Insider: [MTGO] Nine Months of Portfolio Management – M14 and Core Set Rares

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Two weeks ago I wrote about the core set mythics and how my experiment with the fifteen M14 mythics ended up well. Systematically buying all the mythics soon after their release seems to be a viable investment strategy with virtually no risk, provided you are not too greedy.

Today I take a look back on what happened with the entire set of M14 rares. We'll see that more than a dozen of M14 rares were played at some point in Standard decks and, consequently, saw a nice increase in price that could have been converted to profit.

First, let's talk about the two M14 rares I primarily focused on during these nine months.

Chandra's Phoenix

Unlike Modern specs and other cyclical investments, investing in the Phoenix (and Mutavault) related more to pure speculation. We had some playability and price history available for the Phoenix and the man land. Nothing, however guaranteed that Chandra's Phoenix would see play in the next Standard.

A the time, not much was known of Theros, therefore I invested in the Phoenix based on key elements we knew back then, which I briefly discussed on the QS forums:

  1. Back in M12, Chandra's Phoenix was widely played in mono red decks.
  2. Mono red aggro is pretty much always a viable deck, and is usually more popular on MTGO than in paper MTG for cost and accessibility reasons.
  3. In addition, The PT Dragon's Maze showed that Return to Ravniva block cards already possessed a strong base for mono red aggro. Josh Utter-Leyton made Top 8 with an almost mono red aggro deck.
  4. When I got interested in the Phoenix, its price was in the 0.4-0.5 tix range. During its M12 era, the Pheonix spiked above 5 tix. The upside was big here.

Take these reasons together and you'll realize the potential was clearly there. I was expecting the M14 Chandra's Phoenix to settle somewhere in the 3 to 4 tix range.

After the PT Theros, the Phoenix stabilized and fluctuated between 2 tix and 3 tix. Without any obvious sign that it could go higher, I sold my position with a nice +363% profits.


Mutavault was first printed more than five years ago in Morningtide. Its price fluctuated quite a bit between 10 and 20 tix, and Mutavault was already played in some Modern and Legacy decks. When it was announced to be in M14, its price rose a little bit then dropped to about 6 tix with the fresh supply.

Things were not sure at first for Mutavault. How would this land integrate into a supposed multicolored Standard format, defined by Return to Ravnica sets and its shock lands?

Even If I was seeing some opportunities in the beginning, I was not totally convinced. After all, 6 tix for a rare is already quiet high, and any rare needs a fair amount of play to sustain such a price.

After the first tournament results with Theros, this could not be more obvious.  Mutavault was simply everywhere.

Not only were all aggro and midrange decks running three to four copies of the man land, but UW and Esper control decks too! When aggro and control decks are playing the same card, you know you have a winner.

At this point, investing in Mutavault was a no brainer. However, I was far from imagining the success it could have had. I was seeing the land to settle in the 10-12 tix range, pretty far from where Mutavault actually landed.

To note, Scavenging Ooze had about the same price tag at the time--around 6 tix. However, even if the ooze is a great card, I was really not so sure of how useful the creature was in Standard and/or Modern. With too much uncertainty and nothing concrete to sustain the price, I simply skipped it as a speculation.

Finally, Mutavault achieved tremendous success, reaching 30 tix and becoming the most expensive rare in the MTGO mythic era. I started to sell a few copies at ~15 tix, and following the trend sold the rest of my stock around 20 tix.

With no idea this could go to 30 tix, and 20 tix already being a record high, I was very happy with that.

In the end, I almost tripled my investment here.

What About The Other Rares of M14?

In the yearly agenda of set releases, the core sets have a special position. They are released during the summer, only about two months before the release of the first set of the new block in fall. They are the Standard set to be the least drafted among the Standard sets. To compensate this, and unlike the second and third sets of regular block sets, the core sets are drafted three boosters at a time.

However, and again unlike most of the second and third sets of regular block sets, the core sets are large, with 53 rares and 15 mythics.

Everything together contributes to make the core sets a sort of 4th large set. In terms of prices, this means cards tend to be less available, and therefore more valuable in the end. Nonethless, during the first two to three weeks, rares and mythics from the core sets are primarily treated as any other rare and mythics, e.g. their prices are low. Too low.

To illustrante this idea, many M14 rares have seen big swings, moving from low prices to fairly high prices.

For instance, and in addition to Mutavault and Chandra's Phoenix, Lifebane Zombie jumped from 2 tix to 9.5 tix (+375%), Fiendslayer Paladin jumped from 0.8 tix to 4 tix (+400%), and Imposing Sovereign went from 0.2 tix to 3.8 tix (+1800%).

Witchstalker moved from 0.4 tix to 2.5 tix (+525%), Xathrid Necromancer from 0.4 tix to 5 tix (+1150%), and Burning Earth saw an increase of +320%, moving from 0.7 tix to 3 tix.

Finally, Tidebinder Mage jumped from 0.1 tix to 2 tix (+1900%), Dark Prophecy moved from 0.1 tix to 0.6 tix (+500%) and Ratchet Bomb went from 0.3 tix to 1.3 tix (+330%).

These are the most successful of the M14 rares, impressive percentages, isn't it?

Still, M14 has about the same number of tournament (mostly Standard) playable cards as Return to Ravnica and Theros sets--about a dozen. Some cards from Return to Ravnica, such as Pack Rat, Desecration Demon and Underworld Connections boomed from junk to super stars in their second year of Standard. For most of the other playable rares, they moderately fluctuated by a factor two or three at most.

The "4th set factor" of M14, and of core sets in general, allows the rares to experience higher swings. Also, you don't have to wait one year to see the some action. Core sets are here to stay only one year in Standard--no time for sleepers.

In terms of timing, pretty much all M14 rares experienced their lowest right before and/or during Theros release events and got a boost after the PT. Nonetheless, each rare found its peak at different times, according to the Standard metagame and trends. As you can see in the examples cited above, when a card is getting trendy, it doesn't do it half way.

Looking even more closely, speculating on the M14 rares could have been as good as the speculation I made with the M14 mythics. Prices of rares had pretty much all bottomed about one and a half to two months after M14 release. If you are able to carefully select potential winners, this could be a very interesting move. Since the bottom of almost all the rares has been reached, the risk is very small, and the upside extremely high.

Aside from Mutavault and Chandra's Phoenix, being reprints where we have an idea of their potential, all the other cards I cited were new. Avoiding obvious junks, reprints or first prints, and then carefully selecting the potential winners may be a good speculative strategy.


For sure, I'll look twice now at the core set rares, starting with M15. The only catch to this strategy with M15 is that we'll have a PT Standard right during the release events of M15 on MTGO. Prices might be upside down with a Standard format poised to radically change two months from after this PT.

Since Standard appeal is already decreasing on MTGO, I really wonder what kind of effect the PT will have on the prices of not only M15 cards, but also Return to Ravnica block and M14, knowing that they are nearly dead within the MTGO economy.

With the successful examples of Chandra's Phoenix and Mutavault, my primary targets among the M15 rares will be the reprints of past cards that were seen in past competitive Standard decks. If cards such as Phantasmal Image, Champion of the Parish or Dungrove Elder are in M15, be sure that I'll grab several dozen copies of them a bit before Khans of Tarkir release events.


Thank you for reading!

Sylvain Lehoux

5 thoughts on “Insider: [MTGO] Nine Months of Portfolio Management – M14 and Core Set Rares

  1. First of all – love the series.

    Second of all – what do you mean when you say “Standard appeal is already decreasing on MTGO”?

    Did standard had some sort of a tumble recently? Or maybe this is connected to the incoming beta client switch?

    1. Hi Bart, thanks for the comments!

      This is a seasonal phenomena. Every year, starting around April-May you can observe a decline in price, more or less important, of pretty much all the Standard cards.

      As examples, see Thragtusk and Restoration Angel, two power house from last year.
      Or Sword of War and Peace from 2 years ago

      They all really free fall from the end of Spring to Fall.

      This year, Jace, AoT, Obzedat, Domri (even though it’s rebounding a little)… all are dramatically falling. More generally, looking at the total set value of RTR, GTC, DGM and M14 you see that it affects overall all cards.

      The rotation approaching, people know that their cards are going to drop in value, fueling the process itself, so more people sell, and more drop, and more sell… This not true for every card, but in general, it good to get out of your Standard spec now.

      I might write about that next week.

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