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Insider: Takeaways from My PTQ Experience

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Editor's note: It was announced on Sunday during the live coverage of GP Portland that Pro Tour in Washington D.C. and Grand Prix Vancouver have been changed to Modern. Sigmund wrote this article prior to this announcement. 

Is it just me, or have PTQ’s become incredibly difficult to win?

Years ago, the field of talent wasn’t nearly as strong and play styles weren’t nearly as diverse sa they are today. Even though I never had delusions of winning such an event, I could always count on the fact that I could notch at least a couple victories against some of the newer, less experienced players.

With the advent of live Magic coverage, constant MTGO streaming, and strategy videos and articles galore, the field has both grown and become much more skillful. This past weekend was no exception.

I attended a PTQ in Columbus (perhaps the last Modern PTQ I'll be able to attend?), and almost all of the 284 attendees were prepared to battle adeptly. My confidence was almost immediately shattered when I had to mulligan to five in game one of my first round, and my opponent led with an Urza's Tower.

I immediately scolded my luck, for I failed to adhere to LSV’s advice on how to navigate past the Tron matchup when playing Melira Pod – dodge it altogether. The rest of my 1-4 day continued in much the same vein.

Fortunately for me (and for my readers), I am an MTG Finance guy first and a player second. Rather than continue to dwell on my misplays and poor luck, allow me to share my vendor experiences, which are what most of you really care about.

A Few Sales

This PTQ was fairly massive as far as I’m concerned. Nearly 300 players is a very large turnout for a PTQ and I’m guessing the format had something to do with the hype. Modern is so much fun and the metagame is so diverse! I didn’t see the same deck twice during my perusal of the top tables.

In order to support all of these players, there were four vendors at this qualifier. That’s quite the representation of retailers for what can be considered a somewhat “local” event. Each of these vendors remained packed with buyers and sellers and I saw stacks and stacks of cards sold to each one.

As for me, my trade binder has thinned considerably over the past few months as I have shifted out of Modern and dabbled in safer Standard bets. My selling was therefore fairly limited, but I did happily manage to move a few cards. I sold some recently acquired Flames of the Blood Hand for a small profit, indicating that buy prices are chasing the selling price higher.


Abrupt Decays were also buy listing for as high as $9 and I really didn’t mind moving a couple of my extra copies near TCG Low.

Decay


One retailer was a bit bullish on Foil Swan Song so I sold the couple I had acquired a few months back in trade. Any time I can sell a card to a dealer for more than what I can buy the card for online immediately after, I am happy to do so. It’s like speculating with guaranteed profit, selling first at a higher price and then buying back in at a lower price.

Finally, I sold my two MP Plateaus for $42 each. Now that I look up the card on TCG Player, I am amazed to see that copies no longer sell for under $40. Moderately Played copies start in the low $40’s and range up to $50. I hadn’t realized how much Plateau has moved and I may be inclined to reacquire a couple copies if I can find them at favorable prices on eBay.

All in all, a largely uneventful selling experience for me, but one worth capturing. In addition to the above, I moved numerous copies of a few smaller things to free up cash, such as Venser's Journal and Caged Sun – all for a small profit.

Dealer Sell Prices and Attitudes

It was very clear to me at this event that most of the vendors came to the PTQ to buy. They each had their selection of singles on display, each including their retail sticker price. The fact that still had $285 price tags on Volcanic Island tells me they are either able to get that price or they plan on sitting on these Duals for a while in hopes that the price bounces back. It probably will.

Volcanic

Other Dual Lands were also overpriced, such as Scrubland at $90 and Bayou in the $180 range. Needless to say, buy prices were half these sell prices, if that, and I wasn’t eager to acquire any new Dual Lands at these prices.

That being said, I do think there was some flexibility on pricing. I spoke at length with one vendor who told me their prices were all flexible in some capacity. If I would have offered somewhere between TCG Low and TCG Mid on a high dollar item, I suspect they would have been happy to make the sale.

Most players don’t bother to negotiate, however. This again leads me to believe that once the PTQ started, the dealers were there to buy cards and fill inventory and not to sell.

This makes me optimistic. Perhaps the summer swoon is nearly over, and Khans of Tarkir will reinvigorate the MTG market. If the set is a home run, then this is entirely possible. It is my belief that some of these vendors are relying on this outcome, hence why they were aggressively acquiring various cards. If this is the case, then perhaps it’s time to loosen my wallet a little bit to buy into a few positions as the fall rapidly approaches.

What I May Buy

It’s funny how I relate so much more to the dealers than the players when I attend events like these. I did very little trading because I played in it, but I also did a lot of chatting with the vendors. The few times I did engage in a little trading, everyone defaulted to the same question: is there anything specific I am looking for?

My answer was constant: Duals. And their response was constant: don’t have any for trade. I refrained from mingling with the grinders, so that is probably the reason behind my failed quest to acquire Duals.

But it is noteworthy that these remain difficult to find – the recent pullback in prices has probably dropped supply because players aren’t eager to unload their Duals at these tapered prices. This observation motivates me to acquire Dual Lands even more.

Remember when Star City Games upped their prices on Volcanic Island and Underground Sea and everyone bought out Tropical Islands because those were supposed to jump next? Well they did jump. Quite a bit.


But recent eBay sold auctions are ending nowhere near this $200 price point!

Sold trops

This is a significant disconnect! The fact that you can once again acquire decent Tropical Islands for $120 tells me the market isn’t supporting the higher price… at least not for now. I don’t see how patiently bidding on a few auctions to buy a couple Duals, such as Trops, at these pre-spike prices can be a bad thing. This is one of my top suggestions heading into the fall.

Other than that, there are always the usual Standard targets: foil and nonfoil Thoughtseize, Temples, etc. I can’t advocate aggressively going after Modern cards right now.

Most of you know my MTG Finance approach is fairly risk averse, and with so much uncertainty surrounding Modern these days, I cannot confidently advocate a significant investment. Even though Modern prices are already in a summer lull, the declining demand from the ending Modern PTQ season (for good) means a different catalyst will have to buoy prices. I don’t see that catalyst this moment, and the downward pressure is large enough to deter me from acquiring.

Still A Successful PTQ

Shout-out to all of my MTG buddies who tolerated my constant “bad beats” stories. I had at least half a dozen of them coming out of last week. Although I am convinced I had particularly unfavorable luck throughout the event, I cannot help but think of the mantra “luck favors the prepared”. Perhaps my Modern skills are much rustier than I recently thought. Or, as mentioned earlier, maybe the field truly is becoming a lot more capable.

Either way, I had an amazing experience last weekend networking with vendors, chatting with QS Insiders, and bonding with Doug during our carpool. And, as always, the tidbits of information gained from discussions on the floor will outweigh any lost investment in the event itself. It was well-organized and I made a little money along the way.

It’s a shame these are going away…

Sigbits

Just a few months ago, many players were calling for the banning of Birthing Pod. Now it seems like the metagame has shifted significantly, creating a less favorable environment for the creature-based combo deck. As a result, some commonly played cards from new Tier 1 decks are getting expensive.

  • Oblivion Stone, played heavily by Tron strategies, are a bit sparse on SCG’s website and they are retailing for $11.99. This card has blown me out time and again.
  • Infect is a real strategy in Modern. While there’s not a lot of high dollar cards in the deck, many foils of the commons and uncommons are sold out at SCG. Foil Glistener Elf is sold out at $1.99 and foil Might of Old Krosa is nearly sold out at $7.99!
  • Affinity also remains a formidable foe and there are a number of cards from the deck that have held their prices nicely. As prices on Birthing Pod reach recent lows, Arcbound Ravager is near its high and SCG is sold out of the Modern Masters version at $19.99. They have plenty of Darksteel copies in stock at $24.99 and I see no reason the MMA version needs to be cheaper.

10 thoughts on “Insider: Takeaways from My PTQ Experience

    1. Didn’t even get to the offer stage. A couple people asked me if I had trades and, almost in the same sentence, what specifically I was looking for. I answered honestly and said Duals. If they didn’t have any, they didn’t get their binders out. It only happened a couple times, as I was largely engaged in chatting with vendors and friends. But it did happen. I could have used my usual line of “a little of everything” to get the trade initiated but trading really wasn’t my primary motivation for attending so it wasn’t a priority.

    1. I sold them because I thought $42 was a great deal. Then after I got home I realized Plateaus had risen some, so my deal was good for a dealer sale but not amazing. Then when I researched other duals Sunday morning after the PTQ I noticed how much eBay prices had dropped, yet vendor prices remained really high. This disconnect gave me food for thought, and I netted out that these are worth acquiring now.

      In other words, this is a recent discovery of mine and one I’m going to patiently act on if I see good auctions on eBay.

  1. Which Modern staples would you snag during this lull? In regards to Sunday’s news – how long do you think the lull will last? Do you think we’ll see a jump in Modern prices sooner than expected?

    1. Your questions are valid, but not easily answered in a comment. I could dedicate an entire article to this subject.

      In short, finding cards that are powerful in Modern and Legacy are safer so that you have the Legacy demand constant and supporting prices. On the other hand I really don’t know what reprints we’re going to see in advance of the next wave of Modern demand. Everyone can only speculate on what will happen next. I don’t think we’ll see a jump sooner than expected, but different people may have different expectations. The territory here is unprecedented and we can only guess what will happen next. Being risk averse, I’d rather park my money in safer assets right now, until we see the trends unfold. I may miss the absolute bottom of the Modern market, but I’ll jump in when I see fundamentals improve and still have room to profit.

  2. Thanks for the words of wisdom Sigmund. Part of me keeps saying “Buy Shocks Now!” Buy Voice of Resurgence, Deathrite and Abrupts. Although, you make a good point about waiting for a trend to evolve rather than impulse buying based on speculation. I’m looking forward to reading more of your articles. Do you have anything written about how to spot a trend before it fully evolves?

    1. Thanks for the kind words. Some people try to predict trends and they buy early. When they hit, they hit big because they get to ride up the full curve. I’ve done this before and sometimes it pays out and sometimes it doesn’t. Usually I prefer to wait for a trend to begin and then to jump in when it makes sense.

      Watching the Interests list on mtgstocks.com can be a good indicator for trends. There are probably a couple articles that touch on this from the past, but they’re buried in archives somewhere. :-/

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