Popularity

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People are freaking out over the new Avacyn. And why shouldn’t they? After all, it’s a sweet Angel and it was spoiled in a kickass way at GP Detroit.

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Wizards got wise and finally decided to leverage some of Christine Sprankle’s popularity. She was going to cosplay at every event anyway – why not use her to spoil new characters? From Emmara Tandris to Avacyn she has done just that. And what a difference a few years make. The first GP Las Vegas for Modern Masters she cosplayed as Mercadian Masques Brainstorm and barely anyone from Wizards acknowledged her. Two years later at the most recent GP Vegas she had her own booth and was signing autographs all day.

Popularity like hers is nothing to ignore and I commend Wizards for having the presence of mind to leverage it for the good of the community and to subsidize her travel and costume expenses. Wizards occasionally has ideas I consider good because I agree with them (doing another Conspiracy is another example of something that greatly benefits the EDH community) and usually those decisions end up being pretty popular. Popularity matters and if we can stay abreast of what’s popular, we might just be able to make some money by being ahead of trends. Honestly EDH prices are so forgiving that even being “only slightly behind” can usually pay dividends. After all, no real tournaments means no one gets a weekly reminder that EDH affects prices and weekly decklists for people to panic buy cards from like they do with tournament formats. Before you write some comment about how EDH has tournaments, too, because you played a side event at a GP for 6 booster packs or your LGS has an EDH league, recognize how ridiculous you sound and keep it inside.

EDH prices tend to go up slowly based on people individually voting for cards with their wallets one copy at a time. I would worry about disrupting that pattern by encouraging people to buy differently, but no one reads this article so I’m not going to worry about unduly influencing the market.

How does a card’s popularity help us, though?

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I’m Head of the Class

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People are very excited for this card. I saw estimates of the foil price at $150 which is bonkers, but, hey, foil on BOTH sides so that’s double the foil. That ain’t cheap.

With playsets of this little lady preselling for $100 on eBay at the time of writing this, people clearly want to jam this wing’d beast in their phases of combat to go forth and do glorious battle with their opponents’ faces. Battle ’em good.

One of the first articles I ever wrote for MTG Price concerned the release of new sets where people who don’t know what they’re talking about dismissively say “EDH” when they see a card they don’t understand and how taking ten minutes to learn something about EDH will help you look less like an idiot. Most people, even some finance writers, aren’t that concerned with not looking like an idiot when it comes to EDH, though, so the rest of us are stuck muddling through. Sometimes cards spike rationally, sometimes not. Sometimes someone at Wizards says the word “Werewolf” and people run out and by every copy of Mayor of Avabruck because “EDH.” Well, guys, a Werewolf Planeswalker that is a planeswalker on both sides doesn’t really help “EDH” like you may think and if people were inclined to build wolf tribal before, you wouldn’t have been able to get Mayor of Avabruck for $1.

How popular is a card like Mayor of Avabruck right now? We have a way to check.

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People are free to play Wolf tribal right now and there are  ton of killer Commander options. Ruric Thar, Bobo (either Bobo) – even a Commander like Marath so you can play Champion of the Parish if you want. No one is doing it. Compare that to the hundreds of people who were playing Starlit Sanctum before Ayli was printed. Can a Werewolf Commander make the deck popular enough that people pay real money for Mayor of Avabruck? Seems possible only because literally nothing besides Huntmaster of the Fells ($10? Jund must be hanging on by its fingernails in Modern for this to be more than $5) is expensive unless you count the stuff like Coat of Arms that goes in every tribal deck. Is there any money to be made even on foils? I don’t know. Instead of trying to predict the future and hope we get a Werewolf Legend either as a creature that flips into a Planeswalker (doubtful) or a separate red and green Legendary Werewolf, let’s look at how popular a commander needs to be to move the needle at all.

Tribeshead Revisited

Per EDHREC, Ayli is the fourth-most-popular Commander this month but is only the 19th most popular this week. It’s cooling off a bit but it’s still bringing some heat. People are going to forget about commanders like Ayli and Tazri for a minute if we get some sweet new wolf Legend to build around so we may be seeing the peak of price influence from Ayli. What prices has she influenced? Bear in mind, BW cleric cards are much older than RG werewolf cards and therefore more scarce and easier to spike with more price upside. You can have some dude open up a drawer and pull out 1,000 copies of Wolfbitten Captive that he collected as a joke – that’s less likely for Rotlung Reanimator or Edgewalker. So if Ayli can’t do anything, it’s even less likely the theoretical wolf guy can do it unless this wolf is somehow orders of magnitude more popular than the fourth most popular general this month.

Prima Facie, things don’t look too promising for Ayli. First of all, despite her being a tribal cleric in the right colors, it’s seemingly more tempting to build her as a generic WB reanimator/lifegain deck. The only cleric that shows up in her “signature cards” or “top cards” section on EDHREC is Edgewalker which saw a dramatic price increase from $0.40 to $0.40 in the last month. Even foil Edgewalkers are down from their historical high to its current $1.79 on Card Kingdom. The only real winner is foil Starlit Sanctum.

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This could have as easily been predicated on my article as anything else since there were so few copies, but at least the new price of $6.50 seems to be holding. No matter how you build the Ayli deck, this can do work in it wheres goofy tribal clerics like Master Healer only work in a specific configuration, one that seems to be a little less popular than the “Win with Felidar Sovereign” type of deck.

Foils are the only real gainers here, and this is with a popular deck being built by a ton of people. Ayli was a very interesting case study because we got to see exactly what a popular commander relevant to a bunch of very old tribal cards could do to prices. The answer? It reduced inventory numbers a bit but not enough to move the needle on prices. And we can see that a ton of Ayli decks are being uploaded to EDHREC.

Measuring Our Measuring Stick

Now, is EDHREC the most accurate possible measurement for the proportion of decks being built? Eh. Possibly. My using it as a metric for popularity is built upon a premise, one that could be true and could not.

My assumption is that a small percentage of the decks built by people are uploaded to sites like deckbox and counted by EDHREC. This is not a problem because we’re assuming that if 20% of all decks or whatever are uploaded and 1% of those decks are Ayli decks, the proportion will be the same meaning Ayli is 1% of 20% of all decks, but it’s likely 1% of all decks since you can extrapolate the total decks being built from a representative enough sample.

There is a possibility that we have a bit of a blindspot. What if the only kind of  person casual enough to build an Ayli tribal clerics decks is the only kind of person casual enough to upload their deck to deckbox? What if every Ayli deck ever built is uploaded and while it’s 1% of the decks on EDHREC, it’s like a hundredth of 1% of all decks built, skewing our results?

That’s possible but that’s also unknowable and with the wide array of sources being polled for EDHREC data, I’m going to call these percentages representative of EDH as a whole until such time as we can prove they’re not.

That being the case, what do the prices of cards in the Ayli deck tell us about what we can expect from werewolves?

Problems Summarized

First of all, there is no real wolf land. Kessig Wolf-Run doesn’t count and its fate certainly isn’t tied to the fate of a potential RG werewolf Legend. Cavern of Souls and other tribal lands don’t have much more upside either since the land isn’t specific to wolves and therefore their prices will respond to overall trends in tribal decks, especially in other formats. If there were a tribal wolf land from the first time around, only the foils would likely be affected and only if the number of copies available on retail sites were pretty low. Starlit Sanctum saw some upside but only in foil and wolves doesn’t even have that.

Secondly, the cards are too recent. We have millions of copies of werewolf rares sitting around in dollar boxes not being bought. If you decided to make a werewolf tribal deck, it would be lousy with cards like Daybreak Ranger and Instigator Gang and with the exception of Daybreak Ranger, thousands of copies of which are still in Brian Kibler’s box of shame, copies are everywhere, even for foils. While an all-foil werewolf tribal deck would be fun to put together (until you see how much foil Coat of Arms costs) it wouldn’t get put together often enough to drive prices.

Thirdly, if the werewolf deck is just as popular as Ayli, prices still couldn’t move for all of the above reasons. The werewolf deck would need to be far more popular than Ayli which seems unlikely unless the werewolf has a sweet effect outside of being the relevant tribe the way Ayli does and would need to be built more than Ayli to make up for the recency of the cards. It’s hard to be more popular than the fourth-most-popular deck last month and with Commander 2016 and Conspiracy 2 promising new Commanders, Shadows and Moon commanders will have a smaller window to make an impact before people want to build something more exciting.

Conclusion

I was going to make this article about how to use the most-built decks on EDHREC to determine which cards could surge and completely got lost and went off on a tangent. I’m glad I did, because I want to urge caution in the face of the enthusiasm I have seen for cards with even less of a case than cards in the Ayli deck. Predicting foil Mayor will go up because you bought a bunch of copies doesn’t count as a win unless you can sell the cards for more later and Ayli cards show that’s not as likely as we might think.

I may write the article I was trying to write next week. If I do, I’ll call it “Popularity II (Many Miles Away)” because sometimes the titles just write themselves. Don’t miss it.

 

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5 thoughts on “Popularity”

  1. I appreciate your article. I was able to purchase a Foil Starlit Sanctum from my LGS, when you first talked about Ayli, for a buck. I picked up some of the other items too, and while they haven’t spiked I have noticed one or two of them gaining as supply slowly dwindles away. I consider EDH stuff long term holds, and through my experiences from reading your articles as well as just my own intuition, will probably only invest in foils of newer sets (Dragonlords being a prime example), and monitor supply of older items closely to guide my purchasing decisions.

    1. That all sounds like you have been paying attention and know what you’re doing. I think the clerics will eventually dwindle to the point that dealers will pay more to restock, but it will take a minute and there are other ways to build Ayli, meaning not every Ayli deck is spiking Edgewalker and that makes everything take way longer. I like your approach.

  2. One of my biggest issues with Werewolves is that their creature type was printed as “Werewolf” and not “Human Wolf”. Half of the cards you’d want to play in a werewolf deck (like Raised by Wolves-how sweet would that be) don’t actually do anything, which I think holds back the archetype. If the legendary creature actually buffs wolves as well as werewolves, then I can see stuff spiking, but there isn’t enough support for werewolves only edh deck. Even if it does happen, there’s probably more upside in good wolf cards over werewolves, due to the annoyance factor of flip cards.

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