The Ins and Outs, But Mostly The Ins – Part 1

I bought a collection this week.

Yes, OK, I realize that it’s not the most remarkable thing in the world that someone in my position would buy a collection. I’m all but expected to buy collections. If I didn’t, that would be noteworthy. I could start an article “hey everyone, this week I didn’t buy a collection” and, inevitably, someone would spit a mouthful of coffee all over their keyboard. And they should. Coffee is gross. With a gun to my head and someone saying “you either drink this or buy a new keyboard” I’m grabbing my keys and heading out to Best Buy. We’re not ruining any keyboards today, I bought a collection, OK? Everything is cool.

Still, for some people, buying a collection is a big deal. Flipping through the cards in this collection, it occurred to me how jaded I am having bought so many and how divorced I am from how difficult the process can feel starting out. I got as comfortable as I am now by using a time-honored technique for personal improvement that I will call the “make a lot of mistakes at first”. I didn’t make any huge mistakes and I caught a lot of lucky bounces, but I also had my time wasted quite a bit. Now that I am beyond making mistakes (mostly), I do certain things automatically. That’s cool for me, but what about everyone else?

The Mistakes Makin’ Phase

Being a podcaster, I’m fortunate enough to have a fanbase composed of people of every skill level. When we try to decide what to discuss for the week, my cohosts and I talk about which next-level topics we want to get into for the week. Recently, we were grounded by a few e-mails from listeners who asked us very basic questions. Our podcast lately has been predicated on people having been along for the entire ride and that can leave people who joined a bit later out of the fun. Starting on episode 101 we are going to start getting into a little bit of Finance 101 and talk about some of the basics again.

Worse than that, my writing lately is somewhat predicated on readers having followed me from year to year and site to site. That wasn’t intentional and now that I think about it, it likely hampers my ability to attract a following here on MTG Headquarters. So I am going to walk a fine line between losing some people because I insulted their intelligence and losing some people because I am talking over their head. My solution? I’m going to spend this week talking about something everyone can use, and that’s how you get a collection like the one I got this week.

Materials

  • A smartphone or a PC

Time Required

  • All day every day. Your work as a collection buyer is never done. However, start to finish on this one collection this week, I invested roughly 3 hours.

I use a smartphone rather than a PC to cruise the best/worst website for buying collections known to man.

Craigslist.

WAIT DON’T CLOSE YOUR BROWSER!

I realize Craigslist is good for a long list of things like finding someone who will trade Japanese hentai wall scrolls for jars of urine or a prostitute to cheat on your wife with, but I’m telling you, there are collections to be had on Craigslist. Yes, it is populated by the dregs of humanity for the most part. Yes, one time a guy tried to pay me for cards I was selling with a remote-controlled car. Yes, if you ask for pictures of a collection and you think you can kind of make out the reflection of a dude’s junk in the foil on a promo Pain Seer you should probably block that dude’s e-mail. Still, Craigslist has netted me a lot of decent collections over the years and we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the filthy, filthy bathwater.

Back to what I was saying, I use a smartphone application. When I bring up the menu, it says “cPro Craigslist” so I assume that is what you punch in to the google play store to find the app. It’s free, so download it and we’ll move on. iPhone users can ask Siri for help, or just standing around feeling superior to everyone like usual until a collection comes to you.

Can’t I Just Use Craigslist On My PC?

Well, yes, you surely can. However, I feel like that app is the way to go for a few reasons. First of all, it allows me to surf for collections in bed. This is the last thing I do before I go to bed at night. It relaxes me and I feel like it’s a way to be productive during time I’d normally just waste sleeping like a normal mammal. You don’t have to surf Craigslist in bed. I’m not the police. I’m just trying to take you through a day in the life.

Whether or not I’m wearing pants (I’m not) when I look for collections notwithstanding, there are other advantages to using the application over the PC. I could just suck at life Craigslist, but when I search the website, I have to repeat my search in a bunch of different categories; Hobbies, Collectibles, Toys and Games, Casual Encounters, etc. On the app, I can put in a big list of cities within the distance I am willing to drive and I can set the app to search every for sale listing. You’re going to get a lot of stuff you don’t want. You will learn to resent the fact that a brand of home appliances called “Magic Chef” exists and that there is a line of children’s books called “Magic Treehouse” and you will hate David Blaine and his Magic DVDs but you hated him already, the smug bastard. You will also benefit from casting a wide net. Don’t refine your search too much; I can’t count how many times I have bought a collection advertised as “Magic the Gatherer cards” (Yes I can; it was twice, bafflingly). Every listing by someone selling stuff that pertains to your search, “Magic Cards” being a good one, in the area you designate will come up in a master list. I can swipe things that are obviously not what I want and take them out of my list. It doesn’t take as much time as you think to separate the weeds from the chaff (literally people selling weed and weed accessories. They love to use the word “magic” to describe those accouterments. It’s not Magic, it’s a grow lamp). I didn’t really use that expression right, but the pun was worth it.

Once you have a list of potential contacts, the app will demonstrate its value once again. You can make up a blanket e-mail template, or several of them and you can send to each person listing stuff for sale. I have a real general one, something to the effect of;

“Hello,

Have you had any interest in the collection of Magic Cards you have for sale? Do you happen to know how many rares you have? I’d be interested in taking a look.

Thank you. ”

If I want a more refined one to send to people who gave more information and I want to cut to the chase and ask them when and where they want to meet, go for it. All of this is about saving you time and letting you cast a wide net and get lots of e-mails out there. The app will also put the subject line from their listing in the subject line of the e-mail just like the Craigslist site so if they have multiple listings, they know what you’re talking about. I don’t advise buying collections sight unseen- when you show up you’re verifying condition, that all the money cards mentioned are in the collection and how many cards there are. I used to price collections and make an offer, but that is a waste of time usually. You should be able to make a blanket offer on everything, and I’ll get into techniques for that next time. For now, just arrange a meeting so you can inspect the collection.

I would make the meeting in a public place if possible. I will go to someone’s house, but not alone, especially if I am bringing cash. I’ve never been robbed at a meeting and it’s no fun to go through life assuming everyone wants to rob you or make a deckbox out of your skin, but better safe than sorry. Take a friend when you go to someone’s house and make a joke about how that person is there to do all the heavy lifting. This joke is funnier the smaller the collection is. If you’re rolling solo, just have them meet you in a parking lot somewhere. I know a guy who likes to fib about how far away he lives from people so that when they offer to meet him halfway they end up driving closer to 75% of the way. That’s pretty awful, but it’s pretty funny, too. I tend to make people inclined to deal with me so I sometimes offer to drive to them. You are sometimes competing for collections without knowing it, so if you make it sound like a pain to sell to you, they just won’t.

So you have a few e-mails in your inbox from interested sellers. What’s the next step? I will be back with Part 2 very soon and we’ll discuss how to avoid paying too much for the collection and later we’ll deal with getting rid of it. I hope you’ll join me.

 

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Magic Weekly: April 7-13

 

A pair of Theros block Grand Prix, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 details, SCG’s fourth quarter Open Series schedule, and some exciting announcements concerning the near future of Magic from PAX East. Oh, and the matter of some tournament organizer controversy. All that and more this week in Magic Weekly!

The Rundown

Skarren Scares Up Another GP Win!

skarren

credit: Wizards of the Coast 2014

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – Frank Skarren catapulted himself onto the competitive Magic scene with a win last year at the record breaking Gatecrash limited event Grand Prix Charlotte. This past weekend, Frank added his name to the short list of two-time Grand Prix champions by taking down yet another limited GP, this time Theros and Born of the Gods limited, in the City of Brotherly Love.

The top 8 of the 1,889 player event was quite stacked, as it included a total of five previous GP winners: Frank was joined by three-time GP winner and Hall of Famer William “Huey” Jensen, two-time GP champion and current #2 ranked player Reid Duke, GP Minneapolis 2012 champ Christian Calcano, and GP Oklahoma City 2012 winner Pierre Mondon. Frank defeated the two members of the Peach Garden Oath brotherhood that he faced, taking out Huey in the quarters and Reid in the finals. In between, he took down Adam Mancuso, and Mark Evaldi rounded out the top 8.

The statistics were not with Frank heading into the top 8 once the draft panned out. Green is often looked upon as the least popular color in the format, and it was Frank’s main color. Additionally, Frank was one of the five players who decided on playing blue cards in the top 8. Despite all of that, Frank managed to put together a very aggressive base that was more than capable of racing. Theros is a format where blocking where blocking is almost certain to be immediately punished, and Frank built himself a deck that made sure he was the one leaning on the opposition rather than the other way around.

noble quarry

Among Frank’s weapons, Noble Quarry proved quite the uncommon threat in the top 8.

In winning Philly, Frank Skarren is now one of only five players in Magic’s history that is currently 2-for-2 in GP top 8s. He joins Ben Seck, Bill Stead, Ding Juen Leong, and James Zhang. Jim Herold, by the by, is the only player who has gone 9-0 in GP top 8s, going 3-for-3.

Old school pro and GP Richmond top 8er Mike Sigrist picked up a Pro Tour qualification with his 13-2 mark, falling just short of the top 8 via tiebreakers in ninth place. Another old school pro and GP Richmond top 8er, Jaime Parke, also finished in the top 16, coming in 12th place. Other big names had solid weekends as well: 24th ranked overall player David Ochoa came in 11th, the Babe Ruth of American Magic Jon Finkel earned himself 16th, and well-known Magic players Shaheen Soorani, Jackie Lee, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Andrew Cuneo, Nathan Holiday, and Adam Jansen all picked up a pair of Pro Points for top 32 finishes.

With their finishes, you can expect jumps up the leaderboard for Huey, who currently has the bottommost 25th spot, as well as David Ochoa, who is right in front in 24th. The unlisted 26th position might well be Christian Calcano, and a second career top 8 berth surely would go a long way to returning to the top 25. Unfortunately for Reid Duke, Jeremy Dezani’s ten point spread between first and second means he probably won’t take over the top spot.

One more highlight: Oliver Tomajko finished in the top 16, just ahead of Jon Finkel, after losing his win-and-in into the top 8 to Huey Jensen. It was an exciting match, and with additional intrigue: Huey won his first Grand Prix two years before Oliver was born. The thirteen-year-old Tomajko already has some high level tournament finishes in Magic and Yu-Gi-Oh under his belt, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at this GP fondly as the good old days before Oliver dominated tournament Magic.

To read more highlights from Philadelphia, including archives of the videos like Huey vs. Oliver from round 15, check out the tournament coverage page.

Grand Prix Philadelphia event coverage

Kasuga KOs Nagoya!

kasuga

credit: Wizards of the Coast, 2014

NAGOYA, Japan – Half a world away, 1,786 Magic players descended upon the largest city in the Chubu region of Japan for similar Theros limited battle. Ryousuke Kasuga entered the event with zero byes, but he went 9-0 on the first day and only lost once in each of his draft pods on the second day before troucing the top 8 with a red-black deck that featured some big heavy hitters like Ember Swallower, Nighthowler, Flame-Wreathed Phoenix, and Hammer of Purphoros, with the Hammer being most impressive in the top 8 for Kasuga. His win with black and red, combined with Frank Skarren’s win with blue and green, means a shut out on white (commonly accepted as the best color in the format for draft) on the last weekend of the format!

Other notables with nice finished include coverage writer Chapman Sim, who stamped his Grand Prix top 8 visa for the second time, and APAC all-stars Lee Shi Tian and Tzu-ching Kuo, both of whom earned three Pro Points for top 16ing the event.

hammer of purph

Kasuga dropped the Hammer on Nagoya!

As the limited format winds to a close, I personally find it quite interesting how opinions have changed since triple Theros. The addition of Born of the Gods has shifted opinions dramatically, specifically when it comes to Kasuga’s main colors in the top 8 draft: red and black. Once the unwanted fifth wheel of Theros, red exploded in popularity once the inclusion of Born of the Gods happened, in large part thanks to a pair of premium common removal spells in Fall of the Hammer and Bolt of Keranos. Simultaneously black, the once favorite color of Theros draft, fell all the way down the scale into fourth or fifth place thanks to a lackluster performance in the middle expansion. In any case, it is clear that this limited format is anything but solved since we’ve seen everything from the quickest aggro to the slowest grindy control decks take down Grand Prix in the last few months. How exciting it’ll be once Journey Into Nyx is released in a few weeks!

To check out the coverage from Nagoya, check out the official coverage page.

Grand Prix Nagoya event coverage

Schoolcraft Schools, Solis Steals SCG Dallas!

DALLAS, Texas – Another weekend… another win for Mono-Black Devotion.

dallas winners

credit: Star City Games, 2014
(L Solis, R Schoolcraft)

As much as we may not want to admit it, this format has clearly been solved. The proof is in the results, and the results are nearly all in the black column for the last month or so. Nick Schoolcraft is the lastest champion to take Pack Rat to the top. His opponent in the finals, the ironically-named-for-the-matchup Jason Blackmor, did his darndest to prevent another Swampland financier from winning the trophy by getting to the finals with G/W Aggro, but alas his Voices of Resurgence and Kings of Oreskos were not enough to stop the endless tide of copper coins from Asphodel.

As the second largest Open ever and the largest ever to not be attached to an Invitational, clocking in at a staggering 778 players, you might expect there to be more recognizable names near the top. And while you might be able to identify Aaron Barich or Colin Chilbert from previous Open Series successes, this event isn’t the laundry list of big names we’ve seen in recent weeks. This means little in terms of shakeup on the Players’ Championship leaderboard.

The 16th place finisher in the Standard Open was San Antonio native Eddie Solis, who put himself fifteen spaces higher on Sunday by winning the Legacy Open in Dallas. Mr. Solis used U/W/R Delver, one of the top boogeymen of the format, to win the Open over Open Series stalwart and Invitational top 8 competitor Joe Lossett in the finals. Colin Chilbert went 2-for-2 making top 8s this weekend, getting into the semifinals with High Tide in the Legacy Open, meaning that maybe he’ll be able to break into the top 100 for the season after the dust settles.

The story is much the same for the Legacy Open in terms of leaderboard shakeup overall though. The biggest names in the building were the aforementioned Joe Lossett and Tom Ross, who had a strong start but picked up a few late losses en route to a hard-luck 33rd in the Standard portion to miss out on big points.

Check out the full coverage and top 8 decklists in the coverage archive.

SCG Dallas event coverage

SCG Dallas top 8 decklists, Standard

SCG Dallas top 8 decklists, Legacy

PAX Facts!

genesis hydra

Proving that hydras are plentiful, even outside of Theros!

BOSTON, Massachusetts – Lots of information came out of the Penny Arcade Expo East this year from the Magic: The Gathering panel, but it was the information that was left unreleased that made the biggest impression on Magic players’ minds.

The Magic panel at PAX was live-streamed on Twitch.tv and had a lot of information about upcoming expansions, particularly this summer’s Magic 2015. One of the most out-of-the-blue developments is the introduction of the so-called “designer credit,” where designers from other games helped create individual cards that will appear in M15. Over a dozen of these guest spots were allocated for the set, and the list of designers includes Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (aka Gabe and Tycho from Penny Arcade), Justin Gary of Ascension and Solforge fame, and designers from many popular games. For example, there’s Genesis Hydra, which was revealed during the panel and was designed by George Fan of Plants Vs. Zombies fame.

Oh, right. That new card frame. I’d nearly forgotten. Oy.

Moving on, or rather moving to a more recent future, several cards from Journey Into Nyx were also spoiled, including Theros’ version of Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx: Athreos, God of Passage. He joins Thassa (and was a day later joined by Pharika) as the only three-cost Gods, which has proven to be quite the boon for the relatively cheap mono-blue God in terms of competitive play.

athreos

Athreos makes opponents pay the toll!

Additionally, turning on Athreos with cards that already see competitive play is a pretty simple task thanks to either Nightveil Specter, or Boros Reckoner in concert with Obzedat, Ghost Council. And the ability combos quite nicely with last year’s Junk Aristocrats holdovers Cartel Aristocrat and Varolz, the Scar-Striped, so keep an eye on Athreos at top tables near you. Other cards spoiled at the event include the Midas themed King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (Gild! Gild everywhere!), Forgeborn Oreads, Polymorphous Rush, and Hydra Broodmaster.

The last card spoiled was only art with an empty text box and card frame, but did include a type line not seen before: Conspiracy. This card will be coming in the box expansion of the same name, Conspiracy, which is designed for team drafting and will include several mechanics specifically for the politicality of team drafts. A completely different card name is certainly news, but since that’s all the information we have it’s going to remain a secret for now as to how the card type will act in practice.

Now the information we didn’t get: No fall block name!

Last year, we got all three set names: Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx. The year before, uproarious applause met the announcement of Magic’s Return to Ravnica. But this year, there’s no such clamor. Fortunately, as I’ve mentioned on a previous Magic Weekly, we likely know that the next Magic block will include something with the title Dragons of Tarkir, and the block follow naming conventions along those lines.

Check out a video of the PAX panel on the official channel for PAX. The Magic panel begins around 3:00:00.

PAX East Albatross room full day coverage, including the Magic panel around hour 3

Open Series Complete 2014 Schedule!

ROANOKE, Virginia – StarCityGames.com announced the rest of their 2014 schedule of events, including both Grand Prix and Open Series events along with commentary teams for the events.

open_headerThe pair of Grand Prix SCGis running at the end of the year are GP Orlando on October 3-5 and GP New Jersey, to be held in Edison, on November 13-15 of this year. Open stops include trips to Worcester, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Columbus before GPNJ, and Richmond, Atlanta, and Portland before the last Invitational of the year in Seattle. The #SCGPC will wind the year up in Roanoke, Virginia, on December 19-21, with two players (Brian Braun-Duin and Derrick Sheets) having already punched their tickets to the big show.

To see the end of year schedule check out the announcement, and to see the complete schedule check out the Open Series page on Star City Games.

SCGOP Q4 Schedule Announcement

SCG Open Series schedule

Duels 2015 Coming Soon!

RENTON, Washington – IGN reported on Thursday that Duels of the Planeswalkers is indeed coming, and it will feature Garruk as its central character… but it’s a different, darker Garruk. Perhaps the Curse of the Veil (as in, Garruk, the Veil-Cursed) has taken hold?

Like Mono-Black needs more help!

hunt bigger game

Hunt bigger game…

Anyway, even without a finalized release date Duels 2015 has a few things worth noting already. Top on the list is the fact that this version of the popular computerized version of the trading card game will not be available for PlayStation this time around, but there won’t be any newly supported systems like last year’s addition of Android. Rumor has it that Draft might be involved in the new items possible in Duels 2015, but for now that’s just hearsay and hopeful jabber, since there’s no official word on that as of yet.

What we do know is that there’s a new storyline that pits the user as Garruk’s quarry, and you have to play your way out of being split by the business end of Garruk’s axe. And the new deckbuilding interface allows for even more freedom to explore archetypes, as well as more dependence on the user to evade Garruk’s capture with deckbuilding prowess. Exciting!

The tagline for Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015 is “Hunt Bigger Game” in honor of Garruk, Magic’s Big Planes Hunter, and will be coming out sometime this summer. There’s even more in the most recent announcement concerning Duels 2015 from last Friday’s Magic Arcana entitled, “Magic 2015 – Duels of the Planeswalkers,” so go ahead and check out that official announcement as well.

Magic 2015 Duels of the Planeswalkers Announced, IGN.com

Magic Arcana: Magic 2015 Duels of the Planeswalkers

That’s it for The Rundown!

What is a Grand Prix worth to you?

Much of the social media discussion from this past week has to do with how the tournament organizer Pastimes is handling their upcoming GP in Chicago, and to a degree how TOs in general are handling the rising costs of tournament entry. The player base was pretty much immediately in uproar as soon as they found out that entry into Grand Prix Chicago will be $50 and not $40, while also including a side event voucher. Critics say this is thinly veiled as mandatory side event entry, but Pastimes says that the entry fee was a necessary evil and they added the free side event entry as a way of making up for the increased cost of doing business.

There were lots of opinions, and I suggest you take a look at some of the most poignant and entertaining as well as informative. Links to a few of them have been provided below.

pastimesI will say that while I understand that rising costs and economy troubles mean that it’s tougher for tournament organizers to make running Grand Prix worth it, it is by no means a hard life. Tournament organizers make hand over fist at GPs. Magic is more popular than it has ever been, Grand Prix are bigger, and more side events are firing as a result. The Sunday Super Series in particular is a humongous event that lots of folks enter. I can appreciate the impulse to raise prices, because hey, Magic players are obsessed and they’ll pay anything to play competitive Magic, it’s a dangerous road to start down.

But let’s say it is a problem. What can tournament organizers do to help alleviate costs of big Magic events rather than raise prices? Well, for starters, Wizards of the Coast should be helping more. Not that creating the game and setting up the events isn’t great and all, but handing over the keys wholesale is something that’s always kind of confused me about Grand Prix. I’ve been to Pro Tours, where WotC has their fingers in everything that the TOs do, from organizing the video coverage and dealer booths to getting players and judges set up and comfortable for the event itself. I admit that I do not know the inner workings of Grand Prix, but on the whole it seems to me like WotC treats them like old science fair projects that they are no longer interested in, and lets them live on under their own devices. Some additional administrative help would go a long way towards helping ease stress and, ultimately, cut costs as a result.

I am not going to say that this is the solution for everything, but I think another step towards helping tournament organizers help pay for their events, should they need help, is turn them into more convention-like atmospheres. Sure, GPs bring in artists. Occasionally, GPs will have Magic celebrities to have signing sessions or seminars. But this is not the end-all be-all of ideas. Other ways to branch this out even further into a Con-like atmosphere is to bring in non-pro celebrities, such as actors that play Magic, for signing sessions; non-Magic activities, particularly aimed at those who want to attend the Grand Prix without playing in it or family and friends visiting the events, like Magic-related movie screenings or game design panels; and both family-friendly and public-friendly events that could include a Duels of the Planeswalkers booth for learning Magic.

I believe Pastimes will ultimately suffer a small hit in PR from this episode, but don’t let that sour you to the experience of trying to go to GP Chicago. The Windy City doesn’t get a ton of large-scale Magic events, and this one is sure to be a great time. I hope they use this unfortunate situation leading to a bigger magnifying glass to their advantage and make it one of the best GPs of the year.

PSA Regarding Grand Prix Atlanta and Chicago, by Alan Hochman (owner of Pastimes)

Announcing Grand Prix Magic Festival 2015! by Matt Sperling on Sperling Grove

Twitter conversation on the GP Chicago discussion

Another Twitter discussion on the issue

That’s it for this week, everyone. Hopefully I’ll be back on my normal schedule next week, after I’m back from visiting family for the Passover holiday. See you next time, and remember: don’t feed the trolls! Especially matzah!

Reuben Bresler

@MoxReuby

Twitch.tv/moxreuby

 

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Magic Weekly: March 31-April 6

A lot happened in the last seven days, and I’m not just talking about me personally. While it’s true that I did drive all of my worldly possessions from Roanoke to Las Vegas, there’s also Grand Prix Phoenix and SCG Milwaukee to cover, the upcoming spoilers from Journey Into Nyx, the announcement of Duel Decks: Speed vs. Cunning, and more! 

The Rundown 

Berni’s Black Blasts Competition in Phoenix! 

berni

credit: Wizards of the Coast, 2014

PHOENIX, Arizona – Robert Berni has been playing competitive Magic for a relatively short amount of time, but had already reached the finals of a Grand Prix in Kansas City last year. But this time he would better his second place finish by one spot, claiming the top prize at #GPPHX with Mono-Black Devotion over a former Grand Prix champ himself in Nathan Holiday (GP San Diego, 2013) playing Mono-Blue. It was a classic finals pitting two of the format’s best decks and two rising pros against each other, but in the end it was the Austin, Texas native who took first place.

Also making top 8, for the tenth time, was ChannelFireball pro and current 23rd ranked player Eric Froelich. Eric fell in the top 8, but his double digit appearances in the knockout rounds makes this GP one to remember. He was piloting the B/r Devotion strategy he pioneered at GP Cincinnati a few weeks back, and he’s clearly found a mix that works. But by far the coolest list in the knockout rounds was a Bant Control list featuring Sylvan Caryatid and Kiora, The Crashing Wave piloted by Catskill, New York’s Daniel Ward. Tomoharu Saito also played Bant at the event, albeit to a less spectacular 24th place finish, but if it has Saito’s seal of approval I would keep an eye on the archetype as the current format winds to a close.

pack rat

A Merrow Reejerey every turn is good? Who knew?

As a matter of fact, that’s it for Standard Grand Prix for the current season. As the Born of the Gods Standard winds to a close and we approach Journey Into Nyx’s release, it’s clear that there is a clear best deck: Mono-Black Devotion. Week in and week out, I’ve been covering the results from Standard and I’m consistently touting the latest tournament winner who used Mono-Black to get there. Breaking out at Pro Tour Theros and then GP Louisville last year, the archetype featuring ubiquitous answers like Thoughtseize and Hero’s Downfall combined with tough to answer threats like Pack Rat and Desecration Demon made Mono Black the best deck in Standard for the last six months. It hasn’t been since the days of Mind Sludge and Nantuko shade, or maybe even before then, that we’ve been able to say that!

Just behind the favorite are a few contenders for the throne: Mono Blue Devotion is always nipping at the heels, Esper Control is a favorite among to pros, and Monsters variants have made a lot of noise recently. But for now everyone’s chasing Gary.

Grand Prix Phoenix wasn’t as successful for me, as I took the Patrick Sullivan-inspired red deck to a meager 4-3 finish in the main event before dropping. C’est la vie. The event was significantly more successful for pros Valentin Mackl, Jon Stern, and Seth Manfield, all of whom made top 16. Manfield, by the way, was the man who defeated Berni last year at GP Kansas City! Seems like maybe they should root for each other…

To read all of the coverage from Phoenix, check out the excellent coverage of the event from DaiyMTG.

Grand Prix Phoenix event coverage

Grand Prix Phoenix top 8 decklists

Milwaukee Belongs to Huang, Rill! 

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin – Mono Black won the Standard Open. Who’s surprised?

huang

credit: Star City Games 2014

Kevin Huang, a Buffalo Grove native, took down the Standard Open against SCG writer and old-school pro Adrian Sullivan’s U/W Control deck, and once again Devotion to Black pays off. The craziest list I’ve seen make top 8 came from Mason Lange, who had a full set of green 3-power dudes like Brushstrider and Kalonian Tusker that he used to defeat all those lLast Breaths that had been running around. I don’t expect the deck to have legs, but maindeck Mending Touch is worth sitting up and taking notice.

The big names didn’t make any appearances in the Standard Open top 16, but the Legacy top 8 was a different story: Eric Rill captured his fourth Open Series trophy, once again with Young Pyromancer at the ready. His deck, a four-color pile he’s caling Spy Kids, features Pyro alongside Delver of Secrets, Deathrite Shaman, and… Edric, Spymaster of Trest?! Whew, that’s a spicy meatball! SCG’s own Sam Black took 10th with Elves to put his name up near the top as the only other big name in lights. The 20 points from the win will rocket him up the Season Two leaderboard

rill

credit: Star City Games 2014

This event spelled the return of Sneak and Show, the Sneak Atack and Show and Tell-powered combo deck that was all the rage a few months ago but has been somewhat silent these past few weeks. But people dug out their Emrakuls and Griselbrands for this one, and the archetype put two into the top three.

To see full event coverage from Milwaukee, check out theevent coverage page on StarCityGames.com.

SCG Milwaukee event coverage

SCG Milwaukee top 8 decklists, Standard

SCG Milwaukee top 8 decklists, Legacy

Duel Decks: Fast vs. Furious! 

speed cunning

The speedy and the cunning will be coming in September.

RENTON, Washington – Wizards of the Coast recently announced the newest Duel Decks: Speed vs. Cunning. The set contents are as yet unknown, but I’m expecting some nice haste creatures and blue instants. Speculators, take note: I’d anticipate some of the hits from U/R Delver getting the reprint treatment… maybe an alternate Delver of Secrets itself? That’d be pretty cool, but since the set isn’t released until September 5, 2014, I’d hold off on too much rumor milling.

The set will be available for $20 MSRP in both English and Japanese. Check out the official announcement on Daily MTG.

Announcing Duel Decks: Speed vs. Cunning!

Dissolve FNM Promo! 

dissolve

Dissolve is the Friday Night Magic promotional foil for June 2014!

MTG France uncovered June’s FNM promo, and it’s Dissolve! The popular counterspell will be a popular addition to the promo family, as it has seen consistent Standard play since its printing.

This has been confirmed by a reputable source, and it should be a very popular FNM foil that’ll see play for the next year or so.

The announcement has not yet been made officially, so check out the forum post on MTG France for the info we have so far

Dissolve FNM promo thread on MTG France

Tokens galore at SCG! 

ROANOKE, Virginia – Two token announcements for the price of one! First up, SCG Judge Rewards. The Magic Judge Rewards offered by Star City Games have always been very good, but last week SCG announced some very nice additions to their program, but for every silver lining there’s a cloud. L1s will find it much more difficult to get staffed at Opens with the update, but the sky isn’t falling or anything. As Jared Sylva mentioned in his News Item:

“While we will reserve a few slots on each staff for developing the next Level 2s, Level 1 judges will make up a smaller percentage of the staff in the future.”

Among the changes are increased Points and compensation for high level judges, new sleeves and deck boxes with the popular Tree of Knowledge design, and the ability to cash in SCG Judge Points for custom tokens.

derrick

Derrick Sheets’ Swan Song token, with Kristen Plescow art.

The tokens have been what the buzz is all about on social media thus far, and with good reason. The original tokens from Kisten Plescow and Liz Nugent, SCG’s resident artists, have been incredibly popular as writer tokens as well as promotional tokens for Open Trials and IQs.

Speaking of tokens, Derrick Sheets’ 2/2 Bird of Swan Song fame came out this week! Derrick won the most recent SCG Invitational, and Kristen’s swan, with Derrick astride the big bird, is nothing short of awesome. The tokens will be available starting at SCG Cincinnati on May 3-4, 2014.

That’s it for The Rundown, but that’s not even close to the end of the article. Spoiler season is upon us!

Ajani & Co. 

When a new set comes out, the planeswalkers are often the biggest headliners. This time around, we have the Catman himself Ajani returning to the scene, this time as the very first green and white planeswalker. Let’s take a look at this fella: presenting Ajani, Mentor of Heroes!

ajani5

Now this Ajani, which I’ve nicknamed Ajani Five (for the obscure Short Circuit 2 reference), follows the typical Ajani thread of needing an army to help him out. But don’t let that deter you, as this kitty is also a source of card advantage, has two +1 abilities, and a big splashy ultimate. I mean “gain 100.” How sweet is that?

This card is very good, don’t get me wrong, but needs to be built around to be most effective, a la Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. I will leave the financial advice to MTGHeadquarters’ resident expert Jason Alt, but I expect this card to be a player. Particularly alongside Sylvan Caryatid and Elvish Mystic, and perhaps in concert with Domri Rade, I expect this planeswalker to be pretty highly sought after. I know I will be looking to try to find a shell for it!

Other exciting spoilers include Keranos, God of Storms and Iroas, God of Victory… and they couldn’t be more different.

keranosiroas

One is an enchantment that can become a creature but doesn’t really grant any bonuses once it comes alive, and the other is heavily dependant on creatures being in play. Both seem very good, but I’m particularly excited for Iroas. It basically makes combat impossible for opponents, with the Dolmen Gate effect combined with the Golbin War Drums… not to mention the 7/4 for four mana once he becomes active. This guy seems really potent, and with Boros Reckoner, Ash Zealot, and Precinct Captain all options he also has the support structure in place to make it work.

The last card I want to talk about will not only help Iroas get powered up, but may have an impact in Eternal formats. Presenting Eidolon of the Great Revel.

eidolon

Pyrostatic Pillar sees a modicum of Legacy play, and this is very similar with a bonus Grizzly Bear attached. I am very excited to play this card, and you can be sure that Patrick Sullivan will be as well. Being able to punish Detention Spheres, Last Breaths, and whatnot is pretty great, but it’s even more potent in aggro mirrors. I especially like it against Mono-Blue, where the Thassa players will be taking so much damage to cast Frostburn Weirds and Nightveil Specters that it might not even have to enter the red zone.

Well that’s all for this week, guys! Tune in again next week when I’m sure we will have more spoilers, results from GPs in Philadelphia and Nagoya, SCG Dallas, and more news and notes next week! Thanks for reading, and remember: don’t feed the trolls!

Reuben Bresler

@MoxReuby

Twitch.tv/moxreuby

 

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Honey

Welcome back, It’s Spoiler Season and you know what that means in the finance community! Pessimism! Yay! Seriously, though, as much as the finance community can sometimes be a little pessimistic about the cards in the new set retaining their value, they are optimistic about cards in other sets going up to a degree that is alarming. For me, that is what makes spoiler season so much fun!

Context

Card evaluation is very difficult to do properly. It seems like it should be easy – you look at a card and if it does something good then the card is good. There are a few reasons why card evaluation is kind of tough, though because of traps people fall into.

Trap # 1 – The historical comparison

It’s pretty easy to see that Pain Seer is going to struggle to find a deck that wants to play it. If Pain Seer had come out in the first Magic expansion ever made, people might not know whether it was good or not and want to give it a spin. If it came out in the second expansion ever and the first expansion contained Blood Scrivener, people might have said “We thought Blood Scrivener would be good and that never saw play so I don’t expect much of a difference here. However, Pain Seer came out after they had printed two relevant cards, one being Blood Scrivener, the other being Dark Confidant. People really wanted Pain Seer to be Dark Confidant, so badly, in fact, that some people thought it WAS Confidant but with one more toughness. Historical context can blind you.

Trap # 2 – The card in a vacuum

Serra’s Sanctum would be a $50 preorder Mythic Rare if printed for the first time in Journey Into Nyx. Serra’s Sanctum would be a $0.25 preorder uncommon if printed for the first time in Mirrodin. Evaluating a card in terms of its power is fine, but you have to be mindful of how it will interact with other cards in the set and other cards in the format. This is harder than people think, and it’s impossible to do before the entire set is spoiled. Most people don’t go back and re-evaluate cards they dismissed in the light of new spoilers, but should.

Trap #3 – Not understanding the format

If a card is big, durdly and slow, a lot of people will assess it with a dismissive “Bah, EDH” and not give it a second thought. That has people both overestimate the appeal of a card like Spark Trooper and underestimate the appeal of cards like Prophet of Kruphix or Karametra, God of Harvests. If you don’t understand a format, talk to someone who does before you try to estimate a card’s appeal in that format. I spent the last prerelease getting cards like Fated Retribution for nothing because people thought they were junk. The play Fated Retribution is getting in standard is just gravy.

But being able to assess the cards in the new set is one thing, but I want to talk to you about quite another.

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

It’s important to evaluate a new set to see if it improves existing archetypes, replaces a similar card because it does its job better or, in rare cases, can invent a new archetype. Sometimes an entire keyword ability can elevate a card.

I really wish they had held off on spoiling Eidolon of Blossoms. When they spoiled the card Whitewater Naiads, they also spoiled the constellation mechanic. Constellation is essentially enchantmentfall. This is an ability people anticipated all the way back in the days before Theros was spoiled. As soon as Theros was announced to be enchantment-heavy, speculation got going hot and heavy. Constellation was anticipated by the community 6 months before it became a reality. Of every constellation ability people could conceive of, people seemed most excited about the potential of a card that drew other cards when an enchantment came into play. Of all the possible very powerful effects (Take an extra turn, destroy a creature, search your library for a land and put it into play, win the game) the most likely candidate seemed to be “draw a card” when anyone discussed what they thought we’d see.

With no more justification than a vague sense that the block would contain enchantments, people rushed out and bought Mana Bloom. I wasn’t convinced at the time, and figured I would have time to see if there was going to be any evidence before I bought in. I was correct to wait and Mana Bloom has done nothing these 6 months but adorn many a “box of shame”. Still, the discussion about the hypothetical “Enchantmentfall – draw a card” card was fresh in my mind.

My feeling was that as soon as constellation was spoiled, there would be interest in Mana Bloom. I felt like in a week or two they would reveal the “draw a card” spell and then by then, there would be very few copies of Mana Bloom available online and there would be a buying frenzy, leading to the buylist prices going up very sharply so dealers could restock and allowing me to cash out. I debated buying some Mana Blooms. I am glad I debated for a few hours.

A few hours after they spoiled the mechanic, they spoiled Eidolon of Blossoms. With all of the hype likely to die as soon as someone proxied the deck up and tested with it and came to the conclusion that they’d rather just play Underworld Connections or Sphinx’s Revelation than durdle with Mana Bloom to draw cards, there wasn’t going to be demand like I’d need to benefit financially. I think even if they spoil a good constellation card, one better than Eidolon of Blossoms, later, it won’t matter because there are too many copies of the cards still in dealers’ inventories. Dealers are raising their sale price a bit as new financiers are quick to point out, but a savvy financier will know that means nothing unless they increase their buy price, and they haven’t. When a dealer increases his sale price but not his buy price, you can bet he’s laughing as he stuffs envelopes. Don’t be the guy he laughs at.

What Not To Not Do

OK, I am on a bit of a “Don’t buy this!” kick lately, and with Food Chain stubbornly refusing to tank like it has historically I am going to get off of said kick. It’s more fun to talk about what you should buy, so let’s do that instead.

replenish

 

First up is Replenish. Here is a card that, should constellation give us a card that makes us want to trigger it a lot, can trigger it a lot. Cards like Argothian Enchantress trigger when you cast an enchantment, so perhaps the distinction between that card and Eidolon of Blossoms could be good for this card. Replenish is a card I like strictly because of how many people are talking about it. If there is more hype later, you want to be prepared to sell into it. I am not buying in a ton myself due to how high the buy-in cost is, but if you look at what sudden demand did to a super analogous card, Academy Rector, I think it’s low risk to be in for a playset. It’s a good, playable card which is why its price is high. If you don’t like high buy-in specs, this next one is for you.

sigil of the em

 

The upside potential is limited by its reprinting in Planechase 2012, but here is the first Constellation card printed. With renewed interest in the concept, and with is power level being quite high, expect this card to climb. EDH decks like Hanna, Ship's Navigator will want this as will casual decks. Could this be part of a deck in Modern? All I know is that I am seeing a lot of buzz surrounding this card, and where there is buzz there are…. well, bees. I guess there really isn’t an idiom about buzz. Where there is smoke, there is fire, right? Don’t they use smoke to put bees to sleep? So sometimes, where there is smoke, there are bees. And bees generate buzz. So, by the transitive property, where there is buzz, there is fire. So there you have it. The buzz could be wrong, but hype has made stupider cards go up.

sigil of the em

 

This is a card that was secretly one of those cards that was always on the buylist for way more than you’d imagine despite everyone valuing it at practically nothing. The dealers knew something most didn’t- this card always sold pretty well to the casual and EDH crowd. Irrespective of potential tomfoolery with cards like Eidolon of Blossoms, this card has been climbing. This makes it an even lower risk buy. The spread on this card is below 30%, there is significant upside (Fracturing Gust anyone?) and I think the buzz I already hear means there is fire here.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are other cards that have potential to go up as well. Some of them are green. Could Sterling Grove, a card that can also search for a card like Karametra finally see an increase in play and therefore value? Privileged Position? One thing is for sure, there is a lot of excitement around this set, something we didn’t see during the last third set, the disappointing Dragon’s Maze which helped the prices of absolutely nothing. This set is really heating up.

Just watch out for the bees.

 

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Geniuses in Hindsight

Financiers know how to pay attention.

We read articles, we read coverage reports, we watch coverage, we scour twitter for updates, we talk to pros and grinders and brewers and we see what goes out of stock on sites like TCG Player. With so many pairs of eyeballs on everything, it’s rare that something happens without the finance community noticing.

It was no surprise that when a fun deck managed a Top 8 of SCG Los Angeles, the finance community noticed.

chain deck

 

Immediately, discussion about the deck went up online. The consensus  was that Food Chain was a great spec target. It’s a slam dunk, really. Some specs are hard to figure out, but this one is not. After all, just looking at the card, it obviously has a lot going for it.

  • Printed during Mercadian Masques so supply is low
  • Low-to-no chance of a reprint
  • Played in Food Chain Goblins as well as this Food Chain Griffin deck
  • Played in EDH decks like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher and Maelstrom Wanderer; practically a must-include in those decks
  • A four-of in the decks that play it in Legacy
  • Low buy-in (Around $5) means lots of copies can be scooped up affordably, making it easier to buy out TCG Player

Sure enough, a few days after the results were announced, we saw movement in Food Chain‘s price.

Chain

 

It shot like a rocket from $5 to $20.

“Bam!” said the new speculators class of 2014. “We NAILED it!”

Everything they said about the card seemed true, they predicted the spike, bought ahead of it and in a week or so their cheap copies would arrive in the mail and they could list them for sale online and reinvest the profit. Time to pop the cork on the champagne, right?

There is only one thing standing between them and success.

Food Chain is a $%#@ing terrible spec.

It’s True

While most of what everyone said about the card after the deck made that Top 8 finish was mostly correct (mostly), it only seems like it’s intelligent if you apply it to a card that has already identified itself. This is an example of a way that new speculators get burned a lot, they tend to do all of their analysis after the fact, and when the justification for a card going up is made after the card goes up, things that seem like good points may not be as good as you think.

Remember that graph of Food Chain’s price? Well, I fibbed a bit.

Untitled

 

I cut off a little bit at the end, the part where it goes down and appears to plateau. It went up slightly today, but that is likely because more copies were listed. These copies aren’t selling and when they don’t sell, people are going to drop the price to undercut each other and we’ll see the card return to normal. I would say what I usually say, which is that it will likely stabilize well below the spike price but above the $5 it was before the spike, but I’m not even 100% sure that will be the case. Why?

I remember the last time this exact same thing happened.

History Repeating

It is March 2012. A budding financier named Jason Alt has landed a gig on QuietSpeculation.com as a free side columnist and is entitled to a lifetime of free Quiet Speculation Insider. This premium access gives him the ability to read the locked articles, access the forums and, most importantly, receive the Insider e-mails.

Jason gets an e-mail his first week as a writer for the site. A card in the upcoming set “Avacyn Restored” called Misthollow Griffin has just been spoiled. Misthollow Griffin has an ability never before seen on a creature- it can be played from exile. And it’s blue! You can pitch it to Force of Will and play it after, making it an even better Storm Crow!

But wait! There’s more! Food Chain exists. Remember Food Chain from the Food Chain Goblin deck from 2005? Well it’s only a buck or two and it makes infinite mana with the Griffin! You can use that mana to cast an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn! When Avacyn Restored comes out, people will be able to use the Griffin in a Legacy deck with Food Chain, so buy Food Chain now.

Buy Food Chain he did. He got in for around 100 copies at under $2 each and made a bundle when the card spiked over $10 on the hype of the Griffin being spoiled. Not bad for his very first Insider e-mail! While it wasn’t Jason’s first spec, it was his first time going this deep and making this much money.

Over the next six months or so, Food Chain sat stagnant in electronic store inventories. Jason sold most of his copies on eBay (TCG Player wasn’t open to non-stores in those days) and the rest to buylists and pocketed quite a bit of money. But there weren’t many buyers after a week or two. People put the deck together, tested it in Legacy and decided it was more cute than good. Gradually stores lowered the price on the card more and more to get rid of their excess copies. By 2013, the card was around $5- not the $2ish it was before the spike, but not the $15 it aspired to, either. The deck was played by a few people including Jason’s Quiet Speculation editor, Tyler Tyssedal. Tyler played the deck in a few SCG Opens and did OK, but the deck was mostly for fun. Talking with Tyler about the deck convinced Jason to buylist his last copies because the demand was not going to be sustained by the deck. EDH demand managed to keep the card from going quite to $2, but not much above it. Gradually, the deck faded from memory.

The Big Reveal

What if I told you that the Jason Alt in the story was none other than the author of this article? My experience with the deck from making bank on Food Chain and watching the price decline to $5 made me say “Heh, Tyler’s stupid deck got a Top 8″ when I saw the results. A deck that is cute, looks fun and has been around for 2 years wasn’t anything I was going to get bent out of shape over, especially since the Legacy demand for the card coupled with the EDH demand kept it at a nice, even $5 forever. I bought a few copies in Montreal to go into EDH decks, and even though I know they will be close to $5 soon as everyone undercuts each other to sell out, I’m not even bothering to unsleeve them to sell into this hype. That’s how good of a spec Food Chain isn’t. I have copies that I am not even going to bother trying to sell.

I think the selective memory going on in the finance community is pretty funny sometimes. People were so eager to heap justifications onto Food Chain after the deck had its Top 8 finish that they brought up to Food Chain Goblins deck. Sure, Food Chain Goblins ran Food Chain as a four-of. You know what else it ran as a four-of? Goblin Recruiter. You know, a banned card that is banned and/or not legal in Legacy. The deck is not a deck because a key component of the engine is not allowed to be played in Legacy.

The list of reasons why people thought Food Chain was about to go up was flawed in that all of those justifications were applied to a card that was already identified. If you can’t find another card that fits those criteria and apply it to another card that hasn’t gone up yet and buy in cheap copies before they go up, then you haven’t done anything. You’ve contributed to a card going up by sheer virtue of tricking yourselves and others into buying it. Food Chain didn’t go up because the deck is good. It didn’t go up because EDH demand is so high. It didn’t go up because it’s safe from reprint and is super powerful. It went up because a bunch of people bought all the $5 copies on the internet.

Your Recourse

If you’re not a participant in this sort of bad, hindsight-based speculation and you wanted a $5 Food Chain for an EDH deck, you can do what I am going to do; wait. Food Chain is not a $15 card. It’s not even a $10 card. Getting played in the Food Chain Griffin deck for two entire years combined with its printing in Mercadian Masques combined with its historical play in Food Chain Goblins combined with its use and appeal in EDH combined with its low buy-in price of $5 made it a $5 card for 18 months. You can look at that impressive list of justifications for the card spiking and think “Wow, this card is sick” but you have to rememeber that those things are the reason it was $5, not $2.

Will the card ever be $5 again? It’s hard to say. However, all you can do as a player is wait, and I would wait. The people who bought these for $5 will sell a copy or two at $15, but with no buyers they will sit on these for probably 6 months and then they’ll sell them for close to the $5 they paid for them after they get sick of sitting on them. They didn’t speculate, they gave Troll and Toad an interest-free loan with $5 cards as colateral. If you buy them for $15 now, you enourage this kind of misguided speculation. The only way people will learn is by losing money.

If you are a participant in this sort of bad, hindsight-based speculation, realize that anything you say about a card after it spikes is suspect. You’re teaching yourself to recognize patterns that aren’t there. Unless you can apply everything you said about Food Chain to another card and correctly predict it going up in price, you didn’t learn anything. Any justification after the fact is garbage, and buying into hype is a sucker’s game. You’re going to end up holding the bag and the only people who benefited are the stores who were happy to sell all of their $5 copies. You’re hurting the player base who will have to hold off on buying Food Chain for their EDH deck and will go on to resent the finance community. You’re hurting yourself when you put Food Chains in your failure box with Aluren and all of the other specs that didn’t pan out.

Avoiding Future Failure

griffin

 

Tempted to snag some of these at $1? You can, but I wouldn’t. Find a different card and get ahead of it. The thing about lining up behind a bunch of sheep is that the line usually leads to the slaughterhouse.

 

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