Fourth Of July Mailbag

To celebrate the Fourth of July and summer vacation, Chas does a fun mailbag article where he answers questions readers sent in. Read on to see if he answers yours!

Hooray for summer vacation! When I was a kid, no two words were packed with quite so much possibility. Not even “Santa Claus” or “Super Nintendo.”

The Fourth of July is the best part of summer vacation, too. When you’re a kid, it’s an excuse to light stuff on fire, eat hamburgers, and shout at giant explosions. In college, it’s an excuse to do all of that stuff while simultaneously drinking beer. When you’re a young adult, it’s a merciful day or two off from work where the only real obligations involve grilling meat and fulfilling a star spangled stereotype or two. I, for one, am looking forward to a lazy, dog-dangling afternoon off.

Dog Dangling

Of course, you aren’t reading this until the 8th of July—and to put it bluntly, the 8th of July sucks.

You’re back at work even though it’s still ninety-seven degrees outside. Eating full slices of American cheese is sad, not patriotic. Labor Day is almost two months away, and Theros doesn’t come out for a month after that. Even the local classic rock station has finished counting down the best inoffensive songs from 1966-1991, and now it’s just going to be the same three or four George Thorogood and Thin Lizzy songs for the rest of the year. The 8th of July is brutal.

July 8th has one thing going for it though—a brand-new mailbag article from yours truly. Mailbags are the perfect summer format: fun to read, packed with information, and super easy to write. At the risk of using up my yearly quota of Simpsons references in one article introduction, my brain tends to feel like this during the summer:

Monkey Head

That adorable little monkey doesn’t have the focus to stick with one topic for more than a couple of paragraphs. I’m all “let’s analyze all of the pricing data for Dark Confidant cross-referenced with the card’s appearance in Top 8 decks” and then CRASH! The monkey hits his cymbals together, and I start wondering if a Tyrannosaurus Rex could win a footrace against seven hundred penguins that have a hive mind and could form a giant Voltron of penguins.

But what do you want from me? It’s summer vacation!

How long did it take you to realize that the new red planeswalker is called Chandra, Pyromaster not Chandra, Pyromancer?

– Chas A.

Did you know this? Does anyone know this? I’m pretty sure my brain sees the prefix “pyro” followed by a suffix starting with “m” and ending with “er” and defaults to pyromancer every time. I could have sworn that everyone else has been calling her Chandra, Pyromancer, but now I think I’ve just been reading pyromaster wrong everywhere for days.

Is this mistake universal, or is this another thing I can blame on Peaches, my brain monkey?

Can Dragon’s Maze stand on one card alone? From a financial perspective, is Dragon’s Maze a bust because there’s nothing worthwhile from it other than Voice of Resurgence?

– Jim R.

The price disparity in Dragon’s Maze is pretty shocking. If you go by StarCityGames.com retail prices, Voice of Resurgence is a $60 card—more expensive than all of the other mythic rares in the set combined. Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Ral Zarek are the only other cards in the set worth at least $10. Progenitor Mimic, Advent of the Wurm, and Aetherling are the only three others worth more than $5. From a value perspective, Dragon’s Maze is shockingly bad.

In a way, this gulf speaks to the current state of Magic finance. You know how Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant went up in value despite Modern Masters but most of the other cards in that set came down in price? The same thing is going on here.

Dragon’s Maze has 35 rares and ten normal mythics—I’m leaving out Maze’s End for the purpose of this discussion. That means each rare is on the print sheet twice compared with each mythic, giving you a one in eight chance of pulling any random mythic and a one in 80 chance of pulling a Voice of Resurgence.

So let’s pretend a thousand people get together and do a Dragon’s Maze draft. Between them, they’ll open approximately 37.5 Voices of Resurgence—enough for about nine people to make a playset. At the same tournament, conversely there will also be roughly 75 copies of Melek, Izzet Paragon opened.

Now imagine a world where Magic has become twice as popular. Instead of a thousand people drafting Dragon’s Maze, it’s two thousand. This time there are twice as many Voices of Resurgence opened—enough to make a whopping eighteen playsets. On the Melek front, however, we’re up to a full 150 copies.

As the player base grows, demand for high-end mythics tends to grow linearly along with it. It doesn’t matter that twice as many Voices of Resurgence were opened in the second scenario because there weren’t enough of them to go around in the first place.

This isn’t true, however, with lower-demand cards. Casual players also have more diverse needs—everyone who plays Modern wants Misty Rainforests, but the gal who wants a Doubling Season might be totally different from the guy who wants Adarkar Valkyrie. With Commander serving as the dominant casual format, these players also tend to only want one or two copies of each card as well. Because of this, a world where twice as many packs are opened leads to casual or fringe cards going down in price even as the pricier cards rise in value.

I’ve now written a wall of text and am no closer to answering Jim’s actual question. Back on point, I think that Dragon’s Maze will start to surprise a little as we head into next year. Varolz, the Scar-Striped is the real deal. Aetherling is the best finisher in Standard. Advent of the Wurm is an amazing card. Sire of Insanity is quite good. Legion’s Initiative has proven its worth in several decks, and Ral Zarek may yet surprise us. Dragon’s Maze is certainly a below average set from a financial perspective, but let’s wait at least a year before we fully judge it, shall we?

I am a Modern player and am wondering if you think that I should trade some of the shocklands I’m not using later this summer when they are $20. I’m not sure because I have a feeling they will be around $20 again throughout the next Modern season and maybe more in the one after.

– Julian W.

This question is really three different questions, and the answer to all of them is yes.

Will shocklands go up to $20 or so this summer? Yes. The current SCG retail on these is between $8 and $15 right now. That number will probably be $15 to $25 by early September. I am aggressively picking these up right now.

Should you sell your unused shocklands this fall? Yes, but only if you like playing the short-term market trends. Selling high profile Standard staples at the height of their desirability is almost always a good idea if you can get close to full price.

Will they be $20+ again in the future thanks to Modern? Yes. I do think you’ll have a chance to buy them back again when Return to Ravnica rotates out of Standard, but I doubt the rotating price will be lower than the value right now. If you sell in September and buy back in a year later, you’ll probably do fine, but if you’re just talking about individual playsets of lands to keep for deckbuilding, I’d say just get a full set of 40 now and hold them indefinitely.

We live in a world where the majority of music is digital. Books, movies, and video games are going this direction as well. Soon we will live in a world where my kids won’t know what a DVD or CD looks like. Do you think there is a chance that Magic Online will become the primary form for people to play the game?

– Dave L.

If this were going to happen, it would have happened already.

I’m not sure all of you realize this, but Magic Online is eleven years old. It isn’t like Magic Online is some brand new product designed to kill the game—it has been around more than half as long as the paper game. Over that span of time, Magic has done nothing but grow in popularity.

All of the things you mentioned above—books, music, movies, and video games—can be enjoyed as intended whether you own a digital copy or a physical one. Some people still like owning physical copies of their media, of course; I collect vinyl records and vastly prefer paper books to e-ink, but I realize that is a minority opinion. Magic, however, is an entirely different game online. The lack of human interaction, the diminished visuals, the clunky controls…it’s no substitute for the real thing.

Even if Wizards decides to spend a fortune to program the best possible Magic Online client, it will be limited by a complex rules structure that makes a lot of sense in person when things can be shortcut that play out clumsily. Even if they somehow get around those hurdles somehow, playing the game when you’re not facing down your opponent is just a fundamentally different experience. Online poker didn’t kill local card games. It made them more popular.

When looking at spoilers (or winning decklists), are there any key indicators that usually indicate a jump in price of certain cards to you?

– Schulyer A.

Card evaluation is one of the hardest parts of Magic speculation. Here are a few of the rules I use:

  • Focus on mythics early in spoiler season. This is when you can snag a Bonfire of the Damned or a Voice of Resurgence cheap before the hype sets in.
  • Focus on rares late in spoiler season, especially rares that aren’t spoiled until near the very end. This is where you find your Hellriders and Spellskites that slipped through the cracks.
  • Listen to what the pros are saying. They’re not always right, but they’re better at card evaluation than you are. Smart people know when to shut up and listen to people smarter than them.
  • Always pay extra attention to the first tournament or two after a new set is released. This is where the breakouts happen.
  • The cheaper the converted mana cost of a card, the more chances it will have to do well. That doesn’t mean that every two-mana rare will be great, but it’s like being born into a rich family—you’ll get every chance in the world to succeed.
  • Cornerstone cards in cheap/moderate decks are better bets than cheap cards in expensive decks.
  • Never preorder a planeswalker or go against a Sicilian with death on the line.
  • Never forget that 95% of all cards in a spoiled set will be significantly cheaper three months after release.

Could you give us a budget Infect decklist?

– John R.

This was in response to my article on Modern archetypes, so I’m going to assume you want a budget Infect list in Modern, John. Here’s one I like:

I don’t love this deck as a budget option because it really does need the Hierarchs to play correctly and those are $30 each right now. I think there are better deck options if you’re going to spend that much. If you love Infect and really want to play with it, though, you can always substitute shocklands for fetches and Birds of Paradise for Hierarchs. The loss of exalted will hurt a lot, but the deck will still be capable of winning.

How do you price signed cards? I’ve got three signed Sacred Foundrys from original Ravnica.

– Gordon S.

You’re not going to like hearing this, Gordon, but most of the time an artist’s signature doesn’t increase the value of a card at all. In many cases, it actually decreases the value of a card.

The problem is that signed cards by definition cannot be mint or near mint. This makes them harder to sell. Stores can’t easily list them on their websites along with other M or NM cards. Because of this, most buyers will give you less than the going rate for your signed cards.

The news is worse when it comes to pieces of Power or other old rarities. Too much of this stuff has already been signed, and the market for these signatures simply isn’t that robust. Signed Vintage cards can be much harder to move than unsigned ones, and I never recommend getting your cards signed unless you have a personal reason for doing so. If you’re a huge RK Post fan and you want to meet the guy and get your favorite cards signed, go for it. Just don’t do it to help increase the value.

In some corner cases, signatures can be quite valuable. Some artists rarely sign. Others have passed away. People who are after complete signed sets—usually of Alpha, Beta, or an early expansion—may need these for their collection. This is where signatures can be quite valuable.

In other cases, you might be able to get a few dollars more in trade for a signed card simply because someone thinks the signatures are awesome. Generally, though, I don’t ask for any more or less in trade for a card because it is signed. It does make it harder to find a willing trade partner though.

Do you think sealed Modern Masters boxes will hit $500?

– Dustin C.

I absolutely do. As I shared in my last Modern Masters article, sealed Future Sight and Worldwake boxes both sell for $500 each on a good day. I’m talking actual third party sales, too, not just retail values. Modern Masters may take a while to get there, but all of the ingredients are there for this to be the most expensive sealed box this side of Revised. I have several boxes I’m holding back as a long-term speculation.

What is the best MTG-related vanity plate idea you can think of?

– Chas A.

This is a question I asked my Twitter feed last week. Here are a few of my favorites:

Vanity Plate 1

Vanity Plate 2

Vanity Plate 3

Vanity Plate 4

Vanity Plate 5

Vanity Plate 6

The best one, however, came from none other than the Meddling Mage himself, Chris Pikula. Of course, the license plate only works for him:

Vanity Plate 7

What would you get as a Magic vanity plate? Hit me up in the comments with your suggestions!

You are able to get Wizards of the Coast to suspend the reserved list, but only for one card. Which do you have them print and why?

– Jeremy B.

This is tough, because with only one card available I’m incapable of doing what I really want to do—print enough Legacy staples to keep the format alive. With one card, the best thing I can do is introduce a new archetype into Standard or Modern. This means I can’t pick something too good, otherwise Wizards couldn’t actually put it in a Standard-legal set. That would be no fun for anyone. If you amended the question to say that whatever card I picked had to be printed in a set, I’d choose Chaos Orb, no question.

After looking at the reserved list a few times, I think I’m going to go with Dream Halls. It’s a five-mana enchantment, and it’s symmetrical, so I don’t think it would be outright broken in today’s world. I could see it showing up as a build-around-me core set mythic in the vein of Omniscience, for example. I do think people would play it, and the decks it would spawn in Standard and Modern would be amazing. At the very least, it would probably make Travis Woo happy.

There seems to be an increase in artificial price inflation with buyouts lately. How do you avoid missing out on legit gains?

– Nick P.

Honestly, the buyout brigade has calmed down a bit lately. If you’re concerned that a card is rising because of price manipulation, though, it’s easy to check.

Did the card disappear from all online retail outlets at once? If so, it was probably a buyout. Most cards that legitimately rise in value disappear or rise over a couple of weeks, not between two and three in the morning on a Thursday. The exception to this rule is if the card had a major breakout at a large tournament. If you don’t know, ask on Twitter. That’s what I do.

Has the card seen significantly more play recently for any reason? Oblivion Stone was targeted by the buyout brigade, but it would have gone up in price anyway because it started seeing a bunch of play in Modern Tron. Because of that, the card’s price has stayed high instead of bottoming back out. Other buyout cards see little or no play—Living Plane comes to mind. These cards shoot back down in price just as quickly. If you don’t know why a card jumped in price, don’t invest.

The bottom line is that the buyouts will continue as long as they’re profitable. The Magic card market is unregulated, so people can do whatever they want to it. Our best defense is simple: don’t buy these cards until the price comes back down. Seriously, you can hold off. You don’t actually need any of these cards for decks. Certainly not Didgeridoo. Just stay away.

Is picking up Deathrite Shaman still a profitable thing to do?

 – Devon C.

Sure, but don’t go nuts. Remember, you’re paying $15 for a non-mythic rare in the most popular Magic set ever that could be reprinted in a Duel Deck at any time. In order for that $15 investment to pay off, the card will have to maintain its status as a cornerstone of several formats.

I think it will though. Deathrite Shaman is one of the best cards in Standard as well as Modern. Heck, it’s pretty great in Legacy too. If it is a four-of in the best or second best Standard deck next year, it’ll probably be a $25 card next spring. If it keeps seeing the level of Modern play it is right now—and I believe it will—it’ll be a $30 card down the road. I wouldn’t drop my paycheck on nine thousand of these immediately, but I do suggest that any serious Magic player buy or trade for a set of Deathrites at some point this summer.

Are the prices for the phantom drafts (Cube and Modern Masters) financially fair?

– Ryan C.

I am not a big fan of Cube tickets. They stack in weird numbers. They’re only usable some of the time. You can’t trade them. If you are a fan of Modern Masters and you don’t like Cube, you’ll probably be stuck with a bunch of them once WotC changes up the format.

Ignoring the prizes, though, I do think the phantom queues are pretty fair. Modern Masters is an excellent Draft format, and the product was always going to be severely limited. The cards were always going to be worth a lot less online, too, making the $30 entry fee fairly prohibitive. So for eight bucks, you can spend your evening drafting a really sweet format, and if you do pretty well, you can play again for just two bucks. That’s a perfectly reasonable deal. Just understand that you’re paying for the experience—the prizes are mostly irrelevant.

What cards would you definitely keep from Innistrad block for after rotation?

– Chris C.

Now that Geist of Saint Traft is down to $25 retail, I’d be keeping mine for sure if I hadn’t already sold them for $35 earlier this year. It’ll go lower, but not enough to make me want to sell and rebuy at this point. Rinse and repeat for Snapcaster Mage. At this point, I’m actually buying Terminus—it’s a Legacy playable Wrath and one of the best removal spells ever. $3.50 retail is absurdly low.

I’m selling all of the “buddy” lands and aggressive creatures still. I also think Cavern of Souls might drop further than people think at this point, and I’m hoping to snipe a set at $10 each this fall.

How much are stamped cards from GP Vegas worth?

– George A.

I’ve gotten this question from a few different people both before and after the Grand Prix. Yes, I understand how rare a stamped Goyf is. There are probably only a handful of them in the world. If you can attribute provenance to the GP, you can probably get more than average for yours.

The problem is that there is no official “GP stamp” or “Pro Tour stamp.” If you actually look at stamped product, it has balloons and stars and stuff on it. That’s because the stamps that judges use come from a variety of easily bought stamp sets. I can go to Big Kids Party or whatever after work today, buy a stamp kit, and make my own “official GP Vegas day 2 product” that would be indistinguishable from the real thing. Because it is so easy to fake, there is no real trade market for stamped product.

When Ben Bleiweiss first evaluated Stoneforge Mystic, he labeled it a buy because of its status as a subset tutor: a card that has room to grow as more sets get printed. (He was proved right sooner than anyone expected). Are there any subset tutors like Transmute Artifact that you recommend picking up? Here are three that I think are undervalued: Glittering Wish, Realms Uncharted, and Green Sun’s Zenith even though it is banned in Modern.

– Jonathan W.

This is a fantastic question that once again shows why Ben is a master. He’s absolutely right—these cards always tend to get better and better. I like all of your picks. Here are some others worth considering:

Acquire – I’ve been a huge fan of this card in Commander for years. It is so versatile. Someone at the table is always playing a deck with at least 5-10 artifacts.

Birthing Pod – This is the cornerstone of one of the best decks in Modern. I love it as a spec for next season.

Chord of Calling – Did you know this card doubled in price last week?

Fauna Shaman – If this card is reprinted, it will triple in price. If it isn’t, it’ll eventually double thanks to casual demand. That makes it a nice win-win long-term spec target.

Fierce Empath – This is a common that has been reprinted twice. I bet you didn’t know it was worth a dollar, did you? Pull them out of your bulk.

Godo, Bandit Warlord – This is the “large” Stoneforge Mystic. It has tons of fans in Commander and has even shown up in Modern. This is one of those cards that the buyout brigade will randomly make $8 one day.

Hoarding Dragon – This is another really nice Commander card that you can still snag for just fifty cents.

Journeyer’s Kite – This amazing land tutor has been lost on today’s group of Commander players. Time for a comeback?

Kuldotha Forgemaster – End of turn sac three artifacts, snag Blightsteel Colossus, kill you. This is legal in Modern, and it’s not like artifacts are getting any worse.

Rune-Scarred Demon – One of the best Commander cards of all time.

Stonehewer Giant – Just a reminder that the Modern Masters version is quite cheap right now. Pick one up if you’re a Commander player and don’t have it.

Three Dreams – This card has always kind of sucked, but for five mana you get to tutor up three cards. That’s just absurd. If they ever print the right Aura, this could turn into a powerhouse.

Time of Need – This is the card I immediately thought of when I read this question. If you think Theros is going to be a block based around legendary creatures, doesn’t this card immediately become the number one speculation target in the game? Like five million times better than Didgeridoo? Expect this card to rise in price fourfold if Theros really does play out that way.

Tolaria West – This might be my all-time favorite subset tutor. I play it in every deck that I can.

Wild Pair – This card is much better than you think. Casual green players, this is one of the best things you can stick in a game of Commander.

Wild Research – I know, I know. This card has been around for more than ten years, and no one has ever broken it. Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where someone did though?

I can’t see the Onslaught fetchlands getting any higher. Do you see them getting reprinted in a Standard-legal set within the next few years? And how likely are we to see a Modern Masters Two within the next five years?

– Jeremy S.

Part of me hopes we’ll never get the allied fetches again simply because I don’t want ten fetchlands in Modern. That means twice as much fetching, twice as much shuffling, and twice as many expensive lands I’ll need to buy and keep in order to maintain a reasonable collection.

I don’t think I’ll get my wish though. I expect we will see those fetchlands again, probably as soon as the shocklands rotate out of Standard. If you aren’t using your Onslaught fetches right now, it’s a fine time to sell them.

I think Modern Masters Two is far more likely today than it was a month ago. Modern Masters was a very successful set that proved to Wizards that they could reprint many powerful cards without crashing the secondary market. Aaron Forsythe said that the reason they did Modern Masters was to alleviate pressure on the market from sets that were underprinted compared to the current Magic player base. If that base keeps rising, they’ll do a second one for sure. I do think they’ll find a way to make the Zendikar fetchlands available again—maybe in a supplemental product or as judge foils?—before MM2.

Thanks for all of your questions! If I didn’t get to you, it was probably because an answer required more space and brainpower than I could spare for this article. If you ever have Magic questions, never hesitate to email me, shout at me on Twitter @ChasAndres, or respond in the comments.

Until next week –

– Chas Andres