For most Magic players, there’s an element of the game that has nothing to do with the play of the game: the thrill of having something special, unique, or rare.
There are some players who could not care less about having a foil, signed, foreign, or misprinted card. They want the cards in order to play the game. Others want to make a strong statement, and choose to use any many of those as possible.
You need to understand if you’re a player, a collector, or a combination of the two. When you understand what brings you the greatest satisfaction, you can adjust your outlook on what cards to prioritize.
It’s been my experience that frequent Standard players will use regular versions of cards. Many Modern players also neglect to use particular copies. On the other hand, we have Legacy, Vintage, and plenty of casual players that will go to great lengths and spend significant money to obtain rarer cards for their decks. Price checks bear this out: look at a foil Brainstorm’s price against any of its many non-foil printings.
Through this there remains, as always, the bittersweet torment of being a Magic collector: we have a built-in mechanism for showing off a sweet version of a card (playing the game of Magic) but sometimes that card doesn’t see the battlefield. This is especially true in EDH, with a new card being one out of 99 in the deck. If you have a cube that you have put time, energy, and money into making your unique flower, then it’s a disappointment when you can’t get everyone over to draft with it.When you are not satisfied with the English non-foil version of a card, you’re not just a player, you’re a collector too. You need to understand that about yourself, and it’s not always easy. I’ve been down this path many times. I spent more than a year chasing specific foils because I wanted every card in one EDH deck to be foil. At the end, I had to make tough decisions about cards that were not available in foil but worked in the deck thematically. My collector side won out, and now my oh-so-shiny Vampire EDH deck doesn’t have Volrath’s Stronghold or Baron Sengir.
There is an additional issue when you have a particularly valuable card: the risk of damage. A powered cube will easily contain several thousand dollars worth of paper. Paper! A spilled drink, a careless shuffle; any number of things can happen to damage a card and lower the value dramatically. Herein lies a tension: players want to cast the sweet card, and collectors want to protect their investment. Double-sleeved or not, having expensive cards in a deck or cube can be wonderful yet terrifying.
So we walk a fine line between desire and caution. We make proxies, we use printouts, we settle for a cheaper version to play with.
This topic is particularly salient because we have been rather saturated with collector’s editions in the past twelve months: Commander’s Arsenal, Modern Masters, the black foil SDCC Planeswalkers, and From the Vault: Twenty. If you bought one, you felt good and enjoy it (that’s me and the Arsenal). Two, then you’re feeling like an investor. Three or more, and your bankroll may be feeling the pinch.
When you realize that special editions are all reprints, things get a little easier to handle. None of the cards above are new to Magic. None. You could have them before and you can have them after. Spending $100 or more on a single SDCC planeswalker represents an investment as a collector, not a player. For that much money, you can build an entire EDH deck (or three) that play well.
Like most players, I have to balance my urge to collect with my urge to play. I encourage you to do the same, because you probably don’t have unlimited funds to feed both the collector and the player. When you understand which you like doing more, then you can focus your spending wisely and subsequently gain greater joy.
I tell people to pick an EDH general based on what type of Magic they like to play, and your financial outlays should be based on similar principles.
The reveal of the Scrylands in Theros have been responsible for more belly-aching and nonsensical complaints (“these cards have no value! Putting them at rare is a cash grab!”) than any other Magic card in recent memory. The existence of the gates at common in Ravnica block hasn’t helped by providing a strong contrast to what some perceive as a marginally better land. My goal today is to develop an accurate concept of their power, use that concept to prove that a bunch of people are stupid, and then finally discuss common trajectories of rare land cycles in Fall sets.
Consider a Scryland relative to Serum Visions. Serum Visions is frequently played in Modern now that one of the best cantrips ever, Preordain, is banned. It’s completely playable and would unquestionably be a significant portion of the standard metagame were it reprinted in Theros (which there’s still time for.)
Let’s start with scenario A, where you keep a 7 card hand with 2 lands and Serum Visions. You put a Hallowed Fountain into play and tap it to cast Serum Visions. You immediately draw a card, and then scry 2. You end up with 6 cards in hand, 1 land in play tapped, 18 life, and fixed the top 2 of your library.
In scenario B, you have a 7 card hand where 1 of those lands is the UW Scryland. You put it into play tapped, and scry 1. You keep the card or you ship it to the bottom. You end up with 6 cards in hand, 1 land in play tapped, and you fixed the top card of your library.
In scenario A, Serum Visions is similar to Gitaxian Probe in a way – you’re going to replace it with the top card of your deck, but you don’t actually know what that card is. Is it removal? A threat? More mana? We don’t have that knowledge yet. So more accurately, you have 6 cards that are known, and a 7th that is a mystery card. This is in contrast to scenario B, in which you have complete knowledge of what your 7 available cards are. This has a not-insignificant impact on your ability to make mulligan decisions. For example, what about an opening 7 card hand with 3 Serum Visions? You really only know 4 cards at that point.
In scenario B, you know exactly what your hand looks like. If you have 4 Scrylands, you know for sure you’re hitting your first 4 land drops. Along the way, you’re going to be monitoring your top card in an attempt to not draw something you don’t want.
Another way to consider the side effect of impreciseness of information is to consider a 1 land hand. A 1 land hand with Serum Visions is far riskier than a 1 Scryland hand. A 1 Scryland hand is pretty easily a mulligan. A 1-lander with Serum may entice you to keep, and if you don’t have a land in the top 4 cards, you’re in real trouble.
Returning to our original scenarios, which fares better, the Serum or the Scryland? There’s definitely value in scrying an extra card deeper, especially so for a combo deck that just wants to get as deep as possible for particular pieces. However, the more accurate information of the Scryland certainly has value. There are plenty of 1-land Serum Visions hands people have kept and promptly lost because they expected it to do too much work.
Overall, I’d say that in your opening hand, a Serum Visions is reasonably better than a Scryland if piloting a combo deck. In a control deck, the margin between them is considerably thinner.
How about late in the game? Say it is turn 9+, and both you and your opponent are now topdecking.
In scenario X, you draw your Serum Visions. You pay 1 mana to immediately draw the next card, and you then scry 2, hoping to move lands and irrelevant spells to the bottom of your library. You effectively drew 1 card (the Serum doesn’t really count, since you immediately replace it,) tapped 1 mana, and you scryed 2.
In scenario Y, you draw a Scryland. You put the land into play tapped, and either keep or ship the top card of your library. You end up with 1 additional mana which is tapped, and you scryed 1.
Scenario X sounds a lot better, but wait a moment. What if the card you drew off the Serum Visions was a land? You put it into play, and now you’re in a very similar situation to the Scryland play – 1 tapped land, an additional one in play, and now new cards in hand. You did scry one extra card deeper, though. This is objectively better, but that doesn’t mean it is better in every situation.
Imagine your opponent has no threats on board and your scry sees a land on top and the new Murderbore second from the top. You ship both because you don’t need either; at this point you want a threat. Then your opponent rips a creature, and you find yourself wishing you still had that Murderbore. If you had only scryed 1, you would have shipped the land, and then drew the Murderbore at exactly the right time. This isn’t to say that scrying for 1 is better than 2, but simply that occasionally you will burn yourself by having to make decisions about the game state several turns down the road with very imperfect information.
So far, it sounds like Serum Visions is basically better than the Scryland in both the early game and the late game. However, that isn’t taking into account a very important factor – the Scrylands don’t cost you a card. When you put 4 Serum Visions into your deck, you’re down to 56 cards left. The Scrylands, however, are slotted in as lands.
If history has taught us anything, it’s that lands with added value are incredibly potent. What other lands have functioned as spells? Kessig Wolf Run, Moorland Haunt, and the rest of their Innistrad Ilk have this feature. The manlands from Worldwake, which saw heavy Standard play and continue to see moderate Modern play, are also lands that grant additional value. Most recently, Mutavalt in M14 fills this role. Historically, most lands that have any sort of additional spell function make a good run in Standard.
While Serum Visions is often better than a Scryland, it is a spell and a spell alone. It provides velocity and mild card selection, but costs you information in your opening hand, card slots, and mana. In contrast, the Scrylands are about 1/4th to 3/4th as good as a Serum Visions depending on the situation, but are stapled onto lands so their effect is essentially free. Take a gander at Eyes of the Watcher, which gives us a foundation that scry 2 is worth roughly 1 mana. From this, it is fair to say scry 1 is worth roughly half a mana. The cost to playing these lands is the tempo loss of being forced to play it tapped, which all but the most dedicated aggro decks can often afford. This means that every time you put a Scryland into play, you’re getting roughly half a mana’s worth of value for roughly free. How many other lands can claim this?
There are a lot of nuances to understanding exactly how good the Scrylands will be in various decks and various situations, and Pat Chapin will probably provide better insight than I, but I hope this general discussion will illustrate that the Scrylands are considerably stronger than many out there would have you believe.
Now that we’ve established that they’re not just a “blatant cash grab” we want to consider their financial trajectory. What can we expect out of them early on, and what does their price life look like a year from now?
There are a lot of examples to look back on to answer these questions, the most recent just a quick hop back in time to Innistrad, and before that, Scars of Mirrodin. Both the Innistrad Enemy Checklands and the Scars of Mirrodin Fastlands had considerably similar price histories. During prerelease, they preorder for somewhere between $4 and $10.
As the set becomes drafted and copies begin flooding into the market, prices start dropping. They see some amount of play, but because they’re available in such quantity, and the previous set land prices have risen, they remain suppressed in value. Isolated Chapel and friends were all well under $4, some even dipping below $2 at times. The SOM Fastlands did the exact same thing; I clearly recall seeing Seachrome Coasts being under $2 at one point.
The lands hit their floor typically in early spring. As we approach Summer, players begin to dump their rotating lands from the prior set, and the Magic market as a whole collectively realizes that the only lands they’ll have available to them in September will be the [Fastlands/Checkands/Scrylands.] Prices begin to tick up slowly over the summer, and once fall hits, the lands take turns spiking hard as decks of the appropriate colors show up with a full playset. Isolated Chapel was nearly $20 at one point, as were Seachrome Coast and Darkslick Shores.
Finally, after enjoying their time in the sun (which is actually autumn and winter), the following spring rolls around, and the circle of life continues. They too follow the footsteps of the prior set’s lands, just as those did one year earlier. Looking backwards, the Shocklands have followed this exact trajectory to date, and are poised to break out in short order. Before them, the Checklands, the Fastlands, and the Zendikar fetches have behaved accordingly.
There is no reason to expect the Scrylands to deviate from this pattern. They’re preording for $5-$9 at the moment, but they’ll be sub-$3 soon enough. I’ll personally be vacuuming them up as soon as they dip that low, and if I see any hit $1.50 on a retail site, there’s a chance I’ll go deep – several hundred dollars deep.
On a completely unrelated and final topic, I’m disappointed that the B&R list didn’t have any changes to a non-pauper format. The formats may be reasonably stable, but there is no reason they couldn’t have shaken things up with some low-impact unbans in Legacy. It leads me to believe that they simply weren’t thinking about it rather than they closely examined their options and chose to do nothing.
See you next week when I do a (mostly) full review of Theros.
With the advancement of Theros upon the Magic: the Gathering scene, I can’t help but wonder exactly how this set will affect Standard. From one perspective, the printing of the Scry Lands and the generally higher cost of most cards in the set (Bestow creatures, Legendary Enchantment Artifacts, the Devotion mechanic favoring slow but steady board development) leads me to believe that Standard is about to slow down – significantly. Hellrider was a complete beating, and losing this card will affect the speed of Standard because the more powerful cards from the next two sets in the block are not yet present.
But, on the other hand, when a large block rotation is about to happen (losing the entirety of Innistrad block + M13) and players are left with limited options, you will usually find that the deck type of choice is aggro.
At the start of the new Standard season, aggro decks tend to place well out of the gates. Looking last year at this same time period, we can see that the following decks placed in Top 8’s at starcitygames IQ’s over the month of October 2012:
As you can see, there were many options for an aggro (even aggro control) build at this period that were able to place very well.
The theory behind why aggro does so well at the beginning of a new Standard environment is that the difficulty level is much higher when building a control deck. This is because there are many different factors a player has to consider when choosing what they want their control deck to specifically accomplish in order to win the game. In contrast, to build an aggro deck all you have to do is jam a bunch of efficient, cheap creatures into a shell and then go to town.
Of course, there are always players that will play control no matter what. There are always players that can play around aggro either because of a greater skill level as a player or properly building a control deck for the metagame based on previous Block season action (see Jace, Architect of Thought rising to $15 currently). But that doesn’t mean that you can’t capitalize financially on the large amount of aggro about to hit the field!
Let’s review in RTR block and M14 what I think are the best aggressive, battle ready creatures at Mythic and Rare that I think will impact the metagame based on revealed Theros spoilers so far:
Boros Reckoner – I think that this is the most obvious card that will be included in the aggro builds for months to come. Being a HUGE devotion enabler and an amazing overall creature means that this card is due for a price increase as demand starts to catch up with dwindling Gatecrash supply.
Ash Zealot – When I think of an aggro deck, I see mono red aggro being a big contender. With great options like Purphoros, God of the Forge, Burning Earth, Lightning Strike, Boros Reckoner, Stormbreath Dragon, and Mizzium Mortars, there are a lot of tools to build an unforgiving red deck that an untested format will have difficulty dealing with. There is a lot of potential for Ash Zealot in this build. Haste and first strike on a 2/2 body, which also counts a lot toward Devotion costs with a RR mana cost makes this a juicy pickup target. They are very cheap right now; most vendors will sell them for $1.50 or less and you can most likely pick them up in trades as extra throw ins. I predict that some form of mono red will be viable once Theros hits and if Ash Zealot is a part of that deck, it could easily see a $5 or greater price.
Precinct Captain – Well, here is a forgotten little gem! Where red has Ash Zealot, white has Precinct Captain to take up the two drop spot in it’s deck. The Captain was in a fair number of RTR Block decks (18% or so), and you can bet that most cards that are good in RTR Block will see play in Standard towards the beginning of block rotation because they have established themselves as solid cards. Though future strategies may negate the efficiency of a 2/2 first striker that makes 1/1’s, in the beginning everyone will want them to turn on Devotion and to keep the beats coming along with Heliod, God of the Sun. Getting in at $0.50 to $1 for these guys seems like an great pickup to me.
Lotleth Troll – Our friend the Troll hasn’t been given much love in Standard since his $10 preorder price. Let this be a lesson – preorders are nothing more than gambling in 99.5% of the cases. Sure, there will always be the story of that guy that bought 40x Sphinx’s Revelation at $4, but I simply compare this to someone winning the lottery. For every winner, there are hundreds if not thousands of losers that also bought in when Time Reversal was $50 and Temporal Mastery was $25. Back to the troll, however, I believe our little friend is due for a price hike. This is because he is an amazing card in a vacuum that needs an aggro environment to shine – and if a G/B aggro deck that runs 4 of these and 4 Scavenging Oozes hits the scene you can bet that spending $1.50 on these boys will certainly pay dividends. It pairs nicely with the spoiled Hero’s Downfall and Thoughtseize, which I can see as the basis of a deck that is either Mono Black splashing green or Mono Black splashing white. Which reminds me…
Blood Baron Vizkopa – Though this doesn’t really fit into my article’s theme, I thought I might mention the Baron in this case because this is a card I believe is undervalued right now at $9.50. Its protection from Black (which is a color I believe will be played a ton thanks to Thoughtseize coming back into Standard) will be key, and in addition to all of its other abilities this will make the card an important strategy in control decks or as the top end of the curve or for aggro decks. At the least this will be a sideboard powerhouse. Since it is a mythic rare from an unpopular set, it will be hard to find after a while. Get in at $10 before the price increase starts to happen.
Scavenging Ooze (also Mutavault, technically) – I believe that the window has pretty much passed on this opportunity, but still try to get in at $14-$15 if you can. I’ve noticed something very weird with M14 prices this time around (based on M13 and previous core sets) – the cards never really fell to the depths I thought they would after being out around a month. Even though Scavenging Ooze was preordering for $20, it never really fell below $12 if you bought them through vendors over the past month since M14’s release. Either M14 was gobbled up by players so that they could acquire Scavenging Ooze and Mutavault in oodles, or something has really changed with Magic in respect to the speculation dynamic. No longer is it quite as easy to predict the fall, and rise again, of clearly obvious format defining staples with the exception of dual lands. Even Mutavault has not fallen very far from the $15 preorders I was seeing – it still commands an average $13 price tag even though it is played at most as a 2-3 of in current decks and in only 30% of the decks if that. Of course, as more Theros spoilers are revealed it could completely negate the impact of the ooze and vault on Standard, but in my opinion strong cards are strong (in this case, even Legacy strong) and people will want to try and play them in decks even if they don’t fit quite right. As Standard continues into next year, and even the block beyond Theros, at any point Ooze and/or Mutavault could become very good. I would try and get my playset of both of these now because I really don’t see them going down in price in the foreseeable future. At the worst, Standard players now can hold onto these cards indefinitely because they will be playable in Modern and Legacy for years to come.
Tidebinder Mage – This card definitely has the potential to be good because it provides a 2/2 for UU that easily turns on Devotion and can help to hold back annoying red and green creatures. If a blue based Devotion deck comes online taking advantage of Thasa, and all those good blue Scrying creatures, I think that Tidebinder Mage could play a role in early Theros standard. For $1.50 I don’t think you can go wrong. Even if the spec doesn’t turn profitable, you can always send them to a buylist at a later point because I believe that during the next two years this Mage will at least make it into the sideboard of a deck piloted by a popular pro tour player that places well in a random Pro Tour, GP, or PTQ.
Voice of Resurgence – Everyone pretty much missed the boat on this guy, but lucky for you Voice is slowly dipping back down into the $30s range of “somewhat affordable again”. You can get it for the low $30s but I think that Voice really has nowhere to go but up. G/W aggro Populate is certainly a possible deck, combining Trostani, Advent of the Wurm, Loxodon Smiter, maybe even Scion of Vitu-Ghazi (another great spec at $0.25 a piece) and this guy for some serious beats. Remember Voice is from DGM like Blood Baron, an unpopular set that was hardly even opened. There is a lot of potential for other DGM mythics or rares to spike unexpectedly, but I wouldn’t be surprised for Voice to soar to the $40s or even $50s again if G/W aggro becomes a staying Standard archetype. For the most part, any deck this thing is played will include four of them. Though I wouldn’t actively try to pick Voice up because of the high barrier to entry, if you can trade for them at $30 I would call it a satisfactory pickup. Worst case, you can unload them come January for the same $30.
In conclusion, there is a lot of financial potential in the low end of Standard aggro decks. Most of them have very low buy-ins as rares, so the risk is mitigated by the fact that even if only one or two of these cards is a great card you can still make money because the cost of entry is so low on these picks. My prediction is that the Gods will make people excited about playing mono colored decks in Standard, so being able to get in early on cards like Ash Zealot for the Purphoros Devotion deck or Precinct Captain for the Heliod Devotion deck will be a good strategy.
That’s all for now folks! In my next article, I will delve more deeply into Theros cards specifically because at that point more than half the set will be revealed.
For much of the MTG finance world, condition is a big deal. Scales, grading, and the smallest of dents can knock significant value off of a card.
However, to someone who is building a cube, or needs that last foil, or mainly plays at someone’s table on Saturdays… condition isn’t nearly as big a deal.
I tell you this because if you’ve ever tried to sell/trade to a vendor or a collector, you know that they will take money off based on their grade of the card. It can be frustrating and then some, especially if you think you’ve taken good care of it.
Here is a secret for dealing with most casual players: minor and sometimes major flaws in a card are not that important. I myself have a Bloodstained Mire that I bought for $15 from a retailer, because it had been bent. Undamaged ones were $30, and I had planned to get one of those, but when I put the bent card in a sleeve, the damage wasn’t easily apparent.
Should I ever need to trade that Mire, I’ll be looking for someone who doesn’t care about condition, and I’ll find such a person before too long.
Keep in mind that for older cards, condition is likely to be a key factor. Dual lands, pieces of Power, Alpha lands: all of these (and more) have their price affected by condition, sometimes heavily. These are 20-year-old pieces of cardboard, and very few have made it through unscathed. In case you didn’t know, we didn’t really have sleeves for cards for the first few years, and so the backs of cards will often have all sorts of dents and scratches from being turned sideways on a piece of concrete.
Now, it’s true that some cards are truly damaged and unplayable. Some are so warped that they cannot be used in tournaments, and I respect anyone who won’t keep such cards. But for many players, if it looks okay-to-decent in a sleeve, there’s no problem. You won’t get as much in trade as you would an undamaged card, but you’ll get more than you expect. In some cases, people won’t ask for less at all.
If they do care about the condition, and want to knock a little off the value, you should probably accept that it is indeed worth less (but not worthless!). If they want to grade the card in front of you, then it’s probably time to move on.
This is especially true with foils. I’ve met players who really wanted the effect a foil gets if it’s been played without a sleeve and there’s an edge of silver around the card, from where the black ink on the border has worn off. I’ve met others who don’t want that effect at all, and wanted a lot less than the card was worth.
When you’re trading online, then you’re in a much trickier area. I’ve had multiple experiences where cards arrived in a different condition than I expected, and I’ve had people say I sent Slightly Played cards instead of the Near Mint I promised them. My advice in this regard is to be open and honest. Communication is everything. If there’s a chance of a problem, scans are good, pictures are good.
On eBay, I’ve heard tales of someone who sold a card at NM price, but the buyer then claimed that the card was SP. So the buyer sent the card back, and indeed, it was a SP that got sent back. This is an evil, criminal tactic to upgrade the condition of a card and a reason why you need to be diligent with feedback. I’m told eBay always takes the buyer’s side, so be appropriately cautious.
Be cautious as well when you’re dealing with signed cards. Most vendors view that as a negative, even though many casual players will view a signed card as more unique and personalized. I like my signed cards, as they represent a journey of different artists I have met and events I have been to.
So if you have a slightly worn yet very awesome card, don’t despair. Just be patient. A vendor may not give you full value for it, but there are many trade partners who are looking for that exact card. You’ll find them, make the trade, and everyone wins.
MAGIC: THE GATHERING FINANCE ARTICLES AND COMMUNITY