When you think of the term "Magic finance," what's the first thing that comes to mind? Is it pulling out your Nihil Spellbombs and Soul Wardens from bulk? Maybe it's the research and planning that comes with figuring out how to make the most of your collection when it comes time to sell out. To me, the financial aspect encapsulates pretty much everything that has to do with my current job. Buying, selling, trading, working the floor of Grands Prix, sorting, alphabetizing, listing cards on TCGplayer, packing orders, shipping orders, driving out to buy collections…. There's a lot on my plate at any given time. However, I'm of the opinion that all those things I just described are often Drowned out by a single aspect that gets the most attention, because it's the most exciting and attractive for newer players.
Speculating on individual Magic cards is not what I would consider part of my job, as someone who does this for a living. It's guesswork and risky to the level of playing Zndrsplt and Okaun in Commander when I'm trying to find the most streamlined, focused and reliable way to pay the bills. For every River Kelpie or Goblin Chainwhirler that I get to brag about being right about, there are dozens of Battlefield Thaumaturge or Hand of the Praetors that fall flat on their face. Not even the people who play this game for a living are going to have perfect accuracy when trying to figure out the next Karn or Teferi, and I'm a far cry from even being close to the skill level of Brian Braun-Duin or Craig Wescoe.
I'd rather focus on exactly what a card is worth in this given moment, because it's very rarely incorrect to sell a card for its retail price. My time goes towards fine-tuning the system of sorting, buying, processing, and all those things I mentioned earlier. I want a consistent source of income instead of throwing $200 on the roulette wheel every week and crossing my fingers. When a newer player comes up to me and asks me what to "invest" in with a little bit of extra money, my answers are notoriously boring. Dual lands, sorting trays, bulk common/uncommons or wait for a collection to come your way. Speculation is not a consistent way to make money in Magic finance.
Man, is it fun. It's the best to be able to brag about that one card you got right… right? Being able to screenshot yourself calling Chainwhirler the best card in the set at $1 feels really good, and being vindicated for telling people to go against the grain and buy Karn at $25 sends you straight to cloud nine. Speculation on future synergies and watching your pet card go to the moon gives you a story to tell around the draft table for years down the road, and it's always fun to listen to other similar stories as well. Even if it never pans out (Let's not talk about Duskmantle Seer), picking cards with a low buy-in and playing with penny stocks usually means that you're not risking too much of your own capital. Speculation is a game within a game, you just need to accept that the odds are probably stacked against you from the beginning.
With all that said and done, I hope you'll indulge me by joining a discussion about a few of our own pet cards that haven't quite come to fruition yet. I wrote a similar article to this one a few months back, where we went over a few cards in this same "spec" box that I feel are one unknown card away from being playable or at least brew-worthy. I don't know what the card looks like that turns players' heads to look at Arcanum Wings or Restore Balance, but I'm sure people said the same about Lantern of Insight several years back. My spec box is full of strange head-scratchers that look like they could be the next Amulet of Vigor with the help of the right "mistake" by Wizards of the Coast.
Originally printed in Ice Age and then a few other times in ancient core sets, this oddball enchantment is Modern-legal for the same reason as Urza's Tower; all thanks to the power of 8th and 9th Edition. It's been brewed a little bit with Firemane Angel in the past; you only need a pair of Angels in the yard to effectively "Lantern" your opponent's draw every turn. While the actual Lantern deck itself is obviously more powerful and more effective at this in a lot of ways (pretty much every way), Weirding is the kind of deck that could easily be picked up by a content creator and inspire some followers to go and pick up the card based on hype alone. While it technically has five printings, they're all from an era where cards were much less popular, so the overall supply seems lower than what you might think.
Again, I'm not suggesting that Weirding has any reason to increase in price right now. However, if a ban or unban ends up tweaking the current version of Lantern, or if Wizards prints a new piece that makes Weirding more effective than it currently is, it's a cheap rare from an old set that could see a very hard price increase given the right conditions.
For those of you who have been playing since Khans of Tarkir Standard, Rally was a very powerful deck that allowed you to bring back a ton of creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers, and even planeswalkers like Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. The card was a powerhouse in Standard, but has never really been able to materialize in Modern because it's simply a worse version of Dredge and other similar graveyard decks. However, that same group of you playing since Khans Standard might remember a format called Frontier. Frontier was an idea created by a Japanese store a few years ago as an alternative to a miserable Standard format at the time, and the draw was that you played with cards that were printed in a core or expansion set using the M15 card frame. It was a "cheaper than Modern, more powerful than Standard" alternative that never really took off, because it was so similar to Standard at the time of its creation.
As Modern gets larger and Legacy drifts away, It's almost unavoidable that a new format will eventually be created to act as the bridge between Standard and Modern. After all, when Modern was created it only had around eight years' worth of cards in it – now we have 15 years of Magic in the format. So where am I going with this side tangent? Well if Wizards of the Coast ever officially sanctions a format like that that includes Fate Reforged, Rally the Ancestors is a bulk rare that seems like it could be a great starting point for a deck in that theoretical format. At $.10 a piece? Sure, I'll set them aside.
Let's flash back to a time when DJ actually played 60-card Magic. Yup, I used to play at FNMs and weekly Modern events and stuff like that, and my deck of choice was Birthing Pod. I sat down at an opponent one week who led off with a turn-one Birds of Paradise into turn-two Skill Borrower, followed by a Congregation at Dawn on their third upkeep. They stacked their deck to have Kiki-Jiki on top and made a million tapped Skill Borrowers on their upkeep. Okay, but they're all tapped, soooo…… "Draw step, draw my card. Top card is Mogg Fanatic." Oh. OH. Alright.
The brew was originally made by Stephen Boggemes and Jon Johnson, and can be found here. The Necrotic Ooze and Skill Borrower duo make this deck a fantasy of mine that will probably never pan out, but the Shards of Alara bulk rare has never left my radar for the past several years on the off-chance that a content creator or brewmaster makes some sort of sweet list that can actually compete in 2018 in a world of Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push and Path to Exile. Is this card going to be $20 tomorrow? Of course not. Could it hit $3 from hype and brewing alone in the next couple years? Yep.
Another card that has a similar position to Zur's Weirding. It's not good enough to compete with Storm in its current iteration, but the four printings ending in 9th Edition make up a tiny amount of supply that could easily skyrocket with the right brew or new printing of a card. Heartbeat of Spring has already jumped for sillier reasons (It doesn't work with Damping Sphere the way you want it to), so I don't see why a budget brew based around Early Harvest couldn't suddenly make this a $4-5 rare eventually. We just don't really get Turnabout effects in Modern, so this one makes me turn my head and make a mental note.
Thanks for joining me on another journey into my obscure box of "Maybe one day" cards! While speculation is a far cry from what I would truly consider Magic finance, it's fun to pick a few cards that seem like they could be the next Amulet of Vigor or Goblin Lore. Every meta deck was once a brew in the mind of a rogue deckbuilder, so let me hear your thoughts on what the next breakout bulk rare could be! Last time we did this article, you all gave some really sweet ideas on your pet cards, so let's run that back again. I'll be at Grand Prix Las Vegas this week if anyone wants to say hi, hit me up on Twitter at Rose0fthorns!
- DJ Johnson