Tag Archives: planeswalkers

PROTRADER: Checking in with Planeswalkers

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There are over 14,000 unique Magic cards in existence. Of those, only 74 are planeswalkers*. In a game so large that it can overwhelm even the most experienced financiers, planeswalkers take up only 0.005 percent of the cards in the game. This subset of cards tends to be very interesting financially, and with so few total, we can cover them in entirety to try to highlight the money-making opportunities that may be present.

*If we count the five Origins flip-walkers, which I almost didn’t!

I like to do a check-in with planeswalkers as a whole a couple times a year. My first at MTGPrice was last April, and then I touched on the subject again last November. Much has happened since then, so let’s check up on these cards yet again.

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PROTRADER: Planeswalker Finance, November 2015

It’s time to return to the card type with the fewest options in existence: planeswalker. We last visited this topic in April 2015, and with more than six months passed, a review of what’s happened since then—both in price movement for old cards and printings of new cards—is warranted.

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The Immortality of Planeswalkers

It’s been almost eight years since the planeswalker card type was introduced. Before that, the lore of the game cast planeswalkers as legendary pseudo-gods that were almost always too powerful to print. I mean, we got Nicol Bolas back in Legends, but he felt like more of an “attack with big dragon that roars” instead of “archmage that casts multiple spells to obliterate his opponents.” We never got a card for Urza, because Wizards claimed that he would be far too powerful to see play. Neither did we ever get Serra or Leshrac from the pre-Mending era.

Planeswalkers were basically gods that would far overpower the “normal” creatures of the time, and WOTC didn’t yet have the design knowledge to make world-crushing nigh-unstoppable beings in card form.

During the Time Spiral block, we saw the last of the “planeswalkers imagined as creatures.” Jaya Ballard had multiple activated abilities to show the versatility of her spell weaving, but it wasn’t enough to make her feel awesome. Teferi controlled the flow of time by slowing down his opponents, but he was still just a creature. I’m not going to write an entire lore column, because you guys aren’t here for that, but the Mending was Wizards’s way of fixing and adjusting the walkers to a power level where they were more feasibly printed.

October of 2007

Enter Lorwyn. With a brand-new card type that was hinted at by Tarmogoyf itself, planeswalkers and the rules surrounding them were the talk of the town. At least, I assume they were. I barely knew how to play Magic at the time, and I wasn’t paying attention to new set releases until closer to Shards of Alara. But as a casual player, I fell in love with planeswalkers as soon as I saw them. Ironically, I was the last person in my small casual group to actually attain one, and that was only because my friend took pity and traded Garruk to me because he had two from the Garruk vs. Liliana Duel Deck.

box_garrukvsliliana

Anyway, the point here is that the planeswalker card type was a home run on pretty much all fronts. Casuals foamed at the mouth at the chance to summon an ally to the battlefield and cast spells every turn, and the Spikes of the world enjoyed how difficult to remove and mana-efficient they were. While there were balancing issues over the first few years, ‘walkers as a whole were appreciated by the entire community. Savvy traders who navigated the rift between casual and competitive caught on quick, and learned that converting tournament staples into undervalued loyalty counters was a quick way to make a profit.

This mantra has held true for as long as I’ve been in this business. If your trade partner’s binder is stretched thin, just target pretty much any planeswalker ever. I’ve sold more Vess than Veil in my time buying and selling Magic, and it’s not close. Hell, even Tibalt is worth trading for because he’s so goddamn infamous. There are multiple people out there who collect exclusively Tibalt because he’s regarded as the first “obviously bad” planeswalker. I’ve traded for a Tibalt before, and it was intentional. I wanted that Magic: The Gathering card because I knew another human being on this planet actually wanted to own it, even though the card is obvious garbage and is basically a recurring joke at this point.

WalkerArticle

In years past, $5 was always the benchmark for “cheap planeswalker that you should probably buy, because it’s going to rebound back like an Immortal.” If the garbage version of Gideon can float around at $5 despite seeing zero play, then that should be the benchmark low (the one exception being our beloved Fiend-Blooded friend).

However, it looks like we have a few challengers in our midst who are refusing to make the climb:

BadJace

Chandra1

Vraska

Architect

I can come to terms with the fact that Architect and Vraska won’t rise to the occasion. The Duel Deck skewered their prices and sealed their fates (and both pieces of alternate art are absolutely awful).

However, I had at least a little bit of faith in M15 Jace and M12 Chandra slowly making a comeback…

Don’t Call It a Comeback (It’s Probably Not)

Tibalt has a higher fair trade price than M15 Jace . And yet hell hasn’t frozen over, pigs are grounded for the moment, and the third world war hasn’t caused the end of us all. I’m not sure if we should throw a party for Tibalt or mourn the end of his legacy. When M15 first bottomed out, I took the $3 Jace as a signal. His name had E, J, C, and A all arranged in a certain spelling towards the front of the card, he was four mana, and he started with a large chunk of loyalty. Even if he was obviously inferior to his cousins, I figured I could easily pick these up in trade and then dump them out of my display case once they made their climb back to the $5 bare minimum.

Easy game, easy life, right? Those who can’t afford a Mind Sculptor go for Beleren, and those who couldn’t afford Beleren would jump on these. I made similar moves on Chandra, the Firebrand, trusting in the creep back to $5. Trade for a bunch, and then dump them in the display case. Garruks don’t last a week behind that glass, and neither do copies of Nicol Bolas. Why would these be any different? In my past experience selling ‘walkers to casuals, they didn’t have to be good to move off the shelf.  A six-mana Chandra sells like wildfire, and she never saw a spark of competitive play in her life.

wildfire

So how many Living Guildpacts and Firebrands have I sold out of my case ever since initating my master plan?

Zero Jaces, and one or two Firebrands.

There was actual dust on the front Jace when I went to check on my case last week, and he’s priced at $3, yet hasn’t moved in God knows how long. You would think that casual players would jump at the chance to jam a planeswalker in their decks for such a low cost, but my experience suggests anything but.

A Fading Spark

The mantra that all of us financiers and value traders has been chanting has been dead for over a year. “Trade for a planeswalker if it’s under $5,” and, “Trade for any planeswalker ever because it’s easy to sell,” are relics of a forgotten age.

I’m even wondering if my Daretti investment was a worthwhile buy, even though I managed to find some copies that I thought were underpriced at $2.70 each. I was going to rely on his rock-solid $5 price tag in order to evacuate from the spec in a pinch and settle for doubling up, but he’s already shown signs of sliding in the opposite direction.

So what went wrong? Well, planeswalkers aren’t as special anymore. Instead of having a limited number in each color to choose from, the casual players have approximately seventeen different mono-blue Jaces to choose from for their mill or control decks. Being the 57th best walker out of 59 available walkers sucks a lot more than being the 25th worst walker back when there were 27. There’s a lot less of a “uniqueness” factor, because Living Guildpact, Firebrand, or Vraska all fail to fill a niche in a deck anymore, even down to the casual level of play that those reading an article like this just don’t experience first-hand.

Where to Go with Origins?

As much as I loathe talking about upcoming sets and speculation, I’ll throw my hat into the ring on the Origins double-sided walkers because it’s relevant to this discussion. If you’ve dabbled in Magic finance at all, you’ve obviously been told or have been the one to tell people to drop ‘walkers early on in the opening season like hot potatoes. Sell them as soon as you crack them at the prerelease, because there will be a time several months down the road when you can reap the profits by buying or trading back for them at that sweet $5 baseline fallback plan.

Half of this will still be true. Sell whatever planeswalkers you open at your prerelease right away, but even once they “bottom out” at $5, I’m going to suggest staying away from these new flip ‘walkers entirely.

While they can be used as Commanders this time around, none of these ‘walkers have any truly unique traits compared to their predecessors. Chandra burns creatures and players? So does every other Chandra in existence. Gideon makes you attack him, and then turns into a creature to smack you right back. No surprises there. Jace mills? Someone fire up the printing press, this is breaking and unbelievable news!

While I definitely sound a bit cynical concerning their appeal, I’m not trying to suggest that they’re unplayable. All of the novelty is tied into the fact that they can flip, and I don’t expect their backsides to be overtly exciting or novel to the average casual player.

If you want to play them in EDH (I certainly don’t think they’re bad in that format), I suggest waiting until an absolute rock bottom of $3 to $5, and I wouldn’t advocate holding onto them while crossing your fingers. At least Garruk Relentless started out as a ‘walker, made an impact on the opponent’s board, flipped immediately, and presented a large number of options while in play. Unless these five find homes in Standard (which I do think is entirely possible for Gideon and maybe Liliana), I think it’s possible that we’ll see them at an extreme low, and it will end up being a speculating trap.

End Step

Am I correct about the $5 minimum on planeswalkers being gone for good? Is there a new lower boundary of $3, or is it possible for non-Tibalt walkers to sink even into the $1 bulk mythic status?

I’m certainly expecting a bit of dissenting criticism from this one. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on where the Origins walkers end up, and if being double-sided is enough of a novel appeal to the casual crowd that would sustain a price above $5 throughout their lifetimes.

As always, thanks for reading!

 

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UNLOCKED PROTRADER: Planeswalker Finance, April 2015

By: Danny Brown

If you’ve been around MTG finance for long, you’ve often heard that trading into Reserved List cards is a great way to lock in and grow value over time. Indeed, picking up dual lands, Force of Will, Wasteland, and other eternal staples has proven time and again to be a great way to hold value, if not make a profit.

But there’s two problems with this strategy:

  1. Finding these types of cards in trade binders is tough.
  2. Not everyone has the value needed to trade for big cards like this.

And let’s be real, for every Old Man of the Sea, there’s a Sorrow’s Path, and despite being on the Reserved List, you should not pick up Sorrow’s Path. I know, these are the kinds of hot takes that keep you coming back to MTGPrice every week.

sorrowspath

Okay, so what is a new or budget-minded or just-plain-cheap mage to do? Very few people are going to trade their Legacy staples for your Sylvan Caryatids and Coursers of Kruphix, but they’re still losing value every day all the same. Maybe you can flip them into Dragonlord Silumgars and Atarka’s Commands, but those have a shelf life of their own, meaning you’re just going to be playing this same game next year.

Fetch lands are the obvious answer, but everybody touches on that fact, and just saying the same thing doesn’t make for a very interesting or informative article. And even still, it’s been shown that reprinting major lands in Standard drops their prices in a big way, so it’s not like you can just hold on to fetches forever.

So where do we look?

It’s In the Title

Look, you already know I’m talking about planeswalkers today, so I’ll quit pretending that I’m leading up to some major revelation.

Planeswalkers, you may be aware, are a casual favorite, from kitchen-table to Commander to Cube. There aren’t very many of them (only 59 by my count!), which makes them special compared to just about every other card type in the game. When they are good in eternal formats, they tend to get pretty darn expensive.

jtmsBut even when they’re universally despised, they still hold a minimum amount of value. Even Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded is around $3, and nobody wants that card for any format. (True story: I will always live in shame that I lost in the finals of Avacyn Restored Game Day to a Craterhoof BehemothUnburial Rites deck featuring Lingering Souls and, yes, Tibalt. So I guess somebody wanted it for a tournament, shockingly.)

There are distinct categories of planeswalkers, and we’ll be grouping all 59 of them today, for posterity.

Standard Planeswalkers

Okay, this one’s easy. If you’re looking to lock in value, don’t trade for Standard planeswalkers. They are almost always fringe-playable in Standard at the least, and that helps buoy their values until rotation. The floor price almost always comes just after they rotate, so I wouldn’t mess with Standard planeswalkers until then (unless you need them to actually, like, play Standard).

There are 16 planeswalkers currently in Standard, which is kind of crazy when you consider that’s more than a quarter of all planeswalkers ever printed. There’s 10 that I believe will be available for between $4 and $5 after rotation, and significantly, never go down from there.

  1. Ajani Steadfast
  2. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
  3. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
  4. Chandra, Pyromaster
  5. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
  6. Jace, the Living Guildpact
  7. Kiora, the Crashing Wave
  8. Liliana Vess
  9. Sorin, Solemn Visitor
  10. Xenagos, the Reveler

Only Jace, the Living Guildpact might go below $4 of these—that guy may indeed end up being buddies with Tibalt. All these others are trade targets at $5, in my opinion. They’ll hold that $5 in perpetuity, and many of them will gain value over time. (We’ll look at past examples of this effect later in this article).

There’s an exception to buying planeswalkers while in Standard, and that’s that there’s almost always a planeswalker that hits it big leading up to and through rotation. We saw it with Jace, Architect of Thought a couple years ago, then both Xenagos, the Reveler and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver last year. The potentials in current Standard for this type of growth are:

  1. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
  2. Sarkhan Unbroken
  3. Narset Transcendant
  4. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
  5. (Sorin, Solemn Visitor)

Sorin is parenthetical because I mentioned him above, but with a current price of around $10, he could fit in this boat. Really, though, all of these cards are a little more expensive than Jace, Xenagos, or Ashiok, and I just don’t feel like any is a great buy right now. At around $8, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker comes closest, but I’d like to see it around $6 before I pull any triggers. It’s not like the card has been blowing up the tournament scene in the last year.

Ugin is interesting, as Karn Liberated‘s history is going to impact the Spirit Dragon’s trajectory in a big way. I don’t believe we will ever see Ugin below $15, and that will likely not be until rotation. Being from a small, middle set means the supply is particularly low, so I would not be surprised to see this outstrip Karn within a few years.

Finally, Garruk Apex Predator and Nissa, Worldwaker will probably not drop to the $5 point where I expect most other current Standard planeswalkers to end up. Any price under $10 for these two cards is probably a good acquisition rate, as these are powerful, evocative, popular, and in low supply. Like the last few core sets, M15 wasn’t overwhelmingly popular.

Eternally Competitive

Very few planeswalkers make it in Modern, and even fewer make it in Legacy. When they do, the price usually reflects it, although to varying degrees.

  1. Ajani Vengeant
  2. Dack Fayden
  3. Elspeth, Knight-Errant
  4. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
  5. Karn Liberated
  6. Liliana of the Veil

It’s a very short list. Elspeth and Ajani both are between $10 and $20, but both have multiple printings to help satisfy demand. The other four or are all $25 or more, with Jace and Liliana pushing up toward $100. Dack gets most of his demand from short supply and Vintage playability, but it’s such a powerhouse in that format that it seems reasonable to add it here.

Still, though, with so few planeswalkers being good enough—and I highly doubt any in Standard will join this list expect perhaps Ugin—the next section is where things get really interesting.

“Bad” Casual Planeswalkers

I’m going to divide the rest of the 59 planeswalkers we haven’t discussed into two groups: “bad” planeswalkers and “good” planeswalkers. I’m basing this on what’s popular in Commander, Cube, and other casual formats, as well as just how frequently I see a card played anywhere. Yes, this is fairly subjective. Deal with it. Fair Trade Prices are as of April 27, 2015, and are listed next to each card.

  1. Ajani, Caller of the Pride $5.48
  2. Chandra Ablaze $8.45
  3. Chandra Nalaar $4.40
  4. Chandra, the Firebrand $4.03
  5. Gideon, Champion of Justice $4.79
  6. Jace, Memory Adept $5.24
  7. Liliana of the Dark Realms $6.39
  8. Nahiri, the Lithomancer $4.76
  9. Nissa Revane $13.28
  10. Sarkhan the Mad $8.38
  11. Sarkhan Vol $10.73
  12. Sorin Markov $14.58
  13. Teferi, Temporal Archmage $5.40
  14. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded $2.91
  15. Vraska the Unseen $3.33

You can certainly argue that some of these deserve to be on the “good” list, but I don’t think there’s much argument that this list closely approximates “the 15 worst planeswalkers ever printed,” give or take one or two that’s still in Standard (with the exception of Jace, Memory Adept, which just doesn’t see a lot of play because it’s too good in small-deck formats and not good enough in big-deck ones).

Note that only two of these planeswalkers are under $4 and only four are between $4 and $5. Many are over $10, some in the face of reprints. The average price of these “bad” planeswalkers is $6.81.

“Good” Casual Planeswalkers

Here are the planeswalkers most often seen in Cube, Commander, and other casual formats, plus ones that were powerhouses in their Standard formats, are liked as characters, or just otherwise popular or powerful. This is everything not mentioned in this article so far:

  1. Ajani Goldmane $10.30
  2. Daretti, Scrap Savant $4.22
  3. Domri Rade $7.08
  4. Elspeth Tirel $12.99
  5. Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury $6.94
  6. Garruk Relentless $3.51
  7. Garruk Wildspeaker $9.23
  8. Garruk, Caller of Beasts $6.19
  9. Garruk, Primal Hunter $7.57
  10. Gideon Jura $4.35
  11. Jace Beleren $9.53
  12. Jace, Architect of Thought $2.82
  13. Koth of the Hammer $6.83
  14. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker $10.25
  15. Ral Zarek $7.09
  16. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad $6.51
  17. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage $19.71
  18. Tezzeret the Seeker $15.91
  19. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas $14.91
  20. Venser, the Sojourner $8.31

Here we have an average price of $8.71, just about $2 over what the “bad” planeswalkers are worth. Pulling the average down are Daretti, Scrap Savant (who Douglas Johnson called out in a recent article) and Jace, Architect of Thought, which is at a shockingly-low $2.82. Yes, this saw a Duel Deck printing, but so did several of the cards on the above list, and they didn’t ever go this low. Jace’s Duel Deck art also has the distinction of being hideous, so you would think the RTR versions would be worth a bit more.

Check out the charts for some of the above cards. Except for the ones that just rotated out of Standard, many have been increasing over the last year. Tamiyo went from $12 to $19. Koth went from $4 to $6. Nicol Bolas went from $4 to $10.

As a general rule that holds true so, so often, planeswalkers go up over time. They almost never go down, except when they rotate from Standard. Even reprints don’t devastate their prices in the same way they devastate other reprinted cards. In many ways, planeswalkers are some of the safest cheap investments you can make.

Besides Jace AOT, Garruk Relentless just seems too low. Sure, it’s not big and flashy for Commander, but it’s fantastic in Cube, only has one printing, and is the only double-sided planeswalker ever printed. For all I know, that last point could actually be a point against it, but double-faced cards really did end up going over very well (and will be back in Magic: Origins).

And the best thing about picking up rotating planeswalkers? Whether they end up in the “good” camp or the “bad” camp, they all tend to go up over time. Isn’t that awesome?

Recurring Nightmare

I’m going to revisit this topic periodically, perhaps every few months, but at least once or twice a year. Planeswalkers perform like nothing else in MTG finance, and that makes them worth a close look on a regular basis.

Have comments? Want to harangue me for calling your favorite planeswalker bad? Or do you want to point out the next hot planeswalker spec? If you have things to say, you know what to do.

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