Tag Archives: MTGFinance

PROTRADER: Format Review, DTK-EMN Edition

So I realized two things recently: I didn’t do a set review for EMN; and the world did not end as a result1. When I was finishing up my last piece however, I got an idea for something similar but not quite so well-worn. Welcome to the first ever Format Review!

Okay, so be aware that when I say ‘format’, I mean Standard. The bar for getting into anything larger than that is much more nebulous, to say nothing of financial impacts in more niche situations. Standard is also the format that is going to drive the lion’s share of demand between now and the next format review- unless a card is obviously a multi-format all-star, it usually takes a while for existing lists to figure out what they want to cut. Also, while this article is intended to inform financial decision-making, be aware that it’s not a list of cards to go out and buy. Some of the biggest impacts on a format can made by monetarily inconsequential commons and uncommons. Let’s dive in!

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Spell Queller: Okay, so I’m writing this blurb as the Columbus Open is finishing up, and the results for EMN’s first weekend look about like what I expected. Spell Queller’s presence in the Top 64 was undeniable, featuring 127 of a possible 256 copies. That there were only 12 copies in the Top 8 (albeit 4 in the winner’s circle) is pretty surprising, although the lists that weren’t Bant Company all seem like good decks AGAINST Bant Company. Spell Queller feels like the type of card that will bend decks towards light splashes for the missing color (GW making sure it has just enough U, etc) because Spell Queller is independently powerful.

Here’s how I see it- Spell Queller is the new king of “small ball.” While older, sports-inclined players are often referring metaphorically to this, the term has sort of adopted its own meaning in Magic. If tight, technical deck construction focused on manageable curves and prioritizing things like castability and tempo can be referred to as “small ball”, and it’s theoretical inverse is an EDH deck full of 7 casting cost sorceries and guildgates, then you can see toward which pole Standard players gravitate. In this line of thinking, Spell Queller succeeds at either delaying or blanking entirely anything else in this category. Simultaneously, a 2/3 flier at 3 is certainly respectable, and can therefore play offense AND defense in some situations.

Spell-Queller-Eldritch-Moon-MtG-Art

Since Spell Queller is a rare, there are some concerns with regard to price trajectory. If some combination of Tamiyo, Emrakul, and/or Gisela are long-term players (more on each of these later) can maintain a certain percentage of market share, then EMN is likely to be opened in such quantity that Spell Queller sufficiently saturates the market. If the mythics in this set are ALL terrible (which seems highly unlikely), then this time next year Spell Queller could be pretty pricy (although this is predicated on it being the ONLY good card in the set). I can see the current price of ~$11 going up this week fueled by hype following the Columbus results, but I think the weight of its rarity will ultimately cut that price tag by about half. I’m holding off on getting my personal set until I absolutely need them, although I know that I will undoubtedly be playing a strictly worse deck without them. The possibility of this price maintaining or increasing is based entirely on this card being played at the Pro Tour to such a degree that we see a rare 32 copies in the Top 8. It’s worth mentioning, though, that given the unique demographics of the Pro Tour, this is more likely than at something like an SCG Open.

Collected Company: This was one of the best cards in Standard BEFORE it got access to Spell Queller. I can tell you from personal testing experience that firing off a Collected Company hitting a Spell Queller and a Reflector Mage is one of the best feelings in Magic- and I played Gifts Ungiven in Extended. Unfortunately, Collected Company already has an established place in Modern, so copies aren’t likely to drop dramatically in price, even though the card only has a few months left on the main stage. From the look of things so far though, it’s safe to say Collected Company is going to go out on top.

Incendiary Flow: This is pretty obviously one of those things that isn’t a “must buy”, but it represents a crucial element in evaluating other cards. Every standard environment has a key toughness number, typically either 3 or 4, where that number can be viewed as overall safe. With the printing of Incendiary Flow, we can expect creatures with three toughness to be much less resilient than they were a few short weeks ago. This is perhaps the biggest knock against Gisela (who also gets hit by some of the other popular conditional removal spells, like Ultimate Price). Despite being a sorcery, Flow is quite versatile, being able to target players (and therefore also Planeswalkers), exile creatures like Relentless Dead, AND get recast by Goblin Dark-Dwellers. Expect the inherent value of 4 toughness creatures to increase (although Languish is still a very big deal). This card also makes a timely Dromoka’s Command even more of a blowout, since you can either prevent the damage entirely or scale up a three toughness creature to survive it. Incendiary Flow is also the name of my mixtape.

Emrakul, the Promised End: I’m pretty sure that the is the ceiling in terms of finishers in this format. While Ulamog is probably about as good, I don’t think there is anything higher on the food chain than an Emrakul on the stack. Now, we will see if this card actually gets played (or rather, ‘when’), but not seeing it at all would be a very clear indicator that aggro and/or RDW is pulling an above-average amount of market-share in the format.

Murder: It’s strange that we are getting this card back, because I thought Development had issues with it before. It’s possible that I’m just remembering concerns from whatever M-set limited format that was, but it’s also a potential sign that we will see a lot of pushed artifact creatures on Kaladesh. It also reinforces the control decks being straight UB versus Ubx, by virtue of that BB in the mana cost.

Thalia, Heretical Cathar: This is a card that represents an interesting choke-point for the format, although at this point it is largely theoretical. The worst thing going for Thalia here is her mana cost- 3 is already really crowded, and her functionality is largely dependent on unknown information (what types of lands is your control opponent playing? Is your aggro opponent going to try and be the control in this matchup and just block your creatures?).  I think Thalia’s contributions to this format will take longer to become apparent, just because she breaks the fourth wall in a way that requires you to know the environment you expect to be playing in. Unfortunately, after that she STILL has to compete with Spell Queller, Reflector Mage, Eldrazi Displacer, and more for time on the field.

Nahiri, the Harbinger: It’s possible that this is the time where you want to reload on Nahiri. The reason why this card was so good before is because the numbers are (or at least feel) very raw. It’s as if design and development both signed off on the card without giving it the same kind of due diligence that planeswalkers get since the last time the both slacked off on one (Jace, the Mind Sculptor). The only thing that isn’t above average on her is the mana cost, which is in a very awkward WR (although only costing [4] is a great stat!). White and Red are both supporting colors in decks not running Thalia’s Lieutenant, so it’s very often going to feel like you are trying to hit both of your off-colors to get one of your best cards. If Eldritch Moon makes red good enough to not get laughed out of the room, it’s possible that we see a rise in Nahiri-focused control decks.

Dromoka’s Command: Still one of the best cards in Standard, and a shoe-in for the Abzan Hall of Fame when it retires this fall. It won’t be played in the necessary amount to “make the leap” to Modern, even if it sees occasional use. Start to move your extras.

Cryptolith Rite: I think this is a solid pickup at under $3, just because there will always be that critical mass of small creatures that you can dump out and then cast something insane. I suspect one of the big reveals at the Pro Tour will be some sort of Rite into Decimator of the Provinces deck.

Kolaghan’s Command: Speaking of pickups- this card is really cheap right now. I know it’s also about to rotate, but it has a much wider base in Modern than any of the other commands (besides Atarka’s, which I also love right now). Spend Puca Points on these!

Languish: Still disgusting and holding a lot of people back, while also not having an heir-apparent. The Roger Ailes of Magic cards.

In all seriousness, I’m not sure what replaces this in Standard in the fall. Planar Outburst seems like the best possible option, but that’s also giving up a lot of the remaining equity in black. Every aggressive card gets at least somewhat better this fall, even if the percentage isn’t very appreciable.

From all of this information, we can begin to build a frame of what the overall environment looks like. I expect the hyper-aggressive low casting cost decks to remain relatively swingy in terms of consistency, I expect various midrange strategies to comprise the majority of the format as a whole, and the control decks will be making deck-building concessions in favor of Emrakul in about a month. Let me know if you think I missed anything crucial to the format’s identity, and we will talk about more traditional finance stuff next week.

Best,

Ross

1Actual results pending.

PROTRADER: EMA Aftershocks

A few weeks back, I openly pondered whether Eternal Masters would be able to serve as a better reprint vehicle than something like Commander or Conspiracy- each set prioritizing what makes it unique, rather than trying to fit “staples” of each format into three sets. While we haven’t seen what the Conspiracy or Commander offerings will look like yet, it’s fair to say that EMA has quite a few cards in it that are not strictly masters of eternal formats. We are also going to discuss the distribution issues surrounding this set, and how it might be best to approach acquisition early and in the long term.

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PROTRADER: EMA Winners and Losers

So we are still waiting on some spoilers to roll in, and I’m sure that there will be a few more winners and losers worth discussing once we have the full 249 revealed. I’m confident that we have enough so far that I can make a full length article out of it, and that makes me very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very *checks word count* very very very very very very… very happy.

WINNER: MERFOLK! Merfolk was actually the first big winner with this set, because the first two cards spoiled (Force of Will and Wasteland) are THE financial gatekeepers to playing this deck in Legacy. Merfolk is not the best deck in Legacy, but only because there isn’t a best deck in Legacy. Merfolk is a strong, linear archetype that doesn’t require Alpha duals, is able to win large tournaments, and largely comprised of Modern cards. The difference between ‘optimized’ and ‘budget’ lists has always been the inclusion of Wasteland and Force of Will (moreso the latter than the former due to the need for UU consistently), but any permutation seems to have its advocates. Merfolk was one of the more popular decks at the beginning of the Legacy boom a few years back, and it has only gotten better tools since (Master of the Pearl Trident is much better than Coralhelm Commander). Daze is another big piece for the deck, although Wasteland, Mutavault AND Cavern of Souls probably encourage shaving copies down. Fish just won a Modern GP, so its possible that there are people scrambling to build this for that lesser format, but know that this is a known player in Legacy, and probably one of the strongest decks that is not difficult to cobble together. I expect representation to be high for the next year or so, or however long it takes for EMA to totally dry up.

Legacy events will be like Jimmy Buffett concerts- fins to the left, fins to the right.
Legacy events will be like Jimmy Buffett concerts- fins to the left, fins to the right.

LOSERS: THE PEOPLE GETTING HYMNED IN EMA LIMITED! Oof, good luck. There’s a reason why people still stand by the old adage of “Hymn, Hymn, I win”. And now it looks like they have Sinkhole to back it up! EMA block constructed looks like one of the most fun formats, maybe that should be the new Legacy? I’m in if y’all are.

WINNER: DREDGE! So Dredge itself is not an archetype in EMA, but Ichorid, Cabal Therapy, and some lesser/formerly played pieces (Chrome Mox, Entomb) are all getting reprinted. Expect Golgari Grave-Troll to continue disappearing off shelves (as we discussed here previously!) and keep your eyes peeled for that Izzet v Golgari box.

LOSERS: EVERYONE BUT DREDGE! Look, I am the biggest supporter of Life From the Loam that there is, but I’m not going to call myself a fan of the Dredge deck. I don’t think we will ever see this archetype hit quite the same saturation numbers as Merfolk (because it is harder to play and easier to hate), but I do worry that on those weekends where it’s Dredge’s tournament to lose that we will see more than the one player that ran hot to get to Top 8. If there is ever a Legacy Top 8 with three or more Dredge lists, the world will become a foul and miserable place.

"But Loam's freedom came at a price - him."
“But Loam’s freedom came at a price – him.”

WINNERS: POPULAR CARDS WITH LOW SUPPLY: A lot of the cards that we are getting reprinted come from Magic’s very distant past, and are therefore bound by the scarcity issues that come with wanting something that hasn’t been made in nearly twenty years. This also includes more recent, but otherwise limited release cards such as Shardless Agent. Having new life entering the market is going to allow people more opportunity to snag what they want, while simultaneously buoying price on high demand in the short term. It is still possible that many of these cards increase in price when all is said and done, which I think we now all know as the “Tarmogoyf Principle”. The interesting thing is going to see how it plays out across rarity and format (Legacy vs Vintage). Sinkhole is a popular card in the Mono Black decks that lots of new Legacy players gravitate towards. Even though the card was originally a COMMON, it has since been (perhaps rightly) upgraded to rare. The more Sinkholes there are, the more people will sleeve up Dark Rituals, Hymns, and whatever the 2016 version of Phyrexian Negator is. Water finds its level.

Prices on cards you and everybody else like will be in outer space in two years. Buy now!
Prices on cards you and everybody else like will be in outer space in two years. Buy now!

LOSERS: NARROW CARDS WITH LOW SUPPLY! Mana Crypt at Mythic means that we won’t see so many that supply skyrockets, but this is a card only played as a 1x in Vintage (and possibly in Commander? Is it banned there also?)- how much demand is there? Mana Crypt and an Island is still a turn 1 Tinker, which is a good opening turn in Vintage, but how many people will willingly start to play without Power? Water finds its level, and I think that cards like Crypt that have been high because there are so few of them will drop when supply tiptoes past demand. Say we (the royal ‘we’) get 10,000 new Mana Crypts (a number that I totally made up)- are 10,000 people one Mana Crypt away from playing Vintage? Maybe a few are, but the rest of those are going to get sloshed around vendor tables for a while.

WINNERS: ART LOVERS! This may be the most aesthetically pleasing set in Magic’s history. WotC commissioned a very high percentage of new pieces for this set (partially, I assume, because they had lost the rights to many older artworks1), and they are all stunning. The new Winter Orb is probably my personal favorite, just because it captures the eerieness that the card has always had, while simultaneously looking like an album cover for some sort of sweet symphonic metal band.

"WINTER ORB", the new album by MYTHRIL PROPHECY.
“WINTER ORB”, the new album by MYTHRIL PROPHECY.

LOSERS: ANYONE WHO OPENS A BRAGO! I can handle a lot, and I didn’t mind that a lot of cards got rarity upshifts due to Limited, but seeing THIS card in THIS set really irked me. Blue White blink could be the best draft deck in the format, and I’m still going to be miserable taking this card. It’s a good thing he’s already dead, because I’d kill him myself.

WINNER: ANYONE WHO DRAFTS BLACK! Windmill slam that Braids, even if the foil is good. This color is insanely deep at the middle rarities, and has some pretty strong commons also.

LOSER: ME, FOR CALLING BERSERK! Wow, this was a real shocker. I thought Berserk was as good as in, and it looks like its not. This just makes the call for Fish decks look even better, as trying to respect an optimal Infect list requires some resource commitment, and now they don’t have to do as much. Buy your Lords of Atlantis!

WINNERS: PAUPER PLAYERS! Now, Pauper players are already awesome, super-smart, and overall great people, but they got some major rewards with EMA. There are going to be some commons in this set with extremely high foil multipliers (I’m looking at you, Man-O-War!), even though they aren’t “traditional” staples. Let’s close out today with a list of foil targets, prioritizing high multipliers and low visibility.

  • Yavimaya Enchantress: First time at common, basically an archetype unto herself (and GW Enchantments is already kind of a thing in Pauper!)
  • Nimble Mongoose: Sweet art, foils are currently insane- this is going to be respectably expensive.
  • Emperor Crocodile: Once a rare, now a common. This is more of a foil spec, but definitely a long-shot. Maybe one of the green stompy decks wants this?
  • Duplicant: Okay, not a common, but Duplicant has only had (compared to today’s standard) low printings, so foils always garner a high margin. This art is not the worst that the card has had, and the original is not necessarily iconic. I don’t this printing will cause foils or non-foils to bottom out, but they will briefly be cheaper.
  • Mistral Charger/Elite Vanguard: There are a lot of people excited about these? I don’t know how good either one is, but I wanted to pass the word along.
  • Rally the Peasants: This was an uncommon before, right? Makes the WR decks a lot better if it was.
  • Swords to Plowshares: Not too many opportunities to get this card in foil, so always take the chance when you can.
  • Peregrine Drake: Cloud of Faeries was banned in Pauper, and I think this was only ever an uncommon, so maybe it makes that deck better? Tough call, because the curve was much lower originally.
  • Man-O’-War: Still played in a large percentage of cubes, never previously available in foil. Make up a price, and someone will probably pay it.
  • Innocent Blood: Second time this card has been available in foil, and it’s a VERY popular card.
  • Night’s Whisper: First time that this art has been available in foil, and it’s also the first time the card has been printed at common.
  • Prowling Pangolin: Originally an uncommon, this could sneak its way into some of the black pauper decks.
  • Baleful Strix: Has this card ever been available in foil? I don’t think it has.
  • Beetleback Chief: I know this card was never available in foil, because I would own 100 of them.
  • Crater Hellion: Never before available in foil.

That’s it for now, have fun poring through EMA, and I’ll see you next week!

Best,

Ross

1This sounds like a job for VorthosMike!

PROTRADER: PT Shadows Prep

Hey, happy Pro Tour Weekend! There is a lot to be really excited about going into this event- a new Standard format, a promising draft environment, and, because it’s in Spain, players will get an hour nap break in between formats!

siesta

In reality, this weekend is actually a bigger deal than you might even think. This is our first Standard Pro Tour in the new Standard system that touches on 3 separate blocks (although the Fall 2016 set1 will be the first one to cleanly incorporate the new structure, as DTK and Khans will be gone).Even though we have already had two Standard weekends courtesy of SCG, this format feels largely undefined. Standard right now is a lot like the American presidential election- people are over-valuing the recent performance of aggressive white humans.

There is lots of price information to suggest that there are other decks likely to see play at the event, but it’s important to explain WHY white is unlikely to perform as it has in the past. First, the Pro Tour and any Star City event (including the Invitational) have a starkly diverse player base- the range in individual player quality is higher at a Pro Tour, but that’s largely because the Invitational is comprised mostly of players in the middle of the quality spectrum. The Pro Tour attendees, particularly after being weighted by Day Two participation, tend to skew towards much stronger, more experienced players. Strong players, especially ones with long resumes, are often more likely to slot into the control role, because that is the best way to leverage play skill against weaker opponents. At a Pro Tour, you are more likely to see control decks, even if they are a smaller percentage of the format as a whole, because this event is not comprised of Magic players as a wholly random sample.

For this reason, it’s difficult to discern what is actionable information for the future of the standard format, and what is just good for this weekend. On a granular level, some things that don’t really impact Magic finance are likely to fit into this category- I’d be much more comfortable having maindeck Duress at a Pro Tour than at an Open or an FNM, although Duress is unlikely to have a serious price change if it turns out to be a highly played card this weekend.

Let’s talk about some cards that ARE getting hyped going into this weekend:

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