Jason’s Article: Champions of Avacyn

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Greetings, Pontificators!

Who else played in pre-release events over the weekend?

What We Learned

When I heard they were going to do a block based around Greek mythology, I immediately thought back to the last "flavorful" block, Champions of Kamigawa.

Sure, there is flavor in every block, but Kamigawa was the block that sticks out the most because it almost felt forced. As much as a lot of us like Japanese culture (read "anime and vending machines with questionable wares"), Kamigawa block felt weak at the time, sandwiched between the absurdly-powerful Mirrodin block and the limited format home run that was Ravnica. In a lot of ways, Kamigawa block was a Nicolas Winding Refn film--all style and no substance.

Not even God can forgive this movie.
Not even god can forgive this movie.

What's the Problem?

I don't know that there has to be a problem with more style than substance. I actually like Nicolas Winding Refn movies. Drive may have lagged a little in the middle, but the man wanted to include a little exposition in between car chases.

You all know the caption.
You all know the caption.

A lot of critics walked out of a screening of Only God Forgives because they said it was all style and no substance. Guess what? It's a visual medium, assfaces. I really enjoyed that movie, and walking out of it like it's Final Destination 5 is pretty lame, especially if watching the movie is your only job.

So, since I really don't mind the concept of "style over substance" in movies, is it a problem to have a block like Kamigawa every once in a while that focuses heavily on the lore but doesn't contribute too much to Standard?

As a financier, I especially don't mind because Kamigawa block has contributed so many accidental $5-$10 cards that were bulk during Standard but now buoyed by EDH. Also, there were a few Kamigawa block PTQs and those were a blast to play in. While you don't get many Block PTQs outside of MODO, Theros taking after Kamigawa wouldn't be all bad. There were a lot of things to like about Kamigawa block despite it being widely regarded as one of the worst blocks in the game's history.

I took the mindset of the set's similarity to Kamigawa block into everything. When I updated the Quiet Speculation Spoiler page, I was cognizant of the fact that flavorful cards are better in the long term if they don't contribute much to Standard or Modern but appeal to casual players.

I identified cards like Bow of Nylea as potential pickups with upside, but for the most part didn't see a whole lot that will get played in Eternal (there are very obvious exceptions, though, like Swan Song). I told myself that this would be an interesting limited format, just like Kamigawa block draft was and that will keep people opening lots of packs and getting cards into the market. I predicted the gods would maintain a decent value because of casual appeal and thought about which cards would be this set's Azusa, Lost but Seeking or Hall of the Bandit Lord. I prepared for potential EDH sleepers to dip so I could scoop them for cheap and wait for the EDH crowd to start ramping up their demand.

There was just one, teensy flaw in my logic.

This Is Avacyn Restored 2.0

Anyone who played in the prerelease can tell you the same.

I suppose I should have seen it coming--the bestow mechanic being so similar to soulbond in some ways, the lack of removal, the giant, haymaker cards like monstrous creatures that would make players feel bad to have nuked after they invested 12 mana into playing and growing them. I was so focused on the financial impact of the rares and mythics that I didn't take a second to think about cards like Ordeals and how much they would matter.

Blinded by my financial bent, I went into the prerelease expecting a Kamigawa-esque experience. Don't get me wrong, I went X-1 at the event I played (I'm really cutting back from the five events I played for Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash) but it "didn't feel like playing real Magic."

And it wasn't just me who thought so.
And it wasn't just me who thought so.

Now maybe it's fine for auras to be good for a while. It was certainly conventional wisdom for them to be bad in Limited, and sets lately have aimed at making auras a little more playable. Mark of the Vampire and Trollhide, cards that would have never seen play in M11 Limited, are routinely the lynchpin in powerful limited archetypes in M14, a trend which continues with the Ordeal cycle and other non-bestow auras laughing at the pitiful amount of removal, and bestowed creatures closing the game out quickly.

Casting a near-Thragtusk's worth of extra damage at instant speed is a pretty nifty combat trick, and it feels even better if you get a 4/2 if they manage to deal with the creature. I managed to ride a pile of Purphoros's Emissary to victory because no one could deal with them. Two-Headed Cerberus with any bestow guy enchanting him closed games out more quickly than games should have been closed out. I found myself agreeing with my opponents that this was not real Magic as I was pulling their pants down. I wouldn't say I outplayed anyone, but I really didn't have to.

I was reminded of the Avacyn Restored prerelease where I went X-0 and split for first because I had a deck with Dark Impostor in it. If I drew Impostor I just couldn't lose the game and it felt really bad.

The next day I had Craterhoof Behemoth and a pile of angels, and results were similar. No one was able to stop me from riding a 2/4 flying lifelink to victory and it felt really non-interactive and boring. In many ways, Avacyn Restored is a much better comparison for Theros than Champions of Kamigawa. Wizards R&D didn't want players to contend with too much removal and turn off their souldbonded guys; similarly a monstrous creature eating a Doom Blade would make people ragequit.

Avacyn Restored offered a lot of powerful cards to the Standard format and a lot of solid casual cards that are only going to go up in value over time. It's with this frame of mind we need to take a second look at Theros for financial potential.

Courting Controversy

There is one more topic I want to bring up and not discuss at length too much. This was something I was keeping relatively mum about because I feel like the entire finance community is against me on this one, but since it blew up on Reddit today, here goes.

I don't think shocklands are a great investment.

I know some QS insiders are 1,000+ deep on these things, and I know you're going by the old "invest in real estate" adage, but I can't get behind it. I stayed quiet about this for a long time because I felt like there was no real upside to disagreeing with everyone I have ever met or will meet in the future in MTG finance.

Shocklands have been a boilerplate, conspicuous, safe-seeming investment strategy for new financier and veteran alike and I really didn't want to have to argue with everyone for months. I was content to let it lie until something in me snapped today and I finally blurted out how crazy I felt that I don't agree with everyone.

Either I'm the worst person at MTG finance in history or you're all basing your investment on a few faulty assumptions and building a gigantic house of cards. Since there were no dissenting voices out there, I didn't want to be the first to stick my neck out.

Well, the neck's out now. I mentioned something on reddit and withing 15 minutes my inbox blew up. A lot of it was people asking the same questions, and the rest of it was really smug &*$% talk from people who loved to tell me what a moron I was. My entire credibility as a financier was suspect, apparently, and I decided that I didn't want to sift through all that garbage every time I logged on to Reddit. I deleted all the postings with mentions of shocklands, but the bell could not be unrung.

The Argument

Since apparently this is my new finance cross to bear, I better get my position down in writing so I can just link to something and not have to answer the same question a million times.

I think there are a lot more shocklands out there than people realize. With their printing in a block that was drafted quite a bit and their inclusion in Dragon's Maze (admittedly not drafted as much as it should be) in the land slot, there are quite a few copies out there. I have seen people cite the shocks climbing to $50 in the short term when Modern was first announced as a format, but they dropped to around $25 even before their reprinting was announced in Return to Ravnica (even before the announcement of the set). If you think they can hit $25 again with a much greater supply, I can't agree.

The craziest part to me was around GP Philadelphia when Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest went to $30, people were buying shocklands at $15 and not Verdant Catacombs at $15. I bought Catacombs, Flats and Mesas at $15 and sold at $30, and it turns out even that was incorrect as Scalding Tarn and Misty Rainforest are approaching $60. In the time it took Misty Rainforest to go from $15 to $60, an Overgrown Tomb went from $25 to $15. Not a great return.

"Well, Jason, I thought the plan was to hold these until they spike." Well, yes. That's everyone's plan. If a shock does approach $25, we're going to see a massive sell-off from all of the speculators who were waiting for that price point. A huge glut would hit the market, and with no real increased demand to soak up the excess supply, the price is bound to free-fall. With no buyers and an abundance of sellers, the values will plunge and people will be lucky to get out for what they paid to get in.

There is demand for them in Modern, but not near the level of demand in the current Standard, so their price would potentially maintain or only dip a little, but the transition from Standard to Modern will hardly make the price spike. Fetchlands make shocks good in Modern, but M10 lands made them good in Standard, and greedy mana bases were possible. Standard routinely had four-color decks with shocks doing a lot of the work.

That's another point. With some of the mana fixing from Innistrad and M13 gone, mana bases are going to get much less greedy. Two-color decks will be the new norm going forward when three or four were the norm before.

Some predicted the disappointing Theros temple cycle would make shocks go up because the shocks are so much better by comparison. I disagree. I think the disappointing--only as mana fixers, though, they are good, especially in non-blue decks--Theros temples cycle means that three-color decks will be nearly impossible, leaning on Caryatid very hard. The average number of shocks per deck in Standard is only going to go down post-rotation, and that bodes poorly for their even maintaining their current, modest price.

Buying these at $15 seems atrocious if you're never going to be able to sell them for $25 because that's when tens of thousands of copies are going to come pouring out of spec boxes, and if you can buy them at $5 now, why not just snap-sell them for $12-$15 on eBay or TCG Player and re-invest that money? I love to buy shocklands, but I sell them in twenty-four hours because I don't want to be holding the bag when the market crashes.

I truly believe a bubble is building with regard to these lands and I don't want to be underneath when the house of cards comes down. That's how insane you people are--that wasn't even a result of me making a crazy mixed metaphor, I think what you're doing is building a house of cards...on top of a bubble.

On second thought, maybe I do want to be underneath when it happens. It's going to be raining cards. Shocklands, probably. I'm sure people are going to be happy just to recoup their initial investment, and I'd be delighted to buy up all those copies and flip them, just like I'm doing now.

Cautious for Once

I'm not typically someone who plays it safe when it comes to investing in this game, but I'm playing it safe now. I think there is little more upside to buying shocks at retail and hoping to flip them later than there is just buying at buylist now to sell immediately, and I think the potential downside could be the first true MTG financial crisis.

Every time I think there is no way I could possibly be right about this, I remember that big-eared, smug douchebag Ben Stein laughing at Paul Krugman on Fox in 2008 when Krugman predicted the housing crisis. Did I just compare myself to Paul Krugman? I mean, kind of, but only to illustrate the point that someone has to be a doomsayer.

I don't think I understand MTG finance as well as Krugman understands mortgage-backed securities, but I think when I see so many people with the exact same plan, I have to wonder what's down the road when they all execute that plan and try to divest on the same day. I'm betting it's going to be bedlam, and I'd rather miss what I consider modest potential gains to avoid the risk of being part of that crash.

In short,

  • I see little upside to buying shocklands now.
  • A selling spree will trigger long before there is real growth on the price.
  • Demand is waning, not increasing.
  • Modern can't sustain the demand Standard does.
  • The return is not much greater than just buying cards at buylist and flipping.

I'm sure I am going to get a million comments on this article telling me how wrong I am. Fine. Convince me. Ignore what I'm saying. As long as you don't just go on your merry way, scooping these up and waiting for the selling frenzy in the future without taking a second to consider you may be making a grave miscalculation.

There are plenty of other cards I can buy with the money I'd use to buy shocks now, and I wonder what will look better in a year, $35 Verdant Catacombs, or $15 Overgrown Tombs. Only one way to find out.

29 thoughts on “Jason’s Article: Champions of Avacyn

  1. Bold, your logic makes a great deal of sense as well. The only thing I can argue to is unlike a real market, it often seems the prices are dictated from the top by SCG. I can remember selling off Seachrome Coasts near 20. Who’s to say SCG isn’t hoarding as many as possible to set the price as they see fit?

    1. Starcity is in a massive sell-off during thier sale, where then put them all 1-3 dollars above the average buylist price… Starcity Champions legacy btw, not modern.

      Shocks are not so great in legacy.

      Modern hasn’t Exactly Taken off without wizards reprinting crap tons of Cards.

      What Exactly makes you think if shocks went back to 35-50 they wouldn’t just print more of them?

      Safe means on the reserved list.

      Lands aren’t always a good buy, and i think jason alt pegged it on the head, keep what you need for standard

  2. Good article! I am in agreement about shocks, and there was a thread in the forums discussing the same concern. Any prediction to the floor of shocks? I believe it will probably take a year or two before the demand from new players getting into modern can touch the suppply, once people start outing they’re shocks. Take my opinion with a grain of salt though.

  3. Jason,

    I don’t disagree with your call. There are a ton of Shock Lands out there and Modern demand will be less than Standard demand.

    I bought my Shocks between $5.50 and $8. I originally intended to sell these this winter during Modern season. With Modern season delayed significantly, my new strategy is to begin selling Shock Lands in the $10-$12 range in a month or two as they spike in demand. I think many strategies will surface in Standard and this will give each Shock Land its “15 minutes of fame”.

    1. I’m with Sigmund on this one. I didn’t always get them at buylist, but I did buy all of them at $8 or less. They are also really great trade fodder, but I’m definitely not “for buying them now”. The more I look at the modern format the more I see that most of the decks only run 1-3 of any given shock…so they don’t even run the full playset, thus I’ve been buying fetchlands at buylist to flip before this modern season (I also don’t see these being a great long term (2+ year investment) as WoTC will need to reprint them to drop the price if they want the format to remain affordable).

      1. Should I hold fetches until modern season or should I sell them now? As long as I sell them at their current price, I’ll be making significant profit–I just can’t help but agree that they will be reprinted within the next few years assuming WoTC cares about people playing a format that was created in part to be more accessible than legacy.

  4. Jason, I have been telling people that it will be unlikely that shocklands are not going to see the same spike that Scars and Innistrad lands did. So we are on the same point with that one.

    As for shocklands being a great investment, it really depends on what you picked them up at. I don’t trade for shocks now, only buying them for 5 or 4 from locals who need money. I figure at worst, I can still double up. But I am looking for ways to get rid of shocks before anyone else though to maximize the potential profit.

    One last note, shocklands will crash HARD after their rotation from Standard. $5-7 or even lower will the price range for them.

    1. Scars lands in a vacume (cant spell shit syndrome) are better then shocks imho

      If you’re opponet is playing channel+fireball

      If you’re playing in a fetch free format

      If fetchlands are 50$

      If you’re playing aggro.

      Were Printed Less

  5. Most people, even most QS people, are not all about maximizing returns. Speaking for myself, I traded into shocks knowing that there would be better returns elsewhere but because I felt shocks represented a very safe and very liquid store of value. And that, I don’t think you can disagree with – shocks are very unlikely to go DOWN from $8-10.

    1. This is pretty much exactly what I was going to say. I’ll gladly trade any niche hard to move or non nm into shocks because they’re extremely liquid and will probably be worth a little more Christmas time.

  6. Cost of engagement and risk of downside matters.

    If you engage on picking up shocks at $10 and they sit at that price forever, you have not made anything on your basis. If they hit $25, you obviously win big.

    If you do not engage, you do not tie up your money and probably lose some in transactional costs. Or otherwise, you might miss out on a 150% profit.

    I think the whole debate comes down to what likelihood you assign to the following values:

    Win big

    Win small


    Lose small

    Lose big

    Your time to market also matters. Shocklands will surely be worth $25 at some point. Maybe that time is in the year 2242 when neuromancers stride through the smoking ruins of former civilization and Steam Vents trades for a can of baked beans. If your time to market is more reasonable, say, a year, we can actually get somewhere with our calculations.

    At a $10 buy-in with a selloff at this date next year (i.e. as soon as RTR rotates,) then I place the calculation at 5/15/15/55/10. Which is to say that if you sell off a year from today, you will probably lose money since the cards have just rotated. If your investment plan with these is to hold them for longer than a year, then just put that money into other specs and then buy when the price is lower.

  7. I agree here, but these are the best trade fodder cards at the moment. I haven’t bought in at at more than 7 and have a few hundred.

    Just curious, do you think foil shocks have the same trajectory?

    1. No, Foil shocks have a different trajectory for a few reasons.

      1. They weren’t in DGM (this is probably one of the biggest)

      2. They have a higher buy in and are harder to trade for/buy at a lower value.

      3. People enjoy “Pimping out” there modern decks since it is a non-rotating format and they can use the lands forever.

      4. There are less people who are getting these for standard than normal shocks (meaning those who are getting them, are not planning to flip them or get rid of them at rotation).

      With RTR and GTC being opened as much as they where (mainly RTR) these will probably hold value better AND increase eventually. They will probably take a while to increase since there is a large amount still floating around but with moderns growing popularity in the next year or 2 I can see these going up instead of down.

  8. I see your points on shocks, but I think your logic is flawed.

    Basically, the time to REALLY buy shocklands has passed. I no longer think shocks are a good investment CASH wise (still good trade targets, but thats not the point). The time to buy shocks was when they are all around $5-8 on TCG. Now, they are all pretty much $8-12. This, the PRICE HAS ALREADY INCREASED AS PEOPLE WERE SAYING IT WOULD.

    Is it done increasing? I think not. I believe the shocks will be a solid $11-16 each, colors depending, on TCG. The point in people haring to buy them was more “you can get these in cash/trade at 8, should easily be able to sell for $12 in the future”. Will they hit $20? Maybe, but I dont think so, mainly because of points which you have mentioned here.

    But saying they are not a safe investment now based on your argument is very flawed, because a decent price increase has already happened. Of course, why the fuck would you buy a tomb at $15? But, you can get them at $9 easily right now. You could have gotten them at $7 a couple months ago (which was a great investment). You saying its not a good investment and looking like a genius….well, because NOW its not AS GOOD of an investment. If you wrote this about shocklands 2-3 months ago? I, along with 99% of the other financiers, would have laughed you off the block.

    Inspite of this, I still love you. <3 <3

    1. Becvar does make an excellent point. I haven’t bought a Shock Land in over a month, and even those were underpriced. As of right now, Shock Lands aren’t such a hot investment. I’m much more eager to sell than buy.

      By that same token, could we also state that Supreme Verdict, Detention Sphere, Desecration Demon, and maybe even Jace AoT are also not such a great investment right now? After all, they’ve all gone up from their bottoms and as a result the upside is MUCH less. We’re only talking Shock Lands because of their Modern playability. But in reality, some of the same rationale can be applied to all Return to Ravnica block cards (which is why I wrote the article I wrote this week).

      1. Agreed…The last shocklands I picked up…were at buylist price when my partner was trading for a set of Wastelands. I’m planning on using the gains now to trade towards other speculation targets. I feel the time to buy was before M14 really.

    2. You actually probably don\’t know my whole argument. This was not inspired by me seeing people on reddit saying \”Hey, should I sell the Purphoros I got at the prerelease\” and the top-voted comment being \”Herp, sell it and buy shocks.\”

      Not \”Get in a time machine and buy shocks at $5\”. People still think shocks are a good investment. I think they aren\’t. Even if you bought in at $5, why the hell not dump them at $12? Seems like you can make more moves in the short term rather than wait for someone else to sell theirs at $25 and watch yours plummet until you sell yours for $6.

      1. That’s why I have both a time and a price target to dump the shocks. My time is November/December and my targets are $11-12 cash. But, I will go ahead and trade these heavily this weekend for rotated Innistrad block and then I will probably just sell the rest later.

      2. There is just a huge range between 12 and 25. I’m certainly not going to wait for the latter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I should sell at the former either. Making more moves means more transaction costs, and having some of these in a portfolio makes sense to me because I see them as fairly low risk.

        I’d be surprised if these don’t move to the mid-teens over the next few months. Worst case, if they hold steady for now and then crash to 6 at rotation, they’ll still recover over the next couple years after that. We’re looking at two peaks, a probable one in the short term and a highly likely one in the long term, and I’m okay holding on that basis.

        1. Why do you feel that there will be 2 peaks, especially the “highly likely one in the long term”? For them to go to $25 2-3 years after rotation means that the total future demand for them is TWICE as the total current demand. That is IMPOSSIBLE because even if Modern blows up and became extremely popular, you won’t even reach the total current demand now.

    1. Compared to Kamigawa block? Come on. Kami block had giant horse spirits and Samurai and Elder Asian Dragons. Innistrad block was an epic struggle between humans and vampires. Yea, that\’s brand new.

  9. From reading the comments, what if the train is already in selling mode? to get those Theros cards? after my prerealease, i got a couple of them… shocks might not spike to 25$ but they are definitely more liquid “just because they are shocks”. there is no way most theros cards will hold their prices, but you can be certain that shocklands will be at least 10$ in december… Sometime managing my t2 collection is not about gaining value(even though its nice sometime), but its about NOT losing value. Shocks are fine, if your not trying to get 100 of them.

  10. I think your reasoning comes from the fact you are acting like a shop (following the concept = buying at buylist, selling at retail) and as such don’t act as a real speculator, making an investment.

    I think your quote = “The return is not much greater than just buying cards at buylist and flipping.” is spot on!

    It’s true in 99.5% of all cases and could be considered a MTG Finance Rule.

    If you have the time to invest, you will always make more money by flipping cards asap after buying them (buy at buylist price, flip (close to) retail)

    If you buy those cards at $8-$10 “now” and wait for them to reach $25 and they never do, you lose big time.

    If you can buy at $5, and sell at $8-$10 “now”, you’ll always make money. Even if they start dropping, you made money…

    But you need to invest time! =)

  11. Regarding foil shocks, I’m not to sure how much higher they can rise, here is my reasoning : Watery Grave RAV foil, price when RTR came out, 59.90 on SCG, price after GTC, 59.90 on SCG, price after DGM, 59.99. The only change is during this sale that they have, 50.99. Point I’m making is, with prices of the original staying stagnant, is there really more room for the RTR foil shocks to grow? I bought mine at 25 and sold them at 30, doesn’t seem very worthwhile to hold unfortunately.

  12. Great article, Jason. A couple points:

    1) I think you underestimate THS Limited. Personally, I played 3 Prereleases, 3 release drafts, and a GPT (Sealed) of the format and I love it. I think it’s the second-best format ever, next to Rise, and it’s not very close (albeit I only played RGD once and it was a retro draft so I don’t know if that would be better). It’s true that you’re playing battlecruiser Magic to an extent, but there is room for tempoey decks, and if you know what you’re doing it’s not hard to punish that guy Voltronning up his one creature for doing so. I think THS is one of the most skill-intensive formats we’ve had in a while specifically because it’s slow and the removal sucks so you can’t count on “Draw my 3 Doom Blades and my giant Hexproof bomb and go from there”.

    2) I disagree about Shocklands, to an extent. Here’s the thing: As Marcel said on BB, we’re not going to have another Shocklands printing for at least 5-7 years. Modern is still a fledging format, meaning it’s currently growing (in theory; it might be stagnating, but I’d like to assume it’s actually popular). The pricing issue for Legacy is a real thing, and people will eventually move into Modern, either from Standard when their decks rotate, or from Legacy when the staples get too expensive. On top of which, it’s a PTQ season and multiple GPs each year that people are going to want to play and have cards for.

    Basically, we have constant supply for 5-7 years while demand increases. If you know anything about basic economics, that means that the price increases. Of course, as you noted, once a certain price point is reached, all the speculators will sell in and drop the price, but realistically SCG isn’t going to drop their price overnight when the selling frenzy begins, and a lot of people (and, more importantly, B&M stores) use SCG as a baseline for pricing. This means that, unless you’re an eBayer or TCGPlayer-er, the price for you to get in or out is not going to drop even as supply increases relative to demand.

    Which is all a very long-winded way of saying that the sky is not going to fall. Eventually demand will catch up to supply; demand will increase steadily forever and supply will never increase beyond the speculators selling out (at least in the next 5-7 years). SCG will not drop their prices to a level appropriate to the supply/demand curve, and will instead wait for demand to catch up to supply, and then continue jacking the price. We’ll likely see a plateau around 20-25 where the shocklands remain stable for a few months, maybe up to a year if the sellout is really bad, but realistically the shocks should be on roughly the same curve as the Zen fetchlands long-term. And by “long-term” I don’t mean “In the next 2 years or so, which is how long the shocks had to increase from when Modern was announced until when RTR was announced”, I mean from now until they’re re-reprinted, i.e. 5-7 years down the road.

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