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Back to Basics

Greetings and welcome back! Before I get started on today’s topic, I’m going to address a few comments I saw on Reddit concerning my last article. A small portion of the comments asked me to be more specific with the picks I shotgunned. I chose cards that I felt were underpriced, were readily available, or otherwise weren’t getting a lot of attention. What I should have stressed with those picks was that there is no timeline on how or when I think those cards are going up. All are playable and should rise over time. A crystal ball I am not. So let me be proactive and ask you, the reader, to please respond in the comments in how I can better serve you with my articles. I really want to foster communication and cooperation. More importantly, I want you to be critical in your decisions and rely on your own logic salted with my advice.

The ABC’s of Picking and Buying a Spec

First and foremost, there are no specs without information. So before any of you decide you want to get into finance, you need to look at how and where you are getting your info. If you are reading articles on this site, you are well ahead of your peers. I first started becoming familiar with Magic finance when I started reading Brian Grewe and Kelly Reid. What I found most appealing was that they provided well-written articles and had great personalities. While I encourage you to start your search through our articles, it is not a bad idea to look at what other writers have to say. A lot of educated people are getting into finance and they often have good advice to impart.

I like using forums and social media because it sometimes makes looking for picks easy. Forums on Quiet Speculation (QS) or Reditt are useful, but I urge caution when acting on cards you see there .You definitely want to do your own research before sinking cash or cards into picks. Remember the saying, “If its on the internet it must be true.” Well, imagine putting your faith in someone else’s spec and hoping they put the same amount of effort into it that you would have. On that same note, I like to look at #mtgfinance on Twitter and the accompanying writers who contribute to see what trends they notice.

Looking at other people’s picks is nice, but I really enjoy doing the research myself. Usually when my wife and I sit down to watch TV or a movie, I will pull out my laptop and start looking at cards just for the fun of it. I usually start by looking at Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO) results here. Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) publishes decks that do 3-1 or better in many of the online events (these can be found by following any of the links on the right of the linked page). I like to look at the different formats and find cards that are new or just emerging as new “tech.” Outside of access to a professional team, this can be one of the best ways to find cards that everyone will be talking about the week of the big event. On a side note, don’t be fooled by cards that are heavily favored against a certain meta. Budget decks usually thrive on MTGO, so players are willing to test subpar lists just to run good hate.

The fun part about surfing through daily results is that it usually starts me surfing around for card prices to see if there are any good opportunities. Insider access at QS will get you unfettered access to the buyers and sellers on, but if you don’t want to pay, I like the resources at This site lets you search for any card and generates a list of all the shops that deals with it. It provides current selling and buying prices and a nifty graph that shows the price history. No reason to buy into a card that looks like it has been stagnant for a couple weeks now! Not wanting to limit myself, I will usually swing by Bidwicket and TCGplayer (TCG) as well. Bidwicket and MTG Price are nice because they both show buy and sell prices but also because they feature sites that are not always listed on TCG. Most big names like Card Kingdom and Star City Games (SCG) aren’t listed on those sites, so it’s nice to just swing by and look at what the “big” guys are charging. True story time: a couple months ago, I was looking at foil [card]Gavony Township[/card]s on TCG and eBay. They were ranging around $10 per copy and I was debating on pulling the trigger because there weren’t too many copies. I decided to buy in for a playset on TCG and then on a whim went to SCG and lo and behold they have three in stock at $5.99 each. Sure enough, I filled my cart, but it taught me that major retailers aren’t always the most expensive.

I do want to mention that looking at live coverage can be helpful but with the caveat that sites are moving away from honoring orders placed on those weekends. So it is less likely that [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card] or [card]Master of Waves[/card] will pay your rent unless you’re on it well in advance. I think the only way to benefit from those cards is trading at local events or buying out your game stores before they notice the upward movement.

PayPal, Not the Post Office, is Your Friend

I believe that if you are taking the time to read my articles you are probably a low- to mid-level speculator, so the following advice should be the most applicable to you. The quickest and easiest way for me to out cards is on either eBay, TCG, or Facebook. All have their pros and cons that far more eloquent writers have gone into; instead, allow me to briefly discuss shipping.

When I first started selling on eBay, my biggest headache was shipping costs. There is a very fine line on whether or not to include tracking and then how much to charge for shipping. The motivation to include tracking on eBay was that sellers had virtually no protection if your buyer claimed you had not shipped. After moving to TCG, the situation was somewhat better because you (the seller) are protected to some degree for dollar amounts under $20. The point of this is that if you are a seller on the above sites or you trade cards on Facebook or any web forum, I want to make sure you are paying as little as possible to do so.

All you need is access to a computer and printer and you can save as much as $1 for every card you send out. Start by using your PayPal to create a shipping label through the United States Postal Service. I wasn’t able to find a good link to paste in here without it routing you to my PayPal, but when you log in, enter “ship now,” and the first result will allow you to create labels. I have been buying and selling for a while now so I have a large amount of toploaders and penny sleeves stocked up, but you can find toploaders here and penny sleeves here. Based on volume, you are looking at adding $.10 to .20 per package for both. I lucked out at the dollar store near me and found padded envelopes for $.20 a piece. Not counting your time or the costs of paper and ink, it should run you $.40 in supplies and $1.98 for shipping to send any padded envelope with tracking in the continental US—for a grand total of $2.38. What works the best is that you just slap the label on your envelope, put the envelope in the mail, and forget about it.

While this article wasn’t heavy with picks, I hope I have shed some light on my thought process. I would love to hear from you guys on Twitter at @spellbombftw, Facebook (Justin Waller), or in the comments below. Thank you as always for your time and I look forward to writing the next article.

Modern Specs Despite All the Spikes

Hi all, first let me apologize for taking so long to write my follow up to my Defense of Star City Games. This article series sounded like a great idea to connect with the community I love so much, but when it came down to it, I was struggling to string together 500 words rather than the 2000 that made the articles worthwhile. But after the long interlude, I am refreshed and ready to start the grind of providing you with sound financial advice!

Making Money in Modern

Surprisingly or not, what got me motivated was an article I saw on another site about how we should have already bought into Modern. While it’s true that the moment for making crazy money on [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] might have passed, there are tons of new opportunities for longer picks.

First, a quick aside on [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] and [card]Birthing Pod[/card]. While Pod has slipped back down to its pre-spike level of $10 on third-party sites like eBay and TCGplayer (TCG), I still like this card moving forward. Essentially, the card has not moved at all based on how most of us acquire cards. If you are trading for Pods using TCG, the price point has not moved and if you are a Star City Games (SCG) homer like me, then you are now giving up $15 on a card you can still sell for $10. Before I move off Pod, I also want to point out that the murmurs of ban talk have never materialized for this card and realistically we would need to see 30 percent or more of the field play this card before the hammer comes down.

[card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] is a nice comparison because the price on this gem has maintained its new price tag of $20. A couple points I want to bring up about this card: whether you are in the “American” or “Patriot” camp, new players are identifying “Patriot” UWR builds as the de facto control strategy for “pro” players to pick up. In my meta, the new Modern players poring through my binders are all looking for the same pieces: [card]Lightning Helix[/card], [card]Spell Snare[/card], [card]Path to Exile[/card], and the accompanying mana base. Colonnade is a solid four-of in those builds and I do not see the price going down until a reprint or ban, however unlikely, happens. More importantly in this discussion, Colonnade is sold out on SCG at $20 and selling at $20 on the third-party sites listed above. A price correction will happen, so now is the period where I would advocate heavily trading for this card. The spread is literally zero dollars and SCG will move to stay ahead of the market before too long.

Let the Path Guide You Into Making Money in the Future

[card]Birthing Pod[/card] and [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] are both cards I have been sitting on since the Modern format was first created. It’s been nice seeing a healthy return from my investment, but rather than gloat about fat stacks, I’d like to point out a few cards that will be primed for spikes in the new future if you have time to wait on them. Listening to an old cast, Ryan Bushard identified [card]Stony Silence[/card] as a great long-term card to be picking up. I personally love that pick because it’s still under a $1 in trade and for cash pick-ups. More importantly, it’s a card I do not think players fully appreciate for its Modern applications.

As much as I like hijacking picks, I am super interested in [card]Grafidgger’s Cage[/card] and [card]Counterflux[/card], alongside a slew of other Modern playables that are under $1. Like the above, these are all cards that see play in a variety of decks and only have room to grow. Another reason I like them is I very rarely feel comfortable asking for throw-ins in a trade unless it’s for true bulk cards for my friends. But asking the Standard player to throw in a [card]Counterflux[/card] when that card hasn’t seen play since miracles is a no-brainer.

If I Had $100 to Spend…

Following the most popular question on Reddit, I am going to rapid-fire some picks I think are worth getting in on now and a brief explanation why. Also, unless I specify differently, I believe acquiring foils of the below to be worthwhile as well.

[card]Ghost Quarter[/card], FNM [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card], and [card]Pithing Needle[/card] are super cheap but all see a decent amount of Modern play. Barring reprints, this is the ground floor for a card that I would put in a box and forget for a year.

[card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], [card]Slaughter Games[/card], [card]Detention Sphere[/card], and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] are not dipping at rotation, so pick them up now. Cards like Decay and Verdict may seem like no-brainers, but all of the above are priced at a point where I don’t see them getting cheaper when rotation hits. And if they do drop, the margin isn’t going to be large enough where it is worthwhile to reacquire at the “bottom.” The only upside is that the Standard-only player is the only person not looking for these at the trade tables.

[card]Gavony Township[/card], [card]Leonin Arbiter[/card], and [card]Blade Splicer[/card]. Two out of these three have seen small gains. How much longer do you think it’s going to take for Splicer to make a jump? And it may seem obvious, but if Township and Arbiter don’t see a reprint, they are not getting cheaper.

[card]Orzhof Pontiff[/card], [card]Scapeshift[/card], and [card]Prismatic Omen[/card] are extremely unique. With the exception of Omen’s ambiguity, I can’t see where a reprint for the other two fits in unless it’s a Dual Deck (DD) or From the Vault (FTV). I have been fearful of picking up Omen as a spec only because its ability essentially reads, “Hey, we fixed your mana,” and that might be fair enough for Standard or Modern Masters 2.

[card]Prophet of Kruphix[/card], [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], [card]Swan Song[/card], and [card]Springleaf Drum[/card] are almost draft leavings at this point. I am targeting Prophet and Anger because I think both are too powerful for the low cost. Commander players should buy Prophet while Modern keeps a stable floor on the other two. Drum is only uncommon, but it’s a four-of in one of the cheapest (read, easiest entry point) Modern tier-one decks.

Wrap Up

If you listen to any advice, take this to heart: any card that sees Modern play and is cheap right now will rise! Take the time to look at daily lists for cards that routinely show up as four-ofs and invest accordingly. It’s easy to buy in on [card]Fist of Suns[/card] before it spikes and sell when it doesif you know what to look for.

A Defense of Star City Games

Hello, and welcome to my very first article here on Brainstorm Brewery. I’d like to start by thanking the staff here and especially Jason for pushing me to finish this article. It’s my goal to write articles that make you think critically about how you are currently conducting your business, and more importantly, to engage you in conversations that benefit our community.

With the nature of this being a new site with a great group of new writers, I feel it’s a little old hat to introduce myself other than to say I am where a lot of you are: looking to move out of casual trading and into serious Magic finance. While I am not as established as my contemporaries, I feel I can offer a lot of great lessons that have helped me get to the point where I am at now.

For starters, please stop the aversion to trading at Star City Games (SCG) pricing. It seems every financial writer has been on a recent kick bemoaning trade partners insisting on SCG pricing. SCG is the gold standard in the market for a reason: they literally set the bar and provide consistent pricing. Blah blah blah, but how does that help us? SCG being overpriced in comparison to eBay and TCGplayer is great if you want to get serious about making money with Magic.

The eBay/TCGplayer model represents the cash value of a card, where SCG is widely considered the retail value of a card. This means that trading at eBay/TCGplayer prices, if you trade for a card at $10, you should expect to get $10 in hard cash for your card (not counting shipping or fees). Now the complaints of many writers is that why would oneuse SCG to trade at an inflated value and then cash out at a much lower amount? Using that model, you eventually lose everything in the transaction.

This is very true, but the TCGplayer model is more appropriate for writers like Ryan Bushard and Corbin Hosler, who either operate as stores or work closely enough with stores that using the eBay/TCGplayer pricing for transactions is more profitable. If you are like me, you don’t run the counter at a store or have the clout to have players freely buy and sell to you on a regular basis. Without that authority, you can’t always buy cards at buylist values. Let’s be honest—collections are a great way to make money, but most of us compete with Craigslist or our local games store (LGS), and thus can’t rely on regularly obtaining collections. So if you aren’t buying collections or have players coming to you on a regular basis, how do you ever get ahead? You can either adopt the shark mentality, deceiving your trade partners about values, or you can do what I do.

My Trading Strategy

I have been very successful sniping auctions on eBay for Standard staples, usually paying 50% or less of SCG prices. In other words, I’m buying for close to buylist. Then I trade those cards to players in my area for cards that have a much smaller margin. For example, sold listings on eBay for [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] range around $50 for a playset, or $12.50 a copy. SCG is sold out at $20 and might not drop any further. Hypothetically, we are up $7.50 a copy at this point. I then take an Elspeth to Friday Night Magic (FNM) and trade it away for five copies of [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card]. The SCG price on Thalia is $3.99, but completed eBay auctions for Thalia close around $3 per copy. From a financial perspective, you just “made” $2.50. While not a lot, it starts to add up if you think about all the nickel and dimes we pull out of bulk.

Thalia, Guardian of ThrabenThe example of Thalia can be applied to every spec you make. You should be trading for cards that are not as profitable to pay cash for but also have the potential to rise further. Using Thalia as a sleeper, how does that trade look if Thalia starts selling for $5 or $6 each? The key to this concept isn’t trading overpriced Standard cards into eternal staples. Instead, we use any overpriced to find cards that have a cash value closer to retail.

If you trade at TCGplayer levels, how do you come ahead? Do you buy at TCG low and trade at TCG mid? The margins aren’t that high. Going back to earlier example with Elspeth, say you buy the cheapest copy at $15 and then sell for $20. After fees, that $5 really starts to shrink to nothing. As sellers, we want cash handy and TCG low is really where we can expect to sell quickly, getting our cash back in hand soonest. If you have success trading at TCGplayer prices, I would love to hear what has worked for you and what you think about my method.

If two things are certain in life, they’re death and taxes. Likewise, the one constant in Magic is that once cards rotate, it takes a long time to reach their peaks again, if at all. This leads to another benefit of using SCG prices: moving Standard cards into Modern, Legacy or EDH. SCG has to be the worst at repricing cards, which is the absolute nuts if you are trading with the SCG-only guy or gal. One of the most glaring examples I can point to was during last Modern season, when [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] was selling for $3.99 on SCG but playsets were closing on eBay for $20.00. Even after fees, trading at $16 and selling for $20 was a no-brainer. Even better, [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card] was sold out for literally months while it was selling for $6 to $8 elsewhere. But history is history, and if we all had a time machine we’d all buy [card]Black Lotus[/card]es, but how about currently? Foil [card]Steel Overseers[/card] are sold out on SCG but you can’t buy them cheaper than $12. See where I am going here? Do you want to trade on a site that trends with the market or one that lags at times?

Please allow me to address critics of the approach I propose. How do you trade for high-cash-value cards if they are not in binders? It’s very fair, but my practice isn’t for the trader who shows up once a month to trade. You need to be extremely active in your community. I personally have four stores in my area with four separate play styles. This gives me opportunities to pick up cards from players with very different priorities. It does mean increasing my knowledge of different formats, but that’s not a negative.

I think its very important to research and honestly think about the cards we choose to spend cash on. How does that purchase make us the most money? More importantly, how do we expect to come ahead in the end? Look at opportunities like the Elspeth example. What card is in high demand right now that you can pick up for half its retail value in cash and trade for cards with cash value 90% of retail? The system always works for cheaper cards too. If your group is out of [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card], you can buy at $1.50 on TCGplayer and then trade to locals at $2.50—you just come ahead every time. Look for opportunities, do the research, know what cards local players are looking for, and fill that niche.

If you’re playing with an SCG-centric crowd, you can make money by picking up cards at eBay/TCGplayer low and selling directly to the players that are willing to pay cash. If you offer to sell your Elpseth for $15, you just made the $2 without having Chained to the Rocksto pay fees. At the same time, you made money and your trade partner feels like he got a deal. This practice won’t make you millions, but will provide just enough incremental value to make it worthwhile. It creates the opportunity to have a steady cash flow and cards that are in high demand no matter the season.

One final distinction I want to make is an ethical tickle I feel when discussing this practice. This is exploitation, but it is not one that takes advantage of your trade partners like deceptive pricing does. You are offering the service of putting down your cash when they are not willing to.

Thanks again for your time and I hope you will read my next article, too. Please feel free to reach me on Facebook at Justin Waller, on Twitter @SpellBombFTW, or in the comments below.

P.S. I do like to think of myself as financially-minded, so here’s a tip: buy or trade into Innistrad block Modern staples right now. Not counting [card]Liliana of the Veili[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card], cards like [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], and [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] are selling on eBay very close to SCG prices. Pay attention to the market! When SCG is at or lower than everyone else, they will course correct soon, and you want to be in before they do.