Insider Trading – Uncommonly Good (Part 1 of 2)

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Friday, February 20th – Over the past few weeks, Ben’s made several allusions to Super-Uncommons – Uncommons that rise to the value of chase rares. In this week’s article, Ben takes a look through the StarCityGames.com sales database to see which Uncommons fall under the Super-Uncommon designation, and why!

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Insider Trading! Over the past few weeks, I’ve made allusions to Super Uncommons – Uncommons that attain the relative value of mid-level chase rares. In today’s article, I’d like to better explain the concept, and take a look at some of the better selling Uncommons through the years to see which have attained the Status of Super Uncommon, and which haven’t!

Two weeks ago, I proposed the following as the Super Uncommons of the post-Invasion era:

Path to Exile (Conflux)
Remand (Ravnica)
Sensei’s Divining Top (Champions of Kamigawa)
Eternal Witness (Fifth Dawn)
Aether Vial (Darksteel)
Skullclamp (Darksteel)
Isochron Scepter (Mirrodin)
Cabal Therapy (Judgment)
Fact or Fiction (Invasion)

What makes each of these cards a Super Uncommon? Are there other cards that I missed from those sets? Is it fair to have the cut-off be at old (last rotation) Extended? One of these answers can be found in my article “How Tarmogoyf Became a $50 card”

1) These cards are played in virtually every Constructed format (until, in many cases, banning ensued).
2) These cards are uncosted for their effect.
3) These cards were splashable in multiple different decks.

Moreover, Super Uncommons have to be really good because they are printed in much higher quantities than rares. Let’s look at Eternal Witness as an example.

Let’s say you open a Booster Box of Fifth Dawn. You can expect 36 Rares, and 108 Uncommons (not counting foils). There are 55 Rares and 55 Uncommons in Fifth Dawn. Therefore, you can reasonably expect to average 1.96 Eternal Witness per box of Fifth Dawn (nearly two), versus 0.65 of any given Rare (about two every three boxes). That would mean there are about three times as many Eternal Witness out there as any given rare.

Since Fifth Dawn’s release, we have sold three times more copies of Eternal Witness than our best selling Fifth Dawn Rare. We started Eternal Witness as a $2 card, it hit $4 within a month of release, and $7.50 within three months, and has never really dropped since then below the $4-$5 range. It is currently at $5, and still selling strong.

Of the 55 Rares in Fifth Dawn, here are the ones that are worth more, right now, than Eternal Witness:

Crucible of Worlds ($7.50)
Engineered Explosives ($20)
Mycosynth Golem (Tied -$5)
Staff of Domination (Tied – $5)
Vedalken Shackles ($12.50)

50/55 rares in Fifth Dawn are worth less than Eternal Witness, and Fifth Dawn isn’t a bad set for Rares – this is more of a testament of what I mean by Super Uncommon. Eternal Witness is tied as the fourth most valuable card in Fifth Dawn, outperforming the value of 90% of the rares in the set!

Block-by-Block, here’s a list of all of the Uncommons that I feel are either Super Uncommons, or are close in the running (A * by the name means I feel this has qualified as a Super Uncommon)

*Path to Exile (Conflux) (Start: $4/High: $4/Current: $4)

*Kitchen Finks (Lorwyn) (Start: $1/High: $4/Current: $4): Went from $1 to $4 within one week of official set release.

Time Spiral/Planar Chaos/Future Sight

Lightning Helix (Ravnica) (Start: $2/High: $4/Current: $2.50): Hard for a gold card to hit this list, as the mana cost is pretty restrictive.

*Remand (Ravnica) (Start: $1/High: $6/Current: $2): Took nearly a year from release to catch on. Ended up being one of the hottest cards in all of Magic for that second period of a year, and is likely currently undervalued.

Spell Snare (Dissension) (Start: $0.75/High: $4/Current: $4): May eventually end up being considered a Super Uncommon, but took a long time getting here. Keeps going up each Extended season. Wasn’t above $2 when it was Standard legal.

Champions of Kamigawa/Betrayers of Kamigawa/Saviors of Kamigawa
*Sensei’s Divining Top (Champions) (Start: $1.50/High: $7/Current $4): If Sensei’s Divining Top hadn’t gotten banned in Extended, I think we may have seen the first $10 Extended Uncommon – maybe not this season, but next season. Still a $4 card due to Legacy play.

Mirrodin/Darksteel/Fifth Dawn
*Aether Vial (Darksteel)(Start: $0.50/High: $5/Current: $5): One of the only Super Uncommons to start at bulk price. Took nearly a year to catch on – but once it did, it ended up getting banned in multiple formats.

*Eternal Witness (Fifth Dawn)(Start: $2/High: $7/Current: $5): The most unlikely Super Uncommon on the list, as it’s not easily splashable, and hasn’t seen as much Vintage/Legacy play as many of the other Super Uncommons. Still, it’s got a proven track record.

*Isochron Scepter (Mirrodin) (Start: $4/High: $7/Current: $6): Isochron Scepter appeals more to casual than competitive play, making it almost unique in this regard for a Super Uncommon (most are tournament-player first, casual-player second).

Loxodon Warhammer (Mirrodin) (Start: $1/High: $5/Current: $4): Loxodon Warhammer has been reprinted twice at Rare (9th and 10th Edition), so I’m not sure what its value might have been if it had been Uncommon all three times – probably in the $3 range.

Magma Jet (Fifth Dawn) (Start: $0.75/High: $3/Current: $2.50): Just short of Super Uncommon range, but has been a solid performer over the years.

Shrapnel Blast (Mirrodin) (Start: $0.50/High: $3/Current: $3): Affinity was a deck comprised mostly of Commons and Uncommons, making it more affordable to play than other tier-one decks (especially before Darksteel). Because of this, the Uncommons/Commons were in high demand, driving their price up across the board. Shrapnel Blast is one of these cards.

*Skullclamp (Darksteel) (Start: $1/High: $6/Current: $2.50): Banned in every format except Vintage. Still a $2.50 card, and still selling strong at that price. Hit the $6 high within two months of release, and dropped down to the current $2-$2.50 range after banning.

Brain Freeze (Scourge) (Start: $1/High: $4/Current: $3.50): Narrow, and not a four-of. If it had been, it’d push over to Super Uncommon territory!

Goblin Warchief (Scourge) (Start: $2/High: $4/Current: $2.50): Held steady at $4 for nearly three years. Just too narrow to really be a Super Uncommon, because you’re not really playing this outside of a Goblins deck.

Tendrils of Agony (Scourge) (Start: $0.50/High: $4/Current: $2.50): See Brain Freeze – pretty much in the same boat as that card, except Tendrils sees a little more Vintage play, and a little less casual play.

Wirewood Hivemaster/Wirewood Symbiote (Legions/Scourge)(Start: $0.50 & $1.50/Both High: $3/Both Current: $3): I lump these two in together because they are both part of the same Elves engine that popped up towards the end of last year, and both will drop in value once that entire deck rotates out of viability next Extended season.

Barbarian Ring (Odyssey)(Start: $1/High: $3.50/Current: $3): Started dropping after rotating out of Extended. Still seeing some Legacy and Vintage play, but not a ton.

Browbeat (Judgment)(Start: $1.50/High: $5/Current: $4): Currently dropping after rotating out of Standard. Very close to making the Super Uncommon list, as it sustained at $4-$5 for years, but was also partly because of Timeshifting in Time Spiral.

Buried Alive (Odyssey) (Start: $1/High: $4/Current: $4): Again, just the tier of Uncommon under Super Uncommon, as it hasn’t really had a breakthrough – it’s just been a popular casual card that’s sat at $3-4 for a while.

*Cabal Coffers (Torment) (Start: $1/High: $6/Current: $6): I’d have to consider Cabal Coffers a Super Uncommon, as it’s been in the $4-$6 range and outpriced most of the Rares in Torment for quite a while now. There aren’t many high-dollar Uncommon Lands, because the really good ones tend to get promoted to Rare (to help sell the set), leaving most Uncommon lands as niche cards (with a few notable exceptions, such as this one and Wasteland).

*Cabal Therapy (Judgment) (Start: $0.50/High: $8/Current: $5): Jumped to $2.50 within three months of release. Heavily played in every format, which helps it still maintain value post-Extended rotation.

Cephalid Coliseum (Odyssey) (Start: $1/High: $3.50/Current: $3): Saw a huge swing in value two years ago when Dredge started hitting it big. Niche, but still playable in Legacy and Vintage, and still has ceiling room to grow.

Chainer’s Edict (Torment) (Start: $2.50/High: $5/Current: $2): One of the few Super Uncommons to start above $2, and dropped quickly after Odyssey Block Constructed season ended. Has never really recovered its initial hype!

*Circular Logic (Torment) (Start: $2.50/High: $6/Current: $3): I’d consider Circular Logic to be a Super Uncommon – it saw play in multiple decks (Tog, U/G Madness), and has always maintained a high value, and rate of sales.

Psychatog (Odyssey) (Start: $1.50/High: $5/Current: $2.50): Burned bright in Standard, and then slowly dropped off. I kind of equate Psychatog to Morphling – not quite good enough for the bigger show, even though it was once considered the ‘best creature in Magic’.

*Standstill (Odyssey) (Start: $2.00/High: $6/Current: $6): I’d add this to the list of Super Uncommons. I didn’t realize that we had started selling Standstill at $2, but that’s the lowest it’s ever been! Quickly rose to $4, and has been gaining ever since thanks to extensive Legacy play, and some Vintage play.

By the way, this was an excellent block for Uncommons, with some other cards (Nimble Mongoose, Overrun, Squirrel Nest and Wonder) deserving mention.

*Fact or Fiction (Invasion) (Start: $3.95/High: $6/Current: $3): Hyped, lived up to the hype, still very popular. I’d equate this very closely to what I expect out of the life cycle of Path to Exile, by the way.

*Fire/Ice (Apocalypse) (Start: $1/High: $4/Current: $2): One of the few “utility” Super Uncommons on this list, as in “you don’t really need it for a deck” whereas the others are all relatively auto-includes. However, based on sales, sustained interest, and use, I’d have to consider Fire/Ice a Super Uncommon.

Flametongue Kavu (Planeshift) (Start: $3.50/High: $4/Current: $2): I was shocked and I looked and found that Flametongue Kavu had peaked at $4 – wasn’t this card omnipresent in Standard at one point? However, having looked at our sales figures, and compared FTK to other cards on this list, it really seems like the hype around FTK is much higher than the reality was!

Goblin Ringleader (Apocalypse) (Start: $0.50/High: $4/Current: $2): See Goblin Warchief, above.

Sterling Grove (Invasion) (Start: $1.50/High: $5/Current: $4): Close to being considered a Super Uncommon, except mostly for casual play.

This is about where I left off from when I made the list off of the top of my head. I’ve added Cabal Coffers, Circular Logic, Fire/Ice, Kitchen Finks and Standstill to my initial list, bringing the total number of Invasion-forward Super Uncommons to 15 – and we’ve already taken a look at 27 sets, so it’s just over a rate of one every other set! Join me next week, when I look further into the past, and see if there’s more Super Uncommons in the depths of older sets, than in the more “modern” sets. See you in seven days!