Insider Trading – Breaking News from Worlds!

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Thursday, December 18th – Ben is fresh from the Magic World Championships in Memphis with breaking news! For the first time anywhere online, read about some major changes to one of Wizard’s long-standing programs!

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading! I interrupt my three-part 11th Edition series with some really exciting breaking news from the Magic World Championships in Memphis! I’m not going to keep you in suspense – let’s get right down to it!

If you’re a long-time reader of this column, you might remember that I wrote about the state of the judge foil program a few weeks back (in an article entitled “How Wizards is Tanking the Value of Promo Cards.” In particular, I noted that judge foils were starting to really decline in value for two reasons;

A) Oversaturation of the market, exacerbated by the sheer number of years each individual foil was left in circulation, and

B) Bad choices of cards to foil and give out in the first place.

Realistically though, A) was the bigger problem. Foils premiered at an event, kept getting given out in equal (or greater) numbers for an indeterminate period of time, and 2-5 year-old judge foils were given out hand-in-hand with brand new judge foils, tanking the overall value of judge foils. This is bad for collectors, bad for judges (who are compensated with these foils), and bad for the game in general.

All this is going to change come next year.

In 2009, the Wizards of the Coast judge foil program is undergoing a major, major revamp, for the better! New policies are going in place to enrich the value of Judge foils, and help those foils maintain value over a longer period of time! What are these changes? Well, let me tell you!

1) Two new judge foils will debut at each major event. These major events are each Pro Tour, Nationals, and the World Championships. This means there will be two new foils at PT: Kyoto, two new foils at PT: Honolulu, two new foils at PT: Austin, two new foils at National Championships (worldwide), and two new foils at Worlds in Rome. This means that over the course of the year, ten new judge foils will be debuted, as opposed to the six-ish a year under the current system, allowing for a better variety of foils.

2) At the event where a foil is debuting, each judge will receive a playset of each of the two new foils! That’s right – instead of one or two copies of a foil, they will get four of each, which will moderate the initial price spike for that card. So for PT: Kyoto, each judge will get eight new foils, plus some amount of the older foils. As each new pair of foils are introduced, the number of each of the older foil given out will decrease, making the overall price of judge foils less spiky from start to finish.

3) More importantly, foils will be discontinued from circulation through events one year after their debut. This is super-important, and the biggest news of all! Let’s look at the two mystery foils being circulated for the first time at PT: Kyoto. Each judge will receive four copies of each of those foils. These foils will be given out (in some quantity) at PT: Honolulu, PT: Austin, National Championships, and Worlds in Rome… and then will be taken out of circulation, and unavailable as part of the judge package. If you don’t attend an event as a judge during that year (either PT level, or GP level), you miss that foil forever! And with a definite timeline on discontinuation, foils will maintain a premium value throughout their entire cycle, and beyond!

4) The new judge foils will be made available at Grand Prix tournaments immediately following the debuting Pro Tour/Nationals/Worlds. In the past, there has been a lag between the debut of a foil at the Pro Tour, and the introduction of that foil into the junior GP circuit. In 2009, the two foils that debut at PT: Kyoto (February 27th through March 1st) will be given out to judges starting at GP: Hanover (March 14th-15th)!

So all and all, these are some pretty exciting changes to the Judge Foil program, and ones that will fix almost all of the problems associated with the quickly-declining values in judge foils after release. There is now a set window of time in which to acquire these foils, there will be more of a variety to acquire, and judges will be able to once again use their foil compensation to offset their costs of transportation, food, lodging, and entertainment at major events.

I had the opportunity to speak with quite a number of people from Wizards over the course of Worlds at Memphis, and I feel as confident as ever that the game is in the hands of people who are truly passionate about the product they are putting out to the marketplace. Everyone really cares about making Magic a success, not only financially, but as something that we, the players, will enjoy. I had more than a couple of employees chat me up about the secondary market, and one line of questioning in particular got, what I felt was, an expected answer out of me:

How did Mythic Rares end up affecting Shards in the end?


How vital are a cycle of Rare lands to the sales of a set?

Let’s tackle the Mythic Rare questions first; Mythic Rares have been as expected so far – some command a premium, some do not, and overall they are about a 50% success rate:

High-Demand Mythics (5): Ajani Vengeant, Elspeth, Rafiq of the Many, Sarkhan Vol, Tezzeret the Seeker
Mid-Demand Mythics (3): Empyrial Archangel, Godsire, Hellkite Overlord
Low-Demand Mythics (2): Lich’s Mirror, Sharuum the Hegemon
No-Demand Mythics (5): Kresh the Bloodbraided, Mayael the Anima, Prince of Thralls, Sedris, Sphinx Sovereign

Well, the no-demand Mythics aren’t quite no-demand (we’ve sold a few of each), but 8/15 Mythics turned out to be higher-desirables, and 7/15 have not. That isn’t enough data in-and-of itself. Let’s take a look at the rares.

One of the promises of Mythic Rares were that since Mythics appeared 1 to 2 against regular rares, there would be a high quantity of each Rare in circulation, lowering the overall price to acquire non-Mythic Rares. Has this been the case? The answer is a resounding Yes!

Top 5 Most Expensive Rares in Shards:

$7: Ethersworn Canonist
$6: Master of Etherium, Stoic Angel
$5: Knight of the White Orchid, Ranger of Eos
Total: $29

There are not other Shards of Alara rares that we are currently selling for more than $5, meaning that 48/53 rares can be had for less than $20 per playset! This is a pretty marked departure from previous sets:

$17.50: Figure of Destiny, Stillmoon Cavalier
$8: Fetid Heath, Flooded Grove
$6: Rugged Prairie
Total: $57

$27.50: Reflecting Pool
$12.50: Demigod of Revenge
$10: Mystic Gate, Sunken Ruins
$8: Wooded Bastion
Total: $68

$22.50: Bitterblossom
$20: Mutavault
$16: Chameleon Colossus
$7: Reveillark
$5: Murmuring Bosk
Total: $70.50

$25: Cryptic Command, Thoughtseize
$17.50: Garruk Wildspeaker
$9: Ajani Goldmane, Profane Command
Total: $85.50

So yeah, the $29 figure is nearly half of every single other set currently in Standard (not counting 10th, which is also high thanks to Wrath of God, Birds of Paradise, Pithing Needle and friends), and it’s not for a lack of tournament-playable rares in Shards:

Tournament Playable Rares in Shards (16/53): Ad Nauseam, Battlegrace Angel, Broodmate Dragon, Cruel Ultimatum, Ethersworn Canonist, Hell’s Thunder, Knight of the White Orchid, Knight-Captain of Eos, Master of Etherium, Mycoloth, Predator Dragon, Ranger of Eos, Realm Razer, Stoic Angel, Tar Fiend, Violent Ultimatum.

The problem with Shards is that there aren’t enough casual rares that have value, believe it or not! With the availability of Mythics and Rares driving the price of Rares down significantly, each set has more of a margin for increasing the total number of good rares (as opposed to filler) without breaking an average player’s bank. Here’s a list of the Rares that we are currently selling for $0.50 to $1:

(29/53) Archdemon of Unx, Brilliant Ultimatum, Caldera Hellion, Clarion Ultimatum, Covenant of Minds, Cradle of Vitality, Crucible of Fire, Cunning Lethemancer, Feral Hydra, Gather Specimens, Immortal Coil, Invincible Hymn, Kederekt Leviathan, Keeper of Progenitus, Manaplasm, Mindlock Orb, Minion Reflector, Ooze Garden, Sacellum Godspeaker, Sharding Sphinx, Skill Borrower, Skullmulcher, Spearbreaker Behemoth, Titanic Ultimatum, Vein Drinker, Vicious Shadows and Where Ancients Tread (in addition to Knight-Captain of Eos and Tar Fiend, from the previous list).

Now, not all of the cards on the above list are junk, but I believe too many of them do fall into the “filler” category at a time when space for Rares is at a premium. Cards like Covenant of Minds, Minion Reflector, and Immortal Coil may be exciting to some portion of the Magic population, but it’s too much of a niche to really give a higher EV (expected value) to the set. I’d say that Wizards could have easily pushed 15 of those 29 Rares a little further (again, not necessarily for tournament play, but for casual play – see Slivers, Doubling Season, and Lord of the Undead), and helped the overall sales and value of Shards, without any real downside.

Which brings us to the second question: How vital are a cycle of Rare lands to the sales of a set?

And my answer wasn’t at all what the person from Wizards was expecting to hear. I said, “I would rather see Uncommon cycles of lands in each set rather than rare cycles.”

That’s a pretty bold statement, considering that a rare cycle of lands usually accounts for 5-10 cards worth $5-$10 each (to start – usually they go higher once they start seeing play). So if Rare Land Cycles equals free dealer money, why would I rather see the tri-land cycle from Shards than the filter-land cycles from Shadowmoor and Eventide?

Long story short, I’m a huge fan of pushing the power level of tournament-playable uncommons. Make it so that the majority of cards going to any one given deck are from the Common and Uncommon level. Unless they are universally played (Isochron Scepter, Sensei’s Divining Top, Skullclamp), these cards usually hit the $2-$3 range (Kitchen Finks, Flame Javelin, eventually the Shards tri-lands – pick them up now, before the Vivid lands rotate out of Standard!). These cards are the basis for a good number of decks, and therefore allow for cheaper deck building.

If the manabase and playable base of many decks come at the Uncommon and Commons slots, this makes Constructed (Standard in particular) much more affordable, and allows for a greater variety of decks. Each player will have more capital to invest in trying out different cards, and Wizards can in turn print a higher quantity of niche rares that have a $3-$6 value (Grave Pact/Loxodon Hierarch-level cards) instead of wallet-breaking must-haves (Mutavault, Reflecting Pool, Bitterblossom). Or, to break it down more simply:

To make $150, I can sell 50 copies of $3 cards, or 5 copies of a $30 card. I’d rather sell the 50 copies of a $3 card, primarily because that will likely mean more overall people playing Magic, which is good for the long-term health of the game. If most of the competitive cards from your deck cost $3-$5 each, supplemented by a majority of $0.10 to $2 Commons and Uncommons, your overall cost to play will be down significantly from needing 16x $25 cards (Five-Color Control) at one shot. You will buy more volume, probably spend more over time, and likely bring more people into the game, because cost will not be as much of a barrier as it currently is to play competitively.

The follow-up question – Which cycles of lands could have been done in the Uncommon Slot from recent sets? My answer:

Shards of Alara: Tri-Lands were Uncommon

Shadowmoor/Eventide: Filter Lands could have been Uncommon without anyone really blinking an eye.

Lorwyn: I think the tribal lands at Rare were fine, because they were more niche than other dual lands, suppressing their value outside of tribal decks.

Future Sight: Grove of the Burnwillows definitely could be Uncommon. Graven Cairns as well, given my thoughts on Shadowmoor/Eventide. Pain lands tend to be Rare, so Horizon Canopy would likely stay Rare. River of Tears would stay rare, because the time-stamp issue involved in the card is probably not something you want to encourage in Limited play. Nimbus Maze? I’d say Uncommon, because it feeds off of other basic lands (commons), or shocklands (Rare), making it the middle step between the two.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed today’s article, and as always, feedback is welcomed and encouraged in the forums! See you all in seven days when I finish up (I promise!) my 11th Edition design series!

Ben Bleiweiss