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Jason’s Alticle: Non Speculation

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Greetings, Speculators!

Speculation sure is sexy, isn't it? Having that card you sat on forever finally hit feels great. I used to do a lot more short-term specs, so it was obvious that I should sell those as soon as they hit, but lately I have been finding a lot more long-term specs and have had to sit on cards wondering if they would ever go up.

This month has been good for my long-term stuff, and my faith in Legacy cards has paid dividends lately as a lot of that stuff hit historic highs. I don't know whether these new prices are sustainable, especially since Tropical Island was under $100 for 20 years and then spent 20 seconds between $100 and $300 on SCG. Still, specs like Ancient Tomb hit this month, and with a $10 buy-in, that feels great.

It's like I won the lottery! And I hope you know what that feels like, too. Speculating is like playing the lottery, and when it pays off, sometimes it pays off big and you are a big winner.

However, I have been thinking a lot about how much of what I do is actually speculating. When I really boil down how much of my money is tied up in specs vs. "inventory", how much of my time is spent working on things relating to Magic finance that aren't specs and how much of my energy is devoted to speculation, I'd say it's about 5-10% of what I do.

Considering my podcast does a "Pick of the Week" segment every week but I only buy specs every few months when I see an especially good opportunity, I'm making money for other people but not myself, but that's fine with me.

Growing Up?

I mention the "Medina method" frequently in my writing, which refers to Jon Medina's preference for just buying cards for 50% of retail and selling them for retail. If a card goes up, great, pay more and sell it for more. He didn't "waste" time or energy speculating (as he saw it) but rather just turning over inventory by buying it with a built-in margin.

There was no secret to his method, just connections that had to be made, work that needed to put in to having the infrastructure to make that work and the manpower to process the cards. It takes a lot more cards to make the same money just buying and selling compared with having a hot spec hit, so speculation appeals a lot to people who see it for what it is--fun.

Speculating is a lot of fun, and that's why I still do it. But if I had to speculate to eat... well, despite what I think is a pretty good track record (punctuated by some embarrassing picks!) I wouldn't rely on it for income.

Ryan Bushard, the financier who got me to come over to the "dark side" of MTG finance, is starting to shift his attention as well. The fundamentals of MTG finance that he and I have honed over the years have made us able to recognize trends and extrapolate to predict future growth, but a lot of that has been upended lately and I find myself learning on the fly. It's fun, it's exciting and it allows me to write interesting articles.

Still, at the end of the day, a majority of the money I make does not come from speculation. It's a majority of the fun I had, and I couldn't imagine doing this if I couldn't speculate a little just to see if I still have the skills to, well, not pay the bills, but get some thrills, maybe. I feel like I have the skills to get some thrills. Yeah, I like that (no I don't).

So with people who have been at this a long time eventually ending up feeling like the best money is in non-speculation if they didn't already, where is their article? With websites like Reddit bringing new speculators into our community every day, there will always be demand for articles about specs.

I don't plan to quit advising people about speculation any time soon. After all, it's my favorite thing! But there are some real "nuts and bolts" finance techniques that people who have been at this way longer than I have know intuitively.

A lot of our Insiders have their own store, whether it's a brick and mortar, a TCG Player or eBay store or a case at an LGS they stock. Some of them are expanding, looking into buying and selling at every level--prerelease, PTQ, Grand Prix. All of that sounds like a huge commitment, which is why speculation appeals to new financiers so much.

Still, I don't necessarily feel like some of the boilerplate stuff I do has no application for "hobbyists" or people who are new to finance. I think the earlier people start, the better they'll get, and the quicker they'll get better. too.

Future Sight

I think there's a lot of "free money" in MTG finance there for the taking but which requires some work to extract. It's not as sexy as speculation but it is rewarding in its own way.

I have done a lot in Magic finance these last few years since I started out at QS, finding pictures of mana symbol cupcakes on Reddit.

I've stocked a case at an LGS, sold ogred boxes on the floor of a GP, buylisted mountains of cards, transitioned from eBay to TCG Player. I've done shady, offsite cash deals in hotel lobbies, gone shot for shot with GP dealers on St Patrick's day and bought a collection from a guy's trunk in the parking lot of a strip club. If I can't make some of that seem as sexy, or at least as useful as speculation, I should probably stop calling myself a writer.

The future is a little murky right now. I hope to still bring you my weekly dose of snark and tournament results in my Alticle each week. I also want to impart a little of my experience with the "unsexy" side of Magic. Whatever the future holds, my goal is the same as it's always been--make you some money, and see how much finance info I can cram into a free article before management gets wise. Don't expect that to ever change.

Grand Prix Cincinnati

GP Cinci was this weekend, and as much as I wanted to be there, I couldn't. I didn't get home from Montreal until Tuesday and I didn't have enough time to prepare to hit up another GP so soon. I used to chain those stupid things together and spend almost all summer on the road, but since I'm running a card empire (heh) out of my basement and trying to buylist what seems like a million cards, I need to spend some time at home.

I hope at least a few of you met each other at the event and I hope some of you hopped across the river to hit up the Pepper Pod. I love a good steak at St. Elmo's when I'm in Indy, or a trip to Fogo de Chão and we're always finding new sushi joints we like, but for my money, you can't beat a good 24-hour diner, especially with the bizarro sleep schedule I am on.

For those who were there to play, there was a bit of heartache. A friend of mine, Kalamazoo Michigan Magic phenom Deshaun Baylock lost his win-and-in and has been beating himself up about it since it was the result of a play mistake. Still, it's not as though he lost to a total nobody. The opponent who capitalized on the mistake? GP winner Kyle Boggemes.

GP Cincinnati Coverage

Deshaun is in good company. Everyone lost to Kyle this weekend. Not only that, I lose to Kyle Boggemes pathologically. As if the skill differential weren't enough, sometimes it feels like the universe conspires against me.

Growing up in Michigan, I have had plenty of opportunities to lose to Kyle over the years, sometimes spectacularly. I've lost to exactsies when I had him dead on board, lost to topdecks, lost games where I only needed one more land and had five turns and two draw spells to get there. I've lost PTQ win-and-ins. I have lost feature matches. I have lost in Limited, Constructed--I think I lost a match of Extended to Kyle in like 2005 because that is how long he's been pulling my pants down.

A Michigan State Champion at 13, Kyle plays out of RIW Hobbies, a store that was issued a Wizards of the Coast license to print champions. When your FNM is attended by the likes of Pat Chapin, Ari Lax, Michael Jacob and Mark Heberholtz, you pick up a few tricks. It's not surprising that Kyle won the GP. It's surprising that he won the GP with like, no practice.

Kyle played Esper Control, because if you are going to come home from college for the weekend, playtest for two hours and go "yeah, I got this" you should play a deck with Sphinx's Revelation. I know Kyle wanted to play a Sphinx's Rev deck because QS' own Corbin Hosler said so in his new capacity as tech coverage writer for Wizards. They even let him update the official Wizards Twitter feed. Heliod help us all.

The rest of the field was kind of boring as far as the Top 8 was concerned. Three Esper, two B/W, two Mono-Black and Naya Hexproof, the only deck in the Top 8 that even mildly excited me. We may as well skip the Top 8 because it's nothing new.

The Top 16 had a lot of gas, though. Ari Lax played a sweet Dredge list that looks odd but seems to hang together well. Event winner Kyle Boggemes talked about how often he boarded in Nightveil Specter which underpins nicely the point I want to make about Herald of Torment.

Initially, H.O.T. looked like a pretty mediocre rare to me, but I made the mistake of looking at it in a vacuum where the rest of my Brainstorm Brewery cohosts liked it very much in context. Specifically the context of stuffing Nightveil Specter and other nuisance fliers as well as being bestowed on something big to make it bigger and nastier and give you some gas after they dealt with the first creature.

I disagree that this is the next Desecration Demon as I think it will get worse with rotation, not better, but I expect this card to tick up. Black lists are playing it more and more, and by the playset. They are gettable for practically bulk right now, and I think there is a lot of upside, although I think maybe its upside is limited to the next six months.

There was a lot more Mono-Black and Esper in the Top 16. Boring.

Let's talk about the other big Standard event.

SCG Los Angeles Standard Top 16

Esper Control wins again, and with a stock list to boot. Let's see if there is anything noteworthy at all here. That Esper on Esper finals match must have been approximately as much fun to watch as a game of intramural croquet.

I like this burn deck a lot. I was really disappointed that Warleader's Helix wasn't even close to as good as Lightning Helix, but if you play it, it likely doesn't feel "weak" when you're winning the game off the back of an eight-point life swing.

Helix takes down stubborn creatures in Standard that regular Helix's three damage couldn't handle and, come on, it's Standard. You will play some sub-standard cards because they are Standard legal. Which makes them just standard. Not really sub-standard at all. Sub-Modern, maybe.

Anyway, the deck looks fun to play, and I think quite a bit of the field is likely to have issues dealing with it. I love and have always loved Chandra's Phoenix. Did a lack of Searing Spear in M14 hurt it? That would be a lot of Spear action with Lightning Strike in Theros, I suppose. In any case, I like Phoenix and think it is the best phoenix we have in Standard.

Burn is fun, creatures give it reach and it's a venue for Satyr Firedancer, a card the Canadian dealers in Montreal decided should have a negative spread when they took them from my binder.

Someone once told me that Jund is life. Maybe that's true, because like life, Jund, uh, finds a way.

Jund in another format? Just feed me to the T-Rex.

Jund, uh, found a way and came about when G/R Monsters players stared at their opponents' board states and said things like "I'd give my left testicle for a Doom Blade right about now" (heard at my FNM). No testicles need be given up, or anything else, really, as the G/R Monsters manabase and its maindeck Sylvan Caryatid accommodated a little black mana nicely.

Doom Blade, Dreadbore, Rakdos's Return, Slaughter Games, Thoughtseize, Vraska the Unseen--once R/G Monsters went black, it never went back. This deck is the real deal, but it's not playing anything new, just jamming the same old velveeta into a brand new shell.

The biggest surprise of this season has been that Ash Zealot is getting more play now that half of it is switched off. Red really just wants its own version of White Knight right now, and it's getting it. It hasn't helped the price, but it seems like it's in a lot more decks, possibly due to devotion being a thing.

Standard was "meh" and Legacy was exciting, so let's move on.

SCG Open Los Angeles Legacy Top 16

Where to even begin?

12 Post? "Booze Cube" (Scotty P) will be happy about that!

Food Chain? Paging Tyler Tyssedal!

Manaless Dredge? Fabulous!

Too many Pet Decks to even call a winner. If the East Coast meta is dominated by decks like Reanimator and Painted Stone and most West Coast events are dominated by decks like Sneak and Show, LA seems to have a meta of "play whatever the hell you want to a Top 8 berth." Crazy.

Are these alternative decks cropping up due to people not having $1,200 to shell out for a set of Volcanic Island? Only time will tell. I was never super jazzed about decks that played those lands anyway, and I expect the price to end up lower than that. I don't think the market can bear that cost, but who will be the first to drop their price? We are in for some interesting times ahead, and Legacy as a format may pay dearly in the meantime.

BUG Delver and U/R Delver took the top two spots, which is kind of disappointing given the wacky Top 8.

Death And Taxes has lots of $100 lands in it, but it may be the "budget" deck of the future. My box of Thalia is looking very good right now that it's spiked above $7. I sat on those for way longer than I'd like to admit, but it's finally paying off.

I wouldn't wait to get similar cards. An FNM foil and a Commander deck printing haven't curbed the price of Mother of Runes much--expect all Death and Taxes-able cards to stabilize just under $10 in the future.

Punishing Jund has always been a good deck, and with its manabase considerably cheaper than RUG Delver's it may be an even more appealing choice moving forward.

Future Uncertain

I don't know what the future of Legacy is, folks. I do know it's an enjoyable format to play and that proxy tournaments have drawn crowds. I don't expect the format to die and I don't expect people to pay $300 for Tropical Island. I know they're never printing more, but I also know that you can get a beat up Mox for $300 and Vintage can't draw the crowds Legacy SCG Sundays can. Magic card prices are a market, and markets self-correct.

Don't panic, buy stuff that gets played in Nekusar decks and make some time to do things other than speculating. Go to GPs, meet new people, play EDH, read lots of articles, listen to lots of podcasts, play Star Realms, teach a new friend to play, stock an LGS case, hold a proxy tournament at your store, check Craigslist for collections and always try to get a discount for paying in cash. That's how I roll, anyway.

21 thoughts on “Jason’s Alticle: Non Speculation

  1. I wonder about $300 dual lands as well. I saw what happened when the Unlimited duals shot through the roof. People sold them in droves, increasing supply and causing a correction. We might see the same thing happen here. If people like $300 (minus fees) more than they like their Volcanics and Underground Seas, we might see a correction. Also, I think most of the price increase is due to people trading modern staples in to stores to get Duals, etc. If that is a cause, how long can it sustain? Do people like a playset of Vendillion Cliques more than a slight/moderate played Volcanic Island? What about a nice and minty Tundra or Tropical Island? I think these are valid questions.

    1. I think these questions are all super valid. I also think they will answer themselves in time. Call me a sentimentalist, but I am actually bullish about the future of Legacy.

  2. That 12 Post list is actually pretty budget. While it does play a Tabernacle, you don’t absolutely need one to play (I played the archetype for almost 2 years before I finally got mine). But the fact that it’s a Green Sun’s Zenith based deck means that it can get by without Candelabras, since it’s basically playing 8x Primeval Titans. It seems like a very powerful deck for the cost.

  3. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but not much. No deitals are given. Even though I came to the books late and read the last six issues first, it didn’t ruin the first six for me.Gotta agree that the book ends on too optimistic a note, though. Human nature being what it is, the unity caused by the big boom wouldn’t last.Anybody want to give odds that they make a few changes to Dr. Manhattan’s costume?Best line (from memory): Do you think I would bother explaining my masterstroke if there was any chance of you stopping it? I did it thirty minutes ago.

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