You Lika The Juice? - Mythics & the Cost of Playing
Amid all the excitement that each new set brings over the past year or so there’s also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that I’m constantly hearing from everyday Magic players and I’m feeling it myself. It ranges from resignation to distress and even anger and resentment. Yes in the macro sense Magic’s doing like gangbusters right now but there is a not-insignificant concern. As a long-term fan of Magic I’m a little worried about Mythic Rares and their impact on the cost of playing.
Wizards announced some big changes when Shards of Alara came out that were going to have an impact on the cost of playing Magic. Shards would mark a dramatic decrease in the size of expansion sets going forward which should make it easier to collect the cards you need. For those who crack open booster boxes looking to round out their competitive card pool you’d have a higher chance of getting more copies of the cards you need. The exception being of course the other big change announced: the introduction of the Mythic rarity. Mythic rares replace a booster pack's rare card in 1 out of 8 packs and Wizards was well aware of concerns that players would have over the cost of Mythics if they turned into tournament chase cards. In The Year of Living Changerously Mark Rosewater sought to soothe those fears in June of 2008 well ahead of Shards’ release:
“How are cards split between rare and mythic rare? Or more to the point what kind of cards are going to become mythic rares? We want the flavor of mythic rare to be something that feels very special and unique. Generally speaking we expect that to mean cards like Planeswalkers most legends and epic-feeling creatures and spells. They will not just be a list of each set's most powerful tournament-level cards.
“We've also decided that there are certain things we specifically do not want to be mythic rares. The largest category is utility cards what I'll define as cards that fill a universal function. Some examples of this category would be cycles of dual lands and cards like Mutavault or Char. That also addresses a long-standing issue that some players have had with certain rares like dual lands. Because we're making fewer cards per set in the new world individual rares will be easier to acquire because each rare in a large set now appears 25% more often.”
I think a lot of people – myself included – interpreted this as “generally speaking tournament-staple 4-ofs won’t be mythic.” At the time a staple card in the format the very example of utility was a hot rare nicknamed “Cash-seize” that everyone needed four copies of across multiple formats. If a rare staple could hit those costs what would it do at rare? Rosewater’s words were designed to allay those fears and it worked. People were relieved and when Shards of Alara came out we caught a first glimpse of what we could expect from Mythics.
Shards of Alara
Elspeth Knight-Errant - $44.99 - Planeswalker – Elspeth
Tezzeret the Seeker - $14.99 - Planeswalker - Tezzeret
Sarkhan Vol - $12.49 - Planeswalker - Sarkhan
Ajani Vengeant - $11.99 - Planeswalker - Ajani
Rafiq of the Many - $7.99 - Legendary Creature
Empyrial Archangel - $3.99 - Creature
Hellkite Overlord - $3.99 - Creature
Sharuum the Hegemon - $2.99 - Legendary Artifact Creature
Godsire - $2.49 - Creature
Lich's Mirror - $2.49 - Artifact
Kresh the Bloodbraided - $1.49 - Legendary Creature
Mayael the Anima - $1.49 - Legendary Creature
Prince of Thralls - $1.49 - Creature
Sedris the Traitor King - $1.49 - Legendary Creature
Sphinx Sovereign - $1.49 - Artifact Creature
So… planeswalkers legends and epic-feeling creatures and spells - spot on! Right out the gate the mythic Planeswalkers were hot in demand and expensive. We really couldn’t begrudge WotC for that though - Planeswalker should be badass powerful cards everyone wants to play with. However the fact that they’re effectively legendary meant that you wouldn’t necessarily want or need to have four copies in your deck. Ajani Vengeant saw a lot of use right off the bat but being the prerelease foil kept his price relatively low compared to the similarly sought-after Elspeth. At the time Elspeth was pricey but not so much that it felt near impossible for mere mortals to buy; Elspeth also wasn’t so powerful that you felt compelled to play the card if you were playing White in your deck. In other words if you were fortunate enough to open Elspeth or had the jack to buy the card you played it; if you weren’t or didn’t no big deal.
Progenitus - $13.99 - Legendary Creature
Nicol Bolas Planeswalker - $9.99 - Planeswalker - Bolas
Thornling - $4.99 - Creature
Maelstrom Archangel - $2.99 - Creature
Apocalypse Hydra - $1.99 - Creature
Conflux - $1.99 - Sorcery
Ethersworn Adjudicator - $1.99 - Artifact Creature
Mirror-Sigil Sergeant - $1.99 - Creature
Child of Alara - $1.49 - Legendary Creature
Malfegor - $1.49 - Legendary Creature
So… planeswalkers legends and epic-feeling creatures and spells… mostly. Progenitus and Nicol Bolas Planeswalkers definitely fit the bill!! Ethersworn Adjudicator had the feel of a staple card if the right deck came along for it (which never happened) and Mirror-Sigil Sergeant was just a fun and goofy card. Thornling was mostly dismissed until it was discovered to be a potent anti-Jund weapon but I don’t think anyone really argued against it being Mythic.
Sphinx of the Steel Wind - $9.99 - Artifact Creature
Jenara Asura of War - $3.99 - Legendary Creature
Dragon Broodmother - $2.99 - Creature
Karrthus Tyrant of Jund - $2.99 - Legendary Creature
Lord of Extinction - $2.99 - Creature
Sen Triplets - $2.49 - Legendary Artifact Creature
Thraximundar - $2.49 - Legendary Creature
Uril the Miststalker - $2.49 - Legendary Creature
Defiler of Souls - $1.49 - Creature
Maelstrom Nexus - $1.49 - Enchantment
No Planeswalkers in Alara Reborn but the creature and spell mix certainly fit the criteria.
Baneslayer Angel - $54.99 - Creature
Vampire Nocturnus - $24.99 - Creature
Master of the Wild Hunt - $11.99 - Creature
Garruk Wildspeaker - $9.99 - Planeswalker
Jace Beleren - $9.99 - Planeswalker
Time Warp - $6.99 - Sorcery
Ajani Goldmane - $5.99 - Planeswalker
Liliana Vess - $4.99 - Planeswalker
Chandra Nalaar - $3.99 - Planeswalker
Darksteel Colossus - $3.99 - Artifact Creature
Bogardan Hellkite - $2.99 - Creature
Platinum Angel - $2.49 - Artifact Creature
Protean Hydra - $2.49 - Creature
Xathrid Demon - $1.99 - Creature
Sphinx Ambassador - $1.49 - Creature
Planeswalkers yes—no legends but the creatures and spells mostly had an epic feel to them.
I remember when I first read the spoiler for M10 my eyes bugged out when I saw Master of the Wild Hunt—this was reusable creature control in Green! I was a bit worried about it being mythic since I was certain demand would be nuts but for whatever reason most of the Magic universe just shrugged its shoulders and I was able to pick them up pretty cheaply.
Baneslayer Angel was another story altogether. Everyone in the Magic universe realized pretty quickly that this card was simply insanely powerful and its potency wasn’t even held in check by a legendary status. Seriously why wasn’t this a legend? As I stared at this card I felt that peculiar dread for the very first time - if I wanted a White deck with creatures I would need to have four copies of “Wallet-slayer Angel” or else my deck would be suboptimal. Was I willing to pay such a high premium to keep my Magic deck-building options open to that avenue? Considering how often I enjoyed G/W concoctions I made the hard decision that yes I would pay the price and cross my fingers.
Though it pained me to do it I preordered two copies of the card hoped to open at least one copy in my boxes and then figured I’d be able to trade for the fourth. Unfortunately I didn’t open any copies in my boxes and it was quickly becoming apparent that nobody was trading their copies away. BSA’s asking price continued to rise. I was halfway invested already—do I push on or trade my two away for a profit? Again I had to ask myself—would I hurt my options too badly by not having the Angels available?
I decided that I would buy one copy the next payday and then my final copy on the following payday. And I felt terrible—here I had to budget for a single Magic card for Standard play to hit on paydays! I typically have to work boxes of Magic cards into my budget. This was insane! While I thought Magic 2010 was a brilliant set chock full of great cards and awesome flavor I felt – hoped – that Baneslayer Angel was just a terrible terrible mistake. A fluke.
Then came a Zendikar card previewed by Mike Flores on Magicthegathering.com—Lotus Cobra.
Lotus Cobra - $11.99 - Creature
Nissa Revane - $9.99 - Planeswalker - Nissa
Sorin Markov - $9.99 - Planeswalker - Sorin
Eldrazi Monument - $7.99 - Artifact
Iona Shield of Emeria - $7.99 - Legendary Creature
Chandra Ablaze - $3.99 - Planeswalker - Chandra
Mindbreak Trap - $3.99 - Instant - Trap
Ob Nixilis the Fallen - $3.99 - Legendary Creature
Rampaging Baloths - $3.99 - Creature
Warren Instigator - $3.99 - Creature
Felidar Sovereign - $2.49 - Creature
Kalitas Bloodchief of Ghet - $2.49 - Legendary Creature
Lorthos the Tidemaker - $1.99 - Legendary Creature
Eternity Vessel - $1.49 - Artifact
Obsidian Fireheart - $1.49 - Creature
Lotus Cobra drove me into an absolute rage when I saw that it was mythic. Yes it was powerful but no more so than Noble Hierarch. These types of cards are staples and fine at rare but mythic is just ridiculous. As someone who nearly always plays Green decks I knew that I would need to have a playset and with States/Champs approaching quickly after the release of Zendikar I again found myself in a duplicate situation to my Baneslayer Angel dilemma—if I wanted to continue playing Green decks in the new Standard I would need to get a playset of Lotus Cobra quickly and I’d have to pay dearly for them.
Presales on the Cobras were high but this time I bought extra boxes in the hope of possibly hitting the “hidden treasures” that were distributed through the first print run and hoped I might get lucky and crack a couple Cobras along the way. Unfortunately for all my pack-cracking I got no hidden treasures and just a single Lotus Cobra in—literally—my very last booster pack.
I scrambled through various channels to get three more and since no one wanted to trade them I ended up paying cash for each of them and paying quite dearly. Luckily for late adopters Lotus Cobra has since come down to a much more reasonable price I suspect due to the huge volume of Zendikar that was bought and opened since its release. However one thing Lotus Cobra did prove—Baneslayer Angel was no fluke.
But hang on; didn’t Wizards promise that they wouldn’t be printing staples at mythic rarity? Or did they?
Let’s take a closer look at what Rosewater said—Mythics would not just be a list of each set's most powerful tournament-level cards. If you put on your lawyer-hat and read it closely you can see that there’s wiggle room in what Mark said to push Mythics from what we all thought Mark meant to what we’re seeing today. Take a look at the word “just” – that certainly implies that some Mythics could very well be a set’s most powerful tournament-level cards.
Jace the Mind Sculptor - $69.99 - Planeswalker - Jace
Abyssal Persecutor - $12.99 - Creature
Eye of Ugin - $11.99 - Legendary Land
Dragonmaster Outcast - $5.99 - Creature
Omnath Locus of Mana - $5.99 - Legendary Creature
Comet Storm - $4.99 - Instant
Admonition Angel - $3.99 - Creature
Avenger of Zendikar - $3.99 - Creature
Novablast Wurm - $2.99 - Creature
Wrexial the Risen Deep - $2.99 - Legendary Creature
So… planeswalkers legends and epic-feeling creatures and spells—spot on! However it was pretty obvious that Wizards totally amped Jace’s power to another level which mandated that if you were playing Blue and not playing JMS you were likely playing a suboptimal deck. With no hidden treasures to boost sales and a limited run for Drafting (considering that Eldrazi was coming and would be a stand-alone draft set) that meant that supply of Worldwake cards would be extremely limited especially chase Mythics. Abyssal Persecutor was another card that looked to be a staple for most Black-based decks outside of perhaps Vampires.
After bending my budget to breaking with Baneslayer Angel and Lotus Cobras I again found myself facing hard questions: would I pony up the money for Jace and possibly Persecutors?
When I finished opening my booster boxes and ended up with not a single Jace (nor Persecutor) I finally had to pull the plug on the chase and sadly shut the door on Blue. I could practically feel my options falling away as Jace’s price rose higher and higher. It was a particularly painful decision for me since I had spent a lot of time last fall working on a Summoning Trap deck that I loved but it was in desperate need of a Brainstorm-type effect to push it towards Tier 1.
Persecutor’s price has come back down to reasonable levels due to it not really finding a good home currently so I don’t feel nearly as locked out of playing Black/X as I do with playing a deck with Blue.
Rise of the Eldrazi
Gideon Jura - $49.99 - Planeswalker - Gideon
Vengevine - $34.99 - Creature
Sarkhan the Mad - $24.99 - Planeswalker - Sarkhan
Kozilek Butcher of Truth - $15.99 - Legendary Creature
All Is Dust - $14.99 - Tribal Sorcery - Eldrazi
Emrakul the Aeons Torn - $14.99 - Legendary Creature
Transcendent Master - $11.99 - Creature
Kargan Dragonlord - $9.99 - Creature
Linvala Keeper of Silence - $7.99 - Legendary Creature
Ulamog the Infinite Gyre - $7.99 - Legendary Creature
Hellcarver Demon - $4.99 - Creature
Khalni Hydra - $4.99 - Creature
Nirkana Revenant - $4.99 - Creature
Lighthouse Chronologist - $3.99 - Creature
Cast Through Time - $1.49 - Enchantment
One frustrating thing about opening my boxes of Worldwake was the distribution of Mythics - while I didn’t open a single Jace or Persecutor I did however open three copies each of Eye of Ugin and Avenger of Zendikar and two copies of Omnath. For Rise of the Eldrazi I decided to split a case with a friend and we would divvy up the Mythics and rares and hopefully smooth out the distribution issues. Of course with a set as large as ROE things didn’t work out as I hoped and I ended up with just a single copy of Vengevine a single copy of Gideon one copy of Sarkhan the Mad and no copies of Kozilek. Between my friend and I we could only muster half a playset of Vengevines which is yet another kick in the pants to me as the Green-loving mage and a card very much like Lotus Cobra in my mind—yes it’s really good but rare good staple good. Not mythic good. Somehow I’m going to have to dig up $70 more on just two friggin’ cards.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been playing competitive Magic for a long long time since sometime around Tempest and there has always been the issue that if you want to compete you’ve got to pony up the cash for a certain number of rares or you won’t be able to field the best deck you can. There’s an opportunity cost to pay if you don’t have the best tools available. I’m fine with that and have long ago accepted that as the cost of a hobby I’m passionate about. Lord knows I’ve spent a ton of money over the years opening boosters and buying singles to be able to play the decks I want to play. And I’ll tell you something: I used to really enjoy opening booster boxes when a new set came out because I knew that I was well on my way to rounding out my collection with the tools I needed to try out new ideas and build new decks. Ever since Magic 2010 my enjoyment in cracking booster boxes has been dampened by disappointment and stress.
It feels like we’re entering into a new era here where some of these costs are just over the top ridiculously expensive. It’s squeezing me and I’m in a better position than most given the income I get from Magic offsetting some of the costs. I worry about a lot of my friends and others who game at my level who like to go to tournaments and compete but don’t have the vast networks of players or store sponsors that can provide the cards they need to compete. I know a lot of friends will pool their collection so that they can build multiple decks but as I just found out with Rise of the Eldrazi even with a huge pool of cards you can still come up far short on critical Mythics.
I think some of the potential problems with this new era of hyper-costly Mythics might be muffled somewhat by the power of the Jund decks fueled by incredibly powerful and relatively cheap commons uncommons and rares. If you want to play Standard but can’t really afford to buy into the pricey chase Mythics you have a very potent alternative available. But what happens with Jund rotates this fall?
Let’s take a look at some of the Top Decks of the current standard and what their Mythic Cost is ranked from the cheapest to the most expensive.
Red Deck Wins Mythic Cost: $40
4 Kargan Dragonlord
Jund and RDW’s Mythic costs are not at all unreasonable at right around $10 a card.
$206 for just eight cards over $25 a card.
$390 for just ten cards $39 a card.
U/W Tap-Out Control Mythic Cost: $430
3 Jace the Mind Sculptor
4 Baneslayer Angel
$430 for only seven cards a whopping $61 a card!
$530 for just twelve cards $44 a pop.
A mind-boggling budget-busting $581 for just sixteen cards at $36 a piece.
Again I know Magic is not a cheap hobby and I definitely want Wizards to keep making great products that people want to spend their hard-earned money on because I’m in this game for the long haul. I’m just concerned about what happens when a significant portion of the competitive player base the guys who go to FNMs and PTQs and Champs and Regionals the guys who enjoy trying out and playing a variety of decks when the existence of these overly expensive staple Mythics starts shutting the doors closed on their options what happens to the game? Yes these chase Mythics make opening booster packs exciting; people probably still draft Magic 2010 in the hopes that somebody wins the Baneslayer Angel lottery. But is that excitement worth the costs?
Note: I tried to convince Ben Bleiweiss to write on this topic because I thought with his background he’s be perfect at analyzing the data and making interesting points but I don’t think he sees any cause for concern and thus probably doesn’t see the use of a column like this. Is he right? What do you think? I don’t want the forums to turn into a flame-fest against those who make the cards or sell them but I would like to hear thoughtful feedback on these concerns because I think it’s definitely a discussion the Magic community needs to have sooner rather than later.
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
My current EDH decks:
Jacques Le Vert (lots of legends good stuff)
Karrthus Tyrant of Jund (DRAGONS RAHRRR!!)
Halfdane (Clones ‘n’ Kaldra)
Reki the History of Kamigawa (more legends than you can shake a stick at)