Insider: Scouring the Market for Commons

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Another Pro Tour come and gone, this event proved to be an enjoyable weekend of Modern. Well, enjoyable for the spectators at least. I’m not sure if all professional players are as excited to play Modern as speculators are as excited to watch it, but it proved to be a successful weekend. And there were even some prime opportunities to make some money for QS Insiders—always a good thing!

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In years past, I would write an analysis of the Pro Tour, the top decks, and key cards worth watching coming out of the event. But this tournament seemed fairly straightforward, and Quiet Speculation’s PT Coverage Team did a phenomenal job covering the event. Therefore, I’m not going to attempt to write about the event since there are others far more qualified to do so.

Instead, I want to stay on the topic of Pauper, which continues to surprise me. It seems a couple times a week now there’s a random common from Magic’s history that spikes due to Pauper. These exogenous events are driven heavily by Pauper excitement, and I want to try and participate a little more actively in the trend. Unfortunately, I’m no Pauper metagame expert either. So when Cho-Manno's Blessing spiked over the weekend, I was left scratching my head, wondering how I could have caught this buyout.

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Then it occurred to me. The same strategy I used to pick up Reserved List cards about to spike can be reapplied to Pauper cards! Allow me to explain.

The Method

TCGplayer is an extremely valuable tool when it comes to monitoring market trends. And it just so happens that they have a nice feature that sorts cards in order of popularity whenever you perform a search. What does that mean? It means any search you run will return the cards that have been selling the most in recent days. Well, that’s exactly the kind of data we need to predict buyouts!

So the process is simple: pick an older set and do an advanced search where you review all cards from that set. The best selling cards will be on top. From there, you only need to check for commons with low stock—especially in Near Mint and Lightly Played play sets—and target accordingly. If you want to focus only on commons, you could filter results further to do so.

The only other thing I’d recommend is checking major shops like Star City Games and Card Kingdom to make sure they are low in stock or sold out. Otherwise, data can be misleading. You don’t want to finish buying out a common for $1 each only to find Star City Games still had 20 in stock at a quarter a piece.

Once you confirm the card is selling well, low in stock, and absent at most vendors’ websites, you know a spike is likely and a buy list increase is imminent. That’s when you scour your LGS and your secret websites to find copies at cheap prices!

A Few Examples

The previous section is the one that proverbially teaches you how to fish. But for those looking for the easiest money, I’ll even feed you a few fish myself to demonstrate the utility of this process.

I started with Judgment. It’s got a few Pauper all-stars I already knew about, such as Battle Screech and Prismatic Strands, and the set is plenty old! Here’s what I found.

Hello! This card appears to be spiking, and it’s still under the radar because it’s still under two bucks and won’t show up on MTG Stocks just yet. But with only 33 sellers (21 with NM/LP copies), this is all but bought out. Most vendors are sold out, and eBay is already priced more expensively. Flaring Pain is a screaming buy if you can find them for under a buck.

The next card that caught my eye was Serene Heart out of Mirage. It’s actually the second best seller (after Choking Sands) but has far less stock than the land destruction spell. Star City Games is sold out and I am pretty sure this card buy lists for non-bulk pricing already.

This one isn’t as close to popping as Flaring Pain, but it’s great sideboard tech against Bogles strategies in Pauper, and Mirage is a very old set.

Since Mirage turned up something useful, I thought I’d check Visions next. I was not expecting Quirion Ranger to show up on top. But seeing as it’s already $3, I fear we may have missed this boat.

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But the second card seems far more interesting.

As another card sold out at many shops, and just 49 total vendors on TCGplayer, Crypt Rats seems primed to pop. I’m pretty sure there’s a Rats deck of sorts in Pauper, so that is likely the source of demand.

How about one more? I looked at a bunch of other older sets, but nothing really leapt out at me. Then I found Morningtide and saw Distant Melody.

The card seems like it would be popular in any tribal Pauper deck, or any tribal deck for that matter. I do see that Star City Games has a bunch of played copies in stock at $1.19 each, so this one isn’t exactly spiking. But it is selling well now and may jump should those last copies dry up.

Shifting Gears a Bit

While running through this exercise, I have to take a quick detour and point out some trends in Alpha cards. The All Alpha format is gaining traction, and while you’re not about to see 100-player side events at Grands Prix anytime soon, it doesn’t take more than a few incremental players to trigger notable movement in the market.

So what shows up when I do the same exercise on TCGplayer? Funny enough, it’s a bunch of commons! But these cards aren’t hot because of Pauper. Instead, they’re selling out to collectors and All Alpha deck builders. Trust me, this is a thing.

Mono-green decks are a popular choice, hence the recent run on Alpha Llanowar Elves, Giant Growth and most recently, Tranquility.

No one has paid the new price yet on TCGplayer, and the market price is just $7. I did a broader search and found some copies near that price on eBay and with other vendors. But these price moves are happening fast considering the fact these cards have been stagnant for ages.

Next on the list of top sellers is Scathe Zombies.

Yes. Scathe Zombies. As in, the vanilla 2/2 for three mana. There are three copies in stock, with the cheapest listed at $24.99. Again, the market price isn’t nearly that high, but this could trigger folks buying out cheaper copies they can scrounge up at other sites. I did a search myself and couldn’t find many at the market price of $4.50.

Next is another black card worth your attention. And this one does sell at a higher price already.

This card doubles as playable in Old School. It’s just a common, but it’s nearly gone from TCGplayer. It’s only a matter of time before these sell, and then the only copies left will be $25 and up just like the other cards discussed. Or maybe this one trends more like Llanowar Elves and Giant Growth, where the only cards left on TCGplayer are three figures. Granted, that kind of price won’t stick, but this is the new reality for the Alpha market.

Before you jump in head first, though, be aware of some of the limitations of these investments. They’re a little less liquid than some of the Pauper cards I mentioned earlier. Also, it can be easy to be fooled into paying too much for a card simply because pricing on TCGplayer is whacky. Before making any purchases, make sure you scour the internet thoroughly to ensure the copies you’re buying are truly underpriced relative to the rest of the market. For example, if you had bought those Alpha Tranquilitys on TCGplayer, you would be overpaying relative to eBay.

Lastly, think before you buy. This should always go without saying, but with Alpha cards in particular, it’s easy to see a buyout and go crazy without considering the true utility of a card. You don’t have to know the All Alpha metagame to know that some cards are playable while others are flat-out useless. This judgement is critical with a market where bid/ask spreads can get huge.

Wrapping It Up

The theme of this week’s article is commons! Both commons for Pauper and commons for All Alpha are hot right now. And while often times commons are not worth examining due to their high populations, older sets are definitely worth browsing for hidden gems.

This week, I reminded readers the strategy I use to find cards that are about to spike. It’s not perfect, but it does help you get ahead of trends before they suddenly show up on the MTG Stocks Interests page. By then, it’s often too late. Short of monitoring metagame trends closely, I’ve found this to be one of the more effective methods in tracking these trends.

Lastly, I want to touch upon something I forgot to mention in last week’s Pauper article: foils. When looking at these older cards, foils can be a much better way of profiting from Pauper hype. Just make sure you’re sticking to copies in nicer condition. I noticed Land Grant was selling well from Judgment, but there are far too many copies in stock to be interesting. But perhaps foils are better to pick up to make a quick buck? Something to consider.

It’s a strange time to be buying up commons left and right, but this is the current reality. Rather than ignore this trend, let’s embrace it and try to get ahead of the curve where possible. That’s the best way to ensure we can make money on Magic no matter what format is popular at any given moment.



  • For Sigbits this week, I’m going to look at Card Kingdom prices/stock rather than Star City Games. It seems SCG hasn’t hopped onto the Old School / Alpha bandwagon yet, so their prices are still way too low. For example, SCG shows Alpha Plague Rats (one of my favorites) at $9.99. Meanwhile Card Kingdom has just one copy in stock, EX, priced at $19.99. This is a much more accurate representation of the market!
  • Llanowar Elves is another good one: Card Kingdom’s current NM price is $49.99 but they are sold out. I trust they will raise their price yet again. Alpha cards are really popping on Card Kingdom’s buy list, and this will push the trend even harder. The same goes for Giant Growth, sold out at $19.99 and likely to go higher.
  • If you still have doubts that Alpha cards are very desirable right now, look no further than Benalish Hero. When this card is sold out at Card Kingdom with a price tag of $11.99, you know the trend is real. Alpha cards are hot. Hard stop.

5 thoughts on “Insider: Scouring the Market for Commons

  1. “The All Alpha format is gaining traction”

    Are you trying to convince us or yourself? I would higly doubt that an All Alpha format would ever create enough demand for your average mtgfinance enthusiast to find interested players. There simply aren’t enough cards to go around.

    Land Grant is not from Judgment.

    1. I have seen a handful of people sharing their Alpha builds. If it’s not the All Alpha format, then minimally collectors are paying more attention to the set recently. Seems coincidental, but perhaps you’re right. But there is an All Alpha event in Europe this year that is surely sparking some interest.

  2. Personally, I think this kind of articles are the reason why people are mad on the mtg finance community, and I can’t blame them.

    Anyway, I would personally stay away from pauper. Reprints will hurt much harder. And when there is a hype train, sell what you have, don’t start buying.

    It’s not worth the shipping costs, too much risks and people are less inclined to buy an overpriced common anyway, so the chances are higher that the spike is only coming from speculation demand, and not from real playing demand.

    1. More clarification: you are explaining how to look for cards you don’t really need, but with the only goal to create a temporary spike in demand to initiate a faster spike.

    2. I understand your perspective and respect the opinion. I’m not advocating a massive run on random Pauper staples. I’m merely advocating that people pay close attention to trends on TCGplayer and acquire some copies of cards that are suddenly drying up. It may not be worth some people’s time that’s true. But minimally it’s worth digging through your bulk for these cards to have them ready in case there is a run on them. Since stock is getting low on them, a spike could happen at any time and being prepared with your copies pulled ready to list could pay dividends. It doesn’t have to be about buying out a card or manipulating the market.

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