Trade Routes – Starting a New Year Right

Whew. What a weekend. Our new year was full of Vintage Magic, Wild Turkey American Honey & New London Gin, and Settlers of Cataan. Interestingly, this weekend was also full of reflection, restructuring and a plan.

Yesterday, I went with Conley to get his new car (pictures are on facebook) and we chatted a bit about writing, playing and magic in general. One of the frustrations of writing a weekly column is coming up with fresh and new material on a regular basis. Even more difficult is writing about financial articles every week. Yes, it is definitely possible to write something each week as new Top 8’s, MTGO Daily/Premier events and other sources post new and sometimes innovated deck lists, but weekly columns become bad speculation points. For example, check out a different writer on a major competitor’s site. His articles, like many financial writers, including myself are running into a bit of trouble coming up with new, mind-blowing content each week. Instead, you find shorter articles that revolve around speculation that due to timing, give you only a day or two to act upon before the information is old news.

For example, I can predict that Grave Titan is ready to be dumped. It’s capped at it’s highest value and is slowly decreasing. I would then go on to say that this would be the opportune time to sell, and by the time you read this, you will have two days before FNM to think about getting rid of them. This is not very useful nor is it practical to the average magic player.

I also thought about the types of readers that I am attracting and what actual information that they want to see. When Chas joined our team, it was pretty clear that he wanted to look at long-term investment versus my week-to-week predictions. I liked how we separated the field, but I don’t know how beneficial that is to the readers. I most likely won’t tread too much on his territory, but I will start displaying month long, or season long trends.

So to summarize, the problems and challenges that I plan to address this year are this: making the information more useful to the average trader. Explain and reiterate the importance of understanding trends as they pertain to making money or increasing the value of your magic collection. By tackling these two areas specifically, I think that your trading will get smarter and the investments you make will be better.

So to accomplish this, I plan on restructuring the content of my articles and my posting schedule. I do still plan to write a weekly column, and here is what I propose:

1st Week of the Month: Recap of the Previous Month, New card news, reviews or early predictions for the major events occurring within the month.
2nd &3rd Week: Financial Tips and Speculation if something major occurs (B&R list, PT/GP results)
4th/Final Week of the Month: This will be a Market Watch style article that will track major changes, create a comparison to 1st week predictions. This article will cover the format that is in season and Standard (when different).

In cases in which we have a five week month, you will get a non-financial article relating to magic (internet security, scrubbing out of a PTQ, etc). This article may be related to financial news, but not always. Hopefully this will provide a better understanding of how cards fluctuate and give you all a “better” picture of how trends work. Now this schedule is only tentative as I might change it up when the need arises (New sets, etc).

Overall, I believe that structuring each month like this will provide a better understanding of how I approach the financial aspect of magic. With years of online and real life Magic trading under my belt, I have learned some hard lessons about what to do and not to do. Hopefully, this restructuring will highlight my experiences and help all of you avoid some of the pitfalls that I faced.

With that being said, let’s get to the meat of this article.

Worlds is over. The Limited season is wrapping up and we are all preparing for the Extended Season. Now with my earlier predictions, especially the one that stated Faeries being bad has not changed. But, I believe the time for my explanation is here.

This week, our very own LSV begrudgingly admitted that Faeries is currently the best deck in the format. His admission is here. However, that being said, he also justifies the reasoning for Faeries being on top and discussed how he believes the Magic community can topple this u/b monstrosity.

When I stated that Faeries were terrible and not worth investing in, the reason was very different. I am not a professional Magic player. I read the same articles each week as the rest of you. However, I do know card prices and I am fairly adept at understanding card trends.

Prior to this extended season, we all knew Faeries would be back. Like clockwork, cards such as Mutavault, Cryptic Command, Bitterblossom and Mistbind Clique climbed way back up to a very high price tag. To be fair, Mutavault and Cryptic Command are played in more than just Faeries, but my statement was based on the cookie cutter Fae deck. Since then, we’ve seen some of the cards listed above in other tribal decks, control decks and other random brews.

At the time of my comment, Bitterblossom, Cryptic Command[/card, Mutavault, and Mistbind Clique were high. In fact, most of these prices are still exactly the same one month later. I don’t foresee any of them climbing much higher than they are right now. So when I say that these are not worth investing in, I mean exactly that. If a card stays exactly the same, it’s not a good investment. If a card climbs only a dollar or two, it’s still not a good investment. It is however, a safe or solid investment.

To understand this phenomenon, let’s shift gears a bit. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, prices can fluctuate very quickly, but will usually hover within a certain range for quite awhile. This is due to a combination of Magic Online, Professional Magic Player blogs/articles and good ole’ fashioned tournament results. Magic Online (MTGO) directly affects the meta game, but at the same time can skew the actuality of reality. Meaning, budget decks appear to be Tier 1 on MTGO as less people are willing to tend to two different collections. Therefore, we will see less of the “expensive” decks on MTGO than you would at a local FNM, PTQ or Grand Prix type of event.

On MTGO, the innovation and evolution of a deck occurs very quickly. With this evolution, card prices online will fluctuate hourly, but in real life, these cards take longer. One aspect of Magic that surprised me recently was the amount of people who stick to the same archetype for the entire season. On a personal level, I am a spike through and through. Honestly, I will play whatever the best deck in the format is at the time. The only time this will ever change is if someone like Conley Woods convinces me that their deck is a sleeper and is going to be the best deck.

When picking up cards for a format, solid investments are only solid for a short amount of time. This means that if you keep the basically the same deck (minor changes, sideboarding is included) throughout the whole season and try to get rid of them when the season ends, you will lose money. If you try and sell them a month before the end of the season, you will lose money. If you pick the cards up for one tournament and sell or trade them directly after, you will be able to recover your money and possibly break even. Unfortunately, Spike’s are usually the only magic players who flip cards between tournaments this quickly.

On the same note, Spikes (for explanation on what a Spike is, read here and read the updated explanation here) typically play the best deck and will cycle between the best decks during any given season. More specifically, Spikes have no problem proxying up every deck, testing them and pulling the trigger at the last minute on a deck that they believe will help them win. Unfortunately, not everyone is a Spike.

For the Johnnys and the Timmys, their card pools don’t fluctuate as often as they are constantly trying to improve their “pet” decks. Obviously, there are exceptions to this, but you can usually count on a slower rotation of cards for these style of players. Interestingly, Spikes are also more likely to buy and sell their cards more often than trading for them (as common for both Johnny and Timmy). This was pointed out at the SCG Denver 5k by one of their buyers. This same phenomenon was reinforced at Gen Con this year by the discussion between myself and various major Magic dealers.

So what does this mean?

Investing in cards that are currently hot is almost never a good option. Before investing, you need to make a decision. Are you buying a card to play with, or are you buying it for profit? If you are buying for play, then you are going to pay whatever the going rate is. More than likely, the card will eventually lose value. If you are buying it for value, than picking up cards that are hot is almost always a terrible decision.

To reiterate, cards that are currently hot will always cool down. Look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor. For a Standard, English, non-foil version, this card has fluctuated in value since it’s release. Pre-sales of this card were as low as $40.00 and after release it climbed to over $100.00, then went back down to $75.00 and is now at about $95.00 (CFB prices). Ebay was the same way, with the card value varying between $62.00 to $90.00+ (averaging about $78.00 with an upward trend). This card is not a good value investment. Does this make the card bad? No. In fact, it’s probably one of the best cards in Magic at the moment. It sees play in every competitive format, and it will continue to do so for years to come. This card is however, a solid investment for the time being. Meaning, on a long enough time span, this card, even if it falls back to the $70.00 end will more than likely rise back up enough for a player to break even on their investment (if they are patient). The only way this card will ever fall drastically in value will occur if the card sees a reprint (not likely) or it rotates from Standard. This phenomenon will begin about a month and a half prior to rotation, so be ready to move.

The other major factor here is to look at what set it comes from. Worldwake saw a very, very short amount of time within the limited format. Rise of the Eldrazi was a standalone draft set, cutting three months of active limited time off of Worldwake. If you’ve noticed, many Worldwake cards climbed significantly after Scars was released as all of Zendikar block left the limited world. However, this rise began during well, Rise. Cards that come from Scars of Mirrodin will continue to fall until the next block arrives. We have 9 months of Scars of Mirrodin being a major portion of our drafts and because of this, there is not a single card that is going to rise in value and stay that high. As decks change and evolve, certain cards will temporarily rise, but nothing will stay too hot for long.

Other Standard cards that have drastically changed in value over the past few months include, but are not limited to:


These cards have gone drastically up and down in value. Now with extended season here, unless these cards see play in one of those decks, expect them to continue their descent until either a new set arrives or Standard season/Major Standard tournament occurs.

My predictions for the next month are based on what I expect to occur at the two major events this month. First, we have the Starcitygames Open in Kansas City on January 8th. The format is Standard and I expect a ton of Valakut and U/B Control. Filling out the ranks will be B/R Vampires, U/W Control, G/W Relic and maybe a rogue deck or two (B/W Control, Esper, U/G Genesis Wave and other Aggro Strategies).

With this, I make the following Predictions:

Standard Cards for Standard worth investing in:
Genesis Wave ($1.99)
Terastadon (it’s still super low at $.49)

Aside from PTQ’s, the other major event that occurs this month is Grand Prix Atlanta (January 22nd and 23rd). This will be very interesting as currently Faeries is the preferred deck. Mono-red is gaining popularity online, but may be only doing so as it is still very cheap to build. With Scapeshift/Wargate/Primatic Omen/Valakut Decks gaining popularity, 4c/5c Control Decks being a staple and Jund rounding up the list, this Extended Grand Prix will be wide open. G/W Trap is still in the runnings and Mythic making a surprise appearance in the first online PTQ will make for some very interesting decklists and hopefully a very diverse Top 8.

Standard Cards for Extended worth investing in:
Sun Titan ($5.99)

Exended Cards for Extended worth investing in:
Sovereign of Lost Alara ($1.49)
Boggart Ram-Gang ($1.99)
Scapeshift ($3.99)

Extended cards that everyone but me believes are worth investing in:
Bitterblossom ($16.99)
Mutavault ($19.99)
Mistbind Clique ($3.49)

The last part of this speculation was not meant to be a jab at my readers who disagree. But I’ll put the current value based on CFB in writing so one month from now, just after GP: Atlanta, we will see where the prices are. If I am wrong, I will wholeheartedly admit it and will eat crow because of it.

Until Next Time,

Brian Grewe
MTGO: briangrewe

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