Last week, we took a look at the 'Modern Era' of preconstructed decks, covering all expansions from Time Spiral through Mirrodin Besieged. Today we'll be going back in time to the Classic Era, which spanned from 2002's Onslaught through 2006's Coldsnap. This was a tumultuous time in Magic's history. Mirrodin block, with it's abusive affinity-based decks, dominated Standard, and the follow-up Kamigawa Block was widely panned as being too parasitic and, for many, rather underwhelming. Consequently, this was a period of exodus for many Magic players, who hung up their life counters and either shelved or liquidated their collections.
2005's Ravnica: City of Guilds, however, was a bright and triumphant flare shot into the darkening sky: Magic was back, and better than ever! Easily one of the game's most successful expansions, Ravnica began to undo the damage wrought over the previous two years. The Era finally rounded out with the 'lost set' of Coldsnap, a one-of expansion designed to endcap the Ice Age block (replacing Homelands in the process).
Today we take a look at the theme decks of the era. Some details from last week should be included here, namely our list of players in the retail marketplace and disclaimer.
ABU Games (ABU): Boise, Idaho’s “Alpha Beta Unlimited”
Channel Fireball (CFB): Well-established game store and top-tier article site in San Jose, California
Card Kingdom (CK): Game store in Seattle, Washinton looking to expand its brand. Recently became sponsor of Limited Resources podcast.
MTG Fanatic (Fanatic): A game store and article site/forum community in Houston, Texas
StarCityGames (SCG): One of the leading presences in the game right now, from store to articles to the SCG Open Series of cash tournaments. Located in Roanoke, Virginia
Troll and Toad (TT): Located in Corbin, Kentucky, they claim to be the largest retailer of Magic cards in the world (in both stock and sales)
Amazon (Amazon): Amazon acts essentially as a brokerage, putting the consumer in touch with the inventory of a large number of smaller, independent retailers for precon decks. Rather than identify any specific retailer (since they vary from deck to deck), I’ll be using the best price available for that item, but as you’ll see these often act as something of an outlier and don’t reflect a serious cost.
DISCLAIMER: The following data tables reflect a good-faith effort to collect retailer pricing from the retailers’ websites directly. These figures are a snapshot taken no earlier than April 5th, 2011 and may not reflect current pricing and stock with completeness or accuracy. Many sites list their price for an item even if they do not carry it in stock. I will not be reporting these, not least because they can often be inaccurate; the retailer will update a price if there is demand, but often wait until they update their inventory.
With that out of the way, let's get down to business!
Still relatively easy to find for the most part, Onslaught's theme decks tended to emphasize the set's tribal nature as well as mechanics such as morph. The most difficult one to find at a resonable cost is probably Ivory Doom, a White/Black Cleric-based deck. White/Black decks have tended to be fairly uncommon constructions in recent times, though the 'Vintage Era' has a number of them (such as Stronghold's Call of the Kor and Torment's Sacrilege).
Here's where Onslaught Block starts to get fun, as the tribal element really came to the forefront with Legions. Morph Mayhem is the set's odd-man out, easily available at a bargain price, but as you can see all three others have held a fairly solid price as a reflection of the fact that they represent some of the game's more popular tribes. Sliver Shivers in particular commands a solid premium, but again can easily be assembled on the cheap if you're not hung up on packaging.
Of the four here, only Goblin Mob has clung to value, again, due to its tribal theme. The rest of the lot can be picked up for a relative song.
Bait & Bludgeon was the original affinity deck, and thus has held some value for the nostalgic and/or masochistic. Little Bashers is a white weenie-and-equipment deck, and highly overvalued. The other two can be had relatively cheaply, with Sacrificial Bam a painful lesson in some of the excesses of the day (see: Disciple of the Vault)
Notice anything missing? You can't buy Transference (the deck centered around the modular keyword) for love or money. Maybe it has something to do with the twin [card Skullclamp]Skullclamps[/card] it contains? If you're hellbent-for-leather to get one, you'll need around $25-30 on eBay. Plus shipping. The others are about what you'd expect for the set, whose decks can be a little scarce.
We have more of the same from the block's final set, hovering around the $10 mark as with Darksteel. There's no accounting for StarCityGames's price hike here, which stands in stark contrast to their competitors. Again, probably marked high once upon a time and never came down.
For one reason or another, contrary to expectations this set has some of the scarcer theme decks in the block. Way of the Warrior, a monowhite bushido deck packed with Samurai, tops the chartsfollowed closely by Snake's Path. The other two are very common and easily found for less.
Rats' Nest contains an Umezawa's Jitte, and carries the pricetag to match. The mono-Blue Ninjutsu is high here, but can be scored for less on eBay. For example,I bought mine for around $7 not long ago.
Don't let Amazon, ABU Games, or Star City fool you- these are amongst the easiest to acquire and cheapest theme decks you'll ever find. Sets of all four routinely go for around $20 on eBay, and paying anything more for them is criminal. These are constantly available, and were the victim of either an excessive print run or a depressing demand.
Like Champions of Kamigawa before it, the theme decks from the first set in the block have tended to hold their value the most. Unlike previous sets, though, each theme deck in this block was given a very specific identify, tied to one of the ten different unique guilds that inhabited the cityscape of Ravnica. This set launched with some very attractive ones, the red-white Boros, blue-black Dimir, and green-black Golgari being the most popular, and they have reflected this by holding their value (as well as by being relatively scarce).
While the black-white Code of the Orzhov has similarly retained value with its popular color combination and mechanics, the Gruul and Izzet decks are staple fodder and can be acquired easily.
Finally we arrive at the third set of the block, and to our delight find that none of the three Guilds represented here have ever really caught fire. Whether players were simply tired of the guild concept or the earlier ones just that much sexier it's hard to say, but those on a budget looking to sample the set will find this a very appealing starting point.
Last but not least, we have the odd-set out, Coldsnap. A one-of special set, these decks had a certain novelty factor in containing reprints of cards, with updated card frames, from Ice Age and Alliances in the new card frame design (including color-coded rarity). Kjeldoran Cunning, a blue-white Soldiers deck, is the standout here though the deck itself is relatively lackluster. Again, those on a budget might look at the very reasonable prices at Channel Fireball... for three of the decks, anyway.
That concludes this week's Magic Beyond the Box and our tour through the retail world of the Classic Era of precons. We'll be back next week with a look at the decks from Judgment all the way back to Tempest, where the theme decks had their genesis. See you then!