MTG Financial Fundamentals: Where to Speculate Next?

As the Standard metagame begins to settle, the latest format definers slowly rise to the top. Top 16’s at large tournaments become slightly less diverse, with a handful of cards making star-studded appearances in most of the decks. These cards are prime prospects for speculation and quick profit. This time, the list includes Snapcaster Mage (which surprised no one), Elspeth Tirel (which surprised many), and Garruk, Primal Hunter (which surprised most due to the GGG in the casting cost). Scars dual lands were also incredible investments for those who had the savvy to grab them while they were just a couple bucks.

But the time for acquiring these cards was a month or two ago, while the metagame was still in its infancy. As the format matures, there will be fewer opportunities to make quick profit on Standard cards because format-breakers will occur less frequently. This does not mean, however, that there are no clear speculation targets. This article will highlight some traditional and some non-traditional Magic: the Gathering cards to acquire when Standard cards may not provide as much opportunity.

Modern: the Obvious (or is it?):
Starting early in 2012, the PTQ season will be Modern. It’s official. This means a bevy of opportunities to pick up some cards on the cheap with a chance for profit. When a format becomes the new focus for a particular season, you can bet that like clockwork, the all-star performers of that format jump in value. Older, harder to find cards may even exceed the value they attained during their reign in Standard. But which cards are safe to pick up?

I struggle with this question on a daily basis while I look to convert my remaining Standard cards into Modern cards with much greater potential. Normally, the best strategy would be to defer to the most powerful decks of the last metagame. There are two problems with this strategy, however. First, the metagame is very young relative to Modern’s eternal big brothers Legacy and Vintage. As such, many possible brews have yet to be fully optimized, yielding the potential for many new developments. Second, many of the most powerful decks of the old Modern “metagame” have been crippled by the banning rampage Wizards of the Coast mandated a couple months ago. The format consisted of many unstoppable combo decks, which Wizards hates. Therefore, some of the most powerful cards such as Blazing Shoal and Vesuva are no longer the cards to buy.

Because of all these uncertainties, my inclination is to acquire much safer cards. For example, my personal favorites are the Zendikar fetch lands; particularly, Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn. Their recent rotation out of Standard has rendered their value at a relative low, but they still maintain a $10-$12 price tag on eBay with retailers asking as much as $15. Compare this to their Legacy counterparts from Onslaught, and it becomes rapidly apparent that these cards have potential for a measurable increase. Even if the large print run size keeps the values in check, they will likely never sell for less than $10, barring a reprint. There will be almost zero risk of these cards depreciating in time, and as such they are on the top of my Modern pick-up list.

Other cards on the list are few, due to the factors outlined previously. Grove of the Burnwillows was untouched during the bannings, and the combination with Punishing Fire is potent while not [yet] broken. Therefore, this is another pickup I’ve deemed as safe. Speculators need to be careful not to overpay on this one; during last Modern season, the unique Future Sight land sold for more than $20 on retail and auction sites alike. They may not inflate as rapidly this time, so buying this card for more than $20 may cut potential profits short. That being said, the cheapest copies of this card on cardshark.com went from $11 to $18 in just one short week. Copies can still be had for less on eBay and even at StarCityGames.com, but monitor this one closely before the opportunity slips away.

While there are other potentially safe pick-ups in Modern, I hesitate to avidly support many others. Some cards I am keeping in the back of my mind include Vendilion Clique, Aether Vial, and a slew of equipment including the Swords Cycle and Batterskull. Other than Batterskull, I have not made the move on any others as of yet. These cards are less versatile than the lands mentioned above, and so they carry a slight degree of risk with them. Proceed with caution; that is the best advice I can give here.

Where Else to Look?
Besides Modern speculation, there may be some other, longer term places to pick up some cards with growth potential. One good example would be to compare the recent effects of Standard rotation on card values, and then try to apply this data to predict what Innistrad cards may gain value once the Mirrodin block rotates. The prime prospects I have in mind here are the new Innistrad dual lands. The reason I recommend considering these is related to the price history of the Scars of Mirrodin duals. These cards fluctuated somewhat, but the overall trend for the longest time was a downward one. This was especially true for the non-blue scars lands, which were buyable as low as a lonely buck at one point. Then, once the format rotated and manlands were no longer legal in Standard, these lands transformed from second best to the premier mana fixer of choice, driving their value up significantly.

Innistrad dual lands may follow a similar route. They were priced fairly upon release, at around $5-$7, but since then, some of the new dual lands have dropped a couple bucks. Watch for this trend to continue further, especially as more Innistrad packs are opened over the next six months. Before you know it, these ever-useful Standard cards may drop down as low as $2. If this happens, it would not be foolish to grab your 20. Worst case, you spent $40 for casual gems. Best case, the scenario described above takes place and these cards return to their pre-release prices or possibly higher. The only watch out here: this strategy may not work if additional mana fixing lands are available in the smaller sets of the Innistrad block. A surplus of mana-fixers will likely impact the price negatively, so be aware of what cards are being released before jumping on this bandwagon.

One other Innistrad play to consider for a longer term viewpoint is Garruk 3.0. His price rapidly decreased from pre-sale prices to now, and he still may not have even stabilized yet despite making several appearances in the last Star City Games Top 8. People are opening this card in their drafts and (wisely) selling right away, and this is keeping the price in check. If he drops to $15, this may be a time to pick up your set. Elspeth Tirel and Garruk 2.0 have each shot up in price to nearly $30 now that they see play AND are not opened in packs nearly as frequently. This trend is not out of the question for Garruk 3.0, but again, patience is required here to wait on the pullback before buying. Keep an eye on eBay prices to guide you here.

A New Perspective I’ve Considered:
When a new set is released, many players purchase a box and eagerly rip the package open, excited to have their hands on all the new cards. Buying a box of booster packs is financially advantageous over purchasing packs individually. Unless these cards are sold immediately before card prices from the new set equilibrate, the resulting singles are frequently worth less than the sealed box. Enter my new idea: buying boxes and keeping them sealed.

A cursory look on StarCityGames.com is all I need to quickly discern that this may be an interesting investing strategy. Many sets are sold out on that site, indicating that their prices are possibly obsolete. This suggests that the going eBay prices for those boxes are likely higher than their published “sold out” price. Additionally, the (non-core) sets they have in stock are, for the most part, priced higher than a brand new box would cost of the latest set (around $90-$100). Here is a sample list:

Apocalypse – $200
Champions of Kamigawa – $150 (I once bought a box of this set on eBay for ~ $60!!)
Darksteel – $200
Exodus – $200
Ice Age – $175
Judgment – $110
Mercadian Masques – $175
Odyssey – $150

The list continues, but my point should be clearly made by now. Barring the recent sets (and the occasional failure such as Fallen Empires, Homelands), prices on boxes of older sets are more expensive than boxes of newer sets. The more Legacy/Modern staples a given set has, the more expensive the boxes will become. This is why Future Sight, Ravnica, Darksteel, Tempest, Urza’s Saga, Alliances, etc. are all much more costly than sets like Mercadian masques, Judgment, and Nemesis. Still, even with the weaker sets, being able to pick up a box of booster packs for less than $70 will likely lead to profit given enough time regardless.

I can possibly exploit this trend if I have enough patience and do some homework. That is, I can purchase a box of a newer set which contains strong eternal cards, such as Zendikar, for around $100 on eBay. Then, in five years, when people are dying to get their hands on Zendikar fetch lands AND Zendikar basic lands, these boxes will likely be more expensive. (Note: Onslaught boxes are still around $130 on eBay, so perhaps fetch lands alone are not enough to make the difference…or perhaps Onslaught boxes are also worthwhile considerations). This leads to profit. Another good example is the set Unhinged. When this set came out, stores had boxes of product on their shelves with disappointing sales. I was once offered a box of Unhinged for $50 at a local hobby shop! Wish I had taken that deal, as boxes do not sell for less than $160 on eBay nowadays. Those lands, once again, can have a big impact on unopened box values.

Of course, in an extreme circumstance, boxes provide an added benefit. Should the game of Magic ever lose corporate support, sealed boxes of ANY set will become increasingly rare. Yet there will always be a population who will seek out these sealed boxes to have reminiscent drafts. Where singles may fall short due to a lack of a Pro Tour, sealed product may hold steady in value due to the allure they provide to casual players who will play the game as long as they live.

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Posted on November 1, 2011, in Articles, MTG Financial Fundamentals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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