Most of the time I write my articles with a coherent vision in mind. I'll come up with an idea about Magic finance do some research and find a personal story or extended metaphor that I can use as a framing device. On good weeks the end result is a philosophical amalgam of Magic and life that is memorable beyond the standard 'buy low sell high' boilerplate. On bad weeks it's an entire article about how a Standard Pro Tour is going to affect prices only the Pro Tour is Modern instead.
Not all important topics in Magic finance lend themselves to this sort of style though. I'm often asked to address questions that won't fill an entire article or don't lend themselves to extended analysis. This week I'll be tackling some of these 'quick hit' topics. If my normal column is like a scripted television show consider this the 11:00 news. Brief analysis top stories and a little bit of fun as well.
Don't touch that dial! We'll be right back.
Wizards has gone to great lengths to assure everyone that this will be a very limited product. I see no reason not to trust them on this. In fact I bet it'll be even more limited than most people realize and will sell out very quickly. I will be preordering at least one box at MSRP for myself so that I can guarantee opening at least a couple of packs.
Chronicles was easily one of the worst mistakes Wizards made and it cost them a lot of customers. They won't make that mistake again. Underprinting this set would cause some people online to grumble but wouldn't hurt their bottom line. Overprinting would destroy market confidence and would be a major PR nightmare. Which side of the equation do you think they're going to err on?
The increased price point of the packs is significant as well. Don't underestimate this when calculating what it will do to card values. All prices are based somewhat on acquisition cost and it will be double for this set.
It's also crucial to remember that not every card in these packs will be Tarmogoyf level. That card is already 100% guaranteed to be the best possible open. I would imagine that there will be some $2-$3 rares in the packs as well€”probably a significant number of them€”in order to balance out the set from a value standpoint.
That said I still expect the overall secondary market average value of these packs (based on current singles prices) to be more than the sealed MSRP. This will insure that people snap these up immediately. More people will complain about not being able to buy the product on release day than about the cards they already own going down in value.
I do expect this product to increase interest in Modern as a format. At some point it will surpass Legacy as the Eternal format of choice primarily due to card availability concerns. This is a step toward making that happen and I would guess that the release of this product will result in an increase in Modern tournaments on the LGS level. The only thing holding Modern back right now is that a lot of players dislike the current metagame. That will change and evolve over time.
The play I will make is to target high-end Modern staples€”Thoughtseize-level cards€”if they take a tumble after being spoiled in Modern Masters or right before the set is due to drop. I don't expect these cards will go down in value much at all but they'll certainly be easier to acquire in trade because people will be worried about them tanking due to the reprinting. They'll likely go back up again€”possibly even higher than before€”once the community realizes that the supply isn't going to increase as much as they had thought.
We live in a world where a mythic rare in a current set can be worth $50 over a period of several months. A mythic in a $7 short-printed pack can easily sustain a $100 retail price tag. Tarmogoyf's value is in no real trouble.
While I don't expect Modern Masters to hurt the price of high-end Modern staples there are three kinds of cards that will be hurt:
- Casual/low end rares that are coasting at high values based on availability reasons alone. These cards will drop in price similar to how Grim Lavamancer and Nantuko Shade tanked once they were spoiled as reprints. Keep an eye on things like Rhys the Redeemed Sliver Legion etc.
- Uncommons and Commons. Remand is $6. Kitchen Finks is $8. Some of these prices will drop significantly when these packs are opened. I fully expect Manamorphose to see print in this set for example and its price will drop lower than the $3 it's currently worth.
- Foils. These won't drop too much because most cube builders like original foils anyway but they will go down in price somewhat. Having a foil in every pack will increase the print run on these.
Otherwise I wouldn't worry too much about Modern Masters. We still have a full Modern season between now and then so if you're worried about the price of your collection you'll have ample time to get full value before June.
Last week Wizards announced (and by 'announced' I mean 'buried in a forum post') that they would no longer be releasing the vast majority of decklists from Magic Online events. A lot of virtual ink has been spilled on this one already mostly from deckbuilders who relied on this information to disseminate their work.
I personally think this is a bad move. Information wants to be free especially digital information. People will likely find alternative methods to mine this data anyway only it will be far more of a headache now. Even if no one does it publically you can bet that several pro teams certainly will putting them even further ahead.
This speaks to a bigger issue though. Wizards is quietly acknowledging that some of their formats€”especially Standard€”are growing too stale too quickly. Their hope it would seem is to stop people from 'solving' the format quite so quickly by curbing a massive amount of public information.
Even if this information doesn't find another way out I doubt this change in policy will help innovation. People generally copy what they see at the large events and there is still a GP and/or a SCG Open Series every single week of the year. If anything lack of hard data will discourage people from taking brews to the major events and the metagame will get even more stagnant.
From a financial point of view losing this crucial information source will cut into my ability to give you unheralded Standard pickups. Generally my best picks come from mining winning Magic Online decklists and looking for hidden gems. Because of this data from the SCG Open Series and Grand Prix will be that much more important and I will have to stand a little more heavily on it.
It won't be certain if this change will affect much until two or three set releases from now when we can see if formats take significantly slower to develop. If they do it's a good thing€”more brewing means more reasonable and spread out card prices. If not then the only thing that will change is that information will be a harder thing to come by.
The Ten Worst Pieces of Flavor and Flavor Text in Return to Ravnica
The superlative flavor of Ravnica is one of the things that allows it to endure. The idea of a plane-wide city filled with warring guilds is awesome and people love to identify with different cards and philosophies.
Unfortunately even with Mark Rosewater's new top down design some lame and terrible flavor text (and overall flavor) still makes it to print. It's far better than it used to be but it's still probably the part of Magic that the least amount of care is put into. Here are some of Ravnica's biggest flavor fails:
Honorable Mentions: Sunspire Griffin & Skyline Predator
It sounds like Katniss Everdeen would last about ten seconds on Ravnica. Seriously€”we need TWO different cards telling us not to shoot arrows at stuff? That seems like overkill.
10) Palisade Giant
I have nothing against the actual flavor text of this creature but I do object to the fact that I received it as my rare in the Azorius faction pack at the Prerelease. If the Giant has no guild affiliation it shouldn't have been in that pack.
This one isn't offensively bad but it does win my 'mail it in' award. The flavor text is not attributed to anyone and it could literally be printed on every burn spell ever made. Why even put it here? What does it add to the card? At least the flavor text on Vandalblast ("Beauty is in the eye of the exploder.") made me chuckle.
Really? Not a SINGLE insect? Not one? I'm a 1/1 at best and I accidentally kill like a dozen bugs a day at least. This dude's an 8/8. Give me a break Selesnya. I know you like nature but this is going too far.
7) Axebane Stag
Again there's nothing wrong with the text on this card€but really? This Stag is a freaking 6/7? Is he made of adamantium or something? This guy can win a fight with the following guys:
- Rakdos Lord of Riots
- Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius
- Isperia Supreme Judge
- Jarad Golgari Lich Lord (most of the time)
- Trostani Selesnya's Voice
- Most of their creatures
I get that this is a better than the average Stag but it should not beat EVERY SINGLE GUILD LEADER in a straight up fight.
My only objection here is the phrase 'over thirty.' Specificity is usually a good thing in flavor text but it's very odd here and just serves to raise more questions. How many campaigns did the General lead when he was alive? What percentage of his soldiers came back as ghosts? Is 'over thirty' a good return? In any case who on earth has the qualifications to know which campaign each of his soldiers fought in in order to come up with an accurate count? And if they're so good at counting why not give a precise number instead of just stopping at thirty and saying 'Meh good enough.'? Who gets all the way to thirty here without continuing on?
From weirdly specific to absurdly vague. This card says nothing about anything.
4) Aquus Steed
I suppose this bit of flavor text is fine in a vacuum but it has nothing to do with the mechanics of the card. The line about it being graceful in water implies that you could use it to improve the stats of one of your own creatures but that's not an available game play choice. Instead all you can do is use the card to lower the power of something. What's the flavor behind that exactly? Do you give your opponents a horse to ride and laugh at them when it keeps bucking them around? And don't you think they'd eventually ya know NOT get on the crappy horse?
This one gets a fail for metaverse reasons. If a kick from a Concordia Pegasus' hooves were really like a bolt of lightning the card would have three power€”the same amount of damage dealt by Lightning Bolt. It's more accurate to say that the kick from a Concordia Pegasus' hooves is like a zap.
I feel like I'm missing something here. My initial thought was that the sweet hearts were some sort of play on Valentine's Day candy but I couldn't figure out what nightmare horses had to do with Valentine's Day. I guess it's a play on carnival food that people would eat at a country fair only this thing eats organs instead? Even still that doesn't tell me anything additional about this Horse specifically or the Rakdos in general.
I'm willing to give Dead Reveler a pass on "He's the unlife of the party" even though 'unlife' isn't actually a word. The pun conveys that the card is a Zombie who likes to party which fits in with the Cult of Rakdos. This card though is like ten bridges too far. It makes about as much sense as one of those Popsicle stick jokes. I guess it's a play on the fact that this guy is kind of like an usher except he kills you? Except that death row is not a concept that the Rakdos would even understand? I don't know€”trying to figure this one out makes my head hurt.
Last week there was a minor freak out on Twitter when StarCityGames.com raised the prices on their blue Zendikar fetchlands€”Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn€”from $20 to $35. There was some speculation that this was due to a pending switch from Legacy to Modern on the SCG Open Series but Ben Bleiweiss put that thought to bed fairly quickly.
First let me state very clearly that I have nothing to do with SCG prices or acquisitions. Ben doesn't discuss his moves with me and I don't discuss my writing with him. (Though I wouldn't mind grabbing drinks with the guy next time he's in LA€”I admire his work a lot.) I'm not told to promote certain cards I'm not paid based on commission and I have no inside knowledge about SCG at all. I'm in the same basic position I always was in regards to these moves€”on the outside trying to make sense of things.
In my mind SCG has been the driving force in card prices for quite a while now. Because of the Open Series they appear to have more clout than all of the other large retailers combined. There is also a certain amount of follow-the-leader that happens in the world of high-end Magic retail. If the top shop is going to buy up a card at $20 and up the sell to $35 it makes good business sense for the others to follow along as long as customers are still willing to pay the increased price. If you are a smaller dealer why would you sell an asset for $20 when you could just as easily get almost twice that?
Obviously making a move like this requires a significant amount of demand. SCG couldn't price a card like Martial Law at $30€”other retailers would just keep undercutting them until the price settled back where it should. Moves like this only work on cards that are out of print or very scarce and have a massive amount of organic demand.
Because SCG tends to set the market they will make interesting and aggressive moves from time to time. Their most famous was in March of 2011 when they began buying most Legacy staples for what they had been selling at the day before and the prices of those cards doubled overnight. For months Legacy cards were doing nutty things price wise and very few people wanted to trade them at all. People accused SCG of market manipulation and causing a 'Legacy bubble' that would surely pop and cost people a lot of money.
Over a year later let's take a look at what actually happened to the prices of some of these cards courtesy of the Black Lotus Project.
And a card that was left relatively alone Polluted Delta:
In all four cases the prices of these cards were trending upwards fairly rapidly already. In the cases of the three cards that SCG aggressively raised their prices on there was significant reason to believe that the 'new' value was where the price of the card was already heading on its own. SCG didn't pull the new prices out of thin air€”they simply wanted to push the issue so they didn't have to keep selling Legacy staples at prices that they knew would just keep rising.
In the case of Wasteland it appears they were a little overzealous. The current price still hasn't quite caught up with the 'bubble' high but it's heading that way. Sensei's Divining Top has finally caught up. Tropical Island just kept growing. Polluted Delta reached its current value through more 'natural' means but that didn't stop it from becoming an expensive card. SCG may have sped things along but these were prices that were going to happen anyway.
At any rate here's Misty Rainforest:
That little near-vertical line you see on the far right is the post-bump price. Again even though SCG seems to have pushed things along the price was heading there all on its own. My guess is that Ben (or someone) got tired of selling these cards at $20 when they were positive that the price would be $35 within a year or two. Just like before it seems they decided to force the issue instead of waiting for the market to set itself. I found it interesting that many of the people howling about this move online were the same ones advocating a strong 'buy' on these cards for the past few months.
What will happen with these cards? In the short term it's unclear. Wasteland Top and Delta were all from much older sets that had been massively short printed compared to the current player base. Even though Wasteland was an uncommon Tempest was such a big set that it would be close to a mythic rare-level open in a current expansion. Misty Rainforest was printed as a regular rare in one of the most popular sets of all time one that was fairly recent and it's not legal to play in Standard the most popular format. In my mind $35 is a lot to ask for that card right now.
I expect Misty Rainforest to experience a similar 'bubble' to those earlier Legacy staples. It will be a $35 card eventually but I don't think that day is today. I expect it to slip back down into the $28-$30 retail range€”still a nice price increase mind you€”for the next year or so at least.
It seems pretty clear that one reason for raising the price is that Modern Masters will not feature the fetchlands or anything else from Zendikar block. These fetches are the bedrock of all the Modern mana bases and if the format takes off the fetchlands will as well. This is sound logic but it still feels like too much too soon.
Everyone except for Luis Scott-Vargas and Conley Woods needs to get better at making Draft videos.
Magic writing has evolved in leaps and bounds since the early days of the internet. Ten years ago 90% of the content on every Magic website was the same dull tournament report repeated over and over again. I'm pretty sure there were writers back then who just had a tournament report generator and made a career out of randomizing different tournament report related words in different orders every single week. Today dozens of talented writers and editors strive to bring content that is not only relevant but entertaining as well.
The word 'entertaining' is one that needs to be applied to far more Draft videos. For whatever reason though most people just haven't evolved past the 'wow I can do this on video now!' thrill that came when they first became a thing. The time to change that is now.
First of all people who aren't top-level drafters shouldn't be doing these unless they've got a fun gimmick to fall back on. I've been 3-0ing my FNM drafts more often than not recently but I don't put out video content because I'm not at that professional level yet. I'm all for 'gimmick' drafters€”the team at Draft Beer combine drinking with their playing so the games get more funny as they go€”but if I'm going to watch you draft you should know the format well (or be very good at figuring out formats) and understand how to play at a PTQ top tables level or higher.
Second and perhaps most importantly drafters need to start realizing that their audience is generally made up of people who draft a lot already. This means that you don't need to spend forever and a day explaining every obvious pick in every single pack. If you're drafting a Rakdos deck and there's an Augur Spree you don't need to spend 45 seconds explaining why that's the pick over a Grim Roustabout. You only need to slow down and explain things when the pick is tricky or you take a less obvious card for curve considerations.
USE THE PAUSE BUTTON. Use it A LOT. Just because the draft takes half an hour to complete in real life doesn't mean it should take that long for us to watch. In the early parts of the draft think about your pick and what you're going to say unpause the video make your pick then pause it again. I realize that it's harder to do this than to just ramble on for a million hours but trust me your viewership will increase tenfold.
The length of just the draft portion of the video on most of the major sites is eighteen to twenty minutes long. On smaller sites and YouTube it's even longer. LSV's are consistently eleven to twelve minutes. That's like night and day when it comes to actually watching these videos. When you expedite deck building and the games as well it's possible to cut out up to an hour of dead air and/or boring rambling out of a Draft video.
It is also important for people making Draft videos to attempt something a little bit 'sweet' or unorthodox every third video or so. Again most of us are fully aware of how the linear decks play out especially later in a format. We're watching to be entertained and to get new information. The best way to do that is to test the limits of the format and see what can be successfully attempted. If you don't have a bit of a brewmaster's streak in you Draft videos probably aren't worth your time.
Another important thing that is often overlooked especially by site administrators is that Draft formats aren't stagnant. They evolve over time as pick orders change and archetypes move in and out of favor. Editors should not have their talent record six or seven videos during the first week of the format's legality and roll them out onto the site over the next few months. Watching those old videos and wincing at mixed picks is even worse than being told Standard content from last season is still relevant.
Just as Magic writing evolved from tournament reports and decklists into what we have now video content needs to evolve as well. Things need to be streamlined and the entertainment factor needs to be taken into account. I know people are all about streaming these days but I think a lot of that is because we've seen so few well-edited videos. I strongly believe that any site making a dedicated push toward improving their video content will be well positioned going forward.
From The Vault: Money
Commander's Arsenal: the latest in the line of Premium Helvault Memorial Availability Outrages.
I joked on Twitter a couple weeks ago that this would be my Commander's Arsenal review in full: "You aren't getting a Commander's Arsenal." It's a little glib sure but it reflects the reality of the situation for most of us. The fact that stores are only getting between two and four of these means that this is the most limited promotional product in quite a while. Only the Holiday cards are rarer in terms of modern allotment I believe though I don't know how many Judge foils they make.
I agree with the consensus opinion that Wizards shouldn't have made this as short printed as they did and Mark Rosewater said on his Tumblr that he agrees as well. I expect this is the last product we'll see for a while that's quite so limited an edition.
As of now SCG has their buylist up but not their sales prices. Assuming they're going to ask roughly double for the cards the retail value for this set will be around $300. If you can pick it up in the $200 range you're doing well for yourself.
Chaos Warp Edric Spymaster of Trest Maelstrom Wanderer Scroll Rack Desertion and Sylvan Library are all cube cards being printed in foil for the first time. These cards will hold steady or go up in price based on that so feel free to trade for them now if you need them.
Kaalia Mimeoplasm and Diochan are great Commanders seeing a foil printing for the first time as well. These probably have the most chance to rise in value and seem to be starting fairly low. SCG is buying Mimeoplasms at $1 and they're probably a pickup at anything less than $5.
Command Tower Duplicant Decree of Pain Rhystic Study Mind's Eye and Mirari's Wake have already seen foil printings. These cards probably won't go up much and the original version will still be preferred by the vast majority of players.
Overall I like this set for long-term value. The content is great and it's as rare as a modern Magic product is going to get. If you can pick one up for less than retail you should.
Magic and Murder
I'd like to finish this week with a sobering story. Over the summer a Magic player and collector€”one of us€”was brutally beaten and murdered by two other players. According to the ongoing investigation the murder was at least in part motivated by the robbery of a $25000€“$100000 Magic collection. You can read the article here.
Folks be careful out there. I know a lot of my readers have top-notch Magic collections perhaps assembled in part due to advice I've handed out in this space. I would hate to have anyone get hurt or killed over something so trivial.
If you have an expensive collection try not to flaunt it. Keep your pricier cards out of sight and don't talk it up at FNM or among people you don't know. Make sure your house or apartment is properly secured. If you're robbed don't risk your neck to save your collection. You can always get more Magic cards but you only get one life.
Until next time€“