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.
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?
- 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.