Monday: Money Ramp with Zack Alvarado


How Do You Brew?

Aphetto Alchemist. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

When it comes to “rogue decking,” how exactly do you brew? And no, I’m not talking about logging onto, searching rogue builds, and tweaking the tech to contend with your local meta – I’m talking about sitting down, fortressing yourself with a collection of cards, and wildly applying critical thought to develop a new, potent recipe; much like a seasoned cocktologist, surrounded by liquor, herbs, syrups, and juice – everything must be in the right place, with the proper amount added, or surely it’ll be bitter (pun). To ensure a good blend, take into consideration factors such as mana curve, land base, play style, and, most importantly, the to-beat metagame.

So, where to begin? Do you pick a color scheme to build around, i.e. Bant? Do you select a single card? Do you choose your favorite guild? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you’re more than likely a casual player who has never experienced the headache that is home brewing for a serious competition – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sure an ‘Orzhov’ deck, or an ‘Aurelia’ deck are neat, but they don’t match up with tier 1 builds, and this is where many casual players fall short: they try to tune their casual decks for competition and ruin the fun of a good deck. Make note which of your builds are just for fun, and which are tournament contenders; this should help you decide where your time and money are best channeled.

Starting a brew from scratch is simple: the goal is to create a unique and powerful deck that nobody at your tournament is prepared to deal with. If you intend to tweak a current build, like Naya Humans, expect plenty of your opponents to have sideboard answers such as Blind Obedience & Rolling Temblor. Instead, look for pinholes in your competition and magnify them. Do not hesitate to mainboard the usual sideboard tech if it makes sense. Roughly 80% of my Modern meta is using some variant of aggro (mostly tribal), so I mainboard Ghostly Prison in my White Weenie deck to slow down opposing aggro. But why stop with one card? Why not design a deck to maneuver through your entire meta with impunity? Add plenty of combo-counter, an unpredictable win condition, and multiple layers of protection; now that sounds solid, in theory, but what does that look like on paper? Allow me to share a rogue-build of my own that I’ve been fine-tuning for the last three weeks; it’s far from perfect, but I believe that it illustrates the breadth and depth that goes into a strong brew.


My Cup Overfloweth


Walkers: 4
4x Jace, Memory Adept

Creatures: 17
1x Griselbrand
3x Thragtusk
3x Duskmantle Guildmage
3x Crypt Ghast
3x Arbor Elf
4x Vampire Nighthawk

Other Spells: 17
1x Army of the Damned
1x Increasing Ambition
2x Underworld Connections
3x Mind Grind
3x Farseek
3x Chalice of Life
4x Killing Wave

Land: 22
1x Alchemist’s Refuge
1x Nephalia Drownyard
2x Hinterland Harbor
2x Woodland Cemetery
4x Breeding Pool
4x Overgrown Tomb
4x Drowned Catacomb
4x Watery Grave


The functions of this deck are simple: gain tons of life and ramp hard. Seems easy enough, right? Exactly, it is – and it works. Why? Because of what we do with that extra life and mana. So what do we do? Well let’s start with the primary win conditions. First up is Chalice of Life. This artifact gains us life, which not only contributes to its transformation, but restores life spent on our Killing Waves, Underworld Connections and Pain Lands. The transformation of this card is so powerful!

Chalice of Life / Chalice of Death. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

It may seem as if getting to 30 life could take awhile, but with the help of Griselbrand, Thragtusk, Vampire Nighthawk, and Crypt Ghast’s Extort ability, it’s rather easy. Once at 30+ life, you can gleefully tap away your Chalice of Death, inflicting 5 points of damage every time. Now for our second win condition: Duskmantle Guildmage! With so much mana ramp between Crypt Ghast, Arbor Elf, and our ‘Swamps’, it’s not difficult to cast a large Mind Grind, mill 10+ cards, and kill your opponent with Guildmage’s effect. Speaking of milling 10+ cards, Jace, Memory Adept is a huge threat for damage when paired with Duskmantle. Our third win condition is sweet and simple: cast Army of the Damned and rawr-smash-face with tons of zombies. And finally, the obvious and brutish win condition here is to mill your opponent’s deck to 0 with Jace, Guildmage, and Drownyard.

Beyond multiple win conditions, this deck offers a lot of tech; most of which has great synchronicity with other cards in the build. At first glance, it’s easy to spot TONS of life-gain, but after a second and third look-over of the list, you’ll notice that there are many outlets to spend that life to gain an advantage: Griselbrand, Underworld Connections, Killing Wave, and Pain Lands all cost us life at some point in the game, but provide great trade-offs. If you’re running low on cards, Griselbrand and Underworld Connections are there to refill your hand, so that you can keep on digging for your kill – though Griselbrand can be a win-con all by himself. If you find yourself being pressured by aggro, cast Killing Wave and watch the tides turn as mid-game approaches: aggro players tend to pay the life, only to get bricked later by Nighthawks and Thrags that quickly overwhelm the field and expand the gap between life totals. Killing Wave also gets around hexproof (to an extent), and pressures decks that aren’t overly concerned about board wipes (like BWR Aristocrats). Increasing Ambition is a small piece of tech that offers crucial assistance, such as: grabbing a Thrag to help transform Chalice; grabbing a Mind Grind or a Jace to finish milling; or grabbing Army of the Damned to overrun your opponent. Our final piece of tech in this build is Alchemist’s Refuge; with so much mana at our disposal, this baby is affordable and attractive. Casting a Chalice and transforming it before your upkeep is AMAZING; so is flashing in a Nighthawk or a Thragtusk at the end of your opponents turn, or as a blocker. Versatility is the fruit of the land, and this deck has plenty.

Thank you for reading my ramblings of brewing; hopefully you’ve gathered something beneficial from this, even if elementary. I apologize for the lack of financial content, but I wanted to explore a topic that in a very unnoticeable way, redefines the prices within our market. All it takes is one weekend of some rogue brew to top a GP, for a card like Craterhoof Behemoth to skyrocket in price. This will conclude my weekly installment for


Money Ramp Weekly Tip:

[Sell off your Boros Reckoners before the weekend is over]


Until next time,

Zack R Alvarado
Twitter: Rh1zzualo

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Common Cents with Aaron Dettmann

A Season for Selling

Second Sunrise. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.
Second Sunrise. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

Now is the time to sell off all of your Modern cards. Why, you may ask? Two reasons: the Modern PTQ season is near its end, and because Modern Masters will be printed soon.

Most people are aware of the ebb and flow of Standard card prices, rising as States and the Standard PTQ season approaches, and falling as the season finishes. This ebb and flow of prices holds doubly true for Modern, as there are a lot fewer tournaments outside of the PTQs to affect their prices. Virtually every card that has seen play in Modern has gone up in price since the end of summer, many by a significant amount.

Some examples of cards that have doubled or more in prices since the end of summer:

Even the all-star cards you haven’t regularly been hearing about have still gone up in price by a good amount. You would have still made a solid profit if you invested in cards such as: 


My point is that there were very few poor investments when buying Modern cards before the PTQ season started. You could pretty much choose whichever Modern playable cards you wanted to buy, and made a profit on them.

The other reason to sell off your Modern cards now, besides the fact that the PTQ season is nearing its end, is because Modern Masters is soon going to see print. Now, I acknowledge that long term Modern Masters will overall raise the price on Modern cards, as it piques interest in the format. However, some high priced Modern cards will be reprinted in that set, which will increase card availability, decreasing the price on those cards in the short term. Conversely, any cards that aren’t reprinted in that set should see their price remain steady or eventually go up. However, I don’t really feel like playing roulette on guessing which cards will be reprinted, and which ones won’t. Instead, I’ll just trade or sell all of my Modern cards now so I don’t risk them dropping in value if they’re reprinted. And as for the Modern cards I want that aren’t reprinted in Modern Masters, I’ll just trade or buy them back for the same price that I got rid of them (remember, Modern Masters is being released during the slow season for Modern, so there won’t be an immediate frenzied demand for any Modern cards). The net result will be your breaking even on the Modern cards that aren’t reprinted, and saving yourself from losing money on the cards that were reprinted and dropped in price.

Now, with all this being said, in the long term I expect Modern card prices to stay firm or rise yet more, even the ones reprinted in Modern Masters. This is because new players are discovering this game every day, which keeps increasing demand for cards they don’t have. A year from now, I’m confident Modern card prices will be similar to what they are now, or even higher. However, short term, as Modern Masters is released and the Modern PTQ season ends, the reprinted cards will dip in price.

Monday: Money Ramp with Zack Alvarado

MTG & The Dangers of Third-Party Speculation
Bribery. (c) 2013 Wizards of the Coast.

Following speculative advice, regarding uptrending investment targets in the MTG market, is a very risky practice; one that I advise nobody – but the well seasoned – to rely on. This warning extends beyond basic rule isolation of game theory: there seem to be few of us speculators, and many hype-investors. If you want to make the largest profits possible: do your own homework, and cash-in/cash-out before anybody sees you doing it. These hype-investors rush to accumulate plethoras of cards that speculators are stocking; after we’ve already cleared the bottom level of the market – So what’s the difference between us? That’s simple: I have multiple outlets for reselling my singles, and a friendly reputation as a strong trader/player in my community. I never acquire stock unless I’m confident in my capacity to generate a profit from it within a desired margin of time.

Hype-investors, on the other hand, usually end up jumping onto the caboose of new trends; this is because they’re mimicking our speculative purchasing patterns. Again, why is that bad? And again, that’s simple: let’s assume that I’ve speculated the price of ‘Card X’ is going to increase and decide to buy 200 copies for $0.25; then, after I’ve bought my 200 copies: the price jumps to $.50 and hype-investors acquire 200-500 copies for themselves. As soon as ‘Card X’ hits $0.50, I put mine back into the market, and am bought out – making a 200% ROI. After the excitement dies down, the price of ‘Card X’ will likely drop to $0.35, which is still a near 30% increase from its baseline; however, the hype investors have now lost $0.15 (30%) on each card – and they don’t want to eat a loss – so what do they do?

They take one of two risks, generally: 1, they attempt to buy out the current market; and if successful usually end up with a large stock of stagnant goods, which inflates the price of cards that simply don’t command their retail tags, or 2, they sit on their newly acquired stock, hoping for the market to slowly dry out, and similarly: sit on stagnant goods; taking a long time to profit, if ever. Because most hype-investors take one of these two risks, they harm their fellow investors in the process. And for obvious reasons, this type of financial competition between resellers/investors is bad news for casual players and consumers in general.

People taking the first risk I mentioned will be thwarted by people taking the second risk: if they buy the market out of ‘Card X’ at a rate of $0.35, and raise them all to $0.75, they’ll be making a profit on the initial stock of ‘Card X’ that was purchased for $.50, and also from the newly acquired stock that was purchased for $0.35 – BUT, if they do so and list ‘Card X’ for $0.75, surely whoever took the second risk will list all of theirs at $0.60 – $0.70, shortly after; and it becomes this cat and mouse game of people cashing into others who are seeking to corner the market; and this back and forth consumption of demand based value does nothing but increase the value in false effect: the tangible value of an item increases as the demand, and thus the exchange of it does as well. But the consumption and exchange of trend-cards, which raise their value, occurs mainly between resellers and not end-user players – thus creating a hollow egg of perpetually feigned scarcity. So please, be careful, and assess the market wisely; nobody is going to give you their get-rich-quick tips; this really is a market of micro-econ, and player knowledge – it’s easy to get burned when following the advice of others if you’re unable to confirm their assertions (mine included). This will conclude my fourth installment, thank you all for reading.

Money Ramp Weekly Tip:
[Buy as many Burning-Tree Emissary as possible for $0.50 – people sell ’em left and right]

Until next time,

Zack R Alvarado
Twitter: Rh1zzualo