The Anatomy of the Second Spike

Feature Article from DJ Johnson
DJ Johnson
10/24/2017 11:00:00 AM
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Hi there! Welcome to your own personal financial guidebook to Magic cards. This is an audiobook narrated by your own internal perceptions of what I might sound like in real life. In the last chapter, I talked about what to do with the leftover bulk commons and uncommons you might have accumulating in your living space after you went and picked all of the good stuff out. If you have a stockpile of cards by the thousands that you're not using and you want to get value out of them, I recommend giving those blue letters a click. This Tuesday's pile o' words is going to be more focused on individual card trends instead of overarching organization and selling strategies, so grab the popcorn; we're going to be looking at some graphs produced by our friends at MTGstocks.

The idea for this article came up when I was vending our local Friday Night Magic event, and I was discussing the $5 price tag that Authority of the Consuls had risen to since the release of Ixalan. It was a near-bulk rare immediately after release that had a rush of demand from the appearance of the Saheeli Rai plus Felidar Guardian combo, but eventually proved to not be an effective answer at stopping the need for a ban. As such, the card faded back into the dollar bin until the resurgence of Ramunap Red pushed the card from "niche sideboard card nobody plays" to "We desperately need this in our 75 to actually have a chance versus Hazoret the Fervent."

In fewer words, we're going to talk about second spikes: when a card has multiple increases of demand over the course of a short period of time.

Mid
Low
 Authority of the Consuls
$4.09
$1.85
Store QTY Price  
Wyvern 1 $1.85
King Without Castle 1 $1.98
Nebulous Gaming 1 $1.99
Western Ohio Gaming 1 $1.99
Rex Yofays Deals 1 $1.99
Riktor MTG Sales 1 $2.00
Brooklyn MTG 1 $2.00

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Magic MTG Card Authority of the Consuls Magic MTG Card
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Another example of a second spike that happened recently is Captain Sisay. She sat at $5 for *years* until we got some unfortunate leaks that spoiled an entire rare sheet of Ixalan early. There were some number of pixels in a grainy photograph that suggested planeswalkers had a shot at becoming legendary permanents, and that was enough to trigger a huge increase in buying behavior, leaving her at around $18 for the next several months before she tapered off to $14. Then another announcement happened; those leaks were confirmed as real, and Sisay shot up to $35 as everyone rushed to complete a green-white Sisay planeswalker deck that I don't think anyone ever actually built. Currently she sits at around $27, so I don't think she's quite done falling yet. There was a lot of hype that didn't really pan out, but she's still a really low supply card compared to modern day releases.

Mid
Low
 Captain Sisay
$26.37
$9.79
Store QTY Price  
Asylum Gaming 1 $15.01
Gamers Vault 8 $17.98
MTG Rares 9 $17.98
Stay Gold MTG 1 $18.00
Card Monster Games 2 $18.00
Alternate Universes 1 $18.00
Games and Stuff 1 $18.00

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Magic MTG Card Captain Sisay Magic MTG Card
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There's a point to all of this, I swear. So how does a second differ from the first price spike? I'm glad you asked. Let's use Authority of the Consuls and its lackluster appearance upon release as an example. A month or two after release, that card went straight into the bulk bins of players and vendors around the world. It rotted away in binders like a Vizzerdrix, and it was hard to even find vendors paying up to 25 cents for the card. Then comes the Saheeli combo in Aether Revolt, and suddenly Authority of the Consuls is a hot topic. It bears repeating that the card didn't actually stop the Copy Cat deck very effectively, but that didn't stop players from picking up their set just in case. Players (including myself) went digging through their bulk boxes and selling their copies for $2-3 apiece, and life was great. Effectively, most of the Authorities that had been opened in the initial waves and hype of Kaladesh got soaked back up into the hands of vendors or players, but the use of them ended up being very limited.

If you look at the graph of Authority on MTGstocks, you can see the relatively quick decline of its price after spiking to $4 post-Aether Revolt. One of those reasons was the evolution of the Copy Cat deck and that it eventually broke through to not care about the white sideboard card. The other important factor is that people were digging these out of their bulk boxes, binders and draft chaff while Kaladesh was still being opened alongside Aether Revolt. There was a faster price drop on the card during the first spike because players were unaware that a previous bulk rare had jumped to sellable levels. When the second spike comes along, many of those copies that were previously sitting in bulk boxes and binders have been since sold to stores and are concentrated in the inventory of shops. When the increased demand comes along again (this time to stop Hazoret the Fervent, Earthshaker Khenra and friends), there are fewer copies being immediately put on the market, making the price fall slower. If you were wondering why Authority hasn't started to creep downward yet, this "second spike" phenomenon is one of the factors.


Is it the only factor in the case of Authority? Probably not. The card has a few other things going for it; one of which is that it's not being opened anymore. Kaladesh is over a year old at this point, and we consistently see the oldest sets in Standard have some of the highest premiums because no one's drafting or redeeming Kaladesh block product anymore.

Let's use another example that doesn't involve Standard cards; Does anyone else remember The Locust God being the new hotness for Commander players in Hour of Devastation? While The Scarab God made some Zombies creep up (Grave Titan and Ghoulcaller Gisa are probably more expensive than you remember them being), The Locust God ended up making a bunch of Wheel of Fortune effects see increased demand.

Mid
Low
 The Locust God
$6.99
$4.00
Store QTY Price  
On The Square 1 $4.00
AntTree Studio 2 $4.29
Tophat Cards 1 $4.37
OmahaMTG321 2 $4.45
Allyourmtgneeds 1 $4.72
Monkey 1 $4.80
The Game Cave 1 $4.89

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Magic MTG Card The Locust God Magic MTG Card
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While some of these price increases were specifically tailored to the swarmlord itself ( Mindmoil; Arjun, the Shifting Flame; and Coastal Piracy come to mind), there was a second subgroup of cards whose demand had already peaked once before; Nekusar, the Mindrazer was the original "drawing cards equals tons of damage" Commander, and he paired really well with wheel effects like Teferi's Puzzle Box. The Puzzle Box saw its initial spike when a large mass of players decided to build Nekusar (and we saw similar spikes in Forced Fruition and Wheel of Fortune around the Born of the Gods release), but got another 20% bump recently around Hour of Devastation thanks to The Locust God. While the spikes are further apart than Authority, the same concept can be applied: Nekusar put Puzzle Box on everyone's radar when it started showing up on the Interests page on MTGstocks, so there were significantly fewer copies in the bulk bins when it came time for The Locust God to create increased demand.

So how does this information help you as a player? Predicting second spikes can be tough, especially if you don't have your finger on the pulse of every single format. Sometimes the spikes can be years apart, and happen for a multitude of reasons. Mana Echoes is another example of a card that came out of the dollar bins in early 2014, stayed on the radar for three years, but the really hard spike came about as a combination factor between the Commander 2017 decks and our old pal, The Locust God—seriously, generating mana for drawing cards is quite good. One of the most helpful takeaways from the existence of second spikes and how they impact the market is timing your own personal sales and making sure you don't lose out on potential gains.

Sunbird's Invocation could be a poster child for this effect potentially happening in the future. Invocation was a card initially written off by many on the set's release (including myself), but it's really surprisingly powerful in Commander. As players snag their foils for existing decks, the available copies on TCGplayer begin to vanish. As of the time I'm writing this article, non-foils are $1 and the foils can be had for $15. That's certainly quite a foil multiplier, but it's still lower than the $20 they were a few days ago when there were practically none on the market. Because Ixalan is still being opened and foil copies are being cracked, the price will continue to creep downwards as players open up Seller accounts and put them up for sale, eager to cash out on their copies.

Mid
Low
 Sunbird's Invocation
$1.00
$0.45
Store QTY Price  
Erics Card Shop 4 $0.45
Western Ohio Gaming 1 $0.49
Balasam Trading 1 $0.49
Windy City Seller 1 $0.50
Frontline Games 4 $0.51
The Spellbinder 1 $0.60
Tsunami Games 2 $0.60

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Magic MTG Card Sunbird's Invocation Magic MTG Card
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If Invocation ends up seeing even more play than it is now down the road after Ixalan is old news, we could see the prices begin to correct harder. The foils will have already been dug out of the woodwork, so to speak. That's not to say that you should be buying foil copies and hoping for that event, because you should absolutely be selling if you don't intend on playing with your post-spike card. I'm just mentioning that the card will reach a low point once that price falls, and it'll be your opportunity to get in cheaper and have your patience rewarded.

End Step

We've reached the end of the article, but I want to jam in one more example to demonstrate the second spike effect. Phyrexian Unlife used to be a bulk rare as well, with no reason to ever be more than a quarter or so. When Ad Nauseam reared its head as a viable combo option in Modern, the card quickly jumped to $3 and a rapid fall started. As you can see by the MTGstocks graph it finished flattening out at $1 almost a year later, forgotten by all but the dedicated Ad Nauseam players. After Oath of the Gatewatch, the deck saw another resurgence as a budget alternative to some of the more powerful and expensive options in Modern so we saw an echo of that first spike, staying much harder this time at the $3 price line.

Right now, we're in the middle of a Phyrexian Unlife freefall as the hype from Solemnity dies down and players realize that the Unlife + Solemnity combo isn't as game-breaking as it may have appeared upon release. If Unlife hits another floor without a reprint, we could see another opportunity to get in for a low cost, although I highly doubt the card will ever be just thirty-three cents again. Thanks for reading!

DJ Johnson

@Rose0fthorns




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