Bayesian Statistics: You Should Probably Read This Article

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By: Travis Allen

Over this past summer, I read Nate Silver’s book, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – but Some Don’t. I mentioned it in an article previously as being an excellent book for anyone who is interested in the type of content that appears here weekly. I’m not the only one who enjoyed it either; multiple people on my Twitter feed proclaimed fascination with it upon release. Chas Andres (@chasandres) was a particularly vocal supporter, and ended up writing a piece or two over on SCG about some of the book’s content shortly after it came out.

Possibility Storm

Today I want to discuss what was to me one of the most interesting, informative, useful, world-view-altering portions of the book. The Bayesian Theorem, and specifically Bayesian interpretation, is so broadly applicable to every aspect of our lives (MTG included) that it’s difficult not to consider every day occurrences through its lens.

The theorem was developed by Thomas Bayes, a statistician and minister from the early 18th century. The work was published posthumously, and received a pretty lukewarm reception initially. It wasn’t until the topic was revisited some time later that it became considerably more popular, and is now a major component of statistics.

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Here’s the basic idea: Everything is a probability. Nothing – nothing – is 100% guaranteed. New information we obtain allows us to more accurately predict what will happen, but we’ll never be completely, unquestionably certain.

Let me show you the equation in its simplest form. Don’t be terrified.

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That isn’t so bad, is it? It’s just three simple letters a few times. (The book uses a slightly different equation, but the results are the same.) I’m not even going to force you to figure it out. I’m going to point you to the Wikipedia page, and if you’re curious about the math, it will do a far better job explaining it than I could. Instead, I’m going to explain it with some examples.

This first example I stole right out of Nate’s book. Imagine a woman going through a dresser drawer, and she finds a pair of panties that aren’t hers. Her first instinct is to assume her husband is cheating on her. That’s a pretty severe leap to make without any additional evidence though, isn’t it? If this woman had no reason to suspect her husband before, is it really appropriate to condemn him already? Someone without Bayesian interpretation may do that, but not this woman. She’s going to approach this with ~math~.

In order to get some numbers to plug in, she needs to do some guesstimating. The first thing she has to put a number on is what she thought the probability of her husband cheating on her was before she found the panties. This can be difficult, especially if you’re holding incriminating evidence in your hand. But she thinks rationally, and decides she had no reason to suspect him before this. She also happens to know that 4% of married spouses cheat each year. That seems like a good number to start with. So her prior expectation of her husband cheating on her – her “prior” – is 4%.

Next, she has to figure out the probability of the underwear being there assuming her husband is actually cheating on her. Basically she says to herself “If my husband is cheating on me, what are the odds I would have found this underwear?” He would probably be trying to cover his tracks if he was having an affair, so she wouldn’t expect to always find this incriminating evidence even if he was cheating. She decides to go with a coin flip – 50%. If he’s cheating on me, there’s a 50% chance I would find evidence like this.

Finally, what are the odds that this underwear is there if he isn’t cheating? Well, the number of reasons for strange panties in your house is pretty limited, and many of them are going to be quite suspect. Maybe he bought the panties for her as a gift, or received them as some promotional giveaway whilst walking through the mall, and forgot he put them there. Perhaps they’re his (no judgments.) Regardless of why, the chances of this underwear being there if he isn’t cheating are pretty small. She decides it’s maybe a 5% chance the underwear would show up if he isn’t cheating on her.

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She then takes her three numbers and runs them through the equation. Her prior expectation of his cheating, 4%, the probability of finding the underwear if he is indeed cheating, 50%, and the probability of the underwear being there if he isn’t cheating, 5%. It spits out an answer of 29%. Her new expectation of his infidelity is 29%.

In a vacuum, that seems kind of low. She finds this women’s underwear, and it’s barely more than 25% likely that he’s cheating on her? How is that possible? It stems from the fact that she really didn’t expect he was cheating on her at all beforehand. If that prior expectation was higher, perhaps because he was working late all the time or being overly protective of his phone, then the end result would have been a lot higher than 29%.

Let’s try this out with a more on-theme example. Let’s try and figure out what the chances are that True-Name Nemesis is getting banned at the next B&R update in light of a new piece of information. 

True-Name Nemesis

We’ll begin with our prior. Right now, without any additional knowledge, what do we think the odds are he’ll get banned? Well, they don’t ban cards in Legacy very often. We could just look at the total number of banned non-ante cards in the format as a percentage, but I feel that is a bit misleading in this context. People have reasonable suspicion TNN may get the axe, but nobody is eyeballing Lightning Bolt in the same way. Let’s say that right now, TNN is maybe 5% to get banned. 5% is a much greater chance than any random Legacy card, and simultaneously reflects Wizard’s proclaimed hands-off approach.

Now, we consider new information. How about this tumblr post from one Mr. Mark Rosewater? Hmm, that’s pretty damning. Look at the language he uses. “Well aware of the public’s feelings” and “will impact how we act in the future.” Make no mistake – that is severe word choice. He easily could have said something along the lines of “TNN is new and we want to give a resilient format like Legacy a chance to try to solve the problem first.” Instead, he made no attempt to indicate they are giving the format time to shake out. He acknowledged people hated it, and said they would react.

So, what’s the chances that Mark would say this if they are planning on banning the card? I would put it pretty high, say, 80%. There is really no stronger answer he could give here.

Finally, what are the odds he would say this if Wizards wasn’t planning on banning TNN? Well, Mark has been known to be purposefully misleading before. We’ll say there’s maybe a 15% chance he would use language this strong even if they weren’t thinking of banning it in the near future.

Given those three numbers – 5%, 80%, and 15% – our final probability of TNN being banned in the upcoming announcement is 22%. That may feel a little low, but remember our initial expectation of it being banned was only 5%. It jumped 17 percentage points after this announcement from Mark. That’s a big jump.

Perhaps you are more convinced Wizards is going to ban TNN, and your prior expectation without any additional information is not 5%, but 30%. With that single change in number, the odds TNN gets banned rises to 70%. That’s a pretty solid chance of him being banned.

These examples show you what happens when you utilize real numbers, but what I really want you to focus on is the underlying principle. When we discuss things that will happen in the Magic world, it’s always a probability. When someone says Genesis Wave or Threads of Disloyalty or Spellskite is going to jump in price, what they mean is “I believe, given the information I have, the probability of this card rising in price is high enough that I feel justified proclaiming it, and I’m betting that it will happen.”

Aside: Notice my use of the word “betting” there – speculation is really just informed gambling. You’re playing odds. They’re considerably better than casino odds, of course, but at the end of the day you’re putting money up against the chance of something happening. 

You may not be aware of it, but you are probably using this principle frequently when you play the game as well. Imagine you’re playing against a control deck, and the board is empty. You cast a reasonable threat that will kill your opponent in a turn or two. Your opponent lets it resolve. Well, before you cast the spell, you were pretty sure he had a counterspell in his hand. After he let this resolve though, you swing way the other way – why wouldn’t he counter it if he could? You now feel pretty confident that he doesn’t have a counter. Then you pass the turn, he plays a land and passes back. You go to declare attackers, and he Downfalls the creature. Suddenly, you have once again found yourself pretty sure he has the counterspell. The reason he didn’t counter the threat last turn was that he didn’t need to. Threads of Disloyalty

See how with each piece of information, you update your expectation of what your opponent is holding? All (decent) players do this. Recognize this, and try extending the practice into more areas of your life. Use the concept, and in situations where you feel you have good numbers, maybe even use the equation. You’ll find you rush to conclusions far less, are more equipped to plan for contingencies, and in general have more reasonable expectations of what may come.

All of the predictions in my article last week were formed based on frequent Bayesian interpretations. Every time new product is spoiled, an announcement is made (or not made,) or someone from Wizards says something, I factor that into my expectations of an event, and see how it influences the probability. I would be lying if I said I explicitly used numbers, but I definitely find myself mentally ballparking percentages all the time.

Holding to Bayesian interpretation will also help you be more objective. Say you hold some belief that you are very certain about, perhaps 99.99% sure of. A single piece of evidence to the contrary is not going to sway you far from that belief. But if you remove your personal prejudice from the issue and fairly factor in each new piece of information, you may find that your previous rock-solid belief is now considerably less so. Holding a firm belief is not foolish, but doing so in the face of bountiful evidence certainly is. Don’t be that guy. Be the guy willing to learn and grow.

There’s a lot more information about Bayesian statistics out there. If this tiny taste I’ve given you piques your interest, I highly encourage you to do some more reading. In the meantime, go forth and be probabilistic!

  • Genesis Wave spiked on Tuesday afternoon, and as I write this, the cheapest copy is $6 on TCGPlayer. If you have any, sell now. Yes, the card could end up more expensive, but it’s far more likely it doesn’t. (Probability and the Greater Fool Theory all in one!)
  • With Genesis Wave spiking, Primeval Titan is on the edge. There’s been chatter about him online lately, paired with a slow rise over the last few months. He’s going to be in any deck with Wave. It won’t take much to push him over the edge at this point. He’s not going to be $25, but $12-$18 seems pretty reasonable.
  • I don’t have any specific results to point to, but I like Threads of Disloyalty. It’s been rising for months, it’s always been floating around Modern, it only has one printing, and continues to get better in the face of awesome small creatures. I doubt it’s going to be bought out tomorrow, but I wouldn’t hesitate to grab copies where you can.

 

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Even in Winter, the Heat is On

By: Jared Yost

Though the cold winds blow, at times so fiercely that it feels like my face is going to freeze off during my walk to work, there certainly isn’t any lack of heat sparking the fires of speculation in the Magic market recently. I’ve noticed quite a few trending cards across several different formats I’d like to consider further.

Standard

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Mutavault

Most copies of Mutavault on TCGPlayer are now around $35. I don’t think Mutavault can sustain this price for very long, especially since Born of the Gods is soon to be released. With the advent of multicolored demigods and the potential for more two and three color decks in Standard, I believe that Mutavault can’t increase in price much further. Even Thragtusk and Snapcaster didn’t make it this high. I don’t expect Mutavault to be worth more than all the mythics in Standard – especially since it is a reprint! I’ve cashed in and taken my profits; I suggest you do the same.

 

Xathrid Necromancer

Xathrid Necromancer

Xathrid Necromancer has been on the rise ever since since his appearance in the Grand Prix Shizuoka finals in both decks. It appears for the moment to have stabilized around $4, and that is about $1 higher than it was in previous weeks. Unfortunately, I am not sure if there is enough support for the card to grow further. He is a card with a very powerful effect but I am not sure the white weenie (splashing black) or Orzhov midrange decks will match the popularity of Mono-Blue and Mono-Black devotion until the next set release. I don’t expect his price to change much until that time. I would hold any copies for now, and if support does not present itself after Born of the Gods is released, jump ship.

 

Pack Rat

Pack Rat

Buoyed by the success of Mono-Black devotion, Pack Rat continues to see marginal increases as well. It is also up from $3 to around $4. Once Born of the Gods is released, I expect that Pack Rat will share a similar fate with Xathrid Necromancer, seeing a decrease in demand due to the rise of multi-color strategies. I don’t expect that Pack Rat can maintain $4 for much longer so get rid of any extra copies while you can.

 

Prime Speaker Zegana

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Prime Speaker Zegana

Prime Speaker Zegana is a card talked about in the past on this blog, and with the spoiling of Kiora, the Crashing Wave it looks like sellers have increased her price by $1 because of the potential interaction of the two cards.

Kiora, the Crashing Wave

Whether or not Zegana will have a home in new Standard decks after Born of the Gods is hard to predict at this point. We already have Prophet of Kruphix, Master Biomancer, and a whole slew of other tools available to U/G players – I’m not sure if Kiora will be enough to make it better than other existing archetypes. As a Planeswalker she seems very underwhelming to me. Don’t forget, Travis mentioned buying Planeswalkers at a set’s release is a trap – definitely agree here especially in light of her low loyalty count.

Zegana has potential and we should all keep a close eye on her moving forward. Even without Standard she is a great casual target, if you need another reason to pick up at least a few of them.

 

Modern

Zur the Enchanter

Zur the Enchanter

Zur has already spiked twice. Starting out around $5 in July, he spiked in November to around $10 after a new Esper aggro aura brew popped up. From there, he slowly ticked up to around $15 once the deck started catching on among Modern players, and then seemed to stabilize.

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More recently, players have started scooping up all the copies remaining on TCGPlayer and other vendor websites. As of Friday, there were only four listings on TCGPlayer with NM copies going for about $20. Does Zur have the potential to keep rising higher? He is a popular EDH general, and with the added popularity from Modern could he be a $25-$30 card? Most likely not.

I would hold any copies you might have of Zur at this point (don’t buy in if you have not) to see where the price ultimately stabilizes. This could be a case of all hype, as I haven’t seen a consistent winning Modern list that utilizes Zur outside of MTGO. This is a case of hold until Modern season, then trade away if the hype doesn’t add up.

 

Birthing Pod

Birthing Pod

Birthing Pod is a modern staple, and it looks like the price is starting to catch up to the massive demand it will see come Modern season. Copies are listing for around $6 on TCGPlayer, and I expect this upward trend to continue through Modern season. There will be a high demand for Birthing Pod and you want to pick up your copies now before the price reaches the high point during Modern season.

 

Karn Liberated

Karn Liberated

Karn has also seen a sharp rise in price over the last month.

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There are still plenty of copies listed on TCGPlayer for around $45, which looks like it could be a good deal if you can pick them up before he reaches his new price point of $50. Karn is a staple card in the Urzatron decks of Modern and I believe that this new price is the market correcting itself. Pick up your copies now on the cheap in preparation for Modern season.

 

Phyrexian Arena

Phyrexian Arena

Phyrexian Arena’s rise in price is certainly interesting. In addition to Phyrexian Obliterator, it appears that Arena will have a home in the new Modern Mono-Black devotion deck. Outside of MTGO this deck hasn’t put up any real results, so the rise in price may be due purely to speculation of the deck’s success. I believe that the price in this case is also driven by casual demand, as Phyrexian Arena has been printed several times and yet still seems to retain an average price of $6-$7. I would stay away from this card as a speculation target because results are still pending, and I don’t think the price will rise that much further because of all the reprints Arena has seen.

 

Master of the Pearl Trident

Master of the Pearl Trident

As of Friday, Cardkingdom has upped their buy price on MotPT to $2.45 – this price is the same or higher than sellers are selling the card for on TCGPlayer. When the spread goes negative like this, they believe that the card will have real momentum in the future, and it is a sign that you should start picking up copies yourself. I’m not sure if MotPT will be hitting $5 or higher any time in the near future, but it’s not exactly out of the question – Merfolk could be making big waves in Modern season because of Master of Waves. I would pick up a few copies if you can get them at $2.50 or less because I believe that is the new floor for Master of the Pearl Trident, having only been printed in a single core set.

 

Legacy

Stoneforge Mystic

Stoneforge Mystic

Stoneforge Mystic has seen a recent surge in price over the last week too.

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I attribute this to the True-Name Nemesis factor – since TNN decks have become extremely popular in Legacy, and Stoneforge Mystic is one of the key cards to fetch equipment to attach to your TNN, it makes sense that Stoneforge would also rise in price to match the demand of the TNN decks.

Even without TNN, Stoneforge Mystic was due for a rise in price eventually. TNN just expedited that hike. She has already seen play across several different legacy archetypes as a three or four auto-include (Death and Taxes, Maverick, Junk, Bant, and Stoneblade to name some more,) so the price rise makes sense to me.

Until a reprint, I don’t see her price going down. Her new price will settle in the $25-$30 range and will stay there until she is reprinted. (Even though she already was reprinted as a 2-of in an event deck.)

 

Wasteland

Wasteland

Wasteland has again reached new highs, this time spiking to $75. Like it’s companion Force of Will, Wasteland has now become an absurdly expensive uncommon in Legacy due to its rarity and ubiquitous use across the decks of the format.

Speaking of Force of Will, I think it is pretty funny that Wasteland has now become more expensive – does this mean that it’s a good time to start picking up Force of Wills again? They’ve gone down from their highs of $85 just last year.

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There are plenty of copies available on TCGPlayer for around $65. However, this could also be the new price for for Force of Will – Abrupt Decay makes counterspells less useful, so if Wizards continues this trend and prints more uncounterable spells in the future it could continue to affect FoW’s price as well. Considering this, I still think that picking up Force of Will for $65 is a good price.

Back to Wasteland – I believe the new price is here to stay for the time being because Wasteland is a format staple and will never go out of favor in Legacy. Watch down the road though – it could pull a Force of Will and suddenly drop again to $60-$65, at which point you want to start picking them up again.

 

Infernal Tutor

Infernal Tutor

Ah, here is a card that I’ve been expecting to rise for awhile. Infernal Tutor only sees play in Storm decks (ANT, TES, and other Storm variants,) yet it consistently is included as four-of since it is essentially Demonic Tutor alongside LED. Lion’s Eye Diamond has seen it’s price near double, from $45 in 2012 to the $85 that it now commands and Infernal Tutor was, in my opinion, the next card on the list to see a price hike. It is a rare from a small third set that is now extremely hard to find. Combine that with the fact that Storm is on the rise to combat the tide of True-Name Nemesis decks that have hit the Legacy scene and you have a price surge. The price for Infernal Tutor is also here to stay, as Storm decks will always be a threat in the Legacy metagame.

 

Commander

Craterhoof Behemoth

Craterhoof Behemoth

Craterhoof Behemoth has been on a rise in price since early November, and I don’t think it is just the casual players that are creating the price hike in this case. Sure, Commander loves Craterhoof Behemoth. However, I think his price is also being driven by demand from elsewhere. Modern may have a role in the rise in Craterhoof’s price because green devotion, like black devotion, could be a possible deck come next Modern season. Vendors and players alike are raising this card’s price in anticipation of it performing in Modern in addition to all of the casual love it currently gets. I’ve mentioned Craterhoof before, and I would pick up my copies now before the price starts getting out of hand.

 

Invoke Prejudice

Invoke Prejudice

Invoke Prejudice is a classic case of a buyout – all of the copies that were around $50 were bought out last week with the remaining copies priced at an absurdly high $175. The card is strictly a casual card, as it sees no play outside of Commander and other casual formats. I expect this card to drop back down in price, though not as low as $50. It will most likely settle in at a new price around $80-$95 because of the extreme rarity. Other English-edition Legends cards have followed a similar pattern. In this case, Invoke Prejudice was the next buyout (certainly not a cheap one, though!) and I would stay away from picking up any copies of this card until a new price has settled in a few weeks or months.

 

Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx

Consecrated Sphinx has been on a slow, steady rise since the summer and has also recently seen a buyout on TCGPlayer sites.

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The new price for Consecrated Sphinx is firm. The proper buy in time for Consecrated Sphinx was when the floor was $4, so if you have any extra copies now would be a good time to sell or trade them. If you are looking to pick up copies of Consecrated Sphinx, $10 isn’t awful but don’t expect another increase in price anytime soon. It took this long to get to $10, and in order to get a good return on a $10 investment the card would need to hit $20, which I don’t foresee happening for another few years – and even then, there is a chance that it could be reprinted which would forever keep the cap around $12-$15.

Wrapping Up

To summarize, I believe that Standard and Modern have the most unpredictable prices from the recent spikes and upward trends – Mutavault will have a hard time breaking $40 due to the various reasons I mentioned, and Zur and Phyrexian Arena need results before I am willing to put the kind of cash vendors are asking for into purchasing them.

On the other hand, cards in Legacy and casual favorites generally have a predictable price surge – Stoneforge certainly isn’t going anywhere without a reprint, and Wasteland, Consecrated Sphinx, and Craterhoof Behemoth were all predictable.

However, you want to watch out for the price spike trap – avoid emotional investing in cards like Invoke Prejudice. If you haven’t heard of it before and it hasn’t put up any results, stay away before a card settles to its real price.

Resolving to be a Better Trader

By: Cliff Daigle

Happy New Year!

It’s that time of year when we look forward to the 12 months ahead and resolve to do something better than we have been. I can’t help you quit a vice or do more or less of the habit in question, but I can help you with a new perspective on trading.

If you’re visiting this site and reading this, you probably enjoy trading Magic cards. At worst, you might view it as a necessary evil, a way to exchange what you don’t want for things you do want. Perhaps you even make a living off your trading skills.

If you enjoy the process of trading as much as I do, you might be astounded to learn that there are a lot of players who view the process with anxiety and trepidation. I’m here to help you understand some of the concerns and share some tips on how to minimize those fears.

Special thanks to my wife, who reached into her past to recall when trading was unpleasant, and shared some ideas on how to make it easier for all.

Fear #1: Social intimidation/pressure

Even the innocuous question of “Did you bring things to trade?” is loaded with presumptions. You’re assuming that someone knows to bring such cards, that they are at least a little organized, and that there are other cards they desire to trade for. Not everyone is ready for that level of interaction outside of the structure of a game of Magic.

There’s a significant number of Magic players who lack social skills. They see Magic as a competition, a way to show that they are better than someone else. Trying to trade with that viewpoint is difficult and dangerous. You’re not going to have much success when you go into every trade scheming how to ‘win’ the trade, especially if you are the type to brag about it afterwards.

A glaring example of poor social skills is when you’re being impatient with someone. Don’t be the person who is trying to hurry up a new player. It’s good that you know what the price is on a card–allow them the courtesy of checking for themselves and thinking about the trade. Don’t subject them to you repeating what the price is over and over in an attempt to hurry up to the next trade.

Similarly, sometimes people just don’t want to trade away a certain card. It will have sentimental value, or they just want to keep it. If you keep nagging at someone to give it up in trade, you’re being awful.

How to change this: Remember that trading is a quest for both people to come away happy. Making both sides feel like they won is a skill, and one that will lead to more trading opportunities. Don’t pressure people into starting, continuing, or finishing trades.

Fear #2: Fear of getting ripped off

You don’t have to be new to trading to know that evil people are out there, trying to overvalue their own cards and undervaluing yours. This is one of the prime reasons new players don’t do much trading: they don’t know what things are worth and they are afraid of having someone exploit the knowledge gap. “What do you value this at?” sounds an awful lot like “Are you aware of the recent change in the worth of this card?”

MTGPrice and other financial websites, and I include Twitter in this viewpoint, actually encourage a knowledge gap. Spikes in cards over a weekend can be exploited, via buying cards from stores that didn’t update their prices or trading from people who didn’t get the news that Jace, Architect of Thought went up $15 in the past twelve hours.

jaot

Barely any anxiety at all is needed for someone to perceive even reputable traders as a sack of barely-contained evil. If you’re asking every person at FNM to see their trade binder, someone who is anxious will see that as searching for the weakest link. You’re simply trying to take a peek at everything people have to offer, but to someone who has been burned before, it appears greedy.

How to change this:  First of all, know that you can’t always calm someone’s fears. You won’t know for sure what’s going on in your head, so all you can do is set an example. Demonstrate what you use for pricing. Let people observe you as you trade with others. If you’re polite and personable, checking prices and making offers, then it soothes the fears of many. But if someone doesn’t want to trade, let it go. Don’t get persistent, and don’t be belligerent.

Fear #3: Organization

I wish there was a centralized way to poll Magic players. I would really like to ask about their card storage. It seems like 10% or more of players I meet do their trades out of an 800-count card box, with no sleeves, and not organized by color or set or anything. I enjoy riffling through the cards, I do, but I can’t help myself sometimes when I see unsleeved foils or older cards, and I will say something like “You’re doing these cards a disservice!” or “I will give you some spare sleeves.” [I’ve had to purchase sleeves for someone it upset me so. -ed]

What I’m really saying to them is that their method isn’t good enough, and by extension, I am a better person/player/trader for keeping my cards sorted in pages. That’s not what I want to say, but that’s how it can come across when I’m dismissive of their system. Even when I’m trying to help by pointing out how damaging it can be to keep unsleeved cards in a box, I’m telling them what to do.

How to change this: Let people keep their cards how they wish. Be respectful if you feel compelled to point out when they are damaging cards. Understand that they may not wish your advice, especially if they’ve been doing it this way for a while. Newer players may be more receptive, or they may not want to hear your lectures.

Fear #4: Establishing prices to trade at

Invoke Prejudice

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Why would anyone use a site besides MTGPrice for establishing fair trade values? You can see versions and history and foils!”

Well, the truth is that not everyone knows how awesome we are. Take the time to share with them. TCGplayer has the unfortunate characteristic of a “race to the bottom” and that can skew the TCG mid. I like the aggregation of MTGPrice and I use it regularly. But if a more apprehensive trader prefers TCG or Starcity, consider using what they prefer–and remember that you can always walk away if things get imbalanced.

How to fix this: Keep in mind that for new players, there’s often a sentimental attachment to certain cards. Be respectful of their habits, and talk about why you like using MTGPrice more than some other site. For brand-new and very fearful traders, consider throwing in some extra cards or give them a touch more value. A little extra now is worth it to create another member of the community.

I hope your new year is full of value and correct speculation!

Pay 1, Tap: Scry 2

By: Travis Allen

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

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

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

 

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

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

Stoneforge Mystic

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

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

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

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

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

Windswept Heath

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

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

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

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

Graven Cairns

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

Prediction 4: There will be another Modern product this summer

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

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

 

Prediction 5: Magic growth will slow down

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

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

 

Prediction 6: I break 500 followers on Twitter

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

MAGIC: THE GATHERING BLOG, ARTICLES, AND COMMUNITY

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