The Problem With Experience

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By: Cliff Daigle

I should check prices a lot more than I do.

I suffer from a problem of price memory: I know what a card was worth at a certain point, and I am not always diligent in checking prices in the moment. In this, I am not alone. It’s about more than being on top of whatever the latest price is. It’s about recognizing that because a card had a particular price for a while, I remember it as being that price…even when it’s not.

As someone who’s been playing Magic for years upon years, sometimes I’m really taken aback by what some prices have gotten to. Hymn to Tourach

I sold 100 copies of Hymn to Tourach to assorted buylists last year, and I can only laugh when I see Fallen Empires packs selling for more than a dollar. I understand that Hymn is a card that is relatively rare and quite powerful, but I have vivid memories of Fallen Empires being a set that was vastly overprinted and incredibly worthless. Why else would I have had so many of them from so long ago? Thank goodness I never throw out old cards, and thank goodness my wife keeps everything organized.

Such price memories are from more than 15 years ago, but they still shape my interactions. I have a similar mental block on dual lands: I have trouble seeing that any are more than $40, because for a long time, they were that much or less.

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I’ve traded for cards at a certain price because I felt sure that’s what they were worth. After all, that’s how much they had been for the longest time! But when I get home and review my trades, I get annoyed to find out how wrong I was.

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I’m a cautionary tale. When you don’t check prices during a trad, it can come across as very egotistical, even belligerent. More than once I’ve assigned a value to a card, only to have that card be MUCH higher than I remembered. At best, that makes me look like a fool who can’t remember basic financial info. At worst, I appear to be some sort of slimy shark, undervaluing the contents of someone else’s binder.

We’re creatures of habit, and those habits can cause us problems. I try hard to make sure that I check prices in a trade, for my benefit and theirs. I’ve learned to qualify statements about price: “I looked a while ago and it was $5. I’m not sure if it is still that price.” Foil

This sort of memory applies to prices, and it applies to card evaluation as well. In many cases new cards do not compare favorably to old ones, and that may lead us to make mistakes regarding value. I did this with Primeval Bounty, and I still evaluate every counterspell in light of, well, Counterspell. (or Dismiss! Man, I am glad I never have to play against Dismiss, but sad that I won’t ever get to play that in Standard again.)

I have learned through experience that most of the time, my memory of prices is on the low side. I forget that Magic has grown at an incredible rate, to the point that for years, each big fall set was the best-selling set in Magic’s history. That’s amazing for a game twenty years old. I don’t account for the sheer number who get introduced to this game and dive right in, building Standard and Modern and EDH and Cubes and snapping up all sorts of older cards.

My point is that when you’re trading without checking prices, you feel in control until you turn around and find out that your Urza’s Legacy copies of Rancor are significantly more pricey than any of the newer printings. If you’ve recently reviewed and memorized price points, work from memory. If you’re like me and have a difficult time keeping it all straight, bookmark mtgprice.com on your phone and let us keep you informed.

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Do the Planeswalker Curve

By: Travis Allen

Merry Christmas!

This article goes live on December 25th, which is Christmas for a large majority of my American readers. I didn’t bring you any gifts, but I do have some words you can read about Magic on your phone at family dinner while trying to avoid conversation with irritating relatives that bought you packs of Pokemon.

I’ve become aware of a trend in Planeswalkers lately that I want to bring to your attention. I’m going to say right off the bat that this is hardly conclusive, nor is it particularly revelatory. It’s mostly a pattern I’m noticing, and whether it’s signal or noise, I can’t be sure. In any case, it’s worth being aware of.

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Let’s start by taking a look at the price history of Jace, Architect of thought:

Jace

You see here that  Jace started very high, as all Planeswalkers do post-Worldwake, and dipped all the way down to about $10-$12 early this year. There was a small bump in early summer as speculators got on board, and finally in the fall he rose to ~$25, where he was looking like he could have climbed even higher had Jace vs Vraska not been announced. He now sits right around $20.

Next up, Domri Rade:

Domri

Here is a very similar curve. He dropped to ~$12, then in the fall climbed to $25+. As with Jace, he has settled around $20.

Now Chandra, Pyromaster and Garruk, Caller of Beasts:

Chandra

Garruk

 

I think you’re beginning to see a trend here. All of these Planeswalkers have done the same thing. They dip in the spring to about $8-$12, then skyrocket in the fall. This isn’t exactly new information; lots of cards from the senior block have similar curves. The reason this is worth paying attention to in this case is because the good cards are already obvious. Not many people could have identified Desecration Demon skyrocketing, and only a few saw Nightveil Specter coming. Those rares that see 1,000% increases are notoriously difficult to predict. But the Planeswalkers are easy! They’re huge, obvious, splashy cards. No thinking required. They aren’t going from $.40 to $9, but $10 to $25 is still a good chunk of profit.

This seems to be a newer trend as well. We saw something similar with Liliana of the Veil, but her low was about $18 or so. Other than that, I don’t recall so many Planeswalkers behaving similarly at the same time. It may be that they’ve ironed out power levels of the Planeswalkers a bit, so they aren’t quite as divided between “top five ever” and “not good enough for a casual deck.”

It’s also not happening with every single Planeswalker. While the ones listed above have seen spikes, Vraska and Gideon haven’t jumped yet, and they are both from the Return block as well. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

It seems that we have a fairly clear price curve for successful Planeswalkers. How can we identify them? Well, I’d say the block Pro Tour is a good place to start. Jace was all over the Top 8 of PT Dragon’s Maze, and Domri made a showing in the 18+ points list. Gideon was around, but only in Sideboards, and it doesn’t seem that Vraska showed up at all. Outside of that Pro Tour, Domri and Jace were seeing play, while Gideon and Vraska were not.

Chandra and Garruk are a little tougher to spot, simply because they didn’t have the Pro Tour to show off at. They move a lot faster; dipping within weeks of the core set release, and then spiking in sometime in October. The trick to catching core set Planeswalkers in the future will be watching for ones that seem to perform in the month and a half after release, but before rotation occurs.

This seems to make a rather compelling case that any walker that has had reasonable success prior to their first summer will be a great pickup a few months ahead of the fall set. So far out of Theros we’ve had Ashiok, Elspeth, and Xenagos, who have all seen some amount of accomplishment. Are these the three we should be watching in the fall of 2014, or will the rest of the Theros block dethrone them?

The Wild West

By: Jared Yost

Sometimes it feels like we are in the wild west of Magic: the Gathering when it comes to sudden price spikes and card buyouts that seem to affect the market on a weekly basis. It feels like every week I am hearing that this card or that card was bought out and the price has gone up 200%-400%. Just like a shootout, it seems as if the first person to draw their gun (or in this case, their wallet) and fire (click “add to cart”) is the winner. And it only seems to get worse as time goes on. 

Disrupting Shoal

Let’s ponder for a quick minute – who the heck is actually pulling the trigger on these calls like Disrupting Shoal and Phyrexian Obliterator (which even seemed to spike twice?) Is it individuals that have amassed enough ammunition (money) and have good enough aim (experience) to hit every single target faster than the rest of us? Are they the Billie the Kids and Jesse James of the Magic market? Is there a domino effect of casual speculators with more money than sense?

The answer is probably yes to both. As the popularity of Magic increases, it looks like the sky’s the limit for the prices on some of these cards when someone discovers that they are undercosted and acts quickly to drain the market. If you are one of these individuals, my hat is off to you. Congratulations. You have done your homework, discovered an undervalued asset, and have capitalized on that asset. I’m not sure if there is any advice I can give you except to avoid the trap of getting in on a card too late, which you’ve probably avoided in 95% of the cases (there is always the potential for the double spike, though it doesn’t happen often – Jace, the Mind Sculptor did it in Standard). Just remember to strike while the iron is hot: those Disrupting Shoals aren’t going to sell themselves.

But It’s not even Modern cards that are experiencing these price hikes. What about cards like Wheel and Deal and Forced Fruition? Nekusar hasn’t been out for long and isn’t even the flagship commander of the Mind Seize deck, so why did these random cards that only fit into a narrow strategy in a specific causal format go up in value? I might have an idea.

Those holding the bag of cards that spike and then quickly plummet are similar to the penny stock investor, who decided “investing” in penny stock assets would result in a great return. However, the asset in this case is not a random number on a roulette wheel or any single name in a list of penny stocks – the asset is actually something that all of us are emotionally invested in. The first reason that these spikes happen is because players and speculators are both emotionally invested in the game of Magic. Aluren

Everyone that plays Magic is emotionally invested in the game to some degree. Otherwise, why play the game? There are literally thousands of other games that could be played instead, so what makes it so special? The answer is that playing the game is fun, the wonderful community is welcoming and friendly, the feeling of opening packs and sorting a collection can’t be beat, the feeling of chasing a collection and acquiring all of the particular cards you desire is amazing, the great feeling of putting a deck together and calling it your own is the best, and the support by the company that produces the game is fantastic. Without all of these factors, Magic would falter and slowly go away. It is stronger than ever now because all Magic players are able to get emotionally invested through all of these other aspects besides playing the game. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to Magic out there, whether they sell art related to the game (card alters), offer game accessories (dice, tokens, deckboxes, playmats, etc.), or are just reflecting on the community (Cardboard Crack). All of these factors help to cement good feelings in players’ minds about how sweet Magic is.

Right, so what does emotional investment have to do with price spikes? Well, when you get pretty emotional about something, it’s much harder for logic to factor into the equation. Do you want to buy those Disrupting Shoals at $10 because you think they’re cool and there is no way they could go down due to their awesomeness? If this is your train of thought, speculating might not be for you. Speculating requires a certain amount of cold logic and forethought that a lot players don’t want to apply to their favorite past time, which is supposed to be about fun.

Capture

Besides emotional investing, I believe another reason that these price spikes are happening is due to the rarity of the older cards compared to the newer ones (Wheel of Fortune anyone?). Back when Magic first came out, they had no idea how popular the game would be. They created the reserve list out of a fear of killing the game via reprints, and it seemed to work for a time. Because these cards can’t be reprinted, when a new card is released that synergizes or combos well with an old Reserve List card, that card can wind up spiking in value very fast. Even a rules change or unbanning could do this – Gaea’s Cradle and Time Spiral are examples of these cases respectively. With the Modern format Wizards can better control prices of newer cards, but older cards that are in Legacy and EDH are anyone’s guess. 

Nekusar, the Mindrazer

In addition to Reserved List cards that are never getting reprinted, cards that could also receive a reprint but have not gotten one yet are also targets for spikes. Specifically, cards in sets that are post-reserved but pre-Modern, like Masque’s (Rishadan Port), Invasion, Odyssey, and Onslaught – these blocks were printed in a time where the Magic community was only a fraction of what it is today. If a card from one of these sets is discovered to be very synergistic with a new card it, it will spike out of nowhere because the amount of copies that exist are marginal compared to the demand it will see from interacting well with a newer card. It is very hard to keep on top of all the potential combinations that exist without a good grasp on the community resources available to discover these interactions. So I will state that card rarity is always a factor in a spike, because even uncommons (Remand) can become grossly expensive without a reprint.

Just because because a card is rare or hard to find does not mean that its spike is warranted. Aluren would be a good example of this – it’s a card that has a legacy deck to its name and is a casual favorite that a lot of players remember having tons of fun with. It never sustained its price, though, because the deck failed to put up enough results compared to other currently existing legacy decks. Due to the lack of demand, it then dropped down close to the original price from which it spiked. In order to avoid buying high into potential scenarios like Aluren, you want to make sure you pick up the card before it has seen a massive increase in price, you want to make sure that it can fit into a deck that has proven results backing it up, you want to make sure that even if it isn’t tournament playable that it can be popular with casual and EDH players, and you finally want to make sure that it is from a set that had a relatively small print run compared to current sets (like the post-reserve list sets I mentioned above).

So in summary, the combination of emotional investing and card rarity are a recipe for a card spike. Whether the spike is real or whether it will ultimately become a bust can be hard to spot without extensive knowledge of the current tournament scene and correctly identifying the casual appeal of a card. With time comes experience, and I’m sure we’ve all made mistakes in the past in regard to cards and spikes – I certainly have. All we can do is to keep working at it and make sure that the characteristics of a card match up well with the reasons a card could spike. It can sure feel like the wild west at times with all of these card spikes, but realize that many of them can’t sustain those prices for very long and are mainly driven emotional investing and card rarity.

Creature Feature

By: Cliff Daigle

It’s no secret that creatures are a primary resource in Magic. They are the easiest way to deal damage to your opponent and are the primary source of interaction. Can you stop your opponent’s creatures? Can they stop yours?

In the past twenty years of printing dudes, Wizards has given us a remarkable range of abilities for creatures, so much so that it’s possible to craft decks that consist entirely of creatures. It’s more likely to happen in casual formats, but it’s possible even in Standard. I have two EDH decks (Animar, Soul of Elements and Adun Oakenshield) that are creature-based, and it’s time I evaluate why these are powerful strategies.

Reason #1: You Always Have Something to Cast

Blightsteel Colossus

There’s very few creatures that are strictly reactive. Mystic Snake and Plaxmanta are two that come to mind, but for the most part, creatures are reacted to, not reactions themselves. If they leave your creature alone you’ll gain enormous advantages just from attacking and blocking. The effect is amplified when it’s a utility creature, providing significant advantage above and beyond simply swinging in.

We have a tendency in EDH and other formats to include a lot of reactive cards that will be good in certain circumstances. I personally love to have Delirium in hand, just in case someone wants to get cute with Hamletback Goliath or a Blightsteel Colossus. Unfortunately, that’s frequently a dead card in hand and you’re stuck waiting for that perfect moment. Playing a deck with a critical mass of creatures ensures that you’re never waiting pointlessly, since you’ll almost always have something you could be doing.

Reason #2: Repeated Effects

The easiest way to get an effect over and over again is to put it on a creature. Usually it’s a tap ability, and it’ll be more powerful than an enchantment’s ability, because creatures are easier to kill than enchantments. Case in point: Arcanis the Omnipotent. Even his weaker little brother, Archivist, is good for card advantage over time.

These effects don’t need to be tap abilities; they can be continuous in nature too. Ruric Thar punishes other players’ spells. Sire of Insanity is a backbreaker. Fumiko the Lowblood is a very easy way to mess with everyone else’s plans, forcing all sorts of attacks that might not be to your opponents’ advantage.

Reason #3: Synergy Visara the Dreadful

Creatures, especially ones who share a tribe, are prone to having effects that synergize very well. Whenever someone asks me what their first EDH deck should be, I answer Krenko, Mob Boss. His ability is powerful and straightforward, and when you add Goblin Chieftain or another haste enabler, he gets out of hand fast!

My new favorite combination is something old and something new: Hythonia the Cruel and Visara the Dreadful. They play nicely together, being point removal and a mass destruction effect together.

 

Reason #4: A touch of Something Else

Perhaps the best part of having an all-creature deck is adding a few noncreature spells. My Adun deck has five, one of which is the poster child for a bulk rare being so amazing in casual formats that its price just keeps creeping upward: Lurking Predators. (The other four noncreature spells? Green Sun’s Zenith, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, Domri Rade, and Xenagos, the Reveler.) With Lurking Predators in play, every one of my opponents’ spells is going to give me a creature roughly ⅔ of the time.

Capture

It’s not hard to build a deck where a resolved Primal Surge wins you the game with an enormous attack. That actually gets boring. Genesis Wave is much the same way, but I’ll never fault someone who wants to go big mana, throw a Wave for 10-15 mana, and then get the Wave back with the Eternal Witness they flipped.

Reason #5: Cheaper

It’s not universally true, but building a creature-based deck will often cost you less money. Chasing certain spells can add up very fast, but the utility of the creatures you add to a deck will lower the financial strain. There aren’t many creatures that get added to almost every deck, but there are plenty spells that many of decks demand.

The reason why I bring up these types of casual decks is because they are a type of deck that is very frequently built in EDH, and other casual formats. This type of deck requires certain types of cards, and we can expect Wizards to continue printing cards to enable these strategies. (Hythonia the Cruel, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, etc.) Such cards will probably not demand a high price tag, as seen in Genesis Wave, Primal Surge or Dread Cacodemon.

Keep this in mind as we start to move into the new year and the spoiler season for Born of the Gods. If a card is only good with a lot of creatures, that’s not a bug, that’s a design feature.

This week’s tip: Shocklands. People seem to be stocked up, and rotation won’t make these dip much. I would advise you to get out if you can get around $10 in trade for any of them, unless you’re buying them at $5 and going to hold onto them for years. Their post-rotation rise will be a crawl, since RtR block was the best-selling ever which means there’s a lot of shock stock out there. Personally, I’ve traded away more than 40 in the past month, moving into Theros cards and Modern.

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