A Pass Through Standard

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By: Travis Allen

This week I’ll be discussing some recent Standard tournament results, as well as a few other items worthy of our attention.

@OwenTweetenwald’s win in Albuquerque gave him back-to-back GP wins, an exclusive club indeed. He took it down with Mono-black, which was a popular theme over the weekend. Paul Reitzel, who placed 8th, tweeted this on Monday afternoon. It was a good weekend to be putting swamps into play.

Capture

With a whopping four Mono-black decks in the top 8, alongside three Mono-blue, there was barely a Shockland in sight. What there was, though, was 46 Mutavaults in the top 16. That means that 71% of Mutavaults that could have been played, were played. This type of saturation of a single card in Standard is not common at all. I don’t even think Lightning Bolt reached that level of play when it was in M10 and M11 . Cards like Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor reach 70% saturation rate. Mutavault

What that means for your weekend is that the roughly $20 price tag is going to be very stable going forward. The card is as legitimate in Standard this time around as it was last time, so don’t be afraid to pick up a playset. If this changeling presence persists, expect a price uptick in a few weeks when PTQ season starts in earnest, or possibly even sooner.

While not nearly as heavily played, but still pervasive, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx snuck its way into many of the Mono-X lists. Most were committed to the full set of Mutavaults, with a single Nykthos rounding out the colorless-land package. That is the current soup-de-jour, but could easily be turned on its head depending on how things shake out. A 4-1 split tells me the deck can support 5 colorless lands, and right now Mutavault is the better choice.

How much would it take to shift that? Anything that pushes the deck to go a little larger would probably want Nykthos more than Mutavault. Anything with an X in the mana cost would certainly accomplish that. Rakdos’ Return? Gaze of Granite? Debt to the Deathless? Immortal Servitude? Mind Grind?

Return lets “mono” black fireball out opponents, as well as apply heavy pressure in the midgame against control decks and attrition mirrors. As a mythic it is set up to see a healthy price increase should it become popular. Mind Grind is spicy, basically being lethal when X is around 15, an easy number for Nykthos-fueled madness to reach. Grind could conceivably hit $3, being that the card is still $1 purely on casual mill demand. This makes me think that Mind Grind may not be bad throw-in material. Even if it totally whiffs in Standard, Nemesis of Reason is a $6 card today.

Even if nothing within the current card pool pushes the decks to go heavier on Nykthos, Born of the Gods may very well provide us with the necessary ingredients. We’ve got a lot of devotion enablers to go, as well as 10 lesser deities to appease, which means you’ve got plenty to be faithful to. With Cavern of Souls having been $20-30 in Standard, and Mutavault solidly at $20 right now with an expectation of growth, there is precedent for Nykthos to climb. We’ll return to it a little later on. Master of Waves

Beyond the Mutavault supremacy, what else is going on? Mono-blue is still packed to the gills with Masters of Waves and Thassas. Both have slipped in price recently, but I expect this to be temporary. I’m guessing one or both will be over $15 this time next fall, when Theros is no longer the current major set. I’ve started looking for Master of Waves in every trade binder I flip through.

Hero’s Downfall stubbornly remains at $10+. That a utility removal spell in a single format would command that high a price tag sort of amazes me, but I suppose when it’s the best removal in arguably the best color, it’s going to be more than pocket change. Perhaps I should be looking to Dreadbore to better understand how Murderbore will behave. Dreadbore has never managed to sink below $2-3, even with as close to zero relevant play as a card of that stripe could see. This would tell us that Murderbore’s floor should be about the same. If we think of Murderbore as having a floor of $3, then a $10 price tag while seeing play in nearly 50% of the top 8 decks doesn’t seem as unreasonable.

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I advocated selling a few weeks ago when it was $15, but I think it’s low enough that you could trade for a set without feeling bad about it. Given that it’s only one color, and therefore considerably more versatile than Dreadbore, it’s possible the number we get aggressive is around $6-7. The number of Burning-Tree Emissarys in Standard necessary to make Murderbore bad would be quite high indeed.

The Naya deck in the top 8 showed that competitive Magic players haven’t forgotten about RtR block. It had a full compliment of a lovely singing voice, reminding everyone that at one point it may actually have been worth its current absurd price tag. At this point, if you still have any, I’d hold onto them. With the PTQ season around the corner, the card has a better chance of spiking again than fading away with no more price increases.

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Advent of the Wurm was also four-of, a card I’m still carrying a torch for. Perhaps more interesting was the four Soldier of the Pantheon. Everyone has figured out by now that the card is good, but his price is pretty low all things considered. I’d be looking to snap these up in trade right now at ~$2. Champion of the Parish was $8 at one point, and I’d say Soldier has a better chance of seeing Modern play. Mind Grind

Boros Reckoner has been on a roller coaster ride lately. It was as high as $20 what feels like a week ago, and copies are available for under $11 again. I have to imagine this gets close to $20 once more before we sunset RtR. If you can trade for them at retail go for it, but good luck convincing someone they’re that cheap again.

Over on the Starcity side of things, Matt Costa rose to the top of the field piloting a Jund deck. Reaper of the Wilds as a three-of immediately jumped out to me, proving its capability as a strong midrange card. Both Pat Chapin and Kibler had mentioned it recently, but without tournament results it was hard to know if it was real. I doubt the card is going to reach $10 or anything, but $4-$6 doesn’t seem unreasonable. (Were you aware Cyclonic Rift is now $4?) This is another one that I wouldn’t dish out cash for, but you should be able to steal copies in trade for $1 or less. Look for an article in the future about how to turn small gains in trade binder value value into real profit.

Abrupt Decay was also out in full force. Can this card break $10 during Modern season? It may be tough, as the Standard PTQ season will have ended, and many will be willing to liquidate their inventory. Next Modern PTQ season should be a good time for Decay though. A few months ago I predicted that foil Decay would be $60 within one year of RtR rotating. Do you have your set?

Back to Nykthos, last week I talked about a Modern Mono-green deck that looked awfully spicy. It was even one of LSV’s daily decks recently. Included in that same link from Bing Luke was a Mono-Black deck. Since then, Phyrexian Obliterator has increased about 25%, and common sentiment is that it probably isn’t done yet. Apparently, the Magic community is willing to consider Nykthos a real thing in Modern.

With that in mind, I want to look at the green deck a little more closely. It’s got a lot going on we can be interested in. What stands out most to me is four Genesis Wave. Wave is about $2 on its own merit, with no competitive interest, putting it in a low tier of “casual cards with enough demand to raise the price above bulk.” If the deck catches fire, Wave could easily hit $5-6, and depending on how wild the speculation is, $10+ is possible, although that would be a very short term price unless the deck puts up results.

That brings me to an important aside: cards spike all the time. The ones that stay high are the ones in decks good enough to be worth it. If a card like Genesis Wave spikes, sell immediately. The likelihood that the deck is good enough to support whatever number it reaches, rather than being a flash-in-the-pan that trickles to $3 eventually, is very very low. Genesis Wave

Beyond Genesis Wave, there are three copies of Primeval Titan. He’s sitting at around $6-$7 at the moment. Seeing play in a deck like this could bump him up closer to $10, and with Nykthos in the format, he may eventually become a little more of a mainstay. Fetching Valakut is typically a better use of his trigger, but remember that having Valakut in your deck doesn’t get P Tats into play any faster, while Nykthos does. Maybe we see a Valakut/Nykthos deck? Who knows.

Cloudstone Curio is a big part of the deck as well, at $5-$6. The card popped to over $10 early this summer, so there’s precedent on a jump. I’d try and grab your set soon. Garruk Wildspeaker is also a major component, but he’s been printed six times, which will help suppress his value. He may see a small uptick, but with that much volume available, it will be tough for him to move too far.

Before I go, check out this completed eBay auction. How many of you even knew these existed, much less cost that much?

Have a great Thanksgiving everyone.

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Cards on the Move!

By: Jared Yost

This week I would like to take a look at current trends in card prices and determine why spikes or gradual increases for particular cards are occurring.

Fast Movers

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin

Splinter Twin exploded in value Friday. As of the time of this writing, it is currently sitting around $8 TCG Mid with many vendors selling at that price or higher. Before Friday, the card could easily be had for $4-$5. Players are starting to speculate on Splinter Twin because it is one of the core components of the aptly named Splinter Twin combo deck in Modern. At this point, is it still pure speculation or will the price hold?

If we look at the last Modern season, there was also a price spike on Splinter Twin. Once the Exarch/Twin deck made its debut in Modern, Splinter Twin immediately skyrocketed (like many other Modern staples, such as Karn and Fetchlands) and stayed at that price throughout most of the previous season. Since then it has slowly trickled back down to around $4. Now with the recent spike it is currently trending upwards again towards the previous highs of $10+ dollars.

It is entirely possible that without a banning Splinter Twin could see even higher prices than the previous Modern season because a reprint has yet to occur. I am going to keep a close eye on this card moving forward to see if continues to trend upwards.

 

Griselbrand

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Griselbrand

Let the rise begin! I’ve mentioned Griselbrand previously so I really hope you followed my advice and started picking them up before everyone else realized that he has true staying power, both in Modern and other eternal formats.

Even with all the hype, there could be potential downsides moving forward. Wizards can be very fickle with Modern as a format, since they can and will ban cards at any point. They also can and will print cards as needed to satisfy the increased demand. Even taking these two points into account, I still think Griselbrand is safe for a while from both of these potentialities. Expect this guy to reach Emrakul levels eventually; however you could also take advantage of this year’s Modern spike to cash out early if you felt so inclined.

 

Phyrexian Obliterator

Phyrexian Obliterator

Here we have a Modern card that has had a major price spike that currently isn’t a format staple. I believe that Phyrexian Obliterator is purely a speculative increase due to unrealized potential in Modern. This is because many people are trying to get Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to work as well in Modern as it does in Standard. With cards like Phyrexian Obliterator, I can see why.

Other cards that could pump up the power in this deck include Garza’s Assasin, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Demigod of Revenge, Geralf’s Messenger, Phyrexian Arena, and even… yes, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, that common that stomped you in limited. Hmm, there might be something to this card after all. Phyrexian Obliterator already has an awesome casual following, which has buoyed the cards price at $10-$15 until recently. However, I can’t justify jumping in at this point because the price has already started to climb as high as $17 per copy. My advice would be to be to sell or trade any copies you are sitting on because this card is too risky for me at this point.

 

Slow but Steady Gainers

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

Did you know that Ajani has currently reached around $8 TCG mid and is sitting at $10 or higher retail? In the shadows, Ajani has been slowly ticking up in price since this summer when he was sitting around $4-$5 per copy.

Why the sudden uptick in price for this version of Ajani? He is only played in about 5% of the current standard decks and at an average of only two copies per deck.

My opinion are twofold – first, players are starting to brew with white aggro decks in Standard more and more, perhaps hoping that Born of the Gods will be able to make the archetype better. Second, Planeswalkers are popular casual cards that derive part of their price from their appeal to casual players.

Considering both these factors, it appears that Ajani is slowly climbing in price as the Standard tournament season is approaching. I’m not sure if Ajani will go up higher or maintain his price because right now it appears to be going up somewhat speculatively since he currently doesn’t have much of a home in many decks. However, this is certainly a card to watch out for moving forward because people are buying them whether for Standard or otherwise.

 

mutavault

Mutavault

I believe that Mutavault will continue to be a slow, steady gainer and as we approach Standard season in January. It has been slowly gaining since the middle of October and has gone from around $14 per copy TCG mid to $22 per copy.

It is a popular manland that will continue to be a tournament staple as long as players push devotion with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. Even if this strategy falls out of favor, control players will want to play Mutavault because it gives of the utility it provides in the land slot. I would be surprised if Mutavault dropped in price during the Standard PTQ season.

 

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

Garruk was down to around $14 in the middle of October and has since gone up to around $22 per copy. He has followed a similar pattern to Mutavault, which is strange to me because he is a mythic rare. Either he should be sitting at around $25+ due to tournament playability or he should be around $10 like most of the other Planeswalkers in Standard.

In Garruk’s case, I think the majority of his price is due to the role he plays in the mono-green or R/G devotion strategies. Domri Rade seems to be played side by side with Garruk when he is paired with R/G, and with mono green devotion there is no better Planeswalker than Garruk. This slow but steady gainer should maintain his price throughout Standard season. He could spike if mono green devotion somehow becomes a Tier 1 deck but I think his price will still rise anyways because he is the most powerful green Planeswalker in Standard.

 

Sliver Legion

Sliver Legion

I’m not sure a lot of people realize this but Sliver Legion’s average price is around $35! Similar to Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, that is a ton of money for a purely casual card. Not that he has spiked recently – the card is a slow, steady gainer that yields results. Last year Sliver Legion was hovering around an average price of $25 and has slowly crept up from there.

Moving forward, I can’t see how this card will ever go down in price barring a mass reprint in a Commander product or other type of deck that Wizard’s releases. Definitely keep an eye out for this card at the trade tables, because if you can pick them up for your undesirables, or if you can trade them into Modern of Legacy eternal playables, you won’t go wrong.

Foreign Exchange

Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about foreign cards today. I understand that not everyone has a fondness for foreign cards in EDH, Legacy, or any other format. Today, though, I get to talk about one of my favorite ways to make my deck a little more unique.

101  101

I love foreign cards, for a number of reasons. They are rarer, and therefore appeal to the collector part of my nature. They are international, and that appeals to the social aspect. To me, foreign cards of any language are just a little more fun.

From a finance perspective, it’s sometimes very tough to get a good idea of the price of a foreign card. Wizards has printed cards in many languages, but it is difficult to get an accurate read on what the proportions and amounts are. It’s generally accepted that Russian and Korean have less cards printed than other languages, and that scarcity makes it hard to find copies on the secondary market.

There is no hard and fast rule for which languages have which price increase – or decrease – and it’s important to know that many buylists treat foreign cards as LESS valuable. So while you have your sweet foreign card, you won’t be making any profit on buylists.

In trade, though, everything is fair game. Be greedy, but be aware of a real danger in overpricing your foreign foil: if you ask for too much of a premium, then you risk scaring them off to the easier trade of a regular English version of that card. Be realistic, be upfront, and be willing to haggle. Plus, you’re working from a small sample size–if there has been such a transaction, be aware of it and be ready to show it to others during trading. Polluted Delta

I’ve been through this recently. Earlier this year, a trader on deckbox reported that he had a Russian foil Doubling Season from the original Ravnica block.  We went back and forth on the value for a few days, and eventually settled on $80.  From there, the rest of the trade was easy.

When someone expresses interest in your card, the best thing to do is agree on an approximate value right away. Given that it’s also a complete luxury item, be prepared for a condition discussion that you may not encounter with run-of-the-mill nonfoil English cards.

eBay is not as helpful as vendors in this case. Vendors rarely want to leave money on the table, so the number they list a card at is often going to be on the higher end. At GP Oakland, I saw a foil Japanese Polluted Delta with an asking price of $2200. I can’t say for sure, but if you went to them and offered less in cash on the spot, you’d probably get it.

Finding foreign foils is a treasure hunt in and of itself. It’s not always easy to find foreign foils, even online. I’ve been on the hunt for a foil French Murder for a while, and as yet, have had no luck. Magiccardmarket.eu is the best resource that I’ve found, but because it’s a Eurozone site, they charge Americans and other continents extra for shipping. Big events can be helpful in locating this type of merchandise, but it’s still going to be hit-or-miss in terms of the traders and their stock.

Perhaps that’s the rub and the appeal of foreign foils to me. It’s hard to find them, so when I see one in a binder or case, I totally want to jump right on it. The thrill of the hunt can be worth more than the eventual possession.

The Keynesian Beauty Contest

Last time we delved into how to behave when you think the market is being irrational. I talked about the virtues of selling before a card peaked to maximize the number of people who would be buying as the card was rising and therefore would have more confidence in their ability to make money as the card had not yet peaked. Those buyers are the eponymous greater fools and they are an essential part of the market, both rational and irrational. I mentioned then that this theory correlated with something called the “Keynesian Beauty Contest” and I spent the last week or so thinking about that concept and how it applied to the market. Let’s dig in.

The Name of the Game

The simplest possible example, albeit not the most illustrative, was Keynes’ original example, the “beauty contest” example. Imagine there is a contest in a newspaper with several photographs of women. The rules state that you mail in a selection of one of the photographs and whichever gets the most votes will be deemed the most beautiful and every person who voted for the winner is eligible for a prize. In a scenario like this one, there is no incentive to behave irrationally, you’re simply trying to pick the winner.

This example and the subsequent theory associated with it got me thinking about the dozens of examples in the Magic market. We said it’s best to behave rationally and that’s true. However, there are multiple dimensions we need to consider and it may not be as simple as we think right off the bat.

The Different Levels

A first-level thinker will pick the girl he thinks is the most beautiful. “Snap asian girl, not close” he says, using Magic community slang because I invented him and I can make him say whatever I want. He’s a rational guy after all. Asian women appeal to him so he sends off his answer and waits for his prize to come in the mail.

A second-level thinker is going to really delve a bit deeper into the heart of the problem. The actual name of the game isn’t to pick what you like and hope your tastes correlate with the norm. That seems risky and there is too much variance in what people might think. Provided there are enough second-level thinkers they are in a better position here because they tend to behave the most rationally. I’ll explain. Say a second-level thinker also prefers the picture of the asian woman. I am beginning to regret going racial with this and I probably should have just separated them by hair color, but stay with me. The best part about this is that the second-level thinker is going to pick the girl he thinks the majority will go for, irrespective of his own personal inclinations and if that’s not wild enough, think about what will happen if there are mostly second-level thinkers in the contest. A second-level thinker will assess all of the photos, determine that the blonde, western-looking woman is closest to the traditional Western definition of beauty and make the determination that she is the one who will get the most votes even if they prefer another girl. The even more wilder part is that you could get a situation where 100% of the people personally prefer the asian, or redhead or whomever, but the first-level thinkers who pick her will lose because all of the second-level thinkers will think that the others will pick the more traditional-looking girl. They will either think that the others will think she is the most beautiful, or they will think the others will think that everyone will think that. In other words, they know the “right” answer and pick that even if it’s not the true answer.

In practice, many people are second-level thinkers provided the example is as straight-forward as the beauty contest. It could be anything, pictures of cars, flavors of ice cream; NPR’s Planet money did it with internet videos. Enough people know that the “right” answer is always “cat video” even if there is a hamster sneezing or something equally adorable. It’s not about the “true” answer, it’s about what everyone else is likely to think everyone else will think.

Adding More Levels

You can go beyond first and second-level thinking by making the problem more complex. This is better for our purposes because the way cards fit together in the vast framework of a metagame and multiple formats is more complicated than “pick the best removal spell out of a list of three spells.”

Imagine you are asked to pick a number between 1 and 100, but the number you pick isn’t just a random number because the winner is the person whose number is the closest to 2/3 of the average of what everyone says.

In this case, we need to make the first-level thinker dumber. He’ll snap 27 because it’s his favorite number.

Second-level thinkers will likely say 2/3 of 50. They’ll reason that everyone else is a moron, guessing randomly. The random distribution should, in theory, average out to 50 and therefore 2/3 of 50 is the right answer.

Third-level thinkers will reason that everyone else is likely a second-level thinker and therefore the answer will be 2/3 of 2/3 of 50. If you think everyone else is a third-level thinker, maybe you want to go 2/3 of 2/3 of 2/3 of 50. Maybe not.

First Level Magic

A Commander deck was printed with a card in it that sells for more than the total cost of the deck. Obviously you go buy Mind Seize and crack it to sell True-Name Nemesis for value. You’ll spend $30 and make $5-$10 on top of recouping the initial $30 and have 99 free cards. Repeat Ad Nauseum. Might I suggest that that’s first-level thinking?

If you want to think second-level and above (if there is a third level to this example) you need to imagine that everyone is going to be cracking Mind Seizes and selling the Nemeses. What can you do to capitalize on a market behaving this way? For starters, they will undervalue the other 99 cards they get. Some people are doing this to get free cards, most just want the Hamilton that comes from the quick flip. This behavior is going to put downward price pressure on the value of Sol Ring and Baleful Strix for starters. Second-level thinking involves picking up cheap Sol Rings from people who are undervaluing them. We’ve seen the price of Sol Ring dip and rebound before, there’s no reason to think it won’t again, even with all of the copies hitting the market. Since the decks are only getting reprinted at the rate that the worst-selling deck needs reprinting, there won’t be infinite Sol Rings injected into the market. The price will recover, and you’ll be glad you bought very cheap. The same can be said of Strix which sees more and more play every day. Buying cards that are likely to be undervalued is a good way to capitalize on a market with a lot of first-level behavior going on.

A first-level thinker will often speculate on a card based on their own interpretation of its power level. “I think Biovisionary’s effect is powerful” is a good example. Sure, you might like it, but there’s no money in hitching your wagon to Biovisionary, the asian woman of card picks. Here’s the painful part for me; I have been guilty of first-level fallacies myself and a lot of us still are because we don’t realize that we’re thinking on such a primary level. You want to know the battle cry of the first-level thinker? You won’t like this, I didn’t.

“This has been insane in our testing”

I get teased for throwing my support behind the card Seance even though I made some money on that card. I fell victim to the “this is insane in our testing” mentality and I thought that all I needed to do was tell enough people how good it was and they’d eventually test it and come to the same conclusion. I was thinking about how much I liked the picture of a Seance and not thinking about how everyone else was going to pick something else. Second-level thinking would have been noticing that Brad Nelson had brewed a deck that was nearly identical to ours but ran 0 Seance and was winning without it. Irrespective of how much that card improved the mirror, the winner of the contest was going to be Brad Nelson’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl next door, and thinking different was, well, first-level.

Finally, the MODO “crash” when a lot of prices tanked and people threatened to quit over the temporary suspension of daily events, a lot of first-level thinkers saw opportunity. With prices tanking, there was a chance to buy low and sell high later. The best part about this example was the conclusion that second-level thinkers came to. The real beauty here is that first-level thinkers aren’t always wrong, what they are is useful.

A second-level thinker saw that opportunity and reasoned that a lot of people were going to buy into MODO for the sake of potential profit. Regardless of MODO continuing to be a good gaming community, Redemption is coming up and was unlikely to be affected by the downtime. Second-level thinkers reasoned that all the first-level thinkers buying in for profit were going to stabilize prices. This made it safe to buy in on Theros block staples that would be essential come rotation and speculate on booster packs because they would be more scarce with fewer being won as prizes in events.

Heck, third-level thinkers probably imagined some of the second-level thinkers were going to stabilize booster pack prices despite them tanking initially, making early booster investment a safe bet.

Wouldn’t you know it? That’s exactly what happened.

How to Be Going Forward

If you can stay away from some of the pitfalls that beset the first-level thinker and reason what the herd behavior is going to do to the market, you can stay ahead of it and really make some good decisions. Remember, there’s no money in being average. Not when 2/3 of average is the name of the game.

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