All posts by Jason Alt

Jason is the hardest working MTG Finance writer in the business. With a column appearing on Gathering Magic in addition to MTG Price, he is also a member of the Brainstorm Brewery finance podcast and a writer and administrator for Brainstorm Brewery's content website. Follow him on twitter @JasonEAlt

Unlocked Pro Trader: Ghitu the Chopper

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We talk a lot in this series about “Events” and there’s no reason not to discuss the event that happened this week, regardless of whether we think it’s underwhelming or what. The event, of course, is the release of “Mind vs. Might”, a duel deck that no one really asked for but which is coming out anyway. Really, no one asks for these decks but casual players are probably buying them and they are a great avenue for reprints.

I think there are people upset by the apparent lack of value in these sets but only some people. It was telling that everyone who was complaining about the cards in the set neglected to list Coat of Arms or Beacon of Tomorrows, or both. Seems to me that if you ignore roughly $13 of value in a $20 deck, you’re naturally going to feel like it’s underwhelming. Can a 29th printing of Coat of Arms stop it from getting to $6 again? I tend to doubt it. Is Beacon of Tomorrows, a card seeing its second printing ever going to stay cheap? Doubtful. It seems like we’re creating a buy-in window on two EDH staples and all people can do is bitch. That’s fine, those of us who are paying attention are pretty happy with the opportunities this set affords us. Are we here today to talk about surface-level observations like those? No, but let’s not knock surface-level observations. Some of the best specs are ones that become obvious to a lot of other people because you want there to be demand.

It sounds silly to say this, but sometimes cards get forgotten about. People need to be reminded that cards exists sometimes, and while that’s weird, it’s actually somewhat common. The thing that makes EDH such a great format for investment, its large and growing player base, is a liability when it comes to cards that are easy to forget about. A player who starts playing Magic in 2015 and begins playing EDH right away isn’t going to know about a card like Lake of the Dead. Hell, they’re not even going to know about Grave Titan, probably. Sometimes these duel decks jog a few memories. What’s going to jog some memories in these decks?

The Might deck has a few bulk rares on top of Coat of Arms and Guttural Response and it has new art on Zo-Zu the Punisher, which is a card I tried to break in a tigger-style deck years ago. Working on that ridiculous pile is actually how I met and became friends with Ryan Bushard which I’m sure is interesting information for like 5% of you and the rest of you are the MTG Finance equivalent of a person who started playing Magic in Khans block and don’t even know who that is. This isn’t as interesting as the other deck, to me.

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The mind deck has a few bulk rares to go with Beacon of Tomorrows and there is sweet new art of The Unspeakable and Mind’s Desire (which I now want to see in foil), but the card I want to talk about is the very first one on the list – Jhoira of the Ghitu. I realize the name of the article tipped you off and the feature image probably did, too, but I buried the lede anyway because I am physically incapable of resisting the urge to screw with people. The price of Jhoira is unlikely to be a factor – what I think is of import is that I think this deck reminded people that card even exists, and I think that can be very important. In fact, I don’t just think people are being reminded Jhoira exists, I can prove it with numbers and charts and other analyst guy stuff. You know, my job.

If that’s tough to read, click on it to open it up larger, scrutinize it a bit and come back. This graph is the most popular commanders based on searches on EDHREC. It’s at the top of the “Commanders” page and if you don’t want to bother figuring out how to navigate to that, here’s the link. I didn’t add Jhoira to this graph, users did. EDHREC uses a search that doesn’t allow you to type just anything in, you need to type until it populates the actual name of a card, then you click on that name and then click the search icon to go to the page. This means all searches are for real card names and it’s trivial to log them and populate this graph. On some days in the last week, Jhoira was the 5th-most popular general people searched for on all of EDHREC. To see it pop up on a graph alongside Atraxa and Breya and Meren has to make you think something’s coming.

Jhoira used to be the go-to tryhard deck when this format was very young. A lot of people used to play EDH 1v1 locally and I knew a lot of people with Jhoira decks, suspending big threats like Blightsteel Colossus and setting a Jokulhaups or something to clear the way for them to get up in everyone’s bidness with a 1-shot robot. Everyone started to adapt and new goodies for those players to use came along. A surprising number of “Jhoira Tier 1 best deck only deck” players became “Prossh Tier 1 best deck only deck” players and Jhoira sort of fell off. Multiplayer games are a little tougher to handle with a strategy like “Kill opponent with Blightsteel after you leave them landless and destitute” but that isn’t to say Jhoira isn’t viable, she’s just no fashionable. However, a bunch of new players have joined since 2013 or so when she fell off and there’s already renewed interest. If that interest starts to translate into tangible demand, cards that aren’t used much now will get used more and cards that are used now and are also used in Jhoira will get used even more. More demand is more opportunity as you well know. So what do we think has upside in a more Jhoira-y future?

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This first one comes to us from Time Spiral, a set that has several $2-3 uncommons, even after reprinting like in the case of Return to Dust. Harmonic Sliver is on a big downswing and flirted with $6 for a minute and that’s all we’re asking of this card. This has flirted with $3 before and could very easily double up again, only it should spike harder on a third spike with copies being concentrated more in the hands of dealers and stuck in decks. Demand has been relatively flat lately but so has demand for Jhoira and given the high degree of synergy between the cards, it’s not unreasonable for us to assume it’s possible they could rise together. This is an old card, there’s no real impetus to reprint it anytime soon and it works with a lot of different cards, not just Jhoira. Having multiple upkeeps is very useful and Zedruu, Oloro and even Atraxa decks are taking a look. At the very least, pull these out of bulk since you likely got them in bulk at some point, I know I do. I’d be super happy selling these for like $1.50 – $1.75 to buylists if this hits $4 or so. I’m also happy to sell these in my case for retail. Just know what your out is before you pay $1.50 on these and end up losing money after fees because you had to buylist them.

Guess what? This card has never been reprinted. Guess what else? It never will be because it’s on the Reserved List. They were sort of bad at putting Tempest and Saga Block cards on that list and they picked some real duds. Selenia, Dark Angel can never see a reprinting but we can have Time Warp a few more times. Thanks, whoever! I’m always very quick to defend the Reserved List and this is an instance where any upward pressure on the price will probably trigger a price avalanche, but, like, an avalanche that goes upward? Maybe the avalanche is the number of copies available on TCG Player. Look, it’s going to set off a chain reaction. This card is in low supply, it’s literally old enough to drink and it’s never getting reprinted. Would this be pretty good in a Jhoira deck? Uh huh. This is one of the lowest-risk targets ever.

This is what a floor looks like. I think this could get a little bit cheaper but barring a reprint, I don’t see you getting blown out paying $5 on this. The dealer price is starting to tick up a bit so that means the spread will be lower or the price will go up. Either way, those are signs that the card is healthy at $5 and will be exploring the headspace a little. I think this is particularly good in a Jhoira deck. Once Jhoira is online and you’re churning out fatties, you have less use for the 3-5 mana cost stuff in your hand and you might as well turn them into Force of Wills (Forces of Will?). This is a great Eldrazi to resolve and paying 2 mana and waiting is a great way to resolve it. Screw ramping, start cheating. Not only that, the infrastructure of the deck is set up to cheat creatures into play with cards like Quicksilver Amulet and chucking this into play with Amulet is perhaps the funniest way to counter a spell. This plays very well in the deck and unlike some other Eldrazi which are very expensive, I think this has a lot of room to grow. It’s in a sweet spot where Standard players have forgotten about it but EDH players haven’t totally adopted it, yet. It’s better than Emrakul but it’s in the same number of Jhoira decks and costs half as much. This seems solid to me.

The duel deck printing clearly curbstomped this price, but it also revealed that a lot of its growth beyond like $10 or so we predicated on the new Eldrazi somehow making the older Eldrazi more relevant. I think this price can recover a little bit despite being in a duel deck that sold pretty well. This is still a dumb card and it’s cheating when you attack someone with it. This stuffs Meren decks if they rely on saccing things, also and that’s a nice added bonus. This price is going to recover as good as this card is, but it’s usually relegated to decks like Mayael and Jhoira. Renewed interest in Jhoira is good for this card.

This is one of the most powerful things you can cast off of Jhoira, especially if you have a bunch of other stuff suspended. This is also a little cheaper than it could be with all of the “take one extra turn” cards going up. Decks that can afford to cast this can and should and those decks that can use this to cheat and put a bunch of fatties into play and attack with them unmolested certainly should. People forgot about this card a bit. Now that they’re remembering the commander from the deck it should go in, maybe they’ll remember.

Jhoira is a good deck but people have forgotten that. There are a lot of expensive cards that people are going to need more of, too, so there is plenty of opportunity. Get ahead of the people who are building Jhoira for the first time and have the cards when the price goes up. You probably have some time before prices move but it stands to reason that they will. EDHREC can alert us to interesting activity – like a blast from the past commander suddenly tearing up the top views chart, and when it does, we should pay attention. Will this interest translate into new decks and will that translate into price increases? There’s no reason to suspect it won’t and while you can’t make money buying and selling Jhoira after the duel deck printing, that’s not really what we do here, anyway. Until next week!

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Stay of Execution

There’s something I just love about the fact that the official EDH rules announcements are made on this 90s-era-design forum. People can say what they want about how WotC is “taking over” EDH but all you need to do is check out the official EDH site that looks like it was made on Angelfire or Geocities to get a reminder that this is very much a by-fans for-fans format. While some people bristle at there being a banned list at all considering house rules can take care of it, it’s obviously best to have some sort of universal rules system in place to standardize the experience, especially when you play people from outside of your playgroup or even in a tournament setting.

As a brief aside, Sheldon knows you don’t always agree with 100% of the decisions the committee makes and that he is the whipping boy for the RC on reddit and wherever else neckbeards congregate. He doesn’t care. If anyone who made rules for games listened to people on reddit, the game company would be bankrupt in a month because the people with the loudest voices are usually the dumbest. People aren’t going to stop playing EDH because you ignore their post in /r/magictcg about how “Profit of Kruphix is fine its not a banded card in my playgroup we banded Cultivate because my friend Zeke always played Cultivate on turn two always and we were like are you cheating Zeke seriously that card is not fair because he has more lands then me with my Marrow-Gnawer deck profit of Crufix is ok with me but Zeke is a cheater” but they might stop if you do take their dumb suggestions and ruin EDH.

People were saying before Aether Revolt was even legal that Paradox Engine was going to need to be banned. The Rules Committee knows that people are wrong a lot, especially random anonymous people. If Paradox Engine ends up getting banned 3-9 months down the line, those people are going to say “I told those idiots Paradox Engine was too good but they don’t listen! We need to get rid of the Rules Committee, kill Sheldon and scatter his ashes to the four winds. THEY HURT MY FEELINGS” and the problem (the biggest, there are lots of problems) with that is that people forget those same “prophets” saying Paradox Engine needed “pre-banned” (that’s not a thing) were also saying that Shaman of Forgotten Ways needed to be banned in EDH before the ink was even dry on the cardstock. Do you know what Shaman of Forgotten Ways even does? I’ll save you having to look it up.

It’s in more EDH decks on EDHREC than most people think (around 2,500) but it’s also not so game-breaking that anyone who hasn’t put it in a deck knows what it does without having to look it up. Most of the people who play it do so because it’s a Somberwald Sage that sometimes gains you some life or kills the Oloro player. Is Shaman pretty good? Yeah, of course. Is it bannable? Newp, and that’s why the Rules Committee doesn’t listen to people on reddit.

I’m sure they’re taking a look at Paradox Engine and I’m sure they’ll eventually either ban it or write a cryptic post in their forum that signals they’re not going to ban it, which will make people who don’t even play EDH buy a ton of them. That’s a legit strategy, and you’re probably going to wish you’d bought enough for your decks if that happens. What do we risk by buying 10 copies now?

Not a ton, in fact. The price might go down a little at rotation, but it would go right back up, provided it still had a home in EDH. The spread is low so dealers seem pretty confident in paying nearly retail on these because they know they can turn them over. There’s real demand for this card and the price is growing very slightly despite more and more packs of Aether Revolt being opened. It’s possible people were waiting for the first banned list announcement (I was) to buy in and now they could push the price some more.

In a world where this doesn’t get banned, the price probably goes up. It’s really good in EDH and a good comparison to how good it is/how much it flirts with banworthiness is probably Consecrated Sphinx.

Hey, interesting that I should mention Consecrated Sphinx, because in the process of pasting this graph, I noticed something curious. Do you see it? Here’s a hint.

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What happened here? Well, this is January 2016. What happened in January 2016? Well, among other things, Oath of the Gatewatch was fully spoiled and they did their Banned and Restriced List announcement. EDH, in talking about why they banned Prophet of Kruphix, said the following.

This was challenging. Prophet is not a traditionally obvious problem card for Commander, so we chose to take a conservative approach and see if casual groups could adapt. In the past, we’ve seen unpopular cards generate a lot of outcry, but be handled reasonably well. Powerful cards existing is OK and exploring them responsibly is an essential part of Commander.

This didn’t happen with Prophet. Casual groups haven’t been able to work around it and problematic play has not dropped off in hoped-for ways. Instead, the primary approach has been to steal it, clone it, run it yourself, or get run over. Ultimately, it seems the card is too perfect – it does everything U/G Commander players want to be doing and it does it in a way that makes counterplay difficult. With traditional boogeymen such as Consecrated Sphinx, you’re forced to expend a lot of your mana to cast it and will have a challenge protecting it as the turn goes around the table. With Prophet, it has virtual protection built in, negating that disadvantage almost immediately.

They mentioned Sphinx directly in contrast of a card they were banning. They basically gave their rationale for never banning Sphinx. If that wasn’t a signal to run right out and buy, what would be? Any anxiety about a banning of a highly-touted “Ban this” card from the “Ban this!” crowd evaporated – the card was safe and therefore a safe investment. I’m sure the RC didn’t mean to signal a run on Sphinx but it happened. The price is going back down to an equilibrium that is somewhere between its pre-spike price and its peak price, which is what always happens.

This means there’s an opportunity for a scenario where they accidentally say something like “We think (stupid card that got through R&D the way a Standard-Legal Splinter Twin combo did) is abusable in EDH in a way that’s not fun for anyone and is abusable with minimal set-up, unlike with a card like Paradox Engine that requires creature or artifact mana and a supply of spells to power the engine” and without meaning to, spike the price of Paradox Engine. I’d put the odds of that happening at about 1 in 20.

They didn’t exactly say “We’re not banning Paradox Engine” and it’s probably a bit premature for that, anyway. People were expecting Engine to be banned, but Prophet wasn’t banned the first chance they got. Prophet of Kruphix is from Theros, a set that came out in September 2013. It took them a little over 2 years to decide Prophet needed a ban. Sure, people whined less before Prophet was released than they whined about Paradox Engine (Or Shaman of Forgotten Ways) but they sure whined plenty once people like me started jamming it in decks and taking every player’s upkeeps.

Does the obvious, naked abusability of Paradox Engine coupled with its being colorless and therefore jammable in any deck (the same decks can jam artifact mana and Isochron Scepter and basically do anything infinitely) mean it can jump the line and get a ban before Prophet did? Not, before but, you know, earlier. It took 27 months to ban Prophet will it take 27 months to ban Paradox Engine? I feel like if it does get a ban, it will be in a shorter timeframe than that. This does give us some time for Engine to grow and, more importantly, it will continue to push up the cards that work best with it. I’d put the odds of Paradox Engine getting a ban in the next year at about 1 in 2. I just don’t know. I don’t think the card’s that bad, but they sometimes listen to whining and there’s some whining going on about this card already.

Since Paradox Engine is more apparent early, it’s likely that if it gets banned, it will be before the card rotates out of Standard in 2018. I think if it gets banned, it’s much more likely that it would be sooner rather than later. The RC will meet several times before 2018 which gives them chances to talk about how it’s on their watch list (It’s on their watch list) and how it has been performing and what the online scuttlebutt (whining) is trending. It would be a quicker turnaround than normal, but this card is more obvious than normal. If it is banned while it’s still legal in Standard, dealers won’t want to slash its price. It’s unclear how much of its price is predicated on Standard legality and how much on EDH demand but the price will be impacted less if it’s banned while there’s still a chance it could be broken in Standard and while it’s still legal there. The price will fall a bit but if you paid retail (or better yet, buylist) today, you’re not getting your pants pulled down completely. You can probably buylist your copies the day of the ban and get the full amount. You’re not taking a bath if it’s banned in the next year, which I think is more likely than it taking 2 years to ban it.

So we have a few scenarios that I’ll summarize

  1. Engine quietly gets ignored by the RC who watches it but never comments. The card steadily goes up over time. Odds – 1:1
  2. Engine is banned by the RC in the next year. The price is OK. Odds – 1:1
  3. The RC accidentally signals that they won’t ban Paradox Engine. The price goes up but probably comes down a bit. Odds – 20:1
  4. Paradox Engine is banned in more than a year, after it rotates out of Standard. The price gets cut in half or more. Odds – 20:1

Since there is only one scenario where you get blown out, scenario 4 and 3 scenarios where you either make some money or don’t lose a ton, I feel pretty good about buying Paradox Engine right now. Even typing that feels wrong to me. It still feels like a dangerous play, but unless there’s a flaw in my logic, I think we’re pretty insulated from a blowout. I don’t know how much I expect these to go down at rotation and the fact that this has ban risk somewhat counter-intuitively makes me want to stray from my normal buying behavior of trying to wait until rotation.

I still have some wordspace so I’ll use my last little bit to suggest a few cards with upside in a world where Engine doesn’t get banned and has some more certainty.

They didn’t like this being $10 but now that it’s a little closer to $4, they will likely hold off on reprinting it for a minute. This is a great card to combo with Engine and it can go in any color deck. Sol Ring, this and Lightning Bolt plus Engine kills the table. Is that a 4 card combo? Yeah. Will you always have artifact mana? Also yeah. There are enough tutors in EDH that a 4 card combo where one of the cards is “Any amount of artifacts that tap for 2 mana” and another is “Anything you can imprint on Iscochron Scepter” suddenly isn’t that daunting.

Cards like this are a great example of why EDHREC has been so useful to me as a financier. There is no obvious synergy between these cards – it’s more of a parasitic relationship than a symbiotic one. Engine untaps this, this is wholly unhelpful when it comes to enabling Paradox Engine to do anything (unless it draws you a spell to play to trigger Engine, which is not guaranteed.) This doesn’t immediately pop out at you as a good pairing, but when you see how often both of these cards are in the same deck, you start to realize that a deck with Engine in it being built means someone probably needs a staff, also. I play both cards in my Paradox Engine deck, so clearly there’s something to it. A high correlation between cards that don’t interact can establish a causal relationship between demand for one card and demand for another even if the two cards aren’t part of the same combo.

Did I miss something obvious? Are my odds wrong? Do you agree that Paradox Engine is a good buy? Are you staying away? Buying at rotation? Do you wish you could short it? Is it getting banned never? In the next year? I want to hear from you – leave it in the comments section. Until next week!

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Angels and Giants

Modern Masters 2017 is fully spoiled, and, may I just say, what in the actual @#$%?

Seriously. Seriously. Seriously.

I predicted the set would be crammed with value and that a lot of the cards I predicted would be in it would be in it. In reality, the set was crammed with value and a lot of the cards I predicted would be in it were in it PLUS Tarmogoyf.  It’s kind of hard to even right now. What we can do is look at the set, understand that the EV is through the roof, supply is much higher than we’re used to seeing with a Modern Masters set (no one knows exactly how much so it’s going to be tough to predict exactly how much prices will fall and we don’t need to do that to know we should buy at the floor, anyway) and figure out which targets are juicy. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to try and isolate cards that are just predicated on EDH demand and let other people tell you what Modern and Legacy may or may not be able to affect. Modern has an actual metagame and changes to it and bannings affect entire decks. EDH bannings, an infrequent event, don’t invalidate a whole deck, merely a card. We’re looking at a stable, predictable format and we even have some historical data of EDH cards in Modern Masters sets. Let’s see what we see!

The first Modern Masters had a lot of EDH goodies in it, and some of them got smashed, especially at rare.

Adarkar Valkyrie

Valkyrie was about to recover and might well have done an OK job of it if not for a second reprinting in Commander 2014 a year later. Those two combined have made this a bulk rare basically in perpetuity. But not ever card was so unlucky.

Stonehewer Giant

This has gotten back to its pre-reprint price. You can thank a little buoying from the renewed interest in this kind of card with the printing of the Nahiri commander deck as well as it being a nice budget alternative to Stoneforge Mystic. There’s one thing we can check that can help shine some light on the subject.

There you have it. How much a card is played can also be a factor, with Giant justifying some of its price with nearly double the inclusion. While it’s a little disingenuous to directly compare a card reprinted once with a card reprinted twice (much more aggressively the second time) we have a good idea of the factors that can affect the price so we can tell if a card is an Angel or a Giant. In this context, Angel is a bad investment doomed to stagnate for years and make you no money and Giant is a card that promises robust recovery. Giants give us those sexy, U-shaped graphs we like to see.

Modern Masters 2017 is going to give us more copies of a given rare than Modern Masters… 2013? 1? What do we call it? I’m just going to call it “Modern Masters” the way everyone refers to “A New Hope” as “Star Wars” and the other sets I’ll refer to as Modern Masters 2015 and 2017.

Let’s look at a few cards and see if they are an Angel or a Giant.

Craterhoof Behemoth

I have hopes for this card. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is a worst-case scenario sort of card. What if they print so many packs of Modern Masters 2017 that we have as many mythics as we did of Modern Masters rares? Are there cards with similar levels of adoption printed at rare in Modern Masters that could show us that Craterhoof could recover?

Woodfall Primus

I feel like I don’t even need to put the arrow on June 2013 to show where it got reprinted – it’s very obvious. Worst-case scenario, we get so much Modern Masters 2017 that mythic is the new rare, we see Primus (4,939 EDHREC decks, to Craterhoof’s 6,779, both well above the 3,479 we saw with Stonehewer) recovering almost 100%. Craterhoof also has some Legacy implication (very minor) to help it. My hope is that Craterhoof flies under the radar a bit. Everyone will use splashier mythics like Tarmogoyf and Griselbrand and Linvala in their EV calculations and the lack of immediate demand might tank hoofy’s price a bit. I see this being a Giant under even the worst of circumstances and the more this falls, the more money we make. Will it ever be almost $30 again? I’m not sure. I think it could recover a lot more than people think, and given that it’s mythic, it’s hard to imagine there ever being enough supply to fully tank its price. Even the ugliest Modern Masters mythics don’t look that bad.

Vedalken Shackles

1,163 decks on EDHREC and an artificial spike from the Modern Blue Moon decks make this just about the ugliest Modern Masters mythic and there’s still hope of recovery. Craterhoof has much better bona fides than this. I’m very confident.  I’d love to be fair and show the price graph of Comet Storm but, shoot, it got another reprinting and can’t tell us anything. Darn.

Zur the Enchanter

Compare Venser to a card that’s almost sure to get ground into powder. Coldsnap didn’t get opened a ton and cards like Arcum Daggson have demonstrated the ability to reach and hold some pretty lofty prices but Zur here is in for a big hit. While EDHREC numbers lie a bit (his 188 inclusions and 539 registrations as a commander [yes, it’s in more decks as a commander than inclusion] belie how popular he is in competitive and French Commander, formats where they rarely register on EDHREC but where their inclusions are even more likely to drive prices) I still think this is set to take a big hit. Being reprinted at non-mythic in a set where we’re nervous about mythics’ ability to regain ground before 2019 when we could see another reprinting is bad news bears for this card. It’s already having a tough time maintaining some of its earlier hype. I’d like to say its EDHREC numbers don’t matter because this would be a good example of counter-intuition if this were going to recover but I fear it can’t. Angel for sure.

Sphinx’s Revelation

This is going to get crushed into absolute powder. It’s going to be on fire for weeks, maybe months. Here’s the thing – I think this could end up getting down to bulk mythic status. Modern doesn’t use it a ton, Legacy at all, people who started playing in the last 4 years don’t even remember how dominant it was and no one seems to be aware that this is a pretty decent EDH card with 3,871 registered decks including it. It’s Oloro gold and Oloro is a top 5 commander of all time. When this gets pulverized, and it will if non-mythic rares like Blood Moon are to maintain any of their value, this is a very good pickup. I like this at its floor, which could end up being bulk. Being able to grab these greedily for cheap is a very attractive proposition. I think its EDH numbers are strong enough to maintain a price increase from oblivion and it’s basically no-risk if this ends up in bulk mythic territory. We have to see how low this goes, first (I don’t like buying these at $2, for example) but this has the ability to rebound from completely cratering and EDH demand is enough to do that. This is an X spell that draws cards and gains life – it’s even better in EDH than it was in Standard and it absolutely warped Standard.  Giant here, provided it gets humbled enough before it begins its comeback.

Basilisk Collar

This card has had a very weird month. No sooner did people notice this was pretty keen in conjunction with Walking Ballista (the same way people made the connection with it and Inferno Titan in Standard) in Modern than it was announced as a reprint. Clearly this was a “Wow, and EDH card people love is $10? That’s not cool” reprint and not a “Let’s bring the price down because Walking Ballista spiked it too hard” because while they knew Ballista was coming, it’s unlikely they planned a Modern Masters 2017 inclusion based on a 30% increase from more Modern play. This is in 3,303 EDH decks currently and it’s stupid with commanders like Olivia Voldaren. Can this be $10 again? I think it’s possible that it can. I think this card is a good example of the concept of Hidden Demand that I talked about last week. People who weren’t super aware of this card until its Ballista application materialized will likely underestimate the power of EDH. I think the demand from EDH and its cheap price suddenly making it accessible to people who weren’t inclined to shell out $10 for a Gorgon Flail are going to surprise some people. I see a nice, U-shaped graph in this card’s future. It won’t be $13 and it might not even be $10, but if it ends up $7.50, you’re going to be glad you paid $3 for it.

Venser, Shaper Savant

I said last week that this was something that could show us some hidden EDH demand that could trick people who think its price increases are entirely predicated on use in Modern, and in a deck that no one is really using anymore at that. EDH demand is pretty robust and is in line with the numbers we arbitrarily decided were OK for other cards – 4,434 inclusions and 56 as a commander. That’s a lot of demand that people who see this as a fossil from a Blue Moon deck that’s no longer in vogue (look at how sluggishly Vedalken Shackles is limping along after its reprinting in Modern Masters at Mythic) won’t realize is there. At 4 times the inclusion rate of Shackles, Venser is far more than some mere Blue Moon card that no one needs anymore.

I think it’s done a nice job recovering from it FTV printing. That goofy spike to $50 on the graph throws the scale off and belies the fact that its modest-looking crawl starting in mid 2015 is actually a precipitous $10 increase. That’s a very robust recovery.

Will it recover as well from a Modern Masters non-mythic printing? It’s hard to say. However, I think that while it’s going to have a tough time recovering if we’re getting as much product as people seem to indicate, it’s also going to be overlooked. I think the lack of apparent demand from competitive players will relegate this to a lower “tier” initially and its price will take a bigger hit than something like Blood Moon. That being the case, you may be able to make as much money as you would have buying something more expensive at its floor even if this card doesn’t quite reach its previous price. That is to say it may grow at a rate that’s a smaller percentage of its previous price than something like Craterhoof, but it could fall at a greater rate, also, meaning in terms of real dollars you can make as much money buying in at the floor even if it doesn’t recover to the same percentage of its initial price. Is that sentence gibberish? Tell me in the comments if that sentence is gibberish.

I’m personally pretty jazzed for this set. I really hope everything just takes a pounding and prices end up slashed because we’ve seen that a lot of these cards can recover nicely. There are a few unknowns. Will the FTV printing of Venser combined with its Modern Masters 2017 printing be as detrimental to the price as the Commander 2014 plus Modern Masters printing were to Adarkar Valkyrie? Or will the robust demand and relatively small print run of the FTV be enough to negate it? Is Venser an Angel or Giant? I’m betting he’s a Giant and I am betting money on it. There are some other very attractive targets to invest in. Next-level investors are looking at cards that have upside not having been reprinted and while that’s smart and useful (Check out James’ column tomorrow), EDH demand is strong, predictable and quantifiable. What more could you ask for?

Thanks for reading!

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Hidden Demand

I sold my Gaea’s Cradle for $50.

I don’t list this among my biggest MTG Finance regrets or talk about it often, and the thing was pretty beat up. Besides, $50 was a good price for it back when I sold it. This was during a period where I was having a hard time justifying all of the money I had tied up in a Legacy Maverick deck (that should tell you the year) that had as many German cards in it as I could find. I didn’t want my deck to be foil so I figured German was a good way to make the deck look sexy. I was most of the way done when I sold the whole thing and one of the last English cards, a jacked up Gaea’s Cradle, wasn’t a card I cared about.

A few years later, I got into EDH. I feel like I could really use that Cradle now. Lots of decks I run could use a Cradle and I could build a few I’m holding off on building, also. I come across Cradles, occasionally but I always quick flip them, never letting myself divert that much money from my business to my personal collection just so I can make my Prossh deck a teensy bit better. If Cradle were $20, though? I’d probably buy 10 of them. Even though I won’t spend $200 on one card (let’s pretend I wouldn’t pay buylist), I’ll spend $200 on 10 cards. I realize that Magic player Jason is a poor but that’s because player Jason would have to either embezzle money from financier Jason’s business or divert money from Dad Jason’s kid’s college fund. Fortunately, she’s a year old and still doesn’t know her own name, so it’s possible that college fund could become discretionary spending in no time.

I don’t think my experience is uncommon. Could I break off two hundo and throw it at some cardboard? Sure, but I’m loath to do that, especially for a bulk rare format like EDH. For $200 I could basically build an entire new deck, and a good one. I don’t think this is uncommon for EDH players, especially those who don’t come across as many copies of cards as I do, aren’t able to pay buylist prices as often as I am and aren’t cash money dolla billionaires like me. If you have a life outside of Magic like I don’t, you may just not even consider certain cards because while they’re great, they’re probably not necessary.

I think this is important because I think it means people can treat cards like Gaea’s Cradle like Dre and forget about them. When you neglect a card for so long that you forget about it, you’re unlikely to remember to include it in the lists you draft, even if you never intend to build those decks. Those cards end up underrepresented on sites like EDHREC and Tappedout and suddenly you have an underestimation of the demand of a card. I think there are cards that are in higher demand than some of our metrics indicate and that this could lead to them recovering faster from reprints. I think that’s worth knowing.

Some of these will be predicated on me guessing that they’re in Modern Masters 2017, but I feel like I have pretty strong justification for thinking this and I’ll support my conclusions. I also realize this is a lot of writing with no pictures, so I am going to type “hidden demand” into google and see what comes up.

Fascinating.

So before I launch into which cards I think have demand that is understated and which could recover faster than other cards, let’s look at a few cards haven’t been spoiled but which I think will be in the set.

Adam Prosak wrote a sweet article where he talks about design (and also spoils Damnation, which was all appreciated) and there is a relevant section that got me thinking a lot about what I expect to be in the set.

We have seen some of those archetypes shape up. Blink got Restoration Angel, Deadey Navigator and Snapcater Mage so far, Control has gotten Damnation, Temporal Mastery and Inquisition of Kozilek and both got Venser. Similarly the Populate decks have Seance and Thragtusk, the token decks have Goblin Assault and I think there is a creature that could go in either one of those decks. Based on them wanting a ton of small tokens and a way to make them bigger, I’m predicting the following.

Hoofy is a big card that wins games, but with that hefty pricetag, it’s tough for players to justify jamming him. Honestly, this is a contributing factor to the price of a card like Triumph of the Hordes. Wizards has also tried to give us cards like Decimator of the Provinces which is a poor facsimile for the Behoimoth but which will do in a pinch. Players jamming cheaper alternatives to the best card for the slot will cast aside their budget beaters once Craterhoof becomes affordable. There are players basically playing placeholders for this card without even knowing it. And if a player who didn’t have the money to break off to take themselves to hoof town can suddenly afford it, they might just jam both. The point is, the numbers for this card in terms of recent inclusion in decks belie the high price and I think that indicates pent-up demand.

Tarmogoyf is a bad example of a card to use as an example of what happens to prices from a Modern Masters set when there is a lot of demand because dealers manipulated what happened with Goyf by being able to buy a significant percentage of the Goyfs opened in Modern Masters total by being at GP Las Vegas twice when there was a huge Modern Masters event (something that’s not happening this year). I don’t see Goyf being in the set but Goyf did show us that pent-up demand can sometimes overwhelm supply. We saw the same thing with cards that weren’t bought quite as aggressively as was Goyf, and those graphic trends will likely be repeated with cards like Craterhoof.

Archmage (transiently, but still) actually exceeded its original price after its Modern Masters printing. I don’t expect that will happen with Craterhoof, necessarily, but I think it’s good to demonstrate that cards with a lot of demand (Archmage’s came from Modern) can rebound prices more than we’d expect.

An important caveat

By all accounts, dealers are getting WAY MORE of this product than they did of Modern Masters 1 or 2. Is this in part to the fact that they’ve foolishly opted not to have a big, kickass Modern Masters tourney at GP Vegas which is a few months away? Possibly. But given how many stores there are and how many boxes they’re able to order, I’m willing to be that we’re seeing a huge growth in the print allotment due to the tentative Modern Masters printing and the slightly braver Modern Masters 2 printing not pulling a Chronicles with the game.  Either way, there are likely to be more packs of this set opened at your LGS. Recovery of cards, especially non-mythics will be tougher than before. We’re unlikely to see prices go up after this printing the way they did in the past. On the other side of the coin, it’s unlikely it will be as difficult for rares to recover from a printing in this set than, say, a set like Khans of Tarkir.

There are other cards in the set that I expect have some understated demand, and if they dip a lot, like I expect them to, I expect you’ll be competing for cheap copies with a lot of players who were excited to be able to get them cheap enough to play with.

Damnation has to have been the #1 card requested by the EDH community, which is sort of funny to me. I’d much, much rather have cheap copies of Phyrexian Altar, a card that really needed a Commander 2015 printing and didn’t get it. However, EDH players have been clamoring for this card forever. It’s just not reasonable to pay $70+ for a $5 card that happens to be a different mana color. Damnation is a card that EDH players are happy to jam in their decks in a world where price is no object but it’s so expensive money-wise that they’re going with alternatives that are expensive mana-wise. While it’s obvious that Toxic Deluge can mostly get the job done and Decree of Pain is much better, people just want to pay 4 and wipe the board. Competitive players tend to gravitate to lower-mana-cost spells as well because their games are usually tighter. This is good news because if casual players buy the copies under $30, competitive players are more likely than casual players to continue to buy copies at a higher price, ensuring the recovery goes more smoothly than people are imagining. Make no mistake, the floor is going to drop out from under this card. However, I think people are counting on it not to recover, and I’m not so sure that’s the case. Don’t count this card out because there’s hidden demand that is going to make itself known very soon.

I’m not speculating here, we know this card is in the set, but we are speculating about the percent of the demand that is from EDH and the percent that was predicated on it doing well in one deck that no one plays anymore in Modern one time. Its inclusion numbers on EDHREC look very healthy and it’s a component of a lot of devastating cheaty decks like Roon and Brago as well as some of the spikier decks like the new Teferi Chain Veil shenanigans. However, when it spiked as much as it did, and not predicated on its EDH demand at all, price memory kept the price high and it priced a lot of EDH players out of the market. There are plenty of people who would play this card if it were cheaper who are staying away. Cheaper copies would encourage them to buy in. I also think this card is being propped up by scarcity more than people are aware so we may see these two effects – artificial high from a Modern-based buyout and price memory combining with some unexpected demand from players who can’t justify playing $20 for a Remanderang with feet. This card is a little healthier than we might think.

I think as more and more cards are spoiled, we should keep an eye on cards that were very expensive and are about to not be. In particular, cards that are from the pre-mythic era that aren’t getting a rarity shift to mythic. I think there’s more value in determining which cards we want to target at their price floor. For example, I expect Voice of Resurgence to be in the set but I’m not as excited about buying those at their price floor as I would Craterhoof. I’ve made a lot of money on Craterhoof, twice and if I can do it again, I’ll be living the dream. We’ll have some more to discuss next week as reprintings make entire decks buildable that might not have been buildable before and we’ll have a lot more targets to discuss. Until next time!

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