All posts by Derek Madlem

Derek picked up Magic the first time during Ice Age and played through the release of Invasion. During Shards of Alara he returned to the game and has never looked back.

Misconceptions

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“MTG finance.” Now there’s a loaded term. We’ve applied this label because we don’t really know what else to call this thing we do, but the label itself has created its own problems. Using the word “finance” implies there’s a science to this game we play. It teases the idea that factor X will move axis Y and we can adjust our position accordingly and make some money.

Comparing MTG finance to “real world” finance will quickly show you that we’re playing a game with money on the line and no real rules.

Take a look at Hero’s Downfall … what’s the card worth? Well, depending on which storefront you’re selling from, it’s worth between $7 and $8. So that means your Hero’s Downfall is worth at least $7, right? Do you have a TCGplayer store? No? Then it looks like yours is worth $4.75, minus the cost of mailing the card to Troll and Toad.

What’s Apple stock worth today? $125.32 at the time of writing this article. You know how much you’d get if you sold a share of Apple stock? About $125.32. You know how much Johnny Bigball’s Superbank would get for a share of Apple stock right now? About $125.32.

You see the difference here? I could go on about the invisible hand and all supply and demand and all that other nonsense, but this isn’t an article about Econ 101 … this is an article about shock lands. Wasn’t that obvious?

Misconceiving

One of the way Magic behaves differently is what I call the emotional aspect of pricing. Every card has an emotional impact on the people interacting with it. Some cards carry a price far higher than demand dictates because people “feel” that price is justified—our past experiences with a card shape how we feel about it going forward. This is part of why Timmy believes that Ulamog is worth $40, the card “feels” like it should be worth that much.

But I thought this was an article about shock lands?

Of course it is, we’ll get there. Part of that “feels” pricing is because of the herd mentality that occurs with card prices. We set a price floor for a card, or group of cards, and no matter what happens we don’t go below that line. It’s a phenomena we’re seeing with shock lands today.

Whaaaaaat? Everybody says that shock lands are a good pickup!

And we’ve certainly convinced ourselves to believe it. Even me.

Shock Lands

And this is after I traded away more than 100 of the shocks I had acquired. Why would I do that? They’re a sure bet, after all?

Because they’re really … not. We were all promised that shock lands were the next fetch lands. We were told that these lands were more than just euphemisms for genitalia (go ahead, run all ten names through your gutter mind and tell me they’re not) and we bit onto that bait and swallowed it whole. Hook, line, and sinker.

Have you noticed what shock land prices have done since Return to Ravnica left Standard? With the exception of Steam Vents making a run during the Treasure Cruise fiasco, the answer is: NOTHING.

You know why? Traditionally, cards lose value at rotation, but that didn’t really happen with shock lands because the collective consciousness of Magic players everywhere said, “They’re going to go up,” and everybody mentally locked in that last price and essentially refused to budge.

But shock lands are the cornerstone of the Modern mana base! Everyone that wants to play Modern is going to need them!

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Not so much.

Let’s do an experiment. We’ll look at the top 16 Modern decklists from this last weekend’s SCG Modern 5k and see how many shocks each deck runs … and we’ll go ahead and remove Tron and Affinity from that to ensure the averages don’t get skewed.

For starters, no deck ran more than five shock lands, and of those shock lands used, no deck ran more than three copies of any single one. Only two archetypes ran the three-set: Blue-Red Splinter Twin and Green-White Hatebears. The remainder of the decks ran only one or two of any given shock land in their lists.

Steam Vents.full

But if you looked at fetch lands, with the exception of the Hatebears deck, which ran zero fetches, every deck than ran shock lands ran at least seven fetch lands, some as many as nine.

In the top 16 there were a total of 47 shock lands and 80 fetch lands. Where do you think I’m placing my bets going forward?

If you start plugging in four copies of any shock land into deck searches, you’re going to come to a conclusion: outside of Scapeshift and a couple fringe decks, you’re just not going to see four copies of any one shock land in a deck. The mana bases neither need nor want to run that many copies. This isn’t Return to Ravnica Standard where decks just ran twelve shocks and twelve M10-style dual lands.

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We also have to take into consideration the Modern format’s player base versus Return to Ravnica Standard. I think it would be a very generous assumption that the number of Modern players is 50 percent of the number of players we saw during RTR Standard. Then look at the difference in the decks: Modern lists are running three to five shock lands whereas those Standard decks were typically running 10 to 12.

You could also go buck wild with comparative analysis of post-rotation price trends and see that cards typically “hit bottom” the January after they leave Standard and then start their slow climb back up from there. But the shock lands didn’t experience any “bottoming out” like you would typically expect—they’ve more or less held their pre-rotation prices with some minor slippages over the last couple of weeks.

Modern+

While we’re looking at the failings of shock lands, we would be remiss if we didn’t look at the fetch lands under the same lens. Fetch lands and shock lands are going to be reprinted cyclically going forward—count on it. Wizards has essentially told us that shock lands are the tier-one dual land for all prints going forward, so we know it’s going to be extremely unlikely that the fetch land / shock land relationship is ever going to be broken in Modern. This marriage is sure to last, but that does not mean that the fetch lands are going to remain faithful.

You see, here’s the thing. Steam Vents is a good partner, but you can ask any Scalding Tarn anywhere and it’s going to tell you the same thing: it would rather be with a Volcanic Island. Face it, Volcanic Islands are just sexier than Steam Vents and everybody knows it … but Steam Vents is still a reliable and dependable partner, and we love them for that.

Fetch lands have a bit more reach than shock lands because they’re getting action in Legacy. You can also check down Commander playability in favor of fetch lands as well.

Take a three-color deck, any three colors. What’s your mana base going to consist of?

Three shock lands – MAX.
Three dual lands – MAX.

Fetch lands … well, let’s say you’re playing red, green, and white.
Every fetch land other than Polluted Delta represents a dual land from your deck. I don’t know about you guys, but when I’m building a Commander deck, my first card is Sensei’s Diving Top. Every. Single. Time. I don’t know how you guys like your Tops, but I like my Tops served with plenty of shuffle effects.

Simply put, the fetch lands are more useful than shock lands and there are very few (plausible) scenarios where that changes. We also have to acknowledge that Modern’s mana bases are extremely diverse and are likely to continue down that road as Wizards digs deeper into its trove of dual-land designs.

Timeline

But Modern Masters II is coming out and Modern is going to be more popular than ever, right?

Sure, kid, keep telling yourself that. To me, Modern Masters was the super-soldier serum given to Steve Rogers that made him into Captain America, but is another dose going to have the same results? What about another dose after that? We’ll see some modest expansion of the format with Modern Masters II, but I doubt a second shot in the arm is going to turn Captain America into the Hulk.

For me, the writing is on the wall: shock lands were a bust and the potential upside pales in comparison to most other investments I could or would be making. I’ll take my time trading these away for more enticing prospects (like fetches or foil fetches) as the price is likely to stay in a nice stagnant holding pattern for the foreseeable future.

Even if these cards do creep up, there is a ceiling.  Wizards will reprint these cards. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” at this point. Ravnica was a blockbuster plane both times we visited, so you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time before we go back, and if Battle for Zendikar is any indicator, the amount of time between return trips to existing planes is likely going to lessen, especially with the new block structure going forward.

Placing your Bets

Do I think that shock lands are a safe bet to go up? Eventually, but probably not enough to warrant acquiring much more than whatever quantity you deem to be a “playset.”

Even as the self-proclaimed long-term hands-off guy, I don’t like shock lands as a “hold” any longer. I think the certainty of reprint combined with the reality of demand makes the window of opportunity on these cards far too narrow. What do you think?

EDIT: I should also point out that this is an article about shocklands, not about fetchlands. I’m not advocating fetchlands as the next fetchlands, they’re not. My goal was to point out why the old fetches DID have more success compared to shocklands.

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Going Mad – Hello, and Good Luck

Hello, my name is Derek Madlem and I write about Magic: The Gathering. I’ve been writing articles about all types of topics on MythicMTG for a few years now and most recently wrote Insider articles for Quiet Speculation. Now I’m here to write articles for you. Yes, you. Because you deserve it.

You might have seen me around. I’m on Twitter (@GoingMadlem) disagreeing with basically everyone about everything and occasionally dishing out the same lessons in Magic finance over and over again.

Like this gem:

Give a man a ‘Goyf, and he’s going to want three more.

Which pretty much sums up everything I have to say about the impending Tarmogoyf reprint in Modern Masters II: The Remastering. Okay, I’ll spell it out for the slow kids: I don’t think the reprint will have much impact on Tarmogoyf’s price because half the people that open one will begin their quests for three more.  There’s also an upward pressure on Tarmogoyf’s price due to the fetch-wealth of the common man … a topic I’ll elaborate on another time.

Origins

I’m a trader at heart. I honed my trading skills in the first grade, trading Battle Beasts for Micro Machines and graduated to swapping X-Men action figures with my school friends. I would trade the hot character from a given week’s episode or a rare find for three or four other figures.

mu13main

When I picked up my first pack of Magic: The Gathering in 1995, I was hooked. I combined my weekly allowance with my lunch money to fund my addiction, thinking, “Why spend $4 on lunch when I could buy four packs of Fallen Empires?” Ah, hindsight …

It took me a while to stumble out of the awestruck phase of kitchen-table Magic and begin to trade with real goals. On a shoestring budget with an addiction for cracking packs, I traded my way into the power nine in just a couple short years, all while selling cards to negate the need for a part-time job. Obviously, I sold all my power right before college.

Sometime during Shards of Alara, I found my way back to Magic with limited funds and ever-growing ambitions. I had missed out on nearly a decade of the game and needed to fill in the gaps.

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All the cool kids were playing formats that didn’t really exist when I stopped playing in 2000, and I wanted to be one of the cool kids, so I had to acquire some cards.

Finance Style

The most important thing for any budding MTG financier (a term I use loaded with sarcasm) is that there is no one-size-fits-all method. My goal has always been to feed my desires: an ever-moving target that shifts from week to week. When I play Magic, I want to play whatever deck strikes my fancy, a curse that basically requires me to acquire every card I could possibly want. It also doesn’t help that the only thing I hate more than letting people borrow cards is asking people to borrow theirs.

When I’m not playing or writing about Magic, I tend to ignore the fact that Magic exists. I can’t be bothered to follow spikes and crashes day to day—that’s just not for me. I tend to focus on mid-to-long-term price trends. While you’re taking the quick double up on Dragonlord Ojutai, I’m shooting aliens in the face on Destiny. While you’re reading articles about Brad Nelson’s beard, I’m in the garage building furniture.

I rarely sell cards, choosing to unload most of my wares through trades. Long gone are the days that I’ll throw away a weekend binder grinding. These days, I do most of my trading through PucaTrade and with a handful of players and dealers that I’ve developed trade relationships with.

And I’ve done alright:

Humblebrags#humblebrags

If you’re here for the hot tip on the quick flip, I’m probably not your guy. But if you’re here for the tools to help curate your collection for the long haul? Well then, I might be your guy.

Words About Cards?

But you’re not hear to read about me are you? You want to know about Magic cards, don’t you? With the combination SCG Invitational / Standard Open this past weekend, we have a treasure trove of results to comb through for big winners, but are their newly-inflated prices warranted?

Sidisi, Undead Vizier

Sidisi, Undead Vizier – As of writing this article, Sidisi is hovering a little over the $4 mark on TCG with many saying it could easily go to $10. I disagree. Sidisi suffers from a couple things that hinder its potential.

For starters, Sidisi is legendary, so drawing multiple copies hurts, resulting in most decks limiting the number of copies. Being a five-drop that doesn’t have an immediate impact on the board doesn’t help matters, as we’re spoiled by cards like Stormbreath Dragon and Siege Rhino. The card is still playable because Demonic Tutor is one hell of an effect, even if you do have to sacrifice a creature to achieve it. The real killer here is the reality that being a five-mana creature without haste or an effect that immediately impacts the board means that this card is going to be hard-pressed to make its way into Modern or Legacy. Note that if Birthing Pod was still legal, we’d be having an entirely different conversation.

So what that leaves us with is a rare in large set that will see play as a one- or two-of in Standard and in a variety of Commander decks. I am of the mind that this card is going to see a little spike based on on-screen action at the pro tour, but $6 or $7 is about as high as I would expect it to go before dipping back down to $2 or $3 in the weeks following Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

Thunderbreak Regent

Thunderbreak Regent – Now there’s a card that has wings. Thunderbreak showed up as a four-of in a number of red-green aggro decks that performed well this last weekend. I’m sure we’ll see more of this card in the coming weeks, so a $10 or $15 price tag seems very possible as this starts to slot into Jeskai or Temur aggro decks. Being able to drop this into play with a Stubborn Denial for protection does not seem like a bad position to be in.

Dromoka's Command

Dromoka’s Command is a harder one to gauge. Often, prices are spurred by more than just results and utility cards just aren’t as flashy and exciting as dragons or zombie snakes, even if they don’t count as snakes. This card is currently sitting at $6, and it’s obviously going to see play as long as mana bases are reasonably capable of supporting two colors … but it’s just not exciting. It’s a conditional two-for-one that doesn’t outright perform the deed and can be an atrocious topdeck in the late game, so running a full four-of is going to be a lot harder to justify. I can realistically seeing this card settle around $3.

That said, I can see this card showing up in Modern sideboards, so I like foil copies in the long term if you can find them under $10.

Deathmist Raptor

Deathmist Raptor – I might be changing course on my opinion of this card, as I wasn’t a fan at first, second, or even third glance, but the lack of aggressive three-drops in green has long been a problem. The ability to “trade up” with large creatures combined with situational rebuys will ensure this is a strong role player over the next 18 months. But role players don’t hold $15 price tags—I can see this card settling in for the long haul at $10, but I fear it’s probably near its price ceiling now.

Dragonlord Silumgar

Dragonlord Silumgar is a mythic legendary creature that showed up as a silver bullet in Reid Duke’s Sultai Reanimator list. Where I come from, we have a name for mythic creatures that only get played as single copies: Pearl Lake Ancient, though we sometimes call them Torrent Elemental. You can see that both of these cards peaked between $6 and $7 and quickly found their ways downward. Silumgar will likely hold a strong casual appeal, but the dragons of Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir were just not made to be compelling characters that will hold long-term fans . I don’t expect Silumgar to hold onto his value for long, even if he does have a really sweet necklace.

Dragonlord Ojutai

Dragonlord Ojutai is entirely overpriced at $14. This is clearly a powerful card and painfully hard to kill, but then why would you ever need a full four copies? People get entirely too excited at the prospect of playing Esper control decks, and while the hype on this card is partially merited, I can’t find myself getting on board at $14. I would recommend shipping any extra copies of this card you might have.

The Kicker

While you can see that I’m generally cold to this weekend’s breakout cards, and pretty much everything in Dragons of Tarkir for that matter, there’s still plenty of time. Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir is still a couple weeks away and most of these prices will remain relatively stable until then, especially with Easter getting in the way of additional format discovery this weekend.

Until next time, you can find me on Twitter at @GoingMadlem.

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