Insider: Finding a Spec

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Sometimes I find myself filled with Candlekeep Inspiration of what to speculate on, trade for, or otherwise acquire. Other times, I find myself antsy to buy in to something, but unable to pinpoint exactly what that thing is. In a situation like this, it’s often wise to just wait for a bet you’re more confident in to come along.

That doesn’t mean that just because a spec takes some digging that it’s not a good one. In past articles I’ve discussed various methods of researching and evaluating specs, ranging from watching spreads on Trader Tools, noting discrepancies between MTGO and paper prices, keeping a close eye on MTG Goldfish’s format staples page, and more.

Those are all useful tools for determining if a spec is a good one, but what if you’re not yet thinking of a particular card? What steps can you take to find a spec from scratch, determine if it’s a good one, and move in? Today I’d like to go over some ways I go through this process.

Watching People Play

A big part of MTG finance is watching people play Magic to get a sense of which cards are seeing play, overperforming, and underpriced. Obviously this includes official coverage, especially of the Pro Tour and major constructed Grands Prix.

If a card is breaking out over a given PT weekend, watching it happen live will not only alert you to a potential spec target but also give you more confidence to buy in or pass, since you’ve seen the card in action. If you’re just watching your Twitter feed, you won’t have a great idea if the hot new tech is Master of Waves or Nivmagus Elemental.

Paying attention to well-known brewers is also important to the MTG financier. Some of the more influential names include the likes of Luis Scott-Vargas, Patrick Chapin, and Travis Woo. By watching one of Woo’s most recent videos, I was reminded of Vedalken Shackles. This is one of the more fun cards in Cube, and is also very powerful in constructed formats.

Shackles was once as high as $25, but took a hit upon its Modern Masters reprinting and never really recovered. I think this is a good candidate for my favorite type of card—one that can be obtained gradually with a look to long-term growth.

Obviously if the card sees significant play in a winning Modern deck, the issue will be pushed in a big way. But short of that, I don’t see how this card is not $20 this time next year, assuming it’s not reprinted again.


My favorite two forums for MTG finance talk are Twitter and the QS forums.

I admit I tend to lurk on the QS forums more than anything, but was able to buy in to Winding Canyons thanks to the community getting behind it. Following the #mtgfinance hashtag on Twitter is a good way to keep up with up-to-the-minute news, and it’s been responsible for me being on top of several spiking cards.

These are also good places to vet potential specs that you like before putting money towards them. We don’t all know everything, so getting some community discussion can really help to put things in perspective.

Considering Current Events with an Eye to the Future

Booster boxes of Innistrad have long been touted as a great purchase by many in the community, especially QS’s Sigmund Ausfresser. Just in the last several weeks, they have finally begun to spike, reaching close to $200. Whether or not they have potential to reach even higher, I’m not really interested in investing in $200 booster boxes, so it appears that ship has sailed.

However, Return to Ravnica booster boxes are still available around $100. The set is exactly one year older than Innistrad, so it stands to reason that we may see a similar trend for these boxes next year.

Was the RTR draft format as good as the INN draft format? Absolutely not. But it was enjoyable (except for freaking Pack Rat), and both sets are high-powered and filled with eternal staples. I’ll be looking to pick up a few of these to stash in my closet.

Just Browsing

One of the simplest things you can do is to browse through various sources to see if anything sticks out to you. I was checking out the spreads in Trader Tools on some of my favorite sets, and noted that there are currently eight cards from Tempest with negative spreads, including a few approaching close to negative 50 percent!

Arbitrage opportunities like this are a bit time-sensitive for my tastes, but if you are confident you can turn around shipments quickly, they're a great opportunity to make money.

Sorting TCGplayer by price and going through entire sets is useful for two reasons. First, you’ll start to learn the going prices on cards, which will make you a more efficient, effective trader. Second, you may run across underpriced cards at a great deal. Anything can be a good buy if the price is right, so combing various sites to see if anything is available cheap is a great way to pad your profits.

As I mentioned, MTG Goldfish’s Format Staples section can often give you insight to underpriced cards, but my experience lately hasn’t been as fruitful. Perhaps more people are catching on to the data? Or maybe a card making that list requires enough play that it’s will inevitably be driven up by reaching that point?

Regardless, it’s still worth checking. Grafdigger's Cage appeared on both the Modern and Legacy lists while it was still only a dollar, so there are goodies to be found. Furthermore, the format reflected on the site is that of MTGO, so it’s a good way of seeing if a successful deck on MTGO is likely to make the jump to paper.

Wild Speculation

I hope these methods of identifying and vetting specs are useful to you. These certainly aren’t the only ways to come up with spec ideas, but they are simple, convenient, non-time-demanding things you can do to up your game in MTG finance. Have your own tips or strategies? Share them in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Finding a Spec

  1. Great article – I need to do some of these activities more often myself. I’m usually too reactive and not proactive enough when it comes to speculating.

    Re: Innistrad boxes: These still have higher to climb. If Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, Geist, INN Check Lands, Gavony Township, Parallel Lives, Past in Flames, etc. all continue to rise, the boxes will surely follow. That being said I like RtR boxes as well. Have a good number of those myself.

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