Insider: [MTGO] Small Concessions for Higher Returns

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I could have also put it this way: "Less is more." It may sound more like a philosophy of life than a MTGO finance concept. Nonetheless giving up some profit here may lead to more profit there.

I'm not going to show you a magic trick to turn a poor spec into a good spec. Rather, I want to discuss how and why the expectations you have for one spec have consequences beyond that single spec. Small concessions can sometimes lead to higher profit in the long run.

Managing your portfolio may sometimes include making small concessions for the sake of higher returns in the long run. Let me walk you through some examples explaining how I apply this concept to my own investments.

Good Discipline Is Better Than a Good Spec

In no time and with the help of the QS community you will realize (or you already have) that there is a very decent amount of speculative opportunities on MTGO. Off course not every spec is a great spec but soon enough your only problem will be which one to chose from.

If carefully chosen all of your specs have equivalent chances of success. The only issue now is to deal with them the best you can. Ideally, you want to cut your loss on bad specs as soon as possible and let good ones run as close as possible to their peak. And when an investment is neither going up or going down what should you do?

Making concessions and lowering your expectations on specific specs doesn't always mean that you are setting the bar lower or that you are not confident in your moves. In many cases it's actually applying a better discipline with your positions and with your bankroll management.

Picking up a card that everybody described as a good target and selling it after it has doubled is great but it doesn't happen as often as we wish. What do you do when that supposedly good target has only moved up by 20%, or is down by 20%? Maybe it is time to close this position and move on to the next one.

Admitting that you were wrong or that the spec didn't go the way you wanted is no easy task and often disappointing. How you handle these missed opportunities is what makes the difference between a successful speculator and a mediocre speculator. Remember, we just said that good opportunities are (almost) everywhere on MTGO.

This being said, there's probably more discipline to enforce when selling than when buying. Nonetheless at both ends of a spec there's something that can be improved.

Selling When Time Has Come

There are basically two circumstances when you want to sell a card--when you want to collect the benefit of a successful spec and when you cut your loss on a losing position.

Selling when your spec has tripled is not something you think you may have a problem with. However when on your spec is spiking hard, as Perilous Vault just did the past two weeks, the temptation might be here to hold on forever, expecting the Vault to break 20 Tix, which may happen, who knows? I started to sell my copies of Perilous Vault last week with most of them on the weekend. It was really time to cash in with this fantastic spec.

We often hear repeated the words, "leave 10% for the next guy." Actually, in many situations you are not exactly leaving 10% for the next guy if you are selling at this point. Whether there is 10% more to make or not is not even a question.

I know other specs are waiting around right now. The 10% I might be leaving on the table with Perilous Vault are going to be made elsewhere, with Rakdos's Return for instance. I didn't sell the first copies of the Vault for as much as the last copies, but the Tix made from the first copies allowed me to buy someĀ Rakdos's Return which has jumped by about 50% last week. A little less here for a lot more there.

If pulling the trigger is rather easy when a spec has tripled, it is a different story when your positions are showing minimal profit or even losses. However it is even more critical to get out when your specs are on a slippery slope.

As we approachedĀ Khans of TarkirĀ release the vast majority of Modern staples kept dipping. You can see this with the Modern index, which is back to its level of last January.

This round of sales netted me about a 20% profit total. Nothing very fancy especially for cards that I was holding for more than six months. However, this round of sales actually served two purposes. I cashed out several hundreds of Tix with small but positive returns and, more important, I raised some cash ready to be reinvested into better opportunities at this time of the year.

Sure, many of the Modern positions I was holding are going to recover and will probably be high again in a near future. The point is that with this extra cash I was able to invest more in the most recent opportunities, including the big hits that were Perilous Vault and Temple of Epiphany these past weeks, generating additional profit down the road.

In my Nine Months of Portfolio Management series I showed the example of Loxodon Smiter and Varolz, the Scar-Striped that sat in my portfolio pretty much forever waiting for them to gain value. I didn't want to cut my losses early enough and as a result I lost even more. I should have swallowed the losses and moved on by reinvesting, for instance, in Modern positions available at the moment. A small concession I was never able to do, a bigger loss in the end.

I have only been disappointed with cards I sold too late, never too early. Getting out of a losing position not only saves you money but precious time.

Buying Higher And Still Making Profit

Buying at the lowest possible price or at the absolute bottom may be an obsession for many speculators. Knowing if a card that has already risen significantly has more to offer and therefore still constitutes a good opportunity is equally important. You might be late on a spec but if you think there's more room to grow, getting in that spec with a little premium should not be an obstacle. A little profit is better that none.

Despite being "late," I recently moved on two positions that eventually gave me strong returns.

The first one is Goblin Rabblemaster. Since its release this card has been on a constant rise. I was not sure if its popularity would survive a Standard rotation and didn't buy into it in the beginning. I discussed it early September and after weighing pros and cons I decided buying the goblin at 6 Tix was probably going to be a profitable move.

Less than two months later I have sold this position with close to a 100% profit. When conditions are favorable, buying with a little premium doesn't really mater.

The other example is Glittering Wish. Along with Jeskai Ascendancy, it is the key cards of the Modern Ascendancy deck. Righ after several lists started being posted online, Glittering Wish could be found below 0.5 Tix. Less than 48 hours later its price had already bumped to 2-3 Tix, when I found out about this potential spec.

I was 48 hours behind here. However the deck seemed pretty strong and Glittering Wish is from a set with a rather limited supply. Enough potential for me to acquire two playsets at ~2.5 Tix per copy. A week later and with my copies of Glittering Wish sold at 12.5 Tix, who remembers that I had, maybe, overpayed on them originally?

Don't be afraid of paying a little premium to get on a spec you know has a strong upside.

Hit and Run

Jumping from one opportunity to another happens to be quite an efficient way to manage your portfolio and increase your bankroll faster than it seems. Giving up a little here to get a stronger position there.

An example from my Nine Months of Portfolio Management series illustrates well this strategy. Back then, I had jumped from Archangel of Thune to Craterhoof Behemoth to Vengevine. Closing a spec in order to jump to the next one can be extremely profitable. There's no need to always hit the max of every spec.

Although this was from one positive spec to another one, the concept also applies when you closing a losing position. The next one may be positive, but only if go for it--you don't make any money with positions you wish you were on.

Last month I wrote aboutĀ selling some Modern positions, anticipating a seasonal dip coming along side withĀ Khans of TarkirĀ release. Although this is a period of the year I anticipated selling Modern cards, I actually sold many positions with only little profit or even small losses for some.

Finally, not later than last week and with the results of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, I sold several of the positions I considered would not get me anywhere. Among them Kiora, the Crashing Wave,Ā Stormbreath Dragon,Ā Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver,Ā Garruk, Apex Predator andĀ Prophetic Flamespeaker. Although some made me a slight profit, it was time to leave these guys and move my Tix into Modern or Return to Ravnica block positions. Cutting some losses here and reinvesting elsewhere was the move to make in my opinion.

I encourage you to evaluate or re-evaluate your current specs. Maybe it's time to sell and move to the next spec?


Thank you for reading,

Sylvain Lehoux

7 thoughts on “Insider: [MTGO] Small Concessions for Higher Returns

  1. I find it very hard to swallow my losses. Often fabricating scenarios in my head
    to hold, as it might eventually rebound. Sucks to concede a loser is a loser.

    1. “It might eventually rebound” is the option I definitely try to remove from the different possibilities. Last year I kept Loxodon Smiter, Varolz and Duskmantle Seer all the way and lost a decent amount of Tix with them.

      This year, I decided to go ahead and sell several cards I though would be loser after PT KTK results. I sold 6-7 cards including Stormbreath Dragon that may rebound now, but I’m happy I only lost ~100 Tix total. These 100 Tix loss have been already covered up by Temple of Epiphany alone.

      No risk now, and it feels better this way.

  2. Good article, allthough i have serious doubts concerning this sentence :
    “I have only been disappointed with cards I sold too late, never too early”

    I was really disappointed when i sold my 100 pack rats for 2 tic each, and then see them go up over 5 made me a little sick.
    Ok, I made a nice profit, but the missed hughe gain made its mark.

    Every speculator must have examples like these, and you cannot tell me there is no feeling of disappointment in those moments.

    There must be people who sold their rabblemasters for 5… I don’t expect them to smile on the tickets made.

    Apart from that, what are your thoughts on Elspeth, Nissa and Ajani (Mentor) ? I have these and am wondering if they fit the ‘better sell and reinvest’-option.

    1. This statement sincerely reflect my thoughts. When I look at the big picture of many hundreds of specs over 2 years this is my feeling.

      With cards I sold “too early” I know I moved on to other specs and what I miss on one spec have been at least partially covered with the next one. For instance I sold my mutavault at 15 Tix, and went on buying Modern positions that also made profit.

      What did you do with the Tix you made from you Pack Rat? What about other specs you had waited? I know I have example of specs I have waited for them to go higher after an initial spike and nothing happened, I lost time and sometimes money.

      It’s been 2 months between Pack Rat at 2 Tix and Pack Rat at 4 Tix. You could have doubling also with some Modern cards during that same period. It’s easy to conclude now but how sure was it that Mono B devotions was The deck back then?

      As for your question, I sold several cards that have spiked “hard” to reinvest in rotated cards and Modern.
      I don’t have any Nissa and Ajani (didn’t buy into it, too bad). I didn’t like Nissa once she had spiked and don’t like her now either. 20 Tix is pretty high and there’s not so much upside for me, I would sell and move on.
      With Ajani, he has doubled so fast, I would sell, take my nice profit made in two weeks or so and reinvest. Not sure he is as strong as that and from 20 Tix the margins get smaller anyway.
      I have some Elspeths, bought at 15 Tix. I was waiting to see if she can reach 25 Tix. I’m willing to wait a little bit from here, but if it gets a little bit out of trend I’ll sell and move to something else. With 30 Tix as a potential ceiling I’m not going to wait to much.

  3. Like koen_knx, I’m always more disappointed by my premature movements than holding a card too long. I guess I tend to pull the trigger too soon in a lot of circumstances.

    I spent a ton of time and racked up moderate losses in selling off cards after DE’s were canceled last year. Within 2 weeks those cards had all recovered and gained a bit. WotC made me really nervous and combine that with lack of disposable time, I never reestablished most of those positions and I especially regret dumping my Griselbrands @17 and Lilianas @45 at around the same price I paid for them.

    I also dumped a lot of cards when the forced switchover to V4 was announced. In both scenarios, the smart move would have been to hold, as “the crash” never really came and within a couple weeks prices had firmed back up. I guess it shows that I’m one of those panicky investors. Then again, you could say “Better safe than sorry.”

    I took my profits on Perilous Vault way too early. B/U control was having weak showings all around. I thought it was headed down and that doubling up seemed decent. Of course in retrospect, bad call.

    In my first really big speculation, I made over 1,000 tix on the back of Mutavault. If I’d timed it better and held much longer, that would have been a 3,500 tix profit.

    Those are the ones I regret.

  4. Hi Sylvain

    I have something that’s a bit off topic. The thing is I never read your articles (this one included). I’m sure your a great writer and financier but I just have zero interst in MTGO. What would you say to subscribers like myself to make us feel your expertise is relevant to achieving our financial goals with paper Magic?

    1. Hi! Sorry I could not respond earlier I was on vacations.

      Thanks for the comment, that is actually an interesting question.

      Paper and online Mtg have different market dynamics, in terms of price fluctuations and timing, and are also different in the buying/selling process.

      I think that one of the thing that makes me good at investing on MTGO is that I know better and better about what to expect from this market, and I know the limits well (in terms of price fluctuations for instance).

      If I had to shift from MTGO to paper mtg I would first try to make sure I understand well prices movements (and what cause them), are there marked seasons such as on MTGO? what are the best months/periods to do X or Y?

      Buying a basket of specs is also one thing I do that “immunizes” me from big losses and make my returns constant. I would definitely recommend to try that in paper mtg as well.

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