/ Finance

When to Buy, and When to Sell

If you’re on this site, you’re familiar with the most basic tenet of Magic finance: buy low and sell high. We do this as gamers who want certain cards for as cheap as possible while maximizing the value we’re getting.

The calendar dictates a lot of my buying and selling, and it should influence things for you too.

First of all, big thanks and appreciation for the folks behind What’s In Standard? (WIS) because things have been rather confusing the last couple of years. We had 18-month, rolling rotation, some sets being two years and others being less than a year, the end of small sets, the death and return of Core Sets, plus more Standard bannings in the last three years than anything since Urza’s Saga Standard.

I mainly use WIS to help me keep track of what’s rotating in the coming October, but let’s go step by step.

After a set is released, we have roughly three months where your local store and all Limited GPs are opening that set. I think of this period as the ‘season’ but that’s not an official term. We just started the season for Ravnica Allegiance, and in about two months, we’ll start War of the Spark season.

Observing how a card moves from preorder to set release and price movement during its season requires a deep, thorough understanding of how it fits into formats from kitchen table to Vintage. What we know for sure is that at the end of a card’s season, it’s generally at its cheapest point. Supply has been maximized, the people who need it for decks have gotten the copies they need. An example would be raska’s Contempt

contempt

At the end of its season, ending both Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan, Contempt was pretty cheap. Within a couple of months the priced bounced upwards. Could’ve had the card for $5 and then $7, and then boom, $15 for a solid year.

Notice where it’s at now. The high point was right about Halloween, when it briefly hit $20, but the decline has been steady until now, and $10 is not where the slide stops.

It used to be that cards would start sliding in value as their final summer in Standard started, but that’s no longer true. As far as I can tell, you’ve got six months/two seasons when it starts declining, and that’s when I advocate you sell everything you’re not using for Standard. Contempt was a staple for the longest time, not least because it was a great answer to Hazoret the Fervent, but Contempt has been sliding because it’s heavily played in Standard yet nonexistent in other formats.

Here’s a graph for a card that was immediately adopted into a wide range of formats, including Cube and Legacy: Search for Azcanta.

search

I’ve written about how badly I missed on this card at the preorder price of about $5, but I’m not alone there so I don’t feel too terrible.

Notice the spike that happened three months after its initial release, right when Rivals came out and the number being opened went way down: It jumps from $10 to $18 and stays in that range until about now, when it’s trickled down to $15. It’s not going to go much lower, and if it gets to $10 I’m going to give serious thought about buying more. I’m a bigger fan of the buy-a-box promo version, because if the nonfoil jumps to $20 on Modern/Legacy demand, the promo will go from $60 to $100.

We’ve established that you want to do your heavy buying about three months after a set’s release, or if you prefer, when a new set comes out you want to buy up the old set.

Selling should happen about six months before rotation, but there’s a third part: buying cards as they rotate. Let’s use an easy example: Spirebluff Canal.

spirebluff

The first circle at Dominaria is six months before it rotated, and you’re getting a decent price, but because the card is the #15th most played land in Modern, present in 10% of decks and averaging 3-4 copies per deck, it didn’t fall much farther. Recently it popped up to $10 and came back down, but the really impressive growth was in the foil that went from $15, doubled briefly to $30, and is back in the $22 range. It’s seeing too much play to stay this cheap.

If you can identify the cards that are 1) played a bunch in Legacy/Modern/Commander and 2) about to rotate out of Standard then you’re in at the perfect price.

I also advocate foils above nonfoils in this plan. If you gave me the choice between one foil Arclight Phoenix (a card at the end of its season) and two nonfoils, I’d take the foil in a heartbeat. Foils carry less risk of reprints, especially if Wizards does another batch of Challenger decks which they’ve indicated they will do. Last year they were April releases and previewed at the end of February.

I wouldn’t be shocked if they goosed viewership numbers for the Mythic Championship by releasing Challenger decklists during the event, or they might wait till immediately after. Perhaps they will just randomly announce it on Twitter, as they did the change in GP coverage. Rest assured that when it happens, Cardsphere will lock trades on the big cards. We’ve got your back.

Foil reprints happen in special sets (Conspiracy, Battlebond) or curated small sets (From the Vault, Signature Spellbook) and the occasional judge promo/RPTQ release. This lets me feel a lot safer in picking up pack foils, which generally aren’t hit too hard by reprints, but that’s a topic for another day.

In summary:

  • Buy at the end of its season: Arclight Phoenix, Thief of Sanity (yes, even with its recent spike. It’s going to be $10, like Jadelight Ranger was)

  • Sell six months before rotation: Carnage Tyrant, History of Benalia

  • Buy when it rotates and is cheapest: Mox Amber (going to get broken at some point, already ticking up in Commander), The Immortal Sun

Cliff Daigle

Cliff Daigle

I've been playing Magic since 1994 and had serious financial interest since about 2001, when I sold out to pay for a new transmission. I'm a high school teacher by day and a father of two.

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