Insider: Finding a Balance

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I’m in the process of selling out of Standard. It’s funny to say that, because the fact is that I haven’t played a single game of Standard since well before Innistrad block rotated. My Magic-playing time these days is exclusively spent drafting, but for some reason I’ve held onto a relatively large collection — one I’m really not using at all.

In addition to a Standard mono-red deck and various cards for other decks, I have most of the pieces for several Modern decks: Melira Pod, Splinter Twin, UWR Control, various iterations of Delver, etc. Like with Standard, it’s been quite a while since I played any Modern. I also currently have three EDH decks, despite the fact that the only time I ever play the format is while waiting for draft pods to fire. This being the case, I can’t remember the last time I actually finished a game of Commander.

So I barely use the cards I have amassed. And yet—and I’m sure many of you can identify with this—I have this Magic-player instinct to build and maintain a collection, no matter how much it just sits around gathering dust. However, I also have the mindset of an MTG financier, which means that when I acquire cards to go in my Commander decks, I’m acquiring them at their lowest price points. When those cards spike, this can create some interesting conflicts.

Selling Out

There is no conflict in my mind when it comes to selling out of Standard. PTQ season ends on March 9, less than one month from now. I want out. The first Star City Games Open Series event since the release of Born of the Gods has shown that not much has changed in the metagame. I saw some discussion on Twitter saying that usually it’s the second week that shakes up the meta, but when we only have four weeks of the format being relevant, I’m not willing to wait around for a quarter of that time to see if something crazy happens.

My first step in selling out was to list cards for sale in my local community. When selling locally, I like to price cards above buylist but below TCGplayer low—this way, everyone wins. I sold what I could, and then took to Trader Tools to buylist everything else. I got my Standard cards sorted into piles for buylists, and then I started looking through the rest of my collection for cards I was willing to sell. And so the internal conflicts began.

Let’s take Karn Liberated as an example. I currently own two copies of Karn, which reside in two EDH decks: Maelstrom Wanderer and Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. The card is pretty important to both decks, as RUG doesn’t have hard removal and mono-black has a very hard time dealing with artifacts and enchantments. It’s a really sweet card to play with, and I acquired my copies in trade at a paltry $15 each. With the card buylisting at $35 right now, I could more than double up, but I also may never again have the opportunity to acquire Karn at below $35. I don’t play much EDH right now, but if that changes in the future, will I regret selling my copies?

I kept coming to cards that are currently priced much higher than the price for which I acquired them. Phyrexian Obliterator: doubled up. Raging Ravine: tripled up. Bitterblossom: quadrupled up. Genesis Wave: quintupled up. And on and on. And yet, I only own one copy of each of these cards. They’re fun and good across formats, and what if they keep going up and I can’t reacquire them at my sell price?

At this point, I want to tell you I had an epiphany. I want to say that I know exactly what the right call is in a situation like this. But you and I both know that this is really something we all have to confront on an individual basis. For me, I sold the heck out of Bitterblossom (Modern event deck incoming, folks!), but I’m leaning toward holding the other cards I cited. I’m not entirely sure this is the rational decision, but since when has devoting large amounts of time and money to cardboard been rational? I’ve only submitted one of my three buylists so far, so I may yet change my mind.

There are probably a few members of this site who play very little or no Magic and for whom these internal conflicts aren’t an issue, but for most of us, this is something we’re going to have to face from time to time. As card prices continue to rise, player-financiers will have to justify continuing to play with cards they could sell for many times above their purchase prices. Further complicating the issue is that for Modern cards, any of them could be reprinted at any time, making holding on to unused cards because they “might be needed someday” a much riskier venture than it might otherwise be.

I can’t answer this question for you, but I can bring the issue to your attention. How many unused decks do you have sitting around with hundreds of dollars of value? Do you really need those cards? Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, but the important thing is to realize why you’re holding them. Sometimes things have intangible value that’s more important than just dollars and cents, and recognizing those situations will help us make the best decisions for our own personal circumstances.

Before moving on, I should point out that I am holding the vast majority of my Modern cards. There’s a Modern pro tour coming up, and I guarantee you we’re going to see some major changes in the metagame. I’ll review my Modern collection when the situation is more clear.

Standard Exceptions Apply

When I say I’m selling out of Standard, I’m mostly referring to my Return to Ravnica block cards. Theros cards are relatively depressed right now, so I’m looking to hold onto mythics from the set. I’m selling rares that are going for above-bulk prices, but anything at bulk is worth holding.

I think we’re going to see a prolonged disinterest in Standard once PTQ season ends. Add this to the fact that Theros will be drafted all year long, and I expect that by the end of the summer, the set will have bottomed out across the board, especially the rares. This is why I’m happy to accept $1 on cards like Spear of Heliod and Fabled Hero—I believe that in a few months they’ll be available as bulk or just above it.

There are a few cards from Return to Ravnica block that I’m holding. Supreme Verdict sees play in eternal formats and is not selling for much right now, so I’m holding my copies to see where it goes in the future. Casual cards like the Primordials, Plasm Capture, and Progenitor Mimic are clear holds, as are some of the casually-appealing guild leaders, like Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. With cards like these, I’d rather hold and see what happens than out my copies at 80 cents each. Just because a card never catches on in Standard doesn’t mean it won’t someday catch on in other formats.

My worst spec of the year has to be this pile of Advent of the Wurm that I acquired for $3.48 each. I also have a few Loxodon Smiters that I’m not satisfied to get a dollar for. These are the only two cards I’m holding in hopes that the Standard metagame, and thus prices, can actually change in the next few weeks. I may end up going down with the ship, but I’m hopeful I can salvage a little more of my investment than I could right now.

Finally, the big question: what do I do with all these shocklands? I have several dozen that I acquired in trade and with store credit for $7 to $10 each. Before Jason Alt single-handedly crashed the market by saying they were bad specs after everyone had acquired all their copies (there may be some revisionist history going on here), my target outing price was $15 each. As it sits right now, I can sell each shock for $5 to $8.50, which is essentially break-even, since I didn’t spend cash.

This is the situation in which I’m most torn. Shocks see all the play in Modern, but not always as four-ofs. It seems inevitable that they’ll see sustained long-term growth, but how long will it take for that to happen? And how much will they drop at rotation? I’m interested in hearing what you have planned with your extra shock lands. I know I’m not the only one sitting on a pile of these things, so please share your thoughts in the comments!

6 thoughts on “Insider: Finding a Balance

  1. I’m trading my extra shocks for bulk rares, 60 to 100 depending on which and how many I have (if I have few I might hold out for a higher offer). It’s not a quick process, but as I have a really good out for bulk rares I am doubling up or better anyway. This is what I was aiming to do anyway, I had only hoped they’d be a little more expensive by now.

    Personally I would of course trade out of my collection if the offer is high enough, but I am realistic enough to know I will not be getting a high enough amount, so I just don’t bring those cards. I keep a playset of cards I like even though I mostly play EDH because I could imagine running into a group I want to play with that doesn’t. I’ll admit that I do have 1 card in my expensive binder that I need a crazy offer on, but it’s there more as a conversation piece (my thoroughly misprinted MM Foil Diplomatic Immunity, it’s one of those shifted MM Foils) and the expensive binder rarely comes out anyway as I don’t usually run into traders who have the cards to warrant getting it out.

  2. I think they drop after rotation but will sell for more than the Scars fastlands or Innistrad enemy duals when they rotated. Unfortunately mono colored decks ruined this spec. It isn’t what we wanted to get out of shocks but these are either a sell for opportunity cost reasons or a long term hold. I see a decline to $5 or $6 when they rotate and a gradual rise (10%-30% per year) from there. Modern and EDH have a lot more room to grow as formats and could fuel demand over the coming years.

  3. I too am holding a large amount of shocks, and I’m still holding them because I can’t find people willing to trade me their shocks for under $10. This means I can’t reacquire them at a price anywhere near what I can sell them for. The problem with this line of reasoning is that it suggests (at least locally) people are hoarding shocks, yet if the hoarding sentiment is reflective of the shock market as a whole, that should mean less are on the market and a higher price. With the current price compared against this inference, it likely means that Wizards injected a higher percentage of shocks into the RTR block and printed them at a rate closer to bulk rares than the amount of Mutavaults they tossed into M14 (a rough comparison, yes). However, this assumes that not all cards of the same rarity have an equal amount printed–which I believe, but have no proof, to be true.

    Here’s something that keeps me up at night: fetchlands. I still have no idea what to do with all of my fetchlands. Ideally, I will sell down to just a playset of each ZEN fetch, but I don’t know when is the right time. With modern season approaching, I would think that they will get obscenely expensive, and I don’t expect a reprint anytime soon, but I don’t want to end up selling Tarns at $50 to have them go to $100 or some similarly ridiculous price. As can be seen with many cards on the market, common sense and reason have little to do with card prices anymore; spikes are based on emotion, and emotion feeding off of that emotion. I don’t trust cards not to spike anymore than I trust them not to tank.

  4. My extra shocks went into a box on my shelf and I’ve forgotten about them. I’ll find them again in a couple years and offload them then. Whether this is a good spec or not all comes down to your tolerance for having cash locked up in them.

  5. I faced this same challenge back around 2005 – at the time I was heavily invested in Vintage, with a significant number of hard to find foils (Judge Vamp Tutor, Arena Promo Duress, Judge Intuitions etc). I was also sitting on 8/9 power, and revised duals and other staples.

    The problem is I wasn’t actually playing Vintage that much! I’d go to a 15-20 person weekly event, and about once a quarter I’d hit up a “big” 50 person event. I was also a college student living on a less per month than most people make in a week!

    Ultimately I choose to cash out almost entirely, and buylisted to a local store. I estimate the market value at the time was around $5k for the lot, and I pulled $3800 cash – mostly on the back on the highly concentrated value of the collection.

    In hindsight I am a bit conflicted – when I got back into Magic it was clear that holding onto those cards would have netted a pretty substantial gain. I estimate today I would be looking $7k-$10k to re-buy those cards – and I’m simply not willing to do that. Should I have kept them?

    Realistically the answer is no – $3800 to a college student is a huge chunk of cash, and did a lot of work towards easing my finances. Perhaps I should have cherry-picked a few more true rarities, but on the whole the opportunity cost of keeping them was simply too high!

    I am very happy I decided to keep a few sentimental cards – my favorite is a 7th Edition Foil French Bird of Paradise. It’s value isn’t that high, but they are extremely hard to find and it represented the culmination of a lot of effort as a trader. Each person will have their own cards that really define what the game was to them – the rest are just things to play with. If you aren’t paying – don’t lock yourself out of other opportunities simply for “what ifs”. If Commander is exciting enough to keep the cards, it’s exciting enough to rebuy them later!

  6. I’m trading my shocks away locally for $10 each

    I sniped most of them off ebay for ~$7 per copy, and I’m a pretty saavy trader, so I’m usually able to get around $50 retail in cards for a playset.

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