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Insider: MTG Speculation & Setting Priorities

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This week I want to start off by making an exciting announcement: my spouse and I are expecting another baby at the end of January! We are truly blessed, and I could not be happier.

This life-changing event is incredible for our family, and it will necessitate some changes in the near term. The impact to my Magic speculation will most certainly be non-negligible. While I focus internally on family during this exciting time of change, I will have to turn a bit of a blind eye to some components of MTG finance. That doesn’t mean I’ll neglect it altogether, mind you. But I must recognize that my agility in the scene will be much reduced.

Unfortunately, that means trouble thanks to the current MTG landscape. With rampant speculation and buyouts, rapidly changing Standard formats, Expeditions in every set, and constant reprints, the environment for speculation is filled with landmines. One needs to be most agile and in-touch during this time of change—not the opposite. This poses a bit of a conundrum.

Fortunately, I’ve already circled the wagons. Most of you already know that I’ve consolidated most of my collection into three buckets:

  • Old School cards (Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Arabian Nights, Legends, Antiquities)
  • Vintage (in the form of a Vintage deck)
  • Reserved List cards

Rest assured I won’t write about these items again this week. You all know about these bets, and I have no intent to remind you. Rather, this week I want to share some of the exceptions to the rules above.

That is, I want to share a few of my remaining bets that fall outside of the categories above, along with the reasons I remain in those investments despite changes in the Magic landscape and my personal life. After all, to remain in my portfolio must mean I have strong belief in these positions’ upside over the next couple of years.

Sealed Booster Boxes

In the past I have had a love-hate relationship with booster boxes. When I initially dove into the sector, I was met with tremendous success. I made significant profits on Unhinged booster boxes, and it seemed I couldn’t go wrong from there. Onslaught, Zendikar, New Phyrexia, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and even Coldsnap all paid off handsomely.

Then came Innistrad and Return to Ravnica. The former I lost patience with prematurely, while the latter still would not have paid off had I kept them an additional two years. The losses incurred on RTR were the last straw—my booster box investment days were over…

…and then I saw a video by Rudy of Alpha Magic.

He had a tremendously compelling argument for Origins booster boxes. Being the last Core Set ever, the set contains many iconic and powerful cards, including Hangarback Walker, flip planeswalkers, and painlands. Most notable of all, is of course Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound.


After finding a favorable price on a few boxes, I suddenly found myself sizably exposed to the sealed product. Even if I decide to sell other chunks of my collection, these boxes will likely remain stored on my shelf for a couple years to come. They should offer fairly safe and steady returns with absolutely no further effort required on my part.

It will literally follow these three steps: step 1) put boxes on shelf; step 2) wait 2-4 years; step 3) profit. Only the death of Magic or rampant reprinting of flip planeswalkers (unlikely) would hurt this investment. That’s a risk/reward equation I can get behind.

Penny Stocks

I don’t talk about pure speculation all that often—I don’t mean buying up-and-coming Modern staples, mind you. I am referring to true bulk rare or near-bulk rare cards that have a chance of steady appreciation given enough time and the right catalyst.

To me, these are a form of gambling. When dealing in bulk rares or near-bulk rares, you are essentially throwing your money away until that possible day in the distant future when prices jump. This is definitely not my traditional style, but even I have fallen prey to a few temptations over the past couple years.

The largest quantity I am gambling on is Crucible of the Spirit Dragon.


As you can clearly see from the graph above, this bet has not paid off at all. I purchased around 20 copies while Star City Games had them on sale for $0.25 each, and the gamble has yet to pay off. But I haven’t lost hope—this is a land that can be used to cast dragons. Casual dragon players may take a liking to this card eventually, and with such a minimal buy-in I’m okay waiting.

The next card I’ve picked up for speculation purchases should have much more potential: Beck // Call.


This rare has two things going for it. First, it’s from Dragon’s Maze, which means not a lot of this card was opened relative to other contemporary sets. Second, the card has made sporadic appearances in Modern events, taking part in some Modern Elf decks.

While the strategy clearly isn’t consistently competitive enough, there does remain some lingering chance it breaks out as more cards are printed. One strong showing in a Modern Open, and the card will certainly gain legs and run higher. I’m content to wait on this one.

The next group of cards I plan on holding are my collection of Nephilim. I purchased a couple playsets of all five creatures when Commander 2016 decks were announced to be four colors, and so far the bet still has promise. It’s not that I’ve made significant profit on this bet, but I’m lucky enough to have dodged reprint at least.


What’s more, the hypothesis that four-colored decks would spark renewed interest in Nephilim has been unfolding as planned. The graph above indicates there is some upward momentum here—not buyout type of traction, mind you, but certainly price appreciation. Once players begin to crack the 2016 Commander decks and make improvements, I suspect a bunch more of these Nephilim will be purchased.

They aren’t necessarily good (I personally think they are), but they do fit the theme in an obvious way. I’ll hold onto my copies for a few more months at least and see where things go—even a $1 buy price on them would mean profit from where they are today.

The last card I will hold for long-term potential is technically on the Reserved List—so it’s kind of cheating—but I also see upside for the card beyond the simple fact it remains on that list of non-reprintable cards. I alluded to it last week but it merits repeating: Rainbow Vale.


As I mentioned last week, the card offers a new and different way to enjoy pack wars and related formats. The card also has classic favor and amazing artwork. The recent upward trajectory as shown in the chart above solidifies my belief in this card’s long-term projection, and I intend to hold my copies for years to come.

Wrapping It Up

Don’t get me wrong—I’m certainly not delusional enough to think that I will be able to walk away from the game of Magic altogether. Far from it.

Instead, I think the next few months or so will be about collection consolidation. Given that January will bring along with it new responsibilities and new priorities, I believe this is the wisest course of action to protect my investment. But while I certainly will focus most of my collection’s value in Old School and Reserved List cards, I won’t be liquidating everything outside of these categories.

The exceptions to the rules are certainly noteworthy, and it is this reason I decided to share them with you. Origins booster boxes remain a steadfast investment in my MTG portfolio. In addition, I’ll surely hold onto some penny stock bets I’ve made over the years. And of course, I’ll always hang onto my Jaya Ballard, Task Mages. I didn’t mention those earlier because they’re not really investments—they are a personal collection I plan on keeping. But I did want to make sure I at least mentioned them.

Perhaps after another year or so of nonstop set releases and reprints, Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro) will shift strategy again. Who knows? I just know that I want to be carefully positioned in the meantime. The uncertainty and fluctuations give me enough reason to pause here and shift focus.

For someone who intends to spend a little less time on MTG speculation in the near future, this is certainly the best way to protect my investment while still maintaining some exposure to the MTG market for the long term. I am not saying I disbelieve in MTG finance as a worthwhile alternative investment going forward. But I do believe the easiest ways to make money have shifted and I need to make sure my portfolio adapts accordingly.

I would suggest you consider the same for you, depending on the stage of life you’re in. Making money in MTG is becoming more and more about collection buying, bulk picking, and agile card-flipping. These each take up significant amounts of time, and I’ve decided for myself that this was not how I wanted to spend my time.

Think about where you want to allocate your time, and plan a portfolio deliberately—one that best reflects your own interests and personal commitments. After all, if we’re making money in Magic but are also sacrificing more important components of life, then why are we pursuing this pastime in the first place?

…

Sigbits

  • Singing Tree has been very hot lately, though outside of being on the Reserved List I’m not sure why. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the card’s flavor and classic feel. But I’m not sure enough people feel the same way for the card to merit a $49.99 price tag at retail. Perhaps it is enough, given that Star City Games has just one SP copy in stock. Either way, I may be looking to sell my copy soon—nostalgia is fun and all, but if I can sell the card for $40+ after paying under $20, I think I’d be reckless not to take profits.
  • Wrath of God has been printed a million times. The card has shown up in so many sets, and it's absolutely baffling that it still maintains a price tag of a couple bucks. But there’s only one set where Wrath of God is completely sold out at Star City Games: Unlimited. This is likely due to Old School demand, and it’s definitely noteworthy. I’d fully expect a rise in price of Unlimited copies in the near future due to this demand.
  • Another Old School card that jumped significantly lately is Ali from Cairo. I remember when the card retailed in the $40 to $50 range. Now Star City Games has just two Near Mint copies in stock at $99.99. Again, I’m amazed that collector interest and Old School play is enough to move the card that much but the data doesn’t lie. This is another one I may look to sell in the near future because the card is likely to stagnate in price for a while now that it has reached a new plateau.

8 thoughts on “Insider: MTG Speculation & Setting Priorities

  1. Great article! I too sold most of my collection and followed a similar path. I moved in on some sealed product and am trying to get 4-8 of all reserve list cards for a VERY long hold.

    1. Collon,

      Thank you very much for commenting! I know there are others out there like me who want to keep MTG as a non-traditional investment vehicle without spending excess time on the hobby. It sounds like you’re even a few steps ahead of me! I still have exposure in some places I’m not comfortable with, and I hope to trim things back even further come GP Louisville in January. Going forward my writing will definitely be more geared towards long term and safety type bets, so stay tuned and please continue to share your thoughts!

      Thanks again,
      Sig

  2. It looks like we’re actually on the same page here Sigmund. Only whatever I have for RL is merely for if/when I need it for EDH or what have you.

    I can really appreciate openly stating to re-evaluate positions in the new financial landscape that is the current MTG market. We’ve discussed this numerous times via articles/twitter/ect.

    Good article!

    1. Thanks Chaz, I appreciate the kind words! I think to turn a blind eye to what is unfolding in MTG now is to welcome financial woes. We need to take control here. Holding RL cards may be stable and fine, but there is a lot of vulnerability to this market right now and I intend to dodge the soft spots as best I can. I need to save for 2 college educations now, after all ;-).

      Thanks!
      Sig

  3. I enjoyed the article, only one minor thing to consider. While you may have only paid $0.25 per copy of Crucible of the Spirit Dragon SCG shipping is usually around $3 minimum. So your actual cost per copy is $0.4. This isn’t an inconsequential increase with such a small purchase and it should be amortized on small purchases.

    1. That’s a really good point to make when it comes to “penny stocks”. Normally writer’s don’t include that – but it does change the buy in price drastically based on the quantity bought.

      My long term holds (the very few that I have left) are penny stocks and I absolutely keep shipping in mind and adjust the quantity I want to purchase based solely on that. Buying in at .35c after shipping compared to .45c or even .55c is significant at that level.

  4. Congrats on your second being on the way! I went through this same exercise about three months ago, but because of an engagement instead! I’ve found that making money on the hobby is much tougher than it use to be, and while it is still possible to do so in Standard every once in a while, the profit margins have waned significantly to the point where it isn’t worth the time.

    I would add to your comment about buying sealed product that this strategy is increasingly risky as the paper-player-base continues to shift to MTGO. I say this primarily because I can see a future where the paper-player-base erodes and sealed product doesn’t have as much appeal. What’s worse is that sealed product usually increases in price with relation to new demand for older cards, but with both Legacy and Modern not receiving any support the gains are nowhere to be found. Origins is definitely an iconic set, so I think you’ll be okay (especially because of the flipwalkers), but just in general I think sealed carries more risk than meets the eye moving forward.

    Thanks,

    Chris

    1. Chris,

      Thank you! Congratulations on the engagement as well :). It seems we are both seeing eye to eye on this matter – MTG Finance margins are significantly eroded when it comes to speculation. Sure, people still make good money on collections or running shops, but that requires a time commitment I’m not willing to make. So I am left with two options: I sell nearly everything or I consolidate the collection into a few core holdings with long term potential. I have chosen the latter for the time being, but I suspect there will be some selling in my future. I’ll make sure to write about my decisions as they are made.

      As for sealed product, I tend to agree with you. Origins is a very rare situation that I felt merited investment. But I won’t be buying other sealed boxes to add to the investment (minus my one BNG box that cost me only $53).

      Thanks for the engaging comment!
      Sig

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