Unlocked: Four Pockets of Strength

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Now that we’re heading towards mid-July, I am fairly confident the Magic market is finally calming down. Most buylists on Reserved List staples like dual lands, Lion's Eye Diamond, and the like have flattened, or in some cases tapered a bit. After feeling pressured to acquire my favorite cards before seeing them disappear from the market, I’ve taken this opportunity to become a net seller.

Even some of the chase Reserved List cards, which were once all anyone wanted to get their hands on, have finally calmed down. Card Kingdom’s buylist pricing fluctuates daily and I’ve taken note of the drop in prices on cards like Nether Void, Jihad, and City of Brass. With few exceptions, we’re finally seeing the buying slow down.

But just because the trend of 2018 is on pause doesn’t mean the entire market is soft. In fact, there are still some real pockets of strength. I talked about one of them last week when I covered Collectors’ Edition and Alpha/Beta/Unlimited. But the reality is the strength goes beyond just Magic’s first few sets. This week I’ll highlight some other recent trends, and more importantly, which ones are worth pursuing.

Reserved List Bottom Feeding

I talk on this subject often, so I won’t dwell on it long here. But the reality is, people are still targeting anything and everything on the Reserved List no matter how little play the cards see. Lately we’ve seen Energy Vortex, Polar Kraken, and Dominating Licid all take off in price. They aren’t going to make anyone millions, but finding a couple copies in a bulk box and randomly making a few bucks is a pleasant surprise.

Not long ago I had picked up a smattering of cheaper copies of cards that fit this category. As buylists on them move up over a buck, I set these aside to ship with my next order. They’re not worth selling on their own because I don’t own enough copies to justify shipping only these. But in combination with other stuff I have enjoyed modest gains from these otherwise useless cards.

My advice would be to follow suit. If you’re in this for the long haul and believe every Reserved List card will one day be worth more than five bucks, you’re welcome to hold. But if a card like Energy Vortex is going to hit $5 on buylists, then that likely means more useful cards will be worth far more.

Wouldn’t you rather own the more useful cards in this situation? That’s why I’m selling these as they spike—to get cards I actually want, which have just as much upside.

Legacy Speculation

The most recent banned and restricted announcement impacted only one format: Legacy. Some people claim Wizards doesn’t care about Legacy. I think this is a fallacy. If they didn’t care about Legacy, they wouldn’t host team Grands Prix with Legacy as one of the formats, they wouldn’t showcase Legacy at a Pro Tour as they are this year, and they certainly wouldn’t monitor the format metrics enough to make justified bannings.

With the removal of Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe from the format, people are once again excited about how the metagame will evolve. And as players test, speculators buy. We’re seeing this speculative buying in a couple places.

Most recently, Goblin Lackey spiked on speculation that Goblins will return to Legacy’s forefront. The deck had a very tough time getting through so many turn-one Deathrite Shamans, but now with that out of the picture Lackey may once again prove its utility. Council's Judgment is up 11% on the week—perhaps this is also due to Legacy speculation.

Arjen of MTGStocks recently highlighted a decklist that used Council's Judgment in its sideboard. That same list also played two Brightling, which could be why that card has shot up lately. He mentioned a couple other noteworthy price changes based on Legacy speculation. Namely, Karakas and Tropical Island (the latter is bucking the flattening trend of duals).

In terms of how I feel about these moves, I generally base my sentiment on how fast these cards are moving. When I see buyouts (e.g. Goblin Lackey) I’d be inclined to sell into the hype. But as the metagame gradually shifts there will be some cards that benefit. When I see slow movement, such as with Karakas or Council's Judgment, I’d be tempted to buy/hold.

Just be careful because the forces that are driving the market’s summer slowdown will be competing with upward pressure from Legacy metagame shifts. And the reality is things move more slowly in Legacy, so you may have to wait a while for your purchases to appreciate. The only major catalyst on the horizon is the upcoming Pro Tour where Legacy will be played. If you can predict which cards will shine there, you should be able to make some money quickly. Otherwise you may have to wait a while.

Original Elder Dragon Legends

I suspect the revamped Elder Dragon Legends could be catalyzing interest in the originals. As a result, these have moved modestly in price over the past week. It’s interesting to note that while the average listing on TCGplayer isn’t moving as much, the “market price” reveals that people are buying at higher prices. Here are the market price shifts since June 1st:

In general these had already been rising throughout the year, but I do wonder if their reappearance is driving newfound interest. Will Commander players build decks with the new versions and add the originals? The originals aren’t exactly great to play with, but perhaps the flavor is strong enough that casual players will go for it.

In the end it probably doesn’t matter much. All the multi-color Legends creatures are on the rise and they haven’t cooled off yet like the rest of the market. In fact I’m noticing the most desirable creatures like Angus Mackenzie and Rasputin Dreamweaver are buylisting for record highs recently.

I know some people are expressing interest in Old School Commander as a format, but I can’t imagine the demand profile from this population is all that robust. Still, it only takes a few people to get onboard to influence market prices. I’m not going to sell any of my Legends creatures at this time but I’m not going out of my way to buy more either.

Battlebond Foils

Word on the street is, not a lot of Battlebond is getting opened going forward. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect an influx in supply of rare and mythic rare foils. This could mean opportunity to speculate, but the problem is everyone already knows this. The hype started with Najeela, the Blade-Blossom foils, but since then it seems like any playable Battlebond foil could be a viable target.

MTG finance writers and podcasters are recommending Battlebond cards left and right, and this is going to drive upward price adjustments more quickly. My advice here may leave some folks wanting, but I have to be honest with everyone—I’m not an expert on newer cards. I’m confident there will be more Battlebond foil buyouts, but I can’t even pretend to know the best candidates.

I’d suggest following the market on these closely, using TCGplayer to locate the foils with the lowest stock. Spread out your purchases to increase the odds you get into a card before a buyout occurs—especially if there are cards you actually want for your collection. From there, listen to finance podcasts and read articles on this subject, because the foils that get the most attention will likely jump first.

You can also use EDH REC numbers to determine the cards that see the most play. For now Najeela is very popular, but that could always evolve over time. Stunning Reversal’s effect seems pretty cool, perhaps it gains some traction. Or how about Bramble Sovereign, which has the makings of a popular EDH card due to its synergy with Doubling Season.

I don’t know what people will target next, but I can guarantee that other Battlebond foils will be targeted. Net, I’d recommend dabbling strategically based on market movement, popular opinion, and EDH REC data over time. However going deep on a single card may be reckless because finding buyers of these foils after they’ve spiked may be tricky in the short term.

Wrapping It Up

As I mentioned last week, the MTG market has softened a bit as we’ve entered summer. This has manifested itself in numerous ways. Most notably, buylists have finally tapered off even on the most desirable cards. Dual lands were sold out everywhere for a while, but now vendors are restocked and they will compete to move inventory.

Despite these inevitable pullbacks, some pockets of the market remain hot. Last week I touched on the area I have been watching most closely: Collectors’ Edition, Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited. However there are other sectors that may interest you even more.

Battlebond foils are in short supply and are certainly worth paying attention to; especially if there are certain cards you are interested in acquiring. The original Elder Dragon Legends could get a boost thanks to the attention they’re getting from being reintroduced in a new form. Legacy was recently shaken up, and speculators are attempting to predict how the metagame will shift. And, as always, random Reserved List cards continue to get bought out.

Some of these trends are worth trying to get in front of with some speculation. However, if prices move too quickly, I become skeptical of a buyout’s sustainability. For example, I would much rather buy Karakas to speculate on Legacy rather than chase the recent spike in Goblin Lackey.

Just be careful—if your target doesn’t get the attention of the hive mind that is MTG finance, then you may be sitting on these cards for a while. And given the summer slowdown is in full force, it could be a few months before you have a chance to turn some profit.


  • This week I want to cover some buylist drops on Card Kingdom’s site to highlight recent downward trends. First, there’s Underground Sea. At one point this dual land came off Card Kingdom’s hotlist altogether, though it has since returned. Despite its return, the buylist on Underground Sea is all the way down to $480 after being near $600 at its peak. Some duals are following suit, such as Plateau. However Badlands and Tropical Island buy prices remain robust.
  • Lion's Eye Diamond’s buy price at Card Kingdom was $170 for quite some time. It would occasionally jump to $200, but only briefly. Now it has ticked down to $160. Is this a reflection of more selling due to the Legacy bannings? Unlikely. Perhaps the demand for this Reserved List staple has finally cooled off.
  • Many Arabian Nights cards remain high on Card Kingdom’s buylist. It appears the summer slowdown hasn’t hit these quite so hard. That said, all the Pauper hype around Oubliette has died down. Buylist on this one approached $30 at one point, but is now back down to $20. Perhaps it’ll bounce again in the future, but for now the card appears to be dead money.

7 thoughts on “Unlocked: Four Pockets of Strength

  1. Dominating Licid is a great card for casual play. Someone Bolts it: turn it into an aura. Someone Disenchants it: turn it into a creature. Block one creature with it then steal another to remove it from combat. It’s a Swiss Army Knife if you know how to play it.

    It’s the kind of card that has PR problem though, it’s certainly not for lack of power that few play it.

    1. It is a complicated card, but you’re right it has its utility. I do think it suddenly spiking was RL speculation driven, however, and not playability driven.

      1. Sure, I just wanted to illustrate that it’s actually quite a bit better than it looks. It’s a card that I feel was underpriced relative to its power. Tradewind Rider is another such card, but alas, it’s not on the RL.

  2. RE: RL Stuff not being high on CK

    In my defense, I wanted to ship them 24 Sanctum’s and City of Traitors and buy up 4 pieces of power…my bad

  3. The Polar Kraken buyout has nothing to do with speculating on the future price or trying to make money. I’m the one behind the buyout and I’ve done it once a year for the past three years. I just want to own all of them because I love the card (and also own the original art). Please don’t call me a bottom feeder. 🙂

    1. LOL Well Dr. Hugs, I owe you an apology. That’s really funny that Polar Kraken is your pet card. Do you mind if I ask what your “buy up to” price on it? When you clean out the market, what’s the cheapest copy you leave behind?

      Also, can you let me know when you’re about to buy out again so I can get some first? 😛

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