My writing process is somewhat akin to a salmon flopping around on a riverbank.
Will I land on a decent idea before my deadline? Do people really want to read another article about Modern spikes? Ah… here we go – wait, nope,
nope, this isn’t the river at all
; it’s a tiny puddle filled with motor oil noooooo…
That’s why I like answering questions from you. Not only am I assured of making at least one person happy for each question that I answer, but I can
bounce from puddle to puddle, never having to worry about finding my way back to the river.
Mailbag articles are also useful when I want to talk about a bunch of things at once. Instead of trying to find a framing device that allows me to talk
about, say, Shocklands, Vintage Masters, and Conspiracy, I can cut right to the important bits. Sometimes it’s worth finding a bigger point that ties
the topic of the week into the bigger world of Magic finance, but other times it’s better to just hit the ground running and see how fast we can go.
I’ll be writing more articles like this in the near future, so if you want your question answered, be sure to follow me on Twitter @ChasAndres. I tend to put the bat signal out the week before each article runs, but I’m available at any
point to answer your Magic finance questions on a case-by-case basis. Just don’t ask me to price out your entire collection for you one card at a time
– I will likely respond with a made-up number, like ten squabbulion dollars.
All questions below came from actual readers except for one, which I made up myself. Can you guess which one it is?
What is the difference between a monkey and a gibbon? Why isn’t there a band that covers 80s synth classics by replacing all of the keyboard parts
with fart noises recorded at different pitches? Who would you rather have as president: a zombie or a mummy? Do bugs have souls? Is reincarnation
real? If both of those things are true, how much is it going to suck to come back as a bug?
Okay, I figured I’d get that one out of the way early. They’ll be nothing but smooth sailing from here on out, I promise!
Why are shocklands mostly rising? Modern? Shouldn’t they all be sub-$10 so close to rotation?
There are always a few cards that don’t drop in value as set rotation approaches. Liliana of the Veil. Griselbrand. The Zendikar Fetchlands. Casual
cards like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Avacyn, Angel of Hope. These cards were all important to the world of Magic outside of Standard, and the
players who had them prior to rotation were reluctant to sell them at a discount because demand never really dropped. It makes sense that shocklands
are behaving similarly – they are just as relevant in Modern as they are in Standard.
Look, most Magic players aren’t stupid. They know that shocklands were selling for $30-$60 before being reprinted. They know that the Zendikar
fetchlands were $8-$12 when they were in Standard and some of those are almost $100 now. So why would anyone sell their shocklands now? The only strong
argument to be made is that so many were printed in Ravnica that the demand for them in Modern will be satisfied forever because of that, but I don’t
think most people believe that. The best of these lands will be creeping past $20 a year from now.
What land will be the next to spike?
Here are a few possibilities:
– This is the most relevant shockland in Modern right now. It could jump from $12 to $25 by next spring.
One or two of the cheaper scrylands
– If a lesser color combination breaks out in the fall – maybe RB or RU – we could see one of these double or triple in price pretty quickly.
– It’s about time for some of these Innistrad lands to start spiking, and Gavony Township is the most relevant in both Modern and casual play.
The Scars of Mirrodin fast lands
– These are even older than the Innistrad lands and are even more relevant in Modern. Their time will come, and it could be soon.
– This is the best of the original duals that hasn’t had a 200-300% gain over the past few years. In fact, it has gone down in price since the days
when Maverick was dominating. At some point, a G/W deck will catch on again in Legacy, and this will shoot up to the $150-$200 range. It’s the safest
play on this list.
Should we be speculating on any cards based on flavor text (Quicksilver Wall, for example) and if so, what characteristics can we use to determine
which cards are a good investment?
If you had asked High School Me which card to speculate on based on flavor text, I would have absolutely selected Quicksilver Wall. I had a ‘bad stuff’
casual deck that ran two copies of this for flavor reasons alone. (The same deck also had a copy of Goblin Snowman that I had altered on the fly to
give it both Flying and Protection from Dwarves. It was not, strictly speaking, a good deck for tournament play.) Unfortunately, Quicksilver Wall is
still mired in bulkatude -you can pick up regular copies for $0.25 and foils for $0.50. As much as it pains me to admit it, I cannot recommend buying
more than five or six copies of either version.
When it comes to Magic finance, flavor text just isn’t all the predictive of future value. Last Word probably has the greatest flavor text of any
counterspell (You can make a decent argument for Remand as well), but you can pick those up for a buck. Meanwhile, Cryptic Command – which has no
flavor text at all – is $60. Clearly, there is no rhyme or reason to this stuff.
All joking aside, I actually do think that the flavor text on the new Squirrel Nest is a big part of why it will surpass the Odyssey version in value
at some point. The kind of players who love squirrels beyond all reason are the same players who appreciate some great flavor text, and there’s
something delightful about the phrase, “chittering, skittering death” alongside such a pastoral image.
For the most part, the correct flavor-based finance play is to invest in cards that have funny-sounding names in foreign languages. Did you know that
Sarkhan the Mad in Spanish is ‘Sarkhan El Loco?’ Did you know that the German translation of Wild Nacatl is ‘Wilder Nacatl?’ This is where the real
If I want to turn my collection into cards solely for investment, what cards should I specifically acquire?
First off, I do not recommend investing solely in Magic cards. It is much safer to keep the bulk of your investment capital in some combination of good
old stocks and bonds. Feel free to supplement that with Magic as you see fit.
From an investment perspective, the best cards are always going to be the ones that hold the least amount of risk. That means that your targets should
be desired by collectors and players alike and be relatively immune to reprinting. The Power 9 are your best bet, because they will hold their value
even if the game dies tomorrow. Otherwise, I would target reserved list staples.
At what point do you see MTG growth plateauing/shrinking, and what happens at that point? What are the warning signs?
My first instinct after reading this was to guess that the growth of the player base has already started shrinking. I feel like more people were
joining the game back during Zendikar, Innistrad, and the first couple of Duels of the Planeswalker releases. Surely things must have slowed down by
In truth, the growth of the game has probably been fairly steady since 2008. We get glimpses of these numbers at Hasbro investor conferences, so we
know that the player base grew 80% from 2008 through 2011 – about 20% growth per year. We also know from the 2014 conference that Magic grew about 20%
during calendar year 2013. Unless 2014 proves an exception to the trend , then- and without even knowing with the fall set is, that is impossible to
even guess – Magic will continue to grow at the same rate it has over the past six years.
Magic could potentially grow even bigger before it starts to slow down, too. Even though Magic already has more active players than World of Warcraft
did in its prime, it still isn’t really seen as a mainstream game. Very few things could change that, but the upcoming movie just might. If it’s a huge
success – I’m talking Lego Movie or Thor levels of popularity – the player base could double or more over a couple of months. Even if most of those
players don’t stick around for the long haul, the face of Magic will be changed forever in ways we cannot comprehend right now.
If the movie is scrapped or doesn’t prove incredibly popular, Magic’s slowdown might come quicker. We might get the first sense of the slowdown in the
investor numbers, or perhaps it will come from retailers who indicate slow sales of a much hyped set. For the first time in many years, we could see
booster boxes of a set on sale very cheap as retailers attempt to get out of their sunk costs. Most likely, a growth slowdown wouldn’t be all that
noticeable – the game would still be growing, and the prices of older cards would still be going up simply because they’ve become harder to find.
In order for the player base to actually begin to shrink, something major would have to happen – a truly terrible set, a mass exodus to another game or
the destabilization of the world outside of Magic.
What level of condition is where you draw the line when buying? Should I always take the M/NM version or is SP close enough?
Condition always matters, but it means a heck of a lot more in formats where cards have value to collectors as well as tournament players. Think of it
as a sliding scale – with a card like Courser of Kruphix, where the value lies almost entirely in its Standard playability, condition beyond sleeve
playability is close to irrelevant. When you’re talking about a Black Lotus, though, a tiny ding can take hundreds of dollars off the value of a card.
I like to buy SP copies of Standard staples if I’m planning to run them for a couple of months and then trade them away. It saves you a couple of
dollars at the start, and most of the time you’ll be able to move them in trade at full retail to a player who doesn’t care about condition when you’re
done using them. If you buy your cards from a place like Star City Games, who are known for their conservative grading policy, most SP cards will be
close enough to NM anyway.
On the other hand, I won’t touch played foils or other collectors’ cards unless the price is amazing. To someone building the ultimate cube or
Commander deck, condition is everything, and the difference between NM and SP is huge.
If you buy a card from a dealer or individual seller as NM and it arrives with a lot of visible damage, it is usually worth taking up the matter with
the folks who sold you the card. ‘Condition creep’ has gotten much more widespread now that there are more avenues for individual sellers to act as
pseudo-dealers, and it’s frustrating for those of us who actually need our near mint cards to be near mint. We’re all hurt by this, and all it takes
are a couple of unsatisfied buyers to force these sellers into being more careful when they list cards in the future.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is also value to be had in buying cards that are damaged to the point of making the price really attractive. At
one point, I traded for four water damaged Entombs for $5 each and was able to sell them for $15 apiece because they were still sleeve-playable. Buying
cards in poor shape online without seeing them can be a huge risk, but many times you can pick up a card labeled ‘damaged’ for well under retail and
end up with something perfectly playable. Just understand that the entirety of the cards’ value lies in its tournament playability – collectors will
never want it.
If you want to know more about condition,
I wrote about the topic extensively in my fourth-ever article for Star City
. It is worth the read.
What has been your biggest speculation hit and miss?
Well, I’ve made more money simply buying and trading for cards at my leisure and holding onto them for years than through active speculation by a
factor of at least a hundred. I was trying to collect a complete playset of every card made at one point, and while I didn’t come very close, I did
make a whole lot of money. Sometimes, the simplest way to speculate is also the best.
The single card I actively speculated on that did the best was probably Bonfire of the Damned. I bought a couple of playsets at the $5 pre-order price
and traded them away when the card was $50 retail. It even went as high as $60 that summer, too.
The spec that made me the most money overall was Stoneforge Mystic. I bought dozens of them at $1.50 prior to the Pro Tour that season, and sold most
of them between $10 and $12 each. Too bad I didn’t hang onto them for a little bit longer!
My biggest miss was Daybreak Ranger. I bought almost a hundred of them between $0.50 and $1.50 each and only managed to sell six or seven before they
tanked to bulk rare prices. Most of them are still sitting in a box on my floor.
What went wrong? Well, at the time, I figured that one or two of the double-sided cards was likely to be underrated at first simply because it was a
brand new mechanic that players didn’t know how to evaluate. When Brad Nelson and Brian Kibler both wrote articles extolling the card as one of the
best in Innistrad right after the set went wide, I bought in immediately. Unfortunately, it never panned out.
When is the right time to move/pick up foil Zendikar fetches?
The retail on these is $250 right now. Their future value depends on the following questions:
1) Will Misty Rainforest continue to be one of the most important lands in the game?
2) Will demand for eternal formats continue to be fairly consistent with past trends?
3) When will Misty Rainforest be reprinted, and in what quantities?
4) Will the reprint have the same art as the original?
For now, it’s worth assuming that the answer to the first two questions is yes. I also think it’s fairly safe to guess that we will be seeing the
Zendikar fetches again, either in Modern Masters II next or in one of the next several blocks. There is also a good chance that these fetches will
receive the judge foil treatment, perhaps as soon as this year.
The judge foil might cause the price increase to slow down, but I doubt it would cause the price to drop. Polluted Delta is a much older card than
Misty Rainforest, but that judge foil goes for $300 and the set foil is still worth $400. It’s arguable that Misty Rainforest is a more important card,
When Misty Rainforest is reprinted in a new Standard legal expansion, the original set foil won’t drop at all if the art for the new version is
different, though the price will stagnate. Foil Dissension versions of Hallowed Fountains are still out of stock at $120, and that card isn’t even
played much in Legacy.
If the art is the same, I’d expect the new foil to debut around $100. The older foil would continue to be “worth” $250, but much like that Hallowed
Fountain, you’d have a difficult time finding a buyer. You’d probably have to sit on your copy for a couple of years until the new version rose in
If you want foil Misty Rainforests, there’s not much risk buying in now – it’s a luxury commodity anyway, so if you’ve got a thousand dollars to drop
on these, go for it. If you’re looking to sell one, moving it now is fine, but there’s no rush – even with a reprint on the way, holding these long
term is fairly safe.
On a scale from the Ironside remake to Rockford Files, where do you rank Remington Steele?
I would rank Remington Steele somewhere in the Millennium range. It’s important because it launched the career of the third or fourth best
James Bond, and it also paved the way for Moonlighting, which in turn basically set the tone for the entire USA Network and most of the
lighter CBS shows today.
That said, nearly all TV from the 1980s feel so dated now. The writing isn’t as good, the pacing is excruciating, and the veil of postmodernity that
modern TV thrives on is totally missing. Much like Millennium (Chris Carter’s much darker X-Files cousin that somewhat paved the way
for today’s bleak cablescape), Remington Steele is at this point more history than entertainment. Someone could probably throw together 13
awesome episodes out of the hundred or so that aired that would make for a great watch, but do you want to wade through that many reruns to find them?
What is your opinion on the feasibility of abolishing the reserved list one card at a time, or in small batches of cards?
This is no more likely to happen than WotC abolishing it all at once. Breaking the reserved list is breaking the reserved list no matter how you do it,
and it’s something that WotC has stated again and again that they will never do. It’s a non-starter.
Look – I’ve had people tell me that they work in contract law and have sworn up and down that the reserved list is totally unenforceable and could be
abolished at any point. I’ve also had people tell me that they work in contract law and believe that abolishing the reserved list could leave WotC open
to lawsuits from any number of stores and collectors.
The lawyers at Hasbro clearly believe the latter, because they’ve spent a bunch of time discussing it internally and the result was the closing of a
reserved list loophole that had allowed them to print foil versions of cards. As much as you and I would like the thing gone, it isn’t going to happen.
Legacy will need to find another way forward.
Do you think the Legacy market is a bubble? If so, when do you think it will break?
Bubble isn’t the right word for it. Back in March, the price of many Legacy staples spiked – some by as much as 200%. This made sense, because the
supply of these staples has continued to dwindle while the Legacy player base keeps growing, getting older, and getting more wealthy overall.
In the months since, the cards that spiked a little too high – Wasteland, for example – have started to come back down. Most of the cards will plateau
at a point higher than their February prices but lower than their April prices. We’re not really in a bubble – the air isn’t going to suddenly rush in
and collapse the value of any of these cards – but I wouldn’t buy any of the spiked Legacy staples for another month or so.
Assume for a moment we got MTGO V5 and it had a very nice and inviting interface. Do you think Magic would blow up online like it did in real life?
What are your thoughts on the Beta client and MTGO finance changes due to the elimination of the V3 (current) client?
These questions come from opposite ends of the optimism spectrum regarding Magic Online, but both tweeters are essentially asking me the same thing:
how much does the client interface affect the MTGO player base?
Assuming a reasonable level of competency, Magic Online will neither live nor die by its client. Those of us who have an insatiable need to play Magic
at 2AM from the comfort of our own homes will continue to use it no matter what. For players in rural areas, it is an essential tool. Ditto for the
pros and semi-pros who need to spend a lot of time testing for large paper events.
Very casual users would still not be that interested in MTGO even if the client was great. If you’re only going to play for a couple of hours every
month or two, Duels of the Planeswalkers is a better option, as are online native games like Hearthstone. There are some clunky mechanics that simply
cannot ever be replicated on a computer with the degree of elegance that the paper game has. Magic Online is also at a serious cost disadvantage
compared with games like Hearthstone and Sol Forge, where it is both easier and cheaper to play at the highest level. The $3.99 pack price has never
translated well to MTGO.
If MTGO released a truly spectacular client, I do think that the game would become more popular, but I doubt it would blow up to the extent of the
paper game or something like League of Legends. There’s simply no way to digitally recreate many of the social experiences that make Magic special for
so many players, especially the casual crowd, and many players will never be interested in rebuilding their collection from scratch online anyway.
If MTGO comes out with an even worse client – if, for example, if the Beta isn’t significantly improved and they force it on us this summer as promised
– I would except a short term dip in prices across the board, probably similar to the 25-35% fall that happened last autumn when many major events were
cancelled. If the client is truly as abominable as some of us suspect, though, I’d imagine it would be rolled back within the next couple of months as
WotC panicked over the massive drop-off in the number of players.
More likely, we’ll all gripe for a couple of weeks before getting used to it. After all, isn’t that what we do every time Twitter and Facebook get a
terrible new update?
Does Commander playability actually affect card prices?
How do you get over the, ‘This card might be the next Dark Depths!’ feeling for bulk rares/pet cards?
First, don’t forget what a fluke Dark Depths actually was. Until Vampire Hexmage was printed, Dark Depths was a $1 rare. It Vampire Hexmage had never
been printed, it might have gotten to $4 by now. People who bought in on spec got lucky.
Is that shiny new bulk rare you’re swooning over a land? The opportunity cost for putting any non-land in your deck is always much higher, as is the
chance that the card you’re waiting to be printed as a combo piece will be in the correct color.
Also, how recently was your pet card printed? With the addition of the mythic rarity and the increased size of modern print runs, the bar that a bulk
rare needs to clear now is so much higher than it used to be. It’s almost impossible for a bulk card from a large fall set – say, Mana Bloom – to jump
in price thanks to a single interaction in a single format deck.
If your pet rare is a land from an old set that makes a killer combo with something that just came out, congratulations – you’ve hit on something
special. Otherwise, proceed with great caution.
What’s the best window to get Standard foils for Cube?
It depends how long you’re willing to wait. This is what I usually do:
Commons and Uncommons:
I get these immediately upon release. They go up in price almost without fail, so there’s no reason to wait on them if I know they’re going to make my
I tend to snag anything $5 and under right away. The downside is minimal, so I’d rather hedge against a card breaking out and jumping in price. Don’t
you wish you had gotten your Deathrite Shaman foil the day it went on sale? I evaluate rares above $5 on a case-by-case basis. Anything that looks like
it might become an eternal staple is probably worth getting right away, while speculative Standard cards are worth waiting on.
I pick up everything under $15 or so right away. Even the worst foil mythics tend to hit this price at some point, and anything cube playable will
probably get there soon. I’ll also pick up more expensive cards in foul if the price seems low to me or I think the card will break out.
After that, the best window to buy everything you missed is the August/September after release. This is after the previous block’s cards have bottomed
out and before the casual cards have started to rise in price due to a decrease in supply. Star City usually has a big sale during one of these months,
This Week’s Trends
– Standard is starting to get a little more interesting, mostly because more and more decks are being built specifically to target Mono-Black Devotion.
As a result, that deck has dipped in popularity considerably, opining up the field a bit.
– Looking for something interesting to play? This Mono-White Aggro deck is a little different. It looks fun,
competitive, and cheap to build. If you want something neat to take to FNM that has a little bit of financial upside, it’s worth considering. I rather
like this Naya Hexproof build as well. It’s good to see Fabled
Hero making an impact, isn’t it?
– If you’re looking for something different in Modern, may I suggest taking a look at Mono-Green Ramp? If you love throwing around a giant Genesis
Wave or two, this might just be the deck for you. Financially, I like picking up Wistful Selkie – a useful uncommon that has become impossible to find
– Did you know that foil Abrupt Decays sell for $100 now? I hope you picked your copies up when I recommended you do so a couple of months ago.
– If you’re interested in picking up Vintage Masters rares on MTGO, they usually bottom out about a week after release. Plan accordingly.
– Patrick Chapin is of the opinion that Silence the Believers is being majorly underrated in Standard right now. He’s probably right. At just a buck,
this is looking like a very solid pre-rotation pick-up.
– Fifteen cards in M15 are going to be Standard legal without
being an official part of M15. These cards are only going to be printed in the 30-card instructional decks that are handed out at conventions and to
local stores. Presumably, this move is because WotC didn’t want to mix in cards with old borders into packs that had new-bordered cards. Their printing
process has probably been switched over as well. None of these cards are likely to make an impact in Standard (Cancel shows up from time to time, I
suppose, but none of the others ever do) but all fifteen are likely to hold some small amount of long term value to collectors.
– As for Conspiracy singles, I still recommend waiting about a month or so before buying in as prices continue to fall even faster than I expected.
– Foils are an exception, and it’s probably best to buy those as soon as you can. Not everyone is on the same page as me regarding the foil draft
manipulation cards, but they will be soon. Your window to buy in is almost shut.