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A Financial Review of: Introduction and Mirrodin Block


Lately my writing has been focused on the future with topics like what Khans cards have potential to increase heading towards Fate Reforged and the best way to make some money off the Commander 2014 release. The thing is, most of the money I've made from magic has been from buying and selling cards from the past. I'm not talking about Black Lotus or even Revised duals; I'm talking about big, dirty collections full of Cranial Platings, Lava Spikes, and the like. The beauty of buying these collections is that it is the opposite of speculation, and there is very little risk involved. When you pay a seller X dollars for a collection of cards, you should know, before you even hand over the money, how much you can sell the cards in the collection for. If you're not going to make an acceptable profit, you walk away.

There is really only one skill that is required to be successful in buying and selling cards in this manner: you need to be able to look over binders and boxes full of cards and know how much money you can sell them for. Ideally, you will learn to do this without using your phone to look up prices. Not only is this super time-consuming, but it tends to scare away sellers and makes them feel like you are taking advantage of them. Side note: Do not lie to sellers about prices. It's unethical and gives the entire financial community a bad name. However, if I see an post on Craigslist asking for $200 for a lot of cards I know I can sell for $500, I don't feel the least bit guilty handing over the $200. It's not my fault that I've put in the time to learn that those 10 Serum Visions in your bulk box are now worth $4 each.

Lately I've been watching Evan Erwin's fantastic Forbidden Lore series which goes over old sets from the vorthosian perspective. It inspired me to try to do something similar, but with an eye on finance, rather than flavor. So over the next few weeks, we are going to work our way through the sets and blocks of modern magic one-by-one and talk about prices, potential investment opportunities, and everything else financial. If you guys and gals keep reading them, and find them valuable, I'll keep writing them, and maybe will even start heading back through the legacy and vintage sets. I'm calling it the "A Financial Review Of:" series.

How?

I already explained the "why" of this series - because there is a ton of money to be made in old cards both in speculation and by having an impeccable knowledge of card prices when buying and selling collections. The "how" of the series is a bit more varied, but here are some things to expect in every article, and some terms you should be familiar with.

What to Expect

1. A discussion of the big competitive cards and their likely trajectories.

2. A (hopefully) complete listing of uncommons and commons you should be looking for when buying collections, along with their buylist prices.

3. A discussion of foil and casual cards, with a focus on foils.

4. A section on any banned cards in the block, and their potential of being unbanned, so you don't miss the next Bitterblossom.

Definitions

1. The Spread: I have an upcoming article mostly written specifically about the spread and using it to your advantage, so I won't go too in-depth here. Basically, the spread is the difference between buy and sell prices, and it averages around 40 percent for hot standard cards and 35 to 37 percent for hot modern cards. A card that has a very low spread is a sign of strength, while a very high spread is a sign of weakness.

2. Foil Multiplier: For most cards, a foil copy is worth x2 to x4 times the non-foil printing. So when we see numbers outside of this range, it is worth talking about.

3. Demand: This ties into the spread (as cards with high spread generally have weaker demand, specifically from vendors). In a broader sense, take Chrome Mox and Chalice of the Void for examples. Right now their demand is probably similar, being fringe legacy cards. The difference here is potential demand. I'm not sure what it would take for Chalice of the Void to see a big spike in demand (fun exercise: create a card that would suddenly turn Chalice of the Void into a top 20 card in modern - is there one?). On the other hand, while it is very unlikely to happen, if Chrome Mox was suddenly unbanned in modern, demand would go through the roof.

4. Supply: Since cards from old sets are not entering the market, the main concern here is potential for reprinting which greatly increases supply, and greatly decreases prices.

5. Price Histories: Pretty self explanatory. Learn from the past or you're doomed to repeat it, and what not.

A Financial Review of: Mirrodin

Mirrodin block is the modern border equivalent of the Urza's block with broken (and banned) cards, fast artifact mana, and oodles of value, especially at the lower rarities. Because of this, when I'm buying a huge collection and know I can't look through all the boxes and binders, I start with the artifacts. While I would have to truly crunch the numbers to say for sure, it is likely that Mirrodin block has more valuable commons and uncommons than any other modern-legal set.

Competitive Cards - Rare Modern Staples

Since it was Mirrodin block that unleashed the power of the affinity mechanic, it should be little surprise that most of the true format staples from the block find their home in the modern affinity (or, for those of you who always lecture me on reddit when I call the deck affinity, "robots") deck.

While not the most expensive cards in the block, these three affinity staples see more competitive play than any other rares in the set. If you look back over the price histories, you can see that all three took a significant hit (losing up to half of their value) when they were reprinted in Modern Masters. Arcbound Ravager has already rebounded and is back near its pre-MMA price. The lands, however, have not and there are some signs that both of these cards may be good investments.

First, I'm convinced that we will be getting Modern Masters 2 next summer. All the signs, including the cryptic three-GP (including Las Vegas) weekend next summer, point to it. At the same time, I would be surprised if any of these cards show up in MM2. Wizards has shown with MMA, Vintage Masters, and Conspiracy that they want supplemental products that come in boosters to be fun to draft, which requires a certain freshness and uniqueness to each release. With artifacts matter/affinity being a major draft archetype in Modern Masters, it seems unlikely that MM2 will as well. Plus, while these cards obviously have value, they are by no means a barrier to entering modern. If anything, the opposite is true, with affinity representing one of the least expensive decks that you could reasonable expect to win a Modern GP with. All together, this means all three of these cards are unlikely to see a reprinting in the next year or two.

While I'm not sure Arcbound Ravager is heading for a big jump in price any time soon, both printings of Blinkmoth Nexus currently have a spread between 25 and 30 percent, and Glimmervoid has a tiny 22 percent spread. Since the average spread of modern staples are generally in the 35-37 percent range, it is likely that both of these lands are in line for a price increase over the next few months. While I'm not expecting a return to their pre-MMA peak just yet, going from $11 to $15 is not out of the question especially with Pro Tour FRF being modern and potentially driving interest in the format, .

Competitive Cards - Tier 2

Engineered Explosives, Aether Vial, and Oblivion Stone are all legitimate constructed cards with the first two in legacy as well as modern.

The price of Engineered Explosives has not moved in a year and a 46 percent spread suggests that vendors are not seeing significant demand for the card. This is likely because unlike the affinity cards, Engineered Explosives if often a one or two-of in the sideboard. It seems like a relatively safe hold since sunburst isn't the easiest mechanic to reprint, and there isn't any real casual demand to speak of. But I wouldn't be expecting a spike any time soon.

Aether Vial has already increased a ton over the past year, nearly doubling in price between November 2013 and November 2014. Unfortunately, buylist prices have been dropping in recent weeks, and a 47 percent spread suggests that sell prices could follow soon. I'm not suggesting a crash, but the time to make money on Aether Vial is past. If you're holding copies as specs, you might want to consider getting out now. While it seems unlikely that Aether Vial will show up in a standard-legal set, WoTC loves to put Mirrodin block uncommons in supplemental products (see: Skullclamp, Isochron Scepter, and Cranial Plating), so I would never feel completely safe from a reprint.

Oblivion Stone is the competitive card most likely to see a standard legal reprint. The printing of Perilous Vault in M15 suggests that an artifact sweeper of a similar power level is considered "safe" for standard, so it could happen sooner or later. Oblivion Stone has a pretty average spread for a modern playable, and prices have been slowing trending upwards. With Oblivion Stone you get the added benefit of casual demand, as it is currently in the top 200 most played cards in Commander. I would expect this one to continue to creep upwards until its next reprinting.

Other Constructed Cards

Crucible of Worlds [5DN] Auriok Champion [5DN] Sword of Fire and Ice [DST] Sword of Light and Shadow [DST] Trinisphere [DST] Chrome Mox [MRD] Chalice of the Void [MRD] Goblin Charbelcher [MRD] 

All of these cards see competitive play at in one format or another. The swords, due to their casual demand and iconic status, are the most expensive cards in the entire block. All of these cards have fairly typical spreads in the 30 to 40 percent range and there is no reason to expect a big spike from any of them. Basically these cards are what they are and are fairly safe bets (minus a reprinting) to maintain their prices or be slow gainers over the coming years.

As far as reprintings, I am very confident that both swords, Chrome Mox, Trinisphere, and Chalice of the Void will never be reprinted in a standard legal set. I have a hard time seeing the latter two cards being printed in a supplemental product (other than a future Modern Masters set) just because of their unfun nature. Trinisphere is probably the one card in all of magic most likely to cause a fun, casual game to end in fisticuffs.

I fully expect Crucible of Worlds to be reprinted somewhere. There are many standard environments where the card would not even be played so it would most likely be reprinted in a supplement product. Auriok Champion is the card I would most expect to be printed in a standard legal set while also being a prime candidate for MM2. The Soul Sisters deck could easily be made into a fun and draftable archetype.

Commons and Uncommons

I mentioned back in the beginning of the article that some of the best money you will ever make in magic cards comes from buying big collections and digging out all the valuable commons and uncommons that many sellers view as bulk. While it it rare that someone leaves a Force of Will in a bulk box, many people don't think twice about leaving a stack of Serum Visions or Cranial Platings in a box full of junk. Anyway, here are the Mirrodin block cards I look for when digging through collections, along with the best buylist price (rounded for grouping purposes). While you can often get more than buylist for cards, it's always nice to know your outs. If you pay buylist prices, you will never, ever lose money on a collection.

 

Lightning Greaves, Serum Visions $4.00
Isochron Scepter $3.60
Skullclamp $3.15
Eternal Witness, Steelshaper's Gift, Blasting Station $1.50
Sylvan Scrying, Cranial Plating $1.00
Fabricate, Genesis Chamber $1.35
Molten Rain, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Relentless Rats, Paradise Mantle $0.75
Thoughtcast, Cloudpost, and Wrenched Mind $0.50
Seat of the Synod (and all the other artifact lands), Coretapper, Magma Jet, Energy Chamber, Grafted Wargear $0.40
Seething Song, Darksteel Citadel, Clearwater Goblet $0.25
Thirst for Knowledge, Myr Retriever $0.15
Geth's Grimoire, Mirrodin's Core, Channel the Suns, Spark Elemental $0.10

Banned Cards

Chrome Mox [MRD] Ancient Den [MRD] Cloudpost [MRD] Skullclamp [DST] Second Sunrise [MRD]

In modern, Chrome Mox will never be unbanned. Its unbanning would make modern the turn 3 format that Wizards is trying to avoid. Could you imagine how good Jeskai Ascendency would be with Chrome Mox legal? The same goes for the artifact lands. Affinity is a legitimate tier 1 deck in modern without them, and there is really no reason to make it better. Skullclamp is too good for legacy, so it is definitely too good for modern. Second Sunrise is one of two cards from Mirrodin block that was a late addition to the banned list, getting the ban hammer after Kibler F6ed in the top 8 of GP San Diego last year. Cloudpost made it a whole three months in the format before Breach-Post broke the format.

Basically, I wouldn't expect any of these cards to get unbanned any time soon. So if you're looking for the next Bitterblossom, Mirrodin block is probably not the place to find it.

Foils

As a general rule of thumb, foils are worth between two and four times the price of a non-foil card. According to reddit user avocadro's research, 75 percent of cards have a foil multiplier greater than two, and 75 percent fall between two and four. This sounds about right based on my very unscientific subjective experience. If a card has a very low foil multiplier (and there isn't an obvious reason for this, like an abnormal number of foils from a intro pack, or other foil printing), it's likely that the price will increase to get the card back into the "normal" range. On the other hand, while a high foil multiplier doesn't really say much about the future of a card's price, it is still good to be aware of these cards. You could be sitting on some serious value that you didn't know you had. Most of the cards with very high foil multipliers are eternal playable or among the heaviest played cards in commander.

Highest Foil Multipliers

There are a several bulk-level rares in the x6 range, and possibly some low-value commons or uncommon that could make the list as well, but this is a pretty good start.

Low Foil Multipliers

Card Non-Foil Price Foil Price Multiplier
Trinket Mage $0.21 $6.80 x32
Talisman of Dominance $0.54 $8.00 x15
Thoughtcast $1.00 $12.27 x12
Darksteel Citadel $1.43 $15.98 x11
Darksteel Ingot $0.31 $3.43 x11
Seat of the Synod $1.25 $11.27 x10 (other artifact lands between x8 and x10)
Echoing Truth $0.37 $3.26 x9
Eternal Witness $2.47 $21.06 x9
Thirst for Knowledge $0.45 $3.89 x9
Furnace Dragon $0.45 $3.63 x8
Plunge into Darkness $0.71 $5.01 x7
Engineered Explosives $7.13 $45.41 x6.5

Foil versions of both swords are showing some signs of being a good buy at the moment. Sword of Fire and Ice has a tiny x1.7 foil multiplier, the spread is an appealing 32 percent, and the Modern Masters printing is currently about double the price of the Darksteel version despite the fact that there are twice as many copies of the MMA version for sale on TCG. Many major vendors are sold out, and the best buylist price has increased 54 percent since March, while the sell price hasn't move a bit. Altogether, this suggests that the price of foil Sword of Fire and Ice's is due for an upward adjustment.

The numbers on Sword of Light and Shadow are almost as good. A foil multiplier at x1.97, a tiny 26 percent spread, and a MMA version that is double its price. The main difference here is that for Sword of Light and Shadow, its the sell price that has dropped $15 since April, while the buy price has remained steady.

At first I thought that these numbers were influenced by the printing of Modern Masters having a foil in every pack. While this could be true, none of the other mythics reprinted in MMA have stats like the swords, with the MMA version being worth significantly more than the original printing. None of them have foil multipliers outside the "normal" range, let alone under x2, and none of them have out of the ordinary spreads. So it seems like it's not simply MMA that is causing these positive numbers.

Not only are these cards casual favorites, but they also see eternal play. They will never be printed again in a standard legal set, and seems like a good bet to dodge MM2. So while it takes a considerable investment to "go deep" on cards that cost over $50, it seems like the Darksteel printings of both these cards are currently under priced (even considering the GP promo).

Other Mirrodin Block cards with abnormally low foil multipliers are Archbound Ravager at x2, Aether Vial at x1.7, Leonin Shikari at x1.7, Darksteel Colossus, Trinisphere, Myr Matrix and Auriok Champion all in the 1.8 to 2.1 range.

Conclusion

Anyway, keep an eye for collections from the Mirrodin era. Seeing a Platinum Angel, Memnarch, etc. often means there are lots of good and valuable commons and uncommons hiding in the bulk boxes. Darksteel in particular has some oddly under priced foils which deserve a second look.

Anyway, let me know if this you think this series will be worthwhile and valuable either in the comments or @SaffronOlive on twitter. Until next time, may all your foils be worth x10.


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