On September 20, Christmas again came early for speculators everywhere. Wizards of the Coast decided to unban and unrestrict some cards and we are going to talk today about why some of them are winners and others are losers. At 12am they announced the changes and at 12:03, I had an email going out to Insiders about the changes with my suggestions. I'll fill you in on how I made such quick decisions and why they have been pretty accurate. First off, here's the email:
Valakut is unbanned in Modern. Pick up Valakuts, obviously, but Scapeshift
and Prismatic Omen are also critical parts of the Valakut Modern deck.
Burning Wish is unrestricted in Vintage; honestly, you can get in on this
if you want but Vintage is such a small market that I don't anticipate
LASTING profits from Burning Wishes becoming available. Foil Wishes are
still a fine acquisition.
Go forth and profit!
Why isn't Valakut just blowing up?
Valakut, the unbanned Modern land, should be exploding in price as a prime speculation target. However, it has been slowly climbing in price. On Ebay, they were closing for about $1 apiece before the unbanning and now they are up to about $3.25 per copy. I was not strong on the card at unbanning and I'm still not sold on it bringing high gains. These are my reasons:
Promo copies: Valakut was the promo for Zendikar, which was a hugely-attended prerelease due to the Hidden Treasures promotion. Lots of people got their copies and got rid of them or stuffed them in a binder.
Low casual play: I've got a copy of the land for my Commander deck and I'm sure lots of people have one or two, but Valakut isn't exactly a deck that screams to be built in casual circles. It's not something like Quicksilver Amulet or Tortured Existence where you want to build something unique and awesome. It just rewards you for playing with a whole lot of Mountains. This isn't sexy.
Low in-deck need: Thanks to Scapeshift (we'll get to it), Valakut decks can get away with running only one or two of the namesake card and still burn someone out easily. Primeval Titan helps with this, too. Since you don't need four copies of it, the overall demand will be lower.
Low price history: Valakut was the centerpiece of an unfun and linear ramp strategy that tore up Standard pretty seriously. Throughout its reign, Valakut was only about $3. People simply cannot remember a time where they were paying $8 for a copy of it, so they are less inclined to pay that much for it now.
When you add all of this together, you can predict about a $2-3 rise on the card. Now on MTGO, this will still get you a lot of tickets, but paper Magicians have to worry about more transaction fees eating into their profits. This is a perfect card to dump into a buylist paying $2 for the copies you bought much more cheaply. I put together this information quickly when the updates were announced, mainly because I remember Valakut in Standard. However, if you're a newer player, you could go look at price histories on Black Lotus Project to get a sense of the historical ceiling on the card.
To be frank, I do not think Valakut is a good Modern strategy. That will not stop legions of people from trying it, though.
Shifting Your Perspective
A small gallery of shifting related cards:
(also coulda called this section "full of shift," suggest your puns in the comments)
Scapeshift has been an excellent speculation target in the past. Small brag time, I remember when Zendikar came out and I think Olivier Ruel mentioned that Scapeshift would be good for it. I bought a set for a quarter apiece and only wished I'd bought twenty more - it went on to smash up Extended.
At its height, Scapeshift was commanding $10+ in Extended. It was a potent combination and it won the game outright when it worked. While Valakut's price memory held it back, Scapeshift can get past that. It's an obvious power card and you want four of them in your deck to maximize the "I win" scenarios. People know that the card can be worth ten bucks when the card is good. It's also a really obvious target. This is important because you can have a really good spec target in mind, but if nobody puts it in a deck, the card gathers mold. I've had scenarios like that before; I think Desert was and is still pretty great in Modern, but nobody else is trying it out - it won't go anywhere. On the other hand, Scapeshift is the first place you look when you see that Valakut is unbanned. That makes it a great card to buy up to flip.
Prismatic Omen: Unique Effect, Great Price
I think when Wizards printed Prismatic Omen that they thought it was fairly costed. This card is wildly undercosted for its effect. It reads 1G: not care about mana colors ever. It also has the really potent ability of turning on "lands matter" cards. Neither of these abilities got much play before, so it made sense at the time that this card would not go anywhere. Well, not much further than my Last Stand casual deck, at least.
Prismatic Omen was phenomenal in the Scapeshift deck because it made everything into a mountain, even your Valakuts. You could run zero Mountains in your deck and still make Valakut kill someone if you had the Omen in play, and you could shift into two Valakuts and have them count each other in the final kill tally. It's because of this that Prismatic Omen went up to $15+ during its Extended run.
Just like with Scapeshift, this was a good call for speculation because the market knew it was good and was willing to pay a lot for it. It's from an older set and it has a lot of casual appeal outside of just Scapeshift. Everyone likes to fix their manabases easily and this is a good card for 4+color Commander decks. There's very little chance of seeing a reprint on it, either. I think Wizards knows that this set of abilities on a 1G card are just a little too potent.
Staying Out of Wargate
Wargate is another Scapeshift deck card and it's potentially really good - you can get Prismatic Omen or your Valakuts with it, for example. However, Wargate is a total crank to cast if you don't have the Omen in play, which limits it. Even if you do get it fired off, you've spent 3-5 mana for it. That could be too slow in Modern, and you've got to run it through Spell Pierces to resolve it. Wargate is a fine third-string speculation target. Things like Valakut are the guaranteed spec targets, and Scapeshift is a good second-string spec; it's pretty easy to figure out that you should use this card. I'd classify Helm of Obedience and the Leyline of the Void combo in the second tier, too - if you know about it, you can see the power, but you're a bit a loss for the application. Wargate, though, takes some real effort to make work; you've got to know why you should use it and it also has to make the final cut in the deck.
Wargate is fine to keep an eye on, though; they are about 60 cents right now on TCGPlayer and if the Scapeshift/Valakut deck goes anywhere, it might pack Wargates. There will be plenty of time to pick up Wargates if that deck actually plays them, but I would avoid getting stuck with hundreds of these right now. That the market isn't warm to the card at this point is a really good indicator that it will stay an unloved spell.
It's simple to look at the price history of Wargate and realize that this card wasn't huge, even when it was part of a very important Extended deck.
Burning Wish is Full of Vintage History But Lacks Action
Burning Wish was unrestricted in Vintage, so let me tell you how it got sent away in the first place.
Burning Wish was part of a deck called Long.dec, which used Lion's Eye Diamond. You'd play LED, cast Burning Wish and then use LED in response. Your wish would get... Yawgmoth's Will! You could cast the Will with LED mana and then replay the LEDs to get more mana before flashing back your graveyard and killing the poor opponent with Tendrils of Agony. Yes, it was degenerate. This was even worse because Wishes used to be able to get Exiled cards. You could Wish for a Yawgmoth's Will early, cast it, then get it back later with another Wish!
These days, however, LEDs are gone and Spell Pierces are common. Combination decks have not been a part of Vintage for a long time - its axis is currently Bazaar of Bagdad - Mishra's Workshop - Dark Confidant and storm does not slot in as a primary strategy with any of these. Burning Wish will solve none of this. Even if it did, there are too few Vintage events to drive Burning Wish's price. It hit about $10 earlier this year and is around $13 now. Not big returns, nor big reactions from the market. The takeaway here is that Vintage unrestrictions will very rarely create awesome spec targets.
Developing Your Speculation Sense
A lot of my quick response was due to following Magic for a long time, and you do get the benefit of vets like myself with you Insider subscription. Over time, though, you will develop your own memory of cards, and it's easy to do. Just follow the trends and the fun, winning decks in Magic and you'll be fine! Even when cards are unbanned out of the blue, you tend to have about an hour to scoop up everything that you'd want before the cards are gone from the internet. There are also plenty of other speculation opportunities that don't involve the four nights a year when Wizards gives attentive people free cash. You can use the same techniques of evaluating price history and potential when analyzing hot spoiled cards and new Standard breakouts.
Until next week,