All posts by Cliff Daigle

I am a father, teacher, cuber and EDH fanatic. My joy is in Casual and Limited formats, though I dip a toe into Constructed when I find something fun to play. I play less than I want to and more than my schedule should really allow. I can easily be reached on Twitter @WordOfCommander. Try out my Busted Uncommons cube at http://www.cubetutor.com/viewcube/76330

EDH Bannings and Fun

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By: Cliff Daigle

I do not consider myself proficient at very many things, but I am very good with the concepts of EDH: the methods of deck construction, the spirit of the format, and the wide range of things that are allowed in the search for fun. Staff of Domination

Any financier, casual or professional, has to understand the casual formats in order to grok why on earth some cards have the price they do. It’s important to understand that while Magic has all sorts of constructed awesomeness, it’s still mainly a friendly, casual, kitchen-table game. In fact, that’s been the key to its success: appealing to such a wide swath of players. Constructed formats cause price spikes, while casual stars see slow and steady growth.

Today, I want to help you understand a little more about EDH and its principles, so you can see why the Rules Committee bans and unbans what it does. I gained good value picking up Kokusho before its unbanning, and I made a little selling into the Staff of Domination hype at its unbanning.

At its heart, Commander is all about interaction and experience. It was put together by judges who wanted to play swingy, splashy, uninhibited Magic. It is a way to unwind and to explore the quirky side ideas that have come up in this game.

There are some common tropes. Every EDH player considers a tribal deck at some point. Every player thinks about random deck ideas: an all-creature, or no-creature, or only certain sorts of art, or a deck designed to win via infinite combos. We often give thought to foiling out a deck, or making it all foreign, or if you’re Judge Emeritus Sheldon Menery, you embark on a foil Italian deck.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Cube players with EDH players. There’s a lot of similarities, from the number of certain cards needed to the desire to make your interpretation unique.

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One of the key features of Commander decks, and therefore a financially relevant idea, is that all sorts of play styles are possible. Are you a griefer? A combo savant? Do you only cast spells that cost more than eight mana? Whatever you’re into, EDH can provide. The founders recognized that fun is defined very differently from person to person, and don’t try to legislate that. Sakura-Tribe Elder

What they do legislate is imbalance, but they do so very selectively. Primeval Titan and his cousin Sylvan Primordial allow for huge mana gains, and are easy to abuse.

The issue that comes up when there’s a banning in EDH is this: they don’t try to ban infinite-combo cards. There’s no way to ban all of those without a banlist a mile long. Plus, they want to allow you that way of playing, if you and your play group enjoy that. What they tend to come down on are cards that are impossible to use ‘fairly’.

Allow me this example. Before PT got banned, it was in most green decks. As was Green Sun’s Zenith. I know that I would cast GSZ for three and get Sakura-Tribe Elder, or scrape by until I got to seven mana to get the Titan. It was simply the best thing I could do, and everyone at the table knew it. Getting the Titan or the Primordial out is such a huge swing, and sets up “waiting to die” board states.

Whenever a card is banned, the refrain goes up. “Why wasn’t [CARDNAME] banned too?!?!” Very often in forums, the cited card is Palinchron. This thing exists for no reason except to generate infinite mana. All you need is one land that generates two or more mana, and you’re infinite. It is not banned because infinite shenanigans is part of the game. Plus, with Palinchron, an instant-speed kill spell with the untap on the stack will solve the problem. There’s too many infinite combos to hate them all away. (Hi there, Kiki-Jiki!)

So what’s the financial bonus to knowing how these casual formats work?

The most relevant idea is that these players aren’t getting cards to trade. We trade for or buy a card in order to put it in a deck and keep it there. This cuts down on the number of that card in circulation, and inflates the price.

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Case in point: the San Diego Comic-Con Planeswalkers. There is no hard data on the number made available, but those who got them either flipped them for immediate profit, are holding them to get more money later, or kept them for decks. It’s possible that some are simply showpieces in a collection, but these are not going to be found in random binders. Wild Growth

If you have one, you’re either playing it or keeping it until you’re ready to sell it. There are very few out there to be had. I’ve got an SDCC Garruk, and it’s in a deck and it’s staying there until I am desperate enough to sell pieces from my favorite EDH deck.

Another salient point is how often we build random casual decks and then just keep them in a box on a shelf. It’s not always worth the hassle to take decks apart. The high point for me was 15 EDH decks and that’s a lot to deal with. Several just sat unused for months at a time–few of us will get to play 15 Commander games in less than a month.

It’s a phenomenon not limited to Commander, though. We have a habit of putting old decks aside. I have a deck I built in 1999, jokingly called Turbo-Thallid, using those Fallen Empires cards to great extent, and using Earthcraft and Wild Growth and Fungal Bloom to power out lots of Saprolings. Thallids have gotten much better since, but I haven’t updated the deck in fourteen years. It’s a pet deck, and how would I even try to explain what format it’s for to new people? It’s not even Legacy-legal!

Rest assured, though: Earthcraft will eventually get unbanned in Legacy, and I’ll be happy to sell into that hype.

Where EDH shines as a format is when people find a common power level. If all of your friends enjoy counterspell wars and copying Time Warp, more power to you folks. If your Commander games end up as Giants vs. Faeries vs. Elves vs. Beasts, that’s awesome too. There’s no one way to play it.

What surprises many tournament players is how often Commander decks are deliberately underpowered. It’s more than skipping dual lands and fetch lands. It’s about leaving out cards that end the game abruptly, or lead to twenty-minute turns. In my Experiment Kraj deck, I don’t have any abilities that tap to add mana, because I have lots of untapping abilities. It’s no fun to me if I deliberately and consistently go infinite.

These games are not always about winning. These games are about the experience and the interaction. Mr. Menery said it best: “The secret of the format is not breaking it.”

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Small Set Economics

By: Cliff Daigle

The consensus at the moment is that Born of the Gods lacks punch, panache, and power for constructed formats. It’s being lumped in with Dragon’s Maze, which is not where you want to be. That set had one chase mythic and a lot of chaff. (How good is Ral Zarek and Inspired, though?)

Beyond the letdown, there’s something else at work we need to pay attention to: the size of the set and the block.

Unless you’ve been playing this game since 2009’s Scars of Mirrodin block, you might not know that the ‘traditional’ structure of a block is Big Set – Small Set – Small Set. It’s been four years since Wizards did a block with the structure they have said is ‘normal’. It’s fair to say that a large part of the current player base has started playing after that point. Karn Liberated

Scars block has seen a number of price spikes lately, especially mythics like Phyrexian Obliterator, Karn Liberated, and the popular casual cycle of the Praetors. Casual formats like EDH are also why Darksteel Plate is a $5 card. So many people have started playing Commander since 2009, it accounts for a large part of that price growth.

When the block structure changes, so does the draft environment and the economics of that set. Small sets can have cards that are highly sought after, but since only one of those packs is opened in a draft set, those cards are simply more scarce.

Let’s go to the numbers. For my examples, we’ll presume a small store that does three drafts in a month, and gets exactly eight people on those nights. We’ll talk about how the numbers scale in a moment.

Our model is a draft pod of eight people at one store, three drafts per month, three months per season. I’m not going to account for prize packs, since there’s such a wide range of prizes given out.

8 people in a draft

3 drafts per month

3 months in a season

3 packs of Theros

24 packs

72 packs

216 packs

This is exactly what happens with the big fall set: We open lots of it! But what happens when we add the second set in a traditional structure?

8 people/draft

3 drafts/month

3 months/season

1 pack of Born of the Gods

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

2 packs of Theros

16 packs

48 packs

144 packs

The key here is not only are packs being opened at a 2:1 ratio for these three months, the big set was already exclusively opened for three months beforehand!

Now, the full block of Theros:

8 people/draft

3 drafts/month

3 months/season

1 pack of Journey Into Nyx

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

1 pack of Born of the Gods

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

1 pack of Theros

8 packs

24 packs

72 packs

When we add it up the nine months of Theros block, the discrepancy is clear. In this basic example, this store will have opened 432 packs of Theros, 144 of Born of the Gods, and a mere 72 packs of Journey into Nyx.

Reducing that ratio (yes, let’s step back into middle school math) gives us a ratio of 6:2:1.

For every one pack of the third set, two of the middle set and six of the first are opened. Granted, this is only for draft, but sealed goes 3/3 and then 2/2/2, which isn’t a big swing, considering how many drafts happen vs. how many sealed events occur.

It doesn’t matter how many drafts are held, this ratio stays firm (so long as equal number of drafts occur during each season.) We will open three times as many Theros packs as we will of Born of the Gods, and we will open six times as many Theros packs as we will Journey into Nyx. Cards from those sets are much more likely to see big price spikes during their time in Standard – and beyond!

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at the ratio of the block we just finished:

 

Draft season

Packs opened that season

Totals opened at the end

Return to Ravnica only

216 RTR packs opened

288 RTR packs

Gatecrash only

216 GTC packs opened

288 GTC packs

Full block (DGM-GTC-RTR)

72 of each opened

72 Dragon’s Maze packs

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Our ratio is now 4:4:1, and explains how all the shocklands have a similar price right now: we opened equal amounts of each of those set. Return to Ravnica block draft had one more issue: Modern Masters showed up at the end, and everyone who could draft that instead of RtR block did so.

To counteract the small-set effect somewhat, small sets have less cards. That means the chance of getting a Brimaz in your Born of the Gods pack is higher than getting a Jace, AoT in your Return to Ravnica pack. The number of mythics in a small set is five less, but when combined with the smaller number of packs, the small-set cards don’t keep up. When a small-set Mythic is popular and powerful, we get Huntmaster of the Fells at $40 before the end of its time in Standard. A hot new build featuring Voice of Resurgence would have a similar outcome.

With small sets opened in that ratio through the life of the block, and the smaller number of rares/mythics, chase cards are exactly that: a target. As a rough estimate, specific small-set cards are three to four times less likely to be opened at events. It’s not going to feel that way at a PTQ or GP, where it will seem like Gods and Brimaz abound at the top tables, but there it is.

Aurelia, the Warleader

Born of the Gods will have an extra three months of it being drafted compared to Journey into Nyx, though. That set will be even more impacted! There will be twice as much Born of the Gods opened as Journey into Nyx.

I admit there are factors here that I can’t account for. We aren’t told how many redemptions occur via Magic Online. We aren’t given hard data on the number of boxes sold, nor are we able to estimate how many boxes are opened just for the packs.

So what does this mean? What benefit do we gain from this knowledge?

First of all, if it’s borne out that Brimaz is the chase mythic and all else is chaff. Stock up on the scry lands from these two small sets. They will be much harder find than their Theros counterparts, and will be sought after during their time in standard. Don’t sleep on how good the scry lands are in EDH either – that’s going to lower the supply available.

The Gods of BotG face a similar path. All of them are good casual cards and make interesting decks as generals or in the ninety-nine. I’m looking for a few of them myself. They may not see much Standard play, but the smaller numbers and casual appeal will keep their prices from dipping too far. I’d anticipate that the five Gods of Journey into Nyx will be similarly impacted, though they will be half as available! (Side note: I’m trying to trade for Aurelia, the Warleader right now because it’s a safe bet that the Boros god, Iroas, will do something good for attackers, and a curve of Iroas into Aurelia will only need one other red or white card to turn on devotion and double attacks.)

After that, though, I don’t see much in Born of the Gods that will have players going crazy. It’s a set with a little something for everyone, filling a lot of niches. There’s exchanging control, random destruction, legendary benefits, a less-than-overpowered planeswalker, and a five-color, dear-lord-why-aren’t-you-a-legend mega-Bestow. There’s a lot of fun cards to try, but not many that will have a huge financial impact.

In the event that I’m wrong, please keep in mind that everything in these two small sets will have a severely diminished supply. We’ve got three months of Born-Theros-Theros drafts in front of us, so we’ll keep opening Master of Waves and Hero’s Downfall, but we won’t crack open many of the new Gods or the new scrylands.

Have fun at the release this weekend!

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Minor Devotion

By: Cliff Daigle

A while back, I said that the Gods of Theros make for terrible EDH generals. I stand by that statement and the rationale behind it.

I’m here to tell you that the gods of Born of the Gods (and probably the ones of Journey into Nyx) are quite the opposite and you should respect their value, especially in foils.

Purphoros, God of the Forge

The ‘minor’ gods in Born of the Gods are much more flavorful than the ‘major’ gods of Theros. The five mono-color gods had a static and an activated ability. Only Purphoros and Thassa have abilities worth triggering on their own, and those are less than stellar. Thassa getting there with a Mutavault in Standard is pretty amusing in a control shell, I have to say.

Our allied-color gods have only one ability, and have higher devotion requirements, but to make up for that they are much more “build around me” abilities. I could see myself building an EDH or casual deck around any of these legendary enchantment creatures because what they do is powerful and unique.

I am an advocate of patience. I would tell you to trade away any and all cards you open at the prerelease. I have been doing that for years and it’s served me well. That being said, I can’t wait for the prices on these gods to drop to the $5 range, at which point I’d snag all I could. I doubt they will all get that low though, especially Xenagos. I’d be happy to get him at $10.

My sneaky prediction is that Phenax ends up as the surprise card of the set. People love to mill! People really love to mill in lots of formats, and if you think I’m not going to work on a Doorkeeper, Wall of Frost, double Returned Phalanx, Phenax curve, you don’t know how much I love janky Standard decks. Maybe I need to add green for Prophet of Kruphix.

Quick aside: I’ve told you to get your Prophets while they are cheap. They are up $1 since Inspired was spoiled as a mechanic. I’m not kidding about how good this card is in casual formats. It’s still going to get opened but if you’re looking for a safe long-term speculation, here it is.

Prophet of Kruphix

Right now, you can pre-order Phenax on TCGplayer for $8 or so. That’s a decent price point and I suspect that’s where he will be for a while yet. With Born of the Gods being labeled as a comparison to Dragon’s Maze, there may not be a lot of incentive to bust open boxes for value. Travis just this week expressed his disappointment quite eloquently, but I think that these minor gods will be casual stars for a while.

Foils of Phenax will especially be in demand, and for the other gods too. EDH decks will love Karametra’s ramp into a huge Genesis Wave or some such. Mogis fits right into lots of aggressive decks AND attrition decks. Ephara plus Sacred Mesa is going to have me grinding my teeth in jealousy during four-player games.

I’m leery of price points on prerelease weekend, but if I cracked a foil God, I’d make sure everyone in the room knew it. Someone is going to want that card a bit too much and I’d ask at least $25 for any of them, and depending on how eager that someone was, I’d try to haggle for more. I’d aim for $40 if it’s Xenagos in foil. Hey, speaking of…

Dear lord, how many awesome haste enablers can I cram into a red/green deck? Is this timing restriction genius or what? I do wish he could target himself, but with Burning-Tree Emissary around I can see why that’s a touch too good.

I don’t think there has been a card that does what Xenagos does. There have been haste-granting cards in these colors before (Fires of Yavimaya, Sarkhan Vol) but none that were indestructible. He only grants haste to one creature,, but somewhat makes up for that with the power boost. I’m looking forward to trying him as part of my mostly-creature decks, though I’m not sure if I’d rather have him or Urabrask the Hidden.

So in short, if this does end up being a lightly-opened set (though it looks like a blast to draft!) then the gods will be even more valuable than their current prices indicate. I feel good comparing them to the Praetor cycle from New Phyrexia, even though that was a spring set and this is a winter. Their prices may be under $10 now, but they will creep up over time due to their casual impact.

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Five things Owen taught me in one match

By: Cliff Daigle

At GP Sacramento last week, being 4-1 and having made several mistakes along the way, I sat down across from Owen Turtenwald, a former Player of the Year with several GP wins to his name. I tried not to be intimidated, but instead, I wanted to see what hints and tips I could glean from someone who makes a living playing this game. He didn’t disappoint.

We sat down, shuffled, presented. I gave my benediction of “May you draw mana in the appropriate ratio” (a phrase I stole from an old friend named Brian Smith) and he said “Good luck.” The gentleman next to me said, “That’s a great thing to say, to hope for good mana.” I said that I hate losing to lucky topdecks.

Owen said “It’s about sportsmanship. There’s no reason to be a bad sport.” And you know? He’s right.

Financial Lesson #1: Don’t be a jerk.

Tymaret, the Murder King

I’ve sort of been a jerk in the past in terms of trades. I’m a touch pushy, I’m constantly asking for trades, and right now, I’m dismissive of most things in binders. Mainly because they are of no interest to me or I know they are out of my price range. The point is, I can spare a moment and be more polite about things. It could only make things better.

In game one, turn two, he plays Stymied Hope to counter my turn two play of Tymaret, the Murder King. I said, “Has that been good for you today?” He smiled and said, “It’s been okay.”

Why on earth am I asking this guy if that card has been good? He countered my play and scryed, he’s maindecking it, he’s gotten full value – from me! – and I actually have to ask if the card has been worth playing? I recognize that there are situations where it would not be optimal. I imagine that if he’d had better choices, he would have been playing them. But all that said…it was there and it was very effective.

Financial Lesson #2: Believe the pros!

This applies all over the place. Owen Turtenwald doesn’t need to justify a card’s inclusion in the maindeck. Other financiers don’t need to justify themselves to me or to anyone. Heck, I don’t need to justify myself to anyone else. All I can do is listen to them or show others what I do, and let the rest of the world make up their own mind.

I get aggressive and bring his life down while trading creatures. Our boards clear, he plays a Keepsake Gorgon and I do the same. He goes monstrous on his and points to my Gorgon, to which I reply, “That’s an invalid target.” He blinks and looks at the text again, where it says “destroy target non-Gorgon creature.” He nods and looks at his hand again before passing the turn.

Financial Lesson #3: Don’t Panic!

Polis Crusher

I’ve never made a mistake with the aplomb he just showed me. I have a bad habit of cursing my fate to the heavens and questioning why Polis Crusher is the only Monstrous card that has an ability which triggers on damage being dealt. It’s my fault for not reading the card.
This applies in the financial realm as well. You’re going to be wrong about a card. You may well be wrong about large quantities of a card. When you’re wrong, accept that, figure out why you were wrong, and apply that lesson in the future. I try to do that, as I did with Primeval Bounty and the rest of M14.

So he’s got a monstrous Gorgon, while mine isn’t. We each play some creatures and rebuild the board. I need to get aggressive again, so I attack with my gorgon with monstrous mana open and with a Coordinated Assault in my hand. He makes some blocks, his gorgon blocking mine, and I monstrous to kill something else because it was a threat. Know what I didn’t do? Play the Coordinated Assault!

Financial Lesson #4: Think about your plan, especially if you want to change it.

Maybe you change your mind on a speculation. Maybe you’d resolved to hold for two years but find yourself waffling after just one. Maybe something happens and you decide to go all-in on one card.

Whichever avenue you take, be aware of why you’re changing your plan. Nothing is set in stone, but recognize if you’re making a mistake, acting hastily, or being irrational. It’s very easy to be irrational in the current Magic market, with a different card spiking every other day, simply because people think it MIGHT be good in the next set.

I attack Owen down to five and bring back the Murder King with lethal on the board. He calmly plays a Gray Merchant, casts Pharika’s Cure on Tymaret, and is comfortable at 11 now. He ends up taking that game.

So I’m following my plan of adding a third color and changing my lands and cards, going bigger: twelve cards in, twelve cards out. I stack up my deck and shuffle, then present. He does the same. When I look at my opening seven, there’s cards I know I sideboarded out. Oh hell.

I call a judge and ask if I can sideboard. It’s no longer a game loss, thankfully, but I’d like to go back to 40 cards. Unfortunately, I’ve presented my deck and that’s my deck for this game. I was too busy replacing the counterspell, the Gorgons, the Merchant, everything. I got sloppy and careless and ended up playing a 52-card deck with 23 land, losing after drawing eleven of them.

Financial Lesson #5: Pay attention!

Primeval Bounty

So much is going on, with spikes and articles and counterfeits, that it’s easy to get distracted. It’s possible that while I’m at my day job, cards are going crazy in value. I have to prioritize, though, and focus on what’s important.

Things are no longer under the radar. In fact, we have access to a ridiculous amount of information. If you’re following several hundred people on Twitter, you won’t catch everything being said. Perhaps you should make a new account just for Magic-related tweets (including mine, @WordOfCommander) and assign your interests to different usernames.

I’d like to thank Owen for also telling me that I could still make Day 2 as a 4-2. I dropped after that round, mainly because I wanted to get some EDH games in, but also because I could feel that I was tired and making silly, sloppy mistakes. If we end up playing again, Mr. Turtenwald, you may well win but at least this time I will have more cogent questions and reasonable plays.

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