What’s in Your Spec Folder?

The MTG finance market is ever shifting.

If nothing else, it is one where you need to evaluate and re-evaluate cards in an ever-changing environment. It’s also one where no one really knows what they’re talking about, myself included.

An example straight from Reddit a month ago here:


Sometimes the experts make the wrong calls and everyone follows along. Corbin liked [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], and I suggested [card]Vengevine[/card] as an aside. And we were both wrong. [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] had a lot going for it at a time when the new Modern meta was still developing, but now it’s not even in the top 50 most played creatures in Modern. Are the prices going to climb back up? Eventually. It’s a mythic rare with hexproof. But for the time being, there’s some space for it to settle before casual demand picks it right back up.

Sometimes even with the best information, you can’t know where the prices will go. That’s why I thought it would be good to track my own buys and see how I did.


Because the market is unstable, it’s important to keep track of the cards that you’ve bought and the prices you bought them at. I figured I would write an article to look at all my speculative purchases for MTG starting from January of this year on TCGplayer. It’s easy to call out others because it’s easy to remember the mistakes of others, but much harder to call out yourself.

I don’t speculate heavily, and for the cards I do go in on, I usually don’t go much more than $100. I hope to also provide some analysis on why I picked up each specific card, as well my future plans with them all. All prices listed include shipping. I chose to use TCG low prices to more accurately reflect prices copies can be sold.

So How Did I Do?

January 10: 28 copies at $2.81 each, 5 foil copies at $6.49 each ($3.00/$5.80 TCGplayer low)


I bought this card because of the tight spread of 18% and because it was one of the top 20 most played cards in EDH at the time. Prices have gone up steadily since then, although it hasn’t doubled like some Modern and Legacy cards have during the same time period. Interestingly enough, foil prices have barely moved since then, despite it being a casual/EDH card. The opportunity cost is quite high for going into casual cards over Modern cards, but since buylist prices are now higher than my buy price, I can’t complain either. I plan on buylisting for profit sometime next year before Modern Masters 2, where the card might potentially be reprinted.


 January 14: 28 copies at $1.01 each ($5.42 TCG low)


This spec more than quintupled immediately after [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] was unbanned. I don’t have much to say here other than sometimes you just get lucky. I sold each playset between $5 and $10 per copy and traded away the last playset to a Zoo player.


January 21: 3 foil copies at $16.80 each ($34.00 TCG low)


I originally bought this card when [card]Spirit of the Labyrinth[/card] was spoiled for Legacy, but the card went up because GW Hate Bears in is now the fifth most-played archetype in Modern. Sometimes you’re totally wrong and get rewarded anyway. [card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card], is a long-term hold because of her Modern and Legacy applicability.


February 7 – 11: 4 foil copies at $27.71 each ($42.99 TCG low)


Have you caught on that I like foils and promos yet? [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] was banned in Modern, and its foils were still more than twice the price of [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] at the time. That just seemed wrong to me. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] is one of the top 10 most played cards in Legacy, so I figured that the foil prices have more room to grow. This card is a long-term hold.


February 18: 34 copies at $2.46 each ($4.39 TCG low)

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I liked [card]Past in Flames[/card] a lot going into Pro Tour Valencia, but I don’t like having to hold the card right now. Although the price has more than doubled since I bought them, copies are near impossible to move. I’m glad that I buylisted 20 copies for $4.15 when I did, but I’m still holding onto extra copies until GP Minneapolis gains traction. The 166 vendor listings on TCGplayer suggest that I’ll likely be holding these copies for a while, at least until buylist prices go back up again.


March 1 – 3: 38 copies at $1.72 each ($1.55 TCG low)

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I liked [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] a lot after going through my analysis here. The card saw lots of play at Pro Tour Valencia, and it’s one of the top 25 most played cards in Legacy. [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] is narrow enough that it doesn’t need to be reprinted, yet powerful enough that it stops multiple strategies, including the best creature in Modern, [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card]. I can see it being double digits by next year if there are no major changes in the Modern or Legacy metagame, despite it being just a sideboard card. I see it as a hold it until that time.


March 5: 8 copies at $8.49 each ($7.99 TCG low)

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[card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] is a house in Modern against control decks, which have no real way to interact with it outside of [card]Wrath of God[/card] and [card]Hallowed Burial[/card]. Because two of the top decks in Modern, Melira Pod and RUG Twin, both employed a copy in the sideboard, and it’s a mythic rare from a small set that has seen higher prices before, I figured it was a no-brainer, especially with the spread at the time under 20%. I plan on holding these copies until Modern PTQ season and selling into buylist, for loss or profit, to free up capital.


March 19: 23 copies at $0.44 each ($0.19 TCG low)

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In my defense, the buylist price was $0.40 per card at the time I bought it! I remember seeing it at closer to $1 last time I checked months prior, so spending $10 on a purely casual card seemed like a good call. The fact that it wasn’t banned at announcements was a good sign to me, even though it’s the culprit of a great deal of mischief and infinite combos. It’s cheap, and I don’t mind holding it for the time being.

Final Thoughts

With the entire Modern market up 38% and the Legacy market up 42% since the beginning of the year, it’s not hard to pick a card and double up with it. It helps to look up buylist prices and know what cards are being played in which formats, but a lot of the changes in price can be attributed to luck if nothing else. The important lesson I’ve learned is to avoid Standard like the plague. Not only is the metagame more difficult to read, but rotation puts a time limit on how long you can hold your specs. I look to be holding my Modern specs into Modern season and sell them at peak hype if at all possible. As for the Legacy staples, I plan on holding them until next year and re-evaluating then.

I highly encourage all readers to take the time to write down your specs and see how you did. Which specs did well? Which specs performed well? Which specs didn’t? Every spec that you buy is a learning experience.

Do look at the announcements at PAX East that happened last weekend to see if there are any news about MTG Conspiracy, M15, or the fall set (this was written before PAX). Any information announced here, especially about potential fetch land or other reprints, will be valuable going forward.

Spoilers for Journey into Nyx have been more exciting than Born of the Gods, as there are already a couple cards that look to be relevant in eternal formats. I am a fan of [card]Dakra Mystic[/card], and [card]Eidolon of the Great Revel[/card] looks to be an eternal RDW staple.

Grand Prix Minneapolis is less than a month away, and the format is Modern. If you are looking to pick up any Modern staples that you’re missing, I would highly advise you to do so before the Grand Prix (but after the PAX announcement), given what happened to card prices leading up to Grand Prix Richmond. Prices have stabilized near the bottom, but it’s only a matter of time before Modern PTQ season pick the prices right back up.

Feel free to share your best and worst specs in the discussion below!

About the Author
@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.

5 comments on What’s in Your Spec Folder?

  1. Jason Alt says:

    “More finance writers should write this kind of article”

    – at least one guy, every time a finance writer does an article like this, which is all the time.

    I like the retrospective look at your specs. Worth noting is that you were ahead of the Threads of Disloyalty spike and that made a lot of people a lot of money

    1. Enmou Gao says:

      Writers also suffer from herd mentality. On the one hand you have MTGLion who blatantly ignores his picks, and on the other hand you have Corbin who triumphantly praises himself every time he cross examines himself. I’m sure there’s a balance there somewhere.

      Retrospectively, all money should have been on Modern/Legacy cards. Supply stands tall on copies of casual cards that had a lot of copies to start with. The demand is there, but not as spiky as Modern/Legacy.

      I also should have bought Star City out three times when they were selling Maelstrom Wanderer for $8.50 and sold all the copies back to them for $15. Live and learn! I’m definitely looking forward to Back to School for Star City.

  2. HumphreyLee says:

    Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of money to throw into this endeavor, but I can occasionally snag $50 worth of cards here and there hoping they turn into double or triple what I paid for them. Mainly I’m sitting on a playset of Grafdigger’s I bought for $6 total, 4 playsets of Leonin Arbiters I grabbed for something like $18, 2 playsets of Phyrexian Unlife’s I caught for $8 total in case that deck gains more steam, a couple Thalia’s I bought at $4 each, and 2 each of Ghave, Past in Flames, and The Mimeoplasm I grabbed for about $4 each. All of these were bought in the past month or so. Mainly I just play Commander these days and just accumulate cards I deem good and worth putting in a binder and sometimes they go up so I started translating these notions into mild speculating as it’s a good way to trade up into Commander staples. I’m thinking of maybe grabbing cheap Loleth Trolls soon in case the dredge build with them in Modern becomes popular enough that gets back up to a like $6 card for quadruple the current rate. And I kind of want to get some Deathrite Shamans soonish because that card is too popular in Legacy to be the $8 rare it is now post-Modern banning. I think that becomes the new Stoneforge Mystic and shoots to $30 overnight sometime in the somewhat near future.

    1. Enmou Gao says:

      Keep at it, you’re doing well. It’s not the amount, it’s the experience. I would say that as you speculate in more cards and continue to evaluate your past specs, you’ll learn a lot from the experiences and have better sense of when to go deep and when to fold.

      I like Grafdigger’s, Arbiters are great. Seems like you got in at the right time for Phyrexian Unlife and Thalia’s.

      The only card I don’t like is Lotleth Troll, players keep talking about the card but I don’t think it’s going anywhere. The only play it’s seeing right now is in Standard.

      I like Abrupt Decay way more than Deathrite Shaman, I feel that it’s undervalued with the amount of play it sees in Modern and Legacy and it’s still living in the shadow of Deathrite Shaman despite the banning, foils Abrupt Decays are already pushing $60.

      You have to realize the time frame. Stoneforge Mystic didn’t jump until 3 and a half years after its set release. Based on the same schedule, it would take until 2016 until Deathrite Shaman is a $30 card. It’ll most likely be sooner rather than later, but I wouldn’t put big bucks into cards with such a slow growth rate.

      1. HumphreyLee says:

        I will take all that advice to heart. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the “new” formats because essentially I’m back in the game for 18 months now after leaving for a decade (and sadly not still having that old collection I did) post-college. And I only play Commander as a means of my buddies and I having that as an excuse to be boys together. So I see the room for card growth but I’m still figuring out how market places like TCG can fuel rushes and since I don’t actually play the competitive formats it’s hard for me to know if a card is trending outside of just watching Top 8 lists go up. But at the least I’m getting good at identifying things that at least the casual formats like EDH are going to boost over time – like the Idyllic Tutors I grabbed at $6 that are $15 ish now or grabbing 3 Ghave’s for $10 total at your gentlemen’s behest last week and I see that’s at $10 each now – and I’ve been tuning in mostly on Modern for the summer so I can be loaded for rushes with stuff like those Arbiters, Unlifes, some Spell Snares I grabbed at a buck each and hope may hit $6 per and so on. Sadly, this is the best use I make of my MBA in Business. Heh. Keep up the good work gents. Cheers…

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