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Insider: More Market Manipulation

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As I’ve gotten more into the Old School MTG scene, my Twitter feed has become a hybridization of Old School news and MTG finance. A bit of a dichotomy I’ll admit, but a functional one that checks each box for what I want out of this hobby. A non-rotating format consisting of cards that are immune to reprinting (either because they’re on the Reserved List or because they’re Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards) and that offer me the nostalgia I crave in the game.

So I just run with it.

The most interesting MTG finance news lately came not from the finance half of my newsfeed. Much to my surprise, it came from the Old School community. This may seem surprising until you see the context. You see, the community was thoroughly angry with Rudy of Alpha Investments for a video he posted recently about Bazaar of Baghdad.

In this video, Rudy presents his possible intentions in buying out Bazaar for under $1000. As much as I hate to give credence to his shenanigans, I can’t argue with the resulting data…


Did He Actually Do It?

While this may be a curious question to answer, it’s really not the important one. To us finance people, we need to understand the impact of the video. Whether or not Rudy is going to buy out the market of a given card is something we can’t predict and have no control over. Therefore, that detail alone is not something to help us make or save money in Magic.

The question we need to address is, “What happens to a card’s price after Rudy posts a video about it?” That’s the key. That’s what we need to be able to predict whenever one of these videos shows up among the Old School community’s chatter. Love him or hate him, if his actions move the market we should at least be aware of this impact.

In the case of Bazaar of Baghdad, it appears his actions may have had an effect.

(Click to expand.)

Clearly TCGplayer’s stock and pricing were impacted by the Alpha Investments video. Whether Rudy was the buyer of the card or it was a group of desperate players and speculators looking to capitalize on the trend is irrelevant. The correlation holds true in this case: a video is posted about Bazaar of Baghdad and the card’s price went much higher throughout the week. And it’s really rare we see a 100%+ gain on a three-figure card!

In essence, Rudy is yanking the chain on this unregulated financial market to see how far he can push things. Given the fact that he has 100,000-plus subscribers—quite the following—I’d say it’s likely he can push things quite far. Is that wrong of him? Is he a greedy market manipulator? While these are interesting moral questions, they’re not relevant to an MTG finance column. Whether or not we agree with the practice, what we need to accept is that Rudy’s videos are correlated with market buyouts.

Okay, so for now we’re tabling our moral compass in order to assess what this guy is doing to the market, particularly on old, rare cards on the Reserved List. He only needs to convince a dozen people out of the hundreds of thousands who watch his videos that they need to acquire their Bazaar of Baghdads immediately before the market explodes. That’s enough to trigger the self-fulfilling prophecy and spike the market.

Period. End of story. Again, this is an unregulated market so what he is doing is legal and very easily achieved. That’s a consequence of the Reserved List and the fact that Magic’s oldest cards are printed in extremely low quantities relative to the millions of global players. The same can happen to similar cards at any time: Library of Alexandria, Juzám Djinn, Diamond Valley, etc. are all extremely vulnerable to manipulation.


Acting Upon This Information

In a way, I kind of did the same thing inadvertently. If I’m not building a deck, Magic tends to get stale to me. I decided to take on a new project with deckbuilding to give me something new to get excited about.

Recently I read about these all-Alpha decks people in Sweden were building, and the idea sounded really cool. At the same time, I coincidentally noticed that Alpha Plague Rats were nearly gone from eBay and TCGplayer, yet I found a handful of copies at a few bucks each at some major retailers. With no four-of rule in an all-Alpha format, I stumbled upon a fun deck idea. What started as an attempt at arbitrage became inspiration for a new deck.

Seventeen Plague Rats later, I can’t find any copies for under $30 anywhere. Major retailers are sold out and eBay/TCGplayer only have overpriced copies to purchase. There are a few copies on MKM at around $10, but it’s not really worth the hassle with shipping and finding an intermediary in Europe (and sufficiently compensating them for their time). So I guess I “bought out” the market.


While my motivations were certainly different from Rudy’s, the point remains the same. Anyone can do this, at any time. The market on these older cards are so fragile that spending less than $100 on a seemingly useless common can cause a spike on the pricing websites that everyone follows.

So with this market fragility, what are we to do? I’m not advocating you go and buy out Alpha and Arabian Nights cards. I don’t support this kind of intentional market manipulation. But as an MTG finance column, we must acknowledge the reality. By ignoring it, you are basically accepting that you’ll either never own some of these classic cards or that you will be willing to bear whatever the market price is at the time you are ready to make your purchase.

I’m far more proactive than that. I have made sure to prioritize older cards I want to own for whatever reason: an Old School deck, for my collection, or yes, even for speculation. Any card on the Reserved List or from Alpha and Beta that I hope to own, I have prioritized.

I also had to convince myself that it is okay that I don’t own the ones I don’t prioritize. I used to own a Bazaar of Baghdad but the card sat in my binder rotting. I love the artwork on this classic card, but was that enough to justify sitting on it when I could flip it into cards I would actually play? I didn’t think so. Now I am tempted to scramble and find another copy to reacquire for my collection before all copies disappear. But that wasn’t my priority a year ago so it should not be a priority now. I need to accept this and move on.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember during these hype-driven buyouts is to keep a level head. The moment I watched Rudy’s video I had never wanted to own a Bazaar of Baghdad more. I even found some copies at reasonable prices (mostly in Japan). But to rush out and buy copies out of “Fear of Missing Out” is playing directly into Rudy’s hands. That’s what he wants people to do. He is making profits on others’ panic-buying.

I kept myself in check, but just barely. I already decided before the buyout that this was not a card I needed to own. Therefore, I am not going to give in to emotions and panic-buy a copy. Of course, if I stumble upon an underpriced one somewhere I will consider buying it to flip. But I’m not going to feed the hype machine that Rudy has built.

Some Tips to Consider

In addition to prioritizing your acquisitions, here are some other tips to consider when facing these hype-driven buyouts.

  • Make sure you know right now what Reserved List cards you wish to own eventually, and prioritize those. Buyouts can happen at any time, even during the holidays, so knowing what you wish to acquire—and also what you are okay foregoing—will help you overcome emotions during a buyout.
  • If a buyout does happen, don’t forget to shop around at some of the international sites. Whether it was Rudy who bought out Bazaar of Baghdad or his desperate followers, they did a sloppy job. There are a few copies on Hareruya as of this article’s writing as well as some played copies on eBay, all under $1,000.
  • Don’t be a victim and blame Rudy for market manipulation. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else. By being proactive, you can reap the benefits of this shady behavior rather than feel left out when a card spikes.
  • Pay close attention to Card Kingdom’s buylist. They change pricing on Old School cards frequently, and I have gotten in front of a few trends thanks to checking their site daily for price changes. They pumped their buy price on Bazaar of Baghdad right around the same time as these buyouts.
  • If you want an expensive Reserved List card but don’t have the funds immediately available, at least make sure you track stock on the card very closely. If you start to see copies disappearing, it could be a sign that your window of opportunity is nearly closed. Don’t panic, but you may want to sell a few things that are less prone to buyouts to fund acquisition of that Reserved List card you need for your deck, cube, or collection.

Wrapping It Up

The Old School community is livid that Rudy posted a video with the intention of manipulating the price on Bazaar of Baghdad. This is damaging to the format because it prices more and more people out. Whether you feel the same way or not about Rudy’s behavior, the impact remains unchanged. Therefore I propose we put our moral compass aside for a moment to accept the reality.

The reality is these Arabian Nights cards are extremely rare. The people who tend to acquire these cards are building Vintage decks and cubes that will likely never be taken apart. Therefore copies are forever drying up from the market, inevitably driving prices higher. When you add hype to the equation, you tend to get crazy price spikes.

Copies will eventually drip back into the market, but the reality is people will start to demand higher prices for their cards simply because they paid higher prices. Buylists will have to adjust because vendors will be out of stock after the buyout.

This is an inevitability. You can either complain about it or you can be proactive. I don’t own Bazaar of Baghdad and I regret the jump in price. But this card wasn’t a priority of mine and I need to accept things and move on. To harp about it and to panic-buy copies is to play into the hands of the manipulators.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on cards I really want for play and making sure to acquire them first. This is exactly why I made it a priority to buy Erhnam Djinns, Serendib Efreets, and City of Brasses for my decks. I didn’t know which card would be manipulated next, but I knew I wanted these so I sold some other things and bought them. It is annoying that others’ antics are influencing my decisions, but I’d rather own these cards now than regret not owning them when someone posts a hype video that gets 100,000 views.


This is the only way I’ve managed to endure this manipulation without getting too upset. I’d highly recommend you consider this pragmatic approach as well. I can’t stop the manipulators—sometimes I even inadvertently manipulate the market myself—but we can step up our preparation and ignore the “noise” that follows. It’s worked for me, anyways.

Sigbits

  • What would be good to prioritize next? How about Library of Alexandria? The card is useful in Vintage, Old School, and Cube. Star City Games has a single played copy in stock at $800, but you can find some cheaper ones if you scour the internet. There are also nearly 20 copies on TCGplayer, so you have some time if you are okay with an HP copy. But watch this one closely if it’s on your “wants” list because it won’t take much to cause another spike.
  • The card that really seems dangerously low in stock is Juzám Djinn. Three copies on TCGplayer, though Star City Games does have five themselves. Again, watch this one closely because it wouldn’t take much for someone to post a video and create the next hype-driven buyout.
  • If this Alpha thing really catches on, it can really apply some upward pressure on prices. I was in the market for an Alpha Hypnotic Specter the other day and was shocked at how expensive this uncommon was! You expect tournament playables like Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares to be expensive. But Hypnotic Specter hasn’t been good in Grand Prix formats for many years. Yet there are just two in stock on TCGplayer and zero on Star City Games, with a price tag in the $150 range!

9 thoughts on “Insider: More Market Manipulation

  1. I think the vendors at GP Singapore forgot the memo as well. I saw the AI vid and promptly looked for Bazaars finding about 10 spread among the dealers with the most expensive being a SP+ one for a little under $900. And there were quite a few more in high end traders binders as well. I think the thing to keep in mind is that yes these cards are rare but they are still out there and not THAT rare.

    1. Very good point, Christopher! I appreciate the data – this underscores the fact that the market manipulators are very much operating in the U.S. While there’s definitely some arbitrage that takes place, it’s impossible for Rudy and his followers to find every copy out there. So when the next buyout happens, it’s important not to panic and purchase the first one you find. A little discipline and some creativity and you can uncover copies still at the “old price”, at least for a short time.

      Did you get any? For trade? 😀

      1. No, I didn’t. I have more cash than trade assets right now and will be in Europe soon so am waiting for (assuming) better prices there to blow most of that cash on so I tend to be more conservative. For example, with the SP+ Bazaar, I negotiated it down to $850 USD but delcined. I wanted it for no more than $800 because cards around a grand can be tough to move, not sure how high this current spike will stick, and am looking for better arbitrage. Maybe I’m a fool for passing on it for that price. Time will tell. Not really concerned though because I’ll find and make good deals either way. And for trade, they wanted too much of a premium out of my Modern/Legacy/EDH binders so I declined again.

        1. Not a fool at all. It’s tough to sink a large amount of cash on a single card because it will be tougher to move at the “new price”. You could be sitting on that card for quite a while, and that represents opportunity cost. Money you could be putting to work elsewhere. So I commend your discipline and not giving into the hype.

  2. I was going to post on here asking what actually happened to bazaar of Baghdad. In past week, I sold 6 copies of it and Rudy actually approached me multiple times through multiple accounts for the card. He only offered under $700 for NM copies of mine which I declined..

    that makes sense now…

    I sold out of Juzam last week too and these 2cards has been the subject of attention in past week with offers coming in every couple of hours.

    I think it cooled down as of 2-3days ago…

    great article.

    May I ask which site do you use to monitor buyouts such as these on a daily basis?

    1. Thanks for the comment, Trevi! I’m so glad you declined his offers. At this point, I don’t like making blanket comments about a person but if you are getting offers from Rudy to buy your high end cards, be VERY wary. He could be making these offers with manipulation in mind. Make sure you weigh that out before deciding to sell.

      Personally I have found Card Kingdom’s buy list to be extremely fluid, agile, and reliable. So I check their site almost daily for high end Arabian Nights cards to see how they’re reacting to the latest market movements.

      MTG Stocks is also great for price trends, though it focuses on TCGplayer numbers instead of buy lists.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Sig

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