All posts by Cliff Daigle

I am a father, teacher, cuber and EDH fanatic. My joy is in Casual and Limited formats, though I dip a toe into Constructed when I find something fun to play. I play less than I want to and more than my schedule should really allow. I can easily be reached on Twitter @WordOfCommander. Try out my Busted Uncommons cube at http://www.cubetutor.com/viewcube/76330

Theros Casual Stars

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Theros is here!

It’s felt like a long time coming, but then again, with the sheer number of products Wizards is putting out, and the growth of the game in general, we’re getting more and more Magic product to choose from.

For casual players, Theros is another set full of flavor and themes to build around. I’m going to go over some of the cards I feel will be showing up in assorted Cubes, Commander, and other casual playgroups.

These are cards that will have a certain value for a long time, like Darksteel Plate or Lurking Predators. Some of these will hit the bulk box, others will not dip far in price. I’m here to tell you about their long-term casual appeal.

First of all, anything with Bestow is appealing. Everyone likes getting options and value, and having a creature or an aura is going to see some play. In case you had not noticed, Serra’s Sanctum has gone on a roller coaster ride lately, and as a reserved list card, it will never be printed again. Its price spiked when the enchantment theme was announced but if you need one, grab one now before it happens again.

sanctum

 

Now, onto the specific cards:

Chained to the rocks – Fantastic flavor and an incredible bargain. I know a lot of people have built Boros decks recently, often combining the two Ravnica blocks, and this will fit right in.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion – I won’t predict how much Standard play this sees, but the ability to get lots and lots of free tokens will be used in many casual decks. Elspeth Tirel is comparable and she’s $10.

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Gift of Immortality – Often, a card will gain its casual appeal by being awesome in Limited formats. We open something sweet, it wins games for us, and then we want to build a deck around it at home. This is exactly that sort of card. It’s got some timing issues, but it’s worth noting that this is three mana and can be fetched by Zur the Enchanter decks. (Sigh.)

Nylea, God of the Hunt
Nylea, God of the Hunt

All five of the Gods – The new card frame makes these and the weapons very desirable foils. I would expect to see people building all sorts of decks to take advantage of these cards. Of special note is cards like Followed Footsteps and Cackling Counterpart which create tokens that are a copy of a creature; these tokens do have a mana cost and aid in your devotion.

Bident of Thassa – I love this Courtly Provocateur or Goblin Diplomats sort of effect. Any time I can make my opponent do something, I’m on board. Giving all your creatures Curiosity is a winner as well.

Curse of the Swine – This is my pick for the casual card of the set. We’ve had Pongify and Rapid Hybridization for pinpoint removal in the past, and this card is going to see play all over the place. It might even be good enough for significant Standard play, when coupled with Jace, Architect of Thought. Even if it doesn’t get played in tournaments, it’ll go into any casual blue deck and do a lot of work.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel – Zombies are one of the top casual tribes, and this is absolutely going into every zombie deck. For me, I’m really going to love using my Balthor the Defiled to bring this and a stack of other zombies back at once, and draining everyone for a bunch.

Hero’s DownfallMurder saw very little play in Standard, as was the case with Dreadbore. I don’t see this as being much different. However, I can see this being a desirable card to have in most EDH decks and in other formats, where everyone loves options.

Hythonia the Cruel – My all-creature EDH deck is drooling hard, though if you’re playing this, you had better hope no one is playing Chameleon Colossus or other changelings. Do not underestimate the number of all-creature decks out there – demand for this type of card will be higher than you think.

Anger of the Gods – This is a sweeper that will show up in a lot of Cubes. It will be up to the Cube designer whether to play this with or instead of Pyroclasm given that third mana in the cost, but the third point of damage can be worth it.

Hammer of Purphoros – As another Haste enabler, it’s always going to have appeal. The additional ability to turn excess lands into hasty 3/3 tokens is a definite bonus.

Hammer of Purphoros
Hammer of Purphoros

Stormbreath Dragon: Yet another mythic dragon; not nearly as good as Thundermaw Hellkite. That said, even terrible mythic dragons tend to keep at least some price because we love our dragon decks.

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Polukranos, World Eater – A 5/5 for four mana with no drawback is a good place to start. The fact that he can get monstrous and stomp chump blockers pushes him over the top. I definitely can’t wait to add him to my Experimental Kraj deck and do it more than once.

Ashen Rider – Ashen Rider immediately overrides Angel of Despair as the reanimator target for many sorts of decks, be they Legacy, Cube, or even Modern. I will say I’m a bit surprised that this isn’t an Angel or Demon for Kaalia of the Vast decks though.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver – Finally, the mill deck gets a Planeswalker. Oh, wait, they’ve had Jace, Memory Adept for a couple of years now. What we get instead is as grindy as possible, closing out games exactly like Nephalia Drownyard. It’s a bonus that you don’t have to fear Eldrazi triggers reshuffling the library back in, but you’re exiling just three cards a turn. In an EDH deck, you’re looking at 20+ turns. At least at the kitchen table he’s more powerful.

Daxos of Meletis – Lots of words to say what it does, but this sort of ‘play with your opponent’s deck’ effect is always fun, and rare in this color combination too. (See: Praetor’s Grasp)

Medomai the Ageless – Extra turns? Yawn. That’s the last thing UW decks needed more of. Medomai combos end up with someone doing something which triggers this and leads to that and brings back a third thing and then it’s a 20-minute turn where the rest of the table is watching one deck masturbate. Not really fun for anyone. [Well, except maybe for the one doing it…-ed.]

Prophet of KruphixSeedborn Muse #2 in so many decks. Sign me up.

Xenagos, the Reveler – I love this card so much. It does everything I want it to; including having an ultimate that is fun and random and something I would try to do multiple times.

Akroan Horse – It’s got the flavor. Icot’s got the effect. All sorts of casual decks will enjoy this card, not just Zedruu the Greathearted EDH.

Colossus of Akros
Colossus of Akros

Colossus of Akros – What’s not to love about big, trampling and indestructible?

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx – I am nowhere near as high on this card as some others are. It’s certainly no Cabal Coffers, though I understand why the comparison occurs. I’m always leery of ‘win more’ cards and that’s exactly what this is. It doesn’t work with tokens and it’s terrible after the board has been wiped clean.

The Scry lands (RG, BW, UB, UG, RW) – These are the real deal. A Scry 1 is just a peek but it’s so good when it’s free! Powerful cubes with more dedicated and awesome duals won’t take this, but you’d never convince me to leave them out of EDH decks. Best of all, their price is still falling and the set hasn’t even been released yet. I’ll be trading for a lot of these.

I hope your prerelease experience was awesome, and your release day is even better!

 

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Are You a Collector?

For most Magic players, there’s an element of the game that has nothing to do with the play of the game: the thrill of having something special, unique, or rare.

There are some players who could not care less about having a foil, signed, foreign, or misprinted card. They want the cards in order to play the game. Others want to make a strong statement, and choose to use any many of those as possible.

You need to understand if you’re a player, a collector, or a combination of the two. When you understand what brings you the greatest satisfaction, you can adjust your outlook on what cards to prioritize.

 It’s been my experience that frequent Standard players will use regular versions of cards.  Many Modern players also neglect to use particular copies. On the other hand, we have Legacy, Vintage, and plenty of casual players that will go to great lengths and spend significant money to obtain rarer cards for their decks. Price checks bear this out: look at a foil Brainstorm’s price against any of its many non-foil printings.

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brainstorm

Through this there remains, as always, the bittersweet torment of being a Magic collector: we have a built-in mechanism for showing off a sweet version of a card (playing the game of Magic) but sometimes that card doesn’t see the battlefield. This is especially true in EDH, with a new card being one out of 99 in the deck.  If you have a cube that you have put time, energy, and money into making your unique flower, then it’s a disappointment when you can’t get everyone over to draft with it.When you are not satisfied with the English non-foil version of a card, you’re not just a player, you’re a collector too. You need to understand that about yourself, and it’s not always easy.  I’ve been down this path many times. I spent more than a year chasing specific foils because I wanted every card in one EDH deck to be foil. At the end, I had to make tough decisions about cards that were not available in foil but worked in the deck thematically. My collector side won out, and now my oh-so-shiny Vampire EDH deck doesn’t have Volrath’s Stronghold or Baron Sengir.

volrath stronghold

There is an additional issue when you have a particularly valuable card: the risk of damage.  A powered cube will easily contain several thousand dollars worth of paper. Paper!  A spilled drink, a careless shuffle; any number of things can happen to damage a card and lower the value dramatically. Herein lies a tension: players want to cast the sweet card, and collectors want to protect their investment. Double-sleeved or not, having expensive cards in a deck or cube can be wonderful yet terrifying.

So we walk a fine line between desire and caution. We make proxies, we use printouts, we settle for a cheaper version to play with.

This topic is particularly salient because we have been rather saturated with collector’s editions in the past twelve months:  Commander’s Arsenal, Modern Masters, the black foil SDCC Planeswalkers, and From the Vault: Twenty. If you bought one, you felt good and enjoy it (that’s me and the Arsenal). Two, then you’re feeling like an investor.  Three or more, and your bankroll may be feeling the pinch.

When you realize that special editions are all reprints, things get a little easier to handle.  None of the cards above are new to Magic.  None.  You could have them before and you can have them after.  Spending $100 or more on a single SDCC planeswalker represents an investment as a collector, not a player.  For that much money, you can build an entire EDH deck (or three) that play well.

Like most players, I have to balance my urge to collect with my urge to play.  I encourage you to do the same, because you probably don’t have unlimited funds to feed both the collector and the player.  When you understand which you like doing more, then you can focus your spending wisely and subsequently gain greater joy.

I tell people to pick an EDH general based on what type of Magic they like to play, and your financial outlays should be based on similar principles.

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Conditioned Response

By Cliff Daigle

For much of the MTG finance world, condition is a big deal. Scales, grading, and the smallest of dents can knock significant value off of a card.

However, to someone who is building a cube, or needs that last foil, or mainly plays at someone’s table on Saturdays… condition isn’t nearly as big a deal.

I tell you this because if you’ve ever tried to sell/trade to a vendor or a collector, you know that they will take money off based on their grade of the card. It can be frustrating and then some, especially if you think you’ve taken good care of it.

Here is a secret for dealing with most casual players: minor and sometimes major flaws in a card are not that important. I myself have a Bloodstained Mire that I bought for $15 from a retailer, because it had been bent. Undamaged ones were $30, and I had planned to get one of those, but when I put the bent card in a sleeve, the damage wasn’t easily apparent.

Should I ever need to trade that Mire, I’ll be looking for someone who doesn’t care about condition, and I’ll find such a person before too long.

Keep in mind that for older cards, condition is likely to be a key factor. Dual lands, pieces of Power, Alpha lands: all of these (and more) have their price affected by condition, sometimes heavily. These are 20-year-old pieces of cardboard, and very few have made it through unscathed. In case you didn’t know, we didn’t really have sleeves for cards for the first few years, and so the backs of cards will often have all sorts of dents and scratches from being turned sideways on a piece of concrete.

Now, it’s true that some cards are truly damaged and unplayable. Some are so warped that they cannot be used in tournaments, and I respect anyone who won’t keep such cards. But for many players, if it looks okay-to-decent in a sleeve, there’s no problem. You won’t get as much in trade as you would an undamaged card, but you’ll get more than you expect. In some cases, people won’t ask for less at all.

If they do care about the condition, and want to knock a little off the value, you should probably accept that it is indeed worth less (but not worthless!). If they want to grade the card in front of you, then it’s probably time to move on.

This is especially true with foils. I’ve met players who really wanted the effect a foil gets if it’s been played without a sleeve and there’s an edge of silver around the card, from where the black ink on the border has worn off. I’ve met others who don’t want that effect at all, and wanted a lot less than the card was worth.

When you’re trading online, then you’re in a much trickier area. I’ve had multiple experiences where cards arrived in a different condition than I expected, and I’ve had people say I sent Slightly Played cards instead of the Near Mint I promised them. My advice in this regard is to be open and honest. Communication is everything. If there’s a chance of a problem, scans are good, pictures are good.

On eBay, I’ve heard tales of someone who sold a card at NM price, but the buyer then claimed that the card was SP. So the buyer sent the card back, and indeed, it was a SP that got sent back. This is an evil, criminal tactic to upgrade the condition of a card and a reason why you need to be diligent with feedback. I’m told eBay always takes the buyer’s side, so be appropriately cautious.

Be cautious as well when you’re dealing with signed cards. Most vendors view that as a negative, even though many casual players will view a signed card as more unique and personalized. I like my signed cards, as they represent a journey of different artists I have met and events I have been to.

So if you have a slightly worn yet very awesome card, don’t despair. Just be patient. A vendor may not give you full value for it, but there are many trade partners who are looking for that exact card. You’ll find them, make the trade, and everyone wins.

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Planning ahead for Commander 2013

There is a healthy amount of debate about which casual format is the most popular. We have so many to choose from! EDH is my forte, but we have Cubes, Rainbow, Highlander, Horde, and so many more. I’m of the opinion that 60-card casual is the most popular, without much regard for sets and legality. There are some awesome and fun decks to build, and I’ve got the Voltron deck with the Visions Chimera creatures to back this statement up.

Shiny.

EDH is the casual format that gets the most press, though, and it also gets the most official support from Wizards. In 2011, they released a set of five preconstructed 100-card decks that contained cards never printed before. This was a real gamble from the company, because if a card took off for Legacy, then the decks would get bought up.

Luckily, this wasn’t really a problem. Flusterstorm was quickly a judge promo, and just as Scavenging Ooze was getting out of hand in price, it’s a rare in Magic 2014.

Let’s not overlook the value that was crammed into these decks, though. On top of the new cards, there were lots of reprints with monetary worth. Sol Ring was in every deck, and the price on that alone is 25% of the MSRP.

We got lands, artifacts, creatures, all sorts of amazing goodies, and for a surprisingly reasonable price. Since this was a wide release, game stores didn’t have a chance to mark this up like they do with FTV or other limited releases.

Why am I reviewing things from two years ago? Because there is a new set of five Commander decks coming out this November, and we know enough to make some plans. Last week I made some specific price predictions that are taking into account a new batch of EDH players, and the increased demand for such casual cards.

The decks are three-color shards, allied colors as in the Shards of Alara block. This means that the tri-lands like Seaside Citadel, currently $2 uncommons, will very likely get a reprint. I think their value will go down slightly (so you should get rid of extras you have now), but you should pick up foils now if you can.

We didn’t get much in terms of rare lands last time, aside from Command Tower, an elegantly simple design. Expect that to get printed again. I would suggest you keep an eye on eBay for the two foil Towers, the judge promo and the Commanders Arsenal, as those won’t come around again with that art and in foil. When the new decks come out, people will want the foils and I doubt you’ll be able to find these under $20.

I don’t expect the check lands (Sunpetal Grove, Sulfur Falls, etc.) to be in these decks either. I’m targeting these lands when they rotate anyway, but you want to have the two allied lands and the enemy-color land to trade away at high value once people are opening the decks and want to improve the manabase. So for the red-black-blue deck (Grixis colors) someone will want a Dragonskull Summit, a Drowned Catacomb, and a Sulfur Falls, all at once. You should be able to get the assorted checklands for very low investment once rotation happens, and they will bump up when the Commander decks come out.

Since the new decks are shards and not wedges like the last, I’m also looking for the legends from the 2011 set. Being printed two years ago and safe from printing this year means that they are safe for at least another year. When someone picks up EDH as a format, the tendency is to go on a deck-building spree. Did you know that Kaalia of the Vast is a $15+ card? She will probably be retailing for $20 before Valentine’s Day. It’s hard to find spare singles from Commander’s Arsenal but it may be worth it, since we have been told that the preconstructed decks will be a yearly thing and CA was a one-time product.

The two spoiled legends from the set are a Vampire and a Dragon. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Bant Angel, a Naya Beast, and an Esper Sphinx as legends. I’m on the lookout for cards that go well with those tribes and two are about to rotate: Thundermaw Hellkite and Vampire Nocturnus. I’m sure we will see some tribal enablers too.

Give me a moment to make a wild-eyed prediction. Ever since Jace, the Mind Sculptor was put in FTV:20, I’ve had it in my mind that the C13 decks will have fetchlands in each deck. Maybe just one per deck, the enemy-colored ones from Zendikar, because this would increase the supply of those lands for Modern decks somewhat. I’d really love to get the maximum of three fetches per deck but that would just be too amazing.

I want to leave you with this closing thought, based on my play with the first set of five Commander decks: These are not Duel Decks, these are not Event decks. These are very playable, staple-filled, fairly competitive EDH decks. Even now, two years later, each of the decks is easily worth more than its MSRP. Don’t sleep on the value involved just because you don’t play the format.

But you really ought to be playing the format.

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