What makes a Bad Spec?

Dear reader, this has been a long time coming. It’s a joke that many like to make, that there are no bad specs, only ones that haven’t arrived yet. However, between my bad moves and those that others have posted about, there are some rules for the things to avoid at all costs.

This is not a comprehensive list of all bad specs, but the guidelines for the things I’ve seen go bad and the things that haven’t arrived yet. Some of these, I’ve done, and regretted ever since.

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Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

Unlocked Pro Trader: Have No Fear

Readers!

After looking at cards that will go in lots of decks, how about we talk about cards that will go in one deck? In order for that not to make a 1/3 as much sense as the articles I wrote the last two weeks, it would have to be a pretty popular deck, right? Well, luckily I have just the thing and I have some stats to back it up.

Omnath continues to get top billing in the set and that’s no big surprise, but Akiri came out of nowhere to swoop into second place last week and is still holding strong. Akiri is yet another Boros commander that makes combat slightly better, but Akiri is one of the better equipment commanders ever and while you won’t draw as many cards as in a Sram deck, you can play Sram and you can also have access to Red which gives you additional combat steps. What else does Red give us? We don’t have to guess – we have the data of what people are already playing!

I don’t know if this will be relevant financially at all for Gadrak. I would have said snap No if this were a normal set, but I feel like Core Sets get bought less and this Core Set, though it has good cards, was never drafted in paper and the supply was a little wonky. We could see Gadrak bump someday but it would probably need more help than just Akiri. I think we’re going to want to look at cards older than 2 years and which have lowish reprint risk, something I would have said about Masterwork of Ingenuity which… just got reprinted. Bummer.

THat said, Hammer of Nazahn ALSO just got reprinted and it’s in quite a few Akiri decks, and it’s finally not being priced out of people’s collections. Since a new set came out every week this summer, I think Double Masters was underopened and Hammer of Nazahn could recover.

This probably isn’t done getting cheap. This peaked at $32 which was largely due to scarcity but it has quite a bit of demand backing it up. Usually the new ceiling is halfway between the pre-reprint peak and the eventual floor, wherever that is. If the floor is $7 like it appears on TCG Player, we’re looking at like $20ish best case scenario. I don’t hate a $7 buy-in if this hits $20 on Card Kingdom in a year or two. Mirari’s Wake is also from Commander 2017 and it’s like $25 on CK right now and they’re paying $17.55 in store credit. I’ll take a free Hamilton in CK credit just for babysitting a card for a couple of years.

Every time they don’t reprint Steelshaper’s Gift, a brand new player drops his the rare from his first ever booster pack in a puddle and quits Magic to go do competitive Rubik’s cube. It seems unlikely it will survive a reprinting, and I’m even a little reticent to buy Sigarda’s Aid despite it being a matter of time before something else comboes well with it and makes it pop again. One card I like for the deck is uniquely suited for this deck because this is the first equipment deck I’ve seen that gives you a 1-mana way to remove equipment, which is new.

If you like your picks on the risky side, I think this only goes up but a reprint likely nukes any chance of it ever recovering. I wanted to discuss this card in particular, not because I like it per se, but because its graph is interesting. The Blue graph is the best buylist price. Since the beginning of the year, the best buylist, I assume Card Kingdom, has been $5 and it hasn’t moved. Since it has remained the best buylist price that whole time, that means not only is CK (I assume) not offering more than $5 on Balan, no one else is or they’d be the new highest price and the graph would move. When dealers are staying away, take the hint. I don’t know why no one has any confidence in this card, but it could have something to do with reprint risk. Whatever the reason for the lack of movement in the buylist price for months, I think there are enough good specs that we can avoid ones dealers and their sophisticated algorithms seem to want to avoid.

This isn’t 100% Akiri-related, but this card is too cheap. In most EDH decks, people only want 2 or 3 swords max since there are so many ways to tutor for them. Feast and Famine is #1 but there’s no reason an equipment-heavy deck doesn’t want this. You’re not always going to get full value is the problem, but “1 planeswalker” scales perfectly from 60 to 100 cards in a way that “2 damage” does not. This belongs in a deck with more than 3 swords, imo. I think it’s as cheap as it will ever get and EDH decks need to run it more. They can’t be in a huge hurry to reprint it and I think given some time, it could see $20 again.

This was recently fairly bulky and some stores who don’t computerize their inventory could have this mispriced in a binder or box somewhere. I recommend trying to ferret out a cheap copy. That said, this “spiked” just on the basis of there being new Partner commanders and not on merit, so this could get a second spike on the basis of the Aikiri deck, which wouldn’t go down as quickly because the cheap copies were discovered. I don’t love retail on this but I do think it’s worth trying to snag some for the old retail price of $2ish.

I realize that isn’t super *great* advice – any card that you get for its old price after it goes up is a buy. However, I think specifically a card that went up for no good reason during a pandemic may be more gettable at its old price at a store that doesn’t 100% pay attention. I also wanted to talk about the concept of second spikes during a pandemic and this let me do that. Plus this card is good in the deck. Besides, I have more picks.

Foil Quest for the Holy Relic is selling out under $2 and I think if you can get these for its current “dirt cheap” some places, you should while you still can. I don’t like EDH foils and I have a hard time moving them, but if this hits $5 on CK, they’ll buy it back for $2 or $3 in store credit and I don’t hate paying $0.50 on these in that case if you don’t trust your ability to out them for retail price when it goes up.

This hasn’t gone up in price in a year and a half. That’s not correct and if this card is adopted at all in Akiri decks, the current, meager supply won’t hold. I know it’s an uncommon, but it’s uncommonly good and its price has already gone up over the years despite the supply. I’m calling this a target, especially with CFB charging a full dollar less than CK, which sells way more copies of this than CFB does.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print if you ask me. There are other cards I could have targeted and didn’t and if you have a specific question about why, hit me up in the comments section or the MtG Price Pro Trader Discord server. Sling those lines and snag those singles. Until next time!

The Watchtower 09/21/20 – Pushing Paper

A tier 1 ramp deck? In MY Standard format? It’s more likely than you think. Turns out Lotus Cobra and Omnath are busted in Standard and there will never be a good aggro deck again – who could’ve predicted it? Zendikar Rising has already shaken up not just Standard, but older formats as well. So far we’ve seen a landless Belcher deck storm the MTGO Modern leagues with a tonne of the new MDFCs, as well as UB 8-Crab Mill taking first place in the Modern challenge – and we haven’t even hit actual release day yet.

Outside of the US at least, paper tournaments and LGS play have started picking up again, which means that cardboard for more competitive formats is starting to move again – so let’s take a look at where we stand.

Eladamri’s Call (Foil)

Price today: $10
Possible price: $25

Eladamri’s Call has long been a staple in Devoted Druid decks, to fish out whichever combo piece you need at the time. It’s also in 21k EDH decks registered on EDHREC, popular with both the competitive and more casual commanders…but we know all this. So why am I talking about it now?

Well, it’s started showing up in a lot more Modern decks over the past couple of weeks. There’s a new Titan variant on the block, with no Amulets but 32 lands and a bunch of creatures that help ramp out an early Titan. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, Elvish Reclaimer and Eladamri’s Call are all 4-ofs in the deck, with extra 1-of utility creatures for Eladamri’s Call to find when needed. There’s also a Valakut package along with 4 Flagstones of Trokair; this deck really has a lot going on.

We’re also seeing new Devoted Devastation builds featuring Lurrus as a Companion, which honestly really doesn’t require much sacrifice from the deck at all to play. The decks are a streamlined combo, with 4 Eladamri’s Call and 4 Finale of Devastation to help find your pieces. Finally, the Soulherder deck has also been putting up some decent results here and there, also playing 4 Eladamri’s Call and a popular tier 2 choice.

Original Planeshift NM foils of this card barely exist, and A25 and MH1 copies are drying up too. Starting at around $10 on TCGPlayer, there are only 12 sellers with NM A25s and 13 with MH1s. They’re the same art and border, so relatively interchangeable here, but both are headed over $20 in fairly short order. The refreshed Modern demand backed by EDH play means that without a reprint in the next few months (which seems doubtful), the cheaper copies of this will be snapped up and it’ll be $25 before long.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den (EA Foil)

Price today: $30
Possible price: $50

Speaking of Lurrus, despite the change to the Companion rule after Ikoria’s release, Lurrus has remained the most popular of the Companions, both as a Companion and as a maindeck card. Incredibly, it’s actually sitting as the third most popular creature being played in Modern right now (the top two spots being taken by Uro and Monastery Swiftspear), and takes seventh place in the Pioneer ranking too.

In decks like Devoted Devastation it can just be a fairly free inclusion in the Companion spot, and decks like Bogles and the BR Prowess deck have been playing it for a while now. In Pioneer the WB Auras deck is still playing Lurrus and putting up results here and there, as well as the Young Pyromancer / Dreadhorde Arcanist builds utilising the card to good effect. Overall, it looks like Lurrus is here to stay, with it and Yorion really being the only two companions to survive the nerfing.

I didn’t want to pick regular copies here, mostly because more often than not players are only going to need one copy of this card to play as their Companion, which doesn’t move the needle nearly as much as if people need playsets. Extended Art foils, however, are in much lower supply, with only 16 listings on TCGPlayer. There are only a couple of copies under $30, and this is one less common instance where they’re actually more expensive in Europe. This could be indicative of lower Collector Booster supply in Europe, but also that players are picking them up for tournament/LGS play now that COVID restrictions are being relaxed in Europe. Either way, I think that getting these at $30 in the US is a sure thing to hit $50 within 6-12 months.

Thoughtseize (Borderless Foil)

Price today: $33
Possible price: $55

Moving onto an even more popular card, Thoughtseize is currently the second most played card in Pioneer and fifth most played card in Modern. That’s card, not just spell, by the way. It’s long been a Modern staple and has been at the forefront of Pioneer since the format’s inception, played in almost every deck that can cast it in both formats.

Borderless box topper foils from Double Masters featured a stunning new art for the card, and so besides original Lorwyn foils (which are obviously the best correct choice), these are probably the ‘most pimp’ copy for players looking to upgrade their decks – and they can do so at not such an unreasonable cost.

The foils are still running pretty close in price to the non-foils, and besides any curling worries (which I haven’t seen much of from 2XM box toppers), the foils are going to be the obvious choice for a lot of players. That’s going to push foil prices up above non-foils, and slowly but surely inventory is going to drain out. We may well see more future printings of Thoughtseize, but it went almost three years between the IMA and 2XM prints, and so I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least another two years go by before it’s printed again. And even when it is reprinted, I doubt we’ll see it with the box topper treatment again, so these borderless beauties will probably be safe. It might be a longer road on this one (think 12-24months rather than 6-12), but I have no doubt that these will get there.


David Sharman (@accidentprune on Twitter) has been playing Magic since 2013, dabbling in almost all formats but with a main focus on Modern, EDH and Pioneer. Based in the UK and a new writer for MTGPrice in 2020, he’s an active MTG finance speculator specialising in cross-border arbitrage.

The Gist of The List

Zendikar Rising has arrived online, and paper versions can be played with this weekend, prerelease style. Vendors have started to get their allocations of cards too, and are cracking them to fulfill presale orders on Sept. 25.

There’s one subset of this experience that has more significance than new cards: The List, that set of 300 reprints that is only available in these Set Boosters. We need to talk about what’s on The List, how the prices will be affected, and what to expect going forward.

First of all, let’s examine MaRo’s words about Set Boosters. I like the concept, it’s for people who like cracking a pack for the experience, for the neat things. Drafting isn’t always conducive to that behavior, and now we have an in-between for the workhorse Draft Booster and the super-bling Collector Booster. 

Plus we have a 5% chance of a minigame!

The List represents an extension of the Mystery Booster experiment: how many copies of a card need to enter circulation for the price to actually go down? I’ve written before about the joy of the Mystery experience, and I sold out of the playtest cards too early, but the concept is great. Reprints are good for accessibility.

Mystery Booster: Convention Edition represents a good reference point for this level of reprint. If you’ll recall, there were 14 slots of regular cards and one slot for the Playtest cards. Each of those slots pulled from its own sheet of 121 cards. So to get a Mystery Booster edition of Purphoros, God of the Forge, you’d have to open, on average, 121 packs. 

Mystery Booster was first revealed in November 2019, and that engine really got going in the following four months, coming to a screeching halt in March 2020. You can see that the original Theros copies did take a hit, being down about $7 from its high around $23. That’s for a mythic from Theros, and while there’s been a Secret Lair, there hasn’t been a lot of reprint to this and the demand is middling, being in about 18,000 Commander decks online.

Let’s look at a true Commander staple. “Did you pay the one?” is asked by 64k decks online and likely it’s used even more often that than that, causing chaos, eye twitches, and lectures from the table:

Rhystic Study hasn’t flinched at all. Jumpstart hasn’t made a dent either. It’s just going up and will keep going up. Clearly the demand for the card has outpaced this meager increase in supply. It’s quite possible that if Rhystic Study had NOT been in Mystery booster, it would be a $35-$40 card. We can’t know what the price would have been, but a slow increase during the reprint time is a sign of strong demand.

What about weaker demand? Let’s take Recruiter of the Guard, which was a rare in Conspiracy 2, so there’s not a lot out there. It’s in about 9,000 decks online, but can be a very useful combo piece in the right deck:

We see that it was riding high, hitting nearly $30, but the reprint has lowered it to the $14 range, beginning in November when the first Mystery was getting opened.

That makes sense, thinking about the use cases of the cards. If you open a Rhystic, you think, “Hey, I have a Commander deck that can use this! Let’s sleeve it up.” If you open Recruiter, it’s much more narrow in application and you’re more likely to sell/trade it. The effect is more and more noticeable as you go down the list of Mystery Booster cards and cross-reference that with amount of play on EDHREC. Constructed staples (Manamorphose, Path to Exile, etc.) stood a decent chance at recovering until the pandemic shut down paper play, but casual cards are still selling well all over the Internet.

So now that we have an idea of what happens to prices when there’s 1 copy in about every 121 packs (roughly 1 per five boxes), let’s look at Set Boosters and The List.

We get a card from The List 25% of the time. Literally a 1 in 4 chance. Then you have the 1 in 300 chance of getting a specific card. Statistics and probability are not the same as reality, but on average, you’re going to have to open 1200 packs to get one of a certain card from The List. At 30 packs/box, that means 40 boxes. That is roughly nine times less common than Mystery Booster’s rate of giving you a certain card. 

Nine times! And this is for a subset of boosters that I’m sure people will draft with, when there’s stores open for drafting and if the boxes all arrive on time!

It’s also worth mentioning that according to BenB over at Star City Games, Wizards put the word out that The List’s frequency would be affected by the rarity of the cards involved. More of the commons, less of the mythics, like usual. 

However, the unboxing videos so far do not reflect this, so more data or more clarification is needed. The List is unbalanced, having 35 mythics, 139 rares, 85 uncommons, and 41 commons. That doesn’t reflect price, as Rhystic Study is at common. 

My point here is that I’m not worried about The List as a reprint engine, at least for Zendikar Rising. If I had a stack of The Chain Veil in my spec box, I’d still be fine with a hold, or go ahead and sell some. The key, as always, is to look at how popular the card is. The List is going to be more of an exercise in reflecting how people think about a reprint as opposed to adding a meaningful number of cards to a certain supply. 

Being on The List means less than being an Invention. Less than an FNM promo. Less than a Buy-a-Box. Less than Mystery Booster. I’m not going to let The List affect me until I see some data otherwise, because the information we’ve been given works out to a very small quantity and therefore shouldn’t affect prices.

This may change going forward. Wizards might decide that this is too incremental, and juice the drop rates, or decrease the number of cards on The List, or add foils to the mix. Can’t predict what they will do in the time of COVID-19. But if you have cards from what is now The List, I wouldn’t panic. You’ll be fine.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY