“Is Ogre a better trader than you?”
“Yes, in the dark,” I responded without hesitation.
Rob laughed, “So, no challenge or battle to determine the best? You’re just going to give up the title?”
“I never claimed to be the best trader. Just the loudest,” I smiled.
Grinder Meet and Greet
A handful of the usual suspects were working the trade floor at SCG Cincinnati. You never get to see these guys in the event coverage, but they’re working as hard or harder than the players (and probably making more money). I love these guys and I expect them, as well as others, to show up in my articles from time to time. Let me introduce them to you:
Ogre is a well-known buyer formerly of Troll and Toad. He’s a beast on the trade floor and he demonstrated his prowess by going from pack to Beta Black Lotus over the weekend. Ogre is now co-owner of Just Games in Corbin, KY.
Rob “Playboy” Highlander is a smooth talking entrepreneur from Cincinnati. Rob sells cards through various online outlets and he is always willing to cut you a deal if the numbers work.
Ryan “Babyface” Bushard writes a finance column for Gathering Magic. He’s known for his unorthodox investment strategies. For example, raise your hand if you tripled up on Death’s Shadows (Ryan is the only one with his hand raised). Ryan is one of the few in the game who will fearlessly put his money where his mouth is.
Dan “The Man” Michela owns and operates www.mtgemporium.com. My pack to power Mox Pearl was supplied by these guys and Dan is always great to work with. Every time we run into each other, we do what I like to call a “Stock Exchange.” He takes cards that he needs for his store and I take cards that I can grind. We trade them straight across at market value.
I’ll introduce you to more of the international trading network as I run across them in random parts of the world. Until then, let’s talk about the things that I learned while trading at the SCG Open in Cincinnati.
That’s right. Every time I work a big tournament I learn new things. Just like when you play in a tournament, you learn new intricacies and interactions of the format. For example, my round five Birthing Pod opponent played a Phyrexian Metamorph to copy his Strangleroot Geist. He sacrificed it with Birthing Pod to make a three-drop. The Metamorph came back (thanks to undying) as a Brithing Pod which he activated it for more shenanigans! This insanity was enough to launch me into the “trade bracket,” also known as X-2-Drop. The good thing about being a trader is that you never have to tilt after a severe beating. X-2 meant that I can “get back to doing what I know,” as Ryan would say.
I’m a Huntmaster Hero
After a few hours of work, I decided to settle in for some Commander. Joey Pasco was trolling the isles during one of his breaks, when my really shiny and really awesome Zombie Commander deck caught his eye. I was laying the beats with my army of undead 2/2’s when he stopped to visit, “Hey Jon, do you have any Huntmaster of the Fells?” The cat was slowly making its way out of the bag. I’d heard murmurs that there were eight copies of Huntmaster in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour. I knew that the card would be $25 dollars by the end of the day, which made Joey’s question a particularly tough one.
Let’s pause the game for a moment. You might have noticed that I was hard on the master of hunts in my set review. I said that Huntmaster would go down and I asked the question, “What problems does Huntmaster solve?” Well, apparently Huntmaster solves some problems for Wolf Run and the price is rising like a bullet. I was wrong about Huntmaster. I failed to properly assess its power and we’ve missed investment opportunities because of it, but there is no use crying over spilled milk.
What’s important is that we don’t get married to our “calls” or ideas. One of Mike Flores’ favorite tips regarding writing is that you have to be able to kill your darlings. You can’t be afraid to obliterate the phrases and ideas that you thought were so clever, for the good of the piece. The same is true for financial advice. If I foolishly held on to my position about Huntmaster and ignored the data, then I’d miss opportunities to make money. OK, unpause the game. Back to Joey:
I responded, “I have two Huntmasters. How many do you need?”
“I was hoping to get four.”
I had two choices here. Choice One: keep my two Huntmasters and tell Joey to take a hike, since I knew that it was going to go up. Or Choice Two: service Joey’s needs (yeah, I know that sounds dirty, laugh it up clowns!) and get him the four Huntmasters. It’s reasonable to tell Joey to take a hike, since you want to grind every dollar out of your cards. If I turned Joey away, I’m sure he would have just walked over to the SCG dealer table and picked up the Huntmasters that he needed. I chose not to turn Joey away, because making the extra money on the Huntmasters was worth less than the opportunity to become Joey’s source for cards. I want Joey to come back to me when he needs cards and the best way to do that is to invest in the relationship with some good faith.
“I’ll get you four by the end of the weekend.”
“What would you value them at?” Joey asked.
“I can trade them to you at $14 each.”
Note: I knew that SCG had them on-site for $18. I could have valued them at $16-$18 and Joey probably still would’ve made the deal, but I wanted to give him an unbeatable deal.
“Ok, I’ll get back to you.”
I’m sure he wanted to do some research before committing.
I got a text from Joey about an hour later giving me a list of cards and the green light to pick them up for him. Over the course of the weekend I picked up Joey’s four Huntmasters and some extras for my stock. We settled up at the end of the day on Sunday (Huntmaster was $25 by then). Joey was happy and my mission was accomplished. Did I lose value on this trade? Yes, I lost the opportunity to make money on four of the Huntmasters that I picked up, but I gained a future outlet for inventory and Joey’s undying love.
Moral of the Story: Making people sick deals won’t kill you.
Moral of the Story II: The Sequel: The sooner you realize that you’re wrong, the sooner you can fix it. Anyone got any Huntmasters for trade?
Ryan 2, Medina 0
Trash talking is the best way to trade with Ryan Bushard.
“You want how much for this!? Are you on drugs?” Ryan and I usually bash it out every time I’m at an event. There’s two things that you should know about Ryan: he’s very sharp and he has no poker face. If you shoot too low on a price, you’ll immediately know it because he goes to snap-keep and then restrains himself (so that he doesn’t look obvious, ha!). This happened while we were playing the price game in Cincinnati.
“What do you have on these Phoenixes?” Ryan asked, pointing at the four Chandra’s Phoenix that I had in my binder.
“$5 or $6…” I paused to watch him.
There it was; the reach. Then the restraint.
Yep, he got me.
He flipped the page and tried not to show the celebration going on in his head. Over the next five minutes, he fished out some other cards to work with. Then we started to crunch some numbers. Ryan was using a tactic that a lot of traders use to get value. I call it “the EOT,” because it’s a timing maneuver that is done at the end of the trade to “even things up.”
Here’s how it works:
The trader finds a card that their trade partner undervalues, in this case it’s Chandra’s Phoenix, and then the trader passes it up and finds other cards to work with. While looking for other cards, the trader makes sure to leave a gap for the target cards. During number crunching the dialog develops as the trader brings the intentional gap to light.
“OK, it looks like we still have a $20 gap.”
This is when the trader opens the trade binder and starts leafing through it.
“Oh, wait a second.”
The trader says as he flips pass the Chandra’s Phoenixes, “Didn’t you say you wanted $5 on these?”
The deception is twofold.
Deception One: The trader doesn’t want their trade partner to know that they underpriced a card and nothing is more suspicious than an eager trader sliding cards out of binder pages, so the trader just flips past the underpriced card. Think about the subtle brilliance in this play. If the trade partner was unsure about his/her pricing, then flipping past a card will intrinsically confirm in their mind that they did not underprice the card. By leaving the underpriced card in the binder, not only is the trader not drawing attention to it, but he’s also protecting it from the negotiation that’s happening with the cards on the table.
Deception Two: The trader can give retail prices (or more, depending on how underpriced the target cards are) on the cards that are on the table, since they’re already getting value on the target cards. This allows the trader to build their partner’s trust and further ensure that there will be no second guessing when they go for “the EOT.”
I knew Ryan was going for it and I like to mess with him when I know he wants a certain card.
“How about these four Chandra’s Phoenixes?” Ryan asked.
I countered with, “What if we do the Messengers instead?”
“…Or, we could do the Phoenixes and take out this [Insert random $4 card here].”
Ryan was trying to keep the Phoenixes in the deal but he didn’t want to come out and say, “I want the Phoenixes because I can get more than $6 on them!”
I wanted to keep the Phoenixes, but I couldn’t ask more than $6, since that’s what I already said. We continued to dance until I gave in and traded him the Phoenixes. It’s funny that we wouldn’t just cancel the trade and move on. That’s what a perfectly logical person would have done, but for us traders, there’s honor in making a deal work. To some degree, we all picture ourselves as master negotiators and canceling a trade is falling short of that identity.
After trading with Ryan, I went back to the grind. The day was busy and I didn’t have much time to reflect on that trade until I met up with Dan “The Man” for our stock exchange. Standard operating procedures are to put each card into piles, by price, and then discuss. I had the Chandra’s Phoenixes in the $5 pile. Dan picked up the Phoenixes and dropped them into the $8 pile. “These are $8 and so are these Grand Abolisher.” After some protest, I decided to look them up.
SCG = $7.99
CFB = $7.99
TCG = $6.38
SCG = $7.99
CFB = $7.99
TCG = $6.48
Holy Smokes! Dan was right! We decided to use SCG pricing for everything and finished up the trade. I could have gotten $8 each for my Chandra’s Phoenixes, but I was rusty and I handed Ryan free profit! The difference between Ryan and the Chandra’s Phoenixes and Joey and the Huntmasters is that Joey will return as a consumer, whereas Ryan will return as a competitor. The “business” that I get from Ryan is fueled by mistakes that he finds in my pricing. This is the second time that Ryan “got me,” the first time was when he shipped me a Foil Japanese Phantasmal Image at $60, which I thought was a deal. It turned out to be SCG retail price. Right now the score is Ryan 2 and Me 0. I’ll be looking to even that up soon. Watch out Ryan!
Moral of the Story: Know all the aspects of pricing your cards before you start trading. I was relying on my knowledge of the TCG Player price and I missed the gap with the SCG / CFB price.
After my trade with Dan “The Man,” I walked around the tournament hall looking for some trades. I overheard a random grinder saying, “I’m looking for Gravecrawlers, preferably the Buy-A-Box Promo.” A red flag registered in my mind. “Aren’t promos worth less than their non-promo counterparts?”
This was the rule of thumb with release and the prerelease foils. Take Mayor of Avabruck, for example. The normal copy is $3.49 (on SCG) and the promo is $2.99. Could it be that the box promos are worth more than the non-foil copies of the card? I brought it up in conversation with JR (the other half of Legitmtg.com) over dinner and he had the same reaction that I did:
“The box promos are worth less…”
“What about Birds of Paradise?” I asked, having a sudden moment of ingenuity.
“That’s not more.”
JR gave me the I-know-I’m-wrong-but-I’m-not-ready-to-admit-it-yet look.
“Yes they are, the box promos are like $10!”
Scotty Mac (of Eh Team Fame) looked over at me and said, “You guys just bought some of those off me at $2!”
I looked at Scotty, “We’ll make it right.”
JR was still processing and so was I. I needed to get back to the site to cheer our Top 8’ers on, so I suspended the topic for the evening.
Are Buy-A-Box promos worth more than the regular versions of the card?
For this exercise, I’ll be using SCG prices. They have a comprehensive and consistent pricing structure for foils. I tried to do this exercise with eBay and TCG Player, but there are too many data gaps to make it worthwhile.
The BaB promo program started in 2009 and is still currently running. These promos are given out by stores to the first 20 people who buy a box of the latest set. I may have over-estimated their supply initially by grouping them with release/prerelease foils. These are actually tougher to find. The first number is the Regular price and the second is the price for the promo.
Card Name (Set) NonFoil/ Foil/ BaB
Honor of the Pure (M10) $2.99/ $5.99 / $9.99
Day of Judgment (Zen) $2.99 / $4.99 /$7.99 Sold Out
Celestial Colonnade (WWK) $2.49 /$3.99/ $4.99
Guul Draz Assassin (ROE) Who Cares, Really?
Birds of Paradise (M11) $3.99 /$5.99 /$12.99
Memoricide (SOM) $ .99/$1.99/ $2.99
Mirran Crusader (MBS) $5.99/$9.99 Sold Out/ $7.99
Surgical Extraction (NPH) $6.99/ $11.99 /$7.99
Chandra’s Phoenix (M12) $7.99/ $11.99 /7.99 Sold Out
Devil’s Play (INN) $1.49/ $2.99 /$3.99
Gravecrawler (DKA) $7.99/$14.99/$7.99 Sold Out
The BaB promo is either more than the normal copy or sold out. Also, the BaB promo is more expensive than the set foil for all of them except: Chandra’s Phoenix, Surgical Extraction, Mirran Crusader, and Gravecrawler. An interesting thing to note is that these cards see a decent amount of constructed play and they only have one printing. This probably means that if any of these cards get a reprint, then the BaB promo will be worth more than the set foil.
Moral of the Story: I’ll be picking up as many BaB promos as I can and maybe you should too.
On the Rise
The Standard metagame is starting to shape up and where there’s innovation, there’s money to be made. Let’s look at some of the cards that are on the rise.
Huntmaster of the Fells (eBay $23.86/ SCG $29.99)
As we discussed earlier, this card shot up and made me look like a fool. Damn you, Huntmaster! I’ve been watching this guy in action and I’m really warming up to him. I expect this guy to be a mainstay in Standard for as long as delver.dec is on top. The tough question is, “Should we pick up this card or get rid of it?”
Every time a standard card spikes, my instinct is to get rid of it. I would do the same with Huntmaster. However, if you want to live on the edge then I think a strong case can be made for holding on to them/picking them up. Based on the way that things are going, he could be a solid $28 on eBay and $39.99 on SCG.
Phyrexian Obliterator (eBay $13.73 / SCG $ 14.99)
This one is under the radar at the moment, but it has teeth in Standard. This is especially true if Wolf-Run continues to be a contender. People underrate this card because it’s associated with mono-black, which is associated with mouth-breathers and their pipe-dream decks. But mono-black is a real thing. It showed up at Pro-Tour Dark Ascension and was piloted to an 18 point, or better, record by Jasper Johnson-Epstein.
This deck is still in the early stages of development, but the tools are available to make it great. It also showed up at Star City Games Cincinnati and I expect it to be a player in the metagame. The graph below shows that Obliterator started spiking on January 24th, four days before prerelease (probably in response to Geralf’s Messenger and/or Gravecrawler) and has continued to rise with no sign of stopping.
Side Note (for Funsies): Do you think this guy’s auction title had something to do with him selling his copies for $2 less than the going market rate?
Sword of War and Peace (ebay $33.61 / SCG $39.99)
This card caught a lot of people by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. Many of the top Standard decks were running between two and four of these. This trend is shifting now, since Finkel crushed the Pro Tour with “no-sword” spirits. There were actually only three Sword of War and Peace’s in the Top 8 of PT Dark Ascension.
The important question is, “What’s the future of this card?”
My guess is that the popularity of both this and Sword of Feast and Famine will be cyclical. A lot of lists are packing main-deck artifact hate and this will lead to the decline of swords (until the hate comes out of the main deck). Did you notice the discrepancy between the retail price (SCG) and the eBay price? There’s a lot of information hidden in the price difference.
What we’re looking at is SCGs attempt to cash in on the price spike. At the height of the spike, SCG was sold out at $39.99. Whenever a card spikes like this, the buy price goes up and a lot of players cash in at the high buy price. The influx of supply, combined with the decline in demand (based on PTDA Top8), will drive the price back down (it’s already happening). In the next couple of weeks, SCG will lower the price to $34.99 and this will signal a price drop to the average Joe. This will prompt even more people to sell. The price will eventually settle once it represents the true demand. One thing to keep in mind is that this cycle moves slower with Swords because Swords see play in Commander, Cube, and formats other than Standard.
I could go on all day about card cycles and pricing trends, but I have a lot of editorial/administrative work to do to keep this site awesome. I’ll bow out for now and write more about this stuff later. As always, thanks for reading!
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