OK, so KISS, a band with three talented cosplay enthusiasts and one talented musician-cosplay enthusiast, wrote a pretty good song called “Detroit, Rock City.” It’s got a sweet guitar riff and it tells a story where the narrator dies in the third verse and still manages to sing the chorus afterward, which I think is just awesome songwriting.
KISS is important because they managed to bridge the gap between fans of hard rock and total nerds (they released a comic book in 1977 where the ink was mixed with the band members’ blood — Hard. Core.) If you were a fan of KISS in the late 70s and early 80s, guess what, you’re a nerd. Such a statement would have been a shock to guys like my Dad, who was a card-carrying member of the KISS army  and literally, not making this up, owned a KISS belt buckle. Too bad, Daddyo, you were a nerd before anyone even knew what the hell that was.
Retrospectively, all that time spent trying on capes and platform shoes, reading Heavy Metal magazine and quitting football to focus on their bands should have been a hint to the hard rock fans of that generation. But this isn’t an article about KISS.
In a lot of ways, Detroit is kind of the cradle of nerd rock. The ridiculous glam, spectacle, and medicore song-writing of a megaband like KISS paved the way for eventual mainstream acceptance of actual nerd bands like Rush (not convinced? Rush wrote a song about Rivendell. Try and defend that.) Detroit was the launchpad for a band that really shook up the music metagame at the time. A group of four scrappy kids took a chance on a new way of making music. If capes and makeup could make David Bowie popular out of proportion with his musicianship, could bigger capes, full face makeup and projectile-vomiting blood make people forget that three of the members of KISS were terrible at playing their instruments?
Apparently it could, because here we are talking about them all these years later. A bit of a one-trick pony, Detroit was also the launchpad for another group that tried to pull off the facepaint shtick. That group was called The Insane Clown Posse, and they are the Windreaver to KISS’ Morphling — you can nail down what you think are the salient elements of a tried and true formula, but people will notice right away if you suck. But this isn’t an article about Detroit.
Michigan is a great place to live if you like craft beer and wine. Southwest Michigan especially — we boast the state’s second largest concentration of wineries and Grand Rapids was just named “Beer City, USA” in a recent poll by homebrewing mogul Charlie Papazian. Kalamazoo, Michigan, the place I currently call home, took second. Not bad for a nation-wide poll.
Detroit didn’t do that well in the poll, but KISS never wrote a song called “Grand Rapids, Rock City” so I would have had a really tough time changing every word in the title except for “City” and being able to make any sort of reference to the song. Clearly Michigan is a place where a lot of brewing goes on. But this isn’t an article about west Michigan.
What the Hell IS This Article About?
Thank you so much for asking. This is an article about why you, as speculators, need to brew more decks.
It may not make a ton of sense at first, but since you bore with me through an introduction that probably didn’t seem immediately relevant I imagine you’ll stick with me, now that I’ve at least indicated I remember I write for a Magic website.
But I Don’t Play a Ton of Magic. Why Should I Brew?
If you want to make money speculating (of course you do, look where you’re reading articles) then you are eventually going to reach a point where you stop relying on luck and other people. I was relatively new to the speculation game when my first QS e-mail blast alerted me to the money to be made from Food Chain after the spoiling of Misthollow Griffin. I bought in medium and cashed out big. It felt pretty good and it supplemented my income as a writer very nicely. Over the next year, though, I got increasingly bold and bet more and more of my money on my own picks. Occasionally I could make decent money exploiting the lag time between instant coverage and Monday recaps, buying out key cards before everyone realized on Monday that the cards would be important.
But the speculations I’ve made the most money from have come from analyzing the metagame. If you are going to make money this way, you need to be ahead of the metagame, not slightly behind it.
There are lots of benefits to being slightly behind the metagame. The cards have already established themselves and lots of late adopters will be looking to buy in at the new, higher price while you’re looking to dump them. If the hype is just that, it doesn’t matter because you’re selling into it. You aren’t relying on what could be a flawed understanding of the metagame on your part but rather real results from real events. The biggest drawback is you don’t always have the time to fully sell into the hype and if the card isn’t as good a spec as everyone thought, you could end up holding a lot of copies. If you do this for a while you’ll eventually learn the difference between the Alurens and the Sphinx’s Revelations and buy in accordingly, but if you’re new or sometimes just don’t guess correctly, you could end up dumping cards for around what you paid and not making much money.
Being a month or even a week or two ahead of where the metagame is headed allows you to do a portion of your acquisitions through trading thus not having money tied up, allowing you to sell people back cards you traded from them when they didn’t see the potential, making you money out of cardboard and keeping your cash for other things. It also allows you to slowly build a stock before everyone else gets wise so you don’t fight for copies and can be the first to sell at the new price while everyone else is waiting for their cards in the mail. But how does one get ahead of the metagame?
It wasn’t my idea, but I write a portion of my article about decks from over the weekend because I was asked to. I’m glad I was asked to because paying attention to events I wouldn’t have ordinarily cared about has made me notice trends in the metagame that I might not have picked out otherwise. I used to skim the lists and say “yep, still seven Caw Blade decks in the Top 8. Magic sucks” and not notice that there were other Top 16 decks that fit my play style better and whose staple cards were going to increase a lot over the next few weeks. As a player, I didn’t care about that anyway. By delving a bit deeper into what is up and coming in writing this column, I’ve been forced to notice metagame shifts that may be coming up and be ready for them when they do materialize. You need to do this as a speculator as well. I do some of it for you, but you have your own ideas and it’s worth it to see if you catch anything I missed or didn’t mention. Not so long ago, Junk Rites was one result in a Top 32 dominated by other decks and Craterhoof Behemoths cost $2.
Another way is to make friends with players. Follow them on Twitter. Friend them on facebook. Hang out when they get together and test. Listen when they talk, ask questions when you’re not sure and ask them to make a case for their claims. If a player much better than you really believes in a card, someone is going to make it work.
Good players do a lot of testing, so they are a very valuable resource. Often if they say something you suspected it will serve as reinforcement that your idea is indeed good. When they printed Assemble the Legion I liked it and bought 10 playsets. After spending half a day trading for them at an SCG Open, I saw a bunch of players from Grand Rapids, Brew City playing Assemble the Legion in The Aristocrats and I bought 100 playsets. The card doubled in price and they spent a weekend trading away at $4 and I happened to be fully stocked because I was ahead of the card. I didn’t scramble to trade for them at $4 to keep players back home stocked, I got to out them at $4 and turn a pile of rares I bought near bulk into Legacy staples. I wouldn’t have gone as deep as I did if not for having players around to reinforce my ideas.
(Whatever Crap Town You Live In), Brew City
Or you could just do your own testing. You’re not going to be ahead of the metagame if you let everyone else do your testing for you, you’re not going to see potential card interactions unless you create a scenario where they can happen and you’re not going to trust your own card evaluation skills unless you actually test your assumptions.
The money I made from Deadbridge Chant wasn’t just a result of guesswork — we tested the card extensively and I’m confident enough in its power level that I didn’t even sell them at $8 despite that being four times what I paid initially. A lot of people argued with me and it’s an understatement to say supporting this card put me in the minority. But it didn’t matter to me because I knew this wasn’t a matter of a difference of opinion. It wasn’t a head to head matchup of our card evaluation skills. It was a case of one person who had tested the card, and conferred with friends who also tested it, and other people who hadn’t.
Don’t like the example where I’m right and everyone else is wrong? Fine, let’s talk Mutilate. Mutilate is an embarrassingly-recent spec of mine that made like the guy with the bandage on his ass in Boondock Saints and went nowhere. The theoretical basis for Mutilate was sound.
- Base-black control decks didn’t have a wrath effect unless they were Esper.
- Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned were kind of terrible in a metagame swarming with Boros Reckoner.
- Shocklands allowed a guy whose only lands were two mountains and two islands to cast Mutilate for four.
I didn’t, however, do any testing. Lots of people argued with me about how on turn four you’ll have “at most” two swamps when you Mutilate and my response of, “Oh, that’s a bummer, you’ll only kill every creature Blitz Naya has on the board,” didn’t really sway many opinions the way I’d hoped it might. I had money invested in Mutilate and when people who were basing their entire argument on theory refused to even test it, that really kind of ticked me off.
However, I didn’t really have the moral high ground in that case for two key reasons.
- My entire argument was based on theory.
- I hadn’t tested Mutilate.
If you don’t have a list that has been performing well in testing to shut people up with, don’t expect to be able to shut them up at all. And if you don’t have a good list that utilizes a card like Mutilate to its full potential, even though you’re super certain one exists and it would be easy to figure it out, don’t invest your money.
Even if you don’t play in tournaments you still probably know how to play Magic. So play Magic. You don’t have to Top 8 a tournament and prove the card’s value (Ryan Bushard Top 8’d states with Seance after all, and the community got together and all chipped in to buy him a box of “we don’t give a %&^*”) but you just have to prove the card’s worth to yourself.
Occasionally, you’re going to be wrong. A card is going to be insane in testing, the deck is going to solve all of the problems the metagame complains about and you’re going to be far ahead of the metagame and it won’t matter. Someone else will come up with a new deck and regardless of whether or not it’s better than what you came up with, that deck will be the next big thing. But you’re going to hit more than you miss and if your testing confirms your suspicions before you buy, you can buy in big with more confidence.
One last point I’d like to make — test all assumptions. I was not big on Aurelia’s Fury. I dismissed it at first but the card had a large contingent of vocal fans, one of whom went so far as to say the entire cast of Brainstorm Brewery had “zero credibility” because we were too blind to realize RUW would make it a $40 card. I laughed at the sheer hyperbole of a $40 Aurelia’s Fury, pointed out that [card Vraska the Unseen]Vraska[/card] presold for $30 and Lotleth Troll for $25 and then I got to work testing Aurelia’s Fury.
The sheer number of Fury fanboys had planted a seed of doubt in my mind. I tested it in every existing RUW shell I could find a list for and it was always clunky and underpowered. The times I didn’t wish it was a Sphinx’s Revelation I wished it was an Azorius Charm. I asked myself whether I was just letting my limited ability to break the card reinforce my preconceptions so I found someone who liked the card, Midwest grinder Josh Milliken.
Josh was splashing white into Jund, practically just for Fury and Lingering Souls. I toyed around with his list (by now the $30 preorder ship had sailed but if the card could got up from $5 I wanted to know) and still didn’t like it. I am convinced I did more to test my assumptions about a card than I ever have before and I came to the conclusion that Aurelia’s Fury was salty garbage and the $4 you pay for it on eBay is too generous.
Historically, even when a lot of people agree on a card’s presale price, they are wrong as hell. Boros Reckoner presold for $5. Abrupt Decay was $20+. Gideon, Champion of Justice was $20+ while Huntmaster of the Fells was $5-$8. Skaab Ruinator was over $30 preorder and that was in the same set that presold Olivia Voldaren for $4. Guess who had zero Ruinators when the full set came out and the first tournaments were held? Would it surprise you if I told you it was me, a guy who played Bant Pod for almost four solid months? Why didn’t I drop a mere $120 on a playset of Skaab Ruinator, a card that is theoretically the best Pod target ever printed and which, when spoiled, made the MTG Pundit community say stuff like “GG non-pod decks”?
Because I tested it.
Players in GP Portland decided to keep Portland weird by playing weird cards. If you had told me two months ago I’d be watching a Jungle Weaver (hard-cast, mind you) fend off a Lightning Angel I would have asked whose kitchen table I’d be sitting around. Modern sure has come a long way from the days of Overextended.
So we have Lightning Angel tearing up Modern but there isn’t currently a deck running Intruder Alarm or Aether Vial. Remember what I said about being ahead of the metagame? I’ll give you this much for free — the Intruder Alarm Elf deck I brewed up when they spoiled [card Beck]Beck//Call[/card] is unfair. I don’t know why so many lemmings followed Star City over the cliff when they went deep on Cloudstone Curio, but that’s wrong.
Curio doesn’t help you make infinite creatures end step with Presence of Gond, Imperious Perfect or Sprout Swarm. All of those combos are without ever casting Beck — a card that allows you access to an entirely different set of combos. Intruder Alarm lets you Misty Rainforest for a Dryad Arbor and untap all your dudes. Cloudstone Curio sits there like a jackass in that situation. Cloudstone Curio lets you untap Nettle Sentinel; Intruder Alarm lets you untap Elvish Archdruid. Have I made my case? I hope so.
The Jungle Weaver is not tech, by the way, but rather a card that’s great in the Living End deck because it cycles, and cycle cards are good when you can get them back for free and they happen to be big dudes. Living End is pretty good and Michael Simon got Top 16 with it.
Gifts Ungiven was good enough to take Dave Shiels to 9th place which was a surprise to Dave, especially since they announced he got 8th place a few seconds earlier. You know what’s worse than getting 9th place on tiebreakers? Being told you got 8th then hearing “lol j/k, you got 9th bro.” And then “my bad” (the latter being a direct quote). Dave Shiels should get free entry to the next GP he attends, minimum. Often the difference between 8th and 9th is how good the guy you beat round one ends up doing, and given that this person is paired with you entirely randomly, this isn’t always fair. Oh well, someone has to get 9th. Why not the guy running Gifts?
How good is Voice of Resurgence in Pod? I don’t know, I didn’t test it. I was too busy writing about how its $22 preorder price wouldn’t make you any money unless it miraculously hit $30 (it did). I’m still glad I didn’t buy in — spending $20 to make $10 is great, but I’d rather do it on smaller cards with less risk. Still, I bet Voice traded out well at the GP and will continue to do so. The card is solid, and podding it away for a 3-drop and an X/X is pretty tight, though not as tight as the GP winner Sam Pardee going to 300 trillion with his Pod deck. That said, my 400 trillion Sprout Swarm tokens ain’t afraid.
I personally love Orie Guo’s RUW Goodstuff build. It’s dirty to put a Remand on an Isochron Scepter, but someone has to do it. I’d personally jam more Scepters, but I’m no Orie Guo. My name is literally less than half as cool, and he has more GP Top 8 finishes than I do, so let’s defer to him on this one. You start letting me jam more Scepters, I start putting in Boomerang and Magma Jet and pretty soon I’m cutting Snapcaster Mage to make room for Zo-Zu the Punisher. No, I say test this version in your gauntlet. It’s sleek, utilitarian and has answers galore.
Zvi Mowshowitz is famous for breaking cards people say are bad. The man broke Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Delusions of Mediocrity so if there is any one person I was hoping would break Deadbridge Chant, it’s him. Alas and alack, he jammed a straightforward robots list and just made everyone his bitch with consistency. Zvi is my hero, and I’m glad to see him Top 8. Steel Overseer thanks him for the nod as well. The card has always done work, but now everyone remembers.
The rest of the Top 8 was Pod and Scapeshift, which is good but not exciting. Pod got Voice of Resurgence, which is new, but other than that there weren’t many new archetypes. Tron rhymes with gone, which it seems to be. I miss it already.
Expect next Modern season to feature Pod as the number one deck with Voice of Resurgence leading the charge. As a guy who tested Skaab Ruinator extensively in Pod before making up my mind, I wish Voice had even occurred to me when I wasn’t ordering any at $20.
Nice, only two Jund decks in the Top 8. I like this event already.
Steve Kaufmann took it down by adding Firefist Striker to an already fast R/G shell. I like Stromkirk Noble in the current meta and it may see a late price surge if it gets adopted — perfect for those of us sitting on a few we want to sell. People are roughly three weeks away from starting to be conscious of picking up stuff about to rotate, so start selling now.
Reanimator was entirely pushed out of the Top 8 and only had three in the Top 16. There was a lot of it around the 30s indicating the deck is dropping more games than it used to.
Elementals and Wurms, Oh My!
Bant Hexproof has started to jam Voice of Resurgence also. The card is powerful and should maintain $15+ irrespective of how much product is opened assuming it continues to see play at its current level. Modern adoption won’t help its price much after the season is over. I’m not sure how many different decks want Voice, but those that do want four, so keep that in mind. It should get better once [card Pillar of Flame]Pillar[/card] rotates — right now it’s too easy to deal with and needs help from cards like Unflinching Courage.
Bant Flash is a solid deck, and was the best chance Plasm Capture had of seeing play in Standard. Rewind proved to be much better (I knew it!) and the real winner here is Advent of the Wurm, a card the greedy Seance player in me didn’t think much of at first.
I’m used to Armada Wurm and how good that is. Seance gives you a zero mana Armada Wurm on their turn, but Advent gives you a four-mana wurm without having to fill your graveyard and cast Seance, so in a flash deck it’s obviously nutty. Snapcaster Mage is pretty nutty with Advent and gives you inevitability late, but since the current configuration can’t figure out what it wants to do with Restoration Angel besides attack for three, it cut a few. The tempo you get from Unsummon reminds me of how busted Vapor Snag was, especially with Snapcaster. If you’re dealing with cards that aren’t Thragtusk, this is nutty. Can a Flash deck compete with Voice of Resurgence? It seems like it can so I don’t expect to see Voice outside of Hexproof for a while.
All in all there isn’t a ton of new stuff here. We have a few months to start getting control dialed in before rotation, which should be a dramatic one. Losing Snapcaster, Bonfire (meh), Restoration Angel, [card Liliana of the Veil]Liliana[/card], [card Garruk Relentless]Garruk[/card], Unburial Rites, Pillar of Flame, Huntmaster and Thragtusk (no way is this card in M14) effectively reduces the number of unscathed decks to zero.
Something we do know for sure, M14 is giving us Scavenging Ooze. I think this card will be excellent in a Deadbridge Chant deck (and not as good against it as you’d think) and I can’t wait for M14 to come out. I have a pretty good idea of how good Ooze is at reducing the number of cards in your graveyard to the exact number you want.
I tested it.