All posts by Travis Allen

Travis Allen has been playing Magic on and off since 1994, and got sucked into the financial side of the game after he started playing competitively during Zendikar. You can find his daily Magic chat on Twitter at @wizardbumpin. He currently resides in upstate NY, where he is a graduate student in applied ontology.

City of Traders: WMC Review

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Another weekend, another major Magic event. This time around, it was the World Magic Championship. I was rooting hard for Reid Duke, and I’m nearly positive I was more upset at the Engineered Explosives in Shahar’s opening 7 in game 5 than Reid was. Still though, it was a great finals with plenty of tense moments. Many (PVDDR) were dismissing the match due to Aura’s perceived lack of interactivity, complaining it would be boring to watch. What we were treated to instead was an exciting match between two skilled players, with a lot of drama in what draw steps would herald and whether Shahar could win the race. My biggest complaint, beyond Reid not winning, is that he reminded everyone that Auras exists, a deck I was planning on playing at GP Detroit. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.

My first impression while reading through the Standard lists was just how boring they are. When players work together in a team prior to a major event like a Pro Tour, it’s good for everybody involved. They do great jobs of finding the best decks, and we get to see the real power in whatever format they’re playing. There are a lot of Pro Tour players that aren’t in pro superteams though, which leads to a lot more variety of brews (good and bad) showing up. At the WMC however, there are only 16 players. A team of 5 people consists of nearly a third of the room. The result of the players forming these teams was a homogenization of the event: there were five Jund decks and eight UWR Flash decks in the Standard portion. That means a little over 80% of the room was playing one of two decks. That makes for a very bland looking Standard scene, regardless of whether the true format is more diverse. Even Jon Finkel noticed, taking to Twitter to vent his frustration about how Wizards had seemingly phased out many unique deck types such as combo, land destruction, hand disruption, true control, etc.

Financially, basically nothing came out of the Standard portion. It served only to reinforce the staples: Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, Jace, Scavenging Ooze, etc. I don’t think we’re going to see much of anything new or noteworthy in considerable competitive play until rotation. I’m guessing it will mostly be a lot of tweaking of existing archetypes. Brian’s GR beatdown deck was the only Standard deck that was a departure from the norm, but all the financially-relevant cards are already known suspects, so there isn’t much to work with there either.

The more actionable data was found in the Modern portion of the event. The most significant finding was the prevalence of Scavenging Ooze. A full 22 showed up between maindecks and sideboards, which is about 33% of the maximum amount of Oozes that could have appeared. You’ll remember that a few weeks ago I told you how good Ooze would be in Modern. I don’t expect this to be a passing fad either. SCG has jumped their buy price to $12.50, and is currently sold out at $25. The Ooze is here to stay, so get used to it. The ramifications of this will be widespread. One impact will be just making it tougher and tougher for graveyard strategies in Modern. 4x Deathrite Shaman and 4x Scavenging Ooze is going to be the start of so many decks in Modern that showing up with Vengevine, Demigod of Revenge, Life from the Loam, or really anything with considerable graveyard interaction is just asking to 0-3 drop and get food.

Aside: Keep your eye out for any card that gets printed to help protect your graveyard. Think along the lines of a bear that while in your graveyard gives the whole thing hexproof or some such. Wizards may realize they’ve pushed too hard on graveyard hate, and not wanting to blank so many cool cards, may provide some resources for those types of decks. This type of card, if properly powerful, could quickly become a strong card in both Modern and Legacy, but would likely not carry a high price tag during prerelease season.

Other than Scavenging Ooze, I really like Horizon Canopy right now. The card is a fantastic land for any deck that wants to make green and white mana as well as attack. It’s a land that makes both of your colors right away, it helps combat mana flood, it’s used in Legacy, and it’s a Future Sight rare. Grove of the Burnwillows had a second printing, is arguably not as good, and is still $20. The rares in that set have proven that they are completely capable of going wild, and staying there. Case in point:

Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 - Jul 2013.
Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 – Jul 2013.

Horizon Canopy has been ticking up slowly for quite some time, currently at about $14-15. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it jump like Chord of Calling did at some point. $35+ may be a stretch, but $25+ seems plausible. There’s a very small chance we’ll see it in Theros, but if we don’t I expect it to rise the closer we get to Modern season. What makes this particularly safe is that even if it is printed in Theros, it would be with a Modern border. The unique Future Sight border will help the card maintain value even in the face of a reprint. I particularly like Horizon Canopy foils, which could easily be $70-$100+ with a jump.

Financially, the most important but least-discussed piece of information (so far) is the change in the PTQ schedule. Previously, it was Modern at the start of the year, then Standard over the summer, and finally Limited in the fall. Now however, we have this schedule:

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PTQ_seasons

What this means is that starting at the end of this year and through spring of 2014, it will be Standard instead of Modern. Then through late spring and early summer we’ll have Sealed, and Modern doesn’t show up until early summer, where we’ll have it for 11 weeks. Finally the year will finish up with Sealed again through late fall.

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The first major change to consider is the delay of the Modern PTQ season. Originally, we all expected it to start around January 1st or so. This meant that between now and the start of the season, we only had to worry about what was in Theros and the Commander product this November, as well as perhaps any spoilers that slipped out ahead of time. Now though, Modern doesn’t start until June of next year. That is a long ways away, with the entire Theros block being released in the interim, M15 spoilers will be close at hand, and most germane, spoilers of summer product will be available. In fact, do you recognize the date of June 7th from anything else? The Modern Masters release date was June 7th, 2013. The Modern PTQ season begins exactly one year later. This is no coincidence. I bet dollars to doughnuts that we will have or at least will have heard of another Modern supplemental product by then.

The obvious impact of this is that our Modern holds are far more tenuous than they were before. Whereas Fetchlands were an absolute hold before, that is much more in question now. There is a lot of time and a lot of product to go before the PTQ season finally rolls around, and a lot of opportunities for the lands to be printed again. Wizards isn’t going to be turning a blind eye to the most prevalent lands in the format being this expensive. They have shown an eagerness to go after high-value Modern staples already. The rise in price of Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant was a byproduct of Wizards printing too few boxes, a move they have already explained was meant to be overly cautious. I do not expect them to be quite so prudent next time. They now have the data in front of them, and they can more accurately gauge how many boxes they should print of any future Modern product.

Hint: it’s going to be more.

The question then becomes what to do with our Modern holdings. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m still a bit undecided. I’m not rushing out to sell them today, as the threat of additional copies won’t begin to creep up until after the first of the year. It’s really next spring we need to worry about. At this juncture, I am planning on holding until after the first with the calculated risk that they likely won’t go down by then, and have the chance to climb a few more dollars. I’ll probably ditch them in January though, happy to take my profits and unwilling to brave whatever spoilers the spring months may bring. It’s entirely possible the Fetchlands don’t see another printing cycle before the next PTQ season and they all hit $70+, but I’d much rather get out at $30-50 each in January rather than have them show up in MM2 and sell at $20 in July.

The other slightly less drastic result of this schedule change is that there is no longer a Standard PTQ season to keep rotating staples afloat over the summer. Once March 9th rolls around, Ravnica-block Standard staples will quickly begin to decline as PTQ grinders sell off their copies that they no longer need, whereas in the past they would have held them right through till rotation. Expect Standard prices to deflate sooner and faster this coming year than they have in the past.

Two last parting tips this week: Fellow financially-minded writer Corbin Hosler (@chosler88) pointed out on Monday that Shadow of Doubt has quadrupled in the last several months. As an original Ravnica block rare, it could easily climb to $10. The card also has hybrid mana, making it tough to print outside of supplemental product. If you can grab these under $4, they seem quite safe.

Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.
Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.

 And finally, Sen Triplets. This card is now pushing $14. Did you know that?

Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.
Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.
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City of Traders: RTR Pickups

By Travis Allen

A few days ago the most recent SCG invitational wrapped up, the winner – my buddy Erik Smith – piloting Jund and UWR in Standard and Legacy respectively. This is a great chance to see how M14 is doing in finding its place in the format. An invitational is the type of event players are definitely going to be testing and brewing new decks for, which is more work than any given SCG open will typically see.

While Jund may have won, the top 8 Standard lists were 8 separate archetypes. That’s a lot of diversity, and a lot of potential different M14 cards. After skimming through the lists and doing some quick napkin math though, it looks like fewer than 10 or so unique cards from M14 showed up, and roughly 5% of the top 8 lists were M14. That is a pretty minor impact, given that it is one of eight legal sets, or about 12.5% of the format. Scavenging Ooze may have made a huge impact in the way things play out, but there were only about 10 copies across the top 8. What this tells me is that nobody has figured out exactly how these cards fit in yet, and, more interestingly, a lot of the power in the set is hard to find with so many other cards out there at the moment.

I have a feeling that in September we’re going to see a large surge of M14 cards in Standard. There won’t be so many other powerful effects and synergies muscling not-quite-good-enough cards out of the way. This will bode very well for the price of several M14 cards. Pay close attention to what cards seem like they’re almost playable, because if they are, there’s a good chance they will see a solid jump in the fall.

One more thought I had regarding this fall is regarding deck viability. Right now we’re working on the assumption that we will see five or ten manlands in Theros. Assuming that is the case, the mana for the new Standard is, quite honestly, going to suck. At least, it will for any deck trying to be aggressive. Imagine a GW beats deck. You get 4 Temple Garden, then uh…4 Stirring Wildwood? That’s hardly aggressive. 4 Guildgates? Assuming we do in fact get manlands, Mono Red is probably going to be the only stable aggressive deck. This means lots of midrangey and control lists. Cards that may be a little too slow right now, like Advent of the Wurm, may become a lot stronger if people aren’t trying to kill you on turn 3 with Burning-Tree Emissarys.

Stepping back from the fall at the moment, this point in Magic’s lifecycle is a very good time to turn our gaze backwards at what will be the older brother of Standard. M14 just became legal and Theros spoilers are on the tongues of young mages everywhere, while Ravnica block languishes as old news. This is good for us though, because cards that will be major players in a new format are typically at their lowest right now. This gives us a lot of potential profit if we can turn our attention away from the exciting new cards for a few minutes.

These are all cards that caught my eye when browsing the set lists. There’s a lot of room for a lot of growth in here. At least one of these cards will probably grow by 400-700%, so there’s great value in here if you figure out the right card(s). 

Supreme Verdict
Supreme Verdict was the sweeper of choice at the RTR Block Pro Tour, putting 19 copies into the top 8. That is a lot of dead creatures. It’s also the best and only really good sweeper in the RTR block. It sees play frequently in Standard, with most decks that want at least one likely wanting four between maindeck and sideboard. At any given Standard event I would guess roughly 5-10% and occasionally more of the decks in the room have this card in their 75. In addition to being a staple in Standard, both Modern and Legacy have proven receptive to its presence, where the can’t-be-countered clause has been preferred over the can’t-regenerate clause of the O.G. WOG. Terminus was at the exact same price point at this time in that card’s life, and shortly after rotation it jumped to $10+. Supreme Verdict was a buy-a-box promo, but that was hardly printed in enough numbers to have a serious impact on quantity.

Jace, Architect of Thought
Like Supreme Verdict, this card was all over the Top 8 of the Block Pro Tour. Control mirrors hinged on this card and Sphinx’s Revelation, and Jace simultaneously did a great job of blunting aggressive strategies as well. Jace was a defining card of the PT, and there’s no reason to expect it to behave any differently after rotation. It bottomed out early this summer around $10, and has started to climb back towards $13. This is only the beginning, though. $20 is almost guaranteed again within the next year, and if it shows up as a 4-of in several Top 8 lists of an early Theros event, $30+ is conceivable. There is basically no possible way to lose when picking this card up sub-$15.

Lotleth Troll
This card is probably the most mispriced card on this list at the moment. It shows up semi-frequently in Standard, providing a semi-evasive (trample is evasion) regenerating threat that enables graveyard shenanigans. Lotleth Troll is in a good tribe, and he (it?) has shown to be playable in both Modern and Legacy as well. This card may take longer to realize his price potential than others, but I have no doubt that he’ll be well north of $10 eventually. (Disclaimer: this could take a few years.)

Worldspine Wurm
I’m stating right off the bat that Wurm isn’t here because I think he’s part of some absurd combo with the new Garruk, so don’t dismiss me out of hand. Rather, he’s a huge, splashy, powerful creature that EDH and casual players alike are drawn to. Remember that Khalni Hydra is currently $7. He’s not going to be lighting up the tournament scene, but he’s a very safe bet at $1 in trade.

Armada Wurm
I’m currently seeing copies under $3 on TCG Player, which seems crazy to me. Everyone remembers that this is 10 trampling power for 6 mana, right? Even better, half of the card is a token. That means the potential for token abuse is there, but he’s still doesn’t get completely blown out by Ratchet Bomb. This card feels like it’s right on the cusp to me. It may not happen immediately, but I can’t imagine this not becoming a major part of the Standard scene, even temporarily, within the next year.

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Gyre Sage
Another member of the dollar-and-change brigade, this seems like it could very easily live at $4-7. If any sort of Simic/BUG evolve/token/hydra list appears, this is probably part of it. I wouldn’t go super deep, but I definitely like it at $1-2.

Aurelia’s Fury
Remember the hype around this card when it was previewed? It was preselling for well over $20, and has now cratered to sub-$3. There hasn’t been a single noteworthy performance of the card since it was released. However, the card is still a Swiss army knife in that there isn’t really anything it doesn’t do. I don’t think we’ll get through the next year without this making at least a brief appearance and accompanying spike.

Master Biomancer
Similar to Aurelia’s Fury, Master Biomancer was preordering for quite a bit, then did nothing upon release. However it took its sweet time dropping in price, and it only semi-recently made it under $5. The slow descent of this card’s value, as well as its current price tag despite no tournament play, is a testament to the demand for it in casual circles. It has the potential to show up in Standard and skyrocket, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll win in the long term with this casual all-star.

Prime Speaker Zegana
Currently under $3, this may prove to be one of the best card drawing spells post-rotation. Sphinx’s Revelation is probably better overall, but a deck with more presence on the battlefield that wants to commit threats while drawing cards is probably going to be more interested in Zegana rather than Revelation. She’s a home run in EDH as well, so her floor can’t be too much lower. I can’t promise she’ll get there, but $15+ seems very plausible.

Scion of Vitu-Ghazi
This card’s trajectory depends heavily on Advent of the Wurm, and to a lesser extent, Armada Wurm. Remember that Cloudgoat Ranger saw a respectable amount of play in Standard back in the Lorwyn era, and for the decks that would want Scion now, it’s better than Cloudgoat would be. Flashing down an Advent at the end of your opponent’s turn and then untapping and slamming this guy is a lot of power very fast. It will never be more than a few dollars, but at $.20, you don’t have much to lose.

Advent of the Wurm
Late in development, this card was a Mythic, and for good reason. A 5/5 trampling flash for four is aggressively costed, and being a token is usually better than not. Currently under/around $4, this guy is slightly riskier. The floor on him is definitely low – under $1. The reason he’s at the price he is regardless of seeing no play in Standard is a product of expectations, which are based partially on Advent’s status as a 4-of in the PT-winning deck, and based partially on the card’s oracle text. I won’t lie, I think it’s possible to lose on this card. However, I think it’s far more likely that this becomes a real contender in Standard, and easily breaks $10.

Plasm Capture
Mana Drain redux, this is currently under $1. This is one of those cards that I think has a reasonable chance of showing up in Standard, but even if it doesn’t, you’ll still down the road as it appreciates simply for being awesome in EDH/casual circles.

Progenitor Mimic
This, like Master Biomancer, took a slow winding path to sub-$5, and even then only recently sunk that low. I put this in the same camp as Master Biomancer in terms of future value, as well. It’s completely capable of becoming awesome in Standard, and even if it doesn’t, you’ll still do just fine in the long term.

Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
Every year, a red four-drop skyrockets in price. Hero of Oxid Ridge started the trend, and since then, we’ve seen Falkenrath Aristocrat and Hellrider do the same. Right now, the best candidates for this are Exava and Ogre Battledriver. Exava was in the intro deck, so she’s capped at a few dollars, but so was Wolfir Silverheart, and he hit $9.

Deadbridge Chant
Currently about $2, this has seen a reasonable amount of fringe play in Standard since release. If the format moves more towards midrange and control once Theros releases, as I expect it to, this card’s stock only rises. It generates fantastic value in an attrition mirror, and is typically better than just “draw a card” due to it occasionally being a huge mana advantage as well as enabling graveyard shenanigans. It’s also an enchantment, which we may be very interested in down the road. This card could easily be $5 or so if not more while in Standard, and even if it goes nowhere this coming season, I think $1.50 or so is probably the floor, so it’s quite safe to get in on.

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City of Traders: San Diego Comically-Expensive Con

By Travis Allen

This past weekend was the San Diego Comic Con, or #SDCC. We were treated to a wealth of information about Theros, FTV:20, as well as the new Commander product, and that means there’s a lot to digest. What I find most exciting about these events is the opportunity to read between the lines. The information revealed is the first level, which everyone has access to. The utilization of this information to make educated guesses about the future is far less simple though, and rewards those who develop their critical thinking to derive actionable knowledge.

We’ll begin with the most exciting item of the weekend financially: the black planeswalker promos. Hype around these exclusives was big going into the weekend, and presales on eBay were a solid $250. Then on Saturday afternoon, a post on MTGS reported that a mistake had occurred at the Wizards booth, and the entire inventory was already burned through. No more were available for the remainder of the con, and subsequently, there would be no copies available on the Hasbro toy shop website as originally announced. This news quickly made the rounds on Twitter, and the preorders on eBay jumped by $50 within hours. Within 48 hours, presales had climbed by a total of $200, reaching $450 and above. As I write this Monday afternoon, there is exactly one available for less than $500. The fact that they were supposedly going to be available online after the con had helped suppress their value, as people weren’t sure exactly how large the print run was, and many assumed they’d be able to pick up a set or two Monday morning. Running out on Saturday afternoon proved just how scarce these really were, which sent people into frenzy.

One aspect of these that is really going to help push the price is that Wizards has absolutely no compulsion to print more. The cards are available in function in M14, so casual players and grinders alike have easy access to tournament-viable copies. That means these promos are purely collection-grade material, which is made even more obvious by their display-worthy packaging that is even more ostentatious than the Commander’s Arsenal box. The absolutely only thing that may help prevent them from reaching astronomical values is that not all the planeswalkers themselves are really that amazing from a gameplay standpoint, but in a highly limited printing like this, that will barely matter. $500 seems very plausible for these over the next few months, and many are anticipating $1,000 or more in the longer term. This is dependent on whether we see any other special printings like this in the future, but if we don’t see any foil black-on-black walkers again for some time, then $1,000 really isn’t impossible.

One last word on these – I would guess it’s quite possible that upwards of 70% or even more will not be opened. They’ll be stashed in closets to appreciate in value. (That’s what I’m doing with mine.) Very, very few will be opened, and even fewer will appear in trade binders. Remember the comic book Jace? He’s currently $180, and there was no showy packaging to keep him sealed in. Value any SDCC walkers in the wild appropriately.

jace_book_promo

The next largest finance news was the partial spoiling of From the Vault: Twenty.  We mostly saw casual cards, with one gigantic exception: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, who catapulted FTV:20 preorders to over $450 each on eBay. The news of Jace being reprinted was a huge shock to everybody that paid absolutely no attention to anything. For the last few months I’ve been telling anyone that will listen that his appearance as a promo in some fashion was imminent. Even though I’m to understand this announcement tanked his price on MTGO pretty hard, the good news for current owners of cardboard copies is that theirs will barely be affected, if at all. Every FTV release, people fear the original printing of the banner card will suffer greatly in price. There is not a single time this fear has come to bear. The FTV print run is simply too small to have any serious impact on the quantity of the card in question. If anything, the original card value will remain constant while the FTV copy just ends up being worth more. I don’t expect any drop in price of the WWK JTMS, foil or not. The only affect this will really have on the WWK JTMS price is that it makes it a bit tougher for him to see another drastic rise.

How do we feel about this FTV at $450? Because we have precedent, the best way to gain insight is to compare directly to past FTV sets. Currently, the most expensive FTV on SCG is Exiled at $200. The rest of the FTV sets are retailing for $80-$180. While $200 is obviously a fair bit north of the $35 MSRP, it’s barely double the roughly $100-$125 market value it carried around the time of its release.  Historically, it appears that sealed FTV sets maintain the market value reached at release, but are unlikely to even double that number years later. As respectable Bayesians, we need to understand there is only a small chance FTV 20 will deviate from this pattern. The single outstanding factor is that JTMS is bigger game than any other single FTV card in the past. Remember though, if Jace alone ends up selling for $250-300, $150-$200 is a pretty comfortable margin for the other 19 cards to occupy.

“But Travis,” you exclaim, breath ragged, clutching your edge-worn My Little Pony playmat close to your threadbare videogame-t-shirt-adorned tumescent bulk, “foil Jace is $1,000! How could this not be over $800? Also do you have any bacon?” The answer is that FTV foils and pack foils are clearly different objects in the eyes of players. Because there are no non-foil FTV cards, their unconditional shiny nature is less remarkable. Pack foils are special though, as there is very clearly a ‘worse’ version of the card in existence. The easiest way to see this in practice this is to look up Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The FTV copy is around $15-$20. The pack foil is $50. Aside from the different (worse) foiling process of FTV, the cards are basically identical in all but price. The players have spoken, and the small set symbol that adorns the type line is apparently worth quite a bit of money.

I don’t think you have much to lose at $400-$500 for the set, but I think the upside is relatively small given the cost to play ball. I would expect much greater returns on your money from other avenues. It’s worth mentioning that this is all dependent on Jace being the only big fish in this pond. Should Mana Drain or Force of Will appear, which while unlikely is certainly possible, then the numbers would change very quickly.

Next on the docket is the announcement that a new batch of five Commander decks, with 15 brand-new cards between them, will be released in November of this year. The original five sold for MSRP longer than many unique MTG products often do, but ultimately they as well doubled in price. It’s possible that Wizards will issue a larger run this time than last, as these are designed to be a more casual and accessible product than Modern Masters and its ilk, but given their track record with every other sealed product that wasn’t a major set release, I doubt it. These seem ultra-safe at MSRP, with easy upside.

Lastly, and most complexly, is the Theros information. I’m going to address this point-by-point.

  • Theros will not be a multicolor set, but it will have a few multicolor cards. The first thing this says to me is that we will not be seeing filter lands this fall, which I had previously assigned a high probability. I also peg the possibility of Onslaught Fetchlands in Theros at 5% or less. (There are several reasons for this, but the simplest is that I don’t think Wizards wants fetches and shocks in standard. Once they both exist in the same format, a considerable amount of match time is spent just on making land drops, which is obnoxious from a tournament logistic standpoint.) The likely exclusion of Filters and Fetches from Theros leaves me wondering when we’ll see them next. Either the Filters or the Onslaught Fetches seem likely in the fall of 2014, but that means whichever is not has at least 2 years before we see it in any meaningful quantity.

The immediate impact of all of this is that Filters are safer over the next few months than they were a week ago. They’ll probably see a solid rise around Modern season, especially ones that make red mana for Kiki-Jiki or blue for Cryptic Command. (Cascade Bluffs being the real winner.) Beyond that, the only thing that could really hamper their price in the next 12 months other than presence in the fall 2014 set is inclusion in a second modern product. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a second Modern Masters, but I’m not sure it will be as early as 2014. My position on them has changed from sell to soft hold/buy.

  • The block is enchantment-matters. Upon hearing this, the first thing we need to do is scan gatherer for all cards that say “enchantment” or “aura.” My initial scan tells me that both Sundering Growth and Abrupt Decay especially rise in stock. Abrupt Decay functioning as removal for both creatures and enchantments has the potential to be very relevant. I didn’t see a lot else that jumped out at me yet, but I haven’t had a chance to do a full sweep of M14 and RTR to look for possible hidden synergies. It will be important to watch how enchantments in Theros function, as that has the opportunity to change how we value current enchantments-matter cards. Whenever I’m examining cards in light of this type of information, I try to keep Knight of the Reliquary in mind while browsing spoilers. It’s a perfect example of how a card can go from underwhelming to absurd overnight.
  • There will be one future-shifted card in Theros. There’s already been quite a good bit of speculation on this item. The three front-runners I’ve seen mentioned so far are River of Tears, Daybreak Coronet, and Arcanum Wings. At first I really liked the idea of Daybreak Coronet, but then I realized allowing this in standard next to Ethereal Armor seems very dangerous after having just printed Gladecover Scout and Witchstalker. Aura Swap, on the other hand, seems very plausible, and provides a gateway for expensive auras to potentially be playable. What about River of Tears? Well,
  • The land cycle is one players have been asking for. I don’t know about you, but I have never heard someone talk about wanting the River of Tears cycle, or any of the future-shifted land cycle for that matter. None of them are bad per se, but they hardly have the allure of Fetches or Shocks. I’m sure there are people out there that would love to see River of Tears return, but I question whether it’s enough demand that they would announce the land cycle is one players have been hoping for. Keep in mind too that only one card is future-shifted, so it wouldn’t be the whole Future Sight cycle – no Horizon Canopy next to Grove of the Burnwillows.

I’ve been pondering what lands it is they are giving us since the announcement. Players definitely want Onslaught Fetches so that is certainly a possibility, but I will be genuinely surprised if they go that route. Beyond that, what else have players been asking for? Definitely different blends of tri-color lands, but those would hardly be in character for a set that isn’t focused on multicolor.

In fact, the answer sprang to me as I was working through this paragraph – enemy manlands. It’s definitely something people have been wanting for quite some time, and it doesn’t clash with any expectations about Theros. Furthermore, Encroaching Wastes and Burning Earth could both be safety valves in M14 to prevent manlands from getting out of control. As of writing this, I’m quite confident we’ll be seeing enemy manlands appear in Theros.

  • There is a new card type that has something to do with Gods, and it looks like they’re still creatures. I admit that I have little insight into how this could matter from a financial perspective at this point. The only thing that really comes to mind is that the introduction of a new supertype, e.g. Tribal, only increases Tarmogoyf’s stock. Although given that Gods are unlikely to be low casting cost, I would anticipate this interaction to come up rarely at best.
  • There is a new mythic legendary hydra with a cool name (Polukranos, World Eater) and a seemingly-reasonable casting cost (2GG). This to me is another piece of persuasive evidence that Evolve, as well as anything else that interacts with +1/+1 counters is going to be more relevant than we may have originally anticipated. Let’s examine the pieces of the puzzle:
  • Hydras are central to Greek mythology, which is the central theme of Theros. I have no doubt we’ll see more good hydras before the block is finished.
  • Kalonian Hydra exists, and is very clearly the most pushed hydra we’ve seen so far, with Savageborn Hydra also a higher power level than we’re used to on these types of creatures.
  • M14 contains a greater quantity of hydras than we are used to seeing.
  • If you asked someone to guess what color(s) hydras make the most sense in for Magic without prior knowledge of any other Hydra, Green and Blue would probably be their most likely guesses.
  • Speaking of those colors, Evolve is a Blue & Green mechanic that cares a lot about +1/+1 counters. You know what else cares a lot about +1/+1 counters? Hydras.

That is a lot of evidence. As savvy investors, it’s vitally important to recognize early signs to capitalize on potential growth. With all this in mind, two cards seem very capable of being breakouts: Renegade Krasis and Vorel of the Hull Clade.

Renegade Krasis.full

Renegade Krasis is fantastic with a card like Kalonian Hydra, and hydras in general. With Renegade Krasis in play, casting Kalonian Hydra would evolve the Krasis, which will then put another counter on the Hydra, as well as any other Hydras or Evolve creatures you currently control. That is a lot of sweet, sweet value. Hydras can also often come into play with variable amounts of +1/+1 counters depending on how much mana was spent to cast them,  which means you can use them to evolve your team at different points on the curve.

Vorel of the Hull Clade.full

Vorel of the Hull Clade is similar in his application. Not only does he really like bodies evolving so that he can double their counters, he is really into hydras, which are just bonkers with his ability. Imagine untapping with both Kalonian Hydra and Vorel in play. The hydra swings as at least a 4/4, doubling to become an 8/8. Vorel can then double him up to 16/16 on the hydra’s first rumble into the red zone.

Both Renegade Krasis and Vorel of the Hull Clade are under $1 at the moment. They are exceptionally easy to pick up in trades, and both could easily jump past $10 if things shake out in their favor.

Whew! That is a lot to digest from a single weekend. If we’ve learned anything over the last several days, it’s that you may be able to have your entire cross-country travel expense to SDCC next year covered courtesy of Wizards and whatever promo they have at their booth.

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City of Traders: the Fiscal Axis of M14

By Travis Allen

By the time you read this, it will be a few days past the Magic 2014 pre-release. While you were all jammed together with sweaty nerds in the heat of July in card shops without air conditioning, I will have been tanning getting burned on the sunny sand of Myrtle Beach. We’re all back to the real (fantasy) world by now though, and my goal is to provide some additional perspective on the fiscal axis of M14.

Before we take a look at any specific cards, there’s a well-worn point that yet bears repeating: purchasing or trading for cards at this point in the set’s life cycle is almost unquestionably a poor choice through the lens of value. For every Sphinx’s Revelation or Voice of Resurgence, there are a lot more Armada Wurms or Koths. A set’s cards just cannot maintain the price attributed to them during the pre-release period. Anything you buy into is significantly more likely to lose value rather than gain. If your goal is to make money, you have to be exceptionally confident that you’re better at predicting a card’s trajectory than many other very intelligent people attempting to do the exact same thing. About the only time I would really recommend getting in now is if you notice a very powerful, very obscure combo that nobody else seems to have picked up on yet (e.g. Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage.) In general, it is far more prudent to wait several weeks for the prices to settle to reasonable levels, and then jump in. If you’re picking up a playset because you need it to compete, or your goal is to hedge against future price increases, that’s understandable, but speculating this early on is a fool’s game.

A strategy I like to use for pre-releases is to go in with a plan. If I show up without any trade targets in mind, I let myself get caught up in the hype and end up trading for cards that have nowhere to go but down. Instead, sit down and open up the notepad app on your phone. Make a short list of specific cards you’d like to acquire. That way, while everyone else is chattering about the new cardboard, you can be trading your inflated property for under-valued targets that will be rising in coming weeks rather than falling. That said, let’s take a pass through the spoiler and see what catches our attention.

 

Scavenging Ooze

The reason I put this card first is because this card is b-a-n-a-n-a-s oozenanas. I’m convinced that anyone that dismisses its power level has simply never cast it. The ability on this guy ranges from tangentially useful to game-dominating. In his worst matchups, he’s a reasonable threat that keeps growing while the life-gain and graveyard-consumption will be inconsequential. In some of his better matchups, he’ll provide you enough life to race or keep your head above water against aggro. In yet others the ooze will singlehandedly shut down your opponent’s strategy by blanking their entire graveyard. Read Ooze again: it exiles any card, not just creature cards.Granted you only get the +1/+1 counter and the life from slurping up corpses, I don’t think you’ll be complaining when your ooze is happily munching on Unburial Rites or Past in Flames.He’s not a one-ride pony, either. Every girl at the party gets a turn: Scavenging Ooze is going to be even more important in Modern than Standard. Out of the top 16 decks from GP Kansas City, there was exactly one deck that didn’t care about its graveyard at all. Read that again: one out of sixteen decks had no interaction with their graveyard in Modern. The rest had some combination of diverse threats such as Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster, Kitchen Finks, or Goryo’s Vengeance. He’s going to have incidental value against a gigantic swath of the field, and be a severe threat to a significant portion. Here’s another way to appreciate his wide-spread application: in Legacy, Maverick decks cut Tarmogoyf completely for Scavenging Ooze.

What other factors are going to affect the price of the ooze? He was in the first wave of Commander precons, so there’s a small supply of him out there already. He’s also the Steam promo for DOTP, which will definitely help suppress his value. The flipside of that is the quantity of formats in which he is relevant. Most recently, the best parallel I can think of is Thragtusk. He’s a high-utility green creature against many decks, his casting cost is not restrictive, and he’s not a single-copy threat in the same vein as Aetherling. Thragtusk peaked at $30, and spent very little time at less than $10:

Thragtusk. August 2012 - July 2013.
Thragtusk. August 2012 – July 2013.

While there are fewer copies of Thragtusk in circulation, Scavenging Ooze is relevant in every real format. So overall, there will be more copies of Ooze available, but both more and longer-term demand. With that consideration, if Ooze ever gets below $10, I’d start getting in aggressively. I expect his demand will spike once the Modern PTQ season begins and he’s needed concurrently in Standard, Modern and Legacy. Even if for some reason he didn’t rebound while he’s still legal in Standard, he certainly will once M14 rotates and he continues to be a premier 2-drop in Modern.

 

Archangel of Thune

I’m a lot less excited about this card than many in the multiverse are, and I’m seeing conflicting reports. Gerry T thinks she is reasonable, but isn’t too high on her making that much of an impact. Sam Black didn’t even mention it in his set review. Meanwhile, others are hailing her as the venerated Real Deal. The closest thing I can liken Archangel of Thune to is Sublime Archangel.  Both are midrange white angels that want to beat your opponent up, and reward you heavily for having lots of bodies.  Sublime Archangel showed up a little over her tenure, although accomplished nothing of note. Having said that, Sublime Archangel spent months above $20, and only recently slipped below $10. Archangel of Thune is a mythic, an angel, and the type of player that likes angels is likely to like lifegain. Sam Stoddard also pointed out some nifty synergies with things like Seraph Sanctuary. Her usefulness really depends on what sort of methods there are to gain life. A soul warden on steroids in Theros could certainly push her over the edge. Overall, I think $30 is unwarranted, but even if she sees absolutely no play in Standard, she’ll likely be $6-10. With only transient Standard play, $15-20+ is certainly viable. This card is probably the one on the list I am most unsure of.

 

Bonescythe Sliver

He’s currently $2 on SCG. If you can get these for $1 in trade, I’d get in on it. Double Strike may as well be Alpha Strike. It never even has to do anything relevant in Standard to be worth $3-4 at some point due to it being a Sliver.

 

Burning Earth

Plenty recognize this for the gut-wrench-inducing effect it is against some players. I personally remember playing Turboland, ready to untap and unleash a torrent of spells with my 9 lands in play after finally stabilizing against a red deck. Then he cast Manabarbs, and I basically lost on the spot. This will be capable of similar gastrointestinal torment. It’s only $1 on SCG at the moment, but with only a single copy in stock. I can’t imagine ever having to take less than $1 for this in trade, and it could easily be a several dollar card, as it has a distinct chance of transcending sideboard-grade into being main deckable. This will be great to try and pick up as a throw-in from players that remember Manabarbs being a cheap card, forgetting that there were 11 printings.

 

Chandra, Pyromaster

There has already been a fair amount written about Chandra so far by others. Without reading a single word on the card, it’s important to consider the climate into which this card is released. M14 has Chandra’s face plastered all over it. I find it unlikely that Wizards would make her the central theme of a set and then put out another smoldering pile of a planeswalker. My gut feeling is that, like many planeswalkers, she’s better than people are originally giving her credit for. $25 is definitely far too much money to for us to be interested, but there’s certainly a point at which we get in. Gideon, Champion of Justice is $4, and Vraska is $7, so I’d say $5 is roughly her floor. With that in mind, keep an eye out for how she fares in the format, and look closely at anything we learn about future sets that may indicate a greater value in her abilities. There may be a lot more relevancy to “can’t block” in Theros than there is right now. It’s also worth noting that after going all out with her in M14, it’s unlikely they’ll do a complete redesign just a year later, so expect to see the Pyromaster in M15 as well.

 

Elite Arcanist

This card seems like one of the better chances to be a sleeper out of any I’ve seen so far at a mere $1. Several players who are far better than I have gone out of their way to mention how good it seems. In a format where removal is sparsely played, a 1/1 that generates a powerful effect repeatedly is king. It could end up doing nothing, but Dungeon Geists were $1 at one point too, then everyone saw Jon Finkel casting it. I’m not saying this card is Dungeon Geists, but rather we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss it.

Dungeon Geists. Feb 2012 - July 2013.
Dungeon Geists. Feb 2012 – July 2013.

 

Fiendslayer Paladin

$8 seems way too high for this guy, but I like him a lot, and not only because my inner 17 year-old thinks his art is super sweet. He’s not quite protection from Black or Red, but protection from Black and Red removal is still solid. We’ve already had a 2/2 first strike lifelink for WW before, so we’re only paying 1 for the added pseudo-protection. With Doom Blade and Shock in the M14 spoiler, he’s probably going to be safe from a majority of the removal in the format. If in the next few weeks we see Standard shift to all Doom Blades and Pillars and Incinerates, he could be great in 3-drop Hexproof with a pile of mana dorks next to Witchstalker and Geist. It’s also possible that Knight ends up being a relevant creature type in Theros. Watch this guy closely. At worst, you have a playset of sweet-looking Knights.

 

Garruk, Caller of Beasts

I haven’t read as much about Garruk as Chandra, but he seems real legit, and it’s easy to imagine scenarios where he’s just busted. A turn one elf with a Farseek sometime in the next two turns means a turn 4 Garruk, who spits out an Armada Wurm. You could have just cast the Armada Wurm, but now you get a Planeswalker that’s threatening a never-ending stream of action next turn and two blockers to make sure he gets there. There’s also the combo-esque element of him where you’re slamming Craterhoof Behemoths into a board full of elves and Elvish Archdruid, or putting Worldspine Wurm into play seven turns early (at FNM). I’d watch him closely, because if he drops below $10 at any point, a single breakout performance at a GP (likely at the hands of Brad Nelson or Brian Kibler) will quickly double his price.

 

Imposing Sovereign

A 2-mana 2-power creature is always close to castable in certain Standards. A 2-power 2-drop that puts your opponent’s ability to block behind by an entire turn is definitely playing ball.  While very similar to Blind Obedience, I’m guessing that 2-power attacker will be worth more damage than extort in most games. Reading Twitter, I get the impression this card may be slipping through some cracks at the moment. It’s preordering sold out at $3 while I write this, and it seems like it could quite easily be a $5-$8 card depending on how prominent it becomes. I’d watch this very closely, because this is the exact type of card you can get people to under-value in a trade when it starts to sneak up.

Speaking of which, I find it odd that Wizards would print this on the heels of Blind Obedience. It leads me to believe that the “no blocking” mechanic may be particularly relevant in Theros. It’s not limited to just these two cards, either. Blind Obedience and Imposing Sovereign are similar in a sideways manner to Chandra’s +1. Not blocking is shaping up to be available in several flavors at the moment. Sam Stoddard mentioned that the synergy in M14 with the fall set is a lot more subtle than Farseek and Arbor Elf were. Maybe it’s something, maybe it’s not.

 

Into the Wilds

God, I wish.

 

Kalonian Hydra

Zvi Mowshowitz was talking about this card, and when Zvi goes out of his way to discuss particular cards, I pay close attention. It has a lot of hype right now, and is sold out at $30. This number is inflated without any results, so unless it comes thundering out of the gates, expect a pretty rapid crash. As a Mythic though, it will always have the possibility of tripling in price after spiking an event. It certainly is the most competitive Hydra printed so far. It suffers from the MTGS-maligned problem of doing nothing except eating doom blade before your attack phase, but when it attacks, boy does it ever. Don’t forget that this hydra is BFFs with Corpsejack Menace, taking advantage of the replacement effect twice by the time he’s in the red zone, meaning he’s a whopping 24/24 trampler. As far as “do nothing” creatures go, he does nothing until he’s sideways and killing your opponent. Like several other powerful cards without an immediate home, this has the possibility to pull a roller-coaster. Skyrocket pre-release, crash post-release, then spike an event and skyrocket again.

 

Liliana’s Reaver

Cards of this type have historically been too weak to see play by any but the most mindless zombie aficionado, whether because they cost too much or don’t do enough when you finally get them to connect. Reaver has an outside shot at bringing honor to his genealogy though. It gives you another attacker next turn, and makes it tougher for your opponent to fight back by stripping resources. Remember when I was talking about how many ways there were to make blocking less reliable in this format? You’ve also got the semi-hyped Lifebane Zombie to remove any restorative angelic figures that may swoop in unexpectedly ahead of time. This is card I’ll definitely be trying to get as a throw-in during trades. If it goes nowhere, it won’t have cost me much, and if it does, I’ll look like a genius.

Edit: I wrote this bit about Liliana’s Reaver before I realized it was an intro pack rare. I’m leaving my initial reaction to him intact so that you can see the thought process. Let this be a lesson that it’s important to be aware of additional product Wizards is putting out and the impact that product will have on card prices. All in all, that piece of information sets his ceiling a little lower than I anticipated; perhaps around $4-5. Still, there’s room to profit on him as good throw-in fodder.

 

Mutavault

$15 for this card is close to the cheapest it has ever been. Mutavault been a player in Legacy for years. It hasn’t done too much in Modern yet, but that’s to the surprise of many. That format is rather combo-heavy at the moment, but if Wizards decides to push things back towards battling again, it could quickly become a big player. I can definitely see it seeing play in a basic-heavy list alongside Burning Earth. Helping it’s case is that almost any deck that wants one Mutavault wants four. I don’t see a time this card was ever less than $10, so I’d be willing to get in on any copies I could get at that price or lower. Even if it doesn’t immediately rebound, it will in time.

 

Ogre Battledriver

If you untap with Ogre Battledriver, your opponent is in a world of hurt. Can you imagine casting Increasing Devotion with this in play? Hah. It also works pretty well with Young Pyromancer, another card lots of red mages have been chatting about. The biggest hurdle to overcome here is that he’s an intro pack rare, which will set a pretty low ceiling on him. Even so, $3-5 isn’t impossible. If you’re paying almost nothing for him in a trade, I’d go for it.

 

Path of Bravery

I don’t really care for Path of Bravery, but players better than I think it’s worth discussing. I bring it up because at the moment it’s only $2 on SCG. Any lower and it’s a fairly low-risk target.

 

Primeval Bounty

I only mention this card because as I was flipping through the spoiler, saw the art, recognized the card, and in my head guessed $.50. Then I saw it was A) a Mythic, and B) sold out at $8. What? Let it crash to $1 before you pick it up for EDH.

 

Sanguine Bond

Just pointing this out because two weeks ago I told you how to avoid getting hit by reprints, and this card was most assuredly reprintable.

 

Savage Summoning

This is not a $6 card. This is not even a $1 card. Certain players really, really hate counterspells. Don’t be suckered into trading for it.

 

Scourge of Valkas

Look for cheap foils. He will be popular for dragon-centric EDH decks.

A quick note about all five planeswalkers – there is going to be an all-black promo of each at San Diego Comic-Con this weekend. In traditional Wizards fashion with limited-run product, the box of five will retail for the ludicrously low price of $65. It’s going to be available at SDCC, then there’ll be what I’m assuming will be an incredibly small supply available on the Hasbro website following the event. These things are going to be bonkers expensive. First of all, they’re going to be real scarce. Probably Book Jace scarce, who by the way is currently about $180. Second of all, they’re not just a simple alt-art promo; they’ll be the only Magic cards in existence to be printed with this design. On top of all this, not only is it an incredibly unique style, they also happen to be all black, which will certainly appeal to the angsty teen that is still alive and well in the heart of many anime-watching Magic nerds. I fully expect sealed packages to be $500 within about a year, and I see it entirely possible they’ll be $700 or more down the road. The only thing that will prevent these from hitting astronomic prices is that we already know three are virtually uncastable outside of Standard, and I don’t have high eternal hopes for the new Garruk or Chandra either.

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