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Lessons Learned from 45 Crucible of the Spirit Dragons

I posted this on Twitter a few days ago:

45 Crucible of the Spirit Dragons

Yes, that's my stack of 45 copies of Crucible of the Spirit Dragon. Now, before you scroll to the bottom of the page and start telling me how I'm an idiot (you're welcome to do so, just hang with me for a minute), give me a chance to explain myself. I think there are some good lessons here for all of us. So what I would like to do today is explain the reasons why I bought Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, and then explain some things I did wrong in make this purchase. 

Why I Bought Crucible of the Spirit Dragon

1. It was almost bulk

Now, I realize that opinions on speculating on bulk cards is mixed. I admit, the odds on picking the right bulk rare are slim, and even if you do choose wisely, it's very possible to not make any money because you have to actually find a buyer for the cards. Not just a buyer, but a buyer that is willing to pay enough that you actually profit after paying fees and shipping. This means that a $0.30 rare needs to eventually have a retail price tag of around $2 to be profitable. 

A card that has a $2 retail price tag should sell on eBay for maybe $1.50. The problem with this is that selling 45 copies of Crucible of the Spirit Dragon is about as much fun as the new format I created where each player starts the game with a Stasis and Trinisphere in play. Shipping costs almost skim at least $0.49 off the top, which makes it even less attractive. What I'm really hoping for is a buylist offering in the $1.30 range, which isn't unreasonable for a $2-$2.50 rare with a 40 percent spread. If this happens I can dump all the cards in one shipment at $1 profit per copy, which admittedly isn't too exciting, but still ends up being a $40+ gain for very little work. 

But what if this never happens? What if Crucible of the Spirit Dragon is only a $0.50 rare and the best buylist price is $0.20? Then I sell the copies at a loss of $0.10 each and even with shipping I end up losing $6. This makes the equation a potential $40 gain versus a potential $6 loss. I could make this same bet on six different bulk rares, and I would only need to hit on one of them to break even. If I can hit on two of them, I come out ahead. The only way I actually lose money is if I miss on all six bets (in theory, opportunity costs should factor in, but in practice, $15 worth of a bulk rare isn't keeping me from buying something else). 

So the question is not will Crucible of the Spirit Dragon be profitable, it's can I correctly pick at least one-out-of-six bulk rares, and this ratio isn't including things like Pack Rat that go from bulk to $10, or cards that end up buylisting for $0.50 and pull a slight profit. 

2. Players love dragons

According to Mark Rosewater, "Players like Dragons. Really like Dragons. No, really, really like Dragons. They are by far the most popular creature type we do." As I've said before, I expect Dragons of Tarkir to be to dragons what Avacyn Restored was to angels. I don't even need a dragons deck to be good to cash in (see: Sliver Hive), all I want is a bunch of hype about dragons to spike the card long enough for me to cash out. If, somehow, there is a dragons deck that wants four Crucible of the Spirit Dragons — even better. On the other hand, if the exact same land was printed, but the word dragon was replaced with pretty much any other creature type, I wouldn't be interested. Like slivers, dragons are popular enough in casual crowds to move the financial needle without competitive play (at least I hope so). So instead of being a bet on Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, instead I'm betting on Dragons of Tarkir.

3. It's a land

Lands are the lowest-opportunity cost part of any Magic deck. You have to play a significant number of them (Belcher and Dredge aside) whether you want to or not. When you draw a Crucible of the Spirit Dragon it's still going to tap for mana and it's still going to help you can your spells, so it will very rarely ever be truly bad. Furthermore, the opportunity you are giving up (playing another colored mana source) isn't generally a big deal; as long as you don't go way overboard on colorless lands you you should be fine. 

Plus, utility have a pretty good track record of being a couple dollars:


Now, I'm not saying every utility land is valuable, but if you look back over the past few years, you'll see that even discounting dual lands, rare lands are much more likely to be above-bulk than regular rares in general. For every Grim Backwoods there is a Vault of the Archangel and overall somewhere around 50 percent of utility lands are worth $2 or more sooner or later. So going back to the 1-in-6 theory of speculating on bulk rares, buying bulk rare lands is an easy way to improve the odds. 

4. Fate Reforged rares are uninspiring 

Sure, we have Tasigur, the Golden Fang and the siege cycle, but overall the there isn't much value in the Fate Reforged rare slot. While this could mean that the value of the set will be eaten up by mythics and uncommons (likely), there is also a chance that once the set is opened, there will be enough excess value for a few rares to increase in value from even a slight bump in demand. If you look back over past set releases, you'll see that one group of rares that commonly increase is the "benefits from the next set" group. 

What rare in Fate Reforged is most likely to benefit from a set named Dragons of Tarkir? How about the dragon-themed utility land? 

5. Regardless of anything else, it seems like a long-term causal hit

Now, if you follow my writings, you'll know that I'm not a big believer in holding Modern legal cards for more than a year because the risk of reprinting is ever present. However, I'm willing to make exceptions for bulk rares, simple because the risk is so low (although if you have a large percentage of your portfolio in bulk rares, opportunity costs are a real concern). The great thing about bulk rares is, regardless of how many times they get reprinted, or how terrible they may be, you can always get at least $0.10 for them. 

If Crucible of the Spirit Dragon never does anything in Standard and doesn't spike due to dragon hype by the end of March, I can just sit on them and hope they make the typical slow climb of popular casual cards. If I time it right, I should be able to cash them out in the future. If I don't and it gets reprinted, then I mark down Crucible of the Spirit Dragon in the "miss" column (which, again, can be twice as full as the "hit" column and still be profitable) and bulk it out. In the words of Michael Scott, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take." With bulk rares, it's all about taking well-reasoned shots and trusting that enough of them will pay off to turn a profit. 

Things I Did Wrong in Buying Crucible

1. Buying on tilt

I've had a really busy couple weeks, due in large part to a health situation in my family. Because of this, I haven't been as on-top of things in the MTG finance world as I would like. As a result, I was late to the party on Frontier Siege and Tasigur, the Golden Fang


After realizing I was too late to get in on either of these cards at their pre-spike price, I was a little bit tilted and still in a buying mood. I started looking at cards, came across Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, and since I had been thinking about dragons for a while, clicked the buy button. 

Despite the impulsive/tilted nature of this purchase, I still think my reasoning was relatively sound, at least as far as buying bulk rares goes. The problem is, the price of Crucible wasn't going anywhere. The smarter thing to do would have been to calm down, maybe sleep on my potential purchase, and if I still felt like owning a bunch of Crucible of the Spirit Dragons the next morning, put in my order then. 

Thankfully, this is a small dollar amount purchase, but imagine if I had tilted myself into purchasing 45 copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (who had a very good showing this past weekend). The financial consequences of missing would be much more severe. 

2. I didn't listen to anyone

When I was about to click submit on my Crucible of the Spirit Dragon order, I asked a couple people what they thought about the purchase. The problem was, I already had my mind made up about buying the card, so I wasn't really looking for feedback or advice, just hoping that someone would agree with me. Chaz (@boltsnapbolt) in specific presented several logical arguments for why I was being an idiot, and I even agreed with pretty much all of them. But I bought the cards anyway. Thankfully, he can't say too much, because he tweeted this picture a couple days later:

Lots of Temur Ascendancy

(while they are slightly blurry, that's a massive stack of Temur Ascendancy). 

The moral of this story is, while asking others for help and advice is great, it dosen't achieve much unless you are actually willing to listen to their wisdom. Furthermore, asking for opinions when you mind is already made up is actually just wasting everyone's time. If you're going to buy the card either way, just do it. Don't do your friends the disservice of making them think about Crucible of the Spirit Dragon if you don't have to.

3. Store Credit

Six months I received some store credit from a major vendor for helping to test/give feedback on their new buylist. It was a vendor that I sold cards to often, but only bought from rarely, and since there were not any cards I wanted at the time, the credit just sort of sat there. As the months went buy, I pretty much forgot about it. That is, until I started scouring the internet for Frontier Siege and happened upon the credit. 

Store credit is almost as good as cash when you're involved in MTG finance. I don't know the exact ratio, but based on the typical "store credit bonus," vendors seem to value $0.70 in store credit as $1.00 in cash. The problem for me was that such a long time had passed that my value calculation on this particular store credit was way off. Sort of like a $10 bill you find in your coat from last winter: I undervalued it severely. Basically, the credit felt like free money. It wasn't on any of my spreadsheets, I didn't have any plan for it, hell, I didn't even remember that I had it, so spending it was painless. 

4. I went deep on a card that almost everyone agrees is bad

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the Reddit spoiler thread for Crucible of the Spirit Dragon

Maybe this card ties in to Tarkir lore? All the dragons died because their mana base was so inefficient?"
You're totally going to open this at the prerelease. Good luck with your other five rares.
This card power-level wise is not at rare level (or even a decent common level)...
Look at rarity. Cry inside
For more like this, see: Search the City. They seem to do this every so often and I still have no clue.

Now, you might be thinking, why does this matter? If the card is good, people will play it. The problem is, perceptions are powerful, especially first impressions. It takes a lot for a card to overcome an overwhelmingly negative first impression. Picture some semi-casual Standard player putting together a deck a few months from now. Here's what I'm afraid will happen:

"Hmm, look at all these sweet dragons from Dragons of Tarkir. I love Dragons, I should build a deck full of them for FNM. *Searches Gatherer for dragons, finds Crucible of the Spirit Dragon* This land looks perfect. Now I can play dragons of every color and it even sort of ramps into them. I wonder if anyone else has thought of this? *searches Google, finds Reddit threat* Oh. #!@$. If I bring a deck with four Crucible of the Spirit Dragons to the shop, I'll be a laughing stock. *crumples up the paper with the five-color dragons list, tosses it into the fire* Well, at least my Sliver deck is still legal for a couple more months."


So, there you have it. The good, the bad, and the ugly of why I now own 45 copies of Crucible of the Spirit Dragon. Will it pay out? Only time will tell, but the odds are probably not in my favor. Maybe the better question is, would I make this same purchase again today? I can't say for sure, but I do know that if I did, I would try to make the purchase in a smarter way by actually listening to others and not buying while tilted. In some ways, this purchase has paid off already, not just because it gave me something to write about, but it helped me to see some of my own mistakes, which hopefully I can learn from for next time. Which is good, because I'm about to click buy on 60 copies of Rally the Ancestors. Casual players like Allies right?

That's all for today. As always, feel free to tell me how stupid I am in the comments, or on Twitter @SaffronOlive.

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