One Magic-related New Years’ resolution I wish to make is to increase my involvement in speculation on formats outside of ‘93/’94. While the majority of my investments will remain in this space and I will continuously be buying and selling cards to build this portion of the portfolio, I will also make a diligent effort to expand my horizons and take advantage of some other profitable opportunities.
Part of the reason I stayed so narrowly focused on Old School last year was my growing interest in the format. The collector in me also appreciated the classic feel of Magic’s earliest cards given their rarity. The other reason was simple: returns on Old School cards were phenomenal throughout the year. Who could argue with a chart like this one?
To kick off this year with a nod towards this resolution, I want to share a few ideas that will get you off on the right foot for MTG finance in 2018. I’ll share some ideas catalyzed by something other than Old School. There may still be some Reserved List or old cards on this list of picks, but they have potential for some other characteristic besides ‘93/’94 playability. After all, I won’t be able to ignore the format completely.
Pauper: Call me a Believer
A format designed to be extremely cheap and filled with commons from Magic? Other than Limited, this could possibly be the most uninteresting format to MTG financiers. But believe it or not, there are some real opportunities here.
Last week I mentioned one or two cards I knew about, including Oubliette from Arabian Nights. But after following some tweets—most notably from Douglas Johnson—I’ve discovered a few other actionable targets.
The target DJ mentioned that I liked enough to buy into was Battle Screech.
This is one of those cards that takes advantage of a strange loophole in Pauper that I recently learned. Even though Battle Screech was printed as an uncommon from Judgment, it was reprinted digitally in Vintage Masters for MTGO. Since its reprint in that set was as a common, the card is legal in Pauper. Convenient, right? Not only does it add to Pauper’s card pool, but it also makes a single-printing uncommon quite desirable. Perhaps that’s why it buylists for over two bucks!
I’m still learning about the Pauper metagame, but if Lingering Souls can be good enough for Legacy play, then a different card that gives you four 1/1 flyers for four mana could certainly be playable in a format filled with commons. It helps that there are just 52 sellers of this card on TCGplayer, making a gradual buyout very possible over the coming months.
DJ has also been tweeting frequently about Ash Barrens and Chainer's Edict. The former is already pretty expensive—I think we missed the best part of that ride. The latter is a solid pickup but there are hundreds of copies in stock online. It will take a while for these to dry up, which makes them far less interesting as a pick. Still, it’s a great card in Pauper given the card advantage it provides throughout a game.
Instead of rambling on about a format I know little about, I’d suggest going to DJ’s TCGplayer article here and reading through his picks. He’s an expert in the format and I would pay close attention to cards he calls attention to.
Blood Sun Action
When Blood Sun was spoiled as a new card from Rivals of Ixalan, the market snapped to attention. In the same way that Solemnity triggered buyouts of counter-related cards, Blood Sun is driving hype around certain lands. Namely, lands with drawbacks that are negated by Blood Sun’s ability.
The poster child for this interaction is Lotus Vale, a Reserved List card from Weatherlight.
While I don’t think this hype can last, I do feel there are a few other lands worth mentioning for long-term potential. These are other lands that are augmented by Blood Sun because their drawback is eliminated.
First, there’s Balduvian Trading Post from Alliances. While you can’t use its damage ability under Blood Sun, the card still gives you an extra mana with no requirement to sacrifice a mountain when it comes into play. It essentially becomes an on-color Sol-land. It also helps that this is a Reserved List card from many years ago—an extra perk.
Perhaps more interestingly, there’s Lake of the Dead, which has similar wording to Balduvian Trading Post. Therefore, there’s no need to sacrifice an untapped swamp when it enters play as long as Blood Sun is already out. And, if my analysis is correct, I think you can still use Lake of the Dead’s ability to generate four black mana. It’s still a mana ability, and gatherer specifically mentions “The tap and sacrifice counts as tapping the land for mana.” To me this indicates this is a mana ability and is therefore allowed.
Granted, Lake of the Dead has already gotten very expensive given it’s a useful Reserved List card from long ago.
But at $20, this playable land from Alliances could certainly see another leg higher in 2018. It also shows up in over 2,000 decks on EDH REC, which is nothing to slouch at. I like this and the whole Alliances cycle of lands with similar effects, but Lake of the Dead and Balduvian Trading Post are the only ones with upside with Blood Sun.
An Aggressive Buylist Change
Lastly, I want to alert the community to a recent catalyst I noticed in the market. I’ll admit this has to do with more Reserved List cards, but these are cards that don’t see much play in Old School. Instead, they are rare and attracting the attention of collectors and speculators, causing the market to rapidly dry up.
The catalyst I am referring to is the recent bump in buylist on Arabian Nights cards at ABU Games. For the longest time, Card Kingdom had been the most aggressive with their Arabian Nights buylists. But now this has shifted to ABU Games, and it’s likely to drive the next leg in the run on these cards.
For example, ABU Games upped their buy price on Khabál Ghoul to $61.35 for Near Mint copies and $26.67 for played copies. This is a significant premium to other buylists out there and it far exceeds Card Kingdom’s $25 buy price for Near Mint.
I don’t even think this card is particularly good in any format, but here we are with this new crazy buy price. There’s only about 30 copies in stock on TCGplayer, with most being either HP copies (that may come in too poor for ABU Games’s buylist) or MP/LP copies that are likely not near mint enough for ABU’s NM buy price. Funny how these numbers create these noteworthy shifts in available copies on the market.
But the crazy buy prices doesn’t stop there. In fact, across the board ABU Games is suddenly buying Arabian Nights cards very aggressively! $800 for Juzám Djinn and Library of Alexandria, $160 for Old Man of the Sea, $53 for Singing Tree, $160 for Ali from Cairo, $266 for Guardian Beast, $160 for Erhnam Djinn. The list just goes on and on. Of course, their played pricing is more in line with Card Kingdom, but it’s still an impressive list of numbers for anything in near-mint condition you may own from this set. Add in that 50% buylist bonus, and it’s clear ABU Games is buying Arabian Nights cards very aggressively.
The result: these will march higher throughout 2018. This will move the market yet again, and will force other vendors to either follow in pricing or remain out of stock on these cards indefinitely. Given the strength of demand for these collectibles lately, I suspect they will move buy prices accordingly. This will lead to another year of great returns on these older cards. I only hope ABU does the same with Legends cards next because I am sitting on a ton of them.
Wrapping It Up
Old School Magic has really moved markets tremendously over the past couple years. I don’t see that trend reversing in 2018 and I will continue to advocate buying into Reserved List cards and Alpha/Beta playables for your portfolio. But that doesn’t mean there are no opportunities elsewhere. Pauper, newly spoiled cards from Rivals of Ixalan, and shifts in buylist prices can all catalyze movement in prices.
And that is certainly not the end of catalysts in 2018. Modern and Legacy being played at Pro Tours will certainly drive interest in these formats. Then we have Masters 25 coming out—this set will hurt reprinted card values, but anything that dodges reprint will have the “all clear” to move higher. And if the set drives greater interest in Legacy, expect another year of solid returns on dual lands.
All in all, this gives me significant optimism for a lucrative year. But this time, I am going to try and branch out beyond Old School when looking for my profits. Just don’t expect me to neglect the format altogether. If I see a trend worth mentioning, such as drastic increases in buy prices at a major vendor, I am going to mention it for your awareness. Since this has become my niche in MTG finance, I observe this market very closely and will report back any developments I find…along with the occasional new idea!
- One card that has endured recent reprints surprisingly well is Liliana of the Veil. The Modern Masters 2017 version recently hit all-time highs, and Star City Games has just two copies of the reprinted version in stock at $84.99. They have only 9 Innistrad copies, which is also surprisingly low. If she dodges reprint in Masters 25, which I find likely, she can easily crack $100 and climb higher on Modern Pro Tour hype.
- Other Modern Masters cards are also seeing all-time highs recently. Gifts Ungiven and Cyclonic Rift have both recovered strongly from the Modern Masters 2017 reprinting. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn copies from Modern Masters 2015 are also hitting all-time highs. Other popular cards from these sets are also likely to climb throughout 2018 since there likely isn’t a Modern Masters set this year.
- When Hatred spiked recently thanks to some more Reserved List hype, it caused me to look at other cards from that era with potential upside. This will likely merit a separate article altogether. But for now, Recurring Nightmare comes to mind as a relatively inexpensive, playable Reserved List card worth buying. I see about 100 sellers with copies in stock on TCGplayer but when I filter down to Lightly Played and Near Mint copies that list drops in half.