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Enmou Gao – Intermediate Speculation

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I’ve been getting lucky with specs lately, calling both Threads of Disloyalty and Splinter Twin, but maybe, just maybe, I’ve figured something out. Many speculators will already know the information in this article, but since information tends to be asymmetrical (in that people don’t always know the same information), I think it will be helpful to many to put down in words some ideas on the process of speculation.

The reason that you want to familiarize with the thought process behind speculation is that it is something literally anyone can do. Think of the below steps as a check list, if you will, that can help to give you a green light on a spec before you have to consult anyone else about it. The best part is that with this information, you’ll be able to convey the spec to fellow financiers so that others can give opinions. You’ll also be able to add to the conversation when other speculators make calls.

But first, a word of clarification. Speculation means different things depending on who you ask.

There’s long-term speculation, which Quiet Speculation-writer Sigmund Ausfresser recommends. This involves buying sealed booster boxes and long-term-outlook cards, like Restoration Angel, Cavern of Souls, and Geist of Saint Traft, that will likely gain 20% or more per year.

Then there’s the bulk speculation that Brainstorm Brewery members Jason Alt, Ryan Bushard, Marcel White, and Corbin Hosler favor. The basic idea is to buy an underpriced card like Desecration Demon at a near-bulk price, hoping that the card eventually becomes competitively viable as the meta shifts.

Lastly, there is the short-term speculation that will be discussed in the context of this article, which favors a smaller inventory and faster turnover. The idea is to buy in to a card, like Threads of Disloyalty and Splinter Twin, at the point right before the card takes off.

So how do we get in on the right cards at the right time?

I’ve listed a series of questions to ponder in trying to answer the question. The question of when and on what to speculate is a tremendously difficult question that needs to be broken up into parts.

Question 1: Is the card a staple in a format?

By far, this is the question that narrows down the most number of cards. Yes, some research is required on your part, such as looking up the information on MTGGoldfish, Metamox, MTGTop8, or MTGIndex. I tend to use MTGGoldfish because the data is directly correlated to the results to the Daily Events on MODO, which makes it incredibly up-to-date and a good reflection of the current meta. However, MTGGoldfish is likely to not do a great job for the time being since Daily Events are down until December 11.

The idea behind the question is this: is there a demand for this card? I remember that there was someone on Reddit who had over 7,000 copies of Worldslayer. However, because no one else wants the card, there is little value to hoarding copies of it (aside from personal value).

Question 2: How many copies are available on TCGPlayer?

Now we get to the supply side of things. I sincerely believe that supply is a greater driver of price than demand, although some level of demand has to exist for the supply to matter. The fact of the matter is that while demand is fickle, supply will more or less be consistent and predictable. You can read more about why supply matters from my previous article here.

The magic number of vendor listings that will pique my interest is 100 or less, including damaged cards and other conditions. You can adjust the exact number based on the circumstances, but once the number of vendor listing goes below 50, you can expect prices will begin spiking.

If there are multiple printings of the card, the supply is more complicated. For the most part, different arts will have similar prices, although that’s not always the case (see Thoughtseize). Cards with multiple printings generally aren’t good spec targets except for the long-term.

On a similar vein, if a card’s lowest TCG shipped price is close to its TCG mid price, it’s also a positive signal for trades because you’ll be getting close to complete value for your trades. Being able to sell a card at close to its TCG mid price is attractive because it means that card is that much more liquid.

Question 3: Are copies sold out on other major online vendor websites?

Another way to gauge supply is to check the number of copies available at other websites. This is key to determining that it’s not just a few people deciding to buy out TCG Player. The biggest vendor is, of course, Star City Games, but others, like eBay, Amazon, Card Kingdom, Channel Fireball, Troll and Toad, and Cool Stuff Inc., are also good indicators. The key question to answer here is whether the spec is real or just a localized fluke.

Question 4: What is the current spread for the card?

Perhaps the easiest question of the bunch, you can go on MTG.GG to access Quiet Speculation’s free tool showing TCG mid prices and the highest buylist prices. The lower the spread, the better, and if it’s 0 or negative, bingo! Ideally, you want a card that the dealers are noticing, as well. If dealers are also interested in the card, it bodes well for lowering the supply of low-priced copies on the market, eventually raising the overall price.

Question 5: What is the MTGO price for the card?

While not necessarily a driver of physical prices, MTGO prices can be telling about the true competitive demand for a card in question. Do keep in mind that mythics tend to be overvalued on MTGO and rares undervalued due to redemption. With these factors in mind, when a rare is much higher on MTGO than its paper version and is played competitively, it may be ready for a price hike (see Fulminator Mage). However, because of the difference in casual markets between MTGO and the paper game, the price correlation isn’t always going to exist.

Question 6: What do I do with all the information?

Like with all decisions, you weigh the costs and benefits. The cost you already know: it is the current price of the card plus shipping. The benefit is a weighted average between the spec hitting and not hitting, the chances of those respective scenarios, and the monetary value/trade value that can be gained in each scenario.  Remember, not all of your specs will hit, and certainly not at the time that you predict. However, by answering these questions correctly, your spec is more likely to hit quickly.

Post Modern

There hasn’t been any talk about shock lands for a while, so I thought I’d necro the shock land discussion!

To me, the shock lands have been following the projected prices. I may or may not be right, but I think I have the right idea.

Blood Crypt, Hallowed Fountain, Overgrown Tomb, Steam Vents, and Temple Garden will likely see price increases come February or March, while Breeding Pool, Godless Shrine, Sacred Foundry, Stomping Ground, and Watery Grave have likely already passed their high points.

Please see the graphs below for examples.

Woodland Cemetery

Woodland Cemetery reached its highest point about a month after its Return to Ravnica equivalent, Overgrown Tomb, was printed.

Sulfur Falls

Sufur Falls reached its peak right as its Return to Ravnica equivalent, Steam Vents, was released.

Isolated Chapel

Do you see the pattern yet? Isolated Chapel was at its zenith right after its Gatecrash equivalent, Godless Shrine, entered the market.

Clifftop Retreat

One more for good measure! Clifftop Retreat was at its highest price point about a month after its Gatecrash equivalent, Sacred Foundry was available.

Hinterland Harbor

Here’s a black sheep. Hinterland Harbor never went anywhere, and I’m guessing that’s because Simic as a color combination was never all that competitive in Standard.

Takeaways

The color of the lands available in Standard is very important. Not only does it heavily sway which color combinations are played, but it also affects the prices of available lands.

Being that the color combination of scry lands in Theros are Boros, Dimir, Gruul, Orzhov, and Simic, we can reasonably expect that shock land equivalents have already passed their peaks.

On the other hand, the scry lands that are yet to be released, Azorius, Izzet, Golgari, Rakdos, and Selesnya, may have a short span to reach new heights. I do have my doubts about Steam Vents, a card that has found a home in Modern more than Standard. Of the rest, I am most bullish on Overgrown Tomb because of the controlling nature of the color combination (Blood Crypt is more aggressive), the lack of reprints (Hallowed Fountain was reprinted in the Theros event deck), and the cheaper current price (Temple Garden is about $1.50 more on TCG).

Something else to note is that the prices of shock lands were invariably tied to the Innistrad buddy land equivalents. Steam Vents never took off just as Sulfur Falls never reached the heights that Isolated Chapel, Clifftop Retreat, and Woodland Cemetery reached. However, I wouldn’t expect this trend to continue, given that scry lands favor more controlling strategies, whereas shock lands favor more aggressive strategies (buddy lands being somewhere in between).

Lastly, I would not recommend buying into Overgrown Tomb because the expected gain may not be enough to make a profit. Trading is a good plan now that players have loosened their grips on shock lands. Card prices will likely have bottomed in December and January, so this will be the last chance to get in before Standard season is in full swing.

Thank you for reading this article, I hope that it was informative. Please comment below or on the article’s thread on Reddit that will be posted soon under “Spec’s Corner.” You can find me on Twitter @fyawm.

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Enmou Gao

Enmou Gao

@fyawm     -     Email     -     Articles
Tim Enmou Gao is a writer for Brainstorm Brewery and resides in Los Angeles. A Modern-phile at heart, he is currently piloting a RUG Delver. You can reach Tim on Twitter or /u/fyawm on Reddit.
Enmou Gao

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Enmou Gao

@fyawm     -     Email     -     Articles
Tim Enmou Gao is a writer for Brainstorm Brewery and resides in Los Angeles. A Modern-phile at heart, he is currently piloting a RUG Delver. You can reach Tim on Twitter or /u/fyawm on Reddit.

3 comments

  1. Jason Alt

    That feeling of “I was lucky, this isn’t repeatable” has never left me. I always feel like a big hit was luck and a miss was a lack of skill. But Caleb is writing a series for us all about how luck is sometimes just the result of preparation and being armed with the right information. The only way to see if it was a fluke is to keep at it. Do your homework and make informed decisions and watch your successes pile up.

    1. Wolf Zöller

      Do you want to tell me that you check mcm.eu daily? Because this is where the spike of Splinter Twin happened. Not in the US. And even when I mentioned the spike on Twitter (MLBRookie) I could get these for 3$ everywhere in the US while they already hit 8€ overseas

    2. Anonymous

      True that, I feel you though.

      And as soon as everyone figures out the same formula, it’s back to square one because you’re not actually ahead of the game.

      Or is it? What if everyone buys into the same spike thinking that it’s going to be spike?

      I think there’s a lot to look forward to in the MTGFinance world.

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