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Insider: Your Dark Ascension Pre-Order Watchdog

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The opportunity to pre-order spoiled Magic cards has drastically impacted the financial aspects of a new set. It would be a fruitless task to argue otherwise.

I would maintain that, despite this impact on the immediate perceived values of new cards, the ultimate price once a set is released is relatively unaffected. Even though sites like Star City Games have significant influence in the singles market, they still cannot grab hold of the economic “invisible hand” and set prices where they see fit. Ultimately, supply and demand will dictate card values.

To Pre-Order or not to Pre-Order

Actually, this question should virtually never pop into your mind. On average, there have been about 1-2 cards per set that sold for significantly more than pre-order prices after becoming available for sufficient time.

The most notorious example is everyone’s favorite Planeswalker, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Many skeptics, including myself, felt that a 4-mana Planeswalker that dies to Lightning Bolt couldn’t survive in Standard. In Legacy, I was convinced the overpowered Planeswalker would be way too slow to deal with the likes of Tarmogoyf and Ad Nauseam.

We skeptics could not have been more wrong.

The above chart (courtesy of blacklotusproject.com) clearly highlights the opportunity speculators had to make bank on this card during pre-order season. Starting at just $40, the card more than doubled within a year of its release date.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor has been severely punished for his power level, having faced bannings in both Standard and Modern. Despite doubling and halving again in just two short years, I would argue his most impressive feat is his influence on un-released card prices. Because everyone wants to double their money on the next Jace, he has caused many spoiled mythic rares to pre-sell at astronomical [read: laughable] prices.

Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

The most recent evidence of Jace’s influence is the price of the latest Planeswalker spoiled for Dark Ascension: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad:

I won’t even try to argue Sorin’s playability – that much is quickly evident. He is acceptably costed at four mana and even has three loyalty to start, like Jace. But he is no Jace, people! He requires TWO colors of mana to play!

Despite this obvious limitation, people are still insistent on pre-ordering this card at the now-inflated price of $60.

Somehow, logic once again has been tossed out the window by many as they drool over a new Planeswalker. In fact, looking at pure statistics is enough evidence to suggest paying anything more than $35 for a Planeswalker is plain insanity. Other than Jace, there has never been a Planeswalker that exceeded this cost on eBay, although [card Elspeth, Knight Errant]some[/card] [card Gideon Jura] have [/card] [card Liliana of the Veil]come close [/card].

You Already Knew That

Chances are, if you are an active reader on this website, you already knew that preordering Planeswalkers is not the most fiscally sound idea. You also already know that preordering almost any spoiled cards will likely not net you profit.

As I mentioned before, the exceptions are rare and difficult to identify. If they were obvious, the card would not have pre-sold at the lower price. Recent examples include Birthing Pod from New Phyrexia, Stoneforge Mystic from Worldwake, and Seachrome Coast from Scars of Mirrodin.

Looking at the spoiled cards thus far and their pre-sale prices on Star City Games, I can attempt to identify which card from this set will be worth purchasing now. This is a very challenging task – Star City Games has their best financial minds assessing spoiled card values and identifying appropriate pricing. Who am I to claim they have made a mistake on a particular card price?

The best I can offer is a comparison of the newly spoiled cards against historical cards. By drawing these parallels, I can try and predict how the Rares and Mythic Rares will behave once released. This is a task I attempted when Snapcaster Mage was spoiled, and I felt my assessment was reasonable. In rapid fashion, let’s see what we can deduce about the most costly Dark Ascension spoilers so far.

Rapid Fire Comparisons

This transforming Werewolf inspires me to try an aggressive RG build in Standard. He provides four power of attacking for four mana and a source of card advantage when flipping. He currently preorders on Star City Games for $15 (recently reduced from $17.49). Is the old Huntmaster worth it?

Well, Bloodline Keeper // Lord of Lineage can provide a more consistent source of creature advantage each turn, despite needing to tap. He is only a Rare so the comparison isn’t direct, but his $4 price tag suggests to me that the Huntmaster may not linger at this high of a price point for long.

The upper bound on Huntmaster is certainly Geist of Saint Traft, which provides six power of attacking and Hexproof for just three mana. Currently retailing at $20, this creature can be found for under $15 on sites like eBay. In summary, Huntmaster would need to see more play than Geist in order to justify its current pre-order price tag – this just doesn’t seem likely.

Havengul Lich provides some powerful recurrence power. He may be able to find a home in some UB control decks running cards like Snapcaster Mage. Is his $15 presale price tag justifiable? Possibly, but he would again need to see as much play as Geist of Saint Traft. Lacking Evasion or Hexproof is a large downside, though remaining outside of Incinerate range is a plus.

I am on the fence with this card. I could be convinced that Havengul Lich will make a splash, earning a $20 price tag in the long term. With all the recent synergistic cards that interact with creatures in the graveyard, he even has potential to shift the metagame and see $30. History does not indicate this likely, however. It’s much more possible that this card sells for under $15 on eBay within a short month or two after Dark Ascension’s release.

A 7-mana 3/5 creature needs to have incredible abilities in order to be playable. His life-gaining power and built-in card advantage are certainly points in Drogoskul’s favor. But is he truly worth preordering at $10?

He would need to trump other finishers in control decks, such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Consecrated Sphinx. Both of these cards sell on eBay for around $12. Therefore, should Drogoskul find his way into Esper control or U/W control builds, he may in fact be worth purchasing now. Though, when you factor in shipping and a potential upside reward of $2, it hardly seems worthwhile.

The last financially noteworthy (>$5) card spoiled from Dark Ascension as of January 14th is Falkenrath Aristocrat. With this Vampire, we can try to predict her future value by comparing her to her long-lost cousin Olivia Voldaren. The abnormally-legged Vampire peaked at $9 and now sells on eBay for close to $8.

Falkenrath Aristocrat is currently priced at $9 on Star City Games. When comparing this price tag to that of Olivia, it seems this Vampire is priced reasonably. If she sees more play than Olivia, she may even break into double digits. Her indestructible tendencies are a significant help, but she would have to find a RB deck to fit into. While one doesn’t exist quite yet, the possibility is nonzero.

In Summary

Among the cards from Dark Ascension selling on Star City Games for over $5, it doesn’t seem like there are any huge profiting opportunities. A card like Drogoskul Reaver or Falkenrath Aristocrat may see an increase of a few dollars, but this is far from guaranteed.

There may be some cheaper rare that is pre-selling for $2 with significant potential. None leap out at me at the moment, but there is probably one or two. Either way, this is not a risk I am comfortable taking. Even if one of these rare cards does break out, there will likely be a small window of time where I can purchase a playset at a reasonable price anyway.

-Sigmund Ausfresser
@sigfig8

14 thoughts on “Insider: Your Dark Ascension Pre-Order Watchdog

    1. Thanks for the comment! I know there will be no shortage of articles these next couple weeks which will attempt to predict the exact value of every relevant spoiled card. That seems like a tedious guessing game if you ask me. I try to approach the paradigm from a broader viewpoint so that the information I share can be reapplied to future sets as well. Hopefully this came through in my article in an interesting way.

  1. Great article Sig. I agree with everything you said here. I really think the Aristocrat is going to be huge (he reminds me of Giant Solifuge) but don't plan on jumping on board… yet. (Could be a mistake, as I see him as being the best value ATM :P) Huntsmaster also seems really good, kinda like a "Master of the Wild Hunt" that's harder to use, but if that's any indication of playability he's capped at around $8.

    Funny story about Bloodline keeper since you'd mentioned him in passing. I play a rogue Jund build in Standard right now and had 3x of them in play all at once with 4 other tokens. Swinging for 59 sure felt good :).

    1. Carl, thanks for the kind comments! There has to be a few solid cards from Dark Ascension that will make their way into Tier 1 decks. This doesn’t mean they will all double in price, however. Your mention of Master of the Wild Hunt is a great example – I missed that one! More evidence of the mythic rare price ceiling on these type of beatdown creatures.

      I like Bloodline Keeper a lot. I only own 1, but I am keeping my eye on them as possible speculation targets. Still not moving in yet though. 59 damage is a lot!

  2. I just bought a playset of Nobles as a preorder off eBay for $28 shipped to Canada. I'm taking the risk because I can see this as having HUGE potential in ANY aggressive deck, and I think too many people are going to be wearing the "It ONLY goes into a vampire deck" blinders. This guy is going to be a 4x in ANY aggressive strategy that does not involve lashwrithe. He's a buy IMHO. When I started comparing him to how played Giant Solifuge was back in the day it made me get in. DoJ the board? Cool, I recover with this guy and swing. I can see mono red splashing black the way vampires used to splash red in order to use him/her/it! lol. Even if it gets returned to hand you don't lose tempo next turn, and it flies over wurmcoils, and can sac a creture after blockers are declared to prevent any kind of lifelink, which is a HUGE added bonus that I just thought of! He is so far my "pick"… take that how you will!

    1. I really hope it works out for you! I don't see her value dropping too much if things sputter out, so overall it's not a bad buy. And it sounds like you found a great preorder price on eBay.

      My hesitation is precisely that she is strong only in a deck that runs black and red. Currently that number is near 0. The awesome human cards and the new Sorin will be great for Black / White. The sweet graveyard creature interaction decks will heavily use green. As you put it, we are now looking at a scenario where red deck wins needs to splash black for the Aristocrat. In today's metagame that may be the best place for her. And I think she may fit in decently, though most red decks want to curve to Koth at 4-drop and this does not synergize well with him.

      So net, I'm still tepid on her and I place her in a group comparable to Olivia Voldaren. Perhaps additional spoilers will sway my vote 🙂

  3. What do you guys think about Visions from Beyond now that there's a new set with getting-cards-into-the-Graveyard and playing-things-out-of-the-graveyard applications?

    1. I own a set of Visions from Beyond just in case it sees play. They are certainly cheap enough to purchase as a small speculative play. As of right now, I'm not as confident that the card will break out but I am definitely keeping an eye on it.

      My biggest disappointment is Skaab Ruinator. As more cards get spoiled from Dark Ascension, I am growing in confidence that the 5/6 flier will not see constructed play. Hopefully I'm proven wrong.

      1. ^ I am also disapointed in Ruinator… thought for sure he'd make a splash (finally!) and realize his potential. At best I see him as a 1 or 2x in self mill as a "backup plan" after a DoJ or something. You CAN still mill him into the yard to cast him, but I doubt he'll see much play right out of your hand as there are not enough set-ups (yet) to make him a consistent 3 drop that doesn't interfere w/ a conflicting splinterfright / cagebreakers plan (he's like a nonbo in that deck).

        I DO own > 50 Visions of beyond, however, so I'm on that ship at least :). Also looking at Birthing pods right now because of the GG-Geist and undying mechanic.

        LOL sorry if I'm spamming your post Sig! I just love these speculatory conversations! 🙂 Hope I'm feeling well enough to pick up my pen again soon!

        1. Lol, no worries, Carl. I always appreciate the comments!

          I sure hope you’re right on Visions of Beyond. I love the flavor of the card, and it seems breakable in the right environment. Let me know how it pans out!

  4. Interesting thoughts on the mythics spoiled so far. You know I am definitely on board with Huntmaster. Take a look at my article tomorrow if you are still not convinced. On the note of Drogskul Reaver, I think he will initially drop below five dollars and if that is the case, I think his long term value is going to be high so it would be a buy for me at that point. Same goes for the Lich as well. Both of those card I feel will be underestimated at first which will drop the price significantly. Fingers crossed for both Visions of Beyond and Skaab Ruinator. Even just small bumps would be great. Looking forward to more specing!

  5. With Skaab I am still planning on him being nasty at some point in his life in standard. I banked hard on Abyssal Persecutors but we all know Jace/Stoneforge screwed many many cards out of seeing play that could have during that time period. Anyways back to Ruinator, he is insanely low imho right now and I'm thinking about pulling harder than ever. If something shows up the sites will raise him in a second flat. Regulars at 2.50 foils at 10????? Hmm they don't wanna lower foils for some reason. Also you guys think Angelic Overseer might be headed in a playable direction? Any opinions on that one?

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