Category Archives: Jason Alt

Unlocked Pro Trader: French is Greek to Me

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I’m going to be honest, the research for this article didn’t lead me where I thought it was going to at all. I started out with a request from my readers (and my boss, someone I’m even more inclined to listen to) that I talk about how the adoption of 1v1 Commander on Magic Online will affect that format and prices. It’s Commander and I write about Commander, so I should know about it, right? That was the theory, anyway. It was a theory I even accepted myself. “How different could it be?” I asked myself, not doing really any research between last week and today. “After all, it’s not like 1v1 Commander is Tiny Leaders.” You want to know what I learned right off the bat?

Actually, I will get to that in a second, but first there’s something I want to cover. What do I mean by the adoption of 1v1 Commander by Magic Online? Well, last week, they made this post to a few places including their Tumblr which is where I cribbed it from.

30 LIFE FOR 1V1 COMMANDER

The Modern Masters 2017Edition deployment today contained a change which moved the starting life total from 40 to 30 for 1v1 Commander games.  (Games with 3 or 4 players remain at a starting life total of 40.)

We have plans to introduce more support for 1v1 Commander.  As part of this, R&D determined that format is better off with a starting life total of 30. At one point we had planned to introduce this change as well as league support and a modified banned list today, but later decided to instead introduce it during Amonkhet season.

Unfortunately, in this process the life total change did not get taken out of this build, and so today it is live. Now that it is live, since it is a change we were planning on making anyway in the future, our intent is to simply leave it in place.

Stay tuned for an article about what support we plan to offer for 1v1 Commander leagues moving forward!

– Lee

This was exciting news for a non-zero number of people. I think the move to 30 life from 40 is more significant than the fact that they can play on MTGO, but regardless of why people are happy, this could mean more people adopting the format and therefore some money could be made for some people. Why not have your EDH writer talk about it? After all, like I said, it’s not like 1v1 is Tiny Leaders. You want to know what I learned in my research?

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1v1 Commander is EXACTLY Tiny Leaders

There aren’t the same restrictions on casting cost, but there might as well be because people are not playing EDH cards, they’re playing 100 card Legacy singleton. The first place I headed was MTG Top8 to take a look at the list of most-played cards in 1v1 tournaments so I could get an idea of what the staples in that format were. I did a double take.

Oh, man. This is a Legacy list. I must have clicked on the wrong banner or something. Just to be sure, I navigated to the Legacy tab to check out their list and it wasn’t the same.

Here was the Legacy list and while it was obviously different off the bat because the first list didn’t include lands, adding lands to the 1v1 Commander list didn’t change much, it just pushed everything down.

This has to be for 1v1 Commander. Either that or people started playing Command Tower in Legacy when I wasn’t looking. What’s going on? There is a lot of cheap, basic card draw, 1-for-1 removal spells and a ton of blue cards. This is nothing like the Commander I know anything about. And where’s Sol Ring? To answer that question, we need to get into the next biggest difference between 1v1 Commander and traditional EDH.

Their Banlist is Insane

It’s actually sort of sane given the things you can do in a format with such a gigantic cardpool but it’s a weird amalgam of the EDH and Legacy banlists. It’s pretty clear they don’t want someone to get so far ahead on turn 1 that the other person can’t ever catch up and they banned cards like Sol Ring, Tolarian Academy and Mishra’s Workshop accordingly. Naturally Nectoric Ooze is banned (my hope in that typing that sentence it would be clear to the people who understand why Necrotic Ooze is banned that I have a deep understanding of the format and they would nod in assent, their respect for me deepening) because a combo that was in a fringe Legacy deck for 6 months until everyone got bored of it is pretty oppressive.

The full list is on their site but I’ll paste it here anyway.

Ancestral Recall
Ancient Tomb
Back to Basics
Black Lotus
Channel
Chaos Orb
Dig Through Time
Entomb
Falling Star
Fastbond
Food Chain
Gaea’s Cradle
Gifts Ungiven
Grim Monolith
Hermit Druid
Humility
Imperial Seal
Karakas
Library of Alexandria
Loyal Retainers
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Mind Twist
Mishra’s Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Mystical Tutor
Natural Order
Necrotic Ooze
Oath of Druids
Protean Hulk
Sensei’s Divning Top
Shahrazad
Sol Ring
Strip Mine
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Time Vault
Time Walk
Tinker
Tolarian Academy
Treasure Cruise
Vampiric Tutor
Ante cards are also banned.
The following cards are also banned from being played as a commander :
Derevi, Empyrial Tactician
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
Marath, Will of the Wild
Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
Zur the Enchanter

That’s a really big banlist, and the banned as a commander list is probably necessary. I don’t play this format, I can’t stress that enough, but I read what the people who play that format write online when they are in the mood for complaining about Magic and they didn’t like how oppressive Derevi was or how consistent Yisan was or the fact that no one wants to play 1v1 EDH with them because it misses the entire point of EDH.

Still, Wizards supporting the format more, changing the official rules to reflect that 30 life is better than 40 if you want games to finish in a timely manner and signaling that they’re willing to have more input on the future bannings and rules applications for this format (something people are largely in favor of for a reason I can’t fathom) at least hints at some more legitimacy for this. It’s not Tiny Leaders in this regard – Wizards has more than acknowledged it and is signalling that they plan to support it, even if it’s relegated to Magic Online (not that they could stop people if they wanted to play it elsewhere, could they?). What does any of this mean for prices, if anything at all?

Prices online of some staples could be disproportionately affected, but which ones? I set out to find cards that were played in 1v1 Commander but not regular EDH and instead I found that it’s going to be tougher to find cards that are played in 1v1 Commander but not Legacy and Vintage.

What I found when I scoured 10 pages of their top cards played in 1v1 is that when I finally got out of Legacy staples I ended up with cards that were in fewer than 10% of the decks. 10% of the decks in a fringe format that don’t get additional support from Legacy or Vintage or EDH aren’t good spec targets. Is 1v1 support on MODO going to bump the price on Sudden Demise, Evasive Maneuvers or a bunch of other cards you may or may not have to look up because you don’t know what they do?

I set out to highlight some targets that 1v1 could push up but there’s nothing. 1v1 could create additional demand for cards already played in Legacy and for stagnant Legacy cards, this is pretty important. Legacy is plateauing a bit and if another format comes in and picks up the slack, some of the cards tailing off could head back up and the cards flat could see a bump. This could be the best thing for Legacy rather than EDH and while that’s not what I set out to prove, I don’t mind pivoting a bit and getting you guys some picks.

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Mental Misstep

This is a Vintage card but it’s banned in Legacy which has been disastrous for its price. It’s buyable for $0.50 right now which is pretty brutal for a once-proud card. Foils seem much sexier at $15 right now and while Vintage is propping that up, there is still possible movement. One interesting thing to note is that this is even cheaper on MODO – around 0.15 tickets, in fact. This is a card that is in almost 30% of 1v1 decks putting up results (in some ways this is a better measure than EDHREC’s “here is what a bunch of lunatics built” but in some ways, not so much since EDHREC can forecast future demand better) and will get played in 30% of new 1v1 decks on MODO. Both paper and MODO seem like cheap, low-risk buys. Misstep never really got a chance to get lost in dollar boxes since it started out very valuable and tailed off, rather than the other way around. This could have the same bounce as a “second spike” card.

True-Name Nemesis

Nemesis is ticking back up and it’s time to ride the wave as it were. Legacy and Vintage fish decks are all about this card since it gets merfolk buffs and for a while people were using it just to hold swords in neo-squawk builds. This is in 25% of the builds which isn’t surprising because it’s much, much better in 1v1 commander than it is in multiplayer. This is already cresting and I think given how unlikely a reprint anytime soon feels, this is a great target.

Green Sun’s Zenith

This is a graph shape I can get behind. The printing in Eternal Masters (it’s banned in Modern) tanked the price but EDH and now 1v1 could give it the demand it needs to get back up. In any case, this is basically historically cheap and as good as this card is in as many formats where it’s still legal, I can get behind this. I might not have noticed this is still cratering if I hadn’t started this fools’ errand of an article so, hooray, I… guess? This is a silly card that does silly, unfair things and it’s good enough to be banned in Modern, so why not buy it at its floor? Seems like that’s what we try to do, here.

Misdirection

Misdirection is a card I’m not super duper confident about but based on the metrics we usually use, this is a low-risk high-reward target. It won’t get as expensive as it was when it was a Legacy staple in low supply but Conspiracy didn’t add quite as many copies as it would need to add to suppress the price forever, so it’s clear that a lack of demand is what’s hurting this once-proud card. Increased demand could help us get there. I’m not as confident about this as I am the others and this is in a scant 20% of decks currently, but we could see a lot more demand if 1v1 picks up, both in paper and on MODO.

I didn’t end up coming up with the targets I thought I might when I set out to write this piece but we did identify some cards that are likely to go up even if nothing happens so there will be some real upside possible if 1v1 starts pushing prices up. More demand is always good for staples and these cards are staples for sure. Next week we’ll have Amonkhet to talk about and I’m much happier about that, so make sure to come back next week. Thanks for reading. Until next time!

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Unlocked Pro Trader: Ghitu the Chopper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Stay of Execution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we have a few scenarios that I’ll summarize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Angels and Giants

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

Seriously. Seriously. Seriously.

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

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

Adarkar Valkyrie

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

Stonehewer Giant

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

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

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

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

Craterhoof Behemoth

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

Woodfall Primus

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

Vedalken Shackles

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

Zur the Enchanter

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

Sphinx’s Revelation

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

Basilisk Collar

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

Venser, Shaper Savant

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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