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Insider: Drag of Tarkir

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Greetings, Expectorators!

This set really sucks, doesn't it? But it doesn't just suck for competitive players, who will say "They pandered to casuals way too much with this set", it sucks for the casuals being pandered to, as well. Don't believe me? You gotta ask yourself one question.

The @#&% You Knowin' 'Bout Dargons?

So the set is lousy with dargons. The block is, frankly. Being lousy with dragons should be cool, but there's a problem. It's lousy with lousy dragons. To understand why this is a problem, let's look at something that is not dragons and illustrate what we mean.

Dragons Are the New Hydras

And hydras used to be big business. Hydras are big, scary, flavorful and you can pump a ton of mana into them and get there. In general, if you let casual players make something bigger the more mana they pump into it, they're going to be all about it. It is a big, awesome creature but it's also a fireball with feet.

As more and more casual people got into Magic, casual durdly stuff was bought up. Dragons, angels, demons, thallids and yes, hydras. Hydras that aren't that great are worth serious money.

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This hydra gets big, but it's not super great. Still, the card appeals to casual players, and make no mistake - EDH is not propping this card up as much as casual demand is. Hydras are nearly exclusively the purview of Vorel of the Hull Clade and Vorel don't truck with no red pips. Sure, some EDH decks like a beater like this, but most of its demand, which materialized in the last few years, is fueled by casual demand.

Hydras are big business. This one is solid, it's in Mana Flare colors, it has removal built in and it is a mythic from the first block where mythics were even a thing. Not only that, its interaction with Doubling Season is amazing due to its unique wording. Who are these casuals playing $9 hydras with $20 enchantments? They're very real and I love to trade cards with them.

So why aren't we seeing hydras that will be $10 cards in every set? One reason is that Apocalypse Hydra took five years to go up in price, so if there were a $10 hydra in Theros block, we're not going to know for a long time. Another reason? Hydras aren't special anymore.

There are so damn many hydras lately. Let's play a game called "How many hydras were in this block". Ready?

Alpha/Beta/Unlimited

1 hydra

Ice Age Block

1 hydra

Urza's Block

1 hydra

Masques Block

1 hydra

Ravnica Block

3 hydras

Theros Block

93 hydras

OK, so not really, but since Shards block, we've gotten 18 hydras, which is more than half of the hydras ever. That's so many. That's too many. They're just not that special anymore. What does this mean in practical terms?

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Hydras started out as red cards because, whatever. They spit fire or some crap so that made them red? I don't know. They started making them green. That's fine. But what does this mean for EDH players who want to use the unfairness of cards like Kalonian Hydra to get there? There are a total of 29 cards that show up in gatherer when you search for "hydra" as the creature type. Do all 29 go in a Vorel deck? Nope. Count.

This deck was called "Vorel and his Hydra Buddies" on TappedOut. So why are there only five hydras if this is a hydra deck? And if you think this is because it's a durdle deck, I run exactly one more hydra in my Vorel deck, probably because this list predates the printing of Lifeblood Hydra. Have you read that card?

Speaking of Lifeblood Hydra,

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The ratio of how good this is to how much it costs is non-correct right now. Being mass printed in a Commander deck hurts its upside, but not forever.

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Remember this guy?

But does this mean that Lifeblood Hydra has upside in a few years? Is it more likely that the price isn't limited by the number of copies in the Commander decks but rather by the number of other hydras? While Primal Vigor is competing with a few other cards like Doubling Season and Parallel Lives, Lifeblood Hydra has to compete with all hydras, past, present and future, for 5-6 spots. Are there just too many hydras?

Now imagine what that looks like for Dragons.

More Than 6 Slots

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How many dargons get run in this dragon-heavy deck? Let's count.

This deck runs 16 dragons. There are 154 dragons ever.

Now, this deck is roughly typical but you can find some Scion builds running as many as 25 dragons. 25 dragons out of 154 ever.

So what does it mean for a new dragon that comes along? Do we evaluate the dragon on its merits to see what kind of value it's going to hold? Well, not necessarily. There are really going to be two classifications of dragons, angels, demons, etc going forward. Let's look at both.

Sell Now

These cards will impact stuff NOW. This is most likely because they are good in Standard, sometimes only in Standard. The price profiles of those cards have a very predictable shape.

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Price memory will make this a bit sticky, but look where its price is headed. It peaked within a year of its release. As far as dragons go, this is pretty weak. Was it nutty in Standard where the skies were cluttered with Lingering Souls tokens? Yup. But that means that we were in a position to make money buying early.

I bought these at about $15 (I'm a lucksack, not a genius--I saw some tweets about the Japanese being on it and bought in with trade-in bonus at a GP) and sold under $40. I also never bought back in. These definitely haven't hit their floor yet. But how can that be? Dragons are great with casuals, aren't they?

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Is this one of the best six hydras ever? No, and its brief window of applicability in Standard bears this out. A hydra tribal deck could conceivably be a thing with Ulasht, the Hate Seed, but is that likely? That isn't going to make better use of hydras than Vorel, which is the gold standard hydra deck.

What we have here is a card that spikey people at first dismissed as "EDH fodder" but rediscovered later when blue was running roughshod. Later on, there was no sustained demand for the card and we see the value trail off. You gotta be pretty good to make the hydras roster and this isn't.

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Despite being the best hydra ever printed, this still hasn't ticked back up. If it hadn't been so impactful in Standard, this would have sat at a few bucks and creeped up. Ironically, its impact in Standard kept this concentrated in the hands of players.

When a card does nothing, it sits in bulk boxes, gets spread out over collections and casual decks and is tougher to track down. When casual cards spike later, it takes a while for copies to come out of the woodwork, but a high impact early means the cards don't get a chance to end up spread to the four winds.

This has upside at its current price. In a year or two, I expect this to double, but you don't want to be the guy coming off of these now.

Sell Later

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I marked the date of this card's reprinting in Conspiracy on the graph. Had this not experienced that reprinting, it might have creeped up even more.

This is a very good hydra and it's designed to do work in EDH. It has multiplayer-specific wording after all. Originally in the Mirror Mastery deck which no one was excited about, this ticked up as EDH players realized how good it was.

Lifeblood Hydra has a lot of the same characteristics, and I feel like we could see similar upside. More Commander 2014 was printed than was Commander 2011, but even if we don't see the same peak amplitude, I expect a similar peak shape. Who knows how Omnivore would have grown if not for the reprinting?

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This should never have hit bulk mythic status. EDH was a real thing by the time this set was played and people should have known better. The thing is, no one cared. This doesn't need to go in dragon decks--it steals their damn mana rocks and Perilous Vaults and Sword of Fire and Ice and Vedalken Shackles and stuff like that. It's a win condition in a Daretti deck.

This is expensive because it's good but it got cheap because it's a dragon. With renewed attention paid to dragons, people grabbed these to go in EDH decks and the foil corrected from a 2x to a 4x multiplier. You had over a year to buy these for nothing. Even good dragons go to poop if they aren't good in Standard, and remember that next time you are tempted to buy cards at presale because of EDH. This halved before it tripled.

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Don't lie; you had no idea this card was expensive. Well, it is. It wasn't just the announcement of dragons coming in Tarkir, either, this was a steady gainer that just tunes people up. It's one of the 20 best dragons ever printed and it knocked some dragons down a few pegs to claim its spot on the roster. It knocked a decent dragon off of the list.

And people groaned when they opened this soon-to-be-$10-bill in their boosters. "Awww man! I wanted a Champion of the Parish, not this bull$#%^" you said, throwing the card into a pile of trash like Parallel Lives (now $5). This took a few years, but it got there. Why? It's a good dragon and no one cared at first.

Are there any dragons that are destined to hit bulk status and will be good pickups later? There are a few dragon that remind me a bit of Balefire Dragon but while I am sure a few will be obvious in hindsight, nothing sticks way out. I think Dragonlord Atarka will be closer to Kalonian Hydra than Hydra Omnivore.

Is there anything I like right now? I won't say, but I'll give you a hint.

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12 thoughts on “Insider: Drag of Tarkir

  1. Dragons are super over-done – great point and referencing the numbers that exist is eye-opening. Great points made!

    But why didn’t people feel the same way about Angels during Avacyn Restored? For that set, everyone was like “this draft set sucks, but ooooooh pretty Avacyn”. What was different about that set vs. this one?

    1. There were 4 Mythic Angels in the set and 4 regular angels..Of the mythics only 1 was truly terrible and the others immediately become big in EDH (1 as a commander and 2 as giant bombs that could swing a game). Of the regular angels only 2 saw a good amount of tournament play and the others are ok, but not that high off of bulk status…

    2. There is no Dragon in all of Khans block as good as Avacyn or Griselbrand. Hell, most of them aren’t even as good as Sigarda, or Bruna, either.

      1. Wow, that’s crazy. When it comes to Angels, I generally know which are strong and which are crap. I don’t have that same background in Dragons. To me, they are all big fliers that cost a million mana and have flashy abilities. Obviously, some are better than others, but I’m a terrible judge.

        Hearing you say most the dragons are worse than Sigarda or Bruna explains a LOT. Thanks for translating to my language 🙂

        Also, that really sucks for dragon lovers to finally get a dragon set only to have the dragons mostly be terrible.

        1. Well, there are some benchmarks. It’s not helpful to say “is this card good in Commander” because that’s kind of an empty statement. What is helpful to say is this:

          (1) How does this Dragon’s power and toughness compare to those of similar casting costs? Usually, they are all around the same range, but some like Atarka really break the mold in this regard.

          (2) Does this Dragon have secondary utility or a disruptive element? Dragons like Shivan Helkite and Balefire Dragon help you clear away the ground. This kind of thing is very relevant in EDH, because the high life totals allow people to shrug off a dumb beater unless it’s interfereing with their game plan. You know how hatebears are a thing in eternal formats? Well, hatedragons are a thing in EDH.

          (3) Does this Dragon have an ability that scales in multiplayer? Assuming it’s doing something else good, this is potentially huge.

          (4) Does this Dragon do something useful or combo-enabling and unique or very rare? While not a Dragon exactly, this is where cards like Dragonspeaker Shaman show up.

          Applying this filter lets you see the cards in Dragons that have potential, although you’d still have to compare them to the Top 25 Dragons or whatever of all time to see how they stack up in the long term. Check out:

          A. Boltwing Marauder – This has a unique variant of the Forcemage ability. It acts as a combo piece with Krenko, some Elves lists that want to pump Viridian Joiner. It gets exceptionally nutty with spells that spawn lots of dudes. Thatcher’s Revolt, Waylay, etc. Power and toughness are also very solid for the cost, and in a pinch, making more creatures means he’s swinging for 7 each turn at a minimum. Long term not bulk.

          B. Dragonlord Atarka – Very high stats, a disruptive ability (zap an annoying creature or 5 when it enters) and can be used as a general. Long term not bulk, probably expensive.

          C. Enduring Scalelord – Combo piece with clone effects in a Naya EDH deck. Long term not bulk.

          D. Harbinger of the Hunt – Disruptive with a fair body. Would be great except that Shivan Hellkite and another Dragon from Time Spiral whose name escapes me right now do it better. Poop.

          E. Icefall Regent – Dragon removal with OK status. Not bulk.

          F. Ruthless Deathfang – Combo piece with sacrifice outlets. There is a problem, though; those synergies work best in junk colors, and this dude has blue in his cost. Also, this dragon is overcosted for his P/T and effect. Too niche. Poop.

          G. Savage Ventmaw – Combo with Charging Hellkite; but stats/cost are awful. Probably still poop, but almost not.

          H. Swift Warkite – Combo with Fiend Hunter. Synergizes well with blink effects. In odd colors, but Mardu colored reanimator decks are not impossible in EDH. Not bulk.

  2. Geez, J-Alt, you’ve been really running this Dargon thing into the ground lately. I count three podcasts (MD and BB) and now two articles where you’re lamenting the overprinting of Dragons.

    Bad cards are bad. Good cards are good. Over time, good cards are in demand and bad cards are not. What makes Dragons and Hydras so special in this regard?

    I mean, I get that your thesis is something like “Hydras and Dragons used to be so rare that they always had some non-bulk value because if you liked those creature types your options are limited,” but that hasn’t REALLY been true for years already. Even before Khans you didn’t run all the dragons. Look at Mirage block for some amazingly bulk Dragons, sheesh. And Hydras? When was Balduvian Hydra anything BUT bulk?

    Bad cards are bad, news at 11.

    1. >Geez, J-Alt, you’ve been really running this Dargon thing into the ground lately. I count three podcasts (MD and BB) and now two articles where you’re lamenting the overprinting of Dragons.

      I’d apologize for making a point that’s important for people to understand and one that contradicts accepted doctrine in MTG Finance but that would be ludicrous. How ludicrous?

      >Bad cards are bad. Good cards are good

      About as ludicrous as this statement.

      There are no bad cards in the article. The article was about how to decide what to do with good dragons and good hydras because just being of that creature and just being “good” someone isn’t enough. Mistcutter isn’t a bad hydra; it got played in f’ing standard, something that “good” dragons like Balefire Dragon never did. This isn’t a “bad cards are bad” article, it’s a “here’s how you differentiate between two classifications of good creatures and make the most money off of them”.

      1. What’s your thesis, then? You identified the price trajectory of a few specific cards, but I didn’t see an overarching strategy for identifying which Hydargons are gonna be good long-term investments other than “Is this card good (outside of standard)? Then hold.”

        1. I think that’s a fine thesis. It used to be simpler – Good hydras and good dragons got there. It’s not as simple anymore. You say it hasn’t been that simple for a while, but we constantly see really good EDH cards worth nothing for years and then approach $10 and we see good-looking cards that impact standard dwindle to nothing. Mistcutter Hydra would be worth more money if there were more room to run more Hydras, but a glut of hydras lately has made people more selective, irrespective of its playability in EDH. Not only that, but “good” and “bad” don’t even matter anymore. You need to evaluate each new hydra in terms of every other hydra, ditto for dragons. Absolute terms like “good” and “bad” make sense in the context of a format like Standard, but not in the grand scheme. It’s getting way harder to evaluate cards and I gave some concrete examples. I can get more in depth next week if you want.

          1. Your point, then, is that Dragons and Hydras in particular compete for demand not just with the entire cardpool, but specifically with other Dragons and Hydras, and so whenever a new, good-outside-of-standard Dragon or Hydra is printed, another good-but-not-as-good Dragon or Hydra is going to get pushed off the list.

            Okay, I follow that, but perhaps there could be a more clear way to analyze this. Like, rank the Hydras and Dragons by EDH appearances so you can identify the Top 25; it’s unlikely decks have room for more than that. This gives us a useful tool to refer to when a new Hydra or Dragon comes along. Does this push something off the list?

            This also suggests that Dragons of Tarkir should do basically zero to Dragons previously printed because, despite there being many dragons in the set, there is the usual number of Dragons that actually compete for the top 25 slots. (1 or 2).

            1. That was something I almost did on Gathering Magic – the Top 25 dragons in a 75% EDH context. A lot of the dragons would have been the same.

              I think Lifeblood Hydra is good enough to push a non-hydra out of the list, so there is something to be said for that, too. The ranking could be interesting because it would be something like Top 25 dragons, Top 5 Hydras, Top 10 angels, Top 3 Demons, etc. Each tribe has their own tipping point where you have to cut a bad one to add a good one. It also means different things to different decks because FRF Atarka is better in dragon tribal but DOT Atarka is better in a Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck, etc.

              I think the ranking of the best in the tribes is important, but it’s likely highly subjective. You could fudge and do a “no particular order” disclaimer, but you have to figure out the least acceptable dragon, because that’s the one that gets bumped off the list.

              Interesting feedback, I will take until my next article to digest it.

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