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.

Is Worth It?


By: Travis Allen

Don’t miss this week’s installment of the MTG Fast Finance podcast, an on-topic, no-nonsense tour through the week’s most important changes in the Magic economy. And watch this YouTube channel to keep up to date with Cartel Aristocrats, a fun and informative webcast with several other finance personalities!

My girlfriend just paid her car off in full last month. It’s up towards 80,000 miles and she’s wondering if she should keep driving it for awhile or buy a new one. We were discussing it the other day and she relayed a story of having told a coworker her dilemma. She really likes the Prius and has been considering that car specifically. “He said that I would save the most money by continuing to drive my current car for awhile, but I really like the new Prius. I could keep driving my old boring car, or take on a monthly payment again for a car I really want. I guess it would be kind of a luxury, right? Do you think it’s worth it?”

It’s in between rounds at FNM and you’ve got your binder set out in front of you; a hook with which to fish. A young girl, maybe nine years old stops by. She folds her knees underneath her on the chair as she flips page over page. Her mom is sitting at a table on the edge of a room engaged in a Kindle. The little girl stops at a page of red cards, spotting Utvara Hellkite. Her eyes grow wide. She’s giddy. She’s heard about this dragon but has never actually seen the card in real life. “OH MY GOD you have that cool dragon that makes more dragons! That is soooo coool. Will you please trade it to me?” She thrusts an unsleeved pile of cards at you. Amongst the tattered edges of a motley assortment of boosters you spot a fresh Temple of Enlightenment, setting it down on the edge of your binder. “I just opened that earlier. I don’t like blue or white. Those colors are boring. I like dragons.” She’s visibly excited. “Do you think maybe I could give you the land and some other cards for the Hellkite?”

You’ve been that little girl before. Memories of an age of Magic long lost to you shimmer like a heat wave somewhere in the back of your mind. You have a flashback of peers in third grade in awe of Sengir Vampire. It was terrifying. Only one boy in school had it and he never lost a game where he cast it. Everyone coveted it. The thirst to own Sengir yourself is nearly palpable once again. You envy the girl, in a way. She covets this card with a passion you haven’t experienced in years.

The girl’s mother has wandered over. You introduce yourself and tell her that the young woman across from you would like to trade her card for your card, but that her daughter’s card is worth several dollars more than yours is. The mother looks at her daughter, youthful unbridled excitement plainly visible across her face. “I don’t know Sarah. He says your card is more valuable.” “I don’t care. The dragon is so cool. Greg is going to be amazed I have it. Please let me trade it? It’s so worth it!”



What is the value of a scooped game? How much is a round one concession worth at FNM? How much is that same act of concession worth to you in the last round of the final GP of the season where you just need a few more planeswalker points to lock up your second bye for the entire next year? How about a concession in the finals of a PTQ?



At a Legacy tournament a few years ago, Alex Bertoncini had registered Manriki-Gusari in his sideboard as tech against other Stoneforge decks. This was during the days of three-round byes at SCG events, so Alex used the time to put together his deck. It was common for players to register decklists they didn’t have all the cards for yet. (This still happens today.) He discovered that not a single vendor on site had a copy of the card available. He began asking players on the floor if they had a copy. He eventually managed to find someone that had the card in his binder. “Great,” Alex said. “It’s in my sideboard for the Legacy open and I’ll get a game loss  and lose a sideboard slot without it. What do you want for it?” The player smiled. The card cost maybe $1 on TCG at the time. “Twenty-five dollars.” Alex paid. Was it worth it?


I’m known at my local store as a finance guy, and subsequently get asked how much cards cost frequently. “Travis, how much is Courser worth?” I’m never quite sure how to answer this question. Worth is a funny concept. We’re so used to bandying the term around, but what does it really mean? When I’m asked “how much is Tarmogoyf worth now” what am I supposed to draw upon to answer that? Take a look at the price of Tarmogoyf on Starcity and TCGPlayer.



The exact same card, exact same condition, is $200 at SCG and $185 on TCG. The question remains: it worth $200 or $185? Sitting in front of your computer right now, knowing that the card is available for those two prices, what is the right answer? One could argue that SCG’s higher price reflects their customer service, reliability, and all the other intangibles. But does that affect the actual value of the card? If you’re talking about trading for a Tarmogoyf at a local Modern event should SCG’s additional services dictate that you throw another Courser of Kruphix into the pile?

Why does a Modern Masters Tarmogoyf cost over $165 while a Swordwise Centaur is left behind on card tables worldwide without a single thought given to keeping it? They’re the same quality of cardboard. If you manage to wring all the ink out of the cards you’ll find that neither uses appreciably more. The actual physical presence of the cards, disconnected from whatever demand Magic players place on them, is essentially identical. Without people to place different amounts of external demand on the cards they are worth the same. To say a Tarmogoyf is worth $200 while a Swordwise Centaur is worth $.02 means that there is much more to worth than the physical components. This seems obvious enough, but it has implications that we don’t always appreciate.

Take the young girl from the example above. She wants that Hellkite something fierce. The card represents something that many of us find incredibly difficult to experience after so much time invested in the game. Money means little to her. Cards are valued based on how easily they kill the opponent and how many kids in her grade own a copy. Utvara Hellkite is a card spoken of as a legend amongst her peers. She would immediately have the best deck of all her friends were she to acquire the dragon. The Temple of Enlightenment is essentially valueless. She will never use it. It will collect dust, the edges exposed to wear as it is jostled around in shoeboxes and backpacks. Eventually it will be thrown out when she moves on from the game and her father is cleaning out the attic. To her the dragon is easily worth more than the land. The dragon represents all that is exciting about Magic. But the Temple? What does she care? In her eyes the answer is crystal clear: The dragon is worth far more than the land.

The reason why an object’s worth is so difficult to pinpoint is that it is entirely contextual. If you’re just doing some light trading at an FNM, a Scalding Tarn is probably ‘worth’ the $80 MTGPrice says it is. When it’s early Saturday morning fifteen minutes before the PTQ starts and you still need one for your deck, I bet it’s ‘worth’ more than just the $80 to you. You’d trade $85, $90, maybe even $100 or more for it if it’s necessary for your deck. I remember paying $2 apiece on Might of Old Krosa’s at GP Chicago last year when they were $.40 on TCG because even though I was paying five times what I would online, in that moment they were easily worth the markup because without them I couldn’t play Magic.

Value is found in all of this by identifying what worth means to others. Aside from the most veteran traders, most of us have cards in mind that are worth more than their sticker price indicates. It’s a card we really need to finish foiling an EDH deck or it’s the last dual to finish a playset for an in-the-works Legacy deck. Whatever it is, when we find it we’re often willing to give up more than retail because having the card in our possession is worth more than the markup we pay to acquire it.

Worth is more than the dollar value assigned to a card by any given retailer. Worth includes the time, the day, the location, the temporal necessity, the experience, the story. Understanding in what ways worth is transient and nuanced will help you make better trades and purchases.

Humility is $17.11 on MTGPrice right now. Courser of Kruphix is $16.30. Which card is worth more? Which would you rather have in your binder on Friday at 5:45pm?

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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Modern Minneapolis Monster Madness

By: Travis Allen

Now is a time of rejoice. Magic players have an especially good reason to celebrate and drink deep the joys of the season. In just a few short days, we get to say goodbye to Theros sealed PTQs permanently. On the first of June we wave goodbye to that godawful format and are rewarded with quite possibly the best constructed format in Magic: Modern.

We’ve got two things on the agenda for today. First, we’re going to chat about GP Minneapolis, a recent Modern event. Second, we’re going to consider our overall strategy heading into PTQ season.

GP Minneapolis came and went without a lot of fanfare. I didn’t see too much discussion on Twitter as we saw the Top 8 emerge, nor did i see much in the way of a post-mortem. There simply wasn’t anything too exciting for the community to take note of. But while the Top 16 was fairly predictable, there’s still some things we should paying attention to in the coming season.

The first thing that jumped out at me is the quantity of UWR decks that showed up in the Top 8. Three UWR lists and a PT win not long ago tells me that Bolt Snap – Bolt is still pretty insane. Snapcaster Mage is clearly a major pillar of the format, and should be respected as such. He’s not at Dark Confidant levels yet, but he will be in due time. He’s certainly seeing more play than Confidant is at this point.

Restoration Angel has also firmly cemented her place in Modern by now. I’m kind of surprised she isn’t well over $10 already. Aside from being an angel, and therefore getting a big ol’ checkmark under the casual demand column, she’s quite obviously competitive. Her interaction with cheap value creatures like Snapcaster and Kitchen Finks is well known, she enables an EOT combo kill, and she only stands to get better as more enter-the-battlefield guys get printed. As we march forward into the season, be on the lookout for any in the binders of those emptying their Modern stock. I’ll be happy to trade for any copies people want to ship me.

Cryptic Command continues to be the best 1UUU spell in the format. While I won’t be picking up normal copies, I especially like the MPR printing since we’re unlikely to see those return in a very long time, if ever. Even if you aren’t personally wild about fishhand art, plenty of others will be. Demand exists for several MPR promos that look like butt.

Celestial Colonnade has made it to $20 and I see no reason why it shouldn’t keep going. It was a Buy-A-Box promo which means there’s an increased quantity available, but that was all the way back in Worldwake. Anything UW in Modern is running the full set. It definitely has the pedigree necessary to be the most expensive land in the format that doesn’t fetch. The tricky part is trying to figure out what it can/should reasonably cost. There isn’t really anything with a similar demand profile in Modern as best as I can tell. Grove of the Burnwillows is probably the closest, of which both printings are currently over $40. Of course Grove has Legacy demand which Colonnade doesn’t, but Colonnade has also been used much more in Modern than Grove since The Fall of Tron. (I’m capitalizing that because it sounds like a cool story). At the end of the day I’d say Colonnade should be at least as much as Grove, if not more. I also don’t see Colonnade showing up in an expert set this year or even next year. If you see a single dual-colored manland spoiler though, ship your copies on eBay that day.

Jund snuck two copies into the Top 16 with a playset of of Courser of Kruphix between them. I expect Courser is going to be around for awhile. Other than that, there wasn’t too much spice in the lists. I’m still seeing Pyromaster as a one-of but I don’t know how long that will last, and her value is only going to be dropping between now and September anyways.

The winning list was Scapeshift, but didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know. The namesake card made an immediate jump, but we’re way past capitalizing on that. Beyond Shift itself, it’s commons, Snapcaster, and Cryptic Command.

The other big showing was Pod, and boy did it ever. Seven of the Top 16 was Birthing Pod, so be dang sure you can beat it when you show up to a PTQ this summer. How that card is still only $12 is kind of a mystery to me. We saw it jump pretty drastically before Richmond, as well as many other Modern staples, but it has since settled quite a bit. Why is what is clearly the best card in both versions of the deck, decks which don’t seem any more expensive than many other tier one lists, under fifteen dollars? I literally do not have a good answer. Is it really just that New Phyrexia had enough supply in the market? That doesn’t seem likely. Is it a fear that the card will be banned? I do think that Pod is on the edge, but many competent strategists don’t seem to think we’ll be at that point before the next B&R change.

Gavony Township is nearly $4 at this point. It’s great in any deck that generates both green and white mana and has dudes, which surprisingly most decks that make those colors of mana do. It’s up from under a dollar a year or so ago, and probably stands to keep climbing into the $6-$10 range. If Pod does in fact get the axe, it’s not hard to imagine another GW list appearing at some point that wants it. It’s also pretty heavily tied into Innistrad flavor, so don’t expect to see more copies anytime soon.

While we’re chatting lands, Razorverge Thicket is both cheaper and more played than Blackcleave Cliffs at this point, with a better outlook to boot.

Linvala terrifies me as a hold. I have a single copy in my “never trade” binder and I’m half considering pulling it out and getting rid of it. This is absolutely getting reprinted at some point and it’s going to hurt when it does. If it crests $50 I may break and ship it. Avoid at all costs unless you 100% need it for your deck. There’s no real reason for it not to keep trending up as it has been, basically making her an expensive game of chicken.

Affinity only put a single copy in the Top 16, but that doesn’t mean the deck has fallen in popularity, just that enough people had a dedicated sideboard for it that weekend. There’s nothing really new here to work with. Arcbound Ravager is probably still a little lower than it should be, but not by much. The deck can’t get much better without running face first into a ban. (By the way, did you know how expensive Steel Overseer is? Hah.)

The bigger question to consider is just what to do with all of our Modern holdings. Earlier this year and late last year I was advocating near-complete liquidation in the coming weeks, but I’ve eased up on that a bit. I keep coming back to the notion that the game has grown beyond what any of us really fathomed a year ago, resulting in a surprising amount of demand for a relatively small supply. With so many Modern cards only getting less available by the day, is it really the best course of action to sell them all when they could gain anywhere from 20% to 300% by next year?


I’ve been pondering this quite a bit lately. I’m not sure how much others will share my opinions. I believe it has a great deal to do with how you manage your portfolio. Some individuals have cases at their local store that they buy/sell out of, which means churning through inventory is assuredly lucrative. Even if a particular card looks like a lock to rise in the future, they may find themselves better off selling it now and moving the profits into other cards that can do more in the shorter term. Meanwhile, those that operate with a much smaller number of transactions per week and less overall time in the market may find that they can’t capitalize on high turnover, and prefer to make their money with the slower sit-and-hold strategy. When to sell also depends heavily on how badly you need the cash, of course.

I’m finding that I’m looking to move some of my cards, but there is a chunk I may be holding onto unless they see enough of a rise. Format staples like Snapcaster I’m not going to mind holding onto if it’s a slow season for them. Let’s consider two possible futures for everyone’s favorite blue two-drop:

Timeline A: Snapcaster hits $45 during this Modern season and I choose not to sell. He settles to around $35 in the off-season. Before next year’s Modern PTQs, Modern Masters 2 is announced and Snapcaster is in. Like Cryptic Command before him, he drops to ~$20. All looks bleak. Though still like Cryptic Command, copies dry up as players acquire their sets. Demand steadily rises as less and less copies are available on the market, and eventually original copies are worth more than they were before MM2. The card is $55-$60+ in two years.

Timeline B: Snapcaster still hits $45 and I still choose not to sell. He dips to $35 in the off-season. There is no Modern Masters 2, and this time next year no new copies have hit the market. His price is now $60-$70 as he continues to be a the best blue card in Modern and a role-player in Legacy.

In either case, it’s likely that Snapcaster is worth more in one to two years than he is today. Being printed in a fall set would certainly hurt, but that is a very unlikely outcome. They won’t be in a rush to flashback Flashback. (Sorry). There is incentive to sell at $45 so that I can get my money out and move it somewhere else that will do even better, accepting the fact that the card will likely be worth more than I’m selling it for in a year or two. If he gets to $50-$60 I should probably sell because even in the best of circumstances he probably isn’t rising beyond $70 or $80, especially as reprints loom. If he doesn’t break $40, then I really should hold since in either scenario I make a good chunk of change on each copy in a year or two.

Cards that were in Modern Masters need to see an even greater rise for there to be sufficient reason to sell. By now everything has hit its floor. We’ve moved past the decline in prices and are into the stage where they’re either flatlining or rising. You can see the rise on Cryptic Command, Tarmogoyf, etc. Since those cards were just printed last year, I don’t think Wizards is going to be flooding us with even more copies of all of them. Assuming there’s a MM2 next year it’s likely some will come back, but not all. The stuff that doesn’t get reprinted between now and next June is just going to keep rising. If we don’t end up with more copies of Vendilion Clique or Dark Confidant before next June, they could easily gain 10%, 40%, or even more. This of course runs into the portfolio management mentioned above. If you’re a higher-frequency seller, it may be worth it to out your copies now and hop on the next card you see gaining that much in a quarter of the time. If you prefer to play it slow and sit on sure things, format pillars aren’t a bad place to camp. It may not make as much money overall, but it’s less risky and doesn’t require you to be able to identify the next big gainer.

If I’m not in a rush to sell format staples, what AM I looking to get rid of? Anything in the “flavor of the month” category can go. Amulet of Vigor. Azusa. Porphyry nodes. Scapeshift. Uncommons that people really need to play their decks that keep getting reprinted, such as Kitchen Finks, Lightning Helix and Path to Exile. Cards that have been floating around long enough that they may see a reprint, such as Spellskite, Damnation, Fulminator Mage, Threads of Disloyalty and Tectonic Edge. Cards that are pushing their effective ceiling, such as Mox Opal. Probably Fetchlands, although those are complex given that they’re format staples like Snapcaster and thus asking to be held while at the same time playing the “will they/won’t they” reprint game. (I’ll probably sell mine and move onto greener pastures, even though I don’t expect them in Khans). Odds and ends like Shadow of Doubt.

All of those cards I mentioned above could easily gain significant value by the time next Modern rolls around, but the risk of them losing value because of some unforeseeable cause – reprint, meta shift, ban change, etc – is too great to make it worth holding out for a few extra dollars. I’d much rather sell all my Threads for a good $20 today, completely willing to accept that I’m passing up the possibility of $30 next June, rather than get blown out by a Khans reprint and see them at $6.

Even though I’m not in a rush to sell cards like Snapcaster or Liliana of the Veil, I’m not necessarily looking to get further into them. The issue is that they’re gigantic question marks at this point in time. On a long enough time scale you’re unlikely to lose money on those types of cards because they will almost definitely end up more expensive than they are when you pick them up, but you may not be in the market to sit on Snapcasters for a few years because he got stuck in Speed vs. Cunning. 

That leaves us in an awkward spot of looking to out 70% to 90% of our Modern holdings, but unlike the last eighteen months, we don’t want to just move all in on any card legal in that format. Where do we put our money now? The most available place is Standard. Standard cards are going to be ubiquitous, and people will be quite eager to ship Temples for Primeval Titans. Grabbing Standard cards requires a certain level of knowledge though, both of a myriad of prices and what is/isn’t a good pickup. The latter is tough in a format where there are so few slam dunks. Moving hundreds or thousands of dollars in Modern cards into Standard also has the added risk of making your portfolio considerably more volatile. Spellskites have been gold for months now, and you knew you could pick them up in trade and not have to worry about them hitting their peak and dropping in the span of three weeks. They were safe and easy. Very few Standard cards are going to have that feature. Instead, you’re going to need to keep close tabs on both your inventory and the format so that you can ship as soon as prices move in your favor. Not all of us enjoy watching Standard prices like a hawk week in and week out, so that’s quite a chore.

Another option is foils. Pack foils are incredibly tough to crack the value on, especially anything unique. Innistrad foil Lilianas and Snapcasters are likely to only maintain their value, no matter what happens. Deathrite Shaman foils didn’t take a hit at all when they were banned, and many seem to think he’ll be unbanned down the road. Foil casual staples like Temporal Mastery are fertile ground. If you’re moving enough to generate serious cash, big-ticket items are excellent places to put your money. Pack foil Onslaught fetches, duals, and even Power are all great options. Of course these are clearly difficult to trade for. Chances are that if you’re getting rid of enough product to have enough to afford those, you’re probably selling instead of trading though.

Sealed product is as safe as Modern staples were circa August 2013, but don’t expect as fast a return. Boxes of Return to Ravnica are a great target at the moment, but it will take some time before you really get paid on that. Sealed Innistrad boxes have only recently started breaking $200 on eBay, and those were one of the fastest rising booster boxes since the borders changed. Sealed Ravnica cases certainly do handle scale well though. It’s easy to sink money into, and I don’t even see sealed Innistrad cases in a cursory glance.

The long and short of it is that when Modern Masters came out, those of us looking to invest couldn’t have had it easier. Prices on staples guaranteed to rise were in a temporary valley. If a card showed up in a Modern decklist at any point anywhere it was fine to stash. You couldn’t lose money. I feel like with this PTQ season we’re crossing a border though, and between now and next summer it’s going to be a lot dicier to find cards that are as easy to trade for and as lucrative as Modern staples were. Cards that stand to gain as much now as the ones last summer did will be harder to find and will be riskier to hold.

I’m sharing all of this with you guys, but I’ll be completely upfront that I’m willing to adjust my plan if necessary. This is my line of thinking and how I plan on approaching the coming months. I’m happy to listen to alternative viewpoints backed by solid logic that suggest other lines of play though. I’m sure at least one of the other guys who do this day in and day out will disagree with me somewhere, and I’m curious to hear how.

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Something Clever About Scry 3, the Future, and the Block Pro Tour

By: Travis Allen

This is going to be one of those rare weeks where I teach you guys something actually useful that you can apply yourself to situations down the road. The Block Pro Tour in Hotlanta just happened and we’re going to separate the signal from the noise. These PTs are important because they are a possible sign of things to come. The future can be changed, but it isn’t always. Even when things don’t shake out quite like this, the role players are still typically big parts of the story, just in a different costume.

Let’s start with what’s worth noticing. In the first instance of someone winning their first Pro Tour after being inducted into the Hall of Fame (I’m too lazy to find out if this is true), Chapin took home a well-deserved trophy. He played Spirit Jund, aka “a three color pile of the best cards in the format.” It just happened to show up in BGW this time around.

Manabases at a PT are a little tough to evaluate because they’re so constrained by lack of options. I’m sure if Pat had access to shocks his mana would look a little different. Even still, that’s a full-on set of Temples and Mana Confluence. The Temples are well-worn at this point and should surprise nobody. They’re all good, trade for as many as you can, etc etc. Four Mana Confluence is the bigger deal. Mana Confluence is unquestionably powerful, but it comes at a great price. When Overgrown Tomb comes into play you pay your two up front and you’re done. Drop your envelope full of money on the gift table as you come in and hit the open bar as many times as you want. Mana Confluence is a cash bar though, and it’s not cheap. After two drinks you’ve paid the same as the guy playing Overgrown Tomb, which means if you play it on turn one you’ve lost more life by the time you tap it on turn three. There’s a good chance you’re going to have to tap it a few more times as well. That Pat would play four of them means he’s really, really in the market for hitting his drops on schedule and doesn’t mind paying a butt-ton (that’s a real unit of measurement look it up) to do it. The format has been a little cool on Confluence relative to expectations, but it looks like we may be in for more of it in the future.

There hasn’t been a more “well dang better grab a set of that” card at a Pro Tour than Courser of Kruphix in possibly ever. There were twenty-eight – TWO EIGHT – copies in the Top 8, of a maximum thirty-two. Seven out of eight lists ran the full set in the main deck. It probably won’t be this heavily represented once we get M15 and #MTGKTK, but dang that is a lot of centaurs. It’s easy to say the metagame was weird and CFB represented a big part of the Top 8 and blah blah blah. Courser has been holding his own in Standard already so we know this isn’t just a flash in the pan.

Boros Reckoner was a solid $20 at his height and Courser looks like he could pull the same thing. That price was mostly a spike, but Reckoner easily hung between $10 and $15 for months at a time and climbed into the $18 range more than once. Courser will have increased by several dollars at least by the time we hit November barring some catastrophic metagame.

There’s a similar saturation of Sylvan Caryatid and Hero’s Downfall, but those are Theros rares and are therefore far less likely to be financially noteworthy. Remember the 6:2:1. Courser is that 2, but Caryatid and Downfall are the 6. Much tougher to see huge spikes. They are still going to be a big part of the Standard landscape in the fall, but there will be better places for trade equity.

Elspeth was expectedly a big part of the Top 8 as well, although not quite like manhorse. Even though she’s from Theros, just as Caryatid and Downfall are, I like her much more than those two. Why is that? For one, she’s a mythic. Even though she’s a 6 in 6:2:1, there are still roughly 1/8th as many copies as any given Theros rare, meaning the total number of absolute copies is on the much lower end of the scale. She’s also a planeswalker, which comes with an automatic demand multiplier. While Caryatid and Downfall are (conceivably) replaceable by something else, it’s very unlikely something will come along and be better at what Elspeth does than Elspeth. She sees roughly the same amount of play as Domri Rade does/did, and Domri went from $10-$15 to $20-$25 at rotation. Elsepth is still just about $20 and isn’t dropping much/at all this summer, so she should be a solid $30+ come September or October. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her crest $40 if the format shakes out in her favor. (Did you know she died at the end of Theros? I found out yesterday. Good riddance.)

Kiora popped her head in a few times which tells me she’s still going to be a reasonable option in the fall. She’s a lot less reliable than Elspeth is in terms of playability, but she’s certainly capable. I’m not as hot on her jumping as significantly as I am Elspeth, but she’ll definitely see a rise. If she’s around $15-$16 right now, then I fully expect $20+ with the best case scenario being $30 or so. Go ahead and trade for copies now, and if they get down closer to $12 trade for every single one you see.

Bringing up the rear are Ashiok and Xenagos. They saw the least play but I like them the most out of the four. They’re dirt cheap right now, scraping the price floor of playable Planeswalkers. If you trade for these  guys one of two things will happen in the fall: They’ll see no play and rise a little bit, or they’ll end up being awesome and rise a ton. Plan accordingly.

Thoughtseize is still good. It only stands to gain. Yawn.

Now we get to the part where I get to actually teach you something worthwhile. Block Pro Tours are a great look ahead, but there are always a few cards that look like they’re going to be a big deal in the fall and then fail to pan out. Anyone remember the four Devastation Tide and Tamiyo in Hayne’s Block-winning list from PT Avacyn? Finkel’s Dungeon Geists? Wescoe’s winning four Advent of the Wurms a year later? No? Not surprising. They were all nearly entirely absent from the following Standard. I got burned by the Advents but managed to dodge the rest. How?

The biggest factor in determining whether a break-out Block performance is sustainable is how well the card will fare when you add 500 more to the format. Let’s apply this concept to a card that was a big part of of the Top 8 that I didn’t talk about yet. How about, oh, Prognostic Sphinx. There were plenty of people out there on r/mtgfinance and elsewhere that were discussing it as a spec option. It was closing games on coverage and looking good doing it.

Prognostic Sphinx is a terrible spec.

Let’s start by looking at what other options the CFB team had for filling out that slot. They needed something that could close games, preferably with evasion, and it needed to do well in a grindy, slow Block format. Blue would be preferable, because they want access to Ashiok and Kiora.

What were their options besides Prognostic? Well, there’s Arbiter of the Ideal, a card that may do something for you the third turn it’s in play. You’ve also got Celestial Archon, which is expensive to bestow and doesn’t fit as well with the controllish GB shell they’ve got going. There’s also…Chromanticore? Medomai? Maybe one of the seven-drop black demons?

Prognostic Sphinx isn’t a bad card at all. In a Standard format with miracles it would be amazing. But in Theros Block, it’s just the best of a bad situation. What do you think the odds are that both M15 and Khans won’t bring a more powerful closer? They aren’t looking for the core of a deck here; they really just need a creature that get the job done. If Aetherling were legal, it absolutely would have been that. Hell, I’m fairly confident that Morphling would have been played instead of Prognostic if they had the option.

It also didn’t really have to be blue either. They were glad it was because it meant they got Kiora and Ashiok, but those may not be the right option in the future either. The core of the deck is clearly GB, and the third color could feasibly be anything, as evidenced by Chapin taking down the whole thing with GBW.

Furthermore, as card pools grow larger the decks tend to get cheaper and more aggressive. You can’t build a competitive aggressive sixty card deck with only twelve playable cards at two mana or less, but when the card pool doubles and you’ve got access to twice as many your deck gets lower to the ground and meaner. More cards smooths out mana curves as well. As a rule of thumb, the more cards you put in the pool the cheaper and faster the decks get. Need proof? Look at the speeds of Vintage, Legacy and Modern. What does this matter here? Prognostic Sphinx is slow. It’s on the pricier side of the mana curve. The conditional hexproof requires you to discard, meaning it’s probably going to take more time to kill your opponent. Scrying every turn sets up future turns, but it doesn’t actually put cards in your hand. It’s a slow, grindy creature at its best in a slow, grindy format.

All of this means that buying Prognostic Sphinx is just a complete waste of money. Remember that it’s a rare from Theros. Even if you got them at $.50, what’s your goal? What has to happen for you to make a reasonable amount of money? How many do you need to buy? Take a look at my article about my experience with Ghaves a few weeks ago. Even if you get in on Prognostic at $.50 each and it quadruples to $2, you’re probably barely making $10 an hour, if you even manage that.

Courser of Kruphix, Sylvan Caryatid, and Thoughtseize are powerful, inexpensive cards that can fit nearly anywhere. Planeswalkers are very powerful permanents that warp board states. Cards like Prognostic Sphinx are high on the curve and easily outclassed by other options. You can learn to identify the flashes in the pan by asking yourself directed questions about the metagame, the quantity on the market, and how easily it can be replaced in a larger format. Was there a weird Block meta that resulted in an odd card being well positioned? How many copies of the card in question are in the format? Was it printed in the large fall set, or the under-drafted third set? Could you imagine easily replacing the card with a card that’s legal in Standard right now? Is there casual demand? Are people likely to play it as a complete set?

Hopefully this walkthrough will give you the tools needed to make informed decisions when evaluating cards that show up at Block pro tours, and perhaps even speculating in general. It can certainly be tricky – the stack of Advent of the Wurm on my desk will testify – but at the very least, you should hopefully be able to dodge the obvious pitfalls.

And if you’ve got thirty or forty Prognostic Sphinx in your TCGPlayer order history, well, my condolences.

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Only God and Forsythe Can Judge Me

By: Travis Allen

I only wish I had put a finer point on it.


Wizards has announced new judge promos, and they’re a doozy. In celebration of breaking 5,000 active judges we are getting some pretty sweet promos. Well, I shouldn’t say “we.” Roughly 1,000 to 1,500 people are getting some pretty sweet promos.

Yes, that’s right. It’s finally happened. We’re getting a foil Force of Will. Think of how awesome your Legacy deck is finally going to look. The only foils missing will be the duals!

ebay forces

Oh, you didn’t think you’d actually be able to afford them, did you?

Before we figure out exactly where these are going to land, let’s step back a bit and examine judge promos at large. I want us all to know what’s possible. I’ve compiled a list of every judge promo that’s been printed and its (rough) price. Some of these may be a surprise to you if you’ve never looked. For instance, did you know Stroke of Genius was a promo? Tradewind Rider?


I separated the list into three categories because that will be the metric I am most interested in examining. I lumped all the exclusively currently-competitive promos together, all the strictly casual/EDH ones together, and then all the cards that blur those borders.You may have some disagreement about what column some of those cards fall into, but overall I think that’s a pretty reasonable separation. What immediately jumps out to me is how much more valuable the competitive cards are than the ones that are currently only playable in casual formats. Even if you cut the earliest six casual cards out of the equation as hailing from a bygone era of Magic, the casual cards are still barely half the value of the competitive ones.

Also interesting is that the cards that appeal to both markets are worth slightly less than strictly competitive cards. Part of that may be how I defined “both.” I’ve got things like Goblin Welder, Entomb and Mishra’s Factory in the both column that may be more appropriate in a different category. Still, that wouldn’t change the lists too much depending on where you moved them. If you shuffle some cards around the average of the both column may catch up in average price to the competitive ones, but they wouldn’t overtake them by much of anything.

Let’s make that point a little more clear: Cards that are strictly competitive in nature are overall the most valuable promos. The average price of cards only playable in casual formats is about half that of the competitive cards. The cards that are desirable for both formats are worth roughly the same as the cards only valued for competitive play. 

That last sentence tells us that on average, competitive play is by far the biggest indicator of value. Is card X playable in Legacy? Then the promo is going to be worth about $100. Is it playable in EDH too? Well, it’s still going to only be around $100. Apparently casual demand doesn’t push the price much higher on already-playable competitive staples.

Another aspect of all of this is age. Take a look at the last two years; 2013 and 2012. All five competitive cards are well represented in Legacy, and all five are $90-$200. All six casual cards are $15-$40 each. That’s a huge gap. But as you move further back, the lines start to blur a bit. Moving into 2011 and 2010 the average value of the competitive cards gets even higher, but the casual cards are gaining too. The outlier of Mana Crypt comes in at an absurd $250, and we get Wheel of Fortune pushing $100 as well.

Once you get into 2008 and earlier, the distinction is gone. You’ll notice less and less cards in the competitive column past 2009, and only three or four are nearly as heavily represented as the cards from 2010-2013. What’s going on here is the changing face of Legacy. Judge promos from 2007 were from a different era. Orim’s Chant, Exalted Angel and Living Death may have been constructed playable at some point in the past, but those days are behind us. Meanwhile the casual cards are all over the place. Staples like Demonic Tutor and Sol Ring command $200+ price tags, while cards from days of Magic past are $10 and $15. I’m also noticing that the cards that belong to both formats hold their overall value much better as we move back in time. Even a cards like Mishra’s Factory or Yawgmoth’s Will, which are only barely competitive, are still maintaining respectable price tags.

This is another valuable lesson. Competitive cards are worth a lot while they’re competitive, but formats are fickle and subject to the ravages of time. If a card drops out of competitive play and into the realm of kitchen tables it stands to lose a lot. Meanwhile, casual all-stars are only going to gain as time goes on. They have to be true staples though. Additionally, a mix of demand will help keep older judge promos afloat quite well, even if they’re not hot tickets in any particular format.

One thing to keep in mind is quantity. Those older judge promos were printed in much, much smaller amounts than the newer ones are, just as with current Magic sets. If Magic plateaus around 20 million active players you’re going to see the old promos settle at much higher prices than promos like Bribery or Genesis, even if they see comparable play, simply because of the quantity available. Another quick point: any good judge promo from pre-modern borders is going to be the safest of safe investments. Of course they’re mostly absurd already, but you absolutely cannot lose on them.

What have we learned from all of this that we can apply to our new promos? Competitive play is far and away the major impetus behind price on new promos. Casual play can’t keep newer promos up, not for the first year or two at least. Top tier casual staples will rise in price, but anything below the upper 5% should settle in the $20 to $50 range.

So how about those new promos?

Casual Only


Four generals and a premium green enchantment. The generals are a bit of untrodden territory, as Wizards has only really started pushing Commander in the last few years. If we take a look at the Commander’s Arsenal Kaalia we see she’s around $30, which should be a fair benchmark for these guys. Nekusar may end up the highest simply because he seems to be capable of driving the prices wild on many ‘draw extra’ cards, but then again the people playing those decks may not care much for a $50 foil general. Meanwhile, Greater Good is reasonably well represented in EDH according to metamox. It looks like it is just about as popular as Genesis, which is currently $20. Both of those will tick up over time, but I’d be surprised to see them more than double in the next five years.


 Mixed Play


Now THOSE are some promos. That Elesh Norn is quite possibly the coolest promo we’ve seen out of Wizards in years. That writing is Phyrexian if you are unaware. She’s awesome as heck, and people have taken notice:


This will absolutely come down, as she should reach typical levels of distribution. I’m not exactly sure when she’s going to be hitting judge packs though, so her price may be kind of nuts all the way out through the end of next year. She’s a bit different than our other competitive promos in more ways than one. You’ll notice that in the list above not a single card with competitive demand was strictly Modern playable. Elesh Norn is mostly unrepresented in Legacy, so all her competitive demand will be from Modern. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s going to matter though. If she was just another foil copy with a different set symbol her price wouldn’t be noteworthy, but that Phyrexian script is going to keep her high. My guess is that she’ll probably dip towards $90-$150 at her lowest. It could be a very long time before her effect is upgraded, and even if it is the promo is going to retain demand based simply on the uniqueness. Hold off for now, but when it gets close to $100 make sure you grab any you need.

Sword of Feast and Famine is roughly as played as Sword of Fire and Ice in EDH, Modern and Legacy. Expect it to start high at release, dip as the judge packs are released, then start climbing once its run is over. The judge Sword of Fire and Ice is currently $120 and it’s about three years old, so that gives you an idea of what to expect.


Grand Poobah of Legacytown

Let’s understand the facts first. We know it was sent to somewhere between 1,000 to 1,500 judges. The announcement read as if a single copy was sent to each judge, but I’m hearing reports that people got playsets. That means we’re most likely looking at a maximum of 6,000 copies on the market right now. While there was initial panic about the scarcity, Helene Bergeot confirmed multiple times that night that they would be available through other avenues in the future. Nobody is entirely sure what this means yet. Are they going to be the mythic rare of judge promos? How many more will we get? It’s very hard to say.

Let’s say we end up with roughly 10,000 copies of Force. That’s 2,500 playsets or so, depending on what the actual distribution ends up at. How scarce is that? One way to think of that is fifty playsets per state. Montana probably doesn’t need fifty sets, but California and New York sure as heck will.

The Forces are selling for around $1,000 right now, and that will come down. A bit. I think the absolute lowest they could possibly hit is $300-$400 unless there end up being many times more copies on the market than I’m predicting. Once they’re done distributing, the price is just going to keep ticking up and up and up. Force of Will is one of two banner cards of Legacy, and the other one already had a MM foil and an FNM promo. There is no other Force foil, and the original card is murky and just plain ugly. Any tier one Legacy card released in this capacity would have a hefty price tag, and this one is just going to get multiplied by status, lack of prior printings, and typically being run as a playset. Once the run is over, there’s no telling what this could reach. I would not be surprised whatsoever to see this north of $1,000 again a few years down the road.

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