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Insider: Dragon’s Maze of Tarkir?

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Look, I get it. Dragons of Tarkir is not the most exciting set to come along. After all, we know it doesn’t have to be, thanks to the fact that so many dragons will sell the set like crazy regardless.

But the fact is, the set just hasn’t been exciting for a number of people. The Dragon’s Maze comparisons have been made before, and they’re not completely in-apt. That said, I don’t believe this is the next Dragon’s Maze, and I want to explain why.

What Does Calling a Set “Dragon’s Maze” Mean?

Dragon’s Maze as a set did not do well, despite wrapping up the return to the plane of Ravnica, something a lot of people were extremely excited about. But there were problems from the start; people didn’t like that there was nothing new, they didn’t like that the set didn’t impact Standard all that much, it was a small set that didn’t engender a particularly great Limited format, and overall it was just plain “meh.”

Financially, it means that the set holds no value. Dragon’s Maze had nothing but Voice of Resurgence going for it, and as a result we had one massively expensive card but nothing else of value in the set. Opening packs felt like a lottery ticket, and that’s not something that appealed to a lot of people.

Today, long after its rotation from Standard, a box of Dragon’s Maze has exactly one card over $10 (Voice at $18), and the total EV of a box is a pitiful $54. By comparison, Return to Ravnica has an EV of $96 per box even though it was opened massively more than the Maze. When we’re used to seeing third sets become ridiculously expensive (Avacyn Restored has six cards over $10 and an EV of $110), you can see just how bad of a set Dragon’s Maze was.

On the surface, Dragons can look similar. Even before the set is released, only three cards are above $10, and there are very few cards that look to see any play outside of Standard. Hell, even Standard playability has been questioned.

But there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

A History Lesson

I mentioned Avacyn Restored earlier, and I want to circle back around to that. If you remember back to that time when Snapcasters were only $20 and no one card about Restoration Angel, the limited format was roundly condemned.

People hated how little interaction there was (I personally complained about it on the podcast after going 4-0 at the prerelease but still hating the format), and as things progressed we found out draft was no better. In an attempt to make soulbond less of a “feel-bad” mechanic, there were almost no ways to interact with it. People hated it, and you couldn’t go five minutes in a conversation with Magic players without someone talking about how it was the worst format ever created.

But a funny thing happened.

The set sold like crazy.

I interviewed Aaron Forsythe at GenCon that year, and talked to him about the set. Sure, Innistrad had recently been crowned the best-selling set of all time, and even though Avacyn Restored would never pass it given the limited time frame it was available, it actually sold better than Innistrad in that time period.

For something so universally panned, that makes no sense. After all, if players are actively not drafting the set, where are those sales coming from?

The answer, as it often is, is the almighty casual player. The guy who will never show up to a tournament besides the occasional prerelease but will wander into a game store and buy a handful of packs for the angels.

And you know what is the second-most popular creature type in Magic after angels?

Dragons.

A Tarkir of Dragons

I get that Dragons of Tarkir isn’t exciting. The biggest movement we’ve seen is Deathmist Raptor, a card I went on record last week saying wasn’t actually that powerful in Standard, jumping to nearly $15.

On the one hand, I don’t want to believe that can stick. On the other, the EV of this set has to go somewhere in the short term, and that may well be it. But, to be honest, I’m much less interested in what this set does in the next month than what it does in the next year.

It’s true that this set may not have a huge impact on Standard. Some of the cards will break through, I’m sure, but for the most part more durdly dragons is not what Standard needed. The product will languish on the shelves when people could instead take their shot at fetchlands, and as a result the few playable cards that come out of this set will command a premium, just like Dragon’s Maze.

But this is no trip to the labyrinth. Remembering our lesson about Avacyn Restored, I have huge confidence in this set in the long term. Dragonlord Atarka is going to get cheap but remain hugely popular among those casual players, and a few years from now it will be going for at least double its current $5 price. Thunderbreak Regent is going to hit $2 in the next three months, but this thing is massively popular in those dragon EDH decks that are already moving prices.

It goes beyond the flashy dragons. Dragon Tempest started at 50 cents before stores realized the giant Commander and casual base that wanted this thing. It’s $2 now but will be under a buck before all is said and done. Still, I have no problem seeing this card being the next Crucible of Fire and hitting $5 in two years.

Sidisi, Undead Vizier will hit a dollar in that time frame but is an absurd Commander card in the vein of Rune-Scarred Demon, which has hit $5 and is growing despite a precon printing.

Risen Executioner is everything you could ask for in a Zombie lord, but even as a mythic meanders under $3. I don’t understand how this isn’t the next Lord of the Undead, a $7-9 card despite four printings.

Dragonlord's Servant is an uncommon but it's literally the next Dragonspeaker Shaman, an expensive card despite multiple printings.

So no, this isn’t the most exciting set right now. All these cards I’ve mentioned will get cheaper before they get more expensive. But I promise the casual demand is there for this set, and I love grabbing everything out of Tarkir before we hit rotation. It’s going to take a long time to hit, but hit it will.

And we’ll be ready.

 

Thanks for reading,

Corbin Hosler

@Chosler88 on Twitter

3 thoughts on “Insider: Dragon’s Maze of Tarkir?

  1. I personally love Risen Executioner. An enabler for recursion engines AND a lord? Sign me up!

    However, it’s worth looking a little more deeply at the card from the perspective of how it stacks up to Zombie lords before declaring that it’s vastly underpriced at 3 – 4 dollars. This is actually a pretty normal price for a Zombie lord. Let’s do a quick survey of King Zombies, shall we? (Prices are from MTGGoldfish)

    From most to least expensive:

    1. Death Baron – A 3cc lord that also pumps Skeletons and gives deathtouch. Two printings, but one was in Planechase. It’s like 12 bux.

    2. Lord of the Undead – A 3cc lord that lets you return zombies to your hand. Four printings. It’s 8 dollars.

    3. Undead Warchief – a 4cc lord that makes your zombies cheaper. Just two printings, only once is mass. It’s 4 dollars.

    4. Cemetery Reaper – A 3cc lord that lets you pay 2B to get another 3/3 each turn. A rare that has been printed five times. All printings go for 2 – 4 dollars.

    5. Zombie Master – A 3cc lord that does not pump but gives regen and swampwalk. YOu can find it for 2 – 3.

    6. Diregraf Captain. A 1UB lord that pings when a zombie dies. One printing. Bulk.

    Here’s what I draw from this: being a lord is not nearly enough to get a card there even long term. It has to be good on its own merits. Even with multiple printings, Lord of the Undead is really, really, good and so it maintains a very high price. I happen to think that Executioner is also really good, but I think the jury’s still out, and since he’s a Johnny card, he may actually not have the casual appeal you want. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect him to follow the trajectory of the other 4cc lord and stay where he is, all else being equal. I mean, he won’t be bulk, but I doubt casuals get him above 10 even in five years.

    Now, there’s a wrinkle, which is he’s also a mythic from a third set that isn’t getting a lot of good press, so there probably won’t a be a ton more of him printed than gold ol’ Warchief. He might rise a bit. I don’t think you’ll see a premium anywhere near the range of Lord of the Undead, however.

    I think this card is more likely to spike as part of a Modern combo deck of some sort, due to his somewhat unique reanimation ability, more than due to casual appeal as a Zombie lord.

    Love to hear your thoughts on BSB, and shutupcorbin.

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