Good morning, and happy Pro Tour Friday! These weekends are some of my favorite all year. Even though we live in a time of plenty in terms of streaming Magic, there is just nothing like watching a Pro Tour. We’ll get to a couple of smaller topics as well, but I want to discuss what I am going to be doing this weekend, and what you should be doing also. We are also going to talk about my new favorite game in the whole wide world.
Pro Tour Finance 101
Before we begin, there are a couple things to know about Pro Tours to understand why they are unique. First of all, they have the highest stakes of any Magic tournament (outside of the new Worlds format, which is a closed event and only hosts 24 players), and they have very low attendance compared to most Grands Prix. Pro Tours are also in a weird space where they are open to the public, but are largely not considered public events. If you live near a city hosting a Pro Tour, it is cool to go check out, but there are largely not going to be the kinds of things catering to you that a GP might feature (don’t expect that $5 Commander pod to fire, for example). This used to not be the case, and for a while Wizards tried to offer other events to draw in people who weren’t local, but it largely didn’t work. Pro Tours were also briefly closed to the public, although that only lasted for maybe a year.
The reason why I stress the attendance aspect is because it directly impacts the amount of vendors interested in coming to the events. While big events like GP New Jersey or GP Las Vegas are great opportunities to buy and sell, Pro Tours are largely the opposite. According to the Wizards website, there were at most two vendors at Pro Tour Fate Reforged. There were three vendors at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, but none of the big names you would have expected to see made the trip to Hawaii. The last Pro Tour I personally attended was PT San Juan1 (what we would today call “Pro Tour Rise of the Eldrazi”), and there were actually a few big vendors there, but there was also the WPN Championship and a few other unique events happening there that same weekend.
A lack of on-site vendors means that players will often need to bring entire sets of Standard (or more!) to be personally prepared, or expect to pay a hefty premium to get the cards they want at the event. Add to this the fact that Pro Tours are occasionally held in somewhat exotic locales, and the scarcity becomes even more of a factor. Now, crazy “on the floor” prices for events are not anything new—but what they highlight is demand.
Widespread demand for a card means that several different testing groups have all “discovered” it, and that it factors prominently into the environment that is expected for the weekend. While the floor price most likely won’t stick in the outside world, the old one is sure to go up.
Something that is important to understand about Pro Tours is the impact that a restricted playerbase can have on a tournament. Since many of the elite players travel and prepare for the tournament far in advance, they are more likely to properly assess the hierarchy of threats in the format and develop a control strategy that is able to foil those threats. When given the opportunity, many of the world’s best players will opt to play a control strategy, as it typically is able to reward skill more than an aggressive approach. Perhaps to put it more accurately, better players will play decks that allow them to leverage their skill to an advantage. The upside here for us is that typically the cards that reward that style of play are more difficult to assess during spoiler season, and may currently be underrated.
Here are a few cards I am watching this particular weekend and why:
Dragonlord’s Prerogative: I’ve been talking this up for a while, but the truth is that it needs to show up this weekend if it is ever going to. The “if dragon” clause doesn’t actually hurt you if you can’t meet it, and in some matchups it is going to be largely irrelevant. It’s good on rate, and buying in at the floor feels like a good opportunity (waka waka!).
Ojutai Exemplars: This card could very well be one of the best threats in Standard, or it could be a total bust. While the price has stayed pretty close to $7, the buylist price has actually risen since release. This could be indicating that demand for the card is strong and dealers don’t want to get caught with it out of stock.
The downside here is that if you go too deep on them, you’re going to be stuck with a bunch of copies of a white mythic four-drop that cost you $7 each. I’d snatch up a couple in trade as a hedge, or take a flier on a couple off of PucaTrade, but I’m not comfortable enough dropping about $30 on a set.
Pitiless Horde: Just like Prerogative, this card is so cheap that it won’t really destroy you if you don’t hit the mark on it. It’s a flexible threat that can be cast on curve in an aggressive deck, or very quickly close out the game in a control list. Black also has a lot of really sweet cards right now, so even a light splash for Thoughtseize is enough to cast this card reliably. Also, it matches up well against Ashiok, which seems like more than mere coincidence.
Dromoka’s Command: In case you haven’t heard, I really like this card. I’m not sure about the financial upside here, since I’m not sure how much higher the price can go right now, but I wanted to be on the record that this card is bananas.
Dragonlord Atarka: This has sneakily gone up a couple bucks in the last few days. This is the kind of card that seems like an ideal target to try and cheat into play—and seems absolutely busted with multiple copies of Rescue From the Underworld. Of course, that is most likely not what is happening here, since a RG Dragons deck won the Standard Open last weekend (with two of these maindeck).
Siege Rhino: Haters are gonna hate, hate, hate, but he’s just gonna siege, siege, siege.
Deathmist Raptor: The card started presales around $5, and is now three times as much. If there is going to be a deck that takes full advantage of this card, it is at least being tested in preparation for this weekend. If it doesn’t appear, or the deck puts up an overall poor finish, these may begin to slip.
Dragonlord Ojutai: This card has gotten expensive quickly. It definitely seems like a potential new UW Control finisher, but those typically only have one or two in the deck, not four. I actually expect this to start to go down, but if it does hit this weekend, I expect the deck to have four Dragonlord’s Prerogative in it.
Descent of the Dragons: Somebody is going to have an early feature match playing the deck that runs this and Battlefield Thaumaturge, and the hype train is going to briefly go crazy. The second you see this in round five or whatever, be ready to sell your Thaumaturges (if you have them). Neither card is something I like long-term, and the deck is, in all likelihood, not very good.
If you have any cards that you are watching, or want to talk about one I picked, let me know in the comments!
“Deal or No Deal”
Pack Wars is a game-play variant that has a lot of different rules depending on who you ask. My favorite version, however, actually comes from the sports cards community: any number of players open a pack, and the player that opens the most valuable card wins all the packs opened that round. This is a great way to familiarize yourself with prices and bust extra packs. It’s very quick, though, and the suspense doesn’t build much (you pretty much know if you’ve won or not when you see your rare). Last week, my long-time friend (and local game store owner) Eric and I came up with an elegant solution that we call “Deal or No Deal.”
There are two ways to play—head-to-head or multiplayer. I think the first option is the most intellectually enticing to me, but the second one is what we have played the most. Either way, I’m getting ahead of myself, so here are the rules.
Head-to-Head Rules: Two players split the cost of a single booster pack (packs are $3 at Eric’s, so each player would pay $1.50). Open the booster without looking at the contents, remove the token2, and shuffle the pack. You may have a neutral third party randomize the pack if you so choose. Then, place the contents face down and spread out. Roll a dice to determine who goes first (or something more creative if you so choose). The first player will pick one card and reveal it and move it to the side. Now the second player makes their selection, reveals it, and moves it to their side. This repeats until all of the cards have been selected. The cards you picked, you own. Hopefully you got the better picks! The idea here is that if you play twice (or an even number of times), you have the potential to “break even” by getting a rare half of the time, but you could also win twice in a row!
Multiplayer Rules: Same basic thing, but each player contributes a pack. This way, there are multiple rares in the “pool,” a higher percentage chance for a foil, and more tension. It is also possible to get multiple rares for your $3 (or whatever your particular cost of entry is), so there is the sneaky potential for value. This mode is a lot of fun, because you can track how many rares have been revealed, and it seems there’s always one that doesn’t get turned over until the very end.
This game solves some of the inherent problems with other Pack War games. In the “best card wins” arrangement, the winner is simply whoever opens the best pack—you know right away that your Harbinger of the Hunt isn’t going to take down their Dromoka’s Command, and typically the only “excitement” is seeing which bulk rare has the highest TCGplayer median price. This also doesn’t have the value negative center that “Flip It or Rip It” has—it merely redistributes the pot, not destroys it. Next time I play, I’m going to record a round and post it.
Well, that’s all for this week. Good luck this weekend, and come on, Dragonlord’s Prerogative!
P.S. I’m interested in doing a mailbag article soon because they are less work because they are fun and people love them. Got a question? Submit it in the comments.
1 I went as a railbird, not a participant.
2 Obviously this is difficult to do if you are using Innistrad and Dark Ascension packs, since the check cards have Magic backs. If you are doing that, I say leave it in. Suspense!