For most of the MTGO players, the Standard rotation is a delicate time of the year. As I was talking about it two weeks ago, starting as soon as April, prices of older Standard sets enter a free fall period that will last until the following fall and the release of the first set of the new block.
During this time, players have to make a choice between playing their favorite decks or selling their cards to avoid losing a significant amount tix by waiting too long before rotation occurs. Think about players with their playset of Thragtusk last year. The green beast had already lost 50% of its value in May 2013, from 15 tix to 8 tix. Do you hold it to play couple more DE? Or do you sell it because in September you would have lost another 75% of these 8 tix?
This year, this summer is Modern PTQ season and unfortunately this is not happening online. That would have definitely shifted players away from this dying Standard format. VMA release two week ago seemed to have done the job, though. Standard sets, and especially Return to Ravnica block sets, have taken another step down. As an example, here is the Gatecrash set value chart:
On the other side of the table speculators welcome this big decrease of prices as a good buying opportunity. Not every single card is going to be a good catch here, but starting with Mythics and then Modern/Legacy/Vintage staples, several cards were worth picking up from the Innistrad block and M14.
Most of the cards bottomed in September-October, but not all. Others were not a big deal during their one or two years in Standard and suddenly became much more valuable.
For my Nine Months of Portfolio Management project, my basket of rotating cards were all part of the Secondary Portfolio (you can it find here), which was rather small. However, it really showed me that these types of positions can be both valuable and safe investments.
Let's review here what I have done, what I missed and let's have a brief overview of the upcoming possibilities with the Return to Ravnica block and M14.
The idea behind the speculation with rotating cards is that, by the end of the summer, with players getting rid of their soon-to-be ex-Standard cards, the supply is maximum for a demand at its lowest. Consequently, prices fall like stones and should be at their all time low. This is very true for rares, and a little less true for mythics.
Now that all the supply of the world is available and demand is rather inexistent, what is going to drive the prices up? Redemption, Modern/Legacy/Vintage, and casual (for what it's worth online). This demand starts slow and keep building up as people realize that they may finally need a playset of Birthing Pod or Restoration Angel for Modern, or that Batterskull is still a valuable card in paper MTG.
As Matt Lewis discussed about on the forum, or as he wrote about it in several of his articles, mythics are the bottle neck for set redemption. And this include the junk mythics. To redeem a set, you need one card of each, including the best and the worse mythic of the set. For this reason, junk mythics are often good targets. In practice, the bottom of these junk mythics, and of mythics in general, in not that easy to catch.
Once rares have hit their lowest, Modern is likely to become the main driver for prices the following year, making every Modern playable card an easy and profitable target. Nonetheless, these rares may now behave like any other Modern staples, having high and low cycles. You may want to buy and sell accordingly, thus potentially generating profit multiple times during the year.
As I mentioned above, this theory has some exceptions, mostly mythics. Omniscience, Liliana of the Veil, Past in Flames, Griselbrand and… Avacyn, Angel of Hopes are some examples of mythics you may have wanted to target but have never really bottomed in the summer and got more expensive even after being evicted from Standard.
My Innistrad Picks
In these nine months, I only picked up 19 Innistrad block cards, which is a really small number since, as mentioned above, pretty much all mythics from Innistrad, Dark Ascension and Avacyn Restored could have been potential targets.
Stony Silence is an atypic card. It was totally unplayed while in Standard and, if it had made some appearance in Modern/Vintage sideboard list, the supply would be overcome by demand. However, once Innistrad rotated out of Standard, Stony Silence gained momentum and is now part of many Modern sideboard lists. This white version of Null Rod is now flirting in the 0.5-1 tix range, a rather strong increase for a total junk rare until about a year ago.
Even though Grafdigger's Cage mostly maintained a price above 1 tix during its Standard era, this card is also a unique sideboard card for all decks across multiple formats. This was a good pick post rotation and I expect the cage to keep rising again and again. Available as low as 0.5 tix back in September and considering the upside the investment was a steal. Expect a decent rise soon as Vintage is now live on MTGO.
I also picked up several mythics from Innistrad and Dark Ascension that I though would not only gain value because of redemption but also because they might have a role to play in Modern. Results were a little bit disappointing. Olivia Voldaren, Garruk Relentless // Garruk, the Veil-Cursed and Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells finished with some loss. Only Falkenrath Aristocrat and Geist of Saint Traft yielded some profit. They clearly took a hit with the ban of Deathrite Shaman and the decrease in popularity of Jund in Modern, even though they were marginal players in the deck. All of them are now back to pretty low prices and could constitute good targets for the long run.
Third set mythics + redemption + good cards = decent and easy profit. This equation holds once again here. My five picks form Avacyn Restored generated moderate to great profit.
Among them, Craterhoof Behemoth was the best by far. It had spiked hard in April and August 2013, following by a big fall around Theros release to reach its anticipated lowest due to rotation. It didn't take long before Travis Woo and others used devotion, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Genesis Wave to give another spike to the Behemoth.
A rather unusual investment on was Griselbrand. Not that investing in this big demon is odd, but my timing was kind of strange. It is one of the mythics that has risen non-stop since its release, not even bottoming when time of rotation came. Griselbrand is also one of these cards that demonstrates the most of its power in non-Standard formats where you can cheat it into play as early as turn one. I decided to invest in it at, back in the day, the top of its shape, at 30 tix. Clearly a good move would have been to invest in it when it was around 15 tix in September. But hey, as long as the reasoning is good, it's never too late to make profit, right?
With a closer look you'll realize that all Avacyn Restored mythics, to a different degree, were more expensive this spring than around Theros release events when they rotated out of Standard.
Mythics from the third set should all be on your radar the next two months, although Dragon's Maze doesn't pretend to have the quality of mythics as Avacyn Restored had.
As stated earlier, pretty much all mythics are good pick up when rotation comes, particularly because the redemption of sets becomes a major prices driver. Almost all the mythics from the Innistrad block gained about 50% of value between September 2013 and March 2014--a comfortable profit.
More surprising is the price trajectory of some Dark Ascension mythics. Would you have guessed that Mikaeus, the Unhallowed would have been four times more expensive than Huntmaster of the Fells // Ravager of the Fells now? And did you know that Mikaeus was, for a moment the, most expensive card of Dark Ascension?
In the same line of thought, what about Avacyn, Angel of Hope? A card that saw close to zero competitive play, but nonetheless constantly rose from 2 tix in June 2012 to 14 tix in June 2014. Who said casual doesn't matter on MTGO?
For that reason, buying a basket of several mythics is not only very likely a good bet, but also your best insurance against any losses.
As for the rares, their prices are much less affected after rotation, and redemption doesn't really impact them too much. If they are not played in any eternal format, they are likely to stay junk rares almost forever. Thragtusk is the best example of an extremely powerful card when in Standard, but barely worth anything now.
Well timed, Geralf's Messenger could have been a good investment, thanks to devotion.
Picked up low enough, the Innistrad lands were and probably still are good targets. They will likely become more valuable as time passes and are subject to Modern cycles. Buying them low could guaranty you some a moderate but safe amount of tix.
Finally, Vexing Devil would have definitely been a good target. Its price went from below 2 tix to 5 tix. I guess I underestimate its power in Red burn decks.
Ravnica: Next Rotation
I think the Ravnica block is going to have several very interesting targets once rotation hits. However, it seem like very few mythics will be able to make the cut passed Standard. Domri Rade and Voice of Resurgence are probably the two most promising mythics for Modern. On the outsiders corner, I like Worldspine Wurm, Enter the Infinite and Borborygmos Enraged, which may see some play in eternal formats.
As said before, all mythics, independent of their power in game, will retain value because of redemption. I was looking at Goatbots availability recently and I noticed that some junk mythics such as Utvara Hellkite and Necropolis Regent tend to be poorly stocked, a probable sign of people already anticipating redemption.
In the rare section, beside the obvious Shock Lands, Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman are worth keeping an eye on. I'm not sure about anything else. Several other rares such as Detention Sphere, Loxodon Smiter, Dreadbore, Legion Loyalist, Gyre Sage and Beck // Call may have a shot, but you really want to get them at their lowest possible bottom as they may not move an inch after rotation. Some of them are already at 0.05 tix or below and are, therefore, risk free.
The Shocks, the Decay and the Shaman have, to me, an excellent perspective in the long run. If you want to invest and sleep on it for year, these are the cards you want to invest in next September-October. You only have to keep an eye on potential reprints in Modern Masters 2 or 3.
Thank you for reading!