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Insider: MTG Observations from GP Louisville

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At last it was reckoning day. This past weekend I traveled the painless two hours required to attend Grand Prix Louisville. This was the culminating moment for my MTG portfolio. The moment when I would make critical decisions about my investments in Magic going forward.

As it turns out, I didn’t make too many dramatic changes after all. Sure, my trade binder was reduced to nothing but a few speculative purchases such as foil Temple Bell and numerous Beck // Calls. But when it comes to my investments—my Old School and Vintage cards—very little changed.

In fact, I even strengthened my investments in a few strategic areas based on observations made throughout the weekend-long event. In addition, I also noticed a couple other noteworthy trends at the dealer tables. Allow me to explain.

Long Live Old School

Naturally, my eyes tended to drift most frequently to the Old School cards in dealer cases throughout the weekend. The fact that dealers even had Old School cards in their cases is a major testament to the vitality of the format. One and a half years ago while I was browsing for ‘93/’94 cards at Grand Prix Las Vegas, I found almost nothing on display for the format.

I even remember asking numerous vendors if they had played Unlimited and Beta stuff for sale, and only one vendor in the entire room had a smattering of played Old School stuff in a random box tucked behind the counter. I also remember there were probably a total of three Juzám Djinns for sale at all the vendor booths combined.


In Louisville, things were extremely different. The largest nod to Old School’s legitimacy was the fact that Star City Games had an entire section of their case dedicated to played Old School cards. We’re talking everything ranging from Legends Spirit Link to HP Beta Birds of Paradise. They even had played Unlimited cards in their case, which typically draws little attention from the speculation crowd if not for demand in ‘93/’94.

Other vendors even had a smattering of useful Alpha and Beta Old School cards, as well as the heavy hitters from Arabian Nights, Legends, and Antiquities. My favorite part: it seemed like almost every vendor had at least one or two Juzáms for sale. At last, vendors are recognizing the healthy demand for these cards.

Channel Fireball had some of the best buy prices on Old School in the room. But I will also point out that I sold a few MP and HP cards to Alter Reality Games and was very pleased with their offers. Not only do vendors recognize the legitimacy of the format, but they also are paying well even on played copies of the cards—a testament to the demand from actual players and not just collectors of these extremely rare cards.

I took the opportunity to actually build upon my Old School investment by upgrading a couple of cards in my deck to Alpha or Beta. I continue to believe in this format’s player base and encourage participation. But I will again caution against speculation here.

Not only is it unhealthy for the format, but it also reduces accessibility, which in turn deters newcomers and reduces demand for Old School cards across the board. To speculate here is to risk locking yourself into a long period of time with illiquid cards. I would suggest picking up whatever you wish to play with now and nothing more.

On the playing front, the highlight of the weekend for me was most definitely my battle with vocal and prominent Old School player Danny Friedman. He was extremely friendly and seeing his deck was a delight.

Not only was it nearly 100% Alpha (including the Power), but the objective of the deck was hilariously imaginative. It was a control deck built around the objective of flipping as many Chaos Orbs as possible. He accomplishes this by playing Copy Artifact and Guardian Beast to allow for infinite flips. Needless to say the game I lost was one where I wound up with zero permanents in play.

Vintage!

I didn’t play in the main event, but I did participate in my first ever sanctioned Vintage event. While I made a laughable number of misplays, I still enjoyed slinging cardboard with the game’s most powerful cards ever printed.

All I’ll say here is that the Vintage crowd is alive and well. Friday’s two side events brought in nearly 30 Vintage entrants, and both of Saturday’s Vintage events fired as well, despite competition from the main event. Vintage players all seem to me like they have a unique personality and mindset about the game. All I can say is, I’m glad to be numbered among them.

From a finance standpoint, I have decided to hold onto my Vintage deck as an investment. While some cards are at risk of reprint such as Mana Crypt and fetch lands, the upside potential in Reserved List cards such as Tolarian Academy and Yawgmoth's Will makes for an attractive enough proposition. These cards won’t ever get outclassed from a power level standpoint.


Standard, Frontier and Modern

This wasn’t a Standard or Modern Grand Prix, so it’s no surprise that discussion around these formats was minimal. When I arrived on site, all the vendors were already sold out of Surgical Extraction, which had been bought out just the night before. I even managed to buylist my copy for ten bucks, roughly double what I had hoped for the day before the event.

Then on Saturday morning when Aether Revolt spoilers went live, the room sold out of Saheeli Rai almost immediately. Prices on the Planeswalker spiked from $5 to $20 instantly.


But other than the buyouts, I don’t think there was a ton of noteworthy action around Modern. I will take the liberty to insert a jive at Frontier by comparing the number of Old School sections in vendor cases (many) with the number of Frontier sections (zero). Browsing hot lists, it didn’t appear many dealers were eager to pick up Frontier potentials like Collected Company or Anafenza, the Foremost.

In fact, I did see multiple vendors start the weekend with aggressively high buy prices on Khans fetches, only to cross out their numbers and reduce them all by a couple bucks. These are extremely plentiful, and I think it’ll take a bit more than speculation on a rogue format to move the needle.

I would still stay away from buying too deeply here—if Wizards of the Coast decided to make a new format between Modern and Standard, I think they would omit Khans block to keep the format fetch-less.

frontier-image


I know there are some very vocal proponents of Frontier on Twitter, but financially speaking I cannot advocate investing here. It’s far too early for an official non-rotating format to be created by Wizards, and I am admittedly speculative of the financiers banging the Frontier drum. Some people are surely genuine about their interest in the format, but consider how some people in the MTG community could benefit financially from hyping Frontier when you look into the format. All I can say is there was no talk of it at the dealer tables…at least not while I was around.

Other General Observations

Every time I attend a Grand Prix, I am absolutely blown away by the net worth of cardboard in the event hall. Not only the high-dollar items, but the countless $5 to $50 cards in the room amaze me. When I first started playing Magic, besides the most iconic and powerful of cards, there were always just a few others worth $20. With the advent of foils, promos, and numerous other introductions, it seems like there are an infinite number of ways to spend $20 on a single card.

To me, this is evidence of two things. One, Magic is a heavily proliferated phenomenon. There are so many ways to enjoy the game, and the variety of cards with real value clearly indicate the existence of significant playerbases for all the various formats. Second, if the secondary market was a stock, it would have a multi-million-dollar market cap. Seeing so much money exchange hands so frequently reminds me how liquid Magic remains. I know this happens at every Grand Prix, but witnessing it first hand was a valuable reminder of the game’s health.

Another detail that became glaringly apparent to me last weekend was the rate at which news spreads thanks to technology. Saturday around noon my friends sent me a DM on Twitter stating that Saheeli Rai was bought out. After rapidly forcing down a mediocre lunch I walked back into the convention center only to find that the card was already sold out everywhere.

There was only one vendor left with copies in stock at the old price and when my friend inquired about them, they checked the price online and quickly upped theirs by 300%. The days of finding arbitrage in real time are pretty much gone unless you do nothing but pay attention to the online market the whole weekend (or get extremely lucky).

I also didn’t find too many mispriced cards in cases. In previous Grand Prix, I usually found some cards selling for less than what another vendor in the room was paying. This never led to huge gains, but the hourly rate of buying a card, walking it over to a different vendor, and selling for an extra dollar or two was always well worth it. Maybe I got to the center too late, or maybe these opportunities just didn’t exist. But the bottom line was, I didn’t find any stellar deals in this fashion.

Lastly, I want to emphasize the value in Star City Games’ Heavily Played case. They are usually fair graders, and while HP is a major turn-off to some players, I often gravitate towards played cards for my decks. If I’m going to shuffle up an Alpha Sol Ring and a ­Beta Demonic Hordes, I would much rather have copies I don’t have to worry about damaging (thereby losing value).

Often times SCG’s HP cards sell for less than TCG pricing for HP—especially on Old School cards. Make sure you stop by this section of their booth at all of their events, especially when you plan on trading cards in to them anyway.

Wrapping It Up

All in all, Grand Prix Louisville was a major success for me. I cashed out of much of my trade binder, which was a primary goal of mine. I also found solid deals on some Old School cards, which I was delighted to pick up. I battled in Vintage, Old School, Commander, and Rainbow Vale pack wars.

Yes, Rainbow Vale pack wars is a thing. It’s not widespread, but I’d encourage you to try it before you knock it. Removing the barrier of getting the right colors to cast spells and adding a dimension of losing lands when playing too aggressively adds a delightful addition to a simple MTG format. The only problem is, this requires a bunch of Rainbow Vales…and those aren’t as cheap anymore.

Also, be aware that my friend is probably driving the price of this card up singlehandedly by purchasing 360 copies for his cube.


This was a great start to 2017 for me personally and for Magic as a whole. Seeing the exchanges in the room reinvigorated my interest in MTG finance, and I look forward to keeping up (as best I can with the new baby) throughout the year. While I will be steering clear of Frontier and Modern speculation, I will definitely continue to buy strategically when it comes to Commander staples. Any quick-flip I can make will also be welcome.

I look forward to the year ahead, and I hope you will continue to follow along with me as I ride the roller coaster that is MTG finance.

Sigbits

  • I have been able to sell a few sets of Beck // Call on eBay so far, but I was disappointed to see the lack of interest from vendors at GP Louisville. One vendor I spoke with stated that they purchased many copies at $1 and weren’t interested in buying anymore. I really don’t think this price will stick unless the card proves itself in a large Modern event. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to sell copies on eBay. SCG is sold out at $1.49, but I don’t even think they’ll increase their price much beyond $3. There’s just not enough real traction…yet.
  • Mana Vault has been printed so many times, yet the card continues to climb in value. According to MTG Stocks, Fourth Edition copies just hit an all-time high. I saw many of these across the vendors at GP Louisville, but they were all priced appropriately. I want to share two observations on this one: first, it’s not on the Reserved List (though a printing would only make sense in Eternal Masters 2018). Second, the buy/sell spread on the card recently tanked, but has slowly been climbing. I don’t think you want to go deep on this one.
  • If you want to go deep on a plentiful card, I think Demonic Tutor is much better. It’s also unlikely to be reprinted in anything but an Eternal Masters set, and copies are really drying up fast. Star City Games has two tournament-legal copies in stock across all printings. The price keeps climbing, and I see nothing that will slow it down in the near-term. Alpha and Beta copies seem like very safe pick-ups here for a long-term investment.

10 thoughts on “Insider: MTG Observations from GP Louisville

  1. Great article. I’m in full agreement regarding frontier. The people pushing it the most also seem to have the most to gain by doing so (which makes sense, but should immediately throw up red flags to outsiders). I was sad I didn’t get to make it to the only legacy GP of the year, but my car ride would have been significantly longer. I am glad that legacy seems to be doing well despite Scag’s reduction in support of the format. I have also heard that Cardkingdom has started holding legacy events.

    1. Thanks, David! I’m sad you couldn’t make it, it would have been nice to meet up and hang out. I appreciate your support on my Frontier views, as well. I know some will likely poke holes at my stance on the format, but to me it seems filled with risk. If I buy anything on Frontier speculation, it would be for the sole purpose of flipping immediately afterward to a “greater fool”. But I will at least admit the momentum behind the format is positive…we’ll see what happens, I suppose.

  2. Good article about overall state of GP events. I would also like to see an in depth article about judge foils in particular if possible. They are quite tempting to buy but at the same time don’t really have much information about this so not sure if they are good spec targets or not.

    1. I think waiting to buy judge foils is best as they always tank as more come out to the secondary market. EX. Imperial Seal is down to $150, now I don’t recall the opening judge price but I believe it was 400-500. So I think in terms if you need one wait for like a deck, cube etc but would be hard pressed personally to pick them up in hopes of gains unless at an amazing price or really long term hold.

    2. Judge Foils are not my area of expertise, so I may not be the best person to report back on these. In fact, the few times I’ve engaged with Judge Foils have burned or nearly burned me. I ALMOST traded a Tarmogoyf for a Judge Karmic Guide before deciding last minute to wait. That card dropped from $100ish to its current $20 price. I DID pull the trigger on a Judge Hanna, Ship’s Navigator and took quite the loss on it. So I’ve learned to just stay away from Judge foils altogether.

  3. Not only is it unhealthy for the format, but it also reduces accessibility, which in turn deters newcomers and reduces demand for Old School cards across the board. To speculate here is to risk locking yourself into a long period of time with illiquid cards. I would suggest picking up whatever you wish to play with now and nothing more.

    * LIKE *

    I’d say “now or in the future”, but yes, very much agree otherwise.

    1. Thanks for echoing and helping me emphasize the point. At the end of the day, I think this is how most Old School players feel about MTG Finance. Speculating on Old School cards makes the format inaccessible. If we let natural interest and demand for the format cause all ships to rise, we’ll get more players involved and prices will rise much more naturally/healthily. 🙂

    1. You shouldn’t be surprised at that. Cards need to be available for a format to see play. If many are speculating on it then due to the rarity of the cards there are few cards available for actual play and none at reasonable prices. This leads to a reduction in demand for the cards. What I quoted a few posts up is exactly why you shouldn’t want to spec on this format.

      I have a few spare old school cards from collections I bought, there is rarely any interest in them. I can definitely confirm that as Sig said these have been very illiquid. Now I am fine waiting for years until I find that person who wants them, but are you?

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