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Insider: Preparing for Battle

Mike-Lanigan QS Magic the Gathering MTG

Pax Prime is closing in on us and that means we’re about to start the Battle for Zendikar! Like most players, I am extremely excited for some Magic Christmas presents. Spoiler season is among my favorite times of the year and the return to Zendikar has the community buzzing in anticipation.

Pax Prime is always when Wizards begins giving out real gifts from their hyped fall set and this year should be epic. Eldrazi, landfall, and a host of planeswalkers traveling to the plane to win this war makes for an Emrakul-sized hyped machine. That’s a unit of measurement right? One Emrakul. You think that will catch on with the rest of the world? Doubtful, but in the Magic community we know Eldrazi-sized hype when we see it.

Reexamining Preorders

Although I am stoked for preview season to begin and for rotation to throw us back to the drawing board for Standard, I’m trying to focus my attention on the financial implications and opportunities the new sets are generating. Today I want to take a look back at some trends I’ve noticed in the preorder process and prepare you for the possibilities to make a boatload of money in a month or so.

Let’s start by heading back five months or so to the time leading up to the release of Dragons of Tarkir. The most memorable card that surged in value during preorder season had to be Narset Transcendent. This second coming of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or so we thought, started out at a whopping $40. Most among the financial community told you to avoid the card completely because no planeswalker is Jace.

I think we will see another potent planeswalker that makes an impact in eternal formats, but that’s the type of thing that only comes around once in a blue moon. The blue moon phenomenon happens once every 2-3 years and that seems about right in my approximation of likely events. Jace, the Mind Sculptor came out near the end of 2009 and then we had Liliana of the Veil near the close of 2011. So, we’re about due for another high voltage planeswalker.

Getting back on track, Narset was certainly not worth the $40 that she started at and neither were the other cards in the set that started out valuable like Sarkhan Unbroken. It took several weeks for us to see the real value of the Dragons of Tarkir card pool. Here’s a short list of cards that changed dramatically in value after the set released.

Collected Company
Den Protector
Deathmist Raptor
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Dragonlord Ojutai
Dragonlord Atarka
Atarka’s Command
Kolaghan’s Command

These eight cards, which constitute most of the high value cards in the set, doubled or more in value. I’ve been noticing this trend more and more over the past year or two; we see cards fluctuate drastically in value from their preorder price to their true market economy price.

Now, you may be saying, obviously cards will fluctuate in cost from preorders to release. But let’s focus on a different aspect of the situation. Eight cards in the set increased their value by tremendous percentages in a short amount of time. We are talking about unbanning-type percentage increases.

This is not a situation we’ve been able to take advantage of in a number of years. Around the time of the original Zendikar block and before, I dipped my toes into the preorder lottery with repeated success. After a while, those opportunities dried up and the preorder prices became a somewhat stable representation of the financial layout of each set. As we’ve progressed in time, the designers of the game have been pushing the envelope with their design process. When we see drastically different types of cards being printed, some of them become hard to assess because they are so unique.

Use both Den Protector and Deathmist Raptor as prime examples of this concept. We last saw the morph mechanic a decade ago, and then a decade before that, and of those two instances a total of one card with the mechanic (Exalted Angel) saw significant play. Because of this, the community at large disregarded nearly every morph in the set as unplayable. So Raptor went from a preorder price of $8 down to $6 and then skyrocketed to $20+ within a month. Den Protector began his humble life as barely above bulk before progressing to the price point where he now sits.

We can look back at the newest addition to Magic history, Magic Origins, from the same vantage point as well. We didn’t see quite the same flipping-on-its-head that Dragons gave us financially, but there were many cards that followed this progression.

Liliana, Heretical Healer was one of the first cards we saw from the set. The legendary creature that flips into a planeswalker got us all pumped up so much that preorders started around $20, and then she made her way up to $25 before starting her descent back down.

She is still one of the most valuable cards in the set but that may change over time. There were lots of cards that started out rated highly, by myself and others on this site, that proved their financial worth by radically shifting in value.

Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Thopter Spy Network
Exquisite Firecraft
Abbot of Keral Keep
Demonic Pact
Hangarback Walker

Much of these shifts in value happened after the Pro Tour, but regardless of what events are lining up near the release, cards are changing in value and we should be capitalizing on these opportunities. What these past two sets have highlighted for me is that preordering isn’t the monster we’ve grown to think it is. Rather, the process is a treasure trove of prospective investments.

Indentifying Potential Gainers

What factors do these cards have in common that can help us identify the right course of action? I’ve narrowed them down to two key components.

The first is timing. So far in this article, each section has started with the mythic rare that was spoiled first for each set. In both cases, these were not good investments. Narset decimated peoples’ wallets with her price taking such a huge dive and Liliana’s price surprisingly stayed relatively stable. With each of these cards, waiting to purchase them would have served you well.

With preorder prices on the early spoiled mythics trending towards the top end of each set, we need to time our purchases accordingly. The better investments tend to get spoiled toward the end of spoiler season. In addition to popping up at the end of the spoiler, these cards have shown a trend of new mechanics. They are typically new designs or strangely difficult to analyze. Hangarback Walker for instance is a unique card whose power level is hard to pin down, hence its price fluctuating significantly.

Secondly, I need to highlight the most important factor: price. The starting price of the card is the part you need to pay the most attention to. If the card is starting over twenty dollars, chances are that you are not going to make money on that one. The Demonic Pacts and Kolaghan’s Commands of the world are where we want to shine the spotlight.

To wrap up, as we are filled with joy from the Battle for Zendikar spoilers, focus your attention on rares and mythics spoiled late that are preordering for cheap. Sometimes a Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy will surprise you and make you money, but the trend lies with the cheap cards.

Cards to Watch Leading up to BFZ

There may be some great opportunities from this highly anticipated fall set, but there are also some great ones in the here and now. On top of that, I’ve noted some upward trending cards that you may be aware of but are still worth mentioning.

Evolutionary Leap


Initially, I thought this card was headed for the bulk bins, or close to it. Certainly it has applications in Commander and for the casual crowd, but my opinion has grown beyond that narrow scope.

At Pro Tour Origins, Brian Kibler utilized this interesting reimagining of Birthing Pod and Survival of the Fittest in his sideboard to great effect. The Hall of Famer combined this new enchantment with Hangarback Walker to provide him with a constant stream of threats to fight against controlling strategies.

When I heard about this sequencing, I was blown away at the possibilities. Not only is it an underused sacrifice engine, but it also allows you to blank your opponent’s removal spells by replacing every threat with another as long as you have mana available to activate it. This card has potential and could be the centerpiece of a strategy moving forward.

Shaman of Forgotten Ways


Many local players that work with Magic finance have brought this to my attention because if I try to lower the price on it, they buy me out. Their reasoning seems obvious when you put the pieces together. We are entering a block with gigantic monstrosities that cost a billion mana and we’re losing our best mana producers from Theros block.

Shaman of Forgotten Ways seems poised to jump in and not only help with mana ramping fun but also with winning the game. That ferocious ability doesn’t take much to turn on when you have Eldrazi charging into the format. With this card bottoming out, now is the time to get in before we start the Battle.

Descent of the Dragons & Risen Executioner



Both Descent of the Dragons and Risen Executioner are good Magic cards that don’t have any friend to help them succeed. Returning to Zendikar could change that completely. I would say these are soft buys. Isolate these cards in trades and try to get a playset or two because their potential is tremendous. These are more risky than the cards I’ve identified above, but they seem like plants to me for archetypes that could pop up in the new set.

What’s going to help Descent of the Dragons succeed? How about eldrazi spawn tokens. If we see that mechanic return on some new cards, you wouldn’t be able to use them for mana and to make dragons, but playing these types of cards alongside this powerful mythic could end well for players brewing the sweetness.

What about zombies though? This creature type was basically nonexistent on Zendikar the last time we were there, but anytime you’re talking about annihilating armies of monsters and large-scale battles, there might also be some necromancer trying to take advantage of the situation by bringing back some of the fallen. If this happens, the Risen Executioner is looming in the shadows waiting to lead them to victory.

Sarkhan



As one of my favorite characters in the Magic universe, I may be a little biased on this one, but I think both versions of Sarkhan that have been released in Khans block could see significant gains in their future. Both of these adaptations cost five mana, which holds back their value, but they are both incredible planeswalkers. One of them basically turns into Stormbreath Dragon while also being able to kill a guy, and the other draws cards while accelerating your mana and also makes dragon tokens to protect himself.

Both of these cards have the makings of greatness within them. All they need is the right home to truly make them shine. They’re not getting any cheaper so if you like this investment, grab them while you can.

Dragonlords


In my store, all Dragonlords have been selling consistently higher than TCG Player prices. I’ve sold out of every one of these epic dragons including the massively underplayed Dragonlord Kolaghan. They are intensely cool characters in the most popular race in the game.

Whenever you have a chance to obtain copies of this cycle, do so. They make great generals in Commander, every kitchen table is filled with them, and they’re good enough to see play in Standard. That makes them a prime buy.

Temple of Epiphany


Due to the creation of U/R Artifacts and the resurgence of Jeskai Aggro, one temple stands above the rest scoffing at their falling prices. Temple of Epiphany has surged up in value and now is the time to take advantage of that fact. If you have extra copies, unload them now while you still can.

The others are already near their post rotation bottom, but with the blue-red one, you still have time to extract some value. If you aren’t using them right now, move them or you will regret it later.

Fetchlands



I’m sure by now you’re aware of the price jump the Khans block fetchlands have seen lately. We’re not done yet. These lands are going to continue to increase as time goes on. Basically every Magic finance writer and dealer could tell you the same exact thing, but it bears repeating. These two blue ones, Polluted Delta and Flooded Strand, are the obvious winners simply because they obtain blue mana.

Just like their Zendikar versions, unless some wonky reprint happens with one of them, they should always be at the top of the heap. Don’t be surprised to see them continue to go up a bit more while they’re in Standard. There will be opportunities to make money on these cards at each plateau so stand firm in your continued acquisition of this real estate.



What did surprise me was the increase in Wooded Foothills and Bloodstained Mire. These two Jund fetches are usually the cheaper ones, yet they have jumped alongside their blue counterparts. Certainly I expected this as well, but not so soon.

Wooded Foothills in particular jumping up close to Flooded Strand left me wondering what was going on. G/R Devotion coming back into the meta may have had something to do with this, but I think the more important aspect is the rising Zendikar lands brought this one along with them. Again, they’re not done. They will rise more still and have lots of room to grow.


Windswept Heath is the popular kid who broke up with his girlfriend and then all his friends rejected him. Now he’s relegated to the bottom of the list because he was slapped in the face with a random clash pack reprint. This event shows us that Wizards is willing to put fetches in random products like this, which is something to take note of.

Yet again, its price will still rise from its current value. Don’t lose faith in the lonely bottom dweller because his time will come again and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this card’s value overtake Bloodstained Mire in 2016.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this article about what’s happening in finance right now and the opportunities that are coming your way in the near future. Post your thoughts in the comments and let’s gear up for a great time in Magic finance.

Until next time,
Unleash the Force!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
Jedicouncilman23@gmail.com



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Mike Lanigan

Mike Lanigan

Mike Lanigan is high school math teacher by day and a shop owner by night. His tournament grinding may have slowed a little, but his love of the game has not. Mike's goal is to bring you a mix of perspectives from shop-owner insights to finance tips to metagame shifts and everything in between.

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2 thoughts on “Insider: Preparing for Battle

  1. See the Unwritten could definitely be a good pick up too. I’ve talked about it before but I probably should have mentioned it again. Thanks for pointing it out. 🙂

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