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The Mistakes of the Past

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Finance, Magic Culture

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When I first started playing the game, I had a playset of Wilt-Leaf Lieges I loved. I top 8’ed a draft for the first time on the back of that card, and loved green and white dudes from that day on. I got my playset and tried to make it work in one of my first-ever decks; I did my best to make it competitive, but it never quite happened.  It was a lot of fun, though, and I still have ittogether today. (As a sidebar, I actually have multiple “casual” decks like this put together and love pulling them out and handing them to strangers to battle with me at events, so hit me up if you ever want to do so.)

Back to my Lieges; at one point in that Standard season, they did see some competitive play and rose in price accordingly. I thought this was awesome and thought the card would never go down in price.

I was wrong.

As they rotated, Wilt-Leaf Liege dropped quite low.  The price has rebounded over time due to casual demand, but at the time it was the wrong call because they dropped so low.

I also didn’t preorder a single Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I simply couldn’t afford the $20 preorder; even if I could have, I had no real idea if it would be worth money later on.

We all know how that worked out, and I obviously missed a golden opportunity (along with everyone else.)  Again, I was wrong.

The Lesson

Two different stories, and two different outcomes.

I talk all the time about using old examples of card fluctuations to predict future movement.  However, here we have two stories that at their face value are somewhat similar, but ended up with very different outcomes.

I’m sure you’re no different. Maybe for you it was Thragtusk and Boros Reckoner.  Or Snapcaster Mage and Geist of Saint Traft. Maybe even Splinterfright, a card I famously (perhaps infamously) went deep on. Some of these cards have plummeted in price, while others have held steady or even gone up.

My 94 Splinterfrights still sit in a corner.

So, what does this mean?  How can we use this information to make better decisions in the future if card fluctuations are seemingly so random?

Every Case is Different

This is what most of it boils down to, though this is of course just scratching the surface.  There are dozens of factors that go into the pricing of a card, though it’s easy to forget about most of them when we boil it down to “playability and rarity.”  Some of my worst calls on cards have come from using faulty comparisons; just because a planeswalker is mythic or named Jace or has a “protective ability” does not mean it is the same case as a successful planeswalker before it.  And just because some cards with future-block tie-ins (Stoneforge Mystic) exploded in price doesn’t mean every similar card will do so, which is why my Splinterfights rot.

This is an easy trap to fall into, but it’s one that can almost always be avoided if you take the time to look deeper. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but the next time you’re thinking about a spec, remember to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I think this card is going up in price?
  • What is the timeline and extent of the increase I expect?
  • What makes this similar/different to comparable card spikes in the past?
  • How much of this card has been printed?  How does that compare to a given card I’m using as a baseline?

Applying It

Like I said, this list is just a starting point, and every card can have an almost-unique set of questions attached to it.  I do think it gives us something to work with, though. For instance, when the initial run on Liliana of the Veil started before States just weeks after Innistrad came out, the comparisons to Jace were all over, and a ton of people spent their money accordingly.

But Liliana was not (and is not) Jace. I wrote an article at the time explaining this, and the card came down in price accordingly in the following weeks. Even though it has gone back up in price, it’s still nowhere near the levels Jace hit when in Standard.  The same principles held true with Jace’s newest incarnation, and its $50 lifespan was also very short-lived.

The same analysis could be applied to Boros Reckoner upon its price spike, and in fact I did so here. At the time, people were saying all kinds of crazy things about Reckoner — how it was going to hit and stay at $30, how it was the future of Standard and that would never change.

How did I know that Reckoner wasn’t another Snapcaster Mage, which is $25-30 most places and hasn’t moved since its release? After all, on the surface they are very similar.

Simply put, I went deeper. As I said, stopping at surface-level comparisons is the major downfall of many would-be financial pundits. Once I really began to delve into the factors that drove Snapcaster’s price — Standard and Eternal play, hype and recognition of the card’s original designer, and the realities of the differences in the player base — the analysis practically wrote itself.

Because of that, I was able to deduce that Reckoner would drop to $12-15, which is exactly where it sits today.  Coming to that conclusion, though,  is not possible without a full evaluation, and not unless you’re willing to question yourself.

Learning It

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in this finance game, and alongside my Splinterfrights are a stack of Master of the Pearl Trident that similarly didn’t work out.  I’ve also had my share of successes as well, and that comes only from a refusal to stop learning.  The day you think you’ve got this all figured out is the day you start to fail.

Don’t get too discouraged if you make a bad call in this game, and don’t think you’re on top of everything just because you make a good call. Both are mistakes, and both will haunt your future if you’re not careful. Instead, use them as another data point to grow your MTG finance skills, and you’ll find that you’ll come closer and closer to your goal, whether that’s lowering your cost to play or just making some money on the side.

Either way, the mistakes of the past are just that — in the past.  Leave them there, and improve your attitude and skills moving forward.  That’s the true secret to Magic.

Thanks for reading,
Corbin Hosler
@Chosler88 on Twitter

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