All posts by Guo Heng Chin

Guo Heng started kitchen table Magic as a kid, during Urza’s Destiny. He played intermittently and casually until Innistrad, where he began to grind the competitive circuit.

It was then that he became hooked on the magical substance that is cardboard crack and it dawned upon him that Magic finance is a good way to subsidize his habit.

Guo Heng started writing for MTGPrice in October 2014. A competitive grinder himself, he focuses on the mtgfinance of competitive Magic.

Catch him on Twitter @theguoheng.

PROTRADER: The Meta Report: November Week One

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By: Guo Heng

Welcome to another instalment of The Meta Report. The past weekend yielded a slew of major tournament results. There was Grand Prix Indianapolis which gave us some exciting new Standard results (spoiler alert: Jace is no longer king). The first Modern Grand Prix since rotation took place at Porto Alegre, and while Battle for Zendikar did not exert the level of impact Khans of Rhino and Cruise had on the format, a few new cards managed to slip into Modern. There was also the StarCityGames Modern Open at Dallas-Fort Worth.

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Snapcaster RPTQ Promo: A Win for All

By: Guo Heng

If you haven’t heard of it, the inimitable cross-format all-star blue two-drop, Snapcaster Mage, was unveiled as next year’s RPTQ promo in an announcement during the Pro Tour last Sunday. You can read about the details here.

regionalptq_promo_2016

Snapcaster Mage was the biggest winner during this year’s Modern season over the summer. Despite being the third most-played card in Modern and the most-popular creature in the format, Tiago Chan’s invitational card languished at $25 to $35 for the majority of its existence. Spring this year finally saw Snapcaster move up to $60, and July, at the height of the Modern fever, Snapcaster breached $100.

Snapcaster Full Price History

$100 is an extraordinary price tag for a rare from the modern-era print run, but considering Snapcaster’s ubiquity in the format, it is not preposterous.

Snapcaster third most-played
Most-played cards in Modern in 2015, from mtgtop8.com.

According to statistics from mtgtop8.com Snapcaster Mage was found in nearly one-third of all Modern decks, and decks that run Snapcaster ran three to four copies of it. Nearly all tier one decks running blue require Snapcasters, in similar veins to green-based decks requiring Tarmogoyfs. The goyf may reign supreme as the most expensive card in the format, but lacking a playset of Snapcaster would cut you off from a larger number of tier one Modern decks compared with not owning Tarmogoyfs.

Snapcaster Mage is the definitive creature of the Modern format, and one of the biggest mtgfinance long-term holds over the past few years (give yourself a pat on the back if you’ve bought Snaps at $25- $35). While players rejoice at reprints, financiers holding copies of the affected card rue the same event for the fact that reprints quite often spell a death knell for the price of affected long-term holds.

Even though I have a tiny number of long-hold Snapcasters, I am actually happy with the announcement as I shall elaborate in this article.

The Next Most Likely Mass Reprint of Snapcaster Mage

Before I go on to discuss the reasons Snapcaster being next year’s RPTQ promo is good for long-term holders of the card and players alike, I would like to explain an assumption which I think most of us could agree on:

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  1. Assuming that the next Modern Masters is coming out in 2017 based on the two-year cycle between the past two Modern Masters,
  2. Assuming that the next Modern Masters will include Innistrad, seeing that the recent Modern Masters 2015 went all the way to New Phyrexia, 

The next most likely mass reprint event for Snapcaster Mage would be in the summer of 2017, in Modern Masters 2017. 

RPTQ Promo Reprint Means No Grand Prix Promo Reprint

After Innistrad dodged reprint in Modern Masters 2015, the biggest medium-term risk to the price of Snapcaster Mage is being selected as next year’s Grand Prix promo. Even though Grand Prix promos are foil versions featuring a new art, the sheer number of Grand Prix promos given out asserts a depressing impact on the long-term price of a card. The Grand Prix promo reprint of Modern-and-Legacy mainstay Griselbrand pretty much smashed his price to smithereensBatterskull remained high for a few months in 2014, when it was the Grand Prix promo for the year,  but it eventually dropped and is now having a hard time growing despite being a mainboard card in Legacy Stoneblade and Death and Taxes and a spattering of Modern play, mainly in the sideboard.

Let’s do a little back of the napkin calculation. There are 54 Grand Prix in 2015. Assuming an average attendance of 1,000 players per Grand Prix (most North American and European Grand Prix tend to attract a much larger crowd), by the end of 2015 there would at least 54, 000 copies of a card being introduced into the market and that is a very conservative number as it does not take into account outliers like the Modern Masters 2015 weekend which saw nearly 10,000 players receive the Griselbrand promo.

Comparatively, there are only four RPTQs per year. The sole RPTQ attendance figures released by Wizards so far revealed an attendance of 1,923 for the Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar RPTQs (the article cites ‘around 1,800’, but tallying up the figures from the table in the article gives 1,923). Rounding the figure up to 2,000, we can assume that the number of promo Snapcaster Mage that would be handed out next year to be around 8,000 at most, and that is a mere 1/7 of the conservative estimate of Grand Prix promos given out.

The main takeaway is that Snapcaster dodged the most damaging event to his price in the short-term when he dodged the Grand Prix promo bullet. We could be very certain about that once we know that he is next year’s RPTQ promo.

Predicted Impact of the RPTQ Promo on Snapcaster’s Price

Data on the the impact of an RPTQ promo reprint on the price of an eternal staple is scarce as the program has been going on for less than a year but we can glean a bit of information from the impact of being this year’s RPTQ promo on the price of Liliana of the Veil:

Liliana Price

The announcement that Liliana will be the promo card for this year’s RPTQs came on October 11 last year, during Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir coverage. Lilliana’s price tanked by about 25% from $80 to $60 at the beginning of November, presumably in anticipation of the upcoming influx in supply. However, at mid-February this year, Liliana experienced a spike which saw her price shoot up to a record high of $90, and a year after the announcement of the Liliana RPTQ promo, Liliana is perched at $110, the highest she has ever been since her release in 2011.

Lilliana’s price trend was not surprising given that Liliana is a three-to-four-of staple in two popular Modern archetypes, Jund and Junk. Plus, every Modern PPTQ season sees our favorite necromancer growing one year older. Unless Jund and Junk were to fall out of favor (unlikely, given their track record of being a safe choice in whatever environment of the Modern metagame), Liliana’s price is not to go down until a mass reprint, which is also most likely in the next instalment of Modern Masters. 

While Liliana of the Veil is one  rarity tier higher than Snapcaster Mage, the amount of play Snapcaster sees in Modern is double than that of Liliana.

Liliana play
Most-played cards in Modern in 2015, from mtgtop8.com.

For comparison, while both Liliana and Snapcaster were present in an average of 3.3 copies in decks that run them, Liliana was only found in 12.7% of deck but Snapcaster was in a 27.7%. For every deck that ran Liliana of the Veil, there were slightly more than two decks running Snapcaster Mage.  The same applies for Legacy, where Snapcaster Mage is found in slightly twice the number of decks compared with Liliana.

Snapcaster Mage Legacy

Liliana Legacy
Most-played cards in Legacy in 2015, from mtgtop8.com.

On the other hand, being a mythic rare theoretically renders Liliana eight times rarer than Snapcaster in terms of supply. I am not sure how much does that offset against Snapcaster seeing twice the amount of play in both Modern and Legacy. Correction: Eric Duerr on Twitter shared a photograph of an uncut foil Innistrad sheet showing that the ratio of Snapcaster:Liliana is actually 2:1. Thanks Eric! 

It is hard to quantify demand by archetypes in the each format. For all we know, Snapcaster decks could be more popular than Liliana decks in either format or vice versa. There are also a portion of eternal format players who seek to buy into the format rather than single decks.

I would argue that the demand-to-supply ratio of Snapcaster Mage is similar to that of Liliana. Which means the impact of the RPTQ reprint on Snapcaster’s price is going to be trifle and temporary, as with Liliana’s RPTQ reprint. Adding around 8,000 copies of the most ubiquitous creature in Modern is scarcely going to have a deep impact on the medium-term price of the card.

An RPTQ promo reprint is probably one of the reprint events that injects the lowest amount of supply into the market. I don’t have the figures for judge foil reprints, but I would rank judge foil reprints and RPTQ promo reprints to be of the same rarity in terms of new copies introduced into the market.

Snapcaster 22 Weeks

Snapcaster Mage’s price has been on a slow decline since peaking at $100 this summer and his buylist price has been on a steady slope downwards. Snapcaster lost $5 since the announcement, dropping from $69 to $64 but we have yet to see any dip in his buylist price. It’s interesting to note that Snapcaster’s buylist price dropped $10 within the first week of October. Were sellers anticipating a Snapcaster RPTQ promo announcement during the Pro Tour?

Unless the market reacts cautiously this time around, Snapcaster’s price is likely going to remain on a downtrend for the next few months mimicking Liliana’s trend after the announcement of her RPTQ promo. Regardless of the actual supply introduced by the reprint,  there is a stigma attached to reprint victims.  Either by early next year, spurred by a brief increase in Modern interest triggered by the Modern Pro Tour in February, or when the Modern PPTQ season swings around the corner come summer, Snapcaster’s price is going to trend up again.

Snap the Moment

Opportunities are abound for all parties when a quintessential Modern staple like Snapcaster Mage dips in price.

For the player:

If you are planning to compete in next year’s Modern PPTQ season, or if you are looking to complete your playset of Snapcaster, go get Snapcaster in a few weeks’ time. $64 is already a good price for Snapcaster, but it couldn’t hurt to wait and see if his price tanks any further.  The next few weeks, or month or two, are likely to be the last Snapcaster price bottom until the summer of 2017, the most probable release period for the next instalment of Modern Masters. If you do not mind not having access to Snapcaster decks for the next year-and-a-half, you could always wait for Modern Masters 2017, but I am not sure that wait would be worth it. The first reprinting of previous Modern chase cards like Vendilion Clique and Cryptic Command in the summer of 2013 only depressed their price by $10 to $15 and by early 2014 their price hit a new high, regardless of the rarity in which they were reprinted in.

Vendilion Clique

Cryptic Command

For the Financier:

First off, there’s the relief of knowing with a high degree of certainty that Snapcaster Mage is a safe hold until the next Modern season in summer 2016. We would likely see Snapcaster Mage hit extraordinary price again during that time. I don’t think it is far-fetched to expect Snapcaster to hit $100 one more time, especially during this weekend in May 2016:

Modern GP May

With two of the largest retailers and tournament organisers running concurrent Modern Grand Prix in a single weekend, can you imagine the price of a Snapcaster Mage during that week? Mid-May 2016 would be the best time to reap the return on your Snapcaster Mage investment.

Another reason why I like the Snapcaster reprinted as an RPTQ promo is the fact that it further depresses the price of Snapcaster from the $69 he was at before, making Snapcaster an even more lucrative mid-term spec target. We can be certain that Snapcaster’s current price is lower than it should be, as with the majority of Modern staples in the fall when the limelight is shining on cards from the new block and the post-rotation Standard metagame.

If you have the funds, going in on Snapcaster at his current price of $64 is not too shabby, but I would definitely recommend waiting for a few weeks to see if his price tanks any further. But don’t wait for too long, the window might close soon if the market catches on the trend with Liliana’s price after her RPTQ promo reprint.

Besides the relative security of not seeing a short-term reprint, one of the appeal of this spec is the presence of a set date where you could liquidate your spec and reap your profit, an aspect most mid-term specs lack. I wouldn’t go in too deep though. While Snapcaster hit $100 briefly, the highest his buylist price went to was $60.

Snapcaster Buylist

His brief stint at the triple-digit club was spurred by the one-month period this summer where there were three consecutive Modern Grand Prix, and the retailers knew that Snapcaster would unlikely sustain his price tag.

If you are buying into Snapcaster within this month or two to sell next May, your best bet on reaping optimal profit is liquidating your spec to players rather than buylisting them, which is why I wouldn’t recommend going in too deep.

TL;DR

Contrary to the usual impression of reprint events, the Snapcaster RPTQ promo reprint is likely to be a net positive for both players (duh) and financiers as it creates an opportunity for players and financiers to pick up Snapcasters at what is probably his final price bottom in the next year-and-a-half. Players lacking Snapcasters could assemble their playset in time for the next Modern season or next year’s Modern Grand Prix at a slightly cheaper price than without a RPTQ promo reprint. Financiers could rest well knowing that we are highly unlikely to see a mass Snapcaster Mage reprint until the next Modern Masters, which is likely to be in 2017, making it a safe bet to wait for the Modern PPTQ season next year to liquidate Snapcasters. Financiers interested in getting in on Snapcaster or bolstering their Snapcaster holdings for next summer could do so without the fear of being blinded sided by a surprise mass reprint.

This article turned out to be longer than expected, so thank you for sticking through to the end. Do share your thoughts in the comments section below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


 

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Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar MTGO Coverage

By: Guo Heng

The quarterly mtgfinance event that is the Pro Tour is upon us again this Friday. This weekend will see the best players and brewers in the world congregate at Milwaukee to duke it out for the spoils of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Fall Pro Tours often are a little more exciting than the other Pro Tours, showcasing the secrets of the overhauled Standard metagame (the summer Pro Tours would be equally exciting from next year onwards as the twice-a-year rotation schedule kicks in).

Every Pro Tour has never failed to move prices of new and sometimes old cards wildly. The price for Abbot of Keral Keep, Exquisite Firecraft, and Hangarback Walker spiked hard and fast during Pro Tour Magic Origins as some of the most omnipresent cards in the top 8. Even Temple of Epiphany, which was about to rotate out, experienced a 200% surge in value. Pro Tours are the best time for short-term bets.

I usually make paper bets for Pro Tours,  but for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, I would be solely speccing on Magic Online. Life is a little like Magic. Sometimes unexpected events happen occur that forces you to change plans you’ve had for the next few turns months. In my case, I stumbled upon this little creature on the roadside early last month, and decided to adopt him. It turns out that vet trips, blood tests and vaccinations costs a lot more than I expected, and they kind of ate into my budget for Battle for Zendikar.

I have to make the decision with my remaining budget to either retool my decks(s) for the new Standard metagame with the new lands required to make it function. With a couple of PPTQs coming up and the Game Day next weekend, I decided to spend my remaining budget on assembling my battle lands instead. So it looks like I will be keeping a close tab on the price of cards on MTGO for Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar.

A little tangent here: as I’ve mentioned, acquiring land base is often best done after the Pro Tour as the rare lands would drop in price as supply of the new set increases every week. The downside, if you are a competitive player, is of course having to play with suboptimal manabase for nearly a month. Thankfully it looks like most decks can get away with one or two copies of each battle lands, just like what Modern decks do with shock lands. Keep that in mind if you’re acquiring your battle lands now.

Let’s get going. The first round of Standard (Round 4) at the Pro Tour is coming to a conclusion and we are getting a taste of the new Standard metagame. Our very own James Chillcott (@MTGCritic) is doing the main coverage of the event itself, do check it out to keep up to date with the latest developments at the Pro Tour. I would be focusing primarily on the price movement of cards on Magic Online and would only be touching on the event itself lightly.

I would be using the pricing and charts on both goatbots.com and the aggregate from mtgowikiprice.com.

Round One

Here’s a snapshot of the most expensive cards in Battle for Zendikar on Magic Online:

End of Round 1, 2.50pm CDT
End of round one, 2.50pm CDT

Unsurprisingly Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been the most expensive card online Battle for Zendikar went live. Oblivion Sower has been a mover over the past few days, eventually overtaking Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger as the second most expensive card in the set.

MTGO Oblivion Sower

It may be Pro Tour testing, or perhaps brewer extraordinaire and Saito has something up his sleeves, but it looks like Oblivion Sower is unlikely to shine at the Pro Tour after all. There are only five Eldrazi ramp decks out of the pool of 367 decks at the Pro Tour. I am not too keen on Oblivion Sower at double-digit price and I think it may be dropping soon if we don’t see any Eldrazi action on camera, and I think chances are slim that we will.

Round Two

Don’t expect the prices of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (35 tickets) and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy (58 tickets) to tank online anytime soon.

Turtenwald vs Mihara

Two top tier players on coverage for round five. Turtenwald is on Dark Jeskai while Mihara is on Blue Abzan (or rather, Wet Abzan). Both decks run Jace. We know at least that Mihara runs Gideon. It looks like Mihara is doing the Jund by mashing up all the best and most expensive cards into a box and call it a deck.

Jace, end of round 2

Exert Influence (0.49 tickets) is popping up in Mihara’s sideboard and Dan Ward’s deck tech (also in the side. James’ coverage article has the decklist). Don’t bother with it as sideboard rares are rarely worth anything on Magic Online.

Day One Wrap

Battle for Zendikar cards largely remained the same at the end of a day one without much surprise new tech save for brief servings of a BFZ-rendering of The Aristocrats (UB in the hands of Calcano, GB in the hands of Nassif).

Wrap

The only winner is Smothering Abomination which went from 0.30 tickets to 0.89 tickets and that’s nothing of interest really.

End of day one.

Join us tomorrow as day two unfolds and hopefully we would find the Den Protector/Abbot of Keral Keep of this set.


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From the Void I Come

By: Guo Heng 

It’s not everyday that you find a Hearthstone quote fit for a Magic article title. For Dragons of Tarkir I did an mtgfinance review of the ‘anchor’ cards of the set, the Dragonlords, who were right down my alley as Spike and Vorthos manifested in cardboard form. When it comes to Battle for Zendikar, the marquee cards of the set, the Eldrazi, are the intersection of competitive play and flavor and I am quite excited to be able to put them under an mtgfinance lens.

I started Magic during Urza’s block, where the major antagonist in the Magic storyline was the original Phyrexians, a race of macabre machine-and-flesh organisms hellbent on destroying Dominaria, the backdrop for all the story in Magic back in those days. The Eldrazi bear striking comparison to the original Phyrexians – inexplicable creatures from beyond the plane threatening the very existence of Zendikar. The Eldrazi even use a horde of minion processors and drones to fuel their invasion, and they view creatures as expendable sacrificial fodder for utility.

Enough Vorthos talk, let’s get to the financial side of the Eldrazis. The Battle for Zendikar has been raging for two weeks, but we have yet to see the Eldrazi making an assault on the Standard metagame. There were not a single Eldrazi deck in the top 8 of both StarCityGames Open in Atlanta last weekend and Indianapolis the weekend before. The first Eldrazi presence was detected in Ali Aintdazi’s funky five-color control (not to be confused with Five-Color Bring to Light a.k.a. Eight Rhinos), which finished ninth last weekend) and that wasn’t of much financial relevance as it’s the humble uncommon Catacomb Sifter.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. Two weeks is scarcely enough to solve the metagame, let alone identify the interactions that would go on to define the meta for the next few months. Financially, it translates into hopefully, opportunity. Let’s take a look at the financial potential of the mythic Eldrazis in descending price order according to MTGPrice’s spoiler list, as the Eldrazi descent upon the Standard metagame.

Ulamog 2.0

Ulamog

The sole Eldrazi Titan this time around, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger will undoubtedly be the endgame of any ramp strategy in the current metagame. Even if a tier one ramp deck emerges at the Pro Tour this weekend, I am not optimistic about Ulamog’s ceiling as he is pretty much restricted to ramp decks, unlike multi-archetype stars like Dragonlord Ojutai and Deathmist Raptor. Expect Ulamog to hit $25 briefly (maybe $30 but that’s being very optimistic) if he makes his presence felt at the Pro Tour before crashing down in a few weeks’ time as redemption hits.

Sowing the Seeds of Oblivion

Oblivion Sower

This is a sexy one. I admit, I wasn’t too excited when I first saw Oblivion Sower spoiled for the Duel Deck. Then I played against it last Friday in a Bant ramp brew and I was quite impressed. A decent sized body (blocks Rhino and Tasigur) at six mana that comes attached with an uncounterable ramp spell is a force to be reckoned with in a ramp deck. Unfortunately, being in the Duel Deck significantly limited Sower’s ceiling. Having said that, Polukranos, World Eater spiked briefly after Makahito Mihara made top 8 of Pro Tour Theros with Green Devotion.

Polukranos

Betting on Oblivion Sower at $6 seems like a risky bet. Polukranos fitted in multiple strategies (Devotion and Red-Green Aggro) but Oblivion Sower seems optimal only in ramp strategies as the extra lands Sower nets you is not too useful if you don’t have a large endgame to resolve.

On the other hand, Jeremy (@LengthyXemit) mentioned that Japanese pro player and owner of Hareruya, Tomoharu Saito bought out Oblivion Sower at last weekend’s Grand Prix Madison. For the uninitiated, barring his competitive misdemeanours, Tomoharu Saito is one of the foremost brewers in contemporary Magic and his decks are held in high regards by casuals and pros. Heck, he even has a hashtag for his brews, #SaitoWayFinder. Saito buying out a card is a huge signal for the potential of that card.

Personally, I’m going to take the middle path and aim to complete my own playset of Oblivion Sower before this weekend. Feel free to spec on Oblivion Sower if you have the guts and the resources to spare. Just remember to liquidate your copies quick if Sower becomes a hit at the Pro Tour this weekend.

Consecrated Sphinx 2.0

Sire of Stagnation

Sire of Stagnation‘s price is not just stagnant, it is dropping. Starting out at a lofty $12, the Eldrazi Sire could be obtained for just $4 today. Version 2.0 does not necessarily indicates improvement, and Sire of Stagnation is a worse Consecrated Sphinx. Nevertheless, Consecrated Sphinx is from an era bygone, I think Sire may be better than it seems, despite the qualms about the fact that its trigger is under your opponent’s control, mainly because if they don’t have a removal (and burn is pretty bad against Sire with its seven toughness), they are trapped in between a rock and a hard place. Then again, most decks in Standard could function optimally at six mana, so they could easily just sandbag their lands until they draw into a removal.

The only place I can imagine Sire seeing play is in the sideboard of control decks. Sire is not to shabby in the control mirror as your opponent would often want to have much more than just six lands. They’d be forced to waste a removal spell on it. Then again, tapping six mana to cast a durdly creature is not what you want to do in a control mirror.

However tempting a $4 potentially playable mythic looks, I am not optimistic about Sire of Stagnations’s price.

Your Opponent Can’t Even

Void Winnower

Siege Rhino, Hangarback Walker, Den Protector, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Hidden Dragonslayer, Dromoka’s Command, Valorous Stance, Dig Through Time, Ojutai’s Command, Utter End.

What do the cards above have in common? They are popular cards from the top 8 decks of the previous two weekend’s StarCityGames Open that are hosed by Void Winnower.

I am quite surprised that Void Winnower is languishing at $4. Granted, we have yet to see Void Winnower in a deck with a decent finish. I do think that Void Winnower have the potential to be a player in the current Standard metagame.

The pros of Void Winnower:

  • Void Winnower requires very specific answers.
  • Unlike Oblivion Sower and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, you can reap Void Winnower’s full value from a See the Unwritten.
  • The Brainstorm Brewery episode from the previous week, which had Craig Wescoe on as guest, saw the crew discuss Void Winnower’s potential as a reanimation target in eternal formats.

The cons of Void Winnower:

  • Void may be overshadowed by Ulamog in Standard as Ulamog only costs one more mana. Then again Ulamog is easier to answer (though it does set your opponent back in board position) and Winnower may just be ran alongside Ulamog.

Void Winnower is one-of-a-kind, and cards like these tend to either be really cheap as it sees no play, or be quite expensive when its true potential is discovered during testing. I am on the side that Void Winnower is undervalued at $4. In Standard, Void Winnower is a hard to answer threat that turns the tides upon resolution and is the only Eldrazi that synergises with See the Unwritten. More importantly, a mythic rare at $4 requires just a little push for it to spike. I wouldn’t buy a horde of Void Winnowers. I am aiming to pick up a few more copies this week in trade and cash.

Thank you once again for reading. Share your thoughts in the comments segment below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


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