In late December of 1768, founding father and popular journalist Jeremiah Quentin Mailbag started to realize that he had been spending far too much of his time reading time-wasting publications and imbibing fowl-based libations.
It was only when the deadline of his next article was nigh that he came up with a crowd-pleasing solution to his problem. Instead of inventing a topic of discussion, he decided to make his readers do all the hard work while he just sat back and wrote up a bunch of snarky replies.
The result was a mailbag article much like this one.
People are always asking me Magic finance questions, and the subject matter actually lends itself reasonably well to this format. My hope is to start doing these every couple months next year, so get your questions ready!
You can always email me (candres@gmail), tweet me @chasandres, or leave me messages in the comments of my articles.
Most of these questions are from my Twitter followers, but next time I do one of these I’ll solicit responses at the end of my article, the week before the mailbag runs. That way, all of you who don’t use Twitter can get involved too.
But for now, let’s get to some questions!
Q: How do you think the value of Dark Ascension will be affected by the spring set being large and slated to be drafted alone? Will the values of DA cards stay high similar to cards from Worldwake?
- Scott H.
A: This announcement is a huge deal. It massively affects the values of the cards in all three sets.
First, high end Innistrad cards will likely not drop as far as they otherwise would have, and multi-format staples like Snapcaster Mage will stay higher than you would expect given a full-block draft format.
Second, Dark Ascension cards will likely hold more value for longer, especially whatever the ‘chase’ mythic is. (My money is on a Dark Confidant reprint, but that’s mostly because of the word ‘dark’ so take it with a grain of salt.)
The spring set, Avacyn Restored, will be opened in greater numbers than it otherwise would have. The value/availability of cards in that set will probably fall somewhere between Innistrad and Dark Ascension as opposed to hitting normal third set highs like New Phyrexia. Buy in accordingly.
Q: I just came into possession of a playtest card from Unglued. It’s the standard “sticker over a real card” that Mark Rosewater or whoever shows from time to time, and in this case I’m fairly certain the card represented here was never released. Now, obviously these are pretty rare commodities, but I can’t really find a good answer as to what it might be worth. I’m sure you’ve come across some of these in your travels; can you help me figure out a ballpark estimate of its value?
- Joey M.
A: I actually never have come across one of these before. I’m sure they’re out there, but they are true rarities.
The only playtest cards I could track down that were even slightly available to the public were from The Dark and earlier. Back then, testing copies weren’t just kept internally—Richard Garfield had different groups of his friends test the cards prior to printing. Well before Unglued, though, everything like this was on lockdown inside Wizards.
Honestly, I’m not even sure what the legality is on owning something like this. If you can’t trace its provenance to Wizards giving it away, I would be very worried that it was stolen by someone who worked in R&D at one point or was nabbed by someone who picked it up on a walk through the pit.
Assuming it’s okay to re-sell, I’m not entirely sure what the value is. Obviously it’s not as sought-after as a stickered playtest card of something that ended up being iconic. Owning a playtest Force of Will would be so epic, wouldn’t it? Aside from that, having a card that never saw play like this one is probably better than having one of a common or bulk rare that ended up being terrible.
One thing keeping this from being worth an infinite number of dollars is that it looks easy to fake and probably can’t ever be authenticated. How hard would it be to print out a sticker and slap it on a basic land, after all? The only thing we have to judge authenticity are pictures on MTG Arcana that are no clearer than this. If I owned it, I would be tempted to shoot Mark Rosewater an email and ask him about the history of the card. Of course, should you do that, you run the risk of him saying it is stolen and asking for it back.
Without getting this authenticated, I don’t know what you’re looking at in terms of value. My best guess is that an eBay auction would fetch upwards of $100 though probably not more than $400. If you can get proof, though, you should be able to get an easy couple hundred out of it.
Q: How much does the existence of finance articles, both on Channel Fireball and on other sites, negatively impact their effectiveness?
- Adam B.
A: This is an interesting question, because I’ve certainly been asked the opposite of this as well—namely, “how much can you change the market by yourself? Do you as a financial writer have the power to make the price of a card go up?”
So far, my experience has been that a single financial article has very little impact on the price of a single card one way or the other. There have been countless cards I’ve talked up multiple times (Praetor’s Counsel, Manriki-Gusari, Daybreak Ranger, etc. etc.) that haven’t gone up so much as a nickel. My word helps, certainly, but I don’t have the power to influence the market in the way some people think I can.
Adam’s actual question, though, seems to have more to do with the general strategy presented in financial articles. I wouldn’t argue that the existence of financial articles makes their advice less impactful, (how could they be impactful at all if they didn’t exist?) but it does make the advice more essential.
Before Magic finance articles existed, trading was far simpler. Fewer people cared about value, and the percentage of sharks with honed negotiation tactics was much lower. Now that trading is written about with the same emphasis on goal and technique as actual game play, it’s important for anyone who wants to trade to be aware of things they didn’t have to worry about before.
This is similar in many ways to the game’s overall evolution toward more competitive play. The rise of a vibrant online strategy community meant that bringing your kitchen-table-durdle-deck to FNM was no longer as valid an option if you wanted to win. Does that make Magic strategy articles less impactful?
Q: What are your Innistrad sleeper picks?
- Mike L.
A: This is a good time to start looking at Innistrad sleepers. Prices are really bottoming out, especially on cards that aren’t seeing much play at the moment. Here are a few I would start to target in trades:
- Mikaeus, the Lunarch – $4.99. This card has already proven itself in tournaments and is a casual favorite as well.
- Skaab Ruinator – $3.99. This card didn’t fall in price due to power level… it just never found a home. If the right card comes out in either of the next two sets, this card could shoot past $10 again.
- Army of the Damned – $3.50. This may never see a tournament table, but it’s a fun, splashy, casual mythic that will likely hold value for years.
- Past in Flames – $2.99. All it takes is the right cheap spells in Legacy/Modern and you have a powerful engine going.
- Gavony Township – $2.00. You’ll thank me when this is a $6-$8 Commander land someday.
- Parallel Lives – $1.50. Half a Doubling Season should be worth at least 1/8th as much as a Doubling Season, right?
- Daybreak Ranger – $1.00. Because I still have a roughly infinite number of these and I’m not yet ready to admit how wrong I was.
- Geist-Honored Monk – $1.00. This is the sort of random rare I could see being worth $5 on the tournament floor at some point.
- Mentor of the Meek – $1.00. Really? This is down to a dollar? Mentor is another card that should be a casual favorite for years to come.
- Nephalia Drownyard – $.0.80. See Gavony Township.
- Elite Inquisitor – $0.60. If the tribes this guy hates become a thing, look for this utility creature to gain some value.
I would also complete my playset of the Innistrad fixing lands while they are cheap and plentiful. The price isn’t likely to get too much better from here barring a quick reprint a-la their M10 counterparts.
Q: How do you correctly value altered & painted cards?
- A different Mike L. (Neither of which are Mike Long)
A: There is no strict rule of thumb, but there are trends that emerge when you start to look at the complete alterations market.
Eric Klug, for example, sold his beautiful Escher Maze of Ith for over $600 on Facebook auction last week. Was this a good price? A poor one? It’s a one-of-a-kind card, so the price is entirely up to the buyer.
I got my Power 9 altered by Sandreline over the period of a couple months. We worked for hours bouncing ideas off each other, coming up with art for the cards and figuring out which of the nine planets would go with each piece of power. (And before you start shouting that Pluto isn’t a planet anymore, take note of the fact that I put it on Timetwister—is that even a real piece of power anymore?) She told me—and I believe her—that it was her hardest and most ambitious alteration project ever.
What is that set worth? Who knows—it’s not for sale and never will be for sale. Offers would have to start at $10,000 for me to even think about parting with it.
Of course, you’re not likely to see a Klug or Sandreline piece in a random trade binder at a GP. Is there a rule by which to value alterations done by lesser known talents? A quick eBay check gives me some interesting results:
Revised Bayous are going for between $50 and $60. A couple of ok Bayou alters sold between $50 and $80. Dark Confidants are selling around $30. A pretty good alter sold for $43. This trend remains true for other higher-end cards, with alterations generally adding between $10 and $20 to the value of a given card.
On lower end/casual rares, the alteration premium generally drops to about $5. You can get cool deals like altered Time Stretches, Birthing Pods, Counterbalances, and more on eBay for only a little bit more than the retail price of the card!
Of course, random Anime porn women painted on lands still sell for anywhere between $2 and $50, depending on… I have no idea. They all look the same to me, and I’d be kind of embarrassed to play with any of them, quite honestly.
If you want to commission your own alter, you can usually find someone reasonably decent willing to do them for around $15 – $20. I certainly wouldn’t pay more than that in premium for anything that wasn’t done by an alteration master.
I suspect that in general, the financial value of altered cards is far less than most traders ask for at events. Alterations are generally a very personal thing, and most people would rather commission one themselves than find one for sale on eBay. Don’t overpay for these in trade binders, and I suspect picking some up online to move at FNMs/tournaments might be a reasonable idea.
At tournaments, people will trade virtually anything for an alteration they like!
Q: What type of card should one speculate on after the set has released but before the first major event?
- Chad V.
A: I can’t say I recommend doing much speculating during this period. Just monitor tournament results and see what cream rises to the top. If you are going to speculate, I would focus on Mythics going $5 and under as well as any planeswalkers going for $25 or less.
Mythics under $5 have the shot at going all Frost Titan, Avenger of Zendikar, Eldrazi Monument, or Olivia Voldaren on you. Planeswalkers, if they start to see real play, can go up to $50+ overnight as people worry about missing ‘the next [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card].’
There’s also a play to be made on foil commons/uncommons that start to see Eternal Play. Think about foil Delver of Secrets—there was a good week there where you could pick them up easily at $2 or less.
Don’t bother speculating on $2-$3 rares that are 4-ofs in decks highlighted by expensive mythics. Remember that [card valakut, the molten pinnacle]Valakut[/card] was a top deck for months, but its namesake card never rose above $3 retail.
Q: What are your top 5 favorite robots in Magic? Also, name your top 5 favorite robots not in Magic.
- Mike B.
A: Mike knows I’m a sucker for robots, and Magic has some pretty great ones. These are my five favorites in reverse order:
5) Wurmcoil Engine. Anyone who followed my Pack to Power blog knows of my undying love for this card. It’s everything I want in a creature, and I even made a Legacy Welder-MUD robot deck specifically so I could cast this guy forever.
4) Silent Arbiter. The meanest card I regularly run in Commander. I nicknamed him King Arthur a VERY long time ago and no longer know why. But “King Arthur says you can’t attack with that!” is something I’ve said more times than any man reasonably should.
3) Solemn Simulacrum. The original sad robot. Has anyone ever been unhappy to see this guy in their starting grip? Certainly not me.
2) Etched Oracle. The only robot on the list I played with competitively. My Kamigawa/Mirrodin era 5-color Gifts deck is still my favorite 60 card brew of all time, and this guy was its Ancestral Recall-o-tron.
1) Memnarch. He’s a MAD SCIENTIST robot who turns everything else into robots!! Um, yeah, he’s clearly the best.
In terms of non-Magic robots, my list looks a little something like this:
5) The Iron Giant. One of the most underrated animated films of all time. If you haven’t seen it, go fix that now.
4) Marvin the Paranoid Android. From the book series, obviously, as the movie didn’t really do him justice. I almost put R. Daneel Olivaw from the Isaac Asimov universe on here, but ultimately Marvin won out in the battle for my heart.
3) Wall-E. This movie isn’t all that underrated, but it’s still my pick for the #1 film of 2008. I spent more time than I should wishing Wall-E was my friend.
2) R2-D2. My childhood love for ‘bots started here. R2-D2 is the true hero of the Star Wars universe, a fact that was much cooler before he had a jetpack or whatever in the prequels.
1) Bender “Bending” Rodriguez. I would have had to bite Bender’s shiny metal ass if I had put any other robot first on my list. Bender is clearly the best robot of all time, and if you don’t agree, well… I’m going to start my own universe. With hookers! And blackjack!… actually, forget the universe.
The nature of this list precludes cyborgs, or else Daleks and Cybermen would be under consideration for a spot as well as well. And no, HAL 9000 isn’t a robot—he’s a computer; very different.
Q: When you lay down cash for things like Beta power, what pricing do you follow?
- Benjamin J.
A: Cash is king, obviously, and collectors’ cards like power are all about condition.
If the power in question isn’t professionally graded, the best option is to do an eBay search and look for comparable completed listings. You’re probably not going to find anything identical, but you should be able to get close enough to come up with a value.
The problem with buying power is that a lot of fakes are out there. It’s hard to sell power online for this very reason—people just don’t feel comfortable buying it from a non-reputable source. This means power will often close lower on eBay than it should, especially clean Alpha/Beta power from non-dealers.
If I were selling power that I knew was real, I’d want a price comparable to similar cards that have sold *from reputable dealers* on eBay. If I were buying it, I’d show comparisons from lower eBay sales in order to try and get a better deal. Either way, you can’t use retail pricing for cards like these—the delta between asking price and actual price is just too wide.
Q: At my store, all drafts have a rare re-draft at the end of the night where the winner picks first, etc. What do you think of that?
- Stephen M.
A: There are a lot of advantages to be had if your local store re-drafts rares like Stephen’s does. If you are a better player than most of your competition, chances are you can go home with a pretty good haul nearly every week. The draft environment is likely more ‘pure’ as well, and you can rest easy picking the right card for your deck over that $6 rare you really need for Standard or Commander.
There are hidden advantages to this if you’re financially savvy, too. Often after the big mythics are gone in the redraft, you can snap up expensive foils or staples slightly later than they should because you have a better knowledge of values.
Better still, people get attached to cards that they’ve drafted and won with. If you finish high in the event and take a card that someone else played with and enjoyed, you now have great leverage to trade them that card for something else better from their binder.
That said, I actually don’t like rare re-drafts much myself. I usually play Magic on Fridays after a very long week of work, and I often enjoy low pressure weeks where I open a sweet card or two and don’t feel like I ‘have’ to win to recoup my investment. Also, I do get attached to cards I open, and feel like it’s a pretty big kick when I open a [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] or whatever and finish just short of getting to keep it.
Re-drafting also has a poor long-term impact on the local player base. There’s nothing that will drive a new player away from FNM more quickly than opening a planeswalker and having to give it back. Over time, re-drafting can lead to the same player getting the best card every week, which makes for bitterness, resentment, and fewer impact cards getting traded back and forth between all the other players.
Re-drafting is also a technique that shady store owners and TOs sometimes use to benefit themselves. I’ve heard more than a few tales of stores where the owner ends up playing in the event and winning the best couple of cards back for the shop. These stories usually come with anecdotes of the store owner acting as the ‘head judge’ of the event and ruling in his own favor. Other stores also use re-drafting as an excuse to skimp on the prize support, often charging up to $15 for the draft, then allowing the FNM cards and re-draft to act as the entire payout for the event.
Ultimately, I support re-drafts among friends where the play skill is roughly equal and you can be assured that nothing shady is going on. At public events, even though they would probably benefit me in the long run, I am against them.
What is best in life: Oldest version of a card, oldest foreign version, or oldest foil version?
- James V.
A: It depends on the card, but the general rundown is this:
- If a card was printed in Alpha or Beta, those versions are usually considered the best. Beta is generally more in demand then Alpha, a preference that I believe stems from an outdated stigma against Alpha’s rounded corners. Because those cards weren’t tournament legal without sleeves, Beta was the set of choice for Magic’s early pimpers.
I personally prefer Alpha, especially when it comes to rares. There were only 1,100 of each one printed EVER! Owning any Alpha rare is a privilege, honestly. It’s a small piece of history.
- If a card never had a foil printing, the best version is Korean. If the set wasn’t printed in Korean, then it’s Japanese.
- If the card was first printed in a set where foils exist, the Japanese earliest set foil is the rarest version. As cubes become more popular, though, more and more people are moving toward English foils so they can play with a greater number of people who might not know every single card. Even though the Japanese version might be ‘best,’ you will find people who will only want the English printing. My cube, for example, is entirely made up of the earliest possible English set foil when available.
- Promos are generally the worst in life, unless it’s a really old promo (FNM Swords to Plowshares, Dissipate, etc.) or the art is amazing. (Form of the Dragon.)
Q: I’m looking to trade two Tarmogoyfs during the upcoming PTQ season with an eye towards long term value. What should I seek in return?
- Tom B.
A: Right now, Tarmogoyf has a retail price of $100 and closes on eBay for around $75. Because you can cash out of your ‘goyfs for $150 anytime you want, I wouldn’t accept any less than $200 in trade for them—ask for retail and stick to it.
One higher-end card I like right now as a trade target is Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I am of the opinion that Wizards will never do another wide printing of this guy (maybe a judge foil, but that would be it) because they don’t really want any more new players getting their butt handed to them by Jace. That means no duel decks, FTV, or premium deck series versions will be hitting the market ever.
Also, Jace is awesome but not oppressive in Legacy and Vintage. I don’t see him getting banned there anytime soon. Because of that (as well as Jace’s near-mythic status as the best planeswalker ever) I can see him hitting $100 again in the next year or two.
Another option is to find a player who has never had a Tarmogoyf before and is willing to overpay for them. If you can trade them down for a ton of value in smalls, it’s hard to lose if you need the inventory.
Q: If you had a (DeLorian-style) time machine, what one thing about Magic would you change?
– John A.
A: Hmm. This question goes to great lengths to specify the type of time machine I have, but it doesn’t explain how I would gain the power to make a change to Magic. I suppose I’d have to take Mark Rosewater on an adventure through time in order to prove to him that I was right about whatever change I would want made. Otherwise, how would going back in time help at all?
The change I currently most want to make in Magic is to get back large regional prereleases, but I don’t think past Wizards will listen to my pleas any more than present Wizards. Instead, I think I have to pick something that they might actually respond to.
In that case, I would go back to Arabian Nights-era WOTC and talk to them about block design, especially with limited play in mind. If possible, I’d show them the design file for a set that plays wonderfully in draft as a full block (Ravnica probably). That would get us modern design principles and sweet draft environments years before we actually did.
Q: How does one avoid becoming “attached” to their collection when trading? I always find myself wanting to trade for card X but wanting to keep card Y.
- Ryan K.
A: First, show some discipline. Any card in Modern that isn’t foreign or foil should always be available in the right trade. There’s not a single card from any of those sets that is hard to reacquire at a fair price.
Second, find a good, permanent home for your wonky cards that you want to keep. Build a Cube, a Commander deck, a Legacy deck or two… find a place to put those cards where you can justify keeping them around on a permanent basis. Doing this also takes the guilt out of keeping them—after all, they’re for a deck!
Anything that you can’t really find a home for but you randomly want to keep, either put in a ‘keep’ binder and sock it away or suck it up and trade the card. If you don’t know where to play the card, after all, why do you want to keep it so badly?
Everything in your trade binder should always be for trade. If it’s not for trade, take it out of your trade binder. No exceptions.
Q: Is it better to hold on to cards I think will gain value in the long term (like Dismember) or should I flip them and use the capital to make some quick profit?
- Anthony C.
A: It depends on how much active trading you’re doing and how much stock you have at the moment. Are you missing out on trade chances because you’ve got everything socked away as a long-term spec? That might not be the best use of your time.
If your binders are already overflowing, though, it makes sense to put away some cards you think have long-term value and try to move cards you expect to drop. As an aside, I think Dismember will probably dip post-rotation before going back up, so feel free to trade yours now and buy them back in a year.
Q: What was the name of the crazy show you forced yourself to watch all of?
- Sean P.
A: Over the summer, two of my friends and I sat down to watch the entirety of the television show Lidsville in a single night.
Lidsville is a 1971 kids show about horrible anthropomorphic hats who flail around and kind of fight against the world’s most obnoxious wizard. Watching it was one of the most existentially terrifying experiences of my life, not close.
Why did I subject myself to seven straight hours of a TV show I knew was bad? What horrors did I experience during my journey to the world of hats? If you actually want to know, check out this massive article I wrote on my seldom-used personal blog that details the entire experience minute by excruciating minute.
Q: Where do you see the value of Legacy staples going in the next year?
- William B.
A: That depends entirely on whether people get excited about Legacy again.
Last winter, everyone was excited about the format. A different deck was winning every week, and all of the cards just kept going up and up in price.
The backlash against the price increase was the first thing that cooled people on Legacy. Previously, you could get a cheap deck for around $500 and play it forever. That price doubled overnight.
Then came Modern, and everyone got really excited about a new eternal format and what that might mean for Eternal play.
Then came the OP changes, and everyone really cooled on buying cards that weren’t for Standard or casual. (Casuals don’t care about OP changes, nor do most of the people who play a ton of Standard at FNMs.)
There also hasn’t been a major Legacy event since early spring.
It’s likely that the prices for Legacy cards will go up again over the next year. There will be at least one major Legacy event that will get people excited, the SCG Open series is still going, and Wizards still isn’t printing new copies of Wasteland and Force of Will. Demand is very low right now, making this a pretty good time to finish out sets of cards you want.
Of course, if Modern suddenly catches on in a big way, or the OP changes start driving pros away from the game, all bets are off.
Q: Is there anything worthwhile to do with extra bulk commons and uncommons? Or is it best to just donate these to new players?
- Abe C
A: I find that I can pretty easily get between $8 and $10 per thousand for bulk commons and uncommons using a combination of eBay and Craigslist. You can even get up to $15/thousand if you limit your bulk to Standard legal sets, something that isn’t hard to do if you draft a lot.
That said, if you know a kid or new player who can use the cards, it’s well worth giving them your bulk as a way to foster the community.
Q: How did you get started writing? Is Magic the only thing you write about? Any tips for an aspiring writer?
A: I first started thinking of myself as a writer in the sixth grade, which was the first time I encountered someone who was better than me at writing. His name was Colin, and he was the first of my peers who had skill beyond the ability to string words together into semi-coherent thoughts. After being jealous and sulking for a couple of weeks, I decided that I was going to have to beat him at his own game. For that whole fall semester, English class was a battle between the two of us for supremacy. I never quite beat him, but we did become fast friends for the rest of our time in middle school, often writing screenplays together and filming them around the neighborhood.
In high school and early college, I spent my time either in relationships with chaotic, dramatic women; or brooding because my chaotic, dramatic relationship had just ended in some tragic and poetic way. I spent a lot of time writing about love, using both fiction and blogging as catharsis for my self-important emotional issues. Over a six-year period, It was a rare evening that I wasn’t writing something introspective and throwing it out there on the internet for the world to see.
Through it all, I was pursuing a career in film which I decided to make my life’s work in the seventh grade and have stuck with ever since. I moved to LA in the summer of 2008, and have been working in the television industry since 2009. I’m currently the assistant to an executive at a major broadcast network, and I work with hit shows that are currently on the air. My goal is to get staffed on a television show and have a script produced within five years. If that doesn’t happen, I have a couple of ideas for fiction and non-fiction books that I’ll tackle. One way or another, I’ll be writing. Always have been and always will be.
My advice to aspiring writers is this: find a niche that you enjoy writing about and dedicate yourself to writing about that thing as much as possible. I know a lot of people who write about a hundred different things on their blog, and they never get much traction because their target audience shifts every single week. If you pick something and stick to it, you’ll start to build up a loyal readership that will then take the leap with you if you write a 10,000 word essay about terrible hat puppets or something.
Until next time –
- Chas Andres