Let's start with a hard and fast rule:
Standard cards are always trending down in value, except when they spike and then continue trending downward again.
First, I must clarify a little bit. When I say "Standard cards" I specifically mean cards that have value derived from their playability and demand in Standard. The reason Standard cards always trend down is that Standard rotates and at the point when they leave, their "Standard appeal/demand" becomes zero. The demand of cards for Standard is always approaching the eventuality of no demand whatsoever.
Cards with cross-format appeal are different. If a card has demand beyond Standard its life and demand are extended. Demand from Modern, Legacy, or even Commander players extends a card's life beyond its time in Standard. The eternal and casual formats create demand for cards so long as the cards continue to remain playable, and thus desirable, in their respective formats.
I've attempted to lay out the concepts in today's article as basically as I can so they are accessible to everybody. Some of these concepts may feel a little bit obvious to the more experienced trader or seller but I think they are still good concepts to always keep in mind. I've also got a few interesting twists on the basics mixed in at the end.
Theros, Then and Now
Let's take a quick look at the current value of the mythic rares from Theros. I think Theros is still close enough in the memory of most that it will make a relatable example of what I'm trying to get at.
- Ashen Rider - $0.75
- Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver - $4
- Elspeth, Sun's Champion - $5
- Erebos, God of the Dead - $6
- Heliod, God of the Sun - $6
- Hythonia the Cruel - $0.50
- Master of Waves - $3.00
- Medomai the Ageless - $0.50
- Nylea, God of the Hunt - $4.00
- Polukranos, World Eater - $1.00
- Purphoros, God of the Forge - $7.00
- Stormbreath Dragon - $1.50
- Thassa, God of the Sea - $5.00
- Underworld Cerberus - $0.50
- Xenagos, the Reveler - $4.00
So, Theros mythic rares are not exactly lighting the world on fire in terms of being Modern- or eternal-playable. It is noteworthy that many of these cards held price tags of $20+ while they were Standard-legal. These include Elspeth, Sun's Champion ($30+), Stormbreath Dragon ($25+) and Xenagos, the Reveler ($20+).
The higher prices were a direct result of lots of people needing these cards to play in Standard tournaments. These cards are perfect examples of cards that have an extremely high ratio of Standard demand compared to demand from other players or formats. When these cards were $20+ what percentage of people were buying them for the purpose of using them in Standard-legal decks? I think the answer is clearly a very, very high percentage.
Which is why after they rotated out of Standard they tanked in value in a very significant way. Most of the demand was coming from Standard and not from casual or eternal.
It is interesting that currently the highest-priced mythic is Purphoros, God of the Forge which was not a highly desirable staple in Standard. While the card presold for outrageous prices like $30+, it eventually bottomed out around $3-$4 when it became clear the card was not a major Standard player.
As rotation approaches Standard cards begin to creep down in price. It's only natural, since players and financiers alike both know that when the Standard demand hits zero, that window for getting value from Standard players will be completely gone.
Selling into Spikes
Just because Standard demand is always trending toward zero doesn't mean that betting on the format can't make you significant gains. As demand for a new card is created (typically from a card suddenly becoming popular in Standard) cards frequently shoot up in value.
In my Eldritch Moon set review I suggested that Ishkanah, Grafwidow was a card that felt very underpriced to me and that I thought would be a considerable player in Standard. It was $3 at the time and is now selling for $15.
The key to investing in Standard cards is to anticipate where demand for a card will be increasing in the future and move in with the plan of getting out when the spike occurs. The demand generated by a card suddenly becoming "good" is real. People are going to want to acquire the new hot card so they can play with it.
But remember that demand is fleeting. Once the people get the card they no longer want to acquire more copies. Also, strategies turn over quickly in Standard and it is very possible for a card to be good for a week and then fade out of popularity.
Standard Cards with Cross-Format Appeal
The key to dealing in Standard cards is and always has been selling or trading away your cards into price spikes and surges, and trading for cards in anticipation of possible gains. It is a textbook case of "buy low and sell high."
The problem with this approach to dealing in Standard cards is that it takes a very expert knowledge of the Standard metagame to accurately predict where things are heading and anticipate which cards players will need in the future. The approach is further complicated because the window to sell or trade away cards for peak value is very narrow.
The fact of the matter is that trying to anticipate future demand for Standard cards and supply those cards to buyers is difficult, and often not worth the risk and effort. I say if you have a hot lead, then act on it, but for the most part it isn't where I focus my investing attention.
At the beginning of my article when you thought I was being boring and obvious by stating my rule that all Standard cards are always trending downward I was doing so to set up this end portion of my article.
The majority of people who own Magic cards have some degree of awareness about Standard rotation negatively affecting the value of their cards. Thus there is always a motivation to move Standard cards when there is still some value to be had. There is a tension between having cards to play with but not wanting to get stuck with them when they become worthless post-rotation.
The key is that while all cards from a set are "in Standard together," not all cards have equal proportions of their value derived from Standard demand.
When we look at the most expensive mythics from Theros it should be somewhat obvious that their value comes from either Commander (in the case of the gods) or Modern (in the case of Master of Waves and Elspeth, Sun's Champion).
One of the best times to find value in trades is when people are trying to get out from under cards people feel are losing Standard appeal. At that moment when people start to realize that a certain card is never going to have a home in Standard, they always want to get rid of it before its Standard value reaches zero. The key is to recognize that some of these cards will have value in other places and get in on them when the price is very low.
For instance, recognizing that the Theros gods (even the ones that were not good in Standard) would forever have a home in Commander, or that Master of Waves is a very legit card in Modern or Legacy. On these cards and others you would have had the opportunity to pick up all the copies as Standard players literally lined up to sell them off for whatever small value they could get at rotation time.
When I trade for Standard cards I'm always thinking about which ones have abnormally high amounts of demand from outside of Standard. The key is that the supply of Standard cards is always very high while a card is in Standard because packs of the current sets are being opened and players readily have the cards. However, after a year or two these cards end up in the hands of dealers, sellers and investors, and are not so easy to acquire without having to pay a premium.
You really want to be the individual who stocked up on these cards when everybody else was rushing to sell cheap.
Most people know that Standard cards are always trending down because when Standard rotates much of the demand will evaporate. We can use this inherent fear of price decreases because of rotation to our advantage by targeting Standard-legal cards that have demand outside of Standard.
Not all Standard money cards are created equally because some cards actually see play in other formats as well!