I realize that the title of this article seems cryptic, so I think it wise to begin with the premise. The longer one plays Magic the better one tends to be at evaluating cards. Humans are good at discerning patterns and doing so helps us make decisions quickly. Early on in our existence this might have been something like "The last cave I saw had a bear in it, so I will avoid going into this other cave". Our brains had established that there was potential danger to be found in caves and thus perhaps we avoided them whenever possible. This pattern development kept primitive man alive and eventually allowed humanity to flourish. This same pattern recognition still exists. It is the reason we can see a card like Highmore Vampire and immediately know that it will not see constructed play. A vanilla 4/3 for 4 mana is not powerful enough to justify its inclusion in a competitive deck. If instead it only cost 2 mana, it would likely see a good bit of play.
Why this matters!
The reason I bring this up is because we often look for patterns subconsciously and we can misjudge something simply to make it fit in a pattern. I have been speccing on Howlpack Piper // Wildsong Howler and I was about to purchase even more copies when I started to wonder why they are still so cheap. We had discussed on the discord channel back when the card was originally spoiled how it was another Elvish Piper, which is currently an $8 card despite 8 mass printings. Howlpack Piper // Wildsong Howler is very similar; it cheats any creature you want into play and it is a 4 drop. It even has upside that it is itself uncounterable, which is highly desirable for a creature that needs to resolve and stick around to do anything; and it can flip to dig for another creature.
So why are copies under $1?
- The masses have just missed this card and the crowd is wrong. While possible—given that it has been out for months—this isn't all that likely. Clinging to this reason may be somewhat self deluding.
- The sorcery speed limitation is much more important than one might think. There is a pretty good argument for this as a major culprit for its current price, given how without haste the threat it cheats in also has to survive a full turn cycle to attack or activate abilities, whereas, Elvish Piper typically cheats non hastey threats at the end of the opponent's turn.
- The extra mana in the ability cost is more significant than it might seem. Plausible, but less likely than reason 2.
- The forced flip when it becomes night, which is a way to turn off the cheating into play ability, may be a larger liability than originally thought. While I think there is merit to this issue as well, a 4 drop that let's you take any creature in the top 6 of your library seems good enough that it would still be playable in many decks.
Validate Your Assumption
There is one last thing that one should do when considering a potential speculation target; verify the card is actually desirable by a large number of players. This is often difficult to do when a set is first released, however, the longer supply is in the market the more time the market has to absorb that supply. If the market chooses not to, take a step back and ask why. My initial assumption was that Elvish Piper is a highly desirable Commander card so a similar creature should be similarly desirable. However, a quick check on EDHREC.com shows that even Elvish Piper is only listed in around 8000 decks, which might seem like a lot, however, when there are over half a million listed on the site, that number puts it in less than 1%. Even more importantly, the Commanders that do tend to play it aren't all that popular anymore; with the top 3 being Mayael the Anima, Xenagos, God of Revels, and Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle.
If we dig a bit deeper we can find that amongst Gruul Commanders, Xenagos, God of Revels is the third most popular, which really isn't that bad actually. However, in the Simic group, Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle is the ninth most popular Commander. Similary, for the Naya group Mayael the Anima is also the ninth most popular Commander.
These results would indicate that demand for Elvish Piper should be waning, though interestingly enough, it has actually seen a fair amount of price growth since Kaldheim.
Now, looking at Howlpack Piper // Wildsong Howler our EDHRec results show it finding a home in only 3300 decks. This shows that despite being very similar to Elvish Piper it makes the cut in decks playing it less than half the time. This likely means that even if it were to show decent gains, the price ceiling is likely not that high; perhaps $3-$5.
After digging into the pricing (or lack thereof) for Howlpack Piper // Wildsong Howler, I have not completely given up on it as a spec; so it has not made it to the box of shame, but I am not going to invest anymore into it at this time. It can be very easy to make a snap judgement on a card and hold fast to that judgement, but in the world of MTG finance; it is better to cut your losses and re-invest in something with more potential than to doggedly chase a spec simply because it looked good initially.
Have you ever been mislead by your instincts on a card spec before?