Quiet Speculation: Shards of Alara

They always tell you “buy low, sell high.” It’s like the baseball coach who’s telling you to “keep your eye on the ball” and “hustle.” It’s like we’ve been missing the point all along, but let’s get real. I doubt any stock trader woke up one morning and realized, “Holy hell, I’ve been doing this all wrong. I need to buy low and sell high!” A trained chimpanzee could figure that one out. The nuances of when, just like the timing of a batter’s swing, are the crucial and unspoken pieces of information that the trader needs. “Keep your eye on the ball” tells us what we already know. “Start your swing earlier since he’s got a very quick windup and you’re not catching up to his four-seamer” is good advice, as long as you keep your eye on the ball.

Luckily when we’re trading Magic cards, we don’t need split second reaction time. We need the ability to analyze trends over multiple time spans. My favorite trend is seasonal. It seems that about 3 months before a format’s PTQ season begins, the cards lie dormant and forgotten on bots everywhere. Dealers lower prices to move some product, but no one is buying the faded glory of last year’s Standard.

So they sit, untouched by players. This is precisely when, instead of telling you to “buy low, sell high,” you need someone to tell you to do it now. And I’m here for you; I’m going to tell you what to buy, at how much, when, and why. I’m going to focus on Shards of Alara Block this week, since it has only recently left Standard and still carries the stigma of “just rotated out” instead of the “good in Extended” tag that it deserves. This brief exercise just shows, once again, that too many traders operate on too short a timeline;it might take up to a year for an investment or gambit to pay off. As long as you have a bunch of short and long games going, you’ll eventually end up in the black. It’s like being a poker grinder, except some tables take months to play out and others are one-and-done in an afternoon. Here are some of the cards that I’d be buying right now, with the usual analysis of why, when and how much:

Shards of Alara

Ajani VengeantI recall a time when this card would fetch 20+ tickets! Now it’s down to 4? That’s criminal. MTGO is viciously seasonal, and the cards that aren’t in vogue at the moment lose their value very quickly. Four tickets for a planeswalker that opposes Jace very nicely will spell huge things in Extended, and they won’t remain 4 tickets for long.

Elspeth, Knight Errant – She was good enough for Zoo decks in old Extended. Now that the format is much smaller, she’ll probably still see play. Mythics from a set that’s been out of print for over a year can start to get expensive, so cheap Elspeths can probably still be had. There’s no reason this version of the white planeswalker won’t remain an important card to the game for its duration in Extended.

Hells ThunderThese are selling for under a ticket, yet they were instrumental in Jund decks that needed to beat Jaces, Gideons, and other planeswalkers . They go over most of the “walls” that blue decks play, and they become even more enticing since they’re a fine target for an Assault Strobe or something similar. I can see these selling for 2-3 tix if Jund or RDW becomes a tier 1 deck in Extended, and that’s an assertion I’m willing to put my money on.

Master of Etherium - So we just had an artifact block start, Extended has the artifact creatures from Alara Reborn, and this guy isn’t in high demand? At under a ticket, he’s a bargain waiting to be found. Much like Hells Thunder, I can see this card being instrumental to the success of a metalcraft-themed Extended beatdown deck.

Ranger of Eos Eighty cents. Eighty damned cents for one of the most broken card advantage engines ever printed. Remember what this card used to do to people in Standard? The story was always “then he topdecked Ranger of Eos, got a couple of [insert broken 1 drop here], and I pretty much lost on the spot.” Eighty cents? Have we all lost our minds? I’m going to go out and buy every single one of them at 80 cents, so don’t even bother looking. Seriously. I don’t know why I’m even saying anything!

Sedraxis SpecterIt’s not too hard to imagine when and where this is good. Unearthers with evasion are amazing at assassinating planeswalkers, and this bad dude has the magical power – 3 – to kill a fresh Mind Sculptor. The unearth cost is marginal and forgiving, and hardcasting one is fine as well. The new Scars dual lands make UBR much easier to cast on the third turn. Considering these are 8 cents (thats .08), I cannot fathom how you could go wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect them to see more than .75 or 1.00, but I can’t fathom how they won’t hit at least 0.50. I’m fine with that percentage gain, frankly. On the off chance they become a hot card, you could be drafting for free for months.

Sigil of Distinction - Another league-minimum rare, Sigil of Distinction has Trinket Mage and Stoneforge Mystic backing it up. Considering it turns both creatures into godless killing machines (as well as your next 2-3 threats, reasonably), and scales with the duration of the game, I cannot fathom how this card isn’t already being talked-about for new Extended. Again, I cannot stress how cheap .08 is. See my section on crap rares below.

Tezzeret the SeekerThis is a $20 rare in 3 months, mark my words. Tezzeret is totally absurd with some of the artifacts we’ve got lying around. Between Trinket Mage and Tezzeret, I can see some real shenanigans taking place. Tezzeret is also totally busted with Contagion Engine, and there is almost certainly a deck that uses him with Time Sieve. Since he is under $5, back up the truck.

Conflux

Knight of the Reliquary – At $3, this multi-format all-star is really having a hard time of it. The gamer’s memory is fickle and prone to forgetfulness. It was not long ago when Knight of the Reliquary ruled the top tables, and any metagame hypothesis that does not include these among the best cards in the format is ill-informed. It may get pricey when you start buying all these potential “sleepers”, but in reality, you’re just buying in at low tide. There is almost no way you will lose money on former all-stars like this one, but nothing is ever 100 percent for certain.

Noble HierarchSee Knight of the Reliquary. Almost to the T, the same thing is true.

Master Transmuter – I’m not ready to call this a buy at 1.00, but keep it on your radar. This is the kind of card that could get traction very quickly, so be watching for deck lists as the season begins. That time is at least a few months off, so don’t worry about buying in yet.

Alara Reborn

Filigree AngelThis is another high-upside, low probability play. At 0.12 or so each, they are of course a decent bet based on the math alone. I love that it’s an artifact creature, and if Open the Vaults decks begin using them as they once did, they could see a spike to a “real” price again.

Maelstrom PulseAnother fallen star, Maelstrom Pulse should command more than $5 when it’s in the heat of the PTQ season. The card was instrumental in Jund’s success, and will continue to dominate the top tables in Extended, picking off troublesome planeswalkers (like Tezzeret) or terrifying equipment (Sigil of Distinction, Basilisk Collar). There’s just no way that Maelstrom Pulse isn’t the best removal spell in the format, and there’s no way such a good card stays so cheap.

Time SieveAnother super-cheapo card, no more than 0.15. Considering we have cards like Mox Opal, Memnite, Myrsmith, Open the Vaults, Tezzeret the Seeker, and other such sundry artificial delights, it’s hard to convince myself that no one will break Time Sieve. All the pieces are there, and you can buy the Time Walk that fuels a potential top-tier deck for 15 cents. In 3 months, there’s a fine chance you’ll reread this and think “damn, should have done that.”

On Garbage Rares, Multiplication, and Making Smart Bets

Let’s take a quick trip to Mathville. Population: You. Let’s say you buy X copies of a junk rare like Sigil of Distinction (or any other 8 cent rare) at 0.08. And let’s then say that you are correct, and the card is sold easily for 1.00. We’ve all seen rares that go from 0.10 or 0.08 up to 1.00 or higher, so we know it’s not just wishful thinking. Here’s a quick little chart of profits for a few values of X.


X

Cost

Revenue

Profit

4

.32

4.00

3.68

16

1.28

16.00

14.72

32

2.56

32.00

30.44

64

5.12

64

58.88

100

8

100

92

250

20

250

230

OK, pop quiz! Using the table above, please solve the following problems:

Where do you start spending “real” money? At around 64 copies of a card, you’re buying a hamburger and some fries. At 100 copies, you’re talking about a couple beers. Once you’re paying your bills for the month with the net profit, you’ve wagered the cost of a nice dinner with a glass of wine.

What happens if you’re wrong and the card does nothing? When the potential return is so ridiculous, you might as well invest as an insurance policy against being wrong. In my opinion, even a half-baked hypothesis is worth funding when the odds are this favorable, and I hardly think that my theory on Sigil and Sedraxis Specter are “half-baked”.

Isn’t it hard to move that many cards at once? Yes it is. That’s why some people don’t bother. But once you get a good roster of bots going, you tend to get a feel for who buys what at what price. It only takes a few bots who will buy 12+ to get into the clear.

This is why I love garbage rares. There will usually be one or two of these rares that shoot up in a given season, if not more. At .08, you only need to be right 1 in 12 times to be breaking even. Most good speculators have a much better track record, so as long as a bit of research and thought is given, it’s hard to make a bad bet. Clearly, I wouldn’t be putting my money in Goliath Sphinx to play the odds, but on cards that have a clear potential for change, it seems to be a great bet. Whether you put your money in the blue chips like planeswalkers or you spin the wheel on some “junk bond” rares, there is a lot of money to be made going into Extended season. If you can float the cash for a fiscal quarter, you’ll get paid off in a big way.

 
  1. Where do you go to find out when the next PTQ is going to happen? I’m glad I read this article cause I had no idea these cards had dropped down this far in prices.

  2. Useful advice here. Especially on the penny stocks, I mean crap rares. I was curious if you generally stick to non-foil versions of your speculative plays, or do you also purchase (or at least consider) purchasing foil versions as well?

  3. Foils aren’t good if you’re looking at high demand, MTGO tournament staples. I think Kelly will back me up on this. :)

  4. Great article! I agree that some of the EXT card prices are absurdly low. Love the cost/profit chart, really put things in perspective.

  5. ChrisK, you’re 100% correct. A COUPLE of foils can be a wise investment, but look at the spread between almost every regular and foil version of cards right now, doran aside. It is stupid.

  6. I wouldn’t count on Elspeth or Tezz approaching a very high price-point. They have an artificial caps in place that is worse (for profits) than anything Ajani had to deal with from his promo.

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