All posts by Danny Brown

Danny doesn’t want to pay to play Magic, and he doesn’t think you should, either. By using common sense, applying basic truisms, and exercising a modicum of patience, he will show you how to maximize every dollar you spend on Magic: The Gathering. Even if you don’t have a huge budget for gaming, with some smart decision making and a little time, you too can afford to build top-tier decks or draft on a regular basis. Danny’s resume includes writing for Quiet Speculation and serving as editor-in-chief for Brainstorm Brewery. He’s a Limited enthusiast with a special fondness for Cube, and has an earnest belief in the inherent superiority of 40-card decks (it’s okay, Constructed players. You’re special, too). Have a question or comment? Reach out on Twitter at @dbro37.

PROTRADER: A Cheapskate Casual’s Guide to Return to Ravnica Block

I performed a similar breakdown to what you are about to read here, but for Battle for Zendikar, Khans of Tarkir, and Theros blocks. I ended that article with the idea that I would cover more blocks the following week, but as it turned out, there were other things to discuss, so this article has been delayed.

But no more! Let’s tackle the entirety of Return to Ravnica block today. Remember, I’m approaching this from the standpoint of a cube owner looking to make the sweetest cube possible but at the lowest possible price. We’ll be going through most cards that are both financially relevant and Cube-playable, though playability in other formats, possibility to make money, likelihood of impending reprints, and and all other relevant factors will be mentioned, as well.

Enough intro. Let’s get to the cards.

Return to Ravnica

Abrupt Decay

A fairly juicy one to start. This is basically a must-include in the Golgari section of most cubes, and with the recent WMC promo revealed, the card has taken a hit of about a third of its all-time high of $20. Remember, though, that WMC promos won’t flood the market in the same way as a printing in an expansion, supplementary product, or preconstructed deck. Barring a reprint that actually puts a large number of cards on the market, Abrupt Decay really seems to have nowhere to go but up. If you don’t have all the copies you need, I’d prioritize picking them up over the next few months.

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Angel of Serenity

After briefly hitting $25 shortly after its printing in Standard, this plummeted, and then the final kill shot was applied when it was reprinted in Commander 2015. With a Fair Trade Price of $1.62 as of this writing, I can’t imagine a world in which this nutso reanimator target is ever goes lower. And while I’m certainly not expecting a sudden or pronounced spike,if this can avoid another reprint, I think this is a great target for slow, steady, long-term growth.

Ash Zealot

You don’t see this in a ton of cubes these days, which I think is a shame. It’s a solid beater in RDW with a sometimes-relevant graveyard hate clause. A decent beater with a decent hate clause is pretty good, in my opinion. It’s basically bulk, so there’s no reason not to own as many copies as you want.

Blood Crypt

This might be wishful thinking on my part, but I feel like the shock lands can’t possibly go spike-free for much longer. It’s been more than three years since their reprint, Modern gets more popular by the minute, and the playerbase has grown since Return to Ravnica. You probably have all the shock lands you need by this point, but if not, don’t take their sub-$10 prices for granted.

Chromatic Lantern

An EDH staple, yes, but I don’t run this in my cube. In general, three-mana  ramp spells in Cube need to provide two mana (think Worn Powerstone or Coalition Relic). So don’t feel like you need a copy for your list. If you really want one, this will keep going up until it’s reprinted, which is likely to happen eventually.

Cyclonic Rift

Similarly, this one is up to $8 (!!!), and will likely continue to go up until it is reprinted. This is one that I actually like in Cube, so if you need a copy, but it right away or resign yourself to waiting for the next reprint (or EDH banning).

Deathrite Shaman

With Legacy on the downswing and this banned in Modern, it seems like a fine time to pick these up. With a Fair Trade Price of $6.73, the card is at an all-time low. I must admit, though, that given how little play the card is seeing, I’m surprised it’s not below $5. I don’t see what would facilitate a price spike here other than a Modern unbanning or a major increase in Legacy events, both of which seem unlikely. You’re probably fine to wait on this one for these reasons, but again: all-time low.

Desecration Demon

Price memory based on this card’s Standard glory days are keeping this above $1, but there’s not really much we can do about that. I suspect only a reprint or ten years of better creatures get this below this price point.

Detention Sphere

This is less than $1, which is probably because singleton formats don’t really think this is much better than Oblivion Ring. It does kill multiple tokens and clones, though, so it is a little better. I cut this from my cube recently, as it was on the bubble and I have lots of this style of effect. Still, if you want a copy, you can’t do better than this price.


This has a Fair Trade Price of $2.49, which is silly given that Hero’s Downfall is $1.67, but probably has more to do with age than anything. The price isn’t going down without a reprint, and the card is certainly one of the better choices for your Rakdos section, so buy ’em if you want ’em.

Jace, Architect of Thought

At $3.47 for a planeswalker that sees occasional Modern play, this is one of the better buys in Magic, in my opinion. An eventual double-up seems inevitable, if not better.

Lotleth Troll

This is the kind of card that could be the engine for a combo deck down the line. At less than $1, I don’t want to discount that. It’s definitely a bubble card in Cube, switching in and out of Golgari as needed. It’s a decent engine for GB reanimator, if you’re trying to support that archetype.

Loxodon Smiter

This has gone from $1 to $2 in the last year. It could certainly be playable in Modern in the right metagame and deck, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Selesnya is really deep in Cube, so while the power level is here on this one, the space often isn’t. Still, that on-deck copy might be worth picking up before this becomes a $5 card.

Mizzium Mortars

For how good this was in Limited and even Standard, it’s kind of iffy in Cube. I see it in most lists, but not being able to go to the face really hurts eats utility in RDW-style decks. Red control, rare as it may be, loves this card, though, so it’s well worth including if you’re trying to keep red from being an aggro-only kind of color. A Commander 2015 reprint pushed this down to essentially bulk status, so now is a fine time to pick up any copies you may want.

Pack Rat

See what I said about Desecration Demon (with the added factor of a contingent of casual players who love rats).

Rakdos's Return

I don’t play this in my cube, but it’s like $1.14. For a mythic with an effect this powerful, I figured it was worth mentioning.

Sphinx's Revelation

This has been a pretty solid $6 since it rotated. Barring a reprint or a marked increase in Modern play, I see no reason why it won’t stay there for at least a couple years.

Supreme Verdict

The card’s price chart is showing a slow-but-steady increase, and it’s almost up to $5. That was close to its ceiling while in Standard, so I’m not particularly worried about this spiking any time soon. Still, at its current rate, it will be $6 before too long, so don’t wait if you need a copy.

Underworld Connections

It’s no Phyrexian Arena, but it’s still playable if you want to push the control aspect of black in your list. With three printings and the existence of Arena,you should be able to pick this card up at bulk pricing for some time to come.

Vraska the Unseen

Vraska kind of sucks, but she is also kind of okay as a five-mana Vindicate that gains you some life. The card recently went from $3.50 to $7, which blows my mind, because I think of it as a card that sucks. I was all about to tell you to buy copies for $3.50, but then I saw it was $7 and now I think you should not buy copies. This is a bad planeswalker from a highly opened, extremely popular set, with a Duel Deck printing to boot. For every one of these you would have bought, go buy two Jace, Architect of Thoughts instead.


Assemble the Legion

I could have sworn this was in this year’s Boros Commander deck, but I guess not. I think this is better in EDH than in Cube, but at a Fair Trade Price of 87 cents with only one printing, I could see this being a target for growth. I expect slow growth, to be sure, with a pretty high reprint risk and a low ceiling, so get these as throw-ins, not as primary targets.

Boros Reckoner

More price memory nonsense, as this is currently almost $3. Then again, uncommon Spitemare is 83 cents, so maybe this is something casual players like. In any case, it’s been pretty steady at $3 for nearly two years, so if you want a copy, this is a perfectly reasonable price point.

Breeding Pool

Gatecrash was significantly less popular than Return to Ravnica, so the shock lands in this set are likely in shorter supply than their RTR counterparts. Buy accordingly.

Domri Rade

Planeswalkers are super safe to buy in general, and Domri is no exception at a Fair Trade Price of $7.80. I miss the days when this was just barely released,  when Modern players were going turn-three Domri into turn-four Phyrexian Obliterator.  Why did that stop, anyway?

Nightveil Specter

This card is really good on its own, but if you are playing black and/or blue devotion cards in your cube, it’s a must-add. It has the same price memory effect from Standard Mono-Black Devotion as Pack Rat and Desecration Demon, but it’s only $1.21 and is a fine buy at that price, even if it slightly inflated.

Thespian's Stage

This card slowly but surely has worked its way from $1 to $2.50. It will continue growing in this slow, incremental fashion as long as it can avoid a reprint. It’s really only playable in Cube in conjunction with Dark Depths, but the new colorless symbol gives it some new, additional utility.

Dragon’s Maze


As far as control finisher go, this is right at the top of the list. And it’s only 39 cents?! I don’t think this is going up, but I’m surprised price memory doesn’t have it over $1.

Beck // Call

This isn’t a Cube card by any means. I just wanted to mention it because Glimpse of Nature is more than $20 and this is a bulk rare. Could somebody break this, please?

Ral Zarek

Ral was like Domri in that his price was pretty solid for a couple years, but he’s starting to see some upward movement. He’s in a prominent color combo, is prominent among Vorthos types, and is from one of the least-opened sets in recent memory, so it’s not surprising to see a bit of upward movement. He also does some sneakily combolicious things with his first ability. I don’t see how a reprint could happen at this point, so if you need a copy, you probably shouldn’t put it off.

Voice of Resurgence

Whoa, this is $46 now. That is news to me. The luxury of a casual format like Cube is that I don’t actually need to have anything. At all. This card is really good, and it would certainly make the list if I owned one, but come on. I’m all-in on a reprint at this point, because there’s no way I’m paying so much for a utility creature that doesn’t even add that profound an effect to my cube.  No thanks.


Man, the community at large already knew this, but going through this block, it reminded me how bad Gatecrash was compared to Return to Ravnica, and how bad Dragon’s Maze was compared to Gatecrash. There’s lots of EDH playables in Gatecrash that I didn’t cover, so if that’s your scene, I’d suggest going through the listDragon’s Maze, on the other hand, was filled with complete junk, and I regret that I will never get the minutes back that it took me to scroll through that awful list of cards.

Any Cube-playables that I failed to mention from Return to Ravnica block? Have a specific card you’re wondering about? Drop a comment below.

PROTRADER: What Do You Want to Get from Modern?

In early 2012, when Modern was still in its infancy, then-Wizards developer Zac Hill wrote this article (cached version linked because—surprise, surprise—the Wizards website is giving me an error code when I try to go to the live article) previewing Cavern of Souls. This section of Hill’s article single-handedly convinced me that I was never going to play Standard again once Scars of Mirrodin rotated:

One of the problems is that Mana Leak is simply a much more powerful card than we would be comfortable printing under modern development rules. Similar to why the Swords are so powerful—their costs were locked in before people really understood how to price Equipment—Mana Leak is a relic of a bygone era.

Now, I get into arguments whenever I make a claim like this, because it’s difficult to see. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a conversation of the following form:

“You guys are power creeping so hard.”

“Hmm. I don’t think we are. After all, there are all kinds of spells that we would never print nowadays that ran rampant in old environments, such as Compulsive Research, Force Spike, Remand, ‘Signets,’ etc.”

Izzet Signet

This statement bothered me because Mana Leak and Remand are two of my favorite Magic cards, but what really blew my mind is that Hill cited Signets as being too good for Standard. Remember that this was just a few months before Return to Ravnica‘s release, and this was one of the first indications that the set was going to power down the format in a big way compared to the original Ravnica—except for the creatures, of course.

Pack Rat

Seeing the direction that Standard was heading, Modern seemed like the only reasonable choice for competitive Constructed on a relatively small budget.

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PROTRADER: Cube Watch, Oath of the Gatewatch Edition

Greetings! We’ve got a sweet new set in Oath of the Gatewatch, and lots of potential cube cards to cover today, so let’s get right into it.

A couple quick notes: First, I’m saving everything with the new colorless mana symbol for the end, because that’s going to require some extra words. We’ll start with the traditional stuff. Second, while I might mention foils for commons and uncommons, my goal with my Cube articles is to keep costs down as much as possible, so the object here is not to find the cards that are going to go up the most, but to find the best time to buy the cards that we actually want to play with in our cubes. Got it? Let’s go.


Linvala, the Preserver

This is a powerful card, but I’m not sure it beats out cards like Sun Titan or Elesh Norn at the top of white’s curve in Cube. It’s definitely one to test, but I’m not convinced it will make anything but the most expansive lists.

As for its financial future, Standard could bring its price up in the short term, but there’s no way it sees play in any eternal competitive formats. It’s probably fine in Commander, but it doesn’t seem insane. While it could surprise us in the short term, this should be way less than its preorder price in the long term.

(Note: All TCGplayer mid prices cited in this article were pulled on the day of writing, January 15, 2016. They may have definitely changed since that date.)

TCGplayer mid: $7.49
Likelihood to get a cube slot: Medium-low
Verdict: Wait to buy

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PROTRADER: A Cheapskate Casual’s Guide to the Last Three Years of MTG

With Modern prices going crazy lately, now seems like a reasonable time to review some cards one might want to acquire before they too increase in price. As Jason Alt often tells us, a rising bite lifts all toads (or something), so there’s reason to expect that a lot of Modern stuff that is also played casually is going to increase soon, too.

If you’ve been waiting on picking up something from the last three years, now may be the time. Let’s go through in detail and see what seems primed for an increase, compared to what should be avoided at all costs.

Disclosure: While I have a couple Commander decks, Cube is my main interest when it comes to casual MTG. So I’ll try to touch on some Commander staples, but my knowledge base and interest is much more Cube-centric. Additionally, a lot of these cards are also good in eternal formats, so we’ll be looking at quite a few competitive cards today, too.

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ProTrader: Magic doesn’t have to be expensive.