Greetings, Hundred-Handed Ones!
Let's Talk Movies
Anyone ever see the movie Memento?
Guy Pearce plays a character named Leonard who suffers from a total loss of short-term memory. He was attacked in his home and suffered a blow to the head. As a result, he cannot form new memories and will forget things minutes after they happen. He uses tattoos on his body to remind him that he is on a quest to find his wife's killer.
Director Christopher Nolan (you may have heard of him) decided to show the film in a kind of reverse order--the scenes play out in real time but they are stacked in reverse chronological order, starting with Leonard taking his revenge on his wife's murderer and ending with you finding out nothing is as simple as all that. You find out more information that has happened earlier, but since Leonard doesn't remember anything he learns, the ending is shown first and the information Leonard has forgotten tells you more about the plot.
Why am I talking about the movie Memento? I actually don't remember where I was going with this, just like I don't remember the great article idea I came up with on Friday. Sit back, strap in, and prepare for me to come up with an article idea I'm way less excited about than I was about the one I forgot.
Thinking Beyond Rotation
Lately, I haven't gone to many GPs, PTQs or other events where there are a lot of dealers set up. One side effect of that which I hadn't anticipated is that it's been a lot tougher to keep track of prices. I find myself a little more reluctant to trade right now and when I do I tend to take my trade partner's prices rather than offer my own. I'm not losing money trading (I'd rather take a second to look something up than lose money) but it's uncomfortable not knowing my prices all that well.
When you're at an event where there are a lot of dealers, they will have their cards priced and spread out in display cases. Just looking at those for a few minutes is a great way to absorb card prices. Your unconscious brain is a lot better at retaining that information than you'd think.
If you don't believe me, go to an event and spend a few minutes looking at the prices on some obscure cards whose prices you don't think about often. Don't even stare at any price in particular, just let your eyes wander over all of the cards. Have someone quiz you an hour later, and you'll be really surprised how well you do.
Don't think or try to work the price out, just hip shoot the first number that pops into your head. The human brain does a great job of retaining this information redundantly in different parts of your brain and if you try different things to access that information, one of them will hook you up.
This weekend I helped out QS Insider Nick Becvar at his booth at the PTQ in Flint. Nick paid me to help him buy and sell, but he didn't pay me to shill for his company. That I will do for free.
Let's talk some more about the PTQ. It was run by a store called Gamer's Sanctuary, which caused a lot of people to show up at Gamer's Sanctuary's Flint location. This was a misplay; the event was not there. A lot of people sat in the parking lot by the closed store before they either got wise and checked their phone to see that it was actually at a rented space across town or they went home.
Also, the PTQ was the first ever to say it started at 9:00 am but so many people are used to PTQs starting at 10:00 that people were still trying to sign up at 9:30. That coupled with the people at the other location making their way over, the event started after 10:00. The whole "if enough people are wrong for long enough, they become right" principle applies to things other than speculation, it would seem.
There were three dealers: Alter Reality Games, Empire Cards and Affinity for Games. One dealer might have been enough for the sub-100 person attendance, but everyone did some buying and selling. Since there was a bit of down time, I made my way around the room and checked out the prices of cards. Some have gone up significantly recently but since they weren't that noteworthy no one made a big deal out of it. Cards that trickle steadily upward aren't as sexy as a card like Kor Spiritdancer quintupling overnight, but steady gainers are a much safer investment.
However, I was struck by something else, and it started when I saw two cards in Nick's case that were the exact same price.
These are two cards that he had in the case for $18. They're both mythic angels, both EDH and causal favorites and they're both at roughly the same price right now depending on the metric you use. However, if you examine their price trajectory over the past year, you get a different picture.
Not only that, it's pretty likely that Avacyn is due for a bit of a plunge when rotation hits. What you have is a card that is the same price as Iona now, will be less in a month, and will likely be as much and follow the same incremental upward growth when it normalizes after rotation.
If you don't want either card to play with, what I see is the opportunity to buy an Iona for as little as $10 on some sites a month from now by instead buying an Avacyn, waiting for them to catch up and exchanging at equivalent values. To illustrate this point, let's look at one more graph.
Ignore that last little bit. Wurmcoil Engine is poised to hit its pre-rotation levels in under a year and appears poised to exceed it the farther we get from the set's out-of-print date. This card was a pre-release freebie and you can still buy Scars packs some places, but look at Wurmcoil.
When did it rotate? October 2012, right when you see it dip sharply after sliding down up until that date. That's with Wurmcoil getting as much play in EDH as it does now. That's with Wurmcoil being just as popular with casual players, the kind of players who don't sell cards at rotation, the whole time. Expect Avacyn to take a similar dip and correct in less than a year just like Wurmcoil.
So what's the best way to buy an Iona? If you said "buy an Avacyn next month, wait six months and trade straight up" you probably sound like a lunatic, but maybe you're not wrong.
Looking at the prices of Champions of Kamigawa block legendary creatures was also an odd experience. Cards like Azusa, Lost but Seeking are $13-$15 based on how good they are in EDH. Imagine how many copies of Azusa you could have gotten for one Umezawa's Jitte in 2006. In that time Jitte has grown by roughly 50% whereas Azusa has grown by 2000%.
Now, no one could have predicted EDH's popularity back in 2006 when it wasn't really a thing, but Azusa's power level was apparent back then, even if applications for it weren't obvious.
I want you to go into Theros with the same things in mind. Cards that have real potential but lack immediate, obvious application (especially in Standard) are likely going to become very affordable. Affordable means incredibly high profit potential and incredibly low risk. Those are my two favorite things. Speculate accordingly.
Clearly the play for people who love Magic: the Gathering, a trading card game, would have been to skip Gen Con, a card and tabletop gaming convention, and instead go to PAX Prime, a video game convention put on by the guys at Penny Arcade. There were a ton of Theros spoilers at PAX, parties thrown by Wizards for Magic people and it was close enough to GP Oakland that you could have done both if you could miss two weeks from work.
To see our reaction to some of those spoiled cards, check out the Theros spoiler page at this link. Sigmund, Gervaise and I are updating dutifully to make sure you don't miss a single spoiler. Sure, you could check MTGSalvation, but that wouldn't give you any analysis, and whenever I compare a card like "Hunt the Hunter" to a "shotgun blast to the ballbag" the comment gets deleted.
That happens way less often on the QS Spoiler page. Check it out, and tell Doug and Kelly it's the best thing you've ever read and maybe they'll give us all raises and I can finally afford to stop stealing towels from the hotels I stay in.
So, last night, this happened.
The reason for considering writing about Reuben Bresler? He decided he wanted to play some Legacy, so he sleeved up that wacky East Coast Painter's Stone deck with the thousand damn dollars' worth of Imperial Recruiters and made it to game three of the finals at the SCG Open in Cincinnati. I checked Twitter throughout the day, and when I noticed he was posting a lot about winning, then how he was a lock for Top 8--Well, okay, he said 70% for Top 8, but he made it, didn't he?--I decided to tune in if he was featured.
The deck is a regular Painter's Stone deck, but it is going to name blue with Painter's Servant because not only does it jam a full complement of maindeck Red Elemental Blast, it also runs a singleton Jaya Ballard, Task Mage to really smoke blue stuff.
Another wacky addition to the deck? That's right, Chandra, Pyromaster. The little planeswalker that couldn't is actually
right at home a house in a format with so many x/1 creatures.
In the finals against Eric Rill, he seemed like a strong favorite to win, and probably would have easily if not for Eric drawing an improbable three Dazes and one Force of Will by turn three. Game two was actually miserable for Rill as Chandra was potent enough to make him scoop them up early. Young Pyromancer, unflipped Delver, Dark Confidant--all were like chaff before the wind.
Is Chandra a good buy at $10? It's hard to say right now. What I will say is that, at least in Reuben's deck, the card over-performed.
What's more, it over-performed on camera. When I tuned in to the finals there were 6,000 pairs of eyes on the match. You can bet this card stands a decent chance of going up in the next few days, so watch it. It's not great in Standard, but casual appeal coupled with how strong it appears in the current Legacy metagame could buoy the price significantly.
I only like to speculate on cards that have the potential to double in case I have to out extra copies to a buylist, but if I am going to be selling these for $17 on TCG Player in a month, I'd prefer to have paid $4 rather than $9. I'm not going to say "buy" yet, but I will say "watch" because that's what I'm doing. Anytime a card performs well on camera at an Open, you can bet there will be movement irrespective of whether the card has wider appeal outside of that one deck.
What beat Reuben's Chandra, and his face? a Grixis Delver deck with Young Pyromancer--a card many didn't expect to see Legacy play despite how obviously bonkers it was in Vintage.
Enough of this, let's actually just launch into the event wrap-up formally.
You can't do Legacy first! It will be anarchy!
Just. Watch. Me.
We've done 25% of a Legacy wrap-up already, so strap in and prepare to eat dessert before dinner, just like a real grownup.
I covered the Bresler-Rill match a little, but check out the decklists. There isn't much in Rill's deck that Chandra doesn't pull the pants off of. Even if he manages to flip a Delver, Reuben still has Lightning Bolt and Red Elemental Blast.
Does the Delver attack Chandra or Reuben? Probably Chandra, considering I watched three games and Ancient Tomb dealt roughly 93 damage to Reuben in that time. However, that Ancient Tomb is a turn two Blood Moon or Magus thereof, and that's GG for a lot of decks.
Being budget-conscious, I'd probably rather run the hilaribad werewolves deck I watched Jon Johnson's stomp people with, but either way, turn one Mountain turn two Ancient Tomb or City of Traitors Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon is gonna make some people sad.
When Reuben doesn't have a Chandra out, Rill's deck packs a wallop. Young Pyromancer isn't as bad in Legacy as some might have thought. It has some very distinct things going for it and Rill's build takes advantage of all of them.
- Pyromancer is funny with Cabal Therapy.
- Pyromancer is powerful with Gitaxian Probe.
- Cabal Therapy is insane with Gitaxian Probe.
- Pyromancer is good with Force of Will.
- Pyromancer is good with a lot of instants.
- Delver of Secrets is good with a lot of instants.
- You can probably see where I'm going with this.
If you just make a list of cheap spells that are good with each other, you can cut both the "Canadian" and the "Threshold" out of "Canadian Threshold" and what you're left with isn't "nothing" but rather "a silly advantage engine". I would argue that Young Pyromancer is even better with Cabal Therapy than Veteran Explorer, but I don't expect a lot of agreement.
What everyone has to agree with is that not having to play green and a ton of basic lands for Veteran Explorer is good. Nic Fit is off everyone's radar. Grixis Delver just won an Open.
Third place was the pet deck of the week. Belcher! I love when Belcher gets there! Lots of people were surprised that Belcher got Top 8, because they don't read my article. If they did, they would see I make a big deal out of it every single time Belcher gets Top 8.
Decks are trimming their Force of Will count a bit, but even so you have your own Forces and can even run all-in, gotta-win-now cards like Pact of Negation. He who belches once belches best. Or something.
Jeff Hoogland didn't have the best Four-Color Loam finish in the room. That has to be like the first time your son beats you in one-on-one basketball. You're proud in a way, but also a little miffed you lost. Hoogs (as he likes to be called) still made Top 16, so he has even more to be proud of.
Jacob Dwenger is disqualified from the "Pet Deck of the Week" race for finishing 9th. Tough luck, Jacob. That will teach you to have the exact same record as 7th and 8th.
Shardless BUG made it, as expected.
Team Italia was a bad deck. The format has shifted enough that this deck deserves a second look. A low mana curve makes Bob less of a liability, it has a great removal package and it is reminiscent of early Maverick builds with black subbed for green. Solid stuff.
Since I have to, let's look at Standard real fast.
Lo and behold, an actual surprise! Heather Perdue and a G/W Archangel of Thune-based beatdown deck gets there. You know how easy it is to trigger Archangel in this deck? So easy. This deck runs Trostani, which is actually my favorite thing in the world. With ample ways to trigger Archangel, this may be the deck we have been waiting for to justify the insane cost of Archangel.
Sublime Archangel did next to nothing and its price stayed high, so Archangel of Thune was never going to be cheap. I'm glad it's earning its keep, and doing so in a big way. This deck loses a few things to rotation, but it won't be crippled the way decks like Jund will, so expect to see some population from the...population. Post-rotation. Expect a post-rotation population celebration. Or don't, I don't care.
The Aristocrats was a deck I loved but am now sick of. It's like that Silversun Pickups album I left in my CD player for an entire road trip to a GP. It was playing really low in the background so only my unconscious brain picked it up, but it saturated my psyche to the extent that whenever I hear "The Pit" I look for one to drive my car into.
I feel the same way about the decks in Standard. This isn't even the fun Aristocrats deck with Voice of Resurgence and Varolz, either. It's six months ago boring Falkenrath trash. This is the movie "Twilight" of decks. Ugh, I am just so bearish on Standard right now I can't even tell what I hate because it's a bad deck and what I hate because it's Standard.
I guess I should be talking about financial opportunity. Do we think Falkenrath Aristocrat will go up after rotation? Well, when its price was 100% determined by casual appeal because we weren't playing it in Standard yet, this card was trash. They were like $3 at one point. Casuals clearly give as few shits as actual vampires (they don't eat food) about this card.
A good thing to do with Falkenrath Aristocrat now is to wish you'd sold it six months ago, and try to sell it now. The Card Nexus on Bidwicket is paying an astounding $10 for four copies right now. When the cards arrive, expect them to say "we changed our mid, here's $3.50". Actually, don't expect that. I've never sold to Card Nexus. They could be awesome dudes and just honor the hell out of that $10.
Theros looks like a slowish set, so my hopes of not having to see the word "midrange" applied to every single deck have been dashed. It's like Punxsutawney Huntmaster came into my LGS and announced another two years of stupid adjectives.
I said last week that the Big Red deck was not going to survive rotation because it's losing too many cards. Well, I hope I didn't say it that definitively. What I hope I said was that we need to wait and see what replaces what it's losing.
We got Magma Jet to replace Searing Spear and all of a sudden things are looking up. Chandra's Phoenix just got a hell of a lot more playable in my estimation. We'll very likely get replacements for Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite.
This deck seems very devoted to red, and that devotion might buy us a big angry red god to help us go over the top like Stallone in that arm wrestling movie. Burning Earth may be a thing post-rotation after all.
Bant Hexproof hasn't even lost all it's going to lose to rotation and already it's barely cracking the Top 16. Fiendslayer Paladin has always been a card I like more than almost anyone else I talk to. Without decent auras to strap on, he is lost. If white gets a decent ordeal or something playable, building your own Baneslayer is a possibility. But then so is an actual Baneslayer and a slower format may spell curtains for a creature that is pretty poor in creature-on-creature combat.
Khyler Fields played a green-white deck, too, but this one is filled to capacity with rotating cards. No lessons here, other than that green-white is potent. Expect Heather Perdue's list to be the standard, not Khyler's.
Honestly, I feel like that durdlage above with the graphs tells you more about how to handle rotation than these decklists do. Get excited for Theros, do some testing, and take all the finishes of these lame duck Standard decks with a grain of salt.
There was no GP due to PAX and the Community Cup, the latter won overwhelmingly by the players this year. Congrats, players!
That does it for me this week. Join me next week when we'll be one step closer to having new decks to talk about. Theros is full of goods, Chandra is better than you thought and a Limited GP in Prague means I get to cut out early at a scant ~3,700 words. Good night, and happy topdecking.