Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Aftermath

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Holy.

Crap.

Bannings are tricky things. A ban in Standard is different than one in Modern or Legacy, both in terms of tone and player response. “Older” formats inherently carry the risk of bannings as a check against unforeseen interactions between new and old cards (this is the essential crux of the Golgari Grave-Troll re-banning, new cards like Cathartic Reunion just made Dredge “too good”). It’s possible that this is because formats like Modern are created with some bans already in place, so some of the bloom is off the rose from the get go. Standard, however, is a much more volatile situation. Standard is sold in part as a balanced environment, and bannings, even intended to preserve the greater good, are considered in part a failure.

BRIEF COMPARATIVE ASIDE: The immediate aftermath of a Standard ban kinda feels like when an interim head coach takes over a football team. Yes things are different with Umezawa’s Jitte gone, but nobody thinks that Dan Campbell is really going to stick around. Then again, the Jags hired Doug Marrone, so who knows?

My guess is that bannings in Standard ultimately take some of the romanticism away- players (bad ones) assume that THEY will find the missing piece of the puzzle and vanquish the scourge of whatever deck they keep losing to at FNM and then some how win a Pro Tour. I want to get to the meat of these particular bans (the Standard ones, mostly), but I will say that the addition of a second B&R announcement is an early check against Saheeli Combo disguised as a good idea. I don’t know how the Magic population writ large will respond to the idea of a more policed format philosophy, but I do think it will help prevent player bleeding in the event of a broken format.

Emrakul, the Promised End: This is quite possibly my favorite ban- Emrakul was the de facto top of the format in terms of size and effect, and it warped card choices and game plans towards it. Killing Emrakul (or rather, imprisoning her on the moon) opens up endgame opportunities for cards like Ulamog, Kozilek, or new cards like Herald of Anguish. More importantly, decks that were homogonized in certain forms can now branch out and specialize- Green Black doesn’t NEED to be Delirium anymore, if they find a finisher better than Traverse for the next best thing to Emrakul, although that’s still an option. That trickles down to mean that early game plans don’t have to be the “self-mill while trying to stay alive” tactics that they were before. I don’t know if there is a clear best winner in this situation, but there are several smaller ones.

My personal favorite finisher.

Smuggler’s Copter: Actually, this might be my favorite ban. Copter had the same deck-building effect as Emrakul, but on the exact opposite archetypes. There will continue to be decks that want to include a mix of Vehicles and creatures, but I don’t expect there to be a 1-for-1 replacement (not even the impressive-looking Heart of Kiran).

Golgari Grave-Troll: Dredge is tough to balance, and GGT is just way too good to exist in Modern. Early impact has been a spike on Golgari Thug, although that card doesn’t have the potential to close out games like Troll does. The only Dredge cards that should be allowed in Modern are Life From the Loam and Moldervine Cloak, as they are the ones I like best.

There’s now way this card is coming back. Plan accordingly.

Reflector Mage: The UW decks have a lot of congestion, and so losing Reflector Mage makes the construction of those decks more streamlined. That’s to a degree the opposite effect that the other bans are expected to have, but it also eliminates some of the weird issues that Reflector Mage had on the formats it was in (namely, Eldrazi Displacer). I think UW is still a deck after losing Mage and Copter, but I don’t think it’s a major player.

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Gitaxian Probe: I can’t pretend to know everything about how this impacts Modern, but I definitely get that it’s a big deal. I’m going to pass on this as there’s way too much contextual determination on what replaces it where, and I’m not sure that there is much financial upside given that most of the replacements are things like Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand. Combo decks get some degree worse, although mostly because they can’t have a Peek before attempting to go off.

To close, here are my favorite cards ahead of this weekend’s prerelease!

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Yahenni’s Expertise: I think there is a real possibility that the next few months are dominated in part by Liliana, the Last Hope. That’s not to say that there won’t be other decks (we know Saheeli Combo will be a possibility for at least the first eight weeks), but I do think that Lili could stand to serve as a pillar of the format. In that situation, Yahenni’s Expertise seems INSAAAAAANE. Planeswalkers are graded in part on how well they can defend themselves, and having the opportunity to package a Languish in for [1] seems incredible. At $6 I still really like these, but I would rather trade for them than buy them outright.

I really love this card. “Free” is the most dangerous word in Magic.

Sram, Senior Edificer: Big IF here, but if Puresteel Paladin Combo is a deck, then this feels like a critical 4x. Definitely a high-risk situation, but Modern has been shaken up considerably. I don’t think THIS is the card that sees a tremendous price spike, but I think this is the card that makes the deck work. Key pieces that COULD see an increase include Mox Opal, Monastery Mentor, and Puresteel Paladin itself.

Greenwheel Liberator: I read this a few times to make sure that it counted my Windswept Heaths. It does! Definitely going to try this in Modern with Experiment One and Burning-Tree Emissary. Hidden Herbalists and Narnam Renegade are interesting options also- although these are all pretty narrow.

Lifecrafter’s Bestiary (foil): These feel like a sneaky-good pickup, but definitely for the long term. Most of the decks that want this have access to green already, so color identity isn’t an issue. Long term hold.

I love this long-term.

That’s all for today, good luck at your prerelease!

Best,

Ross

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Splinter Twin: The Ban, the Reaction, and the Fallout

I first heard the rumors driving from Friday Night Magic, where I had just defeated Splinter Twin with Abzan Company to finish undefeated. I was headed to another store for the Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease. A scattering of Twitter posts, a deleted Reddit post, all saying the same thing: Summer Bloom and Splinter Twin were showing up as banned on the Magic Online beta.

Splinter Twin

Rumors like this fly around every three months when a banlist update comes around, and at first I didn’t want to believe it. Everyone seemed happy enough to see Bloom go, but Twin had long been looked at as the defining deck of the format. It couldn’t kill before turn four—exemplifying the “turn four rule” of Modern—and never felt “oppressive” in the same way that Treasure Cruise or Deathrite Shaman did.

But it didn’t take long for my fears to be confirmed, and it became official that Twin was getting the axe.

That was just the start of the fallout.

Initial Reactions

While I was pretty upset about the ban, and was far from alone in that sentiment, it was not a universal reaction. To be honest, things seemed pretty evenly split between people upset about the ban—many of whom were upset about the monetary value they lost (an understandable frustration but a known risk of playing competitive Magic) or because their favorite deck was no longer playable, or like me, simply liked the format the way it was and didn’t want a change—and those who were happy to see Splinter Twin and the ever-present fear it brought with it gone forever.

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A divisive argument, and one that largely comes down to emotions and opinions. Unfortunately for those who thought Splinter Twin improved Modern, it’s ultimately Wizards of the Coast and the DCI’s opinion that matters here.

That opinion, for reference:

“We also look for decks that hold a large enough percentage of the competitive field to reduce the diversity of the format.

Antonio Del Moral León won Pro Tour Fate Reforged playing Splinter Twin, and Jelger Wiegersma finished third; Splinter Twin has won two of the four Modern Pro Tours. Splinter Twin reached the Top 8 of the last six Modern Grand Prix. The last Modern Grand Prix in Pittsburgh had three Splinter Twin decks in the Top 8, including Alex Bianchi’s winning deck.

Decks that are this strong can hurt diversity by pushing the decks that it defeats out of competition. They can also reduce diversity by supplanting similar decks. For instance, Shaun McLaren won Pro Tour Born of the Gods playing this Jeskai control deck. Alex Bianchi won our most recent Modern Grand Prix playing a similar deck but adding the Splinter Twin combination. Similarly, Temur Tempo used to see play at high-level events but has been supplanted by Temur Twin.

We considered what one would do with the cards from a Splinter Twin deck with Splinter Twinbanned. In the case of some Jeskai or Temur, there are very similar decks to build. In other cases, there is Kiki-Jiki as a replacement.

In the interest of competitive diversity, Splinter Twin is banned from Modern.”

You and I may not like it, but it’s possible to understand the reasoning. Splinter Twin, after all, was less of a deck and more of a one-size-fits-all package. You throw four Deceiver Exarchs, four Splinter Twins, and two Pestermites into your dec,k and all of a sudden you have access to an extraordinarily consistent combo that will always be potent no matter what shell you surround it with. Sure, the pieces around it may change, but you will always have access to what may be the most powerful combo in the format (or at least “powerful enough”) but is certainly the most consistent.

We may dispute the fact that Twin was too good for Modern, but the fact remains it was the best thing to be doing at nearly every point of the format’s existence. Remember this?

That was five years ago. Since then, a few more powerful decks have come and gone via the banlist, but Splinter Twin has been a constant. Even when Jund and Pod were at the height of their powers, Twin was a top-tier deck that put up a bunch of numbers every year, because it was just so damn consistent.

Personally, I was surprised by the banning. But in retrospect, and after taking a few days to process it rather than push out an angry article with my kneejerk reaction, maybe I shouldn’t have been.

A Brief History of Modern’s banlist

birthing-pool

“Over the past year, Birthing Pod decks have won significantly more Grand Prix than any other Modern decks and compose the largest percentage of the field. Each year, new powerful options are printed, most recently Siege Rhino. Over time, this creates a growing gap between the strength of the Pod deck and other creature decks. Pod won five of the twelve Grand Prix over the past year, including winning the last two. The high percentage of the field playing Pod suppresses decks, especially other creature decks, that have an unfavorable matchup. In the interest of supporting a diverse format, Birthing Pod is banned.”

The key phrase there? “In the interest of a diverse format, Birthing Pod is banned.”

It doesn’t end there.

Bloodbraid Elf

“While the rest of the format is quite diverse, the dominance of Jund is making it less so overall. The DCI looked to ban a card. We wanted a card that top players consistently played four copies of in Jund, but ideally was less played in other top Modern decks. That would give the best chance of creating a more balanced metagame. The card that best fits our criteria is Bloodbraid Elf.”

There’s that sentiment again. “Best chance of creating a more diverse metagame.

Let’s go back even further.

Wild Nacatal

“We looked for cards to unban, but not only could you play the Amsterdam deck as is, other powerful cards are already available in Modern. For example, Æther Vial was unavailable to Marijn, but is legal in Modern. The Vial is considered one of the stronger cards in Legacy Merfolk decks. The problem is that other decks try to use synergy to get rewards, but those rewards aren’t any better than the Wild Nacatl. For example, the Doran decks use Treefolk Harbinger to find Doran. When it all works, the Harbinger is effectively a 3/3 for . With shock lands, Wild Nacatl is a 3/3, and doesn’t let you down when your opponent kills your Doran. With some effort, Student of Warfare becomes a 3/3 First Strike creature, but that isn’t a sufficient reward for the effort compared with Wild Nacatl. This creature is so efficient it is keeping too many other creature decks from being competitive. So, in the interest of diversity, the DCI is banning Wild Nacatl.”

In the interest of diversity, the DCI is banning Wild Nacatl.”

Every single one of those bans was questionable at the time. People claimed that, much like Splinter Twin, Broodbraid Elf went into a variety of decks, not just one or even a completely dominant one. People argued—and still do—over whether it would be good for the format. Some people fall on one side, some on the other. We can, and will continue to, have that same argument over Twin. I feel like it was good for the format, but others who don’t like the way it forces you to play the third and fourth turns disagree.

And that’s perfectly fine.

The problem? Somewhere over the craziness of the past six days, we stopped having that discussion.

The Tweets

You can find the full series of tweets here, but I’ve summed up the most relevant threads.

Forysthe Tweets 1

This is the one that people ultimately ran with, but there was plenty more to be found.

Forsythe Tweets 2

Forsythe Tweets 3

Forsythe tweets 4

Forsythe tweets 5

There is a lot of information to digest there, and before we go any further, I want to both give props to and criticize this approach. I love that Aaron Forsythe—a high-ranking member of Wizards who has been very forthcoming with us in the past, including talking to us about coming fetch land reprints on a 2014 Brainstorm Brewery episode—is communicating with us on this issue. A more complete understanding of the thought process  behind the bans is a Good Thing™.

But Twitter is not a very good vehicle for that. Not only does it reach precious few people, but it forces people to condense their thoughts into tiny paragraphs that don’t fully show context. This context should have been included in the announcement, not trickled out from Twitter in the days following. It’s this phenomenon that I believe has led us to problems.

“Splinter Twin Was Banned for Ratings.”

This is essentially how people have chosen to read Aaron’s tweets, and it sparked an outrage at Wizards we haven’t seen in, well, at least a week since the last time we brought out the pitchforks. And it’s pervasive—I’ve seen it repeated in articles, comics, and social media circles aplenty. When I asked Twitter what we learned from the ban, more than 80 percent of the responses were along the lines of “the Pro Tour needs to ban cards to be exciting.”

No longer are we talking about whether or not Splinter Twin deserved to go, the conversation has become about whether Wizards is even being honest about the reasons for the ban. All because of a few short sentences one member of the deciding committee communicated.

The only problem with this? It’s not painting the complete picture. Like so many things on the internet that are able to be reduced to social media soundbites, it lacks context.

The problem I have with the response goes a step further. Not only are people suggesting the reason for the ban was improved ratings, they’re out-and-out presenting it as the gospel truth, all based on what Aaron Forsythe described as “a pretty imaginative interpretation of [his] response.”

This is a problem. It’s one thing to debate the merits of a Splinter Twin ban—spirited discourse isn’t a bad thing—but it’s fully another to create a narrative that the man you quoted to create said narrative disputes it.

Forsythe tweets 4

I completely understand the frustration over the ban; after all, I share in it. But if the response to a disagreement with the DCI over the merits of the ban is to completely discredit the organization based on a narrative created from an “imaginary interpretation” of Forsythe’s remarks, it crosses a line. To present something to readers as fact without any confirmation—or in this case, against an outright denial from the source—is, simply put, bad journalism, but more than that, it’s something we can do better than as a community.

How About That Context, Then?

If Forysthe’s tweets aren’t meant to mean “cards are banned to make Pro Tours exciting,” then how are we to interpret them?

I won’t pretend to tell you I have any special knowledge of how or why this decision was made. I wasn’t in that room when it was decided, but I do think I can help shed some context on Aaron’s tweets, and offer my opinion on this series of events from there.

There are a few indisputable facts we can start with.

  • Splinter Twin has been the defining deck of Modern since its inception. Its many variants lead to it almost always being good but not unbeatable.
  • Evidence of this is abundant, as Wizards etched out in its announcement and we covered above.
  • Nothing puts pressure on a format like a Pro Tour. Hundreds of the best players in the world huddle together for a week doing nothing but playing Magic. The tens of thousands of man hours put into this endeavor by the best players in the world solves things very well.
  • Wizards of the Coast made clear in the ban announcement that it sees Splinter Twin as the de facto best deck, and the tournaments cited are used as evidence of Twin stifling the ever-important goal of diversity.

I want to share a conversation I had with Magic Hall of Famer Paul Rietzl at Grand Prix Oklahoma City earlier this year, when he made the top eight with Merfolk. Being a huge fish fan myself, I was excited to talk to him about the deck, and I asked him if he had finally come around to it being the best deck in Modern.

masterofwave

His response? “It’s the best deck for this tournament.”

That’s how most of the players on the Pro Tour operate. They aren’t in it to play their pet deck or experiment for guts and glory; they’re there to play the game they love and take down a big check at the end of the weekend.

Keeping that in mind, let’s circle back to Splinter Twin. At some point over the last 12 months, Wizards decided that the deck was too powerful for Modern based on the evidence we’ve already cited. Wizards decided that for the long-term health of the format, the deck needed to go. Decision made, end of discussion.

Having already decided to ban it, the next logical question is: when? There’s only a handful of Modern events a year, from SCG Opens to Grand Prix. Unlike the Pro Tour, what players battle with in these events is hugely influenced by factors other than “the best deck.” Pet decks, card availability, regional trends: all of these things equate to putting much less pressure on the format at a Grand Prix than a Pro Tour. Outside of a Skullclamp or Eggs-style emergency, does it make more sense to ban cards before a low-pressure event like a Grand Prix in Oklahoma, or a high-pressure event like the Pro Tour? Furthermore, because there’s only one high-pressure event a year, why wouldn’t it make sense to address the health of Modern once a year?

Since 2013, four of the five Modern banlist updates have come in late January or early February, and this marks the third year in a row we’ve had the banlist update before the Pro Tour. That’s as consistent as it gets, and outside of the emergency ban I alluded to in May 2013 (due to Eggs making tournaments nearly unplayable), Wizards has updated the format once a year like clockwork. Since the Modern Pro Tour was moved to the first part of the year in 2014, this update has coincided with the Pro Tour.

Correlation Is Not Causation

A chronological order of the Modern bannings after the initial Pro Tour.

  • 2011: late December
  • 2013: late January
  • 2014: early February
  • 2015: late January
  • 2016: late January

Looks pretty darn consistent to me.

Now, a chronological order of Modern Pro Tours.

  • 2011: September
  • 2012: October
  • 2013: No event due to schedule change to winter set
  • 2014: February
  • 2015: February
  • 2016: February

 Wizards of the Coast has been extremely consistent with the timing of its Modern bans. What has not been consistent until recently is the timing of the Modern Pro Tour. Given that WOTC made the change to bring back the Modern Pro Tour in 2014 after an outcry from the player base, it seems extremely unlikely that it’s a coincidence the company lined the Modern Pro Tour up with its already-existing banning schedule. After all, if your plan is to update the banlist once a year, why not time it right before the Pro Tour?

The Pro Tour is not the reason for the banlist updates. The banlist schedule came first, and in my opinion, there’s a high likelihood it’s the reason the Pro Tour takes place when it does. Claiming that the already-decided bans are a consequence of the existence of a Pro Tour is conflating causation with correlation, and I’ve seen a lot of people jumping on that bandwagon because, frankly, it’s a lot easier to blame an outside influence like the Pro Tour (and by extension Wizards) than to have an honest debate about the merits of the ban on its own.

Again, I’ll stress that all of this could have been avoided with a more detailed explanation of the ban. Not only are Aaron’s thoughts on the matter hidden in tweet replies, but much of the context was lost in the translation to 140 characters. Had this more detailed explanation been included in the original announcement, it could have gone a long way to preventing a misunderstanding of the reasoning behind the bans. Of course, the alternative is radio silence from Wizards on the matter, and I don’t want the company to stop communicating with us through social media—I just want the additional context that can be provided to be addressed more fully in the official announcement, which is presumably seen by multiple people, unlike tweets.

41b8+aQAK8L

Losing Confidence in the Format?

Now that I’ve addressed the controversy of the banning announcement, let’s talk for a moment about the banning itself. While I disagree that Twin was suppressing the format, I can’t disagree that it stifled diversity. After all, when the ten-card package you can jam into a handful of otherwise-different decks is simply better than any other option, there’s no reason not to do so.

Take another look at those banning announcements from Wild Nacatl, Bloodbraid Elf, and Birthing Pod. Every single one of them points to “diversity” as the reason for the banning. Birthing Pod wasn’t oppressing the format either, but there’s no question that playing the usual Pod package was unquestionably the right thing to do. Since then, we’ve seen several flavors of Abzan decks find a home in the format, from the combo version to the midrange version to the aggressive Collected Company builds. None of that would have been possible with Pod in the format, and there would be even less possible if Bloodbraid Elf was still running around.

Which leads us back to the question of confidence in the format. Should we live in fear that Wizards is going to ban out our deck every year simply because it’s good? I would say no—but Wizards will ban something if it’s reducing deck diversity. In both cases we’ve referenced, they haven’t outright killed the decks, they’ve simply neutered them, and that holds true this time around, as well. The “combo” element of Birthing Pod is still its own deck. Jund is still playable—and depending on the meta is very good. Nacatl was pulled off the list when it was deemed to not be so strong as to warp decks around it (thanks, creature power creep!).

Forsythe Tweets 6

Likewise, your Pestermite deck is not dead. It will almost certainly have to change to either work with Kiki-Jiki or shift toward the tempo version, but outside of your singular playset of Splinter Twin, the rest of your cards are not only likely still playable in a competitive-if-slightly-worse deck, just like Amulet of Vigor is playable but worse with a replacement like Azusa, Lost but Seeking.

Moreover, our own actions as a playerbase speak extremely strongly against the “lost confidence” argument. Modern Masters sets have been enormously popular, and Aaron Forsythe shared with us that despite the bans, Modern is the fastest growing format in terms of attendance, events, and viewership (dwarfing Legacy). From WOTC’s perspective, the bans aren’t reducing consumer confidence, they’re creating a format more and more people want to play. And while I may disagree with this particular decision, it seems to me that Wizards has earned the benefit of the doubt. Remember: Modern was created to replace Extended, a format tried in multiple iterations to no success amongst the player base. Modern is a mainstay now, but it was never guaranteed to be, and it’s as popular as it is today under the guidance of Wizards of the Coast. I was wrong about the merits of Bitterblossom’s unbanning, and I can accept the possibility that I’m wrong about the merits of the Splinter Twin banning as well.

Bitterblossom

There will almost certainly be more bannings in the format, because compared to the other Eternal formats in Magic Modern is still relatively new. Sure, the banning of Birthing Pod didn’t lead to a hugely diverse metagame at Pro Tour Fate Reforged, but I don’t think there’s any question the metagame of 2015 was more diverse than that of 2014. And while Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch may similarly be crowded by a few particular decks (I consider Eye of Ugin decks to be far scarier than Affinity in our new Modern world), if and when things do settle down, players will have to look to more diverse options than Splinter Twin as a game plan. Will this lead to a better format than the one we had? We’ll see.

Conclusion

If you’ve stuck with me through all 3,000 words of this, thank you. I have a very high opinion of the Magic community in regards to how we handle disagreements inside our chosen hobby, and it truly bothers me when I see people default to the “blame Wizards because it’s a corporation” stance rather than accept that maybe, just maybe, there are real people on the other side of the discussion who may happen to disagree with you. Wizards of the Coast has made plenty of communication blunders, and those errors have in no small part led to this fiasco, but I encourage everyone out there to remember that we all have the same goal here: make Magic the best it can be.

For me, at least, that means accepting that I don’t know everything. I can write about my opinion, but I can’t tell you why something was banned. I can’t tell you that Modern is a better format with Splinter Twin than without. I can’t tell you that Wizards will or won’t ban another strong deck next year. I can’t tell you the right way to respond to such an emotionally charged situation like this.

But I can listen.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter/Twitch/YouTube

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The Spec Evaluation Cheat Sheet

As MTG financiers, we see a lot of ideas thrown around for speculation targets. We have a good understanding of what kinds of events can drive prices, but my goal with this article is to streamline the vetting process for cards that we’re considering buying. This will allow us evaluate more cards more quickly, leading us to the best speculative purchases we can make. Ready?

Relevant Factors

Let’s briefly go through the relevant factors we can evaluate before buying in on a card.

Formats

What format(s) does the card see play in? Here’s a quick breakdown of how cards are impacted by particular formats:

Standard: Prices can move quickly based on players’ tournament needs, but prices are volatile and will not last, especially once rotation starts to loom.

Modern: Cards in this format just get more and more expensive. If a card is a multi-deck staple, a four-of, appears on MTG Goldfish’s format staples list, see play in other formats, is old, and/or has other contributing factors, prices can get really high. Modern Masters sets mean that every card in the format is at risk of reprint, however.

Legacy: As MTGPrice’s Travis Allen notes, Legacy is starting to drive prices less than it has in the previous five years. That doesn’t mean it can’t still make cards expensive, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as it used to be.

Vintage: A relative few number of players enjoys Vintage, but those that do have invested lots of money in the format. If a card is old or foil, there’s a chance Vintage will make it expensive, but the format isn’t widespread enough to impact the prices of most newer cards, especially non-foils.

CommanderCommander is likely the most popular casual format these days, and this allows it to drive prices on highly demanded cards. That said, as a one-of format, cards have to see play in many different archetypes to see huge spikes—one-archetype players are usually not worth much, even if they’re really good. MTGPrice’s Jason Alt does a great job focusing on the financial implications of Commander week-in, week-out.

Cube: Cube is gaining in popularity, but since not every player needs to own one, it’s really hard for Cube alone to impact a card’s price. It has the largest effect on foil prices, since they’re so much scarcer.

Print Run

A card printed in a large, fall set will have many more copies in existence than one printed in a small, follow-up set. When considering speculating on one of two cards with all other things being equal, you should pretty much always go with the one in shorter supply.

It’s important to know about additional printings, though. If you search for a card like Tasigur, the Golden Fang, you’ll see only the Fate Reforged printing, but that ignores the fact that the card was printed in an Event Deck. This additional influx in supply hurt Tasigur’s price, and if you’re considering buying or selling the card, this is useful information to know. Intro Packs are another source of additional printings for a card that might not necessarily show up when searching to see which sets a card was printed in. By contrast, things like Duel Deck and From the Vault printings will show up as separate sets, making them much easier to identify.

Print run and format demand are both relatively easy to approximate, although we should note that Magic players aren’t given enough information for us to know the exact numbers on these things. Nonetheless, some of the other factors—while no less relevant to a card’s price—are harder to identify.

Likelihood of Reprint

This is honestly just a judgment call. When you have a card from the Reserved List, the judgment call is pretty easy to make—it won’t be reprinted—but when you have something like Abrupt Decay, things get more difficult. You have to consider questions like: what products is this most likely to see a reprint in? what upcoming products would make sense to have this as an inclusion? is its set likely to be covered by the next Modern Masters? Obviously, the answers to all these questions and similar ones are highly speculative, but we have all kinds of resources to help us make educated guesses—and that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

Historical Comparisons

What similar cards have been printed in the past? How did they perform financially? Is this card better, worse, or just different from those other ones? Does it outclass them or is it outclassed by them? If it’s a reprint, how did the first printing perform?

Standard Legality

Is the card legal in Standard? For how much longer? Will it go up or down at rotation? How much is its price predicated on Standard?

These are some of the big-picture things we want to keep an eye on, but it’s getting tough to consider this in the abstract. Let’s move on to a case study.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

With a Fair Trade Price as of this writing of $19.97, Ulamog has seen nearly a $5 increase in the past month. Might it still be a good buy? Let’s go down the list of the relevant factors.

Formats

  • Lots: Commander/Cube
  • Some: Standard/Modern (still being determined)
  • None: Legacy or Vintage (not replacing Emrakul any time soon)

Print Run

  • Rarity: Mythic rare
  • Set size: Large, fall set—the most recent, meaning one of the highest print runs of all time.
  • Additional printings: No supplementary product or promotional printings (except for prerelease)

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion? Very low
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)? Low
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)? Medium
  • In Modern Masters 2017Very low
  • In Modern Masters 2019High

Historical Comparisons

  • Highest prices of original three Eldrazi: $54.98; $64.98; $69.98 (approximately three years after release)

Standard Legality

  • Entered Standard fall 2015; leaves spring 2017
  • Price tied to Standard? Very little
  • Expected losses from rotation? Very low
  • Expected gains after printing stops? High

Of course, much of the above consists of opinion, estimations, educated guesses, and wild assumptions. Nonetheless, using the above cheat sheet can help us get closer to an objective consideration of all the factors that might influence our decision to buy or sell a card.

To summarize my above bulletpoints in prose form: Ulamog will be in high demand by casual players, and we’ve seen what that kind of demand can do for Eldrazi titans in the historical comparisons. He comes from a highly opened set, but is a mythic rare with no additional printings, and a relatively small chance of being reprinted before Modern Masters 2019. As a card being impacted very little by Standard, it’s likely that Ulamog’s price won’t be affected by rotation and we can pick these up freely right now.

Let’s do one more case study before we close today.

Thoughtseize (Theros)

Thoughtseize

With a Fair Trade Price of $19.40 today, Thoughtseize hasn’t exactly set the world on fire the way we expected after rotation.

Formats

  • Lots: Modern/Legacy/Vintage/Cube
  • Some: N/A
  • None: Standard, Commander

(Not that the card is in zero Commander decks, but one-for-one discard isn’t especially potent in the format.)

Print Run

  • Rarity: Rare in Lorwyn (2007) and rare in Theros (2014)
  • Set size: Both printings were in large, fall sets
  • Additional printings: No supplementary product or promotional printings

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion? Virtually nil
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)? Very low
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)? High-ish (an eternal staple with no promos or unique premium versions seems suspect to me)
  • In Modern Masters 2017? Possible but unlikely
  • In Modern Masters 2019? A little more possible but still unlikely

Historical Comparisons

  • Before the Theros printing, Lorwyn Thoughtseize topped out above $75.
  • The current price of the original printing is $40.15, more than double the Theros version.

Standard Legality

  • Not legal in Standard
  • Price tied to Standard? N/A
  • Expected losses from rotation? N/A
  • Expected gains after printing stops? High

Everyone expected Thoughtseize to go up after rotation, but so far it has disappointed. Nonetheless, as a four-of staple in every eternal format that has only two printings (albeit at rare in large, fall sets), this is bound to gain in price eventually. Nevertheless, I’m not excited to buy today based on the plummeting buylist price of late:

thoughtseizechart

Keeping an eye on that blue line will tell you when to buy—and this is more or less guaranteed to be a good spec target at some point. Keep a close eye here.

Now You Do It

I’ve shown you a couple examples, show me your breakdown of a speculation target you like in the comments. Here’s the outline:

Formats

  • Lots:
  • Some:
  • None:

Print Run

  • Rarity:
  • Set size:
  • Additional printings: 

Likelihood of Reprint

  • In a Standard-legal expansion?
  • In a supplementary product (DD, EV, Commander, etc.)?
  • In a premium product (FTV, judge foil, etc.)?
  • In Modern Masters 2017?
  • In Modern Masters 2019?

Historical Comparisons

  • Past printings of this card?
  • Comparable cards?

Standard Legality

  • Entered Standard _____; leaves ______
  • Price tied to Standard? 
  • Expected losses from rotation? 
  • Expected gains after printing stops? 

Pricing Trends

  • Retail price direction?
  • Buylist price direction?

Thanks for reading. Until next time!

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Snarkmas 2015

Previously, on Accumulated Knowledge…

“So I’m doing some research on card prices right now… I’ll have most of this information synthesized in next week’s article.”

“I’ll be back next week with a more focused, technical article talking about what looks good and what doesn’t long term.”

*GUNSHOTS* “Get down!” *EXPLOSION*

“TELL US WHAT YOU KNOW ABOUT THE DEVICE! NOW!”

*CLICHÉ TORTURE SCENE CLIPS*

“End of the line…”

*Fade to black*

Welcome to another installment of Accumulated Knowledge, the last one of 2015. A couple of things occurred to me last week as I was working on this piece:

  • Everything in Standard is so cheap right now (especially BFZ), that the answer to pretty much everything is either “buy it now!” or “this card isn’t good, so don’t bother!” That’s not a fun article to write, and it’s probably not very fun to read.
  • I’m still in my first calendar year with the MTGPrice family, so if I want to come up with cool/clever/contrived traditions, now is the time to start.
  • Prices are unlikely to shoot up before I start AK back up in two weeks, so the impetus for getting this information out to you “on time” isn’t really there.

So with all of that being said, we are going to celebrate the holidays by doing what I treasure most this time of year: putting off doing something boring until January! Welcome to the first annual…

ACCUMULATED KNOWLEDGE SNARKMAS SPECTACULAR!

This is going to be a “best-of [YEAR]” style article with my own brand of edgy but accessible humor, as well as some holiday treats and even some musical guests1! Honestly, if you’ve made it this far you’re probably going to read the whole thing regardless, so let’s get started!

I’ve also made this article free for everyone, because pageviews are my lifeblood I’m a kind and generous hero! Hooray for me!

BEST NEW SHOW INVOLVING MUPPETS IN 2015

“The Muppets” on ABC. It’s really good!

BIGGEST MAGIC COMMUNITY ISSUE IN 2015

This one was a buzzer beater, but the answer is undoubtedly the Oath of the Gatewatch leaks. Magic has had these kinds of issues for as long as I can remember (I believe Judgment was the first major online leak), and they are really bad for the game in a number of ways.

The first issue is that most of the cards that get spoiled are rares and mythics, which were likely going to be previewed by another site or source. Now you’ve ruined the surprise of the card, as well as had a negative impact on a community site or member that likely has a financial impact, as well. If only 50 percent of people visit a site to see a card that was already leaked, you’ve cut that site’s clicks in half, which means less compensation from advertisers, which means no money for Christmas presents for their kids.

I also think that the damage done now is different than the Rancored_Elf days because Magic casts a much wider net. When leaks like Judgment one happened, the Magic community was almost entirely the competitive community. Now there are so many ways of playing and engaging in the game that a leak totally torpedoes the excitement of a subsection of the community when its big surprise gets ruined.

The last point I’ll make about that is this: I keep thinking back to how amazing and exciting the reveal of Damnation was2, and how that incredible, memorable moment would have never happened if the card had been spoiled early.

All that being said, let’s talk about some of the spoiled cards (I know, I’m the worst).

Nissa, Voice of Zendikar: At 1CC, it’s tempting to compare this with Jace Beleren and Liliana of the Veil. That will not end well for Nissa. I’m not sure that any of the decks that want to immediately to use her second ability wouldn’t be better off playing the new Gideon instead.

Chandra, Flamecaller: This costs six mana, so it’s virtually useless. Chandra is the Britta of planeswalkers.

Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim: I was really trying not to play Shambling Vent in my Abzan Aggro decks because it comes in tapped, but Ayli is such a good two-drop that I may have to regardless. This is a card that definitely feels pushed for Constructed, even if you never get to activate her last ability.

Wasteland (Expeditions): I wish I could tell you that this would create a statistically significant amount of Wastelands so as to breathe life into Legacy, but I don’t think that it will. What this will do is bottom out the price of every rare in the set, and probably most if not all of the mythics also. This is the most important Expeditions land of all the 45.

Forbidden Orchard (Expeditions): Someone with a lot of influence in or around Wizards of the Coast plays Oath of Druids in Vintage. That’s the only explanation.

Kor Haven (Expeditions): I blame Sheldon Menery for this one. Dust Bowl I can understand, but seriously?

Tectonic Edge (Expeditions): F*** you.

CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU SHOULD WATCH

Jingle All the Way! This movie holds up really well, and has a pretty impressive cast. Definitely in the upper tier of Christmas movies.

OVER-RATED CHRISTMAS MOVIE THAT YOU’LL PROBABLY END UP SITTING THROUGH THIS YEAR

Polar Express. This isn’t really intended to have humor for kids and adults like Jingle All the Way, so I can’t knock it there. Here’s the thing that I always think about when it’s on though: can you think of a movie Tom Hanks has done in the last twenty or so years that ranks below this? I couldn’t get through all of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, but that had more to do with the film being twenty minutes too long in my opinion. Tom’s had a lot of hits in his career, so I guess when I’m watching Polar Express all I’m thinking is, “We could be watching Catch Me If You Can right now!”

BEST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2015

Arena of the Planeswalkers! In his Drive to Work on hooks in games, Mark Rosewater stated that for the vast majority of games, there is a very small life-cycle. Sadly, this is probably true with Arena, which itself is a revival of a game (Heroscape) that died off a few years back.

Arena is really fun, and it does a good job of integrating the kinds of gaming strategy that Magic (the card game) doesn’t have access to—things like spatial awareness and establishing territorial advantage. The only problem with Arena, and what has likely killed it, is that there was no “out of the box” variety: the rules were written so broadly as to be modular with new expansions almost to the point of being unnecessarily complex, but there were no extra pieces to choose from. The first expansion was promised for January 2016, and I plan to buy it for sure, but I have a hard time expecting that there will be any others after that. If you find a copy while out shopping (at one point Amazon had them for $18), pick it up. It’s a great way to game the winter away, even with non-Magic playing friends and family.

WORST NEW MAGIC-RELATED THING IN 2015

Magic: Puzzle Quest! Even though Arena is a totally different style of game, it takes a lot of the soul and spirit of Magic and incorporates it well; the two feel symbiotic.

With Magic: Puzzle Quest, however, the marriage feels forced—it’s a match-three puzzle game with a gimmick and a #brand makeover. The cards used in the game have no relation to their real-life counterparts, and the whole of the narrative in the story mode is core set flavor text. It feels like a game that was designed by people with no background in Magic, but received the needed corporate stamp of approval from someone on the Hasbro totem pole.

The fact that it’s a “freemium” game only makes things feel cheaper, although that’s likely to be expected in 2015 (Hearthstone remains one of the only games to feel both freemium and respectable). There is a ranked play option, and after 33 matches, I am (as of this writing) the 15th highest ranked player in the game. For most of those games, I didn’t entirely understand the rules (I’m still a little foggy), and am at the point where I need to win dozens of games to catch up with the players ranked ahead of me. I have no real interest or incentive to do so. Also, of the 33 matches, I have only played against non-green “decks” three times (players only have the choice of the five mono-colored Origins planeswalkers and their associated decks). That means more than 90-percent of the competitive environment is one style of play—worse than anything experienced in the paper game’s history. I genuinely doubt the Puzzle Quest designers know or care. If Duels of the Planeswalkers is the digital lead-in to paper Magic, then this unpolished simulacrum is an equally likely deterrent.

HEARTWARMING MTG FINANCE CHRISTMAS CAROL OF 2015

(To the tune of “Dominic the Donkey”)

Hey, chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw
It’s writer Jim Casale!
Chingedy ching, hee haw, hee haw
Magic‘s Jim Casale
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la
La, la, la, la, la, la, laeohda

Next year’s song: “Corbin Got Run Over By A Reindeer”

MY BEST DECK OF 2015

Abzan Aggro (prior to BFZ)! We chopped the top eight and I left without playing, but I’m confident I could have run the whole table. This list was great.

SIGN THAT MAGIC IS GROWING LIKE CRAZY

We even have a morning show now! I expect MTG Breakfast to be on in the waiting room next time I’m getting my oil changed.

CARDS THAT YOU’LL WANT IN FIVE YEARS

One of the most painful things in Magic is looking at prices of cards that you used to own. Here are the cards that are around $5 or so that you’ll be kicking yourself for not holding onto in a half-decade (as well as a percentage degree of confidence):

Dragonlord Silumgar: Not the best one to lead off with, but I’m seeing prices north of ten and south of five on this guy already, and the foils are floating around $30. Giving him a low degree of confidence, but as a mythic dragon, there is nice casual appeal baked in. (15-20%)

The Great Aurora: It’s a splashy mythic from a core set that is going to be difficult to reprint and is currently under $1.You don’t have to like this card to appreciate those factors. It may never be a breakout Constructed staple, but it could have a price trajectory similar to Darksteel Plate or Asceticism. (65%)

Clever Impersonator: Another casual card, this just feels too cool to stay below the price of a booster forever. (45-50%)

Shaman of Forgotten Ways: I don’t think this was banned in Commander, right? If it wasn’t and it never is, this is an early game ramp spell and late game finisher. (50-75%)

Kiora, Master of the Depths and Sarkhan Unbroken: Planeswalkers almost always have a higher floor by virtue of their card type. The only reason these make the list and the Khans version of Sarkhan doesn’t is that he was more pushed for Constructed, and these are more for casual play. The other Sarkhan is good for your cube, though. (90-100%)

Crux of Fate: A black sweeper that can leave you with your finisher unscathed. It’s probably not going to make it into most Modern decks, although it could always go in a Gifts Ungiven package. I don’t know that it has enough in it to get past the point where buylist numbers exceed the current price, though. (15-25%)

Zurgo Bellstriker: Probably not the best back-up to Goblin Guide since we have Monastery Swiftspear, but 2/2s for one mana always have appeal. (25-30%)

Exquisite Firecraft: Being a sorcery hurts, but three mana for four damage is in that sweet spot where a lot of decks may try and make it work anyway. (50-75%)

Siege Rhino: Sometimes I think about how good Loxodon Hierarch and Ravenous Baloth were and then I look at Siege Rhino and smile. This card is already being played in Modern, where Abzan is a perennial favorite. The Duel Deck foils are dirt cheap, too. (65-70%)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang: This is played in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, as well as Cube (and probably Commander). This card inspired this segment, and is probably the closest thing to a guaranteed winner possible. I’m not scared off by his reprint in the Event Deck, since that was on a small scale. (95%-100%)

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

I know that the holidays mean different things to everyone, but I just want to wish you and yours the best, and say the words that everyone needs to hear at this time of year:

“May the Force be with you.”

See you in January!

Best,

Ross

1 Not really.

2 For you new folks: the day Damnation was revealed, visitors to Daily MTG where immediately shown a huge copy of Wrath of God and then watched it morph into Damnation. This was before the current age of social media, so most people experienced it without knowing. It was hands-down the best reveal Wizards has ever done.

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