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Insider: The Return of Cube and ROE

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Cube draft returns next week to MTGO and will be awarding Rise of Eldrazi (ROE) booster packs. Coincident with Cube drafting, Triple ROE draft queues will be available so that players can use their prizes.

Generally a period of Cube drafting is a good time to pick up out-of-print staples that are coming onto the market. However, diving into recent history might give us a clearer perspective on how to approach buying and selling cards during Cube.

ZZW Queues

ZZW was awarded for Cube just prior to the release of Gatecrash. Scalding Tarn and Lotus Cobra both fell in price well into the release period, but Lotus Cobra only fully bottomed out months later at the end of June. Scalding Tarn dipped along with every other card from ZZW, but as a Modern staple, it has bounced back substantially in recent weeks, reaching an all time high of 24 tix.

The presence of a high value cycle such as the fetch lands seemed to encourage a lot of drafting. So much that a fringe Modern playable mythic such as Lotus Cobra has taken months to bottom out and is only now showing signs of recovery. In hindsight, the fetch lands were a tremendous buying opportunity, but more fringe cards should have been sold and avoided.

The question for speculators is whether RRR queues are going to be similar to the ZZW queues and tank the value of non-staple mythics and rares.

The Hypothesis

Two factors matter the most in the popularity of an out-of-print draft queue, playability and the expected value of the cards opened. Zendikar-Zendikar-Worldwake (ZZW) and triple Rise of the Eldrazi (RRR) were both quite popular draft formats that had strong interest. Playability is not something that is easily measured, so let's assume that playability will not make the difference in comparing ZZW with RRR.

Holding playability constant, repeat drafting relies on the value of cards drafted. The winner of a 4-3-2-2 draft definitely has enough to continue to draft at no extra cost, but the finalist could conceivably fail to make enough value from their drafted cards to scrounge up 2 tix for the next draft. The 3rd through 8th place finishers will definitely need to crack some value to continue to draft.

If a set doesn't have a lot of value, there won't be a lot of repeat drafts as drafters quickly use up their available tix. In this case, I'll take the sum of the historical average values of the mythic and regular rares cracked in a ZZW draft, and compare that with the sum of the average values of the mythic and regular rares cracked in a RRR draft today. This comparison should give us a feel for the relative value of the two draft formats.

The hypothesis in this case is that the value in ZZW was much higher, and thus encouraged more extra drafting than RRR will. Testing this hypothesis will give us a guide for speculating on ROE rares.

To test the hypothesis, I will add up the average value of the rares and mythic rares for 24 packs. On average we should expect three mythics per draft (one in eight boosters) and 21 rares.

To calculate the average mythic for ZZW, I'll take historical values from January 31st, 2013 of every mythic and rare over 1 ticket and round it to the nearest ticket. Mythics and rares less than 1 ticket will be valued at zero. For RRR, I'll do the same using prices from today. (Prices courtesy of MTGGoldfish.com, which tracks prices from MTGOTraders.com.)

Mythic Comparison

ROE Mythics Price ZEN Mythics Price WWK Mythics Price
All Is Dust 12 Chandra Ablaze 2 Abyssal Persecutor 3
Cast Through Time 0 Eldrazi Monument 4 Admonition Angel 1
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn 13 Eternity Vessel 0 Avenger of Zendikar 6
Gideon Jura 4 Felidar Sovereign 5 Comet Storm 0
Hellcarver Demon 0 Iona, Shield of Emeria 17 Dragonmaster Outcast 3
Kargan Dragonlord 1 Kalitas, Bloodchief of… 7 Eye of Ugin 9
Khalni Hydra 2 Lorthos, the Tidemaker 0 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 68
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth 12 Lotus Cobra 15 Novablast Wurm 0
Lighthouse Chronologist 3 Mindbreak Trap 17 Omnath, Locus of Mana 8
Linvala, Keeper of Silence 20 Nissa Revane 4 Wrexial, the Risen Deep 0
Nirkana Revenant 3 Ob Nixilis, the Fallen 2
Sarkhan the Mad 1 Obsidian Fireheart 1
Transcendent Master 2 Rampaging Baloths 1
Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre 14 Sorin Markov 3
Vengevine 13 Warren Instigator 8
ROE Average 6.7 ZEN Average 5.7 WWK Average 9.8
3x mythics 20.0 2x mythics 11.5 1x mythic 9.8

 

Total value from mythics (RRR) 20.0 Total Value from mythics (ZZW) 21.3

 

Overall, the mythic rare slot from the average RRR draft is quite close to the average ZZW draft. The presence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor in WWK is balanced out by a number of worthless mythics, while ROE has a much higher density of mythics in the 10+ ticket range compared to either ZEN or WWK.

Rare Comparison

ROE Rares Price ZEN Rares Price WWK Rares Price
Coralhelm Commander 1 Arid Mesa 8 Basilisk Collar 1
Kor Spiritdancer 1 Bloodghast 3 Celestial Colonnade 4
Splinter Twin 5 Goblin Guide 2 Creeping Tar Pit 2
Marsh Flats 5 Joraga Warcaller 1
Misty Rainforest 9 Raging Ravine 1
Scalding Tarn 11 Stoneforge Mystic 2
Verdant Catacombs 6
ROE Average 0.1 ZEN Average 0.8 WWK Average 0.31
21x rares 2.8 14x rares 11.6 7x rares 2.2

 

Total value from rares (RRR): 2.8 Total Value from rares (ZZW): 13.8

 

On the other hand, for rares from ZZW, you have two packs of the fetch lands which tilts the scales heavily in favor of ZZW. The rare slot for RRR pretty much begins and ends with Splinter Twin. With so few money rares, RRR does not compare favorably to ZZW in terms of value for drafters.

Adding It All Up

Format Total Value (1 Draft)
RRR 22.8
ZZW 35.1

 

In total, the value of cards cracked in a given eight-man draft at the outset of ZZW queues was about 35 tix. If a draft is usually about 13 tix, that means that out of every ZZW draft, about 2.7 players got enough value in cards to draft again.

As it stands right now, RRR will only contribute about 23 tix in value from the cards in a draft, meaning about 1.8 players on average will crack enough value to be able to draft again, based solely on the cards that they draft.

If we think about how many extra drafts this value could turn into, we might consider the following. Suppose that initially there is enough interest to fire 100 drafts. Then players will only draft if they can sell their cards for enough tix to draft again. The next round of drafts is an echo of the initial drafts. The ZZW echo is bigger than the RRR echo because of the extra value found there, mostly in the fetch lands.

Each echo will be smaller than the last. Eventually drafting dies out because players have run out of tix in order to draft. Note, this ignores pack prizes and fluctuating value of the cards. The chart below summarizes the results of this idea.

Draft Wave RRR ZZW
Initial 100 100
1st Echo 22 34
2nd Echo 5 11
3rd Echo 1 4
4th Echo 0 1
Total Extra Drafts 28 50

 

This projection suggests that, for every 100 initial drafts, the extra value in ZZW would result in 22 additional drafts compared to RRR. Clearly we should expect fewer RRR drafts to fire than ZZW. This means price drops on Modern staples and playables will be smaller, and prices will recover faster.

Course of Action

For the average player, the normal response to out-of-print draft queues appearing on MTGO is to panic-sell any card from the given sets worth a few tix. The fear is that drafters will flood the market with cards, so it's better to sell out and rebuy after the queues finish up.

In the case of ZZW, this definitely turned out to be true for non-staples. If you had sold your Lotus Cobras and Ionas, you could have bought them again at a much lower price a few months down the road.

In light of the expectation that ROE queues will not flood the market for non-staples as much as the ZZW queues did, then any panic selling over the coming week should be seen as a short-term buying opportunity.

Target the valuable mythics from ROE that show up in Modern. Ulamog, Linvala, Emrakul, All Is Dust and Vengevine should be the mythic targets, and for the rares it basically begins and ends with Splinter Twin.

If players panic-sell these over the coming ten days, the expected price drop should be observable. With a relatively low increase in supply as a result of RRR draft queues, this will be a prime week to pick up Modern staples and other playables from ROE.

Portfolio Update

This is a brief rundown of what I am buying, selling and watching in the market in the last week.

Selling:

  • GTC Boosters are now the most expensive of the RTR block boosters, and the next few weeks should be the best near-term opportunity to sell these. I have started the process of unwinding this position.

Buying:

  • Advent of the Wurm is a card that should be a staple in Fall Standard. Even if mana bases are less robust than now, the G/W colour combination will feature the excellent curve of Elvish Mystic, Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter into Advent of the Wurm. 2.5+ tix is too much, but around 2 tix or less is just fine.
  • When I go to sell some GTC boosters to Goatbots, I'll often just load up 6 each of RTR and DGM before topping up the rest on tix. I expect RTR and DGM to dip in the next couple of weeks with Cube and then M14 release events.

Watching:

  • Although Geist of Saint Traft has been quite stable in price, the long slide of Restoration Angel and Thragtusk was a nasty shock. It looks like they have finally stabilized and I will be unwinding my positions in all of these cards over the next couple of weeks. The last of the online Standard PTQs run later this month. After that, they should come under continued selling pressure as Fall rotation draws closer.
  • ROE mythics and rares played in Modern.

6 thoughts on “Insider: The Return of Cube and ROE

  1. An excellent article, as usual! Do you think Geist is going to dip very much in price? Casual-ish people seem to love that card on MTGO. It gets significant Modern play, too.

    1. I think we’ll eventually see it dip in September/October, but it won’t be a very pronounced drop I feel. Modern continues to pick up steam online and Geist is a staple, as you point out. I’ve got a short list of ISD block cards to target once Theros/rotation hits, and Geist is at the top of the list.

      In the mean time,it seems like Hexproof strategies are going to get a boost here with M14, but I plan to sell into the last of the Standard PTQs over the next 10 days.

  2. Great article, thanks!

    Re: Lotus Cobra — I think the combination of the ZZW drafts and the MOCS PRM Lotus Cobra might have been part of the big drop, it was a lot of little snakes for the market to absorb.

    1. Thanks for reading! If you look at a chart for Eye of Ugin or Iona, they show a very similar pattern to Lotus Cobra. This suggests to me the ZZW queues were the dominant effect.

  3. I’m at little confused at the bit about buying RTR and DGM – if you “expect RTR and DGM to dip in the next couple of weeks”, why are you buying them now? Sorry for being dense.

    1. This is a great question!

      At this point, some of my positions can get very large and it’s almost impossible to buy all that I want, exactly when I want it. Usually it takes a number of purchases spread out in time. For this reason, even though I expect RTR and DGM to dip further, buying now means I can build up a larger position.

      Also, spreading out purchases can be a way to hedge your bets. If you are pretty sure of what you want to spec on, but aren’t so sure about the best price, buying a little at a time can be a way to make sure you get invested at a reasonable price. MTGO prices can move quickly and waiting for the perfect moment to buy might mean the size of your position ends up being much smaller than you would have liked.

      Lastly, goatboats makes it very easy to trade boosters, so taking payment in RTR and DGM boosters for my GTC boosters is a great way to reduce the number of transactions I have to make.

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