City of Traders: Understanding Kalonian Hydra

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By Travis Allen

As of Monday evening while I’m writing this, Kalonian Hydra is about $22-$23. It has seem some amount of play so far in Standard this summer, most notably in Zvi’s GW Elves deck piloted by Hall of Fame elect Huey Jensen to a Top 8 performance at an SCG open. The card, unlike Voice of Resurgence, has not exploded onto the competitive Magic scene. Rather it has quietly slotted itself into a few face-beating decks as a 4-of, providing a brutally effective if not particularly graceful means of achieving victory. Despite the quiet reception, I believe there is potentially something brewing here.

Let’s begin our look forward by examining past Core sets. Look at these cards and see if something stands out to you:

When Baneslayer Angel was revealed in M10, the collective community gasped. Wizards brought creatures to the party, and they rolled deep. Never before had a creature been so clearly pushed. Keywords and abilities abound; it quickly made good on its promise of power, bringing with it an unheard of $50 price tag in Standard that many would herald as the umpteenth death of Magic. It remained a huge factor in tournament Magic right up until the next summer, when it was promptly outclassed.

In M11, rather than a single wrecking ball of a creature, Wizards bequeathed unto us five. Each had their own day in the sun, but the clear winner was Primeval Titan. Valakut had been decent prior, but having a 6/6 trample the deck could accelerate into that conveniently represented death on two separate fronts pushed the deck to the front of the Standard landscape until Valakut rotated along with the rest of the Zendikar block. Primeval Titan, as Baneslayer Angel before him, carried a $50 price tag for considerable periods of time.

M12 ran the Titan cycle back, and while the second printing suppressed the prices a bit, the titans continued to be a massive force in standard, with Primeval Titan being a 4-of in a Pro Tour winning deck, fetching and fueling massive Kessig Wolf Runs.

Three years after Baneslayer Angel dominated creature matchups, her scaly counterpart arrived hot on the heels of Lingering Souls to make sure Standard wasn’t ruled by dinky 1/1 spirit tokens. Thundermaw Hellkite didn’t need a litany of abilities, opting rather for succinct prose: Flying, Haste, Tap your flyers. Functioning both as a gruesome top end for aggressive/midrange strategies and a fast clock for UWR control decks, Thundermaw Hellkite has spent most of his tenure in Standard terrorizing Top 8s. His pedigree is such that he has even broken through to Modern, a true testament of efficacy for a 5-drop creature. Thundermaw Hellkite, like his predecessors before him, enjoyed a $50 price tag for a non-negligible period of time.

Baneslayer Angel, Primeval Titan, and Thundermaw Hellkite all hit $50 during their respective outings, and even when they weren’t floating that high, they still had no trouble holding $25-45. Additionally, there was no subtlety here. Nothing here slipped in under the radar and then saw success due to a particular metagame. These cards were the metagame. Nobody saw the spoilers for these cards and thought, “hmm, I wonder if this is good enough.”  These creatures were not the piano wire or silenced pistol, but rather nail-studded baseball bats and limb-tearing desert eagles. “Red Zone” may as well have been written across the card in Sharpie.

We’ve established that past core sets have shown us large, Mythic, blunt creatures of destruction that have all seen significant play and commanded $40-50 price tags for extended periods of time. I have no reason to expect this year to be any different. The question then, is this:

3 by 3

Which of these is our sledgehammer?

There are arguments for each, but let me explain why I don’t think it is either Archangel of Thune or Chandra, Pyromaster.

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While I think Chandra’s power is so far unexplored, I don’t think she’s quite the format-warping artillery strike past creatures have been.  She is more of a role-player rather than meta-maker. She is also a Planeswalker, not a creature. While I doubt our defining spell in the core set will forever be a creature, I don’t think we’ve left that territory quite yet. Nor does Chandra appear as heavy-handed as specters of Standard past.

Archangel of Thune is a candidate more worthy of consideration. First of all, she’s a creature. Second of all, that ability is pretty awe-inspiring. It doesn’t take long to imagine a scenario where Archangel gets dropped into a board full of dorks, you trigger lifegain once or twice, and suddenly you’ve got a legitimate army. The biggest reason I don’t expect this to have the lasting power of Kalonian Hydra is because of these two cards:

Sublime Archangel vs Angelic Destiny

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Sublime Archangel is the real damning evidence here. It’s another top end angel that pays you heavily for having a board full of guys. While Sublime Archangel wasn’t cheap – pushing $30 during her peak, and comfortably $15-$20 for quite some time – she saw mostly fringe play and kitchen tables, while it was Thundermaw that was ruling the skies in Pro Tours. There’s room for other pricey Mythics in core sets beyond the $50 battlecruiser, as Sublime Archangel and Angelic Destiny before her have shown us. I get the impression Archangel of Thune will receive her accolades early, working in concert with Sorin and similarly lifegainy cards in a grey deck. She may still pop up from time to time over the next year, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be taking a back seat to the rapidly multiplying heads of Kalonian Hydra.

Kalonian Hydra has a lot in common with past Florisian best-in-formats. He is eminently castable, capable of winning the game on his own, and there is no subtlety to his strength. While he doesn’t have an immediate impact on the board in the way of Primeval Titan or Thundermaw Hellkite, Baneslayer Angel did not either. And while he may not do as much immediately, with the exception of Primeval Titan fetching mountains or a huge Kessig Wolf Run, Kalonian Hydra kills the opponent faster than any single prior pillar. Taking all this into consideration, I feel there is a good chance Kalonian Hydra is that creature.

At $23, it’s hard to say definitively that you should be buying in. Speculation is out of the question at this point, as there is far too much to lose in case things shake out unexpectedly. However, it’s not unreasonable to assume he could hit $50 sometime in the next year, and as cards like Liliana of the Veil and Voice of Resurgence have shown us, the existence of $35-$45+ cards in Standard is certainly possible. At this point, I’d be asking yourself if it’s a creature you are likely to find yourself casting. If the answer is yes, I’d start looking for opportunities to grab them in trade. There is definitely a chance he may settle sub-$20, but if it’s the type of card you want to be swinging with, you’ll be very upset if you try to wait for him to drop and then find yourself stuck trading for them at $35 a pop.

A few points before I go:

  • Chandra, Pyromaster was a 2-of in the winning decks of both Grand Prix Warsaw as well as one of the SCG Opens this past weekend. She’s currently around $10. While it won’t always be Kibler’s GR deck, I have a feeling she’ll be showing up with regularity in the future. $17-$25 is quite possible.
  • Last Wednesday I mentioned Horizon Canopy and Shadow of Doubt. By Thursday morning, both were basically out of stock everywhere. Horizon Canopy jumped by a solid $10, and Shadow of Doubt doubled to $7. I don’t believe either price is stable yet.
  • This coming weekend is GenCon. There should be some Theros and/or Commander spoilers. Watch for any strong interactions with existing cards for growth potential.
MTGPrice helps keep you at the top of your game with our daily card price index, fast movers lists, weekly articles by the best MTGFinance minds in the business, the MTGFastFinance podcast co-hosted by James Chillcott & Travis Allen, as well as the Pro Trader Discord channels, where all the action goes down. Find out more.

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Casual Stars in M14

By Cliff Daigle

I’ve given out a lot of general advice and it’s high time I get to some specifics.

Since I play mostly EDH I want to share with you what will be some popular cards for such decks. These are the cards to take the long view on, not accounting for Standard spikes in price or the dips and dives they will face in rotation.

To put it another way, these are the cards that will eventually be cheap, which you should pick up at a low price and put away for a while.

How long, you ask? Let’s take a look at one of my favorite examples: Lurking Predators.

Lurking Predators. Jan 2012 - Aug 2013
Lurking Predators. Jan 2012 – Aug 2013

If you’d bought this as a bulk rare in 2009-2011, which it was, then you’re happy to sell it to a buylist for $1.50 to $2, or more depending on the site.

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The trick is being that patient, but if you can do it, you’ll be paid off. This is also the type of card that someone who started in the past couple of years will be overjoyed to pick up for their casual deck, because it’s just that amazing an effect. Thespian’s Stage is another example of something you should get right now while it’s cheap, even after the change in the Legend rule caused an uptick in its price, due to its interaction with Dark Depths.

Thespians Stage. Jan 2013 - Aug 2013
Thespian’s Stage. Jan 2013 – Aug 2013

Another trend which can be a good predictor of casual appeal is a big gap in price between foil and nonfoil. If the foil is going for more than two or three times the price of a card, pay attention. Thespian’s Stage and Boros Charm are excellent examples.

With all this in mind, let’s talk about M14 and the cards which will ask a good price on casual appeal. I’m going to skip a lot of cards, because I want you on the lookout for cheap cards in the next few weeks, not the expensive ones.

Some of these are still surprisingly expensive, so I know I’m going to have to wait for more M14 to be opened and the prices to fall further. Aside from Garruk, it’s unlikely that these see Standard play.

Devout Invocation – I want to say this card is a trap, because it’s best when you already have a bunch of creatures. That said, it’s a mythic and will always have someone wide-eyed over what’s possible. Pick this up when it’s bottomed out as bulk.

Elite Arcanist – When it hits bulk, I’ll be in. Every Time Warp-type effect in EDH makes this an infinite-turn combo, and in a Teferi deck, game over.

Galerider Sliver – With every set that Slivers are in, the decks get better and better. I’ll be on the lookout for rare, low-priced Slivers, especially this and Megantic.

Dark Prophecy – This is an effect that can be overpoweringly good, even fatally good. It’s a combo enabler, but as an effect that you have to do, your combo better not go too long.

Rise of the Dark Realms – A casual king, this has been noted so much as a long-term spec that perhaps it’ll never have the chance to hit the floor. Still, once it’s under $1, I’ll snap it up.

Ogre Battledriver – Sure, we have similar cards in Magic’s past (see: In the Web of War, Urabrask the Hidden) but bonus points if you get this back from someone else’s graveyard when you cast Rise of the Dark Realms. Keep in mind that as a Duels of the Planeswalkers promo, there are extra foils of him out there.

Scourge of Valkas – This card is the tipping point for me, I’m going to break down and build the Bladewing the Risen EDH deck. Every Dragon with a tribal effect is worth picking up on the cheap, but Dragons and budgets don’t always play along. Dragonspeaker Shaman is around $3! Plus, if you have a Dragonstorm that finds the Scourge and another dragon or two, you’ll get extra triggers.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts – I don’t think this will ever be cheap, but its power level in casual formats is fairly ridiculous. I pray it never finds a home in Standard, because I’d love to see it drop under $10.

Primeval Bounty – There’s a list of enchantments that will take over a game without doing anything immediately, such as Lurking Predators, Guild Feud, and Deadbridge Chant. This is a worthy addition to that list, and you should be happy to put these away for a while. I’m surprised at how slow this price is dropping, so I may not have a chance to pick these up as easy as I originally thought.

Darksteel Forge – This got a Planechase reprint and the price barely nudged. When it gets to the bottom, nab what Forges you can in trades, because every casual artifact deck wants to play these.

Ring of Three Wishes – I do not expect this to go very high. I do expect I can get it from people for a quarter or less, and trade it away in a while for a buck or two.

Remember, you’re playing the long game with these cards. You won’t be getting a significant bump for at least a year, unless some incredible combo pops up.

If there are cards I missed or you want to compliment/berate me, I’m on Twitter as @WordOfCommander and I love to be told how right/wrong I am.

City of Traders: WMC Review

Another weekend, another major Magic event. This time around, it was the World Magic Championship. I was rooting hard for Reid Duke, and I’m nearly positive I was more upset at the Engineered Explosives in Shahar’s opening 7 in game 5 than Reid was. Still though, it was a great finals with plenty of tense moments. Many (PVDDR) were dismissing the match due to Aura’s perceived lack of interactivity, complaining it would be boring to watch. What we were treated to instead was an exciting match between two skilled players, with a lot of drama in what draw steps would herald and whether Shahar could win the race. My biggest complaint, beyond Reid not winning, is that he reminded everyone that Auras exists, a deck I was planning on playing at GP Detroit. Back to the drawing board, I suppose.

My first impression while reading through the Standard lists was just how boring they are. When players work together in a team prior to a major event like a Pro Tour, it’s good for everybody involved. They do great jobs of finding the best decks, and we get to see the real power in whatever format they’re playing. There are a lot of Pro Tour players that aren’t in pro superteams though, which leads to a lot more variety of brews (good and bad) showing up. At the WMC however, there are only 16 players. A team of 5 people consists of nearly a third of the room. The result of the players forming these teams was a homogenization of the event: there were five Jund decks and eight UWR Flash decks in the Standard portion. That means a little over 80% of the room was playing one of two decks. That makes for a very bland looking Standard scene, regardless of whether the true format is more diverse. Even Jon Finkel noticed, taking to Twitter to vent his frustration about how Wizards had seemingly phased out many unique deck types such as combo, land destruction, hand disruption, true control, etc.

Financially, basically nothing came out of the Standard portion. It served only to reinforce the staples: Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, Jace, Scavenging Ooze, etc. I don’t think we’re going to see much of anything new or noteworthy in considerable competitive play until rotation. I’m guessing it will mostly be a lot of tweaking of existing archetypes. Brian’s GR beatdown deck was the only Standard deck that was a departure from the norm, but all the financially-relevant cards are already known suspects, so there isn’t much to work with there either.

The more actionable data was found in the Modern portion of the event. The most significant finding was the prevalence of Scavenging Ooze. A full 22 showed up between maindecks and sideboards, which is about 33% of the maximum amount of Oozes that could have appeared. You’ll remember that a few weeks ago I told you how good Ooze would be in Modern. I don’t expect this to be a passing fad either. SCG has jumped their buy price to $12.50, and is currently sold out at $25. The Ooze is here to stay, so get used to it. The ramifications of this will be widespread. One impact will be just making it tougher and tougher for graveyard strategies in Modern. 4x Deathrite Shaman and 4x Scavenging Ooze is going to be the start of so many decks in Modern that showing up with Vengevine, Demigod of Revenge, Life from the Loam, or really anything with considerable graveyard interaction is just asking to 0-3 drop and get food.

Aside: Keep your eye out for any card that gets printed to help protect your graveyard. Think along the lines of a bear that while in your graveyard gives the whole thing hexproof or some such. Wizards may realize they’ve pushed too hard on graveyard hate, and not wanting to blank so many cool cards, may provide some resources for those types of decks. This type of card, if properly powerful, could quickly become a strong card in both Modern and Legacy, but would likely not carry a high price tag during prerelease season.

Other than Scavenging Ooze, I really like Horizon Canopy right now. The card is a fantastic land for any deck that wants to make green and white mana as well as attack. It’s a land that makes both of your colors right away, it helps combat mana flood, it’s used in Legacy, and it’s a Future Sight rare. Grove of the Burnwillows had a second printing, is arguably not as good, and is still $20. The rares in that set have proven that they are completely capable of going wild, and staying there. Case in point:

Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 - Jul 2013.
Daybreak Coronet. Aug 2012 – Jul 2013.

Horizon Canopy has been ticking up slowly for quite some time, currently at about $14-15. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it jump like Chord of Calling did at some point. $35+ may be a stretch, but $25+ seems plausible. There’s a very small chance we’ll see it in Theros, but if we don’t I expect it to rise the closer we get to Modern season. What makes this particularly safe is that even if it is printed in Theros, it would be with a Modern border. The unique Future Sight border will help the card maintain value even in the face of a reprint. I particularly like Horizon Canopy foils, which could easily be $70-$100+ with a jump.

Financially, the most important but least-discussed piece of information (so far) is the change in the PTQ schedule. Previously, it was Modern at the start of the year, then Standard over the summer, and finally Limited in the fall. Now however, we have this schedule:

PTQ_seasons

What this means is that starting at the end of this year and through spring of 2014, it will be Standard instead of Modern. Then through late spring and early summer we’ll have Sealed, and Modern doesn’t show up until early summer, where we’ll have it for 11 weeks. Finally the year will finish up with Sealed again through late fall.

The first major change to consider is the delay of the Modern PTQ season. Originally, we all expected it to start around January 1st or so. This meant that between now and the start of the season, we only had to worry about what was in Theros and the Commander product this November, as well as perhaps any spoilers that slipped out ahead of time. Now though, Modern doesn’t start until June of next year. That is a long ways away, with the entire Theros block being released in the interim, M15 spoilers will be close at hand, and most germane, spoilers of summer product will be available. In fact, do you recognize the date of June 7th from anything else? The Modern Masters release date was June 7th, 2013. The Modern PTQ season begins exactly one year later. This is no coincidence. I bet dollars to doughnuts that we will have or at least will have heard of another Modern supplemental product by then.

The obvious impact of this is that our Modern holds are far more tenuous than they were before. Whereas Fetchlands were an absolute hold before, that is much more in question now. There is a lot of time and a lot of product to go before the PTQ season finally rolls around, and a lot of opportunities for the lands to be printed again. Wizards isn’t going to be turning a blind eye to the most prevalent lands in the format being this expensive. They have shown an eagerness to go after high-value Modern staples already. The rise in price of Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant was a byproduct of Wizards printing too few boxes, a move they have already explained was meant to be overly cautious. I do not expect them to be quite so prudent next time. They now have the data in front of them, and they can more accurately gauge how many boxes they should print of any future Modern product.

Hint: it’s going to be more.

The question then becomes what to do with our Modern holdings. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m still a bit undecided. I’m not rushing out to sell them today, as the threat of additional copies won’t begin to creep up until after the first of the year. It’s really next spring we need to worry about. At this juncture, I am planning on holding until after the first with the calculated risk that they likely won’t go down by then, and have the chance to climb a few more dollars. I’ll probably ditch them in January though, happy to take my profits and unwilling to brave whatever spoilers the spring months may bring. It’s entirely possible the Fetchlands don’t see another printing cycle before the next PTQ season and they all hit $70+, but I’d much rather get out at $30-50 each in January rather than have them show up in MM2 and sell at $20 in July.

The other slightly less drastic result of this schedule change is that there is no longer a Standard PTQ season to keep rotating staples afloat over the summer. Once March 9th rolls around, Ravnica-block Standard staples will quickly begin to decline as PTQ grinders sell off their copies that they no longer need, whereas in the past they would have held them right through till rotation. Expect Standard prices to deflate sooner and faster this coming year than they have in the past.

Two last parting tips this week: Fellow financially-minded writer Corbin Hosler (@chosler88) pointed out on Monday that Shadow of Doubt has quadrupled in the last several months. As an original Ravnica block rare, it could easily climb to $10. The card also has hybrid mana, making it tough to print outside of supplemental product. If you can grab these under $4, they seem quite safe.

Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.
Shadow of Doubt. Jan-Jul 2013.

 And finally, Sen Triplets. This card is now pushing $14. Did you know that?

Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.
Sen Triplets. Jan 2012-Jul 2013.

Trading Strategies for Events

By Cliff Daigle

Large-scale Magic events offer the chance to get a lot done without spending lots of money.

At every large tournament I go to – be it a Pro Tour Qualifier, a Grand Prix, or something really huge, like Gen Con or SDCC – I bring the cards I want to sell, and a list of things I want.

Depending on the size of the event, organization is key. At a Pro Tour Qualifier, you’ll get a couple of vendors and comparing buylists is easy. Most vendors will have a buylist printed out that you can use to compare those numbers. But at larger events, there might be a dozen or more different companies who want your business, and you need to be ready to browse. A list of the things you brought to sell is vital, and if you’re looking for a certain card, then it’s important to know if you’re going for cash or credit.

Different vendors give different amounts for the same card, and different trade bonuses if you want store credit. But even on a 30% bonus for credit, you’re still under retail value of a card, so don’t do this lightly. I’ve done this to get some sweet cards and finish foiling out decks, but I’m not happy about it.

A more recent trend is the rapidly growing market for Magic accessories, like playmats, dice, and life counters. Not every vendor is into those things, but research and preparation is going to pay off. You’d be surprised how many vendors are going to offer you cash for things as common as a spin down D20. Before Grand Prix Anaheim, Star City Games put up a banner saying that they were buying spindowns. A little research and a lot of contacts with my friends, and I ended up selling SCG about $100 (cash, not credit!) worth of dice.

The main event may or may not be right up your alley, but the side events offer a range of formats and pricing. While I do not advocate buying single packs just for the value of the cards inside, I love drafting. Sealed is fun too, but drafting is second only to EDH in my personal pantheon. I have gone to Grand Prix just to enter side draft after side draft. I’m paying for the tournament, not just the packs, and in some drafts, I’ll get passed valuable cards.

Sometimes the value is in the event itself. When my wife and I went to Worlds in 2011, they were giving out a Pro Tour foil Ajani Goldmane with every event entry. Dealers were only giving $3 cash, but in a $10 draft, you’re paying $7 to open three packs. That’s hard value to walk away from, especially since that was Innistrad.

Once you’re done drafting, you can take the good cards and trade them to players or dealers for more of what you really want. Again, an example from Worlds: I did ten drafts that weekend, and had a Liliana of the Veil, a couple Garruk Relentless, a Snapcaster, and a few of the rare Innistrad lands. I traded all of those to a dealer for a Diamond Valley and could not be happier.

Be advised that there is often a saturation effect, especially with smaller vendors: At the end of a three-day Grand Prix, some will be lower on cash and already bought a thousand Steam Vents, so they will lower their buylist on the one you just opened.

I’m preparing to go to GP Oakland next month, and I’ve got my lists ready to go. If you’re there and want an EDH game, shoot me a tweet @WordOfCommander. I’d love to get in a game with you.

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