It's the end of December, and another year is in the books.
Quite frankly, I'm not even sure time is all that relevant anymore, save for that pesky aging thing. More and more, time feels like a relic from an age when culture progressed with some regularity. The 1970's had discernible tends in art, music, film, design, and architecture. The 2010's don't really seem to. With the entire history of human civilization available on a small device the size of a booster pack, time's arrow has been split into a thousand small pieces, being forced back together only when something undeniable happens—an election, say, or a national tragedy.
With so few shared experiences, the milestones we experience with our chosen tribe take on more weight. Perhaps that is why I want to look back at the year with you now—in order to feel some tangible sense of communal sprit with you guys and gals, my favorite people in the world.
At any rate, 2012 was a rather mild year in the world of Magic finance. 2010 and 2011 were years of unprecedented growth—Legacy, Modern, and Commander all saw major price bumps, and entire formats doubled or tripled in price. 2012 didn't really have a moment like that. There were cards that shot up in value, to be sure, but the overall landscape of Magic prices is still roughly where it was in December of 2011.
2012: A Year of Seasonal Predictability
Magic prices have always followed seasonal trends. For years, Extended cards had a ton of value during two to three months of the year and almost no value the rest of the time. Smart traders could use this to their advantage. With the increase in Grand Prix and the proliferation of FNM though, this doesn't really hold true for Modern, Legacy, or Standard today. But that doesn't mean that Magic prices aren't predictable.
Standard prices peak in April or May. Legacy tends to peak a little earlier—late February or early March. This is primarily due to tournament schedules, and these trends have been less pronounced as of late.
In recent years, Standard's biggest fluctuation has been from June to October. In June, the rotating block prices will start to tank as people begin to sell off their expensive Standard cards. This selloff correlates with a dip in Constructed play that accelerates throughout the summer as people hold out for the next new set. This causes prices to dip across the board in all formats, and the lowest prices of the year occur in mid-to-late-August, just before spoiler season. By the time the fall set is spoiled, though, values will have rebounded across the board. All winter, values of cards in the newer fall set will continue to adjust in price while decreasing in value overall. Meanwhile, the previous year's set will experience an overall rise in value, culminating with that peak in April/May before the summer selloff. This trend has been true for years now, and it is easily exploitable by seasoned speculators.
2012 was no exception, though I find it interesting to look back and see how we all approached it at the time. One of my biggest misses was an article I wrote in July giving advice on what to do with rotating Scars block cards that had already lost a good portion of their value.
While I'd like to give myself a pat on the back for every rotating staple I told you to sell, those were the obvious calls—everyone knew Hero of Bladehold wouldn't be $15 forever. More problematic were the cards I told you to hold because I though the price would rebound due to casual or Modern interest. So far, that interest hasn't materialized yet—you can still by any card from that block for the same or less than you could in summer 2012. After dropping from $50, for example, I though Sword of Feast and Famine was a decent hold at $25. Nope—you can pick them up for $13 now.
Of course, these cards won't be cheap forever. At some point, cards from this block will start to rise in value again. If you have some money to blow on long-term speculation, Scars block cards are a pretty good choice.
Looking Ahead to Modern Masters
I expect 2013 to have roughly the same seasonal growth chart, with one big exception: Modern Masters. This set will be limited in release, but I expect it hit the market like a ton of bricks. There are no good historical comparisons to this set, so I'm not really sure what's going to happen. Here's a guess, though.
As the cards in Modern Masters get spoiled, their prices will start to drop as speculators try to sell out before the market gets more saturated. Once people realize how limited the set is, prices will rebound almost immediately. The exception will be 'lesser' cards like Kitchen Finks and Spell Pierce as well as casual commons and uncommons like Manamorphose and Imperious Prefect (if printed), which will take far longer to rebound (if ever). If you want to get into Modern, the best time to buy will be right before the set drops and the prices start to go back up.
That being said, I also expect 2013 will be the year of reckoning for Modern as a format. To date, I don't feel like it's really been accepted as a fun variation of Magic that people want to play. I've seen people build Modern decks for fun and seen loads of people play Modern in order to test for an event, but I don't think I've ever seen two people sit down and play a match of Modern for fun. In comparison, I see people play Legacy for fun all the time. This has to change if Modern is to survive.
While the talk of unbanning Jace, the Mind Sculptor is utter nonsense—the majority of Magic players hate sitting across from that card, and a $200 staple isn't what the format wants or needs—I do think R&D will take some action if things don't organically improve. The most radical solution would be finding a way to make Force of Will Modern legal, of course, but I expect a lesser card will be printed that might allow a fun non-Jund deck to do well.
My Best Calls of 2012
I went back through all of my old set reviews and a few other articles in which I made predictions in order to find out where I did well. My best calls were as follows:
- Buy Parallel Lives at $1.50 (Now $4)
- Buy Huntmaster of the Fells at $15/release price (Peaked at $40, now $25)
- Sell Sorin, Lord of Innistrad & Havengul Lich at release ($50 and $15 respectively)
- Buy Gravecrawler at $5 (Peaked at $12, now $10)
- Buy Hellrider at bulk (Now $12)
- Buy Geralf's Messenger at $2.50 (Peaked at $15, now $6)
- Sell Temporal Mastery at $40 (Now $6)
- Buy Entreat the Angels at $6 (Peaked at $40, now $20)
- Buy Bonfire of the Damned at $6 (Peaked at $50, now $25)
- Buy Sigarda, Host of Herons at $5 (Now $15)
- Buy Craterhoof Behemoth at $3 (Peaked at $15, now $13)
- Buy Silverblade Paladin at $2.50 (Now $12)
- Buy Terminus at $4 (Peaked at $12, now $10)
- Buy Restoration Angel at $5 (Now $18)
- Buy Thundermaw Hellkite at $20 (Now $40)
- Sell Ajani, Caller of the Pride at $40 (Now $15)
- Buy Thragtusk at $10 (Now $25)
- Buy Angel of Serenity at $8 (Peaked at $40, now $15)
It is impossible to get every prediction right. The future is forever out of focus, and the important thing when making a call is to develop a process that makes sense. If I think a card has an 80% chance of going up in price and it doesn't, that doesn't mean I was necessarily wrong—it might just mean that the 20% came to pass. Of course, if my predictions constantly miss, it probably means that my methodology is flawed.
2012 was my strongest year yet when it came to predicting card prices at release. I'm not going to grade myself for Return to Ravnica yet—the returns are too early right now—but overall I did a very good job predicting which cards in Dark Ascension, Avacyn Restored, and M13 would go up or down in price.
My Dark Ascension set review is actually the one I am the proudest of in three years of doing this. Of the three 'money' cards, I correctly called which two were massively overvalued and which was still primed for a breakout. I also pawed through the bulk rare section and called Hellrider as a card that was likely to triple in value at least. I had no idea it would ever be $10+, but I'm proud of being ahead of everyone on that pick.
Where I did quite poorly was in predicting exactly where prices would end up. I didn't give myself credit for good calls where I predicted a rise or decline of only a buck or two, but in general I was way too conservative with where I thought cards would end up. In general, good cards jumped higher and bad cards fell further than I expected across the board.
This was never truer than with Avacyn Restored. As with most spring sets, this expansion provided the best speculation opportunities and return on investment all season. Not only is this set opened far less than the other two, but its release coincides with the summer lull which can depress prices on all but the fastest of chase rares. This also tends to be true with Standard staples from the yearly base set.
Avacyn Restored singles are worth an absurd amount right now, and while I predicted some of them would be worth more than they were at the time, I had no idea they'd rise to high. I will take credit for nailing some of the better cards, though, and at multiple points last spring I called a blanket buy on all Avacyn Restored singles. If you did that, you're probably pretty happy right now.
I'm also happy with myself for nailing the shockland situation. I predicted a reprint in Return to Ravnica that would lead to $8-$10 non-blue shocks and $10-$13 blue shocks. This is pretty close to what actually happened. I also said that these cards would go back up to the $20-$30 range within a few years, so we'll see if that part of the prediction comes true as well.
As has been the case for every single planeswalker except Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and the original Lorwyn five, betting against planeswalkers at release has been the right decision. I will continue to do so going forward until they start pre-ordering at a sane price point.
My Worst Calls of 2012
- Buy Past in Flames at $8 (Now $2.50)
- Buy Grafdigger's Cage at $8 (Now $1.50)
- Buy Alchemist's Refuge at $3 (Now $1.50)
- Buy Desolate Lighthouse at $4 (Now $0.75)
- Buy Nivmagus Elemental at $2 (Now $1)
- Hold Sword of Feast and Famine at $25 (Now $13)
- Hold Vampire Nocturnus at $12 (Now $4)
Don't get me wrong, I made other bad calls as well, but most of those were simply mediocre—buying a $1 card that stayed at $1 forever or selling a little too soon on a Standard staple. In most cases, those plays shouldn't have hurt anyone too badly. The above cards are where you might have been torched by my predictions.
I still like Past in Flames long term, and there was about a week in there where you could have cashed out and made a profit. Grafdigger's Cage is inexcusable, though, and that is going down as one of my all-time worst financial calls.
My big Avacyn Restored miss was in overvaluing the utility lands. For whatever reason, this cycle from Innistrad block never took off in price despite seeing a ton of play. This happened to the Worldwake manlands as well, and I can't really explain why. Long term, I still expect these to creep back up into the $3-$4 range at least.
The Best and Worst Specs of 2012
A few weeks back, I asked my Twitter followers what their most profitable specs of 2012 were. Here are all of the cards that were mentioned at least once:
- Sphinx's Revelation
- Woodland Cemetery (and the other Innistrad duals)
- Thundermaw Hellkite
- Falkenrath Aristocrat
- Huntmaster of the Fells
- Underground Sea
- Entreat the Angels
- Helm of Obedience
- Land Tax
- Silverblade Paladin
- Bonfire of the Damned
- Zealous Conscripts
- Angel of Serenity
- Craterhoof Behemoth
- Mental Misstep (Magic Online only)
Far and away, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Thundermaw Hellkite made the finance community the most money in 2012. These mythics both had a good run where their price didn't equal their playability, and the market eventually caught up after enough people were able to buy in.
I also asked my followers about their worst spec of 2012. In no particular order:
- Collective Blessing
- Nivmagus Elemental
- Jace, Architect of Thought
- Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
- Laboratory Maniac
- Dream Halls
- Stromkirk Noble
- Pack Rat
- Abrupt Decay
- Misthollow Griffin
- Deadeye Navigator
- Mayor of Avabruck
Nivmagus Elemental was the number one answer by far. This was easily my biggest miss of 2012, as it was one of the few cards I went all-in on personally. In my mind, this was a case of the process being correct but the result not working out. The card was a perfect sleeper, and it would have dominated Modern in a field that wasn't overrun with Jund. Unfortunately, the deck got clobbered by its worst matchup in its first two televised games ever. While I wish I didn't own 100 copies of the card, the process that led me to it was sound. I still suspect it might have another shot to see some real play later down the line.
When comparing the two lists of cards, it certainly looks like it's much harder to make money on a sub-$2 card hitting than on a moderately popular card rising further in value. Most of the near-bulk specs failed to pay off at all. Instead, the cards that people made money on generally started in the $3-$7 range and went much higher.
The Best of 2012 in Media
Best TV Drama - Game of Thrones. I'm not caught up on Breaking Bad, so there's a chance I will be revising this call at some point in the future, but as of now Game of Thrones remains the only show on any network that is actually 'appointment TV' for me. I have a group of friends that meets every week to watch it as it airs. That's a rarity in 2012, and I can't wait to see what happens in Season 3. (Best episode? Blackwater.)
Best TV Comedy – Parks and Recreation. Louie may have had a greater influence on the sitcom as a genre, but Parks and Recreation is consistently the show I look forward to the most every week. I laugh out loud at every single episode—something I almost never do—and the show's humor varies between whip smart and silly fun. Unlike other sitcoms, which are either always trying to be subversive or always trying to play it safe, Parks and Rec simply tries to tell the best story they can each and every week. The cast is at the top of their game right now, and the world of Pawnee is warm and inviting while also being realistic and scathing. I don't know how they pull that tone off so well, but they do. (Best episode? The Debate.)
Best Animated Program – Archer. I'm pretty sick of spies to be honest. I liked the latest Bond film, but even that made me think about how long it's been since there has been a fresh and interesting spy story. Spy comedies are even worse, as the genre has been parodied roughly as many times as it has been done straight. Despite all of that, Archer is one of the four or five best shows on TV—period. The cast of voice actors, starting with first ballot Hall of Famer H. Jon Benjamin, is stacked. The show's creator writes most of the scripts, so the voice and tone is very consistent and there is rarely a bad episode. It is also likely the only show on TV that can reference classical literature in one scene and then have an off-color joke about an Ocelot in the next. (Best episode? The Limited.)
Best Novel – Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. A classic story seeped in 1980s pop culture set in an MMORPG in a dystopian future. As someone who is deeply in love with new wave music and old video gaming, this was easily the most fun read I've had in years.
Best Film – The Cabin in the Woods. Fair warning: I haven't seen Lincoln or Zero Dark Thirty yet, so take this vote with a grain of salt. I loved a lot of movies this year—from the tense-as-heck Argo to the whimsical Moonrise Kingdom—but none of them felt quite as groundbreaking to me as The Cabin in the Woods. Someone wrote that this film ended with Joss Whedon dropping the mic on horror as a genre, and to some extent I think that is true. Not only was this a ripping good slasher flick, but it will likely go down in history as the turning point for the entire genre.
Best Album – Bloom by Beach House. A week ago, I was ready to give this to Canadian indie group Stars' The North, but I kept looking for excuses not to. I loved The North, but I liked two of their other albums more, so it didn't feel right to me. 2012 is probably my favorite year for music in almost a decade, but shockingly no one album stood out to me—my 'best of' playlist is 70 tracks long, but I'd trade any one of those records for 2011's Bon Iver – Bon Iver. At any rate, after compiling my yearly playlist, I realized that four tracks from Bloom made it and no other record had more than two representatives. I suppose that makes it my album of the year by default.
Best Song – Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men. Ultimately, I am a creature of habit. My favorite song of 2010 was 'Home' by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, and this song is very similar in form and style. As I get older, I generally find myself gravitating more toward poppier music—I spend less time lying in my room listening to Pink Floyd and thinking about angsty teen things and more time driving around town getting stuff done. I still need my music to have depth and soul to it, though. That's why I love Of Monsters and Men—they're unapologetically a pop band, but they're a great one. (Honorable mention goes to Oblivion by Grimes.)
My Best Articles of 2012
Steal This Article – I did this article on theft at high-level events, and its message is just as relevant now as ever. Most interestingly, the article contains anonymous quotes from Magic thieves that I was able to interview in order to try to figure out how we can combat what they look for in a good target.
When The World Went Mad – This article took me four or five times longer to write than any I've ever done. It's very personal—my origin story, really—and it was fun to revisit the Beanie Baby phenomenon and the events that turned me into a Magic trader in the first place. This is also the only article of mine I've ever showed to my parents.
Chasing the Narrative – Occasionally, I go off on a tangent predicated by some philosophical idea that I made up in the shower. More often than not, the resulting article is kind of a mess. This one worked, though, and even though it's not entirely about Magic finance, I think the lessons in here are really solid.
Could the Magic Market Crash? - This article and the one that followed (World War M) were easily the two that garnered the best response of my StarCityGames.com tenure to date. This piece was heavily inspired by Nate Silver's outstanding nonfiction book, which I recommend to all of my readers who want to know more about how predictions actually work.
World War M – This is my favorite article I've ever done. Sometimes, fiction is the best way to get a point across. It can also be the most fun. This article might not have directly made anyone any money, but I feel like most people who read it didn't forget it anytime soon, either.
My Worst Articles of 2012
My Love Life And What It Means For Your Magic Collection – When I started at SCG, I deliberately avoided doing one of my more 'out there' articles for a couple of weeks. I wanted people to get to know me first before I drove them off a cliff, so to speak. I'd wanted to write an article linking my dating life to Magic for months before this and figured it would be a good topic to write my first esoteric article on. Unfortunately, it never came together. My links between women and Magic were tenuous at best, and even though some people liked this, the majority reaction was negative. When you play with high concepts, sometimes you will fail.
Ravnican Firsts – This is the other extreme. When I try to write a 'standard' Magic finance piece, sometimes the result is just kind of mediocre. In this case, the article was based on an incorrect piece of information—that Pro Tour Return to Ravnica would be Standard instead of Modern. My Standard calls in this are very mixed, too—I did well with some of the older cards, but missed badly on the Return to Ravnica staples.
Planning For Rotation – This 4,000-word article would have been way better if I had just left it at the following statement: "Sell every single Scars of Mirrodin block card you own right now. See you next week." Instead, I got mired in which cards you should hold and which near-bulk EDH cards were worth a pickup. None of that information ended up being all that helpful to anyone.
Overall, I think I've learned a lot about myself as a writer this year. My best articles tend to be those that take an abstract concept, explain it, and then firmly link it to Magic finance with as many details and applications as possible. Of course, those articles are the hardest to write and take the longest to pull off correctly.
Another thing I need to do more? Make concrete and specific predictions. People can't get enough of them. Heck, let's start now.
A Few Bold Calls for 2013
- Every shockland will be available for $10 or less retail at some point in 2013. Yes, even that one.
- Several of the shocklands will end 2013 at $20+ retail.
- M14 will contain a different cycle of rare lands.
- Revised Bayou will hit $150 on some retail sites.
- One of the gigantic 1960s/70s rock bands (Rolling Stones, The Who, etc.) that has been touring nonstop for 40+ years will finally hang up their guitars and retire.
- If you live in Silicon Valley and have a LOT of money, you will be able to buy one of the very first self-driving cars and drive it on normal streets and highways.
- CBS' summer series Under the Dome will be a surprise hit and a cult classic a la The Prisoner.
- The SyFy channel will, in fact, develop and air a new sci-fi show.
- Kitchen Finks will end 2013 as a $4 or less card after being reprinted in Modern Masters.
- Deathrite Shaman will end 2013 as a $20+ card and will continue to dominate Eternal formats.
- Scars of Mirrodin cards will rebound in price. Green Sun's Zenith and Inkmoth Nexus will be $10+ again.
- I will get very, very sick of the band Imagine Dragons and will forget ever kind of liking them.
- Star Trek: Into Darkness, Ender's Game, and Pacific Rim will all be very good.
- The Great Gatsby, World War Z, Iron Man III, and Thor II will all disappoint.
- The Desolation of Smaug will be considered the best of the three 'Hobbit' films by a wide margin.
- Black Vise, and/or Mind Twist will be unbanned in Legacy.
- There will be no bannings in Standard despite the best deck being U/W for the Nth year in a row.
- Boxes of Modern Masters will sell for twice retail. People will be angry.
- Boy bands will make a weird, unexplained, and generally hated comeback.
- A new casual format will be introduced and people will speculate if it will supplant Cube or Commander. It won't.
- Commander fatigue will start to set in a little. Casual prices will end 2013 slightly lower than they are now.
- 2013 will be the warmest year on record. (This is a freebie.)
- New England will beat San Francisco in the 2013 Super Bowl. Miami will take down the 2013 NBA title. Washington will win the World Series after taking LA to seven games in the divisional round.
- Several old and obscure cards will double or triple in price thanks to an increased number of speculators and/or stores attempting to corner the market.
- By the end of the year, you will be kicking yourself for not buying more Dragon's Maze singles over the summer.
- The next From the Vault set will be 'From the Vault: Enchantments.'
- They will print a judge foil that will shatter all current records. I'm guessing Imperial Seal, Imperial Recruiter, or Force of Will.
- Angel of Serenity will retail for $35 next December.
- Thundermaw Hellkite will be reprinted in M14. Sublime Archangel and Thragtusk won't be.
- The launch of the new client, increased digital Force of Will availability, and the allure of online power will make 2013 "The Year of Magic Online."
- An American will win Player of the Year. (USA! USA!)
- The world will not end in 2013, either.
See you next year!