Category Archives: Going Mad

Going Mad – The Observer Effect

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By: Derek Madlem

If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m not your typical #MTGFinance guy. I don’t like graphs or pie charts and I don’t look at the daily gain / loss reports that are generated by various sites. I’ll confess that I don’t even read most of what my compatriots have written outside of Twitter. I often wonder how I ended up writing a weekly column dedicated to Magic finance when I take such an adversarial stance against the concept in general.

The Good Fight

But now I’m on the inside and I like to tell myself that I’m fighting the good fight … dismantling this Diabolic Machine from the inside.Diabolic MachineYou can see me there (sans beard) getting ready to thrust my sword into the evil gears that turn continuously powering this machine of destruction.

Don’t get me wrong, some of what we write about is useful. The basic economics put in Magic terms is hugely beneficial for people’s understandings of card prices and the how and why of their movement.  Understanding supply, demand, and price elasticity goes a long way into understanding how price spikes work. This is great stuff to know.

The finance community has come along way from the weekly articles where Medina taught us different ways to convince a stranger that their cards were worth less than his. But we still do a lot of things that I question.

The Observer Effect

The observer effect is a scientific principle that basically says you can’t measure something without effecting the results of that measurement.

For example, a mercury thermometer can’t take your temperature without absorbing some of the heat your body produces, thus altering your body’s temperature. Another example would be Jane Goodall studying chimpanzees in their natural habitat … you know what doesn’t occur naturally in their habitat? Jane Goodalls. By merely being there to observe, she altered the behavior of those she was observing.

While sometimes the effect of observation is going to be on the impossibly low end of the spectrum, like taking the temperature of the ocean. Other times it’s going to have a direct impact on the results, like you’d see in your psychologists office.

Where am I going with this and does it have to do with Magic cards?

BecvarOne of things you’ll see us Magic financiers do is send out Tweets like this one. We’ll suggest a card publicly because we’re an altruistic bunch and our only interest is to help others. We’re just thinking of the greater good and want everyone to make money. It’s our little way of paying our followers back for making us into the proto-gods that we’ve become in this cottage industry.*

*this paragraph contains copious amounts of sarcasm

Now first I have to admit that I pick Nick for this because we’ve had this debate a number of times and I’ve determined through repeated observations in the wild that he is an absolute monster and most who know him will back this up. He’s also (usually) a good sport when it comes to this sort of dissenting discourse.

Nick, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is having an impact on the demand for Hero of Iroas simply by talking about Hero of Iroas.

Hypothesis: by making a public observation of a card’s value, we’re affecting the price of that card.

The Morality of Intent

This is where things get murky for me, and where the debate has gone off the rails for everyone that I’ve ever attempted to have it with.

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Why are we tweeting out or writing about this information? For some of us, it’s what we get paid to do. Providing you with insights on card value is what we’re getting paid to do, it’s why we’re here at all.

For others, it’s about building a brand … I don’t know what exactly that brand is selling, but branding is important you know!

Others still just want to be right, in public. We want that “I listened to this guy and made $100, you should listen to him too” endorsement. We want that credibility and to be considered an expert in our chosen field.

Sleight of HandUltimately it’s a performance, a magic trick we perform so that we can revel in the applause. It’s not enough to simply buy some cards and then tell people how much money we made buying those cards, we have to put on the show. And like any good magician, the audience is manipulated into seeing what the performer wants.

“Whoa whoa whoa, that’s sounding kind of accusatory”
-concerned reader somewhere

The Bandwagon

One of the most noticeable effects we’ve seen the last couple of years is the bandwagon effect in #mtgfinance. It starts with a card being mentioned, then the price starts to move, and then the next thing you know the silent masses buy out the card and relist it at ridiculous prices. But what happens when the buyout isn’t complete? The price comes crashing back down to reality because Bob’s Card Shack is still selling Bösium Strip for $3.

The reality of the bandwagon is that the more people that jump on, the more effective it is. If I invest in some cards and then convince you to invest in those same cards, I’ve created a ripple. If I convince you and 1,000 other people to invest in those cards, that ripple becomes something more.

Goblin RabblemasterSo what’s the difference between one guy buying out a 1,000 copies of a card and 50 people buying 20 copies each? When one guy relists his cards to sell at a higher price he’s just that crazy guy on TCG that sells things for way too much, but when 50 people relist at higher prices … it just might stick.

The Defense

I’ve asked numerous people why they tweet out “hot tips” if they aren’t trying to get more people to buy in and they’ve given me a variety of answers. Let’s look at a few of those ideas.

“I really think they’re a good investment” – if buying three was a good investment, why not buy six? Why not buy twelve? If you are 100% confident in an investment, why not keep your mouth shut and buy all available copies? Don’t have enough to buy all of them? Why not keep quiet and buy some copies now and go back for the rest when you can? After all, you’re going to make some serious bank right?

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If you’re not 100% certain it’s a good investment, how sure are you? Should you be recommending people buy in on a card that you’re only 60% sure of? Are you trying to turn a 60% into a 70 or 80%? Who are you trying to convince that your target is a good spec? Yourself or the general public?

“I’m already going to make enough money off this spec” – Wut?

The idea that you can make “enough money” off of a spec target that you’re buying only to make money is kind of ridiculous.

“I don’t really think my tweet will have an impact” – then why are you tweeting about it? This is akin to the argument about mana weaving before shuffling your deck, either it does something and you’re technically cheating or it does nothing and you’re wasting your time.

Truth in Advertising

When I tweet about a card that I think is a good buy, it’s because I’m not 100% certain (I’m rarely more than 99% sure of anything). If I was ever 100% certain about a spec target, I would silently buy out the entire internet.

I want you to buy in too. I know that the more people who know/realize/believe a card is a good buy the more likely it is to become a good buy.  The more people on the bandwagon, the more profitable it gets.

I want to have credibility. I want to be famous. I want to be an authority on Magic finance. I want people to come to me with opportunities to work for them, I want a large network that provides me more of these opportunities. I want to see my phone lighting up with praise and testimonials.

I want to be honest. I want to be the change I want to see in the world. I want more people to be aware and honest about the things the Magic finance community does. If for no other reason than to avoid being implicated in a global pricing conspiracy orchestrated by a shadowy card Illuminati.

Observation Effect

This is where I restate my premise for dramatic effect and summarize the things I’ve said in a slightly different way.

Making observations on card prices absolutely has an effect on card prices. You know why the price of price of a Revised edition Ironclaw Orcs hasn’t really changed in twenty years? Because nobody cares. As soon as we start caring about a card and making others care about a card, we have an impact on it.

That impact varies from person to person. I could write about a card every week for a month and it would likely have less impact than Chas Andres or Gerry Thompson writing about it once. Some people are starting avalanches while others only have the clout to check the temperature of the ocean, but both are impacting the things they observe.

Command Tower

Let me make one thing clear – I’m not accusing or condemning anyone other than Becvar. If this article causes my peers to think before they speak and my readers to think before they act then I’ll have accomplished a lot.

Whether we choose to acknowledge, deny, or embrace it; all of our observations are impacting the cards we observe. Act accordingly.

For more hot card tips you can find me on Twitter: @GoingMadlem


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Going Mad – The Horizon

In Magic finance, there’s always the next thing. Up-to-the-minute pricing, smart phones, Twitter, and daily articles are all things in Magic that have given us access to a knowledge base that would have made the Magic financier of yesteryear a fortune.

Before smartphones permeated local shops, we could gain an edge by watching prices go up on SCG and take advantage of the analog lag time for that new information to reach the stores. Now we just log onto MTGStocks every morning and check out the interests page to find out every card that’s moved more than two percent.

These days, we’re forced to look to the future to gain an edge. We evaluate cards in a vacuum. We test cards to evaluate them in context. We predict what cards will do if X,Y, or Z are true in a given format … but at best, most of what we do is make educated guesses based on historical trends.

urzassciencefairproject

Modern Masters 2015

Modern Masters 2015 is just over a month away and the speculation at the treasures inside is already rampant. We’re mere days away from spoilers—there’s just another week or so of articles featuring Mark Rosewater and friends patting themselves on the back for the resounding success of Dragons of Tarkir before we get to see the contents.

But the fix is in.

I’ll go ahead and block quote that for dramatic effect:

“But the fix is in.”

–Derek Madlem, 2015

On a level playing field where everyone has access to the same information, the guy with access to hidden information reaps the greatest rewards.

spynetwork

Khans of Tarkir

But first, let’s go back in time to summer 2014. A friend of mine told me, “Hey, a friend of mine knows a guy that works at Wizards and he said that the Onslaught fetches are getting reprinted in Khans of Tarkir.”

I didn’t really think much of it, as I bought in on my playset of Onslaught fetches at the $15 mark years ago, so I could absorb any price crash without taking a loss … and then other friends told me that they knew a guy who heard from a reliable source that fetches were getting reprinted. I took a look at the card values and saw that Polluted Delta was over $100 at the time so I decided to “short sell” my Onslaught fetches, keeping only the copies I had in my Commander decks, and left the funds in limbo in case I had to rebuy.

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Obviously, I did not have to rebuy.

Polluted Delta

Holding Pattern

At this point, you should already be in a holding pattern with your Modern staples. Now is not the time to be buying Tarmogoyfs or Dark Confidants, or anything expensive for your Modern Deck, for that matter.

Most of you know not to be making any big moves right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still move out of vulnerable positions if the opportunity presents itself.

riskymove

The Fix is In

Just like before, a guy that knows a friend of an uncle of the gal that works out with someone that is married to a guy at the factory that has friends at Wizards has heard some stuff and that information has come to me through multiple channels. If there’s any guarantee in life, it’s that as soon as you swear someone to secrecy, that person will tell at least one person as long as they promise not to tell anyone.

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Ulamog, the Inifinite Gyre
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (already confirmed by Wizards)
Karn Liberated (already confirmed by Wizards)
Tarmogoyf (duh)
Mox Opal
Noble Hierarch
Cryptic Command
Kiki-Jiki, the Mirror Breaker
Dark Confidant

Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say no more. Well, maybe a little bit more: it’s not like any of these cards are a surprise to anyone … except maybe Kiki-Jiki, not sure what that guy’s doing here.

High Tide

The Rising Tide

There’s another phenomena associated with Modern Masters that I want to talk about—the rising tide. As the saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats.

A few months after the first Modern Masters release, we saw a sudden surge in price for many of Magic‘s most expensive cards. Dual lands, Power 9, and other Legacy staples all surged upward in price in the winter of 2014. Many theorists think there is a direct correlation.

What Does That Even Mean?

Glad you asked. So with the first iteration of Modern Masters, players were essentially able to spend $7 to get a pack of cards that had a high likelihood of being worth significantly more than $7. Other players had the opportunity to buy sealed product by the box or case at or below retail from unwitting shop owners. Months later, many players and collectors were flush with”new money” from these gold-stuffed boosters and stockpiles of appreciating sealed product.

Then the trade-ins began. As a retailer you notice when your customers are flush with cash, whether that be actual cash or virtual dollars like we see in the value of Magic cards. When you have more and more customers trading their virtual dollars in for your high-end inventory, you adjust that price upwards. The mountains of trade inventory that was being thrown at dealers from the release of Modern Masters and the infinite wealth contained in Return to Ravnica caused a groundswell for high-end card prices.

Or maybe it was just a coincidence.

I know that at the time I plopped down a mountain of trade stuff for a sweet Mox Sapphire at a pretty reasonable price and did not wait long for it to appreciate substantially in value.

Even at $20 or more a pack, you still see players throwing money at packs of Modern Masters for a chance at hitting that $200 Tarmogoyf. Most of us have seen these savages… and most of us know someone that hit it big opening a ‘Goyf or two among their winnings. What did they do with their new-found wealth?

Dual lands have settled back down a bit—they’re still up significantly from the time of the Modern Masters release, but they’ve cooled a bit as the pressure from all that “new money” being spent combined with a slight humbling of Legacy at the SCG Open series.

deepwater

Strategy

So what’s your strategy going forward?

First of all, you shouldn’t be buying any Modern staples until the spoilers for Modern Masters 2015 come out. Is everything you need for your deck going to be in it? Unlikely. Is every rare in the set going to be worth the big bucks? Unlikely. But you can virtually count on some of the cards you need showing up and experiencing a subsequent price drop.

If you’re able to “deleverage your position” on any cards that you are certain will be reprinted, now’s your last chance. I wouldn’t recommend trading all your expensive cards to your best friend and laughing when they get reprinted, but there are still people that “just want to finish the deck” and don’t really care if a reprint is coming. Besides, we don’t know what artwork is going to come with the reprinted cards and some people just prefer the first editions, so don’t feel guilty. Keep in mind that no information other than what has been publicly spoiled by Wizards is 100 percent.

Be ready to buy the cards that don’t get reprinted. There are already rumors circulating that Serum Visions is being skipped over in this printing, a common that is already seeing significant play and floating around $8. Cards like this will jump in price almost immediately if they dodge a reprint because that very risk is keeping a number of these cards’ prices in check. Once that risk is gone, people are going to take action.

For those that are trying to complete their Modern decks, there’s a good chance that many of the cards you need will plummet in price with a reprinting. For every card price that takes a brief hit and recovers like Tarmogoyf, there’s going to be a Keiga, the Tide Star that drops 40 percent and never regains an inch.

If you’re trying to complete your Modern deck, be ready to trade with a lot of people. Because the retail of these packs is starting at $9.99, the packs are likely going to be bought in smaller numbers by more people. Drafts will be upwards of $35 instead of the $25 we saw last time. Psychologically, it’s a lot easier for a player to lose $50 on drafts than it is $70, so expect the more casual players to draft this just a single time or not at all.

Be ready to watch many of your other Modern, Legacy, and even Vintage staples see some renewed growth. Once the risk of immediate reprint is removed and combined with an influx of players that all have parts of Modern decks, we’re sure to see a few new players at the weekly Modern events. Players that already have everything they need from Modern will push this wealth towards something bigger. Maybe that’s Legacy … maybe it’s the last piece of power … maybe it’s a big dumb foil for their Commander deck. If you are sitting on the cards that people are going to desire, bide your time. Being the first seller is often great, but being the last seller can often yield far greater rewards.

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Going Mad – Hold Your Horses There, Kids

We had an exciting weekend of Pro Tour coverage, with many of us following the coverage live, or at least tuning into the expanded chatter that social media brings to our fingertips.

Many of us acted on what we saw in coverage and what we heard through our preferred social media channels. Some of us probably even received multiple emails telling us all the hottest cards of Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

Every time a card that hadn’t already spiked appeared on screen, a flurry of activity ensued. I know that I immediately rounded out a playset of Den Protectors on Friday when I tuned into multiple rounds highlighting the card.

WE HAVE TO BUY SPECS OR WE’LL DIE
–Average financiers

And now plenty of people are the proud owners of way too many Den Protectors—congrats, guys, you won! After all, nothing could possibly go wrong at this point, right?

The card more than doubled in value, so all these buyers essentially doubled their money in three days. You’ve gotten all those copies you bought in the mail already, right?

Top 8

Zero Den Protectors… but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good card, right? I bet we’ll see a lot of them in good Standard decks that people who didn’t make the top eight played, right?

8-2 to 9-1

Seven Den Protectors, but I mean, come on, right? Winning eight rounds of Standard at the Pro Tour is hard. It has the best players in the world, after all.

7-3 to 7-0-2

Two. Yes, the word “two” is a complete sentence, so get over it, grammar boy [Editor’s note: I think he means me…]. A total of two Den Protectors showed up in one list that performed 7-3 in the Standard portion of the Pro Tour.

53 Problems

So taking a look at the 56 best-performing decks in the Standard portion of the Pro Tour, only three of them included Den Protector, a fact that can’t be ignored unless CTRL+F is somehow malfunctioning in my browser… in which case, we’ll just carry on as though everything I’m saying is still factual.

When you’re looking for a rare to speculate heavily on, picking the card that appeared in less than six percent of the successful decks at a tournament is probably not where you want to be.

But the good news is that all of the folks that bought these up should get most of them in the mail around the same time the price crashes back down to the price they paid. Sorry, guys!

Thunderbreak Regent Promo

re·gent

1. One who rules during the minority, absence, or disability of a monarch.

2. One acting as a ruler or governor.
Yeah, that sounds about right. Thunderbreak Regent was never meant to be the king of the format, but in the absence of a true ruler, Thunderbreak does the job. Also, did you see how F***ING SWEET that promo looks? For the first time in years, I’m going to take a real deck to Magic Game Day. Here’s some MTG finance advice for you:

1. Learn to play Magic.
2. Top eight Magic Game Day.
3. Profit!

Notice how step two is filled in here?
If you take a look at how Thunderbreak fared at the Pro Tour, you’re going to see some significantly different results. A total of forty copies showed up in the top-performing Standard lists across ten decks, a little over 17 percent of the field.
While Thunderbreak didn’t show up as much as Siege Rhino (14 decks), it’s probably a safe bet that there are significantly fewer Thunderbreak Regents in the world than there are Rhinos… and it also turns out that dragons have waaaaaaay more casual appeal than rhinos, unless you happen to be  in the ivory trade (or whatever rhino horns are actually made out of).
So what does this mean? Thunderbreak is going to continue to be popular, thanks largely in part to its amazing little sidekick Draconic Roar. I still think this card has a little more room to go, probably another couple dollars after we see it tearing up an SCG open or two over the next couple of weeks, and there’s a pretty good lifespan in front of it if either Magic Origins or Battle for Zendikar feature a five-drop playable dragon to replace Stormbreath.

Analog Lag

One of the biggest pitfalls of Magic speculating is the idea that everything is a quick flip and a quick double up.  This is the finance equivalent of playing roulette and putting a stack of chips on black, repeatedly. Sure, the first time you hit, you’ve doubled your money (never mind that this poorly thought out metaphor doesn’t take into account the physical shipping of cardboard thousands of miles ).

Nobody can deny the appeal of buying  in a ton of copies of cheap rares at $2 a piece and “selling” them for $4, because maybe making $2 on a $2 card feels cooler than making $3 on a $7 card, (shout-out to Dragonlord Silumgar). But high liquidity is hard to achieve in paper cards and one of the biggest risks to these types of spec targets is the “analog lag” we see in the time it takes orders to be picked, packed, and shipped. The lucky ones had their orders shipped out on Friday, but I’m sure that some sellers didn’t get them into the delivery pipeline until Monday.

The Good News

There is good news, I promise. And by “good news” I mean “there’s still hope” that Den Protectors see an uptick in play over the coming months as more cards round out the archetypes

When I tuned into coverage on Friday, I saw a ton of sick plays with Protector on camera, so I added a couple copies to my PucaTrade wants list to fill out a playset. After waiting ten minutes and seeing no trades confirmed, I added two foil copies and two prerelease copies as well, figuring that I would take whatever editions sent first and remove the rest… then I fell asleep on the couch and woke up to find that I was to be the proud owner of too many copies of this card.

So now I can speak from experience that going too deep on DPs is not where you want to be.

I still have hope that all is not lost: I threw my Den Protectors and Deathmist Raptors into a Sultai Reanimator shell and had an absolute blast taking the deck out on its maiden voyage. Protector is a really sweet creature that allows for so much value to be ground out in the long games … I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of this card.

Completely Unrelated

This weekend, I also had the opportunity to work as a buyer for Nerd Rage Gaming at the SCG States in Indianapolis. Some of the things you notice when looking at binders all weekend for hours at a time are the cards that everyone wants to get rid of, the cards that nobody wants to get rid of, and the cards that nobody even had in their binders to make offers on.

I bought a ton of Monastery Mentors this weekend, even after lowering the buy price. This signals that players just aren’t as excited about this card going forward and there is a good chance it’s going to keep creeping downward over the next couple months.

Another card I bought way too many of was Tasigur, the Golden Fang—I couldn’t offer a number low enough to make people say “no” when it came to selling these guys. There’s a good chance that the supply of this card has reached critical mass and the people that went deep on these have lost confidence in further (short-term) gains.

I saw virtually no Silumgars, Atarkas, or Ojutais over the weekend, which signals that all of these cards are going to remain strong going forward. We sold every copy of Atarka or Ojutai within a few minutes of buying them—both of these were wildly popular all weekend long.

The cards that most surprised me this weekend were Dragon Whisperer and Ojutai Exemplars. I only saw one copy of each of these cards in anyone’s binders over the weekend, which is somewhat puzzling to me. I know Dragon Whisperer definitely has a fan base out there in both the mono-red and the dragon lovers communities, so I could understand that this card was being held onto by someone. But where were the Exemplars? I don’t even have an operating theory on this one outside of coincidence plus variance.

Fetch lands were very liquid all weekend long: we brought them in easily and sold them just as fast. Fetch lands are a good holder of value and people’s willingness to sell them shows that they’re still readily available in trade binders. Multiple people selling me fetches over the weekend commented in one form or another that they’d be easy to replace, so that signals that it might be a while before these see any significant upward pressure.

Until next time, you can find me on Twitter at @GoingMadlem, and I encourage you to check out my article on MythicMTG.com later this week, too. I’ll be going over the most fun Standard brew I’ve played in quite a while.

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Misconceptions

“MTG finance.” Now there’s a loaded term. We’ve applied this label because we don’t really know what else to call this thing we do, but the label itself has created its own problems. Using the word “finance” implies there’s a science to this game we play. It teases the idea that factor X will move axis Y and we can adjust our position accordingly and make some money.

Comparing MTG finance to “real world” finance will quickly show you that we’re playing a game with money on the line and no real rules.

Take a look at Hero’s Downfall … what’s the card worth? Well, depending on which storefront you’re selling from, it’s worth between $7 and $8. So that means your Hero’s Downfall is worth at least $7, right? Do you have a TCGplayer store? No? Then it looks like yours is worth $4.75, minus the cost of mailing the card to Troll and Toad.

What’s Apple stock worth today? $125.32 at the time of writing this article. You know how much you’d get if you sold a share of Apple stock? About $125.32. You know how much Johnny Bigball’s Superbank would get for a share of Apple stock right now? About $125.32.

You see the difference here? I could go on about the invisible hand and all supply and demand and all that other nonsense, but this isn’t an article about Econ 101 … this is an article about shock lands. Wasn’t that obvious?

Misconceiving

One of the way Magic behaves differently is what I call the emotional aspect of pricing. Every card has an emotional impact on the people interacting with it. Some cards carry a price far higher than demand dictates because people “feel” that price is justified—our past experiences with a card shape how we feel about it going forward. This is part of why Timmy believes that Ulamog is worth $40, the card “feels” like it should be worth that much.

But I thought this was an article about shock lands?

Of course it is, we’ll get there. Part of that “feels” pricing is because of the herd mentality that occurs with card prices. We set a price floor for a card, or group of cards, and no matter what happens we don’t go below that line. It’s a phenomena we’re seeing with shock lands today.

Whaaaaaat? Everybody says that shock lands are a good pickup!

And we’ve certainly convinced ourselves to believe it. Even me.

Shock Lands

And this is after I traded away more than 100 of the shocks I had acquired. Why would I do that? They’re a sure bet, after all?

Because they’re really … not. We were all promised that shock lands were the next fetch lands. We were told that these lands were more than just euphemisms for genitalia (go ahead, run all ten names through your gutter mind and tell me they’re not) and we bit onto that bait and swallowed it whole. Hook, line, and sinker.

Have you noticed what shock land prices have done since Return to Ravnica left Standard? With the exception of Steam Vents making a run during the Treasure Cruise fiasco, the answer is: NOTHING.

You know why? Traditionally, cards lose value at rotation, but that didn’t really happen with shock lands because the collective consciousness of Magic players everywhere said, “They’re going to go up,” and everybody mentally locked in that last price and essentially refused to budge.

But shock lands are the cornerstone of the Modern mana base! Everyone that wants to play Modern is going to need them!

Not so much.

Let’s do an experiment. We’ll look at the top 16 Modern decklists from this last weekend’s SCG Modern 5k and see how many shocks each deck runs … and we’ll go ahead and remove Tron and Affinity from that to ensure the averages don’t get skewed.

For starters, no deck ran more than five shock lands, and of those shock lands used, no deck ran more than three copies of any single one. Only two archetypes ran the three-set: Blue-Red Splinter Twin and Green-White Hatebears. The remainder of the decks ran only one or two of any given shock land in their lists.

Steam Vents.full

But if you looked at fetch lands, with the exception of the Hatebears deck, which ran zero fetches, every deck than ran shock lands ran at least seven fetch lands, some as many as nine.

In the top 16 there were a total of 47 shock lands and 80 fetch lands. Where do you think I’m placing my bets going forward?

If you start plugging in four copies of any shock land into deck searches, you’re going to come to a conclusion: outside of Scapeshift and a couple fringe decks, you’re just not going to see four copies of any one shock land in a deck. The mana bases neither need nor want to run that many copies. This isn’t Return to Ravnica Standard where decks just ran twelve shocks and twelve M10-style dual lands.

We also have to take into consideration the Modern format’s player base versus Return to Ravnica Standard. I think it would be a very generous assumption that the number of Modern players is 50 percent of the number of players we saw during RTR Standard. Then look at the difference in the decks: Modern lists are running three to five shock lands whereas those Standard decks were typically running 10 to 12.

You could also go buck wild with comparative analysis of post-rotation price trends and see that cards typically “hit bottom” the January after they leave Standard and then start their slow climb back up from there. But the shock lands didn’t experience any “bottoming out” like you would typically expect—they’ve more or less held their pre-rotation prices with some minor slippages over the last couple of weeks.

Modern+

While we’re looking at the failings of shock lands, we would be remiss if we didn’t look at the fetch lands under the same lens. Fetch lands and shock lands are going to be reprinted cyclically going forward—count on it. Wizards has essentially told us that shock lands are the tier-one dual land for all prints going forward, so we know it’s going to be extremely unlikely that the fetch land / shock land relationship is ever going to be broken in Modern. This marriage is sure to last, but that does not mean that the fetch lands are going to remain faithful.

You see, here’s the thing. Steam Vents is a good partner, but you can ask any Scalding Tarn anywhere and it’s going to tell you the same thing: it would rather be with a Volcanic Island. Face it, Volcanic Islands are just sexier than Steam Vents and everybody knows it … but Steam Vents is still a reliable and dependable partner, and we love them for that.

Fetch lands have a bit more reach than shock lands because they’re getting action in Legacy. You can also check down Commander playability in favor of fetch lands as well.

Take a three-color deck, any three colors. What’s your mana base going to consist of?

Three shock lands – MAX.
Three dual lands – MAX.

Fetch lands … well, let’s say you’re playing red, green, and white.
Every fetch land other than Polluted Delta represents a dual land from your deck. I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m building a Commander deck, my first card is Sensei’s Diving Top. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know how you guys like your Tops, but I like my Tops served with plenty of shuffle effects.

Simply put, the fetch lands are more useful than shock lands and there are very few (plausible) scenarios where that changes. We also have to acknowledge that Modern’s mana bases are extremely diverse and are likely to continue down that road as Wizards digs deeper into its trove of dual-land designs.

Timeline

But Modern Masters II is coming out and Modern is going to be more popular than ever, right?

Sure, kid, keep telling yourself that. To me, Modern Masters was the super-soldier serum given to Steve Rogers that made him into Captain America, but is another dose going to have the same results? What about another dose after that? We’ll see some modest expansion of the format with Modern Masters II, but I doubt a second shot in the arm is going to turn Captain America into the Hulk.

For me, the writing is on the wall: shock lands were a bust and the potential upside pales in comparison to most other investments I could or would be making. I’ll take my time trading these away for more enticing prospects (like fetches or foil fetches) as the price is likely to stay in a nice stagnant holding pattern for the foreseeable future.

Even if these cards do creep up, there is a ceiling.  Wizards will reprint these cards. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” at this point. Ravnica was a blockbuster plane both times we visited, so you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before we go back, and if Battle for Zendikar is any indicator, the amount of time between return trips to existing planes is likely going to lessen, especially with the new block structure going forward.

Placing your Bets

Do I think that shock lands are a safe bet to go up? Eventually, but probably not enough to warrant acquiring much more than whatever quantity you deem to be a “playset.”

Even as the self-proclaimed long-term hands-off guy, I don’t like shock lands as a “hold” any longer. I think the certainty of reprint combined with the reality of demand makes the window of opportunity on these cards far too narrow. What do you think?

EDIT: I should also point out that this is an article about shocklands, not about fetchlands. I’m not advocating fetchlands as the next fetchlands, they’re not. My goal was to point out why the old fetches DID have more success compared to shocklands.

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