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.

A Case Study: Goblin Rabblemaster

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By: Travis Allen

Studies in the medical field are typically based on reams and reams of data. Healthcare is a product that every human needs to consume, and legislation by the government to integrate computers into the clinical setting means collecting that data is an integral part of the process. With mountains of data being collected daily, most studies on drugs or diseases or whathaveyou have a bountiful amount of raw information backing them up. It’s a good thing all this data is being collected too. When clinicians are making decisions about a course of treatment for a patient, you want to be sure they’re working with the best information possible. If a doctor is making a recommendation on a surgery or drug based on recent studies, you want that study to model reality as closely as possible. The less data in the study, the more likely it is to be wrong, which means your doctor is more likely to make a decision that could end up harming you. Data is good!

There are always a few people that suffer from highly unique diseases though. Whether they’re pathogenic or psychological, the issues arise so infrequently that there is no plausible way to gather enough data to make statistically-sound decisions. Consider the case of Phineas Gage – back in the 1800’s he had a railroad spike blasted through his head, destroying a big chunk of his brain. Amazingly he survived for another twelve years. This incident was wildly interesting to anyone studying the brain because it gave a rare glimpse into aspects of the brain that were virtually untestable. Yet it was hardly something you could repeat, at least not within a million miles of the hippocratic oath. In these situations the medical community turns to case studies. Case studies are used to examine a single unique event that is basically unrepeatable for whatever reason. While case studies don’t have the statistical significance needed to develop ‘best practice’ decisions in similar situations, they at least provide additional insight for any practitioner finding himself faced with another impossibly rare scenario.

Today we’re going to perform our own case study on Goblin Rabblemaster. Rabblemaster has skyrocketed to nearly $20 recently, which is pretty wild considering he was under $1 at one point! I want to take a look at various aspects of Rabblemaster, compare that to other creatures we’ve seen in the past, and see what knowledge we can extract from the whole process. Hopefully we can identify a key marker or two that will help us catch the next rags-to-riches creature that shows up.

Dies to Removal

“Dies to removal” was the rallying cry of MTGS posters for years, and possibly still is. (I haven’t read the site in years.) No matter how powerful a creature was, if it was highly vulnerable to removal, it was deemed trash. Indeed, it may not have been an unreasonable rule of thumb quite some time ago, when creatures were generally weaker and spells stronger. I would say it was after M10 when the most Doom Bladeable creature ever was $50 and ruling the skies that the rules of the game changed. (Hah.) Baneslayer Angel proved that even if your guy is vulnerable to all sorts of removal, if your opponent doesn’t have it they can lose the game on the spot to a powerful creature.

Goblin Rabblemaster is about as vulnerable as they come. He’s got no protection of any type. He offers no ‘on death’ trigger like Voice of Resurgence does to scare your opponent away from zapping him. With two toughness, any damage dealt beyond the absolute minimum possible will kill him. Clearly resiliency is not part of his selling point.

Capture

How do past threats compare? Last season Pack Rat came down with only a single toughness yet was the scourge of Standard for something like nine months. Rat was even more vulnerable the turn he came down than Rabblemaster is. The flipside of that is that Rat became incredibly resilient as soon as you untapped. If your opponent didn’t kill Rat before you had a second, the copies he put into play made actually killing him nigh impossible. If you missed killing the single rat you had about a turn to sweep him away with Anger of the Gods, and if you missed that window, all that was left was a full-on sweeper such as Supreme Verdict.

Capture

Loxodon Smiter was much tougher to kill. With four toughness he survived (and killed) any other creature in that mana range. There was close to no direct damage in the format that could take him down, and he was immune to Ultimate Price. As far as resiliency on a three-mana body, Smiter was well positioned relative to Rabblemaster. Smiter hung around the $3-$5 for a year or so, but ended up under $3 around the first of the year.

Capture

Both Boros Reckoner and Nightveil Specter saw considerable success during their lifetimes, with Reckoner’s high point being a whopping $30 and Specter’s being $10-$12. Each had only one more toughness than Rabblemaster. Nightveil begged to be killed. Reckoner was a bit tougher because dealing damage to it meant that you or one of your creatures was eating the same damage back.

Capture

Geist of Saint Traft was miserable to kill. Either you flashed in a blocker, had a sweeper in hand, resolved a sacrifice effect, or died to him. Geist reached $35 at one point, and was consistently more than $20.

It seems like being highly resistant to removal isn’t a key component of being expensive, nor is resiliency automatically guaranteed to make a creature expensive. Survivability helps, for sure. But it won’t get a creature there on its own.

Speed Kills

Rabblemaster kills fast. Real fast. Consider this sequence:

T3: Cast Rabblemaster. Make token, swing for 1. 19.
T4: Make 2nd token. Swing for 2 with tokens, 4 with Rabblemaster. 13.
T5: Make 3rd token. Swing for 3 with tokens, 5 with Rabblemaster. 5.
T6. Make 4th token. Swing for 4 with tokens, 6 with Rabblemaster. -5

An uninterrupted Rabblemaster will kill within four turns, counting the turn you cast it. How do other creatures compare?

Pack Rat:
T2: Cast Rat
T3: Make token, swing for 2. 18
T4. Make token, swing for 3 + 3. 12
T5: Make token, swing for 4 + 4 + 4. 0
4 Turns

Loxodon Smiter:
T3: Cast Smiter
T4: Attack for 4. 16
T5: Attack for 4. 12
T6: Attack for 4. 8
T7: Attack for 4. 4
T8: Attack for 4. 0
6 Turns

Boros Reckoner:
T3: Cast Reckoner
T4: Attack for 3. 17

T10: Attack for 3. -1
8 Turns

Geist of Saint Traft:
T3: Cast Geist.
T4: Attack for 2 + 4. 14
T5: Attack for 2 + 4. 8
T6: Attack for 2 + 4. 2
T7: Attack for 2 + 4. -4
5 Turns

Desecration Demon:
T4: Cast Demon
T5: Attack for 6. 14
T6: Attack for 6. 8
T7: Attack for 6. 2
T8: Attack for 6. -4
5 Turns

Master of the Feast:
T3: Cast Master
T4: Attack for 5. 15
T5: Attack for 5. 10
T6: Attack for 5. 5
T7: Attack for 5. 0

Our takeaway here is that Rabblemaster kills real fast. He kills on turn six, which only Pack Rat is faster than. Pack Rat has the caveat that he required mana and cards every turn to be lethal. Most creatures simply can’t kill this quickly, especially without any assistance whatsoever. A 4/4s for three is a full two turns slower. Geist of Saint Traft was close, and if you score two extra damage anywhere along the way he kills in four. Of course, if you manage to get five extra in with Rabbelmaster, it’s a three turn kill. While I didn’t list him above, Tarmogoyf represents a similarly brutal clock. If you can get your Goyf up to 4/5 or 5/6 on turn three, you can kill by T6 or T7.

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Clearly you’re not often going to be able to cast a three-mana 2/2 and have your opponent spend the entire rest of the game just drooling on their cards. For the most part, you’ll be fighting for board control and not attacking with Rabblemaster every turn. The point isn’t to evaluate board states though, as those can be complicated and unique. Rather, we want to understand how quickly our threat is capable of killing the opponent in a vacuum. The reason for this is that while you often can’t attack unimpeded every turn, you can usually buy yourself a turn or two. How much ground can you cover on these turns? A removal spell on T4 on your opponent’s Courser following Rabble on T3 puts them at 13 already. That’s a lot of pressure that can force them to play the next few turns suboptimally in an attempt to survive. There are also the situations where you’re both in topdeck mode around turn ten that you draw Rabble and slam him. Depending on life totals, Rabble can represent lethal the next turn late in the game.

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In looking at this, it seems like killing speed may be a factor to consider. Pack Rat took over Standard for months and is one of the fastest kills in Standard in awhile. It isn’t quite a fair comparison though, because he requires a card and all your mana every turn thereafter. Rabblemaster is the fastest card I’m seeing that doesn’t require any additional input. Geist of Saint Traft is similar, and that was ludicrously expensive. Tarmogoyf is similarly quick, coming down on turn two, and we all know the number on that guy. Other major threats have been comparatively slow. Boros Reckoner obviously wasn’t $20 because of how fast he killed, so clearly this isn’t the only thing to look at. It does seem that very fast zero-to-dead creatures have a considerable leg up though.

The Cost of Business

I think this may quietly be one of the most important aspects of a creature spiking in price. Rabblemaster’s mana cost is real simple: 2R. A single R in the cost means he’s about as easy to cast as possible. With only a single colored mana in the cost, your mana requirements are light: be able to produce R by turn three. In contrast, 1RR is significantly tougher. 1RR means that 2/3rds of your lands need to produce R by turn three, which puts a much tougher strain on your manabase. Any deck planning on casting a 1RR spell on T3 is going to be heavily red, whereas hitting 2R is almost an afterthought.

Consider also something like the 1GW found on Smiter. This is easier than 1RR, and while reasonably easy to hit on T3 for any deck playing it, it presents another challenge: your deck must be capable of producing two colors. Even though hitting two different colors by T3 is easier than double of one color in most decks, you’re still forced into playing a manabase that can reliably generate both. What impact does this have? Consider the twenty-five different one, two, and three color combinations in Magic. Let’s take a look at where a spell costing only R can go.

Goblin Rabblemaster:
Mono-R, Rakdos, Gruul, Boros, Izzet, Grixis, Naya, Jund, Temur, Mardu, Jeskai. Total: 11

Loxodon Smiter:
Selesnya, Naya, Bant, Azban. Total: 4

As you can see, being a single color instead of two nearly triples the amount of decks a card can see play in. Three-color creatures? Beyond decks with the greediest manabases, they fit into only a single wedge or shard.

Looking back at some of those creatures from earlier, we see Pack Rat at 1B. He’s another member of the mono-cost club. Smiter was two colors and was cheap, while Reckoner was…sort of? two colors and was expensive. Tarmogoyf at 1G is $200, Geist was $30 at 1UW, and Demon is 2BB. Both the mana costs and dollar values are across the board. We have expensive cards in multiple colors, while Pack Rat was a single color and was only $6. What’s the takeaway here?

Being restricted to less decks doesn’t prevent a card from being valuable. Being mono-colored doesn’t mean a card will be expensive. However, being a single color definitely helps set the creature up for success. Any good #mtgfinance enthusiast knows that the more decks a card is playable in, the higher the ceiling. Siege Rhino is damn powerful, but you can only play it in one Standard deck. Even if Rabblemaster is slightly less powerful (which I’m not claiming it is), it can show up in eleven times more color combinations. More potential homes means more people that need copies, which means a higher price. I think our lesson here is that an easy mana cost doesn’t guarantee a high price, but it does allow for a higher potential price ceiling than a CDE card.

Availability May be Limited in Your Area

This next one isn’t about what’s written on the card, but rather, the environment it’s been printed in. Rabblemaster comes from Magic 2015, the most recent core set. While we don’t have hard numbers, the community has a pretty good feel for the relative sales. Core sets sell less boxes than basically any other set in Magic. They were Standard-legal for the shortest period of time, the draft environment typically wasn’t too deep, and the set was light on tournament staples. Not only were these all factors, but the timing of core set releases has been in line with the lowest player turnout at tournaments. With such a small amount of product being opened, it’s unsurprising that breakout singles can jump hard in price.

Pack Rat was a major part of Standard, but he was in a fall set, typically the most opened set in a block. Desecration Demon was too, although his price was about double that of Rat. Part of that may have been that Rat was in an event deck. Smiter was in Return to Ravnica, same as Pack Rat. Geist of Saint Traft was in a fall set – but as a mythic rare. Boros Reckoner was printed in a winter set, and a relatively unpopular one at that. I’m sure there was more Gatecrash opened than M15, but I can’t say by how much.

The amount of M15 product on the market suffered even moreso than usual because of MTGO forcing players to V4 around the same time. With the switch from one garbage MTGO client to another garbage MTGO client driving players away, the amount of set redemptions dropped. Again, it’s hard to say by how much, but there’s definitely an effect.

Of course Rabblemaster was also a Buy-a-Box promo, so the number of copies in circulation is higher than possibly any other rare in the set. Even still, a low-selling set combined with an unusually small amount of set redemptions may have been a strong contributing factor to his price surge.

We can see set printing making a difference for other cards as well. Voice of Resurgence was considered to be overpriced for basically its entire time in Standard. The reason was not because the card was lighting Standard on fire for months at a time, but more that barely any Dragon’s Maze was opened because the set sucked. On the flip side, even heavily-played fall-set cards have trouble maintaining high prices simply because of how many copies are on the market.

Availability of product is basically an invisible statistic. We can visit MTGPrice to see how much a card costs, or one of a variety of tournament tracking sites to see what cards are performing where, but there is no tool to see how many copies of a card is on the market. The amount of given product on the market, along with what player demos are generating demand for a card, are invisible to the average consumer. It’s guys like myself and other writers that have some amount of perspective on the situation, although admittedly it’s still all just educated guesses. The amount of product in a market has a large impact on price. The tough part is figuring out how much is actually out there, and what that will translate to in terms of prices.

Double Duty

The last feature we’ll look at today is where Rabblemaster is where demand is coming from relative to other creatures. A card like Snapcaster sees play in nearly every format. How about Rabblemaster?

Standard.

That’s it. He’s not in Legacy or Modern, although he may get there at some point. He’s not particularly exciting in EDH. There’s probably some casual players that want him as he’s tribal, but I doubt it’s any meaningful amount of demand. No, it seems like Rabblemaster is driven almost entirely by Standard.

Loxodon Smiter was mostly Standard demand, although there was some Modern splashed in there too. Certainly no EDH or casual.

Snapcaster Mage was and is played in every format. I’m guessing there’s no casual demand here either, but his presence in competitive play is unquestionable. In the last three years he was as high as $40, although he’s spent most of his time between $25 and $30.

Pack Rat was overwhelmingly Standard. There’s a splash of Modern in there but that’s about it. Desecration Demon was nearly exclusively Standard.

Geist of Saint Traft was a big Standard player, but has also seen moderate success in Modern, and mild play in Legacy. Geist was a big part of Modern a year or two ago, but he’s been on the downswing lately.

Boros Reckoner and Nightveil Specter were exclusively Standard cards.

Deathrite Shaman saw very little Standard play before rotation, yet saw a meteoric rise and eventual post-ban crash within two years. He was near $20 at his height, and was close to $15 until he was banned. Those are impressive numbers for a fall-set rare with absolutely zero Standard demand.

Looking back at this cross-section of creatures it seems like the major driving force behind price for a Standard-legal card is Standard. Other formats can certainly have an impact, as cards like Deathrite Shaman prove. However it’s very tough for Modern and Legacy to drive high prices on Standard cards while they’re still legal. It’s even tougher for EDH and casual markets to do it. Once cards rotate then the other formats can begin applying pressure. Until then though, most cards live and die by Standard demand. In order for a card to be worth a good chunk of change while it’s in Standard but have no actual Standard demand, it has to be a format-changer in both Modern and Legacy, just like Deathrite Shaman was.

Follow-Up

We looked at several traits of Goblin Rabblemaster and compared them to a swath of other recent creatures that have passed through Standard. We talked about resiliency, speed, mana cost, availability, and format demand. All of those factors certainly play a role, although not all equally. Given what we’ve seen so far, it seems like Standard demand may be the single most important factor when deciding a creature’s price. Being a major player in Standard is going to set the stage for big price tags. There’s certainly more to it than that though.

Format demand is important, but it really just opens the door to high prices. From what I can tell, mana cost and ability to kill an opponent are the next biggest factors. No matter how good a card is, if it’s three colors, it just has so many fewer homes than a card with a single color. A joke amongst players of older formats is that to make any deck better, splash green and play Tarmogoyf. A powerful card with light mana requirements can find many homes, which is exactly what is happening with Rabblemaster. Killing people dead is the other big driver of prices. If you’re able to put your opponent at nearly-dead on turn five after playing a creature and two removal spells, that is one solid threat. Pack Rat was wildly successful because of how quickly it could kill in tandem with Mutavault, and Geist of Saint Traft was a big player during his time as well. I firmly believe that had Pack Rat been from any other set or was mythic, his price would have been easily close to $20.

Card availability is important as well, but like format demand, it’s more about unlocking potential rather than pushing prices itself. Simply having few copies of a card in the market is not going to make it expensive. Having few copies of a card in the market along with being powerful on some of those other vectors is what is really going to drive the price. On the flip side of this is a card like Pack Rat. It had everything going for it, but the quantity in the market put too much pressure on its price.

Finally, resiliency doesn’t seem to matter one bit. A creature that is tough-to-kill is definitely helpful, but we’re past the days where it’s a key feature. If you jam your deck full of powerful threats, eventually your opponent isn’t going to be able to kill one. That’s the one that will get there, even if it is just a 2/2.

What’s the takeaway from all this? When evaluating creatures for potential price spikes, ask yourself a few questions.

  • What set was this printed in, and how much of it is out there compared to other sets?
  • What format is going to want this card? Do I want to spec on it because of Modern, or is this going to be a Standard player?
  • What’s the mana cost? How many different types of decks can play it?
  • If I play this onto an empty board on-curve, how quickly will it kill them? Will one or two swings put them precariously low, or do I have to swing five or six times?

All of this relates to creatures that get your opponent dead, of course. Cards like Sylvan Caryatid or Courser of Kruphix play by a different set of rules because they fill different roles. Those are utility creatures, and are definitely tougher to understand.

I hope you found our discussion of Rabblemaster today helpful. Be sure to check out my article series from last two weeks about the structural flaw in MTGO’s trading market, and stay tuned this coming weekend for Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir. I’m sure all sorts of wild prices swings will be happening because of it, especially Friday afternoon as people figure out which decks the pros landed on are actually good.

Follow me on twitter at @wizardbumpin


 

MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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MTGO and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trading Market (Pt. 2)

By: Travis Allen

This week is part two of a two-part series on the failure of the MTGO marketplace. You can find part one here. The tl;dr from last week is that Magic cards behave like commodities, and thus are eligible for a unique type of online market.


Upon entering a convention hall hosting a Grand Prix you’ll notice vendors ringing the space. The vendors, of whom there are usually between five and eight, each have different numbers for their buy and sell prices. If our intrepid player – let’s say you – decides he wants to buy the cheapest Glittering Wish in the room he’s going to have to do some legwork. Finding the least expensive copy is going to require visiting every single booth, muscling through the mob, locating the card in the case, and checking the price tag. Then you’ll need to repeat that entire sequence about seven more times. Once you’ve checked all eight vendors and have identified the cheapest copy, it’s finally time to go make a purchase. Let’s hope that they haven’t sold out while you were checking each other price in the room!

Imagine instead that there are not eight vendors in the room, but 50,000. Welcome to the Magic Online classifieds.

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The unwieldy system for buying and selling cards at a GP is as it is because there is no centralized method for buying and selling paper cards in a meatspace. There is no single booth in the room that you can walk up to that sells cards on behalf of every vendor present. You’re forced to manually check with each one. This problem only becomes wildly more intense when add in the fact that not only can you buy the card from a vendor, but there are a few thousand binders in the room that are more than willing to trade. Somewhere amongst those eight vendors and 2,000 players is the theoretical cheapest copy of Glittering Wish, but there is basically no chance you’re actually going to find it. At the same time, someone in that room will give you fifteen dollars cash for your Courser of Kruphix (market value $15.76), but good luck finding the guy. It’s far more likely that you’ll take the seven to ten bucks one of the vendors is offering.

Such a system is brutally inefficient. There is no convenient method for buyers and sellers to see all the options available to them. There is no central structure in place through which all information is available to all parties at once. This is one of the myriad of reasons that real life sucks.

The solution to such a burdensome and inefficient system is to create some sort of hub of activity through which all transactions flow. A system that is capable of gathering all of the values of every unique card, for both sale and purchase, that is also fully queryable would do dramatic things to the market. By necessity such a system would immediately wipe out all transactions in which one party was getting more than their fair share. Third party vendors would disappear, and cards would flow freely among the vast majority of agents in the room: the players.

Magic Online is capable of this. There is only one MTGO server every single person in the world logs into. Whether you’re a bored housewife in Spain, an unemployed roustabout in Ukraine, or a pissy adolescent in the Nebraska plains, if you want to play MTGO you’re all going to the same place. This affords a fantastic opportunity that is not available to paper players: a true commodity marketplace.

MTGO puts every single player in the same system. You all have access to the same tournaments and classifieds. The foundation is in place to provide an efficient, fast, and fair marketplace for the commodity market that is Magic cards. Instead, you’re forced to bumble around blindly in a room of tens of thousands of vendors because….well, I have no idea why.

Because MTGO has failed to provide an adequate market for their playerbase, it has resulted in less-than-ideal conditions. If you’re a player on MTGO and you want to buy a Courser, you hit the classifieds and search for Courser of Kruphix. A list appears of everyone who has the phrase “Courser of Kruphix” in their title. (Remember too that “Courser of Kruphix” is different than “Courser,” so you’d better hope you’re using the same terminology as everyone else in the room.) If you’re lucky they put their sale price for Courser in the title of the classified as well, but not all will. Any that don’t have the sale price in the title will require opening a trade. This will have to happen several times before you can begin to get a feel for what the ‘average’ price of a Courser is so that when you actually find a good price you’ll know it.

There are a variety of pitfalls in this model. For instance, what happens if someone is selling their Courser for 20% less than everyone else, but accidentally spelled it “Cuorser?” How about the individual selling more than three different uniquely named cards? How is he supposed to advertise all of those as being for sale? The classified title has a character limit of course, so you can really only advertise your hottest items. This means it’s tough for someone to expose good prices on more off-beat cards, and it’s tough for buyers because they’re forced to just start wading through random trade binders to find a good price for a card. Sellers can’t adequately advertise their stock or even let people know what they’re selling, and buyers have trouble finding people who are selling what they want. Imagine going to a mall but instead of each store having large glass windows displaying their product they were all painted black.

What MTGO has done is effectively turn every player into a vendor in the same room. It’s hard to imagine a worse way to go about things. This frustratingly cumbersome system results in the creation of an automated process; the bot network. Anyone that plays with any regularity on MTGO is very familiar with bots. They’re awake twenty-four hours a day, have huge inventories, and are (mostly) easy to deal with. They exists to fill the massive exchange gap that MTGO continues to let exist. Imagine for a moment that MTGO banned bots. If you wanted to sell your Courser for tickets, the only way to do so would be to find another individual online at exactly that time that is willing to pay the price you’re asking. This doesn’t sound too bad for a hot staple like Courser, which will move quickly, but what if you’re trying to sell something like a foil Tangle Wire? What do you think the odds are that both someone selling and someone buying are online at the same time, that the seller is currently advertising that card in the classifieds, and that they can both agree on a price? This is exactly why bots exist.

Bots fill a gap, and whenever a service does so, the guy running the service is making a profit on every exchange. It’s the same way your LGS makes money buying and selling cards. Give players a little bit less for their cards than another average player would, and sell them for slightly more than the average player would. The reason anyone uses the service at all is not because they love getting ripped off, but because they’re paying for the convenience of having another market actor who will engage in 99% of transactions at nearly any time. Connecting buyer to seller is a profitable market to be in.

MTGO isn’t like real life, though. Computers aren’t hampered by the need to sleep or eat or otherwise be away from a market. They also can connect thousands and thousands in one central room with quick, easy transactions in a way that no real life environment could imitate. Why, when the system is already in place to provide the best possible market to the average player, does MTGO not capitalize on it?

The problem is compounded by the fact that tickets can’t be split. I’m sure Wizards has their own arcane reason for this, but the result is disastrous for players. By refusing to allow tickets to be split out to a hundredth of a decimal place, MTGO is essentially saying that no card can theoretically be worth less than one ticket. After all, if one ticket is the bare minimum official currency, how does one buy something that costs less than that?

Most commons, uncommons, and even rares for that matter, are worth less than one ticket on the MTGO market. Good luck trying to trade these easily between players though. Let’s say you want to acquire two copies of Restore Balance but without going through a bot. We have all the issues from before of actually finding someone who has two copies of this, but then how do you trade? You don’t want to pay a full ticket for what is worth maybe half a ticket at absolute best. This means you’ve either got to buy cards you don’t want, or the other agent has to take roughly half a tickets worth of value from you. Meanwhile all of this takes time and effort, and why is the guy with the Restore Balances going through all of this in the first place? It certainly isn’t worth his time for the what, tenth of a ticket worth of value he may get out of the transaction?

Bot networks are further supported by MTGO’s refusal to allow tickets to be split. They provide virtual ticket splitting by offering credit to players. Head over to your nearest preferred bot, trade him your cards, and you get credit out to multiple decimal places that can then be used anywhere on that bot network. This of course incentivizes players to keep returning to the same bot network over and over, lest they end up with ten tickets worth of credit spread out among ten different vendors. It’s the “forty-eight cents left on this gift card” syndrome all over again. The nature of the integer ticket is ultimately great for bots and terrible for the average player.

Let’s review. MTGO has the foundation in place to provide an excellent market experience that would be literally impossible to replicate in the real world. A commodity network on MTGO would overall reduce the prices players pay for their cards, overall increase how much they sell their cards for, and overnight get rid of bot networks. For 99.99% of people in the system it’s a complete upgrade. So what needs to change to get us there, and what does “there” look like?

First of all the ticket system has to be fixed. Without the ability for players to reduce tickets to the second decimal place, essentially setting the minimum price on a card to a single cent, then none of this will work. When a huge chunk of the market is worth less than the smallest division of your currency, all sorts of weird problems will pop up. (Like bot networks offering credit that relies entirely on the buyer placing unfounded trust in an unaccountable stranger.)

The next step is basically to completely get rid of the classifieds as you know them. Gone. They will instead be replaced by a central commodity market that essentially functions as a miniature auction for every single type of good. These types of virtual markets already exist all over the place. We’ll take a look at a pretty big one that’s arguably the most successful: the Steam market.

s1

Welcome to the Steam Community Market. On arrival we see what I currently have for sale, when I listed it, and how much I’m asking for it. Below that are a list of the most popular items today. For right now we want to buy Jarate, an item used by the sniper in Team Fortress 2. For the rest of this demonstration, just imagine replacing the word “Jarate” with “Wrath of God” and the process is exactly how MTGO could work.

I’m going to plug in Jarate in the search field over there on the right, and this is what I see after:

s2

Here’s a list of everything with Jarate in the name. You’ll see there are various types of Jarate – Vintage, Strange, Festive, Collector’s, etc. Imagine these as being “10th Edition, 9th Edition, 7th Edition Foil, FTV:Armageddon, etc.” Let’s take a look at the festive Jarate.

s3

 

s4

I get to see a big image of what I’m purchasing, along with a description that would probably be oracle text if this was an actual Magic card. Below I have a graph of the history of sales data for this product, with samples across multiple timespans, and below that all the Festive Jarates for sale. Because Festive Jarate is a commodity – every instance of it is basically the exact same as all the others – the listings automatically sort by the only defining characteristic: the price. I see how much it is, who’s selling it, and most importantly, for how much. Let’s buy one.

s5

Clicking “Buy Now” gives me a confirmation box, showing again exactly what I’m getting, how much I’m paying for it, and how my money is being spent. Notice Steam even gets to take a little off the top for providing the transaction. That’s a nice incentive for Wizards that doesn’t exist in the current MTGO classifieds system.

How about if I want to sell something on the market? If I’m browsing my backpack (or MTGO collection) and discover I have something I don’t need, selling it is eazy peazy.

s5.5

Simply clicking on the item shows me the cheapest price for the product on the market as well as how many copies have sold in the last twenty-four hours.

s6

Clicking the “Sell” button shows another price graph, and allows me to price the product in one of two ways: how much the buyer will pay, or how much I want to actually pocket after its sale.

These two examples show just how easy buying and selling in the MTGO marketplace could be. Need a Rattleclaw Mystic? Hop on the market, search it up, and find the cheapest four copies on MTGO immediately. Browsing through your binder and realize you’ve only got three Polukranos? Click on the existing card in your inventory and buy the card right from your binder. Find an extra copy of Mantis Rider you don’t need as you’re putting together a list? Put it up for sale right from your binder. You don’t even have to leave the page! A simple pop-up window will handle the ease of listing the card.

The ease of buying and selling isn’t the only logistical advantage for the player. A model of this sort would allow the creation of buy and sell orders. Suppose there’s a card you want to spec on – maybe Spellweaver Volute or something wacky. You can create what’s known as a buy order. Tell the system exactly what card you want, how much you want to pay for it, and how many copies you want. Every time a Spellweaver Volute is listed at or below your designated price, your account automatically buys the card until the quota is filled. How amazing would it be to set prices for all these cards you need at low prices and then a week later have them?

If buy orders aren’t cool enough, how about MTGO telling you in real time how much it would cost to buy the cards you don’t currently own from a given decklist? Log into the mothership with your MTGO account info, and the next time Gavin posts a sweet brew there will be a dollar vlaue right there telling you how much it would cost to buy the cards missing from your account. “This is an awesome Junk reanimator list, and it would only be about seventy bucks to finish it. I’m going to go build it.”

A feature-rich commodity market such as what I’ve discussed and shown you here would have some large consequences. Bots would disappear overnight, which would admittedly suck for the guys over at MTGOTraders and such. That’s an acceptable loss if it means better prices for players across the board. Cards would find their equilibriums faster. Spreads would shrink to the smallest they’ve ever been. Gone would be the days of spikes causing cards to be difficult to find for less-than-insane prices. Players would more easily be able to switch between decks, because the cost of selling out of one list and buying into another would be so low. The metagame would become truly fluid, as players could easily and affordably build the best deck for each tournament, not just the best deck in their card pool. It would be a revitalization of the entire MTGO ecosystem.

MTGO has no shortage of problems, as many of my peers have written about. Twitter is fully of daily lamentations from fish and pros alike. Screenshots of ridiculous bugs circulate regularly. At least once a month someone writes an article about some other part of MTGO that is awful, such as the compensation policy or terrible payouts. While all of these are valid and frustrating complaints, few reveal a fundamental flaw in Wizard’s appreciation for their content like this issue does. Wizards refusing to deliver a common-sense commodity market to the players is indicative of an underlying failure to truly comprehend their product. How could a system that was outdated the day it was released still be in place today when the inevitable results would have been so clear even at the time of its conception? MTGO has no shortage of software flaws and misguided policies, but this is a disservice to the Magic community unlike any other in recent memory.

Nearly all of MTGO’s other problems can be fixed with software updates and policy changes. The solution to this problem, though, is what we all deserve and Wizards refuses to give us: A brand new Magic Online experience.


 

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MTGO and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trading Market (Pt. 1)

By: Travis Allen

Welcome to part one of a two part series. These two articles are going to explain exactly how Magic Online’s trading system is foundationally flawed because it ignores the very economic nature of Magic cards. The progress will be as follows: In the first article, we will learn what a commodity is in terms of the marketplace and then we will see how Magic cards behave as commodities. In part two we will see how MTGO fails to treat Magic cards as such, and finally examine a possible solution. We hope that a breakdown of the issue and a presentation of a potential solution will encourage Wizards to make similar changes in future versions of Magic Online.


When your car needs gas, how do you decide where to fill it up? Do you have a specific gas station you go out of your way to visit because their gas smells like flowers, or because it’s organic, or it fits into your gluten-free lifestyle? Or instead do you just pull up to the nearest pump that takes credit cards whenever the light on your dashboard turns on? If you’re like most Americans, you have little or no allegiance to a particular location or brand of gas station. The right gas for you is whichever happens to be closest. Why is it that you don’t bother to make a point to use one particular location, especially when we live in such a brand-oriented culture? It’s because when you pull the handle on that eighty-eight octane pump you know that the dead dinosaur gushing into your car’s hungry coffer is the same there as it would be from any other of the eighty-eight octane pumps in America.

Have you ever shopped for art? Unless you know the specific piece you want it can be time consuming, intimidating, and expensive. Let’s say you decide that a wall in your apartment is looking rather bare. You’re not sure what you want, just that you’d like to hang a piece of art there. If you live in a metropolitan area and/or you’re wealthy you may hit up the local galleries to see what’s available for purchase locally. Most internet denizens such as you and I won’t have the funds to purchase originals like that though, so we hit up Google and plug in “art.” Lo and behold we find ourselves at art.com. “Alright,” you think, “time to buy me a sweet piece of wall candy.” As you begin scanning the page you realize this could be a big project. The splash page is separated into categories – landscape, abstract, vintage, photographs, etc. You’re not even sure what type of art you want. An abstract series of cubes and circles? A photograph of a stunning waterfall? An artist’s rendition of the Grand Canyon? A replica of a famous painting? A horse? Mapplethorpe? Regardless of what you’re searching for, one thing is for sure: you’re going to be browsing a lot of photos before you find something you’re happy with. There’s no way to get around it; you simply have to view hundreds or thousands (or if you’re me, tens of thousands) of images before you can be content with your decision. 

This consumer-oriented perspective on the dichotomy of gasoline and artwork illustrates just how different purchases on opposite ends of the commodity spectrum behave. On the one hand a good like gasoline is, for all intents and purposes, identical from one vendor to the next. The gas you pump into your car at the Sonoco in Maine is basically the same as the gas you get from the BP down in Louisiana as it is the same as the gas at the…whatever gas station chains exist in California. On the flip side of that, artwork is wildly different in character from one piece to the next. If I take your 2’x2’ photograph worth roughly $300 and replace it with a different 2’x2’ photograph worth roughly $300, you would be really annoyed. They may have similar physical dimensions and market demand, but it’s the content of the image that you care about.

Let’s step back a little bit for a better view of the bigger picture. Common parlance is that a commodity is a good or service which is interchangeable with another good or service of the same sort. (In other words, a commodity has a high level of fungibility.) An ounce of copper is basically the same as any other ounce of copper, as far as the market is concerned. As long as that ounce of copper falls within a certain set of specifications, it doesn’t really matter who I get it from. I am only interested in the price, because the copper itself will not be much different from vendor to vendor. As Marx once said, “From the taste of wheat it is not possible to tell who produced it, a Russian serf, a French peasant or an English capitalist.” There are many basic commodities. A few examples (that I’m stealing from Wikipedia): iron ore, crude oil, coal, salt, sugar, tea, coffee beans, soybeans, aluminum, copper, rice, wheat, gold, silver, palladium, and platinum.

Some of those examples may strike you as a little odd. Gold comes in different purities, so not all gold is equal, right? And you know for a fact that there are more types of coffee than is humanly possible to count at this point. Why are those commodities?

Instead of thinking of things in black and white – commodity or not commodity – think of it as a scale. On the one end, you have your goods like crude oil. On the other end is original paintings. In between are various levels of ‘commodification.’ The less differing factors between one product of the type to the next, the more of a commodity it is. For instance, laptops have a low commodity value. Due to the customizable nature of the internal hardware, such as the amount of RAM or cpu speed, there are untold variations that exist even within a single brand. When considering purchasing a laptop, there is far more to consider than the price.

Moving up the commodity scale a bit we would find iPhones. These are more of a commodity for a few reasons. For one thing, there is only one brand. Within that brand there are various epochs – iPhone 3, 3g, 3gs, 4, 4s, 5, 6, etc. Then within each of those is differentiation between color, storage space, and possibly cellular network. Once you settle on one though – perhaps a Verizon-enabled black 32gb iPhone 6 – they are identical to each other. It doesn’t matter whether I buy the Verizon-enabled black 32gb iPhone 6 from Best Buy or the Apple store, I’m getting the exact same thing. Once you’ve settled on a specific model, it becomes a question of who will sell it to you cheapest. In fact, because instances across a model number have no differentiation at all, Apple has to impose price floor restrictions on them so that competition between vendors doesn’t drive the price into the dirt.

The nature of commodities is such that the markets in which they are sold is a bit different than your common markets. As you move up the scale towards a greater level of commodification, the ability to differentiate your product from another becomes more and more difficult. When you reach a point that the only real difference between your product and a competitor’s product is the price, you end up in a commodity market. 

In a commodity market, all buyers and sellers come to the same place. It begins with an agreement of standards. A consensus is reached on the quality of each good, for example the purity of gold in a bullion. Once everyone in the market knows that everything they buy and sell will meet a certain threshold of quality, it becomes a question of price. Sellers advertise how much they’re selling their gold for and buyers can advertise how much they will pay for gold. Anyone can come to market and immediately see how much a gold bullion will cost, and how much they can immediately get for their own gold. Commodity markets typically find a price equilibrium very quickly since all data is publicly available and there’s a high volume of trades.

Now we understand commodities a bit better. The more interchangeable a product is with a replacement for it, the more of a commodity it is. How does this apply to Magic cards?

Anyone who is reading this is extraordinarily aware that Magic cards are not interchangeable. Prices on unique cards vary from “firewood” to “down payment on a house.” You don’t want to walk into a store and say “I’ll take one pound of Magic cards please.” Yet each named Magic card is nearly fully fungible with another of the same name. This NM non-foil M10 Lightning Bolt is the same as any other NM non-foil M10 Lightning Bolt. The names of Magic cards are sort of like model numbers. They uniquely differentiate one card from another, but cards with the same model number are identical, controlling for condition, set, and the foil characteristic. (You can think of the difference between a non-foil and a foil of the same card as the difference between a 32gb iPhone 6 and a 64gb iPhone 6.) Magic cards are unique across names, but individual instances of a specific name are nearly 100% commodities.

Chances are you’ve actually seen and used a pseudo-commodity market for Magic cards, although you may not have been aware of it. TCGP acts as an aggregator for many vendors selling the same cards. Plug in Savage Knuckleblade and you’ve immediately got a large list of everyone selling their Knuckleblades, with the cheapest price listed first. If you’re a buyer, this is pretty darn close to a commodity market. What’s missing is the typical “buying” list, where you can see all the prices people will give you for your copy. That service is available here at MTGPrice of course. All the buying/selling doesn’t happen under one roof though, so it’s not really a full-fledged commodity market.

The reason TCGP has been so successful in it’s market niche is because they were the first intelligent way to buy Magic cards. Why should I have to go to websites for Troll and Toad, SCG, and ABU to look at prices for the same card? They’re all selling the same damn thing. Having to visit individual retail spaces for the same product is time-consuming and inefficient as a consumer. I’m likely to not end up with the cheapest possible price on the card. Meanwhile, the vendors are not only competing on the price they can offer you the card for, but also how good they are at marketing to consumers. SCG is obviously the best at this, and the result is that they charge more money for the exact same product because they know people will come buy from them simply because theirs is the only storefront some players are aware of. Meanwhile ABU and other vendors are offering the cards for less money but are selling less copies than SCG because consumers are unaware of their options. On a whole, the Magic market was quite inefficient before TCGP popped up. It’s better now, but it still isn’t perfect. Paper Magic isn’t really likely to reach true efficiency either, at least not in the next few years. There is too much vested interest from SCG and the like to move to a true commodity market system.

Magic cards want a true commodity market. While paper Magic has moved in that direction over the last few years, I doubt we’ll ever truly get there. Without a unified location for market agents to buy and sell cards, consumers will always need to visit individual storefronts. The companies behind those storefronts will always want that, because once you’re at their storefront they can attempt to sell you extra things, expose you more to their brand, attract you to their events, etc etc.

In order for a market to fully embrace a commodity there really needs to be some central hub where the buying and selling occurs. That doesn’t exist in paper Magic, and is unlikely too.

You know where it does exist though? Magic Online.

Join me next week as we take a look at how Magic Online has failed to treat cards as a commodity and how it might look if they did.


 

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Khans of Tarkir: A Full Financial Review

By: Travis Allen

Khans of Tarkir is nearly upon us. Players from every format can’t wait to start cracking packs due to the long-awaited return of the Onslaught Fetchlands. The return of the fetches, along with the curious nature of the block, the change to the Standard rotation model, and the official arrival of wedges has sent people into a tizzy. It’s that lovely time of year when every card is bursting with potential and brewers are salivating uncontrollably.

The pricing for this set, like most fall sets before it, will have its own little wrinkles. The major factor in thinking about card prices for Khans is the fetches. Demand for these is going to extend across virtually every single format. Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, Cube, and EDH players alike are going to want copies. With such a massive amount of demand they will easily be the most expensive rares. When five rares are hogging the lion’s share of the box value it’s going to suppress the price of the entire rest of the box. Rares that would have been $10+ in another set will be $4-$6 instead. Mythics will still be worth the most, but their ceilings will be lower than they would have been otherwise.

Of course card prices are still limited by the value of a box. As soon as cracking packs gets more valuable than selling boxes sealed, vendors will immediately start doing so. A natural balance is reached and demand is satiated while prices stabilize. This means we won’t be seeing any $30 Polluted Deltas, but it does mean we’re going to see a lot of the non-fetch rares in circulation. Oh, did I also mention this is going to be the most opened set in history? It will be. Theros was similarly the most opened at its launch, and hype for Khans is higher what with the fetches in the set. Because of this, it may appear that a lot of my prices are on the low side. I prefer to err on the side of prudence anyways, but it is especially wise in light of this set’s dynamics. In fact, take a look at Theros prices right now.

Capture

There are a whopping three non-land rares over $3. These prices should rise a bit between now and Christmas, so while a few more may break into the $5+ range I doubt it will be more than a small handful. Also notice that all five rare lands are sub-$4. Imagine what the set breakdown looks like when you jack those five up into the $8-$15 range. All the rest of the cards, mythics included, get noticeably cheaper.

I bring all of this up to make a point that nearly all of these cards will drop from their current values, and they will drop hard. I discuss prices for many of these rares that would be over $2-$3, but only two or three from all that I discuss will manage that. The rest will drop firmly into bulk.

One last thing before I jump into the review. It’s important to remember when reading any set review that we are forced to evaluate cards in a pseudo-vacuum, but they never exist as such. When I look at Brimaz, King of Oreskos I have to consider the card individually, free of whatever the metagame looks like that particular month. Brimaz’s text box isn’t going to change, but the cards other people are playing will. I need to focus on what concrete information I have available to me. Because of this, set reviews are especially challenging. I have to look at Brimaz and make an evaluation based strictly on the words printed on the card, but his true worth will be dependent on the cards around him, a pool that will change significantly over time. Cards that are excellent right now may have been trash in an alternate timeline. It would be easy to construct a Standard environment where Desecration Demon is crap (such as he was in INN-RTR when Lingering Souls was legal,) or where Prime Speaker Zegana is a chase mythic. Even the hallowed Jace, the Mind Sculptor was nigh unplayable at release since there wasn’t a single other playable blue card in the format and Bloodbraid Elf + Blightning threatened to shut him down as soon as he resolved.

The point I’m making is that when considering this review, and all other reviews, it’s important to be good Bayesians and recognize that while a powerful card should be good, and a weaker situational card should be bad, the constraints of the format around them, complete unknowns to the hapless reviewer, will be the true determining factor in identifying whether a card is a bulk mythic or a $20 rare.

If you just want to know what to expect from the lands, click here.

White

Bulk:
Herald of Anafenza
High Sentinels of Arashin
Master of Pearls

 

End Hostilities
1 Month: $2-$4
Fate Reforged: $2-$3

With the departure of Supreme Verdict, the cheapest unconditional sweeper we are left with is End Hostilities at five mana. (I believe there has only been one other brief period where there was no four-mana sweeper.) Even given that history it isn’t terribly surprising Wizards finally tossed it, as morph really wants the format to slow down a bit so it has time to shine.

End Hostilities will certainly be played, but only in Standard. While Verdict was exciting because of applications in Modern and Legacy, Hostilities has none of that appeal. Supreme Verdict hung around $3-$6 for most of its lifespan. End Hostilities should be a tad lower; probably in the $2-$4 range for the most part. People will play it and there will be demand, but they will do so because they have to, not because they want to.

 

Wingmate Roc
1 Month: $4-$6
Fate Reforged: $3-$5

Imagine for a minute that instead of mythic this was printed at rare. Would you even give it a second look? If I told you this was an intro deck rare, would you believe me? I’m thinking it’s likely.

Perhaps I don’t “get” Roc. That’s entirely possible. It’s just that this feels rather underwhelming to me. Broodmate Dragon was good during his time, but as long as you tapped the mana you were getting eight flying power. Roc loses 25% of the damage and becomes conditional in exchange for easier mana and a small lifegain trigger. I’ve heard people compare Wingmate to Archangel of Thune. I don’t see them as being similar though. Archangel immediately put an end to racing. Attacking into it was so difficult because of the lifegain, and as soon as your opponent untapped with it their entire army was growing along with their life total.

That raid trigger isn’t just going to fire every time either. There are plenty of situations where you either will be unable to trigger it at all, or you’ll be chump-attacking to turn it on. In those situations you trade whatever for a ¾ flyer. Occasionally you’ll be happy to make that exchange, but not always. Finally, the lifegain is fairly minimal. If you only attack with your two Rocs you’re gaining a whopping two life. Sure you can alpha strike and gain maybe five or six, but aren’t you in great shape at that point anyways?

Archangel was pretty expensive. Archangel was also a major Standard threat, Modern playable, and an Angel. I don’t see Roc doing much at all in Standard, but I accept that I could be totally wrong on that. If we see it start putting up results then the price will certainly rise and you’ll have time to get in, but until then, I’d trade my copies away.

Blue

Bulk:
Dig Through Time
Icy Blast
Kheru Spellsnatcher

 

Clever Impersonator
1 Month: $7-$10
Fate Reforged: $5-$8

First things first, EDH is going to love this. If you have blue in your deck this is basically an auto-include. Impersonator is getting a good chunk of demand from there, especially the foils. Now how about sixty card formats? The last time a clone was playable was back in the M12 days when we had both Phantasmal Image and Phyrexian Metamorph. We also had something else at that time: Birthing Pod. Birthing Pod decks brought a giant pile of ETB creatures to the table that both Image and Metamorph were happy to copy, and Metamorph could even copy Pod as well. Image continued to see support in Modern and Legacy where it acts as another two-drop lord for fish. You’ll notice that no merfolk decks are running any other clones though.

Unless there’s a deck with a great deal of ETB effects, I don’t see Impersonator making huge waves in Standard. Yes, cloning your opponent’s Planeswalker is awesome, but it doesn’t actually solve the problem of your opponent having a Planeswalker. (Unless it’s Garruk.) They also got theirs down before you. When using a clone effect cloning your opponent’s creatures is usually plan B, so you’re really only playing this to clone your guys. Without a Pod deck, is it going to be good enough? Given that Siege Rhino is in Abzan, I’d guess not.

As I said, EDH demand will persist for Impersonator. There will also be people eager to try it out at FNM. As such, the price is likely to stay north of $4, but I doubt by too much. I’d expect a slow descent until next Spring.

 

Pearl Lake Ancient
1 Month: $2
Fate Reforged: $1-$3

Pearl Lake Ancient is a control finisher, and by definition, a one or two-of. Even Aetherling, the most obnoxious control finisher in years, spent his entire Standard tenure dwindling towards his current price of seventy cents. Pearl Lake will hang out at mythic bulk.

Black

Bulk:
Retribution of the Ancients

 

Bloodsoaked Champion
1 Month: $2-$4
Fate Reforged: $2-$5

Bloodsoaked Champion is a curious one. Normally it would be a pretty easy bulk rare. A few aggro black lists would run it, but generally it would be unlikely to have a large enough presence to warrant a real price tag. The equation this time around is changed by the Mardu hotness Butcher of the Horde, which we’ll discuss further down in the multicolor section. The hook here is that you can sac Champion to Butcher for haste or lifelink, swing with Butcher, then rebuy your champion for 1B. As a creature that can come down on turn one then become relevant with your curve-topper later, Champion has potential.

I don’t think he hits bulk anytime soon. His preorder price is in the $4-$5 range and cards don’t typically drop to bulk from there too quickly. There are two possible paths for Champion. The first is that there aren’t enough lists running him alongside Butcher, which means his price dwindles towards bulk further down the road. The second path is that he and Butcher become bestest buds, which should shore his price up in the $3-$5 range, depending on how good the lists end up being.

 

Empty the Pits
1 Month: $2-$4
Fate Reforged: $1-$4

When I read this at first I saw “XBBBB” and I figured it was a real card. Then I noticed it was XX instead. Oof.

What happens when you pay real mana for this? Six mana gets you a 2/2. Eight for four power. Ten for six. Twelve mana for eight power. Meanwhile, Wingmate Roc up there is getting you six power for half the cost, and it’s all in the air. Clearly we’re supposed to be paying for this with Delve. How reliable is delve going to be? On average I’d say you could probably expect to get one to three extra zombies around turn six. Let’s say that on turn six you can exile four cards. That means you’re paying six mana (one zombie) and exiling four cards (two more zombies) for a total of three zombies. At that point it’s a six-mana instant that says “put three 2/2 zombies into play tapped.” Limited all-star perhaps, but we’re playing constructed here.

As the game goes late this clearly gets much stronger, and with that mana cost later rather than sooner is going to be the game plan anyways.  On turn eight you could potentially threaten fix or six zombies at end of turn which will certainly win a game, but hardly feels format-breaking.

Even if you imagine this in a best-case scenario, how often do decks run more than two copies? Only the most devoted self-mill decks could conceivably run four. As with any delve card, each copy of Empty the Pits in your deck makes the rest of them worse. That doesn’t bode well for financial gains.

I have difficulty seeing Empty the Pits doing much to really shape the way the format plays. I don’t doubt it will see action, perhaps even consistently, in a few black lists. It’s just that the quantity used will be limited and the slot fillable by other late-game finishers if you prefer. As for casual demand, Army of the Damned seems like it would be better in 80% of situations, and that card is $1.80. I see Empty the Pits petering out over the next few months towards mythic bulk.

 

Grim Haruspex
1 Month: Bulk
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $2

I’m tossing this in here basically as a heads up that I think this card may be playable. The drawing condition is a bit restrictive, but with Bloodsoaked Champion and Butcher of the Horde you’re certainly setting up a machine to get paid. The unmorph cost is about as aggressive as it gets, and while a 3/2 for 3 isn’t winning any awards it isn’t shameful either. I don’t think this ever really breaks $3 but I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a set now if you want to play a Bloodsoaked Champion/Butcher list.

 

Necropolis Fiend
1 Month: Bulk
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $2

Is this the next Desecration Demon? Maybe. A 6/6 body was pretty legit because it was bigger than nearly every other creature in the format. A 4/5 is nothing to shake a stick at, but he loses to Polukranos straight up. You also can’t just slam him on T4 and run away with the game. On the flip side he can come down on turn five or six for two or three mana while easily leaving removal up, and he’ll let you Avatar of Woe a relevant creature about once a game.

Perhaps Fiend is bulk for the next eighteen months. Perhaps he’s bulk until 5/5s for four mana rotate and suddenly he becomes way more playable. I’m honestly not sure. I know that I want him on our radar though.

Red

Bulk:
Crater’s Claws
Dragon-Style Twins
Howl of the Horde
Jeering Instigator

 

Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Month: $3-$4
Fate Reforged: $1-$3

I’ve been bullish on four-drop red mythics once or twice in the past few years and they haven’t panned out a single time. While Hellrider and Hero of Oxid ridge saw gigantic spikes in price in their day, we haven’t seen anything of that sort since Innistrad. Whether we just haven’t had the right card or the right format I’m not sure. What I do know is that Ashcloud Phoenix will not be that card.

A 4/1 flyer for four is about on par with what to expect out of red’s aggressive deck curve-topper so long as it has lots of other good text. Unfortunately, Ashcloud doesn’t. When it returns to the battlefield it’s as a morph that will be easily blocked or killed. If it hasn’t been unmorphed it will stay dead the second time. Meanwhile the unmorph cost is prohibitively expensive at six. Any deck reasonably interested in Ashcloud is not going to be getting excited about getting to six mana to be able to unmorph this. Even if you do, it’s trigger is good but not necessarily game-winning. The end result is that it’s a weak-ish creature whose condition for repetition is too difficult or costly to satisfy. We won’t be seeing this one’s prices rise from inevitable ashes.

 

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
1 Month: $15-$20
Fate Reforged: $12-$18

Chandra, Pyromaster was the best red Planeswalker ever when she first hit the scene last year. This year it appears Sarkhan is wresting that trophy away from her. The turn he comes down he has two choices: become a 4/4 flying indestructible haste dragon, or do four damage to something on the other side of the table. Given that he shares a mana cost with Stormbreath Dragon, his first ability is right on curve. Both Sarkhan and Stormbreath come down on five and attack for four in the air. If you’re not in the market to swing immediately, perhaps because you’re being pressured by an opposing creature, Sarkhan is capable of blowing that up instead of attacking. Four damage is a serious chunk of damage. It won’t kill Polukranos, but it will nail most other creatures, including your opponent’s Nissa’d land.

There are a few factors that are working against Sarkhan. One roadblock will be the glut at four and five in red and green. With so many options, it’s unlikely that people will be in the market for four Sarkhans. Off the top of my head you’ve got Polukranos, Xenagos, Nissa, and Stormbreath Dragon. I’m sure there are more that will be viable options as well. With so many cards all filling similar roles, most decks will want to vary their choices instead of going all-in on one or two. As for more casual formats I don’t’ see Sarkhan causing much of a stir. He’s bad in EDH, and while dragons tend to be quite popular, he doesn’t actually have “dragon” written on his typeline. The demand here should be mostly limited to Standard with perhaps some spilling over into Cube.

Overall I anticipate Sarkhan seeing moderate to heavy amounts of play. Assuming that some form of RG deck is in the top five of the format, and each one has two to three copies of Sarkhan, he should hang around north of $15 for awhile. While he is unlikely to be as pervasive as Elspeth, he should do well for himself. When Elspeth released along with Theros she was over $30. By the time January rolled around she was under $20. Even now she is only barely over $20. When Elspeth has trouble maintaining a price tag close to $25, it’s unlikely any could manage better.

Green

Bulk:
Meandering Towershell
Trail of Mystery

 

Hardened Scales
1 Month: Bulk – $1
Fate Reforged: Bulk

Ordinarily this would be unquestionable bulk but for two items. First, it’s aggressively costed. At any other mana cost I want nothing to do with this, but one is exactly where a card of this sort needs to be to have shot. The second is James’ entire article on the topic. While I’m not as much on board with the card as he is, I do see room for potential. This may pull a Parallel Lives while still in Standard, climbing to $2-$4, although Bayes tells us it’s unlikely. Rather it seems like it may be good to snag in as a throw-in once it hits real bulk because not only will it have the casual token demand at some point, it could also end up becoming part of some tier two strategies.

 

Hooded Hydra
1 Month: $2-$3
Fate Reforged: $1-$3

This is another one of those cards that I would have believed you if you told me it was rare. The fair cost on this card is unappealing, especially with Genesis Hydra and Hornet Queen running around. You can really only put this in your deck if your plan is to be unmorphing it. The cost to play it as a morph then flip it is a total of eight spread over two turns. That’s rather expensive. You end up getting paid on the back end when this finally dies with five 1/1s, but how much do we care? It’s obviously excellent insurance against End Hostilities. Beyond that I’m not sure how exciting this is in a color that also has Nissa at five.

Wizards keeps throwing these hydras at us and they have a real poor track record going so far. Polukranos is good, and Genesis Hydra is nifty, but take a look back at the other eight hydras currently in Standard and see how many others you remember. Mistcutter maybe? Here’s hoping they change “green’s creature.”

 

Rattleclaw Mystic
1 Month: $2-$4
Fate Reforged: $3-$7

As the Buy-a-Box promo for Khans, Rattleclaw deserves extra scrutiny. We’ve seen time and time again that BaB promos have a strong tendency to be Standard staples.

When Sylvan Caryatid was spoiled I was a bit bearish on it because it cost two mana and I like my dorks to cost one. I ended up coming around on Caryatid once it was clear that the 0/3 hexproof body was so powerful. Your opponent couldn’t kill him and he blocked 2-power creatures reliably.

Rattleclaw is two mana as well, but instead of dodging removal and blocking he dies to everything and can’t block a thing. The phrase “always bolt the bird” remains just as relevant today as it was some twenty years ago when it was coined, meaning that savvy opponents are not going to let this live if they have a choice.

What makes Rattleclaw unique is the morph ability. Playing Rattleclaw face-down on T3 means that on T4 you ramp to six mana. (Unmorph for 2 adding RUG with two lands left open, tap Rattleclaw for one.) This sets up a plethora of plays. You could run out double Savage Knuckleblade, Temur Ascendancy + Knuckleblade, a Scuttling Doom Engine, Sagu Mauler, the RUG Khan, or one of any multiple planeswalkers available to you. With Elvish Mystic on T1 this is all sped up a turn, which means six mana on T3. I think the last time we had six mana on T3 was Lotus Cobra, which Bant Mythic put to good use by attacking with a trampling 12/11 annihilator 2.

As a normal mana dork Rattleclaw is weak. With the shenanigans the morph ability promises, his outlook becomes much more promising. I anticipate we’ll see an immediate drop off following the release of the set. The price shouldn’t drop too low, and I’d expect growth by the time we hit Fate Reforged. For comparison, Sylvan Caryatid hung around the $5-$6 range until mid-to-late summer this year when it spiked to $10. It’s quite possible Rattleclaw follows a similar trajectory.

 

See the Unwritten
1 Month: $2-3
Fate Reforged: Bulk Mythic

In every format other than Standard Summoning Trap is preferable. As for Standard, there’s currently nothing in the format I really care about cheating into play at sorcery speed. Maybe if the Eldrazi show up later in the block this spikes, but unless that happens this is a bulk mythic.

Multicolor

Bulk:
Abzan Ascendancy
Ankle Shanker
Avalanche Tusker
Deflecting Blast
Duneblast
Crackling Doom
Flying Crane Technique
Ivorytusk Fortress (Intro Deck)
Jeskai Ascendancy
Kheru Lich Lord
Mardu Ascendancy
Mindswipe
Rakshasa Vizier
Sage of the Inward Eye
Temur Ascendancy
Trap Essence
Villainous Wealth

 

Anafenza, the Foremost
1 Month: $3-$5
Fate Reforged: $2-$4

We’ve got a three mana 4/4 in GW leaving the format right now which provides us a good idea of how much play Anafenza can manage. Loxodon Smiter got around in Standard for sure, although only being two colors instead of three is a huge boon. His counter clause is overall weaker than Anafenza’s two special abilities though. Her first ability will be decent, but won’t come up until at least turn five. If you cast her on turn three she won’t be able to put the counter on the creature you play turn four. That means you get your first +1/+1 counter a whole two turns later, assuming you even attack with your four-drop.

The more appealing text on here is the Rest in Peace, I believe. Keeping cards out of opponent’s graveyards is one of those things that doesn’t feel like it matters that much but surprises you with its utility in many situations. This is especially noticeable in Modern, when you realize just how much damage Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace do to so many different opponents.

My concern with Anafenza is that CDE casting cost. Not only is she going to be tough to get down on turn three, it means only exactly decks playing those colors will want in. Compare that to a card like Loxodon Smiter which can be played in GW, Naya, or Bant.

Anafenza is a reasonably strong card that could see mild to moderate Standard play, and even possibly some Modern play alongside Doran. Unless she makes a big impact in that format though, I expect her price to remain fairly low. With Sarkhan and Sorin running around alongside all those fetches the other mythics are going to have a lot of work to do to keep their prices up.

 

Butcher of the Horde
1 Month: $3-$7
Fate Reforged: ???

Butcher of the Horde is looking to be the breakout card in the set. When I first saw it in the spoiler I shrugged my shoulders and kept scrolling. Apparently I was alone in this. Both Sam Black and BBD have spoken about how good the card seems to be in Standard. If it was just Sam Black I may not care too much since he’ll play anything with the word ‘sacrifice’ on it, but two players speaking about it’s strength is not something to handwave away. While I’m personally not wild about the card, I’ll respect the opinion of those that know better than me.

Apparently Butcher can and probably will be a real thing in Standard. His immediately floor should be $2 or $3 since so many people think he’s the real deal, and his ceiling will be in the $6-$8 range. It will be tough for him to pull a full-fledged Boros Reckoner and break $20 because of the fetches. He’s going to have to see a lot of play to even break $10; enough that you should see it coming before it happens.

In the short term I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up a set if it looks like a card you’d want to play. The worst case scenario is you lose two or three bucks a copy, but you’re also protecting against it doubling within two to three weeks. Watch tournament results, listen to what the good players have to say about him, and remember that we shouldn’t see him go full-on Reckoner but that double digits isn’t out of the question.

 

Mantis Rider
1 Month: Bulk – $2
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $2

I almost put this in the bulk section but it’s just slightly better than that. I really doubt that Mantis Rider can get there, but stranger things have happened I guess. Mantis Rider is pretty strictly a Standard card. I doubt anyone in Modern needs it, and even if they do the demand won’t be great enough to push the price much. I’m 98% this is a bulk card.

 

Narset, Enlightened Master
1 Month: $3-$5
Fate Reforged: $2-$4

Supposedly Narset had her cost bumped up from five to six in development because she was too good at five. I believe it. First strike is a great combat ability that makes blocking much more miserable than it would be otherwise. Hexproof has proven time and time again to be miserable to put up with. It forces interaction with the creature to occur on the battlefield, where her FS will shine. Her triggered ability is patently absurd. It has the potential to buy you up to four (!) free spells. We know most of the time that won’t happen, and that on average you’ll flip a little less than two lands each time. The spells also have to be non-creatures, but that seems easy to mitigate. Flipping Divinations, Banishing Lights, Lightning Strikes, or Planeswalkers for free can pay you for casting Narset even if you only get to attack once. Can you imagine flipping an Elspeth with Narset? Hooo boy.

Even though her triggered ability means business, there’s still some serious downsides. Not casting lands or creatures means you can’t just go hog wild with her. She’s on the slightly more expensive side of things, and is vulnerable to any number of sweepers. She’s also a CDE spell, meaning there won’t be many decks that can take advantage of her. There will be demand for Narset, but it won’t be intense. That demand should keep her slightly above bulk mythic, but not much higher. As a long term spec I think she’s got legs, because EDH and casual players will be a big fan. In the meantime though, I wouldn’t mind shipping her if you don’t plan on playing with her.

 

Rakshasa Deathdealer
1 Month: Bulk – $1
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $2

While I pegged Butcher of the Horde as the breakout card of the set, Rakshasa Deathdealer may be the sleeper of the set.

Those of you that were playing several years ago may remember a little zombie leech that was integral to the success of Standard Jund: Putrid Leech. The ability of that card to come down on turn two and start threatening four damage a turn was instrumental in Jund applying heavy pressure with nearly every permanent. Deathdealer is going to play a similar role, although with a slightly different feature set. One of the things that made Leech so powerful was that pumping it didn’t require mana. On turn two you could pay the two life to hit for four and still cast a Sprouting Thrinax. Deathdealer won’t give you quite the same option but the game will be similar. A common play with Deathdealer will be attacking into a Sylvan Caryatid. If they choose to block you can trade two mana to kill their Caryatid in a 0-for-1. If they don’t block, you simply skip paying the two and proceed to cast your spells on curve. Later in the game Deathdealer can remain a threatening attacker or blocker, play defense against giant Polukranosi, or an act as a wrath deterrent. That’s a lot of options for a two-drop that can hit for four on turn three.

I’d be more excited to buy into Deathdealer if this wasn’t the fall set of what will assuredly be the most widely-opened set in history. If he hits it big and becomes a staple in a tier one BG list I don’t think $3-$6 or more is out of the question, but it would have to be a solid tier one list akin to Mono-Black or Mono-Blue. If he only sees mild play he won’t be able to climb out of bulk status. Rakshasa Deathdealer has the chops to make it big, and while the format won’t necessarily shake out in such a way that he’s able to shine, it would be wise to pay close attention.

 

Sagu Mauler
1 Month: Bulk – $2
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $5

These are wide margins but bear with me a moment. Let’s talk about what Sagu Mauler does well. He’s got trample, which is one of the best combat keywords. He’s got hexproof, the most frustrating and possibly broken keyword since storm. He’s got morph, which means you get to cheat on his mana cost and sneak him into play underneath counterspells. (Morph is especially savage here, since you can blow people out if they try to kill him. Unmorph in response to Hero’s Downfall and it fizzles.) Mauler has a giant body, exactly the combat ability you want on a 6/6, and total immunity to removal. There’s definitely a lot of competition at the six-drop slot in the upcoming Standard but Mauler has a threatening body that demands the opponent interact with it on the board.

Is Sagu Mauler going to break out and become a defining card of the format? Unlikely. Things would have to shake very specifically for him to be a legitimate contender. Chances are best that he’ll hit bulk and stay there. However there is a possibility, admittedly rather slim, that he becomes a major component of Standard and his price reflects that. I wouldn’t expect him to break out, but I’ll be keeping an eye on him either way.

 

Savage Knuckleblade
1 Month: $3-$6
Fate Reforged: $1-$4

When Ravnica came out I was definitively Simic. When Khans was released, there was no question I was looking forward to the Temur cards. RUG is my probably my most-played color combination of constructed decks. I played RUG in Standard with Kiora and Xenagos for months and I play it in Modern with Scapeshift. I like the colors and it’s awesome that RUG is getting a card everyone thinks is great.

That said, I’m not entirely convinced Knuckleblade can cut it. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been burned so many times before. When was the last time a really playable Simic card was printed? Kiora is solid I guess. The guild was one of the worst in Ravnica block. Before that, the last time I remember UG being playable was the turboland deck back in Zendikar Standard, and even that was short-lived. I’m worried that if I get my hopes up for Knuckleblade and RUG to actually be a tier one strategy in Standard they’re just going to get dashed once more. After all, RUG is cut from playing the two best cards in the format; Thoughtseize and Elspeth. How good can it really be?

Knuckleblade is clearly pushed, and the power level is there. The question is whether there will be enough support in the format for the colors. The good news for Knuckleblade is that Courser and Caryatid are in the same wedge, and those are both going to be bonkers. The bad news is that you can go play Abzan and still get Caryatid and Courser, as well as all the best black and white spells. Or even just Sultai, where you trade the damage of red in for the firm removal and hand disruption of black. The silver lining here is that red happens to contain Goblin Rabblemaster, currently one of the top ten creatures in the format. It’s been a long, long time since a RUG deck played the red for a creature, but hey maybe it’s finally time.

I can be optimistic about Sagu Mauler because it’s so likely to be bulk. It’s a fun looking card and if it hits it big then great. With nobody else rooting for him I get to feel like I’m championing the underdog. I’m not deluding myself about his chances though. He’ll probably be trash. Knuckleblade is much more on the map right now, with SCG sold out at $6 and eBay sets finishing at about $4 a copy. People will try him for awhile, and the power level is present, so his price shouldn’t tank too hard too fast. My guess is that Knuckleblade, and RUG in general are just not going to have enough raw power to be competitive. If that happens Knuckleblade will be doomed to bulk, a powerful card a victim of his colors.

It’s entirely possible RUG ends up being excellent and Savage Knuckblade is at the center of the deck. In that situation he’s $4-$10+, depending on just how excellent he and the deck are. A more realist approach is that it’s been forever since RUG has been good in Standard and that history repeats itself. In that eventuality, Knuckleblade hits bulk – $2.

 

Sidsi, Brood Tyrant
1 Month: $3-$6
Fate Reforged: $3 or $10

BUG was possibly the best deck in Theros block so we know that Sidisi is coming in with a strong precedent. When he enters the battlefield you’re getting a creature more often than not, and if Sidisi is in your deck you’ll be playing cards that set up additional triggers. Sultai Ascendancy, a card already possibly playable, gives you another trigger. Cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Pharika help a good bit too. Maybe there’s a deck with Wayfinder, Caryatid, Courser, Ascendancy, Eidolon of Blossoms, and Sidisi? Nyx Weaver even? I don’t know but it sure sounds fun.

Sidisi is a solid card that will have cross-format appeal. This alone will keep the price in the $3-$4 range for awhile. If he doesn’t materialize in Standard I wouldn’t expect his price to move much from there. However if it turns out some sort of BUG mill deck is real he’ll jump to $10+. In that situation Pharikas will also be a great buy. See how things shake out and be ready to pounce of Sidsi comes out strong.

 

Siege Rhino
1 Month: $2-$4
Fate Reforged: $3-$6+

Siege Rhino is seriously strong. Four mana for a 4/5 is a reasonable rate to begin with. Trample is exactly what you want on fat creatures and that ETB trigger is fantastic. You immediately dome your opponent and pad your life total while putting a sizeable threat on the board that can attack through opposing Coursers. He even survives combat with Knuckleblade when your opponent is tapped down. The biggest challenge to Rhino that I can see from here is Polukranos. Polukranos will be cheaper to cast and is slightly bigger. Anyone that’s played with him is aware that it’s tough to attack through sometimes because of chump blocks, so maybe the trample and trigger push Rhino into the lead.

I don’t see Rhino cratering too hard unless it turns out Abzan is just junk (heh) in the new format. That seems unlikely to pass given it’s in the same colors as Courser, Thoughtseize and Elspeth. Rhino is on the short list to be one of the most expensive rares in the set. If early lists come out with three or four copies don’t hesitate to at least pick up your own playset. It will be tough to make actual cash flipping these since the preorder price is already $4+, but you can always trade for them aggressively if he’s looking to be a real contender.

 

Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Month: $9-$14
Fate Reforged: $11-$16

This may be the first time in a long while that a Planeswalker actually rises from his preorder price. SCG has copies in stock at $15 and eBay sets are finishing for about $10-$11 a card. This is surprising to me because Sorin is so solid.

First things first, he’s a four-drop four-loyalty Planeswalker. Second, he’s in both black and white, two colors with some of the strongest cards in the format. Third, he is capable of putting a token down that can not only chump on the ground but also in the air, protecting him from any hasty airborne threats. If you’re worried that his protection mode is a minus instead of a plus, remember that JtMS lost a loyalty when he bounced creatures. Fourth, Sorin’s +1 is going to make attacking into Sorin a nightmare for your opponent if you have any creatures in play at all. It also makes winning races against him a impossible. Fifth, that emblem is fairly easy to obtain and has the potential to completely shut some opponents out of the game. It isn’t as strong as other emblems are but you sure can get to ultimate loyalty quickly.

I never spent much time casting Senor de Innistrad, but I have a good bit of experience playing against him. I was almost always more concerned with the +1/+0 emblem he created rather than the piddly token he was putting into play. In this situation the roles are reversed. Sorin is buffing your whole team with a plus ability every turn, and only dropping the token into play when you’re short on bodies.

Sorin has a competitive mana cost, three strong abilities, and is in two great colors. Senor de Innistrad was quite popular and was reasonably pricey until the duel deck was announced. Solemn Visitor may creep down a bit from his current price, but I don’t think we see him much below $9 or $10. If he does get that low, trade aggressively. He’s good enough to warrant $15-$20 if he sees any real play in the format.

 

Sultai Ascendancy
1 Month: Bulk – $1
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $3

I’m pretty confident all of the Ascendancies are bulk for quite some time, even if they’re playable. Still, Sultai is looking to be the best of the bunch and I’d be remiss not to mention it. It probably joins its brethren in the sub-$1.50 category, but it seems the most likely to reach a few bucks. It’s no Sylvan Library but what is? Thassa has shown us the power of repeated upkeep card selection, and the fact that it works so well with Sidsi certainly doesn’t hurt.

 

Surrak Dragonclaw
1 Month: $3-$6
Fate Reforged: Bulk Mythic

I did a double take when I looked up his preorder price. $15 on SCG and $9+ on eBay? Are you all reading a different card than I am?

He’s a five-mana 6/6. That’s fine I guess. Flash is good, sure. It let’s you leave up Knuckleblade mana or Temur Charm and flash him down if you don’t need them. The fact that he can’t be countered is wildly situational at best. Unless Temur Charm becomes a 4-of format staple I don’t think the uncounterable clause will matter much. Same with making your other guys uncounterable. Giving the rest of your team trample is certainly solid, as Nylea has shown, but without having it himself it can be totally useless in a lot of board states.

Surrak will be a reasonable threat against control decks for sure. Not only does he blank all their counterspells but he allows your other threats to trample over Elspeth tokens. Unfortunately, I don’t see him having much of a role outside of this. Other formats won’t really want him. Maybe some Riku decks will run him since more casual-oriented players are so drawn to “can’t be countered.”

Overall demand here should be low across the board. The “can’t be countered” clause tends to drive the price of pre-order cards to absurd highs (Savage Summoning was preordering at $6), but I fully expect a crash here over the next month or two. Get out and stay out.

 

Utter End
1 Month: $1-$3
Fate Reforged: $1-$4

While I’m not wild about this card being more than two or three bucks, it would be shortsighted of me to forget what happened with Hero’s Downfall. Everything went right in the case of Downfall – black was the best color in the format, it was relatively cheap, there were no enchantments or artifacts it really needed to kill – so of course the price was high. Utter end is more expensive and harder to cast, although it hits much harder than Downfall does. The biggest strike against End is that it’s four mana instead of three. When it comes to staple removal you really want to cast it as fast as possible. Each extra mana makes it much tougher to run as a full playset instead of as a one or two-of.

Given that it’s in two colors instead of one it seems much tougher for Utter End to climb towards double digits the way Downfall did. Still, there’s a lot of room between $1 and $10. I anticipate it hanging out on the lower end of things, but I could see it climbing towards $4-$5 if the format is slow enough to allow four mana removal spells.

 

Zurgo Helmsmasher
1 Month: $2-$3
Fate Reforged: Mythic Bulk

Zurgo is one of the two headlining cards of the upcoming Speed vs Cunning product, just as Polukranos was last year. Polukranos would be $15 today if not for that duel deck because he’s so playable. Zurgo…is less playable.

Zurgo of course absolutely has a dangerous front end, and I’m sure I’ll be taking seven damage on turn five multiple times in the future because I don’t want to block with anything I have in play. If you do decide to block to save yourself one-third of your life, Zurgo grows.

My issue with Zurgo is that he’s so easy to chump. Toss a spare Elvish Mystic or Caryatid or Xenagos satyr in front of him to buy yourself the turn or two you need to assemble a reasonable answer. Even if you chump him on turn five and turn him into an 8/3, there are still a plethora of effects that can kill him on the next turn. Lightning Strike picks off an 8/3 Zurgo. Polukranos and seven mana can eat an 8/3. If you decide to take the damage, a lowly Magma Spray will get him. While Zurgo applies a lot of pressure unanswered, he happens to be very answerable.

A CDE mana cost will hurt his value in competitive formats. He’s not particularly noteworthy in EDH. Any demand he has will be squelched by the Duel Deck printing. I think Zurgo is headed right for bulk mythic.

Artifact

Bulk:
Dragon Throne of Tarkir
Ghostfire Blade

 

Altar of the Brood
1 Month: Bulk – $1
Fate Reforged: Bulk – $2

This is a sneaky little artifact here. It triggers for any permanent, which means it includes lands. Fetchlands even get to trigger it twice. The mana cost is as pushed as you can get, which is exactly what you need on a card like this. Only milling one is sort of a bummer. If it milled two, or allowed you to target yourself, it would be even more exciting.

We know the casual crowd loves mill to an extent that is difficult to understand, so there’s already going to be a base of people looking to snatch this up. What really excites me is the possibility that it breaks out in Legacy or Modern to create a combo. Even if it’s part of a tier two combo deck in Modern out of the gate we won’t see the price rise too much because there will be too many in rotation, but down the road this will have real potential to jump from bulk to $5. It’s a long term play – two years at least – but there’s the chance someone could make a killing on these if they have hundreds (or thousands) of copies.

 

Ugin’s Nexus
1 Month: Mythic Bulk
Fate Reforged: Mythic Bulk

This card is exciting mostly because it references Ugin. Are we getting another colorless Planeswalker this block? Ghostfire Blade certainly sets up Ugin bringing a horde of colorless creatures with him.

Financially this card is a bulk mythic. Very clearly designed for the EDH crowd, the foils should hold value pretty well. There may be a day down the road where someone figures out how to break this, or the EDH demand ends up pushing it close to double digits, but that is at least a year or two away.

Land

The Fetchlands
1 Month: $10-$15
Fate Reforged: $8-$13

I wrote an entire article about these! Go look!

 

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