Next Level Spec #6 – Mailbag!

Today, Ted takes the time to answer questions from you, the valued readers. Read about Ted’s perspective on speculating, when to dump Modern, and more. Don’t miss his quotable quotes section for some laughs.

Real life has interfered with me doing the in-depth stuff I wanted to do last week, so instead I will give you a) an interview translated to/from Russian, b) a Mailbag with your questions, or c) a new Quotes section?

How about all of the above?!? Heeeere we go.

The first is an interview about spec I recently did with Bogdan Volostrigov over at Topdeck.ru. Bogdan writes some pretty sweet financial stuff in Russian over there (Google translations of which have been surprisingly good), and he has LOTS of charts and graphs in his work, so I generally find his writing sexy, even if I can’t read it.

Congratulations on starting such a successful venture! Your @NextLevelSpec Twitter account is booming with followers, and your SCG column on speculation has surely made a lot of waves in the Magic community and has generated numerous heated discussions lately. How do you feel about bringing MODO speculation (the “dark side of Magic”) to the mainstream? 

I started talking about speculation on Magic Online because I knew it was going on, and there were tons of people interested in doing it, but for some reason no one was writing about it. (Maybe because they were making too much money doing it and didn’t want to share?) As I’ve mentioned in my columns, the money is a nice perk, but data analysis is the part I really enjoy, and it’s fun writing about something relatively new in Magic—that’s what really spurs me on. Some people want to win more drafts… right now I want to see if I can pick the gems from a fickle and often volatile market.

What effect do you think it will have on the community mid- and long-term? 

As for long-term impact, I have no illusions about it. I’m just some dude discussing cards, values, and markets. If I stopped writing the column at the end of 2011 (which could happen—I’m notoriously busy and flighty with Magic projects), no one would know it existed two years from now.

Well, I hope your cause will be alive and kicking long after that. I was wondering, it’s generally accepted that traders and speculators leverage the information advantage—not only they are better informed about price shifts, they understand the market patterns much better, know the price ceiling of the cards, etc. How do you feel about sharing your experience with the general public? Doesn’t it undermine your advantage in the long term, eventually shrinking the “information gap?”

The company I work for has always believed in trying to help bettors have more information, so they can bet more, win more, and generally succeed. 

Similar to Poker sites publishing poker strategy content?

Correctamundo. I feel that way about speculation. I don’t mind talking about it because it’s not my livelihood; it’s my hobby, and it’s fun. Most readers and followers seem to share that outlook, but there are plenty of entrenched business interests that don’t seem to like it.

As for my personal information advantage, I have proven to be very good at information analysis over the years (sports betting, banning cards, speculation, etc.), so I’m reasonably confident that I can stay ahead of the curve here as well, if I want to. In the meantime, if I help get a bunch of other people interested in the process and make them some money as well, that’s great. To put it another way, if I didn’t want to share this with the masses, writing about it would be a pretty stupid idea.

Just like every other writing pro-player gets accused of hiding tech or misinforming the readers, every single financial writer sometimes gets accused of leveraging their “tribune” to get profit, i.e. hyping cards they have invested in, and so on. After all, speculators love profits, so we can assume that their articles also primarily serve this goal. Thus, you should never believe anything such writers say. What is your answer to these claims?

Just like with anything involving money, you can only learn who to trust over time. If someone you didn’t know anything about started telling you what stocks to buy, would you buy them? Of course not. The first thing you do is start researching the person who gave you advice and what they said to find out if they are right or just some donkey trying to get your money. If Bill Gates tries to tell you what’s good in Standard, you are going to be a little skeptical, but if Valeriy Shunkov does it… that guy knows his s***.

Oh, this would surely prevent Valeriy from jumping off a cliff after getting only seven likes for his latest SCG article, and our readers would appreciate this piece =)

That said, the same thing applies to cards, betting, and commodities in general. One of the reasons I didn’t want to discuss specific cards at the start of NLS was because I didn’t want to get stuck in that trap. I wanted to discuss the research and the fundamentals and build up some credibility for having actual (though sometimes imperfect) knowledge of the system. However, it’s such a crazy time that I had to start mentioning cards I was getting involved with as soon as I got involved on Twitter. That has since turned into accusations of ‘pump and dump’ from certain areas of the community, which is laughable. 

Yes, this Modern-induced hysteria even forced me to write some “emergency columns” to remain on the cutting edge of events. It definitely helped draw attention to our cause though.

Sure. Apparently, if you ever talk about any card ever, even if you do so when you are not buying it (which I have done because I wasn’t liquid), you can be the target of such accusations. F*** them—ask all the people who have made money off my buy recommendations how they feel, and you’ll get a more accurate answer.

That said, even by my own standards, my track record in picking cards so far has been ridiculous and surely a little bit lucky. It can’t always be this good/this easy, can it?

A couple of times on Twitter you mentioned that the current state of Modern pricing is a bubble. What makes you believe this? Which cards in your opinion are the most likely to burst first?

Many of these cards are hitting peaks that have never been seen before in their history. Not during PTQ seasons, not when initially launched—never. The supply isn’t low enough for Grove of the Burnwillows to triple in price from what we saw in Extended season; the same is true for Ravnica dual lands, etc. Thus I think you are seeing irrational exuberance all over the place and believe that the prices on everything that isn’t part of one of the big Pro Tour decks to come down considerably after the PT finishes. Hell, the prices on everything may drop, period.

I believe the top class for every speculator is finding the “sleeper” cards—a criminally undervalued card with no deck to shine in yet. Can you share your thoughts on a couple of interesting “sleeper” cards in Modern?

I actually bought Vesuva as part of my Commander basket (which I haven’t talked about yet, but believe pretty strongly in), and that’s paid off tremendously. Blood Moon was another secondary pickup that has shown something like 300% returns in two weeks (thanks to Sam Stoddard, who has really led the way on Modern spec). Melira, Sylvok Outcast is another one I think is pretty spicy, mostly because of the combo she has with persist creatures like Kitchen Finks and Murderous Redcap. I have a couple more that I’ve gotten involved with, but I can’t discuss those due to promises to certain PT players.

I surely hope we hear about those after the PT. Traditionally, cards from in-print sets on MO are priced higher during their second year in Standard than during the first one. This is logical—cards don’t get opened as often, and redemption also eats on supplies. What are your early (that is, pre-Innistrad-spoiler) thoughts on cards from Scars Block to be picked up while prices are relatively low?

I gave some of these a couple of weeks ago via Twitter. I grabbed Birthing Pod right before the breakout because M12 was just coming out on Magic Online, and it seemed like a card that would be fun for casual play and potentially very powerful. Then Chapin and Jacob found a really nice deck for it, and suddenly instead of being 3.5 tickets, it’s 8+.

Phyrexian Metamorph is another card that I would normally pick because it is good all over the place, but it’s constrained by the Prerelease foils. Aside from that, you are looking for mythics that should be good later (though I’m not sure Koth or Tezz qualify here) or rares that went way down and should explode down the road (Green Sun’s Zenith was a good one and has been pushed by Modern—Sam Black was on that very early).

Basically, if there are powerful archetypes waiting for more powerful cards to rotate to be good (like Hawks, Valakut, etc.), that’s where you want to dip your toes.

7) Again on Modern. So, we got some early hype after the announcement; then we will get another tectonic shift after the PT (and the speculators will be fully ready for this, I believe)… Then what? Will the Modern market shrink after the PT, and if so, how deep do you expect the decrease to be?

I guess I answered part of this earlier. I do think Modern prices will shrink post-PT, but it’s tough to gauge because I honestly don’t think anyone knows how popular the format is/will be right now. My gut says the top end of shocklands is 20-25, but we could see a 50% drop across the board on most cards in your giant basket.

8) What’s your opinion on the future of online Legacy, given that Modern will probably surpass it in popularity in the coming months? Can it mean an opportunity to invest in Legacy staples if the prices drop somewhat, or should we wait for the GP formats to be announced?

I don’t think Legacy is going away, and potential demand lost by Legacy ‘disinterest’ will be made up for by increased casual players popping on to the system and buying the same cards. I believe the future of Magic Online Legacy staples is a strong one, especially when you see the continued enormous turnouts for Legacy Grand Prix all over the world.

Modern represents another news cycle and another potentially fine format, but you have to remember—it’s not replacing Legacy; it’s replacing Extended. Legacy basically replaced Vintage, and I think it will stay that way for Eternal players for a long time, but I think Legacy and Modern can exist together happily.

9) Now, I’d be ashamed if I didn’t add some drama in the interview. Lately a situation cropped up involving you and MTGOTraders bot chain, when you realized that they employ selective pricing—that is, charging your personal account with higher prices. Can you tell our readers a bit about this and how do you feel regarding this practice as a whole? 

This was a weird incident on many levels. If they didn’t want me as a customer, I would have expected to be banned. Additionally, if they had added an announcement to my login, that would have been fine too. Instead I just got a sneaky surcharge with no explanation (and it was on my mixedknuts account—it’s not like I’m difficult to get in touch with). This made me wonder if it was happening to other people and also made me ponder the extent that this type of system was configurable if they wanted it to be. That line of thought is a little scary.

Well, it definitely was a little disturbing. But what can we, regular customers, do to fight this practice?

With that in mind, protecting yourself is easy if you want to take the time. Just do a little comparison shopping around different bot networks when you buy cards and occasionally verify that the prices you see on bot websites are the same ones you see when you login to buy things. If they are different, ask some friends of yours if they have similar experiences and then publicly talk about what you found so that people know.

10) Is it reasonable to believe that one can invest now in “strangely banned” cards in Modern (cough Bitterblossom cough) on the assumption that they may be unbanned after the PT? If so, which cards are the most likely candidates for this?

I tend to work off of data more than guesses, so I’m going to be very cautious. I think Wizards will let the format settle for a good long time before they look to unban any of the cards on that list. It will take at least a year for the format to be explored via PTs, GPs and PTQs, and at that point you might start looking, but they might just choose to leave it as is for years.

11) Have you thought about starting your own bot (like Medina did)? What are the pros and cons of this in your opinion?

I have considered it and find the concept interesting. I may even move forward with some ideas I have on how to improve the systems as a whole, but I’m waiting for Wizards of the Coast to tell us what v4 will look like first. I think Medina was considering writing a follow-up on his experience, which everyone should be interested in reading.

12) And finally, some small technical tips for our readers. Which bots do you usually buy from?

For Standard cards I usually pop on to TheCardNexus bots because their prices are almost always good, and I know the owner. You have to be really careful in speculating on bots you want to use regularly though—since the bot owners don’t always look kindly on speculators, you might take the policy of “Don’t s*** where you eat” to heart.

Well, I guess unless you engage on buying more than eight copies of the same card from a single chain, you shouldn’t bother, right? How do you liquidate your stock—to buybots, or on the classifieds?

Liquidating is always the big question, and the answer varies depending on your time constraints. With my Modern stock, I’ve been selling via the classifieds and doing perfectly well at that (about 1800 tickets worth of cards sold since Aug 12). However, if you don’t have time for this, you’ll need to dump to buy bots (costing you potential money in exchange for time), or make sure you login during the US evening time, since that’s when you have the most interested users around.

This is potentially a large pain for Europeans. How do you check the prices? Do you employ any analytical instruments that help you in your decisions?

Price checking comes daily and starts with the Cardbot and Nova websites. That gives me a general idea of what is going on, and if Nova is out of something I care about, that tells me there is probably movement I want to pay attention to.

As for spec buying, you go where the lowest prices and best volume are. If you want to be big, you’ll need to have multiple accounts and at this point, expect that some of the bot owners will f*** with you if they don’t like what you are doing.

As The Wire would say, “It’s all part o’ tha game.”

Here Endeth the Interview


Alright, now it’s time to dip in to the mailbag. As always, these are actual questions from largely non-fictional readers.

Why do you hate freedom?


Will your public figure-ness affect your ability to give MTGO financial advice to people who actually appreciate what you do in the future? How can you keep MTGOTraders from being the first person, after you, to benefit?

—Tommy Tiny Tunes, Washington D.C.

Well little Tommy, I haven’t quite figured this out yet, and it is annoying the hell out of me. The open conversational nature of Twitter is rather awesome, but that same openness means everyone has access to the information. I feel like I should start using safe words when I do recommendations. If I mention the color blue or talk about furry animals, DON’T BUY THOSE CARDS. (Not really. Or at least not yet.)

Rest assured, I am still trying to figure this out, since I am not happy with the current situation of 1) Say something useful -> 2) Bot networks raise prices immediately.

Would you say start selling Modern cards before or after PT Philly? — @ManfredWong

Before. Now, in fact. Get out, get out, get out! (If I cost you some potential profits later, I apologize, but you asked for my opinion…)

In two years, which will be higher: Hallowed Fountain or Tundra? — @juzamjedi

If I were making odds on this Online, it looks dead even to me. Modern is likely to be more popular due to PTQ seasons, but Tundra almost certainly has a lower supply.

What sort of relationship is there between your advice in regards to MTGO vs. Real Life? — @epic_travesty

To be honest, I don’t completely know. There is obviously a relationship, but the markets are different enough that unless you spend time working with both of them, it’s difficult to figure out how much what I say for Online spec would be useful IRL.

I’ve figured out what I want to invest in according to your advice; how do I decide how much funds to invest? —cdubreal

There’s a process for doing this that involves looking at the price of the cards you want to buy now, then determining their likely peak values, then figuring out how likely they are to meet those peak values, then how likely they are merely to make you a profit. Compare that to your overall bankroll for speculation and invest a percentage of your bankroll based on the expected value of the wager/speculation. This is the subject of entire books, but for the basics I would start here and research the Kelly Criterion.

Online, how much does a card have to move up by so that it makes it worthwhile to buy into, once bot margins are taken into? —geraintdmorgan

20% minimum, though ideally you want 40-50%. If you aren’t getting a return of at 20%, it’s not worth your time or risk.

What is the best hip-hop album of ’93-’94? — @killgoldfish

For those of you who weren’t around, this period of time is widely regarded as the rebirth of hip hop. The question is nearly impossible to answer because there were so many amazing albums in those two years. I’m reasonably certain the answer has to be Biggie’s Ready to Die, followed by Nas Illmatic and Doggystyle. The two albums that sometimes get ignored but were huge future influences were Wu Tang’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Common’s super-smart Resurrection. Oh yeah, and Outkast released their first album during that time, and Tribe was kicking it as well… so much awesome.

Secret confession: At the time I had no idea this was going on. None. I was trapped in farming country Indiana and wouldn’t discover a real joy for hip-hop until late in my college years.

When Arsene Wenger (manager of Arsenal) resigns/gets fired in two weeks’ time, who should take his job? — @geraintdmorgan

This isn’t funny. Arsenal have the better part of £80 million to spend and eight days to do it in. It’s like Brewster’s Millions (a terrible movie) except with my favorite football team as the star. Miserable.

Does Wenger’s long-term transfer strategy suggest he would make a good MTGO speculator? — @rtassicker

It generally does—he’s had far more big hits than misses, and he’s had excellent long-term profitability. That said, no trophies in six years and an absolutely mad summer… might be time for him to hang it up.

Do you think power will ever be released on MODO? What’s the best way (vs. the most likely way) to do such a release? — @dieplsthx

This question is tough because of how warping the cards are versus almost every other Magic card ever. If you put them at mythic rarity in something like a Master’s Edition, they will sell a bazillion packs in the process.

However, it’s the freaking Power 9! They are obviously a bit more powerful (to the point of severe annoyance—just imagine someone playing a first-turn Mox in Limited on you) than normal cards during actual Limited play.

I think the Power 9 will eventually appear online (Wizards rarely turns down the offer of free money, especially when backed by demand), and the best option would be a From The Vaults release for online only with the alt arts they have been stocking up from Vintage champs.

Honestly? I have no idea what they will do.

Also, this article: Regret or good publicity move? — @dieplsthx

Oddly enough, pretty much everything to ever come out of that experiment has been good. The PR was good; I built a great, long-term relationship with StarCityGames.com; I got to try pot for science; and I’ve never been passed over for a job because I wrote it.

Is the #MTG Finance community (financial columnists/speculators, etc.) good or bad for the market and players in general? — @CHosler 88

For the vast majority of players, the financial community is irrelevant. They buy from whomever they want at whatever the current price is and go on their merry way. Speculators provide additional liquidity to the market (which is good) at the cost of greater peaks and troughs in prices. Apparently bot vendors hate this, but the market as a whole mostly shrugs.

We know by this point that there are many, many players interested in the financial aspect, and it definitely gives everyone one more element of Magic to argue about. Overall I’d say it’s a moderate to large positive.

Quotable Quotes

Jobim  I got a ball as a gag gift.
mixedknut  I thought you said you got a ball gag as a gift
mixedknut  Finland = kinky

kaib               soo
kaib               puresteel paladin
kaib               am i dumb for wanting to play that?
Sadeg           if it draws you cards then no.
Sadeg           granted
Sadeg           i dont even know which deck plays paladin
Sadeg           and what happens when you dont draw paladin?
rhizom        I love what we in here could look past as long as it allows you to draw cards. “I nailed my cat to a tree and set fire to a school” “but I did get to draw 3” “well, then its no problem”

Riptide (Anton Jonsson)       10:07 PM TotalAmoral casts Distress targeting AntonJ.
Riptide        10:07 PM TotalAmoral has conceded from the game.
Riptide        i like that

MOS_DEF (Tomi Walamies) so: pacifism versus incinerate is this format’s mongrel vs looter? defining pick. no clear answer regarding card quality or color so you try and get a read of the table

Riptide        10:08 PM TotalAmoral chooses to play last.
Riptide        lolol
MOS_DEF    haha
Riptide        10:08 PM Turn 2: AntonJ.
Riptide        10:08 PM TotalAmoral is being attacked by: Goblin Arsonist
Riptide        10:08 PM AntonJ casts Stormblood Berserker.

Riptide        10:09 PM TotalAmoral: vintage yous
Riptide        hahaha
Riptide        this is tim aten
MOS_DEF    heh
Riptide        my draw was pretty nice
Riptide        arsonist, berserkers, hellhound, minotaur, goblin grenade
MOS_DEF    distress concede sounds atenish. based on the man’s tournament reports, life hasn’t always been kind
Riptide        he makes me look upbeat and happy

jbh_phone  Hrmmmph. I may have to buy a damn manriki for this weekend.
jobim           Read that as: mankini.
jobim           I admit, I was intrigued.

@SamuelHBlack Re: overrun: I did manage to 3-0 my draft when I had 3 of them today, but I also had 2 stingerfling spiders

@cbfowler: The Incredulous amuse me. Loved metal for 35 yrs! You thought Katy Perry and M Buble were on my ipod? That’s Herbie. (Note: Sick Herbstreet beats.)

@girldetective They say that 1 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do, but I think the correct formula is actually 1 + More Than 2 Cats.

mixedknut yeah, eternal players like foils more than whores
mixedknut            (I have no idea why I typed that)
Tristal         I don’t really like whores
psamms      i love whores
mixedknut            DING
mixedknut            I practically summoned him forth

@kellyoxford: Some nights you just let your husband twist your boobs like radio dials for a half hour while shouting “TUNE IN TOKYO!!”. Life’s short.

@semisober In analyzing @PVDDR‘s lifetime match stats, I’ve determined I was briefly higher rated than him. He was 12 at the time.

jobim           LANCHUGNA
Seeker         lol
jobim           launching*
jobim           s*** update
Seeker         lanchugna
jobim           f*** f*** f***
Spoiler: Seeker got there first.

7:38 AM Grendelsbacon: While playing 12 post I had a kid Boomerang me T2, 3, 4. Followed by Stone Rain for 5 turns straight. I came here to escape children and this is what I get. MTGO I am disappoint.

Frank Karsten: Off to Dutch Nationals! Should be a lot of fun, as I will play the only deck that is legal in Standard, but not in Modern. (Hint: it contains 2 copies of Stoneforge Mystic.)

Mrfridays:   I was thinking about ordering something unhealthy yet delicious, but sadly the local pizza place doesn’t deliver crazy women.

MOS_DEF 2-0 vs guy who went mancer, royal, demon game one. grave was calling. game two smallpoxed his hopes and dreams while getting a griffin and shouting teddy kgb quotes at the screen
MOS_DEF “go away, son. this one is not good for you.”

rhizom        There is a low/non-carbohydrate diet right? I dont have anything to my bolognese, so I go with cabbage. Dont wanna have people thinking I´m lazy
MOS_DEF    the non one does odd things to the brain. you need some carbs
MOS_DEF    increased hostility and occasional nonsensicality. the 4322 draft diagnosis
MOS_DEF    but yeah we need like 10 % of the carbs that avg person consumes
rhizom        I wasn’t serious
MOS_DEF    I am every time
MOS_DEF    no joking abounds when the fun police is around
rhizom        Must be hard
rhizom        Working a comedian
rhizom        And always being serious
MOS_DEF    i get that a lot! (get it? hard?)

MOS_DEF    ok back to business
MOS_DEF    there’s these comics who see jokes as beneath them and try to just be bill hicks without the funny bits
MOS_DEF    they’re even worse company backstage
MOS_DEF    in every field of life there’s the green drafter

@markleggett MINORITY REPORT: An Asian incorrectly answered a maths question, shaming his family. He attempted harakiri with a foam “Hello Kitty” knife.

Yep, these are my readers…