Greetings, Sheep Herders
Funny story, as I was writing that, I couldn't remember if "Sheep Herder" was an insult in Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones to the illiterate) so I looked it up. Apparently "Sheep Herder" is slang for a homosexual according to my google results (thanks, Urban Dictionary!), which I can only assume has something to do with the movie Brokeback Mountain.
Anyway, since "Sheep Herder" is apparently slang outside of the Wheel of Time Universe, I should change the greeting. But I won't.
Why Bring Up Sheep at All?
I'm glad I pretended you asked that.
Readers of the Quiet Speculation forums will be aware that I made a pretty gloomy proclamation about the coming dark days in MTG Finance fueled by an influx of Greater Fools into the marketplace. Most people don't share my Feeling of Dread, which I suppose is good.
I'm certainly not advocating selling all of your cards in a blind panic - if I didn't do it when we saw near-perfect Chinese fakes poised to flood the market, I certainly wouldn't advocate that because of a bunch of competition for singles in the marketplace. I advocate selling all of your cards in a calm, orderly fashion and using that money to buy more cards. I think that's the play.
But I think everyone should know that the face of MTG finance has changed profoundly in the past few months and might take some time to return to normal. So what's making card prices spike so hard and fast with seemingly no justification whatsoever? An influx of sheep.
Before now, I used the term "sheep" for someone useful who provided you with value. I like to use the phrase "you can shear a sheep lots of times but you can only skin it once," indicating you are better off being honest and transparent with trade partners because if you rip people off, they will feel bad and refuse to deal with you again.
I am not someone who is inclined to rip people off as a rule, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it doesn't make sense for anyone to rip people off. Even if you think you can profit big through dishonesty, wouldn't you rather have a steady source of wool than one bloody pelt?
I try not to overuse that metaphor because it has other connotations--sheep are followers. They are herd animals and follow the herd so mindlessly that a few dogs or low rock walls or gay cowboys are all it takes to keep them in line. I didn't want anyone to think of potential trade partners as dumb, mindless animals.
Sheep don't know why they follow, they just do. I would not classify most Quiet Speculation Insiders or experienced financiers as sheep because even if they follow advice, that is not the same as following a herd mentality.
Even with the recent QS Insider e-mail blast that advocated picking up Genesis Wave at $2ish not everyone was convinced. Sigmund Ausfresser advocated selling as quickly as possible because the price would likely return to roughly double the pre-spike price. The QS forums had a discussion about this card and a lot of people opted out.
The point is, a conversation took place and people took a bit of time to make a decision. Speculation requires some thought after all. QS deciding whether or not to buy this card around $2 was the first "wave" of the Genesis Wave spike.
Then, something curious happened, which I think will be the new reality of MTG finance for the time being.
Sites like Reddit got a hold of the spec and the second "wave" occurred in a matter of hours. The card was bought out at $5 and above in a feeding frenzy that cleared the internet out. People who bought in at $2 and had time to list their copies at $5 were bought out, but as quickly as it started, it petered out. It hit $10 a lot of places, and some managed to get that $10, but for the most part, this peaked at $5.
And that's the problem for a lot of the second wave people who bought in at $5. With no time to debate the merits of the card or make an informed decision, many people saw the card shooting up to $10 and decided to buy in at $5. Still holding those $5 copies and watching copies on TCG Player for $4.50 not sell, I am not sure what they must be thinking right now. I imagine it wasn't a pleasant experience.
Folks, when you follow the herd and are forced to make a snap "buy now or lose out forever" decision, you are acting like a sheep, and sheep get slaughtered. If you buy a $5 card at $5 because you think it will be $10, all you did was make $3 for the guy who bought in at $2, and if you contribute to a frenzy around the card, you get that guy his $3 profit a lot faster.
It's rare to benefit from a card spike by being behind it. Obviously there are exceptions to that rule, but if you don't have the time to discover why the current situation is different from the myriad instances where buying in after the hype train has left hypeington station will leave you holding a bag of dicks, you should probably opt out.
No one likes to see other people make money without being part of it, but that desire is leading a lot of people who don't know what they're doing to get turned into sausage by the cold, impersonal wheels of the MTG finance machine.
Which is a worse feeling? Feeling left out because everyone else is making a ton of money and you waited too long, or holding onto a card that sells for less than you paid because you got swept up in mob mentality? I'd rather feel left out with my money in my pocket than feel left out holding onto cards I can't sell for even less than I paid because there was never any actual demand.
Here are some rules I follow.
- You are only going to buy in cheap if you anticipate a price spike. If the card starts to move and you're not there within mere hours, you're likely losing out. This is a 24-hour business.
- Set yourself up to actually profit if you're right. If you correctly predict a $1 card will double and you have 7 copies, congratulations on breaking even after fees. If it triples, you may be able to buy a pizza. Go deep or go home.
- Reddit is not a primary source of price spike information, it is the pen where the sheep hang out. If you see a good topic posted before a card has spiked, verify elsewhere first.
- Don't make a hasty decision because the market moving quickly is putting pressure on you. If you weren't ahead of it or can't talk to anyone who was, stay away.
- Remember that speculation should be a small percentage of MTG finance. You're using your knowledge, but you're still gambling. Speculate for fun, not to eat.
- Make sure you get information from a lot of sources--you never know which one will yield fruit but make sure none of those sources are secretly terrible.
Remember, blindly following the herd will not always lead to profitable opportunities. Lately, almost every time it leads to you getting treated like the sheep you're acting like--you'll get slaughtered.
A Late Addition
Just before publication of this article, a post went up in the QS forums urging us to think about things from the sheep's perspective and blaming a history of "pump and dump" tactics for the way things are now.
Is what I have written sympathetic to the plight of the sheep? No, but that's not the point. There will always be sheep as long as people see what they think is a quick money-making scheme and don't have the experience with MTG finance to help them tell a good spec from a bad one.
We're not going to get rid of sheep culture overnight; my point today is to remind my readers not to think like sheep. Don't be a blind follower, don't speculate with money you can't afford to lose and don't buy in when the window has passed.
What Was There to be Sheepish About This Weekend?
A Star City Open that no one paid much attention to occurred, but it was overshadowed by Modern coverage. Since Prague is six or seven hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone in the US (I could easily look it up, couldn't I?) those of us who stayed up super late or got up at a decent time could watch during normally unproductive hours of the day.
This may be the new face of Speculation--you used to be able to wait until the deck actually put up some results and decide to buy in. That's not a thing anymore, so if you want a seat at the table you're going to have to buy in hard and early.
The information market is just as efficient as the card market now, and with a huge influx of new people paying attention, they aren't going to bother to wait and see if Jan Van Der Vegt got Top 8 with his "Tin Fist" deck (he didn't) or if Fist made the deck more efficient despite the blow to the mana base (it doesn't) or if the excited report of a turn two Emrakul was because of Fist being in the deck (it wasn't).
If you wait and get in on these cards before the sheep do you will have a good view to see if they are merely walking up the ramp to the slaughterhouse, but you won't have a crack at the pre-spike copies of the cards, either. This is a new era of MTG finance so make sure you're ready for it.
So Jan Van Der Vegt isn't in the Top 8. In fact,
We took a "vote of confidence" and the nays have it.
Actual decks made up the Top 8, including some cards non-sheep are excited about. Restoration Angel, featured prominently in Hrvatska's winning deck, is pretty cheap right now and doesn't pass the "under 30 copies left on TCG Player" test that seems to be the one criteria necessary to cause an ovine stampede.
Restoration Angel looks like it won't spike but will almost certainly go up, leaving you able to pick these up in trade at a leisurely pace in trading, buying from shops and from sites like Cardshark where your buying behavior is unlikely to be noticed and used to trigger a panic.
I don't do much speculating these days--why get heartburn trying to flip Fist of Suns when you can look at a card like Verdant Catacombs and say "There is no good reason for this not to be $60" and pick them up over a few months. I feel like Restoration Angel is in that category, and the fact that Reddit seems to disagree makes it seem even safer.
Bernhard Wurmitzer lived up to his namesake and played Wurmcoil Engine in his Tron deck, one too many if you ask him. That card has taken off and will be buoyed by Tron and EDH for the foreseeable future. He advocated cutting one for more LD. I don't know how good Tectonic Edge is against Tron, but that card is spiking way up lately. Stone Rain may be the card Wurmitzer wants, though.
Emanuele Giusti also wanted more LD in the form of Sowing Salt, a good move if you ask me. Tron rolls over and dies to it. Giusti said he loved Lightning Bolt, and I can see why given the field. Jund was everywhere.
Marcel Kachapow opted for Tempo Twin, but there isn't much that's actionable here.
Carlos Moral played U/R Delver because someone told him the format was Legacy, I guess. All jokes aside, Young Pyromancer is silly and he's only getting more play. Foils of him are underpriced, as are Gitaxian Probes, especially the promos.
Dolar convinced Andrej Rutar to play Ajundi as well. Lots of stupid Jund in this Top 8, but I don't mind so much anymore.
Jeremy Dezani decided to go so far into his white splash that he cut the red. He said he missed Bolt, but white is good enough to splash into Jund that you may as well just cut bolt and Ajani and improve your manabase a bit.
Vjeran Horvat won the event with U/W/R Geist, making GOST go up a bit on MODO. I think more cards from his deck have potential, but there is nothing new here. The biggest new deck of the weekend didn't do well and its creator suggesting abandoning it. This leads me to believe that although Modern changes in fits and starts, it also just improves slowly.
Invest in gainers. If you had bought Griselbrand three months ago you'd be happier than a guy who found $2 Genesis Waves, and everyone knew Griselbrand would go up, but they acted shocked, angry and surprised when it finally did. Same thing with Stoneforge Mystic.
There is a lot of stuff in Modern that has yet to correct its price, so pick something, go after them slowly and deliberately, and wait for everyone to realize you were right all along. No need to sell into hype when you can sell into results.
There isn't a whole lot to talk about here. Mono-Blue Devotion won it all, but that was to be expected as the Top 8 would seem to indicate it was out in full force. I was encouraged to see a B/W midrange and B/W control build, though. Obzedat is all but forgotten given how good Blood Baron is.
Will any of the current decks benefit from the new Pain Seer? With no way to tap him right now besides attacking, I can't imagine a Grizzly Bears breaking the format wide open. People thought Blood Scrivener was the next Bob and look how that turned out.
I wouldn't bet on it, and people trying to jam it might have people rediscover Underworld Connections. A tap outlet better than Springleaf Drum might change things, but I doubt it. Pain Seer would be mythic if it were going to be as good as Bob.
I love the one-of Pyrewild Shaman in the R/W deck. There is no financial opportunity here, I just always loved that card. It is the closest thing to Hammer of Bogardan we'll ever see again, and it seems like it must have done some work.
The Naya Midrange has really perked up sales of Advent of the Wurm, at least for me. I sold multiple playsets over the weekend and think the green-white Temple only adds to the excitement. We already saw the spoiling of a 2GGG card that puts two 3/3 centaurs into play and scrys 2. Advent is the king of token making spells and I expect good things. Trostani has room to go up as well, I would take a hard look at it.
2012's BUG list won the event. No True-Name Nemesis evident in the 75 at all! I can't think of any names, but I know I saw people use the "b" word in conjunction with Nemesis. That's so silly. Just adapt.
Nearly winning it all was Reanimator which is getting a lot of play lately. The deck has always been a thing and lately more people are trying it in events. Still, this may be regional and east coast events typically have more Reanimator.
Omni-Tell will probably be a thing for a long time. It's hard to put Legacy decks in "tiers" because people base that on number of finishes more than "percentage of good matchups" so I will say that this is a deck that doesn't need to sideboard as aggressively as other decks. It does its thing and does it well. That's good, because Tyler ran a wish board and some Leylines.
ANT isn't really a pet deck, but it's still a welcome sight in the Top 8.
We had to check 5th place to finally see a U/W/R Delver build. Stoneforge could go back down from its current perch, especially if Nemesis blade decks become less ubiquitous in the future.
I will go ahead and give Elves the pet-deck-of-the-week award. Is its one-of copy of Craterhoof responsible for that card's precipitous spike? No. I'm not sure why I set myself up like that. It's probably a contributing factor, but so is EDH, casual and people trying to jam it in Modern.
The card should never have gotten as cheap as it did, but I should have bought in sooner. Oh well, maybe I missed out because I didn't see any other sheep on the ramp and I figured I must be wrong. Trust your instincts, folks. I made a mint off of Craterhoof once before, I don't know why I assumed I couldn't do it again.
Jund and U/R Delver rounded out the Top 8, which didn't feature much True-Name Nemesis. In fact, there was only one more build running it in the Top 16.
The Top 16 also featured two Death and Taxes builds. Karakas is still going up. I can't envision a scenario where in six months you say, "Wow, so glad I paid $120 for that Karakas," but stranger things have happened. Fist of Suns is $10 after all.
Follow Me Here
That does it for this week. Remember, if you're going to be a follower you may spend too much time looking at another sheep's butthole to notice you're on a ramp to the slaughterhouse.
You're better off investing in real estate, Staples (both good, ubiquitous cards and shares of the office supply store chain) and going with your gut. Why dump into hype when you could be sitting on a beach earning 20%?