Trash for Treasure: How I Turned Crabs Into a Dual Land

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What is a card worth? It's a fundamental question to any Magic player. The most obvious answer is that it depends on the market fundamentals of supply and demand. Good old basic economics! However, market theorists consistently miscount human sentiment (FUD) and lag time. I have taken advantage of both numerous times to get some great deals. Why, just last year, I traded Islands, Counterspells, and Crabs for a Tundra.

But First, What Set This Into Motion

Let me tell you a story called "How Beardy finally acquired full play sets of Revised dual lands which were then stolen from him… twice." Alright, the story name is way too long, as are the stories themselves. The short of it is that I have collected, traded, and purchased my way to full sets of dual lands multiple times and, unfortunately, lost them as well.

Recovering from something like this proved tough, as I could not afford to simply re-purchase every dual in 1999 and 2001; I did not have that kind of income! Over the years, I worked my way back one deal at a time. I managed to get a few sets completed and even scored an Unlimited Tropical Island for 60% of the price of a Revised one.

That being said, I have always been in the market for duals, both bidding on eBay and trading my way up, so I feel I have a very good idea of what they are worth versus what they are selling at. Last year, with the announcement of proxy duals being reprinted in 30th Anniversary, I knew it was the right time to make some moves. Consumer sentiment would be at its absolute lowest point maybe ever, so I started tracking prices daily as they crept downward. Simultaneously, vendors were a little scared, and wanted to divest some of their inventory in case duals crashed. I was scanning cards with Ion Scanner and noted anything that seemed unusually high.

That's when I noticed what seemed like outrageously high vendor prices for Hedron Crab, Snow-Covered Island, and some editions of Counterspell. Checking across formats, I concluded there was nowhere but down for these cards to go. Snow-Covered lands in particular have been reprinted multiple times and were even about to get a reprint in Jumpstart 2022! There simply was no way that any of these cards would command the same premium in one year compared to right then and there.

Can Bulk Trade Up?

It's a simple question: can I give you a stack of bulk for one good card? The answer has always been "probably not." How many bulk Magic cards would I have to give someone for one Black Lotus? Today, with prices in the tens of thousands and greater, I don't think someone would take one million bulk cards for one Lotus (if you would, let's make a deal).

But what about five million? What about ten? At a certain point, it's possible, but it seems like the bulk trader would have to give up significant potential value. How many Hedron Crabs would I need to trade for one Tundra? By the numbers at that time, it would be about forty or so. I don't think this is a trade that normal players do, but vendors are effectively doing these trades every day. What about Counterspell? It would take about 100 of them, and a few more than that for Snow-Covered Island. At the end of the day, I had a pile of $1, $2, $6, and $8 cards that turned into one significantly under-priced dual, and I did it in one transaction.

That's a Good, Bad, Even Trade

I did this trade in 2010. My Jace, the Mind Sculptor for their four copies of Misty Rainforest.

Over the years this trade has alternated in who got the better deal. Some years, it's been Jace; more often, it was Misty. But the fundamental of the trade is one great card for four great cards. That is why I did it. Tundra is one great card, and the pile of other cards are good, but not nearly on the same level.

If you ever have the opportunity to trade up, you should always take it; however, sometimes it can be a toss-up. I'm sure from my trade partner's perspective, they were the ones trading up, and at that time Jace was certainly much more valuable than a single Misty. As a rule I never trade down a "format," meaning if I have Standard-legal cards, I will trade them for other Standard-legal cards, but I almost never trade Legacy cards for Standard cards.

Trading with vendors, however, is pretty straightforward. You slightly overpay for their cards while trading in your own. The fact is, if you can predict the market, you can win every trade, and they do not really have a choice regarding whether or not to make those trades.

Pondering the Future

From where I am sitting, my purchase went up in value about 20% and the cards I traded in have all gone down between 15-50%. Both Snow-Covered Island and Counterspell have been reprinted since then. Hedron Crab has stayed pretty stubbornly at around $6, with one reprint in Mystery Boosters, but look for a reprint soon. Certainly there was the risk that 30th Anniversary would have crushed prices, but it did not happen. In the face of rising inflation, it feels good to be "up" a considerable amount, and I know when I sell, it will be at a level vastly higher than what it cost me to acquire. It will also be much easier to sell a single valuable card than dozens of smaller cards.

Future sets look like they will support dual land pricing. Why do I say this? Because Wizards is continuing to crank out higher and higher powered cards for Commander, which is squeezing out all but the absolute best cards. In that kind of environment, duals become even more sought out. On top of that, there is a growing movement to play PreDH, which does not include many budget land options. All of these signal potential for higher prices in the future.

I Missed the Bus; What Can I Do Now?

This is a sentiment that I see all the time, but, it's not true! There are always opportunities to trade, collect, and efficiently buy your way to a vastly better collection or a higher-valued inventory. Timing, though, is something you cannot ever do over, so understand how to min/max.

Right now, I'm making some moves that count on Commander Masters tanking the price of many staple cards, but pushing up the price of some PreDH all-stars that will not get a reprint. There are always moves you can make! Minimize your maximum loss and only take risks that you can afford. This brings us to the infamous Yogi Berra quote: "It's hard to make predictions, especially about the future." I've missed just as many opportunities continuing to hold Mystic Remora and Ashnod's Altar in the face of declining prices.

Some easy ways to get ahead are to buy complete collections, take advantage of low-priced or unsearched inventory, and divest yourself of cards you think are not going to hold value. By taking any of these steps, you're setting yourself up to have a more valuable collection or inventory in the future, which only further enables you to make additional moves. A collection or inventory is just like a snowball rolling downhill; it will keep expanding if you keep rolling.

MTG finance has changed, and drastically. The game is the same but the rules are different, and it can take a lot of micro-transactions to make one big score. But even as of last year, it's still totally doable; deals are still out there and there is a lot of value not being picked up in the market.

I would love to hear some of your best trade-up stories, or even about a missed opportunity. Let me know in the comments!

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Joe Mauri

Joe has been an avid MTG player and collector since the summer of 1994 when he started his collection with a booster box of Revised. Millions of cards later he still enjoys tapping lands and slinging spells at the kitchen table, LGS, or digital Arena. Commander followed by Draft are his favorite formats, but, he absolutely loves tournaments with unique build restrictions and alternate rules. A lover of all things feline, he currently resides with no less than five majestic creatures who are never allowed anywhere near his cards. When not Gathering the Magic, Joe loves streaming a variety of games on Twitch( both card and other.

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Posted in Collecting, Collection Buying, Commander, Finance, Free, Inflation, investing, ION, VendingTagged , , , , , , , , ,

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