Category Archives: Unlocked ProTrader

UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Arrested Development

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Magic players, like any community of fans for a thing, has a wide knowledge spectrum in terms of understanding the game. There are people like Patrick Chapin who are able to analyze the game at such a crucial, fundamental level that they are able to write literal books on playing the game. There are also people who can’t tell a state-based effect from a hole in the ground. For most hobbies, this doesn’t preclude people from enjoying it—you can have fun watching a football game even if you can’t spot a blitz.

 

With Magic, however, it’s a little bit different. Newer players, and very casual ones1, don’t want to play against a Pro Tour champion or the local ringer. Even outside of the game, players of different skill levels can have vastly different views of what is going on in the Magic world—if Abzan Aggro wins every FNM at your store, the more casual players are going to assume that it is winning everywhere else, too. There is a demonstrable gulf between the more and less enfranchised players in terms of play skill and understanding what the wider Magic world really looks like. Those in the Magic finance community, whether they play frequently or not, are incentivized to be as ahead of the game as possible. Not only should you know which decks are good, but you should try to have an understanding of why and how they are good. While Magic finance is far from a science, your anticipations and speculations will be grounded by rational reasons, which is a great way to feel about something you’re spending money on.

The most important thing to know about Magic, fittingly, is also the hardest to know: the future. I seem to say it weekly, but Wizards of the Coast is very private about internal information. You’ve read my ramblings about the Zendikar Boom for weeks now, but perhaps the most public acknowledgment of it was Mark Rosewater’s podcast episode on 2009. I’m not going to go back to that well today, but I want to talk about one aspect of WOTC’s behind-the-scenes operation that has gotten much more public recently: development.


BRIEF ORGANIZATIONAL PROCESS ASIDE

It’s worth briefly mentioning how Magic design works for those of you who don’t know (this is going to be the very abridged version). All new Magic sets begin in what is called pre-design, where the focus is on the very basics in terms of style and flavor. Then it moves into design for a year or so, where the mechanics are fleshed out and designers start to come up with rough drafts of cards. Once the set is through all of the rough drafts (and a middle process called “devign”), it makes its way to development. This is where cards get things like more accurate converted mana costs, and where cards are tweaked to better fit the Standard environment that they are entering. To sum up the impacts of both processes: design knew it wanted to make Siege Rhino a splashy Abzan card, and development did the pricing and tweaks to get it there in light of the format it was entering (or rather, the format they expect it to be entering).


Of the two major processes, design and development, the one Magic finance enthusiasts should be most interested in is development. Mark Rosewater does a lot in telling us how design works, and quite frankly, anything we don’t already know would just be spoilers of future sets (like finding your Christmas presents in May, but knowing they are still months away).

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With development, you can see what the pushes are towards (or away from!) in terms of shaping games and formats. Last week’s article by Sam Stoddard did an excellent job of spelling out some of the trends that we can expect to see in the future. I’d encourage you to go and read it (and the rest of his stuff), but I’ll give you a bit of a brief rundown, interspersed with my own examples and wry wisdom.

I Think They Call That a Reuben?

Development does not “test” Modern the way it does with Standard or Limited (the team realistically couldn’t, even if they wanted to). While Standard as a format has existed for many years, the formats themselves are radically different from year to year, and cards leave. With non-rotating formats like Modern and Legacy, however, you are only ever adding more cards to the heap, bannings aside. Design and development philosophies have changed radically from the days of Mirrodin (the first one), but (most of) the cards from that era are still in Modern. There are some types of cards that development just doesn’t want to print anymore, and trying to shift away from these cards is the team’s best tool to driving a change in Modern. Here are the three that Sam talked about, followed by one or two that I want to talk about:

Cheap and efficient card filtering: These are your Ponders and Preordains. Even though these types of cards are popular with control players and tempo decks, the elephant in the room is combo.

Modern’s earliest days were plagued by extremely aggressive combo decks that don’t reflect the style of play that Wizards wants to promote. If you remember Worlds in Rome from 1998, then you’ll know that WOTC isn’t eager to create another professional level environment where the coin toss is considered a key part of the match. Banning combo pieces offers diminishing returns in terms of effectiveness at managing the format, and so it is in WOTC’s best interest to get rid of the egregious enablers rather than all of the engines. Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand are allowed to exist for now, but you will see more cards like Anticipate printed in the future. There is a reason why Telling Time was the selection spell included in Modern Masters 2015. Hitting the best cards of this type is also one of the better sneaky ways to nerf Storm.

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Anticipate

Fast mana (a.k.a. rituals): This is the much more blunt way of killing Storm. It also kills off the (extremely annoying) fringe archetype of All-In Red, which is basically presenting an early threat (in the form of Deus of Calamity or a bunch of Empty the Warrens tokens) and seeing if your opponent can answer it in time. It is miserable to play against, miserable to watch, and not the kind of interaction Wizards wants to promote.

darkritual

Super powerful hate cards: This category best exemplifies the sophistication that Magic design has cultivated. While a card like Deathmark cleanly and elegantly demonstrates black’s core conflict with white (and green), Gloom just straight-up locks most white decks out of the game. Cards like these are less of “tactical adjustments” and more like punching your opponent in the throat between games. Most of these are in Eighth and Ninth Editions, because the worst offenders are reprints from early Magic. I’m not sure how good any of them really are, since the ability to splash a second and third color in Modern is very easy.

choke

Birds of Paradise: This is one that I have observed personally. While ramp in the form of Elvish Mystic is acceptable on turn one these days, it seems like development really wants to push “of any color” to the two-drop slot, as we’ve seen with Rattleclaw Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid. While these cards are both better than Birds, they are also in the two-drop slot—compare this with Stoddard’s rationale on the card-drawing spells.

sylvancaryatid

Wrath of God effects: These are starting to get pushed to five mana instead of four, which gives aggressive decks more potential to compete. Supreme Verdict cost 4, sure, but multicolor spells are typically “undercosted” because of the built-in downside of needing multiple colors.

endhostilities

Moving interaction to the battlefield from the stack: The two smaller points are really just examples of this larger one. Worlds ’98 (the Rome tournament I mentioned earlier) was really what marked the beginning of Magic‘s change in focus (it would take a few years to fully change, but this tournament was in many ways a black eye that WOTC was looking to not have repeated).

glenelendraarchmage

While there have been some bumps along the way, Standard now is a perfect example of what Wizards wants Magic to look like. Rather than having counterspell wars over resolving an effect that is going to either win or sway the game, the interaction between players occurs more in attacking and blocking, or knowing when not to. All Magic tutorials start with teaching players how to attack and the value of having creatures in play, but the professional scene in the late ’90s was totally devoid of that style of play.

What This Means For Us

The only problem with moving complexity and interaction to the battlefield is that it becomes more difficult to evaluate cards devoid of context. Boros Reckoner was not the most hyped card at the release of Gatecrash, because it was difficult to analyze in a vacuum. Courser of Kruphix suffered similarly, as did Goblin Rabblemaster and Siege Rhino. All of these cards went on to be major role players in Standard, with opportunities to buy in cheap before their prices shot up based on demand. It’s easy to evaluate cards with clear historical precedents (Satyr Firedrinker is a Jackal Pup!) or that are clearly pushed (who didn’t think that Abrupt Decay would be a star?), but moving forward, I expect there to be more Standard formats like the one we are seeing now.

Specifically, the type of Magic that is being played in Standard right now is the kind that Wizards wants to be able to promote, and I imagine it’s partially why the company tried to axe Modern Pro Tours. It is very difficult to overhaul Modern to be shaped in the image that WOTC wants, and the backlash of banning all the cards it would take to do so would likely be insurmountable. It could happen eventually, but it would be over the course of years, probably by pushing people to play decks similar to the ones they played in Standard.

I say all of that to say this: knowing the direction that the development team wants to take Magic is an important way of knowing where Magic finance is headed. The things that get pushed the hardest now are the ones with the most safety valves: creatures. It’s important to know what to look for, and when Magic Origins starts to roll around, I’ll go through the spoiler with you. Who knows? Maybe we’ll find the next big thing.

Hope all of you who are playing in the GPs this weekend have a great time.

Best,

Ross

1 Shout-out to the Invisibles.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Modern Masters (The Other One)

Everyone is opening Modern Masters 2015. They love it, they hate it, they open packs with all rares, they open packs with no rares, et cetera, et cetera…

The new set certainly seems to be a bit of a mess. I have four boxes, and I’m not sure if I should bust them and hope for the all-mythics box or keep them sealed and sell down the road for fear of the no-rares packs that I’ve seen opened. It’s certainly a tough dilemma, and one that Magic players across the world are dealing with right now.

The original news was that there would be no second run, but now we are hearing that perhaps that’s not the case. Whether or not this reordering is a result of the myriad printing and quality assurance problems with the first run or not, it means more product could be hitting the market.

 

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I wrote last week about my initial thoughts on the future of the set financially, and I’m sure I’ll be updating that in the weeks ahead. And while I do want to spend today talking about Modern Masters, the future is not what I’m here today to address.

Greed is Good

For us, that is. Look, I know Sigmund and I may bore you with all our talk of the “real world” stock market and our experiences and heroes within it, but Warren Buffett makes for one hell of a quote.

In this case, it’s my favorite, and most-heard, quote from the Oracle of Omaha:

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful.”

This one phrase is so simple and yet so effective when it comes to MTG finance. While the masses are worried about Standard, I’m worried about Block. When the general public is afraid of tanking prices, I’m looking to buy in low.

I’m not Warren Buffett (or even close), but I do have a few phrases to live by when it comes to the financials of this game. One of these is, “Leave the last 10 percent to the next guy,” a phrase I introduced three or four years ago and has never led me astray. Simply put, there’s nothing wrong with failing to maximize profit on a spec, so long as you make profit. The risks of holding too long are very real in this game, and doing so leaves you in a position to lose all the gains you’ve accrued, especially when you consider that for many of us those outs are buylists, which tend to be a leading indicator both when things are rising as well as when they are falling.

There’s another mantra I’ve always adhered to, even if it’s one I haven’t coined anything specific for:

Make your move off the ball.

There are, of course, a million ways to explain this metaphor. “Don’t chase.” “Move in the shadows.” “Act on the fringe.” “Pay attention to what others are ignoring.” “Don’t buy after Jim Kramer has talked about it.” All serve to illustrate a simple concept: you don’t want to be worried about what everyone else is worried about. You want to worry about what they will worry about. Be ahead of the game, and there’s money to be made.

This is why I watch Block every year. One of my most successful recent calls came on Jace, Architect of Thought, which tore up Return to Ravnica Block Constructed but didn’t move much in price. Until rotation, that is, when it suddenly shot up to $20 and made everyone who got in at $5 a lot of money. It’s also why I like to speculate on casual cards, because they’re predictable and allow you to stay ahead of the game.

jacearchitectofthought

It’s a different mindset to consider that the moves you make today are the things that make you money a year or two from now, but it’s extremely valuable. While there certainly is some benefit to chasing those quick spikes, it’s also a fleeting and dangerous game. Loading up on Abrupt Decays at rotation is only now starting to show real profits for me, but if things continue as they’re going, this spec is going to pay off huge in another six or 12 months.

At the same time, I’m still looking toward the future. And, in today’s case, that means also looking toward the past.

Specifically, at the original Modern Masters.

Back to the Past

There will almost certainly be opportunities presented to us with Modern Masters 2015. Cards are likely going to move too low and give us a great chance to buy in. And I’m confident you’ll find the best coverage of that here on MTGPrice when it happens.

But while we wait for that time to arrive (and we celebrate at Grand Prix Vegas), it’s worth checking on the set no one is at all worried about right now but is equally important to the future of Modern: the original Modern Masters.

The Numbers

We’ve seen a few cards in Modern Masters begin to move up recently. Blood Moon, in particular, has been on a tear. I noted last week how Stonehewer Giant seems to finally be recovering from this reprint, and Academy Ruins has been noticeably up as well this year. This is more of a trend than it is isolated. Even things like Manamorphose are up almost 50 percent from where they were at the beginning of 2015.

Of course, not everything is enjoying such a good run.

darkconfidant

We’ve talked about it for awhile, but I think the moment has finally come. Dark Confidant’s days of being one of the most expensive cards in Modern are over. It’s fallen out of favor in Jund over the past year, and it doesn’t seem to be coming back. In a world of Lightning Bolt, Bob’s days may be over. Delve (bringing more high-casting-cost cards into the format) has had an impact, but that’s not all there is to it. Either way, it would appear that Dark Confidant is entering a complete freefall, and I expect it to go pretty far before we see a stabilization.

In a similar fashion, there’s plenty of still-playable staples in Modern Masters that have been reprinted since in one way or another, and the upside on these is limited. Cryptic Command, Tarmogoyf, Vendilion Clique, Blinkmoth Nexus, and company will all see a good time for a buy-in, but they’re going to come down first.

But almost everything else in Modern Masters is showing at least some momentum. I’m not going to list every single card that’s moving up, because you’re all capable of looking at this setlist yourself. What I do want to do is highlight a few of the cards in the set I feel have particular upside.

uphillbattle

Casual Favorites

It wouldn’t be my column if I didn’t target a few casual cards. In this case, I’m looking at Sarkhan Vol and Progenitus. Both have seen some growth this year, particularly the former. But neither can compare to Doubling Season, which has climbed from $20 to $30. Is there more growth in store here? Though it will slow for the next months, I do expect it to push toward $40. Likewise, Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Light and Shadow will continue their upward climbs.

doublingchant

Now, I know talking about cards that have already spiked isn’t the most helpful thing in the world, so instead of trying to squeeze a few dollars out of already-expensive cards, I’d be more interested in targeting things like Stonehewer Giant, which can be had around $2 but will surely climb toward $5 a year from now. And Kokusho, the Evening Star can be found under $10, but that won’t last much longer. This thing is always a terror in Commander and will continue to see upside with a much lower buy-in. Yosei also has solid upside at $5.

Arcbound Ravager

This little (annoying) beast is at an all-time high today at $20. I initially put this on the watchlist a few weeks back, and it’s grown as expected in that time. Affinity is a deck with a lot of pieces reprinted, and more people are sure to pick it up this summer. A climb to $30 seems likely.

arcboundravager

Glimmervoid

This may be an even better target. We’re right at the beginning of a spike on this one, and sitting under $10, I’d much rather get in on this in preparation of a short-term run to $15 and a medium-term run to $20. While some other cards in Modern Masters have already spiked, this one is just beginning.

glimmervoid

Lightning Helix/Spell Snare

lightninghelix

The premier uncommons of the first Modern Masters, growth on these has been slow and steady this year (Kitchen Finks has followed a slightly slower pace), and I expect it to continue or even accelerate now that Modern Masters 2015 is actually being opened. This initial rush of cards hitting the market is going to translate to more people actually playing the format six months from now when we hit Modern PPTQ season, and that’s when these are going to hit truly high demand. Getting in on these now will pay divends then.

spellsnare

Lava Spike

Again, one that has already seen its spike but is still growing. Even though it’s a common, don’t be surprised to see this hit the $4 to $5 range soon. If you can still find these, they’re great targets.

lavaspike

Conclusions

I touched on many of these two years ago, while we were still opening Modern Masters. It made no sense to me that Lava Spike was being considered essentially bulk after years of being a money common. Those moves are paying off now, and you can be sure a similar article for Modern Masters 2015 will be in the works in the coming weeks.

Until then, enjoy Modern Masters 2015. Just don’t forget about its predecessor.

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter


 

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Digging for Gold

On a recent episode of the Money Draught podcast, financier JR (@time_elemental) lamented the lack of real EDH cards in Modern Masters 2015. While Modern Masters…One (I guess) included a lot of EDH staples in an attempt to bring their prices down while simultaneously not acknowledging the secondary market, Modern Masters 2015 doesn’t seem to.

Not only that, the cards that are included aren’t quite build-arounds like last time. While Doubling Season was the linchpin in a draft archetype, we don’t see similar things in Modern Masters 2015. The lack of real EDH cards is going to confound our ability to predict what prices will do to an extent, but let’s dive in anyway. Even though we don’t have a ton of EDH cards this time, there is some gold there.

So what exactly did we get handed to us last time?

Wow, that’s quite a list. We had a substantial portion of the set overlap with cards we find useful in EDH. Let’s compare the size of the list to the size of the list from Modern Masters 2015.

If some of those are a bit of a stretch, don’t worry, because even with me stretching the list out, it’s much, much shorter than the list of EDH goodies in the first Modern Masters set.

With Modern Masters 2015 promising an even larger print run than the first Modern Masters set, expect prices to dip even more profoundly than last time even after you account for all the product that is going to be damaged by WOTC’s shoddy, experimental packaging.

How much do we expect to see prices dip? When should we buy in for some of these cards? Which cards’ prices do we never expect to recover? What are some factors that we don’t always consider? Let’s delve in a bit and see if we can’t make a few predictions based on last time, where we saw a smaller print run but also way more people excited to open boosters.

Untitled

Reality had a profound effect on the price of Stonehewer, bringing it down to the $5 range long before the announcement of the reprint, but Modern Masters took a solid EDH staple that most valued as a bulk rare without knowing it was a solid $5 pick and turned it into a card worth half that at best. Even the printing of a mono-white, equipment-themed EDH deck only affected the spread—it increased slightly but the price is thus far unperturbed two years on. Stonehewer demonstrated an ability to be in high demand and fetch ridiculous prices when everyone was equipment crazy, but if that happens again, don’t expect Giant to be able to reach its previous ceiling. It’s possible its price of above $10 may have prompted its inclusion in Modern Masters, since it took so long for the set to go from conception to boosters, but regardless, we’re only seeing faint glimmers of price recovery two years on.

You can sort of control for the effect of Modern caring less about Giant if you look at another card touted in Modern initially and abandoned at the same time: Steelshaper’s Gift. If you look at the price of Steelshaper’s Gift over the same time frame as Giant, the effect of Modern becomes clearer and you can see what was that demand decrease and what was purely the result of the reprinting in the first Modern Masters set. This isn’t exactly a quantitative effect, but even a qualitative one can show there are two distinct periods of price decline and which one was predicated on the reprint.

Do I see a corollary in Modern Masters 2015?

Untitled

While we don’t expect ordinary cards in the $5 range to recover in price, expect Temple to be crushed into powder. A reprint at uncommon is going to be devastating to the price, and the spread reflects that: growing astronomically as dealers head for the hills.  While its price isn’t predicated on EDH play, I see this card and it’s $5-ish price tag and think of Stonehewer’s abject failure to recover its price despite there being more excitement around a card like it than ever before. Narrow cards like Stonehewer that are good at what they do but relegated to only a few decks are going to suffer for longer than the two years it has been since the last Modern Masters set, and I expect Eldrazi Temple is entirely done for as a result. While some uncommons like Path to Exile have demonstrated an ability to stay around $5, Eldrazi Temple is not Path, and a realistic floor could end up under $1. If it had been reprinted at rare, I’d still expect it to hit $2.

How does this compare to a card reprinted in a different manner? Let’a look at an EDH staple that was reprinted in a Commander deck and see if we see a similar price decline or a dissimilar one. Since we are decent at predicting what a Commander reprint will do, let’s try and compare the two effects and try to apply that to a card in Modern Masters 2015.

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Murkfiend Liege is a great, great card. It’s a fairer Prophet of Kruphix and despite being outclassed by the less fair prophet, the community has adopted a, “Por que no los dos?” attitude, so Prophet hasn’t really hurt Liege’s price a ton, especially not compared to what the Commander 2013 reprint did to absolutely pants it.

If you look at this graph of Murkfriend Liege’s price for the Eventide copy, it was well on its way to $15 when the reprint came along and pulled its pants down. The card is dirt cheap right now,but it’s not done going down and I’m not even close to wanting to touch these right now. With the popularity of Derevi, the sealed product is going to continue to be in high demand and every deck popped for a Derevi is going to result in one more Liege hitting the market. Some Derevi players will run the Liege, but some won’t. And besides, that’s a person buying a Seedborn Muse or Prophet (or both) from you who doesn’t need to buy a Liege.

We saw Modern Masters completely pants a card like Stonehewer which was roughly $5 to $7 on EDH demand alone. What about a card that was a similar price to Murkfiend Liege? How about Creakwood Liege?

creakwoodgraph

You can see that the set has already made Creakwood fall to roughly half of its pre-printing price. The good thing is that we can wait for it to fall a bit more, and I don’t know that we’re in any hurry to buy. A reprinting in a Commander deck seems very unlikely. With Modern Masters cutting prices in half last time, I feel like Creakwood Liege may be close to done falling, and this may be the new price for a while, but with Modern Masters threatening to disappear after a few months, it might rebound. Demand was much greater than that for a card like Stonehewer, and with a reprint feeling relatively unlikely after the first one, Liege may recover after all. Can we substantiate our claim that a Modern Masters reprint tends to cut the price of in-demand cards roughly in half?

divinityofpridegraph

Divinity has been printed twice and is unlikely to ever recover at a fast enough rate for us to care. You can see two very distinct depressions in price, one around mid-2013 when Modern Masters gave it its first reprinting (cutting the price roughly in half) and the second when it got a reprinting in the Oloro Commander deck which saw some popularity, especially with everyone testing Toxic Deluge at the time trying to deal with True-Name Nemesis.

If we hadn’t seen the second reprinting, Divinity might also have recovered, We can’t say for certain. Do you feel good about Creakwood? If you bought in at its floor, which I would predict is around peak saturation of Modern Masters 2015, you could see it finish between its initial $15 and its current $7.50. That’s a 50 percent increase and would mean it outperformed my 401k. Not too shabby. If you’re not as optimistic, we can look at the list of EDH cards in Modern Masters 2015, pick the cards unlikely to get another reprint, and predict a rough 50 percent cut in price and a 50 percent increase from that floor price. Not great, but predictable.

What do we like for this effect? Out of the EDH cards in the set, few are truly safe from reprint, and few compare with Creakwood in terms of desirability. The Eldrazi have been reprinted before in various manners and don’t feel as safe to me, and their high buy-ins reduce upside. Kiki-Jiki may get reprinted every two years in this wacky set. Comet Storm in the only mythic rare anyone is opening if the hashtag #CometCurse is to be believed. Wilt-Leaf Liege‘s price is mostly predicated on a modicum of Modern play—Brian Kibler saying the name of a Magic card on Twitter has roughly as profound an effect on price as does all of EDH-dom, so I expect Modern to greedily swallow a ton of the loose copies irrespective of how much it’s actually played. If you disagree, Wilt-Leaf may be a good buy, but my money is on Creakwood. A lot of the rest of the cards on my list are pretty cheap.

Based on the response I get this week, I may clarify a few points on this topic before I move on to something else, so make sure you hit up the comments section. I am in Las Vegas until next week for the GP (in the loosest sense of being in Vegas “for the GP”), so I may not spend a ton of time monitoring the comments, but I will try and check in. Your feedback so far has been invaluable and I hope you continue to engage with this series and encourage others to ask questions. Come find me if you’re in Vegas and say hello! Until next time.

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Going Hunting on the Banned and Restricted List

By: Travis Allen

When this article goes live, I’ll either be in or en route to Las Vegas, along with what feels like what must be a quarter of the Magic-playing population. I haven’t been aboard the #hypetrain that three-fourths of my Twitter feed has been, mostly because I’m incapable of experiencing these “emotions” I hear people constantly have, but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

I suspect that my plan for the event is similar to many: I’ll participate in the main event because I’m there and it should be fun, but it’s hardly the flagship activity of my attendance. Other activities, all just as important, will be two-headed giant events with friends, social mixers with various Magic personalities I’ve yet to meet in person, distributing MTGPrice loot to a handful of individuals, writing up coverage about what’s hot on the floor, taking in a show or two, and maybe even hanging out at the pool in the naked desert sun. If you see me wandering around the floor, feel free to stop me and say hello. I’m always happy to meet the few poor souls that read my articles.

I’ve spent the last three weeks writing about Modern Masters 2015, so I’ll spare you from that this week. After all, big price movements will be happening after all the events wrap up and tens of thousands of cards end up hitting dealer buylists or local binders across the world. A week or two after the festivities will be a good time to check in on MM2015 again. In the meantime, let prices settle a bit, enjoy the draft format, and see what else is going on.

No Reservations

With Dragons of Tarkir fully in the rear view mirror and Origins a good six weeks away, we’re smack dab in the middle of Standard set releases. This makes it a good time to discuss cards whose value can and frequently does run up close to release dates. I’m speaking of cards on the banned and restricted (B&R) list.

It seems that nearly every regular set release is accompanied by B&R speculation. What’s coming off the list? Are they finally banning card X? Was last weekend’s GP enough to push them in one direction? What would be good if format Y gets card Z back? And so on and so on. Speculation runs rampant. People make absolutely ridiculous claims about what would be fair to unban and how good the card would or wouldn’t be if legal.

Perhaps a bit anecdotal, but it feels like Modern chatter is cyclical to me. A set release will bring with it extensive B&R speculation, and when the article finally goes live on DailyMTG, we get an answer one way or another. Banned cards hit buylists within minutes, unbanned cards are bought out even faster, and social media fills with complaints about dealers that cancel orders. Unbanned cards mostly fail to make an impact and prices slowly fall away over several months. Golgari Grave-Troll is a perfect recent example of this.

ggt

By the time the next set release rolls around, nobody seems to be talking about anything. I often forget that it’s going to happen until a day or two beforehand. The article is posted, no changes are made, and life goes on, at least until the next update is two weeks away and the speculation mill starts up again.

Back when Fate Reforged was on the horizon, everyone thought Bloodbraid Elf was coming back. Check out the price graph:

bbe

What’s amusing here is that 90-degree turn in the red circle is about a week before the update occurred. Rather than waiting for the update to find out if BBE would actually come back, people began moving in hard entirely on speculation. The update came and went, BBE stayed banned, and now we’re back to about $4, half the price of its frenzied peak, and double-ish the pre-rise lows.

Movement on cards ahead of B&R updates is happening earlier and earlier, and is exactly why we’re talking about this in the middle of two set releases, when speculation on the list is at its lowest. The time to buy cards coming off of the B&R list isn’t seconds after the update—everyone and their dog is trying to do that. Somewhere between a fraction to all of your orders will get cancelled, and you won’t have the cards until after the prices have already started to settle. If you really want to profit on B&R list updates, waiting until the list changes is a fool’s game. Action is required when nobody else is paying attention—now, essentially.

This is the primary lesson of today’s article. You don’t make money by buying cards immediately after updates. You make money by picking up cheap copies when nobody is looking, and then selling everything you have the second it’s unbanned.

brilliantplan

Private Reserve

The secondary component of this article is looking at what’s on the B&R list today that’s worth picking up. Two key factors on this exercise: there’s no certainty whatosever in this process, not in the way that “Tasigur is going to go up” or “reserve list cards are safe” are certain. A card could be considered by the entire community to be impotent in a format and undeserving of a ban, but until WOTC scratches the name off the list, it’s going to languish in the bulk bin.

The other factor is urgency: there is none. You don’t have to run over to SCG or TCG or ABU or whatever immediately after reading this and go deep on Black Vise. My preferred acquisition on B&R targets is slower and less deliberate. If I see one in a trade binder, I’ll pull it out. People are often happy to move a card that has no immediate applicability. If I’m placing an order for something, I’ll see if they have any of my preferred banned cards in stock at reasonable prices. I also scan big sales like SCG’s back-to-school  for discounted cards on the list. Hall off on Mind Twist? Sure, why not.

All of that said, what’s currently on my watch list?

Modern

Bloodbraid Elf
While she missed last time, I’m confident that we’ll see her again eventually. There’s a good reason her price ran up so high before: a lot of people think she’s completely fair to add back into Modern, especially with the introduction of Siege Rhino as competition at the four-slot. If a portion of the community thinks that she’s fair to reintroduce to civilized society, there’s a good chance a few decision makers over at WOTC feel the same way. Also consider that when BBE was banned, Deathrite Shaman was legal. now that DRS is gone, the Jund strategy that BBE was supposedly propping up has mostly disappeared, replaced instead by Abzan.

Before the huge run-up in price, I liked FNM copies at $3 to $4. Post-surge, this price has stuck a lot closer to $10, unfortunately. While promos would probably hit $20 or more if she was actually unbanned, I like the normal copies more right now. They’re considerably cheaper, with $2 copies available if you look, and these will spike to $10 or more should she return. It’s also a lot easier to pick up a few $2 copies here and there than $10 copies.

Green Sun’s Zenith
With Birthing Pod’s departure, there’s a lot more room in the format for GSZ. The largest roadblock to Zenith returning is Dryad Arbor, as a single Arbor in your deck means that GSZ is always a better Llanowar Elf on turn one. A popular solution is to ban Dryad Arbor, which adds absolutely nothing to the format right now, and unban GSZ (hell, it’s worth banning just for that FTV: Realms art. How a card that deceptive passed inspection is beyond me).

Admittedly, this card was more interesting last year, while the price was still south of $5. Since 2014, we’ve seen the buylist increase significantly to keep pace with what appears to be casual and EDH demand. That’s good news, though. A solid demand profile without existing competitive appeal means that we’re unlikely to get burned holding copies, and prices could continue to rise from other sources while we wait for an unban. If this ever comes back, I expect prices in the $25 to $35 range out of the gate, and I’ll be right there with every copy I have.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
I just want to take a moment to say that this is actually a terrible card to pick up on unban speculation. WOTC’s offices would be burned down if they unbanned Jace without printing a butt-ton more copies at the same time. Stay away on Modern speculation.

Legacy

Black Vise
The fact that people are scratching their head on this card every three months bodes well for Black Vise. Listening to people that know more about these strategies than I, it seems that this card is a completely fair addition to Legacy. A facet of the card is that it provides a way for burn strategies to beat up on combo decks that don’t manage to go off immediately, which is helpful in a matchup that currently leans heavily in combo’s favor.

With both Fourth Edition and Revised printings, there’s no shortage of copies out there. I’m targetting FTV copies, since it’s the only foil that exists. At $2 each, this is an easy $5 to $15 card should it get unbanned.

Mind Twist
Losing your entire hand to someone on turn one or two is the biggest fear with regards to Mind Twist. Some combination of land, Dark Ritual, Grim Monolith, and maybe another rock or two means you can take five to seven cards out of an opponent’s hand before they can meaningfully interact. However, under a slight bit of scrutiny this fear is easily allayed. A single Force of Will completely screws the guy casting Mind Twist, since he went all in to cast it, and his opponent is now only down two cards instead of six. And even if the Twist resolves, what’s left to do? The Twister casting it has a land, and maybe a mana rock or two left over, while the Twistee has maybe one card remaining. Advantage goes to the Twister, sure, but it’s not like the game is locked up. Both players are in top deck mode. Land, land, Tarmogoyf out of your twisted opponent is going to suck big time.

At $2 to $3, the buy-in is quite low. Like Black Vise, we’ve seen this in Fourth Edition and Revised, but at rare rather than uncommon. Concerns over the card being too good will abound in the days following the unban, with plenty of dark mages looking to play Twister in the near future. This will be $10 easily with a return to Legacy.

Mind’s Desire
I really doubt it, but I’ve got a small stack just in case. With only a judge promo and the original Scourge copies on the market, and a nearly guaranteed four-of status in any deck where it sees play, the reward is high enough for the risk that this never comes back.

Got Any More?

These are my current favorite B&R list targets these days. I’m curious to hear arguments for other options in the comments. Remember that the best time to scoop up these types of cards is exactly when nobody is talking about them. Set alerts on your calendar to remind you when to start looking if you have to.

As for those of you heading off to Vegas: see you on the floor!

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