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Insider: The First Step of My Portfolio Reconfiguration

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The Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. has come and gone—four-day weekends off of work always seem to fly by, don’t they? In the spirit of the holiday, I want to begin this week’s column by taking a step back and acknowledging how grateful I am.

Lately my articles have had a negative spin to them, especially when it comes to the health of MTG finance and my outlook on MTG investments going forward. But I need to admit that, being in this circumstance and having the choices to make of what to sell and what to keep, makes me a very lucky person. Especially given the fact that my decisions are driven by the upcoming birth of my second child means there will be no regrets no matter what decision I make. For this I am truly thankful.

With that said, I did want to spend some time this week updating loyal readers on some of the decisions I’ve made regarding my collection. It’s been a struggle determining what to keep and what to sell, and I am happy to report some progress. I’ll also make sure to share my rationale as well as what is holding me back from selling further just yet.

Legacy, Fare Thee Well

Last week I sold the first components of my Legacy deck. Those who have known me for a long time know I have had a long history with this format. I began playing Legacy in 2009 after I was inspired by the card Ad Nauseam.


The premise of drawing the vast majority of my deck in a single turn really got me excited, and I began brewing. In fact, before I even knew there was such a thing as Ad Nauseam Tendrils, I had my own suboptimal build of the deck in order. Quickly, I discovered the optimal lists and started tweaking from there.

The Legacy format proceeded to win me many local events and make me significant money as the format went through a renaissance thanks to the Star City Games Open Series. Force of Wills rapidly rose from $20 to $75, and Wastelands from $20 to $60 and beyond. Dual lands jumped like crazy and the Onslaught fetches followed.


Shortly after my son was born I sold out of the format, locking in gains and giving thanks for the opportunity to enjoy such a run. But just a couple short years later I started getting the itch to play again. I never replaced Legacy with anything in the MTG world, and I started to miss the broken combos offered by the format. I ended up buying back one deck for a final hurrah.

Now that I’m about to have a second child, I’m feeling the same burnout with Legacy as before. But there’s a major difference this time: I’m not sitting on mounds of gains. The Legacy format had a final rush in 2014 but has done very little since. Sure, certain cards have performed very well like Infect favorite Noble Hierarch. But many Legacy powerhouses have actually dropped in price since peaking two years ago, and I’m not sure I see that trend reversing in the near term.


Star City Games is reducing their Legacy support and even Wizards of the Coast seems to be working the format into extinction. Modern has taken a firm hold on the player base, and it seems Legacy chatter has all but evaporated from my Twitter feed.

Summing it all up, we have a format that has become stagnant in financial growth, offers little opportunity to play regularly, and requires significant opportunity cost to maintain. With these factors in play, it was the right decision for me to sell out. That may not mean this is the right decision for everyone, but if you’re in a similar place as me I strongly encourage you to consider your own set of priorities and decide for yourself.

Since making this decision I’ve sold my Italian Karakas, my set of Infernal Tutors, and one dual land out of the deck. The Karakas and Tutors are not on the Reserved List, so I fully expect them to drop in price through eventual reprints (Karakas has already gotten smacked by a recent reprint and I don’t see the trend reversing).


While dual lands will always have steady demand, I also see the merits to trimming exposure back—I still own the ones I need so I didn’t mind cashing out of a couple.

Why Old School Differs

With the decision to sell Legacy made, I’m shifting focus towards Vintage and Old School. So far I’ve decided to hold onto these cards for differing reasons.

In the case of Old School, card values have seen significant appreciation since I started buying into the format over a year ago. The format has gained a lot of traction lately, and there’s still a “freshness” component for me as I continue to learn about its fundamental interactions.


Therefore I am essentially being paid to sit on these cards despite infrequent play. Even though recently many of the Old School staples have leveled off, there are still pockets of growth as the format matures. As long as there are large Old School tournaments at major events, these cards should hold their value well. The best part of all: there’s no chance of meaningful reprints to hurt the value of the format’s cards.

Additionally, while Legacy has become overwhelmed with newer cards such as Eldrazi and Infect creatures, there’s absolutely zero risk of the same trend happening in Old School. Seeing as I haven’t enjoyed new sets of Magic since Zendikar block, this fits well with my own interests of the game. Also, while I technically started playing in 1997 and not 1993, I still have fond memories of older cards. The ability to competitively cast a Hypnotic Specter off a Dark Ritual fulfills one of my long-time aspirations in Magic.


Why Vintage Differs

In the case of Vintage, the circumstances are a bit different. The format is certainly not growing like Old School, and there isn't as much financial appreciation relative to Old School. So why keep the cards for the time being? I can explain with one word: Power.

The Power Nine continue to be one of the safest blue-chip investments in Magic. No matter what Wizards reprints, no matter what formats they choose to support, no matter what quantity of new sets they print, it all has the least impact on Power.

That doesn’t mean Power will remain immune, mind you. My article last week presents a reasonable argument as to why even the highest echelon of cards can still stumble from recent decisions made in the C-suite of Hasbro. But in a world where many Magic cards are in secular decline, Power should remain most immune.

Also, should Magic truly fade away as a competitive game, the most iconic cards from the game’s history should maintain the most value.

Smaller factors I’ve been considering are the fact that my Vintage Storm deck is heavily made up of Reserved List cards (Tolarian Academy, Yawgmoth's Will, Wheel of Fortune). Luckily the non-Reserved List cards in my deck aren’t that expensive, so there’s minimal threat from reprints as well.

The largest offender may be the set of Ancient Tombs in my sideboard—these I may decide to sell after playing in a couple Vintage side events at GP Louisville since my casual thrice-per-year forays into Vintage usually don’t even use sideboards.


Wrapping It Up

Looking ahead, I still have a few decisions in front of me. Now that I’ve chosen to sell out of Legacy, I have a few distractions ahead as I seek to maximize value from the deck’s cards. However once that is completed, I can’t let passiveness preclude me from making conscious decisions in Old School and Vintage. While they both offer more attractive prospects going forward, I need to take into consideration that these cards make up the vast majority of my collection’s value.

Chances are I won’t make any other major decisions until Grand Prix Louisville in early January. With any luck I’ll find some aggressive vendors at the event, giving me an optimal time to cash out of either Vintage or Old School (or both). Even though I haven’t decided to sell either yet, I still see some cracks in their long-term integrity from a pricing standpoint.

Vintage may seem like a steadfast rock, but even Power has crept a little lower recently and supply seems to have steadied on the open market. Could Vintage be hitting an unofficial price ceiling as players burn out on spending so much money? Old School is the booming format for sure, but with significant growth already realized, is it time to take profits?

No matter what I decide, my approach to MTG finance will certainly look very different a couple months from now than it looks today. I think my decisions to consolidate the collection to Legacy, Vintage and Old School were very well-placed. One look at the state of Modern and Standard solidifies this view. For those who have made similar choices, I hope you are also thankful for the consolidation. But looking ahead, I believe we need to be even more scrutinizing when determining what cards to keep.

The slow decay of Legacy is the first factor that is necessitating action. We will need to monitor the market closely to see what comes next. No matter what we choose, one thing is for certain: this is not a time for passiveness. The market feels unsteady at best, and to avoid significant losses we will need to remain in front of trends. By working together, hopefully we can achieve this while still maximizing enjoyment out of these cards.

Sigbits

  • Remember a few months back I wrote a whole column about Commander 2014? Well, it seems something has happened to drive some prices drastically higher, far sooner than I would have ever predicted. Teferi, Temporal Archmage has really spiked recently, and Star City Games is sold out at $11.99. Even the sealed Commander 2014 decks have jumped up in price, making me kick myself for not taking my own advice and purchasing the set of five when they were so obviously underpriced on TCG Player.
  • On the flip side (pun intended), it’s incredible to watch how far Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound has fallen. This card once fetched nearly $100 in Standard, and now copies can be had from Star City Games for around $20. I’d watch this one closely as it bottoms out—the card is difficult to reprint, Origins probably wasn’t opened nearly as much as Khans of Tarkir or Battle for Zendikar, and Jace is still very powerful in non-rotating formats.
  • Is Old School still a strong format? I like to look at Chaos Orb as my ultimate gauge of the format’s health. The reason is simple: it’s the only format I know of where the card is legal! So, let’s see…Star City Games has zero Alpha copies ($899.99), zero Beta copies ($499.99), and one Unlimited MP copy ($174.99). Conclusion: yes, Old School is alive and well! Based on this data, it’s very possible that I forego Vintage and keep Old School as my major MTG investment. But again, if much of the growth is already priced in, then perhaps this is the perfect time to sell rather than hold. I need to think on this some more.

chaos-orb

6 thoughts on “Insider: The First Step of My Portfolio Reconfiguration

  1. I like your direction here. If you had, say, $1000 to spend on cards with this investment thesis, where would you invest it?

    I have about that much in ABU Games store credit. I’m 100% onboard with RL and Old School specs.

    1. Kelly,

      Thanks for the comment!! $1,000 to spend in ABU credit eh? I would be careful going deep on Old School stuff from ABU – they tend to have inflated prices since they’re pretty bought into the value of older cards. Lately the best I found from ABU was either some mostly casual / EDH RL stuff (Memory Jar, Volrath’s Stronghold, Academy Rector) or else their sealed product. If you believe in eventual appreciation of Fat Packs, they have some very cheap ones worth looking at.

      Good luck!
      Sig

      1. They do indeed mark up their old stuff loads. However they are cheap on played old stuff it seems.

        Any specific RL or oldschool cards you like right now?

        1. Right now? So much has gotten really expensive lately. I think perhaps some of the Alpha commons like Shatter or Stone Rain? Played cards in the format that aren’t as flashy as Hypnotic Specter or Lightning Bolt. Also, Unlimited cards sometimes trade at significant discounts to Alpha and Beta. Something like a Disrupting Scepter comes to mind. The Hive is an even cheaper play.

          Just be careful, since Old School has gotten really expensive lately. Juzam Djinn and Chaos Orb, for example, have gone on quite the run already so I’m not sure if there’s any short term upside.

  2. This was a really good article Sig. It’s something Tarkan and I have been discussing on QS Cast – and planned on Portfolio episodes. It’s great to make folks aware, and it’s better to go even further like you did.

    Consolidation is great, and I think additional articles and/or Podcasts reinforcing that (with actual examples) is just great content.

    Well done.

    1. Chaz,

      Thanks for the kind words! I don’t think the MTG writing community is very transparent about their portfolio. Sure, sometimes we like to show off a well-timed pick. But in reality when it comes to long term investing, most people don’t dive into their portfolio in a transparent way that would benefit newcomers to MTG Finance. That’s what I’m striving to provide, hopefully in a modest way. 🙂

      Thanks for the comment,
      Sig

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