Writing a weekly Magic article is a balancing act.
For starters Magic finance happens in the blink of an eye. While some price trends are observable on a week-to-week basis the most profitable ones happen in the hour or two after new tech is spoiled at a major event. Anything I write about these jumps is obsolete by the time my column goes up.
A couple years ago for example I wrote an article on a Friday that suggested Prismatic Omen as a potential buy. I stressed that the card could jump from $2 to $5 and might even trade as high as $8 on the morning on a major Extended event. That weekend the card broke out and was sold out everywhere at $20 by Monday morning.
Most of the time then I try to write about the bigger picture of Magic finance. Seasonal trends collection management old and oddball values ethics and trading strategies… I try to focus on things that are a little more timeless.
The problem with this is that I am usually limited to working on topics that I believe can sustain an entire article. People ask me to cover different topics all the time and I often have to tell them that their idea is only good for three or four hundred words. There's a lot of little stuff that goes on in the realm of Magic finance and too often ideas and topics that can't sustain a full column slip through the cracks.
This is where mailbag articles come in. Once every few months I like to take the pulse of my readers and dedicate an entire article to what they want to talk about. No idea is too small and it's a great way to gauge the pulse of the Magic finance community.
If you want to submit a question to a future mailbag article drop me an email at email@example.com.
For now though let's get to the questions!
Without looking what would you rather have: four copies of Force of Will or four sets of Alliances minus Force of Will? –Michael Blaisdell
This is an interesting test of my knowledge of Magic sets and retail prices. Let's see how I do without peeking!
The retail price on Force of Will is generally somewhere in the $50 - $70 range. Gun to my head I'm guessing it's sitting around $65 right now. So a set of them is going to be worth around $260.
What are the other money cards in Alliances? There's Elvish Spirit Guide an uncommon that retails around $4. Lake of the Dead is probably worth about $8. Thawing Glaciers is probably $6. Kjeldoran Outpost retails around $5. Kaysa is probably worth a solid dollar. I know Thoughtlash was selling for $5 for a while thanks to a combo with Zedruu that doesn't actually work but it's probably less now. There's at least one other card that went up in price over the past year an artifact I'm forgetting the name of but I don't think the demand is too high.
Otherwise you're looking at about 50 other rares that retail between $0.25 and $2 but which have very little trade value and which I would probably bulk out at $0.15 each.
Regardless the set of Alliances without Force of Will is going to be heavy awkward and impossible to unload. Even though it might have a slightly higher retail value than Force of Will I'm going to be picking the blue instant every single time.
Taking a look at StarCityGames.com's prices it looks like Force of Will actually sells for a solid $70; $5 more than I had estimated.
As for the other money cards Elvish Spirit Guide is actually only $3.50. Helm of Obedience—a card I missed entirely—sells for $5. Kaysa retails for $2. Kjeldoran Outpost is indeed $5 and Lake of the Dead is $8 on the money. Phyrexian Devourer—the artifact I couldn't remember the name of—sells for $2.50. Thawing Glaciers is $8 as well and Thoughtlash is back down to $2.
Overall I think I did a pretty good job in my blind evaluation of Alliances. Where do I pick up my Force of Wills?
Do you think the general dislike of AVR Limited is going to influence the price of AVR singles in the short and long-term? –Joshua Gilliam
Absolutely I do. Most spring sets are home to the most valuable cards in a given block anyway; they're opened quite a bit less than the sets that are released in winter and fall. The fact that people are drafting three packs of Avacyn Restored instead of one negates that somewhat but it's still a large set—and a generally unpopular one at that.
The big money cards aren't likely to drop in price any time soon and I'd expect more growth from cards like Griselbrand which have shown resilience and demand in every single format. Expect all of the tournament-playable cards from the set to rise in price faster than expected and I'd be shocked if a card or two doesn't break out in next year's Standard season.
What was your worst speculation? If you analyze it now what was your mistake for believing in it? –Sven Buyle
Most of my worst speculations have been in the Magic equivalent of penny stocks—cards that I only spent twenty-five or thirty cents on which went nowhere. Manriki-Gusari was one. Paradigm Shift was another. In both cases the cards were recommended as speculation targets to me by other people and I didn't do the appropriate research before buying in. Of course they also didn't cost me much since my initial investment was so low.
The two biggest speculations I lost out on were Daybreak Ranger and Past in Flames. In both cases I bought in to a rising market that fell apart immediately after I pulled the trigger. On Daybreak Ranger I was primed to look for the 'breakout' Werewolf that showcased the flip card mechanic on the big stage. When Brad Nelson and Brian Kibler both published articles on the card on the same day I thought it would triple in price immediately. With Past in Flames I thought that being the engine of a tier 1 Modern deck would be enough.
I was also riding high on a couple of Modern wins that I had done very well with so I had temporarily abandoned my more conservative principles and decided to buy in without doing the appropriate research. The most dangerous time to buy in big is on the tail end of a winning streak—that's when you might not be thinking as clearly as you normally would be.
Most of my bad speculation decisions come down to trusting the opinions of other experts over my own right after I've just made a lot of money. That's when I'm likely to pull the trigger on something I don't totally believe in so that I can keep the profits flowing in. If you can take a moment and reflect on the opportunity cost of making any decision. Money is too valuable to risk on something you don't believe in.
Seeing as you successfully packed to power how do you suggest people trade with Pack to Power people? I avoid them because most are value sharks that are frustrating to trade with. –Mike Keknee
For those who are unfamiliar with Pack to Power it is a trading contest wherein someone opens a pack of Magic cards and trades exclusively from that up to a Mox or Lotus. I completed my own Pack to Power journey last fall trading from a pack of Zendikar to an Alpha Mox Sapphire.
Mike is right: most traders who are attempting Pack to Power are hyper-conscious of value. They have to be after all; their quest is predicated on making value trade after value trade until they turn something worth $4 into something worth $400. Instead of shying away from this fact I see it as an opportunity to make some great trades.
First off Pack to Power folk have no attachment to their cards. Unlike normal traders where nostalgia may keep you from getting a decent deal on something in their binder everything is available in a Pack to Power binder. Often these are the best places to get cards that are otherwise hard to pry away from people's collections.
Second Pack to Power traders are often slaves to value. More often than not they'll give up a high-velocity card on its way up for something that is worth more but is impossible to move. This is a mistake that took me a long time to adjust to in my quest—I once traded a Doubling Season for a foil Avatar of Woe only to later learn that the foil was impossible to move. If someone will accept any trade as long as they 'win value' feel free to go right to the most immovable stuff in your book and offer it to them first.
On the other side of the coin there's nothing quite as fun as helping a fledgling Pack to Power trader out at the beginning of their journey. My favorite is to find someone who has just traded for their first impact card and offer them 150% of value for it as long as they're willing to take crappy low-end cards in return. Often the diversification is so important for them that they'll be eager to take the deal; I know I was when I did the project and those trades are actually really helpful for both parties.
My favorite part of dealing with Pack to Power traders though is that I feel it is carte blanche to be as ruthless as possible. When I'm trading normally I go out of my way to make sure my trades are fair and that both parties are—and will continue to be—100% satisfied with a deal. I let people look up prices on smartphones consult with friends…I'd rather keep the relationship than make a profit. I barely ever value trade anymore. I make my money buying collections at a discount and trading the stock that I can't get a good price for.
With Pack to Power though there is an expectation of trading prowess that goes with taking on the project. If you really think you can trade from a pack of cards up to a piece of power that's awesome—but you're going to have to beat my 'A' game to get there. And that sort old-school trade battle is a whole lot of fun.
If you have $10000 to speculate on Magic: The Gathering with a six month to one year time frame where are you putting your money? –Eric Gong
In such a short time frame there isn't much use in thinking about Legacy or casual investments. Those cards are either hard to predict or require a much longer period to speculate on. The only exception I'd make would be Kaalia of the Vast who I think has some short-term room to grow still.
I'd probably go all in on Avacyn Restored singles especially Griselbrand. As I said above these cards all have room to grow thanks to the power level of the singles and the unpopularity of the set. While the chaff still has room to fall off a bit the better cards in this set aren't at their ceiling.
For someone like myself who is getting back into Magic after a long hiatus what would you recommend I start with? –Marcus Noble
Players getting back into the game have a different road ahead than players just starting out. For example you don't have to spend weeks of your time learning painful lessons about card advantage and tempo like someone who is starting with only a fistful of Craw Wurms.
The two important questions to ask yourself as you reenter the Magic world are these:
- What formats/styles do I enjoy playing the most?
- What is my budget?
If you enjoy Limited more than Constructed and have the budget to draft every week that's the best way back into the game. Limited play is very skill testing and draft is an excellent opportunity to build up a collection. You also have a real shot at winning every week without having to invest in a deck up front.
If you want to play Constructed I would take a look at winning decks from the past month in Standard Modern and Legacy. The key is to find the cheapest longest-lasting deck that you would enjoy playing in a particular format and putting it together. I recommend sticking with something for at least 2-3 months so that you can get a real sense of how that deck and play style works. Jumping from an aggro deck to a control deck to a combo deck in a matter of weeks will likely leave you frustrated.
How has your writing gotten better or worse since moving to StarCityGames.com? How has feedback changed? How will your writing continue to change? –Joe Spanier
As I touched on in my introduction Magic finance is a tricky topic to write on a weekly basis. By definition it only appeals to a small subsection of an already tiny demographic. After all most people in the world don't play Magic. Most Magic players aren't serious enough to regularly read a strategy site. Most people who read strategy sites won't click on an article about card prices. That small group who does? That's my regular audience.
My main goal as a Magic columnist—no matter where I write—is to increase the number of people who are interested in Magic finance. It's better for the game if more people are conscious of how these things work and are smart with their collections. The more people I can reach the more people I can help. If I can help the next Luis Scott-Vargas or Patrick Chapin reach the next level because card availability is no longer an issue to them that's a win for me.
Part of how I try to extend my audience is by mixing up the format and content of my columns. There are weeks when a hundred percent of the content is straight-up Magic finance advice and others when the majority of it is about something else that I think will be entertaining and get more people to click on that link and become regular readers. So far on SCG I have kept these experimental columns to a minimum so that I can develop a rapport with my new regular readers. Think of it like a television show; you couldn't do the Paintball episode of Community without first establishing the study group in a normal school setting right? You have to set up the rules of your world before you break them.
Amusingly I've had two equally loud groups of readers critique me since my move. The first believe that I have somehow 'sold out' and want me to return to more non-traditional columns. The other group believes that my more non-traditional columns don't belong in the Premium section of SCG.
The truth is that my writing is always evolving. I do think that my writing has gotten better since moving to SCG but that's only because I think that I am constantly growing as a writer not because the venue has changed. I'm constantly looking for the next great article idea and when I come up with it I'm going to write it to the best of my abilities no matter which site I'm working for.
I will say that I am more sensitive than I should be to online criticism. It's a cruel reality that 90% of comments anywhere online are negative simply because so few people who enjoy an article are going to take the time to say something. Beyond that there's a small group of people who are going to find fault in whatever I do. No matter what I write about or how I present it they'll poke holes at the ten words in four thousand that they think are most incendiary. Luckily at this point I pretty much know who these people are and that I can safely ignore them. They did the same thing to the guy before me and they'll do the same to the guy who comes after me. That's just the way of the 'net.
If you think some of my articles are better than others your comments will go much further if you let me know which ones you think are best instead of which ones you don't care for.
What's the ceiling on Planechase 2009 & Promos? Most sites sell the planes for $2.50-$5 and Tazeem is selling on eBay for $30. –Jeremy Blair
On StarCityGames.com right now you can buy any of the 2009 planes for $3.99 or less. This includes every single promo except Tazeem which retails for a whopping fifty bucks.
First let's talk about Tazeem. This card was only available as a Prerelease promo and stores didn't get too many of them. For standard Prereleases enough promos are given out to cover flights of more than fifty players. One of my local stores gives out the leftover Prerelease promos at FNM for the next couple of weeks because they don't get enough players to claim all of them.
Planechase was different. Most stores only got enough product to cover twenty or so players and some stores didn't even run these events since they were strictly casual. Further the kinds of players who go to these events are often not the types of people who are part of the mainstream Magic community. I'm guessing most copies of Tazeem are sitting in casual collections of people who have no idea what they are worth.
Tazeem is also an awesome card—easily one of the most powerful planes. People who want a 'complete' Planechase experience are going to try and get one of these. The demand far outstrips the supply and that will probably never change. What's the ceiling on Tazeem? I'm not sure but it's over a hundred dollars.
The rest of the 2009 planes have a much smaller ceiling. The other promos were printed in massive quantities and lots of them went to people who don't even play Planechase as FNM consolation prizes. If Planechase sees support five or six years from now I could see some of these planes hitting $10 but right now there are enough of them to go around. I think these cards are relatively stable in the $3-$5 range.
How many dual lands would it take to build a house of cards worth as much as an actual house? –Michael Blaisdell
This is a hard question to answer. Houses don't have a fixed price like dual lands; they vary in price based on a million different conditions of size location and overall quality.
According to the 2010 US census the median house price in the US is $221800 so we're going to start there. Further research indicates that the cost of land is generally about one-fifth of the home's value so we'll subtract $42360 for the land. This gives us a construction cost of $179440 for our house of cards.
The cheapest dual land is Plateau and a Revised one retails for right around $50.00. Assuming you were able to build your house entirely with Plateaus $179400 would give you just 3588 dual lands to work with. By contrast the world's largest freestanding house of cards was a replica of the Venetian Macau hotel and casino. That replica only measured 33 feet by 10 feet but it took a whopping 218792 cards. Since Revised only contained around 275000 copies of Plateau and most have probably been lost to time you'd run into availability concerns pretty quickly—and the price would start to rise as you started to corner the market. Even still for roughly five million dollars you could probably own all the Revised Plateaus that there are. That's approximately equal to the cost of a very nice house in the Hollywood Hills.
What mechanic would you like to see reprinted? If you could design a card or mechanic what would it be? –William Baldwin
Ninjutsu! I was absolutely shocked that Wizards brought it back in Planechase 2012 but I'm thrilled that they did. Obviously there aren't too many places to go with it but to me it was the highlight of Kamigawa block and added a really fun dimension to combat. I also adore flashback and I already miss it—the mechanic added a great deal of depth to triple Innistrad Limited which was an excellent format. Buyback is awesome too but I don't love how oppressive it can get at times.
I've taken a few stabs at designing cards in the past. I put together most of a set in Magic Set Editor that played around in the 'mono color matters' design space. It was set on a plane where the schools of Magic were at war with each other and didn't want you to mix them at all. I would also love to see a Steampunk block; Ravnica and Innistrad both had elements of it but you could go deeper. Air pirates and artificiers in blue Victorian British safari-style explorers and untamed lands in green forge-stoking and anarchic Goblins in red… There's a ton of possibilities open in a world like that.
Will played versions of Alpha rares eventually follow near mint versions and skyrocket? –Sigmund Ausfresser
Alpha cards have been undervalued in relation to their rarity for a very long time. They had a major jump about three years ago and another reasonable jump recently but they're still very cheap for what they are.
Only 1100 of each rare was printed to begin with and they weren't printed to be collectable—this was just supposed to be a game like any other. How many of those cards were thrown away? How many are hiding in the back of a closet? How many were damaged by shuffling without sleeves or being left in a damp place or simply by being twenty years old?
I don't think the played Alpha cards will go up in price at all compared to near mint versions but I do think that Alpha cards across the board will continue to rise in value at the same rate. These things are amazingly rare and people are always going to want to own a small piece of history.
How do you expect the shocklands from Ravnica to fluctuate in price due to M13 & Return to Ravnica? –J. Stuart
Like most of the Magic finance community I strongly believe that the Ravnica shocklands will be returning to Standard this year. In fact by the time I send this article in they might even have shown up in the M13 spoiler. Because most new and casual players hate trading life for small tempo advantages though I'd imagine we probably won't see them in a core set; they'll likely show up in the fall.
The appearance of Farseek in M13 along with Aaron Forsythe's desire to reprint Modern staples seals the deal for me though. I bet that we will be getting shocklands back soon.
Back in famous original Ravnica block the shocklands traded at around $20 each during their time in Standard. Over time a hierarchy started to emerge where the 'bad' ones like Temple Garden dropped to the $14-$15 range and the 'good' ones like Hallowed Fountain stayed at or above $20. This was in the pre-mythic era though when Standard mana fixing was at an all-time premium. Your only other option I believe were painlands—and even those sold for $5+ So I certainly don't expect to see all of the reprinted Ravnica lands stabilizing at $20 each.
A lot will depend on how these cards are released. If we get them in M13 the price will stay higher than if they're spread out through new Ravnica block. At the very least I'd expect the guilds to get shifted around; there's no way Mark Rosewater doesn't have some major tricks up his sleeve in regards to how the block is structured.
Assuming we aren't thrown a major curveball I'd expect the low-end lands (Sacred Foundry Temple Garden—really anything without blue) to settle in the $7-$10 range. The better lands will probably fluctuate between $10 and $15 depending on what decks dominate Standard. In their second year of legality when people aren't opening the packs anymore some of the better lands should hit $20-$25.
Regardless I'd sell your shocklands right now and buy back in around Christmastime. You know unless all of this speculation is dead wrong.
What's the biggest MTG mistake you've made in your life? –Brian Benns
My biggest Magic regret was selling the majority of my collection after high school.
I think most people who have played the game long enough have the same regret. Prices have gone up so much in the past ten years that I shudder to think about the cards I no longer have.
To add insult to injury I made a bunch of my sales internationally on Magic Online Trading League. Because I didn't have any feedback I sent first and over $500 worth of cards—including my beloved 7th Edition foil Wrath of God and a playset of Onslaught fetchlands—disappeared without payment.
Since then I've had multiple friends quit and I've given them all the same advice: don't sell your collection. Feel free to sell your Standard cards before rotation obviously but if you have a nice casual or Eternal deck hold onto it. You're going to want it again someday. Everyone always does.
Until next time–