All posts by Travis Allen

Travis Allen has been playing Magic on and off since 1994, and got sucked into the financial side of the game after he started playing competitively during Zendikar. You can find his daily Magic chat on Twitter at @wizardbumpin. He currently resides in upstate NY, where he is a graduate student in applied ontology.

City of Traders: Innistrad Rotation

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By Travis Allen

As we approach Theros spoilers (Wizard’s PAX party is this coming weekend, where last year we saw the return of the shocks and Dreadbore, among others), it’s a good time to pay attention to what is on the way out. Rotation will not only be the starter pistol for Ravnica rares to take off on price surges, but is also a chance to grab up Innistrad cards for what may be the lowest they will be in years. I’m going to browse all of Innistrad block and M13 for anything that jumps out at me.

Sanguine Bond Jan 2012 - Aug 2013
Sanguine Bond. Jan 2012 – Aug 2013.

Army of the Damned – This is a casual card that is absolutely dripping with flavor. It’s highly unlikely to do much in any real format, but ongoing casual and EDH demand may cause a rise here down the road. I don’t see it spiking in two months, but this may pull a Sanguine Bond and quietly end up at $7 or $8.

Avacyn, Angel of Hope – Knight Exemplar is a $3 card despite having been printed three times and seeing zero competitive play. Indestructible is a casual fan favorite. That same demographic of players also love Angels. That is why Avacyn is currently nearly $15. She will be over $20 within probably a few months, and should live between $20 and $30 for years. This isn’t exactly a spec target, but if you wanted any, now would be the time to acquire. Foils are nearly $50, and will only stand to gain as well.

Bonfire of the Damned – I don’t like Bonfire long term. It’s seen virtually no play elsewhere, and isn’t particularly cool. I’m not sure the card will ever be worth more than it is right now.

Bruna, Light of Alabaster – While having done nothing in Standard, it’s still an angel that plays well with Auras. This card is barely $1, and it would basically be impossible to lose money on her. Not many angels are less than $1. She also has the marginal chance of showing up in Modern if any auras make her particularly vicious. Exalted with Sovereigns of Alara used to be a thing, and Eldrazi Conscription still exists.

Descendants’ Path – While nothing ever came of this in Standard, it has a non-zero chance to break into Modern at some point. Casting free spells is awesome, especially if they have “Eldrazi” written on them somewhere. Imagine when they return if we get a Llanowar Elf that is colorless, taps for colorless, and is an Eldrazi?

Even if it isn’t an eldritch horror that breaks it, it’s not hard to imagine humans or, hell, even Minotaurs doing it. At 50 cents, Descendants’ Path seems very safe, even if it may not pop for a while.

Garruk Relentless – Few Planeswalkers are worth less than $6, which is right around where Garruk is today. Garruk is also the only transforming Planeswalker that exists and will likely stay that way for years. Additionally, he’s a strong card that even shows up in Modern from time to time. I expect foils of this guy to be particularly fertile ground, as I’ve seen a lot of people collecting foil flip cards for the sole reason that they’re foil flip cards.

Geist of St. Traft – The ghost is a massive force in Modern and Legacy.  I can’t see this card’s floor being any less than $15, if it even gets that low. Get in now if you need them, and if they fall two or three dollars, be happy with that rather than having not bought them and seeing them jump by $15.

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight – This card is $5 and has not seen a lick of play in Standard. Like Bruna, being an angel is enough to be worth money, and will assuredly tick up in price steadily for a while after falling out of Standard.

Griselbrand – $10 and the reanimator/breacher of choice in every format that type of degeneracy is permitted. Like many others on this list, he is at his floor until he gets Griselbanned.

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Havengul Lich – I got in on this guy way back when and he’s done nothing but take up space since, but I’m still a firm believer. Havengul Lich has a powerful, unique ability that would be the engine of a combo deck. He’s a popular creature type, he’s in great combo colors, and he’s a mythic from a middle set that was fairly unpopular. I don’t see how this guy ISN’T over $10 at some point in the future. How far that future is, though, I am unsure of.

Innistrad lands – I’m mentioning these to tell you that they are not pickups. They are completely irrelevant in every format except for Standard, and you won’t need them until they’re legal there again. If you can get a good price for yours now I’d ditch them. Other than that, stick the 40 in a plastic sleeve somewhere to dig out again in 4 years.

Huntmaster of the Fells – This is another card that has so far been very relevant in Standard, but I dislike long term. He sees a little bit of play in Modern Jund, but I don’t believe that this is the four drop Jund wants. Sure, he does some things, but I can’t imagine this is the highest impact 4-drop Jund could be running. I may be proven wrong here, but I’m ok with the chance of that.

Liliana of the Veil – I’m reasonably confident this card isn’t going much lower. Liliana has seen play in Standard, but she has seen far more action in Modern and Legacy (T1 dark ritual lol) in the last two years, and typically as a 4-of. Jace has shown us what the ceiling looks like for Planeswalkers, and it’s a lot higher than $40. I’m not saying she’ll hit $150, but I could see her cresting $60 or $70 without a reprint. I’m putting my money where my mouth is on this one; I have a few spare that I pulled off my sale list because I believe she has room to grow.

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Liliana of the Veil. Jan 2012 - Aug 2013
Liliana of the Veil. Jan 2012 – Aug 2013

Mikaeus, the Unhallowed – When was the last time you saw a black EDH deck that didn’t run Mikaeus? He’s also an immediate win off of Tooth and Nail with Triskelion, if that ever becomes a Thing. He’s not necessarily a spec target, but a “if you need any grab them.”

Omniscience – I’m a big fan of this card, and not just because I’ve had tournament success with it. It’s a huge splashy card that casual players are drawn to, and it’s obscenely powerful to cheat into play. Resolving this is frequently going to be a win in Modern and Legacy, and being a critical combo piece, will likely be a 4-of. We’ve got a core set Mythic that has eternal demand, casual demand, and EDH demand. Looks like a winner to me.

Past in Flames – Its $1. If you don’t have 4, grab 4.

Primal Surge – At under $1, this is another one that seems safe. You can sock this away in a box with your Havengul Liches and not feel bad having spent $10 on a bunch. Either casual play drives it up to a few bucks each in a year, or some funky Modern combo appears that involves you dumping your entire deck into play using this card. Either way, it’s low risk and low opportunity cost.

Restoration Angel – I did a double take when I saw this was down to $5. Wasn’t this card like 20 bucks recently? While not particularly relevant in Legacy, she’s good beats in Modern, and again, an angel. Not only is she also a natural combo piece for Kiki-Jiki, but the right 3-drop with a fantastic ETB could really do work with her.

Sigarda, Host of Herons – See Bruna and Gisela.

Snapcaster Mage – Believe it or not, I’m not too bullish on this guy. $20 is a hefty tag for a rare in one of the most opened sets in Magic history. He’ll be leaving Standard and has seen very little action in Legacy. He’s obviously good for sure, and has seen a lot of play in Modern, but when that’s the only format he’s really doing work in, how much can he be worth? I wouldn’t sell your set, but I’m not sure I’d be in a rush to snap (heh) him up either. If he dips and then starts to rise again, it will be a slow rise, so you won’t miss a good buy-in window.

Temporal Mastery – This card does say Time Walk, right? Temporal Mastery sees some amount of play in Legacy, but has yet to break into Modern. I don’t think the support for this exists there yet, but I believe it will at some point, and when it does, this will be a 4-of. I wouldn’t call it a spec target, because it could take quite some time to get there, but if you’ve already got them, I don’t think I’d be looking to get rid of them.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben – Thalia is doing a ton of work in Modern and Legacy right now as an absolute nightmare for control/combo decks that doubles as a reasonable threat. $3 for her seems pretty low to me. $7-$8 feels a lot more appropriate. It may not happen overnight, but I like her a lot over the next year.

Cards of the week:

  • I talked about Chandra, Pyromaster a few weeks ago when she was a cool $10. She’s jumped a few bucks since then, and has been consistently showing up in Top 8s. I wouldn’t be surprised to see hear near $20 in the next three months.
  • Glimpse the Unthinkable is getting chatted up a lot around Twitter/articles lately. The card slowly climbed from $12 to $20 over the last few years purely on casual demand. It wasn’t printed in Modern Masters or the Ravnica block, which were the two most likely places to see Glimpse again. This feels like it may be another Horizon Canopy, or close to it.
  • It took a few extra weeks, but Kor Spiritdancer jumped from $2.50 to $7.50. Keen Sense saw a jump as well, although less pronounced.
Glimpse the Unthinkable. Jan 2012 - Aug 2013
Glimpse the Unthinkable. Jan 2012 – Aug 2013
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City of Traders: Phlipsyde

By Travis Allen

A week or two ago I asked on Twitter if people wanted to hear about flipping collections, and the answer was a resounding “yes.” Today I’ll talk about some of the larger collections I’ve purchased, and then discuss some strategies to keep in mind if you choose to do it yourself.

Collection #1 – This remains the largest collection by volume and retail that I’ve purchased so far. I had picked up a few small collections for between $50 and $300 before this, but this purchase dwarfed those. This list is hardly exhaustive, but it had, if memory serves me: two beta dual lands, ~25 revised duals, a nearly-complete set of Legends, a partial set of Antiquities including a Candelabra of Tawnos, about 10 or 11 full sets including Urza’s block, a full set of Zendikar fetchlands, a handful of Onslaught fetchlands, and boxes and binders alike that were filled with random cards from Beta to Zendikar, which by volume were mostly garbage but certainly had plenty of good cardboard scattered throughout. It took the better part of two weekends to pull everything of value out, and another two or three months to break even on the sales process.

Retail value: ~$13,000
I paid: $3,500

Collection #2 – While this wasn’t as many cards as collection #1, nor was it as varied in its inventory, it was solid value throughout. I actually ended up paying more for this than I did #1, even though it was technically worth less. (They can’t always be home runs.) This seller had done his homework, and actually sent a list of basically every single rare in the collection with their average eBay prices. The reason I paid more for less on this collection is simply that the seller was far more educated about what he had. He recognized he wouldn’t be getting full retail, but expected a reasonable rate of return. Included were: 33 Revised duals, 31 Zendikar fetches, 22 Onslaught fetches, 4 FoW, 4 Thoughtseize, 4 Cryptic Command, 2 JTMS, 5 SFM…the list just goes on with hundreds of $3-$50 cards.

Retail value: ~$9,500
I paid: $5,000

Collection #3 – This is the smallest “large” collection I’ve bought. Unlike the previous two, this is a player that had gotten out of the game recently, so there was a good chunk of Standard cards. In this case, he had everything listed through DeckBox, so I was able to see a complete list of what was coming, as well as their TCG values. He obviously had that information as well, so it was mostly a matter of finding a number that we both agreed on. The most valuable card here was a single Unlimited Underground Sea. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything particularly stellar, just Good Cards. 6 Onslaught fetches, a Taiga, a set of Liliana of the Veil, a few Eldrazi, some Kiki-Jiki, Sphinx’s Revelations, Bonfires, Cavern of Souls, etc.

Retail Value: ~$4,900 TCG Player low
I paid: $2,200

Now that you’re tired of reading about what I’ve done, let’s talk about how to do it yourself.

Where to find collections – There are essentially two types of sellers. The first, and typically most lucrative, is the obvious one: craigslist. I have a tab open to a craigslist search for “Magic” that is always there when I turn on my computer, and I keep an eye on it every day. There is going to be a lot of chaff on craigslist, so patience is required. There was over a year between my purchases of collection #1 and #2. They simply don’t show up that often, and as time progresses, we are going to see it less and less as those stockpiled Magic cards end up in the hands of people like you and I, who then hoard and distribute cards amongst the community. You will, however, see plenty of this:

craigslist__collection

For the low price of $150, you can have over 1,000 garbage Ice Age, Homelands and Revised commons. Craigslist is really just going to come down to being patient and finding the right lot.

Other options are garage/estate sales, which I’ve found to be pretty unreliable. Typically you’re talking shoeboxes in size. Keep an eye out for these when you’re strolling yard sales with your girlfriend, but don’t expect it to be reliable.

Coworkers/muggle peers are also a potential source. You really want to find people that are about 40-45 years old right now, as that would have made them 20-25 when Alpha came out, which is the perfect age for disposable income on nerd crap like this. You might not want to be asking your three-piece suit boss if they have Magic cards, but I’ll leave the discovery process here up to your discretion.

The second seller is the knowledgeable type. These are people that have been playing somewhat recently, and have decided to get out of the game for whatever reason. They are much better at accurately valuing their collection, so you won’t be getting duals for $5 apiece here. It doesn’t mean you can’t get a good rate, it just means that there is going to be a lot less of a game where you try and feel out the seller’s knowledge and expectations. In my experience, these transactions are faster, more straightforward, and more numbers-oriented. Both of you know the score, and you’re just trying to find a price you’re both comfortable with.

How to Evaluate Inventory – You can typically get a good feel for what is in the collection quickly, so long as it isn’t completely massive. I like to start with the binders, as those are where you’re most likely to find concentrated value. I also like to check out any decks they may have built, and if the boxes of cards are sorted at all, I at least try to look at lands, artifacts, and blue spells. If it’s sorted by set, I’ll look for Urza block, Mirage, any Legends/Antiquities, Mirrodin block, Future Sight block, etc. Be prepared for most large collections to be overwhelmingly Revised/Ice Age/Homelands/Fallen Empires. When flipping through boxes, feel free to just skip over these sections entirely. You should still go through the painstaking process of looking at each card once you get the boxes home, but when deciding whether to buy the cards, don’t waste both their time and yours looking through what may as well be kindling.

On large collections (over a few thousand cards,) I’ll bring a small notepad to keep track of what I’m seeing. Once the collection is of sufficient size, you aren’t going to be able to make a reasonable offer off the top of your head, nor will you likely have that much cash in your pocket anyways. Writing down quantity of duals/fetches, a rough idea of how many >$5 cards you saw, etc. will help you remember what you’re dealing with when you get home.

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Questions to ask – There are a number of questions you want to ask the seller. Their answers will help you understand what you’re looking at as well as what to expect in negotiations. It also helps to make small talk with people while you’re rifling through their property inside their house. Being personable and friendly will make them much more likely to be flexible on price. As a side note, avoid divulging too many details regarding your experience in purchasing collections. If they get the impression you’ve done this quite a bit, they may perceive you as a bit of a shyster rather than an earnest individual that just wants some Magic cards.

  • “Has anyone else looked at the collection?’’  Here you’re gauging interest. They may lie, so take what they say with a grain of salt. If they tell you they’ve had 8 or 9 emails about it though, they probably aren’t exaggerating by much. It’s not uncommon for lots listed too cheaply to be sold within hours of being listed.
  • “Has anyone bought any singles out of the collection?”  You want to see if someone stripped the good cards and ran. If they say that yes, that someone bought just a few cards, then that is very likely where the duals and forces went.
  • “When did you start playing?”  Get a feel for when the collection may have started. This tells you what to look for. If it’s after 2002 for instance, you know duals are less likely. You want to hear 1993, or sometime after 1996.
  • “When did you stop playing?”  This will tell you the latest set you can expect to find, as well as how aware of Magic pricing they are. If they played up until Alara block, they’re going to be a lot more aware of how much the cards may be worth, while someone that quit during Torment days has had the boxes collecting dust for years and years.
  • “Why did you stop playing?”  This is most salient when they quit recently. If their friends left the game and interested petered out, they likely aren’t in a rush to move the cards. However if something occurred in their life and they need funds quickly, this works in your favor. Someone who really needs $2,000 for car repairs doesn’t have time to shop their collection around. Waving ducats around has a good way of getting things done.

How to decide how much to offer – There are several factors at work when considering what type of numbers to offer.

  • The obvious place to start is how much you peg the collection at. I try to keep my estimate at just the cards I’ve seen. I’ve brought home one in the past where I looked at one 500 card box, saw some good stuff, and made an offer based on that box. When I got home, it turned out that almost every good card was in that single box.
  • The knowledge level of the seller is important. If it’s someone clearing out their attic, chances are they’ll just be happy to have it gone and end up with enough to go buy dinner. If it’s someone like the individual in the second example above, you aren’t getting away at 10% of retail. Lowball too much, and you’ll offend them.
  • Whatever price they listed at will help you understand their expectations. Whoever was selling the cards in that craigslist picture above obviously way overvalues his cards, and even if that whole picture is worth maybe $5, that’s only about 4% of his listed price. There’s no way someone is taking 10% of their listed price. If there isn’t a price listed, that’s good for you. It means they don’t know what’s fair or they’re open to offers.
  • Sellers typically assign value much more evenly across the collection than is accurate. What this means is that many will assume 5,000 Ice Age cards will be worth a lot more than a shoebox full of revised duals. While this is a pain for buying large, low-value collections, it works both ways. If during examination the inventory seems like it’s mostly garbage with just a handful of notable cards, or even just a single outlier (something like a foil MM Brainstorm), tell them that it’s all a little too rich for your blood, but ask if you can buy just a few singles that you’d love to have for yourself. There’s a good chance they’ll be fine with this, and you’ll be shocked how little people assign to individual cards. Think $2 a card. I typically avoid doing this unless the collection really is just nothing but Homelands commons, and they are expecting way more than is reasonable.
  • My goal when buying a collection is 30% of retail. That gives you a very comfortable profit margin for making your money back, as you could sell at 70-80% of market and still do well. 30% is fantastic though, so don’t expect this every time. I’ve gone up to about 60% on smaller buys. Your ceiling here is dictated by what exactly you’re buying. Keep in mind what types of sales you’ll be making to recoup your costs. If it’s just piles and piles of $3-5 cards, you’re going to have to put a lot of envelopes in the mail to make that back. That’s a large investment of time, risk as a seller, and shipping costs. However, if it’s basically just a playset of Onslaught fetches and odds and ends, it’s a lot easier to pay a higher percentage because you can move more money in less transactions, they’ll sell faster, and you can get way closer to retail on a Polluted Delta than you can a foil 7th ed Mana Short.
  • The size of the collection also dictates what percentage you can buy at. Basically, the larger the collection, the less competition you have. If the seller wants $400 for $1,000 worth of cards, there will be plenty of people willing to make that buy. However, someone asking $4,000 for $20,000 worth of cards, while a better price overall, will generate a lot less demand. There simply are not going to be many individuals with the knowledge and capital to make a purchase like that. These very large collections are my favorite. There’s less competition, you can get a great rate, and it’s hard for anyone to turn down a few thousand dollars in cash, regardless of how much their cards are actually worth.
  • When making an offer, especially via email, I typically like to outline some of things I’m taking into consideration. I may explain that a large majority of the cards they own are from a time period that saw huge print runs, and subsequently they’re not even worth the paper they’re printed on. I may note the wear of the cards if that is a factor, or perhaps point out that while they may have seen certain numbers on eBay, there’s a sizeable loss of profit on those numbers when considering eBay fees, PayPal fees, shipping, etc. Overall, people are going to be more receptive to “Here’s the number I can offer, and this is why” compared to “$600 lmk.”
  • I touched on this briefly, but their need for expediency is good news for you. If it’s someone that simply decided they’re done and is in no real rush to sell, it will tough to get a great price. An individual in a situation where they need cash quick is a lot more likely to wheel and deal.
  • When you’re buying someone out entirely, you sometimes get “bonus” stuff. Dice are very common, as are an assortment of deck boxes. I picked up about 40 of those giant oversized cards in a collection at one point. Old Scrye pewter life counters are easily worth over $50. This type of stuff is typically considered throw-in, but enough of it can add some real value to the deal.

What to do when you get it all home – This is easily the most fun part; the discovery process. I try not to look at every single card when I’m evaluating the collection just so that there’s an element of surprise when I get home and open it all up. The best way to approach this is to systematically go through and touch every single card so that you don’t miss anything. As you go through, pull out every single card that catches your eye and every single rare you spot. All of them. I can’t stress this enough. Nothing is worse than going through 20,000 cards, getting to the end, realizing you were pulling out cards later on that you weren’t at the start, and having to do it all again. If some of the stuff you pull out isn’t worth the effort of selling it, it’s very easy to dump it back into a card box. Once you get everything out, start by setting aside everything you want to keep for yourself. Then begin looking up prices of everything you aren’t sure is worth selling. Any commons and uncommons that aren’t worth it can go back into the boxes. Set any bulk rares aside. The reason for this is that when it eventually comes time to deal with getting rid of the leftover chaff, having all the rares separated makes it easy for you to figure out how many there are for reselling or bulking out.

Making your money back – My preferred way of accomplishing this is not eBay, but rather going through established communities. I personally use MTGS, Twitter, and another community forum. Others prefer MOTL and various other sites. If your city has a general MTG Facebook page, that’s a great resource as well.

Buylisting the cards is an option. You will definitely get better rates of return on selling directly to individuals, but it takes a hell of a lot more time than just sending a few hundred cards to whatever vendor and getting a check. This decision is personal preference. I haven’t opted for this, but I can see the appeal.

When planning to sell to individuals, I begin by alphabetizing everything I’m selling and then setting them aside in their own box. Don’t mix the cards up into your trade collection; it’s too difficult to keep track of them if you do. Once everything is in order, I like to create a Google spreadsheet document. It’s accessible from any internet connection, has editing capabilities on the fly, you can share the link as read-only to let people browse at their own leisure, and it makes for easy importing into Excel if necessary. As you sell cards, you need to be absolutely diligent in making sure the list online matches what you have on hand. Once you start getting discrepancies, you begin agreeing to sell cards to people that you don’t actually have, and that is not something you want to be doing. Building a positive reputation is hugely important, as it enables people to feel comfortable sending you several hundred dollars at a time for cards that are sight unseen. For this reason, I would recommend picking one website with reference tracking and sticking with that until you build a solid reputation.

Getting rid of the leftovers – Unless you live in Montana or one of those states where the cattle outnumbers the humans, space becomes a concern, especially once you end up with more than a few thousand spare cards. I’ve had success moving smaller batches around 2,000-5,000 cards on craigslist by being very straightforward with the lot. I put right in the listing that there are no duals/forces, and that it’s a kitchen table collection for a kitchen table price. This gets a little harder to do the larger the pile gets though, as disposable income for kitchen table magic is not very large for any one individual. As you can see, I still have yet to solve this problem entirely myself…

boxes

Whew, I had a lot more to say about this than I realized I did. If you decide to tackle this process yourself, I wish you the best of luck. Just don’t do it where I live.

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City of Traders: Understanding Kalonian Hydra

By Travis Allen

As of Monday evening while I’m writing this, Kalonian Hydra is about $22-$23. It has seem some amount of play so far in Standard this summer, most notably in Zvi’s GW Elves deck piloted by Hall of Fame elect Huey Jensen to a Top 8 performance at an SCG open. The card, unlike Voice of Resurgence, has not exploded onto the competitive Magic scene. Rather it has quietly slotted itself into a few face-beating decks as a 4-of, providing a brutally effective if not particularly graceful means of achieving victory. Despite the quiet reception, I believe there is potentially something brewing here.

Let’s begin our look forward by examining past Core sets. Look at these cards and see if something stands out to you:

When Baneslayer Angel was revealed in M10, the collective community gasped. Wizards brought creatures to the party, and they rolled deep. Never before had a creature been so clearly pushed. Keywords and abilities abound; it quickly made good on its promise of power, bringing with it an unheard of $50 price tag in Standard that many would herald as the umpteenth death of Magic. It remained a huge factor in tournament Magic right up until the next summer, when it was promptly outclassed.

In M11, rather than a single wrecking ball of a creature, Wizards bequeathed unto us five. Each had their own day in the sun, but the clear winner was Primeval Titan. Valakut had been decent prior, but having a 6/6 trample the deck could accelerate into that conveniently represented death on two separate fronts pushed the deck to the front of the Standard landscape until Valakut rotated along with the rest of the Zendikar block. Primeval Titan, as Baneslayer Angel before him, carried a $50 price tag for considerable periods of time.

M12 ran the Titan cycle back, and while the second printing suppressed the prices a bit, the titans continued to be a massive force in standard, with Primeval Titan being a 4-of in a Pro Tour winning deck, fetching and fueling massive Kessig Wolf Runs.

Three years after Baneslayer Angel dominated creature matchups, her scaly counterpart arrived hot on the heels of Lingering Souls to make sure Standard wasn’t ruled by dinky 1/1 spirit tokens. Thundermaw Hellkite didn’t need a litany of abilities, opting rather for succinct prose: Flying, Haste, Tap your flyers. Functioning both as a gruesome top end for aggressive/midrange strategies and a fast clock for UWR control decks, Thundermaw Hellkite has spent most of his tenure in Standard terrorizing Top 8s. His pedigree is such that he has even broken through to Modern, a true testament of efficacy for a 5-drop creature. Thundermaw Hellkite, like his predecessors before him, enjoyed a $50 price tag for a non-negligible period of time.

Baneslayer Angel, Primeval Titan, and Thundermaw Hellkite all hit $50 during their respective outings, and even when they weren’t floating that high, they still had no trouble holding $25-45. Additionally, there was no subtlety here. Nothing here slipped in under the radar and then saw success due to a particular metagame. These cards were the metagame. Nobody saw the spoilers for these cards and thought, “hmm, I wonder if this is good enough.”  These creatures were not the piano wire or silenced pistol, but rather nail-studded baseball bats and limb-tearing desert eagles. “Red Zone” may as well have been written across the card in Sharpie.

We’ve established that past core sets have shown us large, Mythic, blunt creatures of destruction that have all seen significant play and commanded $40-50 price tags for extended periods of time. I have no reason to expect this year to be any different. The question then, is this:

3 by 3

Which of these is our sledgehammer?

There are arguments for each, but let me explain why I don’t think it is either Archangel of Thune or Chandra, Pyromaster.

While I think Chandra’s power is so far unexplored, I don’t think she’s quite the format-warping artillery strike past creatures have been.  She is more of a role-player rather than meta-maker. She is also a Planeswalker, not a creature. While I doubt our defining spell in the core set will forever be a creature, I don’t think we’ve left that territory quite yet. Nor does Chandra appear as heavy-handed as specters of Standard past.

Archangel of Thune is a candidate more worthy of consideration. First of all, she’s a creature. Second of all, that ability is pretty awe-inspiring. It doesn’t take long to imagine a scenario where Archangel gets dropped into a board full of dorks, you trigger lifegain once or twice, and suddenly you’ve got a legitimate army. The biggest reason I don’t expect this to have the lasting power of Kalonian Hydra is because of these two cards:

Sublime Archangel vs Angelic Destiny

Sublime Archangel is the real damning evidence here. It’s another top end angel that pays you heavily for having a board full of guys. While Sublime Archangel wasn’t cheap – pushing $30 during her peak, and comfortably $15-$20 for quite some time – she saw mostly fringe play and kitchen tables, while it was Thundermaw that was ruling the skies in Pro Tours. There’s room for other pricey Mythics in core sets beyond the $50 battlecruiser, as Sublime Archangel and Angelic Destiny before her have shown us. I get the impression Archangel of Thune will receive her accolades early, working in concert with Sorin and similarly lifegainy cards in a grey deck. She may still pop up from time to time over the next year, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be taking a back seat to the rapidly multiplying heads of Kalonian Hydra.

Kalonian Hydra has a lot in common with past Florisian best-in-formats. He is eminently castable, capable of winning the game on his own, and there is no subtlety to his strength. While he doesn’t have an immediate impact on the board in the way of Primeval Titan or Thundermaw Hellkite, Baneslayer Angel did not either. And while he may not do as much immediately, with the exception of Primeval Titan fetching mountains or a huge Kessig Wolf Run, Kalonian Hydra kills the opponent faster than any single prior pillar. Taking all this into consideration, I feel there is a good chance Kalonian Hydra is that creature.

At $23, it’s hard to say definitively that you should be buying in. Speculation is out of the question at this point, as there is far too much to lose in case things shake out unexpectedly. However, it’s not unreasonable to assume he could hit $50 sometime in the next year, and as cards like Liliana of the Veil and Voice of Resurgence have shown us, the existence of $35-$45+ cards in Standard is certainly possible. At this point, I’d be asking yourself if it’s a creature you are likely to find yourself casting. If the answer is yes, I’d start looking for opportunities to grab them in trade. There is definitely a chance he may settle sub-$20, but if it’s the type of card you want to be swinging with, you’ll be very upset if you try to wait for him to drop and then find yourself stuck trading for them at $35 a pop.

A few points before I go:

  • Chandra, Pyromaster was a 2-of in the winning decks of both Grand Prix Warsaw as well as one of the SCG Opens this past weekend. She’s currently around $10. While it won’t always be Kibler’s GR deck, I have a feeling she’ll be showing up with regularity in the future. $17-$25 is quite possible.
  • Last Wednesday I mentioned Horizon Canopy and Shadow of Doubt. By Thursday morning, both were basically out of stock everywhere. Horizon Canopy jumped by a solid $10, and Shadow of Doubt doubled to $7. I don’t believe either price is stable yet.
  • This coming weekend is GenCon. There should be some Theros and/or Commander spoilers. Watch for any strong interactions with existing cards for growth potential.
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City of Traders: WMC Review

Another weekend, another major Magic event. This time around, it was the World Magic Championship. I was rooting hard for Reid Duke, and I’m nearly positive I was more upset at the Engineered Explosives in Shahar’s opening 7 in game 5 than Reid was. Still though, it was a great finals with plenty of tense moments. Many (PVDDR) were dismissing the match due to Aura’s perceived lack of interactivity, complaining it would be boring to watch. What we were treated to instead was an exciting match between two skilled players, with a lot of drama in what draw steps would herald and whether Shahar could win the race. My biggest complaint, beyond Reid not winning, is that he reminded everyone that Auras exists, a deck I was planning on playing at GP Detroit. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.

My first impression while reading through the Standard lists was just how boring they are. When players work together in a team prior to a major event like a Pro Tour, it’s good for everybody involved. They do great jobs of finding the best decks, and we get to see the real power in whatever format they’re playing. There are a lot of Pro Tour players that aren’t in pro superteams though, which leads to a lot more variety of brews (good and bad) showing up. At the WMC however, there are only 16 players. A team of 5 people consists of nearly a third of the room. The result of the players forming these teams was a homogenization of the event: there were five Jund decks and eight UWR Flash decks in the Standard portion. That means a little over 80% of the room was playing one of two decks. That makes for a very bland looking Standard scene, regardless of whether the true format is more diverse. Even Jon Finkel noticed, taking to Twitter to vent his frustration about how Wizards had seemingly phased out many unique deck types such as combo, land destruction, hand disruption, true control, etc.

Financially, basically nothing came out of the Standard portion. It served only to reinforce the staples: Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, Jace, Scavenging Ooze, etc. I don’t think we’re going to see much of anything new or noteworthy in considerable competitive play until rotation. I’m guessing it will mostly be a lot of tweaking of existing archetypes. Brian’s GR beatdown deck was the only Standard deck that was a departure from the norm, but all the financially-relevant cards are already known suspects, so there isn’t much to work with there either.

The more actionable data was found in the Modern portion of the event. The most significant finding was the prevalence of Scavenging Ooze. A full 22 showed up between maindecks and sideboards, which is about 33% of the maximum amount of Oozes that could have appeared. You’ll remember that a few weeks ago I told you how good Ooze would be in Modern. I don’t expect this to be a passing fad either. SCG has jumped their buy price to $12.50, and is currently sold out at $25. The Ooze is here to stay, so get used to it. The ramifications of this will be widespread. One impact will be just making it tougher and tougher for graveyard strategies in Modern. 4x Deathrite Shaman and 4x Scavenging Ooze is going to be the start of so many decks in Modern that showing up with Vengevine, Demigod of Revenge, Life from the Loam, or really anything with considerable graveyard interaction is just asking to 0-3 drop and get food.

Aside: Keep your eye out for any card that gets printed to help protect your graveyard. Think along the lines of a bear that while in your graveyard gives the whole thing hexproof or some such. Wizards may realize they’ve pushed too hard on graveyard hate, and not wanting to blank so many cool cards, may provide some resources for those types of decks. This type of card, if properly powerful, could quickly become a strong card in both Modern and Legacy, but would likely not carry a high price tag during prerelease season.

Other than Scavenging Ooze, I really like Horizon Canopy right now. The card is a fantastic land for any deck that wants to make green and white mana as well as attack. It’s a land that makes both of your colors right away, it helps combat mana flood, it’s used in Legacy, and it’s a Future Sight rare. Grove of the Burnwillows had a second printing, is arguably not as good, and is still $20. The rares in that set have proven that they are completely capable of going wild, and staying there. Case in point:

Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 - Jul 2013.
Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 – Jul 2013.

Horizon Canopy has been ticking up slowly for quite some time, currently at about $14-15. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it jump like Chord of Calling did at some point. $35+ may be a stretch, but $25+ seems plausible. There’s a very small chance we’ll see it in Theros, but if we don’t I expect it to rise the closer we get to Modern season. What makes this particularly safe is that even if it is printed in Theros, it would be with a Modern border. The unique Future Sight border will help the card maintain value even in the face of a reprint. I particularly like Horizon Canopy foils, which could easily be $70-$100+ with a jump.

Financially, the most important but least-discussed piece of information (so far) is the change in the PTQ schedule. Previously, it was Modern at the start of the year, then Standard over the summer, and finally Limited in the fall. Now however, we have this schedule:

PTQ_seasons

What this means is that starting at the end of this year and through spring of 2014, it will be Standard instead of Modern. Then through late spring and early summer we’ll have Sealed, and Modern doesn’t show up until early summer, where we’ll have it for 11 weeks. Finally the year will finish up with Sealed again through late fall.

The first major change to consider is the delay of the Modern PTQ season. Originally, we all expected it to start around January 1st or so. This meant that between now and the start of the season, we only had to worry about what was in Theros and the Commander product this November, as well as perhaps any spoilers that slipped out ahead of time. Now though, Modern doesn’t start until June of next year. That is a long ways away, with the entire Theros block being released in the interim, M15 spoilers will be close at hand, and most germane, spoilers of summer product will be available. In fact, do you recognize the date of June 7th from anything else? The Modern Masters release date was June 7th, 2013. The Modern PTQ season begins exactly one year later. This is no coincidence. I bet dollars to doughnuts that we will have or at least will have heard of another Modern supplemental product by then.

The obvious impact of this is that our Modern holds are far more tenuous than they were before. Whereas Fetchlands were an absolute hold before, that is much more in question now. There is a lot of time and a lot of product to go before the PTQ season finally rolls around, and a lot of opportunities for the lands to be printed again. Wizards isn’t going to be turning a blind eye to the most prevalent lands in the format being this expensive. They have shown an eagerness to go after high-value Modern staples already. The rise in price of Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant was a byproduct of Wizards printing too few boxes, a move they have already explained was meant to be overly cautious. I do not expect them to be quite so prudent next time. They now have the data in front of them, and they can more accurately gauge how many boxes they should print of any future Modern product.

Hint: it’s going to be more.

The question then becomes what to do with our Modern holdings. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m still a bit undecided. I’m not rushing out to sell them today, as the threat of additional copies won’t begin to creep up until after the first of the year. It’s really next spring we need to worry about. At this juncture, I am planning on holding until after the first with the calculated risk that they likely won’t go down by then, and have the chance to climb a few more dollars. I’ll probably ditch them in January though, happy to take my profits and unwilling to brave whatever spoilers the spring months may bring. It’s entirely possible the Fetchlands don’t see another printing cycle before the next PTQ season and they all hit $70+, but I’d much rather get out at $30-50 each in January rather than have them show up in MM2 and sell at $20 in July.

The other slightly less drastic result of this schedule change is that there is no longer a Standard PTQ season to keep rotating staples afloat over the summer. Once March 9th rolls around, Ravnica-block Standard staples will quickly begin to decline as PTQ grinders sell off their copies that they no longer need, whereas in the past they would have held them right through till rotation. Expect Standard prices to deflate sooner and faster this coming year than they have in the past.

Two last parting tips this week: Fellow financially-minded writer Corbin Hosler (@chosler88) pointed out on Monday that Shadow of Doubt has quadrupled in the last several months. As an original Ravnica block rare, it could easily climb to $10. The card also has hybrid mana, making it tough to print outside of supplemental product. If you can grab these under $4, they seem quite safe.

Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.
Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.

 And finally, Sen Triplets. This card is now pushing $14. Did you know that?

Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.
Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.
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