Next Level Spec – #SpecBattle Update for May

It’s been a while since my last Next Level Spec column on Star City, but the battle between the neophyte speculators is still going. (Well, for most of them. Kevin dropped out due to time commitments, but I’m lining up a replacement for him.) Anyway, as promised, here are some updates detailing what the contestants have been looking at in recent months.

Eric Duerr (@NLSeeker)
Cube is coming back.  I should be way more excited than I am about that, but it’s paying out Time Spiral packs.  Last time, I went all-in on Innistrad packs when they hit 3.5 and sold out at 3.84.  There’s a lesson – never underestimate the insatiable demand for draft sets.  I didn’t expect DII to recover from the massive supply shock, but Innistrad packs bounced right back to 4 within two weeks of cube.

I don’t want any cards in TPF block, although I might pick up Goyfs if they hit 30 or something similarly low.  While I think they won’t bounce back immediately, especially when we’re not in a Modern PTQ season, I do think it’s possible that they will get pushed well below their long-term equilibrium price by a week of cube flooding TPF and another week of nix tix.  Nothing else in the block holds my interest, since I’m not savvy enough about Modern and Commander to accurately predict a rise in value that doesn’t already exist, and I already had one Serrated Arrows debacle.

TPF block packs could be tempting, even if the current prices suck.  Time Spiral is 2.8, Planar Chaos an anemic 1.45, and only Future Sight, at a little below 5, has any real room to fall and re-rise like Innistrad did.  Cube supply certainly will drive FUT prices down just like the others… but I don’t think TPF is enough demand as a format to make significant profits from it.  It’s quite possible I’m wrong – by the time this is up, I’ll actually be able to see the prices changing.  I’ll definitely be watching FUT like a hawk, and it’s quite possible I buy in on packs in the last few days of cube being up (the 7th-9th window) and try to resell later.

It also bears noting that the payouts [http://www.wizards.com/Magic/Magazine/Article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/other/04232012d] are not actually awful this time – 4322 pays out 344 TPF, while 84 and Swiss pay out 444 each.  This is a substantial change from Ravnica nix tix back in February, where the unbalanced payout made Ravnica packs jump to 9 tix each.  The more 4322s fire, the larger the shortage of Time Spiral packs will become, but it’s not even remotely close to February’s free-money Ravnica nix tix.  WotC deserves a lot of credit for doing this payout scheme well, even if it limits pack speculation opportunities for me personally.  I’ll take mediocre profit possibilities over awful payouts any day of the week.

The other obvious topic is Avacyn Restored, but nothing there has caught my eye either.  Wouldn’t mind buying Tamiyo before people figure out how good she is, but the one-month MODO lag basically rules that out.  Another great change on WotC’s part!  The Block PT might produce a quick rise in something, possibly an Innistrad land, and I’ll buy in on those as soon as I hear from someone in Barcelona.  An SCG Open might also make some old card rise in value, but I’m not holding my breath.  Maybe Huntmasters will go up, but they’re already so high it doesn’t seem worth my time.  Historically, this would be the nadir of Dark Ascension and Innistrad prices, so I might just buy in on Huntmasters and/or Sorins anyway.  Shame I don’t like the other mythics for Standard.

Beyond that, I’m just going to keep on doing what I’m doing – buy whatever I think can flip quickly and buy whatever Bing Luke tells me to.  Sold out of Ensnaring Bridge two months back at 1.5 and now it’s 2.7.  (I still don’t know when to pull the trigger.  I’ve gotten slightly better at that – witness Copperline Grove out at 2.38, when Nova’s at 1.9/2.1 today – but there’s still a long distance between me and a “real” speculator.)  Having access to someone as “plugged in” as Bing is a great boon to speculation.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

My most recent flip was Food Chain, from 4.14 to 4.57.  Not glamorous, but I’ll take a quick flip over holding onto something any day.  To be honest, I don’t think this was due to hype on Misthollow Griffin, which I had originally thought would drive said increase.  I think it’s just that supply and demand for obscure-draft-format cards on MODO are so wonky.  Low and lumpy supply, mostly low demand to match, but with an incredible spread of buy prices on anything that’s actually desirable.  The key is just to find the best one – with enough time I could arbitrage my way to millions 0.1 tix at a time, but what fun is that? – but I don’t know of any consistent method for doing so.  This is just tossed in as an aside, because I’m not willing to go all-in on buying obscure Masques block rares, but I believe that there’s a lot of profit there for the canny buyer.

Still holding Falkenrath Aristocrats (that I bought at a whopping 4) from shortly after the Dark Ascension release.  Sadly, that didn’t work out so well – I severely underestimated Lingering Souls and overestimated players’ willingness to play RB (or, at this point, even UB) Zombies.  Supernova was at 3, now they’re up to 3.6, and I’m sure I’ll be able to get out of the Aristocrats without losing my shirt when AVR comes out to help dry up DKA supply… but it’s a beating nonetheless.  Those tickets could have been earning me 10% in Innistrad packs, if nothing else, and that’s where the money really is.  Packs are the most consistent earners, and I will take any chance I get to leverage that from this point forward.

Tom Reeve (@TomReeve)
So, update time! Well, I have one guilty secret – I have been a busy bee in non-Magical life, and barring one unsatisfying Grand Prix have not been paying a huge amount of attention for the last couple of months. Still, let’s run down my fairly limited activity so far.

The first thing I did was to set up my SPREADSHEET OF INFINITE RESOURCE, to keep track of purchases and sales, to keep notes, and to use as a reference for, for example, lists of the bots in various networks. The second thing was to do a test run buying up a bunch of a bulk rare that seemed like it could have some minor potential in Block Constructed – Unbreathing Horde. This was not really out of any real conviction that it would go up a lot, but mainly just to get used to the process of price-comparing, buying, and working through bots, and to see how quickly they would respond to a lot of a card being bought up. In all, I spent 2.31 tickets on 44 copies of Unbreathing Horde from across three different bot networks, noticing the price starting to respond relatively quickly. Science! That completed, I turned my attention to my first real buy.

This was the 30th of January, and Ravnica Block NixPax drafts were running. One of my biggest sources of information, particularly going into this with little knowledge of the MTGO economy (as opposed to the paper one, which I have a better handle on,) was other people. And a couple of those other people clued me in on an unusual fact. During previous NixPax seasons for RGD, pack prices had dropped pretty precipitously. They had then gone up significantly in value during the NixTix draft periods. In this case, the NixTix drafts were going to start almost immediately after the NixPax drafts finished. Would I really be able to buy low now and sell high next week? It seemed improbable – why would bot networks sell low now, knowing that they could almost certainly sell higher so soon? The answer (spoilers: they did) I would guess is basically an issue of cashflow. As long as they’re buying lower than their sell price, they’re profiting every time a pack passes through a bot. This avoids having tickets tied up in packs or cards, and keeps your bot generating a steady income with little intervention. The alternative is to invest a lot more time in managing the buying and selling habits of your bots, possibly redesign them to make that easier to do, and causing your income to vary much more over short periods.

So! I didn’t feel comfortable going all-in this early, so I invested a mere 102.768 tickets in 22 packs of Ravnica (4.67 tix/pack,) then sat back and waited for the NixTix to start. It did, and the pack price started rising. The drafts would be running from midweek to midweek, but I made the calculated guess that the pack price would peak over the weekend, probably Saturday night into Sunday morning. The price rose as the drafts went on throughout the first week, and by Saturday afternoon, the bots were selling at between 9.15 and 9.75. They were only buying at around 8 tickets, so I turned to the Classifieds, selling all 22 packs for 9 each between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon. I’d almost doubled up my initial investment in only three days.

At this point, I had a dilemma. I knew that I wouldn’t have time to really get into intensely monitoring MTGO constructed events to run a lot of short-term flips, and my usual ‘jump on undervalued cards between prerelease and release’ wouldn’t work online for the release of Dark Ascension, as everyone would know perfectly well by that point what the hot cards were. I resigned myself to laying low until closer to a real rotation – the releases of Magic 2013 and the run-up to the release of Return to Ravnica, where there should be some great opportunities to find cards that don’t have a home in M12/Scars/Innistrad Standard, but that have potential for M13/Innistrad/Return to Ravnica.

All of that said, I have just gone in on one card, in the expectation of a moderate bump with Avacyn Restored (and partly driven by inactivity guilt.) I have picked up a dozen copies of Gideon Jura at 8.98 apiece. The reason? The deprecation of Mana Leak in Delver by Cavern of Souls, and the printing of a bunch of cards in Avacyn Restored that seem to point towards high-powered, tap-out control, either Esper or straight blue/white – Terminus, Entreat the Angels, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Add a couple of minor anti-aggro tools in Divine Deflection, Righteous Blow, and maybe there’s something there. If not? I should be able to get out pretty cheaply, as long as I don’t sit on them too long. (It helps that the preview video for Magic 2013/Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 very strongly implies that Ajani will be the white Planeswalker in M13.) ((At a price of 9 tix, it’s also off the low end of ‘moderate play’ on Ted’s scale of expected Planeswalker value.)) [Note: Gideon has been double-printed, so may not fit into the model any more. – Knut]

My main takeaway so far is that MTGO is even more of a different market to paper than I first expected. Not only are certain windows to act not there online due to staggered releases, but the extremely active market in sealed product doesn’t really have a corollary in paper. Barring anything disastrous happening with the Gideons, my next speculative purchase is likely to be far more in line with what I would consider my normal range of experience – medium-term speculation on a completely new, post-rotation Standard format. I’ll have to see how I do!

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One response to “Next Level Spec – #SpecBattle Update for May

  1. Since this was written, I did indeed go all-in on TSP and FUT packs at about a 3:1 ratio. Worried TSP won’t recover, thanks to this insane cube supply – CardNexus is at 6.5 a set right now! – but, strangely, far less worried about FUT. That one might be a slightly long haul, but I think I can clear out at 4.5 by the end of the year. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

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