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My project over the last few weeks has been building a cube. I don’t know that it’s particularly tuned yet, but if you’re interested in seeing it for some reason, you can find it on Cube Tutor here. For now, it’s just an assortment of sweet cards that I already owned or was able to cheaply and/or easily acquire, but I have big plans for this cube’s future.
Before I get into today’s topic, I do want to discuss briefly the benefits of having a pet project. As a Limited-focused player, sometimes I don’t have a long want list—in fact, sometimes it has nothing on it at all. Of course, I can approach trades and purchases with the idea of make as much money as possible, but that’s so open-ended that it can often be overwhelming.
On the other hand, I’ve had some of my best trade experiences when I was actively looking to put together a certain deck, cube, playset, etc. I can still set a general goal of buying low and selling high (and I do), but having a specific objective makes the trading experience more fulfilling than just seeing every card in terms of dollars and cents.
Planeswalkers and MTG Finance
As I’ve been putting together my cube, I’ve been prioritizing including a bunch of sweet planeswalkers. Planeswalkers are interesting from an MTG finance perspective because they haven’t been around for very long, at least in a relative sense. Largely because of a certain blue planeswalker in Magic’s history, all subsequent ‘walkers preorder in the $30 range before eventually falling to a more sane price based on actual factors. But as I’ve browsed websites and trade binders for older ‘walkers, I have found that some are surprisingly expensive and others are relatively cheap. In the process of building this cube, I’ve identified some targets for long-term growth (which, by the way, is another benefit of having a pet project. Not only does it guide your trading, but it forces you to notice cards you might otherwise overlook). I’ve also noted some precedents, and we’ll be going through those first.
Very few planeswalkers have earned the title of “staple” in eternal formats, but when they do, their price tags tend to reflect it in a big way. The best example of this is the ridiculous blue planeswalker I alluded to earlier, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. It’s a Legacy staple in the purest sense, and if it weren’t banned in Modern, who knows how high the price would be? As it is, Jace is one of the most expensive cards printed in the last ten years, and for good reason—it’s basically Modern power.
[cardimage cardname='Jace, the Mind Sculptor']
Somewhat more recently, we have Liliana of the Veil and Karn Liberated. These are both obviously powerful cards that never saw an extremely low floor, although both were available at less than a third of their current prices.
Liliana and Karn have followed similar trajectories, bottoming out while still in Standard, then seeing their first big jumps during Modern PTQ season in the first quarter of 2013. The duo spiked again during the Modern mania of the last several months. Both are staples in Modern, and Liliana also sees play in Legacy.
Just seeing a little play in Modern can cause a substantial increase:
Between its set printing, promos, and duel deck, Ajani Vengeant has been printed approximately 700 times, and yet a little fringe play in Modern Ajundi saw the card double overnight, where it’s stayed since. And I reiterate: this has been printed as much or more than any other planeswalker. Ajundi has fallen out of favor, but the card still sees play in UWR Control variants. It appears to be on an upswing even now, and who knows where it could end up if it reaches true staple status? Liliana and Karn do, that’s who (though just to be clear, its multicolor status and multiple printings almost certainly make its ceiling significantly lower, even if there is still room to grow).
Not a lot of planeswalkers are played in eternal formats. The bar is high there, and planeswalkers tend to be designed to be powerful in Standard but not overwhelming in eternal play. But that doesn’t keep them from being demanded by casual players. Check out the trajectory on all of these planeswalkers with no eternal competitive resumes:
All these planeswalkers have a few things in common: they don’t see competitive play, they all dropped sharply when rotating out of Standard, and they all have grown gradually since. Some of these are pretty underpowered as far as planeswalkers grow, and yet they have all grown at a steady rate. Slow, sure, but the trajectory is obvious. Many of these have multiple printings, too, so it doesn’t appear that a reprint completely kills this tendency. Seeing this, I’m inclined to trade my rotating Standard cards for planeswalkers of all shapes and sizes—it seems like a safe place to park resources.
These Planeswalkers Floor Me
Alright, so what planeswalkers are ripe for the picking? Let’s take a look:
Chandra, the Firebrand has a couple printings and never saw much competitive play, but $3.74 seems like the flooriest of floors for a planeswalker. This card isn’t necessarily bad, either—that -2 ability is good in more than just your standard mono-red fare. I doubt it will ever see any eternal play, but seems like a likely candidate to hit $8 to $10 over the next few years.
Garruk, Primal Hunter is such an awesome card. Like the Firebrand, Primal Hunter has a couple printings, but it’s proved to be extremely powerful. The five CMC may price it out of eternal formats in general, but this could see a decent spike just by being reprinted into Standard again. Sans reprint, I think this will be a fan favorite for casual players and could climb to as high as $15 to $20 in the long-term. His -3 ability scales with the format, so this card is just as good in EDH as it is in Cube as it is in Standard.
I seem to recall Garruk Relentless seeing fringe (with emphasis) play in Legacy at some point, though the fact that I can’t point to the deck or event makes this evidence anecdotal, at best. Still, this is the only double-faced planeswalker ever printed, is a popular character, has only a single printing, and is relatively powerful. I’d be surprised if this dipped further before beginning its steady ascent to double digits.
Gideon Jura is one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever printed, but it’s kind of garbage in EDH and thus doesn’t have the casual backing to keep its price high. This represents opportunity, in my opinion. Its mana cost of five certainly makes it a stretch to see consistent play in Modern, but in the right metagame and in the right control variant, this could be a powerhouse. If this card leads someone into a top eight, do you really think it won’t be the top interest on MTG Stocks the next day? The only thing to keep the price at least somewhat under control will be its two printings.
A duel deck printing killed Koth of the Hammer’s price during its time in Standard, and the card has never really recovered. This is another case of a card being very powerful in 60-card, 20-life play but not being so hot in EDH. Eternal red decks tend to want a low curve, but Koth is undeniably powerful in the mono-red archetype. It’s Cube staple status probably won’t double the price overnight, but this looks like a floor. I can only see this one growing, even it’s slow.
Ral Zarek is iffy. It’s the highest priced of any I’ve listed for potential pickup, it has no competitive achievements, and it’s still in Standard. On the other hand, casual players love the long-awaited character, Izzet is a popular color combination, and Dragon’s Maze doesn’t have much value (so something has to pick up the slack). I’m not going to call this an acquisition target just yet, but it’s one to keep an eye on.
And finally, we come to Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Corbin called this on the Brainstorm Brewery cast a while back, and while it hasn’t seen any growth just yet, I still like the call. Like always, the duel deck printing didn’t do wonders for Sorin’s price, but I still think this is the floor. Sorin is an interesting spot in that it could be a slow-growing casual card, but I could also see it finding a home in a Modern black-white tokens deck and hitting big overnight. That seems like a pretty good dichotomy for a pickup target, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for copies.
To put this all in perspective, let me point out what we all know: planeswalkers are cool. They’re ridiculous in Limited and something different to do in Constructed. A game of Magic with a planeswalker in play is just different than one without. When a ‘walker sees Constructed play, it’s usually for an effect that is hard to replicate, meaning there are few adequate replacements. Casual players recognize the awesomeness of planeswalkers, too. Players in general just like them, and their price histories reflect that. I think they’re relatively safe, solid investments, and I’ll be looking to grow my cheaply-acquired planeswalker holdings moving forward.
Have an addition or rebuttal? Please share in the comments!
2 thoughts on “Insider: Planeswalker Finance”
Great article Danny!
I agree with a bunch of your picks, but especially like your call on Garruk Relentless. He’s a very high-power planeswalker that’s easily splashable with only one printing (and unlikely to be reprinted any time soon.)
A good example of how little casual demand there is on MTGO. 2-10x more expensive in paper for a lot of those.