely to spike. This way, when a card starts going on the rise, we’ll already have an established position. In a situation like this, no action is required on your part except to out the copies you’ve already been accumulating.

Using MTGO as a Reference

There are many ways to predict which cards are likely to spike, but I’m going to focus on just one today: using MTGO price disparities as a tool to predict paper spikes.

The MTGO and paper marketplaces are similar, but also vastly different. Because Limited events fire so frequently online, cards flood the market in far greater quantities than they do in paper. This is somewhat mitigated by redemption, but one need only look at the average price of an online rare to see that prices are much lower in the digital realm. Prices of mythics are more analogous across the two platforms, but occasionally there will be major inconsistencies one way or the other.

In general, though, if a card is worth significantly more online, we can expect the paper price to eventually follow suit. This isn’t always true—sometimes something like an additional paper printing explains the difference and makes it unlikely that tangible cards will catch up with their virtual counterparts.

Let’s get to the cards I’ve picked out for discussion today.

High-End Stuff

Liliana of the Veil

Paper price: $52.83

Online price: $79.95

Liliana of the Veil sees about as much Legacy play as Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It also sees play in Modern, where Jace is banned. Are we looking at our next $100 Planeswalker? It’s possible, but consider that Jace was in a small set that was only drafted for about two months, whereas Liliana was in a large set that was drafted for about six. Consider also the number of Innistrad packs opened in a draft versus the number of Worldwake packs opened in a draft. There are a lot more Liliana's out there. But the card also sees play in two different formats compared to Jace’s one, so perhaps things even out.

I’m not crazy about speculating on $50 cards. But seeing this disparity reminds me that if I want to play this card in the future, the time to pick up my set is now. Unless this sees a reprint at some point, this will hit $100. It might not ever climb as high as Jace, but it’s still going to be a premium planeswalker for years to come.

Mox Opal

Paper price: $40.04

Online price: $51.63

It’s hard for me to imagineMox Opal going higher than it is now, but consider that Affinity is one of the cheapest decks to build in Modern. It’s also regarded by many to be the best aggro deck in the format. If this deck takes off at any point during Modern season, cards in it will see a sharp increase. Budget decks that win don’t stay budget for long.

Mox Opal may not have room to go too much higher, but this is another disparity that reminds me that I should get my copies now if I want them. The MTGO prices don’t jive with the theme of this article, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on Arcbound Ravager (still a little low post-Modern Masters printing), Etched Champion, and Steel Overseer. Any of these could see a large spike if Affinity does work this summer.

Mid-Level Specs

Primeval Titan

Paper price: $12.56

Online price: $27.63

The true inspiration for this article, Primeval Titan already saw a modest gain of $2 or $3 over the weekend. I brought up the card on Twitter a few times last week as I was buying up cheap copies, so if you’re following me (@dbro37), I hope I helped you get in under $10.

Even after its small bump, the paper version of this card is still less than half that of its virtual complement. The card is in three distinct decks in Modern: Amulet of Vigor combo, Mono-Green Devotion, and some versions of Scapeshift. I believe it still has room to grow, so if you are interested in playing any of those decks, you’ll save yourself some money by picking up your playset sooner rather than later.

The downside for this pick is that there is a GP promo of the card, meaning an extra printing of copies has been added to the paper supply and not the digital. Does that explain a disparity this large, though? I don’t think so. Also keep in mind that Primeval Titan is banned in Commander, so its price is largely independent of casual demand. If that ever changes, however, look out. This card will blow up overnight.

Oblivion Stone

Paper price: $10.22

Online price: $13.98

This isn’t the largest price disparity, but with the recent spikes of Wurmcoil Engine and Karn Liberated, it can’t hurt to draw some attention here. This card spiked last year from $4 to $15, and has now settled down to $10. With no reprint in Modern Masters, don’t be surprised to see this increase even further this year. It’s also a very popular casual card, so even though not all Modern Tron decks play it, there will be demand from somewhere.

Geist of Saint Traft

Paper price: $15.60

Online price: $24.61

Geist has been a good pickup for a little while now, and seeing that its paper version is only worth about 60% of its digital equivalent only adds to my resolve on the matter. My biggest concern is that True-Name Nemesis has largely replaced the card in many Legacy lists, but it’s still the only option in Modern. Legacy is a metagame-sensitive format, too, so Geist may be in and out of favor as deck choices shift. Innistrad rotated a few months ago, so the window is closing fast on picking up cheap copies of cards from the block.

Cheap Stuff for Throw-Ins

Dismember

Paper price: $0.69

Online price: $4.06

This is the largest disparity on this list (by percentage), but that doesn’t mean I think Dismember is necessarily a good call. I include it here mainly to discuss how comparing MTGO and paper prices is not always a foolproof system.

The problem with Dismember is that it saw a four-of printing in the Magic 2012 event deck Vampire Onslaught, which put a lot of copies on the market. There were also two Bloodghasts and a Verdant Catacombs in that deck, so you can be sure that a whole lot of copies were opened and that the value didn’t have to depend on an uncommon like Dismember.

The card might double or triple up over time—it’s versatile removal that can be played in any deck. But just because it’s worth about 15% of its online version doesn’t mean you should be picking it up en masse. This is a reminder to look at the big picture when considering specs. Extra printings, different levels of demand across platforms, the format in which the card sees play—these are all factors that can make or break successfully speculating on a card.

Blade Splicer

Paper price: $1.00

Online price: $3.00

This isn’t normally a card that would be on my radar, but it actually made number 42 on MTG Goldfish’s Modern creature staples list. This also saw an event deck printing, so be careful about going too deep. But it seems like a worthy throw-in target to even out trades, and you might even make a couple bucks down the line.

Just One Tool of Many

Using price comparisons between MTGO and paper is just one tool of many in a speculator’s arsenal. Don’t get so caught up on price discrepancies or similarities that you miss big-picture issues like additional printings on one platform or the other, differences in demand, and other crucial factors. Speculating isn’t easy, so it’s important to use all the tools and information at your disposal in order to be successful. Have comments? Please share below or on Twitter @dbro37.

3 thoughts on “Insider: Using MTGO to Predict Paper Price Corrections

  1. Another card discussed today in the Forums is Past in Flames. Under $2 in paper but now up to $10 on MTGO. One reason is that Mythics are the bottleneck for redemption on MTGO, so even cheap and bulk mythics get a boost from redeemers trying to get their hands on paper Lilianas, Geists, and Snapcasters.

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