I am not really one for the called shot in Magic finance. Aside from the fact that there is no accountability whatsoever, I’m not the type to deploy my capital based on one person’s opinion (unless that person is me). I read two or three Magic finance articles each week that use this methodology for specs:
“Card X is $5 right now but it should go to $10 (or some other arbitrary price) in some vaguely defined time frame that we can all agree is in the future. Just look at Card Y for proof and ignore the fact that it is a fundamentally flawed comparison and these cards have nothing in common. For further proof, see the recent increase in price of Card Z, which hindsight bias allows me to say was super obvious even though no one actually saw it coming. Anyway, if Card X catches on in whatever new deck is out there, though I have no reason to believe it will, we could be looking at $20. In closing, I’ll point out that casuals and EDH players will love this card, even though they won’t, making it a can’t-miss spec. Now let’s look at 15 other cards, so that even if I hit on one of the calls in this article, you will have a very slim chance of guessing which one it is.”
It’s impossible to convert a hundred poorly supported opinions into a good Magic finance plan. I won’t invest in anything I don’t feel like I understand very well, so called shots don’t have much value for me.
I’m going to talk about individual cards today, but instead of glossing over two dozen possible specs and tossing out a dollar figure for each, I’m going to dive deep on just a few cards. You will have a good understanding of how I reached my conclusion, so you can decide if you agree or disagree up front and act accordingly. Also, I’ll point out when the analysis is transferrable. If you understand the dynamics of Snapcaster Mage, for example, you really understand the dynamics of the post-rotation large-set Modern-staple rare. That means that Deathrite Shaman and Thoughtseize are going to fit neatly into the same bucket.
So without further ado:
As one of the most played cards in Modern, many financiers were looking forward to nabbing this card at a post-rotation discount. It stayed in a very tight range of $23-24 (all prices TCG Player mid unless otherwise noted) for most of its Standard life and has now dropped to about $19 with signs of leveling off. Snapcaster is a cornerstone creature of Modern, along with Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant, and conventional wisdom says that the price will eventually reflect this.
I’m staying away from this card, though. I think most people are falling into the trap of demand-only analysis with Snapcaster. I am in full agreement that Snapcaster will be a key card in Modern going forward, but demand isn’t the story here—the huge supply is. The card may look similar to Bob or ‘Goyf in playability, but the supply is drastically larger and that is going to keep the price down for quite a while. In fact, Snapcaster should not be compared to those cards at all. Take a look back at my article Rare is the New Uncommon for more on this.
Working against Snapcaster is that its Modern playability has been priced in for a long time. It was obvious from day one that it would be a Modern powerhouse, so most Modern players already have their set and aren’t letting go. Look at Restoration Angel for comparison—it’s also a rare from that block that sees some Modern play, but players are clearly taking a wait-and-see approach with it. Sell it now, buy it back later if you need it. There is no question whether you need Snapcasters to be competitive in Modern, and that is why Resto lost almost 75% of its peak value while Snapcaster took a smaller 20% cut. This is a great card that will always be relevant in Modern, and that’s exactly why it’s priced at $19. There is no post-rotation discount to be found.
Snapcaster’s Modern saturation also severely limits the upside from a demand perspective. You really can’t play Snapcaster in too many more decks than it’s already in. What that means for a financier is that any meta shift in your favor will only bring an incremental price increase. There is no scenario where you double or triple up on Snapcaster any time soon and this is actually a pretty big negative in my eyes. You need some of your specs to hit big to be successful in Magic finance, so investing a bunch of money into something that has zero potential to do so is not usually a good plan. Especially at $19 a pop.
Opportunity cost is one of the most critical concepts in Magic finance. The game is exploding in popularity so virtually anything playable you buy is going to increase in value over time barring reprint. But as I’ve said before, a good Magic financier doesn’t spend his time finding good specs, he spends his time picking great specs out of a sea of good ones. I don’t doubt that you’ll make some money on Snapcaster if you hold it for several years, but I think you can make a whole lot more elsewhere.
At $19, I won’t go near Snapcaster—it’s way too expensive considering how many are out there. It’s a perfectly good time to buy a playset for Modern season, but that is where I would stop. If I had to guess, I’d say it will see a pretty drawn-out bottom and then drift back up into the low-mid $20’s over the next year or 18 months. That’s definitely not worth the huge investment this card would be at $19 per copy. Snapcaster Mage is very much the prettiest girl at the bar this rotation, and I’m afraid we will have to find our value elsewhere.
As I mentioned above, much of this analysis will apply to Deathrite Shaman and Thoughtseize when they rotate. I’m more excited about Deathrite because the lack of Standard play is keeping it at a much more reasonable price, and also because Return to Ravnica was on the bench for a while during Gatecrash. Restoration Angel is similar in some ways. It sees much less Modern play but also comes much cheaper, and there are fewer out there. Like Snapcaster, I think it lacks big upside, but $5 is a lot less than $19 ,so I think it’s a fine spec.
For all the same reasons I’m cold on Snapcaster Mage, I am excited about these cards.
These are third-set mythics, so right off the bat there are maybe half as many of each of these cards in existence as there are Snapcasters. Second, they are both under $5 as I write this [Editor’s note: Craterhoof Behemoth has ticked up to $7-8 since Anthony’ submission. Pay attention to this guy!]. That combination of small supply and low price tells me that these cards are powder kegs—if an uptick in demand ignites them, they will explode.
If you go back and look at Scars block, you will see that mythics bottom quickly and even fringe eternal playability (or strong casual playability) is enough to move them to the $7-10 mark a year after rotation. These two cards meet that requirement, both seeing Legacy play, so in the worst case you will be able to trade these away for a small to moderate gain a year from now.
The real seller is the upside, though. Both Craterhoof Behemoth and Entreat the Angels are exceptionally powerful and unique cards. Craterhoof is the single best card for a creature-combo kill and Entreat uses a potent mechanic that we may not see for a while due to the mixed reception it received (and the tough flavor fit). These cards are good enough for Modern but priced a notch above bulk. If they hit, the payoff will be big. This is exactly the risk/reward profile I am looking for—minimal downside with a chance to double or triple up within a year if things go well.
Craterhoof Behemoth is already starting to tick up in paper, and it’s over 10 tix on MTGO. I’d be the first to tell you that a “sure thing” doesn’t exist in Magic finance (or life), but I can say that you won’t find a better candidate for the next spike than this card. Any appearance in a good Modern deck or just another Legacy top eight might be enough.
Entreat is a little more of a sleeper, but I still like it. The main reason that this card doesn’t see Modern play is the lack of card filtering—Sensei’s Divining Top, Ponder, Brainstorm, etc. really make this thing go in Legacy. There is a chance the scry cards in Theros get us there. Would a full set of scry lands plus Magma Jet be enough to make miracles work in Modern? If not, how many new Modern-playable scry cards would we have to see in Born of the Gods or Journey into Nyx before UWR control with Entreat and Terminus is viable? It goes without saying that Entreat will spike overnight if they ever unban Ponder or Preordain in Modern.
I can’t really say that Craterhoof Behemoth or Entreat the Angels will take off in Modern over the next year. I don’t predict demand. What I’m looking for is the risk/reward profile. Even if Entreat or Craterhoof don’t break out, you will probably make as much in the first year as you would have with Snapcaster Mage. However, these cards come with a very special bonus that Snapcaster doesn’t—enormous upside. You just can’t pass that package up at $5. Heck, third-set mythics don’t even really need to do anything at all to spike to $30 (I’m looking at you, Phyrexian Obliterator). Both of these cards are better than Obliterator, and they are dirt cheap.
Powerful mythics that get this cheap are always worth looking at. There are others in the Innistrad block that are good buys, although I don’t think they have as much upside. For example, the ship has sailed on Griselbrand.
Well, I’m already at my word cap so it looks like we’re stopping at three specs today. I’ll write more of these columns in the future if the feedback is positive.