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.

The One Where Wizards Makes Me Look Stupid

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By: Travis Allen

It’s Christmas time for us Wizards. The fall set always brings with it a crackling excitement of new spoilers each day to be dissected at FNM and on Twitter, with thousands of players trying to break the card in each available format. Many stay up until midnight eastern to see the new spoilers that hit from non-WotC sites, and those of us at work at 11am each morning are F5ing DailyMTG for the official spoilers. It’s hard not to be swept up in the collective thrill of the community.

I suppose a more appropriate metaphor would be Hanukkah, right? We don’t have a single night of hundreds of spoilers, but rather, a little bit doled out each night. We even have a Candelabra. That sounds more accurate than Christmas, really.

This weekend was Pax, and they lit a big ol’ present candle at the Magic party they have there every year. (Annual reminder: Don’t go to Pax.) A bunch of cards were spoiled, including a ridiculous Jeskai Khan, a legitimate-looking Sarkhan Planeswalker, and, the subject of today’s article, the Onslaught fetches.

Let me begin by saying I’m sorry. I’ve been spending months talking about how I didn’t think the fetches would be in Khans. If you got burned on this reprint because of my advice, I really do apologize. If it makes you feel any better I’ve got a bunch of Zendikar fetches in my possession, so I’m getting gotten by this just the same.

The decision still seems odd to me, honestly. There’s no mechanic to really support their presence. Sure they work with delve, but what doesn’t work with delve. As long as you’re playing Magic, you’re fueling delve. Morph doesn’t care about fetching. Prowess and raid and outlast don’t. They even chose what feels like the wrong fetches. This block is all about wedges – RUG, UWR, etc. With the allied fetches, for RUG we only get RG. If we got the enemy fetches we would get both UR and UG. Basically what I’m saying is that they really seem shoehorned in. I’m guessing they weren’t originally planned for the block, but Wizards made the decision sometime possibly late in design or in development that they needed to put fetches in. It was brought to my attention that apparently the fetches were the first cards in the set. This doesn’t change the fact that they feel out of place. I’m guessing they make more sense once we get to the end of Louie.

Regardless, this is the world we live in. The Onslaught allied fetches are on their way and we need to decide what this means for our existing Onslaught copies, as well as what’s going to happen with the Zendikar fetches.

Lucky for us there is some precedent for expensive old cards being reprinted in Standard. We don’t have to turn our gaze past Standard to see both Thoughtseize and the Shocklands. Let’s check out the Lorwyn printing of Thoughtseize. The red strips indicate Modern PTQ seasons.

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According to Wikipedia Modern was announced back in the spring of 2011, so our graph starts off with people knowing about Modern as a format. Thoughtseize was in the $30-$40 range at the time. At the start of the PTQ season it skyrocketed towards $60, and lived at $60-$70 until Theros released. It slowly dropped back to it’s pre-PTQ price of $30-$35, which is where it is today. The reprint clearly had an affect on the price of the card, although you’ll notice that the price today is not really much lower than the price of it before it saw a massive spike thanks to a PTQ season.

Hallowed Fountain didn’t fare quite so well.

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It was floating around $30 at the start of 2012, which is right about when we would have gotten the announcement that the fall set that year would be Return to Ravnica. Shocks would have been clearly evident at that point. You see a slow decline starting around the fall of ‘12, and they’ve since leveled off to around $15 or so.

The behavior of the rest of the shocks is mostly similar, although Hallowed Fountain and Watery Grave seem to have gotten the worst of it. The original printings of Temple Garden and Stomping Ground have lost only maybe $5, and Sacred Foundry doesn’t appear to have moved at all. It seems that the inflated blue shocks (Fountain, Grave, Breeding Pool, Steam Vents) lost the most, but the non-blue shocks didn’t see more than maybe a 40% loss.

Let’s analyze our data a bit at this point. When Thoughtseize was reprinted it was cut in half from its current value, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. With a longer timeline in view, it would be incomplete to say that it was simply a case of the card losing half it’s value. A more accurate description would be that the reprint reversed the doubling of the price the card had seen about a year earlier. I think it would be safe to say that while Thoughtseize being reprinted certainly didn’t help the price, at the end of the day it didn’t really have that much of an impact on the original copy.

Here’s another way to consider the price change. The original copy of Thoughtseize has a variety of types of demand. There’s the demand from people that want the first printing, demand from people that think the old art looked better, demand from PTQ grinders, etc. There’s a quantitative amount of demand and it can be segmented into types. When the reprint occurred all the excess PTQ grinder demand was chopped off. The card lost all that extra ‘fat’ demand it had acquired from people that just needed to cast it competitively. It still retained all of it’s other demand. The doubling from $30 to $60 was all competitive demand. The rest of the price was legitimate, sustainable desire for the Lorwyn copy.

Hallowed Fountain behaved a bit differently. The price on Dissension copies today is about twice the RTR copy, so clearly there’s still some amount of demand for the first printing. That doesn’t mean it didn’t take a beating when the reprint hit. While it was $30+ ahead of RTR, it’s now only about $15. This would be pretty damning for the Onslaught fetches as a whole if we didn’t consider the other shocks as well. The non-blue shocks lost between zero and forty percent or so, which is not too severe a loss when you consider how many extra copies hit the market in RTR.

Thoughtseize and the Shocklands indicate that Onslaught copies will take a loss, but we aren’t quite sure how much. Let’s take a look at the price graph of the most expensive of the five, Polluted Delta.

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That is some pretty wild growth. We see the price more than double from the spring of ‘12 to early this summer, and it’s still holding a solid $80 even after losing a chunk in the last two months. A growth in price like this immediately makes me think of the Thoughtseize jump at the start of the PTQ season. If you drag this graph out another year into the future, what do you think it looks like? Where do you envision it landing? Which price plateau is the “real” one?

One thing that split Thoughtseize from the shocks is playability. Of course both were extremely playable in Standard and Modern, but Thoughtseize went beyond that into Legacy and even Vintage. There is additional playability demand for Thoughtseize that didn’t exist for the shocks. That extra layer of competitive demand provided insulation for Thoughtseize’s price that the shocks didn’t get.

These new fetches will absolutely behave similarly to Thoughtseize, except even more so. Ally fetches will be required for Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, EDH, and Cube. Really, who doesn’t want them? Greater demand across the board will help the old copies stand up to a brand new batch much better than if they were only a two-format card.

Here’s another factor that was in play to an extent when Thoughtseize was reprinted, but not as drastic as it will be now. Have you seen the new fetches? Like, seen what the cards look like?

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Those…do not look that hot. The Flooded Strand is sort of cute, and the Bloodstained Mire is by talented artist Daarken, but overall I would say these are not visually impressive lands. I’m not alone either. Upon reveal Twitter blew up about their inclusion in Khans, but the first things I was reading beyond “omg fetches!” was “hey these are kind of dumb looking.” Compared to the the original lands there is a stunning difference in appearance.

windsweptheath1

The aesthetic of the old cards is remarkably different from the new copies in a way that neither the shocks nor Thoughtseize experienced. With a distinction in appearance this strong, there will be a real incentive for aesthetic-oriented players to seek out original copies. A real layer of demand is going to exist from this characteristic alone. I’m partial to old borders so I’ll of course be using the original ones where I can, but even players that are unbiased may find themselves drawn to the original copies. This type of demand is something that cannot be sated by additional printings. For players such as myself, it doesn’t matter how many times Windswept Heath is printed – I only want to play with the original. We’ve seen it on Thoughtseize with the fairy art, and we’re going to see it even more here.

It’s difficult to put a number on this since Wizards doesn’t officially release any of this data, but another quick item to keep in mind is that the original Onslaught fetches were printed less than both the original shocks and the original Thoughtseize, meaning there won’t actually be that many original border copies.

Taking everything we know into consideration, what happens with all of our original Onslaught fetches? It seems clear that they’ll be dropping in price, but the question is by how much. I’d hazard a guess that we’ll see Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand land north of $40, but I’m not exactly sure where. I would expect anywhere between $30-$60 to be plausible, and $40-$50 to be a reasonable expectation. The other ones will move, but not by as much. I’d guess that Windswept Heath, Bloodstained Mire, and Wooded Foothills, all about $40 right now, don’t drop below $25 or possibly even $30. These are all educated guesses though, and I’m not promising anything. There may be factors I’m missing or unforeseen changes that will alter these trajectories in ways I can’t predict at the moment.

Foil Onslaught copies are only going to rise, not fall. Damnit.

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What do we do with this? I’m personally holding onto my original copies. Playing with the old border is worth it to me. If you don’t care, I’d look to move them ASAP. Keep the prices in mind that I outlined above, and as long as your trade/sale looks good with that information, go for it. Don’t be afraid to offer a discount on the $80 retail price of Polluted Delta today if it’s going to be $50 in three weeks.

If that’s what’s in store for the original copies, how about all the new ones? Well that’s a lot easier to answer. You won’t see in-print rares from a fall set, especially a cycle of five, get too expensive. I’d guess our maximum is about $15 each. If that sounds too low, just do a little math. You average over three of each rare land in a single box. At $20 a piece, three lands would make up well more than half of the value of the box. There’s no way the box prices will support those numbers on rares. I’d say we’ll see prices hover between $7 and $15, with each taking turns at the higher end of that as they see their time to shine in Standard. Bloodstained Mire should consistently be the cheapest one, and Polluted Delta/Flooded Strand will pretty consistently be near the most expensive. The Zendikar fetches averaged maybe $10 each while they were in Standard, so that sounds like a comfortable place for these to live.

The best time to get the fetches will be a month or two after release, just like with most rares. There will be an extended period of increased demand as Modern and Legacy players seek to fill out their sets but by the time we hit Christmas that should quiet. They’ll probably be cheapest sometime next year, but nobody wants to wait that long. Feel free to start grabbing your non-foil copies around October if you’re impatient, and December if you can wait. If you’re looking to score foil copies, the best time to buy is also easy. It’s now. Take a look at the price graph for foil Breeding Pool.

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Trends for the other shocks are comparable. The foil copies tend to be lowest immediately after release and see very slow to no movement for a few months before they finally start to creep up. I’d say that grabbing foil copies ahead of Christmas would be your best bet. They’ll probably be rather expensive, but that’s the nature of a cycle like this. People will want foil copies for their Cubes, EDH, and Legacy decks.

Now that we’ve covered the Onslaught fetches pretty thoroughly, let’s turn our attention to the other five: the Zendikar fetches. What does this reprint mean for them?

Well it’s not great, that’s for sure. Currently the Zendikar fetches are as expensive as they are because not only do they have that playable demand from nearly every format, they’re also the only fetches legal in Modern, the largest format that fetches are played in. Way more players are taking one in Modern than Legacy these days and there’s currently only five ways to do it. Adding the ally fetches is going to double the number of choices for Modern players.

This is going to be what does the most damage to the Zendikar copies. Why would Johnny Random Shell out $60 apiece for Scalding Tarns when he can get Polluted Deltas and Bloodstained Mires for $10 each? Sure the Tarns are better for his deck, but are they six times as expensive better? That’s a question everyone has to answer for themselves, but I bet for a large majority of players the answer is “hell no.”

There will still be plenty of places you want the enemy fetches over the ally fetches. Any three-color deck is going to be in the market for at least a set of enemy fetches still, and possibly two sets if it’s a wedge rather than a shard. Still, no longer being the only game in town is just going to be too hard for them to weather in the near future. Consider the enemy fetches in the same way that I presented Thoughtseize earlier. There’s an existing layer of demand ‘fat’ from being the only legal fetches. While there’s still other types of demand that will help keep the price up, that entire chunk of demand is about to be excised.

One thing going for the Zen fetches is that their supply will still be limited. While the ally fetches are going to flood the market, there aren’t any more Misty Rainforests now than there were six months ago. Less people will need them, but those that do need them will still be in the market for them. While many will make do with the inexpensive ally fetches from Khans, plenty of players will continue to insist on having exactly the right ones for the deck. We may see a small surge in the number of players looking for enemy fetches as well. Up until now, people have put off Modern because the mana was too expensive and they didn’t want to deal with it. With shocks readily available and a fetch reprint only a few weeks away, the format suddenly looks wildly more accessible. Once these players start jumping into Modern they will inevitably start looking to fill out their fetch collection with the enemy copies, even if it is only just one or two for a specific deck.

The long and short of it is that even though it isn’t all doom and gloom for the Zendikar fetches, it’s still a bad time for them. If you have extra copies (like I do), I wouldn’t hesitate to move them if the prices stay somewhat stable over the next few weeks. If you can get reasonable offers for them now, take it. However if there’s a huge market crash and they lose 60% of their value, don’t sell. It’s not uncommon for the market to overreact to this type of news, and the devalued cards often quickly rebound as players start snatching up now under-valued copies. In the case of a crash, hang on and wait it out until after prices rebound a bit. Watch buylists to see how vendors are reacting; that will give you an idea of how the market is handling the news. Today, September second, Misty Rainforest is still getting $40 and Scalding Tarn $45. Those aren’t any lower than they were a week ago.

With this news, when is the next time we’ll actually see Zendikar fetches? I hear some people talking about seeing them later in the block, but that sounds rather silly to me. With their printing, the mana will be even across enemy and ally pairs. There’s all ten Scrylands, five enemy Painlands, and now five ally Fetchlands. Adding more fetches would push the balance back towards enemy pairs.

Assuming there’s a Modern Masters 2, which we are operating assuming that there is, they’re a good choice for that release now. I’ve claimed before that I didn’t think we’d see Zen fetches in MM2, but that was before the ally fetches were in Khans. With the Khans reprint, it takes a lot of pressure off Zen fetches, which means Wizards isn’t in a situation where they need to flood the market with more copies. A more limited release via MM2 would be perfectly acceptable. If we don’t see them there, then I’d say any fall set after Khans is conceivable. It’s hard to say for sure until we get closer. For right now assume an MM2 release is possible/probable, and if they’re not there, then who knows.

One more topic I’m seeing discussed a lot – what does the printing of the ally fetches do to Modern? Their appearance will likely see a surge in the overall index of the format. When format staples drop in price due to an event like this, currently under-priced cards tend to jump. Cards like Leonin Arbiter had trouble climbing in the past because the barrier to entry on mana was so high. Nobody wants to shell out for Arbiters if they spent a fortune getting the mana together. Once the mana is accessible more people start buying Arbiters, and the price begins to rise. As a result of the mana getting cheaper, the rest of the deck corrects in response.

We’re also going to see a flood of new players enter Modern now that they’ve got both cheap shocks and fetches, which is going to put a greater demand on the already constrained copies of many format staples such as Clique, Spellskite, Goyf, Celestial Colonnade, Snapcaster, etc etc. This is probably the biggest impact the fetches will have on Modern (and Legacy, to a lesser extent). Players that have been priced out of the format up until now are suddenly going to be capable of diving in. Add in that Modern will be playable at PreTQs year round and you’ve got a recipe for price jumps across the board.

Beyond that I don’t see the addition of the fetches doing much specifically. The mana in Modern is already so good I can’t imagine these suddenly opening the floodgates for decks previously unplayable. It’s not like there’s some list out there that’s just waiting to become a tier one contender that has only been held back by the lack of Wooded Foothills in the format. Some matchups will change by a few percentage points in certain situations, and Blood Moons may become marginally less effective in a few places as fetching basics gets easier, but overall I don’t see sweeping changes to the format. What’s more likely is that many tier two decks (and worse) become over-represented as people assemble affordable mana bases without actually having the rest of the deck. Sure you can build any mana you want with your RTR shocks and your KTK fetches, but you’re still going to have to cast something with them. Players that don’t feel like shelling out for Liliana of the Veil may find themselves playing all sorts of more off-the-wall brews that could put additional demand on cards currently in the fringe. Those are probably the types of cards that in terms of percentage of growth do the best as a result of all of this.

There you have it. In short, the original Onslaught fetches will drop but they won’t crater. Foils will go up. New copies won’t be more than $10-!15. Zendikar fetches will drop. Don’t expect any new Modern decks, but the general Modern index will rise.

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Magic is dead. Long Live Magic.

By: Travis Allen

This summer has been a particularly quiet one for those of us into the Magic market. I haven’t gone digging through my bulk rare box for spikes once, none of the stuff in my spec box has moved, and Modern prices have stayed flat. Overall it’s been real boring for most of us, and everyone has been looking forward to the fall for some exciting changes.

Boy are we getting them.

Unforeseen Consequences

First off, read this article. Read every word on the page. Do it twice if you have to. It’s probably the most important words about Magic that have been written and will be written this year. (This entire article assumes you’ve read that one.)

I’m going to stick these here so that we can keep staring at them while trying to grasp what is happening.

This is clearly a massive change to the game. Not only will this affect things on the surface, such as length of format legality, card availability, and format demands, it will have smaller, quieter effects as well, such as design and development decisions, manabase concerns, and reprint ramifications. We won’t fully be living in the new world until the fall of 2016 which means it’s going to take years before we fully appreciate the impact this is going to have on the game and markets. We’re not the only ones that have to wait awhile to see how it all plays out either. Wizards will be watching closely, and like all major changes they roll out, expect some tweaking to the system after a few million players push it from every direction.

Given how long it’s going to take to fully get into the swing of the new system, along with the likelihood of Wizards making some additional changes along the way, we won’t really know how the markets will react for years. Myself and plenty of others will be making some educated guesses over the coming weeks and months, but I don’t doubt there will be plenty of fallout that will be nearly impossible to see from here. For instance, as I mentioned at the start of the article, typically the summer months have a drought of interesting market movement. Will a brand new block hitting in May change that entirely, or are people truly tied to the game seasonally rather than by a set release schedule? There’s no way to know for sure until we get to that point.

Another major unknown will be the way inference and speculation is conducted. Right now, everyone making decisions based on educated guesses about the future leans heavily on the known block model. For instance, take Ravnica block. Once we knew that we were going to be returning to Ravnica back in early 2012, you could make a fair assumption that shocklands would be in the block. If that was true, then the next leap was that the fetchlands wouldn’t be printed in Standard until at the earliest fall of 2014. Why? You quite reasonably figured it unlikely Wizards would print fetches and shocks alongside each other in Standard. Knowing that shocks would be in the upcoming Ravnica block in the fall of ‘12, it was clear then that fetches couldn’t be printed in the expansion the following fall, meaning that the earliest you could see them was fall of ‘14. For a sense of scale, this means that back when Delver of Secrets and Green Sun’s Zenith were legal you could have predicted the earliest date at which fetches would be printed again was two and a half years away. Knowing that, you could make trades and buys feeling confident that there wouldn’t be a major printing of the cards anytime soon. All of that information was derived simply from a thorough understanding of how the block structure worked, as well as experience with how Wizards treats Standard.

Those same types of logical inferences will be available to us eventually, but it’s going to take some time to figure out. For instance, is Wizards going to put a rare land cycle in every block? That would mean three big land cycles would be in Standard at any given time, which is a lot of mana. Are they going to do every other block? How are they going to approach flavor-specific reprints, such as Urborg, Tomb to Yawgmoth? What about cards whose power level they’re concerned with? In the past, some of the most dangerous cards are printed in the spring set because they have the least amount of time to potentially ruin Standard. That won’t really be a method of controlling overpowered cards anymore, since everything will be legal for roughly the same amount of time.

A great deal of information we use to make informed purchases and sales on a daily basis comes from understanding the block rotation model and what Wizards is willing to print where. With this major change that’s all getting turned on its head. Our ability to confidently make predictions about what will and won’t happen is going to be hampered for quite some time.

Moving on, let’s take a closer look at those animated rotation models to see what we can glean.

Conveyor Belt

Under the old system, there was a rotation every four sets that happened once a year in the fall. From fall to fall, the number of sets legal would slowly grow. Standard was at it’s smallest immediately after a fall set was released and at it’s largest immediately after a core set came out. (We’re currently in the largest Standard format.) 

This system meant that with each set released there was less and less of a chance it would have a major impact on the format. When Khans releases there will be a giant Standard shakeup, but that’s more of a product of Return to Ravnica leaving rather than Khans being added to the pool. As Louie and Dewey are respectively added to Standard, they are mathematically less and less likely to affect major changes. Because the Standard card pool keeps adding cards without removing them, the power level continues to rise and it becomes more and more difficult for new cards to have an impact. This effect is more pronounced in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage, where very few sets add more than a card or two to those formats. All of this builds until the following fall, where half the format drops out and it’s a whole new ballgame again.

In the new block model things are going to happen much faster. There will now be major format changes every other set. Twice a year, both in the fall and in the spring, a third of the format is going to disappear. With that many cards dropping away, established decks are going to lose huge chunks of their constituent parts. Even if any one particular deck doesn’t lose much itself, the loss of some particular predator may allow another deck to spring up that was not viable previously. For instance, when Good Jace was originally printed, it was alongside both Bloodbraid Elf and Blightning. Jace was mostly weak in that format because those two cards did such a great job punishing him. Once Alara rotated and took BBE and Blightning with it, Jace suddenly sprang into power because the cards keeping him in check disappeared. (Also other good blue cards were printed.)

We’re going to end up seeing faster, more dramatic cycles on a more regular basis. Every other set some several hundred cards will rotate and suddenly lose a large portion of value, and some previously underused gems are going to spring to the top of the heap. When Block D comes out, not only will it introduce a whole slew of new cards, but Block A will fall away. The cards in  Block B and C, previously influenced by Block A, will now be viewed in an entire new light.

Some particularly great sweeper in Block A may have supported an entire control deck made mostly of cards from Block B and C. When Block A rotates, that control deck is suddenly going to be missing a key component. Meanwhile, a great aggro deck hiding in Blocks B and C that was waiting for control to wane will become viable. The financial implications of this are pretty clear. That control deck is going to have wild price swings on not only the sweeper that rotates out of the format, but also all the other cards that relied on it. Meanwhile, those aggro sleepers are going to jump once the deck becomes tier one. All of this is happening with cards in Blocks A, B, and C, even though it’s Block D that just released.

Constant changes to the card pool are going to mean constant changes to card values. Format pillars will lose support and drop appropriately, while powerful cards kept in check by existing metagames will jump once their predator is gone. The resulting market will be a constant cycle of large drop-offs and big gains. This is as much a double-edged sword as I could imagine.

On A Rail

Another factor to all of this is length of card legality. Here is how long each set of Return to Ravnica is legal in Standard:
Return to Ravnica: ~24 months (Oct ‘12 – Oct ‘14)
Gatecrash: ~20 months (Feb ‘13 – Oct ‘14)
Dragon’s Maze: ~17 months (May ‘13 – Oct ‘14)
Magic 2014: ~15 months (July ‘13 – Oct ‘14)

Now let’s see how long sets will be legal in the new Standard:

Blood: ~19 months (Oct ‘15 – May ‘17)
Sweat: ~15 months (Feb ‘16 – May ‘17)

A few things immediately jump out when we look at these durations. We no longer have to endure two whole years of Standard dominated by obscenely powerful cards such as Sphinx’s Revelation, Thoughtseize, or Shocklands.The most powerful cards will only hang around in Standard for roughly as long as the spring sets dol now. Think about how long Voice of Resurgence and Blood Baron have been in Standard – that will be the longest period cards are legal for. 

The second set will be shorter for even less amount of time, about what core sets are legal for now. Sweat releases in winter of 2016, which is historically around February. Think Gatecrash and Dark Ascension. It will be legal until the following year’s spring release, around the time Dragon’s Maze and Journey into Nyx release. Core set cards with a similar lifespan have been Mutavault and Thragtusk.

Summing all that up, nothing will be around as long as Revelation has been. The longest a card will exist in Standard is about how long we’ve had Voice right now, or how long Vengevine was legal. The shortest a card will exist for is just a bit over a year, such as how long Mutavault has been legal. The longest time period a card can exist is a good bit shorter than we’re used to, and the gap between the longest lasting cards and the shortest ones has been narrowed significantly.

The smoothing of the duration of legality is going to push towards more uniform prices on cards across sets. Because most cards will be legal for about as long as any other card, the concern that you won’t get to play with card A as long as card B won’t be too much of a worry. It was much easier to justify buying into Revelations or Thoughtseizes immediately after their release because they were clearly format-defining and would exist for what felt like forever. Voice of Resurgence, on the other hand, was a harder pill to swallow because you had so much less time to use it.

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Similarly, there will be less imperative to purchase those key AAA cards. Don’t feel like investing in the hottest format staple revealed in Khans? Don’t sweat it as much. It’s not going to be around nearly as long as it would have been without the change. Eighteen months isn’t exactly a short period of time, but it’s half-a-year less than it would have been. You also won’t see cards ruining formats in tandem nearly as much. If two cards together are format-warping (think Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch) and are from two different sets, they’ll be spending less time legal together than they would have. In addition to this, rapid format changes means that what is a format pillar today may not be a few months from now.

Interloper

The draft formats, just like format legality, are getting a good shake up as well. One thing that’s up in the air is what the draft format will look like in two years. For instance, Theros was a “traditional” draft model with a 6:2:1 ratio. An average Theros card is roughly six times less rare than an average Journey into Nyx card, not adjusting for set sizes. I can’t imagine the price on Thoughtseize if it was printed in Journey rather than Theros.

The upcoming Khans of Tarkir set will be a bit different, with the three draft formats looking like this: KTK/KTK/KTK, Dewey/KTK/KTK, Louie/Louie/Dewey. Here we see a 5:2:2 ratio that should close the gap a bit on the distribution between the first set and the rest of the block. Cards in Khans will be more available than the other two blocks, but the difference will not be as drastic as between Theros and Journey into Nyx.

Beyond Khans is uncertainty. We can be reasonably confident that Blood and Sweat will be drafted together without Tears getting involved. Our estimation then is that the two draft formats for that block (and most typical blocks after that) will be Blood/Blood/Blood and Sweat/Blood/Blood. That creates an unfortunate 5:1 ratio, where for every five packs of Blood opened, only one of Sweat will be, resulting in a similar distribution of rares as Theros to Journey into Nyx. That’s a severe disparity in the new Standard, so I’m wondering if we’ll see Wizards try and curb it somehow with a different draft model. Perhaps we’ll see Sweat/Sweat/Blood? That would bring the ratio to 2:1, which is a lot more balanced than 5:1. (Again, not adjusting for set size.) Obviously in a 5:1 ratio the prices on the small set can quickly grow to obscene levels while severely suppressing values on large set cards.

Hazard Course

Earlier I mentioned that the new block cycle is a double-edged sword. I say this because the new format is going to better reward those that pay attention and more severely punish those that don’t keep up.

Fall rotation is one of the most financially active periods of the game. Not only do all the cards exiting the format take a dump, you’ve got brand new cards hitting the scene with volatile prices and existing cards that couldn’t hack it in the old format get a new lease on life. Up until now, this has only happened once a year. Now that rotation will be happening twice, there will be twice as much time that prices will be correcting to meet the demands of the new format.

If you’re on the ball you’ll be moving your rotating staples ahead of the game, just as you’ve been doing now. You’ll also be targeting cards that are undervalued in the current format but could break out in the new one. Doing well will necessitate paying just as much attention to what is leaving the format as what is entering. Paying attention to what is leaving also signals what cards to sell off even if they aren’t rotating. When a Sphinx’s Revelation type card is about to rotate you’ll want to move your control staples ahead of that date, even if they aren’t leaving along with it. 

Individuals that don’t keep up are going to get hammered twice as hard. Those players are going to lose huge chunks of value in their collection not just once a year, but multiple times. With two rotations, that’s twice as many opportunities to hold onto staples too long and lose hundreds of dollars in virtual value as your Voices plummet. Not only will these players take a hit by holding onto rotating cards too long, they’ll also take a hit when they hold onto cards that while still legal, cease being major players in the format. The greater amount of turnover in Standard means that more often cards will fall by the wayside. We only have to look as far back as Boros Reckoner to see a perfect example. It was a huge player in the INN/RTR Standard because of the Aristocrats and Blasphemous Act. The rotation of most of the Aristocrats deck, along with the rise of Mono-Black, crushed Reckoner’s price. If you weren’t paying attention you lost a lot of money holding onto those Reckoners. (Meanwhile Lingering Souls, a card that kept both Nightveil Specter and Desecration Demon from being relevant, left the format and opened the doors for those two to terrorize the skies.)

Whether you’re paying attention or not, it will be more difficult to avoid sinking excessive disposable income into the game. Gone are the days where you’ll be able to build a tier one list in the fall then make small changes to it over the course of a year or two. The constant set cycling will be forcing you to make large changes to your decklist frequently, or even abandon the deck altogether, which means investing more money into the game more often.

There’s also the issue that your cards won’t be legal for as long as they were before. If cards are legal in Standard for less time overall, it means you have to refresh your collection more often to stay in the game. Over the course of maybe three or four years you’ll have refreshed your entire Standard binder once more than you would under the old system. There’s money in these more rapid changes, but again, only for those doing their homework to stay ahead of things.

One exciting aspect of all of this is that sleepers are far more likely to burst onto the scene. A card printed in Journey into Nyx is forced to live it’s entire Standard life alongside Thoughtseize. If that card can’t perform in a world with Thoughtseize then it’s never getting a fair shake. In the new system, a card two sets away from Thoughtseize gets time to shine without having to deal with the hateful card. A card printed in Sweat is never getting away from a card printed in Blood, but a card from Tears will have a chance to operate without either of those two sets in Standard, which it previously wouldn’t have had.

Not only will cards have less permanent housemates, the formats won’t be solved as often or for as long either. Even if the next Mono-Black gets figured out relatively quickly, it will only be six months at most before a major change. This is in contrast to the year or more it can take to lose oppressive decks in the current system. With formats in greater flux more often, there will be far more opportunities for brewers to take the world by storm. The next Battlefield Thaumaturge is going to be positioned much better two years from now than he would be today.

Apprehension

At the end of the day I think we see a smoothing of card prices a little bit overall, although the highs and lows are going to come faster, harder, and more often. Hopefully the amount of product opened for the first set of a block should be a bit more in line with how much gets opened for the second set. The rapid change of formats will cause more cards to rise and fall than they do now.

Overall, the average price of cards should mostly stay the same. We should roughly see the same amount of unique cards printed in 2016 as we see printed in 2014. Standard may feel more expensive though, since most individual cards aren’t legal as long as they are today. The greater flux of Standard prices may push some people away who are scared of losing money to the cycle. The flip side of that is that fewer players will be frustrated with decks such as Mono-Blue dominating the format for long periods of time, and are more likely to want to play Standard since the metagame won’t be nearly as stale.

Reading Twitter it seems like the reception to this is quite favorable. Nearly everyone I’ve heard from has been a fan of the change. More new formats means more exciting Magic, which is good for all involved. Some are a little peeved that it will be more expensive to keep up with Standard, which is a fair frustration. Not everyone wants to play the stock market just to keep up with FNM.

For you and I it’s definitely a good change overall. More turnover and more change means more opportunities to profit. Having said that, It will be a bit more challenging now for sure. We’ll have shorter timetables to work with, and it will take a little while before we figure out exactly where the best places on the calendar will be to buy which cards. I don’t believe we’ll know fully how the markets will handle all of this until we get there and start seeing what happens. If there’s one thing we certainly know at this point though, it’s that the future of Magic just got a lot more exciting.

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An Open Letter

By: Travis Allen

Did you ever tell a family member – any family member at all – that you were at all interested in art of some sort when you were younger? Painting or drawing perhaps? It’s pretty common for kids to be drawn to art early on, even if very few stick with it. It’s a creative outlet and a way to produce a lasting piece of work that they can feel good about days or weeks later.

If you ever mentioned enjoying artwork to an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent, you know what came next for the following ten years. Art supplies. Every single year. Except they were crummy and unusable every single time. It’s sort of a catch-22. Anyone willing to spend enough money on you to buy you high quality pens or paint supplies would know you well enough that they would know better than to waste their money that way. And yet like clockwork, every Birthday and Christmas, some ten dollar set of markers would show up on the doorstep for you to toss into a box with other unused gifts while you went back to playing Super Nintendo.

While we may have considered this a complete loss of value when we were younger, time has provided us a perspective on the situation a bit more sympathetic with those relatives. To their credit, they were using their limited knowledge of our passing whims as best as they could to provide gifts they thought would be appreciated. If you’re somehow still bitter about this, ask yourself what you really know of the passions of your nieces and nephews, or hell, even your siblings. Providing someone with a meaningful gift that they will truly appreciate is damn difficult, even for those you are closest to.

In order to see what this has to do with us, just replace the word “art” with “Magic” and “paintbrushes” with “Magic cards.” When you’re a child, getting booster packs of cards is thrilling and exciting. I fondly remember cherishing every booster pack of X-Men trading cards I received back then, and getting an entire sealed box for my birthday is one of the few memories I have of early birthday gifts. These days however, gifts including Magic cards are far less special. The issue is that there’s no longer mystery or excitement in the gift of Magic cards. The veil has been pulled back, and as you sit there reading this article, you’re fully capable of going out and purchasing them for yourself. In the next ten minutes you could have any Magic card or sealed product you wish rushing towards your door. It may not be a financially prudent decision, of course, but still, the option is available to you. It’s sort of like ice cream cake. The age at which you can just go buy an ice cream cake for no reason whatsoever except that you want to eat one is exactly the age when you realize it is a terrible idea to do so.

And so we find ourselves the recipients of Intro Decks and booster packs from last year’s core set from well meaning relatives who know little more of our hobbies other than “that card game.” We say thank you, hug the relative, and tell them that it’s so great they provided such a thoughtful gift. Meanwhile you’re staring at that Celestial Archon in the front of the packaging wondering if Target will give you store credit for the intro deck without a receipt.

We feel bad. We really do. They obviously are trying. They mean well. They just…don’t quite get it. It’s like listening to your mom try and describe what you do for a living. How can you be upset when they mean well? It’s in everyone’s best interest if the Magic gifts cease though. They’ll stop spending money on something that’s going to be immediately returned or collect dust in a closet, and you won’t have to feign appreciation for something that is entirely wasted on you. That way you can all get back to giving and receiving the best of gifts: socks. (That’s not a joke).

Today I provide you with a tool. A letter. It is an open letter to friends and family that attempts to gently persuade them that their love can be better channeled. If you’re the non-confrontational (read: passive aggressive) type, just link it on your Facebook wall. For a more direct route, print it out and stick it in the envelope with a thank you card you most certainly haven’t already sent for the last gift they gave you. I’ve provided multiple selections on certain sentences to provide for the most personal touch possible. Feel free to edit and tweak as necessary.

 

 

Dear [Friend/Aunt/Uncle/Grandma/Parole Officer],

I hope this letter finds you well. I know we haven’t spoken in awhile, but my [mother/father/dog] tells me you are doing [great/terribly/cocaine]. That is [wonderful/a shame] to hear. I’d ask you what the weather is like there in ___________, but given that I have internet access, it feels a bit silly to ask. It’s funny how the medium of communication dictates how much and what is acceptable small talk.

My reason for sending this letter today is a tad delicate. I should preface the content with sincere thanks for all you have provided me over the years as a loving [relative/friend/parole officer]. I cherish the time we have spent together in the past and look forward to many more lovely [hours/outstanding arrest warrants] in the future.

This past [birthday/Christmas/President’s Day/Tuesday] you gave to me a heartfelt gift that included Magic: The Gathering cards. I was touched to see that you cared enough to purchase a meaningful, personal gift for me. Your love and affection shone brilliantly through your action.

It is this particular gift that I wish to speak about today. While the meaning and thought behind the gift were fully and truly appreciated, the actual content did not quite achieve the [excitement/sexual arousal] you may have hoped it would.

Magic cards behave as a commodity, just as gas, silver, and corn do. While silver and gold [and corn] make for some truly remarkable gifts, a simple few ounces of gold without form or function makes for a much less special treat. It is unlikely you would give someone gasoline as a gift, and Magic cards are not much different. Commodities make the world go round, but any particular instance of such is not particularly special or endearing.

One piece of silver lacks distinction from another until it has been crafted into a piece of jewelry. Similarly, there is nothing unique about this Magic card compared to another of the same name. Nothing exists to distinguish it as my Magic card. The result is that cards change hands often, and a card gifted today could be traded away to peers for something more immediately useful only days later. Furthermore, market shifts can and do happen in the world of Magic just as they do on the real commodities markets. A box of cards you spend $10 on today may be worth less than half of that by the time I actually receive it. The only person who wins on that day is the retailer.

This is not to say you should never purchase any Magic cards ever again. A single booster pack, retail $3-$4, is a pleasing trinket or accessory to another package. (Be sure to ask the retailer for the most recent set!) If you travel abroad, foreign booster packs of cards are much appreciated, not only due to their exotic nature, but as a token of a journey you wish to share. (Russian and Japanese especially so!) In general though, I ask for both our sakes that you mostly refrain from choosing Magic cards as gifts. While I know full well that you mean only the best, at the end of the day they lack the ability to strengthen emotional bonds in a way that many other gestures are capable.

My message today is not one of annoyance or complaint, but rather one of honesty and compassion. I look forward to spending many more enjoyable [holidays/nights in jail cells] with you.

[Love/Sincerely/Dictated but not read by],

_____________________________

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Common Cents

By: Travis Allen

Money for Nothing

If you’re anything like me, you are constantly on the lookout for collections to gobble up. Your ears perk up when people talk about getting out of the game, you browse Craigslist for people offloading their kid’s old box of cards, and upon hearing someone comment that they used to play you immediately begin an inquisition into the whereabouts and age range of their cards. The end result of this is that you end up purchasing collection after collection. You strip it for the rares and foils then shove the boxes into a corner. Pretty soon, you have thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lands/commons/uncommons with which you don’t know what to do.

The last time this happened to me I listed the entire pile on Craigslist as a great casual starter kit. I was up front about it not containing any duals or money cards, and that there were probably close to no rares. What WAS in the collection was commons and uncommons that spanned the entire range of Magic’s history, from a few odd Beta cards right up through Theros. I listed it for around $400, and someone picked it up because he and a buddy had been playing again and wanted fodder for decks. They certainly got their fodder. (As an added bonus it was a birthday present, and the guy buying it planned to stack all 100,000+ cards up in his friend’s bedroom.) 

Before I listed it I did one final pass. I wasn’t looking for rares though; rather, I was looking for commons and uncommons. You see, the first time(s) through I was mainly looking for rares and money uncommons such as Lightning Helix or Kitchen Finks. The Zendikar box that had Explores, Expedition Maps, and Goblin Bushwhackers? I had skipped all that stuff. I left in the 30 or 40 Lightning Bolts and the multitude of Brainstorms that had accumulated through various eras. This time I pulled out any common or uncommon that looked remotely playable.

By the time I got all the way back through I must have pulled a solid 5,000 cards out, completely and utterly unsorted. I began plugging cards into MTGPrice to check their buylist value. Anything worth $.10 or more was kept, and the rest tossed back into the box. The work wasn’t all that bad really. I put on some ST:TNG and plowed through. Once I knew that the uncommon shard lands from SOA were worth more than ten cents, I didn’t have to look them up every time. Same with all the rest of the cards that kept repeating. After the first 1,000 cards or so, there weren’t too many repeats.

At the end of this process I had somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 commons that were all worth at least $.10, and much of it worth more. The problem at this point was that it was still totally and completely unsorted, as there were easily over 100 unique cards in the stack. Furthermore, even if I did sort it, buylisting a pile of that size is sort of a nightmare. Sure HotSauce gives $.45 on Crumbling Necropolis, but what if they don’t want twenty of them? What if they only want twelve? Well now I have to see who pays the next highest amount and sell some to them. What if they don’t want all the ones I have left either? Onto a third store. You can see how this could get tedious, especially taking into consideration that unless I did every order in a single day, the buylist requirements could change as I worked through the pile. Then I’d have to ship everything, make sure they gave me how much they were supposed to, and so on and so on. On top of that, had I gone through all of this, I surely would have ended up with some amount of cards left for various reasons.

So I procrastinated. I let the cards sit there in my room for a few months. Eventually an SCG open rolled through town and I figured I’d bring them with me to see what I could get for them. I wasn’t holding my breath but I thought it was at least worth my time to find out. After taking my third loss in Standard on Saturday, I grabbed the boxes from my car and plopped them on the buyer’s mat. I was expecting him to groan and slowly begin ctrl+f’ing the SCG buylist, sorting the cards into various $.10 and $.50 piles.

He opened one of the boxes, flipped through a bit, and told me he didn’t feel like looking all of it up. After a quick scan of the other two 1,000 count boxes he made me a simple offer: $.25 per card. At the end, I pocketed $650 cash for a few thousand commons and uncommons in the span of fifteen minutes.

I’m well aware that I probably could have eeked out a bit more money had I buylisted the entire pile myself, submitting five or ten buylist orders to various websites. Maybe I could have even got an extra $100 out of it. But think about it like this – all of that would have taken time and effort. A considerable amount of it, in fact. I’d wager that I would have spent at least four hours organizing all of those buylists, if not more. If you consider that I lost $100 shipping the entire pile at $.25/ea instead of buylisting it individually, and it would have taken at least four hours to do, I paid myself at most $25 an hour. I am completely happy to make that exchange.

The reason I present all of this to you is to illustrate two things. The first is that all those decent commons and uncommons that aren’t quite worth lugging around in your trade binder are still completely worth pulling out of collections. The only thing you should be leaving behind are the bulkiest bulk C/UCs. (Of which, to be fair, will comprise a majority of the collection). Make sure you’re still pulling each and every rare too! This same weekend a pair of friends had accumulated bulk rares over the last few months from buying binders from people, and ended up getting a crispy mint pair of Revised Underground Seas for them. (I personally have been keeping all my bulk rares. They’re never going to be worth less than $.10, so I’m not losing money holding onto them, and every now and then when a card spikes to $5-$15 I get to dig through the box and pull a few copies out. Disrupting Shoal, Fist of Suns, Genesis Wave, etc).

Perhaps more importantly, it’s worth it to appropriately value your time. The amount of effort it would have taken to wring a few extra bucks out of all of that would have doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled the amount of time I had put into it. Screw that. Recognize that your time has value and that it’s perfectly acceptable to forfeit some amount of capital in exchange for your entire Saturday back. Whenever you’re thinking about investing a large amount of time into an activity whose sole purpose is to make you money, consider how much you’re making per hour. When it comes to things like sorting bulk commons, chances are it would be more lucrative to simply work a side job on the weekend.

Current Events

I’ve started trading my extra Liliana of the Veils. Her price has been fairly stable since early this year so I’m not expecting any big movements out of her in the near future. She may gain $10, but I don’t think we’ll see her climb above $80 or $90 TCG anytime soon. There are two reasons I’m looking to trade her right now. The first is that there were comments that she was initially in the file for M15. She was pulled for power level reasons (duh) but it shows that Wizards is looking to get her back into our hands. I don’t think we’ll see a reprint in Khans, but with MM2 looking so likely, and that being a perfect place for her, I’ve decided to start shopping her around. I’m not advocating any fire sales, but I’m happy to take Theros staples for her right now that are guaranteed gainers in the next few months.

People continue to clamor about fetches in Khans. Real quick, what I feel is one of the best reasons we won’t see them: Fetches came around last time with landfall. Both were wildly popular. Wizards wants to bring back both. Because of the five-tribe nature of Khans it can’t support landfall as a major mechanic. Since landfall wouldn’t fit well in Khans, they’ll hold it (and fetches) for a set that will better support both.

Buy Temples.

No, buy more.

Eidolon of the Great Revel wrecked my face in Legacy this weekend. Burn decks have always been tier 1.5 to tier 3 budget decks in Modern and Legacy. Eidolon is a big bump in power for them in both formats. Foils are around $20-$25 right now. At those numbers I’m happy to trade for them. I could see them at $30-$40 within a year. 

Nissa, Worldwaker is the truth. She’s hanging strong at $30+. I expect she’ll dip, but I also think it’s unlikely we see her below $20 before the end of the calendar year. If you want a set, go ahead and trade for her. I will be.

Finally, this isn’t necessarily finance related, but I have a platform so I’m going to use it dangit. Wouldn’t Leyline of Anticipation be great in those Modern discard-heavy decks people are always trying to make? Think 4x Thoughtseize 4x Inquisition type decks. They can frequently tear the game apart in the first three turns but often lose to a Tarmogoyf or Bob off the top of the deck while some one-mana discard spell rots in their hand. With Leyline in play, you can cast those discard spells at the end of their draw step just like you would Clique. Leyline turns all those awful late-game Thoughtseizes into much more potent spells, as you can actually nab anything they draw before they cast it. Those decks often run Liliana or Smallpox or something similar, and are constantly discarding their own stuff, so pitching redundant Leylines would be fine. Drawing a late Leyline when you already have one in play is obviously bad, but now instead of having eight to twelve dead top decks in the form of Thoughtseize and Duress, those are all live and only the three other Leylines are dead. That seems like a solid trade. I doubt this makes those decks tier 1 contenders or anything, but it just struck me as an unusual card choice that could actually do a lot to shore up the problems those types of lists tend to have.

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