Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: The Chicken Little of MTG Finance

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“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” – Chicken Little

The folk tale of Chicken Little dates back over 25 centuries. References to the little critter are used frequently in our society. Most often the metaphor is used to describe one who is overly cautious or prone to catastrophizing. In the world of MTG Finance, people may refer to me as Chicken Little.

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On Wall Street, analysts who frequently predict a doom-ridden future are known as “permabears.” Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom Boom & Doom Report, is probably one of the more vocal “Chicken Littles” of Wall Street. CNBC showcases an article with his opinion on a weekly basis.

What value could permabears have for the MTG economy? Can everything truly be so dire? Why am I always so risk-averse?

Hopefully I can shed some light into my motivations in this article, along with why it’s not a bad idea to listen to Chicken Little…once in a while.

Motivations

I’ve mentioned my primary motivation for MTG Finance numerous times already. My son is three years old – in 15 years I hope he decides to pursue a college degree. To help pay for said degree I’m attempting to generate as much cash as possible from this hobby. Once I earn a certain amount of profits, I move funds out of Magic and into a Fidelity account. This Fidelity account houses a well-balanced portfolio of stocks and funds which will hopefully grow and compound profitably over the next 15 years.

That’s my approach. Losing money hinders my objective. The goal is to make money in Magic. Simple enough, right?

What accompanies this objective is a corollary I’ve come to accept: playing the game can be bad for business.

This isn’t always true. I’m oversimplifying here. For one, there’s always the risk/reward balance to keep in mind. Maintaining a Tier 1 Standard deck can be costly when new sets are constantly shaking up the metagame. If you’re a skillful player, that may not matter. You could win enough events to more than cover your expense for maintaining or switching decks in Standard. Guess what: I don’t play frequently enough to be a skillful player.

That means Standard is out. I honestly haven’t been excited about Standard in quite some time anyway.

I used to view Modern as the ultimate compromise. I could build a deck I liked and confidently play it for years to come, maintaining minimally while not having to sink a thousand bucks into a mana base and some Force of Wills. Then this happened:

Pod

My Modern deck was blown out of contention by the banning of Birthing Pod. Not only was I left with an unplayable deck, but I was also left with measurable financial loss. Was the loss completely unbearable? No. But remember, I hate losing money.

What is Enjoyment Worth?

I didn’t want to abandon Modern altogether so I built the deck that looked most attractive to me after Melira Pod. That happened to be Amulet Bloom. I bought into the deck, and have since netted a small amount of profit thanks to its rapid rise in popularity. The deck rose to Tier 1 status, and I was beginning to feel energized by the format again.

Then Brian Braun-Duin wrote an article.

BBD

When professional players write about and clamor for a Modern banning, I listen. And when it’s my deck in particular they are stating is overpowered, I act. Can you blame me? I was fooled once by holding my Pod deck for too long, shame on WOTC. Do you honestly think I can hold the newly hated Amulet Bloom deck? If I did, I would be the only one to blame. In fact MTGPrice writer Travis Allen put it best recently on Twitter when he exclaimed:

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Let me be first to admit this is a bit of a Chicken Little statement in and of itself. There are no guarantees something in the Bloom Titan deck gets banned. Additionally, a potential ban could take months or even a year while Wizards closely examines metagame evolution. Still, you can see why Travis’ tweet struck close to home.

With all this swirl in the rearview mirror, I decided to sell my Amulet Bloom deck. Perhaps my action was a bit rash, but I believe my gut instinct is correct in this case. It all ties back to my motivations. In reality I was playing Modern on a very infrequent basis – other formats are simply more attractive to me. So my net enjoyment of the Amulet Bloom deck was low. Weigh that against the risk of financial downside, and you can quickly see how the logic added up in my mind.

Is there really significant downside in holding an Amulet Bloom deck? I would challenge you to define significant, because that word could mean different things to different people. For some, the blow of even $50 in value could be a major hit worth avoiding. Meanwhile others may laugh at a $50 loss and chalk it up to “the cost of playing the game.” For me personally, it’s less about the absolute number and more about the implication. I will have lost more money from my son’s college fund. And to what end? A few casual games of Modern with no rewards or ramifications to the outcome of those games? I don’t play in competitive Modern events nearly enough to justify this.

Thus, I decided to sell the deck and move on.

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Big Picture

In hindsight, perhaps Modern isn’t the right format for me. I’m constantly weathering reprint threats, bannings, and metagame shifts when attempting to maximize value of the collection. And while I DO have a soft spot for the game in my heart, I need to focus on my overarching objective when making financial decisions. This conclusion is what motivated me to write my recent article on why trading Modern is a boon but investing in Modern is a fool’s errand.

We should be buying and selling Modern cards in order to catch jumps in stuff like Raging Ravine and Oblivion Stone.

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O stone

At the same time, we should also recognize that these price jumps come and go on a daily basis. To avoid losses, it’s imperative that we sell cards on these jumps. For the risk averse (or risk intolerant) like myself, there’s no other way to interact in this format.

This is exactly why I’ve adopted a “permabear” type attitude in Modern; a Chicken Little mindset, for those who want to add humor at my expense. In the five years I’ve been actively involved in MTG Finance, I’ve learned a great deal about my motivations. Acting according to the final objective of funding a beloved child’s college education is only logical. My holding of high risk cards that I use once every two months at a kitchen table simply cannot be justified.

“It’s a Game, Sig”

Magic: the Gathering is a game. We’re supposed to have fun playing and not worry about financial implications.

I could not agree more. That’s why I’m shifting focus to the formats I really enjoy most: Legacy, 93/94, and Commander. These formats allow me to play with cards I love while also enabling me to maintain or increase value of my collection over time. Sitting on a 93/94 deck is like making a long-term investment that you also can enjoy on occasion. I don’t have to worry about my Beta Hypnotic Specters or Juzam Djinns getting banned or reprinted.

Juzam

Even if I only enjoy playing a 93/94 match once every two months, there’s virtually no threat of sudden price depreciation. As I’ve stated before, it’s the perfect format for the Chicken Littles of MTG Finance.  Or for those who have other responsibilities that inhibit them from playing in frequent competitive events.

That includes me.

Wrapping It Up

I do want to mention one other variable my critics fail to give me credit for. By constantly flipping Modern cards for modest profit I’m maintaining high liquidity. Being vested in Modern or Standard decks can soak up a sizable chunk of one’s bankroll. By remaining less engaged in these formats (or alternatively, playing budget decks) I can free up cash for other investments.

So when I sell my Primeval Titans, Summer Blooms, and Amulet of Vigors it’s not like I’m sitting on dead money. The cash is put to work. Having liquidity in and of itself is extremely important. Just recently an MTG friend on Facebook alerted me to an attractive eBay listing: a SP Beta Mind Twist for $120. That’s a steal of a price, and my friend encouraged me to pick it up if I was in the market for the card.

Mind Twist

Why didn’t my friend purchase the card himself? He stated he was lacking the funds after purchasing numerous other Old School MTG cards. For those of us who aren’t working with dealer-sized bankrolls, this problem is easy to relate to.

So what’s more likely to appreciate in price in the next 365 days, an Amulet Bloom deck or a Beta Mind Twist? My money is quite literally on the latter. Which is going to be more enjoyable to me during my kitchen table battles? Still the latter, as the Mind Twist fits perfectly in my 93/94 deck.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

The story of Chicken Little is very well known. It’s obvious Modern is a healthy format with a bright future. Card prices will rise and fall for years to come. My advice to you is to consider your own motivations for MTG Finance. If you’re getting tremendous enjoyment out of your Modern and Standard cards by playing in frequent tournaments, it’s absolutely the right decision to stay the course. You can filter my panic and let my worries go in one ear and out the other.

Permabears aren’t correct a lot of the time. No one should blindly follow them. But what permabears and Chicken Littles do well is they frequently challenge your investment decisions. We are forced to at least consider what they’re saying, which keeps us in check. Hopefully they can help us avoid any unsustainable price bubbles. It’s when the permabears become bullish that we truly must panic, for when the last bear remains bullish we have truly hit a peak. Obviously we’re not there yet.

Chicken Littles can also help us reexamine our motivations, so that we keep our eyes on the prize. For me, I will remain content flipping Modern cards over a short term period to grind profits from the format. This is a very exciting time for Modern prices where spikes happen on a daily basis. There is SO much money to be made here.

My long-term MTG positions however, will remain in safer cards. This helps me sleep better at night, and it also keeps me on track for achieving the end goal of funding my son’s college education. For if that sky ever does fall (no matter how unlikely), I don’t want to be devastated by the ensuing blood bath. Chicken Little will always be one step ahead in this regard.

Sig’s Quick Hits

I continue to check mtgstocks.com on a daily basis, and lately I’ve noticed a trend. There are two categories of cards with significant representation on the recent price movers: Modern and older reserved list cards. Everyone knows about the Modern ones, but did you know…

Tawnos’s Coffin, a rare from Antiquities, has been sold out at SCG for weeks now. Don’t be mislead by the $24.99 price tag – this card has exploded in recent weeks. Finding nice copies of this card for under $50 will be very difficult moving forward.

Guardian Beast has also been on the rise recently. Star City Games has just 1 MP copy in stock with a $39.99 price tag. Seeing as the top NM buy price according to mtgprice.com is $50, you can be sure SCG’s pricing will be on the rise some point in the near future.

– Don’t ask me why, but Shahrazad – my all time favorite Magic: the Gathering card – has shown up on the MTG Stocks Interests page a couple of times now. The card is deemed by most as completely unfun, although I personally love the flavor. In any event, SCG has just 1 copy in stock with a $79.99 price tag. Don’t expect this to double any time soon, but if you’re looking for a copy for nostalgia’s sake, you may not want to procrastinate forever since this won’t be getting any cheaper.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Two More Modern Cards

By Guo Heng

Now that Modern season is in full swing, we are starting to see Modern cards spiking all over. Some like Olivia Voldaren was probably due for a spike due to their set’s age. Some, like Huntmaster of the Fells started becoming popular in the Jund builds that emerged after the banning of Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod in February, but as there were not a single major Modern event until last weekend’s StarCityGames Invitational, his price stayed low for months and only spiked this week when the wolf is out of the bag.

There are two cards that I have been watching and holding for a while. Those two cards surprised me when they both dodged the reprint bullet in Modern Masters 2015. Those were two cards I’ve discussed in an article a while back as well.

And I think those two cards are positioned to spike again soon.

Those two cards fell under the radar and resurfaced when I saw Joe Lossett playing in feature match during the Invitationals with this deck:

Goryo's Vengeance by Joe Lossett

By now you would probably have guessed the two cards I am referring to. Before I explain why I think those two cards are undervalued right now, let’s have a quick look at the deck and the reasons why I think the deck has a future in Modern.

Back with a Vengeance

Goryo’s Reanimator is an all-in combo deck that aims to cheat into play an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Griselbrand as early as turn two (turn one for some builds, but lets not get there) using its namesake card, Goryo’s Vengeance. For those unfamiliar with the deck’s interactions, Goryo’s Vengeance instant card type allows you to reanimate Emrakul from your graveyard while Emrakul’s shuffle trigger is on the stack, giving you a hasty 15/15 flying attacker with annihilate 6. You could also reanimate a hasty Griselbrand and use his Necropotence activation to chain multiple Fury of the Horde and attack phases to win that very turn.

Through the Breach provides you with an alternative way to cheat your win conditions into play that works around graveyard hate, imbuing the deck with another angle of attack and added resilience.

While Goryo’s Reanimator is a glass cannon combo deck, it has a few characteristics that make it more reliable than your typical Belcher-style decks:

  • Multiple angles of attack means the deck is less likely to fold to hate cards.
  • Multiple builds are possible. A year ago, streamer Jan van der Vegt tore through day one of Grand Prix Prague with a Goryo’s build running primarily Fist of Suns instead of Through the Breach. While he went unscathed on day one, he ultimately fell short of top 8 on day two, ending up at 44th place.

Financially, cheaper Griselbrand and Emrakul made the deck more accessible. After nearly a year of being handed out as Grand Prix promo, Griselbrand’s price is half where he was a year ago. Emrakul’s reprint in Modern Masters 2015 made $30ish Emrakuls available in the market.

While I do not think that Goryo Reanimator’s time to shine is right now, it is worth talking a look at the key cards that make the deck work.

Goryo’s Vengeance

Goryo's Vengeance Price

Goryo’s Vengeance spiked above $10 when the Goryo’s Reanimator archetype came out in mid-2013. It has been hovering between $12 to $15 since.

Now why am I talking about a $15 card? Surely Goryo’s ship has long sailed?

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I think that Goryo’s current price is still quite far off its ceiling. First off, An entire Modern archetype was made possible by Goryo’s Vengeance, a rare from Betrayers of Kamigawa, a small set that was released ten years ago and has not seen a single instance of reprint. I was fairly surprised that Goryo’s Vengeance was skipped over for reprint in Modern Masters 2015, as big reanimation targets and the arcane subtype were in the set.

Take a look at another card, Oblivion Stone, that is played in exactly one archetype in Modern. The Stone recently shot up to $40 on the back of Red-Green Tron’s stellar performance last weekend, after hovering at $13 for ages. Granted, Tron is now a tier one archetype while Goryo’s Reanimator is tier two. On the other hand, Oblivion Stone is from a large set, and has two printings. I don’t think Goryo’s Vengeance would shoot up to $40 if the archetype becomes popular, but it is not a far shot to imagine it hitting $30. After all, being an arcane card with a plane-specific name, the odds of Goryo’s Vengeance seeing a reprint is much lower than that of Oblivion Stone.

The buylist price for Goryo’s Vengeance spiked after the Invitationals weekend and Goryo’s Vengeance now has a spread of just 26%. It does not take much for an old card in low supply to move.

Through the Breach

Through the Breach Price

Like Goryo’s Vengeance, Through the Breach broke the $10 ceiling ages ago. I was even more surprised that Through the Breach was skimped over for reprint in Modern Masters 2015 than I was with Goryo’s Vengeance. Goryo’s Vengeance requires a discard outlet to work with the Eldrazi, but Through the Breach is a two-card combo with any of the Eldrazi.

Through the Breach’s only printing is from Champions of Kamigawa, which is eleven years old as of writing, though Champions is a large set. Though the Breach has two upsides over Goryo’s Vengeance. First off, it sees play in the sideboard of Legacy Omnitell decks, albeit as a one-of. More importantly Through the Breach is not restricted to just one archetype.

At Grand Prix Madrid last November, Through the Breach was featured as a four-of in a Through the Breach – Summoning Trap hybrid ramp deck designed and piloted by Ricardo van den Bogaard which plowed through day one with a perfect record and made top 8 of the Grand Prix (sadly losing in the semis to variance).

And that deck was no fluke. While the archetype did not take off in popularity, the deck took down a PPTQ in Switzerland and was runner-up in a 214-player Modern tournament in Tokyo.

Through the Breach’s spread of 39% is not as low as that of Goryo’s Vengeance, probably due to its larger supply, but as with Goryo’s Vengeance, I am confident that Through the Breach is undervalued right now, more so for the fact that Through the Breach is ran in other archetypes beyond Goryo Reanimator.

With only a single printing from eleven years back, Through the Breach really shouldn’t be as low as $13, seeing that decks that runs Through the Breach wants three to four copies of the card.

Closing Thoughts

Both Goryo’s Vengeance and Through the Breach are already relatively expensive to buy-in at $15 and $13 respectively. Buying in at such prices entails higher risk than buying in $6 Disrupting Shoals or $6 Huntmaster of the Fells. I featured those two cards today as I am confident that they are undervalued at their current price, and I suspect they are only so because the archetype(s) that run them has yet to take off in popularity.

All it takes is a Grand Prix top 8 with either of those cards during Modern season. Ricardo’s top 8 unfortunately occurred outside Modern season, which could be a reason why Through the Breach did not spiked hard in response to his top 8. Do share your thoughts in the comments below or catch me on Twitter at @thguoheng.

PS: A wild speculation. What could Red-Green Tron do to survive all the expected hate cards directed at it in the upcoming metagame? Chuck in a few mainboard Through the Breach to next level that smug opponent who mainboards Blood Moon


 

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Homo Magiconimus and Darksteel

By: Ross Lennon

Do you listen to a lot of podcasts? I do1. Most of them are Magic-related, and the rest are mainly football, news, and finance. I was listening to Freakanomics on Monday (or as I like to call that program, “Game Theory, Who Knew?”), and I instantly got an idea for something I wanted to write about. My original plan for this week was to finish up the Mirrodin block in our Modern set review series, and we will take some time to go through Darksteel, but that series is not terribly time-sensitive, so I say we ride with the hot hand.

The program I was listening to was about “Homo economicus,” the fictional character/species which embodies the “ideal” human in economic models. Basically, when economists say, “Well, X should happen, because people will know that it is the best option,” they are assuming that all humans know at all times what is best for them, or are able to quickly and cleanly compute the best fiscal course of action.

 

This, as anyone with a humanities background will tell you, is absolutely not true. Many economic theories and models are predicated on Homo sapiens acting like Homo economicus, which is why some academic economists can seem out of touch with how the world really works. Meanwhile, the entire field of advertising is intended to make us do the opposite of what Homo economicus would—the reason why new cars are literally always on sale is because nobody needs a new car. The Freakanomics program was interesting and you should check it out if you haven’t already.

Talk About Magic Now

What I want to discuss today is whether Magic finance has its own inaccurate views of how the market works compared to our expectations. For the sake of me needing a title for this article, let’s call our little best case scenario straw-man Homo magiconimus.

I’m going to tell you a short story about how Magic finance finally “figured out” casual Magic, with some brief justifications why Homo magiconimus missed out on it.

It may seem crazy today, but for a very long time, the casual Magic community got no respect. Even though Wizards “discovered” the Invisibles during Time Spiral, it really took a while for the community as a whole to embrace them (and for Magic finance to adjust to their needs). At the time, cards that only saw casual or non-sanctioned play didn’t command high prices. For example, during its time in Standard, I bought a couple of foil copies of Woodfall Primus for 25 cents each. They weren’t bent-up copies tossed in a vendor’s foil box at a PTQ, and they weren’t scummy trades where I ripped off some doe-eyed little kid—these were NM copies listed on the website of one of the largest Magic retailers on Earth (to protect that company’s privacy, let’s just call it… “Pool Stuff Games”). And honestly, I wouldn’t have even thought to buy them, except the non-foil copies were out of stock, and I needed  them because I was starting to get into Type 4. Homo magiconimus would have bought one copy (even though he probably doesn’t like foils as much as I do), but it’s unsure if he would have grabbed the second one. My gut instincts on getting both were a combination of “mise” and thinking, “I can always give it to a buddy for his Type 4 stack,” two sentiments a “strictly upside” sentient being isn’t likely to be moved by. In the end, however, I was able to move the cards for about $30 each, which is something Homo magiconimus can get behind, so hopefully he used that quarter for the foil rare and not jelly beans.

At the time, dealers and finance people weren’t as diversified as they are now. Their goals mostly revolved around making sure they could meet the needs of the tournament players, as well as learning what they could from that group to know what the good buys were.

“Casual staples” at the time weren’t things like Primus, they were just Extended and Legacy staples. I remember trading Mutavaults (which were about to rotate) for Maelstrom Pulses to a friend/vendor (who later went on to open a couple of Florida’s best Magic stores), because I knew I would need the Pulses, and that he would have better luck moving the Mutavaults at a GP booth or something out of state. Was this the correct trade to make? The prices at the time were similar, but I had extra utility in trading for the card with the longer lifespan in Standard. Homo magiconimus, or at least those of the “plays a bunch of Standard” tribe, would have likely taken the deal, since the ability to roll the upfront investment made on the Mutavaults into two more years of Standard is a great way to avoid continuing to spend money.

maelstrompulse

Prior to the explosion of popularity for Commander, most dealers had a very poor idea of what cards were popular with casual players. This is likely due to the lack of a uniform format (which we got with Commander), so cards that were good in Emperor but not massive Free-For-Alls didn’t seem to garnish a premium. The only card that sticks out in my mind from that era is Underworld Dreams, which was the de facto casual staple. It seemed that anyone who wasn’t interested in playing “real” Magic just wanted to try and kill people with Megrim.

Cards like Wrath of God were obviously still good (more so when you are killing seven other players’ creatures), but most of the price there was because of Standard, or so I assumed. As a low-level binder grinder at the time, I wasn’t exposed to the casual community as much as I am now, even before factoring in great equalizers like PucaTrade. It wasn’t worth servicing the casual community at the time, because so few people understood that there even was a casual community worth serving!

Lorwyn was when WOTC was first getting its data back on Time Spiral, and when Maro and the gang were just figuring out that the Invisibles existed. Time Spiral’s failure in terms of mass appeal spurred the change to New World Order design, which first manifested around Zendikar, which led to the Zendikar Boom, which led to unprecedented player growth and grew the casual base, too. It’s easy to know all that now, but those are a lot of factors (some private) that led to the discovery and growth of a previously unknown market. Homo magiconimus is an animal that acts on rational thought and logic, but he can’t tell the future. This is the reason why so many financiers and dealers were completely surprised when Commander and casual Magic took off, and why I sold all my Tarmogoyfs at $25.

Enough of that for today—let’s hit Darksteel.

Darksteel

Something that gets thrown around a lot is the “death” of Magic. Newer and less enfranchised players claim that Magic‘s expensive secondary market and rapid product releases will be its imminent undoing. Tournament veterans assert that a broken format, a woeful Magic Online offering, or greener pastures (Hearthstone, SolForge, poker) could possibly mean the end of MTG. Of all of these doomsday scenarios, the “broken format,” has probably come closest. There have definitely been some close calls, but the impact that Darksteel made could have very likely become a killing blow.

The set’s salvation was very likely its namesake: Darksteel introduced indestructible, which is something that reads very well to all levels of players. Something like scry or cycling may or may not immediately make sense, nor does it excite younger or newer players the same way that, “THIS ROBOT IS INDESTRUCTIBLEEEEEE!!!!!!!” does. The set sold pretty well, despite tournament attendance driving off a cliff Thelma and Louise-style about a month after release.

Non-Foil Cards of Note

Sword of Fire and Ice: This is the most expensive card in the set by about $20. This card was actually a Legacy staple for a long while, but Batterskull and Jitte now get higher billing. This is still one of the better Cube swords, and the limited printings it has gotten in the last eleven years have only helped bolster it as a chase rare. The judge promo is gorgeous.

swordoffireandicejudge

Aether Vial: This uncommon clocks in at about $27, although it’s been in the twenties for a good long while. Like Sword of Fire and Ice, it has really only gotten reprinted in Modern Masters, along with a very small promo offering (an early From the Vaults in this case). Any tribal deck in Legacy or Modern is going to need four of these, as well as the deplorable Death and Taxes archetype (seriously, that deck is dumb). These trade well though, and are a “four or zero” card much like Tarmogoyf is.

Sword of Light and Shadow: According to the free market, this sword is worse than its in-set cousin by about twenty bucks. That sounds about right, as this card really doesn’t see the same kind of play that Fire and Ice does, which in today’s Magic is pretty limited anyway.

Arcbound Ravager: I am shocked that this card wasn’t in Modern Masters 2015. I will talk about this card in the analysis section at the end (spoiler: it’s pretty good!), but here is a little financial nugget for you: since most of the non-Ravager pieces for Affinity were in MM2, you can expect that deck to be out in large numbers at Modern PPTQs. Plan on selling many Ravagers in the near future.

Mycosynth Lattice: MTGPrice has the Fair Trade Price listed at $21 for this card, but that number has been there for a long while, and I had a copy that I felt like I couldn’t give away for years. The $12 buylist price is tempting. I really don’t know how much demand there is for this card.

Blinkmoth Nexus: Reprinted twice, and the higher price here is likely for the original art. Don’t expect these copies to hold a premium when people still need Mox Opals to play the deck.

Memnarch: One of the best mono-blue commanders, which is saying something. I can’t wait to see what his foil price is… $25… huh. That… seems very low.

Foils of Note That Aren’t Just the Same as Above

Retract

LOLRETRACTLOL

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

*takes deep breath*

…AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

We talked about this card already recently, so I won’t rewrite last week’s article, but notice that the blue line (the most important one!) has barely moved at all, and that the only vendors selling foil Retract at this absurd new price are eBay and Amazon vendors, which means they are speculators and financiers trying to cash out on their (soon to be failed) spec.

Leonin Shikari: I wasn’t sure which section to put this card in, but I went with foils because its foil multiplier is higher than two. The price on this card is impressive, considering I had forgotten that the card exists shortly after I stopped opening Darksteel boosters. It also sees zero competitive play, so this card is only being kept alive by casual players. I wouldn’t even consider it for Cube. I’m trying to figure out if a “Shikari” is a thing, or if the creative team got this name by switching the “i”s and “a”s in “Shakira.”

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer: Commander. Not sure if you really even want this guy if you’re playing a mono-red deck, but whatever.

Sundering Titan: This card sees a little play in Modern and Legacy,and is somehow banned in EDH, most likely for being a card that I like. The Commander banned list is very dumb.

Trinisphere: Somehow only $13 for a foil that is restricted in Vintage. I bet they’re super hard to find, too.

Skullclamp: FTV foils are pretty controversial (unless they are the only version available), but the set foil of this card is still just shy of $20. Impressive, given how insanely broken this card is. Speaking of insanely broken…

Noteworthy Standard Decks

Ravager Affinity: It is important to remember that the Magic hive mind (or “cultural zeitgeist,” if you’re a pretentious jerk) existed in 2004, but not in the same way that it does now. There were not nearly as many tournaments as there are now, Magic Online was still fairly new, and the lack of modern social media meant most discussions of Magic were still relatively private. This is why it took about a month or so for Arcbound Ravager to be “discovered” by the Magic world as a whole. Sure, some people may have known on day one, and others (like myself) found out when the card shot up to $20. Ravager would go on to be banned in Standard, along with seven (!) of its closest friends, all of which were commons. The majority of all decks before that point were either Affinity or “Beats Affinity.” It was a dark time.

Literally Anything With Skullclamp at One Point: I mentioned that it took longer to figure stuff out, which was at least in part because Skullclamp was Standard-legal for three months, which seems about four months too long. For the brief time that this card was legal, it made seriously every deck—good, bad, or otherwise—playable. Factor in that some of the strongest decks from the previous block (Onslaught) had small, aggressive creatures, and you can see how out of hand things got.

skullclamp

Beats Affinity: Literally there where decks with just a bunch of Shatters and Oxidizes. It was awful. No wonder so many pros went over to poker.

Analysis

Ultimately, Darksteel is going to be remembered more for its failures than its successes. There are a few cards worth money in this set that I didn’t mention, but many of them are Commander (Savage Beating) or eternal (Serum Powder) cards with limited upside. Ravager, Swords, and Aether Vial are going to buoy packs of Darksteel for the foreseeable future, which are $11 a pop, and there is not much else to be had besides those headliners.

Darksteel was also the first small set to have 165 cards, and trust me when I say they aren’t all winners. To put it bluntly, Ageless Entity (foil) and Steelshaper Apprentice are probably the two cards with the most potential (although this is largely because they are basically free).

Thanks as always for reading, and let me know what you think of Homo magiconimus—I have a feeling we’ll be seeing him again.

poochie

1Hopefully you do too, because [REDACTED] with [REDACTED] is going to be [REDACTED] [REDACTED].

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: My Bets for GP Charlotte

By: Guo Heng

So much for taking notes during last weekend’s Star City Games’s first ever Modern Invitational in Columbus. Two of the cards that were sorely undervalued upon the conclusion of the Invitational—Olivia Voldaren and Huntmaster of the Fellsspiked fast and hard over the last few days, forcing me to change my initial plan for today’s column. Instead of discussing four cards I think will emerge more expensive by this time next week, I am going to talk about two things today:

  1. Will Olivia and Huntmaster remain at their lofty new prices?
  2. My bet for the archetype that would be performing the best at Grand Prix Charlotte and the card that would spike with it.

The New Jund Overlords

One creature to rule them all.

First off, we have a new queen in Jund. Olivia Voldaren saw some play back when the deck dominated the format, in an era when Birthing Pod was legal, but she wasn’t as powerful back then as she is today in a metagame full of grindy creatures and Lingering Souls. An unanswered Olivia takes over any creature-based matchup and she is not exactly easy to answer if deployed properly (a.k.a. with 1R open to grow her toughness to four in response to Lightning Bolt).

Olivia was hovering at $6.60 when the Invitational concluded and spiked hard over the next few days to the $17.32 she is at today. Is her $17 price tag justified for a card that sees play as a two-of in the 75 of Jund and occasionally as a one-of in Grixis Twin‘s sideboard?

My answer is yes. She is a mythic from Innistrad, which was opened nearly four years ago (how time has passed!), so it’s probably about time that Olivia’s price hits double-digits as a mythic that sees Modern play. Olivia seems to be a trump card in grindy creature matchups and fits in any decks that runs BR and wants to grind out the long game.

I don’t think $17 is the ceiling for Olivia if Jund continues to perform this weekend or if Grixis Twin starts to adopt her as a sideboard mainstay. On the other hand, Olivia is at most played in twos and that limits her price ceiling. I’d say $25 is the highest she could go in best-case scenario.

The hunt is on again. We’re hunting fair decks this time.

Huntmaster of the Fells is a wholly different beast. Like Olivia, Huntmaster spiked from the $6 to $18 within days following the Invitational. Remember, Jund made top eight of both the Invitational and Modern Open. However, I don’t think Huntmaster’s price is done spiking yet.

While he was just found as a two-of in Jund’s sideboard, Huntmaster sees play in a larger variety of decks compared with Olivia. While Olivia’s role is to break open creature mirrors, Huntmaster serves as instant value in a format where removal is generally one-for-one. He is a bit like a planeswalker in the fact that he is a card that does multiple things: create board position, gains life, takes out small creatures, and domes the opponent.

While Huntmaster can be found in a variety of midrange lists that runs his colors, his current surge in price is solely driven by Jund’s recent performance.

However, I think that he has yet to hit his ceiling. Huntmaster was present as a four-of in the sideboard of a variant of an archetype that I think is very well-positioned for this weekend’s Grand Prix, which segues perfectly into the next segment:

Next-Level Delver

Check out this new take on Delver that took down a 273-player StarCityGames Modern Premier IQ in the weekend before Modern Masters 2015 weekend:

Temur Delver by Jordan Boisvert
Temur Delver by Jordan Boisvert

While Delver decks went down the Grixis route to get access to the black Tarmogoyf, Kolaghan’s Command, and efficient creature removal suites resulting in an overall better midrange game, Jordan Boisvert took Delver down a whole different road. He shifted the deck’s gear to tempo and went full speed ahead.

His version of Temur Delver plays the protect-the-queen strategy to the max. The playset of Disrupting Shoal protect your turn-one Delver of Secrets or turn two-Tarmogoyf or Hooting Mandrills. Stubborn Denial adds another three copies of an efficient counterspell to ensure the survival of your early, undercosted threats.

Instead of looking for an improved mid-to-long game capability, Boisvert’s Temur Delver just aims to deploy multiple undercosted threats within the first few turns of the game and protect them with highly efficient counterspells. Disrupting Shoal transforms card advantage into tempo, playing a similar role in Modern as with Force of Will in Legacy Temur Delver. With the most popular Modern removal spells costing one mana (Path to Exile and Lightning Bolt) and half the spells in the deck consisting of one-mana blue spells, there is no shortage of cards to pitch to Force of Will Disrupting Shoal.

Jordan Boisvert’s write-up on how he came to the list and the decks choice of cards is well worth a read. In his article, Jordan mentioned that Huntmaster of the Fells excels in any matchups against fair decks. Based on his individual matchup analysis, Huntmaster seems to be brought in post-board the majority of the time, even against aggro decks like Burn and Affinity, against Grixis Delver, and even Twin decks in anticipation of grindy post-board games.

The question now is: was the deck merely a one-hit wonder?

Adam Fronsee, impressed with Jordan’s list, brought a Delver deck that runs the same core as Jordan’s Temur Delver list (delve creatures, Disrupting Shoal, and Stubborn Denial), but contains black instead of red, which gave him access to more Delve creatures and Abrupt DecayHis list was one of the best-performing decks in the Modern portion of the Invitational. Adam Fronsee finished 12th, probably let down by his Standard showing.

Sultai Delver by Adam Fronsee.
Sultai Delver by Adam Fronsee.

It looks like the pure tempo version of Delver running the Disrupting Shoal and Stubborn Denial core may be the next direction of Delver’s evolution. It’s hard for Delver to play the midrange game with Jund and Abzan doing it much better. The addition of powerful Delve creatures like Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Hooting Mandrills gave Delver more options for undercosted creatures, improving the archetype’s tempo game.

The Modern Force of Will, Finally?

Should Delver move towards a tempo-centric build, Disrupting Shoal would be the card that stands to gain the most price-wise.

Disrupting Shoal Price
Finally fulfilling its destiny as Modern’s Force of Will?

Disrupting Shoal is not the Force of Will that Modern needs, but the Force of Will that Modern deserves. Having dodged reprint in both Modern Masters, the supply of Disrupting Shoal is dangerously low. I dare not even posit its ceiling shall Delver decks move towards the Boisvert’s tempo core that runs a full four Shoals. After a spike in January 2014 due to Travis Woo’s ephemeral Ninja Bear Delver, it is now back down to $6. I think it is a safe bet to buy in a this price, or at least pick up your own playset if you ever intend on playing Delver in Modern.

Delver for Charlotte

One of the reason why I am bullish on cards related to new Delver tech is that Delver, be it Grixis, Temur, or Sultai, seems to be in a good position for Grand Prix Charlotte, assuming the metagame shifts in response to last week’s Star City Games Invitational and Modern Open results.

At level zero, we could expect more Green-Red Tron decks, seeing that Green-Red Tron took down both the Invitational and Modern Open. Delver decks have a great matchup against any deck that attempts to resolve seven- and eight-mana spells. Temur and Sultai Delver probably just eat Tron for breakfast with their slew of undercosted threats that survive Pyroclasm.

The Tron decks would probably eat up the fairest-of-the-fair Jund and Abzan decks. While Delver can handle Jund, Abzan is an atrocious matchup, so having to face less of those decks improves the odds for Delver. Luckily, Abzan is falling out of favor and players are opting for Jund once again, which is good news for the tempo-oriented Delver builds: no more Path to Exile and Siege Rhino, the best answers to Delver’s undercosted fatties. Abrupt Decay is plain useless against Delve creatures.

At level one, we can expect more Twin and Infect, two natural predators of the Tron decks that can scarcely interact with them in game one. Delver has a favorable matchup against both these decks, as Boisvert explained in his write-up.

Based on the above, I think there is a good chance we will see at least one Delver deck finally make top eight of a large event in the post-Treasure Cruise-and-Pod landscape. It’s hard to predict which build would be the one to make it all the way, but after watching Boisvert’s Temur Delver demolish the popular Grixis Delver in Jeff Hoogland and Mat Bimonte’s Crash Test series, I think the tempo-based Delver decks running Disrupting Shoal stand a better chance. After all, if Delver decks are king at the Grand Prix, the Delver that eats other Delvers would be emperor.

Thanks for reading today. Do share your thoughts and predictions for Grand Prix Charlotte in the comments section below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


 

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