Insider: Inefficient Markets

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While Modern prices climb and more creative speculators nibble at the fringes of the format looking for the next big thing, the MtG secondary market as a whole remains (as ever) an inefficient landscape of opportunities.

So first up, Dance of Many, a clone effect that goes infinite with Opalescence. The spread here comes up as 130%, of course a one of purchase from a dealer is not worth your time. Thankfully ABU Games is also buying up to twenty copies at $1.04. Risk free specs are my favorite and pairing copies with the infinite combo should help these fly out of trade binders when any Johnny stumbles across this gem.

Speaking of Opalescence, Cape Fear Games still has a foil copy available for only 88% of the buylist price to Troll and Toad.

Case Studies

Before moving on to other plays, lets examine why these inefficiencies exist and see what we can look for to take advantage of them. Because Cape Fear Games' buylist has not been coded into our Trader Tools, they often find themselves on either side of a risk free spec. Because their player base is heavily focused on both Standard and Modern, picking up cheap cards for other formats that have dealer safety nets is easy.

Rather than plug cards I'm looking to buylist away into Trader Tools, I often just compare the offers of ABU Games and Cape Fear Games. ABU has developed a market for collectors and as a result they both command a premium when they price cards and pay out more. They also are willing to take on much more of the market, often taking the default ninety-nine copies of a particular card. How they afford to do this is a combination of paying slightly better for more in demand cards and then slightly less than bulk for the rest. They are taking advantage of being a one stop shop on the sell side.

Cape Fear Games is only rarely buying more than twenty copies of anything. Because they specialize in Modern and Standard, they are much more likely to get whipsawed by the rapid price fluctuations in those particular markets. Knowing this, they then hedge against price volatility by tightly controlling how much stock they are willing to buy, a speculator can make reasonable assumptions about how Cape Fear expects a cards price to change based on how many copies they are willing to buy. Further demonstrating their intolerance for volatility, Cape Fear rarely looks to buy more than a playset's worth of foils at a time.

The Writing on the Wall

So, take cues from these retailers. If you are going to focus on collectors, a category I put EDH players in as they are often looking for obscure cards not seeing any play in other formats, be ready to ask for more. Test the market. You will have to sit on more product, but you won't suffer the same price risks as someone trading out of a binder of Modern/Standard staples.

If you would rather have velocity, making sure stuff is always flying out of your binders, then Modern and Standard are your playground. Don't let yourself take large positions in any one card. Don't let yourself be sold out on the 4-of's, even if that means paying up to obtain a set. Being the first person people go to for their cards is more important than squeezing value out of every trade. If the market falls, your limited exposure to any one card protects you. At the same time, having payed up for staples means a free ride should they continue to appreciate in value. Dealers paying an extra five or ten dollars for our Tarmogoyf just a month ago have absolutely no regrets. Finally, let retailers focused on the same pool of players be your guide. If you notice Cape Fear Games both paying up for a card and taking on a large supply of that card, that is a pretty clear sign they think the card will appreciate in value.

I am content to sit out of Modern for the time being and just use draft wins and the occasional cross market trade to keep me on the periphery of Standard. That said, with the recent success of combo in Modern and decks still pushing their mana bases hard, cards with a spread of less than 15% between buylist and TCGplayer prices that stymie these strategies look like good bets.

[cardimage cardname="Ethersworn Canonist"]

I like Death and Taxes as a good approach to the current Modern meta. Ethersworn Canonist can stop Ad Nauseam strategies on time and the ability to mana deny through Leonin Arbiter, Ghost Quarter, Aven Mindcensor and Tectonic Edge position it well against the field. Maintaining a stable mana base also keeps Blood Moon from wrecking its game plan.

There are two more cards that I like for Modern and Casual formats:  Crucible of Worlds and Wrath of God. Unfortunately only one of these cards has a spread of less than 15% between buylist and TCGplayer pricing:

[cardimage cardname="Crucible of Worlds"]

That card is worthy of interest to anyone looking for more gains in Modern, but Magic's original Wrath effect has a plethora of similar effects and multiple reprints holding its price in check. Wrath of God will always be sought after by EDH players and Cube enthusiasts, and could see an increase in play in Modern. With some copies already trading risk free, taking a position is relatively painless. Just expect the card to move based on it's appeal outside of Modern and present it in the right light.

Taking advantage of inefficiencies in markets is the job of any speculator. When markets are unsettled, we ultimately find the fair market value. The failure of speculators to run up the price of shocklands or force a sustained price increase on Modern staples is an example of a working market. As speculators buy up copies, retailers let more supply into the market. You'll make more money helping people exchange ownership of cardboard than cornering the market on cards that have no verifiable print run numbers. Identify different markets and bring the right cards to the right places.

4 thoughts on “Insider: Inefficient Markets

  1. So, on the topic of locating and taking advantage of inefficent markets, trader tools is having a problem with it’s data source as relates to Cape Fear buylist pricing. While they occationally show up now on trader tools, the prices are not accurate as of March 20th 2014. When i wrote this article I assumed they stop carrying Cape Fear Prices because I had noticed they often beat the highest offer when selling to them and Abugames.

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