Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Revenue Review, where this week I’m going to explore the factors that have pushed Stoneforge Mystic to a $20 pricetag. Noah Whinston touched on this earlier in the week, but I plan on taking a different approach and break down the exact economic factors that have led to the card’s rise.
Before I get into that, I want to share a few stories from the PTQ I played in last week, one of which is the best Magic story I’m ever going to have. If you’re not interested in what (I think) are interesting PTQ stories and just want the financials, CTRL+F to “How we got here.”
I played GW Trap, and I think the deck is very powerful, though I certainly wish I had packed Qasali Pridemage in the main (probably over Fauna Shamans), because Sword of Feast and Famine was the only card to beat me on the day. I open up Round 1 by getting paired against the top-ranked player in the State, setting up the No. 1 vs. No. 2 "feature match," where he was able to Mistbind Clique me out of running games while I have Fatties hidden under lands. Both my match losses on the day also included mulligans to five, so there’s that too.
I’m playing Game 2 against Faeries after taking Game 1, and we’ve each flooded the board, though none of it is very impressive. I have a few Hideaway lands with the best thing being a Cloudgoat Ranger under a Mosswort Bridge, and a couple blanks. I’ve got some Hierarchs, Nest Invaders, and Birds of Paradise in play.
I finally draw a Primeval Titan and cast it. It resolves and I search up two Windbrisk Heights, hoping to find an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or a Cloudthresher. One Heights turns up a Hierarch while the other finds a Razorverge Thicket. Of course, he untaps and plays Sower of Temptation, stealing my Titan. I draw for my turn and see Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, which is the card I ALWAYS drew after whiffing on Hideaway. I ship the turn back, and he just swings with Titan, grabbing 2 Creeping Tar Pits.
I know I only have one draw step, and I have a few outs. I draw Summoning Trap, which is pretty solid. I don’t want to mainphase it so I can try to play around a second Sower. He activates both Tar Pits and swings with the team. I Trap, and finding a Cloudthresher or Emrakul should win me the game. Instead, the only relevant card I see is my second Cloudgoat Ranger. I throw it on the board and go deep into the tank. After a ton of thought (and math), I eventually tap the three tokens to give my Ranger flying, use my Mutavault to activate itself and get exactly to 10 power, and use my Hierarch to play my second Cloudgoat Ranger from under the Bridge. After another few minutes in the tank to double-check my math, I chump a Vendillion Clique with Birds, Sower with flying Ranger, and throw 5 toughness in front of the Titan to go to 1 life, and I’m able to untap into exactly lethal.
Now for the story I’ve been teasing on Twitter, which is the most epic game win I’m ever going to have. Round 4 against Faeries, I lose Game 1 to being stuck on 5 mana sources for Turns 3-7 with two Titans and a Trap in hand until eventually a Sword did me in.
Game 2. I draw 7. Six lands, Titan. Mull to 6. Five lands, Emrakul. Mull to 5. 4 lands, Cloudthresher. Mull to 4. No lands. Mull to 3. 2Nest Invaders and a Lotus Cobra. Snap keep. I’m on the play, so I choose to not play a land and I pass the turn. Turn 1 he Thoughtseizes away my Cobra. I topdeck Windbrisk Heights like a champ and even hide an Emrakul.
Turns 2 and 3 he plays back-to-back Bitterblossoms. I whiff on land for a turn but play, then draw a Murmuring Bosk. I play out a Nest Invader, and he Sowers it to keep me off getting to three attackers. I draw a Bridge, play it and hide a Cloudthresher underneath and play my second Invader. He attacks me down to 4 and passes the turn. He casts Vendillion Clique during my draw step, sending back a Trap. Now it gets sick.
Untap, enter attack phase. No Cryptic Command. Attack with my team, lose all three to blocks. Pay a life from my Bosk to cast Emrakul. Take an extra turn. Use Bosk to activate Bridge and play Cloudthresher, killing all his blockers and taking myself down to 1 life. This allows my Emrakul to swing for the win due to his Bitterblossom damage, even though he had about 15 permanents.
Yeah, I won off a mull to 3 with no lands on the play, AND he had a Thoughtseize, double-Blossom start. I figure nothing I do in my Magic career is ever going to match that. For sweet justice, I rolled him Game 3.
Okay, time for some Finance. I hope you found that at least somewhat entertaining, I’m not sure I’m able to do either of those situations justice with words.
How we got here
As a note, I’ll be using BlackLotusProject.com prices. As has been well documented, Stoneforge Mystic first picked up playability after the emergence of “Boss Naya,” and the card spiked to $5, where it stayed for a few months before dipping to about $3 apiece in Summer 2010. It began to steadily gain value after the release of Scars, and saw some Legacy play as well. Back to the present, the card blew up at Pro Tour: Paris and now fetches $15 a copy.
But why? Why is the little Mystic That Could one of the very few select non-Mythic cards to break $10? To understand the Mystic, we need to go back a little ways and say hello to our friend Maelstrom Pulse.
At its peak, Maelstrom Pulse fetched $17 apiece on BLP. By today’s standards that’s insane for a card with a gold, not orange, expansion symbol on it. The card carried a $15 price tag for months and still fetches $10 due to its use in Extended.
When we think about what affects a card’s price, a few obvious things come to mind. Playability. For 99 percent of new cards, that means Type 2. Rarity. Non-mythic rares typically flatline around $5 or lower, and Mythics apparently have a ceiling of $100 and a basement of $2, with massive variation in between. Casual appeal. Random cards like Archive Trap can fetch a couple dollars because casual players like mill.
With Maelstrom Pulse, it passes most of these tests. Not only was it heavily played in Standard, it even made a splash in Extended and a few rare appearances in Legacy. Stoneforge Mystic is along the same lines. 4-of in Standard, big Extended player and solid Legacy contributor, while also being a popular EDH or kitchen-table card.
The answer may seem obvious, but its something that many Magic players, and even Magic financiers, tend to overlook. It’s a simple problem of supply. Economics 101. The Vintage scene has been hiding the key to Stoneforge Mystic all along, who knew?
Worldwake, the set Mystic was printed in, was opened in disastrously small numbers. There are a few reasons why. First, the ZZW format was almost as mindless as ZZZ, and not a good drafting format at all. Secondly, and more importantly, Rise of the Eldrazi came along and did away with Worldwake entirely. This means Worldwake was only opened for 2 months. Simply put, there is just a massive disparity between the number of Mystics and Misty Rainforests on the market, even though the fetchland is much more heavily played.
While this effect is much more easily seen in Jace the Mind Sculptor, where it contributed to a “perfect storm” to create the first-ever $100 Standard card, it has trickled down to the other cards in the set. Cards like Abyssal Persecutor and Avenger of Zendikar have inflated pricetags as well, despite only seeing marginal play.
"$20 Stoneforge Mystics?"
We should have seen this coming
“But Corbin, how could have we known a random niche rare would hit $20?”
Because we’ve already seen it happen.
Remember Maelstrom Pulse?
Just like Mystic, Pulse came from a small set that wasn’t drafted for very long. This showed us the effect that simple card availability had on prices. While Pulse was a high-dollar card from the get-go, unlike Mystic, it served to show us the ceiling for rares in the post-Mythic era, and the set as a whole shows us the effect that limited supply has on prices. Remember must-have cards from Alara Reborn such as Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Dragon Broodmother, Nemesis of Reason and Mind Funeral? I didn’t think so. But all these cards still sell for way more than their peers from other sets would seem to indicate. Alara Reborn laid out the roadmap for us, but an overwhelming majority of financial writers (I don't remember anyone calling it last summer) couldn’t find the highway when Worldwake came around. People kept calling a cap on Jace as it went from $50 to $60 to $80 dollars, and each time it climbed higher.
Now, I’m proud of the fact that I caught on to Stoneforge Mystic before its latest and greatest price surge, but in retrospect I’m actually a bit embarrassed I wasn’t on board when the card hit $3 last summer. Did I really expect Mirrodin to not contain playable equipment? After Sword of Body and Mind was spoiled, did we really not see more broken swords coming? Sword of Light and Shadow and Sword of Fire and Ice still see Legacy play. Why wouldn’t the rest of the cycle see Standard play, especially when there’s a ready-made tutor available at $3 a copy?
What Stoneforge Mystic and Maelstrom Pulse have done is clearly demonstrate what can happen to rares from a small set that isn’t drafted. Jace grabbed all the headlines with Worldwake, but the factors that led to it being a $100 card aren’t unique to the Mind Sculptor himself – they are prevalent with every card in Worldwake.
This is a lesson we need to remember when the new set comes out, whether it’s Mirrodin Pure or New Phyrexia. Playable cards out of the set will have a higher ceiling than their counterparts from Scars or Besieged. Casual demand cards such as Mind Funeral are going to carry a strong price tag from the set, and I know I’m going to be on the lookout for the sleeper hits from the set because there is going to be money to be made after rotation. I encourage you all to do the same, and be on the lookout for these “sleepers” while the high-dollar cards from the set grab all the headlines.
Until then, I hope your mulligan’s to 3 work out as well as mine.
@Chosler88 on Twitter