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Insider: Will the Spikes Ever Stop?

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One hundred dollars. That’s what a Scalding Tarn retails for these days at SCG. Insane, right?

Maybe not.

No Precedent

We have never seen growth like this before. Even with Legacy, the format that’s “always” going up, prices tend to move in fits and starts rather than the sustained growth exhibited by Modern.

Such would make the case that the price rises across the board are unsustainable. After all, if we’ve never seen this in Magic history, than surely it won’t keep going this way?

On the other hand, we’ve never seen anything like this. Magic’s player base has continued to grow in the last 12 months, which makes runs on even weird, fringe cards like Fracturing Gust slightly more understandable.

Is Gust going to stay $10+ after being bought out at $2-3? Of course not, but it is going to settle over $5. That’s a card that barely sees sideboard play but with GP Richmond threatening to be the largest card tournament in history--one that will feature the Modern format--there’s really no precedent here.

So how do we react to that?

I’ve talked over the past few weeks about the best pickups in Modern, and many of them are already hitting. A few, like Thrun, are still working their way up. But Modern cards as a whole are up insane amounts.

Current Strategy

The tried-and-true method of “find the undervalued cards” is a little out of whack at the moment. While there are some still left, the truth is most have already moved, leaving fewer opportunities now.

So instead of rehashing some picks, I want to talk about how to handle Modern in general right now.

The first rule has to be to hold anything that hasn’t spiked. Cards like Fracturing Gust that see only a little sideboard play and randomly spike are the exception, not the rule. For these (which are typically easy enough to spot as buyouts), I advocate selling into the hype.

But for everything else? Be patient. Cards like Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin and Geist of Saint Traft are going to stay at the new price. Stuff like Razorverge Thicket will continue to climb.

It’s kind of a sucky position to be in where the right call is “hold” rather than “buy,” but I believe the ship has sailed financially on a lot of the goodies in the format. This stuff will continue to rise and having it in stock will be good for you as a player, trader or dealer, but the days of easy calls that spike 200 percent are behind us.

What, When to Sell

With that in mind, this becomes probably the most pressing question. While it’s one that varies from card to card, I think the safest bet is to say “not yet.”

GP Richmond is creating a fever pitch, but I don’t think cards will drop any lower right after the event. PTQ season is just a few months away, and there’s no reason to expect decreases any time before then.

That said, there are some basic truths about Magic finance that hold true, even in an age of unparalleled growth. The most basic of these is that prices will be highest in-season. Of course, Modern is an eternal format so prices aren’t going to fall off like they used to with Extended. One of the easiest ways to make money on that format was to buy out-of-season and sell in-season, but to an extent Modern is different.

Look, people are beginning to treat Modern more and more like Legacy: they want to keep their decks forever. But Modern is not Legacy, and it’s important to remember that. Sure, Modern may be closer to Legacy than Extended in terms of prices trends, but there are a few things that set it apart--things that make the “buy and hold everything” approach dangerous.

Legacy is a format that Wizards is happy exists, and they occasionally print cards for it. Rarely do they reprint cards for the format.

Modern is a format that Wizards is happy exists, and they’re committed to reprinting cards en masse for the format to thrive.

Anticipating Reprints

So, $100 fetchlands. If you have some, hold onto them until Modern season, when they could actually push above $100. If you don’t have any but want them to play, try desperately to borrow them instead of buying them.

Because the reprint is coming. It may not be this season, this summer or even next fall. But it’s coming, and it’s going to be big. Because while they may satisfied having some chase cards like Karn or Liliana be expensive and only see a limited, Modern Masters-type reprint, I don’t think anyone wants manabases to keep players from playing Magic.

They’ve already shown us that much with shocklands, which have stubbornly refused to go to $5 despite the huge printings. That includes the gimmick extra ones thrown in Dragon’s Maze.

So if you have these super-expensive Modern staples, there is a strong argument to sell, which is what I recommend in a few months. The only thing that’s realistically going to tank any one price between now and then is Conspiracy. We’ve seen what to expect (for the most part) in Journey into Nyx, and as a small set it’s unlikely to shake up any of the big movers (outside of some weird Eldrazi tie-in, maybe?)

So that’s where I stand. I’m enjoying the run-up in prices as much as the next guy, but be careful not trick yourself into thinking it’ll last forever. There’s not really any good money to be made buying into fetchlands outside of maybe Verdant Catacombs, Marsh Flats and Arid Mesa, which haven’t moved as much yet. But even with those the upside is very limited.

Sometimes the only way to win is by not playing. And sometimes the best way to make money is by not spending it. That’s where we’re at with a lot of Modern cards right now. It’s not that they won’t hold prices for the foreseeable future (because they will), but they don’t have as much upside as they did a few months ago when you should have been picking everything up.

Now it’s time to lock in our profits over the next two or three months, and wait for the reprints to roll in. The summer product and the Fall set will tell us what we need to know to identify new targets moving forward, and speculating heavily into Modern is now a bit late.

Final Thoughts

So, to summarize my thoughts here:

  • The ship has sailed on most Modern staples. Current prices will be stable or grow a little, but the opportunity cost is very real at this point.
  • I’d be looking to lock in profits by Modern season with some of the most important reprint targets, like fetchlands.
  • This is an exciting time to be in the finance game, because it’s when we get to cash in on all the work we’ve been doing in the last few months. Enjoy it!

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

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Corbin Hosler

Corbin Hosler is a journalist living in Norman, Oklahoma (also known as the hotbed of Magic). He started playing in Shadowmoor and chased the Pro Tour dream for a few years, culminating in a Star City Games Legacy Open finals appearance in 2011 before deciding to turn to trading and speculation full-time. He writes weekly at QuietSpeculation.com and biweekly for LegitMTG. He also cohosts Brainstorm Brewery, the only financial podcast on the net. He can best be reached @Chosler88 on Twitter.

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9 thoughts on “Insider: Will the Spikes Ever Stop?

  1. As you know, I plan on attending GP Cincinnati. It’ll probably be the only GP I can attend this year…maybe 1 other if I am lucky. I have been planning out a strategy of what I will sell to dealers at the GP. If buy prices on Modern staples have risen with the new retail prices, would I be missing out on a ton more growth if I sell at the GP rather than wait until the summer? In the summer, I’ll have to resort to selling on eBay so keep the 13% fee + $2 shipping in mind when answering this question. Along with getting paid in cash immediately and having more flexibility with card condition.

    Am I really selling too soon, in other words, if I move some stuff at Cincinnati?

  2. shift over to something reasonably priced. look for in print stuff that will see play in modern archetypes: supreme verdict, izzet charm…

    i am selling cards today that have spiked as while i might miss out on some returns i do believe time versus appreciation i won’t see these returns in the near future.

  3. Anyone advocating a hold on fetches is wrong. If you need them to play with, then a hold is ok. Otherwise dump them. GP Richmond coming on the heels of a modern PT has forced cards to spike sooner rather than later. I highly doubt players who don’t have fetches to buy them en masse for the ptq season at 100 bucks each.

    1. While my store is small, my clientel is scooping these fetches up. I thought when they hit 60 they would all move in speculation. Now it seems people are trying their hardest to ‘get in while they can.’ If the player base is growing as rapidly as this article suggests, I feel that some missed profits now is mitigated by future profits in the reserved list. I will post a list in the forums of Legacy viable cards with cheap price tags. Then edh reserved list. Pass profit on to the next guy. Invest in rarities. Just look to Oubliette to see how mediocre cards can drastically inflate. And it isnt on the reserved list…

  4. I would say Journey is more dependent on whether it gives us any true modern playables. If we see a card like Snapcaster in Nix it could shake things up, if it’s as unimpressive as BotG then don’t expect much if any eternal relevance, although temples and gods are a good place to look.

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