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.

Boring of the Gods Review Review

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By: Travis Allen

M15 spoilers are are well underway, with only one mythic left to go at the time of this writing. Join me in a week or two for the full set review. In the meantime, I’m going to double back and check out my Born of the Gods review. We’re going to see what I wrote, how accurate I was, if there are any lessons to be learned, and finally consider the future of the card now that we know more about it and the metagame at large.

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 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 are. 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 INN-RTR,) or where Prime Speaker Zegana is a chase mythic. Even the hallowed Jace was bad 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 a powerful card should be good and a weaker, situational card should be bad, but 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.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos

Preorders for Brimaz are around $25 at the moment. This is still in the prerelease honeymoon period, but out of all the mythics, Brimaz is the clear front runner. I would guess that he won’t manage to get much lower than $10 ever, if even that low. If he sinks as low as $15 I wouldn’t hesitate to start grabbing copies, and under $15 go hog wild. If you are dying to play with him right now I think you could do worse than buying a set and accepting the fact that you’re losing $40 on the purchase. If you’re the only guy in the room putting Simba tokens into play he could very well make up that $40 pretty quickly.

I’d like to say I had a pretty good bead on Brimaz. He’s seen a tad less play than I and many others would have predicted, and is therefore on the lower end of the projected price range, but overall he’s well within the limits that were laid out. I probably wasn’t quite explicit enough with that range because that only sets me up for failure. You’ll have to take me at my word that I was thinking he would be between $15 and $20.

Like many cards in Theros, especially the good ones, we won’t see him cheaper until possibly next April, so if you want a set now is the time to hop in.

Eidolon of Countless Battles

It’s apparent from Sam’s article that they are pushing Eidolon a bit more than Keldon Warlord. Creatures of this nature historically haven’t been quite good enough, and even if they are, they’re probably not being played as a four-of. There isn’t any money to be made here at the moment, but when it hits bulk rare in a few weeks, I couldn’t fault you for grabbing copies. It’s one heck of a way to follow up an Ajani. The art is pretty cool too, so that’s something.

The demand for Countless Battles was apparently greater than expected, given that he’s hanging around $2, although it seems to have come mostly from casual tables. He’s shown up only rarely in any constructed format. (I say this as I have four sleeved up for a Standard deck.) I guess once Keldon Warlord is pushed enough it becomes popular. He isn’t soaring above my call of bulk pricing, but he’s still more than I thought he would be. Perhaps this is also a factor of being in Born of the Gods? I can’t imagine he would hold $2 if printed in Theros. It’s possible a great deal of my price expectations will be a tad low if I didn’t fully take into account the 6:2:1 distribution.

Fated Retribution

Unlikely to do too much in Standard (see Planar Cleansing,) but it’s got EDH written all over it. Like most cards of this type, normal copies will be $.15 and foils will be a few bucks.

The cheapest copy on TCG is $.23, so I was pretty close. It may have gotten that cheap if someone didn’t play it in UW control once at an SCG event.

Hero of Iroas

A cool casual card that is almost definitely not going to make it past FNM. He could sneak up to a dollar or two once Theros rotates, so if you can get them for basically free, go for it. Don’t expect anything out of him in Standard though. The reason Bant Auras was a thing last season was because your two targets were hexproof, and the reason Kor Spiritdancer is good enough in Modern is that she draws cards before they can kill her. This particular hero has neither of those going for him.

Hero is hanging around $1.50 right now which is right in the expected range. He got there a tad early on casual demand but he isn’t surging over $5 or anything. There should be some slow growth on this over the years but fear of a reprint in a dual deck or something would keep me away from it.

Plea for Guidance

Idyllic Tutor is a $10 card, but that was in Morningtide, not BNG. There will be probably five to six (or more?) copies of Plea in circulation than Idyllic. It is likely to do well, but in a span of time measured in years.

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At $.13, I’d say this was accurate.

Spirit of the Labyrinth

From our perspective, the outlook is less exciting. It will be passable in Standard, but it’s hardly more than a Daring Skyjek. Maybe 10%-20% of the time you cast it the rules text will be relevant, but that’s about it. In Modern the forecast is similar, where there isn’t really a huge amount of card draw going around. Combo decks like Pod and Twin don’t need to draw many extra cards if any at all, and Dark Confidant gets around it. Spirit is ultimately at her best in Legacy, which is never really capable of driving prices much on Standard rares. It’s unlikely this will see any more play than Thalia does, and she’s still barely $3. Ship yours now, be on the lookout for foils, and don’t bother acquiring for speculation purposes until it’s under a dollar.

I’m particularly pleased with this, since there were plenty of people that thought this was going to be a Big Deal. There are copies available under $1 on TCG and MTGPrice is showing a fair trade value of just $1.61. Spirit demonstrates that an in-print non-foil rare only used in Legacy just can’t sustain a meaningful price. We’ll all do well to remember this when similar cards show up in future sets.

Fated Infatuation

Remember Cackling Counterpart? Yeah, me neither.

Yep.

Mindreaver

This card already exists in Grimoire Thief. Grimoire Thief is from Morningtide, one of the modern sets most likely to see extraordinary price tags. Grimoire Thief is $1.50. Don’t buy Mindreaver.

Yep.

Tromokratis

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This guy is pretty cool, and may actually make it into Standard, but the prerelease promo is going to crush any potential value he had. Fantastic art on the promo, but then I’ve always been a sucker for monsters in the mist.

Yep.

Whelming Wave

The coolest sweeper nobody is really going to play. How often are you going to want this over Supreme Verdict? The odds of a deck with creatures wanting to play it is awfully slim, since you’d need enough sea monsters to make it worth it. Perhaps Grixis could use it as a sweeper type effect, but they’ve already got Anger of the Gods, Infest, Bile Blight, etc. I just don’t see this cutting it, and in a world where Spirit of the Labyrinth is a $3 card, this is $.10.

Boy, blue got basically nothing in Born of the Gods, didn’t it?

Bile Blight

How expensive can an uncommon get? We may find out this set. With how underwhelming BNG is, there won’t be a rush to crack packs. Given that black is both the best color and deck right now, there’s going to be a lot of demand on Bile Blight and not enough supply. $3-$4+ seems plausible. If you find people selling them for $.50 or less, buy them all.

I liked this, right up until it was in the event deck. Blah. It looks like about a month after release it was around $2, so I wasn’t too far off. If you had bought them at less than $.50 you could have buylisted them at one point for a small profit at least.

Champion of Stray Souls

$3 is a bit much right now, but when he inevitably sinks to $1, I’ll probably trade for a few playsets and stash him. At the very least, he’s guaranteed to climb back up to a few bucks a ways down the road.

He’s followed the trajectory I anticipated, and I’ve held true to my words and grabbed a few copies where I could. With the new Soul cycle he’s certainly looking a bit more plausible. I can imagine a junk shell that uses dorks, Grisly Salvage, Champion, and a few Souls to generate an engine where you’re either flipping Souls into play from Champion or exiling them to advance your board position. In any case, Champion is a low-risk position to take. He can’t get any cheaper, and Casual/EDH demand may carry him towards $5 in a year or two.

Fate Unraveler

Complete trash in Standard but a popular casual effect, especially in the wake of Nekusar. If this was printed in Shadowmoor, it would have been subjected to the routine price spike we’ve all become accustomed too. Having been printed in BNG though, there will be more Unravelers than those looking to summon her.

At $.37 on MTGPrice, I’d say this was an accurate read.

Gild

An acceptable answer to gods for Black (which obviously needs the help,) but will probably never become more than a one or two-of type of thing. The closest comparison is Sever the Bloodline. Sever managed $2 or $3 for a brief window, but that card was pretty much completely better. The flip side of that is that we work with what we’ve got, and there weren’t indestructible Gods begging to be exiled in Innistrad. This card has gotten panned, and as unexciting as I find it, it may have enough of a place in the format to hit $2 or so. Gold tokens are certainly unique at the very least.

This had an outside shot right up until Silence the Believers was printed. It’s been completely outclassed at this point, so stay away.

Herald of Torment

I have trouble seeing a deck ever wanting this over Nightveil Specter. It does slightly more damage, yes, but being able to steal cards from opponents, especially if you can generate black mana, seems way more valuable. I can’t imagine this doing anything at all until the fall, but perhaps once we lose Nightveil he’ll have a place. I’m not personally wild about him, but if you are, at least wait until June when he’ll be a dime.

Well I botched this one pretty good. The issue is that while I considered Nightveil Specter completely better, I ignored the possibility that other decks that didn’t want Specter may instead want Herald. In my defense he hasn’t set the world on fire, so it’s not like I cost you hundreds of dollars in lost opportunity. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong, and the ~70 Heralds at my apartment are testament to that.

Pain Seer

The amount of work you need to do to make this good is just not worth it. Anyone that has cast Confidant knows that more than half the time he’s in play you aren’t turning him sideways, and unless we see some bonkers 1-drop inspiration enablers, Seer won’t be any different. I can imagine someone putting him into a slower Esper humans deck next to Xathrid Necromancer, but that won’t be enough to keep his price up. Avoid at all costs and ship ASAP. Take a 30% loss if you need to, because getting $7 in trade for him at prerelease weekend will be better than $.70 two weeks later.

I may have messed up Herald, but I was spot on with Pain Seer. As expected, it’s been too difficult to make Pain Seer work to drive any real price movement. He’s $1.35 on MTGPrice and most of that is from people still thinking he’s good enough or speculation. The ‘almost’ cards that Wizards prints have a pretty poor track record at this point. I would be cautious of others we see in the future.

Having said all of that, Pain Seer looks much better now than he did at prerelease. Springleaf Drum may not be enough to enable inspiration but it’s definitely a great start. Add in Herald as a way to get Pain Seer into the air and convoke as the returning mechanic in M15 and you’ve got some solid ways to turn Pain Seer sideways. I haven’t bought any yet but I’ve been considering it. I can’t say for sure whether I think this will make it anywhere but I wouldn’t fault you for picking some up.

Fated Conflagration

I talked about Buy-A-Box promos in my Theros review, and the long and short of it is that they’re typically quite playable. Fated Conflagration definitely seems to follow suit, but that triple red seals its fate. It will get played, but the price will never climb above $3 or $4, and that’s pushing it. There’s just not enough decks that can cast this card. Ship now and put your dollars elsewhere.

At $.14 on TCG this has really bottomed out. It quite possibly would have been seriously playable if not for RRR. There’s a chance it could show up in Eidolon of the Great Revel builds later on, but even that won’t be enough to push it much.

Felhide Spiritbinder

The most intriguing Minotaur I’ve seen yet. With how popular 187s have been lately, and how cheap that trigger is, there’s a chance he could make it to the sixty card leagues. The trigger could have easily been 2R or 3R, at which point I wouldn’t even be writing about it. 1R is affordable enough to be worth discussing. Making copies of Reckoner isn’t terribly exciting, but I’m sure there are other bodies that will be.

Having said all that, can he climb above $1? Probably not. Rares have to see some serious play to make it above a buck, and even if Spiritbinder is good, I doubt he’s that good.

I gave this guy a chance but he just hasn’t materialized. He’s well under $1 at this point. Convoke may help, but it’s unlikely we’ll get something strong enough to really push his price. It would have to be a tier one list to get him above $2.

Flame-Wreathed Phoenix

This card is awesome. Here’s the thing about punisher cards. The kitchen tabler looks at Vexing Devil and says “holy crow that thing is amazing!” The FNM/PTQ player looks at it and says “It’s worse than it looks, because you always get the worst mode of the card.” The wise player looks at it and says “What if I’m happy with the worst mode every time?” That’s where we are.

Sure, you’re going to get the worse half of this card 90% of the time. But if the bad half is still very playable, then the card is completely fine. Four mana for a 3/3 flying haste is a rate we’ve never seen on a monocolored creature that stays around. The only other 5/5 flyer for four in Red made you sac two mountains when it came into play. When you cast this your opponent is going to pick the mode that’s easier to deal with, but they very well may be unable to deal with either, especially after you’ve curved out.

Red is always looking for a good four drop, and they’ve got it in Phoenix. Don’t buy in at $10, but if it slips to sub-$5, feel free to trade. I’ll be putting cash in if it makes it below $2. I’m fairly confident this thing gets below $5 at some point, and then hits $10-$15 before it rotates.

I was clearly far more optimistic about this than others were. Standard red decks often want a four drop finisher. Past performers such as Hero of Oxid Ridge were $10 at some point so there’s some amount of precedence. Of course, the performance of Exava has certainly tempered my enthusiasm. At least I was smart enough not to provide a timetable on when this would spike.

Between Mana Confluence, the impending rotation of Desecration Demon, and the appearance of Painlands, burn is looking pretty well situated. I admittedly haven’t bought any of these yet, but the next time I place an order I may grab a few sets.

Satyr Firedancer

This is a curious card. It’s hardly an aggressive creature as a 1/1 for two. But what it does do is reward players for pointing burn at their opponent’s face. I’m sure you’ve all played against the guy with the unsleeved burn deck that shocks you on turn one. With Firedancer, it’s no longer a necessarily bad play (after turn two.) He’s kind of like a two mana personal Furnace of Rath. Allowing your burn to do double duty is nothing to scoff at, and he may be able to put more pressure on a life total than you realize. I expect him to hit bulk rates pretty quick, but I’m not certain he’ll stay there. Between him and Young Pyro, that’s eight two-drops that reward you for playing a lot of instants and sorceries. At the very least, I expect him to be reasonably popular with casual players.

Currently hanging around $1.50, Firedancer is behaving quite similarly to what I predicted. He has no real competitive success to his name, but casual tables and FNMers are fans, which has propped him up above bulk. I’d expect the same moving forward, with his price maybe doubling or so within the next year.

Searing Blood

How many $2-$3 uncommons can a single set support? I think we’re going to find out in BNG.

Man these uncommons are killing me. You can probably get $2-$3 for it in trade at least, which is something I guess.

Courser of Kruphix

Courser was a real heartbreaker. At first pass I was certain I’d never cast anything else, and then I realized it didn’t allow me to play extra lands each turn. Once I got over my sudden and severe depression, I re-evaluated the card. I can see her being popular in a lot of green decks, both in Standard and more casually-oriented tables. She survives Bile Blight, blocks for days, adds double devotion, and helps ramp decks stay ahead on life against anything terribly aggressive. I feel like she’s probably a $2 card, but given how much I love casting cards like this, it’s hard for me to separate my bias. Use your own judgment on this one.

Hah, for once tempering my love of value green creatures was actually detrimental. I had my personal suspicions that Courser was really quite good but I assumed it was because I’m so biased to like this type of card. I gave you guys a much more conservative reading because I figured she wasn’t nearly as good as I wanted it to be. Turns out, Courser was even better than I thought she was. In fact, she turned out better than everyone thought she was. I guess the lesson here is that when I really think a card is powerful I should be forthcoming about that and not let my self-awareness get in the way of making bolder predictions. I definitely fell short on this one, but nobody would have guessed she’d make it to $15.

Hero of Leina Tower

Even Rancor, the hallowed savior of green aggro, would have trouble saving her. If Wolfbitten Captive couldn’t make it, neither will this.

Chromanticore

Imagine someone has been playing Magic for six months and decides to design a card with Bestow. This is what it would look like. The real kick in the teeth is that it isn’t even Legendary for the subset of EDH players that would want it. I can see this being a few dollars down the road just because of how silly it is, and foils will probably command a bit of a premium, but that’s about it. Look for the person at your prerelease you’ve don’t recognize that has no playmat and no sleeves. Trade it to him.

This has performed exactly as expected, although I’m more of a fan of it now than I was before. It showed up in a few Japanese lists that were able to put together the mana without too much trouble without even having access to Mana Confluence. This guy is wacky for sure, and there’s no guarantee he’ll manage to do anything of relevance, but at $1 in trade I’d be happy to grab him where I could. You’ll be able to buylist him for at least that at some point down the road if nothing materializes.

Ephara, God of the Polis

I think I’m a little blinded to how good Ephara is because once I thought about her alongside of Prophet of Kruphix, I couldn’t think of much else. Regardless of how good she ends up being in Standard, as with most demigods I expect her to sink towards $5 before (if) she manages anything more. UW valuable guys always seems to do well at some point in a format though, and Ephara would be a pretty solid payoff. Detention Sphere is also in these colors, which is going to be an excellent way to remove threats while boosting your devotion. I doubt she’s Thassa good, but she’s better than several others. All in all, I’m pretty up on Ephara.

At only $3 on MTGPrice, I’m a bit surprised. I really didn’t think the gods could get quite that low, but here we are. I did say that she would sink to $5, so at least I had that part of it right. I continue to be of the opinion that she could be relevant after rotation. Notice I said “could” – not “will.”

Karametra, God of Harvests

The only decks Karametra should be fetching from are the 99-card type. I’m guessing she’ll end up being the cheapest God in the medium term, but feel free to grab cheap copies when she bottoms out, because every God will rise after they’ve been out of Standard for a bit. There’s a sliver of a chance she sees play as a one-of in Standard, but I highly doubt it.

I did better here than with Ephara at least.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave

Pat Chapin said more and better words about Kiora than I can, so read that. As of the 27th there are 40 copies for $25 on SCG, so it’s obvious there isn’t hot demand yet. I’d stay away until she is around $12 or so. Watch to see if she shows up anywhere, and then consider picking some up. For why that is, read my Planeswalker Curve article.

Kiora has seen some moderate play in Standard and she’s right at that $12 mark. I was pretty on with what I expected her to do up until this point. Now is the time to be snagging copies.

Mogis, God of Slaughter

Anyone who thinks this card is bad has never played against Sulfuric Vortex. Mogis is going to be hitting for two damage almost every turn, because sacrificing a guy will almost always result in more than two getting through. You can’t think of it as “Oh it’s only taking me from twenty to eighteen.” It’s going to be taking you from ten to eight, and they’re going to have more attackers on the board, and next turn they may play Fanatic. The pressure Mogis is capable of creating is going to be nigh insurmountable in plenty of games. Don’t underestimate him. I consider him in the same ballpark as Phoenix goes in terms of punisher cards. Yes, punisher cards are worse than they look. But whether your opponent is sacrificing guys or taking two damage, either one is probably going to be just fine. A large Master of Waves is the worst-case scenario, and there’s plenty of black removal that solves that problem nicely.

The absolute cheapest God is still about $5 right now, so that’s a pretty firm floor. I’d be happy to trade for Mogis at $5 all day, and sell as soon as he hits $10.

Mogis is still just about $5 so I was pretty accurate with my call of his floor. I continue to think he’s a completely reasonable card, but the metagame just has not broken his way. I obviously don’t know what will happen after rotation, but at least I guess his floor fairly accurately.

Phenax, God of Deception

Phenax will drop to $5-$7, although it may take slightly longer than the other gods. He also stands to see the most sustainable growth in the long-term. I’d mostly avoid for the time being, and revisit this option next summer.

Phenax is a bit above $4 on MTGPrice right now so I was pretty dang close. Standard has shown us he has no place there. Don’t expect that to change. He isn’t a bad long-term prospect so feel free to grab them in trade, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to stockpile him.

Xenagos, God of Revels

Like the other gods, his floor is around $5-$6, but realistically it’s probably $7 or $8. I’d be comfortable trading for him at $12 or less, because I definitely expect him to make appearances in Standard.

Xenagos, along with most of the other gods, are right at the bottom threshold of my floor predictions. I really thought they would have more impact on Standard than they did. I guess Mono-Black, Mono-Blue and Esper control have just too severely constrained the format for anything interesting to appear.

Xenagos has popped up in a few monsters lists in Standard. The power is clearly there. He really only shows up as a one- or two-of though. We may see some growth by the end of the year, but I’m not sure he can make it past $11 or $12.

Scrylands

The RTR block structure saw a 5-5-10 model of shocks, and a 3 RTR / 3 GTC / 1 DGM – 1 GTC – 1 RTR draft structure. Theros is going 5/3/2, and the draft will be 3 THS / 1 BNG – 2 THS / 1 JOU – 1 BNG – 1 THS. The difference here is that the shocks were evenly spread through the whole RTR block, and no one shock saw considerable more copies printed than the others. The Scrylands will function differently. The first five will be opened constantly for an entire year, with Theros being a part of every draft. The BNG scrys will be considerably less available, as they’re in less packs being opened for a lesser amount of time. These three lands should end up having enough less stock that their price will reflect that. Meanwhile, the Golgari and Izzet lands in JOU will be way underprinted relative to the other ones. Keep this in mind as you’re trading. A simple “one scry for one scry” trade practice could be very lucrative in the future.

I didn’t actually give you any numbers here, but given the price of Temple of Enlightenment, Temple of Malice, and Temple of Plenty, I’d say I had a decent read on how they would behave. Malice hasn’t done much, but both Enlightenment and Plenty are well over $7. If you don’t have yours yet, get them soon.

Overall I think this review was pretty solid. I nailed Spirit of the Labyrinth and Pain Seer, hopefully saving you some money in the process. The Herald of Torment outlook was a bit too pestimistic, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix so far hasn’t been quite as good as I thought it would be, and I wildly underestimated Courser of Kruphix, but all in all I feel mostly pleased with what I put here.

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Ancestral Recall: Pay 1, Tap: Scry 2

Travis is on vacation this week, so check out his predictions article from January first. Next week he’ll be back to review his Born of the Gods review, and a full M15 review won’t be far behind.

By: Travis Allen

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

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

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

 

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

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

Stoneforge Mystic

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

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

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

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

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

Windswept Heath

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

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

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

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

Graven Cairns

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Prediction 4: There will be another Modern product this summer

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

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

 

Prediction 5: Magic growth will slow down

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

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

 

Prediction 6: I break 500 followers on Twitter

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

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Journey to the Center of Your Wallet

By: Travis Allen

A little over a year and a week ago Modern Masters hit the market. Stores couldn’t keep boxes in stock and when they did manage to acquire some they were drafted immediately. Everyone with a platform to shout from was encouraging you to sit on as many boxes as you could because they would be gold down the road. (They were right). Grand Prix Vegas, the only Modern Masters GP, became the largest Magic event in history. As far as cardboard was concerned, Modern Masters defined the summer of 2013.

This left Dragon’s Maze in an unenviable position. With Modern Masters on the market, why would anyone want to draft DGR? Return to Ravnica was mostly a solid draft format, although it’s probably the only one ever for which there was a real call-to-arms to ban a card. Triple Gatecrash had been considerably less enjoyable than RtR overall, even without the threat of flat-out losing the game on turn two to a 1/1. When Dragon’s Maze finally showed up to tie it all together players were a bit fatigued with the block already. It didn’t help that it quickly became apparent that Dragon’s Maze had a single good card. It would take months before Blood Baron started showing up in Standard, and even then that meant there were only two decent cards to open.

DGR wasn’t that fun to draft, had little financial incentive to open, and was completely overshadowed by Modern Masters. The only thing that kept people opening it at all was that MM was simply so difficult to find at times that if you wanted a draft you may not have had any other options.

Two weeks ago Conspiracy showed up in stores all across the country. Wizards stepped pretty far outside the box on this one. We saw the first supplemental-product-only Planeswalker. “Draft matters” cards were included in every pack that did mega-sweet things such as add additional packs to the draft. Games were meant to be played as 4-man free-for-alls instead of the industry standard 1v1 duel. The reception was loud and it was positive. Players love Conspiracy.

For our purposes Conspiracy is a bit different than MM in a few important ways. For one, it’s more accessible to the average player. Someone wandering into your average Wednesday night draft may have balked at the easy $30+ to draft MM. Even if the value in the packs was relatively equitable to a standard expansion set, or possibly even better, it was still a big pill to swallow. A player would still have to turn those cards into cash or store credit in order to draft again. Conspiracy on the other hand has the standard MSRP that core sets and expansions have, which means it’s no more expensive to draft than JBT.

Another checkmark in Conspiracy’s column is who it appeals to. MM was squarely aimed at players already invested in or looking to invest in Modern, which is not the cheapest of formats. Drafting MM was pretty dang cool but it was spikey as heck to boot. The casual player, the silent majority in Magic, wasn’t rushing out to draft MM. But while MM was daunting to the casual player, Conspiracy is a magnet for the type of player that considers making a squirrel deck. Not only does Conspiracy pull all the more casual and multiplayer-oriented players that MM didn’t, it is still novel enough that the same spikes that enjoyed MM will want in. The end result is that while MM’s audience was a bit more niche, Conspiracy is drawing a far greater sampling of players.

A third, and possibly the most important difference between the two, is availability. Modern Masters was quite tough to find at times, with plenty of draft urges going unfulfilled. It was a limited print run that didn’t see as much distribution as players had hoped it would, as evidenced by the fact that it did diddly-squat to the prices of many of the most important cards in Modern. (Tarmogoyf actually got more expensive). Conspiracy though? Conspiracy is not a limited run. This means that as long as vendors like your local store or online outlets are still requesting product Wizards is going to keep printing it (to an extent.) This is a big deal – so long as players want to draft it for the next several months Conspiracy will be available.

Herein lies the whole point of the article. Modern Masters did not overtake drafting at stores around the country. It supplemented it. Players continued to draft DGR, and occasionally got to enjoy an additional MM draft. Conspiracy, though, will eat many more JBT drafts than MM did DGR. This means Journey Into Nyx is likely to be less opened than even Dragon’s Maze.

When you walk into your LGS this week to draft, which are you hoping for? Triple CNS or JBT? How much do you expect that to change in a few weeks? Conspiracy is the first time Wizards has done something like this before and it will be years before we see it again. Most will want to get their fill while it’s readily available. You can get the regular draft experience any old time, whether it’s triple GTC or triple Khans.

The last several blocks have typically had more than a handful of powerful and expensive cards in the last set. Avacyn Restored had piles of cards that were important to Standard and another whole set of cards that maintain considerable casual appeal today. New Phyrexia was dense with power and value. Rise of Eldrazi is dense with expensive mythics. Dragon’s Maze is the odd man out on that front with really only Voice and Blood Baron. If Journey Into Nyx behaves similarly to its predecessors, it too will have several strong Standard cards alongside product capable of maintaining casual appeal.

Let’s review. Journey is a spring set. Spring sets often are full of relevant cards to both spikes and casuals. Third sets are drafted considerably less frequently than the rest of the block, which leads to a smaller quantity in the wild to begin with. A month after Journey was released Conspiracy was made available. Conspiracy is a unique draft format that does many things that have never been done before in Magic. It appeals to casual players and tournament players alike. Supply is large enough to be drafted by anyone that wants to. The reception has been excellent. Oh, and Vintage Masters released on MTGO a few weeks after Journey went digital.

All of this points to one thing. Very expensive Journey Into Nyx cards.

Right now the prices are not out of control, but just give it some time. Temple of Malady has already climbed from the $4-$5 at preorder to an easy $9+. There are many other tournament-caliber cards in the set, such as Silence the Believers, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Eidolon of Blossoms, Battlefield Thaumaturge, Dictate of Kruphix, and Ajani, just to name a few. There are also the casual hits like Godsend and Sage of Hours.

Journey Into Nyx was already poised to have expensive singles, and with Conspiracy freely eating away at draft demand, we’re going to see a great deal of pressure placed on a set with a very low amount of open product. Make sure you have everything you personally need from the set before September and give that spec you have in mind a second look.

Crystal Ball

An article posted on Tuesday over at DailyMTG recapped the status of almost all the Planeswalkers we are aware of right now. Each Planeswalker is given a few sentences to explain what they were last up to and what they may be doing right now. It turns out that nearly half of the walkers are in some way connected to Zendikar. Along with a buddy of mine on Twitter pointing out that a year ago Mark Rosewater was talking an awful lot about Zendikar on tumblr, there are signs pointing to a return there next year. That is a gap of six years, just one less than the gap between Ravnica and Return to Ravnica. None of this is real proof of course. Just something to consider as we see what unfolds in Khans.

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How to be a Jackass

By: Travis Allen

You know the guy. There’s always one or two that float around a local community. Even if they’re likely to have the card you need it’s easier to just not trade for it. So unpleasant is the trading experience that when faced with trading with this person or not having the 75th card you need, you go ask your friends what you should run in that slot instead. From start to finish the process is agonizing, uncomfortable, frustrating, and almost always expensive. There’s no doubt the guy has one of the best binders in the room. The problem is that his method of getting there makes him the scummiest guy you know.

Don’t be a shark.

Trading as a spike is 100% totally acceptable. Go for it. Be competitive. Want to have the best binder and collection of anyone you know. Ask every person in the room if they want to trade. All of that is totally fine. Just be ethical about it. Grind towards the best binder within the rules of the social construct. Once you step outside acceptable civilized behavior at the trade table you become that which gives us all a bad name: a shark.

A shark is one who engages in trade practices that are considered unethical. I’m not going to debate the philosophy of ethics and morality because several thousand years after first discussing it we still don’t have a universal answer. We’ll simply use the gold standard: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If you wouldn’t want someone to do that while you’re trading, then don’t do it to them.

Any self-aware trader will have times they’ve wondered if they were crossing a line and sharking someone. My plan today is to create a (non-exhaustive) list of activities that will flag you as a shark. Some of these you may have done before, some you may in fact still do. So long as you’re willing to reform we can forgive past transgressions.

Don’t Lie

This one seems like it should be pretty straightforward. Don’t lie to people. Here’s the most common way this comes up:

Them: “Sure, my Courser is for trade. What’s it worth now?”
*Liar knows that the card is on SCG for $15*
Liar: “I think it’s about six dollars.”
Them. “Ok that sounds good.”

The temptation to do this is greatest right after a card sees a huge spike. Ensnaring Bridge is $5 and then someone wins a Legacy event with the card and it sells out overnight. You’re flipping through someone’s binder hoping to pick them up cheap because you doubt anyone in your local shop has figured it out yet. There’s a Stronghold copy tucked in with some Scars of Mirrodin artifacts in a random trade binder and you pull it out of the sleeve, knowing full well this guy has no clue how much they are. He’s glad to trade it because nobody has touched it since he put it in there months ago. “Ensnaring Bridge is definitely for trade!” You’re cheering inside your head because you know you’re going to grab it real cheap then take it home and buylist it for $10. You each turn a few more pages when he asks. “Any idea what the Bridge is at?”

Here’s the opportunity. Right here is where it strikes. There’s nobody standing over your shoulder to call you out on lying. He certainly isn’t going to know. It just went up last night so there’s complete plausible deniability. Even if someone said something you could claim you had no idea. It’s easy money. Only you and God will know, and he isn’t going to interrupt the trade.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

There are right ways and wrong ways to handle those types of situations, and flat out lying to the other guy is most definitely the wrong way.

“What’s this worth?”

This is a game nobody enjoys. If you’ve ever traded at a GP you’ve definitely had to go through this before. You sit down, swap binders, and suddenly you’re in the middle of a pop quiz. He points to a Vraska. “What’s this worth?” It turns out that from where you’re sitting there is actually no right answer.

Let’s say Vraska is worth $5. (Whatever that means.) If you say three or four bucks he’s going to pull it out. If you say $5 or more, he leaves it in the binder and keeps going. The only time the shark takes a card out of your binder is if you think it’s worth less than it actually is. He isn’t looking for any particular card he needs for an EDH or Legacy deck. His goal is only to pit his encyclopedic knowledge of card prices against yours and take any card that you improperly value as too cheap. Each time he slides a card out of your binder after you give him a number you know you messed up. By the time he’s done, each card removed says “you done goofed.”

The common reason for this game is that the victim wants some cards from the shark, but the shark wants nothing in particular from the victim. He then switches into value mode, looking to take near anything that will increase the value of his binder a few bucks. The resulting behavior will alienate your trade partner with astounding swiftness. They’ll feel terrible, they won’t want to trade with you again, and anyone watching will similarly be turned off to trading with you. Plus it makes you a jerk.

When you find yourself in the situation of needing to find cards to trade for and they have nothing you personally want, set your sights on items of high liquidity. Even though they’re nothing you need in particular you can still flip these types of cards easily and there’s always room to haggle some value out of the deal once each party has their options laid out on the table.

Keep Things Reasonably Fair

For most of us the goal when trading is to make value every time. We’re all on the same page on that. And that’s fine. Making a few bucks or a reasonable percentage gain on each trade is the payoff you get for having a large, well-stocked binder and better market knowledge than the next dude. The other guy gives up a little value in exchange for a wide selection.

The issue comes up when that value you’re grinding is less of a grind and more of a smash-and-grab. What do I mean?

Trade A
Your: $1 card
His: $3 card
Ok

Trade B
Your: $100 worth of cards
His: $130 worth of cards
Ok

Trade C
Your: $8 worth of cards
His: $56 worth of cards
Not Ok!

In Trade A you’re getting 300% but it’s only an absolute net gain of $2. While the percentage is high, the actual dollar value is low. I’ve been on both sides of this trade many times. Often the guy with the $3 card is well aware of what’s going on but he really needs that $1 card so he’s fine with it.

In Trade B you’ve made $30, but you’re seeing only a 30% increase. That’s a healthy profit margin for sure but it’s not something you need to feel bad about. If that $100 is a dual land and the $130 is all Master of Waves and Brimazs, the other guy is probably fine with what’s going on. Regardless of whether or not your trade partner is aware of the difference in the value nobody is going to think poorly of you here. Even if it’s not a dual land and it’s just two piles of Standard cards there is no abuse occurring.

Trade C is where there is an issue. You’re making $48, which is a good chunk of change but not unreasonable when the trade piles are several hundred on each side. The real problem is that his pile of cards is worth 700% of yours. This is a situation where clearly the other guy in the trade doesn’t know something you do, and you’re taking him to the cleaners for it. Making profit on someone else’s lack of information or knowledge is fine, but something this severe is very much pushing the boundary of what is acceptable behavior. You could easily cut his pile down to $30 or bring yours up to $25 and still make a healthy profit without being the sleaziest guy in the room.

There’s no algorithm or clear line that establishes exactly when a difference in piles is too great. You have to do it by how it feels. A good rule of thumb is to consider how willing you would be to tell others about the trade afterwards. When considering how much profit is too much, ask yourself if you would feel comfortable telling your friends and peers about the trade. Would they pat you on the back for a good trade, or would they tell you it was a crummy thing to do to someone?

I’m aware that there are economic lessons that would tell you that any trade you can arrange is an acceptable trade, and that if the other guy is unwittingly taking that much of a loss it isn’t your problem. I’m not going to discuss economic theory here. Instead I’ll point out that when you’re trading locally it isn’t some theoretical market with no faces and no repercussions. These are local players that are needed to support a community. If you and a few other people start dragging huge gains out of the binders of the naive, pretty soon there won’t be enough people left to support your FNMs. Think “sustainable farming,” not “scorched earth.”

Leave Minors Alone

Do you remember being thirteen, fifteen, or seventeen? Do you remember having no money? I can recall not wanting to spend a dollar on a McDonald’s burger when I was in my teens. Kids in general are poor. While it’s easy for many of us to look at a card and go “it’s a few bucks,” to some  fourteen-year-old kids there’s a big difference between $.80, $1.70 and $2.65.

Young kids don’t necessarily have regular access to smartphones or internet access so the knowledge playing field isn’t fair at all. It is super scummy to punish a kid in trade because his parents don’t have the resources to provide him with regular access that you have.

I don’t really feel like I need to discuss why raking kids over the coals is a crummy thing to do. There’s a reason minors are protected under so many state laws.

When a kid’s collection is meager at best and format rotations can knock 85% of the value out of his entire collection, there’s no need to scrape a few extra bucks off him in trade. In fact, you should be trying to help establish their collection, not gut it. Instead of grinding value on minors look to give them just a bit more than you’re getting back. You don’t have to feel bad about trading for a pair of Thassas, just leave him with a Courser of Kruphix or another solid $15-17 in product.

Once you accept that trying to value trade kids is a bad idea, there’s two more groups you should include in your ‘protected’ status: the mentally challenged and those that are in noticeably worse socio-economic standings than you are. There are plenty of enfranchised individuals at the trade tables to make money on. Don’t do it to those that don’t have the wherewithal to handle themselves appropriately or those that look like they have pretty poor financial outlooks. Remember, you’re part of a community. Treat it as such.

“Oh I’ve got a set of those too.”

You’re trading with a guy who has a foil Temple of Malady you really would like. He asks if you have any Kioras. You inform him that you don’t, and he starts to look back through the binder. A bystander overhears and chimes in. “I’ve got some Kioras and I’d like your foil Temple too.” The guy with the Temple pushes your binder back at you and starts trading with the third dude.

That third dude is clueless at best and a total jerk at worst.

If two people are trading leave them alone. Here’s some things you should not do as a bystander:

  • Offer unsolicited information about card pricing
  • Make suggestions on what is/is not good to trade for
  • Say things like “Man did you see how expensive that got recently?”
  • Wonder aloud why someone is trading for such a bad/useless card
  • Tell someone that you too have a card that the other guy may or may not have and that you’ll gladly trade it
  • Comment on whether a trade is good/bad

I know a guy that does literally all of these, and if you’ve traded at more than one or two major events in the North East in the last two years chances are you do too. He’s typically a nice guy but I want him nowhere near me when I’m trading because any of those comments, offered unsolicited, is infuriating. 

There is a right time to chime in and it’s typically after the trade is over. If someone is looking for Kioras, feel free to tell him you have some – after he’s finished with his current trade. If your buddy is picking up an odd card, question him about it once he’s away from the trade table. You don’t want to tip off his trade partner that the card he’s grabbing is actually buylisting for 95% of it’s trade floor value or that the card is the hottest paper around ahead of the Legacy event tomorrow.

The rule of thumb is that if two people are trading, keep all commentary and questions to yourself. Treat it as a Competitive REL match of Magic. Feel free to discuss all you want afterwards, but be aware that even asking seemingly harmless questions can change the dynamic.

Sharks give anyone into Magic finance a bad name. Irreuptable behavior and predatory tactics perpetrated by some do not reflect the nature of all. At this point I actually have to avoid talking too much about my interest in the field during a trade because I’m concerned about how my partners will perceive me.

As long as you keep what in mind what I’ve outlined above you should be able to avoid most of the major unintentional sharky behaviors. There are of course many more, but those tend to be actively and maliciously decided upon rather than accidentally performed. If there are other trading behaviors you can’t stand to see feel free to share with all of us.

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