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Five Old Kamigawa Things I’d Like To See in Neon Dynasty

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Revisiting the Past

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty previews are just on the horizon. Before we jump into Kamigawa's cyberized future, I'd like to look back at some things from the original Kamigawa Block that I'd like to see either reprinted or have modern takes on. Straight reprints of these things may not be possible due to the passage of time in the storyline or modern design sensibilities, but they are all things that made the original Kamigawa great in my mind. I'd love to see them get another chance to shine.

Sakura-Tribe Elder aka "Steve"

I love a lot of the cards from Kamigawa block. There are so many powerful cards still making waves in multiple formats. No card has quite the special place in my heart as Sakura-Tribe Elder, aka "Steve." Steve does almost everything you'd want a two-mana green creature to do. He attacks on an open board, he blocks, and he ramps. Other than Sensi's Divining Top, I don't think there is any card from all of Kamigawa Block that I've played with as much as Steve. He was a Standard all-star back in his day and an auto-include in almost every green deck I play in Commander. If reprinted, he'd easily find a home in Standard, Historic, and Pioneer.

There's only one problem. Two-mana ramp spells are rarely printed these days due to current Magic design sensibilities. Not counting extra land play spells like Growth Spiral, the only true two-mana ramp spell we've seen in about the last decade is Emergent Sequence. As much as I'd like to see Steve getting some fresh life, I'll have to be content with him in Commander for now.

Shrines

Kamigawa is the original home of the enchantment subtype shrine. The original shrine cycle, the Hondens, was so much fun in Champions of Kamigawa Limited, they were reprinted in Eternal Masters. A new cycle of Shrines was printed in Core Set 2021 and was again well-received. Shrines are not only fun in Limited. By design, they scream "build around me." This inspires deck builders to harness their power in multiple formats.

Enchantment-based decks are interesting because they work on a different axis from typical Magic. In typical Magic, creatures, and occasionally Planeswalkers, are the powerful offensive and defensive weapons of choice. The reprinting of Solitary Confinement in Modern Horizons 2, demonstrates that Wizards is okay with enchantment decks in Modern. Whether they're okay with them in Standard, Historic, or Pioneer, is another question. Either way though, a new cycle of shrine-type enchantments could go a long way in making enchantments viable in multiple formats.

Splice

This might be my most controversial callback to the old Kamigawa block, but I enjoyed the splice mechanic, particularly in Limited. Dampen Thought was an interesting card that made Limited at the time more than just slugging it out with creatures. Glacial Ray was another interesting card that in the right deck could act as a powerful removal spell, or as a way to kill the opponent after repeated use.

Limiting splice to only working on arcane subtype cards was the major downfall of this mechanic in the original Kamigawa block. It made the mechanic parasitic and only playable within the block. Modern Horizons 1 introduced an updated splice ability on two cards. The MH1 splice ability is open-ended allowing it to be tacked onto any instant or sorcery.

Neither Everdream nor Splicer's Skill were particularly exciting. They both saw some play in Limited but didn't really shake things up in any way. If there's a premier set to introduce this updated version of the splice mechanic in a big way, that set is Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Who knows, a Dampen Thought variant not dependant on arcane cards could even be constructed playable.

Kitsune

The Kitsune, a race of fox-humanoids were an interesting change from the typical high fantasy elves and etc. which Magic usually leans on for sentient non-human beings. Adapted from the kitsune of Japanese folklore, The Kitsune are supernatural creatures, stand-ins for Magic's usual angels, and often sages or guardians. In the folklore, the more tails a kitsune had, the more powerful they were. This is reflected in cards like Eight-and-a-Half-Tails.

While entirely in the color white in original Kamigawa, some Japanese folklore speaks of kitsune as tricksters, which could be represented by them appearing in other colors in Neon Dynasty. I'd like to see them possibly show up in black or red to reflect this aspect of their folklore origins.

Zubera Spirits

Champions of Kamigawa introduced a cycle of spirits with a unique subtype: Zubera. The Zubera all had an effect when they and any number of other spirits died. This played well with a pair of commons in the set, Devouring Greed and Devouring Rage. The Devouring cards allowed you to sacrifice any number of spirits to achieve a larger effect for each spirit sacrificed.

Devouring Greed in particular made it possible to draft a sort of spirits tribal deck with a potential combo-kill finish. Play lots of spirit cards, especially Zubera which all have effects upon dying, battle with creatures until you draw your combo piece to sacrifice your board and kill the opponent. I don't remember how powerful the deck was, but it was my favorite thing to do in Champions limited.

Neon Future

The original Kamigawa block is beloved by many, but it was not without its faults. I've focused here on the things I enjoyed most about the block and would like to see more of. While I'm not sure if any of these old Kamigawa cards, mechanics, or creature types have a place in the futuristic world of Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, they are the things I think of most when I look back on old Kamigawa.

What did you like about the original Kamigawa block? What would you like to see return in Neon Dynasty? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Directly Proving That Life Is A Resource In Commander

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Welcome to Phyrexia

Mental Misstep. Gitaxian Probe. These cards were mistakes and, while a powerful mechanic, Phyrexian Mana was definitely not tuned properly. The question then, is, should you bring Phyrexian Mana into your Commander pool? Answer these questions:

Like going to one life? Enjoy risking the entire game on some sequencing ability with a healthy twist of RNG? Love Phyrexian mana? Well, have I got a commander for you!

My local venue is going to have a Two-Headed Giant (2HG) Commander event and I believe this will be the right time to try my K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth deck.

A Blast From the Commander 2019 Past

K'rrik is definitely not a remotely fair card. He turns your life total quite directly into roughly 16 black mana. K'rrik asks a very direct question: Can you win the game with 16 plus mana on turn four? Yes, it's entirely possible. The trick is to go from possible to probable and I've slowly improved the deck to get much of the way there. I think you'll find my version of K'rrik a little different than most other versions. This is partly because of the Two-Headed Giant twist for this event. The other part is how all-in this version of the deck is compared to most others I have seen.

Best Cards in the Deck

The Gameplan

Part of the allure of K'rrik is having huge turns and figuring out how to win, on the spot, from any board state or mana count. The amount of plays possible is mindboggling if we don't have our go-to win: Doomsday.

I usually get Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Aetherflux Reservoir, Leshrac's Sigil as four of the five with the last card being either some form of insurance like Conjurer's Bauble or a draw spell like Infernal Contract or Cruel Bargain. Once you Doomsday then draw, you mana ramp with your rituals, cast Aetherflux, and finally Leshrac's Sigil. Your "storm count" at this time is at least five and now you can activate Leshrac's Sigil to bounce it back to your hand and cast it - now you are gaining at least six life. With K'rrik in play, you can pay four life to recast the Sigil, gain life, pay life to bounce the sigil, re-cast it to gain life… Once you are gaining eight or more life you have effectively gone infinite. With infinite life, you can kill an arbitrary amount of opponents with Aetherflux. Casting infinite black spells also puts infinite +1/+1 tokens on K'rrik so you can attack someone for lethal commander damage. Sometimes it's important to do as much as you can first *and then* attack with K'rrik; his Lifelink can be just enough to power a win on that turn!

It's not Blackmail It's Extortion

My version of this deck has some tech for Two-Headed Giant. If Doomsday is not possible, the deck has a surprisingly strong backup win condition: Extort creatures. The beauty of Extort with two or more opponents is that you can pay to Extort for two life with K'rrik - you get that life right back while your opponents get drained for free! Chaining off several spells per turn is very easy with the amount of draw in the deck. In a multiplayer game with three opponents, you actually net one extra life every time you Extort using K'rrik mana! You can also sometimes "Oops" into Relentless Dead or Gravecrawler, a sacrifice outlet, an Extort creature, and another Zombie to turn every black mana and life point into more drain damage.

Some Unexpected Cards

With K'rrik, Blood Celebrant allows you to pay three total life for one mana you can use for anything; this card is extremely good here! This bad Channel generates some mana or becomes an Extort body with a Pontiff of Blight in play.

It's not Much of a Sacrifice

I love playing cards that literally defined a mechanic in Magic. Sacrifice is exactly that. Much of the time it's another Dark Ritual or better. An interesting trick is to just Sacrifice K'rrik straight up. As long as this is the first time he has died, bringing him back costs six colorless and three black Phyrexian mana, aka six life. Sacrifice on K'rrik generates seven black mana - but with K'rrik out, it's only another two life - thus this generates one extra black mana and K'rrik for the price of K'rrik and 8 life - a bargain! Sometimes that extra "storm" count and single bonus black mana are exactly what you need. If you're not willing to potentially pay eight life for one mana K'rrik is not the kind of deck you will enjoy playing.

Lurching Rotbeast, AKA Streetwraith

There's a story here, one I am happy to tell. During the "Magic Arena" beta I played a particularly grueling game versus a Dimir control deck and it came down to me with Lurching Rotbeast (I just started playing and had a limited collection) versus my opponent who finally was out of resources. On that day that I made a bold promise, "Lurching Rotbeast," I said "If you win me this game, I will forever include you in every black deck I ever play." With the oath made, Lurching Rotbeast smashed in turn after turn bringing my opponent to near death. Just one more combat step would immortalize the Rotbeast but it was not meant to be. My zombie was brought down by removal.

While I did eventually grind out that win, I never forgot about the Rotbeast that almost was. Additionally, K'rrik allows you to pay for Cycling costs that contain black mana by just paying life thus I have a huge number of cards that turn into Street Wraith. If Streetwraith is Modern and Legacy playable, then Lurching Rotbeast under the command of K'rrik becomes just as powerful. It is also a zombie for Gravecrawler shenanigans.

Turn One Win?

Is it possible to win with this deck on turn one? The answer is yes! Here's what you need:

Turn One Win Hand

Get mana, cast K'rrik, cast Bolas' Citadel, cast Doomsday, Citadel the cards into play to win. Is this a reliable turn one win? No, definitely not. However, it is important to familiarize yourself with the sequence of cards because you can win from surprising angles and many different board states. Simply casting Peer into the Abyss at virtually any time results in a pile that wins 99.99% of the time (I've clearly done the math, trust me!)

Aren't You Afraid of Big Blue?

Never live in fear of Counterspell. Force your opponents to have the answer or lose, right now. Additionally, if you're absolutely sure the table is packing counterspells switch gears to the Extort plan and just drain the table slowly; no one will think you are the primary threat if you slow down. Furthermore, this version of K'rrik is one I am going to bring to a Two-Headed Giant Commander event - I'm going to have a teammate with counterspells!

A Combo Deck But So Much More

K'rrik does not begin and end at Aetherflux+Sigil or Gravecrawler, Phrexian Altar, and Ayara, First of Locthwain. It's about thinking on your feet, seeing the correct line, and knowing when to go all in. Unfortunately, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. That's why the deck has an Extort backup plan.

Here's the Decklist

Why Are You NOT Playing X Card?

The most likely reason is that I'm trying this deck out for 2HG and I know the venue fairly well. While there will be competitive decks, I do think that I stand a fair chance with my partner deck stalling the opponents and/or protecting my combo. I am strongly confident that even without an ideal hand, K'rrik can "go off" without very much warning and I do not want my opponents to see what is coming. Convincing my opponents that I am about to combo off and that they need to keep mana open for counters and removal every turn while I just play a bunch of creatures with Extort and one mana artifacts feels like a sneaky way to throw them off. The second they tap out I can go for the win.

Additionally, many cards are just too slow for what I am doing - this is why Basic Swamp is the only land in the deck (alright I run 1Barren Moor because it cycles for two life) - I cannot afford an enters play tapped land or something that is not doubled by Bubbling Muck and Rain of Filth. Another card I really want to play is Triskaidekaphobia but I cannot make room for it.

Adapting This Deck for Multiplayer

If I were retooling K'rrik for a regular multiplayer experience I would add a little more disruption, a few more permanents, and a bit more recursion at the cost of speed. For example, Ashnod's Altar and Phyrexian Altar are close enough to the same card to where I do not care which card I get. I run two to improve the chances of drawing one. In a multiplayer version, I'd probably cut Ashnod's to free room for other cards. It's unlikely I would run both Cruel Bargain and Infernal Contract for multiplayer; I might add in Temporal Extortion, one of my favorites, instead.

Additionally, there are cards like Scheming Symmetry that are an absolute slam dunk for Two-Headed Giant. They would turn into a variety of other tutors outside of 2HG. Another card I should be playing is Font of Agonies because of the incredible synergy but it is not part of my combo kill or my backup plan.

What Does EDHREC Say?

K'rrik has gotten really popular lately on EDHREC and has more decklists than any other mono-black commander.

The top combo listed for the deck is the classic Sanguine Bond+Exquisite Blood. This is a solid combo and is definitely a game-ender, but, I feel like it's really slow at ten total mana and telegraphs what is going on, and, either piece can be removed to stop it. My biggest gripe with this combo is that it barely utilizes your commander - these are five mana enchantments with only one or two black mana in the casting cost!

With K'rrik, I'm either playing 15 cards in a turn, ending the game, or just playing a mana rock and passing. It's an extremely unpredictable deck, and, it has multiple different ways to win that have nothing to do with one another; a single Basilica Screecher can get there and that does not fold to a single Disenchant.

Win, Lose, It Doesn't Matter

I've wanted to play my version of K'rrik ever since I saw the card and now is my chance. I know for a fact that players are going to reach across the table and look at Fade from Memory or Dredge or Lurching Rotbeastand they are going to let their guard down. I'm going to smile; then I'm probably going to combo off.

Joe Mauri

Joe has been an avid MTG player and collector since the summer of 1994 when he started his collection with a booster box of Revised. Millions of cards later he still enjoys tapping lands and slinging spells at the kitchen table, LGS, or digital Arena. Commander followed by Draft are his favorite formats, but, he absolutely loves tournaments with unique build restrictions and alternate rules. A lover of all things feline, he currently resides with no less than five majestic creatures who are never allowed anywhere near his cards. When not Gathering the Magic, Joe loves streaming a variety of games on Twitch(https://www.twitch.tv/beardymagics) both card and other.

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2021 Yearly Review

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Meticulous Record Keeping

Since starting my TCGPlayer store back in 2019, I have been pretty meticulous with my record keeping. I believe there is a lot of value in my sales data and by tracking every sale I can get a good picture of how to move forward with my operation. One of the big challenges with larger amounts of data is how one utilizes it. This is one reason I like to do these articles. It forces me to comb through my data and learn from it. You can learn a good bit about your customer base by taking a 10,000-foot view of your overall yearly sales. However, I will be the first to admit that some data can be subject to one's own confirmation bias, which I will discuss in due time.


Year by Year Comparison

2020 was a banner year for sales. It isn't all that surprising given the fact that here in the US, many people were stuck at home for a good part of it. In addition, there was a period of time in which all the major retailers were closed, thus people who wanted cards flocked to TCGPlayer and orders poured in. This isn't to say I nor anyone else was glad about a pandemic, definitely the opposite, but circumstances still brought card sales to a new high for many of us. That being said, I did not expect 2021 to even come close in overall sales, and yet, as of me writing this, I am within 1% of matching 2020. Both years are a good 40% above 2019. I think overall sales can be misleading though. If one also had a lot of expenditures, the overall profits could be worse. For that reason, I divided my expenditures by sales to get an idea of what sort of inventory costs I had in the past three years.

2019- 56.8%
2020- 21.1%
2021- 13.2%

This is a great trend as it implies my overall Magic expenses are heavily trending downward while sales have trended up. It is important to note that in early 2019 I was buying up a lot of Ultimate Masters reprints that were Commander and Modern staples as speculation targets. The Commander ones like Phyrexian Altar were big winners, but the modern ones like Noble Hierarch, Through the Breach, and Goryo's Vengeance have all lost value. I believe some of that loss is heavily influenced by a lack of in-person modern events, and once those start up again demand will likely drive prices up somewhat.


2021 Itself

Whenever I sell a card I include the format it is most likely being purchased for. This allows me to gauge what formats have been most successful to me sales-wise. That said, there is a danger of confirmation bias as I do tend to shift purchases towards the formats that are proving to be bigger sellers, thus potentially skewing the future sales data towards those formats. I have also had to step back from playing the more competitive formats so I shifted my inventory towards Commander, as it is the format I play the most now. My sales percentage by formats were:

Commander -71%
Modern - 20%
Standard - 2%
Legacy -4%
Pioneer -1%
Old School -2%

If I compare those percentages to 2020

Commander - -4%
Modern - + 10%
Standard - -1%
Legacy - + 1%
Pioneer - -7%
Old School -  +1%

I was quite surprised to see that Commander sales percentage was down and Modern was actually up significantly. Stores opening up and offering tournaments again could explain the Modern growth. The collapse of Pioneer sales is likely due to waning interest. Many of my sales from 2020 were prior to the lockdowns, while the format itself was still in its infancy, thus interest was high and people were buying lots of staples to establish a card pool.

Looking at the data trends themselves, I will likely avoid buying any more Legacy or Pioneer staples in the near future. They just haven't been selling for me. I only have so much money to sink into inventory. One can only afford a small percentage of "stagnant" inventory, which I define as both cards that aren't selling, and cards I do not want to sell at this time, such as speculation targets.


Older Inventory

Another important note is that much of my sales in 2021 were of cards purchased in other years. Normally when I buy a collection, I list the majority of it near TCGPlayer Low to try to recoup my investment. I know the typical profit margin I will make on any given card so I can comfortably say that a lot of this year's sales were of cards purchased in previous years since I only had four collection buys this year.

Future Outlook and Conclusion

Sales for the year were good, though I have burned through a lot of older inventory and have not been able to acquire as much this year. This implies that unless I can get a more steady stream of new inventory, sales may be down for 2022.

Overall, 2021 has been a good year for me. I finally found a job I love, am enjoying a much shorter commute, and get to spend more time with my family. I hope that all of you get to enjoy your holidays and get to relax a bit after what is often a very stressful season in all of our lives. As of my submission of this article, I am $5 shy of matching last year's total sales and I expect I will make and exceed that in the last remaining days of 2021. I look forward to 2022 and the new opportunities it will bring.

Real-world Flavor. Confucius and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms

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There is no calamity greater than lavish desires.
There is no greater guilt than discontentment.
And there is no greater disaster than greed.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching 46

Did you really think we were done dealing with short didactic sentences? The last one we saw was an excerpt from Seneca, at the end of the article on Latin quotations. Analyzing a collection of Middle-Eastern folk tales last week temporarily relieved us of that kind of witty sentence. One Thousand and One Nights has no room for hasty generalizations. As you can see, however, we're back to dealing with phrases that sound like proverbs.

What I like about this quotation from Lao Tzu is the fact that it's built as a climax. It's not necessarily what the author intended when he wrote it down, but it's for sure what happens when we read it on a Magic card. The card in question is called Greed, a black enchantment from Legends. It is one of only two cases of Magic cards with Chinese flavor text outside of Portal Three Kingdoms.

The text itself is a very typical case of tricolons, where three sentences with increasing relevance follow each other. We start with the greatest calamity, then pass to the greatest guilt, and finally arrive at the greatest disaster, which is exactly what gives name to the card: greed.

Portal Three Kingdoms

So, Greed is the first card in Magic to receive flavor text consisting of a quotation from a Chinese author. It was printed in Legends, and it surely must have been quite a novelty at that time. No other cards with this kind of reference were printed for five years. Then, in 1999 came the third starter-level set, Portal Three Kingdoms.

We mostly know Portal Three Kingdoms because it contains precious cards such as Imperial Seal and Ravages of War, but it was also a big thing if you consider flavor. In fact, it was the first set since Legends to reference specific people, places, and events from the real world. So, what about the other cards?

An Overview on Authors and Genres

There are five Chinese authors quoted in Magic: The Gathering. Let's take a look, in order of importance:

  • Luo Guanzhong (40)
  • Sun Tzu (5)
  • Lao Tzu (3)
  • Confucius (3)
  • Mencius (1)

When it comes to literary genres, the variety is not the same as we saw with classical authors. Neither is it as low as the one from Arabian Nights. It's somewhere in the middle. Luo Guanzhong’s quotes all come from his prose historical fiction, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and thus mostly deal with warfare. Sun Tzu wrote a famous military treatise called The Art of War. The other three are closer to philosophical texts. Lao Tzu wrote a text called Tao Te Ching, and Confucius wrote the Analects. We also have a lone card referencing Mencius, from his homonymous work Mencius, another philosophical text.

Portal Three Kingdoms alone has 50 different cards with a real-world quotation, which is a record. And it gets even more impressive when you consider the fact that it’s quite a small set, with only 180 total cards. More than one in four cards contains a real-world quotation from an ancient Chinese author, either dealing with war or with philosophy. Now, let’s try and go into more detail, as far as the vastness of the corpus allows us.

The Chinese Zodiac

Let’s start with the most famous cycle, the one known as the “Chinese Zodiac”. There are twelve creatures, each representing one of the twelve animals from the Chinese Zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. They are all infamously mediocre creatures, typically with a land walk ability but unimpressive stats.

The most famous and expensive is Zodiac Dragon. It's also the only one without landwalk, and probably the most unplayable nowadays. It costs nine mana and is a quasi-vanilla 8/8. Its only ability is its chance to come back to your hand every time it dies.

What I find truly spot-on about this non-flying dragon, though, is the flavor text. "The kingdoms three are now the stuff of dream, / for men to ponder past all praise or blame". It's a couple of hendecasyllabic verses, a line of 11 syllables. It's also the ending of the whole poem. Endings are always meaningful, and coupling this creature with this quotation is a strong move.

I know this dragon is actually a bad card when it comes to its power level. However, Dragons are a huge thing in Magic (and fantasy in general), which is why I consider this choice favorably. Again, it's not about power level, but rather about lore and feeling.

Breaking Down the Corpus

Back to the full corpus, the first distinction I’d like to make is between quotations from a military context and those from a philosophical context. Romance of the Three Kingdoms is culturally significant the same way the Homeric poems are for western culture. As for the philosophical treatises, they are similar to western authors such as Plato or Seneca.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is somewhere between a military book and a philosophical treatise. It certainly deals with matters of war, but at the same time, often sounds like a didactic book, a work of philosophy again. I consider it similar to The Prince by Machiavelli. Now, let's examine a triplet from Confucius’ Analects.

Confucius' Analects

Ambition's Cost

The first card is Ambition's Cost, a black sorcery that makes you draw cards in exchange for life. The text goes: “When you give offense to heaven, to whom can you pray?” Not that impressive. It’s just the usual stuff about black being the color of ambition (remember: “Greatness at any cost”), willing to pay anything for more knowledge and power. As for the quotation, it’s a plain rhetorical question, but still not bad in my opinion.

Barbarian General

The second is Barbarian General, a red creature whose text says: “Barbarian tribes with their rulers are inferior to Chinese states without them”. A 3/2 warrior for five mana, with the only plus being the ability Horsemanship. Not exactly a bargain, but still coherent with the average power level of this set, which was designed specifically for new players.

In this case, however, the card being so weak is actually a plus, since it's exactly what the text is saying. The card depicts a barbarian general, and the flavor text says he’s not impressive, which is true when you look at its stats and abilities. Good design.

Young Wei Recruits

The last one is Young Wei Recruits, a 2/2 black Soldier for two mana which is unable to block. The text explains how throwing young people into war without training is no different than sending them to slaughter: “To send the common people to war untrained is to throw them away”. A message that is quite easy to agree with, and it also goes well with a clearly untrained young soldier. He is unable to block and thus is probably going to die soon. Sad, but again a nice choice.

Conclusions

There are 52 cards with Chinese quotations as the flavor text. This article was mostly an overview of them. It might be too early to draw conclusions, but based on our overview of the cards, and the specific ones we analyzed in this installment, I'd say that most of the flavor quotes are close to the genre of maxim and proverb. The only exception we've looked at so far was the flavor text from Zodiac Dragon. We'll see in the course of the next installments whether this is because of its origin (a historical novel) or for other reasons.

In my opinion, this shows how the division of genres in any culture is largely geographical. There might be differences from one to the other, and there might be a particular tendency towards a genre or another. Nevertheless, in the end, we can expect to find pretty much the same stuff, no matter the culture we are looking at. We'll see in the next articles if this holds true.

Modern Banlist Watch List: 2022 Edition

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And so, another mediocre-at-best year comes to a close. Here's hoping that we finally see an upswing in 2022. Or at very least more large Modern paper events, seeing how Not-GP Las Vegas was successful. Aside from lack of coverage. Wizards has repeatedly claimed that there will be paper events and something approximating the Pro Tour again, so there's hope. But in the meantime, it's time to wrap the year in customary fashion by updating the Definitive Banning Watch list. Why is it definitive? Well, this is the fourth iteration of this list, which is more consistency than any other content creator. I haven't even seen another list put out this year. A default win!

Standard Disclaimer: I am not claiming that anything actually will be banned next year. Modern is quite healthy at the moment. There's really no emergency or urgency for any action. Of course, that doesn't mean anything can't happen, either. Wizards has a habit of surprising us with both the timing and scope of their bans. And there are reasons to be concerned for the direction the metagame is heading. Who really knows what's going to happen in 2022? However, based on what is actually happening right now, there are a few cards that could be axed in the forseeable future. And a couple others that might need to go in the more distant future.

2021 Recap

2021 was an unusual year ban-wise. It contained the highest number of bans in a very long time, but in a singular event. The same number of cards were banned in 2020, but it happened over the course of a year. The Uro ban was additionally unique in that a number of cards were banned that nobody really saw coming. The only card that was banned that made the 2021 watch list was Uro. I considered both Mythic Sanctuary and Field of the Dead, but given Wizards' usual strategy of banning the known problem then waiting and watching, I thought they were safe as long as Uro remained. Clearly, I was wrong.

I wasn't actually expecting Urza, Lord High Artificer to get banned. As noted then, it would take new printings to make Urza ban-worthy, and there were none. I am genuinely surprised that Lurrus of the Dream-Den survived. The gameplay and metagame considerations from last year have been joined by a prevalence problem.

The Criteria

There's no way to know exactly what, if anything, will get banned in 2022. Where once it was a simple case of violating the Turn 4 rule or general brokenness, Wizards has vastly expanded its scope and now bans more actively and for more reasons. I can't know what new cards will be printed, or if a new deck will finally be discovered. Furthermore, Wizards' exact criteria for banning a card is not known. They've never specifically said anything about how they consider banning a card, and with every ban, the exact reason changes. Over the past two years, the only consistent criteria has been a 55% non-mirror win rate. Which may or may not be an actual red line for banning, but even if it is, only Wizards has the data to make such a determination. Thus, players can't know if a ban is coming, making it the perfect metric to cite.

As a result, any speculation about what could get banned will necessarily be guesswork. The key: to turn the guesswork into an educated guesstimate. To that end, I have gone back through the Wizards announcements to see how they've justified their bans. There's always a primary reason, but it's often (not always) couched by ancillary reasons. The most common ones with examples are:

  1. Generally broken. (Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis)
  2. Enables brokenness. (Mox Opal, Bridge from Below)
  3. Harms deck diversity. (Splinter Twin)
  4. Homogenizes deck construction. (Oko, Thief of Crowns, Deathrite Shaman)
  5. Creates problematic play patterns. Subcategorized between:
    1. Encourages repetitive gameplay/gamestates. (Once Upon a Time)
    2. Encourages unfun gameplay. (Mycosynth Lattice)
    3. Metagame-warping. (Treasure Cruise, Arcum's Astrolabe
  6. Complicates tournament logistics. (Sensei's Divining Top)
  7. Constrains/threatens future design. (Birthing Pod)
  8. Achieves a 55% non-mirror win rate. (Arcum's Astrolabe)

As the last one is impossible for me to know, I won't consider it. These are the most often cited reasons and should not be viewed as a comprehensive list.

My Approach

I'll be using the Wizards-stated reasons to inform my watch list. However, there will necessarily be a lot of intuition and speculation. I can't know how the future will play out, nor if Wizards will actually take action. Wizards certainly could have gone after Izzet Phoenix in 2019 for several of the listed reasons, but they never specifically targeted it. The best I or anyone can do is to see what the metagame data says about the format then look for key pressure points and gameplay trends and try to intuit how things could break.

Some key things to remember:

  1. Wizards prefers to ban enablers or engines over payoffs
  2. Bans should target the actual problem, not the symptoms of the problem
  3. There is no hard threshold for what constitutes a problem
  4. There is no way of knowing how decisively Wizards wants to intervene

The last point is new for this year and it's all thanks to the February ban. Wizards has historically preferred highly targeted bans for minimal format disruption. They dropped a bomb back in February, and that may or may not signal a policy change. There's no way to know, but it must be considered.

With the disclaimers out of the way, I see three potential fracturing points in the current meta which could be banned on their own merits. There are also two cards that might break if the right card(s) are printed in 2022.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Offenses: homogenizes deck construction; creates problematic play patterns (repetitive gameplay); constrains/threatens future design

I covered the broad issues with all the bannable cards last week. Lurrus is the most widely played creature in Modern despite seeing almost no maindeck play. In fact, the limited evidence available indicates that if Lurrus could only be played maindeck it would be a solid but not widely played card. It's the companion mechanic that's an actual problem. I think that if Wizards simply declared "No companions in Constructed" there'd be no need for bannings, but that's not how Wizards operates. And errata that extreme might create more problems than it solves.

Why Lurrus Won't Be Banned

Wizards was happy with Lurrus' gameplay in 2020 and 2021. They must be, or it would have been banned already. The only thing that's changing is how frequently it comes up. And there is a lot to like about Lurrus enabling grindy gameplay for low-curve decks, especially when Wizards does want players to play longer games.

How Lurrus Could Be Banned

There is also a lot to dislike about Lurrus forcing decks to keep their curve low and how constantly recurring threats leads to boring gameplay. The percentage of decks playing Lurrus may be down from its peak, but it remains higher than any other flagship card. Players grumble about Lurrus at roughly the same rate they praise it. Eventually, a tipping point may be reached where Wizards decides that based on player satisfaction, format prevalence, and/or win percentage, enough is enough and it's time for Lurrus to go.

Likelihood: Medium

I'd be surprised if Lurrus lasts another year in Modern. It's steadily overtaking alternative decks and is the key to Hammer Time (2021's best performing deck) remaining a metagame force. At some point, either the format must move away from this same gameplay being viable or Wizards will need to intervene. There's no immediate need, but I can easily see it happening. Especially given the next card.

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Offenses: General brokenness; harms deck diversity

I think that saying "A 4-Color Pile" card is more accurate, but I require myself to take a stand. It isn't that Omnath itself is the problem. The problem is that 4-Color Blink is absorbing all the space for midrange decks and even, increasingly, control. That's not exactly the fault of Omnath, but if anything should be targeted, it's the card that's been banned in other formats. Banning Wrenn and Six or Teferi, Time Raveler won't hurt enough to prevent a theoretical 4-Color takeover. Omnath is at once the glue holding Blink together, the grease that makes it work, and the primary incentive for being four whole colors in the first place. Solitude and Fury are much worse without Omnath around. And Omnath's abilities are just absurd on their own.

Why Omnath Won't Be Banned

It is way too early to definitively say that a problem exists. I'm nervous based on how the Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath played out. Uro homogonized all the midrange decks to be Uro decks, and towards the end they were all built around Uro, Field of the Dead, and Mystic Sanctuary. There are echoes of that in the 4-Color shell of Wrenn, Teferi, Omnath, and Prismatic Ending serving as a strong template for many decks.

However, December is the first month where any sign of convergence happened. December is always a weird month data-wise, and this could easily be an illusion or an MTGO quirk. Even if it is real, decks will naturally push towards certain directions and there's insufficient evidence that 4-Color is uniquely pushing anything out of viability. We need to wait and see. There's also the issue that Omnath has a lot of fans and playing all the good cards together is quite fun for many players.

How Omnath Could Be Banned

I could be right that Omnath decks are homogenizing Modern midrange. However, even if I am wrong, Omnath might get banned for an entirely separate reason: Wizards is just done with him. Much like with Faithless Looting, the subtext in the Uro ban was that Wizards was simply over that type of gameplay. That was why Field and Sanctuary had to go. Wizards could easily decide that Omnath is just too good everywhere and it needs to go, and/or the type of games it enables is not desirable.

Likelihood: Low to High

On its own merits, I think that 4-Color is fine and could stick around provided that it doesn't take too much metagame space, thus the low rating. However, if Wizards is looking for a major shakeup or an Uro-style intervention, Omnath wears a huge target. Big enough that there's little chance Omnath escapes, hence the high rating. It's easier to ban an already frequently-banned card than anything else. Such a ban would likely include Lurrus too for metagame balance. I could see Teferi, Time Raveler and possibly Wrenn and Six too, but neither has a chance on their own. Wizards would have to be looking for a hard reset of Modern. Certainly, a lot of players would be overjoyed to see the Time Raveler go.

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Offenses: homogenizes deck construction; problematic play patterns (unfun gameplay)

As I mentioned last week, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer gets a lot of praise and also blame for the direction Modern is heading. It isn't clear if said direction is good or bad nor is it clear if Ragavan is uniquely behind the changes. There's so much going on at the same time that separating the causal and corollary impacts of given cards is impossible. If the direction Modern's heading is good, nothing needs to happen. If it's bad and Ragavan actually is at fault, it needs to go.

Why Ragavan Won't Be Banned

Is the problem Ragavan, or Lurrus recurring Ragavan? The only deck that consistently plays Ragavan and not Lurrus is UR Murktide, a deck I've never heard complaints about. I do hear complaints about the Lurrus decks that are also playing Ragavan simply because they're never out of the woods. Beyond that, Ragavan is so easily answered that it seems laughable to ban the card.

How Ragavan Could Be Banned

While weaker in basically every way than Deathrite Shaman, Ragavan does put pressure on decks and the format in a similar way. Specifically, it demands: answer me quickly or the game slips away. Then there's the issue that losing to your own cards isn't fun and the fact that Ragavan shows up in weird places.

Likelihood: Low

I would not support Ragavan being banned alongside anything else. Again, it isn't clear that it's at fault for anything that's going on. I'd rather ban Lurrus and then see. If UR is the only viable home for Rags, then there's no problem. However, if he continues to spread throughout the metagame, then action will need to be taken.

Urza, Lord High Artificer/Urza's Saga

Offenses: generally broken; enables brokenness

These two are purely speculative, and as I'll be detailing below, require the right new cards to spell trouble. But the possibility is foreseeable, so I'm including them. I've gone into detail on Urza twice now, and he remains a threat for all the same reasons. He was the third power card in 2019's Snowoko decks and survived where Uro and Oko, Thief of Crowns fell thanks to support cards being banned instead.

Meanwhile, Saga provides an insane amount of value from a land. While it can be answered a number of ways, lands are generally harder to answer than any other permanent type. And an unmolested Saga will produce two 3/3 constructs and a 0 or 1 cost artifact. It is a very strong card for grinding and has shown up in a large number of decks this year.

Why Both Won't Be Banned

Neither card is actually dangerous in Modern right now. Urza barely sees play and Saga's metagame presence has been declining. There's a huge deckbuilding cost to playing colorless lands in the first place, and Saga has a time limit. Plus, in order to get the most out of Saga decks have to clear space for 0 or 1 cost artifacts they wouldn't play at all or at least maindeck under normal circumstances. As such, non-Hammer Time Saga decks have been declining for several months now. And the trend will continue to next week's metagame update. Neither card will be banned as things stand.

How Both Could Be Banned

However, there is an entire year of cards ahead which would contain the missing piece for Urza to reclaim his glory and/or break Saga. Or something could be broken by Saga. I'm specifically looking to next fall and The Brother's War. For those unfamiliar with Magic's deep lore, that was the event that launched the entire Magic story universe and the first plotline. It's a war between artificers and the marketing blurb specifically mentions giant mechs. This almost certainly means that it's an artifact set and Wizards has a history with those. All it takes is the right replacement for Mox Opal and/or Arcum's Astrolabe for Urza to dominate again. And that same card might bust Saga.

Likelihood: Very Low

Wizards will need to make a mistake for either card to become remotely banworthy. Design has taken a pounding over the past several years and appears to have learned, judging by the past year's Standard. However, anything is possible when designing around artifacts.

Wait and See

And now we wait. Modern is in a good place, so I don't expect anything to happen in the near future. However, the mind of Wizards of the Coast is a strange and mercurial thing. Who knows what it intends or what is coming which will require action? We just have to play the waiting game.

Content Creators Wanted

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This role is a bit more nebulous, and we are open to being pitched on a variety of possible approaches. At the end of the day, this role involves covering the flavor and creative elements of Magic, whether it's from a more story-driven perspective, or from an art and visual perspective. Pitch us unique ideas, and why you're the person most suited to cover them.

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Paul Comeau

Paul is Quiet Speculation's Director of Content. He first started playing Magic in 1994 when he cracked open his first Revised packs. He got interested in Magic Finance in 2000 after being swindled on a trade. As a budget-minded competitive player, he's always looking to improve his knowledge of the metagame and the market to stay competitive and to share that knowledge with those around him so we can all make better decisions. An avid Limited player, his favorite Cube card is Shahrazad. A freelance content creator by day, he is currently writing a book on the ‘90s TCG boom. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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The Top 5 Most Valuable Holiday Promos

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Last Thursday I received a festive email from TCGplayer describing the author’s opinion on “The 5 Strongest Holiday WOTC Cards.” The email explains a brief background:

“Since 2006, Wizards of the Coast has celebrated every holiday season by printing a special promotional card for internal team members and business partners. These silver-bordered holiday cards aren’t really meant to see play, they’re just a fun excuse to indulge in puns and references to old cards.”

Peter proceeds to rank his top five choices:

#5 Mishra's Toy Workshop
#4 Decorated Knight // Present Arms
#3 Stocking Tiger
#2 Topdeck the Halls
#1 Evil Presents

The email describes the rationale for this choice of ranking. It was a cute and entertaining read for the holiday weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve been seeing my Twitter feed rife with jealousy-inducing pictures of content creators and Wizards partners receiving the 2021 holiday promo:

While I regrettably don’t receive these gifted holiday promos, I still like to track them for their rarity and value! This is a Magic finance column, after all, so let’s dive into the top 5 most valuable holiday promo cards!

 

#5 Evil Presents ~ $160

It’s fitting that arguably the most powerful holiday promo card is also one of the most valuable. I assume the most popular application for this card (should it see play) is in combination with Phage the Untouchable for an instant win. While not instantaneous, Blightsteel Colossus is another fun one to combine with Evil Presents. That self-attacking clause is really what makes this card so versatile.

Perhaps playability is the factor that drives this card’s value. Currently, the card sells for around $160 on TCGplayer for a lightly played copy. I think its age also plays a role since this was the holiday card from 2008—that’s 13 years ago!

#4 Season’s Beatings ~ $190

The fourth most valuable holiday promo is also one of the older ones, from 2009. The artwork is pretty entertaining on this one, along with the gothic, holiday-themed flavor text. The random nature of the card’s effect would make this one pretty annoying to resolve in a game of Magic, but you can’t argue with its power. I’m not sure if it’s the artwork, the age, the power level, or a combination of the three that makes this card worth nearly $200.

#3 Snow Mercy ~ $250

This is the newest holiday promo in the top five, printed in 2010. Still, the card is eleven years old and I’m definitely seeing a theme here. The older holiday promos are also the most valuable! So while power level and flavor may play a small role in driving value, the most significant factor is surely age.

Here’s a fun fact about Snow Mercy: this is one of the few holiday promos I’ve ever owned. I forget the context, but I think I picked up a copy through some store credit arbitrage or something along those lines—this is my guess because I don’t remember owning the card for very long. Now that I see the card is no longer worth $70 and is now worth about $250, I of course regret flipping the card so quickly. I also love the ability because it effectively has you shake the card back and forth, reminiscent of shaking a snow globe!

The flavor text is a bit over-the-top in my opinion. I guess the intent is to indicate that shaking the snow globe is effectively shaking an actual world. In any event, the snow enchantment (why isn’t it a snow artifact?) comes in as the third most valuable Wizards holiday promo.

#2 Fruitcake Elemental ~ $300

The second most valuable holiday promo card happens to be the very first one Wizards of the Coast created, back in 2006. Can you believe they’ve been printing these holiday promos for 15 years now?

I vaguely remember reading about this card when it first came out, thinking it was pretty strange that Wizards made a promotional, holiday-themed, silver-bordered card to give away. I found the artwork disturbing, and I largely ignored the concept at the time. Now in hindsight, I wish I had scooped up a bunch of these given how valuable they’ve become, nearing $300!

The flavor of the card is pretty spot-on. The running holiday joke that fruitcakes never expire and are frequently re-gifted syncs up perfectly with this card’s abilities: indestructible, harmful to the controller, and easily “giftable” to a different player! The flavor text does a great job describing what a fruitcake elemental would be like in real life. The longer Wizards does these holiday promos, the more valuable this one will become, being the original.

#1 Gifts Given ~ $400

If you want to purchase a copy of Gifts Given, the most valuable holiday promo card, you’re looking at over $370 for a moderately played copy. A nicer condition copy will cost you north of $400…currently, the cheapest LP copy available on TCGplayer is $499 (though no copies have sold for that much yet).

What makes this card so valuable? First off, we need to acknowledge that it’s the second oldest holiday promo in existence, printed back in 2007. We’ve already established that the older holiday promos (certainly the first five printed from 2006-2010) are the most expensive. But I believe this card’s value is derived from a couple of additional factors.

First, the artwork is a fun spoof of the Champions of Kamigawa card, Gifts Ungiven.


Not many tournament legal Magic cards directly mention gifts in them, so this was a natural card to model off of when creating a holiday promo. The artwork is really cute, depicting the same character as the one on Gifts Ungiven wrapping presents that look very similar to those being wrapped in Gifts Ungiven. The parallels are numerous and very well done.

While this card didn’t show up in Peter’s top five most powerful holiday promos, I have heard stories about Gifts Given seeing some fun play in casual Commander games. As long as you’re playing amongst friends, this is a fun card that isn’t necessarily overpowered. Perhaps this playability is another driving force for this card’s value?

Lastly, I just want to mention that this is the only holiday promo that I currently own. I loved the parallel to Gifts Ungiven so much, that I picked this card up many years ago. It remains in my binder as a card I’ll possibly never sell—how could I sell it? After all, it was a gift (how fitting!).

Wrapping It Up

The holiday promos have been a Wizards tradition for 15 years now! While it started as a fun, festive way to thank staff and content creators, I have to admit that these have become pretty valuable cards in their own right. Some may even be worth investing in—there has been no precedent for reprints of these cards, so perhaps they are effectively on a “Reserved List” of sorts.

In that context, I don’t hate picking up any copies of these for a personal collection. I wouldn’t necessarily go out and purchase a dozen copies of Last-Minute Chopping—I can’t imagine these cards sell all that rapidly, and your opportunity cost would be steep. But if you like any of the previous holiday promos, I wouldn’t suggest waiting. It would be best to prioritize these since they seem to appreciate over time.

The cheapest promo currently is 2017’s Some Disassembly Required, which you can currently pick up for $35 or so. If you’re looking for a low-cost way of getting exposure to this space, this seems like a budget-friendly pickup. Though I’ll admit that this one’s ability is underwhelming. I’d rather go for the second cheapest, Goblin Sleigh Ride, which has a Chaos Orb type effect with physical dexterity being required.

Whichever way you decide to go, these fun and festive cards are sure to get your play group’s attention. If played right, they’ll also give you some laughs and help you get into the holiday spirit. Even if making money isn’t your primary angle, I’d definitely recommend adding a couple of these promos to your collection.

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

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Teaching Magic: The Gathering With The Feynman Technique

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Friends, Family, and Feynman

Richard Feynman was a Nobel-prize-winning physicist. He was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project (the team of scientists developing the first atomic bombs) while still in his early 20s. His groundbreaking work in theoretical physics included advances in quantum mechanics, particle physics, and quantum electrodynamics. It was in the field of quantum electrodynamics for which he was jointly awarded his Nobel prize. While best known for his scientific work, Feynman also pioneered an approach to learning and teaching: The Feynman Technique. What does all this have to do with Magic: The Gathering?

Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize Photo

With the holidays upon us, many will be spending time with family and friends. Perhaps you have a child, a niece, or a sibling who will ask, "What's the deal with this Magic game you're always playing?" or "How do you play?" More likely, you'll have arm-twisted a friend or relative into learning Magic. However it happens, at some point, you will sit down and teach someone to play Magic: The Gathering. The Feynman Technique is here to make that process as straightforward as possible.

What is The Feynman Technique?

The Feynman Technique is a style of learning that can be applied to any concept. Its goal is more than just learning surface knowledge of a subject, but of helping the student achieve a deep understanding. While primarily used for learning, it can also be used for teaching. The Feynman Technique can be broken down into a series of steps:

  1. Choose a subject or concept you wish to learn
  2. Write down as simply as possible everything you know on the subject
  3. Read it out loud as though teaching it to a child, like a fifth or sixth-grader
  4. Identify gaps in your explanation
  5. Refine and simplify your explanation
  6. Repeat steps 2-5 as needed until you achieve mastery of the subject

What's great about the Feynman Technique is it can be used as a course of self-study to understand any topic. This can be anything from particle physics, to English literature, to Trading Card Games (TCGs). The Feynman Technique can also be used as a teaching tool. So how do we use it to teach a game as complex as Magic?

Teaching Magic With the Feynman Technique

To start teaching anyone Magic, it is helpful to have done some advanced preparation. Before we even discuss the decks we will use, it is important for us to establish a basic understanding of the game, and how it is played. To use the Feynman Technique, start by writing down everything you know about Magic needed to explain a simple game to someone. This can include everything from the steps and phases of a turn, to what it means to "tap" something, to the costs to play spells. Whatever you think is important to play the game, write it down.

Once it's written down, you'll want to organize the material. The sheet you've written will serve as a reference guide while you are teaching. Keep it simple, keep it neat. Try to limit it to one 8.5"x11" piece of paper. Once it's written down, read it to a friend who already knows Magic. Is there anything missing? Did you adequately lay out the steps of a turn? What about priority? The stack? Fill in as many of the gaps as you can, and repeat this process until you have a one-page written guide to playing Magic that anyone could pick up, read, and muddle through a game with a minimal amount of guidance by you.

The Teaching Process

With your teaching guide in hand, you are ready to start teaching using the Feynman Technique. I recommend explaining as little as possible at the start. Cover costs of spells, tapping, and outline the steps of a turn. However much you need to get the new player into running a sample game with exposed hands. Follow steps three through five of the learning principles we've discussed, taking the new player through each step of a turn, and through several turns of a game with hands exposed until they feel comfortable navigating the turn sequence.

As you go, your friend or family member may have questions about how things work. Utilizing either your own knowledge, your cheat sheet, or another source, answer each of these questions as they come up. Answering these questions will fill in gaps in the knowledge of the learner (step four), and may reveal additional content to add to your cheat sheet. Continue this process through a few sample games (with hands revealed or hidden) until the new player feels comfortable playing with a minimal amount of questions. At that point, you'll have successfully taught them Magic! So what decks should you use to aid in the learning process?

What Decks Should You Use?

While it's possible to teach someone with full Commander decks or tournament-caliber Modern decks, custom teaching decks or a purpose-built product like Magic sample decks or JumpStart packs is recommended. The advantage of preexisting sample decks or JumpStart packs, if you have either, is that they are ready-to-go products that require no prior planning other than your teaching materials. Simply shuffle them up and start teaching. If you do not have access to those products or prefer to build custom teaching decks, there are a number of factors to consider when deckbuilding.

Magic Origins-era Sample Decks

Building Custom Teaching Decks

If building custom teaching decks, I recommend building a set of five complementary decks, one for each color of magic. Each deck should contain the same number of cards, so they may easily be shuffled together to make a larger two-color constructed deck. I recommend either 20-card or 30-card teaching decks. In addition to each of the five decks containing the same number of cards, I recommend each teaching deck contain the following:

  • 10-13 creatures, depending on color
  • At least one enchantment (aura or non-aura)
  • At least one artifact
  • 1-5 instant or sorcery spells depending on color
  • 9-13 basic lands depending on deck size
  • At least one non-basic land that does more than just produce mana

Additionally, each deck should not contain more than one rare/mythic, or more than four or five uncommons. This limitation is intentional. By building decks mostly around common cards, the cards will be less technically complex, and more likely to include reminder text on keywords. This will aid in the teaching process before introducing players to more complex cards, and make the rares that appear in these decks that much more exciting.

Lessons Learned

The Feynman Technique is only one of the many possible methods to aid your teaching of Magic. What teaching strategies have worked for you in the past? How did you learn to play the game? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter. For more on the life and work of Richard Feynman, check out his autobiography "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character.

Paul Comeau

Paul is Quiet Speculation's Director of Content. He first started playing Magic in 1994 when he cracked open his first Revised packs. He got interested in Magic Finance in 2000 after being swindled on a trade. As a budget-minded competitive player, he's always looking to improve his knowledge of the metagame and the market to stay competitive and to share that knowledge with those around him so we can all make better decisions. An avid Limited player, his favorite Cube card is Shahrazad. A freelance content creator by day, he is currently writing a book on the ‘90s TCG boom. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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My Latest Fun Deck and How I Made It

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Inspiration has a funny way of happening. The story of how Minsc, Beloved Ranger came to be my next commander project begins with Magic the Gathering: Online.

My good friend and I have played draft on Magic: Online for several years and we are very different players. We have diverse opinions on overall strategy, card power, and play sequencing. Deep into pack two, there is Minsc. We had token synergy, few three drops, and, there was nothing else in the pack. Welcome to the draft deck Minsc!

Through two rounds we never saw this card. In the third round, however, we were 1-1 going into game three. In the final game of the final match we finally had Minsc out and our opponent was one card away from stabilizing. Our draw for the turn was Zealous Conscripts and we got to steal their only blocker and smash for big but non-lethal damage. Then I noticed after combat that if we had activated Minsc for zero, our opponent's stolen creature would just be dead. We promptly made their Young Pyromancer a 0/0 and they conceded on the spot.

A Pleasant Surprise

Even though we made other plays throughout the draft that were much more complicated, we were both laughing hard at the Minsc finish. Capturing that moment in a game of Commander then became my goal.

I took a quick look at what other players were doing with Minsc and it was mostly token-based strategies. If you've read my article on The Heart of Commander you know that one of my goals for casual Commander is to play lots of different cards and really make a color identity and Commander stand out. Playing a token deck with Minsc might make strategic sense but it lacks significantly in the flavor department.

A GIANT Solution for a Giant Problem

Coincidentally, I've been looking at updating my GIANTS deck lead by Ruhan of the Fomori with a bunch of cards from Kaldheim. One of my older Commander decks, Brion Stoutarm, had some cards I would like to move into Ruhan and Disharmony effects would be key in Minsc so the decision was made. I added Brion's GIANTS to Ruhan and color identity distinctiveness to Minsc's; in essence, Brion Stoutarm was assimilated.

Fighting and Stealing and More Fighting

I also decided that the main appeal of Green in this deck would be to facilitate the Fight mechanic. So Red is stealing, Green is fighting, but what about White? Well, White is actually Fighting and Stealing.

This is chef's kiss good — we have absolutely nailed the color identity for the theme. Additionally, I made some build choices based on my Points article as well. This deck does not seek to absolutely maximize points in its current form, but it does score fairly well at a virtual Plus Six Points to start.

Give us a Decklist Already!

Why I'm NOT Playing Certain Cards

Most of the choices made here are based around a very specific theme that has been in Magic since day one; stealing a creature. After I steal it, it's unlikely my opponent is getting it back because I am going to sacrifice it for profit, make it Fight another creature to clear the board, or just turn it into a 0/0 with Minsc; and I get a free attack out of the deal! Furthermore, we're getting Points just for playing a fair, casual, and interactive deck. Perusing EDREC we can check the Top 100 list for the colors we are playing.

In Red, we have to go down to the 70th most played card, Zealous Conscripts. This card is obviously good but it is tremendously on theme and an easy include. In this deck, it is a Talruum Minotaur with Act of Treason tacked on.

In White, well, we're playing very few cards for the same reasons — there are not many on theme. Some additional White cards considered were: Prepare // Fight, Debt of Loyalty, or, Animal Boneyard.

Green is a lot easier as we only have Greater Good which is 75th. We've avoided the "trap" of Green by simply not choosing to ramp, and, we score two Points for not shuffling our deck.

Autoincludes Make Games More Boring

The 500 pound gorilla in the room is NOT Kogla, the Titan Ape, it's Beast Within and Generous Gift. These are both solid cards and in the top 100 for obvious reasons - they deal with *ANYTHING*! However, if our opponents don't have creatures, we can't steal them. The only fair thing to do would be to give them a creature to steal back anyways. I think both cards fit the theme of the deck enough to be included and are extra interactive in this case. Consider it's significantly more interactive than playing Krosan's Grip or Nature's Claim.

Additionally, while Lightning Greeves and Swiftfoot Boots look great to protect Minsc, they are both in the top 30, too common, and seek to remove interaction, which is against the Heart of Commander. Minsc costs three mana — if it gets removed play more Magic and recast it at five mana a turn or two later.

Even Fun Decks Have Power

Sneaking in at 99 out of Top 100 for Red, Insurrection is a potential game-winner by itself. However, you have both Strixhaven Stadium to make your job easier and Minsc to make it a one-sided board wipe after combat. Want to draw cards? Humble Defector not only gives you cards but, also, allows you to give it to another player at the table who should pass it right back to you. If that player no longer respects team Minsc? Steal the Defector back and give it to someone else!

That's a Good Trade

Bazaar Trader is criminally good in these types of decks. Permanently gaining control of anything you steal is great, but, there is a second mode to the Trader that is perfect for diplomacy. Maybe someone needs a land or a mana rock to be able to stop a threat on the table that you cannot stop — Bazaar Trader to the rescue! If the writing is on the wall and someone is going to kill you, try this: give them a land. Act of Treason your own Trader to untap it, then give them another land. Maybe keeping you around another turn is worth it for two lands. Or two creatures. You know it does not matter who controls a creature; if it's on the board it belongs to you!

An Easy Deck to Power Up

Keep in mind much of what has shaped my version of Minsc is for casual play with a Point structure that I am working around. There are auto-include cards like Khalni Ambush // Khalni Territory and Song-Mad Treachery // Song-Mad Ruins, which would cost a Point but take up no room in the deck so those are simple upgrades if Points are not in play. With big mana, Minsc makes any attacker a lethal one and can easily chase a Point for Largest Creature.

The next time I go to my LGS I'm bringing Minsc along — I think I'm going to have some stories when I return!

But What About the Hamster?

Yes there is a Hamster. The Hamster's name is Boo. I think killing a player with a Hamster is pretty humorous but that is not what inspired this deck. If I won an event and got to make a new rule it would be +1 Point for finishing off a player with Boo. The entire deck would be different, but that is another story, one I hope to tell!

Did this decklist inspire you? Have you played Minsc as your Commander? Reply in the comments!

Joe Mauri

Joe has been an avid MTG player and collector since the summer of 1994 when he started his collection with a booster box of Revised. Millions of cards later he still enjoys tapping lands and slinging spells at the kitchen table, LGS, or digital Arena. Commander followed by Draft are his favorite formats, but, he absolutely loves tournaments with unique build restrictions and alternate rules. A lover of all things feline, he currently resides with no less than five majestic creatures who are never allowed anywhere near his cards. When not Gathering the Magic, Joe loves streaming a variety of games on Twitch(https://www.twitch.tv/beardymagics) both card and other.

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Rekindling the Fire

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It has been a while since my last article. I would like to say that this delay is due to starting a new job or even the rush of the holiday season. While these have definitely been factors, it is also due to a lackluster passion towards Magic in general and a re-found love affair with Diablo 2 (Resurrected).

I do not know how many others just feel generally overwhelmed by the sheer number of new products Wizards is pumping out, but my entire playgroup has taken a step back as nobody has the time to stay up to date with all the new cards pouring out of Seattle.

There was a time in my life where I was playing Magic every night of the week, except on Mondays. I looked forward to Thursday nights more than any other night as it was designated as EDH night. I definitely went into work a few Fridays with far less sleep than I should have thanks to some epic games.

But that was back when we didn't live in constant spoiler season and one got a breather between sets to delve into fun interactions with the latest cards, rather than having to constantly check what is coming next and ignoring what has already been released.

I no longer get excited about the next fun "build around me" commander because I haven't even started building the deck around the last one.

I don't want this article to maintain the depressing tone it started with, so there is some positivity on the horizon. I have returned to my roots. My favorite color combination has always been Junk, or what is now called Abzhan. You get mana acceleration, removal, and life gain.

I bring all this up because after deciding to build a deck around those concepts, I came across some newer cards with low buy-ins that I believe have a lot of potential. It also looks like the Commander-based cards with extended art found in Collector Boosters can not be foil, which makes these the "rarest version" of these cards. I only bring this up because the buy-in for the extended art versions of these cards is still very low, thus the extended art versions are the variants I like most for speculation.

This search has also helped rekindle my passion for speculation, and the low buy-in means a random reprint in some new product will not lose me a lot of money.

My Most Recent Specs


With no other synergies, this 5 drop gives all your creatures +2/+2 and trample when it attacks. However, given the plethora of cards in Magic's history that provide life this can easily be a much bigger buff. I picked up 10 copies and three extended art copies myself after finding this card. Unfortunately, it has to attack to trigger and doesn't have haste, so it isn't quite the second coming of Craterhoof Behemoth; but given copies are under $1 and it is only in one of the C2021 decks, I feel the risk is minimal and the buy-in is low.


I think this card has a lot more potential than people might initially think and it feels like a sleeper to me. I believe in it enough to have bought up 20 copies myself. The key to this card is that its mana reduction ability is static and unlimited (i.e. there is no "can't reduce the cost to less than 1" clause as we have seen on other cards). This feels like a card that can easily allow you to cast Eldrazi on the cheap, which is especially good since the big ones have on-cast triggers. While I haven't actually drawn it in the few games I have played with this deck, I imagine it will have quite a showing when I do.


While I have been unimpressed with the Coven mechanic in draft, and it hasn't done anything in standard yet, Commander is a format that is still heavily dominated by creatures, so triggering Coven shouldn't be that difficult. Being able to make all your creatures indestructible every combat is exactly what any aggro deck wants to do. It is also critical to note that Stalwart Pathlighter does not have to attack for it to trigger, so you can abuse it the turn you play it. A 3/1 for three isn't spectacular, but it also isn't overcosted to the point of being unplayable, like some cards aimed solely at Commander players.


My last target is the one I like the most. As a 3/3 with menace for three mana it is at least somewhat aggressively costed. The ability to cast Raise Dead every time you gain life seems like something that can easily be broken and is at the very least a good value engine. Requiring any life gain to trigger allows it to pair well with numerous cards throughout Magic's history. I found that the extended art versions were available for about 30-50% more than the regular versions, yet I have to believe they are far less common and thus I really like this spec and have picked up around eight extended arts. Having a creature type of vampire also adds some potential.

Spec Hits

A few years ago I called out Infernal Genesis as a potential spec thanks to the rare ability for black to make tokens. To any of my readers who took me up on it — it has finally hit. This isn't meant to imply that all my calls end up being big winners, but I like my logic at the time, and it combo's nicely with Toxrill, the Corrosive

Real-world Flavor. Magic Quotations From a Collection of Middle Eastern Folk Tales

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When he reached the entrance of the cavern, he pronounced the words, ‘Open, Sesame!’

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

This is one of the most famous quotations from One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk tales from the Middle East also known as the Arabian Nights. It is easily among the most renowned magical phrases of all time, nearly at the level of "Abracadabra", and anybody would link it to the poor woodcutter Ali Baba. For Magic players, it is also the flavor text of Ali Baba, from Arabian Nights.

As such, it gives a perfect example of real-world flavor text, and it sounds like the best card to introduce a new setting, that of Middle Eastern folklore. After dealing with Greek and Latin literature the past two articles, in this new installment, we will analyze flavor texts made of excerpts from One Thousand and One Nights.

One Thousand and One Nights

There are six unique cards with flavor text taken from the collection of folk tales One Thousand and One Nights. Interestingly only four of them are from the Arabian Nights expansion. Of the other two, one is very special and exists in just one language. The other is a Junior Super Series promo from 2001.

If we look for real-world quotes in Arabian Nights in general, not just the folk tales, we find that there are seven cards from the set showcasing a real-world quotation. Among those seven, four quotations come from the collection One Thousand and One Nights. Two are excerpts from the Quran, and one is a poem by Andalusian poet Wallada.

Let's keep focused just on the six cards that contain quotations from One Thousand and One Nights. Since they are a sufficiently small number, we will be able to analyze them card by card.

Aladdin's Ring

After these words the magician drew a ring off his finger, and put it on one of Aladdin’s, saying: ‘It is a talisman against all evil, so long as you obey me.’

We mentioned Ali Baba in the introduction, and Aladdin no doubt is the only protagonist able to dethrone him when it comes to popularity. Both characters deserve a dedicated card from Arabian Nights. Aladdin though, has no flavor text at all. Instead, it is Aladdin's Ring which contains this quote. The very expensive artifact is one of the slowest cards ever. It costs eight mana to cast and requires an additional eight mana (and tapping) for every activation. It's not even the most expensive card in Arabian Nights. That honor goes to another of Aladdin's artifacts, Aladdin's Lamp.

Though illustrated by Dan Frazer, the illustrator of the five Moxen, the illustration of Aladdin's Ring is not that impressive. It does show some similarities with the Moxen when you examine the background though, which is nice. The flavor quotation is taken from the Junior Classics translation, as stated on the card. It depicts the crucial scene when the evil magician gives Aladdin his magical ring, whose power consists in evoking a genie. Of course, his true target is the lamp, capable of evoking a much more powerful genie.

The combination of the card and the quotation comes off as a cheap choice. The sentence is famous, and the link between the card and the quotation is obvious. Overall, it's similar to the case of Alluring Siren, a card we discussed in one of the previous installments.

Ali Baba

When he reached the entrance of the cavern, he pronounced the words, ‘Open, Sesame!’

Here comes the text we used as an introduction. This time, it is the very card based on Ali Baba's character the one with a real-world flavor text. We mentioned the fact that Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is perhaps the most famous tale in the collection, but what many people ignore is that it actually was a later addition. In fact, it was only included in the collection at the beginning of the 18th century, when French orientalist Antoine Galland published its first European translation, with the title of Les mille et une nuits.

As for the effect-flavor combination, there is not much to be said here. Ali Baba is a cheap 1/1 creature for one red mana. It allows you to tap a Wall by paying another red mana. It's not that useful, nor is it particularly striking when it comes to its inventiveness. The entrance to the treasure cavern is considered as a wall, and therefore Ali Baba is able to put Walls out of use. It's acceptable but no less didactic than the previous one.

Bird Maiden

Four things that never meet do here unite
To shed my blood and to ravage my heart,
A radiant brow and tresses that beguile
And rosy cheeks and a glittering smile.

This is by far my favorite card among the six we are analyzing today, both for its general flavor and for the delicate link between illustration and flavor text. Perhaps it's just me, but the very fact that this one is in verses (as compared to the prose of the previous two texts) is a strong plus. Also, the translation is much more recent here, from the 1990's edition translated by Husain Haddawy, which is among the best to date.

Bird Maiden is another perfect example of what usually gets a great flavor text: a common creature, with few or no abilities. It's similar to Scathe Zombies in this regard. Bird Maiden is a 1/2 red flyer for three mana. Its appeal comes mostly from Kaja Foglio's heartwarming illustration, but the old-fashioned type line of "Summon Bird Maiden" also helps out. The quotation describes a girl "who looked as radiant as a brilliant pearl of the shining sun [...], about five feet tall, with a beautiful figure, firm breasts, soft cheeks, and a fair complexion". Not an easy challenge, but Ms. Foglio surely nailed it, creating one of the most joyous Magic arts ever.

Repentant Blacksmith

For my confession they burned me with fire
And found that I was for endurance made.

Another cheap creature, although a rare one, is my second favorite on this list. Once more, what I find most striking about it is the connection between illustration and text. Again, the fact that it comes in verses is a nice addition. Repentant Blacksmith is a 1/2 white Smith Creature with Protection from red, and its illustration shows in beautiful watercolors a smith working in his forge. As simple (and as effective) as that! The illustrator is Drew Tucker, one of the original 25 Magic artists.

If you are curious, the poem would continue with two more lines: "Hence I was borne high on the hands of men / And given to kiss the lips of pretty maids". The edition is the same one we saw earlier, translated by Haddawy. Choosing this particular passage does not really make sense, and yet the quotation is very powerful for the simple reason that it describes a blacksmith capable of resisting fire (i.e., with Protection from red).

Serendib Efreet

(I learned this way that the island of Serendib is eighty parasangs in length, and as many in breadth; that it had a mountain, which was the highest in the world.)

Serendib Efreet is the most celebrated among these six cards. It's an old school staple like Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel. It first appeared in Arabian Nights but didn't have any flavor text, in that printing. It wasn't until the Foreign Black Bordered printing of Revised (and later in Foreign White Bordered), that it received flavor text. The quote only appears on the French-language version of the card. We don't know the reason behind this choice. The text I have quoted here is the English translation. The original text of the card is from the French translation by Mardrus.

The excerpt comes from the Sixth Voyage of Sindbad, and interestingly, doesn't mention an Efreet at all. Rather, it focuses on the island of Serendib itself. That might be the reason why no other edition (or language) makes use of this quotation. It's a nice one, though, with a strong reminiscence of ancient and fabulous journeys. As such, it makes great flavor text, despite not referencing any actual Efreet.

City of Brass

Enter this palace-gate and ask the news
Of greatness fallen into dust and clay.

Here is another old school staple, and the only card among the six able to rival Serendib Efreet. They have something else in common: both were first printed in Arabian Nights but didn't receive flavor text until their reprinting. In the case of City of Brass, it was as a Junior Super Series Promo that it got flavor text. Of the six cards we're discussing, it's by far the most expensive card, as can be seen in this graph:


As for the flavor text, here we have our final example of flavor text in verse. This time from the Arabian Nights' edition translated by the British explorer Richard Francis Burton and published in 1885. The quoted text is just a couplet of hendecasyllables, but the original poem was a bit longer. It was quoted by the Shaykh to the Emir, leaving him in tears for the emotion. It refers to a "fallen greatness", whereas the image of City of Brass shows a perfectly fine and alive city. We can excuse this inconsistency, as both the text and the illustration are really powerful.

What's Different?

When you compare these six texts with those we analyzed in the past two articles, you'll see some crucial differences. First, all these quotations come from folk tales, not from a pool of various literary genres. As a consequence, the sound is much more consistent. There is no real variation to observe here. Second, these sentences are more about description than reference. They slavishly adhere to the content of the cards on which they appear. We saw some similar cases with Greek and Latin quotations, but this time it's an all-encompassing tendency. Last, there is no chance to extract short, witty sentences like the ones we saw especially on Latin-derived quotes (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

Conclusions

We have seen another group of cards that share the same source of flavor text. As it happened with the classical world, hints, and references to Middle Eastern culture are not limited to these six cards. It would take too long to mention every single card that is indebted in one way or another to that civilization. In the next installment, we shall explore another great culture whose literature has been extensively used in flavor text.

State of Modern: 2021 Edition

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As the year wraps up, the time of self-reflection and empty resolutions begins. My idle mind now wonders if Wizards makes resolutions about card design. I then realize that they design two years ahead, and so if they do make resolutions for the new year, isn't that technically cheating? Or maybe they're focused on using last year's mistakes to improve the design two years from now. And now I'm thinking that I've been hitting the eggnog way harder and earlier than anticipated. So let's wrangle this back on track and reflect on Modern in 2021. In doing so, we'll also turn my eye to what may happen in 2022. Because speculation is always more fun than reflection.

Modern changed significantly in 2021. It began with a disaster that led to the largest ban since Modern's inception. Then Modern Horizons 2 was released, which wasn't busted like MH1, but rather had a very high (though fair) power level. The format is gradually stabilizing but remains in a state of relative flux. And if the trends in December's data continue, the churn won't subside anytime soon. Consequently, 2021 was a mercurial year metagame-wise. There is a lot to like about the current state of Modern. There is also much to dislike. Frequently, they're the same things. It depends on who's being asked. Naturally, since I'm the one writing this article, my own tastes will factor heavily in the "goods" and "bads" discussed here.

The Good

First off, let me be unequivocal: The State of Modern is good. I addressed this back in October, but a format isn't unhealthy just because something's happening that a given player dislikes. There will always be complaints about every metagame in every format. That's just how Magic players do; fish gotta swim, grass gotta grow, Magic players gotta complain about something. Sometimes it's justified criticism of bad design/metagames, sometimes it's just salty whining, and often it's something in between. Players find certain metagames healthy because they're having fun, but a different group that isn't having fun will see it as unhealthy. But it doesn't matter. The existence of objections does not disqualify a metagame from being good. The measure must come from less subjective metrics.

Health by Metrics

The most objective means of evaluating format health are diversity, dynamism, and competitiveness. These are consensus criteria, developed over years of numerous writers working on the question of what makes a format healthy. And while there is certainly room for improvement, the current Modern metagame does quite well by these standards.

  • Diversity: If number of distinct decks is the only measurement, then I don't think it's possible for Modern to be more diverse. The average number of decks I record per month is ~70, with an average of ~17 making the tier lists. While that's great, diversity isn't just the number of decks, but also the variety of strategies. And Modern has also done quite well there. Over the course of the year there have many different midrange, control, aggro, and tempo decks. Modern has consistently lacked combo decks, particularly unfair combo. Fair combos like Heliod Company, 4-Color Indomitable Creativity, and Living End have had their moments, but all fell off. Modern could use more consistency from the fair combo and unfair combos like Ad Nauseam to truly round out the metagame.
  • Dynamism: Modern is doing well in terms of dynamism, but again there's room for improvement. The exact composition of each tier has changed extensively month to month and the decks doing well now are nothing like the decks from March. That's a lot of churn and dynamism, which is good. It means the diversity is meaningful and anything can win. However, Hammer Time has been the #1 deck on my list since July. Sometimes Hammer has just pipped its rivals; sometimes it dominated. Having one deck sitting on top for long stretches isn't great, and it would be better if other decks beat Hammer for the top slot, but everything else looks good.
  • Competitiveness: Every week since March, my data has reflected a wide spread of decks winning both the Preliminaries and the Challenges. Frequently, a deck will have a great weekend and win big in both Challenges only to disappear the next week as rivals show up with the tools to dethrone them. Therefore 2021 Modern was very competitive. This is excellent for maintaining interest in Modern and bolsters the conclusions from dynamism and diversity.

Everything's looking good. It's not perfect, but nothing ever truly is. Modern's healthy: rejoice!

It Finally Happened

There's also a lot to like qualitatively. Remember how players complained for years that Modern was just ships passing in the night, was far too linear and/or combo driven, or just lacked interaction? That is decidedly not the case anymore. Lightning Bolt and Prismatic Ending, interactive cards, are two of the most played cards in the whole format. In fact, most of the top played spells for the whole year have been interactive. This interactivity has led to an era of fair decks dominating the format. It's harder now than at any point in Modern history to get away with linearity thanks to all the options for interaction, and it shows. This is perfectly fair Modern, at long last!

Now, this reality is not without detractors. The loudest grumbling is that it required a glut of free spells to happen. Players wanted interaction and fairness to happen, but not like this, or in this way. What I get from that is that they wanted 2018 Jund-style fair. Not much card advantage; just card quality and tempo to gradually build advantage until victory. While I can sympathize with the nostalgia, that was never in the cards. One, despite Wizards designing with that in mind for years, it just wasn't happening. Two, Wizards has by now moved away from that entire philosophy. They want players to use more of their deck in a game, and when slowing things down didn't work, they moved to expanding velocity. And that's proving to not be intrinsically bad.

All Are Welcome

As a result, Modern feels quite inclusive. Except for the price tag, but Magic is an intrinsically expensive hobby. Complaining about the price of entry may be valid, but that's how it is for every format these day. The price of success is high demand for product and that will drive up prices. This is the reality for Magic players now.

Looking past that issue, it seems Modern has something for everyone. There's a lot of choice and opportunity for every kind of player to find their deck and succeed. Combo is underrepresented in the data, but there are viable combo decks out there. Every FNM, I see different builds of control, midrange, ramp, and aggro, and players are changing their decks week to week and being rewarded. All over the Magic media, players are saying that this is the most fun they've ever had in Modern. They appear to vastly outweigh the doomsayers. And I can think of no better endorsement.

Storm Clouds Brewing

That said, I do see storm clouds on the horizon. The storm isn't guaranteed to make landfall, and it could even dissipate entirely. But I can definitely envision this metagame swerving south into unhealthy territory. And worse, it could do so without help from new cards. There's always a risk that a new card will break everything, and I can't predict that happening. What I can do is look at the current trends and see if there's anything heading in dangerous directions or that may cause problems. And I'm seeing three pressure points in the data which make me very worried.

I should note that this concern does apply more to MTGO than paper. MTGO's player base being much smaller, it lends itself to feedback loops and groupthink which in turn lead to warps in the metagame. With paper coming back I expect the metagame to get far more stable and prone to self-correction rather than over-correction. But we'll all have to wait and see.

The Lurrus Problem

The first problem is that Lurrus of the Dream Den is everywhere. Lurrus is the most played creature in Modern by a decent margin. This is in spite of it seeing vanishingly small amount of maindeck play. Rather, it sees an absurd amount of play as a singleton in sideboards thanks to companion. Last year, Lurrus took Hammer Time, a deck that was fringe playable at best, and gave it the power to hang in with 4-Color Uro Omnath decks. Access to Lurrus every game is a major reason why Hammer Time has managed to hang onto its top slot in Modern alongside Urza's Saga. Lurrus seeing a lot of play isn't a bad thing (opinions on the companion mechanic itself notwithstanding) because it boosts a lot of different decks and creates a lot of space for small creature decks to compete.

The problem is that Lurrus is crowding out a lot of cards. Permanents costing three-plus mana aren't seeing play in decks where they used to, and that's entirely down to Lurrus. Look at Grixis Death's Shadow and Jund trading in the once non-negotiable maindeck Liliana of the Veil for Lurrus as a companion. Liliana is still a very strong card and useful in many matchups, but the appeal of Lurrus always being available in addition to its interaction with Mishra's Bauble is not something she can match. Consider also that Lurrus is keeping certain answers out of Modern. Fatal Push has been largely abandoned, in no small part thanks to competition from Prismatic Ending and Unholy Heat. However, it had been on the decline even before MH2 thanks to lining up poorly against Lurrus' ability.

And this is all down to Lurrus uniquely. In late October, there was a shift in Hammer Time away from Lurrus and towards a higher curve with Nettlecyst. The idea was to have more threats and dodge some answers. It didn't work. The Lurrus version soundly outperformed the Nettlecyst version in November. I recorded 17 Nettlecyst decks with an average of 1.41 points to 45 Lurrus versions with an average of 1.87 points. This trend has continued this month and is replicated with the Jund and GDS decks.

That Annoying Monkey

Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer is the second most played creature in Modern (#1 in maindecks) and is quite controversial. There are decent arguments that Ragavan is good for Modern. The primary reason is that it requires decks to have turn 1 interaction or block. It also only benefits fair decks, dies to anything, and has to connect so to do anything. Even if it does connect once or twice, it's not the end of the world.

The problem I have is that many of those arguments were made in favor of Splinter Twin and Deathrite Shaman, both banned cards. The problem is that just like Shaman, unanswered Ragavan generates in insurmountable mana advantage. Just like Twin, there's no evidence other than anecdotes that Ragavan actually does force more interaction to happen. Ragavan was printed at the same time that a lot of answers were printed. Modern would be more interactive anyway and the effect Ragavan is having can't be separated from the altered carpool. And that's a problem because Ragavan is starting to appear everywhere, and that's a worry. So far this month I've seen Ragavan in the usual UR Murktide, Jund Saga, and GDS but also in Ponza, Humans, Jeskai Underworld Breach Combo, otherwise tribal Elementals, and 4-Color Omnath Pile to name the memorable few. This is getting to saturation levels.

And that's an additional problem because as much fun as Ragavan is to play, it isn't fun to play against. It is fun beating opponents with their cards; it sucks just as much to lose to your own cards. This is a really big problem in light of the earlier point. Players generally don't like getting hit with Ragavan and if they're not having fun against a card that is now everywhere, are they going to keep playing?

Just More Piling On

However, my biggest worry is the aforementioned 4-Color Omnath Piles. Specifically, they're coalescing. In November, there were several distinct versions of 4-Color Omnath and many different 4-Color decks. There was nothing wrong with this as they represented very different playstyles and strategies. There's also nothing wrong with multicolor piles in general because in a strong way, that is Magic-as-Richard-Garfield-Intended. He never saw the game getting this big and thought that players just playing all the cool cards together in the same deck would be how the game would go. Which is the entire pile strategy.

The problem is that piles tend to push out anything else at the same speed. Why bother trying to do anything else when you can just play the best card at every mana cost? That was a contributing factor in the demise of Frontier. The mana was so good and there was no land hate so there was no reason not to just run all the best cards in the same deck, at which point there was no incentive to run a slow deck that wasn't a 4-Color pile. Some decks would go 5-Color to get an edge, but that was it. The same thing happened with the Uro decks last year. The piles took over all the slow deck space and forced everyone to either go over or under them. It's happening again because UW Control can't compete with 4-Color's raw power and 2-for-1's and is floundering in December.

Specifically, all the 4-Color Omnath decks have become 4-Color Blink. Some lean into Ephemerate more than others, but they all intended to gain absurd value from blinking Omnath. They've all got the same core of planeswalkers, Omnath, Solitude, and Prismatic Ending, and all win via attrition. 4-Color Control is just gone, and both 4-Color Creativity and Bring to Light are below the tier cutoff. There's little Tribal Elementals either. And that's a huge threat to diversity.

Three Possible Outcomes

As I said, this storm isn't actually here yet. It's just building. It might not even hit Modern. But we do need to be aware and try to prepare. I foresee three possibilities:

  1. The Near Miss - This is where Modern self-corrects and no intervention is necessary. I would prefer this outcome and believe it possible, but players will need to do the work to make it reality. First, we need more unfair combo decks in Modern. Belcher is a good option, but anything will do. We just need decks that actually don't care about Ragavan hits and go way over the top of anything fair. This will force both the 4-Color decks and the Lurrus decks to diversify their answers and stop focusing on grinding each other out. There will also need to be a better Blood Moon deck to contain and punish 4-Color's manabase. Ponza is too slow and Murktide isn't consistently running Moon.
  2. The Storm Dissipates - There was never a real problem, it was just MTGO being MTGO. Online players just got it in their heads that this is how Modern is to be and ran with it. Paper results start to come in a refute the conclusions of the streamers and grinders and the format opens back up. Players adjust to the new cardpool and discover new strategies that obviate the current trends.
  3. Direct Hit - This plays out just like it did with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. There's just too much power in the 4-Color decks and their mana is too good to overcome in a fair way. This forces other decks to lean more heavily into Ragavan and Lurrus to compete and the format becomes polarized. Many bans ensue.

Outlook: Uncertain

I don't know how this will actually play out. But I'm hoping that we can all learn to deal with Modern as it is and that everything will work itself out. But we have to see. However, next week will consider the third scenario.

Card Kingdom’s Condition Conundrum

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When I first started writing about Magic finance over a decade ago, I frequently referenced Star City Games as the gold standard for pricing—both on the buy-side and the sell-side. In fact, the first buylist that I used on a consistent basis was Star City Games’. I remember typing up my buylist orders in an email, following a very particular format required by the site, waiting for the approval email, and then printing out the approval email to ship along with the cards.

Thank goodness times have changed since then.

They changed so much, in fact, that I consider Card Kingdom’s buylist as best in class now rather than Star City’s. During the last cycle of peak Old School card prices, I shipped numerous trade-in and cash buylist orders to Card Kingdom, taking advantage of their aggressive prices and generous payouts. I haven’t sold a card to Star City Games through their website since March 2016.

Card Kingdom does have one minor shortcoming with their buylist that I wish they’d correct, however. ABUGames and Star City Games already changed their system, irradicating this issue, but Card Kingdom has not addressed it yet. It only impacts three sets, and only cards printed in 1993. I’m talking about their downgrade percentages for Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards.

Constant Percentage for Condition Downgrades

When it comes to downgrade percentages, Card Kingdom still uses constant numbers based on the card’s value—the higher the value, the higher percentage of the near mint price you receive for played copies. Foils get their own downgrade scale as do Alpha, Beta, and Unlimited cards. Here’s the simple summary:

When it comes to selling Card Kingdom played cards worth over $100, you’ll often not get a better deal than from Card Kingdom. For example, you can sell a heavily played Library of Alexandria to Card Kingdom for 70% of $1,690, equaling $1,183. Star City Games offers $1,000 and ABUGames $918 (though $1,900 in store credit). In terms of cash value, you’ll get a good bit more from Card Kingdom.


But when you want to sell a played Alpha, Beta, or Unlimited card (abbreviated ABU for short), you’re looking at a different story. Let’s say you have a heavily played Beta Counterspell for sale. How do the three different vendors differ in their buy prices? Well, Card Kingdom pays 40% of $960, which is $384. Meanwhile Star City Games offers $450! ABUGames hasn’t updated their Beta buy prices in a while, so their offer is irrelevant ($240.98).


The bottom line is Card Kingdom loses some of its competitiveness because of their standard downgrade percentage policy. Card Kingdom only pays 40% of their near mint buy price on “Good” (HP) Beta cards. Star City Games has individual pricing for every card—while this may involve more effort, it allows them much more flexibility when dealing with these highly collectible cards. In the case of Armageddon, SCG offers 60% of their near mint price for an HP copy. So even though Card Kingdom pays better on NM copies, SCG pays best on the played stuff.

One last example I wanted to highlight was the bucket of Unlimited Power Nine. First, let’s compare Card Kingdom’s and Star City’s near mint buy prices:

For all nine cards, Card Kingdom pays better than Star City Games. If you have a nice copy of any of these cards and are itching to sell to a store, Card Kingdom would be the way to go. However, what if your copy is heavily played and would be graded as “Good” condition by Card Kingdom? Suddenly, the comparison isn’t so favorable for Card Kingdom:

When dealing with played condition, Star City Games pays a good bit better than Card Kingdom on every single piece of Power Nine—a complete reversal from near mint. Why does this happen? It’s because Card Kingdom applies a flat 40% multiplier for Unlimited cards they downgrade to “Good”. SCG’s percentage is variable, customized based on the card. Here’s a quick comparison of the downgrade percentages from near mint to heavily played, for comparison:

The difference is clear: applying a customized downgrade percent for a card (presumably based on market data) means Star City Games can be more competitive with their buy prices than Card Kingdom, who applies a constant percentages.

The Implications

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big deal—you sell your heavily played ABU cards to Star City Games and the nice condition copies to Card Kingdom. Easy enough, right?

While I agree with this strategy in general, I would argue it creates an imbalance in supply when looking to purchase an ABU card. Namely, Card Kingdom ends up with a bunch of EX and VG copies of ABU cards in stock, but rarely has NM and G copies. While they may not get many NM copies simply because the quantity of NM copies of an ABU card is severely limited, I would argue their constant shortage of G copies stems directly from their buylist practices.

Here’s an example: I filtered to Card Kingdom’s Beta cards for sale and then sorted by price, high to low. They have a smattering of high-end Beta cards in stock, including Black Lotus, Timetwister, Ancestral Recall, a couple Dual Lands, etc. But nearly every card they have in stock is graded either EX or VG.

In fact, as I look at their stock of the 100 most valuable cards in Beta (roughly the top third), they have four cards in stock at G condition and five at NM condition, 4% and 5% respectively. The vast majority of their inventory is either EX or VG condition. Again, the low stock of NM inventory could simply reflect their strict grading practices. It could also indicate that collectors are scooping up NM copies with plans to submit for grading.

But on the low condition side, Card Kingdom doesn’t have many “Good” copies of ABU cards for sale because they don’t pay competitively on them. The corollary to this is that Card Kingdom’s sell prices for HP ABU cards are too low relative to the rest of the market. For example, one of the few G cards Card Kingdom has in stock from Beta is Rock Hydra—their asking price is $220.


Compare that to the cheapest copy for sale on TCGplayer, which is $355. EBay’s cheapest listing is $300, also higher than Card Kingdom’s G copy. While CK’s copy is likely in worse condition than these two other listings, the bottom line is Card Kingdom’s HP copy is the cheapest you can find. It wouldn’t surprise me if that copy was scooped up soon, especially since you can regularly obtain Card Kingdom store credit at a rate of 85%, meaning you can bring your cash price on this card down to $187!

My Call for Action to Card Kingdom

Years and years ago, before Old School was a format and before Alpha and Beta cards were so highly regarded for their rarity and collectability, players were disinterested in played stuff from Magic’s earliest sets. Collectors still existed, but they focused on the nicer copies since they were relatively affordable (compared to today’s prices).

Because of this historical trend, it made sense for vendors to pay aggressively for near mint copies—it’s what collectors were after. Meanwhile, a heavily played Beta rare that saw no tournament play would rot in inventory for ages. I believe this is what led to the significant downgrade percentage practice adopted by Card Kingdom.

But times have changed, and I’d make the argument to Card Kingdom (and every other vendor still using a constant percentage downgrade model on ABU cards) that it’s time to customize these percentages to reflect modern day market dynamics. The reality is, there are a bevy of Old School collectors out there who aren’t so picky on condition anymore. Prices have gotten so high that we have begun embracing played and heavily played copies in order to afford cards for our collection. As long as the card isn’t completely damaged and inked, I don’t care if there’s some edge and surface wear on my Alpha and Beta cards—I can still appreciate their nostalgia regardless.

In addition, Old School players want these once-forgotten cards for actual play!

When was the last time you saw a Hypnotic Specter at a tournament table? Due to power creep, the uncommon has become completely outclassed. But the card is a powerhouse and a staple in Old School. The result: HP copies sell for $300 and MP copies for close to $400!

Because these cards are going to be shuffled by players, you may have an easier time selling HP and MP copies of Beta Hypnotic Specter vs. NM copies. Therefore, it makes little sense to offer such a competitive number on near mint copies, but such an abysmal number on the HP copies. The Old School ABU cards that see play demand higher price points for played copies—these are the copies we want to shuffle up in decks!


Therefore, my call to Card Kingdom is to abolish the standard downgrade percentage practice on ABU cards. I know this will take greater effort, but I know the site already has some sort of proprietary algorithm they use to calculate their buy prices. Perhaps a small upgrade to their algorithm is all they need to implement a more dynamic model for ABU cards.

The hardest part of implementation may not be identifying the algorithm to use (they likely have the data they need already), but updating the website’s code to enable a different interface that showcases the variable downgrade percentages. I’m not a coder, so I don’t know what this may entail. But if Card Kingdom wishes to increase their transactions and improve their inventory on ABU cards, they should consider making this change.

Wrapping It Up

Every time I obtain store credit to Card Kingdom, I try to spend it on a “Good” condition copy of an ABU card. The reason is simple: their prices on these cards are often too low, even discounted relative to the open market. This opportunity stems from their [arguably] antiquated approach to buying ABU cards: a constant downgrade percentage calculation.

Times have changed, Old School players and collectors are content to purchase HP and MP cards to build their decks and fill out their collections. Therefore, I’d argue more favorable downgrade percentages are merited on many ABU cards. This is especially true for Alpha and Beta rares, where supply is so low that I’m willing to grab any affordable copy for my collection. I’ve even been able to quickly sell Alpha and Beta Purelaces with little effort. There is a market for the unplayable rares, simply due to their rarity and collectability.

Star City Games has caught onto this new market dynamic. I hope Card Kingdom will follow suit soon. Otherwise, they can expect to carry an inventory riddled with overpriced EX and VG copies and virtually zero NM and G copies. This trend alone should be a strong indicator to Card Kingdom that their practice could use a little updating.

In the meantime, my recommendation is simple: buy G cards from Card Kingdom if you can catch a restock, sell your NM and EX ABU cards to Card Kingdom to take advantage of their attractive buy prices, and sell your HP cards to Star City Games to get the most for your cards. Actually, if you really want to maximize your ABU collection’s value, you should sell directly to Old School players and collectors—we will gladly purchase your HP Webs and Purelaces, and will likely pay more than any vendor will offer.

It doesn’t matter how unplayable the rares are. When only about 1,100 Alpha and 3,200 Beta copies of a rare exist, grabbing any of them at a good price is an attractive way to own a piece of Magic’s history.

Sigmund Ausfresser

Sigmund first started playing Magic when Visions was the newest set, back in 1997. Things were simpler back then. After playing casual Magic for about ten years, he tried his hand at competitive play. It took about two years before Sigmund starting taking down drafts. Since then, he moved his focus towards Legacy and MTG finance. Now that he's married and works full-time, Sigmund enjoys the game by reading up on trends and using this knowledge in buying/selling cards.

View More By Sigmund Ausfresser

Posted in Alpha, Beta, Buylist, Card Kingdom, Collecting, Finance, Old School Magic, SCG3 Comments on Card Kingdom’s Condition Conundrum

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