Category Archives: Finding Value

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Elements of an Undervalued Mythic

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By Guo Heng

Mark Rosewater did an AMA on Reddit a few years back, and the following was part of his response to a question by Hall of Famer Brian ‘Dragonmaster’ Kibler regarding the “lack of truly awesome dragons in a long time”:

“…I am happy to tell you that there is a dragon that I’ve been told is very tournament worthy in the pipeline. I can’t tell you for what set but suffice to say it’s been made and you all will have a chance to play it soon enough.”

-Mark Rosewater

Sure enough, in Mark Rosewater’s preview piece for Magic 2013, we got this:

Thundermaw Hellkite Large

Thundermaw Hellkite was the dragon that redefined the competitive dragon. The ambition behind the design of Thundermaw Hellkite was to create “a Dragon that set the standard for a badass Dragon as Doug Beyer laid it out in Mark’s preview article. And Thundermaw Hellkite achieved exactly that. Prior to Thundermaw Hellkite’s existence, the dragons that saw high-level competitive play were either too expensive to cast or contain a prohibitive mana requirement that restricted their playability to few archetypes.

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Thundermaw Hellkite broke the mold. She is a five casting cost 5/5 flier with haste and an enter the battlefield ability that ensures she and potentially your army could go in for the alpha strike. She was obviously pushed and was designed for the tournament tables.

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Yet her price trajectory during her first few months of being unleashed into the meta was nothing but dismal.

Thundermaw Hellkite Price

After the hype surrounding Magic 2013 died down, Thundermaw Hellkite’s price tanked all the way to $10. How could the price of such a playable mythic stoop so low? We all know the answer to that: Thundermaw Hellkite was a mythic with no home in Standard. Indeed the reason Thundermaw maintained a price tag of $10 was the fact that she is a dragon and is from a core set.

In October 2012, a couple of months after Thundermaw Hellkite’s release, and right after Return to Ravnica rotated in, Takeda Harunobu won a high profile Standard tournament in Japan with a Standard brew we now know as Jeskai Tempo (or UWR Tempo back then). Takeda’s deck featured two Thundermaw Hellkites alongside Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel.

In the middle of November 2012, Jon Bolding took down Grand Prix Charleston with a Black-Red ‘Big’ Zombies deck that featured three Hellkites in the mainboard. Tyler Lytle took down Grand Prix San Antonio the week after with the same deck.

By December 2012, Thundermaw Hellkite was a $40 card and remained so until February 2013. Throughout her Standard shelf life, Thundermaw Hellkite saw play in a multitude of archetypes and was a quintessential staple of InnistradReturn to Ravnica Standard. She even saw Modern play when the UWR Tempo archetype made its debut in Modern.

Thundermaw Hellkite’s trend was not unique to herself of course. A handful of expensive mythics had at some point during their Standard life been sorely undervalued due to a multitude of reasons. Some stayed low for a brief period of time. Dragonlord Ojutai is a recent example. He was preordering for $6, began his first week in Standard under $10 and is $38 as of writing. Some remained low much longer. Remember the summer when Jace, Architect of Thought was under $10?

On the other hand, a lot of mythics stayed in the under $10 region all the way until they rotated out of Standard and into the bulk bin. I was bullish on Duskmantle Seer after a BUG Aggro shell running four Duskmantle Seers briefly surfaced in the meta. Even Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa had good things to say about the Seer, arguing that his symmetrical ability is asymmetrical in the right deck. When Duskmantle Seer hit $3, I thought he was too cheap. I bought two playsets for speculation and one foil playset for myself. As of today, they are collecting metaphorical dust in my bulk specs box.

When we speculate on undervalued playable mythics, we are betting that those mythics would have their day in the sun before their time in Standard comes to a dawn. The following are three questions I use to evaluate the chances that an under $10 mythic would spike before its time in Standard comes to an end.

1. A Mythic in a Hostile Meta?

Thundermaw Hellkite struggled to find a home during her first few months in Standard as it was the era of Blue-White Delver. If you were lucky enough to be able to resolve a five casting cost dragon amid Mana Leak and Snapcaster Mage, Vapor Snag would wreck your tempo. Once Mana Leak and Vapor Snag rotated out, the meta was Thundermaw Hellkite friendly and as a result she was able to spread her wings and soar to $40.

Thundermaw Hellkite’s dominance (in tandem with that of Falkenrath Aristocrat) kept Jace, Architect of Thought out of the metagame.

Jace, Architect of Thought Price

Once the hasty fliers rotated out of Standard in October 2013, Jace proliferated throughout the metagame in Blue-based control decks and Mono Blue Devotion. His price spiked to the $30s briefly and hovered around the $20s until the release of Jace vs. Vraska.

Xenagos, the Reveler and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver both spent time as $7 mythics. Both spiked above $15 when a new Standard was ushered in last fall.

Are there any inherently good mythics that are currently undervalued because they do not have a home in the metagame? Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is just $7.55 at the moment. Sarkhan is competitively costed, defends himself and is a game finisher but he is not the card you want to cast in a metagame where Hero’s Downfall is prevalent. Could Sarkhan soar to $20 once Hero’s Downfall falls out of Standard?

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker smells like a good summer pick-up.

2. Does the Mythic Carry the Game by Itself?

A card that requires synergy to tap into its full potential is unlikely to  be played in multiple archetypes. Build-around-me mythics have a significantly lower chance of spiking due to the reduced probability of them finding a home. Duskmantle Seer was a good example. He requires you to maintain a low curve in your deck to optimally exploit his Dark Confidant ability.

The reliance on synergy was the reason I did not buy in on the Master of Waves spike when Shorecrasher Elemental was spoiled.

Master of Waves Spike

It was tempting to buy into cheap Master of Waves in case Blue Devotion becomes a thing again, but too much hinged on the success of a single deck for that bet to be worth making.

Every card listed on point one above are good cards even by themselves. Dragonlord Ojutai is a card advantage machine all by himself, allowing him to be one of the most ubiquitous mythic in the current Standard metagame. Of course we get a card that occasionally bucks the trend. Falkenrath Aristocrat’s spike hinged solely on the popularity of The Aristocrats archetype but she was an exception rather than the norm.

3. Does the Mythic have a Snowball Effect?

The card advantage you get from each activation of Jace, Architect of Thought or each time Dragonlord Ojutai connects makes it more likely for you to activate or connect the second time around. And the third. Eventually the card advantage from those effects propel you sufficiently far ahead in the game that your opponent has practically lost even though his or her life point is still above zero.

An undervalued mythic with a snowball effect is more likely to find a home and experience a price spike compared with a mythic that offers you a splashy, one-off effect.  Incremental card advantage and board position win games. Sometimes the advantage those cards generate are not immediately obvious until you play with them.

I am going to cheat and use a couple of Standard rares to illustrate this point. In my defense, the following are rares that started out their Standard lives being in the low single digit price range and eventually maintained a price above $15 for the majority of their Standard-legal life. Without playtesting with Goblin Rabblemaster, it was easy to overlook the fact that every turn Goblin Rabblemaster stayed on board puts you further and further ahead in board position. Every turn Courser of Kruphix remained unanswered could potentially lead to an extra card drawn and an extra life point gained.

This question generally applies to permanents rather than spells. We do occasionally get a spell that allows us to chain card advantage. The first Sphinx’s Revelation you resolve increases your odds of hitting your second.

In this vein, I like Sorin, Solemn Visitor as a pick right now and during this summer. Sorin is currently paying a visit to the valley of sub-$10 playable mythics. $9.40 seems too cheap for a versatile planeswalker that generates incremental card advantage and could be found in both Abzan Aggro and Abzan Control. Perhaps the latest iteration of Mardu Superfriends could be the next tier one contender in the format. Or we could even see Sorin and Narset side-by-side in Esper Control in the new Standard meta this October (I personally prefer Dragonlords). Sorin also has the additional upside of a relatively low spread of 36% as of writing.

Conclusion

Those three questions cover only the main points in evaluating if a sub-$10 mythic has a good chance of spiking before it rotates. Other factors like Duel Deck reprint risk and set supply should be taken into consideration as well. I chose those three elements because they constitute a useful rule of thumb to help you decide if a cheap mythic is worth picking up. Those points were derived from the lessons I’ve learned from getting burned by Duskmantle Seer and the countless other mythics I spec’d on with hopes of an early retirement but are now destined to remain in my bulk spec box forever. Those points were distilled from the what little success I’ve had with Thundermaw Hellkite and a few other mythics which in retrospect seemed exceedingly obvious they were too cheap. Those were the points I used to evaluate Dragonlord Ojutai before coming to a conclusion that I should probably preorder him.

Do share your thoughts in the comments section below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


 

 

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Game Day Promos, Part I

By: Guo Heng Chin

The Dragons of Tarkir Game Day weekend was one of a kind. Out of the four Game Day events I attended, three of them attracted a crowd larger than the average PPTQ in my area. Game Days have never been that popular, nor that competitive. The weekend also set the record for the most Game Days I’ve ever played for a single set.

This was the reason:

Bow before the might of the Regent, in full art.

Back at the Fate Reforged Game Day, the coveted prize was the Game Day Champion playmat featuring Chris Rahn’s alternate art of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The playmat sold for $80 on eBay during the weeks following the event, and is now selling for $30 to $50. The expected value for participating in Fate Reforged Game Day was not spectacular, as only one person could win the playmat and sometimes tiebreakers can be heartbreaking.

This time around, the main prize as players saw it was not the playmat, but rather the full-art foil Thunderbreak Regent which was awarded to the top eight players at each Game Day. Besides being a highly playable dragon in Standard with casual and EDH appeal, the card features a gorgeous full art treatment by Jason Rainville. Here is a slice of eBay completed sales for the promo during the Game Day weekend:

eBay Thunderbreak Regent Game Day

The Game Day Thunderbreak Regent is still commanding a TCGplayer-mid of $20 as of writing. If you took Derek Madlem’s advice and made top eight of your local Game Day, you would most likely have made a good return for your participation fee.

The price of the foil full-art Thunderbreak Regent got me wondering: is it one of the most expensive Game Day promos ever to the given out?

Today, we are going to take a trip back in time to the first Game Day ever that awarded full art foils to the top eight players. The long-term price trajectory of full art foil Game Day promos piqued my interest because:

  • They are limited edition and in limited in supply as only eight players per Game Day receive copies.
  • A large majority of them seems to cater to the casual and EDH crowd, which means good long-term potential.
  • Full-art foils are more collectible than set foils. Barring a few, Wizards has done a great job in ensuring that the art for the Game Day top eight promos blows the set version’s art out of the water.
  • Chances of being reprinted: 0.05%.

Those four factors put together make for solid long-term potential. Does that mean that these promos are good investments? Let’s have a look at how the first several Game Day full-art foil promos have done over the years.

History

While the first Game Day to hand out a promo to its participants was the Tenth Edition Game Day back in 2007, the first Game Day that set the current trend for awarding a promo to each participant and another foil full art promo to the players who made top eight was the Magic 2010 Game Day. We shall start from this point.

Magic 2010 Game Day

Mycoid Shepherd Game Day

Even though Mycoid Shepherd was the first full-art Game Day promo, it is worth nought. The foil full-art Mycoid Shepherd is just going for $3.64 on TCGplayer.

In the next Game Day, the top eight players received a more valuable card:

Zendikar Game Day

Emeria Angel Promo

The Game Day promo (still called WPN or Gateway promo back then) full-art foil of Emeria Angel is commanding a TCGplayer-mid of $20 today, which is impressive and yet not really that surprising. She is an angel after all, and being a limited-edition foil featuring full art by none other than Steve Argyle could not hurt her price, even after being out of Standard for four years and not seeing play in Modern.

I’m tempted to say that the casual force is strong in this one. However, the set foil is only $3. Could the fact that this Game Day promo features a full art drawn by a well-loved artist explains large chasm between the set foil and the Game Day foil?

More importantly, could the Thunderbreak Regent Game Day promo follow the footsteps of Emeria Angel?

Worldwake Game Day

Kalastria Highborn Game Day Promo

The Worldwake Game Day top eight promo is another that remains moderately valuable today. The full-art foil Kalastria Highborn has a TCGplayer-mid of $11.84, but near mint copies start at $14.08. As limited edition cards get older, near mint copies become harder to locate.

Contrast the Game Day full-art foil of Kalastria Highborn with the set foil, which is only $4.60. The difference between the set foil and Game Day top eight full-art foil may be less stark than that of Emeria Angel due to both versions sharing the same art, and vampires not being as popular as angels. Vampires may not be a legitimate archetype in Modern, but the tribe has moderate casual and EDH appeal and Kalastria Highborn is a key piece of any vampire tribal deck.

By the way, the set foil has a multiplier of only 0.56 compared the non-foil.

Rise of the Eldrazi Game Day

Deathless Angel Game Day

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Someone at Wizards was slacking at his or her job. We get another Game Day promo with the same art as the set version, albeit in full art glory and in foil. The Deathless Angel Game Day promo is only worth a TCGplayer-mid of $7.33, not much more than its set foil counterpart, which is going for $3.76. Deathless Angel may be an angel, but her ability is underwhelming, and I am not sure she is at all popular. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one deck that would want Deathless Angel: Kaalia of the Vast EDH. And there are much better ways to protect Kaalia.

Magic 2011 Game Day

Mitotic Slime Game Day Promo

The trend of underwhelming Game Day top eight promos continued into the Magic 2011 Game Day. The only explanation I can think of for the reason behind selecting Mitotic Slime as the promo for this one is its perceived casual appeal. I can only imagine the collective disappointment of the players who made top eight of the Magic 2011 Game Days.

At least Wizards commissioned a different art for the Game Day promo this time. Still, it’s barely worth anything, with a TCG-mid of $2.98.

Scars of Mirrodin Game Day

Tempered Steel Game Day Promo

Now that’s a card worthy as a Game Day top eight promo! Tempered Steel was the centerpiece of its namesake deck which propelled four pilots, all from Team ChannelFireball, into the top eight of Worlds in 2011. The Tempered Steel archetype went on to become one of the premier aggro decks during that Standard season.

Unfortunately, since Scars of Mirrodin dropped out of Standard, Tempered Steel has struggled to find a home. It is too clunky for Modern Affinity, and it does not really fit the bill of a casual all-star. This all explains the Game Day full-art foil version of Tempered Steel being at a paltry $4.21 TCGplayer-mid. The Memnite non-foil full art promo, which was given out to all participants of the Scars of Mirrodin Game Day, is worth nearly as much as the promo exclusive to top eight players, with a TCGplayer-mid of $3.83.

The next Game Day top eight promo recently experienced a hike in price, due to the recent surge in Tiny Leader’s popularity.

Mirrodin Besieged Game Day

Black Sun's Zenith Game Day

The Game Day full-art foil promo Black Sun’s Zenith was hovering around $6 late last year, and spiked to the double digits early this year when a new format exploded into mainstream Magic. For a while, every single Magic content website featured discussion about the novel format that is Tiny Leaders.

Black Sun’s Zenith is one of the rare few board wipes that is legal in Tiny Leaders, as its XBB casting cost qualifies it as having a converted mana cost of two. Black Sun’s Zenith’s Game Day full-art version is currently priced at a TCGplayer-mid of $14.48, making it one of the more expensive Game Day promos out there. The set foil is only $6.37.

The Game Day Black Sun’s Zenith’s price is buoyed mainly by Tiny Leaders. It is not used in Modern, and there are better board wipes in EDH like Damnation (or Decree of Pain and Life’s Finale if, like me, you can’t afford Damnation).

The Game Day full-art foil Black Sun’s Zenith also has one of the sweetest full-art treatments in existence, with an epic depiction of the onsetting despair of getting your board wiped by an opposing Black Sun’s Zenith by James Paick.

Until Next Time

That is all for today’s adventure back in time. Join me for future discussions of Game Day promos, as we will be continuing on our journey exploring the beautiful full-art cards  given out to worthy players in the past few years.

Feel free to leave your comments below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.

 

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