Category Archives: Jason Alt

How Are B&R Announcements Like Transformers?

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We got some surprising bans in Modern this weekend, but I’m not here to talk about that. You have probably read so many EDH articles from me between MTGPrice and Gathering Magic that I imagine people will wonder if they even want my opinions on Modern.

I mean, maybe they do. I said to buy Night of Soul’s Betrayal at $4 and it spiked hard, just in time to tank because no one needs to worry about beating Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch anymore.

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But you’re right, you don’t want my opinion about Modern, so let’s not talk about the Modern bannings and their implications. If you want that, you can read literally every other finance article written this week. Instead, let’s delve into another interesting banning, one that no one is really talking about fully.

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EDH makes its own banning announcement about around the same time as sanctioned Magic makes its announcement, the Monday after the prerelease, and EDH didn’t make its announcement early because they aren’t completely inept dipshits who banned Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom a few days early on MODO, prompting an early announcement. EDH made its announcement on time, jsut so they could make my Blue Monday even more depressing. And what an announcement it was.

* Commander-specific mulligan rules are removed
* Rule 4 (mana generation restriction) is removed
* Prophet of Kruphix is banned

The full announcement is available here.

The  Obvious One

Yes, Prophet of Kruphix is banned. Yes, I’m upset. No, I don’t think this is super-duper relevant financially for the most part. However, there is language worth discussing.

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.

If this doesn’t say, “We’re not banning Consecrated Sphinx any time soon,” I don’t know what does, frankly. I don’t know that anyone was holding back on buying Sphinx, but there was always a little tension since it was always whined about in the same whiny paragraph as Prophet of Kruphix whenever whiners whined about EDH. With the future of Sphinx all but assured, new confidence in the card should push anyone who was on the fence about it off of the fence. Buy them now if you were holding off, because stock is low and I bet this dries up the last few loose copies. I expect this to end up higher than it is now.

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I’m writing this on Monday and there are a lot of $18 copies, but some jackass is trying to get $40 for his on Amazon even though there are foils for $42 on also Amazon.

If this article was too late to pick these up at this price, you should follow me on Twitter (@jasonealt), I guess. I tweet about Magic finance sometimes and even when I don’t, I’m tweeting jokes, and isn’t that half of the reason you read my weekly screeds? If I write an article with no finance content, no one complains, but if I don’t put enough ha-has in your heads every paragraph, I get a bunch of emails asking what’s wrong. Reddit is full of bad advice and bad detective work, Facebook is full of racists, and Twitter is full of people asking dumb questions. My wife is so pregnant right now that we didn’t have any ornaments on the bottom two feet of our Christmas tree, and she could pop any minute and Netflix took House of Flying Daggers off of its list in November and I just noticed now. David Bowie and Glen Frey are dead and Ted Nugent is still alive. Lots is wrong right now. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this is a good writing gig and thanks for reading, nerds. If there are any Sphinxes left, make sure and get yours.

What takes a hit? EDH isn’t a format where a ban takes out one-fifteenth of your deck and can remove the one card that makes the deck work (unless it’s a Commander, obviously). It’s a format where you lose one percent of your deck and you can usually recover. Am I going to scrap my Vorel of the Hull Clade deck because I can’t cheat at Magic and take every turn? Nah. I’m going to put in a Seedborn Muse or one of the sweet hydras I don’t have room for. (I don’t expect Seedborn Muse to go up, by the way, because it’s not the same card and isn’t that important to do half of what Prophet did.)

I’m really deeply saddened to lose literally my favorite EDH card in Prophet’s banning, but I don’t see it making any of my decks worse. If you have a Kruphix deck where you make hella mana with Prophet of Kruphix, sure, I guess you get a little worse. In general, though, Prophet being banned means the guys with a big box full of Prophets and who traded for another foil one on Saturday (you know, me) eat it, and that’s about it. I think there is a bigger financial impact buried in the announcement and we should talk about it, but first…

The Irrelevant One

After examining several popular options, and coming up with a few of our own, we’ve concluded that the Vancouver Mulligan (with the standard first-one-free in multiplayer and a scry once you go to 6 or fewer) is the best option. The RC continues to use and recommend the Gis (“Mulligan 7s to a playable hand. Don’t abuse this”) for trusted playgroups, but that’s not something that can go in the rules.

Sell your Serum Powder, guise.

Seriously, this is a good change, but it doesn’t matter financially. I’m sure some nerd can come up with some circuitous sequence of events that will make someone some modicum of money and that would make the Rube Goldbergian sequences from the latter Final Destination films look like the plot to a porno by comparison. For the most part, though, this change is all upside and is largely irrelevant, but had to be addressed because it was included in the announcement and allowed me to set up some “The Obvious One, The Irrelevant One, and X” rule-of-three device for the article which is psychologically satisfying to me as a writer, and I’m glad it worked out that way.

The Non-Obvious One

There was another change that no one but the diehard EDH guys are talking about, and I think it’s worth delving into because it has a lot of financial repercussions that aren’t obvious, which is good because I’d feel silly telling you something you already knew. They made another rule change and this time it impacts “Rule 4” which I thought was the rule where if you think about anything, like dragons having sex with cars, someone will make porn out of it, but that’s rule 34 it turns out—and also, don’t google basically anything from this paragraph unless you’re in a public library or something. Not because someone will look up your browser history or anything, but because it’s apparently super socially acceptable to look at weird porn in public libraries if the homeless dudes at the library I go to are any indication.

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Anyway, Rule 4 in EDH was a rule that limited the mana you could generate with respect to color. If your commander was Kruphix (be strong, Jason. Don’t let them see your tears) and you had a Birds of Paradise, you could tap it for blue or green and that’s all. Since there were no other colors in your general’s identity, you were limited to those two colors. This rule changed for two reasons.

…the mana system of Magic is very complicated, and trying to insert an extra rule there has consequences in the corners. Harvest Mage. Celestial Dawn. Gauntlet of Power. And now, colorless-only mana costs.

Being able to generate colorless mana more easily in Commander wasn’t going to break anything. But, it represented another “gotcha” moment for players, who were now likely to learn about Rule 4 when someone exploited the colorless loophole. We could paper over it (both “mana generated from off-color sources can only pay generic costs” and “you can’t pay a cost outside your color identity” were considered), but a lot of the flavor would be lost in the transition, defeating the purpose. Without the resonant flavor, Rule 4 was increasingly looking like mana burn – a rule that didn’t come up enough to justify it’s [sic] existence.

Not only was the rule a little bit archaic and not that necessary, it was going to be very confusing for players when you factored in the new “pure” colorless. You can’t use that Birds of Paradise for a mana to activate your Endbringer with this rules change. Basically, this is upside. Sure, you can’t use your City of Brass for a colorless mana to activate your new Oath of the Gatewatch Eldrazi, but you can tap that City of Brass to generate a black mana in that Kruphix deck to play a spell you have taken control of somehow. This change makes what we said about pain lands essentially being tri-lands in post-Oath EDH still true, and it also has a few implications for good cards becoming better. So if we have lands that generate any color in a deck that isn’t five colors, what’s going to get better?

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Awww, yiss. Stealing their cards is fun, but now it’s way easier to cast those pilfered spells. Lands that tap for a mana of any color are suddenly very, very good in this deck. You can load up your mana base with a ton of them in a Sen Triplets deck. You can run three Vivid lands for starters—I don’t see any of them becoming all that expensive as a result of this, but Sen Triplets has a little room to grow if the deck gets more popular, and any cards that are used in that deck to a large extent get very good. Celestial Dawn, ironically, gets a little worse, or maybe just a little less necessary but still pretty good.

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This guy plus Springleaf Drum, right?

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Hey, this does stuff, right?

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Any hope of getting a Lantern sub-$10 next week is a pipe dream. This is now a much better mana rock, as if it wasn’t insane before, and decks like Sen Triplets can use this to full effect. Stealing their spells and powering them is trivial with Lantern. I would flip these quickly, since I can’t imagine Lantern not getting a reprint in a supplementary product if it goes above $10.

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This has been a penny stock of mine forever, and now it’s getting even better now that you can cast something other than their Sol Ring or Solemn Simulacrum or use this as a bad Jester’s Cap. Being able to cast anything is amazing if you can come up with the colored mana. Remember, you can’t just jam a Gruul Signet in a Sen Triplets deck, since the mana symbol on the card still precludes it, but cards that used to tap for colorless because they produced a mana not in your commander’s identity can now tap for any color.

It isn’t just casting their spells that gets better, either.

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Casting this with five colors in a two-color deck is saucy as all get-out, and that’s exactly what you will be able to do if you have enough Mana Confluences and Forbidden Orchards in your mana base.

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Ditto on this guy. These cards were never designed to be super amazing in two-color decks, especially not in EDH, but with a new paradigm, they are looking a lot better.

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You mean I can use the lands I take? Sounds amazing.

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At this point I may just be grasping at straws, huh?

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Any G/x deck can jam this, now. That doesn’t suck.

Anything with converge or sunburst suddenly deserves a second look. Lands that add mana of any color to your mana pool should get a second look. Cards like Sylvan Caryatid and even Orochi Leafcaller get a second look. People spent a lot of time fretting over Prophet of Kruphix today, but looking a little deeper, we found a new paradigm in EDH that is a relatively rare but can be exploited for an advantage, and which can push a few cards up in price. Particularly, I’m very worried about how good Lantern is going to be all of a sudden, and its price could get out of control in the near term.

That does it for me this week. What do you think: was this super obvious or was it valuable analysis? Did I miss a card you think has upside with the rules change(s)? Am I underestimating how bad losing Prophet is going to be for your deck? Sound off in the comments and I’ll try to resist the urge to make fun of how you spell your name. Until next week!

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When Does a Staple Act Like a Rock?

I always imagine there is one person who has never read one of my articles before. I imagine them reading the title and thinking, “What in the actual crap is this dude talking about?” and it makes me laugh. There is a non-zero chance even people who read my article from last week are confused. Either way, maybe brush up on that piece because I introduced a few metaphorical concepts that we’re going to continue here.

Last week we talked about identifying cards that either can make other cards go up by how they impact the format (rocks, so called for the way they aren’t interesting themselves but can generate ripples when thrown into a pond) or are going to impact the format directly by virtue of their own power and be used across a variety of different decks (staples).

I only mentioned the card once, but I really structured how I thought about all of those  concepts around the card Eldrazi Displacer. Do you like the card Eldrazi Displacer? Do you want to talk about the card Eldrazi Displacer? Would you like to see me spend 1,800 more words on it? Because that’s what’s up. In case you need your memory refreshed, and also because I love posting the picture of the card so I can admire it in all of its glory, here it is again. Your new overlord.

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If you know anything about EDH, you know this card is going to be ridiculous and will make people re-evaluate mana bases to see if they have the non-generic colorless to support this card. I feel the same way about Endbringer, so I think the first topic we should tackle is the effect that non-generic colorless mana will have on manabases and other cards. There is real upside here.

I consider Eldrazi Displacer to be a future staple. I don’t know if its adoption in EDH is initially going to be enough to make non-foil copies of the card worth any money, and for a card that’s just a staple, that’s usually the end of the conversation. Its sheer power level influences its ubiquity and its ubiquity influences its price. However, there are times in this wacky durdle format that I love (and I also assume you love, because when I ask people who want to make money on Magic cards but don’t personally play EDH themselves, they look at me like I asked them to donate a kidney), where a card that looks a lot like a staple of the format can act a lot like a rock. It pushes up prices of the cards in the deck with it without meaning to.

This is odd behavior for a staple. Chromatic Lantern didn’t do that. So why should this? Well, I’m obviously going to tell you why. That’s sort of my whole deal.

Effect on Mana

At first glance, this looks more mana-hungry than Deadeye Navigator because it costs three to activate to Navigator’s two and requires you to have true colorless, which could be harder to generate than we think. However, the need for colorless mana and ways to turn generic mana into colorless can really get some use.

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This card has been reprinted into just about powder, and it could see another reprinting in Commander 2016 (although it didn’t in Commander 2014) so that limits its upside a bit, but this is the sort of card you want to be looking at. You can turn generic mana into colorless mana at the rate of three for three. That doesn’t look like much, but this sort of card is useful in a manabase that needs true colorless in ways it wasn’t necessary before.  Basalt Monolith prima facie is pretty inefficient, but as a mana filter, it’s pretty saucy. There has to be some way to make some money from this card seeing more play.

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The Unlimited printing seems to be shrugging off the ugly reprints nicely. I like how this looks compared to Commander and Revised, but its odd centering may bother some. Still, they aren’t making more of this particular card, and I like how it’s retaining value despite not seeing more play. If it sees more play, we can pretty safely predict there will be some upside.

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Compared to a less efficient, more expensive card, Basalt Monolith starts to look like what it is and less like a bad Grim Monolith, which is in turn just a bad Sol Ring. Let’s ignore the price of Grim Monolith since it’s predicated on other formats, but let’s remember Grim Monolith is expensive because it’s a good card—and if Basalt Monolith can be better in our decks, the price has upside.

I think true colorless mana is going to put some pressure on some manabases to change. I talked about generic and colorless mana and its implications in depth in a previous article which still has a lot of info worth brushing up on. Cards that generate true colorless are going to be in more demand with silly Eldrazi that require this specific mana and those cards will see some upside based on the new demand. I won’t rehash the examples from that piece here—take some time to reread it if you want a better sense of what could be affected.

It seems like Eldrazi Displacer is powerful enough that people are willing to change up their manabases, especially if they jam a few more Eldrazi like Endbringer to make the most of that new manabase. I like pain lands a lot in the future, especially the ones which generate white mana.

Caves of Koilos

Archetypes It Bolsters

Decks that are already decks are going to love this card. Basically, if you go to EDHREC and look for decks that are playing Mistmeadow Witch and/or Deadeye Navigator you will see quite a lot of action. Roon. Brago. Reaper King (awww yiss!). Augustin. Phelddagrif. These decks are already doing stupid stuff with Mistmeadow Witch. The list gets even bigger when you add Deadeye Navigator. Sakashima. Tasigur. Sedris. Silumgar. So many decks that are using this silly ability. While only decks that play white benefit from Eldrazi Displacer, it’s fun to see how many decks cards like this effect. But it’s worth looking a little deeper, because there are some decks where Eldrazi Displacer is more than just a second copy of Navigator or Witch.

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This creature comes into play with seven counters on him that can be removed for colorless mana. You remove all seven, putting seven colorless mana in your pool. Use three of those mana to activate Eldrazi Displacer, removing Rasputin from the game before returning him with all of his seven counters restored. Do this a lot of times to net four colorless mana each time you do it. Proceed to drill everyone in the face with whichever way to use infinite colorless mana you’d like to use to end all of their lives. This doesn’t make this deck more than a turn faster, but it does give it one more avenue to go infinite, and it’s a two-card combo plus your mana outlet rather than you having to come up with blue mana for Deadeye. This makes Rasputin a much better deck than it already was, and it was already pretty good. Rasputin has demonstrated the ability to hit $50 or more and with copies available below $40, this seems like a good example of a card whose archetype is bolstered disproportionately. Eldrazi Displacer works with Rasputin better than it works with almost any other Commander which can play it in its deck, and that has to matter. Rasputin is old and it’s not like it’s getting a reprint.

This could lead to some people building a new Brago or Derevi or Lavinia deck which means staples in those decks have upside. I’d absolutely watch cards like Great Whale, Peregrine Drake, and the big one:

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Palinchron was on the way up anyway, and any little boost could just steepen the curve.

This is all fascinating for a card that isn’t a legendary creature. It’s a staple that’s behaving like a rock quite a bit with all the ripples it’s creating.

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True “rocks” don’t just bolster old archetypes.

New Archetypes It Creates 

Eldrazi Displacer is white, that much is obvious. But did you know it also wasn’t blue? That’s sort of important, because Mistmeadow Witch and Deadeye Navigator and Venser, the Sojourner and Grover from Sesame Street are all blue, and that limits the number of decks they can go in. While Deadeye Navigator is played in decks like Tasigur that Witch can’t go in, it can’t go in some of the non-blue decks with white the Displacer can go in. If there’s no blue at all, Witch and Navigator aren’t an option, but all of a sudden Displacer is.

Are there commanders that have white but not blue that could use this? Of course there are! It may take some time for people to figure out exactly which white-but-not-also-blue decks they want to jam Displacer in and which archetypes can be created. In the mean time, we do know which cards pair with it, and that’s important.

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This took quite a blow from being forgotten by Standard players and getting a reprint, but it has growth potential, especially since this can be abused in decks without blue. There are enough angels with good enter-the-battlefield effects that Eldrazi Displacer could bolster one deck right off the bat.

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This badass and all the cards that go in the deck suddenly look a little sexier. FTV Angels (don’t google that exact thing. It’s porn. You get porn.) got people jazzed about angels and Displacer does dumb things with basically every angel and demon in the deck. Once, you couldn’t go nuts with an Angel of Despair that you could tutor for, but now you can. And that’s just dandy.

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Hey, look at a combo  that was only available in decks with blue before. Isn’t that dandy? Everything is dandy. And that’s the point.

Lots of decks are going to want to use Eldrazi Displacer as a mono-white Deadeye Navigator, but it has defensive properties as well. If you use it on an opponent’s creature, it leaves combat and comes back in, tapped. This can keep you from dying to certain Voltron decks until they give their commander protection from white or creatures, it can lock down big beaters and creatures that have to hit you to take effect, and can generally just keep a lot of damage out of your face. Tokens? Dead meat. Forever.

What’s one last way a card that seems like it’s bound to be an EDH staple is going to act a bit like a rock, and therefore a card whose own price may actually matter (and go up from where it is now)?

Effect on Other Formats

EDH is EDH. EDH rocks tend to not be worth a ton of money sometimes (Nekusar) compared to staples (Mana Reflection). But EDH is only one format, and it’s just one place where the cards can impact play and therefore be financially relevant. Edric was a great commander, but his price really soared when people played him briefly in Legacy. The speculation community as a whole, as well as armchair speculators reading tweets from pro players, all bought in heavily to Edric and other first-generation EDH commanders. Even a modicum of playability in Legacy set off a chain reaction.

Could we see Eldrazi Displacer make some movies in Standard? There are potential combos with Standard cards, and some of them let me kill people with Zulaport Cutthroat, which is all I ever wanted to do as a Magic player. Any interest in Standard, even interest that doesn’t end up substantiated by sustainable play, can give this card itself a chance to move up in price. If it does work out, it can bring other cards with it to the top. Those speculations are outside the scope of this article series and better left to Standard specialists, but an EDH staple can find its price affected by things no one anticipated.

I was taking my time and trading for See the Unwritten at a leisurely pace when Standard speculation about upcoming Eldrazi kicked the price in the ass, and it still hasn’t recovered. It’s good to be on top of things, because you never know what Standard could do to upend your plan of, “Wait to get this for cheap at rotation,” and the price may never get to below where it was when you decided to wait.

Eldrazi Displacer is a very special card. It’s going to cause all kinds of tumult, and it’s going to make all kinds of shenanigans possible. I personally welcome it and can’t wait to jam it in every deck. Cheap foils? Sure hope so. Expensive non-foils? Maybe, and I hope I’m invested if it happens. All I know is that there’s more than meets the eye with this card, and it’s going to cause more ripples than any other card in the set. Seeing what this card can do will help us immensely if we see a card like it on future spoilers. Until next week!

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Rock, Paper, Stapler

It’s a new year and there are new cards and everything old is new again, but that doesn’t mean some new things aren’t just old things. The good thing about old things is that they behave predictably. Predictability is moneymakeability sometimes.

New cards are like rocks for the purpose of this upcoming metaphor and the sense that new cards and rocks are both “things,” I guess. People who spend a lot of time thinking about “traditional” MTG finance are very good at scrutinizing rocks. They take measurements, write articles about how many uses the rock has and whether people are going to take other rocks out of their… 60-rock collections (this metaphor is breaking down much faster than I thought it was going to) to make room for the new rocks and generally focus too much on the rock. The rock doesn’t matter, probably. I mean, it matters, but not in the way you might think.

Why the Rock Itself Doesn’t Matter

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You may recognize this picture from our Oath of the Gatewatch spoiler coverage, and I am going to keep posting it because I think it’s very important. This is a list of all of the cards in Battle for Zendikar that are worth more than $2 retail. This is it. Fifteen cards. Coming in a hair over $2 is Omnath, Locus of Rage. How can that be? This card is EDH gold. Have you seen this card?

Omnath, Locus of Rage

Look at this card.

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Look at it.

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Look at it.

This is a card that is going to cause people to run right out and build a deck around him. He’s a pretty good-looking rock. So why shouldn’t we spend too much time thinking about him?

It’s pretty simple, really.

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Buying this for at its reasonable-seeming $6 preorder price turned out to be an excellent way to nutpunch yourself to the tune of $4 a copy plus shipping and handling. It turns out sometimes it doesn’t matter how good a card looks and how obvious it is that the card is going to launch an archetype.

What Are Rocks Good For?

I’m glad I pretended you asked that. While everyone else is studying the rocks and pontificating about how reasonable a $6 presale price is in the short term, I’m throwing rocks into ponds and checking out the ripples they make. The money’s all in ripples.

Reality Ripple

Sometimes, a big enough rock can raise the water level in the pond a little bit, which I am going to assume translates to a lot of cards going up in price. Like Nekusar made a ton of related cards go up while doing nothing financially himself, Omnath has a chance to impact lots of other cards that go in a deck with him at the helm or in the 99 somewhere. Landfall is a cool mechanic, and landfall enablers could see a bump in those colors. Elemental cards like Elemental Mastery have upside now. Every ripple in the pond is an opportunity for a much older card to go up in price, even as the rock sinks to the bottom of the pond and ends up only worth a buck or two.

So why am I bringing this up?

The Next Big Rock

This card is probably the most important card in Oath of the Gatewatch in terms of EDH, and this card is going to be a bulk rare for a while. This is a concept that took me a while to adjust to. I was used to Standard and Modern and Legacy finance, where a good card was a good card and then people gave monies for it at the cards store and then everyone high-fived.  It’s taken some getting used to, but I am learning that even though cards like this sometimes don’t really make a financial impact, they can make stuff happen with other cards. What makes me so sure that Eldrazi Displacer won’t be worth money if it’s as good as I say it is? Let’s look at a different kind of card.

What is a Staple?

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A good commander like Omnath can be the centerpiece of an EDH deck that causes the cards that go in that deck to go up in price, and that’s cool. It’s also a little bit narrow. While a good card with a solid foundation that you can build upon (brought that rock metaphor right back around. You thought I couldn’t do it and I showed you. I showed both of us.) is certainly good for the cards that can go in that deck, what do we do in a block where we don’t get a bunch of juicy legendary creatures with sicko abilities and relevant tribal affiliations? Do we wait for the annual Commander sealed decks for innovation to happen, or do we look at some other cards that can do things financially? I vote we look a little harder and identify a different kind of card that can also matter.

My series has focused mostly on “rocks” since I started writing it, and that’s cool because we have identified a lot of really saucy cards and made a lot of money on cards that seem like obvious targets. Still, while we were focusing on new, splashy, obvious stuff, cards we didn’t really focus on because we took them for granted just kept going nuts.

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A staple is a card that’s considered an auto-include in a wide array of decks. Sol Ring is a staple. Command Tower is a staple. Yes, Chromatic Lantern is a staple, also. Staples work a little differently, price-wise. Since they are used in a wider array of decks, their price is a little less capricious and tied to the whims of individual cards. The health of the format as a whole is the metric that puts pressure on prices, not individual commanders being printed (or banned, I guess).

Which is Eldrazi Displacer and what makes us think we can predict its price?

I think Eldrazi Displacer may be a bit of both and a bit of neither.

Not All Staples Are Created Equal

Staples are an odd thing. Sometimes prices don’t make much sense given how overwhelmingly good one card can seem versus another card with more supply and a much higher price. It’s pretty clear that not all staples are created equal, and while some cards may have more power narrowly, broad utility seems to carry the day. We have nothing but examples of this, and we have a chance to play with EDHREC a little more to see if we can figure out some patterns.

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Some cards shrug off a reprinting and continue to climb seemingly no matter what happens. These are cards that are needed in most decks that can run them, nearly irrespective of the specific commander. These cards are going to be safe-ish but unsexy ways to ensure incremental growth until a second reprint sneaks into your house, drenches your life savings in kerosense, and flicks a lit cigarette at the pile while it walks away in slow motion without even turning around to look at the fire.  Cyclonic Rift is very good in EDH in a lot of decks, and is sure to get you punched in your throat if you Overload it two games in a row.

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Cards like this aren’t always super sexy, but they’re worth knowing about, and they’re worth stocking. If you buy some of these at buylist and jam them in a binder, they will be good trade bait and there is no reason to hurry to get rid of them since they’ll grow at a steady rate. There’s some reprint risk, but if there were no risk in MTG finance, no one wouldn’t do it.

There are cards that seem like they’re staples because of how well they interact with a lot of decks but which don’t necessarily span the format like a card like Temple of the False God does. Food Chain makes mana way more efficiently than Temple and it enablers some explosive strategies, but it’s also narrow compared to Temple. It’s important to know how wide a card appeals when we start throwing around the word “staple.”

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Gilder Bairn is worth a surprising (to some) amount of money and it’s a great enabler in a lot of different strategies. Solid cards like this are worth knowing about, worth stocking, worth playing, and worth watching, but they don’t quite have the reach. This can still be called a “staple,” I guess, and I’m not sure we want to say there is a cutoff point where a card this good becomes too narrow to be considered one, especially since we lack a metric other than price to compare the two. Or do we?

Apples to Oranges

Playing around on EDHREC, I realized there is a way to judge a card and develop a mathematical (or at least numerical) basis for comparing the degree to which a card is considered a staple in EDH. EDHREC does something very useful when you search for individual cards.

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Do you see it?

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Numbers! We can look at numbers to see how often a card is played and use that to judge how broadly it appeals. The more broadly a card appeals, the more likely its price is to rise, because more decks push it up and the overall health of the format (growing in popularity daily) can expose the card to upside. A narrower card has less upside even if it’s more powerful. Sol Ring is in 25,839 of the 37,091 decks that can play it, a percentage of 69.66. That seems a little lower than I had expected, but what can you do? A percentage this high shows its appeal is broad, but is also a decent harbinger of reprint risk. With annual Commander decks on the horizon, reprint risk is worth knowing about.

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A percentage of 51.23 for this card.

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And 46.60 percent for Cyclonic Rift. Almost half of the decks running blue on EDH Rec run a utility card. It’s no wonder the card is trending up in price. Reprints slowed its growth down for a time, but this is really impacting the format. I think a percentage around 40 to 50 is very good and indicates the card is a staple for the format, not just for particular decks. Did I expect the number that I wanted to see to be a bit higher than 50 percent? Yes, but Command Tower isn’t much higher than that and there isn’t much point in not playing Command Tower in decks that are more than one color. They’re $1. Get you some. If Command Tower is played in 51 percent of eligible decks, than Cyclonic Rift’s 46.6 percent is pretty phenomenal.

I think checking the percentage is a good metric and I am going to use it in my analytical toolbox from now on.

Is There a Card to Compare Eldrazi Displacer To?

Yep. And you all know what it is already.

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Deadeye Navigator is a lot like Eldrazi Displacer, and it’s $1. While we have no idea to what extent Eldrazi Displacer is going to get adopted when it’s printed, if we find a corollary like Deadeye Navigator, we can analyze the card by proxy a little bit. What can our new metric tell us about what percentage of decks we can expect to jam Eldrazi Displacer?

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We’re coming in at about 15-percent adoption for the Navigator.

Power level is important. It’s very important. It tells us whether a card is worth bothering with. It tells us the likelihood that the card is worth removing a card in the deck already to make room. It tells us whether it can launch an archetype or support one well enough to make that archetype more worth playing. But Cyclonic Rift is five times as expensive as Deadeye Navigator because it’s in three times as many blue decks. Some other factors matter, also, such as the butt-puckering fear that Deadeye will be banned basically every ban cycle, but for the most part, the extent to which a card is played across the format seems to be what matters most.

I feel like we can expect to see Eldrazi Displacer in about 15 percent (plus or minus five percent) or so of EDH decks. It’s likely to be redundant to Deadeye Navigator and in a lot of the same decks. It’s also going to give decks that run white but not blue access to these shenanigans, but since decks that are blue but not white can run Deadeye already, and since blue is played more in EDH than white, I imagine that’s a wash. If Eldrazi Displacer doesn’t get some help from other formats, it’s likely going to end up a $1 card just like Deadeye Navigator. There is a bit of good news, though.

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Foils of Deadeye are almost $9. I expect the foil multiplier on Eldrazi Displacer to be much lower for about a year, so you have a while to snag as many foil copies as you can before they jump.

I have a lot more I want to say on this topic, but I’ve exceeded my word count. Why not turn this into a two-parter? Next week, we can look at how a card like Eldraiz Displacer being destined to be in roughly 15 percent of the decks in the format can be a little deceiving. When can a staple act like a rock? Find out next week. Until then!

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What EDH Can and Can’t Do to Prices

What up, nerds?

I wrote a lot this past year about what EDH can do to prices. With 2015 winding down, I’m looking back at what I’ve written so far and thinking about the series as a whole. We’ve talked a lot about the effect new printings can have on prices, but there are a few nuances I want to really solidify so we can head into 2016 swinging.

What I am going to do for a bit is revisit the basic thesis of this series, and that is:

“Cards that are coming out in new sets can serve as an event that can shift the prices of older cards. “

Unifying Theory

Is This Effect Real?

It’s a pretty simple thesis, and I think I’ve made a pretty good case for it. Not even that—it makes a good case for itself. It doesn’t take a ton of detective work to look at Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Winds of Change, Forced Fruition, Wheel and Deal, and Wheel of Fortune all spiking the same week, just after the Mind Seize deck with Nekusar, the Mindrazer came out, to figure out those things were related.

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Nekusar came along and the card launched an entire deck archetype. It’s a very annoying one, but it’s a very good one. It’s easy and obvious to build, and it’s effective, popular, and everyone who had access to the precon had access to it. With financiers buying up every copy of Mind Seize they could get their mitts on to flip the copies of True-Name Nemesis, some people had an opportunity to get the rest of the cards for fairly cheap after the financiers culled the copies of Nemesis and Baleful Strix. These cards saw their prices affected to a huge extent and the spikes all occuring at the same time, a few weeks after the set was released and people began building with Nekusar and figuring out wheel effects were the gas that made the deck work, prices spiked accordingly.

What Can’t It Do?

That’s something I feel like I haven’t covered as well. It’s important to understand the limitations of this effect. EDH has a broad appeal, and that appeal is growing, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t limited in the effect new cards can have on prices of other cards. The more copies of a card there are, the more the deck will need to be played to affect the price at all. While Nekusar was able to move older cards like Puzzle Box and even a recent-ish card like Forced Fruition, cards that everyone has lying around, let’s re-examine some of these graphs and talk a bit about what happened with the cards’ prices.

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This is the price of Forced Fruition over the last 3 years.

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The arrow points to the point where people started to realize this card was nuts in Nekusar decks. This was a $2ish card—not selling briskly on TCGplayer or eBay or Cardshark, but not shipped in bulk, either. A $2 card isn’t worth putting in a store display case. It’s not worth having in a binder, because it’s too old for anyone to care and not valuable enough for anyone to be after. This card was total trash to all but the casualiest of casuals until it was suddenly the perfect card for a deck that just popped into existence.

What happens when something like that occurs is a weird process. First, the internet gets bought out very quickly, causing a very sharp price increase as the cheap copies are bought out and the people hoping to cash in post their copies for as much as they think they can get.

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Then, people start to dig the cards out of boxes and the supply begins to catch up as copies come out of the woodwork.

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Organic demand takes over and people start to realize they don’t mind paying more than they used to be able to for the card because it’s quite good in the deck, but slowly, increased supply catches up and satisfies the demand. Finally, the race to the bottom begins and the copies sell at a slower rate and prices plateau.

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The price ends up higher than it was before, lower than its peak, and at a place where people are comfortable both buying and selling. The price has a tendency to equilibrate here. But this is pretty unique to cards that are spread out and not concentrated in the hands of dealers.

What would happen if Wizards printed another card like Nekusar, and people who had Nekusar decks built already decided they wanted a second copy of Forced Fruition? Well, we’d see the price basically track to its new equilibrium point. It would fluctuate a bit, overcorrecting at first, but not as drastically. The copies are concentrated in the hands of dealers who paid a fair price for Forced Fruition and overpaid a bit when the price was beginning to equilibrate as supply caught up to demand. Those dealers who overpaid aren’t in a hurry to sell at a small gain, so they are hanging onto their copies and selling one at a rate of one per new Nekusar deck.

That’s a slow rate. That rate would increase if there were a new Nekusar, possibly in different colors and people built the new deck as an addition instead of taking the old one apart. When there are a lot of copies out there in the hands of dealers, the prices don’t go quite as nuts. We are seeing a high percentage of copies of Forced Fruition out of collections, shoe boxes, rubber bands, and dollar boxes, because when the card initially spiked, everyone and their cousin hit their LGS and their closets and binders looking for copies of the card to ship into the frenzy.

This effect is going to be attenuated greatly for a newer card. How do I know? Let’s look at a card that’s played in a much greater percentage of Nekusar decks. This is a card that, according to EDHREC, 61 percent of Nekusar decks play compared to the 49 percent (can that be right?) that play Forced Fruition.

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There was some initial hype surrounding Whispering Madness when people tried to couple it with unblockable creatures in an attempt to mill opponents to death. Casuals are always going to try to play Dimir mill; they just are. When this card proved that it couldn’t carry a whole archetype on its back and the supply began to overwhelm the dwindling demand, the price suffered. Want to see something really interesting? Let’s look at what the graph did when Mind Seize was released.

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That little dip may or may not have been caused by the Nekusar frenzy. There’s not much of a mechanism for new demand to cause the price to go down, but if you ignore the dip and just look at the average price since the deck was being built, you’ll see it’s on a decline, on average—pretty similar to the slope of the buylist price.

Why would we see such a profound effect for one card and such a different one for another card? The answer seems pretty simple to me: recency.

Whispering Madness is in every bulk bin, every binder, every shoe box. It was less than a year old when the Commander 2013 decks came out, and copies were everywhere. Anyone who wanted a copy of Whispering Madness to jam in their Nekusar deck probably had one already, or had a friend who would give them one for free. It was a bulk rare, and therefore, it was everywhere. The card wasn’t concentrated in the hands of dealers, but dealers still had more copies of Whispering Madness than they likely had of Forced Fruition, despite having a smaller percentage of the total number of the available copies.

A new event can clearly move the needle on older cards with relatively fewer copies printed. Magic has gotten continually more popular, so the further back you go, the fewer copies of a card there are. With fewer copies of old cards in the hands of dealers and more scattered to the four winds, cards have time to spike in price as people slowly unearth their buried copies and gradually feed them into the machine. Are there ways we can mitigate this and make some smart buys in more recent cards?

Can Recent Cards Move?

They can, and there are a few things we can do if we correctly predict a new card is going to make a new archetype that people will want to play.

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Sage of Hours is pretty busted with the new Ezuri. Once you get him up to five experience counters, he can dump five +1/+1 counters on your Sage of Hours, allowing you to remove said counters and take an extra turn. If your opponent(s) can’t interrupt this with an instant, you take every turn and kill them with your creatures and win the game.

Despite it being a mythic, there are quite a few copies of Sage of Hours out there because it’s recent and not in high demand from Standard players. Most of the copies of this card are just sitting in store inventories, and the new Ezuri deck hasn’t been built enough to move the needle. The threat of a reprint is always present, also, and no one seems super willing to gamble on this card. Store inventories haven’t moved much, either. There wasn’t really money to be made predicting this would pair well with Ezuri as soon as he was spoiled. Or was there?

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This went from a Vorel of the Hull Clade spec to a bit of a bust to an Ezuri staple, in foil. Foil copies are less prone to a reprint, especially in a Commander-series deck which doesn’t have any regular-sized foils. Foil copies have higher upside, since there is usually a multiplier that will drive the two prices apart as the non-foil increases. There are fewer copies of the foil, and for cards that are printed in event decks and such, the set foil is even scarcer compared to the non-foil. The relatively few numbers of copies make it easier for buying behavior on a small scale to signal the market that the price is moving, and when the card is merely twice as expensive as the non-foil like we saw here during Sage’s lull, you can still buy effectively, getting half as many copies but experiencing four times the upside.  Currently sitting pretty around $13, this card could go back down, but with Ezuri’s current popularity (it was the second most-built deck last week according to EDHREC), that may take a while.

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Moving very nicely up in price for years, Contagion Engine seemed like a good way to proliferate experience counters with the new commanders in Commander 2015. It’s colorless, allowing it to go in any of the five decks, and it serves as removal, something that is important in decks like Simic that lack a ton of ways to kill things without bouncing them or turning them into tokens. Still, the slope of the graph doesn’t really increase with the printing of Commander 2015. It seemed almost a shoo-in in one or more of the decks, and while it’s getting up there, it’s nowhere near the popularity of a card like Darksteel Plate, a card from the same block whose price is higher than you might think. Was there any money to be made on Engine?

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Apparently there was money to be made on the card in foil, where the price tripled overnight, and while it’s returning to equilibrium, it’s equilibrating much higher than the price was before experience counters made us pay attention.

The Future of This Series

I plan to continue identifying upcoming archetypes made possible by new printings as well as identifying staples that don’t necessarily need events to drive the price up. There was no real event other than EDH being a fun format that caused Chromatic Lantern to climb like it has, but every once in a while, the price corrects higher due to adjustments in dealer buying behavior and player buying behavior.

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This was a card everyone knew was good basically just in EDH, but which no one really talked about. This went up calmly, behind the scenes, and keeps surprising everyone with how high it continues to go. I plan to spend a lot of time talking about event-driven upcoming price increases next year, but I also want to spend some time identifying staples that are going to march solidly up in price and which will be great cards to stock a binder with.

Remember, EDH players are who we want to trade with. They want a much larger range of cards from us, and they’re more likely to undervalue (maybe not money-wise, but to just generally care less about) Standard staples and other cards we can instantly sell on TCGplayer, much faster than we can sell EDH cards. I hope you’ll join me next year, where we’ll keep looking at the fascinating world of EDH finance and chart some uncharted territory while we do. See you in 2016.

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