How I've Adapted To The New Times

Cliff Daigle • July 27, 2023

Magic finance has become a tricky thing, mainly due to a neverending supply of reprints, and reprint policies that appear to be decided with a combination of darts, blindfolds, and alcohol.

This is annoying, because I’ve been writing about the financial aspect of this game for more than ten years, and practicing it for longer. I liked knowing what would happen. The good news is that gaining value is still possible, it just requires a different approach.

For example, the easiest way to gain value for a long time was simply to buy cards when they got cheap and wait for them to get expensive again. Magic has lots of examples of this, I like to use Doubling Season as the stalwart here:

Every low point found a rebound, and being in Commander Masters will result in something similar. It’s around $70 now, but will drop down. Might go as low as $40, but as a mythic in an expensive reprint set, it’s unlikely to go lower than that.

Traditionally, the play would be to buy these up when they hit their low point and just wait. That’s what you do with staples. In the modern day, though, there’s blessed few things that recover quickly or easily. The timeframe is unclear, too. If you’d bought this version of Season in December 2021, you’d only gain around $20 in value in the next 18 months, when the reprint has arrived.

Here’s another example, one that I’ve personally lost value on:

Twenty dollar Scalding Tarns haven’t been seen since it was first in Standard, waaaaaay back in 2009. Yet here we are, and I cannot in good conscience tell you to buy in now, because everyone who needs fetches has fetches by now. At this point, players who are buying fetches are doing so for Commander decks or they are taking up a new Modern deck. There is a Pro Tour this coming weekend, and perhaps this will be the first bump for Tarn and its ilk, but I’m going to wait for prices to start to rise before I pick up any extras.

The best thing to do to gain value is to be prepared for upcoming events and releases and to move quickly in order to lock in your gains. Back in April, I wrote about how Tom Bombadil was going to cause Sagas to spike, and sure enough, a lot of them did.

Not all Sagas or Saga accessories saw such impressive growth, but it’s important to know that if you have copies, you need to be agile and move them now. You bought in under $5, don’t get greedy and sell for $20 when others are undercutting you at $17. If you’re stubborn, you will be holding on forever. Lock in your gains and move on to the next card.

I have to mention here that Cardsphere users tend to be pretty resistant to big price shifts. Part of that is our policy of locking down reprints and protecting folks from huge shifts, but I think the bigger motivation is that if you’re here, you’re interested in maximizing your value. As such, cards that just jumped in price tend to have very low percentage offers, if any at all.

Some examples here include The First Sliver, which has doubled since it was left out of the Slivers preconstructed deck, and Eye of Ugin, an amazingly silly omission from the Eldrazi deck. Cardsphere is not a good venue for trying to unload recently spiked cards, stick to eBay or TCGPlayer instead.

With those sites, you need to be more agile and more willing to take a quick flip for slightly lesser gains, and then move on to the next thing. Again, don’t get fixated on getting exactly $45 for your First Sliver. Price it to move at $37, take your $17 in profit, and move on. Keeping those Slivers in your box//binder won’t do you any good as people fill in missing inventory.

You can’t always know what the next combo is. Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival has given us a whole new archetype in Pioneer, but her deck doesn’t really use rares/mythics that can be profitable to get in on now. We also can’t know what will and won’t dodge reprints when things are revealed–who would have thought they would leave Sliver Hive out of a five-color Sliver deck!

One other area that has been profitable for me in recent months: Limited-release Secret Lairs, the Festival in a Box cards. These are pricey to get if you’re not on site, such as the Legendary Flyers (Not that kind) which was available only with the Minneapolis preorders or on site. The first folks to sell their sealed set made out like bandits, and even now, if you compare the quantities available, there’s a whole lot less of those Lairs available as compared to other Lairs sold as usual.

What I want to emphasize is that my Spec Box is a now-obsolete relic of financial times gone by. If I can sell off that stuff for even a slight profit over what I paid, I’ll be happy. That’s pretty unlikely, though, and it will serve to remind me to be more nimble, more adapting to the changing market and no longer trying for super-long-term gains.