Category Archives: Casual Fridays

Modern Staples

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By: Cliff Daigle

Brace yourselves, I’m about to express a contrary opinion.

I don’t think shocklands, Thoughtseizes, Abrupt Decays, or Scavenging Oozes are going to see massive spikes in value when the Modern PTQ season hits. I also don’t think these will get affected by rotating out of standard.

Travis made a good point a while ago about how rotation out of Standard is no longer a sudden event causing prices to drop. It’s a far more gradual process now, with people getting value from their cards well before rotation. In the past, the PTQs in summer were all Standard, which kept some demand in place for those cards. Now? Who the heck knows.

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Today, though, I want to share with you some ideas about why certain staples are going to stay financially stable at rotation.

#1: Modern is year-round, even if the PTQs rotate.

Wizards has gotten everything it wanted and more with the introduction of Modern as a format. It’s non-rotating, so there isn’t any turnover, aside from bannings. Interestingly, this means decks don’t get worse – the card pool improves but individual matchups can worsen.
Modern is not yet at the level of Standard when it comes to being played often at FNM, but all it takes is once a month to start getting a player base interested. Once that happens, people can tune their decks for a long time and gain enormous insight and experience with those cards.

#2: We have pet decks.

In Legacy or Vintage, you chose a deck and built up to it. The price was high but the cards were good forever. Modern has a lower cost to enter (not by much!) but a lot of players simply bring a deck they know from Standard. The unbanning of Bitterblossom might well signal the return if the Faeries scourge, a deck that was deemed too good at the beginning of Modern.

I don’t play a lot of constructed tournaments, but there was a 5-color cascade deck in Modern that was a blast for me. The cascades all ended in Supreme Verdict, Blightning, or Esper Charm. Awful mana base, slow as heck and often dead to Kiki/Twin, but nonetheless a good time for me.

Our pet decks often just get better in Modern. If you liked playing UW Delver of Secrets in Standard, wait till you add red for Lightning Bolt/Lightning Helix. Snapcaster never had it so good!

#3: Anticipation removes the rollercoaster.

One of the problems with sets being Standard-legal for two years (one for Core sets) is that there is time to add cards to Modern. We will know within a year if a card is good enough, and plan accordingly. There are exceptions, but as the years pass, the metagame and the pros figure out most of the interactions.

So what does this mean for you, the casual Magic finance here?

There are two main takeaways here:

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First, If a card sees Modern play before it rotates out of Standard, don’t expect the price to fall at all. Our case in point would be Snapcaster Mage. He sees a lot of eternal play, and so his exit from standard saw barely a blip. 

Deathrite Shaman is going to be an interesting case. It’s too good for Modern but sees little Standard play. The price will be dependent on casual and Legacy play when it rotates this coming fall. I really don’t know what will happen to the price of regular Deathrites, but foils should stay consistent–people love to spend money in Legacy!

Second, when a card spikes in Modern, do not expect the price to fall back down slowly, even if it sees no play. I still can’t believe what Genesis wave got up to, and I have even more trouble believing that it has not yet come back down.

On a related note, the growth of modern has seen its staples continually increase in price. (Liliana of the Veil at $80?) Wizards is going to monitor the price of entry into Modern, and will use the tools at its disposal to help maintain card availability. I don’t know when it will happen, but we will see all of the fetch lands get reprinted at some point. Event decks, special issues, there’s lots of ways that cards can get printed again and those will be used.

Modern Masters was quite a success, on a ‘fun to draft’ scale as well as the ‘carefully reprinting cards’ basis. I would expect another round of that eventually, and probably with a larger print run.

I hope your PT speculations pan out! My prediction is that some weird and niche deck will light the world on fire. Something weird, like the Miracles deck or Eggs. Past in Flames/Young Pyromancer/Burn at the Stake combo? Who knows.

Have fun!

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EDH Bannings and Fun

By: Cliff Daigle

I do not consider myself proficient at very many things, but I am very good with the concepts of EDH: the methods of deck construction, the spirit of the format, and the wide range of things that are allowed in the search for fun. Staff of Domination

Any financier, casual or professional, has to understand the casual formats in order to grok why on earth some cards have the price they do. It’s important to understand that while Magic has all sorts of constructed awesomeness, it’s still mainly a friendly, casual, kitchen-table game. In fact, that’s been the key to its success: appealing to such a wide swath of players. Constructed formats cause price spikes, while casual stars see slow and steady growth.

Today, I want to help you understand a little more about EDH and its principles, so you can see why the Rules Committee bans and unbans what it does. I gained good value picking up Kokusho before its unbanning, and I made a little selling into the Staff of Domination hype at its unbanning.

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At its heart, Commander is all about interaction and experience. It was put together by judges who wanted to play swingy, splashy, uninhibited Magic. It is a way to unwind and to explore the quirky side ideas that have come up in this game.

There are some common tropes. Every EDH player considers a tribal deck at some point. Every player thinks about random deck ideas: an all-creature, or no-creature, or only certain sorts of art, or a deck designed to win via infinite combos. We often give thought to foiling out a deck, or making it all foreign, or if you’re Judge Emeritus Sheldon Menery, you embark on a foil Italian deck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Cube players with EDH players. There’s a lot of similarities, from the number of certain cards needed to the desire to make your interpretation unique.

One of the key features of Commander decks, and therefore a financially relevant idea, is that all sorts of play styles are possible. Are you a griefer? A combo savant? Do you only cast spells that cost more than eight mana? Whatever you’re into, EDH can provide. The founders recognized that fun is defined very differently from person to person, and don’t try to legislate that. Sakura-Tribe Elder

What they do legislate is imbalance, but they do so very selectively. Primeval Titan and his cousin Sylvan Primordial allow for huge mana gains, and are easy to abuse.

The issue that comes up when there’s a banning in EDH is this: they don’t try to ban infinite-combo cards. There’s no way to ban all of those without a banlist a mile long. Plus, they want to allow you that way of playing, if you and your play group enjoy that. What they tend to come down on are cards that are impossible to use ‘fairly’.

Allow me this example. Before PT got banned, it was in most green decks. As was Green Sun’s Zenith. I know that I would cast GSZ for three and get Sakura-Tribe Elder, or scrape by until I got to seven mana to get the Titan. It was simply the best thing I could do, and everyone at the table knew it. Getting the Titan or the Primordial out is such a huge swing, and sets up “waiting to die” board states.

Whenever a card is banned, the refrain goes up. “Why wasn’t [CARDNAME] banned too?!?!” Very often in forums, the cited card is Palinchron. This thing exists for no reason except to generate infinite mana. All you need is one land that generates two or more mana, and you’re infinite. It is not banned because infinite shenanigans is part of the game. Plus, with Palinchron, an instant-speed kill spell with the untap on the stack will solve the problem. There’s too many infinite combos to hate them all away. (Hi there, Kiki-Jiki!)

So what’s the financial bonus to knowing how these casual formats work?

The most relevant idea is that these players aren’t getting cards to trade. We trade for or buy a card in order to put it in a deck and keep it there. This cuts down on the number of that card in circulation, and inflates the price.

Case in point: the San Diego Comic-Con Planeswalkers. There is no hard data on the number made available, but those who got them either flipped them for immediate profit, are holding them to get more money later, or kept them for decks. It’s possible that some are simply showpieces in a collection, but these are not going to be found in random binders. Wild Growth

If you have one, you’re either playing it or keeping it until you’re ready to sell it. There are very few out there to be had. I’ve got an SDCC Garruk, and it’s in a deck and it’s staying there until I am desperate enough to sell pieces from my favorite EDH deck.

Another salient point is how often we build random casual decks and then just keep them in a box on a shelf. It’s not always worth the hassle to take decks apart. The high point for me was 15 EDH decks and that’s a lot to deal with. Several just sat unused for months at a time–few of us will get to play 15 Commander games in less than a month.

It’s a phenomenon not limited to Commander, though. We have a habit of putting old decks aside. I have a deck I built in 1999, jokingly called Turbo-Thallid, using those Fallen Empires cards to great extent, and using Earthcraft and Wild Growth and Fungal Bloom to power out lots of Saprolings. Thallids have gotten much better since, but I haven’t updated the deck in fourteen years. It’s a pet deck, and how would I even try to explain what format it’s for to new people? It’s not even Legacy-legal!

Rest assured, though: Earthcraft will eventually get unbanned in Legacy, and I’ll be happy to sell into that hype.

Where EDH shines as a format is when people find a common power level. If all of your friends enjoy counterspell wars and copying Time Warp, more power to you folks. If your Commander games end up as Giants vs. Faeries vs. Elves vs. Beasts, that’s awesome too. There’s no one way to play it.

What surprises many tournament players is how often Commander decks are deliberately underpowered. It’s more than skipping dual lands and fetch lands. It’s about leaving out cards that end the game abruptly, or lead to twenty-minute turns. In my Experiment Kraj deck, I don’t have any abilities that tap to add mana, because I have lots of untapping abilities. It’s no fun to me if I deliberately and consistently go infinite.

These games are not always about winning. These games are about the experience and the interaction. Mr. Menery said it best: “The secret of the format is not breaking it.”

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Small Set Economics

By: Cliff Daigle

The consensus at the moment is that Born of the Gods lacks punch, panache, and power for constructed formats. It’s being lumped in with Dragon’s Maze, which is not where you want to be. That set had one chase mythic and a lot of chaff. (How good is Ral Zarek and Inspired, though?)

Beyond the letdown, there’s something else at work we need to pay attention to: the size of the set and the block.

Unless you’ve been playing this game since 2009’s Scars of Mirrodin block, you might not know that the ‘traditional’ structure of a block is Big Set – Small Set – Small Set. It’s been four years since Wizards did a block with the structure they have said is ‘normal’. It’s fair to say that a large part of the current player base has started playing after that point. Karn Liberated

Scars block has seen a number of price spikes lately, especially mythics like Phyrexian Obliterator, Karn Liberated, and the popular casual cycle of the Praetors. Casual formats like EDH are also why Darksteel Plate is a $5 card. So many people have started playing Commander since 2009, it accounts for a large part of that price growth.

When the block structure changes, so does the draft environment and the economics of that set. Small sets can have cards that are highly sought after, but since only one of those packs is opened in a draft set, those cards are simply more scarce.

Let’s go to the numbers. For my examples, we’ll presume a small store that does three drafts in a month, and gets exactly eight people on those nights. We’ll talk about how the numbers scale in a moment.

Our model is a draft pod of eight people at one store, three drafts per month, three months per season. I’m not going to account for prize packs, since there’s such a wide range of prizes given out.

8 people in a draft

3 drafts per month

3 months in a season

3 packs of Theros

24 packs

72 packs

216 packs

This is exactly what happens with the big fall set: We open lots of it! But what happens when we add the second set in a traditional structure?

8 people/draft

3 drafts/month

3 months/season

1 pack of Born of the Gods

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

2 packs of Theros

16 packs

48 packs

144 packs

The key here is not only are packs being opened at a 2:1 ratio for these three months, the big set was already exclusively opened for three months beforehand!

Now, the full block of Theros:

8 people/draft

3 drafts/month

3 months/season

1 pack of Journey Into Nyx

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

1 pack of Born of the Gods

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

1 pack of Theros

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

When we add it up the nine months of Theros block, the discrepancy is clear. In this basic example, this store will have opened 432 packs of Theros, 144 of Born of the Gods, and a mere 72 packs of Journey into Nyx.

Reducing that ratio (yes, let’s step back into middle school math) gives us a ratio of 6:2:1.

For every one pack of the third set, two of the middle set and six of the first are opened. Granted, this is only for draft, but sealed goes 3/3 and then 2/2/2, which isn’t a big swing, considering how many drafts happen vs. how many sealed events occur.

It doesn’t matter how many drafts are held, this ratio stays firm (so long as equal number of drafts occur during each season.) We will open three times as many Theros packs as we will of Born of the Gods, and we will open six times as many Theros packs as we will Journey into Nyx. Cards from those sets are much more likely to see big price spikes during their time in Standard – and beyond!

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the ratio of the block we just finished:

 

Draft season

Packs opened that season

Totals opened at the end

Return to Ravnica only

216 RTR packs opened

288 RTR packs

Gatecrash only

216 GTC packs opened

288 GTC packs

Full block (DGM-GTC-RTR)

72 of each opened

72 Dragon’s Maze packs

Our ratio is now 4:4:1, and explains how all the shocklands have a similar price right now: we opened equal amounts of each of those set. Return to Ravnica block draft had one more issue: Modern Masters showed up at the end, and everyone who could draft that instead of RtR block did so.

To counteract the small-set effect somewhat, small sets have less cards. That means the chance of getting a Brimaz in your Born of the Gods pack is higher than getting a Jace, AoT in your Return to Ravnica pack. The number of mythics in a small set is five less, but when combined with the smaller number of packs, the small-set cards don’t keep up. When a small-set Mythic is popular and powerful, we get Huntmaster of the Fells at $40 before the end of its time in Standard. A hot new build featuring Voice of Resurgence would have a similar outcome.

With small sets opened in that ratio through the life of the block, and the smaller number of rares/mythics, chase cards are exactly that: a target. As a rough estimate, specific small-set cards are three to four times less likely to be opened at events. It’s not going to feel that way at a PTQ or GP, where it will seem like Gods and Brimaz abound at the top tables, but there it is.

Aurelia, the Warleader

Born of the Gods will have an extra three months of it being drafted compared to Journey into Nyx, though. That set will be even more impacted! There will be twice as much Born of the Gods opened as Journey into Nyx.

I admit there are factors here that I can’t account for. We aren’t told how many redemptions occur via Magic Online. We aren’t given hard data on the number of boxes sold, nor are we able to estimate how many boxes are opened just for the packs.

So what does this mean? What benefit do we gain from this knowledge?

First of all, if it’s borne out that Brimaz is the chase mythic and all else is chaff. Stock up on the scry lands from these two small sets. They will be much harder find than their Theros counterparts, and will be sought after during their time in standard. Don’t sleep on how good the scry lands are in EDH either – that’s going to lower the supply available.

The Gods of BotG face a similar path. All of them are good casual cards and make interesting decks as generals or in the ninety-nine. I’m looking for a few of them myself. They may not see much Standard play, but the smaller numbers and casual appeal will keep their prices from dipping too far. I’d anticipate that the five Gods of Journey into Nyx will be similarly impacted, though they will be half as available! (Side note: I’m trying to trade for Aurelia, the Warleader right now because it’s a safe bet that the Boros god, Iroas, will do something good for attackers, and a curve of Iroas into Aurelia will only need one other red or white card to turn on devotion and double attacks.)

After that, though, I don’t see much in Born of the Gods that will have players going crazy. It’s a set with a little something for everyone, filling a lot of niches. There’s exchanging control, random destruction, legendary benefits, a less-than-overpowered planeswalker, and a five-color, dear-lord-why-aren’t-you-a-legend mega-Bestow. There’s a lot of fun cards to try, but not many that will have a huge financial impact.

In the event that I’m wrong, please keep in mind that everything in these two small sets will have a severely diminished supply. We’ve got three months of Born-Theros-Theros drafts in front of us, so we’ll keep opening Master of Waves and Hero’s Downfall, but we won’t crack open many of the new Gods or the new scrylands.

Have fun at the release this weekend!

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Minor Devotion

By: Cliff Daigle

A while back, I said that the Gods of Theros make for terrible EDH generals. I stand by that statement and the rationale behind it.

I’m here to tell you that the gods of Born of the Gods (and probably the ones of Journey into Nyx) are quite the opposite and you should respect their value, especially in foils.

Purphoros, God of the Forge

The ‘minor’ gods in Born of the Gods are much more flavorful than the ‘major’ gods of Theros. The five mono-color gods had a static and an activated ability. Only Purphoros and Thassa have abilities worth triggering on their own, and those are less than stellar. Thassa getting there with a Mutavault in Standard is pretty amusing in a control shell, I have to say.

Our allied-color gods have only one ability, and have higher devotion requirements, but to make up for that they are much more “build around me” abilities. I could see myself building an EDH or casual deck around any of these legendary enchantment creatures because what they do is powerful and unique.

I am an advocate of patience. I would tell you to trade away any and all cards you open at the prerelease. I have been doing that for years and it’s served me well. That being said, I can’t wait for the prices on these gods to drop to the $5 range, at which point I’d snag all I could. I doubt they will all get that low though, especially Xenagos. I’d be happy to get him at $10.

My sneaky prediction is that Phenax ends up as the surprise card of the set. People love to mill! People really love to mill in lots of formats, and if you think I’m not going to work on a Doorkeeper, Wall of Frost, double Returned Phalanx, Phenax curve, you don’t know how much I love janky Standard decks. Maybe I need to add green for Prophet of Kruphix.

Quick aside: I’ve told you to get your Prophets while they are cheap. They are up $1 since Inspired was spoiled as a mechanic. I’m not kidding about how good this card is in casual formats. It’s still going to get opened but if you’re looking for a safe long-term speculation, here it is.

Prophet of Kruphix

Right now, you can pre-order Phenax on TCGplayer for $8 or so. That’s a decent price point and I suspect that’s where he will be for a while yet. With Born of the Gods being labeled as a comparison to Dragon’s Maze, there may not be a lot of incentive to bust open boxes for value. Travis just this week expressed his disappointment quite eloquently, but I think that these minor gods will be casual stars for a while.

Foils of Phenax will especially be in demand, and for the other gods too. EDH decks will love Karametra’s ramp into a huge Genesis Wave or some such. Mogis fits right into lots of aggressive decks AND attrition decks. Ephara plus Sacred Mesa is going to have me grinding my teeth in jealousy during four-player games.

I’m leery of price points on prerelease weekend, but if I cracked a foil God, I’d make sure everyone in the room knew it. Someone is going to want that card a bit too much and I’d ask at least $25 for any of them, and depending on how eager that someone was, I’d try to haggle for more. I’d aim for $40 if it’s Xenagos in foil. Hey, speaking of…

Dear lord, how many awesome haste enablers can I cram into a red/green deck? Is this timing restriction genius or what? I do wish he could target himself, but with Burning-Tree Emissary around I can see why that’s a touch too good.

I don’t think there has been a card that does what Xenagos does. There have been haste-granting cards in these colors before (Fires of Yavimaya, Sarkhan Vol) but none that were indestructible. He only grants haste to one creature,, but somewhat makes up for that with the power boost. I’m looking forward to trying him as part of my mostly-creature decks, though I’m not sure if I’d rather have him or Urabrask the Hidden.

So in short, if this does end up being a lightly-opened set (though it looks like a blast to draft!) then the gods will be even more valuable than their current prices indicate. I feel good comparing them to the Praetor cycle from New Phyrexia, even though that was a spring set and this is a winter. Their prices may be under $10 now, but they will creep up over time due to their casual impact.

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