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.

Pay 1, Tap: Scry 2

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By: Travis Allen

Boy, I get you guys on Christmas and New Years? Excellent! I’m sure, like me, none of you ever do anything fun so you’re all sitting at home reading Magic articles on holidays, right? Guys?

Today is the first, and as the teeming hordes gear up for a what will end up being no more than three weeks at the gym, we gaze outward towards the coming year. January 1st is not a noteworthy date in MTG timelines, but it’s not uncommon for many of us to be thinking a little larger and a little more long-term today. The calendar year is laid out before us, ripe with possibilities and pitfalls. What will the subsequent days hold?

Nine months ago I jotted down the idea for an article about predictions. I never got around to it, and since then one of the notes I made materialized. (Thoughtseize being reprinted somewhere between MM and Theros.) My minor success has spurred me forward, and I’m going to share a few more things I see on the horizon for Magic in the coming year. Keep in mind all of this is probabilistic. If I guess thing X will happen, it just means that I think it’s more likely that it will happen then it won’t, not that it’s a mortal lock.

 

Prediction #1: We won’t see Fetchlands this year, but we’re getting quite close

Magic has this characteristic to it where we’re used to thinking about it on a day-to-day basis. We see cards rise in price in the span of hours and tournament results are constantly turning things on their heads every week or two. At the detailed level, Magic feels like it moves very fast.

Stoneforge Mystic

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Meanwhile, the general arc of the game is very slooooow. We only get new product a few times a year. It’s planned out years in advance. If a deck crops up that’s just far and away too good (CawBlade,) there’s nothing Wizards can do to fix the problem in a meaningful time frame other than ban the cards.

We only get one new theme a year. 2013 was Theros and the Greek thing. If you were sitting around in late March of 2013 and you saw the announcement for Theros and thought “I don’t like Greek mythology,” then you were pretty much screwed for an entire year. The game’s direction was set, and you were going to have to put up with it until Theros had run it’s course. Similarly, any flavor or mechanical direction they choose lives out the same way. On the eve of sets the rumor runs wild, with all sorts of ideas about what cards will be included, mechanics, new Planeswalkers, etc. Then the spoiler is fleshed out and you get what you get. No patch two weeks later to fix a change. No shaving a mana off a card. They’re printed as they’re printed, and that’s that.

The reason I bring all of this up is to help you step back when considering the timeline of lands in Magic. Remember we only get one new cycle of lands each year. One. When the scrylands were shown for Theros, that was it. No enemy manlands. No Nimbus Maze cycle. No fetches. We had to wait an entire year to see what the next land cycle would bring us. While we only see things a few months in advance, Wizards is the one playing the real long game.

This fall will bring the next cycle of lands, and the butts in the folding chairs are clamoring for fetchlands. It feels like it’s been forever since we had them, and the prices reflect that sentiment. As much as many out there want them though, I don’t think we’re getting them this year. Let’s take a look some past land cycles:

Theros: Scrylands
Ravnica: Shocklands
Innistrad: Enemy checklands
Scars of Mirrodin: Fastlands
Zendikar: Enemy Fetches, Manlands
Shards: None
Lorwyn/Shadowmoor: Tribal & Filters
Timespiral: Nimbus Maze/Horizon Canopy/etc
Ravnica OG: Shocklands
Kamigawa: Legendary lands or something? Who even knows
Mirrodin: Artifact lands
Onslaught: Fetchlands

Windswept Heath

That’s the past twelve years of Magic blocks and their respective lands. You can see that we only get “cool” lands every several years. It took three years after Onslaught to get quality rare lands. The original Ravnica gave us shocks, and then it was another four years before we had something special with the Zendikar lands. Filters were there in the interim, but were not particularly popular until much more recently. After Zendikar, you had two more years of boring mana bases until Return and the shocks, well, returned. Now, here we are considering the 2014 mana base. Given the history of lands, do you think Wizards will give us Fetchlands with only a single set between them and the Shocklands? It was seven years after Onslaught that Wizards reprinted Fetchlands. 2014 will be five years after Zendikar. Almost enough time has elapsed for Fetches to return in a fall set, but not yet.

Rosewater has said repeatedly that lands are a precious resource. There is simply not a lot of design space in lands, so they use the good ones sparingly. If they flood us with awesome lands several years in a row, we end up getting used to them. So they dole them out, one cycle every several years, to make the great lands feel special. Shocklands are still in Standard. Do you think as they rotate out, we’re going to be handed Fetchlands? Remember that Fetches are basically the most popular land not on the reserved list. Talk about greedy.

2015 is probably the earliest we’ll see Fetches in a fall set. It will be six years past Zendikar, which is nearly as long as between Onslaught and Zendikar. Demand will be at a fevered pitch quite soon though, so they may be forced to pull the trigger a year early and relieve financial pressure on the cards.

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If the Fetchlands aren’t on the docket, then what is? I do think that the Filters are a reasonable option for this year. They were a notable omission from Modern Masters. They have extremely limited supply, as they were printed before Zendikar, which falls in the pre-DOTP era right alongside the original Thoughtseize. They’re reasonably popular with casual players, great EDH cards, and quite playable in Modern. They’ll also pair well with a year of devotion behind us, as they allow a little more flexibility in casting RR on turn two and 1UU on turn three. 

Graven Cairns

It’s possible we’ll see the Zen Fetches pop up in an auxiliary product this year, but it will be in a much more limited quantity than a fall set release. Maybe they’ll do $70 Modern precons with one Fetch each or something.

And when they finally do reprint Fetchlands in a fall set? It’s going to be the Onslaught ones. If you think Misty Rainforest is expensive, take a look at Polluted Delta. Those were first printed WAY back, when there were roughly thirty people playing Magic. There are so very few copies out there. Reprinting them first will help ease strain on Legacy manabases as well as give Modern players twice as many options, which will have the additional benefit of taking some of the pressure off the Zendikar lands.

Alright, 1200 words in and only one prediction so far. This is going great!

 

Prediction 2: A Standard mythic that is currently under $7 will be $20+ sometime this year

This is hardly a risky call, but it’s a prediction nonetheless. I believe there is currently a sleeper mythic out there that is being overlooked. Will it be Master Biomancer experiencing a surge due to Kiora and her support? Perhaps Ral Zarek will break open Nykthos in the spring set, sending him to $25? Or will it be Heliod, who can be had for under $4 on TCGPlayer, that bursts into the spotlight?

I don’t know which card it will be, but something very cheap in Standard right now is going to be a lot more expensive before the year is over.

 

Prediction 3: By the end of 2014, MTGO will still pretty much suck

We’ll get promises, patches, and untold amounts of complaining on Twitter. The end result will be that MTGO will still not be very good. Unless they hire 200 developers – today – the MTGO beta is not going to be where it needs to be by year’s end.

Prediction 4: There will be another Modern product this summer

The Modern PTQ season this year starts on June 7th, 2014. Modern Masters was released on June 7th, 2013. It’s possible it’s a coincidence, sure. But it’s also very possible that the announcement will be “The Modern PTQ season starts 6/7. Here is a bunch more Modern product.” What better way to kick off the PTQ season than with humanitarian aid full of Modern staples people need?

There’s a lot of things that product could be. It could be Modern event decks. They could simply re-release Modern Masters. Maybe we get Modern Masters Remixed, with roughly 30 cards changed. Or perhaps it’s an (unlikely) full-blown Modern Masters Two. This I don’t know.

 

Prediction 5: Magic growth will slow down

Magic has grown at an absurd rate of 25% a year for four years running. That’s awesome, but that level of growth is unsustainable. Eventually we’re going to be on the other side of that climb, and probably have a heavily-overprinted set as a result. I’m not saying Magic is going to lose players in 2014, but I bet we see that it’s not growing as fast either.

This is going to be something to pay attention to in the long term for anyone with serious money invested in the game. You don’t want to be caught holding 1,000 copies of the next Deathrite Shaman, only to find the game has shrunk a bit and the prices are not rebounding as you thought they would.

 

Prediction 6: I break 500 followers on Twitter

I’m at 482, so this one feels pretty safe. If I manage one follower every three weeks, I’ll get there. Setting the bar high! @wizardbumpin

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Do the Planeswalker Curve

By: Travis Allen

Merry Christmas!

This article goes live on December 25th, which is Christmas for a large majority of my American readers. I didn’t bring you any gifts, but I do have some words you can read about Magic on your phone at family dinner while trying to avoid conversation with irritating relatives that bought you packs of Pokemon.

I’ve become aware of a trend in Planeswalkers lately that I want to bring to your attention. I’m going to say right off the bat that this is hardly conclusive, nor is it particularly revelatory. It’s mostly a pattern I’m noticing, and whether it’s signal or noise, I can’t be sure. In any case, it’s worth being aware of.

Let’s start by taking a look at the price history of Jace, Architect of thought:

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Jace

You see here that  Jace started very high, as all Planeswalkers do post-Worldwake, and dipped all the way down to about $10-$12 early this year. There was a small bump in early summer as speculators got on board, and finally in the fall he rose to ~$25, where he was looking like he could have climbed even higher had Jace vs Vraska not been announced. He now sits right around $20.

Next up, Domri Rade:

Domri

Here is a very similar curve. He dropped to ~$12, then in the fall climbed to $25+. As with Jace, he has settled around $20.

Now Chandra, Pyromaster and Garruk, Caller of Beasts:

Chandra

Garruk

 

I think you’re beginning to see a trend here. All of these Planeswalkers have done the same thing. They dip in the spring to about $8-$12, then skyrocket in the fall. This isn’t exactly new information; lots of cards from the senior block have similar curves. The reason this is worth paying attention to in this case is because the good cards are already obvious. Not many people could have identified Desecration Demon skyrocketing, and only a few saw Nightveil Specter coming. Those rares that see 1,000% increases are notoriously difficult to predict. But the Planeswalkers are easy! They’re huge, obvious, splashy cards. No thinking required. They aren’t going from $.40 to $9, but $10 to $25 is still a good chunk of profit.

This seems to be a newer trend as well. We saw something similar with Liliana of the Veil, but her low was about $18 or so. Other than that, I don’t recall so many Planeswalkers behaving similarly at the same time. It may be that they’ve ironed out power levels of the Planeswalkers a bit, so they aren’t quite as divided between “top five ever” and “not good enough for a casual deck.”

It’s also not happening with every single Planeswalker. While the ones listed above have seen spikes, Vraska and Gideon haven’t jumped yet, and they are both from the Return block as well. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

It seems that we have a fairly clear price curve for successful Planeswalkers. How can we identify them? Well, I’d say the block Pro Tour is a good place to start. Jace was all over the Top 8 of PT Dragon’s Maze, and Domri made a showing in the 18+ points list. Gideon was around, but only in Sideboards, and it doesn’t seem that Vraska showed up at all. Outside of that Pro Tour, Domri and Jace were seeing play, while Gideon and Vraska were not.

Chandra and Garruk are a little tougher to spot, simply because they didn’t have the Pro Tour to show off at. They move a lot faster; dipping within weeks of the core set release, and then spiking in sometime in October. The trick to catching core set Planeswalkers in the future will be watching for ones that seem to perform in the month and a half after release, but before rotation occurs.

This seems to make a rather compelling case that any walker that has had reasonable success prior to their first summer will be a great pickup a few months ahead of the fall set. So far out of Theros we’ve had Ashiok, Elspeth, and Xenagos, who have all seen some amount of accomplishment. Are these the three we should be watching in the fall of 2014, or will the rest of the Theros block dethrone them?

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Needs Improvement

By: Travis Allen

As 2013 winds down, it marks the end of the first year I’ve been operating as a “professional” Magic financier, and by “professional” I mean “for some reason someone pays me to talk about it.” I’ve been doing it in an ever-increasing capacity for about four years now, with being hired by MTGPrice being my foray into the public domain. I’ve really enjoyed the entire experience so far. Being given the platform to write and speak about a topic that engages you during your most valuable of resources, free time, is incredibly rewarding. Finding an activity in your life in which you feel emotionally rewarded is a requirement for a sense of self-actualization, something many of us will seek and few will find during our lifetimes. For me, getting to write and talk about Magic is a step down that path.

Weakness

But for all I’ve gotten out of this field, both monetarily and mentally, I’m still just an apprentice. For each thing I do well, there are several things I do poorly, or even worse, I don’t do at all. Self-awareness and self-criticism is difficult and occasionally painful, but I feel it necessary that each of us is able to confront ourselves and own up to our mistakes and weaknesses. Being able to look back at your body of work and say “this is what I could have done better” leaves you open to critique and ridicule, some of it well deserved. Not all want to face that. In order to improve though, one must be able to accept these faults, admit them, and work to better themselves. At the very least, if you’ve made these shortcomings public then others can take you to task for a failure to do anything about them. A fear of public shaming may not be the most noble motivation, but its power to drive us to action is inarguable.

I have two hopes for this exercise. First, whether through inner motivation or public accountability, I hope to become a better trader, writer, and speculator. This will in turn give me the knowledge necessary to provide more valuable and helpful information to all of you down the road. My second goal is that through my own process of admittance, some of you will be able to recognize similar traits in yourselves. Perhaps your confidence level will rise upon seeing another underperform in the same way you do, or maybe you’ll find a way to improve you weren’t even aware of before. Either way, the end result is ideally the same: Everyone is better off. With that said, let’s see some of the ways I suck.

 

Pay More Attention

This is probably one of my more egregious errors. I write for MTGPrice.com, a website whose front page is a list of cards that have seen price movement in the last 24 and 168 hours. Yet it’s rare that I actually bother to check each morning when I wake up to see what has been active. You would think I would make an effort to look at the website who is kind enough to host my articles each week. There’s a lot of valuable information nested in those gain and lost lists if you’re willing to check them on a daily basis. Cursecatcher has jumped nearly $6 in the last two months, and if I had been paying attention, I could have seen the rise start, talked to others about it, and ultimately made a purchase. Instead, I read about it on Twitter after it was already over $7 and too late.

Cursecatcher

If you don’t do your homework, you can’t make money riding price waves. Reading about cards in articles is often too late unless it’s purely a spec call, and even Twitter often only gives you a window of a few hours. Sometimes you don’t even get that luxury, as the only people who saw the card rising kept their mouths shut so they could capitalize. In order to catch cards before they jump, I need to be watching closely and be open to buying into types of cards I normally gloss over because I know less about them. That leads nicely into my next problem, which is that I need to

 

 

Knock it Off With Pet Cards

I think we probably all do this a little bit, but I’ve become very aware of doing it myself in the last few months. As a player, I have a real affinity for green. I’m not entirely sure why, as I tend to deviate towards combo rather than beatdown any time I have a constructed PTQ or GP. It’s probably just a combination of loving to put lands into play and cool looking creatures.

Whatever the reason, I find myself frequently gravitating towards green. When browsing trade binders, I always pay special attention to the green pages. A disproportionate number of the cards in my spec box have green mana symbols somewhere. I’m more likely to pay attention to your case for a card if it’s green.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with preferring one color over another, but when that personal bias seeps into your business practices enough to result in potentially negative influences, you need to take stock. I’m more likely to make bad purchases (Vorel of the Hull Clade?) if they’re green, and less likely to buy into good opportunities if they aren’t. This bias will cost me money in two different directions. If I’m going to improve, I need to be willing to move on not just Simic cards, but Rakdos, Boros or Izzet as well.

 

Do More Research

Several months ago I read Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise” and found the book quite interesting. (It was an excellent read, and if you enjoy the MTG market, you’re sure to find the material intriguing and relevant. I’ll be covering it more in a future article.) One thing that struck me about his baseball statistics breakthrough was that the information had been there for quite some time, available for anyone, but it wasn’t until someone really dove in and applied fundamentally good math that real knowledge became available. The information was just sitting there – how come nobody was capitalizing on it?

Advent of the Wurm

I find myself in the “not doing anything with it” camp more often than I’d like. I bought a bunch of Advent of the Wurm, and someone almost immediately informed on Twitter that it was in an event deck, which would surely suppress it’s price. (Hey look, there’s that green bias.) Oh. Whoops. If I had taken two seconds to look that up, I probably wouldn’t have bitten that particular bullet. If I spent some time doing price history analysis, looking for past behavior of similar cards, and digging in to buylist spreads, I’d definitely be further ahead than I am now. Instead, half the time I have reason to consider a card, I look up the price on a few websites, think about it for a few minutes (seconds), then make a decision. Hardly the most informed approach.

 

Take My Own Advice

At some point in the past, I believe I mentioned on Twitter that people should really be grabbing Mutavault, because it was $12 and highly likely to climb. Even if I didn’t say it out loud, I know for a fact I was thinking it. But I kept putting it off and putting it off, and here we are now, with Mutavault at $26 and I have a whopping three copies. I’ve felt similarly about Domri around the same price point, yet failed to purchase any myself, again missing the boat.

9990081

It’s possible that some amount of this is only seeing the calls I missed, and not the calls I connected on. Perhaps, perhaps. However, I seem to recall without any real doubt that both Mutavault and Domri would rise in price. There was basically no way they couldn’t. I think I hesitated to make the move because the price of entry was higher than I’m comfortable with. I’m completely ok buying into my hunches when the cards cost $.30, but much less so when they’re $12, even if the $12 card is a far better bet. In the future, I need to be more willing to make commitments to calls I’m sure of with less worry about the cost. If I’m that sure the card will rise, then the initial expense shouldn’t matter because I’ll come out ahead regardless.

This is only a few of my shortcomings when it comes to buying and selling Magic cards. There are definitely plenty of others, but I’m not sure my fragile ego can handle much more for now. In the meantime, I’m going to focus on improving this small selection. I encourage all of you to consider similar reflection.

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Dallas the Tundra and Cheap Standard Cards

This past weekend was Grand Prix DFW, and the entire experience was marred by an Ice Storm. Roads were covered in sheets of ice, three hour drives dragged into the tenth and eleventh hour, and Twitter told the story of pro after pro giving up and going home after their umpteenth cancelled flight. It resulted in an abnormally small GP, warping the field to be considerably soft, as many professionals were unable to attend. Ice Storm

The top eight had the word “Mono” in it a bit less than previous GPs, but we still saw devotion to black make an appearance, as well as a nearly-mono red devotion list. The winner was Marlon Gutierrez’s Orzhov control deck, which looked a lot like Esper just without blue and a ton more removal and discard. He was packing the full set of Blood Barons in the main deck, hoping to capitalize on his resistance to much of the popular removal and significant lifegain capabilities.

Blood Baron was $7 at one point before everyone collectively realized what the card said and he was $20 almost overnight. He’s now down towards the $18 range, and hasn’t see any real bump from GPDFW. I think it’s possible we’ll see him tick up a little bit in the near future, but I would be surprised if he climbed above $22 or $23. He should crater pretty hard by the time rotation rolls around, at which point you should be willing to snag plenty of copies, as casual demand will keep him up for years to come.

Desecration Demon and Pack Rat made their usual appearances in both the winning list as well as the black devotion list, and continue to hold strong at $10 and $3 respectively. Don’t be afraid to ask for real cards in trade with Pack Rat these days. He’s in everything, and if people want to use it, they should expect to trade away relevant cardboard.

Hero’s Downfall was popular again, but like Blood Baron, didn’t see any real movement based on the results of the event. The next North American Standard GP is in late January, which is where many role-players like Downfall will see a rise in price if it’s going to happen this season. Trade for them now at $10, and don’t be in a rush to ship them.

Mutavault was everywhere again; no surprise there. Get used to it, as it’s going to be in 50% of top eight manabases until September. It’s now easily $25, a few dollar increase from the last time I mentioned it a few weeks ago. The ceiling is probably around $30, which I’m guessing we’ll brush our heads against during January or February. If it wasn’t rotating this fall I’d peg it to go even higher. At this point, that’s all that will keep it from being a $40 rare.

Supreme Verdict

While there wasn’t anything I would really call a breakout performance, UW certainly made an impressive showing after being rather quiet lately. Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Detention Sphere were out in force, with a healthy amount of Jace and Elspeth rounding out the package. Jace has rebounded to $20 after slipping as low as $14 after the JvV announcement, at which point people noticed the release date said “May” and stopped the firesale. Like Blood Baron, I can see him ticking up a few more dollars, but I don’t think we’ll see him crest $25, especially with a very clear date of auxiliary supply on the horizon. Elspeth has lost a ton of value lately, falling to $20-$22. To her credit, It took awhile for her to get there from her prerelease days of $35. I would guess we’ll see her continue to decline through the summer, and late next fall we’ll see a resurgence.

Sphinx’s Revelation should behave similar to Jace and Blood Baron at this point; that party has mostly come and gone. Keep in mind that it will probably drop of the face of the earth come September, as it’s not good enough for any other formats, and is hardly a “cool” card. Don’t get stuck holding the bag. Meanwhile Detention Sphere is also still seeing a lot of action, and I’m hoping its price reflects that in the near future, mostly because I bought 30 or 40 of them before they announced the event deck. I hate event decks.

Supreme Verdict seems low to me right now, especially given how much devotion decks play on the battlefield. By the way, did you happen to notice that MTGSalvation put the three Scrylands from Born of the Gods in their spoiler? It includes the UW land and the GW land. That bodes very well for Verdict, and Bant in general. On top of that, Verdict will continue to remain relevant in nearly every format even after rotation, so this is a strong pickup $4-$5. Even if it doesn’t hit $10 during this season, a number which seems entirely plausible, the floor shouldn’t be much lower than $3 or $4.

xenagos

Lately while keeping abreast of cards I’ve seen a lot of powerful effects that are considerably lower than I realized, and I want to put some of them on everyone’s radar. First of all, have you noticed that Xenagos can be had for as little as $8 on TCG? That is very low for a Planeswalker that just put two copies into a top eight that was very soft to a pile of satyrs. I’m not saying he’s going to pull a Domri, but there is no way he stays this low forever.

Continuing in the trend of underpriced Planeswalkers, Ashiok too is quite affordable, with plenty of copies under $9. He’s already proven his chops, so we know he’s at least capable. Given how popular both mill and Planeswalkers are with casual folk, there’s no way he doesn’t rebound at some point. Grab your copies and hang on. And if you’ve got a little extra cash this time of year, might I suggest some Korean copies? Visions of Meloku.

I see two copies of Chained to the Rocks available for $.44 cents each right now, with quite a few under a $1. That’s awfully cheap for a very powerful removal spell; just barely above bulk. Mizzium Mortars is a $3 card. Is Chained that much worse? It’s hard to say without knowing what the lands will be next fall, but I would be awfully surprised if those wrought iron chains don’t end up costing more than pocket change at some point. Purphoros, God of the Forge

Speaking of rocks, Purphoros is down in the $7-8 range. Ok, I wasn’t really speaking of rocks, but whatever. Overall he was the most expensive god during the prerelease season because of an obviously very powerful triggered ability. We haven’t seen much come of it yet, but there’s a whole lot of time for him to matter yet. Keep in mind too that not only could he become a legitimate force in Standard, that ETB trigger is ripe for bashing people with in more combo-oriented formats. How about a Genesis Wave deck? Or some sort of elf brew? I don’t claim to know the best way to go about it, but it’s possible we end up seeing him in decks that never plan on turning him on in the first place.

Speaking of gods (hey that time it worked), Anger of the Gods is easily purchasable under $2 these days. I wouldn’t be rushing out to purchase them at the moment, but this is a legitimate sweeper with a powerful clause. Firespout has seen a lot of play in Modern, and Anger may manage the same. That exile clause may be mostly irrelevant in Standard unless its sweeping away weird leaf-deer things, but it matters quite a bit in older formats where Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and Scavenging Ooze are mainstays.

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