Category Archives: Casual Fridays

What makes a Bad Spec?

Dear reader, this has been a long time coming. It’s a joke that many like to make, that there are no bad specs, only ones that haven’t arrived yet. However, between my bad moves and those that others have posted about, there are some rules for the things to avoid at all costs.

This is not a comprehensive list of all bad specs, but the guidelines for the things I’ve seen go bad and the things that haven’t arrived yet. Some of these, I’ve done, and regretted ever since.

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Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

The Gist of The List

Zendikar Rising has arrived online, and paper versions can be played with this weekend, prerelease style. Vendors have started to get their allocations of cards too, and are cracking them to fulfill presale orders on Sept. 25.

There’s one subset of this experience that has more significance than new cards: The List, that set of 300 reprints that is only available in these Set Boosters. We need to talk about what’s on The List, how the prices will be affected, and what to expect going forward.

First of all, let’s examine MaRo’s words about Set Boosters. I like the concept, it’s for people who like cracking a pack for the experience, for the neat things. Drafting isn’t always conducive to that behavior, and now we have an in-between for the workhorse Draft Booster and the super-bling Collector Booster. 

Plus we have a 5% chance of a minigame!

The List represents an extension of the Mystery Booster experiment: how many copies of a card need to enter circulation for the price to actually go down? I’ve written before about the joy of the Mystery experience, and I sold out of the playtest cards too early, but the concept is great. Reprints are good for accessibility.

Mystery Booster: Convention Edition represents a good reference point for this level of reprint. If you’ll recall, there were 14 slots of regular cards and one slot for the Playtest cards. Each of those slots pulled from its own sheet of 121 cards. So to get a Mystery Booster edition of Purphoros, God of the Forge, you’d have to open, on average, 121 packs. 

Mystery Booster was first revealed in November 2019, and that engine really got going in the following four months, coming to a screeching halt in March 2020. You can see that the original Theros copies did take a hit, being down about $7 from its high around $23. That’s for a mythic from Theros, and while there’s been a Secret Lair, there hasn’t been a lot of reprint to this and the demand is middling, being in about 18,000 Commander decks online.

Let’s look at a true Commander staple. “Did you pay the one?” is asked by 64k decks online and likely it’s used even more often that than that, causing chaos, eye twitches, and lectures from the table:

Rhystic Study hasn’t flinched at all. Jumpstart hasn’t made a dent either. It’s just going up and will keep going up. Clearly the demand for the card has outpaced this meager increase in supply. It’s quite possible that if Rhystic Study had NOT been in Mystery booster, it would be a $35-$40 card. We can’t know what the price would have been, but a slow increase during the reprint time is a sign of strong demand.

What about weaker demand? Let’s take Recruiter of the Guard, which was a rare in Conspiracy 2, so there’s not a lot out there. It’s in about 9,000 decks online, but can be a very useful combo piece in the right deck:

We see that it was riding high, hitting nearly $30, but the reprint has lowered it to the $14 range, beginning in November when the first Mystery was getting opened.

That makes sense, thinking about the use cases of the cards. If you open a Rhystic, you think, “Hey, I have a Commander deck that can use this! Let’s sleeve it up.” If you open Recruiter, it’s much more narrow in application and you’re more likely to sell/trade it. The effect is more and more noticeable as you go down the list of Mystery Booster cards and cross-reference that with amount of play on EDHREC. Constructed staples (Manamorphose, Path to Exile, etc.) stood a decent chance at recovering until the pandemic shut down paper play, but casual cards are still selling well all over the Internet.

So now that we have an idea of what happens to prices when there’s 1 copy in about every 121 packs (roughly 1 per five boxes), let’s look at Set Boosters and The List.

We get a card from The List 25% of the time. Literally a 1 in 4 chance. Then you have the 1 in 300 chance of getting a specific card. Statistics and probability are not the same as reality, but on average, you’re going to have to open 1200 packs to get one of a certain card from The List. At 30 packs/box, that means 40 boxes. That is roughly nine times less common than Mystery Booster’s rate of giving you a certain card. 

Nine times! And this is for a subset of boosters that I’m sure people will draft with, when there’s stores open for drafting and if the boxes all arrive on time!

It’s also worth mentioning that according to BenB over at Star City Games, Wizards put the word out that The List’s frequency would be affected by the rarity of the cards involved. More of the commons, less of the mythics, like usual. 

However, the unboxing videos so far do not reflect this, so more data or more clarification is needed. The List is unbalanced, having 35 mythics, 139 rares, 85 uncommons, and 41 commons. That doesn’t reflect price, as Rhystic Study is at common. 

My point here is that I’m not worried about The List as a reprint engine, at least for Zendikar Rising. If I had a stack of The Chain Veil in my spec box, I’d still be fine with a hold, or go ahead and sell some. The key, as always, is to look at how popular the card is. The List is going to be more of an exercise in reflecting how people think about a reprint as opposed to adding a meaningful number of cards to a certain supply. 

Being on The List means less than being an Invention. Less than an FNM promo. Less than a Buy-a-Box. Less than Mystery Booster. I’m not going to let The List affect me until I see some data otherwise, because the information we’ve been given works out to a very small quantity and therefore shouldn’t affect prices.

This may change going forward. Wizards might decide that this is too incremental, and juice the drop rates, or decrease the number of cards on The List, or add foils to the mix. Can’t predict what they will do in the time of COVID-19. But if you have cards from what is now The List, I wouldn’t panic. You’ll be fine.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

The Mythics of Zendikar Rising (part 2)

Last week I got into the mythics some, and we’ve gotten the whole set revealed now, including the eleven mythics we didn’t know about last week. So let’s see what’s worth a preorder!

Please keep in mind that I’m talking about the regular nonfoils here, not the Showcase versions or the foils.

Tazri, Beacon of Unity ($3) – Ouch. I think this Tazri is overshadowed as a Commander by the original, which let you go find the Ally you needed most, rather than needing mana to look at the top cards and hope there’s two Allies in there. The ability is good, but $3 in preorder season is a pretty clear indicator that this will be bulk pretty quick, barring some amazing synergies that sets will bring in the next two years.

Ancient Greenwarden ($24) – Currently the most expensive Z3 card, because players are going absolutely bonkers to acquire this for whatever Landfall shenanigans they want. Double Field of the Dead triggers? Don’t mind if I do. Twice the Valakut damage? Seems legit. I don’t think this will hold as the most expensive card long-term, but the combination of value engines that this offers is hard to ignore in Commander.

Forsaken Monument ($12) – This is a Caged Sun for colorless decks, and those are the decks capabel of some truly degenerate things. It’s yet another combo card for Basalt Monolith to generate infinite mana, but mostly this will get used to empower mana rocks all over the place. Please don’t overlook that this card is likely to bump Honor-Worn Shaku again, making that card tap for two colorless per legendary permanent–and this one is legendary! I think $12 is an almost-decent get-in price, but again, I’m being patient and letting the early adopters spend the big money first. I’d prefer to get copies between $8 and $10.

Leyline Tyrant ($14) – It’s a 4/4 flyer for four that’s got two different upsides. Neither is easy to exploit on its own, but the two abilities synergize really well. If they kill the dragon, then they suffer the death trigger for whatever mana you were building up. There’s some neat things to do with this, and I’ll enjoy seeing people try to build around Irencrag Feat, but this is a middling mythic at best and the price will fall by about half. Stay away for a while.

Lithoform Engine ($23) – We know that Rings of Brighthearth has quite a history: 

That history is buoyed by there only being one printing in Lorwyn, and then an Invention. Yes, the engine is restricted to one use a turn (unless there’s an untap trigger being copied) but the flexibility is truly impressive here, even down to copying permanent spells. Those are creatures, enchantments, artifacts, you name it. Don’t go copying legendary things, though. This flexibility is powerful but still requires a focus, and a tax of two extra mana. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was $20 around Valentine’s Day, but I’m expecting it to fall to $15 after the initial rush cools off.

Moraug, Fury of Akoum ($19) – Using a fetchland to get two extra attacks is good, there’s a whole lot of combos you can work out to get a landfall trigger in each main phase you get and I’m expecting a whole lot of Moraug builds to show up on EDHREC soon. That’s not going to be enough to keep this price this high, and a drop to $12 or less is coming.

Scourge of the Skyclaves ($10) – Don’t look at this as a Death’s Shadow that’s been both fixed and upgraded. Think of this instead as an enabler for Nethroi, Apex of Death decks: because this has a negative power, you can use it to bring back a whole lot more with Nethroi’s Mutate trigger. That’s a niche case, but it’s a cool niche case, and Commander players are addicted to such things. This about the right price, given the assorted use-cases, which includes the kicker as a one-shot kill with other ‘half your life’ effects.

Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt ($8 or so from what I see) – I mentioned last week that I love these modal spell/land cards. It’s hard for me to imagine a card I want more in Commander: It’s either a land early, which Commander decks can never have enough of, or it’s an eleven-mana, reanimate-five-giant-beasts spell. That’s the best kind of modal spell, something that’s good early (the land, can even be untapped if needed) or good as a late topdeck. I’m pretty convinced that these mythic lands have a long-term home in Commander, as they are generally too expensive a spell to be good in Standard, but I’d want the prices to come down a little before I buy in. I’m hoping this falls as far as $5 so I can purchase a large amount.

Sea Gate Restoration // Sea Gate, Reborn ($9) – The modes are pretty far apart, but I’d prefer if the spell side was just ‘draw four cards’ or something. As a topdeck, it’s pretty lame, but this is still an improvement over your ordinary Island. This is too high a price, and I expect it to drop to $5 or less, and I’ll have to do a lot of thinking then about buying in.

Shatterskull Smashing // Shatterskull, the Hammer Pass ($6) – If this could hit players, this would be one of the greatest cards ever. As it is now, it’s decent to fair, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. I’d be happy with this card if the spell side was a five-mana Lightning Bolt, but this X spell is a good grab off the top to deal with several problems on the board. Six bucks feels about right.

Turntimber Symbiosis // Turntimber, Serpentine Wood ($15) – This is instantly a staple in Green Commander decks. You up your land count by one when needed or have a big spell to slam down. The top seven should be good to you, and even if your only hit is a small one, you get an upgrade! There’s almost no feel-bads with this card, which is a rare thing. I won’t be shocked if this starts to go up immediately and keeps climbing from there. I can’t wait to stock up on assorted versions of this card.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.

The Mythics of Zendikar Rising (so far)

Zendikar Rising previews have started, and goodness me, do we have some cards going on. Landfall is back, we’re now a full D&D adventuring party, and we have modal land/spell cards! Let’s talk about these new cards, any preorder prices I can find, and where these will be good.

Oh yeah, and fetchlands are back, sort of.

First off, let’s talk for a moment about fetchlands. We know that the full ten are in as new Expedition Box Toppers. There’s 30 lands this time around, with no real clunkers like the doublecheck lands from our second trip to Zendikar. However, these are found in nonfoil as a Box Topper in boxes of Set Boosters and Draft Boosters, with a Collector Booster box coming with two Box Toppers. Let’s take a moment and do that math. To get one nonfoil Scalding Tarn, you’ll have to open 30 Set or Draft Booster boxes, or 15 Collector Booster boxes, or some combination thereof.

That’s a lot of boxes to get a Tarn. Foil Expedition Box Toppers have a 1 in 6 chance of appearing in a Collector Booster. So to get a specific one, like a Tarn, you’ll have to open 180 Collector Boosters to get that card, statistically speaking. (If you run the numbers, it’s worse, but I am not statistician enough to explain why it’s worse.) For every foil Tarn that should get opened this way, that’s 15 boxes, and handily that’s 30 nonfoils along the way. Collector Booster boxes should have, on average, the same number of foil and nonfoil Expedition Box Toppers. The nonfoils have the extra juice from Draft and Set booster boxes, which will help subsidize the EV of those boxes and push the price down on everything else in the set. 

What I’m planning on doing is waiting for the initial rush to settle down, and then picking up any fetchland that drifts too far downwards. This is not a full-scale reprint, this is an auxiliary printing in a new frame, with some sort of sweet glossy texture to it. They won’t get as cheap as they did during Khans of Tarkir, we’re not going to see that quantity again, if ever. Plan accordingly, and keep in mind we aren’t done with the reprints either. Modern Horizons 2 is on the, well, horizon for next year and regular-frame fetches would be a nice inclusion.

We also need to talk for a moment about the mythical cycle of spell/lands. We’ve only got one so far, but it’s a sign of what’s to come: 

There’s a rare cycle that is either color of land on each side, and that’s good, but these lands are a really powerful and consistent addition that will have a long time to make an impact in Standard. Cycling and kicker are two mechanics that offer something to do early and something to do late. Morph creatures are like this as well, asking which path you want to take based on your situation. These spell/lands are even more powerful than that, and we’ve yet to see the rest of the mythics, but this one, Emeria’s Call, is even better than the entering-tapped uncommon cycles. If you need it to be your fourth land on curve so you can Shatter the Sky, it’ll do that for you at the cost of 3 life. Planning is key with these lands, it’s a skill tester but it makes your land slots that much better. Remember that this was Tiago Chan’s original Invitational card, a card deemed to be too good and we got Snapcaster Mage instead:

So how much will Emeria’s Call end up costing us, dollar-wise? The initial price is around $8-$10, and that seems about right for me for a card with this level of flexibility. Should it travel down to $5, I’ll be picking up a lot of them. Remember that this set has two years of Standard legality to go, and that seems a reasonable timeframe for in-person events to start again.

Angel of Destiny – Around $5-$7 right now, and that feels high for such an effect. Everyone gains life, and then you’re sad when this dies and they haven’t lost any life for your efforts. It’s a staple for the lifegain Commander decks though, as it’s an attack trigger to win the game, but then the Angel has to survive to your end step. That’s a lot of hoops to jump through.

Ashaya, Soul of the Wild – Currently about $10, and I’m pretty low on this card. It’s a neat effect to build around, and offers a weird form of protection. Suddenly, with all your creatures being lands, they are immune to things like Cyclonic Rift, Oblivion Stone, or Planar Cleansing. I like building around this in Commander, but I’m not preordering any.

Drana, the Last Bloodchief – Also near $10 but offering an intriguing but conditional build-around. A Limited backbreaker but underpowered in Commander, this price is just too high.

Jace, Mirror Mage – You can find this as low as $12 to preorder, and that’s intriguing. I don’t like that he can’t affect the board at all, and the most logical play pattern is to use his scrying/his duplicate to draw lands so as to minimize the loyalty lost. That’s consistency, which control decks love. I have trouble seeing this as a $20 card though.

Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients – In the $8 range because this is too fair a planeswalker. The plus makes a creature, which gets a free equip but it needs to already be in play. Too bad Colossus Hammer is rotating out! I think this price is spot on, as RW equip decks in Commander will keep the demand just high enough.

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs – What’s not clear is where this Nissa fits. Yes, she wants to reanimate something with her minus, but how did the creature get into the yard to begin with? And again, this isn’t global reanimation, but limited to the amount of lands you have in play. Thoroughly deserving of the $10 she’s at, and likely to tumble.

Omnath, Locus of Creation – This is super neat, and capable of some truly nasty turns. Of note, though, is the ‘draw a card’ rider just for playing a 4/4 for WURG. The triple Landfall is great when you resolve it, and resolving the second trigger makes the third a lot easier. Needs a lot of help, though, and while I’m fully expecting this Omnath to cause some spikes in random cards, by itself it won’t be mega-expensive. 

Sea Gate Stormcaller – For about $15, you can preorder a doublecaster mage. This is likely better than Dualcaster Mage, as you have more control and can go double if you’ve got the mana, but the utility of the card is heavily dependent on what your next spell is. Clearly your best-case scenario is Time Walk, but your choices in Standard are going to be difficult. I’m looking forward to seeing what sort of impact this has on other formats, though. Getting a double Thoughtseize seems pretty good, or a double Brainstorm? This doesn’t have flash, which is a drawback, but this is one of the cards I like most in the long term.

Cliff (@WordOfCommander) has been writing for MTGPrice since 2013, and is an eager Commander player, Draft enthusiast, and Cube fanatic. A high school science teacher by day, he’s also the official substitute teacher of the MTG Fast Finance podcast. If you’re ever at a GP and you see a giant flashing ‘CUBE DRAFT’ sign, go over, say hi, and be ready to draft.