Prerelease: Keep or Trade?

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We are thrilled to introduce Cliff D! Cliff has managed to foil out an EDH deck on a budget and maintains a blog at wordofcommander.blogspot.com. Welcome Cliff!

My name is Cliff, and I’m a Magic addict.

I tell you this because as a husband and a father, it’s a big deal to have a hobby like Magic. It’s got the potential to be a very expensive hobby, and I’ve spent years figuring out how to spend the least and get the most of what I want.

Today I want to share one of my best tips with you, something that has kept me from spending too much on this game I love a little too much.

In one sentence, here it is: Trade everything you open at the prerelease.

This goes against everything in my nature as a casual player. I have nine EDH decks, and with every new set, there’s some maintenance I have to do. So my urge, and probably yours, is to get things as soon as possible, to get that upkeep done and the decks finished. Don’t do it!

There is evidence, all over this site, of cards that opened big and didn’t ever get more expensive than they were the first week. That week is now, and you need to cash in.

For example: At the Return to Ravnica prerelease, I opened a Vraska the Unseen. After tearing up matches with it, I traded it for a pair of Abrupt Decay and a Guildpact Stomping Grounds. Now, I’d be even trading the Vraska for a single Decay.

Vraska the Unseen. Oct 2012 - June 2013.
Vraska the Unseen. Oct 2012 – June 2013.

If you have to have four of a card for that following FNM, so be it, but let me tell you, you don’t want to be the guy trading super-hard for Rise of the Dark Realms at the prerelease. Almost everything in this set, and every other set, will go down in price within a couple of weeks. Our most recent example is classic: Dragon’s Maze has very few cards worth more than the cost of a pack at retail, so I hope you got rid of them all when you opened them.

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Magic 2014 looks to be similar. There’s a lot of awesome casual cards in this set, and most of them will be at or near bulk pretty quickly. It will not be long before you hear someone groan at opening “another stupid Primal Bounty?!” This is the only weekend where people will be actively trying to get this card; trade it to them accordingly.

My exception might — MIGHT — be Scavenging Ooze. This is going to be interesting. If I had to pick a card to go up in the long term, this would be it, because it seems like it will be good in all three Constructed formats. I’m aware that it is a Duels promo, so anyone who wants to buy the game in Steam can get a foil of this for $10. I’d still be willing to trade it away this weekend, though.

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If you want to keep the sweet foils you open, do so, and I understand completely the urge to GET IT NOW WOW!! But you’re now making the informed choice to keep it, when you could sell at the probable top of the market. I jumped at the chance to trade for a foil Aurelia, the Warleader at the Gatecrash Prerelease, and I got it plus a regular for my Polluted Delta.

Let me leave you with the graphs of those cards, and I’ll let you decide which side you want to be on, just a couple of months later.

Aurelia, the Warleader. Foil. Jan - June 2013.
Aurelia, the Warleader. Foil. Jan – June 2013.
Aurelia, the Warleader. Non-foil. Jan-June 2013.
Aurelia, the Warleader. Non-foil. Jan – June 2013.
Polluted Delta. Non-foil. Jan - June 2013.
Polluted Delta. Non-foil. Jan – June 2013.
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City of Traders with Travis Allen

Modern Form vs. Function

Hallowed Fountain. (c) 2012 Wizards of the Coast.

Last week we examined circumstances that make a card more or less likely to be reprinted. While it is far from being an exact science, it gives us a set of criteria to check against when wondering whether a card will show up again in the near future. The reason for this practice is because reprints very often slice card prices by significant amounts. Remember that both Baneslayer Angel and Primeval Titan each lost over 50% when they were printed in the core set immediately following their debut.

What then, if anything, is safe from the financial bogeyman that is reprints? By virtue of the format’s nature, every card in Modern can be reprinted, and Wizards will not hesitate to do so as they see fit. Given this essential inevitability, we should strive to identify targets whose financial stability is resistant to reprintings, or could even grow in the event that they appear once again.

The best way I’ve found to approach this technique is to think of it as form vs function. Let’s use the Onslaught Fetchlands as an example. When a card is reprinted, it has been reprinted in function – every Magic Card with that specific name – say, Polluted Delta – is immediately legal in Standard and Modern, and new copies of the card will function in old formats just the same.

However, the original form of the card – old-bordered – has not been reprinted. (Probably. When a few Wizards employees asked on Twitter what they would like to see in future Magic sets, I suggested a set that is printed entirely in the old border.) When I speak of function, I speak wholly to the legality of the named card. Any card named Polluted Delta will function as a Polluted Delta, irrespective of which set it’s from, foil or not, judge promo or not, etc etc. When I speak of form, I refer to the physical appearance of the card. There would be a big difference between an English Theros-printed non-foil Polluted Delta and a pack-foil Japanese Onslaught Polluted Delta. (There’s a number on that pack-foil JP ONS Delta at the bottom of the article.)

I’m going to return, as I always do, to supply and demand. Right now, the demand for Polluted Delta is fairly stable. The largest market for the card is people that need it for Legacy, which isn’t going to be too tremendous of a population. You’ve also got some interest from EDH players, but that too is a minimal amount of demand. Now imagine the Onslaught Fetchlands are reprinted in Theros. (They won’t be.) Suddenly every single player playing Standard or Modern needs a playset. Demand has skyrocketed by several thousand percent. Of course, the number of copies in circulation has increased significantly as well. The land would behave just as any other rare land in a fall expansion. After the first month where demand outstrips supply, the cycle would float between $10-20 during its tenure in Standard.

But wait! What about all the old copies of Polluted Delta? Well, they’re legal in Standard and Modern now too. However, there aren’t more copies of those around. There were only X old-border foils before, and after Theros, there are still only X old-border foils in circulation. The function of Polluted Delta has increased drastically, now being legal in the two largest competitive formats. However, this particular form – the old-border foil – has not increased in number at all. Imagine a player like myself. I currently own next to no Onslaught Fetches, and have no real need for them. If they get reprinted in Theros, though, suddenly I need playsets. But I really like old-border foils. So now there is going to be added demand for old-border foils, but the supply hasn’t increased at all. Because Polluted Delta is now playable in so many more places and demand has risen appropriately, and the quantity of the special forms of the card (old-border foil, Judge) hasn’t increased at all, they will actually see a price increase after reprinting.

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We saw a similar phenomenon when the Shocklands were reprinted in Return to Ravnica. The original Ravnica-block copies saw a small dip in price, but… that’s it. The Dissension non-foil Hallowed Fountain lost about a third of its value, but it is currently worth double the value of a Return to Ravnica Hallowed Fountain. When you look at foil copies of Dissension Hallowed Fountain though, it gets interesting – the value of the card has increased, and is worth about four times what the RtR foil is worth. The original non-foil Dissension copy only had one real difference from the new one: the art. The rest of the card is basically the same. As soon as you start piling on those form qualities though – border, foil, language, promo, art – the price starts rising accordingly. This isn’t restricted to expensive cards either. Check out what happened to the Odyssey foil Syncopate when it was reprinted in Innistrad.

Syncopate (Foil), May 2012 through July 2013.
Syncopate (Foil), May 2012 through June 2013.

The basic idea here is that even when a card is reprinted, the fancy versions of the card maintain their value very well. For every way they deviate from the new copy, they do better and better. The only difference between the Dissension Hallowed Fountain and the RtR copy was the art and the set symbol, and even then the Dissension edition is still more expensive. When you start adding in more cosmetic deviations such as borders and foil, the price of old copies is just going to do better and better in the face of reprints. Your goal when looking to trade into safe long-term properties is going to be to find playable cards that if reprinted will look significantly different than the copy you’re looking at in the other kid’s binder.

Oh, and that Japanese pack-foil Onslaught Polluted Delta? I saw one in a dealer case at GP Vegas. $2,200. I had to ask to make sure I was reading the number correctly.

How to Dodge Hazards in Trading Modern

For several years, Magic players have consistently placed a premium on trading into “Legacy Staples”: cards like Force of Will, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and any Dual Lands. The appeal was that even if you didn’t have an immediate outlet for the card, its value was very secure – particularly if the card was on the contentious reserve list. This practice contrasts with a policy of picking up Standard staples, which are prone to frequent and occasionally violent shifts in price. Trading for Modern cards leaves us in sort of uncharted territory, however. On the one hand, price swings downward are less frequent and less rapid than in Standard. On the other, there is no reserve list, so the threat of reprint hangs heavy over the head of every card. Modern is a field ripe for investing and profit, but it’s important to minimize our risk in a field fraught with uncertainty.

This week I will discuss potential hazards in Modern trading, and next week we’ll evaluate safe options.

Our goal is to identify targets with increased chances of being reprinted, as that is something we can attempt to predict and will allow us to minimize any potential losses. There are a few critical factors when considering reprints: keywords, ties to specific flavor, adaptable mechanics, and general utility.

Keywords

Chord of Calling. (c) 2005 Wizards of the Coast.
Chord of Calling. (c) 2005 Wizards of the Coast.

Cards with specific Keywords are much tougher to reprint. Something like Chord of Calling can’t show up in a core or expansion set unless the set also contains Convoke, and repeating keywords happens rather infrequently. Additionally, once a keyword’s presence in a set is known, you typically have some time to ditch excess copies before a reprint is confirmed. This leaves only supplemental product as an unpredictable potential pathway for more copies of the card to appear: GP Promos, Modern Masters, Planechase, PT Promos, etc. Cards without keywords can be slotted into new sets, allowing them to theoretically be part of any group of cards Wizards lets out the door.

Flavor
Similarly, cards with ties to specific flavor are much tougher to reprint. Inquisition of Kozilek has the mechanics of a French vanilla discard spell, but the mention of Kozilek means that it can’t appear in an expansion or core set unless that set has something specific to do with the Eldrazi. I’m guessing it’s still probably a little early for their eldritch return, so like keyworded cards, unique flavor mostly restricts reprints to special print runs.

Common Use
The oracle text of the card matters as well. How universal is the card’s effect? Path to Exile has nothing in the rules text that could be tied to specific block’s mechanics. This card is a mono-color instant that references creatures, exiling, and basic lands, which are all things that are in every block.

Knight of the Reliquary. (c)  2013 Wizards of the Coast.Knight of the Reliquary, however, while lacking a distinct keyword, clearly needs a very particular environment to be reprintable. Wizards isn’t printing a creature who so clearly incentivizes you to pile lands into your graveyard without a method by which to accomplish it.This is exactly why we saw her adjacent to the fetchlands (and why her price didn’t skyrocket until we did.)

 

 
Usefulness
Finally, how useful is the card? Is the effect something that has been historically universal, or does it have a very narrow application? A card like Blood Moon would have been fairly low-impact in Innistrad, as there was nothing particularly unique or degenerate about the manabases at the time, but would be a huge role-player in a Shockland-dominant format where basics are few and far between. In contrast, Dark Confidant is going to be Dark Confidant so long as there are black cards and life totals, irrespective of the format around him. It’s feasible they could craft a Standard format where he isn’t very good, but I don’t think it’s a world any of us want to live in.

Look at these four factors when considering whether a card is likely to be reprinted, and invest wisely. If the card has no characteristics that make it resistant to reprinting, tread carefully, especially if the card has seen a spike in price recently. Large and rapid increases indicate a high price volatility, which indicates that the card’s value can be easily swayed. If nothing more than rumors, perceived scarcity, speculation or a single event is driving severe changes, then it has yet to find a stable price, and a sudden influx of copies could have a dramatic effect. This is in contrast to real estate like a Dual land, whose value is far more insulated from current events and is unlikely to shift by too many percentage points at any given time.

Next week we’ll look at what types of targets are considerably safer, and may even see upside from being reprinted.

By the way, know what card carries not a single marker that would inhibit reprinting, has doubled in price fairly recently, is heavily represented in the Twitter rumor mill, would have its power level tempered by a shockland format, was in a small card pool that Wizards has specifically identified as wanting to provide increased accessibility to, seemed an ominous omission from Modern Masters, and is at an absurd price for being a no-nonsense utility card? Thoughtseize, with a current Fair Trade Price of $69.

Thoughtseize as of July 2, 2013
Thoughtseize as of July 2, 2013

Implications of Grand Prix Las Vegas 2013

The dust has settled, and Grand Prix Las Vegas is now a week past. The implications of this Magic mini-con will be far-reaching. Wizards will need to re-evaluate the potential size of GPs, prize payouts, as well as quite a bit of tournament logistics. Also prize payouts. (I know I mentioned it already, but come on. I’m not even sure even a single X-3 got a payout at Vegas. Put yourself in in that position and ask if you’d ever want to attend a GP again.) Meanwhile, there’s currently some very honest and valuable discussion around the state of Magic organized play coverage. If Wizards acts appropriately, I would expect the next year to bring about a slew of changes to both large event OP, as well as the media surrounding it.

In the meantime, we should give further consideration to the implications of Modern Masters. Last week I discussed the likelihood of MM increasing the price of many format staples despite being reprinted. With MM driving many new players into the format, the demand on the existing supply will increase noticeably, and the influx of cards will not be enough to stem the tide.

What about the cards that weren’t in Modern Masters though? The mere fact that a card wasn’t in MM could be enough to drive a price increase, resulting in their being even more susceptible to popping than the cards reprinted. Granted, Wizards hit a lot of the staples – they couldn’t just print every single format-playable card – so there’s plenty of room to look for opportunity. If our goal is to get in ahead of market shifts, we need to evaluate the current price point of cards alongside their utility, price points of similar cards, and availability.

Chord of Calling. (c) 2005 Wizards of the Coast.
Chord of Calling. (c) 2005 Wizards of the Coast.

The banner card for this effect is Chord of Calling. It used to be only a few dollars, and then early on in Modern’s lifespan it jumped up to $10-12. A while ago several financial types on Twitter pegged it as likely to rise, and by the Monday after GP Vegas, the card had nearly doubled to upwards of $20.

I would guess the ceiling on this is maybe $25 or even $30 if it sees a brief resurgence in Modern.  However, it’s not played in any other format aside from EDH, and while it’s good in Modern, it’s only good in certain types of decks.  Still, this card’s new price tag is probably not dipping much below $20. I’m not advocating you buy in on this card in particular; rather, it illustrates what can happen when seemingly underpriced cards are suddenly noticed by the market or vendors.

One group of prime targets for this is the Scars of Mirrodin Fastlands. Shortly after their rotation, all were in the $1.50 to $4.00 range. They’ve snuck up a bit since then, and I expect they’ve got plenty of room to grow. There 3 most commonly played land cycles in the format are the Zendikar Fetchlands, the Shocklands, and the Fastlands. The Fetches are all $25-$40 (more on that in an upcoming article), and the Shocks used to all be $20+ until seeing a massive reprint in RTR. Even still the shocks are all $7-$10, and by the start of the next Modern PTQ season they will see pressure to rise on two fronts – both from being the out-of-print land in standard, as well as PTQ-goers needing to finish their playsets. Those two factors will likely push them all into the $15-$20+ range. This leaves the Fastlands as the third most played cycle in the format at a lowly $3-$5. I doubt we’ll see them as high as $20, but they could easily crest $10. Recall that Jund typically played about the same number of Fastlands as shocks, as did the Birthing Pod decks. Any aggressive deck will fill up with on-color Fastlands as well.

Speaking of Birthing Pod, this is another card that seems poised to at least double. Ask anyone familiar with the Modern format what the best deck currently is, and there’s a real good possibility the answer is going to include this card. Whether the flavor of the week is Kiki-Jiki or Melira, they’re still both using four Birthing Pod.

Birthing Pod as of June 27, 2013
Birthing Pod as of June 27, 2013

This is one of those cards that only gets better as more creatures are printed (which is how Chord of Calling works as well, by the way). Birthing Pod decks provide a great deal of strategic value, and can be tuned to just about any metagame should the pilot desire. It’s been slowly creeping up since its rotation, and $10-$15 doesn’t seem unreasonable down the road.

There are a plethora of cards that fall into the same category as Chord of Calling, the Fastlands and Birthing Pod. Keep an eye out for them as you browse Modern deck lists, trade binders, and Gatherer. Anytime you think to yourself “hmm that card seems cheaper than I thought it would be,” consider that a flag to closely examine the card’s potential.

Join me next week when we consider safe investments in a post-reserved list format.

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