Welcome back to the Precon Buyer's Guide! We took a short diversion last week to discuss the latest entries in the intro deck community (the New Phyrexia five) and are back on track to discuss the Vintage Era of the precons.
The Vintage Era begins at the darn of the format, with 1997's Tempest. Along with the usual booster packs and starter boxes, Wizards put together a quartet of decks using only Tempest cards, each wrapped around a specific theme. They were enough of a success to continue on with Stronghold, and they would have a run that would only end once the "Intro Pack" concept of 41-cards-and-a-booster replaced them beginning in 2008 (with Shards of Alara). Not a bad run!
Today we'll be looking at those Tempest decks, as well as every other theme deck up through and including 2002's Judgment. We'll continue to use the format we've employed in the Modern and Classic Era writeups, but some of the following bears repeating:
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
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.
Now, let's open the vault, and explore the treasures within!
The first of many, here we have the Tempest decks. Quite solidly constructed, you might be surprised at how well they were made considering the modern intro pack draws on more sets than Tempest had recourse to; no Core Set filler here! As always, you can wait for a deal on eBay, or hold your nose and pay retail. MTG Fanatic seems to be the moost competitive here, and their stock level for most of the decks we'll be discussing today are rather impressive (alternately: they're sitting on a ton of very slow-moving inventory). Unless you're an absolute perfectionist (and wealthy to boot) don't even consider buying The Slivers here. You can buy the singles and make the deck yourself for a fraction of the cost.
Nothing surprising here. Obviously Spikes never took off in the same way that Slivers did. How many of you knew that the Kor had roots this far back?
When Troll and Toad has things in stock, they tend to be one of the best vendors in terms of pricing, and that's little different here. There weren't any theme decks from Tempest block that stood head and shoulders above the others, with the obvious exception of the Slivers. As we've discussed when covering later iterations of the deck (Sliver Shivers, Sliver Evolution), casual players have kept the collectibility of the Sliver decks high. Wizards is far from oblivious from this, but missed the mark in 2009 when they chose the Sliver tribe to man the maiden voyage of the Premium Deck Series. The deck- 60 cards, all foil- was a commercial disappointment, as Wizards misjudged the attachment many kitchen table players feel towards foil cards (nice to get, but not worth massively overpaying for). The occasional bargain you can stumble across is represented here in the Amazon price.
Even within the Vintage Era, you could further subdivide out Tempest and Urza blocks into the "Golden Age." They're harder to find, and hold their value exceedingly well. As we'll see in Mercadian Masques, the decks begin to drop in price and become much more content-dependent in establishing value, but for the first two blocks, the cachet of the name is frequently enough.
In contrast to the Amazon bargain above, this is a bit more illustrative of what we tend to see on their marketplace: prices higher than the norm, and occasionally absurd. The Blue/White Radiant's Revenge is no doubt a fine deck, but hardly worth $35. Crusher trends a bit higher than its companions due to the inclusion of Defense of the Heart, itself priced at around $10 alone.
The third set of the block, Urza's Destiny decks are quite a bit harder to come by. StarCityGames has underwhelmed me with their precon pricing in general, but sometimes you're forced to settle. The good news is that their prices here are fairly reasonable relative to the block.
Rebel's Call is the easy all-star out of Mercadian Masques. The set introduced a pair of opposing creature mechanics in the Rebels (White) and Mercenaries (Black). In each case, the creature could go into your library to 'recruit' another of its brethren onto the battlefield. The Rebels could tutor for creatures more expensive than they were, while the Mercenaries were restricted to tutor for ones cheaper than they. Wonder which one saw more tournament play?
Aaaand here come our Mercenary friends, at about half the cost as the Rebels. The concept still resonated with players due to its inherent card advantage and toolbox-style fixing (letting you get what you needed when you needed it), so it does see a small premium over the other Nemesis decks.
What happened here? The prices spiked right back up to the Urza block level after a very pleasant depression over the previous two sets. For one, Prophecy was affected by "third-set syndrome," meaning that, of the three sets in a block, it's the one that's on sale the least amount of time. But there's more to it than just that to account for such a jump.
For one thing, look at Distress, which has the Avatar of Woe as one of its rares. As we mentioned in our introductory post for the Buyer's Guide, one of the three reasons for high precon prices is inertia. The Avatar was very popular when Prophecy was released, and precon decks tend to decline very slowly in pricing. You can grab an Avatar for no more than five bucks these days, but her precon hasn't reflected that inconvenient truth.
Channel Fireball and Troll and Toad have the right of it here: these decks should be sub-$10. The rares tend toward the pedestrian side, and it was the first set in the block. Even still, the block overall is fairly cheap to acquire, as we'll see next...
Planeshift's decks are even less than Invasion's, and finding a set for four for around $30 on eBay is not uncommon. We saw this with Saviors of Kamigawa in our last article, where a glut on the market helps keep prices depressed. Skip right past ABU and Star City Games on this one, and you'll save yourself quite a bit of money.
The last set in Invasion Block, Apocalypse's enemy-colors-matter theme decks tend to be a bit harder to find, and naturally more expensive. Burial had Phyrexian Arena as one of its rares, itself commanding a couple of dollars, but there's little cause for the others. Pandemonium is particularly disturbing: the great majority of the cards there can be had for twenty cents or less, and many for around a nickel. It's rares (Last Stand and Penumbra Wurm) together cost less than a buck. Why the inflated cost? Five-color decks have tended to have something of a novelty factor, but those who have played Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs The Coalition will have something of a deja vu experience playing Panedmonium.
With Apocalypse, the great saga of the Weatherlight Saga came to an end, and it was time for a new story and a fresh start. It was important to Wizards for Odyssey to feel fundamentally different from previous sets in order to establish that clean break, and to a large degree they succeeded. Fortunately for us, the somewhat goofily-named theme decks are quite easy to acquire should we wish to revisit Otaria.
As it happens, if you're pining for Otaria, Odyssey is the way to go. Torment's novel gimmick was to give a heavy focus to black in the set. There were many more black cards than any color, and even the theme decks were all black paired with another color. These decks are hard to find, and they don't come cheap. Notably, Sacrilege carries an Ichorid, which retails for around $5.
Judgment, naturally, has four different decks - none of which feature the color black. If you're a Commander player you might consider ponying up for Spectral Slam, which has a copy of the format staple Mirari's Wake. As ever, there's little accounting for such discrepancies as the prices asked for by Troll and Toad versus StarCityGames here.
We hope that you've found some information of value with this segment of the Precon Buyer's Guide. We'll be back next week with what should be the final installment in the series, with the miscellaneous products and Core Set decks, as well as some final thoughts on the vendors. See you then!
Announcing our giveaway winner!
Last week we had a giveaway contest for a copy of Devouring Skies, one of the five new New Phyrexia intro decks. Our thanks to all who participated, but alas there can be only one. Our winner is Varo. Congratulations, Varo! We'll be in touch!