Creature Feature

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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.

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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.

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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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Equilibrium

Hello, Constant Reader

In the last installment, we dealt with the Keynesian Beauty Contest and how thinking rationally and a few steps ahead can lead to your avoiding potentially ruinous decisions. Taking into account what everyone else will likely think in a given situation is how you make the best possible informed answer.

In my research for the last piece about the Keynesian Beauty Contest, I stumbled across some reading about the concept of Nash Equilibrium. Did you see “A Beautiful Mind”? Well, that John Nash, portrayed by Russel Crowe in the film proposed the theory. Stated simply, Nash Equilibrium is a Mexican Standoff. In a non-co operative game, situations can arise where each player who knows the other player’s best strategy will not benefit from changing their own. They are essentially in a deadlock, or in Equilibrium.

What defines this equilibrium is whether party A is making the best decision they can, taking into account the decision party B will make, and that all hinges on on Party B making the best decision they can accounting for what Party A is likely to do. This doesn’t even have to be a dichotomy, as any number of players can be involved and they will only be in equilibrium if they make the best decision they can given all of the other players’ decisions AND provided they don’t change their decision.

I got into this topic because I believe artificial price spikes are the kind of system that can be modeled using this theory, but I also believe that in the case of artificial price spikes we don’t have a true Nash equilibrium because I believe there is a party integral to the system that is not making the best decision they can for themselves but rather the best decision for the system based on faulty logic on their part. The result is the same, though, because the decision they make does not disturb the equilibrium of the system. I maintain, though, that it probably should.

In a lot of ways the “cog” in the middle of the great machine is most important and also most tightly-bound to the rules of Nash equilibrium. At its core, it’s a theory that says once equilibrium is established, no one can do better by changing their behavior. Unfortunately, that’s true.

Moving Parts

Why is it the middle cog that is so essential? It’s really simple – in this case, the guts of this equilibrated system are the greater fools we discussed earlier. To recap briefly, the Greater Fool Theorum as applied to Magic finance is a premise that means some people buy into a spiking card and can only expect to make any money if someone more gullible buys the card from them at a higher price. These greater fools are what makes it possible for artificial spikes based purely on hype and buying frenzies to occur, and their unenviable position makes these systems follow the rules of a Nash Equilibrium. The only reason this works has to do with how someone becomes part of the system.

If you are participating in a card spike, you get “in” when you buy in. The first buyer is a store or individual who bought the card for its pre-spike price either because they wanted to have it to play with / in inventory or because they saw the spike coming. There is hype, either from deck results, conjecture or someone initiating the price movement with a big buy-out of a site (it only takes one site, usually; the rest fall like dominoes) but the system is not in equilibrium until there are more players.

This is where the greater fools come in. They buy at a post-spike price that may be lower than the peak price, but once they buy in, they are sunk. They absolutely have to hope for even greater fools to buy from them at the spike price or they are sunk. Lots of people break even in this position, and it’s no fun to be in for a few reasons.

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The hallmark of these artificial spikes is a card starting at X, spiking to 2X when it’s bought out, peaking at 4X at the peak of hysteria and going back to 2X as people undercut each other trying to rid themselves of copies of the card. Inevitably in these cases, a lot of fools who buy in at 2X end up bagholders and sell out for 2X again.

The worst part about their position is that they are locked in to Nash’s theory of equilibrium as soon as they buy in. What are their options? Sell out at 2X immediately? That doesn’t help them out of the jam they put themselves in. There really is nothing they can do to improve their position but wait and try to sell to a greater fool, and their inaction doesn’t violate the equilibrium of the system. They really have no options except for hope, and hope is not an investment strategy.

For the other actors, they have few options as well, and they get forced into their positions. I’m not sure you can have a true equilibrium as envisioned by Nash (who also envisioned people who weren’t there, so what does he know?) when people have their initial move determined for them, but I would argue that you have the option to stay out of it, so even making forced moves is still abiding by equilibrium because doing anything else but making the forced move (or staying out of it) is not going to give you a better outcome and therefore are bound to the system. So a player who wants the card to play with doesn’t have a choice but to pay the card’s price at the time they buy in.

One actor we’ve ignored until now is the actor who initiates the price spike. Could this person or persons act in a different way and end up better off? This is the true test of the theory as it applies to the scenario I have concocted. When you think about it, buying low and selling high is probably the optimal play, dumping as many copies onto the market as fast as they possibly can is probably the optimal play (for them) and maximizing their profit in the shortest time-frame possible is probably optimal. There is really nothing they can do to improve on this, and in so many of these cases, this is exactly what we see happen. This actor is in an enviable position, but that doesn’t mean there is any benefit to breaking the rules and making a different play than the one everyone expects.

The Point

Why do we care about the concept at all? Even if you agree with my analysis (assumptions) about the system, what good does establishing the system is a Nash equilibrium do?

I maintain that mtg finance is cooperative, as all system bound by the theory must be. If you buy cards, you help the seller. If you sell cards, you help the buyer. And if you buy an artificially-inflated card for 4X, you help the guy who bought them for X and knows that 8X is a pipe dream. Since this is the case and once you lock yourself in and pay 2X or 4X for a purpose other than just playing with them, you’re locked in. You will not benefit by doing anything other than what everyone expects, and if you think that position is unenviable, it’s probably best to win the only way you can.

Don’t play.

Needs Improvement

By: Travis Allen

As 2013 winds down, it marks the end of the first year I’ve been operating as a “professional” Magic financier, and by “professional” I mean “for some reason someone pays me to talk about it.” I’ve been doing it in an ever-increasing capacity for about four years now, with being hired by MTGPrice being my foray into the public domain. I’ve really enjoyed the entire experience so far. Being given the platform to write and speak about a topic that engages you during your most valuable of resources, free time, is incredibly rewarding. Finding an activity in your life in which you feel emotionally rewarded is a requirement for a sense of self-actualization, something many of us will seek and few will find during our lifetimes. For me, getting to write and talk about Magic is a step down that path.

Weakness

But for all I’ve gotten out of this field, both monetarily and mentally, I’m still just an apprentice. For each thing I do well, there are several things I do poorly, or even worse, I don’t do at all. Self-awareness and self-criticism is difficult and occasionally painful, but I feel it necessary that each of us is able to confront ourselves and own up to our mistakes and weaknesses. Being able to look back at your body of work and say “this is what I could have done better” leaves you open to critique and ridicule, some of it well deserved. Not all want to face that. In order to improve though, one must be able to accept these faults, admit them, and work to better themselves. At the very least, if you’ve made these shortcomings public then others can take you to task for a failure to do anything about them. A fear of public shaming may not be the most noble motivation, but its power to drive us to action is inarguable.

I have two hopes for this exercise. First, whether through inner motivation or public accountability, I hope to become a better trader, writer, and speculator. This will in turn give me the knowledge necessary to provide more valuable and helpful information to all of you down the road. My second goal is that through my own process of admittance, some of you will be able to recognize similar traits in yourselves. Perhaps your confidence level will rise upon seeing another underperform in the same way you do, or maybe you’ll find a way to improve you weren’t even aware of before. Either way, the end result is ideally the same: Everyone is better off. With that said, let’s see some of the ways I suck.

 

Pay More Attention

This is probably one of my more egregious errors. I write for MTGPrice.com, a website whose front page is a list of cards that have seen price movement in the last 24 and 168 hours. Yet it’s rare that I actually bother to check each morning when I wake up to see what has been active. You would think I would make an effort to look at the website who is kind enough to host my articles each week. There’s a lot of valuable information nested in those gain and lost lists if you’re willing to check them on a daily basis. Cursecatcher has jumped nearly $6 in the last two months, and if I had been paying attention, I could have seen the rise start, talked to others about it, and ultimately made a purchase. Instead, I read about it on Twitter after it was already over $7 and too late.

Cursecatcher

If you don’t do your homework, you can’t make money riding price waves. Reading about cards in articles is often too late unless it’s purely a spec call, and even Twitter often only gives you a window of a few hours. Sometimes you don’t even get that luxury, as the only people who saw the card rising kept their mouths shut so they could capitalize. In order to catch cards before they jump, I need to be watching closely and be open to buying into types of cards I normally gloss over because I know less about them. That leads nicely into my next problem, which is that I need to

 

 

Knock it Off With Pet Cards

I think we probably all do this a little bit, but I’ve become very aware of doing it myself in the last few months. As a player, I have a real affinity for green. I’m not entirely sure why, as I tend to deviate towards combo rather than beatdown any time I have a constructed PTQ or GP. It’s probably just a combination of loving to put lands into play and cool looking creatures.

Whatever the reason, I find myself frequently gravitating towards green. When browsing trade binders, I always pay special attention to the green pages. A disproportionate number of the cards in my spec box have green mana symbols somewhere. I’m more likely to pay attention to your case for a card if it’s green.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with preferring one color over another, but when that personal bias seeps into your business practices enough to result in potentially negative influences, you need to take stock. I’m more likely to make bad purchases (Vorel of the Hull Clade?) if they’re green, and less likely to buy into good opportunities if they aren’t. This bias will cost me money in two different directions. If I’m going to improve, I need to be willing to move on not just Simic cards, but Rakdos, Boros or Izzet as well.

 

Do More Research

Several months ago I read Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and found the book quite interesting. (It was an excellent read, and if you enjoy the MTG market, you’re sure to find the material intriguing and relevant. I’ll be covering it more in a future article.) One thing that struck me about his baseball statistics breakthrough was that the information had been there for quite some time, available for anyone, but it wasn’t until someone really dove in and applied fundamentally good math that real knowledge became available. The information was just sitting there – how come nobody was capitalizing on it?

Advent of the Wurm

I find myself in the “not doing anything with it” camp more often than I’d like. I bought a bunch of Advent of the Wurm, and someone almost immediately informed on Twitter that it was in an event deck, which would surely suppress it’s price. (Hey look, there’s that green bias.) Oh. Whoops. If I had taken two seconds to look that up, I probably wouldn’t have bitten that particular bullet. If I spent some time doing price history analysis, looking for past behavior of similar cards, and digging in to buylist spreads, I’d definitely be further ahead than I am now. Instead, half the time I have reason to consider a card, I look up the price on a few websites, think about it for a few minutes (seconds), then make a decision. Hardly the most informed approach.

 

Take My Own Advice

At some point in the past, I believe I mentioned on Twitter that people should really be grabbing Mutavault, because it was $12 and highly likely to climb. Even if I didn’t say it out loud, I know for a fact I was thinking it. But I kept putting it off and putting it off, and here we are now, with Mutavault at $26 and I have a whopping three copies. I’ve felt similarly about Domri around the same price point, yet failed to purchase any myself, again missing the boat.

9990081

It’s possible that some amount of this is only seeing the calls I missed, and not the calls I connected on. Perhaps, perhaps. However, I seem to recall without any real doubt that both Mutavault and Domri would rise in price. There was basically no way they couldn’t. I think I hesitated to make the move because the price of entry was higher than I’m comfortable with. I’m completely ok buying into my hunches when the cards cost $.30, but much less so when they’re $12, even if the $12 card is a far better bet. In the future, I need to be more willing to make commitments to calls I’m sure of with less worry about the cost. If I’m that sure the card will rise, then the initial expense shouldn’t matter because I’ll come out ahead regardless.

This is only a few of my shortcomings when it comes to buying and selling Magic cards. There are definitely plenty of others, but I’m not sure my fragile ego can handle much more for now. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on improving this small selection. I encourage all of you to consider similar reflection.

The Mythic that Wasn’t

By: Jared Yost

This week I would like everyone to take the opportunity to check out the the MTGPrice 50 biggest gainers and losers of the week. I like to utilize this page in order to keep on top of weekly trends for Standard cards because Standard tends to be the most volatile format from week to week. By having an easy-to-reference list, you are able to clearly spot trends that you may otherwise miss just watching an official Wizard’s stream, Starcity live stream, or becoming occupied reading the countless other deck tech articles that exist.

Take a look at this list that was generated Friday 12/13/2013 of the week’s Top 15 losers in terms of price:

In the top 15 losers of the previous week, 13 out of the 15 are mythic rares. The other two cards in the list are Hero’s Downfall and Boros Reckoner. Hero’s Downfall is experiencing a price drop because more and more Theros packs are being cracked, so copies are entering the market every day. I will remember where Hero’s Downfall ultimately settles because it will be a good indicator for similar removal in the future. Since Wizards seems to be moving much of the good removal to the rare slots rather than uncommon, it will be important to know what to expect. Boros Reckoner is experiencing a shift downwards this week because it is seeing less and less play in Standard as the metagame moves away (at least for now) from red based devotion. Both blue and black devotion prevent Boros Reckoner from reaching his full potential (battling in the red zone.)

Outside of the two rares that made a guest appearance, I would like to draw your attention to a phenomenon I am calling “the mythic downgrade.” This event happens a few months after a set release, during which the mythics in Standard are currently being oversold and the market is in the process of readjustment (due to several factors, which I will elaborate on). With 13 out of the top 15 losers being mythic this week, it’s clear the mythic downgrade is in full swing.

 

Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

Elspeth has received a downgrade from the previous week mainly because she typically only appears as a single or double. Even though she appears in about 20% of the current Standard decks, she only averages slightly below two copies. With many lists only needing a single copy, there isn’t nearly as much demand to prop up her price, as we see in cards like Sphinx’s Revelation or Thassa.

I expect this trend to continue because she is prohibitively expensive mana-wise for a Planeswalker. The only other Planeswalker that costs six that is seeing play is Garruk, Caller of Beasts, and for green decks that high mana cost can be ameliorated alongside of Nykthos. U/W Control is not making crazy mana like that, and until it does I don’t see Elspeth appearing in quantities of 3 or 4 in decks any time soon.

 

Stormbreath Dragon

Stormbreath Dragon

Alas, my favorite dragon in Standard is seeing a decline in price as well.  As opposed to Elspeth, Stormbreath Dragon regularly sees play as three or four copies in the same deck, so that isn’t our culprit. The reason that Stombreath Dragon is dropping (for now) is because of that pesky “protection from white” clause. Not that it’s a bad card, but like I mentioned above, black and blue right now are the colors to beat. Stormbreath Dragon’s pro white doesn’t do much against Gray Merchant triggers and a sea of elemental tokens, so until the metagame shifts to white being a dominant color again Stormbreath Dragon will continue to see only moderate amounts of play.

 

Xenagos, the Reveler

Xenagos, the Reveler

Ah, Xenagos – the Planeswalker spin on Gaea’s Cradle. In my opinion, Xenagos is so close to being good but is outshined by Garruk. Since Garruk is mono-green, he is much more efficient in devotion builds as he is so much easier to cast with all green mana from your Nykthos activation.  Xenagos has been dropping since the release of Theros because he doesn’t have a deck that really synergizes well with him, unlike Garruk. Similar to Elspeth, you don’t need many copies if you are playing him – two to three at the most. Making free Satyrs with haste is pretty awesome, but I think Garruk will need to rotate before Xenagos will really start to shine. The floor for Xenagos hasn’t approached yet and I would expect him to go lower as more Theros is released.

 

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Ashiok has certainly fallen from the highs that she saw when Theros was first released:

Unfortunately, there just hasn’t been a good deck to fit her into except for Esper control which isn’t even seeing a lot of play right now – Ashiok is currently found in less than 5% of the field. Under the right circumstances Ashiok can be a real beating, but the popularity of the devotion decks has pushed her to fringe play. I would expect the price to continue to go down for a little while longer (since we currently have the blue/black scryland, and even this isn’t enough to make her see play) until a more viable control deck is able to exist in Standard.

 

Purphoros, God of the Forge

Purphoros, God of the Forge

Purphoros was talked about last week on this blog, and I agree with the reason for the price drop – a God that has plenty of potential but no way to realize that potential yet. Continue to expect his price to go down until that potential is realized. On the more speculative side, I believe that Purphoros’ floor is not far away and once the price drops down so far as to make you scratch your head – that will be the time to start getting them. Clearly a casual and EDH all star, (and possibly the Gods being the next Eldrazi a few years from now?) in the long term you can’t go wrong.

 

Heliod, God of the Sun

Heliod, God of the Sun

I’m still reeling from the initial buy-in that I made for Heliod when Theros was first released. I was wrong about his role in the early Theros metagame, and the price has readjusted to show me the error of my ways. Heliod continues to drop from $8 and I expect it to bottom out around $3-$4 the way the price is trending.

However, new sets produce new opportunities and I think that within their Standard life each God will have his or her time to shine. Like Purphoros, Heliod can be a great casual target if you want to start picking them up when they get really low. Just don’t wait too long, because I still have high expectations that one day, hopefully one day, Heliod might be good…

 

Domri RadeVoice of Resurgence

Domri Rade
Voice of Resurgence

I’ve mentioned both of these mythics in some of my previous articles, but back then I portrayed these mythics in a positive light. Looks like I need to reevaluate my stance on these Standard staples.

For their respective decks, both Domri and Voice are played in droves – hardly do I see a list that plays fewer than four copies of either card. So, why are they going down in price? I believe the answer lies in the fact that those players that want to play Domri or Voice already have them (the cards have been out for far longer than the Theros mythics I mentioned,) and aren’t doing anything particularly new or exciting. Standard has been pretty stale lately, with little innovation of the full 75. Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth didn’t give us much good insight either because many players had to cancel their travel plans due to the humongous snowstorm that pummeled the area on the weekend of the tournament. This allowed some fairly crazy decks to get into the top 8 of the tournament such as this R/W Burn list.  So until more demand presents itself for these cards, either through 1. more players wanting to play Standard and the rise of the Magic player community or 2. the establishment of greener deck strategies, it could take a new set to be released before Domri or Voice are shaken up price wise.

 

Chandra, PyromasterTrostani, Selesnya's VoiceArchangel of Thune

Obzedat, Ghost CouncilBlood Baron of Vizkopa

All of the cards here have changed fewer than 1% since the previous week, so I will go through them all and see why they have been stagnant.

Chandra, PyromasterChandra has stagnated in price for now because she currently sees play at most as a single or double, just like other Planeswalkers in the losers list. Until she starts putting up more impressive numbers, I don’t expect an increase in her price any time soon. She seems to have leveled off until a new strategy capitalizes on her.

Trostani, Selesnya’s VoiceTrostani has experienced several jumps and dips in price throughout her life in Standard, so her stagnation could signal the beginning of another price dip until a G/W populate strategy shows up again. A great target for the long term, but I wouldn’t expect a huge price jump soon unless G/W populate breaks out with a new set release.

Archangel of ThuneArchangel of Thune has tried to work in so many decks, but at the end of the day it is mainly a casual card which is the primary buoy of it’s price. I would expect Archangel to stay around $15 throughout the rest of its Standard life and increase in price if another strategy next year can fit it into the deck. Otherwise, stay away unless you absolutely must have them.

Obzedat, Ghost Council and Blood Baron of Vizkopa – Both of these Orzhov titans have seen their price increases happen already. Blood Baron went from $8 to his current $18 and Obzedat went from $7-$8 to his current $10 in the fall. Both have flat lined since then. For Obzedat, this is because there are only a few strategies he can fit into well and thus his price is mainly held up by casuals and the EDH crowd. Blood Baron is a tournament staple, so the reason his price hasn’t moved much in spite of that is because most everyone who wants them has them and often he isn’t played as a playset. In control shells, Blood Baron is typically played as a two-of and occasionally you’ll see three, barring B/W Control. As Standard plays out over the next year, I can definitely see Blood Baron possibly going up again. Obzedat, until a better deck opportunity presents itself, will continue to hang out around $10. There is definitely still time for Obzedat to pan out if he can find the right deck though.

That’s a wrap! Hopefully this article gives you some insight to the current prices of many mythics in Standard and why they seem to be dropping or stagnating in price. Also, check out the Top 50 list on MTGPrice regularly so that you won’t be behind the trends from week to week on all the best Standard cards. The list gives you an idea of cards headed in either direction, so keep watch!

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