Category Archives: Finding Value

Battling for Zendikar with the Dragonlords

By: Guo Heng

The first major event in the swanky new Battle for Zendikar Standard concluded last weekend and, oh boy, the results look juicy. No, I am not going to discuss the results in depth, as my fellow writers, Sigmund Ausfresser (@sigfig8) and Travis Allen (@wizardbumpin) dissected the MTG finance impact of the event extensively in their articles this week, which you can read here and here.

What caught my attention was the following excerpt from Sigmund’s piece on Monday:

“If I had to place bets, I would consider Dragonlords as prime targets. They are mythic rares from a less opened set with real potential in a slower format.”

-Sigmund Ausfresser, ProTrader: A Cautious Reaction to SCG Indy, 5 October 2015.

When I wrote about the dragonlords prior to the release of Dragons of Tarkir, I was excited about them, not just because they are freaking modern-day dragonlords and I would get to jam dragonlords in my Standard decks, but also because a few of them looked primed to be competitive-playable dragons—and to me, a perfect union of Spike and Vorthos is one of the best things about Magic.

Four of the dragonlords proved themselves in various formats in the months after Dragons of Tarkir‘s release (as expected, Dragonlord Kolaghan languished). Their prices have since mellowed as the supply of Dragons peaked and newer sets have stolen the limelight. Today, I’m excited about the dragonlords once again, as the seismic shift in the Standard metagame that came with the October rotation means the dragonlords have another shot at sitting on the Iron Throne of Standard.

Most of the dragonlords are available at close to their preorder prices right now as the dust from the October rotation is settling and the apex predators of the new Standard have yet to emerge. Their low prices, combined with the fact that they are mythics from a set that was not opened much, as Sigmund mentioned above, makes some of them particularly juicy short-term targets before the dust settles.

Dragonlord Atarka

Her position as the biggest creature in the block is challenged.
Her position as the biggest creature in the block is challenged.

I guess it is fitting to say that my prediction for Dragonlord Atarka went Horribly Awry. Let’s see if I can redeem myself the second time around. Dragonlord Atarka has proven herself to be a very playable card. While she was predominantly found in Green-Red Devotion lists, she also served as the curve-topper in non-ramp decks, because there’s nothing like decimating your opponent’s board while you summon an 8/8 trampling flyer.

Her ability to grace  non-ramp decks widens the array of potential decks she could fit into. Ramp would still be Dragonlord Atarka’s primary home, and we still have access to a plethora of powerful ramping tools, including the Eldrazi processors. Her powerful enter-the-battlefield ability would likely lead her to be included in See the Unwritten decks, a la Ondrej Strasky’s Green-Red Devotion which finished in the top four at Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir.

Ultimately, Dragonlord Atarka is a playable mythic rare from a set that was not opened much. After all, Dragons of Tarkir was a set with multiple $10-and-more rares, including $11 Den Protector, $15 Atarka’s Command, and $11 Kolaghan’s Command (I may be cheating with the last one as Kolaghan’s Command is a Modern staple, but you get the gist). Due to the set’s relatively low supply, it will not take much to bump Dragonlord Atarka’s price.

Having said that, her spread has been static for the past few months, at around 36 percent. I would prefer to trade for Dragonlord Atarka rather than spend cash to acquire copies of her. I prefer to save my cash for a different dragonlord, which I will discuss below.

Verdict: Trade for Dragonlord Atarka.

Dragonlord Dromoka

Dragonlord Dromoka

It baffles me why Dragonlord Dromoka is not seeing play in Standard besides cropping up as a one-of sideboard card in Abzan Control. An uncounterable, lifelinking threat with a huge body who also serves as a Grand Abolisher, all at the reasonable price of six mana, surely should have a home. It turns out that at six mana, most people have preferred to jam an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion.

Now that lady Elspeth is out of the picture, it may be Dragonlord Dromoka’s time in the limelight, at least in Abzan or decks that can generate green and white mana. Dragonlord Dromoka may not have the same impact-upon-resolution that Elspeth grants, but she is still a sticky, must-answer threat. Resolving Dragonlord Dromoka, especially doing so on curve, often results in your opponent being forced to suffer a tempo setback when forced to deal with Dromoka on his or her turn—and that’s assuming he or she has an answer for a multicolored creature with seven toughness. And if your opponent allows Dragonlord Dromoka to stick on the board for a few turns, your opponent will be on the backfoot of the game.

Dragonlord Dromoka briefly breached $10 but has since returned to her preorder price. At barely $8, I wouldn’t mind sinking in some cash to get a few extra copies, or at least securing my own playset. Trading for Dragonlord Dromoka works as well, but I am not sure how much longer the window for copies under $10 will stay open. On the other hand, Dromoka’s spread is at 40 percent, pretty much telling us that the dealers have minimal confidence in Dromoka.

Verdict: Trade or buy, but don’t wait too long.

On the bright side Dragonlord Dromoka took down this year’s Vintage Championship. Here’s the account from Brian Kelly, who pioneered Dromoka in Vintage and went on to win the tournament, on how he created a new take on an existing archetype.

Also, the crappy brewer in me fantasizes about a Bant deck that curves from Undergrowth Champion to Kiora, Master of the Depths to Dragonlord Ojutai to Dragonlord Dromoka. Too magical Christmasland?

Dragonlord Kolaghan

Dragonlord Kolaghan

Nothing much to see here. Even if a black-red aggro deck were to emerge,  a six drop is probably too expensive to fit into those decks. I’m still quite bummed that Wizards wasted a dragonlord slot on a card that is bafflingly bad.

Verdict: I couldn’t even

Dragonlord Ojutai

Dragonlord Ojutai

Dragonlord Ojutai remains one of my best calls in recent memory. I called him “the most undervalued dragonlord” when he was preselling at $6, citing that Ojutai would “probably turn (out) to be much better than he looks once we get to play with him in our decks.” Hopefully whoever read my article then bought enough Dragonlord Ojutais to make up for the cost of missing out on Dragonlord Atarka.

When Dragonlord Ojutai was hovering around $15 in early August, I called him a good pick-up once again:

Pick-up Ojutai

After a strong showing at the Indianapolis Open last weekend, with appearances in three  of the top-eight lists, Dragonlord Ojutai bumped up to $20. What do I think about picking up Dragonlord Ojutai at $20?

I have a strong suspicion that $20 is not Dragonlord Ojutai’s final price in the new Standard landscape. As Craig Wescoe pointed out in last week’s Brainstorm Brewery episode, the rotation of Hero’s Downfall and Stoke the Flames means the two most popular ways to deal with an attacking Ojutai are gone. Dragonlord Ojutai just got a lot more powerful as a finisher.

Dragonlord Ojutai has no shortage of homes in the new Standard. Esper Dragons, one of the powerhouse decks from last season’s Standard, retained most of its cards in the new Standard. One of the top-eight Jeskai Black (Clay Spicklemire’s) lists ran two Ojutai in the main, and while Gerry Thompson’s Five-Color Bring to Light build did not run any of the dragonlord, Kent Ketter and Joe Lossett made top 16 with their versions, each featuring a singleton Dragonlord Ojutai in the main.

Ojutai Bant’s core, which comprises of the megamorph synergy between Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor, is still available in Battle for Zendikar Standard, and the archetype could see a resurgence, especially with the addition of Gideon and Kiora, which could potentially bolster the deck’s power level.

I am not sure if $20 is the ceiling for a six-month-old mythic with so many potential homes. New supply of Dragonlord Ojutai will likely have trickled to a halt and the highly probably increase in demand could easily result in a $30 or more price tag—I wouldn’t be surprised if Dragonlord Ojutai hits $40 again. Dealer confidence has yet to be seen, as the buylist price for Dragonlord Ojutai has remained at $10 regardless of the retail price bump over the past few days.

Verdict: If you want to assemble your playset of Dragonlord Ojutai, it is unlikely you will be able to find him any cheaper than he is now. If you have an appetite for risk, I do think that Ojutai could hit at least $30, if not $40. 

Dragonlord Silumgar

Silumgar New

Yet another winner from the rotation of Hero’s Downfall. Though you still have Abzan Charm, Valorous Stance, and possibly Utter End to contend with when resolving Dragonlord Silumgar‘s enter-the-battlefield trigger.

Nevertheless, here are a couple of reasons why I am excited about Dragonlord Silumgar right now:



Our very own Jim Casale’s (@Phrost_) tweet brings to mind the fact that Battle for Zendikar Standard may very well feature big creatutes and ramp spells, be it Ulamog or not, and a Sower of Temptation with a higher toughness oozes potential. Just watch the semifinals match between Shoota Yasooka and Ondrej Strasky during Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir to witness the power of Sower against opposing ramp decks. Also note that Dragonlord Silumgar kills Gideon. You know, in case Gideon becomes super popular.

Also, in the worst-case scenario, you could throw Silumgar in the way of whatever Eldrazi titan that is coming your way and he does a pretty good job of removing them.


Only $5!? Dragonlord Silumgar was actually under $5 when I started on this article. Dragonlord Silumgar may not be a key player along the lines of his fellow Dragonlords Atarka and Ojutai, but surely $5 is way too low for a playable mythic from a quickly aging set that was not opened much? Having said that, Dragonlord Silumgar does have a spread of 47 percent. Perhaps the dealers have yet to catch up with the card?

I suspect Dragonlord Silumgar’s low price could be ascribed to the fact that he has not seen play over the past six months or so, besides appearing as a one-of in the sideboard of Esper Dragons. People forgot what a game-breaker resolving a well-timed Dragonlord Silumgar is.

Verdict: I like Dragonlord Silumgar as a pick-up at $5. I am perfectly comfortable picking him up at $5 in cash and/or trade.


A good number of these dragonlords are good short-term picks. They are short term picks because the pecking order for the new Standard has yet to be established, and even though they are powerful and proven cards, with the exception of Dragonlord Ojutai, they can be acquired at their pre-spike prices, or even lower as with the case of Dragonlord Silumgar.

I would like to reiterate that the dragonlords are short-term picks. As I mentioned in a previous article, the fact that Wizards is willing to reprint Standard mythics in its Standard supplementary products increases the risk of holding on to Standard mythic specs for too long. While the dragonlords dodged the Battle for Zendikar Event Deck, there is no guarantee they will not appear in upcoming ones (though it would be a flavor fail, but then again, it does not seem that Wizards is not too bothered with flavor when it comes to Event Decks/Clash Packs).

Thanks for reading. Do share your thoughts in the comments section below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.

Playmat Finance IV: Playmat TLC

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back to another installment of Playmat Finance, where we discuss the MTG-finance implications of that rubbery fabric that stands between our precious cards and and the harsh surfaces where we sometimes play. The first part of the series took a shot at crafting a rudimentary framework to pin a value on Grand Prix playmats, which are part and parcel of modern-day Magic Grands Prix. Part two took a look at Game Day playmats and Grand Prix special or side event playmats. Part three discussed the issue of counterfeit mats and their impact on the value of authentic, sought-after mats.

Today’s article will go over the best practices for preserving the value of your playmat, but not in the manipulate-the-market-by-buying-out-every-other-copy-of-your-rare-playmat sense. A number of readers mentioned in the comments on the first Playmat Finance article that they would be interested to learn about playmat care. I’ve always thought that my assiduous TLC for my playmats was a bit of an outlier, seeing that most players I know just chuck their playmats in their bags after they are done with them. I know a few who fold theirs. What a sacrilege.

The amount of interest in playmat care is a small testimony to the playmat’s growing status as a valuable and collectible piece of Magic paraphernalia.  Magic has long transcended its status as merely a card game, establishing its own terminology and culture, or as some would even describe it, a lifestyle.

Accordingly, items related to Magic have collector’s value (check out the price of these old life counters) and playmats are among the latest additions in the previous years. The first Grand Prix where playmats were given to participants was Grand Prix Milwaukee 2002. The playmat perk was an initiative started by the organizer, Pastimes. Here’s an excerpt from their FAQ a little while back which explains the inception of Grand Prix playmats:

“The history behind playmats at Grand Prix started with Grand Prix Milwaukee in 2002. That event was hosted by… Pastimes. The concept was, as it still is, to use this great marketing collectible to commemorate the weekend – and to help drive people to come play in events on Friday. The only way to get a mat was to be in the first 250 people registered. The mat was awful compared to the amazing mats today, but nobody was doing mats at the time and it was a pretty cool promotion. The Last Chance Grand Prix Trial (pretty different back then) was the largest ever held, and the GP that followed the next day was a record setting GP. Fast forward a few years – playmats have become expected…”

It took a while for playmats to breach into the mainstream. The first Game Day playmat didn’t exist until Dark Ascension Game Day in 2012, but it has been a mainstay of Game Day prizes since then, with some of them garnering a good amount of value.

Fate Reforged Game Day Playmat

Giving Your Playmat the TLC it Deserves

After 21 years of the game’s existence, TLC for Magic cards is about as fundamental as the stack. Sleeves are essential for competitive play (the last time someone played without sleeves at a Grand Prix was Valentin Mackl at Grand Prix Vienna 2013, and that was done on purpose). Double-sleeving your Standard decks is no longer considered odd. Heck, I even triple-sleeve these days (I’m experimenting with ways to keep the cards I play with in Marcel mint condition). If you want to go all the way, you can even do this, which is technically legal if you can shuffle them without assistance.

Resources on playmat TLC are surprisingly sparse on the internet. Googling “playmat care” returns results like this gem. “Treat your playmat like you would any rug or carpet.” I don’t think I’m going to do that.

So far, the best resource for playmat care (and an introduction to playmats for the uninitiated and unconvinced) I’ve stumbled upon is a short video by no other than The Professor from Tolarian Community College.

Whatever knowledge I have regarding playmat TLC were picked up over the years.  While most of my points do overlap with The Professor’s—there are only so many ways to treat your playmat right—there are a few pointers from my own experience I would like to add, which we will get to in a bit.

They See Me Rollin’

I got my first playmat, the Dark Ascension Game Day playmat—which I won because my opponent in the top eight scooped in game three after an hour of a Blue-Black Control mirror as he had a dinner appointment to catch.

I did not treat that little piece of history (first Game Day mat ever!) right. While I did not fold it, I just rolled it up and stuffed it into what little free space my Magic bag could afford. Folding your playmat is the surest way to ruin your mat, as The Professor explains in this segment of the video.

Rolling your mat is the correct way to keep it. I am not sure if rolling it with the rubber bottom facing outwards or with the fabric layer facing outwards is the right way to roll it. I used to roll it with the rubber bottom facing out to protect the fabric layer from damage, but I was advised by a friend that rolling it with the fabric layer outwards better preserves the rubber bottom. Annoyingly, I could not verify the legitimacy of that advice. Anyway I now roll it with the fabric layer facing outwards as I keep my playmats in tubes these days.

Playmat Tubes

Back when I got my first few playmats, I did not consider them to be collectibles and I did not bothered with playmat tubes (I’m not even sure if these existed back in 2012. Perhaps they did and I did not realize it). After a few years of being rolled up naked and shoved in a bag, here’s what my Dark Ascension Game Day playmat looks like:

Dark Ascension

Surprisingly, the borders have yet to show wear and tear. But it is quite obvious that the playmat is a little creasy on the edges. I suspect it is probably because the mat frequently shared the same space in my Magic bag with my deckboxes and the occasional tumbler I carry along, which inadvertently crushed the mat as I toted around the bag.

My Grand Prix London 2013 playmat suffered the same fate:

GP London 2013

Both mats shown above are still fully functioning playmats even though they’ve been rolled and stored without any protection (rolling is the key here). Creased corners aside, they still do what they are meant to do perfectly: provide a clean and smooth surface for my cards. (While The Professor places emphasis on the former, mine is on the latter, as I’ve found that playing without a playmat drastically increases surface clouding of cards even though they are sleeved.)

Even though you can still play with them, dealing with worn-out corners is not ideal for collectible playmats, playmats with a moderate to high value, or playmats with sentimental value.

To combat this, I would highly recommend getting a playmat tube, regardless of whether your playmat is a collectible or it just serves as a velvety surface for your precious cards. It only costs a few bucks, and besides keeping your playmat in good condition, it makes transporting your playmat so much tidier.

There are a good variety of playmat tubes out there, but the two popular ones seem to be the Ultra Pro tube and Monster tube. Like The Professor, I too prefer the Monster tube, but not just because it does not roll off the table.

Left: Ultra Pro; Right: Monster
Left: Ultra Pro; Right: Monster

Monster tubes have a larger opening, partly facilitated by its prism design. I’ve found it a lot easier to fit a mat in a Monster tube compared with an Ultra Pro tube, which I sometimes need to re-roll a mat multiple times to get it to fit and it could get frustrating after a few attempts. They are both around the same price.


A playmat serves to protect your card from dirty surfaces, but is itself susceptible to dirt. A dirty playmat increases the chance of dirt getting trapped on your sleeves. I’ve always thought that playmats and water do not go well together, so my preferred method of cleaning is wiping my playmat with a damp cloth, on both the top and bottom of the mat. It’s imperative to clean the bottom of your playmat, as it can get quite dirty, and the dirt will rub onto the fabric surface when you roll your playmat.

A wipe or two with a damp cloth usually removes the residual dirt that accrues from using the playmat. I usually leave it hanging for a few hours to make sure that both sides are completely dry.

When I watched The Professor’s video above, I was surprised to find out that some playmats can go in the washing machine. The thought of having my playmats go through the rough and tumble of a washing machine cycle sends shivers down my spine, but it seems that Ultra Pro and Inked playmats are made to be machine washable. Inked Playmats‘s FAQ recommends using the delicate/handwash setting if you’re washing them in a washing machine. Don’t use the dryer—leave your playmats out to air dry.

I have yet to give this practice a try, as my mats seem to be doing quite well with damp cloth cleaning. The worst ordeal I’ve had with my playmats was spilling a cup of pumpkin spice latte on my Grand Prix London 2013 playmat (the perils of playtesting at Starbucks). I rinsed the affected part with tap water, left it to dry, and there wasn’t any trace or scent of that beverage on it after that.

I guess it’s nice to know that you could chuck your Ultra Pro or Inked playmat in a washing machine if you couldn’t be bothered to wipe them. If your playmat is not from those manufacturers, it would be prudent to check with your playmat manufacturer if the playmat is machine washable prior to doing so. I may try it one day with one of my worn out mats, but I certainly won’t be tossing my Ugin Game Day one into a washing machine.


It’s tempting to get an artist to sign your playmat along with your cards when you meet them at a Grand Prix. I’ve had a few playmats signed myself. If you’re planning to get your playmat signed, bear in mind that the signature will not last, especially if you’re using the playmat consistently. I got Winona Nelson, who has one of the most gorgeous signatures, to sign my Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur playmat last year, and here’s how the signature looks like today, a year and a half later:


I even avoided the signature area when I cleaned the mat. I doubt I’ll be getting any mats I plan to use signed in the future. Even brighter playmat backgrounds do not make signatures look any better or last any longer.


The last playmat I got signed was a Grand Prix special by Peter Mohrbacher, but that playmat is intended for my collection rather than use, so I’m hoping the signature will last.

I hope I have covered enough about playmat care to give you insight on keeping your playmat in tip-top condition for as long as possible. Do share any other tips or experiences you have regarding playmat TLC in the comments segment below, or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


Playmat Finance: Counterfeit Mats

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back to another installment of Playmat Finance. Part one proposed a framework for evaluating the value of Grand Prix playmats. Part two dealt with Game Day playmats and the special playmats created by attending artist(s) at Grands Prix.

Today, we are not going to evaluate the value of any playmats, but rather discuss a topic that could potentially impact the value of collectible Magic playmats.

Note: I mentioned in the conclusion of part two that I would be discussing playmat TLC in this article, which I initially planned to alongside the topic I plan to discuss in this piece. The topic I am discussing in this article blossomed into, well, a whole article itself. I decided to delegate playmat TLC to the next part, rather than try to cram it in as a sort of afterthought. 

Counterfeit Playmats

An interesting point raised by a few commenters on the first part of this series was the issue of counterfeit playmats. There is a concern that, as with Magic cards, counterfeit playmats could pose a risk to the value of collectible playmats. The fact that there are a multitude of websites offering custom playmat printing services to print your own mat does little to allay this concern.

Most popular playmat printing services explicitly state on their websites that they would not print custom mats with copyrighted artwork. Undoubtedly, though, there are some who are less scrupulous regarding this issue.

A couple of commentators mentioned that the ease of being able to counterfeit could negatively impact the prices of sought-after playmats. While counterfeiting and the ability to print your own copy of an existing sought-after mat pose a risk to the value of collectible playmats, there is a big caveat:

Replicating a copyrighted playmat is only possible if there is an image of the particular art floating around on the internet in a sufficiently high resolution. 

While there are avenues for you to print any image you fancy on a custom-made playmat regardless of copyright permission, having access to a copy of the image with the minimum-required resolution for playmat art is essential for the plan to work.

Johannes Voss Signing
I would get Johannes to sign mine. If I had one…

Take for example: if I want to print my own copy of the Johannes Voss Sakura Angel playmat above (which I missed out on at Grand Prix Chiba because I didn’t line up at 6:00 a.m.), I would need to find a copy of the image that fits the minimum size requirement to appear unpixelated on a playmat (note that this is a hypothetical scenario used as an illustration. I am not going to do this myself. I am vehemently against counterfeiting collectibles).

Thankfully, the largest image of Voss’s Sakura Angel available is well below the minimum image file size requirement required by playmat printing services, both legitimate and dogdy ones. So those of you who own a Johannes Voss Sakura Angel playmat, rest assured that your playmat’s value will not be destroyed by a hypothetical horde of counterfeited copies. For those who intend to buy one, there is a peace of mind knowing that you are unlikely to encounter a fake one. And if you do, you will most likely be able to tell that it is fake because the art will look like its rendered on a crappy integrated graphics card.

Speaking of buying playmats, here are a few pointers to help you avoid potential counterfeits.

Circle of Protection: Counterfeit Playmats

First of all, scour the web to check if there are any high-resolution copies of the playmat’s art floating out there. Most custom playmat printers require an image with a minimum pixel resolution of 1746×1026, with the recommended resolution for the best quality print being 3675×2175. The chances of you stumbling upon a counterfeit copy of the playmat you’re planning to buy should be drastically low if there are not copies of the playmat’s art available on the internet in a sufficiently high resolution. In this case, it would be easy tell counterfeit copies apart from the original ones.

Which brings us to the second point: buy only from reliable sellers, or over channels where you as as buyer would be covered if the item turns out to be counterfeit. If you are buying it directly from a person, it may be prudent to inspect the mat in real life before you confirm the purchase.

As always, if a playmat looks too cheap to be true, it’s probably best to steer away.

The Impact of Counterfeit Mats

Do counterfeit playmats threaten the value of sought-after mats? Let’s use an easily counterfeitable mat as an example to study the potential impact of counterfeiting on the value of a rare and collectible playmat.

Image by Maximilian Schroeder from
Image by Maximilian Schroeder from

City of Brass playmat was given out exclusively to judges at Grand Prix Las Vegas 2013, which makes it a collectible playmat due to its scarcity. Unfortunately, this playmat is susceptible to counterfeiting, as a high-resolution file of Jung Park’s City of Brass art is available online (no, I’m not telling you where!). The relevant logos could be added on using a image manipulation program like GIMP, and voila, you’ve got yourself an image that you could send to unscrupolous playmat manufacturers to get it printed.

With this information, we would expect the City of Brass playmat to be worth a pittance.

City of Brass Playmat Price

But the playmat was actually going for a decent price, especially for one featuring artwork from a card that is not exactly the epitome of iconic (in the first article of this series, we established that the bulk of a playmat’s value is tied to how iconic the card from which the art originated from is). Presumably the bulk of the playmat’s price stems from its rarity, having only been distributed to judges at a single event. The number of bids for the mats above show a decent amount of demand, too. Even buy-it-now listings are going for a good price:

City of Brass BINThe Grand Prix Vegas 2013 City of Brass playmat is a prime case study for the impact of counterfeiting on a collectible mat’s value It’s rare mat that’s in demand with high-resolution art available online and plenty of recent sales on eBay. While a single example is by no means conclusive evidence, it provides a bit of reassurance that counterfeiting will not obliterate the value of collectible mats.

Incentives to Counterfeit Playmats

A barrier to counterfeiting playmats for profit is the cost of printing a playmat. Most services charge anywhere between $25 to $30 per custom mat, and that’s before shipping. The majority of sought-after Grand Prix playmats sell for between $40 and $60 on eBay. Using the judge City of Brass playmat as an example again, while you could fetch a number in the high $40s for it, you could also end up selling it for as low $20, as per the two most recent sales. The standard deviation of playmat sale prices on eBay is a lot larger than that of Magic cards, and coupled with the increased cost of acquiring counterfeit playmats, I suspect the incentive to counterfeit mats for profit is significantly low.

This leaves one more issue: if high-resolution art of a particular sought-after mat is available online, would that not translate into less people buying it for personal use (because they could just make their own copy) and a lower average sale price on eBay? This in turn dictates the value of the playmat, as eBay prices are the best benchmark we currently have to pin a price on these products.

I am sure there would be a few potential buyers who end up making their own replica of the playmat for slightly less money, but I don’t think the number of people doing so would be high enough to impact the final price of a sought-after playmat. The activation cost of producing your own replica is moderately high.

City of Brass Playmat

While you would only require basic image manipulation skills to create an accurate replica of the judge City of Brass playmat, it would require a considerable amount of time to do so. You’d need to hunt down the logos on the top left, bottom left, and bottom right corners of the playmat. If you couldn’t find a logo image with a clear background, you’d likely have to lift the logo off another image and manually clear the background. You would also need to reproduce the text found on the bottom right corner alongside the Wizards of the Coast logo. Not to mention all the logos would have to be positioned correctly. You can always just print the playmat with just the City of Brass image, but that would render it the same level as every other custom mat for personal use (zero collectibility and zero cool factor), albeit of questionable legality.

Getting your hands on your own replica playmat is much more time-consuming than trying to acquire counterfeit cards. All you need to do to acquire counterfeit cards is to purchase them from a counterfeiter’s website or drop an email to the supplier (if you can find them). On the other hand, creating a replica of a playmat requires you to hunt down the relevant images and spend a considerable amount of time putting them together on an image manipulation program before sending it off for printing. I am not sure if the trouble is worth it just to save $20 or so compared to buying one off eBay.

I hope this article answers concerns about counterfeit playmats. Counterfeits are always a controversial issue, so do share your thoughts on the topic in the comments section below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.


Playmat Finance: Game Day Playmats and GP Specials

By: Guo Heng

Welcome back! A while ago, I wrote about evaluating the value of Grand Prix playmats. In the second part of the Playmat Finance series, we are going to check out two other categories of collectible Magic playmats out there.

First off, let’s start with one of my favorite playmats of all time, and the category in which the mat falls under.

Game Day Playmats

Dark Ascension Game Day was the first time we saw a Game Day event that awarded an exclusive playmat to each tournament’s winner. It added a bit of prestige to Game Days and made the event a little bit more competitive.

The artwork featured on the first-ever Game Day playmat was the rather unassuming Thraben Heretic (does anybody even remember what the card does?). Nevertheless, the playmat is still selling for a decent price three years later.

Dark Ascension Game Day Promo

Perhaps it’s the novelty of being the first-ever Game Day playmat that has imbued it with a value of $20 to $30 on eBay three years after the event. Heck, those numbers look like a great deal when you compare it to what retailers who have the mat in stock are asking.

The Avacyn Restored Game Day that followed provided a playmat with much cooler art. It featured a character that would end up being one of the most iconic white EDH cards: Avacyn, Angel of Hope.

Avacyn Playmat

There were only two recent sales that are viewable as of this writing, but those give a good ballpark to help us estimate the price this playmat commands. As the first part of this series highlighted, the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art originated from is the most significant influence on the playmat’s long-term value, so it unsurprising that the Avacyn Restored Game Day playmat is worth as much as Karn Liberated.

Not all Game Day playmats were able to retain the same long-term value. Most of them go for anywhere between $10 and $30. Still, there are a few other notable Game Day playmats, including the Magic 2014 one, which featured an exclusive Chandra art:

Chandra Playmat

While the Magic 2014 Game Day playmat art was not from a card, I believe that this treatment of Chandra Nalaar was the first time she was depicted with strands of hair rather than her usual flaming head, which may be the reason why this playmat commands an above-average price tag and is still in demand today.

An interesting point to note about the playmat above is its price trajectory. I’ve been tracking the prices of sought after playmats for a while, mainly out of personal interest (hint: I own one of them). It seems that they usually start out at an exorbitantly high price before settling down at a more reasonable level. Based on threads regarding the Chandra playmat above, it looks like the playmat was selling for an insane price when it was new. The coveted alternate art Ugin, the Spirit Dragon Game Day playmat was selling for up to $80 on eBay for weeks following Fate Reforged Game Day, but is now going for a lot less:

Ugin Playmat August
Two takeaways for Game Day playmats:

  • If you would like to reap maximum value out of the Game Day playmat you’ve won, the best time to sell it is during the Game Day weekend itself or within the immediately following weeks.
  • I’ve never bought a Game Day playmat myself, as I can’t imagine how I would field an answer to inquisitive opponents asking how my Game Day went. But if you plan to buy one for yourself, you would get a better price a few months down the road. The longer you’re willing to wait, the better it is, as it takes a while for a playmat’s price to hit a stable price that better reflects its long-term value.

Limited Edition Grand Prix Specials

Some Grands Prix offer one or more exclusive playmats drawn by the attending artists to commemorate the Grand Prix. While these limited-edition playmats are done by Magic artists, they usually feature artwork depicting an iconic element of the Grand Prix’s venue rather than card art (as the official playmat already features card art). I’m not sure if the artists were commissioned by the Grand Prix organizers or if these playmats were done of their own accord, but some of them do sell for a good amount.

For example, only 600 of the Grand Prix Chiba Sakura Angel playmat by Johannes Voss above were sold by the organizers at that Grand Prix (300 per day for Friday and Saturday) and players who  missed the insane early morning queue on both days could purchase a copy without the Grand Prix Chiba stamp at Johannes’s booth for a measly sum of 15,000 yen. Or on eBay for just $129.

Sakura Angel eBay August

Some Grands Prix offer these event-exclusive playmats as a side event participation gift or put them up as a prize wall offering:

GP Copenhagen Side Events Playmat

Evaluating these playmats is akin to venturing into the Wild West of playmat finance. While the Sakura Angel one above was fetching triple-digit sales, the Copenhagen special playmat wasn’t really selling on eBay as of this writing, and the sales for the recent Grand Prix Paris side event playmat were downright lethargic:

Grand Prix Paris Side Event Playmat

On the other hand, the side event/VIP playmat from Grand Prix Toronto in May this year was quite valuable:

GP Toronto Side Event Playmat

Perhaps Magic players just love their goblins more than their gargoyles. Or maybe it was the goblins playing hockey, which I hear is pretty popular in Canada. Then again, I have not personally set foot in Canada, and all I know about the country is from listening to The Eh Team podcast.

I tried to find a metric to help me guesstimate the price of these special Grand Prix playmats: a simple non-subjective framework similar to the one I wrote about for official Grand Prix playmats in the first part of this series. We use the metric of supply and demand to pin a value on cards, and while we can easily estimate the supply of a particular Grand Prix side event playmat, the playmat’s demand is a lot harder to gauge.

A card’s demand can be approximated by it’s ubiquity in competitive formats or EDH, or even perceived casual appeal (like that one time Wizards decided to make a colorless dragon planeswalker). The value of official Grand Prix playmats is mainly influenced by the popularity of the card from which the playmat’s art derived. But attempting to pin a price on a special playmat with no card analog is a lot more complicated. Using a playmat’s aesthetics to determine the value of the playmat is a pitfall, as aesthetics are subjective. I was surprised that the Grand Prix Toronto side event playmat above was able to fetch that sort of price. I don’t even find the art appealing, nor do I have much love for goblins, but I am sure there are plenty of buyers out there who think otherwise.

Trying to price a playmat based on the artist’s popularity is equally contentious most of the time. I am a big fan of the likes of Raymond Swanland, Johannes Voss, and Magali Villeneuve, but I can’t say these are consensus opinions. Exceptions could be made when a special playmat is drawn by an undisputedly iconic Magic artist like, say, John Avon or Rob Alexander. Check out the price of the Mount Fuji playmat John Avon did for Grand Prix Shizuoka two years back:

John Avon Mount Fuji

Or the Rob Alexander special from Grand Prix Kyoto recently:

Rob Alexander Kyoto Mat

The takeaway from this segment is:

  • Special/side event Grand Prix playmats are hard to price objectively—unless it’s a rare piece from an iconic Magic artist, but how do we determine who is iconic and who isn’t?
  • These mats tend to be harder to sell. In the eBay screenshots above, most of the special playmats were sold as buy-it-nows rather than auctions, or only had a single bid. This indicates that the market for these mats are a lot more niche than, say, Grand Prix playmats or Game Day playmats, which feature actual Magic art.

Unless you are acquainted with playmat collectors, it may be troublesome to move these mats. Official Grand Prix playmats with Magic images are easier to move, especially when they feature art from an iconic card. Take the recent Grand Prix Singapore playmat, for example. The official Grand Prix Mox Opal playmat has been selling quite well:

GP Singapore Mox Opal

The VIP-special Rob Alexander playmat, on the other hand…

GP Singapore Rob Alexander Special

This reinforces the point that Grand Prix specials are hard to price. Rob Alexander is an undeniably popular and established Magic artist,  yet his recent Grand Prix Singapore mat only went for a third of his Grand Prix Kyoto special.

Closing Thoughts

Going back to official Grand Prix playmats, a very special playmat will be given out to participants of Grand Prix San Diego this weekend:

GP San Diego

If I’ve ever wanted to go to a Grand Prix just for its playmat, it would be this one. While there are double-sided artless leather playmats you can buy out there, this will be the first time we see a double-sided rubber-and-fabric playmat featuring Magic art, utilizing a new printing technique engineered by Ultra Pro, according to the Grand Prix San Diego website.

While Magali Villeneuve is not as established as the likes of Terese Nielsen and John Avon, some of the art she has done is just plain gorgeous and I would not be surprised to see her gaining traction in the realm of Magic art. More importantly, Narset, Enlightened Master has solidified herself as one of the most popular EDH generals to emerge from a recent set (she currently ranks second in MTGSalvation’s monthly count of popular generals). That, together with the novelty of being the first ever double-sided Magic playmat, is probably going to make this Grand Prix San Diego perk one of the most sought-after playmats in recent years.

Join me next week for the third and final part of the Playmat Finance series, where we will discuss the issue of counterfeit playmats, as well as how to take care of your playmat, a topic which a surprising number of readers were interested in. In the meantime, do share your thoughts in the comments segment below or catch me on Twitter at @theguoheng.